FROM MADRAS TO SURBITON. ALEXANDER RAPHAEL, UNBEATEN CHAMPION, 1775-1850
Alexander Raphael was born in Madras, modern-day Chennai, India, in 1775, the second child, and first-born son, of Edward Raphael Gharamiants and Maria Stephana Manuel, of Armenian heritage. He received Catholic baptism shortly after birth and there was no evidence that he was of Jewish descent or was a Jewish convert to Catholicism, as has been reported previously. He was fluent in several languages and much travelled. His father, Edward Raphael, sailed to England in 1791 and died on the voyage under mysterious circumstances. While it was reported previously that his children sailed with him, no evidence was found to support this and the exact date of their arrival in England was not discovered. In his will, made in 1791, Edward Raphael appointed Edmund Boehm, a well-connected East India agent resident in England, as one of his executors and guardians of his children. Possibly, Boehm, or Father Nicholas Pusani, a Catholic priest employed by Edward Raphael as a tutor, supervised the young Alexander Raphael and his brother John when they arrived in England.
Alexander Raphael was “known to be a man of almost unbounded wealth”. He was left a considerable legacy by his father, owned much property and had business interests. He was a great philanthropist who built St. Raphael’s Catholic Church in Kingston upon Thames, which opened on 1 September 1850, and a church for Catholic worship in St. Albans that later was purchased for Anglican use. He contributed funds to The Moorat-Raphael College for the education of Armenian boys and an Armenian monastery; both in Venice. He purchased the college at Prior Park, near Bath, and made it available for Catholic use at nominal rent. Furthermore, he supported numerous non-Catholic charities in England.
Between 1812 and 1850, Alexander Raphael sought to achieve public office, in particular as an MP. His involvement with Daniel O’Connell in the disallowed County Carlow election of 1835 probably was a setback to his public career objectives. However, in 1847, aged 72, he was elected MP for St. Albans on Whig principles. He experienced anti-Catholic prejudice, which may have been detrimental to him. While he may have been exposed to anti-Semitism, especially from Ireland, because of a mistaken belief that he was Jewish or of Jewish descent, there was no evidence that this was troublesome to him.
In 1850, Alexander Raphael was appointed a Knight of the Order of St. Sylvester by Pope Pius IX. He died intestate, aged 74, on 17 November of that year at his country seat, Surbiton Hall in what was then Surrey. The Rev. Dr. John Maguire, Vicar General, administered the last rites to him. Thus, the Catholic hierarchy held Alexander Raphael in very high regard. He was buried in the crypt of St. Raphael’s Church in Kingston. But earlier, at the age of 41, he had planned to be buried in the Armenian monastery church on the island of San Lazzaro in the Venetian lagoon.
The surname Gharamiants was derived from a Persian word meaning “unbeaten champion”. The evidence indicated that overall Alexander Raphael battled for the causes that he believed in and was indeed an unbeaten champion when he died.