Thomas Dallam 7 – Transcript

This is the transcript of episode 7 of my podcast series on Thomas Dallam, the Elizabethan organ builder who sailed to Constantinople with a gift for the Sultan. You can listen to the episode here or through the usual podcast services.

Today, we conclude a journey begun over 400 years ago, from London to Constantinople with an unusual musical instrument/timepiece. We also conclude a journey begun a few months ago, when I started looking at this Lancashire organ maker and his trip to see arguably the most powerful man in the world at the time, not an argument I’m actually going to get into here by the way. Last episode, I talked about the leg of Thomas Dallam’s journey from Algiers to the Hellespont, and we left him within striking distance of Constantinople. Today, we’ll talk about the last stretch and take him into the city to look at his experiences there and his place in the grand politics of the day. We won’t quite cover all of Dallam’s travels, but this will be will the end of our travels with him. Let’s get started.

I told you last time that the Hector waited for a wind to take them, and that Henry Lello, the English representative in Constantinople sent a small boat to collect some of those aboard as well as certain important letters. Under the charge of future ambassador Thomas Glover, the boat was powered by slaves, so it didn’t need to wait on the winds. And it must have been quite small, because Glover had to hire 2 more boats to carry 16 men from the Hector who were either associated with the presents or would serve the ambassador.

The cruise up the Hellespont seems to have been fondly remembered by Dallam. They stopped in at an Italian consul’s home in Gallipoli where they were warmly received, and then dined heartily the next night on mutton, half of it boiled, half roasted, gathered around a fire beneath some old castle walls. It was a simple meal but he wrote of them eating merrily and sweetly. There was wine and bread aplenty at the next stop, though also the threat of violence when some of the party wandered in the vineyards uninvited, violence addressed first by one particularly stout member of the party and then rather more conclusively by Thomas Glover’s restitution payments. The next town also brought readily available wine, at a penny a jug, as well as corn and silkworms. Dallam noted the poverty of the people as they passed through, saying that it was the Turks who kept them so by living off the fruits of their labour.

The 9th of August they stayed in a building on the edge of town, at the brink of a hillside, looking down from the height of St Paul’s church on the sea below. Their lodgings were in a kind of attic reached by ladder and furnished with nothing beyond bare boards and a shelf with 2 pitchers and 2 platters. A hole in the stone wall let in some light. There’d be no bed to rest on for the travellers, but actually, they’d had no bed to sleep in this whole time; they hadn’t even had occasion to take off their clothes. Walking in among some woods to pass the hours before dark, they found an abundant soft weed, and they pulled up great handfuls of it to use as pillows beneath their heads.

The company settled in comfortably enough to sleep, but scarcely 30 minutes had passed before the bugs in their scavenged cushions made themselves known, biting worse than any flea Dallam and his fellows had felt. They bundled the weeds out the door and furiously swept clean the house, but try as they might, they could not make themselves clean. Settling back down, no longer so comfortable, they could not get back to sleep.

Like a good camp counselor, Glover tried to distract them from their troubles. Dallam seems to have quite liked Glover, calling him by name even in his writing and recording Glover’s readiness to spend money where necessary to smooth things over and facilitate their travels. That night, in that “Dark, uncomfortable, house,” Glover spoke of the strange animals he had seen, the beasts and the vermin, and the snakes. He talked a lot about the snakes, adders, and serpents in all their variations. Some fell asleep and others lay quietly, waiting for day to come and resting as best they could.

At some point, a man named Mr. Baylye got up and went outside; obviously, there were no bathroom facilities in the house. Finishing up, he turned to come back but felt something wrap itself around his ankles. Glover’s stories of snakes still fresh in his mind, he yelled out in fear.

