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Née Whittall

The great grand-daughter of Edward Whittall, the eminent botanist, she lived in Bornova till 1939 (aged 5), when she moved to Ankara where she stayed till 1952. Her brother Desmond Whittall lived in Turkey till about 12 years ago. Desmond Whittall joined the Ottoman bank in London in 1950. He held numerous managerial posts in Africa, the Middle East and Pakistan, where he was the general manager of Pakistan section of Grindlays bank. In 1980 he was appointed by the British Board, as deputy general manager of the Ottoman bank in Turkey, based in Istanbul. He retained that job until his retirement in 1991. In 1987/8 Desmond Whittall has made head of the British chamber of commerce in Istanbul, exactly 100 years after his forbear, Sir William Whittall, its founder, held that post. Desmond Whittall was awarded the O.B.E. in 1990, by Her Majesty the Queen for services to British commerce and the British community in Istanbul.

Mrs James was a friend to the late Ambassador Sir Roderick Sarell and his wife Pam, as her husband Captain ‘Jimmy’ Geoffrey James, was the naval attaché serving under him in Ankara between 1969 and 1971. She knew the family left from Exeter to Constantinople around 1803-05, and has the contact of his surviving sons, William, Philip and the youngest Charles. Mrs James has fond memories of her time in Ankara, a city she had got to know well in her earlier years.

Sir Roderick Sarell died 3 years ago, and though he started to work on his memoirs, they only cover his early years in the diplomatic service. A year before his death Mr Sarell sent to Mrs James, for mutual interest, a synopsis of the Sarell family story he prepared, and also enclosed a letter written by a family member, with illuminating details of life in Constantinople of 1812.

The Sarell family are related by marriage to the prominent Levantine family of Baltazzi, some of whose members still reside in Vienna and were involved in the prestigious Jockey club of the city, which they helped to establish.

Mrs James remembers anecdotes and stories stretching back to ‘uncle Arthur’, paternal grand-father Edgar Arthur’s brother Albert James, 1879-1957 (one of 9 offspring of Edward the botanist - 1851-1917) of a time when the brigands ran the outback, and one of the most famous of these, most of whom seem to be Greek, was Çekirge, who kidnapped and ransomed. This brigand chief seeing the house lights in Bournobat on, enquired beyond the walls what was the matter, to which the response from within was that a child was sick, but they were too scared to call for a doctor. This brigand had a heart, and went to doctor’s house, pulled him out of bed, to be brought to the patient. Another time a brigand held the local Vali’s [mayor] son for ransom. These brigands were mostly Greeks from the islands and brigandage was an escape from grinding poverty. They could be ruthless, such as sending a cut ear in a parcel when the ransom was not paid, but often when the ransom was paid, they gave a gold coin before releasing their captive with whom they had bonded in the outback. The Whittall family considered themselves to be a high-level potential targets as they were considered to be rich. There was something of a Robin Hood style to many of these bandits who gave some of their ill-gotten gains to the villagers in the countryside who gave them shelter. Once one of the brigands was cornered in Bournabat who tried to hide up a chimney; he was brought out covered in soot. Brigandage wasn’t limited to the 19th century, as once when Mrs James’s father Jack Whittall was out shooting with a party in the bush country of Aydın, jandarmes came to inform him that bandits were converging on the group, so the party turned on their heels and were able to outpace the brigands.

 Note: There is an on-line article covering the ‘British ransom victims in the Mediterranean periphery, 1860-81 - Martin Blinkhorn’ viewable here:

Mrs James father, Jack Godfrey Whittall (born 1904) decided on a clerical career, following the disruption in family fortunes with WWI. He worked as a clerk at the British consulate in Izmir, however his commercial aptitude meant he was transferred during WWII years to the commercial section at the British Embassy at Ankara. After WWII, he entered the diplomatic service, served in consular posts around the world, and for his services received an OBE.


Philip Sarell, christened 1758 at St Mary Steps, Exeter, a Fuller, admitted a Freeman of Exeter, 1780, married Sarah Sowton in 1781. He had three sons, JAMES, christened 1782, who emigrated to Turkey and was sworn a Freeman of the Levant Company in Constantinople on 18 June 1803 at the age of 21. The date is significant because it marks the reopening of the Mediterranean after Nelson’s victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Aboukir Bay. Richard the second christened on l9 September 1791 and Philip christened in 1795.

