In March 2022 there is a war raging in Europe, though Vladimir Putin denies that Russian forces have invaded Ukraine and are instead engaged in a ‘special military operation’. He also justifies his peacekeeping mission by saying that Ukraine is not a real country but a historical part of Russia. Russian spokesmen have also threatened Finland and Sweden with ‘military and political consequences’ if they were to join NATO. As anyone with the briefest knowledge of history knows that borders have shifted as Empires wax and wane. The Ottoman Empire used to rule parts of Ukraine but no one seems to be suggesting that Turkey should still control these. These border shifts apply equally to countries such as Sweden and Finland. Indeed the relationship between Russia Sweden and Finland is an interesting one and curiously impacted on members of the Parker expedition.
Finland was once ruled by Sweden and this status only changed during the Napoleonic Wars. Russia initially joined the alliance of European monarchs opposed to Napoleon. However, after a series of disastrous military defeats by the French celebrated in streets names and stations across France Tsar Alexander I made peace with Napoleon at Tilsit and switched sides
Tsar Alexander used the peace with France to try and make gains for Russia. He pressured Sweden to switch sides and join the alliance against Britain but when they refused Russia attacked Sweden and the two countries fought a war between 1808 and 1809. The end result of the war was the loss of Finland for Sweden and the creation of the Grand Duchy of Finland as an autonomous part of the Russian Empire. It stayed that way for a century.
The events which changed it were the seminal early events of the 20th century, namely the First World War and the Russian Bolshevik Revolution. So when the Parker Expedition took place the Finns on it came from within the Russian Empire. They were Valter Juvelius and Pertti Uotila.
The expedition fizzled out shortly before the First World War and the decision of the Ottoman Empire to side with Germany and so against Russia and Britain made all the members of the expedition enemies of the rulers of Jerusalem. Most of the members of the expedition also joined up to fight in the war. In the case of Pertti Uotila this was for Russia against Germany.
Pertti Uotila (front) in the uniform of a Pihkova/Pskov Dragoon officer
He went to St Petersburg and trained at the famous Nikolai Cavalry College. On graduation he became an officer in the Pihkova/Pskov Dragoons in the Russian Imperial Cavalry and fought in the disastrous Russian campaigns against Germany. The losses the Russians suffered were significant contributory factors to the two revolutions in 1917, which saw first the Tsar overthrown and then the Bolsheviks seize power. Finland took advantage of the instability and declared independence from Russia. This led to a bloody civil war in Finland, with Red versus White. As with most civil wars, it was brutal, with atrocities committed by both sides. The war also drew in the Bolsheviks, the Germans and the Allies. Despite his youthful socialism, Uotila fought for the right-wing Whites, who eventually proved victorious.
Pertti Uotila in Finnish cavalry officer’s uniform
After the Finnish Civil War, Uotila fought against Bolshevik Russia for several more years in the Heimosodatot or Tribal Wars. The British opposed the Bolshevik Revolution and supported those fighting against it. They landed a force in Murmansk in Northern Russia to help in the fight. Winston Churchill said the policy was ‘to strangle at birth the Bolshevik State’. Many groups including the Germans were fighting here and their identity was not always clear.
Uotila’s friendship with the Old Etonians, made in the heat of Jerusalem, now proved crucial in the cold of the Artic Circle. The British did not want any weapons they provided to local forces to reach either Bolsheviks or the Germans, so they were initially suspicious of a group of Finns fighting in German-supplied uniforms. Out of these strange-looking soldiers stepped Uotila to help sort matters out. He negotiated with the Royal Navy officers and convinced them that they should supply his Finnish forces with arms and munitions. His connections to the British establishment were vital in persuading the Royal Navy officers they could trust him. One of the foremost proponents of Britain’s policy in Russia was Winston Churchill, former First Lord of the Admiralty. In 1918 he was minister of munitions. Pertti had spent time in Jerusalem with Gordon Wilson, who was married to Winston Churchill’s aunt.
These battles were not Uotila’s last fight with the Russians. After the Soviet Union signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany in 1939 Hitler invaded Poland. Two weeks later, the Soviets marched into Eastern Poland, as agreed with Germany. They also invaded Finland, and the two unequally matched nations fought the three-month Winter War. Uotila, now almost sixty, rejoined the Finnish Army. Despite the mismatch in sizes, the Finns were largely successful in defending their country against its much larger neighbour.
