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Sunday, 22 December 2019

Early Armenians in Dacca



It is often repeated that the ‘founding fathers’ of the Armenian church in Dacca were Messrs Sarkies, Kevorke, Pogose and Petrus respectively. Numerous reports tell us the land was donated by ‘Armenian nobleman Agha Catchick Minas’ (also known as Agha Catchik Emnias). Let’s explore some of these individuals and take a peek into a small period of their lives.

For the early Armenian settler in Dacca life was constantly challenging, one-sided and often unfairly stacked against them. Saddled with troubles with-in and with-out of this small community, these ‘big-named’ individuals who strove to make a living weren’t just trying to outwit their competitors but also some of their more notoriously tricky British chiefs. Along side that, some were in constant battle with their own community and families as well. 

A perfect example of this is in 1773 when Khoja Michael Ter Stephanoss, more commonly known as Khoja Michael Sarkies, entered into a partnership with Coja Kevorke jointly running salt farms in Savagepore and Selimabad under contract to the East India Company. They reported directly to Richard Barwell, the Chief of Dacca. Barwell was ruthlessly ambitious and, according to correspondence written in January 1769[1] to his sister Mary in England, he was: “willing to spend five thousand pounds[2] for the chiefship of Dacca and Patna……to supervise the collection of the revenues.” Barwell got his wish in 1772 and quickly became a law unto himself. He decided to take away the contract Sarkies and Kevorke had already been given to supply salt to the East India Company. Through no fault of their own, their losses were immense because of Barwell’s double dealing and greed for more revenue[3], something he tried unsuccessfully to prove in Court. A protracted enquiry ensued in Calcutta at the Supreme Court, and all the evidence stacked in the favour of the Armenian partners whilst Barwell was found to be trading in an unorthodox and underhand manner. His unauthorised demand of Rs125,000 to be paid directly to him, circumnavigating the official East India Company contract, was Barwell’s downfall.[4]  Although their names and reputations were honoured and kept in tact, their finances took a huge blow, something they never recovered from, as can be seen from this extract of the case summary.[5]
…..That in the month of February 1774, Mr. Barwell dispossessed Coja Keworke and Coja Michael of the Farm and gave it to two other men. It does not appear that any other reason was assigned for dispossessing Coja Keworke, but the claim Mr. Barwell sets up to his right to the Farm, and to dispose of as he thinks proper.

It does not appear by any deed of conveyance or other instrument produced to the Committee, that there was any assignment or transfer, made either by the original nominee, or the two securities, of their property in the Farm to Mr. Barwell.

The Committee are of opinion that no such assignment or transfer from the nominee to Mr. Barwell could be valid, without the consent of the two securities, who in that case must have been allowed to relinquish their engagements with the Company; since it would be a manifest injustice to oblige them to answer for the performance of stipulated engagements in behalf of any person, to whom the original nominee might think fit to transfer his right, and for whom they had not agreed to become security.

It appears that very shortly after Mr. Barwell had dispossessed Coja Keworke and Coja Michael of their Farm, he restored it again to them, on conditions very disadvantageous to them, and different from those on which they first held it……………that Mr. Barwell has not produced any leases or grants whatsoever from Government, in support of his claim to the Salt Farms of Selimabad and Duckan Savagepore.

That Mr. Barwell has appropriated to his own use considerable sums, arising from the Salt Farms abovementioned, to the prejudice of the Company. That Mr. Barwell’s being engaged, intermeddling, or being anyway concerned, directly or indirectly, in the Inland Trade in Salt, from 1st August 1774, is against Law.

That Mr. Barwell’s declaration, “That if the present Chief of Dacca does not engage in this emolument, he thinks himself better entitled to it than any Armenian or Bengalee, who would otherwise benefit in his room”, implies a determination in him not to relinquish the above emolument.

That Coja Kaworke and Michael are the only persons who appear to have had in fact the original management of the Farms in question, or upon whom the Company could have had a claim, supporting the quantity of Salt contracted for had not been delivered; and that these persons, in February 1774, were dispossessed of the Farms, and afterwards restored to them, by the sole authority of the Chief, without any order of the Council of Dacca.

That the sums received by Mr. Barwell on account of the Farms, whether voluntarily paid or violently extorted from Coja Kaworke and Michael, do not invalidate their right to the Farms.

That Coja Kaworke and Michael should be put into possession of the two Farms, for the remainder of the term of the original lease, on condition of their making good to the Company all balances which may be now due on account of their engagements as securities for the nominal Farmers, and of their delivering to the Company the additional quantity of ten thousand Maunds of salt annually, which had been collusively reserved for the use of the Chief of Dacca.

Barwell appeared to believe his own lies, confidently thinking he was invincible and above the law. He was of the opinion that his was the only one that mattered, and he was superior even when pitted against E.I.C. contemporaries who presided over this long and tedious enquiry in the Supreme Court in Calcutta.
Portrait of Richard Barwell and his son circ 1780. Oil on canvas by Joshua Reynolds.[6]

Khoja Michael Sarkies (Coja Michael) as a Zamindar, continued to live and trade in Dacca extending partnerships in his salt business to Johannes Ter Daniels and Stephanus Arratoon of Calcutta. In 1765 he also conducted trade with Joseph Saffor Shahriman but found himself to be a creditor of Shahriman when he died in 1766, Khoja Michael was owed around 600 Rupees[7]. Meanwhile, the other partner Khoja Kevorke, went to Calcutta and settled there with his wife and family. Familiar Armenian Calcutta names such as Manuk, Avietick, Owen, Zorab, Emin, Stephen Gaspar, Vardon, Arathoon, Jordan, Bagram, Vertannes, Michael, Cavorke and George, all descend from him whose full name was Khoja Kevorke Ter Simon, and there are a number of living descendants scattered around the world today. Khoja Kevorke died in Chinsurah in 1790, the same year as his business partner Khoja Michael who died in Dacca.  Kevorke’s estate was initially estimated to be approximately Rs464,900[8]. The reconciliation of Kevorke’s accounts was protracted because his widow challenged the estate of her husband’s late partner, Khoja Sarkies for outstanding monies. This lengthy process eventually led to her retrieving Khoja Kevorke’s share of the partnership funds, once settled, taking other deductions into account the figure finalised at around Rs60,000[9]. A handsome sum indeed for the Kevorke estate, but how much more would they have had if it was not for the crooked Barwell?
Gabriel Cavorke fought for her husband's share of the Sarkies/Kevorke partnership spoils
Meanwhile the estate of Khoja Sarkies was estimated to be around 5 times more than Khoja Kevorke’s, calculated to be in excess of Rs302,986[10]. 

Some of the other early Armenian settlers in Dacca arrived at a time when the country was in crisis. 1787 saw a devastating famine, coupled with unprecedented early flooding in March of that year. Armenians rallied around to help, not just other Armenians but also their friends, local people and the communities of Dacca. Far from landing on Indian soil and stepping into the rhythm of a comfortable and economically progressive commerce, the Julfan Armenians immediately became immersed in the same poverty and diseases that were engulfing the lives of Dacca locals at this time. Basic food such as grain and fresh water were in very short supply and to add to an already desperate situation a large fire broke out and over 7000 huts were destroyed. These weren’t just homes, but also storage huts containing vital food supplies. Many hundreds of lives were lost in the fire; the famine went on to claim thousands more.  People left Dacca for other districts, there was very little for local people to stay for, whilst others from the countryside flocked to the city for help in the hope their famished families would get food. Wealthier inhabitants did indeed help those in dire straights, their stockpiles of precious grains were now the staple supplies, and at the height of the disaster, between 9 and 10 thousand people a day were fed through public contribution. A small number of Armenians made up this group, and although the situation quickly escalated from bad to near hopeless, they did what they could to help each other and the people around them.

