Feb 25 2013

Hobart Pasha – Poacher turned gamekeeper?

Born on 1 April 1822, Augustus Charles Hobart (later Hobart-Hampton), the third son of the Duke of Buckingham, joined the Royal Navy at the age of 12. By 1863 having served both in the British campaign to suppress slavery and the Crimean War, he had reached the rank of Captain and shortly after, there being no ship available for one of his rank, was put on half pay. Hobart was not prepared to accept a life of idleness, or one of penury, and thus in 1863, at the height of the American Civil War, using the nom de guerre ‘Captain Charles Roberts’, he took charge of the twin screw driven steam ship Don, running the United States blockade from the southern port of Wilmington to ports in Bermuda and the West Indies with cargoes needed by the Confederate States of America. (Hobart also brought out from England goods of his own for his private speculation; these included whalebone stays for the fashionable corsets of the day, toothbrushes and Cockles anti-bilious pills, all of which he sold at a good profit.)[1]  Although it was well known that a number of Royal Navy officers were acting in this fashion i.e. captaining blockade runners, the record is fort the most part silent on the smuggling of corset stays, the British government took no action against them. Hobart spent a successful and profitable period as a blockade runner, making up to twelve successful trips through the blockade in the screw driven ship the Don. He returned to blockade running some months after giving up command of the Don, later making at least one more trip before coming down with yellow fever and eventually returning to England.

Caricature of Hobart Pasha

In 1867, the American Civil war being over and Hobart still having been given a ship in the Royal Navy, he went on a European tour. Passing through Constantinople he introduced himself to the Grand Vizir, Fuad Pasha. In the course of their conversation, according to Hobart, the discussion turned to the problems the Ottomans were having with Greek blockade runners supplying arms and men to the Cretans currently in revolt. The Vizir was concerned that the legal constraints placed on them by the European Powers were preventing their warships successfully capturing the Greek ships, their only success to date being the running aground and capture of The Arkadion off the south west coast of Crete on 21st August 1867. Given Hobart’s experience as a blockade runner, he suggested to Fuad Pasha that the blockade runners could be legally curtailed and hinted that he was the man to do it. As a consequence of this conversation, Hobart was offered, and signed, a 5 year contract with the Ottoman Empire to act as Naval Advisor to the Turkish Government, a post that had just become vacant with the retirement of Sir Adolphus Slade. The terms of the contract stipulated that Hobart would be appointed Vice Admiral in the Turkish navy but would keep both his Royal Navy rank and his British citizenship. However, unlike his previous extracurricular employment, this move however did not go down well with the Admiralty because, according to Hobart, “…this post was considered by the English Admiralty as one of their choice gifts…They said I had ‘cut out’ a good old servant to whom they had intended to give it.”[2] However, other than a series of fairly angry letters suggesting that Hobart return to Britain, the Admiralty took no action against him at this point.

Arriving in Suda Bay, Crete, to take up his post he came to the conclusion that the best place to stop the blockade runners was at their ports of embarkation. The Greek ships involved were all civilian vessels owned by the Greek Steamship Navigation Company, manned by, usually well paid, volunteer crews and in some cases officered by Greek Navy officers ‘on leave.’ In this manner the Greek government could deny liability of the ship’s illegal actions while continuing to supply and aid the Cretans in rebellion against the Ottoman Empire; an Empire with which Greece was not, and could not afford to be, at war. Highly thought of by the Greek population, the arrival and departure of a blockade runner was greeted with loud and obvious public displays of patriotism and enthusiasm in their home ports and hence never a particularly well kept secret. One blockade runner in particular, Enosis (Union), was known to be operating out of the Greek port of Syra and it was there on 14 January 1869 that Hobart appeared with his small fleet of two despatch boats, a steam corvette Izzedin, which had captured the Arkadion, and his flagship.

Enosis was known, even as far away as America, to have been recently fitted out with British made Armstrong cannon[3] and was returning from having landed guns and men all along the northern coast of Crete. Arriving off Syra, to gain the harbour she had to pass Hobart’s squadron. At some distance from the shore, Hobart implies it was about eight miles[4], the Captain of the Enosis was reported to have claimed it was,  somewhat improbably, half a mile[5], Hobart fired a blank shot ordering Enosis to display her colours and halt to be inspected. At this point the Captain of the Enosis made a serious error. Rather than comply with the instruction, given quite legally by a warship in international waters, he chose not simply to flee and rely on his superior speed to escape, but rather to open fire on Hobart; a shot from his Armstrong gun hitting the bridge on which Hobart was standing.[6] Hobart opened fire on the Enosis but the Greek vessel managed to avoid the Ottomans and made it safely into Syra with the Ottoman vessels in close pursuit.

However, the act of defiance of Enosis firing on Hobart changed the whole nature of the encounter. Whereas before the worst penalty that Enosis and her crew could suffer was confiscation of their vessel along with possible fines, by the act of firing on, and hitting, a warship carrying out her legal duties, Enosis and her crew had, in legal terms, transformed themselves from smugglers into pirates. Hobart now seized his opportunity and promptly began a blockade of Syra, demanding that the Greek authorities seize the Enosis and her crew and allow the latter to be tried for piracy. He also demanded the right to inspect the other two suspected blockade runners in Syra before they be allowed to sail.

