HC Deb 08 May 1845 vol 80 cc289-92
Sir C. Napier

said, it would be in the recollection of the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, that some weeks ago he had put to him a question respecting the conduct of Lord Seaton in the case of the Bandieras. He had lately received a letter on the subject, written to him by a relation of his, and as he felt he had done an injustice to the noble Lord, he hoped the House would allow him to read that letter to the House. It was to this effect:— The younger Bandiera, under an apprehension that he would be arrested at Trieste, obtained a false passport, and under the name of Consigli, got on board an Austrian steamer, and arrived at Corfu on the 6th of February, remained some weeks, went to Malta, and returned in April. The elder Bandiera deserted the Austrian service in Smyrna, retired to Athens, and met his brother at Corfu in April, where they lived quietly in great retirement, at the house of an Italian priest. Rieciotti, a native of Forli, arrived at Corfu on the 6th of June; he became acquainted with the Bandieras, and against his judgment was persuaded to go with them on their proposed enterprise—got up in a few days, they pretending that they had received important intelligence from Italy of revolutionary movements. Without any previous rumour or preparation, they left the island at night in two boats, reached a Turkish vessel four miles from the port, and had sailed twelve hours before their departure was discovered. The Austrian, Papal, and Neapolitan Consuls, applied to Lord Seaton to request that the fugitives might be pursued and arrested, and that the Medea might be employed on that service. This he at once refused, because he did not believe that twenty-one persons, most of them unarmed and unprepared, would have the folly or madness to land in Calabria, a quiet country, and to which province troops from Messina might be sent in a few hours, and because he did not choose that a British ship of war should incur the risk of a collision with men who had committed no offence, and against which none could be proved, were they met with at sea. They would have had fifteen hours start of the Medea, It seemed more probable to Lord Seaton that they might be going to Greece, or some of the islands near Corfu. The act would have been illegal on his part, and a great outcry would have been raised against him had any violence taken place, or resistance been made on their capture. The Consuls then demanded a boat to send intelligence to their Government. This he could not refuse, and, indeed, unless he laid an embargo on the port, could not prevent, since any of the Consuls could have a boat for themselves without his leave or assistance. This sailing boat (not a steamer) did not leave Corfu till six in the evening of the 13th, nor arrive at Otranto till the 16th, the refugees having embarked and sailed on the 12th. No informa- tion whatever from England or Vienna had reached Lord Seaton of the alarm of the Austrian Government in respect to the Bandieras, the rumour in Corfu being that they had quitted the service on account of some professional bad treatment or pecuniary transaction. The refugees landed on the 18th, and were all apprehended by a judice de pace and 150 armed police and peasantry before orders were received from Naples on the subject. Lord Seaton sent no steamer nor any letter about them. From want of information, you were in error on the following points;—1. You thought the Bandieras came to Corfu with twenty associates, and you were surprised they had not attracted notice. The fact is, that sixteen of those persons had been resident in Corfu for periods of nine, thirteen, and twenty-seven years, as mechanics, servants, &c. How then should they have particularly attracted notice or suspicion? 2. You speak as if Lord Seaton had suspected their design to depart, or had believed the report that they were going to Calabria. But, as I have shown, there was no ground whatever for any suspicion, and the folly of such an enterprise rendered it incredible to Lord Seaton. 3. You seemed to think there was neither difficulty nor risk in arresting persons guilty of no offence, and without any proof of their bad intentions; and you cited the case of Portuguese refugees going to Terceira, as a precedent. Was Lord Seaton bound to know that case, or regard it as a precedent? But the cases were not the same. In one, the interest of the Portuguese Government was the object, not the safety of the refugees, as was pretty well proved by killing one of them. Suppose resistance had been made, and one of the Bandieras been killed, would you then approve of Lord Seaton's conduct? The Portuguese refugees were known to have made preparation—were armed — their destination and hostility to the Government were known. None of these things were true of the Bandieras' party. 4. You say Lord Seaton ought to have warned them of their danger. What danger? How could he know of their danger, when he neither knew of their design beforehand, nor believed it when imputed to them? They were themselves fully aware that the moment the Consuls discovered their departure, they would report the event to their Governments. Lord Seaton's conduct is not to be judged of by the event of these unfortunate persons' fate. Your sympathy, and that of others, was awakened by that painful issue, but it was not the result of Lord Seaton's conduct. But for this feeling of pity I think it would never have occurred to you or anybody else, that it was Lord Seaton's duty to send a ship of war, at the requisition of Foreign Consuls, to arrest a small number of men who had been living peaceably under his protection, and with no better reason for such a step than that they were suspected by those Consuls, and had suddenly left the island; men guilty of no offence, and no proof of any bad intention having been established against them. Suppose they had no criminal design, but had been arrested at sea by his orders, what might you and others have justly said about his oppressive conduct towards innocent men, and his subserviency to Foreign Powers? I think you will now see that Lord Seaton's conduct amounts to this only—he refused, on the ground of justice and duty, to employ force against men guilty of no known offence, nor, as he fully believed, of any criminal intention. He allowed the Consuls to do that which they could have done without his leave. He was no party to the intelligence they gave. And, lastly, this intelligence was wholly nugatory, for they were all arrested before it could be acted upon. Your's &c. He regretted the strong expressions he had used against Lord Seaton, and the fact of these men having been so long in Corfu in service perfectly cleared that noble Lord of having any knowledge of their guilty intentions.