Evacuation 1916: Adieu Bucharest!  The WW1 memoir of Frank Calleja (Part 1)

Evacuation 1916: Adieu Bucharest! The WW1 memoir of Frank Calleja (Part 1)


German soldiers entering Bucharest 1916. Source: reddit.com

Frank X Calleja. Source: J Neave

Evacuated as refugees to Romania from the start of the Great War in 1914, my great uncle Frank and his father suddenly found themselves with just hours to flee the country when Germany advanced on the capital, Bucharest, in November 1916. So begins the 1916-17 memoir of Francis Xavier Calleja, a British subject of Maltese/Italian descent, born in Constantinople in 1892.  From the panic of imminent invasion, the hardships, deprivations and indignities facing refugees, to the cruelties of revolution, this is an extraordinary first hand account of what happens to civilians who get caught up as collateral in turbulent times. Do we learn anything from history? Sadly it doesn’t seem so.

Frank’s father, Joseph Calleja. Source: J Neave

Privately written by Frank in the 1960s, the memoir wasn’t shared with anyone and only came to light after his death. Even then, with the original lengthy text in tiny handwritten French, it continued to languish in a box waiting for someone to take on the long and pain-staking task of translation and editing. For the last several months, this has become a labour of love for his great niece and God-daughter, Esmè Clutterbuck and for myself. Frank’s writing is nothing if not evocative, dramatic and full of filmic vignettes and side alleys. We are a little sad to have finished it and Frank, if he were here today, would no doubt be overjoyed to find he had reached an appreciative audience. Please let us know in the ‘Comments’ what you think. Due to the length of the original manuscript, I have decided to publish this in 3 parts.


At the outbreak of WWI in 1914 Turkey was an ally of the Kaiser, which meant that any man of military service age from an enemy country, could potentially be interned by the authorities. (The same applied to German and Italian residents in the UK, many of whom were interned on the Isle of Man). Frank and his father fled Turkey and went to stay with his father’s brother, Octave Calleya, who lived in Bucharest in Romania, then a neutral country. His mother, aunt and sisters stayed behind in Constantinople.

This memoir starts from 25th November 1916, the day it was decided that the government and administration of Bucharest must be evacuated to Jassy (Iași) in northern Romania, following news of the German advance on the capital. Frank and his father were advised to get out of the country as quickly as possible and so headed for Russia. The following text is Frank’s. Additional editing notes and references are italicised in […].

“Evacuation: Adieu Bucharest” – 26 November 1916 By F.X. Calleja

Bucharest, Boulevard Schitz Magureaux and the big clock of the French hospital had just chimed midnight. All those who had to accompany the Colonne Sanitaire Francaise, in its retreat towards the north, were present except Monsieur et Madame Dormoy, prominent players of the French community in Bucharest. We couldn’t wait any longer to leave.

In the basement of the hospital there were fifteen of us: two medical officers, the pharmacist, two nurses and a few others French, English and Belgian who not being able to leave town in the normal way, had been kindly invited by Dr Borel, the head of the mission, to travel with him.

We were all anxious and exhausted. The day had been rich in emotions and many had to leave behind loved ones and important interests that they were not sure of finding again on their return. The events of this memorable day had been so unforeseen that we could hardly believe the evacuation of the Romanian capital was happening; our departure was one of the last.

German Field Marshal August Von Mackenson: Public Domain

The evening before, the Germans, with the aid of their agents, alas so numerous in Romania during the Great War of 1914-18, had spread rumours that General Averescu had just gained a crushing victory in the Carpathians encircling almost the whole of Mackensen’s army. In fact the opposite had happened and the Romanian General had just had time to jump into a plane and get away to the unoccupied territory.

In any event the news had caused a sensation and in the blink of an eye the whole of Bucharest was out on the street. The students always alive to what was going on, had organised, on the Field of Processions where the public were gathered, flags, music, patriotic songs and above all a holiday atmosphere alas long since gone from the once gay and insouciant Romanian capital.

The high command here, who very probably knew how this would end, immediately stopped these demonstrations of joy: the flags were taken down and a proclamation was soon stuck up all over town, exhorting the population to calm and enjoining them to only trust official communiques.

Despite all these measures public opinion wasn’t swayed and all they [the people] could talk of was the big victories that the authorities thought premature to publicise and that, according to them, would be announced to us a few days later.

The day passed quietly enough, without air raid sirens and without having prolonged stays in the cellars that served us as shelters. Since the 28th August 1916 when Romania entered the war on the side of the Allies, the German planes and zeppelins, as if petrified in the blue Romanian sky, were always there, wreaking havoc day and night with their engines of death and destruction.

WW1 Zeppelin

Here, a few words on the subject of Romania’s entry into the war after nearly two years of neutrality. Although the whole Romanian nation had for a long time embraced the cause of the Allies, the affection and great respect for her old king Carol [Charles], a Hohenzollern uncle of the Kaiser, had stopped her from openly taking sides against the Germans. It was only at the death of this latter, who was succeeded by his nephew, King Ferdinand, that Romania gave free rein to these sentiments and joined her fate with those of the Allied Nations.

Pro-War demonstration in Bucharest 1915. Source: Public Domain via Wikimedia.

Ferdinand, also a Hohenzollern, was immediately dispossessed by the Kaiser of all his property in Germany, and Prince Hohenlohe who, with Mackenson, was the head of the German armies, was charged with seizing Ferdinand dead or alive and sending him back to Germany. But Romania after her rout in the south reformed the Front in the north, repulsed all the German attacks, and held out right up until the signature of the Armistice in 1918.

So let’s go back to my story relating to this day of false information and denials, of which there was no shortage. We were left perplexed in a night of alarming rumour mongering. A false back-story of the famous victory fabricated by Bosch spies started to circulate. The German, Bulgarian and Turkish armies, finding hardly any resistance, had liberated the Danube and marched on Bucharest; in the Ministry where work to pack up the records was going on frantically and secretly in order to avoid alarming the population; the evacuation of the town had been decided at the reconvening of the Cabinet, held late at night.

The next day, at first light I went to the English embassy, which was also the consulate, to get some clarification on the situation and, if possible, advice on how to act. As soon as I crossed the threshold of the embassy, the sound of loud hammer blows on packing cases very quickly told me what was happening. The embassy was being evacuated. The secretary with whom, as a refugee, I was often in contact, and who, one week earlier had put me on guard against the politics of cafes, told me in so many words what was happening and what I had to do, to leave immediately no matter how; tomorrow, even tonight could perhaps be too late. He gave me a rendezvous in Jassy [Ed. modern day Iași], if I ever managed to leave. There was no time to lose.

The Fall of Bucharest 6 Dec 1916. Source: www.mentalfloss.com

I rushed to the Gard de Nord in the Calea Grivitei to find out if I could take the train going north, and there the most desolate and unforgettable sights awaited me. All the doors giving on to the station were barricaded and with platoons of soldiers with fixed bayonets at the ready.

The pitiful crowd, seized with wild panic, were swarming around the great concourse, crying and demanding trains in which to flee. In the private guarded military enclosure, were cannons, tanks, horses, military lorries loaded with boxes and all sorts of stuff, embassy cars and ambulances, all mixed up in an indescribable jumble. You need to have been involved in the evacuation of a town in less than 24 hours to really understand how much tragedy and sadness the concept of the word “evacuation” contained.

On the concourse a stream of thousands swelled without cease, praying, begging, threatening to take the station by storm and all a sea of fury, threw themselves at the steps from where the soldiers forced them to go back with blows from their rifle butts. Suddenly, the military commandant of the station appeared on the first level overlooking the square; he tried to harangue the crowd but their cries drowned out his voice. Taking advantage of a momentary lull, he made an appeal to the patriotic feeling of the public: “The country is in danger, the cooperation of citizens is essential in order for the measures being taken on their behalf by the authorities to be effective. Each morning at 7 o’clock tickets will be distributed to all those that want to leave, and will be valid for the next day.” I didn’t want to wait any more. I quickly understood there was no time to lose.

To see tens of thousands of people beside themselves, even tramping on the spot, I understood that I would never be able to leave by rail, neither tomorrow, the day after or ever. And the embassy secretary had told me to leave immediately?

Bucharest c. 1920s

What to do? I left the station and went to the Imperial cafe in Calea Victoria, which was at that time a rendezvous for many foreigners, hoping to find some friends who would get me out of this misery. At a back table, bleak and anxious, were gathered one or two of my French friends: a painter well known in Bucharest and one or two war correspondents. All of them reservists, to whom the idea of falling in to the clutches of the Germans was hardly appealing. In truth this prospect amused no one.

Athenee Palace, Bucharest (photo c. 1920s).

In a few words I filled them in on what was going on at the station, which they already suspected. They told me not to make myself sick with worry [Ed. mauvais sang] and let me know that that very evening at 11 o’clock, they were to go to the Athenee Palace [Ed. now Atheneum Palace Hilton Bucharest] to wait for Dr Borel, chief of the Mission Sanitaire Francais. Those that had to leave in the night included some French friends and allies who had been invited by the Mission to take up the Romanian government’s offer. It was important for me to be presented to the head of the Mission and obtain authorisation, for my father as well, to travel with the Colonne Sanitaire. And this is how, after an interview of a few minutes, at the Athenee Palace, we all found ourselves towards midnight at the French hospital.

At Bucharest one could only drive at night by the light of the stars, unless there was moonlight, so it was not easy to get around the streets. If the weather was clear there were always zeppelins around.

I went straight back to my uncle’s [Octave Calleya], woke my father who’d already gone to bed, hurriedly picked up our bits and pieces and went back to the French hospital, the place of our rendezvous.

The government let us have three cattle trucks because they couldn’t give the French Red Cross railway carriages. These would take us as far as Ploesti, the first stage. There, perhaps, we could take a train leaving for Jassy.

The three cattle trucks were already in the hospital courtyard when we arrived: one had been transformed into a sleeping car with the aid of some mattresses and plenty of covers, because it was autumn and the nights were cold. The second contained the medical supplies and an old wood stove belonging to the hospital and which we carried with us as we had to take into consideration how we would feed ourselves during the journey, at that point a big question mark.

Would there be a train at Ploesti as we hoped? Only God knew. In the third carriage were the medical director, his two assistants, the pharmacist and the cook as well as the luggage.

[By the time] the sleepy ones (M & Mme Dormoy) had at last arrived, it was past midnight when we left.

Boulevard Kisellef, Bucharest. Source: FB Old Bucharest Community

We crossed the silent and fearful town, then the beautiful Kisselef road, which we would never see again, and left Bucharest to find ourselves on the highway which would take us to Ploesti.

I snuggled up in the first carriage with the others but didn’t stay there long; the cold and anxiety stopped me from closing my eyes. So I jumped down and went to speak with the cattleman. In order to be doing something I took the lantern from him and once in a while I went ahead of the convoy in order to light the way. My exhaustion had magically disappeared and I walked like that the whole night. Towards dawn the convoy stopped on the border of a large forest that we had edged along all night. The cook served us a cup of really hot chocolate and some biscuits, which set us straight.

Despite our fatigue, we soon had to set off again; time was pressing and we had to get to Ploesti before nightfall. We had no news of the German advance and we had to get away from Bucharest as fast as possible if we wanted to be out of reach of the enemy armies. On two occasions we had to leave our carriages to lie flat on our stomachs in the ditch that followed the track; the German surveillance were flying over us, probably some scouts who were trying to detect the movement of troops, but not seeing the long and pitiable convoy of refugees they left us alone to continue on our journey.

German cavalry entering Bucharest 1916. Wikimedia Commons.


We arrived at last at Ploesti around eight in the evening, all dead tired having covered 60 km in less than 24 hours, but happy to find a good supper and above all a bed to sleep in and gather our strength for the next day. We were still uncertain of what tomorrow might bring, but all the same we were hopeful that the government would be able to give us proper carriages so we could continue our journey more quickly.

I forgot to say that our convoy had been provided with permits and a requisition order that allowed one of the members of our group- on this occasion it was our pharmacist who was the Marechal de Logis – to requisition the lodgings necessary to accommodate us, once we arrived at the towns or villages on our way.

Thus it was that as soon as we arrived in Ploesti, after a brief supper, we were directed towards a house big enough to contain us all and that was said to be or had been a brothel. Evidenced by the dyed hair and excessively made up face of the young woman who had quickly organised our reception, the hypothesis I just mentioned wasn’t ruled out by the fact that she had been confirmed [a catholic]. After all what did that really matter; it was wartime and we considered ourselves lucky to have found somewhere to stay.

There was amongst us a brother of the Ecole Chrètiennes, a Belgian, who for more freedom was temporarily – at least I hope temporarily, in mufti. After some years of convent life he felt, free of his priestly robes, a man like any other. Although tired and on the point of going to sleep we could not stop ourselves from seeing him in a recess of the large bedroom turned dormitory, tickling the young woman who had received us, who collapsed with laughter. We allowed ourselves to quickly fall into the arms of sleep, forgetful of everything that had happened around us and of all our worries.

The next day when we woke up, we learned that the Germans were almost at the gates of Bucharest, so we had only just left in time, but we couldn’t forget that we still had many kilometers to go before arriving in Jassy the end point.

We were very disappointed to learn that it was impossible for the government to allocate the [train] carriages and that we had to carry on by road. Unable to do otherwise while waiting for something better we rejoined our trucks a bit discouraged but resigned to the necessities of war. After all we could comfort ourselves we were in good company and wanted for nothing. Our cooks, always on the lookout, bought from the farms on our way, corn fed chickens, little suckling pigs, fruit, cheeses etc. etc. Our menus were always varied and well prepared, and the fine wine of the French hospital, which we had a few cases of in the baggage truck, helped us to gather our strength and to see a little of life through rose tinted glasses. Needless to say, that for these brotherly feasts we always stopped somewhere not too far from the road.

The latest news told of the fall of Bucharest where the Germans had, for the time being, stopped. That allowed us to take things more easily, not too much however, because Ploesti with its famous petrol reserves was of vital importance for the enemy, who would not delay their advance towards this town. We took care not to prolong our outdoor picnics always mindful of the next village or town we had to get to before the sun went down. [Ed. the Germans occupied Bucharest 6 December 1916, which was actually a few days later than this timeline suggests]. 

German soldiers in Ploesti 1916


Having left Ploesti early in the morning we reached our second stop, which was Buzău, more or less at the right time. After a comfortable meal in one of the restaurants in town, momentarily spared by the war, we picked up our lodgings for the night.

Although the enemy armies were still far away, Buzău, once Ploesti had been occupied, would soon follow. All those who had the means had already abandoned the town and it wasn’t difficult for our Marechal de Logis to requisition lodgings close to each other, in the residential quarter of the town. That facilitated our gathering the next day at the appointed hour without fear of getting lost in a town that we didn’t know and without delaying departure.

The house that had been allocated to my father and me was a little hotel of particularly noble appearance; it probably belonged to some rich landowner who had preferred to flee rather than make the acquaintance of the “Fritz”. I rang, and the old valet dressed in a red gilet, came and opened the door and, informed of our arrival, took us without waiting to a big, richly furnished and beautiful bedroom on the first floor. The interior of the house had a truly baronial atmosphere due to the superb carpets and paintings, some by well-known artists, and the beautiful crystal and decorative goblets that one saw all around. Our situation as unknown refugees didn’t allow us to ask too many questions and what is more, our taciturn old valet was certainly not disposed to answer. We contented ourselves therefore with casting an admiring glance on whatever surrounded us while asking ourselves what would remain of all these riches after the Germans had passed through.

The next day, after a good night, there we were again in the little restaurant of the evening before, our meeting point. It was almost three days since we had left Bucharest and the idea that we still had a good way to go was not encouraging; although in good company as I said before, the slowness and hobbling along of the cattle trucks had begun to grate on our nerves and we had not the least hope of having a faster mode of transport.

“Courage donc” and therefore en route for our third stage which would be Mizil. We arrived as the sun was going down over the beautiful Romanian countryside. I will not speak of the adventures of this fourth day, I will say nothing. [Ed. As noted above, due to the passage of time, Frank’s memory of precise dates and places must have got confused. Mizil is actually  between Ploesti and Buzău, so must have been the second stop].

It’s said that one day follows another and no two days are the same: for us, they were unbearably the same. To cap it all I had the constant worry of what to do once we arrived in Jassy where huge crowds of refugees would be met coming from the South. Our plan was to go to Russia, to Odessa where we had some distant relatives and good friends, the family C, who had been living there since the start of the war and with whom I had been in correspondence. But would we make it?


In short, in Mizil, we lodged with a couple of very brave people who couldn’t do enough for us. They weren’t rich but they big heartedly gave up their modest little, but extremely clean bedroom for us. It had a big four-poster bed with curtains, which one needed the help of a footstool to be able to climb into, because of the pile of the mattress. The half-brother of my cousins was in Mizil, lieutenant in a regiment of fighters, stationed in this little town. The brave people in whose house I was, told me that it would be of no avail to look for my lieutenant cousin, the regiment in question having left town to go to the front.

