The Hanson Family Connection with the Winchester College - Richard Stevens, 2006/7

The following excerpt from a priceless document1 I have unearthed may throw light on the Italian fraternity in late19th century Constantinople:

“In February 1886 he (Maurizio de Bosdari) went to Constantinople as Secretary to the Italian Delegate on the Committee of Public Debt. He returned to Italy in 1887, but went back to Constantinople in July 1888, and became a Director of the Anatolia Railway Company on the recommendation of the Italian ambassador.

In 1890 he entered into partnership with a Mr Thalasso in a banking concern, which was encouraged by the Italian Government with a view to increasing the facilities of Italians trading with Constantinople. As Bankers they were successful and obtained a large interest in the Bucharest Tramways, which proved very profitable. Maurizio de Bosdari however, had no taste for finance, his inclinations being towards the study of letters and art.”

There followed his marriage to Ethel Hanson, involvement with the mysterious van Branteghem and the crash of 1895. Ethel Margaret Hanson or more properly Etheldreda, who was probably educated in Constantinople by governesses, daughter of Arthur Walker Hanson was said to be one of three very beautiful and glamorous sisters. Married Count Maurizio (not Cosimo as referred to in the Hanson family tree), or Maurice de Bosdari, an Italian living in Constantinople, in December 1890. Three sons:

- Maurizio (known as Bino), born 10 Oct 1891 (in Constantinople?), died Feb 1971.
- Anthony Herbert, born London 23 Oct 1899, died ???
- Cosimo Diodono, born London 29 July 1901, died 19 May 1979, (all these described themselves as Count: under Italian regulations it seems all sons of a Count are themselves Counts. Ethel’s husband was himself the third son of Count Annibale de Bosdari).

“…… (Maurizio) married a Miss Hanson, whose father’s firm had for years been prominent merchants in the East. These merchants, however, came to grief, in great measure through the conduct of a man called Alphonse van Branteghem, a Belgian subject and a lawyer. The latter was a remarkable man, of polished and persuasive manners and the highest culture, a great classical scholar, and one of the greatest authorities on ancient Greek art. Through the Hanson family (Maurizio de B.) became well acquainted with him”.

There appears to have been a speculative share boom in Constantinople in the early 1890s. This collapsed spectacularly in autumn 1895, bringing down not only the Hanson business but also de Bosdari’s banking firm, Thalasso & Bosdari. Van Branteghem owed de Bosdari a large sum, which was meant to be secured on works of art but these had been appropriated by other creditors, and thereafter de Bosdari was financially embarrassed. After this disaster the de Bosdaris came to live in London. The marriage broke up in dramatic circumstances after 1903.

Ethel married secondly John Somerville Birch (‘Birch Pasha’ – again evidently a Constantinople connection), brother of General Sir Noel Birch and uncle of Nigel Birch MP, later Lord Rhyl. Son Lionel born London 11 April 1910. Birch Pasha died in London 22 Jan 1913 aged 52.

Ethel was alive and living in London in 1936, but I cannot trace a death in 1941 as per family tree, nor can I trace a will. All information gratefully received. (Count Maurizio de Bosdari died in Nice, 26 March 1943).

Meanwhile her remarkable children:

- Maurizio (Bino) appears to have gone to Italy after the break-up of parents and to have been brought up by relatives as an Italian. Was voted the best-dressed man in Italy. Appeared in a 1950 film ‘E più facile che un cammello’ (US: ‘His last 12 Hours’, France: ‘Pour l’amour du ciel’) playing a role described as ‘an entertainer of hordes of desperate female social climbers’ – maybe modelled on his own character. Unmarried.
- Anthony – the object of my researches, see below.
- Cosimo was educated at Summer Fields and Winchester (scholar, 1914-19). Became a stockbroker. Lived for some years in South Africa – author of pioneering works on Cape wines, Cape Dutch architecture, the sculptor Anton Anreith, and a whimsical short story Ten Tickeys. Married (1) Enid Walker – 2 daughters (2) Erika Lajta – 1 son, 1 daughter.
- Lionel (also known as Bobby) Birch. Educated at Shrewsbury. Author and journalist – editor of Picture Post and founder of Mandrake column in Sunday Telegraph. Had 5 wives! Died 18 Feb 1982.

