HC Deb 16 March 1877 vol 233 cc69-79

in rising to call attention to the surrender at Jeddah, in December last, of a recently imported African slave who had escaped into a British man-of-war, and to ask for explanations regarding the application to such cases of the Slave Circular of August last; and to move— That the slave trade carried on under the Turkish and Egyptian flags requires the active attention of Her Majesty's Government, said, that he was not there to allege any special ill-usage of the slave who had been given up at Jeddah; but although there might not have been hardship in the way of immediate barbarity in the treatment of that slave, was it not a hardship that a man should be torn from his home in Nubia, in the interior of Africa, that he should be made a subject of the slave traffic, and that he should be carried across the seas and sold to a master who worked him as an out-door slave in digging sand at Jeddah, for the purpose of being used as ballast by the ships frequenting that place? This incident at Jeddah constituted a typical case, and raised the question which he wished to submit to the House, whether it was right and proper, and whether it was in accordance with the feelings of the people of this country, that a slave who had escaped to a British man-of-war should be surrendered by an English officer, and again made a slave. It was no ordinary case of domestic slavery as practised in the East, where the slave had been born and brought up in the house of his master. This slave was a recent importation, and he had actually got on board a British man-of-war. The question then arose, being on beard a man-of-war, what was to be done with him, and it was decided for- mally and deliberately to give him up. If the case had occurred at Zanzibar, this slave, under the orders of the Admiralty, would have been entitled to his freedom as a newly-imported slave. But as the case occurred in the Turkish dominions, and because we had no Treaty with Turkey for the suppression of the Slave Trade he was given up. Turkey was a specially favoured nation in this and other matters. Although we had no Treaty with Turkey we had Turkish promises without end on this subject abolishing this black slavery; yet the Slave Trade was actually carried on under the Turkish flag in a flagrant and open manner and on a great scale. The first question he wished to put, and which he hoped the Government would make clear, was whether the Slave Trade Circular of August last did or did not mean that a slave who had found his way on beard one of Her Majesty's ships was not to be given up. If the Circular meant that he was to be given up the British nation had construed the terms of the Slave Circular wrongly. He held that the meaning of that document, whatever it was, ought at least to be made clear, so that there should be no misconception. The second paragraph of the Circular left a considerable discretion, but the first paragraph of the Circular was, he thought, applicable to this case. The words of that paragraph were that the officer in command should "not admit any demand made upon you for his surrender on the ground of slavery." If that was the construction to be put on the Circular an error had been committed in this case. Here no demand whatever had been made, yet the slave was deliberately and formally delivered up. The question, he understood, was as to the meaning of the word received. Was it to be construed as if a slave was not received until it was determined to keep him on board, or was he received as soon as he put his foot on beard our ship? He maintained that the deck of a British man-of-war was "free soil," and whenever a slave had under any circumstances been permitted to come on beard he could not be delivered up. He was anxious that the point should be cleared up, because he was a Member of the Royal Commission which reported upon the question, and he had the misfortune to differ from his Colleagues upon it. There could be no doubt that throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, and down to the present time, the doctrine had been held that a slave who once got on beard a ship of war should not be given up. In proof of that, as regarded the 17th century, he need only refer to the Treaty entered into with Tripoli, which provided that when one of His Majesty's ships of war appeared off Tripoli, on notice being given to the Consul, and proclamation being made, any Christians who escaped on beard should not be required back again. In the 18th century the language of Lord St. Vincent, addressed to the Secretary of the Admiralty, was equally explicit. His Lordship stated in his despatch, that from the days of Blake it had been the practice of the Navy not to surrender slaves that had escaped on board His Majesty's ships, and he added, "God forbid that such a Divine maxim should ever be forgotten." In the present century, he (Sir George Campbell) had to quote as his authority the expressions of Lord Clarendon, when Secretary for Foreign Affairs in 1856. Lord Clarendon said— If a slave take refuge on board a British ship of war, it should be the duty of the captain still, as heretofore, to refuse to surrender him. No words could be plainer than those, and it was clear from those authorities and others which he could cite, if necessary, that during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, down to the year 1870, it was the rule of the British Navy, that the deck of a ship of war was free soil, and that the slave who set his foot on it thereby became free. With unimportant exceptions the Governments of foreign countries supported this view. Portugal and Holland questioned the application of the rule, but the Governments of Germany, Italy, and the United States, and the official legal authority of France concurred in regarding the deck of a man-of-war as part of the national territory, and the slave who had once gained that deck as free. He believed there was no doubt that this country wished the freedom of escaped slaves to be maintained, providing there was no excessive complication arising with other Powers. There was no danger of this complication now. So long as the United States, or any other great civilized Power, maintained a system of slavery it might have been difficult to carry out that principle; but all difficulty was now removed by the fact that no great or civilized Power maintained a system of slavery. Then it was urged that it would cause difficulty and complication in countries where slavery now existed, and where slaves had to be employed in coaling Her Majesty's ships at some foreign stations and on other similar duties. He was inclined to think that in maintaining a great principle of this kind we might very well consent to submit to any petty inconvenience from being compelled to employ free labour instead of slave labour for the coaling of our ships at any port where slavery was still maintained, and he understood that this was done at the ports of Brazil, and that only free labourers were employed by British men-of-war. There could be no doubt that at the present moment a large traffic in slaves was being carried on openly and with perfect impunity in the Red Sea under the Turkish and Egyptian flags—a traffic which our Naval officers did nothing to interfere with or put down, because they had no power to do so. The evidence taken before the Committee was on that point very ample and conclusive, and Sir Bartle Frere spoke in the most positive terms to that effect. The Reports of the Consuls at many parts in the East were equally strong in denouncing Egypt and Turkey as the great offenders in this way, and one Consul even said that 500 slaves were in one instance put on beard Egyptian or Turkish vessels and carried across the Red Sea in sight of the English Consul. He might be told by the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, as they were told the other night, that efforts were now being made to conclude a Treaty with the Khedive of Egypt in order to suppress the Slave Trade. On that he would only observe that such efforts had already been made before, and he sincerely hoped they would prove more successful than they had done heretofore, although he could not feel very sanguine on that score. But, as to the Slave Trade extensively carried on under the Turkish flag, he wished to know whether the Turks alone were to be for ever privileged in these matters, and were to remain exempt from all the laws of civilization and all the restraints which were imposed on other people. Were British interests so bound up with Turkey that, for the sake of those interests, we were ready to let her carry on the Slave Trade with impunity? It was high time, in his opinion, that the Slave Trade should be declared piracy. So long ago as 1822, at the Congress of Verona, the Duke of Wellington pressed that upon the Powers, but France would not agree to it. Now he was sure France would be actuated by the highest sentiments of humanity, and the only resisting Power would be Turkey, and her resistance ought to be put down. In treating with the Turkish Government we should not be content with asking for promises which had been and always would be broken, but should require sterner and more effective measures. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the slave trade carried on under the Turkish and Egyptian flags requires the active attention of Her Majesty's Government,"—(Sir George Campbell,) —instead thereof.


