HC Deb 08 June 1857 vol 145 cc1338-40

said, he wished to put a question to Her Majesty's Government respecting the engagement entered into with the Argentine Confederation for the reception and employment of a certain number of the officers and soldiers of the Italian Legion; and to ask whether the authorities of the Argentine Confederation have adhered to the stipulations of that agreement. At the close of the late war, as the House was aware, offers had been made by the Government to the foreign troops who had enlisted in the service of this country to convey them to Canada or the Cape of Good Hope. A promise, however, had been held out to the soldiers of the Italian Legion that they should be conveyed to a station on the river Parana, and documents, which reminded him of the late George Robins, were circulated amongst them, under the authority of the Argentine Confederation and of Her Majesty's Government. It offered them advantages which it was fearful to contemplate. They were told that in the territory of the Argentine Republic they would find a beautiful climate, a country which would produce every fruit, where ice was unknown, where the best species of mutton and beef sold for only 1d. a pound, where the women were remarkably handsome and very industrious, and where many of them wanted husbands. It was then stated that the men on arriving out in South America would be established on the banks of the Parana, where they were to receive a very large territory, for which they were to pay only a moderate rent to the Government. A large number of officers and soldiers accepted those inducements, and were sent out by the War Office. He had been informed, however, that the engagement entered into with those persons had not been adhered to. They had not been conveyed to the banks of the Parana, but had been landed elsewhere against their will, without the means of arriving at the place of their destination, while other parts of the agreement, with, reference to supplying them with money and food, had not been carried into effect. At the present moment those poor fellows were wandering about the country in a state of destitution, instead of having, as they were promised, the means of gaining an honest and sufficient subsistence. He thought that when this country enlisted foreign soldiers it was bound, when their services were no longer necessary, to see them placed in a proper position, and for that reason he had felt bound to endeavour to elicit some explanation from the Government upon the subject.


said, that he thought the explanations he was about to offer would satisfy the House that there had been no breach of faith either on the part of the Government or on the part of the Argentine Confederation. The state of the case was this—when the war was concluded the Italian Logion was disbanded at Malta, and a great part of them returned home. The remainder of them, however, amounting to about 1,050 men, were not allowed to do so, and they were brought over to England, in order that they might avail themselves of the proposal to convey them either to Canada or to the Cape of Good Hope. Shortly after their arrival negotiations were entered into with their respective Governments, and about 700 of those men were permitted to return to Italy, while 350 were left in this country. At that time there happened to be in this country an agent of the Argentine Confederation, whose duty it was to obtain emigrants to settle in the Argentine territories, and he, hearing that these men were to be sent to one of the colonies, applied to the Government to enter into negotiations, with the view of inducing those men to emigrate to the Argentine territory. The Government thought it undesirable that they should be a party to any such transaction, and they therefore referred the Argentine agent to the men themselves, saying that they would be willing to give them a free passage if they agreed to accept the terms which might be proposed to them. The terms offered by the Argentine agent were accepted without any interference on the part of the Government. The only step taken by the Government was to give them a free passage, and the gratuity of one year's pay. The men went out in two vessels, the first of which arrived at Parana, where the men disembarked. They found, however, that the rate of wages was extremely high, averaging for unskilled labourers from 4s. to 5s. a day, and, finding that they could obtain so much, the pay which had been promised them being, in addition to a grant of twenty-eight acres of land, only 6d. a day during the first year, 4d. during the second, and 2d. during the third, applied to the Argentine Republic to be released from the terms which they had originally accepted; and that Government having complied with their request, two-thirds of them were released, while the remaining third determined to go and see the place where it had been intended that they should be located; but on arriving there they found that it was further off than they had expected, and they therefore applied to be allowed to return to Parana to be dismissed. The Argentine Government complied with their request, and they were now at liberty at Parana. In the case of the remaining men, as soon as the ship in which they had embarked had touched at Montevideo, some of them had gone on shore, and, finding that the price of labour there was the same as at Parana, they had refused to go any further, and at once demanded their liberty. Their request, of course, had been immediately complied with, and they had them released from the stipulations into which they had entered entirely of their own accord, and not owing to any compulsion upon the part of the Argentine government. He had lately seen a letter which was written by an English Gentleman, who had lived for a great many years in the territories of the Argentine Confederation, where he made his fortune, and from that letter he had ascertained that the rate of wages in those territories averaged from 4s. to 5s. a day, while the best meat could be procured at the rate of a halfpenny per pound. Under these circumstances he did not think the men were by any means to be pitied.