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August 15, 2012

Figure 1: Tombeau de la Famille Michel Homsy (The Family Tomb of Michel Homsy) at Saint Pierre Cemetery, Marseille, where the remains of General Ya’qub are finally laid.


The tomb of General Ya’qub ought to be a national pilgrimage destination for all Copts. Great nations pay homage to those who fought for them. It is our national responsibility and duty to maintain Ya’qub’s monument and keep it for future generation.


Many of you, just like me, may be interested in finding about the final resting place of General Ya’qub Hanna,[1] one of our great national heroes. I, therefore, wish to present you with this research, and hope you will find sufficient relevant material in it. Ya’qub was born in 1845 in Mallawi, Egypt. He was appointed Finance Intendant by Napoleon Bonaparte for Desaix’s Upper Egypt Campaign in 1798 in chase of Murad Bey, the fleeing Mameluke chief. In March/April 1800, during the Cairo Revolt II, he defended the Copts against attacks by Turkish troops, Mamelukes, and other anti-Coptic fanatics. After that, he formed the Coptic Legion (Légion copte), and was appointed Colonel and then General in the French Army of the Orient (Armée française de l’Orient), becoming the first non-French General in the history of France.[2] Ya’qub always served with distinction, which was recognised by his enemies and friends alike.[3] When the French withdrew from Egypt under British pressure, Ya’qub left with them.

The French situation in Egypt started to deteriorate in March 1801 when the British troops landed in Abukir to push the French out of Egypt, assisted by Turkish forces. By June, as more British troops were advancing from the south towards Cairo, the situation was dire. The French were divided into a first division, 7,000 strong, led by General Menou[4] in Alexandria, and a second division, 12,000 strong, led by General Belliard,[5] and assisted by General Ya’qub and his Coptic Legion, in Cairo.  Belliard, who was besieged by far superior British troops, realised it was about time to end the struggle, and so dispatched an envoy to the British camp to conclude a peace agreement. The agreement, which was signed by Belliard and the British and Turkish commanders on 27 June 1801, allowed the honourable withdrawal of the French army in Cairo and its transportation to France on British ships. Belliard was keen to safeguard the security of all those who cooperated with the French during their rule. Two specific articles were drawn: Article XII, which guaranteed the freedom of all inhabitants of Egypt, regardless of their religion, to leave with the French, if they so wished, without prejudice to their families or relatives or properties in Egypt; and Article XIII guaranteed the safety of those who had served the French in one way or the other but wished to stay in Egypt.

Many Muslims, including their great sheikhs who cooperated with the French, such as al-Sadat, al-Bakri and al-Jabarti,[6] and several Copts, such as Mu’allem Jirjis al-Jawhari, Mu’allem Malati Yusuf and Mu’allem Anton Abu Taqiya, preferred to stay, and took advantage of Article XIII. It seems that, for as long as the British remained in Egypt (1801 – 1803) the guarantee was respected by the Turks, but as soon as the British left, the Turks returned to their true nature, and targeted Copts.[7]  Ya’qub was a man of different calibre and mentality: despite specific requests by Turk and Mameluke leaders[8]to stay behind, he would not heed the calls, and, instead, had other ideas. Ya’qub wanted to continue his fight against the Ottomans from Europe in order to free Egypt from their yoke as we shall see. As put by Gaston Homsy, Ya’qub felt that “a [true] soldier does not [cannot] abandon his flag”.[9]

The morning of 6 July 1801 witnessed the first detachment of the French army marching out of Cairo with full military honours, and taking with them the coffin that contained the embalmed body of the General Kléber[10]who had been assassinated a year ago on 14 June 1800.Ya’qub, at the head of the Coptic Legion, withdrew first to Roda and Giza; and then embarked at Būlāq,[11] with the rest of the Army of the Orient, upon river crafts that sailed down the Nile and the Rosetta Branch of the Nile Delta, to reach the town of Rosetta (Rashid) on the Mediterranean coast. By the end of July all troops had reached Rashid where British ships under the overall command of Admiral Lord Keith[12] were waiting for them off shore. Six British ships transported between 13,000 and 14,000 individuals, “of all descriptions”, in the words of Lord Keith, from the Bay of Abukir,[13] to the west of Rosetta, across the Mediterranean to Marseille in France, setting sail on  the 4th, 6th and 10th August, 1801.

