Raiders of the Hidden Ark

An Untold Story

After about a month’s work, Parker and Duff returned to England for a few weeks. Of the English contingent, Walsh, Wilson and Foley remained in Jerusalem. On the 30th August, Foley and Walsh explored the Dragon’s Shaft, which connects to Warren’s Shaft. They believed this might well be the perpendicular passage to which the cyphers referred so frequently. As it was some distance into the tunnel, they could only bring short ladders to the bottom of the shaft. There they lashed seven six-feet ladders together. They did this by candlelight, standing in water. Then they tossed a coin to see who would have the dubious privilege of ascending first and the engineer Walsh lost, so he climbed the ladders. Foley watched Walsh disappear into the dark and stepped back so that anything or anyone falling would not hit him. Twenty minutes later, Walsh descended and informed Foley: 

“I’ve had rather an exciting time. There’s a slope of rock at the top of the shaft, and I got onto it, but it was so slippery I slid back, and if I had not luckily struck the top of the ladder you would have seen me sooner.”

Foley decided to look for himself and he climbed up. At the top, the ladder was not resting on anything as the shaft sloped away at a forty-five degree angle. He could see a large domed roof above him. To his right was a steep passageway filled with boulders approached by a slope ‘as slippery as ice’. He was contemplating that only he, Walsh, Sir Charles Warren and Sergeant Birtles had seen this spot in 1,800 years when:

“I heard a movement away up the passage and, to my intense horror, something came rushing down it with a speed of thought. Before I could move a dreadful shape hit me full on the shoulder knocking the candle out of my hand and leaving me in opaque darkness. Being deprived of all volition through sheer terror, I mechanically beat all records down the ladder”

Once he had composed himself, he realised a bat had flown into him, drawn by the light from his candle. After seven hours in the tunnel, Foley and Walsh decided they had earned dinner. The next day they returned, this time joined by Clarence Wilson. He took a fifty-foot rope and climbed the ladders into the dark. At the top, Wilson got across the slope. Foley followed him up, and Wilson asked him to throw him a candle as his torch had gone out. Foley was reluctant to do this, as he was perched at the top of a series of ladders roped together. Wilson asked him if he was ever going to come across:

“I said, ‘Probably never. Is the rope tied to anything?’ He said it was not, but that he would tie it round his body. He also added, ‘Don’t shake the rope coming up, as it is among a lot of boulders, and if you start them rolling, God help you!’ I thanked him for his warning, and was just about to make a retrograde movement down the ladder, when he said, ‘I’ve come up and so can you.’ That shamed me to an effort. I sidled up the slope somehow and worked my way by the rope across it, and up to a steep passage, over great rocks of a kind which the Jebusites used to roll down the shaft on their enemies.”

Foley said that going down the ladder was even worse than climbing up. The rope was slippery and swung out several feet into the void. Foley was in awe of Wilson, who made the first complete ascent, despite suffering a nasty leg wound in the Boer War. A few weeks later, Parker and Duff returned to Jerusalem accompanied by Cyril Ward. They were excited to hear about the ascent of the shaft and rushed off to try it themselves. They returned in shock. Ward had been violently sick when he reached the top and said that he would rather suffer H.M.S. Victoria’s sinking again than repeat the climb. At one point, Duff thought the rope was slipping and he was falling to his death. Thoughts of his wife flashed through his head. For sporty young men, who had fought in the military, these adventures were part of the expedition’s attraction. However, there were other reasons they undertook such dangerous work.