While they were in Jerusalem members of the Parker expedition complained that individuals from the Jewish community spied on them to thwart the expedition in their search for the Ark of the Covenant. Yet the British expedition itself was nearly led by someone who helped create British secret services and its most famous fictional secret agent, James Bond.
William Le Queux
Valter Juvelius could not raise the money in Finland to pursue his cypher theories of the hiding place of the Ark of the Covenant. So he asked Swedish businessman Johan Millen to go to London to try and raise the money there. He came to London with a letter of introduction from a Swedish baroness and one of the people he approached was William Tufnell Le Queux.
A literary godfather of James Bond
Le Queux has been largely forgotten but was arguably one of the most influential men in the creation of the British secret services, British spy fiction and its most famous figure, James Bond. Le Queux was a journalist and author. He wrote close to 200 books during his career and many dealt with the threat to the United Kingdom from foreign enemies and spies. He was obsessed with the danger he believed Britain was in and wrote passionately and prodigiously about it.
Arguably his most famous work was The Invasion of 1910, published in 1906 and serialised in the Daily Mail. He wrote it in conjunction with the Field Marshall Lord Roberts, a hero of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, during which he won the Victoria Cross, Abyssinia and Afghanistan and the Second Boer War. They wrote about an upcoming German invasion of Britain. Lord Northcliffe, the owner of the Daily Mail, promoted the book heavily including using men in Prussian uniforms complete with spiked helmets walking round central London to advertise it. This was after Lord Northcliffe had altered the route the invading forces took in the book to go through towns and cities where he could boost his circulation!
Cover of the Invasion of 1910
The book was an enormous success selling over a million copies and being translated into twenty-seven languages. There was even a German translation which altered the ending so that the Germans were victorious. This was not Le Queux’s first book about an invasion. In 1894 he published The Great War in England in 1897 about a combined French and German invasion. These two books helped create the genre of Invasion Fiction which was incredibly popular in Britain before the First World War, and includes such works as the Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers and John Buchan’s The 39 Steps.
Le Queux did not just write about invasion. He was obsessed with spies and wrote innumerable books about them, including Spies of the Kaiser, England’s Peril, The Under-Secretary, Whoso Findeth a Wife, Revelations of the Secret Service and many more. Many writers on spy literature credit Le Queux with inventing the archetypal British gentleman secret agent. He created several characters, often with alliterative names, the most famous of whom was Duckworth Drew. He is a cosmopolitan much-travelled bachelor who is
“discreet about his age, we think of him as in his late thirties: old enough to have recovered from the heartache of a passionate and thwarted romance while a junior attaché, yet young enough to win the hearts of the many ladies he meets on his travels.”
In the bookIn Le Queux’s books English gentleman agents must foil dastardly foreign plots and agents. Le Queux’s writing is often mocked for cliches and terrible prose. However, he was highly influential. His legacy has been recognised by many. Graham Greene, who wrote many spy novel’s dedicated The Spy’s Bedside Book:
“To the immortal memory of William Le Queux and John Buchan.”
Le Queux almost single-handedly created spy fiction and the British gentleman agent, which reached its peak with Ian Fleming’s James Bond books.Ian Fleming was an avid reader of Le Queux’s works when he was a young man and many have credited Le Queux as an influence on Fleming’s work. The 2006 edition of The Oxford Companion to English Literature, described Fleming’s James Bond novels as ‘updated versions of Le Queux and Buchan designed for the Cold War consumer boom and changed sexual mores of the 1950s and 1960s’. Fleming wrote his first Bond book Casino Royale in 1953. He wrote it quickly, from memory and without research. Many elements in Fleming’s stories echo Le Queux’s works. Fleming Bond formula of a British gentleman up against an evil foreign villain was one which Le Queux had great success with. Further the Bond villains are often disfigured, much like many Le Queux villains. Fleming seems to have borrowed some plot lines from Le Queux’s work as well. In Le Queux’s Mademoiselle of Monte Carlo the protagonist Hugh Henry is gambling in Monte Carlo and confronts the eponymous mademoiselle in order to gain information about his father’s death. However, before she can say anything, she is shot with a rifle disguised as a walking stick. In Casino Royale Le Chiffre’s henchman threatens Bond with just such a weapon at the baccarat table in a fictional French gambling resort.
