HL Deb 23 June 1854 vol 134 cc605-12

presented a petition of Bankers, Merchants, and Shipowners of Kingston-upon-Hull, praying that a rigorous Blockade of all the Russian Ports may be effected without further delay. He stated, that the petition set forth that the depression of trade caused by the war with Russia was greatly aggravated by the uncertainty which existed in consequence of the present irregular and partial blockade of the Russian ports; that serious injury was inflicted upon the shipping interest of this country thereby, and the petitioners expressed strongly their opinion that, in order to a speedy termination of the war, it was necessary that every Russian port and harbour should be effectually closed. In the sentiments of the petitioners he fully concurred. It was within his knowledge that the complaints of the petitioners were mainly directed to the absence of a blockade in the White Sea, and he would direct attention to some facts which appeared to require explanation. About six weeks ago, it was very generally rumoured in mercantile circles that the Government had come to a determination not to institute any blockade of that part of the Russian dominions; it was also rumoured that the merchants of Holland had received from this country, and from official sources, a distinct intimation to that effect. When this statement was first made to him by a friend engaged in mercantile pursuits, he stated his opinion that there must have been some error, and that the Government could not have come to the resolution to forego so important a right and so powerful and useful a measure as the blockade of the ports of Archangel and Onega; but still more did it appear to him impossible, if such determination had been come to, that any communication should have been made directly or indirectly to any foreign Power, as such a step would necessarily have a most injurious effect upon the mercantile interest of this country. A short time after the same friend met him, and informed him, with something like triumph marked on his countenance, that he had learned that in Holland the merchants were chartering ships to a great extent, and had sent off large orders to Archangel for exporting Russian produce as soon as the White Sea was open; and the trade of Archangel and Onega was expected, during the present season, at least, to be as flourishing as it had ever been. These facts required some explanation, for, if we were not going to blockade the ports of the White Sea, the merchants of this country had a right, at least, to be placed upon the same footing as those of other countries. Had our merchants received the same information as those of Holland, two courses would at once have been open to them. They would either have looked to other countries for obtaining the supply of articles similar to those usually obtained from Russia, or they might have made arrangements for obtaining Russian supplies from neutral ports. The uncertainty which existed on the subject was what was chiefly complained of. A short time since he had made inquiry on the subject, and was informed that three of Her Majesty's ships had sailed for the White Sea, and that they were to be joined by at least one French ship of war. That force would have been ample for the blockade, as the Russians possessed no fleet or armed force of any consequence in those waters. He was, therefore, greatly surprised, as were also the public generally, when the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Admiralty announced in the House of Commons that it was not at present the intention of the Government to blockade those ports. He had, therefore, addressed a question to the noble Duke the Secretary of War on the subject, and the answer he received confirmed the statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty. The case, however, did not rest there. Only two days since, a deputation waited upon the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Admiralty upon the subject, and in reply to the statements then made to him, if he were accurately informed, the right hon. Baronet said, that the Order in Council for blockading the waters of the White Sea was signed, but was not yet sent out, nor would he say when or whether it would be sent. Now it surely could not be right that the merchants of this country should be left in such a state of uncertainty on a subject of this importance. He perfectly agreed in the opinion that the Government were not called upon to give any information beforehand as to their intention to institute any blockade, or to announce the course which they intended to pursue; when the question was, whether other countries and other Powers ought to be permitted to know what was the course intended to be adopted when our own merchants were kept in ignorance of the policy of the Government. Subsequently he had received letters from St. Petersburg and Archangel, stating that telegraphic despatches had been forwarded by courier to Archangel, advising the chartering of numerous ships, and the purchase of several thousand tons of hemp, yarn, tallow, flax, and other, articles of Russian produce, for shipment from the ports of the White Sea. He had heard from good information that not less titan 400 ships were, within the knowledge of the merchants of London, chartered for Archangel and Onega. By the course the Government were pursuing, they were causing a very large amount of the trade connected with English shipping to pass into the hands of neutral traders and shipowners. By allowing the Russian trade to be carried on unmolested we assisted in recruiting her finances, and made it the interest of neutrals that the war should continue, not that it should terminate. See how the thing worked. Their Lordships were aware that the Russian Government had required a loan to carry on their military operations, and they had obtained it from their customers, whose trade with Russia this country was, in fact, protecting and fostering. In Holland, the Emperor of Russia had raised a loan upon what must be considered very advantageous terms, considering the rate of interest at London and elsewhere. The Dutch had, in fact, a direct interest in supplying the funds for the war, for so long as a state of hostilities continued they would be driving a most profitable business with Russia. Hitherto the proceedings of the allied forces had been attended with success; but, in order to bring the war to a speedy issue, it was necessary that the utmost amount of pressure should be put upon Russia. The war had been carried on successfully by the allies, or rather by the Turks—it was impossible not to admire the distinguished bravery with which they had baffled and thriven back the invaders of their country. But their Lordships could not seriously believe that the victories which had been obtained on the banks of the Danube had really brought us much nearer a termination of the war. The victories were of advantage undoubtedly; but they knew from the character of the Emperor and Government of Russia, that it was not by the loss of thousands of unfortunate Russian soldiers that we could ever hope to obtain peace. But even the most tyrannical Governments found it difficult to resist the wishes of the mass of the people; if, therefore, they wished to bring about a speedy peace, it could only be by making the producers and trading interests of Russia feel the pinch of the war by a most effectual blockade of the ports and harbours of Russia. Letters had been received in London only the day before yesterday, stating that there was no blockade in the Sea of Azof, He was not so unreasonable as to suppose that this country could supply a navy equal to blockade every quarter of the world; but when they had sent a force quite sufficient for the purpose to the White Sea, he could not understand why the blockade should not be instituted. It had been hinted that the Government had to conciliate our ally in this matter, in a manner which seemed to imply that the French Government were indisposed to blockade the White Sea. That might probably be the reason which had influenced the Government in the course it had taken; but if so, these reasons ought to he stated.


