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That Greece Might Still Be Free

William St Clair

28 A New Fleet

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1The loans of £2,800,000 which the investors of Great Britain made to the Greeks in 1824 and 1825 probably had a decisive influence on the outcome of the war. The gold gave the Greek Government an economic hold over the captains for a few crucial months in 1824 and 1825 and was, for example, a factor in neutralizing the effect of the change of loyalty of Odysseus. But this was an unlooked for result, a by-product of other policies. The dramatic increase in military strength which the loan money was intended to purchase never materialized. Schemes to raise an army of mercenaries never progressed beyond the planning stage.

2Apart from a few guns and other supplies the only material benefits which the Greeks obtained from the loan money were a few ships built in England and the United States. The story of this fleet is more complex than any other episode of philhellenism. To give the main outlines and to give them some coherence it is necessary to depart from a chronological order and to pursue several themes at once.

  • 1 A sketch of Hastings’ life was published by Finlay in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, 1845. Hastin (...)

3Frank Abney Hastings1 has been mentioned only incidentally so far. He was one of the few Philhellenes for whom all Greeks and all foreigners had nothing but admiration. He was also responsible for the most imaginative idea for helping Greece that emerged during the war. Hastings was the younger son of a General in the British army, a man of wealth and influence. He was commissioned into the British Navy in 1805 when he was eleven and was present at the Battle of Trafalgar. During the next fifteen years he had a distinguished naval career in war and peace all over the world. He seemed set to rise to the top of his profession until in 1820, when he was in command of H.M.S. Kangaroo in the West Indies, an incident occurred which transformed his life. As he was bringing his vessel into Port Royal in Jamaica in view of the fleet, the Flag Captain of the Admiral’s ship shouted at him in a voice that rang through the harbour: ’You have overlayed your anchor – you ought to be ashamed of yourself – you damned lubber, you – who are you?’

4The etiquette of the Royal Navy is strict, and in 1820 it was stricter. But by any standards, Hastings’ reaction to the apparent insult to his seamanship was surely disproportionate. He waited until he had handed over the command of his ship and was technically a civilian on half-pay, and then challenged the Flag Captain to a duel. It never took place but news of the affair came to the ears of the Admiral; Hastings was reported to the Admiralty; and he was promptly dismissed. Duelling had long been illegal in Britain and the authorities were rightly concerned to prevent the custom from regaining a grip. Hastings wrote pleading letters to the Admiralty protesting that he had suffered an intolerable humiliation which no naval officer could possibly have submitted to. If any such officers existed, he declared, ’I do not envy them their dearly purchased rank; and God forbid that the British navy should have no better supporters of its character than such spiritless creatures’. Government departments sometimes bend to expressions of contrition or to flattery but rarely to petulance or abuse. The Admiralty refused to reinstate him.

5His career ruined, Hastings consoled himself with the thought that, if he could distinguish himself in some foreign naval service, he might one day be reinstated. He set about fitting himself for such a role by going to France to learn the language. It was while he was there in 1822 that the call went out for volunteers for Greece and he followed the trail of the German soldiers and students to Marseilles. Unlike most of that generation of Philhellenes he was wealthy and he subsidized the passage of his friends to Greece.

6As with so many of the early Philhellenes, Hastings found that the Greeks were suspicious of his motives in coming to Greece and the rumour was put around that he was an English spy. Hastings scotched this story by sending a letter to Mavrocordato. His explanation, totally convincing, has the forthrightness permissible only to the rich and the aristocratic.

If the English Government required a spy in Greece it would not address itself to a person in my condition. I am the younger son of Charles Hastings, Baronet, a General in the Army, who was educated with the Marquis of Hastings, Governor- General of India; so that I could surely find a more lucrative, less dangerous, and more respectable employment in India than that of a spy in Greece.

7Hastings joined the crew of a Hydriote ship, the Themistocles, and took part in several engagements. When the great Turkish land invasion reached the isthmus, he spent part of his fortune to take into his service a force of fifty armed Greeks. Hastings shared the frustrations and the disgust at the atrocities which affected so many of his companions but, unlike them, he succeeded in winning the respect of the Greeks. This was partly due to the open-handedness with which he spent his money, but mainly to a reputation which he developed for bravery and seamanship. One particular incident made a great impression. The Themistocles was pursuing a Turkish coastal vessel off the north of Mitylene when suddenly the wind dropped. The ship found itself becalmed within range of the shore and drifting nearer on a tidal current. Two hundred and fifty Turks were rapidly brought up and began to fire on the ship with their muskets. The crew lay down behind the bulwarks and refused to move, when suddenly Hastings, sensing a light breeze, sprang on to the bowsprit and succeeded in getting the ship’s head round. Her sails filled and she moved out of range.

8During his time with the Hydriotes Hastings was thinking deeply about the strategic situation of Greece and how best her limited resources could be deployed. He had a profound understanding of the potentialities of sea power which went far beyond the normal education of a naval officer. He also appreciated that naval warfare was not a static art but could be developed in the light of technological change. In these respects he differed sharply from most of his contemporaries. During the twenty-five or so years of the wars with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France the techniques of war remained remarkably unchanged. Wars altered in scale, in organization, in aims, but the weapons and tactics showed only minor modifications. As far as land warfare was concerned, virtually the only innovation in weaponry was the Congreve rocket and this gave a very mixed performance. This astonishing conservatism persisted partly because the effort required to train up huge masses of men to fight the normal tactics was so immense and the necessary skills and attitudes took so long to inculcate that there was no energy left to contemplate experiments, but mainly because military men simply did not think in terms of experiment. The notions that military methods should develop in parallel with changes in technology, and that military success might depend upon being more technologically up-to-date than the enemy were still novel. And in fact there were as yet few improvements in technology which could be directly applied to the battlefield.

9As far as naval warfare was concerned, on the other hand, the biggest technical innovation for at least three hundred years was about to begin. In 1801 the Charlotte Dundas, a sturdy vessel fitted with a steam engine and paddle wheels, towed two seventy-ton barges along the Forth and Clyde Canal against the wind. Thereafter the progress of steam was rapid. In 1812 the Thames sailed from Greenock to London; in 1819 the Savannah crossed the Atlantic; in 1824 the Falcon sailed from London to India. These were all sailing vessels, merchant vessels with engines only for subsidiary use, but for those that had eyes to see it was clear that an important change was occurring. Now there was a prospect of overcoming the one terrible weakness of the sailing ship, its inability to move in a calm.

