Travels and Discoveries in the Levant/Volume 1/Letter XXIII
Mytilene, August 10, 1854.
A few days ago, Ishmael Pasha, the Governor-General of the Archipelago, arrived here from Rhodes, in a Turkish war steamer. Every summer the Pasha of the Archipelago makes a tour of inspection round the islands entrusted to his charge, with the professed object of redressing any grievances and punishing any acts of maladministration. His authority being supreme, appeals are then made to him against decisions of the local Mejlis. This personal inspection of a pashalik might be made to operate as a salutary check on local abuses. I fear, however, that, in most cases, the only result of such a visit is the extortion of sundry presents from the subordinate Pasha, in atonement for any sins of maladministration.
On this occasion, the Pasha of the Archipelago was accompanied by Mr. Campbell, who has been recently appointed Consul at Rhodes; and wishing to do all honour to such distinguished strangers, I gave them a rustic entertainment. My worthy and amiable neighbour, the French Vice-Consul, M. Didier, was also duly invited, in order that this banquet might be complete as a celebration of the triple alliance.
We feasted on a roast lamb in a Turkish garden; the flags of the three nations formed an awning over our heads; we drank the Sultan's health in pale ale, and taught the Turks to receive it with an English hip, hip, hip, which they did not the least understand, but were not the less delighted with. All the distinguished individuals present made speeches one after another, through the medium of my dragoman; and very curious discourses they were. The Pasha of Rhodes having drunk two glasses of rakee before dinner, and about two bottles of pale ale at dinner, the Pasha of Mytilene, being his subaltern in rank, felt bound to imitate his example; and being a poor shaky old man, has had indigestion ever since, the result of Giaour beer. I do not know that any other mishap took place. After dinner we walked about on the shore, listening to barbarous Greek music. The Pasha of Rhodes took my arm, and being very drun, rolled about, so that I had great difficulty in keeping him steady.
Mr. Campbell being obliged to return before completing his tour, requested me to accompany Ishmael Pasha to Tenedos, and Lemnos. We proceeded to Tenedos in the Pasha's steamer; the weather was fine, the Pasha in excellent spirits and very well disposed to talk. As he speaks Greek, we could dispense with the restraint imposed by the intervention of a dragoman, and I had the opportunity of discussing many topics much more freely than would have been possible in a formal visit to his konak, where a pasha is seldom alone.
Ishmael Pasha, whom I have already described to you in my Rhodian letters, is rather a remarkable man. If he could only speak French, he might be ambassador at London or Paris, or hold even a higher position in his own country. He is a very smart little man, dressed like a petit maître, with very shiny boots, trousers studiously strapped down, his beard and hair trimmed with the most scrupulous care. He is in every way a trimmer. He has one set of fair speeches for the English consul, another for the Turkish magnates, another for the Greeks. He tries to be all things to all men. He professes to delight in European society, and stays till day-break at such profane entertainments as European balls. He respects the Prophet's prohibition in the matter of wine; but, finding no mention of spirituous liquors in the Koran, considers them as tacitly allowed. After dinner his orgies are such as to shock the propriety even of the Mytileniotes.
As compared with really strict Mussulmans, Ishmael Pasha may be called a Turkish esprit fort. He laughs at the poor plodding Hoja with his Koran under his arm, and admitted to me, confidentially, that the Koran was only a religious book, but that it did not contain all human science, as the Hoja supposed; that there were such things as geogi'aphy, history, &c., which were profitable to know, and yet did not form part of the Koran; that it did not require forty years to know the contents of this wonderful book, but that any man of common sense might master it in as many months.
The opportunity seemed not a bad one for speaking out plainly, so I said, "Why does not the Sultan encourage Europeans to buy land and settle in Turkey, instead of throwing all manner of hindrances in the way of such purchases? If Europeans could be encouraged to settle in Turkey, capital would be expended on the land, which is at present utterly impoverished for want of proper cultivation." The Pasha winced a little, and said, "But what would become of the Turks? We should all sell our land, and become beggars." I could not say to him, "Why not?" I renewed the subject in the course of the day; but he " shifted his chibouque, and only took snuff."
