HL Deb 28 April 1870 vol 200 cc1960-3

My Lords, in laying on the Table the correspondence and telegrams relating to the recent unfortunate occurrence in Greece, I may say that I have considered it my duty to keep the public and Parliament as perfectly and correctly informed as I could on the subject. Your Lordships are probably familiar with the correspondence, which has appeared in the newspapers, and which has been laid before the other House, but which could not be laid before your Lordships, because you were not sitting. Yesterday morning I received another important despatch from Mr. Erskine, dated some days before the massacre, throwing considerable light upon these transactions. I immediately sent to Mr. Erskine a telegram containing the answer that I thought it called for, and I embodied the substance of that telegram in a written despatch which was laid before the House of Commons last night. I therefore hope that it will be considered that there has been no delay on my part in giving the public all the information which I possess. In addition to the despatch I wrote yesterday to Mr. Erskine, I sent another to Mr. Barron, our Chargé d'Affaires at Constantinople, asking him to apply to the Porte for their zealous co-operation in arresting any of the brigands who might escape across the frontier and take refuge in Turkish territory. I have this morning received an answer from Mr. Barron, stating that orders have been sent by telegraph to Janina, Tricala, and to the military commanders at the different forts to arrest any of these wretches that may be found in the Turkish territory, and to deliver them up to the Greek authorities. Within the last half-hour I have received from Mr. Erskine a telegram, which I wish to read to your Lordships. It is dated this morning, and is as follows:— I have sent a list of the brigands still at large to Mr. Barron. Upwards of 500 troops are in pursuit, and no exertion will be spared to capture and bring them to justice. The heads of seven killed have been publicly exposed, and five others are about to be examined. If convicted, they will be executed immediately. My Lords, there is one point connected with this unfortunate incident on which some explanation is due to the public, and is required for my own justification. I mean with reference to the offer which was made to convey the brigands away from Greece to a place of safety. "Offer" is not the proper term; for it was a compliance with a suggestion sent by Mr. Erstine, with the assent or by the desire of the Greek Government—namely, that those brigands should be conveyed away in safety, because the amnesty on which they insisted was impossible. On the day following that on which I received the telegram from Mr. Erskine, the Greek Minister in London called on me and made the same request, saying that the Greek Government would shut their eyes to the conveyance of the brigands from Greece; but that it would he impossible to give the amnesty they insisted on, because such a step would violate the Constitution. I think your Lordships will sympathize with me in the position in which I was placed. I assure you that I was fully sensible of what I may call the humiliation and indignity of consenting to convey away these brigands in safety; but, on the other hand, the lives of their unfortunate captives were in jeopardy. And, when I came to consider what the motives of the brigands were, I could, not help seeing that their plunder and the ransom they demanded would be comparatively useless to them unless they could escape. I could therefore well understand why they insisted upon their safety being assured; and I saw, that if an answer was delayed, they would probably murder one or two of their captives as a proof of their earnestness. I was alone in London—I could consult none of my Colleagues, who were all absent—I felt that the delay of even one hour might be fatal to the prisoners. I therefore did not hesitate to take upon myself the responsibility of the step. I know that my Colleagues will generously share that responsibility with me; but I wish it to be understood that the course which I took had its origin in the peculiar circumstances of the case, and that I am alone primarily responsible. If I did wrong, I think that the urgent and peculiar circumstances of the case may be pleaded as my excuse; but I also hope to be excused in reference to the general horror and indignation which this crime has provoked. Whether I was right or wrong, I certainly do not regret the step I took. When I consider that the lives of our countrymen were at stake, and when I bear in mind the grief and anxiety of their afflicted relatives, I should never have forgiven myself if the blame for what has happened had, in ever so slight and indirect a manner, been attributable to my want of courage in shrinking from the responsibility of the course I pursued.

The noble Earl then presented (by command) Correspondence (Parts I. and II., 1870) respecting the capture and murder by brigands of British and Italian Subjects in Greece.


My Lords, it costs me a great deal to address your Lordships; but I feel that it is only right that I should endeavour to give expression to two things. First of all I wish to tender in public, as I have already done in private, to my noble Friend my most heartfelt thanks for the efforts that he made—alas in vain,—to avert this dreadful occurrence. If I may go further, I would venture to express my deepest thanks to Mr. Hammond, who, during part of my noble Friend's enforced absence from the Foreign Office, has in some measure conducted the duties of it. Nothing will ever make me forget the kindness, the delicate consideration, and thoughtfulness that he showed in every single detail. As regards the Greek Government, it is not my place to speak. I cannot, indeed, feeling deeply as I do, regard them as otherwise than gravely responsible for this most cruel crime. With the facts as far as they are known to me I cannot but feel that these lives have been sacrificed either to criminal mismanagement or to some low party intrigue; but, on the other hand, though they did not in their acts show mercy to us, I wish to deal justly by them. I cannot suspend my judgment; but I wish to suspend, at all events, the formal expression of that judgment until the whole case in all its bearings is laid before Parliament. I trust Parliament will not then hesitate in the clearest language, and in the most unequivocal manner, to pronounce its judgment, whatever it may be, on this most horrible and atrocious act; and I would venture to entreat Parliament and the country, in thus suspending their judgment, not to allow the delay to dull in any degree the keenness of their present feeling, or induce them to abate one jot or tittle of the punishment which must be exacted when the hour of reckoning comes.

House adjourned at half past Five o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.