You are on page 1of 20

The Ionian Islands under British Protection (1815–1864) 131

THE IONIAN ISLANDS UNDER
BRITISH “PROTECTION” (1815–1864)

Gerassimos Pagratis

The British showed interest in the Ionian Islands almost immediately after
the dissolution of the Venetian Republic. Domination of the archipelago in
the Ionian Sea was dictated, prior to the opening of the Suez Canal, by geo-
strategic, political and economic reasons. Whoever possessed these islands
possessed a precious naval base from which to sally forth into regions of
outstanding strategic significance and to control the sea routes to the
Adriatic (mainly via Corfu) and the East (via Cephalonia and Zakynthos).
When the British Empire acquired the Ionian Islands in 1815, it added
another powerful pole to a system of naval bases that included Gibraltar
and Malta, which had been formed for the strategic control of the entire
Mediterranean and to secure communications with regions on the route
leading to the Middle East and India, where it had vital political and
mercantile interests. Moreover, the fact that the Ionian Islands bordered
with sultanic lands endowed them with the role of last bastion of
Christianity, while giving the British the opportunity to observe at first
hand what was going on in the Ottoman Empire, in a period during which
the Eastern Question was at its height.1 In the economic sector, the islands
not only offered the British exploitable natural resources (Corfiot olive oil,
Zakynthian and Cephalonian currants, etc.), but also a new market for
their industrial goods and a safe trading station on the sea lane to the
markets of the Levant. British merchants were facilitated in their trans-
actions by a favourable customs tariff, which allowed them to import
British industrial products with a tax of 2% to 7%, at a time when local
merchants were paying an export duty of 19.5%, even if circulation was
inter-island (the argument being that it was a Federal State).2
_______________
1
Guido Zucconi, “Corcira Britannica (1814–1864). Urban Architecture and Strategies in
the Capital of the Ionian State”, in Aliki Nikiforou-Testone & Ennio Concina (edts.), Corfu:
History, Urban Space and Architecture, XIV–XIX cent. (Corfu, 1994), 95. Gerassimos
Chytiris, “Dimossionomika ke Statistika tou Ioniou Kratous”, Deltion tis Ioniou Akadimias,
2 (Corfu 1986), (in Greek), 301. Domna Donta-Visvisis, “The British documents. A source
for the History of the Ionian Islands”, Proceedings of the Sixth International Ionian Conference
(Zakynthos, 23–27 September 1997), 1 (Athens, 2001), 294.
2
Gerassimos Chytiris, I Kerkyra sta messa tou 19ou aiona (Corfu, 1988), 18–19.
132 Gerassimos Pagratis

The British presence in the islands was discussed at the Vienna
Conference (1815) and was formalized that same year in Paris. With the
Treaty of Paris (5 November 1815) the Ionian Islands were declared “a
single, free and independent state, under the denomination of the United
States of the Ionian Islands . . . and . . . under the immediate and exclusive
protection of His Majesty the King of Great Britain”. The general
administration was entrusted to a Lord High Commissioner, who was
to be responsible for convening a Legislative Convention to draft a new
constitutional charter. The protecting power was to keep a military
garrison in the islands, as well as the right to intervene in the internal
affairs of the state.3
Thomas Maitland, hitherto Commander of British Forces in the
Mediterranean and Governor of Malta, was appointed first Lord High
Commissioner. He was an experienced soldier with considerable
administrative abilities. But he was brusque and overbearing, and was
soon disliked not only by his underlings, but also by his subjects, both
for the above reasons and for his harsh antipathy towards the Greek
struggle for liberation.
Maitland convened a Legislative Convention, as he was obliged to
do under the terms of the Treaty of Paris. However, after neutralizing
the Liberal opposition, he succeeded in imposing a constitution of his
own choosing (April 1817). In accordance with the new constitution, a
40-member parliament and a six-man government, the Senate, were
instituted. The state was organized along the models of a federation,
with Corfu as capital, seat of the Lord High Commissioner and the
instruments of government. On each island there was a Resident (local
representative of the High Commissioner), usually a British officer. A
separate, five-member Municipal Council was also instituted, presided
over by the Regent, who was elected by the Senate but had to be
approved by the Lord High Commissioner.4

_______________
3
Constitutional Chart of the United States of the Ionian Islands as passed on 2nd May 1817
(Corfu, 1818). C. R. Ricotti, Il costituzionalismo britannico nel Mediterraneo (1794–1818),
Roma-Milano 2005; C. R. Ricotti, “Il costituzionalismo britannico nel Mediterraneo fra
rivoluzione e restaurazione. Dal ‘modello corso’ (1794) al ‘modello ionio’ (1818)”, in Il
modello costituzionale inglese e la sua ricezione nell’area mediterranea fra la fine del ‘700 e la
prima metà dell’800, a cura di A. Romano, Milano 1998, 391–434.
4
Nikolaos Mosconas, “Ta Ionia Nissia kata tin periodo 1797–1821”, in Istoria tou Ellinikou
Ethnous, XII (Athens, 1975), 401. Yeoryios Alissandratos, “O Eptanissiakos Risospastismos
(1848–1864)”, in To Ionio: Perivallon-Koinonia-Politismos, Proceedings of Conference, Athens,
15–17 October 1984 (Athens, 1984), 27–28.
The Ionian Islands under British Protection (1815–1864) 133