As it happened, it was only his silk garter which he’d loosened when he’d lain down to sleep. The wind had blown it, tangling it with his legs, and Mr. Baylye shouted “A serpent! A serpent! A serpent!” They heard him inside, but not clearly. They were wary of attack and each had his sword by him save for two who had muskets at hand. When they heard the cry of alarm, what those in the house heard was “Assaulted! Assaulted!” In the darkness, chaos erupted. One man, feeling around in a panic, couldn’t find his sword and, thus unarmed, thought to escape up the chimney; it collapsed down on him, part of it striking his head. Another slashed blindly about him, miraculously only cutting down the room’s solitary shelf, and smashing the pitchers and plates. Others thought the roof was being caved in on them as part of the attack. At some point, the lone janissary who accompanied them determined that their cause was hopeless, lifted up a loose board, and dropped into the dark space below. Finally, Baylye, the cause of all this madness wrestled the door open. Once he’d got him speaking, Glover quickly determined what had occurred and located the offending garter on the ground outside. A head count was taken, and, remarkably, all were accounted for, with only minor injuries, save for the Janissary. Eventually, the situation being settled, he too was located and helped back up through the floor. The rest of the night passed uneventfully.

The next morning, the building’s owner came by, helped retrieved the janissary’s garment which he’d lost while hiding, and presumably had something to say about the shocking degree of damage the men had managed to do in the space of a night’s sleep.

That morning they started on the final stretch, some by mule, others, Dallam included, by boat. They were just days away from Constantinople, which Dallam only now also refers to as Stamboul, and little of note occurred: a night of courteous entertainment here, a great abundance of muskmelons there.

On Wednesday, August the 15th, Dallam arrived in Constantinople, a city wrapped in 12 miles of Theodosian walls. He wasted no words in describing it, too busy perhaps for such things, but just 6 years earlier another English traveller had written of it. It was, quote, “matchable with any city in Europe, as well in bigness as for the pleasant situation thereof, and commodious traffic and bringing of all manner of necessary provision of victuals, and whatsoever else man’s life for the substantiation thereof shall require.”

The following day, the 16th, the Hector arrived. Work began immediately on repainting it, prettying it up for public display, and Dallam and his people retrieved the present and brought it out to the ambassador’s house in Galata, the Christian quarter on the northern shore of the Golden Horn. There being no room there to set it up inside, a shelter was hastily constructed in the courtyard, and on the 20th, with Lello and various gentlemen, probably merchants, looking on, the chests were opened.

Lello, “the Fog” to those acquainted with his sour outlook, would have been deeply dispirited by what he saw. Years, they had waited, years! And for what? Boxes of garbage, to look at them. All of the gluing work was decayed, and various pipes were bruised or broken; mould was likely a problem, and surely the paintwork in terrible shape. Six months in the hot hold of a ship had not been good to Dallam’s organ. It was worthless, not worth 2 pence, the man pronounced, bitterly amazed at what had arrived on his doorstep and probably already contemplating the unpleasant ways this disappointment affected him.

But Dallam had some harsh words for them, words which he referred to but would not repeat in his writing. We can be certain though that he would have strongly pointed out, with much colourful language, that the present, his work, was not worthless; this was the entire reason he’d been brought along, and the need to make some repairs was not entirely unexpected. He could fix this.

And the merchants were very pleased with this news, as, I’m sure, was Lello. One man, the consul William Auldridge, even offered a handsome bonus from his own pocket should Dallam be true to his word. So Dallam, no time for playing the tourist here, set to work.

This hard work plays out in Dallam’s writing more in his silence than his words. Entries are terse and few and far between. On one day, he writes, an exiled Moroccan king arrives to look in on his labours, and stays for half the day. That day also, the Hector pulled in closer to the palace complex. As The Ascension had done years earlier, with his father the audience, the Hector now performed its salutation for Mehmed, and this Dallam does describe in detail.

The Hector looked the part in its new paint with as many men as it could muster turned out with muskets. Dallam writes: “All things being ready, our gunners gave fire, and discharged 8-score great shot, and betwixt every great shot a volley of small shot; it was done with very good decorum and true time, and it might well deserve commendations.” Clearly, Parsons had made certain there wouldn’t be a repeat performance for the poor show they’d given the Ottoman admiral less than a month before.

