rose to lay before the House a petition from all the merchants in London engaged in the African trade, complaining of certain injuries to which they were subjected by reason of their treatment on the coast of Africa by the French authorities. He should now merely move, that it should be laid upon the table of their Lordships' House, but should proceed to address some further remarks to their Lordships upon the subject. [Petition laid on the Table]. The noble Viscount then continued to say, that when in the course of the last Session he brought under their Lordships' consideration the various aggressions upon our trade on the western coast of Africa, which had been committed by certain French authorities there, and the amount of loss and dishonour which, in his opinion, we had in 746 consequence sustained, he did hope, as well from the highly proper and spirited tone and language assumed on that occasion by the noble Viscount opposite, as from his assurances that the matter should be taken up—as it behoved this country to take it up—that his remonstrances and representations would have had the effect, if not of obtaining full redress for past injuries and insults, at least of preventing them from being renewed and repeated in a yet more objectionable form. He confessed that he entertained too high an estimate of the importance and respect due to the representations of a British Minister, to believe for one moment that it would have been his lot in the very next Session to lay before their Lordships' House, proof positive, not only that these representations and remonstrances had been ineffectual as regarded the past; but that it had been so entirely disregarded, as to have failed in restraining the French from making fresh attacks—attacks equally presumptuous and dangerous, which had inflicted considerable injury on our commerce. The petition which he had had the honour of laying on their Lordships' table, embodied the proofs of this new aggression. He should presently advert to the terms in which those proofs were given; but he would now merely ask their Lordships what state of things it must be, when the subjects of the Queen of England, hopeless of redress, approached them with such a prayer as that which he should read?That however deeply your petitioners may feel the importance of duly protecting and upholding these settlements, as well with a view to commerce as to the extinction of the slave trade, and however anxious they may be to preserve them as openings to British enterprise at a period when new markets for our manufactures are so essential to the mother country, yet the neglect of their own Government, and the losses and insults which they have so long suffered from the French, without any prospect of redress, constrain your petitioners humbly to recommend that a negotiation be opened with the French Government, for selling and transferring those possessions to that power which seems so anxious to possess them: under which negotiation your petitioners may either withdraw their property upon receiving an indemnity, or"—Or what did their Lordships think?or remain under a Government disposed to protect them.What must be the state of things from which the subjects of the Queen thought 747 there was no mode of escaping except by transferring the settlement, of which these transactions had been the scene, to other and more powerful hands than those in which they were now held? What it was, was best described, and was explained in a manner best suited to the occasion, and best adapted to their Lordships' convenience, in the words of the petition. The noble Viscount read the petition in the following terms:—THE PETITION OF THE UNDERSIGNED BRITISH MERCHANTS,Humbly showelh—That your petitioners are merchants and traders connected with the British settlements and factories on the northwest coast of Africa.That the French have possessions in the same neighbourhood, of which Senegal and Goree are the most important; that Senegal and Goree having been taken from France in the late war, were restored to her at the peace, since when she hag laboured incessantly to increase the number of her possessions in the same quarter, and to augment her influence over that part of Africa.That, in the pursuit of these objects, the French authorities have, on various occasions, and under various false pretences, insulted and despoiled the English traders belonging to the neighbouring British settlements, who can no longer pursue their lawful trade with safety or success,That these proceedings have been systematically carried on by the French ever since the peace, having commenced so early as the year 1819, when they took possession of Albredar, a station within the mouth of the river Gambia, notwithstanding that that river was reserved exclusively to Great Britain by the peace; that the British Government remonstrated against this outrage at the time, and have done so at intervals ever since without effect, the said factory still continuing in possession of France, to the serious injury and embarrassment of British trade.That without adverting to other well-known acts of French aggression in the same quarter, which remain equally without redress, although attended with consequences the most ruinous to individuals, your petitioners have on this occasion humbly to draw your Lordships' attention to a further and more recent outrage committed by the French authorities so late as September last, and which, although the last aggression your petitioners have heard of, will not, they fear, be the last they are destined to endure, unless measures be taken to assert the honour, and uphold the rights of Great Britain in that part of the world.That the French, in pursuance of their