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he supposed the Meteor was off. He shrugged his shoulders, and said " he did not know she was," and when taken to task on the ground of his having given appointments to rebels, and left Nichols unprovided for, he said, “Wait, wait, there may be a chance yet to ship.”
8th. There were upon the Meteor, at the time of her seizure, 12 rifled carbines (which R. B. Forbes had ordered to be put on the rack), a small package of rifle cartridges, and five and a half boxes of ammunition for Parrott guns ; she had originally carried two Parrott guns, but they had been taken on shore and stored sometime before the seizure. After the seizure, the captain requested the Deputy Marshal who was in charge, to allow these boxes to be carried on shore, saying that they had been overlooked ; and on being told that this could not be done, asked him to make a note of the request, but to say nothing about it.
9th. The Meteor cleared for Panama, a voyage, at the shortest, of 60 days for a fast steamer. Her manifest showed no cargo but “ fuel and provisions.” She had on board six months' provisions, part of which were marked “reserved stores,” and 750 tons of coal in bins and bags ; her crew was 57 men.
10th. A laborer engaged in loading cargo told Nichols, who had visited the ship a day or two before her seizure, that she was going to Chile, but the man himself was not produced.
11th. R. B. Forbes, who was on board on this occasion, in reply to Nichols, who said she was bound to Chile, stated she was cleared for Panama, or was bound for Panama, witness could not say which ; and afterwards, upon Nichols saying to him in loud tones, while crossing the ferry, that he had expected to have command if the vessel went to Chile, told him that he ought not to speak quite so loud in public about such matters.
12th. The mate of the vessel said he “was going to Panama, had signed papers for a year, but calculated to be back in New York in three months from the time he left.” The mate was not called to the stand.
13th. Captain Kemble of the Meteor was twice at Mackenna's house to see Mr. Hunter (Mackenna's interpreter), with whom he had had a previous acquaintance ; stayed about an hour at each interview, and on those occasions Mackenna was present ; when this was, does not appear. Hunter also twice visited the Meteor, the first time with two Chilian gentlemen.
14th. Nichols testified that he had conversed with Captain Kemble of the Meteor on the subject of her going out to Chile, and that Captain Kemble had said that, if she went out, he expected to take her out and deliver her over to some other officer or “fighting captain.” Captain Kemble, who was in court, was not examined.
15th. One Ramsay testified to a contract between himself and Mackenna for furnishing torpedo-boats to Chile, and there was formal proof of the declaration of war by Chile against Spain, the peaceful relations of the United States with either nation, the commission of Rogers as consul, &c.
16th. Jarvis, a deputy from the Marshal's office, testified that when he arrested the Meteor, January 23, 1866, she was getting ready for sea, and that Captain R. B. Forbes was then on board ; and that he remarked that he was sorry that he missed his trip down to the Narrows, and then called for his carpet-bag and took it on shore with him.
This was all the evidence in the case, as it was not considered necessary to call witnesses for the defence.
It is to be observed that very much of the testimony was admitted against the objection of the claimant's counsel, afterwards fully sustained by Judge Nelson, that it was hearsay and immaterial.
While undergoing prosecution, or, as they think it, persecution, under the forms of law, the owners of the Meteor have deemed it unbecoming to obtrude upon the public any statement of their case.
The issue of the trial which terminated on the 9th November, 1868, now releases them from a forced silence of nearly three years; and they take the first opportunity to give such a connected history of the case as will, together with an authentic report of the trial, render it intelligible to the public.
The Meteor was built by subscription, for the purpose of offering her to our government for the pursuit of the Alabama and other pirates and blockade-runners then preying upon our commerce and carrying supplies to the enemy, in defiance of our more heavily armed ships of war.
The parties interested are Wm. H. Aspinwall, A. A. Low, L. W. Jerome, P. S. Forbes, of New York; E. B. Ward of Detroit; Richard S. Rogers of Salem ; M. H. Simpson, and James Lawrence, the executors of G. Howland Shaw, John Bayley, James Davis, W. B. Bacon, John G. Cushing, F. W. Tuckerman, R. B. Forbes, and J. M. Forbes, of Boston ; who are represented by the two last as owners of record.
