Ottomans on a Remote Island

Does the crescent-star symbol on the crest of famous British football team Portsmouth originate from Ottoman’s intelligence activities, or 26 Turkish mariners who were martyred?

Successfully been competing in Premiere League for long years, it is known that Portsmouth Football Club have its origins in the Ottoman Empire. The crescentstar crest team proudly carries is still a mystery since the club is claimed to be established by the Ottoman State in the late 19th century in Portsmouth city of England, when intelligence activities gained importance.

Ottoman State’s world domination that lasted over six centuries is undoubtedly not only due to annexing the conquered lands. Ottoman that ruled over millions of people remains current with the stories written about it both in the East and West. Economic conditions that changed in the last century, increased the intelligence activities which became crucial in the period that eventually led to world war. As polarization began towards the end of 19th century, intelligence activities gathered pace. Ottoman State dealing with insurrections and debts within its borders, made efforts to get intelligence particularly on England. Numerous spies assigned by the sultan of the period, Abdul Hamid Khan II, sent photographs and intelligence gathered for this purpose, and presented to the palace. Intelligence activities were not only carried out by spies. Another struggle was given in this field with mutual precautions taken. It is rumored that towards the end of the 19th century, upon finding out that England established a football club in Istanbul, Sultan immediately commanded the same as a retaliation in kind. The rest of the incident is hearsay. It was decided to establish the football club in port city Portsmouth near London because a London-based football team would attract too much attention. Portsmouth located in southeastern England, was then an important port city in connection with London.

Another thing about Portsmouth was a deplorable incident of the past. Ottoman Empire sent mariners to England, a country with one of the strongest naval forces in the world, for navigation and artillery training. Mir’at-ı Zafer and Çerâğ-ı Bahrî frigates dropped anchors at Portsmouth port. In their navy jackets, blue trousers, belts and sabers, uniformed Ottoman mariners got city’s attention. Those who knew the stories of old Ottoman mariners were a little disappointed when they saw them in uniforms similar to theirs instead of elegant and eccentric clothing they had hoped to see. Then a cholera epidemic broke out in Portsmouth. Epidemic snowballed among dock workers who lived in environments without sewage systems. Some of the ship crew got infected and 26 of them died. They were buried in a post cemetery in Gosport city right across Portsmouth. Graves of martyred Turkish mariners were transferred to Clayhall Naval Cemetery on the banks of Alver Lake in 1902 due to construction of Zymotic Hospital. Martyrs’ cemetery was finally renovated in 1985 by the Turkish government. What happened made tremendous impact both in English and Turkish media. Commander of Mir’at-ı Zafer Sir Mustafa narrated the events in his 16 pages long statement. Despite the centuries that have passed, this tragic event demonstrates the influence Ottoman had in geographies it left its marks.

Another martyrs’ cemetery in England is located in Portsmouth. In the cemetery that made it to the news with the visit of 11th President of Turkish Republic Abdullah Gül, rest Ottoman officers who went to England to receive training and passed away there. Paris was the first destination in Europe for the students sent in 1830 with state grants. It was 1835 when the first student group went to London for educational purposes. There were 16 young officers in the group: bombardiers, engineers, infantries and mariners. Students who enrolled in Woolwich Royal War Academy received training in artillery and artillery engineering fields. But unfortunately not all of those students returned to homeland. Sir Arif, who went to England as a student of Imperial School of Engineering, caught a serious disease at the beginning of 1836. On 16 April 1836, a decision was made to bring him back to Istanbul and send another student in his place. Unfortunately young officer did not live long enough to return to his home country. Sir Arif who passed away on 10 August 1836, at the young age of 20, was buried in Portsmouth Woolwich and became the first resident of the Ottoman Martyrs’ Cemetery. In the following period, there were those who went to receive naval or aviation training and could not return, and embarked on their last journeys in this cemetery. In short, these martyred Ottoman mariners remind us that they are still on the watch on behalf of the Ottoman at the heart of this remote island.

About the author

Mustafa Özkan