HC Deb 20 July 1858 vol 151 cc1844-62

rose, according to notice, to move that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She would be graciously pleased to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the Complaints made by certain of Her Subjects of the destruction of their property by Her Majesty's Forces at Uleaborg, in the Gulf of Bothnia, during the recent war with the Emperor of Russia, as more particularly set forth in Memorials addressed by Messrs. Mathiesen and Ritter, and Messrs. Henry Dresser and Co., to the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury. The hon. Member said he had hoped that the necessity for bringing this case under the notice of the House would have been obviated by the Government recognizing the claims of these parties, but as he had been disappointed in that hope he had no alternative, but to ask the House to express its judgment on the subject. The question was an important one, not only as regarded the commercial interests of the country, but as affecting in some degree the reputation of the country as one of the great belligerent powers of Europe, which, in all proceedings in war, and especially in maritime war, should show an example of humanity to other nations. He had no personal interest in the matter, for his business did not at all connect him with Russia or the Baltic; but he brought forward the Motion in deference to the wishes of his constituents and in justice to the parties whose claims were involved. He wished it also to be understood that he imputed no blame to those gallant officers and men by whom the property in question had been destroyed; they had merely obeyed orders:—no doubt every man, from the admiral, to whose conduct he should have more particularly to allude, down to the common seaman, had behaved as gallantly and honourably as if they had been under the guns of Sweaborg or Cronstadt, but he could not approve of their destruction of the property of peaceable, harmless, unprotected people. The circumstances to which he wished to draw their attention were these: From the papers before the House it would be seen that there were three parties in this case—Messrs. Mathiesen and Ritter, and Messrs. Dresser and Co., of London, and Messrs. Lewin of Boston. He had to deal only with the claims of the two first-named firms; Messrs. Lewin, who belonged to Boston, left their case in the able hands of the hon. and learned Member who represented that town (Mr. W. H. Adams). He might, however, mention that the aggregate claims of all those gentlemen only amounted to £5,446, so that hon. Gentlemen need not fear that by agreeing to this Motion they would impose any serious burden upon the tax-payer. It would be sufficient for him to state the circumstances of the case of Messrs. Mathiesen and Ritter, the other being nearly similar. Messrs. Mathiesen and Ritter were largely engaged in the Baltic trade, trading more especially to the Gulf of Bothnia. In 1853 they purchased a quantity of deals and house timber, which, having resold to a party, he believed, at Hull, they chartered two vessels to bring away from Uleaborg. One of these vessels, the John, reached Uleaborg before the winter set in, but not in time to clear out before becoming ice-bound, and in the spring shared in the conflagration at that port. The ether was more fortunate—she did not reach Uleaborg, and, consequently, escaped the fate of her consort. The war broke out in March, 1854. It would not be necessary to trouble the House with ninny details; but he must mention this fact—that by Orders in Council, for the first time, the principle was introduced in time of war of the immunity of enemy's property in neutral vessels, always excepting articles contraband of war; and war was waged, not against the property of individuals, but against the public property of the State with which we were engaged in hostilities. Russia presented to a maritime enemy three sea-boards for attack. One, Old Russia in the Baltic; another, the White Sea, including the port of Archangel; and a third, the Black Sea, including Odessa, Kertch, &c. Referring first to the White Sea, it would be found that the Orders in Council for the blockade of that sea stated that in the event of any ports not being blockaded neutral vessels might be allowed to trade. The White Sea was not blockaded, and trade was allowed to be carried on by British ships till the 15th of May, and by neutrals till September, when a proclamation placed the ports of the White Sea in a state of blockade. In the Black Sea the same course was pursued. In so doing he thought our Government had taked a wise and proper course. In the Baltic the blockade was established by the gallant Admiral near him (Sir Charles Napier) on the 28th of March. The Orders in Council regulated the time at which British ships should be allowed to clear out from Russian ports, and it was limited to the 15th of May. At that date in the case of the upper ports of the Baltic the sea was frozen, and there was no opportunity afforded to merchants to take away their goods up to the 15th of May. In one case, that of Messrs. Lewin, of Boston, who had a considerable property in those ports on the breaking out of hostilities, they advised the Government of their property being there, and asked leave to remove it, but were refused. He would show the course adopted by Her Majesty's ships in the various Russian seas. The first hostilities of any consequence took place at Odessa, where, a flag of truce having been fired upon, a partial bombardment of the city took place. Questions were put to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carlisle (Sir James Graham), and to Lord Clarendon on the subject, who said that the greatest caution had been used not to injure private property; and the Duke of Newcastle subsequently said that it was the desire of the Government that during the war private property should be spared as much as possible. No doubt those directions were loyally fulfilled by the officers in command of vessels, and he knew of no case in which they had been disgregarded in the White or Black Seas. The case, however, was different in the Baltic. He must now refer to the operations of the squadron under Admiral Plumridge which had been detached from the fleet of the hon. and gallant Admiral (Sir Charles Napier). This squadron, as soon as the ice allowed, began its operations in the Gulf of Bothnia. It arrived before the Port of Brahestad, situated near the town of Uleaborg, which was the chief town of the province of the same name, and the most northern town in the Gulf. In the Gulf of Bothnia the population had been most friendly towards this country for centuries, and carried on a large trade with us, and we had their sympathies in the war against Russia, until the occasion on which the circumstance occurred which he would now relate. He held in his hand a protest drawn