Debate On The "Kearsarge" Federal Enlistments In Ireland.

Back to Search View Transcript
Document ID 9503121
Date 18-03-1864
Document Type Official Documents
Archive Queen's University, Belfast
Citation Debate On The "Kearsarge" Federal Enlistments In Ireland.;Hansard Parliamentary Debates, Series 3, Vol 174, March 18 1864.; CMSIED 9503121
             THE "KEARSARGE" - FEDERAL
               ADDRESS FOR PAPERS.

THE MARQUESS OF CLANRICARDE rose to ask a question of the noble
Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, of which he had
given private notice. In a recent debate his noble Friend read to
their Lordships a letter addressed by Captain Winslow, the Commander
of the United States steamer Kearsarge, to the American Consul at
Queenstown, which was to the following effect:-

  "A party of the men, either by the connivance of the crew or
otherwise, were concealed on board this vessel on the night of
her departure from Queenstown. These men, I learn, were in
expectation of being enlisted in the service of the United States,
after the Kearsarge had proceeded to sea; but found their mistake.
To have turned them ashore at Brest would have been to expose them
to temptation to enlist on board the Florida. I therefore determined
to leave them at Queenstown as soon as it was practical. You will
please notify Admiral Jones, as I informed him that no enlistment
should be made at Queenstown. I have, therefore, sent on shore this
party that no charge of subterfuge may be alleged against me."

When these men were brought back and landed at Queenstown, they
were indicted for having enlisted in this very ship, the captain
of which, by saying that "they found their mistake," distinctly
implied that they did not enlist. Sworn depositions were taken,
in which it was stated that when they landed in France, they were
told that if they liked to enlist they might do so, and that all
but one accepted the offer. The Attorney General for Ireland
thought it was necessary to prosecute, and upon those depositions
they were indicted for having so enlisted. At the trial the men
saw that the evidence was too strong against them, and they every
one of them pleaded guilty to the very offence to show that they
could not have committed which the noble Earl read that letter -
and concluded by saying, "I do not know that the captain could
have acted otherwise than he did." what said the Judge who tried
these persons? Referring to the leniency which he was about to show,
he said that he pitied these men very much, and wished that he had
before him those who were more guilty than the prisoners. And that
there might be no mistake as to who those were, he said,
"unfortunately that can not be done, because it is known that the
vessel had proceeded to sea," - clearly showing that the persons
who entrapped and induced the men to enlist were the officers of
the ship or persons connected with it. More than that, it was
stated in the sworn informations that when the party first went
on board the Kearsarge in Queenstown, there was a person there
who was said to be representing the American Consul. It appeared
to him that this was a most serious proceeding. When his noble
Friend heard of the transaction, he applied to Mr. Adams, and it
was from that Minister that he had received the letter which his
noble Friend had read to their Lordships. He had no doubt that
Mr. Adams placed implicit reliance in the veracity of the
gentleman who wrote it. There might be some circumstances of which
he was ignorant, which might explain the circumstances, but he
thought that an explanation was due to the House, to which his
noble Friend had read the letter, to the United States' Government,
to the United States' navy, and to the character of Captain Winslow.
There were other circumstances connected with the late trial to
which he wished to call attention. The prisoners having pleaded
guilty, the Attorney General for the Crown very naturally and
properly stated that there was no wish to press for a severe
sentence, and the Judge bound the men over in recognizances of
œ20 to appear when called upon. Let the House see how the
Americans treated an analogous case, in which a British subject
was charged - not with enlisting men directly into a regiment,
or on board a ship, but with merely "retraining and hiring a
British subject to go into British territory in order that he
might enter the service of the British Crown." One Wager was
charged with retaining and hiring Abraham Cook, who there was
no doubt was a British subject, to go beyond the limits of the
United States to enlist into the service of his own country,
and the case having been heard and the prisoner convicted, the
Judge sentenced him to imprisonment for two years and a fine of
100 dollars. His noble Friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs
had lately told the House that the Government had for some time
been aware that enlistment for the Federal army was going on in
Ireland, and that remonstrances on the subject had been addressed
to the American Minister. But if that enlistment were going on
against the wishes of the Government, why was it that the offenders
were not punished? It was indeed, that no evidence on the subject
could be procured. It appeared from the statement which had been
made by the responsible officer of the Crown - the Attorney
General - on the occasion of the trial to which he had adverted,
that the law on the subject in Ireland had never been known to
the people, and that they were in total ignorance of the
provisions of the Foreign Enlistment Act as set fourth in the
Queen's Proclamation. The Attorney General said, "I take this
occasion to announce to the people what are the provisions of
the Act;" and the Judge added that considering the prisoners
were ignorant of the law, he was disposed to let them of easy.
Now everybody who had lived for any time in Ireland knew that
there was not a proclamation issued offering a reward of œ5,
which was not struck up at every police barrack throughout the
country, and yet the Government, which professed to be so
anxious to prevent recruiting for the Federal service, left,
according to the Attorney General, the people of Ireland for
two and a half years in entire ignorance of the law and
proclamation on the subject. He begged leave to move for a
copy of the information on which the indictment in the case
of certain persons for enlisting for the Federal service was
founded, for the matter was a very serious one, and the House
ought to be placed in possession of all the requisite details
with respect to it.

