The Whittalls of Turkey, 1809-1973, Hugh Whittall

This book is intended more for the members of the extended family; the book has long since sold out. The following summary is intended to highlight some of the more important points.

Charlton Whittall originally of Worcester, sent two of his sons to Smyrna as apprentices with the firm R.F. Breed and Co., Charlton jnr 1809. Only 2 years after arriving in Smyrna, Charlton Whittall formed C. Whittall and Co. and a year later was admitted a member of the Levant Company. Continuing to work with Mr Breed, Charlton brought out his younger brother James to help him and gave him a third share of the business. Both later married foreign wives of European descent, as also the two sons of Charlton, but nearly all the later generations married English girls. They settled in Bornova, a village out of town that was to acquire an increasing European character as time went by. It was not until 1880s that there is any mention of sports. Football, tennis and golf were gradually introduced and nearly all the grandsons of Charlton took up shooting and fishing as relaxation and later owned yachts.

Letters surviving show Charlton was highly observant of ships that were visiting Smyrna, good on board, and prices, answered by his father in Liverpool. Thus with this information, trade opportunities were seized, allowing the Whittalls to quickly amass a fortune, providing employment to sons and grandsons. James his brother and partner died in 1836, third son Charlton, James was admitted as a partner in 1851. Charlton died 1867, by which time the firm dealt chiefly with export.

The assistance given to Turkey during and after the Crimean war by the Western Powers encouraged foreign investment in the country. This resulted in the building of the railways, the founding of the Imperial Ottoman bank, the introduction of Posts and Telegraphs, and the extension of the Smyrna port. All these facilities helped the development of the activities of C. Whittall and Co.

In 1878 James handed over the business to his three sons, Richard Watson, Edward and Herbert Octavius. Eldest son James William (later Sir William Whittall), having represented the firms interest in Manchester since 1860, founded his own firm in Constantinople in 1873.

C. Whittall and Co. now had built and equipped a factory for the extraction of the tanning properties of valonea by a process discovered by a local chemist, an Armenian, Elmasian, and patented by the firm. It became interested in a cotton-seed oil mill in Mersin on the Mediterranean coast, erected under its auspices and held a majority share in a fruit bleaching [drying?] factory in Smyrna.

A cousin of the later partners, Mr C. J. Giraud, on being refused a partnership in the business, broke away before 1914, founded the firm under his own name and took with him the fruit business.

The First World War caused the break up of the old establishment, all trading ceased and 3 partners died in quick succession and in 1922 Herbert Octavius retired to Tunis. After 1922, the firm’s interests were taken up by Herbert James, son of Herbert Octavius. Owing however, to the dispersal of the estates of the various partners, the resources of the company were limited and it was only thanks to the financial assistance given in 1927 by Frederick James Whittall, a retired tea planter from Ceylon, that the firm was able to carry on. Frederick James was a grandson of James snr., one of the original partners. C. Whittall and Co was liquidated in 1938 on the death of Frederick James and also because of the financial crisis of the later 20s and early 30s.

Herbert James, however, then formed a smaller company, H. Whittall and Co, to carry on such business as remained. He died in 1953 and was succeeded by his sons, Douglas George and Victor, who still maintain the company [now?].

The story of J.W. Whittall and Co of Constantinople is more complex. At the time Sidney La Fontaine was acting agent in the city for J.C. Harter and Co. and together they formed J.W.Whittall and Co., giving La Fontaine a 30% share in the business. By 1885 La Fontaine had left and the company was incurring heavy losses, and the young son of James, Edwin was admitted as a partner with a 35% share. The dealings in the U.K. were still carried out through J.C. Harter and Co, till 1911. The firm then began to prosper and by 1910, the 3 partners’ activities included export of mohair, hazelnuts, opium, malting and feeding barley, maize, oats, seeds etc. The company acted as agents in marine insurance through Lloyds in London, as well as a mining branch, managed by Mr Goodwin, under the supervision of Edwin, in Borax concessions in Susurluk, and owned a mercury mine in Karaburun, near Smyrna, exploited till 1914, and after WWI till 1925 [ruins still visible].

All activities ceased with the war of 1914-18, however in 1918, was reformed with the old partners (and some new) resuming their roles, and with the responsibilities of the same wide business interests again divided among the partners. However difficulties arose with the fact that Turkish trade law had to abided by after 1923, the Karaburun region was declared a military zone in 1925, closing the mine (site sold in 1932), in the 30s the Turkish government gradually took over purchase of opium, barley etc., a promising partnership in artesian wells with a German company had to be abandoned with the outbreak of WWII. Devaluation of the Turkish lira was a perennial problem, with various business ventures of mixed success were undertaken, till closure in 1969. One of the last successful ventures of the company was on a commission basis of 9 ferry boats built by Fairfields of Glasgow, the first delivered in 1961, which continue to remain in service in the waterways around Istanbul.
There were also minor allied companies, such as Whittall Saltiel Co. Ltd., acting in Greece, specialising in the export of opium, in the early 20th century. The Istanbul based Levant Iron and Machinery Co. Ltd. was a specialist importer working on and off between 1920 and 60s. Finally the England based J. & H. Whittall and Co. Ltd. between 1910s and the present time has specialised in the sale of selling in the U.K. Turkish goods, shipped by the two Whittall companies and others.’

 Note: The book also gives details of the social scene of the British community of Istanbul centred in Moda at the time.

‘…in Moda alone there were 95 British residents in 1877 and 149 in 1906. Thanks to the Capitulations the British lived and worked quite apart in a world of their own. They had their own Consular Court, presided by a British judge, a prison, Post Office, hospital and Seaman’s home. There were British lawyers and doctors, one practicing in Moda. Their private properties were inviolable by the local authorities. There were English shops in town such as Bakers, Haydns and Harty’s Stores. Apart from the more international Constantinople Club, dominated by the British, there were the purely British Club in Pera and the Kadıköy Library and Institute in Moda.

In the field of sports the community dominated. At one time five cricket elevens played for a shield. Cricket was played in Beicos and by ‘the river’ near Moda. For a short period a rugby fifteen played against Smyrna. Regular annual football matches were played against Smyrna at Moda. Tennis tournaments were played alternatively at Bebek, Therapia and Moda. Polo was played at Büyükdere and annual regattas were held in Moda bay.
Unlike Bournabat, Moda itself as a village was not distinctive in character – there was no style or architecture about the homes, many of which were built of wood. Internally they were more attractive with open coal fire places and parquet floors in all the reception rooms. Its redeeming features were the gardens, the sea, the views and sunsets over the town. Today Moda has lost all its personal character and ambience. Of the sport facilities only the Deniz Klubü, the successor of the Moda Yacht Club remains, but without the yachts!

The capitulations were abolished after the First World War and the British residents had to integrate themselves with the laws of the new Turkish Republic. Gradually the younger generation emigrated and dispersed to such an extent that the British residents in Moda were reduced to 65 by 1940 and now (1973) numbers only 13.’

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