Figure 2: HMS Pallas Entering Plymouth Harbour by Thomas L. Hornbrook (1780 – 1850). This is a later version of the Pallas upon which Ya’qub embarked from Abukir, and which was broken down in 1803.

Ya’qub embarked upon the British ship “HMS the Pallas”[14] on 10 August 1801[15] with the French General Belliard, his family,[16] many of his Coptic Legion members,[17] and other individuals, including Greek, Syrian and Turkish notables who had collaborated with the French. The Pallas set sail for Marseille, France, taking an indirect route across the Mediterranean, to Cyprus first, then the southern Turkish coast, then Rhodes, until it reached its destination.

Ya’qub was the greatest of all the Egyptian refugees and the undisputed president of the Egyptian Legation, which was formed from residents of Egypt, of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, to work as a loose political organisation and agitate with the European Powers, mainly France and Britain, for the national independence of Egypt from the Ottoman Empire, and to be ruled by its native population, both Copts and Arabs. His design for a free Egypt has been rightly called by historians the “First Egyptian Independence Project”.[18] Unfortunately, General Ya’qub unexpectedly developed a mysterious illness[19] two days after the Pallas had set sail, and, getting increasingly worse, he died four days later on 16 August 1801, while the Pallas was close to the south-eastern corner of Rhodes.[20] Ya’qub’s premature death at the age of 56 was lamented by all on board the ship, a strong attestation to the measure of the man and the extent of his popularity. We can gauge the affection with which General Ya’qub was held by reading Lotfi Nemr’s description of the sad sight as Ya’qub lied mortally ill:[21]

“No scene could be more striking for an artist than this tragic tableau …. A painter would want to capture at once the group as a whole, and the details of the different moral sentiments that animated the onlookers. The variety of feelings can only be imagined – those of the English, the French, the Turks, the Copts, the Greeks, even a number of Italians. Their prayers opened the vault of the heavens for the dying man. Imagine then the despair of his mother, and his sisters, the tears of the beautiful Circassians and Georgians, the shouts of the Coptic and Turkish women, and the innocent composure of a child, his only daughter, still too young to comprehend her loss. Even heaven seemed to want to play its part in the mournful scene, with its far-off thunder and its flashes of lightning.[22]

There is no doubt had General Ya’qub, that extraordinary charismatic, brave and intelligent character, survived, Egypt’s history would have most probably been different, and Egypt might have emerged in the 19th century completely different, and better, from what it later became under the administration of the Albanian Turk, Muhammad Ali Pasha(1805 – 1848). Coptic history in our modern age would most probably have been different too.

Ya’qub was not buried at sea as was the custom. His wife, Marie Name,[23] protested, and the commander of the Pallas, Captain Joseph Edmonds,[24] who recognised the national weight and character of Ya’qub,[25] accepted her wishes for Ya’qub to have a traditional burial in land when the ship reached France,[26] and so his body was preserved in a barrel of rum. When the Pallas eventually reached the port of Marseille on 17 September 1801,[27] all passengers disembarked, but had to be admitted to the Lazaret de Marseille, where they spent forty days in quarantine[28] before they could be discharged to the town of Marseille. And so the body of Ya’qub was kept at the Lazaret until the customary quarantine period ended. Throughout, General Belliard, busied himself with trying to secure appropriate accommodation for the Egyptian refugees once they were discharged from the Lazaret, and also arranging the funerals of General Kléber[29] and General Ya’qub.[30]

Figure 3: The Lazaret de Marseille c. 1850. Lithogram. The artist is unidentified.

