Twenty-six years on the Bosphorus – Dorina L. Neave – Grayson & Grayson – London 1933
My family owes its connection with Turkey to Mr. and Mrs. Charles Hanson, who, as a young married couple, set out from England to seek their fortunes in the East, about the time when so many had lost them in the West with the ruin brought to West Indian estates by the law for the abolition of slaves; for it was Mr. Hanson who persuaded my father to accept the post offered him at the Consulate, as he himself had found Constantinople a delightful part of the world to live in. It took three months in a sailing ship to reach Constantinople, and when the Hansons arrived they found the Turks engaged in the Crimean War. The Ottoman Government was deeply grateful at that time for Great Britain’s valuable support, and granted to our country large concessions for armaments, men-of-war, railways and bridges, with the result that a large number of young Englishmen were offered excellent posts, and in a few years a wealthy British colony was established in Constantinople. When the British Tommy arrived on his way to Sebastopol, there were no banks in existence, so he entrusted his pay to the care of Mr. Charles Hanson, and from this circumstance originated the firs English bank in Turkey. Florence Nightingale was also greatly assisted at her Scutari hospital by Mr. and Mrs. Hanson, who helped to nurse our men under the great disadvantages, as they had no bandages nor the necessary outfit for the wounded, and were obliged to tear up sheets and improvise material as best they could. It was this young English couple who were among the first to discover the advantages offered by Therapia as a summer resort, when they bought the grounds which eventually became the British Embassy. When the Turkish Government required the land for the British nation, Mr. Hanson sold it back to them and migrated to Candilli, on the Asiatic shores of the Bosphorus, which became another favourite English resort, much frequented by the officials of the Consular Court, as it was only five miles away from the city, and within easy distance of the Consulate in Galata.

It was a strange trick played by Fate that my father, George H. Clifton, who disliked foreigners and any country but his own, was offered a post specially created for him at the Supreme Consular Court in Turkey. He accepted it and remained in the East for over forty years. He never grew reconciled to living abroad and always longed to return to Nottinghamshire, even though the family estates had been left to the daughter (now the Dowager Lady Bruce) of the last baronet, Sir Jukes Clifton. Unfortunately, my father, a descendant of the sixth wife of Sir Gervase Clifton, who between 1630 and 1660 married seven wives, could not claim his right to the baronetcy, as he was unable to trace the birth certificate of his great grandfather, who died and was buried at St. Kitts in the West Indies and the baronetcy has lain in abeyance. When he married the British Consul General’s daughter and settled at Candilli he bought the most delightful house, built by an English architect on the rocks beside the sea, called Clifton Yali.

My first recollection in this foreign country, where women were considered of little account, is rather a strange anomaly, because it is the remembrance of an occasion when the Turks took the utmost trouble to pay the highest tribute of honour to one of our countrywomen. It was at the time of Mrs. Charles Hanson’s death, after she had spent many years in Turkey, where she won the love and respect of all who knew her, and was affectionately knows as the “Megali Madama” (the Great Lady). As a small child I was greatly impressed by the funeral procession, which was headed by a detachment of Turkish soldiers sent by the Ottoman Government to guard the little English lady to her last resting-place in the beautiful Scutari Cemetery. The Sultan sent his representative to lead the mournful procession, which marched to the launch awaiting the cortège to the sound of the solemn tolling of muffled bells from the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Gregorian and Lutheran Churches. Each religious community sent its clergy, robed in their gorgeous vestments, to take part in the burial service, which was conducted by Canon Curtis. The latter was assisted by an old and valued friend of the late Mr. and Mrs. Charles Hanson, Dr. Washburn, Principal of the American Robert College, who delivered a beautiful oration and spoke of them as an example of the finest specimens of England’s manhood and womanhood. A very touching tribute was paid to their memory every year by the Orthodox Church, at the time of the Greek Epiphany, when the procession halted as it passed their house, and the priest offered a prayer for the souls of the departed. It was all these charming marks of affection which showed the good feeling that existed between the English people and members of the foreign communities, as well as the Turk, which made our life abroad so delightfully interesting and helped to seal a great bond of friendship among us.