24. Greece expiring on the ruins of Missolonghi.

25a. Frank Abney Hastings

25b. The Hellas frigate and the Karteria steamship

  • 2 Reproduced as an appendix to Finlay, Greek Revolution.

10When Frank Abney Hastings learnt of the arrival of Lord Byron at Cephalonia in 1823 he put his thoughts on Greek defence policy on paper and submitted them for his consideration,2 The memorandum could serve as a model to naval staffs in any country. It is clear, sensible, and imaginative and yet the lessons of Hastings’ practical experience at sea are given their due weight.

11Hastings argued that since the Greeks had no regular forces, no artillery and no engineers they could never capture the Turkish fortresses except by starving them out. Since the remaining fortresses were all supplied by sea, naval superiority was required. It was more sensible to concentrate resources on achieving this naval superiority than to attempt to reform the land forces on regular lines. In addition, no Turkish invasion of Greece could be successful unless it was continually supplied by sea. If the Greeks could achieve naval superiority they were free from the threat of invasion.

12Hastings reasoned that naval superiority could be achieved by the possession of one steam vessel. In action, such a vessel could be manoeuvred to produce a higher rate of fire than the enemy. Furthermore, instead of firing cold cannon balls, she could, with certain precautions, fire red-hot shot, heated in the ship’s boilers, which would have a far greater destructive effect. Hastings also suggested numerous other technical and tactical improvements and sketched out the chief characteristics of the type of vessel he had in mind. He suggested that its construction could be financed from the funds at the disposal of the London Greek Committee and that it might even make a profit from the sale of Turkish ships which she would capture. He himself offered to make a contribution of £1,000 if he were promised the command.

13Hastings seems to have made little impression either on Lord Byron or on Colonel Stanhope but he continued to press his ideas, and when Edward Blaquiere was in Greece in 1824 he made a valuable convert. Enthusiasm is infectious and Hastings decided it was worthwhile to return to England with Blaquiere in the Amphitrite to promote the scheme. The plan to build a steamship was as a result duly picked out for special praise in Blaquiere’s book on Greece which came out in 1825. Hastings, Blaquiere mentioned, was now ready to spend £5,000 out of his own pocket on the ship.

14The Greek Government and their deputies in London needed no convincing that it would be sensible to spend some of the loan money on improving their naval power. They felt, however, that their purpose would be as well served by purchasing conventional ships as by risking something as new-fangled and uncertain as a steam ship. Recalling perhaps the fiasco of William Parry and his Congreve rockets, they were becoming suspicious of the advanced notions, military and political, of the pundits of the London Greek Committee.

15The deputies were under instructions from the Greek Government to purchase conventional sailing frigates and they began to make preparations to do this in 1824 with some of the money from the first loan. Their original idea was to obtain eight small vessels but in December 1824 they were persuaded that it would be preferable if instead they bought two larger vessels mounting fifty guns each instead of fifteen. It was decided that these ships should be built in the United States; a decision that warrants a brief digression.

  • 3 The development of philhellenism in the United States is described in Booras, Cline, Earle, and La (...)

16The United States, like most of the Western world, had been touched by the philhellenic enthusiasm of 1821 and 1822.3 As elsewhere the main promoters were professors and churchmen and the movement was shortlived. But when the news arrived in 1823 of Lord Byron’s ’pilgrimage’ to Greece, interest revived, and during 1823 and 1824 it was at its height. Committees were established in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and numerous other towns. Subscriptions were raised, pamphlets published, charity balls organized, and all the usual means of raising money were tried. In New York a huge cross was erected on Brooklyn Heights with the inscription ’Sacred to the Greek Cause’. As it was set in place the toast was given which unwittingly recalled the original aims of the Greek Revolution, ’May the Grecian Cross be planted from village to village and from steeple to steeple until it rests on the Dome of St. Sophia’.

17Americans saw the Greek Revolution in terms of their own recent revolution against the British. The American volunteers saw themselves as so many Lafayettes, and the old general himself did not discourage the comparison on his visit to America in 1824 to receive his mead of homage. Thomas Jefferson suggested that the Greeks might like to examine the constitutions of the United States to find a possible model for their own. If the suggestion proved useful, the Greeks should consider it ’a tribute rendered to the names [manes?] of your Homer, your Demosthenes whose blood is still flowing in your veins’.

  • 4 * Stanhope, when warned not to try to Anglicize Greece, declared roundly that hepreferred to Americ (...)

18A certain smugness pervades many American philhellenic pronouncements, an assumption that the United States had a nearly perfect political system and a peaceful and benevolent government which had no need or desire to embroil itself in the sordid rivalries of Europe. American Philhellenes adopted a high moral tone, high even by philhellenic standards. This attitude was encouraged by the Benthamites of the London Greek Committee – especially Stanhope*4 – for whom the United States, combining a free constitution with puritanical Christianity, represented the best political system yet in operation.

  • 5 Howe’s estimate. Historical Sketch, p. 446.

19In many ways, however, the American philhellenic movement was a cultural colony of the movement in Britain. Although the United States Committees collected in 1823 and 1824 a sum estimated at $80,000 for the benefit of the Greeks,5 nearly four times as much as the London Committee, they still looked to London for their lead. Distance seems to have lent enchantment or, at worst, credibility to the activities of Hobhouse, Hume, Bowring, Stanhope, and Blaquiere whose efforts on behalf of the cause had such moderate success in their own country. The money collected in the United States was sent to London to be handed over to the Greek deputies where it disappeared along with the loan money down the drain of waste and corruption. American Philhellenes who went to Greece soon tired of explaining that they were not English and reluctantly accepted the status of honorary Englishmen and the considerable advantages which the status conferred.

