The Western Alliance - Diplomacy - The "Vienna Note" - Threatening Aspect - The Slaughte at Sinope - Russian Justification of the Slaughter - Renewed Efforts to Preserve Peace - Secret Correspondence - Declaration of War - Character of War - Neutrality of Austria and Prussia - Colonial Sympathy.
We now come to that part of the contest which more nearly affects the English reader. The real nature of the dispute, at the commencement, appeared trifling; and many people imagined that matters would have been amicably settled without recourse to arms. But when once discord is permitted to enter into societies or nations, the strife grows larger and larger, and draws within its vortex all that is subjected to its influence. At first it appeared but a paltry squabble; then it progressed to angry debates and warlike threats; then it extended to fierce and bloody battles and terrible sieges on the banks of the Danube; and lastly it drew within its deadly embrace the Western Powers—England with her formidable navy, France with her unequalled army. We will not now enter into all the intricacies of diplomacy, for probably most of our readers would derive but little instruction from such details.
Suffice it to say, that during the dispute at Constantinople, England remained neutral; but when the dispute merged into threats, and when vast bodies of Russian troops were evidently pouring down on the Turkish frontier, our government began to bestir itself.
England was bound by treaties which she had determined should be respected by the contracting parties, or the sword must be drawn to defend the right. Our ambassador at Constantinople, after the abrupt departure of Prince Menschikoff, wrote to the Earl of Clarendon on the matter, and the latter authorized Sir Stratford de Redcliffe to order the British fleet at Malta to steer towards the Dardanelles; and soon after the French government sent orders to their fleet, under Admiral de la Susse, to join the English fleet, under Admiral Dundas, at Besika Bay—immediately outside or southwards of the Dardanelles—there to wait further orders from the two ambassadors at Constantinople. It is a significant circumstance that throughout the voluminous correspondence of that period, all the other powers condemned the conduct of Russia, in pirking a quarrel with Turkey, after the matter regarding the "Holy Places" had been settled.
The Russian government, in the middle of June, issued a circular, addressed to all its ministers at foreign courts, explaining the reasons which had induced the czar to act as he had done. At the beginning of July, the representatives of England, France, Austria, and Prussia, met in " Conference" at Vienna; where, with the sanction of their several governments, they prepared a "Note," or schedule of agreement, which should be transmitted to St. Petersburg and Constantinople; and that the four powers should use their utmost efforts to obtain the consent of the two belligerent powers to the terms therein contained. This note, as drawn up on the 26th of July, presented the form of a declaration from the sultan to the czar. The sultan, after expressing his " unbounded confidence in the eminent qualities of his august friend and ally," declared that he will remain faithful to the letter and to the spirit of the Treaties of Kainardji and Adrianople relative to the protection of the Christian religion; and that his majesty considers himself bound in honour to cause to be observed for ever, and to preserve from all prejudice, either now or hereafter, the enjoyment of the spiritual privileges which have been granted by his majesty's august ancestors to the orthodox Eastern Church, and which are maintained and confirmed by him; and moreover, in a spirit of exalted equity, to cause the Greek rite to share in the advantages granted to the other Christian rites by convention or special arrangement. There were some smaller matters inserted, relating to the pilgrims at Jerusalem, a Russian church and hospital in or near the same city, and an increase of power to the Russian consuls in Palestine.
This " Vienna Note" was the subject of much discussion during the latter part of 1853. The Turkish government saw that the wording of it might be so used by Russia as to suit the purposes of the czar; and the avidity with which Russia accepted it was sufficient to cause suspicion, if nothing more. There were a few words left out, which, when inserted by the wish of Turkey, materially altered its phraseology, and at the same time were so absolutely necessary, that the other powers saw at once that their omission was a great oversight on their part, and at once acquiesced in the insertion of the additional words. The pith of the alteration consisted in the declaration, that the Porte will both concede and protect, in respect to the Christians of Turkey; whereas the original clauses would have given a handle for the czar to enter in his assumed capacity as " protector" of the Greek worship. Protection to Greek Christians might be all right, but protection by the czar was the point wished for by Russia. The czar refused to accept the note in its amended form, and this attempt failed.