High Commissioners of the Ionian Islands 1815–1863

1 Sir Thomas Maitland, Lieutenant-General (1759–1824) 1815–1824
2 Sir Frederick Adam, Major-General (1781–1853) 1824–1832
3 George Nugent-Grenville, 2nd Lord Nugent (1788–1850) 1832–1835
4 Sir Howard Douglas, 3rd Baronet,
Major-General (1776–1861) 1835–1841
5 James Stewart-Mackenzie (1784–1843) 1841–1843
6 Sir John Colborne, 1st Lord Seaton,
Field Marshal (1778–1863) 1843–1849
7 Sir Henry Ward (1797–1860) 1849–1855
8 Sir John Young, 2nd Baronet,
later Lord Lisgar, (1807–1876) 1855–1859
9 William Ewart Gladstone (1809–1898) 1858–1859
10 Sir Henry Storks, Lieutenant-General (1811–1874) 1859–1863

With the “imposition” of the 1817 Constitution, British intentions
concerning the nature of the new state were clarified. The Lord High
Commissioner was given such wide-reaching powers that “Protection”
was changed into sovereignty and the islands into British possessions,
while the spirit of the Treaty of Paris was blatantly flouted. The Lord
High Commissioner was responsible for convening parliament, which
he did only rarely and only when there was need to sanction bills that
had been drafted by the Senate, in other words by the Lord High
Commissioner himself, since it was he who appointed the Senate
members. And even when the parliament began to act of its own will
(from 1850 onward), its decisions had to be approved by the Lord High
Commissioner, who reserved the right of veto.5
Examined synoptically in this paper are the principal phases in the
history of the United States of the Ionian Islands. For practical reasons

_______________
5
Alissandratos, “Eptanissiakos Risospastismos”, 27–28. Moschonas, “Ionia Nissia 1797–
1821”, 401.
134 Gerassimos Pagratis

the fifty years of the British protectorate are divided into three main
periods, on the criterion of the degree of difficulties the Protectorate
encountered and the corresponding modifications to its policies:

I) The first phase (1815–1848) is characterized as the phase of
“despotism”. No serious doubts were cast on the British
Protectorate, even though certain difficulties had begun to
appear, on account of the Greek War of Independence (1821
onward), the founding of the Greek State (1830) and the
bolstering of nationalist sentiment in the Ionian Islands.
II) During the interval 1848–1859, clashes between the British
Protectorate and the local population came to a head. In 1848–
1849 the parliamentary opposition acquired a second party (after
the Liberal), the Radical, which became more and more
persistent in its demand for Union with Greece. When all the
tactics of the High Commissioners proved ineffective, the British
Government sent Gladstone to the islands as extraordinary High
Commissioner, in order to examine the situation first hand and
to take those measures that would ensure the maintenance of
British rule.
III) Gladstone’s proposed reforms were rejected by the Ionian
Parliament. The British were persuaded that it was now neither
possible nor in their interests to keep the islands under their
control. Henceforth (1861 onward) the British-Ionian
administration was to play a purely managerial role, which
sometimes appeared almost passive, whilst biding time for a
suitable opportunity to divest themselves of the Ionian Islands
on the best possible terms.

(I) The Ionian islanders’ memories of the first two Lord High
Commissioners — especially Maitland– were anything but fond, chiefly
because of their callous attitude during the 1821 Greek Revolution.
However, there is no doubt that both managed, with the well-known
British methodical approach, to organize a modern state and to carry
out projects of benefit to the local communities, even if these works
were unequally distributed between the islands. Thanks to their extensive
powers, the High Commissioners were able to keep the nobles in check,
both in disputes between themselves and against the weak tenant farmers.
The abolition in 1825 of many feudatories belonging to the Church and
to the public sector aimed at protecting the latter. Moreover, measures
The Ionian Islands under British Protection (1815–1864) 135

were taken to boost trade and shipping, the judiciary system was
reorganized, fiscal control was instituted, the gendarmerie was set up,
mechanisms for dealing with crop failures and natural disasters were
put in place, and so on.6
When Maitland died (1824), Frederick Adam was appointed to
succeed him. Adam was well acquainted with the problems of the islands,
as he had already served there and had married a girl from the local
aristocracy. His term of office was the “golden age” for investments in
public and welfare works. His activity was designed to create a petite
capital and included both showcase projects around the central square of
Corfu (Esplanade) and infrastructure works all over the island. His bronze
portrait statue, which was set up outside the High Commissioner’s palace,
surrounded by water, reminds Corfiots that it was in his time (1831)
that the aqueduct — a work of vital important which supplied the entire
city of Corfu with water — was inaugurated.7
Adam took measures to construct a dense network of carriage roads
on all the islands. Whereas under the Venetians these amounted to no
more than a few dozen kilometres, by 1864, when the islands were
handed over to Greece, they had reached a total of 853 kilometres. Public
health stations, quarantine stations, harbour installations, charitable
foundations and so on were organized too. In the sector of education,
the number of schools multiplied. The major work in this sector was
without doubt the Ionian Academy, the first university foundation in
Greek lands, which opened in Corfu in 1824, on the initiative and with
the generous sponsorship of Frederick North, Count of Ghylford.8
Adam spent a large sum of money on restoring the fortifications of
the islands. He was one of those Britons who believed in the strategic
role of Corfu and in the need to modernize its defensive infrastructures.
Within seven years of his arrival, he had expended 154,000 pounds
sterling on public works, at the time when the annual budget of the
Ionian State was of the order of 140,000 pounds.9
There were objections to Adam’s spending and to the concentration
of works exclusively on Corfu, the most vocal of which were expressed
by Charles Napier, the Resident of Cephalonia. In 1833, Napier accused
_______________
6
Panajotis Chiotis, Istoria tou Ioniou Kratous 1815–1864, II (Zakynthos, 1877), 2–33.
7
Zucconi, “Corcira Britannica”, 96–98.
8
Chiotis, Istoria, 2–33. Chytiris, Kerkyra, 17. For the Ionian Academy cf. G. Typaldos-
Iacovatos, Istoria tis Ionias Acadimias, Athens 1982.
9
Henry Jervis-White Jervis, The Ionian Islands during the present Century (London, 1863),
78 f.
136 Gerassimos Pagratis

