§ THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
My Lords, I think I shall only be performing an act of public duty and doing justice to a neighbouring Power, if I make a statement of certain facts which have only recently come to my knowledge. I will remind your Lordships of a conversation which took place in this House on this day week, in consequence of an account which had been received in this country of the capture of a French ship on the coast of Africa. The account was given by my noble and learned Friend (Lord Brougham) and to a certain extent repeated by myself, although I guarded my statement by saying that I had received no official narrative of the matter. The story which had appeared in many of the newspapers, and was repeated in this House, was this,—that a French emigrant ship, going from the African coast to a French colony, had been seized, in the absence of the captain and part of crew, by the emigrants, and eleven Frenchmen had been murdered; that the captain of an English vessel, the Ethiope, had taken possession of her, and carried her into Monrovia, the capital of the Liberian republic (the great sanctuary of free Africans, and very much protected by the English Government); that, although the English Consul and the English captain protested, two French men-of-war had come in and taken her off by force.
§ THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
It was so stated by some noble Peer in the course of the conversation. Those circumstances, so related, produced considerable excitement, and observations were made not only by the noble and learned Lord, but by myself, condemnatory of the system of emigration recently adopted by the French Government—observations naturally occurring, assuming the circumstances to be true. But, although I have not been asked to do so, I consider it a duty which I owe to the French Government to state what is the French official account of those circumstances. I shall simply read the account of the Minister of 256 Marine to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in France:—Paris, June 18,My dear Count,—We first heard from newspapers, both French and foreign, of the deplorable scenes which occurred on board the Regina Cœli, on the West Coast of Africa. I have just received, and hasten to communicate to you, the report on this affair, which I have received from Lieutenant Pointel, chief of the staff to the captain commanding our naval station in those parts. I annex the letter of Mr. Protet and of the commander of Goree on the subject, in order fully to apprise you of the details of this affair. The facts are briefly these:—The Regina Cœli, a vessel sent to the West Coast of Africa, under the Command of Captain Simon, with a view to obtain free labourers for our Colonies, arrived at Cape de Monte on the 29th of October last. The chief of that place strenuously urged Captain Simon to select for his operations that portion of the coast above all others, and they both proceeded to Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, in order to settle the preliminaries of the affair. The President of that republic, on learning Captain Simon's plan, approved it so highly that he persuaded that officer to carry out his operations exclusively in the territory of the Liberian republic. Captain Simon hastened to pay into the hands of the local authorities the sum of 1,564 piastres, as passport duty for the 400 free labourers with whom it had been agreed he should be supplied in the space of forty days. This fact, by the way, conveys a good idea of the value to be attached to the recent protests of the Liberian authorities on the subject of our emigration, and on which the British Ambassador at Paris laid such stress, in opposition to our own convictions. Be this as it may, the enlistment of emigrants was carried on with the greatest facility and the greatest care, under the superintendence of the Liberian authorities, as well as of the agent of the French Government. 271 emigrants had already arrived in the roadstead, and the rest of them were ready to embark, when, on the 9th of April, while the captain and the Government agent were ashore, a quarrel arose on board between a negro cook, and one of the emigrants, which caused a scuffle, and ended in a general fight between the emigrants and the crew, in which the second in command of the ship and eleven of his men were massacred by the emigrants. Captain Simon, who heard this disturbance while on shore, jumped into a canoe, picked up one of his sailors who had been thrown overboard from the Regina Cœli, but was obliged to return ashore as his canoe capsized. Upon this Captain Simon, assisted by the local militia and some forty Americans whom he hired by the day, attempted to recapture the vessel, and then cruised about with two boats, so as in a manner to blockade her. Matters stood thus on the 15th of April, when the Ethiope, a merchant steamer commanded by Captain