HC Deb 11 June 1819 vol 40 cc1118-25
Mr. Brogden

brought up the report of this bill. Sir R. Wilson rose for the purpose of speaking to the subject, when lord Castlereagh suggested that it might be better to have the amendments made in the committee printed before any fresh discussion was had upon it.

Mr. Marryat

said:—It is not my intention to go into any detail on the merits, or rather the demerits of the bill. I wish merely to clear up some facts which I stated on a former occasion, the correctness of which has either been doubted or denied. In speaking of the conduct of Ferdinand the 7th, I observed, that soon after the British army had, quitted his dominions, he directed a public thanksgiving to be offered to Almighty God, that his land was no longer polluted by the presence of Heretics.—The noble lord did not indeed deny this circumstance, but declared that he had never heard of it.—It might be a sufficient answer to the noble lord, to say to him in the words of Hamlet, There are more things in Heaven and earth Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."— But I can confirm the assertion I made, by positive proof. I hold in my hand a letter from a friend of mine, Mr. J. B. Sharpe, who was an eye witness of the fact. His letter to me runs in the following terms:—"With reference to the question of public thanksgiving having been offered up to Almighty God, for the purgation of the land from the presence of Heretics, in the churches of Spain, I was in Corunna at the time, and had in my possession one of the printed circulars issued by the heads of churches to that effect, which was left at my place of residence." This gentleman authorises me to say, that he is ready, not only to confirm the contents of this letter in any manner his lordship pleases by his own evidence, but also by that of twenty Englishmen, who like himself were in Spain at the time when this ceremony took place. In enumerating the disadvantages to which the independents were subjected under our existing laws, I stated, that whilst fugitive royalists from the Spanish main, were not only received in Trinidad, but promoted to situations of high honour and responsibility, an asylum had been denied to independents; and that a number of them, who, on the approach of the royalist army to Guiria, embarked on board such boats and canoes as they could procure, and sought refuge in Trinidad, had been refused permission to land, and were obliged to return to the place from whence they came, where they were immediately massacred. The noble lord in answer to these assertions, read an extract from a dispatch from the governor of Trinidad, which did not deny the fact, for it was wholly silent about the refugees from Guiria, but merely stated, that 3,800 persons had at different times been admitted into Trinidad. The under secretary of state for the colonial department went farther; for, referring to a memorial to which my name, in common with the names of other gentlemen connected with Trinidad, was subscribed, he declared, that our statement of an asylum having been refused to particular individuals was incorrect, and that the justification of the governor was perfectly satisfactory. At that time, I had not the documents on which the memorial was founded in my pocket; but on going home and examining my papers, I found that instead of having acted on "the exaggerated or unfounded representations of interested individuals," as we were charged with doing, we had made the statements in the memorial on the authority of governor Woodford himself. I have now in my hand two petitions to him, with his answers to them. One is signed by several merchants in Trinidad, praying for an asylum for a merchant, a native of the United States, who had been some time settled at Guiria, but who wished to escape from the horrors of revolutionary war; whose peaceable character was vouched for, and for whose good conduct the petitioners offered to give good security. The answer of the governor is in these words, "It is inconsistent with the regulations by which I am directed to guide my conduct during the present disturbed state of the neighbouring Spanish provinces, to admit to an asylum here, any persons not being natural born subjects of his Catholic majesty."—Signed "R. Woodford," and dated "August 15th 1814." From this answer one might be led to conclude, that an asylum would be granted to persons who were natural born subjects of his Catholic majesty. But I have another petition in my hand from Don Josh, Ramires, of that island, praying that his mother Donna Antonia Guezza, a lady 80 years of age, and her two grand children, then living at Cumana, might be permitted to reside in Trinidad, and offering security for their good conduct to any amount. These persons were natural born subjects of his Catholic majesty; but nevertheless the answer to the petition in their favour is in these authoritative and laconic words:—"This petition cannot be complied with!" signed "R. Woodford," and dated "23rd September 1814." I hand up this bloody document to the noble lord; I call it so, because in signing it, sir Ralph did sign the death warrant of the parties on whose behalf the petition was presented; I hand it up to him, that no doubt may remain as to the hand-writing of sir Ralph. Having done this, I now call upon the noble lord to declare, whether, in giving an asylum to individuals of unexceptionable character and for whose good conduct security was offered, governor Woodford would have acted in a manner inconsistent with the instruction by which he was directed to guide his conduct. If so, the responsibility for the massacre of these unhappy wretches, rests not upon sir Ralph, but on his majesty's ministers; but if otherwise, I call upon the noble lord to bring to a severe account, the governor who has cast so foul a stain on the character of his majesty's government.