LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Life of Lord Byron
Chapter XLIV

  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  26  27  28  29  30  31  32  33  34  35  36  37  38  39  40  41  42  43  44  45  46  47  48  49 
Creative Commons License

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH

Voyage To Cephalonia.—Letter.—Count Gamba’s address.—Grateful feelings of the Turks.—Endeavours of Lord Byron to mitigate the horrors of the war.

Lord Byron, after leaving Argostoli, on the 29th December, 1823, the port of Cephalonia, sailed for Zante, where he took on board a quantity of specie. Although the distance from Zante to Missolonghi is but a few hours’ sail, the voyage was yet not without adventures. Missolonghi, as I have already mentioned, was then blockaded by the Turks, and some address was necessary, on that account, to effect an entrance, independent of the difficulties, at all times, of navigating the canals which intersect the shallows. In the following letter to Colonel Stanhope, his Lordship gives an account of what took place. It is very characteristic; I shall therefore quote it.

Scrofer, or some such name, on board a Cephaloniate Mistice, Dec. 31, 1823.
“My Dear Stanhope,

“We are just arrived here—that is, part of my people and I, with some things, &c., and which it may be as well not to specify in a letter (which has a risk of being intercepted, perhaps); but Gamba and my horses, negro, steward, and the press, and all the committee things, also some eight thousand dollars of mine (but never mind, we have more left—do
you understand?) are taken by the Turkish frigates; and my party and myself in another boat, have had a narrow escape, last night (being close under their stern, and hailed, but we would not answer, and bore away) as well as this morning. Here we are, with sun and charming weather, within a pretty little port enough; but whether our Turkish friends may not send in their boats, and take us out (for we have no arms, except two carbines and some pistols, and, I suspect, not more than four fighting people on board), is another question; especially if we remain long here, since we are blocked out of Missolonghi by the direct entrance. You had better send my friend
George Drake, and a body of Suliotes, to escort us by land or by the canals, with all convenient speed. Gamba and our Bombard are taken into Patras, I suppose, and we must take a turn at the Turks to get them out. But where the devil is the fleet gone? the Greek, I mean—leaving us to get in without the least intimation to take heed that the Moslems were out again. Make my respects to Mavrocordato, and say that I am here at his disposal. I am uneasy at being here. We are very well.—Yours, &c.

“N. B.

P.S. The Bombard was twelve miles out when taken; at least, so it appeared to us (if taken she actually be, for it is not certain), and we had to escape from another vessel that stood right in between us and the port.”

Colonel Stanhope on receiving this despatch, which was carried to him by two of Lord Byron’s servants, sent two armed boats, and a company of Suliotes, to escort his Lordship to Missolonghi, where he arrived on the 5th of January, and was received with military honours, and the most enthusiastic demonstrations of popular joy. No mark of respect which the Greeks
could think of was omitted. The ships fired a salute as he passed.
Prince Mavrocordato, and all the authorities, with the troops and the population, met him on his landing, and accompanied him to the house which had been prepared for him, amid the shouts of the multitude and the discharge of cannon.

In the mean time, Count Gamba and his companions being taken before Yusuff Pashaw at Patras, expected to share the fate of certain unfortunate prisoners whom that stern chief had sacrificed the preceding year at Prevesa; and their fears would probably have been realised but for the intrepid presence of mind displayed by the Count, who, assuming a haughty style, accused the Ottoman captain of the frigate of a breach of neutrality, in detaining a vessel under English colours, and concluded by telling the Pashaw that he might expect the vengeance of the British Government in thus interrupting a nobleman who was merely on his travels, and bound to Calamata. Perhaps, however, another circumstance had quite as much influence with the Pashaw as this bravery. In the master of the vessel he recognised a person who had saved his life in the Black Sea fifteen years before, and in consequence not only consented to the vessel’s release, but treated the whole of the passengers with the utmost attention, and even urged them to take a day’s shooting in the neighbourhood.*

* To the honour of the Turks, grateful recollections of this kind are not rare among them: I experienced a remarkable example of it myself. Having entered Widin when it was besieged by the Russians, in the winter of 1810—11, I was closely questioned as to the motives of my visit, by Hassan Pashaw, the successor of the celebrated Paswan Oglou, then governor of the fortress. I explained to him, frankly, the motives of my visit, but he required that I should deliver my letters and papers to be examined. This I refused to do, unless he had a person who could read English, and understand it when spoken. In the mean time my Tartar, the better to prove our innocence of all sinister purposes, turned out the contents of his saddle-bags, and behold, among several letters and parcels was a packet for

