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Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Websites: Armenian Graves in India and Sir Catchick Paul Chater - Active Again

If you've been trying to access my websites over the last few months you will have realised that they were not working.

Today they are back up and running. The links have changed, if you have saved them please update your bookmarks.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Saving The Soul of a Past Community

The Armenian Church of Holy Resurrection, Dhaka, Bangladesh

In association with the Armenian Church of Holy Resurrection in Dhaka, Bangladesh, I am pleased to announce the launch of a truly admirable, worthy and very important new heritage project.

This is a global appeal. We are very keen to make this project a community/Diaspora driven venture. We want to appeal to everyone who ever had a connection with the Armenian community in Dhaka Bangladesh. There is little or no history of the community left, we want to try and build the stories, starting from the ground up. The Armenian communities of Bangladesh and India often worked together, regularly moving between the two locations. It is our hope that people with India connections will contribute too.

At our recent launch we issued the following press release.

The Armenian Church in Dhaka Bangladesh is embarking on an exciting, ambitious and unique community and history project.

The church has existed in Dhaka for over 200 years and its community played an important mercantile role in the history of this wonderful country of Bangladesh.

The Church wardens and committee have already completed an extensive refurbishment programme of the building and structure. This renovation process will continue to be ongoing to ensure the Armenian Church will maintain a presence in Bangladesh for many years to come.  The committee now wishes to move to the next phase of the development, and it is hoped that it will be community driven.

Here at the Armenian Church in Dhaka we would like to reach out to the Armenian Diaspora around the globe, particularly those who have family connections to India and Bangladesh.  We would like to invite anyone with a past connection to Dhaka, no matter how small, to get in touch.  We would particularly like to hear from those who might have personal items or memorabilia they would be willing to share with us in digital form. Perhaps your family played a role in the jute industry in the 19th or 20th centuries maybe even earlier? Do you have stories, photographs, items of interest that we could help build the history of the community on? Where did your family live, what social activities did they attend, who were their friends, what did they feel about their lives in Bangladesh?

We are keen to reconstruct the history, family stories and vibe of this by-gone era of the Armenian presence in Bangladesh, but we can’t do it without YOUR help?

There are many well known Armenian families with a historical connection to Dhaka and Bangladesh, do you know, or have connections with any Agabeg, Agacy, Aganoor, Apcar, Arathoon, Aviet, the famous Beglar family, Bagram, Basil, Carapiet, Catchick, Catchatoor, Chater, David, Gasper, Gregory, Harney’s, Harapiet, Johannes, Joachim, Lucas, Mackertich, Malchus, Manook, Marcar, Michael, Martyrose, Minas, Nahapiet, Petros, Pogose, Sarkies, Seth, Shircore, Stephanuse, Vertannes, Zorab.

These are just a few of the family names with links to the area.

We would really like to hear from anyone with an association, we are determined to make this a community project with as many digital contributions as people will generously make.

We will produce a book containing all your wonderful stories and items, and all donors will be acknowledged on the dedicated “thank you” page as well as permanently on our new website.

Our co-ordinator for this project is Liz Chater who, through her experience in her work and research with Armenian family history in India, will carefully and sensitively bring all the elements of it together.

To contribute please contact:

We are very excited and are looking forward to working with the Diaspora on this unique venture.

You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Saturday, 17 March 2018

A Friend In Need, Is A Friend Indeed

One of the many hundreds of papers I have received in the documents donated to me by Mrs. Sonia John, a 92 year old Armenian in Kolkata was a Pottah certificate issued by the Calcutta Christian Burial Board. It is for the burial plot of Sonia’s grandmother, Elizabeth Martin. I was intrigued by the fact it was made out to Elizabeth Gregory. Confused by this, I continued to look through the papers and I came across this short letter, written by Elizabeth Gregory to Elizabeth Martin in 1964 transferring ownership.

The next natural question was “who was Elizabeth Gregory?”

The answer to that was easily found on the back of the Pottah certificate, 

it stated the name of Elizabeth Martin recently buried on the 12th November 1965 and the relationship of the grantee was “friend”.  The two Elizabeth’s were unrelated.

