§ SIR HENRY WILLOUGHBY
said, that he was anxious, previous to going into Com- 1356 mittee of Supply, to call the attention of the House to a portion of the naval policy which had been pursued by Her Majesty's Government with regard to our fleet in the Bosphorus. The House would remember that the Turkish flotilla at Sinope was destroyed by the Russians on the last day of November, 1853, and that a British squadron had been lying in the Bosphorus since the 1st of November. He would not then enter into the question of the harsh measures adopted by the Russians at Sinope, further than by saying that, if they had a right to destroy the Turkish flotilla, they exercised that right in a bloody and barbarous manner. The question which he wished the First Lord of the Admiralty to answer was, how did it happen that that lamentable catastrophe was not prevented? It must be obvious to the House that the instant that that catastrophe took place all hope of peace had expired; and there could be no doubt that the destruction of the Turkish fleet, under the circumstances to which he would allude, was well calculated to tarnish the hitherto unblemished reputation of British faith. He wished to be informed whether it was or was not true that Her Majesty's Government insisted upon the Turks not sending out their fleet to the Black Sea. He apprehended that the despatch of Lord Stratford de Redcliffe to Lord Clarendon on the 5th of November, 1853, to the effect that he had succeeded in persuading the Turks not to send their fleet to the Black Sea, left no doubt about the matter. Turkey had at that time a large fleet. One portion of that fleet consisted of four sail of the line and ten frigates, the latter as large as our seventy-fours, and had it been allowed to enter the Black Sea and anchor at Sinope, the result would have been more favourable to the Turks. But the Turks not having been permitted to defend themselves, it became the duty of those who commanded the British squadron in the Bosphorus to take care that no harm should be done to Turkish vessels by the Russian fleet. As early as the 5th of October, 1853, Lord Stratford declared his opinion to be that, unless they gave naval aid to Turkey cordially and frankly, Russia would finally succeed. Lord Clarendon anticipated that letter of Lord Stratford's by writing to Lord Cowley, at Paris, on the 7th of October, and on the 8th of that month to Lord Stratford, at Constantinople, ordering that the British squadron was to go to the Bosphorus from the Dardanelles. In 1357 those letters he used the expression, "If the fleets of the Russians should leave Sebastopol, the British squadron will, of course, pass into the Bosphorus." Now, he (Sir H. Willoughby) wished to learn from the First Lord of the Admiralty how it happened that, after the Russians had notoriously gone from Sebastopol, the British squadron remained inactive in the Bosphorus, and did not enter the Black Sea? But that was not all. On the 8th of October Lord Clarendon wrote to Lord Stratford de Redcliffe:—It will be necessary that Admiral Dundas should inform the Russian Admiral commanding at Sebastopol, that if the Russian fleet should come out of that port for the purpose of landing troops on any portion of the Turkish territory, or of committing any act of overt hostility against the Porte, his orders are to protect the Sultan's dominions from attack.Those instructions were despatched to Constantinople on the 8th day of October, nearly two months before the affair at Sinope, and he wanted to know from the right hon. Baronet why they were not carried into effect. The importance of those instructions was very great, because it was quite clear that if the Russian Admiral had been informed that the territories and ships of the Turks would be protected by the British and French fleets, no Russian fleet would have appeared at Sinope; at all events, such a catastrophe as that which had occurred would have been a direct offence on the part of Russia against the British and French Governments, and the consequences could in no way have been eluded by the Russians. He (Sir H. Willoughby) was so struck with that view of the matter, on reading the despatch of Lord Clarendon, of the 8th of October, that he asked the noble Lord the Member for the City of London whether the instructions contained in it had been carried into effect. To that question, the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) gave a most extraordinary answer, for he said that the instructions had been brilliantly carried out by Captain Drummond. But that was no answer at all, for the affair in which Captain Drummond figured took place in January, 1854, and, of course, long after the catastrophe of Sinope. The noble Lord must surely have forgotten all the dates connected with this matter. No doubt, something relating to the instructions of the 8th of October did transpire at St. Petersburg, for Count Nesselrode appeared to have said to Sir Hamilton Seymour, by way of defending the 1358 destruction at Sinope, that Russia had supposed, that England had only meant at that time to have protected the Turkish territory and not the fleets of the Turks. He (Sir H. Willoughby), therefore, wished the First Lord of the Admiralty to state why the important instructions of the 8th of October had not been carried into effect, because it was his deliberate opinion that if they had been, the lives of 4,000 Turks, who perished at Sinope—a loss greater than had occurred in some of the chief naval engagements in which England had taken part—would have been saved, and the chances of peace have been greater. The House would bear in mind the fact that the presence of a large Russian fleet, including fourteen sail of the line, in the Black Sea, was perfectly notorious. And it was also well known, that in the middle of November two Turkish steamers were actually taken by the Russians. He wished the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty to explain what the British fleet was then doing at the mouth of the Bosphorus? why was it not watching, with the eyes of an Argus, the powerful fleet of Russia? Had the British fleet properly obeyed the instructions of Lord Clarendon on the 8th of October, it would have narrowly watched the movements of the gigantic power then existing at Sebastopol. But the British fleet would not allow the Turkish ships to go out; and that prohibition would, perhaps, have been a wise one if the British fleet had itself undertaken the duty of preventing the Russians from doing any injury to the Turks. After the catastrophe at Sinope, only two steam frigates went to inquire what had taken place there; and if the Russian fleet had been at Sinope, it could have made those two frigates turn tail and go back again. It seemed clear, then, to him (Sir H. Willoughby) that, all through the affair, there had been a want of vigour, foresight, and determination on the part of the authorities at Constantinople. He felt quite persuaded that the conduct of our fleet in this affair had damaged the reputation of British faith in the opinion of the nations of Europe. With regard to the conduct of our fleet towards Turkey, he was inclined to use the phrase which the First Lord of the Admiralty had a few evenings ago applied to those who quoted from the blue books in support of their arguments in the debate on the Eastern question—he was afraid that our fleet had "pottered" much 1359 too long in Besika Bay and in the Bosphorus. The dilatory conduct of our fleet in the Bosphorus, notwithstanding the daring conduct of the Czar, was such as our military and naval history proved was likely to produce immense disasters. He was quite persuaded that the blue books did not furnish a full narrative of the affair at Sinope. The hon. Member for Roscommon (Mr. French) had, on Friday last, stated the circumstances attending that affair with great detail, but Her Majesty's Government suffered his observations to pass without remark. He (Sir H. Willoughby) therefore trusted that he should not be considered to be interrupting the course of public business if he asked the First Lord of the Admiralty to explain to the House how it was that the destruction at Sinope had happened without the interference of the British fleet? He sincerely believed that the matter required investigation.
