HC Deb 18 May 1849 vol 105 cc663-6

said, he had given notice to the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that he would put two questions to him to-day respecting certain transactions relative to Sicilian affairs; but as the noble Lord was not in his place, he would ask it from the noble Lord at the head of the Government. In answer to a former question which he (Mr. Bankes) had put, the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs stated that the united Cabinet of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland recognised the separate Government of Sicily, independent of the Government of the King of the Two Sicilies. He now wished to know from the noble Lord whether the Cabinet still recognised an independent Sicilian Government—that was, a Government independent of the Government of the King of the Two Sicilies?


said, his noble Friend, so far as he recollected, had stated that there was at the time a negotiation being carried on with the de facto Government of Sicily. That de facto Government no longer existed, and he believed there was no organised Government there.


said, the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs having arrived in his place, he would put another question to him. It was, whether the noble Lord was aware that, as the result of the permission given by him to transport ordnance from Her Majesty's stores for the avowed use of the Sicilian insurgents, and of the encouragement given to those parties who formed the insurgent Government, the following circumstances had arisen. A British officer, who had formerly held a command in Sicily when the late Lord William Bentinck was there, and afterwards been engaged in active service during the Peninsular war, understanding that guns had been furnished from the Ordnance stores at Woolwich, and observing also other encouragement given to the Sicilians, accepted a command under the Sicilian Government. He undertook a commission to this country to raise troops, and to procure arms for the Sicilians. Those arms and troops were partially embarked in a steamer in the Thames. Two steamers were engaged, one to sail from the Thames, and the other to sail from Liverpool. The steamer engaged to sail from the Thames was detained by order of the Board of Customs. A question arose concerning the seizure, and the matter was referred to the Treasury. The Treasury, after duly considering the subject, and after having (as he understood) had communications with the noble Lord—the noble Lord having had communications, as it had been stated to him, but he might be mistaken in that respect, as he had received no information from the Minister of the King of the Two Sicilies, though, as he believed, communications were made by the noble Lord to the Minister of the King of the Two Sicilies, to the effect of that detention of the vessels—declined to interfere. The vessel, so far as related to any act of Government, was now at liberty to proceed to Palermo. The other vessel, from Liverpool, proceeded to Palermo. She reached that port just at the critical period when it suited the Minister of War there, and the Sicilian Government, whom the noble Lord had recognised, got on board with some of their coadjutors, and sailed to Marseilles. When they reached Marseilles, the Ministry of France, taking a different view from that of the noble Lord, with respect to the claims of the King of the Two Sicilies, detained the vessel, and she was now at Marseilles. He asked the noble Lord whether he was aware of these circumstances, which he (Mr. Bankes) stated upon authority that appeared to him to he accurate; and whether he considered that the Government had enforced those laws which it was in their power to enforce, for the detention of vessels avowedly going to disturb the peace of a friendly country?


The hon. and learned Gentleman, under the guise of asking me a question, has given myself and the House almost as much information as if he had been "our own correspondent." I am not able to follow the hon. and learned Gentleman through the whole of the details regarding what the French Government has done at Marseilles. I do not know whether my noble Friend stated, in answer to the first question, that the persons who composed the Provisional Government at Palermo, have all quitted Palermo, and according to the last accounts there was no organised Government; but the population were in possession of arms, and were intending to defend themselves against the Neapolitans. The Neapolitan general had got within a very short distance from the town; and I imagine that some communication would be the result. In answer to the question with regard to the guns—first of all, I shall afford, I am sure, great satisfaction to the hon. and learned Gentleman by informing him that I have ascertained what has become of those guns. I find they had been sent to Syracuse, where they were not used at all, and they are there now in the possession of the King of the Two Sicilies. Next, with regard to the officer in question, the hon. and learned Gentleman says that, in consequence of these guns going off, and in consequence of divers other acts and misdeeds of Her Majesty's Government, a British officer had been induced to come to this country for the purpose of raising men. It is quite true, as he states, that Colonel Aubrey was sent to this country for the purpose of raising men; but I believe I have good reason to say no men were raised by him, and that his commission was an entire failure. With regard to the vessels, it is true that one steamer did leave from Liverpool, and that it arrived at Palermo. With regard to the vessel that was fitting out in the Thames, the Bombay, application was made on the part of, and by, the Neapolitan Minister here, for her detention, upon the ground that she was equipping in violation of the Foreign Enlistment Act, and that, therefore, she ought to be detained. That matter was referred to the Treasury, and to the Customs. The Foreign Office has nothing to do with the execution of the law of this country, except making known to the proper department that the law has been violated. The whole transaction was carried on between the Treasury, the Customs, and the law officers of the Crown; and it was in consequence of the legal advice given to them, that there was no just ground for further detaining the Bombay, that the Bombay was released. Subject dropped.