HC Deb 08 April 1811 vol 19 cc739-42
Mr. Wharton

, after stating the circumstances which, had occasioned the. delay in the departure of the Chief Justice of Sierra Leone (Mr. Thorpe), namely the difficulty, which existed in the drawing out of the charter; and, subsequently, the impossibility of procuring an opportunity to go out, none occurring till within the last three weeks, moved, "That 14,495l. 11s. 6d. to be granted to his Majesty, for defraying the expences of the civil establishment of Sierra Leone, during the year 1811."

Mr. Dent

observed, that, until the charter was signed, the appointment of the Chief Justice could not be considered as legal; and that, therefore, he was not entitled to his salary until that period.

Mr. Wharton

explained. Mr. Thorpe had been appointed in 1808, when it was imagined that the charter would be executed in a very short time. In the first place, however, there was found considerable difficulty in preparing the bill of instructions. This occupied three months. It was then submitted to the Attorney General, afterwards to Lord Ellenborough and lastly to the Lord Chancellor, by whom several doubts were entertained with respect to different parts of the instrument; and which doubts occasioned an additional delay of near a twelvemonth. During the whole of this period Mr. Thorpe was entirely precluded from taking any other situation; liable as he was to be called on at a day's notice to go out to Sierra Leone. Nothing could be more just, therefore, than that he should enjoy the same salary as if he had been in the actual execution of his office.

Mr. Abercromby

reprobated the delay which had taken place. If, in the interval, justice had been ill administered in Sierra Leone, the delay was criminal; if it had been well administered, the appointment of a Chief Justice was unnecessary. A more suspicious case never, in his opinion, came before parliament: and as an hon. friend below him (Mr. Dent) had given notice for an inquiry into the situation of the colony, he trusted that the Committee would not vote so large a sum as that required, until the inquiry had taken place.

Lord Castlereagh

said, that whatever might be thought of the propriety of an establishment like Sierra Leone, as it had for its object no less than the moral improvement of the coast of Africa, it became necessary to put it on as liberal a fooling as the other colonies of his Majesty. With respect to the particular appointment now complained of, he observed that 1,500l. was considerably under the sums paid to the heads of Admiralty Jurisdictions in any other situation, which were 2,000l. a year at least. The salary in this case was not only for a judge of the prize court, but for Chief Justice. It Was found extremely difficult to procure a person sufficiently qualified to accept the situation. An hon. and learned gent. (Mr. Stephen) who had been applied to could not procure any such person; and government found out last the gentleman appointed in a ju- dicial situation in Upper Canada. When the appointment took place no delay in making out the charter was foreseen; but if was proper to remark that unless the business lay in a very narrow compass indeed, when it came before the Lord Chancellor it might-not be-easy for him in the midst of the multiplied business before him to give it a more early determination As to the amount of the salary, difficulty of procuring a person for the situation proved it was not too large.

Sir J. C. Hippesley

spoke of the insulabrity of the climate of Sierra. Leone, which he knew from his own experience Of 1,500 persons who were originally sent from this country to that colony, only 15 survived in the year 1788; and he him-self should have fallen a victim to the mate had he not taken a sudden departure.

Mr. Peel

said, it did not follow that because the business of the Chief Justice was carried on in his absence, it was therefore unnecessary. With regard to the individual appointed, it would be very hard first to engage him and then to deduce his salary all the time he was detained in England. As to the magnitude of the sum, it would certainly be a great moral as well as a great political evil, if the who administered justice between man and man were not sufficiently independent above necessity.

Mr. Whitbread

was sorry to thirds that the member for Yorkshire (Mr. Wilberforce) and the rest of those who had at: thieved so glorious a victory as the Abolition of the Slave Trade, were unable to prevent this establishment from being job, and from being a constant reproach to the country. In consequence of impositions, it was found necessary to transfer the management of the colony to government. Yet the same impositions seen to be continued. The argument he had heard from the hon. gent, who spoke last was like all the arguments which, during the lime he had been in parliament, he had constantly heard from ministers, in which the interest of the public was nothing and the interest of the individual every thing. Such an argument however did not give him satisfaction. It appeared, that Mr. Thorpe did not seem inclined to meet the climate of Sierra Leone Where was the necessity of removing this gentleman from Canada before every thing was ready for his departure to Sierra Leone A great deal had been said of judicial splendour; dignity, and so forth; but let the House look at the rest of the colonies, where in many, of-them-the Chief Justice had not more than 500l. In Canada the, salary was 1,100l. why then 1,500l. for Sierra Leone? There seemed many other extrayagant and: unnecessary appointments, as salaries of 150l. and 100l. a year. He was informed, that there were many persons in the colony, of characters by no means favourable. He thought it, therefore, advisable that an inquiry should be made into the manner in which the colony had been conducted; and till such inquiry, he thought, it would be proper to postpone he present grant.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

declared, that he should be very happy to have this subject inquired into, and settled in such a manner as to prevent the annual discussions that took place upon it. Whatever might be the result of that inquiry, however, he could not but recommend to the Committee to adopt the present vote; for otherwise half the year must elapse before the communication of any diminution in the grant could reach the colony, to which period, and indeed until the return to this country of those persons whom the diminution would cause to return, the salaries of the different officers, &c. must, in justice be paid at the old rate. Of the good faith, as well as of the policy of maintaining the colony, be had no doubt. Many persons, Maroons and others, had taken refuge in the colony, and the expence of removing them, in the event of abolishing the colony, would be nearly equal to that of the colony itself. The necessity of appointing to the vice-admiralty courts, persons by whom justice would be administered, was obvious; and a small salary was not a sufficient inducement to any respectable individual to accept a situation of that nature. Whatever might be the result of the inquiry of his hon. friend, he saw no reason lot postponing the present grant.

