HC Deb 18 March 1828 vol 18 cc1208-20

On the motion, that this bill be read a second time,

Mr. Warburton

said, that when he first heard of this bill, he supposed that if a few comforts were added to the passengers while on board the vessels, all the objections to the present system would be obviated; but, on reading the papers laid before the House, he found that the objections did not relate solely to inconveniences of the voyage, but to the principle on which voluntary emigration was now conducted. The complaints of the colonists against this principle resolved themselves into two points; first, that the emigrants were paupers; secondly, that they were chosen from the disaffected classes. Every page of this correspondence contained allegations of this nature. Now, the reasons assigned by the colonists, why unlimited emigration ought not to be thus allowed, were the very reasons which were urged by English and Irish gentlemen before the committees of 1824, 1825, and the committee of last year, and by the Roman Catholic priests, in order to prove that emigration ought to be encouraged as much as possible. The former object to receiving paupers and persons from disaffected districts, and the latter say, that the paupers are the very persons who ought to be encouraged to emigrate; and further, that it would be wise to thin the population in the most disaffected districts by emigration [The hon. member here read portions of the evidence before various committees, in support of this position]. Here, then, were two conflicting and absolutely contradictory opinions. The colonists refuse to take the disaffected paupers of Ireland, and the English and Irish gentlemen say that these are the very persons who ought to emigrate. They were at issue upon a leading point, and on this point the House had to judge. It was absolutely necessary that government should decide one way or the other; that they should either check the emigration of paupers and disaffected persons, or fall into the views of the Irish proprietors; or, in a modified way, into the view of the right hon. member for Newcastle, and bear a part of the expense. He believed there were causes operating which would prevent the government from attempting to check the tide of emigration, even if they were inclined to do so; and if this bill were intended as a check to voluntary emigration, which he hoped it was not, it was his opinion that it would be found impossible to carry it into effect. He did not enter into the views of the right hon. member for Newcastle, and wish that 20l. a-head should be given to the emigrants; but then he contended, that government ought to lend their aid to locating the emigrants on their landing. It appeared from this correspondence that 15s.—let it be taken at 20s.—a-head, placed in the hands of the colonial government, would remove the greater part of the distress complained of by the colonists on the landing of the emigrants. This House ought not to stand idly by, and contribute nothing on this subject but reports. And now a word or two as to the bill itself. He really thought that so many alterations were necessary in it, that they could only be satisfactorily made in a committee up-stairs. It had been stated, that in consequence of the crowded state of these vessels, the want of food and of water, and the dirt, infectious diseases had been generated, which destroyed a considerable portion of the crews, and of the population of the towns in which they landed. Now, with regard to the ship "James," in which it had been said that the typhus fever had been generated, the allegation of one of the governors was a complete answer to that of the other governor, who, in utter ignorance of the typhus fever, said it had been generated on board that vessel. He spoke on the authority of the best physicians, when he said that the typhus fever could no more be generated than the scarlet fever, the small-pox, or any other of those diseases which were called contagious. When the House recollected how long the typhus fever had prevailed in Ireland, there was no difficulty in finding out how it happened that it raged on board a vessel filled with poor and destitute Irish people. He had been told by the right hon. member for Waterford, that when this vessel sailed, the typhus fever prevailed so universally, in that part of Ireland, that the funds of a charitable institution, whose object was to relieve persons afflicted with this disease, were totally exhausted. Unless the right hon. gentleman was disposed to grant a committee up-stairs, before which all parties interested, and especially the Irish shipowners, might be heard, he must withhold his support to the bill.

Mr. V. Stuart

said, it appeared to him that this bill merely consisted of regulations which secured sufficient space for the passengers during the voyage; he could not, therefore, understand by what party, or on what ground, so useful a measure was to be opposed. As to the Irish shipowners, if they meant to do what was right, they could have no objection to do it under an act of parliament, and if they did not, then the sooner they were made to do it the better. In his opinion the bill encouraged rather than retarded emigration, and he therefore should support it.

