HC Deb 11 July 1805 vol 5 cc831-5

Mr. Windham, in consequence of the notice that had been given by his hon. friend (sir Sidney Smith) yesterday, rose to move for copies of the correspondence of government relative to the case of captain Wright. When he fist took the liberty of mentioning the subject to the house, he doubted whether he should conclude by moving for the papers, or confine himself to a statement that might attract the attention of the house. His reason for having adopted the latter course was, because he thought the papers, when produced, would not shew the government and the country in any advantageous light. It was not creditable to seek redress by indirect means, through the intercession or mediation of other powers, when it ought to have been insisted upon as matter of direct right. But his hon. friend (sir Sidney Smith), the gallant officer on the bench behind him, was of opinion, that the production of these papers would be of service to capt. Wright, by publishing to the country and Europe, the circumstances of his case; and, with this view, he meant to conclude with a motion for the papers. The question to consider was, first, what was necessary for this county to do in order to maintain its dignity and independence; and secondly, what was necessary to be done with a view to the relief of capt. Wright. As to what was necessary to country, he should only say, that if we were once to confess we durst not retaliate, it would be an acknowledgement of inferiority, which must in the fatal.—As to the second object, if we were to do to the French as they did to us, it would have an effect on the feelings of the public in France, and on the military, and Bonaparte was not out of the reach of public opinion.—Besides, he might now be governed by more generous feelings than formerly: having attained the summit of his ambition, he was alive to fame, and not insensible to reproach. He could not be insensible to the reproach of having been actuated by motives of personal resentment against a gallant officer whom he first knew at Acre, by the share he had in the ever glorious and memorable exploit in defence of that place. The French ruler might therefore, from the influence of more generous feelings, not less than from the dread of the odium that be would encounter in France if the officers who might fall into our hands should be treated with the same rigour as captain Wright, be induced to alter his conduct to that gallant officer. The right hon. gent. concluded by moving, "That an humble address be presented to his majesty, that he will be graciously pleased to give directions, that there be laid before this house, copies of such correspondence as may have taken place between his majesty's government and the government of France, or with that of any other country, relative to the treatment, or exchanged, of capt. Wright, late of his majesty's sloop Vincego, and now a prisoner of war in close confinement in France."

Sir Sidney Smith in seconding the motion of his right hon. friend, and a duty be owed to every officer in the navy. A natural question would arise in the minds of gentlemen who heard him, what useful purpose was proposed to be answered by the production of the papers. To this he should answer, that three beneficial purpose would be promoted by it. First, it would afford a consolation to captain Wright in his solitary confinement, to find that he was not disowned by his government or by his country, and that the assertions of France with respect to him were not credited. He could from his personal knowledge assert, that captain Wright had been regularly employed in the service of his country. He held in his hand a document, written by captain Wright himself, which with leave of the house he proposed to read. This was the letter to the Admiralty, in which captain Wright solicited to be actively employed in the service of his country, after the commencement of the war, This communication had been followed by an offer of the command of a sloop, which not being then equipped ready for service, his gallant friend, anxious to be actively employed, zealous for the service of his country, and perfectly fearless of danger, was appointed to the command of the Vincego.—There were some circumstance of that vessel, and the treatment of captain Wright which might not be known to many gentlemen present, and which perhaps had never reach the present ruler of France. He should therefore, with the leave of the house, read a document on that subject. And here he should say, that the general, who first demanded captain Wright to the French government, might have had a wish to promote his views with his government, by a display of his zeal in its cause. The document he alluded to was a letter from an office of the Vicego, giving an account of her capture, and the subsequent treatment of the captain and crew. This letter had been written by an officer of the vessel, and unquestionably without any view to the use now made of it.—The gallant officer here read the letter, of which the following is a copy:—"We have at length arrived it our place of rest (Verdun) after a fatiguing match of near 800 miles. Captain Wright was separated from us at Vannes, and the men were afterwards taken from us at Verheuil: we were then conveyed to paris, and lodged in the Abaye; so soon, however, as it became dark, we were removed to the Temple, where we were confined seven weeks, thee of which we passed in solitary confinement.—As, perhaps, you have heard the particulars of our being taken, I will give you a short account. During our long cruize in Quiberon Bay, we were continually engaged with the numerous gun-boats that passed from one port to another with convoys; but having no pilot, and they keeping close in shore, we were unable to do any thing decisive; we, however, took two unarmed vessel, one a schooner, laden with flour, &c.; and the other, a national lugger, with 2000 oars for the gun-boats; this last, from our want of men, we were obliged to destroy; the other arrived safe in England. The day before we were taken, we drove a sloop and lugger ashore, near St. Gelda's. On the morning, at day-light, we discovered a number of vessels coming out of the Morbihan, and a corvette of 18 long 18-pounders lay at anchor close in shore. The Vincego was at this time becalmed in a strong tides way, which drifted us close on a rock, which was avoided by dropping our anchor; when the tide slacked, having taken a poor man from a fishing boat as pilot, we attempted to take the Tennis Passage, but from his fears or ignorance, he was of no use, and went down below. We were in narrow and intricate passage, without an air of wind; numerous gun- boats coming rapidly up with us; our men, who had been up all night, and had laboured three hours at the oars in a sultry morning, where quite exhausted; and finding escape impossible, the captain ordered the ship's broadside to be swept to, and an engagement was kept up against such fearful odds, for more than two hours, when our firing almost wholly ceased, three of the guns being dismounted, and the rest incumbered, with lumber, from the falling of the booms, their supporter having been shot away. The men falling fast, the foremast nearly shot away, and the vessel nearly sinking, captain Wright was forced to hail that he had struck, just in time to save the lives of the few that could keep the deck, as the gun-boats were rowing up alongside, with numerous troops to board. He himself was wounded in the thigh early in the action by a grape shot, but never left the deck. We lament his separation from us, as we would the absence of our dearest friends. His manners are those of a perfect gentleman; his abilities of the first class; and his bravery only equalled by his generosity and humanity. In his deportment to his inferiors he appears in the most amiable point of view, it being that of kind and benevolent father. Indeed I have not words to express my admiration of his character."—Here the hon. and gallant officer was so overpowered by the weight of his feelings, that he was for some time deprived of articulation, and in the end obliged to break off abruptly.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer said, he had no sort of objection to the production of the papers moved for by the right hon. gent. As there was no objection to their production, it was not desirable to make any observation upon them in the present instance. When the papers should be on the table, the house would be able to judge of what had been done, as well as whether any further steps were necessary. But, as the motion then stood, it appeared to him that some additional papers were necessary in order to bring the matter fully before the house.—The motion was then agreed to, as also, on the motion of the chancellor of the exchequer, "that there be laid before the house a copy of a letter from William Marsden, esq., to Edward Cooke, esq., under secretary of state, dated the 17th of July, 1804, with a copy of its inclosure, from Mr. Riviere, of the marine department at Paris. And also, a copy of a letter from Edward Cooke, esq., to William Marsden, esq., secretary to the lords commissioners of the admiralty, in answer thereto, dated the 28th August, 1804."