HC Deb 19 June 1857 vol 146 cc35-58

Order for Committee read.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


said, he rose to ask the First Lord of the Treasury what steps Her Majesty's Government have taken to obtain compensation for the British subjects residing at Greytown, whose property was destroyed when that town was bombarded in 1854; and if he will lay upon the table of the House copies of the communications that have taken place on that subject with the Government of the United States? The town of Greytown, possessing from its situation peculiar advantages for commercial purposes, had become the residence of numerous merchants—French, Spanish, and English, and after the wonderful increase of trade and population that ensued in California from the discovery of gold, it became so important a position as to excite the cupidity of a certain very active and not very scrupulous party in the United States, who had frequently evinced a disposition to outrage the territory of their neighbours, and who manifested a strong desire to possess themselves of Greytown. Amongst the other parties carrying on business in this place were two rival transit companies, one com- posed of the people of different countries, including natives of England; the other the New York and Nicaraguan Transit Company, consisting, for the most part, of Americans. This latter company, whose agents were, for the most part, connected with the party in America to which he had referred, had obtained from the local Government on certain conditions a large grant of land near the port. This land was speedily covered with buildings, and the company then evinced a systematic spirit of encroachment, endeavouring to extend their possessions without regard to the terms of the covenant upon which they obtained the original grant. The consequence was, that constant collisions, attended with violence, took place between the servants of the Transit Company and the local authorities. It appeared that, unfortunately, the Government at Washington appointed a gentleman as representative of the United States at Nicaragua, who was a strong partisan of the Transit Company. The consequence of the appointment of that gentleman had been, that the local authorities of Greytown had been systematically insulted by the Americans, and on one occasion an attempt was made to withdraw from the hands of the authorities a person who had committed a murder. There were in the town extensive warehouses and other buildings belonging to the parties engaged in the other company, and the object of those who assumed this attitude of hostility towards the local authorities seemed from an early period to be to obtain by force possession of the town. But as the authorities had no force sufficient to resist the partisans of the Transit company who were constantly receiving reinforcements, they never attempted to assert their rights by force, but sought by remonstrance and conciliation to avert the threatened encroachments: on one occasion they resigned their trust, and invited the British consul to act for them. This arrangement, however, was not carried out. The Americans having failed to provoke the local authorities into a resistance by force, began to proclaim that they were most oppressive in their conduct, and had recourse to the expedient of making fictitious claims against them for injuries said to have been done to American interests and property. The ipse dixit of the Americans was always taken as sufficient in those cases, and any appeal to refer the points in dis- pute to arbitration had always been rejected. The local authorities could only remonstrate, and it had at length been announced by the American Consul that the Government at Washington should be consulted upon the questions at issue, but nothing had been heard in relation to the result of any such appeal until the 12th of July, 1854, when a large corvette belonging to the United States had arrived in front of Greytown, the captain of which vessel had immediately sent a formal intimation to the authorities to the effect that if they did not at once consent to pay 24,000 dollars by way of compensation for injuries alleged to have been inflicted upon the Americans, the town would forthwith be bombarded. Upon the receipt of that intimation the local authorities drew up a strong protest against the outrage about to be committed upon them. The English Consul happened to be absent at the time, but he had ably been represented by our Vice-consul (Mr. J. Geddes), who also drew up a protest against the meditated bombardment, which protest was duly forwarded to Captain Hollins, Commander of the United States' corvette. Now, he might add that it was perfectly well known that the local authorities could not raise the sum which had been demanded of them; but, notwithstanding that fact, and despite the protest to which he had just adverted, the town had, after a lapse of a period of only twenty-four hours from the time of the arrival of the vessel been bombarded by the American captain, shells to the number of 250 or 300 having been thrown among its unarmed inhabitants. Finding, however, that the shells had not succeeded in destroying the whole of the houses in the town, Captain Hollins had given orders to his men to proceed systematically from house to house, with torches in their hands, and to set fire to every species of valuable property as they passed upon their way. The result had been, that all the houses in the town had been destroyed, and among them the residence of the British Vice-Consul, which had been deliberately set fire to while the English flag was flying from its roof. The disgraceful outrage which had thus been committed upon defenceless citizens had, he might further observe, taken place in the middle of a most inclement season, had deprived the inhabitants of Greytown of all shelter, and had resulted in driving forth aged women and children without a roof to cover them amid all the severity of those tropical torrents