Don Pacifico affair and case

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The Don Pacifico Affair was an episode of gun boat diplomacy which occurred in 1850 and concerned the Kingdom of Greece, the United Kingdom, and Portugal. The affair is named after David Pacifico. The grandfather of David Pacifico, named David Pacifico him too, settled down in Gibraltar in 1726 at 19 coming there from Italy where Pacifico's family arrived at the time of Jews' expulsion from Spain in 1492. Pacifico's family was a spanish sephardic one. Because of his task of honorary consul of the reign of Portugal, where Pacifico grew up because of his father work a diffused misunderstanding has indicated him as a jew of portuguese descent, which is not correct. The Pacificos or Pacificis have infact always been known as jews of spanish descent in all the italian communities they have belonged to,, particularly the one of Florence. David Pacifico became a naturalized british subject afterwards.


In 1820 the Greek people began their revolt from the Ottoman Empire. In 1828, England, France and Russia forced the Ottoman Empire to recognize the independence of the Greeks, and, by a treaty of 1832, Greece was recognized as an independent state. During those dozen years, Greece had had a republican form of government. The powers, however, were monarchies, suffering from the recent experiences of Napoleon and the revolutions of 1830. They therefore imposed a monarchy upon Greece, along with a new monarch, Otto von Wittelsbach, the under-age second son of the King of Bavaria. Aware and embarrassed that they were betraying Constitutionalism and the principles of liberty for which many Englishmen had fought in the War of Greek Independence, Britain demanded that this new King, when he came of age, should work out a constitution with the Greek people, by which the country would then be governed. This demand was agreed to by all parties to the Treaty. When King Otto came of age in 1835, he dismissed his Bavarian ministers and ruled as an absolute monarch, thereby betraying his commitments to the Greeks and to Britain, according to the treaty of 1832. His decisions were supported by the three despotic governments of Russia, Prussia and Austria, as well as by France. It was the assertion of the British Foreign Office, however, that Otto was in violation of the Treaty of 1832, and that, without a Constitution, the courts of Greece were dependent upon the whim of the King, and that justice could not be obtained for British subjects in those courts.[1]

The Immediate Antagonism[edit]

The dispute arose in 1847 after the house in Athens of the Portuguese diplomatic consul, Don Pacifico, was attacked and vandalised by an anti-Semitic mob that included the sons of a government minister, while police looked on and did nothing. Mayer de Rothschild had been visiting Athens, during the Greek Orthodox Easter (which fell on April 4), to discuss a possible loan,[2] and the government, in order to coax him, decided to ban the tradition of hanging the effigy of Judas,[3] thinking that Rothschild would be offended.[4][citation needed]. Some of the Greek population in Athens, incensed at the cancellation of their customs, rioted before the house of the Portuguese Consul-General. It was reported that the crowd was infiltrated by the Greek police, and that among its leaders were one or more sons of the Greek Minister of War [5]

Three days after the incident, Don Pacifico himself wrote to Sir Edmund Lyons, Minister Plenipotentiary to Greece:[6]

"It is with much grief that I feel myself obliged to communicate to your Excellency a dreadful event which has happened to me, and as an English subject to beg your protection. Last Sunday, Easter-day, at about 12 o'clock, a crowd of people, amongst whom were some soldiers of the gendarmerie, just come out of church, presented themselves at the door of my house, which they very soon battered down with large pieces of stone. These brigands, in number about 300 or 400, entered my house, and swearing dreadfully, began beating my wife, my innocent children, and my son-in-law. After having broken the windows, doors, tables, chairs, and every other article of furniture, they robbed me of my jewels, forcing open the closets in which were vases, candlesticks, gold and silver ornaments, diamonds, and lastly a box containing money to the amount of 9,800 drachmas, of which 2,300 were my own private property, and 7,500 which had been deposited with me by the Jewish community of Italy for the projected erection of a temple, and for the poor of this kingdom. These barbarians did not even leave me the Consular Portuguese archives, which were torn by them to pieces. These papers being my security from that nation for the sum of 21,295 l. 1s. 4d. sterling."

It is clear that Don Pacifico was a man of many facets. He was Portuguese Consul-General in Athens,[7] and had possession of the Legation's archive. He had previously been Portuguese Consul-General in Morocco.[8] He was also a leader of the Jewish community in Athens, in possession of money earmarked to build a synagogue in Athens. His house was not, as alleged by his and Palmerston's enemies, a poor hovel, but the very house in which the head of the Regency Council of King Otho, Count Josef Ludwig von Armansperg, had lived during the Regency (1832-1835) and as Arch-Secretary to the King (1835-1837).[9]

