PP/GC/PO/108 Letter from Lord Ponsonby to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, concerning British intervention to save a Belgian man condemned to death, and the Dutch prisoners, 5 May 1831
Letter from John Ponsonby, second Baron Ponsonby, [British Joint Commissioner of the London Conference to the provisional government of Belgium], Brussels, to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston: he encloses a letter written by Lebeau which Ponsonby hopes will give sufficient justification of what he has done. An even stronger motive was his conviction that the lives of the Dutch prisoners would be placed in imminent danger if the man mentioned in the letter were executed, for in that case the government would probably be unable to oppose the will of those wishing for reprisals. Ponsonby has therefore sent Abercrombie to Maastricht with instructions to try to persuade General Dibbets to suspend the execution until the wishes of the King of the Netherlands can be taken into account. If Ponsonby's effort fails to save the man, it will still be useful in giving Ponsonby more power to intervene for the safety of the prisoners. If it is successful, Ponsonby could then almost demand leniency from the Belgian government towards the unfortunate men, Gregoire and others, whose memorial to the Conference Ponsonby forwarded to Palmerston, and on whose behalf Palmerston instructed Ponsonby to exert himself. Ponsonby is sure he will gain considerable credit and the good will of the people for what he has done. He has just been informed by a message from Lebeau that the authorities at Ghent have decided to make an attack on Flanders immediately and in defiance of the will of the government. Ponsonby has seen the letter signed by the Ghent governor and his coadjutors, in which this resolution is "most insolently" declared. The council has been assembled and the necessary orders given for the troops to march in to subdue this rebellion. Ghent will be declared to be in a state of siege and Ponsonby hopes sufficiently vigorous measures will be taken to put down this "monstrous violence". This acts as proof of the truth of what Ponsonby has been saying, that the government cannot, however willing they might be, act in the way Palmerston expected them to do over the limits. If the country is to be saved from anarchy and its ensuing consequences, some stable government must be established immediately in Belgium. Ponsonby is hurrying to see a courier about to be despatched by the government to the deputies. He will write fully by the messenger the following day. Abercrombie has returned from Maastricht, and has brought satisfactory news. The man in question has appealed to the high military court at Utrecht and his appeal has been admitted. There will therefore be a delay of three weeks before the sentence can be carried into execution, and General Dibbets is disposed, if asked his opinion, to recommend mercy. Ponsonby has written to Sir Charles Bagot and has asked Abercrombie to forward to Bagot at The Hague the letter and extracts from Ponsonby's instructions, from Maastricht. The [National] Association at Ghent has played a large part in the proceedings in that city. Abercrombie says that they are all in favour of Leopold, even at Maastricht. General Dibbets charges the condemned man with attempts to seduce the soldiers to desert. 5 May 1831 The letter is marked: "Private". Enclosed is a copy of a letter, in French, from Jean Louis Joseph Lebeau, Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brussels, to John Ponsonby, second Baron Ponsonby, British Joint Commissioner of the London Conference to the government of Belgium: he asks for Ponsonby's prompt intervention in a serious affair, where the least delay might prove fatal and lead to irreparable consequences. A letter from Congress, bearing the previous day's date [3 May], has just been communicated to Lebeau. It announces that a council of war at Maastricht, on the evening of 2 [May], has condemned to death a Belgian named Neven, a family man with close connections with several highly reputable Limburg barristers. The ruling will be carried out within three days. It was judged that Neven was guilty of having, at the beginning of October 1830, given advice to two cuirassiers of the second Dutch regiment who asked his opinion on a way of crossing Belgian lines. Ponsonby will know that, at the moment, such an execution would be outrageous and likely to incite more feelings of irritation and hatred, which it is important to quell if the definitive arrangements, for which the suspension of arms has prepared, and which were concluded under the auspices of the five great powers of Europe, are to succeed. As the representative of the plenipotentiaries at London, only Ponsonby is currently able to exert the necessary influence on Monsieur Dibbets, the Dutch General in Chief at Maastricht, to ensure that the sentence is not carried out. Lebeau has a very high opinion of Ponsonby's humanity, and does not doubt that Ponsonby will be successful in his demand. British intervention would prevent a cruel and useless effusion of blood. The Belgian government has shown itself generous towards the Dutch as the fortunes of war have fallen into their hands. They have allowed General Scheperen to return home, and will not hesitate to return prisoners in exchange for Neven who has actually been condemned to death. Arrangements will be made as soon as Ponsonby has obtained the necessary suspension for Neven. Lebeau is sure Ponsonby will be grateful to him for the offer of this opportunity to prove his fine feelings and generosity of character. 4 May 1831: contemporary copy
Two papers
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John Ponsonby, second Baron Ponsonby, later first Viscount Ponsonby, British Joint Commissioner of the London Conference to the provisional government of Belgium
Belgium: revolt; revolution; independence
Jean Louis Joseph Lebeau, Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs
Ralph Abercrombie, later second Baron Dunfermline, secretary to the British mission at Brussels
Maastricht; Utrecht, Netherlands
General Bernardus Johannes Cornelis, Baron Dibbets, Dutch commander at Maastricht
William I, King of the Netherlands, later King of Holland
Gregoire, Dutch prisoner
London Conference on Belgian independence
Ghent, Belgium
Flanders, or Vlaanderen, or Flandre, province, Belgium
Sir Charles Bagot, British ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary at The Hague
Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, later Leopold I, King of the Belgians
Sieur Neven, a Belgian condemned to death
Limbourg, or Limburg, or Limberg, province of Belgium
General Scheperen
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