The Earl of Minto
moved the third reading of the Slave Vessels Captured Bill.
§ Lord Colchester
said, that in consequence of the observations which had been made on the subject of the conduct of the officers of the cruisers on the coast of Africa, he wished to address a few observations to their Lordships. It had been argued that the system of bounty, or head-money, was impolitic, because it did not accrue until the vessel had her cargo of slaves on board, and, consequently, the greater part of the crime had been committed; and that the system, consequently, had exercised an influence on the conduct of the officers upon the station, who had been charged with allowing the slave-vessel to embark her cargo of slaves, for the purpose of securing the head-money. If these remarks had been made merely theoretically, he should not have felt it his duty to have troubled their Lordships; but the language which the noble and learned Lord opposite had used on a former occasion appeared to him to convey a very serious insinuation against the officers of her Majesty's navy on that coast, because he had distinctly imputed to them that they had refrained from making any efforts to interrupt the slave vessels in the course of loading. Now there was no doubt, that for a long period the cruisers did make no attempt to capture the slave vessels until after they were laden; and, therefore, to a casual observer, it might appear that they had been actuated by these motives; but then, that depended entirely on the assumption, that they had 637 some authority to take the vessels without their cargo on board. If he proved, that for a long period after the Legislature had granted the bounty, the cruisers had no authority to take the vessels until their cargoes were embarked, but, on the contrary were strictly prohibited from taking them; but that since they had received that authority the capture of vessels without cargoes had been more frequent than that of vessels with cargoes, their Lordships would see that he had vindicated the officers in this service from the charge of a breach of duty, and still more from being actuated by mercenary motives. The noble Lord cited the opinion of Lord Stowell to show that under the general law of nations cruisers had no right to interrupt the proceedings of the slave vessels, but that whatever right they had was acquired by treaties. Treaties had accordingly been entered into with Spain, Portugal, and other countries, by which a limited right to search was granted, and under which tribunals were erected for the purpose of trying the legality of seizures. But there was an article in all these treaties which prohibited the seizure of any vessel until the slaves were actually on board; and so strictly had that been construed, that it had been held not sufficient to justify the capture, though the crew of the cruisers might see the cargo of slaves landed. That view of the subject had been expressed by Lord Palmerston in certain instructions issued under Earl Grey's Government. In 1823 the Netherlands agreed to additional articles, by which vessels which were found equipped in the manner usually adopted for that service were made liable to be detained and sent in for trial. Their equipment was to be considered prima facie evidence, and the onus of proof was thrown on the vessel detained. That authority having been given in 1823, the slave trade under the flag of the Netherlands had been put down before 1830; and between the years 1823 and 1830 the total number of captives had been twenty, of which number thirteen vessels were taken with slaves on board, and seven under the equipment article. The same authority having been given with regard to Spanish vessels in the year 1836, in that year thirty-seven Spanish vessels only had been detained, of which four were released and thirty-three condemned. Of those thirty- 638 three, twenty-four vessels were taken under the equipment articles, and nine only with slaves on board; and therefore with regard to Spanish vessels, the captures of those, which would yield head money was in proportion to those which would yield none, as nine to twenty-three. Even up to the present time the cruisers had no authority to capture vessels under the flag of Portugal until the cargo was on board. In proof of the zeal and activity of their officers he would quote a letter which he had received from Sir Charles Buller, which stated, that his own vessel alone had captured nine vessels on the score of equipment and seven with slaves on board. He begged now only to remind their Lordships of the hardships to which those who were engaged in this service were exposed, from the nature of the climate as well as the service itself; and that very many gallant actions had taken place, the brilliancy of which had rarely been exceeded. In conclusion he would express his surprise and regret, that these documents having been so long on the Table of the House, the noble and learned Lord had not taken more pains in looking into them, before he had come forward and brought such serious charges against gallant men, many of whom had been twenty years in the service.
was not aware of the existence of these returns; he would, however, read them, as he was sure, from the specimen the noble Lord had given of them, they would greatly support his argument. He should refer to them, and take an opportunity before the Session closed to call the attention of the House again to the subject, and of bringing before it information he had received on the subject from persons on the coast of Africa—two of them naval officers. He should probably have an, opportunity of repeating their statements to their Lordships, and of giving their names also; but it should be remembered, that he had only repeated the statements of other persons. He did not think the observations of the noble Lord satisfactory, because he knew very well what the tendency of the head-money was. Head-money caused the cruiser to go out of sight, instead of remaining in the chops of the channel or the bight of the bay, and so far off that the entrance to the port was 639 only to be seen from the mast-head. If the cruiser remained in the fork of the port, the slaves would be relanded, because the slave-ship could not remain there for ever. The statements which he had made were founded on the report of Messrs. Oldfield and Laird, the only survivors of the great African expedition.
