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Corfu

Sunday 1 February 1829 - saw this morning he island of Corfu, the ancient Coreyra, but at a considerable distance, As the day advanced and the weather cleared up, we were soon enabled to recognise the island of Paxos, the ancient Ercruisa situated near 8 miles from Cape Bianco, the S.E. extremity of Corfu - and to the N.W. we descried the small island called Fano. The island of Paxos is small and unimportant - the inhabitants are few in number, and so scanty is the produce of the island in every thing, but olives, that they are obliged to be supplied wit the means of subsistence from the adjacent and more productive places. Before Corfu the lofty mountains of Albania, most of them covered with eternal snow were now distinctly visible.

On our nearer approach to Corfu, we perceived it to be very irregular and mountainous - partly bare and barren, partly fertile & covered with olive trees, the dark green of which presented in their various patches, a strong but pleasing contrast to the white rocky appearance of the surrounding spots.

At ½ past 4 oClock, we were between the island of Fano and Cape Bianco, and altho’ the wind was very light, and darkness was fast approaching, the Captain determined not to stand off all night, but to beat up to the Harbour of Corfu, the passage to which even with the advantage of day light is not without difficulty. By this resolution I was prevented from observing the appearance of the country on the way up - but I believe they are not very peculiar.

At ½ past 1 oClock A.M. we came to anchor, but not before that time I had turned in to my snug and comfortable birth.

Arrival at Corfu - Associations connected with Corfu

Monday 2nd Febr.y - this morning we were saluted with a violent shower of hail, as our welcome to Greece, the land of the brave and free. The “pratique” boat came early along side of us - and upon satisfying themselves by a few questions as to the health of all on board, they without difficulty, permitted us free intercourse with the shore. You may be sure that I hailed this permission with feelings of no ordinary pleasure, as it enabled me to see more closely the portion of that country which is so intimately connected with earliest associations and school-boy recollections. Before me, were the self same mountains, & valleys, which had been visited by many of the ancient worthies, and whom had formed the theme of many a poet’s lay –

Above all had not the mighty Homer, immortalised Coreyra, by making it the scene of some interesting adventures, which happened to his hero Ulysses. Nay the very spot, according to tradition is pointed out, where Ulysses swam ashore, as described in Odys: VB and still bears the name of Ulysses rock. (Ship?) And may not the fervid imagination of him, in whose mind the History of that hero’s wanderings, had excited no slight degree of interest, not easily conceive that the only river Polanio, which runs into the Bay of Corfu must be the Free flowing river, which received him, and where he was discovered by Nausiccia. All these ideas, presenting themselves to the mind, and to cast an interest and beauty, over places, which compared with other spots more favoured by nature but less celebrated in poetry, are far inferior. Not that I mean that Corfu is destitute of natural beauty not possesses attractions within itself, independent of its past glory, to satisfy the judgement of him who is pleased with countries only as they beautiful or the reverse Very far from it as I shall mention hereafter, but at present I shall continue my narrative.

Appearances at Corfu – Houses

Our anchorage, it seems, was not the best which could have been selected owing to the late hour, at which we had arrived. And, therefore, we moved farther up. I did not at first much admire the appearance of the buildings, opposite to us, as they were dirty looking and mean, except one fine & very large edifice, which might well be called a palace. This proved to be the residence of the Governor Sir Frederick Adams, and was built by Government, 7 years ago, with stone partly brought from Malta, and partly from England. But the aspect of nature was here, as almost everywhere else, superior to the highest efforts of human Art - We had before us two lofty eminences, upon which fortifications had been erected, commanding the Harbour and Town. The water around us was perfectly still and smooth, from its being shut in on every side by mountains - and reminded me of my native locks. The high land of Corfu and snow capped mountains of Albania, formed as it were [a] basin, in which was placed by nature a small and fortified island called “Vido,” which is opposite to and serves to protect the City.

Improvements introduced by English into Corfu

I went on shore to day - but the weather being constantly rainy I had few opportunities of seeing much or to advantage. From what however was visible I think Corfu may be ranked in the mediocre class of Towns from the general mean appearance of the houses. The streets were tolerably, by no means very clean - and for even this degree of freedom from dirt the Corfuites are wholly indebted to the residence of the English amongst them. Formerly the atmosphere was so much loaded with putrid exhalations from all sorts of dirt and filth which the inhabitants couldna be fashed to remove, that the Town, for a considerable part of the year was very unhealthy. But since we have undertaken the charge of the Ionian Isles the attention and efforts of the governor have been directed to the removal of this nuisance, and source of deadly disease - and in a great measure they have succeeded so that Corfu has greatly been improved in the salubrity of its atmosphere. It is said, moreover, that so great an alteration for the better has been effected, that the city is hardly to be recognised by those who knew it only before it received the English for its protectors. And much remains to be done in the way of promoting cleanliness and other measures for the health and comfort of the Corfuites - and it may be reasonably be thought hat many years must elapse before they can reach the acme of improvement nor is it only in regard to the cleanliness of the streets and the removal of the huge masses of filth, which used to pollute and encumber them, that Corfu is solely indebted to us - but in other respects likewise. By the system of police, which has been adopted, the public peace and safety have been fully secured - and assassinations in which this place was once so rife, are now seldom or never heard of. The general state of the public morals has also been incalculably improved and a higher standard practised.

