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  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

Encyclopedia at

Gessner, P.K. (1998), General Josef Bem: Polish and Hungarian Leader (1795-1850). Website:

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

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.



The Polish Partitions, Revolts and Great Migration – My ancestral odyssey

Flag of the Polish November Uprising. Source: Wikimedia Commons

This post is the first chapter in a series I plan to publish on my Polish ancestry. It is linked to my main Puchalski/Pouhalski page which provides an initial introduction and overview.

The true story of how my Polish ancestors ended up in Ottoman Constantinople in the mid 19th century, has long been an intriguing mystery. My family has always said that my Great Grandmother, Christina Callus nee Puchalski, (aka Pouhalski), was born in Poland but had to flee with her family to Constantinople (Istanbul), during the Polish Uprisings. It was also claimed that she and her two sisters and a brother, were placed in an orphanage so that her parents could return to continue the fight.  New information has recently come to light which finally places my family’s story within the historical context of Poland’s difficult and fiercely fought struggle for independence and its national identity. Once again, it seems that my family recollections are not without substance after all.

Our story begins with the Polish Partitions…

Background to the Partitions of Poland

“The Polish national movement had the longest pedigree, the best credentials. the greatest determination, the worst press, and the least success.”

(Norman Davies, 1996).

A weak constitution and a civil war in Poland in 1768 made the country vulnerable to attack by its neighbours, the powerful states of Russia, Prussia and the Habsburg Empire. In 1772, each moved into Poland to take over some of its territory in an act that became known as the First Partition.

Territorial Changes of Poland 1772 by Esemono - Own work, Public Domain, Link

Territorial Changes of Poland 1772 by Esemono – Own work, Public Domain, Link

Despite efforts in Poland to strengthen their constitution and defend the nation against further incursions, two further Partitions were made in the 1790s which completely absorbed Poland into its neighbour’s territories and extinguished Poland as a sovereign state, a position it was not able to reverse until the end of World War 1 (Online Encyclopedia Britannica).


Territorial Changes of Poland 1795 by Esemono - Own work, Public Domain, Link

Territorial Changes of Poland 1795 by Esemono – Own work, Public Domain, Link

In 1807, part of Poland briefly re-emerged when Napoleon Bonaparte created the Duchy of Warsaw as an independent Polish state out of the Prussian part of Poland. This became the focal point for nationalist efforts to restore Poland’s former boundaries.

Polish lancers of Napoleon by J. Chelminski. Source: Pinterest.

Napoleon’s Polish lancers by J. Chelminski. Source: Pinterest.

The Code Napoleon was adopted in Poland and the French model imposed for its constitution. The Poles started to pin their hopes on Napoleon for the restoration of their homeland. Many were fervent admirers and Polish troops some of his most loyal legions. In fact, the Poles are the only people in the world to sing about Bonaparte in their national anthem (Nieuwazny, A, 1998)!

There is a story in our family that one of our Puchalski ancestors was a Count who fought and died for Napoleon in one his Polish cavalry legions at the Battle of Waterloo! The most likely candidate would be Theodore Puchalski senior, the father of my Great Great Grandfather, Theodore Puchalski, born about 1812.

There was indeed a Polish officer at Waterloo called Puchalski but his first name was Joseph and he was the Inspector of Military Hospitals (The Army of Grand Duchy of Warsaw)!

Polish lancers bearing a captured standard

Polish lancers bearing a captured standard

However there is another potential candidate referred to just as “Capitaine Puchalski”, who in the 1807 Dirschau campaign (on the west bank of the Vistula) was awarded the Legion d’honneur (D. Chlapowski, 1908). This Puchalski was a member of the Polish legion under Dombrowski, who fought with Napoleon in his earliest campaigns in Italy. Dombrowski was one of Poland’s most famous generals and a cavalry expert.  It would be fantastic if it could be confirmed the Capitaine was Theodore but it needs further research!

Unfortunately for the Poles, when Napoleon’s campaign in Russia failed, their own fate was sealed. After Napoleon’s defeat, 8 of the major powers met at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 to decide how Napoleon’s conquests would be divided among them. (These were Russia, Prussia, Austria, Great Britain, France, Sweden, Spain and Portugal). It was eventually decided that the Russian and Prussian areas of Poland would be given up to create the Congress Kingdom of Poland which was to be a nominally autonomous kingdom under Tsar Alexander I of Russia. The Duchy of Warsaw was made a separate kingdom under the sovereignty of the Tsar.

The First Polish Revolt 1830-1

In July 1830, a popular Revolt broke out in Paris. Despite Napoleon’s downfall, Poles still regarded the French as their allies so when Tsar Nicholas I sought to help suppress the Revolt by using his Polish troops, a secret society of cadets in Warsaw staged an uprising and attempted to assassinate the Tsar’s brother, Grand Duke Constantine, who was their Commander in Chief. This was the beginning of the Polish revolt know as the November Uprising of 1830.

The cadets had only partial success but their actions inspired others and the rebellion extended across the former Congress Kingdom of Poland as far as Belarus and Ukraine. Unfortunately for them, although the much smaller contingent of about 40,000 Polish insurgents fought some brave battles (among them many civilians and even women), they did not manage to capitalise on their gains and eventually the superior might of Russia crushed the Revolt, culminating in an attack on Warsaw in September 1831 which caused the insurgents to retreat to Prussia and finally to surrender (Encyclopedia Britannica).

The Great Migration

Meeting of Polish exiles in Belgium c. 1830 xylograph. Public Domain.

Meeting of Polish exiles in Belgium c. 1830 Xylograph. Public Domain.

Thus began what is known in Poland as ‘The Great Migration’ which lasted between 1831-70.  Many exiles fled to the UK. As an interesting aside, Len Goodman, the celebrity judge on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, appeared on BBC1’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ genealogy programme in 2011 and found out that his Great Great Grandfather, Wincenty Sosnowski, was one of the anti-Tsarist Poles who took part in the 1830-1 uprising and ended up in the UK in 1834 after a year in a Prussian prison!  The vast majority of emigres however, made their way to France. In total, it has been estimated that 6000 Poles became political emigres between 1830-70 (Zubrzycki, J. Wikipedia).

Among these exiles was my Great Great Grandfather, Theodore Puchalski. The evidence for this is contained in an almanac published in Paris in 1837 by the Comte de Tabasz-Krosnowski. The Count produced this important document to bear witness to all the Poles forced into exile.  In his introduction he says:

“Several thousand Poles vegetate in exile.  One day history and posterity will send their names. Today even our compatriots left on the native soil want to know the names of those exiles who did not shrink from this sacrifice. To snatch, to forget these martyrs of the most holy cause, to offer their names to the esteem of the nations and to the hope of the country, is the goal which I proposed to myself by publishing this historic Almanach or Souvenir of Polish emigration which contains the list of Polanais spread abroad.  And, above all, in France, in that noble France, which, in the midst of our disasters, remembered its old friendship, and extended to us protective arms. The warriors of the empire will here find brothers in arms emulated by their glory. Twenty five years have triumphed for the same cause on the same battlefield. We also owe a deep gratitude to the other nations, all rivaled with zeal for goodwill in welcoming the Poles. The difficulties which I have had to overcome in the execution of this and the lack of official documents, it was necessary to have recourse to the Poles themselves, but several of them for personal reasons did not wish to appear on this list….”

