§ House in Committee of Supply.
§ Sir G. Clerk
was understood to say that the first vote which he meant to propose to the committee was for giving compensation to the holders of opium that had been surrendered on the requisition of Captain Elliot, in the month of March, 1839; a certain quantity of opium had then been surrendered to the Chinese Government; and on the cessation of hostilities the Chinese paid to England the sum of 6,000,000 dollars, which was agreed to be paid by the Emperor of China to the British Government as compensation to the holders of the opium that had been given up to them. By the return which had been laid on the Table of the House, it would appear that the amount of the 6,000,000 of dollars, when brought to the Mint and assayed, was 1,315,158l. The produce that was now for the holders of opium was 1,281,211l. The difference between the two sums being a deduction for 500 chests, which was procured from certain parties in Canton, to make up the quantity required. The whole of the amount paid by the Chinese Government was in accordance with the 4th article of the treaty. It was now intended to pay the full amount of what had been received from China, under the article of the treaty, to the holders of opium, as compensation, and as that compensation would amount to about 64l. the chest of opium, he thought that the committee would approve of it, as a fair compensation. The parties would receive by it a considerably larger sum than they would be paid, if the average price of opium in 1840 in India were taken as the basis of their calculations; but, inasmuch as 6,000,000 of dollars had been given as compensation, it was the intention of the Government to pay the whole of that amount to the holders of opium. He moved, therefore, that 1,281,211l. be granted to certain individuals 242 the holders of opium surrendered to the Chinese by her Majesty's Government in 1839, as the amount of compensation due to them, under the 4th article of the treaty.
§ Mr. Mangles
was very much surprised at what had been just proposed by the hon. Baronet, and also that the hon. Baronet had not thought fit to state distinctly and clearly the principles on which he proposed the present vote. The hon. Baronet had contented himself with saying that this was a very handsome compensation, and that this was the sum which the Emperor of China had paid, and that these holders of opium who had surrendered their property upon Captain Elliot's requisition ought to be very well contented with such a grant. There appeared to him no ground whatever, to believe that the sum given for the surrendered opium was sufficient. The hon. Baronet had used no argument to show that. Upon what grounds was it that this sum was demanded from the Emperor of China? If it were not the value of the opium, why was not a larger sum demanded? He was quite sure that the public would never sanction the notion of an indemnification to individuals if that indemnification were not to the full amount of that which was justly due to them. The whole amount, the full value of the opium ought to be paid. It was no argument to these holders to tell them that those who had the power did not demand a full compensation for them. He did not feel himself competent to enter into the legal part of this question. He left that to persons learned in the law; but he ventured to speak to this question, because he felt a very strong interest with respect to the natives of India, and he felt he might be permitted to say, a very deep interest in the character that was maintained by the British Government in India. He knew how much depended upon that character. He begged to say at once that he had not the smallest pecuniary connection with this question of the amount of compensation nor had any of his connections the least interest in it. Three-fourths as nearly as he could learn, of the whole of the opium surrendered to the Chinese was the property of Indians and British subjects of her Majesty. He knew that the name of the British Government would be greatly dishonoured if this vote were now taken without any further explanation respecting it than the mere statement which had been made by the hon. Baronet. He was quite 243 sure that the natives of India concerned in this matter never could be satisfied if they received an inadequate compensation upon such a statement. They would not feel that justice had been done to them, if a grant were made for the amount of compensation, unless they were satisfied that the value of the opium had been ascertained before the same had been demanded from the Emperor of China, and the House and the country should be satisfied that full compensation was given. The principle that he contended for was the invariable practice, in all such cases as this, namely, that the invoice cost of the article should be the basis of compensation. As far as he could learn from the speech of the hon. Baronet, he looked to the value of the opium in 1840; but then the amount of indemnification to the holders of the opium was about two-thirds of the invoice cost of the opium at one period, and not more than one-half of it at another. Unless some more satisfactory explanation should be made, than the very brief speech of the hon. Baronet, much discontent must be produced. It was to be considered, though it seemed not known to many hon. Gentleman and many well meaning people, that the trade in opium between India and China was as far as the British Government was concerned, an illicit trade; and as much entitled to the protection of the Government as the trade in cotton goods and hardware. For the seizure of opium the Government would have as much right to seek for compensation as for the violent seizure of those articles. He might be allowed to speak with greater confidence on this point, because he was opposed to the continuance of the company's monopoly in opium. He thought it was a great evil, in many respects, and if the noble Lord the Member for Dorsetshire had pressed his motion to a division, he certainly would have voted with him. Knowing, however, the system on which this trade was carried on, knowing that it was greatly encouraged that even an anxious encouragement was given to it by the Government of India, he was prepared to maintain that the trade was as lawful as any which was carried on. The East India Company had a monopoly in opium. It took the most anxious care to have that particular sort of opium prepared, which suited the taste of the Chinese consumers. Sales of this opium took place in he open day at Calcutta, and ships laden with it were publicly cleared out for the ports of China. They had the 244 evidence of Mr. Jardine before the opium committee to shew that the secretary to the board in Calcutta submitted for his examination many kinds of opium, and consulting the taste of the Chinese consumer and the best manner of having the drug prepared to suit their palate. Knowing then, how the trade had been carried on, and how anxious the Government had been to improve the quality of the opium, he felt inclined to smile when the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government displayed lately such extreme pureism, in declaring that he desired to free the waters of Hong Kong from the infection of opium; while at the same moment, his noble Colleague at the Board of Control, was sanctioning the East India Company, for using every means in their power to increase the amount and improve the quality of the opium which was cleared out of their Custom-house for the waters of Hong Kong. With one hand the Government was expediting ships laden with opium—with the other hand they forbid the introduction of opium. There might be a distinction in the minds of Englishmen between the East India Company promoting the trade in opium, and the British Government—but the native of India could make no such distinction. He knew nothing of the British Government but through the East India Company; and two-thirds of the holders of the opium were natives of India—those that saw and knew the British Government encouraged the trade by every means in their power. How, then, were these persons for one moment to think that such a trade was not lawful—that it was not a trade to be protected, and that if not protected full indemnity should be given to those who had been encouraged to carry on such a commerce? It appeared to him, knowing the Indians as he did, that it was above all things desirable that the Government should maintain its character for good faith. Whatever might be said of the company during its intercourse with that country—however it might have obtained its territory—and whatever might have been its conduct towards the sovereign princes of India, still never up to this moment had it broken faith, in any respect, either with the capitalists, or the commercial classes of India. He was quite sure that a great deal of its power in India depended on its character and good faith. Two-thirds of the holders of the opium that had been delivered up, were living in 245 Bombay and Calcutta; some of them were subjects of the British Government, and some subjects in the territories of native princes. These men had connections throughout the whole of the Eastern world. And here an historical fact occurred to him at the moment, which he could not avoid referring to, that the system of transmitting money by bills was copied in Europe from the East. The merchants of India carried on transactions by bills over the interior. The merchants of central India, the principal holders of of the Malwa opium, were men who had connections in central Asia, throughout Arabia, in the Persian Gulf; all over the Indian Archipelago these men had mercantile transactions. With these men the British character and good faith were implicitly relied upon. He believed that a bill from Calcutta would carry a person to Teheran, Herat, and to Constantinople. The character of the British was identified, in the minds of these men, with honour and integrity. A remarkable fact, proving the character for good faith of the British, was to be found in the account of the travels of M. Burckhardt, who visited Mecca, disguised as a Mahomedan. That gentleman was so far deemed a Mahomedan, that he was everywhere received, without suspicion, with the exception of Mahomed Ali. M. Burckhardt heard the most unreserved expression of opinion by the Mahomedans the natives of India. He said:—During this journey, I had frequent opportunities of hearing the opinion entertained by these Malays, of the Government and manners of the English, their present masters. They discovered a determined rancour and hostile spirit towards them, and greatly reviled their manners, of which, however, the worst they knew was, that they indulged too freely in wine, and that the sexes mixed together in social intercouse. None, however, impeached the justice of the Government, which they contrasted with the oppression of their native princes; and although they bestowed upon the British the same opprobrious epithets with which the fanatic Moslems everywhere revile Europeans, they never failed to add, 'but their government is good.' I have overheard many similar conversations among the Indians at Djedda and Mecca, and also among the Arabian sailors who trade to Bombay and Surat; the spirit of all which was, that the Moslems of India hate the English, though they love their government.Now they ought to take care, in their dealings with those persons as to opium, that they should maintain the honour and 246 good faith of the British Government. He was sure that the House and the country would acknowledge the vital importance, for the sake of the interests of our empire in India, that our character for integrity and good faith should be maintained unimpeached, and he very much feared that if this rate of compensation for the losses of the opium merchants were passed by this House without previous inquiry as to what those losses amounted to, and what the sufferers were fairly entitled to, the Government of this country would fall materially in the estimation of all our Eastern dependencies and connections. The right hon. Gentleman said, that the unfortunate opium merchants should have neither more nor less than the sum which had been obtained from the Emperor of China on their account, and that if they did not accept that as a full compensation, they should have nothing. He apprehended that in the case in which the greater number of these unhappy Parsecs were placed, many of them having been driven to desperation, and in some instances even to acts of suicide by their losses, they would feel themselves compelled, whatever might be their sense of the injustice of the proceeding, to accept the suns offered to them which, however, he was convinced did not amount to a half, nor, in some instances, to a third of the actual amount of their losses. But the country and the House, and he as a Member of the House, were not bound to acquiesce in any such hard bargain being completed; and he for one would oppose it, because he considered it derogatory to the character and prejudicial to the true interests of this country in India. There was one point which, in his apprehension, told very strongly in favour of the case which he was endeavouring to support. It was this: the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, and the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had both, in the course of their correspondence with these claimants, repudiated the impression that the money paid at Canton in 1841 was to be considered as part of the opium indemnity. Now, as hearing upon this declaration, he would beg to read a passage from the report of the Chinese commissioners to the Emperor, of the negotiations with the British authorities in 1842, from which it would appear clear that the matter was not so understood by the parties to that negotiation. Knowing something of oriental compositions, he could say that the paper he was about to quote from, bore 247 every mark of being an authentic document. The hon. Member read the following passage:—The said barbarians begged that we should give of foreign money 21,000,000 dollars. On examination it is found that the said barbarians originally wanted to extort 30,000,000 of dollars; but Chang-e and his colleagues argued the point strongly again, and a third time, and at length the sum was fixed at 21,000,000 dollars. They said that 6,000,000 was the price of the opium, 3,000,000 for the Hong merchants' debts, and 12,000,000 for the expenses of the army. The Shewei (an officer of the Emperor's body guards), Chang-e, and his colleagues, represented that the price of the opium had already been paid by the city of Canton, in 6,000,000 dollars; how could payment be extorted a second time? and the debts of the Hong merchants should be liquidated by themselves; how could the officers of government be called upon to pay them? As to the necessary expences of the army, why should China be called upon to pay them? and these matters were discussed again and again. The said barbarians exclaimed, that opium was not produced in England, but that it was all sent from a neighbouring country. That upwards of 20,000 chests had been destroyed, and it required no small sum to pay for them; the 6,000,000 that had been paid did not amount to half the prime cost, and, therefore, the deficiency must now be supplied.This, he thought, was pretty conclusive evidence of the light in which the matter was viewed at the time by the actual negotiators, and he hoped, at least, that the right hon. Gentleman, in granting the amount of compensation he now proposed, would not shut the door against inquiry as to the real value of the opium for the surrender of which it was professed to be an indemnity. The opium merchants said, and he thought with perfect justice, that the British Government had the power, when they were about these negotiations, to obtain the proper value of the opium if they had chosen to demand it; and that if they had failed to do so, having taken the matter into their own hands, the fault was on their part. He hoped, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman would allow of the appointment of a committee or commission, to investigate all the circumstances of this case, and arbitrate in it between the Government of this country and the opium merchants as to the amount they were fairly entitled to.
