LAWRENCE (T.E.) Autograph letter signed ("T.E.S."), to Colonel S.F. Newcombe ("Dear S-F"), making contact again after a long interval,  Myrtle Cottage, Hythe, 22 June 1932
Lot 146
Autograph letter signed ("T.E.S."), to Colonel S.F. Newcombe ("Dear S-F"), making contact again after a long interval, Myrtle Cottage, Hythe, 22 June 1932
Sold for £ 1,750 (US$ 2,348) inc. premium

Lot Details

Papers and Books of Colonel S.F. Newcombe, RE, DSO, sold on behalf of his descendants

There were six pall bearers at T.E. Lawrence's funeral in 1935, each of whom represented a different aspect of his life. Colonel Stewart Francis Newcombe, RE, DSO (1878-1956) was one of these six, and was chosen to represent Lawrence's life in Arabia.

An officer in the Royal Engineers and recipient of the Sword of Honour at Sandhurst, Newcombe had seen service in the Boer War, Egypt and the Sudan before taking charge of a British government survey of Southern Palestine in 1913. This was an area seen as being of particular strategic importance in the event of war with Turkey. Although military in its inception, Newcombe's survey was undertaken under the ostensibly civilian auspices of the Palestine Exploration Fund. The survey was joined in January 1914 by two archaeologists, C.L. Woolley and T.E. Lawrence. It fell to Newcombe to give Lawrence his first taste of military life: 'It was his first experience of collaborating with a professional soldier engaged in a military mission, and, moreover, one conducted inside enemy lines. By observing Newcombe at work, planning itineraries, interpreting maps, assessing terrain, as he, Lawrence, would do in the future, he was effectively undergoing a personal training course' (Malcolm Brown, T.E. Lawrence, 2003, p. 45).

Later in 1914, after Turkey had joined the war, Newcombe and Lawrence were transferred to Cairo to join the new Military Intelligence Department, of which Newcombe remained Director until September 1915. After seeing action at Gallipoli and the Somme, Newcombe was appointed head of a small British military mission on the outbreak of the Arab Revolt and in December 1916 was sent to the Hejaz: ʻHe arrived just in time to join Lawrence for the final stages of the march on Wejh. During the next few months he became famous among the Arabs for the wild daring of his attacks on the Hejaz Railway' (Jeremy Wilson, T.E. Lawrence, National Portrait Gallery Exhibition Catalogue, 1988, no. 83). Although Newcombe was the senior officer, he was well aware of his protégé's outstanding ability, remarking in later life that ʻmy own view of Lawrence has always been that of an elder brother to a younger one who was far quicker than I'; while Lawrence himself acknowledged in Seven Pillars of Wisdom that Newcombe's deeds achieved legendary status among the Arabs – ʻ"Newcombe is like fire," they used to complain; "he burns friend and enemy" (1935 edition, p. 239).

Newcombe was to be captured that November when leading an expedition behind enemy lines during the opening stages of the third Battle of Gaza. He managed to escape with the aid of a French girl, Elsie Chaki, whom he had met before the war in Constantinople and was to marry in 1919. (It is doubtless Elsie who lies behind a fleeting reference in a letter to Hornby of 29 June 1917: "I hope you've opened any official letters for me or any from Joyce etc, but don't bother to open any written in French or addressed to my Christian name: they wouldn't interest you a bit"; see his Army Field Service Correspondence Books below).

Newcombe and Elsie had two children, a son to whom Lawrence stood godfather (see Lawrence's letter to Newcombe, below), and a daughter Diane, afterwards Baroness Elles. After the war, he worked on settling the boundaries between the British mandate of Palestine and the French mandate of Syria. During the Second World War he was to come out of retirement to carry out further intelligence work in Iraq. (For a further account and discussion of Newcombe's career, see Kerry Webber's website, In the Shadow of the Crescent).
Show more Show less

Autograph letter signed ("T.E.S."), to Colonel S.F. Newcombe ("Dear S-F"), making contact again after a long interval, and enquiring after his godson ("...Mrs [Bernard] Shaw gave me your address. It is good to hope that you are settled in England again. Very good: also that your imp has got an Eton scholarship first go. Poor kid! I hope he avoids the manner..... a nice kid, James..."); he also gives news of himself ("...Do you ever near Hythe (the New Forest one) in your wanderings? I base here, and test or tune motor boats for a living. A poor living – 3/9 a day – but interesting, and I get what I want done. Our boats would interest you. One goes to Malta in August, I hope. Give me warning if we are to meet. I go away often and suddenly, by water; delivering boats to R.A.F. stations, you see..."); once more he asks him to send congratulations to his godson and remembrances to his wife ("...I hope she is very patient with you both..."); and in a postscript wondering whether he's got his rank right ("...Reprove me if you are a Brigadier, now..."), 1 page, folio, Myrtle Cottage, Hythe, 22 June 1932


  • 'A POOR LIVING – 3/9 A DAY – BUT INTERESTING': Lawrence of Arabia at his happiest, as a mechanic (as Malcolm Brown has pointed out, 'significantly, he did not disparage his mechanical achievements as he did his literary', or indeed all the others that brought him fame, Letters, p. 396). Lawrence's godson, Stewart Lawrence Newcombe, was known to the family as Jimmy, which Lawrence turns into 'James' in mocking deference to his future status as an Etonian (which, as George Orwell could have told him, as a colleger or 'tug' was not quite what it seemed); nor does Lawrence let on the fact that his own father, the erstwhile Thomas Chapman, was in fact an Old Etonian. This letter is published by neither Garnett nor Brown.
Auction information

This auction is now finished. If you are interested in consigning in future auctions, please contact the specialist department. If you have queries about lots purchased in this auction, please contact customer services.

Buyers' Obligations


If you have any complaints or questions about the Conditions of Sale, please contact your nearest customer services team.

Buyers' Premium and Charges

For all Sales categories excluding Wine, Coins & Medals and Motor Cars and Motorcycles:

Buyer's Premium Rates
25% on the first £175,000 of the Hammer Price
20% from £175,001 to £3,000,000 the Hammer Price
12.5% from £3,000,001 of the Hammer Price

VAT at the current rate of 20% will be added to the Buyer's Premium and charges excluding Artists Resale Right.

Payment Notices

For payment information please refer to the sale catalogue.

Shipping Notices

For information and estimates on domestic and international shipping as well as export licences please contact Bonhams Shipping Department.

  1. Simon Roberts
    Specialist - Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs
    Montpelier Street
    London, United Kingdom SW7 1HH
    Work +44 20 7393 3828
    FaxFax: +44 20 7393 3879
Similar Items