Mr. Vidal to Mr. Hunter.
Tripoli of Barbary , May 27, 1873. (Received July 30.)
Sir: I have the honor to call the attention of the Department to a speech (inclosure No. 1) delivered by Lord Clarence Paget, admiral of the British navy, at the inauguration of the Clarence hydraulic dock of Malta, which took place on the 23d of January last. The Cyrenaica, whose settlement by Maltese emigrants and virtual annexation to the British Empire the noble admiral so boldly advocated in that speech, is that very district of this Regency which I had in view when, in dispatch No. 32, I alluded to the possibility for the United States Government to acquire a naval station in the Mediterranean Sea.
It is close to the western boundary of Egypt, was at all times known for the fertility of its territory, and is inhabited by a very scanty nomadic population, which, far from being as warlike as the Algerines or the Tunisians, is, on the contrary, as mild, submissive, and abject as the fellahs of Egypt.
The principal sea-ports of the Cyrenaica are Bengazi, which competes with Tripoli for the importance of its exports; Derna, which was so easily captured by our General Evans at the head of a handful of adventurers during the war between the United States and this Regency; Bomba, one of the very few sea-ports with deep water to be found on the northern coast of Africa, and Cabrook, which, according to trusty travelers, is a splendid port, the center of a magnificent country, but without trade of any kind, a sort of San Francisco Bay under the rule of Mexicans. This is not the first instance given by the British of their intention to occupy that country as soon as they can do so without having to encounter the opposition of European powers. In 1850, during the administration of Mr. Moore O’Ferral, one of the governors of Malta, that question was mooted in the Maltese Council by Messrs. Michel Angelo Sierri and Rosario Messina, who gave the most tempting description of the Cyrenaica. Subsequently, in 1863, another Maltese, Captain Laferla, applied directly to the British government in regard to the same scheme, but trammeled as that government was in those days by its Eastern policy, it judged that the time was not opportune; and the captain received from the Duke of Newcastle (December 22, 1863) an unfavorable reply. Two years later, another governor of Malta, Sir Henry Storks, caused a committee to be appointed to consider that same question. That committee went seriously into the matter, made inquiries respecting Bengazi and the Cyrenaica, but their work amounted to nothing, the Ottoman government not being yet prepared to part with their possession. In 1870 another Maltese gentleman, Mr. Savarese, petitioned the government for assistance to a scheme for an emigration to Bomba and Tabrook, asking from the Maltese government a subsidy of £10 for each emigrant, and his own appointment as a salaried consul at the settlement. And now, when the plan is well matured and the occasion supposed favorable, we see that question taken up by one of the highest functionaries of the British Empire, and its success alluded to as a thing beyond a doubt.
I had the honor to state in dispatch No. 32 that the British, the French, the Italian, and the Spanish governments have, either in turn, or all at the same time, entertained the idea of possessing themselves of the northern coast of Africa. That they have done so partially only [Page 1168] is owing to the dog-in-the-manger jealousy of them all, which, in the words of Lope de Vega,
As late as 1572 Charles IX, King of France, had serious thoughts of annexing the Regency of Algiers to his Crown, as it appears from his instructions to François de Noailles, bishop of Aegs, his minister at Constantinople, under date of May 11, August 8, 14, 25, and September 4 and 6, 1572. (E. Charrière: Négociations de la France dans le Levant tom. iii, pp. 271, 303.)
But the other European nations would rather pay a humble tribute to petty, barbarous Deys, and see their own coasts plundered, their ships captured, their men enslaved, and their women a prey to the lusts of blackamoors, than the power of another Christian people extended in these seas. When, two hundred and fifty-eight years later, the French succeeded atlast in conquering Algiers, the British government, lest that conquest might by degrees extend as far as Egypt, which, for the last hundred years, has been the main objective point of the annexing policy of the great European nations, strongly urged the Porte to centralize at Constantinople the local governments of the regencies, so that the latter would be out of the reach of French ambition.
I have shown, in dispatch No. 35, how England has succeeded, as far as Tripoli is concerned, not only in converting this Regency into a mere Ottoman Vilayet, but in bringing France and Italy themselves, by holding before their eyes the fear of Russia, to the adoption of a similar policy; and I have promised to allude in a subsequent dispatch to the Tunisian Regency.
But what she can no longer accomplish by open conquest, England, forever active and on the alert, will attempt by a peaceful settlement and voluntary grants from the Porte; and the day is not distant when Cyrenaica will be marked on the maps of Africa with that red color with which map-makers are used to distinguish the possessions of Great Britain from all the other countries in the world.
I have, &c.,