HC Deb 12 May 1835 vol 27 cc1039-51
Mr. Fowell Buxton

, in bringing forward his promised Motion on the subject of the Slave Trade, observed, that no person who had not witnessed the atrocities of that abominable traffic could have an adequate conception of the crimes, miseries, and cruelties to which it gave rise. He requested the attention of the House to facts which he should lay before them from Parliamentary documents—facts that indicated the extent to which the Slave Trade was now carried on. He held in his hand a list of importations of slaves into the Brazils. The returns from the British Consuls from the 1st of January, 1829, to the 30th of June, 1830, a period of one year and a half, was as follows; viz.

Slaves Ships. Died on passage
Para 779 6 30
Maranham 1,252 13 89
Pernambuco 8,079 26 308
Bahia 22,202 70 768
Rio de Janeiro 81,956 200 6,912
114,288 315 8,107
In three years and a half 150,537 slaves were introduced into Brazil through the single port of Rio de Janeiro. But this did not include the whole number deported from Africa; it only extended to the number introduced alive: we knew nothing of the amount of mortality that occurred among the slaves on their passage. In 1830 the Slave Trade had been legally abolished, notwithstanding which, however, he was sorry to say, it now proceeded with almost as much activity as ever. This he gathered from the report of the Minister of Marine to the Legislative Assembly, which was as follows:— Rio de Janeiro, June 17, 1833. Well known are the tricks resorted to by speculators, as sordid as they are criminal, to continue the disgraceful traffic in slaves, in spite of all the legislative provisions and orders issued respecting it, which have been most scandalously eluded. It, therefore, appears necessary to the Government to have recourse to the most efficacious means, which are, to arm a sufficient number of small vessels to form a sort of cordon sanitaire, which may prevent the access to our shores of those swarms of Africans that are continually poured forth from ships employed in so abominable a traffic. Among many causes of the present extent of the Slave Trade, one was an apprehension, which he hoped was well founded, that the European Powers would soon exert themselves to put an end to the abominable traffic; another cause, which he trusted might prove ill founded, was, that it was thought the experiment recently made in the West Indies would fail, and consequently that there would be an increased demand for Brazilian sugar. Another cause of the extent of the Slave Trade was, that the Brazilian mines were worked by slaves, by means of the application of British capital. To show the extent to which the trade was carried, he might state that there sailed from the port of Havannah alone, as slavers, for the coast of Africa, in the years 1822, 1823, 1824, 1825, and 1826, 96 vessels, and from the 1st of January, 1827, to the 30th of October, 1833, 264 vessels, in a period of six years and a half. When slaves could be obtained through the means of this traffic, it became a matter of calculation whether it might not be for the advantage of the owner to work out his slave in a few years, rather than, by milder treatment, to retain his labour for a longer period. Of the slaves obtained by this mode, a number died before they could be seasoned to their new mode of life. But the greatest stage of mortality to the negroes was in what was called the Middle Passage. Of the extent of that mortality, he could give no general account that could be deemed accurate, because there were no means of obtaining any thing like authentic information upon the subject. But it fortunately happened that in the vessels captured by his Majesty's cruisers, they had the means of knowing exactly what the mortality was, and from these a conclusion might be drawn as to the amount of the mortality in general. He begged to call the attention of the House to the following instances:— Case of the Midas, Havannah, July 17, 1829. The mortality on board this brig has been dreadful; she sailed in May last with a cargo of 562 slaves from the river Bonny on the coast of Africa, and had only 400 alive at the time of detention; of these, after the surrender, a number through fright, as it is supposed, threw themselves into the sea, so as to reduce the number to 369 at the time of the captors counting them the day after the action. Unfortunately, owing to unfavourable winds and the small force of the Monkey, she was obliged to remain some days at anchor [...] Bahama Bank with her prize, so that, [...] the of her arrival in the Havannah, nine other negroes had