§ Lord Lyndhurst
was anxious to call the attention of the noble Earl at the head of the Admiralty to a circumstance which had already been several times mentioned, but upon which it was nevertheless of great importance to have some more precise information. He hoped their Lordships would not consider him too persevering in again calling the attention of the noble Earl (Minto) to the insult offered to the British flag in the Gulf of Mexico. He was induced to return to the subject at the present moment, because it appeared, that the commander of the French corvette, the Creole, had been for several clays in Paris—affording, of course, sufficient opportunities to the English Government of obtaining the proper explanations upon this important subject. He was further induced to call the attention of the noble Earl to the subject, in consequence of certain extraordinary statements and observations made with respect to it in the newspapers of France; and further, because, in consequence of the arrival of Lieutenant Croke in this country, the noble Earl must have had ample opportunities afforded to him of obtaining all necessary information upon the subject. It was of the utmost importance to the honour of this country, that every particular relating to the transaction should be clearly and distinctly known. He assured the noble Earl, that whatever feeling he might entertain upon the subject, the transaction had created a great sensation in the minds of the officers of the navy, and made a deep impression upon the mind of the country. And no wonder; because he thought he might venture to state, that it was the first instance of an insult of this description committed upon a vessel forming part of the navy of Great Britain. Merchant vessels had been sometimes seized, but their liberation being peremptorily demanded had been promptly granted. This, however, was a transaction of a widely different character. The vessel in question was an armed ship—a ship of war forming part of the navy of Great Britain. She was commanded by an officer bearing her Majesty's commission, and wearing the naval uniform. He had the British ensign and pennant at her mast head; she was brought to by a shot from a French sloop of war; she was boarded; the pilot was taken out of her, in spite of the remonstrances and earnest expostulations of 133 the officer who commanded her. Those were the facts as they appeared upon the information just received from the report. The British vessel having many passengers on board, and being in a sea difficult of navigation, was placed in danger by this atrocious act. The pilot was taken forcibly on board the French fleet, and compelled to pilot the fleet against his own countrymen. He had come on board the English vessel under the protection of the British flag, confidently looking upon it, from our past history, as a sufficient protection. It turned out, however, that in this instance it afforded no protection. A more grave, a more serious insult and outrage never was committed towards this country. What was the explanation? It was intimated by the noble Earl (Earl Minto), on a former night, that the whole transaction was to be ascribed to the inexperience of the young officer who commanded the Creole. The French newspapers ascribed it to the impetuosity and daring of that young officer. He (Lord Lyndhurst) trusted, that we had not yet sunk so low, in spite of the system under which we had some time lived, as to suffer the hitherto unsullied purity of the English flag to be stained by any impetuosity or daring of this character. But he had every reason to believe, from all the information he had received upon this subject, that this was not a true statement of the case—that it was not the unauthorised act of the individual to whom he had referred; but that it was the act of the admiral of the French fleet, and he would tell their Lordships why. When the English vessel passed the French corvette, friendly salutes passed between them, and not the slightest intention was manifested of interrupting her course. But immediately afterwards signals were seen flying on board the French admiral, and then it was, the first shot was fired, and the subsequent outrage committed. He (Lord Lyndhurst) was satisfied, that these facts were true—that the insult was offered not by an unauthorised act on the part of the young commander of the corvette, but under the direction of the French admiral himself. But even if the fact were not so, the French admiral was in sight—the act was committed in his presence—he must have heard the shot fired—must have seen the whole transaction. What course did he pursue? He availed himself of the services of the pilot—he did not restore 134 him to the commander of the Express; therefore he adopted the act of his subordinate and was responsible for it. It was said, that there had been an apology. He must call their Lordships' attention to the statement made with respect to that circumstance. The captain of the British vessel remained on the station for some time after the transaction—was any apology made to him? He wished to ask whether any apology was made to the captain who was the victim of this insult and outrage? Was the pilot restored to him? Nothing of the kind. It was not till after the interval of more than a month—it was not till the 31st of December—the transaction having taken place in November—that the French admiral, upon the arrival of Commodore Douglas at the head of a squadron, thought it for the first time necessary to offer some apology for this insult and outrage. But the French admiral had committed the insult—had derived all the advantage he could obtain from