Home Page


William Newport - Royal Marine (1805-1865)

Greek Independence & the Battle of Navarino - 20th October, 1827


This was to be the last sea battle fought completely under sail; the next would involve steam power of some description, but this was not to be the only reason for it to be remembered.

The battle took place in a area of the Mediterranean that had seen great battles many times before; the "Morea", in Southern Greece, and less than a hundred miles from the scene Lepanto, on 7 October 1571, which saw a five hour battle between a Christian fleet (known as the "Holy League") and the Ottoman Empire.

The "Holy League", who won the battle, was a coalition of forces of the Republic of Venice, the Papacy (under Pope Pius V), Spain, the Republic of Genoa, the Duchy of Savoy, and the Knights Hospitaller. The battle was fought to stop the spread of the Ottoman Empire into the Mediterranean and, hopefully, prevent an invasion of Italy.

In the years that follwed the Battle of Navarino, several beautiful paintings and illustrations were produced depicting the scene on that day, in 1827; I have added some of these plus drawing of the ship, in Valletta Harbour, Malta. This LINK will take you to these!

Before I go any further, purely out of interest, and I did find this very interesting, I have added an extract from the book "Letters of Admiral of the Fleet, Sir H. Codrington" published in 1880, which is a collection of his letters to, and from, various people, between the years 1823 and 1866. His sister, Lady Bouchier, arranged these letters as a collection, which she, then, had published as amemorial to her brother, who died, of pleurisy, on August 4th 1877

The extract concerns a particular watermill, built on the Greek island of Kefalonia by an Englishman, referred to only as "Mr. Stephens". The way that the watermill is powered makes it unusual, to say the least, and this is because of a peculiarity in the geology of the island. To read more,and to see some recent photographs, please click on this LINK!

The Political Situation

The Battle of Navarino, involved six nations, and played a major part in the struggle for the liberation of Greece from, once again, the Ottoman Empire.

The War of Greek Independence began in 1821, with revolts throughout Greece, and lasted for, roughly, eight years. The revolts had unsettled the greater European powers for different reason; Russia for territorial gain and was anti-Turkish; Britain, encouraged by the writings of Lord Byron, was sentimentally pro-Greek; France was anti-Russian and so pro-Turkish and yet, sympathetically, pro-Greek; Austria, also anti-Russian, but pro-Turkish because of very strong trade links.

There were many meetings of the involved nations ending, in early 1827, with a conference of all the main Powers attempting to come to some common agreement as to the approach that should be adopted to the situation.

Though such an all-encompassing agreement never was found, on 6th of July, 1827, Britain, France, and Russia openly agreed to secure autonomy for Greece, by first demanding an armistice, leading, eventually, to a settlement.

At that time, there were British officers (including Sir Richard Church, Lord Cochrane, and Captain F. A. Hastings) already engaged on the Greek side. In Corfu, a Russian officer was elected President of the Greek Republic, while on the French side, a Colonel Fabvier, had been fighting with the insurgents for years.

At the time of the London Treaty, the British fleet in the Mediterranean was commanded by Admiral Sir Edward Codrington, on board his flagship, H. M. S. "ASIA", while the French fleet was led by the Comte de Rigny.

On the 15th August, the British and French fleets left the Gulf of Smyrna, where they had been temporarily based, for Nauplia, on the opposite side of the Morea to the Turks. There they presented the proposals for an armistice to the provisional Greek Government, which they accepted.

The Turks rejected the armistice and Codrington was advised of this on 7th. September; he was also given the authority "to enforce the maintenance of an armistice by sea", in view of the acceptance by Greece. He took this to mean, as he informed his captains, that their duty was "to intercept any supply of men, arms, etc. destined against Greece", without fighting, if possible, but "if necessary, and when all other means are exchanged, by cannon shot".

Having rejected the armistice, on the 12th of September, a Turkish squadron, sailed into the bay at Navarino, and anchored.

Receiving this knowledge, Codrington, also sailed for Navarino, where, on the 17th of October, he was joined by the Russian Fleet, under the command of Rear-Admiral Heiden. to watch the Turks and, if necessary, enforce the instructions he had been given. The new combined Allied Fleet sat off the coast of Navarino, watching the activities of the Turks.

Ibrahim Pasha, the man who had the superior command of the Turkish Fleet and the fleet of their Allies, the Egyptians, considered that though, because of the blockade, he was unable to operate at sea, he was still at liberty to carry on the war on the land.

His men were actively employed in burning the Greek villages, while murdering, raping, and reducing the inhabitants to slavery. The flames and smoke of the destroyed villages were clearly seen from the allied fleet out at sea.

