HC Deb 19 July 1867 vol 188 cc1743-58

in rising to call the attention of the Mouse to the case of the ship Mermaid, which had been shot at by a Spanish fort, said, it was a case of great gravity and importance, and one by which the honour and dignity of the country was affected. A British vessel in the ordinary prosecution of her voyage, engaged in a perfectly peaceful pursuit, had been shot at and sunk by a friendly power; the property of those who owned the ship and cargo had been destroyed, and the lives of those who navigated her had been put in peril. Her Majesty's Government, after a full and careful review of the facts of the case, and acting upon the advice of the Law Officers of the Crown, had made a demand for compensation, and to that demand a flat refusal had been returned. Our Government thereupon offered to submit the question to arbitration to a Mixed Commission, or to call in the friendly offices of a foreign State; but each of those proposals was in like manner refused by the Spanish Government. That being so, the question he had to submit to the House and Her Majesty's Government was whether a refusal to the demands so made was consistent with the honour and dignity of the country? The facts of the case he would state as concisely as possible. The Mermaid set sail on the 1st of October 1864, from Cardiff for the port of Ancona, loaded with coals. On the 16th she arrived at the entrance of the Straits of Gibraltar, and there encountered very tempestuous weather. As to the badness of the weather he might refer to the testimony of Sir William Codrington, who, writing from Gibraltar to Sir John Crampton, said— It surely cannot be the wish and intention of a Power like Spain to cause such loss of property and risk the lives of those peaceably engaged in commerce. In this case I can personally testify to the badness of the weather, blowing hard from the east, and adding to the difficulties of seamanship. The ship was off Europa Point at six o'clock on the morning of the 16th, and then pro- ceeded to tack towards the coast of Africa, heating up close against the wind, in the natural and ordinary prosecution of her voyage. In doing so she arrived about half-past ten a.m. at a point off the African coast, within range of the Spanish battery at Fort Ceuta, when the crew were alarmed by the report of a gun with blank cartridge fired from the fort. He would read the statement on the part of the master and crew of the ship. They said in their protest— At about half-past ten in the morning of the said 16th day of October a blank cartridge was fired from the battery near the lighthouse at Ceuta, which they heard; whereupon the ensign was hoisted on the main rigging, about eighteen feet above the deck, and the helm was put down immediately in order to keep the vessel off the shore; that in about seven minutes afterwards, when the ship was head to wind, a shot was fired from the same battery at Ceuta, as well as they could judge, which struck the vessel on the starboard bow; that the ensign was at once shifted over to the starboard rigging; found that the ship would not stay after she was struck by the shot, in consequence of the concussion produced, and she fell off to the starboard; hove her round immediately, when a third gun was fired with shot from the same direction, which passed about sixteen feet on the lee quarter of the schooner, and the master dropped his head to avoid the shot; trimmed the sail. Then, after the ship had gone on another tack the master ordered the boatswain to try the pumps, when they found the ship settling down. The protest then went on to state— The master gave orders to clear the boats, and he himself went below to secure the chronometer, which he wrenched from the screws, placed it on the cabin deck, and returned to the deck to superintend the lowering of the boats. The mate and two hands still continued at the pumps, but the water was gaining very fast on them, and when it had gained to two feet on the cabin floor the master and the whole of the crew were obliged to abandon the vessel. That everything was lost except the chronometer and the glasses, the master (as he himself declares) losing £6 7s. 6d. of his own in cash, besides his clothes, and that they all got into the long boat, and kept astern of the ship, and in about twenty minutes after leaving the ship—say about eleven o'clock a.m.—they saw the vessel founder. Stood for Ceuta, and about one o'clock on the same day they arrived there. That was a short statement of the facts of the case, and the first observation he would make upon them was that, had the ship been sent to the bottom at once by the shot which had been fired at her, or the crew lost in the heavy sea which prevailed, no record would have remained of the transaction, no demand would have been made upon the Spanish Government, the owners of the vessel would have suffered great pecuniary loss, and the lives of the crew sacrificed without redress. The next remark which occurred to him was that there was not the slightest imputation on the character of the vessel. She was not, in fact, engaged in any illegal or illicit traffic, nor did her appearance or course give any ground for suspicion; the course she was taking was precisely the same as that which must have been pursued by any vessel going through the Straits of Gibraltar on that day. But then it was said that she had not her flag flying, and that a usual mark of respect in such cases was omitted. He could scarcely imagine, however, that the Spanish Government would decline to give compensation for an injury done because of the mere omission of a compliment of that kind; but there was the clearest testimony on the part of the crew to show that the Mermaid had, as a matter of fact, her flag flying, although from the direction in which the wind was blowing it might not have been observed by those in the fort. The defence of the Spanish Government for the wrong they had done increased the hardship of the transaction. They admitted that a