The Uskoks have a very interesting history of piracy in the area. While the reasons for their formation is evident, their ways of surviving these conditions and that effect on the islands is very interesting. The Uskoks could be looked upon as saviors or as menaces depending on their current frame of mind. The island people were afraid to antagonize them as they were heavily armed, but perhaps they were not as great a menace as the Turks and the Venetians . On raids down into Dalmatia from Senj, they would reprovision on the various islands; if they had money they would pay the local people, if they had no money they simply took what they needed and moved on. They would raid the interior lands from the Dalmatian coast, taking whatever booty they could from the Turks. Many times it was easier to take cattle that could walk, rather then trying to carry 100 pound sacks of farm produce. When they would return to the islands on their way home to the north they would often share their loot with the Island people, in return for their earlier help. Many time the Uskoks would recruit local Dalmatian men to join them on raids into the hinterlands and when the raiding was over the Dalmatians would return to their home. It was often written that the island people had less to fear from the Uskoks than from either Venice or the Turks. The Venetian emissaries would say that the island people would provide the Uskoks with shelter, supplies, transportation, information, and reinforcements.
The bond between the Dalmatians and the Uskoks was very unique. Some Dalmatians were definitely part of the Uskok band and therefor the Uskoks had relatives among the island people and these people would protect them from the Venetians. As an example, an Uskok raid was conducted on Makarska in 1556 with the aid Vice Stipetic of Brac. Marriage also extended the bond between the Uskoks and the island people.
There is more than one story about marriages both forced and otherwise, between girls of the Islands and the raiding Uskoks. One well documented tale is the 1606 abduction of Justina Vukovic, daughter of Vicko Vukovic of the village of Bol on the island of Brac. The local village priest ran off and hid rather than marry the couple, so the pirates carried her off to Senj accompanied by one Vicko Margitic, a relative of the young lady, who was to witness the wedding ceremony. Perhaps this "abduction" was really an elopement that the brides father disapproved of, or perhaps the father feared retribution by the Venetians if he allowed his daughter to wed one of these outcasts.
Many time the Uskoks would not only raid for plunder but many times they would kidnap wealthy individuals from the merchant ships they raided. These could then be held for ransom or sold into slavery. There are even records showing the Uskoks attempting to sell slaves to the Pope for use on his galleys of Naples.
In 1613, Venice, Savoy, Spain and Austria, together set out to once and for all destroy the Uskok pirates. Their combined fleets attacked the Uskoks’ harbors, towns and forts and not only destroyed the buildings, etc.; they removed the pirates and their families to the Croatian interior, where gradually they intermarried with the local people and lost their identity. With the threat of piracy reduced, the coastal areas became safer and thus were more easily settled and developed by the inhabitants. The coastal communities of Kut, Luka, and Comisa on the island of Lissa were able to grow and prosper with this new found safety.
In the early 1600’s Venice constructed the Castle Mazzolini at the edge of the bay of Comisa. Duke Ivan Grimani the Venetian representative to the islands supported the construction of the fort. This construction was financed by taxes levied on the inhabitant of the town. Not only did the castle allow for a safer community for the inhabitants of the town, this fortification allowed for a more powerful Venetian influence and control of the trade, taxation, politics, and commercial activities of the town.
From Nevenka Bezic-Bozanic, Population of Komiza
Between 1645 and 1648 the Venetian fleet under Leonardo Foscolo ranged the Adriatic and the coast of Dalmatia, beating off several land-based Turkish raids on Venetian held towns. These raids were successful in recapturing Spalato and Klis for Venice. Although the Turks had been soundly defeated in the battle of Lepanto they were still a power to be reckoned with.
From Nevenka Bezic-Bozanic, Population of Komiza
One very interesting story associated with the Castles of the Kastel region between Split and Trogir, is about Dobrila Vitturi of Kastel Luksic and Miljenko Rosani in the late 1600’s. These two young people were neighbors and fell in love, but a major problem was that their families were bitter enemies. They would meet secretly and when the parents found out about this they put Dobrila under strict surveillance and sent Miljenko to Venice. Then Dobrila’s parents arranged for her to marry and old man from Trogir. Miljenko heard of this arrangement and showed up at the wedding and prevented it from taking place. Dobrila’s father next tried to put his daughter in a convent, but Miljenko took up his sword to prevent this also. Now Miljenko was banished by the court to a small island called Visovac. The young lovers were not to be denied. Dobrila found out where Miljanko was and fled to his side. At this point the parents were reconciled and sent for the young people to come home and all would be forgiven and they could be married. The marriage took place in the summer of 1690 with a great feast to follow. Now the tragedy: Dobrila’s father in his ongoing rage, killed Miljenko on a drawbridge in front of his castle. In her grief Dobrila went mad and died of a broken heart. The two lovers are buried together in the local church with an inscription reading "peace to the lovers." This love story has inspired three works of art; a novel, a play and an opera. The play is by Shakespeare and titled, "Twelfth Night."
Antun Zanchi is recorded as the Cavalier, or Captain, of the Castle of Comisa in 1701. The same Antun Zanchi is remembered as a nobleman in 1707. Near the Harbor Master’s office is a small square, near which Antun Zanchi had built a four-story house. The home has a long balcony along the face and a crest, similar to one on the other side of the house. On the gable is a slender pyramid with balls on a sharp point, similar to ones found in Vis. A graphically shaped chimney adorns the house. Above the balcony is a decorated small recess with a statue of Our Lady. Along the southern wall is an outside staircase and on the north side is the balcony above the street. Dragon heads carved in the house roof protrude like gothic gargoyles and drain the rainwater from the roof. As the builder and owner of this house Antun Zanchi was probably a Knight and the governor of the county of Comisa. Zanchi was distinguished and rich, and so his family had an altar in the Church of St. Nicholas with a picture of "gospa od sniga", also known as Our Lady of the Snows. In his will Antun Zanchi left twenty ducats for the preservation of this altar. Perhaps this Antun Zanchi was the same one who built the tower in Podspilje.
