HL Deb 11 May 1891 vol 353 cc431-7

in rising to call attention to the Correspondence which bad been laid on the Table of the House relating to the Egyptian exiles in Ceylon, said: My Lords, in asking your attention for a few moments to the Correspondence mentioned in the Notice which stands in my name, I must ask your Lordships to refer for a moment to a statement made by the noble Marquess at the head of Her Majesty's Government a short time ago relative to this subject in answer to a question which I had put with regard to the production of Papers. The noble Marquess said, as reported, that— The crime for which Arabi Pacha was tried, and for which he was condemned to death, was not that for fighting for the independence of his country, but for rebelling—he being a soldier—against his Sovereign; he was condemned for military mutiny, and if he had been a less distinguished person he would most undoubtedly have been shot. Now, it so happens that I was at Alexandria not very long after the bombardment of the forts there, and I cannot but think that the noble Marquess must be aware of the fact, which was then well known, that Arabi Pacha was in the Government of the Khedive at that time, that he had received orders relating to firing upon the British ships from the Khedive, and also that he was acting under instructions from the Sultan of Turkey. I believe I am right in saying that at the time of the bombardment of the forts of Alexandria Arabi Pacha was Minister of War in Egypt. I do not wish to enter further upon the question of the justice of the sentence which was passed upon Arabi and his companions, but I cannot suppose for a moment that it was intended that he and his companions should be sent to a place which in all probability would involve a lingering death. I believe that they would have much preferred the honourable death of a soldier endeavouring to protect the interests and liberty of his country, inspired with the noble sentiment of the Roman poet— Dulce et decorum est pro patriâ mori. But, my Lords, I think I can show, by the Correspondence which is in your Lordships' hands, that the carrying out of this sentence has resulted, and in all probability will still further result, in causing the lingering death of those who are now suffering from the effects of the climate. When I called your Lordships' attention a short time ago to the case of Arabi Pacha and his companions, and asked for information respecting them, the noble Marquess at the head of Her Majesty's Government said that a Medical Board had been appointed last autumn, and had inquired into the state of health of the exiles, and their Report was that— The climate of Ceylon had exercised no injurious effect upon the health of the banished persons. It appears that this Board sat on the 4th of October, 1890, and after an examination of the exiles gave their opinion that the climate of Ceylon has had no injurious effect upon them: but previous to this a Memorial had been forwarded by the exiles themselves to the noble Marquess, which reached the Foreign Office on the 26th of June, 1890, in which they said The Memorialists have now been seven years in exile in Ceylon, and though they have been invariably treated with kindness during that period, yet the health of all of them, as proved by the following certificates from medical men of well-known position in Ceylon, has suffered very severely from the dampness of the climate. I wish to point out to your Lordships that the certificates are signed by medical men in Ceylon, though not in any way connected with the Government, yet men who, it appears, are well known and in large practice. The gentlemen who signed the certificates to which I wish to refer your Lordships had been several years, when they gave those certificates—one, I think, for four years, and another for a longer time—in attendance upon the exiles and their families. They had, therefore, full opportunity during a considerable time of knowing what effects the climate of Ceylon had produced upon the health of these exiles. These certificates being in your Lordships' hands, you will be able to refer to the documents themselves better than I can explain them. You will find on page 2, Dr. Dort, I believe an English physician, says— For the last four years, during which I have been engaged as medical attendant on the family of Arabi Pacha, I have observed, and it has always been noticeable in the case of several other patients of mine among the Egyptian exiles, a marked deterioration in health clearly traceable to the effects of the climate of Ceylon, and quite independent of all other conditions or individual predisposition. In conclusion, he says— I am firmly convinced that the climate of Ceylon is prejudicial to his health and that of his family, and I cannot but think that a prolonged residence in such an unsuitable climate in his present state of health must undermine his constitution, and affect his chances of life most seriously. This is dated "Colombo, March 1st, 1890." Dr. Dort again, on page 3, speaking of the family of another of the exiles, Mahmood Sami Pacha, says— I have no hesitation in declaring that I consider the climate of Ceylon, with its great divisional variations of temperature, its dampness, its very frequent changes of weather, its excessive humidity and trying winds, has had a most exhausting and enervating effect on the family, and has rendered it necessary to change their residence frequently at great inconvenience and expense." (Dated Colombo, March 10, 1890.) Dr. Dort again says he has attended the family of Yacoob Sami Pacha— I certify that I have attended him and some of the members of his family since his arrival in Ceylon, and have been frequently consulted by them for general debility and fever, neuralgic pains and rheumatism, due less to constitutional and accidental causes than to the ill effects of the climate of Ceylon on their health, especially on that of the ladies of the family." (Dated March 12, 1890.) Then Dr. Geysell, a physician of Edinburgh, certifies that Toulba Ismet Pacha, another of the exiles, has been suffering from frequent attacks of catarrhal asthma and neuralgia during the last few years, and that he has been under his treatment. He says— I am of opinion that the climate of Ceylon is too damp for him to reside in permanently. The last attack of neuralgia lasted nearly a month; he is left sallow and weak, and his predisposition to colds is marked. His family, too, are victims to climatic influences; his wife was brought to death's door, and his only child suffers frequently from malarial fever." (Dated Ceylon, March 3, 1890.) I come now to a certificate as regards Abdul-al-Helmi