Mr. Dent

observed, in explanation, that one of the objects which he, had in view in the intended inquiry was to give protection to the Maroons in their present situation. The report at present was, that they were treated like slaves.

Sir. J. Newport

compared the salary of the chief justice, of Sierra Leone with that of the chief justice of other colonies, in order to prove that the sum allowed was by much too large. He thought the grant should not be made until the investigation had taken place.

Mr. Stephen

trusted that, when the subject came. to be discussed, the hon. gentlemen opposite would bring proofs of of those assertions, which, thrown out as they now were (unfairly, in his opinion), might make au unfavourable impression on the public mind. Of all the preposterous suppositions which he had ever heard, that of the Nova Scotia blacks, who formed the large mass of the population of Nova Scotia, being slaves, was the most extraordinary. There never was less cause, for imputing partiality to government, than in the appointment of Mr. Thorpe to the Chief Justiceship of Sierra Leone; an appointment which; was the single exception to the recommendation of the benevolent individuals who were the proprietors of that settlement before its transfer to government. The abolition of the Slave Trade had rendered it indispensable to establish a prize court on the; coast of Africa; and Sierra Leone was of course selected as the most proper place. For the purpose of economy it had been determined to combine the offices of chief justice and judge of the prize court. The noble, lord (Castlereagh) had requested him to find out, if possible, some person who was qualified for those situations, and who would accept them. It might be presumed that he had not been remiss in the inquiry. But the nature of the climate, the state of civilization, and other circumstances, formed such powerful objections, that among all those individuals in the profession, who had given an earnest of talent, he could not find one who was disposed to go to Sierra Leone. Nor was this surprising, when the difficulty of filling up the appointments of judges of he prize courts of the West Indies was considered, although those situations had salaries of 2,000l. a-year attached to, although those who held them held them had the liberty of adding 2,000l. more by fees, and although there was an extensive and civilized society. It was not until alter the disappointment he had experienced in his search, that Mr. Thorpe was appointed. He left it therefore to the Committee to determine how far govern could justly be charged with any undue motives in this appointment. Adverting to the greater question, respecting the colony itself, he trusted that a settlement like Sierra Leone, which formed the nucleus of African civilization would never be abandoned; he trusted that the country would be redeemed from the dishonourable imputation of casting off Africa, because it no, longer indulged in the abominable traffic of human beings.

Mr. Fuller

thought that the fatality of the climate was a strong reason for entering into an inquiry as to the expediency of maintaining the settlement.

Mr. Wilberforce

expressed the highest satisfaction at finding that the subject was likely to undergo a thorough investigation. He wished the public to be satisfied that justice, humanity, and every other liberal consideration, conspired to render it necessary to apply a considerable sum, for many years to come, to the purposes of that colony. He denied that there had been any bad management in the early period of the existence of the Sierra Leone Company. The directors of the Company had every year shewn their accounts to their constituents, who expressed themselves perfectly satisfied, and from whom they always parted in good humour. The formation of colonies had always been found a matter of great difficulty, although frequently undertaken by men of the greatest talents. That of Sierra Leone had already been of the greatest benefit to Africa. If it was of service to Africa to abolish the Slave Trade, the establishment of the colony of Sierra Leone had materially contributed to that service, by affording an opportunity of observing more accurately the transactions connected with it; and of viewing whole districts depopulated by the civil wars stirred up by that shameful traffic. He repeated his joy that the affairs of the colony were to be investigated by a Committee of that House. They would see the necessity of doing something to compensate in some degree to Africa the evils which we had formerly occasioned her. He well knew, that a great and lamented friend of his (Mr. Pitt) had cherished intentions of the most beneficent nature towards Africa, and that it had been in his contemplation, whenever, the Slave Trade should be abolished propose to parliament the application considerable sum of money to the purpose of civilizing that unhappy quarter of the globe.

Mr. H Thornton

would vote for the grant before the investigation, because he did not wish to inspire in the colony a distrust of the firmness of its establishment. He admitted that the climate was unhealthy; but not to the extent which had been represented. Certain it was that the number of the Maroons and Nova Scotia blacks regularly increased. He confessed, that it had sometimes occurred to him that the appointment of a chief justice was scarcely necessary; but he was aware that this was a question on which legal men were much more competent to determine than himself.

Mr. Abercromby

begged to repeat his former question, whether the chief justices of the other colonies were resident ins them?

Mr. Wharton

said he could not state distinctly whether all were, or not; but he was positive, that the greater number were, and he believed they all were.

Mr. Peel

said, that all were resident but the one of Dominica.

The Resolution was then agreed to.