Ras Tafari Internationa consultants inquiry before Magdala 1867.
18 February 1867 → Commons Sitting → SUPPLY—SUPPLEMENTARY CIVIL SERVICES 1866–7.
said, there were two points on which he was anxious to receive any information which the Government could supply. He wished, in the first place, to know whether it was the intention of the Government to entrust the execution of the new National Gallery to the architect who might be held to have produced the best design? He further desired to be informed whether intelligence has been received from Mr. Rassam to the effect that the Emperor of Abyssinia regards this as a political question, and will not release the prisoners unless he receives diplomatic communications from the Government?
§ MR. E. C. EGERTON
, in reply to the last Question, said, that no intelligence had been received by the Government with respect to Mr. Rassam and the Abyssinian captives since the 12th of December; and he regretted to have to add that, according to that account, they were still in chains, although they were in good health and in good spirits as regarded their future prospects. The third item of £4,500 was for the expense of a body of artisans who had been sent out, and who were furnished with an autograph letter from the Queen. They had been unable to reach the Emperor Theodore, in consequence of a rebellion in his dominions. They were therefore still at Aden, and Colonel Merewether had instructed them to remain there until the captives had been released.
HC Deb 05 March 1867 vol 185 c1336 QUESTION.
§ MR. DARBY GRIFFITH
said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether the British artisans who have been or are about to be taken out by Colonel Merewether to Massowah are to be exchanged for the captives now detained in Abyssinia, or are to be sent into that country after the latter are released; and, if so, whether it will not require great care and attention to prevent the transaction from simply resulting in the change of one set of prisoners for another?
Sir, strict orders have been given to Colonel Merewether that these artisans are under no circumstances to go into the interior until all the prisoners now detained by the King of Abyssinia shall be released. They have gone by their own free choice and upon their own responsibility. I took care before they went out that the position and the whole circumstances of the case should be carefully explained to them. As to the last part of the Question, it is rather a matter of argument than of fact. All I can say is, that, as the House very well knows, the whole question of the release of these captives is surrounded by difficulties; and we believe that the course we have adopted, though it may be open to some objections, is still open to fewer than those which presented themselves to the adoption of any other course, and presents the best chance of success in the object we have in view.
HC Deb 14 May 1867 vol 187 c524 QUESTION.
§ MR. WYLD
said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether it is true that the King of Abyssinia has refused to comply with the Queen's request that he should liberate the captives; whether, in consequence, the English engineers who were engaged to enter the King's service have returned, or are about to return to England; and, whether any and what further steps are being taken by the Government to obtain the release of Mr. Rassam, Consul Cameron, and the other captives?
In answer, Sir, to the first part of the hon. Member's Question, I cannot say that the King has refused to liberate the prisoners, because we have at present no answer from him on the subject; but we know or believe that the Queen's letters must have reached him some time ago, and that the prisoners are still detained. With regard to the second part of the Question, as to whether the English engineers have returned or are about to do so, I may say that Colonel Merewether, in a letter dated the 4th of March, suggested that in view of the delay which has occurred it would be better that the engineers should return, and we have acquiesced in their doing so, as, under the circumstances, and from what we have heard, it did not appear safe for them to proceed into the interior. I should also mention that the chief of these engineers, soon after his arrival at Aden, was attacked with a very serious illness, so that it was necessary for him to return under any circumstances. I have written to the King, on the 16th of April, expressing regret at the long detention of the prisoners, and saying that unless they were liberated immediately the presents which had been prepared and sent out would not be delivered. Up to the present time no further information has been received beyond what I have stated.
ABYSSINIA—IMPRISONMENT OF BRITISH SUBJECTS.—QUESTIONS.
HL Deb 21 June 1867 vol 188 cc239-43
§ VISCOUNT STRATFORD DE REDCLIFFE
rose to call the attention of their Lordships to the case of the English subjects captive in Abyssinia, with the view of asking some Questions on the subject. The matter had been brought under the notice of the House last Session, but since then the condition of the unfortunate captives had remained unchanged. It was not his intention to go into the past circumstances of the case, or to enter into the question as to what was the original cause of the calamity which had overtaken these unfortunate persons, and whether any fault was attributable to Her Majesty's Government, It was enough for him to consider that these persons who were envoys from Her Majesty, bearing a letter in her own handwriting, and who had been sent out under the express authority of the Government to effect the liberation of the prisoners, were still captives. To show their Lordships what was the deplorable condition of these unfortunate persons, he would read an extract from a work recently published by Dr. Beke. He said— Captain Cameron, Her Britannic Majesty's Consul in Abyssinia, two missionaries of the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews, and several other British subjects and persons connected with British missionary societies—men, women, and children—have been for three years the captives of Theodore, Emperor of Abyssinia, Her Majesty's representative and several of these captives have further been subjected to the greatest indignities, and even to cruel torture, and they have long remained in prison, chained hand and foot, herded together with the lowest criminals; while, to add to the difficulties and disgrace of all parties concerned, Mr. Rassam, the envoy sent by the Government of this country, with a letter signed by Her Majesty's own hand, with a view to effect the liberation of the unfortunate persons who have so long lingered in captivity, has himself been thrown into prison, together with the members of his suite. He could not consider any subject better calculated to rouse the spirit of the people of England. That a number of English subjects should be at the mercy and caprice of a person like this Emperor of Abyssinia came home to our English feelings with a force that could hardly be exaggerated. Not only was our common humanity interested in this case, but our national honour and dignity were also at stake. There was a time when it used to be said that England, if she did no right to other nations, would suffer no wrong to be done to herself; and no doubt the epigram expressed pretty accurately the spirit of our policy at that time; but now the case seemed to be reversed, for at no previous period had so much sensitiveness been displayed with regard to the rights of other nations, and so much solicitude displayed to abstain from anything that could give them offence. He should be exceedingly sorry in any way to be the medium of placing this country in danger of war; but there were certain plain duties inseparable from our position among nations which could not be abandoned, without incurring even greater risk of the danger so justly feared. If upon repeated occasions we exhibited a want of sensibility to that which our interest or our honour required, we should soon discover by fresh insults offered to us that no nation can afford to brook indignities, and we might some day be called on to vindicate our honour at vastly greater cost. He therefore begged to ask the noble Earl at the head of the Government, What were the number, quality, and condition of the British captives in Abyssinia at the period of the latest reliable information received respecting them by Her Majesty's Government; what steps, if any, had been taken for their liberation since the close of the last Session of Parliament; was it in the contemplation of Her Majesty's Government to adopt any further measure for that purpose either alone or in concert with any other Government; and, was it the intention of Her Majesty's Government to present any additional correspondence on the subject of our relations with King Theodore to the two Houses of Parliament?
