Frank Abney Hastings (1794-1828) was a British Commander and great Philhellene, with important action and contribution throughout the Greek War for independence.
He was born in 1794 and was the second-born son of Baron and general of the British infantry Charles Hastings, eleventh Earl of Huntingdon (Francis Hastings, 10th Earl of Huntingdon) and Parnell Abney. Both his parents were noble and very wealthy financially, and their son Frank could have a very comfortable life. To understand the origin of Frank Abney Hastings, we note here that the Hastings family had many distinguished members. For example, Warren Hastings, India’s first General Governor, was Frank’s cousin. In addition, the important military politician, Francis Rawdon-Hastings, later governor of India (from 1813 to 1823), was a cousin of his father.
Frank’s father noticed his son’s interest in naval matters, and directed him to join the Royal Navy from an early age. So Frank Abney Hastings enlisted in the Navy at the tender age of about 9 years old, when his peers were under the supervision of their family or nannies. Young Hastings gained quickly significant naval experience, and even from his involvement in war operations. It is remarkable that when he was 11 years old, he took an active part in the emblematic naval battle of Trafalgar and served in the two-decker “Neptune” that belonged to the fleet of Admiral Nelson. In this naval battle, the stern and a large part of the ship exploded. Hastings even took part in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.
During his service in the British Navy he sailed all the seas of the world, had a successful career for fifteen consecutive years, specialised in artillery and reached the rank of master.
In 1807 Hastings was transferred to the 42-cannon frigate “Seahorse”, with the mission of monitoring French ships between Toulon and the Ionian Islands (then under French rule). In this phase of his career, Hastings became well acquainted with the Greek seas, and even took part in operations against the Turks (something that is not mentioned in most of his biographies). On July 5, 1808, his ship came face to face between Skopelos and Alonissos islands, with two Turkish ships, the “Badere-i-Zaffer” (with 52 cannons) and the “Alis Fezan” (with 26 cannons). Hastings’ ship was at a disadvantage. But thanks to the exemplary discipline of the crew and the high training of British sailors, after two days of conflict, the “Seahorse” took over the “Badere-i-Zaffer”, while the “Alis Fezan” fled.
Hastings was promoted and transferred to the emblematic 105-cannon frigate, “Victory”. Known as the flagship of Admiral Nelson in the Battle of Trafalgar. He then served on many other ships, undertook military and scientific missions, and got to know all the seas from the Baltic region, to America, Asia, and China.
In 1819 he took command of the hydrographic ship “Kangaroo”, with which he arrived at the port of Jamaica. There he quarreled with the admiral, who accused him of incorrectly anchoring (he placed his anchor at a point that allegedly made it difficult for the admiral’s flagship to move), and even insulted him (probably unfairly) publicly in front of his crew. Hastings was particularly addicted by the public nature of this reprimand, and went so far as to call the admiral into a duel. In fact, he considered this behavior so unfair that he even refused to testify before the Commission appointed to investigate the case. This act led him out of the English Royal Navy.
Hastings returned to England, and after a while he left in 1820 for France. He stayed with a friendly family in Caen for a year and then moved to Paris. There he met Greek patriot from Russia, Nikolaos Kallergis, who became and remained his close friend until the end of his life. In Paris he came in contact with many Philhellenes and discovered the work of Lord Byron.
Hastings was excited by the struggle of the Greeks and began to actively support it. He soon decided to go to Greece and enlist as a volunteer in the Greek Revolutionary Forces. He had prepared this trip wisely, being conscious of his mission. For this purpose, he even procured various instruments useful for the artillery, with the aim to be as useful as possible to the Greek forces. He also brought with him an important library with works by Edward Gibbon, Shakespeare, Walter Scott, etc.
He went to Marseille, France, and from there he left for Greece aboard of the Swedish ship “Trondjem”, on April 3, 1822, together with other volunteers and the American Philhellene George Jarvis. At the end of April 1822 he arrived in Hydra. At first, he was treated with suspicion because the British governor of the Ionian Islands, Thomas Maitland, had adopted at that time a negative attitude towards the Greeks. On the contrary, the American George Jarvis was immediately received with honors, something which bothered Hastings. In fact, this situation almost led the two great Philhellenes to a duel. Fortunately, they were separated by their mutual friend (another important Philhellene), John Hane.
Hastings came in contact with Mavrokordatos and Tombazis and insisted on his pure intentions and dedication to the struggle of the Greeks. In fact, he sent the following letter to Mavrokordatos, in French: “Because I found your Highness busy yesterday when I had the honor of appearing at your desk, I decided to take the courage to address you in writing. I will speak freely to you, convinced that your highness will answer in the same way. I will not bother you with stories on my venue to defend the Greek cause. I came uninvited and I have no right to complain if my services are not accepted. I only regret that I cannot add my name to the liberators of Greece. I will not stop wishing for the triumph of freedom and civilization against tyranny and barbarism… “.
The misunderstanding was quickly resolved, and after learning about the status of the operations, Hastings presented his ideas and proposals for the organization of a navy. Mavrokordatos and Tombazis recognized in Frank Abney Hastings, a capable soldier with valuable naval knowledge that Greece needed, and a man with deep feelings of love for Greece. So they surrounded him with their trust and treated him with due respect. It was agreed that Hastings would enlist directly in the Navy of Hydra, and on April 30, 1822, he was appointed to command an important ship of the Tombazis brothers, the “Themistocles” (war corvette).
Hastings collaborated with Tombazis and Sachtouris, he was progressively loved by Greek sailors and he easily commanded ships and Greek crews. At the same time, however, he worked diligently to train the personnel of his ship, and to impose the principles of discipline, necessary to achieve high efficiency. One of his first missions was the naval campaign of retaliation against the Turks for the massacre in Chios.
