We Remember: Yusuf Agâh Efendi – the first Turkish ambassador to Britain in 1793


Exactly 225 years ago today, 14 October, the first-ever resident Turkish ambassador to Britain set off from Ottoman Turkey on a 3-month journey, arriving in London for his new post on 21 December 1793.

A decision by Sultan Selim III on 23 July 1793 paved the way for Britain to receive its first resident Turkish ambassador. Yusuf Agâh Efendi, a Tripoli-born son of a nobleman followed his father and elder brother into service for the Ottomans.

The young bureaucrat had moved to Istanbul in 1756 aged 12 and entered into public office a few years later. He served in a variety of positions in the Ottoman administration and was a naval clerk (‘kalyonlar katibi’) when he was appointed ambassador to London.

On 12 October, Yusuf Agâh Efendi sent his goods to the British capital via a boat called Colombo Fortuna. Two days later, he left Istanbul with a team of fifteen he set off for London first via a boat from the Black Sea and later by land from Vienna, Austria to Ostend, Belgium where the delegation caught a boat to Dover.

Records show that the new ambassador and his team were treated very well on arrival, initially staying at the Royal Hotel in London, before moving to a residence in Adelphi (a district in Westminster). On 8 January 1974, Ambassador Yusuf Agâh Efendi presented his credentials to King George III, and a week later he was received by British Prime Minister William Pitt.

Yusuf Agâh Efendi remained in his post for three years, during which time he not only forged good relations with the British, but also other foreign diplomats in London, impressing on them Ottoman political views and opportunities for better trade with the Turks. He also set the standards for a modern ambassador, encouraging his team to learn foreign languages. The Turkish ambassador himself was proficient in three foreign languages: English, Greek and Italian.

At the end of 1796, İsmail Ferruh Efendi was appointed as the second Turkish ambassador, paving the way for Yusuf Agâh Efendi to return to Istanbul where he continued in public office until his death on 4 January 1824.

The Turkish Embassy in London also commemorated this important day in Turkish-British history by sharing brief details about Yusuf Agâh Efendi on its social media pages. The Embassy posted the following:

“Yusuf Agâh Efendi, appointed as an ambassador to the Court of St James’s by Sultan Selim III, departed from Istanbul 225 years ago today to inaugurate the first Turkish resident embassy in the history.

“A delegation of 15 people, including Chief Secretary Mehmet Raif Efendi and treasurer Mehmet Dervis Efendi accompanied Yusuf Agah Efendi.

“Appointment of Yusuf Agâh Efendi instituted a centuries-old tradition of cooperation between Turkey and the UK, and laid the solid and deep-rooted foundations of our thriving relations today.

#TurkishEmbassyLondon225 #225yearsofTurkishEmbassy”


Main image above of Yusuf Agâh Efendi, a cropped version of a painting by Swedish artist Carl Frederik von Breda in the nineteenth century