HC Deb 26 March 1844 vol 73 cc1574-87
Sir G. Staunton

rose for the purpose of submitting the Motion of which he had given notice— That this House will, on an early day, resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House to consider the following Address to Her Majesty; that is to say, that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that, whereas, the late rev. Dr. Morrison, and his eldest son, the late John Robert Morrison, rendered eminent public services in China, the former for a period of twenty-six years, and the latter for a period of nine years, and successively fell a sacrifice to their severe exertions in the performance of their public duties; and whereas, the death of the latter individual was pronounced by his Excellency Sir Henry Pottinger, Her Majesty's Plenipotentiary in China in a public proclamation on the occasion of his decease, a positive national calamity,' Her Majesty be graciously pleased to direct a suitable provision to be made for the widow of the late rev. Dr. Morrison, and for the other surviving members of his family; and to assure Her Majesty that this House will make good the same. He said he was very sensible that he incurred a grave responsibility in making this appeal to the House. He was sensible that such appeals in favour of private individuals ought not to be lightly hazarded. He could assure the House that he would not have undertaken the task if he had not felt the strongest conviction that this claim was of so peculiar and almost unparalleled a character, that it could not be neglected without reflecting dishonour and discredit on the country. He wished the Motion had been in more able hands, but as he could speak from his own personal knowledge, while in office in China, respecting most of the facts which it would be his duty to submit to the House, he felt confident of receiving their indulgent attention. He had submitted these claims in the first instance to the noble Earl at the head of the Foreign Department, who had received the appeal with the greatest consideration and sym- pathy. He had done everything that was within the competence of the Foreign Office, by continuing the small pension granted to the widow by his predecessor, and by conferring an appointment in China upon one of the younger sons; but the pension was utterly inadequate, and the appointment he had been obliged, it was apprehended, to relinquish on account of ill-health. No resource therefore remained but an appeal to Parliament. The proposition he had to bring forward was strictly in accordance with the hest precedents of our history. He thought he need not adduce any of those precedents to show that it had been the policy of this country, when great and eminent services had been performed, and when those who performed them had sacrificed their lives in the cause, to recognize the claims of their families who survived them on the gratitude of the country. He would, therefore, shortly state the history of those two distinguished individuals for whose family he appealed. The late Rev. Dr. Morrison went out to China as a missionary of the Gospel, and had no desire or wish to obtain employment at the public expense; all he desired was to be permitted to exercise unmolested his sacred functions; the East India Company, he hoped, would riot employ the powers with which they were invested by law to remove him from his mission. So far, however, from the East India Company wishing to remove him, they found that he possessed most valuable and important talents, and they invited him to take office in their establishment, which he acceded to, and which office he held for a period of twenty-five years. At the same time he made no mercenary compromise. He did not abandon the sacred profession to which he had devoted his life, but continued to his last moments as he had begun—a Missionary of the Gospel. He united to the most ardent religious zeal the perhaps still more rare quality of sound sense and discretion; so much so, that he was enabled to exercise these two offices without any detriment being sustained by either of them. He had also accompanied the Embassy of Lord Amherst to Pekin as interpreter, without receiving any special remuneration for that service. Dr. Morrison in the course of his valuable life accomplished two great literary works, to which he would shortly direct the attention of the House. The first was his elaborate and voluminous Chinese and English dictionary. The East India Company had considered this work of so much importance, that they had granted a sum of 10,000l. towards defraying the expenses of printing it in China. If it was of so much importance even when only one Port was open to us in China, it became of tenfold importance when we had four new Ports opened to our commerce and our enterprise, where the English language was wholly unknown, and a knowledge of Chinese was a sole passport to commercial dealings. This work was now iii the hands of every individual who was desirous of availing himself of the improved state of our commercial relations with China. This alone, gave him a strong claim in upon the gratitude of' his country. The other was a work, the value of which could not be estimated in a mere pecuniary or a commercial point of' view, but it was a work which had conferred on Dr. Morrison great celebrity throughout Europe, and had earned for him the heartfelt