1: Out Into the World
About Horthy || 2: New Appointments >>
Out Into The World
I was born on June 18th, 1868, on our family estate of Kenderes in the county of
Szolnok in the heart of the Hungarian plains. The tall trees of the extensive park shaded
the house in which my ancestors(1) had dwelt since the end
of Turkish rule. Before that time, my people had lived for centuries in Transylvania(2).
I was the fifth of nine children(3), seven boys and two
girls. Our childhood was one of exuberant happiness, secure in the love of our parents. I
adored my mother(4). Her sunny, warm-hearted and gay
temperament set the tone of our family life, and to this day gilds my youthful memories.
My father(5) I admired and revered. But Stephen Horthy,
devoting himself to the management of his estates, was a man of strong character, a strict
disciplinarian, intolerant of disobedience in the home, so that he often engendered in us
a certain fear. With my boyish pranks, into which my vivid imagination and love of
adventure often led me, he had little sympathy, and even my indulgent mother could not
prevent him from sending me at the age of eight away from the home atmosphere to Debrecen,
where I joined my two brothers, who were living with a French tutor. From that moment, I
found myself in the turmoil of life, and learned early to act for myself and to be
responsible for my own actions.
Those who are familiar with Hungarian history will know that, in the year before my
birth, 1867, our great and wise statesman, Francis Deák, had concluded the Ausgleich,
or Compromise, between Austria and Hungary, as the agreement between Vienna and Budapest
was called. Since Ferdinand I of Habsburg had been crowned at Székesfehérvár with the
Holy Crown of St. Stephen in 1527, two years before the Turks laid siege to Vienna, there
had existed between the Magyar nobility and the Habsburgs the same inimical relations as
had existed between the princes of the Holy Roman Empire and the Estates. In the
revolutionary struggle for freedom in the years 1848-49, the Habsburgs had been declared
deposed by the Hungarian insurgents under Kossuth. The young Emperor, Francis Joseph, had
been able to re-enter Hungary only with the help of Russian troops, who then set foot: in
our land for the first time(6). In 1867, Hungary had been
given an independent constitutional government. Only "Joint Affairs", military
matters, foreign policy, and the finances connected with them, were dealt with in Vienna
by joint Ministries, which were responsible, however, to delegations appointed on a basis
of parity by the Vienna and Budapest Parliaments.
I left the parental home before the Russo-Turkish War, ending in the Congress of Berlin(7), had been fought. That Congress caused considerable
changes to be made in the map of Europe. Hitherto the Ottoman Empire had extended as far
as Sarajevo and Mostar; now Bosnia-Herzegovina, a dangerous focus of unrest, was occupied
by Austria-Hungary and governed from Vienna as a state territory. For the first time,
Montenegro was declared an independent state; the small kingdom of Serbia was enlarged by
the addition of Nis, Vranje and Pirot, and the independent principality of Bulgaria was
created. To the east, the Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, which had been united
in 1866 under Charles I of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen(8), to
form Rumania, was now our neighbour.
Russia could not reconcile herself to her diplomatic defeats at the Berlin Congress.
While the alliance of these three Emperors existed, the statesmanship of Bismarck(9), actively supported as it was by Andrássy(10),
the Foreign Minister of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, succeeded in preventing an outbreak
of Austro-Russian antagonism. The 1908 Bosnian crisis, when Austria-Hungary turned
occupation into annexation, the Balkan Wars and the murder at Sarajevo were still decades
in the future. When I determined to take up the career of naval officer, I thought less of
naval battles and victories than of seeing the world and travel.
At Debrecen, I had reached the higher forms of the primary school. I spent my grammar
school days at the Lähne Institute in Sopron, where the teaching was in German, for my
parents wished me to perfect myself in that language.
It had not been easy to obtain my parents' consent to my entry into the Naval Academy.
My brother Béla, older than me by four years, had been seriously wounded in the course of
manoeuvres two months before the conclusion of his training as a naval cadet. The surgeon
from Budapest who, with my father, had hastened to Fiume(11),
had been unable to save his life. Could I ask my parents to let yet another son go into
the Navy after so great a sacrifice had been demanded from them already? My mother
persuaded my father to agree. Blessing their memory for this decision, I now record my
gratitude to them for letting me enter the profession that had been the dream of my
boyhood, and for giving me the fulfilment of my most ardent wishes.
I have never ceased to love that profession and my enthusiasm for it has never faded.
As Regent of Hungary, I was proud to wear my Admiral's uniform even after the
Austro-Hungarian fleet had, to my undying grief, ceased to exist.(12)
Discipline in the Austro-Hungarian Navy was strict. However, the fact that, through
rigorous selection, the officers' cadre was particularly homogeneous, though its members
came from the most diverse regions of the realm, made the service pleasant. The number of
candidates was invariably so large that selection could be meticulous. In my year, 1882,
forty-two candidates out of six hundred and twelve, if I remember correctly, were
admitted. As all naval officers had to pass through the Naval Academy, their education and
training were uniform. The standards were high, which meant that in the course of the four
years' training, more than a third of the forty-two originally admitted fell out. Finally
only twenty-seven of us emerged as fully fledged naval officers.
