LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Memoirs of the Affairs of Greece
Chapter IV

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
‣ Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Chapter XIX
Chapter XX
Chapter XXI
Chapter XXII
Chapter XXIII
Chapter XXIV
Chapter XXV
Chapter XXVI
Chapter XXVII
Chapter XXVIII
Chapter XXIX
Chapter XXX
Chapter XXXI
Chapter XXXII
Chapter XXXIII
Chapter XXXIV
Chapter XXXV
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Caraiscachi—Calamo—Bozzari and Suliots—Arrival at Mesolonghi—Description of the town and its environs—Various expeditions of the Turks against it without success—Heroic exploit of Marco Bozzari—Siege of Anatolico.

Caraiscachi, whose good opinion I had forfeited by giving assistance to Turks, informed me, that for the present he should prosecute his journey no farther, but remain at Ithaca for a few weeks, his wife and daughter having just arrived. From the caloyero, who had accompanied them and brought him a portion of his treasures, he learned that Rangos had withdrawn his troops from Agrapha. Impatient of reaching Mesolonghi, I instantly embarked for Calamo, where I was given to understand I should find a ready conveyance, as the numerous Mesolonghiot families, that during Scondra Pasha’s invasion had repaired thither, were now returning to their native town. Favoured by a strong wind, miserable as was the boat in which I had embarked, we reached the island in less than two hours.

Calamo is a small barren island about ten or twelve miles in circumference. Owing to its vicinity to continental Greece, from which it is distant only four or five miles, and being without the Turkish dominions, it afforded, at all times, a temporary asylum to the persecuted Greek, and sheltered him alike from the fury of his tyrants, and the avenging arm of justice. This, and a smaller island contiguous to it, were usually inhabited by a few shepherds, employed in tending the flocks, sent thither by the Cephaloniot noblemen, to whom both belonged. During the in-
vasion of
Omer Pasha, in 1822, so considerable a number of families took refuge on it, that they drew the attention of the Ionian government, which, without exposing itself to shame, could not refuse protection to the many defenceless women and children who implored its pity. Accordingly Captain Crummer was sent, in 1823, from Corfu with a small detachment, and immediately on his arrival the British flag was unfurled amidst the acclamations of this timid multitude.

It would have been difficult to have selected a person better qualified, by his benevolent and active mind, to prove useful on this spot of land, which, though narrow in itself, might on this occasion be deemed an extensive field of philanthropy. The number of refugees amounted to eight or ten thousand helpless individuals, who, obliged to live under huts similar to kennels, had been deprived of most of the necessaries of life. Like a father to the colony, the captain constructed roads, mills, ovens, houses, hospitals, and, to the best of his power, administered to their respective wants. Every family, as they returned from the island, implored a thousand blessings on his head; and in reward of his virtuous conduct, let us hope that the prayers of these orphan and destitute suppliants were not disregarded! What contributed still farther to gain him the esteem and gratitude of the Greeks was the zeal he displayed in bringing to punishment an Ionian of the name of Mangiavino, and the manner in which he repaired the wrongs of those, who had suffered from the iniquitous rapacity of this man. During several months this individual had been employed at the health-office to examine and keep a register of those, who arrived from the continent; and to prevent the landing of such as were capable of bearing arms, or who might labour under any pesti-
lential disorder. Availing himself of his situation, he exacted in the name of the commandant presents or money from every comer; which those who had the means paid; but crying bitterly at the same time against the inhospitality of the English, while those who had not, were inhumanly repulsed and prohibited to land. As every one thought that he was an agent of
Captain Crummer, no complaint was made against him; but the captain having at length a suspicion of his proceedings, a search was ordered to be made in his house, when a number of rings, diamonds, and other valuable trinkets were found in it, besides a much larger sum of money than he could be supposed lawfully to possess. On the public crier inviting every one who, before landing, had given any thing to Mangiavino to wait on the commandant to specify it, the whole infamy of his conduct was brought to light, and he was condemned by the tribunals to five years of hard labour.