the Lord High Commissioner of extravagant expenditure on purely
decorative works, as well as of megalomania, since he was living in
imperial luxury. He argued that Adam had confused his role with that
of the President of the United States of America, on account of their
equal remuneration, even though the population of the United States of
the Ionian Islands was only 190,000, whereas that of the USA was
12,000,000.10
Napier also accused Adam of having a short-term view of the Ionian
State, since he took no measures for a balanced distribution of
investments and public works, which would have consolidated its
credibility. Cephalonia and Zakynthos were most adversely affected by
the policy of Adam — and of Maitland before him —, even though they
were larger and more populous islands than Corfu, and at the same
time contributed more to the public purse. Napier’s ultimate aim was,
through the decentralization of seats and privileges that the capital of
the Protectorate was enjoying until then, the demotion of Corfu to a
provincial city. This position echoed the strong anti-Corfiot and anti-
centralizing sentiments of the Cephalonians and the Zakynthians, as
was to become apparent later, with the rebellions of 1848.
The publicizing of Napier’s views coincided with an important
development in Corfu’s career as capital of the Ionian State, since from
1832 onward public-benefit building activities were curtailed dramati-
cally. Those who supported the idea of Corfu as capital city (Adam
and Ghylford) had already retired from the scene. However, the most
important development concerned the successful outcome of the
struggle for Greek Independence, with the founding of the Greek State
in 1830.
The blunting of the Ottoman threat also reduced the strategic
significance of the Ionian Islands, particularly of Corfu, which lost her
intermediary role between the Mediterranean and the Adriatic.
Furthermore, the Seven Islands ceased to be the only Greek region
placed under the protection of a Christian monarch, which fact in the
past had made many Greek advocates of irredentism take kindly to the
regime of the Protectorate. The British Protectorate now looked like an
anachronistic military custody, while it was later to be described as an
illegal domination of a part of the Greek Nation.11
_______________
10
Charles James Napier, The Colonies: Treating of their Value Generally-Of the Ionian Islands
in particular (London, 1833), 178.
11
Zucconi, “Corcira Britannica”, 99.
The Ionian Islands under British Protection (1815–1864) 137

The Lord High Commissioners after Adam had to cope with two
extra difficulties in relation to their predecessors: on the one hand they
had to justify to the British Parliament the costs of occupying a fortified
position that had lost most of its defensive value. As Goodison, army
doctor in the Ionian Islands, wrote characteristically in 1822: “Corfu
might be considered impregnable, should it ever be necessary to render
it so.”12 On the other hand they had to give reason to the Greek people
for the necessity of maintaining British rule in the Seven Islands.
In general, however, in the first thirty-three years of the British
protectorate there was no organized opposition to the extent that was
worrying to the authorities. Despite the reactions to the anti-democratic
and non-liberal nature of the 1817 Constitution, among its positive points
was the restoration of social calm in local communities, after decades of
social unrest and relative anarchy.
Parliament, which in the second phase of the British protectorate
was to be the principal source of problems for the Lord High
Commissioners, functioned more or less procedurally until the mid-
nineteenth century, since it simply approved the High Commissioner’s
draft laws. Nonetheless, it is a fact that the British “Protection” had
become anti-populist almost from the outset. Apart from the illiberal
constitution of 1817 and the high-handed behavior of the first two High
Commissioners, the British collaborated with the nobles, who represented
big land-ownership on the islands and enjoyed privileges that were
based on a latter-day feudal regime and which were bleeding the peasant
farmers dry.
The anti-British climate was further exacerbated in 1819, with the
influx to the Ionian Islands, especially Corfu, of some 5,000 refugees
from Parga, which the British had sold to the Ottomans in order to
obtain the Sublime Porte’s recognition of the Septinsular Protectorate.13
However, what affected the Ionian islanders most of all was the
harsh and merciless stance of the British High Commissioners towards
the Greek War of Independence and to the fugitives (some 20,000) who
had fled to the islands. Adam perceived their presence in the islands as
a serious threat to fomenting issues of irredentism. With the declaration
of the Revolution in 1821 several Ionian islanders had sought ways of
supporting their fellow Greeks. Those Ionians who had been initiated in
_______________
12
William Goodisson, Historical and Topographical Essay upon the Islands of Corfu, Leucadia,
Cephalonia, Ithaca and Zante (London, 1822), 31.
13
Mosconas, “Ionia Nissia 1797–1821”, 401.
138 Gerassimos Pagratis

the Philike Hetaireia (Friendly Society) promoted the Revolution’s causes
in Europe, at a military and diplomatic level. Volunteers for the Struggle
were recruited in the Ionian Islands, while Greek freedom-fighters also
sought refuge there.14
Maitland believed that the Ionian State was duty bound to maintain
neutrality and not to tolerate aggressive behavior towards the Ottoman
Empire. In June 1821 he officially declared the islands’ neutrality. He
took punitive measures to deter the Ionian islanders from participating
in the Greek struggle for independence: he closed the Ionian ports to
Ottoman ships and Greek corsairs, he disarmed the citizens, he proceeded
to prosecutions, exiles, confiscations of property and so on. Indeed, he
had no qualms about ordering the execution of the crew of an Ionian
ship that attacked an Ottoman vessel navigating in Ionian waters. The
Lord High Commissioner’s greatest fear was that Greek-Turkish
hostilities might spread to the territories of the Ionian State, threatening
its security.15
The founding of the Greek State (1830) was regarded as a direct
threat to the existence of the British Protectorate. The common borders
with Greece in the southern islands favoured direct contacts between
Ionian islanders and their now independent fellow Greeks in Greece.
Paradoxically, Britain herself had contributed to this situation, by
providing support for the Greek Revolution in the Battle of Navarino
(1827), at a critical turning point in its progress. The fact is that in several
cases Adam ignored or unwillingly obeyed his government’s orders
with respect to cancelling the neutrality of the Ionian State, undermining
the exercise of British policy in the Middle East.16
Adam, who was a British soldier by training, was afflicted by the
syndrome of uncovering conspiracies. Within the generalized clime of
British Russophobia, the person and deeds of Ioannis Capodistrias, the
Corfiot former Foreign Minister to the Tsar of Russia and first Governor
of Greece,17 must have been most irksome to him, as the reports he
sent to the Minister for War and the Colonies attest. It emerges from