thrown themselves overboard, notwithstanding the utmost care on the part of the captor, who had placed sentinels on the outside of the brig: 69 others also had died of the small-pox, and the other diseases which have been, owing to the confinement on board, ravaging this brig almost ever since she left Africa. After her arrival in this port (Havannah), your Lordship (Earl of Aberdeen) will perceive, from the inclosed letter of the mixed Commission to the Captain-General, that 10 more died; thus making the mortality of the negroes on board, after capture, 88, and the number given up by the captors to the Governor, to amount to 281. According to the reports of the medical men, they are still, I grieve to say, in a most dreadful state, already reduced to about 253, and those so ill and emaciated, that it has hitherto been impossible to make out the description of their persons and marks that are inserted in their certificates of emancipation. Case of the Fama da Cadiz, alias Nueva Diana. Havannah, July 31, 1829. On the 22d inst. the long-expected privateer called the Fama da Cadiz came into port, having previously landed 300 slaves at Santa Cruz; it is said that this notorious slave trader and pirate was boarded by one of his Majesty's sloops on the coast of Africa, but liberated on account of having no slaves then actually on board; she afterwards plundered other slave vessels of about 980 slaves, and had scarcely sailed for this island with them, when the small-pox and other contagious diseases broke out, which reduced a crew of 167 to 06, and her slaves to about 300, of whom the greatest part are in so wretched a state, that her owners have been selling them as low as 100 dollars. Case of the Constancia. Havannah, Sept. 30, 1829. On the 21st inst. the Spanish schooner Constancia da Ferrer arrived in this port in ballast, after having landed 70 slaves on the coast. She is said to have left Africa with 438 negroes, who have been reduced by the small-pox to the above small number. The mortality on board the slave vessels this year has been truly shocking. Case of the Ricardo, Havannah, Nov. 30, 1829. On the 25th inst. arrived the brig Ricardo, D. M. Moran, master, which sailed from this port so long ago as the 2d of October, 1828' having been blockaded by one of his Majesty's schooners in the river Bonny. It appears that after losing a great part of her crew, and a whole cargo of negroes by sickness, she was obliged to sail for this island in ballast. But not to trouble the House with any further details upon that point, he might state at once, that the mortality on board 106 ships, condemned between the 1st of January, 1827, and the 1st of January, 1833, at Sierra Leone, was as follows:—
Vessels. Slaves. Emancipated.
Spanish 34 8,322 7,426
Portuguese 28 3,671 3,287
Netherlands 8 1,573 1,381
Brazilian 36 7,596 6,143
106 21,162 18,237
Emancipated 18,237
Left at Fernando Po, ill 161
Died between capture and adjudication. 2,764
The next point to which he begged to call the attention of the House, was the crowded state of the slave vessels. Upon that point he would only mention a few cases. State of the Maria. Havannah, Jan. 25, 1831. The Maria, being only 133 Spanish tons burden, and having on board, in addition to her slaves, forty seamen, making a total of 545 persons, gave the almost unprecedented small space of one ton for the accommodation of four souls, and the quantity of provisions, water, &c. required for their support, during a voyage probably of forty days to the Havannah. State of the Carolina, captured by the Isis, Captain Polkinghorne. The effect produced upon all the gallant boarders by the miserable appearance of the slaves could only be alleviated by remembering that they were the means of their being rescued; but it was still very affecting. A vessel of only 75 Spanish tons was crammed with 350 human beings, 180 of whom were literally so stowed as to have barely sufficient height to hold themselves up when in a sitting posture. The poor creatures crowded round their deliverers, with their mouths open, and their tongues parched with thirst from want of water. They presented a perfect ghastly spectacle of human misery; ten of them died soon after. The crew of the vessel consisted of fourteen Spaniards, who were landed at Prince's Island. He had thus proved from official documents and, not from mere private sources of information, that there had sailed from the port of Havannah alone, between the 1st of January, 1827, and 30th October, 1833, no less than 264 vessels avowedly engaged in the Slave Trade; and that into one port in Brazil not less than 150,000 slaves