HC Deb 03 August 1846 vol 88 cc318-30

Order of the Day for Committee of Supply read. On the Question that the Speaker do now leave the chair,


was sorry to interpose a word before the Speaker left the chair, but there was a question so long before the House that he was unable longer to delay it. He also felt that unless he did bring it forward at the present moment, he might not have an opportunity of bringing it forward at all. Early in the month of March he submitted to the House a Motion, because he thought it better to have a return of certain documents from Malta, stating the facts with reference to what took place, rather than rely on private information he had received. The documents were now before the House, and their substance might be briefly stated. He did not think the House could pass it by without receiving from the Government some assurance whether it was by their countenance the Governor had interfered with the privileges of the people of Malta. Since the accession of the Colony to England, certain, he might call them innocent, amusements had been practised; and there had been no instance during forty-five years in which an interruption took place during the four days of the carnival, until this interruption by the present Governor. There was an impression that this interposition was an attempt to interfere with the Catholic religion, or to proselytise, and therefore it was that he wished to bring the matter before the House. He was sorry to say that the correspondence which he held in his hand was anything but satisfactory; and some of the statements in it were by no means consistent with the statements made to him, and which he believed to be true. It said that before he (the Governor) attempted to put a stop to the proceedings of the carnival, he heard it would be satisfactory to the Catholic bishop and the respectable portion of the community. He had a letter from some respectable parties there, stat- ing that no such communication had been made. He believed, and was willing to allow, that it was an act of thoughtlessness; he would say at the same time that there were circumstances which rendered it of great importance. Those who looked back to the state of Malta when the Marquess of Hastings governed that island, must recollect the circumstances that then occurred there, and that a court martial was summoned by him to try two officers, Captain Acheson and Mr. Dawson, for refusing to perform what they conceived to be improper honours to Catholic ceremonies. When they received orders to fire salutes in honour of some Catholic ceremonies, they refused. The Government of the day considered that they were bound to do so, in obedience of orders as soldiers, and the court martial cashiered them; and he (Mr. Hume) well recollected that in that and the other House every effort was made to have those officers restored, but they never were restored. It was stated at the time—and he believed the Duke of Wellington expressed himself more strongly than any other person—that any interference in that island with a religious ceremony would be highly improper, and they said that no Government ought to countenance it; and when Sir Patrick Stuart acted as he did on the 14th of February, and intimated to the head officers of poliee that the ceremony of the carnival should not take place on Sunday, as had been the custom for forty-five years, he thought that was an improper interference. It was said that the Protestant bishop had improperly stated on a public occasion, that before long he should have so much influence as to prevent the continuance of such amusements, or any of those ceremonies. That was considered to be a proof that his influence had effect, and that the Government was acting against the Catholics with a view to giving to the Protestants a power over them. This, he believed, had tended to produce the excitement that took place. He thought that the manner in which the Catholic population of the island had conducted themselves under the circumstances of the case, was highly creditable to them. He must, however, admit one circumstance. When they were prevented proceeding with their masks, and under the feeling that the Protestant bishops and others wished to put down the Catholic religion, it was true that a number of persons dressed as clergymen of the Church of England, had carried before them a wooden bible. In doing this they wished to show the Government that they were dissatisfied at the attempt made to put down their religious ceremonies. The Governor alleged, in one of the documents which had been printed by order of the House, that the reason he was induced to resort to the step which he did, was in consequence of representations and memorials presented to him. Now, he had sent to Malta to get an explanation on this point, and he was positively assured that no such application had been made; and the people of Malta challenged the Government to produce any such memorials. As the name of the Catholic bishop of Malta had been made use of in the Papers on the Table, he was authorized to state that that dignitary denied that he authorized or assented to any step of the kind for altering the ceremonials of the carnival. He (Mr. Hume) thought that the course resorted to was extremely dangerous, and consequences might have resulted which all would have deplored. He was happy to find that, however much might have been apprehended, no riots took place. It appeared that the Governor gave orders to seize all parties who assembled on the day of the carnival in masks. It was stated in the papers that a high officer in Malta, on being made acquainted with the order, went to the Governor to urge him not to interfere with the ceremonies; but he was unsuccessful. Orders were then given to the police to clear the plaza, and two companies of soldiers were ready to assist, if their services were required. On this being done a great ferment was caused, with cries, and hissing, and hooting, such as would take place with a mob in this country, but not more than any one would expect. On this occasion between twenty and thirty men of respectable character were seized and carried to prison, and kept there without being allowed to communicate with persons outside for upwards of twenty hours. The petition which had been presented on this subject was signed by 719 persons, who stated that they were prepared to prove all the facts of the case stated by them. He conceived that this was a question which the friends of civil and religious liberty should look to. He was sure when his hon. Friend the Under Secretary for the Colonies looked into the subject, he must condemn the proceedings; and he trusted that the Colonial Office would take steps to prevent any such occurrence for the future. He could not help condemning the answer of Mr. Gladstone to the memorial which had been presented to him, as well as the letter which he wrote to the Governor, Sir Patrick Stuart. From the Papers on the Table, it appeared that the Colonial Office did not receive any explanation of the proceeding between the 27th of February and the 20th of May. He called upon the House to take steps to secure the rights of the people of Malta for the future; and he hoped that it would concur in the Resolution which he should propose, and thus convince Sir Patrick Stuart, or any other Governor of the Colony, that he must treat with more temper and prudence the rights of the inhabitants of our Colonics. He could not help expressing his regret at the letter signed "Grey," dated the 16th July, on this subject, in which that noble Lord stated that he concurred in the view taken of the matter by his predecessor, and that the memorialists must regard the answer which they had previously received as an answer to the further remonstrance, and that he could not hold out to them any prospect that such a change as they called for would be introduced in the future government of the Colony. He (Mr. Hume) hoped sincerely that this letter had been hastily written, and without any reflection. As illustrative of this subject, he would refer to the ordinance recently issued by the Emperor of China, allowing the public exercise of the Catholic and Protestant religions in that country. We were accustomed to call the Chinese barbarians; but what a contrast did this proceeding on their part afford with the conduct of the Governor of Malta in this case! The hon. Member concluded by moving as an Amendment, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the question, in order to add the words— That, in the opinion of this House, and according to the Correspondence laid before it, relative to the proceedings in the Island of Malta during the Carnival Holidays in February last, the conduct of the Governor and of the Magistrates acting under his orders, in the interference with the long existing usages of the inhabitants of that Island, amount to an infraction of the rights and privileges guaranteed to the Maltese by the capitulation under which they originally became British subjects, and are also contrary to the true principles of civil and religious liberty.


