Joseph Mathia Svoboda

One of Alexander Svoboda’s postcards, titled La seule ligne de tramway à Bagdad.

Joseph Mathia Svoboda (October 17, 1840 – January 19, 1908) was an employee of the Lynch Company known for keeping an extensive diary of events in his life. He was the son of Anton Svoboda and Euphemie Joseph Muradjian. He was born in Baghdad and lived for a number of years in India and particularly in Bombay, with his brother Alexander Sandor Svoboda who would become a rather well-known orientalist painter. He returned to Baghdad in 1857.

In 1862, Joseph started work with the British Lynch Company as an officer on board the company’s steamers making regular trips up and down the Tigris carrying cargo and passengers to different ports below Baghdad. At this time, he also started writing the diaries that he kept until his death in 1908. The more than 40 years of diaries, constitute not only an invaluable source for the history of the Svoboda family (including this brief account) but are a precious resource for life and trade in Ottoman Baghdad and Iraq during the last half of the 19th century.

A page from one of Joseph’s diaries (Diary 39).

In his diaries, he recorded a host of details about his family life, his work with the Lynch Steamship Company, trips he made up and down the Tigris
and Euphrates rivers, cargo carried, passengers and ports of call, charts of currencies and exchange rates, his relations with Christian communities of Baghdad (Assyrian, Chaldean, Orthodox, Roman Catholic), the resident French, British, and Ottoman officials, and observations on people, entertainment, epidemic diseases, and more. In addition, he recorded many details of his life and that of his family and friends in Baghdad.

The content of these diaries is unique and constitutes an immensely valuable resource for the modern history of Iraq. At one time, there were 60 notebooks of which 49 have survived. Prior to the Svoboda Diaries Project, none of them were published except for some extracts included in newspaper articles and a now unavailable article by an Iraqi researcher.

At present, most of these diaries are located in the Iraq National Manuscript Center.