This is the transcript of episode 6 of my podcast series on Thomas Dallam, the Elizabethan organ builder who sailed to Constantinople with a gift for the Sultan. You can listen to the episode here or through the usual podcast services.
Welcome back to Human Circus, and welcome back to the journey of Thomas Dallam, carrying to Constantinople Elizabethan England’s gift for the Ottoman Sultan and with it any hopes for strong ongoing Anglo-Ottoman relations. In February 1599, he’d left England, Elizabeth, and the merchants of the Levant Company behind. Ahead of him, waiting anxiously was Henry “the Fog” Lello, anxious for the gift that would allow him to remain in good standing and present himself before Mehmed III and to renegotiate the trade capitulations between the two sides. And Dallam, Dallam when we left him was leaving Algiers after a small taste of adventure on foreign shores. Last episode we saw him depart, saw him get a bit of experience at sea, and saw him quickly come loathe the captain of his ship, The Hector. This episode, sponsored by Luke and Annie, wonderful people both, I’ll be talking about that leg of the journey between Algiers and Constantinople and hopefully along the way getting a little at what Dallam was like, what fascinated, interested, or annoyed this organ builder from Lancashire.
When we left Dallam, and the Hector left Algiers, he headed east along the North African coast. He noted along the way what had been the city of Carthage and a little later the great and large town of Tunis with its complement of Turkish galleys. Next came the island of Sicily, fruitful, famous, and pleasant, and rich with corn and fruit of all kinds, and then on the right, the island of Malta, ruled by the king of Spain but held by the Knights of Rhodes. And from there on east the Hector would sail.
However, it wasn’t only pleasant lands and fortified port towns to be seen when out-a-sailing. On two occasions, other ships were sighted, and this was no time for a pleasant trumpet fanfare and figurative tip of the hat in passing. Instead, such moments offered the opportunity of practicing a little casual piracy. The Hector was big enough to hold its own, and apparently fearsomely enough fitted out to provide a plausible threat to a group of seven pirate ships; it was therefore threatening enough to take on some profits itself. Far from avoiding conflict at sea in order to best preserve his rather important cargo and mission, Captain Parsons couldn’t resist crimes of opportunity. One ship of Marseilles was boarded near Malta but, disappointingly, little of value was found aboard. Another, however, brought better luck.
Seeing neither flight nor fight to be an attractive option, its captain instead put out with a boat of presents, bringing aboard the Hector Turkish carpets, silks, and some peculiar 7 or 8 foot salted fish that were completely unfamiliar to Dallam and the English sailors. Sadly, they were never to sample this new gastronomic delight, for Parsons, in a repeat of his encounter with the Dunkirkers, sent the captain safely on his way, and his gifts, including the salted fish, went with him. Again, his sailors were aggrieved, and understandably so. Their officers had boarded the ship and found great stocks of Spanish goods, and even if that cargo was not to be touched, they might at least have enjoyed a bit of silk and salted fish. But no. Their good captain announced to the crew that the ship and its cargo was from Chios where there was an English consul named William Auldridge; he gave this and “other idle reasons,” Dallam wrote, dismissively asserting that Parsons had received some secret bribe, but maybe he was here treating the captain unfairly, the alleged money bag still too fresh in his memory.
Parsons may have truly had in mind that trouble would have been caused for Auldridge, for English trade more generally, and for himself and the Hector’s crew in particular, were he to plunder the ship or be seen to engage in piracy by accepting these “gifts” from its intimidated captain. He had some experience in safely taking merchant vessels into Ottoman lands, and he may have been familiar with cases like that of Peter Baker and the Bark Roe, who I mentioned in episode 3 of the Dallam series, cases where Englishmen had preyed on the wrong ships, in the wrong waters, or taken on the wrong cargo. He would have known, but Dallam may well not have.
And maybe Dallam’s cynical assumption of bribery and idle excuses was accurate, but he really doesn’t seem, based on his writing alone here, to have been in much of a position to judge Parsons’ stated reasons. He was not an experienced traveler or merchant, and though he had such men around him during the voyage, it’s not clear that he spoke to them at all.