§ Mr. Lindsay
said, that if this had been the case of merchandise seized which belonged to merchants of Leeds or Man- 248 chester, he had no doubt that the Table of the House would have been inundated with petitions on the subject; and he thought it was the duty of the House to do equal justice in the one case as they would in the other. As he was individually somewhat connected with the transactions of these claimants, and was on that account to some extent an interested party, he should not pretend to say what amount of compensation he thought them entitled to. But he would call upon the right hon. Baronet to fulfil the promise which the right hon. Baronet had made to him on a former occasion, that a full and searching inquiry should be made into all the merits of this case. He would ask the right hon. Baronet if such an inquiry had as yet taken place? For his part he could not conceive the idea of a full and searching inquiry into the claims of any set of men, unless the parties aggrieved were allowed a full opportunity of explaining and proving their case; and this had not been done on the present occasion. How differently had the Government acted in the recent case of the frauds in the Exchequer Bills department. There the principle of compensation for losses to bona fide sufferers was fully recognised; a commission was appointed to investigate their claims, and the result of their deliberations was such as to give satisfaction to all the parties. All the opium merchants asked for was a similar mode of inquiring into the claims; and he was sure that if that were acceded to, they would bow to the final award as a just and proper one, even though; it gave them less than was at present offered them. If Government should refuse to give those aggrieved parties an opportunity of proving the cases contained in the papers which he held in his hand, then he should say that a flagrant act of injustice would be inflicted upon the natives of India, and that two such scenes of disaster as those which had recently taken place in Affghanistan would not inflict so much disgrace and injury upon the British name as this transaction.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, the two hon. Gentlemen who had just spoken, although they objected to the amount of compensation proposed by her Majesty's Government, had afforded very little information as to the grounds upon which they thought that proposal an improper one, or of the principle by which 249 the House should be guided in determining the rate of compensation to be granted. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Mangles) said, that he thought the compensation proposed by her Majesty's Government to be so inadequate to what was the fair claim of the parties, that he considered that the character of the Government of the country was injured by their having made such a proposition. All he could say was, that if he considered that the course proposed by her Majesty's Government had been liable to any such charge, he should have been the last person to have consented to it. He agreed with the hon, Member, that integrity and good faith, were the truest sources of the strength of this country. At the same time, standing in his position he felt bound to protect those who contributed to raise the revenue of the country against excessive demands, which were not warranted by justice. He had no right to be liberal at the expense of others; and in a case of compensation, like the present, it was his bounden duty to be sure that no larger sum was awarded than the parties were strictly entitled to. He would not go into the details of the origin of these transactions, with which, indeed, the House was already familiar. It would be sufficient for him to state, that after a long series of efforts to interrupt the trade of our merchants in China, the Emperor succeeded, and confined and attempted to starve to death some persons who were engaged in it. Captain Eliot at once endeavoured to mitigate the danger to which those merchants were subject, and at great risk to himself undertook for their benefit to enter into an arrangement which he thought would be for the best towards their interests and those of the British empire in general. The parties under this arrangement consented to surrender to the Chinese government all the opium in the port, or within the reach of the authorities of Canton, as the price of their release from custody, Captain Eliot undertaking on the part of her Majesty's Government, that they should be paid for the opium they had surrendered such sum as her Majesty's Government in their discret on might decide upon, The hon. Gentleman opposite said, that of course, it was intended, that the opium should be paid for according to the invoice price. He, however, thought, from the very terms used in the arrangement, that such 250 was never the understanding. For there was a very remarkable distinction observable in the wording made use of in the document drawn up by Captain Eliot, in regard to the compensation promised for the opium, and that for other species of of goods, from which it was very clear that two different rules were at once adopted in regard to them by Captain Eliot. In his letter of the 28th of November, Captain Eliot said distinctly, that the opium should be paid for according to the price which Government should afterwards determine, but that all other goods should be paid for according to the invoice price. When the news of these occurrences came to England, the merchants were made to understand, that they would be indemnified for their losses, the mode and extent of the indemnification, however, were clearly to be left to the discretion of Government, regard being had to the fair value to which the opium dealers were entitled. When he came into office, he deemed it necessary in pursuance of this arrangement, to take steps in order to ascertain the real value of the opium which had been seized, in order to ascertain the sum which the owners of it were entitled to receive. The hon. Gentleman opposite had said something in defence of the lawfulness of the opium trade. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) did not mean to rest any part of his cause upon the question whether that trade were lawful or illicit; but, at the same time, he thought it quite necessary, that when they were considering the value of any particular article in trade, they should bear in mind the circumstances under which that trade had been carried on. It should be recollected of the opium trade, that it had been carried on in spite of the positive order and vigilant opposition of the Chinese government, and that, in consequence, although when a cargo was successfully introduced into the country and sold, great profits were realised, there were great losses, when, by the vigilance of the Chinese authorities, they were detected and prevented from landing their cargo. The real value, therefore, of a cargo of opium, was derived from combining the saleable value, with the chance of successfully bringing to sale. In confirmation of this view of the case, he would beg to refer to the evidence of Mr. Jardine and Mr. Inglis, who would be admitted to be good authorities on this subject, and who both 251> described the precarious nature of the trade, the fluctuations in price, resulting from the temporary state of the market, and the ruinous losses which sometimes occurred. The latter gentleman said, "that it was a gambling trade, and subject to all the fluctuations which were inseparably characteristic of all gambling transactions." He maintained, therefore, that if the trade was of this character, they had no right, in estimating the amount of compensation, to take the invoice price as the basis of the calculation. What was the course, then which her Majesty's Government actually adopted? It being impossible in England to form an accurate estimate of the value of the opium surrendered on a particular day, the Government referred severally to three high authorities in India and China, whom they imagined could give the best information on the subject. They referred in the first place, to Captain Eliot himself; secondly, to the Governor-General in Council of India; and thirdly, to Sir Henry Pottinger. Did any of these authorities fix a higher rate of compensation than that now proposed? Far from it. The answer of Captain Eliot described the market at the time of the seizure to have been in a very low state, the consequence of an excessive glut; Captain Eliot said, 20,000 chests were on the coast; and 30,000 more ready to be shipped, making 50,000 chests in all, to say nothing of the growth for the current year, which would soon be added to the stock; whereas the average consumption of the market did not exceed 24,000 chests. So much for the pretence to estimate the surrrendered opium at the invoice price. Several of the witnesses examined before the commission stated, that the feeling among the merchants in Canton was, that if they did not surrender the opium to the British Government, that the Chinese would be sure to get hold of it; and they thought that it would be better to deliver it to the British plenipotentiary, upon the chance of receiving some recompense, than be compelled to give it up to the Chinese, with the certainty of receiving no recompense at all. Captain Elliot gave the prices current previous to his detention being known, as follows:—In the beginning of April, opium was sold at 63l. 6s. per chest, and on the 9th of May at 31l. 10s.; thus showing a great decline of prices, The last public sales in Cal- 252 cutta took place upon the 22nd of April. The prices then were, for Patna opium, 36l. 12s. per chest; and for Benares opium 39l. 1s. per chest. The Governor-General in council having examined into the facts of the case before, and independent of the accounts of Captain Elliot's detention, reported the value of opium at 403 rupees per chest. In China, the sales had been suspended for a considerable period, and thus Sir Henry Pottinger could give no direct information as to the state of prices there. But although they had no means of finding the real value of opium in China at the period in question, they had yet a subsidiary mode of ascertaining pretty nearly—in addition to the information given by the Governor-general and Captain Elliot—what the price of the commodity was, and that was this circumstance. The scrip which Captain Elliot had given to those who had delivered up their opium, had a value in the market. The parties who held that scrip knew well what were the terms upon which they entered into negotiation with Captain Elliot, and the value of the security given to them; and, therefore, when that value came to an issue, either by sale or judicial decision before a competent tribunal, it was ascertained and could not, of course, be very different from that of the opium which it represented. A trial took place at Calcutta, in which the point at issue was as follows:—A person brought an action against an individual to whom he had consigned opium in China for the value of the drug, because the agent had, instead of selling it, given it up to Captain Elliot. The action, the House must observe, was brought for the value of the opium had it been sold at once, and the court decided upon fixing that value at 400 rupees per chest. They found, too, in the evidence that scrip was selling at the rate of 35l. per chest of opium. Could there, then, be any reasonable ground for supposing, when they found that which was the representative of opium selling in the market at 35l. per chest, adjudged by the court at Calcutta at 40l. per chest, could there be any ground for supposing that they had formed so very inadequate an estimate of the value of the commodity in offering for it 64l. per chest. Was it reasonable in the holders to call upon them for a still greater amount. But there was another incidental evidence that the value which they proposed to give was, not below that 253 which the claimants were entitled to receive. A demand was made by Sir Henry Pottinger upon the Government of China, as compensation for the opium. That demand was 6,000,000 of dollars. Now, he made the demand, knowing the obligation which Captain Elliot had entered into, knowing that the parties were entitled to receive a fair selling price for the opium, and thus they had, in the demand so made, an additional evidence that in Sir Henry Pottinger's opinion the value now offered was a just and fair compensation. The allusion to a Chinese state paper, he did not think of much importance. There had been no document of the kind forwarded to the Foreign office, and they had only the authority of the newspapers for its genuineness. But what did that state paper set forth? Why, it favoured his views of the question. It stated that the value of the opium was 6,000,000 of dollars, the debts of the Hong merchants 3,000,000 of dollars, and the expences of the war 12,000,000 of dollars. The Chinese thought that 6,000,000 of dollars was a sufficient price for the opium, and if they were to take Chinese authority at all, this must be received as evidence of the justice of the views of Government. He had thus stated to the House the grounds upon which Government had not thought it consistent with their duty to give to the holders of opium a larger amount than that which was introduced at its proper price into the treaty of peace with China. The House must remember that in entering into the war with that nation, there were three points laid down as necessary to be obtained, the payment of the Hong debts, amounting to 3,000,000 of dollars, the payment of the opium indemnity, and of the expences of the war. Now, the sum obtained from the Chinese did not cover the expences which had been incurred in the war, or the payment of the debts of the Hong merchants. There had been laid on the Table of the House a return of the expences of the war, which amounted to 4,000,000 and a half of money. There was in addition the sum of 600,000l. of Hong merchants' debts to be provided for; and thus it was clear that, whatever additional sum beyond that which was now proposed, they should assign to the opium holders beyond that which they were in strictness entitled to, must be borne by the funds of this country. He 254 did not urge that consideration with the view of inducing the House to grant the claimants less than their just dues; but he did urge it as a ground for not ind lging in a greater degree of liberality than would cover the just claims upon them. He asked them, at the same time, that they had a due regard for the faith of the country, not to go beyond those limits, and lay additional burthens upon the national resources. As far as regarded the invoice prices, he thought that he had proved that they could be no guide in the opium trade. He thought that he had proved that at no period did the invoice prices bear a just proportion to the losses and gains in a system in which the former were sometimes enormous, and the latter were occasionally equally excessive. To trade so conducted, subjected occasionally to such stringent restrictions, and open to such gross corruptions, in order to evade those restrictions, they could not apply those pinciples which would regulate a legitimate trade. They must adopt in such cases some means other than reckoning by the invoice prices to arrive at a just notion of the value of the commodity. The prices now proposed to be followed in adjusting the compensation were not at the rate of 400 rupees per chest, but from 640 to 650 rupees per chest—a sum which, he was satisfied in his own mind, and which he hoped he had succeeded also in satisfying the House, was fully equal to the value of the commodity previous to the detention of Captain Elliot, and greater, he believed, than the holders would have realised in the Chinese market had the opium been introduced there, under all the circumstances of the glut which had taken place, and increased stringency of the system of restriction which those engaged in the trade stated, that they believed would put an end to it. He had stated the reasons which had induced the Government to come to the decision which they had arrived at, and he hoped that whatever views the House might take of them, they would at least give the Government credit for acting with perfect good faith, and impartially towards the country on the one hand, and the holders of opium on the other.