said, that the prayer of the petition was, that a rigorous blockade of every port and harbour in the Russian dominions might be effected without further delay. The noble Marquess had not dwelt much on the particular object for which these opinions had been offered to the House by the petitioners; he had dwelt principally upon the importance of the blockade in the conduct of the war, and not as affecting the interests of the petitioners, which be apprehended was the real object fur which they were concerned. The noble Marquess was quite in error, if he believed that there was a perfect agreement of opinion among the merchants of this country with respect to the propriety of blockades of the Russian ports. The difficulties connected with the functions of the Executive as to the determination of questions of blockade were greatly increased when, as in the present case, the blockade was to be instituted in conjunction with an ally, and that ally one whose interests were as much, or even more deeply, concerned as our own. He had no objection to confirm the surmise of the noble Marquess at the close of his observation, that it was in consequence of arrangements into which France had entered which prevented the Government of that country from agreeing, in the early part of our negotiations with respect to the commencement of this war, in instituting a blockade of the ports in the White Sea, and Her Majesty's Government thought, if the French Government were bound by engagements of that kind, and did not feel themselves at liberty to join in the blockade of the White Sea, it would not be right for this country to institute such a blockade. The last correspondence with the French Government showed a considerable alteration of opinion upon this subject, which he thought Would, in all probability, lead to the adoption of a similar policy on the part of both countries. He stated that the noble Marquess was mistaken, if he supposed that the mercantile interests at large were unanimous as to the importance to their interests of the institution of this blockade. The deputation to which the noble Marquess had referred, as having waited upon the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Admiralty, so far from waiting upon him for purposes similar to that suggested in the petition presented by the noble Marquess, namely, the establishment of a strict blockade of the ports of the White Sea, had for their object to remonstrate against such blockade, and to request Her Majesty's Government not to take such a step. The reasons which they assigned—he would not now say whether they were valid or not—was that 400 ships had been chartered for the trade to Archangel, and that at least three-fourths of them would be freighted with grain. Another important fact which they stated was, that the greater part, if not the whole, of the trade with Archangel was carried on not with Russian but with foreign capital, and that advances were usually made for the purchase of goods brought to Archangel, and that, in fact, at the present moment, the freight of those 400 ships belonged not to Russian subjects, but to subjects of other nations, and that the effect of the institution of this blockade would be not to injure Russia, or the trade of the Russians, but the subjects of neutral and probably friendly Powers. He merely made these statements to show that, even with respect to the prayer of the petition, there were two sides to the question. The noble Marquess had evidently made a great mistake with respect to the answer which the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Admiralty returned to the deputation. He stated that the answer given was to the effect that the Order in Council had been signed for the institution of this blockade, though it had not been published, and he could not tell when it would be. He was at a loss to conceive how anything his right hon. Friend had said could have been tortured into such a statement, for no Order in Council was necessary to the institution of the blockade, and therefore none could have been or would be signed. [The MARQUESS of CLANRICARDE explained, that he intended to have spoken of a simple order, not of an Order in Council.] Even then, the First Lord of the Admiralty Hurst have been misunderstood, as no order had been signed. The First Lord of the Admiralty might have said, that he was unwilling to say when the order would be issued. In so doing, he would have been acting strictly in accordance with all rules of propriety in such cases, not to give to those gentlemen any information prior to that to be given to the rest of the world. With respect to the policy of instituting the blockade, the noble Marquess would see, from what had been already stated, that Her Majesty's Government did not differ greatly from the opinions which he had himself expressed. He (the Duke of Newcastle) thought, that even the noble Marquess would place some confidence then with respect to the circumstances which influenced Her Majesty's Government, with regard to the particular moment when they would direct the establishment of the blockade. He could assure the noble Marquess, that if they had hesitated to institute a blockade of the White Sea, or of any other port, it was not from any fear of doing too much injury to Russia. The noble Marquess might rest assured that the moment the Government were satisfied that they could strike a blow at Russia, either by instituting the blockade of the White Sea or of any other ports or harbours, or by taking any other measures, without inflicting grievous injury upon other parties who ought not to be injured, the blow would be struck. Both as regarded blockades and more active measures, the Government bad not the slightest intention of departing from that course which they had adopted up to the present moment, of taking every opportunity which their means afforded of inflicting the heaviest blow upon Russia, and subjecting her to the severest pressure they could impose, in order to entitle this country to demand such terms of peace as we could alone accept.


