The Case of the Blunt-Davenport Correspondence

Copyright © 1991 by Debra L. and Jerald F. Dirks

Used by permission.

Originally published in the September 1991 Arabian Visions

Introduction

Homer Davenport and Lady Anne Blunt were two major pioneering figures in early Arabian breeding in the Western world, both having taken the time and made the effort to secure horses directly from the Arabian desert. Lady Anne’s contributions to Arabian breeding were of major importance in both England (Crabbet Arabian Stud) and in Egypt (Sheykh Obeyd Garden), while Homer Davenport’s 1906 importation of 27 horses and mares from the desert of Arabia has left a giant imprint on subsequent Arabian breeding in North America.

Unfortunately, the early relationship between these two pioneering giants was uneasy, primarily because of the interference of Colonel Spencer Borden. Borden, an early American breeder of some renown, had based his breeding efforts largely on horses secured from the Blunts. Unknown to Lady Anne, Borden and Davenport’s relationship as two of the then preeminent breeders of Arabian horses in North America was somewhat bitter and antagonistic. She was not well-armed with caution when Borden communicated with Lady Anne by mail regarding the Davenport importation. Borden misrepresented the Davenport horses and the importation journey to Lady Anne, and had subsequently published out of context and in a distorted manner Lady Anne’s private comments and questions about Borden’s version of the Davenport importation. This put an early chill on subsequent Blunt and Davenport relationship. However, the early chill did thaw, as attested by three previously unpublished letters: two from Blunt to Davenport; and one from Davenport to Blunt. All three letters are published here in total for the first time.

(Editor’s note: the letters uncovered by our sleuths were not handwritten originals but rather typewritten transcripts made by U.S. Government personnel. Where their readings of the originals seem improbable, alternate readings are suggested in square brackets.)

Blunt to Davenport

Sheykh Obeyd Garden

December 28, 1906

Crabbet Arabian Stud

Crabbet Park

Three Bridges Sussex

Dear Sir:

“I must begin by thanking you for your interesting letter, which unavoidable business has prevented my answering sooner, and for the newspaper extracts, forwarded to me by W. Arthur Corfe Caffin, present Manager of the Crabbet Arabian Stud at Crabbet Park.

“In replying I will deal first with the assumption in one of the newspapers of a desire on the part of “the Blunts” to have a monopoly of importing the Arabian horse. This is sufficiently disproved by their book of travels, in which, as you remark, advice is given as to how to procure him. Further, as “the Blunts” have not ceased ever since to preach the cause of the Arabian horse, — alas how often to deaf ears in a land where such doctrine has been held to be unpatriotic, — surely it is abundantly evident that by them any bona fide efforts to follow in their track must be keenly appreciated. More than one such effort has been caused by their book, but on the part of Russian and other readers of it; none hitherto that I know of had been made by persons to be counted kith and kin from across the Atlantic. And that was after nearly thirty years such an expedition as yours has been carried out is particularly gratifying. You have my best wishes for the success of your importations.

“This may be the moment to remark how much I should deplore the continuance of that sort of antagonistic rivalry amongst advocates of the Arabian horse which has been started in the American press. It can but injure the true interests of the breed and its breeders with the general public. Emulation by all means, but not hostility.

“Therefore with regard to the un-authorized publication of passages from letters of mine it is peculiarly repellent to me that words of mine should have been quoted (some correctly and some incorrectly.) though doubtless unintentionally, in order to contribute to a controversy between persons desirous to breed Arabian horses. On hearing of this I wrote at once to remonstrate with my correspondent, and I am expecting the expression of his regret, which I am certain will be all the greater when he has received a letter I am now sending him setting forth that I have heard direct from you, and the views I am now expressing to you on the subject. As his name had not been given I leave it to him to come forward as he may think fit, and I have no doubt that on learning the facts about your expedition, he will be with me in congratulating you on it.

“As to my remarks in themselves, they were perfectly justified in respect of the absurd report about the new importations on which they were founded, the only one which had reached me, — no one could have read that report without amusement, and in the case of one having knowledge of Arabians, annoyance. The tone of it not only put the whole thing in a ridiculous light, but foreshadowed disappointment in the form of importations that could do no good to the reputation of the breed. But while freely criticising in private, I should have depreciated the publication of adverse views of mine on anyone else’s well meant efforts, however disappointing these might be, for in my position — regarding myself as one of the pioneers of Arab breeding in the West — I should count that as an ungenerous act.