[Ed. this was Leonidas Constantinescu, Zoe Calleya’s son by her first marriage. There is a monument in Mizil dedicated to the troops of the 72nd Mizil Infantry Regiment, who fought during the Romanian Campaign (1916-1917). Built in 1921, it includes a bronze plaque naming the 1190 officers and enlisted men who died in the Battle of Mizil. From the details above could Leonidas have been a participant?]

Colonel John Norton-Griffiths

In Mizil we learned from the local papers of the fall of Ploesti and the destruction, by it was said, an English captain [sic], of the petrol tanks ahead of the arrival of the German army, in order to stop the enemy from taking possession [Ed. the sabotage and spillage of 800,000 tons of petrol happened on 5th December, Ref. ]. Later, in Odessa, this exploit was confirmed by the captain himself, as by coincidence he was the brother-in-law of my director in Odessa; I knew that he was a military attaché at the embassy in Bucharest and had been charged by the Minister of War to blow up the oil wells, a mission that he had accomplished with great success.

[Ed. The officer referred to here was in fact Colonel John “Empire Jack” Norton-Griffiths. A full account of this real-life Boys Own adventure can be found at this link:  hellfire-jack-norton-griffiths]

Above: Romanian soldiers guarding oil fields and destruction of the wells at Ploesti Nov 1916.

Unlabelled images from Frank’s archive, possibly Ploesti.

Focsani & Barlad

Peasant farmer by A. Chevallier (1881-1963). Source: romaniadacia

After Mizil our convoy made for Focsani where we stayed the night. This time in a little farm, where the brave villagers made us as comfortable as they could. They served us a modest supper consisting of “Mamaliga cu branza” otherwise called cornflour, cooked with an abundance of cheese and which is one of the ambrosian Romanian national dishes, all products of their farm.

Romanian peasant girl by A Chevallier. Source: romaniadacia

The next day at dawn it was the youngest daughter Yleana, who came to wake me, asking me to follow her to the courtyard to wash. She was a brunette, Yleana, pretty as an apple in her “fota” of green and white blouse. The fota is a Romanian peasant dress and consists of two or three metres of woven cloth [Ed. gros tisse] wound around her bosom, held in place by a belt. Yleana, armed with a stoneware jar of cold water that she tipped bit by bit into the palms of my hands [was] seeming amused by this summary toilette. As to me despite the soap, which burnt my eyes, I hazarded an admiring glance from time to time at this little Romanian Samaritan, to which she responded with a smile. I didn’t leave Foscani without kissing the little Yleana and thanking the brave villagers who had given us hospitality.

We stopped that evening at Barlad where we had a big surprise that we had been waiting for for a long time. After a little summary breakfast the following morning, our officials were instructed to take us to the station with all our goods and baggage. In the end two animal trucks, all that the Romanian government could give us, had been allotted to continue our journey. Our quartermaster, aided by the cook and one or two volunteers, were quickly proceeding with the arrangements for what was to be our home until Jassy.

Thanks to large bales of hay spread the width of the wagon we prepared beds for all the men while in the opposite section a little corner surrounded by sacks of jute in the guise of curtains, was reserved for Madame Dormoy, the only woman of our company.

The centre of the wagon was transformed into a dining room, the crates served as tables and benches. The large stove was installed in the second wagon where our baggage and the Red Cross equipment were also housed. The lines crowded with military trains transporting soldiers to the south or, coming back up to Jassy loaded with the wounded, had priority. This obliged our train to stop in the sidings for what were often long periods of time. That allowed our Cordon Bleu to transfer to our wagon the food he had prepared and that we awaited with impatience.

Frank’s photos, believed to be Romania 1916 (unlabelled).


We travelled like this for almost three days and arrived at last at Jassy, the end of our journey. It was the end of an adventure and beginning of another in our lives as refugees. We took leave of our travelling companions and thanked Dr Borel, thanks to whose help and hospitality we were now out of peril. My thoughts focussed on Bucharest asking me what had become of the relatives that I had left, based on the news published in Jassy. Bucharest had offered no resistance; therefore there had been few bombings, and the town was intact. What tortured my father and I was the total absence of news of our loved ones in Constantinople; my mother, my aunts and my three darling sisters. While Romania had stayed neutral we had had the possibility of exchanging letters from time to time, but since the Romanian declaration of war with Germany and her Allies, including Turkey, we lived in complete ignorance of what was happening over there. We had left Constantinople in November 1914 with the hope that the war would have finished by Christmas of the same year; it was impossible they said that a war between the great powers would last long, but we were already in 1916, and instead of reconciling with Turkey, we had moved further and further away. My father and I avoided communicating our thoughts on the subject because we didn’t want to upset each other.

As was predicted Jassy, the ancient capital of Moravia, had been literally overrun by the thousands of refugees arriving from all corners of Romania. Apart from the civilians there was also the royal family, all of the court, the ministers, ambassadors, the Red Cross departments, in brief, all the country’s administration. The officials, naturally having nowhere to stay, the private residences and stately homes belonging to the nobility had to be put at their disposal.

Refugees from Bucharest 1916. Source: www.historia.ro

It was another kettle of fish for the civilian refugees. The rooms were rented by public auction; going to the highest bidder, even the cafes were instantly transformed into dormitories, two tables put together became lots and were rented for fantastic sums. These were obviously temporary arrangements just so that everyone could find lodgings. It was sickening to see the greed of human nature that can profit under all circumstances, even the most tragic in order to exploit the misfortune of others; here were people who, seized by panic had left their homes, their comfort, perhaps their loved ones and who saw themselves duped without pity by their own countrymen. All that didn’t encourage us to stay an instant longer in Jassy. We didn’t know anyone: trying to find lodgings was out of the question; therefore the only and best solution was to leave as soon as possible.

I went to the British Consulate and asked to see my ambassador’s secretary who received me immediately. Happy to see me again safe and sound, he asked for details of our flight from Bucharest. I told him how, on the very same day that he had told me to leave, we had been invited [along] by the French Red Cross, about our departure from the hospital at precisely midnight as well as all the adventures of our journey. That seemed to spark his interest. He got my passport ready and that of my father and once again advised me to leave as soon as possible, the situation at Jassy being untenable.

We were lucky, as soon as we arrived at Jassy station, there was a train for the Russo-Romanian frontier, to the little village of Ungheni, Rushi. It was already nighttime when we arrived at Ungheni: we were exhausted and the cold was intense but what did all that matter; we were at last on Russian soil in an Allied country.

Map of Romania showing Frank’s route from Bucharest to the Russian border at Ungheni.


End of Part 1 – to be continued…

Sources and further information

My thanks to Esmè Clutterbuck and Jeremy Neave for the use of family photos and documents.

The People of Bucharest and the Bombings of 1916 by Ana Maria Schiopu: https://europecentenary.eu/the-people-of-bucharest-and-the-bombings-of-1916/

Another contemporary account of the fall of Bucharest and the flight of refugees: https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/89713/wwi-centennial-fall-bucharest-lloyd-george-pm

The Revenge of the Germans in Bucharest 1916: https://europecentenary.eu/1916-the-revenge-of-the-germans-in-bucharest/

Field Marshal August Von Mackenson : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/August_von_Mackensen

Images of Bucharest in the interwar years: https://romaniadacia.wordpress.com/2013/01/22/old-bucharest-interwar-pictures/bucuresti-bucharest-capital-city-romania-little-paris-micul-paris/

More on the destruction of the Ploesti oil fields: https://europecentenary.eu/sabotaging-the-german-war-machine-the-destruction-of-the-romanian-oilfields-in-november-1916/

And at this link: furcuta.blogspot.com

Photos of old Romanian and Moldavian life by Adolphe Chevallier (1881-1963): https://romaniadacia.wordpress.com/2016/02/02/old-romania-adolph-chevallier-photography/



Dr Violi – Pioneering Paediatrician of Constantinople 1849-1928

Dr Violi – Pioneering Paediatrician of Constantinople 1849-1928

Dr Giovanni Battista Violi.    Source: Family archive.

Today in 2020, the whole world holds its breath, quite literally, waiting and hoping for a vaccination against the COVID-19 pandemic. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the killer outbreaks came from infectious diseases such as smallpox and TB. It seems timely therefore to tell the story of an extraordinary individual connected to my family history, an Italian doctor called Dr Giovanni-Battista Violi. His pioneering work on vaccination along with his tireless developments in child health must have saved the lives of thousands of children, while also helping to build an international clinical network in paediatrics for the sharing of research and innovation in clinical treatments.



Dr Violi in 1906.

Early Years

Giovanni-Battista (or John-Baptista) Violi was born in Modena, Emilia-Romagna, Italy in about 1849. Not much is known about his early life but he trained as a doctor before moving to Vienna in Austria to specialise in paediatrics (children’s medicine). After qualifying sometime in the 1870s he initially worked in Thessaloniki. He moved to Constantinople/Istanbul in Turkey in 1874 at the age of 25.

In 1879, on 22nd February, Dr Violi married Paolina Calleja at the church of St Peter and St Paul in Galata. Paolina worked at the Italian Embassy in Pera (a district of Istanbul on the European side now called Beyoğlu). She was the sister in law of my Great Great Aunt Elise Calleja nee Callus who married Paolina’s brother Joseph Calleja in 1891. Elise was the sister of my Great Grandfather Henri Callus. My family connection to Dr Violi is therefore fairly distant and comes through these marital relationships (illustrated below).

Initially Dr Violi and Paolina lived at her family home at 83, Rue Bouyuk Hendek in Galata, Constantinople, along with her parents and brothers. Later they moved to San Stefano (now known as Yesilkoy). They had 4 children. Their first son called Umberto, was born in 1889 but died at just 2 years old. There followed another son, Giuseppe known as “Peppino”, in 1894 and 2 daughters, Nella and Germaine (dates unknown). They remained close to their extended family and when Paolina’s brother Octave moved to Romania, they would exchange family holidays between Istanbul and Bucharest.

L-R: Mary Calleya (niece), Dr Violi, Zoe Calleya (Sis-in-law), Paolina Violi (wife), Octave Calleya (bro-in-law), ? Germaine or Nella Violi (daughter). Bucharest c. 1910. Source: Family archive.


Career Development – Vaccination Innovations

Order of the Medjidie

After getting married, Dr Violi’s career really started to take off. In 1880 he established “Dr Violi’s Institute for Smallpox Vaccine” at Beyoglu Aynali Pasaje no 15 in Pera. This was a private clinic which specialised in the administration of a cowpox vaccine invented by Violi and manufactured by Hugo Avelis from calf material. Theirs was the only smallpox vaccine and serum produced in Turkey until 1892 (Dinc & Etker, 2004). Violi submitted a sample of this vaccine to a major exhibition in Chicago c. 1890 and won a medal for his work. This followed other forms of recognition such as the Ottoman medal of 4th rank (Osmani Nisau) from the municipality of Constantinople as thanks for the many poor children he treated for free. He also received the Sultan’s medal, the Medjidie in 1888, this time alongside Dr Edros, for helping to suppress a smallpox outbreak in the city that killed 12 children (Yildirim, 2010).

One of the difficulties for the containment of smallpox was getting enough people to take up the vaccine. As smallpox was such a terrible disease which killed many and disfigured survivors, one would think that people would flock to be vaccinated. This wasn’t the case. For starters, there was little state provision for healthcare so Violi treated many of the poor for free. Another problem was getting people to declare symptoms and signs of infection in other family members because once declared the authorities applied quarantine restrictions and the burning of all clothing and other belongings. Like today, if you were poor or believed you might lose your job, you might be inclined to ignore symptoms if they didn’t seem too severe. As a result, there were many outbreaks here and there across the city. In 1890 the authorities sent Dr Violi and a colleague to Buyukdere, one of the Princes Islands and to the Mezaburnu district to vaccinate around 700 people against one such outbreak which killed 17 children.

His interest in infectious diseases and vaccination continued throughout his career and extended well beyond smallpox. In 1889 he wrote a paper on the major epidemic diseases prevalent in the Ottoman Empire including bubonic plague, cholera and an Arabian form of Dengue. He worked extensively on the treatment and prevention of tuberculosis (TB), but also meningitis, diptheria, scarletina, typhoid, cholera and others. He later became one of the administrators of the Ottoman Vaccination Centre.

Paediatrics Specialisation

With respect to his work as a paediatrician, here he proved himself a true clinical leader and innovator too.

His first key role was as the Medical Director for Paediatrics at the Austrian Sen Jorge (St George) Hospital. This facility was established in 1895 in Galata in Constantinople, on the site of the former Austro-Hungarian Hospital which had been founded by the Lazarites. It had 50 beds for paediatrics, an ophthalmology clinic with 30 beds, a poly-clinic and a soup kitchen for serving the poor.

An interesting coincidence is that the ophthalmic division was headed by Dr Edwin Van Millingen. He also happens to be connected to my family history through a completely different marital line. He was married to my Great Grandmother’s sister, Marie Pouhalski. Edwin trained as a doctor in Germany and then, like Violi, he also went to Vienna to do his specialist training, returning to Constantinople in 1874, the same year as Violi. They were about the same age too so it is possible they met in Vienna. Dr Van Millingen also became an eminent ophthalmologist at home and on the international stage.

Sen Jorge Hospital Archive.

In 1897 Dr Violi restructured the hospital turning it into the first international children’s hospital in the Ottoman empire. It had a laboratory, an operating theatre, a first aid room and a gymnasium for patients. Continuing his interest in infectious diseases, Dr Violi used the laboratory to produce his own serums and conducted many clinical trials for passive immunisation (Dinc and Etker). He published many articles and regularly attended international conferences.

Dr Violi’s approach to his patients’ care was to my mind, quite modern and broad-minded by the standards of the day. The children were nursed in specially modeled children’s beds from Marseille. Mothers were encouraged to stay with their children for the duration of their admission. Violi’s publications demonstrate his attention to systematic and scientific analysis alongside a holistic and caring attitude that placed a value on the promotion of well-being as an aid to recovery. For example his publications included advice for mothers and an interest in things like the effect of dental caries on general physical health. Patients who could pay were accommodated in separate rooms but treatment was offered to any child regardless of race, religion or financial background.  (Yildirim, 2010). By 1901 nearly 20,000 children had received consultations there and nearly 14,000 had gone on to be treated.

The hospital was served by nuns from the St Vincent de Paul order from Graz in Austria and received financial support from the municipality and the Italian Society in Istanbul. However in 1897, Violi established the Societé Internationale pour le Protection d’Enfance for ongoing finance and to raise funds for the development of a summer sanatorium and a new build for the international hospital.

Austrian St George Hospital 2018 – the original wooden building was demolished after 1929.

St George’s Children’s Sanatorium Burgaz Island

Views of St George Sanatorium on Burgaz Island. Source: Salt Research Galata.

In 1902, Violi established the first summer sanatorium for orphaned and homeless children on the island of Burgaz (Princes Islands). The island is also known as Antigoni. The sanatorium was affiliated to the St George children’s hospital and was funded by monies raised by Violi’s childrens’ society. It was primarily for treating children with TB but also treated some children with rickets. Its philosophy was to aid recovery through exposure to sunshine and fresh air and to this end had a house on the seashore so that children could swim and sunbathe. In its first summer of 1902, 40 children were treated there. It closed sometime after 1929.

Sunbathing and relaxation was a key part of the therapy at Burgaz Sanatorium. Source: Salt Research, Galata.

Şişli International Childrens Hospital (Chichli de Kain Beyn-el-Milel Etfal Hastanesi)

Over the years, Dr Violi’s relations with the Austrian Hospital’s serving sisters had deteriorated, perhaps over differences in approach, we don’t really know but in any case he was determined to transfer his clinical practice to a new hospital and to sever his relations with them. The new hospital was built in the up and coming Şişli district of Istanbul at Ciftlik Sok 14-16, not far from the Ottoman children’s hospital which opened in 1895 (Etfal Hastanesi Hamidiye) and the Veterinary Hospital.

Its first patients transferred to the new hospital at Şişli 17 Sept 1905. Violi took everything with him from the old hospital which rather exacerbated the bad atmosphere with the Sisters at Sen Jorge, who had to appeal to the Austrian government to get re-equipped. To be fair to Violi, this might not have been as unreasonable as it at first appears as much of the furniture and equipment such as the beds, were specifically for children and he may have presumed the Sen Jorge would revert to adult care. As it happens this wasn’t the case and the old hospital continued to operate under the title of St George International Children’s Hospital at the site in Sok Medresse, Galata. Not all of the kit came from the old hospital though. The new hospital was the first to have x-ray facilities in the whole of the Ottoman empire (Yurdakok & Cataldi, 2004).

Sadly I have been unable to locate a single picture of the Şişli hospital. It does seem incredible that none should survived to the present day. Perhaps this article will help one to resurface.