Sean Connery as James Bond
The catalyst to the creation of British secret services
However, William Le Queux did more than merely influence spy fiction. He is credited with having played a leading part in the establishment of Britain’s first modern secret service. During the Edwardian era, fuelled in large part by the invasion and spy fiction of writers such as Le Queux there was great pressure on the British government to counter this foreign spy menace. Papers such as the Daily Mail branded virtually every German in the country as a spy. It singled out waiters as a particular problem and said that people should refuse to be served by an Austrian or German and if the waiter claimed to be Swiss to demand to see their passport. In May 1907 the Morning Post newspaper printed a letter claiming that there were 90,000 German reservists and spies hiding in the country. In March 1909 under mounting pressure the British government set up a committee under RB Haldane, the Secretary of State for War, to examine the ‘nature and extent of foreign espionage’ in the country. Initially they found little evidence. However, one of the committee’s members was Major James Edmonds a close friend of Le Queux’s. He kept on providing information on massive numbers of alleged spies operating in the country. None of this evidence had been provided to the police and it often consisted of minor trivia; a bald German barber in Portsmouth who wore a wig and took an interest in gossip from naval personnel, a series of Germans living living near the naval base who received registered mail from Germany. Much of this ‘intelligence’ appears to have come from Le Queux himself. There were other sources of information and the Russian government helped convince Haldane that the government should set up a body to counter foreign espionage in the country and the Secret Service Bureau was set up in 1909, the precursor to MI5 and MI6.
Le Queux’s deadly cigars
Once these agencies were set up, including later the CIA, there have been occasions where the reality of espionage imitated Le Queux fiction. Famously the CIA concocted innumerable plots to kill Fidel Castro. Two of the most famous involved Castro’s love of cigars. The CIA proposed to give him both poisoned cigars and exploding cigars. Le Queux had used both these ideas in his books decades before. In the Czar’s Spy of 1905 there is the following assassination:
“Suddenly, while the Privy-Councillor lay back in his chair pulling thoughtfully at his cigar, there was a bright, blood-red flash, a dull report, and a man’s short agonized cry. Startled, I leaned around the corner of the deck-house, when, to my abject horror, I saw under the electric rays the Czar’s Privy-Councillor lying sideways in his chair with part of his face blown away. Then the hideous truth in an instant became apparent. The cigar which Oberg had pressed upon him down in the saloon had exploded, and the small missile concealed inside the diabolical contrivance had passed upwards into his brain.”
In his 1911 work Hushed Up! the prologue commences with a death which has been certified as a heart attack:
“Nothing very extraordinary in that, surely? He died while smoking.”
“Yes,” said the bald-headed man, bending towards the other and lowering his voice into a harsh whisper. “He died while smoking a cigar—a cigar that had been poisoned! You know it well enough. What’s the use of trying to affect ignorance—with me!”
Le Queux also used cigars in another of his works Secrets of the Foreign Office. In the book Duckworth Drew is once again called upon to foil a foreign plot, on this occasion involving the French and he uses a drugged cigar in order to gain vital intelligence from the French Foreign Minister. When the two meet the French Minister asks for one of Drew’s Corona Superbos cigars. However, the cigar was drugged and Drew was able to get the vital information he sought out of the befuddled opponent.
‘To this day Monsieur le Ministre is in ignorance that that particular Corona had been carefully prepared by me with a solution of cocculus indicus’
The potential leader of Juvelius’ expedition to Jerusalem
As mentioned earlier Johan Millen approached Le Queux to raise funding for an expedition to Jerusalem based on Juvelius’s cyphers. Le Queux wrote about the encounter in his autobiography published in 1923. He wrote that he was approached in the Cecil Hotel in London, where he was living at the time with the letter of introduction from the Swedish Baroness Nernberg:
“This letter explained that my visitor was a well-known civil engineer in Sweden, that he was highly trustworthy, and that he had a very curious disclosure to make to me. We sat down, and certainly what he told me caused my eyes to bulge. Briefly, it was that a friend of his, a certain Professor Afzelius (sic), at Abó University, had discovered in the original text of the Book of Ezekiel preserved in the Imperial Library at Petrograd a cipher message that gave the whereabouts of the concealed treasures from King Solomon’s temple. At first I was inclined to laugh, but he assured me that he wished for no money, only my influence and support to induce a London newspaper to take up the matter and send out an expedition to Jerusalem to explore.”
