“The bells of Mykonos were tolling mournfully, to tell of the death of the young man; and I shuddered involuntarily now that I knew my desire was to be realised. I was to be present at a mœrologia over the dead.” (J.T. Bent, The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks. London, 1885, p. 215)
Full of irony is Theodore’s tale about his quest on Cycladic Mykonos to hear the island’s celebrated death-songs – the mœrologia. On that same trip, on nearby Andros, he suffered from severe malarial symptoms, perhaps his first, we are not told, and this is the malady that was to kill him, just some fifteen years later. Firmly C of E, there were no mœrologia in the small country graveyard in Theydon Bois at his funeral. Perhaps in the swaying branches overhead, though, Mabel might have thought she could hear something of the ‘death-wails of Mykonos’, or a hymn to Kalliope and Apollo.
Theodore and Mabel’s grave and memorial (above) is in the churchyard of St Mary’s, Theydon Bois, Essex. Theodore’s epitaph reads: ‘Here, after his many long journeys rests J. Theodore Bent, FRGS, FSA, husband of Mabel Virginia Anna Hall-Dare, son of James and Margaret Eleanor Bent of Baildon House, Yorks. “To be with Christ which is far better'”.
Theodore Bent, born 31 March 1852, died on 5 May 1897 of complications from his recurring malaria, after his final Arabian trip, he was only 45. His obituaries were many and varied, and provide a condolence book of biographical details that contribute to our portrait of a most likable and capable personality.
The British Newspaper Archive is an invaluable resource (accessed November 2020); a subscription is required to view the original material, but the basic, sad details of Bent’s demise are provided.
These next pages [in progress, November 2020] will compile a list of obituaries, with links to the original sources (although some of these links are set for the US), where possible, as well as extracts, some short, some lengthier, and from all corners of the globe, as you will see, and as is befitting for such a remarkable traveller – Ars longa, vita brevis …
(Obituaries for Mabel Bent (1847-1929) will follow.)
OBITS & PIECES
The Times, May 7, 1897: “We regret to announce the death of Mr. Theodore Bent, the well-known traveller and archaeologist… Mr. Bent’s death will be a great shock to a wide circle of friends, to whom his kindly, genial, unaffected disposition had greatly endeared him.”
The Athenæum, N° 3629, May 15, 1897, page 657: “To the great grief of his friends Mr. Theodore Bent died last week in the prime of life. He was forty-five years old, yet he never looked his age, and gave one the impression of being still quite a young man, full of energy and vitality… His death is a real loss both to archaeology and the cause of geographical discovery, and his friends will long lament one so kind, genial, and unassuming, who never sought for selfish advantage, and was always eager to profit by the knowledge of those more learned than himself.”
Graphic, May 15, 1897: “The death of Mr. Theodore Bent – announced yesterday – is a distinct loss to Eastern archaeology, in the study of which the indefatigable explorer had spent the best years of his life. He was only forty-five years of age, and had but recently returned from his third and last expedition into Southern Arabia, where both Mr. Bent and his wife – who accompanied him in nearly all his journeyings – had been attacked by malarial fever. Coming home he developed acute pneumonia and died at a late hour at his house in Great Cumberland Place.”
The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 27 (1898), pp. 546-565 : “In the death of Mr. J. Theodore Bent, the Institute has to deplore the early termination of a life of remarkable achievement and high promise. An intrepid explorer and a ripe scholar, Mr. Bent was also a man of singularly attractive and engaging character…”
The Antiquary, June 1897 [The Antiquary, Vol. 32, Jan-Dec 1897], p. 165 : “Readers of the Antiquary will have heard with much regret of the death of Mr. J. Theodore Bent, F.S.A. Mr. Bent, who was in the forty-sixth year of his age, was both an explorer and an antiquary, and he was one of those fortunate persons whose writings at once caught the ear of the public… Had Mr. Bent’s life been spared to a longer period, there is no doubt that he might have hoped to take a fairly high place in the niche of fame.”
The Annual of the British School at Athens, III, 1896-1897, p. 224: “The Committee have to regret the loss of one of their number, Mr. Theodore Bent, whose recent death is a severe blow to the cause of archaeological exploration. To the seat thus left vacant Professor Ernest Gardner, formerly Director of the School, has consented to accept nomination.”
