Who is St George’s Boy?

Who is that boy with St. George?

18 km north of Paleochora, just outside Kandanos, lies the village of Plemeniana and tucked away on the left hand side of the road as one travels towards Kandanos is the church of Agios Giorgos –St George – the frescoes in which have been dated to around the start of the fifteenth century.

Of particular interest is the painting of St George himself; shown on horseback in the act of slaying the dragon.  However, St George is not alone on his horse in this painting; behind him on the back of his horse sits a young man holding a cup and a jug.

 Paleochora fresco


Almost totally unknown in the St George legend west, this figure relates to a story told in three different versions, the earliest of which dated back to the eleventh century.

This tells the tale of an Arab raid into the Byzantine held lands of Paphlagonia, on the southern coast of the Black Sea, and the capture of a young boy by the raiders. The boy, a servant in the church of St George in Phatris, refused to give up Christianity but, on account of his great beauty, rather than having him killed, the Arab leader put him to work in his kitchen. The boy prayed to St George for salvation and one night the saint miraculously appeared, put the boy on the back of his horse and rode off with him. Later that night the saint dropped the boy off in a building where he fell asleep. He was woken the next morning by people who were scared of him because, still being dressed in his Arab clothing, they thought he was part of another force of raiders. The boy recognised the people surrounding him as Orthodox monks; he’d been brought back to the Monastery of St. George in Phatris.

In the second version of the tale, again from Paphlagonia, the boy, still called George, is the son of an old soldier and he goes in the army of the Byzantine Emperor Phocas to fight the Bulgarians invading the northern part of the empire. The emperor was defeated and George was taken captive by the Bulgarian king who put him to work serving at the king’s table. On the eve of the feast of St. George, the boy’s mother prayed to the saint for her son’s wellbeing. That same evening the Bulgarian king ordered the boy to fetch a jug of hot water. When he went to get it, the saint appeared in front of him and ordered him to mount up behind him on his horse, miraculously transporting the boy back to the very church where his mother was praying for him. As in the earlier version of the tale he wasn’t at first recognised because of his Bulgarian clothes but soon convinced his mother that he had in fact returned.

The third and latest version of the myth locates the boy George, the son of a pious widow, in the town of Mytilene, on the island of Lesbos. In this version the boy is captured by Arab raiders from Crete and becomes the servant of the Emir of Crete. As before, his mother prayed to St, George on his feast day and George was taken up by the saint while serving wine to the Emir and was returned to Mytilene, wine glass in hand.

According to one expert:

“ The motif of kidnapping a handsome adolescent and then making him a steward was common among the Greeks because of the classical myth about Ganymede, son of the Trojan king Tros (or Laomedon), who was captured by Zeus or Cretan Minos. Both stories are connected not only by the character of the young cupbearer, but also by the place where he was captured. According to different versions it happened on Mount Ida in Troas, in the town of Harpage in Mysia in Asia Minor, or on Crete.”

Though based on earlier pre-Christian legends, the events which are described in two of the Christian versions of the tale can probably be traced to certain actual occurrences. The second version of the tale appears to refer to the defeat, while campaigning against the Bulgarians under Tsar Symeon, of the army of “domestikos ton scholon” Leo Phocas – a senior army commander in the Byzantine army – at the battle at the Achelos river near Anchialos on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast on 20 August, 917: the third version appears to be referring to the period of the Arab control of Crete, 824 to 961, and the Arab attack on Lesbos in around 867.

So then, the boy in question combines both pre Christian and Christian legends along with memories of actual events 50 years and hundreds of kilometres apart.

Nothing whatsoever to do with Gary Glitter & Jimmy Savile, then. Phew!

A Sea Battle at Paleochora. The Arkadion Incident.

One of the crucial events of the Cretan insurrection of 1866-68 was fought out just off the coast of Paleochora. The insurrection was sustained with arms and men from Greece and elsewhere delivered to the island by means of a number blockade runners; boats specially designed to be fast enough to elude the blockading Ottoman warships with a shallow enough draft to be able to use the smaller harbours. Without the continuous supply of men, arms and ammunition into the island and the evacuation of the wounded and of civilian refugees, carried out by these blockade runners, owned by private companies to provide deniability for the Greek Government, the uprising would have been over very quickly.

