HC Deb 12 February 1877 vol 232 cc172-3

asked the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether it is true that a fugitive slave, who sought refuge in one of Her Majesty's ships at Jeddah, was handed over by the commanding officer to the British consul, and by the consul given back to slavery; and, if so, whether these acts are in accordance with the instructions of Her Majesty's Government?


As there is another Question on the Paper on this subject to be put by the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Cowen), I wish, with the permission of the House, to answer both at the same time. The Government have heard, through the Admiralty, of this case, although they have not yet received any Consular Report upon it. Rear-Admiral Macdonald, writing from Her Majesty's ship Fawn, Jeddah, December 12, 1876, on this subject, says— I have the honour to inform you that early on the morning of the 10th inst., while the ship was lying in the harbour of Jeddah, in Turkish waters, a negro swam alongside, and coming on board stated through the interpreter that he was a slave and had run away from his master. Having ascertained that the fugitive was in no bodily fear whatever, I took him to the British Consulate, whereon the following day he was examined in my presence by the Acting Consul, Mr. J. Oswald, with the following result:—That he had been stolen from his home in Nubia some years since, and after an indefinite time had been taken from Berber, on the Nile, to Kosair, and thence brought in a dhow with eight other slaves to Jeddah, whore he was sold a few months ago to one Ibrahim Ijalan, a land-owner, who employed him in his boats. He was well treated and never beaten. Having been latterly employed in digging sand for ballast on the reefs, he complained to his master that it was too cold for working in the water (N.B., the minimum temperature of the sea water has been 78 degrees), and that he wanted more clothes, and eventually he refused to work and ran away, swimming off to this ship. As there is no Treaty against slaves and there was no ground for complaint of ill-usage, it was decided to hand the fugitive over to the Governor of Jeddah, the Acting Consul undertaking that he should not be ill-used in consequence of his endeavour to escape. As to the Fugitive Slave Circular issued for the guidance of naval commanders, the clause of it which applies to such a case as this is as follows:— It is not intended, nor is it possible, to lay down any precise or general rule as to the cases in which you ought to receive a fugitive slave on board your ship. You are, as to this, to be guided by considerations of humanity, and these considerations must have full effect given to them whether your ship is on the high seas or within the territorial waters of a State in which slavery exists; but in the latter case, you ought at the same time to avoid conduct which may appear to be in breach of international comity and good faith. These are the facts of this case as far as we know them. We have not yet received the Report of the Consul, and until we have it would be premature to say what should be done in the matter.


gave Notice that he would take the earliest opportunity of drawing attention to the case, and move a Resolution.