One Antonio Zanchi (1639-1722) is known as a painter in Venice.
From Nevenka Bezic-Bozanic, Population of Komiza
An old family legend has been told to me by two different people: Once upon a time, no one knows if it was 100 or 300 years ago, there were three brothers named Felandino. One of the brothers was working on the island of Svetac (San Andrija island), and found a small box (one source says a amphora) containing some gold. The brother reburied the box in another place in alignment with Bisevo and a point on Vis. The exact spot is not known. The first brother told of the find and reburial to one of his brothers.
The story goes on that the two brothers pooled their resources and bought building materials, tools and other supplies, to build a small house on the island to shelter them and their families while they went about their business.
Their boat was duly loaded at Comiza with all the supplies, the two brothers and their families. They then set sail for the Island of Svetac. What happened next no one knows for sure. A storm came up, the boat sprung a leak, swamped or some other misfortune took place. The boat is believed to have sunk, but none of the people aboard where ever found or heard of again.
The surviving brother is the root lineage of all of the Felanda family as we know it today.
(End of the legend).
From Nevenka Bezic-Bozanic, Population of Komiza
Antun Felanda had built a small stone cottage with a stone tile roof to protect him and his family from the elements. This cottage was built in an area called "Felandino Bimbul." On May 7, 1802, while sailing from Comisa to San Andrija Island with a load of supplies, Antun and three of his children were caught in a storm. They all drowned near the island. One of his surviving sons, Augustine, is believed to be the single root of all the Felanda/Felando family members in existence today. Church records translated from Latin as follows ; "¼the 7th of May, 1802 Anthony Felanda with two of his sons, Simone age 26, Antonio age 22 and also Anthony’s daughter Catharina age 14, Plunged to the bottom in the open sea near San Andrea rocks¼".
The fall of the Venetian Empire in 1797 to Napoleon led to disarray in Dalmatia. Many insurrections took place between the 14 and the 18th of June within Dalmatia. France had struck a deal with Austria to cede Dalmatia to the Austrians. The Austrian forces under General Rukavina took control of the coastal zones and reached Lissa on July 15, 1797. In 1802 the French turned on their Austrian allies and in the process invaded and drove the Austrians from Lissa. The new French rulers introduced their administrative, legal and social system in their new won territories of Dalmatia. Serfdom was abolished and legal equality was established. A general education system was also instituted. Other fruits of the French revolution included the construction of public buildings, schools, hospitals, roads, and the developments of a more socially sensitive political system that would benefit the peasants.
In 1803, after the Napoleonic conquests in Europe, the French inaugurated the "Continental Plan" (to prevent the British from trading with mainland Europe). In 1806 an British naval detachment was sent into the Adriatic to seize the island of Lissa from the French. This was accomplished on October 2, 1806. Now under British control, goods from England flowed steadily into Lissa. From Lissa the goods were smuggled, without too much difficulty, into Croatia and Austria and then into Germany
The British naval presence in the Adriatic was extensive. The fleet consisted of 26 warships. Further research is planned for the British Maritime Museum in Greenwich, and the Public Records Office in London, England, to determine the names of crew members of these vessels. The crew manifests probably will include sailors from Comisa, Lissa, and other islands in the area.
The British Naval strategy in the Adriatic was to lay waste to all French military and commercial maritime traffic. They also heavily attacked any French shore facilities they could. This included forts, towns, villages, and several major cities. The sieges and battles of Dubrovnik and Kotor are especially noteworthy to military strategists.
To assist them in this plan the British used captured French commercial and naval vessels with British officers and local seamen as crews to assist them in their program. Seamen from throughout the Adriatic came to Lissa to sail on these British ships. The officers and crews of these "privateers" shared in the value of any cargo that was captured.
As all other European ports were closed to British trade, the smuggled goods were in great demand and very expensive. The citizens of Lissa became very prosperous due to a combination of trade and Naval warfare.
As a result of this prosperity, between 1808 and 1810 the population of Lissa increased threefold:
This smuggling operation and naval interference caused the French fleet, under Napoleon’s hand picked Admiral Dubourdieu, to attack the port of Lissa when the British fleet was absent. On October 22, 1810 the French attacked the Port of Saint George (town of Vis) and claimed to have burned 60 merchant ships in the main harbor. The British version is that 12 vessels were lost.
When the British naval forces under Captain Hoste returned to Lissa, the French Admiral retreated to Ancona. The following year the reinforced French forces made another attempt to recapture Lissa for France. Captain Hoste’s squadron, although heavily outnumbered, won a decisive victory in which the French Admiral was killed.
The battle started at 9:00 a.m. on March 13, 1811, and by 2:30 p.m. the French fleet (what was left of it) withdrew to Lessina (Hvar).
A part of the town of Lissa was known as "Engleska Luka" (The English port). The British harbor and shipyard was a rather extensive operation that rivaled the British base at Malta. There is a British Naval cemetery east of the town. At the far edge of town there are the three white sea forts built by the British. The British also established a lookout/watchtower and a small community called Queens City on the eastern peak of the island of San Andrija (now Svetac).
On April 11, 1811, the British decided to formalize their status on the island. They renamed the town of Lissa "Port Saint George." They installed a Governor, a constitution, laws of its own and a means to enforce them:
The British built one massive fortress, called Fort Saint George, at the western side of the entrance to the port. This fort is well worth a visit even by the non-military minded. It is quite and edifice. Fortress Wellington was erected at the eastern side and the Fortress Bentick, as well as the fortification Robertson above a place called Svitnja Bay. The town of Lissa, now called Port Saint George, became the major British base in the Adriatic. The island at the mouth of the harbor was named "Hoste Island" and was also fortified with a round tower, a battery of guns, a small barracks and a signal station. A small watchtower was built on the little rock at the entrance to the harbor by the hill that overlooks the British cemetery. This was built entirely by the crew of the H.M.S. Milford, and was used as an example by the local British commanders to justify further building of facilities on the island.