Neither Millen nor Le Queux gives any reason why he specifically was approached. Certainly he was a well-known author and journalist. However, there were many of these in London. There are two possible reasons Johan Millen may have known William Le Queux and thought he might have been receptive to the idea.
In 1907 Le Queux travelled to Sweden, Denmark and Norway while preparing for an expedition he planned to take to Lapland and round the top of Norway to Russia. The expedition was planned in conjunction with the explorer Harry de Windt. Le Queux and de Windt travelled to Copenhagen, Stockholm, Narvik and Tromso in the summer of 1907 and they seem to have met the Swedish King and Prime Minister. They were introduced to Swedish society by Baroness Barnebour a friend of Le Queux’s. Bizarrely they also hitched a ride on the yacht of the Prince of Monaco when they were stranded on the Lofoten islands in the very north of Norway.
According to the journalist and BBC broadcaster Alistair Cooke, Le Queux books were pot boiling melodramas of the most lurid and preposterous sort. In 1903 Le Queux wrote one book which certainly fitted Cooke’s description. It was a mysterious tale including an Ark, the discovery of old secret cyphers and a search for buried treasure. It was entitled The Tickencote Treasure. Its plot is an incredible one and bizarrely echoes much of the start of the Parker expedition. The book starts with a doctor called Paul Pickering who goes to sea and on the voyage off the African coast, the ship he is on encounters a mysterious vessel floating nearby.
“Look, Joe!” exclaimed Seal. “What the dickens do you make out o’ that?” Thorpe swung his body with the motion of the vessel and took a long look at the object of mystery. “Thunder, cap’n!” he cried. “Looks like Noah’s Ark, sir.”
It turns out incredibly that the ship dates not from Noah but from the time of the Spanish Armada. Onboard it they find skeletons, gold, ancient scrolls with cyphers and even more incredibly someone alive, dressed in Elizabethan dress and carrying a sword, who cannot speak.
When Pickering returns to London he shows the parchments to an expert who verifies that they are authentic. He says they relate to the story of Bartholomew da Schorno who captured a ship from the Spanish Armada in 1588 with an enormous fortune on board. He brought this to England and buried the treasure. However, its location was hidden by a secret cypher.
Illustration from The Tickencote Treasure
The story then progresses in the normal Le Queux fashion as a race between Pickering and a deadly rival named Black Bennett who is also on the trail of the fortune and who will stop at nothing, including murder to get his hands on it. The plot involves a beautiful innocent young woman who the evil Bennett is blackmailing to help him get his hands on the treasure. This does not stop Pickering falling in love with her. Le Queux describes her in typically melodramatic form.
“But her face held me fascinated; I could not take my eyes off it. It was oval, regular, with beautifully-moulded cheeks, a small, well-formed mouth, and fine arched brows, while the eyes, dark and sparkling, looked out at me half in wonder, half in fear. Hers was a kind of half-tragic beauty, a face intensely sweet in its expression, yet with a distinct touch of sadness in its composition, as though her heart were burdened by some secret.”
The story takes many twists and turns but ends with Bennett falling to his death while fleeing the police and the beautiful Dorothy Drummond inheriting the fortune.
“And the rest? Need I tell you? I think not. All I shall say further is that within two months of our sudden fortune Dorothy, whom I had loved long before I knew her to be heiress of the treasure, married me at Hampstead, where we now live—in Fitzjohn’s Avenue, to be exact—leading an idyllic life of peace and love. If you pass up the thoroughfare in question you will probably notice the name, “Mr. Pickering, Surgeon,” upon a brass plate, for although the sum realized by the sale of the jewels has provided us with a comfortable income for life, yet I am not by any means an idle man.”
We cannot know why Millen chose to approach Le Queux. He certainly approached several individuals before he was introduced to Montagu Parker. However, it seems so incredible or appropriate that he chose someone who had written a story with are so many similarities between the project that Juvelius and Millen were proposing. Both centred on cyphers found in an ancient document showing the location of long-buried treasure. They both had Arks (though different ones). Who knows, maybe Juvelius had read The Tickencote Treasure.
