Page images
PDF
EPUB

These different walks were the principal places for taking exercise in the afternoons, but the mornings were generally taken up by the military drills. The leading agent who gave impetus to the movements in these was a character who never ceased to cause either excitement, amusement, or feelings of exasperation. Never before have I seen the spirit of petty tyranny, the vapouring airs of a man “dressed in a little brief authority," so conspicuously exhibited as in this individual. His natural demeanour reminded one of the words used by Dr. Moore when speaking of Zeluco as a planter : “He was in a situation where there was no one to control him, and the capricious cruelty of his disposition had no check to awe him." Daily the officers were subject to his personal attacks, in presence of the soldiers under them. I recollect one or two instances. One young officer, who had moved to a wrong position on the parade, was thus accosted: “ Where is that duck-footed officer going ?" This was said in reference to his feet, which were not symmetrical. Another, who was very tall, who had proceeded at a run in a wrong direction with his company : "Look at the man six foot high dancing off there! Call him back !" To another, who had gone to the wrong flank of his company: “Will any one shove that man into his right place? What would his mother say if she saw him now?” This officer had just heard the sad news of his mother's death. Also the frequent number of times in which the different detachments were harassed by this Field-Marshal Froth, as he was universally called, was truly annoying. However, after one occasion, in which he had sent the different officers of the regiments quartered there away from the mess-room at eleven o'clock at night, along with their companies, in various directions, the news of this proceeding reached Lord Seaton at Corfu, and his lordship thought it expedient to put a stop to the system of false alarms, and sent a resident down from Corfu, belonging to the Royal Engineers, who accordingly took charge of the civil administration of the island, and freed it from the martinet's control.

This was a source of great joy to the military; but shortly after this happened there was a great change in the government of the Ionian Islands, and much to the grief of all parties, inasmuch as the lord high commissioner, who had earned such golden opinions from all parties, and who had given such boons to the population as the freedom of the press and the vote by ballot, was removed from the command, owing to his period of service having expired. He carried with him on his departure the most cordial good wishes and the enthusiastic greetings of farewell from all inhabitants of Corfu, young and old, high and low, civil and military. He had the inestimable gift of managing to combine dignity with courteousness, and rendering both those under his command as soldiers, and under his sway as citizens, respectful, zealous, and amenable. When in moments of difficulty and danger, there was no man that reminded one more of the self-control and tact which were ascribed to Æneas by the poet Virgil :

Curisque ingentibus æger,

Spem vultu simulat. The Greeks are certainly also a very difficult people to deal with. The specious placidity of manner, the crafty duplicity of mind, the thoroughpaced treachery of soul which characterises them now, as it did formerly,

if the ancient writers may be believed, is still accompanied with much talent and eloquence, much of the

λιγυς πυλίων αγορητης τυο και από γλώσσης μελιτος γλυκίων ρεεν αυδη. They are fond of show, of exhibitions, and of society. They joined the parties given at the palace of Corfu, where the chivalrous old nobleman and his amiable family graced the banquet and the ball-room, and did all they could to conciliate and captivate the higher ranks of the Ionian inhabitants. But all the exterior show of complaisance which they exhibited, both in Corfu, at the palace, and in the other islands, when they met the English in society, was feigned and fictitious. They no doubt harboured the same feelings of resentment to the British which many of their countrymen in the islands evinced by their treacherous acts in the remote parts of the country afterwards. But the officers saw little of them at their own houses. The Greek gentry seldom, if ever, invite any one to their meals. Their days of festival are usually in summer-time, out in the air, al fresco. We used to meet in the hot summer and spring months at the bathing-places in the morning, where they, as well as the officers, used to enjoy the delightful pastime of swimming. In no place is this more enjoyable than at Corfu, and consequently every morning brought a vast assemblage of visitors to the scaffolding from which the men used to jump into the sea. Notwithstanding the circumstance of a soldier having lost his life by having been taken down by a shark while swimming in the bay, early in the spring of that year, one morning during the summer two officers, who were there stationed with their regiments, actually swam across the broad harbour, a mile across, to the island of Vido, which lies opposite Corfu citadel, and back again. The under-current which flows near the shore of the island of Vido was the chief impediment which they had to contend against. But such was the heat of the weather at the time that this was done, that they had accomplished their feat and returned to the scaffolding on the Corfu side before eight o'clock in the morning.

