Of Crows and Swans and Calamine – the Archaeology Theatre of Antiparos

Alan King, long-term traveller in Greece, is in the front row as the Bents take to the stage in the Cyclades…

Overview

Between December 1883 and March 1884, Theodore and Mabel Bent were travelling around the Cyclades in search of ancient sites that they could excavate.

In December 1883, they stayed for a single night on the island of Antiparos, as Mabel recounts, “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.”

In the short time they were there, on the basis of information provided by Robert Swan, they visited an ancient burial site and found, and opened, four graves. This initial dig prompted their return a few weeks later for a longer visit in the hope that it would yield further finds.

The British Museum Objects
On May 30 1884, just a few months after his Antiparos digs, Bent wrote to the Keeper of Antiquities at the British Museum: ‘Do you care to make me an offer for my figures, vases, ornaments, etc., from Antiparos? It occurs to me that a collection of this nature is rather lost in private hands.’See some of the objects excavated by Bent in Antiparos.
In the event, the additional finds from the site, and from another they excavated on that second visit, surpassed their expectations and would lead to the establishment of Bent’s future reputation as a credible archaeologist, or, depending on your point of view, with some justification, an ‘illegal excavator’  note 1 . The objects he took from Antiparos he later sold to the British Museum, where they remain today.

Bent was the first player on stage and he wrote about his excavation work in 1884  note 2  but omitted to disclose the precise location of his two excavation sites.

Finds from Krassades in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens
Objects excavated from Krassades, in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Following Bent, some fourteen years later, in 1898, the Greek archaeologist Christos Tsountas took the stage when he located a site which he attributed to Bent’s initial site at a place he named as Krassades, but knowledge of exactly where Krassades lay was lost over the ensuing years.

For well over a century, the location of Bent’s site remained a mystery and the theatre stood silent. Only recently, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Zozi Papadopoulou, has the location of Krassades been pinpointed and the footlights have once again illuminated the scenery and the actors involved.

But the answer had always been there, hidden between the lines of Bent’s book and Mabel’s chronicles, ready to be revealed in conjunction with a little local research.

In 2017, Dr. Zozi published a paper  note 3 , in Greek, in which she describes rediscovering the location of Krassades. Unfortunately, Dr. Zozi’s paper slipped under the radar of The Bent Archive.

On a visit to Antiparos in September 2019, unaware of Dr. Zozi’s discovery, I resolved to try to put together the pieces of the 130-year old jigsaw puzzle which would reveal: 1) the house of Robert and John Swan, in which Theodore and Mabel Bent stayed while on the island; 2) the site of the calamine mine managed by Robert Swan; and 3) the precise location of Bent’s initial dig. Together they form the three scenes for the set of the “Archaeology Theatre of Antiparos”.

Theodore's and Mabel's books
The Cyclades or Life Among the Insular Greeks – Theodore’s classic book of his and Mabel’s adventures in Antiparos and the other Cyclades islands can be found in this print version, which also contains additional information about the Bents and their travel itinerary.

World Enough, and Time: The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent Volume I: Greece and the Levantine Littoral – You can read more about Theodore’s and Mabel’s visit to Antiparos in this print version of the informal day-by-day entries Mabel made in her chronicles.

The cast (in order of appearance)

Theodore and Mabel Bent

Theodore and Mabel Bent are the main players in the story. Read more about their lives and their travels.

William Binney

William Binney seems to play a small but important part in the story. He was Her Brittanic Majesty’s Consul to Syra (Syros) during much of the time of the Bents’ travels around the islands. He facilitated their travels by way of letters of introduction to important figures on each island they visited, one of whom was Robert Swan on Antiparos. Many of the Bents’ finds were illegally exported out of Greece, usually via the port of Syros, and one wonders whether William Binney’s role should be extended to include his services to the Bents in this area. Read more about William Binney.

Robert Swan

Robert McNair Wilson Swan was born in Scotland in 1858, making him 3 years younger than Bent. His biography tells us that he worked in Greece as a ‘mining expert’ from 1879 to 1886. He would have been around 25 years old when he and his brother, John, first met Theodore and Mabel Bent in Antiparos in December 1883. We deduce that he’d been working on the island for around four years at that stage.

Christos Tsountas

Christos Tsountas (under Wikimedia licence)
Christos Tsountas (licenced by Wikimedia)

Christos Tsountas was a highly-respected Greek archaeologist. He was born in 1857 and died in 1934. Aside from his other important areas of work, notably Tiryns, Mycenae and Syros, he investigated ancient burial sites on several islands in the Cyclades in 1898 and 1899, including Antiparos. It was he who coined the term “Cycladic civilization”.

Dr. Zozi Papadopoulou

Dr. Zozi Papadopoulou is Head of the Department of Classical and Prehistoric Antiquities of the Ephorate of Antiquities of the Cyclades. Among other projects, she has been the driving force in rediscovering, and continuing work at, the site of Bent’s first excavation, now known as Krassades.

Setting the scene

In December 1883, Theodore and Mabel Bent visited the island of Paros, and, during their visit, they made the 10-minute hop across the narrow strait to the neighbouring island of Antiparos, armed with a letter of introduction from the British Consul in Syros, Richard Binney, to a Scottish engineer, Robert Swan, carrying out mining operations on Antiparos. They stayed for just one night with Swan and his brother John, but this brief encounter sowed the seeds of a friendship which would last for many years. Over the following few weeks, they saw more of Swan, who joined them on parts of their island-hopping odyssey.

This budding friendship was in stark contrast to that which Bent had feared he would encounter in Antiparos after advice from his muleteer in Paros. Bent writes:

The Pariotes look down on their neighbours with supreme contempt and call them kouroúnai (κουρούναι), or crows … and my interest was excited about the crows into whose nest we were about to deposit ourselves; but, as it turned out, we found our home for three weeks at Antiparos, not amongst the crows, but in the hospitable nest of the Swans — two English brothers, who work calamine mines on this island, and who not only assisted us in our digging operations, but gave us the rest that we much needed.

Mabel’s chronicle echoes Bent’s endorsement of their new-found friends and tells us of a conversation, on that first night, which would spark Bent’s interest and bring the travellers back to Antiparos for a longer stay just a few weeks later. Mabel writes of that first visit:

Rode 1 1/2 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. Crossed in about 10 minutes. Found the population all enjoying the feast of St. Nikoloas who replaces Neptune. At one house I was obliged to join in the syrtos holding 2 handkerchiefs. We sent a messenger to Mr. Swan and knowing he would take 3 hours to return, rode to meet him. Met Mr. Swan who more than fulfilled our warmest hopes. He took us to his house, and after resting told us that in making a road he had come upon a lot of graves and found a marble cup, broken etc. So, we manifesting a great wish to dig too, he got men and we opened 4. They were lined and paved with slabs of stone and the people must have been doubled up in them, they were so small; we only found, besides bones, 2 very rough marble symbols of men and women, little flat things and some broken pottery.

So, in early February 1884, the couple returned for a longer run with a script which saw Bent excavating 40 ancient graves, yielding a plethora of unique finds. Those finds, now in the British Museum, essentially wrote the text-book for our understanding of early Cycladic culture.

Following the plot

Although Bent’s work during his 2 weeks on Antiparos led to his being recognised as a serious archaeologist, we know little about his day-to-day activities. Unusually, Mabel’s chronicles do not give us as much information as on some of the less important islands they visited.

In Greek Waters
Read Theodore Bent’s gripping account of his day spent fishing

We do know he left for a visit to Amorgos for a week, leaving Mabel with the Swans to recover from a bout of ill health. We also know from Bent’s book, The Cyclades or Life Among the Insular Greeks, that he took a day off to go fishing on St. Simeon’s Day  note 4  when his workers refused to work on the Saint’s day. Even on his day off, he used the time to gather material for a magazine article entitled ‘Fishing in Greek Waters‘, which he later incorporated into the book. You can read the gripping story in The Cyclades book or in the free online ebook, In Greek Waters, on our sister site.

Bent and Mabel both mention that they stayed at Robert Swan’s house but give us few clues as to exactly where that house was. We know his first excavation was at the suggestion of Robert Swan who ‘in making a road he had come upon a lot of graves and found a marble cup, broken etc.‘ But where was that road and hence the excavation site?

The following sections try to answer these questions. These ‘answers’ are not definitive and are hypothetical assertions based on researching the island’s recent industrial history, speaking with local people and visiting potential sites. We welcome discussion and further information from any source and will update this article as new information becomes available or any of the assertions are proved to be false.

We have one ‘hard’ piece of evidence. Bent tells us that his first excavation site was “on the slope of the mountain, about a mile above the spot where the houses were”. He saw the ‘houses’ submerged in the narrow stretch of sea between the island of Tsimintiri and the southern shore of Antiparos near present-day Aghios Georgios. Using this fact, I’ve tried to bring together discrete pieces of Bent’s and Mabel’s writings and local exploration and research to come up with the most probable positioning for all three of our sort-after locations.

The narrow stretch of sea between the island of Tsimintiri and the southern shore of Antiparos
The narrow stretch of sea between the island of Tsimintiri and the southern shore of Antiparos where Bent saw the submerged houses. The island of Despotiko looms in the background.

1. The Swans’ house

The location of the Swans’ house is key to finding Bent’s initial exploratory dig site in December 1883 and his subsequent, more extensive digs a few weeks later.

Theodore and Mabel Bent had been staying in Paroikia in Paros, and Bent tells us that they left early for the journey to Antiparos: “On the next morning early we started for Antiparos, a desolate ride of two hours to the point where the ferry boat takes passengers across.” Mabel’s chronicle contradicts Bent’s timing: “Rode 1½ hour to the nearest point to Antiparos”.

Mabel writes that Swan’s house was a 90-minute ride (in one direction) from Antiparos town where the ferry landed the couple: “We sent a messenger to Mr. Swan and knowing he would take 3 hours to return, rode to meet him. … He took us to his house, and after resting told us that in making a road he had come upon a lot of graves and found a marble cup, broken etc. So, we manifesting a great wish to dig too, he got men and we opened 4.”

These events all occured within the same day so, timing, and Bent’s subsequent description of the location of the dig site, pins down the approximate location of the house.

