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The history of the Alabama claims page 4


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Lieutenant Waddell had been required two or three times during his stay to specify the time at which he would be able to sail; in reply to the last of these communications he named the 19th February. But in fact everything was ready, and the Shenandoah left the port, on the morning of the 18th.

On the night between the 17th and 18th February, a gross fraud was committed upon our neutrality, and a flagrant violation of the Foreign Enlistment Act perpetrated by the reception on board the Shenandoah, to recruit her ship's complement, of a number of British subjects variously stated at from twenty to forty-five. With these on board the vessel sailed early on the morning of the 18th February. The only question is, whether the Victorian Government can be fairly held responsible for the occurrence. The tribunal of arbitration, or rather a majority of its members, deemed that it was responsible, and regulated its award accordingly. How a number of fair-minded, intelligent, and honourable men could arrive at such a conclusion with all the original documents before them, supposing them, fully to understand the bearing of those documents, it is most difficult to understand.

If indeed the version given in the American case were a truthful one, the responsibility of the Melbourne Government would be clear enough. There it is stated that on the 17th February, the day before the Shenandoah sailed, the United States Consul " lodged with the Governor the affidavit of one Andrew Forbes," showing that six persons whom he named, residents of Melbourne and British subjects, intended to join the Shenandoah outside. Had the Governor received this information, he would not have fulfilled his duty had he not employed all means within the reach of the executive power to prevent the infraction of the law, such as sending guard-boats to row round the Shenandoah, and prevent any persons from boarding her without permission, or dispatching a British ship of war to accompany her and watch her movements as far as the Heads. But the statement made in the American case is not true. The Consul made no communication to the Governor of the nature referred to till the 18th instant, after the Shenandoah had sailed, and when, of course, nothing could be done. What happened on the 17th was this: The Consul brought his witness, Forbes, to the Crown Solicitor about five o'clock in the afternoon, and said that he wished to lay an information. The Crown Solicitor, not being a magistrate, could not receive the information; the Consul then went to various authorities, all of whom seem to have shown a readiness to act, as far as the law permitted them. But he could not procure a warrant, the resident magistrate at Melbourne not thinking that the unsupported affidavit of Forbes was enough to justify him In granting one, and there not being time to procure other depositions. Perhaps the magistrate was wrong, but he certainly acted according to his best judgment. The point is a hard one to decide; but to arrest a man, not on suspicion of having committed, but only on suspicion of intending to commit, a misdemeanour, does not seem according to the spirit of English jurisprudence. No measures, emanating from the judicial authority, were therefore taken at the last moment to prevent British subjects from enlisting on board the Shenandoah; nor does the omission, when all the circumstances are fairly weighed, deserve to be branded as neglect. The executive power, acting, not under any pressure from the United States Consul (for he did not, as we have seen, communicate Forbes' affidavit to the Governor till after the Shenandoah had gone), but in consequence of information in the hands of the police, and the suspicions which Lieutenant Waddell's conduct in the matter of " Charlie " and his companions had justly awakened, - seems to have taken all the precautions which the limited means at its disposal permitted. No British ship of war was in the harbour, the captain of which might have been requested to keep the Shenandoah in sight, and watch well all her movements, till she was outside the Heads. The water police did what they could; all through the night of the 17th they kept a boat rowing guard between the ship and the shore. But the night was dark, and two or three boats full of men, watching their opportunity, contrived to put off from the Sandridge pier and to row, unseen, to the Shenandoah. If the author of the " Cruise of the Shenandoah " (quoted in the American case) is to be believed, the vessel obtained forty-five volunteers at Melbourne. The fact redounds to the disgrace of Lieutenant Waddell, who, after having received and profited by the hospitalities of the colony, and repeatedly promised to obey its laws, thus scandalously broke his plighted word; but that the Colonial Government was in any way to blame for the result, the documents in the case, examined in a fair spirit, justify us in emphatically denying.

