Jonathan Conlin delves into the personal archive of a renowned (if not notorious) Anglo-Irish consul, who watched a familiar world collapse in the years around Lausanne.

Jon is co-founder of The Lausanne Project.

Whereas the National Archives holds the official papers of British officials who served in the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East, those interested in learning more about the inner workings of embassies, consulates and high commissions are well advised to visit the Middle East Centre Archive at St Antony’s College, Oxford. It is here that one finds small collections of material relating to diplomats as well as scholars and men of business, usually donated by the subject’s family. This is certainly the case for Sir Andrew Ryan (1876-1949), who entered the Levant Consular Service in 1897 and joined the oriental secretariat of the British embassy in Istanbul ten years later. What light do his personal papers shed on a figure who, for many Turks at least, came to stand for the very worst in imperialist meddling and conspiracy? What can they tell us about Ryan’s role at Lausanne as well as in post-WW1 Istanbul, the era in which, to quote the title of his posthumously-published memoir, Ryan became The Last of the Dragomans

Ryan returned to Istanbul on HMS Forward in 1918, and initially struggled to find a role in which to employ his extensive knowledge of the ancien regime. In his memoir, Ryan expressed frustration at the delay in making peace with the Turks, as well as the fateful decision to allow the Greeks to occupy Smyrna. Considering just how reviled Ryan was in nationalist circles, it is striking to note that Ryan’s proposed terms were much less punitive than those adopted under Sèvres: while Ryan did incline to keep the capitulations, otherwise there was no mention of partition of the Anatolian heartland. His friend and fellow diplomatist Eric Forbes-Adam reported that he kept trying to push Ryan’s proposals, albeit in vain. “Any clear cut sensible scheme had little chance,” Forbes-Adam noted “in the tug of war between Number 10., the F.O., the W[ar] O[ffice] and the I[ndia] O[ffice]”. In his letter Forbes-Adam has inserted yet another factor above the line: “quite apart from our Allies”.[1]

On 16 March 1920 the Allied Occupation of Istanbul began. Up until this point, Ryan claims, the Allies’ forces in the city had kept a low profile – although some over-zealous French gendarmes did arrest Ryan on suspicion of being a German spy. He could see the funny side of that contretemps, but viewed the arrest of parliamentary deputies and others accused of war-crimes far more critically, arguing that these arrests were spectacularly poorly-judged. Ryan’s duties evolved rapidly: one year he was charged with keeping channels open with Kurdish notables, presumably with a view towards a future Kurdistan; the next year (after a short visit home in late 1921) he was liaising with the unofficial representative of the Ankara government, Hamid Bey, head of the Red Crescent in Istanbul. Finally he helped “Byzantine Research people” pick up threads broken in 1914, reuniting William Mitchell Ramsay with a pre-war firman granting permission to dig on the hippodrome in Istanbul.

Ryan’s own sense of humour was limited to wearisome doggerel full of Latin tags and bad puns in French and Turkish. But he clearly admired visual satires, compiling an album of his favourites, which he deposited in the library of the British embassy in Istanbul. Oddly, the Middle East Centre Archive holds the clipped-out captions from the album, together with its “prefatory note” – but not the album. “After the reestablishment of the Constitution in June 1908, Turks and others in Constantinople displayed a considerable gift for caricatures,” Ryan wrote. His collection included cartoons suppressed by Allied Censorship (such as one in which Turkey burst out of a Sèvres vase), as well as thirty devoted to the Lausanne Conference. “The collection shows how greatly Great Britain, after the Armistice, dominated the international stage as seen by the Turks.” [2] Sadly my efforts to track down the album have yet to bear fruit.

At Lausanne Ryan’s knowledge of pre-War concessions for dreadnoughts, ports, railways and so forth was much in demand, particularly in the second phase of negotiations, which opened in late April 1923. As talks reconvened he wrote to Nevile Henderson back in Istanbul noting how many journalists were present. “They seem to be principally interested in the Chester Scheme. People talk of it as though it were going to play the same part in this Conference as oil was supposed to be going to play in the last one.” [3] Otherwise, however, Ryan was struck by how little attention British public opinion was paying to events in Lausanne. Arnold Toynbee’s views of the Ankara regime were much more favourable than Ryan’s, but here at least they were in agreement. Toynbee wrote to his wife from Ankara in April 1923 complaining that this indifference not only showed that “the British nation is really as un-self-governing as any pre-war bureaucratic continental state,” it also left “our fate in the hands of the Ryans.” [4] For Toynbee, this was clearly A Bad Thing.

