Friedrich Edler von Thurneyssen
Friedrich Franz Wilhelm Thurneyssen was born on the 22nd of May 1844 in Paris. He was the first of three children and the only son of Friedrich Thurneyssen form Vienna and his wife Sidonie from Kismarton (Hungary). As his family was relatively rich he received his education during his early years from private tutors at Paris and Vienna where the family had a villa at Unter-Sievering. After successfully passing the entrance examination and paying the entrance fee he entered military service as a cadet in Kürassier Regiment number 3 on the 4th of October 1862. On the 6th of February 1864 he was transferred to the 11th Kürassier Regiment where he received the desired commission as an Unterleutnant 2nd class on the 1st of March 1864. But life in a small provincial garrison was not the life for Friedrich Thurneyssen. If one looks at his files one can read that his superiors praised his savoir-vivre, were delighted by his charming and witty conversation in fluent German, Hungarian and French and described him generally as an excellent and handsome young officer versed in the ways of the world; so it was no wonder that he volunteered for Mexico searching for adventures, glory and new assignments.
On the 19th of October 1864 Friedrich Thurneyssen entered Mexican military service, reaching Laibach the collecting point for the volunteer corps, on the 22nd of October 1864 as as an Unterleutnant 1st class of the ulans. His accomplishments and character made him a perfect liaison officer to the French troops and later to the small Ottoman Volunteer Corps which was mainly built from Egyptians. Friedrich Thurneyssen received his promotion to Oberleutnant on the 17th of October 1865 and for his performance during the battle at Tehuatlar on the 12th of June 1866 he was honored with the award of the Bronze Military Merit Medal. When the Austrian Volunteer Corps was disbanded in December 1866 Friedrich Thurneyssen decided not to enter further Mexican service and traveled back to Europe where he again entered Austrian military service in his old rank.
On the 1st of May 1867 he again rejoined his old regiment which was meanwhile transformed into dragoon regiment number 11 where he received his promotion to Oberleutnant on the 1st of November 1868. After successfully passing through the officer's school of the brigade at Zolkiew 1870/71 he was engaged as a squadron commander with his regiment. But the general circumstances, the duty with the troops at this far flung province and a shaken health, were not optimal for a man like Friedrich Thurneyssen. He took an extended leave on half-pay status of nearly 8 months where he stayed at his sister's home in Paris and finally he retired on health grounds as an half-invalid with the possibility of employment in a post with the local military service on the 1st of June 1872. The following months of his life are not clear, perhaps he got in touch with members of the world exhibitions committee at Paris or some old contacts with Egyptian officers in Mexico. Anyway, the fact is, that he organized the pavilion for the Egyptian Khedive at the world exhibition in Vienna in 1873. For his successful work during the exhibition he was honored with the award of the knight's cross of the Order of Franz Joseph - remarkable that he was listed without Christian name and as "foreigner" in the orders-list! As he never reported this decoration in his later years it could also be possible that his father, who was an international businessman, was the one who received the order in 1873. However, the fact is again that Friedrich Thurneyssen settled down in Egypt in 1874 to recover from his lung illness.