The month of September approached—a month which generally proves so boisterous, that shipping lying at anchor in Besika Bay is often in great danger. Every effort was made to induce Russia to accept the amended note, but all was in vain; and the month of October brought the serious intelligence of probable collisions in the Black Sea between the several fleets. Admiral Dundas received orders to inform the Russian admiral commanding at Sebastopol, " that if the Russian fleet should come out of that port for the purpose of landing troops on any portion of the Turkish territory, or of committing any act of overt hostility against the Porte, his (Admiral Dundas's) orders are to protect the sultan's dominions from attack." Various plans and measures were adopted to heal the breach, but all were ineffectual: and, by the end of the month, all efforts were cut short by the crossing of the Danube, and the virtual commencement of hostilities. The Earl of Clarendon issued a circular letter to all the British ministers abroad, dated the 7th of November, in which the imminency of approaching war was touched upon. Meanwhile the Russian proceedings in the Danubian Principalities had become so audacious, that all the other powers became alarmed at them.
At length came the astounding news of the battle, or rather massacre, at Sinope, which was effectual, more than any other thing, in rousing up a spirit of indignation throughout Western E urope. The news reached London and Paris on the 11th of December. An investigation into all the circumstances was made by the steamers Retribution and Mogador, sent to Sinope for that purpose immediately after the catastrophe; and the following is the substance of the information obtained:—
"On the 13th November a Turkish flotilla, consisting of seven frigates (one of 60 guns), three corvettes, and two steamers, anchored in the Bay of Sinope. On the 21st a Russian squadron of three two-deckers, a frigate, and a brig, stood in for Sinope, and, after reconnoitreing the Turkish position, cruised off the harbour, maintaining the blockade in spite of the very heavy weather. It was suggested to Osman Pasha, the Turkish commander-in-chief, that as an action would be unavoidable, the best course would be to force the blockade, and make a running fight of it; but not contemplating any reinforcement of the Russians, he unfortunately rejected the advice of his subordinates, upon the consideration of some of his vessels having been damaged in a recent gale, and on the probability of a successful result if the action were fought at anchor. On the forenoon of the 30th, a large Russian squadron, composed of three three-deckers and three two-deckers, under the command of Vice Admiral Nachimoff, having also the flag of a rear-admiral, stood in for the bay under full sail before the wind, and took up a position close alongside the Turkish ships, the latter not firing upon them while doing so. Two frigates and three steamers remained outside to cut off the retreat of any Turkish vessel attempting to escape. Osman Pasha forthwith signalled his fleet to fight bravely to the last in defence of their country, and at noon a desperate action commenced. For upwards of an hour and a half the Turkish frigates resisted these fearful odds without flinching. The first of their losses was the Navick, frigate, whose captain, Ali Bey, being menaced with boarding by a huge three-decker, and having abandoned all hope of successful resistance, with desperate devotion blew up his vessel. At the end of the above period the destruction of the Turkish force was frightful and complete. Some of the ships were burnt by the enemy's red-hot shot; others blew up; and the others, whose sides were literally beaten in by the enormous weight of the Russian metal, slipped their cables, and with the exception of two, drifted on shore. The Russians now manned their yards, and cheered in honour of their bloody victory. Having done this, they recommenced firing upon the helpless wrecks, from which a feeble drooping fire was still maintained with unequalled fortitude, and did not cease until they had completed the work of destruction and butcher y. They then took possession of the two vessels which had not gone on shore, but, from their battered condition, abandoned and destroyed them the following day.
One of the Turkish steamers, the Taif, alone escaped. She had slipped her cable shortly after the commencement of the battle, and, after forcing her way at some risk through the force cruising outside, brought the first intimation of this fatal event to Constantinople. Before the action commenced, the Turkish crews numbered 4,490 men; of these 358 have survived, the others have been slain to a man at their posts. Most of the survivors are wounded; among them are 120 prisoners, who were taken on board the frigates abandoned by them, and who have been carried off to Sebastopol. Osman Pasha, the commander-in-chief, who was wounded in the action, is among the prisoners. Hussein Pasha, the second in command, while trying to escape from his burning vessel, was struck by a grape-shot on the head, and killed. The loss on the Russian side is not accurately known, as they retired immediately after the battle; but four of their ships were disabled in their spars, and were towed out by steamers. The support afforded to the Turks by the land batteries was ineffectual, owing partly to the lightness of their guns, and partly to their fire being intercepted by the Turkish ships. The town of Sinope is completely destroyed, either by shells or burning timbers, and the whole coast is strewn with dead bodies. A few survivors have made their way, by swimming, to the town; but such is the consternation among the local authorities, that all action on their part is paralysed, and they can scarcely find means even to procure medical assistance for the sufferers. These latter found speedy alleviation at the hands of the medical officers brought by her Majesty's steamer Retribution and the French steamer Mogador, who were zealously assisted by three of the survivors, surgeons on board the Turkish fleet."