The Meteor was a steamer of 1440 tons register, old measurement, being about 400 tons larger than the Alabama ; and when tested by the Navy Department, made the best time between the trial buoys off Sandy Hook which had then ever been made by any screw ship, being one or two miles an hour faster than any of the rebel cruisers ; but just when the government was about taking her, the fall of Fort Fisher rendered her no longer necessary for her original purpose, and, after two or three voyages in the transport and merchant service, she was laid up and offered for sale in New York in the summer of 1865. In the autumn of 1865 Spain made war upon her former colo
nies, the States of Chile and Peru, whose independence she had never formally acknowledged, and it soon became known that the South American republics wanted ships.
There was every reason why the owners of the Meteor should be ready to sell her to our South American neighbors whenever they could properly and lawfully do so; but the circumstances were new, and the managing owners did not feel justified in relying either upon their right intentions or upon the knowledge of law familiar to merchants. They remembered that they represented a number of public-spirited men, some of them among the largest sufferers by the Alabama's piracies, who would countenance no approach to illegality in the management of the joint property. They therefore sought the advice of counsel distinguished alike for their attainments in municipal and international law and for their integrity, ability, and patriotism, the late Governor John A. Andrew and George Bemis, Esq.
They were advised by their above-named counsel, that the right of sale of ships by a neutral to a belligerent had been carefully guarded by Congress when enacting the neutrality laws, had been distinctly affirmed by Judge Story and Chief Justice Marshall forty years ago, and recognized by nearly every administration since, and especially during the Crimean War, when our ships were extensively used as transports by the Allies without even a complaint from Russia, with whom we were on the most friendly terms; that they might lawfully send their ship out for sale armed or unarmed, but that, if fitted out armed, she might be stopped by the President, and bonds required in double her value.
As each day's detention of such a ship involved a loss of several hundred dollars, besides legal fees and expenses, they were therefore advised, in case of fitting the ship for sea, to take out the two Parrott guns which she had always carried, and thus remove the only possible pretext for the interference of our government.
After several futile negotiations for her sale in New York, one of which was with a ship-broker in good standing, acting, as afterwards appeared, for certain bounty-brokers and intended privateersmen, some of whom were trying to speculate upon the ship without capital or credit, — the owners, failing to sell her at home, fitted the ship for sea on their own account.
It was their intention to sell her wherever they could properly do so, but with the most stringent determination to avoid infringing upon our own laws or those of any neutral in whose ports she might find shelter. In conformity with this determination, no negotiation was held in the pursuance of this purely commercial object without the express approval of the counsel above named.
Thus guided by able counsel, and confident in the regularity of their course, they expended a large sum in outfits, and cleared their ship for Panama, from the port of New York, on the 232 January, 1866.
Among other stores she had on board about seven hundred and fifty tons of coal, being about twelve and a half tons per diem, for her proposed voyage, which was afterwards argued to be a very suspicious outfit for a steamer of 1400 tons register, but which seemed so small to the owners, that they supplied the captain with a credit on Barings to buy more coal on his outward voyage.
When ready for sea, with her crew and stores on board, the Meteor was seized, on the 230 January, 1866, by the United States Marshal, at the instance of Spain, upon the evidence, so called, or affidavits, of some of the disappointed speculators who had failed to procure her for their own privateering purposes.
Considering the character of the parties, and the rich bait of half forfeiture, or whole blackmail money, likely to influence them, these affidavits of their belief that the vessel was bound upon an illegal voyage ought not to have been held sufficient to stop a ballast-lighter half a day, much less a valuable ship.
When individuals libel a vessel for their private claims, they are liable in damages for any detention without probable cause. It is not so with the government.
The prosecuting officers of the United States are intrusted with enormous powers against individuals, which powers carry with them the duty of exercising the greatest discretion. To this discretion, appeal was immediately, but ineffectually made.
Not believing that their government, for whose use they had built the ship in the darkest days of the rebellion, could seriously intend, upon such frivolous evidence, to continue proceedings against them, the owners immediately offered the State Department, through their counsel, every explanation and every guaranty of the lawfulness of their intended voyage which could have been required had the object of detaining the ship been merely the preservation of our neutrality or the vindication of our laws.
Each day's delay, under such circumstances, was costing from