Well-known travel writers take to the Bents…

Our recent post (May, 2020) of an article by Jennifer Barclay (Wild Abandon: A Journey to the Deserted Places of the Dodecanese, Bradt Travel Guides, 2020), in which Jen says how she finds the Bents, generated a fair bit of interest. A series of posts by other well-known travel writers (if this could be you, write to us), who were guided by Theodore and Mabel, will therefore follow, as and when…

Marc Dubin (Rough Guides and much else for decades) was kind enough to write a preface for Bent’s second Greek island book (The Dodecanese: Further Travels Among the Insular Greeks, 2015) and this can now appear online – at a time when hopping around the Cyclades and Dodecanese, for British tourists at least, is all but impossible this summer (2020).

Marc, a long-term resident of Samos, is a favourite of ours; actually more than that, because it was his inclusion of a reference to Bent’s The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks (1885) in a Rough Guide bibliography that led circuitously, a kalderimi stumbled upon, right to the Bent Archive’s front door, some 30 years later. Here is what he has to say about the Bents; and thank you Marc.

Detail from Bent’s own 1885 map of the Greek islands (photo: Bent Archive).

“I have been writing about the Greek islands since 1981, and the Bents have accompanied me from the start. After graduating from UC Berkeley in 1977, I stayed around town for some years; I was fortunate in having a part-time job at the university library which was piecework based and allowed me to work full-time for three months and then take equal time off to travel. It also gave me complete, unchallenged run of the book stacks, where I furthered my education through omnivorous reading. There was no security whatsoever at the employees’ entrance, so books could be ‘borrowed’ indefinitely.

The pre-computerisation card catalogue listed no less than four copies of J. Theodore Bent’s Aegean Islands: The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks, published as a 1966 reprint by Argonaut in Chicago. I had just signed my first contract to write a guidebook on Greece. Why should the library keep four copies of this title, when my research needs were greater? Home it went, to stay, in 1980.

The church of the Panayía Portaïtissa, within the Kástro of Hóra, Astypálea (photo: Marc Dubin).

James Theodore and Mabel spent nearly a year travelling around the Aegean on their first trip, back when it took a year to visit all the islands given the vagaries of the wind – as he writes in the volume you are holding, ‘those who go to Astypalæa must be people of a patient disposition’. They more (or less) cheerfully tolerated ferocious winter weather, leaking quarters, foul-smelling wooden boats, monotonous food (‘pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold, pease porridge in the pot nine days old’ was literally and repeatedly enacted), rapacious boatmen and voracious vermin. They took shelter in bare churches when necessary, something sadly unlikely now when so many rural chapels are locked against theft or desecration. It all puts today’s island-traveller whinges about cancelled sailings, greasy food and wonky water heaters in stark perspective. To their immense credit, the Bents were keenly interested in the contemporary Greek islanders, not just in antiquities, unlike 18th-century Grand Tourists who disparaged the supposedly degenerated medieval Greeks and modern tourists who are only after sun, sea and sex.

Title-page to the 1st edition of Bent’s ‘The Cyclades’ (London, 1885)(from an archive.org online e-version).

The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks, also available through Archaeopress, has the dubious honour of being the most plagiarized book ever written on the Greek islands – almost every 1960s to 1980s writer on the Aegean helped themselves to entire pages worth of Bent, verbatim. It was legally if not ethically okay to do so, since the text (as the Argonaut publisher told me when I asked him) had long since been in the public domain; the Bents had died without issue or any other heirs to extend the copyright. Copyright aside, it’s easy to see why this happened: the intrepid Bents had been there, and done that, long before there were any t-shirts, and what they had observed and documented was far more compelling than anything actually visible on the islands from the 1960s onwards. Bent had also described their sojourns in brisk, to-the-point prose; it’s hard not to warm to someone who could write ‘on my remarking that I should prefer an inside place [on a raised communal family bed] for fear of a fall, they laughed and told stories of a sponge fisherman who dreamt that he was going to take a dive into the sea, and found himself on the floor instead; and of a priest, who rolled out of bed when drunk and broke his neck…in inferior establishments the space beneath the bed is used as a storeroom for all imaginable filth’.

On my extended 1981 trips to Greece, I had to quell lurking disappointment that the islanders were no longer as Bent described them. Or not quite anyway; on Sífnos my young hostess told me that there was still an old woman alive locally who could ‘draw out the sun’ from those afflicted with sunstroke-headache by sleight of handkerchief and incantations, exactly as described in Bent’s Kímolos account from 1883. Later a much older friend told me how, serving as a British delegate to the United Nations Special Commission on the Balkans (UNSCOB), monitoring border violations during the Greek civil war, he had – despite his total disbelief in the rite – the effects of the Evil Eye exorcised, again through spells and fabric manipulations, by an old Sifnian man, Nikos, in 1948, in Macedonia.

Olymbos, Karpathos (photo: Bent Archive).

But one can hardly expect such customs and costumes to have survived decades of emigration, electrification, radio and gramophones, public schooling whether Italian or Greek, meddling foreigners and government policy. Bent himself took a dim view of his own countrymen abroad: ‘It is the Union Jack which scatters [quaint costumes and still quainter customs] to the winds: great though our love is for antiquity, we English have dealt more harshly than any other people with the fashions of the old world.’ During the mid-1960s, even before the culturally destructive colonels’ junta, Kevin Andrews observed how local police felt it necessary to ban the playing of bagpipes at Mykonos port lest ‘foreigners…think us Mau-Mau’. You wonder what the Bents would make of today’s mercenary anthropological zoo centred on the village of Ólymbos in northern Kárpathos, which I first decried in my own 1996 guide to the Dodecanese and North Aegean. Research for that first edition involved criss-crossing the archipelago for several consecutive seasons in just about every month of the year (barring February and March) and every conceivable seagoing conveyance. Perhaps my most Bent-ian experience was in that self-same Ólymbos, when a nistísima meal (compliant with the Lenten fast) turned out to be simply limpets and myrouátana, a delicious seaweed which I have never been served again despite asking repeatedly.

During the late 1980s, in Moe’s – that Berkeley shrine of used books on Telegraph Avenue – I found another copy of the Argonaut Press edition of Aegean Islands, in mint condition, for the paltry price of $7 US: a fair measure of the scant esteem then in the USA for the Bents and their writings. The same copy in Britain at that time fetched at least thirty quid. Even now, antiquarian bookselling websites do not much value this handsome original reprint.

Shortly afterwards – I had not yet left the US to settle in Britain and Greece – I retrieved the purloined copy from my own shelves and headed for my old haunt, the UC Berkeley library. Back then (and probably still now) you could return a book in perfect anonymity, which I did eight years after its initial ‘check-out’, using the large-mouthed chutes near the main doors. It is not a small book in any sense, especially the old cloth-cover edition which is by my desk as I write, and made a satisfying clunk as it hit the bottom. So there should be once again four copies of Aegean Islands in the library’s holdings.

© Marc Dubin Áno Vathý, Sámos, December 2014

Get travelling with the Bents… Tilos in the Dodecanese (photo: Bent Archive).

 

Bent’s The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks is freely available online, or as a printed version via Archaeopress, Oxford, or your usual book provider . Get travelling with the Bents…

Two unpublished letters from Theodore Bent to William Paton – 1890

Grandhome, Aberdeen, Scotland, the Paton Family estate (Google maps)

Following on from Alan King’s well-researched, recent piece (September 2019) on the Bents’ friends William (1857-1921) and Irini (1869/70-1908) Paton, it was a pleasant surprise to have access to two unpublished letters from the Paton great estate, Grandhome, just outside Aberdeen – Bent to Paton.  In their correspondence, the men refer to recent explorations and successes in Cilicia (notably Bent’s discovery of the site of Olba), and the second letter is of particular interest in terms of Bent’s almost immediate departure for Great Zimbabwe, perhaps his most notorious work. These two letters are published below for the first time and we are most grateful to the present William Paton, Bent’s friend’s great-grandson, for kindly allowing us this opportunity.

Laird William Paton was a fascinating man of complex nature – a great, perhaps maverick, classicist, traveller and philhellene – it’s not hard to see in him the early shades of later and similar great Brits, why not Leigh Fermor, Durrell, Pendelbury, Dunbabin….? One can make a fair list.

William Paton’s presumed route from Aberdeen to the Turkish coast by sea, some 4000 km (Google maps)

The only son, William becomes laird of Grandhome after the death of his father, John, in 1879, a JP in 1884, and Deputy-Lieutenant in 1893. But by the mid 1880s he has settled on Kalymnos, running his Scottish estates and managing his responsibilities from a great distance, obviously with a team at home to oversee things (his elderly widowed step-mother, Katherine, survived until 1919), and relying on regular trips back to north-east Scotland: and this trip home from the isles of Greece (then Turkish), by steamer, presumably via Marseilles (the same way the Bents travelled) and Dover and Edinburgh, to Aberdeenshire – a distance of some 4000 km each way; but the Scots are tough and he was young.

Of the two, Bent and Paton, the latter was five years older, and taller, but this didn’t prevent them apparently from being mistaken for bothers, as Mabel Bent was quick (even proud?) to note in her diary:

“We were very much amused on landing [on Kalymnos] to hear ‘William has returned’. ‘No, it is his brother.’ ‘He is exactly the same.’ ‘How very like he is.’ ‘No, it is not him.’ And these sentences never cease to be buzzed round wherever T[heodore] goes. At the British Museum they have been taken for one another and a gentleman came and shook hands with him and said ‘When did you come’ and then ‘Oh! Excuse me. I thought you were the son-in-law of Olympidis’.” (The Dodecanese; Further Life Among the Insular Greeks, Theodore and Mabel Bent, Oxford, 2015, page 159)

One of Paton’s finds from Kalymnos – a Mycenaean double-handled cup now in the British Museum (The British Museum).

Both young men went to Oxford and were intended for the Bar, but both were side-tracked by the lure of ancient Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean. Bent had studied history at Wadham and his early studies took him in search of Genoese adventurers on Chios and elsewhere. Paton, the young classicist of rigourous intellect, and self-confessed ‘Orientalist’, soon found himself after University College, hunting for pots and publishing inscriptions in Lycia and Cilicia, inter alia.

Surprisingly, promptly marrying the obviously beguiling and young Irini Olympiti, he settled on Kalymnos, nowadays a municipality in the southeastern Aegean, belonging to the Dodecanese, between the islands of Kos and Leros, and 20 km from the Turkish coast opposite. Soon, along with the even more erudite E.L. Hicks, later Bishop of Lincoln, and also a Bent collaborator (but, another story), Paton became a go-to-man for British academics wanting advice on the region.

William Paton in Greece, undated (The Kemény Archive).

Thus, although a truer scholar than Theodore Bent, it is quite natural that they should have met and become acquainted,  both lovers of ancient Greece, the new discipline of archaeology, and working on inscriptions in the Eastern Mediterranean in the 1880s; as Mabel noted above, they often bumped into each other at the British Museum, the offices of the Hellenic Society, and many academic events in London and elsewhere.