Paris 3 May 1837. (Translation excerpt c/o Google Translate).

The almanac is arranged by name, place of birth (where known), rank, unit and the town exiled to. There are many individuals with no rank cited suggesting they were civilians, including Theodore. He was exiled to Troyes in the Aube/Champagne region of France along with 30-40 others.

How can I be certain this Theodore was my Theodore? In truth I cannot be categorical but the circumstantial evidence fits with the stories we have inherited. Previous researches I have commissioned from the Russian State Archives have found no other person of this name during this period, suggesting that while the surname may be common, the combined first name and surname are not.

A Government in Exile – Hôtel Lambert, Paris

Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski c. 1830. Public domain.

Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski c. 1830. Public domain.

The Polish government in exile was based in the Hôtel Lambert in Paris and was established by Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski, its leader, with embassies in London and Istanbul. The Hôtel Lambert was a grand mansion townhouse, on the Quai Anjou on the eastern tip of the Île Saint-Louis, in 4th arrondissement of Paris, bought by Czartoryski in 1843. The Hôtel Lambert’s political agenda was in support of the liberal democratic principles of the 3 May 1791 Polish-Lithuanian Constitution and keeping the plight of the Polish cause on the international stage. It also became a safe house for emigres and dissidents. 

Hôtel Lambert, Paris, by Tangopaso (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Hôtel Lambert, Paris, by Tangopaso (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Hôtel Lambert also created a centre for the preservation and promotion of Polish culture. Key figures among the emigres were Frédéric Chopin, Zygmunt Krasiński, Alphonse de Lamartine, George Sand, Honoré de Balzac, Hector Berlioz, Franz Liszt, Eugène Delacroix, and Adam Mickiewicz. In fact, Chopin’s “La Polonaise” was composed expressly for the Polish ball held there every year (Wikipedia-Hotel Lambert).

Ball at Hotel Lambert, Paris, with Chopin playing and Prince Czartoryski observing. Teofil Kwiatkowski [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ball at Hotel Lambert, Paris, with Chopin playing and Prince Czartoryski observing. Teofil Kwiatkowski [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Another important institution created by the exiles was the Polish Library in Paris. It was founded in 1838 and still exists today on the Quai d’Orleans, a short walk from the site of Hôtel Lambert. It also accommodates, next door, 3 small museums to Chopin, Mickiewicz and the sculptor Biegas. It houses over 145,000 books and many thousands of other important historical artefacts relating to Polish history and culture.

Polish Library, 8, Quai d'Orleans, Paris. By Cancre (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Polish Library, 8, Quai d’Orleans, Paris.
By Cancre (Own work) [GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

A Temporary Refuge

Many emigres such as Theodore did not stay in France. When in 1848, a series of revolutions swept across Western Europe, he and many of his compatriots, once again joined the cause in the hope that in the process, Russia, Prussia and Austria would be pushed back out of Poland and Polish national identity and culture restored. This will be the subject of my next post.

Further Information and References

Davies, N. (1997), Europe: a History, (New ed. 1997), Pimlico: London.

Nieuwazny, A. (1998), Napoleon and Polish Identity, in History Today, Vol. 48, Issue 5, 5 May 1998.

For an extensive and very good overview of Polish military history, this website is hard to beat:

Chlapowski, Desire,  Memoires sur les guerres de Napoleon 1806-1813. Traduits par M.M. Jan V. Chelminski et le Commandant A. Malibran. (3rd ed., 1908), Plons-Nourrit, Paris (N.B. This is a big file to download as it is the entire book in pdf, patience is needed as it can be slow)!

Diacono Family Tree c.1600-1800

Ragusa, Sicily. © V.A. Leeming

Ragusa, Sicily. © V.A. Leeming

My maternal ancestry from Marie Ann Callus nee Griscti goes back to a Sicilian baron from Ragusa known as Vincenzo Lo Iacono (the deacon) or Diacono. He moved to Malta c. 1600.  It is this pedigree that possibly gave rise to the notion that my Griscti ancestors believed they were descended from the Maltese nobility as the Baron was unlikely to have married into an untitled family.

For more information please visit my new page for Diacono/Lo Iacono which includes the family pedigree from Marie-Ann back to this Sicilian baron.

As an aside, fans of ‘Inspector Montalbano’ will recognise Ragusa as one of the settings for the TV series!

Genealogy Brick Walls – A Callus Family Tree Correction

©Janet Kelly - 2015

© Janet Kelly – 2015

I am taking down my post ‘Callus Family Trees – Malta 1686 – 1811’ due to an error I’ve made attaching the oldest parentage on the family tree. Happily this new post will provide an updated tree which I am  confident is correct.

From time to time every keen family historian will come up against a brick wall. How to get around it can be time consuming and frustrating. Sometimes it just means no more can be done until new records or leads become available and that may mean some time hence or even never. While it is essential to keep thinking laterally to try and find new connections, it is also tempting to sometimes make speculative leaps. The danger is in allowing these to be presented as certainties when they are anything but!

In my post ‘Callus Family Trees – Malta 1656 – 1811’, I fell into precisely this trap.  The oldest record found was a manuscript image of the marriage for Gregorio Callus and Maruzza Faruggia in 1688 in the parish of Zurrieq in Southern Malta (Archdiocese Malta Archives). Unfortunately the state of the manuscript, the illegible handwriting of the priest and the late medieval Latin abbreviations defeated me. I just could not decipher the names of the parents for Gregorio and Maruzza. Without these names, the ability to go back further generations was nigh on impossible. This was my brick wall!

So how did I then come to decide that Gregorio’s parents were Francesco Callus and Margarita Gristi? Well my “work around” the problem was to scan the baptism records for the parish of Zurrieq to identify any Gregorio Calluses between about 1640 – 70. I found only the one so made the leap of deciding that this must therefore be my man. The same logic could not work for Maruzza Farrugia, his bride. Both her first name and surname were SO common in the district, it was impossible to say which baptism might be hers.

Why then, you may ask, do I now think this approach was wrong?  Well, I had to return to the original marriage manuscript to see if the name of Francesco could be discerned in the record and at the time, thought that it could. On a later viewing though I detected a reference to a Joseph of Casal Crendi, (a little village on the outskirts of Zurrieq), and also the name Callus, which sowed a seed of doubt.  I think now the name I took to be Francesco was actually Farrugia!