20The United States Government, like so many in Europe, found itself perplexed by the Greek situation. At the end of 1822 President Monroe made an enthusiastic declaration in favour of the Greeks, ending with the categorical statement: ’A strong hope is entertained that these people will recover their independence and resume their equal station among the nations of the earth’. The Greeks saw a chance of securing a diplomatic recognition from a country more significant than the Sovereign Knights of Malta, their only success so far. Mavrocordato wrote to Secretary of State John Quincy Adams in terms which diplomats use when they are being polite about countries which have no shared interest or experience. He fastened on the only point the two countries had in common, the fact that neither had a king, and eked out the rest of the letter with flattering generalities.

If an immense distance separates America from Greece, their constitutions and their reciprocal interests bring them so close together that we cannot possibly omit to look forward to the establishment of relations whose happy results cannot possibly be doubted.

21Adams, while firmly rejecting the proposal, showed that he too was a master of the genre:

The people of the United States… sympathizing with the cause of freedom and independence wherever its standard is unfurled, behold with peculiar interest the display of Grecian energy in defence of Grecian liberties, and the association of heroic exertions, at the present time, with the proudest glories of former ages, in the land of Epaminondas and of Philopoemen…. If in the progress of events, the Greeks should be enabled to establish and organize themselves into an independent nation, the United States will be among the first to welcome them, in that capacity, into the general family, to establish diplomatic and commercial relations with them, suited to the mutual interests of the two countries, and to recognize, with special satisfaction, their constituted state in the character of a sister Republic.

  • 6 For American dealings with the Turks and the career of George English, see Finnie.

22Meanwhile Adams, like any Foreign Minister, had his eye firmly on the national interest.6 For all his talk about liberty and Epaminondas, it was clear to him that Turkey was a far more promising partner for the United States than poor struggling Greece. In April 1823, four months before he sent the reply to Mavrocordato, Adams had dispatched an agent to Constantinople to open secret negotiations with the Turks. George Bethune English, a gifted Harvard graduate with a flair for languages, sampled several careers, the law, the press, the church, before becoming a Lieutenant in the Marines. His voyage to the Mediterranean gave him a taste for the East. In 1820 he went to Egypt, became a Moslem, and accompanied one of Mehemet Ali’s conquering expeditions into Africa as an artillery officer. When he arrived at Constantinople in 1823 on his secret mission he ostentatiously sported Eastern dress and the Turks apparently accepted the unlikely tale that he was ’an American musselman who has come from a far distant country to visit the Capital of Islam’. The European diplomatic missions regarded him as simply another eccentric Middle Eastern traveller of a type that was already becoming common. It was a perfect disguise. English was remarkably successful in his overtures to the Turks. His purpose was to obtain a commercial treaty which would secure the American trade in the Levant, an object which successive American administrations had set their heart on since the time of George Washington. The American Levant trade was now very valuable but, in the absence of a commercial treaty, the Americans were obliged to rely on consular facilities provided – on repayment – by the British. This was humiliating but there was a more important consideration. The most lucrative commodity of the American trade now had to be handled with discretion. The purchasing and adulterating of the opium produced near Smyrna was a delicate business, if only because many people at home were already questioning whether it was right to make fortunes out of befuddling and poisoning the Chinese. The opium trade from Smyrna was now virtually an American monopoly which a few merchants had built up during the period of American neutrality at the beginning of the century.

23In the autumn of 1824 a large American naval squadron, including the largest American warship ever to cross the Atlantic, the U.S.S. North Carolina, appeared in the Eastern Mediterranean. The main object of this expedition was to impress the Turks and follow up, at a higher level, the negotiations begun by English at Constantinople. The Commander of the squadron duly met the Turkish naval Commander-in-Chief, successfully impressed him with American naval power and continued the negotiation for the treaty taking care to heed the warning from Washington to be ’especially careful that neither the meeting nor any movement contingent upon it shall be made susceptible of any unfavourable operation upon the cause of the Greeks’. The Americans did not obtain their coveted commercial treaty until 1830 and then they were manoeuvred into signing a secret clause which gave the Turks the right to buy warships in the United States.

24Meanwhile the United States Government was studiously cultivating the Greeks, competing with the European powers in the business of conferring favours which might later be converted into commercial advantages. At the time when George English was conducting his secret negotiations with the Turks in Constantinople, Richard Rush, the American Minister in London, was paying assiduous attention to Orlandos and Louriottis.

25Through Rush’s agency, the Greek and American Governments continued to exchange letters of mutual esteem. The Americans professed themselves deeply interested in the outcome of Greece’s struggle for liberty but carefully refused to concede the one point which the Greeks wanted, diplomatic recognition. The Greeks returned the flattery, skilfully drafting their messages to appeal to American preconceptions. Rush, by making himself the agency by which the money collected by the United States Greek Committees was forwarded, ensured that he was privy to the dealings between the Greeks and the United States’ Committees. Soon his lobbying began to pay off. At the end of 1824 the Greek deputies approached him to inquire whether they could obtain in the United States the frigates which they had been instructed to order from the proceeds of the loan. Here was a chance for the United States and Rush eagerly seized it. Diplomatic recognition the United States could not give, but export contracts – that was another matter. As Rush reported, he was ’desirous to see money expended in the United States by foreigners, whenever it may be done in a way of lawful traffick’. Although it was out of the question that the United States Government should compromise its valuable neutrality by openly supplying naval material to the Greeks, ’it might perhaps be competent to individual citizens or shipwrights of the United States to receive proposals, consistently with the duties of neutrality’.

  • 7 * Hastings advised that second-hand East Indiamen, which were generally reckoned to be as good as w (...)
  • 8 The affair of the frigates is described by Dakin, Earle, and Lepandis. Many of the details are der (...)

