HC Deb 07 March 1856 vol 140 cc2040-3

Sir, I rise to call the attention of Her Majesty's Government to the necessity of taking some steps for obtaining a pledge from the Russian Government to secure that the graves of the British officers and soldiers in the Crimea shall be respected, in the event of the positions at present occupied by the allied armies being evacuated. As the time appears to be approaching when the allied armies will have to leave the position which for the last year and a half they have occupied in the Crimea, it is to them and to us a matter of melancholy importance to inquire what is to become of the monuments which the pious care of sorrowing friends and admiring comrades has raised to the memory of the gallant men who fell in defence of their country, and now repose in a far distant land. This is a subject which will not fail to awaken an interest deep as it is general, for there is scarcely a family which has not had to mourn the loss of some relative, and there is hardly a house in which there is not one dead. I am anxious, therefore, to obtain from Her Majesty's Government an assurance that they will, if it should be in their power to do so, take measures to obtain from the Russian Government an assurance that the monuments and graves of the British officers and soldiers buried in the Crimea shall be respected when the allied armies shall have retired, and the country shall have again fallen into the hands of its original inhabitants. It may be said that no Christian Power would authorise or permit the graves of the dead, even though those dead had been its enemies, to be desecrated or molested; and most sincerely do I hope that this sentiment may find favour with the Russian Government. I know not what course they may be disposed to take; but I can call to mind two instances where a noble forbearance has been shown by nations with whom we have been at war, and where the graves of British soldiers have been treated with veneration and respect. The brave and generous Marshal Soult himself raised a monument on the heights of Corunna to the memory of his noble and gallant enemy, Sir John Moore; and to this day a yearly rent is paid, raised from a battalion of Guards, for the ground in which are interred the remains of their heroic comrades who fell in the ill-fated sortie of Bayonne. And, although it is, perhaps, scarcely natural to expect that there should be the same community of feeling and the same sympathy between the British and the Russians as between the British and the French, I am yet unwilling to believe that Russia will not facilitate some arrangement which will convey to the sorrowing relatives of those who have fallen in this war an assurance that the graves of the departed will not be desecrated. If peace should soon be concluded, it may not be difficult to obtain this concession; but if the war goes on and the British army should find it expedient to break up their camp in the Crimea and take up a new position elsewhere, the graves of our soldiers will then be at the mercy of the enemy, whose feelings it is but reasonable to suppose will be less favourable to us than they would have been if peace had been restored. Even in that case, however, some understanding might be come to, even with a hostile Government, on a subject appealing so tenderly to the instinctive emotions of our common humanity. That large burial-ground where are read the names of Cathcart, of Strang- ways, of Estcourt, and of many others, the pride and glory of the British army, is the very spot that might be chosen as the site for a redoubt in case the neighbouring heights should be fortified. But there are other humbler burial-grounds, not undeserving of our pious care. In one of these repose some hundreds of the Guards who fell at Inkerman, including a gallant friend of my own, whose place it is my privilege to fill in this House; and in close proximity lies a spot where the fallen of the Coldstream Guards have found their final resting-place. A few stones mark the place of their sepulture, and it is just one of those localities least likely to be left without disturbance if the original inhabitants were to return. Nor must we forget that the people who lived in that country have been ruined by the war. Their houses have been levelled, their vines uprooted, and of their trees not a vestige remains. Whatever, therefore, the feelings of the Russian Government may be in our regard, it is but natural to expect that these poor people will come back to their desolated homes animated with no very friendly sentiments towards us. Taking all these circumstances into consideration, I trust the House will be of opinion that I have made out a case for the interference of the Government on this mournful subject. We may not give back life to those who have fallen in their country's cause; but some endeavour may at least be made to insure that all that is mortal of them may rest undisturbed in their remote, but not unhonoured, graves.


Sir, the subject which the hon. Gentleman has brought under the notice of the House is one that, no doubt, must enlist the feelings of all those who reflect upon it; and I can assure him that it shall not escape the attention of Her Majesty's Government during the negotiations which are now proceeding. I really cannot anticipate that there will be the slightest difficulty in obtaining from the Russian Government an assurance—if, indeed, such an assurance can be necessary—that the monuments which record the fall of our brave countrymen who have sacrificed their lives in the Crimea shall receive that respect which among all civilised nations such memorials invariably command. Whatever we may think of our Russian adversaries, we must do them the justice to admit that they have carried on war with all the courtesy which becomes a great country. Their treatment of the gallant force which surrendered to them at Kars has been most humane and generous. That noble garrison received every consideration which the magnanimity of the victors could prompt; and, therefore, there is no reason to suppose that those who have known so well how to treat the living will be wanting in due respect towards the dead. However, both the hon. Gentleman and the House may rest perfectly satisfied that the subject will not he lost sight of by Her Majesty's Government.


said, he entirely concurred with the hon. Gentleman who had introduced the subject, that some efficient steps should be taken to secure the object in view; for, though he concurred with the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government in what he had said as regarded the manner in which the Russian officers and the Russian troops had conducted themselves, it was to be borne in mind that the population of the Crimea was a mixed one, many of them not being Russians at all, and many of them having been totally ruined by the present war. He had not the slightest doubt that the Russian Government would be willing to comply with any proposition which our Government might put forward on the subject. His opinion was, that some portion of ground should be set apart as a burial-place for our troops who had fallen in the Crimea, the Russian Government to receive a rent charge, and the ground to be well guarded.