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30 November 2016

Gladys Bagram: The Scent of a Woman and Her Love for Theo

A year ago, as I was coming to the end of a scanning project, I wrote this to my Facebook followers. For months I had been immersed in photographs from the 1920s and 1930s. They once belonged to Gladys Bagram wife of Theo Bagram, nephew of Sir Paul Chater from the period when she was in Hong Kong with Theo and Sir Paul. Gladys had a certain je ne sais quoi, and one particular evening she captured my mind again as she had done many times during the scanning.

Gladys Bagram
Gladys Bagram has an everlasting scent. Her perfume is on everything I am touching; photographs, postcards, documents. I am finally finishing off the scanning, and Gladys’s perfume hangs in the air, it wafts around me gently seeping up from the desk. It has the bouquet of a by-gone era, I see her standing in her finery and she is meeting me in every image with her 1930's perfume. It is quite extraordinary that it has lasted all these years and a perfumier would be able to recognise it in an instant. In the meantime, I'm in Hong Kong, South Africa, Rhodesia, Italy, Margate and even Taylor Avenue with her. She meticulously catalogued her travels with Theo, and after he died she continued to collect photographs and recount to her family her travelling tales.  Her presence and her fragrance accompany me through the scanning journey. Fleetingly, I am lost in time, absorbed into her world through her sweet-smelling photographs.

Theo Bagram
The even more extraordinary thing is the images of her beloved darling Theo smell even stronger of her heady perfume, exuding her passion and love for him in abundance. Her aroma is everywhere this evening as I attempt to finish the scanning of this last batch of photographs. The journey with these pictures has been amazing, their visual narrative is remarkable, I will attempt to give a voice to their life story, Theo and Gladys were irreplaceable. And her scent lives on.

28 November 2016

Hastings Wouldn’t Have Done It Without Rev. Parthenio: The Greek Church Calcutta, A Small Anecdote.

Image: British Library. Reverend Parthenio
Rev. Constantine Parthenio was a Greek priest in Calcutta. Responding to a sanction of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Rev. Parthenio arrived in India from Corfu in 1775[1].

 *NOTE: The hyperlinks in square brackets [ ] do not work in this blog, please scroll to the bottom to read the links.

Somewhere in the course of history Rev. Parthenio’s contribution to the founding of the original Greek Church in Calcutta has been lost. 

History rightly remembers Alexious Argyree as the founder of the Greek community in Calcutta, he had first sailed into Calcutta around 1750 and for the next 20 years traded between India and Greece.  In 1771 Argyree petitioned Warren Hastings for permission to establish a Greek Church in Calcutta which was granted.

After his death in 1777 Argyree’s estate is credited for its financial contribution towards the purchase of the ground and the building costs of the church. However the majority of the funds to build the Greek Church came from voluntary contributions purely “on the solicitation of Mr. Parthenio. This gentleman attracted the notice of Mr. Hastings, [i]who placed his named at the head of the Subscription for two thousand Rupees and thus set an example to the English to encourage the pious intentions of the Greeks. The English gentlemen contributed largely and the few poor Greeks trading to Bengal added to the aggregate.” The cost of the church amounted to approximately 30,000 Rupees. The foundation of the original Greek church was laid in 1780, 3 years after the death of Argyree and it was consecrated, presumably by Rev. Parthanio on the 6th August 1781. 

But it was Rev. Parthenio’s words and persuasive manner that galvanised the local English gentlemen, including Warren Hastings to dig deep into their money chests and contribute the final amounts required to complete the church.   Hastings would never have done it without the involvement of Rev. Parthenio with whom he had become close friends. In an early sketch of Bengal, Rev. Parthenio was remembered as “a gentleman, polite and communicative, and one who is unquestionably the most enlightened person under the English government of all the descendants of Hellas.”  

Over time the importance of Rev. Parthenio’s role in bringing a Greek church to Calcutta has been side-lined in favour of quoting Argyree as the originator and Warren Hastings as the benefactor, but without Rev. Parthenio’s efforts the early Greek Church may never have been built.  In his Will[2] Rev. Parthenio confirmed his involvement:

“I came to this country in the year 1775 and was so exceedingly fortunate as to gain the countenance and favour of Mr. Hastings then Governor General, and the good will and esteem of many of the most respectable people in the place. By the generous assistance of Mr. Hastings and other English gentlemen together with contributions of the Greeks in Bengal, I was enabled to build a church for them. I have since been very unfortunate, but it affords me in expressible satisfaction that I have even been so happy as to retain the esteem and favour of all my old friends, who have been so good as to extend their benevolence and kindness to me……”

British Library L/AG/34/29/15/49

Following his death in 1803 an inventory[3] of his possessions revealed he was an exceptionally well read and learned man with an almost insatiable appetite for books.
British Library L/AG/34/27/29/170

Rev. Parthenio even had a copy of a book by well known Armenian Joseph Emin ‘The Life of Joseph Emin.’

