PP/GC/PO/165 Letter from Lord Ponsonby to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, concerning the likelihood of a war with Russia and the means to avoid it, the condition of the ambassador's house at Therapia, payment for his agents for obtaining the secret article, Mehemet Ali's actions in Candia, the state of affairs in Turkey, 31 December 1833
Letter from John Ponsonby, second Baron Ponsonby, later first Viscount Ponsonby, [British ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary at Constantinople], [Therapia], to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston: [Transcript] "Worn out with expectation of something from you and urged by the importance of what I have to communicate, I determine to send a messenger and wait no longer for him \ who / * I think * you must send sometime or other. I have had the fear of Joey Hume before my eyes, and been very careful not to spend six and eight pence of the government money in couriers, even though a war should be the consequence of want of information at home. Is not that acting in the true spirit of Hume economy ? There is another branch of economy in which perhaps you will not think I shine, for I have been [f.1v] forced to lay out a great deal of money on this house to restore the broken windows, the rent roof and close the opened walls, to make lodgings for myself and family and to try, not over successfully, to keep out wind and water. I do hope that you will not condemn us to live here next winter. I can settle the ambassadorial residence much better, and cost you nothing, if you will listen to my project for selling the land in Pera and, if you please, place it close to Pera, so as to possess whatever advantage people may please to believe is attached to that position. I am in agonies lest you should send me any fine gentlemen here in the shape of secretary of embassy or of attaches. We are vulgar, dull folk and do but think how miserable we should make fine people and how miserable they would make us ! Thank God one thing is certain. They will die of ennui and cold if [f.2r] be winter, or heat if be summer. Mr Waller gets on exceedingly well and I have cause to be satisfied with him in every way and have a very sincere regard for him, but I fear he will not be satisfied to remain here long. Lady Ponsonby desires me to remember her to you. She is pretty well, excepting for rheumatism due to our streaming walls and innumerable wind holes. Our worst evil is that she cannot get a walk except on the broken path edging the Bosphorous directly opposite the mouth of the Black Sea from whence comes a wind to be described only by the verse of Dante. Mr Backhouse sends me word through Mandeville that I am competent to make the arrangements I propose to make respecting dragomen. I shall therefore do it. Frederick Pisani deserves everything you can give him for his diligence, attention, capacity and tact in the execution of his duty. I shall give five hundred [pounds] to Vogoridi for the separate article [to the Unkiar Skelessi treaty] and a retaining fee for his services. I waited till now [f.2v] in hopes of hearing from you what sum I should give, but I cannot put the thing off any longer. I think of giving Dr MacGuffey two hundred [pounds] and, certainly, we ought to be well pleased to get the services those gentlemen have done us for so little money. You, certainly, also will have to give more hereafter. My despatches, or quasi despatches, will shew you the state of things here and the extraordinary conduct of the Sultan. I entreat you to take care that what I have written on that subject should be kept entirely secret, otherwise you will, without delay, find the crisis brought on which you wish to keep off. No explanation the Sultan could make to Russians of his conduct could appease their jealousy or prevent their at least availing themselves of the pretext they would have for exacting more concessions from the Sultan. News travels fast from London to Petersburg. I have thought it my duty to write more fully [f.3r] than I have always been used to do in my public despatches, in order that you may have official documents to produce, if you please, to Parliament and also that I may not shirk from * the * responsibility for the opinions, and even counsels, I offer. Your augmentation of the fleet did all that I told you I expected from the measure; I was extremely alarmed at first when I heard of the order for its separation and passing the winter at a greater distance from hence. I trust you do not intend to withdraw it, but I beg you will excuse me for saying that if you do, I hope you will at once determine to submit to Russia with humility and wait until war shall be forced upon you by your friends. I am satisfied in my own mind that war cannot be avoided by any submission, but I believe it may be so, by vigour [f.3v] and a real determination to fight, if necessary, to check the career of Russia, and when I look at the quantity and variety of enemies by which that government would be attacked in so many parts, some of them extremely vulnerable, I cannot conceive there is the least cause to doubt of complete success on our side. I should be happy to believe you had any reasonable chance of keeping off war, but look at Persia, and the interests of India, in addition to the multifarious seeds of it scattered everywhere here and perhaps nearer home. You said, in a private letter, that if you could prevent the signature of the treaty of 8th July you should think it a master stroke of diplomacy ! I hope you will approve of its being made waste paper if that can be done. I think I have shown how that may be accomplished if we are not afraid to risk a war, and at the same time, that a war may be [f.4r] thought inevitable by any other means than by daring to meet it. I confide in your immediate reply about Candia. The Sultan is in a fever of impatience to hear what can be done. Mehemet Ali's proceedings in that island must induce you more readily to interpose in the affair; he has already diminished his power to aid us by his conduct and is, I fear, losing his moral power in the