HL Deb 24 June 1845 vol 81 cc1108-15
The Marquess of Breadalbane

brought forward the Motion of which he had given notice, respecting religious persecution in the island of Madeira. It appeared that a medical gentleman, long resident there, a Dr. Callé, a Scotchman and a Presbyterian, had been, although a man of very moderate views, subjected to persecution by the authorities in that island, on account of his religious opinions, and for having acted in accordance with his religious belief. Now, by the Constitution, the constitutional law of Portugal, secured by Treaty, toleration was permitted to strangers, so long as the Roman Catholic religion was respected. By the Treaty of 1842, concluded between Her Most Faithful Majesty and the Queen of Great Britain, the free exercise of religion was guaranteed to all British subjects residing within the dominions of the former. Dr. Callé was in the habit of having divine service at his house, where many parties who entertained the same belief usually attended. The first aggression against Dr. Callé consisted in his receiving a command from the civil Governor of Madeira, dated 16th March, 1843, to abstain from having any meeting of Portuguese subjects in his house, and from speaking to them on religious concerns, either in his house or out of it. Dr. Callé asked the Governor by what authority he gave him this order; but received no answer, except by a proclamation being published, threatening him as a disturber of the public peace, as well as all who went to his house. Police officers were appointed to attend at the doors of his dwelling-house to insult his friends as they went out; and he was himself most grossly insulted, and threatened with being stoned in the streets. Dr. Callé, notwithstanding, continued the meetings at his house; but the police officers, in the presence of many British subjects who witnessed their proceedings, prevented patients and persons who came to him for medicine from entering his house. He was cited before the assistant British Judge Poello, who, on the 23rd March, 1843, pronounced the charges of heresy and profanity brought against him to be invalid, regard being had to the Treaty of 1842, and that other means than legal proceedings must be resorted to in order to induce him to desist. On the 5th July, this decision was allowed by the Juiz Ordinario Machado; but on the 11th July, he pronounced Dr. Callé guilty of heresy and blasphemy, according to the old Portuguese laws of 1646 and 1769, made in the days of the Inquisition. The British Consul in the island of Madeira being appealed to, answered that the law must have its course, showing thereby, as he (the Marquess of Breadalbane) could not help thinking, a blameable indifference to gross injustice and persecution exercised upon a British subject, who had been guilty of no violation of the law. Dr. Callé appealed without success—first, to the Judge of Rights and British Conservator, then to the superior courts of Lisbon, and was for five months confined as a criminal. He was ultimately liberated, but the system of annoyance against himself and his friends was continued; and last year a woman, who was the mother of seven children, was sentenced to death for adopting Protestant opinions, and twenty-one inhabitants of the island were seized and their houses pillaged. He need not dwell on the great importance of preserving religious liberty in an island to which so many British subjects resorted for the purpose of health, commerce, or amusement. The Treaty secured to British subjects the liberty of celebrating Protestant worship in their own houses; and was it to be said that it was a crime in the British subject if Portuguese subjects entered his house and listened to it? The noble Marquess then referred to, and quoted from the Memorial of the British residents of Madeira, addressed to the Earl of Aberdeen, in which the question was fully set forth. He asked what object the Treaty was to serve, if it was not to guarantee the right of Protestant subjects of Britain, resident in the dominions of Portugal, to worship in their own dwelling houses? He should like to hear from his noble Friend what exposition he gave to the provisions of the Treaty, what rights of toleration or liberty of conscience British subjects possessed in the island of Madeira, after this gross infringement of them, and what course he meant to take as to those proceedings of the Portuguese Government against a British subject?

