Tag Archives: Sir Alfred Biliotti

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 Sarakina massacre – the cycle of revenge.

(The events related below took place in late January/early February 1897. A more precise date cannot be given because, unfortunately, none of the written sources give an accurate date, and at that time there was a 12 day difference between the European calendar and that in use in Crete.)

One of the immediate triggers for the European intervention in Crete was the rioting, looting and arson that broke out in Canea, the then capital, on 6th February 1897.  European levels of alarm were further raised when that evening, Cretan Christian insurrectionists cut the Suda/Canea road and occupied the Akrotiri peninsula to the east of the town.

The rioting in Canea, instigated by Cretan Muslims, was, as far as the European Powers were concerned, a further symptom of the breakdown of law-and-order on the island. Such inter-communal unrest had been growing over the previous months as the Cretan Christian insurrection spread, one result of which being the mass movement of Cretan Muslims from the countryside into the towns and the movement of Cretan Christians in the opposite direction. This movement of people, essentially ethnic cleansing, had resulted on more than one occasion in the massacre of civilians.

Sarakina Monument.

On the left-hand side of the road from Paleochora, south west Crete, to Sarakina, about 2.5km before the village of Sarakina itself, is a small marble plaque set on a concrete plinth and set up by the Community of Sarakina in 1986.

Sarakina Monument Closeup.

The English translation of the plaque reads:

‘In January 1897 in this area of Sarakina a major battle was fought between Turks and Christians that resulted in 150 Turks being killed.’

This brief description however, though superficially accurate, hides the nature of the battle and the events that lead up to it. By early 1897, the collapse of Ottoman authority and the realisation that Ottoman rule of the island was coming to an end resulted in an increase in inter-communal violence between Cretan Muslims and Cretan Christians throughout the Selino District and many Cretan Muslims, including those of Sarakina, then a predominantly Muslim village, sought refuge in the major towns.

According to the account given by the British Consul in Chania, Sir Alfred Biliotti, to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, an account based on his interviews with survivors and eyewitnesses of both religions[1], in late January/early February 1897, the date is unclear in Biliotti’s report, as tensions between the two religious groups in Selinos grew, the inhabitants of the isolates and mainly Muslim village of Sarakina decided to emigrate. However, they were persuaded to remain for a time in their village by the local Christian leaders. A few days later the “…Dimarchi and Notable Christians of their commune,” told the Muslims it would be prudent for them to retire to Paleochora and that they would be convoyed there with a Cretan Christian escort to prevent them from being molested en-route. The Cretan Muslims, numbering 159 according to Biliotti, were placed in between two groups of Christians, each of about 200 men, and started the march to Paleochora. About half an hour out from Sarakina, a shot was fired in the rear of the column, apparently the result of a scuffle breaking out when one of the Muslims refused to surrender his firearm. This shot was immediately followed by “…a general discharge of firearms on the Musselman emigrants.”

Of the 159 Muslims who started, only 44 arrived safely in Paleochora and some of these reported to Biliotti that following the firing, all the wounded men and some of the small children were murdered and four Muslim women from Sarakina had apparently been forcibly taken to a Christian village. Biliotti reports that the massacre was “…deeply deplored by the (Christian) Chiefs and others” but, significantly in the light of his previously highly detailed reports of atrocities committed by both Muslims and Christians throughout the island, makes no mention of any Christian dead or wounded.

Biliotti went on to say that ‘…As soon as the news of the massacre were known at Selinos Castelli (Paleochora), twelve Christians, amongst whom a woman and child, residing there, were murdered.’  What appears to be the memorial to one such Christian is situated in a graveyard in Paleochora.

Paleochora Gravestone 1897.

Here lies Artemios Opsimakis. 27 years old. Murdered in Paleochora by the Turks. 27th January 1897.

(n.b. Assuming that this inscription, or its original, was made at the time, the date in European style would be 8th February.)

Reports of the Sarakina massacre reached England also from the unnamed Times correspondent in Chania. He describes interviewing a survivor on 21st February in a military hospital in Canea, and confirming Biliotti’s report that the Muslims had been offered safe conduct to the sea by the Christians, adding that they did so in exchange for some Christian hostages held in Paleochora.[2] His informant claimed that they were attacked by their guards and by other Christians who appeared from the mountains and that of the 154 Cretan Muslims who started the trek, only 48 escaped of whom 25 were wounded: the informant further alleged that two of his children had been beheaded.