And we know that Bent at least once travelled up to Aberdeen to stay with Paton, the latter reminiscing in a letter, from Vathy on Samos, in the early 1920s: “I also had the privilege of meeting [E.L. Hicks] personally… at my own house in Scotland, where the late Mr. Theodore Bent and Professor W. M. Ramsay were present, and I had the full advantage of the conversation of these three distinguished people…”

Edward Lear on Greece

“It seems to me that I have to choose between two extremes of affection for nature – towards outward nature that is – English or southern – the former, oak, ash and beech, downs and cliffs, old associations, friends near at hand, and many comforts not to be got elsewhere. The latter olive – vine – flowers, the ancient life of Greece, warmth and light, better health, greater novelty, and less expense in life. On the other side are in England cold, damp and illness, constant hurry and bustle, cessation from all topographic interest, extreme expenses…” [Edward Lear, c. 1860, taken from a letter, in Edward Lear: A Biography by Peter Levi (1995, p. 192)]

Great travellers the pair, too, the Bents not limiting themselves to the Med (later famous in Africa and Arabia of course), and William living, for those days, an unorthodox double-life, divided between where his ‘head’ lay, i.e. serious responsibilities as a large landholder in northern Scotland (his descendants still run the estates), and his heart, the Kalymniotissa Irini – and soon several children. Perhaps he had Edward Lear’s lines in his head (substituting Scotland for England clearly).

By the mid 1880s, William’s reputation as an epigrapher (and archaeologist, in the terms of the day) was in the ascendancy; any of his published papers reveal a clarity, ingenuity and level of scholarship that soon marked him out. His first major work was at the site of Assarlik (Caria), on the Turkish mainland, on a steep mountain-top in the southern part of the Halicarnassus peninsula, the site offering a perfect view of the coast, both east and west.

W.R. Paton, ‘Excavations in Caria’ (JHS 8, page 74)

He is to publish his findings (1887) as ‘Excavations in Caria’ (JHS 8, 64-82), with, coincidentally, Theodore Bent having an article on inscriptions from Thasos in the same issue (pages 409-438). William had a further piece on ‘Vases from Calymnus and Carpathos’ in the same volume (pages 446-460).

In 1900, the University of Halle awarded him an honorary degree.

 

W.R. Paton: A select bibliography 

1891: The Inscriptions of Cos (With E.L. Hicks)

1893: Plutarchi Pythici Dialogoi tres.

1896: (with J.L. Myres) “Karian Sites and Inscriptions”, JHS 16: 188-271.

1898: Anthologiae Grecae Erotica, London, David Nutt.

1899: Inscriptiones insularum maris Aegaei praeter Delum, 2. Inscriptiones Lesbi, Nesi, Tenedi, Berlin.

1915-18: “Greek Anthology”, vols 1-5, Loeb Classical Library/Heinemann, London and New York.

The two previously unpublished letters (1890) from Theodore Bent to William Paton

Letter 1

Letter from Theodore Bent to William Paton, 27 May 1890 (The Paton Archive)

To W.R. Paton, Grandhome, Aberdeen, Scotland [no envelope] note 1 

13 Great Cumberland Place, W. note 2 
May 27 [1890]

Dear Mr Paton

I am much obliged for your congratulatory note.

From an epigraphical view we have been very successful this winter, having thoroughly solved the problem of Olba and placed one or two other doubtful Cilician towns. note 3 

Of course we regarded it as hopeless attempting to bring away any spoil or to do any digging beyond turning over a stone or so, for we were rigorously watched. note 4 

At Smyrna I was asked after the health and well being of my brother, which mythical personage I discovered after sundry questions to be you.

I hope Mrs Paton is well, please give our kindest remembrances to her. note 5  I hope as you pass through London next you will give us the pleasure of seeing you both at the above address.

Yours very sincerely

J Theodore Bent

Letter 2

Letter from Theodore Bent to William Paton, 15 October 1890 (The Paton Archive)

To W.R. Paton, Grandhome, Aberdeen, Scotland [no envelope; the Bent family crest has been torn from the top-left corner] note 6 

13 Great Cumberland Place, W. note 7 
Oct 15, 1890

My dear Paton  note 8 

I am writing to ask if you would have any objection to my using one of your admirable photos of Greek costume note 9  to illustrate a frivolous little paper I have written for the English Illustrated on a Greek marriage. note 10  Don’t hesitate to refuse if you have any other plans for your pictures.

I hope your Kos work is progressing favourably. note 11  I am still over head and ears in Olba and getting rather tired of it. note 12 

We talk of starting again about the middle of January to explore the adjoining district. note 13  At present we are enjoying the comforts of home and are not too anxious to resume our nomad life.

I hope we may see you in London before we start.

With our kind regards, believe me

Yours sincerely

J Theodore Bent

Postscript

As a PS, there are two addenda; one a granite obituary in the Aberdeen Daily Journal of 14 May 1921 that covers well the life-journey from Aberdeen to the Greek and Turkish isles:

W.R. Paton, in later life (The Paton Archive)

“The late Mr W. R. Paton of Persley, Eminent Greek Scholar. Greek scholarship has sustained a severe loss in the death of Mr William Roger Paton of Grandhome and Persley, Aberdeenshire, which took place at Vathy, Samos, New Greece [sic], on April 21, in his 65th year. The son of the late Colonel John Paton of Grandhome, the deceased, who was regarded as one of the finest classical scholars in Europe, belonged to a very old and highly respected family which had been in possession of the estate of Grandhome and mansion-house, situated between Parkhill and Stoneywood, for at least 200 years. A number of Mr Paton’s ancestors are buried in Oldmachar Churchyard, and the records of the family go back to 1700. Educated at [Eton] and at University College, Oxford, Mr Paton very early acquired a strong interest in everything connected with Greece, and particularly with Greek literature. He had already done a good deal of Greek study before he left in 1893 to take up his residence in France. For a number of years he had lived in the island of Samos, in the Aegean Sea, travelled in Asia Minor and among the Isles of Greece, and made a number of important contributions to Greek literature. In particular, he edited the works of Plutarch, and was preparing a large edition at the time of his death. He also collected many inscriptions found in the Aegean Islands; and his archaeological discoveries in Lesbos, Tenedos, and other isles of the Greek Archipelago were communicated to the Berlin Academy and form part of the Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum. He published an edition with translations of the love-poems and epigrams in the Greek Anthology. Mr Paton was recognised as one of the greatest Greek authorities of his time. His scholarship was of a very finished character, and he had also a wide knowledge of modern Greek. No one really knew more about Greek life, thought, and literature in all periods, and he was man of remarkable accomplishments, who if he had not been a country laird would have adorned a University chair… In 1900 the University of Halle conferred the degree of Doctor of Laws on Mr Paton. Personally Mr Paton was a man of charming manners and a delightful companion of the most finished culture. A year or two ago he was expected to come home and spend the end of his days in Aberdeen, but he did not carry out his intention. Mr Paton was twice married to Greek ladies, and he leaves a widow and family. He died on 21 April 1921 in the town of Vathy, Samos.”

A final and quirky note goes to J.H. Fowler, who was in touch with Paton while compiling a memorial volume to E.L. Hicks (see above). He gives us this astonishing, perhaps envious, pen-portrait of Paton:

“At this time too [Hicks] became associated with another Greek scholar, Mr. W. R. Paton, who took up his abode in the Island of Cos and made a careful collection of the inscriptions to be found there. Hicks collaborated in the deciphering and interpretation of the inscriptions, and wrote the introduction for the Inscriptions of Cos (Clarendon Press, 1891). A friendship grew up between the two men, unlike as they were, the one equally at home in the practical and in the theoretical life, the other a dilettante scholar who became at last so completely ‘orientalized’ (to use his own expression) that he was reluctant to revisit England, and who never earned anything in his life till he was paid for his translations from the Greek Anthology in the Loeb Library.”

Notes to Letter 1

Note 1:  Grandhome or Grandholme. “(Location stated as NJ 8980 1170). Grandhome House. Site of manor/mansion house. Mansion on E-plan; harled, crow-stepped gables; N wing 17th century incorporating earlier work; S wing 17th century. The two wings are linked by the 18th century W range; forestair to door in centre of second floor. The estate belonged successively to the Keiths, Ogilvies, Buchanans, Gordons and Jaffrays until the late 17th century when it passed to the Patons of Farrochie, Fettercairn, who changed the earlier name for the property, Dilspro, to that presently used.” Return from Note 1

Note 2:  From the late 1870s until Mabel Bent’s death in 1929, the Bents lived in Great Cumberland Place, London, a Regency/Georgian sweep of properties, a stone’s throw from Marble Arch, and for nearly twenty years they would leave their comfortable London residence together every winter for the hardships and inconveniences of travel in the Eastern Mediterranean, Southern Arabia and Africa – greater contrasts it is difficult to imagine. Originally the couple leased Number 43 Great Cumberland Place, with its adjacent mews entrance passing underneath their drawing rooms, until the early 1880s, following which they moved closer to Marble Arch, again leasing, at Number 13: the latter was bombed, alas, but the latter still stands Return from Note 2

Note 3:  Paton was referring to Bent’s archaeological successes along the coast of western Turkey over the winter of 1889/90, chief among which was his discovery of the ancient Greek site of Olba. Bent published the results in a number of articles, the reader should refer to the years 1890 and 1891 in the Bent bibliography. Return from Note 3

Note 4:  Unlicenced in the main, Bent (and not for the first time) had always to be one step ahead of the authorities, at that time headed by polymath Osman Hamdi Bey, in charge of antiquities in Istanbul. By the end of April 1890, Bey, infuriated, complained to HM Ambassador in Istanbul. As well as digging where he shouldn’t, Bent was being accused of espionage. A consular official was tasked with writing to him: “Private – Adana, April 9, 1890. Dear Mr. Bent, The Governor General, having received information that you are revisiting the same places you had already visited some time ago on the road to Selefka, and that you are taking photos or plans of the various places, requests me to make you acquainted with the fact that the taking of photos or plans of the places is not allowed without the special permission of the government. His Excellency therefore requests me to invite you in a very polite manner to discontinue from taking photos, etc., as above mentioned. Complying with His Excellency’s request, I ask leave to add that it would be better if you came back to Mersina in order to avoid any possible troubles with subaltern officials. The best way to continue your scientific investigations unmolested is, in my opinion, to request His Excellency, Sir William White, to obtain for you from the ministry at Constantinople the required permission. N. J. Christmann” (The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent, vol 1, pages 320-1, Oxford, 2006) Return from Note 4

Note 5:  For the brotherly reference, see Mabel’s diary entry above. Smyrna (Izmir) was the important hub for regional steamer traffic: and one’s call before Constantinople. In 1885 Paton had married Irene Olympiti (1869/70-1908), daughter of the prodromos of Kalymnos, Emmanuel Olympiti. Return from Note 5

