HC Deb 13 March 1843 vol 67 cc745-6
Mr. Mackinnon,

seeing the noble Lord the Secretary of State for the Colonies in his place, wished to ask him a question which deeply affected the West Indian interests, and more especially the inhabitants of the island of Antigua. At a large meeting which took place on Saturday last, he was requested to put a question to the noble Lord, in consequence of the very awful calamity which had recently befallen those islands. The question he wished to ask the noble Lord was, whether or not it were the intention of her Majesty's Government to make an advance on a loan to the proprietors of the island of Antigua who had suffered so severely by the late earthquake, and also whether it were the intention of the Government to advance, not as a loan, but as a grant, a sum of money for the purpose of rebuilding the cathedral and all the public buildings of Antigua, which had been levelled to the dust by the late severe visitation?

Lord Stanley

said, that in answer to the question put to him by the hon. Gentleman, he begged to say that on Thursday last the Government for the first time received information, and that not in a detailed manner, of the dreadful visitation which had come upon the West India colonies. It appeared that the event took place on the 8th of February, and the last accounts which had been received from the West Indies were dated the 10th and 13th of the same month; it must be, therefore quite clear to the House, that the accounts as yet received must be very imperfect as to the extent of the distress and loss occasioned by this calamity. At the same time, he had no reason to believe that the account which his hon. Friend (Mr. Mackinnon) had received of the event was at all exaggerated. By the interpo- sition of Providence, the loss of life had been very small, but the House must be prepared to learn that there had been an extremely large amount of damage sustained, both of public and private property. It was satisfactory to know, that throughout the colonies of Antigua, St. Kitt's, Montserrat, and Nevis, from which accounts had been received, the best possible spirit prevailed among all classes of the population, and that in Antigua, where the distress had been most severe and the damage great, all classes were exerting themselves in the most praiseworthy manner, and co-operating, not only for the prevention of riot and disorder, but in providing such temporary remedies as could be applied to a calamity which was peculiarly aggravated, because falling on the machinery of the colony when the crops were about to be manufactured. He felt he ought not to omit this opportunity of adding, that in a despatch he had received from the Governor, Sir C. Fitzroy, and which he had the commands of her Majesty to lay on the Table, testimony was borne highly creditable to the labouring population of the islands, not only with regard to their abstinence from all plunder and riot, but, although material sufferers themselves, all of the most respectable among them had associated together, and bound themselves by a voluntary agreement, notwithstanding the extraordinary demand for labour, not to ask or accept anything above the ordinary average amount of wages in the colony. With regard to the questions which had been asked, he did not know that he could give any definite answer at the present moment. At the same time, he could feel but little doubt that when the details of the calamity should be received in this country it would be his duty to ask the House for some assistance, in the way of loan, in order to enable the colony to sustain the heavy calamity with which it had been visited. Of course, with regard both to the amount and the conditions of that loan it would be premature in him, as it would be impossible now, to make any statement to the House. He would only say, that if any assistance should be asked, it would be not in the shape of a grant but of a loan, to enable the colony to sustain its credit at the present crisis of affairs.

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