Conder, Claude Reignier (DNB12)
CONDER, CLAUDE REIGNIER (1848–1910), colonel royal engineers, Altaic scholar, and Palestine explorer, born at Cheltenham on 29 Dec. 1848, was the son of Francis Roubiliac Conder (1815–1889), civil engineer and a writer in the ‘Edinburgh Review,’ by his wife Anne Matilda Colt (1823–1890). Josiah Conder [q. v.], his grandfather, married a granddaughter of Louis François Roubiliac [q. v.], the sculptor.
After spending eight years of his youth in Italy, Conder passed from University College, London, to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, where he distinguished himself in surveying and geometrical and freehand drawing. He received a commission as lieutenant in the royal engineers on 8 Jan. 1870, and after a two years' professional course at Chatham was selected with the assent of the military authorities to continue a scientific survey of Western Palestine, which had been begun by engineer officers under the auspices of the Palestine Exploration Fund some seven years earlier [see under Wilson, Sir Charles William, Suppl. II].
In July 1872 Conder took charge of the survey party at Nablus in Samaria. Work was begun by the measurement of a base line, about four miles in length, near Ramleh on the road from Jaffa to Jerusalem, and the triangulation was carried gradually over the whole country. In the course of three years the greater part of the country west of the Jordan had been surveyed and, in addition to actual mapping, a mass of information regarding the topography and archæology of the country had been collected, while many places mentioned in the Bible and previously unknown had been identified. Conder also devoted himself to the languages of the country and to the decipherment of ancient inscriptions, to which he brought abundant ingenuity. C. F. Tyrwhitt Drake [q. v.] at first assisted Conder, and on his death of fever at Jerusalem in June 1874 his place was filled by Lieut. Kitchener, R.E., now Field-marshal Viscount Kitchener of Khartoum.
A murderous attack on Conder and his party by the inhabitants of Safed, a town in the hills north-west of the Sea of Galilee (July 1875), in which Conder and Kitchener with others of the party were seriously injured, temporarily suspended the survey. Conder was sufficiently recovered to return to England in October 1875, after having surveyed 4700 square miles of Western Palestine. Plotting of the maps and preparation of the ‘Memoirs’ were then taken in hand. In 1877 the unfinished portion of the survey was completed by Lieut. Kitchener, and the whole survey was plotted and the ‘Memoirs’ finished in April 1878. The map, on a scale of one inch to the mile, was printed at the Ordnance Survey Office, Southampton, and, with seven volumes of ‘Memoirs,’ was issued by the committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund in 1880. For his work Lieut. Conder received the thanks of the committee and the commendation of the secretary of state for war. ‘It may fairly be claimed,’ wrote Sir Walter Besant, ‘that nothing has ever been done for the illustration and right understanding of the historical portions of the Old and New Testaments since the translations into the vulgar tongue which can be compared with this great work. The officer whose name is especially associated with it has made himself a name which will last as long as there are found men and women to read and study the sacred books.’
Returning to regimental duty in May 1878, Conder was employed for three years on the new defences of the Forth and stationed in Edinburgh. In his leisure hours he continued his studies of the history and archæology of the Holy Land and adjacent countries. In 1878 he published his first book ‘Tent Work in Palestine,’ illustrated with his own drawings. It gives a popular account of the survey operations and of the customs of the inhabitants of Palestine, of various Bible sites, and the topography of Jerusalem. In 1879 he published ‘Judas Maccabæus and the Jewish War of Independence,’ and in collaboration with his father ‘Handbook to the Bible.’ These works were popular, and went through several editions.
In the spring of 1881 Conder resumed his labours for the Palestine Exploration Fund in the country east of the Jordan. Near the lake of Homs in the valley of the Orontes, he discovered the remains of the ancient city of Kadesh; then going south and crossing the Jordan, a base line was measured between Heshbon and Medeba. Conder devoted especial attention to the description of the rude prehistoric stone monuments which abounded in the district; he photographed and made plans of many stone circles, cromlechs and menhirs, and other relics of bygone ages. Turkish obstruction impeded Conder's progress, but he acted with great discretion, and managed to complete the survey of about 500 square miles.
On 8 Jan. 1882 he was promoted to be captain, and in March and April conducted Princes Albert Victor and George of Wales (now King George V) on a tour through the Holy Land. He wrote a report on the sacred Haram at Hebron and another on the Palestine tour for the information of the princes' father, King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales (printed in the Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement, 1882).