One of the most successful of these vessels was the Arkadion, named in honour of the Cretan Christian sacrifice at the Arkadi Monastery. Laid down in Liverpool by W. Potter & Son in 1866 and launched in 1867, she was originally intended to be a part of the Confederate Navy as CNS Dream, but, completed too late to see service, she was  sold to the Greek Steam Navigation Company when the American Civil War ended.

The Arkadion

The iron clad Arkadion, a steam driven side paddle vessel, armed with six or seven guns, according to different reports, had made numerous successful trips to Crete up to August 1867; out-running and on one occasion out-gunning, pursuing Ottoman naval vessels. While the three contemporary accounts of her defeat published in English, those of the Arkadion’s commander, Captain A. Courantis, of Admiral Simon, Commander of the French Mediterranean Fleet,  both of whom wrote eyewitness accounts, and that of Hassan Bey, commander of the Ottoman vessel Izzedin, whose account appears in the Ottoman Official Bulletin, vary in some of the details, they all tell the same story.

At 9pm on the evening of 20th August 1867, the Arkadion, en route from Gavdos to Agia Roumelli to complete the unloading of her cargo started the previous day, spotted the Ottoman Sloop Izzedin approaching from the south east. The Izzedin gave chase and with both ships exchanging cannon and rifle fire, the Arkadion sailed west past Paleochora and attempted to make out to sea after rounding Cape Krios.  Very shortly after the Arkadion rounded Cape Krios, she sighted two other Ottoman warships coming towards her and at this point a shell from the Izzedin damaged the shaft of the starboard paddle wheel. With the starboard paddle wheel stopped, the Arkadion turned off her own accord and headed back east towards the pursuing Izzedin.  With the Arkadion now having severe difficulty steering, as she came head on to the Ottoman vessel, the Izzedin rammed her on the starboard bow with the result that the two ships were locked together with their starboard paddle boxes jammed.

Rifle fire continued to be exchanged at close range for the next 15 minutes and three of the Arkadion’s crew attempting to board the Izzedin were killed in the hand to hand fighting. The Izzedin then backed off and, with the Arkadion still under fire and now in danger of sinking, Captain Courantis ran his ship aground near Cape Krios. Rifle fire continued and eventually at about 4am, Courantis, having suffered three killed, seven crewmen and 17 ‘volunteers’ wounded, evacuated his crew and passengers, set fire to the Arkadi and began the trek to Omalos and safety.  The following morning, 21 August, the Ottomans put out the fire and stripped the Arkadion of her guns prior to carrying out a salvage operation on the grounded ship.

The Arkadion was eventually refloated and, amid much acclaim, towed into Constantinople on 21 September 1867 by the Imperial Steam Frigate Ertugul; she was refitted and as the Arkadi served in the Imperial Ottoman Navy until she was decommissioned in 1896, being sold for scrap in 1905.

Arkadion being towed into Constantinople

Hassan Bey was promoted from Commander to Captain and given a reward of 500 Lira, while the Chief and 2nd Engineers of the Izzedin, Mr J.Harty and Mr. Wilson, were awarded 200 and 120 Lira respectively. (It was not unusual to find British seamen serving in the Imperial Ottoman Navy at this time; the commander of the Ottoman blockade of Crete was Hobart Pasha:  Augustus Charles Hobart-Hampden, formally a Post Captain in the Royal Navy.)

Hobart Pasha

As for Captain Courantis, he and his men reached Omalos after three days march from where he reported: “…I arrived with the other officers, the engineers and the crew at Omalos, where we found but little relief on account of the destitution which prevails here. The sailors are barefoot and naked, although the Cretan Deputies promised us pecuniary aid.” Courantis eventually got back to Greece, arriving at Piraeus on board the Prussian gunboat Blitz.

Daskalogiannis. Airport, Boat…and Cretan Hero.

As you a queuing up to grab your bags or queuing up to check bags in at Chania Airport coming to or from Paleochora, you may notice that the airport’s proper name is Daskalogiannis Airport. You may also have been on the ferry from Agia Roumeli to Sfakia and noticed that the boat was also named after Daskalogiannis. So who was this bloke with the difficult to pronounce name? What did he do to be remembered down the centuries and immortalized as an airport?
Well, his real name was Ioannis Vlachos and he was born in 1730. Although he was known as ‘Teacher John’ he was, in fact, a wealthy merchant and ship owner from Anopoli, Crete. He attained his first public office at the age of 20 and became the leader of the province in 1765 when , together with his brother Nikolos, he was responsible for tax collection for the Ottoman rulers.

