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Greek-American Tycoon's grave found in Ladywell cemetery!

Located close to the Cross of Sacrifice in Ladywell cemetery is the final resting place of a truly remarkable man who 'spoke twenty languages'. Indeed Nicholas John Coundouris who died in 1929 whilst residing in Forest hill is perhaps the only Greek-American buried in the cemetery? His gnarled cruciform headstone is presently entwined in summer undergrowth. Sadly, to date I have not been able to locate any extant photographs of Nicholas and have had to rely mainly on contemporary newspaper clippings to piece together his life story.

Headstone of Nicholas John Coundouris in Ladywell cemetery,
( Source ; Find a Grave)

Born on the Greek Ionian Island of Cephalonia c.1835, at the time part of a British protectorate, his enterprising outlook and sharp witted business sense resulted in him becoming one of a small group of Near Eastern merchants who 'taught Englishmen and Americans the pleasure of smoking cigarettes'. At the invitation of the Duke of Cambridge he sent bales of Turkish tobacco into this country in the 1850's befriending the future King Edward V11 and his then mistress, Lady Mordaunt (offering her a special brand of customised cigarette!)  A proprietor of over twenty shops of the Ottoman Tobacco Company, his fortunes dipped after becoming an American citizen and his expanding business empire fell foul of US customs for putative fraudulent declarations and as a consequence he found himself imprisoned for a brief period in 1894 in New York's Ludlow Street Jail.


His earnings from his tobacco business were estimated at one time to measure in the tens of thousands of pounds and he owned properties in Smyrna and Constantinople as well as 200,000 acres of land in the Near East. The outbreak of the Greco-Turkish War in 1919 betokened a dramatic collapse in his business interests in the area, culminating in the burning down of his bonded warehouses (ostensibly by Greek forces ) in Smyrna in 1920* The great conflagration which ended the War in 1922 was the destruction and massacre of many parts of the city of Smyrna, mainly impacting on Greek and Armenian areas by Turkish forces.

Dramatic depiction of the burning of Smyrna -September 1922

A dark day in Greek history with the burning in Smyrna (modern day Izmir, Turkey) costing over 200,000 lives and sending hundreds of thousands of Greeks to a homeland they had never known. The Greek Orthodox Archbishop Chrysostomos of Smyrna (insert) was brutally hacked to death by a frenzied mob.(Source: A History of Greece.Com)

In 1923, Nicholas found himself in the Bankruptcy court in Greenwich, 'white-bearded and grave with the dignity of his eighty-seven years'. Such a fall from grace, valued as worth two million pounds in 1914 his saleable assets were recorded  as showing  a surplus of under a thousand pounds in 1923! Although Nicholas' international fame ensured an article on his life in the second edition of Time Magazine in the same year, in which he bemoaned the fact that 'I taught the English how to smoke cigarettes, made a fortune in tobacco, and now at 88 am declared bankrupt.'  

Nicholas spent his final days living in a small rented property in Forest Hill, where he died at a venerable age of c92 years. He was interred in Ladywell cemetery on the 13th February 1929. His posthumous fame was however recounted in a picaresque novel written by Constantine Rodocanachi,  called ‘No Innocent Abroad’ and originally published in the USA as ‘Forever Ulysses’ (Viking Press, NY, 1938),it was translated into English by the travel writer, Greek scholar and Cretan WW2 hero Patrick Leigh Fermor. It was his maternal grandson , Robert Hamilton Boyle who claimed that Nicholas was one of the models for the character of ‘Ulysses’.

 Nicholas grandson, was a prominent American writer and environmental campaigner, called Robert Hamilton Boyle d. 2017 -this posts offers the reader a link to his achievements -

* By a curious cemetery coincidence , a few yards from Nicholas headstone , the name of another Greek born naturalised British citizen is visible on a faded headstone - although buried elsewhere. Themistocles Ados Parvanoglu ( 1832-1869 ) He was born in Smyrna ( now called Izmir, it lies on Turkey's Aegean coast)

FOBLC Open Day Sunday 10th July 2022 11am-4:30pm including Guided Tours



11:30  -  Military heroes from 1802 to 1918 led by Peter Mealing;

12:30  -  Nature walk: the flora and fauna of both cemeteries led by Tom Moulton & Peter Robinson;

13:30  -  Poets, Painters & Pirates led by Mike Guilfoyle;

14:30  -  General tour of Brockley cemetery led by Jeff Hart;

15:30  -  Women of Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries led by Julie Robinson. (NB: This tour is not suitable for children and contains references to murder and suicide)

Burt Lancaster, Zulu Dawn and Colonel Durnford link uncovered in grave find in Brockley cemetery

Burt Lancaster as Colonel Durnford. In the film Zulu Dawn he used an authentic break frame Webley revolver. He had to do all this acting and action with a crippled left arm and he devised a way he could handle and reload this type of weapon.. He proved a fit and skilful rider and comes over well as the doomed Colonel.

