HC Deb 03 April 1828 vol 18 cc1438-41
Sir R. Wilson

said, he felt it his duty to address the House on a subject which deeply concerned, not only the interests of humanity, but the national faith. Official advice had now been received, that—he had heard even seven thousand persons, but certainly—several thousand persons, men, women, and children, had been forcibly taken from the Morea, put on board the Egyptian fleet, and landed at Alexandria, where they had been publicly sold as slaves. The sufferings of these unhappy persons had been highly aggravated, from their having been torn from their country at a moment when the blessings of freedom had just begun to dawn upon it. The right hon. Secretary had, on a former occasion stated, that orders had been issued that none of the non-combatting part of the Greek population should be removed. He would ask then, how it was possible, while such orders existed, that the Egyptian fleet, or rather that remnant of a fleet which had escaped the battle of Navarino, should have been allowed to commit this piracy; for, to tear women and children from their homes and consign them to slavery was the worst of piracy? He wished to ask the right hon. gentleman, whether any official advices had arrived in this country which explained this transaction? He wished, also, to ask the right hon. gentleman whether any measures had been taken by this country, by itself, or in conjunction with its allies, to redeem these unfortunate persons from their bondage? This reparation, at least, was due to Greece, which had a right, under the treaty of the 6th of July, to claim the protection of the allied powers from wrongs like these, and all the relief that could be afforded them when the infliction of such wrongs had been allowed.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, he had already stated, that in 1825, and consequently long before the protocol was signed by the duke of Wellington at Petersburgh, and long before the treaty of the 6th of July, his majesty's ministers had received an indistinct intimation, that the commander of the Egyptian forces intended to take away the inhabitants of the Morea to serve in Egypt; and before the treaty of the 6th of July was entered into, a distinct and formal intimation was given to Ibrahim Pacha, that his majesty would never agree to such an exercise of the rights of war, or allow the inhabitants of the Morea to be converted into slaves by force. No attempt was at that time made by Ibrahim to put this intention into practice, and it was not therefore necessary then to take any measures of prevention. He believed it was correct that some women and children had been taken forcibly from the Morea since the battle of Navarino. Instructions had been given to the British admiral before the battle took place, and those instructions were consequently still in force; by which the British fleet was directed to prevent any movement whatever of the Egyptian force, with this exception only,—that if any attempt were made to remove the Egyptian army from the Morea every facility should be afforded for the execution of such an attempt; but it was perfectly understood, that the Egyptian forces only were to be removed, and that any attempt at removing any portion of the population of the Morea was to be resisted. On the 28th of December, a fleet, consisting of forty-five sail, arrived at Alexandria. This fleet was the remnant of that which had been engaged in the action at Navarino. These vessels had on board the disabled seamen and soldiers, and also some women and children, but what the number of them was he could not tell. He had seen an account which rested upon tolerable authority, and that account stated that the number did not exceed six hundred. For the rest, he could assure the hon. member, that the subject was one to which ministers had given their best attention. Immediately upon the arrival of the intelligence in this country, instructions had been sent out to the British admiral; and in a very short time he had little doubt of being able to enter into full explanations without any prejudice to the public service.

Sir F. Burdett

thought that the honour of the country, no less than the interests of humanity, was implicated in the question; but he was bound to admit, that the observations of the right hon. gentleman were so far satisfactory, that they displayed no want of proper feeling upon the subject. At the same time, he rejoiced that the question which called forth those observations had been asked; and trusted that proper steps would be taken to restore those unhappy people who had been carried away into slavery to the home from which they had been so atrociously removed.

Sir J. Mackintosh

said, that in 1825 a project had been conceived by Ibrahim Pacha, of carrying off the whole population of the Morea into slavery in Egypt, and re-peopling the country with Arabs. As soon as that intention had been known at St. Petersburgh, a declaration of the strongest character had been issued, stating that the first attempt to execute it would be held to justify the most decided measures on the part of the powers of Europe for its prevention. The abominable outrage by which so many unoffending women and children had been carried into captivity, seemed to be a sort of remains of the project of 1825; and merited the promptest notice by this country. He could not doubt that the inquiry, in which the government was engaged, referred to the most convenient measures for restoring the unhappy victims to their country, and he trusted that every effort would be made, not only to disclaim any acquiescence in such an act on the part of England, but to repair, as far as possible, the consequences of it. With respect to the great general question connected with this subject, he should at present abstain as far as possible from making any comments on it, although it was a topic upon which he and those who thought with him observed silence with difficulty; and how much longer it would be possible for them to persevere in a silence which cost them so great an effort, and which might be liable to misconstruction, it was impossible for him to say. It was a little extraordinary, that, while the other powers, which were parties to the Treaty of London, had declared their intentions plainly, England alone should refuse to speak out. In, France, the full explanation of M. Peyronnet, left no question as to what the policy of that country would be. Russia, in a communication which was substantially official, had avowed to all the world the motives of her policy, and she was at that very moment probably on the eve of executing it. Even the Turks themselves had made known the whole course of fraud and delusion which they had been practising upon all the powers of Europe for a series of years. Under these circumstances, he would, shortly after the recess, call the attention of the House to the situation and duties of this country under the treaty of the 6th of July. The more he reflected upon the treaty in question, the more firmly he was convinced of its justice, lawfulness, and wisdom.

Mr. Bright

said, he had never been convinced of the wisdom of the treaty upon which the learned gentleman had laid so much stress. He called upon ministers rather to revise their course of policy, than allow their feelings to hurry them into a war.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, there was one point of the speech of the learned member for Knaresborough upon which he must observe, lest he should be supposed to acquiesce in it. The learned member said, that he presumed the "inquiry," of which he (Mr. Peel), in a former address to the House, had spoken, could be nothing else than an inquiry into the best mode of restoring that part of the population recently carried from the Morea to their country. Now, he was not aware that it was possible entirely to go that length. Undoubtedly, if the instructions of government had been strictly complied with, the transportation of those persons would have been prevented. No blame was to be attached to the conduct of our fleet, the physical powers and means of which had been cramped by the battle of Navarino: but the orders, if it had been possible to have executed them fully, were to prevent any movement of the hostile fleet, unless one which should be sanctioned by the English admiral, and of which the object should be to transport the Egyptian forces employed in the Morea back to their own country. As the intelligence at present stood the extent of the spoliation that had been committed was uncertain. Unfortunately, too, those slaves had been landed in Egypt, and sold in the public market. If the ships which contained them had been taken at sea, there could have been no difficulty about their disposal; but now they were probably divided, and the property of private individuals. At present he would go no further than to repeat, that within forty-eight hours after the arrival of the news, the most active inquiry had been entered upon by government, as to all the facts connected with the case. Sufficient information had not yet been received; but the investigation was going on.