Lieutenant-Colonel George Duncan Robertson, now Governor of Lissa, was very impressed with a group of Croatian soldiers who had deserted from Napoleon’s army and recommended to his superiors the formation of regiment of local people consisting of 640 men. Whether this happened or not I do not know, but records in England’s Public Records Office might reveal more facts.
On November 29, 1811, the British ships Active (Capt. James A. Gordon,) Alceste (Capt. Murray Maxwell,) and Unite (Capt. E. Chamberlayne) encountered the French frigates Pauline and Domone escorting the stores ship, the Persanne. The French were in transit across the Adriatic and were sighted off of Palagruza. The Domone surrendered, the Pauline escaped to Ancona, but the stores ship, Persanne, was chased and captured by the Unite.
During the period of 1806-1807, the Russian Navy was active in the Adriatic. The French and Russians had an on- again off-again relationship, and even had a naval battle among themselves in 1806 off the west coast of Brassa. The Russians and their Montenegrin allies captured and controlled the Islands of Lessina and Brassa. The Russians did not remain long in the Adriatic and left in 1807, never to return as a major power in the area.
In 1815, Napoleon was defeated at the battle of Waterloo. The British handed over the island of Lissa to the Austrians on July 27, 1815. The eighteen years prior had been a very critical and devastating period for all of Dalmatia as well as Europe. All of the political, social, economic and religious institutions had undergone tremendous pressures and some were demolished. The Island of Lissa had escaped most of these problems and prospered under the British and their naval policies.
By 1817 the Austrian Merchant Marine was on the road to recovery. The marriage by proxy of the Archduchess Leopoldine to Dom Pedro, the future emperor of Brazil, resulted in an Austrian expedition to delivery the bride to Brazil. This event opened up a trade relationship between Austrian and Brazil, of a lasting duration. My Grandmother, Nina Greget, often told me of her father who was in the merchant marine and traveled between the Adriatic and Brazil, trading olive oil and wine.
To digress a little on the history of Austrian naval interests:
The conclusion of the war of Spanish Succession (1715) resulted in Austria gaining the Spanish Netherlands, Naples, Sardinia and Milan, which gave Austria its first taste of salt water. This resulted in a new focus for the Austrians and the Emperor Charles VI built a road from Vienna to Trieste in 1719. This newfound access to the world’s oceans and the decline of Venetian power was a boon to Austria’s hope for a better world position. The Emperor developed a small navy and commercial shipping lines were developed. Austria, however, was not yet to become a seafaring nation. The Empire felt that the local Adriatic ports should bear their own expenses if they wanted to become involved in the maritime business, thus there was no great national effort to enhance the naval situation.
When Joseph II became Emperor, in 1786, the emperor became concerned about the maritime issues and started a small naval program which would develop the Austrian naval and commercial maritime activities to an eventual place on the world scale. Upon Joseph’s death, his brother Leopold II, repositioned the Navy to be headquartered in Trieste, and further naval expansion took place.
Under the Treaty of Campo Formio in 1797 (the fall of Napoleon), France ceded to Austria : Venice, Istria and Dalmatia. Austria inherited the remnants of the Venetian navy , which was in a very poor state. In 1799 Austria joined England, Russia, Portugal, Naples, and Turkey in the Second Coalition against Napoleon. The Austrian navy consisted of 37 small coastal vessels with 111 guns and 787 men. This force was not strong enough to repel the mighty French navy nor deal with the North African corsairs. The Austrian naval officers spoke Italian, even though the Government preferred them to speak German. The Italian language was to remain the command language until 1848. In 1809 the Austrians lost a war with Napoleon resulting in Austria’s loss of her navy, Venice and any ocean access.
In 1815 Napoleon was defeated for the last time and Austria was to obtain a prominent position in the Adriatic. They regained Venice, the northern portion of the Italian peninsula, the eastern Adriatic, Dalmatia, plus many French war ships: five ships of the line, two frigates, one corvette and many smaller vessels. Austria still was not ready to capitalize on her Adriatic location and become a great naval power. Many of these war ships were scraped and only a small commercial maritime program was started.
The Austrian merchant fleet ended up with fewer vessels than it had in 1805 due to the both British and French naval and priviteering activities. The Austrian merchant fleet was subject to constant attack by the Corsairs of North Africa, yet the Emperor refused to join other countries in stemming this pirate activity, claiming it was an international rather than a Austrian problem.
The Austrians ruled Dalmatia and Croatia for over 100 years with a major revolution in 1848, and an almost constant state of minor revolts by the peasants against the nobility and the government. The year 1830 brought the beginning of the National Awakening.
In the 1830’s the Austrians built fort "Baterija Madonna" (or "Batteria della Madona"), as the primary defense point of the town of Lissa. This fort remains today, as the primary museum and local archaeological collection point, for the artifacts of Vis.
In 1837 a miraculous event took place which would eventually put the Austrian navy on the forefront: Archduke Frederick age 16, went into the navy. A naval career now became very fashionable career for the young aristocrats of the Empire and would result in a steady supply of officer material and a ongoing interest by the families of these men in the naval affairs of the Empire. A major war between England, Austria and Turkey on the one hand and Egypt on the other, resulted in a the Austrian navy becoming a major naval power in the Mediterranean.
Archduke Frederick (age 23) was made Commander-in-chief of the navy in 1844 and this period was to become known as the Golden Age of the Austrian sailing fleet.
