HC Deb 29 March 1855 vol 137 cc1299-310

said, he would now beg to move the Address of which he had given notice. It was not his intention to occupy the time of the House with many remarks, but he thought that as they had now arrived at the anniversary of the declaration of war, it was not too early to ask for some explanation regarding the first enterprise which had been undertaken, and he also thought that Her Majesty's Government should feel indebted to him for bringing forward this subject, because it afforded them the opportunity of showing their foresight and sagacity if the war had been well conducted, whereas, if it had been mismanaged, it would afford the country an opportunity of correcting the errors which had been committed. There were some few things connected with the war which were already known. It was known that originally the war was to be defrayed out of revenue, but that it had become a charge upon capital; we know that instead of being paid out of six months' income tax, it was now costing the country about 800,000l. a week, or 110,000l. per day. Last March a small expedition to Malta was thought sufficient, but now it was known that a very large force had gone out of the country, of which a small portion only would return. It was known now that the war had already cost 40,000,000l., and that night the House had agreed to add 2,000,000l. to that sum, in the shape of a loan to Sardinia; and it was known, besides, that that vast drain of treasures had also been accompanied by an awful drain of human life. It was known that last summer the Cabinet had decided that there were only three courses open for carrying on the war in the East—either that the troops should return to Constantinople, that they should cross the Danube, or that they should attack Sebastopol, the speedy capture of which was expected. The last course was adopted, but Sebastopol not only had not fallen, but, whereas at first the only channel open to it for supplies was by way of Perekop, now he believed there were three channels open. Was there not a fourth alternative, beyond the three courses proposed by Lord John Russell—namely, to occupy Odessa? The occupation of Odessa by our naval and military forces would have aided the Turks materially by effecting a diversion in their favour in the spring, as it would have protected us in the autumn, by preventing the despatch of those Russian reinforcements which had been arrayed against us in the bloody field of Inkerman. Odessa was at the period to which he alluded, merely a commercial town, with a population of nearly 90,000, and a port capable of containing from 250 to 300 ships. Before the war commenced the late Emperor, perceiving the importance of defending so important a position, ordered it to be fortified, disregarding the objections of Prince Dolgoroucki and other influential persons, who urged that the batteries then proposed to be erected were calculated to provoke an attack on the town. On the 6th of April last year the boats of the steam frigate Furious went in with a flag of truce and were fired upon; and upon the 22nd the combined fleets, having received no explanation of this affair, proceeded to bombard the batteries and fortifications. The result was well known. They demolished the fortifications—sunk twelve ships of war in the port—took possession of thirteen transports, and released twenty-four British ships. The magazine containing the military and naval stores was blown up, while neutral and private property was respected. This showed what it was in the power of the allied fleets to do. They left unaccomplished, however, what it was in the power of such a fleet to have done, and afforded the Russians an opportunity of seeing where their fortifications were vulnerable, and of supplying the deficiency. That, however, was immaterial, as compared with the moral effect of this unsatisfactory proceeding. The late Emperor, writing to General Osten-Sacken on the 8th of May, congratulated him upon having "gloriously repelled" the fleets of France and England after they had for twelve hours bombarded the batteries in vain, and declared that the city had been saved from destruction. Now, there was no occasion to have destroyed the city. The fortifications might have been demolished, and the place might have been occupied and rendered untenable for the enemy, to whom this position was of the utmost importance. The importance of the place was shown by an edict of the governor, in which, alluding to the possibility of another attack, he declared that, in that case the inhabitants would be expected to retire from Odessa, "after having reduced the city to ashes," so as to afford no asylum to the allies. If, as was manifest, the Russian Government attached such great importance to that place, the British Parliament had a right to ask the British Government why the attempt had not been made to occupy it before the defences were completed. He knew that many objections might be raised to the course he had taken in bringing the question forward; but, admitting that the privilege of asking for papers involves great responsibility, and is not to be used on light or insufficient occasions, when he considered the vast sacrifice of human life which had followed, when he looked at the bloodshed and the expenditure of the past, and at the prospect for the future, he believed he was justified in making his Motion. He thought that a heavy responsibility would rest on those Ministers who would refuse information. There are many, and I confess that I am among the number, of those who think that much of the responsibility of this war rests on those who concealed from us the real state of affairs, the Government having all the information as to the real designs of the Emperor, both from St. Petersburgh and from Constantinople, before