Untold lives blog

12 March 2012

“Shrapnel Biddulph” – telegraph engineer, soldier, romantic and artist

Captain Michael Anthony Shrapnel Biddulph was posted to Turkey in 1854, and shortly afterwards to the Crimea, where he served with distinction as assistant engineer of the Royal Artillery, and later as director of submarine telegraphs in the Black Sea. Decorated by the French and Turkish governments, in 1856 he was promoted Brevet Lieutenant Colonel. In 1858 he was appointed Chief Engineer of the Ottoman Telegraph, overseeing the construction of telegraph cable lines in Turkey-in-Asia.

 G70066-71a for blog
Vignette (1)

Vignettes taken from Plan of a Portion of the Constantinople and Bussorah [Basra] Line of Telegraph. War Office, 1860. Maps R.U.S.I. A20.4.


His frequent absence from this work may have been a factor in his departure after the Ottoman government failed to renew his contract in 1859. Although pleading illness, it seems that he was in fact visiting Lady Katherine Stamati, who he had met during his service in the Crimean War, and had subsequently married. Lady Katherine was the daughter of the second-in-command of Russian forces at Balaklava, following which battle her father had been imprisoned by the Allies, first at Constantinople and later at Malta. His eventual release at Odessa, after the war, was arranged by his son-in-law.

G70066-71b for blog
Vignette (2)

Colonel Biddulph later served in a command role during the 2nd Afghan War in 1879. After his active military career he held various posts at Court, receiving the G.C.B. in 1895, and was appointed Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod in 1896.

Biddulph was also an accomplished artist, as can be seen from these examples of his work. His views of the Crimea were published by Colnaghi following the war, and three of his watercolours of the Bosphorus are in the Victoria & Albert Museum, together with a fine view of Ali Masjid Fort, Afghanistan, done in 1890.        


Crispin Jewitt
Specialist Advisor
British Library Cartographic and Topographic Materials


Dictionary of national biography.

Bektas, Yakup. The Sultan's Messenger: Cultural Constructions of Ottoman Telegraphy, 1847-1880. Technology and Culture, Vol. 41, No. 4 (Oct., 2000).

Biographical information about the Stamati and Biddulph families 


British Library items:

Plan of a Portion of the Constantinople and Bussorah Line of Telegraph Laid under the Direction of Lt Col. Biddulph, R.A. Drawn by Lt Holdsworth, R.A. Lithographed at the Topographical Department, War Office, Col. Sir H. James, R.E. F.R.S. M.R.I.A. &c. Director. 1860. 1:63,360.  103 × 67cm.
BL Maps 43995.(15.)
BL Maps R.U.S.I. A20.4.

View of the Country in front of Balaklava Representing the scene of the memorable Light Cavalry Charge, 25th October, 1854; with the Russian Outposts at Kamara. From a Sketch by Major Biddulph, R.A. Lithographed & Printed at the Topographical & Statistical Depôt, War Department, Lt Col. T.B. Jervis, Director, 25th October, 1856. 92 × 38cm. BL 1781.d.7.(9.) BL Maps C.49.f.25.(5.)


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