shotted gun was fired; but they alleged that the shot did not strike the vessel, and then, in order to account for the undoubted fact that the vessel foundered, they proceed to make the most extravagant charge against the master and the crew—namely, that they entered into a fraudulent conspiracy to sink the vessel and cheat an insurance company, and that they accomplished their purpose by boring holes in her immediately after the shot had been fired at her, and had missed her. Such a charge was most improbable, there was not a particle of evidence to support it, and yet it was made, not only by the Fiscal Judge, but the Spanish Minister himself actually adopted it. The following is the explanation given by the Fiscal Judge:— First comes the deposition of the captain of the Mermaid before the Court Martial of the Fort of Ceuta, from which it appears that there were three shots fired in the space of thirty minutes, the second having pierced the hull of the vessel below the water line, which was the cause of the sinking of the said vessel, which went down at once; that is to say, that according to the statement of the captain in his deposition, there was barely time, after receiving the shot, first for the crew to embark in the boats, without being able to save anything but the chronometer and the telescope. At the second examination of the said captain, instituted in order to ratify (ratificare) his statement, and to elicit all the circumstances connected with the shipwreck, he said that 'when he tacked in order to sail in a northerly direction he felt a cannon-shot strike the vessel, and hastening to work the pump for the purpose of removing the water which was entering the vessel, he let her follow her course; but at five miles' distance, observing that there was six feet of water in the hold, the crew were obliged to save themselves in the boats.' They then came to the following conclusion:— Adverting, in the first place, to the first shot fired from the fort, the guard said that at that moment the Mermaid was endeavouring to tack, the schooner being impeded by the strong wind blowing ahead, and the heavy sea from the east. During the operation of tacking, the second shot was heard without interrupting the manœuvre, although the direction was changed to a northeasterly course. The third shot was then heard, the crew stooping down to allow the shot to pass overhead, which shot fell at a distance from the vessel. After the firing of the third shot, two sailors took out of a chest at the foot of the tiller the British ensign, which they hoisted at the mainmast, the vessel continuing her course to the north-east. These observations of the guard, they added, were confirmed by the evidence of masters and pilots of vessels who observed the affair from the shore, and who said that if the Mermaid had been injured she would not have turned her head to the north-east. Then came the question, how it came about that the vessel sank? The explanation given by the Fiscal Judge was as follows:— But it suited his (Captain Pearce's) purpose better to adopt the contrary course (to stand out to sea, instead of bearing up for the port) in order to get rid of any track for investigation, and to present himself afterwards as the victim of an act of violence, and be able to claim in due time the value of the cargo and the vessel from his insurers or from the Government of Spain. But, fortunately, the project laid by the said captain has not, in view of the present investigation, more importance than one of those frequent attempts frustrated by fortuitous circumstances which are registered in the books of the insurance offices. And the Spanish Government so far indorsed this view of the case as to say— Moreover, the conduct pursued in these moments by the captain of the Mermaid would call not so much for the appointment of a Mixed Commission as for the intervention of the Maritime Insurance Company, before which the captain of the vessel would have found himself under the necessity of justifying his loss. Thus the master and crew had not only to complain of the loss of their vessel and the risk to their lives, but an imputation was cast upon their character. The Spanish Government then rested their case upon the ground that they had a right to believe their own officers in preference to the crew of the Mermaid. That would be all very well if the Spanish officers testified to facts within their knowledge; but the statement of all the facts by both parties was perfectly identical. They all heard the blank shot fired; they heard the shotted gun fired. The statement of the English crew was, that the shot struck the vessel a little below the water line. The statement of the Spanish Government was that a great number of persons were looking on. They say— The number of these declarations; the high position of some of the witnesses examined (among them the Commandant-General of the fort himself); the special circumstances of the official of the watch in 'El Hacho' having been able to observe all the movements of the Mermaid, and that he used a telescope in order the better to enable him to perform his functions; and, lastly, the declaration of the masters or pilots of the ships anchored in the port of Ceuta, who by their profession were accustomed to examine and distinguish the different flags used by ships at sea;—in a word, all these circumstances combined, and each one separately, carry conviction to the mind that the loss of the Mermaid cannot, on any principles of reason or justice, be attributed to the shots fired at her from the batteries of Ceuta in order to make her show her flag, since, if the ball had penetrated in the place and in the manner as asserted by Captain Pearce, the ship, laden with a cargo double that which she ought to have carried (284 tons, instead of 170, which she measured), would scarcely have had sufficient time to make a port, much less to navigate five miles' distance, before being completely lost. All these persons were looking on, and with