HC Deb 17 August 1860 vol 160 cc1479-86

said he wished to know what instructions had been given to Lord Dufferin on his appointment as Commissioner to Syria with reference to the atrocities recently perpetrated there, and whether those instructions would be laid on the table of the House? Within the last two or three days a new set of papers had been printed with regard to these lamentable occurrences, and among them a most remarkable letter from Mr. Cyril Graham, a gentleman of great ability, sent by the European Powers to Syria to ascertain what were the real facts with regard to these horrible massacres. The scenes which that gentleman described were, he (Mr. Monsell) ventured to say, such as it never could have entered into the mind of any man to conceive. The atrocities were utterly abominable. Mr. Graham stated in the most distinct manner that the Turkish authorities—many of them being of the highest grade in the district—were actually accomplices in the perpetration of the worst of these atrocities. Whether it would have been possible to prevent them if more attention had been paid to the circular letter written in April, he would not stop to inquire. He would not stop to inquire whether, if negotiations had been entered into with France in time, the evil might have been prevented. But it did certainly appear considering the history of Syria for the last twenty years, that this country was deeply responsible for these atrocities. What did we do twenty years ago? We found Ibrahim Pasha governing these disturbed districts of Syria. Under his rule these horrible scenes did not take place. We, in opposition certainly to Franco, and he believed to some of the other Powers of Europe, recommended a change of Government. We recommended that there should be a chief of the Druses and a chief of the Maronites, and that there should be a Turkish Pasha over both. We were warned in the strongest manner possible by Monsieur Guizot, on several occasion, and by Monsieur Thiers, when Prime Minister of France, as to what the effect of this would be. We were told that we were handing over these provinces to unlimited sway on the part of the Sultan which never existed before—that we were changing his suzerainty into a sovereignty. The gallant Admiral the Member for Southwark (Sir Charles Napier), who took part in the transactions in Syria in 1840, mentioned at a meeting in Edinburgh in 1845 that he felt it a disgrace to have had anything to do with transactions which produced such lamentable results. In 1844 the Earl of Aberdeen distinctly recognized the position of responsibility in which we had placed ourselves. In 1845 and in 1847 scenes on a smaller scale than those that had just taken place—but still terrible scenes—took place in these districts, and the Turkish Pasha in those cases also was an accomplice, and took part in the horrible transactions. On one occasion 150 Turkish soldiers looked on whilst some terrible murders were perpetrated, and two convents sacked. What he wished to know from the noble Lord at the head of the Government was this—whether, it having been found that the system which was adopted twenty years ago—owing very much to the influence of this country—was a complete failure, the commissioners who had now been sent out by the different Powers of Europe had received any instructions to reconsider that system; and whether the Lebanon district would be placed in a position in which it would be more free from the tyranny of the Pashas and replaced in that position with regard to the Ottoman Porte which it occupied in 1840.


