HC Deb 08 June 1827 vol 17 cc1169-75
Mr. Baring

rose to present a Petition, signed by the majority of the most respectable residents of the Cape of Good Hope, complaining of the maladministration of the affairs of that colony, for some years past. When the House considered that this colony was gradually growing into great importance, he was sure the petition would meet with that attention which it merited. The Cape, it should be remembered, was peculiarly situated with reference to the state of other colonies, where the principles of the British constitution were firmly established. He knew not why a solitary exception should be made with regard to the Cape of Good Hope. It was painful to think that the residents in that colony lived under a system of government, as despotic as that of Turkey. There was no trial by jury; and the lives and property of the colonists were dependant on the arbitrary will and disposal of those who were removable at the pleasure of the governor. Thus circumstanced, the colonists had no other resource than to apply to parliament, for that redress for which they vainly looked elsewhere. Sixteen hundred individuals, composing the respectability and intelligence of the colony, had signed this petition. The petitioners disclaimed any desire to cast any personal imputations on the character of lord C. Somerset; but, whether the malpractices complained of were occasioned by the late governor, or in consequence of orders from home, they, in either case, called for a speedy remedy. For the last fifteen years, a system of mal[...]administration had been pursued in that colony, to an extent which was quite lamentable. The hon. gentleman then referred to the state of the currency at the Cape, and passed some severe strictures on the conduct of those whose duty it was to preside over that department. The simplest clerk in any of the banking establishments of this country would have been utterly ashamed of himself, were he to transact business in the manner which had been practised at the Cape. These were subjects which he had no doubt would be looked into by the noble lord now at the head of the colonial department; but he must say, that no slight or partial measure would remedy the evils of which the petitioners complained. It would be necessary to give to the inhabitants of that colony some authority in the colony to which they could make their complaints, and in which they could place confidence; for hitherto they had no such resource. His opinion was, that the colonists should possess some local popular organ, through which their complaints might be made public. At the present moment, the only answer made to persons making complaints in print was, to send them out of the colony. This course was recently adopted towards an individual, whose only offence was publishing some extracts from the London papers. He thought the colonists of the Cape were entitled to have some legislative body which should exercise a power independent of the governor. There should also be made an improvement in the judicial system, by rendering the judges independent of the governor. These changes would have a most salutary effect on the colony, by giving the people an influence in the institutions by which they were governed. He would not take up the time of the House longer, but move that the petition be brought up.

Mr. W. Horton

was far from thinking that the prayer of the petitioners was undeserving of attention; but he must, in the outset, protest against what seemed to be assumed by the hon. gentleman, that up to the present moment, nothing had been done to ameliorate the condition of the inhabitants at the Cape, and that now, and now only, some steps for that purpose were commenced. This mode of dealing with the question was, he considered, extremely unjust to the late administration of the colonial department. The colony of the Cape was, it should be recollected, ours by conquest, and from the commencement was governed by laws, wholly different from ours; but it had been the endeavour of the colonial department gradually to assimilate them to ours. In 1822, he himself moved in that House for the appointment of a commission (which was now mentioned as if it was heard of only for the first time) to make inquiries into several departments of government at the Cape. That commission was, for a considerable time, in active employment, and much of the result of its labours were already before the House. Was it not, then, most unfair to state, that now for the first time steps were taken by the colonial department to improve the condition of the colony? It had been said by the hon. member, that a kind of legislative assembly or representative government should be given to the inhabitants of the Cape. Were not hon. members aware, that the Mauritius, Ceylon, New South Wales, Van Dieman's Land, and other British colonies, were without representative governments, though it was well known that some of them were inhabited almost exclusively by Englishmen, or their descendants? But, even to this point the attention of the colonial government had been given. He would read to the House an extract of a letter from general Bird to lord Bathurst on this subject. Here the right hon. gentleman read the extract, in which the general, after pointing out many changes in the administration of the colony, observed, that the inhabitants did not possess within themselves the materials for forming a representative body. He did not even think that they were fit to enjoy the benefit of trial by jury, except in criminal cases. It was proposed to establish a council similar to the India council. It was also intended to have a reform in the judicial system of the colony; and with these alterations, he thought it better to wait until the colony was ripe for a more enlarged scale of improvement, than to begin with a system which the colony was not in a condition to receive. Many improvements in the administration of the colony were already in progress, the result of diligent investigation, which had been carrying on for the last four years. It was no valid objection to the administration of the colony, to say that, for some years, its currency had been in an unsettled state. The same might be said of the currency of this country for many years; during which much ignorance prevailed on subjects connected with it, on which, within the last few years, much sounder principles prevailed. The establishment of one general standard for the currency of the colonies would be productive of much benefit, in this respect. He would now advert to a subject of a nature personal to himself. He alluded to a pamphlet which had recently been published by sir Rufane Donkin, reflecting on what he (Mr. W. Horton) was supposed to have said, in that House. This mode of proceeding on a public question was, to say the least of it, very inconvenient; for the gallant officer might have brought the subject before the House by petition. In that pamphlet, he (Mr. W. Horton) was made to say, that sir R. Donkin had offered to make charges, and then withdrew them. Now, he had never said any such thing; but he had read a letter, in which sir Rufane declared, that he had that to disclose, which would cover lord C. Somerset with ruin." A letter was written by lord Bathurst's order, calling on the gallant general to produce his charges; and he then denied that he had any charge to make, or that he had intended to make any. He said, he had no direct charges to bring, but that he would make disclosures. Now, in the ordinary acceptation of language, when a man said he had disclosures to make which would cover another with ruin, was it not natural to suppose that he had in his possession matters of charge against the party alluded to? He was not called upon to bring forward a public accusation, or to impeach lord Charles Somerset. He was only required to bring forward his disclosures; and then he stated, that he had no charge to make. But the fact was, he had no disclosures to make, which were not already known to the colonial department through other sources.

