HC Deb 14 June 1852 vol 122 cc602-11

House in Committee of Supply; Mr. Bernal in the Chair.

(1.) 12,000l. Hong Kong.


said, he had formerly objected to the amount of the vote for Hong Kong. He thought there were ample materials with which to enter on a reconsideration of the expenditure there. The judicial establishment was quite disproportionate to the population, which was only 18,000 persons of all classes, not so much as the population of a small borough or town, and capable of being managed by a corporation or individual magistrate. He was not about to throw difficulties in the way, but he urged the Government during the recess to examine the information with which they would be supplied. Sir George Bonham, the Governor, was at present at home, and would be able to lay before them the real state of the Colony. It was a question for consideration how far it might be expedient to make the commanding officer of the troops also the Governor. If the Colony had succeeded, and the population had risen to 80,000 or 100,000—if Hong Kong had become the depot for the trade with China, there would have been no necessity for making such observations; but as he understood there was no hope or chance of Hong Kong ever becoming the large depot which had been anticipated, he wished merely to press on the Government the propriety of reconsidering the Estimate.


said, the very fair way in which the hon. Member had referred to this Estimate, rendered any lengthened reply unnecessary. So far as the request that the Government would another year take into consideration this Estimate, he had no doubt they would not for a moment hesitate to comply with the hon. Member's wishes. He confessed that when he looked over the Estimate, he had been struck by its large amount. He had been particularly struck by the large amount of the salary given to the Governor; but he found an explanation in the circumstance that the duties of several officers were combined. When the hon. Gentleman complained of the expense of the Colony—and he (Sir J. Pakington) was not prepared to deny that this Colony was expensive—it was only just that the House should be aware of the great diminution which had taken place.; In 1845 the Vote was not less than 49,000l., whereas now it was reduced to 12,000l.; and he certainly hoped the Government would he able to effect a further reduction. On the other hand, the hon. Gentleman in what he said respecting the trade of Hong Kong, rather underrated the importance of that position. The number of ships of all nations arriving at Hong Kong had gradually increased from 381, with a tonnage of 136,000, to 883, with a tonnage of 229,000, in 1850.


said, he wished to call the attention of the Committee to the services of a very old and faithful officer of the Government, now employed at Hong Kong, Mr. Alexander Johnson. Mr. Johnson went out as secretary to Lord Napier, and was appointed one of the Commissioners for superintending trade, with a salary of 2,000l, a year. Subsequently that Commission was very properly reduced to a Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent; and Mr. Johnson's salary was reduced to 1,500l. a year. Hong Kong was ceded to us in 1841, and the establishment of the Colony having been entrusted to Mr, Johnson, he acquitted himself in such a manner as to obtain the approbation of every one acquainted with the subject. So effectually was the Colony formed, that it had continued the same from that time, and with a little management might be made to pay its expenses. Mr. Johnson, during this period, spent a considerable portion of his own resources; and unfortunately the climate of Hong Kong affected his health, so that now, after seventeen years' service in China, he found himself with a salary considerably less than he enjoyed fourteen years ago, although the responsibility was thrown upon him of senior member of the Executive and Legislative Council. Mr. Johnson was a man of patriotic feeling, and did not ask for any increased advantages; but he thought it proper to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary to the position in which he stood. He (Lord D. Stuart) was more inclined to do so, because Mr. Johnson belonged to a family which had long been conspicuous in the public service, and remarkable for disinterestedness. The late Sir Alexander Johnson, the father of this gentleman, when Chief Justice of Ceylon, surrendered 1,000l. a year for four years, to the exigencies of the State, without any necessity: and he held the office of Judge of Appeal before the Privy Council from 1831 to 1848, and discharged the duties, and although entitled to receive 400l. per annum, he declined ever drawing a penny for it. That was a species of disinterestedness very rare, and when such circumstances occurred, it ought to be made known to that House. Mr. Patrick Johnson, this gentleman's brother, was employed by the Foreign Office to go to Portugal and Spain to settle the claims of Don Pacifico, which he did to the entire satisfaction of the Foreign Office, without any remuneration for his services, being only repaid his travelling expenses. He trusted, under these circumstances, the Government would give that consideration to the case of Mr. Alexander Johnson which it deserved.