However, Dallam, not normally given to superstition or ascribing events to otherworldly intervention, sensed in what transpired an evil in performing this “great trumpet and charge,” for an infidel. The ship’s carpenter was the one sick man aboard the ship and maybe the same man who’d been previously suspected of carrying the plague. With the sounding of the first great shot, he died. As the salute drew to a close, one of the gunners came to a more violent end. He rammed fresh powder into the breach, but there was still fire within, and the powder exploded immediately, tearing him to pieces. His lower parts were only found days later, 2 miles away, and his head in another place. Could this be a heavenly sign that they did not do right in their mission? Whatever evil, or bad luck, may have been revealed in the performance, Dallam writes that on August the 30th, his work with the organ was completed.

Delivery didn’t occur right away though. Dallam recorded a series of contacts over the next days. Lello taking a gift to the Grand Vizier on the 3rd, a visit from the Kapi Agha or chief white eunuch on the 4th, and on 7th from the Bostanci-basi, the “chief gardener” whose responsibilities varied over time but might include everything from escorting the Sultan in the gardens to “pruning” the high-ranked via execution. Dallam has little to say of any of these exchanges with extremely powerful figures, but then he seems to have little to no knowledge of the politics of the port. With our advantage over him, we can guess at the diplomatic bustle that was playing out over these days, as Lello frantically busied himself with making certain that the wheels were well greased, just dripping with grease, and that nothing, no interventions from his local rivals, for example, could prevent his audience being a complete and utter success. On Saturday the 8th, the organ was taken down, and on the 11th, a Tuesday, taken over the water and to the Sultan’s court. With Dallam’s entry, we get a taste of the palace complex.

You come first to a gate, one of many and like the rest both closed and guarded. Once through, you notice 5 great pieces of brass bearing Christian arms, a reminder of the city’s not so distant history. On you walk, through delightful gardens, hedged on either side with tall cypress, evenly spaced, and, beyond them, fruit trees of all sorts, lacking nothing that is good. The way leads up-hill, between two walls for a quarter mile, until you come to a second iron gate. Like the first, it is closed, and your interpreter calls out to those within. They are expecting you, but still, your business must be clearly announced before they will open the gates and permit you to enter. Now, you have left the gardens behind. Here, there are buildings and very stately ones they are, with courts of marble. Each has its fruit trees, and there is an abundance of grapes, of many different varieties, so that they might be enjoyed all through the different seasons of the year.    

The building you enter is more like a church than a dwelling. It has two ranks of marble pillars with pedestals of brass; 3 of the walls come but halfway up to the roof, the top left open to the air save when the weather causes cotton hangings to be let fall; the 4th is made of a type of stone in which you can see your reflection as you pass. Rich, silk carpets cover every step. To the side is a fish pond, its inhabitants flashing many different colours as they flit about the shallows. There are no stools, no tables, only one couch.

Within the building, curiously, there is a smaller house, its carving, varnish, and colours unlike any that you have seen before. There, you learn, the Sultan, killed his 19 brothers when he took the throne; it was built only for the strangling of every emperor’s brethren.

These were Dallam’s impressions of the palace complex, as he set about reassembling the organ in a place that few outsiders would ever have seen. As he worked, Safiye, the Sultan Mother who you may remember from the last mini-episode, received her gift from Elizabeth, a magnificent coach worth 600L. It was an appropriate present for the person rumoured to hold the most power within the palace, perhaps even superior to that of her son.

By the 15th, Dallam’s work was completed, and on the 18th he performed privately for the Kapi Agha and his friend. And they loved it. Again, Dallam found himself gathered up in hugs, kisses, and now the fervent wish that he should stay on among the Ottomans in the service of the Sultan. Such wishes were not yet as disquieting to him as they would be, and his most important performance was still to come.

On the night of the 24th, Lello called Dallam in for a chat. There was quite a bit riding on this for the ambassador. I haven’t mentioned all of his interests of yet, but he had a lot on his plate. Everything had to go perfectly, or else the trade capitulations might not be renewed, the profitable control over Dutch shipping might not be theirs, and his own ambitions to establish a Protestant church in Galata would be quite out of the question. And maybe Dallam did not seem to be taking the whole matter quite seriously enough. We can imagine his easy confidence rubbing unpleasantly on the ever worried Lello, a man with both more knowledge of the present situation and quite a bit more of his own skin in the game. However, Lello needed Dallam, and, though it must have deeply annoyed him, he needed Dallam to succeed. So Lello brought him in for a little locker room talk.