James married a Greek woman called Imaragsa by whom he had a son, Edward James of whom there is no further record. Four years after his arrival, James was involved in a famous and historic affair arising out of the conflicting pressures on Turkey of the French and the Russians. The Turks had shown their determination when Napoleon had invaded Egypt, a Turkish province. The French Chargé d’Affaires and 2000 French residents had been thrown into prison. Subsequently the Turkish attitude to France, England and Russia had varied according to their progress and relative positions during the Napoleonic wars.

The route of the Austrians and Russians at Austerlitz enabled Napoleon to re-establish French influence at Constantinople. He sent General Sebastiani to encourage the Turks to confront the Russians by removing the Hospodars of Moldavia and Wallachia. This was a breach of a decree of 1802 binding the Turks not to remove these officers within seven years of appointment. When the British Ambassador made clear the British Government’s strong support for Russian demands the Turkish authorities realising that this meant war, prepared secretly to seize the Ambassador, the British Merchants, and the Guardship as hostages. Arbuthnot had reliable information of this intended coup and on the pretext of a banquet on board HMS Endymion the sole remaining British Man-of War in the Bosphorus assembled the British Factors on Board. Only the Captain and one British Merchant was in the secret, and when night fell the ship’s cables were cut, and she slipped away without warning to the Turks, passed the Dardanelles in safety and joined Admiral Duckwoth’s squadron which had assembled off Tenedos. The Turks confiscated all British property and all British subjects were made prisoner. Arbuthnot wrote to Sebastiani the French representative asking him to see that the Porte behaved to the women like a civilised power, and handed over English affairs to the Danish Minister Hubsch.

For the next two years Morier, the Consul General and the Merchants remained in Malta (without their wives and families). In April 1808 the Turkish government, realising that the Franco-Russian pact at Tilsit was aimed at the eventual partitioning of Turkey, wrote to Lord Collingwood, C-in-C Mediterranean offering to renew negotiations for peace. In September Robert Adair arrived at the Dardanelles. After three months of discussions The Peace of the Dardanelles was signed in January 1809. It provided for the full restoration of the Capitulations and of the property of the merchants which had been sequestrated during the war.

The merchants’ including James Sarell’s claim for their losses was the subject of somewhat caustic comment from London: ‘We desire that you will communicate to Mr Barbour, Mr Prior, Mr Cartwright and Mr Sarell that we have given all due attention to their claims for reimbursement of the losses which they sustained in consequence of their having been brought from Constantinople by Mr Arbuthnot. On examining the statements of the gentlemen sworn to before you and on adding together the amount of the whole, we were much struck by their total discordance both in character and amount. The final statement of losses real and imaginary, including those of their correspondents, scarcely amount to one half of the first claims which were declared to be for their own individual losses only and which they even desired us to lay before the House of Commons.’

As part of the settlement, the Turks secured the abolition of the abusive issue of the Ambassador’s barats or patents of protection which had been sold over lavishly. Only those actually serving as Dragomen or interpreters were to enjoy English protection. It was further agreed that no more Ottoman subjects were to be appointed as English Consuls although Greeks and other Levantines continued to act as agents for the Levant Company.

Richard, Philip’s second son, christened at St Mary Steps in Exeter on 19 September 1791 was sworn a freeman of the Levant Company in Constantinople in 1811 at the age of 20. James died in the same year and only shortly after their mother Sarah came out to join the brothers in Constantinople. Richard married an English woman of whom we have no record. Sarah wrote a remarkable letter on march 13 1812 to a Mr Joseph Brown of London describing in illuminating detail Constantinople as she then saw it. This is the earliest family document we possess. We have not yet identified Mr Joseph Brown.

Philip, the youngest of the three Exeter Brothers came out to Turkey shortly before his mother and is recorded as present at the Levant Company in Constantinople on 27 May 1818 when he was 23. We have no record of his marriage. He died in Smyrna in 1839.

