Benedict Cumberbatch and the case of the blood libel

By Jennifer Lipman, June 26, 2014
Bendict Cumberbatch as Sherlock

Bendict Cumberbatch as Sherlock

He is known for playing Sherlock Holmes - and it turns out that solving mysteries is a family tradition for Benedict Cumberbatch, whose great-great- grandfather helped thwart a 19th century blood libel.

In the summer of 1872, Robert William Cumberbatch was serving as British consul in Turkey, when a woman accused the Jews of the city of Smyrna of abducting and torturing her child. According to the JC's report, anti-Jewish rioting began but ceased after Cumberbatch "held an inquest... and it proved she was of unsound mind".

Cumberbatch was clearly convinced the Jews deserved his help, writing later: "I sincerely trust the day may not be far distant when the Jewish nation throughout the world may be respected in the same manner as it is in our own happy country".

This was not the only time he intervened on behalf of the Jews of Smyrna, home to thousands of Jews and the site of continuous fighting between the Greek population and the Ottoman rulers. When Cumberbatch died in post in 1876, the local chief rabbi and other Jewish notables attended the funeral and the JC commented that the community had "sustained a great loss" of someone who had "at all times befriended them".

His most significant intervention occurred in 1872, at Pesach, when the Smyrna Greeks accused the Jews of murdering a child and attacked the Jewish quarter, killing two people. According to a JC report, "the Greek mob" threatened "to fire the whole city and massacre the Jews".

A pogrom in Smyrna was prevented by Benedict Cumberbatch's ancestor

A pogrom in Smyrna was prevented by Benedict Cumberbatch's ancestor

Mr Cumberbatch made representations to the authorities, going to such great lengths that the secretary of the Anglo-Jewish Association, Herbert Lousada, wrote to The Times praising him for having "protected the sufferers as if he had been their coreligionist".

In a despatch back to Britain on June 22, 1872, Mr Cumberbatch noted that "the measures… have had the desired effect of almost putting a stop to the animosity exhibited by the Greeks to the Jews of Smyrna".

He was not the only member of the Cumberbatch family who took a favourable view towards the Jews. A JC report from 1909 notes that Robert's son, Henry Arnold, the consul in Beirut, inspected the Jewish Alliance Israelite school in the city and rated it highly, ensuring its funding.

In what may be a subconscious nod to his ancestors, Benedict Cumberbatch is said to be a big fan of the restaurant at JW3.

Last updated: 1:28pm, June 26 2014