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
said, that on receipt of intimation as to the question which his noble Friend (Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe) proposed to put, he had thought it his duty to ask what further information, if any, had been received at the Foreign Office, with a view of enabling him to answer those Questions specifically. The subject was one of very deep and painful interest, and he wished it were in his power to give any assurance that the steps which had been taken were likely to lead to any satisfactory result. He was sorry to say that, according to the latest accounts, the captives remained in the same; state; and, although there was no reason to believe that they were treated with any fresh or extraordinary cruelties, they were still retained in imprisonment. In answer to the first Question put by his noble Friend as to the number, quality, and condition of the prisoners, he had to state that the number reported to Mr. Rassam on the 4th of April, 1866, as being in confinement, consisted of Consul Cameron, two Missionaries, Mr. Rassam and his suite, and several others, amounting in all to eighteen persons. In the autumn of last year intelligence was transmitted to this country that King Theodore had liberated the whole of the captives, and that they were placed at the disposal of Mr. Rassam; but, notwithstanding that this statement was made in a letter to the Queen, he not only failed to release the prisoners, but detained Mr. Rassam and his suite, which included two or three gentlemen of the Indian service as well. On receiving the assurance of the Emperor that the captives would be released, a number of presents had been sent out in accordance with his desire, together with a number of English artizans who were willing to go into Abyssinia to render their services on certain public works. But, when it was found that Mr. Rassam and the other gentlemen were detained, notwithstanding the assurance of King Theodore, instructions were given to Her Majesty's representative to take charge of the presents and not to permit the artizans to proceed further than Massowah, and on no account to give up one or the other except on the actual release of the captives, there being reason to believe that the object of the Emperor was to get possession of the presents and workmen and still to retain the captives in his own hands. It was known that the letter written by the Queen to King Theodore had been received; but no official reply had yet been received, consequently the presents had all been detained, and the artizans had returned, having abandoned the idea of going to Abyssinia. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had thought it proper to write to the Emperor in the name of the Queen requiring that the captives should forthwith be given up, and informing him that if, within three months, they had not all left Abyssinia the presents would be returned to England. To that last communication no reply had yet been received, and till some further information was obtained, Her Majesty's Government were not prepared to state what course they would pursue. He might, however, state that any course which was adopted would be taken by themselves alone, and not in conjunction with any other Power. The Government would be very willing to lay any further correspondence upon the table; but in whatever course they adopted they must be guided by considerations affecting the safety of the prisoners. It was perfectly well known that nothing passed in the Parliament, or in this country, intelligence of which was not transmitted to King Theodore, and it was at the greatest possible risk that any opinions were expressed, or any discussions held in public, lest these should be conveyed in a shape unfavourable to the prisoners. He trusted their Lordships would therefore forgive him if he did not venture to enter into any further explanation than that which he had already given of the actual state of the relations between King Theodore and Her Majesty.
§ VISCOUNT STRATFORD DE REDCLIFFE
asked whether, at the date of the latest information received, the captives were kept in chains?
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
said, that sometimes the prisoners were chained and sometimes released; in point of fact, it was impossible to say from month to month, or from week to week, what were the precise circumstances under which they were detained; but, as he had said, there was reason to suppose that their captivity was not attended with any circumstances of rigor or cruelty.
said, that he had seen a letter received from Consul Cameron, which was written in very bad spirits, and contained this expressive phrase "perhaps the sooner the mauvais quart d'heure is over the better."
§ EARL GRANVILLE
repeated the advice which he had offered on the previous evening, that when Motions of an important character, affecting public business, were intended to be brought forward, notice to that effect ought to be given. To the question under discussion he would not add one word beyond the expression of his own satisfaction at hearing from Her Majesty's present Ministers language very nearly similar to that which fell from Her Majesty's late Government.
ABYSSINIA—IMPRISONMENT OF BRITISH SUBJECTS.—QUESTIONS.
HL Deb 09 July 1867 vol 188 cc1252-4
§ VISCOUNT STRATFORD DE REDCLIFFE
Seeing the noble Earl at the head of the Government in his place, I wish to ask a Question of which I have given him private notice. It relates to the fate of the Emperor Maximilian and the alleged unhappy termination of his career. I wish to ask my noble Friend, Whether he or the Government have received any official account of that Emperor's death; and whether, if such account has been received, it is the intention of the Government to move your Lordships to take any notice of the event, or to propose that the House should offer its condolence to Her Majesty on what must be to Her a subject of much affliction?
There is also another subject to which I wish to direct the noble Earl's attention—I mean the condition of the unfortunate Captives in Abyssinia. If I remember rightly, the noble Earl, in reply to a Question put by me some time since, said that the Government, before giving an answer, wished rather to wait until the result of a communication to the Emperor of which Mr. Flad was the bearer, should be known. I learn from the public papers that Mr. Flad was sent out as far back as the month of September, and that he is supposed to have arrived in Abyssinia. I should like, therefore, to know, Whether the Government have received any further information with respect to the Captives; and, Whether they intend to take any steps in the matter?
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
I received from my noble Friend within the last half hour an intimation that he wished to ask me two Questions. I should be obliged to him to postpone the one relating to the Captives in Abyssinia, as I have no information to communicate with respect to them. With regard to the first Question—that relating to the fate of the Emperor Maximilian—I have to state that I received within the last two hours a telegram from Paris which, unhappily, leaves it no longer a matter of doubt what the fate of Maximilian has been. This despatch has been received this day from Mr. Fane at Paris, and is dated at half past one. It is as follows:—
§ "FROM MR. FANE.
§ "Paris, July 9.—d., 1 30 p.m.; r., 3 30 p.m.
§ "Moustier has just received a telegram from French Minister at Mexico, dated 27th June. It reports that the Emperor Maximilian was shot on the 19th, in spite of every effort made to save him; the tone of the victorious party was defiant towards all foreign Powers, including United States; they refused to give up the Emperor's body; the French Minister was preparing to depart with his legation, but although hitherto unmolested, he thought he might be detained as a hostage for the surrender of General Almonte."
§ My Lords, I must say that I share in the feelings of all your Lordships at this most unnecessary, most cruel, and most barbarous murder—a murder which must excite horror in every civilized country. It is a murder purely gratuitous; and so far from producing any beneficial effect, can only add to the miseries of which that unhappy country has been for so many years the scene—and I fear it is only too probable that it will have to sustain similar miseries for many years to come. I hope my noble Friend will excuse me at the present moment for declining to give any opinion as to whether your Lordships will be invited to express your feelings on the subject by any public act.
§ VISCOUNT STRATFORD DE REDCLIFFE
said, that he had nothing to complain of in the answer of the noble Earl; but his own feelings on the subject were so strong that, using his right as a Member of that House, he begged to state that he would bring forward some Resolution on the subject in case Her Majesty's Government should hereafter decline inviting an expression of opinion from the House with regard to the matter on grounds which might appear insufficient to his judgment.
RUMOURED ABYSSINIAN EXPEDITION. QUESTION.
HC Deb 15 July 1867 vol 188 cc1511-2
said, he wished to ask the Secretary of State for India, Whether there is any, and what foundation for a rumour circulating in Bombay that troops have been told off for an expedition into Abyssinia?
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, in reply, that there was no truth in the rumour to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred. No troops had been told off for an expedition to Abyssinia; but the Government were engaged in a correspondence which they hoped might lead to the release of the British subjects now detained in that country. No measures of force to accomplish that object were, however, at present contemplated. It was true that he had addressed private communications to his right hon. Friend the Governor of Bombay requesting him confidentially to inform him what could be done in the event of any measure of force being resorted to; but no such instructions as the Question implied had been sent out to Bombay, and the correspondence had been of a most private character.
ABYSSINIA—IMPRISONMENT OF BRITISH SUBJECTS. MOTION FOR AN ADDRESS.