it—had made use of the pilot—had not thought fit to restore him; and were we—was England, under such circumstances, to be satisfied with a few words of apology from Admiral Baudin to Commodore Douglas? The noble Earl (the Earl of Minto) said, he did not know whether the apology was given in words or in writing. No doubt it was given in words—no doubt it was a mere verbal apology; for had it been given in writing, Commodore Douglas would, unquestionably, have felt it to be his duty to transmit it at once to the Government at home. But in whatever form it was given, was an apology from the French admiral to Commodore Douglas sufficient to satisfy the English Government for so grave an insult? The French government was responsible for the acts of its officers. The noble Earl said, that Lord Palmerston had made representations to the French Government upon the subject. He entertained too high an opinion of the distinguished peer at the head of the foreign department in France—too high an opinion of his love of justice—too high an opinion of his loyeauté (if he might use a French expression) to entertain a doubt, if proper representations were made, that proper and satisfactory explanations would be made by the French Government. But to what was the whole of this unfortunate affair to be ascribed? Entirely to the want of attention paid to the 135 counsel of the noble Duke (the Duke of Wellington) last Session. As far back as the last Session the noble Duke complained, that there was not even a cock-boat in the Gulf of Mexico to protect British interests. Nearly six months afterwards, for the first time, a British squadron appeared in those seas. He would undertake to say, that if a squadron of the smallest kind had been there in November, the French admiral would never have dared to commit this insult on the flag of England. He owned, that he felt deeply on this subject; and he should be ashamed to meet an Englishman in the streets of Paris if he had not mentioned it in his place in that House. He requested, therefore, that the noble Earl (Earl Minto) would state to the House whether he would communicate the information he had no doubt derived from Lieutenant Croke of the whole particulars of the transaction—whether he would produce the log-book of the Express—and whether any satisfactory explanation had been received from the French government.
The Earl of Minto
certainly could not help wishing, that the noble and learned Lord had postponed his motion; and still more, that he had postponed the observations with which he had accompanied it, and the conclusion to which he had come, for a very few days; because he thought it probable, that by that time he should be in possession of information which he had not yet received, and which would enable him to give a more satisfactory answer to the questions of the noble and learned Lord. He stated before, that it was perfectly true, that a pilot had been taken by force, and against the consent of the commander, from one of her Majesty's ships; he stated, that that was upon the face of it, an offence for which it was necessary to require some distinct and satisfactory explanation. He was not in possession of any of the particulars of the case, except the mere fact of the pilot having been so taken. That fact had been reported by the commander of the Express. It was not reported, at first to the Admiralty, but to the consul at Vera Cruz, and probably, from some misapprehension on the part of the lieutenant, not an intentional error, it was not reported to his superior officer in the fleet; consequently no account had been received through him. A very short and very confused account had, however, reached him (Lord Minto) from the commander of the packet, lieute- 136 nant Croke; and upon the receipt of the account he had written to Lieutenant Croke, desiring him to furnish a more distinct and more detailed account of all that had occurred, both as regarded the conduct of the French officer and the steps that he himself had taken. That information had not yet been received. It was impossible, however, that it could take long to prepare; and, therefore, in all probability, he should be in possession of it in the course of a few days. [Lord Lyndhurst: But where is the log? Is there no log?] He had not seen the log; but he had seen what he supposed the noble Lord alluded to—the journal where the circumstance was mentioned, reference for the particulars of the transaction being made to the letter which he (Lord Minto) had already informed their Lordships was communicated through the British Consul at Vera Cruz to the Government at home. He had, therefore, information enough to enable him to say, that it was true, that the pilot had been taken out of the vessel in the manner described by the noble and learned Lord, but he was not yet in possession of an account of all the circumstances which might have led to the proceeding; neither did he know whether it was such as it was not possible to justify. He had received one letter from Commodore Douglas not describing the circumstance at all. He should have no objection to the production of that letter, of which he would now read an extract:—"I have also had a satisfactory explanation from the rear-admiral on the subject of the pilot taken out of the Express packet, which was entirely a mistake on the part of his royal highness, the Prince de Joinville, and the French admiral has informed his government of the circumstance." Now, whether it were a mistake of his royal highness, the Prince de Joinville, or a mistake of Admiral Baudin himself, or a mistake common to them both, it was impossible for him (Lord Minto), with