The Contributors

The Webber Family in Smyrna - Brian Webber (in collaboration with Joyce Medcalf)

Izmir and a Sense of Place

From my early days I had been told that my father and his sister were born in Smyrna, Asia Minor in the years before the First World War and somehow showed up in England in early 1920’s, only to migrate with their parents to Ottawa, Canada later in that decade. These family roots in Smyrna were rarely discussed fables of a mysterious distant place, with a new name, that seemed of no interest nor relevance to life in post World War II Canada. Living and working in Turkey in 2009 - 2011 changed that for me. My first visit to Izmir generated a strong “sense of place” that prompted me and my cousin Joyce Medcalf to look more closely at her archives of the family’s Smyrna connections.

In this paper we focus on the Webber family and their intersections with other Levantine families from pre-1914 Smyrna through to more recent times in Canada. It refers particularly to Blackler family cousins (MacLachlan, Reed and Neild), Perrin family cousins (Andrew, Hogg, Welte and Smith) and to the Calleya - Webber family. It also refers to railroads as well as to former properties in Paradise and Zeytin and to previously unknown cousins of various removes.

Webber and Perrin Family — 19081

Our grandfather, Amand Henry Steyskal Webber was born in 1885 in London, within the sound of Bow-Bells we were told, which makes him technically a cockney. He probably arrived in Smyrna with his parents in 1891. There is an undated photo taken in Malta with his mother, paternal grandmother and younger brother Francis, when he was about six and Francis very much an infant. We presume that Amand must have later gone back to England to complete his education as an engineer before returning to Smyrna about 1905. He appears to have been in the employ of the Ottoman (or Oriental) Railway. This ran south and east from Izmir to Aydin. In 1908 he married Winifred Perrin, daughter of Samuel Perrin whose father George Perrin was Superintendent of the Carriage Department of the Smyrna - Cassaba Railway, which ran north to Manissa and Cassaba. George lived in Smyrna from 1865 - 1894, when he retired and returned to Cornwall.

Webber and Blackler Family — 1883

This much, well some of it, we knew. What our research, and the earlier work of Levantine Heritage, led us to find out was that AHS Webber’s father and mother also had strong Smyrniot roots. In or around 1883, his father Edward Onslow Webber married Nellie (Ellen) Blackler, daughter of Francis Chipman Blackler and Annie Sophia Bowscher Routh. Edward is variously listed as “clerk” and later, “merchant”. His tombstone, photographed in 2010 by a Blackler cousin (Val Neild), shows that he died in Smyrna in 1921. E.O. Webber was predeceased by two sons: Edward who lived for 20 days in 1893 and Francis who died in 1902, aged 10 or 11.

The Blackler Cousins2

Francis Chipman Blackler is believed to have arrived in Smyrna in the late 1840’s. His wife Annie was the daughter of the British Consul of the time at Adrianopol.3 They were married in Smyrna in 1850. Francis and Annie had one son, Francis, and six daughters. Francis in turn had one son, William Blackler who lived variously in Smyrna and Kenya before settling in Kifisia, a soon to be suburb of Athens.4 I have a wonderful memory of him striding along the dock in Piraeus one evening in July 1961, dressed in an off-white suit, to meet the ship on which a friend and I were passengers en-route to Beirut. And of course, he then appeared on board! A month or so later (September 1961) we spent a day with him and his wife Valideh. We drove in his huge American model car with, as I recall, Minnesota license plates, to visit Sounion and then the house in Kifisia.

We do not know much about Nellie (née Blackler) Webber’s sisters, with the notable exception of Rose. She married Alexander MacLachlan, the founder and director of the American College of Smyrna. The school was located in Paradise, today Şirinyer, near Boudjah (Buca). Alexander MacLachlan presided over several Webber family baptisms and burials (see church records list). He played a key role in blocking the sacking of the college by the Turkish army in September 1922 and was a noted commentator on the events surrounding the fire and evacuation that followed.5 Their daughter Rosalind (Roz) married Cass Reed, the Deputy Director of the college.

Most recently, in 2014, through the good offices of Craig Encer, we were introduced to a Blackler cousin who is also involved in Levantine Heritage, Valerie Neild.

Family Life in Smyrna before and during The War Years

Married in 1908, Amand and Winifred Webber had a first child, also named Francis, who died in infancy. The Smyrna Register of Baptisms and Burials lists his burial in 1910. Reginald, my father, was born in 1911 and his sister Doris in 1914, both in Smyrna. The family album has photos of Reginald with his paternal grandfather and grandmother (E.O. Webber and Nellie née Blackler) in their house in Bayraklı. There are also photos of Amand and Winifred’s house in Paradise c. 1912, and photos of Doris and Reginald seemingly at the same house c. 1915 and c. 1917.