HC Deb 26 July 1867 vol 189 cc232-55
§ MR. HENRY SEYMOUR
said, he introduced this subject to the attention of the House, not with the view of raising a discussion on the question of intervention or non-intervention, but simply in order to publish the lamentable position in which nearly sixty Europeans were now placed by command of the King of Abyssinia. Among these prisoners was Her Majesty's Consul, an Ambassador who carried an autograph letter from Her Majesty to the King of Abyssinia, two gentlemen attached to his embassy, and a number of religious missionaries with their families. They were all held as prisoners on account of the quarrel between the King and Her Majesty's Government, and were treated with the greatest severity. By all Governments, civilized and even uncivilized, the person of one holding the position of Ambassador was regarded as sacred. Abyssinia appeared to be a solitary instance to the contrary, and the circumstances of the case demanded that some notice should be taken of her infraction of the usages of all countries. This was putting the question in the mildest form. Most countries would have earned censure if they had kept in durance one even who was not an Ambassador but simply a traveller, especially if the traveller were one engaged in spreading religion and civilization. He would not say that the fault was entirely on the side of the captors; but there was no doubt that the sufferings of the prisoners were very severe. Into the circumstances attending the captivity of these prisoners in Abyssinia it would be unnecessary for him to enter, as they were well known. The Monarch, at whose mercy they were, was no ordinary man. The kingdom of Abyssinia was the sole remnant of ancient Christian domination in the East, and King Theodore was a ruler who might, for bold original character, and dauntless courage, be compared to Mehemet Ali, or even to Peter the Great. He had distinguished himself by the reforms which he had introduced, with the object of raising the power and ultimately of extending the limits of his kingdom. He had subdued the neighbouring chiefs, re-established one sole monarchy, abolished many savage customs, introduced a standing army for the suppression of brigandage, abolished the barbarous practice of mutilating prisoners taken in war, done away with the slave trade, reformed the marriage law, prohibited polygamy, and tried to reform the Church; he had acted with the avowed intention of hastening the time when, in his own language, the ox which drew the plough should be of greater value than the most costly steed which carried the warrior. Unfortunately, his ambition did not rest here. He desired to extend the limits of the Ethopian kingdom, to interfere with the possessions of his neighbours, the Egyptians, who, it must be admitted, were always worrying him, and carry his conquests as far as Jerusalem. It would be seen then that we had to deal with a man of intense energy, a formidable opponent, who would exhaust the resources of his country to the utmost of his power before withdrawing from an object; a man who was formerly well-disposed to this country, but who, unfortunately, had been embittered against us. How this change had been occasioned was a point he did not intend to discuss. The question was, what was to be done? Some of the prisoners had now been captives for upwards of three years, and the question remained what was to be done for their liberation. Conciliation had been tried and failed. Last year a gentleman was sent out with presents calculated to please King Theodore, and accompanied by some artizans, whose arrival the King had particularly desired. An autograph letter from Her Majesty was also sent, in the hope that in this way the original cause of offence would be removed. But the negotiations failed, the prisoners were not released. There seemed therefore to be no chance of procuring their release by any means hitherto adopted, for although the result which attended the dispatch of the Queen's autograph letter to King Theodore had not been announced, it was evident that it had not led to the release of the prisoners. Presuming, then, that it was absolutely necessary that fresh and vigorous action should be taken in the matter, he would state the courses which he thought were open to the Government. In the first place, it was impossible that the captives could be left in their prisons. They were at times treated with the greatest cruelty, with chains both on their hands and feet, and with these chains linked together in such a way that the captives were kept in a recumbent position; and from the latest accounts greater cruelties still appeared to be in store for them. If the captives were left to themselves, they would soon rot in their chains, and he need not ask whether that was a fit end for an Ambassador and a Consul of Her Britannic Majesty? The missionary whom the King had permitted to leave Abyssinia had returned with the much coveted artizans and presents, and the autograph letter of Her Majesty, which was couched in the most conciliatory terms; but even this had not proved successful. Further attempts at conciliation would be not only useless, but derogatory to this country. It had been suggested that we should ask Egypt to assist us in obtaining the release of these captives. He thought it would not be wise to do so. The Turks and Abyssinians had for many centuries past been inveterate enemies, and it would not be wise to ask the Egyptian Pacha, who was the most formidable and inveterate enemy of the Abyssinians, to assist us. The only course which remained was to undertake the release of the captives ourselves. After so great an insult had been inflicted upon us we were bound to take this course, and send an expedition to Abyssinia from India. The first objection to that course was the expense, but surely that consideration ought not to weigh with us when the national honour was concerned? The second objection was that the captives might be killed if such a threat were held out. But that was not to be feared. King Theodore was described as a man of violent passions, but also of strong reason, and he never allowed his reason to be overcome by his passion. If he was passionate, he was also politic; and it was most probable that instead of sacrificing his captives he would come to terms and release them. The third objection was, that the risk to our troops would be great, that the country was difficult and the people warlike. Two years ago Lord Clarendon said in the House of Lords that the reason why he had not sent a man of higher position than Mr. Rassam was, that if anything happened to a high official we should have been obliged to send an expedition to obtain his release or avenge his death. Now he (Mr. Henry Seymour) humbly submitted that if a great country like this invested any person, however humble, with the sacred character of Ambassador, he should, by reason of the office he filled, be as much considered as though he were the highest noble in the land. No doubt the country was difficult and the people were warlike, but these had not prevented our undertaking other expeditions where English honour or interests were at stake. This was not a more difficult enterprize than that against Bhootan or the Akhoond of Swat, and it was absolutely necessary in order to maintain our character as an honourable and courageous people. Our indifference to the sufferings of our fellow-countrymen was already the subject of remark on the Continent, in America, as well as India, highly detrimental to the legitimate influence which we ought to exert in the affairs of the world. In Abyssinia, the country was healthy, the climate temperate, supplies were abundant, the people were badly armed, and the King was reduced now to the possession of a few provinces in the centre of his kingdom. He was a man, too, well acquainted with the power of England, and probably only held his captives because he thought he could make something by them, and that we should not proceed to extreme measures against him. If an expedition were thought desirable, it might proceed by one of several routes. By one of these, starting from the port of Massowah, and passing through Egyptian territory, no difficulties would be experienced until the troops were within four days of Gondar, the Abyssinian capital; and if this, which was the most flourishing province of his kingdom, were seized, and his treasury thereby drained, he would probably listen to terms. No doubt, badly armed as they were, the Abysssinians would oppose our passage through the difficult defiles of their country in this four days' march; but with our rifles and light ordnance there could be no doubt of a successful result. Another route was by Halei, another by Ampbila, a fourth by Tajurrah; all were well-known, and all practicable for an army. But his firm belief was, that if we prepared an expedition, the King would come to terms before it was absolutely necessary to undertake those contingencies for which, however, we ought to be fully prepared. Great interest was excited throughout England in the captives, and it was felt that this country was disgraced in allowing them to remain so long in captivity. If we only determined that the thing should be done, it might be considered as done; and now, if the Government spoke strongly, King Theodore would have notice, and would probably yield. It was to be feared that the King thought at present that we did not choose to exert ourselves, and doubted also whether Mr. Rassam really represented the Queen as he pretended. Dr. Beke arrived in Abyssinia at the same time as Mr. Rassam, and this seemed to have created a doubt in the mind of his Abyssinian Majesty as to whether Mr. Rassam really represented the Queen. Dr. Beke's embassy, though well intentioned, had not the effect desired. It had been suggested in influential quarters that we should attempt to ransom these captives. But that would produce an extremely bad effect all over the world: semi - barbarous monarchs would seize Englishmen, calculating on their ransom; a hundred Theodores would rise up, and the lives and liberty of English travellers would be jeopardized in all parts of the world. Even if we could consent to ransom a private traveller, we could hardly ransom an Ambassador, sent out with an autograph letter from the Queen, and that to a King who had mustered 100,000 men in the field. No doubt, the King attributed our temporizing to fear, and as he retained the captives by force they must be released by force. If an ultimatum was sent to Theodore, stating that if the captives were injured he would be held responsible, and that if they were not released in a certain time an expedition would be sent against him, and if this was done by a proper embassy and a firm front was exhibited, the probability was that the captives would be released. This was the course which the Egyytian Government took in the case of the Coptic Patriarch whom Theodore attempted to detain ten years ago. The Pacha thus obtained his release. Mr. Flad expressed a strong opinion against sending out presents last year, and he and Colonel Merewethcr suggested at the time the alternative of a strong threatening letter, backed by a naval demonstration. Of course, the English Foreign Office had no intention but to do its utmost for the captives, but the Foreign Office hardly knew how to deal with these Oriental questions, which the India Office could undertake more successfully. The Foreign Office had more to do with the West than with the East, and the show of force and authority, which appeared absurd when exhibited towards Western nations, were sometimes necessary in our dealings with Eastern nations. Nothing was necessary but to show a bold front towards Abyssinia. Surely this country would not suffer these unfortunate men to be left to their fate; some of them had suffered dreadful tortures, and all had friends and relatives. They owed their position to a quarrel between the English and the Abyssinian Governments. It was a disgrace to this country that they should remain in captivity, and some effort must be made to release them. He had full confidence that the noble Lord at the head of the Foreign Office (Lord Stanley), however strong might be his love of peace, could show likewise that he felt the duty which we owed to private Englishmen who had accepted perilous missions at the command of their Sovereign, and would show also that he had a keen sense of what was due to the national honour. The noble Lord would remember what had been done during the last twenty years to raise the reputation of this country, and to make the lives of its citizens sacred in any part of the world. In China, Japan, or Brazil, or wherever Englishmen or the English flag had been insulted, reparation had been demanded firmly and with success. The noble Lord had a reputation to make at the commencement of his career as Foreign Minister, and he felt confident that the honour and reputation of the country would not suffer in the hands of the noble Lord.
§ Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty that proper steps may be taken to procure the release of Her Majesty's Consul and other subjects of Her Majesty at present held prisoners by the King of Abyssinia, if necessary, by force of arms," — (Mr. Henry Seymour,) —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ SIR HENRY RAWLINSON
In rising to second the Motion of the hon. Member for Poole, I desire to say in the first place, that I cordially agree with my hon. Friend as to the inexpediency of entering upon the past history of the Abyssinian difficulty. A retrospect of past events would be merely "a ripping up of old sores," and could answer no useful purpose. It would, at any rate, be quite irrelevant to the question now before the House. That question, which demands our immediate consideration, and on which the House is now invited to express an opinion, is simply what may be the best means of extricating ourselves from the painful, the humiliating—I may say the intolerable—position that we now occupy in regard to King Theodore of Abyssinia. In explaining this position, I will not pretend to follow my hon. Friend into a detail of nil our grievances. I will merely state in broad and general terms the one great wrong of which we complain. Two employés of the Crown, then — one an officer in Her Majesty's Consular Service, and the other an Envoy—accredited on a special mission to the Court of Abyssinia, are now languishing in chains in a dungeon at Magdala, associated with felons, exposed to every possible indignity and even torture, and in daily—I might almost say hourly—risk of their lives; and they have been brought into this dreadful state of degradation and suffering—not by any fault of their own—not by any indiscretion or shortcoming of which they may have been guilty, but simply because they have done their duty, loyally and conscientiously, and have carried out to the best of their ability the instructions with which they have been intrusted by the Government they serve. On this plain showing of the case, without any colouring or exaggeration, or any appeal to sentiment, I ask if there can be a difference of opinion as to the obligation, the imperative duty, which devolves upon us, of interfering to rescue our officers and to vindicate the national honour? What, Sir, then, can be the causes that have led to all this hesitation upon our part, that lead us still to hesitate, we whose boast it has ever been hitherto, that an Englishman, like the old "civis Romanus," could roam through the world covered by the national ægis, and secured by it against insult or wrong? I have heard. Sir, three arguments, and three arguments only, used against sending an expedition to Abyssinia, and endeavouring to rescue our officers by force of arms. I will briefly state these arguments, and then proceed to answer them. Firstly, it is said that by sending an army, we endanger the lives of the captives, who as I am assured, men, women, and children included, amount now to almost fifty in number—since the tyrant if defeated in the field, or even if severely pressed, might execute his captives before finally taking flight and seeking safety in the interior of the country. Secondly; the hazards and difficulties of the expedition are duly weighed, as it is very proper they should be; and the risks attending the dispatch of an armed force into the interior of Abyssinia are thought too serious to be encountered; in fact, it is apprehended that, bad as our position now is, it may be rendered still worse by failure; and it is suggested, therefore, that our best policy may be, after all, to remain passive under our present monstrous indignity. And thirdly, in regard to expense, which is also of course a very essential consideration, it is maintained by many, as a conclusive argument against war, that whatever loss we may sustain from the effects of failing to redress our wrongs, such loss cannot be nearly commensurate to the heavy sacrifice both of life and treasure we should incur from engaging in actual hostilities with King Theodore. I will now, Sir, proceed to answer these objections. Firstly; in regard to the lives of the captives, it must always be remembered that this proposed appeal to arms is a last resource. We have done everything we could to obtain the release of the prisoners by fair means and we have failed. If we abandon any further effort, and our present inactivity is prolonged, that the prisoners will one and all, in due course, sink under their sufferings, is almost a matter of certainty. The question, therefore, resolves itself into a choice of evils. In one case the death of the captives is almost certain; in the other there is a chance—I might say a fair chance—of saving them; for, if we look on the favourable side of the picture, it seems quite possible—nay, probable—that the prisoners may be surrendered by King Theodore on a mere demonstration being made against him, or at any rate on the first application of real pressure; or, on the other hand, they may be withdrawn from the power of Theodore by some rival chief, who will send them in, as we advance, in order to make his own terms with us. In fact, in the only two parallel cases on record, or at any rate, in the only two cases which at present occur to me—I mean the example of the prisoners in China and the prisoners at Cabul—as our troops advanced into the country the captives were better, rather than worse treated, and in both instances they were ultimately delivered up to us unscathed, as the natural result of our success. Besides, in the case that we are now considering, as far as this question of life is concerned, the parties most interested are undoubtedly the prisoners hemselves; and they are, I understand, unanimous in desiring to encounter the risk of our advance rather than die by inches, as they are now dying in their dungeon at Magdala. I will now, Sir, reply to the sacond objection. With regard to the hazards and difficulties of the undertaking, I do not by any means underrate them. I have taken some pains to acquaint myself, from the best authorities, with the nature of the country to be traversed between the sea-coast and Magdala; and I have also collected information with regard to the climate and resources of Abyssinia, and the facilities which exist for obtaining carriage and supplies, and the other requisites for the advance of an army into the interior, and I am obliged to confess, as the result of all my enquiries—I cannot indeed conceal it from myself—that the invasion of Abyssinia from the sea-coast would be a most arduous undertaking. But because the undertaking may be arduous, that is no reason that we should flinch from our duty. In thinking over the matter, indeed, from this point of view, I am reminded of the noble and eloquent words which were used by my old commander, General Nott, under very similar circumstances, when the difficulties of an onward march were urged against a renewed attempt to relieve Candahar— I am obliged to you," wrote General Nott, to his correspondent in the South, "for pointing out the many difficulties attending our position; but you are aware that it is our first and only duty to overcome difficulties, when the national honour and our military reputation are so nearly concerned. Nothing can be done without effort and perseverance. Sir, I think it would be premature and impolitic to review at present the possible difficulties of an Abyssinian campaign; I think it at all times undesirable to discuss in the House of Commons details of military organization, which properly belong to the Executive, and which can only be conveniently arranged and decided on the spot. By whatever route we advance, we shall no doubt meet with difficulties in ascending the table-land of Abyssinia; but I cannot believe that such difficulties are insuperable to the troops who scaled the mountain peaks and passes in the recent Sitana campaign. Besides, the word "impossible" should be as foreign to our vocabulary as it is said to be to that of the French. Relying, indeed, on the unrivalled efficiency of our Indian Commissariat, and remembering that we should have our base on the sea, from whence unlimited supplies could be thrown into the country, I should feel little doubt but that an energetic and experienced Commander, at the head of a force numbering from 5,000 to 10,000 picked men of all arms, European and Native, which would be ample for advanced columns, supports, and reserves—I should feel little doubt, I say, but that a good General at the head of such a force would march triumphantly from the sea-coast to Magdala and fully achieve the objects of the expedition. I have now, Sir, to refer to the third objection, which concerns the cost of the expedition, and which declares