After he was approached Le Queux says that he took the papers to a Dr Adler, a friend who was also the Chief Rabbi, to verify the documents. Le Queux says that Dr Adler came back and said that there was something to the documents.
Dr Adler, Chief Rabbi
On the basis of the positive response to the cypher documents Le Queux approached Sir C. Arthur Pearson, the proprietor of the Standard newspaper for funding for the expedition to Jerusalem. He described what happened next:
“To this he most generously acceded, and an initial sum was agreed between us for its cost. I was to head the expedition to Palestine. That afternoon I walked along the Strand full of suppressed excitement.”
We do not know how long this process took, although Le Queux suggests it was quick. However, when he informed Millen that he had secured the funding Millen told Le Queux that they were not pursuing the matter. We know that this was because they had decided to move forward with the syndicate led by Montagu Parker. However, he did not tell Le Queux this and he was bemused.
The author was not completely frustrated as it gave him the idea for another novel The Treasure of Israel (known as the Great God Gold in the USA), which was another international bestseller for him. In it he took much of the cypher information that Millen had given him and then added many of the elements from The Tickencote Treasure!
Pilgrims, pogroms a mad monk and the seceding Finns
The Grand Duchy of Finland
Several members of the expedition were Finns and at the time of the expedition Finland was part of the Russian Empire.
Sweden were the rulers of Finland until the start of the 19th century. During the Napoleonic Wars, Russia initially fought against Napoleon. However, after a series of crushing defeats, celebrated in street names and stations across Paris, Russia swapped sides. Russia then demanded that Sweden do the same and ally with them against England. When Sweden refused, Russia declared war and captured Finland. Finland became an autonomous province within the Russian Empire. However, Russian was never adopted as the primary language.
Valter Juvelius lived in Viipuri, a town which today is known as Vyborg, is close to Saint Petersburg and now part of the Russian Federation.
As Finland was part of the Russian Empire it was involved in the First World War against Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empires. Pertti Uotila joined up and became an officer in the Russian Imperial Cavalry. He fought in the disastrous Russian campaigns against Germany.
1916 painting of Pertti Uotila and his brother
Pertti (front) is in the uniform of a Russian Pihkova lifeguard dragoon
The expedition arrived in Jerusalem at a time the city was expanding rapidly. Immigration drove most of this. There were many sources of this immigration, some came from other parts of the Ottoman Empire, but many were from outside and they came from all faiths. Certainly, Jewish immigration was a large driver. The Yemeni Jews were small in number, but they were joined by large groups driven by the same way as the Sephardim several hundred years before; persecution of Jews by Christian European monarchs. In the late-nineteenth century, the ruler was Tsar Alexander III of Russia. Chaim Weizmann described the results:
“I can remember the stampede — the frantic rush from the Russian prison house, the tremendous tide of migration which carried hundreds of thousands of Jews from their ancient homes to far-off lands across the seas. I was a witness in boyhood and early manhood of the emptying of whole villages and towns”
The vast majority of these migrants did not go to Jerusalem or the Holy Land. Between 1888 and 1914, two million Jews left Russia, and of this 85% went to the United States. However, some did come to the Holy Land. In this wave of immigration, between 1881 and 1903, which has become known as the First Aliyah, nearly 35,000 Jews arrived in Palestine.
As well as people who came to live in Jerusalem, there were the pilgrims who visited the city briefly. The biggest group of these were Russian pilgrims. Every year thousands of Russian Orthodox Christian pilgrims would flock to the city. They were mostly impoverished peasants who travelled from their village in the interior of Russia to the port of Odessa to embark for the Holy Land.
The Russian government subsidised the boats. They were often overcrowded and any poor weather led to seasickness and unbearable conditions. Once they arrived in the Holy Land, most of the pilgrims would walk from Jaffa to Jerusalem. They were filled with religious devotion and would visit multiple Christian sites in the Holy Land. They would return to Russia in possession of mementoes the pilgrims believed would help ease their path to heaven. These could be shrouds washed in the river Jordan or measured against the stone where Jesus’ body was supposedly washed after his crucifixion. They would also return to Russia with earth from the Holy Land, which would be put in their coffin when they died.