I was not one of the more zealous students; I preferred the practical part of the
training. As I was among the smaller boys of my year, and good at gymnastics, I became one
of the topmen. During an exercise, one of the lifts to the yardarms was let go by mistake,
and I was thrown from the height of sixty to seventy feet; as I fell, I tried to catch
hold of the ropes, and though I skinned my hands I succeeded in saving my life. The naval
hospital had quite a task to put me together again, for I had broken some ribs, an arm and
a number of teeth in my lower jaw as I crashed on to the deck. At my urgent request, my
parents were not informed, for I had no wish to cause them alarm. The school year ended
with the customary two months' cruise in the Mediterranean, after which came four months'
Our education was governed by the maxim which was inscribed in letters of gold on a
marble plaque at the college: "Above Life Stands Duty". That maxim has remained
my guide throughout life, long after the day, at the end of four years, upon which we
achieved the longed-for moment and became midshipmen. After my four months' leave, I was
appointed to the frigate Radetzky, the flagship of the winter squadron, which
consisted of three units. At that time, we were still using sail; the boilers were rarely
stoked. Even the armour-clads still carried sail, and one frequently saw captains, trained
in the old school, stopping their engines on entering a narrow harbour and making use of
the sails with which they were so much more familiar. Similarly, in harbour, during stormy
weather, they would replace the anchor-chains, which they did not trust, with hawsers. Not
before the end of the eighties did the construction of modern battleships, cruisers and
The winter squadron sailed from Dalmatia to Spain. The captain of the flagship Hum was
frigate-captain Archduke Charles Stephen, a brother of the Queen of Spain(13),
the mother of the future King Alphonso XIII. This meant that we were exceedingly well
received in all the Spanish ports. The Spanish did their utmost to show us the beauty of
their country, bullfights, of course, being among the sights. From Malaga, two friends and
I went on a marvellous expedition along the coastal plain through forests of orange-trees
and across the Sierra Nevada and on to Cordova and Granada, where the Alhambra made a
profound impression on me. At Barcelona, many people came to visit us on board. The cadets
of the watch had to conduct the principal guests off the ship, and, moreover, see that
they had left the ship by five o'clock. I transgressed that order one day, as I could not
bring myself to despatch one family which had arrived rather late. For that I lost a
fortnight's shore leave, which seemed a very heavy punishment to me, for Barcelona was an
attractive and beautiful city where there was much to be seen and done. Was I to be
cheated of that? Hardly had my companions left the ship before I was putting on my
civilian clothes, creeping over the side into a Spanish boat that I had beckoned over and
following them. Near the landing stage, the captain's launch lay waiting. I was hurrying
to the café where I knew my friends were going, when I saw my captain in the Calle Larga
coming towards me. Whatever happened, he mustn't see me. I covered my face with my
handkerchief, dived into an alley and ran back to the harbour as fast as my legs would
carry me. I sprang into the captain's launch and hid under the rowing seats. Before long,
the captain arrived and was rowed to the ship. Once on the deck of the Radeczky,
he ordered the officer of the watch to have me called. I heard him giving the order before
the sailors had even given me a hand up so that I could climb on board through a porthole.
In the cadets' quarters, I rapidly changed into uniform. The cadet who came to look for me
thought he was seeing a ghost as his eye fell on me, for he had watched me go ashore. I
allowed the time it would have taken for me to be woken from sleep, dress and go on deck
to elapse, and then presented myself before the captain, looking as sleepy as I could. He
was so dumbfounded that he sent me away without a word. Many years later, when he was an
admiral and I an officer, he asked me how I had worked the trick. I had to tell him that
it was he who had had the kindness to take me back to the ship in his own launch.
Eighteen months later, I saw Barcelona again. The occasion was a maritime exhibition to
which the navies of the world had been invited. The Queen and her eighteen-year-old son
were expected to be present. Seventy-six warships had assembled in the roads. We were soon
on especially good terms with the Dutch and in their company made a number of cafés sadly
unsafe. One day, they held a banquet on their frigate, the Johan Willem Friso;
one cadet from each nation had been invited. I had the honour of representing our
On such occasions, the chief aim of the hosts was to put as many of the guests under
the table as possible. The dinner began at six o'clock, and at nine o'clock the first
'corpses' were being carried on deck to be lowered into the rowing boats waiting to take
them back to their respective ships. I held out for some time, but at last my turn came
and the fate of the others overtook me. I woke the next morning to find myself in a
delightful but strange cabin. I rang the bell, whereupon a bare-headed sailor entered and
addressed me in a language I could not even place. When I went on deck, I discovered that
I had been taken to a Russian corvette, where they had looked after me to the best of
their ability. All that morning, boats could be seen going the rounds, exchanging strayed
My second trip to Barcelona was made in the Prinz Eugen. After the squadron
was laid up, I was transferred to the Minerva, a corvette without engine. Under
the coast of Sicily, we were once caught in a westerly storm and it was due solely to our
captain that we succeeded in battling our way against the furious wind and the towering
waves into the well-protected harbour of Malta. He maneeuvred so boldly and so
magnificently that we were loudly cheered by the crews of the British Mediterranean
squadron that lay anchored there. Before we sailed on to Tunis, where I was to see the
ruins of old Carthage, we were given an opportunity of visiting the picturesque island of
Malta with its memories of the ancient crusader knights.
Before we set sail again, I bought a parrot, which soon became the pet of all the
cadets. He sat on his perch and we all tried in vain to teach him to speak. After the
day's work in Tunis we used to play games of tarot in the mess-room. A few weeks after we
had sailed, someone, during a game, called "tarot!" and "pagatultimo!"
and, to our amazement, the parrot suddenly shrieked, "contra," the one word he
must have heard clearly during our games at Tunis.
