Clarence Wilson

Another book about SPARES (I wrote mine first!)

In 2021 I wrote a book about the lives of a group of aristocratic British Spares and specifically their extraordinary expedition to Jerusalem to find the Ark of the Covenant. The expedition ended in riots and disorder and headlines around the world. In January 2023 Penguin Books launched Prince Harry’s autobiography entitled Spare. It similarly has produced an enormous number of headlines around the world.

Prince Harry at the Invictus Games 2020

The title of the Duke of Sussex’s book refers to the fact that Harry’s elder brother William is the Heir and Harry, the younger brother, is the Spare. This fate which has faced countless royal and aristocratic brothers. It is inherent in the system whereby the title and position passes automatically to the eldest son. The fate of sisters has traditionally been worse, as in a hereditary system they were simply there to be married off in a suitable dynastic match determined by their father.

The issue for the male Spare is what to do with their life. Initially Prince Harry followed a familiar path which has been trodden by generations of young royal and aristocratic British men. Only later did he have to worry about what to do with his life. As a spare in the British Royal Family Harry did not have to really worry about money.

Eton College

As mentioned earlier most British members of the Parker expedition were spares and this is not the only similarity between them and the Duke of Sussex. The first of these is Harry’s upbringing and education. Prince Harry, like his elder brother, was educated at Eton College. King Henry VI founded the College in the 15th century. The King is possibly best remembered by the famous quote that he “lost his wits, his two kingdoms and his only son”. Henry VI’s goal for the College was to educate poor children around Windsor Castle, the king’s principal residence. However, over the years, the College changed its role. Its purpose became, and in no small degree still is, to create the next generation of English gentlemen. Eton was and still is a school for those who came from power and money and who assume, generally correctly, that this situation will continue. Most Etonian schoolboys have traditionally known that their academic achievements or otherwise at the College were not the prime drivers of their future. Over the centuries many boys have realised that there was no absolute necessity for them to work hard. This was certainly true of Prince Harry who left the College with decidedly underwhelming academic qualifications. In his autobiography he says he confessed to Meghan on their second date that he is “Not really big on books”.

An Eton schoolboy’s uniform in the 1890s.

Most of the members of the Parker expedition were younger sons, not necessarily destined to inherit their father’s titles. The eponymous expedition leader, Montagu Parker was the second son of an earl. Cyril Foley was the second son of a general and the grandson of a baron. Clarence Wilson was the third son of a rich, knighted member of parliament. Cyril Ward was the fifth son of an earl. These men, like Harry, were not meant to inherit their father’s title, estate or realm. So the question was what they did with their lives.

The Royal Family

Many of the members of the Parker expedition were very close to the Royal family. Gordon Wilson even helped ensure the continuation of the monarchy. When he was a schoolboy at Eton he helped foil an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria in Windsor. A mentally ill man named Roderick Maclean fired at Queen Victoria’s carriage as she drove from the station to the castle. Gordon hit Maclean over the head with his umbrella a number of times and ensured he could be subdued by the police before he could fire any more shots.  

Roderick Maclean firing at Queen Victoria

Other connections were very personal, Cyril Ward’s aunt, Lady Harriet Mordaunt, had been one of Edward VII’s many mistresses. She was also one of the most notorious. Her husband divorced her for adultery, a highly unusual move in Victorian England.  In court, Sir Charles Mordaunt as good as accused the heir to the throne of adultery with his wife. The Prince of Wales felt obliged to give evidence. It is hard to overemphasise how scandalous it was for the heir to appear in court to deny he had committed adultery. Many newspaper reports said that Robin Duff was a cousin of the King, albeit a distant one. However, he was close to the English (and German) Royal families. Robin Duff married Lady Juliet Lowther, a favourite of the Royal family and King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra attended their wedding. Cyril Foley knew many of the Royal family well and shot regularly with George V and VI. In his autobiography he 

The British Army

Prince Harry had many of the same constraints as late Victorian aristocratic men. They and he could not go into, what was called, trade to make money. One route which many royal and aristocratic young men took after finishing education was to go into the military. This is exactly what many of the Parker expedition and Prince Harry did. Military service, of course was as officers typically in an elite regiment such as the Guards, Hussars or Lancers. In the Edwardian era aristocrats dominated the officer corps of such regiments. Prince Harry joined one such regiment, the Blues and Royals of the Household Cavalry. Several members of the Parker expedition served in the Household Division and one, Gordon Wilson, rose to command the Royal Horse Guards. Monty Parker served in the Grenadier Guards and Robin Duff served in the Royal Life Guards. Most of the other British members of the expedition served as officers in the British Army, the only exception being Cyril Ward who served as an officer in the Royal Navy.

Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Wilson  

Active Service in a Foreign War

Most of the members of the expedition who served in the British Army saw active service, just as Harry did. In the case of the Parker expedition this was the Second Boer War. Like the war in which Harry fought, the war was fought against irregular and guerrilla forces. In March 1900, Montagu Parker sailed with a contingent of the Grenadier and Scots Guards to South Africa. He was twenty-one years of age and one of the youngest officers in the Grenadier Guards. Before they sailed, Queen Victoria inspected the regiment at Buckingham Palace, with the officers being presented individually to the Queen. During the Boer War Gordon Wilson fought at the siege of Mafeking with Robert Baden-Powell, his brother Clarence was wounded and another brother Wilfred was killed in action. Clarence went on to be the main funder of the Parker expedition, ploughing the equivalent of millions of pounds into it.

Cyril Foley, like Harry, wrote an account of his time in the war and recounted the tale of one night when there was a tremendous fusillade from two blockhouses under his command. This went on for forty minutes. When Foley got through to the blockhouse, his men told him they had fought off a massed attack by the Boers, who had driven a herd of cattle at the wire. The two blockhouses fired 1,200 rounds of ammunition, fighting off the supposed attack. In the morning, when he inspected the battlefield, Foley found the sole casualty was a single cow!

What To Do Next? Marriage to a famous American divorcee perhaps

The members of the Parker expedition who fought in South Africa came home to a more cynical country and were possibly more cynical and damaged themselves.  For example Monty Parker was diagnosed with PTSD caused by his service in the war. After Harry’s service in Afghanistan he resigned his commission in 2015 and had to find a new role for himself. It was while he was looking for this new role that he met Megan Markle and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Once again there are many similarities with the members of the Parker expedition, many of whom had finished their military careers shortly before the expedition. They had to find new lives, which given their status as Spares was difficult. One possibility was to make a good match and marry well. Monty Parker, if you believe the newspapers of the time was a favourite of Ava Astor, one of the most beautiful women of the age. One newspaper report said

‘His attentions during the recent visit of Mrs Astor were indefatigable, while in his company the beautiful American seemed to lose that wearied look she continually wears, and occasionally smiled, something she rarely does.’

 There seemed a possibility that she and Monty Parker might wed once she divorced her first husband. He was one of the richest men in America, John Jacob Astor, commonly known as Jack. Ava Astor was one of the most beautiful women of her age and with her eventual divorce settlement of $10 million from her husband would be worth over $300m today.

Ava Astor

The Parker expedition

In the end Monty and Ava did not marry and instead he led the expedition to find the Ark of the Covenant together with other Spares. The expedition seemed the perfect opportunity for young men who were searching for something to do with their lives.

The Parker expedition believed they had solved the 2,500-year-old mystery of the location of the Ark. The expedition members were convinced the Ark and the Temple treasures were not lost. They believed the precious objects had been hidden to protect them when Jerusalem was once again under threat. The participants were confident they knew the hiding place and had come to retrieve the Ark. The venture started when a Finnish poet and biblical scholar convinced the aristocratic Spares that he had discovered hidden cyphers in the Old Testament which showed the Ark’s hiding place.

The story of the Parker expedition includes secret codes, bribery, betrayal, gun-running, madness, bankruptcy, untimely death and more. It sounds improbable; Downton Abbey meets Indiana Jones meets Dan Brown. However, there is no need for invention. When Rudyard Kipling, the most famous writer of the day, heard the story of the expedition from one of its participants, he wrote to a friend: ‘Talk of fiction! Fiction isn’t in it.

Newspaper Headlines

It does not spoil the story of the Parker expedition to say that the expedition did not succeed in its goal and the members live happily ever after. Instead it created riots and disorder in Jerusalem in 1911 resulting in headlines around the world. Many of these were inaccurate and some contained outright journalistic invention. To use a modern phrase, there was a great deal of fake news about the expedition. However, a well-sourced story in the Jewish Chronicle reported that one cypher the expedition used contained a curse. The report said that any unauthorised person who attempted to disclose the secret chamber containing the Ark would be cursed ‘sixty and six fold’. Another newspaper report asked rhetorically what fate would await the Ark’s robbers. In my research I have found that the answer to this question was often an unhappy one. Within a few years, three were dead, one was mad, two were bankrupt, one divorced and another deported.

Hopefully the Duke of Sussex’s path is smoother and does not lead to the same unhappy endings as many of the Spares on the Parker expedition!

Another book about SPARES (I wrote mine first!) Read More »

King Edward VII’s connections to the Parker expedition

1901 Portrait of King Edward VII

King Edward VII was neither a participant nor investor in the Parker expedition but he did know most of the British members of the expedition very well. Many of the British members of the expedition were married but three were married. These were Gordon Wilson, Robin Duff and Cyril Ward. Edward attended two of the three weddings and might well have attended the third if it had not been scaled down to a small family affair due to bereavements in the family.

