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Chapter II, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 2


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Sir Baldwin Leighton's Act, the object of which was to enlist the services of the county police as assistant gamekeepers to the country gentlemen, deserves our particular attention; for the time will come, and that speedily, when the enactment of such a law by the Parliament of a civilised nation, in the latter half of the nineteenth century, will appear something monstrous and incredible. The numerous opponents of the bill asked, Is this for England, or for Turkey? is it a law passed for the public good by the representatives of a free people, or a forest edict framed in the interest of his own pleasures by a Norman tyrant? The measure had been originally introduced in the Upper House by Lord Berners, but the Lords were too sensible to entertain it, and turned it out of doors with ignominy. The bill was then adopted by Sir Baldwin Leighton in the Lower House, and by careful tactics, and arranging that a sufficient number of its friends should always be within call so as to ensure a superiority of force at the decisive moment, the country gentlemen carried it through all its stages and passed it. The Lords then had no scruple about accepting a bill which naturally could not but command their sympathies, and the bill became law. This result was the more singular, inasmuch as the Government and all the sincere Liberals opposed the bill on every stage. Mr. W. E. Forster moved that it be read a second time that day three months, saying that, although it might not be the object of the promoters of the bill, it was certainly regarded out of doors as a proposal to turn the county police into gamekeepers, a service which would prove very detrimental to the execution of their other duties. Sir George Grey, the Home Secretary, warmly opposed the measure, both in principle and details; and stated that twenty-eight chief constables had signed a memorial the year before against the employment of the police in the preservation of game. But, owing to the apathy of the borough members (an apathy proved by the smallness of the numbers on the division lists), the opposition failed. Let us now examine the Act itself, which is extremely short, because its promoters had no other thought but that of protecting their own pleasures; to introduce safeguards and provisoes tending to preserve the rights and dignity of free Englishmen from encroachment, was a matter about which they do not appear to have troubled themselves in the least.

The first clause gives a new definition of "Game." According to this, a pheasant's or a partridge's eggs are as much "game" as the pheasant or partridge itself. Snipe, being barbarously described in the Act as "snipes," may be said to be made game of in a double sense. Further, rabbits, which have never before come within the scope of the Game Laws, any more than sparrows, are made game for the purposes of this Act.

But the sting of the Act was in the second clause; in it could be seen, it was said, the motive of the large and sweeping definition contained in the first. Under this second clause, it is lawful " for any constable or peace- officer, in any county, borough, or place in Great Britain and Ireland, in any highway, street, or public place, to search any person whom he may have good cause to suspect of coming from any land where he shall have been unlawfully in search or pursuit of game, or any person aiding or abetting such person, and having in his possession any game unlawfully obtained, or any gun, part of gun, or nets or engines used for the killing or taking of game, and also to stop and search any cart or other conveyance in or on which such constable or peace-officer shall have good cause to suspect that any such game or any such article or thing is being carried by any such person, and should there be found any game or any such article upon such person, cart, &c., to seize and detain" the same, and apply to some magistrate for a warrant. The said magistrate may, upon conviction, fine the delinquent to the extent of five pounds.

Although, in the debates of the session there had been, according to that joint understanding with which it was begun, little exhibition of party heat or rancour, yet the spectacle of a large section of the Tory party almost openly avowing their sympathy with Lord Palmerston and his policy, and the evident congeniality between him and them, were not suffered to pass without observation. Towards the close of the session, Mr. Cobden, in a carefully prepared and powerful speech, arraigned the policy of the Prime Minister as that of a man who was fighting, or pretending to fight, under a banner not his own, and whose acts were nicely calculated to gain the approval of his ostensible adversaries, and carry discouragement into the ranks of his nominal adherents. He asked, What had been the professed principles of the Liberal party? They were economy, non-intervention, and reform. But the present was the most extravagant Government which had administered the affairs of the country in time of peace during the present generation. This assertion he supported by an elaborate comparison, and proceeded to ascribe the whole of this increased expenditure to Lord Palmerston, who himself represented a policy, and who had cost the country no less a sum than 100,000,000. After adverting to the wars with China as instances of the departure of the Ministry from the policy of non-intervention, he turned to the state of great Liberal questions and of parties in the house, which, he said, was not an honest state. Lord Palmerston was not governing the country by his own party, but with the aid of his political opponents, who were then in power without the responsibility of office. He analysed Lord Palmerston's liberalism by his acts. The ballot, and other questions in which members on that side of the house took an interest, were going back under the noble lord's leadership. Rather than continue as they were, he would prefer being in opposition. Comparing Lord Palmerston with Mr. Disraeli, he thought the latter would be quite as desirable upon the Treasury bench.