I here renewed acquaintance with Nothi Bozzari, who, impatient to revenge the death of his beloved nephew, Marco, was waiting for an occasion to cross over to Mesolonghi with a chosen body of Suliots, whom he had collected in different parts of the Ionian islands. Though upwards of sixty years of age, he retained all the vigour and agility of youth. His frame of body was taller and stouter than that of Suliots in general, who, like all mountaineers, are short, and of a spare habit. His gait was noble and graceful, and his appearance extremely imposing. His physiognomy was a true picture of his character; the principal features of which were dissimulation, cunning, penetration, and pride. He expressed himself with the fluency and dignity natural to every Greek; few chiefs surpassed him in the gift of persuasion; and in negotiations, assemblies, or conventions, he displayed
all the talents of Albanian diplomacy. Yet he ranked low in the esteem of his countrymen, who, soldiers from the instant they could lift a musket, cared little about oratory, and thought all ideas superfluous, that had not war for their theme. In one quality in particular, which they prize most, that of personal courage, he had always been deficient; and accordingly he was deemed by them fitter to act as one of the primates than as a general. On waiting upon him, I found him surrounded by his family. His wife and two daughters answered exactly to the Samnite women, described by
Horace: born to serve their lords, they performed the most menial offices, and waited at table, as well on the capitano as on his men. Nothing can exceed the simplicity of a Greek table in general. The primitive race could scarcely have lived more frugally. A few olives and some boiled herbs supplied the wants of the guests. My admiration of the abstemiousness of Nothi might have continued, had I not an hour after met the old man at Captain Crummer’s table, where, according to the rules of the Albanian Galateo—I presume in order to prove to his host how sensible he was of the honour of his invitation—he devoured with voracity the various portions to which he was helped. From that day I began to question, whether the abstemiousness of the Greeks depended on a frugal taste or an economical turn of mind; and I afterwards constantly remarked, that whenever he met with a dainty morsel at another’s table, he was sure to have “a corner kept for it.” Be this as it may, it is certainly of immense advantage to possess a stomach so accommodating as to be able to bear, unhurt, the extremes both of temperance and gluttony. No English soldier, it is certain, could endure on this account the Greek guerilla warfare.


We embarked on the 17th for Mesolonghi, and anchored towards evening close to Vasiladi, a small mud island, but of vital importance to the town; as it is the key of the flats, which, on the sea side, afford an impenetrable defence. These flats extend from the mouths of the Achelous to that of the Evenus (now Phidari), and have been formed by the deposits of those two rivers. The former river especially, named by the moderns from the mud, which gives a white appearance to its waters, Aspropotamo, is continually filling up some of its outlets into the sea, and has thus gradually changed its original course. One of its old channels is plainly traced from Anatolico Bay to near Catochi; and the cluster of small islands, on which stands the town of Anatolico, owes no doubt its origin to the Achelous, from which it is now more than eight miles distant. When the inundations are considerable, the river flows again along its former bed. The channels among these flats are as intricate as a labyrinth, and are known only to the fishermen. They are so shallow that they can be navigated by none but flat-bottomed boats; which, from being simply excavated trunks of trees, without either rudder or keel, are named, the smaller kind μονόξυλα, and the larger πλοιάρια. Our effects, when landed at Vasiladi, were placed in one of these boats, the mode of directing and impelling which is by a three-pronged pole. This island is not more than five hundred feet in circumference. Considering that but a few days ago it was threatened by a powerful enemy, I felt not a little surprised to see how wretchedly so essential a point was fortified; two six pounders and one of eighteen, placed behind a wall not thicker than that of a garden, being the only means of resistance it could oppose to an attack. As no platforms existed, and the soil was extremely
soft, these field-pieces, in case of an action, would soon have sunk so deep in the mud as to preclude the possibility of using them. The only guards were a few fishermen, whose looks exhibited little of a martial appearance, and their occupation still less, for they were busily employed in curing the fish and roe of the kephalo and laviachi (ανγοταραχο), for which Mesolonghi had always been celebrated.