During WW1 the hospital was requisitioned for use as barracks by the Austrian army (was this revenge perhaps)? It seems that Dr Violi had left Turkey during this time and did not return until 1918 but I am unsure where he went or what he did during this time. Some of his male relatives with British nationality took refuge in Romania because they were at risk of internment by Turkey as “enemy aliens” but there was no mention of Violi having joined them. Italy was neutral until 1916 when it joined on the side of the Allies, at which point many Italians left Turkey.

On his return he established a small paediatric clinic in Tunel (Ensiz Sok no. 6) which he called the International Children’s Hospital. After the Armistice the Italian army took over the original building in Şişli but Violi did manage to reuse some of it in 1922 for a short while. It appears this ceased after the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923. By this time however, Dr Violi was in his seventies.

‘La Pediatrie en Turquie’ – the First Paediatric Medical Journal

In 1909 he founded the first paediatric journal in the Ottoman Empire which also happened to precede its British equivalent. ‘La Pediatrie en Turquie’ was a monthly bi-lingual publication in Turkish and French that ran for 31 issues from 31 January 1909 to 1 June 1914. Publication was interrupted for a while during 1911 (due to the Turkish Italian war over Libya 1911-12 when many Italians were expelled) but then had to cease altogether at the outbreak of WW1.

As editor-in-chief Dr Violi introduced each edition with a review of morbidity and mortality statistics for the key infectious diseases, provided reviews of new research, publications and international conferences and published original articles on a wide range of topics from leading doctors and academics from all over the world including Paris, Berlin, Oslo, Rome, even as far afield as Buenos Aires.


Violi/Calleja family grave – Ferikoy RC cemetery, Istanbul

Giovanni-Battista Violi died in Istanbul 22 January 1928 at the age of 79. He is buried in the Violi/Calleja family grave at Ferikoy Latin Cemetery alongside his baby son and his wife Paolina. She died at the grand old age of 96 in 1956. Despite the size of the grave edifice it has no epitaphs on the headstone.

It is believed that all Violi’s children moved to Switzerland in the 1920s or 30s and I should also mention that his son, Peppino, also became a doctor.

The work of this pioneering doctor who saved the lives of so many children has until recently been completely forgotten in Turkey, yet Yurdakok and Cataldi (2013) state that Giovanni Battista Violi was probably the most influential physician from Italy in the Ottoman Empire. A number of academic research papers have in recent years been published on the contributions of foreign and Levantine doctors in this period and all cite Violi as one of the most significant. These papers have proved invaluable in the writing of this article.

Detail – the grave.

Sources and Further Information

Dinc, G. and Etker, S. (2004), Child Health in Istanbul: Dr G.B. Violi and his monthly La Pediatrie en Turquie (1909-14), in Osmanli Bilini Arastirmalan (Studies in Ottoman science), 5 (2); 61-102.

For more information on Turkish-Italian relations, read the interview with Francesco Pongiluppi from Jan 2018, Levantine Heritage Foundation: http://levantineheritage.com/francesco-pongiluppi-interview.html

Salt Research Galata – hold 4 issues in digital format of Violi’s bi-lingual (French/Turkish) journal ‘La Pediatrie en Turquie. They can found at this link: https://archives.saltresearch.org/handle/123456789/1413

Photos of the Burgaz Sanatorium are published under the Creative Commons licence from the repository held by Salt Research Galata. The complete photo album can be viewed at this link:


Violi, G.B. (1889), Brevi Cenni su alcune Malattie Epidemiche che dominano nell’impero Ottomano from the Giornale Medico Lo Sperimentale, Nov 1889, Firenze; Cenniniane.

Violi, G.B. (1897), De la Sérotherapie dans la Diphtheria, Gazette Médicale d’Orient, 41 (23); 372-3 cited in Dinc & Etker ibid.

Yildirim, N. (2010), A History of Healthcare in Istanbul – The Istanbul 2010 European Capital City of Culture Agency and Istanbul University Project No. 55-10. (Book).

Yurdakok, M. & Cataldi, L. (2013), Italian contributions to Turkish Paediatrics during the Ottoman Empire, Acta Med-Hist Adriat 2013, 11(2); 313-318.

My thanks to Esmé Clutterbuck for family photographs of Dr Violi and to Marianne Marandet for data from the Istanbul parish registers and Ferikoy cemetery.


Maltese Levantines of Constantinople: the Calleja family

So far, I have recounted how my Maltese Callus and Griscti ancestors found themselves settled in Constantinople in the middle of the 19th century. Their descendants went on to marry into many other families of the Maltese diaspora. One of the families that retained an especially close connection to the Callus line were the Calleja family. Elise Callus, my Great Grandfather’s sister, married Joseph Calleja in 1891. In this article I want to share what I know about their story.

Saverio Calleja c. 1882 With permission: E. Clutterbuck

First Generation – Saverio (Xavier) Calleja

Joseph Calleja was the eldest son of Saverio (Xavier) Calleja and Maria Parisi. The family legend is that Saverio was an architect, one of 5 brothers who set up business trading in marble between Italy, Malta and the Middle East, around the time of the Napoleonic invasion of Malta and the subsequent takeover by the British. It was the newly acquired British status of the island that then enabled the Callejas to move to Constantinople to take advantage of the Ottoman “capitulations”. These were concessions granted to foreigners taking up residence or trade in the Ottoman Empire that meant they came under the jurisdiction of their home country rather than the Ottoman laws. It also conferred benefits such as tax exemptions and lucrative trading rights.

The facts bear this out quite well. Parish records in Istanbul indicate that Saverio was born in Malta around 1823. This means that his business must have been developed around the 1840s or 50s although this is of course quite some time after the Napoleonic period (1798-99). However to date I have been unable to locate any vital records  for Saverio or his family in Malta itself, so with regard to his being one of five brothers, this has been impossible to verify. He married in Constantinople in 1858 so this suggests he moved the business abroad in the early 1850s which is consistent with the modernising period of the Ottoman Empire.

To further my search for potential siblings, I looked at a number of other Calleja families residing in Constantinople at this time. Some, such as the family of Antoine Calleya Bey (sic), (he was a noted chemist working by royal appointment to the sultan), do not appear to be related at all, as they came to Constantinople several generations earlier.

Of the other families, there are just one or two who might turn out to be related. For instance, Laurentio Calleja born c. 1822 in Malta was a contemporary while Francisco Borg and his wife Francesca Calleja were another. Saverio was Godfather to their son Joseph Borg born in 1852 in Constantinople and connections to this family continued with his children.

It is possible that the five siblings have been conflated with Saverio having had five children himself. His wife Lorenza “Maria” Parisi, was born in Constantinople but her family migrated from Malta before she was born. Maria’s parents married in Malta but were themselves originally tailors from Augusta, Siracusa (Syracuse) in Sicily.

In the 1860s, Saverio and Maria lived in Rue Hendek near the Galata Tower. The house has since been demolished to make way for the  modern road network.

Sarkis Balyan Source: Public Domain.

Much of his business was with the Ottoman court, where he was known as Savrijo Kalfa. His business address was in Karakoy Square by the Galata Bridge, a downhill walk of about 10 minutes from Rue Hendek. According to family recollections, the Calleja business was extremely successful and Saverio became very rich. Many of the fine objets d’arte described by Frank Calleja in my earlier post on Petraki Han, were inherited by his father from Saverio.  His commissions with the Sultan included the Pertevniyal Valide Mosque, Aziziye Mosque and the Akaretlar Row Houses.  For these his dealings were with the chief architect of the Ottoman Empire, Sarkis Balyan, a member of the famous Armenian Balyan family of architects, who were responsible for buildings such as the Beylerbeyi, the Çırağan and the Dolmabahçe Palaces among many others.

Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Mosque. Image c. 1890-1900. Public Domain

Akaretler Row House built 1875 for Dolmabahce palace officials. Source unknown.








Then one day disaster struck. The Sultan Abdulaziz, who had commissioned a new mosque to be built with marble imported by Saverio, died. On 30th May 1876, he was deposed and was found dead 6 days later with his wrists slit. It was reportedly suicide but foul play was suspected. A total of 17 doctors were called to examine the body, but they were only allowed to examine his wrists, which further accentuated suspicions. One of the doctors was Dr Julius Millingen (father of Marie Pouhalski’s husband Dr Edwin Van Millingen).

Saverio Calleja portrait in oils dated 1882.

Abdulaziz was succeeded by his son (Abdul Hamid II) who cancelled the building project.  Sarkis Balyan incurred massive debts as a result. In 1878, after 3 years of non payment for the commissioned materials, Saverio Calleja and Eugène Maillard submitted a petition against him to the Grand Vizier on behalf of the other creditors and artisans requesting reimbursement. Sarkis was formally disgraced and exiled to Paris as a consequence, where he remained for 15 years (Wharton, 2015). However it was too late for Saverio, he went bankrupt and the marble was unused. His grand-daughter Lydia said she remembered playing on the marble blocks and pillars lying around the grounds of his home!

He died a broken man in 1882, the same year of this rather melancholy portrait painting of him. He is buried in the family vault in the Ferikoy Latin RC cemetery in Istanbul.

Second Generation

Saverio and Maria had five children, described in more detail below.

Joseph Calleja

Joseph John Calleja born 27 January 1859. It is thought he worked for the British government as some sort of administrator. He married my Great Grandfather’s sister Elise Callus in 1891 and they lived most of their married life at the apartment building Petraki Han, which is opposite the Galata Tower. They had 5 children; Frank Xavier, Elvira, Edouard, Irma and Lydia. There appear to have been two children named Elvira, exactly one year apart. The first Elvira was born 29 December 1893 and has a burial date of 4th August 1894 in the register of the Ferikoy Latin Cemetery (Geneanet), while the second Elvira was baptised 29 December 1894.

Joseph died in 1930 in Constantinople and is buried in Saverio Calleja’s family grave in the Ferikoy Latin cemetery. His wife Elise, remained in Constantinople, by then renamed Istanbul, and died in 1841.

L-R: Frank, Elise, Joseph, Lydia, Irma, Elvira Calleja. c. 1920

Paolina Maria Concepta Calleja born 16 March 1860. She worked at the Italian Embassy in Pera. She married an Italian paediatrician called Dr Giovanni Battista Violi, who had an international reputation and was a pioneer and champion of childhood vaccinations, more about him in a future post! Together they had 2 children; their first son Umberto Giuseppe died in infancy, but the second Giuseppe Umberto survived and also became a doctor. Paolina died in 1956 and is buried in the Calleja family grave in the Ferikoy cemetery alongside her husband.

Unlabelled portrait believed to be Ottavio Calleja c. 1882.

Ottavio Vincenzo Calleja born 26 June 1861. He was known as Octave Calleya (a french rendition). Between 1875-1880 he studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and became a renowned architect. Incidentally, Sarkis Balyan had also been educated there. A colleague in Paris was Traian Săvulescu from Muscel, in Romania. He invited Octave to visit Romania when he returned to Istanbul. This visit ultimately led him to establish his business there and is also where he met his wife, a divorcee called Zoe Albescu Baldovin who lived close by to Săvulescu. They married in 1899 and had 8 children; one daughter, Mary, and five sons plus another two who died in infancy. Zoe had inherited a substantial estate in Campulung, Muscel and Octave was a very successful entrepreneur who made a fortune. In 1910, he built Casa Calleya as a family home in the centre of Bucharest. There are some interesting blogs published on both Octave and Zoe, all in Romanian. I will endeavor to get permission to reblog them on this site in English as their stories are interesting and rather romantic. Octave died in 1927 and Zoe in 1955.

Casa Calleya, built by Octave in Bucharest 1910.

Octave and Zoe and family c. 1920 Bucharest.

Antoine Calleya 1906 Source: Ottoman Bank Archives

Antonio Carmelo Vincenzo Calleja born 13 January 1863. Antonio (known as Antoine Calleya), worked for the Imperial Ottoman Bank on Voyvoda Street in Constantinople. The advert for the bank (below) is from 1914 and cites him as the bank manager (chef du bureau) for the Pera branch.

He married Catherina Pangalo in 1893 and had 3 daughters; Angela, known as Octavie in 1896, Maria Antonia in 1899 and Sylvia in 1900 who died at the age of 7. Angela married Haik Zipcy (an Armenian name) and Maria to someone called Fernandez. Both ladies remained in Constantinople and lived to old age.

Antoine died quite young at 54. They are all buried in the Calleja vault in the Latin RC cemetery at Ferikoy.


Advert for the Imperial Ottoman Bank. RHS M A. Calleya cited as bank manager for the Pera bureau.


William/Gullielmo Carmelo Calleja born in 1865. Died aged 2.

Calleja Family Tree

Calleja Family Tree – updated May 2020




My thanks to Marie Ann Marandet for her searches of the Istanbul parish records and the Ferikoy cemetery register, to Esmé Clutterbuck for the use of family photos and documents and to the late Alex Baltazzi of the Levantine Heritage Foundation for the image of the Imperial Ottoman Bank advert. Other sources are listed below.

Further information and sources

Geneanum is the most comprehensive database of baptisms, marriages and deaths for Malta. Website: http://en.geneanum.com/malta/databases/baptisms.html#

Geneanet is another go-to genealogical database that is particularly good for records outside UK and USA. Website: https://en.geneanet.org/fonds/individus/

SALT Research Galata – this research centre is housed in the former Imperial Ottoman Bank in Istanbul. It has some useful genealogical sources including trade directories, some parish records for christian churches in Galata and personnel records for various institutions including the Italian Embassy and the Imperial Ottoman Bank itself. Website: https://archives.saltresearch.org/

L’Indicateur Oriental Annuaire du Commerce (various eds. 1868-95). SALT Galata, Research at http://saltresearch.org/primo_library/libweb/action/search.do?vid=salt&dscnt=0&dstmp=1521833686969&backFromPreferences=true

Wharton, Alyson (2015), The Architects of Constantinople: The Balyan Family and the History of Ottoman Architecture, New York: I.B. Tauris.

The Ottoman Architecture Seen Around Balyan Family at : https://www.motleyturkey.com/the-ottoman-architecture-seen-around-balyan-family/

Les architect élèves de l’Ecole des Beaux-Arts 1793-1907 – publication available at Geneanet (Premium ed.)

How many ancestors do you have?

With the media surrounding the Danny Dyer tv programme seeming to perpetuate the idea that everyone in the UK is descended from William the Conqueror, I thought it might be interesting to reblog this fascinating (if rather long) article on some of the stats and probabilities. Thanks to Charmaine at her Miss Malta blog for sharing first.

The Wild Peak

Many of us are interested in where our families come from as well as who our ancestors were. What and where are our ‘roots’? Some of you might even have researched your genealogy or family history. Yet have you ever seriously considered how many direct ancestors you really have? Obviously it’s a lot, but how many? You might have even heard statements to the effect that all Europeans are descendants of Charlemagne in the eighth century or that all people of English ancestry are descended from 86% of the people living in England at the time of William the Conqueror almost a thousand years ago. If you live in North America and have English or European ancestors the same questions apply. Indeed wherever you live and whatever your ethnic ancestry the questions of descent and ancestry are the same. This short article attempts, in a non-mathematical way, to answer or at…

View original post 6,864 more words

In the Beginning – My Callus Pedigree from the 1500s

In the Beginning – My Callus Pedigree from the 1500s

Most genealogists like to find out just how far back a particular ancestral pedigree can be traced. When I first started researching my Callus family tree, the family could only be plotted back to the latter part of the 17th century. Gradually over the years, the layers have been peeled back and today I can show my oldest Callus ancestor to be Pasquale Callus of Zurrieq in Malta, born about 1568, presumed son of Giovanni Callus born about 1545.

Now the reason why I cannot be more categorical about Pasquale’s parentage, is that there are three parish marriage records in Zurrieq for a Pasquale Callus around this period:

  1. Pasquale Callus, son of Giovanni and Nuza, married Agata Tonna 25 Nov 1590.
  2. Pasquale Callus, son of (left blank) and Nuza, married Angela Farrugia 28 Aug 1594.
  3. Pasquale Callus, son of Angelo, married Catherina Camilleri in 1596.

The first two marriages share the mother’s first name but the father’s name is missing in the second record. The third marriage shown is quite clearly unrelated. In the first marriage, one son is born in 1591 and then no further records can be found on mother or son. The second marriage occurs very soon after this. I think it is not an unreasonable assumption to conclude that Agata Tonna probably died and that the second marriage shown is the same Pasquale as the first. However without a written record to back this up, the jury must stay out on whether this means that Giovanni and Nuza from marriage 1 are the same parents for marriage 2. To date I have been unable to trace a baptism or burial record for Pasquale. His wife Angela is recorded as the widow of Pasquale in 1613 when she remarried.