respect to the second gun, a shotted gun, not one of them saw the shot strike the water. They saw the third gun fired. This was a shotted gun, and they saw the crew stoop down to allow the shot to pass overhead, "which shot," they state, "fell at a distance from the vessel." These statements were perfectly consistent with the fact that the second gun struck the vessel a little below the water line on the starboard bow. If that statement were true the striking of the ship would not be visible from the shore. It would not hit the water so that any one would see it. The Spanish Government inferred that the vessel could not have been hit; but this was a mere inference from facts which were not disputed on both sides. It was not disputed that the captain wore the ship between the second and third shots, and that he went out to sea, but he then went below and discovered the extent of his injury. The Spanish authorities chose to deduce an inference from the captain of the Mermaid standing out to sea. The difference between the statements made by the captain in his first and second examinations was in reality immaterial. The firing took place, according to the statement of the master, about 10.30 a.m. The ship, after the firing, went to sea, but what precise distance she went no one could say. This, however, was known, that the crew were landed at Ceuta about one o'clock, and it would take them some time to pull to shore through a strong sea. The Spanish authorities laid some stress upon the statement made in the first place by the captain, that the vessel went down at once, so that he had no time to save anything but the chronometer and telescope, and his statement in his second deposition that the vessel continued her course for five miles after the injury was done. It was impossible to raise any argument upon mere verbal inaccuracies; for the Spanish interpreters were not very competent, and in transferring a man's evidence from one language to another it was unfair and unjust to rely upon merely verbal discrepancies. The case itself afforded a strong proof of the unfairness of relying upon the verbal accuracy of the translators, for a strong point was made against Captain Pearce, because it appeared from the translator's report of his first examination that it had taken him sixteen days to sail from Cadiz to the Straits of Gibraltar. This was put in the front rank as strong presumption against the veracity of Captain Pearce's statements. The Fiscal Judge naturally argued that if this statement were true the captain must have employed seven days in "wandering about the sea;" while other vessels had been proved to have made the same passage in three or four days, and in the same state of the weather. This, however, was due to a mistake by the translator, who represented the captain of the Mermaid as having asserted that he set sail on the 1st of October from the port of Cadiz, in Spain, instead of Cardiff, in Wales. The question, then, really came to one of the balance of probabilities; and were they to believe, without a particle of proof, that a number of English sailors united together in a conspiracy to scuttle their ship and defraud an insurance company? Whether the Government would allow this matter to remain as at present he would be glad to learn; but he would ask what had been the action of Her Majesty's Government in the matter? The question first came before Lord Russell in November, 1864, when his Lordship, before any representation was made to the Spanish Government, required that the statement of parties should be verified by affidavits. That having been done accordingly, on the 14th of January, 1865, our Foreign Office asked for compensation from the Spanish Government. Again, on the 23rd of September, 1865, Lord Russell renewed that demand, and said that there was a clear case for compensation to the owners of the vessel, and instructed our Ambassador to ask for a Mixed Commission. The Spanish Government, however, distinctly refused to accede to that demand. On the 12th of July, 1866, the noble Lord opposite wrote— After further consultation with the Law Officers of the Crown Her Majesty's Government see no reason to alter the opinions expressed in Lord Clarendon's despatches of the 23rd of September, 1865, and of the 2nd of May last. And he added— In conclusion I have to observe that no reason appears to exist why Her Majesty's Government should abandon the position which they have taken up in this matter; inasmuch as the evidence appears to show that reparation is due from the Spanish Government for a great injury inflicted by the act of Spanish authorities upon a British vessel, which appears to be proved by clear and credible testimony to have complied with the requisites of the Spanish law, and to have been after, and notwithstanding such compliance (though doubtless through inadvertence), fired at with ball and consequently sunk. So it rested with respect to the Spanish Government. Then came the application of the Messrs. Baxter to the Foreign Office, on October 22, 1866, asking whether Her Majesty's Government were prepared, seeing that all its representations at Madrid were unavailing, to demand compensation from the Spanish Government for the losses sustained by the owners of the ship, owners of the cargo, and crew the reply sent to that from the Foreign Office was that Her Majesty's Government were not prepared to make any such demand on the Spanish Government for compensation, it being evident from what had already passed that the latter Government would not entertain any such demand. He now asked the House to put on record a Resolution to the effect that that demand had been rightly and justly made; and as no answer had been given to that demand he asked whether it was consistent with the honour and dignity of this country that the matter should be allowed to drop, after the gravest accusation had been made against the character of these men, the injury done to property, and the danger which had been caused to human life?