the war broke out, deluded Parliament and the nation by declaring that "Russia had no designs on Turkey," and that "we could not possibly be involved in war;" and thus, unprepared, we had drifted into war, and had taken a desperate leap in the dark. Some Gentlemen might think that the question was too soon, others that it was too remote. But what took place a year ago, and what was a fait accompli, could not be fairly open to this objection. It might be said that the present was not the same Government as were responsible for the acts of last year; but while the present Government contained the same Members, and was in fact identical with the last, he thought he was justified in considering it the same Government. Another objection might be raised by those who would say —would you have demolished the place, destroyed the city, and sacked the town? But that, as he had previously stated, would not have been necessary. Then the parsimony of the House might be pleaded to make out that the Government was not responsible for our defective enterprises; but that was good cause for seeing that the House was not placed in such a position in future. It might too, and probably would, be objected, that the production of the correspondence would injure the public service. But that objection might be, and indeed had been, carried on too far. Another, and, perhaps, the most important objection to inquiry was, that in a question of this nature our allies would be implicated in an awkward manner. It may be quite true that Admiral Dundas was not the superior officer in the Allied fleet; it may also be true that the fleet of our Allies was subordinate to the other arm of force. I admit the full force of an objection resting on this circumstance, if the attack on Odessa were a chance which, not being seized or fully effected on the 22nd of April, never could be resumed; but it was an event for which ample opportunities offered themselve from April to September, it was an event which the Russians expected would recur, and during the whole summer of 1854 there was time for the Cabinet of St. James to come to some decision on the subject, and, in fact, they must both have deliberated and decided on the project, and have communicated with the Cabinet of the Tuillcries, and have written their instructions to the Admirals. If the argument of detriment to the public service is to be used with caution, that of embarrassing us with our powerful neighbour requires still more. We all remember the awful warnings of the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) on the Sebastopol Committee; we remember the whisperings that the French Emperor would dissolve the connection, or that Parliament must be dissolved, to get rid of a Committee so obnoxious to Louis Napoleon. He is not the Prince quietly to sit under the blame of our mismanagement; if reflections be cast, he will see that they do not fall on him. You cannot use this stalking-horse as a cheval de bataille, and, looking to the past inactivity of our fleet in the Black Sea, he was not prepared to admit the validity of such an objection. It is said to be unusual to produce the instructions to commanders; such events as those of last year happily are unusual. He entirely denied that the Motion was without precedent. In the year 1807, as in the year 1854, an expedition from this country passed the Dardanelles. In that year Sir John Duckworth appeared before Constantinople with seven ships of the line and four frigates. His delay alone rendered his expedition fruitless, and he returned without having accomplished the object of the expedition, and in the following year, though the war continued, no less than four Motions were brought forward in Parliament in reference to the subject, and, instead of resisting inquiry, the Government consented to lay upon the table all papers bearing upon the case between the Home Government, the Ambassador, and Lord Collingwood, and between Lord Collingwood and Sir John Duckworth. The object of the present Motion was merely to ascertain whether the conduct of Admiral Dundas or of the Government was open to censure. He had never entertained the idea of calling in question the personal courage of Admiral Dundas, but he desired to know what amount of discretion the Admiral had exercised, and what powers had been vested in him? Palmam qui meruit ferat. If he deserved censure or praise he should have it. Admiral Dundas had been placed at the head of one of the finest fleets that ever left this country. He had had under his command no less than forty ships of war, with an armament of 1,300 guns and manned by 14,000 sailors; and what had been the result of the operations of that fleet? Shortly after it entered the Black Sea, one vessel, the Tiger, ran ashore and was lost, and soon after- wards, in defiance of the near presence of the allied fleets, twelve Russian vessels appeared upon the coast of Circassia, and safely carried off 5,000 of the picked troops of Russia, together with batteries, stores, and provisions? We know that the Vladimir steam-frigate came out of Sebastopol, and, in spite of the combined fleets, after scouring the Black Sea and sinking several Turkish vessels, returned safely into harbour. We know that the fleet blockaded neither the Black Sea nor that of Azoff, as if there were no time during four summer months to learn which was according to the law of nations, the blockade of Odessa and the blockade of the Straits of Kertch, or that of the Bosphorus, which had been proposed. As our fleet had not been engaged in any useful operations before July, and as cholera had not then broken out, he wished to know, for the sake of Admiral Dundas himself, why no advantageous expedition had been undertaken before the services of the fleet were required in conveying the troops to the Crimea. Why did these magnificent preparations end only in disappointment and expense?