The family archives do not contain much information concerning what the Webber and Perrin families did during the First World War. Several bits of evidence point to the assumption that they passed the war years in Smyrna and headed for England with the children in 1919. We have photographs of a house dated 1916 - 1917 and a letter from Samuel Perrin in December 1919 saying that he, his wife and grand children were in Egypt and would be back in England soon6. A photo on-board SS Canberra, which would normally have been sailing from Cairo to UK would seem to confirm this. So does the certificate of registration of Samuel Perrin for 1914 with the British Consulate General in Smyrna (Figure 1), combined with his certificate of registration with the Netherlands Consulate for 1917 (Figure 2). The address, Carakapou yol, Paradise is of note.

Despite this scenario of internment, there are indications that Amand may have left before, or during the war. Primarily, family legends of Amand crossing paths with T.E. Lawrence, presumably in Egypt where Amand’s skills with railways would have been useful to the war effort. There is also the fact that both Doris and Reginald had basic rudiments of Greek. Did this come from a Greek nanny or from spending time in Greece during the war?

The Post-War Years

Various diaries and photos indicate that Winifred and the children, Reginald and Doris, settled in England at least by 1920 with Samuel and Nettie Perrin in Sevenoaks, and to have visited Elfreda Andrew and family in Cornwall on several occasions.7 How and when Amand Webber returned to England is unclear. It is possible that Amand stayed in Turkey until the death of his father Edward O. Webber in Buca in 1921 and that Winifred had gone back, without the children, to join him.

It is also not known how and when Amand got to Canada, but in 1926 - 1927, Winifred, the two children and Winifred’s mother Louisa Annette (Nettie) immigrated to Ottawa, to join Amand. Winifred’s father Samuel Perrin had died in Sevenoaks in 1924. The family lived in a house on 3rd Avenue in the Glebe section of Ottawa into the early 1930’s while Reginald and then Doris finished secondary school at Glebe Collegiate high school. Winifred and Amand later lived in several towns in Quebec, including Baie Comeau (1941), Valleyfield, and possibly Trois Rivières, where Amand worked as an engineer in the pulp and paper industry.

Connections in Canada after 1922

By the early 1930’s the MacLachlan family was settled in Kingston, Ontario and Doris and her parents were in Ottawa. The families of Rosalind MacLachlan and her brothers Ian and Grant remained close friends of Doris Medcalf (née Webber) and her family. They remained close well into the 1970’s. In 1933 and again in 1934 Doris travelled back to Turkey with Roz and Cass Reed and various other family members (Figure 3).

An extract from the Ottawa Citizen of 3 June 1942 points to the strength of the continuing relationship between the two families on the occasion of the engagement of Doris to Eric Medcalf. “Mrs Gordon Medcalf (wife of Eric’s elder brother) entertained at tea on Monday afternoon in honour of Miss Doris Webber, whose marriage to Mr Eric Medcalf takes place on Saturday. Mrs Grant MacLachlan and Mrs C. Medcalf (Josephine, Eric’s mother) presided at the tea table, which was centred with blue and white iris and spirea.”.

Grant and Sarah MacLachlan were at the 1968 wedding of Joyce Medcalf, Doris’s daughter, as were Ian and Sybil MacLachlan, their daughter Marian and son-in-law David McPherson. Joyce also remembers: “We used to go to Kingston, in the old days to visit Grant & Sarah and Ian & Sybil. We were at the wedding of Ian & Sybil’s daughter Marian to David McPherson in late 50’s early 60’s. I remember visiting Ian and Sybil at their house in Kingston with Mum and my Geoff and Ian when the boys were quite young—probably around 1976 - 1978.” There were other visits into the early 1980’s.

Several members of the Perrin family also were and remained close with the last Smyrna generation. Particularly, Elfreda (Freda) Andrew (1897 - 1982), daughter of Samuel Perrin’s sister Annie Elizabeth (1867 - 1951). Both Joyce Medcalf’s and my parents took us on visits to Cornwall to share time with cousin Freda and her husband Andy Andrew. In later years, their son and daughter, William (Bill) and Evelyn (Eve) contributed much to the Medcalf - Andrew version of the Perrin family tree. Eve visited Doris and Joyce in Canada in 1988. We are also in touch with Gordon (George) Hogg, the son of Freda’s sister Ann. He has delved deeply into the railways operating from Izmir—the Smyrna & Cassaba Railway (S&C) and the Ottoman Railway Company (ORC). George Perrin retired in 1894 as Superintendent of the Carriage and Wagon Works of the S&R. Amand Webber is thought to have worked for the ORC at least in the period up to the Great War.

The other notable relation is Winifred Webber (née Perrin)’s brother Bertie Perrin. He is reported in the Bayne MacDougal paper on the Perrin Family: (submission) to have returned to Turkey in 1919. So he must have avoided internment. He did not marry and died in 1952. I never met him but have strong memories because he bequeathed some money to my father, in trust, for my school fees.