Croft, arrived. The Ethiope had been sent for by Mr. Newnham, the British Consul, who also fills the office of French Consular agent at Monrovia. When that steamvessel neared the Regina Cœli, Captain Simon, who continued strictly watching his own vessel, went on board the Ethiope, declared he was the captain of the Regina Cœli, and asked on what terms he might accept of the assistance of the English steamer; for from the very first he had 257 declared to Mr. Newnham, in concert with the agent of the French Government, that he should reject the assistance of the Ethiope unless the conditions on which that assistance was to be given had been previously settled. He received no answer. The Spanish Vice Consul for Acra and a French merchant, who were passengers on board the Ethiope, explained to him that his vessel was being taken possession of. Captain Simon then wished to leave the packet and go on board the Regina Cœli, but was prevented, seized, and consigned to the charge of two English sailors. Meanwhile the Ethiope took the Regina Cœli in tow, without encountering the slightest resistance from the emigrants, and proceeded on her voyage. Captain Simon asked the Spanish Vice Consul for Acra to beg for a delay sufficient to collect on land eight of his crew, two of whom were wounded; but Captain Croft peremptorily refused, and continued standing towards Monrovia, where they arrived about eight o'clock at night. The report of Lieutenant Pointel respecting this incident contains the following passage;—'Mr. Manuel Leira y Daroca, the Spanish Vice Consul, was indignant at the brutal conduct of the captain of the Ethiope, and openly protested against abandoning the eight Frenchmen. He moreover furnished Captain Simon with a certificate to the effect that he was present at the time that his ship was captured.' On landing at Monrovia, Captain Simon went to the French consular agent (Mr. Newnham), informed him of what had passed, and delivered to him a protest against the capture of his ship. On the other hand, the captain of the Ethiope wrote to Mr. Newnham, pretending to consider the act he had committed as tantamount to the rescue of a vessel abandoned and adrift in the open sea. The weakness or else the complicity, of the Liberian authorities increased the difficulties of the case. The insurgent emigrants finished plundering the cargoe of the Regina Cœli in the very roadstead of Monrovia, notwithstanding the presence of the purser of the Ethiope, who was left in charge of the ship. They were then permitted to land and disperse, without even an attempt being made to seize those whom their comrades pointed out as the murderers of eleven of our sailors.There is another account which corroborates this statement. It is remarkable that the Liberian Government should have allowed these men to escape. I was not in possession at the time this matter was mentioned before of the French official account, but I have received a letter from Captain Croft of the Ethiope steamer, which I will read to your Lordships:—Royal Mail Steamer Ethiope, Monrovia, 15th April, 1858.Sir,—I have the honour to inform you that, according to your request, dated April 14th, I proceeded, April 14, at 11 p.m., in search of the French Ship Regina Cœli, several of the crew of which ship had been barbarously murdered by the emigrants on board, who had afterwards taken possession of the aforesaid ship. 6.30 a.m., April 15.—Arrived at Cape Mount, went on shore, and ascertained from the settlers that the ship Regina Cœli had been seen April 14, at 6 p.m., off Galinas. 8 a.m.—Sighted the Regina Cœli off Galinas drifting about 258 quite unmanageable, close to the shore. 9 a.m—Steamed close alongside the Regina Cœli, at the same time discovered the master of the aforesaid ship in a small beat without gunshot of the pirates. The captain of the Regina Cœli informed me in the presence of several passengers, that he had been watching the aforesaid ship several days, but that the pirates always fired at him when within gunshot, and showed warlike demonstrations to any person or persons attempting to go on board. 9.15 a.m.—Held a parley with the pirates, who finally delivered the aforesaid ship Regina Cœli over to my charge; upon which I sent my second officer and several of the crew of the screw steamer Ethiope to take charge of the Regina Cœli as a prize of the aforesaid Ethiope. 9.30 a.m.—Steamed a-head, with the Regina Cœli in tow for Monrovia. 9.45 a.m.—When catting the anchor on board (starboard) the prize, the chain of the starboard anchor ran out, which brought the ship up suddenly, carrying away the towing hawser; sent chief officer and several seamen on board to weigh the Regina Cœli's anchor. 10.45.—Steamed a-head. 7.30 p.m, April 15.—Arrived at Monrovia all safe with the Regina Cœli, and anchored her off Cape Mossurado, with officer in charge.April 16.