In one naval operation, “Themistocles” had come too close to the Turkish-occupied coast, attempting to disembark part of his crew on a mission to northern Lesvos. The wind suddenly stopped being favourable and the ship became an easy target for the Turkish cannons firing from the land. The rest of the crew suddenly hid to avoid enemy bullets, as it appeared that the ship would sink. Hastings worked alone with the Captain, and with coordinated interventions on the sails, trying to get the most of the minimal wind, he managed to safely remove the ship. This act, his courage and bravery, made him a hero already from his first days in the Greek Navy.
Hastings participated with “Themistocles” in many military operations. In addition to his heroism, he also contributed with his innovative proposals. So he installed on the ship various modern measuring instruments for optimal navigation and accurate use of the artillery. In fact, he constantly made innovative proposals and suggested various improvements. Many of these, such as a series of special uses of the sails, or the use of a light anchor, were accepted. Others did not have such luck. For example, the Greeks did not want to place heavy cannons on their ships; as a result, they could not attack the Turkish ships from afar. So the basic strategy for attacking enemy targets was to use fire ships, which limited their operational capabilities. Hastings also insisted to install furnaces to heat the bullets before firing them to the enemy. The Greek ship-owners did not want to implement this suggestion either, because they considered it dangerous for their ships.
Hastings realized that many of his proposals were rejected by the Greek captains because they were owners of their private ships, and did not want to endanger them. For this reason he was dissatisfied with Miaoulis and asked to be transferred to the mainland. There he received the rank of Colonel of the Artillery and was assigned the command of the Greek Artillery. This was based on a few and almost useless old cannons. Hastings tried to rely on his know-how in artillery to use it in the best possible way the cannons, during the bombing of the castle of Nafplion from Bourtzi (the small island in front of the port), which was controlled by the Greeks.
After that, Hastings organized and equipped at his own expense a corps of 50 men and joined the Greek forces guarding the routes allowing Nafplion to communicate with Corinth and receive supplies.
In May 1823, the Greek administration appointed Hastings in charge of artillery in the campaign in Crete, led by Emmanuel Tombazis, who had been appointed commander of Crete. The Greeks landed an expeditionary force of 1,200 men, which was accompanied by Hastings’ artillery. After the siege, they captured the fortress of Castelli. They then gathered a force of 5,500 men and marched towards Chania. In October 1823, Hastings got seriously ill with a high fever and left the operations before the end of the year. Unfortunately, the campaign failed and Tombazis left Crete in April 1824. The Greek forces returned to the Peloponnese.
In addition to his constant participation in war conflicts, tireless Frank Abney Hastings never stopped planning moves and initiatives to improve the operational capabilities of the Greek fleet, modernize it, upgrade its equipment and prepare it to face successfully the Turkish-Egyptian fleet.
In this context, Frank Abney Hastings suggested equipping the Greek fleet with steam-powered warships. His proposal was based on the following logic. The Greeks had few and small ships, with few and small-range cannons, and of course several fire ships. On the contrary, the Turks had more and larger ships, with many more cannons and of longer range. Under certain weather conditions, the capable Greek sailors (with flexible handling and the combined threat of fire ships) could face the Turkish fleet. But in order to gain an advantage, they had to have fast ships at their disposal, capable to moving even without sails, even when there was no wind, with reliable, powerful and long-range cannons, and a strong armour that could withstand enemy fire.
After the campaign in Crete, Hastings studied the capabilities of Ibrahim Pasha’s navy, and concluded that the Greeks had now lost the advantage they had at sea during the first phase of the war. Their ships could no longer withstand or even approach the much larger Turkish ones, while the fire ships had gradually become useless.
Hastings submitted several memoranda to the government, in one of which he stated: “Greece cannot be effective against the Turks, without a definitive superiority over the sea, as it needed to prevent them from supporting their fortresses and resupplying their armies.”
When Lord Byron came to Greece, Hastings wrote to him twice and presented his views. He then went to meet him in Messolonghi. Lord Byron did not treat his proposals as a matter of first priority. In fact, Hastings mentions in his notes: «(I) got heartily laughed at for my pain (…) by Lord Byron and some other genius’s »
In Messolonghi he met Count Gamba (friend of Byron and brother of his last companion), who contributed later in the construction of the steamship “Karteria”. He also met Colonel Stanhope, and persuaded him of his ideas. In fact, Stanhope stated in his own writings: “Captain Hastings is looking forward to getting a steamship on his own, offering himself 1,000 pounds to the fund-raising. He argues that with a single ship carrying cannons of 32 pounds and a furnace to heat bullets, he may paralyze the blockade of Chalkis, Karystos, Nafpaktos, Patras”. And he also confirms “If Greece had 3 or 4 steamships, it would no longer have to fear another navy apart from the English”. Another important Philhellene who supported Hastings’ proposals was the British Philhellene Edward Blaquiere.
Frank Abney Hastings suggested the construction of steamships, with the aim to allow Greek forces to regain supremacy and control at sea and suggested that he personally takes care of the design of the ships. In order to fully assess his courage and insight, it is worth noting that at that time only the US Navy had one steamship, but which had never taken part in military operations.
From his correspondence with Mavrokordatos and others, it appears that Hastings was systematically putting forward his plan. At first, everyone discouraged him by saying that there were no financial resources to purchase the steamships. But then the tragic fall of Mesolonghi followed, which was mainly caused by the success of the Turkish-Egyptians in imposing a naval blockade on the city, and depriving it of the opportunity to be supplied with food and ammunition. Greek ships were never able to break this blockade. The Greek administration, which had now lost all the cities, apart from Nafplion and the islands, realized that it had to regain control of the sea and decided to use part of the second loan of Independence to build a strong fleet.
At the same time, Hastings and the Hellenic Committee of London, contacted Thomas Cohrane, who had been very successful in supporting liberation movements in South America. Cohrane was a living legend at the time. They persuaded him to join the Greek struggle. Hastings presented his plan and Cohrane asked for the construction of a fleet of six steam-powered ships, like “Karteria”.