Mabel noted in her diary that they visited Antiparos on December 18, however, that date needs to be clarified. Bent says it was St. Nicholas’ Day (December 6). With the 12 days old-style/new-style calendar shift that Mabel always factored in, it would confirm Mabel’s date of December 18  note 5 . In 2018 on that day in Greece, there were 9 hours and 32 minutes of daylight with the sun rising at 08:35 and setting at 18:07. The actual times would vary slightly according to the longitude of a specific location, but the interval would be the same. Over the intervening 134 years, a few seconds of drift may have to be factored in. Also, without further research, it’s not certain that there was a universal Greek time or whether, more likely, it changed with longitude, and, the relationship between the ‘clock time’ and sunrise may not have been as now. However, this is all self-balancing and we still end up with around 9:30 hours of daylight.

We have to assume that Bent and Mabel would not be travelling by mule in the dark. Adding up Mabel’s chronicled day should give us the amount of time remaining for Bent’s exploratory dig:

  • Paroikia to Pounda 1:30 (Mabel’s lower reckoning)
  • Awaiting the boat to come from Antiparos 0:15
  • Crossing 0:15
  • Festivities (Mabel tells us they joined in) 0:30
  • Ride to the Swans’ house 1:30 (although Bent tells us it was 2 hours)
  • Resting at the Swans’ house (say) 1:00

This totals, conservatively, 5:00 hours, leaving just 4:30 hours for Swan to organise the men for digging, to travel to the site from Swan’s house, excavate 4 graves and travel back. Therefore, the site must have been VERY close to the Swans’ house.

Bent tells us, almost exactly, where the dig site was:

A rock in the sea between Antiparos and the adjacent uninhabited island of Despotiko is covered with graves, and another islet is called Cemeteri, from the graves on it. The islands of Despotiko and Antiparos were once joined by a tongue of land, which was washed away by the encroachment of the sea on the northern side; and in the shallow water of the bay, between the islands, I was pointed out traces of ancient dwellings … I was able to discern a well filled up with sand, an oven, and a small square house. … A clever fisherman, who knows every inch of the bay, told me that pottery similar to that I found in the graves was very plentiful at the bottom of the sea near the houses. It is on the slope of the mountain, about a mile above the spot where the houses were, that an extensive graveyard exists. It is not unlikely that the submerged houses form the town of which this was the necropolis.

Taking our assertion of the proximity of Swan’s house to Bent’s initial dig site, would locate the house to be 1 to 2 kms north of the present-day village of Aghios Georgios.

While researching another, unconnected, story in Aghios Georgios, I mentioned my Bent search to a local man, Tassos G… . This conversation threw up a tantalising possible candidate for the Swans’ house. “If you follow that track up and over the hill, you’ll come to a building which was owned by a French mining company” he said. “It’s used as a farm building now but it’s not an average local house – look at the stonework”.

After leaving Tassos’ house, I immediately took the track he’d indicated. The house he’d described was indeed more high-status than the usual farm building. It’s now being used to store hay. There are some additional buildings around it with another largish building across the track.

The Swans' house
The Swans’ house?
Decorative lintels
Decorative lintels

Part of the house has been demolished and the existing walls represent approximately two thirds of the original length of the house.

The stones forming the walls are of a regular shape and have either been cut or carefully selected; by comparion, the other large building mentioned, on the opposite side of the track, is of a much rougher construction.

Rendering on the internal walls
Rendering on the internal walls

An element of decorative embellishment can be seen in the door and window lintels, being curved and formed from stones rather than a simple straight piece of timber. All the internal walls were at one time rendered.

While looking around the site, I noticed SOMETHING QUITE AMAZING – but more of that a little later.

The track continues on up the hillside and eventually reaches a large mining site to the north of Mount Profitis Ilias at Koutsoulies. Could this road have been the one which Mabel writes about: “He took us to his house, and after resting told us that in making a road he had come upon a lot of graves.”

Further investigation yielded more ‘evidence’ as set out in the following sections.

2. The calamine mine

Calamine is a combination of zinc oxide and ferric oxide. Read more about calamine.

The Municipality of Antiparos’ official website states: “Mining activity on the island began in 1873, when the state ceded the exploitation rights to these deposits to the Elliniki Metalleftiki Etaireia [Greek Mining Company]”  note 6 

Another account of mining activity tells us: “Limonite ore, from which iron containing pockets of azurite and zinc are extracted, can be found on the western slopes of Profitis Ilias of Antiparos. The Greek Mining Company began mining operations in 1873 and started mining zinc from Kaki Skala. In 1900 the mines were taken over ​​by the French Company of Lavrion”  note 7 

This second account mentioning the French Company of Lavrion would seem to tie in with Tassos’ statement about the house having been owned by a French mining company.

In searching for the calamine mine, I was initially drawn to the site of the mines at Koutsoulies, however, being on the north slope of Profitis Ilias somewhat casts doubt on this being the site of Swan’s mine. Additionally, the track from the house to those mines twists and turns around the folds of the mountain, probably a distance of 8-10 kms or so. Why would Swan live so far from the place of his work? The house indicated by Tassos is not in a ‘desirable’ location: it’s not in a village, or a town, it’s not by the sea. There had to be another reason why the mining company had built the house at that location. The calamine mine just had to be closer to the house, and, remember, in a very short space of time, Swan had gathered up a team of men to help Bent on his initial exploratory dig.

The quarry in the ravine near the house
The quarry in the ravine near the house

A kilometre further on from the house, the track passes above a ravine showing clear signs of quarrying with heaps of mining spoil to be seen, not yet fully overgrown. A kilometre further on, a track leads down to the ravine bed and closer examination of the quarry can be made. To the untrained eye, some of the loose spoil looks iron-based (ferric) with rust-red patches revealing its presence – a possible indication of calamine. The extent of the quarry can be clearly seen on the map in this article when switched to satellite view.

Rock from the quarry near the house
Rock from the quarry near the house. Is it calamine?

Bent writes of the local man named Zeppo:

On the opposite side of the island to the village of Antiparos, about two hours on muleback over the mountains, are a few scattered houses gathered round the calamine mines. Here we were staying, close to our graveyard, and here Zeppo has his store and dispenses his goods to the miners.

So, Bent’s writings would seem to support our assertion that the calamine mines were close to Swan’s house and hence his initial dig site. Were those “few scattered houses gathered round the calamine mine” the ‘farm’ buildings I’d seen?

Bent’s statement in relation to calamine extraction, “I could find no trace of any ancient works here [Antiparos]“, supports the premise that the quarry near to the Swan’s house was from the modern era.

3. Bent’s excavation sites

Bent was relatively restrained in his excavations on Antiparos, given the number of sites he was told about, and one would like to think that he thought he’d leave some for future generations of archaeologists. He writes:

I was induced to dig at Antiparos because I was shown extensive graveyards there. Of these I visited no less than four on the island itself, and heard from natives of the existence of others in parts of the island I did not visit.

Of the four sites he visited, he excavated only two: “I opened some forty graves from two of the graveyards”. Just these two sites yielded a vast number of finds, all of which are now in the British Museum (view the objects in the British Museum).

Subsequent excavations by Tsountas and Dr. Zozi yielded a smaller number of finds, some of which can be seen in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens (see earlier image).

The first site

I’ve tried to establish earlier that Bent’s first excavation site was close to the Swans’ house and close to the calamine mine.

The fortuitous conversation with Tassos about the French mining company house led me to explore the track he’d pointed out to me.

I found the house and, on walking around the immediate area, I saw to my utter amazement, just across the track from the house, some fairly recent excavations of, what looked like, graves identical to those described by Bent. How could this possibly be? Bent’s original excavations would have eroded or been overgrown over the past 130 years, so somebody had been excavating here recently.

Evidence of excavations just across the track from the house

Back at the Bent Archive base, on receiving my report of finding these new excavations, the team started scouring the Internet for any recent references to Bent’s excavations on Antiparos. They came upon an advance notice of a lecture  note 8  which was to have been given to The Archaeological Society at Athens in December 2018 – just 9 months previously. The presenter was to be Dr Zozi Papadopoulou. A précis of the lecture stated: “In recent investigations by the Ephoria of Antiquities for the Cyclades, the Krassades site was relocated [located once more] and a cluster of graves, some undisturbed, were explored.”

With no contact details for Dr. Zozi Papadopoulou, the Bent Archive sent an email to Demetris Athanasoulis, Director of The Ephorate of Antiquities of the Cyclades, who forwarded the message to Dr. Zozi, to which she replied:

The site of Krassades has been located in the last decade about 1km north of the modern settlement of Ag. Georgios in Antiparos. We actually excavate part of the cemetery with very interesting findings. I am sending a link directing you to one of my articles with informative photos included (pp 357-359). The “southeast site” you mentioned has not been identified yet…

Dr. Zozi’s reply arrived after I’d left Antiparos. The information in the article which she references  note 9  in her email looks to be extremely interesting and, armed with this new information, a return visit beckons soon after travel is permitted following the current (2020/21) pandemic.

Her reply confirmed what I’d deduced from the lines of Bent’s book and Mabel’s chronicles, and from my researches on Antiparos – the exact location of Bent’s first excavation site, the location of the Swans’ house and the location of the calamine mine.

The second site

Neither Bent nor Mabel provide us with any precise information on where the second site was located. Only two vague geographic references are given.

One reference tells us that it was “to the south-east of the island”. This could lead us to believe that it was somewhere on the peninsula, south or west, of the present-day village of Soros.

The other reference provides the information: “In Antiparos the inhabitants had their obsidian close at hand, for a hill about a mile from the south-eastern graveyard is covered with it.”

SO – a project for a future (very long) visit to Antiparos – find an obsidian needle in an obsidian haystack in the south-east of the island!

Dr. Zozi’s reply seems to confirm that the location of Bent’s second site is still unknown:

The “southeast site” you mentioned has not been identified yet.

Epilogue

As with any complex plot, the individual players each add their part to the overall story and serendipity often plays a major role.

In 1884, Bent published his article, Researches Among the Cyclades in the Journal of Hellenic Studies  note 10 , describing his excavations on Antiparos. Around the same time, he was also writing his book, The Cyclades or Life Among the Insular Greeks  note 11 , in which he included much of the text of the previously published article, save for a short appendix, Notes on an Ancient Grecian Skull. Aside from this appendix, the text of the article and the book are largely identical with the notable exception of the first paragraph. In the article he writes:

It is first of all necessary to state why I chose Antiparos as a basis for investigation on this point: firstly, because during historic times…

The version in his book contradicts that of the article:

On ascertaining the existence of extensive prehistoric remains at Antiparos I felt that it would be a satisfactory spot for making investigations — first, because during historic times…

Both versions continue identically and both contain the second paragraph starting:

Secondly, I was induced to dig at Antiparos because I was shown extensive graveyards there.

