Cyril Foley

Cyril Pelham Foley

Cricketer, sportsman, adventurer, soldier and writer

The Raider

Cyril Pelham Foley was a cricketer, writer, journalist, gambler and soldier. He was a journalist and has given us an often witty account of the Parker expedition.

Given that he went on an expedition to find the Ark of the Covenant it is fitting that his nickname was The Raider, which he gained when he was a member of the disastrous Jameson Raid which helped spark the Boer War. The raid’s goal was to spark an uprising in the Dutch-speaking Boer republic of Transvaal and bring its gold and diamonds under British control. The operation turned out to be a disaster and Foley and the other raiders were captured by the Boers.

During his cricketing career he played for Middlesex, Marylebone Cricket Club, Lord Brackley’s XI, AJ Webbe’s XI, Cambridge University scoring over 3,000 runs during his career. Reports describe him as a patient batsman, a slow left-arm bowler and an almost comically awful fielder! He played against many of the great cricketers of the day including WG Grace and in his autobiography he recounts what is possibly the earliest recorded account of a reverse sweep. It happened in a game between Gloucestershire and Middlesex at least seventy years before that stroke’s supposed invention, William Woof was the bowler and Sir Timothy O’Brien was the batsman:

‘The latter treated him as he afterwards treated W.W. Read at Lords, except that he back-handed him through the slips, and did not, ofcourse turn round to do so. E.M. Grace who was fielding close in at slip, narrowly escaped injury, the ball passing with great velocity through his whiskers twice. W.G., whose fraternal affection was aroused, said to O’Brien: “You mustn’t do that Tim, you’ll kill my brother.” O’Brien, who disliked E.M. replied: “And a good thing too” and promptly did it again. W.G. then warned O’Brien that if the stroke was repeated, he would take his men off the field. Needless to say O’Brien repeated it, and W.G. marched off the field.’

WG Grace

Cyril Foley came from a privileged background and was educated at Eton and Cambridge. He was the second son of a general and the grandson of a baron. The Foley family had a long military tradition encompassing both glorious success and disastrous failure. One relative was a member of Nelson’s band of brothers and rose to the rank of admiral. During his illustrious career he led the manoeuvre at the Battle of the Nile that destroyed Napoleon’s fleet. Cyril’s father was a general in the British Army. During the Crimean War he watched his wife’s uncle, Lord Cardigan, lead the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade. Foley himself served in the Boer War, the First World War and the Irish War of Independence, surviving all three. In the latter conflict he served in British Military Intelligence  in Dublin Foley narrowly escaped one of the most notorious and bloody days of the war, the original Bloody Sunday. He returned to London at the end of October 1920 and shortly afterwards relinquished his commission. On the 21st November 1920, the Irish Republic Army or I.R.A. killed fourteen members of British Military Intelligence in Dublin in a single day.

Foley always looked for adventure and in 1909 he went to Jerusalem in search of the Ark of the Covenant. The Parker expedition consisted mainly of upper-class young Eton-educated Englishmen who believed that a Finnish scholar had found secret cyphers hidden in the Bible which told where the Ark was hidden. It sounds improbable; Downton Abbey meets Indiana Jones meets Dan Brown, but it is absolutely true. They tried to keep secret what they were looking for but could not help drawing attention to themselves Foley wrote that one day while they were playing cricket he hit a six into the Pool of Siloam, where the Bible records Jesus healed a blind man. Foley wrote that his six was ‘a thing which I believe, has never been done before, not even by the Hittites.’

Sunday Express Headline from 1926



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!

The connections to Germany

How the war changed everything

Funding for the expedition

When Valter Juvelius completed his cypher work he wrote on the final page:

‘it might be worthwhile to fit out an expedition to find the (Temple) archive. The Deutscher Palästina Verein in Berlin might be for this purpose be most adapted for (the) same.’

Reports say that as a result Johan Millen went to Germany to seek funding, but was unsuccessful. Whether he approached the Deutscher Palästina Verein for funding is unclear. Millen did not approach the Palestine Exploration Fund in London, so similarly in Germany he may have approached other individuals or groups. According to Cyril Foley the Germans were interested but could not persuade the Ottoman government to grant permission to dig. So Millen went to London and was eventually put in touch with Frederick Vaughan, George Seymour Fort and Montagu Parker.

The subsequent attitude of the expedition to Germany was one of hostility and suspicion. After the Haram al-Sharif Incident in 1911 Millen claimed that German newspapers wrote ‘polemics of a particularly reckless and indiscriminate nature’. He also singled out Gustaf Dalman, who he described as a German professor who had criticised the expedition. It is certainly true that Dalman was very critical of their work and about the damage that the expedition would cause in relations with locals. Juvelius similarly complained that immediately after the event, ‘a real storm of hatred was raised against us in Berlin’s German-Jewish newspapers.’

Juvelius and Millen wrote their accounts during the First World War and some of their anti-German rhetoric may have reflected opinions of the time. In his book On the Right Tracks Millen wrote how he believed the English and Swedes were descendants of the lost tribes of Israel. The Germans, by contrast, were the descendants of the blood-thirsty Assyrians.