Sir Edward Codrington sent the "Dartmouth" (one of the ships in his fleet), with a letter signed by all three admirals, to Ibrahim Pasha, protesting, strongly, at the dreadful actions taking place on shore and that they considered he was no longer covered by the law of nations or any existing treaties. The reply came from Ibrahim′s second-in-command and assured the Allies that Ibrahim′s movements and whereabouts were unknown and had been kept a secret, which was, obviously, untrue.

The admirals agreed that, now, the only way to make the Turks cease from their hostilities, both on land and sea, was to take the combined fleet into Navarino harbour and present their demands under the threat of possible action.

The captain of the "Dartmouth" had observed and noted the disposition of the Turkish-Egyptian fleet, which was anchored in a horse-shoe formation, with the ends of the horseshoe – nearly a mile apart and pointing toward the entrance of the harbour.

There were forty-eight warships in the combined enemy fleet; thirty-seven Turkish, and eleven Egyptian together with many smaller vessels. The allied fleet had a total strength of twenty-seven; twelve British, seven French, and eight Russian.

Sir Edward had another major problem; because of their strong dislike for each other, he had to keep the French and the Russians apart, while, at the same time, giving each a role consistent with their national pride and dignity. He decided that the French, under de Rigny, would deal with the Egyptians while his own battleships would take on the Turkish flagship and the larger vessels, leaving the Russian fleet, under Heiden to deal with the rest.

On 20th October, the Allies sailed in from the south-west in two lines; British and French to the starboard and the Russians to the port. As the ships approached their final positions, the Russian ships dropped behind the French line.

The politics were over and the Battle was about to begin.

The Battle.

As the Allied Fleet, approached the narrow entrance to the harbour, Sir Edward Codrington received a message from the Turks, which said that Ibrahim Pasha had refused them permission to enter, and that he, and the Fleet, should put to sea again. The reply that Codrington sent, was, "I am come not to receive orders, but to give them; and if any shot be fired at the allied fleet, the Turkish fleet shall be destroyed." According to the Admiral′s Log, this took place at exactly 2.00. p.m.

Sir Edward′s instruction to the Fleet was that the ships should all take up positions, within the "horseshoe", which could not be considered aggressive as he had no intention of, even accidentally, provoking the Turks into taking any action that might lead to a confrontation.

Action began, however, when a Turkish ship passed close to the "Dartmouth" and the crew boarded a train of fire-ships and the reason was unclear (See next paragraph). Worried about what this might mean, and for the safety of all the allied fleet, Captain Fellowes, on board the "Dartmouth", sent his first lieutenant with a party of seamen in a pinnace (small boat) to explain to the Turkish crew the worry and to either stop what they were doing and leave the fire-ship or to it away, closer in land to reduce the threat.

Fire-ships (also known by the French word "brûlots") were old ships, of no more use, which were filled with any form of combustible material, hooked to an enemy′s ship with grappling-irons, and then set on fire. The intention was, that, in the days of wooden ships with canvas sails, the fire would quickly spread and destroy the ship and, hopefully, and, in the right circumstances would, spread to his other ships.)

A continuous train of tarred rope was then run through every part of ship, over and touching every barrel, round each deck, finally, passing out through the steerage window. All ropes were well covered with tar to ensure that it would catch fire easily and burn for a long time with no chance of it being put out. The "train" was always left until the last moment because of the danger of it being ignited prematurely. This was the threat that Captain Fellowes saw and re-acted to.

The pinnace had just reached the Turkish vessel, when a shot was fired, killing the coxswain. In spite of the killing, the first lieutenant tried to calm the situation with hand signals to indicate that no violence was intended but several shots were fired from the after ports wounding and killing more men in the boat.

At the same time, Turks on board the fire-ship were seen to be setting light to the train, so Lieutenant Fitzroy, from the "Dartmouth", was sent in a cutter (another small boat) to move the fire-ship. He was in the process of towing the burning fire-vessel away from the Fleet, when he was killed by the Turkish crew, in a boat, heading for the shore.

Shots began to come from all directions, including from the castle on the hill near the entrance to the bay, and all these shots were now aimed at any and all ships in the Fleet.

The battle began at roughly two-thirty and for the first hour, the fighting was fierce.

On the "Genoa", the marines had assembled on the poop, as they had at Trafalgar, but this time they suffered heavy losses because of the upward firing guns of the Turkish ships. The shot from the cannons, travelling upward, passed through the ship′s decks, virtually erupting on the upper deck, where the marines all stood.