I eventually decided I would have to try and get to grips with paleography techniques and archaic Latin terms (oh joy)! The National Archives website provides some useful tips on the paleography of different periods with lots of examples (The National Archives Paleography Tutorial).  I also used a couple of books for working through the Latin (Durie, 2009, and Stuart, 1995). These helped me to pick out a couple of possible leads for the parentage; Maruzza’s father appeared to be abbreviated to Gio Domencio Farrugia but her mother’s name remained undecipherable. Gregorio’s father did indeed appear to be Josephi Callus quondam of Crendi (now Qrendi). The Latin term quondam means the late or deceased.

Marriage 1688 of Gregorio Callus and Maruzza Farrugia, Zurrieq, Malta. With permission J. Massa.

Marriage 18 Sept 1688 of Gregorio Callus and Maruzza Farrugia, Zurrieq, Malta. Source: Josyanne Massa with permission.

My next source of help was a call-out to a French Yahoo Group – La Généalogie à Malte run by Josyanne Massa, to ask if anyone had access to any registers for the parish of Qrendi. Josyanne looked up Gregorio’s marriage from her own records first (i.e. the image reproduced above, which is clearer than the one at AMA), and then located him and his family in the census for Qrendi dating 1681. This showed Gregorio age 17 living with his father, Joseph, 69 and mother, Marietta, 58 in Qrendi. She also found a Will for Gregorio’s mother, Marietta, dated 1691 naming her children as heirs which then enabled me to spot one of Gregorio’s married sisters living next door to him in the census (Francesca)! This is genealogy at its best, being able to triangulate different pieces of evidence. The further back in time you go, the less likely such evidence survives.

Family of Gregorio Callus (Parents, siblings and children) 1690s.

Family of Gregorio Callus (Parents, siblings and children) 1690s.

A certain number of assumptions have had to be made in producing the chart above and there remain some queries to be reconciled with the records. These are outlined below.


Caterinella was the first child to be married (in 1660 to Lorenzo Gristi). Girls were married very young and as her own parents married in 1642, I have therefore assumed she was the first child born c. 1643 which would have made her about 17 when she married. However it appears her father Giuseppe, had a previous marriage to Catherina Bugeja in 1640, so although Caterinella’s marriage record states her parents were Giuseppe and Marietta, there remains a possibility that Marietta may have been her step-mother.

Bartolomea and Maltese Slavery Practices

There are some slight anomalies associated with another daughter, Bartolomea. In the 1691 will of Marietta, she is described as the widow of Battista Grech. However by 1691 she had already remarried Pietro Paolo Vella (in 1689). It may be that the Will was written before she remarried and the record date is the date of probate, I’m not sure.

An interesting note about her first husband is that on their marriage record he is recorded as being a baptised slave. The marriage (dated 18 Jan 1671) also records his name as Gio Battista Verrela not Grech. We do not know what his original religion was, but the likelihood is that he was a muslim as the Maltese were known to enslave any muslims they took captive on the high seas or during raids on the North African (Barbary) coast. However Jews were also taken into slavery and of course if Christians were captured by the Turks or North Africans, they could expect the same treatment!

The vast majority of slaves on Malta were male and were recruited to man the galleys of the Knights of St John. In 1632 there were 1284 galley slaves and 649 privately owned. Some slaves were employed as artisans in the manufacture of sail cloth, others to work as agricultural labourers. A survey commissioned by the Knights in 1645 found only 100 female slaves and these were mainly used for domestic service (P.Cassar, 1968).  The Knights were cautious to prevent insurrections so most slaves were locked up at night in one of a number of slave prisons. Private individuals were only allowed to keep one slave at home and these were not allowed out after sunset (G. Cini, 2002).

Slaves could expect brutal punishments for transgressions but might get slightly better treatment if they converted to Christianity, which many of them did. ‘Battista’ of course means ‘baptised’ (Jean Baptiste  and Gio Battista being popular christian names after John the Baptist).  If they were freed (a process called manumission), then they were also allowed to marry. Many would then take the name of their former owner or their Godfather, adding the prefix ‘de’ or ‘di’ which their descendants then tended to drop (S. Vassalo, Malta Genealogy). The name Verrela may have been his slave owner’s surname. In the records, freed slaves are often referred to as manumesso (m) or manumessa (f) but this is not the case for Battista which begs the question of whether he was actually free at this point. Slaves required special permission to marry and it would have been quite unusual to have married a free person and potentially very stigmatising to be married to a slave. Another possibility is that Battista was the son of a slave, which might have given him some expectation of being released. The appearance of a different name seems to suggest this, the choice of Grech, meaning Greek, being a very common Maltese surname, akin to Smith or Jones in the UK.  However just to complicate things even further, on Bartolomea’s second marriage, she is recorded as the widow of Carlo Battandi. This is rather curious. Was she remarried and widowed again between Battista’s death and her marriage to Pietro Vella? I cannot find another marriage record. What is known from the first marriage record is that Battista’s father was called Carlo, so it is possible this may also have been his own original first name and Battandi his original surname.  All of this is, of course, speculation and must therefore be treated with caution.


Now some observations concerning Francesca. She was aged 25 on the 1681 census for Qrendi, while her husband was 32 and her children, Aloisa aged 3 and Joseph, a few months. Yet she married Antonio Tabone only in October 1681! It seems unlikely that she would have had two children by him out of wedlock, so once again, it is possible that there had been a previous marriage with Antonio’s first wife dying in childbirth (but no record found). In those circumstances, widowers were often quite keen to remarry quickly to provide a step-mother for their children. While this might seem quite a surprising and perhaps an unappealing prospect to young women today, to be unmarried at the grand old age of 25 in 1681 was to be considered ‘left on the shelf’. Marriage was essential for any woman without independent means because it provided financial security for her future and gave her status in the community. In such a tiny place as Qrendi, Francesca probably already knew her husband very well and was only too happy to be asked.  However, Francesca left a will in 1692 naming her cousins on her mother’s side as her main heirs. This suggests that the children on the census may have predeceased her and she may have had no further children of her own.

Facade of Hagar Qim by Hamelin de Guettelet

Facade of Hagar Qim by Hamelin de Guettelet (Own work)

The Parish of Qrendi or Crendi

Finally, a note about Qrendi. It was originally part of the parish of Zurrieq but was made a separate parish in 1618. It is a tiny village, very close to the ancient neolithic temples of Hager Qim, which date back to around 3000 BC, and the Blue Grotto, a famous beauty spot in Malta. It is also noted for having a number of defensive towers built to provide some protection against barbary pirate attacks which were not infrequent.


Revised Callus Family Tree c.1600

With the corrections made above, I can now provide a new family tree chart for the Callus descendants of Gregorio’s parents Giuseppe and Marietta born c. 1612. This particular chart starts from Giuseppe born c.1612 and shows all his (known) descendants up to Andrea born 1811.


Maltese Callus Family Tree c. 1600-1800 (All relatives) Click on image to enlarge (opens in new window). Click again to zoom in.

For more information on the descendants of Gregorio, please visit my previous post:

From the Blue Sea I Took my Name’

How far back can the family be traced now?