Notes to Letter 2

Note 6:  See note 1 above. Return from Note 6

Note 7:  See note 2 above. Return from Note 7

Note 8:  Note the change in familiarity compared to Letter 1. Return from Note 8

Note 9:  These illustrations are untraced. Return from Note 9

Note 10:  1891 ‘A Protracted Wedding’. English Illustrated Magazine, Vol. 93 (Jun), 672-7; a reworking of Bent’s 1888 article ‘A Protracted Wedding’. The Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol. 265 (Oct), 331-41. There are no illustrations. This bucolic Greek wedding, allegedly on Tilos (also in the Dodecanese, down the line en route for Rhodes), was unaccountably imagined by Bent – Mabel makes no reference to it in her diary. This explains why Theodore could not use Mabel’s photographs: there weren’t any. Return from Note 10

Note 11:  Paton was then busy publishing some material from Kos with E.L. Hicks. The work was published in 1891. For a brief bibliography, see the panel above. Return from Note 11

Note 12: Click for the Bents and Olba. Return from Note 12

Note 13: This is the most intriguing extract from either letter. It proves that in mid October 1890 the Bents were still planning to revisit the Turkish littoral the following year. However, it transpired that Cecil Rhodes’s agent, E.A. Maund gave a lecture on Mashonaland (Zimbabwe) at the Royal Geographical Society on 24 November (1890), at which Theodore was present. It changed his career. On 30 January 1891, husband and wife, and having miraculously organised everything in a couple of English winter months, were on the Castle Line Garth Castle for Cape Town. Ahead lay a year exploring the archaeological remains in and around Great Zimbabwe,  leading to his controversial book, The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland (1892): it transformed him into a celebrity archaeologist and explorer, opening the way for his famous treks over the next few years into Southern Arabia and the Wadi Hadramawt. It can also be said to have led indirectly to his early death from malarial complications in May 1897, subsequent to his last adventure, east of Aden. Return from Note 13

‘Theodore Bent’s Turkish embroidery bequest’ – The Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston

The Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston, UK (Wikipedia)

In the Collections Development Policy statement (2011) of the Harris Museum and Art Gallery (Preston, UK) there is a fascinating, and, for the Bent Archive, startling reference on page 30:

‘In the long term, the following areas of the collection have been identified as under-researched areas, but these would only be tackled in the context of potential for use and visitor engagement … […] Theodore Bent’s Turkish embroidery bequest.’

This casual aside makes the Harris Museum one of only three public collections in the world, to our knowledge, to hold a collection of textiles originally acquired by Theodore and Mabel Bent over the 20 years of their travels, the other two being the Benaki Museum, Athens, and London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. (We are not including here the few clothing and other items, some made of bark, that the Bents brought back from Great Zimbabwe that are now in the British Museum.)

‘Theodore Bent’s Turkish embroidery bequest’ at the Harris Museum consists of four items (we are assuming they represent the entire ‘bequest’), and, thanks to the kind assistance of curator Caroline Alexander, we believe that this is the first time they have been ‘published’.

Detail from PRSMG 1970.2 (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston)

The museum’s Accession Book refers to the pieces as ‘Turkish Embroideries’. In the 1880s, the decade the Bents spent mainly in the Eastern Mediterranean, the islands off the Turkish west coast belonged to Turkey, taken and held by the Ottomans from early medieval times until the early 20th century. The  Dodecanese islands were only returned to Greece in the 1940s.  Thus the Bents’ acquisitions (some with the intention of selling on to British collectors and institutions) reflect a wide blend of styles and influences – the distinctions between ‘Greek’ and ‘Turkish’ being generally moot points. Beautiful things, made painstakingly, to be given, worn, or displayed, remain beautiful things irrespective.

Detail from PRSMG 1970.4 (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston)

The four items (1970.1; 1970.2; 1970.3; 1970.4) in the Harris Museum were donated in May 1970, rather mysteriously, by someone who introduced herself as ‘the great-niece’ of Theodore Bent. There seems to be no mention of the gift in the museum’s Donation Book, an interesting fact, nor does any name appear in the museum’s accession records unfortunately. The museum’s Accession Book includes the following handwritten note stapled to the relevant entries: ‘Query re T. Bent’s niece [sic]. No details of this donation in the donation book. Contact V & A to whom T. Bent donated embroidery.’

Enquiries are under way (December 2019) to try and find out who the donor may have been, and why the Harris should have been chosen as the recipient.

Theodore Bent had no siblings, but several cousins, who in turn had issue. There is a chance that one of these might be our donor, and there is a local connection. Theodore Bent himself had property just outside Macclesfield , and his uncle John was Lord Mayor of Liverpool in 1850.  The family were influential local brewers, and, indeed, Theodore was born in Liverpool (1852). Bent’s Brewery Co. Ltd remained in business until the 1970s, as part of Bass Charrington. The Bents can be traced back to the Liverpool region in the 1600/1700s, and were potters and brewers – one, a medical man, was the famous surgeon who amputated Josiah Wedgwood’s leg!

Detail from PRSMG 1970.3 (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston)

Thus perhaps it was a member of this energetic and successful family who donated the embroideries in 1970; but somehow we doubt it. The Bents were great collectors (and dealers) in embroideries, etc., on their travels in the Eastern Mediterranean and Turkey in the 1880s, the period, we assume, when the four pieces now in the Harris were acquired by the exploring couple. On Theodore’s death in 1897 all his estate went to his wife Mabel, and they had no children. Just over thirty years later, on Mabel’s death (1929) all her  belongings, including her textiles, went to her surviving nieces – they, in turn, had daughters, who would thus have been the ‘great nieces of Mrs Theodore Bent’. Of these, it seems only Kathleen Prudence Eirene Bagenal (1886-1974) was alive in 1970. (For the Anglo-Irish Hall-Dare family click here.)

We may, therefore, tentatively, and for now, propose Kathleen Bagenal (or her agent) as the donor of the Bent textile bequest to the Harris. The mystery remains why the Harris? Kathleen’s family home was in Scotland (Arbigland, on the Solway Firth), and we know that she was actively selling off her great-aunt’s textiles from the 1930s. We will, of course, update this theory if more information comes our way.

Detail from PRSMG c1970.1 (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston)

In her lifetime Mabel exhibited some of her fabric collection – we know of two events, but neither seem to have included any of the four items donated to the Harris in 1970.

  • A lecture Bent gave to the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland in 1886, during which his Mabel displayed a range of their textiles. These are published in ‘Insular Greek Customs’. The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 15 (1886), 391-403. [With an Appendix by ‘Mrs. Bent’].
  • At the 1914 embroidery exhibition at the Burlington Fine Arts Club in London, Mabel Bent showed a good part of her collection (see later in this contribution).

The Bent textiles in the Harris Museum, Preston

PRSMG c1970.1. ‘Fine linen cloth embroidered at both ends’ (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston)

PRSMG: c1970.1 [Headed ‘Turkish Embroidery’ in the museum’s Accession Book]

Accession Book entry:  ‘Embroidered with silk and gold plate thread, at both ends. Repeating pattern of formal plant motifs. Pink, blue, gold and brown on natural linen.’ Acquired from: ‘The great-niece of Theodore Bent’. Acquisition dated: ‘April May 1970′.

Digital catalogue entry: ‘Fine linen cloth [dimensions not provided] embroidered at both ends with intricate floral pattern of mainly peach and blue silk embellished with gold. Probably embroidered using a tambour. Possibly Turkish. Note: 2015, Asia from British Museum visited, said possibly Turkish with the use of flattened gold thread.’

PRSMG 1970.2. ‘Embroidered panel of fine linen’ (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston)

PRSMG: 1970.2 [Headed ‘Turkish Embroidery’ in the museum’s Accession Book]

Accession Book entry: ‘Short strip embroidered at ends with formal design of cyprus tress and flowers in urns. Embroidered patch appliquéd on.’ Acquired from: ‘The great-niece of Theodore Bent’. Acquisition dated: ‘May 1970′.

Digital catalogue entry: ‘Embroidered panel [dimensions not provided] of fine linen. Embroidered both ends with motifs of pinecones and eight-petalled flowers in pots worked in blue, dark brown beige and cream threads. Probably machine worked as no evidence of starting or finishing. Machine worked down two edges. Also central panel later addition in pale blue, beige and cream floral motifs.’

PRSMG 1970.3. ‘Embroidered panel of fine linen’ (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston)

PRSMG: 1970.3 [Headed ‘Turkish Embroidery’ in the museum’s Accession Book]

Accession Book entry: ‘Long strip embroidered with flower motif repeated seven times. Red, brown and blue silk embroidery with blue border on three sides.’ Acquired from: ‘The great-niece of Theodore Bent’. Acquisition dated: ‘May 1970′.

Digital catalogue entry: ‘Embroidered panel of fine linen [dimensions not provided]. Embroidered with floral motifs along length. Motif of red and blue flowers in repeated and alternating pattern. Appears to have been the edge of a larger panel. Believed Turkish c 19th century.’

PRSMG 1970.4. ‘Embroidered panel of floral motifs on fine linen’ (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston)

PRSMG: 1970.4 [Headed ‘Turkish Embroidery’ in the museum’s Accession Book]

Accession Book entry: ‘Red silk cloth square extended at corners. Two  embroidered panels joined to form centre piece, with blue silk strips on two sides. Floral design.’ Acquired from: ‘The great-niece of Theodore Bent’. Acquisition dated: ‘May 1970’. [This entry in a different hand]

Digital catalogue entry: ‘Embroidered panel [dimensions not provided] of floral motifs on fine linen comprising two pieces joined in the centre. Primarily terracotta red, blue, green and mustard thread working arabesque floral design. Panel has terracotta coloured narrow lace edging. Panel has been mounted on dark red silk backing panel with sleeves top and bottom for hanging. Possibly Turkish. c 19th century.’

The 1914 embroidery exhibition at the Burlington Fine Arts Club, London

As mentioned above, Mabel Bent showed a good part of her collection at the 1914 embroidery exhibition at the Burlington Fine Arts Club in London. There is an an online catalogue. The prize exhibits were a collection of fine dresses from the Dodecanese, now in the Benaki Museum, Athens, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.  The exhibition cabinets displayed a wide range of Mabel’s other textiles, but none of the four items now held in the Harris Museum seem to have been shown to the public in 1914, but more research is needed to confirm this (i.e. future access to the exclusive photographs of the exhibits). Readers may be able to identify the Harris pieces in the catalogue (search ‘Bent’ in the online catalogue search box that appears on the page), and if so we would be delighted to hear from them. Similarly, if any Preston readers can provide information on the four Harris pieces before they entered the collection in 1970, we would also be most interested.

Mabel Bent’s diaries are, occasionally, a useful primary source for information on the thousands of artefacts the couple returned with to London during the twenty years of their travels in the Eastern Mediterranean, Africa, and Arabia. There are hundreds of references to dress, costume, embroideries, fabrics, etc. Unfortunately, Mabel does not always give precise details of gifts and acquisitions and it has not been possible to identify the four textiles in the Harris bequest in her notebooks.

