HC Deb 28 May 1880 vol 252 cc641-3

asked the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, If his attention has been called to a statement which appeared in the "Daily News" of May 10, to the effect that, in consequence of the alleged capture and maltreatment of a British trader by the inhabitants of Bataugn, a town about south of the Cameroons, Commodore Richards, acting under the instructions of Acting Consul Captain Easton, opened fire upon the town, and bombarded it for five hours, after which a party of Marines and blue jackets landed and burnt the town; if he can inform the House whether that statement is correct; and, further, if he can inform the House whether, among instructions given to British Consuls, they are intrusted with the authority, at their own discretion, to make war upon native tribes, and to bombard and burn down their towns and villages?


Sir, I am sorry to say that the account given of this bombardment is substantially correct. It appears that in May, 1879, the natives of Bataugn forcibly boarded the British schooner Cyprus and took away the mate (Mr. Govier), whom they refused to give up until the captain should establish a factory there. The Governor of Fernando Po, there being no British ship of war within reach, at the late Consul Hopkin's request, sent a gunboat to endeavour to procure his release. The King met the demand by a threat to cut off Mr. Govier's head. After being detained six weeks Mr. Govier made his escape. Mr. Acting Consul Easton proceeded to Bataugn in Her Majesty's ship Firebrand, and addressed a note to the King calling upon him to meet him and explain the outrage. To this only a verbal message was returned, that he would not come and was prepared to resist the entry of any White men into his town. On the arrival of Commodore Richards, Mr. Easton put the matter into his hands, and the Commodore wrote to the King, urging him to come to a "palaver." The King only replied by a message that he would not come. Commodore Richards then sent him another note, to which he received no reply. On the 21st of March he gave notice to the King to remove all women and children out of reach of fire, and the town was shelled and burnt on the 22nd. Commodore Richards was himself wounded in the engagement, and one seaman and one marine killed. The Admiralty have no information as to any loss in killed and wounded which may have been suffered by the Natives. There are no general instructions to Her Majesty's Consuls authorizing them to bombard and burn down Native towns and villages at their discretion; but, as it is only possible by inquiry on the spot to form a judgment as to the nature of outrages committed on British subjects, and the steps necessary to punish them and protect British life and property, a certain amount of discretion is unavoid- ably allowed to Her Majesty's Consular and Naval officers in the matter. In this case it was considered that the nature of the outrage and the defiant attitude of the King left no alternative but to inflict punishment. In his Report to the Admiralty, Commodore Richards says— I regret very much the necessity of undertaking expeditions such as this. It is an ignoble species of warfare…It is a matter of great difficulty to arrive at the truth…but I am satisfied that in this case the punishment has been well-merited. The traders having elected to remain by their factories, I have distinctly warned them that they must protect themselves in future. After the action the traders asked for further protection. This Commodore Richards refused, giving them the option of embarking their goods and leaving.


gave Notice that he should move a Resolution that the powers claimed and exercised by Representatives of this country in various parts of the world to engage in wars on their own authority were full of danger and contrary to the interests of the country.