HC Deb 11 July 1836 vol 35 cc96-105
Mr. Walter

said, it was not with any view essentially to delay the proceedings on the Order of the Day, that he rose to bring forward the motion of which he had given notice, but merely to insure that attention to it which it might otherwise fail of obtaining. He had been waiting for the opportunity which he thought the notice given several weeks ago by the Under Secretary for the Colonies would have afforded him to bring this subject under the notice of the House. He had attended on numerous occasions when the hon. Baronet's notice stood among the orders of the day, but had constantly been disappointed. He would now shortly recapitulate what he stated the other night, that very unjustifiable means had been taken—at least under the semblance of authority—to promote female emigration. All the postmasters in the kingdom had been directed to place placards in the most conspicuous parts of their offices, and to distribute copies among the clergy and parochial authorities, urging young women, with what he should call indecent and improper incitements, to quit their homes. The placard stated, that His Majesty's Government, in order to encourage the emigration of single women and widows of good character to Van Dieman's Land, where the number of females, as compared with the entire population, is greatly deficient, and where all who may conduct themselves with discretion and industry, may calculate in time importantly to benefit their condition, has authorised the Emigration Committee to grant a free passage to such single females, between fifteen and thirty years of age, as the Committee may ascertain to be likely to conduct themselves creditably and usefully in the colonies. The placard went on to say, "that a large proportion of those who had already gone out had married respectable settlers; and altogether the information received of the results of emigration to young women of discreet conduct, clearly demonstrated that all such had importantly benefited their condition by proceeding to this healthy and prosperous colony." Now he should be able, before he sat down, to show, that if this placard did not assert a series of untruths, as he verily believed it did, it at least painted in far too flattering colours the condition of the emigrants who had left this country. He could assure the House, from inquiry of several intelligent gentlemen, who had returned to this country from New South Wales, the region to which these poor women were invited, that two-thirds of the emigrants were irrevocably and finally consigned to prostitution. [Mr. C. Lushington; "No"!—"Order" from the Chair.] He advised the hon. Member to be patient; he would hear the statement corroborated on authority which could not be controverted. In this very Van Dieman's Land whole streets had been built for the exclusive reception of such women; and with respect to those who obtained what was called the situation of servants, to what a class were they but too frequently the servants? Very different, he apprehended, from the masters and mistresses of this or any other of the civilized states of Europe. He had inquired as minutely as possible of three gentlemen who had come from those parts to which the Government recommended farther emigration, and he found them all of the opinion that the emigration of more females to the settlements in the southern hemisphere could only prove destructive to the individuals. He might be again told, as he had been the other night, that the Emigration Committee who managed these concerns at home, were men of high character for judgment and humanity. He could only wish, if such were the case, that they would add to those excellent qualities that of a perfect knowledge of the countries and their condition which they incited their fellow-creatures to fly to, by a previous inspection made by themselves. Last year, strong inducements had been held out to British labourers to go out to the West Indies. When our countrymen, and, he might add, our country women, were displaying so much zeal to get rid of West-Indian slavery, they little apprehended that the effect of that measure would be to force whole families of our fellow-subjects over to those colonies to compete with the emancipated blacks, and that labour under a tropical sun would be esteemed preferable to English workhouses under the regulations to which they were subjected by the new law. He had reason to know, that upwards of 1,000 of our countrymen were thus sent out early last year. How many of them remained alive he knew not; but he knew that Lord Sligo, in an address to the Assembly at Jamaica, spoke of the frightful mortality which had taken place among the emmigrants. He had referred to the West Indies on account of the efforts which had been made for the abolition of the slave-trade. Now, let the House look at what the slave-trade was, even in the palmy season of its iniquity. They perhaps took and dragged the negroes by force from their native land; in this new slave-trade, as he should presently show, the victims were got out by fraud and misrepresentation. In the black slave-trade, you took them from a barbarous and savage country to one of comparative civilization; in this white slave-trade, you drag them from the very centre of civilization and Christian instruction, to a remote region, of which the accounts were most discouraging to this class of people. The Ladies' Committee in Van Dieman's Land state— That they are particularly anxious to call attention to the practice of sending out to that colony very young girls from the workhouses, schools of industry, or reform, or other charitable institutions. They have experienced the most painful solicitude respecting many of those who have arrived in every ship with female emigrants; and although they have exercised their best care, yet it is lamentable to observe the number of those young girls who have deviated from the paths of virtue. The Committee make this representation from the great difficulty they have always found in procuring situations, in respectable families, for girls from fourteen to sixteen years of age. Few persons are willing to take them as servants; and it has frequently happened, that after having been placed by the Committee in a situation where they would be taken care of, many have quitted those situations and sought a home with abandoned and depraved characters, of whom there are many in this town willing to receive them. The Committee would therefore most earnestly hope that, in future, none under seventeen or eighteen years of age might be induced, by any assistance from the Government, to emigrate to this colony, where the first lesson they learn is that they are free, and subject to no control but such as they are willing to submit to. The Committee are desirous to urge this point very strongly for the serious consideration of the Government, both as it affects the welfare of the young emigrants themselves, and also for the sake of the best interests of the community, which cannot