up and signed by six merchants of that locality, which contained a historical narrative of the proceedings of that squadron, by which it appeared that on the 30th May, at three o'clock, a thick smoke was seen rising from Brahestad, and it was found that the squadron under Admiral Plumridge had set fire to the pitch, the yards, and the vessels in the port. The town of Uleaborg, fearing that it would be attacked in turn, sent a flag of truce, demanding what the Admiral meant to do with respect to an unprotected town. In answer to that a proclamation was sent in five languages, to the effect that the English Admiral did not intend to molest or injure private persons or property, that he would only destroy the castles, fortresses, shipping, and property of the Emperor of Russia; that so long as the inhabitants remained in their houses they would be protected, but if they made any attempt at resistance they would be treated as enemies; and the Admiral recommended that all women and children should be sent out of the town. The bearer of the flag stated that there were no Russian imperial property, no Russian troops in the town, nor were there any fortifications. The Admiral said he should examine the ships to ascertain if they contained any articles contraband of war, and that he should destroy the timber in the yard. To this it was replied that the timber was private property, was not fitted or intended to be used for purposes of war, but for export to England; and that much of it belonged to Englishmen who had paid for it. The Admiral said he was sorry for it, but he must fulfil his duty, and if any of the property of his countrymen was destroyed, they must look to their country for compensation. It was in consequence of that declaration that he (Mr. Crawford) now asked for compensation for losses sustained on that occasion. The Admiral went on to say that in ten minutes his operations would begin, that he had plenty of boats, as they would find out in a short time. It was important that the House should understand that the property destroyed was piled up on an island near Uleaborg; none of it was such as, under any circumstances, could be considered contraband of war, but consisted of pine timber which was to be sent to England in the spring. The Admiral sent seventeen boats on shore, and burnt the whole of the property. The question the House had to determine was whether the goods so destroyed were contraband of war, and such as the Admiral was justified in destroying. With respect to articles contraband of war, he held in his hand a convention entered into in 1801 between His Britannic Majesty and the Emperor of Russia, and which still regulated the subject, which was to the effect that in order to avoid misunderstanding as to what was to be considered contraband of war, it was agreed that only such articles as were enumerated, and which would be considered as useful for purposes of war, should be so treated, and a long list of cannons, guns, swords, pistols, &c., was given; amongst those articles timber or wood of any description was not to be found. The clause went on to say that all other articles not mentioned in the list were not to be considered contraband of war. It might be asked if there was any justification for the destruction of this property irrespective of contraband of war? It appeared from this paper, which was printed by Her Majesty's printer, that timber was not an article contraband of war. Moreover, the timber in question had been sold to merchants in Hull for building purposes, and was useless for ship and boat building, and the sellers were obliged to pay compensation to the merchants of Hull for its non-delivery. He was told that there was one ground on which the destruction of this property would be justified by the gallant Admiral (Sir C. Napier), and that was that he had information that at Uleaborg certain gunboats were being constructed by the Russian Government, and that at that place gunboats were constantly built. He (Mr. Crawford) had before him the despatches of the different officers employed, describing the operations on which they were engaged, in which they state that there had been destroyed in timber, building-yards, and so on, property which the gallant Admiral had in his despatch stated to be of the value of £300,000, but not a single gunboat was mentioned. Some of the inhabitants of Uleaborg declared on oath that there had not been any gunboats or vessels built there for the Russian Government, that the Russian Government had no troops in the town, that there was no Government property there, and that all the property that was destroyed had been sold to Englishmen, and actually paid for; and with regard to gunboats it was especially declared that none had been built there for forty years. It would be seen so far that there was no justification for the attack on Uleaborg. He was unable to comprehend on what grounds any justification of this barbarous proceeding could be based. It could not be said that it had been done to impress the Russians with an idea of our prowess, as it was simply the destruction of undefended property, and it was impossible to have conveyed any part of the stores in question to the Russian fleet, neither could the Russian Government suffer any damage or inconvenience by this disgraceful proceeding. We had only destroyed the property of our fellow subjects, and the effect was to raise the price of the produce in question in this country. This question might be treated on broad and general grounds. In the year subsequent to this occurrence Finland was visited by a famine. He did not mean to connect it with these operations, but he could only say that in Uleaborg not only was merchandise and timber burnt, but a great quantity of salt fish and other provisions. A subscription was raised for the relief of the Finlanders in this country, and £10,000 was conveyed thither by a deputation of gentlemen, members of the Society of Friends, and they stated that instead of the friendship which had existed towards this country on the part of the Fins, there was now an intense feeling of animosity, which was caused wholly by these operations. His (Mr. Crawford's) object in making this Motion was not so much to arrest the sympathy of the House in favour of the inhabitants of Uleaborg as to show that there existed on the part of the owners of the property destroyed a claim on the House of Commons. That property was destroyed without justification, in the teeth of the proclamation of Admiral Plumridge himself; it was not contraband of war; its destruction did no good to us and no damage to the Russian Government. It was a wanton action, which he trusted would not be allowed to pass without reparation. The aggregate amount of the claims was £5,446; having, stated the grounds on which he considered the parties entitled to compensation, he would conclude with his Motion.