The first wedding he attended was Gordon Wilson’s marriage to Lady Sarah Spencer-Churchill in November 1891. The wedding was performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Prince of Wales, as he then was, was foremost amongst the guests. He was not the only royal in attendance; the Duke of Cambridge, a cousin of Queen Victoria and at that time Commander-in-Chief of the Army attended as did his wife the Duchess of Teck and their daughter Princess Victoria of Teck who later married the future King George V.

As ever the Prince of Wales complicated love life intersected with the family. He had a brief affair with Jennie Jerome the future wife of Lord Randolph Churchill, Lady Sarah’s brother.

In June 1903 Robin Duff married Lady Juliet Lowther. Her stepfather was Lord de Grey, who was the Treasurer of the household of Queen Alexandra, Edward VII’s consort. Lady Juliet was a favourite of the royal family. King Edward VII, Queen Alexandra and Princess Victoria all attended the wedding at St. Peter’s, Eaton Square, London. The Press Association reported that

‘on the marriage yesterday of Lady Juliet to Mr Robert Duff, Count von Bernstorff, Councillor and First Secretary to the German Embassy, conveyed to the bride the sincere congratulations of His Majesty the German Emperor, and presented her with a bouquet on behalf of the Emperor. The King and Queen, with Princess Victoria, were present at the ceremony at St. Peter’s, Eaton Square, London.’

Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1902

Lady Juliet and Robin Duff had two children, a boy and a girl. Princess Mary of Teck, the future Queen Mary, was godmother to their son. Princess Victoria was godmother to their daughter.

Robin Duff was an officer in the Life Guards of the Household Cavalry and was at one point was Silver Stick in Waiting to Edward VII. In 1902 before his marriage to Lady Juliet he was involved in an episode of bullying of a fellow officer. He and several other junior officers stripped 2nd Lieutenant, Charles Dalton Gregson and auctioned off his clothes. They emptied horse manure over him, rolled him in mud, ducked him in a water trough then threw his furniture out of his room. Finally, they made him run around the green outside the mess dressed only in his boots and underwear. They were punished by having their leave cancelled for six months. King Edward VII thought even these sanctions were too harsh. The victim arguably suffered a worse punishment; Gregson was transferred out of one of the most prestigious regiments in the British army and posted to the Indian army.

The third married member of the expedition was Cyril Augustus Ward. He was the fifth son of the Earl of Dudley and in April 1904 when he married Baroness Irene de Brienen, the daughter of a wealthy Dutch aristocrat. The families of both the bride and groom were in mourning so the wedding at St. Peter’s, Eaton Square was a small family one with few guests. However, King Edward VII would likely have attended the marriage in different circumstances as he attended weddings of several of Cyril’s brothers and had invested Cyril with the Royal Victorian Order.

Once again the Prince of Wales love life played a role in the close connections. He also had a very close personal relationship with Cyril’s aunt Lady Harriet Mordaunt. She had been one of Edward VII’s many mistresses and also one of the most notorious. Her husband divorced her for adultery, a highly unusual move in Victorian England. He did this after Lady Mordaunt told her husband she was pregnant and the baby was not his. The Prince of Wales paid regular visits to Lady Mordaunt at her home. In court, Sir Charles Mordaunt as good as accused the heir to the throne of adultery with his wife. The Prince of Wales felt obliged to give evidence. It is hard to overemphasise how scandalous it was for the heir to appear in court to deny he had committed adultery with a married woman. At the end of the case, Sir Charles gained his divorce. Lady Mordaunt was conveniently found to be insane and committed to an institution, away from public view.

Cyril Foley was another member of the expedition who knew King Edward VII both when he was sovereign and when he was the Prince of Wales. Foley was a very keen sportsman and shot regularly including with the German and British royal families. In his autobiography he recounted an incident in which both royal families were shooting at Sandringham. They had hoped to be hunting but there was a hard frost so they had to shoot hares instead. Some of the German party became overcome with enthusiasm and instead of staying in their places pursued the hares. During this period one of them accidentally shot King Edward VII. He received a pellet in the nose before lunch. Foley recounted how

‘and with his abundant good nature, which was one of his chief characteristics, merely shook his head and said, ‘Very dangerous, very dangerous,’

Foley added reassuringly that no one was killed that day!

Clarence Wilson who provided the largest amount of funding to the Parker expedition was a keen sailor and a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron. At the time the Commodore was King Edward VII. This period was considered the golden age of the R.Y.S. At the meeting in which Clarence Wilson was elected an active member of the R.Y.S., he was one of three new members. One of the two others was the Prince of Wales, the future King George V.