, in seconding the Motion, said that he considered that his hon. Friend had brought forward the subject in a spirit of justice and moderation. The House should recollect that the Maltese had no representative body; and although they had often asked for some share in the administration of their local affairs, it had always been denied to them. The feeling of the people of Malta was, that this proceeding was resorted to with the view of humiliating the Catholic religion; and it should be remembered that nearly the whole population of the island were Catholics. In one of the despatches laid on the Table, Mr. Gladstone very properly expressed his surprise that there should be such an interference with the ceremonies of the Roman Catholic religion, without the Catholic bishop, or some other dignitary of that church, having been consulted by the Governor. These ceremonies had been continued at the carnival without interruption from time immemorial, and had been sanctioned for forty-five years by the British authorities; and they had been ordered on the sudden to be put a stop to by a notice stuck up by the police. The people felt that the Protestant Government had interfered with the view of putting a stop to the ceremonials of the Catholic religion. It was notorious that nothing was so likely to lead to fatal consequences as the unnecessary interference with the religion of a people. In common with his hon. Friends around him, he had read with the most intense regret the letter of Earl Grey. The petitioners had come with grievances to the Government; but it appeared the Government were not willing to take them into consideration. The question would, however, he hoped, be reconsidered. The inhabitants of Malta had suffered much, and had suffered long. They were remarkable for their allegiance, and it was time that a patient hearing should be given to their grievances. He had great satisfaction in seconding the Motion of his hon. Friend.


