09 October 2021

The Comerford-Kneen family
and a genealogical search
that begins in Alexandria

The Obelisk in Alexandria in the early 20th century … the Comerford-Kneen family lived in Alexandria for four or five generations (William Henry Goodyear, Brooklyn Museum Archives)

Patrick Comerford

I recently came across the story of a branch of the Comerford family that passed on the Comerford name to a family that lived in Alexandria in Egypt for four or five generation in the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.

It is a story that begins with a marriage in Limassol in Cyprus in 1882, and that brings the Comerford name to Alexandria and Cairo in Egypt, Limassol in Cyprus, Kavala and Thessaloniki in northern Greece, Nairobi in Kenya and to Mexico City and Australia. There are hints of minor aristocracy in Croatia and Slovenia, of descent from families in Romania and Lebanon, and of Egyptian, Syrian, Maltese and Jewish heritage. But it also involves places from the Isle of Man to Liverpool and through many parts of England.

It is a family whose story has inspired the Australian writer Krissy Kneen in her semi-biographical stories of Slovene women who became the nannies of choice for the wealthy Italians of pre-war Alexandria in The Three Burials of Lotty Kneen: Travels with My Grandmother’s Ashes, a new book published earlier this year (May 2021).

I am still researching this story of the Comerford and Comerford-Kneen family, and I remain uncertain of many of the genealogical details. But it begins with Helen Pauline Comerford who is in Limassol when she marries John Bernard Kneen from Liverpool who is living in Liverpool in 1882, and I thought it was worth sharing some of my research at this stage.

John Bernard Kneen (1841-1894) was born in Liverpool on 9 December 1841, the son of William Kneen (1813-1891), originally from the Isle of Man, and his wife, Jane Rowan (1821-1885). Kneen was married twice. He married his first wife, Sarah Ann Blunn, in Sheffield in 1864. They soon moved to Alexandria, Egypt, where they were living by 1867. He worked in Alexandria as a ‘foreign correspondent.’

Sarah and John Kneen were the parents of four children:

1, John William Kneen (1867-1870), born in Alexandria 1867, died in Liverpool 31 May 1870.
2, Amy (1868-1895), born in Alexandria ca 1868, died 1895.
3, Edith (1873- ), born in Alexandria ca 1873.
4, Edward Justin Kneen (1878-1933), born in Alexandria ca 1878.

Sarah Kneen died in Alexandria on 16 November 1881.

John Kneen married his second wife, Helen Pauline Comerford, in Limassol, Cyprus on 14 April 1882. She was born in Alexandria in 1861 and they were the parents of six children, four sons and two daughters:

1, John Albert Comerford-Kneen (1881-1931), of whom next.
2, Paul Bernard Comerford-Kneen (1884-1930), of whom after his eldest brother.
3, Hilda Helen Kneen (1881-1931). She was born in Alexandria 11 January 1888, and was married twice: firstly in Alexandria in 1908 William F Draycott, and they were the parents of a son, William DJBA Draycott (1921- ), born in Alexandria 1921, later married twice in England; Hilda married secondly in Alexandria in 1933 Percy George Crosbye Farrell (1896-1990), and they later lived in Chersey, Surrey.
4, Henry (Harry) Philip Kneen (1889-1963), of whom after his elder brothers.
5, Victor Comerford-Kneen (1892-1953), of whom after his elder brothers.
6, Gladys Mary Comerford-Kneen (1893-1973). She was born in Alexandria 1 June 1893, was married, and died in Leicester in March 1973.