Incredibly, I have now been able to trace back the Callus family tree to the time parish records began in Malta – the mid 1500s! This does represent quite a breakthrough as it is a rare thing for non-nobles to be able to go back so far.  I will not share the details just now but will make them the subject of a future post.

Unfortunately I was not so lucky with Marruzza Farrugia. Her father’s name has yet to be located in the records and her mother’s name remains a mystery. Without this and with such a common surname it will be very hard to be absolutely certain as to her parentage. If anyone reading this can make out the names from the image above, do please get in touch.

I would like to acknowledge my sincere gratitude to Josyanne Massa for all her help with this research.

Further information

Yahoo Groups – Malte Genealogie

The National Archives – Guide to Paleography

Cini, G. (2002), Horrible Torture in the Streets of Valletta, Times of Malta 10-06-2002

Cassar, P. (1968), A Medical Service for Slaves in Malta During the Rule of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. Med. Hist. 1968 July; 12 (3): 270-277.

Durie, B. (2009), Scottish Genealogy, The History Press, Stroud. (A useful general guide to genealogy not just Scottish).

Stuart, D. (1995), Latin for Local and Family Historians: a Beginner’s Guide, Phillimore, Chichester.

Malta Genealogy – Released Slaves in Malta and their Spouses, (6 Sept 2016).

Griscti Family Tree

Griscti Family Tree

Marie Anne Griscti’s family migrated from Malta to Smyrna and then Constantinople / Istanbul in Turkey, when she was a baby. To see my new page on the Griscti family tree for Marie Anne Callus nee Griscti of Constantinople (c.1830-1908), click on the Griscti name in the menu bar or visit this link.

This initial research covers my Great Great Grandmother’s paternal ancestry back 3 generations to the late 17th century, including her connection to the Xiberras family. The extended family has also been traced through the decades of the 19th and 20th centuries down to the present day. The new web page charts all these descendants and I will write more about some of these families in future posts.

I would like to record my thanks to Marie Anne Marandet for her extensive help in researching the families of Constantinople and to Geneanum for their excellent digital database on the ADAMI records for Malta.




The Maltese Levantines of Constantinople

Galata Tower 2013. Image © A.M. Fry

Galata Tower 2013 © A.M. Fry

In 1829, at the age of 18, my Great Great Grandfather Andrea Callus was part of a wave of Maltese people choosing migration in search of a better life, who went to Constantinople in Turkey. He was born in Zebbug in Malta in 1811 into a fairly affluent family. His father Joseph was the owner of a large cotton spinning mill but in 1813, disaster struck Malta in the form of an outbreak of bubonic plague which claimed the life of his father while he was still a toddler. In the years that followed, the economy went into a sharp decline and the cotton industry all but vanished. Many people went to North Africa but a sizable number chose to go to Constantinople (Istanbul) and Smyrna (Izmir), both then part of the Ottoman Empire.

Turkey in Asia 1772 by Thomas Jefferys. Image c/o

Turkey in Asia 1772 by Thomas Jefferys. Image c/o

When Andrea arrived, he was not alone. A casual glance through the parish registers of the Latin RC churches throws up many Maltese surnames; Azzopardi, Buttigieg, Borg, Calleja, Cassar, Gristi, Pace, Spitero, and many more. Other Calluses crop up, such as Antonio Callus and Francesca Ascathari who married in Constantinople in 1831. It is possible therefore that this couple migrated at the same time as my ancestor and may even have been related to him.  At its peak, the Maltese community in Constantinople was thought to number around 4000.

Another sizable colony lived in the port city of Smyrna (Izmir). This is where the other half of my Maltese ancestry came from, as around the same time, the family of my Great Great Grandmother Marie Anne Griscti, also migrated to Turkey, while she was still a baby.

In this post I shall focus on the origins and development of the Maltese community in Constantinople in the first half of the nineteenth century; who they were, how and where they lived and how they related to the other communities around them. I will write about the Smyrniot Maltese community in a future post.

Map of the parts of Europe and Asia adjacent to Constantinople (1781).

Map of the parts of Europe and Asia adjacent to Constantinople (1781).

Earliest Maltese Settlers

It might seem strange that so many Maltese would choose to migrate to the territories of their historical arch enemy, the Turks. In truth there were probably always a number of Maltese seafarers in transit around the ports at Constantinople and Smyrna, but because Malta’s rulers, the Knights of St John (Knights Hospitallers), never made peace with the Ottomans, very few settled there. Indeed they would not have been welcome as the Maltese, under the Knights, were heavily engaged in piracy all around the Aegean (Borg, A.). If any muslims were found on ships they boarded they could expect to be sold into slavery by the Maltese corsairs (although this was a fate that was reciprocated).  Unsurprisingly, the Maltese were considered unruly ruffians by the Ottoman Turks, a reputation which proved hard to shake off all along the Eastern seaboard of the Mediterranean as far as Egypt and as late as the early twentieth century. The few Maltese that did live in Turkey may well therefore, have had good reason not to want to return home.

Charles Macfarlane by William Brockedon. Licence: Commons

The Scottish traveler Charles MacFarlane visited Smyrna and Constantinople in 1828 and wrote extensively of his trip. He made several remarks about the quarrelsome and disreputable behaviour of the Maltese lower orders who he also feared were not to be trusted after dark! In fact, so bad was their reputation that the local governor or bey of Galata arranged for several hundred Maltese and Ionians (who were considered just as bad) to be rounded up and summarily shipped off to the Dardanelles.  The bey got into trouble however, when a prominent Ionian doctor got caught up in the sweep and complained to the British Consul who then waded in to the rescue (MacFarlane, 1829)!

The make up of Maltese residents probably only started to change when Malta became part of the British Empire in 1814, because Britain, as one of the western states granted “capitulations” by the Sultan, had a completely different relationship with the Ottoman Empire.

A Brief History of Western European Settlement in Constantinople

Constantinople has always been one of the great cultural melting pots of the world. The city was founded as a Greek colony in about the 7th century BC, then became the capital of the christian Byzantine Empire under Constantine the Great in 324 AD when it was known as Byzantium.

Mehmet II the Conqueror - Gentile Bellini (Public Domain)

Mehmet II the Conqueror – Gentile Bellini (Public Domain)

The Byzantine period continued virtually unbroken until the city was captured by the Ottoman Turks in 1453 under Mehmed II (the Conquerer).  In the final years however the Byzantines lost most of their territories outside the city and trade was taken over by the Venetians and Genoese (Mansel, 1995).  After the conquest, the sultan built his palace at Topkapi and his administration, known as the Sublime Porte, in Stamboul (also known as Sultanahmet). This is the area most visited by tourists today and is where you will also find the Blue Mosque, Haghia Sophia and the Grand Bazaar.

