OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

The history of the Alabama claims page 2


Pages: 1 <2> 3 4 5 6

He reported: " That the Oreto is in every respect fitted as a man-of-war, on the principle of the despatch gun- vessels in Her Majesty's Naval Service.

" That she has a crew of fifty men, and is capable of carrying two pivot-guns amidships and four broadside both forward and aft, the ports being made to ship and unship, port bars, breeching, side-tackle, bolts, &c.

" That she has shell-rooms, a magazine and light-rooms, and ' handing-scuttles ' for handing powder out of the magazine, as fitted in the naval service, and shot-boxes for Armstrong shot, or shot similar to them. Round the upper deck she has five boats, ... her accommodation being in no respect different from her similar class of vessel in the Royal Naval Service.

" And on my asking the captain of the Oreto, before my own officers and three of his own, whether she had left Liverpool fitted in all respects as she was at present, his answer was, ' Yes, in all respects,' and 'that no addition or alteration had been made whatever.'"

The Governor laid this report before the Attorney-General of the. colony, and was advised by him that it did not furnish sufficient data for arresting the vessel! and libelling her in the Vice-Admiralty Court of the colony for a violation of the Foreign Enlistment Act. This is a curious instance of the technicalities of law defeating the ends of justice. The ground of the Attorney-General's opinion seems to have been that, whatever had taken place in England, there was no evidence of the vessel having been armed or equipped for warlike purposes against a nation friendly to Great Britain within the limits of the colony. The equipment for war had taken place in England, but till the vessel left Liverpool there could be no clear proof that she was destined to cruise against the United States, and not, as the builders stated, for consignment to a Palermo firm. Now, the vessel was at Nassau, never having touched at Palermo, and it was as plain as daylight that her warlike equipment had been intended all along to fit her for a Confederate cruiser; yet, because that equipment had taken place in England, the justice of the colony shut its eyes, and declared itself powerless. It is impossible not to be reminded of the fable of the two rogues who had stolen the honest man's purse, and how, when taxed with the theft, one of them swore that he had not taken it, and the other asseverated solemnly that he had not got it.

Within a few days, however, the Governor again changed his mind, and, yielding to the representations of Captain Hickley, directed that the Florida should be seized, and that her owners should be prosecuted for a violation of the Foreign Enlistment Act. The trial was commenced on the 4th July, and lasted a considerable time. " On the 2nd August.... the Judge of the Court decreed the release of the ship, on the ground that no proof had been given of any violation of the Act within the limits of his jurisdiction, and no evidence produced connecting her with the Confederate Government." Such a decision could not obviously be satisfactory to the American Government. It was now glaringly evident that the Florida had been built at Liverpool as a Confederate cruiser. That of itself was an abuse of British neutrality; and if she was now allowed to pass out of British jurisdiction, Great Britain would be clearly wanting in the discharge of international duty. If the judicial authority of the colony could do nothing for want of legal proof, the executive of the colony had it in its power to step in, and detain the vessel till her assumed character of a lawful and pacific trader was established. This, however, seems never to have occurred to Governor Bailey, who acted as if the sentence of the Court relieved him of all responsibility in the matter.

A few days after her release, the Florida, accompanied by the schooner Prince Alfred, which had taken on board from the quay at Nassau the guns and ammunition which the Bahama had put on shore, went down to a remote islet of the Bahama group, called Green Cay, and in a very short time transferred to herself the armament with which the schooner was loaded. Thus equipped, she went forth, "to burn, sink, and destroy" the Federal shipping. The transfer of the armament at Green Cay was a manifest breach of British neutrality; but the secrecy observed, and the remoteness of the desolate islet where it occurred, probably made it impossible for the colonial authorities to prevent it. From Green Cay the Florida steamed for Cardenas in Cuba, hoping to pick up a crew there; but she was warned off by the Spanish authorities. Then she boldly steered for Mobile, and, running the gauntlet of the blockading squadron, succeeded, though not without receiving considerable injuries from the fire of the Federal ships, in entering the harbour. This was on the 4th September, 1862. On the 26th January, 1863, she was again at Nassau, entering the harbour in the early morning without permission. She sailed again about noon on the 28th, having been allowed to take on board a large supply of coal. " Three months' supply," says the American case, but refutes itself by other facts which it relates. Direct evidence was given by one of the men engaged in coaling her, that the Florida on this occasion received not less than 180 tons. On the other hand, British naval officers, who surveyed the Florida at Bermuda in 1864, reported her coal-carrying capacity as not exceeding 135 tons. At any rate, it is undisputed that she took on board at least 130 tons, and a serious blot on the equity of our neutrality was thus incurred. To show this, it is necessary to refer to the Government Regulations of the 31st January, 1862.