§ SIR JAMES GRAHAM
said, he was very far from imputing any blame to the hon. Baronet for having brought forward this discussion. On a former evening the hon. Baronet sought an opportunity of bringing the matter forward, but, by the rules of the House, he was prevented, and, therefore, he (Sir J. Graham) had not one word to say now against the course the hon. Baronet was pursuing. At the same time, he thought it would be in the recollection of the House when he reminded the hon. Baronet that in the course of a long discussion in going into a Committee of Supply on a previous occasion, this part of the matter was dwelt upon by various hon. Members, and that upon the part of Her Majesty's Government, it received what he thought a full and complete explanation. At all events, when he himself had the honour of addressing the House, he did not seek to evade this part of the case, but expressed—what was the feeling of the House, of the country, and of Europe—the deepest regret—he had almost said the most unfeigned indignation—at the outrage of Sinope, which had led to such grave results. As to the facts of the case, the hon. Baronet and himself were almost entirely agreed. The order despatched by the British Government to Lord Stratford de Redcliffe and Admiral Dundas on the 8th October was an order to protect the Turkish territories only against direct aggression on the part of Russia; but when intelligence of the outrage at Sinope arrived in England, an order was immediately 1360 despatched by Her Majesty's Ministers, acting in concert with the Government of France, which carried the instructions of the 8th of October much further, and directed that protection should be given, not only to the territories of Turkey, but to the flag of Turkey in the Black Sea—that means should be taken by the combined fleets to prevent any Russian ship of war whatever from navigating the Black Sea, and that if any such Russian ship of war should appear in the Black Sea, it should be requested, in the first instance, and compelled, if necessary, to return to Sebastopol. But the hon. Baronet said they had not accounted for the delay which took place in sending the entire fleet into the Black Sea. Now, upon that point, the fullest information had been given in the course of the late debate. It was stated that power was given to the English Ambassador at Constantinople, to communicate to the Russian Admiral commanding at Sebastopol, the instructions contained in the despatch of the 8th of October; but that Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, exercising a discretion on the spot, did not, at that time, think it expedient to do so; and, consequently, when the affair at Sinope occurred, the order of the British Government had not been communicated to the Russian Admiral. But the hon. Baronet said that the blue books afforded no explanation of those transactions. Now the despatches of Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, written in December, clearly proved that in his opinion the catastrophe at Sinope was owing to the culpable negligence of the Turkish Commander. This was shown by a despatch from Vice-Consul Guarracino to Lord Stratford, dated the 22nd of November, and in closed in a despatch from Lord Stratford to Lord Clarendon (No. 336), dated the 5th of December, after the catastrophe of Sinope. Lord Stratford said,—Your Lordship will perceive from Mr. Guarracino's reports that the danger to which the Turkish flotilla at Sinope was exposed, had not escaped observation before the catastrophe.The letter inclosed from Vice-Consul Guarracino to Lord Stratford contained the following passage:—At the time the Medari Tidjaret was captured, there were seven Turkish sailing men-of-war at anchor at Sinope. After hearing of the capture of the steamer, the commander of this squadron gave orders that the ships should put to sea directly; and the steamers lit their fires to prepare, but a contrary order was issued soon after.1361 The House would observe that this letter was dated eight days before the Russian attack upon Sinope took place. But really he thought he could not so well discharge his duty to the House, as to read the explanation which Admiral Dundas had given to him from time to time of these transactions. Admiral Dundas was well known to the Members of that House, and though the hon. Baronet said he had failed in vigour—[Sir H. WILLOUGHBY: I said the Government had failed in vigour.]—By the orders of the 8th of October a discretionary power was given to Lord Stratford de Redcliffe and Admiral Dundas to send the fleet into the Black Sea, in order to protect the territories of Turkey against aggression on the part of Russia. The fleet was not actually sent into the Black Sea until after the disaster at Sinope, but he might state to the House that Admiral Dundas, on the 17th of November, did offer to go into the Black Sea. Circumstances, however, arose which prevented effect being given to that offer, but it was distinctly made by Admiral Dundas, who did not deserve that any doubt should be cast on his vigour and decision. Whatever other qualities Admiral Dundas might possess, he was confident that, whenever a fit occasion should arise, he would prove to that House and the country, that neither in vigour nor in decision would he be found wanting. The gallant Admiral, writing on the 3rd of December, after the catastrophe of Sinope, said:—It is necessary to remark that this Turkish force of five frigates had been for weeks at Sinope, although ordered to return to Constantinople; and that Sinope is not defended by any guns, and no soldiers are stationed there.Writing on the 9th of December, Admiral Dundas said—The cause of this calamity is the Turks leaving this squadron in so unprotected a bay for so long a period.He added:—It is most extraordinary the careless manner in which these Turkish ships have been left. For three weeks, at least, five frigates lay inactive in this open bay; and, when it is considered that since 1829 no Turkish sailing ship has been cruising in the Black Sea, the month of November was the worst time to send them out. When I arrived at this