Monthly Archives: September 2019

September 6th 1898, the Candia Riots

By September 1898, British and European troops were firmly ensconced on Crete having arrived there in response to an increase in intercommunal violence brought about, in part, by the landing of Greek forces attempting to support a Cretan Christian attempt to unite the island with Greece. Initially welcomed, or at least accepted, by the bulk of the Cretan Muslim population, by September the British contingent consisted a number of ships of the Royal Navy and a battalion of the Highland light Infantry; the latter consisting of about 370 men based in Candia (Iraklion), some 200 in outpost positions outside the town and a further 180 in Canea.[1]  Effective political control of the island was vested in the Council of Admirals, the commanders of the European naval forces.

The Admirals were faced with numerous problems, one of which was the lack of funds available to them to take any effective steps to introduce any type of civilian administration be it Christian or Muslim controlled. In an attempt to overcome this shortage of cash, at the end of August, apparently at the suggestion of the Russian Admiral,[2] the decision was taken to commandeer the islands customs revenues, to occupy the Dimes, the Cretan customs houses; dismissing the Muslim staff and replacing them with Christians. Such a decision was never going to be popular with Cretan Muslims; not only would they be losing control of lucrative jobs and assets at a time when the coastal towns were packed with unemployed Muslim refugees from the interior of the island, but also their replacements would be the Christians who had previously been subordinate to them.

The takeover went without too much incident in Canea and Rethymno, but on 6th September when it was attempted in Candia, things went horribly wrong.

Candia September 1898

On the morning of 6th September 1898 (25th August old style), Lt. Colonel Francis Maude Reid, commander of the 1st Battalion Highland Light Infantry, along with an officer and some 20 men proceeded to the Dime office in Candia harbour and attempted to secure the customs building. On arrival at the Dime, Reid engaged in an argument with Major W.S. Churchill, head of the Gendarmarie, who initially refused to allow Reid to enter. Churchill eventually left and Reid and his party took over the building. While Reid was in the office, a crowd of protesters tried to force their way through the harbour gates which were being secured by a small group of HLI soldiers. In the scuffle, three soldiers were fatally stabbed and confused firing broke out from Bashi Bazooks, armed Cretan Muslim irregulars, who had gathered in the vicinity to protest the takeover.  (While Ottoman regular troops stationed in the area appeared to take no part in the ensuing violence, Edhem Pasha, the kaimakam, chief Ottoman civil officer in Candia, was allegedly seen in the area haranguing the crowd.)

Edhem Pasha

Reid’s party, joined by several men who had been guarding the nearby Eastern Telegraph office and horse lines, were now besieged in the Dime and under fire. The British soldiers, who had been joined by a small number of Cretan Christians, barricaded themselves into the building. There they remained, constantly under fire, while attempts were made to evacuate them by ships’ boats from HMS Hazard and HMS Hazel, British gunboats stationed in the bay.

Candia Harbour. September 1898

Taking part in this evacuation was Royal Naval Surgeon William Maillard whose actions were reported later in the London Gazette:

On the 6th September 1898, during the landing of seamen from Her Majesty’s Ship “Hazard” Surgeon Maillard, who had disembarked and reached a place of safety, returned through a perfect deluge of bullets into the boat and endeavoured to bring into safety Arthur Stroud, Ordinary Seaman, who had fallen back wounded into the boat as the other men jumped ashore. Surgeon Maillard failed to bring Stroud in only through the boat being adrift, and it being beyond his strength to lift the man (who was almost dead) out of so unstable a platform. Surgeon Maillard returned to his post with his clothes riddled with bullets, though he himself was unhurt.[3]

Surgeon William Maillard winning the VC.

For his bravery, William Maillard was invested with a Victoria Cross by Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle on 15th December 1898; the only member of the Royal Naval Medical Service to receive a VC.

While the fighting was taking place around the harbour, the HLI encampment at the western end of the town came under attack from Bashi Bazooks who opened fire from previously loophole houses overlooking the camp. In spite of taking casualties the British troops in the camp, under the command of Major Conway-Gordon, maintained their fire-discipline and the order not to return fire unless deliberately fired upon was obeyed.

Throughout the whole of the day, the Ottoman troops stood by and made no effort either to attack the British or to intervene to prevent their co-religionists from attacking them and the situation in the town was only brought under control when British warships began to bombard the town. At around 5pm, with much of the area around the harbour in flames, either as a result of the actions of the Muslims or the British bombardment, Edhem Pasha reappeared in the town, the Muslim firing immediately stopped and Ottoman troops belatedly commenced restoring order. By about 6.30 pm, with the passive aid of Ottoman troops who had themselves taken casualties from the Bashi-bazooks fire, the British had fallen back from their encampment onto the Ottoman fort from where joint British /Ottoman patrols were sent to clear the ramparts. By 7 pm, after the arrival of reinforcements in the form of a further 100 Ottoman troops, the firing died down.[4] The besieged in the Dime, still including Col. Reid, were escorted by Edem Pasha to the other side of the harbour and to the water purification vessel Turquoise, from where, at about 8 pm, they were eventually transferred to H.M.S. Hazard.[5]

Fourteen British troops were killed that day and 39 severely wounded. However, the true of Cretan casualties remains unknown. Holland estimates that 29 Cretan Muslims died, as did an estimated 800 Christian Cretans out of a population of approximately 1000,[6] Senisik, however, gives figures ranging from 153 Cretan Christian dead according to Ottoman sources, to 600, according to British sources.[7] To complicate the matter further, the overall commander of British troops on Crete, Major General Herbert Chermside, had reported several months earlier that there were less than 500 Cretan Christians in Candia.[8] All that can be said for certain is that the Cretan Christian dead numbered in their hundreds.