And so, on the morning of Sunday, 18 October 1801, the funeral of General Ya’qub was conducted with full military honours as a great leader, who was respected and loved by his followers and friends, and a brave general in the French Army of the Orient. As the cortège[31] emerged from the Lazaret and moved along the streets to the Cemetery of Saint Martin (Cimetière Saint-Martin), which was located to the south of the University of Provence (Université de Provence), the citizens of Marseille crowded the streets to watch one of the most impressive sights in the history of their town.  We have a description of the funeral procession by a French officer called P. Lacroix,[32] who sent, on the following day of the ceremony, a dispatch to his Minister of War:

The troops of the Army of the Orient that marched out of the quarantine yesterday attracted an extraordinary crowd in the streets of Marseille. They were received with interest by the people of this city who could not but admire their military bearing. The grand funeral procession was undertaken to give burial to the remains of General Jacob who died during the crossing [of the Mediterranean]. The Coptic Legion accompanied the covey, along with detachments from every corps, officers of all kinds, and the civil and military authorities. They were followed by the Aga of the Janissaries of Cairo,[33] the brother of Jacob,[34] his nephew,[35] and his slaves.[36]

It is not clear who presided over the religious funeral service, but it is likely that it was another great Copt who accompanied Ya’qub in his departure from Egypt, and who was a member of his Coptic Legion – Yuhanna Chiftichi. Chiftichi was a Coptic priest, soldier, scholar, and an invaluable aid to Jean-François Champollion in his successful efforts to crack the secret of the Egyptian hieroglyphs.[37]


Figure 4: Location of the ancient cemeteries of Saint Martin and Saint Charles in Marseille.

General Ya’qub was buried first in the Saint Martin Cemetery in Marseille on 18 October 1801, as we have already said. On his grave a monument was built. Some years later, this cemetery was closed and General Ya’qub’s remains were transferred to the new Cimetière Saint-Charles (Saint Charles Cemetery). A third, and last removal, occurred in about 1835, when his remains were moved to the Tombeau de la Famille Michel Homsy (Tomb [or Vault][38] of the Family of Michel Homsy) in the Saint Pierre Cemetery (Cimetière Saint-Pierre), Marseille.[39]It is not clear to me what the exact relationship of Michel Homsy to General Ya’qub was, but Georges Reynaud says that Ya’qub was the great grandfather of Michel.[40] It is his family tomb in which the remains of Ya’qub were eventually moved, and which the reader will find a picture of published at the top of this article.



Figure 5: The Cemetery of Saint Pierre (Cimetière Saint-Pierre, 380 Rue Saint-Pierre, Marseille, Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur Region, France. Postal Code: 13005).


Figure 6: The location of Cemetery of Saint Pierre in Marseille (Google Map).

The Cemetery of Saint-Pierre, 380 Rue Saint-Pierre, is the largest cemetery in the city of Marseille, and the third largest in all France, occupying a total of 63 acres of land.[41] It is located not far away from the famed Université d’Aix-Marseille (Aix-Marseille University) a little bit to its east. It is considered a relatively modern cemetery as it was officially opened in 1863 (even though, as we have seen with General Ya’qub’s remains which were moved to it in 1835, it was used for burial even before that). In a cemetery as great as this, one could find many graves of interest – the grave of General Ya’qub should be one of the most interesting, at least to the Copt. Ya’qub’s last resting place must be a national pilgrimage destination for all Coptic visitors to France and Marseille so that they could pay honour to this exceptionally brave man – one of our great national heroes; a man who fought for them and for Egypt; a man to be proud of without any qualms.

How to cite this article: Dioscorus Boles (15 August 2012), THE TOMB OF GENERAL YA’QUB – HERE REST THE REMAINS OF ONE OF OUR GREAT NATIONAL HEROES,

[1] The name of Mu’allem Ya’qub Hanna is written in various references in different forms: Mu’allem is sometimes written as Mu’allem, Moallem, Maa’llem, Mu’allim, Moallim, and Maalem; Ya’qub is written as Yacoub, Ya’qoub, and Jacob; Hanna is written also as Anna.

[2] Ian Coller, Arab France: Islam and the making of modern Europe, 1798 – 1831 (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2009), p. 21.

[3] In the Battle of Ain Al-Qusiyyah (24 December 1798), Ya’qub was presented with a sword of honour by General Desaix. Napoleon Bonaparte, when back in France, sent in May 1801 a letter to Ya’qub, through General Menou, praising his courage. See: George A. Haddad, A Project for the Independence of Egypt, 1801. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 90, No. 2. (Apr. – Jun., 1970), p. 170.

[4] Jacques-François de Menou, baron de Boussay (1750 – 1810). On the assassination of General Kléber on 14 June 1800, Menou succeeded to the command of the French army in Egypt.