said, his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose stated, in commencing his speech, that he should confine himself almost entirely to the consideration of the disturbances that had taken place on the 22nd of February last; and, in imitation of that conduct, he would also limit his observations principally to these transactions, and not enter into the more general question broached by his hon. Friend who had preceded him. When he came to state the facts connected with these proceedings, he was sure the House would agree with him in thinking that the representations made to his hon. Friend were accompanied by a great deal of exaggeration. His hon. Friend seemed to imagine that masking on Sundays, which was the sole origin of these disturbances, was the law and usage of the people of Malta. He should beg to assure his hon. Friend that such was not the law, but that, on the contrary, annual licenses were granted by the Government permitting the practice to take place. The matter was thus left to the discretion of the Governor. These maskings on Sundays had been accompanied by some indecencies and improprieties, and complaints had in consequence been made against them to the Governor, both by Protestant and Roman Catholic clergymen. Previous, however, to any interference with the practice, the Governor consulted some of the heads of the Catholic clergy, and obtained the assent of the vicar-general to the measures which were necessary to put a stop to it. Eight days before the Sunday on which the masking was to take place, namely, on the 14th of February, the Governor published the notice through the police, and during these eight days not one single remonstrance was made against it. The conclusion which the Governor would naturally come to was, consequently, that the notice was acceptable to the people of Malta, or at least to the better-disposed portion of them. He held in his hand a letter which he had received from the Governor of Malta, in consequence of a communication which he had made to him on the subject. The hon. Gentleman read the letter, which was to the effect that an intimation had been made to the vicar-general of the intention of the Government; and his reply was, that the measure was a wise one—that all right-thinking persons, whether clergymen or laymen, would approve of it — that masking was not permitted in Rome on that day—and that the example of Rome ought to be followed in Malta—that he would answer for its being well received in the villages, though it might be resisted in the town by a few low and dissolute persons. It thus appeared that the Governor had been asked by both Protestant and Roman Catholic clergymen to take this step, and that it had the approbation of the Roman Catholics through their vicar-general. On the 22nd, however, a few persons—and they were but a few—attempted to contravene the order of the Government. When the troops were beating their retreat, or withdrawing to their barracks, the mob began to assail them, and actually did assault some of the soldiers. The latter, however, did not interfere or take any part whatever in the proceedings which followed. The police alone were called out, and without any weapons whatever, save the ordinary constables' staves, dispersed the crowd, and the amusements of the evening went on afterwards as if no interference had taken place. Some of the persons who had been engaged in these disturbances were arrested and committed to prison; but from the punishments inflicted upon them, it would appear that their offence was not considered to be a very grave one. Of twenty-eight persons who were arrested, one was sentenced to fifteen days' imprisonment, two were fined two dollars each, and the rest were discharged. It could not be alleged that any undue interference had taken place with the magistrates who heard the case, or that they had administered the law unfairly. No interference had been attempted with the civil or religious rights of the people of Malta, and there was certainly no intention of giving any offence to their feelings. His hon. Friend the Member for Bolton had brought forward the subject of a memorial, in which other matters were alluded to, and in which the parties sought to be allowed to have the whole control in civil matters vested in the people. He did not think, however, that any one could regard Malta—a little island with 120,000 inhabitants, the greater part of whom were extremely poor, and the chief importance of which consisted in its position as a military station—in the light of an ordinary Colony.


