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‘A brighter Hellas’: rediscovering Greece in the 19th century

Leicester Stanhope and the London Greek Committee

Title page and frontispiece with hand-coloured portrait of a Turkish boyMustapha AliThe London Greek Committee was one of the most significant philhellenic organisations in the early years of the Greek War of Independence. Its first meeting was held on 28 February 1823 in the Crown and Anchor tavern on the Strand.

The committee was established by John Bowring and Edward Blaquiere in order to publicise the Greek cause, to collect finances for a military expedition to Greece and to raise a substantial loan for the Greek government. Its early membership included the reformer Jeremy Bentham and Lord Byron.

Leicester Stanhope (1784-1862), a lieutenant-colonel in the British Army, became the committee’s agent and travelled to Greece in September 1823 where he met his fellow representative Byron in Cephalonia. In December he arrived in Missolonghi, where Mavrocordato, the leader of the Greeks in the west of the country, was based.

Stanhope, an advocate of liberty of the press, quickly set up two newspapers in Missolonghi before his departure to Athens in February. There he met, and was captivated by, the duplicitous Odysseus, who ruled over much of eastern Greece. In a letter to Byron of 6 March, Stanhope supported Odysseus’ proposal to hold a congress of Greek leaders at Salona (modern Amfissa), ‘to unite the interests of eastern and western Greece’, and he asked Byron to encourage Mavrocordato to attend. In the end neither Mavrocordato nor Odysseus was present.

Byron and Stanhope had both been nominated by the London Greek Committee as commissioners to look after the distribution of the committee’s loan. Byron died in April, and Stanhope, as a serving army officer, was recalled to England by the foreign secretary George Canning. Their absence caused difficulties when the gold sovereigns reached Zante in late April 1824; the first and second loans were eventually dispatched to the Greek government but spent without any intervention from the committee.

Stanhope’s letters to the London Greek Committee were published in September 1824. The Turkish boy shown on the frontispiece, Mustapha Ali, lost his family during the war and was brought back to England by Stanhope. Stanhope set up several schools while in Greece and the committee arranged for a number of Greek boys to be educated in England, with the intention of sending them back to Greece as school teachers.

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