From the above report it is clear that the Turks fought bravely, and stood to their guns to the last. Ali Bey, the commander of the Navick, seeing that his ship could not stand against the three-decker opposed to him, ordered her to be blown up; but not feeling certain of the execution of that order, he himself threw a lighted match into the powder-magazine. In 1850 Ali Bey conveyed the Legione Monti (who were returning to Italy, having taken part in the war in Hungary) from Constantinople to Genoa and Cagliari, on board the frigate Illat, for which services the King of Sardinia presented him with the cross of Saints Maurice and Lazarus.
The following statement shows the loss of ships, men, the wounded, &c.:—Turkish fleet, 12 ships, 434 guns, and 4,490 men; Russian guns, 600, besides four steamers and two frigates, not in the action. Weight of Russian shot, 68 Ibs., 42 Ibs., and 32 Ibs. Several shells and carcases used did not explode.
Wounded and sound, brought to Constantinople by Retribution and Mogador - 200; Left at Sinope, in charge of badly wounded - 10; Wounded, left at Sinope, could not be moved- 20; Prisoners, as supposed - 150; Escaped on shore, it is presumed - 1,000; Escaped, per Taif steamer - 300;
Total number of men - 4,490; Accounted for - 1,680; Unaccounted for - 2,810
The news of this horrible slaughter was received in Russia with great joy; and the czar transmitted to Prince Menschikoff, and through him to the officers and seamen of the Russian fleet, his thanks for their meritorious conduct in achieving this glorious victory over the infidel Moslems.
The Russians attempted to justify this massacre by asserting that the Turkish flotilla had on board troops and ammunition destined to the rebellious tribes in an attack on Secoume Kale, a Russo-Circassian town on the north-east of the Black Sea; and that Russia was justified in destroying the flotilla under such circumstances. On the other hand, Turkey and her allies declare that the flotilla was only carrying provisions to Batoum, a Turkish town near the Russian frontier of the Black Sea; and that the destruction of a Turkish flotilla in a Turkish harbour was virtually a defiance to the Alliance, who had agreed to defend Turkey. The general impression produced in England and France, as well as in Turkey, was one of indignation ; and this evidently weakened every effort to preserve peace.
At the close of the year, circulars were sent from the English and French governments to their ministers abroad, relating the proceedings which had occurred, regretting that all attempts to preserve peace had failed, and announcing that the Allied fleets would enter the Black Sea, and take up an attitude that would at once prevent such another catastrophe as that at Sinope. One more effort was made at the close of 1853 to preserve peace, by presenting to the Sultan an "Identic Note," or proposal in which all the four powers—England, France, Austria, and Prussia, were agreed, containing the basis for a settlement of the difficulties between Turkey and Russia. The sultan assented to this on the 31st of December, and proposed that forty days should be allowed for the czar to signify his assent. All the four powers were satisfied with this acceptance by the sultan, as maintaining the independence of the Turkish nation, and at the same time meeting every demand that Russia had a right to make.
The commencement of the year 1854 was characterised by active efforts of the four powers to induce Russia to accept the "Identic Note"; but when the Allied fleets entered the Black Sea,—which they did on the 4th of January—all attempts to preserve peace were unavailing,—the czar refusing to listen to any overtures;—and early in February, the Russian ambassadors were withdrawn from London and Paris, and the English and French ambassadors from Russia. Thus, all the efforts of statesmen, ambassadors, with the accompaniment of notes, protocols, conferences, despatches, &c. &c. were fruitless and abortive. War between the Western Powers and Russia must take place.