said, he should not have intervened between the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) and the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, if he had not had the honour of serving on the Royal Commission with reference to Fugitive Slaves on which the hon. Member was one of his Colleagues. He was not surprised that the hon. Member had taken up this case, because everybody would acknowledge his efforts to check the Slave Trade; nor was he surprised at the view taken by him of this case, as it had been strongly pressed by the hon. Member on the attention of the Commission. The Commissioners did not think that the mere fact of the admission of a fugitive slave on board one of Her Majesty's vessels necessitated the retention of that fugitive slave, but that the captain was bound to take all matters into consideration, especially when in the port of a friendly State in which domestic slavery was recognized as law. The hon. Member contended, contrary to the opinion of all his Colleagues, that the mere fact of a fugitive slave being on beard one of Her Majesty's ships ought to secure him from being given up. The Commission, however, reported that the ships of the Royal Navy should not be made a general asylum for all fugitive slaves; but that the commanders of such ships should carefully inquire if, beyond the desire of the slave himself, there were reasons for thinking he would be treated with inhumanity, before they determined whether or not to surrender the fugitive. The hon. Member said that before 1870 there were no cases in which slaves had been surrendered. But he was mistaken, as there were other cases on record. By way of example he (Sir Henry Holland) would quote one. In 1837 a slave took refuge on beard Her Majesty's ship Romney, lying in the harbour of Havannah. The commander surrendered him to his owner, and Lord Palmerston, who was not usually supposed to be a supporter of slavery, wrote a despatch on the 5th of January, 1838, in which he said that the conduct of the commander was right and proper. Indeed, at that time our ships were expressly ordered not to go into the ports of the Southern States of America, because difficulties might arise if slaves escaped to them. The Admiralty, surely, could hardly be blamed for issuing a Circular in accordance with the distinct opinions of the Lord Chief Justice and of the late Mr. Justice Archibald, than whom a better Judge never sat on the English Bench; of Sir Robert Phillimore, and of three such international lawyers as Mr. Mountague Bernard, Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, and Sir Henry Maine. The Circular was clear in its terms. All cases were to be inquired into, and so far the Circular was in favour of the slaves. It was also in accordance with the Report of the Commissioners, whether that Report was right or wrong. He did not propose to discuss the case now under consideration, because the Under Secretary would deal with it. If admission on board Her Majesty's ships for the temporary purpose of inquiring into the truth of any case was in itself a bar to any surrender, it appeared to him that a great hardship would be inflicted on fugitive slaves, because admission would generally be refused. As to the Slave Trade in the Red Sea, he shared in the opinion of the hon. Gentleman, and he heartily desired to see a check put upon it; but he thought that they might trust the Government, looking to the statements that had been made by them on the subject, and con- sidering that the rule laid down by Lord Carnarvon for the abolition of domestic slavery in the protected territories of the Gold Coast, carried out as it had been so ably and energetically by Governor Strachan, was the most efficient step that had been taken for years towards the extinction of that trade.