On Easter Day, 21 April 1822, Richard now 30 married Euphrosyne Rhasi a member of the distinguished Cephalonian family of that name, born in l799 and therefore about 23. Whether it was a love match or a shrewd move into British protection in view of the savage Turkish reprisals and repression of the Greeks after the rebellion of 1821 we cannot know. But the marriage was successful in producing two sons and seven daughters.

Euphrosyne was an efficient mother, marrying off her eldest daughter Elizabeth (Eliza) to Theodore Baltazzi, already one of the richest men in Turkey as banker to the Sultan. Theodore was a widower of 43, Eliza was 19 but they had nine children of whom the last Julia was posthumous.

Richard for his part progressed to be Treasurer of the Levant Company Factory in Constantinople. When Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, the Ambassador, had to withdraw in 1822 after the Battle of Navarino because the Sultan was no longer willing to have dealings with him, Richard remained as Vice consul in charge of Commercial affairs. For his services during this period King William the fourth commanded that a ‘Gold Box with His Majesty’s Portrait be presented to Mr Sarell as a testimonial of His Majesty’s gracious approbation of the services which Your Excellency has reported Mr Sarell to have rendered to the interests of His Majesty’s trading Subjects during the absence of the British Embassy from Constantinople.’ (F0, 25 January 1831). (This gold box is on permanent loan by Henrietta Iwan-Muller to the Victoria and Albert museum and is on display in a cabinet in the Jewellery dept).

(Henrietta Iwan-Muller was the niece of Charles Wilkin and first cousin of Annamaria Sarell. She is the author of the diaries recording her life as a governess in Cairo and elsewhere. She records the deathbed scene of Eliza Alison (formerly Baltazzi) at the Hotel d’Orient on December 27 1863).

Sarah Sarell’s letter of March 13 1812 to Mr Joseph Brown of London written from Constantinople

The long period that has elapsed since my departure from England, and my not having written according to your very polite request is an omission for which I scarcely know how to apologise, but trust you will have the goodness not to impute either to inattention or disrespect, what was occasioned only by the melancholy and unfortunate event, which so soon took place after I arrived in this country, an event which must cloud some part of every day of my future life with sorrow. I have however one consolation which is, that my beloved deceased son ever conducted himself so prudently, so equitably, towards all, with whom he had connexions, that he is universally spoken of, with respect and esteem. My now eldest son Rich’d who succeeded his brother, I believe, and trust you will find equally punctual and attentive to your interest, and to the interest of all his correspondents. My youngest Philip, who left England a few months before myself, continues here, and promises to do well, he is settled in the counting house with his brother dependent on him for a few years, till time and experience may render him fit to conduct business. We all live very comfortably together, my children are dutiful, and affectionate, and I should have been very happy had it pleased the Almighty to have spared my dear deceased son. Pardon me for relating so much of my own affairs. At present we live here in much security and peace and in many respects with as much comfort as in England. We have every luxury for the Table much cheaper than in England, very fine poultry, the turkies the largest I ever saw, fish and fruit very fine, and plenty of good wine at a low price. The old English proverb is exactly verified here that “God sends meat but the Devil sends cooks” for surely there never was in any Christian country such miserable cooks. The women here have not the least idea of doing anything in the kitchen, the cooks are all men, and for the most part Greeks from the islands. When I / we first got into our house, as I could only speak English, and the servants only Greek or a little Italian, we made some very drole mistakes at times. I now comprehend a little of both those languages. My son Richard speaks Greek like a native, also Italian and French pretty well. Philip has made some proficiency in Italian and is now learning French and can make himself understood in Greek. The Turkish language is extremely difficult to acquire and very few learn it except those who are natives of the country. The whole appearance both of the people and the country, the variety of unusual sounds that salute ones ears, the extreme narrowness of the streets, the excessive dirt, the quantity of dogs, altogether make the place very disagreeable to a person on arriving first from England, but a little time makes it familiar, and curiosity will find many subjects in a country and people formerly so famous in history.