26By an apparently happy coincidence, the president of the New York Greek Committee, William Bayard, was also a partner in the merchant house of LeRoy, Bayard and Company which was ready to undertake the supervision of the construction. After some discussion, arrangements were made for Bayard’s company, in association with another merchant house, to build two frigates in the United States at an expected cost of about $250,000 each, ’built of live oak, sheathed with copper and including guns and carriages’. This seemed expensive but money was still plentiful. The deputies had set aside £150,000 from the loan money which was more than enough.*7 The two ships were provisionally named the Hope and the Liberator.8

27William Bayard, as part of the arrangement, made discreet inquiries among his friends at Washington, and was able to ascertain that the United States Government would not invoke the law but was prepared to turn a blind eye. The Government was so anxious to see the contract placed in the United States that it gave leave to Captain Chauncey, an officer of the U.S. Navy, to allow him to accept appointment as supervisor of the construction. The deputies in London sent as their agent on the spot a French General named Lallemand, but he was more at home on the back of a horse than among the bankers of downtown New York. He was happy to leave all the shipbuilding arrangements to Bayard.

28Meanwhile at the beginning of 1825, after the second loan had been successfully floated in London, the Greek deputies seemed to have virtually unlimited money to spend on any project that took their fancy. The old idea of recruiting a mercenary army was an obvious candidate for revival. This had been the favourite philhellenic solution to Greece’s problems since 1821, the idea of Hypsilantes and of Baleste, of General Normann, of the promoters of the German Legion, of the Knights of Malta, of Colonel Gordon, of General Roche and the Orleanists, and no doubt of many others.

29With the help of those members of the London Greek Committee with whom they were still on reasonable terms, the Greek deputies approached various candidates with the right military experience to see whether a military expedition could be mounted. Colonel Gordon was the obvious choice but he knew too much about Greek politics to accept their promises. Unsuccessful overtures were also made to Sir Robert Wilson, a British general who, after a lifetime fighting the French, discovered that he was sympathetic to Bonapartism, and whose most recent exploit had been to raise a force of British volunteers to fight for the Constitutionalists in Spain. Discussions were continued with Sir Richard Church, who had commanded Greek troops in the Ionian Islands.

30The man whom the Greeks thought they wanted most was Charles James Napier who was already been mentioned as entertaining Byron in Cephalonia in 1823. Napier went to England in 1824 to offer his services and then again in 1825, but no agreement could be reached. He demanded a sum of £12,000 for himself in compensation for giving up his career in the British army; £100,000 or £150,000 to pay his troops; 15,000 muskets; and at least 500 Englishmen, Irishmen, or Scotsmen. Napier’s terms look excessive for a man whose pay was about £300 a year and who had already been given clear hints that he had been passed over, but the Greek deputies agreed in principle.

31When, soon afterwards, they decided that they did not want the army after all, they still wanted Napier as a commander but he refused to accept. He had an intense, fanatical craving for military glory and the decision cost him dear, but it was inevitable. For Napier it was not the trappings of war that attracted him, not the uniforms, the ceremonial, the adulation and obedience of subordinates, not even the sensation of leading a victorious army through a conquered territory. Napier loved the violence itself and he loved the power. When not actually fighting, his greatest love was to tidy up ruthlessly any situation in which he found himself, to establish law and order, his law and his order. Soon he was to find a suitable theatre for his talents in India. Greece was fortunate to escape him.

32In the spring of 1825 the Greek deputies finally accepted the persuasion of Hastings and Blaquiere and decided to build a steam vessel. There seemed to be plenty of money available for new ideas now that the second loan had been so successfully launched. In March the deputies authorized Ricardos, their bankers, to pay £10,000 to Edward Ellice M.P., a member of the London Greek Committee who had undertaken to make the arrangements. The ship itself, a corvette of 400 tons, was to be built at Deptford on the Thames; the steam engines to be provided by Alexander Galloway of Smithfield, London. Hastings undertook to provide the armament. The ship was provisionally named the Perseverance, a quality which her creators were to need in large measure.

33With the decision to build the frigates in America and the steamship in England, the Greeks became gradually committed to spending the loan money on a naval policy. All that was needed was an admiral. Then in June 1825 one of the most famous naval heroes of the age arrived in England and declared himself ready to take command of a naval expedition to fight for Greek independence.

  • 9 For the life of Lord Cochrane see his own, The Autobiography of a Seaman, London, 1860; E. G. Twit (...)

34Thomas Cochrane, Tenth Earl of Dundonald, Baron Cochrane of Dundonald, of Paisley, and of Ochiltree in the Peerage of Scotland, Marquess of Maranham in the Empire of Brazil, G.C.B., and Admiral of the Fleet, lies among the great men of England in Westminster Abbey.9 Four other nations lay wreaths on his tomb. The eulogistic inscription placed there in 1860 when he died in his eighty-fifth year exaggerates only a little the reputation which he enjoyed at the end of his life. Thomas Cochrane, it declares,

Who by the Confidence which his Genius,
His Science and Extraordinary Daring
Inspired, by his Heroic Exertions in the
Cause of Freedom, and his Splendid
Services alike to his own Country,
Greece, Brazil, Chili, and Peru,
Achieved a Name Illustrious throughout
The World for Courage, Patriotism,
And Chivalry.

35In 1825 Cochrane’s own generation took, on the whole, a different view. During the long French wars he had built up a huge reputation as a daring and flamboyant officer. By instinct he always seemed to do the unconventional and the unexpected and he was always drawing attention to himself. He treated his superior officers with undisguised contempt. He was also extremely successful. In particular, he applied his talents to capturing enemy vessels and so earned more prize money than any other man in the history of the British Navy. In 1805 alone he won £75,000.

36Cochrane was court-martialled in 1798, when he was twenty-three, for indiscipline. In 1808 he provoked a court martial for his Commander-in- Chief, Lord Gambier, but the move backfired and Cochrane was put on half pay. No doubt the authorities felt they were well rid of an undisciplined ambitious exhibitionist. His civilian career was just as tempestuous. He became a Member of Parliament and gave vehement support to all the liberal causes of the hour. Along with several of the men who were later to be associated with the London Greek Committee, he threw himself with gusto into the delightful and ever-praiseworthy business of exposing the incompetence and extravagance of the Government.

