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The consular Calverts


The Calverts were an expatriate English family who held a number of consular appointments in the eastern Mediterranean region. Because of similarities in their appointments and activities they are sometimes confused with each other, and with Charles Cattley, the British intelligence officer who used the pseudonym “Calvert”. Except where expressly stated otherwise, all data and quoted material in this note are taken, by kind permission of the copyright holders, from:

Susan Hueck Allen,
Finding the Walls of Troy — Frank Calvert and Heinrich Schliemann at Hisarlik,
University of California Press, 1999

Copyright © 1999 The Regents of the University of California


The Calvert family

James Calvert (1778-1852), of Malta, married (1815) Louisa Ann Lander (1792-1867).

Louisa’s brother, Charles Alexander Lander ( -1846), “moved to the Dardanelles in 1829” and in the same year became British consul there.

James and Louisa Calvert had six sons and one daughter:

  1. Henry Hunter Calvert (1816 or 1817-1882)
  2. Frederick William Calvert (1818-1876) m. (1846) Eveline Eugenie Abbott (1829-1911)
  3. Louisa Florence Calvert (1821-1886)
  4. Charles Calvert (1823-1877) m. Martha Robinson
  5. Edmund Calvert (1825-1908)
  6. James Campbell Francis Calvert (1827-1896) m. Lavinia Abbott (1834-1921)
  7. Frank Calvert (1828-1908)

Henry, the eldest son, “initially chose the navy, then moved from the military to the diplomatic corps. From 1838 on, he resided within the Ottoman Empire, serving in the British consulate in Erzerum in 1851 and later as British vice-consul of Alexandria, Egypt, where he remained for 25 years.”

Four of the boys, Frederick, Charles, James, and Frank, “were sent to the Dardanelles to go to work for their maternal uncle, Charles Alexander Lander, who was also their father’s business partner.” Their sister Louisa accompanied them.

Frederick became Charles Lander’s heir. By 1842 “Lander and Frederick had established a successful valonia-processing business . . . Frederick succeeded Lander after assisting him in both business and consular matters for over a decade, first as acting consul in 1845 and 1846 and then [in 1847] as British consul.” He was soon appointed to the vice-consulships of Prussia, Belgium, and Holland. From time to time he also served as acting French consul.

Charles Calvert “had joined Frederick at the Dardanelles by 1840. By 1843, he had revived the consular office of the United States there, and he served as U.S. consular agent until 1849, when he left the family enclave for a successful diplomatic career abroad. He became acting British consul at Damascus in 1850 and later at Beirut, moving to Salonica as British consul in 1856. By 1860, he was posted to Monastir (in present Macedonia), and later he was sent to Naples. Unlike Henry and Edmund, who also served far from home, Charles did not keep in close contact with the family.”

James “moved to the Dardanelles with their spinster sister Louisa Florence (1821-1886) around 1845 . . . James was trained by Frederick and often stood in as acting British consul when Frederick was away. A talented linguist, James inherited Charles’s post as U.S. consular agent. After the Crimean War ended in 1856, James married Lavinia Abbott of Smyrna, the third daughter of a family much like the Calverts and Landers. He remained at his post until 1874, when he finally left the closed community of the Dardanelles and moved permanently to Constantinople.”

By 1852 Frank “was helping his brothers Frederick and James in their consular duties, writing 50 percent of the letters in French and English generated for his brothers, which they would sign as officers. He did the same in 1855, while Frederick was completely engrossed in affairs related to the Crimean War . In 1856 and 1857, he would write only occasional letters, implying increased free time. On occasion in 1856 and 1858, he stood in for Frederick as acting British consul.” In 1847 Frederick had bought a farm of over 2,000 acres at Akca Koy which included part of Mount Hisarlik. Frank Calvert believed that it was the site of the ancient city of Troy and carried out excavations there. After the Crimean War he confided his views to Heinrich Schliemann, who was subsequently credited with the discovery. “After standing in for James, eventually Frank succeeded him as United States consular agent in 1874, an unpaid position that he held for the rest of his life. Occasionally, he served on local mixed European and Turkish tribunals, assuming from time to time the title of acting British consul.”

Edmund “went east and began an itinerant diplomatic career at Trebizond on the Black Sea coast of Turkey, Konya, and Kaisaria (Kayseri) in 1842. In 1852, he worked under Stratford de Redcliffe at the British embassy in Constantinople, and he later served as secretary to the British ambassador (from 1858 to 1865), and still later as the acting British vice-consul of Constantinople. After serving as acting British consul at various posts in the Ottoman Empire, he finally became the British vice-consul at Rhodes.”

Frederick Calvert and the Crimean War

“Frederick 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.”

The three Calvert brothers, Frederick, James, and Frank, had an imposing house in the town of Canakkale (the Dardanelles) on the Asiatic side of the straits which was both their town residence and consular offices. They also had a country house at Erenkoi (Renkioi) near which, with Frederick’s help, a prefabricated hospital designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel was erected in 1855.

Frederick was a merchant as well as British consul, and these roles were, it seems, not sufficiently distinguished when he became involved in supplying the British forces at an early stage of the war. The catalogue of the Duke of Newcastle archive at Nottingham University shows that on 8 April 1854 Sir George Brown wrote to Newcastle commenting favourably on the assistance provided by Mr Calvert [Ne C 10312/4/2-4], and that on 22 April 1854 Lieutenant George Wrottesley wrote that he and Calvert took it upon themselves to assist in the distribution of supplies at Gallipoli, and commented on the extent of Calvert’s diplomatic skills [Ne C 10311/2/1-2].

The Commissariat were thin on the ground and ill prepared (the four officers charged with billeting and provisioning the troops at Gallipoli and Constantinople in the spring of 1854 could not speak Turkish). Allen writes:-

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.

There were those, however, who thought him not so much a generous patriot as an unscrupulous war profiteer. Some of Calvert’s financial arrangements were risky, and Levantine business ethics were not those of the City of London.

After the M’Neill-Tulloch enquiry the Commissariat sought to deflect blame onto local suppliers. DACG Smith named Calvert, saying that he had “less regard for public than for private interests.” Allen writes:

Because of Smith’s allegations, by 26 January [1856] Calvert had to answer to charges of alleged profiteering to Brigadier General Mansfield.

Calvert claimed to be hugely out of pocket, but he

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, within a few months he was up to his neck in a financial scandal, the “Possidhon affair.” He had put his name to documents relating to a new ship, the Possidhon, supposedly laden with olive oil, and due to sail from Turkey to England. The ship disappeared and an insurance claim was made. Lloyds sent an investigator, who found that the ship had never existed. Calvert claimed that he himself was a victim of the swindle, and that one Hussein Aga had had all the money advanced in respect of the cargo. But Hussein Aga was nowhere to be found, and soon Calvert himself went into hiding. After 5 years he reappeared in 1868, was charged with fraud, found guilty, and sentenced to two years imprisonment. That was the end of his consular career.


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