by which the period of the year at which the melancholy disaster in question occurred in Nicaragua was characterized. This version of the facts was not taken from the British residents only, but was concurred in by the French, Spanish, and other residents, and testified to by the Consuls of several nations; and he should ask the House not to lose sight of the fact that the alleged grievances of the Americans were of such a fictitious nature, that no attempt had ever been made by them to submit them to arbitration. These shameful occurrences had taken place three years ago, and yet no attempt had hitherto been made upon the part of Her Majesty's Government to obtain any explanation of a proceeding, in the dreadful consequences of which no less than thirteen British families were involved, and by which a direct insult had been offered to the English flag. In the meantime a document fell into the bands of the sufferers which showed how inexcusable were these proceedings, and that the design of the Americans was to gain possession of the town. This document was a letter written by a Mr. White, the agent of the New York and Nicaraguan Transit Company at New York, to Mr. Fabers, the American agent at Greytown. In this document the people of the town were styled scoundrels. It stated, that if these scoundrels were soundly punished, possession could be taken, a business place built up, and the jurisdiction transferred. The writer observed, "You know the rest;" and added, "It is of the last importance that the people of the town should be made to fear." This was the letter:— Office of the New York and California Steam Ship Line, via Nicaragua, No. 5, Bowling-green, New York, June 16, 1854. Dear Sir,—Captain Hollins leaves here next Monday. You will see from his instructions that much discretion is given to you, and it is to be hoped that it will be so exercised as not to show any mercy to the town or people. If the scoundrels are soundly punished we can take possession and build it up as a business place, put in our own officers, transfer the jurisdiction, and you know the rest. It is of the last importance that the people of the town should be taught to fear us. Punishment will teach them, after which you must agree with them as to the organization of a new Government, and the officers of it. Everything now depends on you and Hollins. The latter is all right.—Yours, &c., J. L. WHITE. He thought, after this, that the House had a right to some explanation from the noble Lord at the head of the Government as to what steps had been taken to obtain compensation for those British subjects whose property had been destroyed by this unjustifiable bombardment. The noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) held high language some time since when he repudiated the insinuation of an hon. Member that the resistance of the British Government to acts of oppression was to be measured by the strength of the aggressor. The noble Lord repelled that idea with indignation. Hon. Members who remembered the way in which the noble Lord exercised all the power of England in the case of Don Pacifico, knew with how high a hand he carried British authority on such occasions. The House knew, also, the manner in which the noble Lord had declared it necessary to vindicate the honour of the British flag in the Chinese waters, in a case in which the right to hoist that flag had been exceeded. In the Chinese case there was a doubt if the flag of England was flying, and it had been clearly proved that the vessel in question had no legal right to hoist the British flag, but in the case of Greytown there could be no doubt, for the house of the British consul, over which the British flag was flying, was deliberately and wantonly set fire to, and destruction entailed on thirteen British families, one British subject losing property to the value of many thousand pounds sterling. He (Lord C. Hamilton) was aware that it was said by the American Government that they were not originally conscious of the proceedings that were carried on in their name; but, unfortunately, since that time, they had involved themselves in the transaction by not punishing the perpetrators as they might have done, the agents in the outrage being citizens of the United States. Still, in justice to the inhabitants of the United States, he must observe that public opinion among them had strongly manifested itself on numerous occasions by condemning the whole transaction, and by stigmatizing it as a marked violation of the law of nations. The public press has also most honourably denounced the whole proceeding. In conclusion, he begged to ask the Prime Minister for the information sought by the terms of his notice, and trusted that the noble Lord would be able to show that some steps had been taken by the Government in this case to obtain justice for British subjects who had been grossly outraged, and whose property had been destroyed.


, before the speech of the noble Lord who had just spoken was replied to, wished to draw the attention of the noble Lord at the head of the Government to a Bill which had been brought from another place, and was now upon the table of the House, relating to testamentary jurisdiction. The measure was a very important one. During the last four years they had had not less than eight Bills brought before them on the subject, and the present Bill had undergone the consideration of some of the ablest lawyers, here and elsewhere, that the country ever possessed. The Bill had already appeared once in the paper, but so low down that it had to be postponed. It now stood for Monday next, and unless the noble Lord lent it his powerful support, he feared it would continue in the "slough of despond," and the country would despair of the power of the House to remedy the evils it was intended to cure. He begged to ask whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to press the Probates and Letters of Administration Bill to a successful issue in the present Session.