[Row on board concerning potatoes.]

Tuesday 3d Feb.y - to day proved to be a most beautiful day and I had promised myself the pleasure of a long stroll in the Town and its environs. But [all my prospects were sadly disappointed from the Master not being able to accompany me in consequence of a row which arose between the Captain and crew. The subject of reprehension on the part of the Captain was that the men had brought more potatoes from England than by the regulations they were permitted – and that consequently they had intended them for sale – which was the case, for several bags-full, were lying on the deck, ready to be taken on shore. So angry was our commander that he declared that he would have a new Master and crew when he arrived in Falmouth. All this disturbance was owing to the sailors themselves, who instead of selling the prohibited articles, without the knowledge of the Captain, brought them on deck and bartered or sold them before his face – so that he was obliged to take notice and to threaten them. The consequence to me was, that having promised to go ashore with Signor Geach, and he being thus prevented, I lost the best part of the day before I went on shore]. [3]

Markets – Streets and Costume at Corfu – Dress of the Corfuites

On shore, however, I went and landed at the Custom house, an edifice small in extent and indifferent in appearance. A short way from this is the market place, which is one of the improvements introduced by the English. It is nearly of a square form, and has a range of excellent stances for meat and fish, all around before which are small pillars, accruing at once as ornaments and as the separations or partitions between the different stances. In the centre stands a small elegant erection, nearly similar to that at S.t Bernards Well, but without any statue in the centre. This market place stands outside of the city walls - as also does the fruit market. The fruit market, however, is at the opposite side of the Town, immediately beyond the city gate, called the “Ponta Reale” (Royal Gate). There is tolerable beef and fish to be obtained and abundance of fruit but not in very great variety. I saw beautiful oranges - nuts of all kinds - pomegranates (1/2 a piece) - figs - apples - medlars &.c - The supply of vegetables too was equally abundant and excellent.

The Streets of Corfu are very narrow and in wet days, rather dirty. Those of them which were situated [at this] end of Town, were daily so crowded with people, that you could with difficulty make your way thro’ them. And what motley groups were here to be seen, produced by the commixture of persons from all parts of Greece, many of whom wore dresses totally distinct from those of others. I cannot pretend to give you any accurate idea of the costume here, as it was so various, and difficult to be expressed in writing. In general, however, among the Corfuites, a short jacket was worn and beneath it a vest of coarse cloth, which did not appear to button in front like ours. Their lower habiliments presented the strangest contrast to those in use among us - and I think you will have a very accurate notion of them by imagining a petticoat generally of black or blue stuff - reaching to the a little below the knees and having the lower edges sewed together, leaving only two apertures at each corner for the legs, which among the common people were bare. Such is the womanish dress of the poorer sort of people, which at a distance, rendered it impossible for one to tell precisely the sex of the wearer, but that of the more respectable and wealthy was infinitely better and more picturesque. A red sash passing around the waist was very generally seen, and looked well. Almost all wore little round caps on the head, which covered merely the top and in my opinion, produced a bad effect.

Moustaches – Long hair – [Women]

Moustaches were universally and most carefully cultivated - and, as is often the case, imparted a ferocity of mien and apparent courage to persons, which nature had in all probability denied them. I could hardly refrain from laughing outright in the middle of the street, when I beheld at their open windows, busily engaged in their several avocations, Shoemakers, Cobblers and Tailors, who had fostered their hairy excrescence as diligently as the rest, and looking as fierce, at their peaceful employment, as the Don Cossack who endeavours to heighten the ferocity of his appearance by every means in his power. I pictured to myself the astonishment, and derision which would be raised in ‘auld Reekie,’ if the professors of the ‘aul and needle’ were to follow their Ionian brethren in this particular - and thus my old prepossessions and notions, by receiving such a shock as they did, served to excite my risibility. The objects of my wonder, however, pursued their occupations unmarked by any but myself - and I dare say, if I could have addressed them in their own language, I would have found them as peacefully inclined & as tender hearted as the veriest Tailor in Scotland.