said, that what the right hon. Gentleman had stated was quite correct. He had stated at Edinburgh, and also in that House, that he felt ashamed of the part which he had taken in the affairs of Syria. He was sent under the orders of the Government, and he did his duty, though very unwillingly. When the country was held by Mehemet Ali it was peaceable and quiet. The roads were secure and the people comparatively happy. The Turks did everything they could to stir up rebellion in Mount Lebanon, and he was afraid that the allied Powers did a great deal which had the same effect. Lord Ponsonby sent an agent into Mount I Lebanon to do everything which he could to stir up the inhabitants, and it was notorious that they were told they would be better used by the Turks as an inducement to take up arms. The inhabitants did take up arms, and if they bad not joined us it would have been quite impossible with our small force to have turned 30,000; or 40,000 Egyptians out of Mount Lebanon, and finally out of Syria. But before the English left the mountain the I tyranny of the Turks began before their I faces. Sir Robert Stop ford and himself did everything in their power to get rid of: the Governor sent there, as he was a regular tyrannical, cruel, old Turk. After Mehemet Ali was driven out of Syria, they I left that wretch as Governor of Mount Lebanon. Before the ink was dry on the treaty, the Turkish troops or the Turkish Government broke faith with Mehemet Ali. They sent an army to disturb his retreat, and if hon. Members read the blue-book published in that day, they would see that the Turkish Government boasted of having destroyed 30,000 men in the retreat from Damascus. All that was done under the patronage of the allied Powers. They took no steps to leave Syria in a state of safety and good Government. He did as I much as he could, and be advised Mehemet Ali not to receive the Pasha who was sent by the Porte. A very short time after the English left, the Turkish Government fomented all sorts of quarrels between the Druses and the Maronites. Colonel Rose, in his despatches, stated the manner in which the Turks behaved, and what little pains they took to prevent the Druses and I Maronites coming to blows. They did come to blows, and almost the first thing which Colonel Rose saw was a number of Turkish troops looking on and not preventing the Druses marching past with Christian heads on their pikes. If it had not been for the gallant conduct of Colonel Rose, be believed that there would have been many more massacres then than had since taken place. He never believed that the plan of a chief of the Druses and a chief of the Maronites, both under a Turk, was the way to pacify Syria. The French were now sending troops to Syria. It was a dangerous manœuvre for the French to be in possession of Syria. They knew what the French did when they took possession of Rome, and he thought they would do the same in Syria. Yet he confessed that he for one would sooner see the French establish themselves permanently in Syria, if they would give protection to the unfortunate inhabitants, than see them again left to the tender mercies of the Turks. He trusted that whatever arrangement the allied Powers made with the French Government as a condition for their quitting the mountain, some steps would be taken—he did not care what steps they were—to protect the people. As to leaving them in the hands of the Turks again, he hoped that was out of the question. Whatever promises the Turkish Government might make, or their Pashas might choose to make to the Turkish Government, Europe might depend upon it that no attention would be paid to them after European troops were out of the country. It was not in the nature of the Turks to govern properly. They bought their places, and they ground the people down as much as they could in order to repay the money which they bad had to borrow at Constantinople to purchase their places. As to expecting anything like common humanity, it was totally out of the question. There was never anything like humanity in Mount Lebanon. There was no humanity for the Christians in any part of Syria. They were the last remnant of Christians in the East. The allied Powers, when they drove out Mehemet Ali, promised them a better Government. They had forfeited their word. Almost the first thing which the Turkish Government did at that time was to arrest the chief of the Maronites, and take him to Constantinople, where he was kept a prisoner for ten years. He well remembered the noble Lord at the head of the present Government making a speech of two hours the night before Parliament was prorogued, in 1841 or 1842, and calling on the Government to interfere. The chief was kept a prisoner for ten years. He was sent back without any power, and the Druses had completed the catastrophe by cutting his throat.


I am sorry to find that my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel French), when he has nothing better to do, invariably launches an arrow at my noble Friend the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. I can assure him that he receives no sympathy in those attacks, cither from those who personally know my noble Friend or from those who are brought in contact with my noble Friend in his official position, because every one who knows him, whether individually or officially, knows that there never was a man in a high position who took to his work with a more hearty desire to promote the happiness and prosperity of the people whom he is called to govern.

With regard to the question of my noble Friend the Member for Marylebone (Lord Fermoy), as to the King of Dahomey, my hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State has stated all which the Government know on that subject. But I may say that the matter has for a long period of time engaged the attention of Her Majesty's Government. It was my lot when at the Foreign Office, for a long time to use great endeavours to persuade the former King of Dahomey to abandon these abominable practices. We sent two or three missions to the headquarters of the King. I am sorry to say that those who went reported that when they came to the King's palace, they saw around the wall which surrounded it placed, not the ornaments which are usual in civilized countries, but human skulls—skulls of the victims sacrificed on those occasions, and ostentatiously displayed on the walls of the palace. That King of Dahomey did, to a certain degree, yield to our representations. Whether the present King will be disposed to do so remains to be seen, but the capital of Dahomey is at a considerable distance from the coast, and the road to it, through jungles and marshes, is so difficult to traverse that it would be scarcely possible to take an European force there to exercise coercion. I can only assure the House that every effort will be made to persuade the authorities to listen to our representations, and if any pressure can be exerted with good effect it will not fail to be added. These massacres are not, as my noble Friend has represented, connected with the slave trade. That we have endeavoured to prevail on the King to give up; but we have nothing to do with the internal arrangements of Africa. What we have laboured incessantly and with great success to prevent has been the practice of kidnapping persons and selling them, in order that they may be transported as slaves to South America or elsewhere. The capture of Lagos, and similar occurrences on the coast have much diminished the facilities for this traffic possessed by the Native chiefs. It is for the profit of the chiefs, and of the chiefs alone, that the practice is kept up, as they derive from it a revenue greater than they could obtain from the industry of their subjects. The people themselves are the victims of the trade, and abominate it; but it is no easy task to induce men who are reckless of all considerations but pecuniary profit to abandon a trade which, I am sorry to say, is stimulated by civilized men in civilized countries.