Between 1830 and 1848 there was almost a constant state of political unrest and upheaval within the Empire. Since Roman occupation there had always been a strong Italian influence in Dalmatia. Many Dalmatians had Italian names, ethnic bonds with the Italian peninsula, and a very close affinity with Italy. Many of the landowners were of Italian extraction, and Italian law and customs were major influences in Dalmatia. In 1848 there was a major revolution within the empire, resulting in the abolishment of Feudalism by the government. This particular act was not to be realized by the common people until after World War I. The fact was that the common people could not own land. Only the Aristocrats, military leaders, and the Church could possess title to land as had been done for centuries before . The government rulers would now give land to their favorites and deny ownership to the people who had worked the land for generations. This situation would continue for decades. As world communications developed and the peasants would hear of the opportunities in other lands they would pull up stakes and migrate to new countries. The mines, mills, and factories of America’s industrial revolution, various Gold Rushes, the whaling fleets of New England, the vast American frontier with free homestead land would entice wave after wave of immigrants to America. Another major reason to migrate was the constant threat of war and/or military conscription into an oppressive military system.
The center of Italian intellectual activity and political action during this period was Padua and this included no less than five Dalmatians exiles, one of which was Giampaolo Vlahovich from Lissa.
In 1852 the Austrian sailing vessel Splendid with Captain Ivan Visin in command, circumnavigated the globe, returning to Austria in 1859.
The Austrian electoral law passed in 1861, allowed for four electoral groups: big land owners, the Chambers of Commerce, the major cities and lastly the rural towns and villages. The Italians dominated the first three groups while the Slavic people fell mostly in the last group. Even though the Slavic people were the majority of the population they had only the minority of votes. As the Slavic population was not political conscious this was not a problem at the time. As world communications became more sophisticated the Slavic population began to flex their muscles. Political reform of 1896 added a fifth group, mainly universal suffrage, which was in effect for the political election of 1907. This would now allow the Slavic population to become the majority of the electorate.
In July 1866, a major Austrian naval battle was fought near Lissa against the Italians. One book claims this was the largest naval battle of the 19th century. Another claims this battle was the last major battle of sailing ships, although there were some steam vessels involved. The battle involved the Italian fleet from Ancona and the Austrian fleet from Pula. The sea battle lasted only 55 minutes and then the Italian fleet withdrew. (Today there is an artist’s rendition of this battle inside and above the lobby door of the Hotel Bisevo in Komiza.)
On July 16, 1866, the Italian fleet sailed from Ancona, Italy, for Lissa. The purpose of the operation was to destroy the Austrian presence and control of the island, land the Italian marines and claim the island for Italy. This was to be done before the conclusion of the Seven Weeks’ War with Italy and Prussia against the Austrian Empire.
On the morning of July 18, 1866, the Italian fleet arrived off the port of Saint George (town of Lissa) and commenced bombarding the forts and the town. The Italian Admiral Persano also dispatched two vessels with Captain Albini to bombard the town of Manego (now called Milna) on the southeast coast of Lissa. Two ships, the Terribile and the Varese, and another unnamed ironclad, were sent to Comisa under Captain Vacca to bombard and take Comisa for Italy.
At about 11:00 a.m., the Terribile, Varese and the third ship started to fire their cannons at Fort Manjaremi above Comisa, but the fort was about 500 feet higher than sea level and the Italian shells could not reach the fort. After two hours of this futile effort, these three Italian ships sailed to Manego to assist their comrades. The two ships already at Manego had the same problems due to the height of the fort above the level of the sea, and they too, decided to quit. All five ships then returned to the main fleet at Saint George.
The fleet that remained at Lissa made a fatal mistake. The Italians had forgotten to cut the telegraph wire from Lissa to Pula (the home port of the Austrian Navy under Tegetthoff,) near Rijeka. Upon receipt of the wire from the Lissa garrison explaining the Italian arrival and bombardment, Tegetthoff wired back to Lissa, "Hold out till the fleet can come to you."
The Italian fleet had some success in their bombardments of Saint George’s forts. Two small forts at the harbor mouth had their magazines blown up. The main fort, Baterija Madonna, which raked the harbor, had its batteries silenced several times.
On the morning of July 19th, the Italians renewed their efforts; the Terribile and the Varese were to renew their bombardment of Comisa, while the main fleet and the marines were to attack and land at Saint George. The Italians suffered heavy losses from the shore batteries and the attack on Lissa failed again.
Early on the morning of July 20, 1866, the Terribile and the Varese were to again renew their bombardment of Comisa (the third day in a row that Comisa was to be bombarded), while the main fleet at Saint George would attempt to land their marines and take the shore batteries.
Then, at 8:00 that morning, the Italian lookout ship the Esploratore spotted the Austrian fleet sailing in from the northeast at some great distance, and rushed to advise the Italian fleet of the pending arrival. The Italians had not planned properly for this naval engagement, and there was much confusion among their officers. This led to their doom. No battle plans were discussed among the Italians, nor any other normal steps taken to plan their attack. Their main warships were in the harbor with no maneuvering room and they were in the process of landing their marines when they got the word of the pending arrival of the Austrian fleet.
The Italians abandoned the landing activities to battle the soon to arrive Austrian fleet under Tegetthoff. The Italian Admiral Persano now made an additional mistake. As the two fleets were closing for the battle northeast of Lissa, the Italian admiral transferred his "Flag" from the Re d’Italia to the Affondatore without advising his fleet captains. Admiral Persano’s recorded words of "Ecco i pescatore" ("Here come the fishermen") could well live in infamy. The other Italian ships had no idea where to expect fleet commands to come from and they could not fight as a unit but only as separate ships. This was the final error on the part of the Italian admiral.