thought they were much indebted to the hon. Member for Montrose for bringing this subject before the House. The noble Lord the First Lord of the Treasury had stated that, if free institutions could not be given to all the Colonies, they could, at least, have free access to the Colonial Office. In the same manner it was of importance that they should have access to the Members of that House, and therefore he was glad that the subject had been brought before them. Of all the places under the British Crown, there was perhaps none where there should have been exhibited less of the appearance of a suppression of Catholic ceremonies as in Malta; the great majority of the inhabitants were Catholics, possessing about 200 churches, with 900 priests, and the whole supported entirely from funds supplied by the people themselves; the conduct of a Governor to- wards such a people in a matter connected with their religion ought therefore to have been peculiarly circumspect. In this instance had Sir P. Stuart made known to the people that it was the wish of a high Catholic authority that the ceremony should not be proceeded with, it would have been attended with great advantage; but that fact was not known. It was not known in the country, and therefore it was supposed he had acted with great indiscretion; and though the case was much altered by the statement of his hon. Friend (Mr. Hawes), yet at first it did appear on the face of what they knew, that the Governor had improperly attempted to put down this Roman Catholic ceremony. He was much astonished that such a thing should have occurred under any British governor, and still more astonished that so little had been said condemnatory of it by the Government at home. In a despatch of the 15th of June, all that Mr. Gladstone prescribed to the Governor to say to the Memorialists was to point out the points wherein they were wrong; and then he proceeded to state to the Governor himself wherein he was wrong; but he did not say whether the ceremony of Sunday masking was to be allowed in future. Now, what he found fault with the Governor was, that he had interfered with the usages of the people; and he found fault with Mr. Gladstone's despatch, because he had not communicated in it to the memorialists whether the ceremony was to be permitted in future or not. This would, in all likelihood, lead to great doubt and excitement, and probably confusion, hereafter. As to the mode in which the governor dealt with the riot, he must say, that after it had been allowed to begin, he could see no way in which he could have put it down with greater mildness. The present discussion, he hoped, would be productive of considerable benefit; and he considered it would not be without its use if it led to greater discretion on the part of the Governor.


thought the simple intimation on the part of the Governor, that he had the sanction of a high Catholic authority to stop the procession, would have been attended with the best results, by the removal of much bad feeling. The Maltese ought to have a representative government; and it would be impossible to allay discontent there unless they had such a Government. If they were treated fairly, they would be more faithful and more loyal.


said, his hon. Friend (Mr. Hawes) had done the most he could for the Governor, by saying he had the sanction of the Roman Catholic authorities. But did the Roman Catholic authorities or the Governor take the initiative? Had any disorder occurred before? [Mr. HAWES: Yes. A number of complaints had been made, both by Protestants and Roman Catholics.] He admitted that Malta was not to be considered as a Colony; it was something of the nature of a fortress; and it was to us of great importance to maintain a good feeling amongst the people towards their Governors. Although they might not be ripe for a representative government, yet they might have municipal institutions.


observed, no misunderstanding could arise upon the opinion of the Secretary for the Colonies, or the Under Secretary; but he held a very different opinion as respected the letter written by Mr. Gladstone upon this business. That document appeared to him actually "dark from excess of light." The letter could not be understood. Each sentence contradicted the sentence which preceded it, and every member of a sentence did the same. No part or portion of this letter was grammatically constructed, and therefore if the Governor of Malta did not understand its directions, some excuse existed for him. But regarding the circumstances as they occurred, the question came, what were religious observances? A religious observance was said to have been disturbed. Masking was no religious observance surely, and therefore he did not see why the Governor should not have had the right to put this masking down. As the matter had stood, it really did not appeal that, previously to that evening, any communication had taken place on the subject, and therefore he could not think the Government blameable for not stating that communications had been made. At any rate the discussion would do good, for it would manifest to the people of Malta, that on the part of that House and on the part of the nation also, no wish existed to interfere with rights, customs, or immunities which they, the Maltese, had held.