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, stating that, in the opinion of this House, the demand for compensation from the Spanish Government made in respect of the destruction of the Ship 'Mermaid' was just and right, and that there is nothing in the Correspondence laid before this House which would sanction Her Majesty's Government in withdrawing from the demand that has been made,"—(Mr. Headlam,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


Sir, I regret that I was not in my place when the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to bring on this Question yesterday. He is, I am sure, aware of the circumstances and will excuse my absence. There were several Notices on the Paper preceding that of the right hon. Gentleman, and to the surprise of all of us these Notices went off at the last moment. Now, this case lies within the narrowest possible compass. All the information we possess with reference to it is contained in the not very voluminous Papers which I placed on the table, and I am bound to say that as far as I can judge the circumstances of the case have been very clearly, fully, and, on the whole, very fairly stated by the right hon. Gentleman. There is, however, one point to which, in justice to the Spanish officers, I feel bound to advert. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the circumstances under which the shots were fired from the Spanish port, from which this vessel apparently sank. I think it fair to say that according to the evidence, or rather the opinion, of several competent and impartial persons, there was no intention whatever to fire at the vessel. Sir William Codrington, in taking up the case on behalf of the owners and crew, in a despatch to Sir John Crampton, says— A shot from the battery hit the vessel as she shot up in tacking; possibly it might have been accidental from the gun being laid to fire ahead of the vessel, if the orders given at Ceuta are similar to those published for Tarifa. The long statement, which appears to have been compiled from the information of the master, contained at page 7 of the Blue Book, says— We are inclined to think that the Mermaid was not intentionally sunk, and should rather attribute her destruction to carelessness on the part of the Spanish officer in charge of the battery. We believe that the shot which struck the starboard bow was intended to pass wide of the ship; on the port side as she was approaching the battery nearly stem on; but that when she was put about no allowance was made for her change of course. I think this should be borne in mind, because, although it may not affect the question of pecuniary responsibility, yet it does very much alter the spirit in which we are to consider this matter if we think the act was one merely arising from the carelessness of the officer in command, or, on the other hand, a deliberate attempt to sink a peaceful trading vessel. The latter assumption ought not to be entertained without conclusive evidence, and I do not see in this case that any such evidence; exists. I entirely concur in the view which has been taken of the merits of the case by my two predecessors in office, Earl Russell and the Earl of Clarendon; and that concurrence I have placed on record in a despatch dated the 12th of July last year. I then renewed on the part of Her Majesty's Government the request previously made, that either compensation should be given, or that the case should be submitted to arbitration. That request was met, as two previous representations of the same kind were met two years before, by a refusal, courteous indeed in its terms, but still a refusal. The Spanish Government rested on the authority of their own officer, which no doubt to a certain extent conflicted with that of the captain and crew, and laid stress on the discrepancy in the evidence given by the captain on his two examinations. According to one of his statements the ship was said to have gone down almost immediately. In the other he states that he sailed between five and six miles before he thought it necessary to abandon the vessel. The Spanish Government refer also to what they regard as the singularity of the captain's conduct in sailing away from port, being within a mile of land, with his vessel so entirely disabled, whereas if he had run her into harbour instead of standing out to sea, she might probably have been saved. I merely recapitulate these arguments used by the Spanish Government, in order that the whole case may be before the House; but I am bound to say I do not think there is much in either of them. The British captain may or may not have taken the wisest course with a view to save his ship after she had been struck. Even if he did not, that would not affect materially the merits of the case. But it was not altogether un- natural that having been fired upon from the battery, and not knowing whether he would be fired upon again, he did not choose to run in under the very guns of the fort from which the shots had proceeded. And as to the suggestion that the ship was sunk by the captain, and never struck at all, I must say that is a supposition in itself extremely improbable, and not a particle of evidence was brought forward to support it. The discrepancy as to the time during which the vessel kept afloat is perhaps more serious. Yet everybody knows that a statement may be substantially true, and yet contain considerable in accuracies of detail, and it would be a very fair question for a Court to consider how far such a degree of inaccuracy in detail would affect the credibility of the captain's whole story. The evidence of the Spanish officer, allowing it every credit, only amounts to this—that he did not see the ship struck, and that he was in a