Childhood & Early Life
There are several versions regarding his origin and identity that has confused intelligence agencies and researchers for over a millennium. Several claims of his own include his father as an Irish clergyman, an Irish Merchant seaman and an elegant landowner among others.
Segodnya, an Ukranian newspaper states that he was born in Odessa on March 24, 1874 as Zigmund Markovich Rozenblum in the family of a shipping agent and stockbroker called Mark.
A book by Andrew Cook, ‘Ace of Spies: The True Story of Sidney Reilly’ states he was born as Salomon (Shlomo) Rosenblum on March 24, 1873, being illegitimate son of Dr Mikhail Abramovich Rosenblum and Polina, while his assumed father was Grigory (Hersh) Rosenblum.
During 1890 to 1893 he stayed in Vienna and studied chemistry. He mentioned that he was confined by the ‘Imperial Russian Secret Police’ in 1892 because he served as courier of ‘Friends of Enlightenment’, a revolutionary group and was later released.
Faking his own death in Odessa he escaped in a British ship and reached Brazil where he adopted the name Pedro and became familiar with British officers.
He saved the life of Major Fothergill in an attack by the natives and received British passport, 1,500 pounds as reward and a passage to Britain. This episode again contradicts the book of Cook which states he came to London in December 1895 via France using unscrupulous means.
In London he set up the ‘Ozone Preparations Company’. He also worked as a paid informer for William Melville’s émigré intelligence network. Melville served the Special branch of Scotland Yard as superintendent.
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In 1899 he rechristened himself as Sidney George Reilly, probably to return to Czarist Russia.
Using his forged British passport, Reilly travelled to Czarist Russia along with his wife Margaret in June 1899. While Margaret stayed in St. Petersburg, he went to Caucasus to inspect oil deposits there and thereafter sent his report to the British Government for a payment.
After a stint in Port Said, Egypt, the couple travelled Far East in 1901.
He then moved to Port Arthur, Manchuria, ahead of the Russo-Japanese War. There he served both British and Japanese as a double agent. While Port Arthur was under the threat of a Japanese invasion, Reilly and his business partner Moisei (Moses) Akimovich Ginsburg made profits in war situation by purchasing necessities and other goods and selling them at high rates.
In January 1904, Reilly and Ho Liangshung, a Chinese engineer plundered the defense plans of Port Arthur and gave them to the Japanese Navy who eventually made a sudden attack at the place on the night of 8/9 February. Despite thousands of casualties from both sides, the Russians succeeded in weakening the Japanese war efforts.
According to historian Winfried Ludecke, Reilly then travelled to Imperial Japan to collect his dues for his espionage and by June 1904 he was in Paris, France. Here, he met William Melville again.
According to Robin Bruce Lockhart’s ‘Reilly: Ace of Spies’, Reilly disguised as a Catholic priest and boarded the yacht of Lord de Rothschild. In pursuit of obtaining Persian oil concessions for Britain, he covertly convinced William D'Arcy to cease negotiation with Rothschild and meet the British Admiralty in London. However this episode also contradicts Andrew Cook’s writings who states that Reilly was still in Port Arthur in February 1904.
It was later verified that he stayed in French Riviera which was near the yacht of Rothschild during that time. He moved to St. Petersburg, Russia in January 1905.
Lockhart also recounts that after crash of a plane that used a new type of magneto during the first ‘Frankfurt International Air Show’ in 1909, Reilly along with a British SIS agent removed the magneto diverting others' attention. After drawing its design they again fitted it in its original place.
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He was inducted as secret agent of the British ‘Secret Service Bureau’ in October 1909.
After 1914 he arranged munitions sales in New York and aided US factories supplying the Allies in countering German disruption. According to his claims, he remained a secret agent behind German borders.
In 1917 he was enlisted in the ‘Royal Flying Corps’.
On January 22, 1919, he received the ‘Military Cross’ for his contributions in military operations.
According to him, he was recruited by ‘Secret Intelligence Service’ in the 1890s but was accepted as an agent on March 15, 1918 and was fired in 1921.
In 1909 disguised as Karl Hahn, a Baltic shipyard worker, he was successful in stealing the weapon plans of the Germans and after cutting it in four pieces, sent them separately to the British intelligence.
In an endeavour to dethrone the Bolshevik regime and assassinate Vladimir Lenin, the British intelligence trained him after which he went to Moscow in May 1918. He along with Lockhart met Boris Savinkov and other anti-Bolshevik groups, funded them and planned a coup against the regime. However their operations were thwarted and he was forced to flee Russia.
Personal Life & Legacy
Through his ‘Ozone Preparations Company’ he met Reverend Hugh Thomas, who was suffering from kidney inflammation. Rev. Thomas became fascinated by miraculous treatment peddled by Rosenblum. Soon he got involved in a affair with Rev. Thomas’ young wife Margaret Thomas.
On March 12, 1898, Rev. Thomas died in a hotel bed in a mysterious condition, a few days after making a new will where he made his wife the executor. A suspicious Dr. T. W. Andrew, no record of whom was found and who resembled Rosenblum to a great extent, certified Rev. Thomas’ death.
On August 22, 1898 he married Margaret and with that his desire of becoming wealthy was fulfilled.
On May 18, 1923, he married actress Nelly Louise "Pepita" at a civil Registry office in Covent Garden, London.
In September 1925, he was deceived by secret agents of ‘OGPU’ who enticed him to Bolshevik Russia and once he crossed the Finnish lines, he was captured by the Soviets.
In 2000 the British intelligence released documents that say that he was executed on November 5, 1925 in a forest near Moscow.