In the Spring of 1854, there was great surprise excited in the houses of parliament and among the people, by the discovery that during the preceding year there had been an under current at work in the affairs of Turkey, viz. that a " Secret Correspondence" had been carried on between the English government and the government of Russia. This secret correspondence related to the state of Turkey. The Russian government intimating that Turkey was in a state of rapid decay, and that it would be an act of kindness to take the " sick man," under the joint care of England and Russia; and that as a recompense for their kind guardianship over the " sick man" they should become testators and executors before his death, and each seize a portion of his property—in plain terms, Russia proposed the dismemberment of the Turkish dominions. The English government refused to be a party to such a nefarious scheme; but the refusal was couched in such smooth and courtly terms, that the czar did not fail to make a handle of them in his after-projects. It appears also that there were several private conversations between the Czar and Sir H. Seymour, our ambassador at the court of St. Petersburg, during that year, on the same subject. Our ambassador, however, to his praise, plainly gave the emperor to understand that the British government would never concur in any such project. Strong animadversions, both by the English press, and by members of both houses of parliament, were made on this " secret correspondence."
The diplomacy, whether secret or open, was of no avail in healing the wounds which affected Europe; and war against Russia was declared in March, 1854. The Western Powers regarded it as a political war - a war to preserve the balance of power in Europe by preventing Russia from crushing Turkey; but Russia gave it a religious aspect, as if the existence of the orthodox faith were imperilled. A correspondence betwixt the Emperor of France and the Emperor of Russia took place a short time previous to tbe declaration of war: the French Emperor proposing that Russia and Turkey should appoint two plenipotentiaries, who should agree upon a convention to be submitted to the other powers; but that previous to this, an armistice should by signed, and the Russian troops withdrawn from the Principalities, and the Allied fleets from the Black Sea. The czar's reply was non-effective to the maintenance of peace; he requiring the withdrawal of the fleets from the Black Sea, before the Russian troops were withdrawn from the Principalities ; and that Turkey should send an ambassador to St. Petersburg to sue for peace.
Another effort, of a rather singular character, was made to preserve peace. Three members of the Society of Friends, Henry Pease, of Darlington; Joseph Sturge, of Birmingham, and Robert Charlton, of Bristol, on the 20th of January, set out on a journey to St. Petersburg, which, after much toil and difficulty, they reached, had an audience with the Emperor, who received them courteously; and endeavoured by all the means in their power to prevail upon the czar to adopt some other means to heal the wounds between him and the other sovereigns, than that of bloodshed. They had taken a long journey on a fruitless errand; the czar refused to comply with their request.
To return to public affairs: soon after the withdrawal of the ambassadors, the czar issued a manifesto, stating in his own way how matters stood; how anxious he was to maintain peace; throwing all the blame upon Turkey and the Western Powers; boasting of the prowess of the Russian arms in former contests; and finally appealing to the Almighty to assist them in combating for their persecuted brethren, followers of the faith of Christ; calling upon all Russia to exclaim— " O Lord, our Redeemer, whom shall we fear ? May God be glorified, and his enemies scattered!"
This manifesto caused an unpleasant feeling throughout Western Europe; it so palpably showed that Russia was determined to rouse up the religious fanaticism of its millions of serfs in support of the czar's views, and to create in their minds implacable hostility against Western Europe.
We will now give the declaration of war by England in full, as an official record of the circumstances which led to the war:—
"It is with deep regret that Her Majesty announces the failure of her anxious and protracted endeavours to perserve for her people and for Europe for the blessings of peace.
"The unprovoked aggression of the Emperor of Russia against the Sublime Porte has been persisted in with such disregard of consequences, that after the rejection by the Emperor of Russia, of terms which the Emperor of Austria, the Emperor of the French, and the King of Prussia, as well as Her Majesty, considered just and equitable, Her Majesty is compelled by a sense of what is due to the honour of her crown, to the interests of her people, and to the independence of the states of Europe, to come forward in defence of an ally whose territory is invaded, and whose dignity and independence are assailed.
" Her Majesty, in justification of the course she is about to pursue, refers to the transactions in which Her Majesty has been engaged.
" The Emperor of Russia had some cause of complaint against the Sultan with reference to the settlement, which His Highness had sanctioned, of the conflicting claims of the Greek and Latin Churches, of a portion of the Holy Places of Jerusalem and its neighbourhood. To the complaint of the Emperor of Russia on this head, justice was done, and Her Majesty's Ambassador at Constantinople had the satisfaction of promoting an arrangement, to which no exception was taken by the Russian Government.