On May 20, 1847, Sir Edmund Lyons informed the Foreign Office in London [10] that he had applied to the Greek Government for compensation for Don David Pacifico, a British subject, for loss of possessions, including documents relating to a substantial claim against the Portuguese government for monies owed. Lord Palmerston advised Lyons to have Pacifico draw up an itemized valuation of his losses, and, if his statement were supported by satisfactory proof, to present a note to the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs requiring him to direct that the sum be paid to Don Pacifico. Pacifico complied on February 22, 1848, and Sir Edmund duly dispatched a demand for payment to M. Drossos Mansolas, the Greek Minister for Foreign Affairs. He also wrote to M. Constantine Colocotronis, the Prime Minister. Colocotronis rejected Pacifico's claims, with the same objections used by his predecessor in office, M. Colettis.[11] On August 31, 1848, David Pacifico again wrote to Sir Edmund Lyons, pointing out that sixteen months had passed since the incident and no satisfaction had been forthcoming. Moreover, he had been forced to abandon his house during the Easter celebrations of 1848; and he drew to the attention of Sir Edmund that several years earlier two Jews had been massacred at Patras, and likewise the Synagogue at Negroponte had been burned down.[12] After additional exchanges of letters among all the parties, on October 15, 1848, Don David Pacifico again appealed to the British Government to obtain justice for him and the settlement of his claims.

Already on December 3, 1849, the British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston, a philhellene and supporter of the Greek War of Independence of 1828-1829, had decided to take definitive action to settle the problems caused by Greek intransigence. King Otto and his government, in addition to refusing to settle claims of British citizens, had stopped payments on the loan of 1832. Palmerston wrote to Sir Thomas Wyse, the British Minister in Athens,[13]

"I have desired the Admiralty to instruct Sir William Parker to take Athens on his way back from the Dardanelles, and to support you in bringing at last to a satisfactory ending the settlement of our various claims upon the Greek Government. You will, of course, in conjunction with him, persevere in the suaviter in modo as long as is consistent with our dignity and honour, and I measure that time by days--perhaps by some very small number of hours. If however, the Greek Government does not strike, Parker must do so. In that case you should embark on board his fleet before he begins to take any hostile steps, in order that you and your mission may be secure against insult. He should, of course, begin by reprisals; that is, by taking possession of some Greek property; but the King would probably not much care for our taking hold of any merchant property, and the best thing, therefore, would be to seize holdof his little fleet, if that can be done handily. The next thing would be a blockade of any or all of his ports...."

On January 22, 1850, Admiral Sir William Parker reported [14] that all the vessels of the Greek government had been detained, but that the machinations of the French Minister Thouvenot and the Prussian Chargé d'affaires were encouraging King Otto to resist. The Greek Government and the Greek people had been thoroughly humiliated by the British.

Greece was a state under the joint protection of Britain, France, and Russia, and the imposition of the blockade caused a diplomatic conflict between Britain, on the one hand, and France and Russia on the other. France and Russia objected to the blockade and the French Ambassador in London, Édouard Drouyn de Lhuys, was temporarily withdrawn by the French Government. The affair also caused considerable damage to the reputation of King Otto in Athens. The blockade lasted two months and the affair ended only when the Greek government agreed to compensate Pacifico.

Political Fallout in London[edit]

At Westminster, both houses of parliament took up the issue of British foreign policy, especially with regard to Greece, with considerable energy. On June 17, 1850, Lord Edward Stanley (the future fourteenth Earl of Darby), the Leader of the Conservative Opposition in the House of Lords, proposed a motion in the House: "That, while the House fully recognizes the right and duty of the Government to secure to Her Majesty's subjects residing in foreign states the full protection of the laws of those states, it regrets to find, by the correspondence recently laid upon the table by Her Majesty's command, that various claims against the Greek Government, doubtful in point of justice or exaggerated in amount, have been enforced by coercive measures directed against the commerce and people of Greece, and calculated to endanger the continuance of our friendly relations with other powers." [15] After a memorable debate on June 17, 1850, the House of Lords voted in favor of the Opposition motion, by a majority of 37, which was a rebuke to Lord Palmerston's policies.

However, the House of Commons did not proceed along the same lines as the Lords. The MP for Sheffield, John Arthur Roebuck, an independent and sometimes contrarian member, sent the House of Commons in a different direction, to reverse this condemnation, by proposing "That the principles on which the foreign policy of Her Majesty's Government hve been regulated have been such as were calculated to maintain the honour and dignity of this country; and in times of unexampled difficulty, to preserve peace between England and the various nations of the world." A debate ensued, which lasted four nights. Palmerston delivered a famous five-hour speech in which he sought to vindicate not only his claims on the Greek government for Don Pacifico, but his entire administration of foreign affairs. "As the Roman, in days of old, held himself free from indignity, when he could say, Civis Romanus sum,[16] so also a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England will protect him from injustice and wrong."[1] He was answered by Sir Robert Peel,[17] in what turned out to be his last speech to the Commons, and by W. E. Gladstone.[18] The Government carried the motion by 310 to 264, a majority of forty-six, in favor of Palmerston's conduct of foreign affairs.

Pacifico's Settlement[edit]

The claims of the British Government were settled by a Convention, agreed between Her Britannic Majesty and His Hellenic Majesty on July 18, 1850.[19] The King agreed to make good to Mr. Pacifico any real injury which could be proved, after a full and fair investigation.