be better served than in promoting the advancement of religion and virtue, and preventing the increase of immorality and crime. What do this much-lauded Emigration Committee do upon this representation? Notwithstanding the earnest entreaties of these persons on the spot to send out no females under seventeen or eighteen years of age, they directly invite the parish officers throughout the kingdom to send out more children of fifteen, at a moment when the rigour—a rigour hitherto unknown in this country—of the new Poor Bill disgusts them with the institutions of their own country. Fifteen years of age did he say? Why, he had just been shown a Hobart-town paper of the 12th of February, in which it was proved that children under twelve years of age had been sent out. [Mr. C. Lushington: By what ship?] I cannot tell what ship. Here is the paper. He would read, the hon. Member continued, an extract from the paper:— The females which have come to us by the present opportunity, are of unusually tender years to be thus launched upon the world. Contrary to the stipulation, many of them are under fifteen; and about thirty, we learn, under twelve or fourteen, will require to be kept like our own orphans, and reared and educated for some years at the public expense, until fit for service. A person of common sense, whether male or female, will naturally ask these urgers of forced emigration—' If it be so fine a thing, how comes it, gentlemen, that you are not gone?' Example is better than precept—is much better than persuasion based on so rotten grounds. But no; in default of this natural and obvious inducement, flattering pictures, delusive statements, and advertisements of all kinds (paid for, of course, out of our poor acres) are disseminated in all quarters. Most sincerely do we wish that their condition may be ameliorated, though with all the welcome, the disinterested and benevolent intentions, for which the inhabitants of this place are proverbial, much disappointment must ensue. When we find that the heads of these young females are filled with such notions as that 'Van Dieman's Land is a splendid little spot, filled with pretty white cottages, each with single men, of all ranks and callings, waiting for wives,' we cannot hold scathless the authors of such delusion, seeing it is used to induce them to accept it in place of home, and all those ties which, in a female breast in particular, are at once so delicate and binding. He had heard some Gentlemen, the other night, loudly declaim in favour of emigration generally. Upon this subject, however, he could not help having a strong conviction that there was a great deal of error prevalent—error studiously implanted and widely diffused for that purpose. Let any man look at what the first act in the process of emigration was. It was tearing our fellow-creatures from their homes, from those scenes, connexions, and associations, which in every civilized state are most dear to the heart of man, How could one contemplate the disseverment of so many ties—that was, the infliction of so much misery on our fellow-creatures without pain? "Oh, but," it was said, "we send them to a better place, where they will be better fed, and practise better moral conduct, and be ultimately more happy than they were in their native country." His answer to this assertion, if it were true, would be, "the greater the shame and reproach to that state and government under which any of its subjects can be induced to seek a foreign and unknown clime, in preference to their native land, and in violation of their natural affections." As he should not be entitled to a reply, he felt it right to anticipate some objections that might be urged against him. He was prepared to hear Gentlemen interested in these emigration plans, and who might, perhaps, have important stakes in these new colonies in consequence, give the House a flourishing account of their condition. He should reject all such testimony coming from so suspicious a source. Great stress, also, might be laid on the Reports of some Commissioners or benevolent Committees. With respect to such Reports, and the authors of them, he must observe, that they were too often made for the express purpose of carrying into effect the favourite objects of those with whom such Commissions originated, rather than after a fair and impartial investigation of both sides of a question. He would briefly give the House an example of what he meant. The Irish Poor-law Report had quoted very largely from other Reports, and among them from the English Poor-law Report, in which mention had been made of a parish called Cholesbury. The example of that parish had been made the great stalking-horse of those who frightened people into an approbation of the new Poor-law. Having heard a great deal about that parish, and of the beneficial effects of a benevolent society instituted there for bettering the condition of labourers, by letting out to them small patches of land to be cultivated by spade husbandry, he last autumn visited the place, and what he saw there would always induce him to use great caution in credit- ing the Reports of Commissioners or Committees. It was certainly true, as the Report stated, that the rents of the farms had been absorbed by the rates, and that relief in aid had been obtained from other parishes; but the House would be surprised to hear that all the farms in the parish consisted of only two, of fifty acres each. The whole of the parish contained only 162 acres, of which forty-four were waste. The sudden deaths of the two chief proprietors, and the declining powers of an aged incumbent, contributed, with other causes, to the disorganization of this little parish; and without detaining the House longer by an induction from particulars, it was certain that the circumtances of that case rendered it worth nothing as an example. As to the spade husbandry, which was the chief feature in the construction of the benevolent society, and formed a prominent part of its last year's Report, the least trace of it was not to be found in the parish. Now, if reports of a parish in England not forty miles off, were so erroneous, he might be allowed to have some doubts respecting the Reports, however official, of a country in the southern hemisphere. If he was charged with misstating facts, let a Committee be appointed to ascertain the truth. He had thought it his duty to make these circumstances known to the House, in the hope that at least some principles of moderation might be instilled into the present rage for sending our poor fellow-countrymen, and still more our countrywomen, they knew not whither. He should move that "an humble Address be presented to his Majesty, praying that he will be graciously pleased to issue his Royal orders that a placard entitled, 'Emigration to Van Dieman's Land,' which the several postmasters throughout the kingdom have been directed to put in a conspicuous place in their several post-offices, and to circulate among the clergy and the parochial authorities, be withdrawn."

