AddThis Smart Layers

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)