Thabet Subeih (1866-1948 )

Thabet Subeih was born in Bombay, India, around 1878-1880. He was well educated- being fluent in English, French and Arabic. At 29 years of age he came to Australia around 1895. He immigrated to Sydney NSW and worked as a merchant -known as Thabet Suby Mockbell or T Mockbell.

He married Allarina Chate in April 1889 (see photo). A daughter, Zainab, was born in 1899 and another- Mariam in 1901, though sadly Mariam died soon after birth. 

1901 Subeih became partners with Kabell Mockbell who ran a coffee business trading as Mockbell Brothers in the prestigious Imperial Arcade -selling Fez brand coffee- until K Mockbell went into voluntary bankruptcy in May 1901. Then T Mockbell made it clear that he had no connection with any K Mockbell (Sydney Morning Herald, 7 May 1901). From 1902 until 1906 the Mockbell 'brothers' traded in opposition to one another, both continually reiterating that they had no connection to the other. By 1904 Thabet Suby Mockbell changed the name of the Imperial Arcade business to 'Suby's Cafe' (Freeman's Journal, 2 January 1904) Things come to a head in 1906.(reference)

July 1889 THE 'FEZ' BRAND. The ceremony of opening the factory of the Stamboul and Egyptian Cigarette Company, Limited, was performed yesterday afternoon by the Hon. Edmund Barton in the presence of a number of leading citizens. Ths company has lately established the local industry of cigarette making in William-street, and turns out a handmade article manufactured from the best Turkish leaf, specially imported, which will no doubt hold its own with any of the foreign makes. In recognition of the occasion Mr. Barton was presented with a very pretty silver cigarette case in scribed 'To the First Man in Australia,' by Mr. K. Mockbell, manager of the company, who said that, though the factory so far gave employment to but 100 hands, yet with the wider scope federation would afford he hoped the time would soon come when the employees would number 1000.(reference)

1902: NSW - Stolen, about 7 p.m., from the person of Thabet Suby, of 220, Dowling-street, Darlinghurst, whilst in vicinity of Carrington Hotel, Petersham, A gent’s gold open-face keyless watch, French make, number and maker’s name unknown; had attached a 15-carat gold double chain, long and short link pattern; a gold medal, “ Mockbell Bro.” on one side, and “Agricultural Society of N.S.W., 1st Prize Fez Cigarettes”, on reverse side (reference)

March 1906 AN ARABIC QUARREL. Coffee merchants in court. Thabet Suby, 20, a waiter, was charged at the Water Police Court, to-day, by warrant, that at Sydney; he did threaten one Kabell Mockbell in the words, "I will stab you; I will kill you! Mockbell!” Apprehending violence to his person, asked that Suby be bound over to keep the peace. Kabell Mockbell, the prosecutor, said he had been carrying on business as a coffee merchant at 82 Elizabeth-street. He had known the defendant for a number of years, and up to five years ago had been his partner in a business in the Imperial-arcade. Within the last few days he had bought the business lately run by the defendant in the Imperial-arcade, and yesterday went to take possession. He found defendant under the Influence of liquor, and he began to use insulting words to witness in Arabic and English...(reference)

Dec 1906 The Daily Telegraph, 1 Dec 1906, Divorce: Allarina Suby Mockbell (formerly Chate) petitioned for a divorce from Thabet Suby Mockbell, on the grounds of adultery, drunkenness, and cruelty. She was represented by Mr Shraeder. The parties were married on April 5, 1899, according to the Anglican rites. The petitioner stated that the respondent was then living in Elizabeth Street, and was in business at the time. In March 1905 she opened a letter in a feminine hand addressed to “T Suby, Esq”, a name the respondent often went by, asking him to call at a certain place and settle his small account, and expressing the writer’s regret at her inability to keep a certain appointment. When she spoke to the respondent about the letter he said the account was for drink. He was also in the habit of going out at night...His Honour found for the petitioner, on the ground of adultery, and granted a decree nisi, returnable in six months. (reference)

In 1911, Allarina married Alfred Dixon in Balmain and Zainab continued to live with her mother. In 1924 Zainab married a William Grono in Petersham, NSW. 