§ Mr. Lindsay
rose to explain. The right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had referred to the prices, or the supposed prices of opium at Canton 255 at the time of the seizure of the drug. Upon this point, had the right hon. Gentleman referred to him, he could have given him some information. The price which opium brought in Canton at the time alluded to, was nothing at all. He knew that the Chinese had carried opium out of their Houses in the dead of night, and cast it into the river. But he could also tell the right hon. Gentleman that, at the time when British subjects were actually in detention, that opium was selling on the coast from 600 to 750, or 800 dollars per chest. The right hon. Gentleman had alluded to what would have been the value of the opium had it remained in the hands of the merchants. All they wanted was a fair inquiry into the question.
§ Sir Thomas Wilde
said, that he had been at first so utterly at a loss to perceive the justice of the course adopted by Government with respect to the opium claims, that he thought that he himself must have taken an erroneous view of the case. He had attended closely to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the hope of finding out where his error lay; but after hearing it be could only come to the conclusion that a more unjust offer never was made than that which was now attempted to be forced upon individuals whose property had been sacrificed for public interests. There were two or three matters connected with this subject, which he thought were not quite correctly understood. He had heard with great surprise the illegality of the opium trade alluded to as a reason why the compensation should not be greater than the sum proposed. How could the Government stand before the country and talk of the illegality of this trade? It was their own trade. The right hon. Gentleman opposite had pressed upon the House directly and indirectly the illegality of the trade. How did the matter stand? The Government of India raised a most important part of its revenue from the growth and manufacture of opium—that revenue belonged to the Crown. It was the Crown and the Government, therefore, which derived benefit from this trade. A committee of this House, when sitting to inquire into this subject, reported that the trade must be encouraged, for that the revenue arising from it could not be parted with. The Government were acting upon that princi- 256 ple; they had a monopoly of the trade, and could they come forward and tell their subjects, that the traffic of which they were the patrons, and from which they derived a great revenue, was an unlawful, an immoral, and an unrighteous trade? If it were so, the Government should have put an end to it. What did Captain Elliot write? Why, he wrote, that if the Government ordered him to stop the trade he could do it. But were such orders ever sent out? Never. The Government had a monopoly of the trade; they had considered how the growth of the plant might be extended (at least the Indian Government had), and had come to a resolution, that the trade could not be parted with. This trade, thus carried on for Government, the native East Indian merchants were to be told was an illegal trade, and if they had any claims for commodities lost in that trade, they were to be treated in a peculiar manner in consequence of the illegality of the trade. If there was discredit in the trade, the discredit attached to Government. Now, there were generally two ways of treating a subject. They might take advantages of prejudices existing with reference to it, or they might look at it simply as to its own merits. He did not deny, that there was a strong feeling in the country against the opium trade. That feeling might be well-founded or it might not; but the consideration could have no place in the House of Commons, which permitted the trade, or in the arguments of the Government, which derived a great revenue from it. There was another subject of great importance to which he must allude for a moment. The owners of this opium, or at all events nearly three-fourths of them, were native merchants of India, and British subjects. They had sent their opium to Canton for sale, to the care of correspondents who were also British subjects. The Chinese government acted in a manner totally unwarranted, so outrageous, so inconsistent with the laws of nations, that the Government of this country deemed, and rightly deemed it, a sufficient cause to declare war against them. The Chinese government, he repeated, seized the correspondents of the native Indian merchants, put them in prison, and threatened to starve them to death unless they would give up the property of the British subjects, the Indian merchants; the correspondents, also 257 British subjects, to relieve themselves from the fear of death, from present, positive, great evil, and from the possibility of the destruction of their lives, with the concurrence of the representative of the British Government, agreed to deliver, and did deliver up, the property of the other British subjects to ransom themselves What, then, were the claims of the owners of the property? Was there any proposition more clear than this, that if the subject of a country sustained a loss, by means of the illegal and violent acts of a foreign government—acts, such acts as constituted just grounds for war—was there anything more clear than that they were entitled to compensation at the hands of their own government? He denies that the claim was against the foreign government which had committed the aggression. That was not the law of nations. It might be the duty of the Government to obtain if they could indemnity from the aggressing government; but the claim of the subject of the aggrieved Government was not against the foreign power, but against their own government. Viewing the subject, therefore, in a proper light, it appeared that the Chinese government had seized upon the property of the British Government and confiscated it, the subjects of the English Government from whom the property was immediately taken, had therefore a right to compensation. If Captain Elliot and his treaty had never existed, these claims to this compensation would still have been unanswerable. It might have happened that it would be wise for the British Government to have abstained from claiming indemnity from the Chinese government; but if such were the case, it would have made no difference as regarded the claims of British subjects. The British Government might have been too weak to force compensation from the Chinese, but the claims of its subjects would have been as strong as ever. But if the British Government made a demand for indemnity, could British subjects be told. "We have chosen to ask for a certain sum as indemnity, and you must either take that sum or receive nothing?" What was the test of the proper rate of compensation? Was it what the Government chose to ask from a foreign nation? That might be more of less than the real value of the claims. It was indemnity which the claimants required. The subject of invoice prices had 258 been introduced, and viewed in different lights; but what the claimants wished Government to do—what it had not yet done—but what he hoped it would do—and what he believed the right hon. Baronet opposite, had the case been fairly put before him, would have agreed to have done, was this, that they would be good enough to institute an inquiry as to what the holders should receive as indemnity. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated truly, that Captain Elliot had said the decision should be left to the British Government—and who would hesitate to leave it to such a tribunal? But did that proposal infer that the Government would fix a sum at random, upon the mere ipse dixit of persons, who themselves professed, in many cases, to be ignorant of the merits of the question? Where the parties interested agreed to leave the matter to the Government, they thought that they were leaving it to the most safe and honourable tribunal, and that their claims would be considered with good sense, fairness, and justice. But now they complained that Government had afforded them no means of making themselves heard. What was the use of reading papers, stating that there were so many thousands of chests of opium in one place, and so many thousand chests in another, when the claimants denied the correctness of the assertions? The statements were distinctly denied. The claimants said to Government, "We do not doubt your honour; appoint your own tribunal; whatever that tribunal shall decide to be the value of the indemnity to which we are entitled, we shall be satisfied." Should British subjects ever fail in making such an appeal? Now, what were the objections urged against them? The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, Do not advert to the misfortunes of the native merchants, who had been carrying on a trade sanctioned by Government, and who were the victims of the acts of others. If their misfortunes were used but to enforce their just claims, they were a most proper subject to allude to, although they were not such a subject used merely to work upon the kind feelings of the House, to induce it to award to them more than in strict justice was their due. Humanity was a high attribute, but justice was a still higher. Now, hearing in mind that the persons now claiming had not been in a state or cap- 259 tivity, and were not those to save whose lives the property had been given up—that they were a different class of persons—that they were native merchants whose correspondents were seized, and who delivered up their principals' property, as they were justified in doing, to save their lives—he did say that these native merchants had a perfect and just claim upon the British Government, for full indemnity. They had, in the cases of Spain, Denmark, and France recognised the claims of British subjects to compensation for such aggression, and in some instances they had paid it from their own funds, and, in others, from indemnity forced from the aggressing state. But how stood the case now? They had been at war for the purpose of obtaining justice to the individuals claiming this compensation. If they had demanded and received less than was justly due, was it any argument to the holders to tell them that such was the case? To an indemnity they were certainly entitled. It might be the invoice price of the opium, more or less. They said, "It has cost us so much money"—being the difference of what they claim, in addition to what the Government was willing to grant. But then the right hon. Gentleman said,—See what a fluctuating trade this is; there are large quantities of opium arrive at one time, and small ones at another.Why, that was the case with most trades. But the question was, was it such a trade as might be carried on with a view to profit? The profits were large, no doubt, and for this reason, that the trade was of considerable risk. These merchants expected to realise a profit, but their traffic was interrupted. The Government said it was interrupted by Chinese authority. That interruption took place for collateral purposes to those avowed, and the inference from the documents before the House was, that the merchants were entitled to make their own bargain, and keep their opium until better times. But the English Government compelled them to deliver it up, and must be answerable for the consequences. The monstrous proposition maintained by the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer, was this, "Here is a large quantity of opium at Canton. The Chinese government act with a sudden vigour which strikes terror into their own subjects and 260 foreigners, and, under the influence of this feeling having compelled British subjects to deliver up an immense quantity of opium, they refuse any compensation for it." But the right hon. Gentleman said, "we must ascertain the market price at the time." Why, the only commodities that could bring a price at the time were noses and ears. Was it right, that at a time of such inconvenience, embarrassment, and danger, a quantity of opium should be seized, and then tell the owners that the only test of value was the market price? He maintained, that the Government had destroyed the evidence of value. The value could only be ascertained if the merchants were allowed to keep this opium until their own time, to send it to their own place of sale, and sell it in their own manner. These papers contained no evidence whatever that the opium had been destroyed. On the contrary, Captain Elliot stated distinctly, that the Chinese government was alarmed at this trade, not from the deleterious effects on its subjects, but because paying the price in money did not leave silver enough for its own purposes. The first question to be answered in this case was, did these merchants rest their claim on mercy, or on justice and national law? He said, on justice and national law. But see how peculiarly strong the case of those merchants was. There was a representative of the British Government at Canton. His instructions were very general; but under the sign manual he was bound to protect the trade of British merchants. On a sudden, by an act of the Chinese government, British subjects were seized, and apprehended violence. The representative of Government thought himself authorised to act. He had to treat with the Chinese government, and get the best terms he could; and in pursuance of such orders, he called on British subjects to give up their property. This was at a time, too, when the Chinese had not the physical power of seizing a chest. Our representative said,—Give it up, and I will pledge myself, that the British Government will indemnify you, on a principle to be hereafter ascertained.Look at the article in the treaty to this effect,—The Emperor of China agrees to pay a sum of 6,000,000 of dollars as the value of the opium taken as a ransom for the lives of the 261 British subjects imprisoned, and threatened with death.Here was an admission by the two Governments, that this sum was given as a ransom to save the lives of British subjects. And was this the character which the British Government wished to have propagated? That their subjects might be seized and ransomed, and yet the terms of that ransom never be fulfilled? Was this nation so weak, were its nerves and powers so shattered, that its own subjects, who formerly looked with confidence to its power of avenging an insult of the slightest kind, could expect to receive no compensation for property sacrificed as the condition of a ransom, and that at the instance of their own Government? Such conduct was something new in the history of this country. But again, look under what circumstance Captain Elliot issued the order. It was not issued in consequence of a seizure by the Chinese government. It was a seizure by our own Government, and whether it compelled its subjects to give their money or their property, they were bound to make compensation. The terms of the order were to this effect:—I hereby require all British subjects to make a surrender to me, for the service of her Majesty's Government, to be delivered over to the government of the Chinese, all opium belonging to such subjects, or under their control, and I, chief superintendent, in the most full and unreserved manner, hold myself responsible to such owners, and I hereby caution all such owners, that if the opium be not delivered by six o'clock this evening the Government will be free from all responsibility.Did Captain Elliot give time, then, to make terms? No; but he said,—By six o'clock you must not only agree, but the opium must be delivered over.But at any rate, the demand was made distinctly by the British Government and for the British service. Were not the parties after such a promise fairly entitled to an indemnity? All they now said was, "Let our demands be adjudicated upon fairly, but let