Charles Gricoli -the plot thickens

There is no question about Charles Russian ancestry but how to prove it?

First time I have heard about British Child Migration Scheme was five years ago.  My kids were still little and we visited the Maritime museum in Sydney during the school holidays.  There was an exposition in place on British child migrants.  I remember feeling emotional about learning the fate of these kids and seeing the photographs and memorabilia.  Little I knew that this event will ring a bell again.  This time with a young Russian boy, Charles Gricoli, who was part of this unpleasant for Australia history.

Charles was born around 1907.  Then the war came.

One day in 1918 on returning home from school Charles found his mother lying dead on the door-murdered by Germans, he thinks. Was it Turks? His life was spared for the first time. Homeless for 6 months Charles stumbled upon batman Frederick Felks, of British force who went to aid the White Russians during the revolution.  Mr. Felks was eventually given an official permission for the boy to stay with his unit.

”British army picked him up in Tiflis Georgia at his estate. Only about 12 years of age he was adrift in Russia, without money and clothes, and was starving. He travelled the vast areas of Russia with the British Army, and was an eye-witness of many atrocities while the Germans were in occupation.   Eventually an English officer made Gricoli his personal servant.”

Charles travelled with this English officer through Europe and from Black sea to Africa and Asia on a British warship.  Charles visited Constantinople, Malta, Gibraltar, Egypt and finally arrived to England. When the war finished, unwanted in a peaceful time, Charles was given away and found shelter in Barnardo Homes in England.  By that time he has a perfect command of an English language.  He was a ”debonair youth, fat chicks and brown-skinned with big brown dark eyes”.

Barnardos’ official Immigration Scheme

Here I have to give a bit of introduction to those who know nothing about Barnardos’ official Immigration Scheme which began in 1920.

A group of businessmen whose common aim was to fill Australia with a million farms worked by a million British migrant settlers urged the board of Dr Barnardos in London to ‘send the boys here … you’ll find we’ll treat you right royally’.  The first party of 47 boys left the United Kingdom for Australia in 1921.  There were few properties which became a place of temporary residence and as a convalescent home for young boys and girls upon their arrival in Australia.  However, there were so many controversies:  The first big hurt for those children was the rejection. They couldn’t understand what they had done that was so wrong that their own country didn’t want them. They were promised that loving families were waiting to adopt them but they were delivered into institutionalized abuse. Very few were adopted or fostered.  The whole system was based on lies.” [1]

 They were children forced into hard labour; being punished for being born without hope. And punished again if they protested.

Thus In February 1923 a group of 50 young boys arrived to Australia.  Amongst them Charles Gricoli who ”resolved to come here when opportunity offered”.   The boy’s name would never suggest Russian origin.  It was probably given to Charles by an English officer, who temporarily adopted the boy.  His original name was Shalva Gigolashvili (as recorded in newspapers).

Life in Australia

The newspapers called Charles the luckiest lad on the ship.  While In Melbourne a wealthy Russian saw Charles’s photograph in “The Sun Pictorial” and expressed a wish to adopt him.  ”Charles said he would be pleased to live with a Russian family, as he had almost forgotten the Russian language.”

However, as his Naturalisation records state, he was in Barnardo’s care until he ”attained the majority” in 1926.  He then met the fate of other boys from the ship who were sent to Searborough Home and awaited an unknown future.

Then I lost track of Charles.  He disappears from newspapers view and does not appear in any Electoral Rolls.  No records were found on either. I learned that National Library of NSW has a fund with personal files of all Barbardo Homes kids.  It is possible to request his file but you need to get the permission from Barnardos.  And I do not have that.  I do not despair.  I continue searching for him in Trove using name variations.  I decided to use his first original name -Shalva, hoping that sometime in his later life he would use it.  Who knows?  And he did. I find him.

He became known as Shalva Zakharoff.  Married to Margo Stathopoulos in November 1929 at Randwick, divorced in 1939.  He had daughter Yvonne born 13 August 1933.  Married for the second time in 1942 to Inez Dorothy Grainger in North Sydney.  By 1954 he is facing bankruptcy.