anchorage 1 was asked my opinion, and I frankly told them that if their ships were sent out to cruise they would certainly lose them either by shipwreck or the enemy. The steamer that did escape was one of the squadron, and left by the commander of the squadron to assist in towing out the ships from Sinope. But it appears that the two Pashas differed in opinion, and the determination not to sail was unfortunately de- 1362 cided on, otherwise, the wind being fresh from the eastward, all would have been safe.On the 12th of December he wrote:—My letters will have told you of the unfortunate affair at Sinope, all owing to the great neglect of the Turks keeping ships in an open road-stead within 150 miles of Sebastopol.It appeared thus that the Capitan Pasha differed in opinion from Admiral Dundas; the ships were consequently sent into the Black Sea, and the House knew the result. Moreover, they had the testimony of Admiral Dundas to the fact that, even after they had entered the Black Sea and arrived at Sinope, the Turkish frigates were ordered to return to Constantinople, and that if that order had been obeyed, the subsequent disaster would not have occurred. Certainly, then, Admiral Dundas having offered to go into the Black Sea on the 17th of November, and having warned the Turkish authorities of the danger to which the frigates would be exposed, and that order having been given for the return of the flotilla, he still strongly held by the opinion that, though the disaster at Sinope was lamentable in the extreme, all blame was removed from the British Government and the British Admiral. Distinct orders had now been issued, both by the French and English Admirals, that no Russian ship of war should navigate the Black Sea if the English and French fleets could prevent it. He was confident that, whenever vigour and decision were required, they would not be found wanting on the part either of the British or French Admirals.
§ MR. BUCK
said, that, whatever notice might have been given to the Turkish frigates at Sinope of the presence of the Russian fleet, no intimation of the sort was made to the single English vessel which happened to be there at the time. He regretted to say that two of the crew were murdered by the Russians, and the rest would have been killed likewise, if they had nut put themselves under the authority of the Austrian Consul.
§ SIR JAMES GRAHAM
said, there was only one English ship at Sinope, which had arrived a very short time before the attack was made. He believed the crew were placed in a most cruel position. They were attacked outside the harbour by the most barbarous and cruel fire that could be opened upon an unresisting merchant vessel, and when the crew sought to escape and to get on shore, they were exposed to outrages on the part of the Turkish population.
§ SIR DE LACY EVANS
said, he thought that the statement which had been made by the First Lord of the Admiralty completely exonerated the British Admiral from the slightest blame in connection with the affair at Sinope. He wished, however, to ask the right hon. Baronet whether any information had reached the Government to the effect that two Russian frigates had looked into Trebizond, and stayed there for a short time? He wished also to know whether it had come to the knowledge of the right hon. Baronet that the Russian fleet was still continuing communications with the coast of Circassia!
§ SIR JAMES GRAHAM
said, in the communications which he had received from Admiral Dundas it was stated that the screw ships of war and the steamers of the combined fleets had visited the different ports in the Black Sea. They had visited Varna more than once; they had visited the entrance to the Sea of Azof; they had visited the coast of Circassia; and with the exception of three small ships of war in a harbour near the Sea of Azof, they had never yet seen a Russian ship of war.
§ ADMIRAL WALCOTT
said, it was not his intention to trespass on the indulgence of the House for any time, and that only in relation to the battle of Sinope. As regarded the tenor of the negotiation published in the blue books, he would simply express the persuasion which he had always entertained, that a vigorous policy was that best calculated to avert war, and that a timid policy was fraught with danger and ultimate disaster. In this spirit he saw cause for regret that, upon the occupation of the Principalities by the Russians, the attitude best befitting England was not followed, by the coincident entrance of the Black Sea by the British fleet. The noble Lord the Member for Marylebone (Lord D. Stuart), speaking, as he said, under correction of naval Members of the House, expressed his impression that a line-of-battle ship would not fire into a frigate. In such case, it would be the duty of a British line-of-battle ship to fire clear of the frigate, and if the frigate did not surrender, it would be her duty to fire into and sink it; but if the frigate were sunk, no effort would be spared on the part of the crew of the British line-of-battle ship to save every man they could. The noble Lord the Member for London expressed his astonishment that seven ships of the line, 1364 sailing down upon, and destroying, seven frigates, should have been made the subject of congratulation by the Emperor of Russia. He also shared in the difficulty which the noble Lord felt. He could not elicit from the English language words capable of embodying the sense he entertained of the ignoble, nay, inhuman and cowardly carnage, perpetrated by the Russian Admiral and his squadron on an unresisting enemy, nor the admiration of the heroic and almost superhuman defence made by the Turkish ships. The battle of Sinope would reflect everlasting honour on the arms of Turkey, and tarnish the escutcheon of Russia with a disgrace which time would not obliterate. The right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Admiralty stated the other night that the defenceless state of Sinope being evident, the Ambassadors of England and France had made known to their respective Admirals the necessity that the fleets should immediately proceed thither; that Admiral