HC Deb 04 May 1900 vol 82 cc750-2

I bog to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, has he observed a statement recently made to the effect that the Boer Government is obtaining enormous supplies of provisions which are landed at Delagoa Bay by German and French steamboats, are landed direct into trucks, and are promptly despatched to the Transvaal; and that the German steamboat "Herzog" was on 30th April discharging about 3,000 tons of such provisions; whether this is the same steamboat "Herzog" which was detained by Her Majesty's ship "Thetis" and brought into Durban on 6th January last on suspicion of carrying contraband of war, and which was released by order of the Admiralty of 7th January last without any examination being made of her cargo to ascertain if the suspicion that part of it consisted of contraband of war was well founded; and whether Her Majesty's Government propose to continue to prohibit Her Majesty's cruisers from visiting this and other mail steamers and, in case of reasonable and probable suspicion, from detaining and bringing in such steamers for due examination of their cargo by the Prize Court; if so, does Her Majesty's Government propose to take any other, and if so what means to prevent the supply of contraband of war to the Queen's enemies by neutral vessels.


The statements made as to the importation of provisions at Delagoa Bay destined for the Transvaal have been noticed. But provisions, unless there is evidence that they are intended for the use of combatants, are not deemed to be contraband of war. The ship mentioned is no doubt that which was taken to Durban. Her cargo for Delagoa Bay was examined by the Portuguese customs, whose attention was specially called to this ship, but no report has been received to show that she landed contraband. The instructions to Her Majesty's ships are that mail steamers are not to be arrested on suspicion alone.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say what other ground than suspicion there can be until a ship is arrested and examined?

[No answer was returned.]


I beg to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty, have Her Majesty's Government given attention to a statement recently made to the effect that contraband of war is shipped at the French ports of Diego Suarez and Jiboutil to be landed at Delagoa Bay for transmission to the Transvaal; that at Delagoa Bay the contraband of war is transhipped into barges and landed at night; that the examination at the Portuguese Custom House is a pretence; and that contraband is often landed, not at the custom house but at the Netherlands railway pier, a mile higher up the harbour, by permit from the Portuguese customs authorities: have they observed the further allegation that the accuracy of these statements can be verified by Major H. P. Young, late head of the Intelligence Department, by Lieutenant Davidson, R.N., and Mr. Longe, of Her Majesty's ship "Thetis," by Captain Sedgwick and Lieutenant Stopford, R.N., and by Mr. Hodgkis, Mr. Nulty, Mr. Treadwell, and Mr. Gould, of the Intelligence Department; and have Her Majesty's Government received any Reports on the matter from any of these officers; and, if not, will they call for Reports, and lay them upon the Table or communicate their purport to this House.


We have given attention not only to statements recently made on the subject in question, but the whole course of events in the waters mentioned has been a subject of our daily concern. I am not prepared to admit that the examination at the Portuguese Custom House is a pretence. I had heard that contraband had been landed, but not by permit from the Portuguese customs authorities. In no case have we been able to obtain any proof that such a traffic exists, nor have we reason to believe that the accuracy of the statements can be verified by the officers mentioned. We have received reports from the admiral with enclosures from the captains of certain ships, but at this short notice I am not able to say whether they would be laid on the Table of the House. In many cases it would be clearly inadvisable to do so.