HC Deb 18 June 1847 vol 93 cc717-25

had given notice to the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of his intention to call the attention of the House to a matter relating personally to himself in connexion with an important subject which had been lately under discussion. It would be in the recollection of the House that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh, at the close of his brilliant oration, had stated, with reference to certain allegations he had made, that no distinct notice had been given to the Junta of Oporto—that their vessels ran the risk of being taken if they crossed the bar of the Douro—that no person, who had the means of knowing the facts, could deny conscientiously that full notice had been given to the Junta. The right hon. Gentleman had also said, that the bearing of his (Mr. Borthwick's) statements cast a serious imputation upon the character of the British officers who commanded the military and naval forces. The right hon. Gentleman read extracts from two letters; and when he heard those letters read to the House, he certainly thought it did appear that there was no fair ground for the allegation be had made; and a subsequent communication with the noble Lord (Lord Palmerston), who had courteously shown him the originals, justified him in the acknowledgment he had made that he had been misinformed, and that some notice had been given (not a categorical notice) to the Count das Antas and the Junta, that if the ships left Oporto and put out to sea, they might be taken by the British forces. He put the noble Lord in possession of the name of his informant—a person of high character and position, and who was incapable of stating what he did not believe to be true. That gentleman bad addressed to him the following letter:—

"20, Suffolk-place, Pall Mall,

June 15, 1847.

"Sir—I observe in the morning papers of this day, that you stated in the House of Commons last night your apprehension that you had been misinformed respecting the notice to the Oporto Junta given by any British authority in Portugal, that the English squadron off Oporto would capture any vessels of the Junta that should come out of that port.

"It behoves me, therefore, to call your attention to what was meant to be conveyed to you on this subject, which was, that the Junta had not been warned in a positive and categorical manner of hostile interference of Her Britannic Majesty's ships against those of the Junta, but only had the warning of the probability of their ships being stopped, as can be seen by a perusal of the documents published in the Times of the 5th instant.

"I have to request of you the particular favour of mentioning this explanation of mine as publicly as you expressed your fears of having been wrongly informed, for which I shall feel much obliged.—I have the honour to be, Sir, your most obedient humble servant,


"To P. Borthwick, Esq., &c."

