Introduction Greece is a country with a very rich history in civil strife and conflict, escalating to war. Today’s post is embedded in my attempt to dig deeper in the History of modern Greece (after 1821) in order to better understand the perils and challenges of today, and act accordingly. I am not a historian or a social scientist. My approach is therefore realistic, trying to focus on facts and reality. Interpretation by necessity takes the passenger seat. The burning of frigate Hellas in 1831 by Admiral Miaoulis is an act with multiple repercussions. But most of all it is the first serious internal conflict in the country that emerged from the War of Independence of 1821 and the formation of the Greek State.
Ioannis Kapodistrias – Ιωαννης Καποδιστριας Only ten years after the beginning of the War of Greek Independence in 1821, the newly formed Greek State faced its first major challenge: Governor Kapodistrias was murdered. This event marked the formation of the Greek State. There is no doubt that had Kapodistrias completed his program, the Greek State would have become something totally different from what it is today. On the 30th March 1827, the National Assempby of Troizina elected Ioannis Kapodistrias as Governor of the Greek State. Kapodistrias arrived in Nafplion on the 7th January 1828. On the 18th January 1828 the Parliament approves the suspension of the Constitution and Kapodistrias becomes the Absolute Ruler, assisted by the Panhellenion, an advisory body with 27 members.
In 1828, the territory of Greece was limited to the Peloponnese, a few islands and a small part of the mainland. The main features of the situation in Greece in 1828 were the following:
- disorganized state
- destroyed economy
- lack of discipline in military units
- non existent tax mechanism
- many orphans and homeless people
- piracy in the Aegean
Powerful groups of interests were fighting each other for the domination of the political and economic scene. Governor Kapodistrias set as his major goal the creation of a State, starting from nothing.
Frigate “Hellas” Frigate “Hellas” was built in the United States of America, and financed by the second loan to the Greek State, raised by the London Greek Committee. The shipbuilding order was issued in 1825. At the time, the Greek Navy consisted of ships owned mainly by the islanders of Hydra, Psara and Spetses. The small ships had no operational capability against the navy of the Ottoman Empire. “London Greek Committee (act. 1823–1826) was created in March 1823 to support the cause of Greek independence from Ottoman rule by raising funds by subscription for a military expedition to Greece and by raising a major loan to stabilize the fledgling Greek government. The plan to raise the first Greek loan, which began in earnest when Ioannis Orlandos (c.1800–1852) and Louriottis arrived in London in January 1824 to begin negotiations, was more successful. The speculative bubble surrounding the South American loans was at its height, but was not to burst for another year. Nevertheless the terms of the loan were favourable to the lenders, with £800,000 to be borrowed at 5 per cent interest, and £100 of stock could be purchased for £59 payable in six monthly instalments from early March. Thus only £472,000 could be raised, but the return to lenders was enhanced considerably by the discounted price. Leading figures in the committee believed that they would make handsome profits. The first loan was followed by a second, negotiated directly by the Greek deputies with J. and S. Ricardo, the bankers, without the authorization of the committee but with the involvement of some of its key members, including Hobhouse, Burdett, and Edward Ellice (1783–1863). It was thought that the funds from the second loan might be used to stabilize the first, but the funds were again squandered, this time in fitting out an expedition of steamboats (with machinery supplied by the London engineer Alexander Galloway), to have been led by the celebrated Lord Cochrane, which came to nothing, and the building and purchase of two expensive frigates in America when plenty of cheaper versions were available in Britain or on the continent.” (1)
But how did the purchase of the two frigates come to nothing? It is a long story. In summary, the ship builders raised their price while in the process of building the ships, and as a result the Greek State could not pay. Only one of the two ships, “Hope”, that was renamed to “Hellas”, was eventually purchsed. The other, the Liberator, had to be sold. “Binding arbitration was to solve this problem and the arbitrators were authorized to sell one frigate on a public action for the necessary funds. Their decision was 3 August 1826 that the financiers owned $ 894,908.62 for the building excluded another $ 34,246.55 for rigging, cables, extra spurs and shot which allowed a 3 years service. The arbitrators sold the Liberator to the American government. She was taken as the 44 guns frigate Hudson into the American Navy. Laid down at Smith&Dimon, New York 1825 and launched 1826. Due to this selling the Greek were able to pay for the second frigate they ordered. Her sister ship, originally named Hope, departed New York October 1826 and was taken into Greek service as the Hellas.” (2) On the 25th November 1826, the Greek frigate Hellas arrived in Nafplion to become the first flagship of the Hellenic Navy.
