I recently discovered that one of my ancestors was arrested by the British in 1828 as a pirate and sent to Australia as a convict. He had originally been sentenced to death, but he appealed to the King and his sentence was commuted to life as a convict in Australia.
It was pretty cool to discover that my relative was both a pirate and a convict – Talk Like a Pirate Day will probably never be the same.
But then I started to delve a bit further into this story and the layers of complexity began to emerge.
It is reported that at his trial the defence argued that:
the Greeks who were fighting a war against the Turks had the right “under international law to remove articles of war from a neutral ship proceeding to an enemy-occupied port (namely, Alexandria).” The verdict rendered by the Court stated that Manolis, Ninis and Vasilakis were to be sentenced to death, whilst Boulgaris, Papandreou, Stroumboulis and Laritsos though sentenced to death “but with a recommendation of these four to mercy, since, they had not taken a leading part nor committed any act of violence.”
Source: A History of Greek Migration and Settlement to Australia by Stavros T.Stavridis
It turns out that Damianos survived his time in Australia, having arrived on the ship Norfolk in 1829. He was granted a complete pardon in 1836 and returned to Greece the following year. Two of his sons later returned to Australia, hence the family line continues here.
All of this got me thinking about how important the words we use really are.
It is likely that Damianos and his compatriots considered themselves to be freedom fighters against an oppressive regime. To the Turks they were probably classified as terrorists, and the British categorised them as pirates.
I wonder how we can work this kind of thing out now. Who is a freedom fighter, who is a terrorist?
The question is very apt now with wars and upheavals leading to various waves of refugees, and continuing unrest in Palestine, North Africa and the Middle East. And I suspect that there are no easy answers.