Seizure of Confederate Commissioners.The Illustrated London News, vol. 39, no. 1119, p. 537.
November 30, 1861
Startling news has been brought by the West Indian mail steamer La Plata, which arrived at Southampton on Wednesday. On the 8th inst. Mr. Slidell, the accredited commissioner to France from the Confederate States, and Mr. Mason, engaged on a similar mission to France, with their respective secretaries, Messrs. Eustis and M'Farland—who had run the blockade at Charleston and arrived at Havannah on the 18th ult., were forcibly taken out of the British mail-steamer Trent by the commander of the American steam-frigate San Jacinto.
It appears that on the 7th inst. the Trent sailed in her regular course of service from Havnnah for St. Thomas. On the following day, while the Trent was approaching a narrow passage in the Bahama Channel, a large steam-ship of war, which showed no colours, was seen waiting ahead. The Trent hoisted the British ensign, but elicited no responsive display of colours until she had approached within about 200 yards of the strange ship, which then fired a shot across the Trent's bow, hoisted the United States' flag, and fired a shell to leeward of the Trent. Captain Moir, the commander of the Trent, hailed the United States' steamer's captain, who replied that he wished to send a boat on board. A boat, containing two officers and ten men, boarded the Trent; and the boat's commanding officer, Lieutenant Fairfax, demanded to inspect the passenger-list, but was refused permission. He then declared that his commander, Captain Wilks, of the United States' steam-ship San Jacinto, had received information that Messrs. Slidell, Mason, Eustace[sic], and M'Farland were among the passengers, and required that they should be given up to him. Captain Moir and Commander Williams, the naval officer in charge of the mails, refused to comply with the requisition; and the Confederate Commissioners, who were standing near, claimed the protection of the British flag under which they were sailing. Lieutenant Fairfax said he would take charge of the Trent, and made a signal to the San Jacinto, which immediately dispatched several armed boats, containing about 100 marines and seamen, who with drawn cutlasses boarded the Trent, arrested the Confederate Commissioners, and forced them into the boats. While this was doing, Commander Williams protested against the act in the following terms:—
In this ship I am the representative of her Majesty's Governmsnt, and I call upon the officers of the ship and passengers generally to mark my words when, in the name of the British Government, and in distinct language, I denounce this as an illegal act, an act in violation of international law—an act, indeed, of wanton piracy, which, had we the means of defence, you would not dare to attempt.
Mr. Slidell, as he was forced into the boat, requested the Trent's Captain to report exactly what had occurred, and declared that he looked to the British Government for redress for the outrage committed upon him while he was under the protection of the British flag. The American officers next complained that they were short of provisions, and asked for a supply for their prisoners, which was given by Captain Moir for the "exclusive use " of Messrs. Slidell, Mason, Eustis, and M'Farland. Lieutenant Fairfax said that he was ordered to take Captain Moir and his papers on board the San Jacinto; but Captain Moir refused to go unless he was forcibly removed from his quarterdeck. Lieutenant Fairfax thereupon told Captain Moir that he wanted nothing further, and ordered his men into the boats, which returned to the San Jacinto, leaving the Trent to prosecute her voyage.