_______________
14
W. David Wrigley, “The Ionian Islands and the advent of the Greek State (1827–1833)”,
Balkan Studies, XIX (1978), 418.
15
Wrigley, “Ionian Islands, 1827-1833”, 414–415.
16
Wrigley, “Ionian Islands, 1827-1833”, 416–418, 422–423. On British diplomacy towards
the Greek Revolution in the years 1826–1827 cf M. S. Anderson, The Eastern Question,
1774–1923 (New York, 1968). Harold Temperley, The Foreign Policy of Canning, 1822–1827
(London, 1925).
17
On Capodistrias cf C. M. Woodhouse, Capodistrias (London, 1973).
The Ionian Islands under British Protection (1815–1864) 139

these documents that Adam believed in a Russian plot, with the
cooperation of Capodistrias, for the annexation of the Ionian Islands to
the Greek State. His worries, which were entirely unconfirmed, were
allayed in 1831, when Capodistrias was assassinated by political
opponents in Nauplion and his colleagues dismissed from the Greek
administration.18
Adam’s successor, the Liberal Lord Nugent, took populist measures
which made him particularly liked. He granted an amnesty to the Ionian
islanders who had lost their civil rights during the 1821 Greek War of
Independence, he abolished the surplus posts in the civil service, censured
vote-catching, etc. He did not hesitate to take measures that hit the
interests of British merchants, while concurrently favouring Ionian
merchants and currant-producers. Furthermore, he reacted
phlegmatically and optimistically to the machinations of local factions,
which were incessantly accusing their political rivals.19
His presence reinforced the formation of a Liberal bloc, with
representation in the Ionian Parliament. International factors had also
contributed to this development, such as the 1830 Revolution in France,
the more general mobility of nationalist groups in Europe, the
participation of many Ionian islanders in uprisings in Italy, and so on.
The anti-populist profile of the “Protection” was reinforced also by
phenomena in the interior of the state, such as the adulation of all things
foreign and the provocatively opulent lifestyle of the upper “pro-
Protection” class, as well as the awarding of citizenship to many
foreigners (Sicilians, Maltese, Corsicans, Spaniards, etc.) and their
appointment in the civil service, which exacerbated the sense of foreign
rule and the squandering of public money on foreigners.20
With the change of government in Britain, Nugent resigned on
25 January 1835, fully aware that the Conservative cabinet would not
approve his Liberal policy in the islands. Accusations against him came
not only from the dissatisfied British merchants but also from a pro-
active pro-British group of Ionian nobles who had suffered from the
High Commissioner’s measures, as well as from his collaboration in
general with their political opponents, the Liberals in the Ionian Islands.21

_______________
18
Wrigley, “Ionian Islands, 1827–1833”, 413–426.
19
Nikolaos Karapidakis, “Ta Ionia Nissia, 1815–1864”, Istoria tou Neou Ellinismou 1770–
2000, IV (Athens, 2004), p. 272.
20
Chiotis, Istoria, 36–37.
21
Chiotis, Istoria, 92 f.
140 Gerassimos Pagratis

Douglas, who took over as Lord High Commissioner on 29 April
1835, was an officer in the Engineer Corps and more interested in public
works, top priority among which was the excavation of the Lefkada
Channel. His term of service ushered in a period of mismanagement of
public finances in the Ionian State. It is telling that although he inherited
a surplus of 126,550 pounds from Lord Nugent, he bequeathed a deficit
of 80,000 pounds to his successor Mackenzie in 1841, no Lord High
Commissioner in the future was able to erase this debt. Nevertheless,
Douglas did take some positive measures for the local society, among
which was a series of legislative initiatives in collaboration with the
Senate, which were approved by Parliament in April 1841 and included
the voting of new codes to modernize the judiciary inherited from the
islands’ Venetian past.22
However, as far as Douglas’s manner of administration was
concerned, unlike his predecessor he refused to discuss reforms, personal
liberties and constitutional rights. Furthermore, he provoked Ionian
public opinion through his various moves. First of all, he filled various
posts in the bureaucracy with sons, relatives and other favourites. The
inhabitants of Cephalonia, the most dynamic of the islanders, were
infuriated by this nepotism, by his patent favouritism of the nobles and
by the free rein given to British missionaries who proselytized their
Protestant dogma on the island. Criticisms of Douglas began to be
published in the newspapers of Malta and Athens, to which the High
Commissioner reacted by prohibiting the importation of them. His
attitude in general and the fact that the Liberals held the majority in the
Ionian Parliament gradually led to an impasse: the Senate, which was
pro-High Commissioner, drafted laws, Parliament refused to pass them.
The High Commissioner suspected foreign interference (by the Greek
government) and ordered the dissolution of Parliament, applying a
practice that was to be followed by other Lord High Commissioners
whenever they found themselves cornered.23
The time had come for essential opposition to the “Protection”. In
1839 the liberal intellectual Andreas Moustoxidis transferred the positions
of the Ionian Liberals against the Lord High Commissioner to the Minister
for War and the Colonies, John Russell, submitting a relevant
memorandum, a move he was to repeat later. Although the Ministers
for the Colonies generally speaking backed the Lord High
_______________
22
Chiotis, Istoria, 98, 123 –124. Chytiris, Kerkyra, 17.
23
Chiotis, Istoria, 98 –100.
The Ionian Islands under British Protection (1815–1864) 141