gratitude and admiration of a great body of persons in this country—he meant the translation of the holy Scriptures into the Chinese language. This work, he trusted, would, through the favour of Providence, lay the foundation of the introduction of the blessings of Christian civilization into that immense territory, by enabling its inhabitants—constituting as they did, one-third of the population of the world—to read the word of God in their own language. At the end of twenty-five years spent, in the service of the East India Company, the East India Charter expired, and Dr. Morrison would have been justified in retiring, when he would have been entitled to a pension: there was at that time a fund from which that pension would have been payable; and if he had died in their service, his window would have been entitled to a person. At that critical moment, however, his services were considered indispensable, and he consented to transfer those services from the East India Company to the Crown, without making any stipulations whatever. The first act of Lord Napier on his arrival in China, was to order Dr. Morrison to Canton at an unhealthy season of the year, and in a declining state of health, to conduct a most harassing and ill-advised negotiation with the Chinese government. Dr. Morrison fell a victim to his exertions in the course of a few days. Lord Napier, it is well known, followed him to the grave in about two months afterwards. He thus died in the performance of his public duties. He had abandoned his claim on the East India Company by the transfer of his services to the Crown, and the fund was abolished from which that pension might have been paid. No adequate provision was made by the Government to his family on this occasion, but they did that which seemed equivalent to it; at least it would have been so, had Providence spared the life of the son, for they immediately appointed him to the situation which had been held by his distinguished father. This young man, although at that time only twenty years of age, performed the duties which devolved upon him with singular ability and great zeal, but his bodily strength was not equal to the strength of his mind, and he had applied for, and obtained leave of absence, for the purpose of returning to England to recruit his health, when the seizure of the opium placed us in hostility with the Chinese, and, in consequence of the extraordinary crisis which then arose with regard to our relations with the Chinese, Mr. Morrison felt it his duty to forego his leave, and to remain in China. The war broke out, and the necessity of having on the spot a secretary who was acquainted, not only with the language, but with the habits and manners of the Chinese, became every day more apparent: Mr. Morrison, unfortunately for his life, but fortunately for his fame, and fortunately for the benefit of the English nation, remained. He lived to take an important part in the negotiations for the Treaty of Nankin; and when it was recollected that Sir Henry Pottinger, although a man of great ability, was a total stranger to the language, manners, and habits of the Chinese, (unlike his successor, Mr. Davis, whose consummate ability on these points is well known), the extreme importance of his having the aid of a man like Mr. Morrison would be quite evident. When the Treaty was concluded, there was a general feeling throughout the whole of the British community that some honours and favours ought to be conferred on Mr. Morrison; and Sir Henry Pottinger warmly responding to this feeling, appointed him one of the Legislative Council of Hong-Kong. He was thus placed in a situation which would have amply enabled him to main- tain his father's family. He had while he lived remitted to them various small sums, and had given up the whole of his share of his little patrimony to his sister. But while his family in England were congratulating themselves on his merited exaltation, their joy was turned into sorrow, the cup of prosperity was suddenly dashed from their lips; for, a few days after his appointment, he was seized with the fever of Hong-Kong, and his constitution being already undermined, he very shortly fell a victim to it. Sir Henry Pottinger stated, in a proclamation, announcing his decease, that the loss of Mr. Morrison was a public and national calamity, and would be so felt, he was sure, by his Sovereign and his country; and in a private letter to him (Sir G. Staunton), he added, speaking of Mr. Morrison, that no man living could supply his place—"You may find as good interpreters and as good translators, but where will you find a man of such talent, judgment, devotion and influence?" He submitted that he had made out a case for the consideration of the House. These two individuals had performed eminent services, had sacrificed their lives in the cause of their country. Their family, therefore, it appeared to him, had a most powerful claim upon. Parliament. He did not bring forward the case as one of destitution, except as far as regarded the sister of Dr. Morrison, who was residing at Newcastle, and who he understood was in a destitute state; but with regard to the rest of the family, although not in a state of destitution, he considered that their means were totally inadequate to maintain them in the station which they ought to occupy in the country. He concluded by moving his resolution.

