HC Deb 02 July 1823 vol 9 cc1405-12
Mr. Fowell Buxton

rose, in pursuance of his notice, to move that the papers presented to the House, on the 19th of June last, relative to the capture of the ship Requin, in the river Garonne, in March, 1814, by Mr. Ogilvie, a commissary with the British army in the peninsula, be referred to the consideration of a Select Committee. The hon. member said, that he proposed, with the permission of the House, to lay before it a brief statement of the claims of Mr. Ogilvie, by whom the vessel had actually been taken. In the year 1814, in consequence of the succession of brilliant victories achieved by the British in the peninsula, the army under lord Beresford, who was then second in command, became masters of Bourdeaux. Mr. Ogilvie was directed by lord Beresford in the execution of his duty as a commissioned officer, to proceed in a boat, accompanied by one of his clerks, and take possession of the vessels in the Garonne. That gentleman accordingly proceeded to execute this commission and had discharged it; when the clerk suggested to him, that some vessels might possibly be stationed lower down the river. Upon which, Mr. Ogilvie, having engaged ten French royalist sailors, directed them to row down the river. This they accordingly did; and when they had proceeded about two miles, they discovered on turning an angle of the river, two vessels lying near the shore, one of which, was evidently a ship of war, and the other a merchantman. The sailors who were in the boat immediately recognised the ship of war to be an American privateer, called the Requin, which had been very successful against the English merchant-vessels. As the Requin had a number of guns, Mr. Ogilvie immediately retired behind a neck of land. And here he (Mr. Buxton) was ready to adroit, that but for some further information which Mr. Ogilvie received, he would not have attempted the capture. But, just at that moment, he saw a boat put off from the Requin; which he succeeded in capturing. In this boat was the gunner of the Requin, from whom he gathered that, owing to various circumstances, the ship's force had been very much diminished, and that it did not then amount to more than fifteen or twenty hands. The attempt to take the vessel, even under these circumstances, was an extremely hazardous one; but Mr. Ogilvie, nevertheless, resolved upon making the attempt. He promised a considerable reward to the few men with him, and taking the helm himself, and being favoured by the tide, he proceeded to the Requin, unperceived by the crew. Mr. Ogilvie immediately; sprang on board, and called out to them to surrender, when the sailors on deck, concluding that he had a considerable force with him, ran below: The captain of the Requin shortly after came up from the cabin unarmed. Mr. Ogilvie demanded to know whether he surrendered. The captain also supposing that Mr. Ogilvie had a considerable force with him, against which resistance would be unavailing, surrendered. By Mr. Ogilvie's management, it was arranged, that two or three of the crew should come up at a time; and, as they came up, they were hoisted over the side, and all safely secured in the boat; and in a quarter of an hour the vessel was in his possession, one wounded sailor and the captain being alone left on board the Requin. Mr. Ogilvie then directed his clerk to make the best of his way with his prisoners to Bourdeaux, and to return with a sufficient force to carry up the vessel. Mr. Ogilvie was then left on board the Requin, where he remained for four hours, until the boat returned with some soldiers, into whose possession he put the ship, and returned to Bourdeaux. During this time, he was lying within one hundred yards of the shore, and one hundred and fifty yards of a village, in which a detachment of the enemy's cavalry; was stationed; and, if they had had the slightest intimation of the affair of the affair of the vessel being taken by the British nothing could have, been more easy than her recapture and Ogilvie's life would have been in imminent danger. On reach- ing Bourdeaux, Mr. Ogilvie stated what he had done to an officer of great distinction, colonel Ponsonby. The American captain confirmed all his statements, and added, that it had been his intention to proceed to sea the next tide, which Would have been in three or four hours. This was the outline of the case; but, if the House required any confirmation of the details, he was able to afford the fullest and the most satisfactory. One was a letter from colonel Ponsonby, of the 12th regiment of light dragoons, in which that distinguished officer declared, that it was one of the bravest exploits that was ever achieved. He had also the testimony of sir R. Arbuthnot, major Annesley, and others; all of whom spoke of the success of the capture as attributable entirely, to the courage and conduct of Mr. Ogilvie. There was only one point admitting of any doubt. It might e said, that the enterprise was certainly one of great hazard, but that it was an act of superfluous intrepidity, as the river, if not entirely in the possession of the British, would have been so on the following day. In opposition to this, he had to state the fact, that seven and twenty sail of American merchantmen had escaped on the preceding night. Then there was the declaration of the captain of the Requin, that he had intended to sail the next tide. Then there was the conclusive circumstance, that the British merchantman which had been taken by the Americans actually escaped that night, and was never recaptured. Lastly, there were the orders sent on that Very day by the duke of Wellington to rear admiral Penrose, requiring the ships of war to come up the river; as, until that was done lie had not the command of it. Then came the question, to whom the prize belonged? If Mr. Ogilvie had been a private individual, there could be no doubt on the subject. But Mr. Ogilvie was not a private individual. He was a commissary attached to the army. The prize might be considered under one of two views; either as a droit of the admiralty, or as booty. He was quite ready to admit, that in either case, it belonged, in the first instance, to his majesty; but then that right was controlled by regulations which bad been made upon the subject. When a prize was held to be a droit of the admiralty, the general rule was, to give the captors a half, sometimes two-thirds, and occasionally even nine- tenths. If it were held to be booty, the duke of Wellington had previously issued an order, that every thing taken in that way should be divided among the captors. There had been many cases among them, the capture of a quantity of wool, and the capture of a quantity of money—in which that division had taken place. If it were considered, that it was merely the act of an individual, not a commissioned officer, and therefore not entitled to a share of the prize; there was a case of a person, a Mr. Stone, who, after the Isle of Bourbon had been taken from the French, having been left in custody of the transports, saw a French vessel come unsuspiciously into the harbour, in ignorance of what had taken place, and immediately collected some men together and captured her. By an order signed, "Liverpool, N. Vansittart, and Lowther," half the prize was given to the captors. All that he wished was, that Mr. Ogilvie should be treated in the same, manner as other officers had been. And, on either of these points, he was ready to rest his case. He had no interest whatever in the transaction. He was only anxious, that a gallant and meritorious individual, who had risked his life in an enterprise in which he had completely succeeded, should receive the reward due to his exertions. He would therefore now move, "That the papers presented to this House the 19th of June last, relating to the capture of the ship Requin, in the river Garonne, in March 1814, be referred to a select committee."