In the first few minutes, before the "Genoa" had even fired a single shot, ten marines were killed and their commanding officer, Captain Thomas Moore, was mortally wounded.

There was much heroism on that afternoon, on both sides. One Royal Marine, by the name of Hill, had both his arms shot off, but he didn′t fall, instead, he turned to Commander Dickson and said, "I hope you will allow, sir, that I have done my duty". He was only 21 and was later heard to be singing. When asked why he was singing, he replied, "I′m trying what I can do at ballad singing, now that I have lost my arms." Sadly, in hospital later, he too died of his terrible wounds. In another ship, a marine who had lost his arm shot off during the fight, picked it up and laid it on a shelf with the defiant words, "There′s an example for you all".

By six o′clock, the battle was over and, three-quarters of the combined Turkish and Egyptian fleet had been destroyed; only one battered frigate and fifteen small cruisers had survived - many of the ships were badly damaged and had lost their masts but were still afloat and reparable, however, their own crews blew them up in order to stop them falling into Allied hands.

The loss of Turkish and Egyptian lives was never accurately reported, but it was certainly very great. Many of the sailors died on board the very ships that their own crews blew up; trapped on the lower decks with the ships on fire and exploding, they had no chance. The Ottoman Naval Secretary later gave Sir Edward Codrington approximate casualty figures for the combined fleet; these 3000 killed and 1109 wounded.

On the allies′ side, the British squadron had lost 75 killed with 197 wounded; the French had suffered 43 killed with 183 wounded; the Russians counted 59 killed with 139 wounded. [I have attached a copy of "A Return of Officers and Men Killed and Wounded", produced shortly after the battle, and this gives a detailed list of casualties on board the British Squadron]

As a result of the Battle at Navarino, the liberation of Greece was hastened, because Turkey no longer had a powerful fleet. The war of liberation carried on for another two years until the Peace Treaty of Adrianople, was signed, on September 14th, 1829, concluding the war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire; it also included a promise of autonomy to Greece.

Not long after the battle, Sir Edward met a sporting acquaintance in the street who remarked, 'Ah!, had any good shooting lately?', to which the admiral, accurately, replied that he had had some rather remarkable shooting!

The Aftermath

After the battle, you would have expected Sir Edward Codrington to be welcomed home as a hero because of his success at Navarino but he was not.

The British Government at that time was not interested in liberty for Greece nor in reducing the power of the Turks but in preventing a war between Russia and Turkey, for such a war, might well bring the Russians into Constantinople, the Dardanelles, and the Mediterranean thus shifting the balance of power in that area.

The Battle of Navarino had brought that likelihood that much nearer, and the politicians were not going to take the blame; but the blame really was theirs because, from a succession of governments came a succession of confusing orders. Sir Edward followed what he understood was wanted and, faced with a sudden, seriously dangerous situation, he acted as best he could; in those days there was no time to seek instructions and the three admirals had agreed on the action required.

In fact war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire occurred one year later when the Turks, angry at the part Russia played at Navarino, closed the Dardanelles to Russian ships.

So, Codrington was recalled for ′explanations′ but he was to be the scapegoat; he had followed, as he saw it, the instructions he was given until circumstances forced his hand but the politicians wanted to distance themselves from what had happened. He wasn′t a politician and didn′t have a political mind but he fought for many years to give his side of the story and to make others see reason but many in the Government were against him and what he had done was never acknowledged during his lifetime.

Eye Witnesses

A book, entitled "Life on Board a Man of War", published in 1829; was written by an anonymous British sailor on board one of the other British ships in the fleet and it gives the scene at the battle, from his viewpoint. It shows what horrors and what bravery there was in the Royal navy at that time.

He writes, "Lieutenant Broke drew his sword and told us not to fire until ordered. 'Point your guns, sure, men", he said, "and make every shot tell - that′s the way to show them British play!" He now threw away his hat on the deck, and told us to give the Turks three cheers, which we did with all our heart. Then crying out, "Stand clear of the guns," he gave the word "FIRE!" and immediately the whole tier of guns was discharged, with terrific effect, into the side of the Turkish Admiral′s ship that lay abreast of us.

The first man that I saw killed in our vessel was a marine, and it was not until we had received five or six rounds from the enemy. He was close beside me. I had taken the sponge out of his hand, and on turning round saw him at my feet with his head fairly severed from his body, as if it had been done with a knife. My messmate Lee drew the corpse out from the tracks of the guns, and hauled it into midships, under the after ladder ... As there is always a cask of water lashed to the stanchion in midships, called 'fighting water', one of the officers of the fore part of the deck, on his way to the cockpit, came aft, begging to get a drink. He had been wounded severely in the right arm with a piece of langridge shot, and the left was so bruised that he could not lift the jug to his head. De Squaw (a German member of the "GENOA′s" crew), who had been working the gun with an activity and smartness that surprised me for a man of his age, took the jug, and after skimming back the blood and dirt from the top of the cask, filled it, and offered it to the officer; but just as he was in the act of holding it to the wounded man′s mouth, he dropped a mangled corpse, being nearly cut in pieces with grapeshot.

