How the murder of an Old Etonian fractured Anglo-Greek relations

Abominable Eton

On 25 October 1851, 13 year old Edward Henry Charles Herbert wrote to tell his mother of a fair in Windsor. Visiting the fair would be an excellent opportunity to escape Eton, a place he refers to as an ‘abominable hovel of a hole’.

However, he is hesitant.

Masters and 6th formers are deployed to catch any free roaming Lower Boys in search of festivities. If caught by a Master he would be flogged and turned down a form, simply ‘a great bore’ in Herbert’s books. Worse still, a 6th former would inflict lines of Virgil on him.

Weighing up the odds, it’s a risk he’s willing to take.

From his letters it is easy to imagine Herbert as the epitome of a Victorian teenager. His main grievances: having ‘drunk not beer nor wine’ and having eaten neither ‘apple tart nor clotted cream, nor any second course at dinner’. Consequently he states ‘I detest Eton, I abominate it.’

Despite the difficulties Herbert felt in these early days, he did well at Eton. At one point he worked so hard to impress his Master and Tutor that he tried to ignore a fever. He soon settled in, winning a series of prizes, he progressed well through the school and received a scholarship to Oxford.

Letter addressed by Edward Herbert to his father, c.1851

Letter addressed by Edward Herbert to his father, c.1851. (ED/354)

This series of letters, written by Herbert in the early 1850s, provides an interesting first-hand account of life at Eton during the mid-Victorian era. As a stark contrast, the Eton archive also holds the newspaper reports from his untimely death. His struggles at Eton were nothing compared to what was to come.

Held To Ransom

On Monday 11 April 1870, Herbert joined a group of seven other tourists on a day trip to the site of the Battle of Marathon.

As they travelled through the mountains, they were ambushed by a band of brigands, who demanded one million drachma and amnesty for their safe release.

A Brutal Murder

The captives were not treated poorly. Another Old Etonian, Frederick Grantham Vyner, reportedly ran races and tossed boulders with his captors.

However, the Greek government refused to grant amnesty to the captors. Instead they planned a siege. The group were located and surrounded and in the confusion and panic, one by one Edward Herbert and his companions were shot dead.

Not long afterwards the brigands were themselves captured. The Greek government made an example of them, executing them and putting their heads on public display.

Herbert’s body returned to his ancestral home of Highclere Castle and was laid to rest by the friends and family who were so often mentioned in his letters.

International Tension

The incident was to be known as the Dilessi Massacre. It shook the country and was widely reported across Europe. Emotional speeches were made in Parliament by friends and relatives of the victims, who all spoke out against the Greek government and their ill-planned rescue.

These sentiments were felt across the country and even by Queen Victoria. The episode severely tested the relationship between Britain and the young Greek state, whose independence Britain had helped to attain.

Heads of Greek Bandits

The heads of the seven bandits of the Dilessi Massacre, as publicly displayed. From a scrapbook (ED/354/57-58).

 

By Georgina Robinson, Archives Assistant

The origins of the Field Game

eton_rules
The first written rules for the game, from the Keepers’ Book, 1847

At Eton, boys were largely left to their own devices when it came to sport, deciding for themselves what games they would play and the rules of those games. These are the first written rules for the Field Game, one of two versions of football developed here. They are from the book kept by the Keeper of the Field, beginning in 1847.

These rules include the size of the goal “the goal sticks are to be seven feet out of the ground…the space between each goal stick is to be eleven feet.” They describe a rouge, the bully, how points can be scored, and other rules of play such as “No crawling on the hands and knees with the ball between the legs is allowed.”

The game was incredibly popular, being preferred to association football because, as one boy wrote, “our Eton game is one of our most cherished institutions…also there is the very important question of slackness and loafing, for anybody who did not want to run about energetically could simply give the ball an enormous kick and call it a pass.” Indeed, there was no separate Association team at Eton until 1930, almost 70 years after the game was founded.

Apart from Eton blue, the Field Game was the first sport or society to get official colours, with the red and blue design dating from 1860. More information on school colours can be found in the current display in the Museum of Eton Life.

