HC Deb 27 May 1853 vol 127 cc709-14

then moved that the House at its rising adjourn till Monday next.


I am very unwilling, Sir, at any time to take advantage of this Motion for the purpose of entering into any general discussion; and nothing but a sense of public duty could induce me to touch upon the topic to which I am about to refer. And even with that sense of duty, I shall now endeavour to confine myself as much as possible to making an inquiry of Her Majesty's Government, making only one or two observations for the purpose of making that inquiry perfectly clear. The subject to which I wish to call the attention of the House and of Her Majesty's Government is, the state of our relations with the Ottoman Porte. The House will recollect that very early in the spring considerable alarm was created, not only in this country, but also in other States of Europe, by the arrival of an Extraordinary Ambassador from the Court of Russia at the Court of Constantinople; but that alarm was allayed by the confident declarations which were made by persons in authority, that this mission, though apparently commenced with circumstances of great pomp and urgency, really did not refer to any subject of general interest or importance, but merely to the relations which ought to subsist between the members of the Greek Church, who were subjects of the Ottoman Porte, and the members of other Christian Churches at the Holy Places in Jerusalem. With that general impression, which obtained currency, I think I may say that the public mind assumed an aspect of tranquillity. However, it so happened, Sir, that about six weeks or more ago, Colonel Rose, who in the absence of Lord Stratford, Her Majesty's Ambassador at the Porte, was really the British Minister at Constantinople, and of whom I am bound to say, as all who have been brought into connexion with him, will bear witness, that he is a man of very great ability, and of considerable knowledge with respect to the coun- try in which he has been placed in a very responsible position—Colonel Rose, I say, was announced to have suddenly communicated with our Admiral at Malta, and requested the instant presence of the British fleet; it being also announced that, in concert with Colonel Rose, the French Ambassador had communicated with the French Admiral at Toulon, and requested his immediate presence, with the fleet, at Constantinople. Well, of course, circumstances of this kind immediately revived that alarm which had been prevalent at the preceding period, and to which I have referred. These circumstances were of course duly considered by Her Majesty's Government; and it was generally understood that the Government had arrived at the opinion that there was no necessity for the appeal which was made by Colonel Rose to the British Admiral. The British Admiral, according to his instructions, could not depart from Malta without previous communication with the authorities at home, and he did not leave Malta. The French fleet left Toulon, and arrived in the vicinity of Constantinople. Well, Sir, the country, placing, I think, a wise confidence in those who hold the responsible office of Her Majesty's advisers on such subjects, from whatever party that Ministry might be formed, did not in any way press the Government for disclosures, and seemed inclined to believe that the view taken by Colonel Rose had been of a precipitate character. Shortly afterwards, Lord Stratford, Her Majesty's Ambassador, arrived at Constantinople; and although at the same time the Russian Ambassador Extraordinary did not quit the Turkish capital, still the question of the Holy Places was said to be a matter of negotiation; and there were still circumstances which caused disquietude among those who gave attention to these questions, and were familiar with some of the details of these transactions. Very recently, however, it appears that the question at Constantinople, which absorbed the interest of the representatives of the great Powers, and occupied the attention of the Porte, has assumed an altogether different character; and instead of its being a limited and local question, connected with the Holy Places of Jerusalem, and the relations which the subjects of the Porte who profess the Greek religion necessarily bear to those places, it was announced, without circumlocution, that the Ambassador Extrordinary of Russia had called upon the Porte to enter into a convention which—not to weary the attention of the House with details—may be briefly described as a convention which, if agreed to and carried into execution, would transfer the allegiance of a vast majority of the subjects of the Porte in European Turkey from the Sultan to the Emperor of Russia. When this became known, there was, no doubt, considerable alarm, which has not been in any way allayed by the announcement which has been made—I know not with what authority, but which has been made and credited—that Her Majesty's Government did feel that Colonel Rose, when he applied at a previous period for the presence of the British fleet, was justified in the policy he recommended, and the course which he proposed, and that we have sent ships to Constantinople. Now, Sir, I have mentioned these circumstances that I may put before the House as clearly as I can, without presuming to give an opinion on the subject, what has transpired; and having made that statement, which I have endeavoured to make as briefly as possible, offering no opinion whatever on these transactions, I wish to ask these two questions of Her Majesty's Government:—I wish to know whether the English and French Ambassadors at Constantinople are at this moment acting in concert together; and if that be the case, then I should wish to know further whether there is any difficulty, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, in communicating to the House the general scope and tendency of the instructions which they are now fulfilling in concert? These are the two questions which I feel it my duty to put to the Government, and to which I ask a reply from the noble Lord.