The veteran Premier defended himself against this vehement attack with the skill and adroitness which his thorough knowledge of Parliament, his tact, bonhomie, and cheerful elasticity of temper, rendered habitual and natural to him. He urged that if his zeal in the cause of Reform appeared to have grown somewhat cold, he was therein only reflecting faithfully the general feeling of the House, while the House no less faithfully reflected the general feeling in the country. As to economy, he could, of course, urge the continual rise in the costliness of national armaments, owing to the invention of new engines of destruction, and maintain that to spend money on fortifying the points where it was vulnerable to attack, was, in fact, a nation's best and truest economy. On the delicate question of the state of parties and Conservative support he said little, and that little was eminently judicious and discreet.

About this time the Alabama escaped from the Mersey through a want of vigilance on the part of the British authorities; and, inasmuch as her evasion led to such momentous consequences, we propose to narrate in some detail the circumstances connected with that event.

There can be no doubt that, on the part of those who ordered and paid for her, the Alabama was intended from the first for a Confederate vessel of war. She was a steamer of about 900 tons burden, with long raking masts, and engines of 300 horse-power, being evidently designed rather as a scourge of Federal commerce than to encounter Federal cruisers. Her armament consisted of eight guns - six 32-pounders in broadside, and two pivot guns amidships, one of which was a rifled 100-pounder Blakeley gun. She was built in the yard of the Messrs. Laird, Birkenhead. Of course, her armament was not put into her till after she had left the Mersey. But that she was being built and fitted for a vessel of war no one who knew anything about naval architecture could doubt. Indeed, the matter was notorious at Liverpool, where the sympathies of the mercantile community ran strongly in favour of the Confederates. While she was building much correspondence passed between the Federal consul at Liverpool and his Government and the American minister in London; but Mr. Adams desired to wait until he could lay before Earl Russell sufficient evidence to justify him in attaching the vessel and prosecuting the builders under the Foreign Enlistment Act. Meantime, on the 15th May, the vessel was launched under the name of the " 290."

On the 23rd June, Mr. Adams thought that he had acquired sufficient proof. On that day he wrote to Earl Russell, saying that a new and powerful vessel was being fitted out at Liverpool "for the especial and manifest object of carrying on hostilities by sea," and soliciting such action as might " tend either to stop the projected expedition, or to establish the fact that its purpose is not inimical to the people of the United States." Before replying, Earl Russell obtained a report on the subject from the Customs department at Liverpool, which, on the 4th July, he inclosed to Mr. Adams. The report stated that there had been no attempt on the part of the builders of the "290" "to disguise, what is most apparent, that she is intended for a ship of war." It proceeded to recommend that the American consul at Liverpool should submit such evidence as he could obtain to the collector there, who would, thereupon, take such measures as the Foreign Enlistment Act would require, and concluded by saying that the officers at Liverpool would keep a strict watch on the vessel. Mr. Adams then instructed the consul to follow the course indicated in the Customs' report. The consul accordingly submitted a statement on the 9th July, but the collector replied that the details given were not, in a legal point of view, sufficient to justify him in taking upon himself the responsibility of the detention of the ship. Mr. Dudley (the consul) then directed his utmost endeavours to obtaining direct legal proof, and in this he at last succeeded, laying it, in the form of affidavits, before the collector on the 21st July. The affidavits were on the same day transmitted by the collector to the Board of Customs at London, with a request for instructions by telegraph, "as the ship appeared to be ready for sea, and might leave any hour."

Up to this point, if the action of our authorities had not been all that the Federal Government might have desired, at any rate, it had been neither unfriendly nor inefficient. The collector at Liverpool could not proceed to detain the vessel without legal evidence; but as soon as j such evidence was supplied, he immediately sent it to the! head of his department, and, while requesting instructions,; indicated the extreme urgency of the case. But now I there unfortunately occurred an act of gross administrative laches, of which the American Government and people had just reason to complain.