Closeness in the Edwardian era

In contrast to this vehement Germanophobia many members of the expedition had close links to Germany and its royal family before the war.

In June 1903 Robin Duff married Lady Juliet Lowther. Lady Juliet was a favourite of the British 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.’

German Crown Prince

In 1910 the German Crown Prince and his wife came to England. They attended the London Horse Show and Lady Juliet spent time with the Crown Prince. Newspaper reports wrote about how she was almost as tall as him, dressed in white with a big, feathered hat and ostrich boa, and stood laughing with him. Four years later the Crown Prince was in command of the German 5th Army which attacked the British in the fields of northern France and Belgium. On the 16th October 1914, Lady Juliet’s husband Robin Duff was killed in action trying to stop the Germans outflanking the British Expeditionary Force and reaching the Channel.

Cyril Foley was similarly close to the German royal family. He 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 did say that he could personally vouch ‘for the safe shooting of the German Emperor and the Crown Prince, and, in addition, they both shoot quite well.’ He added ‘The German Emperor, considering that he had to shoot practically with one hand, was quite effective’. Such connections reflect how close European royalty and aristocracy were before the First World War.

Accommodation in Jerusalem

When the expedition arrived in Jerusalem they had the German Crown Prince to thank for their headquarters. They stayed at the Fast Hotel and set up their headquarters in the Augusta Victoria Hospice. The Hospice or to use its German name Stiftung, was built following Kaiser Wilhelm II’s visit a decade before the expedition. During the imperial stay, Wilhelm’s wife, Kaiserin Augusta Victoria, said she wanted to leave a lasting legacy on the Mount of Olives. The resulting building looks like a Teutonic medieval fortress, more suited to the Rhine than Jerusalem. It had stunning views across the city and its tower is visible from as far away as Jordan. The Hospice’s architectural design would probably have been of less interest to the expedition members than its electric lighting and plumbing, including European-standard baths and lavatories. These were the first of their kind in Jerusalem.

Augusta Victoria Hospice in Jerusalem

The expedition members returned to the Hospice during the second expedition between 1910 and 1911 and they were staying in it when they bribed their way into the Dome of the Rock. The German deaconesses at the Stiftung had always spoken enthusiastically about their English gentlemen residents. However, they grew suspicious of where the Englishmen were disappearing to, night after night, dressed in local Arabic attire. The Superintendent heard rumours about what they were up to and challenged them that they were digging in the Haram. They falsely denied any such wrongdoing. The records of the Stiftung show that they checked out on the 18th April 1911.

As mentioned earlier the expedition first stayed at the Fast Hotel. This was also a German establishment. The Fast Hotel was located outside the city walls a few minutes walk from the Jaffa Gate. Alexander Howard built the hotel in the 1890s as a high-quality hotel for the increasing number of Europeans who were coming to Jerusalem. He commissioned Theodor Sandel of the German Templer Colony to design his new hotel. Sandel was a well-respected architect and designed many important buildings in the city. He designed a three-storey building, which could accommodate 125 first-class guests. It was built around a courtyard containing a tree-lined garden. According to an advert in a local newspaper, the hotel could provide ‘hot and cold baths ready at all times’. Unfortunately, Howard went out of business at the turn of the century and after a series of owners, in 1907, Alexander Fast & Sons bought the hotel. The Fast family were German Templers, like the architect. The Templers were break-away German Lutherans who wanted to promote the rebuilding of the Temple, to bring about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

For decades the Fast Hotel was one of the best in Jerusalem. It was the place to stay for the great and the good visiting Jerusalem. During the First World War, it hosted senior German officers helping the Ottomans fight the British. Every evening, during the campaign, groups of German officers would meet in the hotel to drink and talk. By 1917 the campaign was going badly and late one evening, a rather drunk, monocled, Prussian officer stood up. He proposed that the German Army should hand over the organization of its campaign to Thomas Cook & Sons.

The hotel continued to play a split role in the run-up to the Second World War. Waldemar Fast, one of the grandsons, ran a travel business out of the hotel in the 1930s. He was an enthusiastic Nazi, having joined the party in 1934. During the 1930s the hotel was a centre of anti-Jewish activity in Jerusalem. At the start of the Second World War Waldemar volunteered to join the SS and served as a spy in the SD. He managed German agents across the Middle East, including Palestine. He was interrogated by the British at the end of the war and listed his occupation as Hotel Proprietor. Following these interrogations, he was not charged with any war crimes.

The Fast Hotel in 1910

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.

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 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 Switzerland

A Psychic and a Winter Holiday

The Foxwell psychic

Most of the accounts of the Parker expedition focus on the work of Juvelius in directing the work towards the supposed hiding place of the Ark. However, they were wary of being solely reliant on Juvelius, so Parker recruited a ‘thought-reader’ to travel to Jerusalem in the party. His name was Otto von Bourg, also known as Stauffiger and Stassieger. Otto von Bourg was born around 1873 in Wiedlisbach, near Berne in Switzerland. He said that, as a child, he had a vision that allowed a village near where he was born to find two buried silver church bells. These had supposedly been hidden during the French Revolutionary wars decades before. In his vision, von Bourg identified their hiding place and guided the authorities to the bells.

