Saturday, 28 November 2009

Al Khatun

Archaeologist, linguist, mountaineer, soldier, spy, map maker, kingmaker. Not a bad list of accomplishments from a woman born in County Durham in 1868.

Gertrude Bell spoke 16 languages and once survived 53 hours hanging on a rope in a blizzard on a mountain face. She participated in the founding of Iraq, drawing its boundaries and was instrumental in the Hashemite Prince Faisal becoming its first King, although she wrote in one of her letters, "I'll never engage in creating a king again, it's too great a strain."

One of her legacies is the Baghdad Archaeological Museum - the one looted in the battle for Baghdad this century, following the overthrow of Sadaam Hussain.

Gertrude died in Baghdad and rests in the British Cemetery there.
It was said of her, "One of the reasons you stand out is because you are a woman. There's only one Khatun. For a hundred years they'll talk of the Khatun riding by."
{Khatun = lady or gentlewoman}

Ian Stubbs, Assistant Curator of the Dorman Museum in Middlesbrough, in outlining the exhibitions available during his talk at Books and Banter in May used illustrations of the artefacts collected by Gertrude Bell. She was one of the first archaeologists to propose that any treasures found should remain in their country of origin and that only 2% should be removed.

A major exhibit at the museum used to be a lion standing on a zebra which it had killed. These were part of the collection of Sir Alfred Pease. These days the lion remains on show and ‘Leo' has become the icon used to illustrate the different galleries to be seen.

A fascinating part of Ian's presentation was the famous Theodore Roosevelt African safari in 1909 when he stayed at the British East African house of Sir Alfred Pease in what is now Kenya.

Included in the presentation were movies made at the time showing Roosevelt's first lion which weighed 285lbs. Roosevelt's book, African Game Trails, contains his account of how he came to shoot the lion - two shots and a third from close quarters were required. Kermit, Roosevelt's son accompanied on the safari and is also on the film.

One of the movies showed a Ferris wheel made of wood which looked as though it had been put together with 6 inch nails. There were only four carriages and it appeared to be powered by a native pulling on a rope. Nevertheless all the carriages were full and what's' more it, and a second similar wheel, were being enjoyed by the crowd not just those having a ride.

Alfred Pease's wife went on the safari with the men. When she died back in England Pease had a memorial stained glass window installed in Guisborough's St Nicholas Church. A detail in the glass shows Pease's lion - the one that finished up at the Dorman Museum.

More information on Gertrude Bell is available at: under The Gertrude Bell Project. You can read her diaries and some 1600 of her letters and browse 7000 of the photos she took - many of which have never been published.

Details of the Dorman Museum can be found at: ]
This piece with the photos of The Pease Window was published in the Summer Edition of Guisborough Life.

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