said, it was not his intention to trouble the House at any length on the motion which he now rose to bring forward, and which he regarded as of very considerable importance to a large class of merchants in this country. His object was to obtain, if possible, the aid of the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in improving the state of the negotiations now going on with the government of France relative to the terms on which our commercial intercourse with the possessions of that power in western Africa was conducted. It would probably be known to some hon. Members that 1153 there was a port of some consequence on the north-west coast of Africa called Portendic. Two British merchant ships had been seized by a French vessel of war for trading with that port. In the month of February, 1834, the government of France thought fit to impose a blockade on this part of the coast, under pretence that they were at war with a native tribe, and several vessels engaged in trading with the coast were compelled by the blockading forces to quit their station. The whole commerce of this country, the object of which was, to provide articles of much importance and value to our manufacturers, was in consequence forcibly suspended. It was a point of no small magnitude to ascertain what were the rights of British subjects as to traffic in this part of the globe. Gum and other articles were the staple part of the trade, and were of essential use in some branches of manufacture; yet the trade on which we were dependant for a supply of them was at present in a most precarious and unsatisfactory condition. Before this trade could be carried on so as to be of advantage to this country, and supply the wants of its manufacturers, it was absolutely necessary that the footing on which it stood should be distinctly settled. It appeared, that the French government now claimed an undoubted right to the whole of that extensive territory, which stretched from the mouth of the Senegal northwards, from which the greatest quantity of gum was drawn. They claimed a right to make regulations for those engaged in trade, and to establish blockades whenever it might suit their convenience. It so happened, that the whole of this district of country, formerly belonged to Great Britain, being secured to it by the treaty of Versailles in 1763. It was afterwards transferred to France by the treaty of 1783, but with an express declaration, that there should be reserved to the merchants of this country, a perfect right to trade in gum. In 1792 Great Britain again acquired Senegal, and the coast where these disturbances of which he complained had arisen, but by the treaty of 1814, France was reinstated in the possession of all her colonies and fisheries on the African coast. A question had however arisen, whether France possessed a valid territorial right over those districts which she possessed prior to 1792. It was not his intention to enter at length into this subject, of the difficulty of which and its importance to British interests he 1154 was fully sensible; but, whatever might be the right of the French government to the place at which the seizure was made, it could not be maintained for a moment that they were justified in taking forcible possession without the slightest previous notice of two British ships, bearing the flag of Britain, and in carrying them into a French port, thus depriving the merchants concerned of the benefits which would result from the voyage and exposing the owners of the ships to the loss of their property. One of the pretensions set up by the French Government was so preposterous on the face of it, that he was quite satisfied they would not persist in it: that was, that though the subjects of Britain might have a right to a share in the trade, it ought to be restricted by regulations formed by themselves, which would in fact put an end to all freedom of intercourse with the inhabitants of the coast. There were strong reasons for believing, that the step taken by the French government in declaring a blockade was not a bonâ fide exercise of a belligerent right, but had, in point of fact, been resorted to merely to benefit their own commerce at the expense of ours. He was in possession of the regulations of the French society for carrying on the gum trade, and he found that the price of gum was fixed with express reference to the enforcement of a blockade of the coast, and this without any previous notice of the intentions of the French Government. The nature of the gum trade was peculiar; that important article was only to be procured from three ports in the vicinity of Portendic, all within 100 miles of it; and if the French government were permitted without interference to continue their present measures, the inevitable consequence would be, as had been already in a great measure experienced, the entire stoppage of a valuable branch of British commerce, and of the supply of an article of great importance. He trusted, that the noble Viscount at the head of the Foreign Department would avert this evil by timely and energetic remonstrances, and that he would also obtain the satisfaction of the just demands of the merchants and owners of the vessels seized upon for the losses they had sustained. The hon. and learned Member concluded by moving for copies or extracts of all correspondence between the British Government and the government of the King of the French concern- 1155 ing seizures made by French authority of British vessels and cargoes on the coast of Africa in 1834 and 1835, and also relating to the blockade imposed by the French government on the coast of Africa at Portendic.
