The activities and influence of David Urquhart 1833-56, with special reference to the affairs of the Near East.
David Urquhart first went out to the Near East in 1827 as
an enthusiastic Philhellene, but while he was there he suffered
a change of heart and became an ardent admirer of the Turks.
Urquhart also became very suspicious of Russian ambitions
throughout the Near and Middle East, and thought that Britain
should intervene, with force if necessary, to support the
Turkish empire and to defend her own interests. Until 1837,
Urquhart was in a position to try to persuade the British
government to adopt this course through his contact with the
King, Lord Palmerston and other Foreign Office officials and
with Lord Ponsonby, the British ambassador in Constantinople.
Although Palmerston was also suspicious of Russia, he would not
be persuaded to take any provocative action against her.
Urquhart gave some help in the negotiations which were conducted
in London in 1835/36 for a new commercial treaty between Great
Britain and Turkey. In July 1836 2 he returned to Constantinople
as secretary of embassy, but he and Ponsonby quickly became
involved in a bitter quarrel and Urquhart was recalled. It was
the end of his diplomatic career as his previous influential
friends and supporters had become disillusioned by the increasingly
irresponsible and megalomaniac nature of his conduct.
Urquhart therefore turned to appeal to public opinion in Great
Britain. By his previous writings he had already won a reputation
as an expert on Near Eastern affairs and he had greatly
stimulated the growth of anti-Russian feeling in England. His
anti-Russian views continued to attract sympathy and there was
some support for his general criticisms of British foreign
policy, but there was no popular acceptance of the view, which,
from 1839 onwards, became the main theme of his speeches and
writings, that Palmerston was a traitor in the pay of Russia.
His only success in this respect was during the Crimean
War when he founded the Foreign Affairs Committees amongst small
sections of the working classes. After 1856, Urquhart was never
again in a position to exercise any influence upon British
policy or public opinion with regard to the Near East.