Sir J. C. Hobhouse

did not know if the forms of the House relative to the necessity for the consent of the Crown in cases of such propositions as the present would be interposed in this instance; but this he would say, that accident had made him fully acquainted with the merits of the two individuals whose services had well been narrated; nor could he avoid adding, that by no one could their eulogy be more appropriately pronounced, as assuredly by none could their services be more thoroughly appreciated than by his friend the hon. Baronet who had brought forward the subject. From the first moment he saw the notice of the hon. Baronet, he felt that the Government ought to adopt some mode of expressing their opinion, and that of the Crown, as to the merits of these two individuals. After the tribute which had been paid to their memory by the hon. Baronet, it would Abe impertinent on his part to say one word on the subject of their services. But if any hon. Gentleman had read the beautiful memoirs of Dr. Morrison, if they knew the circumstances under which he commenced his eminent, useful, and Christian career,—if they were acquainted with his conduct throughout that career,—if they knew how his mantle had descended to his son, they could not doubt that the appeal which had been made to the House by the hon. Baronet was fully justified; and he hoped, that if the forms of the House did not preclude it, that appeal would receive the concurrence of the right hon. Baronet and his colleagues.

Sir R. Peel

fully admitted the justice of the eulogium which the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Baronet had respectively passed upon the characters and services of Dr. Morrison and his son. He did not believe, that in the whole range of the public service of this country, two men could be found more remarkable for their high character, or for the fidelity with which they had discharged their duties. The particular works, also, to which the hon. Baronet had referred, the productions of Dr. Morrison, the father, were works of signal merit. Nothing could be more agreeable to his feelings than to be able to accede to this Motion; but there were certain duties imposed upon public men which they could not shrink from discharging; and he must ask the House not merely to regard the merits of these individuals, but to consider the effect of the precedent for the interference of that House with respect to the grant of pensions to public men. It was, some years ago, the practice in the civil service of this country to allot pensions to the widows and female relatives of public servants who died in the discharge of public duties; but that practice, speaking generally, had for some time passed into desuetude. No man could fill the office which he occupied without being well aware that many claims were often preferred on the part of the widows and relatives of public servants of the highest merit and distinction with which it was impossible to comply. For instance, in the whole range of the revenue service of this country, no pensions were allotted to the widows or female relatives of public officers who died in the discharge of their duty. The same was the case with regard to all the great departments of the State. In the case of clerks in public offices—men who performed the greatest services to the country, and who frequently died in the public service, after continuing in it for thirty, forty, or fifty years—Parliament had allotted no means of making provision for their widows or female relations. In some departments of the public service there were means of making such provision. In the Army and Navy, pensions might be allotted to the widows of officers who died in the public service; but those pensions were of very limited amount. The whole amount, he believed, which could be granted to the widow of a flag officer of the Navy, who might have served his country for many years, did not exceed 120l. a year. In the case of a Captain or Colonel of Marines, actually dying in action, the public provision was limited to 200l. a year. In the case of public civil servants, to whom liberal salaries were allotted, the principle held was that it was their duty, out of those salaries, to make provision for their widows or relatives. That was the general rule now observed, and, if they lightly departed from it, there was no limit to the number of applications which might be presented. He knew how strong were the claims which might be urged; and he would venture to say that, if the precedent was once established, unless it was limited and confined by circumstances the most peculiar, numberless applications would pour in, with which it would be most difficult to refuse compliance. The cases of governors of the colonies, or of individuals who discharged judicial functions in those colonies, were constantly brought under the notice of the Government; in many instances such men were cut off in the prime of life, and their widows or relatives appealed to his noble Friend (Lord Stanley), but no means existed of making a provision for them. The House must therefore take a comprehensive view of this subject, and prepare themselves for the consequences of establishing the precedent proposed by the hon. Baronet. He would state what were the circumstances of this case; and he would then leave it to the decision of the House whether there was anything so peculiar in the situation of the widow and family of the late Dr. Morrison as to induce the House to depart from its ordinary usage, and enable the Crown, by a special Vote, to make provision for this case. In addition to the provision already made for the public service, a very limited sum of 1,200l. was allotted yearly to the Crown, to enable the Crown to grant pensions in certain specified cases—cases of personal service to the Crown, to persons of eminent literary or scientific merit, or to persons who had rendered distinguished