HC Deb 30 June 1863 vol 171 cc1763-5

said, he wished to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether the British ship Gibraltar, bound for Nassau, has been refused a clearance by the Customs authorities at Liverpool; if so, on what ground the refusal is based, and whether it is done at the instigation of Mr. Adams, the American Minister?


said, he must remind the House that the Gibraltar was another name for a very well-known vessel—the Sumter. She was sold at Gibraltar under peculiar circumstances, and came to Liverpool, where it became known to the Government that she was shipping guns of very large calibre. It was true that Mr. Adams called the attention of the Government to the fact, but the Government were previously aware of it. It was also true that the clearance of the vessel had been stopped by the Custom-house officers, and not at the instigation of Mr. Adams. It had since been found that these guns were of a kind not fit and proper for the armament of the vessel itself, and therefore probably were intended for exportation. The Law Officers of the Crown were of opinion that the fact that guns had been put on board was not sufficient to authorize the withholding of the clearance, and it would therefore be granted in the ordinary course.



said, he wished to put a Question with respect to the two Blakeley guns on board the Gibraltar, stopped by order of the Government, as the answer would be of great importance to private interests. In the first place, he would read the following passage of a note written to Captain Blakeley:— We are informed by the Collector of Her Majesty's Customs for this port, that if we permit you to ship the two large fort guns on board the steamship Gibraltar, that vessel will not be allowed to clear, thus preventing us performing our charter-party with you. This action on the part of Her Majesty's Government is based upon the suspicion that ultimately your fort guns may find their way into the Southern Confederacy; the Collector, in reply to our question, having informed us, that if the fort guns were for the Federal, or Northern Government, no obstacles would be placed in the way of their being shipped, stating at the same time that such shipments to New York were of common occurrence. He wished therefore to know, Whether there is any objection on the part of the Government to lay on the table all official Correspondence addressed to the Liverpool Collector of Customs with regard to the stoppage of vessels?


said, in reply, that the letter from which an extract had just been read by the noble Lord ought to be a warning to hon. Members how they adopted suggestions of that description. As far as the Government were concerned, they had no reason for believing that there was a particle of truth in the statement read by the noble Lord. Indeed, it was impossible to believe that there should be, or that any officer in the Port of Liverpool should so wilfully misrepresent the instructions he received. The following were the facts with respect to the ship now called the Gibraltar, but formerly known as the Sumter, the well-known Confederate man-of-war. She had been in the port of Gibraltar, and was there watched by a Federal man-of-war, but a sale of the ship took place, the validity of which sale the United States never recognised. However, Her Majesty's Government did not think that they were called on to decide with respect to that point. The vessel then came over to this country, having been purchased by an Englishman, and arrived at Liverpool, when the Government, being informed that she was being armed with two guns of extraordinary weight and power, felt it their duty to satisfy themselves whether those guns were meant to be used as armament for the ship, and whether the ship was intended to return to the high seas as the Sumter, the Confederate man-of-war, or whether there had been a bonâ fide sale. As soon as it was ascertained that the guns were not fit to be used in the ship for the purpose of war, but were meant for exportation, that moment all ground for complaint ceased, and an order was issued for not longer detaining the ship.


My Question has not been answered. The question was whether the Papers would be laid on the table.