—With respect to the massacre at Guiria, I have it on Spa- nish authority, on French authority, and on English authority; but I cannot produce the letters of the persons who have furnished me with this information, because I too well know the consequences. Some years ago, at the request of a friend of mine, I transmitted to the Treasury his complaints of the conduct of the governor of Trinidad. Orders to give him redress were sent out, through the medium of the colonial office, who, at the same time, sent the governor copies of the complaints which had been made against him; and the consequence was, instead of redress, a series of persecutions which only terminated with the death of the individual. The gout, acting on a debilitated and irritable frame, flew to his stomach and carried him off. The tales of the other sufferers may hereafter be told; but not till they are in that grave, where "the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest;" lest they too share the fate of the unfortunate Mr. Philip Langton. But the fact at Guiria does not rest upon Trinidad authority alone. I know that an account of it was sent to the colonial office, by Don Polycarpe Ortiz of St. Thomas; for the duplicate of his letter was transmitted to me, and I delivered it in person. The fact is as notorious in that part of the world, as the fact of the battle of Waterloo is in this; and the respectability of the parties in whose letters it is communicated to me is so great, that I have no more doubt of it, than I have of my own existence. Indeed, inferential proof of it is given in the very petitions I have read; for if governor Woodford refused to grant an asylum in Trinidad to parties of unexceptionable characters, and for whose good conduct security was offered, can it be supposed that he would admit an indiscriminate horde, who could give no references for character, and no security for their good conduct? The idea is at once absurd and incredible? I cannot view without concern, the change of sentiment that has taken place in his majesty's ministers, respecting the government of Spain as exercised in her South American colonies. In 1797, when Mr. Pitt was at the head of our councils, a letter was written to general Picton, then governor of Trinidad, directing him to assist the inhabitants in their efforts to shake off the yoke of the mother country; and the reason assigned was, not that we were at war with Spain, but the oppressive and tyrannical na- ture of her government. This letter, written by the late lord Melville, then secretary of state for the colonial department, was translated into Spanish, and introduced into a proclamation by general Picton copies of which he distributed all over the Spanish main, and one of which I now hold in my hand. The same opinion of this government continued in 1804; for I have also in my hand, a letter from the late lord Hobart to governor Picton, dated 2nd February of that year, expressing "the anxiety of his majesty's ministers to introduce into the island of Trinidad, with the least possible delay, so much of the laws of Great Britain, as may be judged expedient for the security of the persons and properties of his majesty's subjects, and for the general advancement of the interest of the colony." Since then, all that regard to the security of the liberty and property of his majesty's subjects has been forgotten; and the successors of Mr. Pitt, in opposition to his example, have declared their determination to continue that oppressive and tyrannical form of government over British subjects which he encouraged Spanish subjects to throw off. The Spanish nation are historically recorded, as the exterminators of the Aborigines of South America, as well as of the West Indies: and as having first established the slave trade, in order to fill up the frightful void occasioned in the population of those countries by their own cruelty. No political writer has mentioned their colonial government, but with disgust and execration; and it has been found so insupportable, that the inhabitants of South America, trained up as they have been for three centuries past in habits of passive obedience and non-resistance, are at length risking every thing that is dear to man, rather than submit to it any longer; and yet this is the government which his majesty's ministers have thought proper to consider as the best and fittest government, to be continued in a British colony, and to be exercised over British subjects!—When I reflect on these circumstances, and couple them with the fact of Great Britain having become a party to what is called the Holy Alliance, but which I consider as a confederacy of sovereigns against the rights and liberties of their subjects, I believe this country is at present in greater danger from a leaning to arbitrary government, than it has been at any period since the days of the Stuarts. I consider the bill now before the House, as emanating from that confederacy; and I fear that we shall hereafter be called upon to pass many other bills, framed in the same spirit of supporting tyranny and crushing freedom. I consider this bill as the first stone of a temple intended to be dedicated to arbitrary power; but I trust that the spirit and patriotism of a British House of Commons, will convert it into the corner stone of an altar sacred to liberty; and by rejecting this measure prove both to despots abroad and to ministers at home, that we set too just a value on the rights and privileges we enjoy ourselves to be made the servile or passive instruments of destroying those of others.