The mass of pilgrims was a tremendous economic benefit for the city. Beggars flocked to Jerusalem during the annual Russian pilgrimage and disappeared again when the last boat has gone home. This influx was even though the Russian peasants were poor themselves. Candlemakers, icon painters, shroud makers and olive wood trinket-makers worked all year round to meet the demand at Easter. Not all returned to Russia. Some died in Jerusalem, happy in the belief that this would also speed their passage to heaven. Others fell victim to the temptations of the city. Rasputin, who performed the same pilgrimage in 1911, and who knew more than most about temptation, said that nuns should not go to Jerusalem ‘so huge is the seduction, so envious the enemy’. Many sadly ended up in poverty or prostitution.
After the members of the Parker expedition were discovered digging in the Dome of the Rock riots broke out and wild rumours flew around. One of these was that the Russian pilgrims had been armed and planned to massacre the city’s Muslims. At the same time after one day of disturbance troops sealed off the Russian Compound in order to ensure that there was no violence against the Russian pilgrims.
In 1917 following disastrous battlefield losses Russia experienced two revolutions. The second one brought the Bolsheviks to power and ended Russian involvement in the First World War. Finland took advantage of the instability and declared independence from Russia. This led to a bloody civil war in Finland, with Red versus White. As with most civil wars, it was brutal, with atrocities committed by both sides. The war also drew in the Bolsheviks, the Germans and the Allies. Pertti Uotila fought for the right-wing Whites, who eventually proved victorious.
After the Finnish Civil War, Uotila fought against Bolshevik Russia for several more years in the so-called Tribal Wars. The British opposed the Bolshevik Revolution and supported those fighting against it. They landed a force in Murmansk in Northern Russia to help in the fight. Winston Churchill said the policy was ‘to strangle at birth the Bolshevik State’. Many groups were fighting here and their identity was not always clear. Uotila’s friendship with the Old Etonians, made in the heat of Jerusalem, now proved crucial in the cold of the Arctic Circle. The British did not want any weapons they provided to local forces to reach either Bolsheviks or the Germans, so they were initially suspicious of a group of Finns fighting in German-supplied uniforms. Out of these strange-looking soldiers stepped Uotila to help sort matters out. He negotiated with the Royal Navy officers and convinced them that they should supply his Finnish forces with arms and munitions. His connections to the British establishment were vital in persuading the Royal Navy officers they could trust him. One of the foremost proponents of Britain’s policy in Russia was Winston Churchill, former First Lord of the Admiralty. In 1918 he was minister of munitions. Pertti had spent time in Jerusalem with Gordon Wilson, who was married to Winston Churchill’s aunt. This was not Uotila’s last fight with the Russians. After the Soviet Union signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany in 1939 Hitler invaded Poland. Two weeks later, the Soviets marched into Eastern Poland, as agreed with Germany. They also invaded Finland, and the two unequally matched nations fought the three-month Winter War. Uotila, now almost sixty, rejoined the Finnish Army. Despite the mismatch, the Finns were largely successful in defending their country.
There are many connections of the Parker expedition. The expedition was reported in US newspapers more than anywhere else and certainly the largest and most sensational reports were those which appeared in American newspapers. The coverage started as early as 1909 but was at its height after the Haram al-Sharif incident in April 1911.
The New York Times was one of the first US newspapers to cover the incident and its aftermath. On 4th May 1911, the paper carried a report headlined ‘Fears Diggers Took Ark of Covenant’. Three days later, they ran a double-page spread headlined ‘Have Englishmen Found the Ark of the Covenant?’ and a sub-heading of:
‘A Mysterious Expedition, Apparently Not Composed of Archaeologists, Hunts Strange Treasure Under the Mosque of Omar, Sets the Moslems in a Ferment, and May Cause Diplomatic Incident’
Many of the American newspapers that covered the story the most heavily were part of the so-called yellow press. They would carry stories under large, lurid or sensational headlines and would often incorporate graphics and images. Often, they were less interested in the truth of the story than telling an exciting one. They would often include fake interviews or information within their reports. Another innovation which they pioneered were large Sunday supplements. The best-known proprietor of such papers was William Randolph Hearst. He was one of the most significant newspaper owners of the 20th century and the inspiration for the film Citizen Kane. The Parker expedition was precisely the sort of story that Hearst’s newspapers thrived on. His first newspaper was the San Francisco Examiner. On Sunday, 28th May 1911, the Examiner included a full page about the expedition.
