Open main menu

Drake, Charles Francis Tyrwhitt (DNB00)


DRAKE, CHARLES FRANCIS TYRWHITT (1846–1874), naturalist and explorer in the Holy Land, the youngest son of Colonel W. Tyrwhitt Drake, was born at Amersham, Buckinghamshire, 2 Jan. 1846. He was educated at Rugby and Wellington College. The present archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Benson, then the head-master of Wellington College, notices his resolute purpose and his enthusiastic devotion to manly sports as well as to the study of natural history and botany. Asthma even at this early age stood in his way, precluding him from long-continued study. During his illnesses at school he made himself a draughtsman. Thence he proceeded to Trinity College, Cambridge. Ill-health again seriously interfered with reading; he took no degree, but became a good rifle shot. He passed the winters of 1866–7 in Morocco, occupying himself in shooting, hunting, and collecting natural history specimens. In this manner he acquired valuable knowledge of the Eastern character and learnt Arabic.

In the winter of 1868 Drake made a trip to Egypt and the Nile, and in the following spring proceeded to Sinai. Here he met the officers of the ordnance survey of the Sinai expedition, and as they were just returning home, visited for himself all the places of interest which they had discovered, together with those which lie in the ordinary route of Sinaitic travel. Returning to England for a few months in order to make his preparations, in the autumn of 1869 he returned to the East in company with Professor Palmer [q. v.] They dispensed with the usual equipment of Eastern travel and explored on foot, starting from Suez, the whole of the desert of the Tih for the first time, the Negeb, or south country of Scripture, the mountains on the west side of the Arabah, and the previously unknown parts of Edom and Moab. Many new sites were thus discovered and much good geographical work performed. After visiting Palestine, Syria, Greece, and Turkey, Drake returned to England, but again set out to the East in the winter of 1870, in order to investigate for the Palestine Exploration Fund Society the inscribed stones at Hamáh, the ancient Hamath. After accomplishing this task he accompanied Captain R. Burton, then consul at Damascus, in a most adventurous expedition to the volcanic regions to the east of that city, which was followed by the exploration of the Highlands of Syria. These journeys are described by the pair in ‘Unexplored Syria.’ For the next two years and a half Drake was continually engaged in the work of the Palestine Exploration Fund Society, with the exception of a short visit to England and Egypt in 1873.

Overwork, enthusiastic devotion to his task, the baneful climate, and neglect of preliminary warnings at length struck Drake down with the fever common to the low-lying plains of the Holy Land, and he died 23 June 1874 at Jerusalem, aged only 28. Even at this early age he had earned a great reputation as an explorer, naturalist, archæologist, and linguist, and left behind a much greater promise of excellence. His amiable disposition, frank, unassuming manners, and thoroughly unselfish character greatly endeared him alike to Englishmen and to Syrian and Arabian peasants. His fellow-worker in Palestine, Lieutenant Conder, speaks of his ‘experience and just and honourable dealing,’ and testifies to his excellence as a companion in travel, his good nature, and his never indulging in personal quarrels. His official duties for the Palestine Fund Survey mainly consisted in the collection of names and the observation of natural history. As a specimen of his work Sir R. Burton relates that in his dangerous exploration of the Aláh (or uplands lying between El Hamah and Aleppo) for thirty-five days he averaged seven hours of riding a day, sketched and fixed the positions of some fifty ruins, and sent home between twenty and twenty-five Greek inscriptions, of which six or seven have dates (Unexplored Syria, pref. p. xi).

Drake's literary works consist of ‘Notes on the Birds of Tangier and Eastern Morocco’ (‘Ibis,’ 1867, p. 421); ‘Further Notes’ on the same (‘Ibis,’ 1869, p. 147); the map, illustrations, and sketches to accompany Professor Palmer's account of the Desert of Tih (‘Pal. Explor. Fund,’ April 1871); three letters in the same for 1872 and report; the report for 1873 and 1874; and his last report (found among his papers after his death) in the volume for 1875, p. 27; ‘Unexplored Syria,’ by Sir R. F. Burton and C. F. T. Drake, 2 vols. 1872 (Drake's portions are especially the essay on ‘Writing a Roll of the Law’ (37 pp.) in vol. i., and chaps. ii. and iii. in vol. ii. The original plans and sketches are also his); 'Modern Jerusalem,' 1875; see also his 'Literary Remains,' by W. Besant, 1877.

[Besides the works named, Memoir and Testimonies of Archbishop Benson, Professor Newton, and others prefixed to Modern Jerusalem; Lieutenant Condor's Obituary Notice (Palestine Fund Reports, 1874, pp. 131-4); Times, 27 June 1874; private information from the Rev. W. T. T. Drake.]

M. G. W.