* 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.)

Allen (1999) writes that "in March, Frederick Calvert stepped into this vacuum and made arrangements for the troops there and at the Abydos lazaretto northeast of the Dardanelles. Reports referred to “our excellent consul at the Dardanelles” who detailed the available supplies so that within days Deputy Assistant Commissary General Bagot Smith could sign contracts with Turkish individuals “for a supply of every requisite for the army.” Frederick offered the family’s waterfront warehouses for the storage of Britain’s war supplies. In 1855, he also served the British Land Transport Corps at a feverish pace, travelling to Constantinople, Salonica, and the scene of battle in the Crimea. To prevent the loss of valuable time due to inclement weather conditions, he had tugs tow British supply ships through the dangerous strait. Using his vast network of contacts in the area, he procured saddles, drivers, horses, and mules by the thousands, hay and straw by the tons.

Frederick Calvert boasted of “a large establishment of sub-agents, clerks, and other employees engaged between Scutari and Tarsus in Asia and Constantinople and Volo in Europe who are paid exclusively by me.” According to Calvert, Colonel McMurdo, responsible for forming the Land Transport Corps, noted that “but for the timely and efficaceous service” rendered by Calvert, “the Land Transport Corps in the Crimea, and at a very critical period of the campaign, might have broken down.” Others commended him for the most substantial contribution of any person in Turkey in the supply of British troops."

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 Turkish Ottoman Empire was known, were not those of the typical London merchant. 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 [1856] 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.

Nonetheless, Allen (1999) writes that Calvert "was brought before the Supreme Consular Court in Constantinople in March 1857 for debts owed to the War Office. He left in February 1858 for London, where he spent two and a half years. He stayed there trying to clear his name and appeared before a parliamentary committee on consular service. Although he begged to be knighted by the Queen for his suffering, in 1859 he was “imprisoned for ten weeks on account of a debt contracted for the sole benefit of Her Majesty’s Government.” The War Office had withheld payment of several thousand pounds, and in 1859 it disallowed the 3 percent commission to which Frederick was entitled for his wartime service to the Land Transport Corps."

"Eventually his name was cleared, after a full investigation in 1860. He received commendation from the British Government and both Houses of Parliament. Four and a half years after the end of the war, the War Office finally paid him several thousand pounds of back commission and reimbursements, with interest. He returned home to the Dardanelles with considerable capital in October 1860."

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.
Thursday, August 28, 1862, page 1,

ABSCONDING OF H.M. CONSUL AT THE DARDANELLES

EXTRAORDINARY FRAUD
(Reprinted from the Shipping and Mercantile Gazette)

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 -

1. Certificate from the harbour master at Tenedos, to which port the Possidhon was represented to belong, of her departure,
2. Certificate from the consular agent at Tenedos, confirming the foregoing! and stating that no further news of her had been received.
3. Certificate from the consulate of the Dardanelles, giving the result of inquiries made at Avagit respecting the ship and cargo.
4. Certificate frcm the Agent of Samos at the Dardanelles, respecting a statement made to him by a certain captain, relative to passing a ship at sea, "which had been destroyed by fire, and which had been laden with oil."

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:

"Foreign-office, August 16, 1882. From James Murray to J.A.W. Harper, Esq., Lloyds."

"Sir, - "With reference to my letter of the 11th instant I am directed by Earl Russell to inform you that his lordship has instructed her Majesty's ambassador at Constantinople to suspend the inquiry instituted in reference to the fraud alleged to have been attempted by Mr. Calvert, her Majesty's consul at the Dardanelles, on the underwriters at Lloyd's, until the warrant for that gentleman's arrest, issued by the Supreme Consular Court at Constantinople, can be served upon him. I am to add that the report alluded to by you of confessions made by M. Tolmides, the consular agent at Tenedos, is correct, and that steps have been taken for removing M. Tolmides from office, and for appointing a new consul at the Dardanelles."

"I am, sir, your most obedient humble servant,"

"James Murray."

 

 

AFTERMATH

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.