In the article version, Bent is suggesting that he chose Antiparos in advance because, from the considerations he sets out, he foresaw that he might find remains there, whereas, in the book version, his considerations were only entered into following the meeting with Robert Swan and his excavations on that first brief visit.

Although Bent was always on the look-out for potential dig sites wherever he roamed, one might assume, given that he only intended to stay overnight, that his reason for visiting Antiparos was other than archaeology. It would seem that he came as a ‘tourist’ to visit “the celebrated grotto” for its medieval historical interest, about which visit he wrote extensively in his book. His archaeological interests lay much further back in history and, for Bent, Antiparos was “a place without a history.”

It can be said therefore that the discovery of the Krassades site was a result of two supreme examples of serendipity. Firstly, in Robert Swan’s stumbling upon the graveyard while making the road to the calamine mines and, secondly, in Swan’s mention of the graves on that first night, without which, Bent might never have proceeded to dig on Antiparos. Maybe it was always in Swan’s mind to mention his finding of the graves, and Mabel’s account makes it sound as though the subject might have been on his agenda: “He took us to his house, and after resting told us that in making a road he had come upon a lot of graves and found a marble cup, broken etc.”

Robert Binney, the British Consul in Syros, played his part well in bringing Swan and Bent together.

We don’t know for sure, but it would seem that Swan made no monetary gain from bringing the site of the graves to Bent’s attention, nor for assisting him during the Bents’ 3-week stay on the island (although Bent himself stayed only for 2 weeks, leaving Mabel with the Swan brothers on the third week, suffering from poor health). Robert Swan and the Bents became close friends from that point on and Swan later drew some element of fame from accompanying Bent on his expedition to Great Zimbabwe.

Bent, of course, gained the greatest applause and accolades. As an established author of books and journal articles, and as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, he had all the right contacts to finally make his name as an archaeologist, aided by his sale to the British Museum of the Antiparos finds, his article Researches Among the Cyclades, published in 1884 in the Journal of Hellenic Studies,  note 12  and the publication of his best-selling book The Cyclades or Life Among the Insular Greeks  note 13  in 1885.

Christos Tsountas played a key ‘linking’ role, some 15 years after Bent’s excavations. Probably working from Bent’s writings, and being able to find local people with personal recollections of his visit in 1884, he identified Bent’s excavation site and named it as Krassades. He was also the first to methodically excavate the site using sound archaeological practices.

That ‘link’ provided by Tsountas, was picked up over 100 years later by Dr. Zozi Papadopoulou who successfully located, once again, the Krassades site and has produced detailed and modern analysis of older parts of the site as well as new areas of interest. Her work on the site continues.

We leave it to you, the audience, to make up your own mind, from the script we’ve compiled, as to who should share the applause in the “Archaeology Theatre of Antiparos”.

Map of the scene

Read how to use the interactive map.

Critical reviews

This section sets out discussions and new information on the subject of the precise locations of Bent’s excavation sites and Robert Swan’s house.

Article ©2021 copyright Alan King. All images copyright Alan King unless otherwise stated.

Notes

Note 1: “In contrast to Bent’s illegal excavations, are the researches of Chr. Tsountas in southwest Antiparos.” Extract translated from Greek from the paper Recent Archaeological Researches in Antiparos by Z. Papadopoulou (2017). https://www.academia.edu/38788690/Πρόσφατες_αρχαιολογικές_έρευνες_στην_Αντίπαρο.Recent_archaeological_researches_in_Antiparos Return from Note 1

Note 3: Πρόσφατες αρχαιολογικές έρευνες στην Αντίπαρο (Recent Archaeological Researches in Antiparos) by Z. Papadopoulou (2017). https://www.academia.edu/38788690/Πρόσφατες_αρχαιολογικές_έρευνες_στην_Αντίπαρο.Recent_archaeological_researches_in_Antiparos Return from Note 3

Note 4: In the Othodox Calendar, St. Simeon’s Day is April 27th. Simeon is also honored, together with 70 other apostles, on January 4th. Those who are named after Simeon, or Symeon, can celebrate their name day on either of these days. However, Theodore and Mabel Bent were in Antiparos on this second visit in February 1884 so Bent may be mistaken in his reference to this saint’s day – or he was being hoodwinked by his workers? Return from Note 4

Note 6: Source: Municipality of Antiparos website section on Geology/Morphology Return from Note 6

Note 7: Source: Atlas of the geological opmonuments of the Aegean/Publication of the Ministry of the Aegean, 2002, www.ypai.gr Return from Note 7

Note 8: Antiparos: from the Early Cycladic cemetery at Krassades to the Middle Cycladic/Late Cycladic I site at Agriokastro (N.B. The date below the heading of the notice states the wrong year and should read “Tuesday, December 11, 2018” instead of the erroneous 2016) Return from Note 8

Note 9: Πρόσφατες αρχαιολογικές έρευνες στην Αντίπαρο (Recent Archaeological Researches in Antiparos) by Z. Papadopoulou (2017). https://www.academia.edu/38788690/Πρόσφατες_αρχαιολογικές_έρευνες_στην_Αντίπαρο.Recent_archaeological_researches_in_Antiparos Return from Note 9

Note 10: Journal of Hellenic Studies (Volume 5, November 1884, pages 42-59) – Researches Among the Cyclades. The article is also reproduced in Bent’s book The Cyclades or Life Among the Insular Greeks Return from Note 10

Note 11: The book, The Cyclades or Life Among the Insular Greeks, is still available in print. Return from Note 11

Note 12: Journal of Hellenic Studies (Volume 5, November 1884, pages 42-59) – Researches Among the Cyclades. The article is also reproduced in Bent’s book The Cyclades or Life Among the Insular Greeks Return from Note 12

Note 13: The book, The Cyclades or Life Among the Insular Greeks, is still available in print. Return from Note 13

On the Far-off Island of Karpathos – 1885

Minas Chouvardas
Minas Chouvardas – philologist and historian

In September 2020, we were contacted by the philologist and historian Minas Chouvardas who is writing a book about past foreign travellers to the island of Karpathos. Minas is orginally from the village of Olympos, in the north of Karpathos, where the Bents spent Easter 1885. He was aware of the Bents’ important contribution to the documented social history of the island and has undertaken meticulous research into the events and the people described by both Theodore and Mabel in relation to Theodore’s article ‘On a far-off Island‘.

We were delighted when Minas offered us the chance to publish the results of his research on this website. His article precisely identifies individuals of whom Theodore only gave us vague details. Minas also investigates the murder which both Theodore and Mabel write about as having been instigated by one of their new friends while they were on the island. Overall, Minas’ article demonstrates his passion for the people, the places and the history of his native island.

Minas’ article is best enjoyed when you have ready access to Theodore’s original account and, with this in mind, our sister website has published an ebook version of Theodore’s story which can be freely viewed online or downloaded in a choice of formats. Clicking on the book cover will open a new window so that you can flip back and forth between Minas’ and Theodore’s articles.

So, without further ado, let’s hand over to Minas:

The “Karpathiote” Friends of Theodore Bent – by Minas Chouvardas

James Theodore Bent and Mabel V.A. Bent visited Karpathos in the spring of 1885 and remained on the island for about two months. Theodore Bent is the only foreign traveller to Karpathos in the 19th century who gives detailed information about the island’s ethnological composition, the archaeological findings, and the customs and traditions as he experienced them when he and his wife were there. He also gives detailed information about the Karpathian dialect, daily life, and the occupations of the inhabitants. Surprisingly, his important researches, which mainly concern the folklore of the island at the end of the 19th century, have passed unnoticed by modern scholars. Most Karpathian scholars know only of the contents of his extended article on Karpathos in the Journal of Hellenic Studies of 1885 note 1 . However, Theodore himself, when asked by his inner circle why he made the long journey to the remote island, and found so much of interest there, replied: “… it is one of the most lost islands of the Aegean Sea, lying between Crete and Rhodes, where no steamer touches, and … my wife and I spent some months on it last winter with a view to studying the customs of the 9000 Greeks who inhabit it, and who in their mountain villages have preserved through long ages many of the customs of the Greeks of old note 2 .

You can read Mabel’s fascinating and informal account of the couple’s time on Karpathos in Gerald Brisch’s book World Enough, and Time: The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent Volume I: Greece and the Levantine Littoral
At the same time, Mabel, during their two-month stay on Karpathos, was recording in her diary, in detail, their daily activities and the contacts they had with the locals and their Turkish rulers. Although she does not always provide descriptions of all the people and locations, Mabel presents us with the real situation of Karpathos a few years before the Italian conquest. She observes, records and judges the behaviours of the people, comments on the habits and beliefs of the inhabitants, and often compares the culture of the islanders with her own British one. But, mainly through the detailed recording of the events that she presents in her Chronicles (as she called them), she illuminates the aspects of the events and the information that Theodore may have overlooked in his own writings. But often the opposite happens: it is Theodore who mentions events and situations experienced on the island that Mabel either does not mention at all or skips over, and gives his own different view of things. In some places, in fact, information provided about an incident or person is contradictory. The reader, however, should not be surprised by this: although an inseparable couple, they have, of course, different characters and personalities, and thus we see things from different points of view – and therein lies the charm.

Mabel’s narration in her Chronicles fascinates her readers, now as then, transporting them to the small, and poor, societies of Karpathos at the end of the 19th century. Thanks to the testimonies of the Bents, we share in the toils of the Karpathian farmers and shepherds, the art of embroidery, the love of song, of fun and dance, of food and drink, of the prejudices and superstitions. In all this there is the simple figure of the Karpathian: the mayor, the priest, the prominent man, the interpreter, the worker, the rower, the old prophet, the teacher, the old ‘witch’ with a remedy for every ill.