We know, for example, that John Sanderson was on the ship. Sanderson was a very experienced man, one who was making his third trip to Ottoman lands and who had served as Edward Barton’s assistant, standing in for him when Barton went to war, but in his admittedly brief writings on this trip, he makes no mention of Dallam. And Dallam never refers to Sanderson. He never refers by name to any of the Levant Company merchants in fact. When he has call to mention their activities, when he refers to their having done something, it’s always as “our merchants.” He won’t say Lello’s name, only ambassador or “my lord,” won’t say Parsons’ name, only “the ship’s master.” He will, however, name the boys and servants who die as the journey progresses: Thomas Cable, John Knill, and John Felton, and he’ll name the ship’s physician who he gathers herbs and roots with, his joiner who goes ashore with him, the coachman who accompanies him on a little adventure, the preacher who falls into a bit of misadventure. It very much seems that he spends his time at sea entertaining the men with his music, and when they come to shore he’s badgering his peers into joining him. He does not appear to have been mixing with experts when aboard, and his assessment of Parsons’ actions, as much as his distaste for the man amuses me, may not be entirely accurate.
Having alluded to Dallam’s adventures ashore, let’s explore them here. It’s where you really start to get a sense for his character, his personality. Dallam was not the type of traveler to lock himself away in his hostel room, perusing modern classic paperbacks. The wide world was strange to him, but at every opportunity, he was going to go out and see it, and if at all possible, touch it, taste it, and talk to it too.
So when the Hector is nearby, he rows to Tarsus, the birthplace of Saul who would be the Christian Paul, and he picks Samphire, an intriguing-sounding sea vegetable off the rocks there. He’s among those who go bargaining for food when food runs low at Chios, giving him the occasion to acquire and flip a bag of garlic for profit; and the provisions were running so low actually that they’d been eating only rice boiled in dirty water for three days. And when there’s the chance at what he refers to as Scandaroune, modern-day İskenderun in Turkey, he is, of course, one of the men who goes ashore hunting.
On July 16th, the Master Gunner and two of his men, Dr. Chancie, a trumpeter, and Dallam and his mate John Harvie, all took up muskets, powder, and shot and went inland in search of wild fowl and wild beasts, namely foxes and swine. They entered the woods and looked to find some pathways, hoping to avoid tearing their clothes on the bushes. And things went well enough, except that every few boat-lengths or so they happened upon men lying in the bushes, men Dallam identified as mountaineers, and these so-called mountaineers all had a bow or other weapon. These were for killing wild fowl Dallam and his friends were sure, showing a mind-blowing degree of confidence in this strange land that the world was not about to snuff them out, and not at all making the kind of assumption that I would make were I to be wandering in unfamiliar woods and happen upon unknown armed men.
But Dallam and his companions carried on, covering “some miles into the wilderness,” until they found themselves in a square of open plain. Ahead, they saw two great heads, and then they heard the thunderous snuffling sound they produced. Greater even than the mighty oxen they were familiar with, the two buffaloes went running off, probably startled by the men lurching ungracefully into their presence.
Then the men of the Hector were rudely awoken from their fauna inspired reverie by a sudden revelation. Forty of those mountaineers, those innocent hunters of fowl, were gathering around and clearly seeking to encircle them. Worse, looking back, they could no longer see their ship, not even the masts, for the trees were too high. So they fled, Dallam and the others, running now with little regard for pathways and less now for clothes. They tore through thorns and briars until, within a mile of the shore, they could see their ship. And with apparent ease, they forgot the threat of the mountaineers as quickly as they had initially dismissed it, and they found a “fair fountain of very comfortable water.” Soon, Dallam’s reader finds that the page has turned to other matters, to the walls of Scandaroune’s houses and to the strange vermin that scamper up and about those walls. There is a reference to a great adder leaping down at them from a fruit tree, then the note: “A great number of such small matters I will omit.”
Danger comes and goes somewhat casually in Dallam’s writing, and he certainly does not play it up to make of himself something braver or greater than he is. Maybe it’s because of his ignorance of the wider world that he does not really believe it can harm him; perhaps he is simply supremely and unquestioningly confident in his own wits and good sense. Really, it’s hard to know why he wrote the way he did without knowing why he wrote at all; who was he writing to? Did he intend ever to publish? He didn’t, as far as we know, and this despite a fair number of works on the Turks being published in early 17th century England, 3 in 1603 alone that we know of.
