HC Deb 26 May 1819 vol 40 cc806-20
Sir C. Monck

, in rising to make the motion of which he had given notice, relative to the cession of Parga, said, that except the duty which a care for the safety of his own country imposed on him, there was none which he more willingly undertook, than that which he had to discharge that evening. He had to call on the House in behalf of a people who were to be deprived of all that made civil society valuable, protection for person and property, and the free exercise of religion. The people of Parga were now in possession of these privileges—he could not say in, the enjoyment of them, for by the imprudence of the noble lord opposite at the Congress, they were soon in danger of being slaughtered ignominiously by their cruel enemies the Turks, or leaving their country, receiving a compulsory and inadequate compensation for the goods they left behind; leaving their land to be shared among their foes, and their Christian churches to be polluted with Mahometan ceremonies. If he had not strength of mind to impress on the House all the circumstances which weighed in favour of the inhabitants of Parga, he hoped he should be able to state enough to persuade the House, that they were called upon in an especial manner, by the generosity and justice which should actuate them towards other states, and especially towards small states, which at their hazard had been our friends in war, to interfere to protect them from the errors of our ministers. That House could never, he thought, refuse its sympathy or compassion to a people struggling for freedom, and therefore he was encouraged to calculate that the object of his motion would be graciously received, especially as military possession was taken of Parga in the year 1814, by a British force sent by general Campbell, upon a specific engagement with the people of that town that it was to follow the fate of the Ionian islands, whatever that fate might be. The people of Parga thus confidently committed themselves to the protection of England, and was it possible that it was intended, as he understood it was, to abandon this interesting people to the dominion of the Turks? He assured the House, that in bringing forward this motion, he was not actuated by any party motives, or by any desire to inculpate the noble secretary for foreign affairs, who was not, he sincerely believed, by any means aware of the mischiefs likely to result from the transaction to which he had given his assent. On the contrary, indeed, he thought the noble lord, when apprized of the consequences of the course upon which he had entered, would be ready to retrace his steps. He gave the noble lord full credit for a disposition to shrink from any treaty that threatened to produce such misery as must result from the surrender of the people of Parga to the dominion of the Porte. Such a course would indeed be so abominable, that he could not suppose any British minister would give it his sanction [Hear, hear!]. Here the hon. baronet entered into a history of the Ionian Islands, and their continental dependencies, including Parga, from the fifteenth century to the year 1797. when they fell under the dominion of France, in consequence of the conquest of Venice by that power. He next adverted to the transfer of those islands to the joint protection of Russia and the Porte, and the ineffectual endeavours of the pasha of Albania to obtain military possession of the town of Parga. The arbitrary character of this pacha could not be unknown to the House; and his promise to the people of Parga was, that if they surrendered to him, they should be what he called compensated for their present possessions, by being transferred to other places, while, truly, their town was to be occupied by Turks, and their Christian churches converted into mosques. Was not such a proposition peculiarly revolting, he would ask, to every British, to every Christian, to every generous mind? [Hear, hear]. The people of Parga revolted at it, and the terms of the letter in which they rejected the proposition of the pacha, evinced at once the justice of their apprehension from such a connection, and the manliness of their resolution to withstand it. The hon. baronet then read the letter, which was in the following words:—"To Ali Pasha—We have received your two letters, and we rejoice that you are well. The compliance which you require of us it is not easy for you to obtain; because your conduct, exhibited to us in the fate of our neighbours, determines us all to a glorious and free death, and not ever to a base and tyrannical subjugation. You write to us to fall upon. and slay the French. This is not only not in our power to do, but if it were, we would decline to do it; for our country has boasted her good faith for four centuries past, and in that time often vindicated it with her blood. How, then, shall we now sully that glory?— Never. To threaten us again unjustly is in your power; but threats are not characteristic of great men: and, besides, we have never confessed to fear, having accustomed ourselves to glorious battle for the rights of our country.— God is just—we are ready: the moment comes when he who conquers shall be glorified. So fare you well. Parga, Oct. 16, 1798."