One of those who survived the famine and who was sufficiently well placed to help Muslims and Christians alike was salt and property merchant Khoja Michael Sarkies. He had been born in Julfa around 1732 and as we have already seen, during his time in Dacca was one of the most prominent and successful of his Zemindar contemporaries. It was to Michael Sarkies that other migrating Julfan Armenians turned to when they wished to settle in Dacca.

His uncle, Martyroos Ter Stephanoos, known as Khojah Martyroos came from Persia his native country to Dacca and was supported liberally by Michael Sarkies. Family ties were naturally strong, and Sarkies ensured his uncle was comfortable in his new life.

Khoja Michael Sarkies died in 1790 without leaving a will.  As a successful businessman and having accumulated his wealth, he didn’t think to write his last will and testament, perhaps believing ‘his word was his bond.’ His valuable estate, which contained Zemindaree lands at Dukhun, Shahbazpore and several houses and other property in Dacca became fiercely fought over by relatives.  It was claimed by Susan the daughter of his paternal uncle Kerakoos Ter Stephanoos, that he (Khoja Michael) had no legitimate issue, and she was, according to the Armenian law, entitled to one share of his estate. Martyroos Ter Stephanoos another paternal uncle was entitled to the remaining share.[11] This claim was contested by Khoja Michael’s natural, but illegitimate son Arratoon. Illegitimate he may have been, but Khoja Michael made it perfectly clear that Arratoon was his heir apparent. Khoja Michael swore a public declaration in front of a local Dacca Judge to this effect, and it took another one of those prolific Armenian court cases to make it stick. The case against this public declaration of heir apparent was brought by Khoja Avietick Ter Stephanuse (Susan’s granddaughter Hannaye’s second husband) against Khoja Michael’s son, Khoja Michael Arratoon. It was ultimately dismissed on the 24th July 1818,  with Khoja Michael Arratoon[12] being recognised as the legitimate heir, but he had to flight tooth and nail to prove himself against the baying family circling the late Khoja Michael’s wealth.
Khoja Michael Sarkies's family tree chart showing descendants and extended family
Turning to Avietick Ter Stephanus, who it must be said, did not conduct his personal life as conventionally as we perhaps do today. His first wife Hannaye, having died, he then had a relationship with his Muslim slave girl with whom he had an illegitimate son Gabriel. The slave girl eventually converted and became a Christian and Avietick Ter Stephanus named his son as his natural and legitimate heir. Double standards from Avietick because it wasn’t that long ago that he did not want to accept Khoja Michael’s own illegitimate son as a recognised legitimate heir, yet Avietick was doing exactly what Khoja Michael did for his own son.  There is a branch of the Stephanus/Harney stem from Dacca that is descended from Avietick Ter Stephanus and the young slave girl. Today there are living descendants from this union all around the world.

Family tree chart showing Avietick Ter Stephanus's descendants
One wonders if Avietick brought the case because of his own financial difficulty and needed to bail himself out of trouble using his late wife’s grandmother’s inheritance. This rare document containing details of his property for sale in Dacca survives today in Liz Chater’s private archive.

Sheriff’s Sale
Calcutta 13th July 1815
Notice is hereby given, that on Thursday the twentieth day of July instant, precisely at noon, the Sheriff of Calcutta will put up to Public Sale at the lower verandah of the Court House opposite the entrance into the sheriff’s office by virtue of a writ of Fieri Facias* in his hands against Avietick Ter Stephenuse.
The right title and interest of the said Avietick Ter Stephanuse of in and to a large upperroomed messuage with the ground and appurtenances thereto belonging situate at Dall Bazar in the city or town of Dacca standing on about five Biggahs of ground more or less, lately in the occupation of Richard Walpole Esquire Collector or Dacca.
The condition of sale may be known by applying at the Sheriff’s office.
* A writ of execution authorizing a sheriff to lay a claim to and seize the goods and chattels of a debtor to fulfil a judgment against the debtor.
Thursday 13th July 1815
Advertisement for sale on the 20th July instant the property of Avietick Ter Stephanuse.
(No. 89)
Entered.

Administration of the estate of Michael Sarkies was granted to his son Arratoon Michael and Martirus Padre Stephen less than 3 weeks after he died
 The background to Khoja Avietick Ter Stepanuse’s claim was that in the year 1803 Susan, daughter of Kerakoos Ter Stephanoos, made a will in which she bequeathed her entire property to Michael Arratoon, the illegitimate son of Khoja Michael Sarkies by his Dacca native concubine.  In 1807 Susan revoked the will, and made another in favour of her grand-daughter Hannaye Avietick Ter Stephanoos. Michael Arratoon, who on hearing of the first will of Susan being revoked in favour of the second will, brought an action in the Supreme Court against Avietick Ter Stephannos and his wife Hannay Avietick Ter Stephannos.  Michael Arratoon wanted to establish the validity of the first will and attempted to have the second will set aside.  The Courts decided that the second will was quite valid and should be upheld.  However, as the property was not subject to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, Michael Arratoon was nonsuited and directed to bring his action in that jurisdiction where the lands might be situated. 

Hannaye Avietick Ter Stephannos was a cousin to the late Khoja Michael Sarkies. She died in 1814 and her husband Avietick being her sole heir was entitled to all the property that she possessed at the time of her death.  Michael Arratoon stated in court that his father (Khoja Michael Sarkies) “….had no ancestral property,  he came from Persia to Bengal and settled in Dacca, where by merchandize he contrived to accumulate considerable property, both real and personal……..”.

The Court statement went on to say: “….that Galoos [aka Kaloos], the husband of Susan [daughter of Kerakoos Ter Stephanoos,and the grandmother of Hannaye] also came to Dacca, and they being in extreme distress in the famine which occurred in Bengal in Bengali Calendar 1194 [1787], Khoja Michael Arratoon’s father (Khoja Sarkies) gave them shelter at their house. Khoja Marytroos also came from Persia his native country to Dacca and was supported liberally by Michael Sarkies.  They all lived in harmony together without coming to any kind of division.  As we have already seen, feeling the approaches of old age, Michael Sarkies took his son to Mr. Douglas the Judge of the city of Dacca, and in his presence publically acknowledge Michael Arratoon as his sole heir, representative and successor. On his [Michael Sarkies’s] death in 1790 he was recognised as such by the public authorities.  Michael Arratoon had been in possession of the whole property ever since that period.  Michael Arratoon and his uncle Martyrose Ter Stephannos took out letters of administration (see image) to recover outstanding debts due to the estate of Michael Sarkies. Michael Arratoon gave Susan as the surety of his due discharge of the trust placed in him, which she never would have undertaken had she possessed any right of inheritance.  The claim of Avietick Ter Stephannos through his wife was wholly unfounded, as he could have no right of inheritance while the uncle [Martyroos] survived”.  On 24th July 1818 the claim of Avietick Ter Stephannos was dismissed by the fourth Judge of the Dacca Court of appeal on the grounds that Susan had no right of succession that the claim of Avietick Ter Stephannos through her was groundless.