The facts connected with the surreptitious conveyance of these volunteers on board the Shenandoah soon became known; and the Governor, finding that the neutrality of the British colony had been shamefully violated, wrote a circular letter to the Governors of the other Australian colonies and New Zealand acquainting them with all the circumstances of the case, in order that they might be on their guard should Lieutenant Waddell pay any of them a visit.

One more point must be noticed, on which the United States founded a charge of want of due diligence against the British Government. It is alleged in the American case that the Shenandoah when she arrived in Melbourne had four hundred tons still remaining of the coal which she had shipped in London, and that nevertheless she was allowed to ship three hundred tons more, and thus enabled her to keep the seas for almost an indefinite period, destroying everything American that came across her path. It seems (see British Counter Case, p. 99) that permission was given to ship two hundred and fifty tons of coal, on the ground that during the voyage out " she had expended a considerable portion of her original supply." This being so, it appears probable, either that the stock of coal remaining on board when the Shenandoah entered Hobson's Bay was much less than the American case (which quotes no authority for its statement) represents it to have been, or that, if that estimate be correct, the fact of her having so large a supply did not come to the knowledge of the colonial authorities. Two hundred and fifty tons was by no means an extravagant supply, for the purpose of enabling the Shenandoah to steam to the nearest Confederate port, and it is abundantly evident that the Victorian Government designed her commander no favour in allowing him to ship thus much, but were honestly bent upon complying in all things with the British Regulations.

"It is difficult under the circumstances," writes the framer of the American case, " to resist the conclusion that the repairs were dawdled along for the purpose of securing the recruits, and that the authorities, to say the least, shut their eyes while this was going on." It is, however, urged by those who know from experience the high-minded and honourable tone that pervades the officials of an Australian colony, that this is a gratuitous aspersion which will be read with wonder.

After leaving Melbourne, the Shenandoah proceeded through the Pacific Ocean to the Arctic Seas, and there commenced a destructive cruise against American whalers. The American case charges her commander with having destroyed fifteen of these vessels after having been made fully aware of the surrender of Lee, and the consequent termination of the war. Lieutenant Waddell, however, in a letter addressed to Earl Russell in the autumn of the same year, after he had brought the- ship to Liverpool, declared that as soon as he knew upon trustworthy evidence that the resistance of the South was at an end, he discontinued all hostile operations, and sailed immediately for Europe. The Shenandoah arrived at Liverpool on the 6th November,"1865, and was given up by her commander to the British Government. The captain of a British man-of-war took charge of her, and shortly afterwards she was handed over, on their demand, to the United States Government. About these later transactions an unpleasant correspondence arose between the two Governments, on which, as it had no bearing on the final settlement of the points at issue, we need not comment.

The claims advanced by the United States against this country in respect of depredations committed by the Sumter, the Georgia, the Nashville, the Chiclcamauga, the Tallahassee, and the Retribution, having been disallowed by the tribunal of arbitration, need not detain us long. The Sumter was not British built; she escaped from the passes of the Mississippi on the 30th June, 1861, and in the following month visited Trinidad and remained there six days. But this was no infringement of rule at that time, for the regulations under which the ships-of-war of the belligerents were not allowed to stay more than twenty-four hours in a British port were not promulgated till the following January. The commander of the Sumter was Captain Semmes, whose name was afterwards widely known in connection with the Alabama. In November, 1861, the Sumter put into Martinique, and was blockaded there for some time by the United States sloop-of-war Iroquois, which, however, she at last cleverly evaded, and put safely to sea. In January, 1862, she came to Gibraltar, and here her career as a ship-of-war was closed. Two United States cruisers kept watch and ward over all her movements with sleepless vigilance; and no merchant, such was the influence of the American Consul at the port, would consent to supply her with coal. She was therefore paid off in April, and lay in harbour till December, 1862, when she was offered for sale by public auction. She was bought by a British merchant and brought to Liverpool. Afterwards she is said, in the United States case, to have been re-named the Gibraltar, and to have done duty as an " insurgent transport," which seems to be American for " blockade-runner," She is believed to have been wrecked at last in attempting to enter Charleston. From the time when she entered the harbour of Gibraltar she never appeared at sea as an armed ship, nor was employed to commit acts of hostility against the United States or their citizens.

