Tag Archives: Kandanos 1897

Sir Alfred Biliotti – One British newspaper’s view.

In March 1897, the British Consul in Crete, Sir Alfred Biliotti, was the only Consul of the European Powers to accompany the expedition sent to rescue Cretan Muslims and Ottoman troops besieged in Kandanos. On his arrival there, he negotiated the safe passage to Canea of some 523 men, 1047 women and children and 340 Ottoman soldiers.[1] The response to Biliotti’s role in these events from one British newspaper at least, was verging on the hagiographic.

‘Brave Old Biliotti’

The Penny Illustrated Paper, describing Sir Alfred as ‘Brave Old Biliotti’ and the ‘Grand Old British Consul at Canea’ who has ‘…made this present month of March memorable by a noble achievement worthy of ranking with the best exploits in our national Glory – roll…’, published in the same edition a poem which, along with its exaggerated praise of Biliotti, castigated religious intolerance and took to task Christians in particular for their role in the threatened massacre of Muslims in that village.


“God hath no creed!” Oh, truest words that e’er were sung or spoken

Not to one Church, but seven, He spake – humanity the token:

And that humanity, when one is striving ‘gainst the other,

Can do what battles ne’er have done – make man to man a brother.


O England! Ye may well be proud of children of your rearing’

Mid battle, smoke, and ocean roar, fresh paths to glory clearing:

And well ye do to honour one who for the Moslem stranger

Defended hordes of bigotry, and faced grim death and danger!


They bring the gallant Consul word that Christians are forgetting

The holy symbol of their faith, and deeds of blood begetting.

One man alone amy stay the sword that o’er the weak is falling –

He went: he heard the Moslem’s voice unto the Christian calling.


E’en doughty kings of old when unto war their way they wended,

By galaxy of knight and squire were guarded and attended;

And great ones of our present day must have their guards about them,

But he – he faced the foe alone, unaided went to rout them.


It was a strife of creeds: there rang no mighty battle thunder,

Which weaker hearts can stir to deeds at which the world may wonder:

No lofty strain of martial song, no drums’ and trumpets’ rattle

The brave old Consul’s heart made strong upon the way to battle.


A horde – nay, the the whole world of dark fanaticism daring,

He went, alone for England’s good and England’s glory daring:

The strife of Crescent and of Cross he veiwed with eye impartial,

And stands from out its background dark, a figure grand and martial.


He calls upon the Pow’rs allied, his motive wise and human:

To save the weak and the oppressed – the child is there and woman.

The Pow’rs reply, and round him throng French, Russian and Italian,

With Austrian and Englishmen, strong Europe’s brave battalion.


It was a sight ne’er seen before, when heroes of all nations

As one to save the Moslem took and kept their death-fraught stations:

It was a stand ‘gainst bigotry, and all its hosts defying

To safety the oppressed they bore while shots around were flying.


Ay, high o’er struggling Powers and creeds one old grand form is standing,

In England’s eyes the noblest there – mild, just, and yet commanding:

The truest servant of the Cross; for its divinest beauty

Not in oppression lies, but in Humanity and Duty.


Unto a journal known to fame,* whose counsels to the nation

In peace and war have ne’er o’erstepped the bounds of moderation’

We owe the thrilling tale of how one man’s heroic action

Won more for peace and Christian faith than e’er was gained by faction.


Humanity’s the noblest creed: we who have read the story,

Say that brave Biliotti’s deed was worthy of all glory.

Kate Bishop (“Kay Bee).

*The Daily News, which first made known the story of Sir Alfred Biliotti’s noble heroism, and which has, under the sagacious Editorship of Mr. E.T. Cook M.A., most wisely counselled the nation during the Cretan Crisis.”[2]

Some 18 months later however, the Penny Illustrated Paper was no longer complaining about Christian intolerance, but rather now, under the headline “A Warning to the Turk” was more concerned with celebrating the execution of Cretan Muslims.

The execution of Muslims convicted of murdering British soldiers – The Penny Illustrated Paper’s view.