  • Henry Hunter Calvert (c.1816-1882) was born about 1816 in Malta, and served in the British Navy before becoming a diplomat. He resided from 1838 on in the Ottoman Empire, serving in 1851 in the British consulate in Erzerum, Turkey. He later served for 25 years as the British vice-consul in Alexandria, Egypt. He never married, like his brothers Edmund and Frank. He died in 1882 in the Dardanelles, and he is buried there with other members of his family in the Chanak Consular Cemetery, which was previously the Calvert Family Cemetery.
  • Frederick William Calvert (1818-1876) was born in 1818 in Malta, and married Eveline Eugenie Abbott (1829-1911) on Feb. 19, 1846 in Smyrna, Turkey. Eveline's father Richard Benjamin Abbott (c.1803-1858) owned the Abbott Family emery (corundum) mines in the Emir Mountains of Turkey, which had made Eveline's family quite wealthy. Frederick left Malta for the Dardanelles of Turkey, where he became his uncle Charles Lander's heir and succeeded him as the British consul there after assisting Lander for over a decade. He served in 1845 and 1846 as the acting consul when his uncle was unable to fulfill his duties, and then in 1847 became the full consul following Lander's death. Frederick was also appointed vice-consul for Prussia, Belgium, and Holland, and he also served at times as the acting French consul. He died 1876 in the Dardanelles, and both he and his wife are buried there in the Chanak Consular Cemetery, which was previously the Calvert Family Cemetery. Frederick may have been the only one of his siblings to have children. He and Eveline are known to have had at least the five children shown below.

    • Eveline Louisa Isabella Calvert (b. 1852) was born in 1852 in Bath, Somerset, England; and baptized there on Oct. 13, 1852 at Walcot St Swithin. She must have died young, as she does not appear in a family portrait that was taken in 1866 in the family gardens at their mansion in the Dardanelles.
    • Frederick Richard James Calvert (1853-1927) was born in 1853, probably in Turkey; and married Helene Adossides (18541951) on Oct 10, 1889 in Smyrna, Turkey. He died on Oct 30, 1927 in Turkey, but his wife Helene and daughter Winifred Eveline Constance Calvert Whittal (c.1891-1975) both died in Rhodesia. Frederick is probably buried in the family plot in the Chanak Consular Cemetery, but this needs to be confirmed.
    • Alice Calvert (1857-1949) was born on June 27, 1857 in Smyrna, Turkey; and married her bother-in-law Francis Henry Bacon (1856-1940). She and her husband lived for many years in Manhatten, New York, but she died on Feb. 5, 1949 in Turkey, where he died as well. Both are buried in the Chanak Consular Cemetery, which was previously the Calvert Family Cemetery.
    • Edith Frederica Calvert (1859-1952) was born on July 6, 1859 in Turkey, and baptized on July 31, 1859 in London. She died in 1952 and is buried in the Chanak Consular Cemetery, which was previously the Calvert Family Cemetery before Edith donated it to the British Consular Office to maintain.
    • Laura Florence Calvert (1863-1945) was born on March 12, 1863 in Smyrna, Turkey. She married the well-known american architect Henry Bacon (1866-1924), and lived with him in the United States, where they were known for a fabulous collection of artifacts excavated from the ancient city of Troy and given to them by Laura's uncle Frank Calvert. Her husband Henry gained fame as the architect for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Laura died on May 12, 1945 in New York City; and the ashes of her and her husband are buried at Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington, North Carolina.