" But, while the Russian Government repeatedly assured the Government of Her Majesty, that the mission of Prince Mensehikoff to Constantinople was exclusively directed to the settlement of the question of the Holy Places at Jerusalem, Prince Mensehikoff himself pressed upon the Porte other demands of a far more serious and important character, the nature of which he in the first instance endeavoured, as far as possible, to conceal from Her Majesty's Ambassador. And these demands, thus studiously concealed, affected, not the privileges of the Greek Church at Jerusalem, but the position of many millions of Turkish subjects in their relations to their sovereign the Sultan.
" These demands were rejected by the spontaneous decision of the Sublime Porte.
" Two assurances had been given to Her Majesty ; one, that the mission of Prince Menschikoff only regarded the Holy Places; the other, that his mission would be of a conciliatory character.
" In both respects Her Majesty's just expectations were disappointed.
" Demands were made which, in the opinion of the Sultan, extended to the substitution of the Emperor of Russia's authority for his own over a large portion of his subjects, and those demands were enforced by a threat; and when Her Majesty learned that on announcing the termination of his mission, Prince Menschikoff declared that the refusal of his demands would impose upon the Imperial Government the necessity of seeking a guarantee by its own power, Her Majesty thought proper that her fleet should leave Malta, and, in co-operation with that of His Majesty the Emperor of the French, take up its station in the neighbourhood of the Dardanelles.
" So long as the negotiation bore an amicable character, Her Majesty refrained from any demonstration of force. But when, in addition to the assemblage of large military forces on the frontier of Turkey, the Ambassador of Russia intimated that serious consequences would ensue from the refusal of the Sultan to comply with unwarrantable demands, Her Majesty deemed it right, in conjunction with the Emperor of the French, to give an unquestionable proof of her determination to support the sovereign rights of the Sultan.
" The Russian Government has maintained that the determination of the Emperor to occupy the Principalities was taken in consequence of the advance of the fleets of England and France. But the menace of invasion of the Turkish territory was conveyed in Count Nesselrode's note to Redschid Pasha of the 19th (31st) of May, and re-stated in his despatch to Baron Brunow of the 20th May (1st June,) which announced the determination of the Emperor of Russia to order his troops to occupy the Principal!ties, if the Porte did not immediately comply with the demands of Russia.
" The despatch to Her Majesty's Ambassador at Constantinople, authorising him in certain specified contingencies to send for the British fleet, was dated the 31st of May, and the order sent direct from England to Her Majesty's Admiral to proceed to the neighbourhood of the Dardanelles was dated the 2nd of June.
" The determination to occupy the Principalities was therefore taken before the orders for the advance cf the combined squadrons were given.
" The Sultan's Minister was informed, that unless he signed within a week, and without the change of a word, the Note proposed to the Porte by Prince Menschikoff on the eve of his departure from Constantinople, the Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia would be occupied by Russian troops. The Sultan could not accede to so insulting a demand; but when the actual occupation of the Principalities took place, the Sultan did not, as he might have done in the exercise of his undoubted right, declare war, but addressed a protest to his Allies.
" Her Majesty, in conjunction with the sovereigns of Austria, France, and Prussia, has made various attempts to meet, any just demands of the Emperor of Russia without affecting the dignity and independence of the Sultan ; and had it been the sole object of Russia to obtain security for the enjoyment by the Christian subjects of the Porte of their privileges and immunities, she would have found it in the offers that have been made by the Sultan. But, as that security was not offered in the shape of a special and separate stipulation with Russia, it was rejected. Twice has this offer been made by the Sultan, and recommended by the Four Powers—once by a Note originally prepared at Vienna, and subsequently modified by the Porte; once by the proposal of bases of negotiation agreed upon at Constantinople on the 31st of December, and approved at Vienna on the 13th of January —as offering to the two parties the means of arriving at an understanding in a becoming and honourable manner.
" It is thus manifest that a right for Russia to interfere in the ordinary relations of Turkish subjects to their Sovereign, and not the happiness of Christian communities in Turkey, was the object sought for by the Russian Government. To such a demand the Sultan would not submit, and His Highness, in self defence, declared war upon Russia; but Her Majesty, nevertheless, in conjunction with her Allies, has not ceased her endeavours to restore peace between the contending parties.
