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How the British came to Ethiopia Part one May 1811 - May 1865


Mr. Tierney 15 May 1811 CTRL + Click to follow link" size="3"">Commons Sitting
The right hon. gent. (Mr. Vansittart) had spoken of a certain madman in Abyssinia; but it appeared to him that nothing more ridiculous could occur to the mind of any madman in Abyssinia, or out of it, than that great and expensive Wars were to be carried on without any pressure or inconvenience being felt; and yet this appeared to be the system of ministers.


Mr. Buckingham CTRL + Click to follow link" size="3"">7 June 1833 CTRL + Click to follow link" size="3"">Commons Sitting
The testimony of Herodotus is decisive as to the colour of the old Egyptians. In describing a colony at Colchis, he expresses his belief that they were of Egyptian origin, because, like the Egyptians, they had thick lips, black complexions, and crisped hair—an exact description of the negroes of the present day. The history of Sheba, the queen of Abyssinia—of Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt—as well as of the Carthaginians, Numidians, and other African nations, prove incontestibly the power of their easy amalgamation with the other races of mankind;


Mr. Hume 27 March 1840 Commons Sitting
I also hold in my hand the annual official list published by the Sultan, on the 15th April in that year, of the governors of the several provinces of the Turkish Empire, and in that list Egypt, Aleppo, Damascus, Safad and Beyrout, Tripoli in Syria, Crete with the military command of the fortress of Candia, and also Jerusalem, are all entered in the name of Mohamed Ali; and Abyssinia is given to Ibrahim Pasha. On these conditions being agreed to and settled,


Mr Thomas Macaulay Commons — April 6, 1842
Coming to writers of a later period, take the works of Johnson. Johnson's first work was a translation of a volume of Travels in Abyssinia, published in 1735; and a book so poor, that Johnson himself did not like to hear it mentioned in his later years. When Boswell told him that he had obtained a copy of it, "take no notice of it," said he, 'tis a thing to be forgotten."


HC Deb 11 May 1843 vol 69 cc187-8
Dr. Bowring 11 May 1843Commons Sitting

said, that some months ago a mission had left Egypt for the court of Shoa, for the purpose of entering into negotiations with the Government there, the object of which was to facilitate the intercourse of British subjects with, and the introduction of British produce into that country. What he wished to know was, whether the object of the commission had been accomplished?

Sir R. Peel

said, that the mission to which the hon. Member referred, had left Shoa and returned to Egypt. The accounts which the Government had received from Captain Harris were to this effect. Some months since Captain Harris sent over to this country, through the government of Bombay, stating that he had entered into conditional engagements with the king of Shoa respecting the uninterrupted admission of goods and merchandise, the produce of this country, into the territories of the king of Shoa, and he wished to know whether there was any objections on the part of the British Government to ratify the treaty. The treaty also provided for a free intercourse between her Majesty's subjects and the inhabitants of the country. In answer to that communication, her Majesty's Government had stated, that they had no objection to the ratification of the treaty. Captain Harris had been put in possession of this opinion some time since. The Government had every reason to hope, that ere this the treaty had been consented to by the king of Shoa, and that there was now no opposition to the free admission of British goods into Abyssinia, but he had as yet received no information as to the ratification of the treaty.

Dr. Bowring:

Has any account been received of Captain Harris having left Shoa?

VISCOUNT PALMERSTON 27 July 1849 Commons Sitting

was not going to discuss with the hon. and learned Gentleman who made this Amendment, or with the hon. Baronet who seconded it, the abstract love of slavery which was too evident in the course of their speeches. He would not, moreover, discuss with the seconder of the proposition the amiable character of slavery in Mahomedan countries; but it must be borne in mind that a great part of the slaves who were the subjects of slave States on the eastern coast of Africa, were Christians, natives of Abyssinia, and therefore had, in a greater degree, the sympathy of the British public than the negroes on the west coast.



There was another subject to which he wished to call the attention of the House. In the instructions given to our consuls there appeared to be some confusion. In many cases the business of consuls ought to be strictly limited to commercial objects. His question had reference to a particular case. Six or seven years ago Mr. Plowden was sent out to Abyssinia as consul, and he should like to he informed as to what instructions that gentleman actually received. It was generally believed that the object of his mission was to open commercial relations with that country. It appeared that Mr. Plowden became mixed up with the internal politics of Abyssinia, and the result was that he was murdered. That was not an old story. He had a copy of the Jewish Intelligencer, a publication that was issued by some persons interested in the conversion of the Jews in Abyssinia, and he found that, at the present moment, our consul who succeeded Mr. Plowden had unfortunately mixed himself up with the politics of Abyssinia, and was a prisoner in the hands of the King. Those were two instances of the impolicy of allowing consuls commissioned for commercial purposes to mix themselves up with the politics of the countries in which they had to reside, and which were at best but in an imperfect state of civilization. A distinction ought to be drawn between the functions of a consul sent merely for commercial purposes and those of a chargé d'affaires, because the person who might be competent for commercial purposes might be totally unfit for political negotiations. The instructions given to those persons ought to be so drawn up as to advance the purposes of trade, and to make them feel that they should keep clear of politics in the countries to which they were sent. It was unbecoming the dignity of this country that we should employ agents so incompetent as that one should fall a victim, and the next a captive, of the Government to which he was sent. He hoped to be assured that Captain Cameron had been liberated, and that in future such a limit would be put to the functions of any person sent to Abyssinia as would secure his personal safety, otherwise the dignity of the country would be endangered abroad, and the operations of commerce disturbed if not destroyed.


The Indian navy comprised more scientific men, for its numbers, than any other service in the world, excepting a strictly scientific service like the Royal Engineers. They were employed as ambassadors, diplomatists, residents, consuls; they explored countries, they investigated the ruins and antiquities of the country; they were linguists, surveyors, admirable seamen, and they maintained a post of the highest respectability and honour under the East India Company, and performed services of the very greatest importance in the survey and exploration of the country, not only of the East India Company, but adjacent to the Red Sea and in Abyssinia.