The Geographical Journal, Vol.9(6), 1897, pages 670-1: “It is with much regret that we record the premature death of Mr. J. Theodore Bent, well known to the geographical world for his archaeological explorations in various parts of Africa and South-West Asia. Mr. Bent had but recently returned from his last expedition to Sokotra and Southern Arabia, on which he had suffered severely from malarial lever. A chill caught on the way home brought about a relapse, and, pneumonia setting in, he succumbed after a short illness on May 5, at the early age of forty-five years… Mr. Bent’s kindly and genial nature had endeared him to a wide circle of friends, for whom his loss will be keenly felt. To our Society, of which he became a Fellow and Member of Council in 1890, he always readily communicated the results of his journeys, and both the Proceedings and Journal bear witness to the wide range of his travels.”
The Geographical Journal, Vol. 9(6), 1897, p. 674. The opening remark of the President of the Royal Geographical Society, Sir Clements Markham, at the Ordinary Meeting, on May 10, 1897: “I must allude to the loss we have sustained by the death of Mr. Theodore Bent. He generally, during the last few years, made interesting excursions into unknown parts of Arabia and Africa, and afterwards read us in this room most interesting papers; and, judging from the very large audience he always had, I am sure that these papers were fully appreciated. He was a very accomplished man, both as an archæologist and as a geographer, a charming companion, and a true friend; perhaps it would not befit me to dwell upon some of his still higher qualities. You will remember that his wife, Mrs . Bent, always accompanied him in his journeys, and shared all his hardships and dangers. I am sure that all of us will feel the deepest sympathy for Mrs. Bent in her great bereavement.”
Nature, 13 May, 1897, page 35. “With much regret we have to announce the death, on May 5, of Mr. J. Theodore Bent, who had just returned from a journey, with Mrs. Bent, in Sokotra, and in southern Arabia, in the course of which they had made some remarkable discoveries. Both had suffered from malarial fever, and Mr. Bent succumbed to a subsequent attack of pneumonia… Mr. Bent read many important papers to the Royal Geographical Society, the British Association, and other Societies. His unique collections of antiquities have been exhibited at the Royal Society’s conversaziones, and his gatherings from numerous wanderings made his house a veritable museum. While his death is a serious loss to archæology and geography, the personal sorrow which it occasions is greater than in the case of most explorers. Mr. Bent had a very large circle of devoted friends, which, with a frank kindliness peculiarly his own, he was ever widening. The unaffected heartiness of his manner to all, will not soon be forgotten. Although he died at the age of forty-five, Mr. Bent leaves behind him the memory of more kind actions and helpful words than can be placed to the credit of most men whose lives have ripened into old age.”
Bulletin of Miscellaneous Information, Royal Gardens, Kew, 1897, p. 206: “In the premature death of Mr. J. Theodore Bent, the distinguished traveller, geographical and botanical science have sustained a grave loss. It occurred suddenly just as he had reached London from his last expedition to Sokotra and Southern Arabia. A chill caught on the way home brought on acute pneumonia, and he died on May 5, at the early age of 45 years. Mr. Bent and his wife, who was his constant companion, were intrepid travellers in the East, in Arabia, and in Africa… Mr. Theodore Bent possessed a singular charm of manner, and an eager intelligence. His own object in travel was mainly archaeological. But he was keenly anxious to assist any other branch of science to which he could be of use.”
Science, vol. 5, no. 126, 1897, pp. 838-842. Scientific Notes and News: “Mr. Theodore Bent, known for archaeological and geographical explorations, died on May 5th from the effects of malarial fever, contracted while carrying out explorations in Arabia.”
The Oxford Magazine, Vol. 15, 1896-1897, Oct-Jun., p. 308: “Wadham College has lost [one] of its most valued and distinguished members… Mr. Bent has been lost to us prematurely, a victim to his adventurous spirit of exploration. He had long since made a name as a traveller, a geographer, historian, and archaeologist, but we must lament that he was not spared to gather up and give us in more permanent and considered form the results of his many investigations.”