John Bernard Kneen died in Alexandria on 10 January 1894. The eldest son of Helen (Comerford) and John Bernard Kneen was:

John Albert Comerford-Kneen (1881-1931). He was born in Alexandria 16 November 1881. He married Georgiana Naoum-Cassir (1895-1960) in Alexandria in 1913. He died in Alexandria in 1931; she died in Sussex on 3 March 1960. They were the parents of three sons:

1, Charles Albert Comerford Kneen. He was born in Aleaxandria and lived in Egypt (1939), Blacktown, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia (1963-post 1980). He married Dragitca (Dragica) Marušič, born in Miren, near Nova Gorica or Gorizia in Slovenia, 13 December 1916, daughter of Perina and Carlotta (née Mozetic) Marusic. He worked at the British Embassy in Cairo. They fled Alexandria in the aftermath of the 1956 Suez Crisis with other expatriates, and lived in England before moving to Australia. In Australia, Dragitca was known as Lotty Kneen, and died in 2014. They were the parents of two daughters: Sheila; and Wendy, who is the mother of the Australian writer Krissy Kneen.
2, Wilfred J (Bunny) Comerford-Kneen (1920-2010). He was born in Alexandria on 5 March 1920, and died in Worthing on 19 October 2010. He was married twice: first in Cairo in 1946; secondly in Fulham in 1958 to June Rosemary Smythe (1934-2011). There are surviving children.
3, John Anthony (Jackie) Comerford-Kneen (1928-1982). He was born in Alexandria on 8 May 1928, and died in Crawley, Sussex, in June 1982. In March 1961, he married in Horsham, Sussex, Ansley M (Mollie) Summerfield (1933-2005).

The second son of Helen (Comerford) and John Bernard Kneen was:

Paul Bernard Comerford-Kneen (1884-1930). He was born in Alexandria in 1884. He worked as a quarantine officer with the Egyptian government. He married in Alexandria in 1908 Edith Ellen Mabel Elsie Draycott (1889-1966). She was born in Cyprus on 14 November 1889, and died in Ormskirk, Lancashire, on 20 March 1966; he died in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, in March 1930. They were the parents of two children, a daughter and a son:

1, Helen Alice Pauline Comerford-Kneen (1910-1976), of whom next.
2, John Bernard Paul Kneen (1912-1937), born Alexandria, born 3 September 1912, died in Alexandria 28 October 1937.

The Comerford name was continued among the children of the only daughter and only surviving child of Edith and Paul Comerford-Kneen:

Helen Alice Pauline Comerford-Kneen (1910-1976). She was born in Alexandria on 12 June 1914, and died in Norwich in December 1976. She was married twice. She married first in Alexandria on 12 January 1935 Paul P de Relya (1912-1981), also known as Paul Ivo Ritter von Relya Ohmucevic (or Reglia von Ohmucevic). He was born in Kavala, east of Thessaloniki in northern Greece, on 2 October 1912, into a family of Croatian ancestry, and died in Hounslow in December 1981. They later moved to Liverpool and were the parents of six children, three daughters and three sons:

1, Patricia Paul Alice Ivana von Relya Ohmucevic (or Reglia von Ohmucevic) (1935-1937), born Alexandria 28 November 1935, died 25 September 1937.
2, Pavo (Paul) Patrick Denis Cyril Reglia von Ohmucevic (or de Relya) (1938-1970), travel consultant, born Alexandria 21 July 1938, died in a car accident in Mexico 7 March 1970.
3, Dalice (Dalys) Paule Roxellane Marguerite Patricia John Ma de Relya, born Liverpool 13 March 1948, married in Liverpool December 1973.
4, Mark Godfrey Patrick de Comerford von Kesmark (1949-2019), born 17 March 1949, lived in Norfolk from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, and from 2017; died in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, 7 February 2019.
5, Michael Anthony Ernest Sebastian Paul Dereyla d’Ohmucevic, born Liverpool 10 July 1973.
6, Ann.

Helen Alice Pauline Comerford-Kneen married secondly Ernest Wilson (1924-1999), a former flying officer in the Royal Air Force. She died in Norwich in December 1976.

The third son and fourth child of Helen (Comerford) and John Bernard Kneen was:

Henry (Harry) Philip Kneen (1889-1963) was born Alexandria 1889. He married in Alexandria in 1913 Elvira Katherine Varzon (1893-1996). She was born 14 September 1893, and died in Milton Keynes in October 1966; he died in Leicester 24 July 1963. They were the parents of one son:

1, Herbert George Kneen (1917-2011), born Alexandria 19 December 1917, married in Alexandria 1948 Blanche Simone Daoud (1925-2006). She died in 2006; he lived in Milton Keynes and died in Nuneaton 17 December 2011. They were the parents of one child.

