HC Deb 02 March 1848 vol 97 cc127-38

thought he might fairly venture to entertain the hope that when the House had done him the honour of hearing the case which he should submit to its consideration, they would think him justified in claiming their attention for a short period, even at a time of so great general interest and excitement as the present. He did not think that any time could be more apposite; because at a moment when every nation was awakening from its long slumber, and asserting those principles of freedom which are so greatly advantageous when they do not overleap the bounds of moderation, he thought that the representatives of a country which had so long enjoyed the blessings of which other nations had been deprived, would not hesitate upon the present occasion to cast their protection around the weak, and to express their indignation at wanton cruelties and acts of hideous oppression practised on an unoffending people, whose interests we were solemnly bound to protect. He said it advisedly, "whose interests we were solemnly bound to protect;" and as some hon. Members might not have turned their attention to this subject, he would in a few words explain the position in which we stood towards that country. In 1827, a treaty was signed between England, France, and Russia, for the pacification, or rather for the liberation, of Greece; it was called the Treaty of London, and became the foundation of all our subsequent policy. This treaty, as the House might know, was followed by the battle of Navarino. In 1830, the crown of Greece was offered by the Three Powers, and under the assent of the Greek people, to Prince Leopold, who, in the first instance, accepted it, but, influenced by the crafty counsels of interested parties, subsequently rejected it on the plea that the Greeks had not been sufficiently consulted in their choice of a Sovereign. After many conferences and much hesitation, the Powers ultimately fixed on the present King, Prince Otho of Bavaria, then a boy of fifteen or sixteen, who was immediately accepted by the Greeks under certain conditions, which were ratified and confirmed by the King in his name. The most important of these conditions were, first, that the Greeks were to have a free constitution; and, secondly, that the Three Powers were to advance 2,400,000l., in equal proportions, to the infant State, the interest and principal of which to be paid out of its first revenues. It was almost unnecessary for him to inform the House, that, except at rare intervals, we had never been paid even the interest upon our portion—viz., 800,000l., for which we are now annually liable; but what was of far greater importance, the whole stipulations respecting the constitution were grossly violated. But in September, 1844, a great constitutional movement took place; the demand for free institutions was re-echoed from one end of the country to the other. The Throne was preserved, and the constitution was granted. Every one will remember how firm was the attitude—how gallant the bearing—how generous the conduct—how consumate the prudence of the Greek nation during these great events. Testimony was borne to the merits they had displayed in a despatch of Lord Aberdeen, to Sir Edmund Lyons, dated April 7, 1844:— Sir—Her Majesty's Government have learnt with the greatest satisfaction, by your despatches of the 30th ult, the termination of the labours of the constituent assembly, and the final and solemn acceptance by the King of the ratification of the constitution. They have viewed with no less satisfaction the admirable temper which appears to have generally prevailed in the constituent assembly, throughout the whole of their deliberations on the deeply interesting and important act on which they have been engaged. Such self-command in a popular assembly, convoked under very exciting and critical circumstances, is highly creditable to the Greek nation. Nor is the result of their labours, as a whole, less entitled to credit for the general soundness of the constitutional principles therein established. Since 1844, I may say (the hon. Member continued) that every principle of free and constitutional government has been violated; that the word of promise broken in the hope has not even been kept to the ear. Even within a few months of these remarkable events, the laws were openly set at defiance by the very persons who enacted them. Corruption, brigandage, torture, and rapine have stalked through the country. The revenue is diminishing, and the expenditure increasing; and wherever there may be any slight development of the industry of the country, it is accomplished in spite of the Government. Sir, I make these assertions boldly; and in order to prove them, I will make use of no document which has not been fully authenticated. I will bring to certify the facts which I have stated the testimony of officers in the employment of the Government; and I think I shall be able to show such scenes of corruption and horror, that even the most apathetic on questions of foreign policy will feel that I am justified in submitting them to their consideration. And, first, I will refer to the financial state of the country, in which this House is more immediately interested, for I hold in my hand the account of 47,188l., issued out of the Consolidated Fund, for payment of the interest and sinking fund, which was guaranteed by this country. Of this sum, 23,000l. was last year repaid, not by the Greek Government, but by a gentleman well known and universally esteemed, I mean M. Eynard. There can be no testimony so important, so unquestionable as that of M. Eynard, who was the great friend of the late Administration, and received the personal acknowledgments of the King for his attachments to Greece. M. Eynard, in a letter addressed some time last year to the late President