The Earl of Minto
was sorry that the noble and gallant Lord had caused the resumption of a discussion on a subject which had been already very fully debated; at the same time, he thought it unfair to make those charges against the navy which had been advanced. There was certainly always some danger connected with the system of rewards, and he did not deny, that head-money or prize-money might operate on some persons, but amongst brave and high-spirited men there was a sense of duty and a desire to rise to an honourable standing in their profession, which would prevail over meaner motives. He had watched the conduct of the cruisers, and in no instance had he found that they had neglected to seize a slave-vessel when they had an opportunity. Mr. Laird, in his communication, stated, that the tendency of the system of the cruisers waiting off the coast, was, to allow the slaves in many instances to escape, and contended that a system of blockade should be adopted. He (Lord Minto) differed from Mr. Laird in this particular, as he considered a blockade impracticable, and even if practicable, that it ought not to be adopted, as it would necessarily cause a tremendous loss of life. Their Lordships could have no idea of the loss of life on the African coast, and he might mention, as an illustration of the dreadful mortality which prevailed, that the loss sustained by a small squadron of eleven vessels, whose crews amounted to 605 persons, was, during the last year, not less than 142 individuals. Of these, five were lieutenants, seven masters and second-masters, eight assistant-surgeons, and five mates. Such was the loss sustained by a small squadron during the last year, notwithstanding all the precautions which were taken to prevent contagion; and if the vessels were stationed in the mouths of the rivers, or even a blockade established, the mortality would inevitably be much greater. He did not know that he was called upon to say more, but he desired that it should be distinctly understood 640 that in no one instance had he been able to trace the influence of head-money, preventing any officer on the African coast from honestly and faithfully discharging his duty. As for the tendency of any circumstance, he must say, that this was not decisive of the question. An arrangement might be such as naturally to seem likely to lead to wrong conduct, and yet might not produce it in honourable minds. Thus the great emoluments and high station of the noble and learned Lord on the woolsack, had a natural tendency to induce other members of the profession of the law not only to aspire at the office of Chancellor, but to attack the Government, in order to turn out the Lord Chancellor and take his place. But it did not by any means follow, that men did attack the Government for this purpose and with this view. The noble and learned Lord had alluded to a former debate, and had spoken as if he had justified some expressions which had been made use of in the other House; but at the time that that debate took place he did not know that the language which the noble and learned Lord complained of had been used, and what he meant to have said was, that it could hardly have been a matter of surprise, after the way in which the noble and learned Lord had spoken of the officers of the navy, if honourable and gallant men expressed themselves with some degree of asperity.
