HC Deb 21 May 1847 vol 92 cc1235-41

Report of the Passengers' Act Amendment Bill brought up.

Amendments agreed to.


wished to propose a clause which should provide for Irish emigrants, when conveyed across the Atlantic, the same security as, under the conditions of Lloyd's Register, would be required for goods of a dry and perishable nature. If his previous demands on behalf of Ireland had been thought unreasonable, he hoped it would not be thought unreasonable if he desired that the Irish people should be put on the same footing with perishable goods. No goods were entitled to be insured unless shipped on board vessels classed A 1 at Lloyd's. Neither were convicts transported in ships of an inferior class. And when hundreds of thousands of the Irish peasantry were about to be conveyed across the Atlantic, it was but reasonable to require that they should be conveyed in vessels as seaworthy as those required for convicts. In regard to British ships, the emigration agents had required that condition to be fulfilled. The hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for the Colonies concurred with him in desiring to see proper care taken of Irish emigrants, but thought the existing law would fulfil the object better than the proposed clause. He took a totally different view; and so did all those who were practically acquainted with the shipping of this country. The hon. Gentleman stated that the emigration agents were made responsible for fulfilling the requirements of the new measure, as they were for fulfilling the requirements of the old Passengers' Act— the 5th and 6th Victoria, cap. 107. But there was no such provision in the Bill; and the clause in the 5th and 6th Victoria, cap. 107, was not sufficient for the purpose. By this clause, unless some one raised a doubt—and who was to raise a doubt?—no inspection was required at all, and then all that was required was, that the collector and controller of the Customs, or an emigration agent, should be satisfied that such ship was seaworthy for the voyage for which she was intended. Now, what was the practice? As respected British ships, it was easy enough to secure that they should be seaworthy, because Lloyd's Register told whether they were so or not. But as regarded American ships, which were built of the frailest materials—namely, fir—they were not upon Lloyd's Register, and they could not be compelled to be upon the register. The practice, in the case of the American ships, was for their owners to get a certificate, which they could easily procure for a guinea or two from any shipwright, that they were in a seaworthy condition. He had before him a list of twenty-five ships, which, be- tween the 25th of March and the 30th of April last year, were advertised as emigrant ships to go to the United States and the North American colonies; and of these twenty-five ships only four were in a condition to be entitled to carry dry goods of a perishable nature, or convicts to a penal settlement. What he asked the House, then, on behalf of the Irish peasants, was this, that while they were being expatriated in such numbers from their country, they should not be consigned to a voyage in which they would run such a risk of finding a watery grave. Every one knew that the fir-built ships of which the American navy was composed, after a very few years, became in such a rotten state that their owners were afraid to submit them to any examination. But whilst this was his first and foremost claim to the consideration of the House, and the most important feature of the case, he claimed also, on behalf of the British shipowners, that they should not be put in unfair competition with the American shipowners — that whilst they would not permit any British ships to be chartered with emigrant passengers for the United States or the North American colonies, unless they were entitled to be registered at Lloyd's as second-class ships, they should not permit American and foreign ships to come with a mere certificate, which could be so easily obtained for a small payment from any broken-down and bankrupt shipwright, in order to obtain the sanction of the emigration officers to carry passengers. According to the requirements of Lloyd's, a ship, in order to constitute one of the A class, No. 1, must be built of certain materials, and must not exceed a certain age; or, if she did, she must submit to have a whole listing or planking removed from stem to stern, in order to see whether she was rotten or not. Out of the twenty-five ships to which he had referred, no fewer than eighteen refused to submit to this examination; and this was an answer quite enough to show to any man of common understanding whether the ships were sound or rotten, whether they were fit or unfit to carry the subjects of this country across the Atlantic. Nearly three fourths of the emigrants to the United States were carried out in ships of this description belonging to the United States, and to the injury of the shipping interest of Great Britain. It was a most important consideration for the shipping interest, for he understood that an American ship which sailed from this country a few days ago received 3,000 sovereigns in payment for steerage passengers alone. He begged leave to move the adoption of the following clause:— And be it further enacted, that to remove doubts as to the seaworthiness of any vessel about to proceed with passengers as aforesaid, the acting Government emigration officer shall cause such ship to be surveyed by two duly authorized and responsible surveyors, and if it shall be reported by those persons that such ship is not in their opinion in such a state of repair and efficiency as would entitle such ship or vessel to be classed in Lloyd's registry of British and foreign shipping Æ 1, such ship or vessel shall not be cleared out.


was not surprised at the warm interest which his noble Friend took in a matter in which the lives of his fellow-subjects were concerned. He concurred in the feelings which he had expressed, and only doubted whether the course he suggested was the one best calculated to effect the object which his noble Friend had in view. Although the classification of ships in Lloyd's List was familiar to the mercantile community, it was not legally recognised, and it might give rise to confusion if it were made the foundation of an enactment. He, therefore, hoped his noble Friend would withdraw his Amendment, and before the third reading of the Bill the Government would determine on the best means of carrying his object into effect. He perfectly agreed with his noble Friend that foreign ships should not be suffered to carry out emigrants unless they were in as good condition in every respect as English vessels.


was of opinion that the noble Lord had made out a perfect case. It appeared to him that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had misunderstood the purport of the noble Lord's clause. All that the surveyors were required to do by it was to report that the emigrant vessels were in such a condition as would entitle them to be placed in Lloyd's List in the class referred to.


said, that the noble Lord had improperly described the American ships when he said they were built of fir; they were generally built of oak, and the fir ships were those of our own colonies. There were not finer ships on the ocean than the American packet ships. He was of opinion that sufficient protection for emigrants was provided by the existing laws.


expressed a hope, that as his noble Friend had triumphed, he would not give the House the trouble of dividing on his clause.


, on the contrary, called upon the noble Lord to divide the House.

MR. BROTHERTON moved that the House do adjourn.


said, it appeared to him that the hon. Member had moved the adjournment in order to get rid of a majority; however, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer would assure him that he had understood him correctly in believing him to have stated that in spirit his clause would be carried into effect, he would now withdraw it. After what had passed between himself and the Under Secretary for the Colonies, he felt it necessary that the matter should be distinctly understood.


said, he had not the slightest hesitation in repeating the assurance he had already given; indeed, the moment he saw the noble Lord's clause, he told the Under Secretary of the Colonies that it was impossible to object to its principle.

Clause withdrawn.

Motion for the adjournment withdrawn.

Bill to be read a third time.

House adjourned at half-past One o'clock till Friday, May 28th.