On 7th April 1897, a fire broke out in a house adjoining the Quarters of the Italian Troops in Iraklion (Candia). In fighting the fire it became necessary to open certain sealed rooms in the house next door, in order to throw water down onto the burning building. The house in question was that of the recently deceased ex-Archbishop of Ieraklion, then being occupied by a number of Italian Officers.
On breaking the seal and opening one of the rooms, a small arsenal was found: two loaded gun powder bombs known as Orsini Bombs, six other bombs loaded apparently with dynamite and with fuse attached, rifle and revolver ammunition, rifles and swords, bayonets etc. Rear Admiral Harris, C. in C. British Naval forces in Crete, had a sketch made of the bombs and commented: ‘Some thirty-two rifles and a few other arms were also in the house…The bombs were of the most formidable character, the two Orsini bombs being filled with gunpowder, the others with a heavy explosive, probably dynamite; the arms were the Gras rifle, of the same pattern that has been supplied by the Greeks to the Cretan insurgents.’
The Ottoman Governor, not surprisingly, requested that Colonel Chermside, Commander of the International garrison, hand over the munitions to his custody. Chermside forwarded and recommended his request to the Italian Commandant with the suggestion that if the seals removed were indeed Consular seals, it would be well to ask the supplier of the seals to concur in the proposed disposal of the objects in question. They were indeed consular seals, provided by the Russian Consul
The Italian Commandant inform Chermside that Mr. Metsotaki (?), Russian Consular representative in charge of the seals, declined to give up the arms or ammunition, but waived all claim to the bombs. The Commandant requested him at once to remove the arms and ammunition. Chermside then informed the Ottoman authorities of this reply and suggested that if Governor wished to proceed with the matter, it should be through a communication from the Canea Governor to the Russian Consul at Canea – Canea then being the capital of Crete.
When the fire was reported in Britain, and it appears to have been cause by the accidental overturning of an oil lamp, no mention of the arms find was made, either in the press or in Parliament. Clearly the British didn’t want the matter pursued; the implication that their Russian ally, apparently working in conjunction with the Orthodox church, was supplying arms and ammunition to the Cretan Christians while at the same time supplying troops to prevent the Christians using those arms and bombs, would have put too much of a strain on an already tense relationship.
[The bombs were named after an Italian nationalist conspirator, Felice Orsini, who had used such devices in an attempt to kill Napoleon III in 1858. An Orsini bomb was a spherical, black powder filled, metal case with a number of ‘horns’, each capped with a mercury fulminate percussion cap. The theory was that when thrown, however the device landed, at least one of the percussion caps would be ignited, setting off the bomb.]