One of the issues with much of the coverage being in the yellow press is that much of what they reported was simple invention or exaggeration. One newspaper said that, when discovered, the robbers ‘loaded a vast amount of objects they had recovered on an armored train which was in waiting on the railroad outside Jerusalem’.
There was also a wonderfully inventive account of Ava Astor’s supposed conversation with Montagu Parker. The article suggested that if Parker found the Ark, she might agree to marry him. It quoted her as saying, ‘Well bring back the Ark and I will—talk to you again.” The yellow press were well known for inventing quotes as so this is most likely some fantastically inventive journalism. Having said that Ava Astor and Montagu Parker did know each other. She spent much time in England and he was a frequent visitor to America. Ava’s first husband was John Jacob Astor, commonly known as Jack. He was part of the immensely wealthy Astor family whose fortune was built on real estate in New York. Jack and Ava married in 1891 but after thirteen years together, their marriage was foundering. Ava spent a great deal of time in England with a country estate at Sutton Place in Surrey and a townhouse in Grosvenor Square. Jack and Ava separated and divorced in 1909. Her divorce settlement of $10 million from her husband would be worth $300m today. Ava Astor was not merely rich but was one of the most beautiful women of her age.
The Times Dispatch Nov 1912
Many newspaper reports described Parker as a favourite of hers. The American newspapers were much less circumspect than the English ones of the time and, following her separation, regularly wrote about her suitors. One article in the Oakland Tribune said of Parker:
‘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.
Many newspaper reports claimed that the Armour Family of Chicago, who made their fortune in meat packing, and Consuelo Vanderbilt, the Duchess of Marlborough, were investors in the expedition. Once again these stories probably started with more than a grain of truth. Parker knew and socialised with Consuelo Vanderbilt. In 1908 shortly before the expedition Consuelo travelled back from England to New York on the Cunard liner Lucania. Newspaper reports describe how Parker accompanied her as a member of her party.
The trouble with all these stories is that there is no evidence in the records of the expedition to back them up. Neither the Armour family nor Consuelo Vanderbilt are recorded as investors in the expedition. One of the expedition members later wrote about an encounter with a rich American who wanted to invest:
‘Never shall I forget the face of a noted American financier when he came to the Ritz one morning with an open cheque book, and having intimated that he wished to be in the show, was politely told that his money was not required. He had to have two cocktails before he could believe it, and even then it broke him up completely.’
The records of the expedition do show that there were two American residents who were shareholders in the expedition. They were two Finnish nationals who had emigrated to Calumet Michigan. They in fact played key roles in getting the expedition off the ground. Their names were Arne Basilier and Uno Montin and they were related. Arne Basilier had emigrated to Calumet from Finland. On a trip home to Finland in 1907 he met a Finnish biblical scholar for lunch at the elegant restaurant of the Hotel Kämp in Helsinki. Dr Valter Juvelius told Arne about his research and how he had uncovered secret cyphers in the Old Testament which showed where the Ark was hidden. However, the scholar needed investors to be able to pursue the project. Arne said that his stepfather, who was a businessman, had connections and would be a good person to raise the money. That individual was Johan Millen and he went to England and there met Montagu Parker and the rest, as they say, is history.
Finland played a pivotal role in the Parker expedition from the start with Valter Juvelius to the less well known role of Pertti Uotila.
Valter Henrik Juvelius was Finnish. He was born in 1865 in Pyhäjoki on the Baltic coast of northern Finland. After finishing school, Juvelius took up his father’s profession and worked as a surveyor for many years. A few years before the expedition he gave this up and studied for a doctorate at the Finnish Imperial University. While studying for his doctorate, Juvelius became interested in kabbalist ideas that there were hidden messages within the Old Testament text. His thesis was not directly about the existence of the cypher but it was closely related. It covered the time of the destruction of Solomon’s Temple and the exile in Babylon. It was during this period that he said he discovered the hidden cyphers. Juvelius submitted his thesis in 1907 and, after completing his doctorate, became the head of a Workers Education College.
Juvelius’ other great passion was poetry and the Finnish language. He wrote poetry in Finnish. His most famous poem Karjalan Kunnailla (‘O Hills of Karelia’) is still well known in his home country. He also translated many foreign poets and authors into Finnish including Goethe, Burns and Byron. At the start of the 20th century he lived in Viipuri. The town is close to Saint Petersburg, is now known as Vyborg, and has become part of the Soviet Union and later the Russian Federation.
