HC Deb 09 July 1847 vol 94 cc141-4

On the question that 50,000l. be granted for the establishment at Hong-Kong,


rose to call the attention of the House to the very strong and altogether peculiar claims of the family of the late Robert Thom, Esq., some time Consul at Ningpo, in China, and to the justice and expediency of making a suitable provision for them out of any sums that may be voted by this House for the China service. The hon. Gentleman observed, that as early as February last a meeting of Members of Parliament and others was held in London to consider the best mode of bringing this subject under the consideration of Her Majesty's Government. Under the instructions of that meeting he placed the papers explanatory of the object for which the meeting was held in the hands of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and requested an interview to explain such circumstances as might not appear quite clear to him. In answer to his application, the secretary of the noble Lord informed him that in consequence of the great calls upon his time, it would be impossible for him to grant the interview. He (Sir G. Staunton) regretted this, as he believed an interview of a quarter of an hour's duration would have been sufficient to lay the matter more clearly before him than any statement he could now make. Mr. Thom had subsequently been appointed, with the lamented Mr. Morrison as interpreter to Sir H. Pottinger, to whom (unacquainted as Sir Henry was with the language) his services must have been most valuable. Mr. Thom had afterwards been appointed inspector of a district; and at last Sir H. Pottinger appointed him to the best situation he had to give—viz., the Consulship at Ningpo. But the seeds oft death had been sown in his constitution by his great exertions as interpreter to Sir H. Pottinger, and he had died in a year and a half at his post. If he had survived a few years, he would probably have been able to have saved enough to mantain the family he had left behind him; but his wishes were shown by his will, in which he had divided his property between his infant children and the other members of his family. Sir Henry Pottinger had borne the highest testimony to the merits of Mr. Thom; and in a letter dated the 2nd December, 1846, said— I have on every occasion borne the most willing and unqualified testimony to the devoted zeal with which Mr. Thom aided me in every branch of the momentous affairs that were intrusted to my guidance. He remained at his post until he unhappily fell a sacrifice to an insidious disease, which was brought on by his previous exertions. This affords the strongest proof of the high-minded and pure public feeling which formed the mainspring of his actions and the rule of his life. Had he been spared, I have no doubt but he would have continued to rise to further distinction. Few at his early age had done better service to their country, or died more respected and beloved. It had been suggested that an application should be made on behalf of Mr. Thom's family to the royal bounty; but he (Sir G. Staunton) had chosen rather to lay the case before the favourable consideration of the House. It was not one which was likely to lead to further demands. Mr. Thom's merits were rare, and his services not such as were often called into requisition. He hoped, therefore, that Government would have no objection to allot a sufficient pension to the family of this useful and distinguished public servant.


assured the House that his hon. Friend had by no means exaggerated Mr. Thom's merits. Few had devoted themselves to studies so laborious and abstruse as he had; and he (Dr. Bowring) did think that his was a case in which special service deserved special attention and special reward.


knew how great an authority was his hon. Friend (Sir George Staunton) on all matters connected with China; and he could assure him that the merits and attainments of Mr. Thom were highly appreciated by all who were acquainted with the history of our late proceedings in China. But when the House was asked to establish a new precedent, it became the duty of those charged with the administration of the public funds to remind hon. Members that, however much they might be disposed to agree to the actual demand made, still, that that very acquiescence might lead to the preferment of other claims to an extent which had not been once contemplated by the supporters of the original demand themselves. As to consular pensions, there was no regulation by which a pension could be bestowed upon the surviving relatives of gentlemen who had performed them; and even in the Army and Navy, when an officer died in action, under the most brilliant circumstances, a pension could only be bestowed upon his widow, not upon such surviving relatives as had been left by Mr. Thom. It would not be possible for the House to accede to the proposal of the hon. Baronet without setting a precedent which in justice must be extended to the whole of the consular service. However painful, therefore, it might be to him, he could not advise the House to assent to the Motion of the hon. Baronet.


disclaimed the intention of asserting the right of Mr. Thom's family to consideration merely on the ground that Mr. Thom had been a Consul.


observed, that Mr. Thom had taken the situation, and left a situation in which he formerly had been, for the purpose of serving the public. The noble Lord was afraid of establishing a precedent; but it was not likely that any similar case could occur, and therefore there could be no danger of setting a precedent. He regretted to see the determination the noble Lord had come to; for it must be a damper to any man situated as Mr. Thom was; and he (Mr. Hume) wished the noble Lord would reconsider the claims of Mr. Thom's children.


called the attention of the Government to the anomalous position of the colony of Hong-Kong, dependent, as it appeared, both on the Colonial and Foreign Office. He had asked the Under Secretary of the Colonies respecting some decrees which had appeared in that colony, but he had no cognizance of them; and the noble Lord probably was in the same condition. He could not see how unity of action or legislation could be secured under such a system. It appeared, also, that the revenue was raised in a most objectionable manner, and that various monopolies had been constituted in the colony. He hoped that when the Committee which had been sitting on the subject for some weeks had made its report, a very great change would be the consequence.


begged to remind them that Dr. Bloomfield was receiving a pension, and that three daughters of a living painter (Sir M. Shee) got 200l. a year. He should be glad to know why, or who had recommended that pension. Had it been granted in consideration of the eminence of their father as an artist, he would be glad to have that eminence proved. He denied the reasons assigned, and thought that the claims of Mr. Thom's family should be considered, when they saw 200l. given to the children of a living artist, who never had deserved anything of the country, and when they also saw that a pension was given to Dr. Bloomfield—why or wherefore that learned gentleman got it, he did not know.


said, that Mr. Thom's family might be very proper persons to receive a pension; but he (Mr. Labouchere) must protest against the manner in which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose had taken occasion to speak of Sir M. Shee. With respect to his merits as an artist, he did not mean to pronounce an opinion. All he could say was, that Sir M. Shee had been chosen by those who could best judge of his merits to fill the situation of President of the Royal Academy; and he could not think that the man chosen to fill that situation by his brother artists could be a person devoid of merit.

Vote agreed to.