No change can be greater than that which is presented by the appearance of the rocky, wild, gloomy, and bleak aspect of Cephalonia to one coming from the abundantly-wooded and well-cultivated island of Corfu. The wilderness as contrasted with the garden-a change from the smiling paradise to the uncouth desert—is what meets the eye of the voyager. But it is not only the face of nature that seems different. The climate is considered very unhealthful in Cephalonia, and several officers and men had suffered there from low fever. There is a marsh which extends for a considerable distance inland from the harbour, which in the hot weather is pregnant with noxious exhalations. This, and the lofty mountains and darksome glens, in place of the myrtle groves, the orange plantations, the numerous woods of olive-trees, and the vineyards of Corfu, are very striking in their contrast. But the scenes which were enacted in the recesses of its sullen-looking and sombre mountain glens during the summer of 1849 were truly frightful and appalling. I question if any blacker act of cruelty or cowardice, any greater exhibition of the paltry and dastardly malignity of the assassin, any more heinous example of the “scelerum tantorum artisque Pelasgiæ," was ever shown in ancient or

modern times than what happened, soon after Lord Seaton's departure, in the mountains of Cephalonia. The inroad of the Greek populace upon the town of Argostoli, the barbarous murder of poor Captain Parker, might have prepared the English for some further demonstrations of hostility to be shown to them by the Greeks, but this act to which I now refer was perpetrated upon the inhabitants of Cephalonia, who were their own.countrymen. In a glen of one of the wildest mountain ranges in the island was situated the house of a Greek gentleman named Metaxa, the head of a family, which was well known in the island, and whose name was so widely spread throughout its villages and homesteads, that, like the names of the Highland chiefs, it formed a clan, as it were, whose members were obliged to resort to distinctive cognomens in order to be properly designated and distinguished by their different brethren. But this individual had given great offence to the Greek inhabitants by some means or other, and, as is usual with the lawless and refractory malcontents of any country, his refraining from joining the leaders in their rebellious proceedings was resented by them more deeply on account of his being a native of the island than if he had recently been established there. This man's house was far from any other, and in the adjacent hills, which were divided by the valleys, lonely and wild, he cultivated the dwarf plantations of vines, the “passolini,” which produced so abundantly the currants for which the island is so famous. The mountain-sides were encircled by terraces, on whose Alats the plants were in great numbers. The habitation was, as it were, an isolated spot, surrounded by terraces, and easily approachable by those who came on foot. One night, during the spring of 1849, a tribe of Greeks, in great numbers, headed by a man named Vlako, surrounded this house. They came pouring down from the different tops of the hills, bearing in their hands logs of wood, besides the fire-arms which numerous parties had in their possession, and which they had had concealed in the pits. Their first aet was to place the billets of dry wood round the house, to the window. frames, to the doors, pile them up on the roof by ladders, and when they had done this, they set fire to these piles of wood in at least a dozen different places. The wood soon kindled-the flames arose the house fixtures of old wood soon blazed away. The hapless inmates, consisting of the man, his wife, two children, and two servants, were first roused to their extreme danger by finding themselves wholly surrounded by the flaming rafters, and smoke issuing from all parts of the building, and saw that their escape from the frightful death was totally impossible. As soon as the cruel miscreants perceived that the deadly fire was issuing from every window and aperture of the building, they assembled in order, and took their departure to the trysting-place, which had been fixed on for their meeting previous to their departure to pursue this diabolical enterprise. Some hours after their departure, a party of two or three policemen saw the smoke at a distance, and, going towards the house, they found that the building was nearly a shell, and that the floors had tumbled in. They hurried in to Argostoli to give the alarm, and to bring back a party of the military. The party which returned were with difficulty enabled to enter the ruined building, and on doing so they discovered the bodies of the unhappy man, his wife, children, and servants, all of them burnt to ashes.

