HL Deb 21 July 1856 vol 143 cc1070-9

THE EARL OF MALMESBURY rose to move, that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for Copies of any Correspondence that has lately taken place between Her Majesty's Government or the British Envoy at Rio Janeiro and the Brazilian Government on the subject of the Slave Trade. As he saw that the correspondence had been promised to the other House of Parliament by the noble Lord at the head of the Government, he might assume that the noble Earl (the Earl of Clarendon) would at once concur in his Motion. It might be supposed, therefore, that he need not detain their Lordships, but the subject was one of paramount importance, and he might have no other opportunity of calling attention to it during the present Session. It appeared that owing to a correspondence, which he could not describe in any other terms than as ill-judged, the Brazilian Government were greatly offended with the Government of this country, and the discussions that had taken place in consequence in the Representative Assembly of Brazils appeared to threaten a dissolution of the amicable relations between the two countries. It seemed to him that there was scarcely a single country the friendship and alliance of which were of greater consequence to Great Britain than the friendship and alliance of the Brazils. It was entitled to English sympathies, as well from its position as from its character. Without offending that Government or the Sardinian Government, he might say of Brazil that it was the Sardinia of South America; for, while the other States of South America, with the exception of Chili, were almost all under the despotism of republican anarchy, the Brazilians were enjoying a constitutional Government and every day reaping increased prosperity. Looking at it through our material interests, their trade with Great Britain was immense; and, looking forward to the changes and chances which might affect our relations with the United States, there was no country the alliance of which would be of greater consequence than the Brazils, supposing, unfortunately, that we should be at war with the United States. If we should then be on unfriendly terms with the Brazils, privateers might be sent from the Brazilian coast to annoy our trade, and adventurers from the United States might thus inflict very great injury upon our commerce. Great Britain had always been on very good terms with the Brazilian empire; but at times there had been disputes with it, not in reference to any points of policy, but in relation to the slave trade, which used to be carried on with great barbarity and to a great extent in the Brazils. In 1826, a treaty was made with the Brazilian Government for the total abolition of the slave trade, and mixed courts were appointed for the trial of offences. Matters, were, however, shortly afterwards in so unsettled a state in the Brazils that the slave trade was not suppressed as was desired; and in 1845, the noble Earl (the Earl of Aberdeen), who was then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, took a strong step, which he would not find fault with, as it answered its purpose, and was, perhaps, necessary at that time. An Act of Parliament was passed, prohibiting all Englishmen from carrying on the slave trade, permitting British cruisers to capture all vessels engaged in the slave trade within Brazilian waters, and empowering them to cruise in all Brazilian waters and to seize slave vessels under the very guns of Brazilian fortresses. No stronger step could have been taken—nothing could be more insulting to an independent nation, and the Brazilian Government naturally felt the deepest indignation and anger, although they were obliged to submit to the superior force of this country. Years passed on, and partly by the efforts of our cruisers—and, it was only justice to say, partly in consequence of the sincere and loyal co-operation of the Brazilian Government—the slave trade in that country decreased most rapidly. In 1852, when the Earl of Derby came into power, he (the Earl of Malmesbury) found that the irritation and humiliation of the Brazilian Government were exceedingly great, for they thought Great Britain had legalised a kind of piracy for the purpose of abolishing the slave trade. Of course, no Act of Parliament of this country could interfere with international law, but the Act of Parliament protected those who acted under it. The Government of Lord Derby thought the time had come when the action of this law might be modified, and said they felt so much confidence in the loyal intention of the Brazilian Government to suppress the slave trade, that they would—not abolish that Act—but suspend it. From this time the Act had remained suspended, and the slave trade had decreased most rapidly, so that in the course of two or three years not more than two or three slavers were seen on that coast, and they had been captured and taken. About the end of 1855, however, a slaver managed to land a cargo—and it appeared that forty-seven of these slaves were kidnapped and taken up the country. Out of those forty-seven, ten or twelve made their escape, so that not more than about twenty of these slaves were carried into the interior. It surely would have been sufficient to have pointed out this to the Brazilian Government, and to have asked for an explanation; but, instead of that, Mr. Jerningham, our Chargé