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The Talisman affair involved the seizure of the British Steamship "Talisman" by the Peruvian Government; to her employment by that Government in their national service several months before her condemnation by any prize court; to the impressment of eighteen British subjects composing her crew on board Peruvian war-ships in active service; to the subsequent imprisonment of these men without trial for upwards of a year, and the continued detention in prison of three officers of the ship without trial upwards of fifteen months after their capture . . . . . 

. . . .  "and to move for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the whole circumstances of the case . . . " (Dr Cameron).

The matter was first raised HC Deb 30 July 1875 and was only fully debated HC Deb 21 March 1876. See also Pacocha incident 1877.

The initial parliamentary question[]

PERU—THE CREW OF THE "TALISMAN."— QUESTION. HC Deb 30 July 1875 vol 226 cc216-7

Dr Cameron asked the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether the crew of the steamship "Talisman," shipped in Glasgow in May 1874, and arrested in November last by the Peruvian authorities at Quintereas for alleged complicity in the illegal landing of arms, have been tried and convicted of that offence, or whether they are still detained in prison unconvicted; whether the statement purporting to be written by the second officer of the "Talisman," and published in "The Times" of the 26th instant, to the effect that the crew were all confined without other clothes than they brought with them when arrested, in a large underground cell, damp, badly ventilated, full of vermin, and devoid of the common requirements of decency and cleanliness, and in company with sixty of "the lowest class ruffians of the country," is justified by fact; and, whether it is true, as stated by the officer referred to, that the British Consul had taken no notice of three letters addressed to him by the imprisoned crew?

replied . . . .

Sir, down to our latest advices from Peru, June 10, the crew of the Talisman, who have been in prison since November last, had not been tried. That, we are told, is owing to the fact that the crew could not be put on their trial until the Courts had disposed of the case of the vessel. She had been condemned as a good prize, but as appeal had been made against the sentence the crew could not be tried pending the result of this appeal. "With regard to the place of their confinement, the treatment they receive, and the position of their fellow-prisoners, our Consul at Lima has reported that he has several times visited the crew. The master was confined in a room apart from the rest of the prison with three other political prisoners, two of whom are of the rank of colonel. The crew were in the common prison, but as to their being in "company with sixty of the lowest class ruffians of the country," as stated in the Question, it appeared that they were confined with other unconvicted Peruvian prisoners, among whom are some captains and lieutenants in the army. At the request of the Consul some more mattresses had been ordered to be sent to the crew from the Talisman, and their food, for prison diet, appeared good and sufficient. The Consul was doing all he could to press on the trial of the crew, and seeing that they were receiving fair treatment in prison, and we have received no complaint from any quarter of his neglect of their interests, I am not aware that he took no notice of three letters addressed to him by them.

On 21 March 1876 Dr Cameron proposed a MOTION FOR A SELECT COMMITTEE in a debate on the Talisman affair: House of Commons Debate HC Deb 21 March 1876 vol 228 cc375-427 .

Mr Gladstone[]

Mr Gladstone (in ending / rounding up the debate) said, he thought that there was a great deal of force in the objection that had been urged by the Chancellor of the Exchequer against the appointment of a Committee to inquire into this subject, because it was not only a tardy tribunal, but its appointment might present to the Peruvian Government a fallacious idea of the real state of feeling prevailing in this country on this question, and might supply them with an excuse for further delay in a matter in which there had already been too much delay. At the same time, however, he wished to urge upon Her Majesty's Government the justice and equity of the proposition contained in the Motion. It must be admitted on all hands that Her Majesty's Government, in dealing with the Government of Peru, had laboured under considerable disadvantage in consequence of the illegal course that had been taken by the Talis- 423 man. The effect of that admission, however, could not be allowed to be carried beyond a certain point. There was, also, to be taken into consideration the natural repugnance that Englishmen felt against using force towards a weak country; but here again we must not permit that feeling to carry us too far, because, as Lord Palmerston had remarked, sometimes countries presumed upon their weakness to do most unjustifiable acts, in the hope that they would be regarded as too insignificant for punishment. Much reliance had been placed by the Attorney General on the dictum of Lord Chief Justice Cockburn, uttered in the course of the Arbitration at Geneva—that when once a question had been referred to the tribunals of a country the Executive Government stood completely discharged from all duty in respect of it to any foreign nation. He was not willing to allow that the mere reference of a matter to the legal tribunals of a country acquitted that country in the face of a foreign Power. It was perfectly possible that from some deficiency in organization, or from open corruption, such tribunals might be most unworthy of confidence; and, in his opinion, it was not unfair to hold that before a country could claim the benefit of International Law on that ground, it must show that it had brought up its own organization, both Executive and judicial, to the ordinary level which International Law required. It must further be recollected that this dictum of the Lord Chief Justice was not strictly judicial in its character, his Lordship sitting as an arbitrator on the part of this country; and, moreover, the majority of the Arbitrators did not adopt the view of the law it laid down, and, in fact, decided the other way. We had a right to expect that in this matter some regard should be had to the general principles of justice, and that the conditions of International Law should be complied with. He did not say that the Government had done wrong in going to the extreme limits of patience under the circumstances of the case; but the time had come when their language ought to be both intelligible and firm, and when the Power with which we were dealing ought not to be allowed any longer to suppose, if it had supposed, that by virtue of its weakness it would be enabled to escape its obligations.

References in Hansard (Parliamentary Records)[]


Which Cameron?[]

A "Dr.C.Cameron" is not recorded in the list of Members of Parliament though Mr Donald Cameron is associated with the speech by the Hansard search software. The dates are roughly right.

  1. Cameron, Alexander (Mr)
  2. Cameron, Charles (Sir)
  3. Cameron, David (Mr)
  4. Cameron, Donald (Mr)
  5. Cameron, Ewen (Mr)
  6. Cameron, John (Mr)
  7. Cameron, Kenneth (Mr)
  8. Cameron, Neil (Mr)
  9. Cameron, Robert (Mr)

Other "Talisman" related to Peru[]

Not related to the maritime incident. Ref. In Peru, Amazon Watch is a plaintiff in a case against the US oil company Occidental for its damage to the rainforest. [ 3 ] It currently supports the Achuar indigenous people in resisting oil exploration on their lands by the Canadian oil company Talisman and the Argentinian company Pluspetrol. [ 4 ] Amazon Watch also supports a school that trains indigenous leaders how to defend their rights against oil and mining companies.