A Central American Incident How the British Navy Protected a Canadian

WATSON GRIFFIN February 1 1910

A Central American Incident How the British Navy Protected a Canadian

WATSON GRIFFIN February 1 1910

A Central American Incident How the British Navy Protected a Canadian


AVERY large amount of Canadian capital has been invested in the countries of Spanish-America in the development of water power. the building of street railways, the purchase of oil lands, and in mining and lumbering operations. It is not the purpose of this article to consider whether it is wise policy to invest Canadian capital in foreign countries when there are so many opportunities for investment in Canada. However this may be, there is reason to believe that in the future even more than in the past many of the great engineering and commercial enterprises of Spanish-America will be financed by the group of men who control the banking and insurance institutions of Cañifla. There is a large and increasing demand for manufactured goods in those countries ; already some of our Canadian manufacturers are reaching out for the trade, and a large export business to Spanish-America may be regarded as a certainty of the future.

Now, it is well known that government is not very stable in some of the Spanish-American republics, and that the ideas of law, order and personal liberty are very different from those which prevail in Canada, but few Canadians know to how great an extent the safety of Canadian investments and the liberty of Canadians employed in connection with them depend upon the power of the British navy.

Nearlv forty years ago, before 68

Canadian capitalists had turned their attention to Spanish-America, at a time when it would be correct to say there were no Canadian capitalists, a Canadian by the name of McGee, a naturalist of no mean attainments, went from Montreal to Central America to make certain studies there, and eventually settled on the west coast of the Republic of Guatemala at the little town of San Jose, the port of entry for the capital city. He was shortly afterward appointed British consular agent at San Jose. The position was not a lucrative one, but it had its honor and gave him time to pursue his studies. One evening in the year 1871 Mr. McGee was entertaining a few friends when a messenger came from the commandant at the port, saying he wished to see him. McGee said:

“Kindly give my compliments to the commandant and tell him it is impossible for me to go at present, but I will be over to see him as early in the evening as possible.”

Shortly afterward the messenger returned and said: “The commandant demands your immediate presence and says to tell you if you do not at once appear before him he will place you under arrest.”

McGee told the messenger that he would see the Commandant in a hotter place than San Jose before he would comply with such a threatening order, and if the Commandant wishto see him immediately he had better come himself.

The Commandant did come, but with a body of soldiers, and carrying McGee off to military prison, ordered that he should receive fifty stripes on the naked back. As an actual fact McGee received fifty-one stripes and lay almost at death’s door for several months at the home of another Canadian, Mr. Stanley McNider, of Guatemala City. He owed his life to the careful nursing of Mr. and Mrs. McNider, who, like himself, were natives of Montreal.

Meantime, however, the British Minister at Guatemala was active. He at once cabled the Home Office and immediately came a reply that a British cruiser then lying off Puntarenas, Costa Rica, had been ordered to San Jose, and would be there within forty-eight hou^s, and instructions were that if during the interim the Guatemalian Government had not made official apology, not only to the British Government, but also to McGee, and agreed to pay McGee five hundred pounds sterling for each and every stripe received, a total of about one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars, San Tose should be taken. Before the British warship arrived the official apologies were given, immediate payment of the money offered and the Commandant reduced to the ranks and imprisoned. McGee did not accept the money, but he afterwards pointed out that the facilities for shipping and landing goods at San Jose were inadequate and that if he were given exclusive dockage rights he could secure capital to provide proper facilities. The Government of Guatemala granted him the exclusive rights asked for and he disposed of them to the Campania de Agencias, which today is one of the wealthiest corporations in Spanish-America, while McGee himself is a multi-millionaire.

About twenty years after the punishment and compensation of McGee, a near relative of mine was attending to some business in the Republic of Guatemala when war broke out be-

tween that country and the neighboring Republic of Salvador.