The fourth and youngest son and fifth child of Helen (Comerford) and John Bernard Kneen was:

Victor Comerford-Kneen (1892-1953). He was born in Alexandria in 1892, and was married twice. He married firstly in Alexandria on 8 November 1913 Victoria Mallia and they were the parents of:

1, Gerald Denys Kneen (1932-1995). He was born in Alexandria 15 November 1932, and died in Thanet, Kent in June 1995.

Victor Comerford-Kneen married a second time before he died in Nairobi, Kenya, on 20 June 1953.

Last updated: 4 June 2022; 20 April 2023.

‘A good Bill, but not the best … at
the moment, it’s the best we can get’

Patrick Comerford

I am quoted in the Church Times this weekend in its report on the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, held over three days last weekend:

Church of Ireland Synod: Overwhelming support for smaller synodical Houses

By Pat Ashworth

HELD via Zoom for a second time, and spread over six short sessions on two-and-a-half days, this was never going to be a Synod that set the world on fire. But it was a patient and meticulous working-through of essential business and receiving of reports.

Every vote was swiftly conducted by a simple majority, although the Bishop of Cashel, Ferns & Ossory, the Rt Revd Michael Burrows, who presided over the passage of five Bills, confessed: “I wish I could say Ayes to the Right and Noes to the left: I do miss the joyful shouting that makes it fun.”

The first Bill was designed to reduce membership of the Synod in two phases, from its current 624 members to 597 in the triennium 2024-26, and then to 534 in 2027-32. The present figure is largely unchanged since the Synod was established in 1870, when it was based on one clerical member for every ten priests, and two lay members for every clerical member. There was one modification in 1969, when two dioceses merged.

The change will mean that representation will be based on the numbers of cures in a diocese, but with an allowance for additional places to be awarded on a sliding scale of one to 12, with one additional place given to the numerically strongest diocese in terms of cures, and 12 to the numerically smallest diocese. Neither Province should have two-thirds or more of total representation, and representation will be reviewed every three triennia.

Proposing the Bill, Ken Gibson (Connor) asked for recognition that previous diocesan mergers had, “through no fault of their own”, left certain dioceses with over-representation. He spoke of the importance of ensuring “that the voice of the marginalised, the weak, the remote, the minority, and so on can be heard at General Synod. If Synod were based solely on numbers, the voice of the rural or, indeed, the inner-city church could be permanently under-represented and never heard.

“We must have a General Synod that is of a size that is manageable, encourages participation, but is not so small as to mitigate against regular turnover of members.” A model based solely on the number of cures was proposed in 2018, and was rejected, because it was deemed unfair to marginal voices (News, 18 May 2018). There were few detractors in the unexpectedly short debate that followed: the Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd John McDowell, had expected it to be a longer affair, and had moved it to a bigger time slot than scheduled.

Jocelyn Sanders (Killaloe) feared for the future of the Church of Ireland if the Bill was passed. He urged reducing numbers by a simple proportional reduction in diocesan membership, and, perceiving “a sharp divide of churchmanship” between the more Evangelical Northern and the more liberal Southern Provinces, feared that the Bill would “encourage those seeking to impose their party doctrine on the whole Church”.

This was firmly rebutted by the Dean of Cork, the Very Revd Nigel Dunne, who found Mr Sanders’s language and generalisation “most unhelpful”. Churchmanship was not as clear-cut as that: “There is a huge range here in this diocese, but we do it as a unit, and respect each other for it,” he said. Discussion had been intense, open and honest, well balanced, and fair to the two dioceses about to amalgamate: Tuam, Killala & Achonry, and Limerick & Killaloe.