King Edward VII’s connections to the Parker expedition Read More »

Winston Churchill’s connections to the Parker expedition

Winston Churchill had close connections to several members of the Parker expedition both by marriage and friendship.

The closest link was to Gordon Wilson who was part of the expedition between 1910 and 1911. Gordon married Lady Sarah Spencer-Churchill in 1891.  She was the youngest daughter of the 7th Duke of Marlborough. One of her brothers was Lord Randolph Churchill, the father of Winston Churchill. So she was Winston Churchill’s aunt.

At the time of the marriage, Winston was still at school and wrote to his mother asking for permission to attend the wedding. He had fun at the wedding and afterwards wrote to ‘Mamma’ saying that he regretted having to leave the wedding early as he was “making an impression on the pretty Miss Weaslet”.

Although she was his aunt, there was only a nine years age difference between the two of them and they knew each other well.  Winston met the couple regularly and became friends with Gordon and other members of the Wilson family. Gordon had already become famous when he was at Eton. He helped thwart an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria. Gordon was born in 1865 in Wimmera in Victoria in Australia. He was the eldest son of Sir Samuel Wilson, who had made one of the greatest fortunes ever in Australia. In 1881 Sir Samuel brought his family back to the United Kingdom and sent Gordon to Eton. In 1882 Queen Victoria was travelling between Windsor railway station and Windsor Castle when a lunatic named Roderick Maclean aimed a pistol at the Queen. There were many Eton College boys in the crowd and Gordon Wilson happened to be standing near the attacker. He heard Maclean fire a shot and looked round to see Maclean with his right arm raised to fire again. Gordon and another schoolboy called Leslie Murray Robertson tackled him. Gordon grabbed Maclean by the arm and hit him over the head with his umbrella. Murray Robertson grabbed Maclean as did Police Superintendent Hayes. Wilson and Murray Robertson helped to overpower Maclean and were later presented to a grateful Queen at Windsor Castle.

Newspaper image of the assassination attempt

Perhaps helped by his fame in saving Queen Victoria and certainly helped by his father’s fortune Gordon married Lady Sarah Spencer-Churchill in 1891. The wedding was conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and attended by the Prince of Wales and a host of English aristocracy. It was a match that suited both families. Lady Sarah was an acerbic and challenging character. The Churchill family worried about her marriage prospects and the difficulty of ‘finding any sort of husband’ for her. They were much relieved when Sarah became engaged to Gordon Wilson and the prospect of her being ‘settled down and well off’. For the Wilsons the match continued their progress up the social ladder. It connected them with one of the most famous aristocratic families in the country.

Winston Churchill helped make his name in South Africa during the Second Boer War. He was in South Africa writing for the Morning Post newspaper and was captured by and escaped from the Boers. Lady Sarah and Gordon were both in South Africa during the war. Gordon Wilson was appointed as aide-de-camp to Colonel Baden-Powell. Baden-Powell was in Mafeking. Lady Sarah remained in the town with her husband. In the early days of the war the Boers pushed back the British. They besieged British forces in Ladysmith, Kimberley and Mafeking. Gordon pressed his wife to leave and head to safety away from the fighting. She did eventually leave the town. However, Sarah did not go far and, together with her maid, stayed in a Boer-dominated area close to Mafeking on the edge of the Kalahari Desert. When food ran low, Sarah moved. She did not hide from the Boers and travelled to see the wreck of an armoured train the Boers had attacked.

Lady Sarah Wilson

While she was staying close to Mafeking Lady Sarah would see members of the press passing who were bringing information to and from the besieged town. One of these was a Reuters correspondent who used carrier pigeons. One of these pigeons carried a message mentioning Lady Sarah which the Boers shot. They read the message and they captured Lady Sarah. After negotiation she headed back to join her husband in the besieged town. Back in Mafeking, she found out that the Boers had captured the Daily Mail correspondent. Alfred Harmsworth, the newspaper’s owner, asked Lady Sarah to replace him and she agreed to send the newspaper reports of the siege. Together with Baden-Powell’s inventive and successful defence of the town her reporting made headlines across the Empire.

After the end of the siege Lady Sarah travelled with another officer’s wife to Pretoria where they found the city full. She tried the Grand Hotel and was initially told that the hotel was full but then was told that there was an officer leaving shortly. Lady Sarah was told

‘the gentleman occupying it was packing up his belongings preparatory to his departure. Great was my surprise at discovering in the khaki-clad figure, thus unceremoniously disturbed in the occupation of stowing away papers, clothes, and campaigning kit generally, no less a personage than my nephew, Winston Churchill, who had experienced such thrilling adventures during the war, the accounts of which had reached us even in far-away Mafeking.’