HC Deb 03 June 1864 vol 175 cc1145-6

said, he wished to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, What information Her Majesty's Government has received relating to the ill-treatment of Missionaries in Abyssinia, and the imprisonment of Her Majesty's Consul there by King Theodorus; and what steps Her Majesty's Government have taken in consequence?


, in reply, said, Her Majesty's Government had received indirect information that the King of Abyssinia had placed in confinement Her Majesty's Consul and several Missionaries established there, and also the French Consul; but according to the last information the French Consul had been released. The information, however, might be very incorrect, as the King took care that no information should leave his country, and the facts were difficult to get at, but Her Majesty's Government would do all in their power to obtain the release of Captain Cameron and the Missionaries. The most natural step would be to send some person there to demand their release, but Her Majesty's Government were rather afraid that he would share the same fate as the Consul and the Missionaries. The question was how to get at the King without endangering the liberty of others. He trusted, however, that means would soon be found of communicating with the King, and the subject was under the serious consideration of the noble Lord at the head of the Foreign Office.


HC Deb 24 April 1865 vol 178 cc957-8

said, he would beg to put a Question to the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in reference to British prisoners in Abyssinia. He wished to know, What is the present state of the negotiations with respect to the British captives in Abyssinia, whether the Government have reason to expect a successful issue to the mission of M. Rassam, and what steps they are prepared to take in the event of their not receiving good accounts from him?


replied, that he was afraid that he could not give the hon. Member much information on the subject, not that he wished to conceal anything, but that he considered it would be very unadvisable, considering the position of the prisoners, that anything should be said that might lead to greater complications. He would take this opportunity, therefore, of deprecating any mention in the press of what took place in that House or elsewhere with regard to those prisoners, as he had reason to believe that all these things were sent out to Abyssinia and got much exaggerated, and might lead to serious consequences to the prisoners who were held by the King. Every means had been taken by Her Majesty's Government to obtain their release. The Government were in communication with some of the authorities; they had lately heard from a good source that Captain Cameron and the missionaries, although in prison, were in good health; and letters received from M. Rassam within a few hours held out the hope that ere long the prisoners would obtain their release.


HL Deb 27 April 1865 vol 178 cc1075-80

, in rising to call attention to the imprisonment and severe treatment to which a British Consul and other British subjects had been exposed by the orders of the Emperor of Abyssinia, and to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, What steps had been taken to relieve our fellow-countrymen from the severities to which they had been subjected, and to which it was believed they were still subjected, said, that several of our fellow-countrymen had been kept in imprisonment at Gondar, exposed to the most cruel sufferings, and a general impression prevailed that these sufferings were attributable to the want of prompt and judicious measures on the part of the English Foreign Office. Mr. Plowden, the British Consul at Massowah, a few years ago was met by an overpowering body of the rebels against the Emperor of Abyssinia. He was taken prisoner, but was ransomed, and afterwards died of his wounds. In July, 1862, Captain Cameron, the new Consul, who was the bearer of certain presents sent by this Government to the Emperor of Abyssinia, met with a most flattering reception at the hands of that Sovereign, who expressed a desire that the negotiation for a treaty between the Government of Abyssinia and this country, which had fallen through in 1849, should be renewed. An autograph letter of the Emperor to Her Majesty was delivered to Captain Cameron, in November, 1862, who thereupon took steps to forward it to this country; but the Emperor being at that time engaged in war with certain rebels, the communication with the coast was cut off, and the letter did not arrive here until February, 1863. Shortly after this an invasion of the northern parts of Abyssinia by the Egyptian Government took place. Captain Cameron endeavoured to settle the dispute, but was compelled to desist from his pacific endeavours in consequence of the remonstrances of the Egyptian authorities. Captain Cameron having ceased to exert himself in favour of the Abyssinian Emperor, that Sovereign felt himself much aggrieved, especially as he had received no reply to his autograph letter to this country. Unfortunately, further cause of offence arose. In November, 1863, Mr. Stern a missionary, sent out by the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews, sought an interview with the Emperor. He was accompanied by two servants as interpreters; but as they did not perform their duty to the satisfaction of the Emperor, he ordered them to be scourged, and one of them was beaten to death. Mr. Stern, in his excitement, turned away from the sight and bit his tongue; and he was thereupon ordered to be beaten, and for some time his life was in danger, and he was chained to an Abyssinian soldier. Two days afterwards, the missionaries, including several ladies, were seized and sent to a prison, where they were treated very rigorously; and all the Europeans in Abyssinia, including Captain Cameron, were loaded with chains and put in prison. The Emperor called a great council of his grandees, and before it Mr. Stern and Mr. Rosenthal, another missionary, were charged with using offensive expressions, which amounted, in the eyes of the Abyssinian law, to high treason. The Council found the prisoners guilty, and some of the grandees were of opinion that they ought to be put to death. Fortunately, milder counsels prevailed, and these unfortunate persons were ordered back to prison. As if to complicate matters just at this time a letter arrived from England, which, instead of being a reply to the Emperor's letter, simply directed Captain Cameron to return to his post and not to interfere further in the Egyptian dispute. In consequence of this neglect of Her Majesty's Government to reply to the Emperor's letter, Captain Cameron was loaded with heavier fetters, and was treated with far greater severity, and the whole of the prisoners were chained night and day to a Native soldier. Captain Cameron subsequently managed to get the following note conveyed to England:— Gondar, Feb. 14, 1864. Myself, Stern, Rosenthal, Cairns, Bardel, and M'Kiloie, are all in chains here. Flad, Staiger, Branders, and Cornelius, sent to Gaffat to work for the Emperor. No release till a civil answer to Emperor's letter arrives. Mrs. Flad, Mrs. Rosenthal, and children, all of us well. Write this to Aden and to Mrs. Stern, 16, Lincoln's Inn Fields. To C. Speedy, Esq., Massowah. This letter did not reach England until May 25, 1864, and on the 3rd of June a question was put in the House of Commons to Mr. Layard the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, upon this subject; in answer to which that hon. Gentleman stated that Her Majesty's Government would, of course, do all they possibly could to obtain the release of Captain Cameron and of the missionaries, and that the most likely way would be to send some person to that country in order to get them set free; but Her Majesty's Government were afraid that any person sent for that purpose would be likely to share the fate of the Consul and the missionaries rather than succeed in obtaining their release. The question was, how to get at the Emperor without endangering the liberty of others; but he trusted that means would soon be found of communicating with the Emperor; and that the subject was under the serious consideration of the noble Lord at the head of the Foreign Office. The autograph letter of the Emperor arrived in this country in February, 1863, and remained unnoticed until June, 1864, and then what the Government did amounted to a condemnation of their own conduct. In that month a letter was prepared to be sent to the Emperor of Abyssinia; but if it was right to send a letter in June, 1864, much more necessary was it to have sent a letter shortly after the month of February, 1863. There could be no doubt that if a letter had been sent with presents and conveyed by an Englishman of some rank, the release of these unfortunate prisoners would have taken place. At last when a letter was sent the person selected to deliver it was Mr. Rassam, an Asiatic gentleman, Assistant Superintendent to the Political Agent at Aden: a man of great experience and ability, but just the sort of person who ought not to have been selected for the purpose; and the consequences which occurred were just such as might have been expected. Mr. Rassam took the autograph letter, as also one of introduction, to the Coptic Bishop. The letter of introduction he sent to the Emperor; but he received no reply, and up to March of the present year Mr. Rassam appeared to have received no reply to his intimation that he had the autograph letter. On the 17th January, 1865, a letter was received from Mr. Stern, from the prison of Amba Magdala, in Southern Abyssinia, in which he stated that sixteen months of unparalleled sufferings had rolled over him; that he was not mad, sick, or dead, but must be attributed to the interposition of a gracious Providence, and describing generally the nature of these sufferings, which had not been put an end to, although a friendly letter had arrived from the British Government. Let their Lordships, then, consider the situation of those unhappy persons during the whole of the present year. Under those circumstances, he thought that he was fairly entitled to ask why the autograph letter of the Emperor of Abyssinia, which arrived in February, 1863, was utterly disregarded until the month of June, 1864; because the omission to answer that letter might have occasioned, or, at all events, considerably aggravated the sufferings of the prisoners. He (Lord Chelmsford) could not move formally for papers, as he had not given notice for the particular documents which he wished to have laid upon the table, but he would take an early opportunity to do so.