Curious about Elizabeth Gregory, I started to do a little research on her. I could see from her letter of transfer that she lived at 1 Linden Gardens, London in 1964. On checking the voters list for the 1960s[1] I not only found Elizabeth Gregory, I also found a Mary and George A.V. Gregory living at the same address. Knowing that trying to find the correct “Mary Gregory” would be almost impossible, I decided to see if I could find any reference to George A.V. Gregory. There in the baptism records for Rangoon India in 1936[2] was George Aramais Vivian Gregory.

George’s father was Simon Joseph Gregory, I found his grave in my cemetery records for India.[3]   Simon had been born on 17 February 1902 in Tehran and died in Calcutta on 24 March 1942. His wife Elizabeth Gregory was the author of the above transfer letter. She had been born in Calcutta on 6 December 1906[4] and I quickly found her death record for August 2004[5] in London. It helpfully had her date of birth on it, and as it matched exactly to that recorded in the Armenian Church records, I was confident I had found the correct Elizabeth Gregory.

Elizabeth and her son George had left Calcutta in July 1947[6] during the disturbances in India, and prior to partition in August that year. They sailed from Bombay to Liverpool on the ship ‘Cilicia’, the name would not have been lost on her, it was an Armenian Kingdom. Family records indicate that George died in Herefordshire in 2008.

As a friend of Elizabeth Martin, Elizabeth Gregory transferred the Pottah she had reserved for her own burial right next to her husband Simon Joseph Gregory in the Old Armenian Cemetery in the Lower Circular Road. One can only surmise that Elizabeth Martin must have asked her friend if she would be willing to transfer the plot now that Elizabeth Gregory was settled in the UK.  Elizabeth Martin obviously wanted to be buried as close to her own late husband, Jordan Martin who had died in 1953 and had been buried in the same cemetery just a few plots away. You can read the remarkable story about Jordan Martin being a spy for the British in an earlier blog by following this link.

Thanks to Elizabeth Gregory, instead of husband and wife lying side by side, two family friends do instead.

LEFT: Sacred to the memory of Simon Joseph Gregory beloved husband of Elizabeth Gregory and eldest son of the late Joseph Simon Gregory and of Maria Gregory Of Julfa, Ispahan, Iran.  Born at Teheran  on the 17 February 1902 Died at Kurseong on 24th March 1948. [remaining script indecipherable].

RIGHT: In cherished memory of our dear mother Elizabeth Widow of the late Jordan Martin Born 16-8-1875 Died 11-11-1965 R.I.P. [bottom right inscription: J. Maderia & Co]

[2] British Library N1-570-79
[3] Liz Chater. I have photographed almost every Armenian grave in Calcutta
[4] Armenian Church Calcutta Baptism Register No. 1888
[6] travel and immigration records

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Mrs Sonia John Reviewing Sir Catchick Paul Chater Album

I have uploaded on to Youtube a short video of Mrs. John reviewing some of my private archive, and in particular the unique one-off Sir Paul Chater photo album. Unaware I was filming her reflections,  the instantaneous reactions as she turns the pages are natural and utterly charming.

Mrs. John is the generous benefactor of the Sir Catchick Paul Chater bust that was unveiled in the grounds of La Martiniere Boys' School, Kolkata last year on the anniversary of his birth, 8th September. The project was initiated by the Indo-Armenian Friendship NGO, who oversaw all aspects of the creative stages of the bust. The school kindly hosted the well attended and lavish event. The occasion is a memory that will last for a long time.

Here is the link to the video for your interest.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Chater Genealogy Website DOWN

A number of people have contacted me recently regarding my website that holds the Armenian graves in India project.  Unfortunately that site is currently off line due to the site servers having some rather complicated issues.  As soon as they are fixed, I'll re-upload the data.  Apologies to anyone trying to find information and tombstones on Armenians in India.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Theodore Forbes, Eliza Kevork Their Male Descendants and Their Royal Cousins Princes William and Harry

It is already known and well documented that Scottish Theodore Forbes[1] and Indian-Armenian Eliza Kevork are ancestors of British Royals, Princes William and Harry respectively.