In the years before the Parker expedition, Winston socialised with the Wilsons. In October 1904 he wrote to a close friend.

‘I dined last night with Gordon and Sarah and we had a good old yap. Sarah’s tongue is becoming even more vicious than it used to be but I was amused.’

The friendship was so close that when Winston that in 1907 when Winston was Under-Secretary of State in the Colonial Office, he undertook a five-month trip to Africa accompanied by Gordon Wilson. They travelled thousands of miles following the Nile’s course through lands that were then coloured pink on maps but are now Egypt, Sudan, Uganda and Kenya. They then returned by steamer from Mombasa. While he was in Africa, Winston wrote to King Edward VII. He said how pleasant it was to have Wilson with him ‘for he is an excellent traveller never not of spirits or tired or bored or vexed whatever may hap(pen).”

Gordon Wilson front row left, Winston Churchill seated next to him

The friendship extended to other members of the Wilson family. Winston Churchill lived at a flat in 105 Mount Street in Mayfair in London between 1900 and 1905. This is the same address recorded as Clarence Wilson’s residence on the shareholder documents for J.M.P.F.W.Ltd. I do not know when Clarence Wilson moved into 105 Mount Street but it is possible that he and Winston Churchill were neighbours. Clarence certainly knew Winston well enough to sent a wedding gift to him and Clementine on their marriage in 1908.

There is nothing in the archives that I have found which proves Winston Churchill talked to Gordon or Clarence about the expedition but given their closeness it is hard to imagine that they did not. Jerusalem, Palestine and a possible Jewish state was a topic that interested Churchill. In 1904 he had opposed the Conservative Aliens Bill which sought to limit Jewish immigration into the United Kingdom following the pogroms in Russia and Poland. He said the Bill which the Conservative government had introduced was

‘expected to appeal to insular prejudice against foreigners, to racial prejudice against Jews, and to Labour prejudice against competition; and it will no doubt supply a variety of rhetorical phrases for the approaching election.’  

He also wrote private letters in 1906 and 1908 expressing sympathy for the ‘a safe and settled home under the flag of tolerance and freedom’ and ‘that Jerusalem must be the ultimate goal’.

The expedition was extremely successful in gaining agreement from the Ottoman Imperial government to undertake the expedition and dig close in Jerusalem. There have been many explanations given for this. One is simple bribery. It is almost certain that they bribed Ottoman ministers. The accounts of the expedition show a disproportionate cost to secure the concession. Another explanation which is very plausible is that the Ottoman authorities believed that the gains of the expedition would help pay off a great deal of their debt. The Ottoman government had significant financial problems and a 50% share of the proceeds of the expedition would go a long way to do this. Members of the expedition valued the Ark and the other Temple treasures at £40 million which is the equivalent of £4.5 billion in 2021. This would have been very welcome to the Ottoman government. Another way that Montagu Parker gained the agreement of the Ottoman government was to emphasise and perhaps even exaggerate his establishment connections. Parker’s father had been a government minister and his brother sat in the House of Lords. However, many newspapers said that he was related to Lord Morley a government minister, which is not true. At the time that Parker was negotiating with the Ottoman government Winston Churchill was a member of the British cabinet. He was appointed as President of the Board of Trade in 1908. In 1910 he was appointed to one of the great offices of state Home Secretary. He held these posts when Gordon and Clarence Wilson were digging in the Dome of the Rock. There is no proof that the expedition used this connection, but on the other hand, it is hard to imagine that they would not have used them.

A few months after Gordon returned from Jerusalem he was promoted to command of the Royal Horse Guards. When Gordon died in action in November 1914 Winston attended the Memorial Service in Mayfair and also wrote to Lady Sarah. He wrote that Gordon’s death is ‘the end of the world’. He wrote

‘It is much better for a soldier to die this way than any other – in this greatest of all wars – in command of the Royal Horse Guards on a glorious field. I am so deeply grieved – and for your sorrow I cannot find words.’

In her reply, Lady Sarah wrote to Winston how ‘that trip in E(ast) Africa you took together was always one of his (Gordon’s) happiest recollections.

One final connection of Winston Churchill to the expedition was a visit to Saltram, the Parker family seat in 1950. Montagu Parker became the 5th Earl of Morley a year later. In 1950 Churchill was the leader of the Opposition and held an election rally called ‘The Plymouth Fair’ He spoke at the rally and it is safe to say that it was not one of Churchill’s greatest speeches though he did talk about the dangerous situation around the Korean War. The rally, though well-attended, was a bit of a damp squib. As the video shows it was a very rainy July day in South West England.