An Inheritance in Zeytin - 1960’s

In the early 1960’s Reginald and Doris, as well as another Perrin cousin, Cecil Welte, were advised that they and several other distant cousins might be entitled to property owned by one Albert Ernest Smith born in Smyrna in 1872 and who died intestate in Thebes, Greece in 1940. He was the brother of Louisa Annette Smith, wife of Samuel Perrin and thus uncle to Winifred and Bertrand Perrin. Winifred married AHS Webber. The claim was abandoned after some investigation underscored the complexities of the situation but it did bring to light connections to families of whom the surviving Webber’s had little awareness including Rice, Hadkinson and Magnifico. Albert Ernest Smith had married Lucy Hadkinson, from whence the Hadkinson connection and, through marriage of a sister or cousin, to the Magnifico family. The Rice connection comes from the marriage of Emily Smith, a sister of Louisa Annette Smith, into the Rice family. Cousin Cecil Welte was also connected through another of the four sisters of Louisa Annette Smith. It is noteworthy that the 1898 Punta listing of the British Protestant Community of Smyrna8 includes not only the Perrin family but also the Smith, Rice, Hadkinson and Magnifico families. Another indication, perhaps, of the degree to which the British families inter-married. The widow of one of the Rice relatives was still living in Alsancak, Izmir in early 1963. At the LHF Symposium in Izmir in 2014 we met a member of the Magnifico family and have been in touch since.

One More Smyrna Connection: The Calleya Family

In 1946 Amand and Winifred were living in Valleyfield, Quebec and both Doris and Reginald (by then an officer in the Royal Canadian Navy) had families of their own. Sadly, Winifred died that year. A few years later Amand married Iris Calleya, the daughter of friends from their days in Smyrna and started another family, before his death in 1956. He was survived by his wife Iris (née Calleya) and two sons, Francis and Kenneth.

Iris was born in Smyrna c. 1917. Her mother, Cornalia Fagi, had been born in Florence and her father, Clement Calleya, in Malta. He too worked for one of the railroads in Smyrna—perhaps the ORC, and was friends with Amand Webber. When the Calleyas settled in Montreal in 1936 with two of their daughters, Iris and Yolande, and their son William, they got back in touch with Amand Webber. The eldest daughter, Ada was already married at that time and remained in Izmir. Yolande Calleya went back to Turkey in the mid 60’s to marry an Italian gentleman who owned a construction company in Izmir.

Some Thoughts on the Smyrna Legacy Today

What do I learn from all this ? Well, firstly that my sense of place when I first visited Smyrna in 2009 must have reflected the effect that Smyrna had on the three or four generations that preceded me.

Secondly, the prevalence of marriages from within the community reflects on the close-knit nature of the British community. That many of these connections continued for so long in Canada as family members developed their separate lives is a tribute to this. That my generation has not maintained these linkages very much is also an indication of the ephemeral strength of cousinly relationships. Our loss, but it is great to be in touch with “new” cousins discovered through the LHF.

Another indication of the importance of those linkages is the return visits to Turkey in the 1930’s. And also the reaction of Joyce Medcalf to a photo in the MacLachlan monograph of the assembled clan in Kingston: “With the exception of the oldest I met them all”.

I also learn the importance of collective endeavours such as that undertaken by Levantine Heritage, and cannot help wondering what lessons Europeans and North Americans living today in Turkey can take from the Levantine experience.

So, sense of place, sense of community, sense of family and, perhaps, sense of an inevitably unstable equilibrium. But one thing is clear to me. I have been able to explain a significant family foible: “Comfort foods”.

My father and his sister delighted in foods that were not in the pallet of most families of English heritage such as okra, yoghurt and buttermilk. Particularly buttermilk, which he craved. Neither I nor my cousins ever understood why.

“OK”, I though “.... yoghurt and okra must stem from their childhood in Smyrna”! But, “what’s with the buttermilk”. Well, when I lived and worked in Turkey in 2009 - 2011 I figured it out. Buttermilk was the nearest thing to ayran.


1 For more on the Perrin Family please see: return to main text

2 For more on the Blackler family please see Blackler Family Monograph by Daphne Manussis. Available at: return to main text

3 Idem return to main text

4 Idem return to main text

5 A Potpourri of Sidelights and Shadows from Turkey – Alexander MacLachlan – 1938, Kingston, Canada. Available at: return to main text

6 Correspondance from Eve Andrew, a Perrin cousin. return to main text

7 Idem return to main text

8 Available at: return to main text

Figure 1: Samuel Perrin’s Registration Certificate at British Consulate 1914

Figure 2: Samuel Perrin's Registration Certificate at Netherlands Consulate 1917 - Note the address: Carakapou yol, Paradise - de Hochepied family album:

Figure 3: Return to Paradise 1933 with the Reeds - in front of American School - further images:
From left: Zoie, Joan, Howard, Cass, Doris Webber, Ros, Frank Philpott (possibly). Front: Jane, Helen and Debby (from notes on reverse side of photo).

submission date 2017