There are four distinct orders of persons who inhabit Constantinople, first and most numerous are the Turks who esteem themselves superior and Lords of all, the Greeks who as the original natives of the country, since time immemorial before it was conquered by the descendants of Mohamed, are next to the Turks, most numerous. These people in general hate and despise their Turkish masters, yet as a conquered people they are obliged to submit, but they take every opportunity to vex the Turks when they can do it with impunity and those quarrels frequently end in the death of the poor Greek whom the Turk will surely murder if he is too much irritated. The Armenians come next under our observation; those people are Christians, their ancestors were the peaceable inhabitants of the once flourishing kingdom of Armenia, which is situated about midway between the territories of the grand seignior and the sultan of Persia, (Turkey and all Greece was at that time governed by the Greek Emperors), situated as those people were, between such powerful neighbours they alternately fell prey to both of them, but on their final subjugation and the extermination of their kingdom, thousands of the miserable exiles found an asylum in Constantinople under the government of the Greek emperors , since the conquest of this country by the Turks in 1453, the Armenians have gradually arisen to riches and opulence. They hold many places of confidence under the government; the coinage is wholly under their direction as the mint is farmed out to them. Their houses are most superb edifices built of stone, the gardens surrounded by high walls, within which they have fountains, statues and everything to please the eye and ear. Those people when sequestered in their houses, indulge themselves in al the pride of dress, yellow boots decorate their feet, their long gowns of the finest silk, a pelice lined in winter with fur which costs a thousand piasters, a fine shawl tied round the waist, which costs from fifty to one hundred pound sterling, the finest diamonds glitter on their fingers, and an immense calpack shelters their head. A calpack is a covering for the head of both Greeks and Armenians. I do not know what tis manufactured of, but it is black, and sometimes black mixed with white very fine, but in shape exactly resembles an old fashioned copper boiler whose brims being contracted much smaller than the other parts. Imagine that you see one of those boilers become black and coated from smoke and placed on the head bottom upwards, and you will have an exact idea of this sort of hat. I should observe that the head is shaved all round the temples and behind, not a bit of hair to be seen, only on the upper lip in the young, and an immense beard on the middle aged, and the old. The necks are quite exposed, as they never have a collar to the shirts.
The dress of the ladies is very little different from the men that is among the Turks, the Armenians, only that they are very careful of their hair, and wear it immensely long flowing over their shoulders or braided in a number of little tresses. The Greek ladies have almost adopted the European dress, the usual employment of the females of this country is embroidery, and they execute it in the most beautiful stile on muslin with silk, and or silver.

I have two or three times been at Constantinople from which we are separated by the harbour.
 Note: Therefore they are based in Galata / Pera.

I believe tis about a mile across. Constantinople is very much thronged with inhabitants, there are some very good houses, and the mosques make a very grand appearance. The chief thing that strikes the attention of a stranger is the bazaars, or market places. Those are immense vaulted buildings of stone on each side of which are shops range. Regularly every profession has a bazaar. The first which I entered was the Egyptian Bazaar, in that they sell every kind of drugs bought from Egypt, besides colours for painting, rice, sugar, coffee and various articles in the same way. In that single market there are more than one hundred shops, all exactly alike with a small room to sit in behind, as those who keep the shops are only in them during the day and return to their houses in the evening when the Bazaar is shut, and secured with iron doors for fear of fire. Besides those markets there are Khans for the merchants of Persia, from India, from Barbary where all kinds of rich merchandise are deposited and sold and in those the dealers remain during the time they remain in Constantinople. The Turks have some very beautiful manufacture in silk and cut velvets. Their silks are very good and well fancied. The velvets are silk and of different colours woven in one piece and variegated in flowers and other figures. Those velvets are mostly used for covering the cushions and sophas. A sopha is the great article of Turkish luxury, and very different from they are in England. A platform is raised round three sides of the room about a foot higher than the floor and three feet in width from the wall. On this platform mattresses are placed all round and covered in summer with coloured prints, trimmed with a deep fringe. At the back of the sophas against the wall, cushions, about a yard long are arranged, stuffed very hard with flax. In winter those cushions are covered with beautiful velvet and the mattresses with broad cloth or silk (I allude to the houses of the opulent) in those sophas the Turks, the Greeks and indeed all the people repose after dinner and take their pipe and coffee.

