Page images
PDF

1770. DEATHS OF GRENVILLE AND GRANBY. 287

past the prime of manhood, each already in the meridian of fame. Had life and health been spared to them, and had they continued to take part against the Government, it may be questioned, - such was now their weight in the House of Commons, derived in the one case from personal character, and in the other from financial skill, - whether Lord North and his colleagues could much longer have maintained themselves in place. For the loss of Grenville and Granby was not merely so much ability or so much reputation withdrawn from the ranks of Opposition; it removed a strong curb on the discordant claims and views of other men; it left, in Grenville's case at least, a section without a chief; it greatly widened the interval that already divided the followers of Chatham from the followers of Rockingham.

It may also be a matter for curious speculation had Grenville returned to office either as the colleague or successor of Lord North, what influence his counsels would have exerted on the coming contest with America. Strange though it may seem in the author of the Stamp Act, I believe that he would thenceforth have been ranged on the side of concession. His last recorded expressions on American taxation are the following, delivered in the month of March previous to his death: “Nothing could ever induce me to tax America again, “but the united consent of King, Lords, and Commons, “supported by the united voice of the people of England. “. . . . I will never lend my hand towards forging chains “for America, lest in so doing I should forge them for my“self.” +

* Cavendish Debates, vol. i. p. 496.

CHAPTER XLIX.

IN the autumn of this year, as the time for reassembling Parliament drew near, the Ministry and the nation had before them a momentous alternative, – the alternative of peace or war. That chance had arisen from a quarter wholly unexpected, from a region almost unknown. A desert archipelago in the southern hemisphere, first discovered at the close of the sixteenth century (by whom is not quite clear), had been called by the English Falkland Islands, and by the French Iles Malouines, a name derived from St. Malo. These “miserable islands,” as in our own day a voyager terms them.*, were long unsettled, and to any settler little worth; their soil a mass of peat, their climate a succession of storms. In Anson's voyages, however, their fertility had been presumed, and their situation vaunted as most favourable for any purpose either of trade or war in the Pacific Ocean. Accordingly in 1748 an expedition to explore them had been fitted out in England, but was laid aside, though without any acknowledgment of the Spanish right, on some remonstrances from the Spanish ambassador, General Wall.

After the peace of 1763 it so chanced that the Duke de Choiseul also cast his eyes to this quarter, and sent forth an expedition under M. de Bougainville to form a settlement. The Court of Spain which claimed these isles as part of her South American dominion again remonstrated; and Choiseul readily yielded to the complaints of his ally. The new settlement was transferred from French to Spanish hands, and its appellation altered in like manner from Port Louis to Port Soledad. Meanwhile, at nearly the same time as Bougainville's, an exploring expedition had been sent from England under Commodore Byron. A British settlement

* See the instructive and agreeable Journal of Mr. Charles Darwin (vol. i. p. 188.). Mr. Darwin visited these islands in March 1833 and again in March 1834.

1770. THE FALKLAND ISLANDS. - 289

was formed on another of the islands; a small blockhouse was reared, and a small garrison stationed, the place receiving the name of Port Egmont in honour of the Earl of Egmont, First Lord of the Admiralty. Thus for some years the English garrison continued; deriving annually at a great and unprofitable charge its supplies from England. The Spanish rulers in South America had attempted no disturbance and uttered no complaints. “We supposed,” says Dr. Johnson in his able treatise on this question, “that we should be permitted “to remain the undisputed lords of tempest-beaten bar“renness.”* But towards the close of 1769 Captain Hunt of the Tamar, being then stationed at Port Egmont, received various protests and remonstrances against the occupation from the Governor of Port Soledad. Captain Hunt replied by counter-statements that the islands belonged to His Britannic Majesty by the double claim of discovery and settlement. Some threats also passed on each side. The first account received in England of any discontent expressed by the Spaniards was conveyed by Captain Hunt himself on his landing at Plymouth in June 1770. By that time, however, their discontent had assumed a more practical form. In the same month of June there appeared off Port Egmont a Spanish armament, which had been despatched by Don Francisco Buccarelli, the Governor of Buenos Ayres; it consisted of five frigates and no less than 1,600 men. Against such a force the handful of English at Port Egmont could not pretend to make resistance. A few shots were fired for form's sake; and then a capitulation was accepted. All the honours of war were granted to the English. But by the terms of the capitulation, and with a view to enable the Court of Madrid to have the first word in Europe, their departure was delayed for twenty days; and the better to secure their stay the rudder was removed from a King's ship, the Favourite. Such were the tidings which * Works, vol. viii. p. 107. ed. 1820. Mahon, IIistory. W. 19

