Gordon, Thomas (1788-1841) (DNB00)

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GORDON, THOMAS (1788–1841), major-general in the Greek army, born at Cairness on 8 Dec. 1788, was the eldest and only surviving son of Charles Gordon of Buthlaw and Cairness in Lonmay, Aberdeenshire, by his wife Christian, daughter of Thomas Forbes of Ballogie in the same shire. His father died in 1796. In 1800 his mother placed him at Eton, and took a house in the neighbourhood, but died in May of the following year. Gordon remained at Eton until 1804 (Stapylton, Eton School Lists, 1791-1850, 2nd edit., p. 40 b), when he was sent to reside and study with the Rev. Charles Latham at Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. On 20 Jan. 1806 he matriculated at Oxford as a member of Brasenose College (Foster, Alumni Oxon. 1715-1886, ii. 541). He did not take a degree, but was appointed in 1808 cornet in the 2nd dragoons (Scots Greys). In the following year he was promoted lieutenant in the Scots Greys, and in the autumn he exchanged as lieutenant into the 43rd regiment. In May 1810 he left the British service and started on foreign travel. On 26 Aug. he was hospitably received at Jannina in Albania, by Ali Pasha, then Turkish governor of the province. In October he arrived at Athens and stayed there until the 26th of that month, when he set out for Constantinople. During this and the two following years he also visited Salonica, Smyrna, Erzeroum, Tokat, Sultanieh, and other places in the Ghilan district of Persia, and travelled extensively in Asiatic Turkey and in Barbary. In 1813 he served as a captain on the staff of the Russian army, and in November of that year he acted as aide-de-camp to Major-general von Arenschild in the army of Count von Walmoden at Pretzer in Mecklenburg. Early in 1814 he returned to Cairness. In 1815 he again went abroad and unsuccessfully applied for an appointment in Wellington's army before the battle of Waterloo. In the autumn he was at Bucharest. In 1816 he was again at Constantinople, and he married there in that year Barbara Kana (afterwards Baroness de Sedaiges), a lady of Armenian Greek extraction. Gordon again went to Greece in 1821, the year of the commencement of the war of independence. He served through the campaign of 1821 in the Morea as 'chef d'état major' under Ipsilanti. He took an active part at the siege of Tripolizza. After the capture of the town he earnestly remonstrated against the treacherous massacre by the Greeks of several thousand Turks. His representations being disregarded, he quitted the Greek camp, and soon afterwards retired for a time from the service. In November 1822 the provisional government of Greece at Hermione addressed to him a letter asking him to return, a translation of which is given by De Quincey in his paper on 'The Revolution of Greece' (Works, vol. x.) Gordon declined, but became an original member of the Greek committee in London (formed 8 March 1823), and contributed money and warlike stores. The committee wished him to proceed to Greece as one of three commissioners who were to take charge of stores and funds. Gordon declined on the ground (stated in a letter to the committee of 21 July 1823) that the Greeks were unwilling to submit to European discipline, and that his old comrades had been expelled from office. As a member of the committee he heartily concurred in the appointment of Lord Byron. There is no record in his journal or letters that Gordon ever met Byron. Early in 1824 a Greek deputation raised a loan in London and again unsuccessfully applied to Gordon to return. Early in 1826 renewed representations from Greece and from the Greek deputies in London induced him to return to the country to promote unity and military discipline. He reached Napoli di Romania in May, and found that the dissensions among the Greeks had quenched even their animosity against the Turks. He was, however, well received, and was just in time to prevent the disorganisation of the regular corps. He determined, however, to remain a 'traveller unshackled in his movements' until the arrival of Lord Cochrane [see Cochrane, Thomas, tenth earl of Dundonald]. He succeeded in reconciling the government to Colonel Fabvier. He said (7 June) that he would still 'stand aloof,' but trusted that 'during the fifteen days that I have acted as minister at war, minister of the marine, commissary-general and inspector of fortifications, I have prepared everything for his [Cochrane's] arrival if he chooses to come in time.' About this period he purchased the Achilles brig, which was useful in conveying stores and in aiding his own movements. Towards the end of June an outbreak among the Roumelistes at Napoli induced the government to seize ten thousand dollars belonging to Gordon and give them to the Suliote captains. By the close of the year (1826) he had paid away all the public funds with which he had been entrusted by the Greek deputies in London. In January 1827 Gordon accepted the command of the expedition to Piræus, with the local rank of brigadier, his troops consisting of the corps of John Notaras, that of Makriyani, the regulars, and the foreign auxiliaries. His aim was to relieve Athens, then blockaded by Kutahi. Gordon successfully landed his troops at Port Phalerus 'under the nose of Reshid Pasha.' On 11 Feb. the Turks made a determined attack on Gordon's position, but were driven back with great slaughter. Having found that Athens was still able to hold out, he wished to resign, but was induced to continue upon condition of receiving supplies and being 'entirely master of his own operations.' Gordon remained in command of the troops at the Phalerus until the arrival of General Church in April, who at once took over the supreme command as generalissimo. On 16 April the commander-in-chief appointed Gordon director-general of the ordnance department of the army. He probably continued to serve in this capacity until the disastrous battle of 6 May before Athens put an end to all organised military operations by the Greeks in the Morea. The struggle was soon ended by the battle of Navarino. Before he left Greece he received letters of thanks from the Greek executive at Egina (25 Feb. 1827) and the General Assembly at Troezene (9 April 1827). In July 1827 Gordon was again at Cairness.