said, he felt a great difficulty in addressing the House on this subject, lest anything which fell from him might give offence to the King of Abyssinia and expose Consul Cameron and the other prisoners to greater hardships than they had yet suffered. He would briefly refer to the chief circumstances connected with this matter. The former Consul, Mr. Plowden, had been very well received in Abyssinia, and when he died the King paid respect to his remains. When Captain Cameron was appointed Consul he was ordered to convey presents to the King and a letter from Her Majesty thanking him for the kindness he had shown to the late Consul. But at the same time the Consul's proper place was at Massowah, and he would have returned there had he not been violently interrupted on his journey. The noble and learned Lord (Lord Chelmsford) seemed to think that when the King had written an autograph letter to the Queen it would have been a very simple matter to answer it civilly at once, and to send out some person to deliver the reply. But many difficulties stood in the way. The letter of the King of Abyssinia asked permission to send an embassy to this country. The state of Abyssinia was unsettled at that time, and it had become more unsettled since. The King complained that the Turks and Egyptians encroached on his territory, and he wanted the English and French to interfere and take part in his wars—a course which Her Majesty's Government thought by no means desirable. It became, therefore, matter for consideration what answer should be given; and the question being one of Eastern policy, the Secretary of State for India had to be consulted before any answer was returned. It appeared that in the meantime the King of Abyssinia had taken great offence at the conduct of some missionaries. On this fact being officially communicated to Her Majesty's Government, Her Majesty was advised to forward a letter to the King, replying to certain complaints made, and expressing regret at the occasion of them. The noble and learned Lord seemed to think that Mr. Rassam was not a proper person to be charged with this duty. But Mr. Rassam was a man of considerable experience and importance in the service; and when he (Earl Russell) found that he held the office of first Assistant Secretary to the Political Resident at Aden, he thought no better person could be selected to execute this mission. Mr. Rassam was, accordingly, sent with this letter of Her Majesty, and the King of Abyssinia was informed that he was the bearer of a letter from the Queen of England. That was in August, 1864. By the last accounts it did not appear that the King of Abyssinia had actually received that letter. It was very difficult to publish the information communicated by persons residing in the territory without exposing them to considerable danger; he might, however, state that, according to the most recent information received from that country, it appeared that the chains were taken off the arms and legs of the Consul, and that he was not fastened to any other person. The King of Abyssinia had been all this time engaged in a war with some of his own people who were in rebellion against him, and with some of the neighbouring chiefs; he had left his capital in consequence of this war, and it was said that as soon as he came back he would most probably take steps to liberate the missionaries. No doubt endeavours had been frequently made to excite the mind of the King of Abyssinia against certain persons, sometimes English and sometimes French subjects. Her Majesty's Government never thought it advisable to use or threaten force in any way. The King was, in fact, told that if those prisoners were liberated no reparation would be required. There was, however, no justification for the conduct of the King of Abyssinia. Some months ago it was suggested that some person in official uniform should be employed to demand the release of the prisoners; but he (Earl Russell) must confess that he was by no means sanguine as to the efficacy of such a measure. He believed that the real grievance felt by the King of Abyssinia was the fact that no aid had been given by this country to His Majesty while he was engaged in the wars to which he had alluded. The Government of Her Majesty had used all the means in their power to procure the release of the prisoners. Some persons thought that if we sent out a magnificent mission with presents to the King, it would be the means of attaining their object and securing the respect of the people; but to him it appeared that the natural inference from such a proceeding would be that the way to obtain consideration and respect from this country would be to imprison one of our Consuls. The matter had been fully considered by the Foreign Office, but he had no further explanation to offer. He trusted that the noble and learned Lord would not move for papers, because a great deal of the information in the possession of the Government came from persons who would be exposed to danger if it were published.

