THE PARLIAMENT Before Magdala November 1867

By Seymour Mclean

HL Deb 19 November 1867 vol 190 cc1-6 1
, which had been Prorogued successively from the 21st day of August to the 6th day of November, and thence to the 19th day of November, met this day for Despatch of Business.

§ The Session of PARLIAMENT was opened by Commission.

§ The HOUSE OF PEERS being met,
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR acquainted the House, "That Her Majesty, not thinking fit to be personally present here this day, had been pleased to cause a Commission to be issued under the Great Seal, in order to the opening and holding of this Parliament."

§ Then Five of the Lords Commissioners, namely—The LORD CHANCELLOR, The LORD PRESIDEHT OF THE COUNCIL (The Duke of Marlborough), The LORD PRIVY SEAL (The Earl of Malmesbury), The Duke of Buckingham (The SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES) and The Earl of Cadogan, being in their Robes, and seated on a Form placed between the Throne and the Woolsack, commanded the Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod to let the Commons know "The Lords Commissioners desire their immediate Attendance in this House, to hear the Commission read."

§ Who being come, with their Speaker;
said— "My Lords, and Gentlemen of the House of Commons," "HER MAJESTY not thinking fit to be present here this day in Her Royal Person, hath been pleased, in order to the opening and holding of this Parliament, to cause Letters Patent to be issued under Her Great Seal, constituting us and several other Lords therein named Her Commissioners, to do all things, in Her Majesty's name, on Her part necessary to be performed in this Parliament: This will more fully appear by the Letters Patent themselves, which must now be read." Then the said Letters Patent were read by the Clerk. And then

§ My Lords, and Gentlemen,
§ "IN again applying to you for your Advice and Assistance, I regret that I have found it necessary to call for your Attendance at an unusual, and probably to many of you an inconvenient Season.

§ "THE Sovereign of Abyssinia, in violation of all international Law, continues to hold in captivity several of My Subjects, some of whom have been especially accredited to him by Myself, and his persistent Disregard of friendly Representations has left Me no Alternative but that of making a peremptory Demand for the Liberation of My Subjects, and supporting it by an adequate Force.

§ "I HAVE accordingly directed an Expedition to be sent for that Purpose alone, and I confidently rely upon the Support and Co-operation of My Parliament in My Endeavour at once to relieve their Countrymen from an unjust Imprisonment, and to vindicate the Honour of My Crown.

§ "I HAVE directed that Papers on the Subject shall be forthwith laid before you.

§ "I RECEIVE from all Foreign Powers Assurances of their friendly Feelings, and I see no Reason to apprehend the Disturbance of the general Peace of Europe.

§ "A BAND of Italian Volunteers, without Authority from their own Sovereign, having invaded the Papal Territory, and threatened Rome itself, The Emperor of the French felt Himself called upon to despatch an Expedition for the Protection of the Sovereign Pontiff and his Dominions; that Object having been accomplished, and the Defeat and Dispersion of the Volunteer Force having relieved the Papal Territory from the Danger of external Invasion, I trust that His Imperial Majesty will find Himself enabled by an early withdrawal of His Troops, to remove any possible Ground of Misunderstanding between His Majesty's Government and that of The King of Italy.

HC Deb 26 November 1867 vol 190 c180
said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for India, Whether the undertaking contained in a letter of the Rev. Mr. Krapp (one of the Dragomen to the Abyssinian Expedition), dated the 20th of September last, and expressed in the following terms:— "I think Sir Stafford's mind will be fully satisfied and tranquillized if I say that, as a leading rule of conduct, I must consider the object of the Expedition to be the primary point, to which every other private concern must bend, but that, on the other hand, I must not be expected to suppress my individual feeling if a case should appear in practice where I should have any occasion or be requested to enter upon religious discussion," is to be taken as referring alone to the rev. Gentleman's course of conduct as regards Abyssinian Christians, or is to be considered as likewise referring to the Hindoo and Mussulman troops and to the Roman Catholic soldiers in Her Majesty's regiments serving on the expedition?

