§ THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
I rise to draw the attention of Her Majesty's Government, and to ask from them information in respect to a subject which has filled the public mind of this country, and I doubt not of the whole of civilised Europe, with feelings of horror and indignation. Your Lordships will readily understand that I allude to the massacre on the coast of Russia, near Hango, of a boat's crew, with the officers in command, belonging to Her Majesty's ship Cossack. It will hardly be necessary for me, my Lords, to go into the details of this cruel and unjustifiable act, for your Lordships will already have read the despatch of Captain Fanshawe, of the Cossack, to Admiral Dundas, who sent the boat whose crew were made the victims of this wanton outrage to land certain Russian prisoners at their own request at Hango, and in which those details are fully stated. It will be sufficient, therefore, for me to remind your Lordships that the boat contained Russian prisoners who were to be landed under a flag of truce, and was commanded by the lieutenant of the Cossaek, a surgeon, and one or two petty officers, who had charge of the prisoners; that these prisoners had been allowed themselves to select the part of the Russian coast at which they wished to be landed at; that they were accordingly to be landed at a wharf near Hango. It appears that when the boat approached the 2295 shore at Hango, and when the men landed on the wharf, no sign of life was seen excepting one man; but suddenly the boat's crew and the liberated prisoners also were attacked by a large armed force, who fired upon them and massacred all, with the exception of one, a man named John Brown, who, though badly wounded, managed to escape in the boat. Not only were the party defenceless, but, according to this man's account, the officer in command, Lieutenant Geneste, was shot down while in the act of waving the flag of truce over his head, and while one of the Russian prisoners was explaining in the Russian language to the attacking party the circumstances under which, and the object for which, the landing had taken place; and it further appears that when the atrocity had been consummated, the Russian soldiers went down into the boat and threw overboard, not only the bodies of the dead, but those also who were wounded. Such is the account given by Captain Fanshawe to Admiral Dundas, upon the authority of the man Brown. When Admiral Dundas was first made acquainted with these facts, he naturally imagined that there had been some act of indiscretion, or that some omission in displaying the flag of truce, or some fault on the part of the lieutenant in command of the boat, had taken place, and would be made the excuse for the perpetration of this wanton violation of all national and of all human law; and accordingly he wrote to Captain Fanshawe, putting to him a number of questions categorically, all of which being answered satisfactorily, Admiral Dundas became convinced that no blame whatsoever applied either to Captain Fanshawe, to the officer in command of the boat, or to any of the crew. It is, however, but fair to add, that not many hours ago an account had reached London, and which appears in the second edition of a morning paper, giving the Russian version of this melancholy affair. That account states that the whole of the boat's crew were not killed, but that nine of the men and two of the officers were taken prisoners, three or four of whom are wounded, and the rest, they say, were killed in resisting the Russian troops who attacked them when they landed. Not a word of the flag of truce is mentioned in this account; but I have thought it fair to state to your Lordships what is the Russian version of the story, so far as we know it. But, even assuming that this version is correct, and that nine, or rather eleven 2296 men, including the two officers, were taken prisoners, though it mitigates in some degree the horrible cruelty which, according to our own version, had been perpetrated, still it in nowise exculpates the Russian soldiers, and more especially the officer who commanded them, from the complete and wanton breach of the law of nations which they have committed. The killing even of one man, or the taking even of a single man prisoner, while under the safeguard of a flag of truce, is an infraction of the law of nations, and of the law of honourable warfare, derived from the ancient code of the Middle Ages, for the purpose of restraining men's passions when not engaged in actual conflict, and which is adopted by every civilised nation. A flag of truce has always been honoured and held sacred—in every age and by every nation—it is necessary for the interests of humanity, and for the protection of the soldiers themselves—and I scarcely know of an instance of its having been violated. I believe if you trace history throughout you will not find a parallel either in ancient or modern times to this atrocious act. My Lords, it is not so much for the purpose of repressing the feelings of horror with which I have heard of this atrocious tragedy that I have risen on this occasion, as to ask Her Majesty's Government what course they intend to pursue under the circumstances? It appears to me to be the interest, not only of the Government of this country, whose subjects have perished in this cruel manner, but of every Government in the world, to take notice of such an act—and certainly it is the interest of every Sovereign in Europe, as it is the interest of every officer and of every soldier of every army in Europe, to demand that it should be noticed, and the perpetrators of it visited with condign punishment, in order that that sense of honour and of humanity which is inherent in every man's breast may be upheld in the wars of civilised nations. How this is to be done—how punishment is to follow this violation of the sacred law of nations—I wish to know from Her Majesty's Government. It is not for me to suggest the means, but I am sure Her Majesty's Government will not think me out of place in making these remarks, and inquiring of my noble Friend opposite, the President of the Council, what course they intend to pursue?
