George Arbuthnot.

Herzegovina Or, Omer Pacha and the Christian Rebels online

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Nor has nature been less bountiful than man to this most favoured spot.
The description given by Adams conveys a very accurate impression of the
character of the surrounding country. 'The soil is dry and fertile, the
air pure and wholesome, and, though extremely hot during the summer
months, the country seldom feels those sultry and noxious winds to which
the coasts of Istria and some parts of Italy are exposed. The views from
the palace are no less beautiful than the soil and climate are inviting.
Towards the W. lies the fertile shore that stretches along the Adriatic,
in which a number of small islands are scattered in such a manner as to
give this part of the sea the appearance of a great lake. On the N. side
lies the bay, which led to the ancient city of Salona, and the country
beyond it appearing in sight forms a proper contrast to that more
extensive prospect of water, which the Adriatic presents both to the S.
and the E. Towards the N. the view is terminated by high and irregular
mountains situated at a proper distance, and in many places covered with
villages, woods, and vineyards.'[B] Like most other relics of antiquity,
the time-honoured walls of Spalatro have been witnesses of those varied
emotions to which the human heart is subject. Thither Glycerius the
prelate retired, when driven by Julius Nepos from the imperial throne.
There, too, in a spirit of true Christian charity, he heaped coals of
fire on the head of his enemy, by affording him a sanctuary when
dethroned in his turn by Orestes, the father of Augustulus. Again, a
little while, and within the same walls, where he had deemed himself
secure, Julius Nepos fell a victim to the assassin's knife, and
subsequently we find the houseless Salonites sheltering themselves
within its subterraneous passages, when driven from their homes by the
fury of the invading Avars. The memory of all these is passed away, but
the stones still remain an undying testimony of a happy king.

Having passed some hours in the town and palace, I adjourned to one of
the few small _cafés_ in the principal street. While sipping my
chocolate, I was accosted by an elderly priest, who most civilly
enquired whether he could help me in any way during my stay at
Spalatro. He proved to be a person of much intelligence, and,
notwithstanding that his knowledge of English extended only to a few
conversational words, he had read Sir Gardner Wilkinson's work on
Dalmatia, and, as his remarks showed, not without profiting thereby. At
4.30 the same afternoon we arrived at Lissa, the military port of
Austria in this part of the Adriatic. It is interesting to English
travellers, its waters having been the scene of a naval action in which
an English squadron, commanded by Captain Hoste, defeated a French
squadron carrying nearly double as many guns. During the great war the
island belonged to England, and indeed a portion of it is called to this
day the Cittá Inglese. It at one time acquired a certain importance in a
mercantile point of view, sardines being the staple article of commerce.

The same night we touched at Curzola, and at 4 A.M. on
September 3 anchored at Gravosa, the port of debarcation for Ragusa.
Taking leave of my friends on board, I landed at about 5 A.M.,
and, having committed my luggage, a small bullock trunk, saddle-bags,
and a saddle, to the shoulders of a sturdy facchino, and myself to a
very rickety and diminutive cart, I proceeded on my way to Ragusa. The
drive, about a mile and a half in distance, abounds with pretty views,
while the town of Ragusa itself is as picturesque in its interior
detail as it is interesting from its early history. The grass-grown
streets, the half-ruined palaces, and the _far niente_ manners of the
people, give little indication of the high position which the Republic
once achieved. Yet, despite all these emblems of decay, there are no
signs of abject poverty, but rather a spirit of frugal contentment is
everywhere apparent.

Arriving at an hour when, in the more fastidious capitals of Europe,
housemaids and milkmen hold undisputed sway, I found groups of the
wealthier citizens collected under the trees which surround the café,
making their morning meal, and discussing the local news the while.
Later in the day ices and beer were in great demand, and in the evening
the beauty and fashion of Ragusa congregated to hear the beautiful band
of the regiment 'Marmola.' The hotel, if it deserve the name, is scarce
fifty yards distant; it possesses a _cuisine_ which contrasts favourably
with the accommodation which the house affords.

The _table d'hôte_ dinner is served in a kind of vaulted kitchen, the
walls of which are hung round with scenes illustrative of the Italian
campaign. The series, which comprises desperate cavalry charges, death
wounds of general officers, and infantry advancing amidst perfect
bouquets of shot and shell, closes appropriately with the pacific
meeting of the two Emperors at Villafranca.