Dallam does not, in any case, always face danger when he steps ashore. But he does always reveal something of his character, or at least his character in his own portrayal. When he goes looking for supplementary foodstuffs on Chios, it is against the wishes of the Captain. Parsons hears of his going when he is already down in the boat and tries to have him come back aboard, but neither Dallam nor the gentlemen he is going with will have any of it. Dallam informs the captain that he is but going ashore to drink some water and set foot on land a moment, and the men he his withhold him on either side. Seeing that Dallam and the company are indeed intent on going, the resigned Parsons warns them that to steal any mastick, cotton or grapes when on land will see them imprisoned for a full year, with no hope of freedom, and that if they had not returned when the Hector had taken on water then they would be left behind, but Dallam only writes, “but we feared not that.” He thought himself too valuable for the captain to leave him behind, and he was probably right.
As it happened, there was little to fear on this little expedition. The whole thing wound up at a trade consul’s home, where they found the consul at a table with “6 very gallant gentlewomen, and very beautiful.” At first, the consul greeted them warmly, but soon he had cause to regret their coming. All the common folk of the area came to see them, and they did so by climbing the walls around the consul’s home, walls which do not seem to have been made for this sort of thing. Repeatedly the consul chided them, I imagine like an irritable teacher making no headway at all with his students, but they would not be dissuaded. Eventually, under the increasing weight of the curious crowds and much to the consul’s profound irritation, great sections of the wall came tumbling down. Sensing they may no longer be quite as welcome, the company departed.
As they left, Dallam wondered at the appearance of the women he saw, stating that no part of the world could compare to the women of the country for their beauty, and he also found time in his writing here for another little dig at Captain Parsons. They should have had a much better time of it if only they’d gone to the larger city just a few miles further; there was, after all, an English consul there, but the unbearable Parsons would not put in at the city, quote, “for fear of being put to some charge; for he was very miserable and sparing man, all for his own profit, and not regarding to satisfy other men’s desires, or to give his passengers any content.” Maybe Parsons really was just such a miserable fellow, driven only by his own grim pursuit of monetary gain and immune to the cares of others, or maybe he had his own good reasons for not wanting to go to the larger city and the complications they might more likely find themselves entangled in there. This was not, after all, a pleasure cruise undertaken to entertain Dallam and his fellows; there was an important mission being undertaken here.
But Dallam wasn’t too concerned about that mission, not until he reached his destination at least. He was like the closer in a baseball game who knows he’ll never need to pitch before the 9th inning, and so he can, and may as well, relax until then. And relax and enjoy himself as best he could, he did. Probably Dallam’s longest description of any event in his travels is reserved for a curious little excursion on Zante, a Greek island held by the Venetian Doge but for which tribute was paid to the Ottoman Sultan.
When the Hector came to anchor at the town or city of the same name, Dallam looked up past the town to the steep hills beyond. He saw the castle from which the proveditore ruled. He wrote of currant gardens, olive groves, and vineyards. But he couldn’t go ashore, not yet, for they had come from Algiers, and the occupants of any ship which had come from any part of the Turkish domains must provide a Venetian written letter of health or wait 10 days at sea or in the prison before they could freely walk about. The men of the Hector, I see no mention of any women aboard, waited 6 days before they were allowed to proceed, and in those 6 days, Dallam “took great notice of a little mountain…” which, he said, “seemed to be very pleasant place to take a view of the whole island and the sea before it.” Being forced to just sit there with little to distract him from that little mountain, nurtured a healthy obsession in Dallam’s mind. He would be going to that mountain. He made a promise to himself, in fact, a vow. And he started working on a couple of his shipmates, Michael Watson and Edward Hale, bringing them round to the idea of joining him.
And they seem to have been reluctant. That’s really indicated I guess by the fact that he had to convince them at all, but when the opportunity came to go, he challenged them with their word, [You did say you would go with me.] And so they did go off together. They slipped a little something to some sailors who brought them round to what they thought was the foot of the hill, but when they reached land they found they were still some 2 miles off. I’m sure at this point that Watson and Hale were all for getting right back on the boat, but whether the sailors had already departed or Dallam bullied them into agreement, they did eventually continue on and find their way to the bottom of the little mountain. It was early in the morning and they began to climb.