position in which he must have seen it struck, he thinks, if such had been the case. Without imputing to him a desire to speak inaccurately, I must say that his statement is only one made to the best of his knowledge and belief; that there is nothing to show that he may not have been mistaken; while, as regards the captain and crew, mistake is simply out of the question. They must have known whether the vessel was struck or not. Either they are telling a wilful falsehood—which there is no reason to suppose—or their statement is accurate. I think, therefore, there can be no doubt on which side the preponderance of evidence is. But now comes the real difficulty of the case. This matter has been argued over and over again. We adhere to our opinions, and the Spanish Government adhere to theirs. Unhappily, there is nothing in the nature of an international tribunal to which all cases of this kind might be referred, and there is no International Law by which parties can be required to submit such cases to arbitration. I do not hesitate to say that it would be one of the greatest benefits to the civilized world if such a tribunal existed, but, as it does not, there is only a choice between two courses when one Government differs from another on a question of this kind. You must either let the claim rest, reserving the right to bring it forward again under more favourable circumstances, or else you may have recourse to force. The enforcing of such a claim could only be effected by the withdrawal of diplomatic relations, or by war, or by making reprisals, which latter proceeding is almost certain to end in war. Now the withdrawal of diplomatic relations is a totally inadequate remedy for that which is to be cured. It shows that you have taken offence; but it does not inflict any great injury or cause any great pressure upon the Government with whom you have a difference; and with respect to war—for reprisals practically mean war—I need not say that a war between two European countries is a very grave matter; and if we had gone to war on one single case of this kind without exhausting every other possible means to procure redress we should not have been supported by public opinion, either in this country or in Europe. We must not exaggerate the importance of this transaction, which, in all human probability arose from an accident, and which is not one involving the life or liberty of any of Her Majesty's subjects. Taking our view of the question, it was unquestionably a case of great carelessness, and called for pecuniary compensation, but it is not necessary to presume that the Spanish authorities have acted in bad faith. No doubt they have shown a bias to their own side. They have believed the statements of their officers rather than the statements of the persons on board the ship, and have decided in their own favour on exceedingly inadequate evidence; but I do not think it is reasonable to infer from this single case a determination on their part to refuse justice. There is another point of view which I wish to present to the House. The risk of a war with Spain may be thought very lightly of, but are you prepared to lay down one rule of conduct with respect to a weak Power and another with respect to a strong Power? Suppose this question had arisen between England and Russia, or France, or the United States, I do not think that anybody in this House, under such circumstances, would have supported the Government of the day in enforcing by war reparation for the injury. If then the House thinks with me that this is not a case that would justify war, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell me what steps should be taken? It would be useless to go over and over the same ground in addressing the Spanish Government; but I have not written a line conveying any intention to recede from this claim, or expressing any change of opinion about it; still, I am not prepared at pre- sent to take up the question again. Possibly another Spanish Administration may see matter in a different point of view. We may remember some events which are within our recent experience. The Government of the United States are not supposed to be backward in pressing claims which they deem to be well founded, or in resenting any attack on the dignity of their country; but it will be recollected that when, in respect to the matter of the Alabama, the Government of the United States asked for arbitration, and when that demand was refused, they did not withdraw their Minister from London, or threaten war. I do not see why we, in a matter of very much smaller importance, should not act with the same degree of forbearance. Again, the Spanish Government may have, in their turn, some claims against us—something which they may think a grievance, and which we do not view in the same light. In such a case, if a demand for arbitration were made, and we should be ready to comply with it, we might fairly insist on the matters submitted to arbitration including the claims we have against, them. I do not say that I should necessarily take the same view if grievances of this kind were multiplied. A single instance of an act such as has been brought under the notice of the House may be referred to mistake, but if a multitude of such cases occurred one after the other it would not be possible to take the same view of the matter. That, however, is not a question now to be considered. I can only assure the right hon. Gentleman that, having entirely acquiesced in the justice of this claim, I do not intend to let the subject drop, if I only see an opportunity of dealing with it in a satisfactory manner, and I trust the right hon. Gentleman will not press his Motion, which in any case cannot lead to any satisfactory result.