During their stay on the island they meet with several residents of Karpathos and with some of them they clearly developed friendly ties. Accordingly, this present article aims to introduce the Bents’ native friends and reveal information about their lives and personalities. Let us begin then …

Coming to Karpathos, the Bents carry three letters of recommendation given to them by the Greek consular agent of Rhodes, Mr. Philemon, addressed to three prominent Karpathians of that time: Mr. Frangiskos Sakolarides, Mr. Koumpis and Mr. Manolakakis.

The first friend that Mabel mentions in her “Chronicles” is Mr. Manolakakis note 3 . She does not mention his first name at any point in her diary, while Theodore in his article “On a far-off Island” never mentions his name, but always addresses him as “our third friend“. This fact suggests that the phrase is used ironically, as we shall see, by Theodore. The question that occurs to a modern Karpathian reader of Mabel’s diary is ultimately “who is Manolakakis?” The surname is found until today in the southern villages of Karpathos. Of course, many Karpathians on the island know that a Manolakakis, named Emmanuel, was the first historian and folklorist of Karpathos note 4 . However, other intrinsic items in Mabel’s diary make it possible to verify the identity of that person. Mabel reports that Mr. Manolakakis had lunch with them at least twice, that they bought Rhodian plates from his mother note 5  and that his then 17-year-old daughter Ephrosini (Mrs Sophrosine Manolakakis) helped the couple carry their luggage from Aperi to Volada note 6 . Mabel, unlike Theodore, seems to have liked Mr. Manolakakis, after stating, on the occasion of the help offered by Ephrosini, that “she is the daughter of a very nice man note 7 . She never mentions in her diary what topics of discussion they had, nor does she describe his appearance or character. However, Mabel, concluding the narration of their stay in Karpathos, notes in the form of a postscript that Mr. Manolakakis was the instigator of a murder committed in Volada while they were in Karpathos note 8 .

Theodore is more descriptive and revealing when referring to Mr. Manolakakis. He immediately shows his dislike when he mentions that Mr. Manolakakis was the reason they left Mr. Sakellaridis’ house in Aperi and went to Volada, so that he could carry out the assassination plan against the Karpathian “dragoman” Frangiskos Sakellaridis a few weeks later note 9 . When Sevasti, the owner of the house in Volada, refused to allow the couple to dance and sing, it was Mr. Manolakakis who supported Theodore and Mabel note 10 . Elsewhere in his story, Theodore points out the poverty of Mr. Manolakakis, who in order to marry his eldest daughter, gave almost all his property as a dowry, while his second daughter (Ephrosini) lived in misery note 11 . Theodore also mentions that Mr. Manolakakis had invited him for dinner, but because Theodore left before the fun peaked, he considers it possible that Mr. Manolakakis was misunderstood note 12 . Theodore, in contrast to Mabel, emphasizes the murder that took place in Volada, giving more details and without hesitation names Mr. Manolakakis as the instigator of the murder. What is striking is that Theodore three times in his narrative speaks of the attempted murder against the interpreter note 13 .

Fig. 1. The Turkish kaϊmakam Ohanes Ferit with Turkish officials and Karpathian mayors in the last years of Turkish rule. On the left is Emmanouel Manolakakis, in the middle is Hassan Effendi and on the right the kaϊmakam Ohanes Ferit, jokingly referred to by Mabel as ‘the Cream’. © Emanouel Cassotis.
Fig. 1. The Turkish kaϊmakam Ohanes Ferit with Turkish officials and Karpathian mayors in the last years of Turkish rule. On the left is Emmanouel Manolakakis, in the middle is Hassan Effendi and on the right the kaϊmakam Ohanes Ferit, jokingly referred to by Mabel as ‘the Cream’. © Emanouel Cassotis.
Fig. 2. The name of Ephrosini E. Manolakaki in the list of subscribers of her father’s book Karpathiaka (p.294)
Fig. 2. The name of Ephrosini E. Manolakaki in the list of subscribers of her father’s book Karpathiaka (p.294)

The “Mr. Manolakakis” whom Bent met is none other than Emmanuel Manolakakis, the author of Karpathiaka (1896). Emmanuel Manolakakis note 14  (fig.1) was born in 1830 and died on March 17, 1900 of a heart attack. He married Kalliopi Nikola and they had 11 children. He came from Volada and at the end of the 19th century he settled in Pigadia, where he served as mayor. He held Greek citizenship and was appointed in 1877, according to the testimony of his second son Georgios, consular agent of Greece in Karpathos. Manolakakis in Karpathiaka mentions T. Bent twice, describing him as a “wise” and “antiquarian” man note 15 . Ephrosini Manolakaki (Mabel refers to her as Sophrosini Manolakakis) was the fourth child of Emmanuel Manolakakis and the third of his daughters. She was born in 1868 and died in 1936 note 16 . In the list of subscribers of her father’s book Karpathiaka, only she appears to live in village Aperi note 17  (fig. 2). His second son Georgios (fig.3) served as mayor of Pigadia during the Italian occupation (1923-1933) note 18 , verifying Mabel’s prediction for Manolakakis’ children note 19 .

Fig. 3. Georgios Manolakakis (1870-1953), the second son of Emmanuel Manolakakis and mayor of Pigadia for a decade (1923-1933). © Emanouel Cassotis.
Fig. 3. Georgios Manolakakis (1870-1953), the second son of Emmanuel Manolakakis and mayor of Pigadia for a decade (1923-1933). © Emanouel Cassotis.

Bent’s second friend in Karpathos was Mr. Koumpis. Neither Mabel nor Theodore mention his first name. Theodore informs us that he was old and very talkative, and that of their three friends, only he was slow and late receiving them, due to a family problem note 20 . Mabel reports that on March 21, 1885, they went down to Aperi, met Mr. Koumpis and he then accompanied them to their home in Volada note 21 . This is the maritime art teacher Meletios Koumbis note 22 , who came from Megara, was in Karpathos, fell in love with Fotini Foka, the eldest daughter of Ioannis Fokas, the schoolmaster and mayor of Aperi, and settled in Aperi in the middle of the 19th century. He had three children with her, Kalliopi, Giannakis and Panagiotis. Bent reports that the year they visited Karpathos, Koumpis was an old man. He probably died in 1908 or 1909, because since then his name does not appear in the tax records of the municipality of Aperi, but the name of his widow does. The son that Theodore mentions as having recently married note 23  is Giannakis. Panagiotis (1869-1928) never married, but history recorded him as one of the best captains of Karpathos note 24 . Grandson of Meletios Koumpis and son of his daughter Kalliopi was the Karpathian hero pilot Panagiotis Orfanidis, who was killed in the Greek-Italian war note 25 .

Fig. 4. The funeral of Kostis Sakellaridis (1905). To the right, next to the deceased, is Bent's friend Frangiskos Sakellaridis. Source: M. Chiotis, “The Roots of Our Generation”, p. 242.
Fig. 4. The funeral of Kostis Sakellaridis (1905). To the right, next to the deceased, is Bent’s friend Frangiskos Sakellaridis. Source: M. Chiotis, “The Roots of Our Generation”, p. 242.

Bent’s third friend is named as Mr. Frangiskos Sakellaridis. Mabel pronounces and writes his last name as “Sakolarides”. Of the three persons mentioned, Mabel mentions the name (Frangisko) only in connection with Mr. Sakellaridis. On the contrary, Theodore always refers to him as “the interpreter“. Arriving for the first time in southern Karpathos, Bent spent two nights at his house in Aperi note 26 . He participated in the picnic at Kyra Panagia with his brother, while on his return to Volada, Frangiskos accompanied them to the village, offering them coffee at the café note 27 . On the first day the couple spent in the village of Elymbo, they found Mr. Sakellaridis chairing the village assembly note 28 . Theodore describes Sakellaridis’ very friendly relationship with his would-be assassin, while after the murder, where the wrong man was killed, Sakellaridis was always guarded by a Turkish soldier when he was outside note 29 . Frangiskos (Fragios) Sakellaridis (fig.4) note 30  (1847-1923) was the mayor of Volada and secretary of the Diocese of Aperi and was the youngest son of Georgios Sakellaridis from Aperi and Ernia Psaroudaki, daughter of the Cretan Georgios Psaroudakis who took refuge in Karpathos during the revolutionary period (1821-1830). The eldest son, Kostis (1844-1905), spoke and wrote the Turkish language fluently, serving in court positions (fig.5). Frangiskos married Rigopoula Kapetanaki and they had seven children. The eldest son, Georgios, was a doctor, while the second, Christoforos, was a teacher, secretary of the Holy Metropolis in Aperi and author of the proclamation of the Union of Karpathos with mother Greece (7/10/1944) note 31 . The son of Georgios and the eponymous grandson of Frangiskos was Frangios Sakellaridis (1897-1965), the doctor and brilliant scientist who dedicated his life to the health and well-being of his fellow citizens note 32 . In the year 1905, when the Turkish authorities tried to encroach on certain privileges granted to the islands ever since the time of Sultan Mahmud II (reigned 1808 – 1839), the Elders’ Council of Karpathos appointed Frangiskos Sakellaridis as a proxy to go to the Turkish governor of Rhodes and make the islanders’ case for the preservation of their privileges note 33 . Today, Volada’s football stadium is named after Frangiskos Sakellaridis (grandson of Bent’s friend).

Fig. 5. The memorial of Kostis Sakellaridis, Frangiskos’ brother, with his inset image at the bottom right. Source: M. Chiotis, “The Roots of Our Generation”, p. 243.
Fig. 5. The memorial of Kostis Sakellaridis, Frangiskos’ brother, with his inset image at the bottom right. Source: M. Chiotis, “The Roots of Our Generation”, p. 243.

