HL Deb 30 May 1853 vol 127 cc758-61

My Lords, I regret extremely that I do not see my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in his place, as I had taken the liberty of writing to him a private note, stating it was my intention to put a question to Her Majesty's Government, through him, this evening; but seeing my noble Friend the Prime Minister in his place, and knowing well how conversant he must be with everything which relates to the foreign affairs of this country, I do not scruple to put my question now. In consequence of the great importance of the subject to which it refers, and the very pressing and momentous state in which the affairs of the Turkish Empire and Russian diplomacy now stands, I took the liberty the other evening of expressing what I believe to be the anxiety of the public, and what I know to be my own, as to the state and condition of the negotiations as then pending. Upon that occasion I ventured to express my regret that the course which had been usual in cases bearing upon diplomatic questions in reference to the Turkish Empire, had not been followed by the Government of this country—meaning thereby, that I regretted that at the time when this important question was raised, when it really seemed to involve the existence of the Ottoman Empire, and when we were in communication with Russia, we did not give a moral support to the feelings of the Turkish people in the man- ner in which we had then recently and upon other former occasions done. The question which I meant to put to my noble Friend had he been present, and which I now put to my noble Friend the Prime Minister, is simply, whether instructions have been sent to Admiral Dundas, at Malta, to hasten his departure to the Dardanelles or Constantinople? I am induced to follow this course from the circumstance of the public being now informed that, on the evening of the 22nd of this month, Prince Menschikoff took his departure from Constantinople, not having succeeded in the object which he seemed to have had in view. That appears to me to bring the state of things to a very critical juncture. Believing, as I do, that the feelings of all parties in Turkey have been raised to a pitch bordering on that degree of excitement which tends to hostile operations, and that nothing has been done in the way of military preparation of any sort by any nation but France, I am led to think that the question is so critical, and the speed at which operations may now be conducted on the part of the Emperor of Russia as against the Ottoman Porte so great, that I believe it is necessary the public should be informed, not only of the opinions of our Government, but likewise of their acts and intended proceedings. I will now state why I presume to put this question, and upon what grounds; for I believe, as I said before, that it is only necessary to look at and reflect on the manner in which information may now be transmitted from point to point, and movements made, to see in what position precisely the various affairs of the different nations likely to bring about anything approaching to a collision are now placed. If it be true, as reported, that Prince Menschikoff left Constantinople on the 22nd of the present month, it is not at all improbable that on the evening of the same day, seeing his mission was entirely at an end, he would despatch a courier to his Emperor, informing him of what had taken place; and if that was so, it is probable that on this very day the courier would arrive at St. Petersburg. Assuming that everything would be done with great rapidity, and that the Emperor would despatch a courier to Sebastopol with directions for any military movements he might think fit, I think the Imperial messenger should arrive at his destination about the 6th of June. Supposing, then, that military movements are actually intended by the Emperor, and that he has a fleet and an army ready at Sebastopol, which is about three hundred miles from Constantinople, and giving the ordinary time allowed for the passage of ships between those two places, it is probable that his forces could be transported to the capital of the Turkish Empire in three days by steam power and fair winds; but I give them double that time, and assuming the troops would have to be embarked, and various contingencies causing delay, I will say that the Russian vessels could not arrive at the Bosphorus before the 12th of June. Supposing, on the other hand, that Admiral Dundas was still at Malta on Saturday last, and that Her Majesty's Government, seeing the difficulty which was likely to take place, immediately despatched information and orders to the Admiral, it appears to me that he might receive those directions on Wednesday next by telegraph. No doubt the Admiral is perfectly ready to sail, and that not a moment will be lost. He has six sail of the line and seven or eight powerful steamers, and doubtless he would proceed with all haste to Constantinople, a distance from Malta of about 800 nautical miles. I take it that the best steamers run from Constantinople to Malta in four and a half days, and I take it that the Admiral could do the same, if he had the fairest possible winds and the most favourable circumstances, either for towing or sailing; but I will give Admiral Dundas double that time, and reckon that he should be at the mouth of the Dardanelles on the 10th of June, while, as I said, the Russian forces might arrive at Constantinople on the 12th. Now, it is unquestionably true that every one of these suppositions and calculations are based on probabilities, not likely, perhaps, to be realised on either side; but I still think I have shown a case which warrants me in putting the question to Her Majesty's Government, whether they have given any directions to Admiral Dundas to leave Malta, and, if so, at what period we may expect him to take his departure?


[who had now entered the House] said, he had to apologise to the noble Earl for not having been present in time to hear his speech, having been unavoidably prevented from attending in his place in Parliament at an earlier moment. His noble Friend, as he was able to gather from what he had heard of the noble Earl's remarks, wished to know whether any orders had been sent to Admiral Dundas to proceed with his fleet from Malta to the Dardanelles. Now, in noticing that question, he (the Earl of Clarendon) had to observe, that on Friday night the House had appeared to concur in the propriety of Her Majesty's Government not giving any explanation upon a matter with respect to which they were but imperfectly informed; and he was sure they would still more readily concur in the propriety of their declining altogether to state what directions they had given to the Admiral in command of the Mediterranean fleet.

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