policy to increase the number of their establishments on the coast, and at the same time destroy the prosperity of those of Great Britain, have recently formed new settlements 748 at the river Cazamanza, a river adjoining the Gambia, the chief British possession, and obviously with a view of intercepting our trade; that having built forts and completed their arrangements, they have commenced a system of annoyance and aggression against British traders, for the purpose of excluding them from the Cazamanza trade, intriguing with the natives to drive the English away, which the natives have refused to do, telling them that the trade is open to all: that having failed in these and other attempts to effect their object, they sent an armed force on board two British vessels, the Charles Grant and the Highlander, belonging to the Gambia, and forcibly removed them from the native town of Sedjiou, where they were pursuing their lawful trade; that one of these vessels, the Highlander, from the want of skill on the part of the French force engaged in the outrage, was run on shore and finally left, and yet remains with her cargo in possession of the aggressors. That by such proceedings the English are dishonoured in the eyes of the natives, and confidence entirely destroyed.That these and similar proceedings on the part of the French, have from time to time been strongly represented to her Majesty's Government, not only by the petitioners at home, but by the sufferers in Africa, through the Lieutenant-governor at the Gambia, praying earnestly for protection; and although your petitioners cannot think that her Majesty's Government have been entirely inattentive to their prayers, they regret to say that, up to the present moment, they are ignorant what measures, if any, have been taken for their relief; meanwhile the French are left to pursue their insulting and aggressive policy without hindrance or interruption.That in the opinion of your petitioners, the want of naval protection has been the main cause of these evils, the French having never less than two or three ships of war constantly stationed in the neighbourhood, while the English settlements are frequently left for six or eight months together without a single British ship of war coming within sight of them; that at the time these proceedings took place at the Cazamanza, there was no British ship of war within 500 miles of those settlements, although nearly twenty English ships of war are employed on that coast.That through the influence of the British possessions at the Gambia, the slave trade has been entirely destroyed in the neighbourhood of that river, formerly one of its greatest marts, which proves the great value of those possessions for the attainment of that important object; but, that your petitioners regret to state, that according to the last advices received from, the Gambia, the French authorities were purchasing slaves for government service at Cayenne, which it was feared would have the effect of reviving the love of that traffic in the breasts of the native chiefs.That the British trade with those settle- 749 ments, if duly protected and encouraged, is of great prospective value to this country as an outlet for British manufactures, which are admitted by the natives duty free; that the French evidently perceive this, and hence are using the most unscrupulous means to secure a monopoly of it.That in addition to other disadvantages which your petitioners labour under in competing with the French, the unequal and unfair system of intercourse subsisting between the French and English settlements is severely felt by the English trader; the French being allowed privileges at the Gambia, which they refuse to reciprocate at Senegal.Now all this was but a repetition of those other agressions which had been committed at Portendic six years ago; but however bad and however injurious that case was, there were circumstances attending that now before the House, which he thought gave to it a yet more offensive character. The territories which were invaded no more belonged to France than to us. From the very first day of their discovery they indisputably belonged to Portugal—to our once prized—to our once loved and ancient ally—to which, if any insult in former days had been offered—if her territories had been violated, our indignant remonstrance, and if that failed, our prompt and certain vengeance would surely have been called forth. Why did Portugal suffer this spoliation without resistance and remonstrance? The French never consulted Portugal at all. They wanted its territory, and they at once proceeded vi et armis to secure their object. Portugal was weak and helpless, and according to the logic and moral of mightier states—and he was not speaking with regard to France alone—powers incapable of resistance might be wronged and insulted. What was England, chivalrous England about? And he would beg to remind the noble Viscount opposite, that on his last return to office he said, that his administration was founded on principles of chivalry. What was chivalrous England about, he repeated? The only answer which he got to his question was, perhaps, that the Government knew nothing of the matter. It was the practice of France to do in other cases what they had done here, and it had been carried to a very inconvenient extent. He remembered two or three years ago that he took the liberty, in the case of the usurpation of a portion of the Brazilian territory, of calling the attention of the noble Viscount 750 to the subject, and he then knew, and ventured to predict, what would be the consequence—the infallible consequence of our neglect of that matter. The noble Viscount had laughed at the outlandish and