 “Execution of the Murderous Mussulmans at Candia. –  On the lofty gallows which had been erected for the purpose upon a commanding position near the Canea bastion the seven murderers to whom the crime of participation in the slaughter of British troops had been brought home, were duly executed at 9 a.m. on Oct.18. Detachments of Marines and Bluejackets and of the British infantry attended the execution under arms, and lined the ramparts hard by. The names of three of the men hanged were Mustapha Djorba Dzakis, Djemali Bilialaki, and Mehemet Nazifaki, executed for the murder of Privates Fiddler and Rayne, Highland Light Infantry, on Sept. 6. These two soldiers were returning from outpost duty, one of them being sick, when they were shot down and mutilated. And for the murder, on the same date, near the hospital, of Privates Allison, Weston, and McNeill, of the Highland Light Infantry, there were executed with them four others – namely Haki Delzobayaki, Mehemet Arabalaki, Mustapha Hakeshaki, and Mehemet Pervoboraki. Bodies of Bluejackets from the British fleet to the number of over a thousand marched through the town on Oct. 21. The court-martial convicted seven other Moslem murderers. The Porte notified the Powers on Oct. 20 of its acceptance of the complete evacuation of Crete, leaving them to make the arrangements necessary to demonstrate the Sultan’s sovereignty.”[3]

As it happens, the illustration of the place of execution used by The Penny Illustrated Paper bore little or no resemblance to the scaffold used, the actual device being a box like structure.

(Details of Sir Alfred Biliotti’s life and his service in Crete and elsewhere in the Levant can be found here.)


[1] House of Commons Debate 10 March 1897. Hansard: 10 March 1897. Vol. 47 c428.

[2] The Penny Illustrated Paper 20 March 1897

[3] The Penny Illustrated Paper October 29 1898


The Surgeon’s Report.

Writing in The British Medical Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1897 (May 8, 1897), p.1184, Surgeon E. J. Biden, R.N., H.M.S. Scout, wrote as follows:

The Effects of Shrapnel Shell Fire.

During the disturbances in Crete of the last three months I have seen many cases of bullet wounds, chiefly Martini Henry and Chassepot, in the persons of both Greeks and Turks, but have nothing new to remark in connection with these. On March 9th the relief of Candamos [Kandanos] was effected by the Powers, and the next day two Turkish outposts had to be relieved; but the position of the insurgents on the hills was so threatening that the ship’s guns were used to disperse them. The same evening I saw the effect of our last shell on one poor man, about seven hours later. He had been brought into Selino [Paleochora] in an unconscious condition, suffering from concussion, a scalp wound over the right supraorbital region caused, I think, by falling on the rocks, a contusion of the back, a flesh wound of the right thigh, and compound fracture of both legs.

The wound of the thigh was a contused wound, round, and penetrating all the tissues down to the deep fascia; a probe passed freely in all directions for some 2 inches beneath the superficial tissues. In the right leg there was a small cut like wound, with gaping edges over the crest of the tibia at the junction of the middle and lower thirds, from which there was free venous haemorrhage, and fracture of the tibia at the same site. In the left leg there was a large irregular wound with contused edges at the same level as in the right leg, situated rather to the outer side of the crest of the tibia, and both bones were broken; from this there was also free venous haemorrhage.

The shell causing these injuries was a 5-inch shrapnel, Mark iii, fired at a range of 2,500 yards: the shell is charged with 236 round bullets made of 4 parts lead and 1 part antimony, and weighing 14 to the pound. A charge in the base of the shell blows off the head and discharges the bullets in a forward direction. From the shape of the bullets and the nature of their discharge it is of course not to be expected that their penetration would be so great as from a rifle. We were told four men were killed and many injured by our shell fire, and I had arranged to go to Spaniaco [Spaniakos] and Candamos to see them, but the ship was suddenly ordered to join the Admiral at Suda Bay or I should doubtless have had some further observations to make regarding the effects of our shellfire.


The events Biden was referring to took place on 10th March 1897 during the evacuation of Cretan Muslims from Kandanos, via Paleochora, by sailors and marines from the European fleet.

Evacuation of Cretan Muslims from Kandanos. “San Franscisco Call.” 7 Marxch 1897

British Naval 5 inch shrapnel shell Mk. III. c.1898. (Illustration based on https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BL_5_inch_Mark_V_shrapnel_shell_diagram.jpg)

H.M.S. Scout c.1900.

Edward James Biden was appointed Surgeon in August 1881 and served aboard H.M.S. Opal during the Niger Expedition in 1883, under Captain A. T. Brooke, in the affair with the Igah and Aboh natives, and at the punishment of the Solomon Islanders in 1886. He was appointed Staff Surgeon in August 1893 and served aboard Scout in the Red Sea during the Dongola Expedition in 1896 (Khedive’s Medal). He served in China during 1900 as Staff Surgeon of Orlando (Medal), and retired in December 1904. https://www.dnw.co.uk/auction-archive/special-collections/lot.php?specialcollection_id=691&lot_id=61027 In retirement he served on the Council of the British Medical Journal. He is recorded as receiving a Greenwich Hospital pension of £50 per. annum on 14 November 1922, and shown as having achieved the rank of Surgeon Captain. https://digital.nls.uk/british-military-lists/archive/92714430?mode=transcription

