Marquis of Sligo, Lord Byron and the success of private press gangs

Whilst looking for a photo of the silver urn Lord Byron gave to Sir Walter Scott I came across the interesting story of Lord Sligo, his connection to Lord Byron and his private press-ganging activities.

Peter Howe Brown, 2nd Marquis of Sligo was born in 1788 and met Lord Byron at Harrow.  He inherited title in 1809 together with 130,000 acres in County Mayo as well as plantations in Jamaica.

marquess_sligo Marquis of Sligo

In 1810 he met Byron in Greece and the pair travelled together visiting the Oracle at Dephi.  On the recommendation of the poet Sligo met the Ali Pasha.  Byron had been openly welcomed by the Pasha and given gifts including a horse but he did write a letter about a time when the reception had not been quite so welcoming:

                                                                                                                                             Athens. October. 13 th . 1810

Sir, – I cannot address you without an apology the more especially as I write in the character of a complainant. – In travelling from the Morea to Athens, the Bey of Corinth for some time refused me a lodging, and this at a time when the inclemency of the weather made it an act not only of impoliteness, but of inhumanity. It was indeed one of those days when “an enemy’s dog” would have been sheltered. – The Greek Cogia Bachi was equally unwilling to order a house, and I at last with difficulty procured a miserable cottage. – As the last circumstance has happened twice to myself in the same place, and once to others, I have nothing left but to request your interference. – I know no circumstance of extenuation, as a word from the Bey or the Cogia Bachi, would have admitted me into any house in the village, where I had before (in the time of Vely Pacha) found much better accommodation. – I therefore do hope and venture to request that this “circumcised dog” may not pass (I cannot say unpunished) but unreprimanded . – I believe it to be the inclination, as I know it to be in the power of the British minister to protect the subjects of his Sovereign from Insult. – I conceive that brutality will not be countenanced even by the Turks, as we are taught that hospitality is a Barbarian’s virtue. – Your interference may be esteemed a favour not only to me but to all future travellers. – By land or sea we must pass the Isthmus in our excursions from Athens to the Morea, and you will be informed of the accuracy of my statement of the Bey’s conduct, by the Marquis of Sligo, who does me the honour to deliver this letter. – I again solicit your interposition, and have the honour to be, Sir, / your most obedient humble Servant / BYRON

Despite the apparent insult the Pasha granted permission for Sligo to excavate the tomb known as the Treasure of Atreus (Agamemnon’s alleged burial spot).  Initially, the work was to be carried out by Lord Elgin.  Like Elgin, Sligo ‘acquired’ stonework and other artifacts from Morea and the Green Islands from the tomb and had them despatched to his ship, the Pylades.   Lord Byron was not convinced that the transfer of the items back to England would be successful not least because the Sligo had “60 men who won’t work” because they were “sadly addicted to liquor”.

By summer 1811 Sligo was in Malta and trying to find a more suitable crew who would be better able to negotiate the stormy seas.  His solution was somewhat unusual … for the Marquis sent his servants to meet with Royal Navy crew and get them drunk.   Whilst out cold the men were taken back to the Pylades where they would be later bribed with higher wages and false papers.  By this private press-gang Sligo acquired possibly as many as eight new crewmen.  The ship was chased and boarded by the Royal Navy (remember this was the height of the war with Napoleon) but the deserters were not found but they were ashore on the small Greek Island of Patmos.  Probably fearing for the consequences of his actions one of the deserts went to the authorities and Sligo was arrested on Malta and sent back to London to stand trial on charges of enticing British seaman to desert.

The trial took place at the Old Bailey in December 1812  He was tried at the Old Bailey in December 1812.  The presiding judge was Sir William Scott (later 1st Baron Stowell) who found him guilty and sentenced the peer to four months in prison and a fine of £5,000.  Sligo’s widowed mother married the judge after her son’s release.

William scott Sir William Scott

Byron was upset when he heard the news saying that “The Marquis Sligo is in a great scrape about his kidnapping the seamen; I, who know him, do not think him so culpable as the Navy are determined to make him. He is a good man.”    Although Byron and Sligo made plans to travel together to Greece and Persia after he was released nothing came of it and Sligo was to settle down to his duties in County Mayo marrying, in 1816, Lady Hester de Burgh (eldest daughter of the 13th Earl of Clanricarde) – they were to have 14 children –  becoming Lord Lieutenant of the county, sitting in the Lords and setting  up a linen business.  Additionally he was appointed as Governor of Jamaica where his most important task was to ensure that the plantation owners followed the new laws relating to slavery.

(NOTE:  I did, eventually find an image of the urn (!) at http://www.scotiana.com/discover-sir-walter-scotts-memorabilia-collection-inside-abbotsford/)

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