of the Council, points out to him the gross malversations of office practised in Greece. The late Minister of Finance came down and informed the House that the treasury department was in a complete state of disorganisation; that there were no accounts of revenue or expenditure, and that he could not furnish anything in the shape of a budget, on account of the dishonesty of the public functionaries; that millions were due to the State, and he did not know from whom. On February 18, 1846, the Exchequer of the country possessed considerable resources in the loan, and yet the condition of the people has never been ameliorated; they are in a wretched state. Imagine, Sir, that the Minister of Finance cannot obtain any knowledge of the state of the country—that he is entirely ignorant of its resources; you may therefore judge what must be the state of the revenue: in these few words I have proved to you in what ignorance he had been kept during the short period of his administration. And the same most honest Chancellor of the Exchequer said, only a few weeks since— I cannot conceal from you any longer the truth; the robbery of the public treasury has surpassed all measure, and is carried on with an insane imprudence; but is this the fault of the Minister? If each employé steals a small portion of the revenue, the diminution must naturally become considerable. Things have arrived at such a pitch that it is impossible for the Financial Minister to put an end to the abuses. But this is not all. This illustrious financier stated to the Three Powers on one occasion that, owing to the enormous deficit, it was quite impossible for him to meet the interest of the loan for the current year. When attacked for this state of the revenue in the Chamber of Deputies, he excused himself by saying it was quite a mistake, there was a small surplus, but that he had thought it best to falsify the public accounts, in order to prevent the Three Powers demanding payment. But in case the statements of this Chancellor of the Exchequer should seem incredible to the House, they are authenticated by the following documents. The Governor of Acarnania writes to the President of the Council:— The Minister will permit me to remark that, having been informed of the wretched condition of the public revenue, and of the more strange and unaccountable conduct of the Minister of Finance, in matters of the greatest moment, it was his duty to have directed an examination into the conduct of the officer, and at least to have paid some attention to the strong expressions of public opinion, That opinion denounces the present Administration, and the facts support the accusation that they have allowed their employés to pillage the State, and have inflicted incalculable evil upon the country, notwithstanding the fertility of the season. It will scarcely be credited that in reply to these and numerous similar remonstrances, M. Coletti, President of the Council, made the following statement:— Abuses had always existed, and the only difference between abuses past and present, was, that formerly they were the monopoly of a few privileged persons, but that now they afforded some hundreds the means of subsistence; that the mismanagement of the loan, and the extravagance of the Regency, was the cause of this financial embarrassment; if there existed great disorder in the administration, it had always been the same. I will now pass from the financial part to the brigandage which prevails, and will, with the permission of the House, read a statement of the conduct of a man called Trino, who has for a long time been in the service of the Government. I can assure the House that, incredible as they may appear, I have taken the pains to fully authenticate all the statements, and can vouch for their accuracy. They occurred very recently:— On the 4th of November last, Trino was at a village called Rerasova, with a body of armed men, nearly 300 in number, at which place they took up their quarters; he summoned all the principal inhabitants, and those of the neighbouring villages, and, binding them with cords, as if they were robbers and assassins, he thrust them, by way of imprisoning them, into vile, filthy stables; this was on the plea that he wished to discover some brigands who were concealed. Trino then caught a wild cat, and put it into the trousers of the wife of one of the principal inhabitants. He himself beat the cat, that it might jump about, tearing the unhappy woman to pieces; and he only set her at liberty, when, from extreme torture, she made a false confession, stating everything that Trino prompted her to say. On the strength of this confession he took the men out of prison, first bound their hands and feet tightly, and then tied their hands down to their feet, thus making a sort of bow of their bodies, and he kept them in that position several hours. The next day Trino took two of the men to a lake in the neighbourhood; he caused two blocks to be lashed to the tops of two of the highest trees, and with a running cord hoisted them up and let them down several times into the water, and when they had quite lost their senses he had them dragged on shore. After some time he said, 'Poor fellows! I am afraid they are cold, we must warm them a little.' This he accomplished by flogging them most unmercifully, when they were afterwards taken back to prison. After these feats he stalked about the town, exclaiming 'You wanted a constitution, my fine fellows! You are nice fellows for a constitution. Well, now you have got it. I hope you will like it, for you have seen some of the blessings of it!' This illustrious officer on one occasion sent a present of two heads in a basket to the Monarch of Acarnania and Etolia. A petition presented from Patras, authenticated by all the leading inhabitants, states— The members of the