HC Deb 09 August 1854 vol 135 cc1483-8

On the Question that the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill be read a third time,


said, he wished to draw the attention of the House to the important Report which had been recently laid on the table by the Committee on Slave Trade Treaties appointed last year. That Report was in many respects of an exceedingly gratifying character. Captain Seymour, of Her Majesty's ship Firefly, the last officer from the West Coast of Africa, had stated in his evidence that the slave trade had entirely ceased in many places where it had formerly flourished, and that in the years 1850–51, on the whole coast, not one vessel with slaves on board was captured; that a legitimate trade was springing up along the whole coast in the produce of the country; that he had lately counted at Benguela (formerly a noted slave park) as many as fourteen merchant vessels at one time, all engaged in legitimate commerce; and that, in fact, wherever the slave trade had ceased, commerce was commencing. The Committee said it had been stated to them that if the demand for slaves at Cuba were to cease, the slave trade in Africa would also cease; for it appeared that as soon as the market of the Brazils was closed, the slave trade on the West Coast of Africa, south of the line, was all but put an end to. Captain Seymour also said that if the market at Cuba were abolished, very few British ships of war would be required on the African coast, and those only for the protection of our commerce which was now becoming very large. Captain Cospatrick Baillie Hamilton, of Her Majesty's ship Vestal, likewise reported to the Committee the great publicity that existed as to the carrying on of the slave trade in the island of Cuba. He stated that slave vessels had been fitted out under the guns of Spanish ships of war; that great facilities were afforded to the importation of negroes, for when once a landing had been effected, they were considered as natives; and that steam vessels, employed in carrying the Government mails from port to port, had been used to land slaves. Mr. Craufurd, who had rendered many meritorious services in the suppression of the traffic, stated in a recent despatch, that in the last seven months there had been more activity shown in the slave trade than during any previous period since 1844. That Gentleman gave a list of 10,000 slaves that had been landed in Cuba in the last six months prior to the date of his letter. On this point the Report of the Committee contained the following important paragraph— Your Committee concur in the opinion of these naval officers, that the slave trade would soon be extinct if the Cuban market were closed; and, therefore, consider the present time, when there are Spanish troops at every port and station of the island, and also numerous Spanish ships of war cruising on the coast, most favourable for the renewal of the united efforts of Great Britain, France, and the United States, to remove the reproach which the continuance of the slave trade in Cuba casts upon the civilisation of Christendom. The great obstacle to the abolition of the Cuban slave trade, however, had been the venality of the Spanish officials; and it was not surprising that such should be the case, when it was borne in mind that even members of the royal family were mixed up in these disgraceful transactions. The Report further said— Other witnesses have stated to the Committee, that it was quite notorious at the Havanna that money was taken by the public officers of all ranks, from the Captain General downwards, for their connivance at the traffic in slaves; and further, that capital, notoriously belonging to Spaniards of great distinction at Madrid, was employed to carry on that traffic. That, in fact, the influence of these persons of rank and station at Madrid was believed to have been sufficiently powerful to procure the recal of an honest officer. That thus the Spanish Government have been induced to violate their treaties, and to suffer these persons to obtain large profits, by the continuance of that detestable traffic. On this particular point the Report made the following pertinent remarks— Your Committee are of opinion that history does not record a more decided breach of national honour, than the letter of the Earl of Aberdeen establishes against Spain. The efforts of Viscount Palmerston, in subsequent years, to induce the Spanish Government to fulfil their engagements, appear in every despatch of that noble Lord, and it would be superfluous to detail them. The House of Lords had also had a Committee on the slave trade. They reported that— In their judgment it was worthy of consideration whether the three great maritime powers, France, the United States, and Great Britain, could not, at the present time, be brought to combine in joint representations, and, if need be, active measures for obtaining from Spain and Brazil an actual suppression of this traffic. He (Mr. Hume) thought that as Queen Christina, who had been the chief abettor of the Cuban slave trade, had been happily expelled, a favourable opportunity now offered itself to Her Majesty's Government, in concert with the other powers, to press upon the new Government of Spain the necessity of fulfilling their engagements. He had intended to have moved an Address on the subject, but as the forms of the House would not now allow him to do so, he was perfectly satisfied to leave the matter in the hands of the Government, who had done everything, he believed, in their power to manifest their good will for the suppression and final extinction of this iniquitous traffic.