said, I can assure my hon. Friend that it is the full intention of Her Majesty's Ministers to press the Bill to which he has referred, as they hope a favourable decision in this present Session. The Bill was brought in by the Lord Chancellor in the other House of Parliament. It is one of the measures of the Government, and therefore I am exceedingly anxious for its progress, in which I am very glad to find we shall have the assistance of my hon. Friend. The Bill having come down from the House of Lords, is not so pressing as other Bills which have to go up to that House. Therefore, if the Bill is postponed for other Bills of more pressing importance, my hon. Friend must not suppose the Government will at all shrink from doing their utmost to carry it. With regard to the matter to which the noble Lord has called the attention of the House, I am bound to say that the transaction to which his question refers was one which it is impossible not to characterize as a very violent and a very cruel proceeding. It was, however, authorized and ordered by the Government of the United States. Whether they meant it to be carried out with such severity, or whether the officer—and who is, I believe, a very distinguished and honourable officer in the United States service—mistook his instructions, I cannot say. But I am bound to observe that the manner and degree of severity which was exercised, reflect no credit either upon the Government which ordered, or upon the officer who executed those orders. But the question which Her Majesty's Government had to consider was the bearing of international law upon that question. Now, it is undoubtedly a principle of international law, that when one Government deems it right to exercise acts of hostility against the territory of another Power, the subjects and citizens of third Powers, who may happen to be resident in the place attacked, have no claim whatever upon the Government which, in the exercise of its national rights, commits these acts of hostility. For instance it was deemed necessary for us to destroy the town of Sebastopol. There may have been in that town Germans, Italians, Portuguese, and Americans, but none of those parties had any ground upon which to claim from the British and French Governments compensation for losses sustained in consequence of those hostilities. Those who go and settle in a foreign country must abide the chances which may befall that country, and if they have any claim, it must be upon the Government of the country in which they reside; but they certainly can have no claim whatever upon the Government which thinks right to commit acts of hostility against that State. Therefore, we were advised, and I think rightly, that British subjects in Greytown had no ground upon which they could call upon the Government of this country to demand from the Government of the United States compensation for the injuries which they suffered in the attack upon that town. We may think that the attack was not justified by the cause which was assigned. But, as an independent State, we have no right to judge the motives which actuated another State in asserting their rights and vindicating wrongs which it supposed its citizens or subjects had sustained, and there was nothing in the relations between Great Britain and Greytown which gave us a right exceptional to the application of that general rule of international law. Grey-town certainly was part of the Mosquito territory, and under the general protectorship of Great Britain, but that protectorship was of a nature which carried with it the obligation merely of protecting it against foreign aggression, but did not go to the extent of interfering in disputes between that and another State. There are two kinds of protectorship. In the Ionian Islands the British Government directs the action of the Government of the protected State. Nothing is done in that State except by the counsel and advice and the actual action of the British representative. We are consequently responsible for everything which the Government may do, and therefore entitled to require redress for wrongs or to vindicate any attack upon the place. Not so with regard to Greytown. Government is there administered by a self-elected, self-constituted municipality of Americans, English, French, Spaniards, and Germans. They are acting upon their own responsibility, and they, and not England, must be responsible for the consequences of everything they may do. I believe the real state of the case was that there was a dispute between two rival American transit companies, the one patronized by the self-constituted Government of Greytown, the other protected by the Government of the United States; and that out of the rivalship and quarrels of those two companies arose the transaction to which the noble Lord has adverted. Undoubtedly communications have passed between the British and American Governments, with a view to ascertain what the intentions of the American Government were; but we found that they rested upon the rule of international law to which I have referred, and the right which the law of nations gave them to take measures which they, in their own judgment, deemed necessary. The American Government have determined not to give compensation to any parties. They have refused, I believe, to give compensation to their own citizens who suffered by the bombardment. When I say refused, I do not know whether the demand was made, but I know they do not intend to give compensation to Germans, French, Spaniards, or any subjects of other Governments settled at Greytown at the time. Her Majesty's Government, therefore, acting under the advice of those who are most competent to give an opinion upon the subject, and deeming the advice in accordance with international practice, have foregone demanding any compensation of the United States for those subjects of Great Britain who have been so unfortunate as to have been injured by the bombardment of Greytown. I have now to appeal to my hon. Friend the Member for Mallow (Sir D. Norreys) who has a Motion on the paper with regard to proceedings in Committee of Supply. The embarrassment to which the Motion relates has in the present instance arisen very much from the anxiety of the Government to afford to the House the most detailed information possible with regard to the Estimates which they proposed. We felt, however, that there was a great deal of force in the objection made that one Vote ought not to cover such a multitude of items, and we intend to divide the Estimate into three, so that the classification will be more in accordance with the nature of the expenditure. W c may, in a future year, endeavour to alter the form of the Estimates so as to obviate in a greater degree the difficulties which have arisen; but no change can be made in the course of proceeding in this House without altering those forms of the House which have existed, I believe, from the memory of man. It is matter well deserving the consideration of the House whether those forms of proceeding ought to be altered. They rest upon reasons which have appeared to be good for a long course of time. At all events they ought not to be altered hastily and on a sudden by a Motion for an instruction to the Committee of Supply, but after a full consideration of their bearing upon the general character and nature of the proceedings of the House. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend will not call on the House to decide upon the Motion which he has announced his attention of making, but that he will allow Her Majesty's Government to endeavour, in the next Session of Parliament, to frame the Estimates in some manner that may be more calculated to afford facilities to hon. Gentlemen to urge objections which may occur to them. Then, if it should appear that we have not succeeded in that, this House may, on full deliberation and consideration, determine whether it will be worth while to alter forms of proceeding which are of long standing, and which are part and parcel of its general system of conducting business.


