John Leslie Urquhart AM

b. 11/04/1874 Aydin, Ottoman Empire. d. 13/03/1933 Brasted Place, Kent.

DATE OF AM ACTION: 08-10/01/1905 Baku, Russian Empire.

John L Urquhart AM

He was born on 11 April 1874 to Scottish parents, Andrew and Jean Urquhart, in Aydın, 81 miles (130 km) from Smyrna in the Ottoman Empire. His father was engaged in the export trade of licorice root and paste, the extract from which was widely used in the pharmaceutical and tobacco industries, as well as confectionery production.

Urquhart went to an English school in Smyrna from age 7. In 1887 the family moved to Scotland, settling at Portobello, Edinburgh. Urquhart went to school there, then in Edinburgh, and in 1890 took up an engineering apprenticeship with Crow, Harvey & Co. of Glasgow, also attending evening classes at the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College. His father was at Oudjari (Ujar), now in Azerbaijan, with a business venture. He also studied chemistry under Stevenson Macadam at Edinburgh University, and in 1896 was set for a career in the oil industry. He was diverted, however, to Ujar and his father’s licorice interests there, as the manager of the Oriental Trading Corporation factory there. Thomas Urquhart, his uncle and an engineer who had supervised the Gryazi–Tsaritsyn railway line in Russia, may have influenced his decision. The oil at Baku was possibly another factor: he made a trip there in 1897, and by 1898 had made good progress in the local languages.

In 1902 Urquhart was offered work by the Schibaieff Petroleum Company, at a time when licorice was in glut, and became a manager for them at Baku. The factory was sold and the Oriental Trading Corporation wound up in 1903, as the American Liquorice Trust sought to create a cartel. British capital was at this point prominent in the Baku oilfields, with at least five companies buying in from 1896. There was some notable sharp practice in deals.

The dealings of George Tweedy, in particular, for Baku-Russian Petroleum, brought Charles Leslie, a director of the company, to Baku in 1904. He struck up a friendship with Urquhart. When he was forced to leave the oil business, two years later, Urquhart was able to set up the Anglo-Siberian Company in London, for mining, by combining his contacts with Leslie’s.

The change was precipitated by political events, starting with a wave of strikes in Baku, and the fall of Sergei Witte, in 1903. It was followed by the Russo-Japanese War, and communal violence between Armenians and Tatars in Baku during February 1905. In private, Urquhart, who employed Tatars and spoke their language, entirely took their side. The disturbances of the 1905 Russian Revolution that took place in Baku in September of that year were particularly bloody. Urquhart was awarded an Albert Medal for Lifesaving, the citation noting his position as British Vice-Consul in Baku, and his actions to save four British workmen in September 1905, with Tatar and Cossack support.

After a complex series of events and negotiations, Urquhart left revolutionary Baku on instructions from the British Foreign office and companies, reaching Moscow on 25 September. His life was said to be in danger, but he was also much criticised. Urquhart’s setting up of the Anglo-Siberian Corporation then led to other vehicles for capital. At this period, Urquhart also acquired interests in what is now Kazakhstan. They were in lead and zinc at Ridder, and coal at Ekibastuz. He chaired the Irtysh Corporation, which held the Kirgiz Coal Mining Company, the owner of the mines. The Irtysh Corporation, in turn, was financed by the Russo-Asiatic Corporation, a British company of which Urquhart was a director.

Urquhart was a strong opponent of the Bolsheviks, and as a backer of Alexander Kolchak an advocate of the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War. Under Sir Charles Eliot, British Commissioner in Siberia, he ran through staff the Siberian Supply Company that operated in 1918–9 behind the White Russian lines, but no further west than Harbin.

A 1921 agreement made by Urquhart with Leonid Krasin fell through, undermined by a public attack by Urquhart on the Cheka, and Lenin’s wish to make an anti-British gesture. By the time of the Genoa Conference (1922), however, Urquhart had come to favour a more co-operative attitude to the Soviet Union. In the later 1920s Urquhart was heavily involved in the Mount Isa Mines (MIM) of Queensland in Australia. He repeated there a pattern of local development of towns that he had carried out in pre-war Russia. The Urquhart Shale ore body is named for him. The Australian mining consultant William Henry Corbould, who had worked at Mount Isa, went on in 1928 to survey Edie Creek in the Territory of New Guinea, for Urquhart and the Ellyou Goldfields Development Corporation. There resulted the New Guinea Goldfields Ltd. subsidiary of MIM.

Urquhart died in London on 13 March 1933. Urquhart married American-born Beryl da Silva-Bald in 1909; her father was English, her mother from Illinois. The wedding was in London, but the couple went then to Kyshtym, where their first son Kenneth was born the following year. At the end of 1911 Urquhart bought Brasted Place, in Brasted, Kent, England, as a family home, from Henry Avray Tipping. The other children of the marriage were: Ronald, born 1911 in Kyshtym, Ian Andrew, born 1914 at Brasted,  Neil Roy Leslie, born 1915 and  Jean Leslie, born 1919, who married in 1942 William Robert Brudenell.



The KING has been graciously pleased to award the Albert Medal of the First Class to Mr. Leslie Urquhart, British Vice-Consul at Baku, for conspicuous gallantry in saving the lives of four British workmen who, in September last, during the outbreak which occasioned serious losses to the Petroleum Industry at Baku, were surrounded by the insurgents in an isolated position at Balachani Zabrat and were in imminent danger of losing their lives, a fate which shortly after their rescue befell all the persons remaining in the buildings where they had been shut up. The four Englishmen had already been isolated for some time when news of their perilous position reached the British Embassy at St. Petersburg, and Mr. Urquhart, accompanied by two Cossacks and several Tartars from the village of Mushtagee, started to relieve the beleaguered men. The district was full of armed Tartars, and in such a state of unrest that when Mr. Urquhart started upon his expedition it was not expected by the remainder of the British Colony in Baku that he would live to return. On the night of his departure Mr. Urquhart proceeded to a farm which he possessed in the neighbourhood, where he hoped to be able to get help from his own farm hands, who were Tartars, and also to collect supplies, and notwithstanding that the party was stopped and fired on from time to time the supplies were collected and a start was made early the next morning for Balachani. Mr. Urquhart’s courageous and spontaneous action was rewarded with success. He got through and found the four Englishmen in a dreadful condition, especially on account of want of water, and after feeding them he persuaded them to go with him in carts which he had brought, with as many Armenians as they could bring with them. Immediately afterwards the whole of the buildings were carried by storm and everyone found therein put to death.