He was prepared, after reading this letter, with a full knowledge of all the facts of the case, to reassert in the fullest and strongest manner every word he had asserted on the occasion to which he referred. He did not mean to say then (if he was understood to say so, he was ready to explain his meaning) that any scheme had been laid for entrapping the force of the Junta. He was sure that the character of the British officer in command of Her Majesty's ships stood sufficiently high to obtain for such a statement the indignation of the House. But he again affirmed that no categorical and distinct notice was given to the Junta, that if their ships did cross the bar and put to sea, they would he captured by Her Majesty's forces. He would read the letters upon which the right hon. Gentleman had relied. The first, dated the 23rd of May, was from Captain Robb to Senor Passos, Vice President of the Junta:— Having transmitted to your Excellency, through Her Britannic Majesty's Consul at this place, the wishes of Her Britannic Majesty's Minister at Lisbon, relative to a cessation of hostilities until the delivery of a letter with which I am charged for his Excellency the Conde das Antas, and having received no reply to that letter, I have the honour to acquaint you that I am commissioned by Vice Admiral Sir William Parker, Bart., G.C.B., that if any demonstration is made on the part of the naval forces of the Junta of quitting the Douro, to warn the Junta of a probability of their being stopped by a British force, wherever it may be met with. So that the notice was of "a probability of their being stopped by the British force." The right hon. Gentleman had likewise read the reply to this letter, which was as follows:— The Provisional Junta of Government is not bound by any pledge which prevents them from employing their land and sea forces in the manner they think fit for the success of the just cause which the majority of the nation sustains; and they do not nor cannot acknowledge a right in any foreign Cabinet to interfere in the internal affairs of the country, and still less the right of its determining the employment of its armies. It is therefore that the undersigned sees with much regret that your Excellency declares, in conformity with the order of Admiral Parker, that in case the national squadron leaves this port, it will probably be detained by a British maritime force. The undersigned, in the discharge of his duty, feels called on to signify, that any act of hostility on the part of the British ships against the ships of war of the Junta, which have committed no wrong against foreigners, but, on the contrary, have observed strict order towards the Government and subjects of Her Britannic Majesty, and of all allied and friendly nations, would be unjustifiable in the eyes of Her Britannic Majesty and of Europe, as nothing can justify foreign intervention in questions absolutely internal and administrative of this nation. Let what may be the resolution you take in virtue of the instructions of your superiors, the officers of the national marine will obey the orders given them by the Junta, and fulfil their duties in a manner which must merit the applause of civilized Europe. That was the answer of the Vice-President of the Junta to Captain Robb—an answer which distinctly and clearly pointed out that the writer of that answer, aware of the friendly alliance subsisting between Great Britain and Portugal, could not believe it possible that the ships of the Junta would be seized by the British squadron on their leaving the Douro. The next letter the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Macaulay) referred to was a letter dated Oporto, May 25, and was addressed by Jose Da Silva Passos to Mr. Johnston, the British Consul at Oporto, the object of which was to ascertain categorically the views of the Government of Great Britain upon this point. He wrote:— The Provisional Junta of the Supreme Government of the kingdom cannot believe that such an intimation [that was, the probability of the stoppage of the ships] was given under the instructions of the Government of Her Britannic Majesty, it not having been delivered in writing to the commander of the steamers of the Junta. For that reason the Supreme Junta instructs me to ask from you an explicit declaration respecting so extraordinary a circumstance, and to inquire from you if the Government of Her Britannic Majesty has ordered its naval forces to treat in an hostile manner the ships of the Portuguese nation which are under the orders of the Provisional Junta; and if, in case the latter do not obey the verbal instructions, delivered as above, the British forces are instructed to fire on our squadron? Until you favour me with an answer to this note, the Junta cannot reply to your request respecting the armistice. The answer given to this was dated— British Consulate, Oporto, May 25. I hasten to assure your Excellency that Sir Thomas Maitland, knowing the probability of the ships of the Junta being stopped, in the event of their proceeding to sea to carry on warlike operations, and perceiving that both of the Junta vessels off the bar had their steam up, sent a message to their commander, earnestly to beg and entreat him, in a friendly way, not to proceed to sea, but rather to enter the Douro, and remain there for a few days, until communications could be received from England; and that the reason why this application was not made in writing was, that it was a friendly message, sent with the design of preventing the possibility of the disagreeable consequences which he, and all the officers of the British Government, are anxious to avoid. It was a friendly message sent, advising them not to leave the Douro, and not put out to sea; because there was a probability that the ships might he taken, and they were, in the mean time, advised to cease for a specific period from all warlike operations, as there was a probability of an armistice being agreed upon. But while the Junta was thus called upon to cease making preparations for war, the so-called Queen's forces were permitted by the British Government, or rather by the influence which that Power possessed in Portugal, to proceed with all warlike preparations on their side. The Junta, regarding Her Britannic Majesty's Minister as an impartial mediator, would not believe that he was not dealing out to the Queen's forces the same threat which he had sent to them, and that he had not said to both parties, "Be still for a time until we can make up the differences between you." In every letter the word "probability" was repeated; and it was constantly reiterated that our friendly assurances were to be relied upon. But it was not a friendly assurance to tell a man that if he left his house you would shoot him. But he would not enter into the subject, because if he did, he might send the right hon. Baronet the Member for Dorchester home to his dinner again. From the absence of noble Lords and right hon. Gentlemen opposite on the same occasion, he first imagined that they, too, were gone home to their dinners, instead of watching in their places the business of the nation, forgetting that Her Majesty's Ministers never dined but twice a-year, when, after having silenced the small fry here, they went to Greenwich and disposed of the small fry there. But on the present occasion he thought he had a right to obtain from the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs an admission, in the name of his right hon. Colleague (who was not present), that that which the right hon. Gentleman had imputed to him, or to his informant—the having consciously misstated the fact—was not correct; and that the statement was not a conscious misstatement, nor any misstatement at all, but that the facts stated in the letter which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Macaulay) relied upon, were in direct unison with the letter and statement which he read to the House, which was, that no categorical statement was made to the Junta from which they had any right to calculate that their ships would be stopped. On the 26th May, Conde das Antas wrote to Sir H. Seymour thus:— The Junta has not refused to consent, as your Excellency affirms, to the proposals which were made to it. On the contrary, it deemed them, in their opinion, to he acceptable and opportune; but it saw that they would easily he eluded if they were not accompanied by explanations and elucidations necessary to guarantee them. Accepting the principle, it did no more than deduce the consequences which it sees, not without great surprise, condemned. And if, in fine, there was anything in its answer which appeared unreasonable, no doubt could exist that it might be again considered as soon as a Ministry deserving the confidence of the throne and country should be named. In politics, words signify nothing without the means of execution; and this Junta would have acted very indiscreetly, if it had endangered the present and future happiness of the country to vague promises, always easy to be eluded. The Junta felt that, if they complied with the request of Her Majesty's Government without having a guarantee that the same conditions would be imposed on the Queen's forces, they would do their cause very great and serious damage, He considered he had now established his right to re-assert that not only was there no positive declaration of war made to the Junta, but that there was no ground for their knowing whether their fleet would be attacked or not. He wished to ask the noble Lord two questions: the first was, whether in compliance with the spirit of the intervention, the noble Lord had called upon the Government at Lisbon to send out any ship to bring back Comte Bomfin and his fellow-prisoners, or as many of them as were now alive and capable of traversing the ocean? The other question, and which he conceived to be a very important and pertinent one, was whether the Government of Portugal had agreed to the withdrawal of the Spanish force which was advancing into Portugal, and whether if that force had received the command of the Spanish Government to return, it was in such a state of discipline as to be able to obey that command?


