Sir John Moore & the King of Sweden for Britannia Magazine.

This is a post I have written for the new Facebook Page, Britannia Magazine, so far; I, Amarpal Sidhu, Mark Simner, Nick Britten, Manimugdha Sharma and Andrea Zuvich besides others will be contributing original material to bring you the history of the British Empire from 1600 to the end of the Cold War.

My first post deals with how the Peninsular War nearly started in Scandinavia in 1808, but was averted by a clash between Sir John Moore and the Ming of Sweden.


The Island Rose.


Last year I was suddenly and briefly transfixed by the story of Princess Kaiulani and the short lived Hawaiian monarchy. At this point I am not prepared to give any meaningful account of the fall of the last Queen of the island kingdom, nor the life of her niece the crown princess, except to say it was a great shame that the kingdom did not continue and that it was not returned after Annexation. Perhaps the tale is the more poignant because unlike other peoples of the Americas and Pacific, the Hawaiians had successfully begun to meld a constitutional monarchy with a tribal society. Making the best of a bad, situation instead of resisting the inexorable advance of European and American interference the leaders of Hawaii from Kamehameha the Great actively sought to maintain their independence by integration of indigenous and foreign culture. Utilising concepts from both worlds. The Kingdom of Hawaii therefore was no kind of “inferior” race that the “civilised” world needed to take in hand. If this model had been allowed to flourish who knows what might have happened, but instead the greed of big business and America’s brief flirtation with imperial ambition swallowed it.

Poppies”, landscape of the Scottish countryside, oil on canvas by Victoria Ka’iulani Cleghorn, (father’s name) 1890. A letter written to her Father from Great Harrowden Hall, near Wellingborough, indicates that she painted this for her ‘Auntie Liliu’, Princess Liliuokalani.

During the all too brief golden age of the Kingdom, presided over a court full of diversity and mixed traditions. They entertained heads of state and patronised artists, offering a sanctuary for the perpetually ailing Robert Louis Stevenson who befriended the father of the Crown Princess, Victoria Kaiulani (Cleghorn). In the spirit of the age, & in keeping with the role the Hawaiian monarchy wished to play in it, the princess was to be sent abroad, to Britain for a formal education. Before she left her friend Stevenson penned a small farewell poem in her autograph book.

Scottish Landscape, oil on canvas painting by Princess Victoria Kaiulani, c. 1891, Bishop Museum.

“Written in April to Kaiulani in the April of her age; and at Waikiki, within easy walk of Kaiulani’s banyan! When she comes to my land and her father’s, and the rain beats upon the window (as I fear it will), let her look at this page; it will be like a weed gathered and pressed at home; and she will remember her own islands, and the shadow of the mighty tree; and she will hear the peacocks screaming in the dusk and the wind blowing in the palms; and she will think of her father sitting there alone. – R. L. S.”


Forth from her land to mine she goes,
The island maid, the island rose,
Light of heart and bright of face:
The daughter of a double race.

Her islands here, in Southern sun,
Shall mourn their Kaiulani gone,
And I, in her dear banyan shade,
Look vainly for my little maid.

But our Scots islands far away
Shall glitter with unwonted day,
And cast for once their tempests by
To smile in Kaiulani’s eye.”

In 1894, Stevenson died, but though saddened, Kaiulani’s world had already fallen apart. The year before a perfunctory telegram had announced flatly that the monarchy had been abrogated. The same year that Stevenson passed away the Republic of Hawaii was created, a step that lead to American annexation in 1898. The princess died in 1899 of inflammatory rheumatism, in Hawaii, brought on by a bout of pneumonia contracted the year before. Her legacy is one of romantic tragedy & idealism, she was the hope of her people, strong & couragous in many ways but indeed also as her old Scottish friend alluded in his touching little poem, as fragile & delicate as an Island Rose.



Al Valore. The Sardinian Medal.

In 1856 Victtorio Emanuelle II authorised a special medal to honour 450 men of the British army and Navy (400 going to the former). Similar to the Military Medal of Valour instituted in 1833, the sky blue ribbon suspended a shining silver disc engraved with the name of the recipient and the corps in which they served surrounded by a palm and laurel wreath with the words “Spedizione D’Oriente” written around the edge and the date 1855-1856 at the bottom. On the back was the royal arms of Sardinia surrounded by laurel and palm with the words “Al Valore Militare” inscribed.