In November, 1889, I was appointed a sublieutenant and, to my great joy, was
transferred to the Taurus. That was our Embassy ship, as we used to call the
warships which the big powers sent to Constantinople on account of the uncertain
conditions prevailing under Sultan Abdul Hamid(14). In
winter we lay moored in front of the Tophane artillery arsenal; in summer we lay anchored
opposite the summer residences of the Embassies on the Bosphorus. In summer, also, we
would undertake long cruises on the Black Sea, taking us up the Danube as far as Galata or
in the Mediterranean along the Turkish coast.
Life in Constantinople was both pleasant and varied. When off duty, we went in for
sport. We even had a small pack of hounds, and would go off on a drag-hunt every week with
an English attaché as master of the hunt.
After more than a year in Constantinople, the Taurus had to have new boilers
put in and we went to Pola. On the voyage, we called at Corfu, where I visited the
Achilleion, a castle constructed with much taste and loving care on a glorious promontory
of the island by our Queen-Empress Elizabeth. The castle owed its name to a statue of
Achilles that had been erected in the park. Together with her son, Crown Prince Rudolph,
she had planned the building and chosen the site. After the tragic death of the Crown
Prince, she never returned to Corfu. The Achilleion passed into the possession of German
Emperor Wilhelm II, whose sister Sophie was married to Constantine, the future King of
The wish of every naval officer, a voyage round the world, was granted to me while
serving in the corvette Saida, to which I was transferred in the summer of 1892.
Her captain was Commander Sachs(15), former aide-de-camp
to Emperor Francis Joseph. There were ten officers on board, of whom I was the junior in
age and rank. The two years' voyage I made in her still ranks among the finest memories of
my life. Like Ulysses, we saw the cities of many men, and knew their mind. The supremacy
of the white race in the whole world was firm and undisputed. Under the rule of Queen
Victoria, 'Britannia rules the waves' was true without reservation; we encountered a
number of impressive examples of that in the course of our voyage. I could easily fill a
volume with the description of that cruise alone, but I shall limit myself to giving a few
scenes and comments that may be of interest in showing how times have changed.
We had left Pola under sail, and, the wind being favourable, soon reached Port Said. A
short leave made it possible for us to visit the sights of Egypt: the pyramids, the
splendid mosques, the rich museums, and also the places of entertainment. I stayed at
Shepherd's Hotel, the building which went up in flames in 1952. Opposite the hotel was the
shop of the cigarette manufacturer Dimitrino, who was my father's supplier. I paid my
father's outstanding account when I bought the cigarettes needed by the officers' mess for
the long voyage. Unexpectedly, our leave was prolonged, which presented us with a problem:
our purses did not stretch quite as far as that. We put our heads together, and I
propounded the happy idea of asking Dimitrino for a loan. I wrote down how much each of us
would need, and somewhat diffidently put the matter to Dimitrino. He replied that he was
very sorry but he could not give me the sum as his cashier had just left for home. He
would, however, send after him and would then despatch a message to our hotel. I took that
to be a polite form of refusal. Picture my amazement when, within a quarter of an hour, a
messenger called to ask me to go over to Dimitrino's. I found him standing by a large,
open safe, filled with gold. With a florid gesture, he asked me to take exactly what I
needed. The payment of my father's small account might well have been a trick; but, as a
business man, Dimitrino was a good judge of human nature.We were able to reimburse him
from Suez. The proverbial heat of the Red Sea caused us considerable trouble, for we were
not employing native stokers but using our own men. A steam-pump kept three showers
constantly in action on deck and though the temperature of the water was eighty-six
degrees, it struck us as cold, and we could not stay under it for long at a time. At Aden,
we came across swarms of Persian carpet dealers and Jewish ostrich-feather merchants. Our
ship was quickly surrounded by native tree-trunk canoes, from which Somali boys jumped
like frogs into the water, diving after coins. The place was alive with sharks. We saw
many boys who had lost an arm or a leg while indulging in their dangerous pastime.
At Bombay, a British naval officer came on board to welcome us. As we were talking with
him on deck, a P.& 0. liner happened to pass by, whereupon the Lieutenant-Commander
remarked that there was a British major on board her who was being transported to England
to a mental asylum. One evening, he told us, while this major was entertaining friends
from his cavalry regiment in his bungalow near Poona, he suddenly observed a cobra winding
itself round his leg. This snake is not uncommon in those parts and its bite is fatal. The
major asked his guests to remain motionless and ordered his servant quickly to warm some
milk and put it down with great caution near him. This took some time. Tempted at last by
the milk, the venomous snake uncoiled itself and slithered over to the dish, whereupon the
servant cut off its head. The guests, released from the almost unbearable tension, began
to ease their positions. The major did not move. His reason had fled.
In the neighbourhood of Poona there is a forest high up in the mountains where
Europeans go to recuperate. When I heard that panthers abounded there, I asked for a
couple of days' leave to go and try my luck with a sikhari, a native hunter. He
took me to a raised platform after having tethered a lamb in the centre of an empty space
within two hundred yards of the last of the bungalows. It was growing dark. I could hardly
believe that a panther would venture so near a settlement, for we could still hear the
voices of people in one of the bungalows. The sikhari, however, told me that only
two weeks before a panther had walked into the house of an English lady and, to her
horror, had helped himself to her little dog. The bright moonlight would have been
excellent for shooting, but no panther appeared. Only after the moon had set were we able,
by ear, to follow the tragedy of the lamb below us. We had to remain where we were until
day broke. I had unfortunately no time to make a second attempt.
