Under the title "A Woman's Ride to Fez", the Daily Mail introduced their readers to the remarkable story of Mrs. Frances Campbell and the "Secret Ways of Morocco". During 1905-06, an international crisis had developed (known today as the First Moroccan Crisis) begun when the Kaiser of Germany visited and declared his support for the sovereignty of the Sultan. This challenge to French influence in the country escalated until France had moved troops to the German border and Germany began calling up reserve units. Eventually, Germany backed down in the face of unified support from other European countries, Russia and the United States.
The days passed like a dream of Genesis. We rose in the pearl of dawn, and were on the road before 'the enemy,' as the Moors call the sun. was high in the blue. Now we were climbing some high, craggy range, now we were climbing down again, through the pleasant valleys, over great rich plains, over low hills covered with grey lavender and gum eistus and wild olive.
Mrs. Frances Campbell, 1905
The fever had firm hold of me by now, and I could not eat, so that Bobelli's first request when we came to our camp was always, 'Milk for the Bashadaw lady.' Once he stood salaaming at my tent door, and a lovely, soft-eyed Moorish girl beside him. She might have been fourteen — ivory-skinned, gazelle-eyed, and with braided hair, caught up over her thin ears, and enormous pearl-hung earrings.
'Forgive me, senora,' begged Bobelli, 'but this woman is a fool! She will give me no milk unless I let her see you.'
He stood aside, and the girl came in, stepping like a princess. She was the Kaid's daughter, and had removed her veil, forgetting Bobelli in her eagerness to see us, the only Europeans that had ever come to that remote place.
'Allah!' she cried, in amazement, fingering our buttons and rings— Kathleen's bangles and my old necklace most moved her; but as she watched me slip off my veil, and saw my hair, she almost wept
with compassion. 'Allah be merciful!' she prayed. 'What a misfortune to have hair like that! You will never obtain a husband!'
Kathleen assured her my destiny had been accomplished, and she glanced from her to me greatly concerned.
'Verily,' she remarked at length, 'It Is easy to the Nazrini to lie — who would wed a woman with hair like that?'
Bobelli, in spite of convention, laughed outright, and she indignantly retired.
The Moors will condone red hair, but light hair of any shade is looked upon as a kind of disgrace. The little lady, however, sent me a jar of rich milk and some eggs, for which I was very thankful.
However, Morocco became a country to keep an eye on and a report in the Daily Graphic in January 1907 was typical, reporting the assurance of German authorities that all was well in the country. To prove the point, they noted that during a recent German expedition to Fez, an officer had met an Englishwoman touring alone. This fearless lady proved to be Mrs. Frances Campbell, travelling across Morocco on horseback with only a few servants.
This was unprecedented in a country where even the Moorish merchants travelled with soldiers for protection against bandits. The two plucky ladies were treated with great kindness and courtesy, and passed from village to village as the friends of Mulai Hummet—the Kaid of Zeenut.
The Kaid himself rode up immediately after on a pacing mule, a priceless animal, with seven saddlecloths, all different tints. A wealthy Kaid, evidently, wearing a magnificent sulham of fine Manchester cloth over immaculate white. He was one of the handsomest men I have ever seen, over six feet, fair-skinned and hazel-eyed, with a simple dignity that was very charming. He welcomed us as if we were his oldest friends, gave us barley, for the horses, water, bread, and a guard.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Campbell was writing various sketches of her own for Westminster Gazette about her travels and meetings with the Moors of all classes. She also penned the novel A Shepherd of the Stars, which combined travel description interwoven with narrative that related how a lady and her two charming nieces—Pickle, an irresistible young tomboy, the Felicia, gentle, beautiful and marriageable to the stalwart Duke of Drumore—pay a visit to Tangier. According to the London Daily News (23 May 1907):
Mrs. Frances Campbell makes no attempt to disguise the feminine note in her work, which is conventional and prettily sentimental. The naïve surprise of the amiable chaperon who tells the story, when she discovers that the strong silent lover of her pretty charge is no less a personage than a Duke, is almost too good to be true, but Mrs. Campbell is incapable of cynicism. There could be no better antidote to the problem novel than this bundle of impressions of Morocco, loosely strung together with a thread of sentiment. Mrs. Campbell has the gift of description, and we do not like her pictures any the less because she sees the world through rose-coloured glasses.Campbell introduced a number of native characters to the story, but most reviewers honed in on her portrait of Raisuli (Mulai Ahmed er Raisuni), the real-life bandit who, when the author was in Morocco, had been dismissed as Pasha of Tangier and Governor of the Jibala province. He promptly kidnapped General Sir Harry (Kaid) Maclean, a military aid to the Sultan, and demanded £20,000 from the British government.