had always maintained that the tendency was quite decisive against the head-money system, on this plain ground, that it was either inoperative, and wholly useless, or, if not inoperative, mischievous. It could only cease to be hurtful by being useless. But he denied that he rested his case upon tendency. He showed, upon the evidence of those who had been on the coast, that cruisers stood out to sea to let the slave-ships load, and to entice them out—that is, to make them fill their holds with wretched creatures, torn by force or kidnapped by fraud from their country, and then to make them, in their escape, fling those poor victims overboard by scores to facilitate their flight from justice. This was his (Lord Brougham's) case. To say that there was only a tendency, was, therefore, a mere shallow pretext. The intention of the head-money was executed, and the tendency produced in the actual 641 event of its natural and evil consequences. He might have relied on the evidence of the travellers whom he had cited, but he disdained to do so when his own mind went along with their statements. He was of the same opinion, and the facts on which that rested were no longer disputed, for the noble Earl (Minto) himself admitted them, and so did the noble Baron (Colchester). But there was one part of the noble Earl's speech (Minto) which he at first was puzzled to comprehend. When he found him so far off from the African coast, as to be hovering about the Woolsack, and descanting upon the emoluments and powers of the Great Seal, he could not for the life of him conceive what the noble Earl was after. At first, he only thought this portion of his speech extremely stupid—(he spoke it with all respect)—very flat and tedious, and insipid, and, at so late an hour, somewhat of the most tiresome—but he soon perceived that it was all the while sarcasm in disguise. We had heard of "war in disguise," and this, it seemed, was "wit in disguise"—so thick a disguise indeed, that he questioned if all their Lordships, for whose behoof it was intended, had as yet pierced through to come at it. He, however, had. It seemed as if the noble Earl should say, to the noble Baron (Colchester), "I have no means of helping you in the way of fact—and as for arguing, I am no great hand at that; but my wit is much at your service; at sarcasm, I am no bad hand—I have never before let this out, but the truth is my talent lies that way, and you shall see how merry, and cutting, and sarcastic a creature I can be to serve you." So then his humour was this—the office of Chancellor is a very tempting prize to play for—great pain—vast rank—immense power—all this has a tendency to make men attack the holder and his colleagues, in order to turn them out—that is to say—for this meaning was quite plain, and here lay the whole sting—"You (Lord Brougham) might naturally be supposed to attack the Government for the sake of turning them out, and clutching the Great Seal—you never tried what it was like before—you must naturally be desirous of rising to the top of your profession, which you have been so long looking up to, and so you attack us in order to reach it." Now, he at once admitted that the temptation of that exalted station was great to honourable minds.—The emoluments of his noble and learned 642 Friend's place were, of course, nothing—they were like the head-money to the cruizers—they cared not a straw about it—in their way it lay, and they took it because they could not help doing so. So his noble and learned Friend did by the salary, which he cared not at all for, only he could not well avoid putting it in his pocket. But to have great power—to possess, like his predecessors, the entire confidence of Parliament and the country—to have not merely high place, but those prerogatives and powers, without which it is not felt as any honour, but rather as a humiliation, by honourable minds—to carry all the measures of reform, in Church and State, which he desired—to bring in important bills for amending the law—and above all, for improving the Court he presided over, and have them carried and not rejected by majorities of 96 to 36—to leave the jurisprudence of the realm universally improved, and all men the better for his having been in office—to illustrate his own name in the eyes of future ages by the great measures which he had instituted of wise, enlightened, and enlarged policy, measures which the confidence of Parliament and the country had enabled him to carry—these, he confessed, were attributes of his noble and learned Friend's high office, which any man of a generous ambition might well envy, and to these contemplations, he did not deny that his mind was accessible. But great wits are said to have short memories, and very great wits, like the noble Earl, have surely the shortest memories of all; else, how came the noble Earl to forget that if his attacks should turn out the Government, not he, but his noble and learned Friend not present (Lord Lyndhurst) would take the Woolsack. That was quite clear; and why the powers and profits of the Great Seal should tempt him to turn out his noble and learned and much-esteemed friend (Lord Cottenham) for the purpose of planting his other noble Friend (Lord Lyndhurst) on the Woolsack, the noble Earl had been too light and volatile in his frolicsome humour to think of explaining. He had never before done anything to make the noble Lord now absent (Lord Lyndhurst) Chancellor. He had certainly never recommended him in any way to that high office. But he as certainly had recommended, and effectually recommended, the other noble Lord (Lord Cottenham) to the office, and he verily be- 643 lieved he had never rendered a better service to the suitors of the Court where he presided, than by this proceeding, for he conceived that his noble and learned Friend made an excellent Judge in Equity, and gave general satisfaction. Why, then, should he, having set up