The Greek authorities initially refused to take action against the Enosis and, after urgent appeals to Athens, a few days later a Greek frigate appeared off the port; rumoured to have been sent with a crew sworn to capture Hobart  Pasha dead or alive. However, on arriving off Syra, the Greek vessel sailed straight into the port and made no challenge to the Ottoman vessels. Hobart later reported that he had been told that the Greek frigate had been despatched without powder for its guns.[7] Several days later Hobart was reinforced by more Ottoman ships and eventually a trial of sorts was held. The outcome as far as the crew of the Enosis is unclear, other than they certainly did not pay the ultimate penalty for piracy and Hobart describes it as ‘…of course end(ing) in nothing.’[8]The outcome for the Enosis and the other blockade runners was much easier to discern; they never again sailed to Crete. The major source of arms, men and food sustaining the Cretan Insurrectionists dried up and while this alone did not, as Hobart suggests , bring almost immediate peace to Crete,[9] in combination with the Ottoman scorched earth policy on the island, the threat of war between Greece and the Ottoman Empire and European pressure on the Greek government, the Insurrection shortly came to an end; diplomatic relations between Greece and the Ottoman Empire being restored at the Paris Conference in February 1869.[10]

Shortly after the events at Syra, at the urging of the Greek government, Hobart refusing to resign his Ottoman commission and return to England, was stripped of his Royal Navy rank; however this was compensated for to some extent by the Sultan promoting him to the rank of Admiral in the Ottoman Navy and, in 1869, granting him the title of Pasha. Hobart was restored to the Royal Navy list in 1874 through the influence of Lord Derby, only to be removed again in 1877 when he rejoined the Ottoman Navy commanding the Black Sea fleet in the Russo-Turkish War. He continued to serve in the Ottoman Navy becoming in time a special A.D.C to the Sultan and finally, in 1885, while in London on an unsuccessful mission to bring about closer ties between the Ottoman and British Empires, was reinstated to the Royal Naval list; this time promoted to Vice Admiral.

Augustus Charles Hobart - Hobart Pasha. 1877

On his death in 1886, the body of Hobart Pasha, since 1881 a Mushir (Marshall) of the Ottoman Empire and one of the highest ranked non-Ottoman citizens within the Empire, was returned with all due military pomp to Istanbul and buried in the British cemetery at Haydarpasa, Istanbul, in a graveyard now tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.


Post Script:

On Hobart’s death, one South Australian newspaper, relying on an article in a New York newspaper, related the almost fairy tale story of Hobart’s second marriage. It appeared, according to the newspaper at least, that while serving in the Royal Navy early in his career, one of his companions was mortally wounded and while dying begged Hobart to take care of his wife and new born baby daughter, the man having in the eyes of his family, married beneath him and his wife and child being disowned. Hobart agreed to do so but on returning to England found the mother had also died. Hobart then arranged for the child to be brought up and educated at his expense. By 1879, Hobart’s first wife having died, Hobart received a letter from the young lady, by now seventeen, stating that she was in distress because her school companions were casting doubt on her legitimacy and her parentage. Hobart’s response was to return to England and to seek to resolve the matter. To quote the Burra Record: “ She was young; she was pretty, she clung to him with tenderist gratitude and love, and the hearts of even bronzed, grey- moustached old warriors are not proof against that, and so, as that, after all, seemed the quickest and simplest solution of the trouble, and they both wished it, they were married.[11]

While this is a lovely story, it is has one problem: it’s probably not true.

Hobart did indeed get remarried in 1879; he married Edith Katherine Hore on 5th May in the Cathedral of the British Embassy in Vienna. Edith’s father was Herbert Francis Hore, an Anglo-Irish Magistrate based in Wexford who married Edith’s mother in 1840 and who died in Dublin on 15 August 1865. So, if  the newspaper report is accurate and Edith was seventeen in 1879 when she married Hobart, by that account she must have been born, and her father died, around 1862,not as he actually did in 1865. Furthermore, there’s no sign that Hore was anything other than a member of the Anglo-Irish establishment and he appears to have died a natural death at his home rather than a death from wounds sustained in some unnamed naval encounter.[12]

[1] Hobart-Hampton AC. Hobart Pasha. Blockade Running, Slaver Hunting and War and Sport in Turkey.

Ed. H. Kephart. Outing Publishing Company New York. (1915)  p.199. [An edited version of Hobart’s ‘Sketches

From My Life.’] pp.119-124.

[2]Ibid. p.202

[3]Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 36, Number 5566, 28 January 1869.

[4] Hobart-Hampton AC. Hobart Pasha. Blockade Running, Slaver Hunting and War and Sport in Turkey.

Ed. H. Kephart. Outing Publishing Company New York. (1915)  p.204.

[5] Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 36, Number 5566, 28 January 1869.

[6] Hobart-Hampton AC. Hobart Pasha. Blockade Running, Slaver Hunting and War and Sport in Turkey.

Ed. H. Kephart. Outing Publishing Company New York. (1915)  p.205

[7] Ibid. p.208.

[8] Ibid. p.209.

[9] Ibid. p.206. Hobart claims that the insurgents laid down their arms and sought peace ‘within three days’ of

his blockading Syra; in reality it was over a year before the Insurrection came to an end.

[10] Dontas.D.N. (1966) Greece and the Great Powers 1863-1875. Institute for Balkan Studies. Thessaloniki.

pp.133 -155.

[11] Burra Record. Tuesday 21 September 1886.

[12] http://histfam.familysearch.org/getperson.php?personID=I57401&tree=Nixon


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