  EARL RUSSELL said, that so far as the Government were
concerned, he did not think his noble Friend had any reason
to complain. Constant statements were made to the effect, that
the people in Ireland were being recruited for the Federal
service, and that the offending parties were not prosecuted.
But in the instance to which the noble Marquess alluded, certain
persons were taken on board a ship of war of the United States,
who were afterwards landed and had been proceeded against by
the Government; nor did his noble Friend seem to find any fault
either with the Attorney General who prosecuted, or with the
Judge. The noble Marquess, however, called upon him to explain
the letter of the commander of the Federal vessel denying the
enlistment. He (Earl Russell) would only say that it was that
very day that he had learnt that the men had pleaded  guilty,
and that it was not likely he should have received any fresh
communication from that officer on the subject. He found, at
the same time, in the papers which had just been presented,
that there was not only the letter from which his noble
Friend had quoted, but one from Lieutenant Commander Thornton
to Captain Winslow, in which he said -

  "I beg leave to state, in accordance with your request, that
on or about the 3rd of November, 1863, several men from
Queenstown came on board of this ship as applicants for
enlistment in the navel service of the United States. In the
absence of yourself, and of any definite instruction in regard
to such applications, I told the men that if they were physicall
qualified for enlistment they might remain on board until your
return, when you would decide. Upon your return your instructions
were not to enlist them; they were accordingly sent out of the

How it was that the lieutenant commander had acted upon those
instructions, and that notwithstanding these men were said to
have been enlisted, he could not explain. It is very proper
that the United States' Minister should be informed of the
circumstances of the case, and that he should be asked to
account for them. For his own part, he could only say that in
his opinion, when a captain in the United States' navel
service and a lieutenant serving under him alledged certain
facts to have occurred, the Government were not to blame if
they did not at once declare that they did not believe a
word of the statement, and that those gentlemen must be
telling falsehoods. With respect to the general question,
that sufficient pains were not taken to make the law known
in Ireland, he should simply assure the House that so far as
the Foreign Office were concerned, they had not only some
time ago directed papers containing extracts from the Foreign
Enlistment Act to be circulated, but had again repeated the
instruction last autumn. The Irish Government had, of course,
its own method of making those announcements public, and he
would only say that he recollected the late Mr. O'Connell
having once observed - it having been stated that some officer
of the Government had put a notice in the Dublin Gazette -
that there was no such sure way of keeping the matter secret.
The Irish Government had no doubt, taken those steps which
they deemed proper in the present instance.

  THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE said, it was quite evident that
the men had been enlisted, and he was surprised that the
noble Earl should be deceived by such transparent falsehoods
as those which had been put forward. It was not true that
the men were sent on shore at once, for they were taken to
Brest, and it was not till after the lapse of thirty-six
hours, the American Minister having probably telegraphed to
the captain meanwhile not to trifle about these men, that
they were taken back to Cork, where they were landed in the
uniform of the United States' navy. He would, under these
circumstances, ask the noble Earl whether he believed the
captain's story? He should like to know what the noble
Duke at the head of the Admiralty would think if any captain
in our service were to tell him that fifteen men had got on
board his ship, and that he had not found out that they were
there until he had been at sea three or four days? The fact
was that the United States' captain had in the present
instance either stated what was a transparent falsehood, or
else he was not fit for his post, and did not know how to
command a ship. He would ask their Lordships to contrast the
noble Earl's satisfaction with the explanation of the American
captain on the subject with the manner in which he  had
received the assurances of the Messrs. Laird and other British
merchants, who had pledged their honour not to send a vessel
which had been seized by the Government to sea without a week's
notice, and yet who had their promises disbelieved. The fact,
however, was, that any transparent falsehood seemed to be a
sufficient excuse for a particular line of conduct when it
came from the Federal Government.

  EARL RUSSELL said, that the reports both of the captain and
the lieutenant of the Kearsarge stated that the ship put to
sea on the night of the 5th November, 1863; it was blowing
hard and very stormy, and on the following day it was found
that several were strangers on board, and on inquiring it was
found that they had come on board at Queenstown in the hope of
being enlisted. They were landed at Brest, but afterwards
re-embarked, and were landed at Queenstown in the pilot boat.
This was the statement of the captain and the lieutenant, and
he confessed he did not see the discrepancy to which the noble
Earl that had just spoken had referred.

  THE MARQUESS OF CLANRICARDE then moved an Address for

  Copies of the Informations and Depositions upon which an
Indictment was framed against certain Persons for having
enlisted on board the United States Ship of War Kearsarge,
and of the Indictment to which those Persons pleaded Guilty
at the last Assizes for the County of Cork.

  Motion agreed to.