The Possidhon Affair
BACKGROUND OF THE STORY
Frederick William Calvert from 1847 to 1868 was the British Consul overseeing trade in the Dardanelles of Turkey. He was well-educated and outgoing, and he had risen rapidly to the highest ranks of the British consular office. Susan Allen (1999) writes that "Calvert spoke Greek, Turkish, Italian, and French, in addition to his native tongue. He was a great sportsman who used to go shooting with one of the local pashas and was well liked by the Turks. He dispensed loans to the local population, and on Sundays, sick peasants came to him for advice and simple surgical operations.". Not surprizingly Calvert was highly regarded, and some considered him to be one of the more brillant consuls in the British Empire. However, Calvert was a merchant as well as consul, which meant that he had to balance his diplomatic responsibilities with a business empire that his family had built up over decades of trading in Greece and the Ottoman Empire of Turkey.
Frederick and his younger brothers James and Frank lived in a mansion in the Turkish town of Canakkale, which is located on the Asiatic side of the narrow Straits of the Dardanelles that separates Europe from Asia. First the Dardanelles, then a second marine passage called the Bosphorus must be negotiated by ships sailing from the Mediterranean into the Black Sea, and then seeking to continue on to the Crimean Peninsula that was controlled by Russia. Thus, when the Crimean War broke out in the Fall of 1853 between Russia and a coalition headed by Britain and the Ottoman Turks, the Dardanelles was of strategic importance. Given that the Canakkale mansion of the Calvert brothers was both their residence and their consular offices, both their family business empire and their diplomatic responsibilities were greatly imperiled by the conflict.
The military commissary responsible for supplying British soldiers in the region were ill prepared for their assigned task, and when supply shortages began to imperil the British campaign, Calvert took the initiative to help supply the troops. Sir George Brown in an April 8, 1854 letter to the Duke of Newcastle writes that Calvert was among a few dedicated patriots who took it upon themselves to help distribute supplies to coalition forces in the Dardanelles, and he further comments on Calvert's impressive skills as a diplomat. (This letter survives in the collection of Nottingham University.)
However, there were those who regarded Calvert not as a patriot, but as a greedy and unscrupulous war profiteer. He had made risky financial arrangements, and the business ethics of traders in the Levant, as the Eastern Mediterranean part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire was known, were not those of the typical London merchant (see the map of the Levant to the right). When an investigation was made into alleged profiteering during the war, General Bagot Smith, who had been one of the commanding officers of the aforementioned military commissary, sought to deflect blame from his command to local suppliers, and he accused Calvert of having "less regard for public than for private interests."
Allen (1999) writes that "because of Smith’s allegations, by 26 January  Calvert had to answer to charges of alleged profiteering to Brigadier General Mansfield."Calvert claimed that he was nearly broke from his out-of-pocket expenses to supply the troops. He even suggested that he should be knighted, not castigated, for his sacrifices on behalf of the British war effort.
However, Frederick Calvert just a few months later became emboiled in an insurance scandal that became known as the "Possidhon Affair". This incident was widely reported in British newspapers of the time, and was followed with great interest by the public. Although Calvert had immerged a hero from the profiteering charges leveled against him after the Crimean War, he was less fortunate with the "Possidhon Affair".
From The Evening Star (London, Middlesex, England), which preceded the better known exposé of the same title that appeared on Aug. 30 in the London Times.
ABSCONDING OF H.M. CONSUL AT THE DARDANELLES
A most extraordinary but deep laid scheme has recently been disclosed, in which suspicion attaches to no less a person than Mr. Calvert, her. Majesty's consul at the Dardanelles, and sub-agent to Lloyd's (who has since absconded), Mr. Calvert was, it appears, connected by marriage with Mr. William Abbott, of London. To this gentleman he wrote early in last year, requesting him to effect an insurance at Lloyd's for a "Turkish friend" - one Hussein Aga - for 12,000 £. on a cargo of oil, then being shipped or about to be shipped on board a vessel named the Possidhon, loading in Turkish waters. In order to put Mr, Abbott in funds for effecting this insurance, he was further instructed to raise 2,500 £. on the bills of lading of the cargo in question. The bills of lading were duly remitted. Mr. Abbott obtained upon them an advance of 1,500 £. from Messrs. Bevan, Cole, and Co., oil brokers, and effected the Insurance according to instructions. This was on the 11th April.
Meanwhile, on the 4th of that month, Mr. Calvert had ostensibly issued a clean bill of health, otherwise a clearance, at the Dardanelles, to the vessel named the Possidhon, specifying that that vessel sailed from Adramytti about the same time. On the 28th Mr. Calvert telegraphed to Lloyd's agent at Constantinople, who, in his turn, telegraphed to Lloyd's, that "on the night of the 8th April a vessel had been seen forty miles off the Island of Lemnos, furiously burning, a heavy gale of wind blowing at the time." Three months elapsed, the Possidhon did not arrive in England, and Messrs. Bevan, Cole, and Co. began to press Mr. Abbott for the money they had advanced. Mr. Abbott, of course, applied to Mr. Calvert, That gentleman replied by expressing at once apprehensions for the safety of the ship. She had left the Dardanelles on the 6th of April. On the 8th a vessel was seen "burning furiously" - as a vessel laden with oil, no doubt, would burn - off the Island of Lemnos. Mr. Calvert began to entertain "very serious apprehensions on her account."
