The Stopford Papers

     This valuable archive consists, in the main, of the official papers, letters and briefings to Admiral Sir Robert Stopford during his period as Commander-in-Chief of the British Mediterranean Fleet from 1837-1841. The bulk of the papers relate specifically to the background and conduct of the war between Mehemet Ali, Pasha of Egypt, and the European powers led by Great Britain in support of the Turkish Empire and known to history as the 'Syrian Wars'. They provide a graphic picture, not merely of events, but more interestingly of the diplomatic and quasi-diplomatic relationships between the participants and of the interaction of military and diplomatic developments as experienced by Stopford, his commanders and various 'agents' in the region.  There are over 400 items catalogued in 270 lots as many of the letters accompany others in an introductory or explanatory capacity.

     Most of the papers were written or sent during 1839 and 1840 although there are papers from 1834 until 1838, which are relevant to the main focus, and similarly a number from 1841 and 1842 again relevant to the principal concerns. All of the letters from the Foreign Office are sent by Lord Palmerston and while they are all signed with his name the majority are signed on his behalf.

     The Syrian Wars, so-called because Syria was the contested area for the Egyptian, Turkish and British forces, are of importance in marking a significant point in the long decline of the Turkish Empire and in producing the conditions under which Egypt would come to be dominated by European, again largely British, economic power. Egypt, nominally a Turkish province, in fact enjoyed a great deal of autonomy, and, under the de-facto rule of Mehemet Ali after 1805, Egypt became a relatively prosperous, autocratic and increasingly well-armed state. 

     Mehemet, in order to extend and protect his independence, wished to control Syria, and in November 1831 sent his son Ibrahim into Palestine and on to Acre where the Egyptian Fleet joined in the attack. Following the defeat of two Turkish armies Ibrahim occupied Syria, and yet another victory over the Turks in December 1832 meant that the road to Constantinople, if Mehemet Ali so wished, was open.  Britain, whose foreign policy was very largely determined by Palmerston, had, as its principal aims, the preservation of the integrity of the Turkish empire and to control the Syrian conflict in such a way as to avoid a European war, if Ibrahim Pasha had marched on Constantinople the Russians would certainly have intervened and France would have opposed Russia.   A settlement of sorts followed with Mehemet gaining some territory and the Russian Fleet returned home. 

     In 1839 conflict began again, and at the battle of Nezib in January 1839 the Turkish army was heavily defeated and the fate of Turkey was again uncertain, the situation was almost immediately exacerbated by the death of the Sultan and his succession by a minor of 16.   Turkey was further weakened by the remarkable action of the Turkish 'Admiral' Achmet who, believing that Khosrev, the Grand Vizier and other courtiers in Constantinople, was in the pay of the Russians took his entire fleet to Alexandria and placed it at the service of Mehemet Ali.  The ensuing conflict was dominated by the British Fleet acting in conjunction with Turkish ships and troops. 

     In the Autumn of 1840 Beyrout was taken - interestingly Admiral Sir Charles Napier, Stopford's second-in-command, left his ship and successfully acted as General to the combined Anglo-Turkish army - followed by Haifa, then Sidon, Tripoli and finally Acre. Later, in November 1840, Napier, without authority from Stopford or Palmerston, negotiated directly with Mehemet Ali in Alexandria and a formal convention, which was to be the basis of the ensuing 'peace', was signed on the 27th. November.  In effect Mehemet was allowed to keep Egypt for himself and his heirs provided that he vacated all Turkish territory, which included Syria. Napier believed that he had 'solved' the Eastern Question. It was, of course, merely shelved and the Syrian Wars merely underlined the continuing decline of Turkish power; this decline, and the economic and financial invasion of Egypt following Mehemet Ali's defeat, guaranteed domination by European powers and the rise of Turkish, Egyptianand Arab Nationalism. 

     Many of the 'briefings' sent by Palmerston from the Foreign Office are marked 'copy', which can mean either that this was one of two or three copies sent by different ships or even routes - the usual practice when the losses of communications were relatively high due to loss of ships, piracy, serious and contagious disease in ports of call or collection and so on, orit might also mean a copy made on the arrival of the briefing at its destination but this is clearly not so in the bulk of cases where the accompanying letter from the Admiralty is generally signed by the Secretary of the Admiralty and often by others. 

     The briefings received by Stopford from the British consuls in the region and in particular those from Colonel Patrick Campbell in Alexandria and the two Werrys (father and son) at Damascus and Aleppo are perhaps the most valuable in providing a personal and sometimes detailed view of the conflict.  One letter will perhaps illustrate this.  In a private letter to Stopford dated 14 August 1839 Campbell writes "I do not understand the politics or feelings of our government in regard to the Eastern Question or to Mehemet Ali.... Lord Palmerston appears to have adopted the sentiments and almost the passions of Lord Ponsonby...” Palmerston appears to fear that Mehemet Ali would "sweep through the whole extent of Asia Minor", but in fact "nothing can exceed the great moderation of Mehemet Ali in stopping his victorious army and not allowing it to pass his frontier, although Ibrahim Pasha was invited to do so by all the chief authorities of Asia Minor." 

     Throughout the period Campbell took a very benign view of Mehemet Ali with whom he appears to have had many meetings, in contrast to the more critical and official 'Foreign Office' view of Lord Ponsonby in Constantinople. 

     The reports of various consuls and others in the region to Stopford underline the strong divergence of interpretations of events between the 'men on the ground' like Campbell who approved of Mehemet and his actions and other wider or more strategic views of ambassadors like Ponsonby and of those at the centre, especially Palmerston, concerned as they saw it with 'the wider picture'.

     The various papers in this archive are in remarkably fine condition largely because they have passed in direct descent to the present day from John Loudon who was Secretary to Stopford and through whose hands all correspondence and orders would be received and issued, indeed several of the letters are to him seeking advice and support.  The archive is contained in a five custom made boxes, each clearly labelled and dated.

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