Winston Churchill’s connections to the Parker expedition Read More »

The connections to Monaco

Gambling and private yachts

There are a couple of connections. One of the expedition members was a regular visitor to and gambler at Mont Carlo and the expedition also used Monet Carlo as a departure place to sail for Jaffa.

Cyril Foley

Cyril Foley was not as well off as many of the other members of the expedition. One way he supported himself was gambling. Foley would go to Monte Carlo almost every year, both for the social scene and to gamble. He was the rarest of gamblers: a successful one. Each year Foley would bring £200 as capital and for several years multiplied this by ten. He made over £11,000 in the years before the First World War. This amount is worth around £1.3 million in 2021. Foley was a very disciplined gambler. He said he looked on the casino as a mechanical and sinister monster over which he had one advantage, that he could refuse to play with it at any time. Foley possessed the rare strength of will to stop when winning. Foley observed others who did not have the same discipline as he did. He wrote about Gordon Bennett, the Editor of the New York Herald. Bennett had the habit of getting drunk every year on the occasion of a big dinner party that Bennett gave at the Hotel de Paris. Foley says he and a friend watched over him like Good Samaritans. Bennett was playing roulette and won. He picked up his winnings and promptly threw it all in the air. Bennett intended to put the winnings on random numbers on the board. Some did fall on the board, but much fell in other gamblers’ laps or on the floor.

Cyril Foley at a house party with Queen Mary

Other times, when Bennett would pick up coins to play, he would drop coins on the floor. Foley said that there were women who quickly congregated like vultures around such individuals. They would have sticky substances on the bottom of their shoes. ‘One stamp, off to the lady’s cloakroom, louis (coin) removed, sticky substance renewed, and back again… The vultures gathered around him and reaped a tremendous harvest. At one time there was a sort of step-dance going on behind him, and the procession to the cloakroom became a queue.’

Clarence Wilson’s yacht

In late September 1911, the expedition left England to return to Jerusalem. They had left Palestine in the aftermath of the Haram al-Sharif incident and the upheaval that that sparked.

Parker, Clarence Wilson, von Bourg and Uotila all set off. The party included a new engineer called Griffin and four foremen to supervise work. The group travelled overland from London to Monte Carlo and then took Wilson’s new yacht bound for Jaffa. Since they had last travelled across the Mediterranean Wilson had sold the Water Lily and bought a larger, 338-ton steam yacht called the Dorothy. It was on this that the party headed back to Jaffa.

Other geographical connections

The connections to Monaco Read More »

The connections to the UK

Floreat Etona

The connections to the UK were very strong.  The bulk of the expedition party came from the United Kingdom, the syndicate was formed in London and the company which was later set up to manage the expedition was also founded in London.

The expedition members from the UK were born into families with wealth and status at the centre of the British upper classes. Most had also been educated at Eton College. Eton College was the most prestigious. King Henry VI founded the College in the 15th century. His goal for the College was to educate poor children around Windsor Castle, the king’s principal residence. However, over the years, the College changed its role. Its purpose became, and in no small degree still is, to create the next generation of English gentlemen. At the College they learned this role and to rule their estates and the Empire. A contemporary of Parker’s at Eton wrote:

‘Etonians imbibe a certain sense of the effortless superiority which haunts every imperial race. To be an Etonian seems better than to become great or successful. Boys are lulled into a sense of unassailable primacy which they extend later to the Empire.”

The network of connections the boys made while they there were at Eton was paramount to their futures. They formed many of these connections through the various sports they played. Many at the College reserved the greatest passion and effort for sport. These included cricket, football, rowing and the sport peculiar to Eton, the Wall Game. The formative experience for young English gentlemen who attended Eton is neatly summed up in the words of sixth stanza of the school song, the Eton Boating Song:

‘Harrow may be more clever, Rugby may make more row,
But we’ll row forever, Steady from stroke to bow,
And nothing in life shall sever, the chain that is round us now,
And nothing in life shall sever, the chain that is round us now”

Eton School Uniform in the late 19th Century

Four of the initial members of the expedition attended Eton. Besides Montagu Parker, there was Cyril Foley, Clarence Wilson and Robin Duff. They were all upper-class young men. One other common factor was they were mostly younger sons, not necessarily destined to inherit their father’s titles. Montagu Parker was the second son of an earl. Cyril Foley was the second son of a general and the grandson of a baron. Clarence Wilson was the third son of a rich, knighted member of parliament. For such men, not meant to inherit their family estate and title, the question was what they did with their lives. Robin Duff was an exception, as he was a first son.