—In the year 1800, the Russians and the Turks, entered into a treaty, by which the independence of the Grecian islands was recognized, under the name of the Septinsular Republic. By an unfortunate clause in that treaty, which provided that the Porte should have power to take military occupation of Parga and three other towns, the Parguinotes fell into his hands. The pacha took the inhabitants out of their own country, and placed them in distant parts of the pachawick; he, deprived them of their own possessions; and on the pretext of allowing them a compensation in terms of the treaty, he assigned them others in distant parts: and to complete their degradation, he converted their churches into mosques. By the treaty of Tilsit, in 1807, the Grecian islands were given up by the Russians to the French; and it was worthy of being remarked, that afterwards a right hon. gentleman (Mr. Canning), in an official note to the Russian court, had charged them with a breach of faith in thus sacrificing to France the independence of the Septinsular republic. The Russians, having recommended to the Parguinotes to secure a good understanding with the French, completely abandoned them. The pasha, seeing that France had obtained possession of the Ionian islands, entered into a negotiation with the French general for getting Parga ceded to him. The Parguinotes seeing these negotiations between the French general and the pacha, prepared for their own defence, and at the same time made strong application to the French general for assistance. The French general, whose character did not stand high for generosity, refused to give them up, and promised to report to the emperor that they were a free people, and every way worthy of favour. He at the same time sent them a French flag, and troops to defend them. This was in 1807, and the cession was finally refused by the emperor. In 1809 and 1810, admiral Collingwood commanded in the Mediterranean, and took measures to resist the farther progress of the French. Sir John Stewart furnished land forces, and lord Collingwood ships, for an expedition to reduce the Ionian islands. Here he must read extracts from lord Collingwood's instructions to the captain who commanded this expedition: he read from a printed paper which had been laid upon the table two years ago, in consequence of a motion of his for that purpose. Lord Collingwood instructed the captain, that on their landing on any of those islands, the Septinsular, and not the British flag, should be hoisted; the inhabitants should be required to take arms, and the fortresses should not be garrisoned by British troops, their own troops being sufficient for that purpose. Five of the islands were reduced. Corfu, the head of them all, was not reduced, there being not troops sufficient to effect its reduction. The commander of the expedition, in his dispatches, said, that he had great satisfaction in informing that their efforts were attended with complete success. The government of the Ionian republic, it was now determined, should be restored; but the British flag was set up together with the Septinsular flag, and British troops were stationed to defend the several posts till the various offices were properly filled up. When the Parguinotes, whose ancestors had bled for their country, who themselves were ready to bleed for their country, who had been respected by Russia and by France, when they saw this example of British generosity, when they saw the islands reduced by British valour, and restored to freedom by British generosity, could it be supposed that they did not unanimously throw them selves under British protection? On the one side, they saw their friends slaughtered by the Turks; on the other, they saw the Septinsular government restored in the most magnanimous manner. Could they hesitate as to the course to be adopted? This was in 1809–10. We were afterwards too much engaged by the war in other places to carry our successes farther in this quarter, and it was vain to attempt the establishment of an independent government without Corfu. In 1814, the Pasha made an attack on Parga. The Parguinotes applied for aid to the French general, who replied that he could afford them no assistance; that he had no troops for the purpose; and, if he had, that he could not, without instructions from his government, send them to their assistance. They determined, notwithstanding, to make no cession: they made all the resistance possible in the neighbourhood of Parga, and at its wall. The Pasha's army of 20,000 men was repelled, and his nephew, who commanded it, slain. Was this, he asked, a contemptible people? Should we, who were the freest nation in the world, treat lightly a people capable of such struggles in the cause of freedom? Could we, without fellow-feeling, regard the efforts of a people, worthy of the freedom which we enjoyed? Was there a heart in the House that did not compassionnate the brave Parguinotes? [Loud cheers]. The Pasha retreated; he was repelled, not routed. They had not numbers enough to pursue him. He built a mausoleum to his nephew, an altar on which the blood of the Parguinotes must flow. Seeing that they could get no assistance from the French, they sent a deputation to general Campbell, with an offer to withdraw their fortunes from France, and