Avietick was so enraged at the prospect of Arratoon Michael potentially selling off property and land, he placed a warning notice in the local papers advising potential purchases to refrain from such acquisitions.

Meanwhile, Arratoon must have been finding the whole process rather trying, and made a point of notifying the public that he was “going up river” for a change of air.

In 1797 Marytrose Stephanno made a will to the following effect:

“I Martroose Stefanoos, not being indebted to any one, nor having any demands upon any one, do make this my last will and testament.  My brother’s son Michael Sarkies died in Dacca in the year 1790, without having executed a will, leaving a son named Arratoon by a concubine.  As the deceased in his lifetime acknowledge the said Arratoon to be his son, I do by these presents constitute him my executor.  At the present time there are only surviving, besides the said Arratoon, of the relations of the deceased, I Matroose his uncle, Susan married to Galoos, daughter of another paternal uncle, and Kamsuna the widow of my paternal uncle.  On the death of Michael Sarkies, I Martroose, and his son Arratoon, took out letters of administration from the Supreme Court, and have been in joint possession in ever since, the management of the property being confined to the said Arratoon.  I am entitled to a share of the estate by inheritance, and with respect to that share, whatever it may be proved to be in a Court of Justice, a will may be taken after my death to the grandson of my brother (the said Arratoon), whom I acknowledge to be my successor and lawful heir, in the same manner as my brother’s son, Michael Sarkies acknowledged him to be his son and heir.”


Probate of the esetate of Martyruse Ter Stephanuse
Probate of this will was duly obtained and filed in Court.  This document establishes two points: first, that Matroose, Arratoon and Susan the wife of Galoos, were heirs to the deceased Michael Sarkies, and were in joint possession of his landed and other property from the time of his death in 1790, to the time of the execution of Martroos’s will in 1797, and secondly, that Arratoon proved the will in the Supreme Court and there admitted that Matroose was entitled to one third of the property in right of inheritance and that he [Arratoon] was legatee of Matroose.  Legal debate continued for some time, but it should be noted that Susan died in 1808,[13]  but not before she was appointed Administratrix of the estate of her son-in-law Aviet Gregory who had died in the early part of 1797 in Dacca.

The Administration notice of Aviet Gregor's estate was granted to his mother-in-law Susan
 Meanwhile the estate of Khojah Sarkies continued to be subject to very bitter challenges through the Courts.  It is no wonder that it was not fully settled for many years.

The estate accounts make interesting reading and often give a unique insight into the life of the deceased that would not normally be available. In this instance, it can be seen that prior to his death, Khojah Michael Sarkies had taken steps for the Armenian Church in Dacca to have bells.

Cash paid Aga Abraham the balance of the price of a pair of large bells
31 March 1792: From this extract it can be seen that a cash sum was paid to Aga Abraham which was the balance of the price of a pair of large bells for the present day Armenian Church, Dhaka. Those same bells remained on the ground until at least 1835 when the unlikely bell-raiser, or at least someone who thought it should be done, wrote in his Will of his last wish and intention. Avietick Ter Stephanuse, the husband of Hannaye aka Anna Avietick gave bold and decisive instructions in his Will. Hannaye was a 1st cousin twice removed to the late Michael Sarkies. As we have already seen, her husband Avietick had clashed in Court with Arratoon Michael the natural, albeit illegitimate son of Khoja Michael Sarkies regarding the intestate estate.  Avietick appears to have suffered mixed fortunes financially, he nevertheless had a desire to see Khojah Sarkies’s name attached to the church. Avietick wrote:

“I direct my executor first to discharge my debt to every one individually then to collect my outstanding demands either with or without taking legal measures and afterwards to build a steeple in a conspicuous place in our Saint Arrathoon’s Church at Dacca and to suspend the pain of large bells that are in the aforesaid church and to write on the one side of the steeple in Armenian and English character to the memory of myself and of my wife the late Mrs. Hannay (sic) and of my parents and also on the other side to be written to the memory of the late Aga Michael Sarkies and his family and the cost for this whatever it may be my executor is bound to pay.”

Clearly devoted to the Armenian Church in Dacca, this bequest was one to ensure the remembrance of those he considered to be important, and perhaps it was also meant as a sideways swipe at Arratoon Michael. Certainly he aimed to make sure future generations knew of these early steps in the history of the church, and he attempted to be recognised, literally, with the writing on the wall. However, things do not appear to have gone to plan. According to Mesrovb Seth[14], we find that in fact Johannes Carapiet Sarkies was the contributor who funded the steeple in 1837. Could this be a case of J.C. Sarkies usurping Avietick’s last wish and stealing the glory of who built the church tower?  It was not Avietick’s name on the memorial tablet, but Johannes’s.

“This magnificent steeple was erected by the means and at the expense of Johanness Carapiet Sarkies Esq., son of the late Carapiet Sarkies Esq., to the honour and glory of our Saviour Jesus Christ and in remembrance of all his ancestors of happy and blessed memory, in the month of July 1837, in
the ancient capital of Dacca."

The church bells were eventually raised into position, whether under the instruction of Avietick Ter Stephanuse or Johannes Carapiet Sarkies is unknown. The bells remained insitu until the 1980s. In correspondence dated 1985 it was reported that a rather audacious theft by unknown persons had occurred: “….in recent months, one of the big bells out of a set of 5 from the Church bell-tower was brought down and put on some push-cart and sold outside to some bell-metal workers……” no double melted down for a few Taka.

To put the size of this community into perspective with the rest of Dacca, in 1840 there were approximately 40 Armenian families in the city, yet here we are nearly 180 years later talking about this incredibly small minority community and how much they achieved, although not always smoothly. Their in-fighting and quick-fire quills to start court cases has given us much to muse about in the 21st century.

We are fortunate to have incredibly gifted Armenian historians, who have studied the trading patterns and routes from Persia to India and Bangladesh during the 18th century and beyond.  For those who wish to read about this relationship between Asia and Persia, I would recommend Dr. Sebouh Aslanian’s “From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean The Global Trade Networks of Armenian Merchants from New Julfa”.

The Dacca Armenian Church land contributor, Agha Catchick Minas and his brother Howan were from the extensive trading Minas family of New Julfa. 

Their father, Khojah Emnias Minas, had suffered a most horrendous death having been burned alive at the stake by Nadir Shah in January 1747 in Isfahan’s central square[15]. 

The brothers were both traders and landowners in Dacca. Their respective first wives, Catchick’s Sophie[16] and Howan’s Khathaie[17] had died within two years of each other at Dacca in 1764 and 1766 respectively. Both men went on to marry a second time.