Also in his possession at the time of his death were 10 copies of the plans drawn up for the erection of the Greek Church. This is the first known proof that Rev. Parthenio had more than just a cursory involvement at the early stages. Interestingly, also listed was a rare portrait of himself in a gilt frame.

It is widely known that Rev. Parthenio was one of a number of local men in Calcutta used by Johann Zoffany in 1787 to depict Jesus and his disciples in the painting of The Last Supper which hangs today at the altar of St. John’s Church, Kolkata. Along with Rev. Parthenio as Jesus, other well known British men in Calcutta depicted in The Last Supper were the auctioneer William Tulloh who portrayed Judas, and John the Apostle is represented by William Coates Blacquiere a Justice of the Peace and police magistrate in Calcutta at the time Zoffany was planning the execution of the painting. Incidentally, Tulloh was misled by Zoffany, he thought he was going to portray John the Apostle but Zoffany had other ideas for him. Extracted from The Friend of India a small article explains how Zoffany was thinking:  “…He [Zoffany] was one day recounting to the late Dr. Carey the names of those whom he had drawn for each of the Apostles; and told him that after long search, he found in the face of old [Tulloh], the founder of a great house,  one exactly suited to his purpose; and that he allured him to his studio, under the notion that he was to sit for the Apostle John….”[4]

Image via TripAdvisor: The painting by Johann Zoffany of ‘The Last Supper’, still hanging in St. John’s Church.

Investigating Rev. Parthenio a little deeper I have discovered that a portrait of him was made by artist Francis Renaldi around 1789.  It was sent back to Warren Hastings in London with a request from the artist that it be exhibited at the Royal Academy. Unfortunately Royal Academy archives know nothing of the painting and there is no record of it ever having been shown.[5] One other known portrait was made of Rev. Parthenio by Ozias Humphry and it was a full length water-colour. A coloured print of Rev. Parthenio attending a Bengal reception of Lord Cornwallis exists at the British Library, from the image it is clear that he is a very striking man.

Image: British Library. Reverend Parthenio

Lord Cornwallis Levee, Calcutta 1792. Image: British Library.

Image courtesy of the British Library. Edward Tiretta of the Bazaar greeting Father Parthenio [black robe, tall hat].
After Rev. Parthenio’s death, a portrait of him was exhibited at the ‘Calcutta Exhibition of Pictures for 1832’[6] at the Town Hall. Described as “chaste and vigorous, the hands are particularly elegant and would have satisfied the fastidious taste of Lord Byron himself.  They are quite gentlemanly and suggest an idea of perfect freedom from all manual labour…”. Could this be a painting  by Zoffany, or one by Francis Renaldi who had been resident in Calcutta around 1789 for 10 years?

As for Reverend Constantine Parthenio, I believe he should have more recognition than he currently receives for his important part in bringing the first Greek Church to Calcutta and his contribution to the Greek community of that city. Without his deep belief and determination,  along with his persuasive manner amongst the English community of Calcutta,  Argyree’s wish would not have been fulfilled.

This story of The Last Supper at St. John’s Church made me think about The Last Supper hanging in the Armenian Church in Kolkata. 

Painted around 1897 by Albert Edward Harris, a resident English artist, it was presented to the church by members of the Balthazar family. Did Harris also use local Calcutta gentlemen to depict Jesus and his disciples just as Zoffany did 100 or so years previously?  

Photo: Liz Chater. The Armenian Church Kolkata. An historic occasion took place in 2008 when the ordination of a priest was conducted by the Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II. Deacon Harout became Father Avetis. The beautiful church altar providing a magnificent backdrop to the ceremony. The paintings by Albert Harris look down on the auspicious occasion.

He and his first wife Maria Leonard were married in Merthyr Tydfil Wales in 1890 where they lived for about a year. They can be placed in Wales in April of 1891 from the census where he was listed as an ‘artist, painter, sculptor’ living at 6 Partridge Road, Roath.  Their first child Leonard Harris was born in January 1892 in Simla, so it would seem logical that they probably left the UK for India sometime in the late spring early summer of 1891. The family eventually settled in Calcutta but unfortunately Maria died in 1911 whilst en route to the UK.  Albert remarried in 1913 in Calcutta to Ethel Issard and they went on to have 2 children together, Diana Elisabeth in 1915 and Edward Brian in 1916, the family remained in Calcutta until his retirement in 1927.[7] He and his family lived at 25a Rowland Road where he had his studio and an art supply outlet as well as the family home. He was a founding member of the Calcutta Rotary Club.