Von Bourg moved to England at the end of the 19th century to train as an accountant. He swapped from the mundane and set up as a clairvoyant and psychic in London. He made his reputation in the 1901 case of a missing stockbroker. Percy Foxwell had gone missing on the way home to Thames Ditton, having telegraphed his wife, saying he would not be back for dinner. The stockbroker then seemed to vanish without a trace. In a seance which von Bourg held with Foxwell’s wife, a Maori spirit helped guide von Bourg to a small stream about a mile from the house, leading to the Thames, with grass banks and a drooping tree overhanging where the body was.  The case made his reputation and he traded on it for the rest of his career. Arthur Conan Doyle who was a firm believer in spiritualism spoke very positively about von Bourg.

Advert by Von Bourg

Von Bourg spent considerably more time in Jerusalem than Juvelius and was there when they dug in the Dome of the Rock. One syndicated report of the incident, whose authors must have spoken to von Bourg, downplayed the cypher’s value and said it was the Swiss psychic who led the expedition to the hidden treasures under the Mosque of Omar.

It said that t was the crystal that ‘Mr Van (sic) Bourg had “revealed” to Parker the whereabouts of the hidden treasures of King Solomon and the presence near Jerusalem of a quantity of sacred articles buried by other ancient Jewish kings, to which a vague clue had been given by a certain cipher which was supposed to indicate the right place to dig.’

A Winter Holiday

In 1912, two expedition members Robin Duff and Cyril Foley took a winter holiday to Engelberg in the Swiss Alps with a friend Jimmy Lumsden, where they met Rudyard Kipling. Cyril Foley says that he ‘might almost say that he (Kipling) was a friend of mine’. He wrote an account of the discussions they had. The three friends were in the middle of a discussion about winning the international bobsleigh race when Kipling came up to them to ask a question.

He rushed up to Duff and said he had a question for him as he was a cavalry officer. Kipling said he was writing about a cavalry advance and wanted to know what order the officer would give to speed up in the circumstances. Duff answered and Kipling ‘By God, that’s it’ and rushed off.

Kipling later wrote to a friend about his discussions with ‘a big sleepy man in the Guards who had been on that mad treasure hunt for King Solomon’s treasures in Jerusalem’. As we know that he met Duff at this time who was a tall man and in the Life Guards this must be Robin Duff. He recounted Duff’s explanations of their work in the Pool of Siloam and the cyphers and explained why Juvelius had had to leave Jerusalem. he did not mention malaria but instead said that Juvelius got into trouble with the Ottoman authorities because of his behaviour with local women. ‘Hence trouble with the Turkish authorities and the final elimination of Jurisius (sic)’

Rudyard Kipling

Other geographical connections

The connections to South Africa

The Jameson Raid and the Boer War

It is not an exaggeration to say that the core of the Parker expedition was formed in South Africa during the Second Boer War.

Cyril Foley

Cyril Foley was well known within cricket but it was through another ill-fated adventure that he became famous. In 1895, Foley took part in the Jameson Raid in which a heavily armed group of 600 British-led men invaded the Transvaal. The raid’s backers wanted the province to become part of the British Empire and hoped to support a revolt in the Transvaal against the Dutch-speaking Boer government. Foley was invited to join the Raid by Dr Leander Jameson. The operation turned out to be a disaster. The planned uprising in Johannesburg never took place as the ‘Boers were already becoming suspicious that something was afoot’. As a result of his involvement, Foley gained the nickname of the Raider. He later served in the Royal Scots during the resulting war.

Montagu Parker

After leaving Eton College Montagu Parker joined the army. He quickly transferred to join the elite Grenadier Guards. A few months later, in March 1900, Parker sailed with a contingent of the Grenadier and Scots Guards to South Africa and the Second Boer War. 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. They headed to a war in which the British Army had suffered a series of humiliating reverses at the hands of the Boers. Cyril Foley, Clarence and Gordon Wilson, who later joined the Parker expedition, also served in the Second Boer War. These connections were further bonds that helped bring these men together for the expedition to Jerusalem.

Montagu Parker was wounded at the battle of  Thaba ‘Nchu. Thaba ‘Nchu means Black Mountain in the Tswana language. The battlefield was mountainous terrain, roasting during the day and freezing at night.

The Wilson brothers

At the start of the Second Boer War, Clarence’s eldest brother Gordon was already out in South Africa. In January 1900 the three other Wilson brothers, Clarence, Wilfred and Herbert, all volunteered for active service. Clarence served in the Westmoreland and Cumberland Regiment of the Imperial Yeomanry. They were a volunteer mounted force raised to fight in the Boer War. 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.

It was not just the brothers who went to South Africa. One of Clarence’s sisters went and his sister-in-law, Lady Sarah, was already there. When it became apparent war was coming, Gordon Wilson was appointed as aide-de-camp to Colonel Baden-Powell. Baden-Powell was in Mafeking. Lady Sarah initially remained in the town with her husband.

Other geographical connections

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 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.