Many people will recognise Herbert Horatio Kitchener’s face from the famous WW1 recruitment posters, issued during his tenure as Secretary of State for War. But did you know that nearly three years after his death in 1916 a popular periodical declared him the ideal “life-companion”?
In 1919 the Strand Magazine (where many of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories first appeared) published an intriguing feature called “Good Looks in Men. What types to Women like best?” Portraits of twelve men were selected, including Kitchener, the poets Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, the artist Frederic, Lord Leighton, actors Lewis Waller, Kyrle Bellew and William Terriss, and sportsmen Jim Corbett and Matthew Webb. A group of “eminent ladies” was asked to provide their thoughts on which one they would choose from the pictures alone. The question posed sought to answer whether women would choose a man with strength, “romantic soul”, or intelligence.
Six writers, four artists and an actress wrote in with opinions. Some highlighted the difficulty of choosing from a mere picture without a deeper knowledge of the man himself. The illustrator Norah Schegel wrote in her commentary that to choose a man based on an image alone would be impossible, but instead the judgment might better be made by the type of tie he wore. Others were more determined in their choice – there was only one man for them.
However, Kitchener won hands down with 5 votes (next was Lord Leighton with 2 votes). Nearly all of those who voted on Kitchener commented on his intelligence and speculated about what might have been beneath his rather formidable military exterior. His enigma status was increased still further because he remained unmarried during his lifetime. He was also a proto-archaeologist.
Only one of the women who chose Kitchener, the novelist Alice Muriel Williamson, touched on his extensive experience – what she called “a High Adventure” – beyond Britain’s borders in Palestine, Cyprus, India, Sudan, South Africa and Egypt. This experience began in the 1870s, when he joined the Palestine Exploration Fund’s expedition to the Levant as a surveyor.
Kitchener and the other members of the Survey of Western Palestine were mapping the region and its sites of Biblical and historical interest, place names, and recording demographic details of the population as well as making notes on the geological, meterological and geographical features of the land. These maps were highly detailed and, as the PEF surveyors claimed, much in advance of the maps of the region included in guidebooks and other publications.
A 24-year-old Kitchener arrived in Palestine in November 1874. He took many photographs during his time with the survey, which were later published as Lieutenant Kitchener’s Guinea Book of Biblical Photographs and sold at Edward Stanford’s shop near Whitehall. By 1877, Kitchener was in charge of the PEF’s surveying expedition, destined to map northern Palestine, commanding a party of four Royal Engineer officers and their servants. His reports of their explorations and work were published in the Quarterly Statement.
Reading the Strand Magazine’s piece gave me an insight into the psychology of early twentieth century womanhood – clearly the appeal of the manly adventurer stretches back a bit. I can’t say it’s entirely different from the kinds of articles you see today in Cosmo, although couched in Edwardian terms. Personally I’m with Baroness Emma Orczy (author of the “Scarlet Pimpernel” books), who said in her commentary:
“Seek for the humorous lines around the lips, for the humorous twinkle in the eyes, and trust that face more than you would that of the Adonis or Hercules”.
“Good Looks in Men. What Types Do Women Like Best?” Strand Magazine. June 1919.
Conder, C. R. 1887. Tent Work in Palestine: A Record of Discovery and Adventure. London: Richard Bentley & Son for Palestine Exploration Fund Committee.
Conder, C. R. & Kitchener, H. H. 1881. The Survey of Western Palestine: Memoirs of the Topography, Orography, Hydrography and Archaeology. Vol 1. London: Palestine Exploration Fund.
Moscrop, J. 2001. Measuring Jerusalem: the Palestine Exploration Fund and British Interests in the Holy Land. London: Leicester University Press.