barbarous names, and said that he had taken an exaggerated view of the matter, and that it was of no consequence, commercial, financial, or territorial. He could but think at the time, when he heard the statement, of the story of the young lady who justified her sister's indiscretion, by saying "true it is, that she had a baby, but then it was a very little one." But the complaint was, that the French Government was constantly getting these little children. They had a small child in Minorca, which the noble Lord, the Lord Privy Seal, had taken under his patronage, and for which he seemed willing: to stand godfather. Then there were twins on the coast of Africa; there was another flourishing bantling at Monte Video; and finally, there was one now eleven years old, and just beginning its education in Algiers. The noble Lord did not even say, "Oh, fie," to these indiscretions; and by not doing so, he exposed himself to the charge of indulging in a lax morality. When the settlement was made at Cazamanza, the British merchants applied to the Governor of Gambia. Whether their complaints ever reached her Majesty's Government, or whether they ever condescended to give an answer, he did not know; he had his own suspicions upon that point, but this he did know, because he had an evidence of the fact, that no British ship of war had been sent to assist them—there had been no Government vessel of any sort or kind within 500 miles for many months together—no ship bearing her Majesty's pennant was, during the transaction, sent to the place for the purpose of watching over the British interests, and for protecting British subjects engaged there in lawful commerce. The consequence was, that during two years, the French had had everything their own way, recognising no law but the law of the strongest—trampling on the rights of Portugal—on the rights of England, and of every other nation which had been admitted to the privileges of a free trade with those settlements. If such things as these were to be passed over in silence, would the French know where to stop? If these things were done at a time of profound peace? 751 Therefore it was that this was more injurious to us than a state of war; for, in a state of war, thank God, we knew how to take care of our colonies and of our foreign trade; and we did take care of them in those good old-fashioned days, when hard fighting, and not mere political subserviency, constituted the main feature in a sailor's character, and constituted the claims to distinction. The fleets of France were, in fact, more formidable to us in a time of peace than in a time of war; not only had they brought on us national disgrace, but individuals were stripped of their property, whole families were plunged into all but absolute misery—the most outrageous proceedings had taken place, and then their Lordships were coolly told that they must seek redress through the tedious and dilatory forms of official correspondence, and of a lazy and a loitering diplomacy, suffering the loss of time and the anxiety which were incalculably more aggravating than the original wrong:—Full little knowest thou, that hast not tried,What hell it is in suing long to bide;To lose good days that might be better spent,To waste long nights in pensive discontent;To speed to-day, to be put back to morrow;To feed on hope, to pine with fear and sorrow;To have thy prince's grace, yet want her peers;To have thy asking, yet wait many years;To fret thy soul with crosses and with cares;To eat thy heart through comfortless despairs.It was for the interest of France herself, that she should be warned not to persevere in the present course, for if persevered in, it must teste the noble Viscount, lead to a collision between the two countries, and to the interruption of peace. He said teste the noble Viscount and he said it without apprehending for a moment that the noble Viscount would be guilty of the bad taste of asserting in that House what had been most indecently and most unfoundedly insinuated elsewhere, that in bringing forward matters of this kind, the Tory party, as it was called had no other object in view than that of embroiling the two powers, and of plunging them into a war. He denied that the Tory party wished for war. They had not so entirely lost their senses, they were not so utterly and hopelessly moon-stricken, as to wish for a war under any circumstances He did not wish for a war. He wished 752 for peace, not only with great and gallant France, our ancient and most honourable opponent, but also with every, the meanest and the poorest community. He had a great many reasons for wishing for peace—one of the most exquisite, and one of the most graceful of the relics of antique art that had descended to us, was a celebrated gem bearing as an impress Cupid wielding a thunderbolt. The noble Viscount was too good a scholar to forget the Greek epigram explaining the allusions and stating that the sculptor meant by the design the union of Persuasion and of Power—of the persuasive faculties which distinguished her Majesty's Administration let Mexico, and Buenos Ayres, and Portendic, and our merchants trading with America, and with Africa, speak the value. As to the power of that Administration, he did trust, and so did England trust with him, that he never should see the day when the dignity, the interests, and the safety of this country should be confided to them, or when the administration of its resources should be entrusted to them against the attack of a foreign power. But short of war, and short of anything resembling war, he was convinced, that means could be found to put an end to the outrages of which they had so long reason to complain. Remonstrance alone would not do