Robin Duff

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 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

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.