not Government act, as no honourable man would act, and decide without giving us an opportunity of laying our case before them." What was the answer to this demand? The right hon. Gentleman said the Government had done everything in its power to ascertain the value of the opium. He admitted it; but the question was, did they take the right 262 mode of doing so? For that purpose, all they had done was perfectly idle, as he would undertake to prove to the satisfaction of any rational man. What was the course of proceeding? A house in India consigned a quantity of opium to a house at Canton, with directions to sell it immediately. The consignee, being one of those unfortunate persons, delivered it over to Captain Elliot, whereupon the principal brought this action in India against a partner of the consignee. In England one would have supposed that the impossibility of sale would have been an answer to the question. But in India it was not so. The court announced itself to be exceedingly puzzled; but it appeared, that they decided on such evidence as this, it appeared that Captain Elliot gave receipts undertaking to indemnify the holders, and the holders of this scrip sold it. This scrip could not represent the value of the opium delivered. Nothing but a fair indemnity could compensate for that. What were the ingredients in the value of this scrip? In the first place, the necessity of sale must be considered, in the next place the credit to be given to Captain Elliott's authority, and the speculation how far the Government would recognise it. He remembered, that in a former debate the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) said, that the bills of Captain Elliot on the Exchequer were protested. Why, a prudent man would not give half a crown in the pound for such a security; and yet that was the principle on which the value of the opium was ascertained. Such scrip did not represent the value of the opium. Besides, the value of the opium must depend on supply and demand, and not on an assumed price in a document subject to so many contingencies as must necessarily attend this scrip. But it was said Sir Henry Pottinger accepted 6,000,000 of dollars. How did they know on what principle he acted? He might be content to take, as a general arrangement, 6,000,000 of dollars, but was this any assurance of the real value of the opium? The question was, what were these persons, in a proper sense of justice, entitled to, as an indemnify? But it was said, the Governor-general's answer was decisive. These merchants held, that he decided on totally erroneous views, and demanded an opportunity of showing the facts on which 263 they relied. There was another curious circumstance in the case. It appeared, that the opium to be delivered to the Chinese was short by 500 chests, and these were purchased from a strange party. These 500 chests, it appeared, were to be included in the 6,000,000 of dollars. But what had the native Indian merchants to do with such a purchase? The question was, had Captain Elliot authority to act as he did under the doubtful circumstances of the case? What would be said if he had allowed British subjects to be sacrificed, when he had the power to save them, by assuming a degree of authority, which was left to his discretion? He would have covered himself with disgrace if he had so acted. He would have fared ill with the right hon. Baronet had he showed such a want of prudence and firmness. But was the act adopted by Government? Viscount Melbourne adopted it in express terms, and the Duke of Wellington, whose high character never manifested itself more strongly than when the conduct of a British officer was called in question, highly praised it. What said the noble Duke?That was to say, when he came to the extremity of starvation, and he and all the British population wanted subsistence, he was under the necessity of prevailing with all of them to give up the opium, and of taking it in the name of her Majesty, undertaking at the same time, that the Government should pay for all that was given up. But he had no authority by an order in council to enable him to perform that service. He performed it at his own risk, and this country and the Government owed him thanks for performing the service at that risk, and by an act of courage and self-devotion, such as few men ever had an opportunity of showing, and probably still fewer would have shown.Again, Viscount Melbourne said;—The noble Earl confined the charges against his noble Friend to this point, but he had made a most severe, bitter, and in many respects most unjustifiable attack on the gentleman to whom were committed the interests of this country in that quarter of the globe, and who had conducted himself throughout with the greatest coolness, ability, and judgment. It afforded some presumption in favour of Captain Elliot, that considering the nature of the debate, and the asperity with which the whole of this question had recently been discussed in all its bearings upon the Government, no complaint had been made; on the contrary, there was a general assent as to the prudence, propriety, and wisdom of that officer's conduct in the trying and noble circum- 264 stances in which he had been placed. The noble Earl said, the Government was responsible for the acts of Captain Elliot, if not by previous instruction, and authorisation, at least by subsequent approbation. That most distinctly was so. Considering the situation in which Captain Elliot was placed—considering the novelty of the circumstances with which he had to deal, and the dangers by which he was surrounded—he was not prepared to say that every act was precisely the best that could have been suggested; but at the same time he was very loth, at so great a distance, and in ignorance of the circumstances, to pass any censure upon him, on the contrary, so far as he could form a judgment, that officer appeared to have conducted himself with the greatest judgment, the greatest prudence, the greatest firmness, and the greatest resolution.Here were the opinions of the head of the Government under which Captain Elliot acted, and of the Duke of Wellington, whose influence with all parties was great, and particularly with his own party. All these parties asked was, to have their demands invesigated. How and by whom were they left to the Government? The Government had full power to recover an indemnity. If they have not done so, it was their own fault. If they committed error, they should not throw the consequences on their own subjects.
said, there was no dispute whatever as to the facts or principles to be dealt with, but he owned he was rather surprised at the practical result at which his hon. and learned friend had arrived. Though his hon. Friend's topics met a sympathy in the breasts of all who heard him, yet there was not a single suggestion or the slightest evidence adduced which should influence the Government to doubt the conclusions at which, after a lengthened investigation, they had arrived. His hon. Friend said, that the war was undertaken to obtain compensation for the opium. It might be a subordinate object to get the price of the opium and obtain the expenses of the war, but the primary, if not the sole object of that war, was to vindicate the honour of this country. His hon. and learned Friend also maintained, that the value of this opium, the moment it was seized, became a debt due by our Government. The Government, of which his hon. Friend was a Member, did not, however, view it in that light. The opium was seized in 1839, and though the hon. Gentleman opposite continued in power until August 1841, no step of any kind was taken for 265 granting compensation. Therefore, it was quite clear that the late Government had not taken what his hon. and learned Friend contended was the only honest course which could be adopted. If the Government had taken on themselves to obtain compensation for the opium seized, they were bound not to be extravagant in their demands on the Chinese. His learned Friend had referred to the article in the treaty for the purpose of showing that the British Government had claimed compensation for the opium surrendered, but not for the purpose of showing that the sum claimed was adequate to the loss sustained. The object of the vote now before the committee was to make the sum obtained from the Chinese government available for the indemnification of those who had established their claims. No opposition, he believed, was offered to the motion, and he could not see the utility of a discussion which must end in nothing. Let it not be supposed, however, that because the arguments advanced by his hon. and learned Friend were out of place and out of season, he was, therefore, unable to meet them. His hon. and learned Friend ad made a speech which was characterized by great ability, and which must have been listened to with considerable pleasure by those to whom it was addressed; but his hon. and learned Friend had not adduced a single fact as the basis of his statements. He concurred with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in complaining of the course taken by Gentlemen on the other side of the House, who objected to the price fixed by the Government, but entered into no statement to show that it did not fully meet the justice of the case. He had watched anxiously to see whether his hon. and learned Friend would read any documents—even a letter from an Indian correspondent, containing any facts tending to show that the Government price was insufficient, but he had done nothing of the kind. He would state what had been done on the subject, On the 18th of Dec., 1841, Mr. Trevelyan one of the Secretaries to the Treasury, wrote to Viscount Canning as follows:—My Lords request you will state to Lord Aberdeen, that they consider it to be of importance, that specific instructions should be transmitted to Sir Henry Pottinger (by the next mail) to make every necessary inquiry at the earliest practicable period, with a view to ascertain what was the actual value which each 266 description of opium confiscated by the Chinese authorities in the months of March and April, 1839, bore in the market at the time when that confiscation took place, and to report the result, together with any observations he may have to make on the subject.People were not in the habit of indulging in special pleading in letters; and there could be no doubt that when they expressed a wish to ascertain the value of the opium "at" the time of the confiscation, they meant "about" that time. The letter proceeded:—My Lords at the same time direct me to suggest, that it may be proper that Sir Henry Pottinger's attention should be called to the trial which took place last year before the Supreme Court at Calcutta, in the case of 'Ramsabuck Mullick, v. de Souza, and others,' in which one of the points litigated, was, the proper amount of compensation to be made to the plaintiff for a portion of the confiscated opium which the defendants had contracted to sell immediately on its arrival in China, and to remit the proceeds of such sale to Calcutta, whatever might be the amount, in specie or Government bills.In the case of 'Ramsabuck Mullick v. de Souza and others,' referred to in the letter, it was decided that the value of the opium was 40l. per chest; the Government now proposed to give the owners 64l. He begged to call the attention of the committee to a communication from Captain Elliot, a gentleman who, before all others, must be disposed to give an honest and impartial opinion on the subject. His hon. and learned Friend expressed his willingness to have the question referred to any competent authority. Could he have one more competent than Captain Elliott, who, from being on the spot, had the best means of knowing what was the price of opium, before, at, and after the time of confiscation, and who had the strongest motives for doing justice to the claimants. On the 19th of January, 1842, Captain Eliot addressed a letter to the Earl of Aberdeen, from which he would read some extracts to the committee,—In reply to your Lordship's letter of the 15th instant, I have the honour to state, that between the end of November, 1838, and the 27th of March, 1839, the date, that the 20,283 chests of opium were handed over to my order for delivery to the Chinese government, the traffic had been almost totally suspended, owing to the steady severity of the court against the consumers in all parts of the empire.During the whole of that interval prices were chiefly quoted as nominal. The nearest 267 time to the delivery that I find any reference to them is in the Canton Register Price-Current of the 5th of March 1839 (a few days before Commissioner Lin's arrival), when it appeared that there had been offers to sell, but no bidders, at the following rates:—
Dollars. Patna 300 per chest Benares 280 Malwa 250I believe there were no arrivals from Bengal and Bombay between that time, and the 27th of March; so that this scale may furnish fair means of judging of the relation which the respective descriptions of opium bore to each other at that period; in other words, commercially considered, the several kinds of opium would probably have risen or fallen in about that ratio.It is not to be denied that the drug did depreciate very considerably indeed between the 5th of March, 1839, and the 27th of the same month. In that interval Commissioner Lin had arrived, published his first violent proclamation, laid a close embargo upon the whole trade of the port, confined the foreign community in Canton, and insisted upon the delivery into his hands of one of the chief British merchants.Weighing all these circumstances, and their necessary effect upon the opium market, with all the attention in my power, it has appeared to me that the least price mentioned in the scale of the 5th of March (250 dollars) as not procurable for the least rated description of opium, would certainly constitute a most liberal maximum point for the highest description of the opium on the 27th of March, between which point and the Chief Justice's decision at Calcutta, would be the rate of compensation for the highest class.His hon. and learned Friend had complained of the Chancellor of the Exchequer adverting to the illegality of the trade in opium, as if he had done so for the purpose of creating a prejudice against the claimants. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had carefully abstained from doing what had been imputed to him, and alluded to the contraband character of the traffic only with reference to the manner in which that circumstance must affect the price of the article. In contraband trade, as in all matters of speculation, the result was a lottery, and though particular individuals might occasionally realise immense profits, it was generally found that, on the whole, the persons engaged in it were losers. He thought he had read sufficient to satisfy the committee that the Government had taken every pains to arrive at a just decision with respect to this question. According to the best informa- 268 tion it was in their power to obtain, the minimum price of the opium was between 40l. and 50l. per chest, and the maximum price between 50l. and 60l., whilst the Government proposed to give the claimants 64l. His hon. and learned Friend said that when we were arranging matters with China we might have demanded a larger sum for the indemnification of the opium owners; but would it have been becoming, on the part of the British Government, to demand more than they believed the owners of the opium were justly entitled to? If the object of the present discussion was to obtain from the Government a pledge that they would at a future period accede to the wishes of the claimants, he must say that no ground whatever had been made out for such a proceeding. The Government had done everything they ought to have done, and had obtained full compensation for the losses sustained by the opium owners.