Anthony de Bosdari was educated at Summer Fields and Winchester (scholar, 1912-18), where he had a very distinguished record – won school prizes for Latin verse, English speech, reading, edited the school magazine, two years in soccer xi, was in cricket team (topped the batting averages) and would have been captain in 1918 had he not left at Easter. Did not go to university, probably because of shortage of money, appears to have become a wheeler-dealer. In 1928, hit the headlines by becoming engaged to Tallulah Bankhead2 (see numerous biographies of her). One of the reasons the marriage did not go ahead was that he was said to be married already, to the daughter of a wealthy Chicago industrialist (one source gives her name as Babe Plunkett Greene), but this marriage was not recognised in the UK(??). In the process acquired a reputation as a con-man – his brother Cosimo thought he was so disreputable that he would have nothing to do with him, and Cosimo’s descendants do not know what became of Anthony. Was in Canada and the US in 1930s, then in France. Claims to have been interned in France during the war. The last definite trace I have of him is as Assistant Foreign Editor of a magazine in Paris in 1946. Rumours are that he ended up in North Africa or South America.

Meanwhile, back to the end of the parents’ marriage, Maurizio de Bosdari sold an artefact to no less a person than J. Pierpont Morgan, who paid with a cheque. Armed with this (genuine) cheque, someone - it appears to have been van Branteghem - then forged J.P. Morgan’s signature on two bills of exchange for £11,500, which de Bosdari managed to get discounted, presumably hoping to retire them by raising money before they became due. However six months later he hadn’t managed to do this by the day before they matured, so, realising the balloon was about to go up, he fled the country (February 1903), shortly to be hotly pursued by a warrant for his arrest.

There was some speculation how much his wife Ethel (Hanson) knew about this. She was rumoured to have been in touch with him after his disappearance. Then when a body was washed up off Ancona (the de Bosdari home town) and was suspected of being Maurizio, she was said to have gone into mourning: however the police thought she might be trying to put people off the scent. There were further rumours that he was hiding in a monastery in Italy, and eventually the Italian police were reluctant to pursue the matter and the active chase was called off.

Well, what did Ethel know? We don’t know, but she must in due course have managed to get a divorce, presumably on the grounds of desertion, in order to marry Birch Pasha. What did she tell her children? (Anthony being 3 at the time of father’s disappearance and Cosimo 1½: Maurizio junior, aged 11, may or may not already have been back in Italy).

Anyhow, Birch Pasha appears to have more or less adopted Anthony and Cosimo and they started calling themselves Birch. Under that name they attended Summer Fields, and Anthony was awarded a scholarship at Winchester College in 1912 in the name of A.H. Birch. Then, after Birch Pasha died in 1913 someone must have said they might as well revert to their real name de Bosdari, which they did.

They must have wondered whether this had been wise when in 1917 Count Maurizio reappeared. He was recognised by someone who knew him, living under an assumed name in a hotel in Cromwell Road (having been all over the place on the run in the intervening 14 years), and was promptly arrested. He was sentenced to 3 years penal servitude. This of course made the papers, and it is hard to imagine anything more embarrassing/traumatic for two scholars of a leading public school. And what did Ethel think? Were they reunited? When did she tell her children the truth?

Maurizio was released after 18 months (spent mostly in the prison hospital) on compassionate grounds owing to ill health. In spite of which he lived for another 23 years, still using assumed names. What, if any, were his relations with his children during this time?

Anyhow, a riveting story! I would be most interested to hear what the extension of the Hanson family tree might reveal, particularly anything about Anthony de Bosdari [unfortunately no information]. Oddly there is or was a character in Canada whom I haven’t pinned down calling himself Denniston or Tony de Bosdari. I suppose it’s merely a coincidence, though a strange one, that one of Ethel’s sisters married a Dennistoun. Or could Anthony have left offspring, legitimate or otherwise, in Canada, where he certainly was for a time in the 1930s?

I haven’t said anything about Lionel Birch, Ethel’s son by the Pasha. Another remarkable character: a cricketer of near professional standard (given the de Bosdari brothers’ talent at games this must have come from the Hanson genes), author of a book of vaguely homosexual verse and a novel (‘The System’ - I have been trying in vain to get hold of a copy) which caused him to be banned from the precincts of his old school (Shrewsbury - who made possession of the book by any of the boys a beatable offence), then 5 wives (one of whom later married Arthur Miller - though disappointingly not Marilyn Monroe). One daughter who must now be aged around 40.