much. Let the noble Viscount try retaliation—retaliation in no hostile sense at all, but such retaliation as France herself could not find the shadow of a reason to object. Let the noble Viscount merely do this. Let him put the French trading in our Gambia on the same footing as the French put the English trading with their Senegal. Let him give to the French nothing more in Gambia than they gave us in Senegal. How did matters now stand? Every advantage which the most liberal commercial policy could suggest was afforded in Gambia to the French nation. Our port of St. Mary was open to them, but in their port of St. Louis it was not permitted for a British vessel to approach. At Goree the severity was such that goods could not be transhipped from one foreign vessel into another if they happened to be destined for the British possessions in the Gambia. It was the most one-sided reciprocity he had ever heard of. If the noble Viscount would only hint at a species of retaliation, the whole of this complicated question would be easily and quietly settled. There 753 was another point to which he would advert, and he would do so in the slightest possible degree, because he wished to reserve it for abler and better hands. He alluded to the encouragement which these proceedings gave to the revival on the western coast of Africa of that awful traffic which had been put an end to, under Providence, by those exertions in which England had taken such an eminent part. He certainly could not, at that moment, substantiate the fact, but he had been assured, that the French had authorised a new traffic, and had even purchased slaves for the Government plantation at Cayenne, in South America. But that point he would reserve till the return of the learned Lord (Brougham), who would not be many days in England without laying bare anything that could be substantiated upon this subject. And although the noble Marquess had, the other evening, stated that the noble and learned Lord had vanished into thin air, yet he had received, under the noble Lord's own hands, an assurance that they would soon see him again in his place, in a substantial form. He found that he had omitted to state what was the importance of the trade before the interruption, whilst it remained in our own hands; what it was at the period of the interruption, and what it had been since. A return which he held in his hand was dated April 11th, and gave an account of the Senegal gum imported into this country. In 1833 there were brought by British vessels 15,125 cwts. of Senegal gum imported into this country. In 1834 there were 19,502 cwts. In 1835, when the trade was interrupted, there were 220 tons. In 1836, when the French took possession of Senegal, and the importation of gum into this country took place in foreign bottoms, the quantity was 16,742 cwts., and in 1838 it was 29,274 cwts. This alluded to the quantity of gum alone, and not to the entire imports of all products from Africa. He had now done with the Casamanza case. He handed it over to the noble Viscount for him to consider of it. He believed that was the technical term, in other words, to form a new item in the outstanding account, and it was a long one between the noble Viscount and the merchants of England, and he hoped, that the noble Viscount would be enabled to place it to the credit side of his ledger. But be was wearying their Lordships with 754 the recital of these matters. Yet he could not conclude without saying a few words on the original transgression in Portendic; he had last year mentioned that transaction, and he had laid it in all its bearings before Parliament. It involved no party principle, it was no question between ins or outs, Whigs or Tories, it was an Englishman's question, and as such only did he discuss it. It was also brought twice before the House of Commons during the last Session, by one of the most zealous, and one of the most able supporters of her Majesty's Government, the learned Member for the Tower Hamlets, no mean authority in matters of international law. It was twice brought before the House of Commons by that learned person, and twice was that learned person told by the noble Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, that the matter was under discussion between the Governments of England and of France. He wished to know, therefore, from the noble Viscount, whether those discussions were yet concluded? It appeared that six years had elapsed since the date of the transactions which had given rise to these communications, and if the reasoning of the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, had all that time failed to convince the French Government of the justice of these claims, he could not help thinking that it would have been the noble Lord's duty himself to have come to Parliament for advice and assistance. He was perfectly confident that such would have been the course of Mr. Canning, that such would have been the course of Mr. Canning's lamented successor, and such, he doubted not, would have been the course of his noble Friend near him (the Earl of Aberdeen), or of the illustrious Duke, whose absence they all regretted, and such, he was sure, would have been the conduct of the noble Viscount himself, had it been a question with a more feeble state than France. Had it been Portugal instead of France, their Lordships might be assured that they would have had a bill laid on their table long ago, a bill of coercion and of pains and penalties against Portugal. At all times the claims of their injured fellow subjects were fully entitled to the prompt consideration, and to the most ample support of the servants of the Crown. That was a general principle; but in the present case, he