After half a mile, they looked up and saw a figure uphill, alone but wearing a cape from which 5 horns seemed to be protruding and carrying a great clubbed staff. Dallam and his friends were basically unarmed. They’d been told they had to be when they went ashore, so they only had small cudgels in their hands. And Watson was afraid already. This was probably a shepherd out tending to his flock; he actually had great herds of sheep and goats with him, but Watson was not convinced. He wanted to go back. Surely, the place was inhabited by savage men, savage men who might easily do them wrong, for they had neither sword nor dagger to their hands. However, Watson was eventually talked into going on, so on they went, on until they were closer to the man. They could see now that he was definitely a herdsman, but Watson had gone as far as he would, as far as his fear would allow him to. He actually swore that he would not take another step forward, come of it what may, and Hale really didn’t sound much more confident, muttering quietly that he would not leave Dallam alone. Watson stayed, and the other two went on.
It’s easy to laugh at the timid Watson here. Just go on you think; travel is an exciting experience and you have to try new things. But this was really not a question of partaking in a bit of local colour, a festival perhaps, rather than watch from the sidelines. This is more along the lines of encountering a stranger away from town in a western movie, where, outside of any sense of order and civility, only your own mastery of violence can save you from it. Watson was very, very, far from town. Really, town, the place of any kind of comprehensible order, was as far away for him as London, or its stand in the Hector. Should this herdsman see fit to strike them down on the hillside, and Watson rather thought he would, then there was nothing to prevent him from doing so.
But of course, he didn’t. Watson lingered on the hill, probably ducking down behind some bushes in case that herdsman changed his mind, and the intrepid Dallam and somewhat less enthusiastic Hale continued. They came to a man leading two horses down towards the town, and this man too did not crack them on the head. Instead, he smiled, bowed his body towards them, hand to chest, and indicated that they should carry on up the hill. Oddly, this passing encounter, hospitable enough in Dallam’s description, unhinged Hale a little more; he wanted very badly to go back, but Dallam insisted that to stop now would be to break the vow that he, Dallam, had made with himself, and Hale must go with him.
As they reached the top, they found a green space and a small square dwelling, which Dallam later learned had once housed an anchoress, a religious woman who had lived for 500 years and only recently died. Across the green was another building some 20 paces long, and as they looked on a man within passed a copper kettle through the window to another man on the outside. Dallam, clearly being the sort of person who’s very comfortable approaching strangers, immediately started forward, for he was thirsty, while Hale, certainly not that sort of person, hung back.
Dallam found when he had presented himself and his thirst in pantomime to the strangers that they did not offer him the kettle of water. Rather they presented a silver bowl of red wine. Delighted, Dallam called upon to Hale to approach and join him in a “carrouse to all our friends in England,” but of course Hale only shouted that he really ought to reconsider drinking the strangers’ wine. With a shrug, Dallam drank and found, to his delight, that it was the best that ever he drank, and when the bowl was refilled with white wine he pronounced it to be even tastier than the first. Hale meanwhile, overcame his fright enough to approach and take a little water.
Now Dallam was faced with the question of how he ought to express his appreciation. Might payment be the proper thing? Unfortunately, he had only a Spanish silver coin with him, and that was waved away when he offered it. Next, he tried one of the two small knives he carried, gilded and graven. This was more excitedly received. His two new friends even proceeded to wrestle over it before the victor ushered him bodily around the house and into what turned out to be a pew within a curiously painted and decorated chapel. Following a religious service, of which Dallam could make no sense at all, they went back into the house. There they sat down to a meal, and while Hale abstained, Dallam helped himself to good bread, good cheese, an egg, and good wine. And then 7 very young women and one very ancient woman who was dressed all in black came forward. Dallam wrote that he thought that were nuns, but also that presently he knew they were not. Sensing that a transaction might be possible, he tried everything. To the closest young woman he offered the bowl of wine, the coin, his other knife, but she only earnestly thanked him for the gift of the knife with signs and bows.
