HC Deb 30 March 1860 vol 157 cc1640-3

said, he rose to call attention to a Petition from certain Polish Refugees, who, having served under the British Government in the Crimean War, complain of injustice being done to them, and ask for inquiry and redress. He would not occupy the attention of the House for more than a very few seconds, for he was as anxious to listen to the hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) as any Member in the House. The case to which he had to call attention was one of charity and justice, which involved the honour of the British Government. It related to the claims of forty-one unhappy Polish refugees who had served in the Crimean War. They complained of the gross injustice which had been done to them, and sought redress from that House. The statement of their case which had been placed in his hands had been drawn up by a most accomplished lady, the daughter of a Polish nobleman, and he would just refer to one or two facts stated to show that the case called for investigation. It would be remembered that in the difficulty which this country experienced to get men to fight our battles, and when our agents all but embroiled our relations with America by recruiting in the United States, the services of a German and a Polish Legion were engaged. The German Legion had been well treated; the Polish had been scandalously misused. The Petition stated that the petitioners had served in the Crimean War in the Polish Legion under the British Government, and up to this day they had not received their full payment, which they had never ceased to demand. Before they entered the Legion they had been told by an agent of the Government that great benefits would accrue to Poland from the war, and that all would receive the protection of the Government, as well as the promised bounty—a year's pay, and a free passage. They asserted that they only received £1 of the bounty, although the Germans were paid £6. When the Legion was disbanded in July, 1856, General Storks said they would receive all that was promised them; but only one-tenth part of them received it; and many thousands of them were obliged to turn shepherds in Bulgaria. Those who had received their passage money were obliged to submit to its deduction from their year's pay. Their good clothes were taken from them, and inferior clothes were given them. And as there was no room for their baggage, their good clothes were cast overboard. One of those gentlemen, Lieutenant Alexander Goman, stated that he was born in Cracow, and made prisoner of war by the Russians in 1831. In consequence of having served against Russia he was doomed for life by the Government of that country to serve as a private soldier; but in consequence of his exemplary conduct he was subsequently raised to the rank of lieutenant. Being tempted by the agents of the British Government, who were abroad to procure men to fight their battles, he entered the Polish Legion formed under the authority of the British Government: he served during the war in the Crimea until the 11th June, 1856, when the force was disbanded. At that time there was £104 due to him, but in consequence of some private quarrel a portion of that money was detained from him by the commanding officer of the Legion. He demanded it from General Storks, who promised to get it for him, but he had never obtained it. He was now reduced to the most abject poverty, and condemned to work at manual labour with his health shattered. He (Mr. Maguire) had seen two or three of the petitioners himself, and more pitiable and wretched objects he had never beheld. They were almost walking skeletons, and their whole condition was such as to excite commiseration. He asked the earnest and honest consideration of the Secretary of State for War to this case. Let some trustworthy person be employed to make inquiry, and if there was any truth in the statements made he conjured the right hon. Gentleman, for the sake of those unfortunate people, as well as for the honour of the British name, to do them justice.


said, that with regard to the request of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Adderley), who wished to have a copy of the Report of a Parlia- mentary Committee appointed by the War Office, the Treasury, and the Colonial Office, by his predecessor, the gallant General (General Peel) opposite, he had stated to him the other day that he thought, as a general rule, there was an objection to publishing the Reports of such a Committee; but it was also true that last year, when his right hon. Friend brought the matter before the House, he (Mr. Sidney Herbert) had stated his opinion on the general subject; he stated the injustice in some cases and capriciousness with which these payments were distributed, and expressed the hope that some remedy would be found; and the Government were pursuing inquiries with that view. Generally speaking, he was opposed to making the Reports of these Departmental Committees public; but, as the one in question had been announced as occupying the attention of the Government, and as the foundation of some measure on the subject, he had in this particular case, having consulted the Colonial Minister, no objection to the production of the document. It would be found to be a document of great ability; but, of the three Members of the Committee, two had signed a Report opposed to that of the other. With respect to the case mentioned by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Maguire) as one of charity and justice, he had to state that it was really a case of charity, not of justice. He believed the hon. Gentleman could not overstate the destitute condition to which these unhappy persons were reduced. Their case had been taken up by a lady who was a Russian subject, and who was now in this country on a very unfortunate mission connected with painful family circumstances. These men had entered the Turkish service originally in the regiment known as the Cossacks of the Sultan, and were subsequently taken into British pay; but the whole question was simply one of compact. The Government raised through an English agency a certain number of men to be added to that legion. These men were promised no bounty whatever. The complainants were either deserters from the Russian army, who were transferred where they were without the necessity of providing outfit for a long voyage, or they were prisoners taken from Bomarsund, and sent out at the expense of the Government to join this Cossack Legion. The contract with them was, that the officers should receive the pay of French officers, and the men of Turkish privates. That they re- ceived, and at the expiration of their service a certain gratuity. Some came back; others remained in Turkey. Those who came to England received all that was due to them, and gave a receipt as having been paid in full. They never made any complaint until last autumn, when they found that others who had enlisted in the same legion at a greater distance had received more money in order to compensate them for the expense of reaching it. The lieutenant who had been referred to had been dismissed from the service for some misconduct by his superior officer, who was the proper person to decide upon the case.