HC Deb 14 August 1846 vol 88 cc714-7

had some days ago presented a petition from the Colony of Van Diemen's Land in favour of having a representative government, and he had also moved for a return of similar claims made by other Colonies. Ten Colonies had sent applications for representative governments; and he was strongly impressed with the belief that it was not only the intention of the Government, but that it was also the interests of the nation at large, that these applications should be conceded as soon as possible. The noble Lord at the head of the Government stated a few nights ago in a speech in that House that it was his opinion that every Colony should embrace within it as speedily as possible the public and social institutions of this country. He therefore concluded from the noble Lord's statement that all that was necessary was to point out that these privileges could be granted with safety. In Van Diemen's Land there were 35,000 free colonists without representation. The petition stated that under this mismanagement the expenditure had increased from 53,000l. in 1827 to 166,000l. in 1843, and that in the last three years it had exceeded the revenue by 111,000l.; that the Governor, with some members of the Legislative Council, had on every occasion overruled the other civil officers, and having on one day trebled a portion of the taxes, several of the civil officers, after, in vain, endeavouring to prevent this, felt it their duty to resign—six of them in one day. Her Majesty's Government ought to state to this Colony fairly what course they meant to adopt. It had now fallen to so low an ebb that emigration thither from this country had entirely ceased; and yet one of our great wants was, that of an outlet for our surplus population. Our Colonies were important, our exports to them were immense, their population had reached 4,674,000, namely, in North America 1,621,000, in the West Indies 901,000, and the other Colonies 2,152,000. The total number of our Colonies was forty-two, and twenty-five had Houses of Assembly, with a proper representation, the population of some of these latter being but 7,000, and even less. There was Anguilla, for instance, with a population of but 2,934, and yet it had its Assembly. One thing might be done instantly; every order issued by the Colonial Department affecting the Colonies might be published in the London Gazette on the day it was sent out. At present, proprietors and others interested in the Colonies had to wait for news from those Colonies to learn the nature of such orders. If before next Session measures were not adopted by Government for the general regulation of the Colonies, and for giving what the noble Lord said they ought to have—the power of managing their own affairs, he would move for an inquiry into the abuses in our colonial system. He had intended now to move that representative governments should be given to all our Colonies unless some special reason should appear for excluding any of them; but at this period of the Session he should be satisfied if he could draw from the Government what their intention was.


hoped he should not be expected to follow the hon. Gentleman in the wide and discursive view he had taken of our colonial policy, in calling attention to a petition from Van Diemen's Land, asking for a representative government there. He quite agreed that a representative form of government was the best, and that wherever there were good elements for establishing it, it was not only the bounden duty of the country, but its interest, to establish that form of government. But the case of Van Diemen's Land was peculiar; at present the free scarcely exceeded the convict population; and therefore it did not appear at this moment a case in which we had to consider the form of government best for a free population. But the subject was occupying the attention of the noble Earl the Colonial Secretary, and of the Government generally; and in the course of the recess the whole matter of the petition would come before him. With regard to the finances and the removal of certain Members from the Legislative Council, it was sufficient to say that a new Governor had been appointed, and his attention had been directed to the removal of those parties, with a view to bring about their restoration. He could assure the hon. Member, that he hoped and trusted that the measures taken by the Government to diminish the convict population in that Colony, might enable Her Majesty's Government, in a short time, to consider a better form of government for this part of our possessions. The sending of a large number of convicts to one place, had been a signal failure; and the first thing must be to remove at least a part of the difficulty arising from the preponderance of a convict population.


The hon. Gentleman has referred to opinions of mine given very lately. I have no hesitation in tolling him, that I think, generally speaking, the representative constitution ought to be introduced further into our Colonies. But when he rather implies that there should be some general measure, or general law, which should introduce representative as- semblies into our Colonies, I cannot agree with him, that there can be any one general measure which should apply to Colonies so differently situated as are those of this country. Some of them are inhabited by free Englishmen, who have long occupied them, and have been there perhaps from the first; there are others which we have obtained from foreign Powers, and in which part of the inhabitants are still Spanish, or of some other nations; others are almost of the nature of garrisons, where the greater part of the inhabitants reside only for a time; it is impossible to frame a general measure, and treat all these Colonies alike. I beg to say one word with regard to the Colony from which this petition comes—Van Diemen's Land, with regard to which my hon. Friend says, truly, that the plan of sending great numbers of convicts there, year by year, has failed. It has been said, that it is owing to a policy adopted when I succeeded the Secretary of State for that department; my policy was to leave off the then system of transportation to New South Wales. But I intended to go further, and to adopt in great part, though not altogether, the policy recommended in the works of the Archbishop of Dublin. My opinion is, that transportation ought to be very much diminished; I therefore intended to introduce Bills to take it away, in cases of larceny, and only leave it in some very grave cases, and where the punishment of death was commuted. If that had been done, the number sent to Van Diemen's Land in a year, instead of being 4,000, would have been but 500 or 600.

Subject dropped.