In the village of Elymbos the Bents were entertained at the schoolmaster’s house for the Easter period note 34 . Neither of them mention his name. In fact, Theodore in his article “A Christening in Karpathos” confuses him with the schoolmaster of the village of Mesochori, referring to Mabel’s anecdote about Jules Verne note 35 . From Mabel we learn that he had two little girls, “Maroukla” (Maria) and “Eirenio” (Irene) and that the mayor of the village, “Diako-Nikolas”, was his father-in-law note 36 . The schoolmaster that Theodore encounters in the café (kafeneion) and finally stays with in Elymbos, was the first “Greek teacher” Nikias Ioannou-Spanos note 37 , who was the first to organize the archives of the community and contributed hugely to the standard of education of the children of Elymbos (fig.6). Nikias Ioannou-Spanos was born in Kalymnos around the year 1837. His real last name was Spanos, however he became known by his patronymic (Ioannou). He came to Karpathos in the early 1860s, when the mayor of Elymbos, Diako-Nikolaos Diakogeorgiou, was on the island of Kalymnos to find a suitable schoolmaster for his village. His good luck leads him to Nikias Ioannou-Spanos, whom he hires as a teacher of Elymbos. Nikias, around the year 1876, will marry one of the daughters of Diako-Nikolas, the youngest girl, Magafoula, and they will have six children, Ioannis, Nikolaos, Georgios, Maroukla, Rinio and Evangelia. The two older daughters are mentioned by Mabel. His fame spread throughout Karpathos and apart from Elymbos, he taught in Aperi (1870, 1885-1888), Menetes, Kasos, Rhodes and Kos. The last years of his life he lived in Diaphani, where he died and was buried in the spring of 1923 at the age of 85-86. His family tradition states that his last words were that he was dying without being able to see the Dodecanese free at last.

Fig. 6. Τhe schoolmaster of Elymbos Nikias Ioannou-Spanos in a photo taken in old age.
Fig. 6. Τhe schoolmaster of Elymbos Nikias Ioannou-Spanos in a photo taken in old age. Source: https://www.stinolympo.gr/index.php/el/h-olympos/istoria-arxailogia/7-2017-12-13-15-32-48

The Bents also met other residents of Karpathos with whom they had friendly (or non-friendly) relations. They, of course, met the Turkish governor of the island (the kaimakam) and his clever secretary Hassan Efendi (fig.1) note 38 . At the village of Spilies they met Mrs. Chrysanthi or Chrysanthemou note 39 . In Arkasa, Menetes and Mesochori they were put up by local residents. Finally, in Diaphani, they were hosted for five nights at the house of Protopapas note 40 . Unfortunately the Bents give few details about these personages, making it almost impossible to identify them today. Only for the latter, Protopapas, is it known that his family owned the church of “Panagia” in Diaphani. On February 9, 1948, a strong earthquake, measuring 7 on the Richter scale, shook Karpathos and the settlements of the island suffered severe damage – Diaphani’s old church collapsed and the modern church was built on the site in the 1960s (fig.7).

Fig. 7. Τhe destroyed church of Zoodochos Pigi (“Panagia”) in Diaphani after the earthquake of 1948.
Fig. 7. Τhe destroyed church of Zoodochos Pigi (“Panagia”) in Diaphani after the earthquake of 1948.

As for the murder in Volada, it has been long forgotten by the collective memory and no one in Karpathos knows or has heard of it. No contemporary Karpathian writer ever mentions anything about the event. Manolakakis, the instigator of the crime according to Bent, on the contrary states that murder on the island is almost unknown, and if it ever happens it is due to the greatest provocation or revenge note 41 . Τhe greatest historian of Karpathos, M. Michailidis-Nouaros (1879-1954), although he lived close to the event, makes no mention. Τhere is only the testimony of the Bent couple about this event that shook the local community of Karpathos in the spring of 1885. From an historical point of view, of course, the testimonies of Mabel and Theodore still need to be corroborated by other sources, but considering overall the Bents’ extensive writings on the events they experienced on their almost two months on the island, their accounts have proved to be highly reliable.

The “Karpathiote” Friends of Theodore Bent ©2020-2021 Copyright Minas G. Chouvardas. Other copyrights may apply to individual images in the article, as noted in the caption of the image.

We very much hope you have enjoyed Minas’ account of the friends the Bents made on the beautiful island of Karpathos in 1885.

If you have more to add, do please get in touch.

Notes to The “Karpathiote” Friends of Theodore Bent

Note 1: J. T. Bent, ‘The Islands of Telos and Karpathos’, The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. VI, 235-242. Return from Note 1

Note 2: J. T. Bent, ‘On a far-off  island’, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. 139, Feb 1886,  233. Return from Note 2

Note 4: The editor of Mabel’s Chronicles, Gerald Brisch, refers to Manolakakis and his Karpathiaka (1896), cf. p. 85, footnote. 37. Return from Note 4

Note 14: E. Cassotis & H. Koutelakis, “The documents speak of Karpathos during the war years” (Τα ντοκουμέντα μιλούν για την Κάρπαθο στα χρόνια του πολέμου), Rhodes 2017, 239, 251. Return from Note 14

Note 15: Manolakakis, Karpathiaka 1896, 4, 67. Return from Note 15

Note 16: Cassotis & Koutelakis 2017, 251. Return from Note 16

Note 17: Manolakakis, Karpathiaka 1896, 294. Return from Note 17

Note 18: Cassotis & Koutelakis 2017, 222-223. Return from Note 18

Note 22: M. Chiotis, “The local government during the period of Turkish and Italian occupation in the old capital of Karpathos ‘Aperion’ 1796-1943” (H τοπική αυτοδιοίκηση κατά την περίοδο της Τουρκοκρατίας και της Ιταλοκρατίας στην παλαιά πρωτεύουσα της Καρπάθου «Απέριον» 1796-1943), Athens 2013, 288, 830-832, 835-836. Return from Note 22

Note 30: M. Chiotis, “The Roots of Our Generation” (Οι ρίζες της γενιάς μας), Athens 2000, 240-243, 249-262, 417-430. Return from Note 30

Note 33:  Chiotis 2000, 213-214. Return from Note 33

Note 35: J. T. Bent, ‘A Christening in Karpathos’. Macmillan’s Magazine, Vol. 54 (May/Oct), 199. See also Brisch 2006, 103. Return from Note 35

Note 41: Manolakakis, Karpathiaka, 109. Return from Note 41

[click here for Mabel Bent’s Karpathos dresses]

 

Outrage in the Hadhramaut in 1894… and subsequent revenge

Like most explorers, let us presume, Theodore Bent was protective and proud of his achievements – setting difficult targets, being first, or among the very first. And in his list of hard things done, right up there is his first foray of 1894 (January-March) deep into Southern Arabia, the Yemeni interior – the breath-taking Wadi Hadhramaut – unforgiving, challenging, alien, romantic.

 

“And the award goes to….” Extract from ‘The Morning Post’ of 3 October 1894.

Some background. By 1894 Bent stood out in a crowd; a respected and spur-earned explorer – FSA, FRGS, and winner of the Balloon Society’s prestigious gold medal. Most readers associate the Bents with the Eastern Mediterranean and their researches there, and these readers get no further than the Cyclades or Dodecanese. Yet this region represents only a third of their travels, and we must not overlook them, too, in the dusts and deserts of Africa and Arabia.

The Bents reach Shibam in the Hadhramaut on Thursday 25th January 1894, as Mabel notes in her diary: “We got away earlier than we hoped, 8.30 with 11 camels. Imam Sheriff rode a very fidgety horse of the Sultan’s… About 12.30 we reached Shibahm.” (wikipedia)

For their early 1893 season, Theodore and Mabel headed for the north-east of the Horn of Africa, looking for possible clues in the civilisations of early Ethiopians that might link Mashonaland’s ruins (modern Zimbabwe) of ‘Great Zimbabwe’, the couple’s quest in 1891, to the very old trade routes that led into Egypt, to the west, and to Southern Arabia to the east. Clues would include early ‘Arabian’ (Sabaean primarily) inscriptions from ancient Aksum (its royal family claiming descent from Menelik, the son of the Queen of Sheba, who had the Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem hidden in his capital). And it was, in a way, the Queen of Sheba who beguiled Theodore for the last five years of his short life.

Imam Sharif’s map of the Bents’ expedition to the Wadi Hadramaut, 1894. From Theodore Bent’s 1894 paper for the Royal Geographical Society. Image © The Bent Archive
Imam Sharif’s map of the Bents’ expedition to the Wadi Hadhramaut, 1894. From Theodore Bent’s 1894 paper for the Royal Geographical Society. Image © The Bent Archive

Back in London from the Red Sea by the early summer of 1893, Theodore lectured widely, announcing that he had now evidence from Zimbabwe and Ethiopia of the remains of a Sabaean ‘civilisation’ from the vast peninsula of Southern Arabia, out-posting down the east coast of Africa. Bent hoped soon to be able to “reconstruct the history of a once mighty commercial race, which was contemporaneous with the best days of Egypt, Greece and Rome, and which provided the ancient world with most of its most valued luxuries.” Included with these luxuries were the exotic resins of frankincense and myrrh; it was the search for them, and the many routes they were transported along, that were the themes of Theodore’s articles and lectures in the summer of 1893.

By summer’s end, Theodore was in a position to begin preparing a large expedition to Southern Arabia and the Wadi Hadhramaut (Hadramawt or Hadramout) itself the following season, a party that would include his wife Mabel, of course, as well as his Sancho Panza-like assistant, the Anafiot Matthew Simos, a young botanist from Kew, William Lunt (1871-1904), “Baÿoumi, known to us as Mahmoud, an Arab, who came on at Alexandria. He is provided by the Madras Museum as our Zoologist”, and the highly accomplished Indian surveyor/cartographer, Imam Sharif, whose later map of the region is a delight to this day.

A few weeks before setting off (via Marseilles, Suez and Aden), the Bents had sent out a press release (they were unabashed self-publicists): “Mr. Theodore Bent has almost completed his arrangements for his journey to the Hadhramaut country, in Southern Arabia, which he proposes to explore this winter. He starts about the end of next month for Aden, and will then proceed along the coast to Makulla, which is to be his starting point into the interior. The extensive region of Hadhramaut is but little known, and Mr. Bent proposes to make as thorough a survey as possible of the country. He, himself, will pay particular attention to the archæology of the districts, and he will probably be accompanied by a native Indian surveyor, as well as by specialists in botany and zoology. Mr. Bent, who will, as on all his journeys, be accompanied by Mrs. Bent, hopes to be back in England by May or June of next year.” (The Manchester Guardian, 22 October 1893.)

