HC Deb 22 July 1850 vol 113 cc96-106

(2.) Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding 20,000l., be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge of Hong Kong, to the 31st day of March, 1851."


objected that this vote, though 5,000l. less than that of last year, was still wholly disproportionate to the wants of the colony. He admitted that Hong Kong was of some importance as a military station, but the ground of keeping up this expensive establishment was, that it was necessary for the purposes of trade. The fact was that there was no trade at Hong Kong; the great trading stations being Whampoa and Shanghae, the former being 70 and the other 900 miles distant. The population of Hong Kong was only 20,000 generally, though in consequence of the late disturbances in the Portuguese colony it had recently increased to 28,000. The salary of the governor was wholly dis- proportionate to any services he could have to perform, and was equal to that of the Prime Minister of this country, and larger than that of almost any other governor, except that of Canada. Then there was a most expensive consular establishment in China, costing 33,000l. per annum, while the whole of our consular establishments in all the rest of the world put together cost only 102,000l. The Governor, in his double capacity of governor and superintendent of trade, received no less than 6,000l. a year. It had been said the reason why this high salary was paid, was to en able him to maintain a high position in the eyes of the Chinese; but the truth was, there was no Chinese of any respectability residing within 100 miles of Hong-Kong, England was paying an immense amount, because of the want of respectability on the part of the Chinese. The amount we paid the Governor of Heligoland was 500l. The amount we were now going to vote the Governor of Hong-Kong was 6,000l. This was an enormous salary, considering that we only paid the Governor of New Zealand 2,000l. Then we paid the aid-decamp of the Governor of Hong-Kong 300l.; the colonial secretary and his department cost 3,654l.; making in all 10,000l. per annum, and this for the little miserable place of Hong-Kong, where only ten British merchants, one Danish merchant, two or three agents for American houses, and one German agent, resided. The revenue of the colony the year before last was 24,000l.; this year it was 23,000l.; so that the revenue was going on at a diminishing rate. The cost of collecting the 23,000l. was 2,314l., or about 10 per cent. Then we paid for the surveyor-general's department at Hong-Kong 1,458l., or about 300 per cent, the whole of the money passing through that department last year being 500l. The harbour-master and his department cost 1,167l., and his duties were discharged by a Lascar who wrote clown the names of the few vessels that anchored at Hong-Kong, and who received 300l. a year for discharging the duty. But there was a still more formidable amount. For law and justice in the colony, in which the European inhabitants numbered about 600, we paid 15,318l. 6s. 8d. Was there ever anything more monstrous than this in the annals of justice, equity, or extravagance? The population amounted to 28,000; so that law and justice cost at the rate of 12s. per head. Then, we paid the chief justice at Hong-Kong 3,000l., and the attorney general 1,500l. The other departments cost 2,976l.; the chief magistrate received 900l.; making in all 7,376l. This was totally independent of the cost of gaols and police; and the inefficiency of the gaols and police at Hong-Kong was matter of notoriety. So inefficient were they, that all the merchants were obliged to keep police of their own, and the roads at a short distance outside the town were unsafe. The police and the gaols cost 2,349l. Then there was "ditto contingent," 3,446l.; "ditto incidental," 1,626l.; rent of police office, 450l.; making in all 7,841l., which, together with the judicial department, made 15,318l. 6s. 8d. for justice alone. Mr. Jardine stated, in 1839, that in China persons were sufficiently protected, that life and property were watched by an excellent police, and that business was conducted with unexampled facility and singular good faith in general; but the reverse of all this was at present the case. He admitted that the estimate this year was 5,000l. short of what it was last year; but he contended that the extravagance still remained comparatively untouched. He, therefore, moved as an Amendment that the estimate of 20,000l. be reduced to 15,000l.

Whereupon Motion made, and Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding 15,000l., be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge of Hong-Kong, to the 31st day of March, 1851."


expressed a hope that his hon. Friend would take the sense of the Committee on his Amendment. The vote, he believed, included an office into which a late Member of that House, Dr. Bowring, had been pitched. [An Hon. MEMBKR said, that Dr. Bowring was consul at Canton.] Besides the vote of 20,000l., to which the hon. Gentleman the Member I for Berwickshire had called attention, he found that in page 27 of the estimates there was a further vote of 4,675l. for the salaries of different officers connected with establishments at Hong-Kong. He found also, in page 26, a vote of 21,000l. for "consular contingencies," including a sum, as usual, for "miscellaneous expenses," classed under the heads of special services, journeys, postage, chapels, and other items of expenditure. Now, these were matters that ought to be looked into. The Government spread these items over the estimate; there was a vote on one page, and a few pages further on, another vote for the same purpose; and he hoped the hon. Gentleman, by pressing his Amendment, would expose these proceedings. A little was put in one page, and a little in another, and in this way even the hon. Member for Montrose was sometimes, with all his vigilance, taken unawares.