The Westminster Gazette, May 7, 1897, p. 10: “Death of Mr. Theodore Bent. We regret to announce the death of Mr. Theodore Bent, the well-known traveller and archaeologist, who passed away at the early age of forty-five, on Wednesday evening, at his house in Great Cumberland-place. On his recent return to town from an African [sic] expedition, in company with his wife, he was suffering from acute pneumonia, brought on by malarial fever, from which Mr. Bent was recovering, as his wife had already done, when he contracted a chill. Greece, Turkey, Ethiopia, Abyssinia, Arabia, and Mashonaland were almost as familiar to him as Piccadilly, and the records of his travels in these countries are both instructive and entertaining. His name will, perhaps, be best known in connexion with explorations among the “Ruined Cities of Mashonaland”. At the request of Mr. Rhodes he, six or seven years ago, undertook a journey into Rhodesia, the funds being supplied from a joint grant by the British South African Company and the Royal Geographical Society… Mr. Bent’s death is a distinct loss to archaeological research as well as to geography… and will be a great shock to a wide circle of friends.”
The Malay Mail, May 8, 1897: “May 7  – The death is announced of Mr. James Theodore Bent, traveller and author. The death of Mr. Theodore Bent will be widely lamented in the worlds of science and literature. It is a traveller and explorer that he is best known. In 1891, it may be remembered, Mr. Bent, accompanied by his accomplished wife, who is no less intrepid a traveller than himself, started for his adventurous journey to Central South Africa for the purpose of exploring and excavating those ancient massive and mysterious ruins that exist in Mashonaland. After a year spent in camp at Zimbabwe Mr. and Mrs. Bent returned, and the results of their investigations were told in that delightful book The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland. Mr. Bent will be much missed in London, where his house in Upper Cumberland Place [sic], which is filled with momentoes of his journeys, has been the resort of many famous and learned people.”
The Shipley Times, May 15, 1897: “Death of a noted Baildonian – The death recently took place at his house in Great Cumberland Place, London, of Mr Theodore Bent, the well-known traveller and archaeologist. He was the only son of the late Mr James Bent, of Baildon, and was born in 1852 in the house at Low Baildon now occupied by Mr Smith Feather… Perhaps he is best known by his investigations of the Zimbabwe ruins in Mashonaland, which he and Mrs Bent visited in 1891… Mr Bent’s death will be a great shock to a wide circle of friends, to whom his kindly, genial, unaffected disposition had greatly endeared him.”
The Essex County Chronicle, May 14, 1897: “Funeral of a Distinguished Essex Traveller – The funeral of the late Mr. J. Theodore Bent, the distinguished traveller and archaeologist, took place at Theydon Bois on the 8th inst., in the presence of a large number of relatives and friends. The remains were interred in the burial place of the Hall-Dare family, with which the deceased gentleman was connected by marriage… The deceased travelled extensively in the lesser known parts of Greece, and in the islands of the Ægean Sea, accompanied by his wife, and in 1885 published a volume on the Cyclades. Afterwards he visited Mashonaland for archæological purposes, on his discoveries in which he wrote a word that has passed through several editions… His last expedition was to the west coast of the Red Sea, and the Hadramut district of Arabia, in the former of which he discovered some remarkable remains of the old Roman gold mines. In Arabia he contracted a serious attack of malarial fever, followed by pneumonia, which proved fatal. He was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and a member of the Council of the Royal Geographical Society, and was much beloved by a wide circle of friends. The funeral ceremony was performed by the Vicar of Theydon Bois, the Rev. C.E. Campbell; the Rev. J.S. Sinclair, vicar of St. Dionis, Fulham; and the Rev. E.W. Hobson [Bent’s bother-in-law], incumbent of Portadown, Ireland.”