Here, then, I proposed to take up my quarters, making it the
starting-point for expeditions to the Val d'Ombla, the beautiful Bocche
di Cattaro, and Cettigne, the capital of Montenegro; but it was destined
otherwise, and night found me on board a country fishing-boat, the
bearer of despatches to Omer Pacha at Mostar, or wherever he might
happen to be.

[Footnote A: Gibbon, chap. xiii.]

[Footnote B: Adams' 'Ruins of Spalatro,' p. 6.]


Military Road to Metcovich - Country Boat - Stagno - Port of
Klek - Disputed Frontier - Narentine Pirates - Valley of the
Narenta - Trading Vessels - Turkish Frontier - Facilities for Trade
granted by Austria - Narenta - Fort Opus - Hungarian
Corporal - Metcovich - Irish Adventurer - Gabella - Pogitel - Dalmatian
Engineer - Telegraphic Communication - Arrival at Mostar - Omer
Pacha - Object of Campaign.

The change in my plans, and my precipitate departure from Ragusa, were
the results of information which I there received. From M. Persich, the
Ottoman Consul, whom I take this opportunity of thanking for his
courtesy and kindness, I learned that the Turkish Generalissimo might be
expected to leave Mostar for the frontier at any moment, and that the
disturbed state of the country would render it perilous, if not
impossible, to follow him thither. This determined me to push on at
once, postponing my visit to Montenegro to a more fitting season. To
make some necessary purchases, and to engage a servant, was the work of
a few hours, and, being supplied by the Captano of the Circolo with the
necessary visés and letters of recommendation to the subordinate
officials through whose districts I should have to pass, it only
remained to decide upon the mode of travelling which I should adopt,
and to secure the requisite conveyance. My first point was Metcovich, a
small town on the right bank of the Narenta, and close to the frontier
lines of Dalmatia and Herzegovina. Three modes of performing the journey
were reported practicable, - viz. on horseback, by water, or by carriage.
The first of these I at once discarded, as both slow and tedious; the
choice consequently lay between the remaining two methods: with regard
to economy of time I decided upon the latter. But here a difficulty
arose. The man who possessed a monopoly of carriages, for some reason
best known to himself, demurred at my proceeding, declaring the road to
be impassable. He farther brought a Turkish courier to back his
statement, who at any rate deserved credit, on the
tell-a-good-one-and-stick-to-it principle, for his hard swearing. I
subsequently ascertained that it was untrue; and had I known a little
more of the country, I should not have been so easily deterred, seeing
that the road in question is by far the best which exists in that part
of Europe. It was constructed by the French during their occupation of
Dalmatia in the time of Napoleon, and has been since kept in good order
by the Austrian government. Being thus thwarted in my plans, I made a
virtue of necessity, engaged a country boat, and got under weigh on the
evening of the day on which I had landed at Gravosa. The night was
clear and starry; and as my boat glided along before a light breeze
under the romantic cliffs of the Dalmatian coast, I ceased to regret the
jolting which I should have experienced had I carried out my first
intention. Running along the shore for some ten hours in a
north-westerly direction, we reached Stagno, a town of small importance,
situated at the neck of a tongue of land in the district of Slano, and
which connects the promontory of Sabioncello with the mainland; ten
minutes' walk across the isthmus brought us again to the sea. The
luggage deposited in a boat of somewhat smaller dimensions, and better
adapted for river navigation, we once more proceeded on our journey.

A little to the north of Stagno is the entrance to the port of Klek, a
striking instance of right constituted by might. The port, which, from
its entrance, belongs indisputably to Turkey, together with the land on
the southern side, is closed by Austria, in violation of every principle
of national law and justice.

Previous to 1852, many small vessels used to enter it for trading
purposes, and it was not until Omer Pacha in that year attempted to
establish it as an open port that Austria interfered, and stationed a
war-steamer at its mouth.

In 1860 the restriction was so far removed that Turkish vessels have
since been allowed to enter with provisions for the troops.

