HC Deb 19 February 1819 vol 39 cc541-5

Mr. J. H. Smyth, after a few observations, in the course of which he regretted the extent to which the Slave Trade still prevailed, notwithstanding the treaties concluded with foreign powers for its suppression, urged the necessity of taking immediate steps to carry those treaties into effect, and moved for "Copies of all Appointments of Commissioners to carry into execution the Treaties with Portugal, Spain, and the Netherlands, dated respectively the 28th July and 29th September 1817, and 4th May 1818, for the more complete Abolition of the African Slave Trade, and the dates of such appointments; and Copies of all Instructions to any of his majesty's ships sent to the coast of Africa, since these treaties were concluded, for the purpose of carrying the same into effect."

Lord Castlereagh

had no objection to the motion, and admitted the importance of the subject. He also admitted that the delay which had taken place was sufficient to excite a presumption of negligence on the part of government. But the House must be aware that there were many difficulties to impede the execution of conventions of this kind. Hitherto, no instructions had been issued under these conventions to our cruisers to capture ships engaged in the Slave trade, and the reason was, that there was no tribunal before which such prizes could be brought, and it would be contrary to the laws of nations to make such captures before a tribunal was appointed. The first object therefore was, to constitute the tribunal by appointing the commissioners, for already there was a very considerable squadron fitted out and ready to sail for the coast of Africa, for the purpose of putting down the Slave trade under these conventions. That squadron only waited for the appointment of the commissioners who were to accompany them. The noble lord then detailed the difficulties which had been experienced in procuring persons qualified to act as commissioners who would accept that office. It was now, however, probable that proper persons would be appointed to act as commissioners, and as the squadron was completely fitted out, all the measures for carrying the conventions into effect, would be completed.

Sir C. Robinson

said, that the utmost diligence had been employed; but the fact was, that no civilian could be found, who would accept the office. Application had then been made to several common lawyers, but none could be induced to undertake these duties. At last, it had been deemed expedient to nominate some attornies, who, though generally speaking not endowed with all the knowledge which persons of higher rank in the profession had, were yet, upon examination by sir W. Scott, deemed competent to execute the office of commissioners in this case.

Dr. Phillimore

did not think that any extraordinary exertions had been made to fill up the appointments. If the civil law bar furnished no candidates for these offices, at least there might have been many found among the junior members of the common law. Of the Sierra Leone appointment he knew nothing personally, but he could say positively of his own knowledge that many civilians would have gladly accepted the Brazil's commission; one he knew who was perfectly qualified by a sixteen years standing in the profession, and who had not been able to succeed in his application for it. Nor was there any objection to the Havannah station except the smallness of the salary which was 1,500l. a year, with a retiring pension of 700l.; and a gentleman he knew would have taken it had the income been 2,000l. with a pension of 1,000l. on retirement; a sum not too large for persons who, having been regularly trained to a scientific profession, embarked in an arduous pursuit of this kind.

Lord Castlereagh

, in explanation, said he had given the fullest instructions before he went abroad, and as soon as the act was in force; but he really had not thought of having commissioners, ready cut and dry, before the act was passed.

Mr. Ellice

trusted that the most vigorous efforts would be made by ministers in, furtherance of the act already passed for the abolition of the infamous traffic in slaves. It was a lamentable fact, that at no period had the Slave trade prevailed with more disgusting eagerness than at present, and he was authorized in saying that not only Spanish and Portuguese, and American, but British merchants, were covertly engaged in it.

MR. Wliberforce

did not mean to impute delay to the noble lord opposite; but he could not help thinking, that less alacrity was shown in filling up those situations, than there would hate been had they been in their-nature more desirable. He could not, however, resist the temptation he felt to remind the House, that the delay of every day and every hour, was a source of dreadful misery to thousands of our fellow creatures.