the information he at present possessed, to say. But this he was sure of, that the British Admiral being there with a superior force would not have been satisfied with any apology which did not convince him, that no intentional insult was offered to the British flag. He (Lord Minto) must observe, that an insult consisted more in the intention than in the act itself. If in the present instance it should appear, that it arose from an error—if any communication should reach the British Government, that it was not an intentional 137 insult, the question would stand in a very different shape from that in which the noble and learned Lord desired to place it. A communication was made upon the subject at the earliest moment, by the noble Lord at the head of the Foreign Department, to the government of France, stating exactly what their Lordships had heard. Count Molé replied that he had no knowledge whatever of the circumstance except through the newspapers; but that he extremely regretted it. Since that time the Prince de Joinville had arrived in Paris, and it was more than probable that by this time Count Molé might be in possession of letters from Admiral Baudin explanatory of the whole transaction. For these reasons he thought it would have been most desirable that nothing more should have been said upon this subject until they had heard from the French government what explanation Admiral Baudin gave of the affair, and were enabled to judge how far that explanation was likely to be satisfactory to England. He should state, that he knew nothing whatever of this subject officially, though in common with their Lordships many versions of the transaction had reached him from various non-official sources. But he had understood, and he believed it to be true—although he was not able to state positively that such was the fact—that the explanation given by the officer on board the corvette (perhaps he ought not to allude to it), but he understood that the explanation was likely to be this—that there were a number of vessels coming out of Vera Cruz at the same time with the Express—that a signal was made by the French admiral to take the pilots out of those vessels—that the Prince de Joinville, being nearest to the British ship, boarded her and took the pilot—that the signals were made, and the orders for boarding given, in entire ignorance that this was a British vessel, and that the French admiral, having ascertained that she was a British vessel, expressed his regret to Commodore Douglas in a manner that convinced that officer that no intentional insult had been committed upon the English flag. After a representation had been made to the French government upon the subject, surely it was only decent to wait until the administration of that country were in possession of all the information that could be obtained in reference to it, before noble Lords proceeded to impute motives either to individuals or to the Government which probably had no founda- 138 tion in fact. The British Government at this moment were not in possession of any authentic account of what passed between Admiral Baudin and Commodore Douglas. Therefore he did not think that they were as yet in a condition to press the French government upon the subject. He expected to receive further dispatches from Commodore Douglas in the course of a very short time. When he said this, he must observe further that he thought it extremely improbable that Admiral Baudin would have committed or contemplated any deliberate insult upon the British flag. He was led to this conclusion from the whole of Admiral Baudin's conduct since he had been lying before Vera Cruz. The utmost good feeling had existed and been manifested by both sides between the services of the two countries. This was strongly illustrated in a letter he had received from the captain of the Edinburgh, from which, with their Lordships' permission he would read a short extract. The noble Earl then read a passage of the letter, which was to this effect:—That the Edinburgh, in going to take up her position was unlucky enough to touch the ground; that she was got off without much difficulty, but still remained in a situation of some little danger, from which she was relieved by a French steamer who took her in tow, and thereby enabled her to reach her berth. It stated further, that nothing could exceed the attention of the French admiral, who had stationed boats with buoys, and taken other precautions to direct the British ships to safe anchorages. No man would go further than he would in exacting a full and proper apology for an offence when he was once satisfied that it was committed; but he would not go out of his way to pick a quarrel with the French. He did not approve of the impatience which prevented us from ascertaining both what actually occurred from our own officer, and what course it was likely that the French government would take on the subject. He was sure that nothing could be more inconsistent with the feeling of the greater portion of their Lordships than to pursue this question in a tone of anger and provocation. He thought it much better to trust to her Majesty's Government for the vindication of the honour of the country; and if they failed in doing so, it would then be time enough to call for full explanation, and for all the correspondence which had taken place on the subject. He wished to set a noble Lord opposite right on one point, 139 and to state that there had been throughout the whole summer cruisers, in the Gulf of Mexico for the protection of British interests and trade, without any view of interfering with the steps the French government were justified in taking.