Commissioners, the success of these petitions was the exposure of the
problem, which now became the concern of the central British political
stage.24
Relations between the High Commissioner and Parliament were
normalized in 1843, when Lord John Colborne, Baron of Seaton, another
military man and veteran of Waterloo, assumed the office. Seaton
collaborated harmoniously with the Ionian Liberals and his moderation
helped to improve the political climate. He has a privileged picture in
the Ionian islanders’ collective memory, since the measures he took
proved to be beneficial for the political and social life of their homeland;
freedoms unprecedented in the Ionian Islands were legalized, even if in
the final analysis they undermined the British future there.
The High Commissioner’s decision to permit the founding of political
clubhouses brought in its wake the dissemination of liberal ideas and
the development of national consciousness. Of crucial importance was
his recommendation to the Legislative Assembly (17/5/1848) to abrogate
the article in the 1817 Constitution, which restricted the freedom of the
Press, as well as to abolish all manner of preventive censorship. The
Press Laws were to be issued by the plenum of Parliament and could
not be lifted or amended without its input. The operation of private
printing houses was permitted and the publication of political
newspapers of all persuasions commenced, while Greek newspapers
now circulated freely.25

(II) The more general clime in Europe was one of liberal optimism.
In France the king was overthrown, in the German states constitutional
reforms were going ahead, in Poland, Hungary and elsewhere there
were uprisings. The spirit of “the People’s Spring” reached the Ionian
Islands via the Italian refugees from the revolts of 1848, as well as Ionian
islanders who had taken part in them.
Even so, the more specific circumstances in the Ionian Islands in the
mid-nineteenth century was negative. The Ionian State was plagued by
economic crisis, due to the fall in the price of currants and problems in
the operation of Ionian shipping. Usury was rife. The Ionian Bank,
founded in 1839 with mainly British capital, was unable to offer solutions.

_______________
24
Sulla condizione attuale delle isole Ionie promemoria presentata in Agosto 1839 da Andrea
Mustoxidi, Cavaliere e membro del Parlamento Ionio a sua Signoria e Ministro delle colonie
(Londra, 1840). Cf also Chiotis, Istoria, 107–110.
25
Chiotis, Istoria, 130.
142 Gerassimos Pagratis

The dominant issue in the political clubhouses was the liberation of the
peasants from the debt burden and hatred of the nobles was ubiquitous.26
When the appropriate pretext presented itself, the smoldering social
opposition, which were founded in pronounced economic inequalities,
ignited and stability was overturned. The first acts against the regime
broke out in 1848. The most important of these took place on the night
of the 13 to 14 September, when 200 armed peasants marched into the
town of Argostoli on Cephalonia and clashed with the British garrison.
It became apparent later, from the interrogations, that the Resident of
the island was also involved in this incident, in an effort to convince the
High Commissioner that he should be wary indeed of the Liberals. Seaton
was disinclined to take punitive measures. Instead, he preferred to press
ahead with constitutional reforms, in order to pre-empt new reactions.
It was in these circumstances that he formulated his proposal for granting
press freedom.
The bitterest and bloodiest insurrection broke out the following year.
On 15 August 1849, armed peasants attacked eminent nobles in the
wider area of Skala in southeastern Cephalonia. Events lasted five days,
during which one nobleman was set alight and one British soldier was
killed. On 19 August British troops landed at Kateli harbour and the
rebels scattered. The reprisal and repression that followed were
particularly ruthless, ending in the setting up of courts martial that
sentenced several locals to death by hanging.
In addition to removal of the British and union with Greece, the
rebels sought the overthrow of the political and social establishment
that had entrenched the ‘Protection’. During the expression and evolution
of the movements, class motives were predominant and the events that
took place permitted the characterization of the rebellion as a
“Commune”. 27
The Lord High Commissioner Sir Henry Ward conducted inquiries
and other investigations, in order to establish the cause of this social
unrest. He came to the conclusion that the nationalist sentiment was
uppermost among all Ionian islanders, but with differing intensity
depending on social status. The upper class, for example, considered
their interests were served satisfactorily by the Protectorate. The greatest
danger for the British came from the rural population, mainly of the
_______________
26
Chiotis, Istoria, 133–140.
27
Miranda Paximadopoulou-Stavrinou, Oi exeyersseis tis Kefallinias kata ta eti 1848 kai 1849
(Athens, 1980).
The Ionian Islands under British Protection (1815–1864) 143

southern islands, which had linked national aspirations with the
improvement of their social and economic status. However, behind the
peasants’ revolts on Cephalonia lay the young scholars of the island,
who had difficulties in fitting in professionally and socially.
The roots of the mass production of young scholars on Cephalonia
and Zakynthos lay in the propitious coincidence of circumstances for
these islands’ currant-producers in the 1830s. Currant production in the
Peloponnese had dwindled at that time, due to the Greek War of
Independence. The profits of the Ionian currant-producers soared,
enabling them to send their sons to study in universities in Italy, mainly,
and France. While in Italy, many of these young men joined secret
societies and other revolutionary organizations, and on returning home
they were eager to spread these ideas to their compatriots. The obvious
inability of the system to provide them with suitable employment kindled
this situation.28
In the course of this very tense period there was a rift in the Liberal
ranks, from which an autonomous trend emerged, the Radicals. The
Radicals were one of the three parties returned to Parliament after the
1850 elections, the first in which voting was relatively free, thanks to
measures taken by High Commissioner Seaton.29 Their prime aim was
union with Greece. They rejected any constitutional reform because they
believed that approving it was tantamount to acknowledgement of the
British Protectorate, which they considered illegal because it had been
instituted without the consent of the people. However, until the national
aim was achieved, they sought the voting of laws that improved the lot
of the common man. Their orientation was not only national-liberationist
but also bourgeois-democratic. That is, they aimed for the reform and
radical change of the political and social regime in the Ionian Islands as
well as Greece as a whole, while they were also interested in exporting
democratic developments to the Balkans and the Near East. They drew
their ideas from the principle of nationalities and from the democratic
ideals of the French Revolutions of 1789 and 1848. They also had
ideological affinity with the Carbonari and with movements of the Italian
Risorgimento.30