He owned four ships which plied the Mediterranean. During one voyage to the Peloponnese in around 1769 he met Theodor Olaf who was an agent of the Russians who wanted to secure control over the Orthodox Balkans. Olaf persuaded Daskalogiannis to organise a rebellion on Crete with the promise of assistance from Russia.

Back in Sfakia, Daskalogiannis had a tough time enthusing the Sfakiots to revolt. We know this from a famous song written by a poor cheese maker, Barba-Pantselios who lived in Mouri. The song depicts the discussions between Daskalogiannis and his uncle who was, at the time, the Dean of Sfakia. Fortunately, a shepherd, Sifis Skordilis, was able to write down the song  in 1786 (Barba-panselios was illiterate) otherwise it would have been lost. Here are some extracts:

Then the rural dean shook his head,
he was pensive, he foresaw much in his thoughts.
“Teacher Giannis”, he said, “come to your senses,
you assume responsibility for all the people of Crete.
You make Sfakia into a centre which it ought not be,
and all the pashas and the Turks will assemble here.
Before the ships with the Moscowits come with reinforcements,
there will not be one single house left for the Sfakiots to live in” . . .

Despite these misgivings, Daskalogiannis assembled a rebel force of around 2000 men and in 1770 they attacked the areas of Kydonia, Apokoronas and Agios Vasilios. Initially they had the run of the battle, but the Ottomans rallied and, soon after, massed an army of 15.000 men at Vrysses.

Daskalogiannis and his men suffered a terrible defeat and sought refuge in the high mountains.
While keeping the rebels in check, the Ottomans delivered retribution on the local villages, looting, stealing livestock and selling captured inhabitants into slavery at Iraklion. The Dean, Daskalogiannis’ uncle, was also taken prisoner and probably tortured to reveal the rebel plans.

The Russian help did not materialize and the rebels became more despondant as the winter wore on.
In the spring of 1771, the Ottomans gave an ultimatum to the rebels. They would be given safe passage upon surrender if they agreed to 12 terms of peace.

1. They were to pay all outstanding back taxes
2. They were to surrender their arms and provisions.
3. They were to surrender their leaders, who would be taken to Iraklion for legal proceedings.
4. They could neither contact nor provision Christian ships
5. They were to assist in arresting the crews on the Christian ships
6. The judiciary in Sfakia was to be managed by a justice of the peace appointed by the Ottoman authorities
7. The churches were not to be either repaired or restored. No new churches to be built.
8. They were to pay tithe according to the sultans’ firman .
9. No tall houses or castle towers could be erected, and no Christian symbols were allowed on   buildings.
10. It was prohibited to hold Christian religious celebrations, and ringing of bells was outlawed.
11. The captured Muslims were to be released.
12. The Sfakiots were to wear the specific clothes of subjugated Christians

Daskalogiannis received a letter from his brother, in captivity in Iraklion, attesting that the Ottoman authorities were good to their word and suggesting that he would be treated fairly if he surrendered.

Even though he must have realized the unlikelyhood that he would be spared, he surrendered to the authorities with a number of his most trusted men. It is believed that by doing so, he thought he would ease the suffering of the people of Sfakia.

The ottomans took him to Iraklion and tried him. On the 17th June 1771, Daskalogiannis was publicly flayed alive. This involved slicing and peeling of his skin in one whole piece, just as an animal is skinned after slaugher. During this extremely painful and unpleasant process, it is said that Daskalogiannis suffered his fate in silent dignity. His brother was forced to watch and accounts suggest that the experience sent him mad.

Three years later, the Dean of Sfakia and other rebels still held managed to escape from Koules fortress in Iraklion. The dean took refuge in a cave near Rouvas while the others made their way back to Sfakia.

So, those are the sort of deeds that are expected of you if you want to have a Greek airport in your name. Perhaps there should be an aftersun lotion named after him just in case of peeling skin.

The Voyage of HMS Assurance. Paleochora, December 1866

The Cretan insurrection of 1866 is primarily remembered today for the self sacrifice of the Christian Cretans rebels at the Monastery of Arkadi who, in March of that year, rather than surrender to the Ottoman troops storming the building, killed themselves and their dependents by exploding the gunpowder magazine; the fighting and the resulting explosion killing over 550 of the defenders as well as 450 Ottoman troops. However the events which followed and which were played out in Selino Kastelli, as Paleochora was then called, though lesser known, had as much significance in the political history of Crete.