Apart from Ethel Margaret Hanson’s sons, Anthony and Cosimo de Bosdari, a whole crop of the Hanson clan also went to the Winchester College, presumably selected through the family connection:

John Oliver Hanson, son of J.O. Hanson of 9 Dorset Square, London. Was at Winchester in 1835. Became a director of Atlas Insurance Co and National Provincial Bank. Lived at 8 Southwick Crescent, Hyde Park.

The three other sons of J.O. Hanson -
William Stonehewer Hanson, born 13 Dec 1821. recorded as ‘in business in Moorgate’ in 1860s.
George Scott Hanson, born 2 June 1823. Captain in 56th Regiment. Married in Bermuda 20 April 1853 Olivia Augusta Gilbert Jones, and died there soon after (16 Oct 1853).
Henry Allix Hanson, born 19 July 1830. Died 25 Jan. 1895 in Southsea.
– went to Winchester in 1837, 1839, 1845.

Also I think this is relevant - a George William Hanson, son of George Hanson (1794-1872, indicated as ‘of Smyrna’ on family tree) of 28 Great Winchester Street, London, went to Winchester 1844. Became Lt-Col in 9th Bombay Light Infantry, retired 1879 as Hon. Major-General. Died 18 Dec 1913. Mentioned in the register3 as being first cousin of the above sons of J.O. Hanson, confirming parentage.

Ernest Theodore Hanson, born 15 July 1865, son of Henry James Hanson of Constantinople and Edith Anna Oldham. At Winchester 1878-1882. Cattle rancher at Pincher’s Creek, Alberta; gold miner in Kootenay, British Columbia, 1896-99; prospector for gold in Klondyke, 1899-1904; fruit farmer at Vernon, B.C. from 1905. Married Edith Gertrude Fowler, 15 May 1905, died 9 June 1930.

Clarence Oldham Hanson, born 21 Feb 1871, elder son of William Wellesley Hanson of Constantinople and Mary Grace, daughter of Henry Oldham, MD. At Winchester 1885-1888. RIE College, Cooper’s Hill 1890-93, Diploma of Forestry 1893; Indian Forest Dept, 1893; Deputy Conservator 1902; Nagpur Volunteer Rifles 1895; Instructor to the School of Forestry, Forest of Dean, 1904-15; Div. Officer, Timber Supply Dept, 1916-17; Inspector, Office of Woods, 1918-19; Divisional Officer, S.W. Counties, 1919; retired 1931; MBE 1918, ISO 1931; author of ‘Forestry for Woodmen’. Married Elizabeth Margaret Sinclair, daughter of Rev. Frederick Shepherd, 4 Dec 1897. Died 13 Dec 1962.

From obituary of Edwin Freshfield (26 Nov 1832 – 1 Sep 1918) in The Wykehamist, 9 Nov 1918. Edwin Freshfield was at Winchester 1845-? (and had two Wykehamist brothers), was a Fellow of the College 1888-95, and of course a partner in the prominent eponymous firm of solicitors.

“A romantic episode in his early life gave a life-long direction to his special tastes and acquirements. After leaving Cambridge, where he steered the boat in the University race, when just 23 years old he served in the Black Sea during the Crimean War on board HMS Firebrand. It was while the Firebrand was refitting at Smyrna that he made the acquaintance of the lady whom he afterwards married, Zoe, the daughter of James Frederick Hanson of Smyrna, himself a member of a family with strong Wykehamical connections, and also large business interests both in Constantinople and in Asia Minor. It was through his wife that Freshfield inherited property in Smyrna, which in later life he visited almost every year.”

1. This is to be found in the National Archives at Kew and is a petition to the Home Secretary (signed by various worthies including two directors of Vickers and four or five prominent art dealers: can’t find a date, but must be 1919) for “Release of Maurice de Bosdari, sixty one years of age, sentenced on the 4th February, 1918, at the Old Bailey for three years penal servitude for forgery”. There is a Home Office file about the case, and a Foreign Office one about the pursuit when M. de Bosdari fled, but the whole story is neatly summarised in the petition. I had no idea about this saga - I merely idly entered ‘de Bosdari’ as a search in the National Archives website, saw there were some references so went along to see what they consisted of. return to main text
2. There is an intriguing picture of Anthony de Bosdari in this website which shows him with his fiancee Tallulah Bankhead in 1928, during their brief engagement. return to main text
3. The registers referred to here is again Winchester College Registers, however the volume covering 1838 to 1906 which I don’t have myself but for some reason there’s a copy in the Bishopsgate Institute. return to main text

return to Hanson family tree

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