Motion made and Question proposed,— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the complaints made by certain of Her subjects of the destruction of their property by Her Majesty's Forces at Uleaborg, in the Gulf of Bothnia, during the recent War with the Emperor of Russia, as more particularly set forth in Memorials addressed by Messrs. Matthiesen and Ritter, and Messrs. Henry Dresser and Co., to the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury.


, in seconding the Motion, expressed his regret that Her Majesty's Government had decided on opposing it. He could not help thinking that both the late and the present Government laboured under some misapprehension of the facts of the case. Last Session the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston) in answer to a question which he put to him, likened the case to that of a bombardment, and said the destruction of the property might be justified on the ground that it was property lying in an enemy's country, and he had compared the case to the bombardment of Grey Town. He hoped to be able to satisfy the House that this general proposition was not a correct one, but must be taken with very considerable qualification. During a bombardment it was impossible to discriminate; all property must suffer alike, and therefore neither neutrals nor our own countrymen could snake claim to compensation; but that was not an accurate description of what took place in the instance before them. The defence of the proceedings at Uleaborg, founded on the circumstance that the timber lay in an enemy's country, and therefore might be destroyed, was a fallacy which pervaded the whole of the correspondence of the Government, being laid down as a broad principle without any qualification. The timber trade was a peculiar one. The payment for timber to be imported into this country was made by British merchants long before the timber was shipped—sometimes two or three years, for it was allowed to lie till a ship could be chartered and sent out for it—in fact, nearly the whole of the timber trade of the Gulf of Finland was carried on with British capital; and therefore it was that this property had remained on the wharves after it had been purchased and paid for. The timber being the property of British subjects, if it had been the interest of any parties to destroy it the Russians might have done so, because it belonged to an enemy; they, however, suffered it to remain. He was better acquainted with the case of Messrs. Lewin, who were his constituents, than with those of the other parties, and a letter from those gentlemen which he now held in his hand, and the reply of the Government, would show that it was no after-thought to represent this property as English property. It was written by Messrs. Lewin as soon as they heard that Admiral Plumridge was about to visit the Gulf of Bothnia, and was dated the 18th May, 1854. In it Messrs. Lewin say:— Having in the year 1852 purchased two cargoes of timber lying at Uleaborg, in Russia, and for which, in 1853, I could not obtain vessels to bring the same from there to here, but was in the usual course of business compelled to pay for the same, I shall feel obliged by your informing me if I charter neutral vessels for these cargoes—if such cargoes are allowed to be shipped from Finland—whether such vessels and cargoes will be allowed to be brought here without detention by the Fleet or Government. The reply they received was that the Lords of the Council, having considered their application, had sent them copies of the Orders in Council, notifications of blockades, and Her Majesty's Proclamation of war, and had to acquaint them that they must be guided by the opinion of their legal adviser. This was all the information and assistance they were able to obtain from the Government of their own country. It was well known that Uleaborg was shut up by ice during a great part of the year; so that even if the Proclamation of war had been known then it would have been impossible to take out a cargo within the time specified. Archangel, Odessa, and other ports were more favoured than Uleaborg, for there cargoes were allowed to be removed till September, while the destruction of property at Uleaborg took place as early as June. It was a great misapprehension to suppose that gunboats or contraband of war lay at Uleaborg. There was nothing of the kind. There were the