contended that these parties had a peculiar and particular right to 755 have their claims so considered, and to be so supported. And why? Because it was mainly owing to the Government themselves, and to the reliance of these parties on the Government, that they were drawn into the difficulties, and had suffered the losses of which they had to complain. He was but imperfectly aware of the facts last Session; but he could now give proof of what he stated. After the first aggression of the French, the parties were anxious to know whether they might venture to continue so improving a trade, and whether they might risk their capital by sending again to the coast of Africa. They made application to the Colonial-office in the latter part of the year 1833; and at that time the right hon. Gentleman, who was now a noble Lord, and one of the ornaments of that House, presided over the colonial department. They were told to put their statement in writing, and to give the reason for their application. They received a reply in answer, dated Downing-street, 12th November, 1834, in which it was said, that the writer acknowledged the receipt of the merchant's letter of the 1stinst., and that having laid the statement before Mr. Secretary Spring Rice, he was commanded to inform the merchants that the Government were prepared to extend to the British interests in that quarter, every protection, and to secure for the merchants every right which by any treaty or obligation subsisting between Great Britain and France belonged to them. He would ask whether, after a letter of that sort, there was not a sufficient guarantee to the merchants engaged in these transactions against all risk, arising from any other than a slate of war? Some thirty-five years ago, there was published a striking pamphlet which was attributed to Mr. Stephen, entitled, "War in Disguise, or Frauds of Neutral Flags." But the transactions that had taken place since the publication of that pamphlet, had proved that there were other sorts of war in disguise than those which the author of the pamphlet contemplated. He wished to learn from the noble Viscount, what was the present state of the negotiations between England and France on the subject of our Portendic trade, and whether any scheme of a convention had been put forward, and if so, what was the principle on which that scheme was founded? To do ample justice to their claims—the only principle on 756 which a convention ought to be founded—was what was called "consequential damage," for if the French had no legal right to establish the blockade, and for the assertion that they had no such right, he had the authority of Dr. Lushington, of all the Queen's law officers, and of the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs himself—if then, as he said, the French had no legal right to establish this blockade, he contended that France was responsible for all and every species of damage and injury which might arise from the blockade. The noble Viscount would doubtless say, that the amount of claims was unreasonable, and again he might be told that the "commission consultative" attached to the foreign department in Paris, had made an assessment, not of the amount of the present claims, but of the insignificant sum of 60,000 francs. He begged the noble Viscount to recollect (and this time he would be careful in the statement of his details, which last time he admitted that he was not) that these transactions referred to distinct epochs, that up to 1834, and the transactions subsequent to that period. It was the first epoch that embraced the transaction in which the two ships were seized, and it was for the seizure of these two ships, that these 60,000 francs were awarded, and not for the losses which had accrued to the merchants subsequently, from the interruption of the trade. He was sorry to have so long troubled their Lordships, but he could not conclude without saying, that if we had any right whatever still remaining under any treaties affecting the western coast of Africa, he could not but believe that the time was come when it would be proper to assert that right by something more than mere remonstrance. If the honour of France, wounded by an offence offered to her consul by the Dey of Algiers, could only be appeased by the expulsion of that chief from his dominions, by the extermination of his subjects, and by the appropriation to French uses, not only of the city, but of the whole regency of Algiers; if France had a legal right to blockade Mexico, to bombard Vera Cruz, to stop the mouth of the river La Plata, and to seize on Monte Video, to avenge injuries, real or fancied, inflicted on her subjects, he did not understand on what principle it was, that that self-same France, whilst vindi- 757 cating her own rights in every quarter of the globe, should delay, and should thus deny justice to the subjects of the Queen of England, and should, as it were, set at nought the majesty of the British Crown. He would move, that an humble address be presented to her Majesty, for copies of all despatches received from, and addressed to, the Governor or Lieutenant-governor of the Gambia, relating to the gum trade, and to the aggressions of the French on the western coast of Africa, since 1832; also, for copies of all despatches to the British Admiral on the African station, or to the commanders of British ships of war cruising on the west coast of Africa, on the same subject, and from the same period; and also, for copies of all communications or applications for redress, made by British subjects to the Foreign or Colonial Office, relating to transactions on the West Coast of Africa, together with the answers thereto, from the year 1832 to the present period.