There are no records for Giovanni and Nuza Callus aside from these marriage entries so this is the end point for this particular family tree. Parish records for births, marriages and burials were introduced shortly after the Knights of St John arrived on the island of Malta in 1530 but it probably took a little while for this record keeping to become standard practice. Very early records do exist (some as early as 1522, pre Knights) but they are very patchy and do not start to appear in significant numbers until the 1540s.

There are just a handful of vital records for earlier Callus families in Malta, as described in my earlier posts on Hyeronimus Callus the Apothecary and A Maltese National Hero – Dr Joseph Callus. It is however nigh on impossible to trace a direct link to these although it is a fair assumption that we share a common ancestor.

The first part of the family tree from Pasquale is illustrated below and shows parents, children and grandchild Giuseppe Callus of Crendi born about 1612 and discussed in my earlier post Tracing 17th Century Callus Ancestors. Giuseppe married Marietta Vella in 1642.

Hourglass chart for Pasquale Callus c.1568-1617 showing parents, children and grandchildren.

The chart below shows the descendants of Pasquale and Angela with my own direct line highlighted in blue. Other names are their siblings and offspring. The chart ends at my grandfather’s generation, the 11th. With some of my cousins themselves now grandparents, this pedigree today has 15 generations!

Direct Descendants of Pasquale and Angela Callus

1 Giovanni Callus* TBC (~1545 – ) & Nuza (~1550 – ) m. abt 1566

1.1a Pasquale Callus* (~1568 – <1613) & Angela Farrugia m. 28 Aug 1594, Zurrieq, Malta (presumed 2nd marr)

1.1a.1 Giovanni Callus di Crendi* (1596 – <1640) & Caterinella Bartolo ( – <1640) m. 3 Sep 1617, Zurrieq,

1.1a.1.1a Giuseppe (Joseph) Callus di Crendi* (~1612 – <1688) & Marietta Vella (~1623 – ) m. 12 Jan 1642, Qrendi, Malta

1.1a.1.1a.1a Caterinella Callus (~1643 – ) & Domenico Tonna m. 1 Oct 1676, Porto Salvo, Valletta

1.1a.1.1a.1b Caterinella Callus (~1643 – ) & Lorenzo Gristi di Curmi ( – <1676) m. 19 Apr 1660, Qrendi, Malta

1.1a.1.1a.2a Bartolomea Callus (~1653 – ) & Battista Grech/Verrela/Battandi Bapt slave ( – <1689) m. 18 Jan 1671

1.1a.1.1a.2b Bartolomea Callus (~1653 – ) & Pietro Paulo Vella m. 10 Sep 1689

1.1a.1.1a.3 Francesca Callus (~1656 – ) & Antonio Tabone di Tarxien (~1649 – ) m. 18 Oct 1681, Qrendi, Malta

1.1a.1.1a.3.1 Aloisia Tabone (~1678 – )

1.1a.1.1a.3.2 Joseph Tabone (~1681 – )

1.1a.1.1a.4 Gregorio Callus* (~1664 – <1715) & Maruzza Farrugia (~1667 – >1715) m. 18 Sep 1688, Zurrieq, Malta

1.1a.1.1a.4.1 Giuseppe Callus (~1694 – <1758) & Grazia Bonnici (~1695 – >1758) m. 17 Nov 1715, Zurrieq, Malta

1.1a.1.1a.4.1.1 Orsola Callus

1.1a.1.1a.4.2 Alberto Callus* (~1696 – >1758) & Magdalena Debrincat (~1702 – ) m. 6 Oct 1720, Zurrieq, Malta

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.1 Nicolo Callus (~1720 – ) & Maria Cauchi m. 27 Aug 1741, Porto Salvo, Valletta

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.2 Vittoria Callus (~1723 – ) & Antonio Cassar m. 12 May 1743, Zurrieq, Malta

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.3 Giovanni Callus (~1727 – ) & Clara Zammit m. 1 Oct 1747, Parish Church of St Catherine, Zurrieq, Malta

1.1a.1.1a. Gio Battista Callus (~1748 – )

1.1a.1.1a. Catarina Callus (~1749 – )

1.1a.1.1a. Arcangelo Callus (~1758 – )

1.1a.1.1a. Salvatore Callus (~1758 – )

1.1a.1.1a. Maria Callus (~1764 – )

1.1a.1.1a. Gaetano Callus (~1764 – )

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.4 Maria Callus (~1728 – ) & Giovanni Vella m. 19 Jan 1749, Zurrieq, Malta

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a Andrea Callus* (1736 – <1810) & Caterina Cauchi m. 29 Oct 1775, Zebbug, Malta (2nd marr)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.1 Phillip Alexandre Augustus Callus (1779 – ) & Therese Secondini (~1784 – ) m. abt 1802, Malta

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.1.1 Catherine Callus (<1804 – <1810)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.1.2 Marie Catherine Jerome Callus (~1804 – ) & Etienne Corticchiato (~1803 – ) m. 24 Apr 1824, Ajaccio, Corsica, Fr

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.1.3 Dominique Callus (1810 – 1810)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.1.4 Catherine Callus (1810 – 1842) & Ange Francois Nicolai m. 8 Feb 1840, Ajaccio, Corsica, France

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.1.5 Andre Callus (1817 – 1818)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2 Joseph Callus* (~1787 – 1813) & Anna Galea m. 8 Jul 1810, St Paul Shipwrecked, Valletta, Malta

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1 Andrea Pasquale Annunziaso Callus* (1811 – 1898) & Marie Anne Griscti (~1830 – 1908) m. 4 Sep 1848, Constantinople, Turkey

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.1 Joseph Callus (1849 – ~1849)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.2 George Nataly Callus (1850 – 1852)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.3 Anna Maria Callus (~1853 – 1853)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.4 Henri Joseph Callus* (1854 – 1930) & Christina Josephine Puchalski/Pouhalski (1853 – 1901), m. 22 Sep 1884, S.S. Peter and Paul, Galata, Constantinople, Turkey

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a. Harry Mary Edward Callus (1885 – 1961) & Helen Grundy ( – 1997) m. abt Dec 1924, Pembroke, Wales

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a. Andrew Theodore Callus (~1886 – 1961) & Mabel Florence Devereux (1891 – 1979) m. 1913, Wigan.

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a. Victor John Callus* (1887 – 1963) & Mary Taylor (1897 – 1982) m. 8 May 1920, Croydon, London

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a. Charles Albert Callus (1889 – 1977) & Agnes Imms (1900 – 1971) m. 1924, Cardiff, Wales

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a. Arthur Ernest Callus (1893 – 1965) & Florence May Kelly (1898 – 1980) m. 23 Sep 1929, Adelaide, S. Australia

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.5 Elisabetto Amelia Callus (~1856 – 1856)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.6 Emilia Vincentia Callus (1857 – 1936)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.7 Edouard Emmanuel Callus (1859 – 1887) & Ada Johnson (~1866 – ) m. 4 Jan 1886, Chatham, Kent

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.8 Therese Angela Callus (1861 – 1948)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.9 Ernesto Joseph Callus (1862 – 1914)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.10 “Elise” (Elizabeth Josephina) Callus (1864 – 1941) & Joseph John Calleja (1859 – 1930), m. 1891, Galata, Constantinople, Turkey

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a. Francis Xavier Calleja (1892 – ~1970)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a. Elvira Calleja (1893 – 1894)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a. Elvira Calleja (1894 – ) & Isaac “Acky” Beckler ( – 1942)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a. Irma Lee (Maria) Calleja (1896 – 1958) & Edgar L Solomon ( – 1959) m. Apr 1926, Tendring, Essex

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a. Edouard Andrea Joseph Calleja (1898 – 1899)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a. Lydia Henrietta Valentina Calleja (1902 – ~1975) & “Harry” Henry Spittle (1891 – ~1970), m. 1922, S.S. Peter & Paul, Constantinople, Turkey

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.11 Josephine Callus (~1867 – 1868)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.12 Josephina Maria Callus (1869 – 1942)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.13 Alexander Dominic (aka Alfred) Callus (1871 – 1874)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.14 “Hortense” (Rosalia Ortentia) Callus (1875 – 1950)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5b Andrea Callus* (1736 – <1810) & Rosa Cauchi, m. 30 Oct 1757, Siggiewi, Malta (1st marr)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.6 Teresa Callus

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.7 Anna Callus

1.1a.1.1b Giuseppe (Joseph) Callus di Crendi* (~1612 – <1688) & Caterina Bugeja ( – <1642) m. 21 Apr 1640, Qrendi, Malta (1st marr)

1.1a.1.2 Domenica Callus & Gio Maria Vella m. 12 Jan 1642, Qrendi, Malta

1.1a.2 Giuseppe Callus (1599 – 1616)

1.1a.3 Gioannella Callus (~1602 – )

1.1a.4 Inziona (or Enciona) Callus (1604 – ) & Gio Maria Dalli m. 29 Jun 1623, Mdina, Malta

1.1b Pasquale Callus* (~1568 – <1613) & Agata Tonna (~1570 – ) m. 25 Nov 1590, Zurrieq, Malta (1st marr)

1.1b.1 Domenico Callus (1591 – )


Sources and Further Information

The Callus family crest shown above was published in 1925 in a series of cigarette cards by the Camler tobacco Co. https://www.heraldry-wiki.com/heraldrywiki/index.php?title=Camler_Tobacco_Co._-_Arms_of_Maltese_families



Callus Family History News

Callus Family History News

I have recently started to compile a print version of my family history research on this blog and this has presented me with an opportunity to revisit some of my earlier articles.

Fortuitously this has enabled me to locate new research which means that I am now able to answer some of the questions left hanging in the original articles. In some cases, the articles have just minor tweaks and updates but I am also planning to draft new material for some more meatier revelations.  For instance, in the story of Alexandre Callus who was exiled to Corsica after Napoleon’s invasion of Malta, it was unclear in what way he was involved in the French occupation. I have now found information that strongly suggests he was one of the few Maltese in the French garrison holed up in the Siege of Valletta 1799-1800!

I will also be publishing a new article on my earliest Callus ancestry, going way back to the 1500s and the full family tree of descendants up to my grandfather’s generation.

In terms of my more recent family history discoveries, there is more to come from Frank Calleja’s memoirs. The next one will cover his travels in Georgia and Armenia in the early days of the Soviet Union (1922) and there is also a long account of his escape from Bucharest in Romania to Russia during WW1 after the German occupation. (Frank and his father left Istanbul in 1914 to avoid internment as enemy aliens).

So I invite my regular visitors to return to some of my original posts and pages and hope you will continue to follow this journey into my family’s past.

For anyone looking forward to finally reading something about my paternal Lancashire ancestry, I have a wealth of material in waiting and have firm plans to be using my forthcoming retirement to share some of this too.

Petraki Han – A memoir by Francis Xavier Calleja (1892-1970).

Petraki Han – A memoir by Francis Xavier Calleja (1892-1970).

Frank Calleja, c.1968

This is the charming memoir of a childhood spent in No.4 Petraki Han, Constantinople. It was written by my grandfather’s first cousin, Frank, (Francis Xavier Calleja) in the 1960s when he was by then living in a little flat in West Kensington, London.

The place he describes, Petraki Han, is a 19th century apartment block directly facing one of Istanbul’s most famous landmarks, the Galata Tower.  Frank was born in 1892 to Maltese parents and lived in Petraki Han for nearly 40 years until the early 1930s.


Petraki Han: A memoir by Francis Xavier Calleja (1892-1970).

Translated from the French manuscript by Judith Mulcahy and Esmé Clutterbuck. Transcribed and edited by Angela Fry with explanatory notes and comments in […].

These two words, one Greek, the other Turkish, would make no sense to those who do not belong to this region where races and languages eternally dance their ludicrous saraband, these words, which are indifferent to those who read them, yet so soft upon my ear, so full of charm for me and so rich with memories, these are the names of the house where we lived for more than forty years. We, who are we? We! were my maternal grandparents, my parents, four aunts, my three dear sisters and myself. A matriarchal family one would say.

The occupants of No. 4 Petraki Han c. 1905. L-R back row standing: Emily, Josephine, Hortense Callus, Frank Calleja. L-R middle sitting: Therése Callus, Elise Calleja nee Callus, Marie Callus nee Griscti and Joseph Calleja. Front L-R: Irma, Lydia and Elvira Calleja.

Nowadays families so closely linked by a reciprocal affection, by the same fear of God, by a respect for traditions and by a feeling of duty towards family, are few, and the description of such will perhaps make the youth of today laugh.

But it is in this old fashioned and charming setting that the principal events of my childhood, adolescence and a good part of my youth took place. It is this dear chapter of my memoir which I will try to describe.

“Petraki Han” witnessed my first steps, my first words, my first tears. Petraki Han! Magic words to the memories, which you see, awakened in my soul, are magic words to the gentle ghosts of the past and which inhabit my solitude. Be blessed!

Those who are no longer, and whose names are written on my heart in letters of fire; those who are living still, but whom life has thrown to the four corners of the earth, those, the living and the dead will understand me. The others, strangers who read these lines, these indifferent lines, these stringless guitars as I call them from whom no sound echoes, they will smile perhaps and certainly treat me as a romantic.

Aerial view of Galata. Source: SALT online.

The Petraki Han was situated next to the old Genoese tower of Galata, which formed the Northern limit of the ancient province of the Genoese Republic. There stood the old walls, of which a few vestiges remain still today, starting from the tower and descending on one side towards the Golden Horn and on the other side towards the Bosphorus which encircled the ancient quarters of Galata. These quarters had previously formed, before Byzantium, this part of the small, wealthy republic, which used to face the commercial and less wealthy Venetian Province [Province Vénitienne], which was to be found on the other side of the waters of the Golden Horn.

Galata Tower and remaining Genoese walls 1880

Our house was a great square building on five floors, without any adjoining building. Its large terraced roof, like those popular in the orient, was famed in our close circle for the fresh air and the marvelous spectacle of the view.

Petraki Han apartment building opposite the Galata Tower, 2012.

View to the east to Asian shore and Bosphoros.


To the east one could see the Bosphorus, with the Asiatic Coast and the beautiful Haidar Pasha station with its turrets reflected in the Sea of Marmara, further off the Moda holiday resort, and in the distance, fading in the mist one can make out the almost green isle of Fanaraki by its great lighthouse.

View south of the British Seaman’s Hospital, Galata bridge and old Stamboul with the Sea of Marmara  beyond.



To the south and in the foreground is the English hospital, an architecturally imposing building a bit like a Scottish medieval chateau, behind which tranquilly flows the Golden Horn with its two bridges, those of Galata and Azap Kapisi which in the Caucasian language we used to call “the old bridge”. In the background there was Istanbul with its high hills on top of which are the famous mosques silhouetted against the blue sky with their elegant minarets in white marble. Sometimes in the evening in the moonlight you can pick out behind Istanbul a strip of silver, the Sea of Marmara.

To the west of our house, we have the tower of Galata which hides a lot from us but which at least protects us from the winds from the west, the Tarsanali. Further away the populous working districts of Pera spread out in terraces offering us a view of a jumble of disparate houses, irregular roofs and chimney-stacks.

Galata Tower with Petraki Han on the left c.1918.

This Petraki Han despite fleeting memories, all the same had nothing attractive about it. It was one of these large houses made into flats in a very modest area inhabited only by the lower bourgeoisie without any great wealth, whereas at the beginning and when my family first lived there, the flat was new. I was only 2 then and all my sisters were born there. [Ed. Petraki Han was built around 1895 following a major fire which destroyed most of the buildings in the area]. Thanks to a landlord who was only really interested in the rent, the upkeep of this flat like many others of the same sort, was left to tenants to look after. In the summer we were literally suffocated by a very strong smell which used to penetrate the building caused by a colony of feral cats who lived in the cellars and left the remnants of their food there. The staircases were so dark we used to go up them on all fours because we had an inexplicable fear of going past the large doors that went over the road [Ed. I am not clear what this refers to as the staircases went up the centre of the building, see floor plan below. They were adjacent to a lightwell]. In the evening a smoking gas lamp lit every landing. In winter most of the time, a strong wind whistled and blew through the slightly ajar back door putting out the lamps.  That, for us children made the stairwell all the more sinister and mysterious.

Armenian porter by Edmondo de Amicis, 1883

The old porter, Simon, an Armenian, did not give us cause [for concern?]. He used to wear blue billowing culottes and a Brandebouga gilet, had tufts of hennaed hair sprouting either side of the “Chechia” planted on his head [Ed. a type of Islamic hat] and was nearly always in his little place near the entrance crouched down on an old divan, a trail of smoke coming from his nargile [Turkish water pipe] watching all the comings and goings from the house.

Old ugly incorrigible darling that he was, old Simon was however a really good man. He would ceremoniously accompany the proprietor when he came to collect the rent and always enquired after the tenants’ needs, which despite his promises he always managed to forget. “Something wrong with the kitchen, well how can that possibly be?” “The windows won’t shut you say? But of course we will do everything necessary”. And in a voice that did not admit of a reply, the proprietor gave orders to the faithful Simon who cried out to the Guardian, repeating without ceasing “Pek eyi Efendius! Pek eyi efendius!” [Ed. – sic – Turkish pek iyi Efendi “very good Master”], but naturally he never did anything. These two characters were something of a comedy act.