said, as the hon. Member who had moved the Amendment had not specified in what particular items or offices he wished a reduction to be effected, he could only conclude that the hon. Gentleman's object was to enforce a general reduction of expenditure, on the ground that the Government had not exercised sufficient vigilance with regard to the cost of the settlement of Hong-Kong. Now, he would show the House the large reduction which had been gradually made in this vote for some years past. In 1845 the total vote for Hong-Kong was 49,000l.; in 1846 it was reduced to 36,000l.; in 1847 it was further reduced to 31,000l.; in 1848 and 1849 it was 25,000l.; and in the present year the vote was reduced to 20,000l. The saving effected on this vote between 1845 and the present year, was, therefore, 29,000l. But the internal administration of the colony had also been very carefully and vigilantly watched, and, in consequence of various reductions of expenditure, and the abolition of offices, a saving of 1,872l. had been effected upon the expenditure of 1849. He thought, then, the hon. Gentleman was not justified in his opinion that the affairs of the colony had been carelessly and improvidently administered. The hon. Member for Berwickshire seemed to think that the colony of Hong-Kong was retrograding, that the respectable Chinese were not settling there, and that trade was declining. But Mr. Bon-ham, the Governor of Hong-Kong, stated, in his last report, that he believed the colony was improving in every respect, if he might judge from the increase of its inhabitants, and the numerous Chinese houses erected during the year, as well as the content which prevailed among the native inhabitants and the Europeans generally. He (Mr. Hawes) might be permitted to say that the Governor of Hong-Kong was a gentleman peculiarly deserving the confidence and consideration of that House. Mr. Bonham was entirely unknown to the noble Lord at the head of the Colonial Department; but the ability he displayed at Singapore having brought him under the notice of Earl Grey, that noble Earl, on the governorship of Hong-Kong becoming vacant, appointed him to the office. Mr. Bonham's repu- tation was the sole ground of his appointment; and he (Mr. Hawes) considered that the statements of such a gentleman were entitled to some consideration from the House. The hon. Member for Berwickshire seemed to disparage the colony of Hong-Kong. He (Mr. Hawes) did not think, however, that the hon. Gentleman expressed the opinion of the commercial world, for in the report of the China Trade Committee, which sat some three years ago, there was not a tittle of evidence to justify such an opinion. Hong-Kong was deemed a settlement of considerable importance with reference to our trade on the coast of China. At that time many complaints were made with regard to the opium trade, and great abuses and grievances undoubtedly existed; but they had been entirely abolished by Mr. Bonham, who had established a system of individual licences which he believed had worked remarkably well. With regard to complaints that had been made as to the sale of lands, he believed that although Sir H. Pottinger had let the lands at a high rate, he had given leases for 75 years. The subject had, however, been brought under the notice of the Colonial Office, and, while the terms of letting had been retained, the leases had been converted into leases for perpetuity; and the Governor had appointed a local committee, consisting of merchants resident in the colony, by whom he hoped a useful and practical report would be made on this subject. The population of the colony had been increasing for some time past; the respectable class of Chinese were settling there to a considerable extent, and the condition of trade might be judged of from the fact that, in 1849, 826 British vessels, of 293,700 tons, arrived at Hong-Kong, being an increase on the previous year of 196 vessels, and 64,000 tons. He believed the reduction proposed in the vote would ultimately lead to a larger expenditure; and he thought he had shown enough to justify him in asking the Committee to adhere to the vote, assuring him that the Government entertained an earnest desire to reduce the expenditure as far as was practicable.


considered the vote was so extravagant, that he hoped the hon. Member for Berwickshire would persevere in his Amendment. The hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for the Colonies had asked what it was that required reduction. His reply was, that not one item, but every item, ought to be reduced. The Governor of Hong-Kong, whose main duty was to give a dinner now and then to the merchants at Hong-Kong, had a salary of 6,000l. This was higher than the sum given to similar appointments. He should propose this sum be reduced to 3,500l. Then the chief secretary had a salary of 1,800l.; 1,000l. would be ample for that functionary. The chief justice had 3,000l. a year; the amount might be reduced to 2,000l., and this person would not then be underpaid. The attorney general had 1,500l. a year, and that sum: might be reduced to 1,000l. a year. The harbour-master had 600l. a year. Reduce the amount to 200l. a year, and the total reduction would amount to 5,000l. This sum could be saved without inconvenience and without injustice. But there were also other items which might with equal propriety be reduced, and this would very much add to the sum he had named. Government had promised last year to consider the subject of reduction. Government met the request for economy now with the same excuse; and as no dependence was to be placed on Government promises, he hoped the House would see the necessity for interference. For it was the system of appointing individuals to these colonial offices that he objected to most. Why send out as governors lords and gentlemen, to whom the high salaries were a consideration, and indeed the main inducement? They had sent out a governor to Ceylon who was a lord, but a very bad governor. His advice to Government was, to pay proper salaries to governors, and to send out working, competent men to fill those posts. Such a system would be preferable to the present system of sending out some lord, who might want a little fresh air, and who might find the air and the salary of a colony very convenient. The vote was one of unexampled extravagance, and he should oppose it.