The European side of the city is however, dissected by an inlet called the Golden Horn. On the opposite side of the Golden Horn lie the districts of Galata and Pera, where the majority of Christians who stayed on after the conquest lived. This included the semi-independent colony of Genoese traders who became established in Constantinople in the 13th century. Their base was the triangle of land at the entrance to the Golden Horn, enclosed by thick protective walls and the eponymous Galata Tower which was built in 1349. Although the galatian Genoese had long been allies of the Ottomans, they did actually fight against them during the conquest. Despite this the Sultan recognised the prosperity they brought into the city so allowed them to stay on under his protection as long as they swore loyalty and paid a poll tax. The sultan’s indulgence was also partly motivated by the knowledge that the Venetian navy was more powerful than his, so having a resident community of Italian seafarers provided some additional protection (Mansel, 1995)!

The map below looks out across the Bosphorus from the Asian side of Constantinople to the European side. The water on the left is the Sea of Marmara, the land in the middle is Stamboul. The Golden Horn is the water inlet on the right and the land to the right of it is Galata (surrounded by its walls) and beyond is Pera (Pera means beyond)!

Byzantium sives Constantineopolis by Valvasorri 16 Century. 51-2570, Houghton Library, Harvard University

Emergence of the Levantine Community

As early as the 15th century the Ottomans opened up new trading opportunities to westerners in the form of capitulations (or chapters). The first state to be granted capitulations with the Turks was Venice in 1454. France followed in 1569 and England in 1581.  They were gradually joined by other countries such as Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Poland (Mansel, 1995 & 2012).

The terms of the capitulations granted each state the right to trade freely and to manage their affairs according to the laws of their home nations. This meant that British people who wished to settle in Turkey lived under the jurisdiction of the British Consul. They were exempt from local taxes, were governed by British law and could freely practice their religion. The arrangement was mutually agreeable to the administrative powers in that it provided powerful incentives for traders and entrepreneurs while making things less comfortable for the undesirable elements and runaways from the home countries!

In time these settlers formed a distinct cosmopolitan sub-culture that came to be known as the ‘Levantines’, from the French levant meaning ‘rising in the East.’  Often coming from the better off and more educated classes, a key feature of Levantine society was the niche position it acquired in  the development of trade between East and West.

Up until the 1840s most Levantines spoke Italian or Lingua Franca, (i.e. a simplified version of Italian with ‘loan words’ from other languages widely used around the port cities of the Med.), then French became the dominant language. However the Levantines were also renowned as a polyglot community, most people speaking at least 4 or 5 languages including Greek, Italian, French, Hebrew and English and many also conversant in others such as Turkish, Persian, Armenian and Serbo-croat. This made them useful as go-betweens in the ports and trading districts where they worked as interpreters (dragomen), negotiators, shipping agents, merchants, bankers and so on. Working between Turkish officials, local and incoming  traders and travelers, they often profited from both parties in the exchange. It was precisely these types of roles however, that meant they were perceived as not properly belonging to either East or West. This is typified by the way that visiting compatriots referred to them as ‘Franks’ and worried that their dependency on these middle men meant they might be cheated, while the Turks called them ‘Giaours’, meaning infidels. Many Turks quietly resented the Levantines because they felt that the terms of the capitulations were overly generous to the outsiders! As a result the many different ethnic communities making up the Levantines welded themselves into a single multi-cultural sub-group that looked out for each other, while at the same time looked inwards in terms of passionately preserving their own particular cultural identities and traditions.

The Maltese Community in Galata

Port of Galata, Constantinople. Source: Levantine Heritage Foundation.

Port of Galata, Constantinople. Source: Levantine Heritage Foundation.

The new Maltese migrants were part of this milieu. Although there were many Maltese working as sailors and dockers in Constantinople and Smyrna in the first half of the nineteenth century, increasingly others from the merchant and educated classes started to arrive and establish themselves in the Levantine trades and professions. They included doctors, lawyers, writers and artists and small business entrepreneurs such as my Great Great Grandfather Andrea, who set up business as a ship chandler in the Galata district.

By the mid 1800s he and many others were well established and successful. For instance, some of his Maltese relatives included Emmanuel Griscti, his brother in law, who owned a forge in Galata and his wife’s cousin, Antonio Griscti, who also owned a chandlers. Andrea’s daughter Elise, married Joseph Calleja, whose family also originated from Malta. Joseph and his brother Antoine worked for the Imperial Ottoman Bank which was based in Galata. Meanwhile Joseph Callos (sic, possibly related), was an importer/exporter of window glass. Unusually, his business was based in Stamboul in Eminonu (near the Spice Bazaar) and he lived in Pera.

Prominent examples of Maltese Levantines included Lewis Mizzi, a polyglot of a dozen languages who was the owner and editor of two newspapers; ‘The Levant Herald’, and the ‘Eastern Express’. Mizzi became a famous lawyer in Constantinople in the 1870s, but he was also a scientist and minerologist. When he retired, he returned to Malta, where he became a member of Lord Strickland’s political party.

Count Amedeo Preziosi. Portrait by Nadar 1860-70. Public Domain.

Count Amedeo Preziosi. Nadar 1860-70. Public Domain.

There was also a famous artist, Count Amedeo Preziosi. Born into a noble family in Malta in 1816 he moved to Constantinople in about 1842 at a time when “orientalism” was becoming fashionable, after studying art in Paris. He became famous for his romantic portrayal of oriental scenes in watercolour or pen and ink which were popular with travelers wanting souvenirs. As a typical Levantine, he spoke Turkish, Greek, English, French and Italian and worked for a time as a dragoman as well as a painter. He married a Greek and had 4 children. His studio was in Hamalbasi, opposite the British embassy in Pera but in later years he moved to the quieter district of San Stefano (Yesilkoy). He died in 1882 after a hunting expedition when his rifle accidentally discharged, spraying him in the chest with shrapnel, as he handed the gun to a servant.  He is buried in the catholic cemetery in Yesilkoy.

“In a Turkish Park” by Amedeo Preziosi – Christie’s, LotFinder: entry 5221684. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons 

Life in Galata

Galata (today called Karakoy), accommodated the larger part of the Levantine trading and working community down at the port.

New Quay, Galata. Image c/o LHF.

New Quay, Galata. Image c/o LHF.

Until 1836, there was no bridge across the Golden Horn so local boatmen ferried people to and fro in small boats.  The consequence of this was that most of the inhabitants each side tended to stay put, only crossing when needed so there was a limited amount of intermingling and certainly no socialising between the muslim and christian communities.

Vue de Port. Before construction of the first Galata bridge in 1845, crossing the Golden Horn was via ferrymen manning small crafts. Image c/o postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck.

Vue de Port. Before construction of the first Galata bridge in 1836, crossing the Golden Horn was via small craft manned by ferrymen. Image c/o postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck

The first bridge was built in 1836 a little way upstream from the current bridge. The second bridge was commissioned in 1845 by Sultan Abdulmecid’s mother, the Valide Sultan, and crossed at the mouth of the Golden Horn in the same location as today’s. It has been rebuilt several times since.

View across to Galta from opposite side of bridge. GH to gal LHFconstantinople28

View across to Galata from Stamboul side of bridge. Source: LHF.