House adjourned at a quarter past Six o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.


HL Deb 23 May 1865 vol 179 cc726-40

rose to move for an Address for Copies of Letters and Papers relating to the imprisonment of British Subjects in Abyssinia; specifying in detail the documents which he required; and also for an account of the presents sent with a letter from Her Majesty the Queen to the Emperor of Abyssinia. The noble and learned Lord said, that he could not help expressing his regret that the noble Earl the Secretary for Foreign Affairs had determined to refuse the production of the papers to which the Motion referred; because this being so he should have to trespass on their Lordships' time with some observations which he believed would prove satisfactorily that he was en titled to ask for those papers, and that the noble Earl was not justified in his refusal. Those papers related to a subject that was calculated to excite universal and painful sympathy. It seemed to him a remarkable circumstance that the public should be left in almost entire ignorance; of the fact that for more than eighteen months many of our fellow countrymen, including missionaries and a British Consul, had been languishing in Abyssinian prisons, exposed to great indignities, amounting to torture, and their friends, at the present moment, being unaware of their actual I condition, though knowing that their imprisonment still continued. He was compelled to say that all this misery and I suffering had been, if not produced, certainly prolonged, by most extraordinary carelessness and want of judgment on the part of the Foreign Office; and he was not surprised, under these circumstances, that the noble Earl should desire to delay all inquiry into this subject, because he hoped day after day to receive information of the release of these unhappy persons, and then, of course, the observation would be made, "What is the use of now discus sing the question when every complaint is actually removed by the release of the prisoners." There was also another mode adopted to deter persons from entering upon any discussion of this question. It was constantly stated that the Emperor of Abyssinia (for "Emperor" was his proper title) was cognizant of all their proceedings, and that if anything were said in Parliament to which he objected, it was likely to operate to the prejudice of those unfortunate persons. Notwithstanding the warning which had been given, undertaking, as he did, the serious responsibility of all the consequences of his Motion, he thought that he was entitled to call upon the noble earl to state explicitly and distinctly which of all these papers for which the present Motion was made—and of which he had given a precise and correct description—was likely to compromise a single individual, or to prejudice in the slightest degree the case of these persons. In order that their Lordships might understand the grounds upon which he demanded these papers, he must enter into a brief history of previous facts. The elevation to the throne of the present Emperor of Abyssinia, by whose orders these imprisonments had taken place, occurred in February, 1855. He had been a soldier of fortune, and had opened his way to the throne with his sword. Previous to his accession there had been a race of Emperors who were in a state of utter dependence; some external homage was paid to them by reason of an imaginary descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, but in reality they were puppets in the hands of two or three powerful vassals. One family had succeeded in securing the dignity of Vizier of the Empire, and they were sovereigns in all but name. One of these in 1849 entered into a treaty of friendship and commerce with this country, in the name of the Emperor; that treaty was ratified in 1852, and a copy of it was laid upon the tables of both Houses of Parliament in that year. There were two Articles in that treaty that had a most important bearing upon the case now before their Lordships. By the second and third Articles it was stipulated that for the purpose of preserving and strengthening friendly relations between the two nations, His Majesty the Emperor of Abyssinia and his successors would receive and protect any Ambassador, Envoy, or Consul whom Her Britannic Majesty might think fit to send to Abyssinia, and that Her Britannic Majesty would receive and protect any Ambassador, Envoy, or Consul whom His Majesty the Emperor of Abyssinia should send. At the time of the accession of the present Emperor, Mr. Plowden had been for many years our Consul at Massowah, a port in the Red Sea, within the Turkish dominions. There had been no accredited agent to Abyssinia, but Mr. Plowden was intrusted with presents to the ruling power in Abyssinia. He went with these presents and remained in Abyssinia, taking part with the Government in assisting to suppress a rebellion, and on the accession of the present Emperor he continued his services to that potentate. He was actively employed in putting down the rebellion in the empire, and he (Lord Chelmsford) believed that the course he pursued was, if not approved, certainly not condemned by the home authorities. In 1860 while Mr. Plowden was proceeding with a small party, he was attacked by a superior force of rebels, was wounded, and taken prisoner; but he was afterwards ransomed by the Emperor and subsequently died of his wounds. On the arrival of intelligence of Mr. Plowden's death in this country, Captain Cameron, now one of the prisoners, who there held some consulate in the Black Sea, was appointed to succeed him. By some circumstances which were not necessary to be mentioned, Captain Cameron was not able to reach Abyssinia until 1862. He was the bearer of presents to the Sovereign, and he found when he arrived at Gondar, the capital, that the Emperor was in the field against the rebels, lie went to his camp in October, 1862, delivered his presents, and met with a favourable reception. From that time Captain Cameron continued to live in Abyssinia in the way his predecessors had done. During the reign of the preceding Sovereign, and while the power of the Vizier who had concluded the treaty was in the ascendant, he contemplated carrying out the Treaty of 1849 by sending an Embassy to this country. This was postponed in consequence of his fall; but it was resumed on the accession of the present Emperor; and on the arrival of Consul Cameron the Emperor expressed his earnest desire that the treaty should be carried out; and in October or November, 1862, he wrote an autograph letter to Her Majesty the Queen, the contents of which they had from the observations of the noble Earl on a former occasion—a letter requesting permission to send an Embassy to this country. That letter was intrusted to Consul Cameron to despatch to England. His journey to the coast was intercepted by a party of rebels; and when he arrived at Massowah he had to send the letter by a circuitous way to Aden, so that it only arrived in this country in February, 1863. When Consul Cameron had despatched this important letter he went to Bogos, understanding that there had been an invasion of that territory by some neighbouring chiefs, in tending to pursue the same policy that his predecessor had adopted. But a different view seemed to have been taken of the course to be pursued by Consul Cameron—he received from the Consul General of Egypt orders to return to his post at Massowah, and not interfere further with the internal affairs of Abyssinia. He (Lord Chelmsford) was not finding fault with this—he was merely stating the fact; but that circumstance was the first occasion of any displeasure by the Emperor towards Consul Cameron. Of course, it was not likely that the total neglect to at tend to the autograph letter of the Emperor which reached this country in February, 1862, should be calculated to appease the anger of the Sovereign, and unfortunately circumstances soon occurred to kindle it afresh. There was a missionary station in Abyssinia, established by Mr. Stern, who had been sent out by the Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews. Mr. Stern had paid a visit to this country, and had gone back to Abyssinia, accompanied by a Mr. and Mrs. Rosenthal. Not having seen the Sovereign of Abyssinia since his return, in September 1863, Mr. Stern waited upon the Emperor, accompanied by two interpreters, the servants of an other missionary, and of Consul Cameron. In the course of the interview the Emperor was dissatisfied with the manner in which these servants interpreted the address. His anger broke out against them, and by his order they were so severely beaten with rods that the unfortunate men expired the same night. Mr. Stern was naturally excited at this; he could not conceal his feelings; he put his thumb in his mouth (which was interpreted by the Emperor as signifying a threat of vengeance); he was also ordered to be beaten; and his life was in consider able danger. He was afterwards sent down to Gondar, and placed in prison there. In November, 1863, twelve months after the receipt of Consul Cameron's letter, the Emperor sent a body of troops to the missionary station, seized all the missionaries there, loaded them with chains, and put them in prison. He also seized Consul Cameron, imprisoned him, and loaded him with chains; and afterwards he was chained day and night to an Abyssinian soldier. These things having taken place, a Great Court was assembled for the trial of prisoners on the 20th of November, the offenders being Messrs. Stern and Rosenthal. Mr. Stern, unfortunately for him, had published a pamphlet in which he had characterized the mutilations and tortures of certain rebels, who had been taken prisoners by the Emperor of Abyssininia, as a cold-blooded murder, and Mr. Rosenthal had said that it was better to live under the rule of the Turks than under the Abyssinians. The prisoners were brought forward, and after their examination the Emperor caused to be read out a list of his victories, to the number of thirty—a table of his descent from King Solomon, and the Queen of Sheba, and a portion of the Abyssinian code, which was founded upon that of Justinian, which declared death to be the punishment for reviling a sovereign. The members of the Council were consulted as to the punishment to be awarded to the prisoners. Some of them were for inflicting the punishment of death; but milder counsels