Presently, they left, collecting Watson on the way down. Apparently, he had been laying in the bushes the whole time and was not only highly embarrassed but by this time also extremely hungry, not having been able to take advantage of the excellent local bread, cheese, and wine. Down into town they went, where they met with their fellow passengers. There, in a house which bore the sign of a white horse, a kind of pub perhaps, Dallam regaled them with the story of his morning. He heard from a local man that likely no Englishman had ever entered the house on the top of the hill before, and the rest of his audience was also highly interested. Nine of the gentlemen listening were so interested that they immediately hired a guide and went for a look themselves. From the guide they learned the required procedure: first, make an offering of money at the chapel; then, they should have all kinds of entertainment. Very late that evening they returned to heartily thank Dallam for what they’d seen.
It’s an odd little story, at least in the depth of detail Dallam invests it with, the sheer amount of time he spends writing about in contrast to other events. Clearly, it was important to him. He was excited by his little adventure to the house. Again, it’s hard to say who he was writing this for, but he was proud to share, or perhaps only to remember, this portrayal of himself as a confident explorer, and a breaker of new ground, and his colleagues as alternatingly frightened and bumbling, and sometimes both. Of course, there is an element of bumbling to his own behaviour in the story. There’s his uncertainty as to what he’s found himself in the middle of and how the transaction is supposed to work, his attempt to press his Spanish silver coin first on his initial host and then on the women, but he seems content enough with his share of the experience, a half day spent atop the hill of that Greek island, in exotic surroundings and enjoying the best wine that ever he’d had, and laughing at the expense of Ned Hale the coachman. Not a bad morning at all really.
There’s something else the story brings up though, and it’s in that mention of the anchoress, that 500-year-old anchoress who had unfortunately died just before our friend’s arrival. If you don’t know, an anchoress, or an anchorite, is a devotee who has withdrawn from secular society and confined themselves to one space, a cell, where they pursue their religious life in confinement, and in seclusion from the world of man, the fallen world within which their life has effectively ended.
One of the things that really springs out to me in reading Dallam’s description of his journey is the lack of religious references in describing the landscape. There are some; for example, there’s the mention of passing Saul’s Tarsus, and there is talk of the island of Rhodes once held by Christian knights, but when comparing this to my last series, following the travels of Johann Schiltberger at the end of the 14th century and the early 15th, the difference is quite stark. With so many of the locations described by Schiltberger or the Schiltberger scribe, it’s the saint that lived there and the miracles that had occurred there that define the town or city. There’s really nothing of the sort in the Dallam. Some of the difference comes of course because Schiltberger passes through the Holy Land, but I don’t think this is responsible for the disparity in its entirety. It’s just that that is not how Dallam understands his landscape; he doesn’t move in a world made comprehensible by the transcendent. So when we hear that the 500-year-old anchoress has only recently died, it reminds me a bit of the elves going west in The Lord of the Rings and of the disenchantment of Middle Earth. For a man like Dallam, the magic of the saints no longer animated the world as it had for Schiltberger just 200 years earlier. I realize a sampling of two is nothing to build broader generalizations upon, but the contrast is very noticeable.
What did animate Dallam’s world? Maybe to ask this question of Dallam is really to ask what piqued his interest, what in all of the new things that surrounded him he saw fit to record. Let’s take a moment here to turn to those.
One theme that contrasts with the sparsity of Christian references is the relative prominence of those to the Ancient world. There are mentions of the birthplaces of Pythagoras and Helen, and of the walls of Troy. Dallam, ever the forerunner of the modern tourist, goes ashore with a hammer brought along for the purpose and hammers out for himself a chunk of ancient history; he actually takes a piece of what he identifies as a Trojan pillar as a souvenir.
A new practice or way of doing things also seems to have always caught his attention. There was the method for hatching chickens in Algiers, and there was is another bird-related innovation that he seized on immediately: carrier pigeons. Dallam writes of sitting in a merchant’s house in Scandaroune, and of the pigeons feeding there amongst them in the house. Suddenly, they are joined by a new arrival, a white-coated pigeon which is greeted with a “Welcome, Honest Tom,” from the merchant, who picks him up and takes a letter from beneath his wing. Dallam marveled that it was from Aleppo, 3 score and 12 miles distant by his reckoning, and had been dispatched only 4 hours earlier, truly a remarkable feat! He thought the whole thing truly strange but soon observed that it was actually accomplished quite regularly and always took only 4 hours.