In a letter of that date addressed to the Admiralty, Earl Russell laid down precise instructions which all British officials were to observe in dealing with belligerent ships in British ports. The general object of the Government was " to prevent, as far as possible, the use

of Her Majesty's harbours, ports, and coasts, and the waters within Her Majesty's territorial jurisdiction, in aid of the warlike purposes of either belligerent; " and among other regulations directed to this end were the following: " If any ship of war or privateer of either belligerent shall, after the time when this order shall be first notified and put in force,... enter any port, roadstead, or waters belonging to Her Majesty,.... such vessel shall be required to depart and to put to sea within twenty-four hours after her entrance into such port, roadstead, or waters, except in case of stress of weather, or of her requiring provisions or things necessary for the subsistence of her crew or repairs: " and again - "No ship of war or privateer of either belligerent shall hereafter be permitted, while in any port, &c., to take in any supplies, except provisions and such other things as may be requisite for the subsistence of her crew; and except so much coal only as may be sufficient to carry such vessel to the nearest port of her own country, or to some nearer destination; and no coal shall be again supplied to any such ship of war or privateer, in the same or any other port, &c., without special permission, until after the expiration of three months from the time when such coal may have been last supplied to her within British waters as aforesaid."

In the American case the British authorities at Nassau are charged with default as to both these regulations. It is asserted that the Florida, after entering the harbour early on the morning of the 26th January, 1863, was allowed to remain there thirty-six hours. But this is inconsistent with the statement of the American Consul at Nassau, who says that the Florida left the harbour " about noon " on the 27th January. Governor Bailey distinctly states that the vessel wa-s allowed to remain twenty-six hours only, an excess above the prescribed period which is not worth disputing about. But with regard to the coal the matter stands differently. Nassau is distant at the most three days' voyage for a fast steamer, such as was the Florida, from the ports of Charleston or Savannah, and the supply of coal to enable her to reach either of those ports ought not certainly, under the Regulations of the 31st January, to have exceeded forty tons. We have seen that more than three times, perhaps more than four times, that amount of coal was in fact supplied to her. In palliation of this deviation from the rule, it has been urged that, the Confederate ports being strictly blockaded, a Confederate cruiser ought not to have been expected to steer straight for the nearest port, without regard to the risk she ran in doing so, but that a latitude of interpretation might properly be adopted, under which so much coal might be shipped as would enable a vessel so circumstanced to keep the sea for several days. Such reasoning is clearly inadmissible. It was no business of ours to equalise the conditions of warfare between the Federals and Confederates, or to abate by our one-sided action a disadvantage which the former naturally counted on as one of the elements of their ultimate success. The duty of all British officials wa3 simply to adhere to the Regulations as strictly as possible. To allow the Florida to take in a large quantity of coal at Nassau, by means of which she was enabled to make an extended cruise, harassing and destroying American shipping all the time, was indubitably to permit her to make the British colony a base of hostile operations against the United States.

Before the end of February, the Florida, having met with heavy weather which compelled her to use up her stock of coal more quickly than she had intended, entered the port of Barbadoes and there obtained a supply of ninety tons. The quantity was not excessive, for it was not more that enough to enable her to reach the nearest Confederate port. But (saving under extraordinary circumstances, which do not appear to have existed in this case) the permission to coal at one British colony within one month of her having coaled at another was a manifest breach of the Regulations. The Governor seems to have been under the impression that in allowing the Florida to coal, he " did no more than what he had sanctioned in the case of the United States steamer of war San Jacinto." And the law officers of the Crown in England (Sir William Atherton, Sir Roundell Palmer, and Sir Robert Phillimore), while stating that in their opinion " the letter and spirit of Her Majesty's Regulations had not been adhered to with sufficient strictness in either of the cases mentioned," exonerate the Governor from blame on the ground that, as the San Jacinto had been dealt with in the same way, he had shown no undue partiality in favour of the Florida. Unfortunately, the notion that the Regulations had been relaxed for the San Jacinto turned out to be a complete delusion. She received a small supply of coal at Barbadoes, shortly before the arrival of the Florida, but had not previously taken in any at any British port. The clear breach of rule committed in the case of the Florida remained, therefore, unbalanced by any compensating irregularity sanctioned in favour of the Federals.

