HC Deb 09 June 1863 vol 171 cc570-2

said, he would beg to ask the Secretary to the Admiralty, Whether any official intelligence has been received of the circumstances under which a French Vessel, recently detained by Her Majesty's Ship Zebra, on the west coast of Africa, on suspicion of being engaged in the Slave Trade, refused to show any papers authorizing her to hoist the French Flag, and was subsequently liberated by the Prize Court at Sierra Leone; and whether the decision of the Prize Court will involve the Officer in command of Her Majesty's ship Zebra in any demand for compensation for the capture and detention of the suspected slaver?


said, in reply, that in answer to the Question of the hon. Gentleman, he had to state that the Admiralty had received official intelligence of the detention of a French vessel by Her Majesty's Ship Zebra under the following circumstances:—The Zebra, while at anchor in February last off the Congo river, saw a suspicious-looking vessel, and made signals to her to show her colours. The vessel did not do so, and then the Zebra got under weigh and chased her; and after a shot had been fired across her bows, she showed the French colours and hove-to. The English Officer then boarded her in order to ascertain her real character, and from her look inside, as well as the nature of her equipment and the condition of her crew, he thought she had every appearance of being engaged in the Slave Trade. The captain of the French vessel, however, declined altogether to show his papers; whereupon the Commanding Officer of the Zebra took her in tow, with the view of communicating with a French man-of-war which he expected to fall in with. But after the lapse of several days he found that he was unsuccessful in that object, and he then reiterated his demand that the French captain should show his papers. He persisted in declining to do so, and thereupon the English captain sent the French vessel, in the charge of an Officer and crew, to Sierra Leone, for adjudication in the Admiralty Court there. Three days after she arrived at Sierra Leone the trial took place. The French Consul then brought into Court the papers of the vessel, showing that she was a French ship, and she was accordingly at once liberated. There was no written apology from the French Consul; but the Officer of the Zebra stated in his report that the French Consul had apologized for the behaviour of the captain of the French vessel in not showing her papers when desired to do so. With regard to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's Question, he bad to state that no demand for compensation had been presented to Her Majesty's Government.