  • Louisa Florence Calvert (1821-1886) was born in 1821, probably in Florence, Italy, as she was baptized there on June 13, 1821, according to Malta baptism records. She left her parents home in Malta accompanied her brothers Frederick, Charles, James, and Frank to the Dardanelles in Turkey to work for their maternal uncle Charles Lander. She died a spinster. She is probably buried in the family plot in the Chanak Consular Cemetery, but this needs to be confirmed.
  • Charles John Calvert (1823-1877) was born on July 23, 1823 in Malta, and married Martha Robinson. He joined his brother Frederick in the Dardanelles about 1840 or earlier, and served as the U.S. consular agent there from at least 1843 until 1849, when he left Turkey to begin a successful diplomatic career abroad. He became acting British consul in 1850 at Damascus and later at Beirut, moving in 1856 to Salonica to serve as the British consul there. He was posted around 1860 to Monastir, in what today is Macedonia, and he and his wife later moved to Naples, Italy when he was posted to an assignment there.
  • Edmund Calvert (1825-1908) was born on March 7, 1825 in Malta. He first joined his brothers in the Dardanelles, and then went east in 1842 to begin a diplomatic career at Trebizond on the Black Sea coast of Turkey, Konya, and Kaisaria (Kayseri). He worked in 1852 at the British embassy in Constantinople, and then served from 1858 to 1865 as secretary to the British ambassador there, eventually becoming the acting British vice-consul of Constantinople. He finally became the British vice-consul at Rhodes, after having served as the acting British consul at various posts throughout the Ottoman Empire. He never married, like his brothers Henry and Frank. He died in 1908 in the Dardanelles, and he is buried there with other members of his family in the Chanak Consular Cemetery in the Dardanelles, which was previously the Calvert Family Cemetery.
  • James Campbell Francis Calvert (1827-1896) was born on Feb. 21, 1827 in Malta; and married his sister-in-law Lavinia Abbott (1834-1921) on April 28, 1856 in Smyrna, Turkey. Lavinia's father Richard Benjamin Abbott (c.1803-1858) owned the Abbott Family emery (corundum) mines in the Emir Mountains of Turkey. He and his sister Louisa came around 1845 to the Dardanelles, where James was trained by his brother Frederick, and often stood in as the acting British consul when Frederick was away. James inherited his brother Charles' post as U.S. consular agent when Charles moved on to other duties. He remained until 1874 at this post, when he and Lavinia left the Dardanelles and moved to Constantinople.
  • Frank Calvert (1828-1908) was born on Sept. 23, 1828 in Malta, and came to the Dardanelles in Turkey to assist his brothers in the British and American consulates. He was fluent in several languages and helped his brothers Frederick and James by writing letters for them in French, English and other languages that they would sign in their capacity as consular officers. He also on occasion stood in for Frederick as the acting British consul. Frank's brother Frederick in 1847 bought a 2,000-acre farm in in Turkey at Akca Koy, which included part of the Mound of Hisarlik where the famed ancient city of Troy was later found. In fact, it was Frank who first believed that the Calvert farm was the site of ancient Troy, and he carried out on his own, with no funding and no training, the initial excavations there. However, when Frank sought assistance in carrying on the excavations that he had started, and confided his work to the famous but unscrupulous archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, the latter took credit for the discovery, and it is only recently that Frank Calvert's role as the true discoveror of ancient Troy has been accepted by the academic community. He never married, like his brothers Henry and Edmund. He died on Aug. 12, 1908 in in the Dardanelles, and he is buried there with other members of his family in the Chanak Consular Cemetery, which was previously the Calvert Family Cemetery.

 

Portrait of the Calvert Family taken about 1866 in the family garden at their mansion in the Dardanelles. From left to right standing: Lavinia Abbott Calvert and her husband James Calvert, mother Louisa Lander Calvert in a wheelchair, and Charles Calvert. Middle row seated and to the right: Martha Robinson (Mrs. Charles Calvert) with Alice Calvert (daughter of Eveline Calvert) on her lap. Front row seated: Frank Calvert, Eveline Abbott Calvert and her children Laura Florence (on Eveline's lap), Edith, Frederick and Richard, and on the end is Louisa Florence Calvert. From Hueck (1999). Below is the family mansion in the Dardanelles. It was badly damaged in 1912 during the great Smyrna earthquake, sold by the family in 1939, and demolished sometime in the early 1940s by the Turkish government. Today the gardens that were in back of the mansion are a city park, and the former family cemetery, which now contains British war dead as well, is maintained by the British Consulate. From Hueck (1999).

 

 

REFERENCES

 

 

 



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