Sunday, 15 November 2015

Friend of Bulgaria

1921: J D Bourchier 'Times' Correspondent
How many people get a 9 stamp set devoted to them while remaining relatively unknown in their own country?  James David Bourchier (1850-1920) was from an Anglo-Irish family and born in Baggotstown, Bruff, Limerick who became an Irish journalist and political activist, not in his own country, but Bulgaria, because fate took a hand.  He was teaching at Eton, loosing his hearing and looking at other means of earning a living.  He wrote a number of articles and discussed with an old school friend about going into journalism.  While staying on the Adriatic coast in 1888 on doctors advice this same friend was reporting for 'The Times' in the Balkans and asked him to help by going to Romania and Bulgaria.  By the time he got to Romania the peasants revolt he was supposed to write about was over, so he journeyed on to Bulgaria which was in a state of turmoil following a war, a coup by military officers and the forced abdication of Prince Alexander who had been replaced by Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (in a desperate attempt to prevent Russian occupation of Bulgaria).
J D Bourchier in Bulgarian Costume
Bourchier became an expert in Balkan politics and lived and worked in Sofia championing their national cause internationally as Bulgaria's territory and borders shifted and changed with Balkan Wars. Despite his deafness he was a gregarious man, spoke many languages and journeyed throughout the Balkans, not only championing the Bulgarian cause but also that of Crete.   On the outbreak of World War One Bulgaria declared neutrality, but when promised regaining of territory by the Central Powers joined the Turks and Germans in 1915.  Yes this was not going to end well, so the territory they gained they eventually lost.

The world Bourchier had entered in 1888 had changed entirely and from providing the Times with articles he had become the Times Balkan Correspondent from 1890-1915.  He remained in Sofia and died in 1920.  He had requested the king on his death to be buried outside the walls of the fortress monastery of Rila.     

A state funeral took place in Alexander Nevski Cathedral when crowds lined the street as the funeral cortège passed and his grave does indeed lie outside Rila Monastry.  I have seen an old postcard with the grave and mourners surrounded by high hills in the open but today it looks as though trees have grown around it, and on the stamp the area does look very wooded. There is a mountain and a street named after Bourchier, a monument of him as well as a plaque near where he lived in hotel rooms in Sofia dedicated to the "friend of the Bulgarian nation and champion of the Bulgarian national cause"
The stamp bears the inscription "Bourchier's resting place".  14 million of this 9 stamp set were issued so they are easy to find (I seem to have accumulated all but one of the set) and were created by the British engravers and printers Bradbury, Wilkinson and Co who also produced Bulgaria's bank notes.

But I leave with a postscript on Prince (later tzar) Ferdinand because he was a philatelist.  His relation Queen Victoria did not think much of him saying he was totally unfit when he was installed as head of state, and that he was delicate, eccentric and effeminate and  "should be stopped at once".  She was wrong, he generally made a success of his role.   

  One amusing report was of Ferdinand briefing Bourchier on confidential matters during World War One but because of Bourchier's deafness he had to shout down his ear trumpet so everyone could hear him. After the war Ferdinand abdicated in favour of his son Boris and was exiled to to Coburg in German which he excepted as one of the hazards of kingship.

An entry to Sunday Stamps II theme - Famous People - visit more of them at See It On A Postcard.     

5 comments:

FinnBadger said...

What a fascinating story. Thanks for sharing it, and the stamps.

VioletSky said...

He sounds like he was quite an influential man. And, as an outsider, quite a feat to become a Balkan expert, I would think!

Bob Scotney said...

A man and history I knew nothing about, Interesting story, Well deserves to be remembered on postage stamps.

Heleen said...

Interesting story, intriguing life.
Thank you for letting us learn about this interesting (and to me unknown) part of history.

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