With the aid of a pilot, we steamed up the River Hugly, an arm of the Ganges delta, and
dropped anchor opposite Sowgor Island. This island is uninhabited, largely on account of
the tigers which come from all directions, especially during the season of rut, swimming
across the river. After my disappointment over the panther, I was hoping to bag a tiger.
This time, I set out with a calf as bait. The pilot, seeing me set off, informed the
captain that I was endangering my life. Before long the signal "No. 1 boat,
return" called me back. The next morning we proceeded to Calcutta.
Along the shore, tropical forests alternated with fields tilled by the natives with the
help of tame elephants. In the vicinity of the town, along both banks, there were numerous
three- and four-masted sailing ships, driven off the seas and condemned to rot by the
advance of steam power.
Calcutta at that time had a population of over a million. On the third day of our stay,
we were invited by the Viceroy to a dinner and ball, on which occasion we met the cream of
Calcutta society. Every day saw some activity: polo, horse-races, parties, theatre shows.
It was all so entertaining that I was almost reluctant to go on an excursion to
Darjeeling, but, feeling that it was my duty to pay my respects to the memory of the great
Hungarian explorer of Tibet, Kôrösi- Csoma(16), by
visiting his tomb. I went and have never regretted having seen the Himalayas and the
highest mountains on earth with my own eyes.
At polo, I made the acquaintance of the Maharaja of Cooch-Behar in Bengal, who invited
me to a tiger hunt on elephant-back, which was to take place two days after we were due to
sail. I was in despair, for would I ever have such an opportunity again? I even thought of
reporting sick, of having myself taken to hospital and following the Saida, after
the hunt, to Singapore. But my conscience played me false, though my unconscious did not:
in the course of a race, my horse fell and I broke a collarbone. Taking leave of Calcutta
was not easy.
What we saw of India testified to the colonizing talents of the British. They had made
sure of the Khyber Pass and were holding the unruly tribes along the North-West frontier
in check. They had put a stop to the constant conflicts between Hindus and Moslems. In the
economic field, they had seen to the regulation of the flow of the big rivers and by
irrigation they had brought huge areas in the Punjab under cultivation. They had built
roads and railways; in short they had created civilization and wealth, and were
maintaining order with relatively small forces. Today India is partitioned, and millions
of refugees on either side of the India-Pakistan frontiers have to suffer for the
theoretical bliss of liberation.
Singapore, the British Gibraltar of the East, was most impressive. If anyone had told
us then that this fortress, so difficult of approach, would one day be conquered by the
Japanese, we should have laughed in derision. The Sultan of Johore received us in
audience; the presence, however, of a British aide-de-camp was an indication that his
country belonged to the British sphere of influence. Not until later did he acknowledge
While in Calcutta, I had received a letter from the Siamese royal prince, Mom
Rashwongse Krob, who had been a pupil at our Naval Academy and had spent fourteen years in
Vienna, where we had met at the home of a mutual friend. In his letter, he promised to
meet me at Bangkok. The Menam, on which the capital of Siam(17)
is situated, is so shallow that we had to anchor far out, almost out of sight of the
coast. A few hours after our arrival, Mom Krob appeared in a small steam yacht and, as I
had been given three days' leave, I was able to join him immediately. It took us three
hours to reach Bangkok. My host lived within the harem, and, apologizing for his inability
to take me to his home, he told me that he had booked a room for me in a hotel which was
run in faultless European style. After dinner, we visited the theatre belonging to the
Minister of Foreign Affairs, in which all the female parts were played by his wives. The
action was made clear by means of pictures at the back of the stage. The dancer, dressed
in a golden Buddha costume, moved her fingers and toes to the music of drums, gongs and
fifes. It took me a little while before I was able to distinguish a kind of exotic melody.
Mom Krob pointed out to me proudly that the orchestra played in unison without using a
Bangkok, with its splendid buildings, its countless pagodas, its museums filled with
gold and jewellery, impressed me as a fairytale come true. My three days flew by. I had to
forgo being presented at court as I lacked the requisite clothes. I never dreamed that
fifty years later I should be entertaining the King's successor, Bama Prajadhipok VII, at
Gödöllô as my guest.
In Java, we came into contact with Dutch civilization, which had made the fertile
islands of the East Indies into the main producers of rubber, tobacco, coffee, tea and
other commodities of world importance. At Batavia, we were the guests of the
Governor-General at his summer residence Buitenzorg, which, on account of its altitude,
enjoys a delightful climate in spite of its proximity to the Equator. The weather is
determined by the monsoons, which for six months of the year blow from the north-east to
the south-west between Japan and Cape Town, and the other six months in the opposite
direction. Sailing ships have to regulate their voyages accordingly. From Surabaya, we
rode to the Bromo, a holy mountain, one of the world's largest volcanoes. It is some eight
thousand feet high and the crater measures some two thousand, seven hundred feet across.
We rode down a zigzag path, and then ascended another cone. Suddenly, mist came down on us
from all sides; the effect was so weird that we thought at first we had run into a
volcanic eruption and we quickly mounted our horses and prepared to take a hurried leave
of the holy mountain. But the mist turned abruptly into a tropical downpour, similar to
one we had experienced the day before.