Upon the outbreak of the rebellion the Ottoman authorities had declared an embargo on all foreign shipping coming to Crete; ships stopping at the island could only do so at five designated ports, all on the north coast. This was in part to try to prevent Greeks and others who sympathised with the Cretan cause from landing arms and men to assist the rebels and in part to prevent an exodus of Christian Cretans to Greece; while they remained on the island they were a drain on the resources of the rebels. After the Arkadi explosion the remaining Christian fighters and their dependents withdrew to the west, to the Selino, Omalos and Sphakia districts, but with the onset of winter, the plight of the women and children with them grew desperate. As Ottoman troops increased their pressure on the insurgents, burning the few remaining crops and destroying their villages, many of the non-combatants moved to the coast in an attempt to find shipping to take them off Crete and to safety.

From the very start of the insurrection the British Government had been less than sympathetic to the Cretan cause; British commercial and political interests at that time dictated that Crete remain part of the Ottoman Empire and in any case, with rebellions against British rule taking place in Ireland and India, Britain could not be seen to be supporting independence movements. Accordingly, the British Consul in Chania, Charles Dickson, was repeatedly instructed to maintain strict neutrality in what was seen as an internal Ottoman problem. At Dickson’s request, and in order to safeguard British citizens and British property, the Royal Navy stationed a gunboat in Chania and in December 1866 this duty fell to HMS Assurance, captained by Commander William Pym. Between Dickson and Pym there developed the belief that, in spite of their specific orders, something had to be done to aid the Christian refugees on the south coast.

paleochora history

HMS Surprise, sister ship to HMS Assurance


On 8th December 1866 Dickson asked Pym to:

…cruize close to the western coast of the island …[and]… seize every available opportunity for affording refuge to any Christian in distress who may seek protection on board your ship, and….convey the same to any port in Greece that you may deem advisable.

On arrival off Selino-Kastelli on the afternoon of 10th December 1866 Pym discovered:

“…25 wounded and sick men, 126 women, and 164 children (Christians) [who] sought refuge on board from the district of Selino; and as they were exposed to hunger and the inclemency of the weather (the mountains being covered with snow), their villages having been destroyed and as they expected no quarter from the Turks […..]I considered it my duty to receive them on board, and having being requested to take them to Piraeus, I did so accordingly…”

The reaction to Pym’s voyage in Britain was mixed; the public, the press and certain politicians were all in favour of it but the Government most certainly were not. Pym was, rather reluctantly, praised by the Navy for his humanitarian efforts but shortly afterwards relieved of his command of HMS Assurance and returned to England. He never again receiving a seagoing post and retired from the Navy in 1873 under rather dubious circumstances. Dickinson, the Consul, was given strong advice not to get involved in any further such activity and left the island early in 1868, dying in Constantinople in 1869.

Their humanitarian action, a clear breach of the Ottoman embargo and of International Law as it stood in those pre-Geneva Convention days, produced the effect that the British and Ottoman Governments most feared; within days war ships from other major powers, French, Russian, Austrian, Italian and Prussian, began visiting the south west coast and evacuating refugees from Selino (Paleochora), Tripiti Bay, Sougia, and Agia Roumelli. (The American consul in Chania, who after all the other participants were dead and thus could not respond, claimed that he had been the instigator of the voyage of HMS Assurance and promised American ships would also participate, but none appeared.) The political crisis brought on by the Cretan insurrection grew ever more complicated with the involvement of the outside powers and the rebels more intractable knowing that there was a means of safe passage for their dependents.

In the end, the only major European power that did not take part in the evacuation exercise was Britain; the visit of HMS Assurance to Paleochora being the only British government involvement saving the refugees, though the British public did raise considerable amounts of money for their relief, raising £850,000 in 2010 terms from a donor pool of less than 300 people, with the Greek ex-patriot community doing the most.

The insurrection eventually came to an end in 1869 after the Ottoman Empire threatened to declare war on Greece for its continued support of the rebels, support chiefly expressed by the means of arms ammunition and men being brought to the island by blockade running ships such as the ‘Arkadi’. The European powers made it clear the Greece that she could expect no support in the event of such a war; ultimately Greece succumbed to the pressure and on 18th February 1869 at a Conference of the Great Powers in Paris, diplomatic relations between Greece and Turkey were restored and, Greece having withdrawn support from the insurrectionists, relative peace returned to the island.