The Speaker

asked who seconded the motion?

Mr. Wakley

I second the motion.

Mr. O'Connell

Oh, Mr. Wakley.

Mr. Goring

thought it right to state with respect to Cholesbury, that a large sum of money had been expended in the purchase of land, and furnishing the means of cultivation. He should be able to prove that the society had not been altogether unsuccessful.

Sir George Grey

said, it was not his intention to travel through the whole of the observations of the hon. Member for Berkshire, who, he thought, had pursued a very extraordinary course. The hon. Member had found a certain placard exhibited in the window of some post-office at a distance from London, offering to the notice of young persons the advantages of emigration. Now, it would not be necessary for him (Sir G. Grey) to say more than what he had said on a former occasion—that these circulars had been issued without the authority of the Government. Whatever might be the sources from which the hon. Member had drawn his information, he trusted that the people of England would not take their idea of the advantages or disadvantages of emigration, from the picture which he had drawn with the assistance of anonymous paragraphs from Hobàrt-town newspapers The hon. Member was mistaken in saying that people were torn from their families and sent to remote colonies; the fact was, that the emigration of these females was voluntary. He believed that the Committee which had conducted the business of emigration, had done so ably and prudently. He was speaking in the presence of two or three Gentlemen of that Committee, and he believed the measures which had been adopted had been productive of much good in the colonies. He would recommend the hon. Member for Berkshire to examine the Reports and authorised documents which were laid upon the table of that House, instead of collecting his information from newspapers. Considering the great number of females which went out, it was not to be wondered at if some turned out badly. The subject, however, had been taken up in the proper quarter, namely, by the colonists themselves. He could only hope that the statements of the hon. Member would be received with caution.

