Joseph Mathia Svoboda

Joseph Mathia Svoboda was born in Baghdad on October 17, 1840. His father, Antone Svoboda, was a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian empire who immigrated to Baghdad by way of Istanbul and established himself as a glass and crystal merchant. Antone’s nationality and ethnic background are difficult to classify. At various times, he is described by others as German, Hungarian, or Austrian. [[See Robert Cotton Money, Journal of a Tour in Persia, During the Years 1824 & 1825, 234, (London: Teape and Son, 1828); Anthony Norris Groves, Journal of a Residence at Bagdad: During the Years 1830 and 1831, 176, (London: J. Nisbet, 1832); Ida Pfeiffer, A Woman’s Journey Round the World, from Vienna to Brazil, Chili, Tahiti, China, Hindostan, Persia, and Asia Minor. An Unabridged Translation from the German of Ida Pfeiffer, 4th ed. 250, (London: Nathaniel Cooke, 1854); W. H. Colvill, “Sanitary Report on Turkish Arabia", Transactions of the Medical and Physical Society of Bombay, no. 11, 2nd Series (1871): 49.]] Joseph’s mother, Euphemie Muradjian, was a daughter of a prominent Chaldean Catholic Armenian merchant family. [[Money, Journal of a Tour in Persia, 234-6.]] Anton was born in Osijek (in modern day Croatia) in 1796 and emigrated from Vienna to Istanbul, and ultimately to Baghdad. [[Makiya, "The Svoboda Diaries", 38.]] Less is known of Euphemie’s family background, though it is speculated, without convincing evidence, that she was related to the Mouradgea d’Ohssons of Istanbul, the family of Swedish-Armenian diplomats and historians. A brief obituary for Antone Svoboda mentions that he was an avid excavator and numismatist, who “married the daughter of Baron Mouradgea d’Ohsson, niece of Baron d’Ohsson, the great writer on Turkish institutions,” presumably referring to Ignatius Mouradgea d’Ohsson and his Tableau Général de l'Empire Othoman. [[“Literary Gossip”, The Athenaeum, May 10, 1879, 604]] There is no corroborating evidence of this genealogy for Euphemie Muraddjian. It appears to be entirely spurious. Antone and Euphemie married in Baghdad on February 12, 1825. [[Makiya, "The Svoboda Diaries", 38.]] They lived in the Christian quarter of the city and formed part of a small but closely bound community of Ottoman and European Christians. Various travelogues make consistent reference to the small size of the community of European expatriates in Baghdad. [[See for example Frederick Charles Webb, Up the Tigris to Bagdad, (London: E & F. N. Spon, 1870), 34.]] In addition to serving as representative of Austro-Hungarian political interests in Baghdad, Antone Svoboda maintained a hanin Baghdad that served as a frequent stopping point for Europeans passing through. [[Groves, Journal of a Residence at Bagdad, 176; Money, Journal of a Tour in Persia, 234-6; Pfeiffer, A Woman's Journey Round the World, 250-9.]] Before Joseph’s birth, Antone evidently protected his family from the outbreak of plague in 1830-31 by cloistering them away inside the home with provisions to last for months while the disease ravaged the rest of the province. Antone was quite proud of this feat, and related his story to a number of travellers he encountered. [[Pfeiffer, A Woman's Journey Round the World, 250; Colvill, "Sanitary Report on Turkish Arabia", 49.]]

