Lord Palmerston to M. Drouey, president of the Swiss Confederation.

“The undersigned has the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the note addressed to him in the name of the Federal Council in Switzerland by M. Drouey, president of the Confederation, requesting to be made acquainted with the provisions of the English law as regards the cases in which foreigners lose their rights of nationality.

“In reply, the undersigned has the honor to inform M. Drouey that he is not aware of any case in which a British-born subject can lose his right of nationality unless he should be deprived of it by an act of Parliament.

“It is well established that a natural-born British subject cannot put off his allegiance to the British Crown by any act of his own, not even by swearing allegiance to a foreign power; and though it is not illegal for a British subject to contract engagements with a foreign power with the license of the British Crown, yet such engagements do not affect his national status according to the English law, and the license so given may be revoked at any moment.

“But though a British subject cannot get rid of his national character, he may so misconduct himself, either by committing piracy, or in other ways, as to forfeit all claim to the protection of the British government.”

In 1863 the Swiss government claimed to include in the conscription, at Geneva, two brothers, named Fournier, born in England, but whose father had been naturalized subsequently to their birth as a citizen of Geneva.

As the young men were both of full age, and had done nothing to forfeit their British character, Her Majesty’s minister at Berne was informed that they came within the meaning of the term “British subjects” in the sixth article of the treaty of 1855, and, as such, were exempt from Swiss military service.2

In 1865 a question arose whether an English company, (the European Central Railway Company,) whose direction and agent was located in the canton of Tessin, was entitled to the support of the British legation.3

Admiral Harris was instructed “that this English company has not forfeited its right to the protection of the British legation, because in the act of concession the technical domicile of the company (‘la direction technique du chemin de fer’) is to be considered as being in the canton where the board of administration of the company is situated. The distinction between different kinds of domicile is familiar to all jurists. The domicile which incorporates a foreign citizen into the state in which he is [Page 1349] resident is wholly distinct in its character and consequences from the domicile which is assigned by the state to a foreign subject with relation to certain legal acts or liabilities. Such a domicile is for the purpose of founding jurisdiction in the event of legal proceedings being taken, either by him or against him in the country in which he is resident. The domicile specified in the concession for the company is of this nature, and falls under this category; but it does not affect the right of the company to the intervention of its government for the purpose of preventing an act of injustice being done to it by the foreign government. The intervention, however, of the British legation in Switzerland should be strictly confined to such a case, and should not attempt to interfere with the ordinary course of the municipal law in its operation upon the rights and liabilities of the company.”

In 1866 Mr. J. G. Roch protested against being called upon for military service in Switzerland as a Genevese.1

Mr. Roch’s grandfather was a Genevese by birth, having been born in a territory ceded by Sardinia to Geneva in 1816 by a treaty, one of the conditions of which was that those so born should, being Christians, be considered as Genevese, By the law of that canton the national character is inalienable, and extends to the grandchild,

As Mr. Roch lived and was domiciled at Geneva, Admiral Harris was informed that the claim to exemption could not be put—the English law on the same subject being duly borne in mind—upon the high ground of strict right. The claim could only be preferred upon the lower ground of usage and convenience.2

  1. ‘To Admiral Harris, No. 16, April 22, 1863.
  2. To Admiral Harris, No. 2, November 20, 1865.
  3. Mr. J. G. Roch, March 16, 1866.
  4. To Admiral Harris, No. 21, March 29, 1866; Queen’s advocate, April 14, 1866; Queen’s advocate, May 8, 1866; Queen’s advocate. May 21, 1866.