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Was Gurdjieff Irish??

post from alt.consciousness.4th-way:

From: duquad@aol.com (Duquad)
Newsgroups: alt.consciousness.4th-way
Subject: gurdjieff’s origins
Date: 3 Jan 1996 02:46:01 -0500
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Was Gurdjieff Really Irish?

Last night a friend lent me an advance copy of a book that is supposed to be published this August in Chicago by Dharma Bums Publishing. It’s called Unmistakably Ben Bulben: the Fourth Way in Ireland and it makes some pretty wild claims. The first part of the book tries to prove that Gurdjieff is really an Irishman by the name of Michael Kiely, from Limerick, who left Ireland at the age of 16 rather than work on the family farm. It also states that Ouspensky left Gurdjieff because he found out the truth, although he never mentioned it for fear of damaging the Work itself.

Apparently, near the end of Ouspensky’s life he told the whole story to one of his students who then told it to Larry O’Nolan, the author of this book. O’Nolan checked what sources he could and then gathered whatever related to both Ireland and the Fourth Way to fill out the book.

He makes much of the episode in In Search of the Miraculous in which Ouspensky meets Gurdjieff’s father and sees a photo of the young Gurdjieff. Ouspensky says that the photo reveals something about the profession Gurdjieff practiced at the time, but Ouspensky decides to keep this to himself. O’Nolan says that Gurdjieff’s Irish origin explains this mystery. O’Nolan produces what he claims is the photo. It shows a young man standing near a horse-drawn cart. The man looks exactly like Gurdjieff with a full head of hair. His very relaxed and strong arm rests on the horse’s neck, and the cart is piled high with peat. In the background is, unmistakably, Ben Bulben. The man identified as Gurdjieff’s father was in reality his first Sufi teacher.

O’Nolan heard the story of Gurdjieff’s flight from Ireland from an old relative still living in the countryside near Limerick. There were three sons born to this farming family: John, James, and Michael (later known as Gurdjieff). One night the father pronounced the destiny of the three boys: John would go to school and become a priest, James was already working at his trade of cabinet maker, and “Michael,” he said, “you shall tend the farm.” The next day the boy was gone. After many travels he ended up in the east where he encountered Sufi and other influences, and the rest is history. (In case you were wondering, John got stuck tending the farm.)

The book goes on to talk about the success and failure of various fourth-way groups, mainly in Dublin. He gives one anecdote I’d never heard – that Gurdjieff sent Orage into Dublin to start a group but then recalled him after a month, saying that he was afraid that Orage would “dissolve” in Dublin.

The book points out Gurdjieff’s Irish traits: his garrulous manner, his love of drink, of long stories and anecdotes, of practical jokes and word play. The book ends by pointing out that Gurdjieff (as Gurdjieff) never set foot in Ireland and always avoided his Irish students for fear of giving himself away.

There has always been some mystery about the origins of Gurdjieff. When I read the above on the World wide Web I felt the time had come to reveal the results of my own researches. The reason I have not done so earlier was a fear that it would merely stimulate unnecessary and irrelevant controversy. As to Gurdjieff’s place of birth, Alexandropol, Allahabad or Ashby de la Zouche, what difference does it make? I do not claim to have proved anything, but nevertheless, the results of my researches open up some intriguing possibilities. I will tell the story as it unfolded itself to me, lest I give an impression of certainty and completeness that the results of my researches do not warrant.


I first heard the name of Gurdjieff during the exceptionally harsh winter of 1947, when I was eight years old. An old friend of my father’s, John Bowen by name, was spending the Christmas holidays with us while on leave from his duties with the Allied Control Commission in Germany. Mr. Bowen, for so I always think of him, was a man of great sweetness of temperament and kindness, and I always looked forward to his visits. Mr. Bowen and my father had met shortly before the First World War, when both were working for Badische Anilin (now known as BASF) at Ludwigshafen. Upon the outbreak of war, my father was arrested as an enemy alien and spent the rest of the war at Ruhleben, an internment camp for British civilians that had been set up on a racecourse just outside Berlin. Mr. Bowen was more fortunate as he was in Budapest at the time. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, being more civilised than the other warring nations, did not intern enemy civilians, but only required them to report at a police station once a week, and not leave the town of their residence without permission. He remained in Budapest after the end of the war as he had married a Hungarian lady, and only left in 1920, on suffering the worst tragedy of his life, the death from influenza of his much beloved wife.

I much enjoyed listening to my father and Mr. Bowen talk, for both had lead unusual and adventurous lives. It was from Mr. Bowen’s lips that I first heard the name of Gurdjieff. I will put what he said as if he were saying it, though of course I do not remember the precise words he used. However, it states all that I learnt from him and does reproduce his style of speaking. &quotIt was only about a day or two after I arrived in Constantinople that I was called in to see some Intelligence chappie. He wanted to know all about Hungary and so forth , and I did my best to oblige him. We hit it off and we spent a lot of time together. He was terribly interested in all that Oriental and Theosophical type of stuff, and he took me along to a number of their meetings. Not really my style, but I suppose I needed a good deal of consolation at the time. We met up again in London, and he was very keen on some Russian fellow called Gurdjieff who had the answer to everything and who had some sort of set up outside Paris. Thought I’d give it a try. By God, what a lot of nonsense! And that Gurdjieff fellow! Had only been there a few days when I accidentally run over his foot with a wheelbarrow. Completely loses his temper and curses me out in the broadest Cockney. Russian indeed! Born within the sound of Bow Bells if anyone ever was. Complete charlatan of course. But he certainly knew how to swear.”