— Parturiunt montes, nascitur ridiculus mus. He might, perhaps, be told that ample discretion had been left to Admiral Dundas; but was that discretion fettered and clogged in such a manner that the Admiral ran all the risk while the Government received all the praise? Personally, it is only fair to Admiral Dundas—but this matter has a wider bearing; for if no information were given by the Government, the effect would be to prevent high public men from undertaking important enterprises, under the impression that they might be left to lie under a cloud of dark insinuations, or be rendered liable to unworthy attacks. Admiral Napier in his letter said, that "no officer of honour or character was safe;" and while he complains that in October he was goaded to risk Her Majesty's fleet in the Baltic, we ought to know why nothing was done in summer in the Black Sea. When Nelson was alive, Sir Robert Calder attacked the fleet of Villeneuve with an inferior force. He defeated the French Admiral and captured two large Spanish vessels, but though victorious, the people at home were so dissatisfied with his conduct, that upon arriving in England he underwent a court-martial and received a severe reprimand. Surely, then, if in such an instance inquiry was desirable, it was much more requisite in a case of this description. The running into Curaçoa harbour, 100 yards wide, the capture of that place, with its ships and batteries, was but a morning's work for Captain Brisbane in 1807, with only four frigates; could not Admiral Dundas have done as much? lf so, why did he not? are compelled to credit the surmises we have heard respecting the conduct of the war; that we are "conducting the war with the least possible interruption to the usual operations of trade"—so Said the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cardwell); but how does this apply to Odessa? No doubt Odessa was a most important commercial town, but of late it had become something more—namely, a depôt for stores, provisions, and munitions of war, and at any rate it ought to have been occupied by the allies. By the course which had been pursued the trade in that quarter had been closed to us and opened only to the Greeks. By neither occupying Odessa nor blockading it, and by leaving trade open to others which we closed to ourselves, we had done exactly the reverse of what the Board of Trade desired; the consequences to commerce have been to transfer to foreigners the British trade, to give the gain to Greeks the friends of Russia, to keep the losses to ourselves, to pay the enemy for their troops in money, to raise or maintain the rates of exchange in Russia, and to render a losing concern the rising trade to India and our Colonies. The Economist said, last autumn, "While Russian exports here remained the same, British exports thither had greatly declined." The merchants of Bristol complain that the peace of the Board of Trade with the war of the Horse Guards, is injurious to them. Odessa was spared on principles of commerce and humanity;—we send coin and lead to the Czar to conduct his war, as we sent arms and ammunition to the Kafirs, and look at the exchange! We tenderly give the quarter to Russian property they barbarously refuse to our wounded men. The enemy is weakest in credit, we spare and uphold him when he is weak. Your vicious mercantile system, untrue to trade, has been as false to humanity; your counters have been human heads, and your economy and humanity alike faulty. The red ink in which you have made out your commercial balance-sheet, has been the blood of the victims of your mercantile policy which spared Odessa. Every man in the Crimea cost the country 100l. to get there, and every man whose death is due to Odessa spared, paid it an item to your expen- diture. The unfortunate result of this course was that we had been paying for Russian tallow with human blood, and bartering the lives of our own men for Russian hemp. Her Majesty's Ministers had stated this winter that they never expected the Russian corps d'armée could have been conveyed from Odessa to Sebastopol so rapidly as they had been moved, to the glorious, but dreadful and fruitless field of Inkermann, where they surprised us, and caused such fearful carnage; but when they left Russia the means of moving her troops, they should have expected that she would avail herself of those means. Since the consequences of leaving Odessa, a fortified city, in the hands of the enemy had been so fatal to our troops, he thought it was due to Admiral Dundas, to the troops who had fallen, to the survivors, to those who were mourning the loss of relatives, and to the people of this country, who had to bear the cost of the war, that they should have some information on this subject. Reference had been made to the disasters that had taken place in previous wars; but they might in the present instance lay claim to originality, they had gone to war in ignorance, as Lord Clarendon admitted, of the treaties which justified the war, in ignorance of the nature or power of the country they opposed, in ignorance of the character of the man with whom they were to be engaged, and of the troops that were to be encountered. The causes by which they had drifted into this war were concealed from the House, and he hardly thought the Government would also conceal from them the instructions that had been given with respect to the first operation in that war.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to ye directions, that there be laid before this House, Copies of the Instructions relative to the Attack on Odessa, given to the Commander in Chief in the Mediterranean and Black Sea; and Copies of, or Extracts from, all Correspondence relating thereto.