Needless to say, the Austrians had the situation well under control and annihilated the Italians. The battle started at 11:00 a.m. and by noon the battle was over. The Italian fleet withdrew to Ancona. Admiral Persano (age 58) was eventually court-martialled for his errors and lack of leadership, lost his pension and left public service in disgrace. Admiral Tegetthoff (age 38) became a hero of the Austrian cause and went on to become famous in his own right.
The Austrian defensive garrison consisted of 1,833 officers and enlisted men stationed on the Island of Lissa.
This battle is noted in almost all naval tactical books with a line or two, alluding to the strategy of ramming vessels rather than the older method of broadsiding. This great naval victory had a negative impact on future naval building activity. The disastrous land war at Koniggratz convinced the ruling powers that the Navy was in fine shape and that the land forces would need major improvements
The Imperial & Royal Austro-Hungarian Navy now built their most modern ship to date, the S. M. S. Lissa. The Lissa, named in honor of their great victory at Lissa, was classed as a "Central-Battery Armorclad," and was the largest ship in the Austrian fleet. She was constructed in the San Marco shipyard in Trieste. Construction was begun in February 1867 using armor from Sheffield, England, and heavy guns from the Krupp works in Prussia. She was commissioned in the summer of 1871. By 1880-81 she was deteriorating rapidly, and in 1892 she was finally de-commissioned.
The Lissa had a displacement of 6,680 tons with a speed on 13.3 knots. Her armament consisted of 12 guns of 9.4 inches and 6 guns of 47mm. Her armor consisted of 1.5 inch deck armor, 6.0 inch belt armor and 5.5 inch battery armor.
The Lissa remained the largest of the Austrian navy’s ships until the launching of the S.M.S. Custoza of 7,100 tons in 1872, and the launching of the S.M.S. Tegetthoff of 7,500 tons in 1878.
In 1867 the Habsburg Empire was folded into the dual monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This could be considered the beginning of the end of Austrian naval superiority in the Adriatic. The Hungarian branch of the government could see no use for a navy to an agrarian society. The Austrian branch retained control of the Dalmatia region, while the Hungarian branch controlled Croatia proper. Vienna’s administration of Dalmatia was entrusted to the local privileged Italian minority. This resulted in the Italian minority no longer politically battling the Austrians but now battling against the ethnic Slavic people for political control.
In 1869 the Suez Canal was completed, which opened a much easier sea route to the East. Although the Austro-Hungarian empire was a world power at this time, the internal conflicts with the Hungarian arm of the Empire would lead to the eventual decline of funding for the naval segment of the armed forces. The decline in naval funding also affected the merchant marine and its ability to continue as a maritime leader, this at the beginning of the age of steam . The economics of the Suez Canal required the ships transiting the canal to be steam powered and sailing ships were at a great economic disadvantage. This, plus the geography, the political dissension within the Empire, the advent of the railroad systems, and many other factors added to the decline of the importance of the Adriatic Sea and its surrounding nations to traders and merchants.
The 1870’s brought a great economic depression to the Austrian empire. Many shipyards went bankrupt and there were no government funds available for maritime purposes. The Austrian monarchy decreed, in 1873, that Lissa should be disarmed and many of its towers and fortresses were dismantled. With the Austrian disarmament decree, the people of Comisa bought the Castle Mazzolini from the government and it thereafter had the name "Komuna" attached to it. The building was used as a town hall or community office until after World War II, when the new civic office building was built. In 1874 non other than King Franz Joseph of Austria paid a visit to Comisa.
Dalmatia now had two major political groups, the Pro-Croatian annexationists and the Pro-Italian Autonomists. In 1875 the Pro-Italians controlled the municipal elections of Lissa and Comisa as well as many other Dalmatian communities. The purpose of this book is not to expand or dwell on the political differences or situations but only to bring them out so the reader may understand the dynamics of the island and its surrounding area. As we come into more current times this political issue can become very emotional and should not cloud the historical facts as presented.
The Italian presence and influence on the area can be more easily understood with some information concerning language and politics of the time. Although the Austrians ruled Dalmatia and northern portions of Italy, the Italian culture, language and heritage was very prevalent. The provincial assembly of Croatia used Italian as their official language until April, 1872. A gradual switch from Italian to Austrian and Croatian took place, with the schools and seminaries to follow suit. At this time, out of 82 municipalities, 19 used Italian only, 5 tended to prefer it, 33 spoke exclusively Croatian and 25 used both languages. The Italians were fighting a losing battle to retain their culture. By 1883 Italian was totally eliminated as the government language with Croatian replacing it. In 1884 an Italian writer, Antonio Baiamonti wrote of the fact that the Dalmatians and Italians had gotten along for over twenty years with no bloodshed and now in just a few months three people were killed and over 100 were bloodied in street fighting in Spalato. Interestingly enough in June, 1868 the town council of Comisa petitioned the Austrians to not allow the abolition of the Italian language. Other issues further divided the citizens of Dalmatia, one being the importation of wine from Italy to Dalmatia. In the period of 1893-1903 the Italians under a commercial treaty with Austrian were exporting vast quantities of wine into Dalmatia and making large profits. Remember that the vine blight Phyloxera was running rampant through Dalmatia devastating the vineyards, which ironically enough were also owned by many landowners of Italian extraction.
From Nevenka Bezic-Bozanic, Population of Komiza
During the 1880’s the average annual death rate was 84 people, however, in 1884-85 an epidemic struck the town of Comisa and an additional 130 people perished from its effects.