The direct male Forbes line of descendancy of
Theodore Forbes, Ann Macdonnell and Eliza Kevork

Theodore and Eliza had at least 3 children, Katherine Scott Forbes in 1812, Alexander Scott Forbes in 1814 and a third, possibly a boy who died as a baby.

Baptism record of Catherine Scott Forbes and Alexander Scott Forbes

The royal line can be traced through Katherine Scott Forbes’s marriage to James Crombie and their children, all of which is well documented in various family trees on a number of genealogy websites. More recently a number of news articles published world-wide both in print and digitally, have explored the direct relationship with the Princes, and it is not my intention to investigate this genealogy line today.

However, scarce recognition (so far) has been given about the life and descendants of Katherine Scott Forbes’s brother Alexander Scott Forbes.

But first, not so commonly known is the fact that Theodore Forbes also had another son, not with Indian-Armenian Eliza Kevork but borne by a Scottish woman called Ann Macdonnell.

Theodore Forbes acknowledged his illegitimate son in his Will.

The child was named Frederick Forbes, and is acknowledged by Theodore in his Will[2] as “my respected son Frederick by Ann Macdonnell of Aberdeenshire”. Little Frederick was bequeathed 20,000 Bombay Rupees, only 5,000 Rupees less than Alexander, the son Theodore had with Eliza Kevork. Frederick was born in Scotland on 22 November 1808 and it would seem that after Theodore’s death, Frederick came under the care of his uncle (Theodore’s brother) Alexander Forbes and his wife Annabella nee Reid and their children.

Conveniently ignoring his illegitimacy, Frederick became fully absorbed into the Forbes family, and he went on to graduate from Marischal University in 1827[3]. In 1831 Frederick was nominated by his cousin, John Forbes (son of Alexander Forbes the uncle that took in Frederick)  for entry into the East India Company as an Assistant Surgeon[4]. His preparations for a military career didn’t quite go to plan. Having studied medicine for some time, The Royal College of Surgeons in London wrote that Frederick was “found to be unqualified for the situation” and was therefore referred back to his professional studies for a further six months. Frederick was finally examined and passed as an Assistant Surgeon in February 1832.

The Royal College of Surgeons found Frederick Forbes "unqualified"

From the book: The Visit of Frederick Forbes to the Somali Coast in 1833” by Roy Bridges[5]: an explanation is give as to why: “…..Frederick found himself in the Gulf of Aden in the Red Sea in 1833 because his ship, the brig Tigris, had been ordered to Mocha to keep an eye on developments there as Mohammed Ali's campaigns against his nominal Turkish overlord proceeded…….

….at the time of his [Frederick’s] visit to the Somali Coast he was attached to the Indian Navy. His regrettably brief subsequent life shows that he was on the way to becoming a notable scholar-explorer. At this early stage he obviously had some hopes of travelling in Africa[6] but the accidents of his career led him to make expeditions in the Mesopotamian and Persian regions of South-West Asia.[7]

Frederick’s thesis in 1840 on the “Nature and History of Plague as Observed in the North Western Provinces of India” gained him a gold medal awarded by the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Edinburgh. Touchingly, Frederick dedicated the book to his uncle 

“Alexander Forbes, Esquire
Boyndlie, Aberdeenshire.
This Treatise is Inscribed
As A
Mark Of Respect And Gratitude”

Like so many about to embark into unknown territories, Frederick made a Will on the 3rd April 1841 in Tehran, Persia.  Witnesses were Frederick Hughes of the Madras Company and Syeed Khan.  Frederick appointed “Charles Forbes Esquire or the managing partner for the time being of the firm of Forbes and Company, Bombay, Alexander Forbes Esquire of Boyndlie [his uncle] in the county of Aberdeen, and James Crombie [his half sister Kitty Forbe’s husband and ancestor to Princes William and Harry respectively] now lately residing at Swailand of Elrick in the parish of Newmachar and county of Aberdeen, to be the executors of this my will.”

Frederick ensured his mother (Ann) was provided an annuity for her lifetime.

Frederick’s Will is also evidence of his blood relationship to Alexander Scott Forbes.

I give and bequeath to Alexander Scott Forbes son of my late father
Theodore Forbes of Bombay........

