HC Deb 14 March 1862 vol 165 cc1536-46

said, it would be in the recollection of the House that during the last Session the right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary for Ireland on more than one occasion brought under their notice the case of certain people in Spain who had undergone persecution on account of their religious opinions. The right hon. Baronet stated the case with great ability, and he had no doubt that, although he had since accepted office, the right hon. Gentleman still remained true to his principles. But as the right hon. Gentleman could not from his official position put forward his views with the same freedom he had formerly done, he (Mr. Kinnaird) hoped he should be excused if he took up the question. The Spanish persecutions commenced in 1859. In that year a naturalized British subject named Escalante was seized, and imprisoned in a loathsome dungeon for merely circulating the Scriptures. He was sentenced to nine years' penal servitude in the galleys; but owing to the intercession of the British Consul he obtained a remission of the sentence. The opinions for which he was persecuted, instead of being cheeked by the severity shown towards him, had, as was usual, only spread the more in Spain, as they had done in Italy, in France, and in other Roman Catholic countries. The Roman Catholic priesthood became alarmed, tracked the readers of the Bible through the agency of police spies, and subjected them to cruel persecution. The names of Matamoros and Alhama were already as familiar to the people of this country as those of the Madiai were ten years ago. Since his right hon. Friend brought the subject before the House, those two unhappy men had been sentenced to seven years at the galleys, while to a third victim (Trigo) had been awarded four years of a similar servitude. An attempt had been made to connect them with certain political disturbances which had occurred in the district; but they had been honourably acquitted of the charge by the tribunal before which they were carried for trial. They had been condemned, therefore, to the galleys, for no other offence than that of professing those religious views which were held by the majority of our countrymen. An appeal had been raised from this iniquitous sentence, and he wished to impress on our Government the duty of an indignant and energetic remonstrance against: its confirmation. Hon. Members could scarcely realize the consequences of the punishment to which those unhappy men had been condemned. To be sent to the galleys was not only to be stripped of every right of citizenship, but to be doomed to the companionship of murderers and felons, to wear a galling chain for years, to be denied letters or visits even from one's nearest relatives. Already Matomoros's strength was breaking down under his captivity. Originally an officer in the army, he had been compelled to throw up his commission on account of the faith which he held, and was subsequently thrown into prison in October, 1860, for the same reason. But these three men did not stand alone. The number of victims to persecution had been constantly growing, though he was happy to hear that there were not so many now in prison as there had been. Within a few weeks or months, however, thirty persons had been arrested and imprisoned in Granada, Malaga, and Seville alone. Many others had fled for refuge to Gibraltar and elsewhere. At one time as many as fifty persons in Malaga were left destitute, owing to the seizure of the heads of their families. In one case a sculptor with his wife and eldest son were arrested in the dead of night, and cast into a dungeon, leaving five helpless children totally un-provided for. In another instance the head of one of the best public schools in Seville was apprehended. It was well known that at Granada the vilest criminals received better treatment in prison than the Christians who were convicted of reading the Bible.