As a wealthy landowner Agha Catchick possessed a number of villages in Dacca from which he received rental income. However, by 1791 he was part of the Armenian merchants and traders living in Saidabad where had remarried to Mariam Gregory. In May of that year, in what can only be described as the equivalent of our modern day social media, a furious Agha Catchick placed a classified ads notice in the local newspaper, describing in detail an unprecedented personal account of how he had been humiliated and cuckolded by Mariam. One can only imagine the kind of sensation this outburst caused amongst the readers in Bengal. Clearly, he felt strongly enough about the situation that he thought himself impervious to those quietly gossiping about him. His tone and style was strong and resolute and he sought to be as disparaging of her as he could.
I CATCHIK EMNIAZ, an Armenian, now an inhabitant of Saydabad, but late of Dacca in the Province of Bengal , a Merchant: and sorry to be obliged to give the following notice to the Public, but my own security demands it: Whereas MARRIAM CANOOM my present wife, who was the Daughter of GREGORY of the family of AGAS AVETICK, did on the 23d day of December 1787, elope from me her Husband, without any cause or pro-vocation whatever, under a presence that the was going to take a walk to Berhampore, taking with her Jewells and other things belonging to my Estate to a very considerable amount, and in her way to Berhampore she exchanged her Bearers to prevent discovery, for Ticka Bearers, and at Calcapore she took up and cohabited with the Dutch Company's Doctor called Doctor VERNAM, and went to Patna , of which I was quite ignorant of, and for some time concealed herself in the house of a native shroff there, until they could obtain protection at the Danish Factory there under the Danish Flag, which in a few days they accomplished, and here it is, I must say some thing of her general behaviour to me and in my house after our marriage, which behaviour was so undutiful and untoward, that I cannot pass over it in silence.

She kept company with people of bad character expressly against my repeated order to the contrary; admitted them to my house, bribed my servants to form excuses whenever she went out By which I found myself ridiculed and laughed at daily, yet I never used her ill for all this, but often talked and conversed with her on the impropriety of it, which she regarded not, but continued her bad behaviour with great untowardness by giving away and wasting my property, Monies, Jewells, and other articles the made away with, without my knowledge. I should not have said so much on the subject of her behaviour, was it not for what follows: that since her first cohabitation with Doctor VERNAM, this Doctor happened to die at Patna , and she not finding it easily to dupe every man, was rendered incapable of getting any assistance from any body in the scheme she having went away, she therefore after eight or nine months came under the protection of the  Danish Colour to Serampore, and from thence to Calcutta; from whence she wrote me a Letter of penitence desiring my pardon, and wishing to be reinstated in my house again, to which I have not complied, and I have written in answer to it that I would not admit a woman of that character,  and an enemy to my life and property into my family. This therefore is to give notice to all to whom it may concern, that I will not be responsible for any act whatever  of her the said MARRIAM CANOOM, nor will I pay any Debt or Debts which she may contract either in my name or any name whatsoever, on any pretence, the 18 May, 1791.

Agha Catchik’s brother and business partner Howan Emnias also owned property in Dacca. A third business partner was Astwasatoor Papook of Calcutta[18]. Astwasatoor died in 1787 and following his death the partnership between them was wound up with Both Catchik and Howan as executors. However, Catchik passed away in 1798 leaving Howan to wind up both estates. When Howan passed away in 1804 the outstanding estates of his partners was far from finalised and his son Muckertich was left with the unenviable task of unravelling a very complicated set of inter-connected accounts, claims and counter-claims.

Properties belonging to Howan Emnias at Sydabad were advertised for sale in 1805
26 December 1805 Calcutta Gazette

and in 1807 his property in Dacca was also put up for sale. This advertisement contains important location information, and offers insight into how close the community were located in relation to the Armenian Church in Dacca. “One lower and three upper roomed houses situated behind the Armenian Church in Dacca, built of the best pucka materials with a well laid out garden the whole standing on five Biggahs of ground.” The importance of this incredible statement tells us that the area around the church was not heavily built upon but in fact contained large open spaces; something that won’t be recognisable in today’s Dhaka.

9th April 1807 Calcutta Gazette
As part of the Dhaka Armenian Heritage Project, we were fortunate to be given access to this photograph. It is of some of the Armenian community gathering at Mr. Michael’s home around the 1930s/40s and, with an extraordinary piece of luck, shows the Armenian Church located in the background.  This is excellent corroborative evidence of how the community continued to live close to the church 130 years after Howan Emnias with open green spaces and single storey residential properties surrounding it.

Mr Michael's lunch party pictured in the grounds of his house. In the background can be seen the top of the Armenian Church, Dhaka this shows how close the community lived to the Church and how spacious and open the area was.
Our early Armenian pioneer settlers literally built the foundations on which today stands the beautiful Armenian Church. Those early pioneer settlers also unwittingly left a legacy and insight into their lives by the very disputes they chose to argue about in the public forum of the local judicial Courts.  Today there are scores of descendants around the world whose ancestor was Khoja Michael Sarkies, many of them are unaware of their turbulent ancestors’ past and the wonderful Armenian heritage they are part of.


[1] Bengal Past and Present Vol 10 January-June 1915. P.233
[2] By today’s standard of living that is a value equivalent to in excess of £600,000
[3] Reports from Committees of the House of Commons, Vol VI East Indies 1783
[4] The District of Bakarganj, It’s History and Statistics, 1876.
[5] Bengal Revenue Consultations of 28th April 1775.
[7] The Will of Joseph Shahriman states he had an outstanding balanced owing to Coja Michael of Dacca.
[8] Will Administration. British Library L/AG/34/29/1/58 1790.
[9] Will Accounts. British Library L/AG/34/27/22/164
[10] Estate accounts BL: L/AG/34/27/18/83
[11] Report of Cases Determined in the Court of the Sudder Dawanny Adawlut, Calcutta, by W.H. McNaughten, Registrar of that Court, 1820.
[12] Confusingly, Arratoon Michael was often referred to as Michael Arratoon. It was a common practice for Armenian families to use the patronymic naming style, i.e. the son would use the father’s Christian name as a surname.
[13] Avietick Ter Stefanoos, Appellant v Khaja Michael Aratoon, Respondent , 8 February 1820, Dacca Supreme Court.
[14] Armenians in India, P. 573
[15] From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean. The Global Trade Networks of Armenian Merchants from New Julfa.  P.95. Professor Sebouh Aslanian
[16] Inscriptions on Tombs or Monuments Bengal, P.207
[17] Inscriptions on Tombs or Monuments Bengal, P.208
[18] Estate accounts: BL L/AG/34/27/34/23

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

The Unwanted Letter

The worst news possible. This type of War Office correspondence was not welcome during WW1.



This is the original letter that T.A. Stephen's new bride Lydia received after he had died of wounds in Belgium in 1917. They had only been married two years.

Thomas Alexander Stephen, son of Armenians from Calcutta Stephen Simon Stephen and Catherine his wife. They had died prior to his joining the war effort.

Placed for sale as war memorabilia, I purchased it to save another small piece of Armenian history from being lost. Note the crunched up creases on the paper. Could this have been Lydia's reaction to the terrible news? The agony of her loss, the cast aside letter screwed up into a ball and thrown away in disbelief.

And then retrieved.

Carefully and lovingly smoothed out and fixed to a piece of cardboard and stored. A focus for her grief.

T.A. Stephen's grandfather, Simon Stephens was the first recorded marriage in the register of the Armenian Church Singapore and he was also co-founder of Apcar & Stephens.

To read a detailed account of Armenians in Singapore and Malaysia, Nadia Wright's book 'Respected Citizens' is a must. You may also find her other book 'Armenians in Singapore: A Short History' also of interest. Obtainable on the same link.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Stephen Family of Dacca


The unravelling of family history and their associated stories can sometimes take unusual twists and turns. Armenian family history in Asia is no different. There were only 126 Armenians in Dhaka in 1831 in 42 houses, averaging 3 people per household[1]. Along side them was a small population of Greek residents numbering just 48, the Portuguese community had 144 people and there were just 4 who were French. By contrast there were over 31,000 Hindus and in excess of 35,000 Muslims. The Christian community was negligible.