Source : Zulu Dawn , behind the scenes ( 2021)

Link to the original film trailer.

Anthony William Durnford was born in County Leitrim, Ireland in 1830 but spent his formative years in Germany. In 1848 after cadet training at Woolwich he entered the Corps of Royal Military Artificers (in 1856 they became the Corps of Royal Engineers). He served in Ceylon from 1851 to 1856 building the harbour at Trincomalee and later saving it from burning. He was then in Malta, returning to England in 1858. From 1861 to 1864 he was in Gibraltar then spent 6 years in England and Ireland, with the rank of captain, before going to South Africa. During his time in Cape Colony, he was part of the pursuit of Langalibalele ( during the 1873 rebellion) at Bushman's River Pass during which he was wounded by an assegai spear. The wounds healed but a nerve had been severed and he permanently lost the use of his left hand. In a report on him, a superior officer wrote that he had 'a commanding presence, untiring energy and undoubted powers of leadership'.

Colonel Anthony William Durnford, Royal Engineers, killed in action during a last stand at Isandlwana, in Zululand, South Africa, on 22nd January, 1879. Source -Durnford blog

 Lord Chelmsford regarded him as headstrong. When the British and colonial army was sent into Zululand in 1879 for the first invasion it was divided into 5 columns and Brevet Colonel Durnford was placed in command of no.2 Column with the intention of starting from the Middle Drift. This column was made up 6 Troops of Natal Native Horse, 3 battalions of the 1st Natal Native Contingent and a Rocket Battery. In the event Chelmsford combined Columns 2 and 3 to proceed towards Isandlwana.

At the fateful battle of Isandlwana on 22nd Jan 1879, Durnford was technically in command of the camp while Chelmsford took half the force 10 miles forward. But he and his mounted troops were 4 miles to the east of the camp when the Zulus began to attack. Although some of the 24th Regiment were deployed eastwards to help Durnford they had to be pulled into the camp area. Durnford's men were dismounted and firing to hold off the left horn of the Zulu impi (regiment), however, they ran out of ammunition and when Davies and Henderson were sent to get more from the Quarter Master of the 24th, they were refused. Durnford's men had no option but to mount up and ride to the camp. This allowed the encirclement of the camp to continue and contributed to the final tragic outcome. Most of the native troops escaped towards the Natal border, including Durnford's mounted men. Durnford himself was part of a last stand near the nek (pass) at the southern end of Isandlwana mountain, where he was killed.

Incontrovertibly the senior officer present, history has blamed him for the disaster for failing to exercise effective command and control!

Located alongside the outer cemetery pathway aside the busy Brockley road lies a truckle shaped headstone , which until recently this astute local cemetery historian had overlooked! Partly as it was often covered in vegetation and is conveniently situated close to the graves of other more ' notable ' residents of the cemetery who have featured in past guided walks.

The headstone is that of a Arthur Hamilton Durnford d.1915 . Closer genealogical scrutiny discloses that Arthur who was born in Waltham Abbey ( Essex) in 1856 hailed from a truly remarkable family background that had around 13 generations in the military, mostly the Royal Engineers, holding prominent positions throughout the world, some were governors, some built forts in Bermuda, Quebec City and the further reaches of the British Empire and one particular family member's heroic death was cinematically celebrated in the 1979 film ' Zulu Dawn' portrayed by none other than the famous Hollywood actor , Burt Lancaster!  Anthony William Durnford of Zulu fame was his 3rd cousin.

Arthur's occupationally hazardous employment was no less than that of a manager, at different times ,of several gunpowder mills , one in particular factory known as the Kames, being located on the scenic Kyles of Bute( Firth of Clyde, Scotland) which is the subject of a fascinating article for those keen to know more about the gunpowder industry :

Arthur later worked in Hounslow ( 1902) and was cited as a witness in various patent disputes , centred on improvements in the manufacture of gunpowder. He married an Emily Thomson in Lewisham in 1886. Arthur died at the relatively early age of 58 in London and was interred in Brockley cemetery on the 19 th February 1915. Emily who died in 1943 is also interred here. The couple appear not to have had children.

