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That Greece Might Still Be Free

William St Clair

11 The Return Home

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1Of the eight expeditions of individual Philhellenes which sailed from Marseilles in 1821 and 1822 five arrived in Greece in time for the disastrous battle of Peta in July 1822. The sixth arrived in time for a few members to reach Missolonghi and meet the survivors. The last three expeditions, containing altogether between fifty and sixty Philhellenes, arrived in the midst of the terrible events related in the last chapter. There was also a small but continuous stream of other individual volunteers reaching Greece at their own expense by a variety of routes. Many of these men were to suffer miseries in Greece greater even than their predecessors.

2After the battle of Peta and the dissolution of the Philhellene Battalion it was the wish of virtually all the Europeans in Greece to go home as quickly as possible. But this was by no means easy. The ports of Southern Europe, with the exception of Marseilles, were all controlled by governments hostile to the Greek cause. The Peloponnese was ravaged by plagues which sometimes died down but always sprang up again as new massacres renewed the supply of unburied bodies. The British Government in the Ionian Islands, besides trying to enforce a precarious neutrality towards the events on the mainland, maintained a tight quarantine to try to keep the islands free of the epidemics. It was said that they would not allow Philhellenes to land, but even so escape to the Ionian Islands seemed the most promising way home.

  • 1 Elster, Fahrten, ii, p. 35. The names of the two dead Philhellenes are given as Bollini and Damins (...)

3During the last months of 1822 several parties and a few individuals crossed the straits and threw themselves on the mercy of the British authorities. Contrary to their expectation they were well received, and given food and clothing. Subscriptions were raised for them among the British troops and they eventually made their way back to Italy, disguising from the port authorities that they had been in Greece. One party stole a boat at Missolonghi; another party, after roaming round the coast like a miniature band of robbers, seized a boat after a battle with some Greeks in which two of the Philhellenes were killed.1 Eventually after long quarantines in the islands and again in European ports they made their way home.

4The island of Syra in the middle of the Aegean was almost entirely inhabited by Roman Catholic Greeks. It had remained neutral in the war, paying tribute, on occasion, both to the Turks and to the Revolutionary Greeks. The French Government claimed an age-old right of protecting the Roman Catholic inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire and the island was virtually a French protectorate defended by French warships. It became a thriving commercial centre at which European vessels called. Many Philhellenes aimed to get to Syra and try to find a passage on a European ship.

  • 2 Stabell, p. 89.

5The Consuls at Athens, although almost all hostile to the Greek Revolution and to philhellenism, managed to arrange passages for some of their countrymen to Syra. The French Consul General in Smyrna, also, spent a great deal of money in helping to repatriate Philhellenes of all nationalities. Some picked up ships going to Smyrna, to Constantinople, to Odessa, to Egypt, to Marseilles, to Malta, and to Italy. Individuals who turned up in Constantinople lived in terror of having their identity discovered by the Government. The Ambassadors of the European countries helped them on their way, and if – like the Prussian Ambassador – they were forbidden by their governments to do so, they helped them out of their own pockets. The King of Denmark personally paid the debts of the Danish Philhellenes.2 Some merchant captains gave free passage or temporarily enrolled Philhellenes in their crews.

  • 3 Striebeck, p. 234.

6Gradually through 1822 and 1823 numerous Philhellenes made their way home by circuitous routes, often taking many months on their journey. As on the way out, they were constantly meeting old comrades. But many were not so lucky. Understandably, the captains of ships were unwilling to take anyone who was diseased. Several men who reached the islands had to be abandoned to die. On other occasions the ships would only take their own nationals, leaving the rest to their fate. One captain said he could only take three out of a party of about ten and lots had to be drawn to select the lucky ones.3 The citizens of Britain, France, Sweden, and Holland had the best chances of escape since they had effective diplomatic representatives on the spot and numerous ships passing through. The worst placed were the citizens of the smaller German states who had little chance of meeting countrymen able to help them.

  • 4 Gottfried Müller, p. 46.
  • 5 Elster.

