British Justice in the Cretan Countryside: 1900 style.

Writing in Accidents of an Antiquaries Life, published in 1910, David Hogarth, an archaeologist who worked briefly with Arthur Evans on the excavations at Knossos, described from first hand experience, the role carried out by the British officers charged with the administration of justice in the British secteur of Crete.   Allowing for the then customary bias held by British archaeologists against the British military, the former, Evans in particular, often accused the latter of a pro-Ottoman approach to the situation on Crete, and didn’t believe that they, as Europeans, should be subject to military restrictions, the brief account below does give an impression of what the British officers were up to out in the Cretan villages in 1900.

“The land still showed ghastly wounds of its late long fight. Many villages lay gaunt skeletons of ruin; and where olive groves had been, blackened stumps and pits bore witness to the ethnicidal fury of religious war in the Near East, which ever uproots the staple of a foeman’s life, after it has killed the mother and her babe.

Burn Olive trees. Crete Photograph David Hogarth,1898

Burn Olive trees. Crete Photograph David Hogarth,1898

In the East of the island the French were still guiding the new rulers with the ready sympathy of Latin for Latin, and nearer to Candia the government had been committed to the honest but ruder hands of British subalterns. I spent a day or so with one of these. He knew no word of Greek, and it was told of him that when he arrived on a polo pony to be a father to some twenty villages, the local Bishop called in state, bringing, as the ingratiating custom is, a turkey or two and a clutch of eggs. Our young law-giver, nosing a bribe, put him into the street, eggs, turkey, and all.

I sat one morning in his court-house to hear justice done to the people. The judge presided in knickerbockers and a cricket shirt –for the day was warm – and smoked his best loved briar. A peasant, whose sheep had been driven off, had heard, after many days, a tinkling by night on a distant hillside, and claimed he knew his bells again. Did then one sheep-bell so differ from another? Solomon put it to the test. He sent his soldier servant to collect bells from the village shepherds, and on his return locked him in an inner room, while they waited in court. After a jangle behind the door, the judge asked whose bell had tinkled, and, on the witness of the servant, the shepherds were right every time. The shepherd got back his sheep.

Then a woman stood forth to accuse a man of trying her door by night with foul intent: but since he had never prevailed nor spoken with her, and it was black dark, how had she known what man he was? It came out in evidence that this had not been his first visit, nor had he been used to find the door barred and the lady all unkind. Promptly he was fined a few piasters for disturbing the village peace, while the coy accuser was sent to hoe the Bishop’s potato-field for a fortnight of working days. “Ah! This is Justice,” said the delighted Head-man to me. “We have not known it before in Crete!”

Fortunately, the  approach to an accusation of sexual harassment whereby the accuser is sentenced to hard labour and the accused receives a small fine, is no longer be acceptable, but it should be remembered that this was the early 20th century. Additionally the ‘judge’ would have been unlikely to have had any training in dealing with civil legal issues; particularly those coming under a legal system still based on that left over from the Ottoman occupation.  The officer meting out justice on this occasion would probably  have been from 1/Lancashire Fusiliers who were the only British Infantry on the island throughout 1900.


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