Our next port of call was Albany in south-west Australia. The distance we had covered
was considerable, for we had followed the south-east trade wind nearly to South Africa
before we entered the region of prevailing west wind. Since the world first came into
existence, a westerly storm has raged incessantly between approximately 35 and 53 degrees
south latitude. The cold air of the Antarctic flows towards the tropics and, by the
eastern rotation of the earth, is deflected westwards. As the Indian Ocean is some twenty
thousand feet deep in those parts, the storms create waves of a magnitude unknown in our
latitudes. When these enormous masses of water come rolling along, rapidly overtaking the
ship, the spectator has the feeling that, when the wave breaks, ship and all will be
swallowed up and vanish into the depths for ever. But such waves only break in shallow
water. For weeks on end, it was impossible to eat at a properly laid table; at night one
was in constant danger of being hurled out of one's bunk. Nothing was to be seen but
masses of foaming water and the gigantic albatrosses which circled round the ship like
gliders to snap up any trifle thrown overboard. We were glad to reach smooth water off
Albany. Our consul informed us that there was an epidemic raging in town, and our captain
decided to confine himself to taking in fresh victuals and to go straight on to Melbourne.
We raced along offshore in a fairly smooth sea on a westerly storm, often making fifteen
At that time Melbourne, with its three hundred thousand inhabitants, was the most
modern city I had seen. There were still people alive who had been among the first
colonists, living in tents, but when I was there the city had been planned with fine broad
streets and squares of perfect symmetry.
The Governor of Victoria at that time was the thirty-year-old Earl of Hopetoun(18), whose large fortune enabled him to maintain an almost
royal household. He had an excellent stable, for he was an enthusiastic horseman, taking
part in every steeplechase, fox hunt or kangaroo hunt. When I was invited to dinner with
him, black coffee was served in the stables. The Earl had a marked predilection for
Hungary, which was probably due to our wonderful mare, Kincsem, every one of
whose fifty-six victories he knew in detail. He invited me to the next steeplechase, and
though I had no hunting clothes with me, I accepted his invitation with alacrity.
A special train took us to a certain station where the horses were taken off. We
assembled inside a stockade and mounted our horses. A few moments later, the huntsman with
the whips and the pack of hounds made his appearance. "Are we ready?" the
Governor asked, and, though the gates were open, he rode up to and over the wooden fence.
And though I had been riding horses since I was five years old, and have been on many a
hunt, never have I seen so high a fence taken, not even in jumping competitions. What was
I to do? The mare I had been given was so willing and so surefooted that I could ask even
that of her.
I also took part in a kangaroo hunt, for which they beat a wood. The tempo among the
trees is very sharp and short, for when the kangaroo tires, it sits down and defends
itself against the hounds by kicking. Hounds are flung up into the air, head over tail.
The huntsman finally kills the quarry with a pistol-shot. Special saddles are used on
these hunts to protect the riders' knees against the trees.
As, on my departure, I was thanking my host for these delights and praising the mare I
had ridden, the Governor offered her to me as a gift. Alas, I could not accept her, for
there was no place on board of the Saida for a horse, nor could I send her home
unaccompanied on some other ship.
In Melbourne, we saw a peculiar mode of public transport: the cable-trams. They were
drawn by cable, close to the pavement. The second car of each vehicle was open, and it was
easy to jump on or off while it was moving. The passenger had to pay a small coin, which,
dropped into a box, gave a discrete tinkle, thus ensuring that each payment was checked by
the other passengers. In all things, Melbourne competed with the older Sydney. If the one
had a famous large organ, the other had to build not only a larger one but if possible the
largest in the world. The concerts given by highly paid Belgian organists were famous far
and wide. I never missed one when I had a chance of attending, and counted them among the
greatest musical pleasures of my life. When the vox humana stop was
pulled, it sounded for all the world like a wonderful tenor, baritone, bass, soprano or
We did not fail to patronize the Café Vienna, a cafe-restaurant, the proprietor of
which was Viennese. Twenty years before, he and a partner had opened a bakery, and their Kaisersemmel
(fancy bread) and Kipfel (horn-shaped roll) had proved so attractive a novelty
that their business had grown by leaps and bounds. One of the partners had built the Cafe
Vienna, the other had set up racing stables, but success had gone to his head and before
long he died insane.
At Sydney, we were naturally asked the stock question: "What do you think of our
harbour?" And, truly, Sydney vies with Rio de Janeiro in the fame and beauty of its
harbour; it would be difficult to say which of the two is the finest in the world.
We were instructed to be ready to meet the geologist, Baron Foullon-Norbeck(19), who was to sail in the Saida to the New
Hebrides and the Solomon Islands, where he was going to prospect for nickel,
Austria-Hungary having about that time introduced nickel coins. This assignment
unfortunately forced us to omit Tahiti, Honolulu and San Francisco from our ports of call.
I had been particularly looking forward to visiting Honolulu, which at that time was still
the independent kingdom of the Sandwich Islands, ruled over by Queen Lilinokalani, the
aunt of my orderly! A sailor had come to the royal residence, the only survivor of a
shipwreck, and, quickly learning to speak the language, had made himself useful. A
handsome young man, he had fallen in love with the heiress to the throne and had married
her. Two years before, this Prince Consort had died, and the Queen had approached our
Ministry of Foreign Affairs to enquire after her husband's relatives, he having been a
native of Sale on the island of Grossa. Thus I learned that the young sailor had been the
uncle of my orderly. I should have been delighted to have been present at the reception of
good old Domini (that was his name) at the court of Queen Lilinokalani.