said, he fully concurred with the noble Lord in his opinion of the value of Mr. Alexander Johnson's services. With respect to what had been said by the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), he begged to remark that Hong Kong was not ceded with reference to trade. It was of importance to have a place where British subjects might take refuge in the event of a breach of the treaty with China, and where measures could be organised for the defence of British interests. There was at this present time a rebellion raging not far from Canton, which had increased to a degree far beyond what had been anticipated; and it was not improbable that the insurgents might even take possession of that city. Under these circumstances, it was obvious that measures must be taken for the defence of British subjects.


begged to express his satisfaction at the prospect which seemed to be held out by the right hon. Secretary for the Colonies that so large an establishment would not be kept up as hitherto for the Colony of Hong Kong.

Vote agreed to.

(2.) 4,000l. Labuan.


said, he wished to take that opportunity of bringing under the consideration of the Government the subject to which he had given notice that he intended to call attention, namely, the dispute which had been carried on now for some years, and which was still pending, between the Eastern Archipelago Company and Sir James Brooke, Governor of Labuan. He wished to call the attention of the Government to that dispute, because it had been carried on in such a manner as not only to cause detriment to the interest of the Company, at whose instance he (Mr. W. Patten) had more immediately Drought forward the subject, and also of Sir James Brooke, but, what was of even more importance, to inflict very serious interest on all British interests in those seas. He believed that, if the dispute were continued, our interests in that part of the world would be seriously compromised. He had no feeling against Sir James Brooke, and was not bringing forward what he had to state as a charge. His object was less to enter on the dispute now going on, while he abstained as much as possible from making it matter of crimination, than to state the circumstances, with the view of impressing on the Government how desirable it was that they should take cognisance of the whole subject. It appeared from the correspondence on the table of the House, that about the year 1847 a grant was obtained from the Sultan of Borneo by Sir James Brooke for the working of certain coal districts, and giving an exclusive power of working those districts. The agreement was very brief, and was contained in a memorandum, of which the exact terms were as follows:— August 23, 1847. This memorandum, or agreement, is accorded by Sultan Omar Allie Safeidin, son of Sultan Mahomed Jarmarlal Allum deceased, of Borneo, by which the whole of the coal found in the country extending from Mengkabong as far as Tanjong Barram, is granted to James Brooke, Esq., the Rajah of Sarawak, the coal to be considered at the entire disposal of Mr. Brooke or his assigns, without any interference whatever on the part of the Sultan; but on the distinct understanding that the Sultan is to receive 2,000 dollars for the first year the mines are opened and worked, and ever after the annual sum of 1,000 dollars. On Sir James Brooke obtaining this power from the Sultan, and taking a very just view of the case, he said that he had received it not in his private, but in his public capacity, that he was not the person to carry it out, and that he should therefore hand it over to some other persons. He consequently passed over his rights obtained from the Sultan of Borneo to Mr. Wise, with the view of forming a Company under the title of the Eastern Archipelago Company. That Company proceeded to obtain a Charter. The usual Charter was granted, giving exclusive and very extensive powers for working mines, buying land, &c. In the meantime Sir James Brooke obtained other rights as an individual from the Sultan of Borneo in the neighbourhood of the land conveyed to the Company; and the Company's view of that transaction was, that from that period Sir James Brooke's views were materially altered with respect to them. From that moment commenced a certain number of observations in his correspondence, not only with the Home Government, but on the spot, which threw every impediment in their way, and prevented them from carrying out their proceedings as a Company. Very soon after a Charter had been obtained, Sir James Brooke took a different view from the Company of the extent of their privileges, and of their rights from the Sultan of Borneo. Though it certainly appeared to him (Mr. W. Patten) that the whole power of working coal was given, he should not go into the question whether Sir James Brooke was right or wrong. But the view taken up by Sir James Brooke was taken up in his altered circumstances, and not when the grant was originally given. That question not being satisfactorily decided by the Colonial Office, another objection was very soon after taken to the proceedings of the Company by Sir James Brooke. He said, looking to the transactions of the Company, they were not fulfilling in the way they ought the duties imposed by their Charter; the Charter, he said, was given for public objects. Sir James Brooke brought a number of accusations, into which he (Mr. W. Patten) would not go; but it appeared that Sir James Brookes's representations