When the resident of the island—the officer who had been appointed to take charge of it by Lord Seaton-had heard a full account of this transaction, and had ascertained the truth of the dreadful lengths to which the Greek population had gone, he proceeded to inform the new lord high commissioner, Sir Henry Ward, and to detail to him the different circumstances which had taken place in Cephalonia. Horrors of a similar character I know to have taken place in other countries-in Ireland, where a family of the name of Sheen had been burned alive in their home, and the murderers, notwithstanding this, escaped but so cold-blooded, cruel, and malignant was the deed now perpetrated by these islanders on those who were brethren to them in religion as well as in country, that the recital of the fact caused a sensation of thrilling indig. nation and intense disgust to seize the minds of all the English community in Corfu. The lord high commissioner, Sir H. Ward, first ordered a regiment to proceed to Cephalonia, and placed the island under martial law. This was reckoned a very severe measure in England, but it should be borne in mind that the animus which evidently was pervading the acts of the Greek population in the island required most stringent and coercive nieasures to meet it, and that the habitual treachery of their conduct rendered them totally undeserving of any soothing treatment. It was ascertained that Vlako, and the other ringleaders in this movement, had always been in the habit of availing themselves of the services of the Greek priests when they wished to excite the population to aets of atrocity. Thus the priest would enter a village with a cross borne before him, and would call on the primario, or head man, who was the leading citizen of the locality, and, in company with him, would proceed to denounce with curses the acts of some English functionary, and pronounce to the unlettered and rude inhabitants of the soil that the religion of their fathers had been desecrated, and that it would become them to stand forward as champions in defence of it. From those who derived all their hopes, their trust, and their concern in life, temporal and spiritual, from the clergy who were immediately over them, little could be expected of judgment or of mental power to withstand such denunciations; and the consequence of such frequent and such earnest appeals was the agitated state of feeling which the minds of the peasantry was thrown into. Even in the town of Argostoli—the head-quarters of the military there was a house which was appropriated for the meeting of a Greek club, and over the door, in Italian, were the words that no English person was admitted there. The first act of the resident and the authorities in the island was to lay down a series of patroles and stations for the military, and to set on foot a search for the delinquents who were implicated in the murder of Captain Parker, and the burning of Metaxa's house. Throughout the whole of the island, in the villages, the glens, the passes, the convents, the large farm-houses, and the ruined buildings, the parties of military were stationed, and their constant marching and continual privations made the service not a little harassing to the troops. Of course the principal information which they could procure, through the medium of the police, was by urging parties to become king's evidence. This was, to a great degree, successful eventually; but previous to their being able to lay their hands upon the most culpable of the criminals, they had to undergo the greatest hardships, by watching, in situations pointed out to them by spies, at night, and to practise the most incessant vigilance in order to waylay or to seize the principal offenders. By the provisions of the martial law an officer was empowered to seize on an offender who had been caught in the act of any transgression to the military commands, such as absence from his village, or haranguing the populace, or other misdemeanours of a like nature, and to inflict either corporal punishment there and then, or to send him into Argostoli for trial, if the case was of a serious nature. The inhabitants were thus actually subjected to be tried for their lives by a court-martial. The principal objection to such a mode of proceeding as this, lies in the very imperfect and vague notion which most young military men entertain of the principles of legal equity. The law of evidence is not sufficiently explained in any of the treatises on military law, so far as regards offences which are not of a military nature, so that, doubtless as it was that the flagrant acts of rebellion had been constantly perpetrated in the island, and were, in fact, rife in the vicinity of every military station, still the power of visiting such offences with punishment was vested in individuals far too inexperienced and too unqualified to act as judges. By the dictum of some young officers, aged about twenty, a priest -a man whose character for sanctity was most reverenced by the villagers in whose town he officiated—was sentenced to corporal punishment. This occurred in many instances. So many were the victims upon whom this punishment was visited thus summarily and swiftly, that actually before the expiration of the period of time to which the martial law extended, eighty persons had suffered corporal punishment. But this degradation, exemplary and exasperating as it was, was as nothing compared to the numbers who were capitally convicted. I have not an exact account of the number, but believe it nearly amounted to forty. I recollect an instance of fourteen prisoners who were sent into Argostoli to be tried for their lives. This was a solemn case, and ought to have been treated in a solemn manner ; but as indicative of the careless and slipshod manner in which the course of judicial trials was conducted at that time in this island, it was positively the fact, that the officer who had sent them in for trial, having received from some of the officers in Argostoli a message that they were in want of provisions, had hung a turkey or a fowl round the neck of each culprit, and found means of thus sending into the town the supply of stock which his comrades were in want of. But the trial or the execution of the minor offenders were thought lightly of, neither was any event looked upon as important compared with the circumstance which absorbed the minds and the attentions of all parties, both civil and military—this was the capture of the arch-delinquent and leading incendiary, Vlako. He was the ruling spirit that had given impulse and impetus to all the acts which had been set on foot by the insurgents in the island. In every popular insurrection there is invariably a guiding character, a riugleader, who is the nucleus of sedition and the teterrima causa of commotion, and this man, from first to last, had enacted this part in Cephalonia. "Towards his move. ments also the eyes of the governing authorities and their subordinates were invariably fixed. Every “day's report" brought some news of his having been somewhere, and varied, indeed, were the canards which were afloat with regard to him. Sometimes he had taken shipping and gone to Greece; sometimes he had managed to escape in a boat to the coasts

« EelmineJätka »