King's College London
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West of Suez: Britain and the Mediterranean, 1704-1967

Britain's new colony

Map of routes to Cyprus with accompanying textA map of routes to CyprusBetween 13 June and 13 July 1878 Germany hosted the Congress of Berlin, a meeting of the principal powers of Europe. One of its main items of business was the situation in the Balkans following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-8.   

On 7 July delegates were informed that Great Britain and the Ottoman Empire, at a conference a month earlier in Constantinople, had agreed a defensive alliance that guaranteed British aid to the latter in the event of Russian incursions into Anatolia. In return, Great Britain had been awarded the administration of Cyprus, together with the right to garrison the island.

Reaction at home was generally favourable though some naval experts were hesitant about the real worth of the island.  And by the end of July, FH Fisher, a former member of the Bengal Civil Service, had completed a 128-page guide to Cyprus.

The guide begins with advice on how to get to the island from Great Britain. All the routes suggested follow the first stages of the much longer journey to India by way of the Suez Canal, but Fisher's own preference was to take the train from Calais to Paris and from there to Turin and Genoa via the recently completed Mont Cenis tunnel.

The author was able to look forward, with optimism, to the British High Commissioner's likely reception: ‘We think we may say to Sir Garnet Wolseley, as Othello did to his bride, “You shall be well-desired in Cyprus.”’

In the event, when on 22 July 1879 Wolseley reached Larnaca, he was received civilly by representatives of the Greek community. But it was said that the local ethnarch pointedly recalled the 1864 union of the Ionian Islands with the kingdom of Greece, foreshadowing the demand for enosis that was to colour British-Greek Cypriot relations for the following 80 years.

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