I next came into contact with Gurdjieff when I was appointed to a junior position with Structural Communication Systems, a company that Mr. Bennett had just started. He quickly became my teacher as well as employer. I remembered Mr. Bowen, and asked Mr. Bennett if he had met him, relating to him the story I have set down above, omitting Mr. Bowen’s opinion of Gurdjieff. Mr. Bennett indeed remembered him, whereupon I told him that Mr. Bowen was convinced that Mr. Gurdjieff was a Cockney. Mr. Bennett gave me what I can only describe as a look of consternation, and started talking about Tibet, thus successfully distracting my attention. Anybody who knew Mr. Bennett will, I am sure, confirm that if he wanted to distract your attention, he would succeed

After spending a year at Mr.B.’s glorious gulag in the Cotswolds, I returned to India for a short time. While I was there I received permission, for reasons which it would be an unpardonable breach of confidence for me to reveal, to examine the archives of the Indian Secret Service for the years before 1922. I found a number of requests for information from a Captain J.G. Bennett in Constantinople, and two memoranda from him. However, there is no mention of Gurdjieff, and no file on him. All this left me with the impression that something was being concealed, and for good and obvious reasons. At this point I felt as if I had run into a brick wall and was on the point of abandoning my search in the Indian archives, when I discussed my predicament with a senior archivist who had already been of immense help to me. He pointed out that if there were a file on Gurdjieff, it might be under a code name, and also told me that there were certain secret registers which provided the key to this system of code names, the very existence of which he was not supposed to divulge to me, in spite of my having been given special permission to examine files that were then, and are now inaccessible even to professional historians approved by the Government of India. Knowing that my presence in the archives had been approved at the very highest level and also out of a fatherly affection which he had conceived for me, he agreed to see what he could do to make it possible for me to examine these secret registers, provided that I revealed nothing until after his death. This I swore to do, and I have kept my word.

With the invaluable aid of my friend, I examined the register of Russian agents, and the files to which they guided me. I found no mention of a Gurdjieff, and no-one whose description corresponded to him. I was in despair, when my friend asked me why I thought the man I was looking for was a Russian agent. Why not look at the register of British agents? This I did, though in a hopeless mood. There I came across the name of Georgiades. Further search revealed a very thick file on this Georgiades, in which he was described at one point as: &quotFrederick Dottle, a Londoner who for many years has been posing as a Russian subject of Anatolian Greek extraction.” I was overwhelmed by a mixture of relief and excitement. On the very point of giving up, after weeks of nervous strain and physical discomfort, for I had stayed in Delhi through the Hot Weather, I had found what I was looking for! That night I celebrated, and got blind drunk. I woke up with a terrible hangover, and by the time I had recovered from my debauch, the Monsoon had broken. The file on this Georgiades covered the years 1891 to 1907. It ended with a note that henceforth he was to be employed by M.I.6 in London, rather than the Government of India. The picture that emerges from these files is one of a man of infinite resource and fascinating character. At one time he was a starets (a wandering Russian holy man; Rasputin was another), at another a sub-contractor on the Trans-Caspian railway, and a successful and valued agent. His adventures as a British agent merit a book to themselves, and shed a fascinating light on the closing years of the Great Game. His active career came to an end in Tibet, where he was wounded at the time of the Younghusband expedition. He was rescued and brought to India by that same British force, and recovered in a hospital in Darjeeling. At that time there stood to his credit at the Chartered Bank in Calcutta the sum of 14,723 rupees and 9 annas. The last recorded transaction was a substantial withdrawal on January 23, 1906, which left a balance of 108 rupees which stands to his credit to this day.

On my return to London, I attempted unsuccessfully to gain access to the files of M.I.6, and so I am unable to say anything about his further career as a British agent, or if there was one.

Examination of the Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths in London revealed that a Frederick Dottle had been born in Whitechapel on January 13, 1867. His mother was Margaret Dottle, a barmaid, and the father of the child unknown. Margaret Dottle died on 28 December, 1869, and the boy was admitted to the Stepney workhouse the next day. The life of an orphan in a Victorian was no joke, for harsh conditions were held to be of immense benefit to the poor, not to say the ratepayers. The sufferings of the children and other inmates of the workhouse were all the more as the Warden, a Mr. Aristotle Fringe, was a cruel and vicious man. The young Dottle escaped often, but each time was brought back by the police. His last escape was on March 14, 1879. There was a riot in the workhouse that day, which led to a commission of enquiry being appointed. As a result the warden was dismissed for “excessive cruelty and abominable practices”, to quote the official report. However, young Dottle seems to vanish into thin air. There a no records of arrests, and indeed no record of any kind of his existence in London at all. On June 5, 1879, the unspeakable Mr. Fringe was found with his throat cut at his lodgings at 17 Slime Street, Whitechapel. The culprits were never brought to justice.