§ Mr. J. A. Smith
must express the greatest satisfaction at hearing the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because, having often endeavoured to draw from him elsewhere some indication of the principles on which he intended to act upon this subject, but in vain, he felt there could be but one reason for his refusal to enter into the details of it with him, and that was the weakness of any argument he would be able to use in support of his view; and he now confessed that the right hon. Gentleman's speech of that night had confirmed him in the impression he had formed. He was satisfied; but if it was intended that hereafter any faith should be placed in the representations of English agents—if any regard was hereafter to be paid to public faith and public honour, then the claims of the opium owners would ultimately be satisfied. He complained of the decision of the Government on three grounds, none of which had been disputed. First, the opium had notoriously cost more than double the amount now offered as compensation; secondly, the opium had been, to a great extent, bought of the Government, on the ninth of January, preceding the month of March, in which it had been delivered up, at a price exceeding more than one-third that now offered; thirdly, because it was certain that no one person in Canton, in 1839, understood the engagement with Captain Elliot in any other sense than as an engagement with the British Government that they should receive a full compensation and in- 269 demnity against every loss that they might have sustained. On the 23rd of March, four days before the surrender of the opium, Captain Elliot required all her Majesty's subjects to forward to him an estimate of all loss or damage to be suffered by reason of these proceedings of the Chinese government, and, in the receipts for opium surrendered, it is stated that indemnity will be paid. On 22nd April he wrote to Lord Palmerston, that he believed it was the intention of the Chinese to sell the opium, so as to place the GovernmentIn a situation to reimburse the foreign claimant fully for his opium.He then added,The price of opium in this city (Canton) is certainly not under 1,200 dollars, and I learn that late deliveries have been made outside at about 600 dollars a chest. Your Lordship will judge how easily the Chinese government may form a sufficient fund to defray the charge of indemnity. Let her Majesty's Government then respond to these tidings with an immediate and strong declaration, that it will exact complete indemnity for all manner of loss.Again he adds, that he intendedTo vest and leave the right of exacting effectual security, and full indemnity for every loss directly in the Queen,And recommends,With a view to uniformity and general clearness, that claims for British property left behind, should be drawn up, as far as practicable, 'on invoice cost.'After perusing this series of public documents, it was impossible to doubt that Captain Elliot intended the claimants should beReimbursed fully for the opium.And that the measure of this reimbursement should be "invoice cost." And the claimants could prove, in a manner equally convincing, that this was their understanding also at the time they surrendered the opium. What meaning could be attached to Captain Elliot's words, except that the owners of opium should be indemnified for all loss which they might sustain. There were two Parsee merchants who had delivered to Captain Elliot 1,700 chests of opium, and they had stated expressly that there were 500 chests belonging to them, but in the possession of other parties from whom they had borrowed money. Captain Elliot gave up to the Chinese the quantity of opium belonging to these persons, including 270 the 500 chests; the consequence was, that there was a double delivery of these 500 chests, as those persons who had lent money on them, and in whose possession they were, had likewise returned them as delivered to the Chinese government. These were the 500 chests about which so much had been said. He alluded to the fact now for the purpose of showing what was then considered to be the value of the opium. Captain Elliot agreed with the owners of the opium that a deduction should be made for the payments which they were hereafter to receive for those 500 chests, at the rate of 500 dollars the chest. Now, could it be conceived that these persons would consent to be mulcted at the rate of 500 dollars a chest for those 500 chests, for which they were only to receive 300 dollars a chest. That agreement could only have been entered into on the understanding that the lowest sum they were to receive by way of indemnity would be 500 dollars. Either the right hon. Gentleman totally misunderstood the case, or he was bound to show that the statement which he had made was incorrect. If he could not do so, the case was clear against the Government. The Attorney-general had stated that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had guarded himself against any expression respecting the legality of the trade, except for the purpose of showing that it was a varying trade, and the Attorney-general had also taken credit to himself for pursuing a similar course, but why did the Attorney-general call the trade a gambling trade, except for the purpose of raising a prejudice against the parties engaged in it. If it was a trade which the Government meant no longer to protect, let them at once say so, but if the trade was protected by the government of India—if the trade was of increased importance to the revenue of India—and the right hon. Gentleman had told them last year that the revenue of England and India were to be considered together—what, he asked, could be the object of talking of the illegality of the trade, except to raise a prejudice against those persons? Then a great deal had been said about the glut. He denied that there was any glut. There were 20,000 chests delivered up to the Chinese government. The whole public sales of India in 1839 amounted to 15,609 chests; the quantity which was sent to China of 29,000 chests found a ready sale. In 1841 there was a great increase in the consumption of opium in China; the trade was increasing regularly and steadily year 271 by year and month by month, and there was nothing like a glut. He complained that the Government had instituted no inquiry. Not a person connected with the opium trade in India had been examined, or was even aware that any inquiry was proceeding. He required that the Government should institute a full, fair, and searching inquiry, and that pending that inquiry they should not perpetuate so great a wrong as on paying this instalment to the opium owners to demand a receipt in full. If any reliance was to be placed hereafter on the representations of the agents of the English Government, it was of importance that the conduct of Captain Elliot should be fully and fairly investigated, that the actual loss sustained should be ascertained, and that that loss should be paid in full. The right hon. Baronet last year, when a proposal was made to distribute the Canton ransom money, objected to the proposal, and said that, if the Government undertook the distribution of that six millions, it would be unjust not to vote money to pay the whole claim, so "that it would then be necessary to vote another million to satisfy the claims;" and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the same occasion, said, that "a promise to pay the whole was not a promise to pay a part." The right hon. Baronet was at one time under the impression that 600 dollars per chest would be proper compensation, but now he considered 300 sufficient, How was it that the right hon. Gentleman had changed his mind in so short a time? He (Mr. Smith) had recently received letters from influential parties in India, stating, that if sufficient compensation were not awarded, it was their intention to petition Parliament on the subject; and the general opinion among the opium merchants was, that their case had been prejudged. His belief was, that if the right hon. Gentleman had properly understood the case, he would have acted very differently, and not have acquiesced in an arrangement which would lower the national character, and be injurious to the interests of the parties concerned, and ruinous to the interests of the trade with China. The hon. Gentleman, in conclusion, said, that he would not oppose the present motion, because he thought further delay in making the compensation would be highly injurious to the suffering parties, and because he thought any instalment better than none. But while he gave his assent to the motion because he could not help 272 himself, he still protested against the decision of the Government as being contrary to good faith and good policy. He still maintained, that those who had sustained such heavy losses were entitled to full and complete compensation; he still expressed his confident belief, that these claimants would sooner or later receive justice at the hands of Parliament and the country.
§ Sir R. Peel
—It is nothing, Sir, but a very strong sense of duty that can induce persons in the situation of my right hon. Friend and myself, presiding over the treasury of the country, and having great public duties to perform—I say it is nothing but a strong sense of duty that can induce us to refuse our acquiescence in claims of this nature. It was easy to foresee that there would be raised, partly from sympathy, and partly from other causes, a feeling in favour of such acquiescence. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has referred to a letter which he has lately received from a distinguished native of India in which he said that the natives of India had no representative and no organ in this House. I entertain a different view upon that subject from that individual. I am perfectly convinced that party opinions and patty considerations will not operate in matters of this kind; and if we wished merely to consult our own ease, and abandon our own duty, we should rather have acquiesced in claims of this nature than have resisted them. But the facts of the case cannot be overlooked. A treaty was entered into by which the Emperor of China stipulated that 6,000,000 dollars should be paid as the value of the opium that was surrendered to Captain Elliot. Why was that sum fixed upon by Sir Henry Pottinger? Because, as I apprehend, that sum was named at the instance of the noble Lord then the Secretary for Foreign Affairs. I have not the document by me, but I have a strong impression that the noble Lord, in writing to Sir Henry Pottinger on the subject of the demands that should be made of the Emperor of China for the debts of the Hong merchants, for the indemnification of the expenses of the war, and for compensation to the merchants who had delivered up the opium, named 6,000,000 of dollars as the amount that ought to be demanded as compensation; and the reason why 6,000,000 dollars were demanded, and subsequently inserted in the treaty, was that the noble 273 Lord the Member for Tiverton and Sir Henry Pottinger concurred in opinion that the 6,000,000 dollars would be a fair compensation. But, Sir, reference has been made to the nature of the trade in opium, and the hon. Gentleman who commenced this discussion thought that there was great inconsistency in my making a public declaration that Sir H. Pottinger had been instructed by the present Government, not on account of our possession of Hongkong, to give any facilities for carrying on a smuggling trade that was interdicted by the Chinese laws, while yet the Government of England at the same time encouraged the growth of opium in India and derived a profit from its monopoly. Now, I confess that I do not see any such inconsistency. [Mr. Mangles.—I said making it to suit the Chinese palate.] I find that the course pursued in this respect by the present Government is precisely the same as that adopted by the preceding one. It is quite notorious that the growth of opium has been encouraged by the Government of India, and that that Government has derived a considerable revenue from the sale of it; and yet, at the same time, distinct intimations have been given to the persons who carried on the trade on the coast of China that if they violated the laws of the Chinese Government the British Government could not interfere to redress any injury they might receive from loss, but that they must themselves be responsible for that loss. The noble Lord opposite (Lord Palmerston), in writing to Captain Elliot on the 15th of June, 1838, gave precisely the instructions I have just referred to. The noble Lord was quite aware of the fact that opium was grown in India, and he could not have been ignorant that part of that opium was sent by private individuals for sale to China; yet he told these individuals expressly in that letter that they must bear all the consequences of any violation of the laws of the Chinese Government. On the 15th of June, 1838, the noble Lord (Lord Palmerston), wrote to Captain Elliot—As to the smuggling trade in opium, which forms the subject of your despatches of November and December, 1837, I have to state that her Majesty's Government cannot interfere for the purpose of enabling British subjects to violate the laws of any country to which they may trade. Any loss, therefore, which such persons may suffer in consequence of the more effectual execution of the Chinese 274 laws, with respect to this subject, must be borne by the parties who have brought the loss on themselves by their own acts.Those were the words of the late Minister for Foreign Affairs, intimating that there was a distinction between a traffic legalized by the Chinese Government, and which was in conformity with its laws, and a trade that was prohibited by those laws. Had there been an interference with the legal traffic of British subjects, in that case there would have been a claim on the British Government for redress; but if the traffic was illegal and forbidden by the laws of China, then it is intimated by the noble Lord that the parties so trading must themselves be responsible for any loss, and that the British Government could not give them any guarantee. It is because the traffic in opium partakes of the nature of a gambling speculation, owing to its being subject to interruption from the Chinese laws, that there are such great vicissitudes in it, such differences in the profit derived, and the loss sustained. It has been justly remarked by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Goulburn), this description of the gambling nature of the trade is the language not of the Government only but of the merchants themselves; persons conversant with the state of the trade in India, and actually carrying it on. In the evidence given before the committee of 1840, I find distinct admissions to this affect, I will refer to the evidence of Mr. Inglis. He was asked:—Then the profits of the opium trade were very high?—They were sometimes very high and sometimes very low; I have known people totally ruined by it. There is an instance of a gentleman now living in China, at Macao, who, many years ago, was totally ruined by fluctuation in price; he lost a large fortune in it. To what would you attribute the great fluctuation in prices?—Sometimes in India, for instance, we have had a report from Malwa of some 6,000 or 7,000 chests more coming on in the season than had ever come on in any season before from Malwa; it perhaps has not turned out eventually that so much did come; but that report has immediately operated upon the market to a most fatal extent. Have those losses and variations in price ever arisen from the acts of the Chinese Government?—Of course, every temporary stoppage of the trade, occasioned by the mandarins, probably to enhance their own squeezes, had the effect of altering the price. The parties engaged in that trade were glad to do it, with the prospect of very high profits, and sometimes they were subject to great losses?—Of course it was, in its very nature, a very gamb- 275 ling trade: of course, every one who went into such a trade must be prepared to meet large losses. Those extreme fluctuations were not felt in the cotton or linen trade?