‘Himyaritic’ inscriptions copied by Theodore Bent into his own notebook in the Hadhramaut in 1894 (Hellenic and Roman Societies, Joint Library, London)

The Iron Age (1100–650 BC) of Southern Arabia, primarily of interest to Theodore, is marked by a network of competing city-states and pre-Islamic kingdoms (Sabaean, Awsanian, Minaean, Qatabanian, Hadramautian and Himyarite). Distinguished by the appearance of early writing, the Sabaeans rose to prominence, based at Marib by the 5th century BC, their influence extending throughout the western Hadhramaut. Notwithstanding a brief annexation by the kingdom of Aksum (in modern Ethiopia) around 500 BC, keen for more control of the area’s rich natural resources, Shabwa remained a centre of culture and learning until its eventual decline around the 5th century AD and the ascendancy of the highland-Yemen Himyarites, followed by periods of Sassanian (eastern) and Roman/Byzantine (western) power, before the rise of Islam (c. 650 AD).

For Theodore and his contemporaries the Hadhramaut was represented by the eponymous wadi/valley system in today’s eastern Yemen. As for its physical geography, the region extends over 600 km from west to east, consisting of a narrow, arid coastal plain, a broad plateau averaging 1400 m in height, a bewildering maze of deeply sunken wadis, and a final escarpment that abuts the great desert to the north. These uncompromising, awe-inspiring landscapes have facilitated movements of people over the millennia, and the objective of Theodore’s mission in 1894 was to penetrate the said Wadi Hadhramaut (approaching from the south, via Al-Makulla on the coast) and, ultimately descending south–east, to reach the Indian Ocean again at Sayhut.

Aden – the Bents point of entry for the Yemen in the 1890s (a contemporary postcard).

Although ‘Europeans’ had been sailing and exploiting the coastlines of Arabia for hundreds of years, Britain’s need in the early 19th century to secure its sea-lanes to India and the Persian Gulf precipitated a brilliant campaign of coastal surveys that effectively drifted from Aden to Muscat. The captains and officers of British vessels wrote and eventually reported back to London on their findings – strategic, botanic, folkloric.

Dependence on their ships meant that these men (and of the women, Mabel Bent, not Lady Anne Blunt, not Freya Stark, not Kate Humble even, was, we think, the first willing Western woman to do so – how many hundreds have unwillingly seen the moon and stars there?) were unable to venture far inland, and it was not until as late as 1843 that the borders of the Hadhramaut interior were reached by the German Baron Adolf von Wrede in 1843. As for the great mud-brick cities of the main Wadi Hadhramaut itself, they were not visited until 50 years later, and by another German, Leo Hirsch, who, by great coincidence, was covering some of the same trails as the Bents, and just a few months ahead of them in 1894: therefore ‘to these two parties the credit of the discovery of the Wadi Hadhramaut itself belongs.’ (generally for this background, see Hogarth 1905: 206-225)

Some achievement – unarguably the area is more dangerous now than at the time of the Bents’ visits (they were to make three concerted attempts). Today the region is fatal for tourists; there are pirates off Aden and in January 2008 two Belgian and two Yemeni nationals were shot dead, with four other Belgians seriously injured, in an incident in the Hadhramaut. As a result, the UK government issued a warning that would have stopped the Bents in their tracks (well, perhaps): ‘We advise against all but essential travel to the Governorates of Sa’dah, Ma’rib and Hadhramaut due to the threat of terrorism and tribal violence. You should take all the necessary steps to protect your safety, and you should make sure that you have confidence in your individual security arrangements. You should maintain a high level of vigilance in public places and exercise caution, particularly outside urban areas.’ (N.B. the lizards are harmless.)

“… and one day they said ‘come down off your camels and we’ll cut your throats’”. Not the Yemen, but a detail from a lantern slide of the Bents’ trip into the Sudan (Royal Geographical Society, London).

Mabel often boasted later of an incident on this 1894 adventure when they were “Besieged by crowds calling us pigs and dogs and gavers, and one day they said ‘come down off your camels and we’ll cut your throats’. I drew [our] interpreter aside and said ‘Tell them when they ask you not to be afraid, for… if wanted, our Queen would have taken [the country] long before we were born, and if she wanted it now she would not send 8 subjects unarmed for the business…’” (The Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent, Vol. 3, 2010: 346).

Understandably, the Bents looked on their adventures in the Hadhramaut with considerable pride, even though they never completely realized their objective to traverse the wadi west–east, and arrive, their considerable gear and large party on camels, mules and horse, trekking south, weeks later back at the sea, not so far from the borders of modern Oman.

Imagine then, disembarking from the fine P&O steamer Kaisar i Hind at Marseilles in the third week of April 1894, resting and waiting there a few days for a train to Calais and the Dover ferry for home, his surprise, nay outrage, on reading in a copy of The Graphic, waiting for him poste restante, a flippant account by three boys in an article that could have come straight from a rag mag (by the tone of some of its paragraphs), boasting that this trio of pranksters had got to the Hadhramaut first! The piece is redeemed only by some astonishingly fine sketches done by one of them…

H.B. Molesworth’s sketch of Al Mokulla, the Bents’ port of entry for the Hadhramaut. Molesworth’s wonderfully illustrated notebook is in the Royal Geographical Society, London (gettyimages).

These three braggarts were Frederick Noel Paton (1861-1914), later a British explorer and Anglo-Indian official, and the two Molesworth boys: Guy Layard Nassau (1865-1920), who became a successful civil engineer, and Henry Bridges, subsequently a naval officer and engineer. It was the latter who drew the lovely coloured sketches of the trip in his diary, now in the Royal Geographical society and available via, and ©, gettyimages (no infringement here intended).

Here is a cut-and-paste flavour of the boys’ breathless account in The Graphic; Theodore’s outrage is palpable: “The territory traversed by the Bent expedition, recently noticed in the English and other journals, is more circumscribed than Mr. Bent probably supposed before starting… There is nothing but rock and dust, soda and sulphur, fever and sunstroke. If an enterprising Bedouin, or even Mr. Bent succeeds in finding in that country something that is useful or important, he will deserve great credit… These facts may, perhaps, be  found of interest; and they may be relied upon as accurate, seeing that the writer [Paton], with two other Englishmen [the Molesworth boys], has just returned from traversing the same ground which Mr. Bent is now exploring… Our friend [M. Jacques de Zogab], who had taken the steamer back to Aden on the 3rd [December 1893], gladly offered Mr. Bent and his companions a passage on the return voyage to Hadramaut. He landed them at Mokullah on the 17th, and picked us up at Shehr on the 18th, so that we had no opportunity of putting our experience at Mr. Bent’s disposal [!]. It was not till we then received accumulated letters that we learned from enclosed journalistic reports of Mr. Bent’s communication about his expedition, that our position as pioneers of that region would obtain imprimatur of such authority [!!]. We may mention that in a cairn on the summit of Chub-thub will be found a scroll bearing the signatures of H.B. Molesworth and Guy Molesworth; while in the Palace at Ghraïl is a mural picture representing our State entry into that city, and signed Frederick Noel Paton… The writer of the above points out that he traversed the ground which Mr. Bent proposed to explore, and it is interesting to note that, according to the latest intelligence received from Aden, Mr. Theodore Bent and his party on the 3rd inst. reached Shehr (or Sheher), on the coast to the north-east of Mokullah, the point from which the expedition commenced its march into the interior. Mr. and Mrs. Bent and the other members of the party were in good health…” (The Exploration of Southern Arabia – A Journey in the Hadramaut, by F. Noel Paton; The Graphic, 31 March 1894, pp. 370 ff.). Outrageous stuff!

Apoplectic probably, Theodore demanded a right of reply immediately from their hotel (the “Hôtel du Louvre and de la Paix (otherwise pay)” – and got one; it is reproduced in full from The Graphic of 5 May 1894, page 518: “The Exploration of the Hadramaut – Mr. Theodore Bent, writing from Marseilles with reference to an article in The Graphic of March 31, says:- ‘I should be much obliged if you will kindly correct certain statements therein contained concerning my expedition to the Hadramaut. Your correspondent, Mr. Noel Paton, did not traverse the ground which we proposed to explore,’ only going twelve miles inland, whereas the Hadramaut does not begin until 120 miles inland, and the coast line has nothing to do with that district. Our exploration of the Hadramaut in no way has to do with the part of the country traversed by Mr. Noel Paton.’” So there.

Balloon Society of Great Britain, Gold Medal, similar to the one presented to Bent in 1894.

Your travel guides on this journey are: (1) Southern Arabia by Mabel and Theodore Bent (1900, London); (2) The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent, Vol. 3, Arabia (2010, Oxford, and from which several quotes appear above); and (3) The penetration of Arabia:  a record of the development of western knowledge concerning the Arabian peninsula (1905, London), by D.G. Hogarth, Arabist, agent, archaeologist, and very grudging indeed admirer of J. Theodore Bent, who had pipped him to the post at Olba, western Turkey, a quarter of a century before.

 

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…

In exalted company – Mabel Bent and other ‘Tatler’ travellers, 1910

Mabel Bent in exalted, not to say exhausted, company…

THIS is an age of plucky, strenuous women. They vie with men in the field of sport, they seek to invade his political kingdom, and they penetrate the remotest corners of the world in search of big game and fresh adventures in a manner which makes man stand amazed at their daring.’

The ‘Tatler’, 30 Nov. 1910, page 270. (c) ‘The Illustrated London News/Mary Evans Picture Library’, used with permission.

A little research the other day (May 2020) turned up a fascinating, pre-Great War  travel article in the Tatler for Wednesday, 30 November 1910 (no. 242, page 270) – and many thanks to the Illustrated London News/Mary Evans Picture Library, whose copyright it is, for allowing us to reproduce it here. It’s a tremendous, rare read. The author is one Joseph Heighton;  forgive its title – ‘Pioneers in Petticoats’.

Twenty years or so either side of 1900, the journeys of Western women travellers were headline news – emancipatory, they very much reflected the times these women voyaged in, times every bit as challenging and frustrating for women as the tough terrain and hardships they fought through.

Mabel Bent on her camel near Mohammad Gul, Sudan. From a photograph (February 1896) by Alfred Cholmley. Glass lantern slide, LS/217-10. © Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).

Mabel’s fortitude and abilities over the twenty years of explorations she undertook with Theodore Bent were indeed often written about, frequently on pages intended for women readers (some feature elsewhere in this archive).

The Tatler article is typical in its obvious admiration for Mabel, who has reached the age of 63, and has been travelling since she was a girl – most summers on the continent with her family, and then really taking metaphorical wing once she married (August 1877).

