Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Charles Zakharoff (1905–1994)

by Alan Ventress

This article was published:

Charles (Shalva or Shalikl) Zakharoff (1905–1994), taxi proprietor and driver, was born on 5 September 1905 at Gori, Georgia, Russian Empire, son of Nicolai Zahariew (Zakhary) Gigualoshvili (Gigolashvili), senior officer on the Russian General Staff, and his wife Sofia (Sophia) Avrashovna. Charles received limited formal schooling, and the Russian Revolution in 1917 turned his life upside down. The Bolsheviks arrested his father, and executed him in Tiflis (Tblisi). Shortly thereafter Bolsheviks arrived at his home and brutally shot his mother dead.

Suddenly orphaned, Zakharoff found sanctuary with a British Army brigade that had been sent to Georgia to assist the White Russians’ fight against the Bolsheviks. Fortunately for him, he was cared for by Private Fred Felks, and provided with a British Army uniform to wear. The two were to remain friends all their lives. Overall responsibility for Zakharoff’s welfare fell to Captain F. J. Elworthy, who paid him a small stipend for cleaning his kit.

The ill-fated British intervention in Russian affairs was a military failure and the British withdrew. Zakharoff moved with the 99th Brigade to Turkey. In 1920 Elworthy arranged for him to travel to Britain with the brigade and he lived briefly with the Elworthy family at Grove Hill, Hemel Hempstead.

At this stage of his life Zakharoff was illiterate, and it was decided he should attend a Barnardo’s orphanage and training centre, William Baker Technical School (formerly the country house, Goldings) in Hertfordshire, to learn a trade, and to read and write. The family story credits a chance meeting with the Prince of Wales, who visited the school, with setting him on a path that led to Australia, and he arrived in Sydney with other Barnardo’s boys aboard the SS Ballarat on 8 February 1923.

Zakharoff trained to be a motor mechanic at Sydney Technical College and to support himself worked part time at the Balmain power station. On 5 November 1929 at St Jude’s Church, Randwick, he married Sydney-born Margo Despina Stakhopoulos (known as Constantine); they had divorced by the early 1940s. In 1930 he purchased taxi plates and worked as a taxi driver in Sydney for over fifty years. He was naturalised in January 1941. Fond of horses, he owned race horses and dressage horses.

During his time as a taxi driver Zakharoff brushed shoulders with all levels of Sydney society, including criminals and politicians. He knew Sir Robert Askin, the premier of New South Wales. He was no stranger to conflict and was shot at by the notorious stand-over man Guido Calletti, who had refused to pay his cab fare. With other drivers, he frequently experienced violence at the hands of customers intent on not paying their fares.

On 23 February 1942 Zakharoff had married New South Wales-born Inez Dorothy Grainger at St Peter’s Presbyterian church, North Sydney. They would later divorce. He retired from driving his taxi at the age of eighty-one. Survived by one daughter from his first marriage, and two sons and two daughters from his second, he died on 26 May 1994 at Randwick, and was cremated.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Gill, Alan. Orphans of the Empire: The Shocking Story of Child Migration to Australia. Milsons Point, NSW: Vintage, 1998
  • National Archives of Australia. A659, 1940/1/6858
  • Zakharoff, Charles. ‘This is My Story.’ In Annual Report, 16–17. Sydney: Dr. Barnardo’s in Australia, 1969
  • Zakharoff, Greg. 'The Life of Charles Zakharoff.' Unpublished typescript, c. 2004. Copy held on ADB file

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Alan Ventress, 'Zakharoff, Charles (1905–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2018, accessed online 25 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Gricoli, Charles
  • Gigualoshvili, Shalikl

5 September, 1905
Gori, Shida Kartli, Georgia


26 May, 1994 (aged 88)
Randwick, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (lung)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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