prevailed, and it was ordered that they should be re-committed to prison, and again loaded with chains from 15lb. to 20lb. weight. At this critical time, when everything was conspiring to exasperate the Emperor of Abyssinia—when twelve months had elapsed, and no answer had been given to his autograph letter, and no notice taken of it—two days after this Great Court was held, a Despatch arrived from the Foreign Office to Consul Cameron, not accompanied by any letter of acknowledgment of the Emperor's letter, directing Consul Cameron to return to his post at Massowah, and giving him some thing like a reprimand for his absence. It may easily be imagined how highly the Emperor was incensed by this contemptuous disregard of the applications he had made. His anger fell, unfortunately, with full weight on Consul Cameron; he was loaded with heavier chains; he was chained to a native night and day; and his imprisonment was made much more rigorous. At length Consul Cameron contrived to get a letter despatched to Massowah, which reached this country, he (Lord Chelmsford) believed, in February, 1864. That letter contained one important passage, to the effect that there would be no chance for the liberation of the prisoners until an answer was returned to the Emperor's letter. How soon that letter was received by the Foreign Office he (Lord Chelmsford) was unable to say; but at least eighteen months from the time when the autograph letter of the Emperor was written, and sixteen months after that letter had been received at the Foreign Office, it occurred to the noble Earl the Secretary of State that it might be as well to take some notice of it; and accordingly a letter was prepared, under the Sign Manual of Her Majesty, and when that letter was prepared it was sent out for the purpose of being delivered. Now he (Lord Chelmsford) I might ask here, as he had done on a former occasion, if it was thought right to send a letter in the month of June, 1864, why it was unfortunately not thought right and proper to have sent a letter soon after February, 1863, when the Emperor's communication was received at the Foreign Office? He (Lord Chelmsford) had put the question to the noble Earl on a former occasion, and he thought it was but due to the noble Earl that he should make the House acquainted with the answer. The noble Earl seemed to think that he had displayed a great amount of simplicity in supposing that there could be that diplomatic Despatch which he had anticipated. The noble Earl said— The noble and learned Lord seemed to think that it was a very easy thing to give an answer to that letter. The letter asked permission to send an Embassy to this country. The state of Abyssinia was very unsettled, and the King complained of encroachments on his territory by Turks and Egyptians, and wished the English and French to take his part if war broke out. Her Majesty's Government by no means desired to take part in such a war, and it was therefore matter of consideration what answer should he given, and the Secretary for India was instructed to pause be fore returning an answer. The noble Earl had certainly shown a great deal of ingenuity in making allusion to the expected war with the Turks and the Egyptians, as the letter, according to his own statement, contained no allusion to anything of the kind. The letter was a letter merely asking permission to send an I Embassy of friendship and amity to this country, and he should have thought a day or two would have been quite sufficient time to frame an answer. But even sup-posing that the suggested difficulties existed, the wisdom of Government should, he thought, have been adequate to preparing an answer in a month, but it was only after sixteen months that the Government could make up their minds that it was necessary to return an answer at all to the Sovereign of that country. He need not tell their Lordships that this delay had occasioned great irritation on the part of the Emperor, and he attributed much of the miseries and privations of these unhappy persons to the conduct of the Foreign Office. But the mischief was done, and when the Government had resolved to send out an answer, the circumstances, he thought, were such as should have induced them very carefully to consider what sort of message should be sent to appease the offended Emperor. He (Lord Chelmsford) ventured to express on a former occasion an opinion that it would have been expedient to have sent out a message by an Englishman of some station, with proper attendants, and with presents, which were the usual means of approaching an Eastern Sovereign. The noble Earl was certainly told that there was one per son quite ready to undertake the mission with every prospect of success. This gentleman was Dr. Beke, who had written a pamphlet respecting Abyssinia, who was very well acquainted with the country, and who certainly made an offer to the noble Earl to undertake this mission. He (Lord Chelmsford) had a copy of the letter of Dr. Beke, addressed to one of Consul Cameron's relations, from which he would read the following passage:— In answer to your inquiry of the 19th instant, as to whether it is true that I offered to go to Abyssinia with a view to the liberation of Captain Cameron and the other British captives in that country, I beg leave to say that I wrote to Earl Russell offering my services for that purpose on the 18th of March, 1864, and that I repeated my offer on the 18th of May, 1864,and that I renewed it on the 13th of February, 1865. Had my offer been accepted, I have not the slightest doubt I should have been successful. Whether the writer was rather sanguine in his expectations or whether he was exactly the person that should have been selected for the mission, he (Lord Chelmsford) would not offer any opinion; but this he knew, that a very distinguished officer who had before been employed in diplomatic missions, was quite ready to under take the duty, Sir William Coghlan, from whom a letter had been received, in which he stated— It is a mistake to say that I objected to be named in connection with the Abyssinian difficulty; on the contrary, I am ready at the shortest notice to make any effort which Her Majesty's Government may be pleased to call on me for to- wards its solution; and I may add that my readiness is known to Her Majesty's Government, and to many persons with whom I have discussed the question. But instead of Sir William Coghlan, who was an Englishman, the person who unfortunately was chosen by the Foreign Office was Mr. Rassam, who was believed to be an Armenian. He had been of great assistance to Mr. Layard in his excavations at Ninevah; he was the assistant to the Political Resident at Aden, and no doubt a man of great ability, and one who might have been well intrusted with any other mission than this; but the fact of his being an Asiatic, and not a European, was entirely against any hope of success. The result proved the truth of what he (Lord Chelmsford) stated. Mr. Rassam arrived at Massowah in August last, intrusted with a letter under the Sign Manual of the Queen. He announced his arrival, but the Sovereign refused to receive the letter. Mr. Rassam remained at Massowah from August to November; and when two Abyssinians were sent down from Gondar for the purpose of ascertaining what sort of mission had been sent out, they found Mr. Rassam alone and without attendants, for the medical gentleman who accompanied him happened to be absent. These envoys re turned to Gondar and reported "the naked ness of the land" and up to this moment Mr. Rassam remained without a chance of having an audience with the Emperor, or an opportunity of delivering the letter. The noble Earl, on a former occasion, said— Some persons thought that if a magnificent mission were sent out with a number of presents the prisoners might be liberated, but the obvious inference would be that the way to obtain respect and consideration from this country would be to imprison one of our Consuls. Now, he had never asked the noble Earl to send out a magnificent mission; but he did suggest that, under the circumstances in which this country was placed, it was absolutely necessary to take care that a pro per and respectable mission should be sent out, having at its head an Englishman of some station, and that presents ought to he sent. Now, he understood that the Foreign Office had at last become convinced of the necessity of approaching the King with presents, for, as he was informed, 500 stands of arms had been sent to be presented to the Sovereign of Abyssinia, either to accompany the delivery of the letter intrusted to Mr. Rassam or some other letter sent by some other person. He thought he was entitled to ask, if it was improper to send presents to the King be fore, how did it become proper to send these 500 stands of arms now? And if it was proper to send presents now, why were they not sent before? Mr. Rassam had up to this time not been allowed access to the Abyssinian Court; and the miseries suffered by the prisoners were attributable, first to the carelessness of the Foreign Office, and next to their want of judgment. The noble Lord might say, what would you have us do? Would you have us use force against the Emperor of Abyssinia? The noble Lord on a former occasion said the Government had never thought it advisable to use or threaten force, and the King was informed that if the captives were liberated no reparation would be required. They were accustomed to the diplomatic language of the noble Lord, but he should have thought that this looked something like a threat because "if the captives were liberated no reparation would be required," seemed to imply that if they were not liberated reparation would be required. He thought they were placed in a painful and humiliating position. What must be the feelings of the Emperor of Abyssinia to wards this country when he found that he could with impunity imprison and torture British subjects, and without any intervention on the part of the Government? The noble Lord had contrived to lower the country in the eyes of Europe and America, and he was now doing his best to degrade us in Africa. He asked the House if he had not made out a case which demanded that these papers should be produced. The noble and learned Lord then Moved That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for, Copies of Letters and Papers relating to the Imprisonment of British Subjects in Abyssinia—namely—