In spite of the odour from the cats, the dark stairwell and old Simon, the flat where we lived on the second floor was for us sanctuary, where surrounded by the affection of our family we lived happily and carefree. There were cares obviously, certainly there were and many of them, but at this time, they were only ones which our parents took notice of and they did everything possible to protect us from them. The family was large and although the cost of living wasn’t very high we never had anything spare. We couldn’t afford any extras without it having an impact.

Original floor plan of Petraki Han. Source: MA Thesis by
Dilsad Gözübüyük Melek, 2004.

Entering into our house at no. 4 you found yourself in a little rectangular hallway which was quite dark in high summer but practically black in winter. The little light that there was came from two tiny windows one from the living room on the left and one from the dining room opposite, one being completely covered in the winter by heavy door hangings made from wool from Smyrna which father had a penchant for; he had them in all the bedrooms. In summer we took them all down because of the heat and fear of mites. All curtains and rugs were put in a large trunk with naptholine. At the end of October and the beginning of November we began to decorate the apartment again. Everything needed to be ready by the 19th this being a big name day for our good mother. [Ed: The name day is a tradition in some catholic and Eastern orthodox countries. It is similar to a birthday but celebrates the feast day of the named saint, in this case St Elizabeth of Hungary].  Curtains, carpets, trinkets and all other fripperies had to be put back in place for the little ones, and I believe for the big ones as well, an event we always looked forward to! When everything was ready we used to come into the living room on tip toes, proud of our carpet from Brussels, of our beautiful piano, of our large “Glace de St Gobain” [type of mirror], which nearly took up all the height of the room, our Louis XIV furniture which came from our grandfather, and an assortment of goblets and liqueur glasses which at this time were the joy of the whole family. In fact this living room had the air of a museum within which you couldn’t circulate very easily, nothing like this these days.

Cartoon of a Western style 19th century interior. Source: Dilsad Gözübüyük Melek, 2004.

I loved our living room, I took refuge in it but took great pleasure in it when I was bigger and started to learn the piano and with my sisters we received many friends. When we were still little and there were lots of people in it, we were only ever allowed to stay long enough to say hello to the ladies and then sent politely away. This was still the time when children weren’t allowed to hear conversations.

Elvira at the piano with sisters and friends c. 1918.

On Sunday evenings in the winter, our father used to play the violin accompanied at the piano by one of the aunts. The modern cacophony called music hadn’t yet made an appearance. This was Viennese waltzes, ballades and nocturnes which charmed the ears of us children. It’s true that this music sometimes made me cry. I sometimes went and hid behind the curtain in my mother’s bedroom, which adjoined the living room. Here no one ever thought to look for me, I could listen while sobbing to the “Song of love”, “After the ball”, “Always and never” or “The military silence” and why was I crying? I wasn’t unhappy, if it’s ever possible at that age, it was a manifestation of the mind, in this day of isms it was something like sentimentalism if it was ever that simple, but what drove me to these sudden melancholic crises, these reminiscences of the mind, in a life that was neither happy nor unhappy? Was it a premonition of what my life was to be later; the agonising passing of time? Could I already have enlisted that that very instant of our lives, once it’s gone is irremediably lost forever? In summary this little living room, which was all orderly, discrete and intimate, will always remain vivid in my memory.

House party Aug 1918.

So it was a wrench when later, when our father died, we had to separate. When we had to sell off all our family heirlooms it was a catastrophe not because of the material value but for sentimental reasons; we lost all these things and the memories attached to them.

Frank’s father, Joseph Calleja

So in order to continue the description of our flat, next to the living room and adjoining was my parents’ bedroom. I can still see when I think about it, the large bed back against the centre of the wall of the room, surmounted by a large canopy with curtains on either side of lace, white like snow; this bed which assisted most of our entrances to this world and was later the witness to the partings of him that I loved. He suffered atrociously and finally left for another world, supposedly a better world, in the pursuit of modest but unrealised dreams. The bed was taken apart and sold to an old antiques dealer as soon as my father left. [Ed. Joseph Calleja died 16 Sept 1930 and is buried in Ferikoy Latin Cemetery].

On the side a little further away in a corner, there was a little bed. This was mine until the age of eight. I was its first occupant and it then became the bed of all my young sisters until the age of eight. One of the sides came down but as I was a bit of a sleepwalker and could not stay still, and was restless even when sleeping, my parents always kept it shut. The ultra religious education at school as well as at home made me a bit of a mystic. I always dreamed of Jesus and the Madonna, the angels with their wings and halos of gold and standing upright in my bed draped in my long white night shirt and although in a deep sleep would whisper unintelligible prayers to the Lady of the Rosary who was at my bedside. My good mother, still awake, used to approach trying not to frighten me and would very carefully calm me down, arrange my blankets and kiss me. I remember this as clearly as if it was yesterday. Such a long time has passed since and this guardian angel who was my mum is no more and has been at rest for a long time now in the little cemetery at Ferikeuy, still very raw in my emotions.

Parnasse studio front

Frank’s sister, Irma with her parents and Aunt Josephine, probably first communion. Date c. 1905.

Later on and when it was my younger sisters’ turn to share my mother’s room, they prepared me a little corner in another room which [?] overlooked a large light well [clair voie – a partition that lets light in]. This room was divided in two. Father constructed a large cupboard with two shelves, which took up a good quarter of the room. All the clutter that all houses collect were gathered there.

A little dressing table and chair were the other bits of furniture in it. In the winter it was so dark we had to have a lamp on all the time even in the middle of the day. Despite this, it was in this little room that I spent my best years, first my school years and then my college years, which meant I spent long hours studying there in the evenings often until eleven o’clock. My little sister used to come in and being a bit of a tease, would come in on tip toe, tickle my ears and then scream to frighten me. This invariably came to a bad end and my sister used to leave crying. Later on, after the college years and the start of my life, my small and modest room continued to represent for me the saint of saints where I still sought refuge with delight.

Frank as young man. Source: J Neave.

The rest of the flat was occupied by my aunts and my young sisters. One large room in the corner looked out on the northwest side, this was my sisters’ room. In the winter it was a real ice box. When we had a lot of snow the wind whistled and sometimes the snow came through the cracks in the windows, which like the rest of the building, never shut properly. At the beginning of the winter we always tried to seal up the windows but the wind always got through to the great despair of my young sisters and the aunts who felt the cold. This room however, although very exposed to the intemperate climate, was to us children the loveliest room which after big snowfalls we got up to admire the blanket of snow and marvelous ice arabesques.

Terliks or handmade Turkish slippers. Source: Etsy.

For the adults and for the children, the harsh winters of Constantinople constituted an important event; Mum and the aunts plunged themselves into their crafts and looked for bits of woollen material, and under lamplight proceeded to make the “terlicks” [Ed. sic. Turkish word is terlik], little slippers to wear outside […] so as not to slip on the ice. The streets, particularly in the little passageways where we lived, were all downhill and treacherous in the winter.

Life at this time was relatively easy. People mostly stayed at home in bad weather and when the snows came, schools were shut and offices too because of the lack of transport. So in nearly every house families gathered together around a brazier to roast chestnuts in a big pan with roast potatoes in the ashes, eating them all smoking.

Winter streets of Istanbul

Our dining room was in the centre of the flat and adjoined directly every bedroom. I can see it now thinking about it, this central room with its old furniture and tapestries of flowers, where in the evening after a laborious day we all gathered around the large table. How could I ever express what I feel about these intimate evenings. On Saturday night in particular, because the next day was a feast day and we didn’t have to get up early, we extended our evenings to the early hours.

I would read or write, my sisters would be occupied with making embroidery or tapestry while our lovely mum used to sing airs from the opera in a very flute like voice but which still resounds in my ears.

The memory of the night before Christmas those lovely memories of another time are still vivid; when we all used to go to midnight mass at the little church of St. Peter, our parish church [Ed. St Peter and Paul RC Church in Galata].

After the evening meal, always particularly light on that day, we amused ourselves playing dominoes or tombola while waiting for the time when we had to leave for church nearby. Old Aunt Emilie, always the first to signal the time, appeared at eleven thirty, at the door of her bedroom, all ready to go.

Aunt Emily, 1922

It was then when the laughter and teasing began, “Oh Aunt Emilie, you are ready? there’s a good half hour to midnight and the church is only 2 minutes away” but Aunt Emilie didn’t bite, she maintained her composure in all circumstances and said that we shouldn’t run to go and see God but should take our time. And that’s how it was in all things for her until the end of her life, energetic, methodical, and not allowing herself to be impressed or discouraged by anything. She never succumbed to any obstacles.  Her strong character helped her to get through all the vicissitudes of life with courage and there were many of them. She remained always for us a model of a strong and energetic woman, an example to us all.

But coming back to our Christmas Eve, the celebration above all, maintained its particular charm for me, so much so it makes it hard for me to express. When it was time to go to mass, we dressed ourselves warmly and went off with a light step, but carefully because of the snowfall so as not to fall. The road down to the church was steep but that didn’t matter, one fall more or less was of no consequence.

The distance wasn’t great but with the weather dog cold as it always was, we were frozen to our bones, so it was with great relief we went into the little church where there was a large number of the faithful gathered. [There we find] the old organ playing familiar hymns, the large candles on the main alter and the numerous candles on the candelabras making all the precious chalices and sacred vessels twinkle, as well as the tassels on the end of the tapestries that ran around the walls and which were put there to celebrate the great feast day.

Interior of S.S. Peter and Paul RC Church, Galata.

Entering the church on the left, all down the side there was an enormous straw crib, a masterpiece of old vintage in front of which all the faithful were ecstatic. The donkey and the cow were perhaps disproportionate compared to the other figures who peopled this little corner of Galilee made of glue and papier-mâché. The little houses put there were a bit too like Swiss chalets and had nothing of the local colour. Also in among the papier-mâché were a few beautiful dolls all done out in velvet and lace.  It didn’t matter, no one was looking at the details. The impact of the religious manifestation was above all and just blew away any critical thoughts. We were all in agreement it was a really lovely thing.

Once mass finished, or rather the three masses, because we weren’t able to go home alone and our elders wanted to be part of all three, even though we were falling asleep, we found ourselves back in the street where everything was covered in a blanket of snow. The cold woke us up immediately but the idea of a lovely traditional supper waiting for us was enough to help us forget our tiredness.

Kaimak – Turkish delicacy like a clotted cream. source: Wikimedia.

As soon as we got back we all kissed each other and wished each other Happy Christmas and then sat down to table. Oh the lovely smell of foaming hot chocolate and the exquisite cake made by my mum and the famous Turkish kaimak which always appeared on the table on Christmas Eve after mass. It was so simple but so wonderful.

Once the meal was finished, we exchanged good wishes again and then finally, happy and contented, we went to bed not forgetting to place our slippers somewhere obvious so that Jesus could put some nice things and sweets in them that we had earned during the year. Many times I remained disappointed on finding in the morning when I got up, a piece of coal or onion, indisputable proof because it came from Jesus himself, that I had not been good enough which led to floods of tears, but all swept away when mother suggested that if I made amends, and promised to be good then little Jesus might change his mind – which was always the case!

“Oh, our early days! what would we have become without them?” as Alfred de Musset said in his famous elegy. [Ed. Possibly this refers to the quote “A lively retrospect summons back to us once more our youth, with vivid reflections of its early joys and unstained pleasures.”] I confess it without any embarrassment, I believed in this little legend of Jesus for a long time and in Father Christmas bringing presents to little children who were good and when the time came when I couldn’t believe it any more, it was if there was a real tear (wrench?) inside me, I felt a bit of poetry disappear out of my life and a bit of resentment at having been misled for so long.

In the summer on holidays we assembled on our large terrace with all the people who lived in the block. The adults formed little groups, some chatting, talking politics or fashion [fanfreluches]. The children played ball or flew kites. Sometimes we played “Four corners” [a children’s game] or we danced and sang the old song about le pont d’Avignon. Normally I didn’t join in much with the others; I preferred to shrink into a corner or perch on a wall, my nose in a book. I had a real liking for pink headed books from the library like Le Gribouille or Le General Dourakine or Le Petite Comtesse that I read or reread many times. [These were childrens books written by la Comtesse de Segur born Rostopchine, daughter of the governor of Moskow. She wrote them for her grand children and they were published in a special collection with a red-pink color cover]. These stories from my childhood engrossed me to such an extent that the world around didn’t exist for me anymore. It also meant that I was really annoyed when from a very nearby place I could hear my father or mother’s voice calling me down for a meal.

We gathered together our bits and pieces and went down making a lot of noise on the iron staircase which led from the last floor onto the terrace. Later on this terrace at Petraki was witness to a little love affair without any [good] end it’s true, but which I always remember with much emotion.

Left and Centre – on the roof terrace, with Galata tower just visible. Right – Lydia with puppy (is this Mapi? see below), c. 1920s.

One evening by moonlight I took my little white terrier, “Mapi”, a dog who was afraid of everything and everyone, even his own shadow made him tremble and he would not be comforted. Probably to hide his inferiority complex he made an infernal noise barking at everything everywhere. Some new tenants came to occupy number 7, a German family who were very distinguished, composed of a father, mother, and two young girls, and a young man who was, it seemed at that time, the darling of all the women and young girls of Perote society which meant we never saw him. As always we were very curious to see the new arrivals and that evening my wish was granted thanks to my little dog. The terrace was deserted except for the two young German girls who were alone and admiring the beautiful panorama of the Golden Horn and the minarets bathed in moonlight.

View from the terrace. Image c/o https://www.istanbulplace.com/

Etiquette didn’t permit me to approach them, when my dog, approached by a fly ran towards them furiously barking. I shut him up and went up to them to apologise, which allowed me to present myself and make acquaintances of these two charming sisters. I was immediately attracted to the diaphanous beauty of the older one. She was blonde, very slender, with big grey eyes and a Madonna like look that I would never forget. I don’t know why blondes have always held so much attraction for me because they’ve never brought me much happiness.

Briefly that evening, the great sentimentalist I’ve always been, felt his heart beat a little bit faster and a little more softly. Following that, our respective families got to know each other and met up quite often. Sometimes when we were alone my blonde friend played me waltzes and Chopin nocturnes, which she knew how to embellish.

Both of us had dreams that were never to be realised. The war of 1914-18 arrived to put a stop to our idyll. Forced to leave the country I took refuge in my uncle’s place in Bucharest. [Ed. as Turkey sided with Germany in WW1, the family being British subjects were considered “enemy aliens” and the men risked internment. It was decided they would leave for Romania to stay with Joseph’s brother Octavius Calleja until it was safe to return]. During the first months of my exile I received touching letters but later on our correspondences became rarer and then ceased completely. I heard nothing more about her until my return to Constantinople after the war where I learned that she had married a Swiss German who had lived in our place. This is how the little love affair born on a Petraki rooftop terrace by moonlight ended.

Another memory amongst all the others, is that of the 1st September, the feast day of S.M. Abdul Hamid, given the name The Red Sultan.

Fireworks from the Bosphorus bridge in Istanbul. © Photo by Nightstallion03

This day was celebrated every year with great aplomb and significance. [Sept 1st is start of a 4 day public national holiday in Turkey. Called the Sacrifice Feast it commemorates the story of Abraham displaying his obedience to God by offering to sacrifice his son]. The whole of Constantinople was on its feet with parades, military music, and great pomp. In the evening all the public buildings, the palaces, the bridges, the mosques were resplendent with light. Hundreds of lanterns were lit with large candles because even though SM [the Sultan] had electricity within his palace at Yildiz, he refused to allow it for the people in the capital. In the daytime of the 1 September we climbed onto our roof to watch the “karakaula” or guardian of the [Galata] tower set up his decorations with flags and lanterns.

Galata Tower lit up. Image © Ilkin Karacun.

In the upper part of this colossal edifice, a red light was perched. From where we were it gave the impression of little devils up to some sort of mysterious work and our hearts trembled to see it.

In the evening our terrace became the rendezvous for the whole apartment block, from where we would watch everyone circulating all along the Corniche.

Before going up to meet our friends, our father brought down from the old cupboard little packets all wrapped up in paper, where they had been stowed away for several days. We all knew what they contained. We were really proud of possessing Bengal fires, roman candles and firecrackers. Equipped with all these things, we hastily climbed the three floors and let off the firecrackers. Indeed we had great fun at that time and age had nothing to do with it, because the adults had as much fun as the youngsters.

Panorama of Istanbul looking South from the Galata Tower, c. 1877.

I have tried basing things uniquely on my memory, to give you as accurate description as possible of our life in no 4 Petraki Han.  I have simply decided to mention certain events which I remember very clearly and which made an indelible impression on me. I’ve never intended to put a whitewash on all our daily lives. For forty years a large amount of work and an absence of notes has made this impossible to write and it wouldn’t have interested anyone.