Joseph was the seventh of Antone and Euphemie’s eleven children. There were three other sons—Alexander, Thomas, and Henry—and seven daughters—Sophie (Eliza), Therese, Adelina, Emilia, Madeline (Medula), Adelaide, and Carolina. Thomas, Therese, Adelina, and Adelaide all passed away before Joseph began keeping his diaries. Margaret Makiya supposes that they all died in infancy, although Joseph makes reference to Thomas in his diaries as if he had known him. [[Makiya, "The Svoboda Diaries", 39. For Joseph’s reference to Thomas, see Diary 19, November 1877 to August 1878, ed. Margaret Makiya, 176. Entry for June 18, 1878.]] His elder brother Alexander achieved some fame as a painter and photographer, becoming famous for his photographic series of the Seven Churches of Asia. [[“Literary Gossip,” 604.]] Joseph’s younger brother Henry also worked for the Lynch Company in Baghdad. Their sisters Eliza, Emilia, Medula, and Carolina married into the local community of Armenian and European Christians. As it stands, little is known of Joseph’s childhood or his reasons for writing the diaries. As early as 1855, a teenaged Joseph traveled from Baghdad to Bombay with his elder brother Alexander. [[Diary 20, September 1878 to June 1879, ed. Margaret Makiya, 34. Entry for October 6, 1878.]] They stayed there for several years, during which time Joseph became conversant in Hindustani. [[Diary 09, October 1870 to July 1871, ed. Margaret Makiya, 17. Entry for March 15, 1871.]] They returned to Baghdad in 1857, and Alexander moved to İzmir in 1858, where he married. [[Diary 28, June 1885 to August 1886, ed. Margaret Makiya, 220–3. Entry for May 25, 1886.]] There is an apparent confusion of dates here. Alexander, while in India, had eloped with Stella Romanini, the aunt of the British actress Mrs. Patricia Campbell (Beatrice StellaTanner Campbell), who mentions in her memoir My Life and Some Letters (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1922, 6-7) that Stella was 16 at the time of the elopement. According to research by Carole (Boucherot) Deuster, Alexander’s descendant, Stella was born in 1836, which would make the time of the elopement 1852 or 6 years before the date Joseph gives for his marriage. Between 1859 and 1862, Joseph began learning English taught by his brother-in-law Richard Rogers. [[Diary 19, November 1877 to August 1878, ed. Margaret Makiya, 193. Entry for July 14, 1878.]] The Christian quarter of Baghdad was small. Various censuses over the last quarter of the 19th and first years of the 20th century recorded roughly 1,200 to 2,000 Christian men of various denominations in the Kaza(district) of Baghdad, constituting about 3% of the urban male population. [[Cengiz Eroğlu, Murat Babuçoğlu, and Orhan Özdil, Osmanlı vilayet salnamelerinde Bağdat, (Ankara: Global Strateji Enstitüsü, TİKV, 2006), 164–167.]] These numbers must be taken with a grain of salt, as the Ottoman state's ability to conduct thorough population surveys was limited in the distant periphery of their empire. [[Stanford J. Shaw, “The Ottoman Census System and Population, 1831-1914", International Journal of Middle East Studies, 9, no. 3 (October 1, 1978): 325–338, and Justin McCarthy, “The Population of Ottoman Syria and Iraq, 1878-1914', Asian and African Studies, 15, no. 1 (1981): 3–44.]] The Svoboda family had close ties with many other families in the community. Joseph’s diaries record particularly close relations with the Marine family. Over the first several volumes of the diaries, he develops an intimate friendship with Eliza Jebra Marine. Eliza was ten years Joseph’s senior and married with several children, but she lived in Baghdad while her husband Fathalla Sayegh and eldest son Jeboory ran a trade and construction business in Amara, some distance down the Tigris. Other members of the Marine family lived and worked in Baghdad and Basra. While Joseph maintained amicable relations with Eliza’s husband, brothers, and sons, he would frequently call on her, sometimes for hours or several times in a day. They would while away the hours dining, talking, taking tiffin, or playing backgammon. In his early diaries, Joseph often refers to her as “EM,” or as “shawl” or simply with an ellipsis. [[See, for example, Diary 18, May 1877 to November 1877, ed. Margaret Makiya, 7. Entry for May 15, 1877.]]