the nine-pin, be so anxious to knock it down again? All this the noble Earl passed over, in the wit of the lightsome and merry mood he was in. Possibly, indeed, the noble Earl was not in the secret. But this was not the noble Earl's only omission as to facts—and facts which he must be aware of—though the noble Earl might not be acquainted with the one he had just adverted to. If his quarrel with the Government had anything at all to do with the Great Seal, why did he not oppose them in 1835, when the Ministry was formed? Why not in 1836, when the Seal was given to its present holder? Why not in 1837? These were known facts and dates, which there was no getting over—and the retail dealers in falsehood, who defended the Government through the press, wilfully shut their eyes to these well-known things. But, till this evening, he had never known any Minister who deemed it becoming or discreet to take the same line. Yet, surely the noble Earl must know that the quarrel, if quarrel there had been, on account of office, and the Great Seal, was complete in May, 1835; and yet, how had he (Lord Brougham) acted? If his opposition to the Government had any connexion whatever with his not being Chancellor, how did it happen that in the whole Session of 1835 he had stood by the Government, helping them at every turn—lifting them whenever he could out of the mire—keeping their heads above water to the best of his small means—saving, as far as his utmost exertions could, their existence for some months, during which they were fluttering between life and death—defending them at a moment when the least attack must have tumbled them down from their slippery position? Had he not, at the end of a laborious Session of judicial business, in which he had presided voluntarily in the House, notoriously sacrificed his own health by undertaking the defence of the Government, during the laborious month's combat on the English Municipal Bill? Had he not fought that bill through all its stages, for and with the Government, whose whole existence depended upon the 644 measure? Then, in 1836, though absent at first for three months through illness, brought on by his support of the Government the autumn before, yet for the last two months of the Session, he (Lord Brougham) was quite recovered, and announced to the Government his ability to attend Parliament, but he did not—and why? Because on two important Reform questions, he was compelled to differ from the Ministry—and he was informed by them that his opposition might be fatal as they were then circumstanced. All this was probably new to the noble Earl. The noble Earl was not in the secret. His colleagues told him what they liked about navy matters, and gave him their opinion about Quadruple Treaties, setting him down somewhat bluntly and unceremoniously—but this, which happened in 1836, they had not told the noble Earl; yet, certain it was, that he (Lord Brougham) at their desire had kept away, in order to keep them in their places. And yet the noble Earl, not being in the secret, supposed, with some of the Government newspapers, that his (Lord Brougham's) not being in office was the cause of his differing with the Ministers, and made him wish to turn them out, in order that he might again seize the Great Seal. Those newspaper authorities, however, from which the noble Earl took his facts should have known, and so should the noble Earl, that his (Lord Brougham's) opposition, even in 1837, was confined to entering a reluctant protest against the Canada Bill, which had produced a civil war, and that in all other measures he had during that Session supported the Ministry. His opposition only began, as every man in the country knew, and as these slanderous assailants alone wilfully forgot, when in November last the Government took a new line against Reform of Parliament, and other Reforms; and when on that and on their extravagant Civil List, and their Canada Bills, and the Slave Question, they had compelled him to oppose them, if he (Lord Brougham) did not mean to abandon all his most sacred and most constantly avowed principles and feelings upon the whole policy of the State. These things were quite notorious—they were facts, and at once dispelled the charges made by wilful fabricators out of doors, and at length with an indiscretion to which great wits, like the noble Earl, are too subject, brought forward by a Cabinet Minister in that House.
defended the officers of the navy, and said, that the suppression of slavers on the African coast was one of the most disgusting services in which they could be engaged. He had heard with great satisfaction what the noble Earl had said in regard to the conduct of the officers of the navy employed in that service, as he did not think the noble Earl had said so much as he ought to have done on a former occasion. In regard to the mortality to which the noble Earl had alluded, he hoped their Lordships would see from the facts that had been stated, how impossible it was for the cruizers to adopt a system of blockade, or to enter the mouths of the rivers, without hazarding in a tenfold degree the lives of their crews. It was only fair, that the noble and learned Lord, before he alluded to subjects on which he expressed himself so strongly, should be better informed on them; for he had certainly shown a want of professional knowledge in these discussions, by which he had been led away, and had thrown out against the characters of officers aspersions that were not deserved. The noble and learned Lord might be assured, that many of those atrocities had arisen out of well-intentioned, but too hasty and precipitate measures, of which the noble and learned Lord had been the most zealous advocate. In his opinion, emancipation had been granted too hastily, and if we had waited longer, the other powers of Europe might have joined with us, and thereby have prevented much of the abuse that had taken place.