said, that besides the 20,000l. asked for in this vote, there was a further vote of 32,000l., at page 27 of the Estimates, for the expenses of the consular establishment in China. The' total amount expended upon this colony, and the Chinese consulates, was therefore 52,000l. a year. He considered that a considerable reduction might be made in the salaries of some of the colonial officers without any injury to the public service.


observed, that the cost of police and gaols in Hong-Kong appeared, from the estimate now under consideration, to be 2,349l. 10s.; but, under the head of "contingencies," there was a further vote of 3,456l. for the same purpose. He thought the Committee ought to have some explanation why the contingent charge exceeded the regular charge.


said, that returns had been laid before the House, in which a detailed account of the expenditure would be found; but he could not say, without reference to those returns, what were the items of the incidental charges.


said, he had been in China for ten years, and he could state that the East India Company's expenditure upon the Chinese establishment, for ten years before the renewal of their charter, had been from 80,000l. to 90,000l. a year. A table was kept, by their representative, for ail Englishmen and foreigners visiting China, at a cost of 10,000l. or 11,000 l. a year. There were expenses incident to such appointments as those now under consideration, which rendered it necessary that those who held them should receive large salaries.


said, that the establishment at Hong-Kong had been an experiment, and it had been expected to prove a great emporium. It had not turned out what was anticipated; and, while he did not blame the Government of the day for what they did at the time, he must submit that, under the changed circumstances, there ought to be a great reduction—he should say, by one-half. In a mere military post, such a civil establishment was not required.


apprehended that it was a mistake to view this merely as a colony in the ordinary sense of that term; it was a post for the support and protection of our trade with China in general. When it was his lot to frame instructions to Sir Henry Pottinger, who went out to China with a view to the treaty which he was to conclude, and afterwards did (with verbal alterations) conclude, he (Lord Palmcrston) felt it his duty to endeavour to get information from every possible quarter, and he saw persons from all parts of the country who had any knowledge of China; among others, he derived most valuable assistance from his Friend the hon. Member for Portsmouth, whom he did not now see in the House. There were two things these persons pressed upon him as of the utmost importance. The one was, to obtain access to a larger number of ports, and not to be confined to Canton; and the other was, to obtain some insular position on the coast of China as our headquarters, with a view to the support and protection of commerce. The first idea was, to take Chusan; but that was given up, as not accessible at all times, and not desirable, and Hong-Kong was chosen. But so strong was the opinion that an insular position was of the greatest importance, that many persons doubted whether it would not be fully equivalent to admission to any other port besides Canton. However, we obtained both. But Hong-Kong must be considered, not simply with a view to the amount of trade carried on in Hong-Kong—though it had just been mentioned that a vast and increasing amount of British tonnage went there—but it must be regarded as a place which, providing naval and military assistance at hand, was a support, moral and otherwise, to our merchants in the different Chinese ports. Those who knew what was going on in China must be aware that our position in Canton was by no means a satisfactory one, and that there was a great degree of hostility prevailing among the people there; and it was a matter of very considerable importance to merchants carrying on trade there that there should be a British force to which they could look for assistance in ease of need. Now, with regard to the amount of salaries—what was the average scale of salaries of the East India Company? It was said that they were actuated by a spirit of liberality more deserving of admiration than of imitation by the Government; but, though he could not charge his memory with the exact amount, he knew that the scale of expenditure was so much beyond that now proposed, that, compared with the salaries given by the Company, these were upon a very economical scale. But what was proposed now was only for this year; and the experience of what had been done in former years justified the statement, that the attention of his noble Friend the Secretary for the Colonies was sedulously and constantly directed to the different heads of expenditure, with a view of reducing them whenever, and as far as, he should think it consistent with the interests of the public service to do so. It had been said that these salaries were kept high for the purpose of furnishing appointments for members of the aristocracy. That was a very unjust assertion to make upon this occasion. The hon. Member for Bridport said we ought to take men of business: why, what was the choice made in this case? Here was a salary stated to be too high—a tempting bait, therefore, to some member of a noble family; but to whom did the Secretary of State offer it? To an individual whom he did not know, except by the high character he bore—not a member of an aristocratic family, but a man of business—a man who had raised himself to distinction by his own industry, his judgment, and the ability with which he discharged the duties of an important post—and who had no other recommendation but his merits. He referred, of course, to Mr. Bonham. Was this a single instance? He would just mention the names of some half-dozen colonial Governors occurring to his mind at the moment—gentlemen holding appointments of responsibility, and discharging their duty with great credit to themselves, and great advantage to the public service, but who did not fall under the description of being members of noble families, and could not have been appointed on account of family considerations. There was Mr. Anderson, now made Sir George Anderson, appointed to the Mauritius; not a member of an aristocratic family. There was Sir George Grey, appointed to New Zealand, no relation of the noble Lord. There was Mr. Gregory at the Bahama Islands, Sir W. Denison in Van Diemen's Land, Mr. Higginson at Antigua, Sir W. Colebrooke, in Barbadoes; and Mr. Bonham at Hong-Kong was another instance.