Mr. Robinson

perfectly agreed with the hon. member for Waterford, who in a few words, had placed the subject in the right point of view. If the hon. member opposite would carefully examine the information which had been received from the different governors—information which put speculation at defiance—he would find that a case had been made out so strong as to warrant the House in restoring the provisions of a bill which had unfortunately been repealed a year or two ago. He could not understand why the hon. member, in arguing against the provisions of this bill, should have gone into the great question of emancipation. The bill certainly had a bearing on that question; but the hon. member had argued as if it included the whole of that question, The present state of the Passengers' law was, in his opinion, monstrous, and a disgrace to the country. He decidedly objected to the proposition for going into a committee above stairs: the season for the departure of ships with emigrants was approaching, and, unless some act was passed, we should have a repetition of the same horrors in the present year which had been in the last so justly complained of.

Mr. J. Grattan

considered the present measure to be one designed more for the benefit of the colonies, than for the advantage either of England or Ireland. In his opinion it was calculated to impede emigration rather than to promote it. He was desirous of affording every facility to the purposes of free emigration. The inspection of the vessels was a measure to which he had no objection, but he did not think it necessary to sanction a bill imposing such restrictions as the present. At all events, it was desirable to go into a committee on the bill; as it certainly was one which should not be hastily adopted.

Mr. Secretary Huskisson

said, he wished to call the attention of the House to the real question before it. He was not disposed to enter into a discussion upon the general question of emigration: that was a subject which would require a more extended line of argument than hon. members would be inclined to listen to at so late a period of the evening. He could not agree that the question of emigration was so extremely simple, that the House would be justified in saying, "if it be right to encourage emigration, then it is unnecessary to take any care of the manner in which the parties emigrating are transported to the country of their destination.' The hon. member for Bridport had spoken of those parties as if they had no claim upon the consideration of the country in which they had been born, and in which they had devoted many years of their lives to labour, until peculiar circumstances in the condition of that country rendered their further services superfluous or inapplicable. Under such circumstances he could not consent to speak of these people—the most helpless and uninformed of the community—as of a mere commodity which was the subject of export from one locality to another. It had surprised him to hear the hon. member lay down those doctrines of political philosophy and medical science which he had brought forward, and especially to hear him argue upon them as upon principles to which no person could object. The hon. member's argument amounted to this—that where typhus had broken out on board the emigration ships, that malady had not arisen out of any crowded or unclean state of the vessel, but necessarily proceeded from the emigrants themselves having been put on board in a state of disease. This might be a discovery made by the hon. member, but certainly it was directly contrary to the opinions of all those who had paid the most attention to such subjects. But how did the facts appear from the reports upon the table? The letters from New Brunswick distinctly attributed the disease in the ships which had reached that port to the crowded state of the vessels themselves, and to the entire want of order and cleanliness which pervaded their arrangements. The authority of this correspondence could not be questioned; but the hon. member had garbled it, in order to make it serve his own peculiar theory. Where the letters spoke of a particular parcel of emigrants as the most miserable and squalid on their arrival that the writer had ever beheld, the hon. member at once jumped to the inference, that the people must necessarily have been in that state when they embarked from Europe: now, it was at least as likely, and certainly better proved, that they had fallen into this condition in the course of the passage. The hon. member said, that typhus had broken out in the "James," almost as extensively as in any; and yet, certainly, in that case, from the number of persons on board, it was evident that there had been no crowding of passengers. But the hon. gentleman forgot that this ship was shewn to have been in total want of provisions, a circumstance just as likely to produce serious disease as too great a confinement in point of space. It was needless, however, to go into detail upon the state of particular ships, when the writer in this correspondence, a captain in the navy, who had been employed in the preventive Slave service on the coast of Africa, declared that the condition of many vessels which he had seen arrive at Newfoundland with emigrants beggared all the descriptions of the state of the captured slave-ships, even under the accumulated miseries belonging to the existing system of contraband trade. It was, then, the duty of ministers, and their imperative duty, to call upon parliament for power to put a stop to these enormities; and, with his best exertions, even in the teeth of science and philosophy, he would oppose the proposition for going into a committee, which would allow the opportunity of their perpetration during another season. He protested that, if the committee were carried, he would himself recommend all the colonies to pass bills, in their own defence, for general embarkation; for we had no right to inundate them with such a population as they were receiving under the existing system. Honourable gentlemen spoke of the Passenger's act, as being calculated to check the flow of voluntary emigration; but he was certain that nothing could be more likely to prevent voluntary emigration than the accounts which parties now received of the miserable fate of those who had gone before them. He agreed entirely that it was the duty of government towards emigrants to see that they were not shipped in any case without a competent supply of food and water. The food might be of the very commonest description, but a proper quantity of it they should have. And the water should be of a drinkable quality, shipped in a condition fit for human creatures; and not in old casks which had recently contained molasses or salt hides, which had been the case in more than one instance. It was too much to talk of there being no necessity for these regulations. Even in the time of the Slave-trade there had been a law regulating the number of slaves by the tonnage upon the middle passage; and that which we had thought it right to do for the negroes of Africa ought we to refuse to do for our own countrymen? Honourable gentlemen talked of its being hard that ships should be put to the trouble of furnishing an account of every passenger that they carried out. Why, they were compelled to furnish an account of the smallest parcel that they took out, and that which they did for a bale of goods, they might surely well make shift to do for a living man. He wished to throw as little difficulty in the way of the shipping trade as possible; but he would insist upon having such a quantity of provision and water always on board, as should guarantee the emigrants from famine in case of a protracted passage; and the state of the vessels as to numbers should be such as was conducive to the health and common safety of the human beings who were on board of them. With these views he resisted the appointment of the committee up-stairs, and should press his own measure as rapidly as the forms of the House would allow him to do.