It might be said that this was a matter which concerned Spaniards alone, and with which they had no right to interfere. Others thought that interference was unadvisable because it would prove of no avail. He demurred to those opinions. Knowing, as he did, what an impression the debates in that House during the previous year had produced in Spain, he was confident that great good would result from a decided expression of opinion on this occasion, followed by a cordial and energetic remonstrance on the part of the Government. One of the prisoners wrote, with reference to one of the discussions of last Session— I have not yet read the speech of Sir Robert Peel, but I have heard it notably praised. An extract from Lord John Russell's reply has been translated, but only by the reactionary and anti-Liberal section of the Spanish press. These periodicals have also published long leading articles commenting on the words of the Minister, which, unfortunately, appear to be favourable to the Ultramontane party. Of course that was only the distorted intrepretation which that party sought to put on the speech of the noble Lord. The speech has been a fertile subject with our foes. I do not know what the spirit of it as a whole may have been, but I venture to believe that it was not that which the enemies of the Gospel and the friends of slavery of conscience would represent it. Be that as it may, the clergy have taken fresh life from it, for something, and that not a little, was expected from England. We, and with us all Spanish Protestants, looked to you, after God, for everything…. Spain has advanced towards religious liberty more rapidly than in many past years. The attitude of England has done much. Our brethren have taken courage. The Liberal press, in its narrow circle, has done what it could. Nay, in the Spanish Chambers the other day notice was given of an intended interpellation to the Government respecting us. That illustrated the moral effect of discussions in the British Parliament. He would not recapitulate all the precedents quoted last Session by his right hon. Friend as to the right of this country to interfere in the matter. He would only remind the House of the words of that eminent authority Vattel on this question— When a religion is persecuted, the foreign nations who profess it may intercede for their brethren; but this is all they can lawfully do, unless the persecution be carried to an intolerable excess. Then, indeed, it becomes a case of manifest tyranny, in which all nations are permitted to succour an unhappy people, A regard to their own safety may also authorize them to undertake the defence of the persecuted. An hon. Friend of his, the Member for Galway (Mr. Gregory), the other evening, made an earnest appeal to the sympathies of the House on behalf of the Southerners who were in armed secession from the United States of America, and who demanded liberty to keep four millions of people in eternal bondage; might not he far more confidently ask their sympathies for those who only exercised the right to profess what they conscientiously believed, and sought not to be treated as felons for holding the faith professed by the majority of the hon. Members of that House? Nor were they without encouragement from the results of intercessions made in behalf of their persecuted brethren in former instances. He had had the honour of bringing before the House the case of the Madiai, and their release speedily followed. Little did he think when he brought their names before the House how soon the Grand Ducal Government which persecuted them would be swept away. The tendency of such persecutions was to alienate the people from their Governments, and they were never forgotten when the day of reckoning came. The House would recollect the benefits which followed the withdrawal of our diplomatic representative from the Neapolitan Court, and the publication of that remarkable pamphlet of the Chancellor of the Exchequer with reference to Poerio and his fellow sufferers. Where was that persecuting Government? It was a great moral lesson that ought not to be lost on such Governments, and it showed the advantage which might be gained in a peaceable way by bringing public opinion to bear upon them. Another fact of great importance was that, since his right hon. Friend had brought forward the subject, England did not stand alone in her remonstrances with the Spanish Government. Greatly to the credit of the Emperor of the French, M. Thouvenel had written a very admirable despatch, instructing his Minister at Madrid strongly to urge upon the Spanish Government the evil of these unhappy persecutions; and when he remembered the position of France in relation to the Pope's continued possession of Home, this fact was all the more significant. Prussia, Russia, and Sweden had also remonstrated, and had instructed their Ministers at Madrid to join with Sir John Crampton in endeavouring to persuade Marshal O'Donnell of the impolicy as well as injustice of persisting in these iniquitous sentences. The hon. Member for Launceston (Mr. Haliburton), with that power of sarcasm for which he was so remarkable, referred the other evening to what Juarez might have said to the Spanish General who had command of the expedition to Mexico. It certainly was somewhat remarkable that Spain, who had often repudiated her public engagements, kept notoriously bad faith with us in her treaties in regard to the Slave Trade, and was now disgracing herself by these persecutions, should go to Mexico in order to compel her to pay her debts. He did trust that Marshal O'Donnell, who had had great experience in public life, would see the inexpediency of continuing these persecutions. What was immediately wanted was the pardon of these persons, and that private efforts had been unable to obtain. He therefore asked again for earnest remonstrance on the part of our Government, and he hoped ultimately to see a change in those laws under which those persecutions had taken place. They were a disgrace to a civilised nation, and at the same time they made it impossible to know if any man was honest in his religious profession; for while one man would undergo imprisonment and the galleys, rather than deny his faith, 500 others might think him right without daring to face the danger of avowing their convictions. He begged to ask the noble Lord the First Lord of the Treasury, in reference to what took place last Session on the subject of the Persecutions in Spain and the efforts which were understood to be about to be made by Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in order to obtain remission of punishment for Matamoros and others, who were undergoing imprisonment and are now under sentence of the galleys, on the charge of maintaining certain religious opinions and practices contrary to the Religion of the State, whether he had any objection to state to the House if any and what steps have been taken in reference to this matter; and whether Her Majesty's Minister at Madrid has been able to obtain any satisfactory assurance that a favourable consideration would be given to his representations on the subject?