Colonel King

wished to state the reason why he, a mere tyro in the House, should come forward to second the motion. The reason was, that he had known Mr. Ogilvie for five-and-twenty years, and had the greatest regard for him, and the greatest respect for his character. During the years 1809, 1810, 1811, and 1812, he had served with him, in the peninsula, and that gentleman had there conducted himself in a manner which drew upon him the highest approbation of all who witnessed it. When the army was placed in circumstances of the greatest difficulty, Mr. Ogilvie by his activity and perseverance, had materially contributed to furnish it with the necessary supplies. In corroboration of these statements, the hon. member read the testimonials of several distinguished officers, among whom were sir W. Stewart, major-general D'Urban, &c. All that he wished was, that some adequate com- pensation should be granted to Mr. Ogilvie, for the brave enterprise which had been described to the House by the hon. member for Weymouth. Mr. Ogilvie did not come there to claim a reward for, the discovery of the longitude; he did-not come there to claim a reward for the discovery of the quadrature of the circle; he did not come there to claim a reward for the discovery of the philosopher's stone; he did not come there to claim a reward for the discovery of the perpetual motion; he did not come there with any claim similar to that of her royal highness the princess Olive of Cumberland;—but he came there, as a British officer, to claim that reward which was due for an action of singular zeal and bravery. If the House knew Mr. Ogilvie and his merits, he was sure they would not hesitate a moment on the subject. He trusted, that in the present case, the old adage, "might overcomes right," would not prove true. He trusted that this gallant and meritorious officer would not be turned adrift, without the means of sustaining the character of a gentleman, after he had spent so many years in the service of his country. He had heard that there was, in a certain high quarter, an indisposition towards granting Mr. Ogilvie's claim. He could not believe that it was so: and he hoped the illustrious duke, who had had an opportunity of witnessing Mr. Ogilvie's merits, would express in that quarter the good opinion which he entertained of him. But, whatever might be the sentiments elsewhere entertained, he trusted that in that House the full force would be felt of two words, with which he should conclude—Fiat Justitia!

