Thursday, 22 October 2009

Frank Abney-Hastings

This is a brief history of Frank Abney-Hastings (1794 – 1828), a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy who became a key philhellene in the Greek War of Independence.

571px-Frank_Abney_Hastings_by_Krazeisen

Hastings began his naval career in 1805 as a Volunteer 1st Class in the Royal Navy. Serving aboard the HMS Neptune at the Battle of Trafalgar at the age of just 11, he quickly climbed the ranks to lieutenant. In 1819 he was dismissed for challenging a Captain who had insulted him to a duel and as a consequence of his dismissal sought to continue his career on the continent.

He spent sometime in France where he learnt of the Greek revolution and became determined to join the Greek cause. Resolute that he could bring about a change in the effectiveness of the Greek irregular navy, which at that time was comprised of skilled sailors but lacking in military effectiveness.

In 1822 he landed in Greece on the Island of Hydra. Being one of the early philhellenes, of which the Greeks were suspicious, he was at first treated as a spy and had to persuade Alexander Mavrocordatos of his motives. He was eventually given a position as volunteer aboard the Greek ship Themistocles where he earned great respect through his acts of bravery and tactical prowess.

Hastings went on to become one of the most influential of the philhellenes. He was not only a proficient captain but also a military tactician and engineer with ideas far ahead of his time.

In 1823 Hastings petitioned the Greek Government, through Byron, to provide a war ship to his specifications. He was confident he could use this ship to give Greece the naval superiority needed to support Greece’s irregular land army.

In his memorandum Hastings specified an Iron Clad steamship, armed with fore and aft 32 pounders and two 62 pounder carronades. He specified to use the 32 pounders to fire red-hot shot, a first in naval ordinance and only made feasible by Hastings own innovations, designed to counter the dangers which had previously prevented their use aboard ships.

Hastings innovative vision was difficult to appreciate at the time and it wasn't until a distinct improvement in Ottoman naval operations in 1825, that the Greek contingent turned to the London Greek Committee to fund and organise the ships construction.

The ‘Perseverance’ was finally completed in 1826 and was to become the first steam powered warship ever used in battle. On her maiden voyage to Greece Hastings renamed her to her Greek equivalent the ‘Karteria’.

800px-Karteria

There were some inevitable issues, but it wasn't long before Hastings was proving his ideas in action, using the Karteria to devastating effect. Out manoeuvring and striking the enemy with great precision with destructive fire from explosive shells and red hot shot.

He had great successes against contingents of the Ottoman fleet and supply chain and was eager to encounter a large Ottoman fleet at sea. His only opportunity came however at time when the steam engines of the Karteria had broken down, perhaps Hastings reputation preceding him, the enemy left without an engagement.

Yet indirectly it was to be Hastings that would be a catalyst in a a series of events leading to the annihilation of the entire Ottoman navy at the Battle of Navarino in 1828.

The lead up to the Battle of Navarino is an interesting and relevant topic. The recent alliance of Britain, France and Russia attempted to impose an armistice between Greece and the Ottoman Empire. Greece represented by Alexander Mavrocordatos agreed to the terms of the armistice but Mehmet Ali and the Sultan did not and so hostilities continued on both sides.

The presence of the combined allied fleet commanded by the British Admiral Codrington did however force Ibrahim Pasha to agree to postpone his planned attack on the island of Hydra, the loss of which would have been disastrous to Greece. His fleet blockaded in the bay of Navarino, Ibrahim instead opted for a barbarous land campaign on the Peloponnese.

During this time Hastings continued his operations and though Codrington promised Ibrahim that he would attempt to put an end to the hostilities, a misunderstanding meant that the message was never delivered. In any event Hastings actions were arguably justified, as ultimately the Ottomans had not agreed to the armistice and so the two parties were still at war.

Hastings most notable action during this period was the battle of Salona. Where in the opening stages of the battle after just a few ranging shots, he destroyed the four largest enemy ships in quick succession. The conclusion of the battle saw the total destruction of the Ottoman squadron of seven warships and two transports by the smaller Greek contingent commanded by Hastings.

News of Hastings success at the battle of Salona antagonised Ibrahim into sending out a fleet of twenty six men-of-war to engage Hastings and his squadron. Though the allied fleet was temporarily much diminished Ibrahim’s attempts were successfully repelled by Codrington aided somewhat by gale force winds.

