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in dismissing Mr. Eyre from the governorship of the island, the House at the same time concurs in the view expressed by the late Colonial Secretary, that while any very minute endeavour to punish acts which may now be the subject of regret' would not be expedient, still that great offences ought to be punished;' and that grave excesses of severity on the part of any civil, military, or naval officers ought not to be passed over with impunity; that it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to award compensation to those whose property was wantonly and cruelly destroyed, and to the families of those who were put to death illegally; and that since considerably more than a thousand persons are proved to have been executed or severely flogged on the charge of participating in these disturbances, all further punishment on account of them ought to be remitted.”
Mr. Adderley, the recently appointed Under Secretary for the Colonies, said the Report of the Commission had been accepted on all hands, and he must decline to re-open the case and try it over again. The question now was, whether the House should pass Resolutions on the Report. The insurrection in Jamaica had been treated as a very small affair, but as news had recently arrived that another outbreak was anticipated, and the Governor had sent for reinforcements, perhaps Mr. Buxton would take it in hand. He urged that the Resolutions were inadmissible, and ought not to be agreed to, and especially because they only endorsed the censure which had been passed on the officials of Jamaica, without saying a word of the praise which had been bestowed upon them. He concluded by moving the previous question.
Mr. S. Mill said that he and those who acted with him might well be content to let the subject go forth for the opinion of the country on the speech of Mr. Adderley. He, however, had to move an amendment, that recent transactions in Jamaica required investigation of a character which could only be satisfactorily made by a judicial tribunal. Whatever difference of opinion there might be as to the degree of culpability of the actors in these transactions, there was no doubt expressed as to the fact of culpability, and that the lives of persons had been wrongfully taken. Therefore a criminal court alone was competent to deal with that culpability.
Mr. W. E. Forster supported the first and second Resolutions.
The Attorney-General suggested that it was not necessary to enter into the facts, as they had been fully ascertained, and that it was not desirable to discuss the questions of law involved, as that might become the duty of a judicial tribunal.
Mr. Cardwell urged, that in considering this question the acts of spirit and judgment done by Governor Eyre should be set against the errors and mistakes which he had made; and he contended that the decision in this respect to which the Commissioners had come ought to be upheld.
Mr. T. Hughes supported the amendment of Mr. Mill, and pressed the point that if the deeds done in Jamaica were to go by without judicial investigation, this generation would be the first that had not vindicated the honour of England when it had been violated by its colonial officers.
Sir R. Palmer stated his agreement in the first two Resolutions. The first he hoped would be accepted; but the second was unnecessary, because it asked that to be done which the Government was already doing. He wholly dissented from any thing that was said in extenuation of the excesses which had been committed.
Mr. R. Gurney, who had been a member of the Commission, said he was still of opinion that Mr. Gordon was improperly convicted; and he could say that there was not evidence on which capitally to convict, however he might have been open to a charge of sedition.
Mr. Ayrton urged that the parties implicated ought to be visited by the condemnation of the House.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the only way in which Parliament could act was by impeachment, and the first Resolution could not be made the foundation of an impeachment, as it assumed that every thing was done legally. The Resolution was one in which all sides might join, and he trusted that the House would accept it.
The first Resolution was then agreed to by the House; the second, third, and fourth were withdrawn.
In the House of Lords, when the same subject was brought under notice by a question addressed to the Government by the Earl of Romney, the Earl of Carnarvon, Chief Secretary for the Colonies, expressed his opinion in clear and unequivocal terms on the transactions of the insurrection and the measures adopted by the local Government for suppressing it. The noble Earl said he had no doubt that grave acts of undoubted cruelty, oppression, and injustice on the part of those in authority had been committed during and after the rebellion in Jamaica. There were three classes of persons to whom blame attached – the naval officers, the military officers, and the civilians. The amount of excess charged against the naval officers was less than that imputed to the other classes. At the same time there were cases that required investigation, and this had been undertaken by the Admiralty. The charges against the military officers were of a more serious character. At the same time the Commissioners had only designated by name three persons against whom they thought that proceedings should be taken. They mentioned the cases of Captain Elliot, Colonel Hobbs, and Lieutenant Adcock; and he must say that these and two or three other officers had been guilty of acts which it was impossible to look back upon without the deepest regret. The letters to which some of these officers had put their names were disgusting from their tone of indecent levity. The only persons, however, against whom, as he had said, the Commissioners advised proceedings, were Provost-Marshal Ramsay, Ensign Cullen, and Dr. Morris. Ramsay was now on his trial for murder in Jamaica, and he was therefore precluded from saying any thing about him. He had brought the cases of Cullen and Morris under the notice of the Commander-in-Chief, and he submitted to him that it was desirable to try them by court-martial. Inasmuch, however, as Sir H. Storks had by this time left the island, and as General O'Connor, the officer now in command of the troops, was considerably implicated in many transactions during the late rebellion, he had suggested that it would be desirable either to remove the courts-martial from Jamaica, or to constitute them of officers who had taken no part in the transactions in question. The Commander-in-Chief had acceded to that view; and these persons would be brought to trial at courts-martial, taking the precautions that he had mentioned. The insurrection having been a serious one, it required strong measures to suppress it; but unfortunately the late Governor saw only one side of the matter, and only one part of his duty. He had no doubt, however, that Mr. Eyre and those officers who acted under him on the courts-martial, acted with most complete bona fides, and that their minds were altogether free from personal malice and evil intentions. To indict Mr. Eyre, then, on a charge of murder, would be most preposterous.
Earl Russell agreed in the above observations on the conduct of Governor Eyre, and eulogized the Report of the Jamaica Commission.
