HC Deb 25 July 1831 vol 5 cc291-5

On the question that a sum of 9,730l. be granted to defray the expenses of the Civil Establishments at Sierra Leone,

Lord Granville Somerset

wished to ask the noble Lord opposite, whether it was the intention of the Government to act upon the recommendation of the Committee, and remove the establishment from Sierra Leone to Fernando Po? and he also wished to know from the noble Lord, whether the late accounts of Fernando Po justified the expectations which had been formed of that establishment, with respect to its superior salubrity? If the appearance of the persons who had come to this country as witnesses upon this subject was to form the ground of judgment on this question, it seemed to him that it must be answered in the negative.

Lord Howick

said, that the answers to these questions were, perhaps, difficult, on account of the circumstances under which these colonies were placed. It had been the intention of the Government to remove the establishment from Sierra Leone to the Island of Fernando Po, and to make the latter the seat of the mixed Commission. A beginning had been made, to remove the establishment; but after the preparations had been commenced, and some progress made in effecting the change, Spain had put in a claim to that island, and refused to abandon that claim except upon payment of a very large sum of money. According to the terms of the Act of Parliament, and according to the terms of the Treaty, the Court of mixed Commission could only sit in the British dominions. Now, the Island of Fernando Po could not be made a part of the British dominions, except upon the payment of the sum of 100,000l. The payment of such a sum was entirely out of the question, as the English only wanted such a quantity of land as would be sufficient for the purpose of the mixed Commission sitting there. As Spain, at present, continued to assert her claim to this sum for the island, it was likely that the settlement of Fernando Po must be given up. He ought to add, that according to the late accounts, Fernando Po was not much better, as far as salubrity was concerned, than Sierra Leone. He hoped, that the excessive mortality at Sierra Leone, which had produced so strong a sensation in this country, would soon be avoided, by some arrangement, by which men of colour from the West-Indian Islands would be procured, of sufficient ability to fill the greater part, if not the whole, of the official situations in the colony.

Mr. Keith Douglas

said, that the West-Indians had to complain of the continued existence of the foreign slave-trade. Notwithstanding the treaties that had for so many years existed on that subject, the foreign slave-trade was now greater than ever. France did not act up to her treaty; and the French, notwithstanding their repeated assurances, still continued to carry on that trade, in such a manner as defied any means to put it down. It was the intention of his hon. friend to bring the subject before the House, and direct the attention of the Government especially to it. He believed, that the whole matter depended upon the conduct of France. If that country would give us the mutual right of search, he was sure that the trade might easily be put down, and that a small squadron would be sufficient for that purpose. The establishment at Sierra Leone might then be abandoned, and the expense of completing that at Fernando Po would be unnecessary. Sierra Leone had been excessively expensive to the country. From the year 1807, when the place was first purchased by the Government, of the Company which had established itself there, up to the year 1824, a sum of no less than 2,268,000l. had been expended on the colony. From the year 1824 up to 1831, the expense was 1,082,000l. From the year 1807, up to 1824, the expense of the naval establishments kept up for that colony was 1,630,000l. The payments to Spain and Portugal amounted to 1,230,000l. The sums expended for the purchased captives amounted to 533,000l.; other incidental expenses came to 93,000l.; and the expense of Commissions was no less than 190,000l.—sums which, taken together, amounted to nearly eight millions. He trusted, that some steps would be taken by the Government for securing the observance of these treaties.

Sir George Murray

said, that the situation of Fernando Po was more commodious than that of Sierra Leone, for many different purposes, but then there was difficulty in getting rid of Sierra Leone, and breaking up the establishment there. Unhappily, however, Fernando Po did not appear to be much more salubrious than the other settlement. Originally there had been one Spanish and one English Commission, each sitting on its own territory, and that had led to the formation of a mixed Commission. The difficulty then occurred to which the noble Lord had already alluded. Still, however, he did not think, that there would be any insuperable objection offered by Spain to some arrangement for the sitting of the mixed Commission at Fernando Po. He did not think, that Spain would persist in demanding so large a sum for her claim on that settlement, so that the only difficulty standing in the way, would be that of accommodating the treaty, so as to meet the views of both Governments. With respect to the mortality which, he admitted, had been terrible in Sierra Leone, he believed that it had been greater some years ago than it was at present. The diminution arose from the circumstance that more of the offices were now filled by men of colour, and there were fewer Europeans at the settlement than formerly. He thought that, by the plan which had been suggested, of introducing West-Indians into the colony, and appointing them to fill the offices, the extraordinary mortality might disappear. He wished to see the colony continued; for he looked to it as the best means for the introduction of civilization into Africa. He admitted, that the expenses connected with it had been enormous; and he agreed with the hon. Member who had preceded him, that the great cause of the continuance of the slave trade had been the want of all zealous co-operation on the part of France in putting it down.

Colonel Torrens

said, that he had that day received letters which stated, that Fernando Po—now that the woods were partially cleared away, was becoming more healthy. He trusted, that the establishments might be kept up; for he believ- ed, now, that the source of the Niger was discovered, they might be made useful for commercial purposes. In that way, too, they would aid in effecting the original object of their establishment; for, if commerce were introduced among the tribes of Africa, he believed, that the horrid practice of making war, in order to sell the captives, would be gradually extinguished. It was clear, that little could be done for the benefit of our West-Indian possessions, unless the foreign slave-trade was put down; for, while that existed, it was impossible for our colonies to compete in the market with the planters in colonies belonging to governments which permitted the slave-trade. Upon all these considerations, he must say, that he regretted this country was not to have permanent possession of Fernando Po.

Mr. Hammersley

agreed with the hon. Gentleman in the expediency of retaining a settlement near the mouth of the Niger, but he believed, that Fernando Po would turn out to be a most unhealthy station. He had submitted a statement to the Government, tending to prove, that we might derive a trade of considerable importance from the Coast of Africa. We ought to endeavour to introduce commerce among the African tribes, as the best means of preventing the slave-trade they now carried on with the ships of different nations. He had produced a plan to the present Ministry for a system of reciprocity in commerce, which, if adopted, would put down the slave-trade better than all our ships on the station could do it.

An Hon. Member

stated, that it would be impossible to put an end to the slave-trade, unless the right of search was conceded by the French Government. This nefarious traffic was still carried on, to an extent not generally known, by vessels sailing under the French flag.

Sir J. Graham

agreed, that the mutual right of search was necessary, as the slave-trade was now carried on by Spanish vessels sheltering themselves under French colours, because search was not allowed by France, while it had been conceded by Spain. Every exertion should be made by the British Government to obtain from France a right of search, which he was confident, if granted, would be most effectual in putting an end to the slave-trade. Fernando Po had advantages as a naval station, but the island belonged to the King of Spain, who was willing we should incur expenses in making a settlement, but refused to surrender his right of Sovereignty over the island.

Sir Stratford Canning

heard, with great satisfaction, the observation which had just fallen from the First Lord of the Admiralty. He had suggested the expediency of renewing the treaty made with the American government four or five years ago, a treaty recognising the right of search, and which was approved of by the American Government; but, unfortunately, was not ratified by the Senate of the United States.

Resolution agreed to.

A sum not exceeding 4,000l. to defray the expenses of Forts at Cape Coast Castle, on the coast of Africa, was voted.