Illustrated London News, May 15, 1897, page 669: “Mr. Theodore Bent died on Wednesday evening last week at his house in Great Cumberland Place. Though he was only forty-five years of age, he had made himself famous as an intrepid traveller and archaeologist of great taste and resource. Moreover, his career, being early begun, may be said to have been a long one… His travels in Greece and Asia Minor are recorded in his book on “The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks”… The Bahrein Islands were afterwards visited. Then followed the investigation of the Zimbabwe ruins in Mashonaland, of which an interesting record was made; and the visit to the ruined cities of Abyssinia. Southern Arabia then became the field of Mr. Bent’s investigations. In 1895, accompanied by his wife, he explored the western shores of the Red Sea and the north of Suakin, where he discovered some important traces of old Roman gold-mining. Last November the island of Sokotra was successfully visited. On their return to Aden, the travellers visited portions of the surrounding country quite unknown to Europeans, and, unfortunately, they caught a malarial fever. Recovering, they turned homewards, stopping for a few days at Marseilles; and there Mr. Bent caught a cold which brought a return of fever, complicated with pneumonia, from which he could not rally. A wanderer for twenty years, he came home at last only to die. He was a member of the Council of the Royal Geographical Society, through whose journals many of the valuable results of his investigations in distant lands were given to the world.
Country Life, June 12, 1897, p.606. Review of Richard Davey’s The Sultan and His Subjects: “CORDIAL and sincere as is my appreciation of the merits of Mr. Richard Davey’s timely book, which, coming from the pen of a writer almost unknown to fame, has secured words of willing praise in many well-informed quarters, it shall not be written here that its author has added to the sum of human knowledge. None but scientific enquirers like Darwin or Newton, men who discover by observation the operation of Laws of Nature that were not understood before their time, or men who, like my poor friend Theodore Bent, who has recently died in the prime of life, discover old and valuable facts which the world, even the antiquarian and learned world, has forgotten, in inscriptions of which the key seemed entirely lost, really place themselves in a position from which they may succeed in adding to the sum of human knowledge.”
Country Life, Sept 17, 1898, p.327. Literary Notes: “… the late Theodore Bent was not merely an intrepid and intelligent traveller, he was a writer of the first order of merit.”
Liverpool Mercury, May 10, 1897: “Mr. James Theodore Bent, F.S.A., F.R.G.S., whose death has just been announced was born in this city in 1852. He and Mrs. Bent were ardently devoted to archaeological travel, and together they visited the little Republic of San Marino, the Isles of Greece, Mashonaland, Abyssinia, Socotra, [and] Southern Arabia.”
New York Times, May 7, 1897: “An English author dead – James Theodore Bent, the Traveler, dies in London.”
The San Francisco Call, June 17, 1897: “An Eccentric Traveler – J. Theodore Bent, a wealthy Englishman who has achieved some notoriety by visiting out-of-the-way places and writing books about them, has just died on his return from the Island of Socotra, from the consequences of a fever contracted there.”
The Salt Lake Herald, May 7, 1897: “Called home – James Theodore Bent, the well-known traveller and author of works of travel, is dead.”
The Adelaide Advertiser, May 8, 1897: “The death, in his 45th year, is announced of James Theodore Bent, the well-known traveller. The travels of Theodore Bent extended to Greece, Asia Minor, Persia, Mashonaland, Abyssinia, and Arabia. He recorded his experiences in several volumes and newspaper articles. The best known of his works, published in 1892, dealt with the ruined cities of Mashonaland. In his Sacred Cities of the Ethiopian Mr Bent gave a record of a year’s travel for purposes of research in Abyssinia in 1893. The book related the experiences of Mr and Mrs Bent on their journey to and from Axum, and gave much valuable information concerning the manners and customs of the people and their primitive form of Christianity.”
Zeitschrift der Gesellschaft für Erdkunde, Band XXIV, Januar bis December 1897, p. 326 : “Ebenfalls in England starb J. Theodore Bent, bekannt durch verdienstvolle Reisen in Süd-Arabien, in Abyssinien, Mashona-Land und vielen anderen Gegenden. Der aufsergewöhnlich beliebte, von einem grossen Freundeskreis betrauerte Forscher hat ein Alter von 45 Jahren erreicht.”
Le Globe. Revue genevoise de géographie, Année 1897 (36), pp. 179-180: “Théodore Bent – Le Times nous apporte la nouvelle du décès d l’un de nos contemporain qui ont marqué par leurs découvertes archéologiques et géographiques… En 1893, M. and Mme Bent firent des découvertes intéressantes dans les antiques cités abyssiniennes. Par trois fois ils pénétrèrent dans l’Arabie heureuse at l’Hadramant. De retour à Aden, Bent échappa à peine à un accès de malaria, et un refroidissement, compliqué d’une pneumonie, saisit au retour sa constitution minée et l’emporta à l’âge de 45 ans seulement.”