For all these reasons, the Greek administration accepted Hastings’ proposal, and instructed him to supervise the construction of the first steamship in England. After a series of misfortunes, conflicts of opinion between different stakeholders, and thanks to the intervention of Count Pierre Gamba, Edward Blaquiere, and others, Hastings took full responsibility, and the first ship was completed. The ship was delivered in Hastings name to avoid a diplomatic incident between the United Kingdom and the Ottoman Empire.
The ship was originally named “Perseverance”, and when it arrived in Greece it received the Greek name “Karteria”. Frank Abney Hastings contributed to the design and construction of the ship, while he designed himself his state-of-the-art military equipment, which he funded entirely by paying 7,000 pounds (a huge amount for the time) from his personal fortune. At the same time, he prepared the ship for naval operations and bought with his own money even the naval navigation instruments and maps.
“Karteria” was a 125ft long, 25 wide, 400 ton, 4-masted schooner with two engines run on steam from coal-fired boilers, 16 rpm, 84 horse, driving port / starboard paddle wheels and 6 knots. Originally she was to have one 32 pound gun forward and one aft, and two 68 pounders in the middle, fired in turn with the ship rotating by her paddle wheels. Red hot shot was to be used, which was lethal for enemy sail and wood ships. She travelled under sail and the steam engines were used only in action.
“Karteria” was the most modern ship in the Mediterranean.
Dimitris Caipatzis is the writer of an important study titled: ‘KARTERIA’ THE FIRST STEAM WARSHIP IN WAR (1826), which can be downloaded here.
The Greek administration appointed Hastings Commander of this new steamship, “Karteria”, which was at the time the jewel and pride of the Greek fleet. The long journey from London to Athens was already a challenge.
When the ship arrived in Cagliari, Sardinia, it caught fire in the engine room. Hastings sent immediately his friend and crew member, Finley, to England, with orders to bring engineers and spare parts. The damage was repaired, the ship continued its journey and at the beginning of September 1826, it arrived in Nafplion, where it was welcomed with pride and enthusiasm by the whole city. Frank Abney Hastings justified his reputation of a hero.
As soon as Hastings arrived at the port, he called the Greek administration to take care of all the formalities, to transfer ownership of the ship, which still carried the English flag. A few days later, the hoisting of the Greek flag took place, which was now proudly waving on the mast of this modern ship. This historic event was greeted by canon fire from the fortress of Nafplion.
As the historian Mendelssohn-Bartholdy reports: “The virtue meant by this name (perseverance), was to the distressed in many way Greeks, expecting help from Christian conscientiousness and the sympathy of the powerful of the world, very much-needed. Karteria and Karteria and eternally Karteria in those exposed many times to myriad dangers and embarrassment and dire anguish and total despair … » (free translation).
The Greek administration transferred Hastings from the Army back to the Navy and appointed him captain of the ship. He selected the crew meticulously and with strict and meritocratic criteria.
The crew of “Karteria” consisted of the brave and hard-working sailors chosen by Hastings himself. Another emblematic Philhellene, American military doctor Samuel Howe, was aboard the ship, and was later replaced by another great German Philhellene, Heirich Treiber. Both expressed their admiration for Hastings in their memoirs, but have also captured images and snapshots of life on the ship and its involvement in military operations.
“Karteria” took part in many military campaigns and naval battles. This steam-powered ship caused awe and panic in the enemy when it appeared. The Turks referred to it as “the frigate of fire.”
The first mission was to support Greek forces, led by another British Philhellene, Thomas Gordon, to land in Piraeus, with the aim of liberating Athens. The landing took place on February 5, 1827.
“Karteria” gathered its fire at the Monastery of Agios Spyridon, where the Turkish troops were deployed, in order to provide cover to the Corps of 2300 men disembarked by Thomas Gordon.
The Turks sent reinforcements and 5 large cannons of long range and the “Karteria” was removed to avoid their fire. A few days later, the Turks attacked the positions where Gordon’s Corps had camped. “Karteria” intervened immediately in order to attract the fire of the Turks on it, offering valuable time to Gordon’s forces to organize their defence. Hastings’s plan succeeded and the Greeks kept their positions. Meanwhile, “Karteria” destroyed 3 of the 5 Turkish cannons. However, it also received several bullets, some of which caused damages. It was that that everyone realised the genius design of “Karteria” by Hastings. The engine room was protected inside the boat, which was designed with many different watertight compartments. If one caught fire or water, the ship could continue to sail and operate. “Karteria” sailed away when the Turkish counterattack failed, leaving Gordon’s Corps safe. The damages were repaired a little later.
The American Philhellene doctor Samuel Howe mentions in his memoirs that the shells from the Turkish forts in Attica hit the ship and bounced off without causing serious damage and praises the worthy Commander who maneuvered flexibly in the shallow waters near Piraeus.
In addition to the genius design of the ship, from a shipbuilding point of view, the design of its weapons was also genius and innovative. Hastings took into account that the wheels with the wings mounted on either side of the ship limited the space available for him to place cannons. So he decided to place less, but more powerful, in the free points of the ship, and to achieve a tremendous firepower. He based his design on his extensive experience, but also on the study of the work of the French army officer and artillery expert Henri Joseph Paixhans.
First, he equipped the “Karteria” with a safe furnace to heat the bullets before they were placed in the cannons for firing. Thus, each incandescent red bullet caused enormous damage, and provoked explosions and fires, regardless of where it hit the enemy ship. It is estimated that when a red bullet fell on the enemy ship, it had about the same effect as a fireship.
Second, originally he planned to install a 32-pound cannon in front and a rear one, and a 68-pound cannon on each side of the ship. Finally, he installed four 68-pound cannons, which fired incandescent red bullets, which caused large explosions when they found their target.
