HC Deb 24 April 1843 vol 68 cc873-8
The Lord Mayor

observed, that he should perhaps not be out of order if he took that opportunity of asking the noble Lord opposite what were the duties of the Land and Emigration Board, for which he saw, by these estimates, that a sum of 7,500l. was to be appropriated? The noble Lord might, perhaps, have heard of a case which had come under his notice in his judicial capacity—he meant the case of certain emigrants who bad been deceived by an association now defunct, calling itself the British American Emigration and Colonization Association. In that case he thought that the board would have done well to have acted more energetically than they appeared to have acted; and as it did not seem clear what were the powers of the board, he hoped that the noble Lord would explain for what purpose it was constituted, and for the performance of what services by it the nation was paying this not inconsiderable annual item?

Lord Stanley

was very glad that the attention of the House had been called to this matter. It was one which had caused him much uneasiness, and he did not hesitate to pronounce the case one of the most flagrant nature, and of the grossest hardship and oppression that had ever come under his notice. For that hardship and oppression, however, no blame whatever was attributable to the Emigration Board; on the contrary, the commissioners of that board had carried their interference in this case to the utmost limit—nay, he believed, even beyond the strict limit—of their duty. As he had thought it possible that he might be called on, if not by the right hon. Gentleman, from some other quarter of the House, to enter into some explanation respecting this matter, be had that evening refreshed his memory as to the principal facts, which he would take leave at once to state to the House. In the course of September or October last he received a letter from an individual, stating that a ship called the Barbadoes was receiving emigrants in the port of London under circumstances which required the attention of the Government. He felt it his duty to lose no time in putting himself in communication with the Emigration Board, and, although the individual who had given the original information refused to come forward for examination by that board on the ground that from the information he had to give he might subject himself to penal consequences, yet the commissioners were not long in satisfying themselves that a false and deluding system was in operation, and they consequently instructed their agent, in the port of London, Lieutenant Lean, to make inquiries, and to give all the assistance in his power to the emigrants in case they should require it. The commissioners also instituted, as a matter more of course, those enquiries which they were especially authorized to make under the terms of their appointment. They ascertained, however, that the ship was well-found—that she was perfectly seaworthy—that the necessary provisions were on board—that they were of good quality—and, in fact, that the provisions of the "Passengers' Act" had been strictly complied with. These inquiries were, as he had stated, within the limits of their duty; but, as he bad also said, the commissioners had gone beyond that limit. They made it a point to ascertain the terms upon which the emigrants were shipped, and they found, on inquiry, that they were going out of their own free will, and that it was represented by the company that provision was made for their comfort on their arrival at their destination. It was stated, in answer to the commissioners' application, that the emigrants were going out under indentures to serve a person of the name of Halden, and that they were sent out by the British North American Emigration Association, a company representing itself to possess no less than 72,000 acres of land in Prince Edward's Island, upon which these emigrants were, it was said, to labour. With regard to this last representation about the land, it was unfortunate that the Government had no means whatever of verifying the statement; the land, as was affirmed, having been purchased, not from the Government, but from other proprietors in the settlement. Not satisfied, however, with the answers to these inquiries, it was thought necessary by the board and the Government not to trust to the assertion of the association, but to take measures to secure the due performance of the company's contract with the emigrants abroad as well as at home. With this view, instructions were sent to the Governor of Prince Edward's Island—he was furnished with copies of all the correspondence which had passed, and he was authorized and empowered to aid and assist in the enforcement of all legal claims which the emigrants might have against the company. Before this was done, however, a representation was made to the company of the danger incurred by any attempt to colonize in such a latitude at such a period of the year. In reply to this objection the company stated, that they had bound themselves to put into Halifax in the event of any unforseen accident; and that every care would be taken of the emigrants. Not content with this, the commissioners went still further, and warned the emigrants themselves of all the risks they might incur. The emigrants, however, expressed themselves satisfied, and of course the commissioners had no further power. The ship accordingly cleared out from the Custom-house, but Members would not fail to observe that before she did so warnings were given first to the company as to the time of sailing, and secondly to the emigrants as to the risks they were incurring. It was, he believed, somewhere in November that this took place. On the 23d of December the ship was driven by stress of weather into Cork harbour. The moment her arrival was notified to the authorities in the metropolis instructions were sent to the Government emigration agent in Cork to take every precaution for the due performance of the contract and the proper care of the emigrants. In reply to the agent's representations he received an assurance that the emigrants should be properly maintained; and it was further stated that the company had agreed to provision the ship until the month of March. In February, however, it was ascertained that the company was in a state of pecuniary difficulty indeed, in a condition of absolute insolvency; and it had since been understood that at that very period when the compa- ny were expressing an intention to victual the ship until March, the mortgagee of the ship had put in his claim, and had absolutely seized the vessel with the intention of bringing her back to the port of London to satisfy his demand. Such being the case, he had no hesitation in saying, that at that time the company were absolutely committing a fraud upon the emigrants. Upon these facts coming to their knowledge, the commissioners instructed their Cork agent to put in force the Provisions of the Passengers' Act, and to proceed against the company for landing the emigrants before the completion of their passage. No parties on the spot, however, were inclined to proceed, and, in consequence, this step proved ineffective. Other measures were taken to secure redress, and on the 31st of March the Treasury solicitor was instructed to proceed against the company. He regretted to say, however, that as there were no solvent parties against whom proceedings could be taken, so no legal redress was to be expected; but whilst he said this, he could not forbear giving expression to his earnest and confident hope, that as this company was established apparently under the sanction of high and honourable names—even though there might be no legal obligation—even though those parties had themselves been deceived—even though they were not aware that this pretended company was but a bubble from its commencement—yet that those high personages would nevertheless feel themselves morally, if not legally, bound to do something towards remedying the great and grievous hardship to which the sanction of their high names and characters had doubtless exposed many [unsuspecting people; that they would feel it an obligation and a duty to make such compensation as was in their power for the distress they had occasioned. Having said thus much, he had further to express a hope that be had satisfied the right hon. Gentleman and the House, that the Government and the board had done all in their power to prevent the possibility of those disastrous occurrences.