Joseph and Eliza’s close friendship became the subject of controversy and local gossip. Once while out furniture shopping, Joseph learned that someone had provided the local Ottoman authorities with a list of “public women…& also the Christian women of bad reputation” in Baghdad that implicated him for his frequent visits to Eliza’s home. [[Diary 09, 37-8. Entry for July 8, 1871.]] Nothing much seems to have come of these particular rumors, but the gossip was renewed when Eliza’s husband Fathalla passed away unexpectedly at Amara on May 11, 1877. [[Diary 18, 5. Entry for May 13, 1877.]] On July 7, Joseph called on Eliza after returning from a trip to Basra. They spoke for hours, discussing their relationship and their future. Several of Eliza’s friends and daughters were aware of the budding romance between them, and she had spoken with a priest who recommended that they marry quickly. [[Ibid., 56. Entry for July 7, 1877.]] The following day he called on his sister Medula. He told her of his plans to marry, and before he mentioned that it was Eliza, Medula guessed it and told him that gossip of their affair had spread throughout the community. People were asking about it, and she did not approve because Eliza was older than him and had several grown children. [[Ibid., 57. Entry for July 8, 1877.]] Eliza Marine’s brothers Yousif and Antone similarly did not approve. Yousif suggested that it may be better for Joseph to marry one of Eliza’s grown daughters instead, but Joseph replied that his heart was only with Eliza. While they did not sanction it, they ultimately told Joseph that Eliza was old enough to make her own decisions and that they would not interfere. [[Ibid., 78-80. Entry for August 4, 1877.]]

Over the next several weeks, Eliza Marine’s family wavered in their approval of the union, and the opposition from Joseph’s father and sisters mounted. In September, Joseph confided to his supervisor and brother-in-law Thomas Blockey his plans to marry Eliza and Blockey later sent him a letter expressing apprehension about the marriage and advising him to wait. [[Ibid., 123-5. Entries for September 24-25, 1877.]] It seems the content of this letter was made public, setting European society in Baghdad ablaze with gossip. Joseph surmised that one of his sisters, either Eliza or Carolina, was to blame. [[Ibid., 133-4. Entry for October 7, 1877.]] The next day, Joseph brought the matter to his father Antone, who was scandalized by the gossip and told him in no uncertain terms that he did not support the marriage. [[Ibid., 136. Entry for October 8, 1877]] Joseph sought mediation from the French priest of the Latin Church, who would not perform the wedding without his father’s blessing or confirmation from the church authorities. [[Ibid., 137-9. Entry for October 9, 1877.]]

The matter came to actual blows on October 11th. That day, Joseph returned to his family’s home to find his father, his sisters Eliza and Medula, his brother Henry’s wife Menoosha, and his sister Eliza’s son Arteen. As he went to his room, his sister Eliza launched into a tirade of insults directed at him and Eliza Marine. Joseph writes: “I could not resist any longer and my temper got up so much that I ran downstairs and ceased Eliza and was going to knock her down, and abused her with everything I could say.” His father knocked him down with his walking stick, and when Joseph wrested the stick from his father’s hands, Eliza’s son Arteen rushed to intervene. The situation rapidly descended into a melee with Joseph’s sister Eliza wailing and shrieking, calling for help from passersby on the street. In the course of the struggle, Joseph seized a nargile and smashed it across his nephew Arteen’s head. He recalls: “I ran upstairs to bring my gun and shoot them for I became unmanageable by this time.” The frightened family members fled into the streets, and his sister-in-law Menoosha ultimately calmed him down. [[Ibid., 142-3. Entry for October 11, 1877.]] Following the altercation, Joseph went to the Latin Church and demanded the priest perform the marriage immediately at once lest he go to another church. Unable to perform the wedding without first publishing the banns, the priest turned Joseph away, but recommended that he and Eliza visit the Assyrian Bishop, who could marry them, and assured him that the Latin Church would recognize the marriage. Joseph went to Eliza and told her his plan, then rushed off to meet the Assyrian Bishop. They met, and Joseph arranged for the wedding to take place later that evening, October 11, 1877, after sunset. At 6:30 pm, the bishop arrived at the Marine-Sayegh home. A handful of women watched from one of the terraces. The ceremony was intimate and brief. As they stood in the iwan of the courtyard in the presence of Eliza’s brother Antone Marine and their friend Rezook Tessy, Joseph presented Eliza, dressed in white linens, with the diamond ring given to him by his mother Euphemie twelve years earlier. Joseph recorded his relief at the deed being done. [[Ibid., 145. Entry for October 11, 1877.]] However, the early period of their marriage was a rocky one. They faced persistent gossip and disapproval. [[Ibid., 148-64. Entries for October 15 to November 6, 1877.]] The rift between Joseph and his father was permanent. Though Joseph wrote him letters begging pardon and forgiveness, they would not speak again. [[Diary 19, 163-4. Entries for June 3-5, 1878.]] Antone passed away in September 1878, leaving Joseph full of grief and remorse. [[Diary 20, September 1878 to June 1879, ed. Margaret Makiya, 8–14. Entry for September 8, 1878.]] He would not reconcile with his sisters until well after his father’s funeral.