The Earl of Aberdeen

said, he would endeavour to give his noble Friend a very short answer to the long Address he had made to their Lordships upon the subject; for although his noble Friend had read the Article of the Treaty with Portugal twice, he would have done well to have read it once more, in order to have understood it thoroughly. Clearly the object of the Article in the Portuguese Treaty was, that it should be protective of the rights of British subjects in the exercise of their religion; it was not aggressive, and gave them no facilities for proselytising the Catholic subjects of Portugal. Dr. Callé was a gentleman who belonged to what was called the Free Church of Scotland, and possibly that gentleman's notion of what might be called a moderate performance of ministerial duties, somewhat exceeded that which their Lordships would consider to be a moderate exercise of that function; and certainly in performing his ministrations in that island, he strongly suspected, from what he had seen respecting the language and missionary proceedings of his fellow labourers in this country, that his language was not always respectful towards the Roman Catholic religion. He had yet to learn that the Government of Portugal was, by the toleration offered to British subjects in the Portuguese dominions, bound to permit either an injurious attack on the religion of the State, or the proselytising of Her subjects. If Dr. Callé wished to preach to his Protestant countrymen of any denomination, there would not be the least difficulty or objection to his doing so. But that gentleman had opened an hospital—being, he had no doubt, a very benevolent man, and he supposed also wealthy, for he practised gratuitously—at least as far as the reception of Portuguese patients; and in religious matters also, not content with preaching to his own countrymen, he preached in the Portuguese language, thereby showing, however much the natives of Madeira might profit by those predications, that certainly his own countrymen would not be much the better for them. Dr. Callé was very zealous, and very successful too; for he had succeeded in converting very considerable numbers of the inhabitants of Madeira, and it became an object with the Portuguese Government to put a stop to those proceedings, from interfering with which he must maintain that the Treaty did not in the slightest degree prevent them. Although his noble Friend had read the Article of the last Treaty, which he would not repeat, yet he thought it would throw some light on the subject, if he were to read a few words of the preceding Treaty of 1810, which was conceived exactly in the same spirit, although more plainly expressed as to what was the real object and meaning of the privileges mutually granted. By this it was stipulated that— British subjects resident in the Portuguese dominions shall not be disturbed, troubled, prosecuted, or annoyed on account of their religion; but shall have perfect liberty of conscience therein, and leave to attend and celebrate divine service, either in their own private houses, or in their own particular churches and chapels, provided they were built in such a manner as externally to resemble the private dwellings; and also that the use of bells was not permitted therein. The same provision was contained in the Treaty of 1842, but in language clearly showing that it was only a permission for the free exercise of their religion. That condition existed, and had never been interfered with; and there was not the least attempt on the part of the Portuguese Government to interfere with the free exercise of the Protestant worship among Protestants. The question of proselytising was quite another matter; it was quite a distinct question, whether British subjects were injured by being precluded from interfering with the religious opinions of their neighbours. He could not maintain any opinion of that sort. At all events, in a matter of this description, the principle of reciprocity might fairly be required. Their Lordships might recollect that it was only last year we had repealed a number of barbarous, absurd, and arbitrary Statutes still in force against the Roman Catholics in this country. He happened that morning to have been looking over the First Report of Her Majesty's Commissioners on the state of the Criminal Law, and he saw there a recommendation which applied perfectly to the case of Dr. Callé, and his efforts for conversion. They said— With respect to the provision of the Irish Act, 2 Queen Anne, c. 6, above set forth, making it penal to convert Protestants to the Roman Catholic religion, we are of opinion that it ought to be repealed, as the belief of Protestants in the truth of their religion does not require to be upheld by such a penal enactment, and also by the penalties of prœmunire" He thought a Portuguese subject, seeing this Act on the Statute Book, would have as good a claim to require reciprocity from us by its repeal, as his noble Friend thought he had a right to claim the freedom required for Dr. Callé. His noble Friend had mentioned—he must say not quite candidly—the case of one of Dr. Callé's votaries, who was condemned to death for blasphemy and heresy, leaving their Lordships to understand that this poor woman was in danger of being put to death, if not actually executed. He thought their Lordships would be surprised to learn that the penalty this person had undergone was a fine of 30s. and three months' imprisonment—[The Marquess of Breadalbane: Fifteen months.] She only suffered three months' imprisonment. Even that might be too severe a penalty; but his noble Friend should have explained what was the real penalty incurred. He could assure their Lordships that capital punishments were as little inflicted for such offences in Portugal as in England. No person had been put to death in Portugal on religions grounds—certainly not for a century; and the Inquisition, from the time of Pombal, had had no existence. With respect to this case, the person in question was a Portuguese subject; but although she was not a subject of England, when he (the Earl of Aberdeen) had heard of it, he wrote to Her Majesty's Minister at Lisbon to take all the means in his power to represent unofficially, but earnestly, to the Portuguese Government, the horrible consequences of any such sentence being inflicted for the offence alleged; but he had received the explanation he had already given to the House. As far as the privileges of British subjects under the Treaty were concerned, they were intact, and their Lordships might depend upon it, would be asserted and maintained; but there was not the least reason to suppose that the Portuguese Government intended interfering with them. With respect to another part of this case, he admitted that though Dr. Callé might be subject to Portuguese law, they were bound to proceed against him according to law; and no doubt the early proceedings in his case were arbitrary, contrary to law; and pronounced by the superior tribunals of Lisbon to be so. So far there was a case for redress, and he would explain to their Lordships what redress had been obtained. In consequence of those irregular proceedings of the authorities of Madeira, he did think it proper to make an estimate of the losses Dr. Callé might probably have sustained, from the want of his professional employment during the time of his confinement, when bail was refused by the Judges, and also from the inconvenience he had sustained in such imprisonment, though he had suffered no further hardship than the mere confinement; for his treatment was I admitted by himself to have been most kind and humane. Accordingly, after some consideration, a definite sum was fixed upon to demand from the Portuguese Government, and the amount proposed was assented to by them. Before payment of the sum could be made, Dr. Callé arrived in Lisbon; and finding, when there, that although these irregularities had been committed, yet, in reality, he had no case against a new prosecution, and wishing to return to Madeira, he proposed to Her Majesty's Minister to compromise the affair with the Portuguese Government, and to give up all demand for any compensation, if they would permit him to return to Madeira and resume his residence there; giving also a pledge that he would abstain from his system of preaching and proselytising, which had drawn down upon him the visitation of the authorities. The British Minister at Lisbon communicated that proposal to him, and he (the Earl of Aberdeen) thought the sooner the matter was arranged the better; and he therefore authorized the Minister at Lisbon to agree to it. Dr. Callé had returned to Madeira, he hoped not to resume his practice of preaching in the Portuguese language; but he dared to say that he would be very useful in the exercise of his profession. He could assure the noble Lord that religious liberty was as fully recognised in Portugal now as it ever was.

