Mr. Beardsley to Mr. Fish.
Cairo , September 16, 1873. (Received October 13.)
Sir: An incident of considerable importance, as affecting the slavery question in Egypt, has lately occurred at Mansourah, in Lower Egypt.[Page 1171]
Since the time slavery was formally abolished by the Egyptian government it has been the custom of slaves wishing their liberty to apply to the consuls or consular agents of Great Britain, who invariably obtained it for them by sending the applicants to the police authorities with an officer of the consulate, and demanding their emancipation-papers. Without either treaty-rights or any particular understanding on the subject with the Egyptian government, the English authorities in Egypt have been recognized as the champions of the Egyptian slave, and thousands of slaves have been liberated through their active interference.
It has long been the proclaimed law of Egypt that slavery was illegal, and that any person held in bondage had only to apply to the prefect of police of the district to obtain his or her emancipation-papers.
This law was, however, virtually a dead letter, for the reason that a direct application to the native authorities was generally attended with disastrous results to the applicant. The slave’s master was notified of the application, and asked whether he had any criminal charge to make against the slave. The most petty charge of theft or misdemeanor was sufficient to remand the wretch back into the hands of his master, who was only too apt to inflict some terrible punishment for the attempt to escape.
The slave’s application to the British consulate was, however, attended with more happy results. The master’s charges were ignored, unless they happened to be serious, in which case it was a matter for prosecution the court, and, in any case, the slave’s freedom was secured and his future safety looked after.
The numbers of slaves heretofore applying at the British consulates have not been very great at any one time; perhaps two or three a week at each of the agencies would be an average. For some unknown reason, however, there has latterly been a perfect stampede of slaves at Mansourah, and 1,700 have applied at the British agency for their freedom within a month, while there were indications of the entire slave population of the province following the example.
The Egyptian authorities, of course, became greatly alarmed, and His Highness the Khedive, on learning the facts, at once summoned Mr. Vivian, acting British agent and consul-general, in the absence of Colonel Stanton, for a conference on the subject.
The situation was an embarrassing one for His Highness for however sincere and earnest he may have been in his professed desire to see slavery abolished in Egypt, yet he could not consent to immediate emancipation, which must necessarily inflict serious loss on his people, and, for the time, paralyze the industry of the country. Yet to refuse the applicants their freedom was virtually to legalize slavery throughout the country.
A crisis had fortunately arrived which must determine the question of slavery in Egypt.
Without entering into the particulars of the negotiations on the subject, I will briefly state the general results up to the present time.
As for the past, all the slaves who have applied at the British consular agency at Mansourah have been emancipated and their masters indemnified by the Egyptian government.
As for the future, a treaty between Egypt and England is being negotiated, the general features of which are as follows, viz:
- Slavery, or the holding of persons to involuntary servitude, shall cease in Egypt after the expiration of five years from the date of the signing of the treaty.
- It shall be a criminal offense to buy, sell, or hold a slave after that date.
- In the mean time, until the expiration of five years, liberty will only be granted to slaves whose masters shall have used them with, undue cruelty.
- It shall be considered a crime to be punished with death, for any person to make a eunuch.
These are the general features of the proposed treaty; all its details have not yet been agreed upon, but I hope to report them at an early day.
It will be thus seen that the slavery question in Egypt is in a fair way of being satisfactorily and permanently disposed of. It is not to be supposed that the prospect is an agreeable one for His Highness the Khedive’s subjects, and even His Highness himself might be excused for regretting the necessity of such a step in view of the immense advantage slavery would give him, for the moment, in his development of the Soudan and the lake region.
I am, sir, &c,