[5] Augustin-Daniel Belliard (1769 – 1832), a French general who participated in the Egyptian Expedition, became governor of Upper Egypt after Desaix, and then governor of Cairo before he left Egypt with the withdrawing French army. Whether in Upper Egypt or Cairo, he worked closely with Ya’qub.

[6] Sheikhs Shams al-Din al-Sadat, Sayyid Khalil al-Bakri, and Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti (the famous Somali-Egyptian historian of the period) are just a few of the leading Muslim clerics who collaborated with the French, and were members of the divans established by the French.

[7] For instance, after the British left Egypt in 1803, the Turkish authorities executed Mu’allem Anton Abu Taqiya.

[8] See n. 19.

[9] Quoted by George A. Haddad in his A Project for the Independence of Egypt, 1801, p. 171.

[10] Jean Baptiste Kléber (1753 – 1800), a French general who accompanied Napoleon in his Expedition in Egypt in 1798, and when Napoleon left to France on 23 August 1799 Kléber succeeded in the command of the French Army. He was assassinated in Cairo on 14 June 1800.

[11] Būlāq(also, Bulak and Boulac) is the northwestern district of Cairo. It is situated on the Nile and functioned as a major port suburb before the city of Cairo expanded to engulf it. Encyclopedia Britannica.

[12] George Keith Elphinstone, 1st Viscount Keith (1746 – 1823).

[13] Abokir (Abuokir/Abu Qir) Bay is a long coastal indentation stretching from the village of Abukir in the west to the town of Rosetta (Rashid) at the top of the Rosetta branch of the Nile in the delta – some 20 miles stretch.

[14] The UK has had seven Royal Navy ships called HMS Pallas. The one we are talking about in this context is the third Pallas, which was a 38 gun fifth rate frigate. It was launched in 1780 as HMS Minerva, but when it was converted to a troopship in 1798 it was renamed HMS Pallas. Its propulsion was via sail, and its rough dimensions were: 43 m (length), 12 m (beam), 4 m (depth of hold). She was broken up in 1803. See J. J. Colledge and Ben Warlow, Ships of the Royal Navy: A Complete Record of All Fighting Ships from the 15th Century to the Present (London, 1969).

[15] Most references give the 10th August, 1801 as the day on which the Pallas set sail for Marseille from Abukir, taking on board Ya’qub, and the rest; however, Georges Spilmann says that the ship set sail on 13 August 1801 from Damietta! [See: Georges Spillmann, Les auxiliaires de l’Armée d’Orient (1798-1801). La création de corps auxiliaires égyptiens et syriens. Revue du Souvenir Napoléonien, no. 304, mars 1979, pages 7-15]. There can be no doubt that the ship on which Ya’qub and his followers embarked set sail from Abukir on the 10th of August 1801. In a letter by Lord Keith to his superior Evan Nepean, who was secretary to the Board of Admiralty from 1795 – 1804, dated 27 August 1801, and written off Alexandria, we read: “Sir, My Letter of the 5th Instant acquainted you, for the Information of their Lordships, that the Embarkation of General Belliard’s Corps was carrying into Execution with all possible Dispatch; but, on account of the Difficulty of getting forward the immense Quantity of Baggage that they brought with them from Cairo,  the Operation was protracted till the 8th. The Ships of War, as well as the Transports, however, were directed to proceed by Divisions. The Braakel, with the First Division, sailed on the 4th; the Inflexible, Dolphin, and Ulysses, with the Second, on the 6th; and the Experiment and Pallas, with the Last, on the 10th, carrying with them between Thirteen and Fourteen Thousand Individuals of all Descriptions.” The letter was published in The London Gazette (15427. 14 November 1801 Issue p. 1371).