—Not such violent fluctuations: the opium trade is more like the stocks, or things of that kind in this country. A mandarin going up to Pekin, for instance, would make a rise in the price of opium, because there has been 100 or 200 chests supposed to be carried up smuggled in his baggage; and you will find in the price currents things of that kind stated as reasons for a rise of price.Why do I quote these opinions? It is to show the fluctuation of profit and loss in this trade, and that those who embark in it do it with a full knowledge of its illegality, and of those fluctuations being greater on account of that illegality than if it were a trade in accordance with the laws of China. Well, a great crisis arose, and, in circumstances of great difficulty and danger to British subjects, Captain Eliot, the superintendant, required from them the surrender of the opium in their possession. I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that if those British subjects had suffered death or torture, or great indignity, in consequence of the noninterference of Captain Eliot, he not being at the time authorised to interfere, still he would have been exposed to blame; but I also think that Captain Eliot acted wisely under the circumstances in taking the authority on himself. However, the opium was given up, and given up on these conditions:—It is specially to be understood that the proof of British property, and the value of the opium so surrendered, are to be taken on the principle and in the manner to be hereafter defined by the British Government.Now, the hon. Member for Guildford tells us that they were entitled to receive the invoice price, which he contends would be the just price. [Mr. Mangles—would be considered just.] If the parties thought the invoice price a just price, why did not they stipulate with Captain Eliot for that price at the time the opium was given up? What could have been more easy? [Sir T. Wilde: It might, then, have been worth more or less? Yes; but they expressly left it to the British Government to determine what the principle of payment should be. The hon. and learned Gentleman tells us that our concern is not with the parties who delivered up the opium, but with our own subjects—the natives of India, the producers of opium— 276 who consigned it to British merchants in China, and whose claim, therefore, is not on the Chinese Government, but direct on the British Treasury. But the late Government did not admit any such claim. Applications were constantly made to them before the value could be ascertained to advance, on account of the distress of the parties, instalments from the Treasury, which should be repaid on the recovery of the money from the Chinese Government. The late Government expressly denied that there existed any such claims on the British Treasury. Their answer was, that they would attempt to recover the money from the Chinese Government, but that they would not admit any claim on the British Treasury. Nothing can be more express than the language used by the late Government on those occasions. The noble Lord the late Secretary of State for the Colonial Department will no doubt remember what he said on the occasion of such an application being made. He said,—The Government did not consider it to be consistent with their public duty to recommend Parliament to lay such a burthen on the public, and they could not make any proposal to Parliament for a grant for the purpose.Such a claim, therefore, was not admitted, and the estimate of Sir H. Pottinger, of the amount that would be required from the Chinese Government for compensation was 6,189,000 dollars, subject to some possible abatements. It was because the noble Lord and Sir H. Pottinger concurred in thinking that 6,000,000 was a sufficient sum, that that amount was inserted in the treaty. That sum has been paid to us—it is now in our possession, and we propose to appropriate it in compensation for these demands. But it is said that the sum is inadequate, and as far as I can collect from the speech of the hon. Member who spoke last, the amount which he considers we ought to pay would be very much nearer 12,000,000. than 6,000,000. He thinks that the natives of India are not merely entitled to the 1,300,000l. which we have recovered under the treaty, but to a further sum of 1,300,000l. also. From what fund is that additional sum to be derived? Are we to go back to the empire of China, and after having agreed by treaty to take 6,000,000 of dollars, to tell them we made a mistake and must have more? No one will contend that such a demand on our part 277 would be a just one. So far as China is concerned you have closed the account, by requiring the Chinese empire to pay the 6,000,000 dollars; and nothing could be more iniquitous, supposing the treaty to have been ratified, and an amicable arrangement concluded, than to go to the Emperor and tell him we had made a mistake and must have more. But if the hon. Gentleman's demand for an additional sum be a just one, and if it be admitted that we could not go to China for more, the fact that any such additional sum must come out of the British Treasury imposes on us the necessity of still greater caution in coming to a decision. It was left to the British Government to determine on what principle compensation should be made, and the question now is what that principle shall be? The hon. and learned Gentleman says there are two modes of settling the price to be paid—either it shall be the invoice price, that is to say some speculative price agreed to be given at any preceding period, or you shall deiermine the price in each case by what would have been the value of the opium delivered up to Captain Elliot, supposing it had not been delivered up and the party had waited for a better market and sold at a higher rate of profit. Why, how could such an inquiry be conducted—an inquiry not only into the cost price, but also into the cost of conveying it to China, varying in each particular case? If the invoice price be paid it might be the price of a period long before, and if the other principle of the hon. and learned Gentleman were adopted the indemnity must be one for imaginary profits. I hold that the public could have no means of inquiring into what such profits would be. Now, what is the course taken by the Government for the purpose of ascertaining the amount really due to the holders? They bore in mind, in the first instance, that this was a trade subject to great fluctuations on account of its being a gambling speculation in violation of the law. We do not urge the illegality of the traffic as a reason against paying it all. No, we do not say that: but we do urge the illegality as a reason why the parties should bear such loss as would arise out of the risk and hazard of the trade; and we say, that in determining the amount of the compensation we have a right to ascertain what was the value of the article at the time it was delivered up, remember- 278 ing the principle on which the opium trade was carried on. We, therefore, did institute inquiries to ascertain the value; that is to say, the value at the time in India and China, not the value of the opium in India after the account of the detention of British subjects and the seizure of the opium had reached India; but what was the selling price in India previous to that time; and if the price at the time of the seizure was lower than the price became after that news had arrived, then we did think it conformable to equity that we should compensate according to that reduced price, and not according either to the invoice price, or to any vague calculation of future possible profits. The clause in the treaty by which the 6,000,000 were stipulated to be paid gave the British Government full latitude to adopt that principle. Suppose that 100 dollars had been given for a chest of opium in the year preceding, and that on the delivery of that opium the real value was not more than sixty dollars, why then that price of sixty dollars represents the real value of the opium at that time in the market. My hon. Friend behind me tells me that I promised last Session to grant inquiry. [Mr. Lindsay: Yes, a full and searching inquiry.] A full and searching inquiry! What occurred last Session at the time referred to? The noble Lord opposite said, if the Government were likely to give the subject an effective consideration, then he would recommend the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lindsay) not to divide, though if he did divide, he should divide with him. But if he could get such an assurance from the Government, he recommended him not to divide. My hon. Friend behind me then said, if her Majesty's Government would give the parties an opportunity of proving the value of the opium, and advance money on account, that would be perfectly satisfactory. I replied that the hon. Member must use his own discretion; the Government would prosecute inquiries in India, but could not pledge itself that those inquiries should be followed up in this country. The hon. Gentleman, I said, must decide for himself, and my hon. Friend was so dissatisfied with this answer, that he divided the House. The inquiries I was then referring to were inquiries we had directed three several authorities to make on the subject of these opium claims in India. It has been said that we were in possession 279 of exactly the same information last March. I certainly was very much surprised to hear that assertion made. The date of Lord Ellenborough's letter reporting the result of his inquiries is March 22, 1842; the debate in this House took place on the 17th of March, 1842; the letter of Lord Ellenborough, therefore, was not actually written till a few days after that debate. The reply of Sir Henry Pottinger to the reference made to him, by a most singular coincidence, bore date the very day in which the debate took place in this House. His letter was dated Hong Kong, 17th of March, 1842;—it was, therefore, perfectly clear that when Government spoke in March, 1842, they could not be in possession of the replies from Sir Henry Pottinger and Lord Ellenborough to the references for inquiry which we had made to them. We had the letter of Captain Elliot undoubtedly, which was one of the three, but we had no answer to the inquiries instituted in India for the purpose of ascertaining the value of this opium. Who were the parties we consulted? Were they persons likely to be prejudiced against the fair claims of the owners of opium? The hon. and learned Gentleman passed a high eulogium on Captain Elliot; he mentioned the testimonies borne to his character by Lord Melbourne and the Duke of Wellington. Captain Elliot has, since his return from China, been appointed to a high situation in another part of the world. I myself, when attacks have been occasionally directed against Captain Elliot, have taken the opportunity of his name being mentioned to bear my testimony to the high character, for moral as well as personal courage, which he has shown on several occasions under circumstances of no ordinary difficulty. I have also borne willing testimony to his high character for disinterestedness and integrity. If he deserves that character, as unquestionably he does, could there be a man better qualified than Captain Elliot to give an opinion on this subject? He was the party who entered into this contract, and he was the best judge of what was the fair understanding, the spirit of the engagement, the intentions of the parties who surrendered to him their opium, in respect of which these claims now arise. Supposing Captain Elliot was perfectly disinterested, could there be one better 280 qualified from his personal knowledge of India and China to pronounce an opinion on this subject? By what other process of inquiry could we ascertain the point? Appoint what commission we might, it would be impossible for them to determine the value of the opium on any such tests or principles as those laid down by the hon. and learned Member for Worcester. We had no alternative but to deal with the question on general principle, and for the purpose of ascertaining that general principle the authorities to whom we referred were authorities certainly not prejudiced against these claimants. Captain Elliot was one of those to whom we referred. If there was any situation which could induce any man to take a favourable view of these claims, it was the situation in which Captain Elliot had been placed. The loss would not be with him. He was perfectly certain that the Government could not resent the delivery of any opinion he might give favourable to the claims of the holders of opium. He had every conceivable motive, if he were inclined to swerve from the direct path of public duty, for magnifying their claims. He says so expressly in the letter which he wrote. He says,—I certainly do admit I have a leaning, and I hope it will be thought natural that I should have, to the side of the best price to which I think the opium claimants have any sustainable title in the most liberal consideration of their case.I do entreat the attention of the committee to this opinion of Captain Elliot—this man of high integrity, and of the greatest disinterestedness. Admitting that he had a leaning in favour of the claims on which he was called to pronounce an opinion, he adds—On the other hand, I must uphold this principle, that you shall not exact from the Chinese Government a greater sum than you could be fairly entitled to demand, looking to the market price of the article.Captain Elliot was under the impression that the demand was to be made on China whose laws interdicted the introduction of opium; and is it unnatural, when he admitted his leaning in favour of the claims, that he should say, like an honourable man,On the other hand, it would not be proper to exact from the Chinese Government a larger price than there is reason to believe would have been recovered for that class of opium if it never had been taken from the merchants?281 Are not those the two principles which ought to have guided an honourable man in deciding such a case? He says—I was the party that compelled the surrender of this opium; to protect the lives of British subjects who were detained, I asked the surrender of the opium; it was delivered to me in honourable confidence—I promised indemnity.We admit the facts, and we refer to him who promised the indemnity, and say:—You who were on the spot, you who knew the value of the opium, you who knew the principle on which the surrender took place, tell us your opinion as to the principle which should guide us in giving compensation.Captain Elliot says:—I will; My leaning is in favour of the claims, but, on the other hand, you cannot exact from the Chinese authorities a greater sum than that opium, if sold in the market at the time, would have brought to its possessor.So much for Captain Elliot. We also referred to the Governor-general in Council. You dwell, and justly, on the peculiar circumstances of the native Indians; you call attention to the fact, that they are not very conversant with our laws, that they see the growth of opium encouraged by the Indian Government, that they consign it to British subjects living at Canton,—but who are their natural protectors? Surely the Governor-general in Council. What prejudice can they have against the claims of the native merchants? The Indian revenues are not to bear the loss. No one supposes that the charge is to fall on the finances of India. It is admitted it cannot fall on China; it is clear if the sum is inadequate the charge must fall on the British Treasury. The finances of India being exempt from all liability, there again we refer to an authority above all suspicion of being interested in favour of the British Government and adverse to the native owners of the opium. We selected the particular authority charged with the protection of native Indian interests. The Governor in council considered the principle on which compensation should be made; they came to the same conclusion that the selling price in India at the time immediately previous to the detention of Captain Elliot and British agents should be the rule observed in this case. They, too, had come to the conclusion that the selling 282 price in India, immediately previous to the detention of British subjects, should be the rule observed in this case; and this principle, if practically carried out, would give the sum of 6,000,000 dollars, which was stipulated in the treaty as the amount by which the owners of opium should be compensated. The third authority who has been consulted is Sir Henry Pottinger, who contracted the treaty, and who had carried out the instructions of the noble Lord; he proposed 6,000,000 dollars as the sum which the British Government should require, and that demand was made and acceded to by the Chinese government. Sir Henry Pottinger stated:—The inquiries which I have instituted have only tended to satisfy me that it is impossible to arrive at any conclusive or satisfactory opinion as to the value of the opium delivered in.Sir H. Pottinger thought then, that without further inquiry in India, which would lead to no practical result, the British Government might form an opinion. That opinion the Government has attempted to form, and it was in general conformity with Sir H. Pottinger's report. Some hon. Gentlemen might think that the principle of compensation ought to be carried further, but the opinion of the Government is in general conformity with those of Captain Elliot, Sir H. Pottinger, and the Indian government. If the Government had stated to the House that the sum recovered under the treaty with the Chinese government was the value of the opium, and if at the same time we had proposed to carry the principle of compensation further, we should have been considered unfaithful guardians of the public purse, and to have shown undue favour to those on whose behalf the claim was made. It is impossible that the Government could have any other desire than to do justice. In regard generally to claims of this kind, I think the chief security to the public against lavish expenditure is the Treasury, and not the House of Commons. I have seen various claims of the kind brought forward in that House—as the Danish claims, for example—but resisted by the Treasury on precisely the same principle as that on which the Government resisted the present one. The Government might have conciliated favour in that House, and might have spared themselves the objurgation of his hon. and valued Friend behind him, 283 which I am sorry to have incurred. I felt certain that if the Government adhered to the course we have chosen, we should be liable to the imputation that had been cast upon us; but, on the whole, we consider that our public duty require us to adhere to it. If the House of Commons entertains a different opinion—if they think that good faith requires that another million of money should be advanced from the Treasury for the purpose of satisfying the demands of the opium merchants, the House has the power of expressing that opinion. With all deference, however, to the House, I retain my own opinion on the subject. I can assure the House that it was from no indifference or neglect to the subject I have come to that conclusion, but from a conviction that the ends of substantial justice will be satisfied by the arrangement I have proposed.