7The Philhellenes escaped from the scene of the war in a state of extreme exhaustion and starvation. The European merchant colony at Smyrna nursed a few back to health in their hospital in terror that the Turks would discover what they were doing. One German officer,4 who reached Smyrna alone in a state of collapse, tried to earn a living as a gardener to an Armenian family and then as a porter in the docks but was too weak to continue. He was eventually given money by a British naval officer. Another German who had been a musician earned money until his health recovered by giving concerts and music lessons to the European colony.5

  • 6 Kotsch, p. 60

8The first of the returning Philhellenes had the best treatment. Charity is strained if it is called upon too frequently, and the Philhellenes were an increasing embarrassment to their governments. The Turkish Government had protested to the powers about the activities of their nationals in Greece. Helping distressed Philhellenes could not easily be reconciled with a policy of aiding the Sultan to reassert his legitimate authority over his rebellious Greek subjects. In February 1823 the consuls throughout the Levant were informed that Europeans who fought for the Greeks would be treated as rebels.6 Fortunately for the Philhellenes this did not prevent private charity from being given.

9The Philhellenes who arrived in Greece in late 1822 suffered most. In many ways they are the most pathetic of the men who went to join the crusade during the early period. There were fewer unemployed professional officers than on earlier expeditions. There were clerks, students, merchants, apprentices, men who had been recruited late in the philhellenic campaign in Germany. They had been warned by returning volunteers even before they left Marseilles but they had not turned back. With the dissolution of the Philhellene Battalion there was no obvious point for them to make for when they arrived in Greece. So, like the first volunteers, they tended to wander over southern Greece in small groups looking for someone in authority to employ them. But the hospitable feelings of the Greek peasants had long since been exhausted by the ravages of the captains. Philhellenes were no longer strange figures from another world to be welcomed as guests. The respect which all Europeans had at first enjoyed in the villages had been squandered by their predecessors. After the exploding of the Europeans’ pretensions to superiority (as the captains regarded it) at Peta, indifference turned to hostility. The Philhellenes found that the gates of towns were closed to them and they were driven away from some villages with stones. Soon their money ran out and they were obliged to sell their weapons and then their clothes. It was usually their feet which finally let them down. Their shoes would wear out in marching over the rough ground, they would try to walk by binding bandages on their feet, their feet would swell up, and they would be immobilized. They would then have to hang around the towns as beggars until they recovered or (more usually) died of disease.

  • 7 Lieber mentions the Italian and two Frenchmen without identifying them. The doctor from Mecklenbur (...)

10Five suicides are recorded in 1822: two French officers and an Italian at Missolonghi, a German doctor from Mecklenburg at Argos, and a young German from Hamburg who disembarked soon after the battle of Peta. Another German officer tried to shoot himself but the ball stuck in his nose bone.7

  • 8 See, for example, Lieber, pp. 66, 113; Schrebian, p. 68.
  • 9 Finlay, Adventure. This article is written in the first person and contains a number of points int (...)

11There were several instances of Philhellenes being robbed and murdered by the Greeks.8 The worst case occurred after the fall of Nauplia when it was discovered that some Greeks had been inviting Philhellenes into a Turkish bath in the town and then murdering them. By persuading the visitors to strip, the bath-keeper was able to acquire their clothes without the inconvenience of having to wash their blood out later.9

12Many who arrived in the latter part of 1822 died without ever seeing a Turk. Others, on being refused money to go home, took the course which had always been regarded as the last resort – they tried to join one of the captains. This, in many cases, merely postponed their fate. With their swollen feet they were unable to keep up with the bands and in skirmishes with the Turks they were the first to be cut down.

  • 10 Monaldi. See p. 97.
  • 11 Brengeri, iv, p. 351.
  • 12 Unidentified. Kotsch, p. 27.
  • 13 Dannenberg, p. 207.

13The rumour had been passed among the Philhellenes right from the beginning of the Revolution that the Turks were interested in engaging European officers to serve on the other side. The omens for this were not encouraging. The Italian who had tried to desert before Peta had been hanged.10 The German doctor who had been taken prisoner by the Turks had been spared on condition that he joined them. When he later escaped and returned to the Peloponnese the Greeks said he was stupid to give up such a good position. He was reduced to beggary.11 But as the misery of the surviving Philhellenes grew, the idea of changing sides became more attractive. An Italian who joined Odysseus’ band tried to desert in early 1823 but his head was found shortly afterwards stuck on a pole.12 A party of officers who reached Syra in safety wrote a letter to Constantinople offering their services but they never got a reply.13

  • 14 For example Mari and St. André. See pp. 89 and 235.