In reply to the questions of the right hon. Gentleman I will communicate to the House as much as it is possible to communicate at present on this subject without injury to the public service. The right hon. Gentleman has made a statement with regard to certain facts which requires some, though not material, correction, on my part. The English Government were informed by the Government of Russia that the Emperor had thought necessary to despatch a special mission, under charge of an Ambassador, to Constantinople, in order to obtain a confirmation of those concessions which had been made at former times to the members of the Greek Church at the Holy Places of Jerusalem. We were informed at the same time the Ambassador of Russia—as there was occasion to complain that former concessions had been either withdrawn or materially modified by certain orders given by the Sultan in February of last year—was instructed to say that it would be necessary to have some security that the concessions which were again to be confirmed should not be again withdrawn or modified; but what the nature of that security was to be, the Russian Government, as is usual in diplomatic transactions, did not state specifically to any other Government. The Russian Ambassador arrived at Constantinople; and certain circumstances which then occurred, induced the Grand Vizier to feel very considerable apprehensions as to what was about to take place, and he applied to Colonel Rose to ask for the presence of the English fleet near the Dardanelles. Colonel Rose did not communicate the message to Malta by telegraph, but he sent a steamer to Malta with despatches, and with a request to the Admiral at that place that he would proceed, as the Grand Vizier had desired, to the neighbourhood of Constantinople. Admiral Dundas forwarded those despatches to London, and stated that he should wait for orders from the Government before he left Malta. Her Majesty's Government entirely approved of the discretion which Admiral Dundas had exercised, and Colonel Rose was himself informed by the Grand Vizier, I think it not more than two or three days afterwards, that there was no necessity for the English fleet leaving Malta; and accordingly he again despatched a special messenger by steamboat to Malta with a request to Admiral Dundas that he would not change any movements he was instructed to make, and that he would not prosecute his voyage to the neighbourhood of Constantinople. I believe both that Admiral Dundas exercised a wise discretion, and that Colonel Rose was perfectly justified in that second order which he sent—namely, that the English fleet should not be despatched from Malta. The negotiation proceeded; and it appeared that after the arrival of Lord Stratford at Constantinople, his Lordship—as the House will well believe from his ability, from his long experience in Turkish affairs, and from the weight which his opinions and advice have with those who hold responsible positions at the Porte—Lord Stratford de Redcliffe was able to materially assist these negotiations, and enabled Prince Menschikoff to obtain those declarations and acts which were to be considered sufficient, and to which the French Ambassador on his part interposed no material difficulty. It was to be hoped, then, and it was hoped both in London and in the other Courts of Europe, that this affair would occasion no difference between the Courts of Europe, and that this matter of the Holy Places, which had been a source of considerable disquietude, had been settled, and having been settled, the mission of Prince Menschikoff would terminate there. But it appeared that further proposals which Prince Menschikoff made—it is to be presumed in accordance with his instructions, and which in the opinion of the Russian Government were no more than were necessary in order to secure the fulfilment of those declarations which the Porte had made in regard to the Holy Places—were, in the opinion of the Turkish Government, in the opinion of Her Majesty's Ambassador at Constantinople, and in the opinion of the Ambassador of the Emperor of the French, of a nature which could not but be considered to be dangerous to the independence of the Ottoman Porte, and as infringing in some degree those stipulations which all the great Powers of Europe agreed to twenty years ago. With respect to the present slate of affairs, no official information has been received more recent than the 9th instant, which is the date of the last despatch received from Lord Stratford de Redcliffe. However, in answer to the question of the right hon. Gentleman, I can slate that there has been the most perfect concert and accordance of views between Her Majesty's Ambassador at Constantinople and the Ambassador of the Emperor of the French; and that both have taken the same view of the terms of the Convention which were proposed by the Ambassador of the Emperor of Russia. I should say, further, that in the present state of the negotiations it would not be consistent with due discretion or the good of the public service that Her Majesty's Government should produce the instructions under which Lord Stratford has been acting. I will only say that they may be generally described as instructions leaving much to his discretion, but at the same time, pressing upon him, that it is the fixed policy of Her Majesty's Government to abide by and maintain inviolate the faith of treaties, and to support the independence and integrity of the Ottoman Empire, and the rights of the Sultan as an independent Sovereign, I may, per- haps, be permitted to say, that although we have received no official intimation, there is reason to believe that no rupture of the relations between Russia and Turkey has at the present moment taken place; and I trust that the Russian Government will finally ask no other securities from Turkey than are compatible with the full and independent authority of the Sultan as the Sovereign of Turkey, and with the maintenance of the peace of Europe.