Among the many visitors who came to see our ship at Sydney was a charming old gentleman
who, after the War of Independence of 1849(20), had
emigrated from Hungary to Australia. He had amassed a tidy fortune and had become a man of
importance, but his prosperity had not compensated for his homesickness. When I asked him,
over a meal, why he did not return home, he confessed that he was afraid he might be
disappointed. He would be expecting everyone to acclaim his return, but as he no longer
knew a soul in Hungary, people were more likely to be indifferent to him. To please him, I
gathered together our Hungarian male choir, and we sang one fine Hungarian song after
another to him. The old gentleman broke down altogether and, amid his sobs, was hardly
able to regain his composure.
After Baron Foullon-Norbeck had come on board, we left Sydney and set sail for New
Zealand, where we dropped anchor in Auckland harbour. The northern island is full of
volcanoes and bubbling hot springs. At one place somewhere in that region, it is said that
trout can be caught in one spring, taken out and lowered into one nearby, where they can
be boiled without being removed from the hook! We saw only an occasional Maori; and of the
kiwi, the only wingless bird in the world, we saw none. I was surprised at the paucity of
wild life in New Zealand. A few years later, when discussing this with Emperor Francis
Joseph, I answered a question of his with the remark that I thought it would be an ideal
country for chamois. As a result of this comment, a few pair of chamois were sent out
there, and, as I heard later, did very well and increased in numbers.
Our next port of call was Noumea, the capital of the French penal colony of New
Caledonia. Here the worst types of criminals were sent, and among them was Ravachol, the
murderer of the French President. Punishment was very severe and the guillotine was in
frequent use. The prisoner on arrival was put in solitary confinement in a dark cell. Only
after a long period of good behaviour could he be transferred to a higher grade. The fifth
grade was the highest, and, on reaching that, a prisoner could select a wife from among
the female prisoners and could till a piece of land. Under these conditions, however, it
was no wonder that many of the convicts became insane and had to be sent to the lunatic
asylum which it had been found necessary to build next door to the prison. One of the
inmates believed himself to be a monkey, and as we crossed the courtyard he was swinging
from branch to branch in a large tree with amazing agility. Another believed himself to be
the nephew of our Emperor, and on hearing who we were declared himself willing to receive
us in audience.
When the captain called on the Governor, he took me with him to act as his interpreter,
as our major-domo, a French-speaking Swiss, was supposed to have taught me French in my
boyhood. I soon discovered that lack of practice had made my knowledge of the language
On New Caledonia there was a kind of deer related to the Sikka deer. I went
deer-stalking with a native hunter who hunted by smell like a dog, and very successfully
In our quest for nickel, we sailed from Noumea to the New Hebrides. Owing to the number
of treacherous coral reefs and the unreliability of the charts, we used steam while we
were among the islands. At that time, the New Hebrides and the Solomon Islands were
independent, and I believe that there was a plan to annex some of the islands to
Austria-Hungary should Baron Foullon-Norbeck succeed in finding nickel. I have never
understood why the Austro-Hungarian monarchy made no attempt to acquire colonies. Admiral
Tegetthoff(21) tried to convince those in authority in
Vienna of the necessity of colonial possessions, pointing out that they were a means of
draining off surplus population without losing it to America. What small countries like
Belgium, Holland and Portugal had achieved could surely be achieved by Austria-Hungary?
But Admiral Tegetthoff and others who thought as he did received no reply other than that
Austria-Hungary did not intend adopting a colonial policy.
The New Hebrides and the Solomon Islands were inhabited solely by head-hunters and
cannibals at that time. The Bushmen, an ugly, small, pitch-black, bearded race, were
perpetually at war with the salt-watermen, with whom they waged fierce battles to obtain
salt. Casualties were eaten. Missionaries often met with the same fate. On first arrival,
they were received hospitably and given help in their house-building activities. When they
looked fat enough, they were killed and eaten. I was entrusted with the command of the
landing party which was to escort Foullon-Norbeck. The captain made me responsible for his
safety. After my first experience of progress in the trackless, tangled jungle, I
invariably took twenty-five hand-picked men with me, sailors who carried the necessary
equipment and who were, moreover, fully armed. On the first island, we climbed the highest
mountain. The geologist picked up a stone, broke it with a hammer and announced,
"coral formation, we can go." On the next island, this was repeated. I would not
permit any natives to approach us, as I knew that they carried poisoned javelins and
arrows. Whenever they came in sight, I shot down a few coconuts well beyond them to show
them how long a range our rifles had. I had a native interpreter with me who spoke fluent
English, having been carried off to Australia, where they were in need of labour. Natives
used to be enticed on board ship by means of small presents, such as glass beads, matches
and hatchets. Once on board, they would be asked to perform some small service below deck,
and the moment they had gone below, the anchor was raised. My interpreter had learned to
smoke in Australia and was very grateful when I gave him a little of my tobacco, for since
his return to his native island he had seen none.
Nickel, and gold also, were finally discovered on Guadalcanal, an island of the Solomon
archipelago, which was much in the news during the Second World War. As we were beginning
to run short of coal, however, and we would be having to use steam to pass through Torres
Strait between Australia and New Guinea, we left Guadalcanal for Thursday Island of
Robinson Crusoe fame, where we proposed to bunker. There Baron Foullon-Norbeck, whom I had
accompanied on more than thirty landings in perfect concord and amity, left us to travel
back to Vienna. The year following, he continued his search for nickel in the
Austro-Hungarian warship Albatross, an expedition which had a tragic ending.