Here is what the Tatler has to say about Mabel:

“Asia Minor, Persia, Mashonaland, Abyssinia, Eastern Soudan, and South Arabia. These are some of the out-of-the-way corners of the globe which Mrs. Theodore Bent has penetrated when she accompanied her late husband on his archaeological expeditions. She has had several narrow escapes from death. In South Arabia she was nearly shot by bandits, while on another occasion she was ordered to dismount ‘in order that her throat might be cut’. Luckily better counsel prevailed with the would be murderers.”

Jane Dieulafoy (1851-1916), Mabel’s Persian rival (wikpedia).

Mabel would not be overshadowed by the company she keeps. And  what exalted company it is – very much the great and the good of Western, or adopted Western, women travellers. Of course on one small page there must be notable omissions, e.g. the ubiquitous Isabella Bird (1831-1904), the Nile travellers Amelia Edwards (1831-1892) and Florence Baker (1841-1916), or  fellow Egyptologists Marianne Brocklehurst and Mary Booth, both of whom Mabel knew. And the women featured are all English speakers: ‘Europeans’, such as Mabel’s nemesis, Jane Dieulafoy, are not included.

Also absent is the mysterious American Mabel refers to unkindly just as ‘Mrs. Phelps, a very fat American, in man’s attire’. The reference comes in Mabel’s diary entries for the couple’s amazing ride, south-north, the length of Persia in 1889: “They were all amazed indeed when they heard of our resolution to ride those 1300 miles or more ‘with a lady’, for not more than 3 ladies have done this before, and 2, Mme. Dieulafoy and Mrs. Phelps, a very fat American, in man’s attire. And as the days go on they are still more amazed at seeing me sitting serenely wondering what saddle I shall have.” (The Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent, Vol 3, pages 27-8)

If anyone knows who this intrepid, if large, traveller is, then we would be fascinated to hear and give her recognition on this.

How well known to you are these ‘Pioneers in Petticoats’? Corona lockdown hours may well give you world enough and time to read up on them. A few notes are added here, courtesy of Wikipedia, to get you in the mood for travel…

Mary Eliza Bakewell Gaunt (Wikipedia)

The article begins with Mary Eliza Bakewell Gaunt (20 February 1861 – 19 January 1942), an Australian novelist with a taste for Africa.

Barbara Freire-Marreco (Facebook)

Next to arrive is Barbara Freire-Marreco (1879–1967), an English anthropologist and folklorist. She was a member of the first class of anthropology students to graduate from Oxford in 1908.

Agnes Smith Lewis (left) and Margaret Dunlop Gibson (Wikipedia)

Academically the most gifted, coming into focus now are Agnes Smith Lewis (1843–1926) and Margaret Dunlop Gibson (1843–1920), nées Agnes and Margaret Smith (sometimes referred to as the Westminster Sisters), were Semitic scholars. Born the twin daughters of John Smith of Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland, they learned more than 12 languages between them, and became pioneers in their academic work, and benefactors to the Presbyterian Church of England, especially to Westminster College, Cambridge. Without our access to Wikipedia, Joseph Heighton gets it wrong in his line where he says Margaret Gibson is a friend, she is the twin sister; the girls were born four years or so before Mabel Bent.

Mary Henrietta Kingsley (Wikipedia)

Also high in academic esteem is Mary Henrietta Kingsley (13 October 1862 – 3 June 1900), English ethnographer, scientific writer, and explorer whose travels throughout West Africa and resulting work helped shape European perceptions of African cultures and British imperialism.

Charlotte Mansfield (Wikipedia)

Again,  it seems that Joseph Heighton was not quite right in saying that Charlotte Mansfield (1881-1936), English novelist, poet, and traveller, completed Rhodes’ dream tour of  the Cape to Cairo; she made it as far as Lake Tanganyika, good going nevertheless (see Mary Hall a little later).

Mary French Sheldon (Wikipedia)

Mary French Sheldon (May 10, 1847 – 1936), as author May French Sheldon, was an American author and explorer. Born the same year as Mabel Bent (and they, indeed, knew each other, see below), she was made a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, among the first fifteen women to receive this honour, in November 1892. (Mabel Bent was in line for the next group of women Fellows, but the privilege was shamefully withdrawn and women Fellows were not elected again until 1913.)

Mary Hall (frontispiece to her book ‘A Woman’s Trek from the Cape to Cairo’.

Mary Hall (1857-1912) really did make the trip from Cape to Cairo (see Charlotte Mansfield above). Her book A Woman’s Trek from the Cape to Cairo (1907) is available online. After Africa, Mary switched to Australia and the Far East; it seems her adventures there were published posthumously (A Woman in the Antipodes and in the Far East, c. 1914).

Josephine Cecilia Diebitsch Peary (Wikipedia)

Our caravan of great women travellers ends, after the heat of Australia, in the ice of the Arctic with Josephine Cecilia Diebitsch Peary (May 22, 1863 – December 19, 1955), an American author and Arctic explorer of renown.

‘…full of the most wonderful curios brought back by Mrs Bent’ Some of Mabel’s Turkish plates (private collection).

We know, at least, that Mabel and May French Sheldon (see above) were acquaintances, if not friends.  The Belfast Telegraph of Saturday, 27 June 1908 informs us that “Mrs Theodore Bent was ‘at home’ recently to some 200 of her friends, when a very enjoyable evening was spent in the beautiful suite of rooms in her house in Great Cumberland Place, that are much more interesting than many museums, as they are full of the most wonderful curios brought back by Mrs Bent from Persia, Russia, Norway, the Soudan, the Holy Land, and the many other parts of the world in which she has travelled and explored. The hostess, handsomely dressed in mauve, with white lace and many diamonds, received her guests at the entrance to the principal drawing-room, and near her stood her sister, Mrs Bagenal, dressed in black and silver, who had come over from her place in Co. Carlow for this and other functions of the season; and amongst other invited guests were …. Mrs French Seldon, etc., etc.”

Of course, there is a library of literature now available on women travellers. A workable summary is provided by Tracey Jean Boisseau for her contribution under the heading  ‘Explorers and Exploration’ in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History, Volume 1, 2008, pages 227-231.

Now and then in the pages below we will add notable references to Mabel that appeared in other contemporary magazines of a general nature.

One such is an article in The Liverpool Weekly Courier, for  Saturday, 9 December, 1893. The Courier picked it up from Hearth and Home of 2 November 1893 (Bent being a well-known name in Liverpool – Theodore’s uncle being Lord Mayor in the 1850s). The Bents had been circulating a press release announcing their forthcoming expedition to ‘South Arabia’ and, as ever, Mabel’s participation aroused interest:

This sketch of Mabel Bent accompanied the “Courier” article of 9 December 1893. It is based on a image of Mabel that appeared in the 2 November edition of “Hearth and Home”.

“One of the most interesting collections in the British Museum is that contributed by Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Bent, who, after having explored almost every known portion of the globe, are still, like Alexander, sighing for fresh regions to conquer. Of recent years, women have shown much intrepidity as travellers, as witness the peregrinations of Lady Baker [See above: Barbara Maria Szasz, 1841-1916, Hungarian-born British explorer], the indomitable fortitude of  Lady Burton [Isabel Burton, née Arundell, 1831-1896, English writer, explorer and adventurer], and the wonderful resourcefulness of Mrs. French Sheldon [See above: Mary French Sheldon, 1847-1936, American explorer], who, capable authoress as she is, abandoned the field of literature temporarily for a lonely wander through the Dark Continent, and who came out smiling with such staggering, yet solid, stories  that incredulity retired baffled and only admiration remained. In the same way Mrs. Theodore Bent has penetrated unknown and barbarous regions until to hear her tales of adventures is like listening to one of Ballantyne’s [R. M. Ballantyne, 1825-1894, Scottish author] or Henty’s [G. A. Henty, 1832-1902, English novelist and war correspondent] delightful books. Next week we see her depart, accompanied by her husband, to explore South Arabia, whence they will return, all being well, in March or April. There must be a great deal to see and write about in this little travelled part of the earth’s surface, and one may depend on it that whatever is interesting will be retailed to their countrymen on their return by this remarkable couple. An exhaustive medicine chest will be a feature of the impedimenta, and it may be interesting to ladies to know that Mrs. Bent’s only wear is serviceable serge.”

An account of Mabel at Great Zimbabwe features in Sarah Tooley’s long article on famous women travellers that appeared in Lady’s Realm (Vol. 1, Nov. 1896 – April 1897, pp. 480 ff). It makes poignant reading in that the article was being compiled and published as the Bents were desperately ill in Aden. The journal’s end date is April 1897, a few weeks later and Theodore is dead:

“In Mrs. Theodore Bent we have a traveller who has made South Africa a special field for exploration. Mrs. Bent had, with her husband, already done considerable travel in Persia, Asia Minor, and the Greek Islands, when, in 1891, she started for a still more adventurous journey in Africa. Although doubt was expressed as the advisability of her accompanying the expedition, she proved to be the only one of the party who escaped fever; she did not, indeed, have a day’s illness throughout the whole of the year spent in African travel.

Theodore’s watercolour of Great Zimbabwe from his book “The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland” (1892). The Bents’ camp can just be seen in its circle of thorns in the foreground, right.

“Mrs. Bent is a lady of great learning and knowledge, as well as being a distinguished traveller, and has rendered valuable assistance to her husband in the preparation of his various books; and she is also a skilled photographer. The expedition to South Africa, which was taken under the auspices of the Royal Geographical Society, the Chartered Company, and the British Association, was for the purpose of the exploration and excavation of those ancient massive and mysterious ruins which exist in Mashonaland and which point to a time when the country of Lobengula and his indunas was a centre of wealth and civilization, with cities, palaces, and temples.

“Mrs. Bent had quite a romantic camp life when working amongst the ruins of Zimbabwe. Two waggons served the expedition as bedrooms; an Indian terrace, constructed of grass and sticks, made a novel and charming dining-room; a tent formed the drawing-room; and the suite were decorated by Mrs. Bent with a wealth of brilliant flowers which no conservatory at home could have supplied. She also had a dark tent for photography, and improvised kitchen, and a poultry-house. A hedge of grass surrounded the whole, and gave a picturesque finish to the camp. Outside this royal domain were the huts for the native workmen. Alas! however, for the delights of gypsy life. One day the long grass of the veldt started into flames, which, lashed to fury by the wind, came within a few yards of the camp, and were only beaten back by frantic efforts on the part of the little colony; the small huts were, indeed, burnt to ashes.

