Παρασκευή, 26 Μαΐου 2017

The Charles Merlin Family

The Merlins

While wandering through the protestant section of the First Cemetery we noticed the name Merlin. That aroused our curiosity and, upon investigating, we discovered that Charles Merlin (1821-1896), founder of the Greek branch of the Merlin clan, was indeed something of a wizard.  As a British official, collector, and merchant/financier, he was one of many foreigners who, after 1830, saw real advantages in residing in the new Kingdom - and he got rich in the process. Charles would die in England but his offspring remained and have worked their own little bits of magic on the Greek countryside.


Family Beginnings

Charles Merlin was born in London in 1821 to French parents. He became a clerk and administrator at the British consulate in Piraeus, in 1839 at the young age of 18. His qualifications were pretty much the norm for the time: fluency in languages, good penmanship, and a willingness to further British trading interests.  When he arrived in Greece, Athens had a population of about 5,000 souls.  Piraeus had 1,000.

In 1846 Merlin became the British Vice-Consul. This was an honorary title requiring an income from other ventures, in his case as an employee of the Ionian Bank.  Between 1865 and his retirement in 1887 he served as the British Consul at Piraeus.

This latter position was salaried, but throughout his diplomatic career he, like most diplomats, was allowed to engage in commercial activities alongside his official duties. The post itself assured his desirability as a business partner and offered one more perk besides: access to the British diplomatic pouch, thus assuring his smooth rise to riches. Antiquities could be handily transferred to Britain with the utmost discretion.

 From 1865 to 1892, Merlin supplied some 460 items to the British Museum and sold others on the London art market

Demeter and Persephone, sold to the British Museum by Merlin in 1884 for 150 pounds (see footnote 1)

The practice of diplomats dealing in antiquities was widespread and at the time a perfectly acceptable pastime for ‘gentlemen’. Even the great Heinrich Schliemann marketed his finds on occasion.
The antiquities law in Greece (from 1834 to 1899) permitted sales of antiquities within the country and their exchange rapidly came to be understood as a profitable investment – among gentlemen of course, and all the more so if they could ultimately be trafficked abroad. There seems to have been a friendly rivalry among those in the know about Greek antiquities. Merlin commented rather unflatteringly during Schliemann’s excavations at Mycenae that his friend Schliemann was always wont to claim all “his geese as swans”. He had to eat those words when Schliemann discovered the grave circle there! 

Merlin was not at all shy writing about his activities. He explained that it was not just for profit but was his “patriotic duty”.  His many dispatches on the subject have become a source for researchers trying to investigate just how the antiquities trade worked in the 19th century. (1)

 By the 1860s Merlin was firmly ensconced as part of the Athens elite and was responsible for securing a number of loans for the Greek government through the mediation of the Ionian Bank. 

He returned to reside in England in 1887 -  a wealthy man and still working for the Ioanian bank, this time in London.  But he returned to Greece often. He built a wonderful mansion in the 1890s opposite the royal palace on Ag. Sophias Street and rented it to the French Embassy. The building was to be his daughter’s inheritance. (2)  

His children remained, becoming large landowners in Corfu, Crete, Lamia, and Attica. His son, Sidney, a crack shot, took part in the 1896 Olympic Games and two more as well. He was a trained botanist and introduced the now famous Merlin orange to Greece:

These oranges are prized for their sweetness 

  He was also responsible for a more exotic import, - introducing the elegant Kumquat tree from Japan, a wonderful addition to the Greek country side: 

No visit to Corfu would be complete without tasting a kumquat liqueur. It is the only citrus fruit that can be eaten skin and all.

An Interesting Footnote: The Enigma Machine, the Merlins and the Greek Royal Family

At the beginning of the Second World War and for several months, the Merlins housed the Greek royal family on their estate in Crete.  Because Bletchly Park had cracked the Enigma code, they knew of the impending German invasion of Crete.  It was one of the few times that they shared what they knew, - and warned the king.  The Merlins  remained at their house as if all was as usual in order to fool any German spies while the royal family escaped to Egypt. They themselves escaped only at the last moment. (3)

A small street near the French Embassy is still named after the family.

