Ekaterini Plessou-Crummer, the first female Greek immigrant to Australia in the mid-1800s, has an incredible personal story that is filled with encounters with historical figures of the Greek War of Independence.
Plessou was born in a small village in Thesprotia in 1810. Her father, Giorgos, was a merchant from Serres, in the northwest of Greece. Due to his profession he used to travel a great deal, leaving his then 14-year-old wife, Vasiliki, alone with their two infants.
Vasiliki’s children were Ekaterini and Kostoulas. Raising them practically alone and being of extraordinary beauty, made Vasiliki the target of unwanted attention. Spotted by Ahmet Muhtar, the son of the legendary Ottoman Ali Pasha of Ioannina, who fell in love with her, she soon ended up in his harem.
Muhtar was so taken by her, that he even threatened to kill her husband Giorgos should he come near his wife ever again. Her daughter Ekaterini also grew into a beautiful girl and soon Muhtar started pursuing her as well.
In order to save her from Muhtar’s reach, Vasiliki rushed Ekaterini into an engagement with Ali Pasha’s doctor, Ioannis Kolettis. Kolettis was to be one of liberated Greece’s future prime ministers.
Ekaterini Plessou in the middle of the Greek Revolutionary War
The engagement was short-lived, however, because after the murder of Ali Pasha and his son in 1822, Ekaterini found her way to Messolonghi. There, she met another legendary figure, the poet, philhellene and revolutionary Lord Byron.
She became friendly with the Lord and is rumored to be the last person who saw him alive. After the historical, bloody Messolonghi evacuation of 1826 (a key moment in Greece’s war of independence), Ekaterini wandered around for some time until she found herself on the island of Kalymnos.
There, in 1827, she met, fell in love with and married James Henry Crummer, the commander of the British garrison at the time. Crummer was a veteran of the Napoleonic wars, having fought in the Battle of Waterloo against the French.
Since he was an officer, he came to be posted to many different places around the world, eventually receiving orders to go to Australia. On September 28, 1835, James Henry and Ekaterini arrived in Sydney on a boat — which was carrying 300 convicts from Britain who were being transported to Australia — and settled in Newcastle.
The first female Greek immigrant in Australia
Thus, she became the first Greek woman ever to live Down Under. The immigrant couple had their sixth child after their arrival in Australia. They had 11 children altogether, but only six of them survived infancy. Of those, only her son Robert had a family, continuing the Plessou lineage until today.
Ekaterini Plessou lived a quiet life of little means in Australia. Her family owned a small farmstead and their only income was her husband’s salary. When James Henry died in 1864, Ekaterini moved to Sydney with her son Henry.
The two of them lived together until Ekaterini’s death in August 8, 1907, at the approximate age of 98. Australia would eventually go on to host the largest population of Greeks outside the motherland after subsequent immigrations.