such cost to be out of all proportion to the benefit to be derived from it. This objection is chiefly urged by Gentlemen who disregard, or at any rate undervalue, the advantages of "prestige," and with whom therefore it is somewhat difficult to contend, as we have no common ground of argument. I hope, however, I may be permitted to state my own views on this question of "prestige;" and I would further ask leave, in support of those views, to remind the House that, having been employed officially in the East for nearly thirty years, and having passed by far the greater portion of that service in immediate connection with Native Courts, my opinions with regard to "prestige" are not derived from theory or from books, but are the result of personal experience and observation. I would say, then, that I look on "prestige" in politics very much as I look on "credit" in finance. It is a power which enables us to achieve very great results with very small means at our immediate disposal. "Prestige" may not be of paramount importance in Europe, but in the East, Sir, our whole position depends on it. It is a perfect fallacy to suppose that we hold India by the sword. The foundation of our tenure, the talisman—so to speak—which enables 100,000 Englishmen to hold 150,000,000 of Natives in subjection, is the belief in our unassailable power, in our inexhaustible resources; and any circumstance therefore which impairs that belief, which leads the Nations of the East to mistrust our superiority and to regard us as more nearly on an equality with themselves, inflicts a grievous shock on our political position. It is impossible, Sir, in such matters to trace cause and effect with mathematical precision — much must depend upon opinion; but in illustration of what I have said, I will give it as my opinion, derived from a very careful scrutiny of passing events, that the Sepoy outbreak in 1857 was mainly—I will not say wholly—attributable to the loss of "prestige" we had incurred from our exhibition of weakness in the Affghan War. Since we had allowed our Envoys, Colonels Stoddart and Conolly, to be murdered at Bokhara without making any effort to avenge their fate, and since by retiring from Affghanistan we had confessed our inability to hold the country, it was evident that we were human and might succumb to pressure; and hence, I believe, arose the germ of that confidence of the Sepoys in their own power which led them to try conclusions with us. And if, Sir, a Nemesis thus overtook us in 1857, the same Nemesis may again overtake us now, if we exhibit to the East such a miserable example of moral cowardice and military weakness, as to allow our Envoys to perish in an Abyssinian dungeon and yet make no sign, show even no desire to wipe such a stain from the escutcheon of England. I have one more remark to make on the economical question. I cannot subscribe to the doctrine now so prevalent of weighing the honour of England against gold and silver. I cannot calculate in pounds, shillings, and pence the exact loss we may sustain, owing to this Abyssinian disgrace; but this I do feel, that the dispatch of an expedition for the release of the captives would, in all probability, he a measure of real economy in the end, as much as a necessary national duty; I mean it, Sir, in this wise, that if by remaining inactive we allow the fatal seed of a mistrust of our power to be sown in India, it will germinate in the dark, and will then crop up some day, when least expected, bringing in its train a harvest of disaster that will far more than counterbalance any saving we may now effect by refusing to send an expedition. And now, Sir, I will only venture on two further observations. One relates to the object of the Motion now before the House; the other, to the source from whence the expenses of an expedition to Abyssinia might be defrayed. The object of the Motion brought forward by my hon. Friend is, as I understand it, not to invite discussion on details, but merely to induce the House to express an opinion on the general question — on the desirability, in fact, or otherwise, of sending an expedition to Abyssinia, either to recover our captive officers, or to exact retribution for their fate. There are, of course, a multitude of collateral considerations of much importance connected, both with the conduct of the expedition and with the policy which should shape its course; but I cannot think that these are fit matters for discussion in the House of Commons; they must be left to the discretion and decision of the Government, who is alone responsible for them. There are two points only upon which, if an expedition were decided on, I should like to have an assurance beforehand. The first is, that we should engage in the affair single-handed and free from the entanglement of any foreign co-operation, although, as Abyssinia can only be approached through an Egyptian port, a certain friendly understanding with the Viceroy of Egypt would seem to be indispensable. The second point of importance is, that we should keep clear of any future engagements with the country. Our objects, it seems to me, are immediate and direct. We should endeavour to release the prisoners and to punish King Theodore; but it would be most inconvenient to find ourselves committed to the support of any other claimant to the throne, or, in fact, to be entangled in any way with future Abyssinian politics. The other observation that I would desire to make refers to the expenses of the expedition. It is rumoured out of doors that there has already been much discussion between the different Departments of the State as to whether the cost of any expedition that might be undertaken should be borne by the Indian or the Imperial Treasury; and, if we remember the discussions on the same subject which took place on the occasion of the China and Persian wars, the present rumours would seem far from improbable. On this subject, then, Sir, I would desire to say that, although the quarrel with Abyssinia is strictly an Imperial quarrel, although the officers imprisoned by King Theodore were accredited from the Foreign Office, and the conduct of the negotiations with that Potentate have been hitherto entirely under that department, yet, inasmuch as the evils from which we seek to be relieved by the dispatch of an expedition, would, if no such expedition were sent, fall almost exclusively upon India, I do think that India is bound to contribute something towards the cost of relieving her from the threatened danger. I mean, Sir, that, as our loss of "prestige" would hardly be felt in Europe, but would be felt severely in Asia, being, in fact, circulated, in the first instance, through the concourse of Mahomedan pilgrims in the neighbouring city of Mecca; and, as the ill effects of that loss of prestige would thus mainly fall on our Indian possessions, it would seem only fair that India should pay a moiety of the expenses of the war—as she did in the case of the China and Persian wars — as the price of the political benefit she would derive from the expedition. Sir, I have nothing more to say on the general question. I do appeal to this House to support my hon. Friend the Member for Poole in his Motion praying that steps may be taken to obtain the release of the Abyssinian captives, if necessary, by force of arms. It is almost surprising to me that there can be two opinions on the subject. Is there any other of the great nations of Europe, let me ask, that would hesitate in such a matter? Should we hesitate ourselves if our antagonist were in a more accessible position? Are we prepared, then, to admit that a barbarian prince like King Theodore, living within 250 miles of the sea-coast, can set us, the greatest maritime Power in the world, at defiance? And are we prepared, let me add, to abdicate our place among the nations of the earth, for such must be the inevitable consequence if we sit down quietly in our shame, exposed to the scorn and pity of the East? No, Sir; I cannot believe in such pusillanimity, in such—I must call it—suicidal cowardice. It seems to me, Sir, that in justice to our officers, whom we are bound to protect, in justice to ourselves, in the name of humanity, of civilization, and of national honour, we have no alternative but to send a force to Abyssinia, and that, too, without a day's unnecessary delay. There are times, Sir, when too much prudence amounts almost to a betrayal of the national honour; and I do feel, Sir, that those who can recommend our submitting without further effort to the intolerable disgrace which now oppresses us incur a most awful responsibility, and that, if their advice be followed, and those troubles should supervene, which there is every reason to anticipate, they will hereafter be called to a most severe account.