For those of you who like facts and figures, sources and citations as well as biographical details, this is for you.

One of the other daughters of Johannes Avdall was Catherine Avdall who married another leading Dhaka community member, Zemander, Stephen Johannes Stephen[2]. He quickly dropped his Christian name and was known as Johannes Stephen[3]. Together they had at least five children between 1854 and 1860.  After Catherine’s untimely death in 1861[4] aged just 25 years,

Johannes Stephen found himself in the unenviable position of having to care for his young family from infant to aged 7. Johannes remarried for a second time in 1867[5] at the Catholic Church in Dacca to 17 year old Annie Ter Martyrose with whom he went on to have at least four further children.

Their marriage celebrant was Fr. Felix Francis Mari Fortunate Marzuchelli, a charismatic, well travelled Italian priest, who was a Doctor of Philosophy and a Professor of Literature. Fr. Felix had married in 1853 in Geneva, Switzerland to an English young lady from Somerset called Elizabeth Harris.[6] He had been appointed Chaplain at Dacca in April 1867 but stayed only a year or so, before moving to Darjeeling, [7] then later Hazaribagh.[8] Eventually, he and Elizabeth (who was known as Nina) settled in England. The marriage he conducted between Johannes Stephen and Annie would have been one of the first after his arrival in Dacca from England.

By the time Annie was 24 years of age she was looking after Johannes’s nine children from two marriages.

Chart showing the immediate family tree of Johannes Stephen of Dacca.
Image: Liz Chater

The children Johannes Stephen and Catherine were:

1. Twin sons born in 1854, Dacca[9]. One named St. John Stephen[10], the other didn’t survive.


St. John Stephen, a life bachelor who was educated at St. Paul's Darjeeling, North India. In the autumn of 1873 he travelled to England and from that time up to March 1875, St. John was privately tutored by Mr. Walter Wren, of Powis Square London, who specialised in intensive tuition predominantly preparing students for the British Army.  Moving swiftly from Powis Square, St. John commenced his residency at Caius College, Cambridge in October 1875. In June of the following year he was elected a foundation scholar, he went on to achieve first place in all his college examinations each year he was there. Mr. Routh was his private tutor and Rev. N.M. Ferrers his college tutor[11]. He studied law, and was called to the Bar in 1880 at the Inner Temple, London, going on to practice at the High Court, Calcutta[12]. St. John was also a member of Managing Committee of the Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy in Calcutta in 1901, taking a very keen interest in the students and their further education[13]. He died in Calcutta in 1915 of cardiac syncope and is buried in the Lower Circular Road cemetery.[14] In his will he appointed his sisters, Rosie and Kate as executrixes. He bequeathed to his brother Kent, a gold watch that had once belonged to their father Johannes. The remainder of his estate went to Rosie and Kate[15].

2. Kent Hume Stephen born in 1856, Dacca[16].

Kent married another Armenian, Barbara Melitus in June 1895 in Kensington, London.[17] Barbara had been born in Calcutta in 1868[18] to Gregory Paul Melitus and Mary née Elias. Through her father’s mother Anna Maria, Barbara can trace her family back to Coja Sultan David Shahmir, an eminent merchant of Madras who was born in Julfa around 1690 and died in 1754 in Pondicherry. Extraordinarily, as a side note, Shahmir’s tombstone was found in 1997 in a ship wreck of an East India vessel “Earl Temple” on the southern edge of Thitu Reef in the South China Sea.  It was eventually raised from the deep. Further and more detailed information on how an Armenian gravestone was discovered at the bottom of the ocean can be found in ‘Up from the Watery Deep. The Discovery of an Armenian Gravestone in the South China Sea’ By Susan E. Schopp.

Barbara Melitus’s own maternal line is just as illustrious, her grandfather was Agha Owen John Elias, locally well known in Calcutta as a generous and philanthropic man during his lifetime. A memorial wall plaque inside the Armenian Church Kolkata indicates the high esteem he was held. “Sacred to the memory of the late Owen John Elias Esquire. Born 1st November 1786. Died 12th March 1860. This tablet is erected by the Armenian community of this place as a mark of their appreciation of his private and public virtues. His charities to widows and orphans and the poor will not remain unrewarded in heaven. His gifts to the churches, schools, asylums and hospitals, which have made his name to be generally respected have specially endeared it to his own countrymen.” Remarkably, there are portraits of Agha Owen John Elias and his wife Barbara hanging in a beautiful country house in England, “Chenies Manor” in Buckinghamshire, and, according to their tour guides, are often complimented on by members of the general public who visit the estate.

Meanwhile, in 1875 Kent enrolled in the Royal Indian Engineering College in Staines, Middlesex studying there until July 1878. He gained his first engineering position on the London and North Western Railway between October 1878 and March 1879, then Chatham Water Works between April and August 1879.  With this civil engineering experience behind him, he returned to India and was employed with the India Public Works in irrigation for the next 24 years[19], eventually retiring back to England in 1903. 

Extraordinarily, our research coordinator, Liz Chater has in her archive, a copy of the original marriage settlement made between Barbara Melitus and Kent Stephen[20]. 

The original marriage settlement document between
Kent Hume Stephen and Barbara Melitus.
Image: Liz Chater, with thanks to Peter Melitus
He and Barbara lived at 46 Holland Park Road, London, and her parents lived at 47. He passed away in 1907 in Kent, leaving his widow Barbara. She also died in Kent in 1938. They didn’t have any children.

Prior to her marriage to Kent Stephen, Barbara was “presented” to Queen Victoria in one of the regular “Drawing Room” gatherings of London society, an honour for any up and coming young lady. This particular soiree was covered in great detail in the newspapers, and the occasion, with a meticulous description of the dresses worn by Barbara and her mother were included.  Liz Chater’s archive contains copies of photographic images of mother and daughter taken at the event.

Mrs. Gregory Paul Melitus in the top picture is Mary (nee Elias),
sister of Mammar Bagram (nee Elias). Mary's daughter is below.

The extraordinary thing about these pictures is that when I was shown them a few years ago, the owners didn't know who they were or what the occasion was, just that they were "Melitus" ladies. With some time and a lot of patience I have been able to establish that they were in fact mother and daughter, Mary (wife of Gregory Paul Melitus) and Barbara Melitus.

Original oil portrait of Gregory Paul Melitus.
Image: Liz Chater
Original painting owned by the Melitus family

3. Rosaline Stephen born in 1857, Dacca[21]

Rosie and her sister Kate (Catherine) both remained spinsters. As their parents Catherine and Johannes had passed away in 1861 and 1876 respectively, and their stepmother Annie had passed away in 1893, it would have been a daunting prospect to continue to live in India without immediate family around them. The Armenian community in Dacca was becoming smaller towards the end of the 19th/early 20th centuries, a number of whom were naturally migrating to England. Rosie and Kate made that choice as well, no doubt encouraged by their brother Kent. The sisters lived together in London at 26 Chepstow Villas, Bayswater. Kate died in 1926 before Rosie, who passed away in 1938. The two sisters are buried together at Mitcham Road Cemetery, Croydon, Surrey.[22]

In Rosie’s will she left the following bequests summarised as follows:

Front page of the Will of Rosaline Stephen.
Image: Liz Chater's private archive

Furniture to be distributed according to Rosie's written wishes in a separate letter, unfortunately these were not attached to my copy of the will.