Mr. Speaker, the controversy which the hon. Gentleman has been carrying on with my right hon. Friend, about any notice having been given to the Junta, scorns to me rather a discussion as to the meaning of words than as to the fact. For the hon. Gentleman has entirely restated the fact on which my right hon. Friend founded his assertion; and the only question between them is, whether the announcement made to the Junta was or was not sufficient to convince any reasonable man that there was danger in the ships going out of the Douro? I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend, and think that the notice given to the Junta was complete. But the hon. Gentleman has altogether passed over one fact which was distinctly stated by my right hon. Friend—namely, that a previous notice had been given to the Junta. The hon. Gentleman says that there was no declaration of war. Why, as to a formal declaration of war from the Three Powers to the Junta at Oporto, that I must say was not exactly a thing to be expected. But surely the hon. Gentleman forgets that on the 15th of May, Colonel Wylde and the Marquess de Espana, having gone to Oporto in order to communicate with the Junta certain articles on the part of the Queen, and having received from the Junta a refusal, unless there were coupled with those articles ten other articles which were totally inadmissible, Colonel Wylde made a formal communication to the Junta, of which this is a part:—

"May 15th, 1847.

"I have, therefore, no alternative but to announce to the Junta that the British Government, in concert with the Allies of Her Most Faithful Majesty, will forthwith take such steps as they may think most proper for affording effectual assistance to the Queen of Portugal in re-establishing tranquillity in her dominions."

That was a declaration of hostility; it was a declaration announcing that effectual steps would be taken. It must be manifest that, the Junta having refused the conditions proposed, the only effectual steps that could be taken were the employment of force. [Mr. BORTHWICK: They did not refuse the terms of the Allied Powers.] Colonel Wylde and the Marquess de Espana considered their answer a refusal; and under the conviction that it was a refusal, the announcement was made to the Junta by Colonel Wylde in the words I have just read. It having come to that, the British Consul, Mr. Johnston, addressed a letter to Senhor Passos. The hon. Gentleman has read that letter. It was in answer to a letter from Senhor Passos, who was desirous to have in writing the substance of a verbal communication previously made to the commander of the naval forces of the Junta. Now, what did Mr. Johnston say? It is dated Oporto, May 25th, and runs thus;—

"Oporto, May 25th.

"Excellent Sir—I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your Excellency's letter of this day's date, upon the subject of a message sent to the commander of the naval forces of the Junta, by the commander of Her Britannic Ma- jesty's naval forces off this port, Sir Thomas Maitland. As Sir Thomas Maitland was with me when I received your Excellency's letter, I immediately communicated it to him; and, agreeably to his wish, I hasten to assure your Excellency that Sir Thomas Maitland, knowing the probability of the ships of the Junta being stopped, in the event of their proceeding to sea to carry on warlike operations, and perceiving that both of the Junta's vessels off the bar had their steam up, sent a messenger to their commander, earnestly to beg, to entreat him in a friendly way, not to proceed to sea, but rather to enter the Douro and remain there for a few days until communications could be received from England; and that the reason why this communication was not made in writing was, that it was a friendly message sent with the design of preventing the possibility of disagreeable consequences, which he, as well as all officers of the British Government, is anxious to avoid."

I think, Sir, that when the commander of a British ship of war desires those who have the direction of other ships, in a most friendly way, to avoid the disagreeable consequences which would occur if they went out to sea, and intimated to them the probability that if they did go out they would be taken, I think that is an announcement which any man of common sense would consider as a distinct communication—consistently with that courtesy which is usually observed between parties where no actual hostilities exist—that in a certain contingency hostile steps would be taken. I should like to know, when two gentlemen in private life were at issue on some point, what would be the course pursued if one of them said to the other—"My dear Sir, if you do so and so, there is a great probability that I shall knock you down; I therefore must, in the most friendly spirit, give you this notice, in order that you may avoid the most serious consequences that in all probability will follow." I think the gentleman who, after such "friendly advice," happened to be knocked down, could hardly pretend to say that he was without at least some warning, that if he did "so and so," such a proceeding would ensue. The hon. Gentleman has asked whether any information has been received of the intention of the Government of Portugal to send out a ship to bring back the exiles? No such information has been received. I suppose at the time when the last despatches were sent out, the British Minister had hardly the means of ascertaining from the Portuguese Government what were their intentions. But I have the satisfaction of saying that I was informed this afternoon by the Minister of Portugal that he had received information from Paris, that on the 10th of this month the Portuguese Government did issue a full and complete amnesty, being the fulfilment of one of the conditions proposed by the Three Powers. That amnesty was issued at a time when the Queen's Government at Lisbon had not received any communication informing them of the submission of the Junta. I think that may be considered as a proof that the Government of the Queen of Portugal is determined to act in a fair and honest spirit, and in accordance with the true purport of the agreement to which they have come. This intelligence was communicated by telegraphic despatch to-day. With regard to the Spanish troops, we have no information of their having actually entered Portugal, with the exception of that very small detachment which went to Valenza, and removed the guerillas then in the immediate neighbourhood of that place. But the other detachment was not to enter the Portuguese territory till the 10th; and, no account having been received of their having entered it, I think it probable, that if their advance is delayed for a few days, they will hear the turn which things have taken at Oporto; and then, in all probability, their progress will he stopped.