On July 7, 1878, Joseph and Eliza’s only son was born. He was christened as Alexander Richard Svoboda, named for Joseph’s older brother Alexander as well as Alexander the Great. His middle name, Richard, was the name of Joseph’s late brother-in-law Richard Rogers. [[Diary 19, 193. Entries for July 13-14, 1878.]] On August 24, 1884, Eliza gave birth to a second child, this time a daughter named Carolina. Diary 27, which should contain the record of Carolina’s birth, is among the several volumes of Joseph’s diaries that are currently unaccounted for. It is not among the diaries that Margaret Makiya listed as presumably destroyed in a fire, and she cites it in her endnotes. After Carolina’s death, Joseph notes that she was born August 24, 1884. [[Makiya, The Svoboda Diaries, 37; Diary 31, November 1887 to May 1888, ed. Margaret Makiya, 20. Entry for December 3, 1887.]]Joseph seems to have had a good relationship with his children while they were young, often bringing Alexander with him on trips up and down the river. Tragedy struck in late 1887, when three-year-old Carolina contracted a dangerous combination of small-pox and typhoid fever. [[Diary 30, April 1887 to November 1887, ed. Margaret Makiya, 151. Entry for November 6, 1887.]] Joseph describes her symptoms in heartrending and agonizing detail. Joseph writes: “I then went home and saw poor Carolina I was so struck and astonished at the appearance of her face which is litterally (sic) covered a very strong confluent small pox the postules (sic) are all mixed together and it had turned into crest and dark her hands are trembling close and full of postules (sic) the boddy, feet and calf of the feet all sore and healing off, poor girl she was ashamed to look at me…it made my hart (sic) break at the sight and I could not keep myself from the tears, her voice harsh and [could not] speak the eruption came out very severe on her and into her sistem (sic) in her throat and few on the lung, the postules are falling off from her body but not the face…” [[Ibid., 163-4. Entry for November 19, 1887.]] After four weeks of struggle and failed treatments, Carolina passed away from her illnesses December 3, 1887, leaving Joseph and Eliza heartbroken. [[Diary 31, 20. Entry for December 3, 1887.]] The middle portion of the diaries reveal Joseph’s deep concern for his son’s well-being. From an early age, Joseph sought to provide Alexander with the best education that he could. He seemingly recognized the preeminent position of Britain in the world, raising Alexander as a native English speaker by speaking to him only in that language, and demanding that the French priests of the Latin church where Alexander went to school do the same. [[Diary 26, June 1883 to May 1884, ed. Margaret Makiya, 254. Entry for May 15, 1884.]] As a young man, Alexander went to Europe to study in Paris in 1897. [[Svoboda, From Baghdad to Paris.]] Alexander’s journal covers the duration of his journey. However, the details of his time there are only within Joseph’s diaries, filtered through various letters and telegrams home. Evidently, Alexander’s time in Europe was quite vexing for Joseph. Almost immediately, Alexander began irresponsibly spending the allowance of 200 francs that Joseph sent him. Joseph and Eliza wished that he would come home so that his habits could be reigned in. [[Diary 47, November 1897 to August 1898, 8–9. Entry for November 8, 1897.]] Alexander’s erratic behavior in Europe continued for quite some time. In January 1898 he telegrammed his father to propose going to Cairo to work with the public debt commission, an idea Joseph strenuously opposed. Instead, Joseph made arrangements Alexander to visit Vienna. [[Ibid., 83–91, 141–46. Entries for January 8-14, 1898 and February 19-23, 1898.]]