declarations of the merchants of the place, which they were desirous of verifying before a commission, that the supposition was totally unfounded. Had there been either gunboats or contraband of war, he would admit that they might have been very properly destroyed; but that would have been no justification for destroying timber belonging to British subjects, and adapted only for domestic uses. Supposing, as he believed was the case, there were no gunboats at the place, nor anything contraband of war, then there was the additional circumstance that Uleaborg was a completely defenceless place. In order to justify the proceedings of the Admiral it must be shown that the property destroyed was either the property of the Emperor of Russia or contraband of war. The international law upon the subject was clearly laid down by all the most eminent authorities, as he would prove by quotations from their works. He had of course the highest respect for the opinions of the law officers of the Crown, and should not for a moment presume to set up his opinion in opposition to theirs; but when, on such a question as that under discussion, he found the law officers of the Crown on the one side, and all the great writers on international law, including Grotius, Vattel, Heineccius, and Wildman on the other, he had no difficulty as to the conclusion at which, as a lawyer, he ought, to arrive.

Vattel laid down the rule as follows;— All damage done to the enemy unnecessarily, every act of hostility which does not tend to procure victory and bring the war to a conclusion, is a licentiousness condemned by the law of nature." —VATTEL, Book 3, chap. ix., sec. 171. Wildman, a great authority on such subjects, and whose valuable work on International Law was by far the best treatise on that subject which had appeared in modern days, said:— By the usage of nations, whether derived from civil or from international law, certain persons and property in the offending state are exempt from reprisals: for example, the property of persons whose residence is merely transitory. The same exemption attaches to property which is under the protection of the public faith. The Emperor of Russia had certainly recognized that exemption, for the property of British subjects at Uleaborg had not been injured by his acts or those of his subjects. Vattel added, And with respect to things, the case is the same as with respct to persons:—things belonging to the enemy continue such wherever they are. But we are not else to conclude, any more than in the case of persons, that we everywhere possess a right to treat those things as things belonging to the enemy. Since it is not the place where a thing is, but the character of the person to whom it belongs—things belonging to neutral persons, which happen to be in an enemy's country, or on board an enemy's ships—are to be distinguished from those which belong to the enemy. But it is the owner's business to adduce evident proof that they are his property; for, in default of such proof, a thing is naturally presumed to belong to the nation in whose possession it is found."— VATTEL, chap. 5, sec. 73. In the case which he (Mr. Adams) mentioned, the agent of the owners had offered to prove the ownership of the property, but in vain. Grotius, too, took the same view of the rights of innocent parties. He said, This is also plain, that before the right of war can entitle us to anything taken, it is requisite that our enemy had first the true propriety of it; for what things may be within the enemy's towns, or other places whereof he is master, the owners thereof being neither subjects to our enemy, nor animated with the same spirit as he against us, cannot be acquired by the right of war. Indeed, there is no reason that authorises us to take the goods of those who are not of our enemy's party, under the pretence that they are found in his country."—GROTIUS, Book 3, chap. 6, sec. 5. And altogether the opinions of the writers upon the law of nations were strongly in favour of those who now asked for an opportunity of proving their statements. He ventured to think that in this case the parties who were asking for satisfaction at the hands of the Crown and the Government had made out a case as far as a statement could go, and if they had not supported that statement by evidence, it was no fault of theirs, because no tribunal had been offered to them for the purpose.