[16] Ya’qub’s wife (Maryam Ni’mat-Allah Babtshi; known in French records as Marie Name), his mother (Mary Ghazala), his daughter (Minna), his brother (Hnein Hanna), his nephew, son of his elder sister Thecla (Gabriel Sidarus), his wife’s nephews (Michel and Faraj Couri or Khouri), Lotfi Nemr, Yusuf al-Hamwi, the Agoubs, and Nicolas and Georges Sakakini. For this, see the following references: Gaston Homsy, Le général Jacob et l’expedition de Bonaparte en Égypte, 1798 – 1801 (Marseille, Les Éditions indépendantes, 1921); Kamel Salih Nakhla, Silsilat Tarikh al-Batarika, Part 5, 1718 – 1906 AD, p. 80 (Dair al-Siryan, Egypt, 2001); Georges Spillmann, Les auxiliaires de l’Armée d’Orient (1798-1801). La création de corps auxiliaires égyptiens et syriens. Revue du Souvenir Napoléonien, no. 304, mars 1979, pages 7-15.

[17] One has to mention here some of the members of the Coptic Legion who distinguished themselves, and are mentioned in The Coptic Encyclopedia (New York, Mcmillian, 1991): Gabriel Sidarus (CE:2137a-2137b), who was appointed after the death of Ya’qub to command the remainder of the Coptic Legion; Yuhanna Chiftichi (CE:519a-520b); Jean Haragli (CE:1206a-1206b); Mikarius Salippe (CE:2089b-2090a); Makaryus Hunayn (CE:1511b-1512a); and ‘Abdallah Mansur (CE:1524a).

[18] George A. Haddad, A Project for the Independence of Egypt, 1801; pp. 169-183.

[19] Anouar Louca in his article General Ya’qub in The Coptic Encyclopedia (CE:2349b-2353a) says that Ya’qub died of dysentery. He seems to have been quoting Gaston Homsy. The French Revue des Deux Mondes (August 15, 1890) claims that Ya’qub was poisoned through a cup of coffee by the Turkish Capitan Pasha in Abukir prior to Ya’qub’s boarding the Pallas as Ya’qub refused to stay and serve the Yurks in Egypt. George A. Haddad in his A Project for the Independence of Egypt, 1801, p. 173, dismisses this out of hand. Researchers may want to revisit this.

[20] George A. Haddad, A Project for the Independence of Egypt, 1801, p. 172. Ian Coller in his Arab France, p. 22, says Ya’qub died during the night, while The Coptic History Committee in its General Ya’qub and the Independence of Egypt (in Arabic) (Cairo, 1935), p. 41, says Ya’qub died at 6.30 am. The right date of Ya’qub’s death is given by Gaston Homsy in his Le général Jacob et l’expedition de Bonaparte en Égypte, 1798 – 1801, p. 134. Anouar Louca in his article General Ya’qub in The Coptic Encyclopedia gives the date of Ya’qub’s death as 17 August 1801, while Kamel Salih Nakhla in his Salasil Tarikh al-Batarika gives it as 6 August 1801 at 7 am in the mornig!

[21] Lotfi Nemr(or Nemr Effendi or Nemir Effendi) was one of the Egyptian notables who accompanied Ya’qub in the exodus of 1801. Gaston Homsy mentions him in his book about General Ya’qub (calls him Lofti Nemr), and from what he says it seems that he was a relative of Ya’qub’s Syrian wife. After the death of Ya’qub, he designated himself Agent of the Egyptian Legation, and wrote letters to several French authorities, including one to Napoleon and another to Talleyrand. See: George A. Haddad, A Project for the Independence of Egypt, 1801, pp. 182-183.

[22] A letter from the Egyptian Legation to minister of interior, 1 vendémiaire an 10, AN F17 1100 (Commission d’Égypte). The English translation, which I included here, is from Ian Coller, Arab France, pp. 47-48.

[23] See n. 16 for her real name (Maryam Ni’mat-Allah Babtshi).

[24] His name is sometimes written as Joseph Edmunds. He took over as captain of HMS the Pallas in July 1798.

The Pallas at the time of transporting Ya’qub and the rest was part of a squadron under the command of Admiral Lord Keith.

[25] In his letter from aboard HMS Pallas, Minorca, 4 October 1801, to Earl St. Vincent First Lord of the Admiralty, Captain Joseph Edmonds, Commander of the Pallas, writes about Maa’llem Ya’qoub, the chief of [the] ligation: “The Pallas under my Command received on board in Egypt a Copte – a man of an excellent character and great weight as one of the Chiefs of that Sect in Egypt.” See George A. Haddad, A Project for the Independence of Egypt, 1801, p. 179.