“This afternoon we have been to the doctor Venier, of a Venetian family. Dr. Venier showed us the hangings of a bed, in which King Otho slept when he visited Pholégandros. All gold lace, silver lace and the most beautiful silk embroidery on linen. The curtains were striped silk gauze with gold lace insertion. The pillows gold edged real silk. We were also shown lace-edged sheets and gold embroidery. It was a really splendid sight and fit for a museum.” (February 1884, Folégandhros in the Greek Cyclades; ‘The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent’, vol 1, page 44, 2006, Oxford)

In conclusion, the four textile pieces discussed, once in the collection of Theodore and Mabel Bent and donated to the Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston, represent an important revelation, and are published, it is thought, for the first time here. If you have any comments on any aspect of this content, including the origins, or technical/stylistic features of the four textiles, do please write in.

Love in the Levant – archaeologist William Paton’s encounter with a Greek goddess – Kalymnos, 1885

Love in the Levant – the true story of an aristocratic British archaeologist and his profound love for the goddess he encountered on a remote Greek island – and Mabel Bent’s account of meeting her.

Another in our Greek island series: “The Bents – great friends of… ”

Love at first sight

W R Paton with his sister Mary aged 2 or 3
W R Paton with his sister Mary aged 2 or 3

William Roger Paton was born in Scotland on September 2nd 1857. He studied Classics at Oxford and London and moved on to law for a while in London. However, the legal world was clearly too staid for William, whose real interests lay further afield in literature and archaeology in the Eastern Mediterranean. One wonders whether Oscar Wilde had his friend William Paton in mind when he wrote “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

On one of his trips to the region in the late summer of 1885, his ship anchored off-shore near the village of Pothia on the Turkish-controlled Greek island of Kalymnos. Standing on the deck of the steamer, he could not have known that his life was about to take a turn which would see him married within just 3 months and a father before a year had passed.

Few large ships called at Kalymnos in those days; there was no dock and such ships had to anchor well out to sea. As soon as a ship was spotted, a scramble of small boats would go out to meet it to take off alighting passengers and maybe to make a few piastre from the ship’s passengers. The local boys would hope to come back with a coin or two by entertaining the passengers with their diving skills as they retrieved coins thrown from the deck.

Pothia harbour
Pothia harbour as Paton might have seen it. One of the small boats used to embark and disembark passengers. Photograph taken from the deck of a ship anchored in the harbour (photograph courtesy of Manoli Psarra)

Leaning on the rail, Paton’s eyes were intractably drawn to one of the small boats. In it sat the young girl who would become his wife and the mother of his four children. His fate was sealed at that very moment in time.

He instantly made up his mind. Quickly getting his baggage together, he disembarked into one of the small boats. To the surprise of the boatman, in perfect Greek, he asked where he could find accommodation on the island. The boatman agreed to take ‘O Lordos’  note 1  to the most important man on the island, the Demarchos, or Mayor. As he rowed toward the shore, singing the praises of the Demarchos,  he added, with a nod of his head toward the boat which had so captivated Paton, “that young girl is his daughter.”

Emmanouil Olympitis - Demarchos of Kalymnos and Irini's father
Emmanouil Olympitis – Demarchos of Kalymnos and Irini’s father (photograph courtesy of Emmanuel Olympitis)

Paton got on well with the Demarchos, Emmanouil Olympitis, who very much impressed the younger Paton. He was successful in the sponge fishing industry, for which Kalymnos has always been renowned, and the family was much respected by the people of Kalymnos for the defiance that Emmanouil’s grandfather had shown toward the occupying Turks.

However well the two men got on, it must have been a bolt out of the blue the very next day when Paton proposed marriage to his daughter, Irini. People were outraged and, on a more lawless island, this might have been the end of Paton’s amorous advances, and his life to boot! But wise Emmanouil Olympitis was far above all that and countered by trying to delay on the basis that a trousseau needed to be arranged. With dogged persistence, Paton told him he would arrange everything and that he wanted Irini just as she was.

And what of Irini’s feelings in all of this? Of course, Emmanouil Olympitis would not have allowed his daughter to enter into marriage against her will. We learn from the autobiography of Irini’s daughter, Augusta, from later conversations with her mother, that Paton’s emotions were mirrored in Irini’s own; she described him as a ‘fair, blue-eyed god’.

Paton stayed in Kalymnos for a month and he and Irini grew ever closer – but he had to return to Britain leaving Irini in Kalymnos. While in Britain, he wrote her long letters every single day.

On Paton’s return to Kalymnos, two months later, signalled by tender telegram messages to Irini from each port of call along the way, they married in November 1885 – he 28 and Irini 16 years of age.

Paton and Irini at Rattray, his cousin’s home North of Aberdeen
Paton and Irini at Rattray, his cousin’s home north of Aberdeen (photograph courtesy of William Paton)

Shortly after their marriage and their honeymoon in Symi and Rhodes, they moved to Paton’s Scottish estate, but neither Paton nor Irini were happy in Scotland and both pined for Greece. From Mabel Bent’s diary entry, we know they were back in Kalymnos by March 1886. Later that year, in August, their first son George was born in Irini’s mother’s house on the Turkish coast at Gümüşlük near Bodrum.

Theodore and Mabel Bent visit Kalymnos

At the beginning of 1886, the British explorers Theodore and Mabel Bent were travelling around the islands of the eastern Aegean looking for likely sites to excavate, but they were constantly thwarted by the Turkish authorities to whom Bent was known.

Theodore and Paton were acquainted. It’s thought that they first met as a result of their connections with the British Museum or as members of the Hellenic Society. Their various papers on their respective archaeological excavations were published by the same journal, sometimes in the same issue. They each also had a close relationship with the classicist (and later Bishop of Lincoln) E. L. Hicks, who co-authored publications on ancient inscriptions from both Theodore and Paton. They would have been very well aware of each other’s work.

However, it seems that it was actually Mabel’s inquisitiveness which drove their decision to visit Kalymnos. She wrote in her diary:

“I am most curious to see a young lady of Kalymnos, aged I hear about 16 and just married to a Mr. William Paton of Granholme in Aberdeenshire. Her father’s name is Olympites, a sponge merchant and very rich. Everyone has heard of ‘O Ouiliermos’  note 2  in the neighbouring islands.”

They arrived in Kalymnos on Wednesday March 17th, 1886. The next day Mabel wrote:

“We were lucky enough to fall in with a clean little English steamer, lanthe, where we had a most comfortable flealess night and a very calm passage here. We started about 6 and arrived about ½ past 12 yesterday.

This is a very populous town of large houses filled with rich sponge fishers who have a reputation in these regions of being thieves, liars and cheats. We were sorry to hear that Mr. Paton had returned to England 2 days ago, leaving his wife at her father’s as she does not wish to undertake the long journey till the summer of next year.”

So Theodore missed meeting Paton in Kalymnos. Whether Theodore and Paton ever met on their overseas travels we don’t know – but they certainly trod in each other’s footsteps.

It would seem that Theodore and Paton had more than just a passing physical resemblance to each other. On Kalymnos, this created some confusion on the island:

“We were very much amused on landing to hear William has returned’. ‘No, it is his brother.’ ‘He is exactly the same.’ ‘How very like he is.’ ‘No, it is not him.’ And these sentences never cease to be buzzed round wherever Theodore goes. At the British Museum they have been taken for one another and a gentleman came and shook hands with him and said ‘When did you come’ and then ‘Oh! Excuse me. I thought you were the son-in-law of Olympidis’.”

Meeting Irini’s father Emmanouil Olympitis

But one man, at least, was not fooled by Theodore’s apparent likeness to Paton. He approached Theodore, saying in English:

‘This is the father-in-law of Mr. Paton and I am the brother-in-law of Mrs. Paton.’

Thus was Theodore introduced to Emmanouil Olympitis, the Demarchos of Kalymnos and the father of Irini, Paton’s wife. Mabel continues:

“So on invitation we entered the café and gave our history, in Greek, to the crowd. The brother asked us to come and take a walk in their garden, so we were removed to an orchard of young lemon and orange trees. Chairs were procured and we sat on ploughed beds, damp, so that one had never to forget to be always trying to sit on the highest leg of the chair for fear of overturning. He would talk English which we had constantly to help out with Greek so we sat silently for a long time till I shivered loudly and we were led silently home.”

Meeting Mrs Irini Paton

Mabel continues, but it should be stressed that she is writing her diary for herself and a small number of friends and family and, as such, her tone may at times seem to border on the insensitive and the rude:

“We announced that in an hour we would call on Mrs. Paton. Accordingly they prepared themselves. We entered a mud-floored hall littered with broken machinery; up dirty marble stairs with a rusty banister and reached a drawing room where some matting had been thrown down, but rolled up where it could not pass under the chest of drawers. A quantity of pieces of embroidery bought during the honeymoon to Simi and Rhodes were plastered round in an absurd way. The chest of drawers had a green table cover falling over the front of it, over that a large cotton antimacassar and on top a large pier glass smashed in 4 bits, some hanging out.

Mrs. Paton is a fine big girl who might pass for 20 but some say 14. She had a pretty new dress, quite out of keeping with the place, her wedding ring and a splendid diamond one on her middle finger and a pink coral one on the other middle finger. Her face is good looking but not very pretty. She was very quiet and very much more ladylike than her sister, a coarse rough girl with a dirty snuff-coloured handkerchief on her head, a loose black jacket and a green skirt, much too long in the front. She brought us coffee and jam and seemed very respectful to Mrs. Paton.”

Mabel’s comment that Irini was ‘a fine big girl’ was made without her being aware that, at the time, Irini was 15-16 weeks pregnant. How Mabel would have relished writing about that, had she known! This fact might partly explain why Irini was reluctant to travel back to Scotland with Paton in March 1886.

With Mabel’s inquisitiveness about Irini Paton sated, she and Theodore left Kalymnos for Astypalea on Saturday March 20th, 1886.

The Olympitis house
The Olympitis’ house where Paton and the family stayed while in Kalymnos (photograph courtesy of Emmanuel Olympitis)

The Olympitis’ ‘beautiful’ house on the quayside at Pothia where the family stayed while in Kalymnos and where Theodore and Mabel would have met Irini. Augusta wrote : ‘It was the biggest house with the best accommodation on the island and was situated on the quayside with only a large pavement between it and the sea, which, with its anchored coloured boats, full of sponges and brilliantly coloured fishing equipment, was a sight to gladden my heart.’

The house was demolished in the 1970s and the current Olympic Hotel was erected in its place – ‘the best accommodation on the island’. The hotel is still run by members of the Olympitis family.

Return to Scotland

Irini with George, Thetis and John in Aberdeen before 1900
Irini with George, Thetis and John in Aberdeen before 1900

We know from Theodore and Mabel, and from the birthplace of Paton’s first son George, that Irini did not go back to Scotland in 1886, however, Augusta’s autobiography records them being there for much of the time during the first four years of their marriage. Their daughter, Thetis, was born in November 1887 in Aberdeen followed by a son John, in 1890, born at the family seat of Grandhome.

Irini always called Paton ‘Willie’, the name used by Augusta in her wrtings.

George, Thetis and John taken in Aberdeen
George, Thetis and John taken in Aberdeen (photograph courtesy of Emmanuel Olympitis)

Irini was a devout Orthodox and was unhappy not to be able to worship in her faith, there being no Greek Orthodox church in Aberdeen. She was also uncomfortable that her children were not ‘properly’ Christened in ‘that austere Presbyterian cathedral’ which she went through the motions of attending each Sunday, listening to Willie reading the lesson in his ‘carrying sonorous voice’.