said, he was extremely sorry that he was unable to fulfil the expectation which the lion. Member said he entertained of the support of the Government to the Motion. Without occupying the House for any length of time, he hoped he should be able to show that there were two sides of the question. He admitted the perfect fairness with which the hon. Member opposite and the hon. and learned Member behind him had stated the case, and he hoped that the House would agree that the Government had met the question with equal fairness. The hon. Gentleman had complained of delay, but he hoped that the hon. Gentleman was aware that the delay was not the fault of the Government. He thought the hon. Gentleman would admit that the Government might fairly rest its opposition to the claims of these merchants for compensation on the fact that within the last two years no less than four applications had been made to the Government on the subject—two to the Treasury, two to the Admiralty, and, he believed, one also to the Foreign Office. In all these cases the answer was, that the property destroyed was property open to destruction by the law of war, being found in an enemy's country, and that consequently no claim for compensation could exist. Government might have rested their opposition upon their answer; but, looking to the interests involved in the question, they desired to meet the case as fairly as possible. They had accordingly referred the question to the law officers of the Crown, and it was his duty to inform the House that they had given a decided opinion against the claim of these parties. As to the facts of the case there was no dispute. On the 1st of June, 1854, Admiral Plumridge sailed up the Gulf of Bothnia, and sent boats on shore at Uleaborg, and destroyed by fire a large quantity of pitch, tar, timber of various kinds, and other articles used for the purposes of ship building. The merchants represented by his hon. and learned friend (Mr. Adams), said this was British property, that it ought not to have been destroyed, and therefore that they had a claim on the British Parliament for compensation. The first ground on which they rested their claim was, that this property was altogether of a private nature, and therefore ought to have been respected. Ms (Sir J. Pakington's) answer was, that the property was not of a private nature; that, on the contrary, it was property contraband of war; and he joined issue with his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Adams) and would tell him that the quotations he had read to the House did not apply to the case under consideration. His hon. and learned Friend used the expression that this was property solely used for domestic purposes. The description given of the timber in question proved that it was fit for domestic purposes, no doubt, but fit also for the planking and decking of vessels. Admiral Plumridge stated, that three-inch deals were most applicable for the decks and bulwarks of gun-boats. The hon. and learned Gentleman had quoted Vattel; and he (Sir J. Pakington) would appeal to the same authority, and would tell him that Vattel included timber and naval stores among the articles which were particularly useful fur purposes of war, and therefore were liable to be seized as contraband of war. Having shown what the law of nations was as adopted in England, he would now show what the law of nations was as adopted in France. By a treaty of commerce concluded between Denmark and France in 1842, pitch and tar were also declared to be contraband, together with resin, sailcloth, hemp, cordage, masts, and timber. According to Wheaton's work on the Elements of International Law—according to Kent, whose authority was adopted in America—the same proposition was distinctly laid down; and it was also declared that in a naval war, ships and materials for ships, became contraband. Nobody would deny that the materials destroyed were materials for ships. With regard to the gunboats, it seemed to be disputed that there were any; but, according to Admiral Plumridge, it appeared that the timber was available for building the next batch of gunboats; that twelve gunboats had been built at Uleaborg, and that they were built of materials precisely similar in character to the material that was destroyed. Not only did he (Sir J. Pakington) find among the papers at the Foreign Office that gunboats were built, but lie also found, from a letter from Mr. Grey, our chargé d'affaires at Stockholm, what had become of them. Mr. Grey, in a letter to Admiral Plumridge, stated that he had received intelligence from a source on which they could rely that twelve gunboats were launched at Uleaborg in May, shortly before the approach of Her Majesty's squadron. They were afterwards removed inland up the river, and sunk in shallow water for concealment. They were then got up again and fully armed; so that at the very time that Admiral Plumridge approached Uleaborg and destroyed this timber, these very gunboats were sunk in the river for the purposes of concealment; they were then raised again and fully armed for the purpose of carrying on war with England. This, he trusted, would dispel the idea that this timber was not fit for the construction of vessels of war, and was not in any sense contraband of war. Then came the question was there anything in the language of Admiral Plumridge to make an exception to the rule, and to render it improper on his part to destroy these materials. Now, the Royal Proclamation, it appeared to him, justified what Admiral Plumridge did. Stress had been laid on the words not to molest private persons, or the property of private persons, but only the property of the Emperor of Russia. A depu- tation of the inhabitants of Uleaborg came out to the Admiral, and in reply to the appeal made to him that this property might be spared, told them that it was his intention to destroy all articles that by the law of nations were contraband of war. Again, it was said that the Admiral ought to have respected the property as being that of English merchants; but he (Sir J. Pakington) maintained that the Admiral had no proof whatever of that, and the passage quoted from Vattel on that subject told equally well in favour of the other view of the question. What proof had Admiral Plumridge that it was the property of English merchants? There was no representative of their firms at Uleaborg. [Mr. CRAWFORD: Mathiesen and Ritter had an agent on the spot.] That was not stated. They never made that known to Her Majesty's Government. It did not appear in the papers; it only appeared that a deputation came out and said so and so, and Admiral Plumridge had a right to assume it was an artifice. There was a mass of property there, all of which was contraband of war, and it was impossible to draw a distinction between property on one side of the yard belonging to English merchants, and property on the other side that did not. The opinion of the law officers of the Crown distinctly stated that this property was strictly contraband of war, and thus completely destroyed the case sought to be set up by the memorialists; and however sorry Her Majesty's Government might be for the loss these gentlemen had sustained, and however reluctant they might be to resist the Motion, he could not see that either on the ground of the law of nations, or upon the just view of the case, Her Majesty's Government could come to the conclusion that these gentlemen had either a legal or equitable claim upon Parliament in the shape of compensation for the loss they had sustained.


