Foreign Office, Nov. 30, 1861.
My Lord — Intelligence of a very grave nature has reached her majesty's government.
This intelligence was conveyed officially to the knowledge of the admiralty by Commander Williams, agent for mails on board the contract steamer Trent.
It appears from the letter of Commander Williams, dated 'Royal Mail Contract Packet Trent, at sea, November 9,' that the Trent left Havana on the 7th instant, with her majesty's mails for England, having on board numerous passengers. Commander Williams states that shortly after noon, on the 8th, a steamer having the appearance of a man-of-war, but not showing colors, was observed ahead. On nearing her, at 1:15 p. m., she fired a round shot from her pivot-gun across the bows of the Trent and showed American colors. While the Trent was approaching her slowly, the American vessel discharged a shell across the bows of the Trent exploding half a cable's length ahead of her. The Trent then stopped, and an officer with a large armed guard of marines boarded her. The officer demanded a list of the passengers, and, compliance with this demand being refused, the officer said he had orders to arrest Messrs. Mason, Slidell, McFarland and Eustis, and that he had sure information of their being passengers in the Trent. While some parley was going on upon this matter, Mr. Slidell stepped forward and told the American officer that the four persons he had named were then standing before him. The commander of the Trent and Commander Williams protested against the act of taking by force out of the Trent these four passengers, then under the protection of the British flag. But the San Jacinto was at that time only two hundred yards from the Trent, her ship's company at quarters, her ports open and tompions out. Resistance was therefore out of the question and the four gentlemen before named were forcibly taken out of the ship. A further demand was made that the commander of the Trent should proceed on board the San Jacinto, but he said he would not go unless forcibly compelled likewise, and this demand was not insisted upon.
It thus appears that certain individuals have been forcibly taken from on board a British vessel, the ship of a neutral power, while such vessel was pursuing a lawful and innocent voyage — an act of violence which was an affront to the British flag and a violation of international law.
Her majesty's government, bearing in mind the friendly relations which have long subsisted between Great Britain and the United States, are willing to believe that the United States naval officer who committed the aggression was not acting in compliance with any authority from his government, or that if he conceived himself to be so authorized he greatly misunderstood the instructions he had received. For the government of the United States must be fully aware that the British government could not allow such an affront to the national honor to pass without full reparation, and her majesty's government are unwilling to believe that it could be the deliberate intention of the government of the United States unnecessarily to force into discussion between the two governments a question of so grave a character, and with regard to which the whole British nation would be sure to entertain such unanimity of feeling.
Her majesty's government, therefore, trust that when this matter shall have been brought under the consideration of the government of the United States that government will, of its own accord, offer to the British government such redress as alone could satisfy the British nation, namely, the liberation of the four gentlemen and their delivery to your lordship, in order that they may again be placed under British protection, and a suitable apology for the aggression which has been committed.
Should these terms not be offered by Mr. Seward, you will propose them to him.
You are at liberty to read this dispatch to the secretary of state, and, if he shall desire it, you will give him a copy of it.
I am, etc., Russell.
There was also a covering letter sent to Lord Lyons:
In my previous dispatch of this date I have instructed you by command of her majesty, to make certain demands of the government of the United States.
Should Mr. Seward ask for delay in order that this grave and painful matter should be deliberately considered, you will consent to a delay not exceeding seven days. If, at the end of that time, no answer is given, or if any other answer is given except that of a compliance with the demands of her majesty's government, your lordship is instructed to leave Washington with all the members of your legation and repair immediately to London. If, however, you should be of the opinion that the requirements of her majesty's government are substantially complied with, you may report the facts to her majesty's government for their consideration and remain at your post until you receive further orders.
You will communicate with Vice-Admiral Sir A. Milne immediately upon receiving the answer of the American government, and you will send him a copy of that answer, together with such observations as you may think fit to make.
You will also give all the information in your power to the governors of Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Jamaica, Bermuda and such other of her majesty's possessions as may be within your reach.
It adds weight to the quotes from Dunlop and other British commanders in theatre that they had already been issued their war orders and were awaiting the decision of whether or not to proceed.