Alexander’s visit to Vienna did not go as well as Joseph hoped. He had an awful time there, prompting Joseph to make arrangements for his return to Baghdad. [[Ibid., 329–30. Entry for July 2, 1898.]] Much to Joseph’s confusion and dismay, Alexander went again to Paris, where he apparently married. [[Ibid., 370–1, 380–85. Entries for July 25 and July 31, 1898.]] Much like Joseph’s own marriage to Eliza twenty-two years earlier, Alexander’s sudden wedding was a source of much consternation among the family, and the source of many sleepless nights for Joseph. He and Eliza tried on repeated occasions to block the marriage and have Alexander sent home, but they feared involving the Austrian authorities because Alexander was subject conscription into the army. [[Diary 48, 7-25. Entry for August 5, 1898]] Went Joseph sent money to Alexander to return home, Alexander kept the money and stayed in Paris with his ladylove. [[Ibid., 61–3, 76–80. Entries for August 24 and September 1-2, 1898.]] Throughout the summer, autumn, and into winter, Joseph and Eliza made repeated attempts to bring Alexander home.

Joseph resigned from the Lynch Company’s service in February 1902 after thirty-nine years working the river, citing his failing health and frequent indigestion. On January 16th, 1908, Joseph recorded an extensive bout of indigestion and vomiting. [[Diary 53, January 1902 to February 1903, 53. Entry for February 22, 1902.]]Throughout the diaries, he often laments the pain in his stomach but on this occasion he was unable to find relief. That afternoon, he vomited his breakfast and took some sweet lemons and Cognac to sooth his stomach. The next morning his indigestion hadn’t passed: “My stomach is bad, wind thirst & indigestion; I took my milk, coffee & 2 eggs but without appetite; bowels working like water; & I feel very cold & thirsty; it must [be] cold that I caught in town while raining yesterday morning.” He made himself a remedy from “Devil seed, orange skins & peppermint leaves & took it hot.” It is unclear exactly what Svoboda is referring to by “Devil seed.” He could mean Jimson Weed or some other Belladonna alkaloid, which were popular remedies for asthma in 19th century apothecary shops. Ingesting the seeds also had mild hallucinogenic properties and soothed gastrointestinal disorders such as ulcers.(note missing) As usual, he recorded that there was a sharp northwest wind blowing, and that it rained for ten minutes. He went on to write: “I feel myself so cold & miserable with the stomach aches & indigestion, the thirst is killing me, my tongue is so white & dry~.” [[Diary 61, December 1907 to January 1908, 38–9. Entry for January 17, 1908.]]

Diary 61 ends with a few notes written by his son. Joseph, it seems, sent for him early in the morning of January 18, complaining of intense stomach pain. Alexander arrived at Joseph’s country home outside Baghdad, finding him in agony. He then decided to take his father to back to his own home in town, where it would be easier to fetch a doctor. Throughout the day Joseph lay in bed at his son’s home, exhausted and sick with stomach cramps. Around midnight, Joseph asked for a doctor, and Alexander sent for one, as well as his mother Eliza and wife Marie. The doctor arrived and administered two doses of citrate of magnesia to fight Joseph’s indigestion. Alas, the doctor’s remedy was for naught, and Joseph “rendered his soul to the Almighty” at 1:45 am, January 19, 1908. The doctor declared the cause of death peritonitis resulting from a burst stomach ulcer. [[Ibid., 39-45.]]