Galata Bridge view pre 1894 with original police station building on the right. Source: LHF.

Galata Bridge view pre 1894 with original police station building on the right. Source: LHF.

Rue Karakeuy, Galata. Source: Levantine Heritage Foundation.

Rue Karakeuy, Galata. Source: Levantine Heritage Foundation.

Julie Pardoe, writing in 1839, observed that Galata was a prosperous enclave, being the focus of European commerce in Constantinople.

“Many of its streets are of considerable width, and some of its houses are inhabited by the principal Frank merchants, of even princely dimensions.”

The Camondo Palace on the shore of the Golden Horn. It is now owned by the Turkish Navy.

An example of one of these “principal Frank merchants” was the Jewish banker Abraham Soloman Camondo. He was the main banker for the Ottoman Empire until the formation of the Imperial Ottoman Bank in 1863 and was fabulously wealthy, owning much property in Galata and Pera. Abraham also built the Camondo steps in Galata c. 1870-80.

The Camondo Stairs in Galata © A. Fry

The Camondo Stairs in Galata

Maltese Houses

Typical balcony of Valletta, Malta. Image c/o V. Leeming 2015.

Typical balcony of Valletta, Malta. Image c/o V. Leeming 2015.

The Maltese tended to own their own houses and built them in their traditional style, which often featured a style of enclosed balcony very typical in Malta.

Maltese balcony in Felek Sok, Galata, Istanbul. Image c/o Maistora. All rights reserved.

Maltese balcony in Felek Sok, Galata, Istanbul. Image c/o Maistora. All rights reserved.

The example on the left is from Malta. It is thought that this style of balcony originated in Moorish  Spain and developed to enable muslim women, who were not allowed outside unaccompanied, to watch what was going on in the streets from a seat in the window.

The balcony on the right can be found on Emre Han, Felek Sokak, next door to the former synagogue now known as Schneidertempel Art Centre, just off Bankalar Caddesi in Galata.

Other examples can be found all over Galata.  This one is unusual in having  Maltese cross symbols on each side.

Yuksek Caldirim, Galata (steps up to top of Galata). Undated. Image c/o Maggie Land Blanck.

Yuksek Caldirim, Galata (steps up to top of Galata). Undated. Image c/o Maggie Land Blanck.

The majority of the population lived up from the Port among the many narrow streets and steep ‘staircases’ lined with houses mostly built of wood. The area was notorious for frequent outbreaks of fire.  The Galata Tower, at the top of the hill was therefore used as a watchtower for fires. In 1829 MacFarlane observed that this was manned by a guard of two or three men night and day to give the alarm when a fire broke out, which they did by beating a tremendous drum suspended in the upper gallery.

Wild fire brigade Istanbul by G Berggren 1835-1920.

Wild fire brigade Istanbul by G Berggren 1835-1920.

The Galata Tower along with the original medieval walls,  marked the boundary between Galata and Pera. However the walls were removed in 1860 in order to enable the development and enlargement of Pera as a fashionable new residential and shopping district for the Levantines.

Francis Bedford - Constantinople - Tower of Galata and Portion of a Turkish Cemetery, May 21, 1862. Source: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Francis Bedford – Constantinople – Tower of Galata and Portion of a Turkish Cemetery, May 21, 1862. Digital image c/o the Getty’s Open Content Program.

Both Pera and Galata were renowned for being over run with packs of feral dogs which prowled the streets and sprawled out in the middle of the roads. At night they kept up a fearful cacophony of barking and howling. The muslim population believed they brought good luck to the city so fed them, but the christians considered them a menace and chased them away or poisoned them. At one point, Sultan Abdulmecid had them all rounded up and shipped off to an island in the Sea of Marmara but there was such an outcry from the Turks that he had to have them all brought back (Mansel, 1995).

Feral dogs in Rue Boujouk-Hendek, Galata, undated. Image c/o postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck.

Feral dogs in Rue Boujouk-Hendek, Galata, undated. Image c/o postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck.

Packs of dogs on Grande Rue de Pera c. 1906 c/o postcard collection Maggie Land Blanck.

Packs of dogs on Grande Rue de Pera c. 1906 c/o postcard collection Maggie Land Blanck.

Dogs on Hamel Bachi, Pera. c/o LHF.


The Maltese community were predominantly Roman Catholic and most frequented the parish church of the apostles St Peter and St Paul in Galata.

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

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

There has been a church on this site since about 1600. The church that stands today was built by the Fossati brothers in the 1840s and is built into part of the remaining medieval Genoese walls. It is still used today by the Maltese community of Istanbul with masses conducted in Italian.

Inner courtyard of S.S. Peter & Paul RC Church in Galata. The Ottoman Empire did not allow Christians to build churches on top of hills or fronting directly onto any streets.

Inner courtyard of S.S. Peter & Paul RC Church in Galata. The Ottoman Empire did not allow Christians to build churches on tops of hills or fronting directly onto the streets.




In 1848 Andrea Callus married Marie Ann Griscti at this church. They went on to have 14 children who were all baptised here. Like many Levantines, the Maltese preferred to marry into their own community and marriage was seen very much as a way of cementing alliances with and improving the financial security of families. Romantic unions did occur but were not usually the primary concern. There was a 20 year age difference between Andrea and Marie Ann and it is probably no coincidence that both the Callus and Griscti families ran chandlers businesses.




102_0393 Callus memorialAs for deaths, at the other end of the spectrum, the majority of Maltese were interred at Ferikoy cemetery, a few miles north of Pera. There are a few memorial stones within the courtyard of S.S. Peter and Paul, including two Callus’s, and a few burials within the crypt of the church. However most Christian churches simply did not have space for many burials.  This memorial to Filomena Callus is one of the tombstones in the courtyard. Filomena was the daughter of Antonio and Francesca Callus who were married at this church in 1831. They may have been related to Andrea Callus.

The other church used by the Maltese community was St Mary Draperis in Pera.

The other church used by the Maltese community was St Mary Draperis in Pera.

 Social and Geographical Boundaries – Life in Pera

British Embassy Building in Pera.

British Embassy Building in Pera.

The Levantines who lived in Pera enjoyed a different status. On being granted capitulations, each country established an embassy from which to manage and administer its interests. These were built on the hill behind the port area of Galata in the district known as Pera (in Turkish Beyoglu).

Russian Embassy in Pera.

Russian Embassy in Pera.

 In its heyday in the second half of the nineteenth century, Pera became known as the Paris of the East; its main street was called the Grande Rue de Pera and was full of grand and elegant buildings. Alongside the embassies were theatres, grand hotels, fashionable shops selling luxury goods, cafes and bars. Pera was therefore considered the aristocratic or more genteel quarter.

When my Great Great Grandfather arrived in the city in 1829 however, the area had a very different aspect. The general environment was undeveloped as many of the hotels and shops were not yet built. Instead at the top of Pera lay the Grands Champs de Morts, a vast Turkish cemetery with magnificent views across the Bosphoros but which MacFarlane described as:

“a dense grove of gloomy cypresses with crowded white tomb stones glaring from its recesses”.