Callus/Calleja family group 1922. Back standing-Hortense-Therese-Frank-Lydia-Harry-Emily-Josephine. Front sitting-Elise-Irma-Elivra-Joseph

In conclusion I would say after 60 years I have only to close my eyes to see it all again. The day when we left the place which saw us all born, where we left this great apartment standing alone and empty – YES empty! But so many memories.

This has been a sort of pilgrimage across the rooms, the desolate empty rooms, a real Stations of the Cross. I’ve stopped at each one and alone with myself I have tried to condense everything that’s been in my spirit; all the events I’ve witnessed. Thus plunged into reminiscing about a happy past I found myself called by the porters who demanded the keys and wanted to lock the apartment. I’ve now left and must never go back there.

Petraki Han side entrance

Today a long way from this place (and there have been a large number of occupants who have gone through towards a better life), all I can do is put my thoughts about Petraki Han on paper and what has happened in front of my eyes is a magnificent vision, a kaleidoscope of marvelous forms which have crystallised in such a way that I’ve had difficulty in discriminating between the past and the present. What has unfurled in front of my eyes is so real that I refuse to believe that the past is really past.

All our acts, all our thoughts, our secrets, our desires, our emotions, all of these are manifestations of our spiritual being which is always there. We form a sort of backdrop in front of which inexorably we are all pushed by destiny and advance without respite and without hope.

The End


My thanks go to: Esmé Clutterbuck for sharing Frank’s manuscripts and many family photos, Jude Mulcahy for translating the document into English, Jeremy Neave and Moira McGrother for additional family photos.

Further Information

Daily Sabah, 2017, Magic Slippers: Tales of the Turkish “Terlik”: https://www.dailysabah.com/expat-corner/2017/08/11/magic-slippers-tales-of-the-turkish-terlik

Sultan Abdül Hamid – Hero or villain?

Gözübüyük Melek, Dilsad, (Dec. 2004), New Interpretations of Domestic Space and Life: the Emergence of Apartment Buildings in 19th Century Istanbul. MA Thesis submitted to the Graduate School of Social Science of Middle East Technical University.

In recent years Petraki Han has been fully renovated and a number of the apartments are now available for holiday lets. Modern and luxurious, many original features have also been retained and visitors have free access to the wonderful roof terrace. Go to Istanbul Place Apartments for more details.


The Callus Family of Constantinople in the Mid to Late 19th Century

The Callus Family of Constantinople in the Mid to Late 19th Century

View of Galata from Stamboul. Source: Collection of Maggie Land Blank.

My Great Great Grandparents Andrea Callus and Marie Ann Griscti married in Constantinople in 1848. Both were born in Malta but arrived in the Ottoman Empire as part of a wave of Maltese migration in the first half of the 19th century. In my earlier post on the Maltese community in Constantinople/Istanbul, I described some of the social conditions of their life there. In this episode I will set out a bit more about their family life.

Karakoy Square. Source: Collection of MaggieLand Blank.

Andrea Callus

Andrea was born in 1811 in the town of Cittá Rohan or Żebbuġ in Malta. He migrated to Constantinople in 1829 when he was about 18. Parish records indicate he was a ship chandler but I have not been able to locate any further details in the trade directories of the period. Andrea was about 38 when he married Marie Ann, but it is said they had a model marriage which lasted nearly 50 years!

Marie Ann Griscti

Portrait thought to be Marie Ann Callus nee Griscti c. 1860s

Marie Ann (always Marie Ann in parish records but she may have been known just as Marie at home), was part of a large extended family from Malta who originally migrated to Smyrna (modern day Izmir) around the same time as Andrea. The family moved to Constantinople in 1843 when she was about 12. Her father Joseph was, like Andrea, a ship chandler and so also was her first cousin Antonio and her brother John, so it was probably the family business. Their establishment in 18681 was at 26, Rue Gueumruk (see map below), which is very near the quay by the Galata bridge. At this time her brother Emmanuel had a forge in Rue Chiché Hane but in 1896, he had a shop at no. 19 Rue Gueumruk specialising in rubber goods.

Click here to enlarge: Annotated map of Galata and Pera 1905 pdf (opens in new window).

In the 1860s Antonio and Emmanuel Griscti lived in Rue Chiché Hane, in different abodes with another Callos (sic) as a neighbour. It seems quite likely therefore that Andrea and Marie Ann also lived nearby, as families in these communities liked to stay together. They all attended the parish church of St Peter and St Paul which is on Rue Koule Dibi, near the Galata Tower.

The genealogy of Marie Ann’s Griscti family can be found on the Griscti and Diacono pages of this website.

Marriage and Family Life

Andrea and Marie Ann were married on 4 September 1848 at S.S. Peter and Paul RC Church in Galata. The witnesses were Marie Ann’s brother John Griscti and Andrea Maresia.

They went on to have fourteen children so Marie Ann must have spent the most part of her married life either pregnant or nursing! Tragically the first three children died in infancy, Joseph in his first year, Georgio at age 2 and Anna Maria within a few days. It must have been incredibly hard to bear. My Great Grandfather Henri was the first to survive to adulthood. She then had a stillbirth followed by more survivors. Later another two children died in infancy, so she lost six children in all. This was not uncommon for the period before the availability of childhood vaccinations or any kind of state supported health care. Istanbul was a crowded city with regular outbreaks of terrible diseases like cholera and typhus which also took its toll on families. All the children were baptised at S.S. Peter and Paul parish church.

The eight children who survived into adulthood were:

Henri Joseph born 28 March 1854.

Henri J. Callus c. 1900

Henri was the first child to survive into adulthood and was my Great Grandfather. He moved to London around 1870 to train as a marine engineer and lived for a while in Greenwich in London where it appears he worked for the Thames Iron and Shipbuilding Co. in Blackwall.

Later he moved to Cardiff and worked as chief engineer in the merchant navy on various tramp steamers traveling around the Mediterranean and to places like the Baltic.

However he maintained close contact with his family in Constantinople and visited whenever he could such as for important family occasions. He also met his sweetheart Christina Pouhalski (aka Puchalski) in Constantinople and somehow managed to continue his courtship from the UK, eventually returning to marry her in September 1884 at S.S. Peter and Paul RC church in Galata, Constantinople. They then settled in Cardiff and had 5 sons.

Emilia Vincentia (known as Emily) born 28 May 1857

Emily Callus c. 1878

Emily was the first daughter to survive into adulthood. She never married and lived all her life with her sisters. For over 30 years she lived in the apartment building known as Petraki Han, opposite the famous landmark the Galata Tower.

Emily and “the princess” c. 1915-20.

She worked as a teacher and governess. One of her charges was a little girl they called “the princess” but no one knows if this was just a pet name or her real status! She was also Godmother to her little brother Alexander known as “Alfred” who died at the age of 3 in 1874.

Around 1930 Emily left Constantinople to go and live in Malta with her nephew and two of her sisters. She died there on 6 January 1936 aged 78 and is buried in the cemetery at Sliema.

Edouard Emmanuel born 27 March 1859

Like Henri, Edouard moved to England as a young man to train as a marine engineer and then worked for the merchant navy. He lived in Gillingham in Kent and on 4 January 1886 married Ada Johnson at Chatham in Kent. Tragically on 3 April that same year he was admitted to  Angelton Hospital County Asylum in Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan (later known as Glan Rhyd Hospital) suffering from acute melancholia and “General Paralysis”(of the Insane)2.  At this time, the link with syphilis was unproven but suspected due to its prevalence in the military and in men in their 30s and 40s living in port towns and urban centres.

Edouard’s admission report described him as of medium height 5’4″, weighing 8 1/2 stone and with black hair and a sallow complexion. It indicates he had been exhibiting symptoms for 2 months. This means it must have become evident almost straight after his marriage!  It also states he had a brother as next of kin and had been staying in Cardiff, so Henri must have had him admitted.

This Asylum had a good reputation as a progressive institution with a non-restraint policy3, but sadly for Edouard, his was a terminal illness with little in the way of effective treatment available. He died there in June 1887 aged just 27 and was interred in an unmarked grave in the hospital grounds. It is assumed he died without issue. I have since discovered that his wife eventually remarried so thankfully she did not contract the disease. No photo of Edouard has been found. Although his family would have had no knowledge of the cause of his mental illness, in Victorian times there was a pathological fear of “lunacy” and it was deeply stigmatised. As a result he was probably quietly forgotten and never spoken of again.

Therése Angela born 30 January 1861

Therése Callus c.1878

Like Emily, Therése grew up in Constantinople and worked as a teacher or governess. There were many good quality Levantine schools in Pera where she may have taught although it is thought that all the sisters mainly tutored privately for families.

She never married and lived all her life with her sisters. She moved to Malta with Emily and Josephine around 1930 and died 30 May 1948 aged 87.




Ernesto Joseph born 28 December 1862

Little is known about Ernesto, except that he was single. We do not even know what he did for a living. Around the 1880s he went to live in Malta, where he returned to the home town of his father in Żebbuġ. What prompted this move we do not know. He may have fallen out with the family or he may have wanted to return to “the homeland” where perhaps there were relatives who could help him find work.

However on 9 September 1890 the British Consul in Constantinople arranged for him to be admitted to a mental health hospital following the manifestation of  symptoms of mania (an old term for bi-polar disorder). Why this required the intervention of the Consul is a bit of a mystery. He remained there for the rest of his life, eventually dying of TB in 1914 aged 52. No photo of him has been found, possibly due to the same reason as Edouard.

Elisabeth Josephina (known as Elise) born 1 December 1864

Elise Callus c.1886

Elise was the only daughter to marry. Her husband, Joseph John Calleja, was the son of another Maltese Levantine family from Constantinople. Joseph’s father was an architect and importer of Maltese and Italian marble. His mother was the daughter of a Sicilian tailor. It is thought that Joseph worked as an administrator for the British government in Constantinople.

L-R: Lydia, Elise, Irma, Frank, Joseph and Elvira Calleja c. 1920.

Elise and Joseph had six children, two of whom died in infancy; Francis Xavier, Elvira (died in her first year), another Elvira, Irma, Edouard (died aged 1) and Lydia.

After Joseph died in 1930 the family had to move out of their apartment at which point, his son Francis Xavier taking three of his aunts to live in Malta. Elise stayed on in Constantinople living with just her younger sister Hortense. She died in 1941 during the 2nd World War and is buried with Joseph in the Ferikoy RC cemetery in Istanbul.

Joséphine Maria born 2 May 1869

Joséphine Callus c.1905

Joséphine was the third unmarried daughter who worked as a teacher or governess in Constantinople and returned to Malta with her sisters. Little else is known about her although a few photos survive. She died 6 June 1942.




Rosalia Ortentia (known as Hortense) born 10 November 1875

Hortense Callus c. 1895

Hortense was the last child of Andrea and Marie Ann. Her godfather was her brother Henri who was more than 20 years her elder. A number of letters between her and Henri and his son Arthur survive suggesting she was the one who maintained strongest contact with Henri’s Cardiff family. During WW1, Turkey and the UK were on opposing sides and the two families were cut off from any news of each other. Two very brief and poignant telegrams between them trying to find out if everyone was alright, now rest in The National Archives in Kew, London4, because these had to pass through the British Government’s War Office.

Hortense c. 1920

Hortense was also a teacher and never married. She stayed in Constantinople for most of her life, eventually moving to Portsmouth in England to be near her niece Lydia, after the death of her older sister Elise in 1941. Exactly when she moved is not known; she may have had to wait until the end of WW2. She died in 1950 and is buried in Portsmouth.

Andrea and Marie Ann – End Days

As for their parents, in the dying days of the 19th century, they moved with their four spinster daughter and their married daughter Elise and her family, into a rather smart apartment block facing the Galata Tower called Petraki Han. The lease was taken by Andrea’s son-in-law Joseph Calleja. My earlier assumption was that the family had done rather well to be able to afford this place. Certainly members of Marie Ann’s family had become very wealthy but the likelihood is that actually the Callus family were somewhat poorer. They were more likely to have been what Theresa May would describe as ‘Just about managing!’  Frank Calleja wrote a family memoir of life in this apartment which is now translated and published on this website.

Andrea died at Petraki Han in Constantinople at the grand old age of 87 in 1898 and Marie Ann died in 1908, aged about 78. Their funeral notices are shown below. They were both buried in temporary graves in Ferikoy Latin RC cemetery so no memorials exist. Occupants of temporary graves are usually transferred to a common ossuary within the cemetery after a certain number of years so they are still there somewhere.

Andrea Callus’s funeral card 1898 c/o Moira McGrother.


Marie Ann Callus’s funeral card 1908 c/o Moira McGrother.



My thanks to Francis and Irina Osborn for their initial searches in S.S. Peter & Paul parish records, Moira McGrother and Esmé Clutterbuck for family documents and photos,  Marie Ann Marandet for multiple parish record searches.


1 L’Indicateur Oriental Annuaire du Commerce (various eds. 1868-95). SALT Galata, Research at http://saltresearch.org/primo_library/libweb/action/search.do?vid=salt&dscnt=0&dstmp=1521833686969&backFromPreferences=true

2 Glamorgan County Records Office, Cardiff. Website: https://glamarchives.gov.uk/

3 An account of the grounds and care regime at the Bridgend County Asylum (Angelton/Glan Rhyd) https://hchroniclesblog.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/bridgend-asylums-south-wales/

4 The National Archives – Foreign Office (1917), Turkey: Prisoners of War and Aliens Dept: General Correspondence from 1906, Ref. FO 383/344.


Polish Exiles in Istanbul: Living with the Levantines

Polish Exiles in Istanbul: Living with the Levantines

In this third chapter on my Great Great Grandfather Theodore Puchalski’s revolutionary adventures, I focus on his final exile to Istanbul in the Ottoman Empire. Theodore arrived in Istanbul around 1850 and spent the rest of his life there. Although very little documentary evidence about him survives, his life can to some extent be re-imagined through the evidence of other Polish exiles and the events that took place which he would have been a part of.

Arrival in Istanbul

Many of the Poles exiled in France from the 1830-31 revolt took up arms again in 1848 when a tide of Revolts swept across Europe, fighting in campaigns in Italy, Austria and Hungary. We do not know for certain which Theodore joined, except that the vast majority of refugees who ended up in Turkey, were participants of the Hungarian Revolution.

Michał Czajkowski aka Sadyk Pasha. Public domain.

Although initially a refuge, for many Turkey became a permanent home due to its proximity to their main enemy, Russia, and potential further opportunities to make incursions to restore the state of Poland in the future. The Polish government in exile, Hotel Lambert in Paris, did nothing to discourage this and had in fact established the Agency of the Polish Eastern Mission (Agencja Główna Misji  Wschodniej) in Istanbul, headed up by Michał Czajkowski (aka Mehmed Sadik Pasha) to organise the Poles and liaise between Paris and the Sublime Porte (i.e. Ottoman government administration in Istanbul). Michał Czajkowski was the principle negotiator in the purchase of land for the establishment of the Polish colony of Polonezkoy in 1842 and he also established an Ottoman Cossack military unit which saw some action in the Balkans during the Crimean War.


Ottoman Cossacks at Shumla 1854 with Sadyk Pasha

In 1850, Czajkowski was a key figure in securing the transfer of Polish refugees to Istanbul from the camp at Shumla in Bulgaria. He and his wife used their house in Cihangir as a receiving centre for the new polish emigrés, acting as a go between for them and the Sublime Porte. Theodore is not listed in the census of Polish refugees in Istanbul which was sent to the Sublime Porte  in March 18501, so he probably arrived a little later.

Polish Life in Pera

Arriving in the European part of the city, Theodore would have found himself living in a real melting pot of different nationalities, religions and cultures. Paulina Dominik’s review of polish emigré experiences in Istanbul2  provides a detailed account of the Polish community that emerged.  Their arrival marked a massive influx on the local Levantine population which was dominated by French and Italian communities. The number of exiles was estimated to be as high as 7000 in the 1850s. However the Turks tended to see all Hungarians, Slavs, Dalmatians, Romanians and Poles etc as one homogeneous group so the actual number of Poles may have been much lower.

Many of them settled in the Pera district (now Beyoğlu) in an area that became known as leh mahallesi (Polish neighbourhood) which formed around the side street Leh Sokagi (Polish Street or Rue de Pologne, now called Nur-i-Ziya) which was just off the Grand Rue de Pera (now Istiklal Kaddesi). This street used to house the Polish legation to the Sublime Porte and later a recruiting office for Poles signing up for the Russo-Ottoman War in 1877. None of these buildings survive today but the street is still there.

Wooden houses typical of Istanbul. Stéphane Passet 1912.

The emigrés also settled in a number of other districts including Tatavla and Yeni Sehir (now Kurtulus) and the village of Bebek on the Bosphorus which was considered a little Polish colony. Here they built their wooden houses in the Polish style. A few also went to the already established Polish community of Polonezkoy about 15km outside the city.