The Battle of Paleochora

Here is what became known as “The Battle of Paleochora”.

Speaking in the House of Commons on 10th March 1897, George Curzon, Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, reported that a telegram had been received from Sir Alfred Biliotti, the British Consul in Canea which read: “Successfully rescued to-day, but not without the greatest peril, 523 men, 1,047 women and children, and 340 soldiers from Candamos. Picked (up) on way back 112 soldiers from Spaniako blockhouse. Natives of Candamos embarked. We are now embarking Mussulman refugees at Selino Castelli, about 1,000. Danger of Christians attacking Selino Castelli.”

Battle of Paleochora

Sir Alfred Biliotti

The expedition to rescue the Cretan Muslims from Kandanos in 1897 had become necessary when the village, at the time the largest centre of Muslim population in Selinos, came under siege from Cretan Christian irregulars responding to the arrival in Crete of Greek troops under the command of Colonel T. Vassos. A few weeks earlier over 100 Muslim refugees attempting to reach Paleochora from Sarakina had been ambushed and massacred and the fear was that if Kandanos fell, a similar fate would befall its inhabitants and the Ottoman garrison stationed there.

Biliotti arrived in Paleochora on 5 March aboard HMS Rodney, one of the ships in a mixed European force sent to evacuate Kandanos. The following day a landing party consisting of 200 British sailors and marines, with two guns, 100 French with one gun, 100 Austrians troops, 75 Russians and one gun and 50 Italian seamen came ashore and, Biliotti having got agreement for the evacuation from the local Cretan Christian chiefs at a series of meetings held in Beilitika, the force made its way up from Paleochora to Kandanos. They stopped overnight in Spaniakos where a reporter from the Times, R.A.H.Bickford-Smith, who had been travelling with the Cretan Christian insurgents recorded that the French Officers commandeered the mosque while the British had to make do with a small harem. On 7th March the expedition reached Kandanos without serious incident although Biliotti himself had been fired on the previous day when he arrived there to organise the evacuation. The European column escorted the Muslims back down to Paleochora, collecting the garrison of the fort at Spaniakos as well, and in spite of the refugees being robbed of nearly all their possessions en route, managed to effect the evacuation without bloodshed.

Retreat to Paleochora

Original Drawing of The Retreat to Paleochora

However, on arrival at Paleochora that evening, the Christian Cretan insurgents opened fire and appeared to be about to attempt to storm village. They were eventually driven off by fire from the Russian field gun though they continued to lay siege to two small Ottoman redoubts just outside the village; one of the redoubts was evacuated during the night but the one on the eastern hill above Paleochora remained occupied, the troops being unable to retreat. The following morning the Christians again opened fire on the troops on the beach and this time fire was returned by the European troops and the warships in the bay. As a result, the bulk of the Christian fighters withdrew and then, in order to relieve the 30 Ottoman troops still under siege in the remaining redoubt, the European forces advanced up the hill with fixed bayonets. The bayonet charge was successful; apparently the European troops did not need to open fire since the besiegers withdrew when rocks and stones were thrown at them. No Europeans were injured in the whole exercise but four insurgents were killed and sixteen wounded. When the fighting had ceased, Bickford Smith recorded that a Christian chief came under a flag of truce to express his, and the other chiefs’, regrets that the international force had been fired on; this was the work of people of the worst type who were quite out of control and he said hoped that the international force should fire on them if they tried to advance again. (Biliotti in his report, does not record if this was the same chief who, pointing out that the Christians were no longer fighting Muslims, asked for the Europeans to give him 300 bags of flour; a request that was denied.)

The evacuation continued without further incident although complications did arise over the fate of a pregnant Muslim woman who had to be left behind in Kandanos – her husband’s father had once saved the life of a Christian chief and so the chief’s son took responsibility for her safety – and over two Muslim women who were said to want to embrace Christianity in order to marry two young Christian men.

The Muslim retreat from Kandanos and the subsequent evacuation signalled the effective end of a Muslim presence in Selinos, an event commemorated by a monument in the grounds of the school at Beilitika, above Kakodiki, the translation of which reads:

“At Beilitika, Kakodiki, in 1897, the treaty of surrender of the Turks of Selino who were surrounded in Kandanos was signed and we were freed after 3 centuries of slavery.”

