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Alleged Insult To The British Flag

Volume 48: debated on Monday 1 July 1839

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said, having been rather irregular the other evening in putting a question to the hon. Baronet, the Member for Sandwich, in reference to an outrage supposed to have been committed on the British Flag in the Mexican seas, he begged now to inquire either of that hon. Member, or of the hon. Gentleman, the Secretary to the Admiralty, first, whether the Admiralty had received any official communication of the fact of that outrage having occurred; and next, whether, supposing the statement of the papers to be true, the midshipman who was stated to have been ordered by Commodore Douglas to be reprimanded, had received such reprimand: and whether, if he had so received it, the Board of Admiralty concurred in the propriety of its infliction.

conceived the noble Lord to allude to a letter which appeared in the Times newspaper in the course of last week.—[Lord Ingestrie had read the account of the outrage in question in the Hampshire Advertiser.] The material point of the statement was, that shortly before the capture of Vera Cruz by the French, subsequent to the affair of the Express packet, and while her Majesty's ship Vestal was lying off Vera Cruz, with a British sloop in company, Captain Carter, of the Vestal, being senior officer, an English boat from the sloop, under command of a midshipman went on shore, and that a Mexican subject took refuge in the boat for protection, but was taken by force from thence by the French officer in command. The Admiralty, however, had received no account whatever of any such transaction, for a very good reason; because no such transaction had taken place. His attention had first been called to the subject by the question of the noble Lord on a former evening, and it at once appeared that if the dates given with the statement in the Hampshire Advertiser were correct, it was utterly impossible that the transaction in question could ever have occurred, because, at the time named, the Vestal was not at Vera Cruz. She arrived there on the 28th of December: this occurrence is said to have taken place on the 5th of December. He could have wished to have stopped here, as this answer would no doubt have been deemed satisfactory by the noble Lord and the House; but rather than lie under the imputation of concealing any circumstance known to him on the subject, he would give to the House a statement of some facts connected with it. For this statement, however, he could not personally vouch, having received it at second hand, as he might say, from an officer whom he had not since been able to see on the subject, he having been out of town. This statement was, that two British officers went out in a Mexican fishing boat to learn to catch turtles, when they chose to hoist the British ensign. This boat came among the French squadron, where the French guard boat was, when her commander took the Mexican out of the boat. Upon this, some representation was made by Captain Carter to the French Admiral, who said he would communicate with the commodore. Whether that communication took place or not, the Mexican who had been taken out of the boat was set at liberty within twenty-four hours. This he presumed to be the foundation for the story which had appeared in the papers. Whether that statement was correct or not he could not positively say. If it was, it was clear the English officers were in the wrong in hoisting the English flag in a Mexican fishing boat; and under such circumstances no Mexican could have claimed the protection of that flag. The commodore did not think it worth while to report this affair to the Admiralty at home, and the noble Lord, who had been so recently afloat, must be well aware that many irregularities might occur on foreign stations, which might be quite fit to be animadverted upon and reported upon, but which ought not to be brought before the House of Commons.

said, as to the rebuke which the hon. Secretary had given him for bringing the subject before the House, he had done so from having seen the accounts in the public organs, and therefore invested with some probability. In those accounts, it appeared that a subordinate officer, for doing what he deemed his duty, had been reprimanded by his superior. Was that a proper way of keeping up the discipline of the service? Hence it was he asked the question—and the more especially, since the present was the third instance which had occurred in that part of the world within six months. He was glad, however, to find that the Admiralty had received no account of such a transaction, and that the further stain did not rest upon the British flag. He had been actuated by no party motives in bringing forward this question; but merely the desire that a subordinate officer might not be unjustly reprimanded without public notice being taken of the fact.

, the country should feel indebted to his noble Friend for putting the question. The accounts referred to had appeared in very authentic public organs; and he trusted that no time would be lost by the Admiralty in making inquiry into the facts.