Footprints of Odysseus in India
This article will examine a news story that was published in two English newspapers, The Times and Morning Chronicle with the identical title ‘Subscription for the Greeks in India’ on August 27, 1824. The small Greek community and British philhellenes in Calcutta contributed financially towards the Greek War of Independence. At this time the British East India Company governed large tracts of the Indian sub-continent. An overview of the migration and settlement of Greeks in India and an analysis of the news story will be provided.
1. The migration and settlement of Greeks in India
Greek merchants controlled trade in the Mediterranean and Levant which served as a springboard for them to seek new markets in Russia and Eastern Europe. The brave and adventurous Greeks who made their way to India in the 18th century came from every corner of Greece and Asia Minor. These individuals were lured by the prospects of making their fortunes through trade in cloth, salt, lime and native products. Most of the Greeks who went to India came from Phillipopolis (now known as Plovdiv located in present day Bulgaria). The Greeks settled in Calcutta and Dhaka (the capital city of modern day Bangladesh).
An Alexios Argyree Panaghiotis descendant anglicized his name to Panioty and was regarded as the first head of Greek community in Bengal. In 1771 Warren Hastings, the Governor General of India, sent Panaghiotis on an official diplomatic mission to Egypt “to obtain permission for British merchants to trade in Egypt.” He succeeded in his mission and Hastings gave him the go-ahead to construct a Greek church in Calcutta. Panaghiotis “shifted his commercial operations to Dhaka where he died in 1777.”
Alexander Panioty and Alexios Argyree worked tirelessly to ensure that the Greek Orthodox Church in Bengal remained strong to meet the spiritual needs of the Greek communities in Calcutta and Dhaka. Monks came from St Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai to minister to the Greek community. Greek Orthodox churches were consecrated in Calcutta and Dhaka in 1782 and 1812 respectively.
The Greek Church served as a focal point for the Greek community in Calcutta. During the period 1818-1842, two Epirotes -Constantine Pantazes and Peter Protopapas - were instrumental in constructing a Greek school where the children could learn “their religion, language and culture.” They wanted the Greek youngsters to preserve and maintain their Greek cultural heritage in India.
Dimitrios Galanos might be considered the most famous of the early Greeks who settled in Calcutta in 1786. He came to take charge of the Greek school and became very fluent in the English, Persian, Urdu and Sanskrit languages. It is the latter language that he became recognised as one of the world’s foremost scholars and “his translations of the ancient texts are internationally famous.” Galanos translated the “Sanskrit texts into Greek.” Unfortunately he died in Benares in 1833.
As the 19th century progressed trading opportunities declined for the Greeks in India. Large business enterprises with head-offices in Europe dominated commerce in India and “on a scale that was never attained by the early Greek merchants.” Some of the leading Greek trading firms operating in Calcutta were: Ralli Brothers, Ralli and Mavrojani, Argenti Sechiari, Agelesto Sagrandi, Vlasto and Co, Petrocochino Bros, Tamv-aco and Co, Schlizzi and Co, Georgiadis and Co and Nichaci and Co. These Greek families involved in commercial activity in Bengal had established close family ties through marriage were all originally from the island of Chios.
2. An analysis of the news story
This news story originally appeared in the Calcutta press. Both news articles are identical but with the exception of the opening sentence. The Morning Chronicle’s opening sentence "among those who are in the habit of ruling absolute power a subject nation of conquered strangers, we should be prepared to expect but little aid towards the emancipation of a struggling nation like the Greeks’’ is excluded in the Times version.
In the former newspaper it immediately sets the tone that the Greeks require assistance in their war of independence from the Ottoman Empire. Why the Times news editor chose to omit the opening sentence is difficult to say.
The articles mentioned that wealthy Englishmen who lived in the East were prepared to spend their money on a picture, vase, dinner or masquerade ball rather than assisting those in distress. Certain exiled Scottish Highlanders from Sutherland who lived in abject poverty approached their countrymen for assistance in India. A public meeting organized in India for these Scottish Highlanders saw the Chairman and two Englishmen contributing to this worthy cause. However the Scotsmen of India snubbed their countrymen “because it was understood to be unpalatable to a certain Scottish interest that then directed the patronage of India.”
This showed a complete lack of compassion and sympathy on the part of the British elite in Calcutta towards the Scottish Highlanders, which would also be exhibited to the Greek cause.
The new Anglican Bishop of Calcutta, Dr Heber was the first Englishman to contribute to the Greek cause who saw his offering in assisting a desperate people and fellow Christians to win their freedom from Ottoman rule. Dr Heber was imbued with “English and classic feelings “towards the Greek people.
He may have been influenced by Lord Byron and the London Greek Committee.
On the other hand, not "a single individual, either in the civil or military service or his Majesty’s or East India Company" contributed to the Greek cause. A paltry 1000 shillings was collected for the Greek subscription according to the news stories.
It is possible that British Conservative individuals might have regarded the Greeks as rebels who were challenging the authority of the Sultan. Some of the British ruling elite may have been sympathetic to the Ottoman Empire. Furthermore some of them may not have cared at all for the Greek cause as it didn’t affect their material interests in India.
Therefore Lord Amherst, the Governor General in India 1823-28, and his private secretary, Mr. Adams tried to discourage the collection of funds as reported in the news articles.
After all Britain was an imperial power with vast interests in India with Moslem and Hindus subjects under her control. The British were mindful of the unrest that occurred amongst Indian troops in 1809 and the Mahrath war 1817-19. From 1817-1824, the British signed a series of treaties with the native rulers to ensure that their rule in India was further strengthened.
Captain Nicholas Chiefala was dispatched by the Provisional Government of Greece to raise funds from friends in the “East Indies” for the Greek campaign. He was an adventurer born in Zakynthos in 1765 who made two trips to India and also “published two books on India.” He became well acquainted with Dimitri Galanos.
His mission to India raised the following sum of money as shown in Table 1 below:-
Chiefala was an energetic individual who managed to raise additional funds in a second subscription. This figure is reproduced in Table 2 below.
The news stories also mention that Dr Heber had contributed 100 pound sterling in England.
(Posting date 18 March 2007)
About the Author
Stavros Terry Stavridis was born in Cairo, Egypt in 1949 of Greek parents. He migrated to Australia with his parents in September 1952. Stavros has a Bachelor of Arts (B.A) in Political Science/Economic History and B.A (Hons) in European History from Deakin University and M.A in Greek/Australian History from RMIT University. His MA thesis is titled "The Greek-Turkish War 1919-23: an Australian Press Perspective."
Stavros has nearly 20 years of teaching experience, lecturing at University and TAFE (Technical and Further Education, the equivalent of Community College in the US) levels. He has presented papers at international conferences in Australia and USA and has also given public lectures both in Australia and on the West Coast of the US. Many of his articles have appeared in the Greek-American press. He currently works as a historical researcher at the National Center for Hellenic Studies and Research, Latrobe University, Bundoora, Victoria, Australia.
Stavros' research interests are the Asia Minor campaign and disaster, Middle Eastern history, the Assyrian and Armenian genocides, Greece in the Balkan Wars 1912-13 and the First World War and history in general.
HCS maintains a large selection of fine pieces written by Mr. Stavridis which viewers are invited to view at the URL http://www.helleniccomserve.com/stavridisone.html
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