HL Deb 06 June 1864 vol 175 cc1225-30

said: My Lords, the Correspondence for which I am about to move, according to the notice on the paper, relates to the imprisonment in Grodno of the Rev. Fortescue Anderson, a graduate of the University of Oxford, and son of the English chaplain at Bonn, who was formerly well known as a preacher in this country. Neither the individual nor the facts would suffice perhaps to merit the attention of the House, unless the case tended to throw light upon a question of more general importance. It has been conspicuously and frequently asserted that when injury to British subjects has arisen, our system has been to domineer over the minor States, and truckle to the powerful communities with which we are brought into relation. Of this tendency to safe attack and to dishonouring submission, instances are given in what has passed between Great Britain and Greece, Japan, Brazil, upon the one hand, and the United States upon the other. Whatever be the truth, the Correspondence which I ask for will illustrate the manner in which the Foreign Office is disposed to guard British subjects against any wrongs which Russian authorities may perpetrate upon them.

My Lords, the facts are brief and easy to present. Mr. Anderson had formed at Bonn, where as I have said his father was the English chaplain, an intimate acquaintance with Count Alexander Bisping, a Lithuanian nobleman, who studied in the University of Bonn, and to whom Mr. Anderson had given instructions in the English language. The count, reaching his majority, and being an orphan, resolved to visit his large estates in Lithuania; and in February, 1863, urged Mr. Anderson to accompany him. Mr. Anderson consented on reflecting that Count Bisping belonged to that class of Polish landowners who disapproved the insurrection as unfortunate, or useless, or ill-timed, however dear to them the objects it pursued, however odious and intolerable the misgovernment which led to it. On February the 26th the two left Bonn for Berlin, where their passports were duly viséd at the British and Russian Embassies, and went on by Konigsberg, by Wilna, and to Grodno, an important town of Lithuania, which stands on the direct route from Warsaw to St. Petersburg, Between March and September they visited the farms and country houses of Count Alexander Bisping, which were I scattered in the neighbourhood. They: never mixed with the insurgents. At: Konigsberg, Count Alexander, so guarded was his conduct, sent away to Bonn the firearms he had with him. Mr. Anderson, in the beginning of September, determined to go back to his father. He was to make one more expedition with the count from Grodno to a farm not very distant. It was on leaving Grodno for this purpose that the circumstances happened which brought his name before the Foreign Office and the public. Up to that moment he had been the guest and the companion of a nobleman who did not join the civil war. And at that moment, so far from being dangerous to the Czar, he was on the point of quitting his dominions. The travellers produced their passports at the barrier of Grodno. They were detained, stripped, examined, driven to the prison of the town, brought before the governor, handed into dungeons without a reason being assigned for the proceeding. The cell of Mr. Ander- son was in so revolting a condition that it would be indecent to describe it to the House. He passed the night in the midst of vermin, with scarcely any food, and in an atmosphere by which his health was sensibly affected. The next morning at eleven he was brought before a military court, which sat upon supposed abettors of the Polish movement. The most ridiculous pretences were made to justify his capture. An air-gun was produced which had been found in his portmanteau. But even this important proof of making war upon the Czar was afterwards rejected by his judges. Scythes were then exhibited which had been taken by some Cossacks from a farm of Count Bisping to support the accusation. But no charge could be attached to Mr. Anderson about them. After that, his papers having been seized, they came upon his sermons; and although a Jew supposed to be familiar with the English tongue was ordered to interpret them, even this unfavourable commentator could find nothing revolutionary in them. The tribunal seemed to be convinced without a practical experiment that these discourses were entirely consistent with, if not essentially conducive to, the strict repose of those who listened to or studied them. After that the correspondence of his father was explored; and hostile inferences drawn from the occurrence of the phrase "unhappy Poland," and the expression of a fear as to the safety of Mr. Anderson among the Russians. At last, baffled in every attempt to fix criminality upon him, the commissioners, instead of giving him his freedom, again consigned him to the dungeon he had quitted. But more—and here is found the aggravation of their conduct—they declined in a peremptory manner to let him communicate with the British representatives at Warsaw or St. Petersburg. A subject of Her Majesty and priest in the Established Church of which she is the head, after his accusers were exposed and his innocence established, was recklessly imprisoned and deprived of all means to establish his identity, to vindicate his rights, or to invoke the power and protection of the State which he belonged to. Remote from every aid, in solitude and helplessness, he saw before him the gloomy vista with which prisoners in Russian Poland are familiar. The House may recollect three instances in which British subjects have been thrown into prison, but in which no such extremity as marks the present case was hazarded Mr. Shaver, the Canadian, of whom your Lordships heard so much in 1862, was detained by the United States; but he addressed two letters to Lord Napier, one from Fort Warren, one from Fort La Fayette. Captain M'Donald, when seized upon a Russian railway, communicated from the scene of his confinement with the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary. The three naval officers arrested in Brazil were not denied the means of writing to the British Consul in a manner which brought about the speedy restoration of their freedom. For the conduct of the Russian authorities to Mr. Anderson, I doubt very much if any precedent is likely to suggest itself. My Lords, there is little more to add, and I shall not detain the House from other business on the paper. Better fortune was in store for Mr. Anderson. Not many hours after his arrest three English travellers, Mr. Clark, the Public Orator of the University of Cambridge, Mr. Birkbeck, who also holds a distinguished office in that learned body, and another gentleman, arrived at Grodno on their road to Wilna. They heard of the imprisonment directly from a source which they are still too considerate and too guarded to divulge. On Thursday, September 10, after various discouragements and many oscillations from one public office to another, they at length succeeded by the golden key which opens doors in Russia, in gaining access to the governor. The governor, although profuse in courtesy, declined to listen to them on the subject which they came to press upon him. It became quite clear to him, however, that the arrest of Mr. Anderson would no longer be concealed from our representatives or from our Foreign Office. The authorities retired from a game which the arrival of the three travellers had turned into a hopeless one. On Friday they saw Mr. Anderson. He was no longer kept a prisoner. After weeks of tedious correspondence between Lord Napier at St. Petersburg, and the authorities at Grodno, his freedom was regained. No doubt the highest credit is due to the exertions of the Public Orator and his companions; no doubt their exertions were successful. And it is not denied that Lord Napier backed them to the utmost of his power. But this in no way affects the outrage upon public law of which the Russians became guilty, when they denied to Mr. Anderson the means of correspondence with St. Petersburg or elsewhere. And it is no defence of this outrage that it ceased as soon as it became impossible to persevere in it. Nor does the final rescue of Mr. Anderson from prison affect the insecurity to which British travellers are liable by the proceedings first taken against him. The arrival of the Public Orator and his companions was wholly accidental, they might have pursued their journey without stopping at Grodno. It was accidental that they heard of Mr. Anderson's imprisonment. It was accidental that they had the time, the disposition, and the power to be useful to him. The functions of the Public Orator — as some of your Lordships know who have lately witnessed his performances— are too absorbing in their character to permit of his frequently arriving in distant parts of Europe the moment British subjects have been lawlessly detained. The wrong, therefore, and the insecurity resulting from it, are not affected by his happy interference in the case of Mr. Anderson, And it becomes material to ask in what manner it was brought under the notice of the Ministers at St. Petersburg; what language was employed, and what reparation was demanded?