said, he could not refrain from making one or two observations relative to the manner in which the noble Viscount had treated the question brought forward by his noble Friend. The noble Viscount might, perhaps, be right in the legal view which he took of that question; but he believed it was the first time in the history of civilized nations—at all events he (Lord Lovaine) could not recall to mint any instance of a nation in a time of pro found peace, not only sending out an armed force to destroy a town, but to destroy property which belonged—and notoriously belonged—to the citizens and subjects of a power with which they were at peace. Now, so far as our vice consul at Grey-town was concerned, it appeared that the English flag was flying on his house, and that the house was destroyed with the perfect consciousness and knowledge that it did belong to the English consul, and was under the protection of the English flag. Moreover, it was not destroyed by the fire of the American ships, but deliberately by the party who were sent on shore. Now, he could not help thinking that if one-half the energy and vigour which had been shown by the British Government in the affair of China had been exhibited in the present instance, something might have been secured in the way of compensation for the wretched sufferers at Greytown. The case was an entirely exceptional one. It was not like any other that he knew of as having occurred within his memory; and when he recollected that the noble Lord had out of the House, in places where there was no opportunity of contradicting him, indulged in language which was not very complimentary to hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House, and stated that his opponents on the question of the Chinese war were indifferent to the honour of the British flag, he (Lord Lovaine) thought it was as well that it should go forth to the world that there had been other opportunities of vindicating the outraged honour of the British flag and the rights of British subjects which had not received that attention from the noble Viscount to which they were entitled. It was a remarkable circumstance that when a power was weak and feeble the noble Viscount could display plenty of determination to vindicate those rights; but where the power was one to be respected by reason of its strength, somehow or other no remonstrance was made, and no effort employed to obtain anything like redress for those English subjects who happened to be the sufferers.


I cannot help being reminded by this discussion of the sort of castigation, as I may almost call it, to which I was recently subjected by the noble Lord, because I had presumed to say the conduct pursued by our Government would lead the world to think that England was a bully to the weak and a coward to the strong. On the occasion to which I refer, the noble Lord was, as he always is, exceedingly adroit in diverting attention by his sarcasms from the point to which my remarks were directed. But what has he done in this case? He has brought forward a sort of solution which, in its very essence, is a degradation to the country. Greytown, says the noble Lord, was under the protection of England. What is the meaning of that phrase? "Oh!" says the noble Lord, "we are to protect Greytown against occupation or conquest by a foreign nation;" but he would allow a foreign nation to bombard it. How was Greytown originally peopled? Subjects of this country went out, carrying with them, as they thought, the name of Englishmen and the protection of England, and colonized that town. This place, says the noble Lord, was a part of the Mosquito territory? I will bind him to that. What, then, have we always said and done in respect of the Mosquito territory? Have we not held that we were the protectors of the Indians there? and did we not, on a late occasion, make a treaty by which we vindicated to ourselves the right to protect them, and also declared it a part of the honour of England not to desert tribes which have been for centuries under our protection? But if this were true as regards the Indians of Mosquito, how much more true is it as regards those Englishmen who have gone out and colonized that country, believing that the œgis of England was extended over them? If there ever was a flagrant case in which we have been subservient to the strong this is it. The noble Lord himself calls this a cruel proceeding. It was more than that; it was dishonest as well as cruel, on the part of the United States' Government; but were we to stand by and allow our subjects to be ill-treated by a strong Power? Supposing this had been done by China, or by Brazil? Why, we should have had one hon. Gentleman after another on that (the Treasury) bench rampant at the outrage offered to the British flag, and indignantly insisting that the national honour should be vindicated. We should have had this sort of language mouthed here from twelve o'clock in the day to twelve o'clock at night, and the war cry would have been sent through the country by the newspapers of the next morning. We all know what happened when the lorcha was boarded in the Canton river. We heard of the insult to the British flag. Did we ever hear of the insult to the British flag at Greytown? A British consul was there, and protested against the proceedings. The British flag was flying over his house when the bombardment began, and he and his family were obliged to leave the place on account of the danger to which they were exposed. The town was, in fact, blown to atoms by the strong Government of America; and we stood by while we saw our people ruined, their property destroyed, and our flag disgraced. Yet, an occasion is taken, forsooth, to vilify hon. Gentlemen in this House who are really anxious to vindicate the honour of England, but who do not wish to vindicate that honour by becoming bullies to the weak and trucklers to the strong. An honest, just, and merciful bearing towards all nations is the attitude worthy of England. Let her protect the weak if they are in the right, and see that justice is done to Englishmen wherever they reside.