§ Viscount Palmerston
said, that the resolution before the committee was, that a sum not exceeding 1,281,211l. be granted to her Majesty to make good to certain holders of opium surrendered in China, in March, 1839, the amount of compensation clue to them under 4th article of the treaty of peace with China. Now, the treaty then referred to, had not been brought forward. The House had no knowledge of that treaty otherwise than could be gathered from the speeches of hon. Members. He apprehended, in point of fact that her Majesty's Government did not yet know that the ratifications of that treaty had been exchanged, and even although they might persevere in the vote as it then stood, he submitted to them, as a matter of precedent, that the latter part of it should be left out, and that the vote should not be founded on the fourth article of a treaty of which the House had no knowledge, and which at the present time might not have been ratified between this country and China. The Government had resorted to this irregular proceeding for the purpose of backing up their account. It was a sort of argumentative resolution, intended to bear on the face of it that the amount named was the amount contained in the treaty, but he thought that the Ministers had better rest that argument upon their own speeches, than thus introduce it in the resolution before the House. His chief object, however, in rising was to reply to the statements made by the right hon. Baronet with respect to the instructions given by the late Govern- 284 ment to Sir H. Pottinger, as to the amount of the compensation. The right hon. Baronet had assumed and imagined that in those instructions, he (Viscount Palmerston) had specified 6,000,000 as the amount that Sir Henry Pottinger was to demand from the Chinese government. Upon that point, he begged to say, that the right hon. Baronet was mistaken. He quite agreed with the right hon. Baronet that the demand for compensation arose in this case from the peculiar circumstances under which the opium had been extorted from her Majesty's subjects. He agreed with the right hon. Baronet, that if this opium had been seized in the ordinary course of Chinese authority, as being a contraband article, brought into China against the law—if it had been seized by the Chinese authorities within Chinese jurisdiction, there would have been no claim on the finance or upon the power of this Government to demand compensation or redress from the Government of China. It was entirely owing to the manner in which the opium had been extorted, that the late Government had felt that an outrage upon British subjects had been committed, which not only authorised but rendered necessary measures of hostility, should such be required. It had been said that what the late Government demanded was satisfaction for the injured honour of the country, and that one of the ways in which satisfaction was to be given was payment for the opium so extorted, and, from the commencement, in the instructions to Captain Elliot, and afterwards to Sir Henry Pottinger, the principle laid down was, that the compensation should be full. In the letter which he had written to the Minister of the Emperor of China, and which was to be translated into the Chinese language, that principle was laid down. It was demanded that the articles taken should be restored; but if they were in a situation which rendered that course impossible then the full value of them should be paid. The late Government had been of opinion that the certificates and receipts would furnish means for ascertaining the value but from further information that proved to be a mistake. In addition to the demand for compensation to the holders of opium, the Government added another for payment of the debts of the insolvent Hong merchants, and also a third for the pay uncut of the expenses of the war. The 285 last demand was certainly unusual in European warfare, but it was not unusual in Asiatic warfare; and under all circumstances, in order to make the Chinese sensible of the extent of the outrage they had committed, and that they might sufficiently feel the exercise of the power of Britain in vindication of their honour, it was thought expedient and proper to make them pay the expense of the war, in addition to compensating the injured parties. In the instructions given to Sir Henry Pottinger, dated May 31, 1841, he had stated that the points to be insisted upon were compensation for the opium, payment of the debts of the insolvent Hong merchants, and the reimbursement to Great Britain of sending out two expeditions. He had also said, that the Government had no data to enable them to make an estimate of the value of the opium, and the House would see, by looking to another passage of the same despatch, that the sum named was not intended as a maximum, but, in fact, as a minimum. He had not named the sum arbitrarily as the value, but as a sort of general guide. They were not positive instructions, but merely general data. The Government had then no returns upon which they could fix a particular sum, and the despatch would show that they had named a minimum and not a maximum. The instructions then were not specific as to the amount. They were positive instructions to demand a full compensation, but not positive instructions as to what the amount of that compensation was to be. Before Sir H. Pottinger left, he (Viscount Palmerston) had conversed with him as to the amount that would be sufficient, and it was understood that about 5,000,000l. sterling would be required to pay the opium merchants, and the expenses of the war, as far as they had then gone. He (Viscount Palmerston) was not wishing to give any opinion of his own as to what amount of compensation ought to be given to the merchants. All he contended for was, that the Government could not lay their hands upon his instruction, so as to fix the amount at 6,000,000l. He must also say, that last year, when a proposition was made to apply in aid some of the 6,000,000 received as ransom, the right hon. Baronet said, that even for the interest of the claimants themselves it would be better that the 6,000,000l. should be applied to the vigourous prosecution of the war, than 286 in payment of these claims. If the right hon. Baronet had contemplated that that sum would satisfy the whole of their demand, it was impossible he could think that for their advantage it would be better applied to the prosecution of the war. [The Chancellor of the Exchequer: We had not then got the 6,000,000.] They had some part of it, and the question was whether the sum paid by the Chinese should be applied in India or England to the satisfaction of these demands, or to the vigorous prosecution of the war. When, therefore, the right hon. Baronet said that it would be more to the interest of the parties that the war should be prosecuted, every body was led to imagine that they thought at that time that the amount would exceed 6,000,000 of dollars. Reference had been made to Captain Elliot, Sir Henry Pottinger, and Lord Ellen-borough, but it did not appear that the answer of any one of them contained that specific meaning which had been sought to be attached to it. He thought that the fair course would have been to apply to the parties to make out their case, and that course was still open to the Government. When the Government said, that his instructions to Sir H. Pottinger absolutely prescribed the 6,000,000 of dollars, he must observe that after that the present Government had written to Sir Henry Pottinger to know what amount they ought to pay. If the late Government had remained in office, and these instructions had been acted upon, the present Government might then have said that the exact amount had been pointed out; but so little did the present Government consider that they were bound by his instructions, that they had actually sent out to Sir Henry Pottinger to know what amount of payment was to be made. It was therefore clear that they did not consider that that was the amount to be abided by. He thought it, however, only fair to acknowledge that the late Government had not taken the principle of prime cost as the basis of their estimate; if they had, the conjectural instructions need not have been given. Sir Henry Pottinger, indeed, had referred the Government to that principle in a despatch, but it had not been the principle adopted by the late Government. It did not seem to him that in the present state of things the Government had acted with perfect fairness towards these claimants because 287 they had not heard them, which he thought they ought to have done. If the Government had obtained by inquiry data which satisfied them as to the clear way in which the amount of the claims were ascertainable, then it would have been unnecessary to call in the parties to state their case; but when it appeared as the result of their inquiries, that there was no possibility of their arriving at a just and fair estimate, then he did think that the better thing would have been to have said to the parties, "Tell us what you think you are fairly entitled to receive as compensation for your loss;" in that case the Government would have been acting fairly and justly—and it could have no interest to act otherwise—and he believed that they would have come to a more liberal decision than they had arrived at to-night. The right hon. Baronet had asked, if more money was to be given where were they to get it? and he said, "You cannot go back to the Emperor of China and make a further demand!" Granted. He thought that the British Government made a wrong estimate of the amount which ought to have been demanded from the Chinese Government; but, undoubtedly, having admitted as an article of the treaty one which specifically stated six millions of dollars to be the amount of compensation, it was quite impossible that any further demand could be made upon the Government of China. If so—said the right hon. Gentleman—then you must come to the British Treasury. There he did not agree with the right hon. Baronet. There was a resource which, he thought, made any such claim on the British Treasury unnecessary. There was to be found a sum available sufficient to make up any amount of compensation that could be deemed just, without applying to the revenue of this country. The whole amount to be received from the Chinese Government, first and last, for the various services during the war, amounted, according to the returns, to 5,767,000l. sterling, of which not above 1,200,000l. was now proposed to be applied to this vote; therefore, when the future instalments should be paid by the Chinese Government under the treaty, there would be ample means to satisfy any just and equitable sum to be paid on account of these claims, without its being necessary to come to the British Treasury for any money. It might, indeed, be said, that this would be, in fact, making a demand upon the British public, 288 in as much as it would be anticipating a sum of money which would otherwise go into the Treasury. No doubt to a certain degree that was so; but the House would see that there was a wide difference between calling upon the people of England to pay a tax for the purpose of meeting these claims, and that of anticipating a certain portion of an extraordinary supply which was coming from another quarter. The right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, possibly feeling that he should be dependent upon the Chinese money for his future budgets, was less disposed perhaps than under other circumstances he might be to resort to that fund; but the House ought to recollect that this was almost the only war in which this country ever was engaged which had paid its own expenses; therefore it was a case of exception, and not a case of rule. And it should be remembered, that if, in giving a further portion of this sum, which was received from China in compensation to the claims of these parties, the right hon. Gentleman's resources might, to a certain degree, be reduced. Still this country had obtained the valuable possession of the island of Hong Kong, and had, at the same time, secured many commercial advantages as the result of a war which had been forced upon us, and which was not undertaken for the purpose of gaining any such advantages, but which was very reluctantly entered upon, and which a strong sense of duty made it incumbent upon the Government of Great Britain to engage in for the purpose of vindicating the honour of the Crown, and of obtaining satisfaction for injuries inflicted on its subjects; therefore he considered it no answer to his hon. Friends who urged the further consideration of these claims, to say either that the treaty with China stipulated for a certain sum, or that there was no other fund from which any additional grant could come. He must say that those parties who were claimants had not only sustained in the first place a very grievous injury from the Government of China, but that they had been very harshly dealt with by the Government of Great Britain. Because they were told by the Government of this country, "Here are the six millions of dollars secured to you by the treaty with China. That you may have. You may have your pound of flesh—but you shall not even have that unless you promise to forego any claim to an addition to that sum." Now 289 this he considered to be a very unjust, a very hard and a perfectly indefensible demand on the part of the Government upon these parties. He did not know what right the Government had to make such a stipulation. England went to war with China, the principal and manifest object of which was to obtain compensation for the losses sustained by British subjects, and which compensation was obtained by force of arms. Thus the Government of England took that step, and went to war mainly to obtain full compensation for these parties; but when it was obtained it then told them, "You shall not have one farthing of this money, unless you admit that to be a full compensation which you say you think to be inadequate, and unless you promise to hold your tongues henceforth, and never apply to the Treasury to reconsider your claims." This he thought was a very unusual course—he hoped it was an unusual course on the part of the Government of this country; but he must say, whether unusual or not, it was a very unjust course, and one which the Government had no right to pursue. They might have told the parties, "We will give you this and will give you no more; for we have determined to stand upon the treaty." That might have been a course proper enough to be adopted, because it would have left the Government open to a change of opinion by subsequent argument and representation—but to call upon the parties to accept the particular sum, upon condition that they should never attempt to enforce any further claims, was a course most unusual and unjust. And it struck him that it implied a consciousness on the part of the Government of the weakness of their case. It looked as if the Government felt that if the claims were urged they might be convinced against their will that they had not dealt with the parties with perfect justice. It was more like the conduct of an arbitrary Government than a constitutional Government, responsible to public opinion. He had now said all that he was desirous of saying upon this subject. His object had been to state that the instructions which the late Government gave Captain Elliot did not bear out the assertion that that Government had fixed the amount of compensation at six millions of dollars. He did not, when giving those instructions, or now, feel himself competent to form an 290 opinion whether that amount was or was not a full compensation to the parties for the loss they had sustained; but the Goment ought to leave the door open for further representations, and ought not to compel the parties to accept a given amount, and exclude them from stating, in such way as they should think proper, why an additional stun should not, in justice and equity, be paid them.