from the coast of Africa were reported to have arrived. In short, he had proved from the most authentic sources of information that the Slave Trade was at this moment carried on with as much activity as it had ever been since the disgraceful traffic commenced. Having established that fact, it would, he trusted, be unnecessary for him to press upon the House the necessity of taking some speedy and effective step for putting a stop to such a dreadful and disgraceful system of commerce. It would naturally be asked what step could be deemed most effective towards the abolition of this revolting trade? He (Mr. F. Buxton) would in the first place recommend that all vessels captured with slaves on board should invariably be broken up, because under the present system it was well known that every captured slaver, if her reputation as a sailer was good, was immediately bought up by those engage in the traffic, and in the course of a very few weeks was again engaged in the trade. In the next place, he would recommend that some alteration should be made with respect to the reward or remuneration of the officers of the navy engaged in the service on the coast of Africa. He thought that, considering the great hardship of the service, the officers should receive promotion in proportion to the severity and danger of the service, and that they should receive prize-money in proportion to the tonnage of the ship captured, and not in proportion to the number of slaves. Then it would become a matter of consideration as to what should be done with respect to those treaties on the subject of the Slave Trade which had been so shamefully neglected or so shamefully abused by foreign powers. Upon that part of the subject he thought there were four points to be considered; and first, he would recommend that the slave trade should be deemed piracy by all nations. Second, that there should be a right of search. Third, that that right of search should extend over the whole coast of Africa where the trade in slaves was carried on; and Fourth, that the equipment article should be enforced to this extent, that whenever a vessel was found with all the equipments necessary for carrying on the slave trade, she should be deemed a lawful prize, even though at the time of the capture she should happen to have no slaves on board. Now it so happened that in all the treaties hitherto drawn up for the suppression of the Slave Trade one or other of these points bad invariably been omitted. And therefore it appeared to him, that in lieu of the various treaties which at present existed upon the subject, and which foreign powers had so grossly neglected, it would be better that one uniform treaty should be drawn up, embracing the four points he had just enumerated. From what had recently transpired, he had reason to believe that little difficulty would be found with France upon the subject; and looking at the more liberal Governments which had lately assumed the reins of power in Spain and Portugal, he trusted that, even in those countries, a better feeling with respect to the Slave Trade would be evinced. In the case of the two latter countries, indeed, England had a right to insist upon their compliance in her views, because she had paid them for so doing. Spain, by a treaty agreed to in 1817, was paid by England no less a sum than 400,000l. for the share she was to take in the abolition of the trade, and yet she had done nothing since except to promote it. At all events, it became the imperative duty of England to suffer no longer a period of time to elapse before she took some decisive step to put an end to a trade which was the means of murdering every year no less than a hundred thousand human beings, and which tended only to the enrichment of a parcel of miscreants, who, if justice were done to them, would die the deaths of murderers and pirates. With these views of the subject, he would conclude by moving— That an humble Address be presented to his Majesty, to thank his Majesty for his gracious condescension in having from time to time, been pleased to communicate to this House the 'Correspondence of his Majesty's Government with foreign powers,' and 'with the British Commissioners, relating to the slave trade.' That this House has considered these documents with the attention they claimed, and has learnt from them with feelings of astonishment, grief, and indignation, that the traffic in slaves not only still continues to be carried on to an enormous extent, but that it is attended with circumstances of increased and aggravated cruelty, and that too under the flags of some of those nations who were parties to