Mr. Hume

said, he was surprised to find the professed advocate of free trade supporting a bill like that before the House. Honourable gentlemen seemed to forget that the object of emigration was, not to send out of the country the choicer portion of its inhabitants, but to provide for those who were in a state of excessive poverty, and had no means of obtaining employment. The whole of the provisions of the Passengers' acts had been calculated to do nothing but mischief, and the trade of carrying emigrants must have stopped if they had not been evaded. The stores required to be put on board were perfectly unsuited to the habits of the persons who were to use them. The Irish were made sick by the diet of beef ' and pudding; and the right hon. gentleman talked of providing biscuit on board. Who wanted biscuit? For the Scotch he would answer, that oatmeal and water was all that was necessary. The business of emigration had gone on very well without any restrictions until the year 1817, and then, because one or two cases of abuse arose, the trade was cramped with laws which, if they had not been evaded, would have put an end to it entirely. He could not see the consistency of this conduct on the part of the right hon. gentleman, the advocate of the principles of free trade. It was an odd change in the tactics of the right hon. gentleman; but it was not quite his first, and he went on wavering. He had begun well; now he was going on not quite so well; and it was difficult to say where he would land at last. For himself, he was against the bill altogether. He would have no interference whatever with the Irish who might wish to emigrate. Every arrangement by legislation would be only injurious to them. He trusted, therefore, that the House would reject the measure altogether.

Sir J. Newport

said, he considered the present bill as an innovation on the freedom of trade. For fifty years the system of emigration had been going on without any legislative interference; and no evils had arisen from the want of such regulations as the present. He thought it was unfair for government to act in so important a matter on the representations of individual cases, given by interested parties. Much stress had been laid on two cases of typhus fever which had been taken out from Waterford to one of our colonies. Now it happened, that the whole of the last summer typhus had prevailed to a great extent at Waterford, and it could not be a matter of surprise that two vessels should have departed from it with cases of fever on board; but what he feared was, that in the representations thus made, no inquiries had been made into the circumstances of the vessels when they sailed from port; and he thought that the measure before the House should be delayed until an opportunity should be given for obtaining full information on the subject. He thought that, if this bill was converted into a check, which he believed it would be, to emigration, every Irish person whose emigration it would hinder should be maintained in England or Scotland, If the House intended to go to the expense of transferring the poor to the colonies at a cost to the country of 30l. per man, some regulations of this kind might be enforced; but voluntary emigration should be allowed to take its own course. The emigrants ought to be permitted to make the best provision for their voyage without being subject to any government regulations.