“Speaking generally, I may remark that your own observations fully bear out all that I have ever said about the difficulty of getting at pure bred Arabian horses even on the borders of their native land, and about the risk of the desert. Most certainly such terms as “dangerous”, and even “inaccessible” to travelers, are applicable at the present moment to the Peninsula of Arabia — Bedouin dealers cannot penetrate it but have to go round by Bagdad and the Euphrates, — and from your account the former work [sic: probably “former word” was written, referring to “dangerous”] appears to be not inapplicable to its northern borders and to the neighborhood of Aleppo (emphatically the “coast Town”, but of the desert, not the sea), for it is clear that your having been able to visit those borders and to see there certain Anazeh tribes was through a fortunate combination of circumstances of which you had the energy and pluck to avail yourself, first the nearness of the tribes owing to the summer season, and secondly the efficient protection of a prominent tribesman duly authorized by the Turkish Government to act as an intermediary between it and those tribes which enabled you to go in safely, unhandicapped by an escort.

“Here I must observe, as to the claim of any single individual to be “Sheykh of Sheykhs” over all the Anazeh tribes, that the thing is in itself an impossibility. Imagine that vast wars of scattered tribes, several of them at chronic war with one another, some periodically in arms against the “Dowla”, others absolutely independent, never going near Ottoman territory; imagine these all accepting one chief? Moreover the mention of a camel tax restricts the reference to those Anazeh tribes within reach of Turkish authorities; such a tax is unheard of among the independent tribes. The “Dowla” may bestow what titles it likes on anyone it chooses, but it cannot confer on that person any authority outside its own districts. What it can and does do is from time to time to appoint as its agent a member of one of those tribes whose interests bring them within its grip, giving him the rank of “Bek”, — this as I have stated is no recommendation with any Bedouin (I am misquoted as saying “women”) but it establishes his official status as negotiator for the summer treaty. The present holder of such an official position in the Aleppo district is your friend Hashim Bek, his name correctly written is El Hakim Ibn Mehed (“Hashim” is a mispronounciation), he is a very well known personage, — only last night an Arab lately arrived from Aleppo was talking about him. I take it that by an interpreter’s exaggeration he has been made to claim the lordship over all the Anazeh tribes, instead of over a section of them, a quite sufficiently important position. In the Bagdad district a similar rank is held by Fahad Ibn Haddal, Sheykh of the Ibn Haddal Anazeh — these by the way are at hereditary warfare against the Sebaa group whom you visited. Fahad comes of very distinguished lineage and commands universal respect, but his authority extends only to those Anazeh and other tribes who come within the Bagdad district. Those tribes who need to be within Government boundaries have long been in the habit of making a treaty each year for that season with the Waly, at Aleppo, Damascus, or Bagdad as the case may be, thus securing for themselves free passage to and fro for the time being.

“Not to lengthen my letter unduly, I subjoin notes on the various minor points calling for remark.

“I write to my as yet unnamed correspondent to the same effect as to you. I should like to say to each what I say to the other, but in each case I beg that my letters may be treated as private communications, not that I mind their contents being repeated to friends, — and if need were I would stand in public by all I say in private, but I dislike publicity, expecially controversial, where needless, and here I could see no need whatever for my name to be brought forward in print.

“In conclusion, if the result of the unauthorized publication which has caused me so much annoyance should be not only a friendly correspondence with you, but through that correspondence the promotion of friendly instead of antagonistic rivalry amongst those on both sides of the Atlantic, who desire to preserve the Arabian breed in its purity, I shall cease to regret it. With renewed good wishes, I am

“Yours faithfully, A.W.Blunt[sic]

[Lady Anne often signed herself A.I.N.Blunt. When placed closely together, the “I.N.” could be mistaken for a “W” which apparently happened in this case.]

Notes

1. In the report that first reached me about the new importations, an average height was indicated of 15 hands, which would have been suspicious of a cross, as though tallness occurs now and then in the desert where the breed is kept pure, it is as an exception, as at this stud. When we came across it amongst Bedouins otherwise than as exceptional it was evidently the result of crossing; this was expecially the case in one of the Anazeh tribes where at first I was quite taken in by the beauty of the mares as well as their size; the cross does not necessarily show at once except in the increased height.

2. The word “chubby” puzzled me till I discovered that it was an attempt to render the Arabic verb “shabba”, signifying “is” or “would be used at the stud”, which of course does not imply a separate breed but only that in the individual referred to there is no admixture. It is a word often heard among the tribes that frequent the northern borders of the Arabian desert, who own so many horses of doubtful blood. The small percentage you quote of less than 600 of acknowledged pure blood to a presumed total of 6000, more than confirms anything said by me as to the need of caution in making purchases.

3. The Kehilan Heyfi strain is indeed an excellent one, but not superior to others you have.

4. Mr. (not “Sir Wilfred”) Blunt was aware of the death of Faris the Shammar Sheykh, as also of the death of another desert brother of his belonging to one of the Sebaa tribes.

5. As to Angora goats, what passed between Mr. Blunt and Mr. and Mrs. Sewell I do not exactly know, but I do know that amongst our acquaintance the circumstances that an exchange of goats for horses has been suggested, — I think by your representative — became a source of great amusement, for here no monetary value could make any sort of goat appear to be an appropriate equivalent for Arabian or other horses.