During the period of 1880-1913 over 500,000 people left Croatia. As the attempt to eliminate serfdom was started, it brought more problems. Several members of a family were to be considered owners and the members wishing to "cash out" their holdings were forced to go to the money lenders for hard currencies. This resulted in many family’s going bankrupt when they could not pay off the loans at usury rates with hard currency. During this period, the political rulers gave outsiders properties of the displaced peasants. The Magyar population of Croatia went from 5,000 people to 106,000 people , while the German population went from 13,000 to 130,000. The attempts to be rid of serfdom were not successful. A new system called Colonate was developed which was only serfdom by a different name. It was to last until the end of World War I.
In 1881-82 the Austrian had taken control of Herzegovina, and the people there rebelled against the Austrian Army draft.
In 1882 my great grandfather Augustine Felanda (1858-1926) was conscripted into the Austrian army. He served a little over nine years on active duty in the Battalion Ragusa Number 81. We have no family tales of his military service. He was also required to serve an additional nine years in the reserve/militia, and was finally discharged on December 31, 1900. To avoid this harsh military conscription program he sent his first born son Blaz (Bob), at the age of eighteen, to America in 1899. The sad part of the story is that Bob was drowned at sea off of the coast of San Pedro within six months of his arrival in America.
By 1900, in Dalmatia alone, over 600 villages had no drinking water. The Austrian government took the tax monies that were collected in Dalmatia and spent it in other areas of Austria. Dalmatia’s harbors were neglected and fell into ruin. A vine blight called "Phyloxera " ravaged the area’s vineyards, which were a major source of the peasants income. The peasants did have the right to vote, for what it was worth. They could not read or write and were subject to retaliation by their overlords. On more than one occasion heavily armed government troops would open fire on voters at election points. In the election of 1897, at Bosnjaci, 28 were massacred. Similar incidents occurred in various elections throughout the country. It seems that there were many civil uprisings throughout the country from 1900 to 1915. This seems to be the same period when the roots to the Russian revolution were developing. In 1903 the entire country was under martial law due to uprisings by the peasants throughout the country. The local people would often send delegations to the Emperor in Vienna with their grievances and his underlings would turn them away. All these factors -- property rights, taxes, conscription into military service, cruel landlords, rebellion, crop pestilence, even the salt tax -- made life nearly impossible. Everywhere the young and vigorous were leaving Dalmatia, leaving behind only the aged and the children.
In early 1904 my great grandfather Augustine (1858-1926) made arrangements for his second son Joseph to go to America. Remembering that he had sent his first born son off to America in 1899 with disastrous results, he now faced an unknown situation with his second son and the possibilities of military service in these troubled times.
Evidently many other people also wished to leave Comisa for a better place. At total of 47 people from Comisa where to leave at one time for America. The arrival manifest of March 13, 1904, of the SS La Bretagne in New York harbor lists the names of the citizens of Vis who voyaged together to the new world. They were:
Andrea Mirko Marinkovik age 47, Nicolo Stanojevic age 36, Luka DeMaria age 11, Nicolo Pribacic age 20, Antonio Mirko Marinkovik age 24, Stefano Zanki age 26, Paulo Marinkovic age 19, Antonio Zanelov Marinkovik age 28, Paulo Marinkovic 11 years, Antonio Lestic Zanki age 17, Francesco Tvcevic age 23, Como Berkovic age 31, Rusko Dragoevic age 28 Francesco Lurjon age 31, Antonio Basic age 20, Giovanini Marinovick age 24, Antonio Barcot age 32, Stefano Basic age 20, Giorgio Fadic age 19, Antonio Dorotic age 17, Giovanini Stanojevic age 14, Antonio Bozanic age 17, Paolo Bozanic age 18, Petra Stanojevic age 19, Antonio Kuljic age 36, Nicolo Marincovich age 37, Antonio Bogdanovic age 20, Giovanini Demaria age 18, Antonio Stanoevic age 17, Francisco Tipic age 21, Andrea Mariani age 35, Guiseppi Bogdanovic age 37, Andrea Zanki age 18, Visenjo Mariani age 27, Andrea Vidovic age 27, Mikovile Greget age 19, Marcelin Zuanic age 40, Andrea Suic age 18, Nicolo Vitalic age 19, Giaconio Bozanic age 19, Vincenjo Marinckovic and his wife Kati Martinic, Antonio Martinic age 18, and my grandfather Guiseppi Felanda, age 18.
What a fearful depletion of the productive citizens of Comisa took place on this one day. How many others left the town that year to go to America has not been researched. In December of 1904 Augustine himself and his third oldest son George would sail for America to seek a better life.
In September 1906 none other than the nephew of the Emperor of Austria, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, came to visit Comisa to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Battle of Lissa over the Italians. This Franz Ferdinand is the same one who was assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914. This assassination was the cause of the start of World War I. The Archduke asked the people of Comisa what he could do for them to reward them for their loyalty and efforts during the Italian attempt to take Lissa from the Austrians. Interestingly enough, the people asked that the salt, which was required to process their fish catch, be stored in Comisa rather that in Vis town, and the Archduke took the proper action to see that this request was honored.
In the elections of 1911 the Italian speaking portion of the population was only able to elect a majority to the city government in Zadar, with minority positions in many places including Lissa. It would seem that the further north you went along the Dalmatian coast it became more and more of an Italian influenced situation. Zadar would remain for years as the most "Italian" city in all of Dalmatia.
Just before the war the Austrian merchant marine consisted of 1,600 sailing ships, and about 500 steamers with a total enlistment of about 20,000 men and tonnage estimated at over 1,000,000 tons. The Empire had a naval airforce that numbered 64 airplanes at the beginning of the war and by 1918 their airforce numbered 264 airplanes. Many airbases were built by the Austrians including a temporary airbase on the island of Vis itself.
The naval service consisted of officers of Austrian background. Enlisted men served four years of active duty with eight years of reserve duty. Men joining the engineering schools could join at the age of seventeen while seamen could enlist at the age of fourteen. Because of the mixture of peoples with different backgrounds, each officer had to speak four languages, while the enlisted men were expected to understand all orders given in German.
