Request a high resolution copy

Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

Letter spanning several days in which Bell discusses her recent activities, including archaeological work relating to excavations at Kish and Ur, as well as the ongoing political situation in Iraq with specific mention of border negotiations and the Mosul question. Bell notes that there has been a small exhibition of archaeological finds from Ur, and that a private viewing has been held for King Feisal and other officials.
Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Naji, Haji
Dobbs, Henry
Wilson, J.M.
Cooke, R.S.
Lawrence, T.E.
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Bowman, Humphrey
Woolley, Leonard
Bourdillon, Bernard Henry
Drower, E.S.
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper
Iraq ยป Baghdad

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad March 11 Belloved Father. The first news I had of the poor Bowmans was from you. I telegraphed to him at once, and now I've written to him. What a terrible tragedy, they are really never out of my thoughts. I'm so glad you love them too so that we can sympathise with one another about them. Do you remember the picture of them and the children in their sunny nursery? I have many other mental pictures of them both in the days when they were here and I can't think of them not together. How dreadfully sad it is.
Mother's understamped letter didn't arrive last mail - I suppose it's wandering across the seas. I telegraphed to you agreeing to May 12 as a date to build on. Whether I shall fly or not I can't yet say - if I don't I should motor, either to Aleppo [Halab] or straight across the desert to Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)]. If the latter, perhaps you'll meet me in Damascus? I'll let you know in time how things are working out. It would be more convenient to come by air and I will if I can.

As you rightly guessed, the Daily Express article made me very angry. It's simply another form of attack and I think a very mean one. I'm helpless of course; to say it's all untrue would merely magnify the business. That it does me personally a great deal of harm I don't doubt. If I were Sir Henry I wouldn't keep on someone of whom people say that she runs the whole show, even though he knows, I feel sure, that I'm much more annoyed by it than anyone else. As someone observed, kings and women and comets and a few other things are for unaccountable reasons copy. I'm copy, that's all; and it's what I've taken the greatest care not to be.

Well now let's forget it. I've been largely busy with archaeology and archaeologists this week. Last Monday, the 5th, two other members of the Ur party came up, Mr Newton and Mr Lawrence. I had made arrangements for them all to go to Hatra [Hadr, Al], which was easy because the 'Iraq Army is on[?] L. of C. at Sharqat and a part of the Camel Corps at Hatra. We all had an early dinner together at Major Wilsons who took them to the train. I hear Mr Newton is coming back tomorrow so I expect my military arrangements were expeditious and satisfactory. It's very useful having the 'Iraq Army at one's beck and call.

Mr Woolley came up on Thursday and we've had great doings - the Army again co-operating. I got leave from the Ministry of Defence to hold a little exhibition of the things Major Wilson and I brought up from Ur - part of the 'Iraq share of the finds. And I bundled in 'Abdul Qadir Pachahji, an old thing who used to be in the employment of the C'ple [Istanbul (Constantinople)] museum and with his help and Mrs Drower's we laid all the objects out on tables and neatly ticketed them in English and Arabic. This took the whole of Friday afternoon. Early on Sat. morning I had a private view for the King, the Ministers and the notables, all of whom I had specially invited. It was a great success. Mr Woolley took the King round and explained to him what the things were, also showing him plans of the temples, while Mr Cook, Major Wilson and I did the same by the Ministers and notables. They were vastly impressed. In the afternoon Mr Woolley gave a public lecture, which he did very well indeed, to a crowded audience, English and Arab. We couldn't attempt a translation but most of the Arabs who came were the younger men who know some English, and at any rate they all saw the exhibition. In the evening Mr Woolley and the people he is staying with (Director of railways, namens Tainsh, and his wife) dined and I had the American consul and Mr Davidson foreby. So that was that.

But what is much more to the point is that I have got a new cook who is not only a darling old man but is also a really good cook, so that when people come to dinner I feel no qualms.

March 12. [12 March 1923] It's the most wonderful spring weather, more like the beginning of April than like March. We had a great teaparty in Haji Naji's garden on Sunday 10th. I invited most of the Cabinet and one or two others including Mr Thomson and Mr Davidson. And after tea which we drank under the flowering trees (it was a fish tea, I must tell you, and Mr Davidson and I distinguished ourselves by eating great chunks of roasted fish, a thing I've seldom done at tea before) after tea, as I say, I produced packs of cards and we played Bridge till sunset, Haji Naji sitting and beaming on us the while.
It's very nice having Mr Thomson back - he has just returned after a year's leave. I don't think you know him, but he is a great dear and a constant riding companion of mine. I've missed him this winter.

I've just been to tea with the King in his garden and a very cheerful talk of nearly two hours. Things look hopeful. The Turks seem to want peace and we've given out Shaikh Mahmud. Also we captured, by great good luck, the private letter bag of the Turkish Commandant at Rawandaz [Rawandiz] to the Headquarters staff at Jazirat in 'Umar on the Tigris just beyond our frontier and it contained letters from Shaikh Mahmud, the first written only a month after his return to Sulaimani [Sulaymaniyah, As] vowing that he would live and die in the service of the Turks, and the rest making arrangements for an attack on Kirkuk. So we nipped that bud just in time. The next thing is how to replace the rogue. The King and his Ministers have got schemes of their own and by dint of repeating that they can't make a worse mess of it than we have, I believe I've {got} persuaded the authorities to let them try their hand. It's a game I've been working at for the last year, so I'm pleased. And all this is deeply private and never to be revealed.

That's all my doings I think, except that I attended a dinner of 180 persons given by the Baghdad Lodge and came away more convinced than ever that Free Masonry is mostly tosh. The love of hocus pocus and silly catch words is doubtless inherent in the race of mankind. But as I can't bring myself to think there are any secrets in the world, these things don't impress me. All the things that matter are either not secret or they're not known. I went to the dinner with Mr Davidson but I couldn't impart my thoughts to him because he's a Mason. The only illumination of a very long evening was that Sir Henry made a capital speech in returning thanks for the ladies.

March 16. [16 March 1923] I was going down to Hillah [Hillah, Al] today to meet J.M. Wilson there and inspect the diggings at Kish but there's a terrific rain storm and I've decided to put it off. Kish which is a few miles east of Hillah is being dug by Oxford University. They've sent out a man called Mackay whom neither nor anyone else likes and myself consider that a one man party can't possibly conduct the excavation of so important a site with success. I've made a protest to the Joint Archaeological Committee at home and meantime have insisted on his taking on locally an English foreman. But that's rather eyewash and I'm conscious that the whole thing is on an uncomfortable basis.

The talk of the town is the arrival on pilgrimage of the Wali of Pusht i Kuh [Posht-e Kuh], the semi independent ruler of the Persian hills east of 'Amarah ['Amarah, Al]. He has come en famille bringing with him ten wives and daughters, nine sons with a following of 40 women and 172 men. The party would have been larger if he hadn't been persuaded to allow 250 other persons to return home from Shahraban [Miqdadiyah, Al] when he took the train. The resources of the country are strained to the utmost to provide transport and how in this rain they are going to get him and his entourage to Karbala I can't think. When they return from their pilgrimage I shall call on the ladies.

I dined last night with the Bourdillons (she is going home for the summer and leaves next week); Mr Davidson and Sir Henry were the other guests and we spent the evening playing Vingt et Un, a game into which I was initiated for the first time. I fear I shall never be a gambler.

I've just read Susan Townley's book - what poor stuff, isn't it. How can people write and publishers publish such feeble tosh. And then the reviews have the audacity to say that it's a delightful work! Ever, dearest, your very affectionate daughter Gertrude

IIIF Manifest