The Polish community were real nationalists and liked to congregate in Polish bars and cafes such as the Bulbul cafe on Grande Rue de Pera and the family homes of compatriots. Here they would listen to poetry recitals, lectures on Polish literature or discuss politics.

Notre Dame de Lourdes (The Georgian church).

They were mostly Roman Catholic. The churches they frequented included St Antony of Padua on the Grande Rue de Pera, which was also popular with the Italian community, the St Esprit Cathedral, situated around Pangalti/Sisli (the composer Donizetti is buried there), and the Georgian church of Notre Dame de Lourdes, also in the Sisli district north of Taksim Square. The first record found for Theodore in 1853 comes from the church of St Mary Draperis, also on Grande Rue de Pera which suggests he lived in Leh Mahallesi neighbourhood. A few years later family records appear in the St Esprit Cathedral in Sisli/Pangalti.

Click on the icons in the map below for the location of some of these Polish haunts.

There was little social contact between the Poles and their Turkish hosts. The Poles were grateful for the support they received from the Turks and saw them as allies, but had no desire for assimilation. A small number of army officers from the Polish campaigns had converted to Islam in order to protect themselves from extradition and probable execution including Michał Czajkowski. The Sultan encouraged this further by offering them lucrative positions in the Ottoman army, the administration and the major industries but it was very unpopular with the rank and file Polish who regarded this as apostasy and a betrayal of their nationalist cause.

The Poles did however successfully integrate with their Levantine neighbours, through their shared Catholicism and political interests. For instance like Theodore, many of the Poles  had lived in exile in France or fought alongside Italians during the 1848 Revolts so were familiar with their languages and traditions too. Marriages between these communities was not uncommon as exemplified by Theodore’s own marriage around 1852-3.

A New Life and Family in Istanbul

Theodore married Angela Ainis (aka Ainisi) who came from Messina in Sicily. She was very young at around 15 years old while he was about 41. The marriage record has not been found but it is assumed from other records that it took place in Istanbul.

So what was Angela doing in Istanbul and how did she get there? The name Ainis turns out to be quite rare and is almost entirely confined to Sicily, specifically around Messina, apart from a few families in Northern Italy and the USA and a small concentration found also in Indonesia! There are civil records online for Messina3 which so far have turned up three birth records for Angela Ainis/Ainissi in Messina, that tally with dates and her age as recorded on her death register. These are:

  1. Angela born 18 February 1836 to Domenico Ainis and Nicoletta Allegra.
  2. Angela born 20 September 1837 to Giuseppe Ainis and Santa de Francesco, occupation trafficante (translates as dealer). At least one child from this family emigrated to the USA. It seems unlikely family members would migrate in opposite directions.
  3. Angela born 27 September 1837 to Rosario Ainis and Emilia Nascio, occupation proprietor (property or business owner).

So, one possibility is that she was the daughter of a family who migrated and became Levantine traders. There was a major industrialist in Messina called Gaetano Ainis, born 1840. According to the Italian National Biography4, he ran a very large textile business, established in the 1830s by his father, with trade links in the Middle East, but at this stage it is impossible to say if there is any connection to the families above.

Another possibility is that her parents joined the 1848 Revolts and also ended up as refugees in Turkey. One of the first of the 1848 Revolts took place in Sicily and particularly focused around Palermo and Messina. As was observed in my last post however, the Italian refugees were largely dispersed to Gallipoli.

I have commented before on the great age disparities seen in marriages of this period which often amounted to contractual arrangements between families.  By modern and particularly western standards, the very young age at which girls were married off would be considered completely inappropriate, but in those days women and children had the status of “chattels” or property and their own wishes and desires were completely subordinate to the patriarch of the family. Their options were very constrained and their financial security was precarious. The circumstances around Theodore and Angela’s marriage are a mystery. It seems unlikely that this was a marriage for love, but was it for status or protection? What perhaps it does tell us is that Theodore had managed to establish himself as a reasonable prospect by 1853. Many of the refugees had nothing more than the clothes they stood up in when they arrived in Istanbul. A man could not expect to find himself a wife unless he had a means of supporting her.

Theodore and Angela went on to have four children:-

St Mary Draperis in Pera where Christina and Leonard were baptised. Photo: Jude Mulcahy

Christina Josephine (my Great Grandmother) was born 9 December 1853. She was baptised on 22 January 1854 at the church of St Mary Draperis in Pera, Istanbul. Her Godparents were Jozef Ratynski and Regina Ozerski.

Sophia (known as Sophie) born 21 July 1857, baptised 9 August 1857  at St Esprit Cathedral. Her Godfather was Joannes (John) Lizorksi or Zicorski and Godmother Zofia Ratynski (nee Gorcynska, Jozef’s wife).

Maria (known as Marie) born 31 July 1860, baptised 11 November 1860 also at St Esprit Cathedral. Her Godparents were Charles and Maria Theobald.

Leonard Roman born 10 February 1867, baptised 24 February at St Mary Draperis. His Godfather was Placido Ainis (possibly a brother, uncle or cousin of Angela) and his Godmother was his eldest sister, Christina.

By all accounts, the family life of the Puchalskis was for many years quite comfortable. My grandma passed down  stories of hunting trips and picnics in the forest which she thought had taken place in Poland but must actually have been in the Belgrade Forest north of Istanbul or around the wooded farmlands of Polonezkoy.

The children appear to have been well educated with all three girls able to read, write and draw fluently, to sew and to play musical instruments. A photo survives somewhere of Christina with a violin while an old letter talks of Marie playing the harp. As was typical of the Levantine families in the eastern Mediterranean, Christina and her siblings spoke several languages. This was of course an absolute necessity when your mother is Italian, your father Polish, and your community French-speaking. It’s believed Christina also spoke Russian. The language she spoke least well was English!

The Ratynski Connection

Jozef and Zofia Ratynski, Godparents to Christina and Sophia Puchalski. Photo c/o G. Buldrini.

The presence of Jozef and Zofia Ratynski as godparents to two of the children is significant and very interesting. Jozef was another Polish refugee from the Hungarian Revolt who became a prominent and very wealthy entrepreneur and member of the Polish establishment in Istanbul, sufficient to warrant an entry in the 47 volume Polish National Biography5. A key question is whether he was chosen to be a godparent as a family friend or as a patron. Often families would ask a parish priest, doctor or a community leader to be a godparent as a sort of insurance policy for the child.

My feeling is that Jozef was a family friend because he and Theodore seem to have had a few more things in common than just their nationality. Jozef was born in Kamieniec Podolski (then part of Greater Poland, now Kamianets-Podilskyi, Ukraine).  According to one family member (Frank Calleja b.1892), the Puchalskis originally came from the Kiev area, also part of Ukraine on the border with Galicia. He and Theodore both started out in Istanbul as woodworkers, Jozef was a carpenter and Theodore was a cabinet maker. These were valuable skills when they arrived because Polish (and Ottoman) houses were always built in wood and the Polish community had to set to work to build their own communities.

As an example, in 1861, the Georgian church, Notre Dame de Lourdes, was built in the Feriköy/Sisli district of Istanbul. Jozef Ratynski is known to have designed and made the altar piece which includes an image of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa which was paid for by the Polish community (Dominik).

Carving of the Madonna of Czestochowa in the Georgian Catholic Church by Ratynski. Source. A Georgian Church in Istanbul

In an interesting blog about this church its author questioned what a Polish altar piece was doing in a Georgian church and this provides the answer!

Henryk Groppler (1822-87).

Jozef Ratynski soon moved on from carpentry. He went to work for another Polish emigré called Henryk Groppler. Now Groppler had a house in Bebek that like Michał Czajkowski’s, also acted as a receiving house for new Polish arrivals. It was also renowned as one of the cultural meeting places for Polish recitals and debates. It seems likely therefore that if Theodore knew Ratynski, he must also have come into contact with Groppler, perhaps in the early days of settlement.  Groppler was a watchmaker and jeweller by trade but he and Ratynski branched out and became co-owners of a marble mine in Bandirma, exporting across the Mediterranean. They both became extremely rich to the extent that they were able to buy their own fleet of ships! When eventually the marble trade went into decline, they moved on to mining gypsum.

Polish Politics in Istanbul

Although we have no further documentary evidence on Theodore’s life in Istanbul, an enduring family legend has been that his involvement in the Polish revolts led to him leaving his children in an orphanage for safe keeping. As we can now be fairly sure that Theodore was involved in the two Revolts (1831 and 1848) that took place before any of his children were born, we can safely assume his interest in Polish politics did not disappear when he settled in Istanbul and it is indeed likely that he participated in some way in the later actions.

Crimean War

Adam Mickiewicz 1842. Public domain.

In 1853-56 during the Crimean war, the Polish national poet, political activist and all round national Polish hero Adam Mickiewicz arrived in Istanbul to meet with Michał Czajkowski. His mission was to recruit Poles in support of the Ottomans against Russia. The bigger picture was to remove Russia from Crimea and then move on to reclaim Poland. Consequently Mickiewicz visited and spoke at many of the Polish cultural haunts and would have been a massive draw for patriotic Poles. It seems highly likely Theodore would have attended one of these meetings and Ratynski and Groppler are certainly believed to have been involved. Did Theodore take up arms again, we don’t know? At that time, his wife was expecting their first child, my Great Grandmother Christina. Maybe on this occasion he provided support in some other capacity.

Unfortunately, on 26 November 1855, Mickiewicz succumbed to the latest cholera epidemic that had broken out in Istanbul and died. The Poles along with the wider Slav community in Istanbul were utterly devastated by the news. A letter from one of his friends describes the scene of his funeral procession down to the port for his transportation back to France6 :

“A pair of oxen pulled a plain casket through the muddy streets of Beyoğlu. I assumed there would be nobody but us Poles taking part in the procession, but it wasn’t long before we understood how wrong I was. A teeming mass of mourners wearing black filed in behind us, covering the street. People from all nations were present, Serbians, Dalmatians, Montenegrians, Albanians, Italians, with Bulgarians in the majority. This was their way of showing respect for the genius of the Slavic poet.”

Temporary grave in Adam Mickiewicz house in Istanbul. Source: Darwinek

Years later Mickiewicz’s wooden house burned down. Groppler suggested building a memorial to the poet on the site but Ratynski was determined to go one better and built a stone replica of the original house. Some of Mickiewicz’s internal organs are buried in a tomb in the basement of the building. The house remained in the ownership of Ratynski’s descendants until very recently. In 1955 it was made into the Mickiewicz Museum and in the 1990s was bought by the Polish government7. Sadly, it has now permanently closed.

Mickiewicz’s house (1880) rebuilt in stone by Jozef Ratynski.

1863 January Rising

“The Battle” – Artur Grottger dedicated to the January Uprising. Public domain.

The January Uprising of 1863-4 was largely a guerilla campaign of Polish insurgents involving numerous small units of badly trained men from the artisan, lower gentry and intelligentsia.  It emerged in the lands of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as a reaction to greater Russification and suppression of Polish culture culminating in a law forcing conscription of all young men into the Russian army. The Uprising involved around 1200 battles and skirmishes against a standing Russian army of around 300,000.

The leaders found some diplomatic support from the other Western powers but nothing in the way of concrete financial or military help. However in Istanbul, many members of the Polish diaspora did try to help. It was this conflict that I think gave rise to the family legend that Theodore had his young children placed in an orphanage in order for him to return and fight for his country. His compatriot Ratynski was involved in securing munitions and helped to organise a unit to return to Poland. This contingent left Istanbul in 1863 and got as far as Moldova before being beaten back. We just do not know if Theodore was actually part of this action but it is interesting to note that Christina and Sophie would have been 10 and 6 years old respectively while Marie was just a toddler. The story has come down Christina’s line but not Marie’s but she would have been just too young to have any memory of this. As it happens there are no records for any of the children being placed in an orphanage at this time so it appears this story has been mixed up with other unrelated events that happened later on.

The revolt in Poland was completely defeated in 1864 and once again led to massive and very harsh reprisals against insurgents causing a fresh wave of refugees to flood into Istanbul.

Russo-Ottoman War

The last conflict involving the Poles was the Russo Ottoman War of 1877-78 in which the Ottomans were soundly beaten. It seems unlikely that Theodore took any role in this as he was by this time quite elderly. The failure of this campaign and waning support from the Ottoman regime however caused many Poles to give up all hope in further insurrections and become completely resigned to the terminal loss of their homeland.

Final Years

The loss of hope in the Polish national cause seems to have coincided with a decline in the Puchalski’s domestic fortunes, as the family sadly fell apart and into penury.

Angela died aged just 36 in Sept 1873, cause unknown. She was buried in a “temporary” grave in the Ferikoy Latin RC Cemetery, so the family clearly did not have any money to buy a plot and perhaps Theodore was unable to work or make enough to make ends meet.

Christina age 21 (1874)

At this time, Christina was working as a dress designer and living above the shop at Madame Demilleville’s, 303, Grande Rue de Pera. Her sister Sophie was 16 so may have worked there too but she was soon to marry (in February 1874 to a Frenchman, Jean-Baptiste Burguy).

This left their 61 year old father with Marie age 13, who had lifelong eyesight problems and was possibly blind, and 6 year old Leonard.  My Great Grandfather Henri Callus had been ‘courting’ Christina around this time, but years passed and by the age of 30 people must have long considered her “left on the shelf”. It is now clear that this was because she had a duty as the eldest child, to look after her father.

St Joseph’s Orphelinat entrance on Boğazkesen (Throat slitter Street)! Istanbul.


In July 1874, Marie was placed in the St Joseph’s orphanage on Boğazkesen Caddesi where she was to remain until March 1876. Her brother Leonard was known throughout his adult life as Leonard Brossart, which makes me suspect that he may have been fostered out or even adopted by another family.


St Joseph’s Orphelinat (now The Secret Garden). Photo: Jude Mulcahy

In the early 1880s scandal rocked the family.  Marie was given an eye operation by a very famous ophthalmologist of international repute and standing called Dr Edwin van Millingen. This took place at the St Joseph’s orphanage where perhaps she had gone back to work. In the old fashioned sense of the word, he seduced her and she became pregnant. Marie’s baby called Mary, was born in Graz in Austria in June 1880. As Edwin had done his medical training in Vienna he must have sent her there for her confinement as Marie would certainly not have had the means to do so on her own. Inevitably, when she returned with the baby the truth got out.

It must have been a huge scandal at the time, as for one, Edwin was already married and for two, he resolutely refused to give her up despite the class divide and the approbation of his family and society at large.  He must have set her up in another house because in 1882, they had a second child together, which they called Edwin. It seems (in what must have been quite a rare state of affairs), the seducer did not abandon his quarry because he was in fact madly in love with her. (Her grand daughter Cora told me she also happened to be incredibly beautiful)!

Meanwhile Sophie was abandoned by her husband who went to live in Marseille, presumably with another woman, leaving her with 2 young children to feed on her own and no income. So she found work in the Pera district as a seamstress and “modiste” (bonnet maker).

Both situations must have been very hard for Theodore to take and it seems likely led to estrangement from his youngest daughter. He died in 1882 aged 70 and was also interred in a temporary grave in Ferikoy cemetery.

In 1884 the law in France was changed to allow divorce and Sophie immediately instigated it. The same month her divorce came through, Christina was finally able to marry Henri at the church of St Peter and St Paul in Galata. Unusually the marriage is also registered with the church of St Anthony of Padua and when the couple moved to Cardiff in the UK the following year, they registered the marriage again with the British Registry Office. It seems they were determined to ensure that no impediment would be allowed to separate them again.  Finally in December 1884, Edwin’s Austrian wife Johanna died and just 10 days later, he married Marie (with their third child on the way)!

So what to make of my revolutionary forebear?  It is puzzling that his children did not provide a decent burial although of course it may be that it was genuinely beyond their means. Or it may be that they found their father hard to love – a romantic idealist forever looking back to an imagined golden age and wishing for a future that could never be realised? Such people can be hard to live with; uncompromising in their goals, inflexible and dogmatic in their values and beliefs. Maybe they felt as a family they had already sacrificed enough. Can it be a coincidence that all the children changed their surnames to a Frenchified version – Pouhalski/y apart from Leonard whose name changed to Brossart (also French)! Surely something that Theodore the patriot could not possibly have tolerated in his lifetime?!

Ultimately though I feel rather sad that Theodore and Angela ended up in pauper graves. Theodore was one of many exiles who took big risks, traveled enormous distances across Europe and made great sacrifices for the Polish cause yet died penniless and in obscurity, far from his beloved homeland.  I hope therefore that my retelling of this story will serve as a way of providing some recognition for his and his compatriots’ efforts.