said, he had made many inquiries into the subject, but had never heard that the twelve gunboats were built in May, 1854, sunk in the ice, and afterwards fished up and used in the war by the Russians. He did not believe this story; on the contrary, he fancied there had been a great mistake in the matter; for he could not conceive it possible that a British subject living in Russia would be guilty of such a fabrication. Nor did he think that if it had been true these British merchants would have denied it. He did not wish to say a word on the subject of international law, or to contend that these gentlemen had a legal claim; but he thought they had a strong moral claim. When we made war with Russia we proclaimed that Englishmen and neutrals should be at liberty to remove their goods and merchandise from any of the Baltic ports at the opening of the ice. The 15th of May was fixed as the day on which ships could leave the ports of the Baltic. That date was fixed because it was supposed that at that time the ice would have broken up. As it turned out that was too early a date—the ice at Uleaborg did not break up so early: and that was the sole reason why this property was not removed. If Admiral Plumridge had destroyed property at Uleaborg a day or two earlier than the 15th of May, the British Government must have made good the loss. Why, then, should they not make compensation when the merchants of Uleaborg, were unable to remove their goods by reason of the ice not breaking up so soon as was expected? Moreover, the merchants in the White Sea had their property protected as late as August and September, and why should not the same indulgence have been given to merchants at Uleaborg? He contended that this was a pure question of equity, and that it was in the last degree unfair too meet the case by old musty pleas based upon international law. The whole course of proceedings in this matter showed that the property of Russian subjects had been more respected than that of Englishmen. Had the British merchants of Uleaborg known that Admiral Plumridge was coming to destroy their property, they would either have removed it themselves, or placed it under the care of the Russian Government, who could have protected it. It was singular that property placed under the protection of the Russian Government had been reclaimed and recovered at the conclusion of the war; and thus the only enemies from whom the British merchants suffered were their own countrymen. He did not wish to find fault with Admiral Plumridge or Sir Charles Napier; but those officers were like other men, not infallible, and were therefore liable, like other persons, to make mistakes. The whole thing, in fact, was a mistake, and as he believed the property of these British merchants had been destroyed in mistake, he considered the owners were entitled to compensation. He should therefore give his cordial assent to the Motion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for London.