Lello’s seriousness, and perhaps his speaking to him directly in earnest, seems to have made some impact on Dallam because he records the ambassador’s words at length. First, he says, the ambassador gave him a great charge to carry out, to go the next morning and see to it that all was as perfect as it possibly could be with the instrument, for later that day the sultan would finally see and hear the gift. Then, Dallam wrote, perhaps a little wryly, “The ambassador spoke to me in Love after he had given me my charge.”

What Lello said amounted to the following: you who have come so far and at such great effort and risk to your life, may expect some reward from the sultan or at least think yourself deserving of looking upon him. Put those thoughts out of your head. You will receive nothing. This is no Christian prince you come to visit; this is the enemy of all Christians, and he thinks that anything we bring to him or do for him is for fear of him or for some favour we hope to receive from his hand.

Lello went on to describe to Dallam what was to happen the next day, the ceremonial kissing of the sultan’s hand. I won’t outline that here because it all sounds very much like the hand kissing ceremony [Edward Barton] went through just a few episodes ago. Actually, that having been the last time an English representative was received, that was probably the occasion Lello had in mind too. The ambassador concluded, “… at your coming home our merchants shall give you thanks, if [your work] gives the sultan content this one day. I care not if it be none after the next, if it do not please him at the first sight, and perform not those things which it is told him that it can do, he will cause it to be pulled down that he may trample it under his feet. And then shall we have not suit granted, but all our charge will be lost.”

Dallam responded with confidence, that there need be no doubt in himself or his skill, that his care and talent had been on display for all to see those last days, and that the gift itself, not just fixed, was now in some ways even better than when her majesty the queen had beheld it. With that last mention of his successful performance for Elizabeth, Dallam was maybe indulging in little one-upmanship with this man who sought to lecture him, a man he’d now sometimes refer to in writing as “Lord” rather than “ambassador,” but still never by name.

August 25th, 1599, was the big day for the both of them. Lello was as ready as an anxious man given years to think on an event can be and Dallam, well Dallam was, as ever, ready for anything. That morning, Dallam was out first, setting off with his engineer Harvey, Buckett the painter, and Watson the joiner. He went to give the present its last looking over. Lello followed looking a king without a crown, with 22 gentlemen and merchants on horseback, including Auldridge and 2 future ambassadors in the port, all in cloth of gold, and 28 more on foot in what Dallam terms Turkish fashion blue gowns and Italian fashion silk capes.

From where Dallam was finishing his preparations he saw the sultan Mehmed set foot ashore, and he was told to get out of the room which housed the gift. The sultan was hurrying there, very eager to see it, and Dallam should not be there when he arrived. One door closed behind Dallam, and another opened, receiving the sultan and, it seemed to Dallam as listened, 400 people who just then been set at liberty and who now made a great sound of admiration at first sight of the present. Mehmed seated himself, and in the silence that followed, the organ, as Dallam had set it to do, sprang to life.

First, there was the striking of the clock, then the ringing of bells, and then a song of 4 parts. Figures rose from the top corners and sounded silver trumpets. Then a song of five parts was played and the birds and bush on top of the organ shook and sang, and there were other motions too, to fill the sultan with delight. And he was delighted. Mehmed stayed until the next hour to take in the whole spectacle again, and hearing and seeing it all once more, he said that it was good. He sat very near it now, where a person would sit to play it really, and he asked about the keys. Why did they move when there was nobody pressing them? Might they be played? Could anyone there play them?

Now Dallam found himself not only hovering behind the door but ushered inside, and the sight, he wrote, was wonderful to him. Sultan Mehmed was there, only 18 paces away, and behind him, dazzling his eyes, were the followers of the court: 200 Christian-born, all in gold, silk, and spanish leather, cleanly shaven save for a squirrel’s tale behind their ears and a moustache on their lips; 100 he called dum-dum men, without speech or hearing, in gowns of gold but caps of violet velvet; the last 100 he said were dwarfs, short but heavy bodied, all in gold again, and carrying scimitars at their side.