British retribution was remorseless. Further troops were sent to Crete and initially a cordon was thrown around Candia to prevent Christian Cretans seeking revenge on the Muslim population of the town. Under the threat of further bombardment, the Ottoman authorities were forced to pull down any houses that had been loop-holed and on 16 September the Admirals decreed that civilian disarmament was to be completed within four days. Ottoman troops were evicted from their fortress and, except for a few allowed to remain as an honour guard for the Ottoman flag, confined to their barracks, while Edhem Pasha was forced to leave the island. Some 140 Cretan Muslims suspected of being involved in the murders of the British troops were rounded up and held on British warships awaiting trial.

Cretan Muslim prisoners on board H. M. S. Isis

Seven men accused of the murder of British troops were tried by British Court-Martial on 13th, 14th and 15th of October.

Trial of Candia Rioters. ILN 5 Nov. 1898.

All were found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. The executions took place on 18th October; the men being hanged on a public scaffold built onto the walls of Candia, members of the HLI acting as executioners.[9] A further Court-martial of 10 men followed and on 29th October, a further five Muslims were hanged. Those accused of the murder of British civilians, most notably the British Vice Consul Lyssimachos Kalokairinos, and of armed riot, were tried by a British ‘Military Commission.’ This held two trials of 21 men. Five were found guilty and hanged from the ramparts on 7th November.[10]

Memorial to Lysimaxos Kalokairnos. Agios Constantine and Eleni Cemetery, Iraklion

 For the murder of Vice Consul Calocherino, three men were hanged. One of them, Klklrida(?) was a negro. The other two were Mahomodan natives, named Abdalaki and Vitorail. They were blind folded before being led onto a bridge connecting the platform of the scaffold with some high ground. The executions were carried out without disturbances. These were the last executions that took place in Candia.[11]

Crossing the Bridge of al Sirat. The Graphic 3 December 1898.

Crossing the ” Bridge of al Sirat.” (The Graphic wrongly states that 3 men were hanged. In fact 5 were executed on this occasion.)

Sixty other Cretan Muslims were also taken to Canea and tried by an International Tribunal for the murder of Cretan Christians during the riot. Two were found guilty and sentenced to death. In a deliberate attempt to ensure that the message riot and murder would meet with retribution was known throughout the island, the two guilty men were publicly shot:

It is rare nowadays that the British Tommy experiences the thrill of horror at seeing a comrade shot. Mr Kipling’s mere description of the hanging of Danny Deever is thrilling enough. But Tommy was vouchsafed the experience of seeing two Turks shot in Crete the other day. They had been involved in the massacre at Candia last September, and condemned to be shot. So at eight o’clock in the morning of Nov.3 they were taken to Canea and surrounded by the four Powers, England, France Italy and Russia, mustered a hundred strong each, and drawn up on three sides of a square. Three men were selected from each of the Powers, two for the front rank and one in reserve, to shoot the prisoners. So Kaider Ismaneki and Halil Araf Haliaki took their seats with their backs to the firing party. The Commandant’s sabre fell, and in an instant they dropped dead.[12]

Execution of rioters. Canea 23 November 1898.

The ramifications of the outbreak of violence went beyond the immediate vicinity of Candia. It was now determined that not only would all Cretan Muslims be disarmed, but also that all Ottoman troops would be required to leave the island by noon on 5th November; effectively ending Ottoman rule on the island. While the Sultan was still had de jure sovereignty over the island and the Ottoman flag was to remain flying, henceforth the protection of the Cretan Muslim population, and the Ottoman flag, would be in the hands of the European powers.

Post Script: In addition to the VC awarded that day to Surgeon Maillard, the Highland Light Infantry, having lost one officer and nine soldiers killed and had one officer, two sergeants, one corporal, two pipers and nineteen soldiers wounded, had eight officers and fifteen rank and file mentioned in dispatches, two officers appointed to the Distinguished Service Order, four Brevet promo­tions and three other ranks awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.[13]

[1] Oatts L.B. (1961) Proud Heritage. The story of the Highland Light Infantry Vol.3 The House of Grant. Glasgow. Chapt.3

[2] Holland R & Markides D (2006) The British and the Hellenes. Struggles for Mastery in the Eastern Mediterranean. 1850 – 1960. Oxford University Press. Oxford. p.100.

[3] London Gazette, 2 December 1898.

[4] National Archives FO 78/4934. Major Conway-Gordon to Officer Commanding British Troops, 7th September 1898.

[5] National Archives ADM 116/93, Vol. 2. Despatch 14 September 1898, No.1. Lieutenant Colonel Reid to captain Hallett, 7 September 1898 in Telegram No. 60, Biliotti to Salisbury, 7 September 1898.

[6] Holland R & Markides D (2006) The British and the Hellenes. Struggles for Mastery in the Eastern Mediterranean. 1850 – 1960. Oxford University Press. Oxford. p.101.

[7] Senisik, The Transformation of Ottoman Crete, p.309 foot-note 75.

[8] Turkey No.9, 1897. No.8. Chermside to Salibury, 17 April 1897.

[9] Oatts L.B. (1961) Proud Heritage. The story of the Highland Light Infantry Vol.3 The House of Grant. Glasgow. Chapt.3

[10] C9233 Turkey No 1 1899. Inclosure No.19. Rear Admiral Noel to Admiralty, 7 November 1898.

[11] The Graphic. London 3 December 1898

[12] The Sketch, London. 28 December 1898

[13] Oatts L.B. (1961) Proud Heritage. The story of the Highland Light Infantry Vol.3 The House of Grant. Glasgow. Chapt.3