[26] The last wish of Ya’qub we are told was his desire to be buried beside his friend General Desaix in Paris. Ya’qub had contributed towards one-third of the expenses of Desaix’s grave and monument. Ya’qub’s wish was not met as it happened.

[27] The date is given by Gaston Homsy as quoted by George A. Haddad in his A Project for the Independence of Egypt, 1801, p. 173.

[28] The lazaret (or lazarette) is a building used as a quarantine hospital. In ports, such as Marseille, the lazaret was used for detention of all arrivals on ships, which was usually continued for forty days. The aim was prevent spread of contagion disease, such as the plague or cholera, to the population.

[29] When Belliard withdrew from Cairo in July 1801, he took with him the embalmed body of Kléber in a lead case. Kléber had been assassinated on 14 June 1800. When in Marseille, after the quarantine period, Kléber’s body was held at the Château d’If, on an island near Marseille. In 1838, his remains were moved to his home town, Strasbourg in France, where he was buried.

[30] See L’Orient des Provençaux dans l’histoire : Archives départementales, 1984), p. 345.

[31] Funeral procession.

[32] I am not quite sure about the identity of P. Lacroix. He may be the French soldier François Joseph Pamphile, vicomte de Lacroix (1774 – 1841) who was promoted later in his career to become a general in the French army.

[33] Abd al-‘Al (or ‘Abdul-‘Al), the Agha of the Janissaries, or chief of the Janissary police in Cairo. A Muslim and a members of the Egyptian Legation.

[34] Hnein Hanna.

[35] Gabriel Sidarus.

[36] Anouar Louca, “Quels Mamelouks?” in L’Orient des Provençaux dans l’histoire : Archives départementales, 1984), p. 346. Ian Coller in his Arab France (p. 46) translates into English the second half of the paragraph. I have translated the first part, and used Ian Coller’s translation of the second part with some changes.

[37] For Yuhanna Chiftichi, see entry reference CE:519a-520b: The Coptic Encyclopedia, vol. 2, edited by Aziz S. Atiya. New York, Macmillan, 1991).

[38] A vault is a burial chamber.

[39] The information about the initial burial place of General Ya’qub in Saint Martin Cemetery, then the transfer of his remains to Saint Charles Cemetery and then to Saint Pierre Cemetery are kindly given to the writer by Jacques Pétillat from the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

[40] I could trace two members of the Homsy family in France by the name of Michel: one of them was born in 1775 in Aleppo and the other in 1820 (in France, most probably). But neither of these seems to be the same Michel Homsy who is Ya’qub’s great grandson according to Georges Reynaud. Reynaud actually says that our Michel was from Aleppo, Syria, that he was a trader, and that he and his brother Georges came to Marseille in 1817. The two brothers bought a few properties in Marseille, and somehow Michel married into the family of Ya’qub, and the properties that Ya’qub widow had bought passed to him by inheritance. See: Georges Reynaud, Les données de l’état civil et du cadastre (1801 – 1833) in L’Orient des Provençaux dans l’histoire : Archives départementales, 1984), pp. 368-369.  To complicate the matter even further, Gaston Homsy in his book Le général Jacob et l’expedition de Bonaparte en Égypte, 1798 – 1801, as we have seen in n. 16, mentions one Michel Couri (or Khouri) who was nephew of Ya’qub’s Syrian wife, and who accompanied Ya’qub on the Pallas.

[41] It is the third cemetery in France after Pantin (107 hectares) and Thiais (106 hectares).

6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 15, 2012 9:36 pm

    Truly fascinating and very enlightening about a true Egyptian. Many thanks for your meticulous research. I see parallels between Egypt suffering under the Turkish yoke and that of the Muslim Brotherhood, both representatives of alien and divisive ideologies.

  2. Dioscorus Boles permalink
    August 16, 2012 6:40 pm

    Thank you, JKL. Really appreciate.

  3. coptic nationalist permalink
    August 18, 2012 2:24 pm

    Great work Dioscorus. Please keep up this work for the sake of our Coptic nation.

    • Dioscorus Boles permalink
      August 18, 2012 2:48 pm

      Thank you, Coptic nationalist. Really appreciate your encouragement.



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