Constantinople from Grand Champs de Morts, Pera. Engraving by R, Wallis after WH Bartlett pub 1833. Image c/o

Constantinople from Grand Champs de Morts, Pera. Engraving by R, Wallis after WH Bartlett pub 1833. Image c/o

When MacFarlane first climbed the hill up from Galata to Pera he was struck by how quiet the streets were and how sullen and suspicious the inhabitants looked. He also observed with interest that nearly every third doorway was painted red. The reason he discovered was that in January 1828, the Sultan had expelled all the local Armenians, (their persecution in this city something of a prevailing theme in the history of the Ottomans). The red doorways identified their vacated dwellings which were to be appropriated by the Turks. This expulsion followed on from the rounding up of the Maltese and Ionians. The immediate consequence was an almost complete absence of trade and activity in the district. Such acts must surely have caused some disquiet to new arrivals such as Andrea. There was also a prevailing sense of anxiety in the city about a threatened Russian invasion. It could not have been an auspicious start to his new life.

As for the higher echelons of society, MacFarlane found the Embassy community lacking culture and living a stultifying life. They rarely ventured out of their grand houses except to visit each other at the occasional soiree and had as little to do with the merchant class Levantines as possible.

Even so, any self respecting Levantine trader who wanted to show off their rising social status and wealth did so by moving house up the hill! The further up into Pera you went, the higher your social status!

Petraki Han opposite the Galata Tower. Built in the 1890s and home to Andrea and Marie Ann Callus.

Petraki Han opposite the Galata Tower. Built in the 1890s and home to Andrea and Marie Ann Callus.

As for my great great grandfather, by 1898, he was living with his family in an apartment in Petraki Han, a large, new and fashionable neo-classical style apartment block right opposite the Galata Tower. In true Levantine style, he had made it to the top both topographically and symbolically! Apartments in this building are today available as holiday lets at Istanbul! Place. One of these “Petraki II” is quite possibly the actual apartment of my forebears!

petraki han en face de la tour

In a future post, I will return to the subject of life in Galata and Pera in the latter half of the nineteenth century with more details about my Maltese ancestors and their families and associates.

For my next post I will discuss the life of the Maltese Levantines who lived in Smyrna, another Turkish port city south of Constantinople on the Aegean coast, which had quite a different aspect and culture.





Borg, Alexander, From Sworn Enemies to Fellow EU Applicants: Contradictions, similarities and differences between Maltese and Turkish Societies.

Levantine Heritage Foundation website

MacFarlane, C., (1829), Constantinople in 1828: A Residence of Sixteen Months …, Saunders & Otley, London. (Public Domain – Digitised by Google)

Mansel, P. (2010), Levant: Splendour and Catastrophe in the Mediterranean

Mansel, P. (1995), Constantinople: City of the World’s Desire. Penguin: London

Pardoe, Julie, (1839), The Beauties of the Bosphorous, London.

Ekenci, E.B. (2014), Travellers journal: an-exotic-community-in-the-ottoman-empire-the-levantines

Maltese Balcony Origins

Traditional Maltese Balconies

Uncredited images are the author’s own.

Exodus – To The Levant And North Africa

Exodus – To The Levant And North Africa

“When sorrows come, they come not single spies – but in battalions!”

(Shakespeare, Hamlet Act IV, Sc. 5).

Between 1818 and the early 1830s people began emigrating from the Maltese islands at a rate of around 1 to 2000  per year, the rate doubling towards the mid 1830s and only abating after about 1842. By this time some 20,000 Maltese had left (approx 15% of the population).  My ancestors joined the exodus. In this article I will describe what drove people to leave and to the destinations they chose.

Economic Decline

In the early 1800s Malta had a successful if somewhat volatile economy. The majority of its industry centred on cotton production which gave employment to pretty much the majority of the population one way or another, but it also prospered from its position as a useful shipping stopover for the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars and it did good business in smuggling.

The first blow came at the end of the Napoleonic Wars when new ports opened up for traders resulting in less shipping traffic coming into the Grand Harbour of the capital Valletta. Malta also became less important as a base for smuggling.

Quays of Grand Harbour Valletta wood engraved print 1891

Engraving of Valletta Grand Harbour 1891 c/o

The biggest catastrophe to the economy was the impact of the Plague of Malta in 1813. Quarantine restrictions across the island stopped the production of cotton spinning and export in its tracks as the congregation of people and movements between the villages, towns and ports were vetoed. Foreign ports also required shipping from Malta to be quarantined, so trade was all but extinguished for over a year. Some foreign ports insisted on keeping quarantine restrictions on Maltese shipping until as late as 1826 (perhaps not entirely for health reasons)! During this time, importers found new, cheaper producers from places like Syria, Egypt and India. New commercial treaties were negotiated to try and boost trade but only succeeded in further depressing the market and lowering wages for growers, spinners and weavers. Customs duties were also raised to try and generate revenues but just ended up further damaging trade. The Maltese economy started to spiral towards bankruptcy.

Some new enterprises were introduced to try and fill the gap, such as silk farming, which failed, and tobacco, which was the most successful. Cigar making employed 600 hands across the whole island at its height in 1842. Yet in 1813, my ancestor Joseph Callus, had employed 100 hands in a single cotton spinning mill which serves to illustrate the massive decline in employment across the islands (see Rise and Fall of the Callus Fortunes).

Another factor in the economic decline was the change of administration. The primary interest in Malta of its new colonial masters, the British, was its usefulness as a strategic naval base. Sciberras argues that it had less concern therefore, for developing the infrastructure of the interior or looking after the native population. Predictably the British expressed an imperialist attitude towards the native Maltese, treating them as inferiors and ousting them from governmental and administrative posts in favour of British employees. This was quite different to the administration of the Knights of St John who had subsidised the economy with income from their estates abroad and spent more on infrastructure and public works. While the Knights had been very paternalistic towards the Maltese, they had also been more inclusive, perhaps because the island was the principal dominion of their monastic order and where they lived out their lives.

The Battalions of Sorrows

A large population and high levels of unemployment led to a big increase in poverty and crime. Banditry and begging became prevalent. In the mid 1830s, there were an estimated 2500 adult beggars in the villages alone and many more in the towns. Children were of course also recruited by their families to beg as a matter of course.

The evils of rising poverty levels were more homelessness, poorer housing conditions, sanitation and nutrition and inevitably disease.  Infant mortality 1826-36 was around 30% (Cauchi, M, 1990).


“Poverty in short pressed heavily on the under-employed. Deriving sustenance from bean or millet, when obtainable, they frequently found themselves eating prickly pears, thistles and clover. During the day, some refused to leave their houses because of inadequate clothing. During the night, they covered themselves with sacks, rags and manure. Some had no place to sleep, save the streets. Deaths from hunger and exposure apparently did occur and numerous deaths resulted from weakened resistance to fevers, the death rate averaging 29% per 1000”. 