At this point the scent appeared to go cold. How could one connect the 12 year old boy Frederick Dottle in London in 1879, with the British agent of the same name in 1891? Was there any connection? Were they the same person? At this point I decided to rely on conjecture, and made the somewhat hackneyed assumption that young Dottle had run away to sea. There followed several months spent finding out which ships were in the Port of London at that time, and in searching for their logs. Eventually I came across the log of the Cruttenden. In it I found the following entry: March !6, 1879. &quotEngaged today a cabin boy, name Frederick Dottle, age thirteen. Strong young fellow and a real cockney imp. A real darkie. Looks like his father was a lascar seaman. We’ll soon lick him into shape.&quotThe Cruttenden was outbound for Constantinople and Batoum, carrying a cargo of machinery. She left London on the morning tide of March 19. She reached Constantinople on 12 April, and left a week later for Batoum. The log records that the cabin boy Frederick Dottle deserted there. Perhaps the licking into shape he was subjected to was not to his taste.

The obvious thing to do was to go to Batoum and examine the archives there. This I did in 1991, when the collapse of the Soviet state made it possible. Fortunately, Batoum has escaped most of the ravages of war that have afflicted Russia, and the archives are reasonably complete. In the police records for 18 April (Old Style) there appears the following entry. &quotArrested: young vagrant, about twelve or thirteen years of age, without papers. Stocky build, dark hair and complexion. Looks Armenian. Does not understand that language or Russian. Speaks English, but gives no name. Possible deserter from an English ship. Ordered to be taken under armed guard to the British Consul for identification. Escapes en route.” I consulted the port records for that day, and found that there were three English ships in the harbour. The Cruttenden and the Olive outbound from London, and the Toutley from Bristol.

It is not impossible that John Georgiades or Gurdjieff, the man known as Gurdjieff’s father would visit Batoum, which is about 150 miles from Kars. I therefore looked for evidence of his presence in Batoum at this time and I found it, though it was of the saddest kind. The records of the Greek Church there show that on 17 April 1879 (O.S.), George, the son of John Georgiades of Kars, age 12, had been buried. The cause of death was given as fever. This is confirmed by the official register of deaths, which gives the date of death as !5 April, and the cause of death typhoid fever. The father is named as John Gurdjieff, a resident of Kars. Perhaps John Gurdjieff had taken his sick son to Batoum in the hope of finding a doctor who could save him.

This, to my mind, is sufficient to demonstrate that the man known to the world as G.I. Gurdjieff, the son of John Gurdjieff or Georgiades of Kars, was somebody else. At this point we have to rely on conjecture. The bereaved father could have run into the fugitive cabin boy Dottle, and taken him back to Kars. They each had something which the other could provide; one needed a son, and the other, at the very least needed someone to help him escape from Batoum. Of course, there is no absolute proof that the father was not another inhabitant of Kars, with the same name as Gurdjieff’s father, and that the boy who died was not likewise. But to continue our conjecture, Frederick Dottle was young enough to have learnt Greek and Armenian, the languages of his new home easily, and at the same time old enough not to have forgotten his mother tongue, English. If we suppose that G.I. Gurdjieff was the adopted and not the natural son of John Gurdjieff, it makes it easier to understand why he seemed to have no native language. He spoke Russian with a thick Caucasian accent, as Ouspensky noted, and J.G. Bennett says of him only that Armenian was the language he was most at home in. His great loyalty to his family is not surprising when one considers that they were the first people to have shown him any affection.

If we make the assumption that the Frederick Dottle who deserted his ship at Batoum in 1879 was the same Frederick Dottle who was a British agent in 1891, and that in the interim he was adopted by John Gurdjieff, this raises another question. Why didn’t the man we know as G.I. Gurdjieff declare himself to be a British subject after he had escaped from Russia? It seems likely that he could have been issued a British passport in Constantinople, thus saving himself and to some extent his followers the problems that arose from being stateless. In 1922, when he was granted permission to reside in England, most of his pupils and supporters, apart from those he had brought from Russia with him, were English, so England would seem to be the obvious place to set up his Institute. there is also the question of whether he remained a British intelligence agent after 1922, and whether this was the reason, or part of it, why he stayed in Paris during the German occupation.

However, it must be remembered that the question of Gurdjieff’s origins is a secondary one at best. It is his work that matters, and nothing that has been written here is relevant to that. One can only surmise that he did not reveal himself as Frederick Dottle on his escape from Russia because of the effect it might have on his loyal Russian followers, and also because it would attract to him a useless sensation that would overshadow his work, and tend to discredit it in the minds of some. It will be interesting to see if anyone feels the same way today.

Peter Roberts.



and if you believed that, well….”your stay here is useless”