When the war against Abyssinia dawned in early 1875, the Khedive Ismael Pasha expressed as his declared wish that Thurneyssen should enter the Egyptian general staff and so Friedrich Thurneyssen entered Egyptian military service in the rank of Major of the general staff in the summer of 1875. As aide-de-camp to the commanding general he took part in the Abyssinian campaign of 1875/76 received two decorations and a public commendation from the Khedive for his excellent performance. A.B. De Guerville gave in his book "New Egypt", published at London in 1905, a good overview of the "Abyssinian Adventure" including a small picture of Friedrich Thurneyssen:
"Towards the end of 1874, Munzinger Pasha, a Swiss in the service of Ismail, was Governor-General of the Egyptian Provinces of the Red Sea. One day he took by surprise, with only two battalions, the Abyssinian province of Boghas, situated to the north-west of Massowah. Munzinger pretended that Egypt had rights over this province, from whence the Abyssinians were in the habit of making raids into Egyptian territory. The truth of the matter is, that, having married an Abyssinian from this part, a Christian like most of her compatriots, and desiring to please her, he wished to place the province of Boghas under Egyptian rule, in order that he might live there with his wife during the hot season ... King John (of Abyssinia) ... sent out several armed bands, who, entering Egyptian territory, massacred a number of inhabitants ... Khedive Ismail determined to dispatch a military expedition to Abyssinia. The object, presumably, was the punishment of the Abyssinians; but, in reality, Ismail, then at the height of his power, thought to conquer the country, which, joined to the equatorial provinces, already occupied in his name by Sir Samuel Baker, would have formed with Egypt and the Sudan the vast Empire of his dreams. The courtiers and flatterers surrounding him, assuring him that one Egyptian regiment was worth 30.000 Abyssinians, and Munzinger boasting of his ability to conquer Abyssinia with two battalions, the Khedive sent a force ridiculously feeble. It was composed of 4000 men, commanded by a Dane, Colonel Armdrupp, a distinguished artilleryman, but one whose knowledge was theoretical rather than practical, as he had never before seen active service. He was accompanied by Arakel Bey, a nephew of Nubar, who had just been appointed Governor of Massowah. This small force, entering Abyssinia, leaving, here and there small posts and reduced by the end of October to 3000 men, was suddenly attacked by King John in person, at the head of 30.000 men. The Egyptians were wiped out to a man, Armdrupp and Arakel Bey perishing whilst bravely defending themselves. The Abyssinians gave no quarter, whilst the wounded were finished by thrusts of the lance. Almost all the corpses were mutilated.
When the news of this disaster arrived in Cairo, Ismail announced his intention of taking a terrible revenge, and immediately decided to dispatch a powerful force. Organized with extraordinary rapidity, this consisted of over 15,000 men, under the command of Ratib Pasha, a Circassian, Sidar of the Egyptian army. Thurneyssen, then a Major, was his aide-de-camp, and there were in addition eleven American officers, one Swiss, one Austrian, one Italian and one Belgian. The Chief of Staff, and second in command, was General Loring, an American, and under him was Colonel Dye, also from the States. The artillery comprised thirty four cannon and twelve fusées. On January 24, 1876, the Egyptian army left Massowah, accompanied by an enormous baggage train, and entered into the unknown and mysterious country ... On March 7 they encountered the enemy, under King John, and victory seemed assured when unfortunately one of the Egyptian battalions was seized with panic. Sword in hand Thurneyssen and the other Austrian officer stopped the fugitives, and were about to reform when the cavalry, taken in turn by a mad panic, fled pell-mell through the infantry. The rout was complete, and seven entire battalions were massacred by the enemy. Thanks to the precautions which had been taken to construct a fort some distance in the rear, several battalions and most of the foreign officers managed to save themselves. There they made a stubborn defence against the 100,000 troops of King John, who, in the end, gave up his prisoners and allowed the Egyptian force to retire. So ended this unfortunate campaign, which cost Egypt 10,000 men and an immense sum in money." By the way the two-times referred unnamed "Austrian officer" means the former ulan Rittmeister Karl von Möckeln.