Third, it planned to create a national navy, which would operate by naval discipline in accordance with best practices internationally, and would belong to the central state and not to private ship-owners. The crew consisted mainly of Britons, Swedes and Greeks. Among them were the Scottish Philhellene and historian George Finlay, but also the American doctor Samuel Howe and then the German doctor Heinrich Treiber.
Hastings, after blocking Eretria with the Greek fleet, took part in the naval forced which attacked Oropos in March 1827, with the aim of destroying enemy installations that coordinated the supply through Evia of the Turkish troops besieging the Acropolis of Athens.The strategic goal of the mission was the expulsion of the Turks from Attica and the end of the siege of the Acropolis in Athens.
The attack was coordinated by the great German Philhellene of Swiss descent (and later one of the three regents until the coming of age of King Othon), Karl Wilhelm von Heideck. The Greek fleet comprised the “Hellas” frigate, “Karteria” and other ships carrying Greek troops.
“Karteria” captured two enemy cargo ships that arrived at the port with supplies (mainly flour and wheat) from Evia. Immediately afterwards, it anchored 200 meters from the shore and with a continuous bombardment it neutralized the Turkish fort and blew up its powder magazine. Subsequently, reinforcements and a strong Turkish cavalry unit arrived, and the Greek forces returned to Aegina.
Meanwhile, in the spring of 1827, Cohrane arrived in Greece and took over the duties of the Admiral of the Greek fleet. Hastings rejoiced because he thought that at last the entire Greek fleet would operate in a coordinated fashion. The strange thing was that Cohrane offered him complete autonomy and gave him the opportunity to have complete control over his ship and the organization of the operations he undertook.
After the operation in Oropos, Hastings planed his next move, always with the aim of serving the same strategic choice, which was the withdrawal of the Turks from Attica. So he turned to Volos, where the supplies from Thessaloniki and Constantinople ended. Volos was the largest supply centre for the Turkish troops in central Greece.
Hastings assembled a squadron of four ships which were rented to the government by their ship-owners (Tombazis ‘”Themistocles”, Miaoulis’ “Mars” and two smaller ones). When the squadron arrived in Volos, Hastings placed “Themistocles” and “Mars” opposite to the Turkish forts. “Karteria” turned against the Turkish units that had been deployed in trenches, and the cargo carriers and their escort boats that were found in the port.
After a fierce battle that lasted 4 hours, all the Turkish positions had been neutralized, their gunpowder depots had been blown up and all the Turkish ships had sunk or were seized. “Karteria” had fired a total of 300 shells (i.e. about one shell every 48 seconds). Greek fishermen informed Hastings that the Turkish warships had moved in the Gulf of Trikeri in Pelion, at a point that provided them with support from the surrounding forts, to protect themselves. Hastings devised a new plan and attacked the next day, sinking or neutralizing most of the ships he found in Trikeri. Two members of the “Karteria” crew were killed in the clash. One of them was a brave British Philhellene, especially loved by the crew, named James Hall. The loss angered the rest of the crew, and another British sailor attempted to retaliate by killing all Turkish prisoners. Hastings, who complied with a code of honour that imposed to respect prisoners, was forced to arrest this sailor.
The Greek squadron, which had suffered several casualties in the meantime, took the road back to the naval base in Poros. During the return trip, Hastings’ squadron captured another 4 cargo carriers coming from Evia bringing supplies to the Turkish army in Attica.
In May 1827 the crew of “Karteria” reacted because they were unpaid for a long time. Hastings briefed Cohrane and the government. Once again, the great Philhellene covered the salaries with his own money. And it was neither the first nor the last time he did so.
In the summer of 1827 a series of operations were organized against the forces of Ibrahim. In fact, one of them was intended to capture and arrest Ibrahim himself, but it was cancelled due to bad weather. In September, the Greek fleet, consisting of 23 ships (including “Karteria”), led by Admiral Cohrane, took up positions in the Ionian Sea, targeting Messolonghi and the western part of Greece. The recovery of these territories was a strategic choice of governor Kapodistrias, who needed arguments to claim the borders of the new Greek state to be as far north as possible.
It is recalled that on July 6, 1827, the Treaty of London was signed, which ensured the liberation of Greece and imposed a truce on the warring parties. While the Greeks accepted it, the Turks had rejected it and continued the hostilities, so the Greeks continued military operations as well. Admiral Codrington asked Cohrane not to provoke with hostile actions. Greece accepted it and withdrew most of its fleet from the Ionian Sea. So Cohrane turned to other parts of the Aegean. But he left Hastings there with “Karteria” and a squadron, in a mission to regain full control of the area and advance the recapture of Messolonghi.
Frank Abney Hastings took advantage of this opportunity and offered one of the most emblematic and important successes of the Greek War of Independence. The naval battle of Agali, which took place in Itea in September 1827.
He himself led the squadron of the Greek navy, which included “Karteria” and 5 other ships (“Sotir”, two galleys and two cannon boats, “Bavaria” and “Philellinida”), to enter the gulf of Corinth. This was a particularly dangerous operation, because any approaching ship was at that time exposed to the crossfire of Turkish artillery for the forts of Rio and Antirrio.
On September 30, 1827, the Greek squadron reached the Gulf of Itea, where they met 11 anchored Turkish ships. The Turkish admiral had his flag on a large 16-gun flagship and he was guarding three Austrian cargo carriers full of supplies. The Greek squadron began to move around the port, waiting for the wind to become favourable. At the earliest opportunity, Hastings entered early in the morning the Salona bay, which was protected by an impregnable fortress. The Turks believed that the small squadron was trapped and they prepared to capture the ships. “Karteria” chose the best possible position, five hundred meters away from the Turkish flagship. It anchored and started firing slowly in order to control the distance. At ten o’clock in the morning a quick fire started with incandescent red shells. Soon one of them ended up in the gunpowder depot of the Turkish flagship, which exploded and scattered in small pieces all over the sea, causing thunders that were heard in all the mountains of the area.
