The date is January 9, 1869, the 1866 Cretan Revolt is near its end and The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times publishes a short article on a ‘brave, wild, ineffectual, almost suicidal struggle for independence’ with fiction-like qualities. As stated in the introductory lines of the text,
The history of the Candian insurrection can never be written, for there is no one to record it, and even if it could be sung in verse, there would be so much that is merely sordid mingled with a great deal that is heroic that the poem would scarcely be satisfactory.
The title of the text is ‘Cretan Amazons’ and is paired with the image which features in this post. Text and image together take up the upper half of the page. The unidentified author notes that the people of the island have grown desperate so that “even the women have taken a part in the war amongst the mountains”. With very little intelligence coming from the mountains of Crete, the text continues, there is no way of knowing whether they have been ‘effectual defenders of the country’. However, a private letter accompanying the sketch from which the newspaper’s engraving was taken (as stated in the text) declared that its writer had seen ‘about fifty fair Lakkoite damsels practising shooting with carbines at a mark’. The letter writer also noted that the women were ‘very good shots’ and were organised into a regular corps with a proper flag. The final paragraph of the newspaper’s text then goes on to describe the dress of these modern ‘Amazons’ and suggest that their ‘Palikare’ uniform could easily become a European trend ‘once this strange episode of a very terrible tragedy shall become known’.
The Philo-Cretan committee had so far recognised the grand enthusiasm of these fair Amazons that it had provided them with arms and equipments. Each warrioress carries a rifle of the English pattern, with a sabre-bayonet, cartouch-box hangs to her belt, a havresack depends from her shoulders, and each wears the handsome uniform of the Palikare – a dress destined, no doubt, to affect the Parisian, and therefore the English, fashions when once this strange episode of a very terrible tragedy shall become known. It is a very pretty costume, and might well be “adapted” in other materials than those worn by the Greek women. Fez, corset embroidered in gold and silver; short, piquante, half-sleeved jacket; white petticoat and what the Americans call continuations; with neat buckskin gaiters. What could be more charming?
Despite the flippancy of what resembles a fashion-related news item in times of war, the extract remains interesting no less for its closing remark on the ‘pretty costume’ of a female warrior: ‘What could be more charming?’
‘Cretan Amazons’. The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (9 January 1869): 29.