HC Deb 01 June 1860 vol 158 cc1883-8

in rising to ask for an explanation of the circumstances under which Sir Henry Rawlinson had resigned or been recalled from the post of Her Majesty's Minister to the Court of Persia, said that it would be in the recollection of the House that that gentleman had been appointed by the Government which preceded that of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, and he had given up a very lucrative appointment on the Indian Council, to proceed, as it was understood, at the special request of the Government, to Persia, where affairs were then in great disorder. It was, consequently, with infinite amazement he read a few days ago that Sir Henry Rawlinson was coming back from Persia, and that his successor had been already appointed. It was believed that the cause was that Sir Henry Rawlinson differed from the policy which Her Majesty's Government wished to carry out in Persia, and had declared that if the old and unwise course characterized as "the bullying policy," which had failed so completely on former occasions, were persevered in, he should be obliged to send in his resignation. It was also rumoured that no answer had been vouchsafed to his despatch, but that directions were at once telegraphed to Mr. Alison at Constantinople to take his place. Looking to the difficulties which had recently arisen, to our relations with Persia from the beginning of the present century, and to the important strides which Russia was making in the East, this question assumed a very grave character. The favourable impression created in Persia by the embassy of Sir John Malcolm and the men who accompanied him—all officers of promise, who afterwards attained the highest stations in their respective departments— still existed in that country. At that time, and down to the year 1835, the selection of officers was made by the Governor-General of India and the Indian authorities, and during that period they had never had a single difference with Persia, and the British name was respected in that quarter. In 1836, however, the Whig Government of the day transferred the control of Persian affairs from the Indian department to the Foreign Office. In two years afterwards the Affghanistan war broke out. Within three years the British Minister, Sir John M'Neill, struck his flag for the first time in Persia, and ever since there had been a succession of embittering quarrels and disgraceful petty disputes. In 1846, when he visited Persia, all the English residents lamented the loss of British influence and the extent to which our Embassy had deteriorated; and he himself found it pleasanter to travel as a Russian than as an Englishman, the British name, during the time that Colonel Shiel was there, not being much respected. But, although the British Embassy at Teheran then exercised very little influence either over the Court or the people of Persia, he found that one Englishman had left such a name among every class of Persian society that a letter from him would have been a passport throughout the whole of Persia. That gentleman was Major Rawlinson, of Bagdad, who was supposed to be gifted with almost supernatural powers, as he could dispute with the Mollahs of Ispahan, could write and speak the Persian tongue, was deeply skilled in the political learning of that country, and had filled with credit the highest posts during a disastrous war. It was due to his singular qualities and deep knowledge of the country that during the insurrection in Cabul the province of Candahar and the southern portion of Affghanistan were preserved intact. He was not guilty of exaggeration when he stated that there was no European who had made such an impression on the population of Persia, and that not merely on the learned societies or the higher and polished classes, which had been aptly called "the French of the East," but his influence extended to the wild chiefs of Koordistan, who respected him as the best shot and the boldest rider they had ever seen. When he went into their district, in which scarcely a European had before set foot, he was able to tell the genealogy of each chief, and possessed an intimate acquaintance with the customs and early history of the inhabitants. From hearing so much of him in 1846 he was led to ride all the way to Bagdad for the purpose of visiting this wonderful man, and the beginning of a friendship was then laid which he was happy to say had lasted till the present time. Colonel Shiel had remained in Persia from 1846 till 1853, and, although a Company's officer, pursued a totally different policy from his predecessors appointed under the Company's administration; he shut himself out from the Persians and carried on that bullying policy which in too many instances it was unfortunately the habit of England to adopt towards weak nations. On the return of Colonel Shiel at the outbreak of the Russian war in 1854, his successor might have been chosen from men who had served with distinction in Affghanistan; or in India, and it was of the utmost importance that the credit of the British name should be maintained in Persia. What, therefore, must have been the astonishment of every one to And Mr. Thompson selected as the Chargé d' Affaires? During the crisis of the Russian war, notwithstanding the opportunity which Persia, from her position on the borders of Russia, had of hampering that great empire, no effort was made to obtain her assistance—we had not even at the time a Minister at Teheran. At that period he gave notice of a Motion, but believing that he did not possess sufficient influence with the House he had not ventured to bring it forward; but seeing what had been the result of the course taken by the Government, and fearing that a similar rule in the selection of officers was again about to be acted on, he felt unable any longer to abstain from the discharge of his duty in calling the attention of the House to a policy which had caused a vast expenditure of blood and money, and might do so again. During the early part of the Russian war England had only a Charge d' Affaires at Teheran, who, notwithstanding his personal character, never possessed the smallest