HL Deb 05 February 1858 vol 148 cc748-52

presented a petition from the inhabitants of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, complaining of the harsh treatment inflicted on Park and Watt, the two Engineers now on their trial at Salerno on a charge of aiding in an attempt at insurrection in the Neapolitan territory, which treatment the petitioners regarded as an insult to the British nation, and praying the interposition of the British Government. His Lordship added that he could not present the petition without expressing his opinion that there had been ground for the dissatisfaction which the petitioners expressed as to the manner in which the two men in question had been treated by the Neapolitan Government. It seemed monstrous to him that two British subjects who did not voluntarily place themselves within the dominion of the King of Naples, but were, on the contrary, taken there by force, should for some months, while awaiting their trial, have been compelled to undergo a punishment which in this country would have been considered sufficient for offences of some gravity. He thought it a subject for grave dissatisfaction that English subjects should be so treated, and he could not help believing that Her Majesty's Government had been prevented from interfering in their behalf to the extent they might otherwise have done by the ill-advised course which they had pursued towards Naples, and which had now precluded their having any Minister at Naples, by whom the treatment of the persons in question could have been brought before that Court in a manner to insure a satisfactory redress.


My Lords, after the observations which have fallen from my noble Friend I think it necessary to trespass for a few minutes upon your Lordships' time. As this affair of the British engineers has justly excited very great interest throughout this country, I hope your Lordships will permit me to state the circumstances connected with their case. I can assure my noble Friend, in the first place, that these men have not suffered in any respect from the interruption of our relations with the Neapolitan Government; and I must do that Government the justice to say that their communications with Her Majesty's Government on the matter now under consideration have been frequent and courteous. The facts are these. On the 27th of June last the Cagliari, a coasting steamer, trading between Genoa and Tunis, was seized about sixty miles from Naples by some Sicilians on board, carrying arms. After taking possession of the vessel they proceeded to the island of Ponza, attacked the commandant of the place, overpowered the small garrison, and released some prisoners, whom they took on board with some pieces of artillery, 300 or 400 muskets, and some ammunition. It has only been quite recently that we have had accurate information as to the manner in which the Cagliari fell into the hands of the Neapolitan Government. It appears that after the Sicilians abandoned her the captain determined to take the vessel to Naples and inform the Neapolitan Government of all that had passed. He, therefore, steered for Naples; but before he arrived there he fell in with two Neapolitan frigates, on one of which he went on board and surrendered the vessel to the captain. I believe that this took place out of the Neapolitan dominions, being at a point more than six miles from the Neapolitan coast, and, consequently, not in the Neapolitan waters; and the Sardinian Government having ascertained this fact, have lately made a claim for the restoration of the Cagliari, which will of course include that of the men. The first that I heard of there being any English subjects on board the vessel was by a letter addressed to me by one of the hon. Members for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, who stated that an English engineer named Watt had been made a prisoner at Naples. On the day on which I received that letter I wrote to the acting Consul at Naples, desiring him to do all that was in his power to afford protection to this individual, and to secure his fair treatment, and to represent at the same time to the Neapolitan Government that, as he was simply an engineer on board the vessel, it was highly improbable that he could have had any improper design in connection with the expedition. Latterly I received a letter from Mr. Park, the father of the other engineer, making a similar request with respect to his son, and I sent out similar instructions to the acting Consul as to him. The Consul, however, informed me that he was not permitted to have access to the prisoners. I then directed him to write to M. Carafa, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, asking to be permitted to have intercourse with the engineers, and desiring also that they should be allowed to select their legal advisers, and that their trial should be hastened. M. Carafa replied in courteous terms that according to the Neapolitan law it was necessary that all the interrogatories and preliminary inquiries should in all instances be conducted in secret; that until they were completed and the indictment published, it never was the custom to permit prisoners to have access to those who were to conduct their defence, and that he could not make any exception in favour of British subjects; but he said that the acting Consul should be at full liberty to be present at the trial, that