" The time has, however, now arrived when—the advice and remonstrances of the Four Powers having proved wholly ineffectual, and the military preparations of Russia becoming daily more extended—it is but too obvious that the Emperor of Russia has entered upon a course of policy which, if unchecked, must lead to the destruction of the Ottoman Empire.
" In this conjuncture, Her Majesty feels called upon, by regard for an ally, the integrity and independence of whose empire have been recognised as essential to the peace of Europe, by the sympathies of her people with right against wrong, by a desire to avert from her dominions most injurious consequences, and to save Europe from the preponderance of a Power which has violated the faith of treaties, and defies the opinion of the civilised world, to take up arms, in conjunction with the Emperor of the French, for the defence of the Sultan.
"Her Majesty is persuaded that in so acting she will have the cordial support of her people; and that the pretext of zeal for the Christian religion will be used in vain to cover an aggression undertaken in disregard of its holy precepts, and of its pure and beneficent spirit.
"Her Majesty humbly trusts that her efforts may be successful, and that, by the blessing of Providence, peace may be re-established on safe and solid foundations.
" Westminster, March 28,1854."
As has been before stated, the English and French governments invariably maintained the political character of the contest,—particularly England, who had no interest whatever with the question of the Holy Places, except as a friend willing and ready to heal the wounds of all parties, had that been possible. The foregoing declaration clearly sets forth the purport of the war. Lord Palmerston, in a speech which he made soon after the accession of Alexander II. to the throne of Russia, alluded in energetic terms to the aggressive policy pursued by Russia from Peter the Great down to the present czar; and declared that the time was come when this policy must be curbed. In another speech be animadverted strongly on the prevarication and falsehood which characterised the statements of the Russian minister. Lord John Russell also delivered similar sentiments on the conduct of Russia.
These views and opinions accorded in a great measure with those of the nation at large; but we regret that a firm attitude was not always maintained by government towards the disturber of the peace of Europe.
On the 15th of April a convention was ratified between England and France, in which they mutually agreed to maintain the integrity of the Turkish dominions, by their united efforts; and stipulated rules by which they would be governed in carrying on the war.
The following instructions were sent by England and France, to all consuls, and colonial governors, naval commanders, &c., belonging to each nation :—" It is a necessary consequence of the strict union and alliance which exists between Great Britain and France, that, in the event of war, their conjoint action should be felt by Russia in all parts of the world; that not only in the Baltic, and in the waters and territory of Turkey, their counsels, their armies, and their fleets, should be united either for offensive or defensive purposes against Russia, but that the same spirit of union should prevail in all quarters of the world; and that, whether for offence or defence, the civil and military and naval resources of the British and French Empires should be directed to the common objects of protecting the subjects and commerce of England and France from Russian aggression, and of depriving the Russian government of the means of inflicting injury on either. For these reasons, Her Majesty's government have agreed with that of His Majesty the Emperor of the French, to instruct their civil and naval authorities in foreign parts to consider their respective subjects as having an equal claim to protection against Russian hostility; and for this purpose, either singly or in conjunction with each other, to act indifferently for the support and defence of British and French interests. It may be that, in a given locality, one only of the powers is represented by a civil functionary, or by a naval force; but in such a case, the influence and the power of that one must be exerted as zealously and efficiently for the protection of the subjects and interests of the other, as if those subjects and interests were its own."
So acted England and France; with regard to Austria and Prussia, the attitude they assumed towards Russia was far less definite. They entered into a convention betwixt themselves, certainly, but that convention did not bind either to take up arms against Russia, but merely stipulated their agreement to assist each other in maintaining the integrity of their own dominions, and Germany generally, whether attacked by Russia, or any other power.
It is peculiarly gratifying to notice the sympathy and good-will which were manifested by our colonial possessions generally towards England and France at this time. Numerous loyal addresses were transmitted to the mother-country from Canada, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Barbadoes, Grenada, Gibraltar, New South Wales, Van Diemen's Land, South Australia, New Zealand, &c.
Numerous were the Declarations, Proclamations, and Orders in Council, issued by the government, from February to April, relating to the prohibitions, &c. connected with the shipping.