§ Viscount Melbourne
certainly could not complain of the noble Viscount for bringing these matters under the consideration of their Lordships. He admitted that they were matters of great importance, and well worthy of their Lordships' attention; but he had a right to complain of the angry and irritable tone with which the subject had been introduced; and he would have complained of the pointed sarcasm which had been used in reference to a foreign power, and of the attacks on the general policy which had been made, if it had not been that the latter part of the noble Lord's speech had been wrapped up in so much allegory, with such a mixture of Greek epigrams, and of imagination, so much better adapted for the region of poetry or of fiction than of debate, as to have rendered the tone of his speech innocuous, and not likely to be attended with those irritating effects which it might otherwise have produced. But as it was likely that their Lordships would hear many arguments, many motions, many statements, and many descriptions of matters of this nature and of this character, he would only beg and implore their Lordships to consider them calmly and patiently, but, at the same time, with firmness and with resolution. The noble Lord who had just spoken had said, that when on a former occasion he had addressed the House upon this subject, he had done so in a firm And resolute tone. 758 He trusted that whilst he held his present situation, or whilst he should occupy any other station, he would never be wanting in firmness, or in resolution, on this or on any other subject. But he trusted, also, that all noble Lords would address the House in relation to this subject, with the greatest calmness, and the greatest temper, recollecting the vast importance of this matter, and the serious consequences to which their speeches might probably conduce. It was now about 100 years since this country, in consequence of complaints of injustice, which in modern times had been said to have been entirely without foundation, and which he himself believed to have been greatly exaggerated, and to have been mainly preferred for a party purpose, to injure the Ministers of that day, was hurried into a war which was not productive of any great honour or any great advantages, which had added seriously to the burdens of the country, and was the origin of many of those taxes that were most objectionable in our financial system, and with reference to which war, Burke had afterwards reprobated and condemned those who had been most active in authorising or in instituting it. Whilst, then, he advised the strictest attention and the closest observation to protect the interests of British subjects, he could not be sufficiently strong in his recommendation of a tone in their Lordships' discussions, which should be entirely free from every thing in the slightest degree irritating or offensive. He would not make any particular observation on the petition which the noble Viscount had presented; but he must remark, that at the conclusion, the petition prayed for something equally absurd and extravagant. It prayed, that we should get rid of the settlement altogether. Now, such a prayer might possibly proceed from the influence of the irritation tinder which the petitioners were smarting; or, probably if the matter were investigated it would be found that those who wished for a ground of attack against the present Government liked to convey their bitterness in that form. If he were to judge from the tone of unction with which the noble Viscount read the last sentence of that petition, he should be inclined to believe that the noble Viscount wrote it himself: it was very much in the noble Lord's style, except that it was calmer and simpler, and more to the purpose; and he could not help 759 thinking that, at any rate, the petition had been suggested by a gentleman who had some personal purposes to serve, or some party enmities to gratify. He would begin with where the noble Lord concluded—with those questions which he brought under the consideration of the House in a former Session of Parliament respecting the outrage committed on certain vessels belonging to her Majesty's subjects at Portendic, and to the interruption of our trade on the coast of Africa. He had to say on this subject, that the French Government—the late French Government he meant, though of course he had every reason to believe the engagement he was about to mention would be acted upon by their successors—but the late French Government acceded to the establisment of a mixed commission for the consideration of all these matters, and the sitting of that mixed commission would have commenced, if it had not been from a delay on our part to appoint the persons who were to represent the British Government there. These gentlemen were now selected, and he saw no reason whatever to prevent the commission from forthwith commencing its operations. But at the commencement of the negociations nothing could be more inconvenient than the production of the previous correspondence—correspondence much of which in its nature must necessarily be adverse. In fact, the production would be more likely to impede the progress of the negotiations than to lead to any satisfactory termination. He would now proceed to relate all that the Government knew with respect to the proceedings on the river Casamanza. That river was one which, rising in the interior of Africa, ran into the sea parallel to the Gambia, but south of that river. The noble Lord said, that the nominal property of the river was vested in Portugal. It was a property which they had not been able to make good, but which they merely possessed nominally, in consequence of their having a small settlement at the mouth of the river. Up this river, at a certain distance from the coast, the French had purchased from the natives a piece of land; the French had purchased a factory, near an African village, of the name of Sessue. In August the Grant schooner entered the river, with a view of trading with the inhabitants of Sessue. They were warned by the French not to do so; and it was stated in the affidavits 760 of the parties, that the people at the French factory endeavoured to persuade the natives of Sessue not to permit the English to trade. That vessel completed her cargo, and was going down the river, when they met another vessel, the Highlander, belonging, he believed, to the same firm. For the purpose of transhipping the cargo, the two vessels returned in company to Sessue. The moment a native canoe came off to trade, the two vessels were boarded by the French, the one worked down the river from some distance, and the other run aground. The crew left her, and some lime after made their complaint to the governor of