This Dallam saw, and wondered at, and then the Kapi Agha indicated that he should step forward and play the organ. However, Dallam had Lello’s stern words fresh in his head and would not have forgotten that death could be the penalty for any perceived slight. No no, he demurred; he couldn’t even get to the keys without presenting his back to Mehmed and physically brushing against him. But the Sultan spoke and the Kapi Agha merrily wished Dallam courage and pushed him on.

Dallam bowed to Mehmed, his head as low as his knees, and then he sat at the organ. He was close to the sultan now, close enough to see the fair scimitar at his side, the bow and quiver of arrows, the ½ inch diamond on the sultan’s thumb ring, so close that his pants brushed Mehmed’s knee when he turned to sit, so close that Mehmed couldn’t properly see around him to watch his hands as he played, so close that when Mehmed rose up to see, he bumped Dallam roughly; and Dallam played on, though he thought the sultan had stood to draw his scimitar and cut off his head. He played what must rank as one of history’s more nerve-wracking musical performances. He played until the next hour struck, and then he covered the keys and, bowing again, he made to withdraw. All in the audience seemed glad, and Mehmed thrust behind him a fistful of gold, which the Kapi Agha retrieved and delivered to Dallam. Seizing this unlooked for prize, Dallam fled the room, probably exhausted from tension and effort but filled with success and pleasantly weighed down by 45 gold pieces.

After his concert, Dallam rushed to the gate where Lello was to have entered, and he found the ambassador and his escort still waiting there, having waited 2 hours for their moment with the sultan, the kissing of hands which wasn’t going to happen. Lello hurried to meet him: had the sultan seen his present? Had he liked it? Yes, answered Dallam, and he’d given gold out of his pocket. They waited a little longer, as 500 strangely dressed horsemen paraded past them, probably the sepahi, the palace cavalry, and 500 janissaries, and then, taking their horses, they returned to Lello’s house.

Everyone had questions for Dallam. He was of course the center of attention, made to recount in detail all that had transpired, and all were very happy that the day had gone so well. Lello alone of the company was silent. When asked what he thought, he said he regretted only that, not anticipating events, he had not thought to spend some money on seeing Dallam better attired, but I’m sure he had other regrets too; his day had been spent standing at the gate, sweating in his finest clothes and waiting for his audience and for one of the most important moments of his embassy, maybe the most important. His relief was flavoured with at least a little disappointment.

In the days that followed, Dallam lived rather well, much better than a craftsman from Lancashire could ever have anticipated; he boasted of dining for a month within the palace complex. But unlike some of his countrymen, he does not seem to have been tempted to stay. Others did. One of his interpreters he described as a Turk, but a Cornish man born, and another, a man named Finche, as in religion a perfect Turk, but originally from Lancashire himself. How strange it must have seemed to Dallam to meet another Lancashire man here at the heart of the Ottoman empire, but if indeed he found it striking, he did not remark any further upon it.

Dallam had no shortage of opportunities to stay, and to stay comfortably. One day, after he’d wrapped up some last adjustments to the organ’s workings, he was pressed as to his personal situation. Had he a wife? Children? Yes, yes, he lied, he did, a wife and children in England who all expected his return and were very much looking forward to seeing him. Further questions elicited further lies from the very much single and childless Dallam, and the promise that if he stayed with them he could have two wives. Later that night, he shared his concerns with Lello, but Lello does not seem to have allayed his concerns to any great degree. He advised that Dallam should not outright refuse any request from his hosts for him to stay, for firm refusal might be met by forced imprisonment. Better, Lello said, to go easily with the Ottomans, be a willing guest and wait for the ideal opportunity to return home. Dallam might have felt some twinges of alarm at this point.