d'Affaires at Rio, presented a note to the Brazilian Government, the terms of which, to say the least, were most un-courteous. He might not be in order, and it would certainly be anomalous if he were to read the supposed despatch, as published in the public journals, when he was moving for a correct copy of the correspondence; but he did not exaggerate the fact in characterising it as most un-courteous. Mr. Jerningham, after stating the extreme disappointment of the English Government at the laxity of the Brazilian Government, proceeded at once to say that, if there were any repetition of such a ground of complaint, the humiliating Act of 1845 would be put in force; and, not satisfied with that mortifying threat, he further said that British vessels would enter the harbours and rivers of the Brazils and seize the slavers, and that, if the Brazilian courts did not convict the offenders, English courts would be found to have the courage to do so. He had hoped that, from the moment the noble Earl entered the Foreign-office, a certain style which pervaded the correspondence of that office would be at an end. The style he alluded to commenced in the year 1830, and continued to the year 1841. It then disappeared, but it began again in the year 1846, and continued to the end of the year 1851. It was a very peculiar style. Whatever the circumstances, the stereotyped despatch opened by expressing the unqualified displeasure of Her Majesty's Government, and concluded with some menace. The Minister of Foreign Affairs always sounded his trumpet from the highest note in the gamut, and the consequence was he could never use any other note without descending in the scale. He did not think that was a judicious mode of conducting our foreign affairs, because strong nations retaliated by insolent replies, and weak nations retained a dislike to the English Government rankling in their minds, and, perhaps, leading to a dislike of the English people. Although he might have had to find fault with his noble Friend (the Earl of Clarendon) for exhibiting too much of the fortiter in re, he never anticipated having to accuse him of the want, as in this case, of suaviter in modo. The note from the Brazilian Minister in reply, displayed great anger and mortification, but was written in very dignified language. He did not wish to quote the note, but the Brazilian Minister said he had explained this very case to Mr. Jerningham that he had shown Mr. Jerningham that many of the slaves had been recaptured, and that he had promised to recapture as many more as possible. That interview took place early in February, and the note was written on the 7th of March. He supposed that in the meantime a despatch had been received from the Foreign Office in reply to the first account of the transaction which was sent home. The Brazilian Minister subsequently showed that only twenty slaves remained not recaptured, and he said the pursuit was stopped because the prevalence of yellow fever made it certain some of the troops would be lost. The Brazilian Minister detailed the difficulties incident to the geographical nature of the country, and closed his despatch by expressing his astonishment at the humiliating threat of the English Minister, when on the 4th of February Mr. Jerningham had complimented the Brazilian Government on the capture of the Mary Smith. When the Brazilian Chambers met—and he would say in passing that he had been much surprised at the talent which had been shown in their debates—great indignation at such a note being presented to the Brazilian Government was expressed by all parties. The King sympathised with that disapprobation. The public press, to a unit, was very violent against us, and two of the most distinguished speakers denounced our conduct as most unjust and insulting. Other members of the Chambers, perhaps with less judgment, but not with less power of mischief, said very openly— If we are merely to be considered as the slaves and servants of Great Britain—if Great Britain is to inflict these threats on us, perhaps to be followed by stronger measures, the only thing we can do is to form other alliances. And then they plainly set forth the advantages of an alliance with the United States, observing that, with respect to slavery, they would meet with no difficulties whatever. He would ask the noble Earl whether such an alliance between the Brazils and the United States was desirable for this country? Considering the amount of our trade with the Brazils, their political position and their descent from our most ancient allies, the Portuguese, he conjured the noble Earl to pay that respect to the Brazilian Government which he thought they deserved, not only because it was our interest to respect them, but because they had really done their best to put an end to the slave trade. Of the good faith of the Brazilian Government he had proof in 1852, when he advised his noble Friend (the Earl of Derby) to suspend the Act. He had now also private information to the same effect, on which he could depend; and, as the slave trade could only be stopped by the determination of the Brazilian Government to stop it, he entreated the noble Earl not to restrain himself—for there was no danger from him of useless and insulting threats—but to restrain the rude and mischievous zeal of his subordinates. The noble Earl concluded by moving for the correspondence referred to.