He had traveled much in SpanishAmerican countries, having an extensive business with a large number of native agents under his direcCon. He was thoroughly familiar with the Spanish language and well acquainted with the customs of the people, but had found on manv occasions that nothing but his British citizenship saved him from outrageous treatment. The mere mention of the fact that h° was a Canadian and a British citizen everywhere commanded respect. Some weeks after the outbreak of the war between Guatemala and Salvador T received from him a letter which read as follows:

“Since I left Canada I have more than once written vou that I found mv British citizenship of immense value while traveling in these southern lands. I may now relate another incident which will, perhaps, interest you. You have, of course, read in the newspapers about the war between Guatemala and Salvador. When the war broke out I happened to be at Coban, several davs’ mule-back trip across the mountains from Guatemala City, and had with me mv mozo (Indian servant), saddle mules for him and myself, and a cargo mule for our luggage. I hastened for Guatemala City, intending to wind up business there, then get out of the country and down to Nicaragua by steamer. We found the country everywhere up in arms and men and animals being pressed into service. As it was, every day there were military attempts to seize my animals for army purposes. Fortunately, I had my British passport (Canadian issue) and we got through to Guatemala City without serious delay.

“My steamer was not to sail from San Jose until the third day, and as restrictions as to travelers were daily growing more severe I deemed it wise to take all possible precautions, so called at the British Legation and saw

Mr. Chapman, acting charge d’affairs. He asked for my passport, which he endorsed and officially stamped, and said he thought that would be sufficient, but as further precautionary measure, gave me a letter to the Guatemalian Minister of Foreign Affairs, asking him to give me any further papers necessary. The Foreign Office took a day to prepare a special document covering two large folios of double vellum, which called upon everyone in the Republic to afford me protection and freedom of travel. I took this back to the British Legation for examination by Mr. Chapman, who said that he considered I was well armed, but that should I by any means find trouble, to communicate with him by wire or otherwise and he would immediately act in the name of the British Government. I left for San Jose on the early train next morning, arriving at San Jose at noon, expecting steamer for Nicaragua to be there, but found it would not arrive until night. I left luggage at the docks, but spent the day about town. The steamer did not come that night, and the next morning, learning that it would be evening again before it arrived, and needing some of my luggage in the meantime, I picked up a couple of mozos to carry it from the docks to my hotel. On our way to the hotel we were stopped by a lieutenant with a squad of soldiers. He ordered me to proceed with him to the Commandancy. I asked permission to first see my luggage to the hotel, which he refused, but kindly deputed a couple of soldiers to see that the mozos took it safely.

“As I marched into the Commandancy, another officer and squad filed in with five more prisoners. The Commandant, a very military and very pompous looking individual, sat at his desk and we were all lined up before him. He commenced with me and asked what papers I had. From his manner and tone I judged he considered I had some seditious papers on me, so declared I had none.

“ ‘What,’ he said, “Have you no permit to travel?’

“ ‘Oh, yes,’ I replied, T have my passport,’ starting to produce it.

“ ‘That is no good. I don’t want to see it. What else?’

“I got out my big document from the Foreign Office and handed it to him. He merely glanced at it, threw it down and said, ‘That is worthless.’

“I told him it was all I had. He turned to the officer in charge and said, ‘Remove the prisoner aside,’ and I was forthwith marched to the other side of the room with two soldiers to guard over me. The Commandant then proceeded with the other prisoners, each of whom produced a small slip of paper about the size of a note sheet, which was at once accepted, endorsed and returned and the men were free.

“I then asked the Commandant what was required.

“ ‘A permit from the Minister of War,’ he replied.

“ ‘But I am a foreigner.’

“ T know you are a foreigner.’

“ ‘Well, as such it seems to me I have only to do with the Minister of Foreign Affairs.’

“ ‘It makes no difference what it seems to you. It is what I require.’

“ ‘What happens to me without it?’ I asked.

“ ‘You remain prisoner until you get it. You may, subject to our censure, communicate by wire or letter with your country’s Minister at Guatemala, and if everything be all right he will doubtless arrange the matter for you.’

“ ‘Mr. Commandant,’ I said, ‘my steamer goes out this evening and there will not be another for ten days. It is a matter of great importance to me that I should go on it, and if I am detained by you I will see that it costs both you and your Government a pretty penny.’