thought it would have been difficult to make a more unsatisfactory explanation than that which had been offered by the Foreign Secretary, or one more calculated to place this country in an undignified position with respect to foreign nations. The noble Lord did not say whether he intended to press this question or not; but he seemed to hope that some of his countrymen would commit an act of injustice against Spain in order that this question might be considered in the form of a "set-off" against the Spanish Government. That was the position in which this question was left at present. The noble Lord was clearly bound to insist upon arbitration, or else act in the same manner as was done in reference to the Danish claims. He thought the noble Lord was bound to obtain compensation for the owners.


I am desirous of occupying the attention of the House for a very short time on this matter, to bring before its notice one or two points which have been referred to in the course of the debate. I think the right hon Gentleman the Member for Newcastle (Mr. Headlam) put the facts of the case in a very clear and temperate manner; but I very much agree with the hon. and learned Member for Oxford, that the reply of the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary was certainly in this case very unsatisfactory. We all, both the House and the country, are disposed to place every confidence in the management of Foreign Affairs by the noble Lord; but I do not think the statement he has made to-day with regard to this matter, only involving, as he says, some £200 or £300, could have been expected to fall from one who fills the position and enjoys the reputation of the noble Lord. He admits to a great extent that the statement of the Spanish authorities is not true. It is alleged that they had no intention of firing at the vessel, and he says also that the arguments of the Spanish Government are worthless. Now, he admits he adopted the policy of Lords Russell and Clarendon. That was in July 1866; but between that time and October 1866, a great change seems to have come over the views of the noble Lord, because before he distinctly stated in a despatch, he was not prepared to press the matter any further, and what does he say now? He says there are two ways of acting. Let us wait until a good opportunity arises for pressing the cases. Let us wait till Spain may have a case against us, and then we may set-off the one against the other. Now, I do not think that is quite the way in which a case of this kind ought to be treated. We have had more than one such case with the Spanish Government of late. The Spanish Government is really behaving to this country in a manner that we cannot much longer refrain from seriously taking in hand. Here is a case which occurred in 1864; and from that period till the present, although the testimony of the Spanish authorities is admitted by three British Ministers to be worthless, yet, because the matter is comparatively insignificant, the noble Lord is prepared to forego the position he might have assumed had he urged this claim on the Spanish Government as he should have done. But, says the noble Lord, suppose Russia, or the United States, or France, had done this act, would we press it upon them? Yet, although we would not press such a claim against those powerful States, the right hon. Gentleman wishes us to press it against Spain merely because Spain is weak. Now, Sir, I venture to say that the Government of the United States, or of Russia, if the case had been put to them so clearly as this case has been in these Papers, and if the right was so clearly in favour of the owners as it appears to be, they would at once have acknowledged the claim for compensation. But such is not always the policy which the Government the noble Lord represents has followed. What was the case of the Cagliari? In that case, because Naples was a weak Power, we insisted upon justice being done. When the case was brought under the notice of the other House of Parliament, Lord Clarendon said it was important to a maritime Power like England that we should not allow any act of illegality on the high seas, respecting which we were entitled to interfere, to pass unnoticed, but, if necessary, avenge it, though it was also necessary that we should be in the right and that we should be able to put forward such a claim as could be satisfactorily proved according to the Law of Nations. That is what Lord Clarendon clearly laid down as the law of this country, and it would be more befitting the position of the noble Lord that he should adopt such a rule than say "Let us wait until Spain has a claim against us which we can use as a set-off against our own." I cannot help thinking that if we had shown that we would consent to no prolongation of the settlement of this matter we should have obtained it before this. The attempts to deny the firing of the shot and the imputations which have been cast upon the captain of the vessel are certainly hardly worthy of the Spanish Government. The