HC Deb 28 March 1843 vol 68 cc40-2
Sir G. Grey

begged to call the attention of the right hon. Baronet to certain recent proceedings of the French admiral commanding the squadron in the South Pacific Ocean. From accounts which had reached this country, it appeared, that the French admiral had taken possession of the Island of Tahiti, placing it under the protection of France, and that an island council was formed for the purpose of maintaining the sovereignty of the French in it and some other islands of which Tahiti was the chief. Now, these things were calculated to cause considerable apprehension in the minds of many persons in this country who took a great interest in the welfare of those islanders, and who had already been the means, through their missionaries, of bringing a great number of them to civilization. The parties to whom he alluded very naturally felt alarm lest the occupation of the islands by the French might interrupt their intercourse and friendly relations with the inhabitants, and put an end to those exertions which had hitherto been so successful in the improvement of the social, moral, and religious condition of the people. They feared that their future proceedings in the promotion of those desirable objects might be fettered unless they were assured of due protection. Under these circumstances he wished to ask if her Majesty's Government had received any information as to the proceedings of the French Admiral, and if any steps had been taken to secure to British subjects resident in those islands that protection to which they had so strong a claim.

Sir R. Peel

would state in answer to the question of the right hon. Gentleman, the amount of the information which had reached the Government on the subject to which he referred. It was stated that the officer commanding the French squadron in the South Seas had made a demand of satisfaction from the sovereign and chiefs of Tahiti and its dependent islands for an alleged offence against France, and called upon them to deposit as a guarantee for future good conduct towards the French the sum of 100,000 piasters. The chiefs at once declared their utter inability to comply with this order, but instead of it they consented that Tahiti and the other islands should be placed under the nominal sovereignty of the King of the French, the Queen of the islands reserving to herself the territorial jurisdiction. The islands were thus taken under the protection of France. This was the representation made to the Government. Now, he quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman who had put the question, that the British subjects resident in those islands were fully entitled to every protection for their persons and property, and also to the full exercise of their religion; and in the very act of placing the islands under the sovereignty of France it was expressly provided that the English missionaries should receive the fullest protection, that their churches and places of worship should be maintained, and that their intercourse with the natives should not be interrupted. All that France had done by her officer was to place the islands under her sovereignty, which was acceded to by the Queen and chiefs, but no possession was taken by placing any French force on the islands. On the facts stated he offered no opinion, but he could assure the right hon. Gentleman that the position of the British subjects resident on those islands had attracted the attention of her Majesty's Government, which had made representations on the subject to the government of France, and had received in reply from that Government assurances which was quite satisfactory, stating that the missionaries should not be prejudiced nor in any way molested on account of the exercise of their religion. He was quite satisfied with the sincerity and good faith in which those assurances were made, and that they might be fully relied on.