Thursday, 14 March 2013

Lawrence of Arabia: A newly discovered photograph

It's not every day that a previously unpublished photo of T E Lawrence comes to light; in fact in the decade or more I've been collecting Lawrenciana, I can't remember any turning up (well, apart from one on eBay which turned out not to be him, a fact I know for sure because it was me who bought it and researched it to the extent that I could confirm it wasn't... but that's a story for another day).

Bonhams have this one going under the hammer next week...

From the catalogue:


Photograph album belonging to an airman with No. 1 Squadron of the Australian Flying Corps, serving in the Palestine Campaign during the latter part of the Great War, comprising 24 photographs, the majority taken while stationed with his squadron in November and December 1917 at Gaza and Akaba (Aqaba), including a snapshot of "Major Lawrence, C.B./ Akaba. Dec. '17"; "My D.H.2 67/ Sq. 'Drome 25/11/17. Just previous to 1st scrap"; and "Dead Sea/ '67 Squadron Martinsyde with Guy & Self in B.F. on Bomb Raid. 21/11/17"; other photographs of the album owner's former "Vickers Bullet" (i.e. Vickers F.B.19) at Bela ("My old 'bus"), a SE.5a and Bristol Monoplane (M.1C) of No. 111 Squadron at Belah, Bristol Scouts at Aboukir, etc.,mounted in a small photograph album, minor foxing etc., but overall in good condition, average size of photographs 550 x 1000mm., grey cloth, oblong 8vo, Palestine, Hejaz and Egypt, late 1917
£1,000 - 1,500
€1,200 - 1,700
US$ 1,500 - 2,300


  • A PHOTOGRAPH OF LAWRENCE AT THE HEIGHT OF THE ARAB REVOLT, showing him standing full-length, dressed in Arab robes and wearing his famous gold Meccan dagger (acquired by him that July). This photograph – which we believe to be hitherto unknown and was presumably taken by the anonymous owner of the album – shows Lawrence at a turning point of his life, having established his reputation and that of the Arab Revolt with the capture of Akaba the previous June; while at the same time having escaped from Turkish torture and custody at Deraa only a few weeks earlier in late November (an episode of course subject to much dispute). He had been appointed Commander of the Bath for his secret reconnaissance expedition into northern Syria that summer. In early December he accompanied Allenby's troops on their triumphal entry into Jerusalem, but was in Akaba in both early and late December (on the third, twenty-fifth and twenty-eighth); his movements being summarised in a letter to his family from Cairo on 14 December 1917: 'Well here I am in Cairo again, for two nights, coming from Akaba via Jerusalem. I was in fortune, getting to Jerusalem just in time for the official entry of General Allenby... I wrote to you last from Azrak, about the time we blew up Jemal Pasha, and let him slip away from us. After that I stayed for ten days or so there, and then rode down to Akaba in 3 days: good going, tell Arnie: none of his old horses would do so much as my old camel. At Akaba I had a few days motoring, prospecting the hills and valleys for a way Eastward for our cars: and then came up to H.Q. to see the authorities and learn the news-to-be. Tomorrow I go off again to Akaba, for a run towards Jauf, if you know where that is".

    It is evident that the owner of the this album served with No. 67 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps: this was, properly speaking, No. 1 Squadron AFC (Australian Flying Corps) but between March 1916 and February 1918 was renamed by the British authorities as No. 67 Squadron RFC, to avoid confusion with No. 1 Squadron RFC. It is the ancestor of No. 1 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force and was under the command of Major Richard Williams, 'father' of the RAAF. Other photographs show aircraft from No. 111 Squadron RFC, with which (on the evidence that he flew a Vickers F.B.19) the album's owner may have also served. This squadron had been formed in Palestine in August 1917 and early in 1918 was to hand over some of its planes to the No. 1 Squadron.


Fascinating stuff. Though I did email them to point out that they probably didn't mean to say that average size of the photos was a metre high...

I would dearly love to own this photo (and publish a limited edition book all about it), but something tells me it's going to go for a lot more than the upper end of that estimate.

... and here's another newly discovered photo of Lawrence...

UPDATE: The photo at Bonhams sold for £4000, including the Buyer's 20% premium, but not including the 20% VAT on top of that, so that's basically a five grand picture. I wonder if it will ever be seen or heard of again...

No comments:

Post a Comment