Pacha, about whom I shall have a few words to say. This, again, is from Dr. Geysell, certifying that— Abdul-al-Helmi Pacha has been under my treatment off and on for the last two years for rheumatism and bronchial asthma. I am of opinion that the climate of Ceylon does not agree with him, and that the humidity of the atmosphere, which is a marked feature of the climate of Ceylon, is to blame for these attacks. I have noticed with much concern the effect of the climate upon Abdul Pacha's health, owing to recurring attacks of torpidity of the liver, asthma, and rheumatism. I had advised him to change his residence to the seaside, and I found that even the climate of the seaside has not prevented a recurrence of the asthma. I fear that in a year or so Abdul-al-Helmi Pacha will he a confirmed asthmatic, and his life in danger if he continues to reside in Ceylon." (Dated March 3, 1890.) These, my Lords, are some of the certificates of medical men who have attended the Egyptian exiles and their families in Ceylon for some years. I will not trouble you further. I think I have said enough to establish, what I endeavoured to show on a former occasion, and which I feel now quite as strongly as before—that is, that the climate of Ceylon has had the effect of seriously damaging the health of the exiles who were sent to the Island, and who have been kept there against the strong testimony of medical men. I will only refer once more to the certificate with regard to one of them, Abdul-al-Helmi Pacha, in which it is said, in a year or so, unless he changes his residence, death will probably ensue. He fears that in a comparatively short time his patient will be a confirmed asthmatic, and that his life is endangered if he continues to reside in Ceylon. I regret to state that it is now known to the Colonial Department that this effect, so truly forseen, has taken place. The unfortunate exile Abdul Pacha died of fever a short time ago. I cannot give your Lordships the exact date, but the information which has reached me is to the effect that he died a little more than one year from the time that the medical certificate which I have read was given. The information which reached me was to this effect— The Pacha has passed away peacefully, but under specially sad circumstances, for only two months ago his wife and family started on a visit to Egypt. This, I think, speaks for itself, and I need not trouble your Lordships further in calling attention to the Correspondence on this subject.


My Lords, in reference to this case I have to speak of matters which were decided not by the Government with which I am connected, but my predecessors, and I must necessarily rely on the information which was then given by authorised bodies who are above suspicion. My noble Friend has gone into the character of Arabi Pacha and his history, and he appears to be convinced that Arabi was throughout a loyal and devoted soldier of the Khedive. I hardly think this is an occasion on which it is desirable to discuss that question in detail, and I do not know that I am precisely the person whose business it is to enter upon it; but I can only say to my noble Friend that, as far as the history of that time came to me, I believe that Arabi Pacha, being a soldier, broke his military oath and exposed himself to the punishment of soldier who is in mutiny, that he was condemned by an impartial tribunal, and that he was treated at the instance of the Government of Her Majesty of that day with great leniency by the Khedive. I think, therefore, that in respect to what is past we have, as a nation, nothing to reproach ourselves with, and nothing to retract. With respect to the present, I again must take my stand upon authorised testimony—the only testimony which we can safely follow. The question of the health of Arabi Pacha was submitted to a board of medical officers, consisting of Mr. Kinsey, the Principal Civil Medical Officer and Inspector General of Hospitals in Ceylon; Brigade Surgeon W. C. Robinson, of the Army Medical Staff, and Senior Military Medical Officer; and Dr. Macdonald, Medical Superintendent of the General Hospital of Colombo, and Professor of Medicine in the Ceylon Medical College. That Board having assembled and carefully examined Arabi Pacha, and having perused the documents relating to his case, found that he was 50 years old, of which eight years had been spent in Ceylon; and they were of opinion that the climate of Ceylon had had no injurious effect upon his health. A like certificate was signed on the same day by the members of the Board with regard to the other persons detained. My noble Friend tells us, however, that there are other doctors who are of a different opinion. Well, my Lords, that is not an entirely novel fact in human experience. I remember the late Sir G. Cornewall Lewis saying that if you got an expert in any department of knowledge to depose to any fact, you could always find another expert who would depose exactly the contrary. I do not know whether that is a pessimist view of expert nature or not, but certainly the fact that doctors differ is not a sufficiently strange thing to induce me to withhold my faith from this very authoritative and strongly-supported statement. At the same time, an offer has been made, I believe, to change the place of these gentlemen's detention—they have been offered Zeila, but I am informed that they see no advantage in the change. But however that may be, the question arises—Is there any necessity for their remaining in Ceylon? There, again, it is not a question exactly of what they wish or what they think, it is a question of what ought to be done in the interest of the Egyptian Government, with whose action we interfered when we rescued these men from a military sentence; and I find that the Government of the Khedive have very distinctly stated that they do not approve of the return of these men to Egypt. A Memorandum by Riaz Pacha, written from the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, Cairo, runs as follows:— His Highness the Khedive, after having read Sir William Gregory's Memorandum relating to the transfer to Egypt of the Ceylon exiles, has declared that it is impossible for him to consent to such transfer in view of the very bad effect which their presence in the country would produce. I agree in that opinion myself, but even if I did not agree with it, yet, considering the position of Egypt and our position in respect to it, I should hesitate very much before going against the deliberate opinion formed by the authorities who are responsible for the peace of Egypt. I am afraid, therefore, I can hold out no hope to my noble Friend at present that any change will be made.