The first measure which his Lordship attempted after his arrival, was to mitigate the ferocity with which the war was carried on; one of the objects, as he explained to my friend who visited him at Genoa, which induced him to embark in the cause. And it happened that the very day he reached the town was signalised by his rescuing a Turk who had fallen into the hands of some Greek sailors. This man was clothed by his Lordship’s orders, and sent over to Patras; and soon after Count Gamba’s release, hearing that four other Turks were prisoners in Missolonghi, he requested that they might be placed in his hands, which was immediately granted. These he also sent to Patras, with a letter, of which a copy is

Prince Italinski, from the French minister at Constantinople. This I of course instantly ordered to be delivered to the pashaw. In the evening, an old Turk who had been present during the proceedings, and at the subsequent consultations as to what should be done with me, called, and advised me to leave the town; telling me at the same time, that when he was a boy he had been taken prisoner by the Hungarians at Belgrade, and had been so kindly treated, that after being sent home he had never ceased to long for an opportunity of repaying that kindness to some other Frank, and that he thought my case afforded an opportunity. He concluded by offering me the use of twenty thousand piastres, about a thousand pounds sterling, to take me across the continent to England. I was then on my way to Orsova, to meet a gentleman from Vienna, but being informed that he would not be there, I resolved to return to Constantinople, and accordingly accepted from the Turk so much money as would serve for the expenses of the journey, giving him an order for repayment on an agent whose name he had never heard of, nor any one probably in the town. The whole adventure was curious, and ought to be mentioned, as affording a favourable view of Ottoman magnanimity.
The pashaw was so well pleased with the manner in which I had acted in the affair of the despatches, that he sent me notice in the morning that horses and a guard were at my command so long as I chose to remain in the fortress, and that he had forwarded the packet unbroken to the Russian commander; he even permitted me, in the course of the afternoon, to visit the Russian encampment on the other side of the Danube, which I accordingly did, and returned across the river in the evening.
in the Appendix, addressed to
Yusuff, expressing his hope that the prisoners thenceforward taken on both sides would be treated with humanity. This act was followed by another equally praiseworthy. A Greek cruiser having captured a Turkish boat, in which there was a number of passengers, chiefly women and children, they were also placed at the disposal of his Lordship, at his particular request. Captain Parry has given a description of the scene between Lord Byron, and that multitude of mothers and children, too interesting to be omitted here. “I was summoned to attend him, and receive his orders that everything should be done which might contribute to their comfort. He was seated on a cushion at the upper end of the room, the women and children were standing before him with their eyes fixed steadily on him; and on his right hand was his interpreter, who was extracting from the women a narrative of their sufferings. One of them, apparently about thirty years of age, possessing great vivacity, and whose manners and dress, though she was then dirty and disfigured, indicated that she was superior in rank and condition to her companions, was spokeswoman for the whole. I admired the good order the others preserved, never interfering with the explanation, or interrupting the single speaker. I also admired the rapid manner in which the interpreter explained everything they said, so as to make it almost appear that there was but one speaker. After a short time it was evident that what Lord Byron was hearing affected his feelings; his countenance changed, his colour went and came, and I thought he was ready to weep. But he had, on all occasions, a ready and peculiar knack in turning conversation from any disagreeable or unpleasant subject; and he had recourse to this expedient. He rose up suddenly, and, turning round on his heel as was his wont, he said something to his interpreter, who immediately repeated it to the women.
All eyes were immediately fixed on me; and one of the party, a young and beautiful woman, spoke very warmly. Lord Byron seemed satisfied, and said they might retire. The women all slipped off their shoes in an instant, and, going up to his Lordship, each in succession, accompanied by their children, kissed his hand fervently, invoked, in the Turkish manner, a blessing, both on his hand and heart, and then quitted the room. This was too much for Lord Byron, and he turned his face away to conceal his emotion”

A vessel was then hired, and the whole of them, to the number of twenty-four, were sent to Prevesa, provided with every requisite for their comfort during the passage. These instances of humanity excited a sympathy among the Turks. The Governor of Prevesa thanked his Lordship, and assured him that he would take care that equal attention should be in future paid to the Greeks, who might fall into his hands.