£500 to niece Ellen Primrose Saunders

£500 to grand-niece Winifred Joan Newill

£500 to cousin Florence Macnaughten Stephen

£500 to be held in trust for grand nephew Michael Stephen[23] to be paid to him when he attains the age of 21. During his minority the income from the £500 is to be used for his education and maintenance.

An amount sufficient to provide a tombstone for her grave and to maintain the tombstones and graves of siblings, Mackintosh John Stephen and Kate Stephen as well as Rosie's grave.

The residue of her estate to be invested and form the following trusts.

1. one 4th part for "Our Dumb Friends League" 72 Victoria Street SW1
2. one 4th part for "The Dogs Home" of 4 Battersea Park Road, SW8
3. one 4th part for the School for the Blind Swiss Cottage NW3
4. one 4th part for "The Friends of the Poor" Gentlefolks Department 40 Ebury Street SW1

There were very specific instructions that the leasehold on her residence of 26 Chepstow Villas was not be sold to the person or persons owning the freehold "even though such person or persons owning the freehold shall offer a higher price therefore than anyone else."

In a codicil made and dated 29th April 1931, Rosie made the following changes, clearly reassessing her priorities:

“I revoke the legacies of £500 to Ellen Primrose Saunders and Winifred Joan Newill and instead bequeathed them £100 each.”

She re-confirmed the £500 legacy to her cousin Florence Macnaughten Stephen.

Rosie bequeathed to her maid, Winifred Victoria Pope £200 "as a memento of the faithful service and consideration she has shewn me"

Rosie revoked the legacy to Michael Stephen of £500 to be kept in trust and changed it to £100 to be kept in trust until he attained the age of 21.


4. Carapiet Stephen born in 1858, Dacca

Carapiet or Carr Stephen married Ellen Nora Read in June 1883 at All Saints Church, Kensington.[24] They had two children:

Family tree chart showing the two marriages of
Ellen Nora Stephen nee Read later Noble.
Image: Liz Chater

Primrose Ellen Stephen born in Palace Gardens Terrace, Kensington in 1884[25] and
Christopher Gerald Stephen born in Calcutta in 1890[26].

As can already be seen, Primrose was remembered in her Aunt Rosie’s will (above). In 1906 at Delhi, Primrose went on to marry Ernest Howie Saunders, a captain in the Royal Irish Rifles.[27] The marriage was witnessed by her mother Ellen who by that time had remarried to Montague Mark Noble[28]. Ellen’s first husband and father of Primrose had passed away in 1896 in Cawnpore,[29] where he was buried[30].

A few lines about Primrose’s husband Ernest. He was a highly regarded and decorated soldier who had been captured at Reddersburg South Africa on the 4 April 1900[31] and held as a prisoner of war with Winston Churchill and Lord Asquith during the Boer War. 

He was born 18 November 1877, son of Colonel William Egerton Saunders, CB. He was educated at Dove’s College and then Sandhurst Military School when he passed out in 1894[32]. He entered the Royal Irish Rifles 8 September 1897, as Second Lieutenant, becoming Lieutenant in the Army 8 December 1899, and in the Royal Irish Rifles 24 February 1900. He served in the South African War, 1899-1902; employed with Mounted Infantry; took part in the operations in Orange Free State, March to April 1900; in the Transvaal, June to November 1900; also in Cape Colony, 1899 to 1900 mentioned in Despatches[33]; awarded Queen's Medal with three clasps, and King's Medal with two clasps. He was created a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order[34]: "Ernest Howie Saunders, Lieutenant, Royal Irish Rifles. In recognition of services during the operations in South Africa". He was invested by the King 18 December 1902. On 8 September 1900, he was promoted to Captain in the Army, and on 24 November 1908 was transferred to the Indian Army, in which he became Major 1 September 1915.
QSA (3) CC OFS Trans (Lt, DSO RIR), KSA (2) (Lt, DSO RIR), 1914 Star and Bar (Capt, DSO, S&TC), BWM, Victory Medal with MID (Maj), 1911 Delhi Durbar.[35]

During WW1 Ernest sustained a gunshot wound to his knee. He was admitted to hospital in England where he convalesced for 10 months eventually being transferred to a military camp in Syria.[36]

As I watched the 75th anniversary commemorations for D Day in Portsmouth on the 5th and 6th June this year, I couldn’t help but think of Lt. Col. Ernest H. Saunders, although not a WW2 soldier he was ready to serve wherever he was required. In 1939 he declared he “was awaiting orders from the war office” and was conveniently living in Portsmouth, close to the military base, still wanting to “do his bit” for his country even though he was now in his 60’s. During his career he served his country with honour, dedication and commitment but his service record has faded as the years have passed by.  It is ironic that he died alone in March 1956 in Portsmouth, Hampshire, with just a local roadsweeper and two military representatives attending his funeral. 

From the newspaper obituary:

“A Lieutenant-Colonel who won the D.S.O. and was captured with Mr. Winston Churchill and Lord Asquith in the Boer War was buried yesterday week.

And his only close friend at the funeral was a roadsweeper.

The old soldier was Lieut-Col. Ernest Howie Saunders (78) of 120 Stubbington Avenue, North End, and his roadsweeper friend was Mr. R.Palmer, who since the death of Mrs. Palmer had taken over her duties and kept house for the Colonel.

“I knew the Colonel for 20 years” Mr. Palmer told a reporter.

“He had no relations apart from a daughter living in Kenya, so I have made all the funeral arrangements and for the time being, I am paying for them”.

The funeral did not pass completely unnoticed, however.Two ex-servicemen’s associations were represented.

The South African War Veterans’ Association by their Present Capt. R.R. Clay, and the Old Comtemptibles by their Vice-Chairman, Mr.J. Spillane.

Mr. and Mrs. S.P. Rainsdale, of the Portsmouth Golf Club were also at the funeral as the Colonel was one of the club’s original members.”[37]

Ernest came from an extraordinary line of military men, his father, grandfather and great grandfather were all highly decorated in the British Army and Navy respectively. This really was an appalling end for such a respected military veteran.

Ernest Saunders was buried in Milton Cemetery, Portsmouth, Hampshire on the 8th March 1956, reunited with his wife Primrose Ellen who had died on the 10th April 1938 at St. Mary’s Hospital Portsmouth of myocardial degeneration and pernicious anaemia[38]. She was buried on the 14th April 1938.

There was never a headstone placed on the plot for Primrose Ellen nor later Ernest, presumably the roadsweeper was unable to fund a memorial stone. Tragically this makes his illustrious career even more forgotten.  The plot was never tended or remembered by either families and became abandoned very quickly. Portsmouth City Council reclaimed it in 1981 and used it for an unrelated burial of a female on top of the remains of Ernest and Primrose. It remains unattended, except for the cemetery grounds-men doing their general rounds.