Lord Brougham

had one doubt, on the noble Earl's explanation, which he dared to say that noble Lord would be able to clear up. He was not aware, if any person was prosecuted in this country and sentenced by due course of law to be imprisoned three months, that he could, on a Court of Error reversing that judgment (as was the case with some persons in Ireland last year) call on the Government to give compensation. If no such right existed in this country, he presumed it did not elsewhere.

Lord Beaumont

wished to make an observation or two on the conversation which had just taken place. He must say, he regretted deeply the intolerant spirit which still prevailed in Portugal and some other countries; but he must say, that great exasperation was caused by the missionaries of the Bible Society, and another society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Countries. These societies had the command of enormous wealth, and employed men of great talent and zeal, for the purpose of proselytising the followers of another faith. This was well known abroad; and those persons so employed, if they fulfilled their duty, must never avoid an occasion of endeavouring to gain over persons attached to doctrines which they considered erroneous. We knew, by recent publications, that in Spain zealous and able men were traversing that country for the purpose of making converts. Those societies acted in direct opposition to the Treaties with foreign countries, which merely gave the teachers of heretical doctrines the power of administering spiritual instruction to persons of their own faith and country, but did not justify an interference with the natives. He must say he had himself heard, and from high authority, bitter complaints of the manner in which the missionaries had acted in various Catholic countries. As he said, be admitted the intolerant spirit that existed in Portugal; but the only way to qualify or remove it, was by removing from our Statute Books any vestige of intolerance. A beginning was made in this good work last year, which he hoped would be followed up in the present.

The Bishop of Salisbury

wished to correct an error into which the noble Lord (Lord Beaumont) had fallen. He stated that a feeling of irritation had been caused by the Bible Society and by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. It was no part of the machinery of the latter society to send missionaries into foreign countries. The object which it had in view was to send missionaries to our Colonies and Foreign Dependencies, and to heathen countries.

The Marquess of Breadalbane

was satisfied the explanation of the noble Earl (the Earl of Aberdeen) would not give satisfaction to the religious public of this country. It was no answer to say, there were persecuting laws on our Statute Book. As to the Free Church of Scotland, he was satisfied the members of that Church would stand competition with those of any Established Church, both for sincerity of faith and liberality of sentiment. The case which he had brought forward involved a great public question, and had not been met in anything like a satisfactory manner.

The Earl of Abeedeen

wished to explain as to the amount of compensation alluded to by the noble and learned Lord. The proceedings in this case were something more than a mere irregularity. There was an illegal imprisonment for five months, contrary to law, treaty, and justice; and although the individual alluded to was well treated, his confinement furnished a fair case for compensation, which would have been given, but for his own wish to compromise the matter.

Subject at an end.