The weekend of October the 12th, Dallam was invited back for a look round what he calls the Sultan’s privy chambers, his gold and his silvers, his chars of state. Dallam’s guide on this little private tour actually insisted he sit down in one of those chairs, draw a sword used, he said, to crown kings, and really get a feel for the royalty of it all. Many wonderful things Dallam was shown, not all of which he chose to write, but he did write down this next thing. His guide waved him over to a grate in the wall, beckoning him towards it but also signing that he himself could not go close. Dallam approached, probably feeling a cautious curiosity. What was he being urged to look on through this iron grate?

At first he thought they were boys in the courtyard on the other side, but then he noticed their long hair hanging down their backs, and he wrote “I knew them to be women, and very pretty ones indeed.” He stared through, taking in the details of the 30 figures playing with a ball on the other side of the wall: their pearls, the jewels in their ears, their red or blue satin coats, their pants of a material so fine he could see the skin of their legs. He stared so long at these concubines that his guide, who would not himself dare to look, began to become impatient, angry even. He stamped his foot and violently gesticulated; his life was on the line should anyone come across them. Eventually, very slowly, Dallam drew himself back from the opening. Later that day, he excitedly told an interpreter what he’d seen, but was quickly hushed up; didn’t he realize that if a Turk heard him, his guide would be killed?!

Then Dallam paused on a rare moment of reflection: the women he’d seen in the courtyard had not chanced to look up at the opening that entire time he’d looked in, but what if they had? What if they’d noticed him, this strange, unfamiliar face peering in at them from the grate? Surely, they’d have found him as novel and interesting as he’d found them. Surely, they’d have come over to look back into his face, and wonder at the sight of him, as he’d wondered at the sight of them.

But it seems clear to me that it was not by coincidence, no lucky chance, that none of the concubines looked up and saw Dallam there at the window. Though there was only that iron grating separating the 2 courtyards, it may as well have been a one-way mirror, with the concubines on display as surely as if they’d been appearing to Dallam on a tv screen. Only those who were so privileged would look in, and, I think likely, nobody would be looking out.

The following day was to be that of the Hector’s departure, and Dallam had his things brought aboard; he himself was on the ship when word came through from the palace that it could not leave. Lello heard word of this first, and initially, he was deeply concerned. There was a daily penalty to be payed to the ship’s owners if it did not leave on schedule, and he was particularly fearful that a member of the crew had inadvertently given offense to someone of importance. Further inquiries uncovered the truth though: there had been talk that it was the workman who’d set up the present who must stay, none other than Dallam himself!

Our poor friend had unwittingly found himself in a kind of Trainspotting moment. As Renton and Spud discuss before Spud’s job interview, if you don’t look like you’re trying, you’re off social assistance, but if you do too well you’re in danger of getting the job. Dallam had more to worry about than government programs – there was the imminent threat of beheading even as he performed, in his mind at least – and it seemed like he had in fact done too well; he’d been offered the job. And it didn’t look like he could refuse.

Now, informed of this new development, that the Hector would be making its return journey without him, he lost his customary cool a little. He raged at Lello in despair of ever seeing his England again. Now, he bitterly lamented, had, quote, “come to pass which I ever feared, and that was that he [Lello] in the end would betray me, and turn me over into the Turk’s hands, where I should live a slavish life, and never company again with Christians… .”

Lello was patiently sympathetic with him, hearing him out. He had, after all, got what he’d wanted, mostly. Mehmed was pleased at least, and that was all that mattered for now. Lello could afford to be patient, to put his hand on his shoulder, to say this delay was no plot of his own, to say he had no idea of it himself until just then, and and to say stay and worry not about this one little boat departing without you. The Hector wasn’t even going directly to England, but first to Iskenderun, a place so corrupt that many men would surely sicken and die there, and Dallam could easily travel more comfortably at some later date. All that, and Lello presumably didn’t want costly setbacks in the Hector’s sailing. Dallam accepted the ambassador’s arguments, so nobly did Lello seem to him to speak. He and that ship would be parting ways, but not for ever. He’d see the Hector again, and presumably Parsons too, in February when their paths home crossed, but that would not for a while yet.