The only opportunity we had of seeing the Sultan was by obtaining from our Ambassador a card of admission to the ceremony of the Selamlik, when Abdul Hamid II followed the ancient custom of the Caliphs of attending service in a mosque every Friday. The first time I attended the Selamlik, which was held at the Hamidieh Mosque just outside the grounds of Yildiz Kiosk, I accompanied Sir George and Lady Herschell, who were staying with us. We drove to the Kiosk reserved for the foreign ambassadors and their friends, and were given seats on the terrace, from where the procession could be seen. We were received by the imperial aides-de-camp, amongst whom were two British officers attached to the Sultan’s staff, Admiral Sir Henry Woods Pasha representing the navy, and General Blunt Pasha the army, both wearing the red fez and Turkish uniforms, ablaze with jewelled Orders. Seats were found for us, and we had an excellent view of the drive down which the Sultan had to pass on his way to the mosque.

There remains a very touching sequel to this custom which we originated as children, and which I carried on when my sisters left for England, until I left myself in 1907. Eveline Whitaker, who after the War married Sir Robert Paul, told me that on her return to Turkey, when passing Candilli, she was deeply touched to hear the Russian steamer Oleg sound her siren as she passed the spot where our house used to stand, and saw the flag slowly dip three times, in salute to the ruins of Clifton Yali, which had burnt down during the War.

It was a great relief when a number of friends rushed to our assistance, amongst them H.R.H. Prince Jelal-ed-Din, a nephew of the Sultan, who was just in time to save my sister Mildred from being smothered under a large mattress which had been flung out of the window and had knocked her down. Seeing that the hooligans had gained possession of the place, Prince Jelal-ed-Din offered to take control of the salvage party, and enquired what the family valued most, so that he might have it all sent to his palace for safety. He was shown the Pretziosi pictures, hanging in the drawing-room, and given a jewel-case and dispatch-box containing the family papers, and was warned that my father had an antique collection of firearms that were liable to be confiscated, as they were contraband goods. The plate-chests had already been sent by caique to Mrs. Arthur Hanson’s house, which was out of the danger-zone of our fire. The Prince assured my mother that he would personally attend to all she placed under his care. When the house was pronounced unsafe for anyone to remain under its roof the police turned us all out, and I was dispatched with a small brother to the Candilli Tennis Club, which was surrounded by high walls. Loads of furniture were to be sent there for safety. For three hours we two children cowered alone, forgotten by the family, who imagined we were with friends, until Aunt Connie (who married Sir Adam Block) heard voices as she was passing, and found us seated on the ground, in the very middle of the tennis court. We were guarding a table that had the canaries in a cage on it, with Rosa, the Austrian terrier, tied to on of its legs, and when she asked us what we were doing, we informed her that we were looking after all the furniture, and the house has burnt down. To our joy and surprise, she told us that although it had appeared as if there was no hope of extinguishing the flames, in spite of all the efforts of the firemen, the fire had suddenly been mastered, and part of the house was saved. Delighted to hear the good news, we deserted the canaries and dog and ran down the hill, to find the four walls still standing and part of the roof.

When we discovered how well the toboggans served as conveyances over the frozen snow-bound hills we bought a regular fleet of them and, assisted by Clare and Dot Hanson and Cyril Cumberbatch, we made a magnificent slide down the public road, descending the hill from the “sira” [row = of houses?] to the water’s edge.