Sir, in the stipulations which, at the request of Sir Robert Napier, I thought it necessary to make in engaging Dr. Krapp, some reference is made to his conduct towards the natives of Abyssinia. With regard to the soldiers, of course Sir Robert Napier will take care that there is no interference with their religious opinions.


HC Deb 26 November 1867 vol 190 c178
said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for India, Whether there is any and what foundation for the statement in the letter of the Correspondent of The Times, dated Bombay, 14th October, and in the Madras Times, dated 8th October, that Major General Napier had made a requisition to the Madras Government for European Subaltern Officers to be attached to the Native Regiments proceeding with the Expedition to Abyssinia and was told that the Madras Government had not any Subaltern Officers to spare; and, whether he will lay upon the table a Return of the number of European Officers with each Native Regiment in the Expedition, and the strength in Native Commissioned and Non-commissioned Officers and Men of each Regiment?

Sir, I have received no official or private communication to the effect referred to in the Question of my hon. and gallant Friend. All the information we have received is that the Madras Government have, at the request of Sir Robert Napier, furnished half the Engineer officers and five Commissariat officers. As to the Return for which the hon. and gallant Gentleman asks we have not at present the materials necessary for giving such a Return, but if he will move for it, it shall be presented as soon as we can procure the requisite information.


HC Deb 29 November 1867 vol 190 cc421-6
I rise to appeal to the House in reference to a case of personal injury which is likely to ensue upon matters connected with some of the proceedings of this House. I throw myself entirely on the indulgence of the House. The case is this:—On Tuesday night the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Layard), who was Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the late Government, stated in his place, amongst other things, that Dr. Beke, the eminent traveller, who has contributed alike to the information of the public and the Government, had, in a work which he had published, positively stated that Mr. Rassam, Her Majesty's Envoy, who is at present a captive in the hands of King Theodore, had misappropriated the public money. Now, this is a specific charge against Dr. Beke. I was not in the House when this statement was attributed to Dr. Beke. I happened not to be in my place on Tuesday; but yesterday Dr. Beke wrote to me to state—

The hon. Member cannot give statements and comments of other individuals on debates in this House.

I was not going to make any further statement than this—I was going to say that Dr. Beke found that this statement was doing him a personal injury. ["Order!"]

The hon. Member is not in Order in introducing in this House any comments by other individuals upon the debates which have taken place in this House. In the first place, the debate is past, and reference to a past debate is itself not regular. The House, I dare say, will permit the hon. Member to state shortly anything that he knows of his own knowledge; but he must conform himself to the rules of the House.

I am very unwilling to move the adjournment of the House.

That would not make the slightest difference.

I am perfectly aware that I am asking the House to allow me to make a statement which is not regular, and which would not be permitted except in a case where personal injury is likely to arise out of the proceedings of this House. I am aware of the rules of the House, or I should not make the appeal. I wish merely to be allowed to state of my own knowledge that Dr. Beke's book directly contradicts the allegation which has been attributed to him, that Mr. Rassam has been guilty of misappropriation or peculation of public money. This is a matter which affects two persons, one of whom is in a very critical position. Mr. Rassam wrote a despatch on the 22nd of March, 1866, of which an abstract has appeared in a Bombay paper and also in The Jewish Chronicle in this country, giving an account of his interview with King Theodore; but that despatch is not before the House. In that despatch Mr. Rassam gives an account of an interview with King Theodore.

I rise to Order, and I do so on grounds that will commend themselves to every hon. Member of the House. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire is complaining of words used in a debate by the hon. Member for Southwark. I will only ask him whether he has given notice to the hon. Member for Southwark that he was about to bring the subject forward? because if he has not, I am sure the hon. Member will agree with me that the subject had better be postponed.