was at a loss to know whether the hon. Member (Mr. Hawes) intended to oppose the Motion or not. The hon. Gentleman had said, he saw no infringement of civil liberty in the proceedings. He maintained that both civil and religious liberty were infringed by them. [Colonel Fox: No!] The hon. and gal- lant Member said "No;" but were the people not prohibited from meeting? were they not taken up by the police for meeting? were they not imprisoned for meeting? and were these not infringements of civil liberty? He repeated that it was an infringement both of civil and religious liberty on the part of those who dared to interrupt the people in their peaceable proceedings. A great deal too much stress had been laid upon one circumstance connected with this inquiry. It was very true that it would have been much more discreet if the Governor had obtained the sanction of all the Roman Catholic authorities before acting as he had done. He had obtained the sanction of the vicar-general; and the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hawes) had argued from that that he was justified in some degree—though he had not ascertained, from what the hon. Member had said, in what degree—in the proceedings complained of; but he denied that either the vicar-general or the archbishop had a right to authorize the putting down of a practice which had been carried on for thousands of years. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen might laugh; but really it was something new to him to hear such proceedings sanctioned by the hon. Gentleman sitting opposite to him. He regretted that Lord Grey had sanctioned Mr. Gladstone's despatch. The hon. Member for Evesham had criticized the composition of that despatch, and stated that the composition of Earl Grey would stand in favourable contrast with it. He wished that Earl Grey's conduct had stood in favourable contrast with Mr. Gladstone's, which would have been of more consequence. In conclusion, he hoped that the hon. Member for Lambeth would not call upon the House for a division; but would admit that, though he had made the best defence he could in the circumstances, the interference complained of was one which ought not to be sanctioned, and that the sooner the House of Commons condemned it the better.


thought it would be more prudent if the hon. Member for Montrose would withdraw his Motion. The people of Malta must feel, from the general tenor of this debate, that great consideration had been shown for their feelings. It was, however, rather unfortunate that it had not been announced to them that their religious guides had been consulted. However, the people of Malta would now learn from the announcement of the Under Secretary of State for the Colonial Depart- ment, that their vicar-general had been communicated with, and that he gave his sanction to the suppression of the proceedings. The vicar-general officiated in consequence of the age of the archbishop, who was the highest ecclesiastical authority in the island. As a general rule, he must, however, say that if Parliament were not ready to grant high civil immunities, they should be very cautious in suffering any interference with those ancient amusements which had so long existed. It was hard to condemn the past policy of the Governor of Malta upon this isolated act; but he hoped that person would be more careful and prudent in meddling with what, after all, was but a harmless and simple usage. He was sorry that his hon. Friend the Member for Winchester had infused into this debate a more angry tone than previously pervaded it. The hon. Member for Montrose had always been, as he (Mr. Howard) hoped he would continue to be, the friend of civil and religious liberty; but he thought it was useless for his hon. Friend to press the Motion to a division, and therefore he hoped he would withdraw it.


said, that before they came to a decision, it was right that the House should understand what would be the result of carrying the Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose. The effect would be to censure the conduct of the Governor of Malta. He trusted, therefore, that the House, before coming to a decision, would bear in mind the circumstances of the case. The practice of masking on Sundays at the carnival was one which, to render it legal, required the annual sanction of the Governor. The Governor stated, that the people of Malta had been recommended to abstain from that custom from the pulpits of Roman Catholic churches; and they were recommended particularly to abstain from it on the last Sunday of the carnival, when one of the most sacred ceremonies of the Roman Catholic Church was performed, namely, the exhibition of the Host on the altar. The Governor knowing this fact, consulted the vicar-general, and that dignitary having said that the measure for preventing it was one of which all wise and right-thinking men would approve, he accordingly refused his sanction to this masking, not a refusal to walk in procession if they pleased, but a refusal to permit them to do so in masks on Sundays. Under these circumstances he asked his hon. Friend whether he would persist in a Motion, the object of which was to condemn the Governor for conduct perfectly justifiable, which the respectable portion of the Roman Catholic population of Malta would bear him out in pursuing again?


hoped his hon. Friend would press the Resolution to a division, because the conduct of the Governor deserved censure. If he had been supported by the Roman Catholic authorities, he might not, in that case, have been blameable; but as the matter stood he was much to blame.