For now, he was stuck in the sublime port of Constantinople and evidently itching to get home. He went immediately back to the palace complex, where he was wanted to see about setting up the organ in a different room, and there he was met with further hugs and embraces but also something a little disconcerting. As he walked down the steps and away from the building which had housed the instrument, one of the men who cared for that building, one who he’d dealt with before, suddenly seized him from behind and bodily hauled him back inside, dropping him, Dallam couldn’t help but notice, right next to the little house within the building where the Sultan’s brothers had all been strangled. Coming right after being prevented from leaving with the Hector, all of this might have badly rattled Dallam and any confidence he had in one day seeing England, but apparently he kept his cool. He simply asked his interpreter why the man had done this, and the man laughed; he’d only wanted to see what Dallam would do if forced to stay he said, through the interpreter. Well, Dallam replied, that was hardly necessary, for he would stay for as long as the Sultan desired. The situation defused, he returned to his work of moving the installation.

Despite the repeated attempts to get him to stay, it seems the Sultan did not ultimately care if he did. Maybe he, or whichever palace figures had given Dallam their attention, simply lost interest in the man from Lancashire. They had the run of an immensely powerful empire, and new gifts and exotic delights would have been constantly paraded before their eyes; for how long could they have cared for this particular oddity? Lello might actually have hurried this process along; he was responsible, Dallam wrote, for keeping Dallam from going to his work one Sabbath day, and I don’t know if Lello would have known this or not, but it was the day that the Sultan had decided to come and sit by Dallam and watch his work on the present. When Dallam didn’t show up, the visit was not rescheduled. Maybe other gifts, or matters of state, occupied Mehmed after that.

On Wednesday the 28th of November, Dallam departed from Constantinople in a Turkish ship, free to go but clearly not entirely confident that he would always be so. He was weak with fever, and Lello thought he should not go at all, that the return journey might the end of him. Dallam would hear none of it though. There was a group of promising travelling companions making their way for England, better than he might expect to go with for years to come, and besides, he’d rather die in the attempt than remain in the Ottoman city. He had found, he wrote, that he could not live if he stayed behind.

Dallam’s journey home is an interesting series of events itself and not short on adventures and threats to his life, but I will not go into that here, not now. We’ve come to the end of the Dallam story that I intended to tell, and this seems like as good a place as any to make an ending. For now, let’s just say that Thomas Dallam entered London in late April of the year 1600 with his mate Harvey, 2 others, and a Spanish captain taken as prisoner on the return journey.

Dallam would make true his lies as to a wife and family; he’d marry, have children, and go on to quite a career. Likely sailing on the success of his Ottoman adventures, he’d rise to great prominence in the resurgence of the English organ in the reign of King James I and beyond in the careers of his son and grandson. Actually, you can tell a pretty interesting story about English history and religion tracing a few hundred years of organ building, but I won’t be doing that today.  

What of the other characters we spoke of over the last 8 episodes? In Persia, the Safavid Shah Tahmasp was dead, as were his sons, Ismail and Mohammad, but Anthony Jenkinson, the man who visited the Shah, as well as Ivan the terrible and Suleiman the Magnificent, both long dead by this point, was, remarkably, still alive. Born in 1529, he had another decade to go before being buried at a Rutland church. In Morocco, the Saadi Sultan, Ahmad al-Mansur was still ruling when Dallam arrived home and would be for just a few more years yet. But then, in 1603 he was dead, and so were Mehmed III, the Ottoman Sultan who so enjoyed Dallam’s work, and Elizabeth too. It was a very bad year to be part of this story. Elizabeth’s death brought James I to the throne in England and with him a pivot back towards Spain, back towards the continent. Relations in Europe and with the Mediterranean world were going to shift, but that’s a story for a different time.

And that magnificent organ with its clockwork figures and holly bush, the one that had so enchanted an Ottoman Sultan, it did not have long to live either, sadly. Mehmed’s son Ahmed I was less fond of the instrument, and he was more inclined than his father had been to take issue with its figures mimicking the creations of god. The story goes that he smashed it to pieces himself.

Dallam then, would outlive perhaps his most noteworthy creation, but anyways there had been other organs along the way. That, and in the years 1599 and 1600 he’d been to Constantinople and back, and he’d lived to write about it. And for that, I am glad.


Twitter: @circus_human

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