Dundas had responded to the communication, but that the French Admiral demurred in the first instance, in consequence of the recall of his Ambassador and a desire to avoid incurring the responsibility; and afterwards, on the arrival of a successor in the embassy, upon the ground of unwillingness at that season to risk his ships in the waters of the Black Sea. He regretted that Admiral Dundas, under the circumstances, did not consider himself justified in proceeding alone, as the British fleet was more than equal to engage any Russian fleet which could have been opposed to him. There would have been, then, but small, if any, risk of collision, or of the safety of the port of Sinope. In the first instance, however, in fair justice, he must observe that for some time past, before the 30th of November, the Russians and the Turks had been at active war on land. Under those circumstances, to destroy an enemy's squadron which had been employed in the convoy of arms and ammunition, was nothing more than an act of awful warfare—deadly as the attendant slaughter might be, and deeply to be deplored. If such were not the design of naval operations, he could wish to have defined that course which was to be followed by opposed fleets and armies when sent out by legitimate authority to vanquish and overcome the enemies of their country. As a sailor—and he believed he should have with him all military men—and all conversant with the conduct of war 1365 —he was of opinion that the Russian Admiral did no more than his duty by leading into the port of Sinope an overwhelming force, so as to obtain his object at the least possible risk to his own ships and men; for the highest merit and the first duty of a naval commander was to bring his fleet out of action in as efficient a state as possible for resuming hostilities, and the circumstance of taking a greatly superior force would have been an act of humanity, if properly used. It was his subsequent conduct which clouded his squadron and himself with condemnation and detestation. To turn to the larger question from this distressing subject, the fate of an empire which adjusted the equilibrium of European power was now at stake—a State considered to be so feeble and tottering by its northern enemy as to be ready, at her shaking, to crumble into powder. He exulted in knowing that she was not to be left to her own heroic defence, that she was not now to be unsupported in her struggle for independence—not now to be uncared for, when she called for help to that nation which had ever been the protector of the weak, On the deliberations and voice of that House depended the extension of that aid and succour which was submitted to its consideration in the estimates now lying on the table, and which would, he trusted, place the military and naval forces of the country in a condition to fulfil the expectations of the nation. He would only observe that no country was more guilty of evil consequences, than that which underrated the power of the country opposed to it, or undervalued its means of defence. It was to be borne in mind that Russia had always gained more by diplomacy than by arms. She began her career by assuming to be the protector of Poland, the Crimea, and Circassia; she ended by being the tyrant. So, now, would she claim the protectorate over 12,000,000 of Greek Christians in Turkey. The Czar, under the specious mask of sympathy with his co-religionists, aimed at a dominion that would vanquish and enslave all Christendom. Russia had already wrested from Sweden a domain larger than the remains of her own ancient kingdom; from Denmark, Norway; from Poland, as much as the Austrian empire; from Turkey in Europe, as much as the dominions of Prussia proper; from Turkey in Asia, as much as the Rhenish 1366 provinces of Prussia, Belgium, and Holland; from Persia, as much as England. In sixty-four years Russia had advanced her frontier between 800 and 900 miles towards Vienna, Berlin, and Paris; between 400 and 500 miles nearer to Constantinople; within a few leagues of Stockholm, and 1,000 miles nearer to Teheran and India. She was now coiling round the south and east of Austria. The safety and policy of Europe required a barrier against Russia; she must not extend her jurisdiction and supremacy over the East, or make the Baltic and the Black Sea Russian lakes, or the Sound and the Bosphorous the bases of her colossal stride. She must not be allowed to threaten the Mediterranean and the high road to India. A stand must be made, and the limits of Russia must not be transgressed. On the part of France and England the war would not be one of ambition, but a patriotic war, undertaken to preserve their interests, while Russia threatened the balance of European power, extended her frontier to the prejudice and peril of independent States, enlarged the bounds of the protectorate which she at present exercised in Germany, and aimed at converting Constantinople into a centre of future conquests and the metropolis of a universal empire. Steady, aggressive, and unscrupulous in her course for more than 100 years, her ambition would be contented with no less a destiny. He made no question but that this country would emerge from any position, however difficult, in which she might be placed, with increased honour shed on the sister services, and with additional renown to her already high name among all the nations of the earth.
§ MR. DRUMMOND
If this country expects to be well served, it becomes this House to set its face strenuously against unprofessional observations on the commanders it employs. It seems to me a matter of wonder that any one should have insinuated that Admiral Dundas has, in the remotest degree, shown a want of energy and decision. Many years ago I was sailing with him in the Mediterranean, and he said to me, "Some day or other I shall be an admiral; there will be a war; I shall be commanding here; and the worst thing I shall have to contend against will be the satiric observations of ignorant people at home." And I remember well he added, "When the time arrives I shall 1367 quote you as a witness that I told you this many years ago."