The outcome of the naval battle was incredible. “Karteria” sank the Turkish flagship and destroyed 9 of the 11 Turkish ships parked there. Hastings seized three major carriers and their rich cargos.
The Battle of Agali was the first major military engagement involving a steam-powered warship. During this naval battle, as well as shortly before the attack in Trikeri, Hastings tested for the first time in international military history a steamship and innovative artillery tactics, which were the subject of study and promotion, which attracted attention internationally. For example, Blackwood’s Edinburgh magazine writes about it:
“The battle of the Salona bay provided the most satisfactory evidence of the effectiveness of the armament of the steamships by heavy artillery in favour of which Master Hastings spoke so warmly and for a long time. The terrifying and rapid force, by virtue of which a so superior force was completely annihilated by the red bullets fired and the explosive shells of “Karteria”, imposed silence on the opponents of Hastings’ plans in Europe. And to all those who study the progress of the naval war, it became clear from that day that more than one state in the future would accept his position on naval artillery and they would arm many ships, following the example he gave”.
However, this naval battle had another serious effect. It now persuaded the Greeks to abandon the tactic of constituting a fleet by leasing private ships and to build instead a fleet that would belong to the state. Until then, the fleet for every military operation was formed by assignments to individuals. Those who contributed their ships received certificates such as the following.
The ship-owners who offered their ships received promissory notes to get their compensation with interests from the National Fund in three years.
The great victory of the battle of Agali stimulated the morale of the Greeks. We remind that during this period the Greeks had lost Messolonghi, and Athens, with the result that all of central Greece was controlled by the Turks. After this victory, from the moment the Turkish fleet was destroyed in the gulf of Corinth, Hastings was now free to land troops in western Greece and supply them in time without any problems. Thanks to these developments, the units of Kostas Botsaris, Kitsos Tzavellas, Dimitrios Ypsilantis and the Regular Corps of the British General Church, were deployed in western and eastern Greece. A series of military operations were launched to ensure that the Greek forces which landed secure positions, which would allow Greece to claim more territory, critical to have enough geographical space for a viable state.
The Admiral of the Greek Navy, Cohrane, congratulated Hastings on his great victory: “You have done a lot and worthwhile to open the transport communications. Take care now of them, the position is dangerous if my information is true, the enemy fleet arrived to Patras. I grant you all the freedom to do whatever you think is best for the public service.”
Hastings headed to Patras with the goal of blocking the port. When he arrived in Rio, he received heavy fire from the Turkish forts, which he bombarded with his squadron, inflicting significant blows to the Turks. In fact, the marks left by “Karteria’s” red missiles on the forts remained indelible in time and are still visible today.
These days, one of the most emblematic events of the Greek struggle for Independence took place, as well as a historic moment for Philhellenism.
At one point while “Karteria” and Hastings’s squadron were patrolling the area, the crew spotted a large Austrian-flagged cargo ship heading to Patras to supply the Turks.
It is noted that since March 1822, the Greek Administration had declared a blockade to all the Turkish-occupied ports of Greece.
The Austrian Consul contacted Hastings to demand the safe entry of the Austrian ship into Patras. Hastings replied: “Being the Austrian consul, of course you have been informed that the Greek government has declared the blockade of Patras and that a Greek warship is patrols the port.”
It is recalled that at that time the Austrian Empire was a superpower, and that its diplomatic representative was aware of the power and prestige of his position. So the Consul replied to Hastings: “My state does not recognize the Greek government, nor does it accept the validity of its actions.”
Hastings was adamant: “Sir, I have been ordered to ratify these acts by force of arms, and I must ask you to go immediately to the Austrian carrier and have the master come here with the supporting documents.”
The Austrian Consul considered that he could impose his position, and replied: “I think I am speaking to an English and because neither Austria nor Turkey are at war with England, you must respect the Austrian flag.”
To this challenge, the great Philhellene and hero of the Greek Revolution, responded with words that have now gone down in history, and show the greatness of this man: “Sir, you speak, to a Greek officer, commanding the squadron of the blockade and if the Austrian ship is not set immediately under my command, I will sink it. As I will also shoot the Turkish camp; you have only five minutes, he said, taking out his watch“ and asked the Consul to leave. The Consul left without believing that Hastings would dare to carry out his threat. The great Philhellene, however, waited for exactly 5 minutes, and immediately afterwards ordered the bombing of the ship, which sank in a short time. At the same time, “Karteria’s” guns neutralized Turkish cannons on land.
The successes of Hastings worried the Turkish-Egyptian forces, who, after realizing the pressure exerted on them by the Greek naval forces, tried to take initiatives to confront the Greeks. These developments had angered Ibrahim Pasha himself, who had called for Hastings to be arrested and punished by example. Even Cohrane himself had advised Hastings to stay in the Gulf of Corinth in a safe place to avoid Ibrahim’s revenge.
These moves by Ibrahim, however, offered Admiral Codrignton the pretext he was looking for to neutralize the Turkish-Egyptian fleet, since they were now officially violating the truce and continued to attack the Greeks. The strategic goal was to deprive Ibrahim of his ability to receive supply from Egypt, so that he would be forced to leave the Peloponnese. This great Admiral, an admirer of Lord Byron, had already received clear instructions from the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, a friend of Lord Byron and a Philhellene, George Canning several months ago, to expel Ibrahim from the Peloponnese as soon as possible, “either with the use of diplomatic language or with the persuasion of arms.” Canning (one of the high level internationally personalities to whom Greece owes its freedom and independence) had made his position clear long ago, and this was known to the international public opinion.
Thus, the Allied fleet entered Navarino. But Codrington’s intentions were well known to Ibrahim, and because he knew that his large fleet could not confront the smaller but more experienced one of the allies, he considered he had set a trap attracting them to enter the Navarino gulf. Indeed, in this narrow space, Ibrahim could rely on the cannons of his own ships (about 90) plus the cannons of the forts from land, while the allies had only 28 ships. Despite the multiple firepower, the panic and failure of Ibrahim’s shooters, turned the “trap” he was preparing into the grave of his plans. These were to erase Hellenism from Peloponnese and central Greece, implementing a plan of genocide and uprooting, that would lead to the end of Greek history. Ibrahim’s fleet was destroyed, and more than 60 ships sank with most of their sailors chained in their places.
