Gosport residents have long endured the taunt of ‘Turks’ and the accolade of living in ‘Turk Town’.
The reasons behind this are often embroidered with miss-truths about Turkish prisoners of war being buried locally (at Haslar or on Rat island) and Turkish prisoners being kept in the local (Forton) prison.
The truth behind the story is easily explained:
There is no evidence to support the myth of Turkish prisoners ever being at Gosport. Forton Prison held American prisoners followed by French and finally British military prisoners. The hulks in Portsmouth harbour held French Napoleonic POWs and finally convicts. There is no evidence to support the idea that they held Turks who, according to the rumour, were later buried in Gosport. Likewise there is no evidence for the rumour that Turkish prisoners were held at Gosport as a result of the Gallipoli campaign. According to research on the Great War Forum, Turkish prisoners of that campaign were held in India and Burma with some possibly transported to Cyprus, none to England and certainly not Gosport.
The term ‘Turk Town’ seems to have its origins in an incident dating to 1850 when two Turkish ships, seeking shelter in Portsmouth Harbour during a courtesy visit were refused permission to land sailors at Portsmouth. Instead Gosport gave them a warm welcome and shelter, leading to those living in Portsmouth referring to their neighbour as ‘Turk Town’. However this may be based on rumour.
The facts are that In November 1850, two ships of the Imperial Ottoman (Turkish) Navy, the Mirat-ý Zafer, a 44 gun frigate launched in 1834 and Sirag-i Bahrý (Sihâb-i Bahrî) a 64 gun frigate launched in 1837 anchored above Hardway at Gosport on a courtesy visit with a combined crew of 460 men. The visit lasted six months and during this time some of the crew died. The memorial at the Haslar cemetery records that they died from cholera but according to an article in the Morning Post dated April 24 1851 they were suffering from consumption, the old name for Tuberculosis. They were admitted to Haslar Hospital for treatment. The newspaper reported that sixteen of them died, however twenty six Turkish sailors are buried in the cemetery at Haslar. It is suggested that the other sailors were killed in training accidents. The captain of one of the vessels died in London and his body was taken down to Haslar for burial with his men. The paper noted that the turks:
“will leave Portsmouth without a single angry word, or even look, having passed between themselves and the inhabitants. Much of this is no doubt attributed to the good discipline which has been kept up by their officers, but it is chiefly to be referred to the unassuming bearing of the men themselves and their well-known total abstinence from all exciting liquors“
At the turn of the 19th Century the cemetery at Haslar was cleared to make way for the development of the Gun Boat Yard and the Turkish bodies were exhumed and transferred to Clayhall Cemetery where they now lie in peace.
The memorial inscription reads, in Turkish and English:
“They set sail for eternity met their creator and here they are laid to rest.”