to place themselves under British protection; to follow the destinies of the Ionian islands. He granted their request and sent Mr. Foresti's (the English ambassador's) son and sir Charles Gordon, with a strong detachment, to assist in forcing the French out of Paxu, which was opposite to Parga, on the terms that an English garrison should be received, and that Parga should follow the destinies of the Ionian islands. Captain Hoste arrived there at the same time with two frigates. They sent a deputation to him, who received them well, but replied that he could do nothing for them, that he could not attack the fortress; but that if they could get the British flag hoisted on Paxu, he would draw up his frigates under it at all hazards. They got the British flag conveyed into the fortress by an old woman under her clothes! the inhabitants, who had formerly fought against the Pasha, at the same time attacked the sentinels. The British flag was hoisted, the frigates were drawn up under the fortress, and the garrison were made prisoners. The place was in tranquillity in two or three hours after the first movement.—This brought him to the point. The Parguinotes were now under British protection. The object of his motion was to obtain the paper which contained the conditions on which the commanders, by sea and land, gave assistance to the Parguinotes. This document must have been sent home to ministers. He also wished to obtain the answer of our government, if there was any, authorizing what political government was to be placed over Parga by the governor of the Ionian islands. Of the first paper he had a copy, but a motion could not be regularly founded upon it. He would read, however, from this copy the instructions from general Campbell to lieutenant Bretton, respecting Parga. The date was May 1815. Parga was to be considered an appendage to the Ionian islands, and more particularly as an outwork of the garrison of Corfu; it was wisdom to retain it; lieutenant Bretton would attend to the wishes and feelings of a free people who hated the Turks; they were a spirited and independent people, yet docile and mild when treated with civility; the great mass of the people might be depended on, they never would submit to the Ottoman government [Loud cheering]. Such were the instructions then given respecting Parga; such was the character of the people as described by general Campbell. These spirited, free, independent patriots now saw themselves made a sacrifice of to their implacable enemy. They found themselves now driven to the alternative of making the seat of liberty their grave, or of going into exile—an evil scarcely less cruel. He could not, however, suppose that the noble lord opposite would proceed in his purpose. He could not suppose that a people, free, and resolved to preserve their freedom, should in vain rely upon the freest people in the world. He could not suppose that a people, whose independence had been respected by despotic governments, should be deprived of their liberty, or driven from their country by a nation on whom they had placed the greatest reliance, and had placed that reliance because they were themselves free—by a nation who had actually received them under their protection, and promised to retain them in the embraces of freedom. He trusted that, if the House would show a proper feeling on the subject, the noble lord must retrace his steps. The steps taken were not irrevocable. Could it be endured, that the last spot of Greece which retained freedom, which retained Christianity, should be surrendered to despotism and cruelty? Could it be endured, that the Cross should be surmounted by the crescent? Could we neglect the opportunity of uniting so free and brave a people in bonds of fraternity with us? Could we fail to attach their hearts to us by gratitude for the preservation of their liberty? [Loud cheers] He had now given the narration of the case. He was sorry that he had occupied so much time. He would proceed to debate the case with the noble lord. In answer to a question which he had asked, the noble lord was understood to say that he considered himself obliged by the treaty of Paris, Nov. 1815, to make a cession of Parga to the pasha. He was not sure that he had understood the noble lord; if not, he should be happy to be now corrected. Since 1815, there had been no further treaty on the subject. There had been a convention since between a commissioner from our government and a commissioner from the pasha, respecting the terms of the cession of Parga. He would, therefore, meet the noble lord on the treaty of Paris, 1815. There were several treaties then between the several powers; he selected the treaty with Russia, but what effect it could have on the destinies of Parga he could not conceive. Article first sat forth, that the several islands (enumerating them), with their dependencies, should form a free and independent state. If Parga was considered as included in the dependencies, then it must follow the Ionian islands, and be free and independent. Reference was made in this treaty to a treaty in 1800, between Russia and the Porte, in this manner:—"With their dependencies, small islands, such as described in the treaty between the emperor of the Russias and the Ottoman court