Author: ÖZDIS HAMDI
Name of consul: Alfred Billiotti
Consulate Date of establishment: 1830
Inclusive dates of public service: 1873
England, who had started focusing more on its commercial and financial relations with the Ottomans from 1825 onwards, established a consulate in Trabzon in 1830. [i] Amongst the many English consuls that served in the 19th century, some in particular stand out both because of their long service in the region and due to their success. One of these important names that we encounter as an extraordinary personality is Consul Alfred Biliotti. The information we give here about Biliotti is mostly a summary of the info we acquired from David Barchard’s dedicated study. [ii]
According to Barchard, Biliotti was the son of an Italian Levantine born in Livorno. Biliotti was born on July 14, 1833 in Rhodes, where his father, Charles Biliotti, worked as an interpreter at the British Consulate of the island. [iii] Barchard strongly suggests that Biliotti probably had not had a high-school education nor did he take lessons from private tutors or go to university. [iv] However, we know that he studied history of art and archaeology for three months in Wiesbaden. [v] Biliotti, who had received criticism from the English Consulate in Istanbul about his English, did not manage to improve his command of the language until the 1850s. In the period before his consulate days, Biliotti improved his archaeological skills, participated in excavations and was responsible for important finds. He worked in the Halicarnassus excavation in 1865 on behalf of the British Museum and at the museum in Crete in 1866-69. As a vice-consul, his first post was on the islands of Mytilene and Chios in 1867 and then he became consul in Rhodes. [vi]
When the Foreign Office sent him to the province of Trabzon in the Black Sea in the year 1873, Biliotti was 40 years’ old and he would spend 13 years of his life there. Before him, in the 1860s, the office of the Trabzon consul was held by W. Gifford Palgrave, a strong intellectual figure. As for Biliotti, he remained in the province of Trabzon as a vice-consul until 1879, receiving a considerably lower salary. He was paid a lower salary compared to all the other consuls in the region, something that of course bothered him greatly and which led him to complain to his superiors. [vii]
Biliotti had remarkable energy and was a good political observer and analyst, as well as very knowledgeable on local affairs. Looking at the reports he wrote, this point becomes very clear. Barchard points out that, before penning his reports, Biliotti travelled around the region, did research in order to gain information on problems or issues and presented the important points in his reports. His reports from Trabzon contain priceless information for the history of the province. Biliotti was the closest witness to the political and social events in the region. The Armenian issue, the clashes between local elements or between Muslims and Christians, power conflicts and, most importantly, financial and commercial activities almost came alive in his reports. [viii] From Biliotti’s reports we learn that he also served as a judge in the court that was established in the Trabzon Consulate. [ix]
When it comes to his political activities, Barchard points out that he played an active role in important events of the period, such as the Armenian issue. We also learn that he could not act totally impartially on the disputes between Muslims and Christians. According to Michael Meeker, Biliotti’s approach towards Muslims was increasingly hostile. [x] He received written letters with requests for help about problems in the province that concerned either Armenians or Greeks. Biliotti reported the problems presented in these letters both to the Sublime Porte and London. For example, in 1881, the Armenian and Greek communities as well as the local Muslims faced abuse, rape and intimidation by Georgians and presented their case in a petition to the Armenian bishop in Trabzon and also asked Biliotti for help. [xi] Apart from these, Biliotti helped and dealt with the Armenian merchants that asked for English protection and citizenship, in their passport and residence issues. [xii]
Additionally, Biliotti intervened in situations that constituted a problem for the financial interests of England. One of the first that come to mind in this context, was the road and transportation problems faced by English mining company The Asia Minor Mining Company, which was active during the 1880s and 1890s in Licese, in the Karahisar area of Giresun; Biliotti contacted the central and local authorities and took initiatives to solve the issue. [xiii]
Biliotti, who had remained far from his family and his beloved Mediterranean, did not wish to stay more in this northern, rainy and misty region; thus, he returned to Crete in 1885 to continue his career. Here he served in office for 14 years and recorded many issues in his reports, from the clashes between Muslims and Christians to administrative and financial issues, playing an important role in implementing English politics. [xiv]
[i] “Mr. James Brant as first British Vice Consul with the object, as Brant himself wrote, of “making of Trebizond a depot for the Persian trade”. See, FO 195/2474.
[ii] David Barchard, “The Fearless and Self Reliant Servant. The Life and Career of Sir Alfred Biliotti (1833-1915), an Italian Levantine in British Service”, Studi Miceni ed Egeo-Anatolici vol. 48 (2006), pp. 5-53.
[iii] Barchard, ibid, p.7
[iv] Barchard, ibid, p.11.
[v] Barchard, ibid, p. 15.
[vi] Barchard, p..p. 12-13, 15.
[vii] Barchard, p.19. Biliotti expressed his sentiments with the following words: In fact I receive £200 less a year than the most underpaid of any colleagues who are far from indulging in luxury and act who however can hardly manage to join both ends with their salaries and office allowances by so far superior to mine, as shown in detail in my Despatch No 1...” FO 78/3420; FO 195/1420.
[viii] For an example see, “General Report on the Trade Commerce and Navigation at Trebizond During the Year 1882”, FO 195/1457,10 April 1883.
[ix] Max Goldstein, a Hungarian subject and J.W.H Escherich went to court at the consulate over a disagreement. “In her Britannic Majesty’s Consular Court at Trebizond, on the 23rd day of Jun 1884” FO 780/194.
[x] Barchard, p.16.
[xi] Biliotti, 195/1457, April 28 1881.
[xii] FO 195/1488, May 3, 1884.
[xiii] FO 195/1488, April 17, 1884; 9 June 1884.
[xiv] Barchard, p. 21.
The National Archives, Foreign Office (FO)
FO 195/1457; 195/1488; FO 195/1420; FO 780/194.
David Barchard, “The Fearless and Self Reliant Servant. The Life and Career of Sir Alfred Biliotti (1833-1915), an Italian Levantine in British Service”, Studi Miceni ed Egeo-Anatolici vol. 48 (2006) pp. 5-53.
Musa Şaşmaz, “Alfred Biliotti'nin 1885'teki Raporuna Göre Trabzon Vilayetinde Eğitimin Durumu [The Situation of the Edication in the Province of Trabzon According to Alfred Biliotti’s 1885 Report]”, Tarih ve Toplum, 163/1997, p. 49-52.