Food seems also to have merited a mention. There were grapes taken from the wines, though this provoked beatings and the loss of some garments at the hand of local Greeks. Bread and hens were purchased from other Greeks, with less violent results. There were sweetmeats, little cakes, and good raspberry drink on Chios; and at other places, great stocks of fowl or wild swine; a bread of millet finer than any of wheat; and fresh water, fresh water wherever it might be found was by far the most mentioned consumable. The alternative was, after all, the stinking and foul water of a ship too long away from land.
And then there were the Janissaries. Dallam admired those he identified as the soldiers of Damascus tremendously, saying that “every day would come riding to the seaside a great company of brave horsemen, with their lances and other weapons.” Over some days he expressed interest in these men, again calling them “brave,” noting their lances, bows, and scimitars, and concluding that “Not only their manner of shouting, but their bows and arrows be strange.” He even seems to have made attempts to talk to them but found the language barrier insurmountable. Really, I find it striking that he chose to approach these armed men of faraway lands at all. They were the same soldiers whose presence had prevented The Hector from bringing its goods to land to be shipped to Damascus, for fear that they would simply take it by force. His doing so seems to indicate to me either an unshakeable confidence in the basic decency and approachability of humans the world over, or an unreflective assumption that as an English subject of the Queen, and one who had performed for the Queen no less, he had nothing to fear from a world which would surely not seek to offer him harm. Or maybe he was moved by some other impetus. Not being a confident and curious 16th century English organ builder, it’s hard for me to say.
At other times, Dallam had an eye for fortifications and the strength of walls, though not, I think, born of any great technical or tactical knowledge. Rather, he would admire a strong or sometimes very strong town, its stout walls, and sometimes the armaments upon them. Rhodes, for what it’s worth, gets his stamp of approval here, for having walls that were not just strong or very strong, but marvelously strong and with an impressive display of great ordinance. He also mentions having a pitcher of wine while on Rhodes, but though he remarks that it only cost them one penny, he does not compare it to the heavenly stuff which he’d tasted in that hilltop house.
Rhodes is also the scene for another of his pet subject matters: encounters with “the Turk.” They had hardly dropped anchor in the harbour, which they shared with a large Ottoman galleon when the Hector was swarmed by “five hundred Rude Turks,” his words, not mine. The next day brought guests of greater importance, the deputy of the governor, or Pasha, and several important men of the island and the people of the Hector sought to make them welcome as they might be and, being as they were in the middle of a longish voyage, that meant an impromptu virginal concert in the gunroom. Fortunately, the deputy and his company seemed very pleased with the performance. Dallam wrote that “Diverse of them would take me in their arms and kiss me, and wish that I would dwell with them.” He doesn’t say what he makes of this exactly. The evening ended with the traditional gift giving, a length of broadcloth sufficient for the Pasha to have a vest or gown. All seemed well.
However, on the following day, two from the Hector were arrested in town, and Dallam himself only escaped this fate because one of the locals who’d so enjoyed his music the night before signaled to him that trouble was on the way and that he should leave as quickly as he could. Dallam and his buddies scurried off while Mr. Maye, the preacher, and an under butler, locked in conversation around a fountain, were scooped up and locked away.They somehow got a letter through the next day, saying that they were chained to a post and couldn’t sit down, were periodically threatened with whippings and, quote, “were not able to endure that miserable life and sharp punishment.” Dallam remarked, either in dry lack of sympathy or to emphasize their dramatic plight, that the letter read as if they had been imprisoned for 7 years.
Both under butler and preacher are going to be rescued from their unpleasant predicament; the whole thing turns out to be a matter of slighted pride and that deputy not receiving his due in the form of an appropriate present, and not just something to pass along to his pasha. So the situation was resolved easily enough once the problem was clearly understood. Parsons and the 5 merchants who accompanied him protested that the deputy was hindering the progress of the Sultan’s present and even threatened to send word to the Sultan letting him know the cause of the delay. However, the deputy felt secure enough in his position to hold out for the gift he deemed he was owed. Dallam summed up the moral of the story with the words “Here you may see the base and covetous condition of these rude and barbarous dogged Turks, and how little they do regard Christians.”