at the Colonial Office did not carry the weight he expected, and it was not surprising to find a letter, in a return from the Colonial Office, stating that Sir James Brooke originally took the same view as the Company, namely, that a certain allowance must be made for the position in which they were placed. Sir James Brooke, writing to Mr. Wise on June 2, 1848, said— All I urge upon you is, not to hurry forward and fancy that great results must follow the outlay of large capital; it requires patient consideration and great attention to details. Sir James Brooke must be perfectly cognisant that the Company which was only formed in 1847, could not carry out its object with that speed which might have been desirable. Great commercial embarrassments then existed in this country, and the greatest undertakings were crippled and stopped. It was, therefore, not very surprising that a Company established in the remote region of Labuan should be stopped. Throughout the correspondence, he (Mr. W. Patten) found that the Govern- ment had refused to attend to the suggestions of Sir James Brooke, that the Company were not carrying out their Charter. Another charge was then brought against the Company, that they had introduced the truck system into the Colony, although Sir James Brooke was one of the very persons who had suggested to the Company the opening of a store in order to encourage trade. The matter of complaint was urged upon the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Taunton (Mr. Labouchere) when he was at the head of the Board of Trade; but he had fully stated, in answer to a question put to him, that in his opinion, after making inquiry, if the Company had not carried on their operations as they ought, it was not their fault, but that they had been influenced by others, who had endeavoured to throw difficulties in their way. Sir James Brooke, not satisfied with the result of his application to the Colonial Office, proceeded to take up another point, and charge the Company with having obtained their Charter by fraud. What was the ground of that charge? It was this—that they had induced the shareholders to embark their money under false pretences, and had induced the Government to grant a Charter on grounds which they were not able to carry out. So far from this being the fact, he (Mr. W. Patten) knew that many of the principal shareholders were induced to join the Company by no other motive whatever than that of a desire to assist in carrying out the views of Sir James Brooke himself. But in this attempt also Sir James Brooke failed, and he then looked out for other grounds on which to assail the Company. He endeavoured to find some shareholders who were dissatisfied with the proceedings of the Company, and he at last succeeded in finding one of the name of M'Bride, who filed a bill in Chancery against the Company to upset the Charter, on the ground that it was obtained on false pretences. He would read the judgment of Vice-Chancellor Turner in that case, namely, "M'Bride against Lindsay." He said— Now, it is perfectly clear that the Court has nothing whatever to do with those questions, so far as they affect either Sir James Brooke or the Crown. If the Crown thinks that there has been any injury worked to its rights by its having been induced to make an improper grant, it is for the Crown to proceed to set aside that Charter which has been fraudulently obtained from it. So, again, if Sir James Brooke considers that he has been deceived by Mr. Wise, it is for Sir James Brooke to proceed to set aside that grant. This was a perfect answer to the first charge of Sir James Brooke to upset the Charter by one shareholder. But he (Mr. W. Patten) was aware there was another suit going on in Chancery, and of this he was perfectly convinced, that, whatever the decision might be on the point, it was impossible to escape from the judgment of Vice-Chancellor Turner, that it was for the Colonial Office, and not for Sir James Brooke, to come forward and convict the Company of fraud. He, of all living men, was the most unfit to file a bill against the Company, for he had a large interest on the opposite side. The Company did not at present know in what capacity Sir James Brooke was attacking them, whether as a commercial rival in a foreign country, or in the exercise of his power as the Governor of Labuan. These were the few points he felt it his duty, on behalf of the Eastern Archipelago Company, to state to the Committee. He considered it to be the duty of the Government to take the dispute out of the hands of Sir James Brooke, and themselves to institute whatever proceedings might be deemed necessary. There was, however, one point which, at the urgent request of the Company, he wished to impress upon the Government, and that was, that Sir James Brooke should not be permitted to return to Labuan in his character of Governor until this case should be settled. Without wishing to say anything against Sir James Brooke, it must be obvious that he was placed in a most anomalous position, and was discharging the duties of two offices which were totally incompatible with one another. He (Mr. W. Patten) therefore called upon the Government to come to a speedy decision, that the matter might be settled before Sir James Brooke resumed his authority in the Colony of Labuan, and which he (Mr. W. Patten) had no doubt he would make available for inflicting great injury upon the commercial interests in that part of the world.