Cool, however, as a British sailor is in danger, nothing can approach the Turk in this respect. George Finney had hauled one into the boat (they had been taking a hawser across to Codrington′s "ASIA" to haul her clear of a fireship), a fine looking fellow, and elegantly dressed. He was no sooner seated in the bow of the boat, than taking out a portable apparatus, he began to fill his pipe, which having done, he struck a light from the same convenience, and commenced sending forth with inconceivable apathy, volumes of smoke from his mouth.

Another instance if Turkish coolness I may mention, which, though it did not happen in our ship, was told to me under well-authenticated circumstances.

Some of the crew of the French frigate "Alcyones" had picked up a Turk, who by his dress appeared to be a person of rank in their navy. When he was brought aboard, he found his arm so shattered that it would need to undergo amputation; so he made his way down the cockpit ladder with as much ease as if he had made a prize of the frigate. He pointed to his shattered arm, and made signs to the surgeon that he wanted it off. The surgeon obliged him so far, and having bound up the stump and bandaged it properly, the Turk made his way to the deck, and plunging into the water, swam to his own vessel that was opposed along with another to the very frigate he had been aboard of. He was seen climbing the side with his one arm, but had not been aboard many minutes, when it blew up.

The son of Sir Edward Codrington, Henry Codrington, was a midshipman on board the Asia and, in November, he wrote a letter from Malta, where the ship was receiving repairs and he was recuperating, to his brother, Captain William Codrington, telling him what he saw that day.

Next day (19th) the Dartmouth came out, having made a sketch of the position of the Turks. It was certainly a very strong one indeed. It was executed by a renegade Frenchman, by name Letellier, who had been in the French service. There had been, indeed, many French officers in the Turco-Egyptian fleet, but the whole had retired to some neutral in the harbour, sending a note to De Rigny, signed with their names as a witness. Letellier, after having signed his, returned on board Ibrahim′s ship, and was in her when it commenced. What became of him is not known. He had persuaded Ibrahim that the French ships, knowing the French officers were in the fleet, would not fight against their countrymen, and that there would only be ourselves and the Russians to look after, and that he, Letellier, would place the Turkish fleet in a situation where they might easily destroy us. So he placed them in a long semicircle round the south end of the harbour in three lines, the outer line composed of three line-of-battle ships, five double-banked Egyptian frigates, sixty-four guns each, and fifteen Turkish frigates, about fifty guns. The next line consisted of twenty-six heavy corvettes, about twenty-four guns each, so placed that abreast of every opening in the first line there should be a corvette. Behind them were the brigs, about twenty guns each; there were also four or five schooners and about forty transports and merchantmen behind the lines. Now the way he wanted us to go in was evidently to place ourselves in the centre of this semicircle, or circle I may say, for some brigs which were anchored in the entrance to windward of the fleet, and of which about three were fire-brigs, nearly completed the round. He had judged, and correctly too, that the Allied fleet would come in with a wind which would place them when anchored to leeward of the fire-brigs, and though he expected and wished us to anchor within his circle, yet he did not think we would have anchored so close to his own line as to render its position less formidable. I have no doubt that he intended us to collect in the focus of his circle, and so be an easy prey to him. During the action a man (Arab) swam on board of the "Philomel" from a fire-brig, which she sank in two broadside; and among other things said that it was quite a mistake the action beginning then, for that it was to be put off to twelve at night, when the fire-brigs were to cut their cables and run down on fire among us (supposed in the focus), whilst the double line was peppering us. The truth of this I cannot swear to, but it looked very like it ; for they were prepared for action, springs ready, tompkins out, &, yet let several ships anchor when this mistake, as it is called, took place. Had we gone in as enemies, the best way would have been for us to anchor in line inside and along his line of corvettes or brigs on the east side, turning adrift, or running down the transports and other small fry; then we should have had one side of the circle only to engage, and our shot have reached the other. But in this mediating, peace-making, diplomatique style we were obliged to go in as friends, and therefore the position to be taken up was this:

The line-of-battle ships, counting the "Syrene," sixty guns, French admiral, as one, were to anchor alongside of the line on the east, side, while the frigates were to take the other side, as per plan. By this means, each ship of the circle being closely employed, the plan was rendered in a measure abortive.