However, it’s not totally clear who was at fault here. I mean, maybe menacing the preacher and under-butler with whippings, and keeping them chained upright to a post, was a bit excessive, and maybe that deputy was acting out of a swollen sense of self-importance and throwing his weight about in unexpected ways, really taking advantage of the absence of his superior. But I also think back to the advice of Harborne, the English ambassador I talked about a few episodes ago, advice given to a newly arrived consul that it was better for him to pretend to be sick on arrival and completely avoid social engagements than it was to stumble through not knowing who was owed what, in honours and in gifts. And whether you thought of them as freely-given gifts or as thinly-veiled bribes, presents were a really important part of the economy, and of progressing safely through and achieving one’s desired ends in the Ottoman world. Really, it’s somewhat surprising that with men like Sanderson, making his third trip, Parsons, who had at least some experience in the area, and the merchants of the Levant Company, that at least a token gift would not be provided to a local official come aboard.
On another occasion, perhaps having learned his lesson on Rhodes, Parsons acted with more awareness of the gift issue. Actually, he fled at the first sign of a Turkish vessel seeking to make contact, even when he learned that there were two Englishmen aboard, and he did so, Dallam writes because he knew he’d be obliged to give its captain a gift. As it happened, the two men only wanted to warn the Hector that a Turkish admiral’s ship, and 15 other galleys, were approaching, so that they may act appropriately. More gift troubles were ahead.
Sure enough, soon after the men of the Hector saw them coming down the Hellespont, that waterway between the Sea of Marmara and the Aegean. Dallam wrote admiringly of the “marvelous show,” which they made. He seems to have appreciated the people of this part of the world most when they were, one way or another, all dressed up for war. Quote, “they were so curiously painted with fair colours and good varnish. The slaves that were in them rowing sat all naked. As they were rowing towards Tenedoes, the wind came fair for them, and then they cut their sails, and the slaves were covered with a piece of canvas that spread over them all. When the galleys were under sail they showed much better than they did before. The sails were made of cotton wool, and one cloth very white, and another very blue, and the masts of the same colours.”
As the galleys sailed by, Parsons gave the order for the appropriate acknowledgment, which meant unleashing a salvo of respectful cannon fire. It was poorly done, Dallam wrote, but at least the nearby walls of Troy made for echoes which rolled back and made each piece sound like five, but echoes or not, the admiral was not pleased. He sent over a galley demanding to know why he’d been saluted so poorly, and for that matter where his present was. Rather awkwardly, Parsons found himself having to explain that his present was in fact packed up below decks and he didn’t even know which one it was. The admiral would just have to wait until the Hector docked, like everyone else, like the Sultan. And as for the poor show of guns, well, he said, shoveling out a little lie, he hadn’t known it was the admiral’s vessel. Surely, if he had he would have fired off everything his ship had. The admiral’s representative was only slightly mollified by this explanation, however, for he made clear that wherever the admiral’s primary gift may currently be stored, something was going to need to be coughed up right there and then; furthermore, he would quite like a little something for himself. Two holland chests were eventually found that would do for the admiral, and, after initially insisting that he honestly had nothing left on the boat to give, Parsons came up with some tobacco and pipes for the captain. And just in case you’re wondering, yes, Dallam does also sometimes mention officials coming aboard and bringing gifts of their own to give, though that certainly doesn’t seem to have been the case here. The two sides parted, and another round of shot was offered up as the admiral went on his way, and the Hector closed in on the final stretch, up the Hellespont and towards Constantinople.
And that’s where we’ll leave Dallam for now, becalmed as it happens, and preparing to transfer over to a smaller boat which the Ambassador Lello had sent from Constantinople. He’s heard that they’re making no progress and waiting on the wind, not to mention the fact that there’s a sailor aboard who may have the plague, and, as you’ll understand if you’ve been following at least the last few episodes of this series, he’s pretty anxious for them all to arrive. That’ll be for next episode, the arrival of the famous organ and its maker, our main character, at last making his grand delivery. And we’ll see how Dallam fits in, how he fits in like an elephant-shaped peg in a square hole, to the deadly serious business of the sublime port and the imperial court.
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