Ryan showed a healthy scepticism of some of the “wild-cat people” who had acquired the rights to Ottoman concessions from the original pre-war investors – some of whom had not been models of business rectitude themselves. These brasseurs d’affaires included Francis William Rickett, as well as a former colleague from the Foreign Office, Alwyn Parker. Ryan was more interested in helping executives for Vickers Armstrong (who had built the famous “stolen dreadnoughts” of 1914, as well as developing plans for a shipyard) and the Turkish Petroleum Company, then in the throes of turning from an Anglo-German entity into a three-way ménage of Britain, France and the Americans.

Unfortunately it seems that the American delegation at Lausanne had not got the memo, and were resisting any attempt to confirm TPC’s rights in the final treaty. “The Americans did us a very bad turn over the latter business,” Ryan wrote Henderson,

We were asking Ismet for very little in the end, but even that little he most obstinately refused to agree to, and this we owe to the combined forces of Angora and Washington. I do not think it will matter much in the long run and we have safeguarded the position as much as it was possible to do without getting a formal affirmation of the rights of the T.P.C. out of Ismet.

Andrew Ryan to Nevile Henderson, 21 July 1923

Still, there were some anxious moments, such as the “nasty jar” when Curzon suddenly wired from London accusing Ryan and colleagues in Lausanne of having “jettisoned” TPC, thereby strengthening the Chester Concession’s position. With Rumbold’s help, Ryan calmed Curzon down again.

Ryan’s papers include a number of letters from colleagues saluting his efforts at Lausanne, even as they recognized just how dispiriting an outcome the treaty was. Henderson’s letter of 17 July is typical:

Alas, what will be the judgment of history, both contemporary and future, of the treaty which you seem to be on the eve of signing? It is the British public which is responsible for a treaty which is probably in many respects the most degrading we have ever signed. It is not as if we had been defeated in war and had had terms imposed upon us. Well, the psychological moment has been Angora’s and I cannot blame the Turks if they have had bluff and grift enough to make full use of it. It remains to be seen whether they will be skilful enough to profit by the advantages which their courageous bluff has earned for them.

Nevile Henderson to Andrew Ryan, 17 July 1923.

“With most men of Ryan’s ability, the climax of the career comes at the end,” observed his friend Sir Reader Bullard in the foreword to The Last of the Dragomans. “Not so with Ryan.”[5] While Ryan managed to make the jump from consul to diplomat proper, later serving in Jeddah and Tirana, as he left Istanbul in 1924, he recognized that his career was over.

But it could have been a lot worse. In February 1923 it was decided that the British Consulate-General needed a “clean sweep” of “Levantines”, which presumably did not include Ryan. A “new atmosphere and new blood” was called for.[6] Among Ryan’s papers is a letter of February 1923 from an unidentified correspondent writing from Richmond near London. After some Monday-morning quarterbacking about the conference (“A little show of force in Constantinople would have had a vivid & salutary effect in Lausanne”), this old LCS (Levant Consular Service) hand surveyed the dim prospect before him:

For myself I am sad. I am very fond of Turkey. Any knowledge or experience I have accumulated is of no value. I have hoped against hope that after one year or perhaps more there might be again an opening or two. All I find in all the government offices is that having burnt their fingers so badly they only wish to cut their connection with the damned place & never touch it again. So I am gradually realising that except as a private individual I shall probably never see Constantinople any more. Frankly it makes me homesick.

Unidentified Correspondent to Andrew Ryan, 17 Feb. 1923


[1] Eric Forbes-Adam to Andrew Ryan, 4 May [1921?]. Middle East Centre Archive, Oxford. GB165-0248, Ryan 4/4.

[2] Ryan 4/7.

[3] Andrew Ryan to Nevile Henderson, 24 April 1923. The National Archives, London. FO800/240, f. 1046.

[4] A. J. Toynbee to Rosalind Toynbee (Murray), 13 April 1923. Bodleian Library, A. J. Toynbee Papers, MS13967/55 “Anatolian War: Angora 1923.”

[5] Sir Andrew Ryan,The Last of the Dragomans (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1951), p. 7.

[6] Unknown to Gye, 2 Feb. 1923. Ryan 5/6.