Daughter of a Durham industrialist she went to Oxford to read history, and, at the age of twenty she was the first woman to receive a first-class degree in history. She was an Archaeologist, Arabist, linguist, author, poet,photographer, mountaineer and nation builder. But from the turn of the century onwards, along with T.E.Lawrence her life was governed by a love of the Arab peoples. She learned their language, investigated their archaeological sites, and travelled deep into the desert. Her knowledge of the country and its tribes made her a prime target for recruitment by British Intelligence during the First World War, later, as a Political Officer, and then as Oriental Secretary to the High Commissioner in Baghdad, she became a king-maker in the new state of Iraq, which she had helped to create. Her first love, however, was always for archaeology, and, as Honorary Director of Antiquities in Iraq, she established in Baghdad the Iraq Museum.
|" Well, Mr Jelf, who is, as I must repeat, charming, took us about in the morning and explained the nature of things. It was a horrible day, beginning with a dust storm and ending with rain, but we were too much excited to mind much. We lunched with him and a man with whom he keeps house, a Mr Howells, and after lunch, Mr Jelf, who has been city magistrate - no easy billet, I fancy, in Peshawar - sent us off to the town with a letter to Safdar Ali, the chief merchant, telling him to sell us things good cheap. We stopped first at a shop to which we were attracted by the sign which said that the owner kept "carpets and Bokhara [Bukhara] other things," walked in and made a selection for which we offered a price which was promptly rejected. (Our shopkeeping was in Persian and Persian carries you everywhere in this country. It's enchanting to hear the beloved beautiful speech again.) We were just going away when, on looking at the sign board again, we found that this was Safdar Ali himself, so we returned and handed our letter to him, whereupon he burst into a torrent of praise, the purport of which was that few like Mr Jelf came to Peshawar. Not to be outdone, I remarked that there were few like him on the face of the earth and added that England was fortunate in possessing 5 brothers Jelf. Safdar Ali held up one hand with the fingers outstretched and replied "The 5 fingers are brothers yet they are not alike!" I laughed and repeated this to Hugo and our friend, feeling that he was a success conversationally, fell into the most aimiable [sic] of moods and assured us that for us and for friends of Mr Jelfs' it would be a matter of perfect indifference to him if he gave his wares for nothing. So we sat and watched while Persian silks and Bokhara embroideries and Kashmir curtains and Bushire [Bushehr] rugs and Kashgar [Kashi] china were displayed to us, and bought some things and enjoyed ourselves vastly. Mr Jelf came in after tea and saw our purchases and said we had done very well and that he only feared that next time Safdar Ali came up for murder he would be obliged, in recognition of his services to us, to have him let off."
The Gertrude Bell Project .Newcastle University. www.gerty.ncl.ac.uk.
" Daughter of the Desert" by Georgina Howell published by Macmillan. 2006
" Desert Queen" by Jane Wallach published by Pheonix. 1996