thought that when this case was fully examined, it would be seen that it would be difficult to deal with it by a Circular. No Circular, in his opinion, could possibly be drawn that would stand. When he first saw the latest Circular, he thought it was an innocent one, but when he examined it he had a different opinion. His hon. Friend (Sir George Campbell) wished to lay down a law that it would be unlawful to put a slave ashore, but that would not stand for a moment. It might operate hardly upon the slaves themselves, as there would be circumstances when a captain would be obliged to do so. He did not think any written Circular could accurately lay down the principle by which our commanding officers ought to be guided. The Slave Circular instructed the captain of a British vessel, in the case of a slave received on beard while in territorial waters, not to entertain any demand for his surrender upon the ground that he was a slave; but it did not tell the captain that he was not to think of him as a slave at all. He (Mr. Whitbread) would say that all our difficulties on the subject of slavery had been occasioned from this new system of issuing Circulars which fettered the discretion of our captains. Those who framed these Circulars appeared to think it necessary that we should look upon the slave as property. The right view appeared to him to be that when once a slave was on beard one of Her Majesty's ships, the captain should entirely ignore the fact that the slave was claimed as property by some one, and should treat him exactly as he would treat a free man, with this exception, that there were certain cases in which the captain ought to detain a slave to save him from ill-treatment or capture when he would not detain a free man. That was the principle which the country would like to see adopted, and which, while the captains were allowed to exercise their own discretion, had been satisfactorily carried out. They were well acquainted with these waters and were thoroughly familiar with the questions that were likely to arise.


said, this case was a distinct instance of the folly of tying down the discretion of our officers by these Circulars. Under the old system the thing went on very well, but since these Circulars had been issued we had got into difficulties which would undoubtedly increase. He would ask, however, why it was that slavery existed at Jeddah at all—it existed there only because this country had neglected its duty in not putting an end to this institution in that part of the world. We had chosen to continue on friendly terms with this accursed country of Turkey in Europe years after we ought to have thrown her over. We had secured Treaties for the suppression of the Slave Trade with nearly all the world except Turkey and Egypt, and we ought to have long ago insisted on Treaties with these powers also, and not allowed their flags to carry on this infamous traffic in the Red Sea. It was a notorious fact that in Turkey in Europe slaves were bought and sold in spite of all the firmans against the traffic, and that that was the only State in Europe in which such a traffic was carried on, and a great part of their supply came from the Red Sea. We ought at once to say with the other Powers that it should no longer be allowed. He went a step further, and said with the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy that all civilized nations should regard this traffic in human flesh as piracy, and crush it wherever it could be got at.