said, they had that night heard two remarkable statements from the noble Lord at the head of the Government; one of these was an opinion in favour of non-intervention in the affairs of other countries, and by that opinion he trusted the noble Lord would henceforward be guided. There was something remarkable, too, about the description which the noble Lord had given of the whole transaction at Greytown as connected with the Government of the United States. He had told the House that a quarrel took place between two rival transit companies and that the mode of settlement—he could hardly term it arbitration—adopted by the United States Government was to bombard the town which was the scene of the dispute. That was one of the most singular proceedings on the part of the Government of a great country that he (Mr. Bentinck) had ever heard of; yet they had the authority of the noble Lord that that course was taken by the United States Government in order to determine the dispute between the two rival companies. He trusted the Government of the United States would be satisfied with the version of the proceedings which had been given by the noble Lord. He (Mr. Bentinck) would not now go into the question of international law. The noble Lord himself was high authority upon that subject; therefore, although it appeared to be somewhat extraordinary that the British flag should, under any circumstances, be insulted and disgraced without this country being possessed of the power of requiring an indemnity or apology for such conduct, he would waive the question of international law. With his noble Friend (Lord Lovaine), however, he must say that it was rather singular that by some chance or other it always happened that whenever any such outrages were committed by countries which had not the power to defend themselves, we insisted upon immediate reparation; but when the outrage was committed by a power that was able to take its own part, or with which it was not thought expedient to have an altercation, we allowed ourselves to submit to the grossest insults without exacting redress or even demanding apology for what had been done. This reminded him of what had been a subject of discussion in that House time out of mind; for the present was not the first, second, or third occasion on which they had had discussions as to the want of, he would not say common courage, for nobody doubted that, but of determination on the part of this country to resist the outrages and insults which were offered it by the United States. He was not one of those who for one moment undervalued the importance and the enormous misfortunes which a war between this country and the United States of America would inevitably entail on both. He begged to be distinctly understood as entertaining the strongest sense of the importance of that question, and the necessity of never allowing ourselves to commit any unjustifiable act that would lead to such a result. But the course pursued by this country with regard to the United States on more than one occasion—not particularly the present, though that, he thought, was a case which should have been dealt with differently—had been such as was more likely to lead to hostilities than to avert them. He believed the real cause of that which had led so justly to the numerous complaints, both in this House and in the country, of the sort of degradation to which we had at various times submitted under outrages and insults from the Government of the United States, had arisen out of a painful necessity—namely, that a great portion of the commerce of this country was dependant for its supply of raw material upon the United States, and there had always been a dominant party in this House who had, in so many words, told the Government, "If you go to war with America we will turn you out." The consequence was, that no Government had dared to take a straightforward or manly part when a dispute had arisen between this country and the United States. Now such a policy as that was, in his opinion, much more calculated to lead to hostilities than to insure the continuance of peace. The practice, so often repeated by the Government of the United States, of offering insult to this country under circumstances in which they would not from policy venture to do so, did they not know that we were hampered by commercial considerations, was one very likely to lead to a repetition of such proceedings, and to the inevitable consequences of a repetition, namely, that one of these days an outrage of such magnitude would be offered that the spirit of the country would revolt at it, and we should be forced into that very war which we now sought to avert by improper and untimely concession. There was a limit, no doubt, at which conciliation and cowardice became convertible terms, and he believed there was nothing so calculated to precipitate a war with America as forgetfulness of what was due to our own honour.


assured the hon. and learned member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) and the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down that if the law advisers of the Crown had found that, compatibly with the international law of Europe, satisfaction could have been demanded from America for the losses sustained by British subjects at Greytown, they would unquestionably have pressed upon the Government advice to that effect. The opinion they arrived at was arrived at unwillingly and reluctantly by the law advisers of the Crown. But France also was concerned in this affair, and was she to be accused of truckling to America? In France they were obliged to come to the same conclusion, and France therefore as well as England had abstained from pressing any demand for satisfaction that could not legally be obtained. The experience of the proceedings between this country and America which he had had as law adviser of the Crown led him to a conclusion the reverse of that arrived at by the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. If America were asked her opinion, she would say that she had reason to complain again and again of the strictness with which the law of this country and the principles of international law had been enforced against her. He defied the hon. Gentleman to point to a single instance in which England had given up a legal claim to satisfaction. Every jurist admitted that in a case like that of the Greytown bombardment no compensation could be enforced for the losses sustained. The principle which governed such cases was, that the citizens of foreign States who resided within the arena of war had no right to demand compensation from either of the belligerents, for the losses or injuries they sustained. As an instance of this doctrine he would beg the hon. Gentleman to call to mind the case of Copenhagen and the bombardments of other places.