quite agreed with the noble Earl who had just sat down, that nothing could be more dreadful than that he should hastily be induced to pick a quarrel with the Government, or do anything to interrupt the pacific relations of this country and France. He believed, that his noble and learned Friend opposite, from his good feeling to the Government of France, would be the last man in either House of Parliament to wish for such a thing, and would be the first to lament that any proceeding of his should occasion it. He (Lord Brougham) was also one of the last men who would wish to cause or to see our pacific relations with the Government of France interrupted. However, the subject had been broached, and it would not tend to avoid that, or to get over the difficulty, to attempt to hush it up, or to pass the affair over without some explanation. He did not think that a very brilliant exposition had been given by the noble Earl who had just sat down, but this he should wish to know, how long it was since Lieutenant Croke had arrived in this country? If he had been here only a few days, and was in a distant part of the country, that might have occasioned some delay.—[Lord Minto: He has been here for more than a month.] That was very odd, and was very much calculated to make him think that a sufficient explanation was not likely to be given. He did not think, that peace was likely to be preserved by the doctrine of his noble Friend. When an outrage was committed, the offence arising from that was not to depend upon the intention. He understood this was a very small vessel—a mere cutter, or packet, or 10-gun brig.—[Lord Hardwicke: Four guns.] Four guns; and therefore there was no dishonour in her yielding to the superior force that was opposed to her. But he must say, that if one man insulted another, and then said it was not his intention to insult, that would be a very unsatisfactory apology, unless indeed it happened to be an act of an equivocal nature—and when everything depended on the intention. He was sorry also to say, that he did not observe anything satisfactory in 140 the statement of the noble Earl, that upon another occasion, and in perfectly different circumstances, when one of our ships was in distress, a French steam-boat assisted her. No doubt, that boat would have helped any ship in such circumstances, even if that ship had insulted it the day before. The mere act of assisting a ship which was in difficulty, did not appear to him to be of great importance. He had no manner of doubt, anti he agreed with his noble Friend here, that if a proper representation had been made to the Court of the Tuilleries, from all he knew of Count Mole, and above all from the high character of Louis Philippe, he had no doubt whatever, that as that Royal Prince would be the last to suffer any insult to be offered to his own flag, he would be the last to allow an insult to be offered to another. He was quite sure, that that Royal Prince, from his strict and high sense of honour and justice, would be the first to give ample reparation for any injury that might be sustained.
could not help regreting, for the honour of the British flag, Coat this humiliating transaction had been allowed to remain in the state in which it had, for so long a period, but he rejoiced to think, from the noble Earl's statement, that in the course of a few days now, we might expect some satisfaction. Concurring with the two noble and learned Lords who had already spoken, as to the certainty that the French government would not be disposed to uphold any improper interference on the part of an officer of theirs, but, on the contrary, would be ready to make every reasonable apology, he still thought, that in order to obtain that, it would have been better if we had proceeded earlier. The packet had arrived in this country about a month ago. The lieutenant must have kept a journal, and in the course of forty eight-hours that journal must have been received at the Admiralty. The moment it was seen that such a transaction had taken place, if it had been obscurely detailed in that journal, it was the duty of the Admiralty, without delay, to have called upon the commander of the vessel for a fuller account, and which account would have been given. So far from that having been the case, he understood that that explanation from the lieutenant was not required until within the last few days.