family Dimeoi arrested by the Mirarque (the Government officer) were subjected to the torture for three days, and all their effects sold. Demetri Nicalocopulo, accused of an insignificant robbery three years ago, was put to the torture, and expired soon after. This unhappy man was denounced to the Mirarque as having stolen a cow three years since; the Mirarque ordered an ordeal by torture; the gendarmes bound him hand and foot, threw him down, and placed enormous stones on his breast and stomach, and then jumped upon them. In the last extremity, and in the hope of saving his life, he pleaded guilty, but it was too late; when the stones were removed he died; his young wife, who was on the eve of her confinement, was carried to the grave a few days afterwards. I translate parts of the petition from Messenia, but the tortures practised on the women will not bear description: in these cases the atrocity of the crime is the security of the criminal:— Sire, fifty citizens, dragged without excuse, from the bosom of their families, and thrown into a damp and loathsome dungeon, deploring their loss of liberty, that last worldly blessing, cast themselves on your mercy. Sire, the tortures we have undergone, are unheard of and horrible; some of us suspended by the feet, others with their legs and arms bound, are laid upon the ground and blocks of stone placed on their chests, their flesh torn and limbs mutilated. A robbery had been committed in our village in the month of October; on the 22nd of November, D. Saulis, lieutenant des garde frontières, at the head of a detachment of soldiers, and without any instructions from the magistrates, desired them to seize eighty of us, and throw us into the cellar of a house of a priest named Papajanopulos. Not obtaining any information, notwithstanding all the violence, some were released, and the others conducted to their respective houses, where the most horrible tortures were inflicted upon us during the nights of the 22nd and 23rd; then, not having succeeded in making us admit ourselves guilty we were taken to a lonely spot, named Divari, thrown down, bound, and gagged, with enormous stones heaped upon us; when we lay at the point of death, the stones were removed and we were set at liberty. These horrors, Sire, had a far different object to the discovery of a theft; for some time past the garde frontières have endeavoured to push us to acts of despair. But we, Sire, throw ourselves upon your Majesty's protection, imploring, in tears and affliction, the punishment of those persons who have so outraged humanity. We supplicate your Majesty to condescend to take efficacious measures to put a termination to those miseries which oppress your people, by excluding from the public service those persons, who, instead of executing the laws, only substitute fearful tortures; and all these crimes are committed in the name of your Majesty. At Lamia, on the 26th November last, two gendarmes and three soldiers entered the village of Daitza, where they took and imprisoned the authorities, and then having entered the cottages belonging to two men, Agrosloti Galatopoulo and Christo Tagana, seized the women, whom they treated with a brutality too horrible to describe, and then pillaged the House. It will be observed that these are outrages committed by officers and men in authority, and the instances might be multiplied tenfold; but it is hopeless to attempt to convey any adequate notion of the general disorganisation of the country; and the House must imagine it, after being informed that the Government actually amnestises the brigands; and not this alone, but the captains of banditti are empowered to delegate their authority to those employed under their command. I add one of the certificates:— I, the undersigned, certify upon my conscience, that the bearer of this note served under my orders in all the acts of brigandage which I committed, and that he always distinguished himself by his zeal. Sir, a friend of my own, M. Bondouri, one of a most illustrious family in Greece, was requested by the Government to give them up his house in Athens; he declined, on which the Government sent the gendarmes. To the gentleman's great astonishment, all his furniture was gone; he went to the window and found that it had been thrown into the middle of the street. I may mention the case of Don Pacitrio. This gentleman's house was broken into in the middle of the day, at Athens, and plundered; the thieves then deliberately broke all the furniture which they could not carry away. And who, it will be asked, was one of the leaders of this depredation? Why, the son of Tzavella, the present Minister of War. Sir, there are innumerable other instances which I might adduce; but I really think that the House will be tired of listening to such atrocities. One word regarding the violation of the constitution, of which the Government have been guilty. It may be known to many Members of this House, that, even under the dominion of the Turks, the Greek nation enjoyed all those admirable municipal institutions which had been transmitted to them from ancient times, and to the confirmation of those privileges the Three Powers, in 1828, attached the greatest importance. Now, under the present Government, these rights have either been entirely destroyed, or only used as instruments of excessive vexation and persecution. To show the good feeling which subsists among the Greek people, I will read one extract from the address of the Senate, recently presented to the King, and which was elicted by the unconstitutional conduct to which I have adverted:— Sire, a long experience has afforded us the most satisfactory conviction that the strict observance of the laws, and the energetic defence of the rights of the nation, have been, and always will be, your Majesty's anxiety; but the facts