I am not surprised, though the interval since this outrage was committed has been not inconsiderable, that the affair at Greytown has at last been brought to the attention of the House. I think we should have been wanting in our duty to the people whom we represent as well as to that honour which has been appealed to, if such a subject had been permanently passed over in silence. It must be recollected, that shortly after the bombardment of Greytown, this country became involved in a war of almost unsurpassed magnitude and importance, which demanded all its attention and energies, and that may be offered as some reason, if not a sufficient excuse, for our not having before this discussed the question now under our consideration. I think we are much indebted to the noble Lord for having, even at this late moment, recalled to us that we had left a duty unfulfilled, and, if I had any doubt of the great expediency of the Motion of my noble Friend, that doubt would have been removed by the observations which we have heard this evening from the noble Lord the First Minister of the Crown. Those remarks appear to me, to say the least, unsatisfactory and unsound, and, if they indicate the spirit in which our relations with the United States are in future to be managed, I do not think that the prospect is one of which this country has any reason to be proud. The noble Lord has laid down tonight the same exposition of the principles of international law as he gave us during a former discussion, and the learned Attorney General has endeavoured to enforce and establish a view which I cannot help suspecting, from the strong similarity it bears to the observations of the noble Lord, he himself must have inspired. I cannot pretend to contend with the learned Attorney upon a question of international law, but at the same time I may make some remarks which will at least indicate the reasons why I receive with some hesitation the conclusions at which he has arrived. The learned Attorney stated his view of the principles of international law as they are established in Europe, but we have to consider to-night the application of those principles to America. The noble Lord, also, full of the same view, adduced the case of Sebastopol as being similar to the blockade of Greytown. Copenhagen and Sebastopol are, according to the noble Lord, two precedents for this infamous and ineffable outrage. But Copenhagen and Sebastopol were fortified towns. Greytown was not a fortified town. I always thought it was a principle of international law that it was not legal to bombard towns which were not fortified, and where authorities are established who by treaty are bound to have neither military nor naval resources. Under such circumstances I doubt whether it is legal for any other State to make a foray of the description which we have now under consideration. But even if that view cannot be established, are there no other circumstances of difference between the case of Greytowu and those of Sebastopol and Copenhagen? Why, Sir, Greytown is under the protection of the English authorities; and I cannot believe that the House will accept for a moment the hair-splitting distinction which the noble Lord made between inert and active protection. But if the law in this ease is so clear, as the learned Attorney maintains, how is it that not only Her Majesty's Government but the Governments of other countries took at the origin of these affairs a totally different view of it? Why did they make representations to the Government of the United States, assuming that this was an outrage on the law of nations? If the law was so very clear, every power of obtaining redress was as closed to them then as they say it now is. The learned Attorney General endeavours to defend himself by instancing France. He says, could France, that high spirited nation, which is so prone and proud to interfere under any circumstances in which the rights of her subjects or her own honour are concerned,—could she have been silent if there had been an infraction of international law? But, in the first place, let me observe that France was not the protector of the Mosquito territory, and in the second place that France has interfered; that France has represented this outrage to the Government of the United States, and that France has demanded, and is at this moment demanding, reparation for the outrage. What, then, becomes of the precedents of the learned Attorney General? Now, let us remember that it is exactly three years since the bombardment of Greytown took place. I will not long trespass upon the attention of the House, though I fancy there are few hon. Members present who do not feel that this is a question which demands our earnest sympathy. Three years after this event took place—namely, on the 16th day of February, 1857, through the kindness of Captain Erskine, an officer in command of the British fleet, a memorial, of which I will read a paragraph, was addressed to the Secretary of State (Lord Clarendon). It is written in very temperate language, and, while it shows confidence in Her Majesty's Government, it impresses upon them the necessity of obtaining redress. The memorialists say,— May it please your Lordship,—We, the subscribers, British subjects presently resident in Greytown, take the liberty of addressing your Lordship in reference to that disastrous and well-known catastrophe of the 13th of July, 1854, when, in a time of profound peace, and without any provocation whatever on our part, Captain Hollins, of the United States' corvette Cyane, after making unavailingly a fictitious claim and utterly unjust demand upon the community of this city to an amount in money, also, which, at the time, it would have been utterly impossible for it to have furnished, proceeded to bombard our homesteads, our warehouses, and shops; and then, not satisfied with the mischief thus wrought us, gave orders to his men to proceed systematically from house to house, from one end of the town to the other, setting them on fire, to the utter destruction of our shelter, our clothing, our furniture, our merchandise, and everything moveable we possessed; and this, too, in the middle of the most inclement month of this climate, when the forest that closely environs this town had become an impassable marsh. The mere statement of so sudden and awful a calamity befalling, under such circumstancs, an entire community; the knowledge that the aged, the women, the children, the sick were, within a quarter of an hour, driven forth shelterless amid the tropical torrents which characterize that month, appears to us to render entirely superfluous and misplaced any attempt to describe, not only the sufferings thus occasioned to the inhabitants, but the atrocity also of those who caused them. We are aware, moreover, that this frightful act has become known throughout Christendom; and that on every occasion on which reference has been made to it in public prints or public addresses, it America as well as in Europe, such reference has unanimously been made in terms of the severest reprobation and the strongest disgust. We should be at a loss, therefore, to conceive why the representations we have formerly been constrained by the deplorable straits to which most of us have been reduced, to address to your Lordship have hitherto remained fruitless, were it not that we are well aware, not only of the gigantic efforts our country and her allies had to exert to bring the late war to a successful conclusion, but that since that fortunate event affairs, both in Europe and America, have been so situated—international questions of such deep import have arisen for discussion, as to have called for the exercise of the mental energies of your Lordship and all other statesmen in distinguished positions, in a degree almost unprecedented. But now that peace again prevails in Europe, and that a solution of those international questions has happily been attained, the time appears propitious for our again venturing to recall to your Lordship's consideration the afflicting predicament to which we were reduced—and from no fault of ours—by the atrocious act of an officer of the United States, and in which, during the last two years and a half and more, we and our families have remained struggling and almost despairing. It is in this view, your Lordship, that we