H.M.S Nymph in Sitia. February 1897.

The confused state of inter-communal relations on Crete in February 1897 was illustrated by the situation faced by Commander C. L. Ottley, Captain of H.M.S. Nymphe, a composite screw sloop.
Arriving off Sitia on 11th February 1897 he was informed by both the Kaimakam, the Ottoman appointed town governor, and the Italian Eastern Telegraph Company operator that the town was in a state of panic; Christian insurrectionists surrounding the town and its inhabitants, both Christians and Muslims, each fearing that the others were about to attack them. Ottley initially interviewed Muslim leaders, finding:

“[I]n some ways remarkable as a complete reversal of the very prevalent idea, that it is only the Christians in Crete, who have reason to dread the indiscriminate massacre of their men, women and children at the hands of Musselmens.”

At a later interview with Christian chieftains, it was they who expressed their fear of massacre. Ottley eventually arranged for women and children of each religion to be placed in separate caiques moored alongside H. M. S. Nymphe, under the protection of her guns.[1]On the 14th February, landing under a flag of truce and delivering a message to the insurrectionists from the consuls in Canea to the effect that they would be held responsible for any unlawful acts committed by their men, Ottley arranged for Christian and Muslim chiefs to meet in his cabin to organise a 48 hour armistice. His justification for the breach of orders ‘not to get involved as an intermediary’ [2], was that there was considerable British and foreign property at risk in the town, and there were no European consuls present:

“Several of the principal local functionaries have fled, including the Kaimaken,[sic] and so far as I am aware, the Captain of the Port. The Head of the judicial branch of the government here has, I am informed, gone mad (he yesterday murdered a Mussleman woman).”

His efforts to broker a cease fire were successful and the situation within the town remained calm pending the arrival of Ottoman and European (French in this case) troops to keep the peace.[3]

H.M.S. Nymphe c. 1896.

Foot notes.
[1] National Archive, Admiralty Papers. ADM 116/89, Crete – Letters from C. In C. Mediterranean. No. 32. Commander Otley to Rear Admiral Harris, 14 February 1897.
[2] ]bid.
[3] National Archive, Admiralty papers. ADM 116/89, Crete – Letters from C. In C. Mediterranean. No. 33. Commander Otley to Rear Admiral Harris, 16 February 1897.

 

 

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