A footnote to the 1897 events at Paleochora appeared in the British Medical Journal of 8th May that year. Staff-Surgeon E.J.Biden, a Doctor on HMS Scout, one of the warships present at Paleochora during the Kandanos evacuation, published an article detailing the effects on the human body produced by a 5-inch shrapnel shell mark III fired at a range of 2,500 yards; the victim being one of Cretan fighters who had attacked the international force. The good Doctor regretted that his ship had been ordered to sea before he was able to visit the other Cretan injured and thus he was denied the opportunity to make further observations on the effects of British shrapnel shells.

Footnote: Mick & Barry have scouted round the areas where the two Ottoman redoubts once stood. They were on opposite hilltops adjacent to the road and river entering Paleochora. Although nothing remains of the one on the east side, the remains of the western redoubt are still clearly visible. It is an easy (although often quite steep) walk up to the radio transmitter masts on the hill behind the town. The redoubt is situated just beyond the single (Vodafone) mast overlooking the river valley. A video will be produced showing this and posted on here.

The Fall of Crete Video

Just came across this great video about the fall of Crete.


The Wreck of The SS Imperatrix at Elafonissi

A short(ish) journey by car or boat to the north west of Paleochora is the island of Elaphonissi, famed these days for the quality of its beaches and its wildlife sanctuary. However, exactly 105 years ago from the date and time that this post is  being published,  Elaphonissi was the scene of a major maritime disaster.

SS Imperatrix

The steam ship S.S. Imperatrix was completed towards the end of 1888 and described as the pride of the Lloyds-Austrico (Austrian Lloyds) line. She was as a passenger/freight steamer built specifically to carry passengers through the Suez Canal to India and in particular to take part in the regular “Express” service to Bombay (Mumbai); a route described in 1904 as taking 18 days to reach Bombay from Trieste. While at just over 4000 tons gross weight she was small by modern standards, at the time she was laid down she was one of the largest ships in the Lloyds-Austrico fleet and ships of her size were regularly carrying up to 500 or more passengers on the immigrant routes between Europe and America. The Imperatrix herself normally had a passenger list of 113 and on the night of her wrecking, according to the account of the wreck carried in the Lloyds Weekly Shipping report dated 28th February 1907, she had on board 120 crew including cargo hands and 20 passengers including two children and four nuns.

On the night of 22th February 1907, commanded by Captain G. Ghezzo, the Imperatrix was travelling from Trieste to Bombay when, sailing down the western coast of Crete in a severe gale and already several kilometres off course because of a navigation error, she was driven onto the rocks off the north west extremity of Elaphonissi. Contemporary newspaper accounts describe how she was initially driven aground before being thrown onto the rocks by her stern.

The captain ordered the crew and passengers forward to try and stop her breaking her back but by then a large hole had been made in her side: she started to sink by the stern and it was clear that she was not going to be able to be refloated. During the confusion and against orders, some of the crew took to the lifeboats or jumped in the water and abandoned ship. This proved to be disastrous and the 40 or so who left the vessel at this time drowned. However, about 12 persons, led by the Imperatrix’s First Lieutenant, did get to the shore and raised the alarm. Those left on board were now stuck on the forward deck where they remained for the next day and a half without food or water.

Throughout the night of the wreck, local Cretan villagers made attempts to get a line those stranded on the ship while one unmanned villager set off by horseback in the snow to make what would be a 15 hour journey over the mountains to raise the alarm in Chania. On the morning of 24th February the storm had abated and with the stern of the ship now underwater and the vessel in danger of breaking up, the locals and the crew finally managed to construct a bridge of debris between the shore and the ship over which the remaining crew and passengers were evacuated.

The survivors were initially tended to by the local villagers, aided by the arrival of supplies and blankets from the nearby Panagia Chrisoskalitissa monastery. Upon the news of the wreck reaching Chania, the Imperial Russian Navy, which had warships on station as one of foreign powers party to the 1898 Cretan autonomy agreement, sent a torpedo boat, No 212, to assist; closely followed by the gunboat Chivinetz. The French Navy sent the torpedo cruiser Faucon and the Italian Navy sent the gunboat Curatone to the scene. These vessels, along with the Lloyds-Austrico steamer Castore, which the company immediately diverted to the scene on learning of the wreck, took on board the survivors and eventually brought them to Chania.