Headstone of Arthur Hamilton Durnford d. 1915 in Brockley cemetery ( Image : courtesy of Find a Grave)

The historical reach of the Durnford's is simply too vast to reasonably encompass in a brief post - but another of Arthur's ancestral links merits a worthy mention 

Elias Durnford and Rebecca Walker ( wife) undated. Source : Encyclopedia of Alabama.

Born in Ringwood, England in 1739, Elias Durnford joined the Royal Engineers in 1759 and was promoted to Lieutenant in 1762. During the Seven Years’ War, he was part of the expedition to Havana intended to cripple the Spanish West Indian colonies. The force landed at Havana and attacked its main fort,  Afterwards, in London, he produced a series of six engravings with views of the city of Havana, which - together with the series of 12 engravings of the siege operations by - form the some of the earliest in situ representations of the island of Cuba.

In 1764, Durnford earned a commission to design new plans for British West Florida and was made Lieutenant-Governor of the area. He laid out the city of Pensacola in the Seville Square district and created a new town design based upon a classic pattern. There were separate squares built for government, public affairs, and military drills. Streets were set at right angles and named for the royal family and principal personages in government. He developed a thoroughfare along a long row of family gardens which was logically called Garden Street. The name still applies. Elias Durnford died from yellow fever at Tobago on June 21, 1794. *

* Andrew  Durnford (1800– 1859), free man of colour, planter, and physician, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Thomas Durnford, an English immigrant and merchant, and Rosaline Mercier, a free woman of colour. Thomas Durnford was a cousin of Colonel Elias Durnford

Readers who wish to know more about this remarkable family should follow this link - a website which offers an extensive research on the Durnford family - courtesy of Cynde Durnford ( personal communication)

ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING with talk by Tessa Boase: Saturday 18th June at 2.30pm

The FoBLC will hold its Annual General Meeting on Saturday 18th June* at 2.30pm in the Ladywell Cemetery Chapel.  Both members and Non-members are welcome.

Following the business, there will be a break for refreshments, then Tessa Boase, social historian, investigative journalist and author of Etta Lemon: The Woman Who Saved the Birds will speak about her book and its subject. Margaretta Lemon is the magnificent woman who built the RSPB, growing it from an all-female Victorian tea party to Britain’s largest conservation charity.

She relentlessly called out the cruel fashion for feathers in hats. She fought a running battle with the plumage trade, triumphing with the Plumage Act of 1921. But her legacy has been eclipsed by the more glamorous campaign for the vote, led by the ultra-elegant Emmeline Pankhurst.

This will be an interesting talk by a well-regarded speaker so please do come along.  There will be the opportunity to buy her book as well. Here is a video where Tessa Boase gives a brief introduction to the founding of the RSPB

Etta Lemon The Woman Who Saved The Birds by Tessa Boase

* apologies this was previously listed as 24th July 

Inspector Secretan - The detective and the infamous outlaw Ned Kelly

Ned Kelly, famous outlaw and folk hero, grew up in Australia in the late 1800s. His life of crime began as a teenager stealing horses and later escalated to murder. Kelly and his gang soon had a price on their heads of £8,000 - today's equivalent would be £732,600, which could be collected through his capture or death. Ned Kelly was hanged in 1880 at the Old Melbourne Gaol, uttering his reputed last words: "Such is life."

Edward (Ned) Kelly was born in Victoria, Australia, around 1855. As a teenager he was frequently in trouble with the police, was arrested several times, and served time in prison. In mid-1878, following his mother's imprisonment on perjured police evidence and feeling that the police were harassing him, Kelly took to bush-ranging with his brother, Dan, Joe Bryne, and Steve Hart. They became known as the Kelly Gang.After the Kelly Gang shot dead three policemen at Stringybark Creek in Victoria in October 1878 they were declared outlaws. Reacting to the killings, the Victorian Government enacted the Felons' Apprehension Act 1878 which authorised any citizen to shoot a declared outlaw on sight. As noted above a substantial reward was offered for each member of the Kelly Gang, 'dead or alive'.

His most audacious and iconic moment came during his final shoot out, when he donned makeshift metal armour (top) and attempted to flank the police. (Courtesy State Library of Victoria)


Often times poring over cemetery burial records brings forward a name that catches the imagination . Such was the case with a Frederick Secretan (d.1917) at Greenwich Infirmary. Sadly it appears that Frederick was buried in a public grave as the burial records reference twenty three disparate names in the same plot. According to the 1911 census Frederick Henry Secretan was noted aged 64 years and being employed as a Park Keeper in Marylebone (Regents Park perhaps?) Frederick was married to Elizabeth Barrett d.1916 at Portsmouth, the couple appeared to have had no children.