After his return home in June 1882, Conder joined the expedition to Egypt, under Sir Garnet Wolseley, to suppress the rebellion of Arabi Pasha. He was appointed a deputy assistant adjutant and quartermaster-general on the staff of the intelligence department. In Egypt his perfect knowledge of Arabic and of Eastern people proved most useful. He was present at the action of Kassassin, the battle of Tel-el-Kebir, and the advance to Cairo, but then, seized with typhoid fever, he was invalided home. For his services he received the war medal with clasp for Tel-el-Kebir, the Khedive's bronze star and the fourth class of the Order of the Medjidie. On recovering his health, Captain Conder devoted himself to plotting the survey and preparing the Memoir of Eastern Palestine. He published in 1883 'Heth and Moab,' a popular account of his second expedition to Palestine.
On 10 Nov. 1883 he took command of a depot company at Chatham. A year later, graded as deputy assistant adjutant and quartermaster-general in the intelligence department, he joined the staff of Major-general Sir Charles Warren in the Bechuanaland expedition to South Af rica,and the topographical work was entrusted to him. He was mentioned in despatches and recommended for 'some recognition of good services.' Declining an offer of a land commissionership in South Africa, he returned to the command of his company at Chatham in October 1885. While there he published some important works : 'Syrian Stone Lore' (1886); 'The Canaanites' (1887); and 'Altaic Hieroglyphs and Hittite Inscriptions' (1887), where he proved his philological acumen and ingenuity.
On 1 July 1887 Conder went to Plymouth to work on the ordnance survey, and was transferred in the following April to Southampton to take charge of the engraving department. He remained there for seven years, receiving the thanks of the board of works for his introduction of double printing on copper plates. He assisted Sir Charles Wilson, then director-general of the ordnance survey, with the publications of the Palestine Pilgrims Text Society, of which Sir Charles was the director. In 1891 ho published 'Palestine,' a resume of the history and geography of the country, and in 1893 he wrote 'The Tell Amarna Tablets,' a translation and description of letters in cuneiform character, written about 1480 B.C. from Palestine and Syria to the King of Egypt ; they throw a flood of light on the connection between the countries.
Conder had been promoted major on 1 July 1888. After superintending the construction of the new defences for the naval base of Berehaven in 1894, he was engaged during 1895 in directing public works for the relief of distress in the congested districts of Ireland ; and being promoted lieutenant-colonel on 12 Aug. 1895, was appointed commanding royal engineer at Weymouth. There he remained for five years and wrote some of his most important works. At Weymouth he was occupied with defence work in connection with the great naval base at Portland ; fortifications, barracks, submarine mining, and electric searchlights all claimed his attention. He was promoted brevet colonel on 12 Aug. 1899, and a year later was placed on half pay. He was afterwards employed on the ordnance survey in the west of Ireland with headquarters at Ennis, co. Clare, until his retirement from the service on 2 Nov. 1904. Thenceforth he lived at Cheltenham, where he died on 16 Feb. 1910.
Conder married on 12 June 1877, at Guildford, Surrey, Myra Rachel, eldest daughter of Lieutenant-general Edward Archibald Foord (d. 1899) of the royal (Madras) engineers. She survived him with a daughter and a son.
Conder led a busy life, and although his services were invariably commended by those under whom he served he received little reward. In 1891, however, the University of Edinburgh made him honorary LL.D. A great Palestine explorer, he was one of several differing authorities on the Hittite and on the Altaic language. In 1893 he announced to the Royal Asiatic Society a discovery of what he claimed to be the clue to the Hittite inscriptions, but his claim was contested, and it is maintained that all suggested interpretations are based upon hypotheses at present incapable of verification.
Conder's industry as a writer was untiring, but his modesty deterred him from controversy with his critics. Apart from the works already mentioned, Conder proved his learning in : 1. 'The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem,' 1897. 2. 'The Hittites and their Language,' 1898. 3. 'The First Bible,' 1902. 4. 'The Rise of Man,' 1908. 5. 'The City of Jerusalem,' 1909. His minor works are : 1. 'Primer of Bible Geography,' 1883. 2. 'Eastern Palestine,' 1892. 3. 'The Bible in the East,' 1896. 4. 'The Hebrew Tragedy,' 1900. 5. 'Critics and the Law,' 1907. Conder, a prolific writer for magazines and reviews, particularly 'Blackwood's Magazine' and the 'Edinburgh Review,' contributed very largely to Smith's 'New Bible Dictionary,' to the publications of the Palestine Pilgrims Text Society, and from 1872 to 'The Quarterly Statement of the Palestine Exploration Fund,' where his last article on 'Recent Hittite Discoveries' appeared in January 1910. He was a competent artist and drew the illustrations in 'Pictorial Scenes from Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress' (4to, 1869).
[War Office Records; Porter's History of tho Corps of Royal Engineers 1889 ; Besant's Twenty-one Years' Work in tho Holy Land 1880 ; The Times, 17 Feb. 1910; Royal Engineers Journal, April 1910 ; Geographical Journal, April 1910; Quarterly Statement of the Palestine Exploration Fund, April 1910.]