In the summer of 1828 Gordon returned to Greece, and apparently remained there till the spring or early summer of 1831, when he returned to Cairness. During this period he seems to have lived principally at Argos, where he purchased land and built himself a house. George Finlay [q. v.] on 4 Aug. 1829 writes to Gordon at Argos suggesting 'seriously' that he might be president of the National Assembly. On returning to Cairness in 1831, Gordon began his 'History of the Greek Revolution,' which was published at London in two octavo volumes in the following year. A second edition was called for in 1842; it was also translated into German, forming parts 3 and 4 of Johann Wilhelm Zinkeisen's 'Geschichte Griechenlands,' 8vo, Leipzig, 1832-40. This admirably executed history was reviewed by De Quincey in Blackwood's 'Edinburgh Magazine' (vol. x. of collected 'Works'). On the formation of the Greek kingdom, Gordon was appointed colonel à la suite and colonel on the staff of the Greek army by commission, dated 3 April of that year. He had only asked for a lieutenant-colonelcy. In the summer of 1833 Gordon again went to Greece, and was apparently employed till 1836 in military duties. On 7 July 1835 he was appointed major-general, and on the 23rd he was commanding the troops in Roumelia, and acting as chief of the general staff of the Greek army. He visited Scotland in 1836, returning in 1837 or 1838. On 18 Feb. 1839 he retired from the Greek army and was immediately appointed by the king major-general à la suite, an appointment which he maintained until his death. His health was breaking. He was in Greece in 1840, but in the same year returned to Cairness, where he died 20 April 1841. He left a son, James Wilkinson Gordon, who died in 1886. Gordon had mastered many European languages, including French, Italian, modern Greek, and Turkish. He contributed (anonymously) a translation of a work bv Tshelebi-Effendi on the Turkish military system to Consul William Wilkinson's 'Wallachia and Moldavia,' 8vo. London, 1820 (Appendix No. 5). To the Oriental Translation Fund he sent a translation of an anonymously written work privately circulated in Constantinople, upon the secret history of the deposition of Sultan Mustafa in 1807. It was published as No. 111 in vol. ii. of 'Miscellaneous Translations from Oriental Languages.' Gordon had the gold cross of the order of the Saviour (1 June 1834) and the order of Knight of St. John of Jerusalem (of Malta), and was made a grand commander of the order of the Saviour on his retirement from the Greek service (16 Feb. 1839). He was a member of various learned societies both in this country and in Greece, such as the Royal Society (8 Feb. 1821), the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (1828), the Royal Asiatic Society (1834), the Έταιρία τής Φυσικής Ίστορίας (1837), Άρχαιολογική Έταιρία (1840), and Φιλεκπαιδευτική Έταιρία (1840). His historical library and manuscripts were sold in March 1850, and his antiquities in the following June (Catalogue of the Library of the London Institution, iv. 331, 444).

[Materials kindly supplied from the family papers by Charles T. Gordon, esq.]

G. G.