said, the same reasons which induced him to object altogether to the Motion would also preclude him from adverting in any detail to the only portion of the observations of the hon. Gentleman which had the slightest reference to his Motion. He (Sir C. Wood) should not be justified in troubling the House with statistical information respecting the inhabitants of Odessa, and some other matters to which the hon. Member had referred, which had no connection whatever with the Motion; neither would he advert to the objections which the hon. Gentleman—creating giants in order that he might slay them—had said might be raised to his Resolution. His (Sir C. Wood's) objection to the Motion rested on a very simple ground, and he thought the great majority of the House would concur with him in opinion that the proposition was one which ought not to have been submitted to the House. The hon. Gentleman moved for the production of those instructions under which our Admirals in the Black Sea were now acting, and of correspondence which had reference to those instructions. Hon. Gentlemen must see that if such instructions and correspondence were produced, they would at once disclose to our enemies, the Russians, the possible intentions of our commanding officers in the Black Sea, and the views they took as to the advisability and possibility, or otherwise, of making an attack upon Odessa. He must certainly admit that hon. Members of that House, and other persons elsewhere, had gone great lengths in disclosing to the enemy the position of affairs at the seat of war, but the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Scott) went still further, and proposed to let the enemy know not only what the state of things was, but what were the present and future intentions of the Government. It was bad enough that correspondents of newspapers should have disclosed to the Russians the position of the batteries and magazines of the Allies. Improper as such communications were, an attempt had been made to justify them on the ground that the persons making them fully believed that before the intelligence could be conveyed to Russia, Sebastopol would have been taken. The result showed how unjustifiable such communications were, but the hon. Gentleman proposed to adopt a course which the slightest reflection and the experience of all ages showed to be fraught with the most mischievous and prejudicial consequences to the interests of the country. They could not fail to remember that one of the greatest operations of ancient warfare, undertaken by a Carthaginian general, and which placed the fate of Rome in peril, was defeated by the secret march of the Roman Consuls. Had electric telegraphs and "our own correspondents "been employed during the military operations of the Duke of Wellington in the Peninsula, some of the most successful movements of that distinguished commander might have proved abortive. At some future time it might be a very proper subject for consideration whether the instructions and correspondence for which the hon. Member asked might not be produced, but he (Sir C. Wood) altogether objected to their disclosure at the present moment, and while hostilities were pending. The operations of the commanding officers, both naval and military, would be a very fair subject of criticism in after times. Great commanders had always been severely criticised. The most adverse opinions had been expressed as to the conduct of the Duke of Wellington throughout the Peninsular campaigns, and a very able officer of the British army had written some amusing volumes to prove that Napoleon was utterly ignorant of the art of war. He (Sir C. Wood) could not, however, conceive anything more mischievous than that the House should consent to the proposal that instructions and correspondence which, according to the showing of the hon. Gentleman himself, contained the views of our commanders with respect to attacking the enemy's ports should be made public. He thought it was not unreasonable on the part of the Government to ask the House to refuse the hon. Gentleman's request, for our commanders on the spot must be supposed to know far better than any one at home what course it was most advisable for them to pursue under existing circumstances. The war in which they were engaged was one of no light importance, one in which great and mighty interests were concerned, and objects of greater moment than that which seemed to be that of the hon. Gentleman, and which he could not better describe than in the words of the Roman poet, in the sneer which was levelled at a great commander of antiquity— Ut pueris placeas, et declamatio fias.


