HC Deb 10 July 1857 vol 146 cc1285-8

said, he had given notice of his intention to put a question to the noble Lord at the head of the Government, on a subject which was now exciting considerable interest out of doors. It was one which affected and placed in very dangerous circumstances the future trade of the west coast of Africa. This country had made great sacrifices, both of treasure and of blood, to suppress the infamous traffic in slaves on the West coast of Africa; and he believed that one flag alone of those belonging to European States was stained by floating over places where that traffic was carried on. Even Brazil, though justice had scarcely been done to that country by the noble Lord, had suppressed that traffic; and he hoped that the time might soon arrive when the Government would be satisfied that they could with propriety repeal that statute which had been so offensive to the Brazilian Government. To the surprise of the enemies of slavery in this country, a movement had been made by France to obtain a supply of labour for her West India Colonies under the name of a free emigration of negroes. Those who had had long experience of African trade knew that such an idea was perfectly unfounded, and that if the French Government attempted to convey negroes from the west coast of Africa, that would be, in truth and in fact, a revival of the slave trade. He had been informed that they had made a contract with a house at Marseilles, Messrs. Regis, for the supply of 10,000 negroes to their West Indian Colonies. He knew that that firm had establishments at various places on the west coast of Africa; and he believed that they would first attempt to get their supplies from Whydah—a place which was deeply stained with the horrors of the slave traffic in former times. The consequence of this would be, that inroads would be made into the interior, and the populace would be brought down to be shipped at that place; but it was absolute folly to suppose that there would ever be in that country anything like free emigration. The wretched creatures would be driven like cattle to the coast, and there shipped like slaves; so much per head would be paid to those who brought them. It would be, in truth and in fact, a revival of the slave trade; and he was sorry to say, that the French were not the people who had the reputation of dealing in the most humane manner with poor creatures so situate. Some years ago the French took possession of two ports, Assinee and Grand Bassam, on the coast near Ashantee. It was well, known how barbarous the Ashantees were; and, no doubt, if the French attempted to get supplied at those ports, a regular supply of slaves would be brought down from Ashantee. He, therefore, wished to put the following question to the noble Lord: Whether any communication has taken place between the English and French Governments respecting the exports of negroes from the West Coast of Africa to the French Colonies in the West Indies; and whether he is aware in what manner the negroes are to be obtained?


said, he believed it was an undoubted fact, that persons taken from the east coast of Africa had been conveyed as free colonists to the Isle of Bourbon, and that there they practically remained slaves, either for a long term of years or for their whole lives. He wished the noble Lord at the head of the Government to say, whether he knew anything of that practice.


Sir, Her Majesty's Government had information some time ago, to the effect, that a contract had been made by persons in Martinique with a French firm for the supply of 1,200 free negroes, who, it was said, were to be brought from the coast of Africa. The Government felt the full force of the objections to this proceeding, as stated by the hon. Member for Manchester. Though slavery is abolished in the French colonies, and though negroes conveyed there must necessarily by law be free men, subject to a certain period of apprenticeship, yet the importation of a number of free negroes from Africa would, in all probability, degenerate into the slave trade, as far as Africa is concerned, and be attended with all the evils of that trade. An attempt has been made to obtain free emigrants from the West Coast of Africa for our own West Indian Colonies. The attempt has, however, failed. The negroes are not disposed to emigrate and to go across the seas, and there is therefore a great probability that the French Government will be equally unsuccessful in obtaining really free emigrants, and that if this contract is carried into execution it will be productive, to the extent to which it is carried out, of a revival of the evils of the slave trade in Africa. These considerations have been confidentially communicated to the French Government. They have assured us that it is their anxious desire that this arrangement should not be productive of a renewal of the slave trade, and that every care will be taken to prevent the recurrence of such an evil. Such is the state of the question at the present time. Of course, it will be the duty of Her Majesty's Government to obtain all the information they can, so that if their fears are realized, they may bring to the knowledge of the French Government that their intentions are defeated, and that what they wish to prevent has taken place. I cannot have any doubt that the French Government would, in that case, put an end to a proceeding which would be contrary not only to all the feelings of humanity, but to those treaty arrangements which, in common with other countries, have been taken by France with regard to the slave trade. My hon. Friend (Sir E. Buxton) asks me, whether Her Majesty's Government have any information with respect to the Isle of Bourbon. We have information, but not from any authentic source, that there has been an emigration from the East Coast of Africa to the Isle of Bourbon. I cannot state to what extent that emigration has proceeded, nor can I say in what manner the negroes have been obtained.

Motion agreed to.

House at rising to adjourn till Monday next.