From the Board of Customs at London, the affidavits and the collector's letter were sent to the Treasury. This must have been done - at any rate, ought to have been done - on the 22nd July, and the Treasury, seeing the urgency of the case, should, if unwilling to act on its own responsibility, have laid the affidavits immediately before the law officers of the Crown, and requested their opinion. Nor was it by this channel only that the affidavits showing the true character of the Alabama reached our Government. Copies of the most material among them were sent by Mr. Adams to Earl Russell on the 22nd July, and again on the 24th. One would have thought that here again, either immediate action would have been taken or the opinion of the law officers obtained with all practicable expedition. But what happened? The affidavits were considered by the law officers of the Crown on the 28th July, six days after the letter from Liverpool had reached London, stating that the vessel might leave any hour. They soon made up their minds, and their report was in Earl Russell's hands on the morning of the 29th. Orders were then immediately sent to Liverpool to stop the vessel. But it would appear that in some mysterious manner intelligence of the intention of the Government to detain the vessel had reached the persons at Liverpool who had charge of her. The Customs department at Liverpool, on receiving the order for detention, telegraphed that " the vessel ' 290 ' came out of dock last night, and left the port this morning."

In a conversation with Mr. Adams, two days afterwards, at the Foreign Office, Earl Russell remarked that a delay in determining upon the case of the " 290 " " had most unexpectedly been caused by the sudden development of a malady in the Queen's advocate, Sir John D. Harding, totally incapacitating him for the transaction of business. This had made it necessary to call in other parties, whose opinion had at last been given for the detention of the gunboat, but before the order got down to Liverpool the vessel was gone." Such an excuse could not be expected to satisfy the American Government, but neither is it satisfactory from the English point of view. The matter being known to be urgent, if, on its being referred to Sir John Harding, that official was found to be incapacitated by ill health or any other cause, what was done ultimately should have been done at first - viz., "other parties" should have been called in. This too easy-going, laissez aller mode of conducting public business on the part of Government departments in 1862 cost us three millions sterling in 1873.

The Alabama steamed down the Mersey, and proceeded to Moelfra Bay, on the coast of Anglesey, where she lay two days. The American Government considered, and it is difficult to contravene their opinion, that there was culpable negligence somewhere in permitting a ship, the seizure of which had been ordered, to lie unmolested in British waters for two whole days. From Moelfra Bay the vessel proceeded to the Azores, and remained at Terceira till the arrival of a vessel from London, having on board six guns, ammunition, coals, &c., for the new cruiser. Two days afterwards, the screw-steamer Bahama arrived, having on board Commander Raphael Semmes, of the Confederate navy, and other officers, besides two more guns. The transfer of the guns and stores having been completed without hindrance from any one, Captain Semmes hoisted his flag on the 24th August, and the Alabama, now first known by that name, sailed from Terceira with twenty-six officers and eighty-five men.

Parliament was prorogued on the 7th August, and home affairs went on as quietly as usual for the remainder of the year. Pauperism increased, owing to the collapse of industry in Lancashire; nevertheless, the population was greater by a quarter of a million at the end of the year than it had been at the beginning of it. But a number of persons equivalent to about one half of this increase emigrated in the course of the year. In the autumn, the honest and law-abiding citizens of London were alarmed by the outbreak and rapid increase of a new species of crime, the " garotte robbery." The villains who introduced it did not observe an absolutely uniform practice, but the usual modus operandi was this: - the victim who had been marked out for attack was seized from behind round the throat by one of the confederates; at the same instant another coming up in front dealt him a violent blow in the stomach; he was then thrown violently down on his back, thus being rendered insensible, and in this position his pockets were rifled, murderous blows and kicks being freely administered in case of any symptom of returning consciousness. After many cases of garotte robbery had occurred, in some of which the victims had died of the injuries received, while in all the constitution and health were permanently shaken, the garotting of a member of Parliament, Mr. Pilkington, drew the special attention of the Home Secretary to the condition of the streets. The police became suddenly active, and arrested a number of known criminals on suspicion; these were tried en masse by Baron Bramwell, and all who were identified as having been implicated in garotte robberies were sentenced to heavy terms of penal servitude. The class of ferocious human wolves to which the condemned persons belonged was partly dispersed, partly cowed, by this judicious severity.

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