Plan of some of the Great Zimbabwe site from Bent’s “The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland” (1892).

“A year was spent by Mr. and Mrs. Bent in South Africa studying the ruins and the people, the result of their investigations, in which they were assisted by Mr. R.M.W. Swan, being told in that delightful book, “The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland”. They come to the conclusion that the land, since rendered famous by the Jameson expedition, may revive the glories of the ancient ruins under British occupation and development. Mr. and Mrs. Bent are systematic travellers, and each year sees them set out for some distant land, although they usually spend the season in town, where their house in Upper Cumberland Place [sic], which is filed with mementoes of their journeys, is the resort of many famous and learned people.”

‘In the Footsteps of Theodore and Mabel’ – Jennifer Barclay, May 2020

‘In the Footsteps of Theodore and Mabel’

Jennifer Barclay muses for us on the ‘blessed’ Bents, May 2020…

“And then, by chance, I met Theodore and Mabel Bent. They came into my life as a blessing because they told me, through their diaries, what these places were like a century and a half ago in the 1880s.”

The Dodecanese
Some of the Dodecanese, showing the island of Kárpathos, where the Bents spent Easter 1885. (c) Glyn Griffiths

For the last few years, I had been exploring the deserted places of the Dodecanese, a group of islands at the southeast edge of Greece where it almost touches Turkey. Starting with Tilos, where I live, heading north, south, east and west, I was going to the abandoned farms and harbours, the semi-abandoned villages and islands.

Many of these places had been well populated, self-sufficient and thriving for centuries, even during the Ottoman occupation. I was trying to understand better what happened over the last century or two, when their populations plummeted from thousands to hundreds. The stories differ from island to island, but a combination of hardships at home and opportunities elsewhere caused mass emigration.

And then, by chance, I met Theodore and Mabel Bent. They came into my life as a blessing because they told me, through their diaries, what these places were like a century and a half ago in the 1880s.

These diaries were compiled into a book called The Dodecanese: Further Travels Among the Insular Greeks the Selected Writings of J. Theodore & Mabel V.A. Bent, 1885–1888 edited by Gerald Brisch, and I believe I found it on the shelves of Akadimias Bookshop in Rhodes town. Through it, I was able to travel in their footsteps and see through their eyes a few of the islands I was exploring for my own book – Wild Abandon: A Journey to the Deserted Places of the Dodecanese – before the dramatic changes began.

Theodore came from the north of England, studied history at Oxford, was headed for the Bar, but gave it up to pursue his love of travel, social history and archaeology. When he married the tall, confident, Irish redhead Mabel Hall-Dare in August 1877, they set out on a life of travel and adventure.

But I must hold up my hands and say that, at first, I didn’t much like the Bents. The aim of their trip around the Dodecanese, it soon became clear, was to excavate and remove items of archaeological interest, usually without permission or with Ottoman officials turning a blind eye in return for baksheesh.

Kastellorizo’s ‘Red Castle’ (photo: Jen Barclay)

They weren’t here to get all touchy-feely with the locals; they were here to take stuff from under their noses, and they got exasperated when they found nothing of value. When in 1888, they arrived on the Turkish shores near Kastellorizo in search of antiquities in the temples and rock-cut tombs, they lamented that some lucky Austrians had got there first and taken all the good pieces. They travelled to Kastellorizo only to register with its Greek consul that they had come from Turkey, so that on their return journey the Greeks elsewhere could not touch the items they had collected. You can’t help thinking of a certain Lord Elgin who had carted off the sculptures from the Parthenon earlier in the nineteenth century.

Rock-cut ‘Lycian’ tomb, of the type the Bents were seeking out on the coast of Turkey just across the water (photo: Jen Barclay)

Not only that, but they were shocked by the islanders’ ‘ignorance and superstition’, in a way that reads today as a little condescending. Could Theodore and Mabel, I wondered, have built a house or made their own clothes and sustenance, survived in such a rugged, isolated place on what they could find and grow, as the islanders were doing then? It reminded me of how native Americans were being treated around that time for their supposed ignorance and superstition.

Bent’s sambouna, now silent in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford (photo: Pitt Rivers, Oxford)

But that was the spirit of the times, and it’s easy to poke fun now. The goatskin bagpipe or tsambouna that the Bents took back from Tilos to England 150 years ago for safekeeping in the Pitt Rivers Museum, still there on display in Oxford, might be one of very few Tilos tsambouna still in existence. In the books, and on the Bent Archive website Gerry Brisch co-edits, there’s plenty of evidence that the Bents were extraordinary people who travelled far further into the unknown than I’d first realised. And the fact is that what Theodore and Mabel encountered in the Dodecanese back then took them well out of their comfort zone, and their diaries are finely detailed and often exquisitely phrased.

Mikro Horio, Tilos, abandoned around 1960, would have been a busy village with two thousand or so inhabitants when the Bents visited (photo: Jen Barclay)

In their brief visit to Tilos they stayed with the priest, who also cured hides for making shoes. The village houses were dark, they wrote, and women sat spinning on their roofs. Tilos was ‘thinly populated, and as remote a spot as well could be found from any centre of civilisation’, rarely visited by steamer or sailing boats. Women wore coats of homespun material, and pointed leather shoes; they had wild, gypsy looks and wore earrings so big they deformed their ears. There was no doctor; the local people would ‘live and die as birds of the air’.

The Bents provide a rare record of the way the ‘decayed men’ suffering from leprosy hid in dark corners of the homes so that they wouldn’t be taken away from their families to some faraway hospital.

Entrance to a once-grand house in the Jewish quarter of Rhodes Old Town (photo: Jen Barclay)

We also see a poignant picture of Rhodes town in the late 1880s, a multi-cultural society of peoples from around the Mediterranean, with the Old Town exclusively inhabited by Muslim Turks and Spanish Jews. The latter had ‘managed to secure for themselves the best quarter’, their houses tastefully decorated and their children well educated. Some sixty years later, there would be no more than a handful of Jewish people left in Rhodes.

Tristomo, north Karpathos, where the Bents landed on Friday, 6 March 1885 (photo: Jen Barclay)

Theodore and Mabel Bent travelled direct from Tilos to Karpathos in February 1885 in their private boat. Rains had washed away the track to Olympos, and violent gusts of wind damaged the vessel. They wrote that both islands were ‘very difficult of access and rarely visited by foreigners’, and that they had therefore retained ancient customs and myths. Karpathos, wrote Theodore, was ‘one of the most lost islands of the Aegean Sea’. In some ways it still is, and it continues to retain customs and knowledge that has vanished elsewhere.

Jen’s walking companion Lisa on an old stone beehive looking towards Olympos, Karpathos (photo: Jen Barclay)

These islands are no longer lost. Whatever the challenges of travel currently, we can usually visit the islands much more easily today, and thanks to this intrepid couple, we have rare glimpses into their past.

I grew to like my new acquaintances Theodore and Mabel, and their writings deserve to be better known…

 Wild Abandon: A Journey to the Deserted Places of the Dodecanese is published by Bradt Travel Guides and is available in e-book from Amazon and other retailers from May 2020, with the paperback scheduled for September 2020.

Jennifer at rest (photo: Ian Smith)

Jennifer Barclay grew up in a village in the Pennines in the north of England and studied Ancient Greek at grammar school; after studying English at Oxford she spent a year in Athens and has travelled widely in the Greek islands. She settled on Tilos in the Dodecanese in 2011, where she lives surrounded by hills and sea with her dog and works from home as an editor and literary agent. She has written a book about Korea, Meeting Mr Kim, and two books about Greek island life, Falling in Honey and An Octopus in my Ouzo. A contributor to publications including The Times, Metro, The Guardian, Daily Mail, Food and Travel and Psychologies, she has appeared on BBC Radio 4 and on Greek television.

www.wild-abandon-dodecanese.blogspot.com

www.octopus-in-my-ouzo.blogspot.com

Lear, Bent & Tozer

 

H. F. Tozer (Wikipedia)

Neither a firm of county-town solicitors,  nor nonsense to soon find a link between Theodore Bent and Edward Lear (1812-1888). The Oxford academic and traveller to the Eastern Med, Henry Fanshawe Tozer (1829-1916) – himself somewhat Learesque – visited the artist, a lover of Greece, but by then too infirm to travel, in his San Remo villa in 1885, and sent him a copy of Bent’s newly published and seminal work: The Cyclades or Life Among the Insular Greeks (London, 1885).

Edward Lear (Wikipedia)

Lear is soon writing to his friend Chichester Fortescue: ‘Tozer of Oxford sends me a charming book…by Theodore Bent…all about the Cyclades. (Dearly beloved child let me announce to you that this word is pronounced ‘Sick Ladies,’ – howsomdever certain Britishers call it ‘Sigh-claides.’)…’ (Lear to Chichester Fortescue, Lord Carlingford [30 April 1885, San Remo]).

Lear, like Bent, struggled with the tug between sunshine and showers:

“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)]

Mabel Bent and Gertrude Bell – two B’s in a pod

Gertrude Bell – a still from the BBC’s publicity.

A fascinating profile of Gertrude Bell (1868-1926) in Baghdad the other night (December 2019)* on BBC 4 (a re-showing of a progamme from 2017) –unquestionably an important and extraordinary figure – Arabist, archaeologist, diplomat, agent provocatrice: and no match for Mabel Bent (1847-1929), the latter, it seems, giving her short shrift the few occasions they met in the early 1900s, in Palestine and around. Bell, in the bully spectrum, of course took an instant dislike to Mrs Theodore Bent – as much no-nonsense as she was herself.

Mabel Bent and Manthaios Simos, the Bents’ dragoman, on their camels near Mohammad Gul in the Sudan in 1896 (a detail from a rare lantern slide in the RGS, London).

Bell writes to her stepmother Dame Florence Bell, 6 February 1900: ‘I met Mrs. Theodore Bent, but having thrown the Salaam, as we say in my tongue, I rapidly fled, for I do not like her. She is the sort of woman the refrain of whose conversation is: “You see, I have seen things so much more interesting” or “I have seen so many of these, only bigger and older”… I wonder if Theodore Bent liked her.’ He did; very much.

* Randomly repeated it seems; a VPN may help outside the UK.