During the Greek War of Independence (1821-1829), the 200th anniversary of which will be celebrated next year, an interesting incident took place in the Mediterranean Sea that resulted in the first recorded and permanent Greek arrivals to Australia. (There are stories of earlier arrivals, none of which can be verified.)
The Greek War of Independence, also known as The Greek Revolution, was a successful war waged by Greeks to win independence from the Ottoman Empire. After a long and bloody struggle, and with the aid of the ‘Great Powers’, independence was finally granted by the Treaty of Constantinople in July 1832. The Greeks were thus the first of the Ottoman Empire’s subject peoples to secure recognition as an independent sovereign power.
August 27th of this year marked the 191st anniversary of the first documented Greek arrivals to Australia. The first ever recorded Greek immigrants to Australia were seven convict sailors from Hydra, convicted of piracy by a British naval court in 1828 and sent to serve out their terms in New South Wales. They arrived in 1829 aboard the Norfolk.
According to historian and former Australian ambassador to Greece, Hugh Gilchrist, the seven sailors were crew members of the ship Herakles which, in July 1827, attacked the British brig Alceste. The freighter was sailing from Malta – then part of the British Empire – for Alexandria and was intercepted by the Greek vessel north of the Libyan coast. The crew stormed the Alceste and removed part of her cargo. Their loot included pepper, navigation and utility items, ropes and sulphur. Two days later, they were arrested by the British ship Gannet, patrolling south of Crete. Five months later the Greeks were put on trial in Malta, found guilty, with three of them sentenced to death, but then had their punishment commuted to transportation as were the others. The British authorities did not take kindly to piracy, and especially by Greeks, given the crucial role their navy had played in October 1827 at the Battle of Navarino Bay, where English, French and Russian ships had inflicted a heavy defeat on the Turkish and Egyptian fleets; a turning point in Greece’s War of Independence.
Between 1834 and 1836, the seven Greek convicts were pardoned. Transferred through the Hyde Park Barracks, they were free to return home. Five of them left Australia, paid for eventually by the Greek government, but two decided to stay. The two men who remained in Australia were Ghikas Voulgaris and Antonios Manolis. Ghikas, known as Jigger, Bulgari married a local woman, and they had several children. They lived on the Monaro Plains in southern New South Wales. Manolis made a family with an Irish woman and became a farmer in Picton, near Sydney, where he is buried. His grave in Picton can still be seen today (see image of headstone below). Manolis was naturalised in 1854. It is also believed that Manolis used his viticulture skills while assigned to the MacArthur’s, and was probably one of the Greeks that Surveyor-General Thomas Mitchell saw in the family’s ‘Elizabeth Farm’ garden at Camden in November 1831: “At work in that garden of the antipodes, training the vines to trellices made after the fashion of those in the Peloponnesus”.
It is worth noting here that the first known free Greek migrant to Australia was Katerina Georgia Plessos (1809–1907), who arrived in Sydney with her husband Major James Crummer in 1835.
By Dr John N Yiannakis OAM
H. Gilchrist, Australian and Greeks, Vol. 1: The Early Years, Halstead Press, Sydney, 1992.