I will answer the hon. Member at once. If I had not written to the hon. Member for Southwark I should not have felt justified in bringing this matter, as I have done, before the House. I waited till this morning because Dr. Beke had written a letter to The Times to defend himself. But it did not appear; and I immediately wrote a letter to the hon. Member for Southwark, which I sent by my own servant; and the answer I received was that the hon. Member for Southwark had left London, and would not return for ten days. Now, the personal injury complained of is the circulation of this statement on the authority of a late official; and is this to go on for ten days? I think this ought not to pass without my being permitted to show to the House from the writings of Dr. Beke himself that the statement is without foundation. In the despatch of the 22nd of March, 1866, this occurs:— "Next day (4th February) the King had much conversation with Mr. Rassam, and ended by telling him that he proposed to send him to Korata, allowing him to choose whether he would stay at Korata or at Debra Tabor till the prisoners arrived; and after he retired to his tent he sent Mr. Rassam a most polite note, informing him that he had sent him some guns and pistols, and also 5,000 German crowns (Austrian speciedollars of A.D. 1780) to spend in any manner he wished, 'except in a way displeasing to God.' These presents Mr. Rassam was obliged to accept, as he was told that it would displease the King if he refused them. Twice afterwards the King gave Mr. Rassam a present of 5,000 dollars, for the same purpose and with the same admonition." This is an extract from the despatch printed in page 200 of Dr. Beke's book—The British Captives in Abyssinia. The extract adds— "In the letter from Mr. Rassam to Colonel Playfair, read at the meeting of the Royal Geographical Society, to which allusion has already been made, it is stated that the Emperor insisted on Mr. Rassam's acceptance of 10,000 dollars for his expenses, which our Envoy at first refused, but found it politic to accept, and credit the sum to Her Majesty's Government." That is the point. And there is a note at the bottom of the page upon that fact, and this is the note— "I feel myself, however, called upon to remark that when Mr. Rassam so complacently vaunted the excessive humility of the Emperor Theodore towards the Queen of England, and this having (as reported in The Times of the 29th of June last) 'insisted on Mr. Rassam's acceptance of 10,000 dollars' (Mr. Rassam himself now says 15,000 dollars in all) 'for his expenses, which our Envoy at first refused, but found it politic to accept, and credit the sum to Her Majesty' Government,' he can hardly have contemplated that such a gift was intended as a mamáladja, which in Isenberg's Amharic Dictionary is defined as a 'present presented by an inferior person to a superior,' and for which the donor expects in return not merely an equivalent, but something of very much greater value. So conscious was I of this usage in Abyssinia, that never during my long residence in that country would I, under any pretence, accept a present from an inferior without first understanding what I was to give in return; and whenever I asked a favour of a superior, I first presented my mamáladja. It was not without a motive, then, that the Emperor Theodore lowered himself so exceedingly before Her Britanic Majesty in the person of her representative; and the question put hypothetically on the 27th of April has now become a sad reality." The main text of the work thus continues in page 200— "For the reasons already stated in The Times of July 6, 1866, I cannot but think it to have been most impolitic to accept any such present. When Consul Plowden was offered by the same monarch 'some hundred dollars for the expenses of his journey,' he replied, 'that as for the money he could not receive it, as he was paid by his own Sovereign;' at which Theodore does not appear to have taken offence but, on the contrary, spoke to Mr. Plowden 'in the most affectionate manner,' and 'gave orders for his honourable reception everywhere as far as Massowah.' And, besides, there really does not seem to have been any means of spending the money in a legitimate manner—in a way not displeasing to God; for the Emperor would not allow Mr. Rassam to make presents, and himself supplied the mission with all they stood in need of. According to that gentleman's letter to Colonel Playfair, 'The Emperor's orders to supply Mr. Rassam with provisions and carriage free of expense on his way to the court were carried out to the letter; everything was provided on the road on the most liberal scale. Sometimes their daily rations reached as high as 1,000 loaves of bread, 2 cows, 20 fowls, 500 eggs, 10 jars of milk, 10 of honey, &c.' It is not at all clear, therefore, what Mr. Rassam could do with these 15,000 dollars, except take them on with him wherever he went; and half a ton of silver (for they weigh nearly as much) is no trifle to carry about in a country like Abyssinia. In addition to this, it may be presumed that Mr. Rassam had already the 15,000 dollars from Aden, to which allusion was made in the last chapter, in addition to money for his ordinary expenses." I think the House will see at once that there is not the least foundation for accusing Dr. Beke of making statements in his book to the effect that Mr. Rassam had peculated or misappropriated public money. He has stated nothing of the kind. And perhaps the House will now allow me to read the terms used by the hon. Member for Southwark, as reported in The Times newspaper, by which Dr. Beke complains he is injured.