in the October following Captain Maltby of the Favourite brought with him to England. The event had already been announced in softening terms by the Prince de Masserano, the Spanish ambassador in London. At the news of this insolent aggression in the midst of peace the English Government appears to have displayed a proper combination of spirit and of prudence. We must insist on most ample reparation for the insult to the British flag. But we must not assume or take for granted that no such reparation could be peacefully obtained. Orders were sent to the British Envoy at Madrid to demand in peremptory terms the restitution of the Falkland Islands, and the disavowal of Buccarelli's attack. And in case these demands should not be complied with, immediate and active preparations were made for war. Ships were refitted, commanders named to them, and stores put on board; pressgangs for sailors were sent round in all directions; and thus ere long a formidable fleet was ready at Spithead. Lord Mansfield advised the King to postpone the opening of Parliament until the final answer from Spain could be received. But His Majesty declined to take that course, deeming that both the Courts of Versailles and Madrid might probably misunderstand it, and hold it to indicate his resolution to settle the dispute at all events.” The Parliament met therefore on the day previously fixed, the 13th of November. The King in his Speech from the Throne declared his deep sense of the wrong which his people had sustained, and his full determination to obtain redress; he detailed to his Peers and Commons the steps he had already taken, and as to the future desired their advice and assistance. Of their advice indeed the Opposition in both Houses were far from chary; but certainly with no view whatever of assistance. They raised a loud cry against what they termed the tameness, the supineness, the pusillanimity of Ministers. It was not their fault if the pride of Spain was * The King to Lord North, Nov. 9, 1770. MS.

1770. PRESS WARRANTS. 291

not aroused. It was not their fault if we did not become involved in immediate war for the sake of a doubtful right and of a worthless object. Among all the vehement speeches at this period and for this purpose there were none more vehement than Chatham's. Yet even in his fiercest bursts of party spirit he could show a noble disregard of popularity when he thought his country's good concerned. The press-warrants had been opposed in the City. Wilkes sitting as Alderman, and athirst for some new grievance, had refused to back them. Several of his colleagues followed his example. Trecothick, the Lord Mayor, attempted, much to his honour, to stem the torrent on this question, but his term of office expired a few days before the meeting of Parliament, and his successor, Alderman Brass Crosby, leaned to the popular side. Lord Chatham was consulted, but Lord Chatham disdained such demagogue arts. Thus he wrote: “The City, respectable as it is, deems of itself “as I do not if they imagine themselves exempt from “question.” And in one of his speeches at this time he did not scruple to advise that the refractory Aldermen should be brought to answer for their conduct at the Bar of the House of Lords. Unlike the common race of popular leaders, Lord Chatham, it appeared, had power not only to impel but to restrain. His voice was, although reluctantly, obeyed by the City, and no further serious obstacle was cast in the way of the press-warrants. At this period, and during the Ambassador's absence, our Chargé des Affaires at Madrid was Mr. Harris, son of the author of Hermes. He was only twenty-four years of

* Chatham Letters, vol. iv. p. 24. See also the Parl. Hist., vol. xvi. p. 1101. On the general question of the Falkland Islands Dr. Johnson inveighs severely against Lord Chatham's violence. (Works, vol. viii. p. 118.) He seems disposed to award him “that equipoise of praise and “blame which Corneille allows to Richelieu, a man who, I think, had “much of his merit and many of his faults: “‘Chacun parle a son gré de ce grand Cardinal, “‘Mais pour moi je n'en dirai rien; “‘Il m'a fait trop de bien pour en dire du mal, “‘Il m'a fait trop de mal pour en dire du bien " ' "

« PreviousContinue »