§ MR. FITZSTEPHEN FRENCH
said, he so far agreed with the hon. Member for West Surrey that civilians ought to abstain from criticising professional details, but he could not concur in thinking it no part of the duty of the British House of Commons to discuss when the English fleet ought or ought not to act. He rose, however, to call attention to the manner in which the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Admiralty had altogether evaded the questions put to him by the hon. Member for Evesham (Sir H. Willoughby). The hon. Member required some explanation of the inactivity of our fleet, when it had been represented that Admiral Dundas was under orders to go into the Black Sea. The right hon. Baronet's (Sir J. Graham's) reason for that inactivity was that, a change of ambassadors occurring about that time, the French Admiral declined to enter the Black Sea at that period. It appeared to him (Mr. French) that it was not so very essential that the two fleets should advance side by side, especially as it must be recollected the French fleet proceeded to the Greek waters whilst the English fleet remained at Malta. Admiral Dundas had thirteen sail of the line, a fleet perfectly sufficient to have swept the Black Sea and driven the Russian fleet into Sebastopol. He did not attempt to explain why English interference was used to prevent Admiral Slade entering the Black Sea at the head of a squadron perfectly able to compete with the Russian fleet. The right hon. Baronet shook his head, as if he thought that was not the case, but it was Admiral Slade's own opinion, it being his intention, if, entering the Black Sea, he did not find the Russian fleet at Sinope, to go round by Circassia to search for it; and he said in a letter, that they might expect in a few days to hear of a conflict between himself and the Russians. It was his opinion that with the Egyptian and the Turkish line-of-battle ships combined he should be able to attack and destroy the Russians. The right hon. Baronet had said that Lord Stratford de Redcliffe had attributed the disaster to the Turks themselves; surely he must have forgotten the despatch in which Lord Stratford de Redcliffe wrote, "I cannot disguise from myself the fact that, had our fleet gone into the Black Sea, this disaster would not have happened." He 1368 was, however, glad to hear that there was no foundation for the report that serious differences existed between Admiral Dundas and Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, and that there was no truth in the assertion that the gallant Admiral would not obey the orders of Lord Stratford de Redcliffe without seeing the despatches from the Government, claiming a right to put an interpretation of his own upon those important documents. No person, after reading the papers before the House, could charge Lord Stratford de Redcliffe with not acting vigorously, without doing great injustice to that noble Lord. At the same time, the personal prowess of the gallant Admiral was known to them all; and, no doubt, if not fettered by the noble Lord at the head of Foreign Affairs, he would be able, there was little doubt, by and by, to give a very good account of himself.
§ LORD DUDLEY STUART
said, he felt that the House was very much obliged to the hon. Baronet (Sir H. Willoughby) for raising this discussion, and that the Government could not possibly be surprised that an affair which had excited so much indignation as the catastrophe of Sinope should be fully discussed by the House of Commons. He looked upon that catastrophe as occasioned by the hesitating, feeble, and vacillating policy pursued by the Government, which had aroused such a deep feeling of indignation, not only in this country, but throughout Europe; but he was rejoiced to see that they had at length discovered their error, and were preparing to pursue a firmer and more energetic course. In his opinion the combined fleets ought to have been in the Black Sea long before it was, and by his despatches it was plain Lord Stratford greatly regretted that such a measure was not taken. As early as the month of October it was in the contemplation of the two Governments, and instructions were sent to the Ambassadors to send those fleets to operate wherever they might judge it to be necessary for the protection of the Turkish territory. It appeared in the despatches, both from London and Paris, that if the Russian fleet came out of Sebastopol, the combined fleets were, as a matter of course, to enter the Bosphorus. He believed that, although the whole of the Russian fleet might not have come out in a body from Sebastopol, yet for a very long period previous to the affair of Sinope a large portion of it was cruising in the Black Sea. When at Con- 1369 stantinople, he heard the Russian fleet described as a very powerful and formidable fleet; and when he went on board the Admiral's ship at Besika Bay, he asked the officers how that was known, since no one had had any opportunity of observing it. The answer he received was, "It is true we have not seen the Russian fleet, and have had no opportunity of observing it; but this we know—it has kept the Black Sea for two months, which no other fleet has done, and therefore it cannot be a very bad one." He could not conceive that the Ambassadors would not have thought it their duty to send the combined fleets into that sea to meet the Russians if their general instructions had not been to avoid any possible chance of collision. He looked upon that policy as weak and feeble, and very unlikely to conduce to that peace which was so much desired. He was exceedingly glad to hear the explanation which had been given by the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Admiralty with regard to the readiness of Admiral Dundas to go into the Black Sea, because he thought that completely relieved Admiral Dundas from any imputation of showing reluctance to be there. It was unfortunate that offer was not accepted, and it was unfortunate that the Turkish Government was dissuaded from sending the fleet of Admiral Slade into the Black Sea. The Turkish ships were very fine ships, and manned by very gallant men; and if the whole of the fleet had been at Sinope, most probably the Russians would not have attacked them at all, or, if they had, the Russian fleet would have been beaten off. In either case the catastrophe of Sinope would have been averted. He agreed with his hon. Friend opposite (Sir H. Willoughby), that, bulky as the blue books were, they did not afford a narrative of all the circumstances which had led to this war, nor did they contain all the information which they ought to contain. It was stated in the papers that the Russian Admiral issued a kind of manifesto to the Austrian Consul at Sinope, justifying the attack on the Turkish fleet. That document was not to be found in the blue books; and there were others, he understood, which would throw light upon the subject. Other documents, he had been given to understand, were in possession of the Government, and he wished to ask whether no report as to the situation and capacity of Sinope as a harbour had been received which could be laid on the table 1370 of the House? But if, before the catastrophe at Sinope, a reluctance had been shown to enter the Black Sea, why was that reluctance continued after that dreadful event? That fearful event, which the noble Lord had so well described as the butchery of Sinope, occurred on the 30th of November, and the fleets did not leave the Bosphorus until the 5th of January. It was also much to be regretted that they remained only a short time in the Black Sea, and then returned to Beycos. He was told the Black Sea, though deficient in harbours, and subject to fogs and violent gales, was remarkably free from rocks and shoals; and although there was no port at Sinope, the holding ground was so good that the largest ships might anchor there in perfect safety. There might be some difficulty in getting provisions and water at Sinope, but that might have been overcome, and ought, in his opinion, to have been encountered, when the great and paramount object, as borne out by the despatches, was to sweep the Russian flag from that sea. How, he would ask, could that be done if the fleets