once more entreat you to take into consideration the great and longendured hardships of our case, and to procure us such relief and redress as to your Lordship may appear most suitable. Now, I ask the House whether it is possible under the circumstances that an appeal more temperate and more forbearing could have been made? Conscious of the great events which were occurring in Europe, cognizant of the mighty struggle we were making, and of the necessity which existed that our Government should bend all its energies for the accomplishment of one great end, these unfortunate Englishmen forbore to press their sufferings upon the Government, or, at all events, did not urge the Government to attempt a solution of the difficulty, because they did not desire to add to its embarrassment. But now that peace has returned they naturally ask for some reparation and redress. We are told that the United States' Government, adopting the conduct of their officer, haughtily refused to listen to such an appeal; but I say, let us see upon the table of this House an answer from the United States on the subject. Sir, I have too much confidence in the good qualities of the people of the United States and their Government to believe for a moment that they would adopt without demur the acts of the commander of this corvette. I believe that they do share the feeling which the memorial of the sufferers generously and properly attributes to them—a feeling of disapprobation and disgust, which pervades every part of the United States, as well as this country, with reference to these transactions. Well, after all this forbearance, and after patiently waiting during three years of neglect, what is the answer received by the sufferers from the Secretary of State? I have here the original of the letter which is addressed to Mr. Bell, one of the memorialists— Foreign Office, June 3, 1857. Sir: I am directed by the Earl of Clarendon to acquaint you, in reply to your letter of the 29th ult., that his Lordship has received and has had under his consideration the memorial which you drew up on the 16th of February last, and which was forwarded to this department by Captain Erskine, of Her Majesty's ship Orion, on behalf of British subjects inhabiting Greytown who sustained losses when that port was bombarded by the United States' ship of war Cyane in 1854; and I am to state to you that, judging from the answer which the United States Secretary of State returned on the 26th of February last to a note of the French Minister at Washington, urging similar claims of French subjects for compensation, Lord Clarendon is of opinion that an application to the United States' Government on behalf of British claimants would not at present be of any avail. I am, Sir, your most obedient humble servant, J. S. Bell, Esq. "E. HAMMOND. So it appears that at the end of last February the French Government, which, according to the learned Attorney General, did not interfere on this subject, were at that time urging on the American Government the claims of French subjects to compensation and redress.


What I said was that the French Government did not insist on reparation.


Did not "insist" on it, but "urged it." Where is the difference? I infer from this letter that the French Government are exercising their influence and are using all the pacific means at their disposal to obtain some redress for the subjects of the Emperor who were among the sufferers at Greytown. I am only asking Her Majesty's Government to do the same. And now let me recall the attention of the House to the character of the despatch I have read. If it be the opinion of the Government that they are justified neither by law nor by policy in interfering in this case for the vindication of English honour and the maintenance of English interests, why not have answered the temperate memorial I have read to the House in a statesmanlike despatch which should have frankly, clearly, and concisely (I had almost added, honourably) expressed the reasons for the course pursued? Nothing of the kind. The Government shelter themselves under the gabardine of the French Ministry and the policy of France, and held themselves excused from exertion because that Government had failed to produce any effect. The despatch contains no denial of the claims of the memorialists. There is nothing on the face of it to show that Her Majesty's Government deem that, however great may be the misfortune of the sufferers at Greytown, their claims are illegal or impolitic. On the contrary, the only inference to be fairly drawn from this despatch is, that the Secretary of State conceives these claims to be such as might be urged and ought to be redressed; but, says he, after the answer given on the 26th of February last by the United States' Secretary to the note of the French Minister at Washington urging similar claims for compensation, I am of opinion that an application on my part would not be at present of any avail. Well, Sir, I say that that is a shabby mode of meeting this question. The memorialists who receive this answer have not the satisfaction of knowing that their case, after all their patience and forbearance, has been examined and considered by the Government of their own country, and that, though sympathy is felt for their losses and regret for the calamities to which they have been subjected, still the stern front of international law prevents redress. If they knew this, they might reconcile themselves to their lot with the conviction that, had not the law been against them, the proud policy of this country would have gained for them ample reparation. But, Sir, I deny the assertion of the Secretary of State, that the subjects of the French Government are in the same position with regard to redress as the English settlers in Greytown. There is a broad distinction between the position of the English and of the French sufferers from the bombardment, and I defy the most adroit diplomatist to persuade the inhabitants of England or of France, whether by speech or by writing, that that position is the same. The protectorate claimed by England over the Mosquito territory renders the difference between the French and English claims one of immense proportions. But, although such a difference exists and is so much in favour of English subjects, it appears from the despatch of the Secretary of State himself that the French Government are at this moment urging the claims of the sufferers belonging to that nation, while the English Government, not coining forward and frankly laying down the grounds upon which they resolve upon non-interference, absolutely refuse to make even a remonstrance to the authorities of the United States, because, forsooth, the French Minister applied last February and has received an unfavourable answer. I say that in all our annals such an answer was never yet given by an English Secretary of State to English subjects. Sir, notwithstanding the tone of the noble Lord, I do not despair of redress being even yet obtained, at least by the subjects of England. But, now, when the tumult of war has ceased, and the struggle in which we were engaged is over, this question will come to be fairly discussed and whether reparation is accorded upon the application of the English Government, or, as I hope will be the case after reflection, by the generous and spontaneous Motion of the United States' Government, I am convinced it is impossible that such an outrage as this can go unredressed in the nineteenth century, simply because redress is not compatible with the interpretation put upon international law.