Ishmael Pasha professes to have a taste for literature, and I actually saw him read a page of a Turkish book, after which his eyes became fatigued with the exertion, and lie gave the book to his divan effendi to read to him. He told me that it was the history of the destruction of the Janissaries, drawn up by official authority, and that his own name was mentioned in it.
On arriving at Tenedos, I spent two or three days on shore in the house of M. Tolmides, the Austrian consular agent, from whom I obtained some useful information about the island.
Tenedos is much less mountainous than any island of the Archipelago which I have yet seen. Something like roads exist; and people talk about going to the right or the left, instead of up or down, as they do at Mytilene, where there is hardly a square mile of level land. The vineyards lie in small plains surrounded by hills, which keep off the violence of the winds. The vines are very small, and cultivated along the ground, more in the European style than in any vineyard which I have seen in Turkey. The vineyards are generally manured every two years; they are dug three times each year with a two- pronged hoe, still called by its ancient name, δίκελλα The soil is a rich and friable loam. The grapes most esteemed for flavour are called Mavrelia. As these yield but little juice, they are mixed with a commoner sort called Kondoures. At the vintage the grapes are picked over, and the decayed ones rejected; but this is not done with much care. The grapes are trodden by the foot, and the pulp then put into a vat, where it is kept boiling for about a month; it is then put into barrels, where it remains for another month; after which the wine is fit to drink, though some drink it as soon as it comes out of the vat. I was assured that it was made without any adulteration, and that it would keep many years and bear transport by sea. The whole produce of a vintage is generally sold off at once, and I could hear of no wine in the island itself more than a year or two old: what I tasted was of excellent quality. This is one of the few places in the Archipelago where wine is made for exportation. The Greeks generally content themselves with making enough for their own consumption from year to year, very much as the farmers in Herefordshire make cider. They have bottles but no corks, barrels with only wooden hoops, and everything else in the same provisional style.
The annual produce of the vintage varies from 25,000 to 10,000 barrels. A barrel holds nearly sixteen imperial gallons. The annual value of the vintage in a good year is reckoned at 800,000 piasters, about £6,779126
M. Tolmides estimated the number of vines in the island at about a million. He thought that the whole annual expense of cultivation might be reckoned at seventeen shillings for every thousand vines. A vineyard, when first planted, does not produce wine for six years; in the seventh year it begins to be profitable.
The wine of Tenedos used to be exported to Odessa, but since the Russian war has been sent to Constantinople.
No other article of commerce is exported from the island, except a small quantity of wool.
The harbour is much exposed to the north, and is still, as in the time of the ancients, statio malefida carinis; but I was assured that a good harbour might be made by running out a mole on the N.W., at a cost of rather more than £2,000. It is calculated that such a harbour would contain about fifty ships not exceeding 400 tons burthen, and would probably give considerable impetus to the wine trade.
The population of Tenedos is reckoned at about 4,000, of which one-third are Turks. The island only produces sufficient wheat to support the inhabitants during three months of the year. The whole of the taxes of the island amount to 300,000 piasters (equal to £2,542), of which the tithe of the grapes produces 48,000, and the Palto 155,000.
The Palto is an assessment tax on the value of the wine. The community of Tenedos engage to pay the Porte 200,000 piasters annually, which they raise by the tithe and the Palto. After the latter tax has been paid on the wine, it is exported duty free to Constantinople. The remainder of the revenue is made up by the Haratch, or capitation tax, which varies from seventeen shillings to a dollar annually, according to the means of each person, and the Salgun, or δώσιμο, an assessment tax on all the real property in the island. The joint annual produce of these two taxes is about 100,000 piasters (equal to £847).
Besides these regular taxes, the Sultan, from time to time, levies extraordinary subsidies. This year he took 11,000 piasters.
There is a Greek school at Tenedos, on which the community spends 10,000 piasters annually. This sum is collected from the inhabitants generally. The scholars are about 200 in number, including some girls. This school has existed about twenty-five years.
About two-thirds of the population can neither read nor write.
There is a Turkish castle here, with a garrison consisting of 180 local militia and 24 artillerymen.
Tenedos was ruined by the Russians when they occupied it in 1807. Many rich Turks formerly lived here. It was once covered with trees, which were destroyed in the Greek Revolution.
A strong north wind springing up, the Pasha abandoned his intention of visiting Lemnos and Samothrace, and we returned to Mytilene.