HL Deb 07 April 1864 vol 174 cc531-2

My Lords, seeing my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in his place, I will take the liberty of putting a Question of which I have given him private notice. Your Lordships are well aware that the attention of the public has been drawn to a very sad occurrence which has taken place in the Danish war, a telegraphic report of which appeared in the newspapers of the 5th, and also of the 6th inst. I will read the telegram upon which I wish to put the Question. It is dated Ulkeböl, and says— The Prussians have bombarded Sonderborg for forty-eight hours without any previous intimation. Eighty townspeople, women and children, have been killed or wounded, fifty houses in the centre of the town were burnt, and 1,500 shells (thrown into the town, which is now deserted, Now, my Lords, it is possible that this statement may be altogether untrue. We may hope so. But if true, it puts before us one of the most cruel—one of the most outrageous—acts ever perpetrated, or ever recorded in the history, I do not say of a civilized, but even of an uncivilized country. Consider, my Lords, that the laws of war, as I believe, and certainly the modern usages of war, have laid it down that no bombardment is to take place without previous notice, and also that no undefended place or unwalled town is ever to be bombarded at all. But in the present instance both these usages have been violated. An undefended town, without walls or bulwarks of any kind, and without any previous notice, has been bombarded for forty-eight hours, and eighty women and children have been made the victims of that atrocity. Now, my Lords, I must say, that if this be so, it is a state of things which will bring us to believe that the Prussian Government, which is responsible, and the Prussian military, which are the instruments, are not fit to be counted in the list of civilized men or civilized nations. I will not go further, upon the supposition that all this may prove untrue, than to express my hope that the Government will be able to give us information upon this subject; and that if it be true, as stated in this telegram, they will be good enough to tell us what steps they have taken upon the matter. I will only repeat now what I said before—that I do sincerely hope and trust—and I am sure since the time I had last the honour of addressing your Lordships the feeling of the country has grown much more intense —I do sincerely hope that the British fleet will appear in those seas to prevent the occurrence — it may be the recurrence— of these most cowardly and frightful atrocities.


My Lords, in regard to the question of my noble Friend, I can only say, that I saw in the newspapers the account which he has read, and I sent a telegram to Sir Andrew Buchanan, our Minister at Berlin, with a view to ascertain what might be the truth. But I cannot find that Sir Andrew Buchanan can give me any intelligence at present on the subject. It is impossible but that in a very few days we should know what are the actual facts of the case. I should not think myself warranted in giving an opinion until we know the real facts.