The family originally hailed from Switzerland becoming naturalised British citizens in the 18th century . Frederick's great-grandfather was Frederick Samuel Secretan d. 1837 who became a member of Lloyds of London and fathered 15 children. A London merchant he lived for a time at The Paragon, Blackheath. But significantly for the purposes of this post a confirmatory on-line search on Ancestry UK rewardingly reveals that his father from a first marriage was a Frederick Hughes Secretan d.1896 in Melbourne, Australia. His mother , Frederica Davey died in 1871 in the Marylebone Workhouse. Frederick Hughes Secretan became a Police Inspector and the head of Victoria Police’s Detective Branch in the 1870's. Although I have been unable to locate any extant photographs of the Inspector, who appears to have been the butt of much official criticism* in light of earlier police failures to apprehend Ned Kelly. As the infamous outlaw continued on his murderous activities until his capture at the Glenrowan Inn, famously attired in makeshift body armour at what was effectively a last stand in 1880. His brothers, Dan, Joseph Byrne and Steve Hart were killed in the shoot-out. 

Despite their crimes, Ned Kelly and the Kelly Gang became infamous figures in Australian history. Today, Kelly’s defence of his family and his stance against corrupt officials is to some extent celebrated. However, many contemporaries of Kelly, including police, government officers and members of the wider Victorian public, knew him as a thief and a murderer. The story of the Kelly Gang has featured in Australian cinema, art, music and poetry, and is a firmly established part of Australia’s colonial history. Australia’s first feature length film in 1906 was the Story of the Kelly Gang .Ned himself appears as a major mythic figure in the paintings of Australian artist Sidney Nolan, and literature about the gang continues to be published more than a century after Ned’s trial.

Actor Heath Ledger starred in a major international film in 2003, and Mick Jagger, of the Rolling Stones, was controversially cast as Ned in the 1970 movie.The towns at the heart of the Kelly story, including Glenrowan, continue to attract tourists fascinated by the Kelly Gang.

Photo -taken the day before Ned Kelly was hanged in November 1880,in the Old Melbourne Gaol. Remarkably more than 30,000 people had signed a petition for him to be let go.

A phrenologist's icon !  But where is Ned's cranium now? Although Ned Kelly's death mask was exhibited for scientific purposes, there were other, less obvious reasons for putting it on display. Firstly, it showed the ability of the authorities to deal with the worst criminals. Secondly, people of the 19th century had a particular fascination with bush rangers, so it had entertainment value for the public


A remarkable detective who worked with Frederick Secretan on this investigation is I believe worthy of special mention.

Inspector Secretan’s Chinese detective, and one of the men who had been briefly involved in the hunt for the Kelly Gang, was a Detective called Fook Shing.

Fook Shing himself was appointed Chinese detective by the Head of the Victorian Police Force (detective branch), overseeing disputes in the goldfields and one of the men who had been involved in the hunt for the Kelly Gang. Wealthy, connected and well represented in court, he kept a pistol under his pillow for when extra-legal methods were required to protect his followers! He is ably profiled in this 2018 article by Australian academic, Dr. Ben Mountford - The story of Fook Shing- Chinese Detective.


Another fascinating police officer linked to the Melbourne detective force, whose career spanned this period, working as a detective in Victoria from 1867 to 1875, was Scottish born John Mitchell Christie (1845-1927) dubbed 'Australia’s Sherlock Holmes.'

Photo of John Mitchell Christie -Victoria Police Historical Unit.

He was one of Melbourne's finest detectives, famed for his creative disguises and arrests of a young city's criminal class. He was tasked with shadowing the Duke of Edinburgh in 1869 and the Duke of York in 1901 on their visits to Australia and New Zealand. It is likely John Mitchell Christie worked alongside Frederick Secretan as Frederick had entered the Police force in Victoria in 1859, becoming a detective in 1861, rising to the rank of Inspector in Victoria in 1874. His story is well told in John Lahey's  2018 book, Damn you, John Christie! The public life of Australia’s Sherlock Holmes.

* The whole Kelly cause célèbre still arouses public debate, but there is consensus about the shortcomings of the police and the methods used to capture the outlaws.The Royal Commission into the pervasive mismanagement of the hunt (the Longmore Commission) shattered a number of police careers in addition to that of Chief Commissioner Standish. Widespread corruption was exposed, described as ‘inimical to the public interest’, a ‘nursery of crime’ and a department whose ‘system of working (was) so iniquitous that it may be regarded as little less than that his appointment ( Frederick Secretan) as officer in charge of detectives was a serious error of judgement!!-Source : Victoria Police and the problem of corruption and serious misconduct (2007)