6. I do not know whence came the legend that “the Blunts cut communication with Mr. Davenport.” Any cutting of communication originated with you, who, after sending letters and cablegrams became suddenly silent, we now know why.

7. There has always existed a prohibition to export horses from Turkish territory, but of late I believe it has been made more stringent, and the permission given to you must have been due to great judgment and skill on the part of the American Ambassador. I doubt if at the present time any other diplomat would have had a like success.

A.W.B.[sic]

P.S.

“I have not yet seen the book you mention by Colonel Borden. He is a first rate judge of a horse, so it will be a great pity if, as you forecast, his work should turn out [not?] to be a good advertisement for all of us.

Davenport to Blunt

Morris Plains, N.J.,U.S.A.

20th February, 1907

Lady Anne Blunt,

Crabbet Arabian Stud

Crabbet Park

Three Bridges Sussex, Eng.

Your Ladyship: –

“Your very esteemed letter from Cairo came and threw an entirely new light again upon matters, only going to show that a misunderstanding on both sides had made us seem ridiculous in each other’s eyes.

“When Colonel quoted you against me, I could not believe that it was true, of course your letter explains matters, as you must have thought, from his explanation of my importation, that I was a very green fellow to have gone to the Desert and reported bringing out a new breed of Arab horses called “Chubby.” It was explained to me thoroughly by the Anezeh, that it simply meant, as you say: This, or that, which the Anezeh would breed from.

“Before going further I wish to apologize for buying one of your Seglawieh Jedranieh fillies through an agent, as I wanted some of your Seglawis Jedran blood very badly, to see how it compared, and taking it, that if the quotations Colonel Borden had made. “That you had cut me socially,” were true, I was afraid that possible you would not wish to sell me a horse. I have just seen the filly, [*Markisa] she arrived today on the steamer, a filly with bald face and four white feet [illegible] and a very beautiful little filly considering the cheap price.

“I was very, very sorry, that I was compelled to enter into this detestable warfare that has been raging between the Arab horse breeders of America, and when Mr. Sewell came to my house and wanted to arrange a fake exhibition, I told him that it would eventually kill the Arab horse if it was not stopped. Three years ago, when he had published an Article in all the daily papers at great length, that he had the only pure Arab blood in the Civilized World. I, at that time, told his people that was detrimental to the Arab horse. He, in that article, said that the Blunts were breeding a few, but they were ponies, none of the big horses; he also published that the Blunts sent mares annually to the Russian Gov’t. to breed to his stallions — this, of course, I knew was untrue, and again appealed to them.

“My interest in the Arab horse — as you will see by my book, which I will send you immediately it is published — dates from as early a time as any enthusiast; and your conclusion that my success was due to a combination of circumstances, is exactly right. Had I not asked a question in Aleppo of a Bedouin with big white chalky teeth, remembering what you had written about such a man, saying it was the first Anazeh man you ever saw, had I not remembered that, and asked the question, I would have been ignorant of meeting the Anazeh; but the next day would have started on to Deyr, and likely have made a failure, which did turn out a success.

“I would have been very happy to have had you see my Maneghi Sbeyel stallion, a brown horse from the Gomussa; also a bay two year old colt bred by the Gomussa of the Sebaa Anazeh. Like yourself, I found the tall Arab horses only as exceptions. I am strongly in accord with the belief of the Bedouins, that the 14 hands two or three inch horses are the best types. In my 27 horses and mares, I think I brought five that stand 15 hands high, or nearly so. Found the Hamdani Simris the scarcest in the Desert, and I could not have got a single mare, had it not been that Akmut Haffez owned one, a four year old, which he had recently got from the Shammar.

“I am enclosing you a copy of a letter I have just received from Ammen Zaytoun, a Broosh [Druse?], a very charming young man from the American Consulate at Beyrout, sent with us by order of the President.

“I do not think that you have exactly understood me yet, about Hasim Bek. I don’t mean that he was the one Ruling Sheykh of all the Desert tribes, being that he is the present Sheykh of the Anazeh, possibly of the biggest branch of the Fedaan, as we met many other Sheykhs of the smaller tribes; but I believe that the Government of Aleppo, in an interview, the details of which I am publishing in my book, giving me this Sheykh’s history, is correct. He is paid Twenty pounds a month by the Sultan to accept the title of Bey; and as the Governor, also Akmut Haffez, and Ameen, the interpreter, and everybody else, explained it to me, that being the Sheykh of supreme power in war, he was called by the other tribes, Sheykh of Sheykhs, as in matters of great importance all other Sheykhs — not hostile — obey his commands. He told me that he had been reigning as Sheykh of the Anazeh since he was twelve years old, and he is possibly now, 30 or 35.