37An arrest and escape from prison at Malta, an attempt to resist an armed military force for two days in a barricaded house in Westminster, a runaway marriage to Gretna Green – incidents such as these were all part of Cochrane’s daily life. Then in 1814, for a second time, he seemed to have overreached himself. In February of that year a breathless young man arrived at Dover in a scarlet uniform and, on his way to London, ostentatiously put it about that he was bearing news of a great allied victory and of the death of Napoleon. The price of shares on the London Stock Exchange immediately soared and when the hoax was uncovered, it was noticed that Lord Cochrane was one of a handful of people who had made a fortune. Justly or unjustly he was tried, found guilty, fined, and imprisoned. He was expelled from the House of Commons, deprived of his K.C.B., and cashiered from the Navy. As a small mercy, the sentence to sit publicly in the stocks was commuted.

38In 1818 Cochrane accepted an invitation to go to Chile where the revolutionaries were in the process of expelling the last Spanish garrisons. His fleet consisted of a few small second-hand vessels and one frigate captured from the Spanish. For the first two years he achieved little except the usual huge reputation for exhibitionism, wilfulness, disobedience, and quarrelsomeness. Then in January 1820, apparently on a sudden impulse and without proper preparation or orders from the Government, he attacked the main naval base still in Spanish hands. The sheer effrontery of the move caught the Spanish by surprise and the place was taken. Soon afterwards he led a force against the Spanish in Peru and, by a similar combination of enterprise and daring, succeeded in capturing the Spanish flagship.

39Cochrane had intended to settle in Chile and built himself a handsome house there, but he quarrelled incessantly with the Chilean leaders particularly about money both for himself and for the European volunteers who followed him. And, although he had done more than most of the local leaders to ensure that independence was safe, he became increasingly aware that the struggle in which he was engaged, allegedly for liberty, was merely transferring the poor South Americans from one unscrupulous government to another. Chile was racked with civil war and some of the important towns had fallen again to the Spanish when Cochrane received an invitation to join the service of Brazil where the young Don Pedro had proclaimed himself Constitutional Emperor in defiance of Portugal. His success there, too, was almost incredible. On one occasion with only two ships he attacked a Portuguese convoy of thirteen warships and over sixty merchant ships and captured or destroyed all but thirteen. On another occasion, with only one ship, Cochrane persuaded the garrison of an important fortress to surrender by pretending that he had a huge force coming up behind. By such enterprising bluff he secured the independence of all the northern provinces of Brazil. There soon followed, however, the usual quarrels and swift disillusionment with the way in which constitutionalist liberty worked in practice. In the summer of 1825 he wrote a series of letters of resignation to the Brazilian Government – his usual method of applying pressure – and when he received no reply, sailed off in one of the frigates. On 25 June he arrived unannounced at Portsmouth and went off for a holiday in Scotland.

40Cochrane’s legal status at this point would have been difficult to define. He had so openly defied the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1819 that he was virtually asking the British Government to prosecute him; unless, of course, he should be regarded as a Brazilian, but in that case his action in sailing without orders across the Atlantic with half the Brazilian fleet was desertion or mutiny. Cochrane, the great fighter for constitutional liberty, cared nothing for these matters.

41At the court martial in 1798, Admiral St. Vincent had described Cochrane as ’mad, romantic, money-getting, and not truth-telling’, and seldom has a personal file contained such an accurate description. In 1825, twenty-seven years later, he was the same man. In particular, despite the numerous vast fortunes which he had already accumulated, Cochrane’s appetite for money was as sharp as ever. His quarrels with Chile and Brazil had been as much about money as politics and he never received everything that he was promised. Chile had given him a draft for $120,000 drawn on the Peruvian Government which they refused to pay. The Brazilian Government, Cochrane reckoned, owed him £100,000 and it did eventually pay £40,000 to his family after his death.

42To serve the Greeks he demanded payment in advance and at a rate which would compensate him for giving up his career in the Brazilian Navy from which he had just deserted. After negotiations with the Greek deputies a contract was settled. They were to provide him with a fleet out of the loan money. He himself was to receive £37,000 in advance and a further £20,000 was set aside to be paid to him when Greek independence had been secured. Prudently, he insisted that the money should be physically set aside by being paid to one of his friends in trust and not left with the deputies.

43£57,000 is a large fee by anyone’s standard. To give a measure of its value in 1825 it is worth recalling that the total resources of the Paris Greek Committee collected over three years from all over Europe amounted to about £65,000. With this they financed four philhellenic military expeditions, a large programme of education for Greeks in France, the redeeming of hundreds of slaves after the fall of Missolonghi, the purchase of a warship for Lord Cochrane, and much else besides. The total revenues of the Greek Government in 1825 (which was reckoned to be the year in which it authority was widest and its income was greatest) came to the equivalent of about £90,000.

44Cochrane did not ignore the perquisites of the appointment. Remembering his fortune from prize money in the British Navy, he insisted that, apart from his fee, he should have the right to the proceeds of the sale of any ships captured from the enemy ’as is customary in such cases amongst civilized nations’. In addition, he is said to have made a further £100,000 out of judicious speculating in Greek bonds when his decision to join the Greeks was made public. Lord Cochrane’s philhellenism rested on solid financial foundations.

  • 10 Slade, i, p. 182.
  • 11 MacFarlane, i, p. 197.

45Nevertheless, the Greeks’ decision was perhaps right. They had hired probably the most famous and most successful fighter in the world. Not only had he never known failure: his success had without exception been brilliant. For their £57,000 they were buying a reputation which might do more for the Greek cause than all the ships. When news arrived that the great liberator was on his way, a sudden relapse of morale was felt on the Ottoman side. One traveller remarked that the Turkish fleet was so terrified that it would never venture out of port even if Lord Cochrane had only one small schooner.10 Another traveller, more familiar with Turkish psychology, declared that ’the Turks imagined him to be a sort of half man, half devil – a sorcerer who needed not the agency of winds and currents, but who could rush to his object in spite of them. I really believe some of them thought he could sail his ships on land’.11

46One of the reasons for Cochrane’s successes in the past had been his willingness to improvise, and to experiment with new methods and to look for new military technologies. He was one of the first naval officers to recognize the potential of the steam engine and in 1818 he had arranged for an old sailing vessel to be fitted with steam engines for the Chilean navy. The Rising Star did not reach South America until the fighting in Chile was over, but she was probably the second steamship to cross the Atlantic – she was certainly the first steamship to reach the Pacific. When, many years later, Lord Cochrane was received back into the forgiving bosom of the Royal Navy, he was to play a decisive part in introducing a new generation of steam warships and so prolonging British naval superiority for another hundred years.