After this war Thurneyssen became personal adjutant of Prince Hassan, the 3rd son of the Khedive. Together with Prince Hassan, who became the commander of the Egyptian contingent, he took part on the Ottoman-Russian War in 1877/78 where he again received a public commendation and a decoration. In 1879 Friedrich Thurneyssen was promoted to lieutenant colonel in the general staff and attached as aide-de-camp to the new Khedive Tewfik Mohammed Pasha. During the slave mutiny in 1881 he assumed command of a combined infantry and cavalry corps and rapidly put down the mutiny, some rumors said perhaps too brutally, but finally he carried out his orders in an effective way. During the large army mutiny in 1882 the Egyptian authorities asked the British Army for assistance which they gave in a massive way. As liaison officer to the British commander, General Wolseley, Thurneyssen took part in several actions at the British headquarters. If one looks at the British files regarding the award of the British campaign medal for Egypt 1882 one can find a page titled "Egyptian Officers attached to the Staff of General Sir G. Wolseley GCB etc Commander-in-Chief Egypt", beside two obviously Egyptian names there is written "Tournyssen Bey. Colonel. Egypt Medal with clasp Tel-el-Kebir. Issued to G.O.C. Cairo 9 February 1883". Additionally Friedrich Thurneyssen, meanwhile promoted to colonel of the general staff on the 1st of January 1883, received the Egyptian campaign medal the so-called "Khedive-star" as all members of the British forces and all loyal Egyptian troops. Colonel Thurneyssen now again became adjutant to Prince Hassan, who assumed the command of all troops during the campaign against the Sudan from 1885 to 1891 and took part on several actions. When the troops of the Mahdi surrounded the city of Khartoum the British government sent the famous General Charles Gordon in January 1884 to evacuate the Europeans from the strategically important town on the Nile. (The whole story is well known because of the Hollywood movie about the siege and fall of Khartoum in which Charlton Heston is plays General Gordon.) The Egyptian troops which were sent through the desert to relieve Khartoum, and who arrived too late were commanded by colonel Thurneyssen!
When the new Khedive Abbas Pasha came to the throne in 1892 he selected colonel Thurneyssen to be his personal adjutant. At this post he escorted the new Khedive during his travels to Austria-Hungary and during this visit to Vienna's court, Friedrich Thurneyssen was honored with the award of the knight's cross of the Austrian Order of Leopold. In 1896 Thurneyssen was promoted to General and additionally received the court rank of stables master of the Khedive, his further engagements were more of a diplomatic than of a military character. Thurneyssen Pasha escorted the Khedive during his travels to Great Britain, France and again to Austria-Hungary, during the funeral ceremonies of Queen Victoria he was the head of the Egyptian delegation. Beside these travels Thurneyssen Pasha was often attached to high European visitors in Egypt for instance Erzherzog Josef Ferdinand Salvator, Erzherzog Josef August and Erzherzogin Auguste, Don Carlos Duke of Madrid, the Prince of Orleans and Braganza as well as the heirs to the throne Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and Gustav Adolf of Sweden. These engagements brought about the award of a huge number of different orders from nearly every European country of course. Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand, who stayed in Egypt for some months to recover from his tuberculosis, much appreciated the company of Thurneyssen Pasha. He liked this soldier of fortune; Thurneyssen Paschal lead the kind of "man's life" that the heir to the throne adored, he was never married but famous for his affairs, an excellent and dashing horses man, an adored and feared fencer - it was said that he was involved in more than a hundred duels. Mockingbirds rumored that that there was nothing easier than to insult Thurneyssen Pasha giving him a reason for a duel because dueling seemed to be some kind of hobby for him. Julius von Stepski, a former official at the k.u.k. consulate service, reported in his book "Geschichte und Intrige" (which was published in Vienna in 1940) that he was so surprised when he found out that the charming Oberst Thurneyssen whom he know from the bars and parties performed a hard training program in riding and fencing every day until his later years which explained his legendary fitness and skills.
