HC Deb 18 May 1843 vol 69 cc564-8
Sir G. Grey

rose to move for certain papers respecting the French occupation of Tahiti. He understood that his motion would not be opposed, and the papers it related to went only to show what were the recent proceedings of the French government, and what was more important, to calm the feelings of just apprehension entertained by many in this country for the fate of the British missionaries on the island. It would not be necessary for him to trouble the House at any length, but he could not move for these papers without bearing his testimony to the invaluable labours of these estimable men, who for fifty years had been labouring for the promotion of Christianity. These men had been supported by the voluntary contributions of Christians in this country, who took a deep interest in their welfare, and who looked with considerable apprehension to the establishment of French sovereignty in Tahiti. He trusted these apprehensions were without foundation, but he thought it material they should bear in mind the changes which had been effected by these missionaries. The following was the testimony of Admiral Duperre, who visited the island in 1819, and said, in a letter addressed to the then Minister of Marine: — The state of the island of Tahiti is now very different from what it was in the days of Cook. The missionaries of the society of London have entirely changed the manners and customs of the inhabitants. Idolatry exists no longer; they profess generally the Christian religion; the women no longer come on board the vessels, and they are very reserved on all occasions. Their marriages are celebrated in the same manner as in Europe, and the King confines himself to one wife. The women are also admitted to the table with their husbands. The infamous society of the Arreois exists no longer; the bloody wars in which the people engaged, and human sacrifices, have entirely ceased since 1816. All the natives can read and write, and have religious books translated into their language printed either at Tahiti, Ulitea, or Eimco. They have built handsome churches, where they repair twice in the week, and show the greatest attention to the discourses of the preacher. It is common to see numerous individuals take notes of the most interesting passages of the sermons they hear. The subjects of Queen Pomare have been already initiated in the rudiments of European civilization. The English missionaries have instructed them in the dogmas of Christianity, and have given them some notion of our arts and our laws. Their garments are like ours; reading and writing are in common use amongst them, and the children are brought up in schools on the Lancasterian plan. They possess a code which guarantees the rights of individuals, as well as of property, and which establishes trial by jury. The people have only required twenty years to become the most enlightened of the Polynesian populations. He could, in addition, state one fact, which was most honourable to those men, and that was, that they did not possess a foot of land. They looked to moral and social advantages alone. He hoped that the professions recently announced by a distinguished member of the French government—and he had no doubt sincerely entertained — would be faithfully acted upon; but he confessed he thought it was to our own Government the missionaries had to look, and he trusted that the Government would not be found inattentive to their protection. The right hon. Baronet concluded by moving an address for, Copies or Extracts of a Letter addressed in 1827 by Pomare, Chief of Tahiti, to King George 4th, and of Mr. Canning's reply thereto. Copies or Extracts of any Correspondence which may have taken place between her Majesty's Consul at Tahiti, and her Majesty's Government since 1835, relative to the proceedings of the French in Tahiti. Copies or Extracts of any Correspondence which may have taken place between her Majesty's Ambassador at Paris and her Majesty's Government, or the French Government, relative to the recent proceedings of the French in Tahiti.

Lord Ashley

seconded the motion, and cordially concurred in the praises which his right hon. Friend had bestowed on the missionaries. They had achieved, he thought, the greatest miracle of modern times.

Mr. Hindley

expressed a hope that the French might not be allowed to take possession of all the islands.

Sir R. Peel

was ready, on the part of the Government, to confirm by his testimony all the praise which had been given to the missionaries. Their exertions had been very great, and very meritorious. The Government, he could say, had not neglected the opportunity of obtaining from the French government assurances of its intentions, and they were obtained in writing, so that they might be placed on the records of their country. They were to this effect, The French Government remains faithful to the three great principles it has ever professed and upheld; first, to afford perfect liberty of worship; secondly, to give all the protection that is due to the subjects of a friendly power; and, lastly, to favour the labours of all those bodies who are extending the benefits of Christianity. It was a great advantage to have obtained those official declarations from the French government, which enabled him to lay before the British Parliament, in an official form, the solemn assurances which had been received by her Majesty's Government from the government of France.

Viscount Palmerston

said the circumstances of the case required that a clear understanding should be come to with the French government. The differences between that government and the Queen of Tahiti begun by a difference between the missionaries of the two religions. The French sent Catholic missionaries to Tahiti, which missionaries were expelled from Tahiti by the native government. The French government thought that the banishment was caused by our missionaries, and the difference arose between the French and the native government in consequence of the differences between the missionaries. He thought, therefore, it would be right to procure a pledge from the French government that the Protestant ministers should not be disturbed.

Address agreed to.

House adjourned at a quarter before one o'clock.