Mr. Vernon Smith

remarked that there was one species of information, which he conceived the emigration board might well give to the country. They might make it generally known what were the colonies most favourable for emigrants and most under the immediate protection of the Government. Gentlemen in that House must be aware of the extreme ignorance to be found amongst persons in the country as to the places where they were going. They were misted by papers coming to them from particular companies, holding out exaggerated schemes of happiness, and yet in the midst of this there was so authentic information from the government. He did not mean that the government should be brought to enter isle competition with private companies in pointing out the places to which persons should emigrate. He did not go so far as to wish that Government should make distinct recommendations as to eligible colonies, for he knew the mutual jealousies of emigration companies and colonies; but he thought that circulation should be given to the truth. There were, from time to time, large blue books laid upon the Table of the House, which, however, seldom or never reached remote parts of the country, and even if they did would not be read. Extracts, however, might be made explaining to the country at large the real state of facts respecting the different colonies; what were their prospects, their peculiarities, and whether or not they were eligible places for intending emigrants. There had been some such information published under the late government in the official circulars of the poor-law commissioners; but it was desirable that such accounts should be still more widely circulated. They might be published in county paper, or some means adopted by which they might obtain access to small inns and alehouses in the country, where the people went to read, that they might have an opportunity of knowing in what cases government sanctioned emigration, and where it did not. He thought that it was their duty to try every way of making the truth as public an possible—of giving information with respect to the state of wages and climate—and as to what were the prospects of emigrants, in a shape sanctioned and authenticated by the responsible administration of the country.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that although the emigration commissioners had published information of the kind alluded to and had circulated it in those districts where it was most likely to prove useful, yet he dad think that that circulation had not been sufficiently general. He thought, at the same time, that there was no more efficient way of announcing to the public that the emigration commissioners would, at their office in London, afford information on all subjects connected with the different colonies, to persons wishing to emigrate, than by publicly mentioning the fact in his place in the House.

The Lord Mayor

was glad to have heard the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Colonies, state that instructions had been sent out to the Governor of Prince Edward's Island, enjoining him to assist and provide for the unfortunate emigrants in case of their arrival there.

Lord Stanley

hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would not run away with any such notion. The Governor of Prince Edward's Island had been merely instructed to give the emigrants every assistance in enforcing on the company and the owners of the vessel the terms of the original agreement.

House in committee of supply.