was understood to say that he concurred in a great deal which had fallen from the noble Earl. He thought the noble Earl had not exaggerated the importance of a good understanding between the Brazils and this country, and had correctly described the advantages to be derived from it, and he could not but regret the coolness that had arisen between the two countries. The noble Earl had accurately described the increasing prosperity of the Brazils, and the great advantage which must accrue from our alliance with a constitutional Government, which was in a state of settlement and tranquillity compared with the other States of South America. He thought, also, that we ought to be extremely grateful—and that gratitude had been constantly expressed in Parliament, in the press, and in official despatches—to the Brazilian Government for the manner in which they had co-operated in putting down the slave trade. He also took the same view as his noble Friend in reference to the Act of 1845. The Act was not in operation at the present moment, and the Brazilian Government were perfectly aware that Her Majesty's Government had no objection to alter the provisions of that Act, if provisions of equal stringency, or at all events having the same objects in view, were secured by treaty. Such a treaty was under consideration two years ago, but the Brazilian Government objected to grant the same conditions. Negotiations were still pending between the two Governments upon this point. It was, therefore, the fault of the Brazilian Government and not our fault that the Act still existed, and with it the power of menacing the Brazilian Government. But, although the slave trade had been effectually put down, there had been certain occurrences within the last year and a half which raised well-founded apprehensions that the trade might be re-established. The Brazilian Government had neglected to take any measures for effectual colonization and immigration, whereby to secure a supply of labour. The slaves had died off, and there had been a remarkable mortality, owing to cholera and yellow fever. The consequences were, that the hands for field labour were very short, the price of slaves had risen enormously, and the temptation to engage in a very profitable trade had greatly increased. As some years ago 60,000 slaves were imported annually, their Lordships would have some idea of the enormous profits derived from this nefarious traffic, and with rising prices apprehensions were naturally excited that attempts would be made to supply the slave market. Those attempts were made last year, and upon a very considerable scale, the parties no doubt speculating upon the duration of the war in which we were then engaged, and the consequent difficulty of sending a sufficient naval force either to the African or to the Brazilian coast to prevent the renewal of the traffic. In the course of the last year notice was given by the Brazilian Government to the President of the province of Pernambuco, that a slaveship was expected to land her cargo upon that coast. The vessel did arrive, and exactly at the spot which had been indicated; but the police were all absent, and it was only after some time, by the act of a gentleman residing in the vicinity, who took on himself the duties of the police, that about 160 of the slaves were seized. The vessel was a schooner of 130 tons only, which had on board no less than 250 slaves. So little vigilance had been used, so little desire existed to prevent the introduction of the cargo, that two days after the arrival of the vessel one person went down and carried off forty of the negroes, and two days later another person selected sixty others. Representations were made upon the subject to the Brazilian Government, couched in terms of courtesy, such as the noble Earl had prescribed, and such as became the spirit of friendship which had always existed between the two Governments. Complaints of negligence and connivance were made against the President of Pernambuco, who not only would not allow the police to prevent the landing, but also would not permit any inquiry to take place upon the spot, but removed the investigation to a place six leagues from that where the landing had been effected, and where all eye-witnesses of it could easily have been procured. Moreover, in order that the gentleman who had seized the 160 slaves should not give evidence upon the subject, the President included him in the list of persons accused, and thus prevented him from being examined as a witness. When these facts came to his (the Earl of Clarendon's) knowledge, he instructed Mr. Jerningham, in the event of nothing being done by the Brazilian authorities, and of no action being taken by the Brazilian Government, in consequence, to inform that Government that it would be the duty of Her Majesty's Government to enforce the operation of the Act of Parliament to which the noble Earl had referred. He would read an extract from the despatch of Mr. Jerningham, He wrote on the 14th of March:— That he had learnt with pain and disappointment that the course taken by the Imperial Government and the Imperial authorities in recovering the Africans who were stolen at Serinhaem, and in following up the prosecution of the real individuals implicated in the whole of that slave-trade affair, is far from being satisfactory; and, in consequence of instructions which the undersigned has received from Her Britannic Majesty's Government, who have approved of the conduct and zeal which Her Majesty's consul, Mr. Cowper, manifested upon the above attempt at slave trading, the undersigned begs to intimate to the Brazilian Government that if they do not use their utmost efforts in discovering the real aggressors in this or any other similar acts of slave trading, and in prosecuting them with all the rigor of the law, and punishing all such as have been engaged in such slave-trade transactions, that the British Government