The Customs

I had several military toys consisting of a toy cannon, several pistols and wooden swords. One day we received a letter from Sir Philip Carey, the British Ambassador at Constantinople, stating that his aid-de-camp wished to pay us a visit. This aide was an old friend of the family's of many years before in E___. In due time he arrived and during the dinner explained the reason for his visit.

The Embassy had received a notification from the Port that Bardezag was a hot-bed of rebellion and that my father's house was a regular arsenal with arms and ammunition being kept there against the time the Armenians would rise up armed and revolt and shoot up the country side. Mr. D___'s friendly visit was to ascertain the truth of the situation and in the event my father really did have any armaments worth mentioning, it was his advice to hand them over to him so that in this way the government would have no grounds for suspicion.

For the fun of the thing, my father conducted mr. D___ into the nursery and gave him two of my toy revolvers so that he could show them to Sir Philip Carey. The next day Mr. D___ departed for Nicea where he would take the train for Constantinople. In or upon coming into Nicea one must pass through the customs. Mr. D___ had a pass to carry a revolver which he usually carried belted to his waist, but on this occasion he had absent-mindedly placed his revolver together with my toy pistols in a hand valise. As an Embassy official, Mr. D___ on leaving the boat to go through the Customs started to walk through without paying any attention to the custom officers since Embassy officials ordinarily have the courtesy of the country and can go through Customs without having their luggage examined. However on this trip, very much to his surprise, he was stopped and an officer seized his grip. Mr. D___ pushed the Customs-man away and started to go on his way but he was stopped again by several Customs-men who tore the bag from his grasp and carried it to a room upstairs.

Mr. D___ was a man not slow to wrath. Instead of going after his bag he rushed out of the Customs-house and made straight for the Governor's palace. He demanded an immediate audience with the Governor which he obtained. He described the affair of the Customs-men in very forceful and effective terms. THe Governor was most apologetic and offered to make amends as far as possible. Mr. D___ immediately demanded the instant return of his grip with all its contents intact. The Governor sent his servants to the Customs-house and requested Mr. D___'s bag. All the Customs-house officials were also brought back to the Governor's house. Mr. D___ pointed out the head Customs-man and the three other men who helped him. The Governor then called in his chief whipper. The culprits were then stripped to the waist and were badly beaten. Mr. D___ finally interceded for the sake of the writhing victims who indeed repented of their sins.

Apparently placated, Mr. D___ made his way back to the railroad station where he was in time for the train to take him back to Constantinople.

The whole affair exhibited the astuteness of Turkish officialdom. The Customs officials who had received the beating were very well paid for taking their punishment which was all a put-up job. The Turks knew that by notifying the British Ambassador that the Embassy would send someone to Bardezag to enquire into the matter before an official search was made, and they also knew that if my father did have anything that in the way of armaments had been forbidden, that he would hand it over to Mr. D___ who in turn would take it back with him to Constantinople to the British Ambassador. They therefore played this trick of having minor officials break the rules of ambassadorial courtesy by examining the Ambassador's aide's bags and then making amends for it by severely punishing the poor officials.

All that was discovered was an Ambassador's revolver and two toy pistols belonging to me, my father's child.

by Robert Chambers ęCopyright 2001