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

begged to assure the hon. member who had introduced the present subject, and the gallant gentleman who supported him, that in opposing the motion, he did not wish in the least to detract from the merits of Mr. Ogilvie, either generally as a commissary, or particularly with respect to the transaction now before the House. But he must say, that the general merits of Mr. Ogilvie, as a commissar, had nothing to do with the question they were then called on to consider. If that were the case, the only point to ascertain would be whether Mr. Ogilvie had received adequate remuneration for the services he performed? But in the present instance, the question was, whe- ther, having captured the vessel called the Requin, he was entitled to clam her as his exclusive prize? There were some circumstances, however, which ought to be taken into consideration before the House came to a decision on that claim. Mr. Ogilvie had captured that vessel when engaged in the execution of Ms duty as commissary; namely, in securing possession of several vessels which had fallen into the hands of the English on the taking of Bourdeaux. Now, there were at that time no less than 12,000 troops stationed in Bourdeaux, and in consequence, so far was the escape of the Requin from being possible, that all the ships captured, were actually impounded. It was, indeed, very clear, that this vessel was skulking, although she could hot have escaped, at the time Mr. Ogilvie took her by a coup-de-main: but, how ever willing he was to acknowledge the gallantry of that gentleman, there was nothing extraordinary in the action. That, however, was not the only ground on which he should oppose the motion. Mr. Ogilvie was entitled to his share of prize money, as well as all other persons similarly employed; and his standings in the service would, he believed, place him in that respect on a level with a major in the army. All the booty taken in those campaigns, was, with a view to its distribution, valued, and on a fair estimation of every article, was found to amount to 800,000l., which sum parliament after wards granted, in lieu of all the captures which had been made; and of this 800,000l., Mr. Ogilvie obtained his share. The only question, therefore, to ascertain, in order to decide the present claim, was, whether the value of the Requin was included in the above grant? If the House then would refer to papers, they would find a letter from Mr. Ogilvie and colonel Eckersley to the duke of Wellington, and written on the 10th of June, 1814, in which it was stated, that they had estimated all the property which fell into the possession of the English in the campaigns alluded to, and valued it at 800,000l. Then followed a list of the vessels captured, among which was, fist a ship of war, estimated at 18,000l. and then, the Requin, also estimated at 18,000l. It thus appeared, that those very two vessels, for one of which the present claim was set up, were actually included in the booty. He could not therefore, see on what ground separate claim for the above vessel was now advanced. But the hon. gentleman opposite, and Mr. Ogilvie himself, had laid; some stress on what they considered the practice of the duke of Wellington, with respect to the distribution of booty, and seemed to conceive, that his grace sanctioned the claims of individuals to what they had themselves captured. Now, he was enabled to read a letter from the duke of Wellington to Mr. Ogilvie, written in 1820, in which his grace denied that he had ever acted on such a principle. The public, his grace continued, had already I allowed a sum of money for the booty' taken, and as Mr. Ogilvie had shared that sum, he could not expect any further prize-money for the capture he made. The letter then proceeded to say, that Mr. Ogilvie, and the men who acted with him in taking the Requin, had done no more than their duty, and that so far from his grace having ever given to individuals the booty which they obtained, he always shared it among the troops generally. He had read these passages from his grace's letter, to show, that the principle on which Mr. Ogilvie brought forward his claim, had never been sanctioned by the duke of Wellington. The hon. member opposite had also alluded to the opinion of colonel Ponsonby; for the talents of that distinguished officer, he had the highest respect, and he had no doubt but that he: felt anxious that Mr. Ogilvie, as well as I every other individual connected with the service, should be properly rewarded. Lord Dalhousie had also been alluded to, but in his letter of the 29th of August, 1815, he merely said, that "the army was indebted to Mr. Ogilvie, for the capture he had made:" from which it was manifested that, his lordship considered it a part of the general mass of booty, the value of which was to be distributed among the troops generally. Having thus stated the grounds on which he resisted the present motion, he had no hesitation in adding, that it would be monstrous injustice to sanction Mr. Ogilvie's claim, if the House was not prepared to say, that in all campaigns, by sea and land, each individual was entitled to the booty which he might secure.

Mr. Hume

observed, that Mr. Ogilvie had stated several instances in which individuals were allowed the exclusive enjoyment of the booty they obtained. He wished to know from the chancellor of the Exchequer, whether he was aware that such cases had occurred, for he should consider Mr. Ogilvie's statements if correct, as better evidence on the present question, than the simple letter of the duke of Wellington. The reasons, however, stated in the duke's letter life considered conclusive, as to what ought to be the general practice of the army; but if his hon. friend showed, that claims similar to Mr. Ogilvie's had been allowed, it was an argument in favour of the present motion.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

was not aware of the cases referred to having taken place; but he knew that when booty was obtained by a particular detachment of the army, it was divided among that detachment.

Colonel Davies

thought that nothing could be more injurious to the discipline of an army, than to allow individuals to possess the booty which they might obtain by marauding.

Mr. Buxton

replied. Mr. Ogilvie, he said, had received but 75l. 14s. as his share of prize money for capturing the Requin; and from the commencement, he had considered himself entitled to the full amount of its value. In proof of this, there was the deposition of Mr. Potts, an attorney, whom Mr. Ogilvie had employed to issue what was called a libel against that vessel, three weeks after she had been taken. He had also paid the prize master of the Requin for a period of four years; and was so universally supposed to be the owner of the ship, that the duke d'Angouleme applied to him for a loan of her, which he obtained. Upon the whole, he should persist in his motion.

The House divided. For the motion 19; Against it 40.

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