said, he had not the least complaint to make of the manner in which his hon. Friend had brought forward this question, and was ready to admit that he felt it to be one of considerable importance. But he hoped he should not be thought acting inconsistently with that feeling if he declined to enter into any discussion of the matter, believing, as he did, that it would be altogether premature. Whatever were the merits of the case between the Eastern Archipelago Company on the one hand, and Sir James Brooke on the other, they were now the subject of proceedings in a Court of Law. Unfortunately, great differences had arisen between the Company and Sir James Brooke, which formed the subject of a very voluminous correspondence, in the course of which various charges were made; but, as he had stated, those charges were now before a Court of Law, and it would be wrong on his part if he were to attempt to anticipate what the decision of the Court would be. He was willing to admit that, looking at the state of Labuan, and at the small extent of its population, its commercial advantages to this country might altogether turn upon the means possessed by the Company of working the coal mines; and he was free to acknowledge, therefore, that nothing in his mind could be more unfavourable to the prosperity of the Colony than the disputes which had arisen between the Governor and the Company. It was, therefore, a grave question for the consideration of the Government whether it was right that these differences should be allowed to continue, and whether Sir James Brooke should continue to be the prosecutor, or virtually the prosecutor, in those matters. He felt that it was a question into which it was the duty of the Government to look seriously, and he hoped to be able soon to turn his attention to it with a view to take such steps as might be deemed advisable.


said, that with respect to the charge which had formerly been brought against Sir James Brooke for improperly using the force under his command as Governor of Labuan to put down certain tribes who were supposed to be carrying on a trade in rivalry with him in the Eastern Archipelago, he (Mr. S. Herbert) at the time expressed his opinion that the charge against Sir James Brooke was unfounded; but he availed himself of the opportunity of asking whether Sir James Brooke was in any way connected with mercantile speculations, because he (Mr. S. Herbert) understood, that on his appointment by the Government, Sir James Brooke bad no connexion with such matters. He was represented as having gone out to that part of the world in his yacht for pleasure; that he was a man of great energy; that he established for himself an advantageous position in Borneo; and that he was actuated in all his proceedings by philanthropic views. He (Mr. S. Herbert) did not dispute Sir James Brooke's philan- thropy, hut he did not think it was sufficiently known at the time that that gentleman was engaged in mercantile speculations which must influence him, and give a counter interest to those of the public. He would only instance a letter from Mr. Lindsay, in which it was stated that Sir James Brooke had threatened certain tribes to send a ship of war to attack them if they permitted any Englishmen to work the antimony mines in their districts, he being himself the proprietor of mines of antimony, for which he wanted to secure a monopoly. Such a proceeding, if true, must be the subject of grave consideration with the Government how far it would be permitted to continue.


said, he thought he had made it clear that the question was one entirely pending between Sir James Brooke and the Eastern Archipelago Company as to the legality of that Company.


wished to say that the Committee must not suppose that there was no answer to be given to these statements against Sir James Brooke, he (Mr. Drummond) was himself in attendance to give an answer to them; but, looking at the time (a quarter to 4 o'clock), he would not attempt to do so then.


said, that he also had some explanations to give to the Committee on the subject; but, for the same reason as that assigned by the hon. Member for West Surrey, he should not trouble the Committee on that occasion.


said, it had been supposed that he had on a former occasion acted as an agent of the Company, but be had no connexion whatever with it. he had done his duty in bringing the matter before Parliament, and it would now be the duty of the Government to vindicate the British Crown. He himself would not interfere further in any way. With regard to the civil establishment at Labuan, he considered it altogether disproportionately large for so scanty a population, he did not wish to destroy the settlement; on the contrary, he thought it might be made the means of communication with the Eastern part of the word; but he was anxious that the public money should be saved, and, above all, that these disputes should be put an end to.


said, he was willing to admit that these Estimates were very large; but he could assure the hon. Gentleman that it was one of those subjects which he proposed to look into.

Vote agreed to; as were also—

(3.) Transfer of Aids.

(4.) Militia.

House resumed.

FEARGUS O'CONNOR, ESQUIRE.—Petition of Harriett Bernard Browne O'Connor, stating her belief that her brother, Mr. Feargus O'Connor, is of unsound mind, and praying that he may be discharged from custody, in order that he may be immediately placed in confinement under proper medical treatment.

Select Committee appointed, "to inquire into the facts contained in the said Petition:"—Committee to be nominated To-morrow at One o'clock.