will be obliged again to put in force the provisions of the Act of Parliament of 1845; and that while British cruisers will exercise on the coast, in the rivers, and in the harbours of Brazil, that watchfulness and activity which the agents of the Brazilian Government neglect to use, British courts of justice will pronounce those sentences of condemnation from which Brazilian courts may be found to shrink. The undersigned, after so many assurances on the part of the Imperial Government that they were using their utmost vigilance and energy to suppress the slave trade, and to punish offenders, regrets that the lax and unsatisfactory manner of the proceedings in the province of pernambuco should occasion him to be obliged to signify to the Imperial Government the line of conduct which Her Majesty's Government will infallibly adopt in crushing and extinguishing all slave-trade transactions, if the Imperial Government do not command and force their own authorities to do their duty. It was under those circumstances that Mr. Jerningham felt himself justified in acting upon his instructions, and in addressing to the Brazilian Government that notice to which the noble Earl had referred. It was perfectly true that the Brazilian Government was angry at that communication. It was also perfectly true that debates took place in the Brazilian Chambers upon it, and that the Brazilian Minister had addressed to himself a remonstrance, urging that it was a mortification to the feelings of the Brazilian Government. He (the Earl of Clarendon) had replied, of course, that it was not the intention nor the desire of Her Majesty's Government to mortify the Brazilian Government, and that they desired to maintain the most friendly relations with it; but that the notice had been given from a fear that, owing to the altered circumstances of Brazil, great preparations were being made for the renewal of the slave trade, and it was intended in a friendly manner to put the Government of that country upon its guard that it might take proper steps in that matter. He trusted that all ill-will, such as had been alluded to by his noble Friend as having been manifested in the Brazilian Chambers upon this subject, had disappeared, and that the Government there had recognized the justice of the representations which had been made, as indeed he believed was the case, for it had already removed the President of Pernambuco from his post, and had given the best proof of its sincerity in undertaking to suppress the slave trade by appointing in his place the former Minister to this country, than whom a more honourable or upright man did not exist. Under these circumstances, and after the explanations which had been given, he hoped the Brazilian Government had ceased to entertain any ill-will upon this question, and had acquitted Her Majesty's Government of any wish to inflict mortification upon them. With respect to the papers for which the noble Earl had moved, some of them were already printed with other papers relating to the slave trade, and the remainder of the correspondence, which had occurred since March last, would be laid before Parliament next year.


said, the Act referred to had been introduced by himself ten or eleven years since, although with very great reluctance. He believed that Act was justified at the time by the circumstances which then existed, but undoubtedly it was a measure of extreme severity, only to be justified by strong necessity. At the time of the passing of the Act he had assured the Brazilian Government of his regret at having to propose such a measure, and that nothing would give him greater pleasure than being able to move for the repeal of that Act. He had even hoped that the time for repealing the Act had come, and only yesterday he had been prepared to communicate with his noble Friend the Foreign Secretary upon the subject; but he regretted to find that what he had imagined had been completely effected by the Brazilian Government had not taken place, and that there were some symptoms of a renewal of the slave trade. Under these circumstances, he could not blame the threat, as it was called, of a renewal of the Act; but he hoped, from what had taken place, that the conduct of the Brazilian Government was, and would continue to be, such as not only would render unnecessary any enforcement of the Act, but would also speedily render its total repeal justifiable and practicable. He quite agreed with the noble Earl opposite as to the interest of this country in cultivating the alliance of the Brazilian Government, for the conduct of that Government stood in favourable contrast with that of other Governments in South America. The interest we had in maintaining friendly relations with Brazil, the extent of our commercial relations with that country was such as to be a matter of paramount importance. Therefore, while approving of the energy of the measures adopted, he hoped that by kindness and conciliation the noble Earl would be able, before long, to place matters on the most satisfactory footing with the Brazilian Government.


agreed with his noble Friend that the Brazilian Government had proved their loyalty by appointing the gentleman alluded to in place of the President of Pernambuco. He was satisfied with the explanation of the noble Earl (the Earl of Clarendon) to a certain extent; but he thought that all that had been obtained from the Brazilian Government might have been obtained in a different manner—without the presentation of a note of remonstrance, which was an official document of extreme character. It was with the manner and not with the spirit of the communication that he found fault. He by no means wished to discommend his noble Friend's anxiety to put down the slave trade; but he did think that his noble Friend or his agent had been extremely mistaken in the manner in which they had conducted the correspondence with the Brazilian Government.

Motion agreed to.