The Earl of Carnarvon, in reply to a question from Lord Houghton, said the question of compensation for damage done to property during the rebellion was one rather for the other House ; but he should doubt whether this country would be disposed to make any grant on that account.
On the 4th of March a very important question of International Maritime Law was raised in the House of Commons by Mr. Gregory, who moved an Address to the Queen, praying her to use her influence with foreign Powers for the purpose of making the principle that private property should be free from capture at sea a maxim of international maritime law. His object in bringing forward the motion was to supplement the declaration of the Paris Conference in 1856, that a neutral flag covered belligerent's goods. That principle had been supported by the unanimous decision of a committee of the House of Commons, by the late Sir G. C. Lewis, several chambers of commerce, and many distinguished members at each side of the House. Lord Palmerston, too, had expressed himself in favour of it in 1856, although he thought fit to change his opinions afterwards. He contended that if it were recognized as an element of international maritime law, it would prove one of the most blessed and humanizing laws ever adopted by mankind. It was, he thought, utterly impossible for this country to remain in its present position on this question. It
must either advance or retrograde. In the event of a war breaking out at the present moment, England might lose her entire carrying trade, and her colonies be ruined. Having replied to various arguments which had been adduced against the principle, and noticed the objection that there would be no means of putting it in force if it were adopted, he granted that that was so; but he urged that they must trust to the honour of nations to conform to it, and, so far as France was concerned, he was persuaded she would give her adhesion to the principle.
Sir F. H. Goldsmid opposed the motion, as the adoption of the principle proposed would deprive England of her maritime superiority without advancing the cause of humanity.
Mr. Liddell and Mr. Baxter supported, and Mr. B. Cochrane opposed the motion.
Mr. McCullagh Torrens supported the motion, and said that the pillage of private individuals never yet put an end to any war, for war must be conducted upon public principles.
Mr. Buxton pointed to the extensive commercial operations of this country as a reason why we should be the first to support this rule, and argued that the present state of things was a positive temptation to war. He scouted the idea that a state of war would dissolve any international obligation of this character, and argued in favour of reducing war as far as possible to a duel between Governments and armies.
The Lord-Advocate, in reply to the argument that England, as the greatest commercial nation, was chiefly interested in this change, pointed out that the increase in our vulnerability had been accompanied by an increase in our power to defend ourselves, and he objected to this proposal as tending to cripple our strength for attack and defence. He maintained that all war was of necessity a violation of private property, and that the rule of exemption -which depended much on the discretion of the commanders, and did not spring from conventions-was, that the property of individuals should be spared when the military advantage of its destruction was out of all proportion to the individual loss. He controverted the doctrine that the capture of private property at sea was plunder, explaining that the object was to weaken the resources of the enemy, and the condemnation of the cargo was to reward the captors. He showed that the design of the convention of 1856 was to assimilate the maritime law of the European Powers, and did not involve the concession of a principle which would tie our hands for the future; and he insisted, with much force, that the miseries of a prolonged state of war were infinitely greater in the end than a sharp, short, and decisive struggle.
Mr. Laing asserted that in the event of a war breaking out in the present state of maritime law, the 7,000,000 tons in which British commerce was carried would be annihilated, and that commerce would be transferred to the neutral flag. He referred to the Danish claims, to our operations in China, and to the civil war in America, to prove that private property on land had always been spared, and maintained that the right of blockade enabled a belligerent to do all that he had fairly a right to do in injuring his enemy. By a description of the commercial relations of great trading nations he showed it was not the risk of a few captures at sea which deterred them from going to war, and pointed out that the weaker Powers were much less likely to go to war with us if the temptation of preying on our commerce were removed. He expressed his belief that this was a very favourable moment for making the change, and called on the Government to take a statesman's and not a lawyer's view of the question.
Lord Cranborne denied that there was any established rule of warfare which exempted private property on land from capture, and illustrated his argument by reference to the campaigns of Napoleon, the Banda and Kirwee prize-money case, and General Sherman's march. After discussing some of the questions of maritime law which had arisen during the American civil war, he insisted that it was impossible to establish a law of this kind, as, in the case of war, no one would be interested in enforcing it but the belligerents, whose strength would be already tasked to the utmost.
The Attorney-General, in a speech distinguished by forcible and luminous reasoning, opposed the motion. He said that if the House adopted the rule that private property was to be respected at sea, it would lay down a totally different rule for maritime warfare to that which prevailed by land. Belligerent operations by land rested upon moral obligations and a regard for national reputation ; but still they were of a flexible and indefinite character. The object of a naval belligerent was to operate generally against the resources of the enemy, and the incidence of the loss fell upon the nation ; for private property would be made available for the public use if permitted to be added to the resources of one or other of the belligerents. Excluding the supposition of bad faith, he thought it would be most difficult to adopt the principle of exempting private property from capture, because suspicions of bad faith would be constantly cropping up, and retaliations would take place as the necessary consequence. He referred to the blockade of the Southern States as a proof that this was a most powerful instrument of warfare, and maintained that the right of blockade, which it was not proposed to weaken, was as great an interference with private property as the right of capture. Pointing also to the experience of the American war to show that powerfullybuilt mercantile vessels might easily be turned to warlike purposes, he urged that this was an additional reason why an enemy should not be permitted to enjoy undisturbed the advantages of a large mercantile navy. He mentioned a variety of cases in which, if the rule were adopted, merchantmen would be seized, and asserted that so much suspicion would be excited and so many practical difficulties would arise, that it would ultimately be swept away by both belli