I assume that Norbeck considered the natives harmless and that he convinced my
successor that precautionary measures were unnecessary. At any rate, when he set off to
climb yet another mountain he insisted on leaving the major part of his escort at base;
the remainder began the ascent accompanied by a large number of natives. The leader of
these walked beside the commander of the expedition, Lieutenant Budik(22),
and asked him by signs to show him the revolver he was carrying in his belt, and for which
he displayed the greatest respect. As Budik was explaining the function of the weapon to
him, a number of shots rang out below them, and the natives immediately began to attack
the climbing party. The native leader produced his stone axe and began swinging it, but
Budik shot him down. Several natives were killed and the rest fled, but our side also had
its losses. Poor Foullon-Norbeck had his skull crushed. Midshipman Beaufort was killed and
seven of his men with him. The wounded were carried back to the ship, but when next
morning a landing party went to collect the dead, no trace of them could be found.
Though we ourselves had no difficulties, we were nevertheless glad to reach Amboina, a
fascinating island in the Moluccas which belonged to the Dutch, and to find ourselves
among civilized people again. Our next port of call was Borneo.
When the weather was calm, our ship used to be followed by sharks, which snatched
greedily at any food which was thrown overboard. One petty officer on board had been a
professional tunnyfisher and would harpoon these monsters from a distance of thirty to
fifty feet with amazing sureness of hand. He also caught quite a few sharks for us with a
baited hook. To catch one particularly mighty specimen, a large noose was lowered into the
water on a strong rope fixed to the main yardarm. The rope ran through a tackle back to
the deck, and about a hundred men were holding it. The shark was tempted with pieces of
meat and bacon rind to swim into the noose; it did, the sailors hauled on the rope and in
a few moments the shark was dangling in the air. It was thrashing so violently that we
feared it would damage the deck. In the end, a sailor had himself lowered beside it and
threw another noose round its tail. With that aid, we succeeded in getting the monster on
board, where it was killed with axe blows. Inside its body we found three large bladders
filled with young shark, each the size of an average trout. Thrown into buckets of water,
they swam about merrily, and we counted fifty-five of them. Brehm's Encyclopedia
gave the figure of thirty to fifty eggs hatching inside the female's body.
Between Celebes and Borneo, I took over the midnight watch to the words, "Nothing
in sight," one bright and starry night. With all sails set, we were making a regular
eight knots, and every half hour the bosun of the watch would sing out, "Lights are
burning bright and all's well." For safety's sake, I searched the horizon with my
glasses, and suddenly I observed, on the starboard beam, a large four-masted sailing ship,
all sails set, but of her navigation lights not a glimmer. She was heading straight for us
like the Flying Dutchman. The situation was critical. If I turned to port, and the
manoeuvre were to fail, there was a danger of our being rammed. I decided, therefore, to
turn to starboard so that, should we fail to pass astern of her, we should ram her and not
be rammed. Fortunately the watch was ready and did their work to perfection. The stunsails
were taken in at speed, we braced the yards round and passed her, merely brushing a boat
that was hoisted over her stern.
On board this other ship there was not a soul to be seen: they were all asleep. To wake
them up, I had a signal gun fired on deck. That episode was my most exciting experience of
the whole cruise.
We dropped anchor off the village of Kudat in a fine bay in the north-eastern part of
Borneo. In this region there were no Europeans. With a view to having some sport, I had
bought myself a small single-sculler in Sydney. I had it lowered, and, armed with a rifle,
I rowed inshore and up a stream into the jungle, which was the habitat of monkeys and
parrots. On returning, I went ashore near the village and, to my astonishment, a freshly
shaved Englishman stepped out of one of the huts. He was a well-known big game hunter who
was combing the world for rare species and had come to this place in a Chinese junk to
hunt bantengo, a kind of wild buffalo. It needed little persuasion on his part to get me
to agree to join him on an expedition. Four mornings later, after he had worked out his
plans with the Sultan, at that time, north-east Borneo was still an independent sultanate,
we set out. He warned me about the alligators, which had been known to attack boats.
Before the day appointed, however, I had decided to try my luck single-handed. I took
two midshipmen with me and arranged for the boat to come for us the next morning at six
o'clock. We hit nothing. The forest was too dense, but we spent a very romantic New Year's
Eve. We had pitched camp in a clearing and ate our supper with a good appetite. On the
stroke of midnight, we uncorked the bottle of champagne we had brought with us and drank
to our loves, our happy homecoming and to the New Year in general. But we forgot to drink
to the weather, which was a mistake. We had hardly turned in before the most fearful
downpour woke us up, and, wet and shivering with cold, we realized that the boat would not
be calling for us for hours. I have rarely been so cold as on that New Year's morning on
The hunting trip with the Englishman was a great success. We stood, concealed by trees,
a thousand feet apart on the edge of a clearing where game was wont to appear at dusk.
And, indeed, an enormous bull suddenly came out of the forest. Though the distance was
great and his position unfavourable, I risked a shot, followed by two more. The Englishman
fired also and when at last the bull dropped, he had been hit ten times. We cut off his
head and put it on a termite hill. In a singularly short space of time, it had been picked
clean by these ants, and as I had fired the first three shots, I was given the skull as a
trophy, which I proudly took home with me.