During the initial stage of World War I, Italy tried to remain neutral. In the April 26, 1915, under the secret Treaty of London, Italy was promised the Dalmatian coastal area and islands if they would join the western Allies in the war against Austria. Italy, as well as those Italians in Dalmatian looked upon this as a great restoration of the old Venetian authority over the Dalmatian coast, remembering that Rome had ruled this area as far back as 200 B. C.
During the first years of World War I, the French Navy was very active in the Mediterranean. On a number of occasions the French fleet went as far north as Pelagosa (Palagruza) and Lissa in the Adriatic, and landed shore parties to destroy the navigational lights and telegraph systems on these two islands.
After Italy joined the War against the Austrians, on May 24, 1915, the Italians occupied the undefended island of Pelagosa (Palagruza) on July 11, 1915, and stationed some small submarines there. The purpose of this was to establish a signal station close to the Austro-Hungarian coast to reconnoiter the activities of the Austrian fleet. The Austrians attempted to recover the Island from the Italians on several occasions. On July 27 the Austrian navy with two cruisers, six destroyers and two torpedo boats, attacked the island and conducted an aircraft raid on the island to dislodge the Italian forces. The Austrians landed 100 sailors but they could not dislodge the Italian forces. On the 16th of August another attempt was made, but again they could not rout the Italians troops. On September 9 a third effort was made and much to the Austrians’ surprise, the Italians had abandoned the island. The Austrians took control very easily. The island would be ceded to the Italians with the treaty of Corfu at the end of the war.
On June 19, 1915, the Austrian submarine "U-4" scored a direct torpedo hit on the British light cruiser Dublin off the coast of Albania. This damage put the Dublin out of commission for several months. On July 17, 1915, the "U-4" came upon the Italian flagship, the armored cruiser Giuseppe Garbaldi while the flagship was in the process of shelling Ragusa (Dubrovnik.) The "U-4" torpedoed and sank the flagship. After this stunning loss the Allies were never again to strike the coast of Dalmatia.
The "U-4" launched in 1909 had a displacement of 240/300 tons. She had a speed of 12.1 knots on the surface and a speed of 8.7 knots submerged. Her range was 1400(?) miles surfaced and 60 miles submerged.
A sister ship to the "U-4" was the submarine "U-5" Commanded by a Lieutenant George Von Trapp, of the Von Trapp Family Singers fame. On April 27, 1915, under Lt. Von Trapp, the "U-5" came upon the armored French cruiser, Leon Gambetta, which was the flagship of Rear Admiral Senes. Lt. Von Trapp attacked and sank the Leon Gambetta with losses amounting to 684 officers and men of the French navy. In July 1916 the Austrian torpedo boats 65-F and 66-f sank the Italian Ballila just north of Lissa.
Life in the Austrian naval service was very harsh for the sailors. The food was very poor and the treatment by the officers was extremely harsh. It was still a very autocratic society. This was not much different than the treatment of the peasants on the farms. There are many records about mutinies among the crews of the naval ships. It was said that the officers’ pet dogs ate better then the enlisted men.
In early 1918 a major mutiny occurred on warships in the Gulf of Cattaro. The navy sent many ships to the Gulf to put down the mutiny and they were put in the position of firing on their own warships. The mutineers, on the morning of February 3, surrendered and four of the ringleaders were court martialed and executed.
After the United States entered the war against Austria, in April 1917, American Vice Admiral William Sims proposed a plan for allied troops to seize Lissa, Pelagosa and several other islands in the area. This would be to take the "Austrian Lake," and to isolate the southern Austrian navy units from their base in Pula. The Italians refused to lend support troops to the plan so it was not carried out.
Although Italy was on the winning side in WW I, they were not a strong enough power to heavily influence the treaty negotiations that took place in the years following the cessation of hostilities.
At the conclusion of the Great War, Austria’s naval fleet was distributed to the victors; Great Britain , Italy, France, Greece, Romania and Portugal.
The new Slavic monarchy was to receive only 12 torpedo boats, scarcely enough for coast guard and life saving duties. Interestingly enough Torpedo boat number 90 went to the Portuguese, who named it "Vis". This total emasculation of the naval fleet is only a minor indication of the harshness of the peace treaty of World War I. The losing powers were totally stripped of all possibilities of renewing their economy and this is considered one of the major reasons that World War II was to come about 20 years later.
In 1917, The Declaration of Corfu established a federated constitutional monarchy under the Karageorevich line of Serbian kings. Alexander, Prince of Serbia, accepted the regency of the new government on December 1, 1918, pending the recovery of his ailing father, King Peter I Karageorgevich. At this time most of the names of the cities, towns and other points that had carried an Italian style name were changed to the traditional Slavic style: Lissa became Vis, Comisa became Komiza, Brassa became Brac, Lessina became Hvar, etc.
After the settlement of World War I, on November 4, 1918, the Italians invaded and occupied the Islands of Vis and Lagosta (Lastovo) and several other areas in Dalmatia. The Italian Admiral Enrico Milo was appointed governor of Dalmatia and was headquartered in Serbenico. American as well as French warships arrived at Spalato (Split) as occupation forces. The Italian tried to dock one of their naval vessels at Spalato but were denied by the American admiral. Italian Admiral Milo then sent a bigger Italian warship, the Puglia, to protect the Italians of Spalato from mobs that were running rampant through the town, seeking their own "peace" and vengeance. In September, 1919 Italy seized Fiume (Rijeka) in violation of the treaty of Corfu. About 1,000 Italian "Independent troops" under Gabriele D’Annunzio , invaded the city to secure it for Italy. Next he proceeded to Zara (Zadar) to secure that city for Italy and in the process he tried to encourage the Slavic people to join up with him in a rebellion and to setup another independent state. The confusion that was running throughout Italy spread to the occupied areas of Dalmatian as well. It is interesting to note that one Benito Mussolini, leader of the Italian Fascist movement, even concurred that Dalmatia was more of a problem to Italy than it was worth, at this time.