The Correspondence may be useful also in making our public hesitate before they move too far towards alliance with a country which is ready to trample on international and British rights, so long as darkness shelters it in doing so.

The noble Lord then moved for an Address for Copies or Extracts of any Correspondence which has taken place between Her Majesty's Government and the Cabinet of St. Petersburg on the Imprisonment in Grodno of the Reverend Fortescue Anderson, a British Subject, during the Autumn of 1863; also, Copies of any Correspondence which has taken place between Her Majesty's Government and the Reverend Fortescue Anderson on his Imprisonment.


said, the case which the noble Lord had brought before the House was of a very simple character. It happened that in September, 1863, the Rev. Mr. Anderson went to visit a Polish proprietor near Grodno, at which time the country was in a state of insurrection. Two persons went before the Russian authorities and accused Mr. Anderson of furnishing arms and ammunition to the insurgents. Mr. Anderson was arrested; and when Lord Napier made inquiries upon the subject he was informed that the Russian authorities had examined into the case, and that finding no evidence against Mr. Anderson he had been liberated upon condition of leaving Russia. Afterwards a telegraphic message was sent from this country to procure Mr. Anderson's liberation, but before it was received the gentleman had been set free. Mr. Anderson then went to Bonn, and addressed a representation to the Foreign Office, claiming a pecuniary compensation. The matter was referred to the Queen's Advocate, upon whose report the Government declined to interfere in the case. Mr. Anderson, it seemed, had gone, for his pleasure merely, into a country that was in a state of insurrection, and that was a circumstance which naturally exposed him to suspicion; and the circumstances of his case did not present any grounds upon which an application could be made by the British Government to the Government of Russia. With respect to the papers, he did not see that any good purpose would be served by their production, and therefore he should decline to produce them.


made some remarks which were not heard.


said, the case would have been different if the gentleman who was arrested had been in the country upon commercial business; but that was not so in this case.


said, in reply, that unless the Correspondence, or part of it, was given, an unfavourable inference would be drawn as to the conduct of the Government.


said, he should not produce the papers unless he was pressed to do so; but if he produced any he should produce all.

Motion agreed to.