On the 28th of October 1906 Thurneyssen Pasha was honored with the award of the 2nd class of the Order of the Iron Crown. In the same year Rudolf Slatin Pasha, the General inspector of the Sudan, was honored and raised into Austrian nobility as "Ritter von", which was in the eyes of Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand a diplomatic mistake, because Slatin Pasha was certainly better known but the fact was that he was below Thurneyssen's rank in the Egyptian hierarchy and so he encouraged him to also apply for Austrian nobility. Therefore on the 16th of February 1907 he submitted his handwritten petition asking for the tax free raising to Austrian nobility. Although the Austro-Hungarian ambassador in Cairo, Graf Koziebrodzki, favorably reported on Friedrich Thurneyssen's request to the ministry of internal affairs , that he always patronized Austrians in Egypt, that he was the Austrian holding the highest rank in the Egyptian hierarchy and always used his post for the benefit of Austro-Hungarian interests and so on, the ministry of foreign affairs expressed its counter-arguments. It reported that he had received an high Austrian order just some months before and that always his loyalty had been with Emperor Maximlian of Mexico, blaming Kaiser Franz Joseph for forsaking his younger brother in Mexico. He was further reported as expressing the opinion that the main reason he had left Austria was the disloyalty of Kaiser Franz Joseph to the "Mexicans". This arguments caused the civil servants at the ministry of internal affairs to act like Austrian officials always do when troubles dawn on the horizon - they decided to do nothing further in this case - but this caused the following unusual turn of events. On the 19th of August 1907 the personal adjutant of Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand, Major Brosch von Aarenau, appeared at the Department 2 of the ministry of internal affairs and demanded in the name of the heir to the throne to see the Thurneyssen files and hear the arguments why he had still not been raised into the Austrian nobility. On the 27th of September 1907 the minister of internal affairs, Freiherr von Bienerth, received a letter from Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand in which the heir to the throne demanded that Thurneyssen Pasha should immediately receive the tax free title of "Freiherr von" - more than Slatin Pasha, a unique event! Freiherr von Bienerth reacted immediately, he prepared the file, reported it to the Kaiser, received his permission and signature and gave the order to draw the nobility decree with the title of (only) "Edler von" on the 29th of September 1907 - than he reported to Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand and expressed his regret that the letter had come too late and everything was on was following it's regular course at this time. Further he announced that it was the fault of Friedrich Thurneyssen because he had only applied for "nobility" and not for the higher status of a "Freiherr" so he, the minister of internal affairs, had merely done as requested. Knowing the hot headed and unforgiving character of the heir to the throne one could imagine the names the archduke called the devious minister!
The decree of nobility was executed on the 12th of November 1907 and handed over to General Thurneyssen Pasha in Cairo on the 12th of February 1908. Later that year Friedrich Edler von Thurneyssen Pasha was honored with the commander's cross of the Order of Franz Joseph with breast star which one can see as an act to calm down the raging crown prince! Friedrich von Thurneyssen was now over 64 years old but didn't think of retirement. When the Balkan Wars broke out in 1912 the 3rd wife of the Khedive Abbas Hilim, Djavida Hanum, born Mary Gräfin Török von Szendro, remained by accident in Vienna and it was decided that she should immediately return incognito to Egypt. She camouflaged herself as a Red Cross Nurse and took a steamship of the Austrian Lloyd from Trieste to Alexandria where Thurneyssen Pasha and the khedivial physician in ordinary Dr. Kautzky would meet her. In her autobiographical book "Harem" (published in Berlin in1930) she reported how funny it was to trick all the men about her real identity - only the unmarried Thurneyssen recognized her, because "she smelled much too good and washed herself too often and too long for a common nurse" as he reported later! But the good days of old Thurneyssen Pasha were gone, his health grew worse every year and while he kept his physique in good condition his mental, powers deteriorated. He forgot more and more, he was disoriented, lost the simplest things from his memory. On the 22nd of May 1914 he traveled to his sister, who was married at Vichy, for a cure which of course could not help. When he returned to Egypt on the 2nd of October 1914 the world had changed, the British Army had taken over the authority there, the whole world was at war - only Thurneyssen Pasha did not realize what had happened to his country or even appreciate his own circumstances. The British rulers had retired nearly every Pasha but they mercifully let him formally remain in office and so he left home every day for his office giving orders which were immediately forgotten by himself. On the 5th of March 1915 Friedrich Edler von Thurneyssen Pasha died peacefully in his bed.
After his death all his personal effects were sold and the money was transferred to his sister in Vichy. On account of the war, it took a while until the Austro-Hungarian newspapers were informed about his death and they reported it in November 1915. In 1926 the "Public Custodian for Enemy Property" at Cairo contacted the authorities in Vienna because they had found some epaulettes and the nobility decree of the former General Thurneyssen Pasha and would like to find any of his relatives. The Viennese authorities reported that his mother, a widow named Sidone, had left Vienna on the 25th of October 1908 for her hometown Kismarton in Hungary and they could not help any further - it would be an interesting story to find out where the decree and the epaulettes are today!
Back to the Mexican Adventure Biographies