Anyone wishing to pay their last respects to Lieutenant Colonel Ernest Saunders D.S.O., and Primrose can visit the unmarked grave at Plot T, Row 18, Grave 12.[39]

Ernest and Primrose’s daughter, Winifred was born in Meerut, India in 1909. Winifred was remembered in her great aunt Rosie’s will who bequeathed a legacy of £500. In a later codicil this was reduced to £100. Winifred married a military gentleman, Wilfred Marston Newill in Kensington, London in 1928.[40] She passed away in Perth, Australia in 1967[41], her husband Wilfred had passed away in Kenya in 1963[42].

Primrose’s mother Ellen, went on to have a least one child called Montague Horatio Nelson Aubrey [M.H.N.A.] Noble in 1897 with her second husband the highly ambitious forces veteran Montague Mark Noble. Montague Jr also joined the services and was awarded the Military Cross during WW1[43].

M.H.N.A.Noble was half-sibling to Primrose and Christopher who were twelve and six years old respectively when their father Carapiet Stephen died in 1896.  As Ellen’s husband and the children’s step-father, Montague Noble took on the responsibility of parental guidance during their formative years, and it was his influence that was the driving force for his young step-son Christopher Stephen to join the military; it was the same path for his own natural son Montague.  Contrary to popular belief, there was no military connection for Christopher’s Stephen line in India or Dacca. The Stephen’s were merchants not soldiers. Ultimately, Ellen outlived her highly decorated second husband Montague, he died in 1922 and is buried in the Brompton Road Cemetery in London. In his Will of 30 May 1918, Montague provided only for his widow Ellen, his son by her and any future issue his son may have, there were no bequests to his step-children Primrose or Christopher[44]. Ellen passed away in June 1931 and she is buried with her second husband in Brompton Road cemetery.[45]


5. Catherine Stephen, born in 1860, Dacca
Kate remained a spinster and lived together with her sister Rosie at 26 Chepstow Villas, Bayswater. She passed away in December 1926 leaving all her estate to Rosie. The two sisters are buried together at Mitcham Road Cemetery, Croydon, Surrey

The children of Johannes Stephen’s second marriage with Annie Ter Martyrose  were:

6. Mkrtich Stephen, born in 1868, Dacca

Mkrtich anglicised his name and became known as Mackintosh John Stephen.  A life long bachelor, having joined the Indian Postal Service in June 1893, he worked his way up through the ranks and in December 1895 was promoted to superintendent. Within a short time he was appointed personal assistant to the Deputy Postmaster General in Burma between November 1898 and March 1909. Further success came when he was promoted to deputy Postmaster General and Inspector General of the Railway Mail Service and Sorting in October 1913. A new appointment came in June 1918 as Deputy Postmaster General for Bengal and Assam and his final post was Postmaster General for Bihar and Orissa in July 1921.  He retired to England in May 1924[46].  In his will dated 8th November 1928 he left a small legacy to a female friend in London, Miss Ruby Middleton and the remainder of his estate he left to his brother Stephen Paul Stephen with a note that under his discretion Stephen should distribute gifts to friends and family already mentioned to him verbally by Mackintosh[47]. He passed away in April 1929 in Brighton[48].

7. Stephanos Stephen, born in 1870, Dacca

Stephanos anglicised his name and became known as Stephen Paul Stephen, he described himself as a mercantile merchant. Just like his siblings he too moved to London upon retirement where, as a bachelor, he lived in Pembridge Square, Notting Hill Gate. His net estate was valued at a modest £3,600 and apart from a small legacy of £100 to his brother Mackintosh, Stephen went to great lengths to ensure his old servant in India named as Bhikari Das in the village of Oltanga should receive Rupees 1,000[49]. Stephen died in April 1930 in Menton, France[50] and was the last surviving son of Johannes Stephen.

8. Robert Abercrombie Stephen, born in 1872, Dacca

Robert began working for the Indian Government in May 1894[51]. Like his brother Mackintosh, he too rose through the ranks, became a magistrate and went on to be the deputy Commissioner for Excise and Salt in Bengal. Robert married twice, firstly to Ivy Sherman in Simla in 1908[52] and secondly to Vida Judd in 1919.[53] Robert died in the Calcutta General Hospital, Woodburn Ward of cardiac failure and was buried in the Lower Circular Road cemetery by Rev. E. Keeling of St. Thomas’s Church[54].

9. Elizabeth Stephen, born in 1874, Dacca

Young Elizabeth lived only until she was eight years of age. She died in Barrackpore of pneumonia in 1882.[55]

Zemindar, Johannes Stephen died in Dacca in November 1876 of fever and piles.[56] Annie his second wife, died in 1893 in Allahabad of hepatitis and broncho pneumonia.[57]

Johannes had at least 6 siblings:

1. Catherine, born 1825, remained a spinster, died in Barrackpore 1907.[58]

2. Kent Hume Stephen, born 1830, Dacca. Became a deputy magistrate. Died at Singapore on his way to Hong Kong January 1868.[59]

3. Carr Stephen, born 1835, married Rosamond Eleanor Parry in Delhi in 1870[60].  They went on to have at least five children:

Catherine Julie Stephen[61];
Alice Isabel Mary Stephen[62];
Carr St. John Stephen[63];
Robert Hume Stephen[64];
Florence McNaughten Stephen[65].

Carr Stephen was a barrister, passing the Bar exam in June 1866. He rose to become a judge in the small cause court in the Punjab. He published three books:  "Indian Registration Act", "Handbook for Delhi" and "Archaeology of Delhi". Carr died in Delhi in 1891 of heart disease[66]. Meanwhile his wife Rosamond had set sail from London in December 1887[67] on the vessel “Port Piri” en route to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands taking her young children, Alice aged 12, Carr aged 9, Bertie aged 7 and Florence aged 3 years with her. Having arrived in early February 1888, the family were there less than a month when Rosamond passed away on the island[68]. It would appear Rosamond’s own extended and complicated step-family in England may well have taken the children under their wing. The children were educated in England; Alice and Florence in Suffolk, whilst Carr and Robert were schooled in London. Carr became a travelling salesman whilst Robert devoted himself to his religious beliefs and became a clergyman. Alice took vows and became a nun at the Convent of Poor Clares, Herefordshire and although nothing is known of Florence, she was clearly in the thoughts of her cousin Rosaline Stephen who had written her will in 1931 and left a small legacy to her.

4. Aratoon Johannes Stephen, born 1836. Married Mary Sarkies in February 1860 at the Armenian Church Dacca.[69] They had at least five children:

St. George Kent Hume Stephen 1861[70];
Jan Denkin Stephen 1862[71];
Gulnabath Stephen 1863[72];
Arratoon St. John Stephen 1875[73];
Margaret Stephen 1877[74].

During the early 1880s Aratoon Johannes Stephen, a landholder, had lived at the Chowringhee Hotel in Kolkata.  Embroiled in litigation in which he tried to defend a case where he had taken a loan from a money lender in Kolkata in the name of his eldest son, he lost and was declared insolvent. He made attempts to clear his debts, but was unsuccessful and then as the Sub-Editor of ‘The Statesman’ he was again declared insolvent 1887. By 1889 his Official Assignee declared a small dividend payment to his creditors. He continued to work as the Sub-Editor of The Statesman until his death in 1900 in Calcutta. He was buried in Park Street cemetery[75].


5. Mackertich Stephen born 1837, studied law and passed the Bar exam at Lincoln’s Inn. The attached rare letter[76] signed in a very unsteady hand by him and dated just a month before he died, makes one wonder if he was attempting to get his personal affairs in order.  He died a bachelor on the 3rd June 1867 in Dacca and is buried in the compound of the Armenian Church[77].