In 1830 an outbreak of smallpox on the island killed 756 of its inhabitants. Then in 1837 there was an outbreak of cholera throughout the Mediterranean. In Malta it killed almost as many people as the 1813 plague, some 4253 people! And in 1840-41 the islands were devastated by a severe drought which further exacerbated the shortage of food. The population level was predictably stagnant until after 1842.

Small wonder so many people wanted to leave!

Pastures New

"Mediterranean Relief". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Mediterranean Relief“. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Most emigrants left for the North African coast, namely Tunisia, Libya, Algeria and Egypt and in particular to the cities of Algiers, Constantine, Sousse and Tripoli. Significant numbers also went to the Levant, (or eastern Mediterranean), to port cities such as Beirut, Smyrna (Izmir) and Constantinople (Istanbul).  Sizeable Maltese communities became established in these places. Just a few hundred emigrated to the Greek islands, Sicily, southern Italy and France. My ancestor Andrea Callus (1810-98) left Malta for Constantinople in 1829. Other branches of my Maltese family tree (Griscti, Diacono) also left in the early 1830s and went to Smyrna in Turkey.

Considering the long history of Maltese conflict with the Ottoman Empire and their religious and cultural differences, emigration to North Africa and Turkey at first glance seems a strange choice. Why didn’t the migrants go to more culturally similar countries such as Italy? Surely it would have been easier to assimilate in those places?  Historical research into nineteenth century emigration from Malta is still in its infancy, so explanations are still very much up for debate. Two accounts, one by Fr Lawrence Attard and another by Joshua M Hayes provide some interesting and slightly conflicting observations and theories.

Hayes stated that the British Government preferred emigrants to travel to other British colonies in West Africa or places like Jamaica or India but most Maltese did not want to leave the Mediterranean. They preferred to keep their options open to return, a factor evidenced by the high numbers who did in fact return, even if only on a temporary basis. Attard states that the government did come up with a number of proposals to support emigration to places like Cephalonia and later, Cyprus, but they simply never got off the ground. So there was no formal help and those wanting to emigrate had to do so by their own means.  Places like Tunis, Tripoli and Sousse were only a couple of hundred miles away and were on regular trade routes, so passage was relatively cheap.

Other factors suggested by Hayes, are that the geography and climate of North Africa is similar and also the language. Algerian Arabic in particular, is linguistically quite close to Maltese.

Many Maltese chose Algeria as a preferred destination following the French conquest of Algeria in the early 1830s and the appointment of its first French governor in 1834. According to Attard, to secure the country, France needed colonists who would help develop the infrastructure and administration. France is a big country with a small population with low numbers of people wanting or needing to emigrate. The Maltese were seen as hard working and trust worthy, and even though they were now ruled by the British, the French governor did not think they were particularly loyal to the British or politically active. In fact, on the contrary, many Maltese were quite Francophile, despite Napoleon’s short interruption to relations! In Tunisia, Attard argues that the French welcomed the Maltese as a counter balance to an influx of Italians who were suspected of having their own designs upon the country.

Hayes, however, sets out a slightly different perspective. He argues that what the French wanted were agricultural labourers but emigration was beyond the means of Maltese subsistence farmers. What they probably got instead were dock workers from Valletta who earned a bit more and were familiar with the shipping trade, and displaced officials and professionals such as doctors. Although the French allowed the Maltese in, they regarded them with suspicion preferring Italian and Spanish immigrants. The Maltese were subsequently quite poorly treated and were at the bottom of the social pecking order amongst the ex patriot communities in French North Africa.

Vue de la Ville de Constantine by Theodore Frere, 1841

Vue de la Ville de Constantine by Theodore Frere, 1841

Social networking was another factor. During the rule of the Knights, the Maltese conducted annual assaults on the north Africa coast (known then as the Barbary Coast). During these raids, inevitably some Maltese were taken prisoner. They were then sold into slavery and moved into the interior. A large Maltese slave colony was established in Constantine and there were slaves living at other places. Trade links also meant that there were itinerant Maltese communities in most major ports. Immigrants homed in on these communities for support in getting established in their new countries.

It is not clear to me why more Maltese did not go to Italy and Sicily which would appear to have offered many of the same benefits as North Africa, i.e. close to the motherland, similar climate and geography, shared language of Italian which was widely spoken in Malta and perhaps of even greater significance, a shared religion. Malta has always been a strong and almost fanatical adherent to catholicism which one would have thought made Italy a better prospect than a muslim country. Certainly muslim countries at that time allowed religious freedom and with catholic France in control of North Africa, this may have provided further reassurance. The deciding factor must therefore have been the scope for economic opportunities both in North Africa and the Ottoman Empire.

At its height, the Ottoman Empire extended over 1000 miles from its capital at Constantinople in Turkey. This meant that the Ottoman navy was essential for maintaining control, both militarily and administratively, e.g. for tax collection. The Empire had no merchant navy. Its majority religion, Islam, forbade profiteering from usury and regarded trading as an inferior and undesirable profession for devout muslims. Ottoman subjects were in any case conscripted for 7 years military service, which led to a preference for military and administrative roles. Jews and Christians living in the Ottoman Empire were subject to higher taxes than muslims but as minority groups, this did not make much in the way of revenues for the Ottoman administration.

Traders from Western Europe moved in to fill the vacuum and through a number of contracts drawn up between the Sultan and European powers, obtained a range of rights and privileges in favour of subjects residing and trading in the Ottoman dominions. These became known as the ‘Capitulations’. Subjects were exempted from local taxes, laws, house searches and conscription and were bound instead to the jurisdiction of their home countries.  The capitulations providing a virtual tax haven and the lack of existing port trade amongst the Ottomans, did much to encourage western entrepreneurs to set up new businesses all along the shores of the Ottoman Empire. These traders  became a distinctive sub culture and were known as ‘Levantines’.  They came from many of the major trading places around the Mediterranean; Genoa, Venice, France, Italy, Greece and of course Malta. There were also peoples from Britain, Germany and the Netherlands.

The link below shows the modern sea route between Malta and Turkey, a distance of 1054 nautical miles.

By sea from Valletta, Malta to Istanbul, Turkey.

The history of the Levantines is an area of socio-economic history that has been little researched to date but is attracting growing interest in academia. I will be returning to this subject in future posts to describe the lives of my Maltese ancestors who became part of this unique and interesting culture in the nineteenth century.


Cauchi, Maurice N.  (1990) –

Hayes, Joshua M., (2010) – M’hemm l-ebda post iehor bhad-dar (There’s no place like home): Maltese Migration to French Algeria in the Nineteenth Century. Journal of Maltese History, Vol 2, No. 1, 2010

Sciberras, Sandro (2009) – Option Maltese History/3_Economic and social issues during the last two hundred years.pdf

Reasons for the Success of the Levantines: a subjective listing –