1800-1859 | Famine

Sultan asked to reduce donation to Irish famine victims

Sultan Abdülmecîd (Pera Museum via Wikimedia) and Irish famine victims (James Mahony 1847 via Wikimedia)
Sultan Abdülmecîd (Pera Museum via Wikimedia) and Irish famine victims (James Mahony 1847 via Wikimedia)

31 March 1847

On 31 March 1847, the Ottoman Sultan Abdülmecîd sent £1000 to Dublin to help relieve Irish famine victims. He was moved by the accounts of mass starvation caused by a potato blight and aggravated by the decision of the British government to close all public works at the start of the year, forcing hundreds of thousands to rely on charity for their survival.1  The Sultan had, according to several accounts, wanted to send £10,000 but Lord Cowley, the British ambassador in Constantinople, warned him that such a generous donation would embarrass Queen Victoria, who had herself donated £2000 in January. Cowley suggested that he send just half that amount.2

Six wealthy London firms had similarly been careful to limit their donations to £1,000. The London Evening Standard had boasted that ‘the announcement (of the donations by the Queen and London based companies) made in our advertising columns yesterday show how the benevolence of England responds to a genuine appeal.’3  A far larger amount was sent from thousands of poor Irish immigrants in the United States while former slaves and the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma also sent contributions.4 However, charity could only save a few, so long as the British government refused to provide more relief, refused to protect Irish peasants from eviction and refused to place restrictions on the flow of Irish agricultural exports to the English market. As the Dublin based Freeman’s Journal observed, ‘some few thousands may be saved by private benevolence, but the mass is doomed by government.’5

The Sultan appears to have been a particularly compassionate man. In June of the same year he was to send £2,500 to the victims of a devastating fire in Bucharest.6  In the meantime, it is claimed, he still insisted on helping the Irish poor discreetly by sending three ships loaded with grain.  The British refused them entrance to Dublin but it seems they managed to unload their cargoes thirty miles north at the port of Drogheda.  There is possible corroboratory evidence in a short announcement on 15 May in Lloyds List and in the Shipping and Mercantile Gazette that three ships had arrived at Drogheda on 12 May, the Porcupine from Constantinople, the Anne from Salonica and the Alita from Stettin, though on 16 May both newspapers corrected the information, declaring that the Porcupine had actually arrived from the Macedonian port of Kavala, which was also a port under Ottoman rule. The Drogheda Conservative Journal observed that the three ships brought in a total of 3,930 quarters of Indian corn.7


  1. Tim Pat Coogan, The Famine Plot: England’s Role in Ireland’s Greatest Tragedy, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2012, p. 71 and Alison Comyn, Ottoman Ships on the Boyne, The Drogheda Independent, 23 May 2012 accessed online at url https://www.independent.ie/regionals/droghedaindependent/news/ottoman-ships-on-the-boyne-27166980.html
  2. Tim Pat Coogan, Op. cit., p. 71.
  3. Editorial, the London Evening Standard, 7 January 1847, p. 2.
  4. Christine Kinealy, Charity and the Great Hunger in Ireland: The Kindness of Strangers, Bloomsbury, London, 2013.
  5. ‘The Relief Committee Deputation – Official Subscriptions for Ireland,’ The Freeman’s Journal, 14 June 1849, p. 2.
  6. ‘Turkey,’ The London Evening Standard, 14 June 1847, p. 3.
  7. ‘Drogheda,’ Lloyds List, 14 May 1847, p. 1, ‘Drogheda,’ The Shipping and Mercantile Gazette, 14 May 1847, p. 2, ‘Drogheda,’ Lloyds List, 15 May 1847, p. 1, ‘Drogheda,’ The Shipping and Mercantile Gazette, 15 May 1847, p. 2 and ‘Port of Drogheda,’ The Drogheda Conservative Journal, 15 May 1847, p. 3.

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