PP/GC/PO/353 Letter from Lord Ponsonby to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, concerning the likely effects of the defeat of Russian plans in Persia, 30 October 1838
Letter from John Ponsonby, second Baron Ponsonby, later first Viscount Ponsonby, [ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary at Constantinople], to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston: McNeill is anxious that Palmerston receives his despatches without delay. Ponsonby has therefore sent Mr Baddeley to Vienna with them via Orsova. He will only have quarantine of ten days to perform, and will therefore probably arrive well before anything Ponsonby sends by the return messenger, who may not come for many days and will have to wait for whatever business Palmerston has asked for to be done. Mr Baddeley is, or was, a military man, who speaks Persian and may be able to tell Palmerston something of the opinions and feelings of the Persians. Ponsonby hopes the defeat of Russian plans in Afghanistan may alarm rather than excite the Russians into efforts to set up their power in Turkey. It may be further evidence of the fall of their moral power, but they may try to check the descent by obtaining a great success whilst there is still time for it. Ponsonby was confident they would not risk an armed attack of Turkey, and thought any other menacing attempt would be in vain as long as the British squadron was almost within reach and sight of the Sultan. However, the unnecessary and, in Ponsonby's opinion, improper retreat of the Admiral to Malta means that he can no longer stand by his former opinions and say that Russia will not carry everything before her, nor that Mehemet Ali will not be successful. He sends a letter from General Chrzanowski which shows the state of affairs at headquarters. Palmerston should agree with Ponsonby that the fate of Turkey depends on British naval operations. "I have not the time nor inclination to trouble you with a repetition of my already hundred times stated argument but I refer to them because it is necessary. The effect of the British fleet employed as it ought to be will be to raise up opinion everywhere in favor of the Sultan and even to give him soldiers. I think the Admiral might have informed me that he would not wait for instructions for Her Majesty's Government, and if he had I perhaps might have found some way to prevent his retreat having the air of a flight before the menaces of the Russians which it is now considered to be. The Sultan (as well as the publick) has been told loudly and positively that the Russians would not permit the British squadron to remain and the fact seems to accord with the boast, and everybody believes you are too much afraid of Russia to venture to oppose her orders. This is a serious evil when the game you have been playing is in truth a game of brag." Ponsonby has remained vigilant for anything which might have a bearing on the treaty of Unkiar Skelessi. He has not heard that the Russians have attempted anything recently for its renewal, but he is sure it will be renewed unless proper measures are taken to prevent it. He hopes Palmerston is doing what is necessary with Reschid Pasha and that it will succeed. The Sultan might consent to the arrangement the Russian minister proposed to the Ottoman ministers, to make Mehemet Ali hereditary governor of Egypt, but Ponsonby sees no ground for believing Mehemet Ali would consent to it. It would have to be achieved by force, if done at all, and if force is used, who would apply the force ? Britain might just as well put Mehemet Ali down and relieve the Egyptians from his cruel dominion. The Russians would have to bring a Russian army, and Palmerston would be laughed at and defeated. "If Mehemet Ali submit voluntarily to such a proposal, I shall think him the most extraordinary instance the world has over produced of ambition yielding to persuasion and abandoning power, but it seems to me impossible, because Mehemet knows, and has a thousand times said it, that his life cannot be safe if he is deprived of arms to defend it against the Sultan and surely Mehemet is not able, from the resources of Egypt, to maintain his fleet and army in a state to cope with the Sultan repossessed of Syria, etc. And how are the powers of Europe to prevent the Sultan quarrelling with Mehemet and going to war with him unless it be intended, and possible, to make Turkey an dependent state even as to its internal affairs, and that will be to continue in a most vicious form the system that has proved to be anything but advantageous, and which must throw the Ottoman empire under the controul of Russia unless at the same time Great Britain shall insist upon having her ships of war admitted to the Black Sea, which it seems you will not do, but which if done will solve not only the difficulty I have alluded to but every other." The defeat of Russian schemes in Persia must make the Russians feel that it is necessary to establish their power over Turkey. They will feel that as long as Turkey is independent, they cannot control Persia, whereas Persia would be theirs the moment Turkey was under their power. They would then be in a position to endanger British possession in India and cause England vast expense for defence measures against threatened attacks which never come until they are certain to succeed. "Constantinople is the key of India for England. I should be sorry to be the man to put it into the keeping of the Emperor of Russia." Ponsonby is as interested as anybody in the success of Palmerston's policy, but he believes the time has passed for half measures. There is no need to offend Russia, or do anything Russia could justly complain about, but it is necessary to take action now, as the rights and interests of Britain demand. The balance of power should not be left to chance, nor such a question as the security of India. Both could be made secure by simply asserting the just rights of Britain, without infringing on the rights of others in the least. "Surely if we shall be attacked because we do so, we shall have a good cause, and we are not fallen so low as to want