47It was natural that his mind should turn to steamships in accepting the invitation to fight for Greece. Not only was this the kind of bold innovation which appealed to him but a circle of Philhellenes in favour of steamships already existed in London, led by Hastings and Blaquiere, ready to press the idea on the deputies. And the Perseverance was already under construction.

48Lord Cochrane submitted a list of his demands. In no circumstances he declared, would he enter the Greek service with their present inefficient naval force. He required:

Six steam vessels having each two guns in the bow and perhaps two in the stern not less than 68-pounder long guns. The bottoms of two old 74-gun ships, upper decks cut off and heavy cannon mounted on the lower deck. These vessels well manned appear to be sufficient to destroy the whole Turkish naval power.

49Admiral Lord Exmouth is reported to have declared when he heard of the scheme, ’Why, it’s not only the Turkish fleet but all the navies in the world you will be able to conquer with such craft as these’, and it is easy, in the knowledge of the subsequent development of naval warfare, to congratulate both Cochrane and Exmouth on their strategic vision. It is more difficult to appreciate the imagination of Cochrane’s plan, the total self-confidence and the boldness verging on rashness which it implied.

50The steamship had far from proved itself as a naval weapon although well enough tested for civil purposes. The East India Company had made use of one in the Burma River War with some success, but that was hardly decisive evidence. No major navy had yet adopted steam in any of its main ships and this was not entirely due to neophobia or obscurantism. War is risky enough without gratuitously introducing new opportunities for failure. As has been shown again and again at the cost of innumerable lives, there is many a long step between the conceiving of a brilliant technological idea and the building of a practical, efficient, and reliable machine.*

51Lord Cochrane had no doubts, and he did not attempt to hedge his bets

  • 12 Dakin, British Intelligence, p. 45.

* French friends of the Greeks were at this time advocating the adoption of another type of secret naval weapon, a ship which could sail under water.12 The submarine in 1825 was at about the same stage of development as the steamship and, in other circumstances, might have been chosen instead. The idea of a steam warship was not much more revolutionary.

52by asking for conventional warships as well. Six steamships was what he wanted, nothing more, nothing less, although he would, of course, also take under command the two frigates building in America. Edward Ellice assured the Greek deputies that ’Within a few weeks Lord Cochrane will be at Constantinople and will burn the Turkish vessels in the port’. Cochrane added that he would burn Constantinople itself to the ground.

53The deputies were persuaded to set aside £150,000 from the loan money to build a steam fleet (including the £57,000 fee to Cochrane). In August they placed orders for five more steamships of much the same size as the Perseverance. They were to be completed by November 1825, that is less than three months from the date of the order. It was also the date on which the two frigates building in the United States were expected to be ready. The Greek deputies and their friends on the London Greek Committee were able to congratulate themselves, for a few short weeks, that they had laid the preparations for an expedition which would at last ensure the freedom of Greece. It was a precious moment, duly savoured.

54Cochrane arrived in London in November 1825 ready to take command of his new fleet, and the trouble began. Shipbuilding contracts are notoriously liable to slippage, especially when the designs incorporate new technology: some delay might therefore be expected. Three of the ships had to be lengthened in the hull when it was discovered that the full payload of engines, armament, and fuel made them unseaworthy. But that was not all. As a result of the antics of Bowring and the other speculators, the relationship between the Greek deputies and the members of the London Greek Committee was now near breaking point. The bondholders were becoming restive and the first suspicions about the fate of their money were being voiced. The British Government also began to take fright. They were anxious to help the British Philhellenes if this could be done discreetly but discretion was not the most prominent of Cochrane’s qualities. The bondholders, anxious to inflate their credit on the Stock Exchange, trumpeted Cochrane’s accession to their cause on every occasion, but this merely added to the embarrassment of the Government. How could the Government insist to the Turks that Britain was neutral in the war if one of her most famous admirals was supervising the construction of a hostile fleet in England? If the Foreign Enlistment Act meant anything, then surely Cochrane who had enlisted in at least three foreign navies deserved to be prosecuted? A decision to prosecute was in fact taken by the Cabinet, but it was not necessary to put it into effect. Cochrane took the hint and prudently slipped over to France leaving the task of preparing the fleet to his friends.

55Six months passed and still there was no sign of the ships being ready. Cochrane, to whom inaction was torture, occupied himself in reading fifty books on Greece specially sent to him in France, then in May 1826 he paid a secret visit to the yard of Alexander Galloway, the London engineers who were building the steam engines, and discussed progress with the deputies. He threatened to give up the whole idea but agreed to continue on receiving promises that three of the ships were almost finished. The delays were not entirely due to technical factors. Mehemet Ali, learning that steamships were coming into fashion in Europe, decided characteristically to have one for himself. He bought a Margate packet steamer and mounted three guns on her. When it appeared that more modern machinery was required, who more appropriate to supply it than Alexander Galloway of Smithfield, London? Galloway’s son was sent to Egypt where he had hopes of being appointed resident engineer to the Pasha at a salary at £1,500.

56It is always said to be difficult to serve two masters and the difficulty is presumably increased when they are engaged in a war of mutual extermination. Galloway, while willing to provide engines for warships for the Greeks, had to consider the likely reaction of his other customer, the Pasha of Egypt. If the company appeared to be unnecessarily philhellenic, the Pasha would certainly withdraw the offer to young Galloway and perhaps have him bastinadoed to death to emphasize the point. A policy of procrastination on the Greek steamships was only common prudence, at least until young Galloway had a chance to leave Egypt. In 1826 the Greeks intercepted a ship carrying machinery from Galloways to Egypt and several compromising letters. It appeared that Galloway was cheating Mehemet Ali as well as the Greek deputies.

57At last on 18 May 1826, nearly a year behind schedule, the trials of the Perseverance seemed to pass off satisfactorily. News had recently arrived of the fall of Missolonghi and it was decided that Hastings should sail at once to Greece, leaving Cochrane to come on later with the rest of the fleet. Cochrane took up position off the coast of Ireland with his staff in two yachts that had been bought for him out of the loan money. He expected to receive word to set sail at any moment.