Sir, in reference to the observations which have just fallen from my hon. Friend the Member for Montrose, I may state that it is no doubt a disgraceful proceeding that, after Great Britain, France, the United States, and all the maritime powers of Europe—that after the Empire of Brazil has rigorously prohibited the slave trade—the traffic in slaves should still be carried on in the island of Cuba under the protection of Spain. Some measures have, however, lately been taken upon the part of the Spanish Government, with reference to the question of the suppression of the slave trade, to which no allusion is made in the Report to which my hon. Friend has just called the attention of the House, and to those measures I shall now briefly refer. In the month of February, 1854, there was an order of a most stringent character issued, containing regulations according to which captured slaves recently brought into the island should be liberated. Now, this decree may seem to be one which is hardly in accordance with those just expectations with respect to the measures which ought to be resorted to for the suppression of the slave trade which the people of this country and of the civilised world entertain. Mr. Craufurd, however, to whom my hon. Friend has just adverted in terms of deserved praise, places faith in the sincerity of the intentions with which that decree was framed, and describes its operation as being one of a beneficial character. It has been acted upon on several occasions, and has been followed by the enactment of further regulations of a corresponding nature, which regulations, also, the executive authorities in Cuba have carried into effect. In the month of March last 600 newly-arrived slaves were captured by those authorities, and an order was subsequently issued to the effect that all persons holding civil authority in the island of Cuba who should fail to report the arrival of any fresh supplies of slaves should be dismissed from their offices, and should afterwards be subjected to further penalties. In the month of May last a further importation of 600 negroes were landed upon that island, and were placed upon a certain estate, where it was believed that they might remain undiscovered and in security. The Governor General, however, having ascertained the fact, appealed to the tribunal empowered to deal with those cases, stating that the importation in question was one of a contraband nature; and having subsequently issued an order under which the 600 negroes were seized upon the estate and then liberated, the whole of the proceeding was by the verdict of the tribunal held to be justifiable. Other measures have also been adopted by the Governor General which show that he is quite in earnest in the endeavour to suppress the slave trade in Cuba. Several officers who did not obey his orders in this matter have been superseded, and an intimation has been conveyed to the others that unless they duly discharge the duties imposed upon them with reference to it they will be immediately removed from their offices. Now, it is quite obvious that, if such measures as these are carried fully and fairly into effect, the importation of slaves into Cuba will be prevented. Under the existing law in that island it is provided that the number of slaves upon each estate should be registered; and, therefore, when any large number—such, for instance, as the 600 negroes to which he had just adverted should be registered all at once by any estate-holder—that circumstance would in itself be sufficient to excite suspicion, and to direct towards it the attention of the authorities. With respect to that venality upon the part of the Spanish Government to which my hon. Friend has referred, and by which all our endeavours completely to suppress the slave trade have hitherto been frustrated, I can only say that I hope it is now at an end. It is a notorious fact—and therefore I can have no hesitation in alluding to the matter now—that Queen Christina has derived very considerable profit from the traffic which has been maintained in slaves in the island of Cuba. Changes, however, have of late taken place in the Spanish Government. General Concha has been made Governor General of Cuba, while Espartero, Duke of Victoria, is at present at the head of the Spanish Government. Now, with respect to the latter nobleman, I have known him long, and I have every reason to say that a person of greater integrity, or one animated by more liberal views upon every subject, could not be found. I am quite sure that he will discountenance the slave trade, and that anything like the venality and corruption hitherto practised in Spain with respect to it will from him meet with the severest reprobation. I only trust that he may be enabled to impress upon the new Government of Spain, and upon all the Spanish authorities, that the whole credit of his administration would be forfeited if this disgraceful traffic in slaves is allowed to be continued in future. I quite agree with my hon. Friend that we should as earnestly as possible, and at as early a period as we can, impress upon the new Government of Spain the necessity which exists for adopting such measures as may put an end to the trade in slaves. We know perfectly well that my noble Friend Lord Aberdeen has urged repeatedly, with reference to Spain, that it only required the possession upon her part of earnestness and sincerity to effect that which the exercise of those qualities has, in the case of France, Great Britain, and every other country, already accomplished. I agree with my hon. Friend in thinking that it is not necessary to move an Address to the Crown upon the subject of his observations. He may be well assured that the Government will keep a watchful eye upon the question, and that, setting aside all interested motives so far as we ourselves are concerned, the accomplishment of that great work—the total suppression of the slave trade, and the consequent civilisation of Africa—is an object which the Government will continue to have always at heart, and is one which I trust we shall be enabled to attain.


said, he would entreat the noble Lord to take advantage of the present favourable moment to renew the endeavours of this Government to induce Spain to put an end to the slave trade in Cuba. One very great difficulty which had hitherto existed in our efforts to prevent the abominable traffic was the non-sufficiency of cruisers on the coast of Cuba, and the fact that they were not of a proper description. It was almost useless to employ vessels which drew more than eleven feet of water, and which were incapable of chasing slavers into the shallow waters on the coast of Cuba.

Question again put.

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