After the naval battle of Navarino, Frank Abney Hastings had now regained full control of the Greek seas with “Karteria” and his squadron. In November 1827, Hastings resumed operations. The next target was Messolonghi, which was the key to control Western Greece.
The first move was to reach Vasiladi, a strategically important stronghold for Messolonghi, which Miaoulis had tried to capture without success. Hastings devised an intelligent plan to capture one after the other the forts that protected the islets of the Mesolonghi lagoon (Vasiladi, Dalmas and Aetoliko). It is noted that the waters are very shallow in the area and ships had to stay at least three kilometers away.
The siege lasted about a week due to bad weather. The first shots missed their target because of the long distance. Hastings equipped small boats that could move flexibly in the shallow waters of Messolonghi and used them to block Vasiladi and Aetoliko from Messolonghi, waiting for the right weather conditions to attack.
The attack began on December 27, 1827. “Kartheria” and “Elvetia” were bombing from the east, while the small boats were firing from the inside of the lagoon. The first shots were very successful. They hit the fort, destroyed the water tank, and opened a large crack in the wall. The fifth shot was fired by Hastings himself, who adjusted the cannon and succeeded with a well-aimed shot at the Turkish gunpowder depot. The blast destroyed most of the Turkish cannons and forced the Turks to surrender. The British Philhellene, Captain Hane, landed in Vasiladi, took control of the fort, and captured 39 Turks. Hastings treated the prisoners in an exemplary manner, he disembarked them elsewhere and allowed them to return to Messolonghi. A detachment of the Greek army was stationed at the occupied fort. The Turkish commander who was released sent a lamb and a sword to Hastings from Messolonghi as a gift.
This victory, which now brought the Greek forces close to liberate Messolonghi, took place on the day that Ioannis Kapodistrias crossed the Ionian Sea to assume the duties of the first Governor of the new Greek state.
After this success, Hastings had to confront a new payroll problem. The Navy owed to the crew of “Karteria” 3 salaries. Unable to continue and face his crew, Hastings and other officers submitted their resignation to Kapodistrias. The ship’s doctor, the Philhellene Heirich Treiber, was among them. He left and eventually moved to Athens, leaving “Karteria” without her doctor.
Governor Kapodistrias invited Hastings immediately to Poros, and managed to persuade him. In fact, he accepted all his suggestions for the reorganization and operation of the Greek Navy.
The main focus of Hastings’ proposals was to develop a national navy that would belong to the government, and not to hire ships from individual ship-owners. The new Governor had appreciated Hastings’ abilities and personality, and had decided to entrust him with the general coordination of the naval forces, according to the contents of a letter to him: “To Captain Hastings. The Government for which you are willing to be useful in its purposes assures you with pleasure that it assigns to you the management of maritime affairs. … you may use Mr. Georgios Economidis as personal secretary?”. This great man agreed to withdraw his resignation and continue his mission for the shake of Greece.
Hastings’ first move was the foundation of the first Greek naval base in Poros and the planning of the administrative operations. Shortly afterwards, he left to complete his mission.
After the fall of the fortress at Vasiladi, the next strategic step to occupy Messolonghi was Aetoliko. Hastings had to cooperate with the Regular Corps, which was commanded by General Church, with whom he did not maintain the best relations. Despite the disagreements, the sense of duty that both Philhellenes had, and their love for Greece, helped to put aside their differences and find a common acceptance solution.
Church describes their relationship as follows: “Hastings, who acquired the noblest virtues of spirit and heart, was unfortunately irritable and awkward, which often made it difficult to cooperate with him.” It should be noted that Hastings had suffered greatly during his participation in the war of independence, due to the inability of the Greek administration to coordinate the actions of the Greek forces, and to support him in his work with quick decisions. Church was aware of this situation, and he states: “It must be stated, in the honour of Hastings, that he continued to put himself in great difficulty and for a long time in the past by providing himself money for the crews and that he was fed up with the little attention that the provisional government was paying to him, to the point that being irritated by this fact, he showed his wrath in Vasiladi.”
Hastings returned to “Karteria” to continue his valuable work and to realize his great vision. To liberate Messolonghi, the place where Lord Byron left his last breath, and through this act to support the Greek forces to regain control of Western Greece, and to create accomplished facts that would facilitate Kapodistrias to negotiate the expansion of the Greek borders to the north.
Thus, in May 1828, he participated in a joint operation in Western Greece, with the terrestrial Greek forces, commanded by the British General Church. The Greek fleet blocked Aetoliko, the stronghold of Messolonghi.
Hastings had designed special explosive missiles to bomb Mesolonghi. He then bombarded Aetoliko for five hours without stopping, preparing the landing of the Greek forces. The shells caused fires throughout Aetoliko, which was burning, and destroyed the fortifications in many places and the Turkish garrison itself.
Unfortunately, while everything seemed to evolve according to the plan, the lack of strict discipline and coordination, the big problem that caused a lot of trouble to the Greek forces during the liberation war, did not allow the original plan to be implemented properly.
According to the plan, it was decided that all forces from land and sea would attack simultaneously, a specific time on May 25, 1828.
However, when it became clear that Aetoliko was falling, the units of the irregular forces who were associated to the terrestrial forces, did not obey the plan, and moved on their own to enter first the fort with the aim of looting. The Regular Corps of the terrestrial forces, commanded by General Eumorfopoulos and the Earl Briosio, considered that the attack was starting prematurely and they also moved out of the plan against the fort. This premature move also forced Hastings to start earlier and move with his men so as not to leave the terrestrial forces exposed to the Turkish fire.