said, he did not think that the House was anxious that this debate should be unduly protracted, and therefore he ventured to rise at that early stage of it to give such information on the subject as he was able to lay before the House. He concurred in a great deal that had fallen from the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell), but must dissent from one proposition which he had laid down—that we ought to adopt a certain course with regard to fugitive slaves, because we should not have a great Power to interfere with us in that course. That was a principle which this country had never adopted. It had always done its best to suppress the Slave Trade, and he hoped it would continue to do so; and, whether we were opposed by a small Power or a great one, he trusted that would make no difference. The hon. Member had drawn a distinction between Oriental and Occidental slavery, but for his part he recognized no difference between the two; and, whether it was carried on on the shores of the Red Sea or on the West Coast, the endeavour of Her Majesty's Government would be to put a stop to it. With regard to the Slave Trade in the Red Sea, there could be no doubt that that was Oriental slave trade, and to excuse it upon that ground would be absurd and revolting to his feelings, and also would be contrary to the policy of England. The hon. Member had also occupied a large portion of his speech with a description of the law of England relative to fugitive slaves. That was a question which was discussed last year at very great length, and it resulted in a Commission which had reported on the subject. He did not, therefore, think it would be agreeable to the House that he should now renew that discussion. At the same time he could not allow what the hon. Member had stated to pass altogether unnoticed. The hon. Member had read a despatch from Lord Palmerston to Mr. Jerningham, written in 1860, by which he endeavoured to support the proposition that England had at all times maintained the doctrine that fugitive slaves, whether within territorial waters or not, should not be surrendered when they got on beard Her Majesty's ships. Now, the hon. Member had not dealt fairly with the House in that case. In fact, that was an exceptional case. We had been obliged to act with regard to Brazil on a different principle from any other country. Brazil had for years openly violated all her Treaties with us in regard to the suppression of the Slave Trade; for that reason we took a high hand with her, and acted with regard to her in a totally different way from all other countries. The hon. Member must have known that the case to which he referred was quite an exceptional one.


said, he did not know the case was exceptional.


was very much surprised to hear it. It was a well-known fact that Brazil had been an exception to the rule laid down. Beyond that, Lord Clarendon in 1870 laid it down as his opinion, with respect to the case of slaves taken on beard at Madagascar, that commanders of Her Majesty's cruisers were not justified, where slavery was legal, in recovering fugitive domestic slaves. In 1870 a letter from Mr. Hammond laid down precisely the same rule, but in stronger terms, and that rule was exactly contrary to what had been stated by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy as being the general principle upon the subject. Now, with regard to the interpretation which the hon. Member put on the Circular, he must altogether decline to interpret' this Circular, or any other law or regulation in an abstract form. When cases arose under the Circular, they would be dealt with according to the Circular; and when they knew all the facts connected with the Jeddah case, they would be enabled to decide whether the Consul had acted rightly or not. The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) objected to lay down any rules in the Circular—he would rather state principles, and leave the matter to the discretion of the officers; but how could he state principles to officers engaged in all parts of the world except in a Circular? The principle to which the hon. Gentleman had referred appeared to him (Mr. Bourke) exactly the same as that laid down in the Circular, which directed that in no case should a slave be surrendered on the ground of his slavery. Supposing it had been the case of a free man, would the hon. Gentleman have had him put ashore at once?


said, that in the Jeddah case there was no demand for the surrender.


Just so. Certainly not! There was no demand for surrender; and if he were a free man who came on board you would have put him ashore at once. This man was treated better than if he had been a free man, because, instead of being simply put ashore, he was handed over to the Consul, who took security that he should not be ill-used; and that was the second regulation of the Circular under which fugitive slaves were to be dealt with. He was not going to say more than this—they had not yet received the Report of the Consul; and that might easily be accounted for. We had no communication directly with Jeddah. Communication was only had by casual steamers calling there from time to time—very often there was no communication for a number of weeks. But when the Report was received, the Government would take the whole matter into consideration, and say whether the Consul had done right in giving up this slave, taking security that he should be well treated. It was quite true, as had been said, that we had no Convention with Turkey. Last year he stated that the Government were hoping to make a Treaty with Turkey on the subject of the Slave Trade; but, at the present moment, Turkey had quite enough to do with matters vitally affecting her Empire, and it would be too much to expect she would enter into any Treaty affecting matters connected with the Slave Trade; but when she recovered from her present condition he trusted she would be prepared to make the same advance which other countries in the East had made for the suppression of the traffic.

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