Several of the Englishmen who took part in the Parker expedition joined elite military units after Eton. these included the Grenadier Guards, the Horse Guards and the Life Guards. Several of them served in South Africa during the Second Boer War. In the years before the expedition the army careers of many of the individuals were petering out and they needed something else to do.  The expedition provided a perfect opportunity.

Other geographical connections

The connections to the UK Read More »

The connections to Egypt

A transit place that drove some mad

Egypt was a stopping point for the expedition on many of their journeys across the Mediterranean.

On the first expedition the group travelled by train across France and took the P&O steamer India from Marseilles to Port Said, Egypt. They arrived there on the 27th July 1909. In Port Said, Juvelius and the Pearson civil engineer, Walsh, joined them. The larger party transferred to the Water Lily, Wilson’s steam yacht. Clarence Wilson had bought the yacht earlier in the year and refitted her for the Mediterranean trip. Two days later, the party sailed up the coast to Jaffa.

In autumn 1911 five months after the Haram al-Sharif incident the expedition tried to return to Jerusalem. When the Dorothy arrived in Jaffa, Parker found the Ottoman authorities in turmoil. As a result, they had appointed no inspectors, still less been ready to send them to Jerusalem. News of the expedition’s return quickly reached Jerusalem and created a stir. The new Governor, Cevdet Bey, reported the disquiet to Constantinople and the party were expelled. They were forced to sail to Egypt.

Wilson, von Bourg, Uotila, Griffin and the gangers were in Egypt. Wilson stayed at Shepheard’s Hotel, the best hotel in Cairo. They were stuck there for months and it was there that Clarence Wilson went mad and had to be brought back to England.

Other geographical connections

The connections to Egypt Read More »

The connections to Australia

One of the richest families in Australia

The Wilson family was the largest source of funds for the Parker expedition. By the end of the expedition they had invested over 40% of the capital invested in the venture. This money came from a fortune made in sheep farming in Australia.

Samuel Wilson, was born in County Antrim in Ireland. He was the sixth son of a farmer. In 1838, when criminals were still being transported, two of Samuel’s elder brothers emigrated to Australia. The brothers had read about the healthy climate and opportunities in the new colony for settlers with capital. Despite stiff opposition from their parents, the brothers sailed to Australia. A third brother joined them a few years later and together they bought a farm north of Melbourne. Samuel Wilson was still a child at this point but when he was 22 he sailed to Australia at the height of the Australian gold rush. He initially worked on the goldfields around Ballarat but soon joined his brothers in farming. They prospered and by 1874 Samuel Wilson farmed almost 3 million acres of land, owned about 600,000 sheep and had built a fortune. In 1875 he bought Ercildoune farmstead near Ballarat and made it into one of the most important and (now) historic farmsteads in Victoria. He also owned the Yanko farms in New South Wales.

He had four sons who were all born in Victoria Australia: Gordon, Wilfred, Herbert and Clarence. He also had several daughters, two of whom survived to adulthood.

Samuel was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1875 and a few years later brought his family back to the northern hemisphere to England. He rented Hughenden Manor, once the home of Benjamin Disraeli, Queen Victoria’s favourite prime minister and sent all four sons to Eton.

Gordon made his name at Eton where he helped stop an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria. He later joined the army and married Lady Sarah Spencer-Churchill the youngest daughter of the 7th Duke of Marlborough. One of her brothers was Lord Randolph Churchill, the father of Winston Churchill. It was not just the sons who married well. Clarence’s sister Maud married the 15th Earl of Huntingdon who claimed descent from Robin Hood.

All four sons volunteered for service in South Africa during the Second Boer War. Gordon served with Colonel Baden-Powell at the siege of Mafeking. Lady Sarah remained with him for much of the siege.

Clarence was wounded twice in early 1900. The second time so severely that he was invalided back from South Africa. In February 1901 his brother Wilfred was mortally wounded in an attack on Boer positions at Hartebeestfontein in the Transvaal. There is a stained glass window in memory of him in All Saints Church in Learmonth in Victoria paid for by his brothers. Herbert Wilson was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for gallantry.

All brothers were accomplished horsemen. Herbert, or Bertie as he was commonly known, was considered to be one of the finest polo players of his age. He was a member of the team which won a gold medal in polo at the 1908 Olympics in London.

Clarence Wilson was a part of the expedition throughout and the singest biggest investor in the expedition. He also provided the transport for the expedition to get to and from Palestine. He was a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron and the expedition used two of his steam yachts, the Water Lily and the Dorothy. He persuaded his brother Gordon to join him in Jerusalem from late 1910 to April 1911.

Other geographical connections

The connections to Australia Read More »

The connections to Libya

Gun-running in the Italo-Turkish War

Libya is a modern country and so the connections are to the area which is now known as Libya. At the start of the expedition the area was a part of the Ottoman Empire.