the Declaration made by the Congress of Vienna in the year 1815, wherein they asserted that 'The traffic known under the name of the African Slave Trade has been regarded by just and enlightened men in all ages as repugnant to the principles of humanity and of universal morality;' that 'The public voice in all civilized countries has demanded that it should be suppressed as soon as possible:' that it was 'Their desire to put an end to a scourge,' which they therein described as having 'long desolated Africa, degraded Europe, and afflicted humanity;' and a final triumph over which they acknowledged would be 'One of the greatest monuments of the age which undertook it and which shall have gloriously carried it into complete effect.' That notwithstanding this Declaration was solemnly agreed to by all the Great Powers of Europe in Congress assembled, and by them formally promulgated in the face of the world, this House has since been called upon to witness some of those very Powers afford it the protection of their flags, by refusing to adopt effectual measures for its suppression, although repeatedly urged to do so by his Majesty's Government, whose representations and arguments have been forcibly reiterated by his Majesty's representatives resident at their respective Courts; and that, although his Majesty has entered into treaties and conventions with these Powers for the suppression of this execrable traffic, in consequence of which certain laws have been enacted and edicts issued; yet these laws and edicts, for want of efficient means having been adopted to give them practical effect, have remained inoperative; and this House has learnt with surprise from the correspondence laid before it by his Majesty, that when this fact had been represented by his Majesty's Government, his Majesty's representations and remonstrances have either been neglected altogether, or met by promises, which subsequent events have proved were mere pretexts for delay, alike discreditable to the Governments who made them, and insulting to the Monarch to whom they were addressed. In this expression of its opinion and feelings, this House has particularly in its view the conduct of the Courts of Spain and of Portugal, who are bound by formal and solemn treaties with his Majesty totally to abolish the Slave Trade, so far as their subjects and the use of their flags are concerned, and who for this purpose have actually received money by votes of this House to the amount of seven hundred thousand pounds sterling, and the remission of a debt to the amount of six hundred thousand pounds more, which were granted on the faith of those very treaties, which these Governments are nevertheless so far from carrying into effect, that, on the contrary, they allow their flags to be degraded by covering the largest portion of this infamous traffic in the blood and sinew of of their fellow-men, as is fully proved by the documents his Majesty has communicated to this House. That this House, therefore, humbly and earnestly beseeches his Majesty to call imperatively upon the Courts of Spain and Portugal to act upon the declaration of Vienna to which they were parties, and immediately to fulfil in good faith the treaties they have respectively entered into with his Majesty for the entire suppression of this trade; and this House further implores his Majesty, should his Majesty still find that these Powers hesitate to act up to the spirit and to the letter of their solemn engagements, to refuse to enter into any treaty or convention with them for any other purpose whatever. That although this House has seen, with deep regret, that down to a late period the trade in slaves has been carried on to a considerable extent under the flag of France, still this House views with satisfaction the success which has attended the measures its Government has adopted for its suppression; and this House congratulates his Majesty on the completion of a treaty, conceding the mutual right of search, to which, at one period, almost insuperable objections on the part of France seemed to exist. But although this House acknowledges with gratitude his Majesty's exertions in effecting so much, still this House humbly represents to his Majesty, that much yet remains to be done to complete the total annihilation of the trade carried on under the protection of the French flag. And this House looking to what has already been effected, is confidently led to hope that the recommendation by his Majesty of further measures, having for their sole object the total suppression of this trade, alike condemned by both nations, will find ready acceptance by the