_______________
28
Yoryos Souris, “O Gladstone sta Eptanissa. Enotiko kinima ke vretanika adiexoda”,
Historica, VI, No 11 (Athens, 1989), 282–284.
29
Alissandratos, “Eptanissiakos Risospastismos”, 20–30.
30
Antonis Liakos, “I diathlassi ton epanastatikon ideon ston elliniko choro 1830–1850”,
Historica, I (1983), 102–121.
144 Gerassimos Pagratis

The Radicals’ ideas found wide appeal in all social strata, particularly
in the southern islands (Cephalonia and Zakynthos). But the broad base
of the party was made up of farmers and, secondarily, urban labourers,
artisans and petty tradesmen. The prospect of Union loomed large in
the eyes of all these as a prospect of vindication, not only at the national
level but also at the socio-economic one.
Close to them ideologically, but with a different ranking of priorities,
were the Reformists. They belonged politically to the Centre and were
generally moderate, liberal and progressive. Although they did not reject
the cause of Union, they did not bring it before Parliament because they
considered it extremely premature. They accepted “Protection” as a
necessary evil. Their basic aim was to achieve constitutional freedoms
and reforms to the 1817 Constitution. The Reformists frequently enjoyed
the favour of the “Protection” and as a rule held the majority in
Parliament, while their electoral power base was mainly in Corfu.
The third party, the “Katachthonioi” (lit. Undergrounders) expressed
the conservative social ideology and served the interests of the land-
owning oligarchy. The “Katachthonioi” regarded “Protection” as in the
islands’ interest and essential, because it guaranteed social order and
calm. They always reacted against the granting of constitutional reforms
and fought against the idea of Union with Greece. Distinguished
members of their leadership came from old feudal families as well as
the nouveau riche bourgeoisie.31
The greater stability in political life, thanks to Seaton’s liberal reforms,
presaged difficult days for the High Commissioners. The Radicals pushed
things forward rapidly. On 26 November 1850 they submitted to
Parliament their famous decree in which they petitioned for Union with
Greece. However, even before the decree had been fully read, the new
High Commissioner Ward ordered the closure of Parliament. Later he
also sent the two Radical leaders, Zervos and Momferatos, into exile on
the islands of Antikythera and Erikousa respectively, and stopped
publication of radical newspapers. The Radicals had won the battle for
hearts and minds both at home and in Europe, where the press referred
to events in the Ionian Islands.32

_______________
31
Alissandratos, “Eptanissiakos Risospastimos”, 30–32. Nikolaos Moschonas, “To Ionio
Kratos” Istoria tou Ellinikou Ethnous, XIII (Athens, 1977), 208.
32
Ilias Zervos-Iacovatos, I epi tis Agglikis Prostassias Eptanissos Politeia ke ta kommata,
Parartima Praktikon Tritou Panioniou Synedriou, Athens 1969, p. 92. Alissandratos,
“Eptanissiakos Risospastismos”, 35. Moschonas, “To Ionion Kratos”, 210.
The Ionian Islands under British Protection (1815–1864) 145

Sir Henry Ward, politician and parliamentarian, believed that the
liberal measures of his predecessor were undermining the stability of
the Ionian State and openly accused Seaton of so doing to his superior,
the Minister for the Colonies. He banished those Radicals who, through
journalism, strongly criticized the Protection. In order to achieve this he
used the police powers that enabled the High Commissioner to arrest
and exile without trial whoever he considered to be a threat to public
security. Concurrently, he shut down the Radical newspapers. He
frequently postponed the work of Parliament, on the excuse of awaiting
approval of his reforms by the British government. Legislation was based
mainly on the issuing of governmental decrees which did not require
the approval of members of parliament.33
Although these measures naturally evoked strong reactions, they
were nonetheless often adopted by subsequent High Commissioners,
when Parliament tried to prevent them from ruling as they wished. The
development of affairs confirms the Protectorate’s inability to control
the parliamentary game in which the terms of the Treaty of Paris had
embroiled it. The consequences of these developments had already gone
beyond the boundries of the Ionian archipelago, since the publicizing of
them in the international Press hurt Britain’s prestige. Liberal Britain
appeared on the world stage as a country which, while preaching
personal liberties at home, trespassed on those of the peoples it had
undertaken to protect, and moreover in violation of a treaty to which it
was a cosignatory with other European Powers.34
The apparent deadlock in the parliamentary field, in conjunction
with the effects of the uprisings in Cephalonia (1848–1849) and the
Radicals’ decree of 26 November 1850, forced Britain to seek a solution.
One of the solutions proposed was a plan for her withdrawal from the
islands, with the exception of Corfu. Thoughts on Britain’s disengagement
from the southern islands had begun to be aired as early as 1821, after
the declaration of the Greek War of Independence. However, the first
eponymous and integrated proposal was made by G. Bowen, Rector of
the Ionian Academy (1840 –1851) and secretary to the Lord High
Commissioner (1854–1859), who in his book The Ionian Islands under
British Protection, London 1851, p. 126, contended that Britain had no
political or economic interest in holding on to any of the islands. He
excluded Corfu from this process because of its strategic geographical
_______________
33
Alissandratos, “Eptanissiakos Risospastismos”, 35.
34
Donta-Visvisis, “The British documents”, 296.
146 Gerassimos Pagratis