To the isolated condition of these provinces, coupled with the ignorance
which prevails at Constantinople relative to the affairs of the
interior, must be attributed the indifference which the Porte has as yet
manifested regarding the preservation of its just rights. The importance
to be attached to the possession by Turkey of an open port upon the
coast cannot be overrated, since through it she would receive her
imports direct from the producing countries, while her own products
could be exported without being subjected to the rules and caprices of a
foreign state. Nor are the Turkish officials in these quarters at all
blind to the injury that accrues to Turkey, from the line of policy
which Austria is now pursuing; but while they see and deplore the
mildness with which their government permits its rights to be thus
violated, they neglect to take any steps which might induce it to appeal
to the arbitration of Europe. Were this done, there could be little
doubt of the result; for, since the land on one side of the harbour,
without question, belongs to Turkey, it would appear only just that she
should have control over the half of the channel. But even were this to
be accorded (which is most improbable, since it would prove dangerous to
the trade of Trieste), the point at issue would still be far from
settled. Any concessions will be unavailing so long as the present line
of demarcation between the two countries shall exist; for while Turkey
draws the line of limit from a point near the entrance of the harbour to
the village of Dobrogna, Austria maintains the boundary to run from that
village to a point farther within the port, by which arrangement she
includes a small bluff or headland, which commands the entire harbour.
She asserts her right to this frontier, upon the grounds of its having
been the line drawn by the French during their occupation of Dalmatia.
The Turks deny the truth of this, and state that the lines occupied by
the French can still be traced from the remains of huts built for the
protection of their sentries. Moreover, since the Austrians have also
stated that the French, when in Dalmatia, did not respect the rights of
the Sultan, but occupied Suttorina and Klek, the argument that they
assume the frontier left them by the French is hardly entitled to much
consideration. That Austria is very unlikely to open Klek of her own
free will, I have already said; nor can she be blamed for the
determination, since she must be well aware that, in the event of her
doing so, English goods at a moderate price would find a far readier
market than her own high-priced and indifferent manufactures. In a word,
she would lose the monopoly of trade which she at present possesses in
these provinces. But, on the other hand, were Turkey animated by a
spirit of reprisal, she might throw such obstacles in the path of her
more powerful neighbour as would almost compel her to abandon the system
of ultra-protection.

The military road from Cattaro to Ragusa and Spalatro encroaches upon
Turkish territory, and the telegraphic wire which connects Cattaro with
Trieste passes over both Suttorina and Klek. The Austrian government
would find it very inconvenient were the Porte to dispute the right of
passage at these points. Should Turkey ever be in a position to force
the adoption of the frontier, as defined by herself, the value of Klek
in a military point of view will be immeasurably increased; for, while
the port itself would be protected by her guns, the approach to it is
perfectly secure, although flanked on either side by Austrian territory.
The waters of the harbour open out into the bay of Sabioncello from
seven to eight miles in width, so that a vessel in mid-channel might run
the gauntlet with impunity.

Towards evening we entered the Narenta, the principal river of Dalmatia
and Herzegovina, by one of the numerous mouths which combine to form its
delta. Its ancient name was the 'Naro,' and it is also called by
Constantine Porphyrogenitus 'Orontium.' Later it acquired an unenviable
notoriety, as being the haunt of the 'Narentine Pirates,' who issued
thence to make forays upon the coast, and plundered or levied tribute on
the trading vessels of the Adriatic. At one time they became so powerful
as to be able to carry on a regular system of warfare, and even gain
victories over the Venetian Republic, and it was not till 997
A.D. that they were reduced to submission by the Doge Pietro
Orseolo II., and compelled to desist from piracy.

The valley of the Narenta is but thinly populated, a circumstance easily
accounted for by the noxious vapours which exhale from the alluvial and
reed-covered banks of the stream.

The lowlands, moreover, which lie around the river's bed are subject to
frequent and rapid inundations. Excepting one party of villagers, who
appeared to be making merry around a large fire close to the bank, I saw
no signs of human habitation.