§ MR. LAYARD
said, this was a question of no common difficulty. No question which came before him during the time he had the honour to hold office gave him greater anxiety; for, whatever way the matter was viewed, it was full of embarrassment. Rising, as he now did, to propose to the noble Lord opposite a course of action, he confessed that he did so with great difficulty and misgiving. Matters, however, had now gone to a length when some step must be taken, something must be done on behalf of the unfortunate people still kept in captivity. Most unfortunately, the question had been treated from the very beginning by those connected with it, but unconnected with the Government, as a question of antagonism to the Foreign Office. The difficulties of that department had thus been very much increased by those who ought to have sympathized with and aided its action. A portion of the press in this country had perversely misrepresented the facts of the case throughout—a course which had been attended with most mischievous results, as copies of the articles were sent out to Abyssinia, and communicated to the authorities. He regretted, further, to say that in another place a noble and learned Lord made a speech so mischievous and dangerous in its character as materially to contribute to the difficulties of the Government. Lord Clarendon entreated that noble and learned Lord not to bring the question before the House, but he could not resist the temptation to indulge in party feeling even at the risk of doing irreparable injury. The report of that speech of Lord Chelmsford, in which it was described as almost an insult to the British Government that Mr. Rassam should be sent to Abyssinia, was forwarded to that country. The copy of the Standard containing it, most mercifully reached the hands of Mr. Rassam, and was intercepted. Had it reached the hands of King Theodore, the whole of the party would probably have been put to death. In the House of Commons, also, an attempt was made to raise an equally injudicious debate. A late Member of the House—Mr. Seymour Fitzgerald—was requested by the same parties to bring it forward. But he came to the Foreign Office, where the Papers were placed before him. He saw that there was but one object in view, that of releasing the prisoners, and in the most honourable way he declined to make himself the vehicle of a mere party attack upon the Government. That was a fact which ought to be known to the House concerning Mr. Seymour Fitzgerald. Mr. Rassam was very kindly received and treated by the King at first, but, unfortunately, some friends of the captives in this country determined to send out an opposition mission. Contrary to the entreaties of the Foreign Office, Dr. Beke was sent out. Mr. Rassam himself had stated that from the moment of Dr. Beke's arrival at Massowah the King's conduct towards him changed. From every point of view the case was surrounded by difficulties. Neither in his time, nor since his time, had the Foreign Office had fair play in the matter. In answer to his hon. Friend (Mr. Henry Seymour), he must say that the question originally had not arisen out of a quarrel between the two Governments. The statement of the King himself put the matter on very different grounds, and the other had only been put forward recently, and as a secondary matter. The statement of the King was, that Consul Cameron had gone among some tribes at war with him, and that the origin of the quarrel was as to the extending British protection to certain tribes on the frontier. There was no use, however, in going back to the origin of the quarrel. The question was, how to liberate these unfortunate persons. As the noble Lord opposite was aware, from the commencement of the negotiations, he had been most anxious that anything like a threat or reference to an expedition should be avoided. He had hoped that by negotiation the matter might have been settled, that Mr. Rassam, who was so singularly qualified for the mission on which he was sent, would have been able to induce the King to release the captives. But such had not been the case. The King, however, appeared to entertain to Mr. Rassam the most remarkable personal attachment. He had imprisoned and chained him, it was true, but not by the foot and hand like the others, only by the foot. The King preserved amicable relations with him and sent him friendly letters. In proof of this, he might mention that Mr. Rassam, being desirous of obtaining provisions from the coast, wished to send down mules to the coast. But the King would not hear of this. He sent down for the provisions himself, and when they arrived, the packages being too large to be carried on the backs of the men, the King forwarded them to Mr. Rassam, with letters of apology for having been obliged to open them on that account. It might be said, perhaps, that the King took a strange way of showing his friendship for Mr. Rassam; but if Gentlemen knew the character of King Theodore it would account for much that appeared extraordinary in his conduct. His hon. Friend (Mr. Henry Seymour) had pictured King Theodore in colours which he did not deserve—as an Asian, or rather an African mystery. He had not abolished torture; but he had tortured persons to a great extent, and had been guilty of many atrocities. With great reluctance he (Mr. Layard) had come to the conclusion that there was only one course left to us now, and that was an expedition to Abyssinia. He did not conceal from himself all the difficulties of such an undertaking—difficulties which his hon. Friend who spoke last was near the truth in describing. The expedition would be really a very arduous one. But the question was, whether the honour and credit of the country did not render such an undertaking absolutely necessary? If he entertained the remotest hope that any kind of negotiation, or that any other measure would be likely to release the captives, he should be totally opposed to a military expedition. But, with a full knowledge of all the circumstances, he had been compelled to relinquish all such expectations. He hoped that the expedition might be accompanied by some negotiator of skill, in the habit of dealing with the Eastern potentates. From all that could be learnt, King Theodore was at present reduced to great straits, having been deserted by most of the tribes over whom he had formerly control, retaining jurisdiction over one province only, and having no army but that by which he was immediately attended. He had every reason to believe that the chiefs who had risen in insurrection against him would be prepared to join the expedition, and King Theodore might be compelled in a very short time to leave the country. Then, as regards the danger to the captives themselves, no doubt they would incur a certain amount of risk, but on this point he entirely concurred in the remarks of his hon. and gallant Friend who last addressed the House. The captives themselves were most anxious that an expedition should be sent, and were willing to run all the risk rather than pass the remainder of their lives in the wretched captivity in which they were now placed. But an expedition was a most difficult matter, and one which required the most careful consideration. He was surprised to see how lightly the matter had been treated in the newspapers. Even those of the greatest experience in such matters differed as to the mode in which an expedition should be conducted. For instance, a gentleman of such great knowledge and experience as Sir Henry Bulwer suggested in a newspaper that we should avail ourselves of the aid of the Viceroy of Egypt, whilst Mr. Rassam had stated that one thing was certain to bring death to them all—namely, if an Egyptian force were to invade the country; such a step would have the effect of uniting all those Chiefs who were opposed to the King, and the whole country against us. It was to be hoped, therefore, that such a step would be no longer thought of. He entirely agreed with his hon and gallant Friend that if we went to Abyssinia it must be only for one definite purpose—the release of the unfortunate captives. We must not get entangled in any alliances with the Native Chiefs, which might embarrass us, and, the object being accomplished, the sooner we left the country to return no more the better for all parties concerned. He entirely concurred, also, in what his hon. and gallant Friend had said respecting the effect in the East of this captivity. Nobody who was acquainted with the East in the slightest degree could be unaware of the effect which would be produced by the reports brought back by the thousands of Indian pilgrims who went to Mecca, who would proclaim through the length and breadth of our Indian dominions, that a representative of the Queen of England and a number of English subjects were confined in a dungeon by an African Prince, and that nothing had been done by the English Government with a view of procuring their release. In this country, perhaps, such stories would have very little weight, but in India they would produce a very serious effect, and nobody was more fully aware of that than his hon. and gallant Friend, Indeed, no one could doubt that the fact had become known throughout the East. Wherever Indians congregated it must be known that the authority of the British Government was despised and contemned by a barbarian chief whom we could reach by means of a military expedition. As regards the way in which the expedition ought be undertaken he would not venture to give one word of advice; Sir William Coghlan, Colonel Merewether, and other officers in the Indian service, could give the best advice on the subject. He must, however, impress upon the noble Lord the necessity of having the thing done at once. An expedition could not be sent to Abyssinia except at one period of the year—in September or October. The troops must land about that time, or the expedition must be deferred to another year. He trusted, therefore, if the noble Lord and the Government should determine to send an expedition to the coast, to advance if necessary into the interior, that no time would be lost, but that immediate instructions would be given for the dispatch of the expedition. If there were any chance of negotiations proving successful, it would be through the King knowing that our troops were actually on the coast, and ready to advance into the interior.
