HL Deb 27 July 1868 vol 193 cc1814-6

I wish to ask, Whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to recognize in any special manner the services and sufferings of Her Majesty's Envoys to the late King of Abyssinia? All the persons connected with the recent Expedition have received the full measure of our esteem and praise; and the manner in which we received the hero of that enterprize this evening has shown our full sense of the manner in which that campaign was planned and carried out. But there are humbler persons engaged in the Expedition to whom I think public attention has not been so much directed as it ought, and on whose behalf I have placed my Question upon the Notice Paper. I trust that Her Majesty's Government, if they can, will in some way compensate those who were detained prisoners in Abyssinia, and who have suffered very greatly for their country's behoof. I myself have had the pleasure of Consul Cameron's acquaintance for a long time, and I know that he is a man who, if he has committed any error, has done so not from personal considerations, but has acted from a deep sense of public duty. He is a gentleman of great courage, and under any circumstances would do all he could to maintain what he conceived to be the honour and interests of his country. He has just landed in England with his constitution broken by the miseries he has suffered, and his health is utterly shattered. I trust that Her Majesty's Foreign Office will see that he is a public servant fully deserving of their confidence, and will recognize the claims which he has upon that Department of the public service. The case of Consul Cameron apart, however, I wish to call attention to the case of persons against whom no accusation can be drawn of their having in the slightest degree been the cause of their own sufferings. These gentlemen were sent out to King Theodore by Her Majesty's Government in the year 1864. The mission consisted of three persons, who at that time held important places under the Indian Government—namely, Mr. Rassam, Assistant Resident at Aden, Dr. Blane, of the Medical Staff, and Lieutenant Prideaux, of the Bombay Staff Corps. These gentlemen were transferred from the Indian to the British service, and went out to Massowah. Having remained there a year they received the consent of King Theodore to visit him, and they proceeded to his court. There everything went on well for a time; but latterly the strange humour of the unhappy monarch changed, and these persons who represented the official dignity of England were placed in chains and treated, if not with great cruelty, at least with great discomfort. They remained in chains for eighteen months, during which period they bore their misfortunes with great courage, endurance, and high spirit. During the whole of that time they were compelled to support themselves at their own expense. They received no money from the Government, but maintained their servants and their establishments out of their own funds. For two years it may be said that they underwent great misery and received nothing which could be considered in any way as adequate satisfaction or remuneration. It may be urged that these persons did not succeed in their mission; but it is allowed on all sides that that want of success was in no wise due to any want of tact or ability on their part, and it would be generally allowed, he thought, that it was mainly due to the influence of Mr. Rassam over the mind of that savage chief that King Theodore did not destroy the captives in his fury. In calling attention, therefore, to the case of those men, he trusted it would not be thought he wished to dictate any particular course to Her Majesty's Govern- ment. The noble Lord the Privy Seal had distinguished himself from the very first by taking a deep interest in the Abyssinian question; and he therefore desired to ask him whether it was the intention of the Government to recognize in any special manner the sufferings of those gentlemen?


said, the noble Lord naturally expected that Her Majesty's Government, after what they had done for those unfortunate captives, was not very likely to desert them now. But the fact was that with the best possible intentions towards them the Government had not yet received an official Report that would justify any proceedings of the nature to which the noble Lord alluded. Mr. Rassam was now engaged in drawing up such a Report; but his Papers, whether by mistake or otherwise was uncertain, had gone to Aden, and the Government were not in. possession of the information which it was necessary they should have before they acted.

House adjourned at a quarter past Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter before Five o'clock,