Their grave lists many Merlins

Map of the Protestant Cemetery

The Merlins are number 5 just inside the entrance


(1) See: On Her Majesty’s Service: C.L.W. Merlin and the Sourcing of Greek Antiquities for the British Museum by Yannis Galanakis
(2) It was bought by France in 1913 but is still named after  the French branch of the Merlin family, Hôtel Merlin de Douai, in their honour.

Σάββατο, 6 Μαΐου 2017

Demitrios Kallergis

Demitrios Kallergis                                             ΔΗΜΗΤΡΙΟΣ ΚΑΛΛΕΡΓΗΣ
Born 1803 in Crete                                              Died April 8 1867 in Athens  

Section 1, Number 269

Demitrios Kallergis was a freedom fighter during the Greek War of Independence and then became a rising star in the Greek military. He was involved in many of the complex and confusing happenings of the period between 1821 and 1865 but is most celebrated today for leading the bloodless rebellion against King Othon in 1843 that resulted in Greece getting its very first constitution. 

 The Mature Kallergis in the uniform of a Major General

His Life

Kallergis was born to a prominent Cretan family with Byzantine roots. He was well connected, and not just on the island. As a child he was sent to Russia and raised under the aegis of Count Karl Nesselrode, an uncle who was the Russian state secretary and then foreign minister. Nesselrode and Ioannis Kapodistrias, Greece’s future leader, were close friends and allies: not just any uncle.  

Demitrios  went to Vienna to study medicine but his  studies were interrupted by the outbreak of the Greek revolution in 1821.  While still a teenager, he joined the cause, and arrived in Greece, all the more welcome because he brought with him ammunition worth 100,000 rubles.

Kallergis participated in many battles and skirmishes, some successful and some not.  He took part in the disastrous Battle of Phaleron in April 1827 along with such heroes as  Ioannis Makriyannis, Kitsos Tzabellas  and Georgios Karaiskakis.  It was an attempt by Richard Church and Lord Cochrane to relieve the Greek garrison being besieged by the Ottomans on the Athens acropolis - and it ended in disaster for the Greek side. Kallergis was captured and, when Ottoman leader Reşid Mehmed Pasha realized he had a potential gold-mine in custody, he ordered Kallergis’ ear(s) to be slit and a portion sent to General Church with a ransom request.  A sum of 70,000 grosia (apparently about 5,000 dollars) was paid by his family.

Kallergis soldiered on – by this time having decided a military career was the way forward for him. Sometime before 1830, he married Sophia Rendis (Ρέντης)   the daughter of a wealthy Corinthian landowner and a famous beauty .


Sophia was something of a 19th century Helen: a bitter and bloody local war was fought over her in 1826. The story goes that she was engaged to Ioannis Notaras , scion of another prominent Corinthian family, but that his older cousin Panayiotakis wanted her too. Since each cousin headed a band of tough revolutionary fighters, they ignored the larger war around them and attacked each other! It would have been comical if an estimated 2,000 men had not died in earnest and the forest of Sofiko south of Corinth had not burned to the ground during their skirmishes. Theodoros Kolokotronis said this about the bizarre feud: The world is on fire and she combs her hair! although I suspect that is the polite translation! ( See(1))

And all for naught. Ioannis would die in the battle of Phaleron in 1827 ,  the same battle in which Kallergis was taken prisoner, and Panayotakis never got the girl. Demetrios Kallergis did  and he built her an impressive house in Argos that still stands, an act of optimism because Greece was not yet free of the Ottomans nor was victory certain. By all accounts it was a happy marriage.