Our voyage, however, should not be regarded as nothing but a succession of hunting
expeditions, receptions and sight-seeing. No matter how far from home we were, discipline
was rigidly maintained and we had to work at our studies. We were glad to be passing
through the Suez Canal again.
We had moored according to canal regulations to make way for a mail steamer, but a
trailing rope fouled the propeller and, as it was growing dark, the captain decided to
spend the night in the Canal. Our faces fell; we had been away for over two years and were
longing to get home as speedily as possible. As I was the diving officer, I asked
permission of the captain to inspect the trouble with the aid of a diver. I had the
searchlights directed on to the propeller and we succeeded in cutting the rope away. Our
labours were considerably complicated by the many fish that were attracted by the bright
South of Crete we were beating into a fresh westerly wind. At midnight, I took over the
watch and about an hour later we went about just offshore, and began to follow a
south-westerly course. Suddenly there was a mighty crash as if the ship had run into
shallow ground. Yet the charts showed no shallows there. We were at a loss to explain the
incident until we heard later that Crete had been subjected to a violent earthquake, which
we had felt as a sea tremor.
Off the Bocche di Cattaro, we picked up a signal ordering us to make for the shore.
Field Marshal Archduke Albert and Admiral Baron Sterneck(23),
Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, wished to inspect our ship. A great disappointment awaited
the midshipmen. Instead of going on leave, they were forthwith distributed among the
various warships of the squadron present in the bight. Painful as it was to them, they had
to part with their dearly acquired South Sea mementoes.
On voyages across oceans, it was customary for the ship's pendant to be lengthened by a
yard four for every thousand miles covered. When we entered Pola, our pendant was dragging
in the water far astern.
At the end of the voyage, I took the three months' leave to which I was entitled. As I
travelled through Hungary and saw our peasants, clad in the picturesque costume they still
wore then, harvesting the golden wheat, I could have embraced them. My first evening in
Budapest I spent at the National Theatre. My seat was in the front row and there was
nothing wrong with my hearing, yet I could scarcely understand a word. For three years, I
had heard so little Hungarian that the sound of the language had become almost alien to
me. It took me a while to attune my ears to it.
The next day I arrived at Kenderes. After our long separation, my reunion with my
parents and brothers and sisters was indeed a profound joy.
1. His ancestor, István (Stephen in English) Horthy, received his
nobility in 1633. Hungarian nobilities were hereditary, and were granted either by the
king or by the prince of Transylvania. In addition to an inalienable land grant, nobility
meant the right to vote and freedom from taxation. All such privileges were voluntarily
rescinded by 1848. After that noble ranks had little more meaning than direct lineage to a
Mayflower passenger in the United States.
2. The prefix, "nagybányai", referring to the original
land grant, was first used by the son of István Horthy, reformed bishop of Transylvania,
also named István, who was secretary to Prince Francis Rákóczi II. Nagybánya is a
mining town in northern Transylvania.
3. István (1858-1937), Zoltán (1860-?), Béla (1864-1880), Paula
(1863-1906), Erzsébet (1871-?), Szabolcs (1873-1914), Jenô (1874-1876), Jenô
4. Paula Halassy of Dévaványa (1839-1895).
5. István (1830-1904).
6. In the spring of 1849 Austrian armies suffered a series of
defeats by the Hungarians. Under the Holy Alliance existing between Austria and Russia,
the Austrians asked for Russian help: sixty thousand troops. Russia sent over 200,000. To
the anger of the Austrians, Hungary surrendered to Czar's forces, not to Austria. Austrian
retributions were harsh. One of these was the execution of twelve leading Hungarian
generals at Arad on October 6, 1849.
8. Charles I (1839-1914).
9. Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) created the German Empire and he
was its first chancellor.
10. Gyula Andrássy Sr. (1823-1890) lived in emigration until 1858.
He became the first constitutional premier of Hungary in 1867, then became
Austro-Hungarian foreign minister from 1871 to 1979. He opposed Austrian interference in
Hungarian affairs, and supported Magyar supremacy at the expense of other ethnic groups.
In the 1878 Berlin Congress he obtained the right to occupy Bosnia-Hercegovina. This was
much opposed by the Hungarians who did not want to increase the Slavic element in the
empire. As a result, he resigned.
11. Croat: Rijeka.
12. For an unbiased Western view, see the Harbron
letter in the Appendix.
13. Arch-Duchess, Marie-Christine (1858-1929).
14. Turkish Sultan Abd al-Hamid II (1842-1918). After the loss of
the Russian-Turkish wars, concluded by the Congress of Berlin in 1878, he pursued an
active pro-German policy. For his part of the Armenian massacres between 1892 and 1896 he
was called the Great Assassin. Under his reign, in 1908 a coup of reformist army officers,
the Young Turks, forced him to adhere to the constitution of 1976. That story is described
in the Chapter 2.
15. Moritz Sachs von Hellenau (1844-1933).
16. Hungarian (Transylvanian) orientalist, Sándor Kôrösi-Csoma
(1784-1842). He created the first Tibetan-English dictionary.
17. Today's Thailand.
18. John Adrian Louis Hope (1860-1908).
19. Baron Heinrich Foullon von Norbeck (1850-1896).
21. Admiral Baron Wilhelm von Tegetthoff (1827-1871). Under his
command the Austro-Hungarian navy had a great victory over the Italian navy at Lissa on
July 20, 1866.
22. Lt. Ferenc Budik (1870-1918), later became captain.
23. Baron Maximilien von Sterneck (1829-1897)
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