HC Deb 27 May 1852 vol 121 cc1199-201

In reply to a question put by Mr. BAGGE,


said, that applications had been frequently made within the last twelve months to the British Government, by merchants and others interested in the guano trade, asking, first, whether they considered that the island of Lobos, and another island off the coast of Peru, belonged to the Republic of Peru or not? secondly, whether British ships would be allowed to load guano there? and, thirdly, whether the Government would send a ship of war there for the protection of such trading ships? To those applications a reply, similar in substance, had been made by the late and the present Government. That reply was, in effect, that whether the islands in question belonged to Peru or not, it was quite certain that they did not belong to England—that we had no claim upon them, and that it was deemed inadvisable to send a ship of war there. By those who disputed the claim of Peru to those islands it was alleged, that they were not mentioned in the written constitution of Peru, as part of her territory—that they were remote from the coast, wholly unoccupied by inhabitants, and even devoid of fresh water; that no buildings had been erected upon them, nor any act of sovereignty performed by Peru respecting them; and, consequently, that according to the law of nations, that country possessed over them no such exclusive rights as those to which she laid claim. On the other hand, the Peruvian Government contended that those islands, having belonged to Spain when Peru formed a part of the Spanish empire, had thereby been transferred, in the absence of any express stipulation on the subject, from the Spanish to the Peruvian dominions, at the time of the separation of the countries. It was, moreover, added, that the mere fact of their being known by Spanish names, created a primâ facie presumption in favour of their having belonged to Spain as was stated; while the alleged novelty of their discovery was an assertion wholly unfounded, inasmuch as they lay nearly in the direct track of vessels passing between Callao and Guayaquil, two of the most frequented parts in the Pacific; and inasmuch as such vessels frequently steered between them. With regard to their supposed remoteness from the coast of Peru, he (Lord Stanley) believed that their distance from that coast was, in the case of one island, about twelve miles, in the case of the other, about forty miles: they were repeatedly visited by Peruvian Indians, who resorted there for the purpose of hunting and fishing; and it was urged that the Government of Peru had distinctly asserted its sovereignty over the islands, by prohibiting these Indians from landing upon them, lest from the disturbance of the birds the supply of guano should be diminished. Resting upon these claims, the Government of Peru had notified their possession of the islands in question, and declared their intention of resisting all attempts upon them. Under such circumstances, the British Government had decided that they could not interfere in behalf of vessels acting in contravention of this notification; and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had stated, in reply to a letter addressed to him on the subject, that Her Majesty's Government were not prepared to send a ship of war to the Lobos islands for the protection of a traffic unauthorised by the Peruvian Government, and he had further added that however advantageous it might be to Great Britain, either to appropriate these islands, or to deal with them as common property, it would be impossible to do so without violating national law. He (Lord Stanley) must, however, add, that the Government were not without hope that some arrangement would be entered into, by which the supply of guano to be found upon these islands might be rendered available to this country.


might be allowed to say, as the transactions referred to had some connexion with the department of the late Government over which he had had the honour to preside, that within the last two days he had received a despatch from the admiral in command on that station (which he had forwarded to the Admiralty), in which the admiral stated that he was on the point of sending a vessel of war to protect the trade carried on at those islands.

Subject dropped.

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