HL Deb 04 April 1862 vol 166 cc539-44

rose, pursuant to notice, to put Question to Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs as to whether he had received any Information from our Consul at Warsaw with regard to Torture having been used to extort Evidence from Alexander Zamayski. The noble Lord said he was perfectly aware of the great distaste with which any Polish subject was received; but he believed that that was owing to a misconception of the motives which had led the people of Poland to desire that their case should be brought under the notice of the English people. Their Lordships had heard so much about nationality, that they might naturally fancy that the object of all classes of the Poles was to obtain a reconstruction of the kingdom of Poland. That, however, was a mistake. He thought that no one who had means of information on the subject could fail to perceive that ever since the violation of the Treaty of Vienna and the withdrawal of the constitution granted to the Poles, all classes in Poland had made up their minds to make the best of their position in the present state of affairs, and to forward by every means in their power the interests of their country as it now stood. They had, in fact, thrown themselves with the greatest zeal into the movement for improving the industry, the education, and the agriculture of Poland. It was remarkable that this zeal was not confined to the influential classes, but was shared even by the most humble. He had received two of the latest newspapers which had been published in Poland—published in defiance of all attempts to suppress them. These prints circulated amongst the lower orders, and might therefore be supposed to represent their feelings. He found that one of them called upon the people to manifest both patience and perseverance, adding, "If we give up any foot of ground we have gained, we shall lose all." The other advised its countrymen to make the best of what had been promised them; and then it said, "With real earnestness and goodwill a harvest may be reaped from the poorest soil." The Agricultural Society, of which their Lordships had heard something the other night, had laboured with great success for the advancement of Poland, and had effected a remarkable improvement. Many of its members had visited this country and Scotland for the purpose of obtaining practical information, and a very large trade in agricultural implements had thus sprung up between England and Poland. The society was not a political one, for a portion of its Council was absolutely nominated by the Government; but after the dreadful massacre referred to by the noble Earl (the Earl of Carnarvon) the other night, it offered its mediation. The offer was accepted, and it succeeded in restoring quiet, and it was actually thanked by the Government for its efforts, but the Government, jealous, as it would seem, of the great moral influence which the society had obtained in the country, had suddenly, without rhyme or reason, ordered its suppression. Thank God, however, the Government could not destroy the feelings which animated every class in the country. It had united every class from the noble to the peasant, and persons professing every form of religion from the Roman Catholic to the Jew, in one common detestation of the tyranny practised upon them. To give their Lordships an idea of the policy which the Government had adopted, he would detail to them some of the proclamations which had been issued. Not only, for example, were the keepers of inns required to give information to the police of all their guests, but persons living in the same street or neighbourhood were made responsible for the evil intentions of the travellers who might be staying at the inns. A circular which had been addressed to all the mayors and burgomasters in the country was still more absurd. It ordered that proprietors of houses and fathers of families must henceforth not allow their wives and daughters, governesses, servants, or any other women that might be in their houses, to wear mourning or to sing songs of a revolutionary tendency, on pain of being themselves subjected to immediate arrest at the hands of the police. Imagine for a moment any of their Lordships being compelled, under pain of arrest, to supervise the dress of their wives, daughters, and scullery maids. With regard to singing, it appeared that the new Roman Catholic Archbishop, on his appointment, ordered that in future there should be no singing in the churches, and this injunction had been implicitly obeyed throughout the entire of Russian Poland; but still the authorities were not satisfied, and at Wilna the Governor resented the regulation as an insult, and ordered the people to sing. They would not disobey the prior direction of the Archbishop, and the Governor, therefore, hired people to sing in church. He quite agreed with the opinion expressed on a former evening by the noble Earl on the Government bench, that it was impossible for any foreign Government to judge what measures another Government ought to take for the preservation of its own tranquillity. But the noble Earl, he presumed, confined his remark to legal measures, and his complaint was that law had practically been abolished in Poland. Warsaw was in a state of siege; there was not one of its houses which was not commanded by the citadel, and its population of 160,000 inhabitants was guarded by 30,000 troops, or a soldier to each five-and-a-half individuals. Police rule prevailed, and occurrences at Naples showed what violent measures were sometimes employed by the myrmidons of the police. It was right to state that there had latterly been some slight relaxation of severity. On the 25th of February an official order to the following effect was made:— The Lieutenant Governor, taking into consideration that in the four months during which the state of siege has been proclaimed public tranquillity has not been interrupted by any serious disturbance, has condescended, therefore, to decree, among other things, that, dating from this date, there shall be no arrests, no inquiry, no court-martials for crimes committed before the proclamation of the state of siege, unless in exceptional cases. That was the only extent to which there had been any relaxation of severity. He would, however, call the attention of their Lordships to the preamble of the order, which recited that during the four months the state of siege had continued there had been no serious disturbance. In another document it was stated that the Military Commission had not been able, with all its industry, to discover the existence of any political plots. Private accounts corroborated this remarkable statement. They represented the Russians as confounded by the unanimity of feeling throughout the length and breadth of Poland, which they attributed to the existence of some wide-spread conspiracy, forgetting that plots and mysteries need never be resorted to when the people were all of the same way of thinking. Yet he had stated to their Lordships the whole of the relaxation which had taken place in the rigorous measures which the Government had adopted. It appeared to him that this continued oppression could have but one object, and that was the provocation of revolution. At all events there was great danger that it would have that effect. Should that be the consequence, the revolution would surely not be confined to Poland, but Hungary would then shake off the yoke of Austria, which she was now only prevented from doing by fear of the Russian armies. And the North of Italy would also make a struggle to be free. However much we might desire to fee this result, we did not wish to see it effected through a revolution; and therefore, though we might not be entitled to remonstrate with Russia, yet a friendly intimation to the Emperor that we considered the peace of Europe likely to be endangered by such repressive measures in Poland would, he was sure, induce the Russian Government to view more favourably the state of that unhappy country. Allusion was made the other night to the noble conduct of the Emperor of Russia with regard to the emancipation of the serfs, and he gave him every credit for it; but in a despotic country the head of the Empire was to some extent responsible for all the cruelty and oppression that took place in the Empire. Of course the Emperor could not be cognizant of all that occurred in Poland, but still some of these facts were necessarily brought under his notice. Their Lordships heard the other night of the desecration of the churches by the introduction of troops, and that numbers of persons were killed. He believed that under the Catholic religion where blood had been shed on the altar mass could not be again said in that church until it was re-consecrated. Now, the Archbishop of Warsaw, the head of the Catholic Church in Poland, was called upon to perform mass in the church which had been thus desecrated. He refused, because he could not do so according to the precepts of his religion; and that old man, who was seventy-eight years of age, was dragged to prison, confined with the lowest criminals, and after being tried by a secret tribunal was condemned to death; but— and this circumstance was material, as showing that the Emperor was cognizant of the facts—he was pardoned by ukase of the Emperor, though only on the plea of his great age and infirmities. There was another circumstance, which he mentioned only to show that any statement, however exaggerated, was likely to be believed. Their Lordships had heard of a number of women having been bayoneted by the soldiers in a church. On that occasion a number of prisoners were taken, and the Viceroy, feeling this to be a harsh procedure, liberated those prisoners. The General Commandant attacked him for this conduct, and called him a coward. The consequence was a duel to death. They drew lots as to which was to die, and the General Commandant—he could not pronounce his name for it was Russian—after three attempts to shoot himself, blew out his brains. He (Lord Kinnaird) felt it his duty to put to the noble Earl at the head of the Foreign Office the question of which he had given notice with regard to Alexander Zamayski. He had no knowledge as to whether what had been asserted in regard to the treatment of that unfortunate gentleman was or was not true, but the statement which had been placed in his hands was to this effect:—The examination of M. Zamayski took place before a Court of Inquiry composed of five Russians, the two Poles who habitually formed part of the tribunal being absent. It was between the hours of ten at night and one o'clock in the morning that the interrogation, which lasted several days, took place. He was repeatedly stripped, by order of the Governor and Commissioners, and flogged until the blood flowed, and the body of the unhappy man was literally cut to pieces. Letters from Poland said that he was still alive, but it was not known what had become of him. But the statement as to the cruelties exercised on this unhappy gentleman was believed throughout the whole of Poland. If it were false, he hoped the noble Earl the Secretary for Foreign Affairs would be able to say so; but if it were true, he hoped that a friendly representation would be made by her Majesty's Government to the Government of Russia, urging it to some extent at least to relax its iron rule, and he felt sure that that representation would have the best effect.


