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Charles Wilkinson
A potted history of the Wilkinson family in Turkey

I, Charles Wilkinson, aged 77 (2011), resident in Istanbul, am the only remaining member of the Wilkinson family in Turkey.

My first education was with his aunt Miss Estelle de Cramer and French by Miss Maringle in Bornova, upto the age of 12, when I went to a British Public Boarding school (Hurstpierpoint College, Hassocks, Sussex), as did most of the Bournobat children at the time. Miss Maringle was French, came to Izmir to visit friends in Bornova, liked the village and the Levantine community and decided to stay. She earned her living by giving French private lessons and making French pastry to order for all the families there. Her house was next door to the one rented by my father before my grandfather died, when we moved into the Wilkinson house to take care of my grandmother, who was in ill health. We had Jewish servants, Palomba and Rosa, and a Greek gardener Yorgo, whom I learn my Greek from, as he used to take me to Miss Estelles school every day. I am also fluent in English, French and Turkish, and have been a lifelong friend of fellow contributors to this site, Lorin Washburn and Desmond Whittall. The other children at my aunt’s school were Olivia Edwards, since married to Renso Solari, sister of Gwyneth Giraud whose name escapes me, Betty Charnaud (now married), Sonia Mattheysz (who married Harold Whittall - both now dead), Lorin Washburn, and Zoe Rees, plus 2 others not connected to the Whittall and other Bournabat families.

My grandfather Charles C. Wilkinson, who died in 1948 in Bornova, was the 3rd son of Richard Wilkinson and Jane Whittall, daughter of James Whittall of Smyrna. On the occasion of his daughters marriage James built her in 1865, a 18 room house (close to the Bournabat church), in which I grew up in, and has now become an Art Gallery of the Aegean University in Smyrna - popularly known as the Wilkinson House. The house became a burden to upkeep as it was designated as an ‘old treasure’ (eski eser) by the authorities and we sold it off in 1985.

My great grandfather, Richard Wilkinson, was in the Consular Service between 1860-90. He was the eldest son of another Richard Wilkinson, my great-great grandfather, who married a Miss Magastre, and was the first cousin of Desiree Clary, who married Marshall Bernadotte and became Queen of Sweden, when her husband became king in 1812. Hence the connection to the Swedish Royal Family, and when Richard Wilkinson visited Stockholm in the first half of the 19th century he was received at Court as a cousin.

Richard Wilkinson (who married Miss Magastre daughter of a rich Marseille ship owner) was the son of Robert Wilkinson born in Harwich about 1750, a seafaring family based in this port for centuries.

My great uncle Dick (elder brother of the grandfather of Charles Wilkinson, Richard James Wilkinson (1867-1941)) was in the Colonial Service and was Governor of Siere Leone and earlier an officer of the Colonial Malay Civil Service based in Singapore, where there is still a street was named after him, which I visited many years ago. He wrote the standard reference Malay-English dictionary still used today - more information about the man: Although I was only 8 years old when my great uncle died, I remember his wife well (Edith nee Baird), she had lovely jewellery and was nick named Lady Singapore by the family in Bournabat.

My father Richard E. Wilkinson, O.B.E and C.B.E joined the Consular Service in 1934, and was British Consul General in Izmir between 1960-70. He was the last British national to leave Smyrna at the time of the Great Fire in 1922, when he swam out to the King George V battleship, which took him to Malta. My grandfather and grandmother had already left Smyrna, and my father, who saw the soldiers looting other European houses in the village, at the last moment decided to bury the family silver in their garden, some of which I still have today. The house was nevertheless looted of its paintings etc. Before he died in 1972, he bequethed his Library to the Aegean University in Izmir, who presented him with a Golden Key. He was the author of a letter outlining the family history to me and my brother, from which I have benefitted as well in terms of family history knowledge - view letter:

On my maternal side my great-grandmother Sophia Marie Whittall, was from the Swiss origin Kramer family of Smyrna, and died in 1948 aged 100 - photo.

My first job was with B.E.A. (British European Airways, which together with B.O.A.C later became B.A.) cargo dept. in Istanbul. My connection to the Whittall family also goes through my career as well. One of the shipping agencies based in Galata, Istanbul named Gilchrist & Walker’s directors in 1911 were G.A. Gilchrist, R.L.F. Whittall, E. Pears and C.J. Hannay. Mr. Gilchrist then sold his remaining shares to the Istanbul Whittalls in 1913 and they were Directors until 1927, when J.W. Kernick, son in law of Reggy Whitttall, joined the board and became M.D. until he retired in 1953, when he left for England. The company dealt initially chiefly with import export cargo handled at the port of Haydarpasa. I joined as a clerk in 1952, was appointed Manager in 1956, and became a Director in 1957, when Gilchrist & Walker merged with E. La Fontaine and Company. The Directors were then K.E. Whittall, Hugh La Fontaine (my great uncle), Mr. R.J. Whittall and me. Amongst many other companies we represented were BP (since 1930), Ellerman Lines (since 1925), Shell, P & O Cruises (since 1932), Watermans, States Marine, Japan Lines, Bibby Bros, Holland America, Princess Cruises and Seaborne Cruises. Due to my great uncle’s age, I did all the travelling to visit our principals, and got to know the Chairman of Ellermans, and Directors of P&O Cruises amongst other Directors and Managers in the Shipping Industry. Later the company had to change its name to comply with Turkish law and G.W. La Fontaine was liquidated in 1975, when I established Merkez Denizcilik of which I became Chairman and the majority share holder. After this date passanger traffic become more important for the company affairs. The offices were initially in Galata but we moved to Kabatas in 1996. In 1998 after a long struggle with the authorities we were responsible for turning the cargo quay at Salıpazar into a Cruise terminal, which enabled Grand Princess at 105,000 Grt with 3000 passengers to call at Galata, Istanbul on her maiden voyage that summer, and for subsequent cruises. At the end of 2007, due to adverse exchange rates and ill health I retired after 57 years of work, during which time I was the Treasurer of the Foreign Maritime Chamber of Ship Agents and also a member of the British Chamber of Commerce of Turkey. Apart from Edward La Fontaine and Sons (successsor of Hugh La Fontaine) and Catoni, there were no Levantine shipping agencies in Istanbul at the time of Gilchrist Walker - sample pages of its minutes book.

Due to privatisation in 2015 it will no longer be possible in the near future for the cruise liners to dock at Galata as the quays are being used for other purposes, like shopping centres, hotels etc. but denying the country the foreign exchange these tourists would have brought. I fear there will be a knock-on effect as the economics of cruise vessels proceeding to the Black Sea which would traditionally call at Istanbul first.

Notes: 1. Details of the early history of the Wilkinson family in the Levant is highlighted in an archive newspaper article by the Levantine Hyde Clarke.
2. My family’s various brothers have been involved in the early development of football, as seen in these archive photos here:
3. Photo from the 1960s showing my father at the hand-over ceremony of the defunct British Consulate building in Izmir.
4. Simplified Wilkinson family tree of the Levant

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