the trial would be public, and that he could select the legal advisers of the prisoners. In addition to this the Procureur General at Salerno, where the trial was to take place, informed the Consul towards the latter end of October that the relatives of the engineers would be permitted to see them; and as soon as I heard this I wrote to Mr. Parks proposing that he should avail himself of this permission; I also procured him a passage to Naples, and desired the Consul there to afford him every facility. I likewise wrote directly to M. Carafa, informing him that this case was one of great anxiety to Her Majesty's Government, that it had created painful sensations throughout the whole of this country, and that although it was not the intention of Her Majesty's Government to interfere with the Neapolitan law, and that that law should take its course if, unfortunately, those British subjects had made themselves amenable to it, yet we did complain that their sufferings were aggravated by not having been allowed to communicate with their friends, and we did regret the delay which had taken place in bringing them to trial. I received from M. Carafa a courteous letter, explaining to me the reasons which had prevented them up to that time having access to their families, and assuring me that no delay should take place in the trial. Eleven men of the crew of the Cagliari were by this time liberated, and the Sardinian Government, at our request, had the depositions of those men taken, which showed that Park and Watt had nothing to do with the object of the expedition, and that, on the contrary, they were compelled by force to work the engines. Those men were also sent to Naples as witnesses in behalf of the engineers. One of the chief accusations against them was that on one of them (Park) a letter from Miss White was found, which showed they were cognizant of the insurrection; but that lady has very properly published a letter in the newspapers lately, stating how it came that that document was found in their possession. It appears, from the explanation given by Miss White, that on the eye of the Cagliari leaving Genoa it was discovered that the engineers were English; that the captain had never seen either of them, and did not know their names; and that, as it was necessary that the whole crew should understand the reason of the seizure of the steamer, the captain, who could not speak English, dictated to her a letter stating what he wished them to do, which she translated. This paper was thrust into their hands, and they were compelled to work the engines with pistols at their heads. I have seen the indictment. It has been published within the last few days and sent here, and I must say it is very satisfactory, because it contains no charges whatever against the engineers, and there can be no doubt of their acquittal if their trial is conducted with ordinary fairness and impartiality. There are three charges made against them. The first is, that upon them was found this letter of Miss White. That can be easily explained. The second is, that they were without passports, it being the invariable rule not to give them to foreign engineers, it being considered sufficient that they should be borne upon the muster roll of the crew, as was the case with Parks and Watt. The third charge is, that the engineers must have been in complicity with those who seized the vessel, or they would have carried the steamer to Tunis—it appearing that the law advisers of the Neapolitan Government are under the belief that a vessel is steered by the men directing the engines. I have gone into these details in order to show to my noble Friend and to the public what have been the steps taken with respect to a case which I can assure your Lordships has been the cause of great anxiety to Her Majesty's Government, as well as of great and general interest to the whole country. I hope and believe no step has been omitted which could have tended in any way to alleviate the sufferings or to accelerate the trial of these men. We acted under the advice of the law officers of the Crown, and we could not deny the right of the Neapolitan Government to consider as amenable to their laws all those persons who directly or indirectly had been concerned in this rash expedition, and whom they have taken prisoners. I know it has been said that we should have taken more vigorous measures; but we had no right to claim of the Neapolitan Government to depart from the ordinary procedure of their laws, or that they should permit the friends and relatives of the engineers to have access to them sooner than those laws allowed; although I must say our requests upon that head were not unavailing, for the relatives of the prisoners in question were allowed access to them long before the usual period. I am afraid these prisoners have undergone considerable hardships, but I also believe that, according to Neapolitan notions, they have not been ill-treated. I firmly believe it was not the intention of the Neapolitan Government to ill-treat them in any way, and the treatment they have received has been such as caused them to be objects of envy to many natives of that country. I have only further to add that the trial has begun, and, looking to what can be the only evidence against them, I trust we may expect our unfortunate countrymen will speedily regain their liberty.

Petition to he on the table.