Hastings’ sailors launched the final assault, without cover. This evolution concentrated much more enemy fire on them than what they expected.
This great and heroic figure of the Greek Revolution, Frank Abney Hastings, disembarked from his ship and led his own comrades-in-arms to the front line to assist the ground forces. He was constantly standing on his small amphibious boat, giving instructions and courage to his sailors. In fact, witnesses report that he was constantly shouting and repeating the word “Forward” loudly, and his sailors were excited and cheering him on.
This phase was another of the heroic moments of the Greek War of Independence. As soon as they reached the shore, a Turkish shell hit the landing boat. Three sailors were killed and twenty were injured. Frank Abney Hastings was seriously injured in his left arm and fell unconscious. At that moment, there was a great commotion. A bullet hit General Eumorfopoulos on the front and killed him instantly. Shortly afterwards, another heroic figure of the Greek revolution, the enthusiastic Philhellene Briozio, fell, while Lieutenants Gaiben, Stelvach and many other fighters were wounded.
Hastings was withdrawn from the battle and taken to “Karteria”. There, his sailors took care of his wound, as well as they could, because, as indicated above, the doctor of the ship had been transferred to Athens and is replacement had not arrived. This great man recovered slowly and asked to take action again as soon as possible, assuring his comrades-in-arms that “he had nothing serious.” In fact, he started working again, preparing a new plan to attack Aetoliko. On May 28, 1828, he prepared a detailed report to the Government, in which he described the events and the conduct of each officer, and even dealt with the last detail, such as the granting of a pension to the widow of Papapanos, the head of his artillery, who died in action. There he stated that he was preparing to attack Aetoliko again.
At this stage, no one suspected how serious the injury of the great British Philhellene was. Even Kapodistrias himself issued the following order from Poros on May 26, 1828 (old calendar): “The Governor of Greece to its leader of the naval forces of the Corinthian gulf. The Government, attaching its letter of gratitude, for those who excelled on May 11, hastens to offer to You in particular the gratitude of which, even at this last hour, you are worth exposing Your life in danger for the interests of Greece, which you support continuously since the beginning of the struggle. You bring the honourable samples of Your devotion to Greece to your Corps and recall in the memory of the people the glory which two years ago was poured into the places where you are already fighting. In Poros, May 26, 1828, the Governor “.
His comrades-in-arms informed the responsible chief doctor (Gosse), who, without knowing the details of the injury, also considered that it was not something to worry about. When he later saw the wound up close, he found that it was evolving into gangrene and asked for Hastings to be transported immediately to Zakynthos, where there were more means to cut off the injured hand. The wounded man now suffered unbearable pain and because he understood that his end was near, he wrote his will, and appointed the new Commander and vice-Commander of “Karteria”. During his transfer to Zakynthos, he left last breath on the ship that transported him, crossing the sea that he had loved and delivered now free to the Greeks.
He died on June 1, 1828, at the age of 34, plunging the Greek army and Greeks into grief and a deep mourning.
One of Frank Abney Hastings’ officers, Lt. Master Papa Mikes Doukas, from Psara, describes these historic moments in his memoirs: “And in the morning we went to the frigate and the English (in Zakynthos) told us that Hastings was in danger, that we did his will, that he appointed Commander of “Karteria” Iosif Falagkas and vice-Commander Ioannis Sotiriadis, and that he will upgrade the other sailors afterwards if he lives. We all stayed on the frigate and at midnight the guard came and warned us that he was dead. We mourned him from the bottom of our hearts because we lost a father and not an arrogant master. After the English corrected his body and placed him in a coffin, they handed to us his remains and we brought him to Poros, where the Naval Station is.”
The sad news of the loss of the great Philhellene shocked the whole of Greece. As soon as he was informed about that, Ioannis Kapodistrias sent the following letter to the Minister of the Navy, Mavrokordatos and the two close friends of Hastings, G. Finley and N. Kallergis:
“Master Hastings no longer exists. The deadly wound he received, while giving new samples of his devotion for Greece under the walls of Aetolikon, engulfed him on June 1”. After mentioning briefly the services offered by Hastings, he underlines the duty of the Greeks to the memory of the “brave defender of our independence who received for us that mortal injury, was a kind man, a brave soldier and sailor. So he deserves a war and therefore naval funeral par excellence” and he continues “as a gathering place for his soldiers of the blessed, Poros is selected, so that for the relics of the dead are there to show constantly to those who carry him as a brave comrade in their memory that he has not ceased to exist and that his legend is always there to support them. Finally, as a gymnasium for our young sailors, Poros demands to be the asylum in his shadow, so that his memory to be part of the imagination of the youth of Greece, guiding them as a spirit to acquire the virtues and knowledge which adorn this memorable person”.
General Church himself had acknowledged Frank Abney Hastings’ superiority. In fact, he stated in an official document, which is today in the British Museum, the following: “The death of Hastings was a great loss for Greece. He had made significant sacrifices in the service in which he eventually sacrificed his life. He was a coldblooded and fearless man of great practical and scientific education, always ready for operations and great courage. He was highly esteemed and had a reputation among the Greeks, and his military career was marked by many successes in favor of his adopted homeland and his own structure. After the loss of its noble master, the hitherto powerful “Karteria”, the terror of the enemy became a ship of ordinary class, it is true that it still bared the terrible guns, the ones invented by Hastings, firing under his command fire and death against the enemy in all directions, but he no longer existed, and by missing the hand which commanded and the soul which strengthened the achievements of “Karteria”, her subsequent services were insignificant as in the past they were great and glorious.”
The governor Kapodistrias demanded that the body of Hastings be embalmed and transferred to the Church of the Orphanage of Aegina. It was carried the following year with a multi-day ceremony to Poros, with his favourite ship, the “Karteria”, with Ioannis Kapodistrias himself being part of the crew. The ship was accompanied by an honorary squadron of Navy warships, in which many of its comrades were on board. Spyridon Trikoupis addressed the funeral speech. The details of the ceremony are reported below.