Campbell thought him a modern Robin Hood with all the virtues of the British folk hero and none of the failings, describing him as "a very handsome, distinguished man, with thin, clear-cut features, high and determined, a complexion like ivory, jet-black hair and brows, over the most wonderful, piercing, imperative eyes."
"The author has the happiest possible touch in description," said the reviewer for the Illustrated London News (20 July 1907). "She can put before us a bit of landscape or a native incident—Tangier, where the leper body is hid in the trailing garments of the night; or the café described in the admirable chapter “Music and Indian Hemp”—as pleasantly as vividly. And in the moments of particularly high spirits she tells of the Rape of the Wheel, and our appreciation expresses itself in a hearty guffaw." The latter incident refers to an episode in the book in which Colonel Nimrod (who, with Lady Diana, is accompanying the children) has a tooth removed.
A Shepherd of the Stars was Mrs. Campbell's last known novel, originally published as a series of Moorish sketches in Westminster Gazette. Her stories had appeared in Vanity Fair, Country Life and was a great friend of W. T. Stead, and was employed by him on the Review of Reviews; she was to reveal a few years later that she was earning £500 a year from her writing. But at the beginning of 1908 she gave up and was subsequently "engaged on other business of a somewhat confidential character in which she had been associated with the late Mr. Stead." Her only known movement during the next two years was a 1910 voyage in the city of Khios. She would not speak of the work, even in court where she said she was bound not to speak of it to anyone. There was nothing wrong in the work, but it might hurt her and other people if its nature was disclosed.
As plaintiff, Mrs. Frances Vivian Campbell (as her name was given), hoped to recover damages for alleged breach of contract and negligence. The case was that, in June 1911, she was asked by Mr. Stead to do some journalistic work in Greece and Asia Minor. Mrs. Campbell had written to the defendants saying she desired to visit various ports in the Mediterranean and on the Syrian coast. She paid a visit to their agents, Messrs. Kaye and Son, to inquire about the times of sailing and about the ships, and was told that the food was excellent, that the cabins were spacious and airy and the cargo carried was clean and unoffensive. An experienced stewardess would be on board to look after her and her friends.
The description given was for the Merchant Prince, although the boat on which she eventually sailed, the Carib Prince, was said to be even more comfortable. She was also informed by letter from the defendants' managing director that the ship was a very suitable one that he was sure the plaintiff would be comfortable on board.
Assured, Mrs. Campbell booked passages for herself, her daughter, and her cousin, Miss Moore, and they embarked at Manchester on July 29. The trip was a catalogue of disasters: the crew were not expecting them and they were shown to "the worst cabins in the ship." She refused to sleep there and they were given others near the bows which had more portholes. They were filthy and smelt badly, and when Mrs. Campbell uncovered her birth she found it swarming with hundreds of cockroaches. The stewardess, ill and constantly coughing, told her they would not hurt and were to found on all ships.
Nothing was done about the situation and the passengers were offered no dinner, although they had joined the officers for tea. As they were hungry, they were given mutton sandwiches and lemonade. The meat seemed hard and stringy and possibly had not been properly thawed. Other meals consisted of puddings made with water and a little condensed milk, and vegetables, usually cabbage, that was swimming in water. On the first day there was a cockroach in the cabbage. They lived on potatoes, apples and salad and, even after arriving at Tunis, things did not improve.
They arrived at Malta on August 10 and then at Alexandria on the 14th, where Mrs. Campbell complained to the ship's agent, Mr Smith. The stewardess left and a Mrs. Barlow replaced her. It took Mrs. Barlow a week to clean the cabins and free the berths of cockroaches. The food had not improved as they travelled from Alexandria to Beirut, where the cook and Mrs. Barlow were both very ill.
Back at Alexandria in September, the boat had taken on board 100,000 quails. The ship set sail for Malta on September 16, but after two days many of the birds were dead and began to smell. It permeated everything and could be tasted in everything; the passengers were forced to spend their time on deck.
In Malta meat exposed to the full heat of the sun was brought on board. At Gibraltar on September 26 they were given some veal cutlets in batter, and with food having been scarce during the trip, they had all partaken. All three began to feel ill-effects by the evening. Mrs. Campbell's daughter was seized with violent pains and the next morning Mrs. Campbell was taken with the same symptoms, but in a more serious degree. She had to be helped to her berth and later to the deck.