Mesolonghi, before the revolution, consisted of about eight hundred scattered houses, built close to the sea-side, on a marshy and most unhealthy site scarcely above the level of the waters, which, a few centuries ago, must have covered the spot, as may be judged from the nature of the soil, consisting of decomposed sea-weeds and dried mud. Disagreeable, however, as this spot is, it was chosen, no doubt, for the convenience of its inhabitants, who lived entirely on the produce of the extensive fisheries and salt-works in the immediate neighbourhood; while to the nature of its position is to be ascribed the celebrity, it has obtained during the present warfare, as holding the first rank in the annals of regenerated Greece. With the exception of eight or ten individuals, who had acquired a fortune elsewhere, the population of Mesolonghi, which amounted to about three thousand souls, was exceedingly poor. The numberless vexations of Ali Pasha’s vaivode absorbed so great a portion of the fruit of their industry, that though the country around was highly productive, and they could realize money by exporting to the Ionian islands, to Patras, and other places, fish-roe, the favourite quadragesimal food of every orthodox Greek,—and the consumption of this article was so great as to keep in constant activity between twenty and thirty small vessels,—they in a manner starved in the midst of plenty. Men who, after much labour, can barely
provide for their subsistence, can little think of embellishing their houses; and the town had in general a most uninviting appearance. The streets too were narrow and ill paved. But what most revolted a stranger, was the abominable practice of having their buildings so constructed, that the most loathsome substances were emptied into the streets: the optic and olfactory nerves however of the inhabitants were so accustomed to this, that they ridiculed, in no very chosen terms, the disgust we could not help expressing. With the exception of Athens, the same spectacle is seen more or less in every town of Greece. Mesolonghi, at the time I landed, was enjoying its halcyon days. An immense concourse of strangers filled its bazaars and streets; scenes of merriment were day and night repeated in its numerous cafés; and in every direction marriages and feasts were celebrated. The martial pyrrhic dance, accompanied by songs celebrating late exploits, animated the soldier to fresh deeds of glory. The lowest Greek, whether he thought on former bondage and the thousand dangers that led him to independence, or from the present promising appearances anticipated future prosperity, felt himself electrified to the highest degree, and could not forbear giving full vent to his rapture. The Hydriote and Spezziote, intoxicated by their late success, paraded, as in triumph, the arms and spoils of their enemy; and, preceded by the lively mandolins and noisy timbrel, sung alternately, in their Albanian dialect, their naval exploits or their loves. The more sober part of the population and the friends of Greece exulted also while passing in review the events of the year about to terminate. Never did the cause of independence present a fairer chance of success. How disgracefully, in fact, had the mighty undertakings of the Porte miscarried! The whole
efforts of this king of kings were concentrated against Mesolonghi; yet though half the forces were amply sufficient to reduce it, the want of proper direction and harmony in the execution of the plans, united to the jealousy and presumptuous stupidity of the leaders, caused them, as in the preceding campaigns, to be wasted in vain. Had this place been merely blockaded, it is certain, it could not have held out more than three months; being totally unprovided with the means of maintaining the large population, that had flowed in from the surrounding country. Had it been regularly attacked, the quantity of ammunition which it contained (an inventory of which was made by order of
Lord Byron shortly after his arrival) was barely sufficient to defend the place for ten days, though the batteries did not mount more than forty cannons and a mortar. Of the former of these, the carriages were out of order, and more than one half, having no platforms, were buried up to the axle-tree in the mud.

A most exaggerated opinion, in respect to the strength of the fortifications of Mesolonghi, has been entertained in Europe; few persons being aware, that the gross ignorance and bungling operations of the besiegers, contributed more to the long resistance it offered, than the obstacles opposed by the skill of the engineers who constructed them. They were begun after Omer Pasha’s retreat. Cocchini, a Greek, who having been in the service of Austria, had picked up a little information, proposed a plan, which, bad enough in itself, was rendered still worse by the numerous alterations insisted upon by the primates. Nothing could satisfy them but the erection of a wall. Fortunately, however, their pecuniary means did not allow them to complete it, or Mesolonghi would have fallen much sooner into the hands
of the enemy. As the wall was only four feet in thickness, nothing would have been more practicable than to make breaches in it; and being weak and tottering, in consequence of its marshy foundation, its mass of ruins, if it fell (and its elevation was no less than thirty feet), would, as the event afterwards proved, by filling the ditch, have rendered storming no difficult operation. So imperfectly, at first, was the approach to the town protected by the fire of the batteries, that there was a considerable space to the west of the gate where the enemy might have erected batteries without the possibility of being molested. This gross defect being pointed out to Cocchini, he was obliged to acknowledge his error; and in 1824 he constructed, in front of the fortifications, a triangular lunette, from which that point could be commanded.

Topal Pasha, whom the sultan recalled from the province he governed, considering him the person best calculated, from his acquaintance with naval tactics, to be invested again with the dignity of Capitan Pasha, had appeared before Mesolonghi with a fleet of thirty sail, on the 18th of June; but so remiss was he in maintaining a proper blockade, that the boats of the inhabitants hourly passed and repassed in the midst of his ships, bringing provisions, and whatever else they pleased, without being in the slightest degree molested. Though not attacked by the Greek fleet, he did not even venture to reconnoitre Vasiladi. What could have prevented him from taking possession of this island, as well as of Procopanisto and Agia Triada, two other small islands in the flats, through which provisions could, in case of need, be introduced into Mesolonghi, is known only to himself; these islands being then perfectly defenceless. On the 28th of August despairing, it
would seem, of seeing the
Pasha of Scutari (called by the Greeks Scondra Pasha), who, according to his instructions, ought to have appeared with his army before Mesolonghi early in June; giving also ready credit to the rumour of his overthrow in the mountains of Carpenisi; and, lastly, deeming the season too far advanced to enter on his arduous undertaking, the Capitan Pasha raised anchor, and leaving six of his worst vessels at Patras, sailed with the rest towards the Archipelago, with the intention, it was supposed, of surprising some of its islands. He however landed only on the island of Skiatho; and on the appearance of the Greek fleet, much inferior to his own even in number, precipitately re-embarked his troops, and hastened to re-enter the Dardanelles.