The Kallergis house in Argos

1828- 1843
Demetrios supported Kapodistrias when he came to Greece, and, after he was assassinated, supported Kapodistrias’ brother Augustinos. 
When King Othon took over, Kallergis was able to continue his military career in the regular army although at one point he was jailed for his support of the Russian party. A stint in jail was a fairly routine rite of passage in the 1830s for many freedom fighters caught in the cross-fire of various political and royal factions. This was especially true during the Bavarian regency. 

September 3, 1843: The Confrontation with the King

The famous painting of Othon and Amalia facing Kallergis, his horse, and the protesters.

In 1843 Kallergis was colonel of the cavalry, then based in Goudi. Along with Andreas Metaxas, Ioannis Makriyannis, and other like minded men, he had become frustrated by the Bavarians and tired of Othon’s absolute rule. He led the coup against the king, taking his troops and his horse right up to the windows of the new royal palace and demanding a constitution. At first, the king demurred but Kallergis, his followers, and many citizens as well (2) stood fast shouting “Death to the Bavarians” and “Long live the Constitution” until 3:30 the following afternoon at which time  Othon capitulated.  Andreas Metaxas was named prime Minister, a new constitution promised, and the square in front of the palace got a new name: Syntagma (Constitution) Square

Drawn in 1844

Kallergis was then a handsome 39 year old, and the toast of the town He was appointed Military Commandant of Athens, promoted to Major General, and made Othon’s aide de camp.

The Rest

Kallergis lived for another 24 years, many of those abroad as ambassador to England ambassador to France. In 1854, he was back in Athens  during the Crimean war as Minister of the Army (France and England actually imposed this government in Athens so that it could not be pro-Russian). He was a member of the Greek parliament from 1856 1859, and so forth. (3)

His role is a little like that of another twentieth century military man, Nikolaos Plastiras, in that both were either catalysts or participants in so many of the important events of their respective eras. 

But it was his participation in the coup of September 3rd that resulted in his being wined and dined at home and abroad for the rest of his life.

Just an Observation: 1843 marks the first time that an army rebellion altered the country’ fate, but it would not be the last… 

 Queen Amalia and Kallergis?

There was and still is a persistent rumor that the handsome Demetrios Kallergis had a romantic relationship with Queen Amalia.


A 1975 ERT series about the alleged  ‘lovers’

Her inability to bear an heir may well have shortened her husband’s reign and, at the time, many blamed Othon’s prowess and suspected that Kallergis had won her affections as a result. After her death, an autopsy would reveal that she apparently died a virgin. (4)  

The Kallergis Home in Argos

After his death in 1867, Sophia returned to Argos and lived in the family mansion Demitrios had built in 1830.  She died in 1893 at the age of 90 and is buried in Argos. The house was a well known landmark and a source of local pride during her lifetime. It became the Argos Archaeological Museum in 1957. (5)
The Map


(1)     Kolokotronis’ comment as recorded in a history text was:  Εδώ ο κόμος καίυεται και η καλή χτενιζεται. It is so close to the slang expression used to today that I suspect a little editing: Εδώ ο κόμος καίυεται και και το μουνί χτενίζεται : The world burns and the cunt brushes its hair. The meaning is pretty clear in any case. He was disgusted. Source:  https://koutsoukos.wordpress.com/2016/10/26/η-σοφια-ρεντη-και-οι-δυο-νοταραδεσ-τησ-κ
(2)    Kallergis helped tip the scales in his favour by emptying out the Medresse, Athens’ notorious prison in the Plaka to help fill out the crowd and perhaps to make it more menacing.

(3)    The personal archives of Demitrios Kallergis are now in the possession of the Benaki museum. I believe they would make pretty interesting reading. I suspect he was much more complex than this and other sketches indicate.

(4)    She apparently suffered from Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser Syndrome, a condition which id bearing impossible. See http://www.dimokratianews.gr/content/44056/agnosto-drama-tis-vasilissas-amaliasAmalia: Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser Syndrome.