This being the position of affairs, Mr. Calvert was directed to send in certain documents to support a claim of total loss. His reply was eminently characteristic. He would write to the shipper of the oil directing him what to do to recover the insurance, should the Possidhon have been lost, as "surmised." "On the other hand," writes Mr, Calvert, with infinite ingenuousness, "you are, no doubt, aware that it is my duty, as acting on behalf of Lloyd's, to obtain whatever information I can collect on the subject, but rather with a view of protecting the underwriters than of assisting others to recover money from them. I have on several occasions acted very efficaciously on their behalf in this way, and only very lately, at the instance of Messrs. Mordes and Dixey, insurance brokers, of Cannon-street."
It seems at this stage of the proceedings to have occurred to Mr. Consul Calvert that the story of the burning of the Possidhon would require to be strongly corroborated. He throws out a suggestion that the vessel was boarded and burned by Greek pirates, who, it was reported, at that time were cruising about Mytalene, Tenedos, Lemnos, Imbron, Samothrace, etc., and that the crew acted in complicity with the pirates. Having thus broken ground, he goes a step further, and casts suspicion on "my Turkish friend," Hussein Aga.
Mr. Calvert's suspicions, however, at this time were not confined to himself, but were somewhat largely shared at Lloyd's, and the consequence was that, in January last, the whole affair was placed in the hands of Lloyd's Salvage Association, who forthwith despatched a special agent to Constantinople to investigate it. The result was the discovery that there was no such person as Hussein Aga, and no such ship as the Possidhon - that the shipper, ship, and cargo were together a myth, the creation of the fertile brain of Mr, Consul Calvert, who, in carrying the conception so far towards a successful issue, appears to have had the very efficient assistance of M. Tolmides, the British consular agent at Tenedos. In order to found a claim upon the underwriters, four documents were forwarded to Mr. Abbott by Mr. Calvert, namely -
All these documents, if we are to believe M. Tolmides, who had every reason to know, are, as regards their contents, false; yet they appear to have been made the foundation of a claim by Mr. Calvert for no less than 12,000 £. That the claim was challenged was not the fault of Mr. Calvert, or of his subordinate, for never was an attempt at fraud more cleverly planned or more dexterously executed.
When the Committee of Lloyd's Salvage Association resolved to appeal to the Government, and the Secretary (Mr. Harper) was in the act of preparing a statement of the facts to lay before Earl Russell, a telegram was received from Constantinople informing the committee that the ambassador had ordered an inquiry into the conduct of Mr. Calvert in the matter, but that it was limited to a charge of departure from the strict routine of office in issuing a clean bill of health to the Possidhon without previous production of the usual Turkish documents. The committee considering that the whole matter should be thoroughly sifted, the secretary was requested to proceed at once to Constantinople. He went to the Foreign-office, and an order was sent by telegram to the ambassador to suspend the inquiry till the arrival of the secretary in Constantinople, and, on his arrival, to allow him to be present at the proceedings.
On Mr. Harper's arrival at Constantinople he was informed by the ambassador that Mr. Calvert had absconded, consequently it would be useless to proceed with the inquiry; upon which Mr. Harper applied to the Supreme Court for a warrant for the apprehension of Mr. Calvert. The Embassy was applied to, to examine M. Tolmides, the consular agent for Mr. Calvert at Tenedos, and the parties whose names were affixed to the documents in question. This was granted. Tolmides, in his examination, admitted that all the instruments bearing the official seal of the consul were false as regarded the purport of their contents; that they had been obtained by Mr. Calvert, with Tolmides' signatures to them, and afterwards himself filled up the body of each document. Since then, nothing has been seen or heard of Mr. Calvert, the officers having failed to effect his arrest.
The following official communication was received at Lloyd's on the 17th instant, announcing the course pursued by the Government in the matter:
Frederick Calvert initially avoided arrest in the Possidhon Affair by fleeing his consular post in the Dadanelles in June, 1862. He remained in hiding for five years, some speculate hiding with the help of William Abbott's son William George Abbott, who is incorrectly refered to in some articles as Calvert's brother-in-law. Calvert reappeared in June, 1867 in the Dardanelles, and he was arrested in October and jailed. He was subsequently tried and convicted in Constantinople and ultimately spent two years in a prison in Malta. Many felt that Calvert was innocent and that he had been unjustly imprisoned, but despite pleas made by many to the crown on his behalf, the conviction stood. Calvert was released from prison in 1871 and retired to his farm in the Dardanelles, where five years later in 1876 he died still proclaiming his innocence. Both he and his wife Eveline Abbott are buried near the Dardanelles in the Chanak Consular Cemetery in Canakkale, Turkey with several of their children, and several members of Frederick's immediate family.
William Abbott, who was Calvert's partner in the Possidhon affair, went into bankruptcy in 1863 as a consequence of the scandal, and was tried in court as an accessory to the fraud. Although William was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing, the presiding judge remarked that he still found it hard to believe that William was completely innocent. There is no further mention of William Abbott in any of the London papers, and he died suddenly in 1866 of a massive heart attack in the dockyard at Deptford, London. William's son William George Abbott, who had served for nearly a decade with Frederick Calvert in the British consular office in the Dardanelles, and who for a time from 1858 to 1860 had assumed Calvert's consular duties, went on to spend a long career in the British Foreign Service.
THE FAMILY OF FREDERICK WILLIAM CALVERT
The father of Frederick William Calvert was James Calvert (1778-1852) of Malta, who on Oct. 7, 1815 married Frederick's mother Louisa Ann Lander (1792-1867) at All Saints Church in Southampton, England. Frederick's maternal uncle was Charles Alexander Lander (d. 1846), who moved in 1829 to the Dardanelles in Turkey, and became the British consul there the same year. Lander was also the business partner of James Calvert, and he took on at various times four of James Calvert's sons - Frederick, Charles, James, and Frank - as his assistants.
Copyright © Michael S. Clark, Ph.D., 1998-2020 - All rights reserved.