LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
William Henry Humphreys:
Journal of a Visit to Greece


Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX

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William Henry Humphreys (d. 1826) was the son of an artillery captain of the same name (d. 1837); he was educated at Sandhurst before traveling to Greece at the outbreak of hostilities in 1821; of this experience his 1826 journal says only that he was there for two months, was not present at the massacre of Tripolizza, contracted a fever, and returned with the Scottish philhellene Thomas Gordon of Cairness. (A journal of his first tour was published in 1967.) In 1823 Gordon arranged for Humphreys to return at the behest of the London Greek Committee; he sailed with William Parry on the Ann, arriving at Missolonghi in January 1824. In February Humphreys departed for Athens in the company of Leicester Stanhope, who in March sent him back with the invitation for Byron and Mavrocordatos to attend a meeting of the rival factions at Salona.

In connection with that failed diplomatic event Humphreys met Edward John Trelawny. After Byron's death and Stanhope's recall Humphreys, like Trelawny, stayed on. He was drawn into the orbit of Odysseas Androutsos in the summer of 1824, though unlike Trelawny he did not follow Androutsos into open rebellion. Instead he briefly commanded his own small force before enlisting as an officer under the Greek government, leading a troop of Suliotes in northern Greece in 1825. On account of his friendships he was a suspect person to the Greek government: he visited Trelawny in Androutsos's cave in the autumn of 1824, and again in June 1825 upon learning that Trelawny had been shot (it was Humphreys who sent the Whitcombe, the shooter, to Trelawny, apparently at the bidding of the perfidious John W. Fenton, formerly of the Byron Brigade).

While attempting to secure a surgeon for the gravely wounded Trelawny, Humphreys was arrested by the government for desertion. While under detention he wrote to John Cam Hobhouse of the Greek Committee on behalf of Trelawny before winning his own release (Mavrocordatos being happy to be rid of him), and sailed for Britain in August 1825. In January his memoir of events was published with those by James Emerson Tennent and Count Pecchio as A Picture of Greece in 1825, 2 vols (1826). This was followed by two more personal and lively articles printed in the New Monthly Magazine (August-September 1826) that are a primary if perplexing source for the attempted assassination of Trelawny. Humphreys may already have returned to Greece by the time they appeared as his death at Zante was announced in the Literary Gazette for 23 December 1826.

Humphreys is of chief interest on account of his relationships with Trelawny and his assassins, a subject but lightly touched on in this memoir. The “Journal of a Visit to Greece” is primarily a blow-by-blow account of the infighting among the Greek factions in 1824-25. Humphreys was Stanhope's man, politically speaking. He has little to say about Byron, and with Trelawny had been instrumental in breaking up the Byron brigade and delivering its munitions and personnel to Androutsos (Gill and Fenton among them). He expresses strong contempt for Mavrocordatos (the feeling seems to have been mutual). Humphreys' position in Greece became tenuous after the departure of Stanhope and dangerous after the defection of Androutsos. If the journal adopts the dry and objective manner favored in Benthamite publications, the treacherous events and slippery characters it describes are anything but dull.

William Parry, who was Mavrocordatos' man, gives a brief if withering notice of Humphreys in The Last Days of Lord Byron (1825): “a young man ... who appeared to me to know nothing, either of Greece or of the art of war or of government” p. 246. This is belied by the journal, as also David Crane's assessment that there was “a softness and priggishness about him ... the mental softness of Romanticism in decay” Lord Byron's Jackal, (1999) 145. “Soft” is not the first adjective that comes to mind in describing an officer leading Suliote soldiers through mountain passes; by 1825 Humphreys was an experienced partisan accustomed to the exigencies and perplexities of the Greek way of making war. He could write plaintively enough when striving to provoke sympathy, but the tone he favors in the journal indicates that he also understood how to communicate with the political economists of the London Greek Committee. If Humphreys, like Fenton, was a double agent, he must have been a cool character indeed. It seems more likely that he was merely caught up in the turbulent flow of events.

Daniel Perkins
David Hill Radcliffe