The couple were still deeply in love and there were happy times in Scotland. Paton’s family and friends had welcomed Irini as its own. However, neither of them could stand the climate and Paton was never happy running the affairs of the estate. As soon as the children were old enough, he accepted an assignment for a new excavation in Asia Minor.

The house by the Aegean sea

Irini and Paton in Samos
Irini and Paton from the same photo studio in Samos at around 1900 when the family were living in the house at Gümüşlük (photographs courtesy of Emmanuel Olympitis)

Irini’s mother, Palia, had a property on the Turkish coast at Gümüşlük near Bodrum, where Irini and Paton’s first son George had been born. Palia owned much of the land around and a simple house existed on the property, close to the sea. She’d built a small chapel on the hill for the few local Christians. The happiest years for all the Paton family were those spent at the house. Paton and Irini’s youngest child, Augusta, or Sevastie, was also born in the house and her first few years were spent there. For Paton it was perfect. He could take himself off, sometimes for many months, and immerse himself in his work while still being able to return home, at times, for Irini and the children. For the children, it was an idyllic adventure playground and Augusta writes evocatively of those ecstatic days.

Thetis - probably taken in Greece
Thetis – probably taken in Greece (photograph courtesy of Emmanuel Olympitis)

But Irini was doing other things while in Gümüşlük as well. Paton’s great-grandson, also William Paton, provides us with an insight from a publication by Paton, originally in French – “Myndos is a town which knows well how to hide its inscriptions. The inscriptions that I published in the ‘Bull. de corr. hell. (volume XIV)’ do not come from the town itself but from the surrounding area. The town and its cemeteries only provided two inscribed stones. The two that I added were found, in the final days, in the rubble of a church near the Halicarnassus Gate. We owe them to excavations carried out without my knowledge by Mrs. Paton.”

Mama and Augusta
“Mama and Augusta” – Irini with Augusta around the time of their departure from Greece (photograph courtesy of William Paton)

As Paton’s work in Asia Minor came to an end, the spectre of leaving Gümüşlük weighed heavily on Irini. The boys were approaching the age when boarding school in England beckoned – John had already spent time there. During the period the family were in Gümüşlük, George and John had attended a school in Kos while Thetis was schooled in Smyrna (present-day Izmir).

George and Thetis believed to have been taken in Greece (photograph courtesy Emmanuel Olympitis)
George and Thetis believed to have been taken in Greece (photograph courtesy of Emmanuel Olympitis)

Irini and Augusta left Gümüşlük to meet Paton and the boys in Kalymnos. Irini was heartbroken to leave the home where she’d been so happy. She was never to see the house again.

The family came together again in the Olympitis house on the quayside of Pothia in Kalymnos, where they celebrated Christmas 1905.

Paris

Thetis believed to have been taken while in France
Thetis believed to have been taken while in France (photograph courtesy of Emmanuel Olympitis)

But, for the ever-driven Paton, time was dragging in Kalymnos and, early in 1906, he uprooted the family in favour of the Parisian suburb of Viroflay, near Versailles.  There, Irini and Augusta learned French and made friends. Irini was happy that she could go to the church of St. Julien le Pauvre  note 3 . They were content with life in Viroflay.

Brittany

But, once again, Paton moved them on, this time to a villa by the sea on the coast of Brittany at Peros Guirec. Irini was never happy in the period she spent in Brittany.

A sad, sad ending

It was in Brittany that the first signs of Irini’s illness appeared; she was often in great pain. One of her kidneys was damaged and had to be removed. In October 1908, she was admitted to a hospital in Paris where the successful operation was carried out. Irini was free from the pain she’d suffered.

The day came to leave the hospital and Irini’s best friend, Delphine, was helping her to dress amid happy laughter while Paton was pacing around outside in the corridor. Suddenly Irini clutched at her chest and said in Greek ‘Pono’  note 4 . She collapsed into Delphine’s arms and died. She was 38 years old. Paton ‘went quite beserk’ and ripped his shirt to shreds in his uncontrollable grief.

William Paton in later life on Samos, (c) Endre Kemeny

The fairy-tale romance had ended. Paton was 51, George 22,  Thetis 21, John 18, and Augusta just 8. Irini had been the source of all the love that had brought happiness to Paton and the family since that first vision of her, all those years ago, in a tiny boat bobbing on the waters of Pothia Bay. William Paton was a broken man.

Mabel’s diary entries are taken from the book The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent Volume I. ©2015 Gerald Brisch and Archaeopress. Reproduced by kind permission. Get the book or download the e-book.

● The author wishes to thank Emmanuel N. Olympitis for his enthusiastic assistance in providing material and invaluable information for this article.

● The author wishes to thank William Paton, Paton’s great-grandson, for his suggestions and contributions from the family archives.

● Some of the material for this article was derived from the autobiography of Augusta Paton (Kemény), William and Irini Paton’s daughter. The autobiography is currently available only in Hungarian. Read a short biography of Augusta Paton.

● The images used in this article may be subject to various copyright restrictions.

Notes

Note 1: O Lordos – literally ‘the Lord’ – used to describe a gentleman of high status. Return from Note 1
Note 2: O Ouiliermos – The transliterated Greek phonetic spelling of ‘William’ with the masculine nominative ‘os’ ending added. Return from Note 2
Note 3: St. Julien le Pauvre is actually a Melkite Greek Catholic church which has its roots in the same beliefs and rites as the Greek Orthodox Church. Return from Note 3
Note 4: Pono (Πονώ) – I have pain. Return from Note 4

The legend of Kera Panagia and the tragic story of the hermit monk Vasilis

The beach at Kera Panagia

The idyllic beach at Kera Panagia is said by many to be the most attractive on Karpathos with its crystal-clear waters and the beautiful church of the Panagia perched on the heights above.

But how many visitors know the legend of the origins of the church and the tragic story of the hermit monk, Vasilis, who looked after it?

In 1885, Theodore and Mabel Bent spent 6 weeks on Karpathos and, on Friday March 6th, they visited Kera Panagia where they met an aged Vasilis, who told them his sad story.

Theodore wrote about their visit in an article, On a Far-off Island, published in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (Vol. 139, Feb 1886), 233-244), while Mabel, as ever, took to her diary to pen a colourful account of the day.

Theodore’s account of the visit

This account is taken from the book The Dodecanese: Further Travels Among the Insular Greeks (get the book or download the e-book).

“… our other friends arranged a sort of picnic for us, to a lovely spot called ‘Mrs Madonna’ (Kera Panagía), where a church contains a miraculous picture, and is looked after by a well-known old hermit-monk called Vasili.

The church of Kera Panagia
The church of Kera Panagia

The church is at the foot of a narrow gorge down by the sea, amidst tree-clad heights, which culminate in Mount Lastos, the highest peak in Karpathos, 4000 feet above sea-level. Close to this church there is a water source, which springs right out of a rock: it is icy cold and clear, and all around its egress the rock is garlanded with maidenhair; mastic, myrtle, and daphne almost conceal it from view. To this spot, the most favoured one in the island, our friends took us.

a miraculous picture
“a miraculous picture”

“In 1821 a Cretan refugee whose flocks had been destroyed by the Turks, vowed a church to the Panagià if she would lead him to a place of safety. So, says the legend, she conducted his boat here, where he found water, fertility, and seclusion, and here he built the church he had vowed.

“Once a year, on the day of the Assumption, the Karpathiotes make a pilgrimage to this spot; for the rest of the year it is left to the charge of poor old Vasili, who told us the very sad story which had driven him to adopt this hermit life.

“A few years ago he lived in the village, with his two sons and one daughter. She married a sea-captain, a well-to-do sponge-fisher, who owned a boat and much money he said.

“On one of his voyages, the sponge-fisher took with him Vasili’s two sons, and on their way they fell across a boat manned by pirates from Amorgos. The pirates shot the captain, boarded the caïque, and strapped the two brothers to the mast. After they had cleared the boat of all they could find, they sank it, and shortly afterwards some other sponge-fishers found the two brothers fastened to the mast at the bottom of the sea. They gave notice to the Government, and a steamer was despatched from Chios in pursuit of the pirates, and the bodies were brought home and buried. It was but poor satisfaction to old Vasili to hear of the capture of the murderers.

His daughter shortly afterwards married again, and left Karpathos, and he, with his broken heart and tottering step, donned the garb of a monk, and came to end his days at Kera Panagía, where he lives in a little stone hut alongside the church, and tills the ground, lights the lamps before the sacred pictures, and rings the church bell.”

Mabel’s diary entry for the day

This account is taken from the book World Enough, and Time: The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent Volume I.(Get the book or download the e-book).
While Theodore, in his article, recounted the history of the church and Vasilis’ story, Mabel opted for a gastronomic account of the ‘picnic’. On the following day she wrote:

“Yesterday was really a day to be marked with a white stone. We had a delightful picnic to Kyriá Panagía. The company were 3 Turks, one of whom could speak no Greek, 2 English, 4 Greeks, 3 of whom could speak Turkish. There was also an Albanian cook who could speak no language but his own and that no one understood, and 2 soldiers.

Theodore and Mabel might be described today as foodies. Theodore’s writings and Mabel’s chronicles are peppered with details of food and drink. Read about their passion for mizithra cheese and about Mabel’s menus.
“We arrived first. I riding 2 hours on a bone-shaking road. The latter part was through pine woods smelling sweetly and with big single white peonies and arums. M 1 at once set to work to cook a chicken, or rather aged cock, and was ready with brandy to offer the Turks on their arrival, and at one o’clock we all were seated round a waterproof rug of ours with 2 glasses, few plates, and a moderate amount of forks and spoons. We talked English together. The Turks talked Turkish together, but of course then and there determined to send the soldiers off for a lamb to be eaten à la Palikári 2 for dinner. We 2, the 2 Sakolarides 3 and a certain Manolakakis 4, in whose house the Kaïmakam 5 lodges, went on a long hot rocky walk, and I think I got a little sunstroke, for I had a great pain in the back of my head which is gone today very nearly. We at length found ourselves at the source of a stream springing out of a bed of maidenhair under great big myrtle trees. It was such an enchanting spot.

A spring close by
A spring close by

“At 4 o’clock we sat cross-legged round a heap of mastic bushes and rosemary, and on this bed was laid the lamb who had been borne on a spit through his head and his hind feet tied to it.

“We then tore him limb from limb by hand and all gnawed. I never saw a funnier scene or a merrier meal. After the lamb’s bones were cleaned by the 8 sets of teeth, the Kaïmakam examined the shoulder blades and prophesied peace and quietness, then more sheep’s cream and then home.

“We went half way together and the Kaïmakam and Co. went to Apéri, and we and Mr. Frangisko Sakolarides to Volátha. Having been taking lessons from Hassam Tachrí Effendi, the secretary, I was able to say ‘Teshekür edérim’, ‘Thank you’, to the Kaïmakam. We were led to the café by Mr. Frangisko Sakolarides and given coffee and were very glad to get home safely with only starlight to help us, and I had to walk some way.