  1. "1. Copy of Instructions to Captain Cameron, British Consul at Massowah, upon his proceeding to his Consulate; and a List of the Presents which he was ordered to deliver to The King of Abyssinia:
  2. "2. Copy of Letter written by Captain Cameron on or about October or November, 1862, on the Subject of a proposed Embassy from The King of Abyssinia, with the Reply (if any) to such Letter:
  3. "3. Copy of Autograph Letter of The King of Abyssinia to Her Majesty the Queen, and Statement of the Time when such Letter was received at the Foreign Office:
  4. "4. Copy of Report made by Captain Cameron from Bogos on or about March, 1863, and of the 735 Orders in consequence of such Report sent to him by the Consul General in Egypt or from the Foreign Office:
  5. "5. Copy of Letter ordering Captain Cameron to return to his Consulate at Massowah, which Letter arrived at Gondar about November, 1863:
  6. "6. The Date of any Letter under Her Majesty's Sign Manual addressed to The King of Abyssinia in acknowledgment of His Autograph Letter, and the Name and Nation of the Person employed to deliver the same:
  7. "7. Account of the Presents sent to the King of Abyssinia to accompany the Delivery of such Letter:
  8. "8. Copies of all Letters sent to the Foreign Office containing Offers of Assistance to obtain the Liberation of the British Subjects imprisoned in Abyssinia."