A combination of these actions and the destructive effect of Ibrahim's land campaign led to a distinct rise in tensions. The allies, fearing that unfavourable weather conditions could allow Ibrahim's fleet to evade their blockade, decided to anchor inside the bay of Navarino. The Ottomans were unaware of the allied fleets intentions and almost inevitably the advance escalated into a full scale battle.

800px-Russians_at_navarino

The Battle of Navarino ended in the total annihilation of the Ottoman fleet, a turning point in Greece’s revolution and poignantly the last major naval battle fought entirely by sailing ships. The tide turning in favour of the tactics and technology pioneered by Hastings.

After Navarino Hastings continued his successful naval sorties including the destruction of the fort of Vasiladhi. But he was to give his life for the Greek cause, for on the 25th of May 1828 he was mortally wounded in the arm, from a musket shot while attacking a fortification on the island of Anatolikon (modern day Etoliko) off Mesolonghi.

The Karteria was temporarily lacking a surgeon so an unfamiliar army surgeon was summoned from shore, who determined that the wound was not severe. In the following few days the condition of the wound deteriorated and it was decided that Hastings should be taken aboard the Karteria to Zante, where an amputation would be performed by a competent surgeon. Sadly the severity of the wound was identified too late and Hastings died from tetanus during the voyage.

Hastings was mourned greatly and given a national funeral. He was interred on the island of Poros, at the old arsenal which was to become the home of the Hellenic Navy, a navy which Hastings himself had helped to form. His heart is immured in the Anglican Church of Saint Paul’s, Athens.

A memorial was commissioned by the minister of the Hellenic Navy on the site of the naval base, to commemorate the centenary of Hastings death. Hastings centenary was marked by a ceremony at the site which was attended by Sir Percy Lorain British ambassador to Greece. A testament to the enduring legacy of Frank Abney-Hastings magnificent role in Greece’s revolution.

Recommended Reading
Finlay, G. (1861) History of the Greek Revolution, William Blackwood & Sons
St. Clair, W. (1972) That Greece May Still Be Free, Oxford University Press
Howarth, D. (1976) The Greek adventure, Harper Collins
(1845) Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine Volume 58, William Blackwood & Sons

All images out of copyright and obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

The New Acropolis Museum, is Politics Undermining Art?

I recently had the opportunity to visit the New Acropolis Museum for the first time since visiting as part of an early preview last year.

P1000952

On the whole the museum is a fantastic achievement, yet I was disappointed at the scale that the political protest surrounding the marbles has been allowed into the galleries, at the expense of the art itself.

This begins with the Caryatids which have been displayed in relation to their original position on the Erechtheion, meaning that a gap is left for the Caryatid removed by Elgin's agents and now displayed in the British Museum. What benefit does this provide? In my opinion, none. It simply distracts the visitor from appreciating the Caryatids which do remain in Greece.

From here the political protest gets stronger. The top floor gallery has been designed to display the sculpture from the Parthenon including the frieze and pediment figures. Here plaster copies replace the pieces of sculpture located in the British Museum and other museums around the world. These copies forming a stark contrast to the original pieces on display.

At a high level this could be seen as acceptable. Until that is you consider the poor quality of the casts which are to the detriment of the visitors ability to appreciate the subject of the individual sculptures. And therefore the visitors understanding of the sculptures as a whole and the scenes that they cumulatively depict.

For me the prime example of politics over art is an original block which remains in Greece. Block III from the western inner frieze depicts a pause in the Panathenaic procession. A horseman stands in front of his steed which is being steadied by the reins by a groom. A fragment comprising of the grooms hand and part of the forearm is in the Munich museum. Even though this fragment is insignificant in relation to the rest of the block it has been replaced by a plaster copy. This copy is a positive eye sore which serves nothing but to distract the visitor from appreciating fully the beauty of the sculpture that does remain.

These poor quality casts are categorically a political statement, as I observed that pieces of original sculpture that have been removed for restoration have been replaced with far higher quality copies.

With the New Acropolis Museum, Greece has a fantastic opportunity to show that they have the ability to conserve, display and promote their heritage properly. But this has been tainted by the decision to bring politics into the galleries, to the detriment of the visitors appreciation of the pieces that remain in Greece and the visitors understanding of the subject as a whole.