Juvelius said that during his studies he discovered the secret cyphers in the Old Testament. The cypher or, more accurately, the cyphers that Juvelius claimed to have discovered were based on the number seven. This number is highly significant in the Bible, as it is considered a holy number, reflecting perfection. He documented cyphers in the book of Ezekiel, the book of Deuteronomy, the book of Leviticus and finally the Wisdom of Sirach.
The cyphers only work in the language the text was first written in. Hence the emphasis that it was from an old unvowelled version of the books of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. Biblical Hebrew is different from the Hebrew in general usage today. One of the critical differences to modern Hebrew is that the alphabet only has 22 letters. It does not contain any vowels. These have to be inferred or vocalised from the text and context of the word. It is not certain where Juvelius found his unvowelled Bible. An expedition member told Rudyard Kipling that Juvelius found the cypher in a document in Saint Petersburg. As we know, Juvelius lived within the Russian Empire and Saint Petersburg is less than 100 miles from his home. The Saint Petersburg Imperial Library contained two of the oldest Hebrew Bible manuscripts in the world: the Codex Babylonicus Petropolitanus and the Leningrad Codex. Both contain the book of Ezekiel.
In late 1907 Juvelius finished documenting the cyphers. The hidden cyphers were a series of cryptic statements which Juvelius interpreted to say where he believed the Ark was hidden. He concluded his findings by saying,
‘To find the Jews’ temple archives would be an enormous gain for science (and) it might be worth while to fit out an expedition to find the archive.’
The question for Juvelius was how to achieve this. He could not fund the expedition himself and he had no contacts in Constantinople. While he was trying to work out what to do he met an old friend in Helsinki. Pertti Uotila was fifteen years younger than Juvelius. Their families were friends and Juvelius had known Uotila since the younger man was a child. Uotila’s father was a landowner, lawyer and professor at Helsinki University. He was also a poet and translator. Pertti was his eldest son and was born in 1880. Despite the age gap, Uotila and Juvelius became good friends. They shared a common interest in the Finnish language. Pertti Uotila was a poet, like both his father and Juvelius. He also worked as a journalist.
The two friends met for a meal in the elegant restaurant of the Hotel Kämp in Helsinki. Uotila brought along a friend of his, Arne Basilier. He was Finnish but had been working as a chemist in America. Over the meal, Juvelius told them about his discoveries. Uotila was interested in helping his friend secure funding to test his theories. Basilier told Juvelius he knew someone who could help. He suggested involving his stepfather, Johan Millen. So started the process which led to the Parker expedition.
Pertti Uotila was known by different names during his life, including Bertil Oskar Lemmitty Favén, Pertti Faven, Bertil Faven and Oskar Nevanlinna. As well as helping to introduce Juvelius to Millen, Uotila was a participant and investor in the project. As a young man, Uotila was a socialist, and in 1905 he helped translate the hymn of the left, the Internationale, into Finnish. Pertti’s younger brother was Antti Favén a painter who had studied in France and became a well-known Finnish impressionist artist.
Uotila accompanied Juvelius on the expedition to Jerusalem and ended up spending much more time than his friend in the city. Juvelius had to leave Jerusalem at the end of 1909 and he was now restricted to a remote role. Pertti Uotila agreed to stay in Jerusalem to represent him. He stayed there till the end of the expedition.
When he left for Jerusalem, he had recently sold his family estate, including agricultural land and forests. He had capital and invested some of this in the exploration company. When he finally returned home he was close to bankruptcy and divorced. Soon after, he too joined up to fight in the First World War. As Finland was part of the Russian Empire, he became an officer in the Russian Imperial Cavalry. He fought in the disastrous Russian campaigns against Germany. The losses the Russians suffered were significant contributory factors to the two revolutions in 1917, which saw first the Tsar overthrown and then the Bolsheviks seize power. Finland took advantage of the instability and declared independence from Russia. This led to a bloody civil war in Finland, with Red versus White. As with most civil wars, it was brutal, with atrocities committed by both sides. The war also drew in the Bolsheviks, the Germans and the Allies. Despite his youthful socialism, Uotila fought for the right-wing Whites, who eventually proved victorious. After the Finnish Civil War, Uotila fought against Bolshevik Russia for several more years in the so-called Tribal Wars.
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)’