With his business and personal life in tatters, Thabet packed up and moved to Western Australia, where he initially went to the north west of the state, but in 1912 he travelled south and took up residence in Sewell Street, East Fremantle. He set up a tea and coffee merchant business in Fremantle and Perth which he ran in the years prior to the war. He became good friends with a Sherbourne Newman and his family of 79 Sewell St, East Fremantle (now 33), and just prior to enlistment Suby signed a Will which left all his property to the Newmans in the event of his death.(reference). However Subeih gave his postal address as 175 Sewell St, East Fremantle, (now demolished) -a property which belonged to his ex-brother in law, Alfred Chate

1915 He falsely declared he was 35 years old on enlistment in WWI in October 1915 (reference). He gave his occupation as a tea and coffee merchant and gave his uncle who lived in India, as next of kin. He served under the surname 'Suby' and was assigned the rank of private and the service number 3937. On 12 February 1916 he embarked on HMAT Miltiades with the 9th Reinforcements, 28th Battalion. See photo (reference). 

A detailed  list of his postings during the war can be found in an article: Corporal 3937 Thabet Suby, 28th Battalion: a Muslim in the AIF, by Andrew Pittaway, in Digger, June 2011 No. 35 Magazine of the Families and Friends of the First AIF (reference)

He was deployed to France on 9 September 1916. By 9 October 1916 he was back in England. (reference) Plagued by asthma, bronchitis and a hacking cough, he also suffered with rheumatism and dilation of the heart. Admitted to hospital in December 1916, he confessed he’d turned 50 on his last birthday. (The medical exam papers say he came to Australia at the age of 29, which, going on his real age, makes that about 1895.)

Found permanently unfit for all services he was returned to Australia and was discharged from the AIF in June 1917. Two months later, on 30 July 1917, he applied to the AIF for a position in Mesopotamia as an interpreter in Hindu and Arabic. 

“175 A/Cpl T Suby, of 175 Sewell Street, East Fremantle, is applying for a position in Mesopotamia, as interpreter in Hindustani and Arabic.”

Communication from Captain, GSO 5MD, to Censor: “It is understood that Mr Suby has been used in Egypt by the AIF for interpreting work...he is reported as a man of good character.”

1 Aug 1917: Captain C Hill, Censor, to GSO in response: “Translations from Hindustani and Arabic are seldom required at this office, but I will be glad to avail myself of Mr Suby’s services in that direction whenever it becomes necessary.” (reference)

He was discharged from the AIF on 1st June 1917. Thabet returned to his home in East Fremantle but sadly found that his friend, Sherbourne Newman, had died in March 1917. Thabet later received the effects that he left with the Newmans from Sherbourne’s wife, Elizabeth. 

Thabet appears in the news again in September 1917. From the ‘West Australian’ newspaper dated 6 th September, under an article titled ‘An Unsubstantiated Charge’ it was stated that: Thabet Suby, a dark complexioned man, wearing the badge of a returned soldier and described as a tea merchant by occupation, was charged with having at Perth, stolen a pair of spectacles and a pair of pince-nez, the property of George Spencer. He pleaded not guilty and the charge was finally dismissed. (reference)

Thabet left Australia in 1920 and moved to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), though the tea and spice company he set up (T Suby Pty Ltd) also later imported sheep from Australia. He remarried in Ceylon and had one son from the marriage, called Amin, who continued his father’s company and later became the Yemeni ambassador to Sri Lanka. Thabet Suby, a corporal and interpreter in the AIF, died in Ceylon in 1948.  (reference)

Subeih was issued a Returned Services badge and, in 1922 and 1923, British War and Victory medals. In 1968 his son wrote to the AIF from the High Commission in Ceylon requesting any medals to which his father was entitled. Thabet’s war medals, collar badges, shoulder badge and a silver war badge were subsequently donated to the Australian War Memorial.

Zainab Suby, married William Grono in 1924 and they also had only one child - Zainab June, who married twice and died in around 2017. She left bequests to the NSW branches of the Guide Dogs and Cancer Council. See interesting article about Zainab June’s first marriage (The Daily Telegraph, 21 Aug 1949). The name Allarina continues in the Chate family lineage through a niece: 1930 SHERIDAN (nee Alla Chate). Birth -On October 1, at Nurse Sheedy's Ocean View Hospital, to Mr. and Mrs. E. J. Sheridan, of Millmerran, Wood-street. Beaconsfield-a son (Alfred Ernest). Both well (reference

Thabet Subeih Australian War Memorial