Exhibition opens on our ‘Queen of the Desert’ Gertrude Bell

Gertrude Bell.

Gertrude Bell.

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The story of a Washington woman’s exceptional life has been laid out for all to discover through a new exhibition.

Gertrude Bell was born in the town’s New Hall in July 1868 to a wealthy family and became the first woman to gain a first class degree in modern history from Oxford University.

The display at the Great North Museum: Hancock.

The display at the Great North Museum: Hancock.

She became an explorer, travel writer, archeologist, diplomat and had a hand in politics, with her language skills and knowledge of people and places proving invaluable as she was called in to help Winston Churchill as the future of the Middle East was discussed.

During the First World War, where the Gallipoli Campaign ran from 1915-16, her experiences of Mesopotamia saw her assist British intelligence and at the end of the war she focused on the future of the country, playing a part in Iraq’s kingmaking.

Her love of archeology kept her in the country, where she was honorary director of its antiquities and founded the Iraq Museum in Bagdad, She died in the city in 1926, aged 57, after an overdose of sleeping tablets - it was never established whether it was accidental.

Among the exhibits on display at Newcastle’s Great North Museum: Hancock are a headdress worn by TE Lawrence - Lawrence of Arabia - the British soldier, writer and scholar who mobilised the Arab Revolt.

Dr Mark Jackson, Newcastle University

Gertrude was a woman who made the most of her experiences.

It and other items have been lent by the Royal Geographical Society, with the British Museum and Imperial War Museum, which join her personal effects.

A painting of Washington’s hall by one of Bell’s aunts features in the opening section of the Extraordinary Gertrude Bell exhibition, which will run until May 3.

The celebration, which also features an insight into her love life, maps, documents, letters and drawings and photos, has been put together by the museum and Newcastle University, home to the Gertrude Bell Archive.

Dr Mark Jackson, in charge of the Gertrude Bell Photograph Archive, said: “She was a really interesting woman who had a significant impact on not just the early 20th century, but our contemporary world.

Dr Mark Jackson, pictured with the bust of Gertrude Bell.

Dr Mark Jackson, pictured with the bust of Gertrude Bell.

“It’s a good time, particularly because it’s the centenary of 1916 this year, to talk about how she was an explorer, a traveller and had all these skills which helped the British military.

“Gertrude was a woman who made the most of her experiences. We really hope people come along and enjoy finding out about her.”

More details can be found via www.greatnorthmuseum.org.uk, with the archive available via www.gerty.ncl.ac.uk

Lawrence of Arabia's headdress, which is on show as part of the Extraordinary Gertrude Bell exhibition.

Lawrence of Arabia's headdress, which is on show as part of the Extraordinary Gertrude Bell exhibition.

Gertrude Bell on horseback in 1900.

Gertrude Bell on horseback in 1900.