did not remain in that sea? He knew when they came back to the waters of the Bosphorus it greatly discouraged the Turks and elated time partisans of Russia. The Greeks all said the reason why they came back was because they dare not meet the Russian fleet. Such an observation might, from its absurdity, raise a smile on the countenances of hon. Gentlemen here, but he had no doubt that was the impression conveyed to the minds of the Greek population, and that they believed it sincerely. Orders were mentioned in the despatches that the Admirals were not to allow time Russian fleet to appear in those waters, and if a Russian fleet appeared they were to call upon it to retire, and if not assented to to have recourse to force. The words were very fine, and sounded very bold; but, as he was informed, the Russians had taken no notice of them, had continued to navigate the Black Sea, and to make direct aggressions in the Turkish territory. In the letter of an intelligent officer in one of the ships of the combined fleet, addressed to himself, he found it stated that scarcely had they retired from Batoum when the Russian ships of war cannonaded Fort St. Nicholas at the same time that it was attacked by land. The Russians were, however, repulsed. That was on the 4th of January, and a few days afterwards they cannonaded another small fort, 1371 a few miles east of Trebizond. He could not blame the French and English Admirals. He could understand why they should have very little relish for half measures, and not like to expose their ships without having anything considerable to accomplish. He could not but express his surprise at the answer he had received to a request to lay on the table of the House a despatch of the Prime Minister, which the noble Earl had quoted as a proof that he did not deserve to be attacked for any undue predilection for the Government of Russia. The noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) told him that there was an objection to produce that despatch. He (Lord D. Stuart) always thought it was a rule that the country had a right to see any public document referred to by a Minister of the Crown in Parliament, and he trusted his noble Friend would reconsider the answer he had given to him. He trusted, however, that the time was now come when half measures wire to be superseded by vigorous action, and when such a course should be enjoined on our admirals, and such a spirit imparted to every officer and seaman in our fleet, as would enable them to sustain with honour the proud position which this country had hitherto enjoyed. After the speech of the noble and eloquent leader of the House, who exposed the conduct of the Emperor of Russia, and told them England was determined to restrain his ambition, to chasten his presumption, to assert the rights of Turkey and the liberty of Europe, and after the address of the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, who, in another place, had proclaimed his intention of arresting the aggressions of Russia, putting a check upon the unscrupulous conduct of that Government, and, above all, of procuring a solemn guarantee that the pence of Europe should not be disturbed at the simple will of an ambitious Autocrat, he thought they could not but give a hearty support to the Government in carrying out these designs, and ought not to criticise with too great minuteness the actions of their officers.
§ CAPTAIN SCOBELL
said, that the hon. Member for Roscommon (Mr. F. French), in answer to the hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Drummond), asked, should not the House of Commons determine whether the fleets should go into the Black Sea? He would answer—the House of Commons could not tell. It must depend on the winds and weather. It was utterly impossible for them to sit there and con- 1372 duct the Black Sea fleet. It was also utterly impossible for the British Ambassador at Constantinople to conduct it. The head of the fleet, the Admiral in command of the fleet, if he received orders from the Ambassador, must still judge of the condition of the weather at the time he received those orders. It had been said, why did not the English fleet go alone into the Black Sea? Why? Would not such a course have been most unwise? Would not the Government, by such a step, have incurred the risk of embarking in a war with Russia without France? We should have committed an aggression, France would have committed no aggression; and yet some Gentlemen would have had us alone attack the Russian fleet without any declaration of war. Then it was asked, why did they not permit the Turkish fleet to go and thrash the Russian fleet? There was one portion of the Turkish fleet at Sinope, and that was not equal to meet the Russian fleet. Admiral Slade was a gallant man, and might have attempted it; but if the Russians had known the whole Turkish fleet was in the Black Sea, instead of seven sail of the line, they would have brought out fourteen or fifteen sail of the line, and overwhelmed the whole of them. The portion of the Turkish fleet which was destroyed was lying, as they had heard, for weeks at Sinope, doing nothing, except tempting the Russians to come out and destroy them; for 150 miles, the distance between Sinope and Sebastopol, was only a few hours' sail with a fair wind. He agreed with the hon. and gallant Member for Christchurch (Adm. Walcott), that there was quite enough of war between Turkey and Russia to justify the Russian Admiral in the attack he made under circumstances of great advantage, but he would not attempt to justify the horrors of the massacre at the termination of the action. Then it must be remembered that until the battle of Sinope the orders only were to protect the Turkish territory. It was the battle of Sinope which drew forth the order to send Russian vessels back to Sebastopol, even by force if necessary. That was a very different state of things. But for that battle such an order would not have been given so soon. It only astonished him that Russia had not treated it as a declaration of war. Russia had, however, put up with the affront, for affront it was; and he supposed, even now, if the combined fleets met a Russian squadron, 1373 they must tell them civilly to go into port, and if they as civilly consented, no shots must be fired, but the Admirals must take off their hats to each other, and say they were mutually obliged. The House must recollect that the Black Sea was a very dangerous sea, and that a fleet at sea required a great deal of room, and that its movements must always be regulated by the slowest ships belonging to it. He really thought, as far as he was able to judge of the conduct of the Government, that they had taken steps in advance of the circumstances; for it was something new to hear it said, even before there was a declaration of war, that the fleets of another nation were to be forced back into port. Let them stop until war was declared, and then he had no doubt that the hon. Baronet (Sir H. Willoughby) and the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone (Lord D. Stuart) would be perfectly satisfied with what the British fleet would do. Nothing could be more irksome than for a fleet to be placed in such circumstances, and to be kept without orders to act; but only let those orders be given, and he was sure that the same energy, and decision, and vigour in action would be shown which had always hitherto characterised the Navy of this country.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, that no information had been afforded to the House with regard to the attack of the Russians upon Fort St. Nicholas, and he thought that, if such information had been received, it ought to be laid upon the table. He wished to know whether Her Majesty's Government were in possession of any information on that subject, and, if so, whether they were prepared to lay it before the House? The people of this country seemed to think that whenever the British fleet was withdrawn from the Black Sea there was certain to be some fresh aggression on the part of Russia, and he therefore considered it important that the Government should produce any information which might be in their possession with respect to the attack on Fort St. Nicholas.
