HC Deb 08 July 1859 vol 154 cc878-81

I rise, Sir, pursuant to notice, to call the attention of the House to the present state of Mexico, especially with reference to the outrages which have been committed upon British subjects; and to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what steps have been taken to obtain redress for such outrages. As the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs cannot speak twice on the present occasion I trust I may be allowed in a few words to introduce to his attention the subject of which I have given notice. Although that subject is in no way connected with the European war, I am sure that the House will consider it of sufficient interest to claim their particular attention. It relates, Sir, to the present state of Mexico and the outrages that have been recently committed upon British subjects in that Republic. Before entering upon a description of those outrages I hope I may be allowed to state, in a few words, the position of parties in Mexico. There were two leading parties, the Centralists, and the Constitutional party. In 1857 the Constitutionalists were overthrown, and the Centralist party obtained power. In the course of that revolution General Marquez, who was in command of the forces, took possession of the city. One of the General's first acts, after obtaining possession of the city, was to order into prison a British subject who had been brought before him under some trifling pretext, and to sentence him to pay a fine of 1,500 dollars. The name of this person was Mr. Newall, a respectable British gentleman; and upon his inability to pay this fine the General ordered him to be shot at six o'clock on the following morning. Fortunately, a friend and countryman of Mr. Newall, having heard of his situation, and the sentence that had been passed upon him, found the money and paid it, otherwise Mr. Newall would have been undoubtedly shot. At about the same time a Mr. Davis, another British subject, whilst residing in another part of the Republic, was arrested by the Mexican officials for some assumed offence, and was also fined a large sum of money. Mr. Davis having refused to pay the demand was sentenced to prison, and was degraded to march in the army as a common soldier. All this punishment Mr. Davis was compelled to undergo. I will not trouble the House with an account of the many minor outrages that were perpetrated on British subjects. I will rather pass on to the time when the late Government thought those proceedings of sufficient importance to send a British squadron to the Gulf of Mexico, and to introduce a paragraph into the Queen's Speech in February last in reference to the matter, thereby showing what their feelings were in respect to those outrages, and the prompt and energetic measures they were taking to obtain redress for British subjects in that part of the world. In April last, some three months after the squadron had arrived in the Gulf, and when one might expect that it would have exercised some restraint upon the parties guilty of those outrages, a battle took place in a village about six miles distance from the City of Mexico. After that engagement had terminated a Mr. Duval, a British subject and a surgeon by profession, in the exercise of his humanity, stripped himself of his outward clothing for the purpose of being the better enabled to attend to the wants of those who had fallen in the field, and to dress their wounds. Whilst engaged in his noble work of charity he was seized by order of a general of the Centralist party, led to a particular spot in the neighbourhood, and then and there shot as a felon in the presence of the army. Now, I believe that there has hardly ever happened a greater outrage than this I have just mentioned. At the same time another British subject, a Mr. Selley, who was engaged in business, being the proprietor of a certain store, was arrested for entertaining in his house some of the opposite party, and condemned to death. He was led in manacles into the city of Mexico at the head of the troops, but by a most fortunate circumstance he was rescued from the horrible fate that awaited him, and he is now alive. This gentleman was, however, actually led out to be shot, and the men were preparing to fire at him, when they were suddenly stopped by the interposition of another Mexican general. These matters affected the British merchants in Mexico in a serious degree, who feared the outrages against their lives far more than those against their property. But, Sir, the outrages committed against their property were by no means few or of a trifling character. In one city a very large amount of property, to the amount of £40,000, was seized by the Mexican authorities, half of which really belonged to British subjects, and the whole was under the protection of British subjects, I regret to have to add that while all these proceedings were going on great reflections were cast upon the conduct of Her Majesty's Minister at Mexico for the extraordinary indifference he manifested throughout. I do not give this character of the gentleman from my own knowledge. I wish to avoid casting any aspersion myself upon the character or zeal of Mr. Otway, as our Minister in Mexico, but I think it desirable, when I know that those aspersions have been cast upon that gentleman, and apparently believed to be true by the British residents in Mexico, that Mr. Otway should have an opportunity of defending himself if he could; and, I trust, that the noble Lord who now presides at the Foreign Office will endeavour to draw from him such an explanation as will necessitate a retractation of those charges. Sir, I will not detain the House by inflicting upon it a catalogue of the grievances of British subjects in Mexico. I may merely mention one alleged fact, which has made a strong impression upon their minds. It is this. At the time the squadron was in the Gulf the British residents in Mexico sought to obtain redress from the Centralist party. At the moment when it was supposed that Mr. Otway was negotiating for an inquiry into those matters it was noticed that he appeared to be on the most familiar terms of intimacy with Madame Miramon, the wife of the head of that party. On one occasion, when a British subject was being led to execution for no crime whatever, it is stated that this lady was observed standing on a balcony with Mr. Otway, and cheering on the troops that were guarding him. These circumstances naturally excited a considerable amount of indignation in the minds of British subjects in Mexico. Strong remonstrances were made by the British residents in reference to Mr. Otway's conduct, and they said that if Mr. Otway was on such friendly terms with this lady and her husband there was no doubt that he could have obtained pardon for this man if he were at all disposed to exercise his influence in that quarter. But it appears that Mr. Otway did not exercise any such influence in behalf of his fellow-countrymen, for I hold in my hand a copy of a letter from the American consul in Mexico addressed to Mr. Otway, in which he calls upon the latter to exercise his rights as British Minister in order to save the lives of British residents. I say, Sir, that the case must be one of a shameful character indeed when the Minister of another nation should feel himself compelled to urge upon our own Minister the necessity of interposing his authority to save the lives and property of his fellow subjects. Mr. Otway is in the hands of the Foreign Office, and will of course be called upon to give an account of his conduct in reference to those matters. I have now detailed the prominent facts of the case as briefly as I could. I trust the House will say I have not intruded myself upon its attention without sufficient cause. I hope that the noble Lord will give to me an assurance, that will find its way to our fellow-subjects in Mexico, that all the protection which the British Government can offer will be given to them; and that the British residents there will no longer be condemned to live from day to day in fear of their lives, nor be subject to a recurrence of those outrages so lung as we can command a, British fleet in the Gulf of Mexico.