§ Viscount Palmerston
said, that the subject to which his hon. and learned Friend had drawn the attention of the House was undoubtedly one of considerable importance—in the first place, as affecting the interests of a certain number of individuals who had very severely suffered in consequence of the transactions to which the motion related—and next, as bearing upon some questions of international right materially connected with the commercial interests of this country. At the same time, however, that he admitted, that the subject was one which his hon. and learned Friend was perfectly justified in bringing under the consideration of the House, he hoped, on the other hand, that his hon. Friend would feel it would not be consistent with his duty as a Minister of the Crown to consent to the production of the correspondence he had moved for, consisting of unfinished communications and negotiations between this Government and that of France. If the negotiations had terminated in a manner unsatisfactory to the Government of this country, then undoubtedly his hon. and learned Friend would have a good and sufficient ground for calling on Government to produce the correspondence, with the view of founding on it such a motion as he might think fit to submit to Parliament; but it would be a departure from the general practice, and attended with obvious inconvenience to those interests at stake if the whole proceedings of a negotiation yet pending were to be produced. For the same reason it would not be proper for him to state the precise condition in which that negotiation now stood, nor would he enter into any discussion of the several points adverted to by his hon. and learned Friend. He did not think this would be the proper time for him to state to the House the view Government took of the various questions arising out of the treaties concluded with France respecting the commerce of the African coast, as for instance whether the trade at Portendic ought to be carried on under the provisions of the treaty of 1783, or whether that treaty should be considered as no longer in force, having been terminated by the war of 1793, and 1156 not renewed in 1814. These were very material questions, but for the reason he had stated, he would not now discuss them. He could only express his hope, that the French government would not fail to give this question their earliest and most serious consideration, and he was quite sure, there was nothing either in the amount of the sums claimed as compensation for losses or in the character of the local interests affected which should induce the government of France to deny justice to the subjects of this country. From the complicated nature of the questions to be discussed, this negotiation had occupied a considerable time, and would probably occupy more; but he could not but express his belief and expectation, that it would end in a manner satisfactory to both countries.
§ Mr. Alderman Thompson
was much disappointed, that the noble Lord had refused to produce the papers moved for. There were individuals whose property had been destroyed to the extent of nearly 100,000l., so long ago as the year 1835, and whose wrongs were still unredressed. He should not desire the production of the papers if that step would tend to embarrass the negotiations, but he deeply regretted, that the noble Lord had not expressed a stronger opinion as to the justice of the claims made by the sufferers for compensation. British ships had been seized under pretence of a blockade of which no notice had been given. One of the merchants to whom they belonged, hearing of the sailing of a French man-of-war to the African coast, communicated the fact to the noble Lord, and urged the necessity of having an explanation from the French government relative to its destination. The French government being applied to, declared, that there was no intention of establishing any blockade, but, notwithstanding, the blockade was enforced, and British ships seized. Yet it was well known, that while this blockade was established, the French merchants were carrying on an extensive trade on the coast. The French government, he had no doubt, were actuated in what they had done by a desire to get the whole of the gum trade into their own hands, and he was very much afraid from what he had heard, that there was no disposition on their part to meet this question in the spirit of fairness or candour. He trusted, that if it were not settled before the next 1157 Session, his hon. and learned Friend would again bring it before the House. Common justice demanded, that the merchants who had been exposed to unmerited losses should be compensated, and he thought the noble Lord might have been more explicit in declaring his opinion on this point as well as on the general question of our right to trade on the coast.
, in reply, said, that he was desirous, that the French government might learn from this public notice of the subject, that where justice ought to be done, the delay of doing that justice amounted, in many cases to a positive injustice. He knew of no pretence upon which the seizures of 1834 could be justified, and he thought the ships and cargoes ought to be delivered up, without delay. With regard to the question of the blockade, he should refrain from expressing his opinion until he saw what was the statement of the French government, the rights they asserted, and the ground on which they sought to rest those rights. At present, however, he should not press his motion, but in the next Session of Parliament, unless the question was satisfactorily settled in the mean time, he should feel it his duty to press more strongly on the House the history of the transactions, and the necessity of affording redress to the parties aggrieved.
§ Motion withdrawn.