Sir, I quite admit that my hon. Friend has performed a duty which nobody can complain of in bringing this matter under the consideration and attention of the House, And there can be no doubt the expression of opinion in the British House of Commons must have great weight with those in any country in Europe to whose conduct those observations apply. I am sorry to say, that I cannot, however, make any report to my hon. Friend and the House as to any satisfactory result which has yet followed the attempts or exertions of Her Majesty's Government to obtain the pardon and release of the persons to whom the observations of my hon. Friend apply. The difficulties, as he must be aware, are very great. The Spanish nation is a nation full of valiant, noble, chivalrous feelings and sentiments; but, unfortunately, in Spain the Catholic priesthood exercise a sway greater than that they possess in any other country; and however liberal—I believe I may fairly say so—the Catholic laity in most countries are, history tells us that wherever the Catholic priesthood gain the predominance the utmost amount of intolerance as invariably prevails. And although in countries where they form a minority they are constantly demanding not only toleration but equality, in countries where they are predominant neither equality nor toleration is allowed to exist. Well, Sir, the case in this instance bears upon law. It does not depend entirely upon the will and action of the Government, There are ancient laws of the most intolerant and persecuting kind which have been called into action by the ministers of the Christian religion, and that action has been the condemnation of these unhappy men to punishment which must, in its nature, be revolting to the minds of liberal persons. Efforts have been made to obtain from the Ministers of the Crown of Spain the exercise of their advice to the Sovereign to show that mercy which belongs to the Sovereign of every country. Those efforts have not yet been successful. Mixed with the admirable qualities which distinguish the Spanish people, there is one quality not undeserving of respect—namely, a feeling of jealousy of foreign interference in their internal affairs. It is a quality which is connected with one of the highest national virtues; and therefore it is obvious that, in any endeavour to obtain the reversal, mitigation, or cessation of punishment, great delicacy must be shown and great care taken, lest in endeavouring to do good we should, on the contrary, perpetuate evil. I can only assure my hon. Friend that no effort will be omitted by Her Majesty's Government which they think will be really conducive to the attainment of the object which he has in view.


said, he much regretted that the hon. Member for Perth had concluded with the Motion that the correspondence which had passed between the British and Spanish Governments upon the subject should be laid upon the table, because he anticipated that a difrent impression would then be given from that which was likely to be produced by the speeches of the hon. Member and the noble Lord at the head of the Government. There was no one in that House, perhaps, more competent than himself to speak from experience upon Spanish affairs. He had resided some time in the country. He had been over the whole Peninsula, and he had been there at a period when he could form a fair judgment of the toleration of the Spanish Government towards persons professing themselves Protestants. If he could grant the premisses of the hon. Member for Perth, he should assent to the conclusion. The hon. Member said that the persons to whom he alluded were guilty of nothing more than professing the religion which was professed by a majority of the people of this country. He had no doubt the hon. Member believed he was correct in that assertion; but he was disposed to think that when the correspondence appeared it would be seen that the Spanish Government asserted that these persons had undergone punishment to some extent for political offences, and not because, as alleged, they had happened to change their religious opinions. The occasion ought to be a very strong one to justify one Government in interfering in the affairs of another Government. He agreed that there might be cases when it would not only be perfectly justifiable, but the duty of a Government like that of England, to remonstrate with another Power. But how would they feel if the Spanish Government remonstrated against the Ecclesiastical Titles Act, against the disgraceful oath which Catholics were required to take on accepting certain offices, or against the conduct of a Protestant bishop in Ireland towards his Catholic tenantry? They would strongly resent it; and therefore, unless he was persuaded that these persons were undergoing persecution merely for entertaining conscientious convictions upon the subject of religion, he thought they ought not to interfere. In the whole Spanish Peninsula English Protestants were allowed the full and free exercise of their religion in the houses of the British Consuls. He spoke from his personal experience when in Spain some years ago; and as no Government had, during the last few years, made such progress as the Spanish Government, he should be surprised if they had retrograded in religious toleration. He was quite certain that if a Spanish gentleman, such as the hon. Member for Perth described, chose to embrace the Protestant faith, he would be allowed to follow it, unostentatiously, without molestation. A few years ago, there existed in England as great a desire for the conversion of Spain as there did then for that of Ireland, and with the same unsuccessful results. It was said that missionaries were not allowed to enter Spain, and that all sorts of expedients were necessary to introduce the Gospel into the country. One humorous English paper contained an illustration Borne years ago of a hardy mariner wading into the sea up to his middle to seize a bottle, upon opening which he was represented as exclaiming, "Rum, I hope—gin, I think—tracts, by jingo!" He was almost a witness of such a transaction. Some parties saw a number of bottles off the coast of Spain, which, being obtained at a considerable risk, were found to contain a translation into Spanish of The Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green. It was stated that that was the only way to get the Gospel into Spain. The Spaniards repudiated the idea, and as they were exceedingly disgusted, the bottling of Gospel tracts had to be given up. Mr. Borrow, having written an interesting work, was laid hold of by the people of Exeter Hall to go out and distribute the Bible in Spain. Mr. Borrow had a great knowledge of Spain, and would have entered upon the enterprise of delivering the Koran just as well as the Bible, as a matter of business. He was in Spain when Mr. Borrow brought out the English Bible translated into Spanish. In England there was the greatest trepidation as to what his fate would be, and the most awful disasters were apprehended. Mr. Borrow went to Spain, and wrote a book entitled The Bible in Spain. He was a most impartial witness. He gave a most interesting account of the Spanish people and of his undertaking. It did not appear that in any one instance he was interrupted in his missionary labours. He was extremely well received. The ecclesiastics and the authorities in Spain afforded him facilities to distribute the Bible as long as he did not do it in an offensive manner, or use it for political purposes. Mr. Borrow continued his efforts to the great satisfaction of his employers, but, instead of becoming converts, the people continued Catholics. The fact, he believed, was that the persons for whom the hon. Member for Perth took up the cudgels were persons who assumed. Protestantism for the purpose of disseminating political opinions obnoxious to the people and Government of Spain. He anticipated that the correspondence would show that the Spanish Government met the remonstrances with that statement, and he had very little doubt that in any future correspondence the same answer would be made. He thought that a Spanish officer was not at all likely to be above the influence of pecuniary advantages; and, although he could not undertake to say it was the positive truth, he knew that these persons were strongly suspected to have been bribed with the money of English zealots, subscribed for the purpose of propagating Protestantism in Spain. He had very little doubt that the refugees of whom the hon. Member had spoken were fugitives from political and not from religious causes. He had been much pleased with the temperate speech of the hon. Member, and, in conclusion, he must express a hope that the correspondence between the Spanish Government and Her Majesty's Government would be produced.