Scondra Pasha’s expedition had proved equally inglorious and abortive. His march across Albania had been retarded by the perpetual recurrence of difficulties; purposely raised by Omer Pasha and the different Arnaout chiefs, who, after their repulse before Mesolonghi, having incurred the sultan’s displeasure, feared lest the success of this new enterprise might become the signal of their own destruction. Arriving at last among the mountains of Carpenisi, he was preparing (August 31st) to descend into the plains of Acarnania and Ætolia, when he was attacked during the night by the brave Marco Bozzari; who, with a handful of Suliots, penetrated into the very heart of his camp, spreading so much confusion and dismay among his troops, that, dispersed in every direction, they might easily have been annihilated, had the other Greek capitani been more worthy to co-operate with this hero. It was not till the commencement of September, that the Turkish troops appeared in the plain of Mesolonghi; and they immediately established communications between the
camp and Lepanto; whence they received five cannons and two mortars to carry on the siege. The pasha felt himself, on his arrival, much disappointed. The fleet, without which Mesolonghi could not be blockaded, had returned to Constantinople; and the few men-of-war left at Patras appeared to him insufficient for a task so fraught with difficulties. After deliberating for a while, he considered the siege of Anatolico as the only enterprise practicable in his position. Accordingly, having established batteries on the western side of the town, he begun, on the 20th of October, to cannonade and bombard it; with more activity however than precision.

This town was not in the least prepared for resistance, and could only by its natural position keep the enemy at bay. Its houses, in fact, like those of Venice, rising out of the sea, are built on small flat islands, situated in the middle of the narrowest part of the bay, to which it gives its name. The channels, by which it is separated from the main land, do not exceed 300 yards in width, and the average depth is only between five and six feet. Its access from the open sea is still more difficult than that of Mesolonghi, from the innumerable sand-banks, that intersect its bay in every direction; which would present to an enemy difficulties not easily to be surmounted. Art would have but little to do to render it perfectly impregnable; but so predominant are supineness and procrastination in the Greek character, that unless the danger be imminent, and the storm has actually begun to burst over his head, no consideration can induce him to prepare against the hour of need. The primates and richer part of the population, according to their laudable custom, precipitately fled, and the few, whom poverty or bravery prevented from imitating their example, had no means of replying to
the enemy’s fire, till they received four six-pounders from Mesolonghi, and a portion of that band of heroes, who, in the preceding year, undertook the defence of the latter place; though a miserable ditch, across which I have frequently leaped, was then its only fortification, bereft too of ammunition and provisions, abandoned by its inhabitants, and attacked by a force fifty times more numerous than their own. Under the standard of
Kitzo Costa, himself a Suliot, this band now came to expose their lives for the preservation of this important place; with the fate of which that of the sister town was intimately connected.

It is with peculiar satisfaction I here record, that two British tars accompanied this reinforcement. They had deserted from a man-of-war to fight against the Turks; and they offered, on the present occasion, to serve one of the pieces; and they did much injury to the enemy; having, among others, killed the Topgibashi, or chief cannonier of the pasha*.

From the moment the Suliots arrived, the defence of Anatolico assumed another character, and so much courage and activity were displayed by the garrison, that the Turks abandoned the idea of attempting a landing by means of rafts, which they had constructed for the purpose.

Scondra Pasha perceiving that, after a month spent

* Truth obliges me to add, that the services of William Martin, one of these intrepid sailors, were very ill requited by the Greeks. His comrade had fallen a victim to the typhus fever, which was then prevalent, and his own life was in danger from the same disease: he recovered, however, and was immediately imprisoned and ill treated for having knocked down a Greek of note, who, in denying him his usual ration of bread, accompanied the refusal with the most opprobrious epithets against the English; and he might have died of absolute want in a country, he had so bravely and disinterestedly defended, had he not met at Mesolonghi with some of his countrymen, who relieved him in his misery.

before Anatolico, the whole of his efforts had succeeded only in destroying a few miserable houses, began seriously to reflect on his position, and to apprehend the dangers, that were now daily gathering round his army. The wintry rains, which in these regions last uninterruptedly for three months, had already begun. In a few days the Achelous, the Evenus, and indeed every river and pass would become impracticable; laying aside the possibility of wintering in the marshy neighbourhood of the besieged town, where the troops could receive no provisions either for themselves or horses. Remote from his own pashalick, he could not rely on the assistance of
Omer Pasha, his secret enemy; nor would the Greek bands leave the passage free for his convoys. Discontent already prevailed among the Albanians; their complaints became hourly louder and louder; and their chiefs felt compelled to represent to him, that a timely retreat only could save the army from ruin; and that if he delayed any longer, he would expose the troops to suffer the same losses as Omer Pasha had the year before. On the 30th of November, the whole army, therefore, was in march; and as soon as intelligence of this event reached Omer Pasha, he was unable to refrain the joy it occasioned him, but appeared frantic with delight.