One that got away
Exhibitions, Lawrence of Arabia and the Light Horse, Less than six degrees of separation, Loans
Well, at least something we were not allowed to borrow . . .
We did want to bring one of Lawrence's Arab daggers out to show in our exhibition. Two were displayed by the IWM: a gold dagger made for Lawrence in Mecca in 1917 that is now owned by All Souls College, Oxford; and a silver-gilt dagger now owned by Lord and Lady Kennet. I thought that it would be best to try for both and my first negotiation was in London at the home of Lord and Lady Kennet. We didn't get the dagger, but I have the Kennet's permission to tell you this story, which is pretty interesting, at least from my perspective.
I was told on the phone by Lord Kennet that I could not have the dagger but was invited to evening drinks with him and Lady Kennet and walked up there, across Hyde Park from my 'summer residence' in South Kensington. Ha! When I approached the house I noticed one of those blue historic site disks mounted on the house. They live in the former home of Sir James Barrie.
Lord Kennet (Wayland Hilton Young, writer and former politician) made it very clear from the outset that he was not going to let the dagger, given to his mother Kathleen by Lawrence, out of the country. To make matters worse I was sat for nearly two hours staring straight at it. Our discussions ranged across a variety of subjects, not least the fascinating background of the family home and their ancestors. Lady Kennet seemed more sympathetic to our request, possibly because her father was a RAN officer who then joined the RN in about 1920 (her family name was Adams). Neither she nor Lord Kennet, however, had ever been to Australia. I suspect that they thought that it was just too far away. Lady Kennet advised me that the only thing I could possibly do to encourage her husband to let it go to Australia would be to attempt to drag Australia somewhere 'up the Thames'.
I asked about Barrie and was told that he wrote Peter Pan there. It was obvious when I looked to my right and out into the backyard through the windows and doors. He was also very fond of, and godfather to Peter Scott (later Sir Peter, the famous naturalist), Lord Kennet's older half-brother and the first son of his mother, Kathleen Scott. Kathleen was an accomplished sculptor who, before marrying Lord Kennet's father, was the widow of the heroic and tragic Antarctic explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott. On my last trip to London I had seen and read the last page of Scott's diary at the British Library in their Treasures Gallery, so I asked the Kennet's what Scott had meant by his famous last entry 'For God's sake look after our people'. Apparently he was referring to the rest of his party, not the British people.
When we got back to discussing Lawrence, they told me about Kathleen's bust of Lawrence that was used in the IWM exhibition. The bust is in the collection of All Souls College, Oxford, but we had already decided to use a Derwent Wood bust from the IWM's collection. Kathleen Scott's bust of Lawrence was completed in 1946 but he had sat for her much earlier and in return left her some Arab robes that he wore during the sitting, including a lovely simple white silk waistcoat that also was used by the IWM in their exhibition. I was instructed to remove the robes and waistcoat from their housing and was amazed at the length. Lawrence really was a very short man.
Lady Kennet then asked me if I knew of a good home for the bust of Stanley Melbourne Bruce, 1st Viscount Bruce of Melbourne, MC (and eighth Prime Minister of Australia). It was sculpted by Kathleen Scott (nee Bruce, and probably related to him), I suppose while Bruce was High Commissioner in London. This matter is now being followed up by another institution in Canberra, so I guess the evening wasn't completely without result.