“In the little church at Kyriá Panagía, which is quite good and not ruined, there were lots of scribbled names and one of the Greeks said, ‘Now we will write up your name’ and I said ‘Oh, not my name please’, they said ‘Why?’ and I said it was not our custom in England to write our name in churches.”

Research and contributeWe’re always searching for more information on the topics and people we write about. Can you add more information about Kera Panagia or old Vasilis, or about the Sakolarides or Mr. Manolakakis? Please contact us using the ‘Comment’ form on this page or on our ‘contact us’ page.

References and copyright

The account from Theodore is taken from the book The Dodecanese: Further Travels Among the Insular Greeks: The Selected Writings of J. Theodore & Mabel V.A. Bent, 1885-1888, edited, with additional material, by Gerald Brisch. Copyright ©2015 Gerald Brisch and Archaeopress. Reproduced by kind permission.

The extract from Mabel’s diary is taken from the book World Enough, and Time: The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent Volume I: Greece and the Levantine Littoral, transcribed from Mabel’s original hand-written chronicle, with additional material, by Gerald Brisch. Copyright ©2006 Gerald Brisch and Archaeopress. Reproduced by kind permission.

Pictures copyright ©2019 Alan King and inAid Ltd.

Notes

Note 1: Mabel uses ‘M’ to refer to Manthaios Simos, the Bents’ dragoman for many of their travels throughout Greece and beyond. Manthaios was a native of the island of Anafi. Return from Note 1

Note 2: Palikári (‘rogue’, ‘bandit’) is much used in a familiar form to mean ‘pal’, buddy’, etc. Lamb ‘banditstyle’ exists in older recipe books for a slow-cooked dish of lamb chops, oregano, onions, garlic, tomatoes, cheese and potatoes, similar to kokinistó. It seems, however, that Mabel and her pals devoured their lamb spit-roasted. NOTE: See the comment below, received after the publication of this article, from Deppy Karavassilis-Patestou, the Greek vblogger. Return from Note 2

Note 3: Mr. Frangisko Sakolarides was the Greek dragoman and interpreter for the Turkish Kaïmakam, or Governor. It seems he was present on the day with his wife. He and his family are mentioned several times throughout Mabel’s chronicle. Return from Note 3

Note 4: The Manolakakis family was prominent on Kárpathos at the time. An Emmanuel Manolakakis published Karpathiaká (1896), a valued monograph on the history and culture of the island. Return from Note 4

Note 5: The Kaïmakam was the Turkish Governor of the island. Return from Note 5

Friedrich v. Vincenz assists Mabel Bent on Tilos in the Dodecanese: ‘All the women here are terrified at the idea of being photographed and my camera is rather a “white elephant”!’

‘Mrs Bent and her Camera. Photo by Russell & Sons, London, probably Spring, 1895’ (The British Library).

Although from 1885 Mabel Bent came equipped with the latest in cameras, and was appointed expedition photographer to the Bents’ explorations of the Eastern Mediterranean, Africa, and Southern  Arabia, very very few of her photographs are published or known – other than what have appeared in their books and articles, or have been transformed into the few Bent lantern-slides remaining in the Royal Geographical Society, London.  No doubt more will turn up eventually, e.g. a folder of prints dated to the Bents’ trip to Great Zimbabwe in 1891 seems to exist in the Zimbabwe National Archives, Harare (for those interested in the source, please contact the Bent Archive).

An old photograph showing Tilos fifty years or so after the Bents’ visit (and fifty years before its current tourist development).

Next best, in the absence of Mabel’s own work, are those images taken by other photographers more or less synchronously. There are several to choose from, but a favourite must be from the Greek Dodecanese, the island of Tilos, between Kos and Rhodes, and a wonderful group of Tilian girls and women taken in the late 1890s, just a dozen years after Theodore and Mabel visited Tilos and the Dodecanese in 1885. The photograph (see below) appears in an article entitled ‘Ein Besuch auf der Insel Telos’ by one Friedrich v. Vincenz (possibly based at the time in Smyrna/Izmir) and published in the popular German magazine ‘Globus’ in January 1900 (pages 46-8). The original article has been scanned, but a comprehensive (and now possibly inactive ?) Tilos website also has a fine page or two reprinting the article (in German, but an English translation is available via the site – which, incidentally, has much else to enjoy: articles, photographs, and an Italian-era map that is not much reproduced). Vincenz’s article will be of interest generally, although some comments are inappropriate today, with antisemitic overtones – such a common feature of the turn of the century, and here and there also in the writings of the Bents. The author does not feature much on-line; he may have been residing at the time in Smyrna/Izmir, but he seems not to have written much, if anything, else, and no images of him pop up.

‘Frauern von Telos in alter Tracht’, a photograph by Friedrich v. Vincenz from his article ‘Ein Besuch auf der Insel Telos’, published in ‘Globus’ in January 1900 (pages 46-8).

Focusing now on the evocative Vincenz group photograph, infants to adults, dated around 1900 remember, the women and girls show off their distinctive island finery. The elder ones might easily have met the Bents (perhaps some viewer is related to them? Do write in if you are…), but in 1885 the inhabitants of Tilos were camera-shy, as Mabel records in her diary: ‘… all the women here are terrified at the idea of being photographed and my camera is rather a “white elephant”’.  Friedrich v. Vincenz had more luck (his article also features a photo of a local priest).

Mabel was always passionate about costumes and local dress. Her description of Tilian attire fits so well with the photo (as she writes in her diary at the end of February, 1885): “The men dress the same as all the other islanders we have seen, but the women look very like Laps. They wear a very rational dress. A shirt which comes a little below the knee, embroidered all round with red and green. Over this a light brown coat is wrapped by a scarlet belt. The shirt has a small square sailor collar of yellow and the open front of the shirt is filled with a piece of coloured embroidery, almost hidden by the great number of necklaces of different colours composed of numerous strings of glass beads, reaching nearly to the waist. On their heads they wear red pointed caps of red cloth with a bit of gold braid straight up the front and down the back. A handkerchief with the point turned up is tied across the front, and the hair, which is plaited rather high in front, is brought low over the ears and behind below the cap. Over all they tie a towel by its 2 front corners and sometimes also by the 2 back ones…” (Mabel and Theodore Bent, ‘The Dodecanese, or Further Travels Among the Insular Greeks’, Oxford, 2015, page 114).

‘Three ‘trahilia’’, after ‘Die Trachilia von Stamata Orfanou, oder der Kraplap von Tilos. Text und Fotos: An Moonen – Mit Dank an Frau Papantoniu (Athen) und Frau Dina Vagianou (Rhodos)’.

Mabel’s reference to the ‘open front of the shirt… filled with a piece of coloured embroidery’ is noteworthy. This piece of embroidery is the τραχηλιά (‘trahilia’), presumably developed and designed to facilitate breastfeeding. Friedrich v. Vincenz also describes it: ‘Auf der Brust befindet sich ein vom Halse mehr oder weniger tief herabreichender Ausschnitt, der durch bunte kunstreiche Stickerei, meist in Schwarz, Rot und Grün, ausgefüllt ist, auf dem die mit großer Vorliebe getragenen Schaumünzen, sowie bunten Halsgehänge in Glas und Bernstein hängen.’

The Tilos website already mentioned above also has a delightful page (several years old now and perhaps no longer updated?) describing the three examples shown above, as well as photographs and stories of venerable matriarchs. [If any of the site’s contributors would care to get in touch, we would be delighted to acknowledge them, rectify any errors, and thank them for such interesting material (July 2019).]

Those interested in the Bents and Tilos are directed to ‘The Dodecanese, or Further Travels Among the Insular Greeks’, Oxford, 2015 (locals [2019] can hop on a ferry and get a copy from Rhodes’ Akademia Bookshop).

Death of a noted Baildonian – Theodore Bent, 5 May 1897

Death of a noted Baildonian – Theodore Bent, 5 May 1897

James Theodore Bent.(1852-1897). Photograph (date unknown) from the ‘Illustrated London News’ 15 May 1897 (private collection).

Theodore Bent died on this day (5 May) in 1897. The adventurer was susceptible to malarial infections ever since his visit to Andros in the Cyclades in 1884. The diary of his wife Mabel, his permanent travel companion, records this initial event: “Wednesday [12 March 1884, Gavrio, Andros]. I did not go to bed or undress last night. I had no bed to go to and T’s temperature was a little over 104. I rolled myself up in my fur cloak and screwed myself up on the corner of the bed and would have been more comfortable if there had been no fleas. The doctor came last night and this morning. He says it is from cold. I don’t know what it is… The doctor, who constantly strolled in and screamed at T, is only an old man with some knowledge of herbs. He wanted to give T kina and was not at all satisfied that quinine was the same thing.” [The Chronicles of Mabel Bent, Vol. 1, 50-51, Archaeopress 2006]

The Bents’ hospital bill from Aden, 11 April 1897. Note the extras, among which are those colonial staples: whiskey, ‘Bovril’, and ‘Brands Essence of Chicken’. If the charges were in £UK, the amount today would be around £10k (Hellenic Society and the Joint Library of the Hellenic and Roman Societies, London).

This predisposition did not prevent Bent from risking his health in dangerous conditions in the Levant, Africa and the Middle East for the next 13 years, until, on his last explorations, he and Mabel found themselves malaria victims and stretcher-cases east of Aden in the spring of 1897. Mabel’s book Southern Arabia (1900) has the full, and very sad story. Thanks to their long-term Anafiote dragoman, Matthew Simos, the couple were taken by boat back to Aden, where they recovered somewhat in the infirmary there (their hospital bill has outlasted them both).

After a few weeks they were fit enough to travel, and an unnamed steamer took them via Suez to Marseilles. It seems that southern France disagreed with Theodore and his malarial symptoms returned. Alarmed, Mable rushed with her patient by train and ferry to their London home, where he died a few days later on 5 May 1897.  On Theodore’s death certificate, Dr A. Elliot M.D. registered that the cause of death was “Malaria 6 weeks, Pneumonia 5 days”. The recurrence of fever as the predominant symptom tends to suggest that Theodore’s illness on his final tour was more likely to have been malaria rather than other diseases such as pneumonia or dysentery, although it would be consistent with other infections such as typhoid: there would seem to be no reason to question the diagnosis.

Theodore Bent’s (1852-1897) birth certificate (30 March 1852), confirming his birth place as Liverpool (an uncle was Lord Mayor). Several sources incorrectly cite Baildon in Yorkshire as his place of birth (Crown Copyright).