said, he did not intend to enter into the question whether or not the Government ought to give reparation to these merchants; but he maintained that Admiral Plumridge, having received from Mr. Grey, Her Majesty's Minister at Stockholm, a letter, stating that twelve gunboats had been built at Uleaborg, sunk, and afterwards recovered and fitted out, would not have discharged his duty if he had not taken the step which he did. Until the commencement of the last war he never heard the doctrine that pitch, tar, planking, and timber, were not contraband of war, and no British officer would ever have hesitated to destroy such stores. If you did not do that, how could you distress your enemy and bring him to make peace? If Admiral Plumridge had not destroyed the stores at Uleaborg, he (Sir Charles Napier) would have brought him to a court martial. It was not correct to say that the blockade was declared on the 24th of March. It was declared on the 15th of May; but time was allowed for vessels to escape, and not a single ship was touched till after that period. The British Government was not asked to pay for the property destroyed at Beyrout in the Syrian war, and he did not think that a better claim for compensation could be advanced in the present instance. He denied that any salt fish was destroyed at Uleaborg; Admiral Plumridge touched nothing but what was contraband of war. That was "according to Hoyle." The Admiralty had expressed their entire approval of his conduct, and it was too bad, after the lapse of four or five years, to attempt to question the propriety of his proceedings. Let the present Motion be adopted, and there was no saying what serious charge would be brought against Admiral Dundas for firing shells into Sweaborg. Admiral Plumridge was one of the most gallant officers in the naval service, and the accusation which the hon. Member for London had brought against him was entirely destitute of foundation.


said, that no charge had been brought against Admiral Plumridge. The question at issue turned upon whether the articles destroyed at Uleaborg were contraband of war. That was a fair subject for inquiry, and the hon. Member for London asked no more than that a Commission should be issued to investigate the whole ease. It had been said that the property destroyed consisted of timber and scantling which might be employed in the construction of vessels of war. That was denied in the most emphatic manner, and, for his own part, he did not believe—he suspected that the Government themselves did not believe—that any portion of the property in question was intended for warlike purposes. With reference to what had been said about gunboats, he was convinced that no gunboats had ever been built at Uleaborg. A fairer claim for compensation had never been made out; and, considering that there were plenty of precedents for the course suggested by the hon. Member for London—as, for example, in the case of the bombardment of Copenhagen, as well as in that of Antwerp, when the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston), who was then Foreign Secretary, and afterwards the Earl of Aberdeen, pressed the claim on the Dutch Government, and after fourteen or fifteen years obtained the compensation required—he trusted that the Motion would be agreed to. He thought that fair ground had been made out for the issue of a Royal Commission to inquire into the circumstances of the case.


said, he must contend that the various grounds on which the claim for compensation had been sought to be founded entirely failed, Messrs. Mathiesen never made a claim until April, 1856; the first trace of an application from Messrs. Lewin was in November, 1856, and no application was made from Messrs. Dresser until June in the present year, being four years after the transactions took place. Would it be right, then, or convenient, to entertain applications on the subject of compensation made so long after the occurrence took place, and at a time when, if inquiry were granted it would be impossible satisfactorily to arrive at the truth. The Proclamation stated that any Russian vessel which, prior to the 15th May, 1854, sailed from any port of Russia, situated either in or upon the shores or coast of the Black Sea or of the White Sea, bound for any port or place in Her Majesty's dominions, should be permitted to enter such port and dischargo her cargo. That was a great relaxation of the rules of war; and as these applicants did not come within the terms of the Proclamation, they had no right to appeal to Parliament for compensation, The words used by Admiral Plumridge to the deputation of Finland merchants, who told him that the mer- chandise in the port was private property, and in great measure belonged to English merchants, had been referred to. Now, all that Admiral Plumridge said was that his instructions were to spare private property, but to destroy all materials of war, and, if British merchants suffered from it, they would have to ask their Government for compensation. Admiral Plumridge did not say they would get it, but that, if they wanted compensation, they must apply to the Government. Yet these Gentlemen remained quiescent for two and four years, and now the difficulty must be intense to trace out the real facts of the case. He did not impute any design to them, but it was incumbent on them to apply at the earliest moment, when the matter could have been properly investigated, and it was not competent for them to make these allegations now, when the matter could not be properly inquired into. The Admiralty considered the claim in 1856, and refused to entertain it. The Treasury afterwards was obliged to refuse it, and then the parties applied to Lord Clarendon, who, acting upon the advice of the Queen's advocate, also refused tire application. Another point was whether the articles destroyed were contraband of war or not, but he thought after the discussion which had taken place that point must be abandoned by the advocates of the Motion; for there could be no doubt that they were contraband of war, and were not entitled to protection under the head of private property. He believed the Government were in every respect in the right, and he trusted the House would adhere to the determination come to, after grave deliberation, by the late Government.