public services. He (Sir R. Peel) certainly thought that a very niggardly provision. He thought it confined the power of the Crown in this respect within very narrow limits. But after full inquiry into the Pension List, and having before them all the claims that could be made on account of public services, Parliament had allotted to the Crown for these purposes a sum not exceeding 1,200l. a year. He would undertake to say that that sum was appropriated in precise accordance with the wishes of Parliament. The question here was whether, independently of that amount, the House of Commons would enable the Crown to grant pensions to the surviving members of Dr. Morrison's family? He would briefly state to the House the facts of the case. Mrs. Morrison was the widow of Dr. Morrison, who died in 1834, but she was not the mother of the Mr. Morrison who lately died in the performance of public duties in China. The only immediate relative, by blood, of the late Mr. Morrison, was the sister to whom the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir G. Staunton) had alluded. Mrs. Morrison was the widow of the late Dr. Morrison, but Mr. Morrison was the son of that Gentleman's former wife. Mrs. Morrison did not, therefore stand in the relation of mother to the late Mr. Morrison. A pension of 100l. a-year was granted to Mrs. Morrison for herself by the East India Company; and a further pension of 25l. a-year for each of five children, till they arrived at the age of eighteen. On the transfer of the China establishment from the East India Company to the Imperial Government, it was represented to the Government that the provision made for Mrs. Morrison was not in proportion to the merits of Dr. Morrison, and insufficient to procure for his widow the comforts she had a right to expect. The Government then stated that the transfer of the Establishment of the East India Company to the Imperial Government should in no respect affect the interests of Mrs. Morrison; and they applied to the East India Company to know what provision, considering the peculiar merits and services of Dr. Morrison, the Company would have granted if he had continued in their service. The answer of the Company was, that they had no regular scale of allowance to the widows of their servants—that they granted liberal salaries on the express understanding that their officers should, out of such salaries, make provision for their families. The late Dr. Morrison received about 1,300l. a-year; on his death his son succeeded him, and at the time of his (the son's) decease, he was in the receipt of about 1,200l. a-year. The East India Company stated, that they thought, in this case, they would have made an exception to their usual rule, and have allotted Mrs. Morrison an addition of 50l. a-year, making 150l. a-year; but the Government granted her another sum of 100l. a-year, and she was now therefore in receipt of 200l. a-year. These were facts which the House ought to bear in mind, recollecting that no provision was made in the case of other civil servants. The right hon. Baronet opposite might probably know Mr. Bulley, of the Exchequer, who died recently, after a faithful service of fifty years, but his widow remained without a pension. The House must recollect too, that, in addition to the pension of 200l. a-year, Mrs. Morrison also received 25l. a-year for each of five children. On the decease of Dr. Morrison, his son. the late Mr. Morrison, succeeded to his office, which he held to the time of his death, and to which was attached a salary of 1,200l.Had the Executive Government then been insensible to the high merits of this family? He was discharging a most painful duty in opposing the proposal of the hon. Baronet opposite; but it was right that he should show that Mrs. Morrison had not been overlooked. The provision might seem scanty; but, as he had said before, they must look at these cases upon comprehensive principles. Since Mr. Morrison, the son's death, Lord Aberdeen had appointed the eldest son of Mrs. Morrison to a situation in China as assistant-secretary. The salary of that office had previously been 162l. a-year, but Mrs. Morrison's son received 300l. a-year, with the prospect of an increase, on good behaviour, to 600l. a-year. Mrs. Morrison was thus relieved of all charge for the education of that son. Lord Aberdeen also signified to Mrs. Morrison, that if among her remaining children there was one whose age qualified him for the performance of public duties, he would immediately appoint him to a situation; and that if his youth disqualified him for such a situation now, he would take the first opportunity of making provision for him hereafter. In the case of the eldest son of Mrs. Morrison, therefore, actual provision had been made; and the assurance of prospective provision had been given for the second. He thought, then, that he had conclusively shown that the Crown had not been insensible to the valuable services rendered to the country by Dr. Morrison, and his son, Mr. Morrison. He must say, feeling the greatest sympathy for the situation of this family, that if he were called upon to mention the cases of widows and families of other deserving persons, it would be found that an unusual provision had been made for the family of Dr. Morrison. He hoped he had said enough to show the House that they ought to be exceedingly cautious how they established a precedent in this case, of special interference with the conduct of the Executive Government, and, in some degree, with the prerogative of the Crown. He had every motive personally for acquiescing in the proposition of the hon. Baronet; he entertained the highest sense of the services of Dr. Morrison and his son; he felt great sympathy for their relatives, if they were in distress; but it was his duty, in the situation which he held, to caution the House against selecting a particular instance of this kind for special interference.