I can assure the House that, almost from the first day that the present Government succeeded to power, the question of what should be done for these unfortunate Abyssinian captives has occupied our most earnest attention. It is quite useless now to go back to the past and to consider whether it was worth while originally to send a mission to Abyssinia or not; whether any political or commercial object was thereby to be secured, or whether a different course would have led to less unsatisfactory results. What was done was doubtless done for the best, and it is only right to say that the result which occurred — the detention of these unhappy men, without reasonable cause or provocation, as far as we know—was an event so out of the way of all ordinary calculation, so little to have been anticipated, that it would not be just to hold the originators of the mission responsible for it. In saying this I am only doing justice to those who originated this matter, and rather more justice than has been done to the Lord Chancellor by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Layard). I listened to what the hon. Gentleman said as to the speech of the Lord Chancellor with some anxiety, because I knew it was quite possible, in a matter of this kind, even with the best intentions, to do more harm than good. But I was greatly relieved in my mind when the hon. Gentleman went on to say that the speech of the noble and learned Lord in "another place" might have done immense mischief if the King had read it, but that, in fact, the King knew nothing about it. If so, I do not see how, even on the assumption of the hon. Gentleman, the Lord Chancellor can be responsible for what has occurred. Our business now is to get these men out of captivity. If that can be done I imagine that there will he very little inclination on the part of the House or of the Government to trouble themselves further with Abyssinian politics. The question is, how can their liberation be effected? There are two means only: conciliation and force. I think every one will admit that it was our duty to exhaust every means of conciliation before adopting a different line of policy. We had this to consider—that an expedition to rescue the captives must in any case be expensive, that it must inevitably be attended with heavy loss of life, by climate if not by military operations; that it was possible that it might even lead to a massacre of the prisoners, and that, for aught we knew, it might be wholly unnecessary, since their detention being apparently a pure act of caprice, the same caprice might at any moment lead to their being again released, without effort on our part. We determined, therefore, to try peaceable means in the first instance. I received numerous offers from gentlemen who expressed their willingness to undertake the risk of leading a new mission into the country. Those offers we thought it right to decline, and for an obvious reason. Whatever the original motive of the King in detaining these men might be, it was clear that it had become with him a policy to get into his hands as many Europeans as possible, and we did not think it desirable to increase the number. We therefore sent no one up to Magdala, but availed ourselves of the return of Mr. Flad, a German missionary, whose family were residing there, and who was in any case compelled to return to see after their safety. We sent a commucation by him, which will appear in the printed Papers, and at the same time sent out, by Colonel Merewether, presents of various articles, such as it was understood King Theodore desired. But here a difficulty arose. The King had expressed a strong wish to have the assistance of some English artizans, and those who knew him best, said that, unless they were sent, the presents would do no good. I determined, therefore, to send them as far as Massowah, carefully explaining to them the nature of the risk they ran, and making sure that they fully understood the position, but at the same time deciding that they should not be allowed to go up the country unless ths prisoners were previously released. Of course, if that release took place, we should be justified in supposing the King was acting in good faith, and we should entertain less apprehension in trusting him with these artizans. From the value of their services to him, and his wish to increase their number, there would be every inducement to him to treat them well. At the same time it was clearly explained that they went of their own free will, and that no influence would be used to urge them to go on, if they thought the risk greater than they chose to encounter. So the matter stood some months ago. I regret, however, to say that that attempt appears to have failed. The prisoners have been treated with greater severity than before. The King made an effort to get the presents and the artizans at once. This we declined to allow till he released the prisoners. Since then we have not heard from him. I then wrote again, warning him that unless these men were liberated, he could expect no friendship on the part of the British Government, and further demanding their release. I did not accompany that communication with any expression of menace, wishing to leave the hands of the Government entirely free, whatever further course might be necessary. I am afraid, however, that, looking at all the circumstances, we must now say that the policy of conciliation has been fairly tried and has failed. The question then arises—and it is a most serious one—what further steps shall be taken? I agree with the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Henry Seymour) and others who have spoken on this subject in conceiving that on the one hand nothing could be more repugnant to our feelings as a nation, nothing less creditable to us as a matter of honour, than to leave not merely our fellow-countrymen, but Envoys who have been commissioned by the Sovereign in the hands of a half-savage king, and exposed to any cruelty which his caprice may inflict. On the other hand, I feel bound to tell the House frankly and fairly that to obtain the release of these men by force is not on easy matter. I do not speak of military resistance, which in all probability would be insignificant; but we have to consider the country, the climate, the heat at one season, the heavy rains at another, the cost of supplies, the absence of all means of transport, and our total ignorance of what would be the feeling of the people towards an armed force advancing through their country; and all these things, taken together, make operations against Abyssinia a very serious matter. Something has been said about our having Aden near as a convenient point of departure for such operations. But Aden is a place without stores or resources, and all the supplies that would be required for the invasion of Abyssinia, whether proceeding from Egypt or from Bombay, must be provided beforehand. Magdala, where these men are detained, is at least 300 miles from the coast, and must be approached through a country which is known to be mountainous and difficult, without anything which we should consider as a road; in many parts said to be destitute of water, and of which we really know very little. I am sure, therefore, that the House will feel that, however anxious we may be to attain the object we all have in view, it would be madness to throw a British army into an unknown country, in a tropical climate, far from the sea, very far from its reserves and its supplies, without a full previous investigation as to the means of moving, feeding, and keeping them in health. That inquiry we look upon as an indispensable preliminary. I have been in communication with the War Department and with the India Office as to the best mode of proceeding. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India (Sir Stafford Northcote) has telegraphed to the Indian Government to send over an officer or officers on whom they can rely to meet Colonel Merewether at Aden, and with him to examine minutely the points on which information is necessary. I do not wish to anticipate the result of that inquiry, but I hope that the House will be of opinton that in making it we have only done our duty. On the one hand, we cannot consent to leave those men to their fate without some attempt to rescue them. On the other hand, by precipitation and by acting in the dark we should be running the risk of involving ourselves in great calamities, and might bring on ourselves not only political, but also the possibility of military disaster. It is possible that when King Theodore sees that we are in earnest he may take warning and release the prisoners without giving us further trouble. We may hope for this, but we ought not to count upon it. If he should not the responsibility rests with us of deciding upon our future course. We must be guided to a great decree by the reports we receive from those whom we employ to make the investigation to which I have referred. I do not think we should be called upon even now to give any pledge on the part of the Government as to an expedition, unless it is found to be practicable with only a reasonable expenditure of men and means. It may be said, "Send it to the coast of Africa, that will be enough;" possibly that may be enough, but if you send an expedition to the coast and that fails, you cannot rest there, you must proceed further, you are free to send an expedition or not to do so; but having once begun you are not free to leave off without success. If you undertake the enterprize at all, you are bound to carry it through. I hope the House will leave the decision where the responsibility must be left. I think they will see by the Papers, which are now all but ready to be laid on the table, that whether we have taken the best and the wisest course or not—on which differences of opinion may exist—at any rate, we have not been guilty of neglecting or treating with indifference this most painful business.