Government of France, particularly as the interests of its subjects are now represented to be no longer involved therein. And this House, therefore, humbly suggests to his Majesty, that great advantage to the cause of humanity would be gained by inducing France to consent to an extension of the limits of the mutual right of search already agreed upon, to the whole line of the coast of Africa, and to that of the Island of Madagascar: and this House indulges the hope that his Majesty may be pleased to avail himself of the opportunity which the pending negotiation for a treaty of commerce with France presents, to gain, not only the consent of her Government to this important alteration, but also to join Great Britain, the United States of America, and the Brazils, in the measure they have already taken of declaring the trade to be piracy. That this House has observed with grief, that an immense traffic in slaves has been carried on under the flags of other nations, notwithstanding his Majesty's unceasing exertions in negotiating with their respective Governments in the hope of inducing them to carry into effect their own solemn engagements for its effectual suppression; and this House feels deeply humiliated by a sense of the comparatively small success which has resulted from its labours and from the sacrifices it has made in this great cause; and it cannot refrain from expressing, in the strongest terms language will afford, its grief, and undisguised indignation at the little attention which has been paid by Foreign Powers to the unceasing endeavours of three successive British Monarchs to give them effect. But, notwithstanding all these disappointments, when this House reviews the whole of this most painful subject, it still sees in the present state of public feeling respecting it, in almost every country in Europe, and in America, reason to hope for final success: and feeling that this country has acquired, by the force of its own example, the right to call upon other nations to respect and promote the peace and happiness of the African race, which forms so large a portion of the great family of mankind, this House once more approaches His Majesty to implore and beseech his Majesty to renew, with increased earnestness, his negotiations with all those Governments under whose flag this infamous traffic is still carried on, calling upon them to co-operate in good faith with his Majesty in completing the triumph which they themselves have declared will be one of the greatest monuments of the age which shall have carried it into effect. That this House, with a view to the attainment of this just and humane object, humbly beseeches his Majesty to revise, with his allies, all the treaties which they have respectively entered into with his Majesty, having for their object the suppression of this traffic, in order to reduce the terms and stipulations contained therein; which at present vary greatly from each other, into one solemn league between all the contracting Powers, and to introduce into this general treaty, first, an extension of the limit to the right of search, to the whole of the western coast of Africa, and between degrees on the eastern coast of the same continent; and an agreement that this right of search shall be allowed, not only as between each particular country and his Majesty, but be extended to a reciprocal right of search between all the contracting parties. Secondly, that the right of seizure shall be extended to vessels equipped for the purposes of trading in slaves, although not actually having slaves on board. Thirdly, an agreement that all such vessels as may be condemned by the Mixed Commission Courts, shall forthwith be broken up, or otherwise effectually destroyed; and, Fourthly, a stipulation that the trade in slaves shall be declared to be piracy. That this House cannot conclude this Address to his Majesty without humbly soliciting his Majesty to consider whether those Sovereigns, whose flags have not been degraded by having been engaged in this cruel traffic, but who were assembled in Congress at Vienna, may not be called upon, in virtue of their having joined in the declaration there made to co-operate with his Majesty in en- forcing the high and solemn obligations and engagements which they entered into at that momentous period: and this House is again led to revert to the suggestion which was countenanced by those high contracting parties, of excluding from commercial intercourse with their respective dominions, any state which should pertinaciously refuse to abolish the slave trade, after it shall have been prohibited by all other nations,

