top of page
  • Writer's pictureDebbie Challis

Gertrude Jekyll and Mary Severn Newton Abroad: The 1863 Trip – Part 3 Constantinople

Gertrude describes going to Constantinople (now Istanbul) and Athens, but there are not any sketches in Mary’s album. However, I am hopeful of finding some on a return visit to the Furneaux family archive (Birkenhead) or may be in the British Museum archives at some point, so will supplement this blog with a couple of photographs from a trip I made to Istanbul for my 40th birthday in September 2015. Gertrude observed passing the plains of Troy on the boat on 22 November and stopping at Gallipoli to take on more passengers. The next day they reached Constantinople and had their luggage checked ‘even to the portfolios of sketches’. 

On 26 November Gertrude oversleeps when they are meant to go up the Bosphorus and she only just made the boat to Dr Millingen’s house at Büyükdere for Charles Thomas Newton to see some sculptures that the German archaeologist had found. They then crossed in caique (a small shallow boat) to the other shore (the 'Asian side') - it is worth quoting Jekyll at length as it gives a sense of her interest in botany, even as a 19 / 20 year old:

We climbed a very steep hill to an old Byzantine fortress, where Dr Millingen was making excavations. Here there was a grand view of the Black Sea, looking really black with a heavy rainstorm passing over it. The hills are covered with bay trees and prickly bushes and a good many trees locally called ‘Trebizond Date’, but I could not find out the name. They are about the size of cherry trees and have a fruit that looks like a single Muscat grape, or perhaps more like a little long green plum.  [. . .] I kept the stone of one to plant at home.

This is same fortress that I dragged my mum up to see when I visited Istanbul in 2015, knowing I was 8 weeks pregnant but not telling her that! Otherwise, she’d have never let me half climb / scramble up the rocks and then walls to the top to get a better view than depicted in the photographs I took. Yoros Castle had been used as a fortress since the fifth century BCE, the structures are however Byzantine and mainly from 13th-14th CE when it was fought over by the Byzantines, Genoese and Ottomans. It was held by the Genoese as a trading post for a few decades even after the Ottomans took Constantinople in 1453. I will never forget the vastness of the Black Sea stretching out with tankers and the power of its seascape on that balmy September day, then turning to look back at the outline of Istanbul in the distance and thinking that, whatever happened with this pregnancy, at least I'd have this memory.

The next day Gertrude decided to mend her clothes, which have got into a bit of a state, and this sketch of her polishing her boots (on the right) may be from that time.

The domestic chores are lightened by seeing the Sultan pass on his way to the mosque riding ‘a splendid Afghan horse’. On 28 November Mary makes a drawing of an Amazon at the Library of the Seraglio (Topkari Palace), which Charles ‘has no doubt belongs to the frieze of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus’ and is published as such in his book Travels and Researches. The next day is Gertrude’s 20th birthday. On the night of the 30th there was a disastrous fire in the city and Gertrude rouses the Newtons as she saw ‘the sky red with the glare of fire’.


Mary works on the drawing of the Amazon at the museum over the next few days while Charles sets Gertrude to work on copying coats of arms from Latin manuscripts, though they take a break to go with the Librarian to see St Sophia, which then as now is a mosque. Mary's drawing is later published in her husband Charles' book (below).

The last place they visit on 8 December is Kahrie Djamissi, or Chora Church, which ‘was not easy to find’:

A wonderful place – the whole roof mosaic; picture of prophets, saints and martyrs, and scenes from the New Testament, with the walls painted in fresco in good preservation.


It was the place that I knew I had to take my mum as she loves a frescoed church. We similarly sought it out in the Istanbul suburb and I, of course, dragged her off to see part of the nearly Roman aqueduct too. On 10 December Mary, Charles and Gertrude leave Constantinople for Athens. And here I will leave Gertrude’s account and Mary’s drawings as I hope to continue it when / if – after further research – I see any of Mary’s drawings of Athens. . . to be continued (hopefully).


Addenda – Drawing Archimandrite Nikandros, Rhodes

In Francis Jekyll’s published account, Gertrude does not refer to the visit by the Newtons and herself to the Monastery of Zambika (Tsampika) where Mary drew Archimandrite Nikandros – Plate 12 in the first volume of her husband’s Travels and Researches (1865).

Charles Thomas Newton records going to visit the monastery on 4 May 1853 (p. 152), where he found Nikandros (in his words) to be an educated man, but persecuted for trying to teach, writing that:

The classical purity of his Greek forms a striking contrast with the patois of the peasants round him. He has a small library of ancient authors, with which he appeared to be well acquainted.

Newton’s contrast between the peasants and the educated priest is typical of his writing and – to my thinking at least - owes as much to class bias as orientalism. Mary of course drew the Archimandrite 10 years later – though it is set in the text of the book as being as if in 1853. There is a sketch of her drawing surrounded by villagers, with Newton speaking to him, and that contrast is a good place to finish this post.


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page