complained that the effect of the policy now pursued with respect to the ports in the White Sea was to throw nearly the whole of the trade with Archangel into the hands of the foreign shipowner and merchant, for hitherto the Russian trade had been chiefly carried on in British bottoms, whereas it was now carried on in neutral ships. The British would have been content to make the sacrifice if it had tended in any way to hasten the conclusion of the war. But no effect of that sort could be produced by the present system, because the injury was not inflicted upon Russia, but fell upon the shipowners of this country. A benefit was conferred upon neutral Powers, but that was conferred, not at the expense of Russia, but as the result merely of the loss that was inflicted on our own people. What we were now doing was perfectly null so far as the war was concerned, and it was at the same time not only injurious to our own people now, but it would continue to be so when the war had ceased, if trade should be driven into new lines of communication. With regard to the White Sea, he knew not what was the precise objection of France to effecting a blockade there; but if the case merely was that. France was unable to join England in blockading the ports of the White Sea, that was no reason why this country should be precluded from effecting the blockade. At any rate, as early information as possible ought to have been given to the merchants and others interested in the question as to the intentions of the Government. however, from what fell from the noble Duke it was to be concluded that there was a total change of policy with respect to the White Sea, though the information came rather late in the day, as the shipping trade with Archangel would soon terminate for the season, and, so far as Russia was concerned, a great advantage would have been obtained. The objection that the property of Englishmen in the port would be injured by a blockade could not be allowed to have any weight, for the same objection would apply to the blockade of any other Russian port.


had heard with great pleasure the approbation expressed by the noble Marquess of the warlike operations in general now being carried on; and in that sentiment he entirely concurred. However, he understood the noble Marquess to make some exception in his praise so far as the Sea of Azoff was concerned; but if the noble Marquess examined the charts of that sea, and compared the general depth of water with the draught of our vessels, he would perceive that it was not so easy to conduct effective operations there with safety. He repeated that he concurred in the approbation bestowed on our Admirals, whose activity and skill no one could doubt, and whose conduct had evidently been guided by a wise desire to husband the resources of the country, and to make as effective as possible any blow they might inflict.

The petition ordered to lie on the table.