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

The Ionian Islands and the Great Exhibition

Papanicolas' letter to the editor of the Daily NewsPapanicolas' letter to the editor of the Daily NewsOn 12 February 1851 Georgios Drakatos Papanicolas, an Ionian merchant residing in London, wrote to the commissioners of the Great Exhibition in London, drawing their attention to the omission of the Ionian Islands from the forthcoming display ‘of the works of industry of all nations’.

Upon receiving a reply from the exhibition organisers that all space had been allotted, Papanicolas wrote a letter to the Daily News, published here in the appendix to a pamphlet. He launches a scathing attack on the Lord High Commissioner of the Islands, Sir Henry Ward, and his ‘contemptuous indifference to her interests, or ignorance of her value’.

Papanicolas declares:

We are, it would seem, governed and taxed only to keep up English regiments, and pay enormous salaries to statesmen who may find it convenient or healthful to seek retirement. … The Ionian people knew nothing of the world’s great wonder, and the vast benefits opened by it to all the world’s industry, simply because, being under British protection, the Proconsul, who rules them, thought them beyond notice amongst the nations of the earth!

Due to furore caused by Papanicolas, a small area was allocated to the Ionian Islands in the ‘colonies and dependencies’ section of the exhibition. The executive committee asked him to collect articles for display that served ‘as specimens, to a very trifling extent, of the products, skill, and industry of the Ionians.’

Items exhibited from Corfu included a Greek dress and cap, silver and gold jewellery, aprons of both muslin and crochet-work, olive oil and a wooden lamp of olive-tree wood. Manufacture from Zante included silk scarves and handkerchiefs. Produce from Cephalonia included currants, a specimen of stone and a book-weight, while other items on display included a cambric handkerchief of Cephalonian manufacture embroidered with gold from Santa Maura, and a richly embroidered velvet bag from the same island.

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