said, the delay in bringing forward these claims was in great measure attributable to him; the subject having been brought under his notice early in 1855, but he advised that the claim should not be pressed until the war was over; first on account of the difficulty of obtaining evidence on the spot, and, secondly, because whilst the war continued there would be an unwillingness to do anything to damp the ardour of the naval officers. It was for the House to judge bow far his advice was correct, but he hoped the claimants would not be prejudiced by having followed it. He contended that there was no necessity whatever for Admiral Plumridge to have been so precipitate in destroying this property. He insisted that it was private property, and that it was impossible that it could have been used for the construction of gunboats. He thought Mr. Grey had been deceived by a cock-and-bull story.


said, that the Solicitor General had stated that a strong circumstance against listening to this claim was that it was not made till 1856; but he had a long correspondence in his hand asking for compensation, beginning in June, 1854, one month after the destruction of the articles. That correspondence continued during the whole of 1854, and the gentlemen with whom it originated were requested to state the particulars of their claims in order that they might be submitted to the Government. This correspondence disposed of the argument against this claim, founded on the alleged delay which had occurred in bringing it forward. The claimants were British merchants who were carrying on their lawful calling when they suddenly found that their Government had declared war against the country with which they were conducting their transactions. Under those circumstances they were surely entitled to every protection from their Government. It was admitted that on Admiral Plumridge going to Uleaborg the representatives of the merchants came out and assured him that there was nothing but private property there which was not contraband of war, and that they also claimed his protection for this property. No doubt that gallant Admiral had done nothing but his duty; but as the parties were perfectly innocent, and their property had been destroyed for the public good, compensation could not now in fairness be refused to them. He could hardly believe that the Solicitor General was in earnest in laying down the extraordinary proposition that if they conceded this demand on the part of British subjects they must be prepared to act on the same principle towards the subjects of Russia and every other foreign Power. To that proposition of his hon. and learned Friend lie could not at all assent—there was a broad distinction between enemy's property and English property which had been destroyed for the benefit of England. He appealed to Her Majesty's Government to consider whether, following the example of the late Administration, they had not taken too strict and technical a view of this subject? The question was whether, on the broad principle of justice which the British Government was bound to act upon with reference to its subjects, the memorialists had not a clear and intelligible claim to ample com- pensation for the destruction of their property.


assured the First Lord of the Admiralty that the timber in respect of which compensation was claimed could not be regarded by any practical man as ship-building timber. It was, in fact, essentially house building timber, and was scarcely ever used for ship-building. At the time of the war representations were made to the right hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir J. Graham), who was then First Lord of the Admiralty, and to Lord Clarendon, in consequence of which instructions were sent out to the naval commanders to protect British property at Riga, St. Petersburgh, Cronstadt, and other ports, and not a particle of British property was destroyed at any of those places; and as, by some misconception on the part of Admiral Plumridge, the property of British subjects had been destroyed at Uleaborg, he thought the Government ought to regard themselves as responsible for the acts of their officers. In his opinion this was a case in which the memorialists were fairly entitled to compensation, and he appealed to Her Majesty's Government to reconsider their decision, and to grant a Committee.


in reply, with reference to an observation of the hon. and gallant Member for Southwark (Sir C. Napier), denied that he had used any language which could be construed as imputing to Admiral Plumridge that he had conducted himself in a brutal manner.

Question put.

The House divided—Ayes 65; Noes 105: Majority 40.