58To the great delight of the bondholders the Perseverance left the Thames in May. At last Hastings had the ship about which he had dreamed for four years and longer. Her crew consisted mostly of British seamen whose recruitment was not interfered with since the ship’s papers declared she was bound for Holland. Under canvas she seemed satisfactory if slow, but it soon became clear that her engines were not powerful enough for her weight and the paddles were too high in the water. Almost as soon as Hastings reached the Mediterranean her boilers burst and she was delayed for three months at Cagliari repairing the damage. It also emerged that she could not raise enough steam by burning wood but needed coal. This had to be sent out in a specially chartered vessel from England. The Perseverance did not reach Nauplia until September 1826. As yet she had no armament. Hastings had ordered the guns and supervised their construction in England, but in order not to run foul of the law, it was decided to send them to the United States and from there to Greece. While in the United States they were lost for a while, but eventually they were dispatched to Greece and arrived in Nauplia in December 1826.

59Meanwhile in June Lord Cochrane, who had been waiting off Ireland in his yacht, received news that the next two steamships the Enterprise and the Irresistible were ready and, as arranged, he immediately set sail for the Mediterranean. It was not until he reached Messina, where he had hoped to rendezvous with his fleet, that he discovered that the news was false. The ships had not yet set sail. Galloway need not have bothered to procrastinate; the technical difficulties were quite sufficient by themselves to impose the necessary delays. The design fault in these two ships was more than ’teething troubles’; it turned out that steam could not be raised of sufficient power to propel the vessels without blowing up the boilers. Lord Cochrane was therefore consigned to another period of waiting, his third since the date on which his fleet was supposed to be ready.

60It was just at this time, the summer of 1826, that the scandal of the loans was being enjoyed throughout Britain as one by one the leaders of the London Greek Committee were held up to public mockery. Now the scandal of the steamships added to the general delight. More was soon to come. The deputies, who had left all the details of supervising the work to Ricardos, their bankers, were surprised to learn that work on three of the steamships, the Mercury, Alert and Lasher, had been suspended. The explanation which Ricardos eventually provided in August 1826 caused even more surprise. Out of the £150,000 which had been set aside for Cochrane’s fee and the building of the six steamships, £123,109 had already been spent. All the Greeks had to show for this money was one defective vessel limping to Greece without armament and one angry admiral cruising aimlessly about the Western Mediterranean searching for his phantom fleet.

61Meanwhile, alarming news had arrived from the United States from where the deputies believed they were soon to receive two fine new frigates, the Hope and the Liberator, for $250,000 each. Another scandal was bursting out.

62The negotiation of naval contracts is no work for amateurs and even the experts whom governments employ on this task are well accustomed to having to answer for the results of faulty estimating. Generally speaking, when shipbuilding business is slack, the contractors are often driven by over-optimism to the verge of bankruptcy; when on the other hand shipbuilding business is brisk, they make handsome profits from government money. There are innumerable variations of types of contract which reflect the balance of negotiating strength, ranging from ’fixed price’, where the contractor is obliged to tender in advance and is therefore under strong incentive to perform the work as economically as possible, to ’cost plus’ where the purchaser agrees to pay the cost of the work plus a certain sum for profit. The incentive here to economy is much less but it still has some force.

63In 1825, despite the American Government’s eagerness for more export orders, the shipyards of the United States were already committed almost to capacity. Naval vessels were under construction for Brazil, Mexico, Peru, and Colombia as well as for the United States Government. Labour and materials were short and costs were rising rapidly. The deputies should therefore have been on guard to look carefully at the details of the contract.

  • 13 * The normal rate at the time was 2½ per cent but some experts argued that, in cases of exceptional (...)

64As it was, Bayards persuaded Lallemand, the agent of the Greeks in New York, and the Greek deputies in London that no formal contract at all was necessary; instead, the ships should be built by ’day’s work’. Two New York shipbuilders were told to begin work at once; to devote all their resources to ensuring the speedy completion of the vessels to the highest standard; and to make any contracts they needed to obtain labour or materials. It was a virtual invitation to extravagance. Furthermore, Bayards and the other ’supervising’ house Howlands, so far from having a financial incentive to impose economy, were on the contrary themselves under a strong temptation to push up the costs. They paid themselves a commission of 10 per cent*13 on every transaction and charged a 2½ per cent fee for bills on Ricardos in London.

65In October 1825 the Greek deputies in London learnt to their dismay that $750,000 had already been paid out by Ricardos, that is $250,000 more than had been bargained for, and that the ships would not be ready for another four months. The estimate of the final cost was put at $1,100,000. Ricardos refused to advance any further money and bills from New York were not honoured.

66At this moment the Greek deputies had eight warships under construction on their account in England and America, and it looked as if they would never acquire any of them. When they protested that they should not have to pay any more for the frigates, they were reminded that the whole transaction of building warships for an unrecognized foreign customer was illegal and that the uncompleted vessels might be seized for that reason. The Greek deputies, unscrupulous as they were, had met their match.

67Early in 1826 they sent a new agent called Contostavlos to New York to try to straighten matters out. He found a muddle of unpaid bills and outstanding claims and it was obvious that the loan money (most of the remainder of which had already been wasted elsewhere) would never stretch to completing both vessels. Arbitrators were engaged and, through the help of several prominent Americans who favoured the Greek cause, including Edward Everett and Daniel Webster, a solution was arrived at. After a valuation by experts, the United States Navy agreed to buy one of the frigates, the Liberator, for $233,570.97: she had already cost $440,606.41. With this money, work on the other frigate, the Hope, was completed. She was renamed the Hellas and eventually reached Nauplia in November 1826. She was a magnificent vessel, according to many observers, one of the most beautiful ships of her day, but she was not worth £155,000.

68In October 1826 Lord Cochrane, exasperated to fury by his months of waiting, sailed to Marseilles to try to obtain news from England. Hobhouse went out to meet him there. During Cochrane’s enforced wait a new proposal had been made to him. The Knights of Malta, hearing of the difficulties with the steam fleet, now offered to employ Cochrane instead if he would fly their flag. A French businessman, who was looking for commercial advantages in Crete, was behind the idea but it never came to anything. Blaquiere knew all about it and several others warned the Greek Government not to countenance it.