Another peculiar fashion was the permitting the hair to grow to an enormous length, and then to flow in ringlets down the back. You may be sure, that none but those who could boast of fine locks, would adopt this practice - at least all those I saw possessed remarkably fine hair - and what was also curious, they had the fore parts of their heads shaved.

Few women showed themselves in the streets, and these were principally English for the Greeks, from their long intercourse with the Turks seemed to have adopted their plan of immuring their wives from the public gaze - and consequently I can say nothing respecting them.

Disagreeable situation at Corfu

At night M.r Geach and I went the Reverend M.r Lowndes, to whom I had brought a letter of introduction - and he took us with him to a M.r James’s, where we spent a most pleasant evening, till near 11 oClock, when we took our leave, not without some doubts as to how we should get on board. When we reached the city gate, we found, that it was always shut at sunset, and that no person was after that allowed to pass thro’, without special permission from the commanding officer. To him, therefore, we were obliged to apply - and he very politely and readily granted our request to be allowed to pass - but then, we could not be permitted to come back, even should our boat not have come on shore for us, as M.r Geach had ordered. This was a damper - but we had no alternative and were passed thro’.

As we had feared, no boat was waiting for us - and as it appeared afterwards the captain had ordered it to bring him off from the shore at the same hour. To add to our embarrassment, the guard near the shore, told us, that no shore boat was allowed, on any pretence whatever to leave its moorings after sunset - and we had the pleasant prospect of spending the night in the streets amidst the pelting of a pitiless storm of rain, which now began to rage. As a last resource to save us from our hand of fate, M.r Geach, exerting his lungs o the utmost, shouted out repeatedly “Duke of York,” “Duke of York.” Very fortunately indeed his cries were heard, and answered by the appearance I need no say how welcome of our dinkie, which conveyed us on board.

Ionian Isles – Corfu, its produce

Wednesday 4th Feb.y - as we leave Corfu to day I shall proceed to give you some further particulars, which, had this been a regular book, ought with more propriety to have come on at the beginning instead of at the end of my account - but n’ importe you will easily grant me your indulgence

Corfu is the residence of the general government of what are called the ‘United States of the Ionian Isles.’ These isles are 7 in number viz. Corfu, Paxos, Santa Maura, Theaki or Thaix, Cephalonia/Cephallenia, Zante, Zacynthus & Corigo. As I have only seen one or two of the islands at a distance, of course, I can affirm nothing with regard to them from my duration, and I shall therefore omit them, and confine my self to Corfu. 

The chief produce at Corfu is sweet oil and olives. These alone are the principal articles of exportation. The island likewise produces oranges, grapes, good honey and wax with several kinds of vegetables. Little corn is grown, so that except during three months of the year, they are dependent for their subsistence upon foreign supplies. I cannot venture to say, from what cause grain is so little cultivated, from laziness on the part of the people, or difficulties in the way of doing so, of which I am unacquainted.

Corfu (city) lies on the Eastern coast of the island, within five miles of the shores of Albania. Its population is estimated at 20,000, which I should judge not to be overrated from what I myself saw. The entrance into the port is very fine - you have three lofty forts, numerous spires of churches - a fine bay extending out and defended by the small island of Vido - and the distant prospect of villages, picturesquely embowered among groves of olives, and far spreading vineyards - All these present such an appearance, as would fill a person on first arrival with pleasure and delight. The interior of the island is also extremely beautiful and accessible by good roads.

Leave Corfu

At ½ past nine A M. received the mail on board, but were detained for more than an hour, by the non appearance of the Steward, who was on duty on shore. He at last made his appearance, when we set sail. The wind was very light and it was not till late that we passed between Cape Bianco and Paxo. At midnight a tremendous squall came on which effectually put an end to our repose

Thursday 5 Feb.y - weather changeable - wind variable. Course S.12º W. Distance 39, Latitude 30º 6’N. Longitude 19º 24’E. 

Friday 6th - wind and weather variable Course S.28º W. Distance 51 miles. Latitude 38º 21. Long. 18º 55E Chron: 19º 0.E 

Saturday 7th - Feb.ry fine day - wind favourable but light. Course S.49 W. Dist: 127 - Lat. 36º 58 N. Longit: 16º 58 E.  Chron: 16º 58’ 15” E.

Sunday 8 - weather and wind variable _
Course Distance Latitude Longitude Chronom 
Course S.46º W. Distance 43, Latitude 36º 28’N. Longitude 16º 18’E. Chronom 16º 16 E.

Monday 9th - fine forenoon - strong breeze - saw Mount Aetna, very clearly towering to a vast height, In the early part of the day, saw Malta, which we expected to have reached to-night - but the wind changed & blew right from the Harbour, so that we were obliged to tack about repeatedly during the night. Course ----- Distance -----Lat.e ----- Long ---- Chronom -----