spirit and means to support it." Russia will not dare to resist such demands except by exerting her authority over the Sultan. It is within Palmerston's power to destroy that authority. Ponsonby has not heard from Mustapha Kaeni Bey on the subject of the decoration since he told Ponsonby it was a very delicate matter. He seemed rather afraid of having to deal with it. Ponsonby hopes it will end well. He did all he could to soften the refusal, and to flatter the Sultan. If the Admiral had warned Ponsonby of his retreat to Malta, he might have attempted to achieve Palmerston's project for bringing up British ships with the Ottoman fleet, but as it is, he does not know what he could do with propriety. Reschid Pasha's existence depends on his success with Palmerston. There have been some attempted revolts in Candia by vagabond Greeks, but they were put down early. The Turks in Candia are opposed to Mehemet Ali. The Greeks there seem to be fond of the governor, Mustapha. Candia will need Palmerston's attention: if the plans for new settlements are carried out, the best thing would be to give Candia a government founded along the same lines as those of Samos and Cyprus. 30 Oct 1838 It is noted that the letter was received on 10 December 1838. Following the paragraph ending, "...a game of brag", Palmerston has written, "Stuff", in pencil. Enclosed is a copy of a letter, in French, from General Chrzanowski, Malatia, to John Ponsonby, second Baron Ponsonby, later first Viscount Ponsonby: the two letters of 19 and 20 September arrived on 2 and 3 October. In obedience to Ponsonby's orders, Chrzanowski will leave that day for Baghdad. His departure was delayed because Hafiz Pasha wanted Chrzanowski to give him his plans and information about the route marches and manoeuvres of the troops in the field. Chrzanowski left them with him, but they were far from complete, because it is impossible to give details of everything in such a short time. Chrzanowski believes that it was not foolishness on the part of Count Konigsmarck which led him to attempt to get Chrzanowski removed, but a real concern; after all, it is not known how Prussian officers serve the Porte. These are the reasons for Chrzanowski's opinion: during his period of time with the army, Muhlbach was employed in directing the clearance of blockages on the Euphrates, the construction of kitchens in the barracks of Harput and Malatia, and the building of a powder magazine. Moltke witnessed a couple of expeditions against the Kurds, then in order to record the location of the troops, he copied part of a large-scale map of Asia, which he presented to the Pasha as his own work and imposed on him by saying that he was working on determining the geographical points of Asia astronomically. But the principal task of both officers was to woo the Pasha, to amuse him, flatter him, and maintain an illusion about the quality of his troops and the military organisation in general; apart from this, their presence in the army was not visible, and the army remained in exactly the same state. Even their idea for re-equiping the artillery batteries with different four calibre guns, supported at Constantinople by Monsieur Kopke, is still rather nominal. Several cannon were used in expeditions against the Kurds, the rest of the foot artillery, cannon, caissons, horses, made up rather a disparate mass. Chrzanowski's position is such that he can only attempt to get Hafiz Pasha to see what the true state of affairs is and the need for changes. He needed to proceed slowly, because all the time he was destroying the Pasha's illusions. He always spoke in the presence of Prussian officers, not having the opportunity to do otherwise, and he was usually contradicted, but he had the advantage of knowing enough about it not to allow himself to encroach on their good grounds for the Turks and the even greater advantage of believing in what he said. Hafiz Pasha's good sense did the rest. His eyes were opened, and he began to busy himself with sorting out the artillery, the most backward branch of the army. He understood that to harness up the existing cannon and caissons, close to four hundred horses would be needed. The Pasha bought and gave to the artillery upwards of two hundred [horses] and he is trying to make up the remaining numbers of horses and men. Eventually an attempt was made to manufacture munitions, after Chrzanowski had convinced the Pasha of the falsity of his opinion that the battles would not last longer than two hours and that munitions could be manufactured during the night which followed the battle. Chrzanowski made sure that they were fired five times in the ordnance yard. Five infantry regiments recently came to Malatia from Harput, despite the Prussian officers' attempts to persuade the Pasha that the infantry should no longer go on manoeuvres en masse. Following Chrzanowski's observation that at any moment, the infantry might be needed to go to war, attempts at these manoeuvres will be made, once the rains have come to an end. There are, however, several things which Chrzanowski did not succeed in convincing the Pasha about. Ponsonby must understand that, since all these matters and several other details were discussed with the Prussian officers in the presence of Hafiz Pasha, Chrzanowski had to be constantly on his guard and have the air of not suspecting anything. Moltke was at first of the same opinion as his comrade, but later changed his mind, or at least seemed to have changed it, whilst Mulhbach became more tenacious about, for example, the exercise ground for firing, which he further discovered to be expensive; when the cannon were harnessed up for team inspections, this needlessly spoilt the horses. If it is true that among the number of officers sent from Berlin, there were two who were suspect, he is certainly one of them. The conduct of Moltke, who is in Turkey more for his own personal benefit, can also be explained. Having succeeded in gaining the confidence of Hafiz Pasha, Chrzanowski should have been able to push things through more quickly, but since he was forced to leave when only a rough sketch for action had