No. 11.

Lord Lyons to Earl Russell.—(Received December 9.)

My Lord: I received on the 15th instant, from Acting Consul Walker, a copy [Page 861] of his despatch to your lordship of the 19th ultimo, enclosing papers which had been published in the southern newspapers, with reference to the expulsion of the British consular agents from the so-called Confederate States.

Among these papers I found a despatch from Mr. Benjamin to Mr. Mason, dated the 11th of June last, which I read for the first time, and a despatch from Mr. Benjamin to Mr. Slidell, dated the 8th ultimo, of which I had before seen only the first and last paragraphs.

Mr. Benjamin objects very strongly to the British consuls in the southern States being under the orders of her Majesty’s legation at Washington. This objection does not appear to me to be by any means unreasonable. I have, indeed, as your lordship is aware, long been of opinion that the connexion between this legation and the consulates in the south was embarrassing and inconvenient with regard both to the government of the United States and to the de facto government of the Confederate States.

With respect to the particulars of Mr. Cridland’s appointment as acting consul at Mobile, Mr. Benjamin’s information is not quite accurate. Mr. Cridland was appointed acting consul at Mobile in pursuance of the instruction contained in your lordship’s despatch to me of the 17th February last.* He never held any commission or letter of appointment from me. I communicated your lordship’s instruction to Mr. Moore, her Majesty’s consul at Richmond, and I desired him to address a letter to Mr. Cridland, stating that her Majesty’s government had been pleased to direct that he should temporarily take charge of her Majesty’s consulate at Mobile. I added a special caution to Mr. Moore not to make any mention in the letter either of me or of this legation. In point of form, therefore, there was, I presume, nothing to object to in the letter of appointment held by Mr. Cridland. But when Mr. Magee was dismissed, your lordship instructed me to make provision for the appointment of a qualified person to carry on the consular duties at Mobile, and in execution of this instruction I had requested M. Portz, the French consul, to take charge temporarily of the British consulate. It was therefore necessary, when Mr. Cridland was appointed, that I should write to ask M. Portz to transfer the consulate to him. My letter to M. Portz was seen by some of the confederate authorities at Mobile. It was specially addressed to M. Portz, and it expressly stated that it was by her Majesty’s government that Mr. Cridland was directed to take charge of the consulate at Mobile; but it appears to have been represented to Mr. Benjamin as a letter of [Page 862] appointment from me to Mr. Cridland. But however this may be, it does not seem to me to be unnatural or unreasonable that the confederate authorities should view with displeasure even the merely formal intervention of this legation in the appointment of consular officers in the confederate territory.

Mr. Benjamin’s complaint concerning the dismissal of Mr. Magee by her Majesty’s government is less reasonable. Mr. Magee was dismissed for assisting persons in the Confederate States to export specie from a blockaded port, and this was an act manifestly inconsistent with his duty as the officer of a neutral sovereign, and a flagrant violation of the Queen’s proclamation. It is not, however, surprising that my endeavors to prevent Mr. Magee’s committing this breach of blockade should have increased the displeasure with which the confederates viewed the connexion between this legation and the southern consulates. Mr. Benjamin’s dissertation on the duty of paying debts may, indeed, be passed over as entirely beside the question. I was, of course, as desirous as any one could be that money due to British subjects should be remitted to them; and I have ever been most anxious to diminish in every possible way, not inconsistent with positive duty, all the hardships inflicted on my countrymen by the blockade. But to export specie from Mobile was a manifest breach of the blockade of that port, and to send it through the blockading squadron in a British man-of-war was a direct violation of the understanding with the United States government, in virtue of which her Majesty’s ships communicated with the blockaded ports. So long, therefore, as her Majesty’s consuls in the south were under my orders, it was undoubtedly my duty to prevent their being concerned in any such proceeding. It so happened that the confederate authorities were, at the time, particularly anxious to find the means of exporting specie, in order to pay for munitions of war procured in Europe; and it appeared afterwards that they had hoped that the British government would allow her Majesty’s ships to be employed to carry through the blockading squadron specie sent in payment of purchases of this description made in Great Britain. It was natural, therefore, that my attempt to prevent the breach of blockade at Mobile, and the dismissal of Mr. Magee by her Majesty’s government for being concerned in it, should be regarded with displeasure by the confederates. It was, of course, equally my duty to hinder the British agents under my orders from committing breaches of blockade, whatever might be the article to be exported, and whatever reason the belligerent, whose ports were blockaded, might have for desiring the exportation of it. But it is not surprising that this affair should have increased the susceptibility of the confederates with regard to the connexion between this legation and the southern consulates.

I have, &c.,

  1. Earl Russell to Lord Lyons.

    Foreign Office, February 17, 1863.

    My Lord: I have to state to your lordship that if you have any difficulty in finding on the spot a suitable person to take over the consulate at Mobile from Mr. Magee, I should think no better arrangement could be made than to desire Mr. Cridland to undertake the duty.

    Your lordship will be best able to judge whether the presence of a consular agent at Mobile is constantly required for the protection of British subjects, or whether it would be sufficient for Mr. Cridland only to visit Mobile occasionally.

    In either case, however, it would be necessary to provide Mr. Consul Moore with a temporary substitute for Mr. Cridland; and further, bearing in mind Mr. Moore’s representations as to the impossibility of carrying on the business at Richmond without further assistance, I have to instruct your lordship to authorize Mr. Moore to engage such temporary assistance as he may satisfy you is really necessary; and as soon as I hear from you what expense will be involved in so doing, I will make a corresponding augmentation to the special allowance now granted to Mr. Moore.

    If Mr. Cridland should be obliged to reside permanently at Mobile, he would be permitted to draw the same pay and allowances as have been granted to Mr. Magee; otherwise, your lordship will award to him such an allowance as may appear reasonable to cover his expenditure and to serve as remuneration for the performance of his duties.

    I am, &c.,