Don Pacifico's outstanding claims were submitted to a special Commission, composed of the French, British and Greek ministers in Lisbon. The Commissioners met in Lisbon in February. 1851. The Commission discovered in the archives of the Cortes at Lisbon a petition addressed by Don Pacifico to the Cortes in 1839, accompanied by voluminous documents to prove his claims. The claims had yet to be addressed by the Cortes. The Commission awarded Don Pacifico the sum of £150, owed by the Greek Government.[20] Pacifico received 120,000 drachmas and £500 in the settlement.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hansard CXII (3d Ser.), 380-444, Retrieved 28 March 2006.
  2. ^ Civitas Review, Volume 2, Issue 1; March, 2005 (pdf), Retrieved 28 March 2006.


  1. ^ Lord Palmerston, Foreign Minister, speech before the House of Commons, June 25, 1850, in John Alden (editor), Representative British Orations Volume 4 (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1900), 136-140.
  2. ^ The House of Rothschild had already loaned the Greek Government 60,000,000 francs in 1832, in order to establish the monarchy. Niall Ferguson, The House of Rothschild, Money's Prophets 1798-1848 (New York: Penguin 1998), p. 256.
  3. ^ Some refer to this tradition as a "burning", but the Orthodox Christians were following the biblical tradition that Judas had hanged himself. Judas must not be confused with Guy Fawkes.
  4. ^ Scott (editor), Cases on International Law, p. 510.
  5. ^ Trollope, p. 119 "A Greek, of some position in his country, had been present in the streets encouraging the rioters when the house had been burnt down, and the police had refused to notice the matter." Ashley, p. 179-180: "M. Pacifico was a Jew native of Gibraltar, whose house was pillaged and gutted, in open day, by a mob headed by the sons of the Minister of War. While it was occurring no attempt was made by the authorities of Athens to protect him."
  6. ^ British and Foreign State Papers. 1849-1850. [2]. Vol. XXXIX, pp. 333-334.
  7. ^ British and Foreign State Papers. 1849-1850. [2]. Vol. XXXIX, p. 374.
  8. ^ according to Lord Palmerston, in Alden, Representative British Orations Volume 4, p. 156. He was appointed to Morocco in February, 1835: Bracebridge, p. 10 n.
  9. ^ Alden, p. 157.
  10. ^ British and Foreign State Papers. 1849-1850. [2]. Vol. XXXIX, p. 334.
  11. ^ British and Foreign State Papers. 1849-1850. [2]. Vol. XXXIX , pp. 372-382.
  12. ^ British and Foreign State Papers. 1849-1850. [2]. Vol. XXXIX , pp. 382-388.
  13. ^ Ashley, 183.
  14. ^ Ashley, 187-188.
  15. ^ Ashley, p. 210.
  16. ^ "I am a Roman citizen."
  17. ^ The Speeches of the late Right Honourable Sir Robert Peel, Bart. Volume IV, 846-855.
  18. ^ G.W.E. Russell, The Right Honourable William Ewart Gladstone pp. 102–110.
  19. ^ Scott, Cases on International Law, principally selected from Decisions of English and American Courts, p. 511.
  20. ^ Scott, Cases on International Law, principally selected from Decisions of English and American Courts pp. 511-513.
  21. ^ Jacobs, Joseph. "PACIFICO CASE". Retrieved December 7, 2011. 


  • Hannell, David. "Lord Palmerston and the 'Don Pacifico Affair' of 1850: The Ionian Connection." European History Quarterly (1989) 19#4 pp: 495-508. online
  • Hicks, Geoffrey. "Don Pacifico, Democracy, and Danger: The Protectionist Party Critique of British Foreign Policy, 1850–1852." International History Review (2004) 26 #3 pp: 515-540.
  • Taylor, Derek. Don Pacifico: the acceptable face of gunboat diplomacy (Mitchell Vallentine & Company, 2008)
  • Whitten, Dolphus. "The Don Pacifico Affair." Historian (1986) 48#2 pp: 255-267.
  • British and Foreign State Papers. 1849-1850. [2]. Vol. XXXIX (London: Harrison and Sons 1863). [Don Pacifico materials at pp. 332 ff. and pp. 480 ff.]
  • Evelyn Ashley, The Life of Henry John Temple, Viscount Palmerston: 1846-1865, with selections from his Speeches and Correspondence Volume I (London: Richard Bentley 1876).
  • John Alden (editor), Representative British Orations Volume 4 (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1900), pp. 125–224 [Palmerston in the House of Commons, June 25, 1850].
  • Charles Holte Bracebridge, A Letter on the Affairs of Greece, (London: G. Barclay 1850) [originally appeared in the London newspaper, the Daily News, of May 21, 1850; he was present in Athens in the second half of April, 1850].
  • The Speeches of the late Right Honourable Sir Robert Peel, Bart. Volume IV (London: Routledge 1853) 846-855 [Peel's last speech to the House of Commons, on the Don Pacifico affair].
  • George W. E. Russell, The Right Honourable William Ewart Gladstone (New York: Harper 1891). pp. 102–110 [his speech to the House of Commons, on the Don Pacifico affair].
  • Anthony Trollope, Lord Palmerston (London: Wm. Isbister 1882) [a nearly contemporary anti-Semitic view, from a good novelist and a bad biographer].
  • Albert E. Hogan, Pacific Blockade (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1908), pp. 105–114.

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