Frederick’s last bequest: “I give and bequeath the residue of my personal estate whatsoever or wheresoever to my said executors Alexander Forbes and James Crombie for their absolute use and benefit for and on account of the trouble they may have in the performance of the trusts of this my will, to be equally divided between them, their heirs or assigns.”

Frederick Forbes left the residue of his estate to his uncle, Alexander Forbes and James Crombie, his half sister Kitty's husband.

 Just 5 months later, in September 1841 Frederick was murdered. 

“Intelligence was yesterday received at Agra of the murder of Dr. Forbes, by Ibrahim Khan, the Beelochee chief of Seistan.  Dr. Forbes, under the protection of Mohumud Reza Khan, the most influential chieftain in Seistan, had completed the circuit of the lake [at Seistan] and visited all sites of interest in the province, accompanied by one Persian servant. From the residence of Mohumud Reza Khan he was escorted to Jehanabad, the fort of Ibrahim Khan, Beelochee, and after remaining with that chief a few days, he left for Sash, with a party of Ibrahim Khan’s horse for a guide.  The Khan joined him at a short distance from the fort; they breakfasted together in a friendly manner, and Dr. F. was immediately murdered. Our report says, that being attacked by a large hound brought out to hunt the hog, he shot it in self-defence, and the Khan in a moment of irritation immediately fired on him.  The other and more probable story is, that the Khan, on pretence of examining his arms, got possession of his gun, pistols, and sword, then immediately gave the signal to his horsemen, who seized the doctor, dragged him through the water of the lake until he was half-drowned, and when he was brought out, the Khan shot him with his own hand.  His Persian attendant was barbarously murdered a day or two after.[8]

Nearly 10 years with the East India Company, and he was dead at 34.

Direct male Forbes descendants of Theodore and Eliza Forbes
Turning now to Alexander Scott Forbes, son of Theodore and Eliza. He married Elizabeth Cobb 29 June 1865 at Dundee, her father James was a Scottish weaver. Alexander and Elizabeth had two children Catherine Forbes in June 1866[9] and Frederick Forbes in February 1869[10]. Alexander Scott Forbes was an insurance agent and comfortably placed financially, so much so that they also fostered two other children Louis and Jenny Mudie[11]. Alexander Scott Forbes died 7 April 1887[12] and by 1891 his widow Elizabeth and their son Frederick where living alone in the family house 14 Ann Street, Arbroath, Scotland. Elizabeth’s income derived from her husband’s estate whilst Frederick was a clerk with a shoe manufacturing company.

Birth record for Frederick Forbes

Alexander and Elizabeth Forbes’s son Frederick married Agnes Low Petrie 27 December 1897 in Arbroath[13]. Agnes was a working girl and employed as a flax reeler, her father was a hairdresser. Frderick and Agnes had 3 children, Elizabeth Ross Forbes born 1898[14], David Buik Forbes born 1903[15] and Ethel Agnes Forbes born 1904[16]. Frederick Forbes was a commercial traveller/shoe salesman, he died of pneumonia in 1909 in Arbroath[17], the death was registered by his brother-in-law Alexander Buik (who had married Catherine, Frederick’s sister in 1888 in Arbroath) leaving Agnes with 3 young children to bring up alone.

Birth record of David Buik Forbes

The vast fortune that had been left to Alexander Scott Forbes by his father Theodore in his Will of 21 September 1820 was diminishing, In the Will Theodore wrote days before his fateful demise: “To my respected son Alexander Scott Forbes by the said Eliza Kewark [sic] and now in India where it is my wish that he should remain, the sum of twenty five thousand 25, 000 Bombay Rupees.” A handsome bequest for the day.

By 1920, Agnes’s eldest daughter Elizabeth had struck up a blossoming friendship  with a fellow Scot, James A. Keith. He was a grocer’s assistant and in December of that year sailed from Liverpool to New York[18] with a view to starting a new life.  It is this innocuous migration of an unrelated Scottish lad that would end up influencing the remaining Forbes family to leave Scotland and start their own new lives in the land of the brave and the free.