The vessel itself was a total loss, its bulk cargo of sugar not being salvageable, and all that remains of it today, at a depth of 17 metres and accessible only by small boat, is a few bulkheads and a scattering of glass beads. The crew of the Imperatrix who were lost in the wreck are buried in an unmarked grave on the island but their real monument was the stone lighthouse that was built shortly after the wreck in an attempt to prevent it’s like recurring; unfortunately this lighthouse was demolished by retreating German forces at the end of World War II.

Further details of the wreck of the Imperatrix can be found at:

A Bulletin About a Bullet

A year or more ago, one of my kids came running in from the back garden full of excitement. “I’ve found a bullet, I’ve found a bullet!” he was shouting. Now, round here, that’s not as unusual as it sounds. There are plenty of 9mm casings and even the occasional spent round lying about the place. People tend to forget that blanks are better for celebrations.

But this was unusual. It was large and heavy.  It was something….well….older.

As luck would have it, i happened to mention the bullet in conversation with Brian Payne, an ex-military man, who is living near Paleochora at the moment. His eyes lit up and asked if he could have a look at it and give me his expert opinion.

Brian took the bullet and, after making his own assumptions, decided to get some more from one or two ordinance experts he is in touch with in the UK. Now, they did not agree with each other 100% but, from what they told Brian and from what he already knew about the bullet, he was able to put together a detailed and very interesting report about it.

Brian has kindly allowed me to reproduce the report here. I have added a few photos I took today as well, in the garden where it was found.

Barry’s Bullet

A short report on a single expended lead bullet, found in a a garden, at Paleochora, Crete.

Calibre:   Nominal 17mm. Equivalent to 0.670 inches – for these purposes, this round might be considered as a possible .670 calibre round. The round is deformed, by passage of time, and impacts from agriculture.

Weight:   Nominal 46gm. [c. 700 grain]  The round has both been ablated by erosion and has been struck by agricultural implements. 700 grain is a very heavy bullet weight.

Composition:  Lead, untested. Weight is consistent with pure lead.

Description:  A round nosed bullet, of simple design. The nose of the bullet has been deformed by two post-firing impacts. The shape of the bullet is consistent with late C.19th manufacture. The bullet is 25mm in height. The curve of the nose starts at 12mm from the base of the bullet. Between 7 and 9mm from the base of the bullet, there is a 1mm deep crimp mark, indicating that the bullet was manufactured as part of a fixed round – it had a cartridge case. There is a discernible mould mark on the external surface of the round indicating that the round was moulded in a two part mould. That is confirmed by the clearly shaped triangular cone impression within the base of the bullet, extending 9mm into the body of the bullet. The bullet has been repeatedly struck by other objects, but all are post-flight.

1.   This is a fired round – there are 3 clear land marks on half of the circumference of the body of the bullet.
2.   The bullet was commercially manufactured.
3.   The bullet was crimped to a cartridge case.
4.   The bullet is an expended round – it has been fired and has fallen to earth. There is no impact deformation, nor target butt splatter.

This bullet has sparked some debate between parties. I emailed images to three friends, each of whom came up with a different view. All are experts in their field of black powder and pre-20th Century firearms.

The consensus is as follows:
The bullet was fired from a weapon that had a very low twist rate in the rifling. The marks on the bullet from the rifling in the barrel of the weapon – the 3 observable land marks – are at a low angle of incidence, indicating that either the weapon that fired the round was a very long barrelled rifle, or it was a handgun intended for very short range. The likelihood is that there were 7 lands in the barrel at a 1:48 twist rate. This was a low velocity weapon, relying on the inertial mass of the bullet to give it stability in flight.

The single crimp mark on the bullet is significant. It places the bullet at a later date than the Minie bullet shape of the mid 19th Century. The rifle bullets of that period have a triple crimp mark. On the balance of probability, the single crimp places the round as having been fixed to a brass cartridge case. It precludes the round as having been muzzle loaded.

The calibre of the weapon, however, places the weapon at the early part of the 19th Century.  The weight of the bullet and the calibre preclude a pistol. Putting it simply, the recoil from the weapon would have rendered it extremely inaccurate. The calibre is equivalent to the common calibre of muskets in use from the late 18th Century onwards. Therefore, it is probable that the bullet was fired by a rifled musket, or musket conversion.