Captain Grant

remarked, that the circumstance of an offer of 1,500l. a year, with retiring pension of 700l. having been made by ministers to persons accepting, the office of commissioners, was a sufficient refutation of the assertion made by, the hon. member for Bramber, that the same alacrity was not manifested by his majesty's government in filling up these situations, as they had done in filling up other places.

Mr. Wilberforce

assured the hon. member that he had not used the expression with the intention of conveying reproach to the members of his majesty's government.

Mr. W. Smith

did not despair of seeing, in a very few years, a total extinction of this odious traffic. When he considered how many years had been necessary, even in this enlightened country, to make the parliament ripe for the abolition, and that even at last, in 1807, after twenty years of discussion, it required all the efforts of almost every member in that House, who had any title to the character of an orator, or a statesman, to carry the act through the legislature, he could not be surprised that other countries, with less information, on the subject, should not do in a few months what it has cost England so many years to do. He was pleased, however, to see that the sovereigns of Russia, Austria, and Prussia, entertained the most enlightened. views on this matter, because in governments like theirs, much depended on the will of the sovereign. He trusted too, that the prejudices which, according to the memorial of the duke of Richelieu, still existed in France on this subject would all give way before time and reason. And here he thought it his duty to express his through approbation, of the, zeal, sincerity, perseverance, and ability with which the noble lord opposite had conducted the negotiations on this subject at Aix-la-Chapelle, With such earnestness on the part of our government and such liberal views on the part of the-principal continental powers, be did not, despair of the final consummation of his hopes. A great principle declaratory of the abominable nature of the traffic, had already been universally proclaimed; all that remained was, to denounce the violation of that principle as, illegal. All would be right when the slave-trader should be not merely held up to detestation as an inhuman violator of the law of nature, but threatened with extermination as a piratical transgressor of the laws of man,

Mr. Marryat

observed, that the course of the discussion made it evident, that the chief, if not the only difficulty in filling up the appointments arose from the insalubrity, or rather pestilential mortality of the climate of Sierra Leone. Havannah was only slightly objected to, on account of the salary; the Brazils was said to be anxiously sought after; but Sierra Leone with its superior inducement of 3,000l. a year, and a pension of 1,500l. after seven years service, could not tempt one applicant; and no wonder: for that settlement had been justly called the grave of Europeans, Any man who read the despatch of sir James Yeo would see at once the grounds of that rational panic which prevailed in this country on the subject of that frightful climate. Why could not some more healthy spot, on the Gold Coast for instance, he chosen for the seat of the commission. Besides toe insalubrity of the climate, Sierra Leone was open to another objection, as the seat of judicature on captured slave ships. It was. necessary now for almost every captor, with its captured ship, to, beat up to, wind-ward during a six-weeks voyage, which frequently produced a loss-of one tenth, of the crew

The Attorney General

observed, that when the treaty referred to was made, it was impossible to carry it, into effect until it was ratified by parliament. After the ratification of it by parliament, there was considerable, difficulty to obtain persons properly qualified; and if it was at any time important to carry the law, into proper effect, it was peculiarly so at the out- set. It had been said, that common law officers might have been applied to; in fact, they were applied to, but had as little taste for the situation of commissioners as gentlemen of the Admiralty court. He could say, that no delay had taken place on the part of government, in endeavouring to obtain proper persons to fill the situation of commissioners. Although no man held the Slave trade in greater detestation than he did, or would be more ready to punish those who carried it on, yet he must say, that some gentlemen, not in that House, had from their zeal to suppress it violated all law.

Mr. Wynn

could not agree in thinking that the government had not the power of entering into a consideration of the proper persons to act as commissioners before the treaty was ratified by parliament. The House had been told of the difficulty which occasioned the delay in appointing a commissioner for Sierre Leone; but the delay in appointing one for the Brazils had not been accounted for. He should feel satisfied if the effect of the motion would be to expedite the appointments even now.

Lord Castlereagh

informed, the hon. gentleman that the motion would not produce such an effect, because the business was already in progress, and every possible means had been taken to forward it.

The motion was then agreed to.