Things do seem to repeat themselves

Posted by Helen Tuesday, October 14, 2014 , ,

Captain Frederick Burnaby has appeared on this blog before (here, for example) and deserves a great deal of attention. It so happens that I have recently finished his second book of adventures to do with Russia, whom he did not trust in the slightest, On Horseback Through Asia Minor, written and published in 1877.

Burnaby was definitely in the Turcophile camp, politically speaking, though he found some of the Turkish attitudes frustrating. He also found it hard to understand why the Turks should be so anxious to fight Russia (though sometimes this seemed like a fatalistic acceptance of the inevitable) while doing so little to build up their military strength, defence structures and equipment (also shrugged off fatalistically). Nevertheless, he thought that Britain should support Turkey against Russia whom he saw not just as an enemy but also as a barbaric country whose treatment of numerous people, especially in her push forward in the Caucasus and Central Asia, was abominable. Turkey, he thought, could conceivably become a well governed country with Britain's help but Russia was determined to prevent that as the idea of a well-governed country on her border was an abomination to her. (Ahem, sounds familiar?)

During his ride, Burnaby spent some time in Erzingan [sic] where he had a long conversation with Mutasaraf Pascha, the civil governor of the province, who told him of the capture of a Russian agent with various incriminating papers on him that proved beyond doubt that the Russians were fomenting trouble in Bulgaria and various vulnerable parts of the Ottoman Empire. The papers were sent to Constantinople but nothing was done about them or the information in them because the Sultan was under the control (more or less) of the Russian ambassador, Count Ignatieff. [Needless to say, Russian historians view the period differently.]

Burnaby asked Mutasaraf Pascha whether there were any names in the papers that had been taken from the Russian agent.

Yes, names implicating some very high Russian functionaries. I hope that we shall soon be engaged in hostilities with Russia. Ever since the battle of Sedan she has been secretly at war with Turkey, and trying to stab us under the guise of friendship. Ignatieff encouraged Abdul Aziz in his extravagance. He knew this would lead to bankruptcy and to a rupture of the alliance with England; and you may depend upon it, that the Russian Ambassador was one of the first men to advise his majesty to repudiate the debt.

They are very clever, these Russian diplomats and however poor Russia may be, she has always enough gold to sow the seeds of sedition and rebellion in her neighbour's territory. You will find this out for yourselves one day.
This was meat and drink to Burnaby who considered that Russia was a definite threat to India as well as to Constantinople.

Later, especially under the Soviet regime it became obvious that poverty and even famine could be disregarded if money was to be spent on propaganda and destabilization abroad. As to sowing the seeds of sedition and rebellion, it is possible that many Ukrainians, Georgians and Moldovans would agree with the Turkish official.


  1. On Horseback Through Asia Minor is an excellent book. It is at least as good as the more famous Ride to Khiva. Burnaby is an enjoyable companion. Burnaby was, as you are surely aware, a Conservative candidate in Manchester, the very heart of the Chamberlain territory, and challenged Chamberlain himself. That was a dramatic and exciting event in Burnaby's life which unfortunately he did not write about himself.

  2. D'oh. Birmingham, not Manchester.

  3. Helen Says:
  4. Uh-huh! Glad you noted the difference.

    The last years of Burnaby's life are rather mysterious in that different people give different assessments. It is, undoubtedly, a pity that he failed to become an MP but, honestly, would he really have been able to take the discipline of House and Party?

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