fully prove that this princely intention has been misunderstood, and that these same rights have not been respected during the elections, which have been followed by very pernicious results. The Senate prays that your Majesty's paternal wisdom and tendencies will afford them relief. The adjustment of our finances is a work on which the honour and the credit of the country depend; and to this subject the Senate will give all its attention. The Senate prays that efficacious means may be taken to limit the expenditure, and to regulate the collection of the revenue, which, for some time past, does not seem to have been capable of a satisfactory explanation. The King made the following reply to this address, through his Minister, M. Tzavella, the new President of the Council:— His Majesty having understood that the address voted by the Senate interferes with those rights which exclusively belong to the other legislative body, has charged me to announce to you, that protecting the constitution, and jealous of the maintenance of the rights of the nation, and anxious to maintain the good intelligence between the two legislative bodies, he does not intend to receive such an address. After this His Majesty was pleased to create nine new senators, which brought them to the highest possible amount contemplated by the constitution, namely, half the number of the deputies; but not satisfied with this, the Government compelled the deputies, who, by the by, I may incidentally mention, were all elected under violence, to pass a law extending the King's power to create senators in case his Majesty should desire to do so. I have omitted to mention that, in the discussion on this subject, which took place in the Senate, M. Condowriski said— Not to tell his Majesty that the Government is vile, that the constitution is in danger, that the finances are in disorder, that anarchy reigns in the country, would be to betray our oaths, and to expose ourselves to the just reprobation of the country. To which the President replied— Do you think, Sir, that I do not know as well as you do to what a deplorable state the country is reduced? I told his Majesty all this; but he assured me that if you did not give up the Address, he would create new senators. I see that you will insist upon telling the King the truth; but the truth is bitter, and not to be told at all times. Sir, the recent affair at Patras has excited a great deal of attention. I am not going to trouble the House with an account of the circumstances which took place; but I am quite certain that any one who fairly investigates them will admit that the captain of the Spitfire only discharged a great national duty in taking on board Merenditi and his followers. The course which he adopted was that proposed by all the other consuls, and received the unanimous approval of all the inhabitants of Patras. Sir, I think I have said sufficient to prove that the case of Greece requires much consideration; and I need not say that no party feeling, and no desire to promote our own influence, should have any weight with us. Lord Aberdeen well laid down, in 1844, the principles which should guide us, in his instructions to Sir Edmund Lyons, who has so nobly and ably followed them:— It will, of course, be of high importance that the three guaranteeing Powers, who have hitherto acted in such perfect unison in their proceedings with regard to Greece, should continue to preserve the same unanimity of counsel and action in the changed circumstances that have arisen. You will constantly exert yourself to maintain that union which has hitherto so happily prevailed between your colleagues and yourself; and you will especially impress upon them the necessity of persevering in the honourable and correct principle which ought to guide the Three Powers in their relations towards Greece, and by which Great Britain, at least, is fully resolved that her conduct shall be invariably governed; that is, to set aside all views of separate or individual interest, to discourage all party distinctions, and to look to the national welfare and prosperity of Greece alone, as the object of our united care. And in November of 1844— In the whole of your proceedings at this important crisis, you will constantly bear in mind that the good of Greece alone is the principle which guides and animates Her Majesty's Government. We wish to see Greece independent, and under the auspices of a sound and well-regulated constitutional system of government, in which each power in the State shall have its due weight and influence, growing daily in strength, in credit, and in prosperity. The exercise of any extraneous and exclusive influence over her counsels can but retard that growth. Instead of leaning upon foreign support, we desire to see the Greeks rely on their own moral and physical resources for establishing their affairs on a footing most conformable to their wants and social position. I may mention that, when some communications were recently made to the Bavarian Government on the state of Greece, the King was forced to admit that the counsels he gave were never attended to. I will not imagine that at this time, when the principles of constitutional government are so fully developed—I will not believe that, after those recent scenes which Europe has with amazement witnessed, Greece will remain the only country, which, participating in European civilisation, does not participate in those privileges which are now becoming common to all. I am not exaggerating when I say that Greece, with her two thousand years of claims upon free institutions, has the smallest amount of freedom granted to her. In all other countries, even in those which do not enjoy a liberal constitution, there is in general some check placed upon wanton tyranny, either through a powerful aristocracy, as in Russia, or