69As it turned out, the French were now anxious to make Cochrane’s expedition a success. Hobhouse had had discussions with the Paris Committee on his way and Eynard from Switzerland had also promised support. The apparent volte-face of the French Philhellenes from overt rivalry with the English to active co-operation was partly due to the developing diplomatic situation, but mainly because it was now clear to all Philhellenes that Greece was on the verge of extinction. Since the fall of Missolonghi in April 1826, Greece had been kept in existence largely by the donations of European Philhellenes. If the country was to survive, then Cochrane’s expedition had to be a success; there would be plenty of time for resuming national rivalries once Greek independence had been secured. The main thing was for Cochrane to go to Greece at once.

70The Paris and Marseilles Greek Committee agreed to spend virtually all their remaining money in buying a warship so that Cochrane could arrive with at least some appearance of having a naval force at his command, even if in fact his reputation was now to be his chief weapon. Gazing ruefully at the warships building for Mehemet Ali in the Marseilles dockyard, the French Philhellenes bought a brig of war, the Sauveur, and arranged to have her fitted out in the same port.

71At last, at the end of February 1827, Cochrane set sail from Marseilles for Greece. Instead of a steam fleet he had only three small sailing vessels, the Sauveur and the two yachts. He was fifteen months behind schedule, but, if anything, the delay had served to increase the terror in which his name was held by the Turks. With typical panache and sound military psychology he wrote a letter to Mehemet Ali telling him that at last he was on his way. Perhaps, he suggested ironically, instead of molesting the poor Greeks, His Highness should consider using his energies to cut a canal through from the Mediterranean to Suez. In another letter intended to soften up the opposition he simply referred Mehemet to the thirty-first chapter of Isaiah: ’Now the Egyptians are men and not God; and their horses flesh, and not spirit. When the Lord shall stretch out his hand, both he that helpeth shall fall, and he that is holpen shall fall down, and they all shall fall together’. Lord Cochrane often saw himself as the instrument of the Lord of Hosts.

  • 14 * Renamed Epicheiresis in Greece.
  • 15 † Renamed Hermes in Greece.

72The story of the five steamships which Cochrane left behind can be briefly told. Trials of the Enterprize*14 were held in October and December 1826 without success, but in April 1827 she finally left the Thames. In the English Channel her engines stopped three times, then she burst a boiler and had to be ignominiously towed into Plymouth for repairs, She eventually reached Greece in September 1827. The Irresistible,15 which also proved next to useless as a steamship, did not arrive until September 1828 by which time most of the fighting was over. Of the other vessels, one, the Mercury, was eventually completed with the help of an advance of £2,000 from Cochrane. Edward Blaquiere took her to Greece at the end of 1828. No money was ever forthcoming to complete the other two, the Alert and the Lasher, and they were abandoned to rot in the Thames.

73For the expenditure of over £300,000 of the loan money the Greeks had expected to obtain, by the end of 1825, a fleet of two frigates and six steamships, to say nothing of the two yachts. When the decisive battles for Greece seemed to be imminent in the winter of 1826 all they had achieved was one excellent frigate, one defective steamship, the two yachts, and the old brig provided by the French Philhellenes. But Lord Cochrane had liberated half of South America with less. An admiral who was reputedly able to sail his ships across land might still accomplish some surprises.


1 A sketch of Hastings’ life was published by Finlay in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, 1845. Hastings’ papers came into Finlay’s possession after his death and are now in the library of the British School at Athens.

2 Reproduced as an appendix to Finlay, Greek Revolution.

3 The development of philhellenism in the United States is described in Booras, Cline, Earle, and Larrabee from whom most of the following section is drawn.

4 * Stanhope, when warned not to try to Anglicize Greece, declared roundly that hepreferred to Americanize her.

5 Howe’s estimate. Historical Sketch, p. 446.

6 For American dealings with the Turks and the career of George English, see Finnie.

7 * Hastings advised that second-hand East Indiamen, which were generally reckoned to be as good as warships, would be a better buy. The current price for them was about £25,000 or about $100,000 at the current rate of exchange.

8 The affair of the frigates is described by Dakin, Earle, and Lepandis. Many of the details are derived from the controversial pamphlets of the time, William Bayard, An Exposition of the Conduct of the Two Houses . .., N.Y., 1826; Alexander Contostavlos, A Narrative of the Material Facts. . ., N.Y., 1826; John Duer and Robert Sedgewick, An Examination . ., N.Y., 1826; A Vindication of the Conduct and Character of Henry D. Sedgewick, N.Y., 1826; H. D. Sedgewick, Refutation of the Reasons assigned by the Arbitrators, N.Y., 1826; and especially Report of the Evidence and Reasons of the Award between Johannis Orlandos and Andreas Luriottis, Greek Deputies, of the one part, and Fe Roy, Bayard and Co. and G.G. and S. Howland, of the other part. By the arbitrators, N.Y., 1826.

9 For the life of Lord Cochrane see his own, The Autobiography of a Seaman, London, 1860; E. G. Twitchett, Life of a Seaman, London, 1931; Christopher Lloyd, Lord Cochrane, London, 1947; and Warren Tute, Cochrane, London, 1965. For Lord Cochrane’s activities in Greece see especially the work by his nephew, George Cochrane, Wanderings in Greece.

10 Slade, i, p. 182.

11 MacFarlane, i, p. 197.

12 Dakin, British Intelligence, p. 45.

13 * The normal rate at the time was 2½ per cent but some experts argued that, in cases of exceptional risk, 5 per cent might be admissible. Bayards declared blandly in their defence that Colombia was charged 12½ per cent.

14 * Renamed Epicheiresis in Greece.

15 † Renamed Hermes in Greece.

Table des illustrations

Légende 24. Greece expiring on the ruins of Missolonghi.
Fichier image/jpeg, 407k
Légende 25a. Frank Abney Hastings
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Légende 25b. The Hellas frigate and the Karteria steamship
Fichier image/jpeg, 181k


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