Stories From English History: III - Alfred J. Church


On the first day of January, 1822, the Greeks declared themselves independent. For some time past they had been discontented with Turkish rule. They had rebelled more than once, and at this time had driven the Turks out of the Morea. Great sympathy was felt for them throughout Europe, especially by those who had read the history and knew the books of ancient Greece.

Fighting went on for some years. The Greeks won some victories, but they were not a match for their enemies. In May 1827, Athens, which had been captured by the patriots five years before, was compelled to surrender to the Turks. Then England, France, and Russia joined together to bring about peace, more readily because the Turks carried on the war in the most savage fashion. But the Turks refused to come to terms, and made a great effort thoroughly to subdue the rebels, as they called the Greeks. For this purpose they collected a fleet of seventy men-of-war of various sizes at Navarino, a harbour on the western side of the Morea. This fleet was under the command of Ibrahim Pasha, eldest son of Mehemet Ali, Viceroy of Egypt. Early in September the Russian squadron joined the fleets of England and France, and the three admirals sent a message to Ibrahim to this effect—"We are instructed from home to prevent any further fighting between the Turks and the Greeks, and we desire you to do your best to carry this out." Ibrahim appeared to consent, and an armistice, that is, a stay of fighting, was concluded till an answer should come from the Sultan at Constantinople. But Ibrahim did not mean to keep his word. No answer was expected for twenty days, but at the end of a week the Egyptian squadron stole out of the harbour of Navarino, intending to carry on the war elsewhere. The English admiral sailed after it, and, though he had only three ships with him, compelled it to come back. No satisfactory answer was received from the Sultan, and the three admirals made up their minds to blockade the Turkish fleet in the harbour of Navarino. No one supposed that Ibrahim would venture to resist.

Battle of Navarino


In the afternoon of October 20 the combined fleets sailed into the harbour. The Turks, on seeing them, began to prepare for battle, though they were not by any means all of one mind. The Egyptian admiral, for instance, who may have remembered, or possibly seen, the battle of the Nile, declared that he would not fight. Their fleet was arranged in the shape of a crescent; so large was it that the horns of this crescent nearly surrounded the ships of the three Allies. These latter had strict orders not to fire a gun, unless the Turkish ships should first fire on them. But if this were to happen, then they were to set to work in real earnest, for the admirals' orders ended with a famous message once sent by Nelson to the captains of his fleet—"No captain can do wrong who lays his ship alongside one of the enemy."

The Turks began the fighting, for they fired upon a boat which had been sent with a message to a Turkish fire-ship, which the Allies thought to be dangerously near. An English and a French ship returned the fire, and then sent parties of their crews to board the fire-ship. They were just about to do this when it was blown up. Next an Egyptian frigate poured a broadside upon the Dartmouth, one of the British ships. The men in the rigging hurried down to the deck, and the captain called to them, "Now, my men, down to the main-deck, and fire away as fast as you can."

The English admiral, still anxious to avoid, if possible, a general battle, sent his pilot to the Turkish commander for an explanation. But the enemy fired upon the boat and killed the messenger. On this the admiral poured one broadside on a Turkish and the other on an Egyptian ship. Both were reduced to mere wrecks; but as they swung aside they made way for a second line of the enemies' ships. These all opened fire, and in a few minutes more the battle became general, and the whole harbour was covered with ships fiercely engaged. And while some of the enemies' ships were still fighting others were burning, while, from time to time, first one and then another blew up with a terrible explosion. As soon as an enemy's ship became disabled its crew set fire to it.

For nearly four hours the battle went on, for, as I have said, it was past two o'clock when it began, and the sun had set before it was finished. Of all the seventy Turkish ships only one frigate and seventeen smaller vessels remained fit to put to sea. All the others had been knocked to pieces, sunk, or burnt. The loss of the Turks was terribly great, for the ships were crowded with men, and the fire of the Allies was so well directed that it made dreadful havoc among them. It was reckoned afterwards that between five and six thousand Turks and Egyptians perished at Navarino.

Strange stories are told of the carelessness of the Turks about their own men. When the battle was over, the English admiral sent to the Turkish commander offering him any help that he might want. There had been terrible slaughter among his men. Hundreds of corpses had been thrown overboard, and the deck was strewed with wounded. Some Turkish officers were smoking and drinking coffee. "We don't want any help," said one of them to our admiral's messenger. "But," said the Englishman, "shall not our surgeon attend to your wounded?"

"No," replied the Turk, "wounded men want no help; they soon die."

The English loss was about 140 in killed and wounded, that of the French a little more.