Image: Liz Chater's private archive
6. William Stephen[78]. Nothing is known about him.

Their parents were Johannes Stephen Snr. (born 1790 Julfa) and Goolnabad.
Johannes Snr married twice, first to Goolnabad around 1822, she passed away in Dacca in January 1838 aged 35 years[79] and is buried in the grounds of the Armenian Church.  He quickly remarried in December 1838 to Sultana Athanes, granddaughter of Alexander Panioty who was the doyen of the Greek community of Dacca. She passed away in January 1843 and is buried in the Armenian Church compound in Dacca.[80]

Grave of Johannes Stephen.
Image: Liz Chater


Grave of Goolnabad Stephen.
Image: Liz Chater
Johannes Stephen Snr had two sisters, Catherine and Mariam who were also based in Dhaka.

Catherine[81] married Gregory Thorose, a tide waiter with Calcutta Customs around 1812. They had two daughters Huripsimah Regina Thorose Gregory71 and Nanajan Nanook Thorose Gregory71.


Mariam67 had married 3 times, all in Dhaka[82], firstly to Martyrose Kaloos, secondly to Arratoon Michael (from whom she had inherited on a large scale) and thirdly to an Englishman Edmund Kent Hume[83]. All three marriages were childless. After her death in 1833, her brother Johannes Stephen Snr began court proceedings against her 3rd husband Edmund for a share of her estate. He failed and Edmund inherited her wealth.  He went on to marry again to Pheunnah Honor McClean in 1845[84]. Pheunnah died on the 15th September 1849 and Edmund the following day. They were both buried in the Christian cemetery at Dhaka.

To give you an idea of Mariam’s wealth, here is a selection of her properties in Dacca at the time of her death.

This example of the Stephen family network is a perfect illustration of how quickly the Armenian connection was lost in Dhaka as families naturally migrated to larger cities with more opportunities. Land disputes, litigations and lack of prospects all had a negative impact, yet those who did stay believed they could make a go of it.

Today, there are no Stephen’s left in Dhaka, their lands in and around the city are long gone; broken up in to smaller pieces and parcels and now heavily built upon. The numerous descendants of Johannes Stephen Snr and his siblings are living all over the world and some of them won’t even know of their connection to Dhaka or their Armenian heritage.

In 1831 those 126 Armenians had no idea of the history and legacy they were leaving behind. Today, our focus is on preserving the Church and helping the local Dhaka people in every way we can. We continue to build on those early foundation stones maintained over the last 200 years by extraordinarily selfless custodians to whom we are all very grateful. The Armenian Church in Dhaka stands today because of this small, but fiercely strong and determined community whose presence over the centuries and decades has been an integral part of Dhaka life.

Armenian Community Dhaka 1952.
Image: Armenian Heritage Project Bangladesh,
courtesy of Mrs. M. Bedrossian
Liz Chater is the coordinator and researcher for the Armenian Heritage Project Bangladesh. The project is still accepting contributions, and is keen to reconstruct the history and family stories of the Armenian presence in Bangladesh. The project has already received material from contributors in the USA, Canada, UK, Australia and India. If you have something you would like included, please get in touch via our social media pages, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or website www.armenianchurchbangladesh.com.



[1] Gleanings in Science, Jan-Dec 1831 Vol.3
[2] The Friend of India September 1853
[3] The Friend of India 8 September 1853
[4] The Friend of India 26 December 1861
[5] Marriage record N1-122-81
[6] British Consulate Marriages, Geneva 1810-1968
[7] The Homeward Mail April 1867
[8] The Homeward Mail December 1875
[9] Allen’s India Mail 17 October 1854
[10] Armenian Church baptism register No. 74
[11] The Ipswich Journal January 1879
[12] Men At The Bar, P.446
[13] Report of the Managers of the Armenian College & Philanthropic Academy 1901
[14] Burial record N1-407-129
[15] His Will. L/AG/34/29/161/15
[16] Armenian Church baptism register No. 83
[17] The Morning Post June 1895
[18] The Times of India November 1868
[19] UK Civil Engineer Records 1820-1930
[20] Original document held by the Melitus family, photographed by Liz Chater in 2011 and reproduced with permission
[21] Armenian Church baptism register No. 90
[22] The Times May 1938
[23] Michael was the son of Christopher Stephen, who was the son of Carr Stephen, Carr was Rosie’s brother.
[24] Marriage certificate
[25] Birth certificate
[26] Baptism record N1-214-264
[27] Marriage record N1-335-56
[28] Marriage record N3-76-81
[29] Times of India 1896
[30]  Miscellenea  Genealogica et Heraldica. On a recumbent marble cross: “In loving memory of CARR STEPHEN the third son of John Stephen Esqr of Dacca, born 20th December 1858, died 3rd February 1896, aged 37 years.”
[31] South African Field Force Casualty Role
[32] Dove’s College Register 1871-1899
[33] London Gazette 10 September 1901
[34] London Gazette 27 September 1901
[35] See the AngloBoerWar website for biography
[36] British Armed Forces, First World War Soldier’s Medical Records MH 106/1221
[37] Hampshire Telegraph and Post 16 March 1956
[38] Death certificate
[39] Portsmouth City Council, Registrar of Cemeteries
[40] Marriage certificate
[41] Australian Death Index
[42] Kenyan Gazette 23 March 1964
[43] Haileybury records
[44] His will L/AG/34/29/180
[45] Burial record Brompton Cemetery, Plot 2E/40.9/20.9
[46] UK Registers of Employees of the East India Company. India Office List.
[47] The Will of Mackintosh John Stephen
[48] England and Wales death index
[49] The Will of Stephen Paul Stephen
[50] National Probate Calendar
[51] Deaths in the Uncovenanted Service. L/AG/34/14A/12
[52] Marriage record N1-349-67
[53] Marriage record N1-441-103
[54] Burial record N1-445-340
[55] Burial record N1 182-188
[56] Burial record N1-158-289
[57] Burial record N1-228-156
[58] Times of India 1907
[59] Times of India 1868
[60] Marriage record N1-131-423
[61] Baptism record N1-147-20
[62] Baptism record N1-155-64
[63] Baptism record N1-173-66
[64] Baptism record N1-173-66
[65] Times of India 1883
[66] Burial record N1-216-403
[67] Victoria, Australia, Assisted and Unassisted Passenger Lists, 1839-1923
[68] GRO Overseas Deaths
[69] Armenian Church Dhaka Marriage Register No. 22
[70] Armenian Church Dhaka Baptism Register No. 109
[71] Armenian Church Dhaka Baptism Register No. 118
[72] Armenian Church Dhaka Baptism Register No. 125
[73] Armenian Church Kolkata Baptism Register No. 1557
[74] Armenian Church Kolkata Baptism Register No. 1558
[75] Burial record N1-285-15
[76] From the private archive of Liz Chater
[77] Armenian Church Dhaka Burial Register No. 87
[78] Name extracted from Indian Decision (Old Series) Vol VIII
[79] LDS film 1356948 items 3. Also her grave
[80] Armenian Church burial Register No. 21
[81] Will of Mary Hume
[82] Law Report: Indian Decision 30 November 1841 No. 63
[83] Marriage record N1-24-111
[84] Marriage record N1-67-58