The croaking of many frogs, and the whirr of the wild fowl, as they rose
from their marshy bed at our approach, were the only signs of life to be
perceived, though higher up we met a few rowing boats, and one of the
small coasting vessels used for the transport of merchandise. These
boats are generally from twenty to thirty tons burden, and are employed
for the conveyance of ordinary goods from Trieste, whence the imports of
Dalmatia, Bosnia, and the Herzegovina are for the most part derived.
Their rates of freight are light, averaging from 10_d._ to 1_s._ per
cwt., chargeable on the bulk. The more valuable or fragile articles are
brought to Macarsca, a port on the Dalmatian coast, near the mouth of
the Narenta, in steamers belonging to the Austrian Lloyd's Company,
whence they are despatched by boat to Metcovich. The expense attendant
on this route prevents its being universally adopted. Insurance can be
effected as far as Metcovich at 1_s._ 4_d._ to 3_s._ 4_d._ per cwt. on
the value declared, according to the season of the year.

Metcovich may be regarded as the _Ultima Thulé_ of civilisation in this
direction. Once across the frontier, and one may take leave of all one's
preconceived ideas regarding prosperity or comfort. Everything appears
at a standstill, whether it be river navigation or traffic on the land.
The apathy of the Turkish government presents a striking contrast to the
policy of Austria, who clearly sees the value to be attached to the
trade of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and who, while throwing every obstacle
in the way of competition, evinces unwonted energy to secure the
monopoly which she now possesses. During the past few years she has
granted many facilities for the growth of commercial relations between
Herzegovina and her own provinces. Thus, for instance, the transit dues
on the majority of imports and exports have been removed, a few articles
only paying a nominal duty on passing into Turkey. Wool, skins, hides,
wax, honey, fruits, and vegetables, are allowed into Dalmatia free of
duty. A grant of 1,200,000 florins has, moreover, been recently made
for the regulation of the channel of the Narenta, with the view of
rendering it navigable by small steamers, which will doubtless prove a
most profitable outlay. It is to be hoped that the Turkish government
will take steps to continue the line to Mostar, which is quite
practicable, and could be effected at a small expense.

The Narenta takes its rise at the foot of the small hill called Bolai, a
spur of the Velesh range of mountains. Its route is very circuitous, the
entire distance from the source to its mouth being about one hundred and
thirty miles, while its average width is computed at about one hundred
and forty yards. It is subject to rapid rises between the months of
September and May, caused by rains in the mountains and the melting
snow, and a rise of twelve feet in three or four hours is by no means
uncommon. As a source of communication it might be invaluable to the
province, but in its present state it is perfectly useless, since the
hardness of its waters renders it unfit for irrigation. It has many
tributary streams, amongst the most important of which are the Boona,
Bregava, Rama, Radopolie, Trebitza, and Cruppa.

On its right bank, and some miles above the mouth, is a small town,
which rejoices in the imposing name of Fort Opus, albeit it possesses
neither walls, fortifications, nor other means of defence. As the night
was already far advanced when we arrived, I resolved to stay there a
few hours before continuing the row to Metcovich, which I should
otherwise have reached before daylight, and have been compelled to lie
off the town during the damp hours of morning. Neither sentry nor health
officer appeared to interdict our landing; and having found a miserable
outhouse, which served as a cabaret, I was preparing to snatch a few
hours' sleep as best I might, when an Hungarian corporal, employed in
the finance department, came to the rescue, and undertook to find me a
bed. Of its quality I will abstain from speaking; but such as it was, it
was freely given, and it took much persuasion to induce the honest
fellow to accept any remuneration. His post can hardly be a pleasant
one, for malaria and fever cause such mortality, that the station is
regarded much in the same light as is the gold coast of Africa by our
own government servants. As a set-off against these disadvantages, my
friend was in receipt of 2_d._ per day additional pay. May he pass
unscathed through the ordeal!

By 2 A.M. I had again started, and reached Metcovich at 5
A.M. on September 5. Here M. Grabrich, the principal merchant
of the place, put me in the way of procuring horses to take me to
Mostar, about nine hours distant. My destination becoming known, I was
beset with applications for my good offices with Omer Pacha. Some of
these were petitions for contracts for supplying the army, though the
greater number were demands for arrears of payment due for the supply of
meal, and the transport of horned cattle and other provisions to the
frontier. One of the complainants, a Greek, had a grievance of a
different and much more hopeless nature. He had cashed a bill for a
small amount offered him by an Irish adventurer. This, as well as
several others, proved to be forgeries, and the money was irretrievably
lost. Although travelling under an assumed name, and with a false
passport, I subsequently discovered the identity of the delinquent with
an individual, whom doubtless many who were with Garibaldi during the
campaign of the Two Sicilies will call to mind. He was then only
remarkable for his Calabrian costume and excessive amount of swagger.
When at Niksich I learned that he had escaped through that town into
Montenegro, and he has not, I believe, since been traced.

