George Gordon Byron, one of the greatest of all English romantic poets, died in 1824, aged just 36, in Missolonghi, Greece. Yet he played a key part in liberating Greece from almost four hundred years of oppression by the Ottoman Empire.
IN 1815, the poet Lord Byron married Annabella Milbanke in Seaham Hall, County Durham.
In that same year, and in that same town, a small trading ship was launched, named Hercules after the legendary Greek hero.
Eight years later, the ship’s captain suddenly decided to make a fresh start, and sailed for the Italian city of Genoa.
By coincidence, Genoa was now home to Lord Byron. He was itching to get involved in Greece’s bid for independence from Ottoman rule, and chartered Hercules to take him to Kefalonia.
After refitting the Greek fleet at his own expense, Byron made a goodwill tour of Missolonghi on the Gulf of Patras, which had just endured a bitter siege.*
Byron’s public support emboldened the British government to throw its own weight behind Greece, which finally gained independence in 1832.
But Hercules never came to the Mediterranean again. Her labours ended in 1852, when she sank a few miles south of Seaham.
* The Second Siege of Missolonghi (September 20 to November 20, 1823). You can read about the third and more famous siege here: The Third Siege of Missolonghi.