King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
‘A brighter Hellas’: rediscovering Greece in the 19th century

Sir Thomas Maitland

Detail from address, in manuscriptAddress of Sir Thomas Maitland to the Ionian Legislative Assembly, 1821In1815 the Scottish army officer Thomas Maitland (1760-1824) was appointed the first Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands. At the request of the British government Maitland drafted a constitution which was introduced in 1817 and gave his role of high commissioner significant powers. Maitland improved administration and built new roads and lighthouses.

Several reforms, however, including a new system of taxation, met with disapproval from the Ionians who viewed him as an oppressor. Maitland was certainly not a philhellene, and during the Greek War of Independence he upheld the British government’s policy of Ionian neutrality, which proved unpopular with Ionian Greeks who were sympathetic to the cause.

The bound volume on display contains a number of Maitland’s speeches to the Ionian Legislative Assembly from 1820 to 1823, and includes an address of 1821 in manuscript form. In the opening shown, Maitland refers to the earthquake in Zante on 29 December 1820. He rather coldly remarks:

… it is some satisfaction to me to think that the loss of lives has been comparatively small… I hope it may be permitted [for] me to say, that I trust this awful visitation may prove a useful lesson to those misguided individuals, now suffering under a calamity which human wisdom could not avert, never in future, (as they have done both at Santa Maura and at Zante) wantonly and to their own injury to throw away those eminent blessings within their reach, - and again attempt a repetition of those acts of illegal violence and rebellion which can only prove destruction to the best interests of their country and of themselves individually.

Image: Extract from Address of His Excellency Sir Thomas Maitland to the Ionian Legislative Assembly [manuscript], 1821 [Foyle Special Collections Library: FCDO Historical Collection DF901.I65 ION]. Reproduced under the terms of the Open Government Licence

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