I rather expected that one of the occupants of the Treasury bench would have got up to answer the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. I certainly do not feel that I can enter upon a complete vindication of the course pursued by Her Majesty's Government, because I do not agree with them upon all the points of this case. I think, however, it is clear that they could not have acted to any good purpose in the way the right hon. Gentleman seems to think they ought to have acted. The bombardment of Grey town was a proceeding which, as I understand, the American Government authorized, and have openly avowed. The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that the American Government would not avow it; but, as far as I recollect the circumstances, that Government, without, perhaps, vindicating every part of his proceedings, have declared that the instructions they gave to their naval officer authorized him to proceed to the bombardment in the event of the satisfaction demanded not being accorded. Well, now, if that is the case, and there seems to be no doubt that it is so, I do not see that Her Majesty's Government could do otherwise than apply, as they did, to the law officers of the Crown, for the purpose of ascertaining what redress could be obtained for British subjects whose property has been destroyed, and who have been, no doubt, cruelly treated in this matter. The law officers of the Crown—the Attorney General, the Solicitor General, and the Queen's Advocate—have, as I am given to understand, expressed their opinion that these belligerent proceedings having been authorized by the American Government, it is not competent for the British Government to demand or obtain satisfaction or reparation for the injuries done to British subjects at the hands of the American Government. As I understand it, they compare it with the bombardment of Copenhagen, which took place in 1807, and they would maintain, no doubt, that if an American citizen, then resident in Denmark, had come to the British Government, and had demanded reparation for the losses which he had sustained, and the damage done to his goods and warehouses at the bombardment of Copenhagen, the British Government would have been fully justified in refusing that reparation. I take it that that is the version of the law of nations, upon the authority of the law officers of the Crown; and I confess I see no reason to doubt its accuracy, or its application; but, that opinion being given, I do not well see how the Government of this country could proceed to make a demand for redress and reparation, because they could hardly do so and accept a total denial of such redress without taking further proceedings; and how would they have been justified in taking further proceedings when they had in their portfolio the opinion of the law officers of the Crown that they were not justified by the law of nations in demand-reparation? If that be the case, a mere representation to the American Government that we expected redress from them, while we were content at the same time to accept a refusal of the application, would hardly have been consistent with the dignity of the Government, and it certainly would not have raised their position in the eyes of America. Such being the state of the case, I think, with regard to the sufferings that these persons represent, and the damages and losses which they have sustained, that the Government can hardly do more than express the opinion which I believe the whole civilized world entertains of that proceeding of the American Government—namely, that their demands were exorbitant and unfounded, and that they proceeded to carry those demands into effect by a cruel and outrageous action. But there is one part of this affair on which I think the Government ought to have demanded some explanation from the United States, It is that which refers to the insult to the British flag, which was hoisted on the house of the Vice Consul. Let it be admitted, according to the opinion of the law officers, that no pecuniary compensation could be made to those who suffered loss; but here was the Vice Consul, in a State which is nominally under the protection of Great Britain, and with the British flag flying from his house. The American captain might have said that he was ordered to bombard the town, that he could not distinguish one house from another, that the shots could not be so aimed as to spare that particular house, and that the house suffered like the rest in the bombardment. But such cannot be the allegation of the American captain, because, as stated in the memorial which was read by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, after the bombardment—in itself a wanton and cruel proceeding, as I think—the sailors of the American corvette landed, and actually set fire to different parts of the town, and I believe, among others, to the very house of the Vice Consul, from which the British flag was flying. If that be the fact, as I believe it to have been, I think that the Government might have said, "Setting aside the question of pecuniary compensation, which the law of nations will not allow us to demand, we must be satisfied that no insult was intended to the British flag by the proceedings that were taken by the American captain, because there is every appearance of a wanton insult to that flag having been intended." I will not put in any competition with this case the example of China, which has been so often referred to in the course of this discussion, because I hold that, in the case of China, our conduct has been so flagitious, so totally wanting in every regard to justice, that, so far from being a precedent to be followed on any other occasion, I hope that it will be a precedent which the British Government and the British nation will never again adopt. With regard to the Motion of the hon. Baronet the Member for Mallow (Sir D. Norreys) with respect to the mode of discussing the items of the Estimates, I wish to observe, that we have now arrived at a state with regard to the Votes in Supply when I think that it will be incumbent on us to make some change in our rules. I do not think it desirable in a hurried manner, upon the occurrence of a difficulty which may turn out to be temporary, to concur in a Resolution for altering the rules and orders under which the House has so long acted; but I shall be glad to Lear from the Government that they intend in the present Session, to propose the appointment of a Committee to consider the question. I admit that the Votes are better divided now than they were formerly, but still divide the items in a Vote as much as may be, there will always be great difficulties involved in the present system. For example, suppose a Vote of £120,000 to be asked by the Government; one hon. Member proposes to reduce it perhaps to £110,000, and another to reduce it to £100,000; if the Motion for reducing it to £100,000 is carried, there is at once an end to the question of the £110,000. Or suppose that there are ten or twelve items included in one Vote, and one hon. Member proposes to reduce an item by £5,000, while two other hon. Members propose to reduce two other items by £1,000 each, if once the Vote is reduced by the smaller sum it is not competent afterwards to propose the larger reduction, although the Committee may desire possibly to make all the reductions.