in 1800." That reference was only for description, and not for pointing out the destiny of Parga at this time. Its destiny could not be determined by that treaty, which by the way, had been observed only so long as was convenient for the parties. We were bound before 1815 in good faith, in generosity (a part of our character in the estimation of the Parguinotes), to protect the inhabitants of Parga. We were not to refer in a posterior treaty contrary to a transaction which had taken them into our embraces. In the treaty of 1800, Prevesa, Bucintro, Volizzo, and Parga were ceded to the Turks. Even if that treaty were binding upon us, we could unanswerably reply—"True, we engaged to give those places to you, and you engaged to preserve their privileges inviolable. Where now are Prevesa, Bucintro, and Volizzo? [Hear]. They are in desolation. Those places, when delivered up to you, enjoyed peaceful tranquillity, the cross stood in their churches, Christianity flourished among them. They were overrun by you: you broke all stipulations in their favour, and you spared the lives of any Christians only to do you menial offices. Restore those places to their former condition, and then we shall consider it our duty to consign Parga into your hands: but we never can give up to you the last European place that erects the Cross of Christ, when we see Prevesa, Bucintro, and Volizzo, in the greatest desolation." [Much cheering.] England had, as it were, given to the Parguinotes a guarantee of future protection, by having the military occupation of their city for a long time. She ought not now to disappoint the hopes which her conduct had raised. He had no wish to take up the time of the House further, but he could not but think that it was the intention of our government to give up the Parguinotes to the power of Ali Pasha, for, by the treaty of 1815 it seemed that the treaty of 1800 was so far recognized, as that compensation should be allowed to those who might wish to leave their country. If the noble lord put that construction upon the treaty of 1815, he ought at least to have gone the whole length of the treaty of 1800, and not adopt part of it to the prejudice of those people, without giving them the || benefit of the whole. There was nothing which they dreaded more than to be given up to the power of the Turk: and here he would again ask, what right the Turk had to demand this cession? If he founded his claim upon the treaty of 1800, he should show that he had himself fulfilled that treaty, that he had afforded protection to the other cities which were then placed under his care. What had he done towards them from which it could be hoped that he would act with justice towards those unfortunate people? From all which had transpired of the conduct of this cruel tyrant towards those people —from the confidence they had reposed in this government, and from the protection we had afforded them, it would be unjust, and a breach of faith on our part, to deliver them up to their greatest enemy. The hon. baronet then recapitulated the substance of his leading arguments, and again maintained, that if we were not disposed to afford those people our further protection, we ought at least to place them in the situation in which they were when they applied to us for our assistance. We ought to allow them to struggle for themselves, and give them the same means they had before of defending their liberty. In looking to the condition in which those unfortunate people were placed; in remembering the situation in which they had been; in recollecting the bravery with which they had defended themselves; and in considering the state to which they were now likely to be reduced, he was strongly reminded of that passage in which the poet described Eneas as relating to Dido his departure from Troy with his son and father, at the destruction of that city:— Hoc erat; alma parens quod me per tela, per ignes. Eripis, ut mediis hostem in penetralibus, utque Ascanium, patremque meum, juxtaque Creusam, Alterum, in alterius mactatos sanguine cernam? Arma, viri, ferte arma; vocat lux ultima victos. Reddite me Danais; sinite instaurata revisam Prælia. Nunquam omnes hodie moriemur multi. The hon. baronet concluded, amidst loud cheers, by moving, for "1. Copies of Instructions of general Campbell to sir Charles Gordon, or any other British officer, respecting assistance to be given to the inhabitants of Parga against the French and Turks in 1814, with copies of any requisitions sent to him, or to captain Hoste of the navy, by the inha- bitants, upon which such assistance was sent: 2. Of the Dispatches of the naval and military officers who announced the occupation of Parga by the British forces in 1814 to the government at home, with the conditions upon which that occupation was given by the inhabitants, and any engagements, or assurances of protection, entered into with the inhabitants, or given to them by the said officers: 3. Of such parts of any Instructions sent out to the commander in chief in the Ionian islands, since the occupation of Parga in 1814, as refer to that occupation, as announced by the commander in chief: 4. Of Instructions of general Campbell to lieutenant Bretton, when the latter went to take the command at Parga, in May 1815."