They arrived at Manchester on October 3 and took the train to London. On October 4 she wrote a letter of complaint to the defendants' agents; on the 5th she was seen by Dr. Bott. Her eyes became worse and on October 16 she saw Dr. Ettles because her left eye was now quite blind and her right had periods of blankness during which she could see nothing. It was eventually found to be suffering from ptomaine poisoning.
Arguments were made by the defendants that Mrs. Campbell did not complain to the captain about certain things (although she argued that it would have been pointless as the captain and the steward were intimate friends). She had also been given opportunities to leave the ship. In Alexandria she was offered a berth aboard the Italian Prince but refused, saying that she knew the Carib Prince but did not know the other ship.
During the taking of evidence, another reason was revealed: she was being paid £300 by W. T. Stead to take this particular trip and she had been asked by Stead to take a package to a certain destination; it would involve some risk to herself and she was to go out if possible unobserved and to return by the same boat as that in which she went. It was, she said, the same kind of work as she had done at Fez for the Daily Mail. She was to meet a person who would give her something, the destination of which did not rest with her. She received it at Mersyn on the Syrian Coast, at the corner of the Street of Bootmakers. She hid the package in her stays and, when bathing, in her bag.
Asked why the package could not have been collected by anybody, Mrs. Campbell replied: "I suppose a certain kind of person was required, such as myself. I was told that the matter was political."
Evidence for the defence was given by the captain, the steward and others, in which it was denied that the berths offered to Mrs. Campbell were filthy and filled with cockroaches; she had made no complaints about the food, which was not putrid; that Mrs. Campbell had taken a dislike to Miss Carrodus, the stewardess during the first part of the voyage and would ring her to pick up her slippers when they were within easy reach, and had insulted Miss Fletcher, a fellow passenger.
Medical evidence showed that her eye condition was a case of retro-bulbar neuritis—an inflammation of the optic nerve—and there had never been a case of it being caused by ptomaine poisoning, the most common causes being trouble with teeth, cattarrhal causes and exposure to cold and wet. Rheumatic and gouty people were prone to it, and it had followed influenza. Another medical witness said that the state of the plaintiff's eye could have been caused by a chill.
In its closing speech, the defence stated that the notion that Mrs. Campbell was on a mission to collect a package in Mersyn had been proven to be a lie. The Carib Prince was not due to visit that port and there were no plans to go beyond Beirut. It was only at the suggestion of the captain to the agent that as they had plenty of time, they could go along the coast and visit, among other places, Mersyn, in order that the ladies could see more of the Syrian coast.
On the charges of breach of contract and negligence, the jury found for the defendants.
The case left a lot unanswered. Was the mission for W. T. Stead a complete hoax? Stead had died on the Titanic a few months earlier and could not be asked. The evidence suggested that Mrs. Campbell was lying. As Mr. F. E. Smith (for the defence) said: "At first she surrounded herself in a sphinx-like atmosphere of mystery and would not tell them the nature of that journalistic work. When it was made clear to her by his Lordship that not much attention would be paid to her evidence if she did not give some explanation, she told the cock-and-bull story about receiving a package and bringing it back to Mr. Stead in return for a sum of money amounting to nearly £300—a package which could easily have been sent by parcel post."
This was not the only odd claim to come out of the trial. The defendants' agent from Alexandria, Mr. Percy Smith, had written a letter to the defendants in which he had mentioned that Mrs. Campbell was "a lady in high position, the widow of a former Governor of Queensland, and was related in some curious manner to both Lord Charles Beresford and the Harmsworths"—a comment that solicited laughter in the court—"and that she wrote for the Daily Mail." Presumably he was repeating information given to him by Mrs. Campbell.
This resulted in a response to the Editor the following week:
Sir.—Will you kindly contradict in your largely circulated Essex papers that I am Mrs. Frances Vivian Campbell, of the "Cockroach cabbage" case? It has come to my ears that several people are under this impression. I have never been to the Mediterranean in my life.Miss Jessie M. Campbell was an unmarried 45-year-old woman, born in Warley, Essex, living on private meets at Wealds Farm, Toot Hill, Ongar. She was living with her 28-year-old niece, Jessie M. Moore and a servant at the time of the 1911 census, and clearly was not Frances Vivian Campbell, who was living in London with her daughter at that time.
(Miss) J. M. CAMPBELLToot Hill, Ongar
The court case is the last sighting we have of Frances Vivian Campbell. What happened to her afterwards is unknown, although it was not the last that would be heard of the Campbell family.