“Of recent years the Turkish Government have persuaded the Anazeh — through Akmut Haffez — in Aleppo, to pay a Camel Tax, but such tax is taken on the Anazeh’s own count, and is collected annually through Akmut Haffez. The Governor of Aleppo told me, which I am also publishing, in my interview with him, that this tax amounts to about 10,000 annually (2,500 pounds from the Anazeh, 10,000 pounds from all tribes). I don’t believe that I was misled, or has [had?] misrepresentations made to me by any of the men around me, as owing to the Irade from the Sultan, and the three strong personal letters which I carried from President Roosevelt, they accorded me every honour, and you can judge better of how I must have suffered in the Valley of the Euphrates from the heat in August, than most anyone I can think of.

“If my sales of horses are what they now seem to promise, this coming Spring I may be able to handle a number of your fillies and young stallions, as from the few Arab horses I have sold I have received much higher prices than you ask.

“I wish, before closing, to ask your permission to use your letter in my book, with the dignity it commands, as it is so friendly and eliminates any suspicion of further entanglement, and although you rightly objected in your letter to its being used in any further controversy, still using it in my book is altogether a different matter. I am publishing several photo’s of your horses and mares, many of which were taken by my cousin on his visit to your farm, and should deem it also a great favor to have your photograph, with Mr. Blunt’s, to publish also. The President has given me permission to use the letter he had written securing the Irade, together with his photo, and I have the photo’s of horses imported in 1845 by the late A. Keene Richards.

“May I kindly hear from you without delay relative to using your letter, as my book will very shortly be placed in the Publisher’s hands.

“Colonel Borden has not been to see me, he has written to a friend to write to another friend to suggest a meeting; that you have strongly recommended it. The Colonel is what we would call in regards to a Cayhuse — “Skittish.” However it is only a question of time when we all will be in One Arab Family.

“I am sending you my Catalogue under separate cover.

“Believe me. Your Ladyship’s servent

Blunt to Davenport

Sheykh Obeyd Garden

May 8, 1907

Crabbet Arabian Stud

Crabbet Park

Three Bridges Sussex

Dear Sir:

“I am shocked not to have thanked you sooner for a second interesting letter, dated Feb. 20, but some business which has kept me in Egypt has also hindered writing. Thank you also for the Stud Lists which I am much flattered to find modelled on the original Crabbet Arabian one. I think them extremely well got up in every way, paper, print, introduction and expecially illustrations which add an extra charm. In that respect I hope to follow your lead as I have long wished to illustrate my own Stud List, only I have been waiting till I could myself take photographs, and I have just begun. Of your portraits of horses I prefer “Haleb.”

“From your accounts and from other information I quite understand the immense change in the relations of the Ottoman Government with all the tribes it can get at, which has been brought about by H.I.M. the Sultan’s extraordinary sagacity, a benefit doubtless to the Empire. But I cannot help regretting it as it is evidently a principal cause, if not the sole cause of the greatly diminished percentage of purebred horses. This could not be otherwise, as deterioration is the inevitable result on nomads of contact with the governing posers of civilisation, and I have no doubt that 10 years hence there will be still fewer horses that [illegible]. So the good work of breeding pure Arabians elsewhere than in Northern Arabia becomes the more important.

“I am glad you bought Markisa and that you got her cheap as I do not think that the exceptional circumstances which allowed low prices are likely to recur. I shall not know till I get home exactly what there will [be] for sale there; here I have nothing I can part with except two mares at 200 gs each. They are of very particularly valuable and rare strains from the Abbas Pasha collection, but I shall sell them when their foals of this year are weaned as they are well represented. Both are believed to be in foal to the stallion “Jamil”, whose picture I sent you with a few other stud photographs including those of the two mares. There [These?] are my first photographic efforts; I hope to be better later on. I would with pleasure add my own portrait on a mare but the only existing one was taken by a visitor and I have not a copy. You ought however to be even more interested by the portrait of my Stud Manager at this place, as he is of the far-famed horse breeding tribe of Muteyr — to the S.E. of Nejd — the drawn sword does not show on the blue sky. I ought to have managed a dark background.

“There are several subjects referred to in [illegible] letter which might be talked over if I ever have the pleasure of meeting you, but writing takes too much time. Some day you may be coming to England, and then you must pay me a visit.

“I expect to be there by the end of the month; my address will be care of Mr. Arthur Caffin as I shall be first moving about

“Yours faithfully, Annebel Blunt

“P.S. — Perhaps you will tell me the proper mode of address in case the ordinary British formula of “Esquire” is not welcome, or perhaps not even admitted, in America?

Addendum:

Commentary on these three letters will appear next month’s column by Charles and Jeanne Craver.

Series NavigationThe Case of the Blunt-Davenport Correspondence Part II: A Shoddy Affair