I would like to thank the very long list of individuals who have helped me with this research including: Guido Buldrini, Marie Ann Marandet, Craig Encer, Andrew and Armina Callus, Judith Mulcahy, Archives of St Vincent de Paul & the Sisters of Chariteé in Paris, Paulina Dominik, Beata Page, Magda Glodek at the Bibliotheque Polonaise Paris, members of the Citi-data Forum.


1 List of Polish Refugees sent to the Sublime Porte, March 1850, Archives of the National Ossoliński Institute in Wroclaw, AZNiO 6514/I.

2Dominik, P. (2015), From the Polish Times of Pera: Late Ottoman Istanbul through the Lens of Polish Emigration. History Takes Place: Istanbul. Dynamics of Urban Change, (eds.) Anna Hofmann & Ayşe Öncü, Jovis Verlag, GmbH, 2015, 92-103.

3Civil Record Archives for Messina at: Antenati – Gli Archivi per la Ricerca Anagrafica

4Italian National Biography at: http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/gaetano-ainis_(Dizionario-Biografico)/

5Polski Slownik Biograficzny (volumes 30 and 34).

A Georgian Church in Istanbul at: https://georgiasomethingyouknowwhatever.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/a-georgian-catholic-church-in-istanbul/

Letter excerpt from T.T. Jez at https://humaozay.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/adam-mickiewicz.html

7 http://poloniaottomanica.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/polish-seyfeddin-istanbul-tribune-des.html

More maps of Polish Istanbul at: http://polskistambul.blogspot.co.uk/ (English language version no longer available).

The Forty-eighters: Polish Exiles and the Spring of Nations

The Forty-eighters: Polish Exiles and the Spring of Nations

Welcome to the latest instalment of my family history exploring my Polish roots dating back to the late eighteenth century.  My last post started with my Great Great Great Grandfather Theodore Puchalski (born c. 1780s in Poland), in the Polish Partition and Napoleonic eras, then described what happened to his son, also called Theodore (b. about 1812) after the 1830-1 November Uprising and his exile to France. In this post I will explore Theodore II’s possible role in the 1848 Revolutions and how he ended up moving to Istanbul in the Ottoman Empire.

Background to the 1848 Revolts

In the year 1848, a number of revolutions known as the ‘Spring of Nations’ swept across Europe. The first was in Sicily, centred around Palermo and Messina, and made Sicily an independent state for 16 months until it was retaken by the royalists. France followed with demonstrations in Paris which resulted in the abdication of King Louis Phillippe in favour of the Second Republic (Gessner, 1998). These successes inspired nationalist uprisings seeking constitutional change further afield; in Italy, Germany (Prussia), the Austrian Empire which included Hungary and parts of what was formerly Greater Poland (Galicia, Belarus, Ruthenia, Ukraine). To a more limited extent, the revolutions spread to parts of Scandinavia, the Netherlands, the UK (in the form of Chartism) and even to parts of Latin America. The revolutionaries became a cause célèbre across Europe and participants became known as”Forty-eighters”.

Map 1848 Revolutions. Source: ThingLink

Map 1848 Revolutions. Source: ThingLink

Poland as a sovereign nation had ceased to exist by this time, having been absorbed between the 3 major powers of Russia, Prussia and the Habsberg Austrian Empire after the Congress of Vienna in 1815. After the failed Polish Revolt of 1830, thousands of Poles were living in exile, the majority in France (many also in the UK), where they continued to agitate for reinstatement of their homeland through their government in exile, directed from the Hôtel Lambert in Paris.

The Polish exiles were grateful for their refuge in France but typical of refugees’ experience the world over, they were treated with a degree of suspicion and distrust by the authorities and the communities they lived in. Some of the anxiety was, not unreasonably, because there was concern that their political activism might spread and precipitate a further revolution in France.  When revolts started spreading outside of France therefore, the French authorities strongly encouraged the exiles to join up.

In 1837 my Great Great Grandfather, Theodore Puchalski, was one of those Polish exiles living in France at Troyes, about 93 miles south east of Paris, but by 1853, he was living in Istanbul in Turkey, then part of the Ottoman Empire. It is clear therefore that he was one of those who responded to the call to arms. What his life had been like in the intervening years is not known. He was certainly not a professional soldier at the time of the 1830 Revolt, family legend claims he was from the Polish nobility but later documents reveal him to have been a cabinet maker. As he was about 18 years old at the time of the 1830 Revolt, he may have completed an apprenticeship by then or it may be that this was something he took up on his arrival in France in order to start afresh. In 1848, he would have been about 36 years old.


Houses in Troyes, Aube. Source: Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Which Action?

The exiles in France could have joined any number of different campaigns across Europe so trying to work out which one Theodore was involved in and also proving it, is quite a challenge.

The exiles took  their lead from Hôtel Lambert in Paris. For instance, in March 1848, a Polish legion of about 500 men was formed in Rome on the initiative of the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz who also recruited volunteers in Paris. Its aim was the liberation of the Italian people from Austrian (Habsberg) rule (Ref: Wikipedia-Mickiewicz Legion). This detachment of Polish exiles was led by Mikolaj Kaminski.

Another campaign took place in Prussia, where the exiles from France joined the Greater Poland Uprising in Berlin with their leader, Prince Adam Czatoryski.

There was also  a revolt in Austria. The Polish General Jozef Bem was despatched to Vienna in Oct 1848 with a contingent of Polish volunteers from France and arrived just in time to take charge as insurgent forces took up arms against the city. They held out for just a few weeks before the Imperial army surrounded the city and forced their surrender (Gessner, 1998).

My research has revealed however that the vast majority of Poles who arrived in the Ottoman Empire in 1849/50, were those that took part in the Hungarian Revolution.  This is further suggested by church records in Istanbul that reveal Theodore was a close friend or associate of a fellow Polish exile, Jozef Ratynski, who is known to have been a participant in this campaign.

The Hungarian Revolution 1848-9

Lajos Kossuth, President Hungarian Republic. Public Domain.

Lajos Kossuth, President Hungarian Republic. Public Domain.

In 1848, the Kingdom of Hungary was part of the Austrian Empire but had its own parliament, the ‘Diet of Hungary’, and largely  managed its own administration. However liberal idealists drew attention to many of the inequalities in Hungarian society and called for democratic parliamentary representation, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and association, religious freedom, equality in law and taxation, and the abolition of serfdom and other feudal land rights which privileged the nobility and exempted them from taxation. They also called for Transylvania to be reinstated as part of Hungary, an objective not supported by the majority of Romanians who wanted proportional representation and so sided with Austria.

The Revolution was led by Lajos Kossuth, who secured much support in Vienna where he gave a speech shortly after the Paris uprising.   Many of the Polish exiles were drawn to supporting the Hungarian Revolution due to the historical ties that existed between the two nations but also by the fact that the Revolution was directed at two of Poland’s historical adversaries, the Austrians and their supporters, the Russians.

The Polish Legions and the Transylvanian Campaign

Jozef Wysocki by Karoly Rusz. Public Domain.

Jozef Wysocki by Karoly Rusz. Public Domain.

In 1848 two Polish legions were established in Hungary under the command of Generals Jozef Wysocki and Jozef Bem. General Jozef Wysocki published a memoire of the Hungarian campaign in 1850, a copy of which is kept at the British Library and is a public domain publication. Although it seems to be only available in Polish, (which means sadly I cannot read it), it lists over 700 Polish officers, soldiers and civilians who made up his Legion. Theodore Puchalski and Jozef Ratynski are not listed which seems to reinforce the likelihood that these two fought under General Jozef Bem instead.


General Jozef Bem (aka Murad Paşa/Pasha.

General Jozef Bem (aka Murad Paşa/Pasha.

Jozef Bem was born 1794 in Galicia, Poland. He was rather a small man, but he was considered a very charismatic leader. He was educated at the Warsaw military school and joined the Polish division of the French forces.  A veteran of Napoleon’’s Grand Armée, he was awarded the Legion d’honneur in 1813 for his role in the defence of Danzig (Gdansk). He  took part in the 1830 Uprising and escaped to France where he was  a key player in the activities of the Hôtel Lambert. He was also was a mathematician, teacher and an engineer interested in research, and published works on history, technology and the military.

In 1848, after escaping from Vienna, Bem was put in charge of the Hungarian Székely forces in Transylvania. The reintegration of Transylvania as an autonomous region of Hungary was a key objective of the Hungarian Revolution and the Székely were an ethnic sub-group of Hungarians living in Romania who strongly supported this (Encyclopedia at Theodora.com).  This campaign in Transylvania was supplemented by Polish and Italian volunteers.

Although frequently heavily outnumbered, Bem’s forces had some notable victories and recovered Transylvania for Hungary in February 1849. After relieving Transylvania he successfully attacked the Austrian forces in the Southern Banat region around Orşova, but had to return to try to take back Transylvania when Russian reinforcements arrived there. Fierce fighting continued through the summer, but by the end of July his army was annihilated by overwhelming numbers in the Battle of Segesvár (near Segesvár, now Sighişoara, Romania), Bem escaping only by feigning death (Encyclopedia Britannica).

Battle of Segesvar, 1849.

Battle of Segesvár, 1849 by László Bellony. Public Domain.

The Revolution was failing elsewhere too. There was an attempt to consolidate all the Hungarian forces for a final push in August, which failed due to the incompetence of the commander in chief, General Dembinski, who was relieved of his command as a consequence (Szabó, 1999). He was replaced by Bem.

Battle of Temesvár 1849. Lithograph. Public Domain.

Battle of Temesvár 1849. Lithograph. Public Domain.

The last major engagement of the Revolution took part at the Battle of Temesvár (now Timişoara, Romania), on August 9.  When Bem was injured falling from his horse, there was no-one left to take overall command and they were defeated. At this point some soldiers deserted and decided to return home. The Hungarians formally surrendered on 13 August 1849 at Világos in Romania.

Surrender at Vilagos 1849.

Surrender at Világos 1849. Painter unknown. Public Domain.

According to János Szabó, defeat was followed by a large-scale and brutal put down of the Hungarian rebels by the Austrians, whose commander in chief von Haynau declared:

“I shall uproot the weed. I shall set an example to the whole of Europe of how rebels should be treated and how order, peace and tranquillity should be ensured for a century.”

The retribution started with the execution of Hungary’s former first prime minister, Batthyány, who died before a firing squad on October 6 and the hanging of 13 Hungarian Generals. On Haynau’s orders, more than 100 people were executed, 1,200 Imperial officers fighting on the Hungarian side were sentenced to imprisonment, and an additional 40,000 to 50,000 officers and soldiers were drafted into the Imperial army.

Execution of the Hungarian Generals (update titles)

Execution of the Martyrs of Arad by János Thorma. Public Domain.

The Fate of the Refugees

The majority of the defeated rebels fled south as a single unit, crossing the Danube to reach the border of the Ottoman Empire around the end of August. Among them was General Bem, who although seriously wounded,  managed to escape with his officers.  There, about 5000 of the remaining forces, which included Hungarians, Italians and around 1000 Polish volunteers, were offered asylum by the Turks. Lajos Kossuth, the Hungarian Revolution’s leader escaped on 17th August by a different route but was picked up and escorted to the same camp by the Turkish troops (Csorba, 2002).

On arriving at the border, the fleeing soldiers were met by Ottoman soldiers and officials who asked them to hand over their horses and weapons. A number of memoirs describe this as a traumatic experience even though the Turks promised that they would be returned. For many this added to the humiliation of surrendering to the enemy and also deprived them of their only possessions.  They were interned in a camp in Vidin in Bulgaria while it was decided what to do with them. A number of camp followers including the wives and children of soldiers also made it to the camp and others trickled over the border in the weeks that followed the surrender. They received preferential treatment in the allocation of tents and provisions (Toth, 2014).

However conditions in the camp were terrible. Many soldiers were destitute and for much of the time were cold and hungry. Cholera broke out and many died of this or other disease (Csorba estimates as many as 400-600). The camp was strictly guarded and only the higher ranked officers and civilians were allowed to enter the town of Vidin for any kind of respite. The rest had to spend their time kicking their heels or playing cards (Toth, 2014). About 50 Hungarians tried to escape but were recaptured and brought back. When threatened with court martial for desertion they replied:

“We left, as it were, because we preferred to be shot to death at home rather than die here of hunger, cold or the cholera.” (Veress, quoted in Toth, 2014).

Negotiations with the Austrians and Russians were tense and protracted but it was eventually agreed that the rank and file could return to Austria on condition that the men were conscripted into the Austrian army. On 21 October, about 3156 Hungarian, Polish and Italian soldiers returned home under the Austrian terms (Csorba, 2002).

Apostasy – the Islamic Conversions

An amnesty for General Bem and his officers was however definitely not on the cards. The Austrians demanded their extradition and if they had got their way, then these men would almost certainly have been tried and executed for treason. Instead under international rules, if they converted to Islam and assumed Turkish citizenship they could not be returned.  In all, around 250 refugees took this step including 216 Hungarians, 7 Polish and 15 Italian. They included Bem who took the name Murad Pasha and around 15 women who were camp followers (Csorba, 2002).

The Polish community was strictly Roman Catholic and the decision of some refugees to convert to Islam was not received favourably by their countrymen, at home or abroad, for whom such an action was beyond the pale. It was also seen as a denial of their Polish identity. Many of the converts were derided and ostracised thereafter. General Wysocki forbade any of his soldiers from converting saying it would stain Polish honour for generations to come (Dominik, 2015).

As it happened, the Sultan advised the converts that they would be free to convert back to Christianity in due course but in practice few did because in return, the Turks gave them lucrative positions in the Ottoman military and administration. Jozef Bem was made a Pasha and given the Governorship of Aleppo. He died there of malaria in 1850 but was eventually buried in his birthplace of Tarnow in Galicia.

Moving On: Exile and Settlement

In early November 1849 the remaining Polish and Hungarian refugees were moved from Vidin to Shumla (Shumen, in Bulgaria), while the Italians were transferred to Gallipoli.

Eventually, it was agreed to settle the Hungarians in the Turkish interior where they could not easily make their way back to the Russian and Austrian borders. They were sent to Kutahya and Konya. One of Kossuth’s key concerns was that the Hungarian refugees should not be dispersed. Their revolution, like the Poles, had been one of national identity and culture as much as constitutional change and dispersal would have encouraged assimilation. He wanted to establish a Hungarian colony near Izmir like the one the Poles had established near Istanbul as Polonezkoy but this never came to pass. Kossuth and 50 of his comrades left Shumla in February 1850, arriving in Kutahya in April. Shortly after the American Congress invited them to the USA and about half left including Kossuth. Many also moved to the UK (ibid).

Meanwhile the remaining Poles were directed to leave the Ottoman Empire altogether. The majority of refugees however stayed in Shumla with support from the Ottoman Empire but others made their way to Istanbul. Some of these went to the small Polish colony of Polonezkoy or Adampol which had been established by Michał Czajkowski in 1842 with land bought by Prince Adam Czartoryski from the French Lazarists community near Istanbul.

In 1853 my Great Great Grandfather Theodore Puchalski turns up in the records in Istanbul as a Polish exile along with Jozef Ratynski.  It seem probable that both would have been interned at Vidin and Shumla and come to Istanbul via that route, although some soldiers may well have escaped individually or in small groups and made their own way inland. There is no record of either having lived at Polonezkoy.

So why did he not return to his homeland after an amnesty was offered, or return to France, his original place of refuge? I think the answer must be that many of the Polish exiles still clung to the hope that they might yet get another chance to fight and also many of those who had rebelled back in 1830 did not believe they would be safe returning home. The Ottoman Empire had had many run-ins with Russia and was much closer geographically to the disputed territories for those hoping to fight on. As for France, presumably Theodore did not have any dependents or ties there.


Csorba, György, (2002), Hungarian Emigrants of 1848-9 in the Ottoman Empire, Ankara.

Dominik, P. (2015), From the Polish Times of Pera: Late Ottoman Istanbul through the Lens of Polish Emigration. History Takes Place: Istanbul. Dynamics of Urban Change, (eds.) Anna Hofmann & Ayşe Öncü, Jovis Verlag, GmbH, 2015, 92-103.

Encyclopedia Britannica at https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jozef-Zachariasz-Bem

Encyclopedia at http://www.theodora.com/encyclopedia/b/josef_bem.html

Gessner, P.K. (1998), General Josef Bem: Polish and Hungarian Leader (1795-1850). Website: http://info-poland.buffalo.edu/classroom/bem.html

Szabó, János B. (1999), Hungary’s War of Independence. Military History, August 1999. (reproduced at History.net).

Letter: A E Callus to Frank Callus dated 11 June 1965, pp 1-6, c/o Mr A. Callus.

Tóth, Heléna (2014), An Exiled Generation: German and Hungarian Refugees of Revolution, 1848-1871, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 38-9.

Wysocki, J. (1850), Pamiętnik Jenerała W. dowodzcy Legionu Polskiego na Węgrzech z czasa Kampanii węgierskij w roku 1848 i 1849. British Library Historical Print Collections.