the Gambia. That officer communicated with the French governor of Senegal, who replied that he claimed no exclusive rights in the Casamanza river, but that he did claim the right in Sessue, because the French had purchased a factory there. The governor of Senegal also expressed a hope that the governor of the Gambia would endeavour to prevent British subjects from trading at Sessue. The governor of the Gambia refused to enter into any arrangement. All he said he would do was, to give every protection to British subjects that might repair to Sessue. He sent an officer to Sessue to learn the nature of the transaction between the natives and the French. This gentleman in his report stated that the natives admitted that the factory had been sold to the French, but they denied that they had sold the town of Sessue, and they declared that they did not intend to sell it. It appeared from this statement, therefore, to be an unwarrantable pretension on the part of the French in saying, that no foreign nation should have a right to trade with Sessue. No doubt their exclusive right to trade with the factory must be admitted. This was the real state of the question. He must now observe, that the last dispatch from the governor of the Gambia, giving the account of the officer sent to Sessue, was only received at the Colonial-office on the 10th of February—at the Foreign-office on the 20th. The natural course that the Government had to take, was to refer the question in the first place to the law officer, the Queen's advocate, and upon his opinion, and view, and advice, to make that demand for explanation, or reparation from the government of France, which the circumstances of the case would not only justify, but 761 require. And, considering that the matter was so recent, that it was still pending, he apprehended that their Lordships would consider that this was not the time for them to take even a preliminary step in this matter. He trusted, in respect to this present question, that the noble Lord would not think it necessary to press his motion for further information. With respect to what had been said of persuading the French by depriving them of those commercial privileges which they now enjoyed, but which they did not appear willing to reciprocate, that was not the question now under consideration. The noble Lord, however, had mixed up a great many other matters with this subject. He trusted he should soon be able to give him more satisfactory information. The noble Lord said that our naval force on the coast of Africa was not sufficient; that there was not a ship in the Gambia and Casamanza rivers; and that there were no vessels on the coast. Their Lordships all knew that our vessels on the coast of Africa were engaged in putting down the slave trade, and that they had full enough to do in that service. The same dispatch which brought the account which he had alluded to, also brought the information that a vessel had been dispatched by the officer commanding at Sierra Leone, which he considered a force quite sufficient for the protection of our interests in that river. He trusted that this explanation would satisfy the noble Lord.
I am aware that it is extremely irregular and unusual to make the request which I am about to make to the noble Viscount. I was forced to leave the House by indisposition when the noble Viscount commenced his address, and since I have come in again I have heard that the noble Viscount has been pleased to state something about my having suggested this petition. I call upon the noble Viscount, in that spirit of courtesy which is due from one gentleman to another, to tell me what he did say, in order that I may answer him.
§ Viscount Melbourne
Nothing is so fallacious as judgments founded on a similarity of styles. I said that the last part of the petition resembled very much the style of the noble Lord, and that perhaps he might have suggested it.
It is, perhaps, my misfortune, but I have been so very 762 little in correspondence with the noble Viscount, that I am at a loss to understand in what he founds his judgment as to the similarity of style. For the present, I merely declare, upon my honour, that not one line of that petition was written or seen by me till it was put into my hands.
The Earl of Minto
He would not have risen to say one word, if it had not been for the declaration of the noble Lord, that all this inconvenience to our trade had been occasioned in consequence of an insufficiency of naval protection on the African coast. The noble Lord alluded to the year 1835, and he stated that it was at the latter end. [Viscount Strangford: But I corrected myself.] But the noble Lord was not incorrect at all as to the date, for representations were made in the latter end of 1835, and in consequence of these representations the Admiralty dispatched a powerful force to the coast of Africa, in order to protect our trade and to assert the right of our merchants there. That protection at the time was successful. Since then, occasional applications had been made for men of war, and in every case the application had been granted. This was fully acknowledged by the parties who made the applications.
§ The Earl of Aberdeen
did not doubt, that his noble Friend had brought this subject under their Lordships' notice with extreme reluctance, and he was sure, that he had not taken such a step without mature consideration. His noble Friend must have been aware of the great inconvenience of discussing questions of this nature in that House, and he must have known, that complaints of this kind directed against a foreign state, and more particularly such a state as France, could not be unattended with the most grave and weighty considerations, from the serious consequences which might result from their discussion. Such were his opinions, and he therefore agreed with the noble Viscount at the head of the Government, that questions of this nature ought to be treated with calmness and deliberation. But while he made that admission, he must at the same time ask the noble Viscount what it was that he expected their Lordships to do? They saw the flag of England despised and outraged in every quarter of the globe. They were every day made aware of the complaints of the mercantile community for want of protection 763 to their trade and commerce, and after vain and fruitless attempts to obtain redress from the Government, they found the merchants of this country addressing that House, and praying for the interference of their Lordships. Under such circumstances what were their Lordships to do? Were they to give to the Government that unmeasured confidence to which they could only be entitled from those who approved of their policy, and who sanctioned the measures which they