He Seldom Failed or Forgive the Lack of Brevity

The Squire was up early on this fine day waking the hedgehogs. 

Ever since His Grace discovered that they spoke in Viking he has been at pains to see that these gentle grazers survive the winter in good fettle. He is learning their particular dialect of Old Norse by the traditional ‘point and say’ method.

This preoccupation has given Third Man the leisure to follow his own researches into The Lost Ark of the Covenant, the search for which has been the preoccupation of many a fine batsman.

You doubt it?

Above is another painting by A.C. Tayler, this one of a match between Eton and Harrow in 1886.

The encounter was won by Eton thanks in no small part to the ‘patient and sound defence’ of Cyril Pelham Foley who opened in both Eton innings and who ‘scored freely to the offside’, making 114 and 36.  Scorecard, scorecard!

Wisden is of the opinion that ‘he seldom failed’.

We shall see whether or not the old Sage was viewing things through primrose tinted spectacles.

Foley played for three seasons at Cambridge, turned out for Worcester in 1888 and for Middlesex between 1893 and 1906.  In all he played 123 first class matches, scoring a total of 3,175 runs at 16.62 with two centuries to his name.

But this careful compiler of runs was a magnet to controversy.

In his first season for Middlesex in their home match against Sussex he picked up a bail that had fallen and was given out on appeal by Umpire Henty.  Billy Murdoch, the Sussex captain, stepped in to request that he be allowed to continue his innings.

Next we find Foley imprisoned over the New Year of 1896 (see photograph below) as a participant in the Jameson Raid, after which he much deserved his sobriquet, ‘The Raider’.

As Kipling reminds his fellow cricketers, If you can make a heap of all your winnings / And risk it at one turn of pitch and toss / And lose, and start again from your beginnings / And never breathe a word about your loss … advice inspired by K’s friend Jameson and later often put to good effect by Foley at the tables of Monte Carlo.

The Raider served with distinction in the 2nd Boer War, coming home in temporary charge of the 3rd Royal Scots. He was a crack shot, enjoyed car racing, fly-fishing, tennis and golf, and, during the European War, went twenty months in the trenches of France and then Salonica without leave. 

And that’s not all … but you may wish a pull on a fill of Sullivan and Powell’s Gentleman’s Mixture before continuing – it is a lengthy tale.

In the spring of 1909 Foley and his friends Clarence Wilson and Captain R. G. Duff were visited by their mutual friend, Montague Brownslow Parker, another distinguished veteran from the Boer War.  Parker, the son of the Earl of Morley, had been approached by Valter H. Juvelius, who, tradition has it, working in a Constantinople library in 1908, accidentally discovered a coded passage in the Book of Ezekiel which described the precise location of the long lost treasure of Solomon’s Temple.

According to Neil Asher Silberman, this fabulous treasure, supposedly concealed at the time of Nebuchadnezer’s conquest of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., was said to be hidden deep within the bowels of the Temple Mount in a cave connected to the city by a secret underground passage.

Equipping themselves with the very finest in expeditionary equipment and fitting outWilson’s yacht, the friends set sail forPalestine, adventure and fortune.

In his later reflections, Autumn Foliage, (adventurous pun), Foley describes how, having jury-rigged a series of short ladders, they explored the key shaft beneath Jerusalem in their quest, candles in hand.

‘Over my head was a huge dome or vaulted roof, and running up to the right a steep passage, half filled, as far as I could see, with great boulders. Nothing would have induced me to leave that ladder, for the slope appeared to be as slippery as ice. By the dim light of the candle it looked a grim and ghastly spot, and I could not help remembering that I was probably the fourth human being who had looked on it for 1,800 years…I was just about to descend when I heard a movement away up the passage and, in my horror, something came rushing down it with the speed of thought. Before I could move, a dreadful shape hit me full on the shoulder, knocking the candle out of my hand and leaving me in opaque darkness. Being deprived of all volition by sheer terror, I mechanically beat all records down the ladder, struck the ledge at the bottom, and turning a complete somersault, fell, with what the shilling shockers of years gone by would have described as ‘a sickening splash’ into two feet of dirty water.’