Mr. Wilmot Horton

said, he could easily explain the difference of opinion between himself and the right hon. baronet on this subject. If the right hon. bart. thought that the colonies would gladly receive the forced population of Ireland, which some gentlemen of that country encouraged for the purpose of raising their rents, if he thought that redundant population, no matter how wretched and destitute in its condition, would be gladly received on their arrival in the colonies, he was right in opposing any regulations as to the mode of their transfer from the country. If the right hon. baronet thought that every man ejected from his small farm and miserable hut, by the system of law now in force in Ireland, was to be willingly received, the moment he reached the shores of our colonies, he might be right in opposing any measure which, in his opinion, would tend to restrict emigration; but the right hon. baronet was wrong in assuming that such would be the case. The whole of the information laid before the committee on emigration proved that the colonists had no disposition to receive all who went from this country as emigrants. The right hon. baronet knew full well the circumstances under which large bodies of the people emigrated from Ireland, that they had no option, but were obliged to resort to emigration as a last resource. But, would not the evils of their condition be multiplied on their arrival in the colonies without any preparation, or any provision being made for their employment or subsistence? Was it to be supposed that on their arrival they were to find, as if by miracle, a provision ready for them? Such a doctrine would be most absurd, and if acted upon would have the effect of increasing a hundred fold the evils which the emigrants had endeavoured to avoid by removing from their native country. He for one must ever protest against the doctrine, that the immediate effect of indiscriminate emigration was to be the reception of the emigrants by the colonists. The very reverse was already proved in too many cases. America had legislated on the subject, and had come to the decision not to receive the crowds thrown off from the forced population of Ireland, where the increase was directly encouraged, in order to secure occupants for the small parcels of land into which gentlemen divided their estates in that country, for the purpose of obtaining a larger rental. If, then, America would not receive them, was it not hard that those which she refused should be thrown on the colonies? Could any thing be more unjust than that those colonies should be as it were called upon to provide for a large portion of the population of this country, who were not in a condition to offer any equivalent in the way of useful service for the subsistence which they thus required? The right hon. baronet had talked of the system of sending out emigrants at the public expense, and without being able to support his argument by the testimony of a single witness of character, still contended, that emigrants so sent out would not be able to defray the expense of their outfit, or rather he rested satisfied by denying, without any evidence, that which was supported by the testimony of so many competent witnesses. Until the right hon. baronet could support that denial by the evidence of competent witnesses, he must, in his turn, deny the justice of the right hon. baronet's conclusion.—He would also deny that the sending out emigrants in the way which he had proposed could be considered as an expense to the country; for to supply a man with an outfit and provisions, which he was to repay in a year or two, could not be considered an expense. He had better ground for his denial than the right hon. baronet; for no proof whatever had been offered on the other side. But, to come to the question more immediately before the House, he begged to deny that the regulations contained in the present bill were any infraction of the principles of free trade. What did those regulations propose? They made it imperative on the master of a ship, taking out emigrant passengers, to provide a sufficient quantity of water and proper food for the voyage. Were not these called for by the common dictates of humanity? Could any thing be more reasonable or humane, than that some such regulations should be enforced, for the benefit of those who, from their situation, could not be aware of the privations to which they might be exposed in a long voyage? He was astonished that hon. gentlemen were not ashamed to come down to that House, and object to regulations such as those proposed by the bill, on the ground that they were in violation of the principles of free trade. The right hon. baronet complained that government had acted on the representations of interested individuals. From whom could the government expect representations of this kind, and on whose testimony could they place reliance, if not on those of distinguished individuals, holding situations of great trust and responsibility? Was no attention to be paid to the official statements of such men as the governors of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, or Newfoundland? Yet all these had concurred: in their communications to government, as to the evils produced by large masses of emigrants going out without any preparation or provision. Sir James Kemp said, that such was the wretched and sickly condition of many of the parties that arrived from this country, that the hospital was soon filled with them, and that more extensive accommodation of that kind was found necessary. But such cases were not isolated. The whole of the colonies cried out against the system as it had been recently carried on; and there was scarcely a private letter which reached this country, which was not full of such representations, and which did not call for relief from the pressure of emigration so conducted. It would appear, also, that this system was not confined to England, for that we had inoculated our neighbours with a similar indifference to the manner in which emigration was conducted. From a letter which he had seen, it appeared that some time ago a ship, the "Helen Maria," of two hundred and forty tons, sailed from Amsterdam for America, with three hundred and eleven emigrants on board; a number which, it must be admitted, was more than could be sufficiently accommodated in a vessel of that size. After being a short time at sea, the vessel met with severe weather, and was dismasted. She afterwards got into Falmouth, where it was discovered that no attention had been paid to the situation of the passengers. The greatest want of cleanliness was perceived among them. On looking to the state of their provisions, it was found that their beef was good, but that the bread and water were both bad, and deficient in quantity. No doubt many instances could be adduced of vessels leaving our own ports, equally deficient in the quality and quantity of the provisions; and was the House to permit such cases to be of frequent occurrence, without making some regulations by which so many evils might be avoided? It was their duty to see that such regulations were enforced; and on these grounds he felt himself bound to support the present bill.