said, that a good deal of what had been urged by the noble Lord was an argument in favour of the hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for Berwickshire. It was said, that Hong-Kong was to be considered more as a military port, or sort of point d'appui, for the protection of trade, than as a place of commercial importance. But the noble Lord forgot that they were not voting the military, but the civil, estimates, and they would have to consider hereafter the military and commissariat departments, and the expenses of the fleet. Considering that the civil service had little work, on what they were told was a few years ago a barren rock, ought they to be called on to vote a civil establishment, amounting to 44,000l., of which 24,000l. was provided from the local revenue? They were bound to consider the amount as if they were voting the whole sum, for although they were charged on the local revenue, yet it was done by their order. Those charges appeared to be fixed under a delusion which prevailed with regard to new colonies, that they should have their establishments and society upon the same plan as old countries; and establishments were framed for Labuan and Hong-Kong as they would be for Liverpool and Hull. There was an auditor at Hong-Kong, with a salary of 1,800l. a year; and what had he to do? He might be a valuable officer if there was a large expenditure—(he supposed all that was voted passed through his bauds, the governor's salary and his own included)—but the whole revenue was only 44,000l. But this was not all: there was a treasurer and registrar-general, with 900l. a year, and a treasurer's department, with an expenditure of 1,292l. 10s. a year, and all this for a revenue of 44,000l. There were 29,000 inhabitants, of whom some hundreds only were Europeans, and only ten merchants; and what sort of judicial establishment was there for this population? The soldiers and sailors, no doubt, were taken care of by the discipline of their own services, and therefore the establishment was for about 1,000 Europeans and 27,000 Chinese. There was a chief justice with 3,000l. a year—about the salary given to one of our dignified Scotch Judges. There was an Attorney General in England, and therefore there must be an attorney general there with 1,500l. a year. In this country there were police magistrates, and there must, therefore, be one there at 900l. a year. Why, a police magistrate with 1,000l. a year, and a clerk at 500l., both superabundant salaries, would be ample for all that was required; and the chief justice and attorney general were quite supererogatory. He thought a case had been made out for a reduction of 5,000l. a year, and the House would stultify itself if it did not agree to it.


said, that the hon. Gentleman seemed to think that the chief justice and attorney general were confined to Hong-Kong; but the courts of justice had jurisdiction over every part of the Chinese seas.


That was perfectly true. The head-quarters of the judicial establishment was at Hong-Kong; but look how differently matters were managed by the United States, who had nearly as extensive a trade with China as ourselves. They had a consul at each port, with a salary of 1,000 dollars a year, who administered justice to all American subjects, and thus they got done for 200l. a year what we paid a chief justice 3,000l. and a police magistrate 900l. a year for.


said, we had consuls at each Chinese port, for discharging the same duties as the American consuls, for which we paid 32,000l. a year. Some of them were at Shanghai, 900 miles from the place where the chief justice resided, and where he had no duties to perform. Of the 29,000 inhabitants of Hong-Kong, 27,000 were Chinese, none of whom were allowed to act as jurymen, although trial by jury was in force. This was, therefore, not only a case of extravagance, but cruel injustice.


denied that a police magistrate and his clerk would be found equal to the discharge of the judicial functions of a judge.


could find nothing like the Hong-Kong charges in any of the other colonies. In Western Australia there were six resident magistrates with salaries of 100l. each, while the chief magistrates in Hong-Kong received 900l. While the salary of the judges in other countries varied from 300l. to 1,000l., that of the judge in Hong-Kong was 3,000l. It was quite startling to think of such a sum as 15,800l. for the expenses of adjudication in Hong-Kong. The only colonies in which such large salaries were paid to the governors, were the important colonies of Canada, Jamaica, Ceylon, and the Mauritius.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 41; Noes 53: Majority 12.

Vote agreed to.