Sardinian Medal for Valour awarded to John Sheppard, VC. HMS St Jean d'Arc.
Sardinian Medal for Valour awarded to John Sheppard, VC. HMS St Jean d’Arc.i

Sardinia entered the Crimean war in 1855, politically Vittorio Emanuelle hoped to strengthen his links with France by helping Napoleon III defeat the Russians. The disciplined lines of dark uniformed infantry and cavalry arrived in the Crimea and made a great impression on the British when they paraded under General Màrmora. The elite Bersiglieri with their feathered helmets, rapid March and high spirited bugle playing were particularly noted, and one British officer observed that because the Sardinians and the British had never quarrelled before, unlike in the case of the French, when they cheered each other it was always wholeheartedly.

Sardinian Medal for Valour awarded to Gunner John Bull, Royal Marine Artillery. Held in the Royal Maritime Museum Greenwich
Sardinian Medal for Valour awarded to Gunner John Bull, Royal Marine Artillery. Held in the Royal Maritime Museum Greenwich. Royal Maritime Museum Greenwich.

The 18,000 Sardinians arrived in time to join the French in the often overlooked Battle of the Chernaya, in which 9,000 participated. Overall 2,050 Sardinians died of wounds and disease during their deployment. After the war the allies sent out medals to each other, in order to strengthen their diplomatic ties. Sardinia’s is not only one of the most attractive, but also highly collectable due to the fact they are personalised. A fine example of how, even the smaller allied nations recognised the courage of the others.

Sardinian War Medal awarded to Private John Fahey, 3rd (The East Kent) Regiment of Foot (The Buffs), 1856. National Army Museum.
Sardinian War Medal awarded to Private John Fahey, 3rd (The East Kent) Regiment of Foot (The Buffs), 1856. National Army Museum.


Italian Memories.

Elizabeth Butler’s autobiography is a wonderful book. One of the things I found interesting was her recollection of Italy as a young girl. I hope you enjoy it too.

“The war against Austria had been won. Magenta, Solferino, Montebello—dear me, how those names resounded! One day as we were running along the road in our pinafores near the Zerbino palace, above Genoa, along came Victor Emmanuel in an open carriage looking very red and blotchy in the heat, with big, ungloved hands, one of which he raised to his hat in saluting us little imps who were shouting “Long live the King of Italy!” in English with all our might. We were only a little previous (!) Then the next year came the Garibaldi enthusiasm, and we, like all the children about us, became highly exalted Garibaldians. I saw the Liberator the day before he sailed from Quarto for his historical landing in Sicily, at the Villa Spinola, in the grounds of which we were, on a visit at the English consul’s. He was sitting in a little arbour overlooking the sea, talking to the gardener. In the following autumn, when his fame had increased a thousandfold, I made a pen and ink memory sketch of him which my father told me to keep for future times. I vividly remember, though at the time not able to understand the extraordinary meaning of the words, hearing one of Garibaldi’s adoring comrades (one Colonel Vecchii) a year or two later exclaim to my father, with hands raised to heaven, “Garibaldi!! C’est le Christ le revolver à la main!”
Our life at old Albaro was resumed, and I recall the pleasant English colony at Genoa in those days, headed by the very popular consul, “Monty” Brown, and the nice Church of England chaplain, the Rev. Alfred Strettell. Ah! those primitive picnics on Porto Fino, when Mr. Strettell and our father used to read aloud to the little company, including our precocious selves, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Keats, Tennyson, under the vines and olives, between whose branches, far below the cultivated terraces which we chose for our repose, appeared the deep blue waters of the Sea of seas. My early sketch books are full of incidents in Genoese peasant life: carnival revels in the streets, so suited to the child’s idea of fun; charges of Garibaldian cavalry on discomfited Neapolitan troops (the despised Borbonici), and waving of tricolours by bellicose patriots.”

Excerpt from an “An Autobiography.” Elizabeth Butler. Available on Archive.

These must have been exciting times. I wish I could find that sketch of Garibaldi.

Thanks to Materialismo Sacro for translating this post into Italian!


Captain Kendrick’s Underwear.

Painting by Gordon Miller

This is a story of adventure, massacre, honour and revenge and it all started because of some underwear. There are many non-wars with odd names, such as the Pig War, and perhaps if this non-war could have been called anything other than the Underpant War, perhaps this would have joined the list. It is the story of two ultimately flawed men, victims of their times and cultures, set in a mysterious beautiful and dangerous land, and it was all started because someone hung the washing out to dry. Read on and I’ll tell you about it. Continue reading “Captain Kendrick’s Underwear.”