—Appointed Mr. Mackelvie my agent, and handed the ship Regina Cœli over to him.A. J. M. CROFT, Master of the steamship Ethiope.J. G. C. L. Newnham, Esq.Signed before me, in my office at Monrovia, this 16th day of April, 1858.J. G. C. L. NEWNHAM,Her Britannic Majesty's Consul.'I have looked to the Consul's account, which is almost word for word the same; and it is quite evident that the Ethiope did not take possession of the drifting ship front any sympathy with the negroes—far from it—but because they looked upon the crew as pirates, and that their object was to obtain salvage. The French captain (Simon) declared that he never lost sight of the Regina Cœli; that he was watching his ship until he could make a better bargain for her, and that he protested against Captain Croft seizing his ship. In spite of this protest, however, Captain Croft took the ship in and claimed salvage. The French captain protested against being saved and against paying salvage. The Liberian Government advised him to have recourse to the courts of that country, but they probably felt themselves not strong enough to interfere further. The French men-of-war then came in, who took the part of Captain Simon. They took the ship into their own hands, and sailed away with her. In the meanwhile the emigrants dispersed. This is one of the many proofs we have that the first version of a story is not always to be taken. We have now got the English and the French 259 accounts. I believe that by international law, the French captain having never lost sight of his ship, having claimed her as his own, and having protested against her seizure, even if she had been a regular slaver and had been full of slaves no one would have had a right to seize her. It is only just to the French Government that their view of this case should be known.
agreed that their Lordships were not to give implicit belief to the first statement they heard, and he would apply that remark to the statement to which they had just listened; because in one sense this also was a first statement—it was the first they had heard from the French Government. As yet they had only the statement of Captain Simon, though it was certainly in some degree confirmed by the commander of the Ethiope. But there was one point on which they had no account whatever. According to the report, as it was first received, and referred to by his noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Hardwicke) it was said that when the vessel was boarded the manacles of these free emigrants were taken off. Manacles! How did they happen to have manacles upon them when they went on board? This was what was called "free emigration," and described as a plan for encouraging Africans to emigrate from their bad country to the good country across the water! There could not be the slightest doubt that those persons who were called free emigrants were really slaves kidnapped by the native princes and brought down to the coast by the slave-dealers in order to be sold; and after the price was paid the process of "liberation" was gone through, that they might be taken on board as "free emigrants." As to what was said that there was no compulsion on board except in the use of manacles, he would say that it was unfortunate that, as there were no means of obtaining unofficial information in France, they were compelled to trust entirely to official accounts; but he, as well as others, had received accounts on this subject, unofficial indeed, but yet they were from persons high in authority—some of them from agents of our own Government—from which it was clear that those persons were not free emigrants, but persons brought down from the interior and sold, to be taken on board ship. If there were in France the same freedom of discussion which existed in the press of this country, the official accounts would be subject to comparison with unofficial state- 260 ments: but it was enough for him that they carefully avoided the question at issue—they altogether avoided to say that no force was used, no fraud practised, to get them on board. He wished to take that opportunity of correcting a misapprehension which had gone abroad of what a right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of Oxford) and himself had said the other night, as to the transportation of Indian and Chinese coolies. They were represented as objecting to the conveyance of these coolies to British colonies; whereas the fact was that both he and his right rev. Friend approved of the coolies being sent to the Mauritius and other British colonies; what they protested against was their being conveyed to foreign settlements. With regard to the concluding remarks of the noble Earl, he might state that no lawyer could doubt that in the presence of Captain Simon, the captain of the ship, no person but the French authorities had any right to enter on board and take possession of her, however contrary to law her cargo might be. But he might remind their Lordships if the English ship had not interfered the rest of the crew would have been massacred.