American President Wilson was influential in helping resolve the differences as to how the Dalmatian issue should be settled. Italy was impoverished after the war and relied on United States aide, such as coal and wheat for its survival. The pressure from Wilson along with Italy’s own internal problems and the Italians tiring of the ongoing international problems, led Italy to accept their fate and work the problem out with a treaty.
The League of Nations negotiated the Treaty of Rapallo to return Vis and other portions of the Italian holdings to the new kingdom on November 12, 1920. Italy was allowed to retain Istria, Zara (Zadar), Lagosta, Fiume, and Palagruza and other important territories. Still, Italy was given the task of removing its rebellious "independent troops" from unauthorized areas of Dalmatia, with its regular army. This was National Italian Army against the rebellious Italian/Dalmatians, almost like an Italian civil war over who was going to rule these parts of Dalmatia.
In November 1920, all territorial disputes had been settled and the provisional government held elections. General suffrage was re-introduced in September 1920, for men 21 years or older. The Constitutional Assembly brought new problems to the new country: the Croats want a federalist constitution, while the Serbs had other ideas. In January of 1921, a constitution providing for a highly centralized form of government was approved. King Peter of Serbia died in August of that year and his son became King as Alexander I.
Alexander, born in Serbia, nevertheless was educated in Russia, his two Aunts were married to Russian Grand Dukes. His sister also married a Russian Grand Duke. Another Aunt married Victor Emanuel, King of Italy. Alexander’s education was mostly militaristic with a distinctive imperialistic slant. The close affinity to Russia is very evident and the cruelties of the Russian revolution were not lost on the King and his court.
Numerous treaties between the new Yugoslavia and Italy were negotiated on a regular basis. They dealt with matters of trade, communications, fishing, cabotage, customs regulations, border patrols and cultural and language preservation for the Italians in Yugoslavia and the Dalmatians in Italy. Remember now that Italy controlled the area from Fiume (Rijeka) to Trieste. The internal problems of Yugoslavia weighed heavily on the Dalmatians and the Italians within Dalmatia; old customs, language, property rights and laws, cultural differences between the Slavic and Italian groups were almost insurmountable. In more than one case blood was shed over these differences. Italy was having its own internal problems and really did not want to get involved in an area that was more trouble than it was worth, but it still wanted to protect the Italian minority in Dalmatia. Although Italy tried to separate itself from Dalmatian, it would never lose interest in the area that it thought was always its birthright since Venetian times. This would come to fruition at the start of World War Two.
The Serbians and their King now ruled Yugoslavia with an iron fist. The Croats struggled against this centralist government to no avail. Although the Croatian province was half the size of Serbian province, the Croats paid twice as much tax as the Serbs. Ah, more problems to be solved. In June 1928, a Montenegrin deputy to the parliament assassinated the Croat leader, Stjepan Radic. The Croats withdrew their representatives and organized a separatist regime with headquarters in Zagreb. Civil war seemed imminent, but King Alexander suspended the constitution of 1924, and assumed dictatorial control of the government. Alexander further tried to unite the country by abolishing the traditional provinces and changed the name of the country from the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (Land of the South Slavs.)
The country suffered greatly during the economic hardships of the 1930’s. The new country was still suffering from independence and the ravages of World War I, and had not acquired a stable economy. The government was mostly concerned in maintaining the status quo. Political persecution of the opposition was horrific and the Communist Party had been outlawed. The Yugoslavs tried to develop the port of Split with a new improved railway to get their goods to the world markets. This upset the Italian government as they controlled the port of Rijeka and did not want the Yugoslavs to have any other major commercial ports.
The 1931 Census of Vis Island showed a population of 8,746 people, located in 2 districts or 23 separate towns or villages. In 1932 Komiza had 5 elementary schools, 3 libraries, 6 sardine factories, 1 hotel, 1 junior high school, 1 girls vocational school, a post office, and a pharmacy. By the mid 1930’s Komiza also boasted a Co-op system for its vintners, and fisherman. It would collectively purchase all the items necessary for the farmers and fishermen and also help them market their goods. It had a bank and a credit union system so that the people would not have to rely on the governmental banks and their royalist owners. The first official post war census (1953) counted 7,890 people on the island.
The actions of King Alexander were still considered very harsh and popular discontent became increasingly frequent throughout the kingdom. On September 3, 1931, the king proclaimed termination of the dictatorship and instituted a new constitution, but things continued on as before. On October 9, 1934, while in France, a Macedonian terrorist connected to the Croats assassinated King Alexander. The king’s son, still a minor at age 11, succeeded to the throne as Peter II. Control of the government was vested in a three person regency headed by Prince Paul, a cousin to the late king. In 1934, seven citizens of Komiza were imprisoned for "Political Crimes". In 1939 the government was finally forced into establishing a federalist system to appease the Croats. After Alexander’s death Yugoslavia began to move toward closer relations with Hitler’s Germany.
It is said that even in the 1920’s interest and participation in the Communist party and its philosophy became very attractive to the citizens of Komiza. Considering that they had been ruled, taxed, and conscripted by far distant Dukes, Kings, Tyrants, Emperors, Doges, harsh landlords, and others for over 800 years, it is very easy to see their interest in a more benevolent system over which they could have some control.
Remembering also that 59 citizens of Comisa organized a "Brotherhood," with the Bishop’s permission in 1569, so that the organized community mindset was deeply ingrained in a social system for well over 350 years.