The funeral ceremony of Frank Abney Hastings
The general order of the funeral ceremony, which was attended by the Governor Kapodistrias himself, was assigned to the Minister of the Navy Mavrokordatos, G. Finley and N. Kallergis.
The new Commander of “Karteria”, Captain Falagkas, handed over the embalmed body of Frank Abney Hastings to Captain Fabricius, leader of the squadron, on June 6, 1829. The flags were flying everywhere at half-mast and the ships’ antennas were inclined. Only cannon shots could be heard.
The coffin arrived in Loutraki on June 13. Thousands of Greeks from Perachora and Corinth accompanied the deceased to Kalamaki. The deadly silence was interrupted only by cannon fire from the ships and the fortress of Acrocorinth.
In Kalamaki, the coffin boarded the ship “Athena” and sailed to Aegina. The Philhellene, comrade-in-arms and friend of Hastings, and historian G. Finley, describes the scenes with the following words: “Perhaps never-before warriors mourned a more sincere and deeply brave foreigner for his premature loss. When the numerous Greek sailors who served from time to time under his command learned of his death, they immediately raised money and they organized at the cathedral of Aegina a memorial service by the Greek clergy, together with a parade and presentation of arms, as possible during those times of turmoil”.
Then, all the members of the headquarters, the Interim Commander of Aegina and all the officers of the warships that had arrived in Aegina, placed the coffin of Frank Abney Hastings in the church of the Saviour in the Orphanage. The whole clergy, the political and military authorities, the Philhellenes, and the Governor had gathered there with a delegation from Panhellenion. A funeral prayer followed and the funeral procession began. The front of the procession was composed by a unit of 100 sailors wearing a black sign of mourning on their uniforms, 4 naval officers followed with their swords on their shoulders and then 8 officers carrying the coffin. They were accompanied by 4 masters holding the four ends of the coffin cover. Immediately after, the governor Ioannis Kapodistrias and the political and military authorities. All participants wore black mourning signs on their left arm.
The procession ended at the port and the coffin was placed in a small boat, covered with mourning cloth. The boat carried Hastings’ coffin to his favourite ship, “Karteria”, for his last voyage to Poros. When the coffin arrived in Karteria, all the ships lowered their flags and inclined their antennas. This was followed by 34 cannonades, as was the age of the great Philhellene.
Then all the ships started together, sailing at low speed with the magnificence that Frank Abney Hastings deserved. When they arrived at the Naval Station in Poros, they anchored. The officers carried the coffin, followed by Ioannis Kapodistrias. Cannon fired again to honour the great Philhellene.
At the Naval Station an Infantry battalion, delegations from the Navy, the Regular Corps, all the captains, the officers and the crew of “Karteria”, lined up to pay tribute to the brave Commander. They accompanied him with great emotion to his last home.
After chanting a short wish, Foreign Minister Spyridon Trikoupis delivered a farewell speech on behalf of the government and the Greek nation. The last worship of the dead followed and the attendees, starting from Ioannis Kapodistrias, threw a handful of soil on the grave of this great man. The Battalion of the Regular Corps and navy honours detachments, saluted with three gun shots.
The funeral ceremony ended again with 34 artillery shots, in memory of the work and contribution of the great Philhellene, hero and national benefactor, Frank Abney Hastings, who excited the souls of all Greeks.
The General Gazette, when referring to Frank Abney Hastings, used the term “the more than Greek”.
In his speech, Spyridon Trikoupis recalled that Frank Abney Hastings “… he died on May 20, leaving a memory of selfless Philhellenism, glorious struggles in favour of freedom and an integer character…”.
Lord Byron had described Hastings as “intelligent and scientific” who “unites great courage & coolness as well as enterprise”.
Speaking about Hastings and “Karteria”, Finley said: “What the Greek fleet could have become if Captain Hastings had lived, only those who knew him and saw what measures he took to recruit naval officers could have imagined.”
The other important Philhellene, General Thomas Gordon, also mentions in his biography: “If there was a truly selfless and useful Philhellene, that was Hastings. He never received any reward. He spent most of his fortune to keep “Karteria” combative and strong, the only ship of the Greek Navy that complied with the rules of naval discipline.”
The heart of the deceased Hastings was transported to Athens and buried in the Anglican Church of St. Paul.
In 1861, the state moved the bones of Frank Abney Hastings to the Poros Naval Station, where an obelisk monument was erected to honour his contribution to the Greek war for Independence.
In 1928, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary from his death, the Minister of the Greek Navy, Panagiotis Merlopoulos, and the Ambassador of the United Kingdom to Greece, Sir Percy Loraine, placed commemorative plaques at the monument.
The Greek state continued to remember and honour this great Philhellene and national benefactor, Frank Abney Hastings, naming in his honour a warship in 1841 and a destroyer in 1939 of the Greek Navy.
On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his death, a monument was erected in Messolonghi, in the garden of the Heroes. A bronze commemorative medal was issued and numerous other items were published in his honour.
The name of Frank Abney Hastings was given to a street in Piraeus. Moreover, a main street in the historic centre of Athens bears his name, to remind Greeks and foreigners who come to visit and worship the monuments of the classical civilisation, freedom and democracy, the Acropolis and Parthenon, that it is to great, noble and brave men like Frank Abney Hastings that our civilized humanity owes the privilege to live free and with dignity.
Note by SHP:
One of the descendants of the Abney Hastings family, Maurice Abney Hastings, wrote an important book that presents the work of the great Philhellene and his ancestor, Frank Abney Hastings. Maurice Abney Hastings, gathered material and organized a museum in the birthplace of the great Philhellene in England. This book was presented a few years ago in Greece at an event at the Historical Museum in Athens.
Maurice Abney Hastings died on October 9, 2016 at the age of 75.
SHP also honours the memory of another great Abney Hastings.
Sources and bibliography
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