I much preferred wedding ceremonies, and attended a number of them a the Greek Church, and also many that took place in the house belonging to the bride’s parents, as quite a number of Englishmen married pretty Greek girls. Amongst these was Harold Woods, son of Sir Henry Woods Pasha and Lady Woods. The marriage took place according to Orthodox rites, with great ceremony, in Hélène’s father’s house at Prinkipo, the biggest of the islands in the Sea of Marmora. An altar was erected in the drawing room; priests were dressed in gorgeous robes, the bride and bridegroom standing in the centre, surrounded by bridesmaids holding enormous wax candles, decorated with orange blossoms and white tulle and ribbons. Harold Woods stood with a wreath of orange blossoms on his head, attached by a broad white satin ribbon to the wreath on his bride’s head.

p.153 [1894]
During the first week, we experienced sixteen of these ghastly visitations, which tried the nerves of the strongest men and women, and all those who were able to leave the country hurriedly booked every seat in the out-bound trains and steamers, that were overcrowded with terrified people pouring out of the devastated Empire. We had Ethel, Countess de Bosdari’s “bambino”, staying with us, and every time a shock came the whole family was found rushing to the nursery to drag the wretched infant out of its cradle to a place of safety, until Dada assured us that the child was safer in the cot asleep than waiting in the night air for further shocks.
Great damage was done by the effects of the earthquake at the Prince’s Islands in the Sea of Marmora, where the luxurious summer residences of the wealthy members of the community, although built of stone, had their staircases completely shaken down, leaving the inhabitants, in many cases, stranded in the upper floors until ladders could be procured to help them escape. Sir Edwin Pears and Dr. Mizzi were amongst those who had their beautiful houses seriously damaged at Prinkipo, since then the place of residence of Trotsky.

Our sight-seeing expeditions were, alas, brought to an abrupt ending, when Mildred and I fell victims to the much dreaded typhoid fever. We had always lived in fear of this terrible disease, which has accounted for the loss of a great many young lives in Turkey. Even with all the care that was taken by Europeans, they were very liable to contract typhoid, and we had been repeatedly warned against drinking unfiltered water. Unfortunately, we thought that we were immune against this disease, after having lived so long in the country, and at a dance in Therapia we drank some water which must have been contaminated. It was in 1895, when a small dance was given for Ione Vere, Eveline Whitaker and myself, who were all about the same age – three young English girls who were looking forward to “coming out” as debutantes the following year. Though Nini Vere (now Lady Barker) did her utmost to prevent our drinking the water, my sister and I obstinately insisted on taking it, with the result that our punishment followed swiftly, for within ten days, on 10th July, the anniversary of the great earthquake, we both sickened and fell desperately ill. During the hottest months of the summer, for weeks we lay unconscious as the doctors and nun-nurses fought to save our lives, and when the crisis of the fever was reached we were so ill that all hope was given up of saving us. It was on the day that Lord Salisbury, then our Prime Minister, had been instrumental in bringing about the liberation of two thousand Armenians from prison, after the massacres in the interior, that an Armenian, Dr. Charpaz, who was a great authority on typhoid fever, out of gratitude for so many of his countrymen’s lives having been saved, approached our parents, entreating them to allow him to try to save our lives by the use of a new serum which had just been invented. He said that he was determined to save two English lives to show his gratitude to Great Britain. As a last resource, Dr. Charpaz was allowed to try the serum, and the experiment was thoroughly successful; we regained strength and slowly fought our way back to life and consciousness, though for months we led the quietest lives as invalids.

When we reached Therapia, we found every available room was already engaged by refugees fleeing from town, and were thankful to be given a room in Mrs. Bilinski’s house, where about ten of us sat up all night talking over the events of the last few days. As there was no room for any tables, John Thomson, Severin Bilinski and Charlie, my eldest brother, lay stretched on the floor busily writing reports for the English papers. As no telegrams were allowed to be sent out of the country, the articles describing the massacres had to be sent by letter post to Adrianople and telegraphed from there to London. Charlie was special correspondent to the Daily Telegraph; he had to be in the midst of all that was going on and gave us graphic accounts of the terrible scenes he had witnessed at the height of the massacres.