Mr. Maxwell

rose to second the motion. He conceived that if no other principle operated upon the British government but gratitude to those people, that alone was a claim which should entitle them to protection. In looking to the present situation of the Grecian islands, he felt that the noble lord opposite had done a great deal for their regeneration, and as an individual he thanked him for it. Care had been taken to have proper persons sent out from this country, whose constant attention watched over their best interests. He admitted that great benefits had already accrued to the islands from this protection; but while he did this, he should maintain, that we were called upon by motives equally strong to extend our protection to Parga. She had trusted to us for protection. In her confidence she had opened her gates to our troops, to the exclusion of those of another nation by which they had been previously occupied. We yielded to the wishes of the people, in taking military, possession of their city; and the relationship which was established, was one of dependence on the one side, and not only implied but avowed protection on the other. That protection, he contended, we were bound in good faith not to withdraw. Parga was a small, but it was a free state. For three or four centuries it had cherished the spirit of liberty, while the countries around had been nearly enslaved by despotism. The liberty and independent spirit of ancient Greece were nourished here, he might almost say, upon this little spot; but if the House did now not interfere, its last ray would become extinct. In looking to the situation in which this city had been placed by former treaties, he would maintain that we ought not to construe those treaties to the very letter, against a people whose liberty they might abridge. They ought to be construed in the most favourable manner possible. It would be a stain upon a free people, such as we were, to become the instruments, in any degree, however remote, of consigning a small but spirited set of men, whose greatest ambition was freedom, to the dominion of a tyrant. The House should consider the character of the man to whose despotic sway this little state was to be consigned: he was a rebel, and had been so all his life, and his acts were tolerated because it was not in the power of the Porte to subdue him: his conduct had been stained with acts so atrocious as no Turkish minister had been found to be guilty of. The hon. member said, he had been in the country, and was acquainted with many of the evils which those people had to deplore; and he was aware that there was nothing which they dreaded more than being placed in the power of a man from whose despotic sway they had every thing to dread and nothing to hope. It was, he maintained, the interest of this country, to preserve the rights of those people: they had strong claims upon our protection, which they deserved, and which he trusted the decision of that night would afford. He trusted the members on both sides of the House would see the justice of acceding to the motion of his hon. friend. It was not by an indiscriminate support of ministers that the affection of members was shown for them. There might be instances and occasions when it might be for the advantage of the minister to oppose him, where it was seen, he had inadvertently fallen into error. If such had been the case in the present instance—if, through some oversight or unintentional neglect, the interest of the Parguinotes had been forgotten, he trusted that, before it was too late, the error would be acknowledged, and the evil to which it would lead prevented. After the manly avowal of error in another place, and after the recent example of a right hon. gentleman in that House, in retracting erroneous opinions, he trusted that there would be no difficulty on the part of his majesty's ministers in admitting that they had been mistaken in their conduct towards that brave and independent people.

Lord Castlereagh

said, he felt disposed to give every credit to the motives of the hon. baronet in bringing forward this motion, and was glad of the mode in which he had placed it before the House. As the hon. baronet had only called for information, he had no difficulty in acceding to his motion. If the motion of the hon. baronet had been for the discussions which had taken place between this government and the Porte, he should have felt it his duty to have refused them, on the ground that a premature disclosure of pending negotiations might destroy their own end and object. The motion of the hon. baronet had kept free from such discussions; he would therefore consent to it, and reserve his observations until such time as the hon. baronet should call the attention of the House to the information laid before it. It was but justice to his majesty's ministers to have said, that they entertained the most liberal views with respect to the Grecian islands. The question of their occupation arose out of the treaty of 1800. It was very largely discussed, though not settled at, Vienna and at Paris, during the debates on the treaty of 1815: and it was then understood that this government had no right to hold Parga in favour of the inhabitants as against the Porte. This, however, would not be a bar to any future regulation by which their interests might be better secured. It was the general feeling of the allied powers in 1815, that the most liberal policy should be extended towards that people, and this was supported by what he conceived was the duty of this government, that they (the Parguinotes) should have as good a settlement as possible, consistently with the general regulations of the other powers. But, with this disposition on the part of government towards that people, he did still think that they had no other claim upon us, than for our good offices. Every thing which could be done for them in that way his majesty's ministers felt disposed to do. On the subject of negotiation he begged distinctly to state, that there was no convention of any kind respecting this city since the treaty of 1815. There was a species of correspondence between a commissary of Great Britain and one of the Porte, but it did not refer to the possession of Parga. Any negotiation which could be carried on would be with the Porte and not with Ali Pasha: if the place were to be surrendered, it would be to the former. What use he might after- wards make of it, the English government could not guarantee. The negotiations of 1815 had been formed on the 8th article of the treaty of 1800, by which the authority of the Porte over those places had been acknowledged. As to the desolation and destruction of other towns, and the scenes of distress to which the hon. baronet had alluded, he deplored them as much as any man; but he would not say that some part of the conduct of the Parguinotes was not of a nature to justify Ali Pasha in having recourse to hostilities. The object of his majesty's government was, to afford to the Parguinotes a free option of remaining in the country, or of leaving it if they chose, they getting a proper indemnity. To all those who left, that indemnity would be secured; and all who remained would be entitled to the good offices of their country and to enjoy all they would have enjoyed under the treaty of 1800. This was all they had a right to expect. Never till this night had he heard it maintained, that we had a right to maintain this place as against the Porte. He had thought it proper to say thus much in explanation of some parts of the hon. baronet's speech, but would reserve himself to a future occasion for further detail.

