When in Rome

When in Rome, thank God you’re English.*

When in Rome, shouldn’t you do as the Romans Do?

Well, Hanmer Warrington didn’t think so.  

Who is Hanmer Warrington you ask?  Why, he’s just the man who helped Britain win the hearts of a large chunk of Africa.  Warrington may have done more for Britain’s foreign policy more than any other diplomat, and perhaps all the other diplomats put together.

How did he do that?  By not living according to any cliché.  When he was British Consul in Tripoli, he didn’t do as the Tripolitans did.  More importantly, he advised other British subjects not to either.

You see, Tripoli’s traditional economy depended on the slave trade.  There was a trail of bones across the Libyan desert, leading across the Sahara to the heart of Africa.

When British explorers George Lyon and Richie were looking for a secret passage to link the Niger with the Nile, some thought they should blend in.  They went by names like bin Lyon and bin Richie.  They dressed in turbans like the local Tripolitans, tried to talk like the locals, and pretended to be locals.  When in African – they thought – do as the Africans do.

Well, Hanmer Warrington would have nothing of it.  He told British explorers to “go as Christians.”  The locals went on slaving raids. Christians should not, Warrington warned, dress like men who held slaves.

Ex-pats shouldn’t even go on the same routes, but should have dedicated guides who had nothing to do with bizarre Barbary customs.  Christians had a better reputation among Africans in the interior than the Tripolitans did.

Warrington recognized that Christian nations had this reputation to uphold.  Hanmer knew that there were divisions among Africans themselves, and that to blend in with one group would be to acquire their traditional enemies.  He also wanted the British to put their best foot forward.  Hanmer Warrington, the British patriot, wanted Britain to gain a better reputation than other Christian nations.

Many infamous Britons didn’t live up to Hanmer’s ideals for his countrymen, and these joined in with a few of the local squabbles. But many more British explorers followed Hanmer’s advice and spread good will through their good behavior.  “Everyone else is doing it” was never good enough for Hanmer, no, he expected a controlled, dignified behavior from his countrymen.  It could be said that Hanmer helped to civilize the British.

Despite Libya’s conflicts with Britain, the history of Libya, as written by Libyans, often shows a positive view of the British.  Hanmer occasionally kicked up a fuss, he grew a garden outside the city, had drinking parties with a Scottish pirate (who also enjoyed the flower garden), and never let himself get taken advantage of.  At the same time, he kept his country’s interests at heart, and never allowed himself to cross the line of what he considered the proper way for a British man to behave.

In fact, Hanmer did such a great job, it’s said the Portuguese wanted him to represent their interests as well.  Bryan Macdonough was the Scotsman representing Portuguese at the time.  McDonough also had was also drinking with locally based pirates, but he didn’t have a flower garden.

Hanmer ended up acting as the observing party for two treaties between Italian states and the Pasha.  Considering that Karamanli spoke fluent Italian (kind of the Lingua Franca at the time), he wasn’t there to interpret.  He was there because he was seen as firm and fair.

Hanmer Warrington was a tough cookie. No, he wasn’t perfect.  His political views were extreme, especially toward republics.  He stood up for his friends, and he was dreaded by his enemies.  Unfortunately, his enemies eventually included just about every foreigner in Tripoli who wasn’t British.

Some British historians have called him paranoid, violent, a binge drinker, and other things.  He was a loving father and a protective friend.  Unfortunately, his influence is largely ignored by American historians.

Hanmer Warrington was repeatedly reprimanded for his behavior.  He usually had a good excuse for it.

When in Rome, don’t do as the Romans do.  Don’t copy their bad habits and assimilate in the local society.

Instead, be a good representative of your own people.   Here’s to you Hanmer Warrington, the man who put the patriot in ex-patriot.

Note: For more on Hanmer Warrinton, I’d suggest consulting “A Nest of Corsairs” by Seton Dearden.   I’d also like to thank Ceredigion Libraries and the National Library of Wales for making the research related to this post possible.

* Hanmer Warrington would have said something like that.

P.S.  And a happy St. George’s Day