HC Deb 10 July 1863 vol 172 cc551-3

said, that according to the information which had been furnished to him, a Mr. Belsham, a British subject, went some time since to reside in Alabama, and in consequence of his refusal to serve in the Confederate Army he was in the month of April last three times dipped in a tank of water, with a view to compel him to serve; and that on being asked each time whether he would serve or not, he repeated his refusal; but, that on being dipped a fourth time, he, in order to save his life, consented to serve under protest. The case had been stated to Her Majesty's Representative at Washington, who directed Her Majesty's Consul at Richmond to inquire into the circumstances. He had further been informed that, in consequence, Mr. Belsham had been sent to Montgomery in order to have his case investigated. Since that time, however, Mr. Belsham's friends had heard nothing of him, and the object which he (Mr. Blake) had in view was to find out what had become of him. He would therefore beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether the remonstrance addressed by the British Consul at Richmond by direction of Her Majesty's Minister at Washington, to the Confederate Authorities, against the compulsion exercised upon Mr. Robert Redmond Belsham, a British subject, at Montgomery, State of Alabama, to force him to serve in the Confederate Army, has been attended with effect; and whether there is any objection to state the sub-stance of whatever communications have been received from Lord Lyons on the subject?


In reply, Sir, to the Question of the hon. Member, I beg to state that the case of Mr. Belsham has been brought to the notice of Her Majesty's Government; but the hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension when he says that the case was brought before the Confederate authorities under the direction of Lord Lyons. Lord Lyons has no official communication whatever with the authorities of the Confederate States, and nothing therefore was done under his direction. But Mr. Moore, the British Consul at Richmond, did make a representation to the Confederate Government with regard to the case. Mr. Belsham was, as he states, cruelly treated—indeed, he was exposed to torture to compel him to take service in the Confederate army. Unfortunately, Mr. Belsham's case is not the only one, but numerous similar cases have been brought to our notice; but these cases have generally occurred at a distance from Richmond. The Confederate authorities have expressed regret that they should have taken place. A Bill was brought before the Session of the Confederate Assembly to empower the State to enlist foreigners in the Confederate army; but that Bill was rejected, and a Committee was appointed to inquire into the treatment of British subjects, who were imprisoned mostly for refusing to serve in the Confederate army. Mr. Moore made numerous representations to the Confederate Government with respect to these acts of cruelty and illegality; and it was well known that in consequence of those representations the Confederate Government suspended Mr. Moore's exequatur, and he was obliged to leave the Confederate States. Her Majesty's Minister instantly sent instructions to Mr. Moore to make strong representations to the Confederate Government, but they did not reach Mr. Moore until he bad left. I trust, however, that taking into account the action of the Confederate Government in this matter, such cases will not happen again to British subjects. With regard to Mr. Belsham, I cannot tell where he is. We have heard no more of him since the statement of Mr. Moore was received.


I wish, Sir, to ask the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs two questions, which I think he can answer at once. The first is, when he spoke of torture being applied to a British subject, did he mean that the torture was applied on the part of the authorities of the Confederate Government? The second question is, whether, inasmuch as this is a very grave affair, he will lay all the papers connected with it upon the table of the House?


Sir, I am afraid that torture in the strict sense of the word has been inflicted; but I am bound to say that these acts were committed by persons apparently acting under the general instruction of the Confederate authorities, but at a distance from the seat of the Government. On Monday next, I will state whether the papers can be produced.