The Times of India 1 September 1927

Photo: Liz Chater. The Enshrouding of Our Lord by Albert Edward Harris

Photo: Liz Chater. The Last Supper and the Holy Trinity above by Albert Edward Harris

Photo: Liz Chater. The dedication plaque of the Balthazar family.

In loving memory of Carapiet Balthazar & Hosannah Balthazar. The Altar piece consisting of three paintings representing
“The Holy Trinity”
“The Lord’s Supper”
And “the Enshrouding of Our Lord”
Painted by Mr. A.E. Harris an English artist was presented to The Holy Church of Nazareth Calcutta in July 1901, by their children.

1. Mrs. Annie A.T. Apcar
5. Miss Mary Balthazar
2. Mrs. Rosie A.M. Sarkies
6. Miss Aileen Balthazar
3. Mr. Gregory Balthazar
7. Mr. Balthazar Carapiet Balthazar
4. Mrs. Elizabeth M.J. Joakim
8. Miss Edith Balthazar

The Altar piece was with the sanction of His Eminence Bishop Malachi, the Prelate of Persia, India and the East consecrated on the 21st July 1901 by the Revds. Mesrope C. David and Basil P. Alexy during the Wardenship of Mr. Arratoon Thomas Apcar and Mr. Marcar Chater.

This tablet was placed by the Church Committee.

1. Mrs. Annie Apcar (nee Balthazar) was married to Toonie Apcar a barrister in Calcutta in 1890.[8] They had a daughter Catherine and the family settled in London. Their life and that of several members of other Armenians who migrated to England from India all feature in some detail in a book by Christopher Carlisle the son of Catherine aka Kitty.  “A Merry Widow And Two Gentlemen”[9]. Kitty kept hundreds of letters, sent to her by friends and family, this book is a lively and interesting read for unique Armenian social history in London.

2. Rosie married Arratoon Michael Sarkies in Calcutta in 1896.[10] They went on to have two daughters, the family also settled in London.

3. Gregory Balthazar known as Sonnie married Christine Zakian in Rangoon in 1902[11]. They and their two children remained in India.

4. Elizabeth Balthazar married Minas John Joakim in Rangoon in 1899[12]. They had four daughters, two of whom where born in Switzerland where the family lived. Although Minas died in Switzerland his body was returned to London and laid to rest at Kensal Green Cemetery in 1965.

5. Mary Balthazar died in London in 1966[13], she never married.

6. Aileen Balthazar married Chater Paul Chater in 1908 in London[14]. He was a nephew of Sir Catchick Paul Chater. Aileen and Chater had a daughter Esme.

7. Balthazar Carapiet Balthazar aka Jack married Helen Kendrick Mosher, an American citizen in Rangoon in 1912[15]. Jack died in London in 1922 and after Helen returned to Rangoon she began the process to declare her intention to retake American citizenship.[16] After a protracted application, she returned there in 1947, and finally secured citizenship in 1956. She died in 1962[17]. They had no children.

8. Edith Balthazar married Malcolm Catchick Sarkies in 1903[18] and they had one child. Malcolm died in Monte Carlo in 1941 whilst Edith died in London in 1966.

Image: Liz Chater archive. The Balthazar Sisters.

Today, the Balthazar family and their descendants may be dispersed around the world, but  the memory of their forebears lives on in the dedication of The Last Supper the painting that is still hanging in the Armenian Church, Kolkata.

[1] Historical and Ecclesiastical Sketches of Bengal from the Earliest Settlement, Until The virtual Conquest of that Country by the English. Printed in Calcutta 1829.
[2] British Library L/AG/34/29/15/49
[3] British Library L/AG/34/27/29/170
[4] The Friend of India 1 October 1835
[5] British Artists in India 1760-1820 P.65
[7] Times of India 1 September 1927
[8] British Library N1-211-211
[9] Letters from A Merry Widow And Two Gentlemen 1906-1914 edited by Christopher Carlisle published by Images Publishing, ISBN 1 897817 59 2.
[10] British Library N1-248-25 marriage record
[11] British Library N11-10-303 marriage record
[12] British Library N1-295-31 marriage record
[13] England and Wales Civil Registration Death Index 1916-2007 Vol 5c page 257 Q4 1966.
[14] Copy of marriage certificate in my private archive
[15] British Library N1-383-258 marriage record
[16] US Consul Registration Applications 1916-1925
[17] California Death Index 1940-1997
[18] British Library N1-312-242 marriage record

[i] For a comprehensive account of the Greek community in Calcutta which includes detailed family histories I suggest ‘Ulysses in the Raj’ by Paul Byron Norris, published by BACSA 1992.