remarked, that although the Governor had consulted the Roman Catholic authorities, that fact did not appear, until very recently, to be known either to the late or the present Secretary of the Colonies. From his knowledge of Malta, he suspected there was more interference with these ceremonies than now appeared before the House. Masking Blight be objectionable; and if it were, it might be put down by the proper ecclesiastical authorities; but he believed there had been an indirect interference with the Roman Catholic religion. He would relate a fact: in a college there the professor wished to have a Roman to teach the Italian language to the pupils; the Governor, however, refused to allow the Roman to be introduced, but insisted that if the Italian language were to be taught, it should be taught by a British subject.


thought it was hardly fair to the Governor of Malta for any other question to be introduced than that which was the subject of the discussion. The introduction of a Roman to teach the Italian language had nothing to do with the conduct of the Governor upon this particular occasion; but if it had, a person to be in that situation must by law be a British subject, consequently the Governor could not do otherwise. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Macarthy) talked as if there was a settled design to put down the Roman Catholic religion in Malta; but nobody who had read the Papers on the Table of the House could for a moment suppose anything had been done that had the slightest tendency to disturb that religion. The Governor was acting in perfect concurrence with high authority in the church; and to suppose they would do anything to discourage the Roman Catholic religion was repugnant to common sense. Gentlemen seemed to mistake the common use of words. What had the Governor really done? A portion of the lower population of Malta had been in the habit of masking upon a certain Sunday—a practice which was not sanctioned by ecclesiastical authority elsewhere; and in order to enable them to mask, it was necessary to obtain the previous leave of the Governor. But that leave was not given at all, because the Governor was acting in concurrence with the Roman Catholic authorities. Yet the lower classes of the population—[Mr. HUME said, the parties who complained were the most respectable people in the island.] He apprehended the Governor was the best authority on this subject; and he stated that the most respectable portion of the population approved of what he had done. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was justified, therefore, in saying that only a certain portion of the lower classes complained. The Resolution of his hon. Friend would grievously reflect upon the Governor of Malta; and if it were agreed to, upon the grounds which were alleged, it would be most unjust.

The House divided on the Question, that the words proposed to be left out, stand part of the Question:—Ayes 50; Noes 12: Majority 38.

List of the AYES.
Anson, hon. Col. Hawes, B.
Archdall, Capt. M. Henley, J. W.
Berkeley, hon. Capt. Howard, Sir R.
Boldero, H. G. Jervis, Sir J.
Borthwick, P. Labouchere, rt. hon. H.
Bowes, J. Le Marchant, Sir D.
Broadley, H. Lindsay, hon. Capt.
Brotherton, J. Maitland, T.
Buller, C. Maule, rt. hon. F.
Cardwell, E. Morris, D.
Cowper, hon. W. F. Neville, R.
Craig, W. G. Palmer, R.
Davies, D. A. S. Palmerston, Visct.
Dickinson, F. H. Parker J.
Dundas, Adm. Pigot, rt. hon. D.
Ebrington, Visct. Rutherfurd, A.
Evans, Sir De Lacy Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.
Ferguson, Sir R. A. Somerville, Sir W.
Fox, C. R. Ward, H. G.
Gardner, J. D. Wawn, J. T.
Gibson, rt. hon. T. M. Wood, rt. hon. C.
Gore, M. Wortley, hon. J. S.
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. Wyse, T.
Greene, T.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir G. TELLERS.
Grogan, E. Hill, Lord M.
Hamilton, W. J. Tufnell, H.
List of the NOES.
Arundel and Surrey Earl of Escott, B.
Ewart, W.
Berkeley, hon. C. Forster, M.
Bridgeman, H. M'Carthy, A.
Duncan, G. Mitcalfe, H.
Norreys, Sir D. J. TELLERS.
Thornely, T. Bowring, Dr.
Williams, W. Hume, J.

Main Question again put.