The Earl of Minto
said, that on refer; ring to the journal, as he had said, it was very concise; but he had stated, also, that 141 the journal referred to a letter dated from Vera Cruz, which letter was, about the same day, transmitted to the Admiralty, and which was the foundation of the application to her Majesty's Government desiring that some steps should be taken on the subject. But what he was anxious to have understood was, that he had been in possession, from the first moment, of the fact that a pilot was taken out of the packet, and of the manner in which he was taken, but that he had learnt at the same time from Commodore Douglas that an apology had been made by the Admiral. He had desired Lieutenant Croke to give a more full and detailed account of his own conduct.
said, that all the information that could be obtained from Lieutenant Croke, might and ought to have been obtained from him within a day or two after his arrival in this country. But they were told an application to the French government had been made, because Admiral Baudin was supposed to have made some apology to Commodore Douglas, who arrived on the station some weeks after the packet had left it. The packet was an independent vessel, pursuing its own course, under the orders of the Admiralty; and it was the duty of the Foreign Office to have made an immediate representation to the Government of the transaction, independent of any apology or supposed apology, on the part of the Admiral. It was impossible that a foreign man-of-war should make an attack on a British man-of-war, and take from on board of her one of her crew, or her pilot. At least they had no right to do so, and such an affair was unparalleled. As to this being a small vessel, he wanted to know what right the French man-of-war had to take from on board of her a pilot? If she was a merchantman, and they had seized the ship, that would have been intelligible; but that they should attack the ship, take from on board of her a pilot, and allow her to go away, was conduct perfectly unheard of. He could not but think that, if the whole case had been sifted to the bottom, as it should immediately have been, and that, too, totally independent of any communication between the Admiral and the Commodore, with whom we had nothing to do; and if a proper representation, made to the government of France, a proper apology would have been offered, and the British Parliament and the British people would have been saved a great deal of 142 unpleasant feelings animadversion, and humiliation, which they ought not to have been subjected to. He did hope that, in the course of a few days, such a representation would be received from the French government, as, when it was published, would satisfy the country.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, that as the noble Earl opposite had stated that there were Cruisers all the summer in the Gulf of Mexico, he wished to ask, whether there were, in reality, any assistance ready to be afforded by her Majesty's fleet to carry off her Majesty's subjects, or their property, from Vera Cruz, at the period at which the attack was made upon San Juan de Ulloa by the French squadron? or at the subsequent period, when the attack was made by the same squadron on Vera Cruz?
The Earl of Minto
said, there were letters at the Admiralty from the officer in command before Vera Cruz at the period of the attack, which stated, that he had given what assistance was required in removing British, French, and other subjects froth Vera Cruz; in short, all those with wished to be removed, and of whom a great number, in particular of French, were removed. He did not understand there were a great many English who thought it necessary to call for assistance, bit all who did, received it; and, at that time, there was a sloop of war before the town, under the command of one of the most distinguished officers in the service.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, that he had not asked the question which hid been answered by the noble Earl. The question he asked was, whether previous to or during the attack by the French squadron upon San Juan de Ulloa, or subsequently, and whether previous, or during, or subsequent to the attack by the same squadron upon Vera Cruz, her Majesty's fleet gave any assistance to her Majesty's subjects residing in Vera Cruz, to enable them to save themselves and their property from the attack?
The Earl of Minto
certainly meant, by what he said, to convey to the noble Duke the information, that there was a very distinguished officer in command there, he meant Captain Robb, of the Satellite, both during the attack, subsequent to the attack, and previous to the attack upon the castle.
