A life full of surprises – Klatchko/Klyachko/Клячко

The name of Michael Emmanuilovich Klyachko (Михаил Эммануилович Клячко) was familiar to me through the database of Russian Anzacs.  His arrival to Australia and participation in World War I took place under interesting circumstances.

Destination Australia

Dr. Klatchko (as he was known in Australia) came from a family with medical skills and ambitions.  In Russia he was a dentist who had an opportunity to travel to many countries.  His last visit before the WWI was to England.

“I went to London,” he said “and while there received orders to proceed to Japan.  I embarked at Southampton on a German boat-the Lutzov-and started on my way. But war broke out, and I being a Russian, was made a prisoner on the boat for 22 days.”- The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 September 1916

Michael was liberated by British ships travelling to Alexandria and landed in Egypt.  In accordance with instructions from the Russian Imperial headquarters he reported at the British headquarters, where he offered his medical services as plastic surgeon on head injuries.  The rest of the war was spent in British and Australian hospitals at Gallipoli.

Michael, being an educated person , and now with links in Australian Army, was an important asset to Russia.  After the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1917 he was attached to the Consul General for Russia in Melbourne.

He also became a person of interest in an Australian society.  “Prince of entertainers” , as he was called by the newspapers, was tall, brown-eyed, well proportioned and handsome man, with dark, close-cropped hair, short moustache, and clear fresh complexion.  Michael was a vivacious talker, and although his English was sometimes a little difficult to understand, he was not embarrassed.  He spoke French fluently.

It did not take him long to marry an Australian girl, Miss Phyllis Duckett.

”The marriage of Miss Phyllis Duckett with Dr. Klatchko of Petrograd was quietly celebrated on 20th December 1917. They are leaving for Japan by the Aki Maru on Friday from Sydney, …. and will travel the East and America before settling in Russia” -Punch (Melbourne), 3 January 1918

After Michael married Phyllis the newly weds travelled to Japan.  Few years later they were forced to flee to Shanghai, where Dr. Klyachko, was the head of the Shanghai Dental Clinic for many years.

Following Phyllis’s death in 1936, their daughter, Masha, joined her father in Shanghai. She was interned in a Japanese prison camp from 1942-44 for refusing to renounce her Australian citizenship.  Masha married an American aviator in 1946. In 1947, she returned to Shanghai, urging her father to leave China in the face of Communist postwar advances. Dr. Klyachko eventually relocated to Hong Kong, where he lived until his death in 1968.

Life in Russia

But it all began in Russia.

Michael was born in St Petersburg on 3 May 1883.  He participated in the Manchurian campaign and the Russo-Japanese war of 1905-1907, according to Australian newspaper interviews.  In 1912 St Petersburg address book he is listed as a dentist who was living at St Petersburg, Zagorodniy 21 and was attending Vongl-Swiderskaya courses.

Second dentistry school in St Petersburg was opened as a private post-graduate school on 25 September 1893 by Elena Frantsevna Vongl-Swiderski (Nevsky prospekt 26, apartment 20). At this school, from 1 June 1894 (during summer only) were open theoretical and practical courses for doctors and dentists on subjects about dentistry and prosthetic technique.

This prompted me to test St Petersburg archive’s electronic database.  The descendants of Michael will be happy to hear that the St Petersburg archive has a collection of files for these courses for the period 1907-1917 – ”City’s doctors governance” Fund 212, inventory 217.

Not much is known of Michael’s family, but bit by bit and article after article I was able to discover his family connections and relationships.

Based on his patronymic name his father was Emmanuil and the family was from St Petersburg.  I turn to address books for this town and find Klyachko family.

In the book for 1912 I find Michael’s brother -Mark Emannuilovich Klyachko, who was living at Yamskaya 31 and was a Board Chairman of savings and loan associations for craft trades.  Based on ‘‘Dom Museum of Marina Tsvetaeva” database (refer to sources) Mark was a Doctor of Medicine (therapist) and publisher.  He finished medical faculty at Moscow university and later in St Petersburg published a newspaper “Theatre and life”.  After the Revolution of 1917 Mark migrated to France where he opened a medical therapy room in Billancourt and practiced a new treatment «Herbo-Thérapie» based on medicinal plants.  He died in Paris in 1935 and left 4 kids: Emilia/Mila (wife of Andrey Barsak), Pavel (1904-1975, Paris) artist caricaturist, Marusya, whose portrait was done by Leon Bakst, and Berta.

Michail also had few sisters.  Based on Northern Star article in 1924, ”one of his sisters was shot dead in the streets of Petrograd because she was carrying food to her family”.  The rest of the family died from disease and starvation.

Golovin’s collection

But this is not the end, at least not in Michael’s life story.

Few weeks into my research I came across a website about the story of remarkable collection of Golovin’s sketches for the Mariinsky production of Stravinsky opera.  This collection journeyed from Revolutionary St Petersburg to Berlin, disappeared for nearly half a century and emerged in Hong Kong in 1969, in the Peninsula Hotel apartment of Dr. Michael Klatchko.

The main question asked by the family is why it was with Michael and how he got hold of it?  Michael left Russia during the World War 1 and never returned there.

Here is the possibility.

It is a known fact that Mark Klyachko was married to Sofia, Leon Bakst’s sister.  And Leon Bakst is the legendary designer of many Ballet Russes productions.  The families were so close that Mark’s kids were brought up in Bakst’s family and were the recipients of Leon’s estate after his death in 1924.

Many records state that Michael’s brother Mark migrated to France where he died in 1935, but his journey there was longer.  From the interview Phyllis Klatchko gave to Northern Star on 8 May 1924 (on her return) she was ”in Vladivostok with her husband…..They were forced to flee, two years ago to Shanghai….and only one, a brother who escaped across Siberia and joined Dr. Klatchko in Vladivostok, is now alive. ”  She is definitely talking about Mark.

I presume Vladivostok was the point of exchange and Mark was more than happy to pass the collection to his brother for safekeeping.  Mark stayed in East for few more years before travelling to France.  His name appears in 1926 book ”All Harbin”.

What’s next? Any more connections and collections?



Back from Russia – Northern Star (Lismore, NSW) 8 May 1924

A Russian Doctor – The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 September 1916


Russians in France database -http://www.dommuseum.ru/index.php?m=dist&pid=6417

Портрет Маруси Клячко – http://www.tg-m.ru/catalog/artists/748



1912 St Petersburg address book

Summary of dentistry education in pre-revolutionary Russia


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