§ MR. SANDARS
It is not my intention, Sir, to trespass upon the time of the House, or to prevent its going into Committee of Supply beyond a very few minutes. The untoward affair at Sinope was, all must admit, a most unfortunate event, and characterised, on the part of Russia, by the greatest cruelty and barbarity, and, as expressed by the noble Lord, was "a horrid butchery of the Turks whilst lying peaceably in their own har- 1374 bour." After listening to this discussion, I find a difficulty in deciding where to lay the blame. The right hon. Baronet at the head of the Admiralty says, the Turks alone were to blame for their loss at Sinope, as they had been lying there for several weeks in a most unguarded state; and, further, had been warned of their danger by our Ambassador at Constantinople. Another hon. Gentleman lays the blame on Admiral Dundas for not following out the orders and instructions he had received. Again, the hon. Baronet below me, who originated this discussion, says the fault was with our Ambassador in not allowing Admiral Slade to proceed into the Black Sea with the rest of the Turkish fleet, which fleet was fully able to have protected the fleet at Sinope, and to have coped successfully with that of Russia. I repeat, I find it impossible to decide which of these statements is correct, and who is to blame for this bloody massacre at Sinope. But, Sir, I may be allowed to express my belief that if our Government had been more energetic at the commencement of these Eastern difficulties, if an early expression of our ultimate intentions had been given to Russia, if the passage of the Pruth had been made a casus belli, then I believe we should not have been at this moment on the eve of a terrible war, of which no one can foresee the end. As we are about to embark in this war, let it not be barren of results. We want, first, security from Russia against her invading prosperous and peaceful countries. We want also the abrogation of the old treaties between the Porte and Russia, and the renunciation on her part of all control over the Principalities and of Servia; the restoration of the mouths of the Danube to the Porte, and the opening of the Black Sea to the fleets and ships of all nations. These are the objects we have to accomplish, and without which we shall have entered on a bloody and costly war to very little purpose. In fact, if we go to war, we should not be at war for nothing, but demand from Russia a quid pro quo, not a hollow peace, putting off the evil day for a few years when we may not be in the same favourable position as at present for repelling her aggression. We are now at peace with all the world—France our firm ally, Austria and Prussia favourable to our policy; Russia stands alone. I have said that the Government made a mistake in not acting with more energy and determination at the commencement of this affair; 1375 yet, at the same time, I give them the credit of intending to act for the best, with a laudable desire to preserve the peace a the world, and I am willing to give them my support, and to vote the necessary supplies to enable them to carry on the war with vigour, in order to bring it to a speedy termination. I do not see, the hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden) in his place. I heard his speech the other night with regret. It was, as usual, an able speech, but in my opinion a most dangerous one; and, I venture to say, not expressing the opinions of that great and enlightened constituency which he represents in this House. The hon. Gentleman said he did not wish to see the Czar in possession of Constantinople, but that he would not go out of his way to prevent it. He further advised the Government to accept of the celebrated Vienna note, and induce Turkey to accede to it, and this after it had been repudiated, not only by Turkey, but by this country, France, Prussia, and Austria. Sir, these are not the opinions of the constituency of the West Riding. I ought to know what their feeling is on this question, representing, as I do, a borough in the very heart of that constituency. I remember hearing a speech from the hon. Gentleman on this subject at the close of the last Session; I said at the time it was a speech calculated to do much harm at foreign Courts; and this has since been confirmed from more quarters than one. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War declared the other night that he knew it had had an unfortunate bearing on the present state of affairs between this country and Russia. The Czar put confidence in the statements of the hon. Gentleman, and believed that we should never go to war to support, as the hon. Gentleman said, so weak a Power, and one that would not long exist as a European Power; that the Mahomedan religion could not exist along with the Christian religion; and that, in fact, it was useless attempting to defend Turkey. The hon. Gentleman has, no doubt, great influence with certain parties in this country, and perhaps still more with foreign Governments, as having been at the head of a large and successful party; but in proportion as the hon. Gentleman's influence is great, so ought he at the present crisis to be more guarded in the expression of his peculiar opinions. In conclusion, Sir, I must say; much as I abhor war, and I yield to none in my dislike to it, still I am not sorry that the last 1376 protocol from Vienna was not accepted by Russia; nor do I regret that the proposals in the letter of the Emperor of the French were not accepted. The people of England wish to have the Black Sea thrown open to the ships of all nations; they wish that the mouths of the Danube should be again placed under the sway of Turkey. Hon. Gentlemen are not, perhaps, aware of the great loss and inconvenience which have been experienced by commercial men in this country owing to the imperfect state of the Sulina mouth of the Danube, and I believe Russia has an interest in keeping it in that state. In fact, the time has come when Russia must be taught to respect the independence of other countries, and to give securities for the preservation of peace for the future.