The "Asia" had eight round shot in her bowsprit, eighteen in foremast, twenty-five mainmast, mizenmast dowsed, standing and running rigging cut to pieces, lower yards useless, &, and 125 round shot in the hull, besides quantities of grape, canister, and musket shot, & I believe no round shot penetrated her side in the lower deck, and none through the main deck ; there are several shot which have nearly penetrated, and even pushed in the inner plank, but I think none got regularly through, except on the upper deck and through ports, & She is a regular fine ironsides, and really I am excessively pleased with her in every way.

I had nearly forgotten to tell you how astonished I was at the coolness and intrepidity shown by all the men during the action; for my part, I was hopping about here and there and everywhere, hurrying them on, for I had not that cool way at all; but devil a bit would they hurry, and they went on in a way that actually made me stare. My father says that he never saw any ship′s fire equal to ours from our main and lower decks in precision and steadiness. As to the upper decks, the breachings of the carronades (forty–two) stretched and the guns capsized, and the men, as I said above, were sent down to work the maindeck ones. Having never seen anything of the sort before, I can make no comparisons; but I must say that the splinters, &c. in the cabin were quite wonderful. Some of the bulkheads had been left up and the stern railing also, pieces of which the shot sent in in quantities, killing and wounding many men. Had all the cabin guns been mounted and manned, the slaughter would have been great; but four were not, as we had not men enough for them. Three of father′s double–barrelled guns and my little single one were lying lashed together under the sofa, and a shot came in and literally dashed them to pieces, tearing even the double barrels into two — I mean dividing the barrels from each other and, excepting one, breaking them to pieces. Some of the pieces went on to the poop — how, God knows! Altogether the crash was quite terrible in the cabin.

A piece of the small upright bars of the iron stern railing of the admiral′s cabin (which had by mistake beer left up) was struck by a shot and sent edgeways quite through the calf of my right leg, as I was looking aft; it grazed the shin bone on the inside, and turning clear of it passed through, tearing a little of the muscle out; the iron must have been about an inch square. In the thigh of the same leg, a little above the knee, a musket ball or small canister of that size went in and took a bend clear of the bone, and the deuce knows where it is gone. It must be in, but as it has given me no annoyance and is all but healed up, I am quite content. Then I had a splinter which struck my left collar-bone, and, luckily, instead of breaking it only dislocated it, making a yellow place as big as my two hands put together, but except the bruise that gave me no pain, and is now all right. I was struck in several other places by splinters, but they were too small to hurt. I went down to the cockpit about the middle of the action. On going down the ladder (tarpaulin and grating being lifted) I found myself almost in the dark, and in an atmosphere which was as hot, though not so pure, as many an oven. On the chests, &, the men′s mess tables had been laid, and over them beds; on these lay the wounded, some too bad to speak, others groaning and crying out with the agony they were in; some (generally the least hurt) calling out lustily for the doctor ----' Oh doctor, my dear doctor, do come here; I′m bleeding to death,' &, and some saying it was their turn, &

I managed to feel my way to an unoccupied berth amid–ships, alongside a poor fellow who had been severely wounded, and I think we made a pretty quiet pair, except occasional, nay, frequent calls for water, of which, owing to my excessive thirst, I must have drunk a great deal besides what I poured on the bandage which had just been put on my wound, which felt as if it was on fire and devilish uncomfortable; the water felt like ice to it, and relieved it a great deal. When the doctor came to over–haul me he found the upper wound in my thigh, which I had not complained of before, thinking it only a scratch (not having cut off my trousers); for I found that the pain of the one diminished or concealed the pain of the other. The probing of the upper one was not painful, but the ball had so buried itself with a turn that it could not be found. The lower one was very painful, for the finger being much more satisfactory than the probe, the doctor had made his meet, thus satisfying himself that nothing was in. This did bring me to the "vocative case". I was then removed into a cockpit cabin, and remained there two or three days, during which time the inflammation was completely subdued by poultices, and I was comparatively easy. After I had found my berth and got my eyes accustomed to the light, or what little of it there was, I began to look around me, and a disagreeable sight it was. Had not I known that father was on deck and in such immediate danger, I might have given you some very fine reflections upon honour and glory, &, well suited to time and place; but my thoughts were more on deck than below, and the only thought I had of that nature was that I had bad quite enough honour and glory for the occasion, and would be an interesting object to boot! However, when all was over, I thought, and think now, that I was a very lucky fellow to get off as I did, taking everything into consideration.

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional