HC Deb 04 April 1854 vol 132 cc426-31

said, he would now beg to move the Address of which he bad given notice for a return of slavers captured from the 1st of January, 1853. The House appointed a Committee last Session to inquire into the amount paid by this country for the suppression of the slave trade, and the manner in which the various treaties existing on the subject were carried into effect. That Committee, after obtaining very valuable evidence, came to the unanimous conclusion that Spain ought to be required, as far as possible, to carry out the treaties into which she had entered with this country for the suppression of the slave trade. The Government of Brazil had already yielded to the representations made to them by Her Majesty's Government, and a very competent witness—a Brazilian—who was examined before the Committee, stated that the suppression of this disgraceful traffic was as popular in Brazil as the question of the repeal of the Corn Laws had been in this country. It was shown, however, before the Committee; that the continued existence of the slave trade was mainly attributable to its encouragement in the island of Cuba, for, though the Captains General of that island had professed to endeavour to carry out existing treaties, it was notorious that they had connived at the landing of slaves. It was stated by Captain Hamilton, one of the witnesses examined before the Committee, that, in his opinion, if the slave trade with Cuba could be prevented, the whole of our cruisers on the coast of Africa might very safely be withdrawn. The present Captain General of Cuba, since the Report of the Committee had reached him, had expressed his determination to use all the exertions in his power to put a stop to the slave trade. He (Sir G. Pechell) thought, then, that this was the time for Her Majesty's Government to take the Captain General at his word, and to test his sincerity by keeping up the small naval squadron stationed on the shores of Cuba. In 1852 this country had upon that station, according to the returns laid before the House, six sailing-vessels and four steamers, which would be amply sufficient to suppress the traffic, if they were properly managed; but in this number was included the flagship, a vessel of 74 guns, which, instead of remaining on the Cuba coast, was at Halifax during one-half of the year, and at Bermuda during the greater part of the other half-year. He (Sir G. Pechell) hoped that the squadron would be maintained on the coast of Cuba, and that it would be placed under efficient superintendence. 3,981,941l. had been laid out by this country, besides the expense of the cruisers, to put down the slave trade. He thought, considering the great expense which had already been incurred, and also the fact that the slave trade was now confined to the shores of Cuba—he thought it not too much to impress upon the Admiralty the propriety of not withdrawing any of the vessels from the station, especially efficient naval force, this most odious and as this could be done without in the least degree interfering with the efficiency of the fleet in the Black Sea under Admiral Dundas, and in the Baltic under Admiral Napier; and he trusted that the Government would show that this country would be able, not only to combat the Emperor of Russia, but also to carry out the unanimous wishes of this country, by supporting a powerful fleet for the suppression of the slave trade in Cuba.


seconded the Motion. He said, it was highly creditable to Brazil that she had put an end to the practice; but he was sorry to say, however, that large numbers of slaves were landed in Cuba in the course of last year, and that this was perfectly well known to the Spanish Government. He believed that there were parties of great influence at Madrid, who were mixed up in the transactions, and profited greatly by them. He, therefore, hoped that measures would be taken by the English Government to enforce the treaties which had been made with Spain.


said, he should support the Motion, and he trusted the Government would take that opportunity of giving some information to the house as to the extent of the slave trade which was carried on at the island of Cuba. They had heard a great deal about the profligacy and faithlessness of Governments, but if any Government merited those terms being applied to it, it was that of Spain, which had for a long series of years systematically broken treaties on the subject of the slave trade. He trusted that there would be no interference on the part of our Government to prevent that blow falling on Cuba which now seemed probable, namely, the passing of the island into the hands of the United States, which was far preferable to its remaining to be a disgrace to a European Power.