location as well as because he believed that the nationalist sentiment
was weaker there. And this because the centuries of Venetian occupation
had brought about the full Italianization of the educated classes, which
were those that ultimately defined the political behaviour of the rest of
the population. Ward’s successor, Young, apparently adopted Bowen’s
arguments and warmly supported this plan in a letter to the Minister
for the Colonies (10/6/1857), but did not receive a clear answer from
the British government.35
One year later, Young returned to the matter, recommending to the
Minister for the Colonies the dissolution of Parliament and the imposition
of a constitution of the “Protection’s” choice, which would totally relieve
it of the problems that Parliament had created. Young’s new plan was
based on the memorandum submitted to him by the well-known poet
Julius Typaldos Pretenteris, at that time president of the law courts in
Zakynthos. The reaction of the British government, through the Prime
Minister Lord Derby and the Minister for the Colonies Lord Lytton, to
the Young — Pretenteris Plan was totally against the plan.36
The successive plans for Britain’s disengagement from the Ionian
Islands underlined the extreme difficulties that the British-Ionian
administration had to cope with and the pressure being put on the
British government to act immediately. It is no coincidence that on the
morrow exactly of the submission of the Young — Pretenteris Plan, it
was decided to send a special committee to the islands, to study the
problem on the spot and to propose appropriate action to the British
government. The opposition MP William Ewart Gladstone was selected
for this role, mainly because of his other — non-parliamentary — hat,
as a researcher on the Homeric epics with the reputation of being a
philhellene. In British eyes this hat was sufficient for the islanders to
look upon him positively and to charge sentiments in his favour. And
this in fact happened, except that the Ionian islanders had linked his
alleged philhellenism with the prospect of Union with Greece and not
with constitutional reforms, even wide ranging ones.37
Gladstone’s brief as extraordinary Lord High Commissioner was
highly specific. The British government had commissioned him to study
the faults in the islands and to propose solutions to ensure that the

_______________
35
Chiotis, p. 375-376. Cf also, Gerassimos Chytiris, “Young ke Gladstone. Prospatheies
ya paratassi tis epikyriarchias”, Kerkyraika Chronika, XXVII (Corfu, 1983), 61–85.
36
Souris, “Gladstone”, 287–288.
37
Souris, “Gladstone”, 288 f.
The Ionian Islands under British Protection (1815–1864) 147

Ionian State would remain under the Crown. His instructions from the
Minister for the Colonies, Lytton, ruled out completely the Bowen Plan
and the suspension of the constitution. He was duty bound, moreover,
to take into serious consideration the relations between Britain and the
Ottoman Empire. Last, the minister also drew his attention to the fact
that if, after his stay in the islands, he came to the conclusion that the
sole solution was their annexation to Greece, he must keep such a view
to himself until such time as it was discussed by the Cabinet.38
Gladstone prepared himself adequately, poring over documents on
the status quo in the Ionian Islands as well as consulting bibliography
on their history and culture. He was, however, particularly unlucky,
because whilst he was travelling to the islands, the Daily News (10/11/
1858) published Young’s letter to Lytton concerning the plan for annexing
the islands to Greece and the incorporation of Corfu in the British Empire.
This naturally caused a stir in the Ionian Islands and Gladstone was
viewed with suspicion before even reaching his destination. However,
it gave the British the opportunity of weighing up the international
reactions to this prospect; these proved to be strong, mainly regarding
the second aspect.
Gladstone’s visits to the various islands caused mixed feelings. He
had very positive impressions of Corfu, where he was welcomed with
great respect. But on Cephalonia he was received with organized pro-
Union and anti-Protection protests, which he attributed initially to the
unfortunate publication of the letter from Young, whose recall he
requested and obtained.39
In Gladstone’s correspondence with the Ministry for the Colonies he
advocated the creation of a responsible elected government in the islands,
an aim which at that time was preoccupying the British, with regard to their
colonies. The state machine frequently ground to a halt on account of the
“Protection’s” involvement in party rivalries, which fact brought it into
constant opposition to the Ionian islanders’ national sentiment and ended
up with their division into pro-British and anti-British. The British govern-
ment, through the Minister for the Colonies, Lytton, disagreed with
Gladstone’s plans and forced him to modify his proposed reforms.
Gladstone’s efforts to keep a balance between the British govern-
ment and the Ionian islanders prevented him from realizing that his
effort was in vain, because however much his proposals improved the
_______________
38
Souris, “Gladstone”, 293–294.
39
Chiotis, Istoria, 387f.
148 Gerassimos Pagratis

current regime in the islands, they were not going to satisfy the demand
made by the majority, namely, Union with Greece. Thus the rejection of
his proposals by the overwhelming majority of the Ionian Parliament
was inevitable.40