Another view of the incident is given in a book, written about 1996, currently on sale in Paleochora. This states that the ‘famous battle of Sarakina’ was caused when ‘one of the Christians courageously asked for a gun held in quite a provocative way by a Turkish child (and) when the child did not respond to his demand, killed it.’ The book further argues that the reason for the attack “…was not merely revenge but also the gathering of loot in order to meet basic needs.” [3]

In contrast to the punishments handed down after 6th September 1898 for the murder of British servicemen and subjects in Candia, no real effort was made to address the issue of either the massacres perpetrated by Christians immediately prior to the arrival of the Concert forces, or the murders of Christians committed by Muslims on 6th September. The British were ‘…far less concerned with the punishment of those found guilty of crimes against humanity than with retribution upon those who had attacked the British forces which had been performing their duties as instructed’.[4] In the case of atrocities committed against Muslims in the countryside prior to the Admirals taking de facto control of the island, while Biliotti made strenuous efforts to record the victims and to try to start the process of getting justice, albeit within the context of persuading Muslims to return to their homes in the countryside,[5] no enthusiasm was shown by any of the Powers for following the matter up. While legally punishment of these crimes was the responsibility of the Ottoman authorities, unsurprisingly, it is clear that there was no appetite among the Powers to re-open old wounds. In the initial stages of the Intervention, at least up until early 1899 when Christian disarmament became a reality, Christian insurgents, among whom were undoubtedly some, if not all, of the criminals, were in complete charge of the countryside; as a consequence, neither the Ottomans nor the Powers were in a position to enforce their own, or any other, law. With the arrival of Prince George, the Powers were happy to divest themselves of the responsibility; matters were now in the hands of the High Commissioner and the Cretan Assembly and it was up to them to take appropriate action.

Similarly, while not pursuing the murderers of Muslims, the pursuit of Muslims who murdered Christians was quietly dropped; the International Military Commission in Canea had, at the request of the Russian Government, ceased to apply the death penalty after execution of two murderers on 23rd November 1898.[6] 



[1] House of Commons Command Paper (1897) [C.8437] Turkey #10, Inclosure No.249. Bilotti to Marquis of Salisbury (Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs) 22 February 1897.

[2] The Times Monday 22 February 1897.

[3] Pyrovolakis N. (1996?) Self published.  Paleochora (Looking Back on the Past) p.29

[4] Prichard, R. J.,  ‘International Humanitarian Intervention and Establishment of an International Jurisdiction Over Crimes Against Humanity: The National and International Military Trials on Crete in 1898’, in  J. Carey, W. V. Dunlop & R.J. Pritchard (eds.), International Humanitarian Law Vol. 1 (Transnational Publishers: New York, 2003), 1-87, p.43

[5] Ibid. 67-69.

[6] Pritchard, ‘International Humanitarian Intervention’ p. 63.

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.

Gentlemen who lunch

Pachides Meeting. 13 November 1989

Pachides Meeting. 13 November 1989

The text beneath the illustration reads:

“A meeting convened by the British Military Commissioner, Sir Herbert Chermside, was held on Crete on November 13, in a large tent at Pachides, on the outpost line, at which Sir Alfred Biliotti, the British Consul was present. Representatives of Christians of the province of Candia accepted with acclamation the conditions for the disarmament of the population, and urged that British officials and troops should be used to administer and safeguard their districts. Later Sir Herbert Chermside entertained about seventy headmen to a champagne lunch. Some 300 (?) rifles were brought into Candia on the following day.”
The Graphic 20 December 1898.

No details have been found of the quantity or quality of champagne consumed.

Cretan Muslims within Candia by the British had been disarmed within days of the Candia massacre of 6th September, a process that produced some 5,356 firearms of which 1,576 were deemed to be the property of the Ottoman Government, and the final Ottoman troops had been thrown off the island by 5th November. The problem remained with the Cretan Christians whose leaders had made it clear to Chermside that infighting within the Christian community could preclude disarmament taking place. The mistrust between the political factions of the Christian community, and the suspicions of the Christian leaders that any Cretan Christian administrators would act in a partisan fashion, was so great that only the presence of ‘neutral’ British troops in the countryside could induce the chieftains to instruct their followers to surrender their arms.

On 6th December 1898, following the Pachides meeting, Chermside was able to report to Rear Admiral Noel, the Senior British military commander in Crete and one of the ruling ‘Council of Admirals’, that British troops and officers previously confined within a ‘cordon’ around Candia within the range of naval guns, had started administering the towns and villages within the British secteur. By that date they had collected 16,000 firearms, ‘exclusive fowling pieces and revolvers’ from the civilian population.*

*National Archive. FO78/4969. Page 230. Chermside to Rear Admiral Noel, 6th December 1898. Inclosures 1 & 2 in No. 1.