Very substantial numbers of rifled muskets were converted from muzzle loading to breech loading during the 19th Century. The British sold some 250,000 Tower muskets in the early part of the century, and conversions of these were still coming to light in the 1930s. The American Civil War, and numerous other wars of independence worldwide hoovered up muskets for conversion. It is probable that the bullet found was fired by a musket converted to fire a cartridge round.

We cannot say what make of rifle/musket fired this bullet.  Please note that musket conversions only have a nominal calibre – the bore diameter was remarkably inconsistent, even within the length of a single barrel. If you could get it to go up the barrel, you fired it! The mass of the bullet overcame the inaccuracy caused by poor fit between the bullet and the barrel.

Brian Payne is a specialist in UK Firearms Law. Please visit and support Help For Heroes

An Introduction to the History of Paleochora

Paleochora (Selino Kastelli)

Until the late nineteenth century the history of Paleochora was, to all intents and purposes, the history of the fortress that dominates the village and the skyline. Although the area surrounding the village contains many remains of early settlements, Greek and Greco-Roman towns and cities, and although there is some evidence of early settlement and pottery making to the east of the current town, little is known of the village before the Venetian foundation of the fortress in about 1280. The Venetians having taken the island from the Genoese in 1205, the Genoese having taken it from the Byzantines following the sack of Constantinople by the Western Crusaders in 1204, the fortress was constructed as part of the Venetian attempt to bring Crete under their control and was one of a series of fortifications also intended to reduce the endemic piracy of the Cretan coasts and to limit the possibility of a Byzantine counterattack.

The Fort at Paleochora

Paleochora Fort at Dusk

As a means of suppressing the Cretans, the fortress, known as Selino Kastelli, the name the village would keep up until the late nineteenth century and beyond, was not that successful and it fell to the Cretans during the revolt of 1332; one of the many revolutions that occurred during the Venetian occupation of the island. However, it was soon recaptured and rebuilt and in rebuilding the Venetians expanded the settlement around it.

The fortress was sacked again in 1539, this time in a raid by the noted Ottoman Admiral Hayreddin Barbarossa Pasha, only to be rebuilt for a second time by the Venetians. The last successful assault on the fort was in 1653; this time it fell to the invading Ottoman troops. With the Ottoman occupation the threat of piracy had been greatly reduced and, with the main commerce of the island now concentrated on the north coast, though the fortress was intermittently maintained and to some extent extended internally, the settlement around it appears to have decayed considerably. Eventually, by the early 1860s, the fortress and adjoining area were described as being abandoned but for a storage shed.

The Cretan Insurrection of 1866 brought Selino Kastelli to international attention when a British warship, acting against orders, evacuated a number of Christian Cretan refugees from the beaches; an act which subsequently lead to similar trips being made by French, Russian, Italian and Prussian vessels. In 1878 Ottoman troops withdrew from the fort as part of their concentration in the more populated north of the island. In May 1890 Cretan Christians evacuated Selino Kastelli after several brutal murders were carried out by Ottoman troops sent to the area to provide security from inter-communal violence then occurring and in February 1896 Ottoman troops were landed at the fortress en route to put down yet another rebellion.  The Royal Navy appeared at Selino Kastelli again in 1897 when, in conjunction with other European warships, they evacuated Cretan Muslims from Kandanos and the villages around the fort, along with the few remaining Ottoman troops, leaving the area totally in the hands of the Cretan Christians.

From that time onwards, the village, now starting to be known more generally as Paleochora, meaning Old Ground/Stone/Buildings, started to expand. By the early 1940s, aided by an influx of people evacuated from Gavdos, Paleochora had a population approaching 900 and, along with Kandanos, was one of the commercial and administrative centres of the region.

The fortress was again occupied in May 1941, this time by German troops. The new invaders installed anti-shipping and anti-aircraft batteries on the fort, and remained in occupation of Paleochora until their withdrawal to Chania in October 1944.  Paleochora was fortunate enough to avoid the worst excesses of the Greek Civil War and gradually over a period of twenty or more years grew in importance as new agricultural processes in the form of the greenhouse production of tomatoes and cucumbers became centred in Kondoura, 5km outside Paleochora.

The 1970s brought the advent of modern tourism and with it a new role to add to that of being the agricultural, cultural and administrative centre of the Selino district. In 2011, following a number of administrative and boundary changes, Paleochora, with a permanent population recorded in the 2001 census of around 2600, became the seat of the Municipality of Kandanos-Selino and now flourishes as the major centre for tourism in the South West Crete.