HC Deb 28 April 1854 vol 132 cc996-8

said, I wish to ask the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Admiralty whether it be true, as stated repeatedly in the public papers, that subsequently to its having been notified to the Russian Government that the English and French fleets had received orders to enter the Black Sea, and to require, and, if necessary, to compel, every Russian ship they might meet with to reenter a Russian port; and, notwithstanding that notification, that Russian ships of war have crossed the Black Sea, and have removed a considerable number of Russian troops from the coast of Circassia to the Crimea, without experiencing any impediment whatever in the performance of that important operation from any of the ships of the allied fleets?


I am not aware, Sir, of any occurrence in the Black Sea to which the question put by the noble Lord can refer, excepting a particular occurrence, which took place, I think, on the 16th of March, when the British steamer Sampson, in company with a French war steamer, reconnoitred the coast of Circassia. On that occasion they found five small Russian steamers, which had been employed as packets—and not strictly as ships of war—aiding in the destruction of a number of Russian forts on the Circassian coast. They also fell in, about the same time, with a transport that was conveying from these Russian forts, so evacuated, a small number of Russian troops. The steamers were close in shore, in waters belonging to the Russian dominion. The transport they overhauled. It was on its way from the coast of Circassia to Sebastopol. The officers commanding the Russian troops—I am not quite certain of this fact, but I have reason to believe it—these officers tendered their swords, and offered to surrender to Captain Jones. Captain Jones, at that time, in obedience to his orders, refused to accept their swords, ascertaining that they were about to proceed to Sebastopol; and, in conformity to his orders, he came to the conclusion—which I am quite prepared to contend, under his orders, was a right conclusion—that it was not open to him to interrupt the passage of a Russian transport from the coast of Circassia—a Russian coast—to a port in the Crimea. The instructions under which Captain Jones was acting were the instructions which have been laid upon the table of this House, as contained in a despatch from the Earl of Clarendon to Lord Stratford de Redcliffe. The Admiral was at that time acting under orders, conveyed through the Ambassador, from the Government of this country; and those orders I will, with the permission of the House, recall to its recollection. The despatch sent by Lord Clarendon to Lord Stratford, and dated Dec. 27, 1853, said:— In my despatch I stated that it was only by obtaining the complete command of the Black Sea that the policy of the English and French Governments could be effectually carried out, and the recurrence of disasters such as that at Sinope be prevented. But in order to exercise that com- mand to the fullest and most beneficial extent, we have agreed with the French Government that the Russian naval commander should, in appropriate but unmistakeable terms, be informed that the Governments of England and France are resolved to prevent the recurrence of another such event as that at Sinope; that every Russian ship of war will henceforth be required to return to Sebastopol, or the most neighbouring port; and that all aggression against the Ottoman territory, or flag, would impose upon the Admirals the painful necessity of repelling force by force. The instructions issued by Admiral Dundas to Captain Jones, following these orders conveyed through our Ambassador, were exactly identical in all respects with the instructions issued by Admiral Hamelin to the commander of the French war steamer; and the instructions given by both the English and the French Admirals were in strict conformity with the orders which I have just read. The House will observe that, so far from this being an aggression upon Turkish territory, it was only the destruction and abandonment of Russian forts by Russian officers, under the apprehension of war, and on the evacuation of those forts, a removal of troops to Sebastopol. I certainly shall not have the least objection—in fact, it will be the most satisfactory course—to lay upon the table the instructions given by Admiral Dundas, and the report of Captain Jones, the officer employed, when the House will observe that the account of the transactions given by our own officers, to whom I should suppose credit will be given for furnishing an accurate statement of the facts of the case, is quite at variance with the Russian account.