The evacuation of Kandanos, 1897

On 7th March 1897 a force consisting of 200 British sailors and marines, 100 French , 100 Austrian and 75 Russians, landed  on the south west coast of Crete. Accompanied by Sir Alfred Biliotti, the  British  Consul, their task was to evacuate some 1600 Cretan Muslims and 450 Ottoman soldiers from the village of Kandanos in south west Crete, then under siege by Christian Cretans supported by Greek manned artillery. (It should be noted that the actual dates on which the events in the evacuation occurred are somewhat difficult to determine. The main source of information is Sir Alfred Biliotti who although he was present throughout, was less than clear in his dispatches; particularly when it came to putting dates in his narrative! The dates given here was obtained from various accounts, including the log of  H. M. S. Rodney; in deference to the log keeping traditions of the Royal Navy, these dates are preferred to those given by Biliotti. Similarly, the numbers of evacuees varies from account to account.) The base for the operation was the then semi-derelict village Selino Kastelli, modern Paleochora.

Selino Kastelli ( Paleochora) Gerola

Selino Kastelli c 1900-1902

Landing at Sellino Kastelli (Paleochora) ILN 10 April 1897.

Midshipmen from HMS Rodney who took part in the evacuation of Kandanos. Penny Illustrated Press 10 April 1897

Landing at Sellino Kastelli (Paleochora) ILN 10 April 1897.

En-route to Kandanos the European troops stopped overnight in the hamlet of Spaniakos and evacuated the garrison from the Ottoman fortress above the village.

Ottoman Fortress, Spaniakos

Ottoman Fortress, Spaniakos

The French troops are reported as having spent the night in a local notable’s harem; the British in the local mosque.

Spaniakos Mosque

Spaniakos Mosque.

Royal Navy Guard at Spaniakos (ILN 10 April 1897.

The Spaniakos mosque was eventually destroyed after the evacuation of Cretan Muslims from the area. (Further details of the area around Spaniakos can be found here.)


Kandanos 3 April 97 ILN

British sailors leading column of refugees from Kandanos. Illustration by Melton-Prior.

The Ottoman Governaor of Kandanos. Penny Illustrated Press 10 April 1897.

For the most part the evacuation went without difficulty and the refugees arrived in Canea aboard the various European vessels. Some would stay in Canea, some went to the Turkish mainland, but few ever returned to Kandanos, and those who did were uprooted again in the 1923 population exchange.

Cretan Muslim refugees from Kandanos arriving in Canea. March 1897.

Sailors from HMS Rodney who took part in the Kandanos evacuation.

However, in the final stages, when the column reached the sea at Selino Kastelli, Cretan insurrectionists opened fire on the International troops. Given the overwhelming superiority in fire-power of the European forces, not to mention the presence of a considerable number of  European warships in the immediate vicinity, it’s not difficult to predict the outcome of the engagement.

During the operation several maps and sketches of the area were produced, apparently by French naval officers.

Area of Operations. 5th to 10th March 1897.

International troops landed at Selino Kastelli and then proceed to Kandanos via Spaniakos and Kakodiki.

Disposition of International troops Selino Kastelli, 10th March 1897.

View of the hills above Selino Kastelli and the disposition of International troops on their return from Kandanos. 10th March 1897.

The outline of the hills above the village appears to suggest that the sketch was made from a viewpoint in the south west bay.

Hills above Paleochora, February 2016.

Hills above Paleochora, February 2016. The route to Kandanos and Spaniakos is through the valley on the right hand side of the photograph.

Evidence of the use of Gras rifles, the type used by the Cretan insurgents, has been found near the site of the final encounter.

Gras bullet found in Paleochora near the site of the engagement.

Gras bullet found in Paleochora near the site of the engagement.

More details of the bullet can be found here.

The evacuation marked the effective end of the Ottoman presence in south west Crete, an event marked on a plaque erected on the wall of the old castle in Paleochora in 2020.

Plaque marking the end of the Ottoman presence in Selino.

The text in English reads:

“After 374 years of Venitian slavery and 244 years of Turkish, here on 1 March 1897 at the end of the revolution of 1896-1897 in Selino, the revolutionary liberation flag of Selino was raised. Here on 1 December 1913 with the union of Crete with Greece, the Greek flag was raised.”

Many thanks to Bob Tait for supplying the illustration of the Spaniakos mosque, and to Michalis Adamtziloglou for the translation of the plaque.