No punishment can be too severe for a scoundrel who thus brings English
credit into disrepute, and disgraces a name which, although little known
in these regions, is deservedly respected.

From Metcovich the traveller may proceed to Mostar by either bank of the
river. I was recommended to take the road on the northern side, which I
did, and ten minutes' ride brought us to the frontier, where a
custom-house official insisted upon unloading the baggage so recently
arranged. In vain I remonstrated, and brandished my despatches with
their enormous red seals in his face. His curiosity was not to be so
easily overcome. When he had at length satisfied himself, he permitted
us to depart with a blessing, which I acknowledge was far from
reciprocated. The first place of any importance which we passed is
Gabella. It stands on an eminence overhanging a bend of the river, by
whose waters three of its sides are washed. In former days it was
defended by two forts, whose guns swept the river in either direction,
and commanded the approach upon the opposite bank. In A.D. 1694
it was taken by Cornaro, and remained in the hands of the Venetians
until A.D. 1716, when they evacuated it, blowing up the greater
part of its defences.

Immediately above the town, the Narenta traverses the plain of Gabella,
which is one of the largest and most productive in the country.

The plains of Herzegovina are in reality nothing more than valleys or
basins, some of which are so hemmed in by hills, that the streams
flowing through them can only escape by percolation, or through
subterranean channels. This last phenomenon frequently occurs, and no
better example can be given of it than the Trebinitza, which loses
itself in the ground two or three times. After the last of these
disappearances nothing is known for certain of its course, although a
large river which springs from the rocks in the Val d'Ombla, and empties
itself into the Adriatic near Ragusa, is conjectured to be the same.

Gabella, as well as Popovo, Blato, and other plains, is inundated in the
winter, and remains in that state during three or four months.

They are traversed by means of punts, and excellent wild-duck shooting
may be had by those who do not fear the exposure inseparable from that

From this point the river entirely changes its aspect, losing the
sluggish character which distinguishes it during its passage through the
Austrian territory. Indeed, throughout its whole course, from its rise
until it opens out into the plain of Gabella, its bed is rocky, and the
current rapid and even dangerous, from the number of boulders which rise
above the surface, or lie hid a little below the water line. It here
receives the waters of the Trebisat or Trebitza, and the Bregava, the
former flowing from the NW., the latter from the district of Stolatz in
the SE. A few miles higher up is a narrow valley formed by two ranges of
hills, whose rocky declivities slope down to, or in some places
overhang, the river's bed. From one spot where the hills project, there
is a pretty view of the town of Pogitel on the left bank. A large
mosque, with a dome and minaret and a clock-tower, are the principal
objects which catch the eye; but, being pressed for time, I was unable
to cross the river, and cannot therefore from my own observation enter
into any accurate details. The position is, however, exactly described
by Sir Gardner Wilkinson as follows: 'It stands in a semicircular
recess, like an immense shell, in the side of the hill, and at the two
projecting extremities the walls run down from the summit to the river,
the upper part being enclosed by a semicircular wall, terminated at each
end by a tower.'

Half way between Metcovich and Mostar is a little village, which boasts
an humble species of Khan.

Here I found the engineer in charge of the telegraph, a Dalmatian by
birth. His head-quarters are at Bosna Serai, but he was then making a
tour for the purposes of inspection and repair.

The telegraphic communication throughout the Ottoman Empire is now more
general than its internal condition would warrant us in supposing.
Indeed, in travelling through the country, one cannot fail to be struck
by the strange reversal of the general order of things. Thus, for
instance, both telegraph and railways have preceded the construction of
ordinary roads.

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Online LibraryGeorge ArbuthnotHerzegovina Or, Omer Pacha and the Christian Rebels → online text (page 2 of 17)