His early death (he was just 45) prompted eulogies in America and Europe, such was his reputation as a cavalier explorer and archaeologist. His many achievements can be seen via this link. It seems appropriate to quote from (among dozens of obituaries) the following from his local newspaper, The Shipley Times of Saturday, 15 May 1897 (the town of Shipley is a few miles from Bradford and Baildon, where Theodore grew up; the paper also misinform us of Bent’s place of birth incidentally):

“Death of a noted Baildonian – The death recently took place at his house in Great Cumberland Place, London, of Mr Theodore Bent, the well-known traveller and archaeologist. He was the only son of the late Mr James Bent, of Baildon, and was born in 1852 in the house at Low Baildon now occupied by Mr Smith Feather. Mr Bent was educated at Malvern Wells, Repton School, and Wadham College, Oxford, where he took his honours in the history school. After his marriage, in 1877, to Mabel, daughter of the late Mr Robert Westley Hall-Dare, D.L., of Newtonbarry House, County Wexford, and Wennington House, Essex, he, with his energetic and accomplished wife, spent several months each year in exploring little known districts and sites, from which he never failed to reap a rich harvest of geographical and archaeological knowledge. Mr Bent was an excellent linguist; he spoke modern Greek like a native. One of his earliest visits was to the Republic of San-Marino, on which he wrote an interesting little volume. He travelled extensively in Greece and Asia Minor, and in 1885 published a volume on “The Cyclades; or life among the Insular Greeks”. He afterwards visited the Bahrein Islands, on which he contributed a paper to the Royal Geographical Society. Perhaps he is best known by his investigations of the Zimbabwe ruins in Mashonaland, which he and Mrs Bent visited in 1891. The narrative of this interesting expedition has gone through several editions. In 1893 they visited Abyssinia, and made some valuable investigations among the ruined cities of that country. The last and fatal visit was the third visit to Southern Arabia, where Mr Bent succeeded in adding considerably to our knowledge of the Hadramut country. In 1895-96 the western shores of the Red Sea and the north of Suakim was the scene of Mr and Mrs Bent’s explorations, and here amongst the coast some remarkable remains of old Roman gold workings were discovered. Thus year after year Mr Bent continued to do good work for archaeology and geography, and he has at last fallen a martyr to his zeal. Mr Bent’s death will be a great shock to a wide circle of friends, to whom his kindly, genial, unaffected disposition had greatly endeared him. He was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and of the Royal Geographical Society; of the latter he had been a member of Council. On October 11th, 1894, Mr Bent delivered a lecture to the members of the Bradford Philosophical Society on his travels in Arabia.”

Theodore and Mabel’s grave and memorial (on the far right) in the churchyard of St Mary’s, Theydon Bois, Essex.

Mabel was devastated by the loss, and her own full potential as an explorer and photographer was never to materialise; she died in 1929. The couple are buried together in the Hall-Dare (Mabel’s Essex and Irish family) plot in St Mary’s, Theydon Bois. Go visit, take some flowers.

Greek Dress at the Hellenic Centre, London – 4 February until 2 March 2014 – with Bent references!

Greek Dress at the Hellenic Centre, London – 4 February until 2 March 2014 – with Bent references!

Marylebone, in Central London, might seem an unlikely place for an exhibition of Greek costume, but it is the home of the Hellenic Centre, a focus for philhellenes and London’s Greek community. From 4 February until 2 March 2014, there was a rare opportunity to see an impressive range of Greek dress outside its native land. As part of the event (on Friday 28 February, 7.15pm), Ann French, Textile Conservator at the Whitworth Art Gallery, the University of Manchester, used selected embroideries from the 1914 pioneering  embroidery exhibition (click for the online catalogue) at the Burlington Fine Arts Club in London, to trace their individual collecting histories and reveal the different contexts, interpretations and values placed on them within UK based collections and museums.  This exhibition, which drew on the leading collections of the day, primarily from the collection of Theodore and Mabel Bent and the archaeologists R M Dawkins & A J B Wace, of Greek Embroideries displayed, for the first time in the UK, historic Greek Embroideries as an art form. The exhibition features several  of the Bent’s finest pieces and Ann refers to them in the last five minutes or so of her talk in a fascinating account of how, on Mabel’s death, one of her Karpathos frocks found its way back to Greece! (One other is in store at the V & A, and two more from Nisyros are untraced – if you have them, let us know!) The talk was called “Old Embroideries of the Greek Islands and Turkey: An Exhibition at the Burlington Fine Arts Club 1914: A Celebration and Commemoration”, and can be seen on the video linked here, entitled ‘Patterns of Magnificence’.

The ‘Syra British Cemetery’ – Syros

I was prompted to write more about the ‘Syra British Cemetery‘ after reading Gerry Brisch’s fascinating account of the life of one the Bents’ friends and key ‘fixers’, Her Britannic Majesty’s Consul to Syra, William Binney, who helped ease the Bents’ travels around the Cyclades by way of letters of introduction to mayors, priests and other prominent figures throughout the islands.

These days, the island of Syros doesn’t figure too prominently on the radar of many non-Greek visitors to the Cyclades, and the three cemeteries, Orthodox, Catholic and British, on the road between the lower town and the ‘Catholic’ upper town, receive even fewer visitors.

After the Greek War of Independence started in 1821, the then-sparsely-populated Syros grew rapidly to become the commercial and administrative centre of the Greek Aegean world, earning it the sobriquet of ‘The Capital of the Cyclades’. Theodore and Mabel Bent were constantly drawn back to the island because of its position as the transport ‘hub’ which enabled them to explore further afield in Greece and beyond (see the interactive maps of their travels)

The Syra British Cemetery
The Syra British Cemetery

The ‘Syra British Cemetery’ illustrates the importance of Syros to Her Britannic Majesty’s Foreign Office following the foundation of the modern Greek state in 1832, until its pre-eminence was later eclipsed by King Otto’s new capital of Athens and its port of Piraeus. Like other British overseas cemeteries, located in many a corner of a foreign field, the Syros cemetery reveals some of the human sacrifices of those who served the Empire and suffered sickness and death far from home.

As Gerry Brisch tells us, the ‘Syra British Cemetery’ holds the grave of the Bents’ friend, William Binney, whose tombstone epitaph reads:

To the memory
of William Pryor Binney
H.B.M. Consul
Divisional Manager Eastern
Telegraph Company
Born in Halifax Nova Scotia
Canada
the 21th July 1839
died at Syra the 12th March 1888.
The Lord gave and the Lord
hath taken away Blessed be
the name of the Lord
Job I21.

The grave of William Binney
The grave of William Binney

Although the grave of HBM Consul William Binney, is the grandest in the tiny cemetery, there are also the graves of two former British consuls.

The grave of St. Vincent Lloyd
The grave of St. Vincent Lloyd

Binney’s predecessor, St. Vincent Lloyd, had been HBM Vice-Consul for the state of Wallachia in 1838 where he later made a name for himself by supporting the 1848 revolutionaries who went on to found the united Romanian state. December 14th, 1861 sees him promoted to Consul in Syros where it would seem he remained until his death in 1884. Part of his epitaph reads:

Sacred to the memory of St. Vincent Lloyd Esq., for many years H.B.M. Consul Syra, who died here 25th February 1884, in the 74th year of his age.

Lloyd’s promotion had been prompted by the death of another HBM Consul in Syra, Richard Wilkinson, in 1861. Two Wilkinson graves tell the story of tragic family grief.

The grave of Richard Wilkinson
The grave of Richard Wilkinson

Richard Wilkinson had been born in Smyrna, now Izmir, in 1783 and died in Syros on 26th September, 1861. Records exist showing him as HBM Consul in Syros in 1838 , one of five consuls stationed in important cities throughout the fledgling Greek state, the others being in Patras, Pyrgos, Napoli and Piraeus. With the exception of the Patras Consul, their role was primarily trade, highlighting the commercial importance of the island of Syros at that point in its history.

The epitaph on Richard Wilkinson’s grave reads:

Sacred to the memory of
Richard Wilkinson Esqr.
H B M Consul in Syra and its
dependencies
Born in Smyrna Dec 12 1783
Died in Syra Sep 26 1861

The childern's grave of John and Helene Wilkinson
The children’s grave of John and Helene Wilkinson

The other Wilkinson family grave holds the tiny bodies of John Wilkinson and Helene Wilkinson; John died in October, 1855 aged just over 2 years, while Helene survived just a few days over 3 months of age and died in January, 1856, three months after the death of her elder brother. Were they Richard Wilkinson’s grandchildren, or possibly even his own children conceived late in life? Either way, the grave evokes a time of great sorrow for Richard Wilkinson and his family.

One can only imagine the added heartache that the misspelt epitaph would have caused:

Sacred
to the memory of
John Wilkinson
born Aug. 1, 1853 died Oct. 27, 1855
and of
Helene Wilkinson
born Oct. 17, 1855 died Jan. 28, 1856
Suffer the little children to come unto
me, and forbid them not for such is the
Kingdom of Godt (sic)
Mark X, 14

Syra New British Cemetery
Syra New British Cemetery

During the First World War, Britain was fighting in two campaigns in the region, one against the Turks at Gallipoli, the other against the allied German, Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian forces on the Macedonian front. The seaborne lines of communication and supply for these campaigns ran through the Aegean Sea, and the islands of the Cyclades were a favourite hunting ground of German submarines.  British war graves were to be found on several islands of the Cyclades, mostly containing the bodies of sailors and soldiers washed ashore from torpedoed ships. Many came from the sinking of the transport ship ‘Arcadian on April 15th, 1917. In 1921, the small ‘Syra British Cemetery’ was extended to take the scattered graves from all the islands. It contains 111 British graves including those of 30 sailors. See the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website for detailed information.

Grave of an unknown sailor
Grave of an unknown sailor in the ‘Syra New British Cemetery’

Some forty years after the Bents’ travels in the Cyclades, another British traveller, Vincent Clarence Scott O’Connor, retraced the footsteps of the Bents through the islands and drew upon Theodore’s experiences and writings. O’Connor’s book, ‘Isles of the Aegean’, was published in 1929. While following Theodore to the village of Langada on the island of Amorgos, O’Connor met a kafeneion (café) owner whose grisly account supplements the history of the ‘Syra New British Cemetery’:

. . . I went over to the Kapheion, where the life of every little town and village in Greece moves upon the surface. The owner joined us at a table and began to talk of his experiences during the Great War. “During the war,” he said, “English ships constantly passed up and down the Aegean to Salonica, Egypt and India. Some were sunk, and we became accustomed, even here in Amorgos which was out of the way of their traffic, to finding the bodies of their dead floating on the sea. One of these ships, the Arcadian, was torpedoed off Siphnos, and one day as I walked along the cliffs at Acroteri with my gun, looking for partridge, I saw a cask floating on the sea. I got a boat and went out to it, and found the bodies of two British soldiers in khaki who had been drowned. I brought them ashore and buried them, together with eight others, who had been cast upon the rocks one by one. I got the Papa to come with me and recite the burial service over their remains, which he willingly did for they were Christian men. We desired their souls to rest in peace. Their identification discs I handed to the Greek control at Livadhi. Two years after these events British officers came here from Syra, photographed the graves I had made, measured their distance from the sea, and took away their bones for burial in the British cemetery on that island. But I found afterwards that the body of one man had been overlooked, and there were other fragments that had come on shore; these I carried up on my back to our cemetery here and buried them, asking the Papa once more to read the service over them; and for this I paid him. I was glad to do these things, for they were Englishmen, and Christians.”

I never managed to find the final resting place of that last man buried in the Langada cemetery – maybe you can be more successful – let us know.