§ Mr. Hume
differed in opinion, both as to the facts of the case, as stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and also as to his reasoning upon those facts. It was necessary to consider what was the actual position of Captain Elliot at the time he made the treaty. He was in a state of duress when called upon to deliver up all the opium belonging to British subjects. The opium was delivered up, because the agents were compelled by act of Parliament to obey the orders of the superintendent of the British Government. This being so an obligation was contracted, on the part of the British Government, to compensate the owners of the opium so given up. Then came the question, how was the amount of compensation to be estimated? Now, he thought it was a fallacy to regard this matter as one peculiar in its nature merely on account of the article in question being opium. Suppose, instead of opium, the Chinese government had demanded that all the cotton and all the woollen goods sent to China should be delivered up, would any one then have refused to compensate the parties at a fair value? Why should there be any difference between paying for opium and for other goods. When British property was destroyed at Canton, the Hong merchants sent to every individual demanding a list of the property destroyed. This was made, and the invoice price was returned; to which the Hong merchants added per cent. So in the case of the Danish claims, the invoice price was taken. The claims made by the sufferers by the French revolution were estimated by the invoice price, and upon that value the claims were granted. When the Neapolitan government laid art embargo upon a quantity of corn which had been purchased and shipped by British merchants to supply the British market, the loss occasioned by this (amounting to several thousand pounds) was demanded by the British Government from the Go- 291 vernment the of Naples, and upon what principle was the loss calculated? They took the invoices and added the charges and interest, and these were fully paid. There had never been a claim by the British Government upon any other country in respect to which the Government had not acted upon a similar principle. Was it not unjust, therefore, that the Government should now be haggling upon such a point with their own subjects, especially when they had the means to make compensation? It could be proved in the case of these claims that the value of the opium at the invoice price was 80l. and 90l. a chest, and yet Government was offering 50l. or 60l. a chest. No man was more anxious to save the public money than himself, but he never had, and never would, lend himself to a dishonest act. On these grounds he was of opinion the Government would not act justly unless they pursued the principle of former precedents; and for that purpose he thought a committee should be granted to inquire into these claims.
§ Sir R. H. Inglis
said, that though be had very strong opinions on the subject of the trade in opium, he was quite willing to admit that no consideration of that kind should influence his mind on the present occasion. However strong might be his opinion on the subject of the opium trade, and of the constant fraud and frequent crime which had attended the introduction of opium into China, yet he would not allow considerations of this kind to enter his mind in forming his decision on this question; nor, could he consider the amount of taxation to which the admission of a just claim would subject the people of this country. He would consider, to adopt the words of the hon. Member for Montrose, the value of the articles confiscated, and he concurred with that hon. Member in saying that the principle upon which the committee should decide, was precisely the same whether the article were cotton, wool, or opium. But the conclusion to which he came, was not the same as that arrived at by the hon. Member. How was the value of the article best and most easily ascertained? If they took the invoice even of articles of more unquestionable character than opium, they could not always secure the desirable result; for all trade was open to variations. He would state a case in point. At the January sale in Calcutta the merchants had just completed their 292 purchases, when one of the fast-sailing clippers arrived with the news that all the opium had been seized, and they immediately communicated with the Government, and said they should be ruined unless some remission were made. The Government took the case into their consideration, and returned a 150 rupees per chest. Would the invoice price have been considered a fair test in that case? Clearly not, and if not, why should it be considered conclusive in this case? The case of Mr. Gemwell a Glasgow merchant, was no doubt well known to every Member of the House through the printed statements that had been circulated; but that case was not analogous, inasmuch as he had commissioned a house in Calcutta to make purchases for him, and they had exercised their discretion in a way which turned out unprofitably. His claim for redress, therefore, was against the parties he had employed.
§ Mr. P. M. Stewart
hoped it would not be understood that the door hereafter was shut against unsatisfied or dissatisfied claimants. He had no interest in the decision of the question beyond the anxiety he felt that national faith and honour should be preserved, and he considered the question in this point of view, as one of the highest importance. He strongly disapproved of disclaiming the acts of an accredited minister, and thereby absolving the country from demands which it was bound to discharge. It was not for the present Government to put the matter off upon the last, and when the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) said that the owners of the opium had surrendered it without stipulation, he seemed to forget that they were in danger of their lives at the time, and that they were obliged to relinquish their property at a few hours' notice. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had misstated an important fact, for of the 20,000 chests surrendered, not a single chest was within the power or jurisdiction of the Chinese authorities. It was a dangerous interpretation of indemnity to say that the amount was to depend upon the arbitrary decision of Ministers, and nearly all the arguments used on the other side savoured more of an empty treasury than of a disposition to do justice. He contended that the claimants were not used fairly, if the house in its collective capacity only answered the demands to the extent recommended by Ministers. They 293 had adopted different principles at different periods, for in February, 1843, they admitted the fairness of the invoice value, and had subsequently denied that it ought to be taken as the criterion. As a practical illustration, he would say that the owners of opium were in the situation of persons insured, and Government in that of insurers; in case of loss, the value was ascertained according to the price the commodity would have produced, and its worth at the time, without any consideration of the fluctuation of markets. When they said that they took as their estimate the price at Canton; they forgot that they had created a panic, and then had told the holders, "You must give up your property to save our lives and your own; we will you an indemnity." Having done so, they now said, "We will go to the same panic-struck market, and see what the value was." He was instructed to say, that if a committee were granted it would be proved that the letter of Captain Elliot, written in England in January, 1842, was directly opposed to the opinions he had expressed in India. With respect to the merchant in Glasgow, mentioned by the hon. Baronet, the Member for the University of Oxford, why should he not have a claim upon the Government? His broker bought 110 chests of opium of the government in India, at 90l. a chest, in January: he was forced to sell to the same government at Canton, and was he now to be put off with a loss of 30 per cent.? He protested on the part of the poor absentees in India, who formed four-fifths of the whole class of claimants, against the door being shut to a further consideration of their claims, and he was sure that there was too much honesty and justice in their claims not to cause their House to come at a future time to a different decision.
§ Dr. Bowring
said, that the value ought to be taken disentangled from the political difficulties existing at the time in Canton: they might take the fair Chinese value, stripped of these circumstances, even if they would not take the value in India. They all knew how property was sometimes depreciated during disturbances, and how touch depended upon the faith in the English Government. During the Peninsular War the Government documents and the commissaries' notes were often at a discount of 60 or 80 per cent., and many Englishmen made large fortunes, relying on the good faith of the 294 Government. He trusted that the inhabitants of India, who had relied on that good faith, would not appeal in vain. He was as great an economist as his hon. Friend, but he believed that the greatest economy was to maintain good faith, and he trusted that the door would not be closed of reviewing the decision of the House that night.
§ Mr. B. Wood
also supported the views of the claimants: the Government were decidedly wrong, and were taking only a conjectural value.
§ Viscount Palmerston
suggested that the words relating to the treaty, which might never be ratified, should be left out. The resolution would be perfect without it, and the insertion was really too absurd.
§ Mr. Mangles
said that he had heard no reply to the arguments of the hon. and learned Member for Worcester. [A laugh.] He must protest against the subject being treated in that manner. It was no laughing matter to the poor persons in India whose claims had that night been urged upon the attention of the Government.
§ Viscount Palmerston
said, that in his opinion it would be improper to refer in a resolution to a treaty of which the House knew nothing, and which might be wholly useless inasmuch as it might never be ratified.
§ Sir R. Peel
The House had had official notice of a treaty having been concluded with China because her Majesty informed Parliament of the fact, in her gracious Speech from the Throne. Her Majesty said:—The increased exertions, which, by the liberality of Parliament, her Majesty was enabled to made for the termination of hostilities with China has been eminently successful. The skill, valour, and discipline, of the naval and military forces employed upon this service have been post conspicuous, and have led to the conclusion of peace upon the terms proposed by her Majesty." "As soon as the ratifications of the treaty shall have been exchanged, it will be laid before you.The House, therefore, knew, that a treaty was in existence; they had also received a large sum of money, under one of its clauses, therefore, he thought the resolution would not violate any precedent.
§ The Speaker
(who had been referred to) appeared at the Table, and said, when es- 295 timates were laid on the Table of the House, it was quite competent for the House to withold them or to grant them; but it was not competent for the House to make any alteration which would change the destination of the vote.
§ An amendment having been moved to leave out the words "make good" in order to insert the words "enable her Majesty to make compensation," the committee divided on the question, that the words proposed to be left out, stand part of the question:—Ayes 74; Noes 27: Majority 47.
|List of the AYES.|
|Acland, Sir T. D.||Inglis, Sir R. H.|
|A'Court, Capt.||Knatchbull, rt. hn. Sir E|
|Allix, J. P.||Law, hn. C. E.|
|Antrobus, E.||Lincoln, Earl of|
|Beckett, W.||Lowther, J. H.|
|Blackburne, J. I.||Mackenzie, W. F.|
|Boldero, H. G.||McGeachy, F. A.|
|Bruce, Lord E.||Marsham, Vict.|
|Buck, L. W.||Martin, C. W.|
|Buller, Sir J. Y.||Masterman, J.|
|Burrell, Sir C. M.||Meynell, Capt.|
|Chetwode, Sir J.||Morgan, O.|
|Clerk, Sir G.||Neville, R.|
|Clive, Visct.||Newdigate, C. N.|
|Collett, W. R.||Nicholl, rt. hn. J.|
|Corry, rt. hon. H.||Northland, Visct.|
|Cripps, W.||O'Brien, A. S.|
|Darby, G.||Palmer, R.|
|Denison, E. B.||Peel, rt. hn. Sir R.|
|Douglas, Sir C. E.||Peel, J.|
|Duncombe, hn. A.||Pollock, Sir F.|
|Duncombe, hn. O.||Pringle, A.|
|Eliot, Lord||Rashleigh, W|
|Escott, B.||Rendlesham, Lord|
|Estcourt, T. G. B.||Rose, rt. hn. Sir G.|
|Flower, Sir J.||Rushbrooke, Col.|
|Fuller, A. E.||Scott, hn. F.|
|Gaskell, J. Milnes||Smith, rt. hn. T. B. C.|
|Gladstone, rt. hn. W.E.||Smollett, A.|
|Gordon, hn. Capt.||Somerset, Lord G.|
|Goulburn, rt. hn. H.||Stanley, Lord|
|Graham, rt. hn. Sir J.||Sutton, hn. H. M.|
|Hardinge, rt. hn. Sir H.||Trench, Sir F. W.|
|Henley, J. W.||Vesey, hn. T.|
|Hodgson, R.||Young, J.|
|Hope, G. W.|
|Hussey, T.||Fremantle, Sir T.|
|Ingestre, Visct.||Baring, H.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Aldam, W.||Barnard, E. G.|
|Barclay, D.||Bowring, Dr.|
|Brotherton, J.||Pechell, Capt.|
|Duncan, G.||Scott, R.|
|Ewart, W.||Seymour Lord|
|Forster, M.||Smith, J. A.|
|Hindley, C.||Stewart, P. M.|
|Howard, P. H.||Wawn, J. T.|
|Hume, J.||Wilde, Sir T.|
|Listowel, Earl of||Wood, B.|
|Mangles, R. D.||Wood, G. W.|
|Mitcalfe, H.||Yorke, H. R.|
|Oswald, J.||Ebrington, Visct.|
|Palmerston, Visct.||Hawes, B.|
§ Original question agreed to.
§ The House then resumed, and adjourned at two o'clock.