My hon. Friend the Member for Perth (Mr. Kinnaird) has asked whether any instructions have been given for the purpose of endeavouring to rescue from the harems in the interior those unhappy women who were carried off in great numbers from Damascus. Lord Dufferin has instructions, when he visits Syria, to take steps with this end in view, and communications will also be made to the Ambassadors at Constantinople to induce the Turkish authorities to co-operate with Lord Dufferin in endeavouring to accomplish this object. The two chiefs, Kurschid Pasha and Osman Bey, have, it is true, been sent to Constantinople for the purpose of being tried. Whether one of them, being a military officer, was received with the military honours attaching to his rank I do not know, and cannot consequently inform the House; but it is also true that they have been sent back to Syria, to be there tried for their crimes. Evidence will, of course, be more easily obtained on the spot, and I hope and trust that when they are arraigned they may receive the reward due to their atrocities. My right hon. Friend the Member for Limerick (Mr. Monsell) has entered into the general question of the state of Syria. He seems to imagine that these recent events were the result of the tyranny of the Turks. So far from that being the case, they have in a great degree resulted from the absence of direct authority on the part of the Turkish empire.


explained that he had referred, not to the tyranny of the Turks, but to their policy of fomenting civil war among the tribes by setting the Druses and Maronites one against the other.


My right hon. Friend, at all events, held the English Government responsible for these events. I beg in the most direct and positive manner to repudiate on our part any share of the responsibility. It is not for mo, sitting here, to say on whom that responsibility rests; it is not with us—that is all I will say. There are very strange reports as to the party that was the aggressor. In fact, there is little doubt that the Maronites commenced the disturbances, though to what extent they are responsible for the lamentable outbreak I am unable to say. There is a report that the first acts of violence are to he attributed to them; hut it is impossible to attach importance to rumours of so vague a character. This subject has elicited the remarks of the gallant Admiral the Member for Southwark. My hon. and gallant Friend distinguished himself, he will allow me to say, in the Syrian war, not only as a naval but as a military commander, and also as a negotiator, and performed great services in each of the three capacities. First of all, he gallantly conducted the attack on Acre; he then defeated the forces of Ibrahim Pasha on land, and finally he went to Alexandria, and extorted a very good treaty from Mehemit Ali. An arrangement was, however, made after the period to which he refers, by which the government of that district, instead of being carried on by the direct authority of the Sultan, was to be placed in the hands of two native chiefs—a Maronite chieftain to govern the Maronites, and a Druse chieftain to control the Druses—both being to a certain extent subservient to the representative of the Turkish Government, Primâ facie one would imagine this to be a good arrangement, and that these tribes would be better governed under their own chieftains than by the direct authority of a Turkish officer. Of late I have not had official knowledge of the facts, but as long as I remained at the Foreign Office and the papers passed under my observation it was the constant endeavour of the Government at Constantinople to overthrow this system of administration, and to place Syria on the same footing as all the other provinces under the control of the Porte. Therefore, so far from the arrangement being favourable to Turkish tyranny, it was one, on the contrary, which was specially directed to the withdrawal of the two tribes from the direct dominion of the Forte. And that it has to a great extent been successful is evident, because, though you cannot expect that, in an uncivilized country, where there are two races which have been from time immemorial at war with each other, conflicts will not be liable to arise, there has been nothing at all to he compared since 1841 with the atrocious outrages which have now taken place. I am not at present prepared to lay the instructions to Lord Dufferin on the table of the House; it is not usual to do so when instructions are in course of execution. But I may state that one of the duties with which Lord Dufferin has been intrusted is to inquire, in conjunction with his colleagues, into the state of the country, and to suggest the system of government that would be most conducive to the good and welfare of the people, and most likely to prevent a recurrence of the unfortunate collision which has taken place.

On Motion that the House go into Committee of Supply,