Mr. Charles Lushington

was deeply sensible of the indecorousness of intruding upon the public business, matters which related to himself, but he hoped the House would allow him to make some explanations in reference to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Berkshire, in vindication of the Emigration Committee. The hon. Member had said, that the placard which he had alluded to was unjustifiable and indecent. Before going further, he (Mr. Lushington) would premise that he had been a member of the Committee from the first moment of its organization, and that he had given his anxious and sedulous attention to its proceedings. The House would be pleased to recollect that a great disparity of the sexes existed in New South Wales and Van Dieman's Land, the males being in proportion to the females as three to one. In order to obviate this, Government had been in the habit of granting bounties to single females to induce them to emigrate to those colonies; but in consequence of their being sent out without any protection, and having to find their own passage, they were exposed to great temptation, in fact to seduction, and the most frightful excesses had taken place. A Committee of gentlemen offered their services to Government for the purpose of promoting emigration in a better form. That Committee consisted, he might say without exception, of gentlemen of the most humane and benevolent character, and men who could not be suspected of making false statements for the sake of looking well upon paper. He would beg leave to read an extract from a letter he had received from a clergyman of the Church of England, the reverend Mr. Lyte, of Torbay:— I was anxious to say to you, as I saw your name on the Female Emigration Committee, that we had had the ship Canton, with female emigrants on board, anchored under our windows in Torbay during the whole of the preceding week; that I had been several times on board with Mrs.—and all my family, and that we were all much pleased with the vessel and her inmates. The arrangements between decks were so good as to leave ample room for the free circulation of air; and the ship, though she had been a fortnight or three weeks at sea before we saw her, was as sweet and wholesome as if there had not been ten persons below instead of 200. I really could not have imagined it possible, unless I had actually witnessed the fact, that so many respectable females could have been collected together for the purpose of emigration, or that such excellent order could have been preserved among them. That some exceptionable persons should find their way into so large a company must be expected; and yet really, while we were on board, and we went often and stayed long, we saw not one improper act, nor heard one improper expression. On the Sunday I had the pleasure of giving them Divine service on board; I say the pleasure, because I never saw a more attentive and decorous audience. While I preached to them a kind of farewell sermon, there was scarcely one who did not appear more or less affected, Classed as the females were, as far as possible, according to their congeniality and suitability to each other, the more religious parties of them occupied the after-part of the ship, and were in the habit of having prayer together every evening, and on the Sunday evening, after I had preached to them, this little band received a request from those at the other end of the vessel, that some of them would come forward among them, and commence the same excellent practice in their quarters also, with the hope of carrying it on throughout the voyage. On another occasion we were on board of the ship while the emigrants were at dinner, and could not but remark on the excellence of the fare, and the orderly way in which it was served out. We questioned many of them as to their satisfaction with the victuals, accommodation, &c, and were pleased to find in almost every instance the utmost content prevailing, We also made a little subscription in the towns round Torbay to provide some printed calico for gowns for some of the poor Irish girls who had come on board, many of them without a change. These, though among the poorest, were also among the most well-behaved of the party, and calculated as much as any on board, to shed over our colonies those humanizing traits which the presence of virtuous women usually brings with it.

The hon. Member read extracts from other letters to the same effect. The hon. Member then proceeded to observe, that however distressing it might be to his feelings to advert to such topics, he could not but feel it was due to truth and justice to state, that nothing could be more vicious than was the state of society in that colony, and that its vices were not confined to the lower classes—that he knew one case in which an individual holding a judicial situation came on board a vessel from. England, containing female emigrants, represented himself as a married man, hired one of the young women as a servant, carried her off with him, and before many hours passed away, attempted to seduce her. He certainly lost his situation; but who could for a moment doubt that the state of society at the colony was such as in a pre-eminent degree required the interference of a body like the Committee with which he was connected?

Mr. Walter

, in explanation, said, that the extracts which he had read were from the official paper, he believed, of the Government at Hobart-town, and from the documents laid on the Table by the Colonial-office. As to the denial of the affair at Cholesbury, given by the hon. Member for Shoreham, he could only repeat, that there bad not been a rood of spade husbandry dug when he visited the place, and that he had seen all the persons mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. He inferred that nothing more had been done, because the Society had observed utter silence on the subject of Cholesbury in its latest Report. He had used the precaution to take a friend with him, who could confirm his statement. Having stated his views, he hoped it would be felt that he had done his duty in bringing the subject forward, and he now left the House to deal with the motion as they might think proper.

Motion negatived.