By Eleanor Hoare, College Archivist

Taking a cold shower

psychrolutes
Image from the Book of the Society of Psychrolutes

In 1828, a new society was founded in Cambridge, dedicated to swimming. Called the Society of Psychrolutes, the qualification for membership was the practice of bathing outdoors between November and March. In 1832, the Eton Royal Philolutic Society was established, for the lovers of bathing in general, with William Evans (of Evans’ house fame) as a leading light. In 1833, they merged to form the Eton Philopsychrolutic Society.

Winter bathing was a recommended treatment for strengthening the body, and the supposed improvements it would bring can be seen in this illustration from the book of the Psychrolutes in which the rivers, lochs and glacial lakes that they had bathed in that year were listed. In addition, it would keep impure thoughts away – the Victorian equivalent of “take a cold shower”.

The Philolutes were supported by Dr Hawtrey, Head Master, who authorised them to do anything that would promote ‘the safe and efficient practice of Philolutism’. Evans worked to regularise the teaching of swimming at Eton and to ensure that no boy went on the river until he could swim. It was therefore this Society, and especially Evans, who placed swimming and boating on an organised footing at Eton, saving many lives in the process.

By Eleanor Hoare, College Archivist

Mad scientist

science-notebookRecently digitised for the archives are two superbly illustrated notebooks kept by Guy Speir (HEL, 1893) of his science lessons with Dr Thomas Porter. These are a rare example of class work, and it is wonderful to see the imaginative drawings which Speir has added afterwards.

Thomas Porter taught science at Eton from 1885 until 1930. Science was a relatively new addition to the curriculum at the time, and Porter was one of the first specialists to be appointed. He campaigned during his time for improved facilities and to enhance the status of the separate sciences. He was also the founder of the Photographic Society, and his work in this area helped develop 3D film cinematography. He had his own room to carry out experiments in, and it was reported among boys that he had even raised a dead cat to life with a galvanic battery. The college was lucky to have such a dedicated teacher and brilliant scientist, who even has a law named after him – the Ferry-Porter law.

These notebooks give a glimpse into the style of teaching employed in the 1890s, which was very much dictation and note taking. Little notes and comments by Porter show an informal side to the image of a Victorian schoolmaster. They are a fantastic survival, and one we are very pleased to have in the collections.

By Eleanor Hoare, College Archivist

Chintz cloth bindings

Victorian chintz publisher’s bindings are quite a rare find because they were (some may say – thankfully) a very short-lived fashion. One of the few examples, and possibly the most famous, written about in this interesting piece by the V&A here, is the deluxe version of Beatrix Potter’s The tale of Squirrel Nutkins for which she chose ‘a flowered lavender chintz’ to make it special enough to warrant the extra cost.

I came across this three volume set of Mrs. Parr’s Adam and Eve (Richard Bentley and Son, 1880) in their original blue, green, and cerise chintz publisher bindings, still in a very bright condition. They were bound by Best & Co. with floral decorated endpapers, lettering stamped in gold at the foot of the spine, and paper title labels machine sewn onto the head of the spine.

The paper labels have ripped and cracked as one might expect. That, along with the floral cloth, means these bindings have a homely quality about them. This may be why Bentley published only two other works in chintz cloth, both of them by another female author, Rhoda Broughton, whose supposedly sensationalist novels may have been deemed appealing to women readers. Also, Parr’s Adam and Eve is not, as it may sound, a dry religious essay, it is a novel concerned with the story of a West Country smuggler called Adam and his London cousin, Eve. Other works of Mrs. Parr, as well as those of Rhoda Broughton, tackle issues of female oppression.

According to the anonymous bookseller’s description that was tipped-in to Adam and Eve, Michael Sadleir conjectured that this sort of binding was abandoned after pressure from the circulating libraries and copies of these books were rejected for inclusion in their stock. However, it is possible that it was the content, especially that of Rhoda Broughton, that they objected to.

By Louise Anderson, @LibrarianLCA