Another singular custom of this country is the Tandour or fine table. This is a small table about the size of a breakfast table, besides the upper part, it has a second table, below a few inches from the floor in the midst of this, is cut a round hole, in which a pan containing a charcoal fire is placed, and over the table a large blanket and quilt to keep in the heat. This table is placed in the angle between two sophas and round it, the family and visitors sit in winter with their feet placed on the lower part and covered as much as they like with the coverings. This custom to a native of England has an odd appearance but becomes agreeable from use as very few of the houses have chimneys, except in the kitchen, and the winters are very cold with much snow, but not long, four months is all that can be called winter.

I have two or three times been in a boat up the Bosphorus or canal of the Black Sea, the straits which parts Europe from Asia, tis not more than three miles wide at the widest part, and it is certainly not to be equalled for the beauty of prospect in the world. On entering the boat, you have the Seraglio on your right, whose fine buildings and woods rise gradually to the top of the hill. The large city of Scutari is on the opposite side on the Asiatic coast and all the way for 14 miles, tis a continuation of villages and towns on each side close to the mouth of the Black Sea. The grand seignior has some very beautiful houses on the banks of the canal, so lightly built and decorated with paintings and marble pillars that the outsides appear like some highly finished scene in a theatre. The canal in summer is covered with innumerable boats going and returning from the country houses of almost every description of people and parties, who taking their provisions and servants make little excursions to the Asiatic coast. And to increase the pleasure of the day, they ascend some of the highest mountains in a kind of light wagon drawn by buffaloes, where it would be impossible for a horse to draw a carriage.

These are some of the customs and amusements of Constantinople, but for all these things, tis very dull here, and I am afraid you will think that my letter is tediously long. I hope Mrs Brown and all the family are in good health, to whom please to make my respects, also to Mr Sculthorpe, I remain Sir,
Your Obedient Servant
S. Sarell

Note added by Roderick Sarell

Sarah (née Sowton) was born in Exeter, Devon and baptised at the church of St. Mary Major on 20 Dec 1758. She married Philip Sarell, Fuller and freeman of the city of Exeter (admitted on 10 April 1780 aged 22 as his father Richard’s apprentice) on 20 May 1781at the Sarell family’s parish church of St. Mary Steps. Philip is not recorded as dieing in Exeter. Their three sons, James, b. May 1782; Richard 19 Sept 1791 and Philip b. 1795 emigrated to Constantinople, Turkey where they were successfully sworn freemen of the Levant Company. James on 15 July 1803; Richard in 1811 and Philip mentioned as having come out ‘few months before myself was recorded as present at the Levant Co factory in Constantinople on 27/5/1818. James died in 1811 and so Sarah must have come out in 1810 and Philip in about the same year. Sarah was thus 53 when she wrote this memorable letter, the oldest surviving family document. She died in 1817 and on the removal of the graves from the ‘Grand Champs aux Morts’ she and James were reburied together in a large marble tomb in the Protestant cemetery at Feriköy, behind Pera in Constantinople.

The abridged text from the newspaper obituary of Sir Roderick Sarell
Roderick Sarell was the British Consul-General in Algiers during the Algerian war, the last Ambassador to Libya before the Gaddafi revolution, and then Ambassador to Turkey. He was born in 1913 in Dunkirk where his father was British Consul. In 1936 he joined the Consul Service, and in 1939 he was posted to Ethiopia, which was under Italian rule. When Italy joined the war alongside Germany in 1940, he moved to Iraq. By 1942 Italians had been defeated in Ethiopia, and he returned to Addis Ababa as Second Secretary.

Sarell’s final posting was as Ambassador in Ankara, then still headquarters of Cento, the alliance with Britain, Iran and Pakistan created to improve security along the southern flank of the Soviet Union. One of the most difficult episodes of his posting was the deaths of four British radar technicians, killed while held hostage by Marxist guerrillas. Their wives were in the embassy residence when news arrived of the failure of a rescue attempt by Turkish forces.

The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Anne made a state visit to Turkey in October 1971, and Sarell and his wife stayed with the royal party aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia as she sailed from Izmir to Istanbul. For his part in the visit’s success Sarell was then appointed KCVO.
Sir Roderick Sarell died on August 2001 aged 88.

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