Nov 21 2014

Trying to count the dead: Candia 1898.

There is little dispute that the trigger for the forcible eviction of all Ottoman troops and functionaries from Crete in 1898 was undoubtedly the events of 6th September (25th August Old Style). In the riot which broke out following attempts by a small British force to take over the customs house in Iraklion (Candia), a number of British military personnel and large number of Cretan Christians were killed and a significant part of the city was burnt down.

Candia (Iraklion) on fire. 1898

Iraklion on fire. 1898.

The number of Christians killed was, and is, unknowable since, in the chaotic conditions prevailing before the riot, there was no accurate count of how many Christians were in the town and, following the riot, there was little or no mechanism for counting or identifying the bodies of those killed. According to British historian Robert Holland, up to 800 Christian Cretans out of a population of approximately 1000 died, as did 29 Muslims. Turkish historian Pinar Şenişik, however, gives figures ranging from 153 Christian dead according to Ottoman sources, to 600, according to British sources. To further complicate matters, the commander of the British land forces, Col. Chermside, had previously stated that there were less than 500 Christians in the town.

Post riot Iraklion

Post riot Candia (Iraklion).

However, civilian deaths in Crete in 1897 had not produced any appreciable action aimed at limiting Ottoman power; although the island had been granted a degree of autonomy under Ottoman suzerainty until September 1897 no effective steps had been taken to put this into practice. What appears to have made the difference to the European Powers was not the number of civilians who died in the September riot, but the British military dead. Given the political importance of the British losses, it should, in theory, be relatively easy to determine the number of British military casualties. However, this does not appear to be the case.

The Cretan historian Theocharis Detorakis puts the British losses at 17 soldiers and the British Consul killed. However, the British diplomat killed was not the British Consul, Sir Alfred Biliotti, who was in Canea at the time of the riot, but rather the British Vice-Consul, Lyssimachus Calocherino [Kalokairinos]. Reporting Calocherino’s death, Biliotti failed to mention the deaths of Calocherino’s wife and family, but stated that at least two other British subjects, Vincent Carabott, father of the Superintendent of the Eastern Telegraph Company and Marie Camillieri, a Maltese washerwoman, were also killed that day. The body of Calocherino’s eldest daughter was never found and when he Ottoman troops and their families were evacuated, the veils of the women were lifted to check their identity; a rumour having circulated that Colocherino’s daughter had been kidnapped and forced into a harem.

Quoting unnamed French sources, Senisik puts the British casualties at ’13 British soldiers and one British officer killed, and 40 British soldiers and two British officers wounded during the disturbances.’

Holland puts the British casualties on the day at 17 with 39 severely wounded and states that one Victoria Cross was posthumously awarded. However, the only Victorian Cross awarded that day was awarded to Royal Naval Surgeon William Maillard who certainly lived long enough to receive it, being invested with it by Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle on 15th December 1898, the only member of the Royal Naval Medical Service to receive a V. C. Maillard died on 10th September 1903.

R.J. Pritchard in his examination of the legal aspects of the subsequent British reaction to the killings puts total British casualties that day at 14 dead and 40 wounded.

The British infantry involved on 6th September were all members of 1/Highland Light Infantry and the memorial plaque in the church of Agios Konstantinos, Iraklion, lists one officer and 9 men as dying in Crete, a figure which coincides with the 1961 history of the HLI which records that ‘in the outbreak in Crete, the 71st [1/HLI] lost one officer and nine soldiers killed and had one officer, two sergeants, one corporal, two pipers and nineteen soldiers wounded.’ In addition, two members of the Royal Army Medical Corps, one Royal Engineer and one private in the Army Service Corps were also wounded that day.

Memorial Plaque for Highland Light Infantry. Agios Konstantinos, Iraklion.

Memorial Plaque for Highland Light Infantry. Agios Konstantinos, Iraklion.

What do the official British sources say?

According to the Army Medical Report for 1898, published in 1899, only 9 deaths from gunshot wounds were attributable to the ‘September events’ on Crete, an additional death from gunshot wounds being attributable to the accidental ‘discharge of a revolver with which a comrade was playing’. N.B. These figures are for Army personnel only.

In the snappily titled: ‘Return of the number of Sailors and Soldiers Killed or Wounded in War or Warlike Operations carried out by the Government of this Country and Chartered Companies during the Years 1898, 1899, 1900, 1901, 1902 and 1903 respectively (exclusive of those carried on by the Government of India) in the same form as the Return granted in Session 1895’, on 14 February 1907, R. S. Haldane, Secretary of State for War, reported the following to the House of Commons:

Sailors and Marines

Fight with Bashi-Bazouks, Candia 1898.

Officers Killed in Action or died of wounds    None

Officers Wounded                                              None

Men Killed in Action or died of wounds           Four

Men Wounded                                                     Seven


Outbreak at Candia, Crete, 1898.
Officers Killed in Action or died of wounds     One
Officers  Wounded                                              Two

Men Killed in Action or died of wounds           Nine

Men Wounded                                                     18

Giving a total of one officer and 13 men killed, two officers and 25 men wounded; in all 14 killed and 27 wounded.

While the variation in the figures is in itself irrelevant in the larger scheme of things, whether it was 14 or 17 British dead the result was still the decision to force the Ottoman evacuation of the island, the fact that such a variation in numbers can occur is in itself significant. Even given the small number of British personnel involved in the September events, less than 200 from all services, and the limited geographical area in which the British casualties occurred, with the exception of two HLI men killed outside Candia, all the deaths and injuries occurred either in the harbour or in the British encampment, the difference in the numbers quoted by the historians above, illustrates the difficulty of writing any historical ‘truth’.



Detorakis, Theocharis E., History of Crete, trans. Davis J.C (Iraklion,1994).
Holland, R. F. Markides Diana, The British and the Hellenes : struggles for mastery in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1850-1960.  (London, 2006).

Pritchard, R. John, ‘International Humanitarian Intervention and Establishment of an International Jurisdiction over Crimes against Humanity : the National and International Military Trials on Crete in 1898′, International humanitarian law International Humanitarian Law, volume 1: Origins / ed. by John Carey, William V. Dunlap and R. John Pritchard, (2003), 1-87.

Senisik, Pinar, The transformation of Ottoman Crete : revolts, politics and identity in the late nineteenth century,  (London, 2011).


  1. Dr. R. John Pritchard

    Delighted to come across your page on Crete. One slight correction re. your bibliography, easily corrected I expect:

    Pritchard, R. John, ‘International Humanitarian Intervention and Establishment of an International Jurisdiction over Crimes against Humanity : the National and International Military Trials on Crete in 1898′, International humanitarian law International Humanitarian Law, volume 1: Origins / ed. by John Carey, William V. Dunlap and R. John Pritchard, (2003), 1-87.

    Transnational Publishers, a leading publisher on International Law, was subsequently bought by Brill and this volume, along with two others (volume 2: Challenges, and volume 3: Prospects) remain in print.

  2. Zacharias J. Nikolakakis

    Here is Agios Konstantinos cemetary in Heraklion Creta and you can see Memorial Plaque for Highland Light Infantry under the pine tree.


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