adopted? It was impossible for noble Lords on his side of the House, holding the opinions which they had ever entertained of the noble Viscount and of his Colleagues in the Government, and of their conduct as a Government, to have that confidence in the energy of the noble Viscount and in the success of his representations and remonstrances with foreign powers, which would justify their Lordships in remaining silent when questions of this kind were brought under their notice. What encouragement, he would ask, had they to place that confidence in the Government of the noble Viscount? The Portendic case was one of the most flagrant outrages that had ever been committed on our flag and on the commerce of the country, and which, notwithstanding, was, after six years of remonstrance and representations, still unredressed; no result having followed the exercise of the authority possessed by the Government. Their representations and remonstrances had been without effect. At the end of those six years, however, it appeared, that a commission had been appointed. Such a step might have been proper in cases of a doubtful character, but here there was not a shadow of excuse for the outrage which had been committed, according to the opinions of those best qualified to decide on subjects of this kind. They had also now a more recent case of outrage, and the noble Viscount urged as a reason for not producing the papers which had been moved for, that such a step, was premature, as the Government had only recently received an account of the affair to which he had alluded. That was, no doubt, a sufficient reason for resisting the motion of his noble Friend; but if in reference to this new case the result was to be six years' of fruitless remonstrances, and then the appointment of a commission, the parties aggrieved would have just right to complain in being thus exposed to all the miseries of delay. It was all 764 very well to be cautious as to urging complaints of this kind upon the House; but the case of the present petitioners was not in any way similar to the cases of Captain Jenkins and others in the last century, for in this case the grievances were real and substantial. Nor were these outrages confined to one particular portion of the globe, for, go where they would, similar grievances met them in every place. He must say, that if this was the result of their much-boasted French alliance, that that alliance bore bitter fruit, as far at least as the commerce and prosperity of the country were concerned. No one could be more anxious than he was to preserve peace, and he should be most unwilling to do or say anything which could endanger it; but let him ask, had they the substantial thing itself, as well as the name of peace? If it was said, that they were actually at peace, why, then, had they so large a naval force in the Mediterranean? Why bad they had of late years a revenue unequal to the expenditure—not from any falling off in the revenue itself, but solely on account of the increased expense caused by the military preparations of the Government. He did not complain of those preparations, for on the contrary he approved of them; but still he must say, that these things could not be considered as amongst the sweets of peace. He hoped, however, as no practical good could result from pressing the motion which had been submitted to their Lordships' consideration, that his noble Friend would consent to withdraw it. At the same lime he must express a wish, that the noble Viscount at the head of the Government would use that firm tone which he had alluded to elsewhere than in that House, in order that his remonstrances might be productive of a beneficial result, and that other nations might see that this country was not so changed as to allow its complaints and its demands for the redress of grievances to pass without effect. Let France be as sincere a friend as she was represented to be, still he believed that she would not be less friendly if this country showed, that it was determined not to pass by such outrages as those to which their Lordships' attention had been directed, without obtaining redress. He trusted, that the efforts of the noble Viscount for the attainment of that object would be attended with greater success than they had hitherto been, and 765 that would procure a settlement of these differences with much less delay.
said, that after the assurance which he had given the noble Viscount, that he had had no share in the preparation of the petition which he had presented to their Lordships, he trusted the noble Viscount would see the propriety of withdrawing the charge which he had made against him. He had certainly not imagined, that the noble Viscount would object to the production of the papers for which he had moved, but after what had fallen from his noble Friend (the Earl of Aberdeen), he should not persist in his motion.
§ Viscount Melbourne
was sure, that if the noble Lord had heard what he had actually stated with reference to the petition, he would hare admitted, that there was no charge whatever made against him. However, he now begged to say, that he had not intended to make any charge against the noble Lord, and if the noble Lord felt offended at the observations he had made, he at once withdrew them.
did not think, that there would have been anything improper in the statement, even if his noble Friend had said, that the noble Lord had assisted in the preparation of the petition. There would have been nothing of which the noble Lord could have had cause to be ashamed in offering his advice to the petitioners. He could not see, that there would have been any harm in the noble Lord, who agreed in opinion with the petitioners, suggesting the terms in which the document should be drawn up.
Ay, my Lords, that may be true; but it is a different matter to present a petition to your Lordships under a false disguise, and under false pretences.
The Marquess of Londonderry
said, the noble Viscount often made strong charges against noble Lords on his (the Opposition) side of the House, but when similar charges were directed against noble Lords opposite, the noble Viscount treated them with a sort of contempt. He could assure the noble Viscount, that there was no disposition on the Opposition side of the House to show temper, and he trusted, that their debates would always be conducted with calmness. With regard to the charge which had been made against his noble Friend, he must say, that if his noble Friend did write the petition, and 766 then go and obtain the signatures of the merchants which were appended to it, such a charge was one of a grave and serious kind, and he was therefore very glad that the noble Viscount had apologized to his noble Friend.
§ Motion withdrawn.