British Occupation

 

The appearance of English cruisers in the Ionian Sea put a stop to trade and communications among the islands. The islanders' appalling living conditions made them wonder if perhaps the pres­ence of a new power might help them throw off the foreign yoke, so they looked for a way to enable the English to take over the island. The English themselves were enthusiastic and in 1809 General John Oswald attacked and occupied Kefalonia without a fight. When the Eng­lish had occupied the islands and began to protect trade, they once again began to prosper. The Swiss Colonel Charles Philippe de Bosset served as governor of Kefalonia from 1810 to 1814. During those years administration was improved and many public works carried out.

In the meantime, at the conference of Vienna the fate of Europe, along with that of the Ionian Islands, was being decided. There were many who desired to pos­sess the islands, among them the Knights of St. John, the Pope and the English; the agent of the Tsar of Russia, Kapodistrias, proposed that they be handed over to Austria as an indepen­dent state. The treaty signed on Novem­ber 6, 1815 made the islands a British protectorate under the name "United States of the Ionian Islands".

First to be appointed commissioner for the islands was Thomas Maitland. He concentrated all the legislative and exec­utive powers in his own hands. His stern decrees did not keep the Kefalonians from forming revolutionary bodies and constituting a heroic presence in the struggle for Greek independence. Kefalo­nia's ships provided supplies for the fight­ers, the island provided a place of refuge for women and children, and volunteers formed military detachments which per­formed admirably in action. In addition, many of the more active members of the Friendly Society were Kefalonians. Another Kefalonian was Captain Marinos Sklavos, who removed the body of the Patriarch Gregorius V from the Bosporus; the Turks had hanged him and thrown his body into the sea.

Kefalonia also knew a period of growth under Charles Napier, who gov­erned the island from 1822 to 1830. On July 1, 1823, Lord Byron visited the island. Byron was appointed representa­tive and agent of the committee in Greece in a period of internal turmoil. He spent the first six weeks in Argostoli and then moved to Metaxata in Livathos because he said the environment was healthier and the scenery more beautiful.

After the death of Maitland in 1824, Frederic Adam was appointed to the post of governor; he was milder and more law­abiding than his predecessor, and took more interest in education; it was Adam who established the Ionian Academy.

In 1831 the philhellene Nuggent was appointed governor. He was in favour of constitutional reforms, but was not able to put them into practice. In 1835 he was succeeded by Baron Howard Douglas, who strengthened the bureaucracy and squandered public funds, arousing public opinion against him. Sir Stewart Macken­zie, who took over from him in 1841, was a supporter of agriculture and a patron of the arts. The next governor of the Ionian islands, John Seaton, affable and fair­minded, governed in a way beneficial to the islanders and instituted some consti­tutional reforms.

The 1830s saw the beginning of a more general reform. Young Kefalonians returning from Europe began to cultivate the idea of union with the rest of Greece. The liberals became extremely active, and England was forced to grant certain priveleges, such as freedom of the press and establishment of a Parliament.

On September 14/26, 1848, the Kefalonians rebelled against the English, clashing with the English army at Dra­pano bridge in Argostoli; there was also fighting in Lixouri. Arrests, trials and fail­ings followed. Thus an unofficial crack­down on the liberals began, and three new parties were created, the Radicals, the Reformers and the Conservatives. Sir Henry George Ward was forced to restore freedom of the press and free­dom to form organisations before the rebellion would simmer down.

Economic and social conditions in Kefalonia in 1849 were such that the movement found a response in the mid­dle and lower classes. The class of sig­nori was scandalised at the government's attitude, and claimed that it was not tak­ing satisfactory measures to ensure pub­lic safety. They were coming to realise that it was freedom of the press that had mobilised the forces of the bourgeoisie. Their political and economic privileges were becoming endangered. With the political awakening of the people would come the demand for the restructuring of government on a more equitable basis.

The people did not hide their repug­nance for the occupying forces, newspa­pers had no qualms about printing criti­cisms of the English, and it was not long before another revolt broke out, between August 15/27, in Skala. On September 2, Ward arrived on the island, quashed the rebellion and imposed martial law. The twenty-one instigators were executed by hanging, another 34 were jailed and 87 whipped.

In 1850, England approved the consti­tutional reforms and allowed the Ionian islands to freely elect 10 representatives to Parliament. The Radicals won the election. In mid-September, 1851, Ward returned to Argostoli, banned the islanders' organisations and exiled two leaders of the Radicals, thus winning the disapproval of the people for a second time. Ilias Zervos lakovatos, editor of the "Fileleftheros" newspaper, and losif Mom­feratos, editor of "Anagenissis", were exiled to Kithira and Othoni respectively. Gerassimos Livadas, one of the pioneers of the radical movement who escaped arrest, voiced his opposition by sending memoranda to the English Parliament.

In 1858 when the British envoy W. E. Gladstone arrived in Kefalonia to carry out an enquiry into the government of the Ionian islands, he censured Ward for his tactics, but hardly did anything else.

Ward's successor, John Young, was more lenient. He allowed the exiled radi­cals to return in 1857, after popular demand in the Ionian Parliament. The next governor was Sir Henry Storks. In the elections of 1862, the popular vote went to the Radical Party and its leaders.

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