said, that there could be no doubt that the opinion expressed by the Select Committee which recently sat upon this subject was one which was universally concurred in throughout the country. He had great pleasure in informing the hon. Baronet, that although at the present moment great exertions were necessary in order to carry on the war in which the country was engaged, he had not thought it consistent with his duty in the least degree to relax the efforts made both on the coast of Africa and on the coast of Cuba, in order to suppress, by an efficient naval force, this most odious and nefarious traffic. He had also much pleasure in stating that, owing to the extremely friendly relations of this country with the Government of the United States, the line-of-battle ship referred to by the hon. Baronet, bearing the flag of Admiral Seymour, had to-day arrived at Spithead, and would, he hoped, within forty-eight hours, be on its way to join Admiral Napier's squadron in the Baltic. The line-of-battle ship which was intended to have replaced that flag-ship on the station was already in the Baltic. Though this had been done, he did not believe that any diminution in the number of cruisers both on the coast of Africa and Cuba would be necessary. He had hitherto been enabled to maintain an undiminished force on the coast of Africa, and considerable exertions had been made towards putting an end to the state of things in regard to slavery which existed at Lagos. To the infinite credit of the Government of Brazil, a cordial co-operation had been given by them to the exertions of this country to put an end to the slave trade, and the principal cause of the continuance of the odious traffic was to be traced to the conduct of the Spanish authorities at Cuba. The noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in conjunction with Lord Howden, the British Minister at the Court of Madrid, had addressed strong representations and most urgent solicitations to the Spanish Government to take effective measures for procuring that suppression which was so much to be desired. He regretted to say that those representations had not been hitherto so efficacious as was to have been desired. He could not, however, concur in the desire expressed by the hon. Member for Inverness-shire (Mr. Baillie), that Cuba should pass from the possession of the Spanish Government to that of another Government where slavery was not altogether suppressed. At any rate, he was certain that he expressed the settled determination of Her Majesty's Government that no effort should be omitted upon their part in order to maintain a sufficient squadron upon the coast of Africa and Cuba, and to make more urgent representations, if possible, to the Spanish Government, in order to obtain that result which we were so well entitled to expect after the great expenditure of treasure and the loss of many most valuable lives, and in pursuance of most positive engagements, and even a consideration of money paid to the Spanish Government, in order that the suppression of the slave trade on the part of the Cuban authorities should be enforced according to the just and honourable interpretation of all treaties existing between this country and Spain.


said, he thought that the right hon. Gentleman had not quite clearly understood the remark of the hon. Member for Inverness-shire (Mr. Baillie). He did not understand that hon. Gentleman to say that we were as a nation or as a Government to hand over Cuba to the United States, but that it was hardly becoming in the country, which was constantly raising complaints against the Government of Spain for scandalously violating her treaties in a matter which was affected to be considered as of paramount importance—the suppression of the slave trade—to be prepared to defend Spain in the possession of Cuba. It was not that England should hand over Cuba—that no one would recommend. There had, however, been some correspondence between the noble Lord the Member for the City of London and the American Government on the subject, and which, so far as he (Mr. Cobden) could comprehend it, went to commit this country to the policy of preserving to Spain the possession of the island of Cuba. That was the policy against which the hon. Member for Inverness-shire protested, and against which he (Mr. Cobden) protested also. He wished to guard himself distinctly from offering any opinion as to whether it was for or against the interest of this country that the United States of America should buy Cuba, but he said that if England attached so much interest to the extinction of the slave trade as she pretended to do, then, upon the right hon. Gentleman's own showing, it was a great inconsistency if this country was, by force of arms, to defend, in all cases, and under all circumstances, the right to the possession of Cuba on the part of Spain. He could not imagine anything more calculated to make the Spanish Government persevere in the course she had always adopted, with reference to the slave trade, than to allow her to entertain a hope that we would interfere to prevent America from becoming possessed of the island of Cuba. The Spanish Government ought to be made to understand that by pursuing the policy she had chosen, disregarding, as she did, the doctrines of civilisation and humanity by continuing the slave trade, she was fast losing the respect and sympathy of every nation of the civilised world, and preparing the way for some strong Power to take possession of that island which she had so scandalously abused. The hon. Baronet had said that slavery existed in the United States. That was true, but the slave trade did not exist there. The United States had declared the slave trade to be a piracy, and it was not quite candid to put that nation on a par with Spain in keeping up that odious traffic. Without saying one word about the expediency of giving Cuba to the United States, or assisting that country to take possession of the island, he thought it would be greatly for the interests of humanity if the United States, or any other Power that would altogether discountenance the slave trade, should possess it.


said, he thought this was a very inopportune time to raise a discussion as to who ought to have Cuba, for it was throwing a bone of contention which it would be far better to keep back. He only rose to thank the Government for the statement which had just been made by the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Admiralty, and to remind hon. Members who found so much fault with Spain, that it was not until after the lapse of some time that the British House of Commons consented to the abolition of slavery.

Motion agreed to.

Address ordered for— Returns of all vessels, their names and tonnage, seized (on suspicion of being engaged in the Slave Trade), with the name of the Captain and the Ship that captured the same, from the 1st day of January 1853; specifying the date of capture, the latitude and longitude, and whether with Slaves on board or not, and of the number of Slaves captured during the same period: And, of Her Majesty's Ships and Vessels employed on the Coast of Cuba for the prevention of the Slave Trade, from the 28th day of July 1853 (the last Return) to the latest dates.