Mr. Maberly,

in reference to what had fallen from his hon. friend (Mr. Baring) respecting the alleged maladministration of the colony for fifteen years, observed, that such a sweeping charge would unjustly include the government of the colony during the administration of sir R. Donkin. It should be borne in mind, that at the time sir R. Donkin left the Cape, he received the most marked testimonials of the approbation of the colonists. He had also the entire approval of his majesty's government at home. There was no ground, therefore, for including his government in the administration spoken of. He had found the finances of the colony in a very embarrassed situation; but he had so improved them, that at his departure he left 125,000 rix dollars in the treasury. With respect to the pamphlet, he did not advise, or approve of, its publication; for he agreed that it was a very inconvenient mode of discussing the merits of a public question: but he must say, that sir R. Donkin was at all times ready to state his disclosures, provided an opportunity were given to him. This was fair; and all that could be expected from the gallant officer.

Mr. Hume

said, there were great difficulties in the way of sir R. Donkin's bringing forward a public accusation, which, if he were anxious to undertake the task, he would be unable to surmount, without the aid of the colonial department. The heads of that department owed it to the colonists to institute an inquiry, where their interests were concerned, and when important charges were offered to be proved. As it was acknowledged, that the colonial department had long been aware of the disclosures which sir R. Donkin could have made, it reflected strongly on them, that they had not instituted some inquiry on the subject.

Mr. Canning

asked whether any department could pursue a course more fair than that which had been taken by lord Bathurst on this occasion? A gallant officer came forward and stated, that he was in possession of information which would be the ruin of the head of one of the colonial governments. What could lord Bathurst imagine from that, but that the individual making the offer was prepared to bring forward his charge? So far from thinking that the noble lord had not gone far enough in giving him the opportunity, he was of opinion that he had gone rather too far. If it were his own case, he would say, that it was not unfair to call on the individual making the offer (approver or informer he would not call him) to bring forward his statement. He would have gone further and asked him to give his information in writing. It would never, for a moment, have entered into his head to have received his disclosures at a private interview, and to leave the question, as to the nature of the information given, to depend afterwards on the veracity of him or his informant. He would never have admitted him to such interview, unless a third party was present, to take down all that was communicated. Instead, therefore, of believing that any ground of complaint existed, on the score of the information having been rejected, he thought a question might arise, that it was too easily admitted. But did the noble lord, then at the head of the colonial department, stop there? On the contrary; he made inquiry at the Cape into the matters which, from other sources, were known to constitute the offered disclosures, and the result of that inquiry would, in a short time, be laid before the House. Now, whether the conduct of sir R. Donkin was too rash at first, he would not say, as that was not the proper time or place for entering into the affair; but he must observe, that as the head of a department, the conduct of the late colonial secretary was throughout unexceptionable.

Mr. Hudson Gurney

said, that he thought it must be sufficiently difficult, even for the government itself, to appreciate the truth of these conflicting allegations. Those in the employ of government would hardly venture to give very perfect information; whilst it was notorious that, amongst the Dutch inhabitants, there was that terror of the local authorities, that however loud their complaints to indi- viduals, they were not found to come forward to substantiate their statements; whilst, on the other hand, those made by disappointed settlers were obnoxious to great suspicion. It was, however, evident, that no time should be lost in framing such institutions as should give to the inhabitants of that colony some sense of individual security; not only with a view to their own well-being, but as creating a greater attachment in so important a possession to the rule of England than probably now subsisted. There was one class of persons, Mr. Gurney added, the creditors of the Orphan Chamber, previously to the capture by the English, whose case he still hoped would not be lost sight of by government; and who appeared to him to be beyond question entitled to redress.

Mr. Baring

said, that let the colonial department ask any of the inhabitants, not actually in office there, and they would find them unanimous in their opinion of the maladministration by which the colony was so long afflicted. As to the commission which had been sent out, he believed it was agreed on all hands, that its chief results were increased charges and salaries, without any practical benefit to the colony. Was it not well known that there was no such thing in the colony as the liberty of the press—that the judges were removable at the will of the governor? And he would ask the veriest Tory in that, or, what was worse, in the other House of Parliament, was that a state of things under which Englishmen ought to be allowed to continue? It was said, that other English colonies had no representative government. So much the greater disgrace to the government at home, if they were in a condition to receive it. If the right hon. gentleman refused to give a representative government until the colonies were ripe to receive it, he would tell him that they would never be ripe until they got it. If he treated them like children, and never set them on their legs, they would never be able to walk like men. If the right hon. gentleman withheld constitutions from the colonies, until they were fit to receive them, he would tell him that, if he lived ten centuries, he would never see them in a proper state to receive them. He meant to cast no aspersions on the government of sir R. Donkin. He knew nothing of it. As to that of lord Caledon, he believed the noble lord did as much as any man could do to make despotism tolerable; but Englishmen should not depend for their prosperity or comfort, on the personal feeling of any governor.

Ordered to lie on the table.