No. 488.
Mr. Vidal to Mr. Hunter.

No. 41.]

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,

“Es del hortelano el perro,
Ni come ni comer deja,
Ni esta fuera, ni esta deutro.”

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.,


Speech delivered by Admiral Lord Clarence Paget at the inauguration of the Malta Clarence hydraulic dock, on the 23d of January, 1873.

Lord Clarence replied as follows:

Your excellency, ladies, and gentlemen: Permit me to thank Admiral Inglefield for the kind terms in which he has proposed my health, and to your excellency and the ladies and gentlemen present, among whom I recognize many old Maltese friends, I beg to express my gratitude for their cordial reception of the toast. It is true, as Mr. Reed has observed, that I have come a long way to preside on this interesting occasion, but in truth, it has been a labor of love; for, having passed many years of my life among the Maltese, I know the value of this great gem of the British Crown and the virtues of its inhabitants, and am glad of the opportunity of visiting them. Nothing has been more remarkable to me than the contrast which these islands afford as compared with the fair land of Italy, through which I have lately passed on my journey hitherward. Nature has been equally bountiful to both, but while here happily there are signs of a contented and thriving population, there, alas! the people are overburdened with taxes, and have the misfortune of a depreciated paper currency; nevertheless, I am bound to admit that, unless Malta bestirs herself, she will lag behind in the race of progress and damage the brilliant position she occupies as the half-way house to our Indian possessions. The first requisites, in order to attract commerce and visitors, are a regular and rapid communication with the Continent, and ample accommodation in the way of hotels; in these she is lamentably deficient; but [Page 1169] these, though matters of immediate importance, appear secondary to the absorbing question as to the disposal of the teeming population of these islands. I find, on consulting the last census, that it amounts to nearly 124,000 inhabitants, in a proportion of 1,200 to the square mile, being denser than that, as far as I am aware, of any country on the globe; but what is still more striking and appalling is its rapid increase, something like 1,000 in every year.

I hear of proposals of emigration to India and the West Indies, which, for the inhabitants of Malta, are distant countries, while the advantages are uncertain.

Those who know the Maltese are well aware that, while healthy, vigorous, and marvelously industrious here, once outside of Gibraltar, they pine to return to the neighborhood of their island. Would it not, therefore, be far more expedient to induce them to colonize the shores of the Mediterranean? There is a magnificent district at their very doors which, having visited, I can say from experience is admirably adapted to this people, and in fact was in all probability their original home. I speak of that which is known as the “Cyrenaica,” and with whose interesting history you are probably acquainted. Suffice it to say that it was one of the principal granaries of ancient Rome, and from its great fertility was designated in mythological language as the “Garden of the Hesperides.”

It is now desolate and uninhabited, save by occasional wandering tribes of Arabs, with whom there would be little difficulty and small expense in coming to amicable terms for the grant of land to Maltese settlers.

The time was when such an idea as I venture to broach would have been considered by European nations as one of conquest and thirst for political aggrandizement, but I, for one, believe those days are passed. The world knows that England loves not conquest, and it is but the other day that we were blamed throughout Europe for not retaining our hold of Abyssinia and bringing it into civilization.

It needs but the consent of the Sultan, who is under so many obligations and is so friendly to England, to permit the settlement of the superabundant population of these islands, under their own flag, and as free owners of the land, on fair and equitable terms, to revive by their extraordinary industry the fertility of that beautiful region; and I verily believe that time is come when such a proceeding would be viewed with equanimity if not approbation by Christian nations.

I would venture to ask the government of England to consider this serious fact, that by the last census there is now a population of 32,000 in these islands which is returned as having no occupation whatever, and is therefore a burden, producing pauperism, disease, and other concomitant misfortunes; in other words, every fifth individual one meets here is useless in his generation; but by removal to another sphere his talents and energy would contribute to the general welfare of mankind.

I am bold in advocating these views, but they were impressed on my mind by a man greatly beloved and long resident in Malta, the late Right Honorable John Hookham Frere, and they are shared in by many enlightened inhabitants of these islands. I trust, therefore, that I shall be pardoned for introducing them on this occasion, for I assure you, sir, that they come from the honest convictions I have imbibed during a long acquaintance with this remarkable people.