(III) After this negative development for the Protection, the young
Lord High Commissioner Storks returned to the tried and tested practices
of Ward and Young, showing the Ionian islanders that the time of illusions
was over and done with. Gladstone, during his brief sojourn in the islands,
had grasped the nature and the magnitude of the problem, and put blame
for the lion’s share of the political impasse on the shoulders of the High
Commissioners and their erroneous and short-sighted policies with regard
to the growing issue of Union. He wrote down his conclusions in four
memoranda, which he submitted to his government when his mission was
over. He acknowledged the existence of a nationalist sentiment in the
islands, which was interwoven with social and economic demands. He
treated the Radical parliamentary deputies mildly but did not believe that
the desire for Union was a generalized sentiment. He was afraid that the
Union of the islands with Greece would awaken Greek irredentism and
would topple the delicate balances in Southeast Europe, at a peak-time for
the Eastern Question. He also believed that Union would not serve the
interests of the islands, since the Greek State was in a difficult political,
social and economic situation, which heightened its aggressive stance
against the Ottoman Empire.
At the same moment, the British Ambassador to Greece, Wyse, wrote
that superior political circles in Athens were treating with misgiving the
prospect of the union of the islands with Greece. They were frightened
by the activism of the Radicals and the prospect of the Radicals
demanding from the still fragile Greek State institutional changes and
violent overthrows of established interests. Even so, the Greek politicians’
reactions, although expressive of just one section, were used by the
British as arguments against the ceding of the islands.
It had now become clear that Gladstone’s mission had come too late.
The publicity surrounding his efforts gave international public opinion
the chance to learn about the nature and the extent of the Ionian Islands
Question. The Unionist movement emerged boosted for another reason
too: the British government was persuaded that the issue of the islands

_______________
40
Souris, “Gladstone”, 300–304.
The Ionian Islands under British Protection (1815–1864) 149

was nationalism and that it should be confronted within the framework
of its more general policy towards other nationalist movements in Europe.
The fact of Britain’s favourable stance towards the Italian demand for
national unification created moral commitments for an analogous stance
towards the Ionian Islands.41
Henceforth the attitude of the Protectorate was to be one of passively
waiting for the right moment for its disengagement from the area. The
period of waiting ended on 8 December 1862, when the British Cabinet
decided to concede the islands to Greece as a gesture of respect for the
rights of nationalities. In reality, of course, there were many other reasons
that dictated this decision, a decision of major importance as it was the
first time Britain was to withdraw from territories it possessed. The
main reason was connected with the effort to influence the new King of
Greece, Prince William of Denmark, who became king under the style
of George I, and the yoking of the small country to the chariot of British
policy. As the Cephalonian Radical P. Panas wrote characteristically,
with the ceding of the islands to Greece the British succeeded in moving
the High Commissioner from Corfu to Athens.42
Other parameters had, of course, contributed to the British decision,
among them:

(a) the views prevailing from time to time in Britain on the geo-
strategic role of the islands, and which were linked also with,
(b) the cost of upkeep and modernization of their fortifications,
(c) the more specific politics of current British policy on the Eastern
Question, as well as
(d) the position Britain had taken vis-à-vis nationalist movements,
such as that in Italy. However, a decisive role was played by the
High Commissioners’ inability to deal effectively with the growing
Unionist movement, which was nurtured by expectations both of
national rehabilitation and social and economic upgrading of the
downtrodden rural element and the proletariat labour force in
the cities. This inability led to paralysis of the state machine,
with the taking of severe repressive measures which further
exacerbated popular dissatisfaction with the “Protection”.

_______________
41
Souris, “Gladstone”, 297, 301–304, 307–309.
42
Alissandratos, “Eptanissiakos Risospastismos, 40. Moschonas, “To Ionion Kratos”, 217.
P. Panas, Viografia Iosif Momferatou (Athens, 1888), 28.
150 Gerassimos Pagratis

There is no doubt that the historiography of the Ionian State is still
riddled with lacunae. Nonetheless, from what we know today, we could
express the view that Britain, acting purely as an imperialist power in the
islands, exploited politically and diplomatically their geo-strategic role. A
comparable estimation could be made for its economic behaviour too,
since the coinage of the Ionian State was based on that of the protecting
power, banking credit was served by British capital and the local economy
was regulated by British mercantilists. The islanders paid hefty taxation
for the “Protection”, to the tune of £35,000 per annum, while £20,000 per
annum was levied for the high commissioner for the first eighteen years
and £13,000 for the remaining fifteen. It has been calculated that the
“Protection” cost the islands the princely sum of £2,745,957. 43
However, the phenomenon of the Greek War of Independence (1821)
was destined to make the British Protectorate a rule in the right place but at
the wrong time, since only six years after its commencement the reasons for
acquiring the islands no longer existed. By the mid-nineteenth century
several members of the British Protectorate already accepted the latter’s
eventual demise. Gladstone simply confirmed views already formed. For
the majority of British politicians the capital of the Ionian Islands was now
considered less as an ideal fortified node at the entrance to the Adriatic and
more as an ideal venue for winter vacations, a ville loisir for civil servants of
the “Protection” and for private citizens, as well as for royals, such as
Prince Alfred, Queen Victoria’s second son.
This change in character of Corfu and by extension of the Ionian
Islands as a whole, was prophesied by the nostalgic Viscount Kirkwall,
a British employee of the Protectorate, at the moment of his departure:
“The loss of Corfu, as a naval and military station and as a pleasant
winter abode for civilians, will always be deeply and generally regretted.
As regards English society and hospitality it was a second Malta, whilst
in every other respect it greatly surpassed the attractions of that ‘military
hot-house’. With regard to the subalterns of the army, the excellent
shooting in Greece and Albania, with the delightful yachting excursions,
and the paper hunts of the ladies and gentlemen, rendered Corfu in
their eyes a kind of earthly paradise. English civilians and distinguished
foreigners also visited with pleasure, especially during the winter, the
beautiful capital of the Seven Islands.”44
_______________
43
Gerassimos Chytiris, I Kerkyra sta messa tou 19ou aiona (Corfu, 1988), 17–18.
44
George William Hamilton Fitz-Maurice (Viscount Kirkwall), Four Years in the Ionian
Islands, II (London, 1864), 17–18.