Hagia Sophia lithograph
Aya Sofia Constantinople, London 1852
From the album by the Fossati brothers
in the Athens Gennadeios Library

Warington W. Smyth, M.A.
A Year with the Turks
or Sketches of Travel in the European and Asiatic Dominions of the Sultan (1854)


THE following pages are intended to give a "plain unvarnished" account of a journey through Turkey, and of the character of her population.

In the present crisis, the popular mind has espoused the side of the Osmanli; but rather, it would seem, from antagonism to Russia, than from a true sympathy  for the Turks; and my principal object is to set forth, without extenuation, without reference to partisan writers, all those points presented to the notice of a disinterested inquirer, which may enable as to judge, whether or not the Turkish nation is, in itself, deserving of support.

Whatever the faults of the people may be, they have been systematically held up to odium by misrepresentations; and a single example may illustrate the necessity of guarding against statements which tend to vilify their conduct.

A lately published work on Turkey, compiled, it would appear, chiefly from German authorities, describes an outbreak of the Mohammedan Albanians, and says, the Christian villages they plundered and sometimes burnt down. Vrania, a considerable town inhabited by Christians, did not escape this fate; the churches were destroyed, the men massacred, and the women and children dragged away into slavery.

Now it happened that I was present at this very juncture, and although I ought, according to this veracious history, to have been massacred, I am able to observe:

1st. That I heard of no case of a village being plundered or burnt down.

2dly. Vrania is not a Christian, but mainly a Turkish town.

3dly. A church was destroyed, as will be described in chapter IX.

4thly. Nobody was massacred; the only loss of life being on the side of the Turks, with whom the quarrel commenced.

5thly. The carrying away of the women and children into slavery, is a pure piece of fiction.

That there was plundering and ill-treatment, will be seen in the sequel; but it was effected in despite of the Turks; and yet upon these gross exaggerations, was founded the formal complaint and the strong language of the Russian ambassador to the Ottoman government.

The position, social and geographical, of the races distributed over the dominions of the Sultan, bears materially on every phase of the "Eastern question;" and the ethnographical map prefixed to the volume, will assist the reader in forming his judgment on many an important topic. A representation of this kind can, of course, only deal with the general view of the subject; but if it be understood that the towns are always peopled by mingled races, as for example, those of Asia Minor by Turks, Greeks, and Armenians; and also, that the colors should be-more or less blended at the edges, the map will afford a clear coup d'oeil of the leading features which mark the distribution of the various inhabitants throughout a great portion of the Turkish empire.

It appears that we are on the eve of momentous events, and that, as regards the once conflicting peoples of Turkey "those opposed eyes shall now, in mutual, well-beseeming ranks, march all one way."

Should the spirit of concord which has already made its appearance, thrive and increase, and with the good shield of fact blunt the shafts of calumny, it will be the greater satisfaction to those who, after comparing the good and the evil, have been convinced of the real brightness of the sunny side of Turkish character.

W. W. S.
London, February, 1854.


Introduction—Approach to Turkey through Hungary—Analagous Populations—Plan of Journey.

There can be few temperaments in which the approach to the confines of Christendom  does not awake an exciting sensation of interest. The novelty of the scenes on which we gaze, the picturesqueness of the figures which cross our path, the traditions and histories of the lands upon which we enter, and the political questions affecting the present and the future of their strangely mingled populations, combine to invest the East with a romance unknown in Western Europe. Hungary, and its provinces, Slavonia and Transylvania, with their strongly contrasted peoples, their Babel of tongues, and their mixture of civilization and wildness, form an admirable stepping-stone to aid the traveller in crossing from our countries of balance and routine to those of irregularity and adventure.

During a twelvemonth passed in these regions north of the Danube, I had learnt to prize many a good trait in the character of the Madjiar and of his rivals, the German settler and the Slavonian - whether much abused Croat or more peaceful Servian. A long excursion, chiefly on foot, along the military frontier, had, like misfortune, brought me acquainted with strange bed-fellows, in the shape of Wallack villagers in their poverty-stricken huts, and border soldiers in their lone guard-houses; whilst the hospitality of successful gold miners around Zalathna, of country gentlemen in the Bannat, and of Servian monks in Slavonia, opened up to me many phases of life curious in themselves and characteristic of a state of transition.

But the nearer the frontier of Turkey the more stirring became the pictures of national character, and the tales of doings in the interior; and at length, in spite of kindly invitations, and the attractive geological features which had formed a prominent object of examination on my journeys, I rejoiced on bidding adieu to Orsova, the last town in the south-eastern corner of Hungary.