Permit Silberman to take the story forward:

On the night of April 17, 1911, Parker and his men entered the sanctuary of the Dome of the Rock itself. Their attention had been drawn to a natural cavern beneath the surface of the sacred rock. The rock is supposed to be the spot from which Mohammed ascended to heaven on his horse Borek. The horse’s footprints are still in the rock to prove it. In Jewish tradition this was Mount Moriah where Abraham had offered to sacrifice his son Isaac. Other traditions associated the sacred rock with a passage to the bowels of the earth-filled with spirits and demons, and containing a fantastic treasure.

Lowering themselves by ropes into the cavern, Parker and his men began to excavate, breaking apart a stone that covered the ancient shaft below. Their pace quickened as they felt that at last their treasure was near.

But as fate would have it, a simple attendant of the Mosque decided that he would sleep that night on the Temple Mount. Arriving after midnight, he heard strange noises in the Mosque, and investigating the source, came upon the strangely attired Englishmen backing away inside the holy shrine.  Shrieking in horror, he bolted from the Mosque, scurrying into the city to expose the sacrilege. Parker and his panick-stricken men gathered up their tools and quickly escaped, for they knew that they had played out their final hand.

Parker and his men promptly fled, but by the time they reached Jaffa, the first news reports had already arrived from Jerusalem. The Holy City was in an uproar. Azmey Bey had reportedly ordered the immediate closing of the Temple Mount, but before his soldiers had a chance to take up positions there, a furious mob seized Sheikh Khalil. And Azmey Bey himself was mobbed by an angry crowd, spat upon, and called “a pig” for his suspected complicity in the sacrilege.

The disturbances grew more violent as wild rumours spread, reporting that the Englishmen had discovered and stolen the Crown and Ring of Solomon, the Ark of the Covenant and the Sword of Mohammed.  Customs authorities in Jaffa, alerted to these reports, immediately impounded the personal baggage of Parker and his men for a thorough search.

Finding nothing in any of the bags, the Turkish officials threatened to detain Parker and his men until further instructions arrived from Constantinople. But Parker knew that he must escape at once. Graciously denying the wild accusations that had been made about his excavations, he invited the officials to discuss the matter in the more comfortable surroundings of Clarence Wilson’s yacht. Things would be quickly sorted out, he assured them, and besides that, he had nothing to hide. The customs’ authorities grudgingly accepted this arrangement, and Parker and his men were permitted to row out into the harbour to illuminate the yacht and prepare to receive their official guests.

But long before their guests arrived, Parker ordered the yacht’s crew to weigh anchor and steam out into the open sea.

Tradition has it that Parker and his men left empty handed, and thankful to have escaped with their lives.

But scorebooks discovered by Third Man in the Squire’s collection reveal that in the opening match of the 1911 season, Foley was opening the batting for the Squire’s XI.  Also on the card for that match were Parker, Carter, Wilson, Duff and, bringing up the tail, a certain Valter H. Juvelius, not out 0.

Returning from his discussions with the hedgehogs, the Squire glances at Third Man’s account.

“The Raider?  He seldom failed, Third Man. He seldom failed.”

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “He Seldom Failed or Forgive the Lack of Brevity

  1. at first sight, he does not seem to compare with Major Poore, just check the scorecard for Hampshire v Somerset in 1899!

  2. John Halliwell

    Foley’s subsequent adventures somehow give the lie to the 1886 judgement that he possessed a ‘patient and sound defence’. It was if David Steele morphed into Barry Richards. It is a fascinating piece, ™.

  3. diogenes

    sorry TM – it is an extraordinary piece of investigation on myour part. There were so many young men nosing around the Middle East at that time, both from Germany and the UK…and they all seemed to have a codebook in their knapsacks along with their guides to Semitic languages.

  4. diogenes

    These days, Major Poore on his Summer vcation would be a very good ringer! Back then, he just used to terrorise county cricketers. Whayt would you give to see some film of him?

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