Andreas Miaoulis Andreas Miaoulis was a wealthy ship owner, ship master and merchant from the island of Hydra. He is reputed to have met Lord Admiral Nelson when in 1802 his ship was captured near Cadiz by the English fleet. Miaoulis was taken to Lord Nelson, who asked him why he was breaking the naval blockage of the English against the French. Miaoulis responded that it was in his interest to do so. “What would you do if you were in my position?” asked Nelson, and Miaoulis replied: “I would hang you!”. After this exchange Lord Nelson freed Miaoulis. (3) Miaoulis got involed in the Greek War of Independence in the Summer of 1821 and his contribution was huge. In 1822 he was elected Admiral of the Fleet of Hydra. By 1825 he became the Admiral of the Greek Fleet. Miaoulis belonged ot the “English” camp of Greece, while Kapodistrias allegedly belonged to the Russian camp. I must comment on this, as I think that the importance of the “camps” has been overstated at times. I believe that no matter how strong the interests of England, France and Russia were, the Greek interest groups were on the driving seat. As far as Kapodistrias’ allegiance to Russia goes, I do not think that there is any evidence that he compromised his performance as Governor of Greece in order to favor Russia. In spite of being in the English camp, in 1827 the National Assempby of Troizina nominated Admiral Cochrane as vice Admiral of the Greek Fleet. Miaoulis was displeased and withdrew from the admiralty, maintaining the command of frigate “Hellas”. In any case, Cochrane stayed in Greece until early 1828. After Kapodistrias arrived in Nafplion, he placed Miaoulis in the Admiralty. The relationship of the two men became problematic in late 1830, when Miaoulis started opposing Kapodistrias’ policies regarding the remuneration of the shipowners of Hydra.
The rebellion of 1831 In 1831, Greece descended into anarchy with numerous areas, including Mani and Hydra, in revolt. Hydrians and other dissatisfied islanders from the Aegean sea, people of Poros, Mykenos, Syros, Naxos, Andros and Paros fought hard against Kapodistrias which led to rebellion against him. The big problem for the leaders of the island of Hydra was allegedly that Governor Kapodistrias was not accepting their demands for benefits and remuneration for their contribution to the War of Independence. But an equally important item on the agenda of all who rebelled was that Kapodistrias was sticking to his guns and was not letting the powermongers of Mani, Hydra, and other areas play their game unhindered. It was a power struggle, and it was going to cost Kapodistrias his life and destroy for good any chance of building a proper State in Greece. Kapodistrias was not going to yield to the demands of the rebels. He asked Konstantinos Kanaris, the commander of the Greek Fleet Base on the island of Poros to be prepared for operations. The overall plan was to impose a blockade on the port of Hydra, apply the law everywhere, and not allow the rebels to engage in any activity against the State. But the plans leaked and the rebels’ leader Mavrokordatos asked Andreas Miaoulis to take control of the Greek Fleet’s Base in Poros. Andrea Miaoulis acted promptly and on the 14th July 1831 he took control over frigate “Hellas” and other ships. Kapodistrias tried to mobilize the three powers, England, France, and Russia, to mediate in the conflict. England and France started dragging their feet, while declaring the need to find a solution. The Russians were more forthcoming, and this is what broke the camel’s back.
On the pretence that the Russians were going to take over the Greek Navy, on the 1st of August 1831, at the port of Poros, Andreas Miaoulis destroyed the corvettes, “Hydra” and “Spetses” and the frigate “Hellas”. Miaoulis escaped from the scene on one of the lifeboats of “Hellas”, which you can see on the photo above. Konstantinos Kanaris, in his letter to Kapodistrias wrote: ‘On the 1st August, at 1030 hours approaching noon, near the island of Poros, Miaoulis burned “Hellas” and “Hydra”. May the name of the doer of this barbaric act be given to eternal damnation!” (3) The English Journal “Spectator” on 10th September 1831 published an article on the event. “The Government of Capo D’Istrias (sic) is drawing to a close. The secret probably is, that he has come to the end of his money ; while, at the same time, he is accused of keeping a full chest on board a Russian frigate, where he has a kind of head- quarters. The country seems to be breaking up into separate little independencies, as of old. Hydra takes the lead with the Islands ; Maina has already formed a local and independent government ; Roumelia is in insurrection ; and the want of money to pay volun- teers is the only circumstance which now, as well as at all pre- vious times, restrains the inhabitants of the remaining, districts from doing the same.” (Source: The Spectator Archive).
Governor Kapodistrias, was murdered by George and Constantinos Mavromihalis on the 27th September 1831 at Nafplio. In 1832 Miaoulis was chosen by the Bavarian Court to be one of the Greeks that delivered the Crown to the first King of Greece, Otto of Bavaria.
I have created a timeline for the story, using the “myHistro” tool. You can find it here:
1. London Greek Committee (act. 1823–1826) by F. Rosen. Oxford University Press.
3. Wikipedia. Andreas Miaoulis (in Greek)