said, he had been informed, on good authority, that the usual number of troops in Odessa was from 5,000 to 6,000 men, that there were not barracks for more than that number, and that when a larger force happened to be in the place, the authorities were obliged to billet them upon the inhabitants. His informant also said, that since the month of May, 1854, no troops had been billeted at private houses, and he (Mr. Mitchell) thought, therefore, it was clear that since that month there had been no addition, even temporarily, to the garrison of Odessa. By far the greater proportion of the Rus- sian troops sent to the Crimea had never gone to Odessa at all, and the munitions of war sent to the Russian army had been principally conveyed from the cast of the Crimea, and had not passed through Odessa. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Scott) had spoken of large magazines and stores existing at Odessa, but there were no other magazines or stores in that city than were necessary for the supply of the regular garrison. As to the permanent occupation of Odessa, unless they were prepared with a large army to stop there, the thing was impossible.


said, he hoped it was not the intention of the hon. Gentleman opposite to east any reflection on Admiral Dundas. If the papers for which he asked were produced they would completely establish the reputation of that gallant Admiral, than whom a more able or vigilant officer did not exist. There had been but one ship of his, the Tiger, that endured any calamity.


said, he thanked the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton (Sir G. Peche11) for affording him an opportunity of adverting to the conduct of Admiral Dundas, which it was not too much to say had been severely criticised upon some former occasions. He believed that the defence of Admiral Dundas was to be found in the speech of the gallant Admiral who had just resumed his seat. As far as Admiral Dundas was individually concerned, he was sure that nothing would gratify him more than that every paper transmitted to him since he had assumed his great command, should be laid upon the table of the House. If, however, any member of the Government thought it was not conducive to the interests of the public service that the papers should be produced, no one would be more ready to endure criticism, or to submit to attacks and imputations, and to submit to them in silence, as was the duty of any man accepting a post of such difficulty, than Admiral Dundas. And he would take that opportunity of saying that he thought the House must feel that the silence of Admiral Dundas under all the imputations cast upon him contrasted favourably with some examples recently before them. It was the fashion to say that, when Admiral Dundas was removed from the command, Odessa would fall, and Sebastopol would be taken. Well, the gallant Admiral had been removed, but Odessa had not yet fallen, nor had Sebastopol been yet taken. He entirely approved of the reasons alleged by the right hon. Baronet (Sir C. Wood) for refusing these papers, and he therefore trusted his hon. Friend (Mr. Scott) would not divide the House, as it would be his duty, if such should be his intent, to divide against him. However, he only rose for the purpose of bearing his humble testimony to the prudence and vigilance of a gallant Friend of his, whose conduct had been severely criticised, and to express his approbation of the manner in which he had perforated his duty, for which he merited the sympathy of the House.


said, he could have no objection to withdraw the Motion if the current of opinion was against it. Nothing was further from his intention than to cast any reflection on the conduct of Admiral Dundas; and he believed that if the papers were produced they would remove every shadow of a stain from the character and conduct of the gallant Admiral. He hoped, however, some Member of the Government would state that Admiral Dundas had done all that he had it in his power to do.


Sir, in reply to the invitation of the hon. Gentleman, I beg to say that I am not aware that any censure or imputation can be cast upon Admiral Dundas. Admiral Dundas stands as high as any gallant officer in Her Majesty's naval service. His conduct, while employed, has not done anything but honour to him, and if he should be employed again, I am sure he will deserve equal credit for the discharge of the duties that may be imposed upon him. The hon. Gentleman did not cast any imputation upon Admiral Dundas, and therefore my right hon. Friend (Sir C. Wood) did not think it necessary to vindicate him. Nobody accused Hercules, and there was no necessity to make his defence.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.