said, that as he had addressed their Lordships only a few nights ago upon this subject, he should not now enter into the general question. With reference to the case to which his noble Friend had alluded, all he knew was that there appeared in the Gazette of Breslau the statement to which his noble Friend had referred with respect to the cruel treatment of Alexander Zamayski. Some days afterwards there appeared in the Constitutional an article dated Warsaw, stating that there was no truth in that report; that Alexander Zamayski was imprisoned, but that he had not been in any way ill-treated. Which of those statements was true he knew not, as he had received no official communication on the subject; but he should certainly hope that the report would turn out unfounded.


said, it was impossible not to feel the inconvenience which was often occasioned to the Government in being called upon to make declarations with regard to subjects which related exclusively to foreign nations; but it was one thing for the Government to be called on to interfere and another for an assembly of that kind to entertain a question so naturally interesting. He thought that in this particular case of Poland, remembering the arrangements which were made at the Congress of Vienna, and the pledges which were then given by Russia, an exception might be made to that rule; more especially as a change appeared to have taken place in the disposition of the Poles, who seemed now to be little inclined to resort to violence. There was the better hope that any exertions which we might make on their behalf would be attended with a good result, because there was now on the throne of Russia a Sovereign who showed the best disposition and the most anxious desire to ameliorate the condition of his subjects, and whose interest and the interest of whose country it must be at a time of difficulty and trial not to excite any strong feelings of discontent or hostility on the part of so important a portion of his dominions as Poland, and this, too, at a time when the Poles themselves were becoming more disposed to accept their condition in the belief that thereby the bitterness of their lot would be mitigated.

House adjourned at a quarter past Six o'clock, to Monday next, half-past Eleven o'clock.