been drawn up, he fears that everything will fall back into the state of lethargy in which he found it. The powder mill is almost finished, and once working it will be able to produce thirty ?ocques of powder per day. Thirty two field pieces came to Malatia from Harput, and fifteen will go to Orfa. Chrzanowski has already seen all the army's foot artillery. He has also seen seven batallions who are moving from Harput to Orfa, so that he has seen almost all the infantry, but he has seen only one regiment of the cavalry and one battery of horse artillery. The description of the Asiatic army given to Ponsonby is not exact. There are only eight troop regiments, of which three are the guard. The numbers of the effective force of troops should also be reduced. The infantry is said to number up to 35,000 combattants, but Chrzanowski estimates there are at the most 20,000. It must be expected that this effective force will fall further in numbers, since there is nowhere to build hospitals and no doctors. The sick are therefore poorly cared for and rarely return [to the ranks]; meanwhile their numbers increase, as is only natural when clothes are scarce, it rains, and the nights get colder. The Turks moreover, put all their conscripts into the ranks without examining their state of health. Lack of clothes is another reason for desertion, which is considerable amongst the Redifs. Two hundred and fifty piastres are given to each man who brings back a deserter. That sort of money would buy three good coats, though it would have to be committed in advance. Husrev Pasha, with whom Chrzanowski does not have any communication at present, was well informed when he said that in a war against Mehemet Ali, only the troops of the line could be counted upon. In fact, this war would not be at all popular amongst the Redifs, who during this short space of time could not be shaped into passive obedience. If they were involved, success at the beginning would be far more likely. Better pay, or even the promise of better pay, from Mehemet Ali for his officers would have a detrimental effect on the spirit of the army officers. In a war against the Russians, Chrzanowski does not believe there would be any difference between the Redifs and the troops of the line. Hafiz Pasha assured him that for a war against the Russians, he would need to muster 20,000 volunteers within the space of a month, both foot soldiers and horsemen, giving fifty piastres a month to the infantrymen and a hundred to the cavalrymen. Naturally, one could not engage battle with these troops, but they would serve to unnerve the Russian army and intercept their communications. For the moment, the most urgent thing is to send coats to Constantinople, even before the caissons. As for the cannon, if troops are not sent in and the illnesses continue, the number of cannon will be too great for the number of troops remaining under arms. Prince Czartoryski wrote to Chrzanowski on 2 April that opinion from the Tuileries was that Nicholas' plans had been arranged from the beginning as a crusade against France; that she had been wounded, but that fear and indecision were the sentiments that prevailed. If Louis Philippe's spirits remain thus, it would be easy for the English government to involve France in a co-operative action in the Orient. Louis Philippe would find it is in his interests to occupy Russia in Turkey, because this will calm the storm. As a result, more than ever before hangs on the decision of the English government, which has very strong reasons to act. Ponsonby is quite correct in his opinion that Mehemet Ali will only do what Russia wants; therefore, if Russia decides to run the risk of a war with England, she will also provoke war through Mehemet Ali. Having two wars to fight at the same time would put Turkey in a very critical position, even with the assistance of England. ?A resolution should be quickly taken to reduce the existing handicaps to a swift settlement of affairs between the Sultan and Mehemet Ali. Should Mehemet Ali not wish to give way and content himself with what he is offered, and refuses to give a guarantee, (the best guarantee would perhaps be if Mehemet Ali promised to give a contingent of ten or fifteen thousand men to the Turkish Asiatic army) a war against him should begin around the end of January, with English co-operation, to try to weaken him. Even if he could not be defeated, he would no longer be in a position to further complicate military operations should war break out with Russia the following spring. 10 Oct 1838: contemporary copy
Five papers, punched for disinfection, tied with blue ribbon
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John McNeill, later Sir John McNeill, British envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary at Teheran
Mr Baddeley, courier
Orsova: Romania
Mahmud II, Ottoman Sultan
Admiral Sir Robert Stopford of the Royal Navy, commander in chief of the Mediterranean fleet
Muhammad Ali Pasha, alias Mehemet Ali, Viceroy or ruler of Egypt
General Adalbert Chrzanowski, Polish General in English employ in Turkey
Reschid Mustapha Pasha, alias Reshid Mustafa Pasha, Reis Effendi or Turkish Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Turkish ambassador at London
Apollinariy Petrovich Buteniev, alias Butenev, Russian envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary at Constantinople
Mustapha Kiani Bey, alias Mustafa Kaeni Bey, member of the Ottoman Great Council
Turkey: nishans; decorations
Candia, or Crete
Mustapha, Governor of Candia
Hafiz Pasha, commander of the Turkish Asiatic army
Count Konigsmark, Prussian envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to Constantinople
von Muhlbach, Prussian army officer employed in Turkey
River Euphrates
Malatia, or Malatya: Turkey
Harput, or Kharput: Turkey
Helmuth Karl, Count von Moltke, Prussian army officer employed in Turkey
Orfa, or Urfa: Turkey
Husrev Mehmed Pasha, alias Chossrew Muhammad Pasha, former Seraskier or Turkish Minister of War
Adam George, Prince Czartoryski, Polish statesman
Louis Philippe, King of the French
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