said, that notwithstanding what had fallen from the hon. Member who had just spoken, no evidence could be more conclusive than that which had been produced to prove that Matamoros and his companions had been persecuted solely and entirely on the grounds stated to the House by the hon. Member for Perth. He had attended a deputation that waited upon Earl Russell, which clearly proved that the persecution was exclusively on account of Protestantism. The noble Earl remarked on that occasion, that at the most memorable period of our history, England had interfered in the most direct manner; and, if he understood him rightly, he appeared to regret very much that he did not see his way to repeat such interference as Oliver Cromwell exercised in the case of the Vaudois in Switzerland. In that case, also, it was alleged that the parties persecuted were rebels. Again, in 1641, the well-authenticated case of the massacre in Ireland by the priests occurred, when 300,000 Protestants were sacrificed; and there also it was stated that the people had made themselves obnoxious to the Roman Catholics. All that was done in all these cases was not casual or exceptional, but was in exact accordance with the rules laid down by the Catholic Church, to which he believed the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Blake) was attached. It was plainly and distinctly declared in a book which he held in his hand, that heretics were not worthy to be buried like others, but rather with the burial of an ass. And again they were to be treated like worms and bugs, and to be destroyed as such vermin customarily were. That doctrine was fully and clearly expounded in a book which, by the grant to the College of Maynooth, Parliament provided for the students. He denied that there was any parity between the case before the House, and that of the Ecclesiastical Titles Act, as the hon. Member for Waterford endeavoured to argue. The Roman Catholic religion was one which sought for universal empire. That point was well put by the late Sir Robert Peel. That statesman said it was a matter of perfect indifference to him whether a party professed the doctrine of transubstantiation. That was also his (Mr. Whalley's) view; but (continued Sir Robert Peel) if there were added to that doctrine a scheme of worldly policy of a marked character, which manifested merely a desire to obtain power over men, and to use that power to the disturbance of all social and political obligations, he had a right to inquire into its nature and observe its effects on mankind. The Protestants of Spain looked to England, as her historical reputation justified them in doing, for protection in this emergency.


said, he wished to say one word in justice to the statement made by his hon. Friend the Member for Perth. He was much obliged to the hon. Member for the temperate manner in which he had brought forward the subject. He was sure that the reply of his noble Friend at the head of the Government must have convinced him that the Government were doing everything in their power, as they had done last year, to relieve if possible the sufferings of those poor men in Spain. He thought his hon. Friend the Member for Waterford was in error in supposing that those persons had been in any way implicated in political transactions. That had been distinctly denied. He did not wish to raise any question in respect to the policy pursued towards them, but he was in a position to state distinctly that those persons who were imprisoned in Malaga were in no way implicated in the transactions which occurred during the autumn of last year.


said, he could not help calling the attention of the Government to the inconvenient position in which the House was placed. A most important question had been raised, and two of Her Majesty's Ministers had spoken, but neither of them had accepted the challenge given them by the hon. Member for Waterford to produce the correspondence which had passed between the two Governments on this question. He joined his hon. Friend in the hope that those papers would be laid on the table. It was only fair that the case of the Spanish Government should be made known.

Main Question put, and agreed to.