Now I know that within 5 years of arriving to Australia Charles aka Shalva became a taxi owner and driver.  He appears in newspapers again.  This time in an accident where he behaves as a ”humanity driver” showing his good human nature, an incident where he ”was driving three men …one struck him with a hard instrument” and ”was shot at by a man who refused to pay his fare” and various driving related claims.

In 1956 Shalva meets Mr Felks in London first time after 33 years. He’s never forgotten the batman’s help. By 1968 he wrote a book “Testing tracks” and applied for Copyright. He still lives at Randwick.

When did he die?  I do not know. NSW records only allow to see death records until 1985.  He probably died later.

Russian ancestry research

The newspapers also give few clues about his parents.  They mention that Charles had an aristocratic upbringing.  He played with little princes and princes on his parents estates.  His parents were pride of Russian nobility.

“His father was a leading man amongst the Ossetians, one of the more numerous of the people inhabiting the beautiful Russian Caucasus, and his mother was a Russian.  The family was living happily at Tiflis when the war broke out. The father, an officer in the Russian army, went to the front, and was killed while serving with General Diderichs’ Russian force north of Salonika. “

Since learning his new adopted surname I look him up in National archives of Australia.  He is known to Australian government as Gigolashvili Shalikl and was born in Gori on 1 September 1905.  He was naturalized on 22 January 1941.  His father’s name was Nicholas son of Zaharia, ie Nikolai Zaharyevich Gigolashvili.

The change of surname is justified due to ”father’s name was changed by Government order by assuming fresh duties and Chalva’s brother, Dimitri, who served in British Intelligence Department died under the new name as well”.

Conspiracy begins.  Next page is the copy of translation of the original birth certificate (which is not attached to the file).  Now I am confused.  I wonder how the copy of the certificate was obtained and when.  I doubt that the boy had it with him when he knocked on window of the building where Mr Felks was located in 1918 in Russia.

 Charles was born Shalva on 5 September 1905 to farmer Nicholai Zahariew son of Gigolashwili , his mother was Sofia Avrashovna, both living at place Bieti in Gori region.

 Where is the nobility?  Can I trust the translation?  Was the nobility story imagined by newspapers to create the attention? The plot thickens.  To be continued…



[1] Read more: 

DEATH CHEATED. (1923, March 3). Western Star and Roma Advertiser (Toowoomba, Qld. : 1875 – 1948), p. 7. Retrieved January 20, 2016, from

WAR ORPHAN. (1923, February 9). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 8. Retrieved January 20, 2016,

TRAGIC CYCLE. (1923, February 8). Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931), p. 7. Retrieved January 20, 2016, from

The beggar and the batman. (1956, June 11). The Argus(Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 3. Retrieved January 20, 2016, from

TAXI DRIVER’S HUMANITY. (1935, February 18). The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), p. 13 Edition: LATE CITY. Retrieved January 20, 2016, from

National Archives of Australia -NAA: A714, 11/5376 and NAA: A659, 1940/1/6858

6 thoughts on “Charles Gricoli -the plot thickens

  1. Maria Reply

    These children were known as Barnardos children and were sent all over the world, but mainly Commonwealth Countries – Canada, Australia and New Zealand and South Africa. They were mainly sent to farming families to learn a trade (this was the idea originally) and many were to go on and lead happy successful lives.

    In further tracing of this young many of Russian descent, you could try contacting Barnardos UK and Australia. It is my experience they carry excellent records and are keen to help with such requests for information from the past.

    This is an intriguing story – looking forward to hearing more!

    • Tana Post authorReply

      Hi Maria

      Shalva’s naturalization file had a letter from Barnardos. So now I know what I need. The whole story is creepy. There was no brother mentioned in 1923 when Shalva arrived. And the change of name? The birth certificate translation is not a reliable source. I think it was created just for the purpose of getting naturalization. If anything turns up I will let you know.

      • Michelle Grainger Reply

        Tana, this boy is my father, Charles Zakharoff and my mother is his second wife Inez. Dad died in 1994, in Sydney. I am not quite sure the story you have is correct about his aristocratic upbringing but our family may be able shed further light upon this for you.

        • Tana Post authorReply

          Dear Michelle

          Thanks for replying. This is exactly what I am questioning. This was written in news articles upon his arrival but the birth certificate was telling me a different story. It will be great to put the pieces together. I have found his story very interesting and will contact you shortly. Thanks again

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.