§ MR. MURROUGH
said, the hon. and gallant Member for Bath has justly stated, that it is impossible for this House to conduct the fleet in the Black Sea; and it is at least equally impossible for the hon. and gallant Member himself to judge of the ability of Admiral Slade to estimate the relative strength of the Russian squadron and of the armament under his own command. And if the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield, who spoke last, had considered all the circumstances connected with our Eastern diplomacy for the last thirty years, he would have been at no loss to apportion the blame or to arrive at a clear conclusion as to the cause of the existing difficulties. He would have been enabled to point out not only the measures, but almost the men who had created them; although, perchance, I myself might have been diverted from the consideration of those measures by the invective which has been heaped upon the noble Lord the head of Her Majesty's Government, and the acclamations which have been bestowed upon the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton—invective and acclamations, in my opinion, equally undeserved—had it not been that these plain questions have been so often put, and as often evaded, why was Admiral Slade prevented from protecting the Turkish flotilla at Sinope? Why, and by whose orders, was he told that, if he entered the Black Sea, the French and English fleets should go back to the Mediterranean? Why were those fleets made the means of intimidating the Power which they were sent out nominally to protect? The noble Lord the Member for Marylebone has referred to the withholding of a despatch. I apprehend that, under our 1377 system of government this House has a constitutional right to insist upon the production of this despatch, but we are not without a precedent for withholding important papers. In the years 1831, 1832, and 1833, momentous events were taking place. The Pasha of Egypt had embarked in a struggle with the Sultan for securing to himself the independence of his throne and the pashalic of Acre, in the autumn of 1831; his forces commenced their march in July, 1832, and after various successes, his army passed the Taurus and was almost at the gates of Constantinople. In this extremity the Porte appealed to England for protection and Russia joined in that appeal. However, the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, who at that period held the portfolio of Foreign Affairs, refused his interference; and in September the battle of Kornah was fought. In December, Lord Ponsonby was appointed Ambassador to the Porte; but amusing himself in Italy, after the fatigues of his diplomatic exertions in Belgium, he did not reach Constantinople until May, 1833; during this important and critical interval, England was represented at Constantinople by an ordinary secretary of legation. It was under these circumstances that Russia tendered her assistance to the Porte, and her fleet anchored in the Bosphorus; and in a few days afterwards, 2,000 Russians encamped on the Asiatic side, the consequence of which was, that Count Orloff, in July, 1833, extorted from the Sultan a treaty, by which he closed the Dardanelles to all Powers at war with, and virtually surrendered himself to Russia. That treaty has never been laid upon the table of this House; it was required by Mr. Sheil in 1834, and he was told by the noble Lord, that its production at that period might affect our diplomatic negotiations with Russia and endanger the peace of Europe. It was again asked for in 1837, and the noble Lord, with much effrontery, told the House that it had been produced three years before. Is the same thing, I ask, to happen again? Are we to be told three years or three months hence that this despatch which is now withheld was produced on this occasion? There is a growing feeling in the country that the armaments which are being sent forth are intended, not for the protection, but for the partition of Turkey; but I caution the Government not to become the antagonist of the people. As the sword has been drawn with reluctance, the scabbard must not 1378 be resumed without consideration; the people will not be well pleased with barren exertions; they will not permit any Minister to lose in diplomacy that which may be bought with blood. The Euxine must be free to every flag; the ports of the Danube free to every sail; the punishment of Russia must be severe, as it has been tardy; it must be worthy of the nations which inflict it. And if the necessity arises, they must be prepared to circumscribe within the original limits of a Muscovite dukedom a Power that would not only efface the prescriptive confines of Turkish empire, but eradicate the civilisation and trample upon the liberties of Europe.
said, he thought it was useless to enter into a discussion as to what might have been the result if a different course of action had been adopted by Her Majesty's Government. He considered that the House ought to adopt one of two courses—either to say that the Government had so completely mismanaged matters during these long negotiations that they were unfit to be trusted with the conduct of the war; or to give them the confidence of the House, and allow them to adopt such measures as they deemed requisite. He hoped that, as he was the least important speaker in that debate, he might be the last, and he would only add that he was prepared to give his humble support to any measures that might be necessary for carrying on the war.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
said, he trusted that the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman who had last spoken would be acted upon by the House, and that this discussion might now be considered as finished. He (Lord J. Russell) would have been very glad if he had been able to answer correctly, at that moment, the question of the noble Lord opposite (Lord J. Manners). On a former evening he (Lord J. Russell) had with him in the House the papers relating to that subject; but, as he had not those papers with him now, he was not sure that he could give the noble Lord a correct description of what had occurred. There had been rumours, which afterwards turned out to be false, of an attack upon the Turkish coast; but there had been an attack by land upon the fort of St. Nicholas, and an attack was also made by three small steamers upon a fort near Trebizond, but on the firing of a few shots they disappeared. Nothing, in short, of any serious kind had 1379 occurred since the disaster at Sinope. On the other hand, Sir Edmund Lyons had gone twice with a squadron to Batoum, and had convoyed vessels containing a large number of troops. Another squadron of English and French steamers had gone to the neighbourhood of Sebastopol; they had sailed to the entrance of the Sea of Azof, and they had only seen three small Russian steamers at anchor. He was assured that no Russian men-of-war had been seen at sea by the various vessels of the combined fleets which had been despatched in different directions. The squadron sent to Varna could not observe any Russian men-of-war; and, in fact, the Russians had not kept at sea since the orders were given to the combined fleets subsequently to the affair of Sinope. He (Lord J. Russell) had no further statement to make to the House at that moment, and he hoped they would now go into Committee of Supply.