A great majority of the population of European Turkey is composed of nations either identical with or closely allied to some of those above mentioned; and it is no less interesting than politically important to compare their condition in Hungary with that in the dominions of their Ottoman rulers. The bull: of the people who inhabit Bulgaria,* Servia, Montenegro, Bosnia, and Hertzegovina, are Slavonians speaking a kindred language with that of the Servians or "Ratzen" of Southern Hungary, and for the most part, of the same religious creed; whilst the Wallacks of Transylvania and the Bannat are but a branch of the nation which occupies Wallachia and Moldavia, and possesses more vigorous representatives in Mount Pindus and tile S. W. of European Turkey.

* The Bulgarians, although originally of a distinct stock, are so fused with their neighbors, that they may now be regarded as wholly Slavonized),

But a cursory glance is not sufficient to unravel the chaos of nationalities, and religions, and customs formed by the juxtaposition of all these, with the Albanians who inhabit certain districts, and with the Turks, Greeks, and Jews, who are sprinkled more or less plentifully throughout this part of the empire. The social condition of the country interposes great difficulties in the collection of information, and very few Western Europeans have been sufficiently in contact with several of these conflicting parties to give satisfactory evidence on the data for the general questions now so frequently broached in regard to the future fate of this fine land. The travels of men who ride in haste and state, with Tahtars and interpreters, give them but little more insight into the real working and thinking life of the natives, than would a journey by coach or railroad to a foreigner in our own island. The views of Europeans long resident in the country are for the most part so tinged with some particular prejudice, that ideas obtained through their information are apt to be extremely partial to one party or the other, as seen through some discolored medium; and still more is this the case where reliance is placed on servants or dragomen, who seek at the expense of others to elevate their own national cause. By none can results be more fairly obtained, and comparisons more evenly weighed, than by those who in a plain and simple manner make their way from place to place, brought to the level of the people they wish to study by some acquaintance with their language, and by the absence of that barrier which is generally interposed between the natives and those who travel with the signs of greater wealth and with introductions to chiefs and governors.

The circumstances under which I journeyed from end to end of Turkey, enabled me to see many of the relations of the country in so unbiased a light that I deem it almost a duty to contribute my mite towards the clearing up of those questions which at present agitate the whole civilized world. Centuries of warfare and religious hatred, and the studied misrepresentations of enemies, have so covered with odium the name of the Osmanli, that the testimony of one who, although but partially prepared for the task, has roved among them alone and unrecommended, cannot but tend to develop an appreciation of their true character.

It may be premised, that the first portion of my journey, made from the Hungarian frontier to Constantinople, has been so often described that there would be no excuse for repeating it, were it not that any additional details respecting Wallachia and the Lower Danube must present some objects of interest at a time when the eyes of all Europe are turned in that direction. It was only after the lapse of about a year occupied in Egypt, Syria, and Asia Minor, that I returned through European Turkey, better prepared, and favored too by accident, to become acquainted with the domestic life and the social relations of the Turk.

I purpose, then, to omit altogether the beaten route through Egypt and Syria; and after taking a preliminary view of the first visit to Constantinople by way of the Danube, to give some account of a journey through a part of Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. It will afterwards be more feasible, in describing a traverse through the almost undescribed tracts of Northern Macedonia and Moesia, to place before the reader some of those points which are indispensable in forming a true judgment upon the Eastern question.

A Year with the Turks (1854). Having gained a traveling scholarship, W. W. Smyth spent more than four years in Europe, Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt. His travels through the Ottoman Empire provide fascinating insights into the Turks at the time of the "Eastern Question" in Europe and some years before the Crimean War with Russia. Chapter II.
  Sir Warington Wilkinson Smyth, M.A., F.R.S. was a brother of Henrietta Grace Smyth Baden-Powell and Uncle to B-P. He was Professor of Mining and Mineralogy at the Royal School of Mines, President of the Geological Society of London in 1866-1868 and a Fellow of the Royal Society. After university, he spent more than four years in Europe, Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt, paying great attention to mineralogy and mining. Among his published works were A Year with the Turks (1854), and A Treatise on Coal and Coal-Mining (1867). He was knighted in 1887.
  Baden-Powell Family History. A series of links based on the research of Robin Baden Clay, a grandson of Baden-Powell. They are focused on the genealogy of the Powell family. The author is extremely grateful to Mr. Clay for sharing the results of his labors with the Scouting community. Links are provided to pages for three of B-P's brothers: Baden, Warington and Sir George Baden-Powell as well as to the genealogy of the Smyth and Warington families.

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