influence, and, consequently, during the period of his stay in Persia was a mere cipher, while Russia was successful in carrying out her designs. But the example of British Envoys who had gone before was strictly followed in quarrelling about small matters and in striking his flag on the question of protecting a Persian usurer, who was said to be a British subject. At last a Minister was chosen; but instead of being a gentleman thoroughly acquainted with the country, he was a man who had never before set foot in Persia, and was boot known to the public by his work on forth American Indians. Mr. Murray was selected for the post, though men like Sir H. Rawlinson or Major Edwardes, thoroughly conversant with Eastern diplomacy, could have been procured. It was true that Mr. Murray had smoked a pipe for a short time with Mehemet Ali in Egypt; but no acquaintance with Egypt, where European States are so powerful and Mahomedans so weak, could lit him for a post like that in Persia, where the power of western civilization is not directly felt, and an Ambassador, having to rely on his own resources, requires an intimate acquaintance with the habits, customs, and modes of thought of the people. In a crisis like the Russian war, looking to the pressure which Russia naturally exercises on Persia, the Ambassador chosen by the British Ministry ought not to have been a person who had then to make his first essay in the difficult diplomacy of Central Asia, but one who, like Sir Henry Rawlinson or Colonel Edwardes, was already thoroughly experienced in those matters. The result necessarily was that before he had been six months in Persia, Mr. Murray had quarrelled fully a dozen times with the authorities. Mr. Murray had begun his mission by setting about teaching the Persian King and the Persian people the rules and customs of their own country; and nobody could read the despatches written after his appointment without seeing how unfit he was to fill the position which he occupied. He quarrelled with the Shah and his Ministers because the husband of the sister of the Shah's wife was not allowed to be the agent of the British Embassy and to go to Shiraz and hence had arisen, those miser- able disputes which gave rise to that ill-feeling between England and Persia for which we had to pay so dearly. Mr. Murray had, however, eventually struck his flag, and the matter had at last got into the hands of an able man—Lord Stratford; the result being that the Persian Envoy had not been at Constantinople six weeks before that nobleman had obtained at the hands of the Persian Government what England, through the medium of Mr. Murray, had failed to secure. We had spent £3,000,000 sterling on the Persian war, nominally because Persia would not give up Herat; but we were informed by our own Envoy at Teheran that the object of seizing that city was to give it up to England in order to purchase peace. When, however, we were squandering the best blood of the nation in prosecuting that war, we seemed to have altogether forgotten that the Shah of Persia was the head of the Sheah sect of Mussulmans, who constituted one-seventh of the population of India, and who regarded him with the same sort of veneration as members of the Roman Catholic persuasion did the Pope. The consequence had been, as was shown by the evidence taken on the trial of the King of Delhi, that he had disseminated proclamations throughout India, and that the combustible matter which existed in that country had ultimately been set on fire. Mr. Murray, when lie went back to Teheran, was told that if any proclamations from Persia were found to exist in India, it must be borne in mind that they had been issued during the war, and that the Government of Persia, peace having been concluded, were ready to lend their aid to destroy, as far as possible, the effect of those proclamations. He (Mr. D. Seymour) believed that the thanks of the Foreign Office had been sent out to the Persian Prime Minister for his candour in making that statement to Mr. Murray. Now, seeing the discontent which the conduct of Mr. Murray had excited in Persia, he was of opinion that Sir H. Rawlinson had been most justly and sagaciously selected by the Government of the Earl of Derby to bring about a better state of things. The result of that appointment had been that in a very brief space of time England began to be as much respected as ever in Persia; the favour in which Sir H. Rawlinson was held being so great that the Shah jocularly called him his Prime Minister. At a moment, however, when he was getting on so well he was removed. It might, indeed, be said that he was incurring too great an expense; but when it was considered that we had been paying Dost Mahomed at Cabul £10,000 a month for the last few years, it might well be doubted whether, if Sir H. Rawlinson asked a few thousands a month to make the customary presents in Persia, the money ought not to be regarded as well laid out. He should, under those circumstances, wish to ascertain from the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs what policy he proposed to carry out in Persia, and to what cause the recall of Sir H. Rawlinson was to be attributed. He had been informed that the moment Major Taylor and the other Commissioners left Herat, after the treaty had been signed, almost all the stipulations which it contained had become a dead letter there. The Shah had proceeded to coin money in his own name, and to do other acts in defiance of the provisions of the treaty, notwithstanding that we had made war in order that Herat should be independent. He knew that Afghanistan was in a precarious position, Dost Mahomed being an old man; but he would entreat the noble Lord to follow out in its case and in that of Persia the policy which he desired to pursue with respect to the Italians— namely, to allow them to manage their own affairs in their own way. The sound way of acquiring influence in Affghanistan was by means of commerce, which was daily on the increase. He should conclude by asking the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to lay upon the Table of the House Papers relating to Sir Henry Rawlinson's recal or resignation.