Spanish Government have attempted to resist the claims of the owners of the Mermaid, first of all on the ground that there was a conspiracy on the part of the crew. They urged that the crew wished to defraud the insurance companies. I do not understand how it is that the Spanish Government should evince such extreme tenderness and anxiety for the protection of companies or individuals from fraud. The Spanish Government do not pretend to any knowledge on the subject; but they urge that they have reason to believe that the vessel was scuttled and sunk with a view to defrauding the Maritime Insurance companies. But the Spanish Government should look at home before bringing such, as I believe them to be, unfounded accusations against British subjects, and reflect upon their own treatment of the poor unfortunate bondholders who have been defrauded of their rights. I merely rose, Sir, for the purpose of urging the noble Lord not to allow the settlement of this question to be prolonged. Three Foreign Ministers—Lord Russell, Lord Clarendon, and the noble Lord himself—have had this matter in hand. It has been dragging on since 1864, and I think the time has now arrived when the noble Lord should bring the matter before the Government in a manner that would lead to a satisfactory settlement of the claims which have been made on the part of the owners of this ship.


thought that the arguments used by the right hon. Baronet and by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Oxford were very unfair as regarded their reference to the policy adopted by his noble Friend. As the Papers on the subject would show, his noble Friend had not been in office three days before he called the attention of the Spanish Government to the subject. His noble Friend in his despatch on that occasion used these words— In conclusion, I have to observe that no reason appears to exist why Her Majesty's Government should abandon the position which they have taken up in this matter; inasmuch as the evidence appears to show that reparation is due from the Spanish Government for a great injury inflicted by the act of Spanish authorities upon a British vessel which appears to be proved, by clear and credible testimony, to have complied with the requisites of the Spanish law, and not to have disregarded them; and to have been, after and notwithstanding such compliance (though doubtless through inadvertence), fired at with ball, and consequently sunk. If he wanted any proof that the honour and the property of the people of this country were safe in the hands of his noble Friend, he would appeal to what had been done in the case of the Victoria where ample redress had been made for the injury inflicted. His noble Friend had not been slow to act in this case; but, as his noble Friend had pointed out, there were only two modes by which we could exact reparation — one was the serious matter of going to war, and the second was to wait for a suitable opportunity of representing our injury to the Spanish Government and insisting upon reparation being made. The House might depend upon it that when that opportunity did occur his noble Friend would not be backward in insisting upon the satisfaction of our claims.


trusted that his right hon. Friend would not, after the statement of the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, press his Amendment to a division. He happened to have heard something about these matters when at the Board of Trade, and they had left a strong impression in his mind as to the general inconvenience which had been experienced by merchant vessels for some time past. Our merchant vessels had been compelled to show their colours on passing within a marine league of the Spanish forts under pain of being fired at. Even when this regulation was complied with, the colours were not seen and the vessels were fired at, several lives having before now been lost from this cause. The late Government concluded an agreement with Spain which was signed at Madrid, in March, 1865, by which the observance of this formality on the part of merchant vessels passing Spanish forts in the Straits of Gibraltar was abolished. It was, he thought, a matter of congratulation that we had succeeded in getting rid of a very troublesome and useless formality—a formality which had led to the unfortunate embarrassment under discussion. He trusted that his right hon. Friend would not think it necessary to make the House of Commons assume the responsibility of forcing their opinion in the shape of a formal Resolution upon the Executive. After the speech made by the noble Lord the House might, he believed, safely leave the matter in his hands. For his own part having listened with attention to the noble Lord's speech, and having previously informed himself of the facts of the case, he thought the noble Lord had fully admitted not only the justice of the claims made on the part of this country, but also the force of the arguments employed by his right hon. Friend.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.