14There was, however, a way of changing sides which a few men discovered. The Pasha of Egypt was interested in recruiting officers to train his army in European methods. Philhellenes escaping from Greece in merchant ships to Egypt found that they were offered attractive terms at Alexandria. Gubernatis, who had commanded the Regiment, was the most famous of the renegades but a few others also joined the Egyptian service. Some of them were to return to Greece in 1825 as part of the Egyptian invading army.14

15The survivors who began to reach home in 1822 and 1823 were scarred in body and mind. Having had exaggerated expectations in the first place, their disillusion was now unrestrained. Almost without exception they now hated the Greeks with a deep loathing, and cursed themselves for their stupidity in having been deceived. To their consternation they discovered on their return that their old friends were still as ignorant of what was occurring in Greece as when they had set out; that public opinion was overwhelmingly pro-Greek; and that volunteers were still leaving home to go to Greece with the same philhellenic slogans on their lips. Even more galling, when they told people of what they had seen and suffered, their stories were received with polite incredulity, discounted as the biased accounts of men with a personal grudge.

  • 15 August Christian von Schott, step-brother of Albert Schott, President of the Stuttgart Greek Socie (...)

16The Greek Societies seem at first to have deliberately tried to suppress any suggestion of unpleasantness. Returned Philhellenes were given a small sum of money with the broad hint that they were to go away and keep quiet. When letters appeared in the newspapers describing conditions in Greece, the Societies put about the story that the individuals concerned were untrustworthy and untypical. When the brother of the leader of the Stuttgart Greek Society returned from Greece and confirmed the reports, even he was silenced.15

17Philhellenism was a sturdy plant with deep roots. It could not be easily eradicated. Although the leaders of the Societies were undoubtedly guilty of suppression of uncomfortable facts, they were honest men on the whole. As with so many believers in great causes, their minds could not readily assimilate the notion that the picture they imagined of Modern Greece was not the real one. Facts are poor weapons against such deep-seated beliefs. The returning Philhellenes for their part were in no mood to help the Societies to make the adjustment easily. They did not realize that they were victims of an idea. Their resentment needed a more concrete target. They turned on the Societies, on the professors, the priests, and the merchants, and accused them of every crime from maladministration to wilfully sending men to their deaths. Mainly, however, they were simply concerned to convince people that the common notion of Greece was wrong, to save others from falling into the same delusions as they had; and to clear their names of the implied stigma of having proved inadequate to the great ideal. They were seized with an overwhelming desire to shout ’It is not true’ in the market place of every town with a Greek Society.

  • 16 Waddington, p. 1.
  • 17 Aschling, p. 88
  • 18 Examiner, 1822, p. 551.

18During the time when the Philhellenes were away, the Societies had continued their propaganda as best they could. In the countries where censorship was lax, absurd stories about the Greek Revolution had flowed from the presses. No story was too tall to be acceptable and one is tempted to believe the charge that some Societies deliberately manufactured their own news. As one writer put it, letters ’were fabricated at Augsburg, Paris, and London, the three great mints of Philhellenic mendacity…. Supplementary laboratories existed at Zante, Trieste, Frankfurt, and Stuttgart’.16 A Swedish Philhellene, picking up a copy of an Augsburg newspaper of September 1822 on his way back, read with amused horror a letter allegedly by a Philhellene which put the size of Mavrocordato’s army at 25,000 and described in detail the ribbons and medals issued to the troops.17 The first reports of the Battle of Peta described it as a great victory. Its location was transferred to the more familiar Thermopylae, three pashas were said to have been captured, and General Normann’s soldiers to have carried him in triumph from the battlefield on their shields!18 The engraving reproduced as Figure 8 shows a European view of what was happening in Greece. The Greeks and Philhellenes are standing in close order like a European army. The Turks are fighting with bows and arrows.

  • 19 * See also p. 288.

19The Societies did, however, make an honest effort to publish genuine accounts by men who had gone to Greece. One of the first, published in Leipzig, consisted of a series of letters of a theology student, Feldhann, who accompanied General Normann. The author had, however, been killed at Peta before his confident descriptions of the voyage out and of the welcome in Greece appeared in Europe. The Societies also seized on an account by a young French naval officer, Voutier, which was published in Paris. It was translated twice into German with laudatory introductions by the Societies. Unfortunately this Frenchman was a shameless liar, describing himself as playing a leading role in many events at which he was not even present.*19

  • 20 I include the following: Aschling, Stabell, Christian Müller, Lieber, Schrebian, LeFebre, Bollmann (...)