by the means of enlightened state craft, as in Austria. In Greece, however, all tyranny is unbridled; there is not even an aristocracy to stand between the people and their tyrant; and so the constitution is taken advantage of to veil the blow which is struck at the happiness of the nation; and the ministers of evil and ignorance, who spread anarchy triumphant through the land, take advantage of the consequences of their guilt, and exclaim, "See the desolations of a people who wept for a constitution." I understand them well. They take example from the executioners of the daughter of Lejanos, and first violate the child in order to give them a right to destroy it. If anything can prove that Greece is not unworthy a free constitution, it is that the people mourn so deeply over its loss, and groan under the tyranny which oppresses them. It is precisely because, having suffered its loss, Greece has, ineffectually it is true, but so often asserted her rights, that she proves herself fit to obtain them. Let us suppose that a heartless despotism was accepted without a murmur—that the sense and spirit of the nation did not turn when it was trodden on—then it might have been said, "This people are undeserving of liberty; servitude is their natural condition;" indifference to persecution would have been made an arm to be turned against them. Surely, I think, that the House will now agree with me, that this condition of a country will justify the language used by the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in a recent and memorable despatch. It has been said, we dare not use such language to a greater Power. Sir, I am sure that there is no Power so great that we dare not use to her the language of fair expostulation. Why, the very persons who were loudest in this charge against the noble Lord, have recently blamed, in the strongest terms, the language employed in reference to the possible interference of Austria in Italy. As a general rule it is true that it is most unwise to interfere in the affairs of another country; but our relations with Greece are, as I have proved, peculiar ones, and we are morally bound to look after her welfare. It was, Sir, at the Treaty of London that England, France, and Russia, under a generous inspiration, united to relieve this oppressed country; and it is most important that the same Powers should maintain the same unity of noble purpose. I cannot for a moment doubt that France, under her present Go- vernment, composed of men who have proved themselves so eminent and so able, will assert in favour of Greece those principles which she has now maintained, and exercise that first great privilege of freedom, the power of communicating it to others; for I am pleading for a country from which we, in common with all Europe, to use the language of the late Lord Holland, derive all that softens and refines the heart, and all that gives life and animamation to our debates. It is the cause, not of Greece and her isles, or the waters which wash her shores; but the cause of constitutional liberty in all parts of the world. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for copies of certain despatches which have passed between Sir E. Lyons and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.


Sir, I am not aware that I have any objection to make to the Motion of the hon. Gentleman, but of course he will specify the extracts of which he desires to have copies. I am sorry to say that I must bear my testimony to the accuracy of the description which the hon. Gentleman has given of the present state of Greece, whether that testimony be given with reference to the mode in which the financial affairs of the country are regulated, or whether it be offered with respect to the manner in which the constitution has been worked, or whether it be even with regard to the way in which the Executive Powers deal with the people of the country. At present there is no absolute necessity of speaking harshly in this House with regard to the administration of the affairs of other countries; but, as the hon. Gentleman has stated, this country stands with respect to Greece in a position totally different from that in which she stands towards other countries. We have not only rights, but obligations and duties, in respect to Greece, which do not apply to countries in regard to which our position is altogether indifferent. England was one of the Three Powers which by their interposition between Turkey and Greece finally accomplished the independence of the Greek nation, and the erection of Greece into a separate kingdom. England also was one of the Powers to whom was given the choice of choosing a sovereign to reign over Greece; and England was one of the Three Powers by whose representatives was drawn up the proclamation announcing to the Greeks the selection of their Sovereign, and giving a pledge that that Sovereign should give to the Greek nation a constitutional system of government. We, therefore, do stand in the position of parties who have undertaken certain obligations towards the people of Greece; and those obligations—as far as properly lies in our power—I am ready to say we are bound in honour to see carried out. There are questions connected with the present Motion which would make me averse to enter into any discussion of the matter, or go into the details which the hon. Gentleman has touched upon; I, therefore, shall only say that if he so shape his Motion as to specify some particular periods, and the copies and extracts which he chooses to produce, I can make no objection to it; or, perhaps, he might withdraw his present Motion, and then show me the Motion as he would wish it to stand. We may settle it together, and I shall be happy to give him any information which it would be useful for the House to have laid before it.

Motion withdrawn.