Mr. Scarlett

was happy to hear that the noble lord had no objection to the motion of his hon. friend, as it was likely to lead to a more full discussion of this important question. He looked upon the surrender of Parga as an act as treacherous and perfidious as had ever disgraced modern diplomacy. He was not aware of all the circumstances of the case, and should therefore reserve his more detailed opinion till the papers were before the House. But he should say, that unless some new and extraordinary light were thrown upon the matter, he should doubt whether Parga ought to have been ceded at all. One thing he thought was clear— that we were not bound by the act of 1815, or that of 1800 between the Turks and Russians: or if it were conceived that this latter were binding, we ought to have it all or none. The beneficial part of it ought not to be taken from those to whom it applied, while that which operated against them was suffered to remain According to the papers to which his hon. friend had alluded, the Parguinotes themselves seemed aware that, under the treaty which would consign them to the power of the Turk, they could enjoy no privileges, and all seemed determined to leave a country where they could not enjoy their former freedom. The consequence was, that if we consented to this surrender, we should be giving not a little state or city, but a piece of barren and desolate land.

Sir J. Mackintosh

accepted the consent of the noble lord to the motion of his hon. friend, as a pledge against the enactment of as perfidious a transfer as could ever disgrace any free country. There was, he contended, nothing in the treaty of 1815 which could oblige us to consummate so treacherous an act. How, he would ask, could we be bound by the convention of 1800? In what part of the law of nations was it discovered, that we had a right to insist on the fulfilment of a treaty against a people towards whom all its contracts had been broken? The Turks had forfeited all claim to benefit from any clause in that treaty: they had themselves violated and shamefully neglected the duties to which it had bound them. If this were so, how could we be bound by the treaty of 1815? He denied any such inference, and the cession of Parga, would be, he maintained, the most abominable that ever was made of or by a free people. There was no example among nations where faith was kept of giving up a free and Christian people to a Mahometan tyrant. If the treaty of 1815, was said to renew that of 1800, why not renew it all? Why should one half be kept in favour of a Mahometan tyrant, and the other thrown aside as advantageous to a Christian people? When the papers should come before the House, he would be prepared to show that it was the duty of the legislature to interfere to prevent so gross a violation of the privileges of a free state.

Mr. Goulburn

did not mean to follow the example of the two last speakers, by entering at present into a discussion on the merits of this question, with a warmth which he conceived uncalled for at present. Those who had attended to the speeches of the hon. members must feel surprised that they should first condemn the cession of Parga, as an act of perfidy, and in the next sentence admit that they were not in possession of facts on which to ground their opinions. How could gentlemen, arguing in support of justice, adopt such a line of conduct, without having facts to go upon? When the measure came to be discussed, as it must be, if any motion was brought forward upon it, he would be prepared to meet the arguments of those who questioned the conduct of ministers on this occasion.

The motion was then put and carried.