20Faced with a public intent on believing what it wanted, the disillusioned Philhellenes turned to the pen. Many had consoled themselves through their misery in Greece by keeping diaries. Although some who had promised themselves that they would tell their story when they went home later gave up their intention, an astonishing number of accounts were printed. In the two years after the expeditions had sailed from Marseilles virtually every district which had furnished Philhellenes had the opportunity of reading the story of a disappointed local hero. The map on page 118 shows the spread of such publications during this period over the area that had been the centre of the movement. They were printed on local presses and seldom circulated outside their area.20

21These accounts make sad reading. Some are the disorganized productions of men unused to writing, others are ghost-written, others are anonymous to protect their authors from reprisals. The fact that so many did eventually appear in print attests the earnestness of the authors. The effort which it cost them to write these little books is described in the prefaces – how the authors abandoned and restarted the work but ultimately completed it out of indignation or pity for new victims, or how they had made solemn promises to their comrades in Greece to publish the truth. Almost without exception these books were written in ignorance that other such books were being published in neighbouring towns. They have an unmistakable ring of spontaneity. Again and again the same sentiments are repeated. ’I am writing this to warn others against the mistakes which I made’; ’Modern Greece is not the same as Ancient Greece’; ’The Greeks are a cruel, barbarian, ungrateful race’; ’I apologize for the unscholarly style of a simple soldier’. The writers are bitter, unrestrained, inaccurate, and unbalanced. Few showed that their experiences in Greece had really increased their understanding of the forces at work in the situation.

22Gradually they had their effect. But they were not in time to prevent the last and greatest enterprise of the South German and Swiss Greek Societies.

Map 4: Cities in which books by disillusioned Philhellenes were published 1822-1824


1 Elster, Fahrten, ii, p. 35. The names of the two dead Philhellenes are given as Bollini and Daminski. Elster’s account is, however, very fanciful at this point and is contradicted by more reliable sources.

2 Stabell, p. 89.

3 Striebeck, p. 234.

4 Gottfried Müller, p. 46.

5 Elster.

6 Kotsch, p. 60

7 Lieber mentions the Italian and two Frenchmen without identifying them. The doctor from Mecklenburg, Boldemann, has already been referred to (Note 10 to Chapter 4). The other German from Hamburg mentioned by LeFebre as committing suicide may be the same as the dancing master said by some to be from Rostock, Heinrich Stammler.
Dannenberg, p. 120, mentions the Wurttemberg officer who tried to kill himself. He gives his name as H – n, perhaps Hahn. C. M. Woodhouse, The Philhellenes, London, 1969, p. 121, suggests that the malaria which infected the area immediately north of the Gulf of Corinth produces acute depression in its victims, which often leads to suicide.

8 See, for example, Lieber, pp. 66, 113; Schrebian, p. 68.

9 Finlay, Adventure. This article is written in the first person and contains a number of points intended to make the reader think that the anonymous author is George Finlay himself, but he was not in Greece at the time. A letter from Finlay to the editor of Blackwoods of 21 September 1842 (National Library of Scotland MSS. 4061) claims that ‘the facts happened as nearly as they are narrated and the persons whose names occur would almost feel inclined to vouch for the perfect accuracy of the tale’.

10 Monaldi. See p. 97.

11 Brengeri, iv, p. 351.

12 Unidentified. Kotsch, p. 27.

13 Dannenberg, p. 207.

14 For example Mari and St. André. See pp. 89 and 235.

15 August Christian von Schott, step-brother of Albert Schott, President of the Stuttgart Greek Society.

16 Waddington, p. 1.

17 Aschling, p. 88

18 Examiner, 1822, p. 551.

19 * See also p. 288.

20 I include the following: Aschling, Stabell, Christian Müller, Lieber, Schrebian, LeFebre, Bollmann, Dannenberg, Kiefer, Koesterus, Lessen, Kotsch, Rosenstiel, Stauffer, Kiesewetter, Anonymous of Dinkelsbuhl, Anonymous of Tubingen, translations of Christian Müller published in London and Paris, a translation of Lieber published in Amsterdam, and a translation of Stabell published in Leipzig. The work by Gottfried Müller published in Bamberg is of the same type but since it did not appear until 1824, I have omitted it. There were also numerous warnings in the newspapers, e.g. by Baron Wintzingerode at Munich.

Table des illustrations

Légende Map 4: Cities in which books by disillusioned Philhellenes were published 1822-1824
Fichier image/jpeg, 172k


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