The House has offered the hon. Member great facilities for explanation, and will hear any explanation from himself; but it will be irregular to read a letter from another gentleman commenting on a statement made in this House.

I am not going to do so. I was going to read the words in which the charge was made by the hon. Member for Southwark— "With regard to Dr. Beke, he ventured to say that any person who should have employed him would have been guilty of a gross misappropriation of public funds, and he was glad that the Government had refused the services of that most mischievous man. If Dr. Beke had only slandered him, he would not have noticed the matter; but when he had published a book, which was quoted by hon. Members, he must say that a more mendacious book had never appeared. From beginning to end it was one tissue of falsehoods and mistakes. He would mention two accusations which that man made, because they were made against a gentleman in the public service, and who was not in this country. In one passage Dr. Beke insinuated that Mr. Rassam misappropriated public money, but he only wished that Dr. Beke could give as good an account of the money intrusted to him for his mission to Abyssinia. In another passage Dr. Beke charged Mr. Rassam with cowardice, for he said if Mr. Rassam had consented to remain as hostage in Abyssinia he might have obtained the release of all the captives. That statement was without foundation. Mr. Rassam was charged with cowardice because he remained with the Queen's letter at Massowah, but there were reasons of a strong nature which induced him not to go up to the King."—[The Times' Report.]" I repeat, Sir, that I was not in my place when the hon. Member for Southwark spoke; but I have consulted other Members who were present, and their opinion is that the expressions I have quoted exceed the fair limits of debate. I have now accomplished that which I undertook, by placing before the House this contradic tion on the part of a gentleman whom I have known for many years, and who to my knowledge has, since 1851, addressed himself on the affairs of Abyssinia to successive Governments, with a full knowledge of the subject, having been himself one of the most distinguished African travellers, and holding the gold medal of the Geographical Society of England, and having once held that of the Geographical Society of France, though he has since returned it. In 1859 and 1860 I received from Dr. Beke letters with intelligence threatening the disaster which we now have to encounter. I took these to Lord Palmerston, considering that they contained matter of public importance; and one of these letters, I should add, contained a proposal for the employment of Dr. Beke himself; it was written just before the murder of Mr. Consul Plowden, when it was understood that he was about to relinquish the Consulate. Lord Palmerston received me most courteously, referred me to Earl Russell, who saw me twice on the subject; but eventually the noble Earl preferred Mr. Cameron to Dr. Beke. Well, that appointment has not been fortunate; and this the hon. Member for Southwark himself admits. I think that it is not worthy of any hon. Member of this House to bring accusations that cannot be proved against a gentleman, like Dr. Beke, of high attainments, who, as I can tell the House of my own knowledge, has for fifteen or sixteen years brought the whole weight of his acquirements to bear upon the affairs of Abyssinia—a subject little understood at home—and who, by these exertions for the public service, has injured his own personal prospects.

desired to know from the Chair, whether he should have been justified in moving that the words of the hon. Member for Southwark in reference to Dr. Beke should be taken down? When he heard the language of the hon. Member he was strongly tempted to make a Motion to that effect. But he was in doubt whether he should have been in order, as the words did not refer to any Member of the House.

The matter in question occurred in Committee. I was not present myself, and am not cognizant of what took place. A point of order such as that to which the hon. Member refers should be addressed at once to the Chairman, and cannot be questioned on a subsequent occasion.