Mr. Lindsey

said, he had the advantage of knowing Dr. Morrison and his son, and he was, therefore, gratified to hear not only what had been done, but what was to be done for their family. There were a few remarks of the right hon. Baronet on which he wished to offer a very few words. The right hon. Baronet drew a distinction between the military and naval services and the civil service, but the present was a case in which that distinction did not apply. It was true that Dr. Morrison had received a salary of 1,300l., but then it should be recollected the use he made of that salary, for while he was devoted to the interests of his country, he had proved himself a benefactor to mankind. So soon as he was placed above necessity what did Dr. Morrison do? Why, he founded a college for the instruction of Chinese, as well as of others; and although the institution received other support, there could be no doubt that Dr. Morrison had devoted more of his means in furtherance of this college than prudence dictated. But he was looking for a higher reward than could be bestowed on him in this world. That college had since been removed to Hong Kong. He was in China in 1832, when, at the age of eighteen, Mr. Morrison, the son of Dr. Morrison, was called upon to act as interpreter, and he could speak to the ability with which he discharged the duties devolving on him. No man could bear higher testimony to the merits of John Robert Morrison than Sir H. Pottinger had done; and he entirely agreed with that gallant officer, that his death was to be regarded as a national calamity. The life of John Robert Morrison was sacrificed by the illness he contracted when, he accompanied Captain Elliott to Canton; but, although he did riot approve of that mission, his sense of public duty led him to accompany it, and the result was his contracting a disease which ultimately proved fatal to him. He thought Mrs. Morrison and her family were entitled to a more ample provision; but, seeing what had been done for them, he, having full confidence in the justice of the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, was ready to leave the case in his hands, in the full belief that all that could be required would be granted.

Sir G. Staunton,

in reply, said, he must take blame to himself for not having entered more fully into the pecuniary part of the case, from an anxiety to avoid unnecessarily occupying the House. The fact was, that the only permanent provision awarded to the family of Dr. Morrison was the 200l. a-year which Mrs. Morrison received, and that had no reference whatever to the services of the son. It was stated, and justly, by the right hon. Baronet, that Lord Aberdeen had made a provision for one of Mrs. Morrison's sons, and offered to provide for another of them; but it unfortunately happened that the health of the son who had gone to China was so bad, that he was on his return, and therefore the family would derive no benefit from that appointment. The East India Company had given several large pensions to their civil servants in China, at the expiration of the charter; and he particularly wished to call the attention of the right hon. Baronet to the fact, that the pension of 200l. now enjoyed by Mrs. Morrison, had no reference to the services of her son, but had been granted solely on account of the services of the father. The son's services were hitherto without any notice or reward whatever. It was, no doubt, true, that Mrs. Morrison was not his own mother, but he had always considered her as his mother—considered her with the same affectionate regard, and so called her in his letters. He submitted that the great and eminent services of Dr. Morrison and his son entitled their family to a better provision than had been made for them; that even upon the principle of 200l. a-year having been commensurate to the father's services, at least an additional 200l. a-year ought to be granted to the family for the services of the son. At the same time, he did not mean to press for a division, being satisfied to leave the matter in the hands of the right hon. Baronet, who, he confidently hoped, would reconsider the subject, and feel disposed to do justice to its merits.

Sir R. Peel

said he could not accept the withdrawal of he Motion on any such terms. He had before stated, that the whole sum which he could advise the Crown to apply to cases of this kind was 1,200l. a-year; and he had not before him the case of Mrs. Morrison alone, but the cases of at least 100 widows and persons whose relatives had rendered valuable public services, and who were not in the receipt of any pensions or gratuities.

Motion withdrawn.

House adjourned at Eleven o'clock.