empire. His admiral, Osman Bey, has abandoned his service, and is come here. (I wish to make him Captain Pasha and turn out Tahir who is a Russian.) Monsieur Seve, the renegado [MS "renedado"] French officer, called Suleyman Bey, it is positively said has also left Mehemet Ali's service and his subjects are everywhere discontented and in many placed showing signs of resistance to his authority. It is good for us to bridle him, but [f.4v] it may be bad for us that he should fall. I have no doubt his * attack * punishment of the Greeks in Candia will make him unpopular with the press and that your placing them under the Sultan's promised constitution will be a most popular act. The result of giving Candia a constitution, as it is pointed out by Kiaheya Bey, I believe be more possible than you probably may imagine, and the more I can see beneath the mere surface of things the more I indulge in the hope that there \ are / elements in this country wherewith to form a power able to preserve its independence against the attacks of Russia and also an amelioration of its internal state, which shall continue to advance in improvements. In the circle of mundane causes and effects, destruction precedes [MS "preceedes"] regeneration. The Sultan has been the destroyer here; the bigotted prejudices and pride of the Turk which made him hate and despise everything like an improvement have been broken down [f.5r] by his despotism or his example. The Turk no longer thinks himself superior to all other men, he feels and confesses his inferiority in many things, particularly in arms, to the Christians, and suspects he may be below him in others; he has had a desire to learn and to improve himself forced into him, and many of them, like the Kiahaya Bey, see that the[y] must coalesce with the rayahs to save the country from a foreign yoke, and, on the other side, the rayah are said to understand that their prospect is a sure one of obtaining equality of rank and privilege with the Turk e'er long, if the country shall be preserved independent and, almost univocally, they hate Russian government in which, at no very remote period, they placed most of their hopes of liberation from the infidel. Large numbers of rayahs have tried and tasted Russian rule and they have opened the eyes of the great mass of their fellows. The Ottoman government cannot go on as it is. Everybody says so, Turk and Christian, they all [f.5v] call for a reform. Information is creeping on amongst them all, and amongst the Greek portion of the people, with no mean pace, the country, as to land and climate, is capable of everything. It is easily defensible; the people have constitutional bravery. On the while I do not see that it is impossible this people should, after certain struggles and difficulties, so constitute themselves as to be efficient defenders of their own independence, provided England and France (countries deeply and essentially interested in the freedom of Turkey) would enable its inhabitants to make head against the first assaults of their natural enemy, nor do I believe that the cost or efforts on the part of England and France need to be great, nor long continued. I have no doubt it would be easy, with celerity and vigour of action following decision in counsels, to close [f.6r] the Bosphorous against Russian fleets and to secure Seyepolis where Russian * artillery * army might be landed and maintained. Those things done, and arms and ammunition supplied in considerable quantity to the people, there would be a guerrilla army more formidable and destructive in this country to Russians, than perhaps any other sort of force could be. I speak solely of Turkey. I say nothing of the enemies \ who / Russia would have to subdue perhaps on every part of her Asiatic frontier, or the attacks she must withstand in the north from us, or France, or Poles or others. I suspect Russia will not risk a war if she believes you and France to be in earnest, and I think that, as Russia has made a treaty to shut you out of the Dardanelles, you have a right to take measures to ?secure and to shut Russia out from the Bosphorous. I have said so much, believing it to be proper [f.6v] to sin against brevity rather than to neglect to state a large number of facts and opinions, some of which might be useful to you in forming a final decision upon the question in which is, perhaps, involved the present and future fate of Europe." 31 Dec 1833 This letter is marked: "Private". It arrived on 25 January 1834.
Three papers, marked with the official stamp
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Mahmud II, Ottoman Sultan
Joseph Hume, Member of Parliament for Middlesex, radical reformer, philhellene and member of the London Greek Committee
Proposed British embassy building at Pera
Therapia: weather, climate
Diplomatic appointments
Thomas Wathen Waller, diplomat at Constantinople, later secretary of the British legation in Belgium
Elizabeth Frances, Lady Ponsonby
Dante Alighieri, fourteenth century poet
Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi or Hunkar Iskelesi between Russia and Turkey, signed on 8 July 1833
John Mandeville, secretary of the British legation at Constantinople
John Backhouse, Permanent Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs
Frederic Pisani, dragoman to the British embassy at Constantinople
Stephen Vogorides, alias Vogoridi, Prince of Samos, known in Turkey as Istefanaki Bey
Samuel MacGuffog, physician at British embassy at Constantinople
Candia: Crete, ruler, governorship, constitution
Bosphorous, alias Bosporus
Muhammad Ali Pasha alias Mehemet Ali, Viceroy or ruler of Egypt
Osmen Bey, alias Osman Bey, admiral of the Ottoman Sultan's navy
Colonel Seve, known as Suleyman or Suleiman Bey, French officer in charge of Mehemet Ali's military school
Tahir Mehmed Pasha, Kapudan Pasha or Grand Admiral
Raya or rayah: non-Muslim subject of the Ottoman Sultan; Greek Christian population living under the rule of the Sultan
Pertev Mehmed Seid Pasha, alias Muhammad Said Pertew, Kiahaya Bey or Turkish Minister of the Interior
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