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

Memoir on the roads of Cefalonia

Sketch of the island of CephaloniaSketch of the island of CephaloniaIn 1819 the army officer Charles James Napier (1782-1853) became inspecting field officer in the Ionian Islands. After a visit to mainland Greece, he became captivated by the Greek struggle for independence and Lord Bryon later became a close friend. In 1821 Napier was appointed to the official post of British Resident in Cephalonia, and in 1823 Byron visited him to discuss the situation in Greece before the poet proceeded to Missolonghi.

Napier devoted his time to making improvements on the island and was assigned the task of building a network of roads. He published an account of his progress in the pamphlet shown, describing his undertaking as a matter o of importance to open up trade:

… that men might know each other, that the rich might visit and improve their estates, by bringing the produce to market at much less expense, and that the valleys of Cephalonia, instead of being unknown to many of their own inhabitants, might pour their produce into the capital, giving to this large island its proper vigour and station in the Ionian states.

First page of textFirst page of textNapier set about connecting the five chief portsby principal roads and described their direction, details of construction thus far, and estimates of cost and labour. He proposed the erection of Martello towers, as a means to defend ports, and the building of a fort on Telegraph Hill.

In addition, Napier suggested the construction of a prison, the erection of barracks to improve conditions for soldiers, and ways to prevent disease. The Lord High Commissioner Sir Frederick Adam later criticised Napier’s work, including his use of forced labour to build roads, and in 1830 he was removed from his post. Later in his career Napier was appointed commander of the British army in Sind in India, and following its conquest and annexation, he became governor of the area.

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