Journal des voyages et des aventures de terre et de mer, ser.2:t.1-2 (1897), p. 650: “On annonce aussi la mort, en Angleterre, de M. Théodore Bent qui, après avoir visité les ruines de Zimbabye, dans l’Afriqueaustrale, en 1891, avait exploré en1895, le Hadramaout, dans le Sudde l’Arabie; M. Bent était récemment de retour d’un nouveau voyage en Afrique.”
Annales de Géographie, vol. 6, no. 28, 1897, pp. 375-384. “Necrologie – L’explorateur et archéologue Théodore Bent, revenue depuis peu d’un fructueux voyage à Socotra et dans l’Arabie méridionale, est mort a Londres le 5 mai, des suites de la malaria. Plusieurs saisons passées dans la Méditerranée avaient renforcé son goût pour les études archéologiques. C’est ainsi qu’il avait successivement visité les îles Bahrein, dans le golfe Persique, les ruins du Machonaland (Zimbabye), qui lui inspirerent son livre: The ruined cities of Mashonaland (London, 1892), l’Éthiopie, surtout la ville d’Axoum (The sacred city of Æthiopians [sic], London, 1893), enfin par deux fois l’Hadramaout. Il a notablement contribué au progrès de nos connaissances sur l’histoire préarabe et préphénicienne.
Bollettino della Società geografica italiana 1897, page serie III – Vol. X, Anno XXXI – Vol. XXXIV, p. 184: “Teodoro Bent. — Il 5 maggio u. s. morì a Londra l’esploratore inglese Th. Bent, vittima di una febbre malarica da lui contratta nel corso di una esplorazione nell’ Hadramaut, intrapresa con la sua signora nel novembre dello scorso anno. I suoi viaggi, iniziati nel 1877 col solo scopo archeologico, divennero ben presto preziosi anche per le scienze geografiche. Pubblicò una Storia della Repubblica di S. Marino, Mashonaland and its People; The ruined cities of Mashonaland, being a record of Excavation and Exploration in 1891; The sacred cities of Ethiopians [sic], oltre ai resoconti dei suoi viaggi, comparsi nei volumi della R. Società Geografica di Londra.”
Ernest Bennett in Two Months in Sokotra (Longman’s Magazine. v. 30 (May-Oct. 1897), pp. 405-413): “Since these words were written Mr. Theodore Bent, the companion here spoken of, has died. A subsequent attack of fever in the Yaffi country (South Arabia) was accentuated by a chill caught on the homeward journey, and proved fatal. I little thought when I left my kind and courteous fellow-traveller at Aden on our return from Sokotra that the ‘good-bye’ was a final one.”
‘Advances in Asia and Imperial Consolidation in India’. The Geographical Journal, 17(3), 1901, pages 240-250. doi:10.2307/1775225. The great Superintendent of Frontier Surveys in British India, Colonel Sir Thomas H. Hildich, K.C.I.E., C.B., R.E., was a good acquaintance of Bent’s, the latter travelling to India to consult him. Hildich gave an elegiac summary of explorers on the occasion of the end of Queen Victoria’s reign: “It seems fitting that on an occasion like this we should call to mind some, at least, of the names of those who have been so closely associated with this great Society, and whose voices we shall hear no more within those walls. Of the living I need not speak again. We have them with us, and we trust to meet them often; but to those who have crossed the last boundary into the great unknown lands we may well give a passing tribute of unforgetfulness. Along with General Walker we have lost many whose names were well known on the list of Indian surveyors – Basevi, Montgomerie, Tanner, Harman, that gallant explorer Woodthorpe, McNair, and many another less-known hero have passed us by; Theodore Bent has left the fields of Arabia and Africa; Elias will no more tread the steppes of Central Asia, nor Wellby; Hayward has gone, and with him that later adventurer into the stern altitudes of the Himalaya – Mummery. These all rest from their labours and their work is done.”