§ The Marquess of Lansdowne
could add nothing to the mot satisfactory answer which fortunately his noble Friend was 143 able to give to the noble Duke's question—namely, that the assistance to which the noble Duke referred was rendered at the time when it was wanted, and in the manner which was thought most satisfactory to such English parties as were concerned. Therefore no detriment could be alleged to have taken place from any omission of the Admiralty, or of her Majesty's Government. He repeated, that he could add nothing to that answer which the noble Duke must feel was most distinctly made. But he could not allow this conversation to pass, after the speech of the noble Viscount who immediately preceded the noble Duke, and who had presided for a considerable time over the Admiralty, without adverting to the general topic of that conversation, if it was to be so called. He entirely agreed with the noble and learned Lord (Lord Brougham) when he said, that we should not be satisfied with a mere belief as to good intentions (however we might entertain that belief), where an insult was offered to the British flag, without obtaining satisfaction and explanation in that particular case; but the difficulty here was, that at the moment at which the noble and learned Lord had chosen to bring forward this question, it was not possible to give an explanation, because the particular apology which had been afforded was not yet fully described to the Government, and the French Government had not yet been apprised (as they must be to enable them to give an answer) of the particulars by their own officers and authorities. The noble Viscount had fairly admitted, that no time was lost in obtaining communications from the Foreign-office on this subject. And what was the result of those communications? That a representation of the circumstances of this case had been made by Lord Granville to Count Mole, the distinguished person to whom the noble and learned Lord (Lord Lyndhurst) had referred in terms of eulogy, which that distinguished person well deserved; and he must add (from long and early acquaintance) that he knew no person on whose personal honour in any transaction more perfect reliance might be placed. Having that feeling in common with the noble and learned Lord as to the personal character of Count Mole, what did they learn to be his answer to Lord Granville? Why, that if any insult had been offered, there would be every disposition to explain and repair it; but that up to that moment they had received no information on the subject from Admiral 144 Baudin. This occurred only a few days ago. He would ask the noble and learned Lord, then, entertaining the opinion of that individual which he professed, whether it would become Lord Granville to meet his distinct declaration with an expression of disbelief, or, whether, it having been so made, he could possibly call on the French government to tender immediate reparation for, and to give explanation of, a transaction of which they had no knowledge whatever, or of the circumstances under which it occurred. All that Lord Granville could do he had done. He had expressed a desire for explanation; and he confirmed the belief expressed by the noble and learned Lord, which was founded on all the transactions of the French government, on the character of the Monarch, on the character of his minister, and on those relations between nation and nation which have now subsisted for several years—that no little unfortunate incident, however pertinaciously magnified, and dwelt upon for a few days in this or the other House of Parliament, would have the disastrous effect of disturbing that which, in common with their Lordships, he was most anxious should remain intact—that perfect understanding between the two governments which though it could not prevent mistakes and occasional differences, ensured that when they did arise an explanation of them would be freely and frankly given on the one side, and cordially and generously received on the other. All that the government knew up to that moment was, that Commodore Douglas received an explanation which he deemed satisfactory, and they had no right to presume, à priori, as the noble and learned Lord (Lyndhurst) seemed to do, that it was unsatisfactory. They were undoubtedly, in a situation which called for further inquiry, and all he asked was, that the French government should be allowed time to communicate with its officers.
§ Lord Colchester
said, if it were true that an English man-of-war was on the station, the captain of the packet ought at once to have communicated to his superior commander the particulars of the insult which he had received.
The Earl of Minto
That, no doubt, was the course which would have been adopted, if these packets were not placed under the diplomatic authorities on shore.
§ Lord Lyndhurst
trusted, that as the commanding officer of the French corvette was now in Paris, that Government would 145 not lose as much time in gaining accurate information on the subject as ours had.
§ Subject dropped.
§ The House then adjourned.