said, he meant the French crew, not the negroes. He would just say one word as to the allegation that these Africans were going to Cuba of their own free-will. If these 200 or 300 men were really leaving their country under the impression that they were about to better their condition as free labourers in Cuba, was it not a most suspicious circumstance that the first thing they did was to rise upon and murder the sailors who were about to convey them to that land of promise? That was not the way our emigrants acted. When our countrymen were going to Canada or Australia they went on board without manacles, nor was any compulsion used towards them, and when they got on board the ship at Southampton or Liverpool they did not rise on the crew and kill them. He feared further inquiry would prove, in spite of all they had heard, that these persons were not free emigrants at all, but were practically slaves, carried away against their will by force or fraud; and that this was nothing else but an attempt at a renewal of the African slave trade.
§ EARL GREY
said, that having expressed a strong feeling on this subject on a former evening, he now thought it right 261 to say that he entirely concurred with his noble and learned Friend in thinking that they required further information before they could form a definite opinion on the subject. He was not prepared to assume that the facts of the case as originally related were set aside in consequence of what they had now learned. He, for one, would rejoice, for the honour of the French Government and nation, if it could be proved that these Africans were really put on board the vessel by fair means and of their own free will, and that their rising was only dictated by a desire to take the ship; but, on the other hand, if the original account was confirmed—if it appeared that these men were purchased from African slavedealers, that they were put on board by force, and that they were manacled and treated in the manner in which slaves were ordinarily treated, and had only killed those by whom they had been carried away by force and fraud, then he adhered to the opinion he had formerly expressed, that there could be no circumstances in which men were more justified by the laws of God and man in using force and destroying the lives of their oppressors to procure their own liberty; if these were the real circumstances, he still said he rejoiced that the Africans succeeded. He thought they required further information on the subject, because, in spite of the contradiction now before them, he could not help feeling with his noble and learned Friend that there were circumstances of great suspicion connected with the case. They also knew that it was not now for the first time they had obtained information with regard to the conduct of French vessels on the African coast. For some months back they had concurrent information from many quarters—from British merchants engaged in the trade with Africa, and from officers serving on the coast—that under colour of the contract for supplying free emigrants an internal slave trade was carried on in Africa, that wars were waged for the express purpose of procuring prisoners, who, after going through the form of liberation of which his noble and learned Friend had spoken, were put on board French vessels and carried, against their wills, to Cuba. All this concurrent information, coupled with the experience of our own Government that every attempt to get emigrants by fair means from Africa had failed, led him to regard this matter with the utmost suspicion. With regard to the 262 President of Liberia, he should like to see his own account of the transaction, and to know whether he admitted having sanctioned the embarkation of these men. If it could be proved that the Liberian authorities had done so, that would make a material alteration in the case; but he was informed that the President of that Republic had condemned the proceedings now going on the coast of Africa on the part of the French, and that he had gone to Paris to protest against it. The noble Earl opposite appeared to think that this ship being the property of a French subject, the English captain could have no right to take possession of it; but that depended on the circumstances that had really taken place. If the story as originally told was true, if these negroes were put on board by force and were not free, and had risen and seized the ship in order to effect their own liberation, he held that their rising was a justifiable act, and that when they took possession of the ship they were in lawful possession of it, and it was no longer a French ship. They had hauled down the French colours; they were de facto and de jure the possessors of the ship, which they had taken from those who had stolen their bodies; and in those circumstances the captain of the English ship was justified in rendering them the assistance they might require. That they required assistance could hardly be doubted, for they were informed that when the Africans saw the English ship they expressed their extreme delight. He hoped the Government would endeavour to procure further information on this subject from the officers on the coast and the consular authorities; for he held that the contradiction given by the French authorities was one so full of suspicious circumstances that further information was loudly called for.
§ THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
said, he did not know where they were to get further information, because they had already received the statement of the English Consul and of Captain Croft; and he might further remark that Captain Croft applied the term pirates not to the Frenchmen, but to the negroes.