said, that when the noble and learned Lord rose, he felt a good deal of curiosity to know whether his object was to throw blame on the Foreign Secretary and Foreign Office, or to be of use to the unfortunate persons who were imprisoned and still detained by the King of Abyssinia. He had come to the conclusion, looking to the tenor of his speech, that the first was the object of the noble and learned Lord. He had repeated over and over again that he had to find fault with the carelessness and want of judgment of the Foreign Office; but with regard to these unhappy prisoners and the means of relieving them from their imprisonment, he had heard very little from the noble and learned Lord—certainly the noble and learned Lord had not pointed out any step that could be taken usefully for that purpose. Every person acquainted with these countries—every person who had been in Abyssinia—whom he had seen, had assured him that any information that was produced here, reached the Emperor of Abyssinia, and if there was anything in it tending to throw blame on that Sovereign, he was sure to visit it by increased restrictions and severities on the prisoners. He, therefore, held that if any increased restrictions and severities were imposed, the noble and learned Lord was responsible for having aggravated their situation. The noble and learned Lord had given a history of these transactions, from which he (Earl Russell) differed very little. He did not see the faults committed by the Foreign Office in this very difficult matter. The noble and learned Lord had stated that there were formerly sovereigns in Abyssinia who assumed to be descended from Solomon and the Queen of Sheba; but they had but a nominal power—they were only what the French called Mayors of the Palace—but the present Emperor Theodore, a success ful soldier, had obtained the crown. The British officer who was Consul, had assisted the King in his civil wars; he was wounded and died of his wounds. The King went against the rebels, and a great number of them who surrendered were re fused quarter. He (Earl Russell) confessed that when he heard of the death of the Consul, and it became his duty to communicate it to Her Majesty, it did not appear to him to be expedient that Consuls sent by the British Government to Abyssinia should take part either in civil wars or in external hostilities waged by the Sovereign of that country against Egypt or any Turkish province. Captain Cameron, a distinguished officer, who had served under Sir Fenwick Williams, of Kars, was then sent as British Consul to Massowah, and he was received in a very courteous manner by the King of Abyssinia. In October, 1862, he was intrusted with a letter from the King for transmission to this country, stating that he was desirous of sending an embassy to this country. The noble and learned Lord said there had been carelessness in the way that letter was treated; but it was perfectly well known that the object of the King of Abyssinia was to obtain the assistance of France and England against the Viceroy of Egypt in regard to some territory which he thought was wrongfully withheld from him, and it occurred to him that it was better that the British Government should not interfere with those disputes, but should rather leave them alone; and he did not know whether he would be reproved by the noble and learned Lord for entertaining that opinion. He confessed that that letter ought to have been answered earlier; but be did not believe that that had anything to do with the imprisonment of Consul Cameron, or that it was connected, or connected in more than the slightest manner, with the subsequent acts of the King. His letter proposed to send an embassy to England. When the King of Abyssinia sent a message to the Emperor of the French, it appeared that he was afterwards very angry about the treatment he had received. That certainly showed that the Sovereign of Abyssinia was ready to make complaints when he did not receive the treatment which he thought due to his dignity; complaint was also made of the language used by M. Drouyn de Lhuys. It therefore seemed there was great danger that the King of Abyssinia might take offence at any proceeding which he deemed not quite consistent with his dignity. The business of Consul Cameron was not to be a resident at the Court of King Theodore, or in any way to become a partizan in any wars or dispute, in which he might be engaged. His business was to return to Massowah and remain there as Consul. Instead of that he went away at one time, and went to the Court at Gondar. Consul Cameron, he conceived, was greatly in fault in going to the Court of Gondar. Mr. Stern, the missionary, had written in his paper reflections very injurious to the character of the King. That gentleman had been so ill-treated that his life was for some time in danger; and it was, perhaps, hardly to have been expected that the British Consul should altogether escape. For some reason or other, which he was unable to fathom, Consul Cameron was put in chains and confined with some other persons in prison. When that intelligence reached this country everybody at the Foreign Office was exceedingly anxious that pro per means should be devised to obtain his liberation. Any person might run as much risk as Mr. Stern if sent to the Court of Abyssinia. Sir William Coghlan, a very experienced officer, was the person to whom the Foreign Office immediately had recourse to learn what was best to be done. As he understood the opinion of Sir William Coghlan, it was that it was desirable that in the mission to Abyssinia—a mission of considerable importance—some officer of the army or navy and some scientific person should be attached to it, but that it was not advisable that that mission should be sent until the captives had been released. Although Sir William was ready to go himself at that time, still that was his decided opinion. Therefore Mr. Rassam went—a person who, though not a native-born Englishman, held the office of Assistant to the British Resident at Aden, and was, therefore, the second officer of the Government in that important dependency, and intrusted with the confidence of the resident and everybody else there. At a later time it was suggested that some military or naval officer would be treated with more respect; and he had therefore desired through the India Office that the resident at Aden should send a military officer to Massowah, and such an officer had been sent. The noble and learned Lord observed that if it was desirable that the King's letter should be answered and presents sent, it should have been long before. That was a very easy thing to say; but the fact was, they certainly could not have foreseen that the Sovereign of Abyssinia would put their Consul in prison without any justification whatever. Were they to expect always that the Sovereign of an Eastern country would cast into prison the person whom they sent with a letter from Her Majesty? It should he remembered that Consul Cameron was intrusted with a letter, not proposing anything, but answering a communication which had been received, and when the Consul delivered that letter the transaction ought to have been at an end. Mr. Rassam had frequently written from Massowah, and he displayed good judgment and temper. He had sent more than one person to Gondar, and the answer always was, that the King was engaged in an expedition against the rebels, and it would be a long time before he returned to his capital. Very lately a person who represented himself to be, and who was believed to be, brother to the steward of the King of Abyssinia arrived at Massowah, and he stated that the imprisonment of the Consul was then very greatly alleviated. He should hope that when the Sovereign of Abyssinia returned to his capital, and became aware that Mr. Rassam, and an officer in Her Majesty's army were waiting with letters, he would receive those gentlemen. As for the papers moved for, he did not think that any one particular paper was likely to be a cause of aggravation; but the publication of the whole of them, accompanied, as it would be, by comments in this country unfavourable, no doubt, to the conduct of the Sovereign of Abyssinia, would probably cause these unfortunate prisoners to he treated with greater severity.