On the 23rd June 1923 (Elizabeth) Lizzie Forbes sailed from Glasgow to Boston to meet James Keith, a month later on the 6th August James and Lizzie had married in Troy, Rensselaer, New York[19] a town which would become the home of the migrated Forbes whose roots where originally from India. Lizzie and Keith had two children, Ronald Bruce Keith born 1926 died 2006 and David Forbes Keith born 1929 died 1985.

Missing her daughter and with nothing to keep her and the two remaining children in Scotland, Agnes followed Lizzie to New York in September 1925[20], taking David and Ethel with her. The three of them took up residence in Stow Avenue, Troy, David found employment as a book-keeper whilst Ethel was a cashier.

In 1928 Agnes’s son, David Buik Forbes married a Scottish woman called Una Smith moving just a few houses away in Stow Avenue. David and Una lived in several locations but stayed in Troy for the rest of their days.

In September 1929[21] Agne’s daughter, Ethel married Alexander Smith a migrant Scot like herself. With David and his sister Ethel now married, Agnes moved in with James, Lizzie and their family, where she lived out her days, dying in 1939. 

Image via

Agnes is remembered on a marker stone at Elmwood Hill Cemetery along with that of her son-in-law James Keith who at the time of his death in 1956, had been the manager of the Mohican Markets in Troy and Albany for 20 years. Agnes’s beloved daughter Lizzie Keith died in 1963 and had been an integral member of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church choir for over 40 years[22]. Remembered on the same memorial is one of James and Elizabeth’s children David Forbes Keith.

David and Una Forbes had two children a boy and girl and thus continued the direct male Forbes descendancy from Theo and Eliza of Surat in India. David was a salesman for over 20 years with the Tetley Tea Co and heavily involved with community life in Troy whilst Una worked for the Denby’s department store and became a well loved and trusted member of staff.

It might come as a surprise that today there are living descendants in New York who share the same common ancestors of Princes William and Harry, Scottish Theodore Forbes and Indian Armenian Eliza Kevork.

[1] For the personal papers of Theodore Forbes including letters from Eliza Kevork to her daughter Kitty Forbes see GB 0231 University of Aberdeen, Special Collections, MS2740: Ogilvie-Forbes, various family members in India, including merchants William Forbes and Theodore Forbes, and in military service, including Captain William Ogilvie and Dr Frederick Forbes: 19th century.

[2] British Library: L/AG/34/29/344
[3] Roll of the Indian Medical Service 1615-1930
[4] British Library: Cadet Paper L/MIL/9-382
[5] The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 19, No. 4 (1986), pp.679-691. Frederick Forbes left a manuscript journal record of his cruise along the Somali coast and experiences in Berbera in 1833-1834.
[6] Journal of Frederick Forbes, 29 February 1836
[7] More details on Forbes's family background and life appear in Roy C. Bridges, "An Aberdeenshire Family and the Indian-African Connection in the Early Nineteenth Century," An African Miscellany for John Hargreaves, Roy Bridges, ed. (Aberdeen, 1983), 5-10. Forbes's Asian journeys of note were recorded in Journal Royal Geographical Society, IX (1839), 409-430 and XIV (1844), 145-192. Forbes also wrote a medical treatise, Thesis on the Nature and History of the Plague as Observed in the North West Provinces of India ... (Edinburgh and London, 1840)

[8] Agra Ukhbar, 16 September 1841
[9] Scottish Statutory Registers: Births 272/ 0 319
[10] Scottish Statutory Registers: Births 272/0 151
[11] Evidence of this can be seen in the Scottish 1881 census
[12] Scottish Statutory Registers: Deaths 272/ 124
[13] Scottish Statutory Register: Marriages 272/ 1 199
[14] Scottish Statutory Register: Births 272/ 1 539
[15] Scottish Statutory Register: Births 272/1 70
[16] Scottish Statutory Register: Births 272/1 442
[17] Scottish Statutory Register: Deaths 272/1 19
[18] New York\u002C Passenger Lists\u002C 1820-1957
[19] Troy Irish Genealogy Society Rensselaer County Marriage Index Vols. 4 & 5

[20] the New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957. Glasgow to New York 25 September 1925

[21] Troy Irish Genealogy Society Rensselaer County Marriage Index Vol. 9
[22] The Troy Record, 25 March 1963