Mr. Stanley

admitted the great zeal and perseverance of his right hon. friend on the subject of emigration, and the readiness with which, in the course of his labours in the committee, he had attended to every humane suggestion that had been made. He was sorry, however, that he had on this occasion deviated so much from the question before the House, and mixed up a theoretical question with one; which was purely practical. With the opinions of his right hon. friend on the bill, he fully concurred. The right hon. baronet, and the hon. member for Montrose, had argued the question as if their only object was to get rid of the superabundant population, no matter how, but at the cheapest possible rate. The representations on which the government had acted were, he contended, such as they could not refuse to attend to; and all these had concurred in stating, that the colonies would not receive the miserable and almost unserviceable crowds who went out in search of employment. The consequence was, that some such measure as the present was necessary. The hon. member for Montrose had objected to the correspondence on which some of the details rested; but he would appeal to the whole House whether, if one twentieth part of that correspondence had reached the hon. member, they should ever have had an end of his comments upon it? The hon. member had set himself up as the apostle of free trade; but admitting his apostle-ship, he must dispute his doctrine, that in no case, and under no circumstances, were the principles of free trade to be departed from. The case before the House was one which called for the proposed regulations, and it would, he maintained, be doing great injustice to the colonists, as well as to the emigrants, if they were not adopted. The whole of the communications received on the subject proved that those regulations were necessary. He had voted for the repeal of the last bill, but he could not conscientiously withhold his support from this, or suffer another season of emigration to pass without having some regulations in force, which would prevent a recurrence of the mischiefs that had arisen from the want of them.

Mr. P. Thompson

contended, that his hon. friends did not oppose this billon the ground of particular restrictions. All they asked was, that it should go to a committee up-stairs, to inquire whether any restrictions were necessary, and if any thing could prove that the House was not the best place where such inquiry should be made, it would be the tone and temper in which the Secretary for the colonies had addressed the House upon it. He gave great credit to that right hon. gentleman for his principles of free trade, and wished him joy of his steady adherence to them. The maxim of the right hon. gentleman on this occasion seemed to be, — Video meliora proboque, Deteriora sequor. The hon. member then proceeded to contend, that there was no analogy between the necessity of regulations in ships conveying slaves, and those now made for emigrants. The slave was forced to make the voyage, but the emigrant acted voluntarily, and could, beforehand, inspect the accommodations prepared for him. If it was thought necessary to legislate as to the quality of the emigrant's food in his voyage across the Atlantic, hon. members should look at the other side of the picture, and consider what a continuation of misery parties were exposed to who were prevented from emigration. The hon. gentleman then went on to contend that no case had yet been made out for the proposed regulations, and that they ought in the first instance to be submitted to the inquiries of a committee above stairs.

Mr. S. Worthy

said, he had been a member of the Emigration committee, and from all that had there appeared, there was no one who could doubt that some regulations were necessary, and more particularly as the season was now approaching when emigration would take place. He therefore would give his support to the bill.

Mr. Baring

said, that the only question was whether there ought to be a committee up stairs to examine further into the subject, or whether they should at once decide the question.

Sir J. Beresford

said, he had had frequent opportunities of conversing with governors and admirals stationed in the colonies, who all concurred in bearing testimony to the sufferings of the miserable emigrants whose necessities had driven them to seek shelter in a foreign country.

The bill was then read a second time.