Leaving Barbadoes on the 26th February, the Florida entered on a career of systematic destruction. The names of fourteen American ships captured or destroyed by her within a short time are given in the case of the United States. An intercepted letter from her commander, Captain Maffitt, to Bullock, dated April 25th, 1863, says, "The Florida has thus far done her duty. Six million dollars will not make good the devastation this steamer has committed."

The remaining proceedings of the Florida, though they form the ground of abundant carping and exception in the American case, do not appear to have involved any fresh breach of neutrality on the part of Great Britain. Her tenders, the Clarence, Tacony, and Archer, were Federal merchantmen, successively utilised and destroyed (except the Archer) as a more eligible and fast-sailing prize was captured. The career of the Florida was terminated at Bahia, in the manner that we have already related, on the 7th October, 1864.

The third vessel, in respect of the building or equipment of which the tribunal adjudged Great Britain to be chargeable with a want of "due diligence," is the Shenandoah. But the default was expressly limited to what took place at Melbourne in 1865; for her departure from England and transformation into a cruiser the tribunal declined to hold Great Britain responsible. This part of her history may therefore be dispatched in a few words. The Shenandoah was originally the British steamer Sea King, and had been long employed in the East India trade. She was a large and fine vessel, and appears to have been pitched upon by the agents of the Confederate Government at Liverpool as exactly suited for their purpose. She was accordingly purchased by one Richard Wright, who, it seems, was the father-in-law of the managing partner in the firm of Fraser, Trenholm, and Co., whose connection with the Confederate cause has been already referred to. On the 8th October, 1864, the Sea King, under the command of a Captain Corbett, and with a British crew on board, cleared from Liverpool. At the same time the British steamer Laurel, having the armament designed for the Sea King on board, cleared from Liverpool for Matamoras. She took out also some twenty natives of the Confederate States, and among them several who had served as officers on board the Alabama, before her destruction by the Kearsarge. The Sea King and the Laurel met at Funchal, in Madeira, and about the 21st October the transfer of the armament was effected off the rocky islet of Desertas, within Portuguese jurisdiction. Captain Corbett then announced to the crew that the ship had been sold, and was now in the service of the Confederate Government. Lieutenant Waddell, formerly an officer of the American navy, who had come: out in the Laurel, hoisted his flag on board the Sea King, which was henceforward to be known as the Shenandoah. Great inducements were held out to the crew to re-enlist in the new service, but only five out of a crew of forty- seven, besides a few men from the Laurel, consented to do so. So far, though the neutrality of Great Britain had been shamefully abused by the acts of the British subjects who were instrumental in concerting the meeting of the Laurel and Sea King at Madeira, for the purpose of equipping the latter for war against the United States, it seems impossible to bring home a charge of negligence, or breach of regulation, to any British official.

The Shenandoah then sailed on a cruise, which lasted about ninety days, and after capturing and destroying several valuable American merchantmen, she arrived in Hobson's Bay, and dropped anchor off Sandridge, two miles from Melbourne, on the evening of the 25th January, 1865. The captain immediately sent a messenger on shore to convey a request to the Governor, Sir Charles Darling, that the Shenandoah might make some necessary repairs, and obtain a supply of coals. The Governor held an executive council on the following day to consider the request. The Acts and Regulations bearing on the subject of the maintenance of British neutrality and the treatment of men-of-war in the service of a belligerent Power were sought out, and carefully considered; and a well- weighed answer was returned to the application of the Confederate commander. And here we will say at once, that it is impossible for any unprejudiced person, who carefully studies by means of the original documents printed in the British case the narrative of the stay of the Shenandoah at Melbourne, to come to any other conclusion than that the colonial authorities, from the Governor down to the superintendent of police, were animated by an honest and genuine desire to fulfil all that international duty prescribed, and abstain from and repress all that it forbade. From this conviction it will be difficult not to proceed a step farther, and to adopt the belief, not only that the illiberal insinuations and malicious imputations with which the American narrative of what befell the Shenandoah at Melbourne is interspersed are entirely unfounded, but also that the minority of the arbitrators, which acquitted Great Britain of a want of due diligence in regard to the Shenandoah, after, not less than before, her arrival at Melbourne, took the most rational and equitable view of the facts, To make this clear to the reader it will be necessary to relate the circumstances in some detail.

<<< Previous page <<< >>> Next page >>>
Pages: 1 <2> 3 4 5 6

Pictures for The history of the Alabama claims page 2

Scarborough
Scarborough >>>>
The Alabama sinking
The Alabama sinking >>>>
Nassau
Nassau >>>>
The Melbourne police
The Melbourne police >>>>
Funchal
Funchal >>>>
President Grant
President Grant >>>>

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About