§ THE EARL OF CLARENDON
My Lords, although the question put by my noble Friend has been addressed to my 2297 noble Friend the President of the Council, I am, perhaps, in a better position to answer, and, with the permission of your Lordships, I will do so. My noble Friend has accurately stated all the facts of the case, and the manner in which this atrocity was carried into effect, and he has characterised it in a manner which must be in unison with the universal feelings entertained by your Lordships. It is an outrage so horrible and unparalleled, so utterly at variance with the usages of war and the customs of civilised nations, that we are compelled to believe that the perpetrators of it cannot have acted upon the instructions or have met with the approval of their superiors. I think it only reasonable to suppose in the first instance, till we have further information, that such was the case; and I say this the more, because it does appear that it must have been the brutal act of some unauthorised subordinate—for I see that Captain Fanshawe, in his despatch, expresses an opinion that the person who directed the force and gave the orders to fire might not be an officer. On receiving information of the transaction, I lost not a moment in forwarding the papers detailing the circumstances to Her Majesty's Minister at Copenhagen, instructing him to request the Danish Government to send instructions to the Danish Minister at St. Petersburg—of whose friendly zeal on behalf of British subjects and British interests it is impossible to speak too highly—requesting him to bring the matter to the notice of the Russian Government, and to state that Her Majesty's Government waited with extreme anxiety to learn what steps they had taken, or intended to take, to mark their sense of this brutal outrage—an outrage which might possibly have happened in some one of the savage islands of the South Sea without exciting any great degree of surprise, but which was not to be expected in civilised Europe, and which, if not amply punished, would demand severe reprisals. Under these circumstances, my noble Friend will see that it is not until we know what steps the Russian Government have, I hope, taken in the matter that we can determine what course it may become Her Majesty's Government to adopt.
§ THE EARL OF ELLENBOROUGH
said, the course taken by Her Majesty's Government seemed to him quite proper; but he considered it extremely probable that the English Admiral had already acted on the information he received, and had already 2298 made a communication to the Russian Government; and he therefore thought it desirable that the communication between the Danish Government and their Minister at St. Petersburg should pass through the English Admiral.
§ THE EARL OF CLARENDON
said, that the Danish Minister would, of course, communicate to the British Admiral what steps were taken; but he was not aware that the British Government could communicate with the Russian Government in any other manner than that he had referred to.
§ THE EARL OF ELLENBOROUGH
repeated his opinion that the English Admiral, upon receiving Captain Fanshawe's report, would have sent a flag of truce to the Russian authorities, probably to the High Admiral of the Russian navy, and would have communicated all the facts, in order that the Russian authorities might take some steps in respect to the transaction. Under these circumstances, he thought that it would be prudent that any further correspondence on the subject should be carried on in communication with the English Admiral.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
quite agreed with his noble Friend (the Earl of Clarendon) that this most wanton outrage must be disowned by the Russian Government; but, if that were not the case, what security would there then be that a flag of truce from the English Admiral would not be treated in a similar manner—though he hardly thought so—to the way in which the flag of truce from the Cossack was treated? If there should be a double representation made to the Russian Government on the subject—one through the English Admiral, and another through the Danish Minister—he saw no great inconvenience in that circumstance, for it was desirable that the matter should be brought to a conclusion as soon as possible, because the feelings of indignation which must be excited by the transaction, unless those feelings were prevented by some act on the part of the Russian Government, would necessarily tend to add still more to the horrors of war.
§ In reply to the Earl of SHAFTESBURY,
§ THE EARL OF CLARENDON
said, that the number of Russian troops engaged in the affair appeared to amount to about 500, but he could not say whether or not they were regular troops.
§ LORD COLCHESTER
thought that in any such case as this it was the duty 2299 of the officer commanding Her Majesty's forces immediately to communicate by a flag of truce with the highest authority he could find, mentioning the circumstances, and demanding that the atrocity should be disclaimed.
said, he took it to be quite clear, that when his noble Friend expressed a hope that the Russian Government would disclaim and disown this shameful outrage, he must have meant to express a hope that it would not only disclaim and disown the act, but that it would also punish the perpetrators of a deed so extraordinary and so cruel. If ever the land cried for blood it was now.
§ THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
said, he had no fault to find with the course taken by Her Majesty's Government, which he thought was as judicious a course as could be taken under the circumstances; but he trusted that if the circumstances were found to be as described, and the Russian Government tried by any subterfuge to escape from the liability to which they had exposed themselves by sanctioning or at least by permitting the act to go unpunished, Her Majesty's Government would take further measures in the matter. The noble Earl used the word "reprisals." He could not, at that moment, think of any reprisals that would be at all satisfactory to the feelings of the people of this country. If reprisals meant vengeance in the shape of offensive acts against Russian subjects, they would be imbued with the same cruelty which we now protested against, and would bring dishonour upon those who employed them, and would not be satisfactory. What he should like to see his noble Friend do would be to bring the force of public opinion in Europe and throughout Christendom to bear against this act. If he were in his noble Friend's place, he would appeal to every Government that was an ally of Her Majesty, to every State that had a civilised Sovereign, and to every free kingdom that had civilised subjects and civilised laws, to protest before the Cabinet at St. Petersburg against such an atrocity. This Sovereign would then see that, however great and powerful he was, the force of public opinion would be too strong for him, and be would be compelled to bow before the representations made by nations more civilised, as powerful, and as honourable as his own. He asked, therefore, if it was the intention of the Government to bring this matter before a jury of nations? Nothing but that would give 2300 satisfaction, while anything like vengeance would only increase public disgust.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
entirely agreed with the sentiment just expressed by his noble Friend, that it would be wrong to enter upon a course of retaliation. His noble Friend said he had ransacked history with reference to this question; but he begged to remind him of a remarkable instance in which the Duke of York issued a general order in reply to a sanguinary decree of the French Convention, in which he expressed sentiments that excited the greatest satisfaction on both sides, and so called forth the generous feelings of the French soldiery as to make them disobey the orders they had received, and act in the generous spirit in which the order of the British general had been conceived.