Patricia Barker (Dublin) commended the thinking behind the proposal as sound, but thought it under-ambitious. Representation was still large: she recommended double-cutting. Canon Patrick Comerford (Limerick & Killaloe) described it as “a good Bill, but not the best”, one that threatened “turning us into a congregationalist rather than an episcopal Church. Limerick will lose in the long run, but at the moment, it’s the best we can get.”

The Synod voted in favour of the Bill by 289- 7. Bishop Burrows recalled first discussion of this in 1998, and described the Synod’s acceptance as “the final consensual result of improvements and journeying together”. The Bishop of Cork, Dr Paul Cotton, saw the endorsement of the Bill as a sign of encouragement that “things can change in the Church of Ireland. Change may be slow, but it does happen. It’s good. It’s progress.”

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
133, Santa Maria (Nerantze Mosque), Rethymnon

When the former Santa Maria Church became the Nerantze Mosque or Gazi Hussein Mosque, the domes and minaret were added (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before the day gets busy, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme for these few weeks is churches in Rethymnon on the island of Crete, where I spent two weeks last month.

My photographs this morning (9 October 2021) are from the Church of Santa Maria in the old town of Rethymnon, which became the Nerantze Mosque during the years of Ottoman rule.

The former Santa Maria Church and Nerantze Mosque glimpsed through the streets of the old town of Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Nerantze Mosque or Gazi Hussein Mosque is on the corner of Ethnikis Antistaseos and Vernardou streets, and faces onto what was once the grand Venetian piazza of the old city.

In Venetian times, this was the Church of Santa Maria. It was built in the style of Saint Mark’s in Venice and faced a large open piazza that included a clock tower, fountains and public buildings.

Santa Maria was originally built in the Venetian period as the church of an Augustinian Priory. But only the east and north side of the original building survive.

The east side has round windows, while the elaborate entrance on the north side, which provides a glimpse of the original splendour of the church, has two tall narrow windows, similar to those in the nearby Saint Francis Church, and a monumental doorway whose design may have been inspired by Roman triumphal arches. The wide entrance is flanked by a pair of columns with Corinthian capitals.

Inside the church, the floor plan is square. During the Turkish era, the original peaked and tiled Venetian roof was replaced by three small domes.

When the town fell to the Turks in 1657, the church was converted into a mosque by Gazi Huseyin Pasha, and three domes were added to the building although it retained its original elaborate entrance. This became the largest mosque in Rethymnon, and in 1890, shortly before Crete became an autonomous state, work began on building the tallest minaret in the town.

After the Turks left Crete, the mosque was reconsecrated as a church in 1925 with a dedication to Saint Nicholas. However, it was seldom if ever used as a church, and for many years housed a Music School.

Now known as the Municipal Odeon, it is a venue for lectures, concerts and theatre performances, and is sometimes open to the public. The minaret has been restored in recent years.

To the west of the church is the shell of the Corpus Christi Chapel, with a Renaissance doorway. This small church, was built at the expense of the sisters Anna and Maria Muazzo, from a well-known Venetian family in Rethymnon whose name survives in the name of a boutique hotel nearby.

When the town fell to the Turks in 1657, the Chapel of Corpus Christi was turned into a library and was also used as a madrassa or Islamic religious school.

Behind the former church, the Nerantze mosque faces onto Mikrasiaton Square (Πλατεία Μικρασιατών), which has been transformed into the biggest square in the heart of the Old Town. Its name recalls the refugees from Asia Minor, who were known as Μικρασιάτες or Mikrasiates, people from Minor Asia. The former Turkish primary school on the square was founded in 1796 and still operates as a primary school today.

Inside the former church or mosque (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 11: 27-28 (NRSVA):

27 While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!’ 28 But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!’

The former church doorway of the Santa Maria Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (9 October 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for peace in the Philippines. May communities across the country live alongside each other harmoniously and combat all forms of persecution.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Corpus Christi Chapel, beside the Nerantze Mosque (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The former Turkish primary school on Mikrasiaton Square still operates as a primary school today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)