said, that King Theodore could not be dealt with in the matter as they would treat a European Sovereign, for he was a barbarian, and not at all influenced by European sentiments. He had no more idea of the sanctity of an Ambassador or Envoy than an Arab Sheik or a Chief of the Feejee Islands had. He only acted on his impulses, which were capricious and variable. As he had, previously to these proceedings, carried on amicable relations with us, there must have been some cause for his sudden revulsion of feeling toward us. In the present discussion that cause had been kept in the background, but it was necessary it should be known. In the time of Consul Plowden everything went on satisfactorily. He exerted his influence against Turkish raids; and the Abyssinian Christians at Jerusalem received our protection. But when Consul Cameron, whose head-quarters were at Massowah, and not in Abyssinia at all, succeeded him, protection was withdrawn from the Abyssinian Christians at Jerusalem, who were left at the mercy of the Turkish authorities. Raids also took place from the Egyptian into the Abyssinian territories, without any effort on the Consul's part to prevent them. The Foreign Office having sent Consul Cameron into an insurgent province of Abyssinia to make inquiries with regard to cotton, on his return to Massowah, instead of avoiding Theodore, he went to the King's camp. King Theodore demanded of him whether he had not brought with him an answer to the letter which that King had sent to the Queen of England, admitting, as the Consul did, that he was in communication with the Foreign Office. As Consul Cameron had no such answer to produce, the King deemed himself insulted, and refused to let our Consul go until he received an answer from Her Majesty. He was not the apologist of the King of Abyssinia; but that King's conduct in the matter appeared to be owing to the course pursued by our Foreign Office—not while the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) was at its head, but prior to that period. When an expedition into Abyssinia was spoken of, it should be remembered that the British taxpayers had a great interest in the matter. As a soldier, he should of course sympathize with those who were anxious to undertake an expedition to release British prisoners; but as a representative of the people he was bound to look at its cost. The cost of such an enterprize would not fall upon India, but upon this country, as the interest involved was not Indian, but British. No force short of 10,000 men would suffice for the purpose in view. He would quote a passage from a letter written by a companion of Mr. Rassam to show the nature of the difficulties which such a force would have to encounter in advancing from Massowah into a mountainous region. The following was an extract from that letter:— We started from Massowah on the 15th of October and reached this place (Matammah), after no end of worry, on the 21st of November, I would not undertake a similar journey, unless ordered to do so, to gain a kingdom. The heat all the way was insufferable, and if we had not brought eatables with us we should have starved. Of the thirty-seven days which it took us to come from Massowah, six were lost in waiting at Athie Marcam and Kassala for camels, as we were obliged to change these animals different times on the road. And of the climate he says— Although it is not deemed unhealthy except in the rains, half the inhabitants are laid up with fever. All my servants have been attacked, and I have had a touch of it myself. I fancy it is the extreme change between hot days and cold nights; between sunrise and noon is often 40 degrees, and never less than 30 degrees. A few days ago in my tent (at night) it was 53 degrees, and next day at noon 98 degree, under a double fly. Dr. Blanc, who also accompanied Mr. Rassam, gave an equally discouraging account. Now when a party of ten or a dozen men could not find the means of carriage, how, he should like to know, could the Commissariat and the baggage of an army of 10,000 men be conveyed? Seeing, then the difficulties by which such an expedition as that which was suggested would be beset, and that the lives of the captives did not appear to be in danger, he thought it would be unjustifiable to sacrifice our soldiers, and to throw additional burdens on the taxpayers in this country.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, he regretted that none of the leading Members of the late Government were present to repudiate the idea that hon. Members on his side of the House were desirous to encourage the Government to send out an armed expedition for the purpose of releasing the captives in Abyssinia. He was sorry also to hear from the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs that all amicable means of effecting that release had been exhausted. There were natives of the country who carried on a trade between the coast and the interior, and from all he could learn, they would be better able to bring about a solution of the difficulty than any European diplomatist. There was a general objection on the part of the Indian Government to secure the services of natives, or unofficial persons, in matters of importance, but in dealing with such a person as the King of Abyssinia, success was more likely to be attained through an irregular channel than by regular diplomatic agency. To spend £500,000 on an expedition which was just as likely as not to lead to the deaths of the captives, was not, in his opinion, a wise course to pursue. £5,000 given by way of premium, in the way he had suggested, would in all probability be productive of much more satisfactory results.
§ Amendment withdrawn.
§ Original Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," by leave, withdrawn.
§ Committee deferred till Monday next.
COAST OF ABYSSINIA.—QUESTION.
HC Deb 12 August 1867 vol 189 c1337 1337
§ MR. HENRY SEYMOUR
said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, In whose possession Her Majesty's Government acknowledge the Coast of Abyssinia on the shores of the Red Sea to be, from Souakim to Zeila?
Sir, I understand that some time ago the Turkish Government placed the government of Massowah and the adjoining district under the Viceroy of Egypt upon certain conditions. I believe the right to the coast was in former times a matter of dispute; but it appears to me to have been exercised de facto by local authorities, who have owed and rendered allegiance to the Sultan.
§ MR. HENRY SEYMOUR
said, he wished to know whether any portion of it was in the possession of the French Government?
I may remind the hon. Member that that is a Question of which he had better have given me notice. As at present advised, I am not aware that any claims have been put forward by the French Government to hold any portion of the coast.
PROROGATION OF THE PARLIAMENT. SPEECH OF THE LORDS COMMISSIONERS.
HL Deb 21 August 1867 vol 189 cc1634-9
was this day prorogued by Commission.
§ The LORDS COMMISSIONERS — namely, The LORD CHANCELLOR; The DUKE OF RICHMOND (President of the Board of Trade); The LORD CHAMBERLAIN (The Earl of Bradford); The DUKE OF BEAUFORT (Master of the Horse); and The EARL of DEVON (President of the Poor Law Board)—being in their robes, and seated on a Form between the Throne and the Woolsack; and the COMMONS being come, with their Speaker, the ROYAL ASSENT was given to several Bills.
Then THE LORD CHANCELLOR
delivered the SPEECH of the LORDS COMMISSIONERS as follows:—
§ "My Lords, and Gentlemen,
§ "I AM happy to be enabled to release you from the Labours of a long and more than usually eventful Session, and to offer you My Acknowledgments for the successful Diligence with which you have applied yourselves to your Parliamentary Duties.
§ "MY Relations with Foreign Countries continue on a friendly Footing.
§ "AT the Commencement of the present Year great Fears were entertained that Differences which had arisen between France and Prussia might have led to a War of which it was impossible to foresee the ultimate Result. Happily the Advice tendered by My Government, and by those of the other neutral States, aided by the Moderation of the Two Powers chiefly interested, sufficed to avert the threatened Calamity; and I trust that no Ground at present exists for apprehending any Disturbance of the general Peace.
§ "THE Communications which I have made to the reigning Monarch of Abyssinia, with a view to obtain the Release of the British Subjects whom he detains in his Dominions, have, I regret to say, thus far proved ineffectual. I have therefore found it necessary to address to him a peremptory Demand for their immediate Liberation, and to take Measures for supporting that Demand, should it ultimately be found necessary to resort to Force.
ABYSSINIA—TELEGRAPHIC COMMUNICATION WITH THE EXPEDITIONARY FORCE.—QUESTION.
HC Deb 21 November 1867 vol 190 c106 106
§ MR. CRAWFORD
asked the Secretary of State for India, Whether any arrangements are being made for connecting by Telegraph the port of disembarkation of the expeditionary force on the coast of Abyssinia with the ports of Suez and Aden?
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I am not aware that any arrangements such as those referred to by the hon. Gentleman are in progress. A proposal was made to the Government on the part of the Telegraphic Construction and Maintenance Company which I found it impossible to entertain. I, however, informed the Company that if they thought fit to lay down a line of telegraph along the Red Sea the Government would make arrangements for its temporary diversion to the port of landing; but I have no reason to think that my proposition will be accepted.
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