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, 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:

Geneanet is another go-to genealogical database that is particularly good for records outside UK and USA. Website:

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:

L’Indicateur Oriental Annuaire du Commerce (various eds. 1868-95). SALT Galata, Research at

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 :

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.



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

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”:

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

2 Glamorgan County Records Office, Cardiff. Website:

3 An account of the grounds and care regime at the Bridgend County Asylum (Angelton/Glan Rhyd)

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:

5Polski Slownik Biograficzny (volumes 30 and 34).

A Georgian Church in Istanbul at:

Letter excerpt from T.T. Jez at


More maps of Polish Istanbul at: (English language version no longer available).