Lord Castlereagh

said, that the hon. gentleman had, on a former occasion; mentioned, that governor Woodford had not only favoured the royalists, but had absolutely shut the port against a number of persons who had sought there an asylum from persecution; and that the consequence was, they were all murdered, and the shores for some miles whitened with their bones. Now, he (lord C.) begged again to repeat, that not only had the port not been shut, but that the persons alluded to had all been well received to the number of 3,800, and some royalist vessels which were then in the harbour prevented from following some others which had put to sea. As to the circumstance of governor Woodford's not allowing a particular individual to remain on the island, he could not exactly state what his instructions were on this subject; but the case was quite a different one from that of not affording an asylum to persons who had fled thither for their lives. The hon. gentleman had said, that the conduct towards the insurgents was barbarous. This he must beg to deny. With respect to the circumstance of thanks having been ordered in Spain, on the departure of the British troops, for its having been purged from heretics, he should give it but little credit; if there was any such thanksgiving, it was for having got rid of the Trench, not the English.

Sir M. W. Ridley

observed, that the conduct of governor Woodford would be found, upon the most strict inquiry, to have been unobjectionable. He had on every occasion conducted himself in the most impartial and honourable manner.

Mr. Goulburn

expressed the same sentiments of governor Woodford's conduct.

The report was then read; after which, the solicitor-general brought up some new clauses. They were agreed to, and lord Castlereagh moved, that the bill, with the amendments, be engrossed.

Mr. Denman

thought the most advisable course would be, to have the bill re-committed. His reason for thinking so was, that the only gound advanced on its introduction for the necessity of it was, that the former legislative provisions on the subject extended only to recognized states, and not to countries in the situation of the South American provinces; whereas in the debates of the preceding night, the ground of observing a general neutrality seemed to have been abandoned, and a new one taken by the noble lord, namely, the necessity of supporting a neutrality, modified as it was by the treaty with Spain in 1814, which the noble lord had argued, should be binding on this country; and it was matter of most serious consideration for the House, whether it would consent that regulations intended to preserve a neutrality, modified by particular circumstances, should be suffered to be made a rule for the observance of neutrality in all cases. He begged leave to inquire, whether ministers had used the same means to prevent assistance being afforded from this country to Spain as to the colonies—whether any thing had been done to prohibit arms, ammunition, and warlike stores being exported for the service of the former power?

Lord Castlereagh

replied, that his majesty's government had issued a prohibition against the exportation of arms or warlike stores to Cuba, or any of our own west India islands, for the purpose of being sent to the service either of the provinces in insurrection, or of those continuing within the allegiance of Spain. They had taken precautions to guard against our own islands being made the means of thwarting the views of the parent state.

Mr. Brougham

said, that nothing was more proper than the issuing the proclamation by his majesty's ministers commanding British subjects not to render assistance to the colonies, bound as they conceived themselves by the treaty with that state, and empowered as they were by the common law to enforce neutrality. But in order to evince to the world their desire of preserving a strict neutrality, had they issued a similar proclamation regarding Spain—as they had the proclamation against one party, had they it also against the other? Had ministers prohibited arms, ammunition, and warlike stores being sent from this country to Old Spain as well as to Cuba. For instance, most effectual reinforcement might be provided for Morillo, by the exportation of munitions of war to the expedition fitting out at Cadiz. Had that been guarded against?

Lord Castlereagh

said, that any steps to prevent the exportation of arms to Cadiz would have been ineffectual, unless ministers had at the same time taken on them to regulate the trade in arms and warlike stores between this country and all the rest of Europe.

Sir J. Mackintosh

said, it now appeared that the terms of neutrality which had, and at present did exist, were an unbounded supply of arms and warlike stores to the one party, and an absolute prohibition of them to the other.

After some further conversation, the report was ordered to be taken into further consideration on the 16lh.