The Georgia, originally the Japan, is said, in the American case, to have been built in the Clyde expressly for the Confederate service; and it is probable that such was really the case. There was, however, nothing about her framing or fittings different from what is seen every day in merchant steamers. A crew was engaged for her in Liverpool, and sent down to board her in Greenock; she sailed from the Clyde at the beginning of April, 1863. Making for the French coast, she was met off Morlaix by the Alar steamer, which had sailed with her armament on board from Newhaven. The transfer of the guns and stores was effected somewhere off the island of Ushant, but whether or not within French waters appears uncertain. The Confederate flag was then hoisted, and the vessel took the name of the Georgia. Her career as a cruiser does not appear to have been a very successful one, and in May, 1864, she came into Liverpool, and was there dismantled and sold, acquiring thus, for a second time, a British nationality. This is certainly a scandalous history. That it should be possible to build a vessel in English waters, equip her with an armament of English manufacture, man her in great part with Englishmen, then change on the high seas (or possibly, in French waters) her nationality from English to Confederate, employ her in making war against the commerce of a nation with which England was at peace and amity, and, finally, when that pursuit became unproductive, to bring her back to England and transform her into a quiet English trader again; - that all this should be possible, argued something very lax and defective somewhere; it might be in our laws, it might be in our administration. A more energetic and clear-sighted chief of the Foreign Office than Lord Russell would not have submitted tamely to these impudent and injurious violations of our neutrality; he would have used naval, not legal, means to put down the scandal; he would have applied to the Admiralty more, and to the law officers less. Something, however, was done. The Liverpool firm which sent down the crew of the Georgia to Greenock was prosecuted before Lord Chief Justice Cockburn, and two members of it were fined 50 each. Moreover, an Order in Council was adopted on the 8th September, 1864, prohibiting for the future ships-of-war belonging to either belligerent from being dismantled and sold in British ports. A few days after the Georgia had left the Mersey, in her new, or rather resumed, character of a British trader, she was boarded and captured by the United States frigate Niagara off Lisbon. That the act provoked no remonstrance from the British Government proves that they did not recognise any right in the Confederate Government to sell its cruisers to British merchants, nor in British merchants to purchase them, and put them on the register of British shipping. It is obvious that Governments can only deal with Governments. If the Confederate Government wished to get rid of one of its commissioned cruisers, and, by a sale in England, to transfer it to private British ownership, it is obvious that this could only be done through the intervention, and with the consent, of the British Government. Now, as a matter of course, no such intervention and consent took place with regard to the Georgia; the United States were therefore justified in regarding the assumed transfer of the vessel to British ownership as fictitious and null.

With regard to the Nashville - a large paddle-wheel steamer, which escaped out of Charleston in October, 1861, and subsequently came into Southampton Water, whither (as has been already related in this History) she was followed by the Tuscarora, to the no small embarrassment of our authorities - the United States had only to allege that she was allowed to take in an excessive supply of coal at Bermuda in the same month in which she left Charleston. The regulation limiting the supply of coal to the amount sufficient to carry the vessel to the nearest port of its own country had not then been issued; but the Governor of Bermuda refused to the Nashville permission to coal from the Government stores, and evidently did not intend to treat her with any exceptional favour.

The Chickamauga and Tallahassee were two fast steamers, built at Liverpool and London respectively for the blockade-running service, and launched in 1864. Each appears to have been employed for a short time as a ship-of-war by the Confederate Government. The Tallahassee, being at Liverpool at the close of the war, was claimed by, and given up to, the Federal Government. The Chickamauga appears to have been in the Wilmington river at the time of the capture of Fort Fisher, and to have shared the fate of the city. Except that these vessels, being British-built, were employed by the Confederates as cruisers (an incident in their career which no one who had not the gift of prophecy could foretell), and that one of them, according to the " case," was once rather too liberally supplied with coal at Bermuda, the United States could produce no material facts on which to ground a claim against Great Britain of compensation for the losses sustained by means of them.

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The Alabama sinking
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The Melbourne police
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President Grant
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