[1899]…Then to my great delight, Sir John Fisher invited my sister to visit the Mediterranean Fleet at Smyrna, and included me in the invitation. Our uncle1, Henry Cumberbatch, was Consul-General at Smyrna, and he invited us to stay at the Consulate for the two weeks during which the Fleet was at anchor in the harbour. I shall never forget the arrival of the Fleet, when thirty-six of our finest men-of-war steamed into the great empty expanse of the natural harbour of Smyrna and weighed anchor.

…As soon as we were seated on the cushions placed a the bottom of the caique, the twenty rowers, with long rhythmic strokes, rowed us rapidly and swiftly to the Dolma Bagtché Palace, a modern building contrasting strangely with the ancient palaces we had just visited in Stamboul.

Landing at the foot of a broad flight of marble steps, we entered the enormous white building, which consisted practically of one vast hall for ceremonial receptions – with a gallery running round the top – which opened into smaller rooms. There was no furniture beyond gilt chairs placed against the walls, mural looking-glasses and a stupendous glass chandelier that was bought for Sultan Abdul Aziz soon after the Crimean War by Mr. Charles Hanson, who was commissioned to procure the largest he could find in London. He appears to have fulfilled this order with the greatest success, and it forms the only ornament in the immense expanse of the hall. The corridors were hung with masses of vulgar, crude, modern pictures of no artistic value, and these were interspersed with an innumerable array of mirrors.

During the First Balkan War I was associated with Mr. Aubrey Herbert, both of us ardent Turkophiles, in the raising of funds for the war hospital for wounded Turks (opened by the British in Constantinople under the auspices of Lady Lowther), which was superintended by Dr. Clemow.
… When the Peace Conference between Turkey and Balkan States opened in London, the head of the Turkish Mission was Osman Nizam Pasha, who had been a great friend of my father’s. As he could not spare time to visit us at our home in Essex, he invited my husband and me to lunch with him at the Carlton Hotel. We were greatly amused by the frank opinions that he expressed of some of our Ministers. As a result of the very first conference at St. James’s Palace, he lost all hope that the peace negotiations would reach a satisfactory ending, for in his opinion there was no statesman capable of securing agreement between the belligerents. Osman Pasha spoke English fluently. Sir Edward Grey and Mr. Asquith, he told us, he found quite charming. The one was a good fisherman, the other a great country gentleman; but neither, he thought, was a statesman.

When the Turks entered the Great War, I started a fund for British refugees from Turkey. Many of them were in sore straits, as they had had all their belongings confiscated. Thanks to the publicity given to the fund in “the Near East”, I was soon so overwhelmed by the number of distressing cases requiring assistance that I had to get my friends to help me. Lady Lowther, Lady O’Connor, Lady de Bunsen and Lady Barker undertook most of the work, and for several years the Fund rendered good service to the refugees.

My links with Turkey were severed by the Great War in more ways than one. A tanker caught fire in the Bosphorus and lighted petroleum drifted among the wooden piles on which many houses were built. These were quickly set ablaze, and the flames spread from house to house. Twenty-two in all were destroyed at Candilli, among them “Clifton Yali”, or dearly-loved home. In this way was removed the last trace of our twenty-six years’ sojourn in that beautiful, romantic and misruled country, where we had spent so many happy days, and of which I still retain so many happy memories.

BML 10125.ccc.32.

1. According to the notes of contributor, Chris Seaton, George Henry Clifton (1826-1897) married first Louisa ‘Grace’s sister, Helena Jane Hanson in 1862. She died in 1866 and in 1872 in Constantinople he married Ellen Camilla Mary Ann Cumberbatch (1845-1914), eldest daughter of Robert William Cumberbatch (1821-1876) Consul at Smyrna and his first wife Ellen Lloyd (1812-1845). Their son, Henry Alfred Cumberbatch, was also the British Consul in that city (term 1896-1908). return to main text

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