On the 26th September 1911, the Italian government sent an ultimatum to the Ottoman government, demanding they hand over Libya. The Austrians persuaded the Ottomans to offer the Italians essentially the same arrangement as Britain enjoyed in Egypt but Italy refused to accept the offer. Italy declared war on the Ottoman Empire and an invasion fleet headed to North Africa.

At the very same time the Parker expedition was sailing across the Mediterranean on Clarence Wilson’s yacht The Dorothy to try and return to Jerusalem. They may well have seen the Italian fleet heading for North Africa.

The expedition was stopped at Jaffa and could not return to Jerusalem so they headed to Egypt while they tried to negotiate their return.

The Italians had quickly captured Tripoli but were having difficulty extending their control beyond the principal cities and a narrow coastal strip. The Ottoman forces increasingly fought a guerrilla war against the Italians. Britain was officially neutral and would not let arms be transmitted from Egypt to neighbouring Ottoman forces. However, this did not stop weapons and soldiers from getting across by land and sea.

Italian infantry entrenched near Tripoli

The Italians tried to stop this smuggling at sea, and they captured several ships bringing weapons. Parker, bored with waiting in Egypt, borrowed Wilson’s yacht. The Dorothy sailed into the war zone on the Tripoli coastline, proudly flying the Royal Yacht Squadron flag. Parker passed through the Italian naval vessels without challenge. He did not restrict himself to just cruising along the coastline to observe any action. Parker took part in running guns to the Ottoman forces using the perfect cover. In the following months, the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire wrote several communique to the Foreign Office about Parker. He described him as a not very reliable person:

“I am afraid that young Parker is engaged in a fresh gun-running or money running expedition. It is not very nice to think that a yacht that carries the white ensign should be thus employed, and I think that the R.Y.S. would be much annoyed if they knew it. ”

Other geographical connections

The connections to Libya Read More »

On 24th September 1909

The Hon. Montagu Parker and Robin Duff returned to Jerusalem accompanied by Cyril Ward. They were excited to hear about how Clarence Wilson and Cyril Foley had climbed the Dragon Shaft and rushed off to try it themselves. They returned in shock. Ward had been violently sick when he reached the top and said that he would rather suffer H.M.S. Victoria’s sinking again than repeat the climb. Ward had nearly drowned in one of the worst self inflicted disasters of the Royal Navy. At one point the climbing, Duff thought the rope was slipping and he was falling to his death. Thoughts of his wife flashed through his head. For sporty young men, who had fought in the military, these adventures were part of the expedition’s attraction.

Five years later on the 24th September 1914 Robin Duff’s father died and he became the 2nd Baronet of Vaynol. He attended his father’s funeral in uniform having rejoined the Life Guards at the outbreak of war. Sadly he was not to enjoy the title for long.

On 24th September 1909 Read More »

On 30th August 1909

After about a month’s work, Montagu Parker and Robin Duff returned to England for a few weeks. Of the English contingent Clarence Wilson, Cyril Foley and the Pearsons engineer Mr Walsh, remained in Jerusalem. On the 30th August, Foley and Walsh explored the Dragon’s Shaft, which connects to Warren’s Shaft. They believed this might well be the perpendicular passage to which the cyphers referred so frequently. As it was some distance into the tunnel, they could only bring short ladders to the bottom of the shaft. There they lashed seven six-feet ladders together. They did this by candlelight, standing in water. Then they tossed a coin to see who would have the dubious privilege of ascending first and the engineer Walsh lost, so he climbed the ladders. Foley watched Walsh disappear into the dark and stepped back so that anything or anyone falling would not hit him. Twenty minutes later, Walsh descended and informed Foley:

“I’ve had rather an exciting time. There’s a slope of rock at the top of the shaft, and I got onto it, but it was so slippery I slid back, and if I had not luckily struck the top of the ladder you would have seen me sooner.”

Foley decided to look for himself and he climbed up. At the top, the ladder was not resting on anything as the shaft sloped away at a forty-five degree angle. He could see a large domed roof above him. To his right was a steep passageway filled with boulders approached by a slope ‘as slippery as ice’. He was contemplating that only he, Walsh, Charles Warren and Sergeant Birtles had seen this spot in 1,800 years when:

“I heard a movement away up the passage and, to my intense horror, something came rushing down it with a speed of thought. Before I could move a dreadful shape hit me full on the shoulder knocking the candle out of my hand and leaving me in opaque darkness. Being deprived of all volition through sheer terror, I mechanically beat all records down the ladder”

Once he had composed himself, he realised a bat had flown into him, drawn by the light from his candle. After seven hours in the tunnel, Foley and Walsh decided they had earned dinner.

On 30th August 1909 Read More »