Mr. Hume

entirely concurred in the propriety of expressing some strong and decided opinion on the absolute necessity of putting a stop to the Slave Trade: but he thought that the hon. Member would have effected his object better if he had avoided the use of language which might serve to irritate Foreign Powers. Besides, it should be recollected that those Powers were not the only parties who deserved blame; for, in his opinion, the Government of this country was liable to censure for not insisting on the execution of the treaties for the suppression of the Slave Trade. He thought it would be better that a motion embracing so many facts, and extended to so great a length, should be withdrawn; and that a short, decided, and firm resolution—a resolution which the House could not fail to understand and adopt, should be submitted in its stead. It was almost too much to expect the House suddenly, and upon the instant to agree to a motion which extended over not less than nine pages. At all events, he would recommend that it should be printed, and be suffered to stand over for a few days, so that hon. Members might have an opportunity of making themselves acquainted with it before they were called upon to adopt it. Whenever a proper time arrived for a discussion of the subject, he (Mr. Hume) should be prepared to state that the measure of Slave Emancipation adopted two years since by the British Legislature, had succeeded in several of the West-India islands to an extent far exceeding anything that could reasonably have been expected.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

was understood to say, that the important object of the address before the House had been communicated to the Foreign-office, and he understood that with respect to it, no objection was entertained in that department. With regard to the recital of facts contained in the address, that had been compared with public documents, and found to be correct. Whether it be advisable or not to adopt a shorter address than the one just moved, appeared to him to be rather a question of form than of substance; but he knew of no subject more befitting the attention of that House and of the Government than that to which the address had reference; and he should be sorry to see the tone which the House ought to adopt in the discussion of such a matter any way lowered. The British Government were not only bound by the obligations of treaties to put a stop to the Slave Trade, but was also bound in justice to the West-Indian proprietors, to see that they were subject to no unfair competition on the part of foreigners. Thus not only humanity, but the interest of the West-Indian colonists, called on the Government to omit no step calculated to put down the Slave Trade. With respect to the objection taken by the hon. member for Middlesex, to the length of the motion, he begged to state that he certainly did recollect that on a former occasion, an Address to the Crown had been opposed on account of its length; but it should be borne in mind that that address consisted not of facts extracted from public documents on the Table of the House (as the present one did), but of the reasoning of the hon. Member who moved it. With respect to the suppression of the Slave Trade, he believed that France was willing to co-operate cordially with this country; and he expected that Spain and Portugal would be found ready to enter into some satisfactory arrangement for the same purpose. To effect this object, no means had been left untried by successive Governments, and he was sure that they could not be fairly accused of neglect of duty. This address would not impede any negotiations pending at present, nor was it inconsistent with an accurate statement of facts. He asked his hon. Friend, the Member for Middlesex, whether he thought that any convenience would arise from withholding the assent of the House from this address to-night, and from reviving the discussion upon it on a future occasion? He put it to the House whether, in the present state of Parliamentary business, his suggestion ought not to be acceded to.

Mr. Cobbett

contended that until they could prevail on the Government of the United States to grant the right of search they never could put an end to the traffic in slaves. He objected to the length of the address, Nine pages of address car- ried to the ears of a King, was a monstrous absurdity.

Mr. George F. Young

said, that though he entertained a strong opinion in favour of all the statements which the hon. Member for Weymouth had made, and of all the inferences which he had drawn from them, he yet hoped that the House would be cautious in the mode of exercising its interference. On their decision of that night, might, perhaps at some future period, depend the question of peace or war. To be asked summarily to come to a resolution on a long statement of alleged facts, which nobody had heard before that evening, was not what he had been accustomed to in his Parliamentary experience. They were acting in a manner that must inevitably lead them into difficulties, and he hoped that his hon. Friend, the Member for Weymouth, notwithstanding the sanction given to his address by his Majesty's Government, would delay pressing the House to a decision upon it that evening.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

denied that he had given any sanction on the part of Government to the proposed address. He had not offered any objection to it, as it contained nothing but facts which had been previously stated in papers laid on the Table of that House.

Mr. F. Buxton

concurred with the hon. gentlemen opposite, in thinking the address too long. He knew that the attention of Parliament had not been drawn to the subject, and that it was therefore necessary either to include in the address, or to exclude from it all the premises upon which it was founded. He had, therefore, determined to introduce them into the address, for the purpose of reviving the recollection of them. If he had confined himself to a short address, it must have been to this effect—that the House requested His Majesty to take certain measures, and that the House would support him in those measures to obtain redress. His original object had been altered by obtaining information that certain negotiations were still pending with Foreign Powers, and he felt that he ought not to use towards them in such contingencies, any language that might be deemed uncourteous. He wished it, however, to be understood, that if any thing like past trifling were persisted in, he should call on the House to take measures, to put down the abomination which existed at present. Having said thus much, he would now add, that he would withdraw his present address, and on a future occasion propose a shorter address in its stead. He could not sit down without stating that he had listened with great pleasure to one part of the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Middlesex. He had recently seen the authority of his hon. Friend appealed to in a debate in the French Chamber of Deputies, for the purpose of proving that the great experiment attempted by England, with respect to the Abolition of Slavery had entirely failed. He knew that such was not the case; and he was glad to hear his hon. Friend add his testimony to the same fact. There was also another point which he wished to mention: he should be the last person to charge either the present Government or that which preceded it, with any neglect on this subject.

Motion withdrawn.