“ ‘You had better be careful how you talk to me,’ he angrily replied.

“ ‘You had better be careful how you act with me/ I said, ‘You know

what happened in 1871 to a Commandant, who in this same port, took high-handed procedure with a British subject?’

“‘Are you a British subject?’

U ÍT ’

I am.

“ ‘Let me see your passport.’

“I handed it to him. He examined it, then rose from his chair, stepped forward and said:

“ T sincerely beg your pardon—I thought you were an American,’ and placing a chair for me, added, ‘Please be seated.’

“He instructed an orderly to bring some papers from an adjoining room, and after looking them over, said :

“ ‘Let me see. You came down from Guatemala by yesterday noon train, didn’t you?’

“ ‘Yes,’ I said.

“ ‘Well, I only received my instructions from the Minister of War this morning, and as you came in yesterday, I consider your document from the Minister of Foreign Affairs will be ample.’

“He then urged me to have luncheon with him, but I refused and went to the hotel. However, in less than half an hour he came over to the hotel and was so insistent that I finally went to luncheon with him and remained to dinner. I was treated throughout as a guest of honor. When my steamer arrived at night it was anchored about a mile out, as all steamers there are on account of the dangerous coast, but instead of being taken out in a ‘lighter,’ as all other passengers were, the Commandant himself took me out in the Government’s steam launch.

“As you already know, this is but one of many instances of British prestige. I have been through other affairs in different countries, all redounding to the fame of British protection, and I know of many more that have happened to others.

“I have no sympathy with those Canadians who talk of separation from the British Empire. I know there are not many of them at home, and I

think there are none of them here, for any Canadian who has traveled in these countries must recognize the value of his British citizenship. If Canada is to hold her own in the many countries to which her growing commerce extends, if her citizens are to feel proud of their country in every part of the world where they may find themselves they must know that not only at home but abroad their rights will be respected because of their citizenship, and in many foreign lands such respect and protection can only be relied upon when it is known that force would be used, if necessary, to maintain their rights and that such force would be adequate.”

Since the war between the United States and Spain showed the efficiency of the American navy, the prestige of the United States has greatly improved throughout the southern continent, and Americans are no longer held in contempt.

The same spirit of adventure and enterprise that made the early French explorers the pathfinders of North America, the same spirit that has sent Englishmen, Scotchmen and Irishmen over the face of the earth and made the British Isles the world’s commercial centre moves in the hearts of Canadians to-day. Almost every Canadian family has at least one of its members abroad. They are found in every state of the American Union, in Cuba, Mexico, Central America, and all the countries of South America, in China, Japan, India and Africa. Wherever they go they are protected by the British navy and the British flag, the symbol of British power. What a sense of security it gives to a traveler, whether bound on business or pleasure, to know that the whole might of the British Empire is behind him! But how mean he feels when his fellow British passenger reminds him that the over-burdened taxpayers of the British Isles are paying the whole cost of maintaining British prestige !

The time has come for Canadians

to do their sitare in policing the seas. If they have the spirit of adventure and enterprise which distinguished their French and English ancestors they must have also the pride that would make Frenchmen or Englishmen scorn dependence upon any other nation for protection at home or abroad. Canadian naval defence should mean something more than defence of Canadian shores. It should mean defence of the rights of Canadian citizens everywhere. This can be best secured by the maintenance of a strong and efficient Canadian unit of the Imperial navy, which should be ready at all times to co-operate with the British fleets in the North Sea or any other sea, but should have as its special duty the guarding of the shores of Canada and the British West In-

dies and the protection of British citizens in the countries of SpanishAmerica. In return for this service to the Empire Canada might without shame depend upon the British navy for the protection of Canadians in other quarters of the world.

There might also be arranged in the future some system of co-operation with the American navy. To depend upon the Monroe doctrine and the taxpayers of the United States for protection of our citizens, as has been proposed, would be disgraceful to the Canadian people, but there would be nothing humiliating in the acceptance of service for service. The navies of the British Empire and the United States combined could enforce the maintenance of peace, law and order throughout the world.