Eton College

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

On the 6th November 1914 Gordon Wilson died in battle

He led an incredible life. He stopped an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria married Winston Churchill’s aunt fought at Mafeking commanded the Blues went on the Parker expedition to find the Ark and died leading at Klein Zillebeke.

He was born in Wimmera in Australia but educated in England. At Eton he stopped Roderick Maclean shooting Queen Victoria in Windsor by beating him with his umbrella.

He married Lady Sarah Spencer-Churchill who was Winston Churchill’s aunt. He served at the siege of Mafeking with Baden-Powell during the Second Boer War and Lady Sarah acted as a war reporter there for the Daily Mail.

Lady Sarah Wilson (nee Spencer-Churchill)

Gordon joined his brother Clarence on the Parker expedition to Jerusalem to find the Ark of the Covenant and was there when they secretly dug in the Dome of the Rock and caused riots. The Wilson family were the largest funders of the expedition.

Gordon rose to command the Royal Horse Guards and commanded them in 1914. He died at Klein Zillebeke leading his men in battle. Wilson’s men galloped to the engagement dismounted and fixed bayonets. He then led the charge of his troopers at the Germans and was shot dead.

Lady Sarah chose the inscription “Life is a city of crooked streets Death the market place where all men meet” for his CWGC headstone. She read it on a clipping she found that Gordon had kept with him.