On Question? Their Lorships divided.


(who spoke from his place sitting, and covered) took notice that a noble Baron, Lord Ravens-worth, was not in the House when the Question was put, and he therefore moved that the noble Baron's vote be disallowed.


said, he thought that was an objection which hardly ought to be pressed, but he would give the noble Earl the advantage of it. On the other hand, he would draw attention to another irregularity. A noble Peer (Lord Col- chester) informed him that the Tellers left the Bar before he passed into the House, and that he followed them complaining that his vote had not been taken. He understood, also, that the Question was put before the Bar was ordered to be cleared, so that there was no time for a Peer who happened to be momentarily out of the House to return and hear the Question put, and it was in this way that his noble Friend (Lord Ravensworth) was prevented from hearing the putting of the Question. Under these circumstances he suggested that the proper course to pursue was to pass over the division which had just taken place and call for a fresh division.


said, the Tellers waited for a moment or two, and if the noble Lord (Lord Colchester) chose to remain behind it was not their duty to remain.


said, he would not trouble their Lordships to divide on the Motion of the noble Earl opposite.

Then, on Motion, it was resolved that the vote of Lord Colchester be received. The Numbers were then declared to be—Contents 43; Not-Contents 42: Majority 1.

Richmond, D Blayney, L
Bolton L.
Exeter, M. Castlemaine, L.
Tweeddale, M. Chelmsford, L.
Westmeath, M. Colchester, L.
Colville of Culross, L. [Teller.]
Amherst, E.
Bandon, E. Delamere, L.
Bantry, E. Denman, L
Belmore, E Dunsany, L.
Cadogan,E Feversham, L.
Derby, E. Grinstead, L. (E. Enniskillen.)
Graham, E. (D. Montrose.)
Heytesbury, L.
Hardwicke, E. Monson, L.
Mayo, E. Moore, L. (M. Drogheda.)
Nelson, E.
Pomfret, E. Polwarth, L.
Shrewsbury, E. Raglan, L.
Redesdale, L.
Hawarden, V. [Teller.] Rollo, L.
Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.) Strathspey, L. (E. Seafield.)
Melville, V. Tredegar, L.
Strathallan, V. Walsingham, L.
Wynford, L.
Blantyre, L.
Westbury, L. (L. Chancellor.) Caithness, E.
Chichester, E.
Clarendon, E.
Cleveland, D. Cottenham, E.
Saint Albans, D. De Grey, E.
Somerset, D. Ducie, E.
Granville, E.
Normanby, M. Harrowby, E.
Russell, E. Dartrey, L. (L. Cremorne.)
Saint Germans, E.
Spencer, E. Foley, L. [Teller.]
Granard, L. (E. Granard.)
Eversley, V. Leigh, L.
Stratford de Redcliffe, V. Methuen, L.
Sydney, V. Oxenfoord, L. (E. Stair.)
Torrington, V. Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.) [Teller]
Rivers, L.
Durham, Bp. Seaton, L.
Sefton, L. (E. Sefton.)
Seymour, L. (E. St. Maur.)
Aveland, L.
Belper, L. Somerhill, L. (M. Clanricarde.)
Camoys, L.
Clandeboye, L. (L. Dufferin and Claneboye.) Stanley of Alderley, L.
Truro, L.
Wenlock, L.
Cranworth, L. Wentworth, L.

House adjourned at a quarter past Eight o'clock, to Friday next, half-past Ten o'clock.


HL Deb 30 May 1865 vol 179 cc1043-4

said, he wished to put a Question to the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, of which he had given him notice, relative to the Abyssinian prisoners; and he was induced, to do so in consequence of an article that had appeared in The Pall Mall Gazette, but principally in order that if possible the relatives of those unhappy persons might obtain some satisfactory or at least authentic information about them. The article to which he referred was published in The Pall Mall Gazette on the 25th May, and Was in the following terms:— We briefly announced yesterday that intelligence had been received from Massowah up to the 28th April. To-day we are enabled to give a few details respecting the unfortunate captives. These details are communicated in a letter from Mr. Fladd, at Gaffat, who writes very discouragingly of the present condition and prospects of the prisoners. It appears that King Theodorus, after experiencing a reverse in Shoa, came in haste to Magdala, procured reinforcements and guns, and returned to that country. While at Magdala he spoke harshly to the prisoners, and before leaving ordered a change for the worse in their treatment. Mr. Fladd's letter is dated March 16, and contains the following extract from a note addressed to him by Mr. Stern:—As it appears that they have quite forgotten us in Europe, nothing remains for us but to prepare ourselves for the worst—a miserable death.' Under these circumstances he wished to ask the noble Earl, What was the date of the latest intelligence he had received from Abyssinia, and what was the account then given of the condition of the prisoners? He also wished to know whether Mr. Rassam still continued at Massowah, or contemplated returning to Aden; probably also the noble Earl would not object to inform him whether any steps had been taken to send any other mission for the purpose of approaching the Emperor; and, if so, whether it would be accompanied by any presents?


was understood to say, that the latest accounts received from Abyssinia by Her Majesty's Government were up to the 28th April, when Mr. Rassam wrote that he had sent several messengers to the Emperor, and that the rumours of additional hardships imposed upon the prisoners did not appear to be well founded. At that date Mr. Rassam was still waiting to fulfil his mission.


asked whether, if further information reached the Foreign Office, there would be any objection to communicate it?


said, he would communicate the information, but not the source from whence it came.

Votes: 0
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