Langada cemetery
Langada cemetery, Amorgos, where the last British body washed ashore from the ‘Arcadian’ was given a Christian burial

People come and go: to the memory of the kind William Pryor Binney, H.B.M. Consul on Syros and friend to the Bents

The kind William Pryor Binney (21 July 1839 – 12 March 1888), date unknown, presumably the 1870s, and perhaps wearing the medal of Chevalier from the King of Greece, or ‘the order of the Saviour and Order of the Iron Cross from the Emperor of Austria’. (From the‘Genealogy of the Binney family in the United States’ 1886)

People come and go; everyone travels; everyone leaves traces of their travels. You will find such a trace on a memorial in the rarely visited Westerners’ cemetery in Ermoupoli, on Cycladic Syros, near the junction of Taxiarchon and Katramadou, on the way to Ano Syros. The cross and monument of some grandeur is of fine Tinos marble; the inscription testifies to the trickiness of English lettering for Greek masons; it was expensive, and the deceased’s family wished to honour a significant man. There is no space for the word ‘kind’:

William Binney’s grave in the Westerners’ cemetery, Syros (detail) (The Bent Archive).

“To the Memory of William Pryor Binney, H.B.M. Consul, Divisional Manager Eastern Telegraph Company. Born in Halifax Nova Scotia, Canada, the 21th [sic] July 1839, died at Syra the 12th March 1888. The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Job 1, 21.”

The year of Binney’s birth, however, is given as 1840 in an arcane ‘Genealogy of the Binney family in the United States’, published by Charles James Fox Binney in 1886 (Albany, N.Y., J. Munsell’s Sons):

“William Pryor Binney, son of Stephen and Emily (Pryor) Binney, of Moncton, N[ew] B[runswick], was born July 21, 1840; married Polexine [Polyxena/Πολυξένη] Pateraki, daughter of the late George Pateraki[s], of Constantinople. Mr. Binney is the general manager of the submarine telegraph cable in the kingdom of Greece and Turkey, has held the office for twenty-five years past, and in 1884, lived at Syra, Greece. He is H.B.M. consul at Syra. Had no children in 1873. He had the title of Chevalier from the King of Greece and decoration of the order of the Saviour and order of the Iron Cross, from the Emperor of Austria.”

Stephen Binney (1805–1872), William’s father (from ‘Genealogy of the Binney family in the United States’, 1886).

The first Binney to surface, one captain John, of Nottinghamshire, set sail with his wife Mercy in 1678 or 1679, for Hull, Massachusetts. There, with John now a ‘fisherman’ and ‘gentleman’, the couple (with their six children) became the ‘ancestors of almost all of the name’. In the 19th century one of their descendants, Stephen Binney (1805–1872), a merchant of Halifax, and later first mayor, married Emily Pryor (1808 and still living in 1884); the couple had seven children, one of whom was our William Pryor Binney and Mabel remembers him for posterity as ‘kind’. As Halifax mayor, in early 1842 Stephen made the long Atlantic crossing to London with a message of congratulations on behalf of the city to Queen Victoria on the birth of her son (later King Edward VII). During his extended absence his business affairs at home suffered and he sought new opportunities, buying property near Moncton (New Brunswick). From his new base, Stephen Binney set up a successful wharf and shipyard, making a new start as a wholesaler, trading in timber and agricultural produce. With its access to the Bay of Fundy, and William’s father thrived as a merchant ship-owner, with a vessel that bore his own name, the ‘Stephen Binney’.

Pryor-Binney House, 5178 Morris Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3J, Canada (Heritage Division NS Dept. of Tourism, Culture and Heritage, 2005)

It was Stephen’s father (William’s grandfather), Hibbert Newton Binney, who forged links initially with the Pryors, when the two families cooperated on the building of a fine house in Halifax in 1831, and which H.N. Binney then bought outright in 1834. The ‘Pryor-Binney House’ still stands at 5178 Morris Street, Halifax.

One of William’s brothers was Moncton’s head of Customs, Irwine Whitty Binney (b. 1841). It was probably Irwine, as prosperous clan head, who supervised in some way William’s funeral in 1888, in the quiet Westerners’ cemetery on Syros. William’s widow, Πολυξένη, being Orthodox, probably rests in the Greek cemetery a few 100 metres away. We don’t know when the couple married (1860s?); Polyxena’s father, George Paterakis, was from Constantinople, and probably of some standing. The Binneys had had no children by 1873.

The former premises of the Eastern Telegraph Company, Syros, now the Merchant Marine Academy of Syros for Marine Deck Officers.

And of William’s career? And how he came to Syros? Follow the money. William, as part of a very  well-to-do and successful extended family who made their livings from commerce, merchant-shipping and the sea, was clearly ambitious to compete and strike out on his own; and quite prepared to travel and leave traces of his own. By the mid 1880s maritime nations were being linked by the invention of undersea cable-telegraphy, and the needs of the British Empire provided a booming market for companies in this sector. One of these was the Eastern Telegraph Company, a consolidation, in 1872, of a dynamic group of telegraphy businesses, involving some 23,000 miles of cabling by the late 1880s. This enterprise, of course, morphed eventually into today’s Cable and Wireless plc. A pivotal routing and operations hub for the Eastern Mediterranean, and British interests East, was based on Syros, and its capital, Ermoupoli, the main ‘port’ for all (‘new’) Greece before the growth of Pireaus around 1900. It was plain commercial sense that the Eastern Telegraph Company’s regional cable station and depot should be built on a (then) disconnected rock (Νησάκι), a hop from Ermoupoli’s seafront. The solid building (which probably housed Binney’s consular office too) still stands and now houses the island’s Merchant Marine Academy.

Announcement of William Binney’s appointment as ‘Her Majesty’s Consul in the Islands in the Greek Archipelago’ (‘The London Gazette’, 24145/5113, Tuesday, October 27, 1874).

William Binney held the important post of general manager for ETC’s Syros hub by 1883 at least, if not earlier; it is recorded that he had already been an employee for 25 years by around that date. His skillset obviously included diplomacy, and in 1874 we learn that “the Queen has been graciously pleased to appoint William Pryor Binney, Esq., to be Her Majesty’s Consul in the Islands in the Greek Archipelago, to reside in the Island of Syra [Foreign Office, September 5, 1874. The London Gazette, 24145/5113, Tuesday, October 27, 1874, and ‘The Morning Post’ of Wednesday, October 28, 1874].

 

Presumably this appointment helped Binney acquire his gongs, i.e. “the title of Chevalier from the King of Greece and decoration of the order of the Saviour and order of the Iron Cross, from the Emperor of Austria.” His duties would have included looking after his country’s interests and personnel in the region and reporting on the activities of potential rivals. Copies of communications between William and the UK Foreign Office can be found in the FO Volumes of the British Consuls in Greece, in the National Archive, Kew (i.e. 1881 FO 32/534; 1882 FO 32/546; 1892 FO 32/644; 1893 FO 32/653).

And as well as all this, Mabel Bent refers to William as not only fastidious, but ‘kind’ (she adds ‘so’ and underlines it). Theodore Bent met Binney first in Athens, in late November 1883. He became a friend it seems as well as Consul, providing the Bents with information and letters of introduction to contacts in the Cyclades generally. Theodore at this time was not particularly influential and it seems that Binney was being helpful to a British citizen as part of his consular duties. One of the contact names he slipped into Theodore’s pocket was Robert Swan, a Scottish miner on Antiparos. Swan was later to be central to Bent’s expedition to ‘Great Zimbabwe’ for Cecil Rhodes in 1891. But by then Binney was dead.

Let’s leave the last paragraphs on kind William Pryor Binney to Mabel Bent, as recorded in the pages of her Greek ‘Chronicles’. The final reference to his fatal illness comes as a shock:

A watercolour of Syros in the mid 19th century by Edward Lear; ‘that sparkling pile’ he called it.

“[Saturday, 1 December 1883] We had a quick but very rough passage, starting at 7 and getting [to Syros] about 3.30 a.m. Wednesday [28 November]. The ‘Pelops’ was quite new and very clean and I should have slept well but for the fleas. We landed at Ermoupolis at 6.30 and sat on the balcony overlooking the port for 2 hours as there was no bedroom vacant, nor did we get one till 5 o’clock. Mr. John Quintana, H.B.M. Vice Consul on whom Theodore called, came and fetched us and we spent 2 hours at the Consulate in Mr. Binney, the Consul’s room, very large and nice and so tidy. Mr. Binney must be a most orderly man for everything was ticketed and docketed. Theodore called on him in Athens, says he is like a slight Greek, foreign accent and Greek wife.” [Mabel Bent’s Greek ‘Chronicles’, pages 7–8]

“[Tuesday, 18(?) December 1883]. Rode 1½ hour to the nearest point to Antiparos carrying only our night things and a card of introduction from Mr.  Binney for Mr. R. Swan who has a calamine mine on this island.” [Mabel Bent’s Greek ‘Chronicles’, page 21]

“[Saturday, 22 March 1884] We fortunately got a room at the Hôtel d’Angleterre [Syros] and thoroughly enjoy ‘taking mine ease in mine inn’. We packed a box of our spoils for England and this afternoon I rode and the others walked to Ano or Upper Syra, a hideous place with a view over this barren island. We got very tired of Syra by Friday and as we found a kaïke of Kythnos or Thermiá we packed and prepared to start. But the strong Boreas would not permit ships to leave the port so after constant expectations up to Sunday morning the 23rd we gave up and went to church, a very poor little place and very ‘low’, according to the wishes of Mr. Binney the Consul. Afterwards we lunched with Mr.  Binney, Mr. Quinney the parson, being there also. N.B. Mr. Binney’s clerk is Mr. Finney.” [Mabel Bent’s Greek ‘Chronicles’, page 54]

“[Thursday, 26 January 1888] We only got to Syra on Thursday. We landed

The Syra British Cemetery
The Syra British Cemetery, Ermoupoli, near the junction of Taxiarchon and Katramadou, on the way to Ano Syros (photo: Alan King).

and found to our sorrow that our kind consul Mr. Binney was dreadfully ill.” [Mabel Bent’s Greek ‘Chronicles’, page 228]

“[Saturday, 25 February 1888] On Thursday… about 4 we left ‘The Town’ [Constantinople] in the ‘Alphée’ for Syra, picking up letters at the post on the way. We had no remarkable fellow passengers and reached Syra on Saturday morning about 4… We went to church on Sunday to a tidy little chapel, which they say will be closed if Mr. Binney is no longer there to keep it up.” [Mabel Bent’s Greek ‘Chronicles’, page 234]

William Binney’s grave in the Westerners’ cemetery, Syros (The Bent Archive).

Kind William Pryor Binney died 16 days after Mabel’s last reference to him, on 12 March 1888, of what she doesn’t say. (Appropriately, the new British Cemetery behind where he lies takes in the scattered Commonwealth war burials from the islands of the Cyclades.) He was not yet 50. Another William took over from him as Consul at Syros, W.H. Cottrell. People come and go; everyone travels; everyone leaves traces of their travels.

[The extracts from Mabel Bent’s diaries are taken from ‘The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent’, Vol. 1. Archaeopress, Oxford, 2006]