HC Deb 14 May 1857 vol 145 cc259-60

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies—with reference to the fact, appearing from the Parliamentary paper No. 147, of last Session, that, while the emigration officer at Hong Kong had refused to grant a certificate for more than eighty-one Chinese coolies being taken to sea by the John Calvin, bound for Havannah, that vessel carried away 297 such passengers, of whom 110 perished on the voyage, by suicide and disease, and twenty-three more in quarantine and hospital at Havannah—whether the conduct of the master, in taking passengers exceeding so greatly in number that for which the certificate was granted was a contravention of the Chinese Passengers Act of 1855, and, if so, whether instructions had been given for enforcing the penalties under the bond granted at Hong Kong in terms of that Act; or, if it be not, whether Her Majesty's Government would propose an Amendment of the Act to remedy a defect which gives such occasion to kidnapping and its consequences; and whether any communication has been made to his department of an explanation having been demanded or received from the British Consul General in Cuba of the statement, so far as regards the John Calvin, contained in his Report on the cases of that vessel and the Duke of Portland, that he had minutely inquired into them, and that there was no blame whatever attached to the masters of either vessel?


said, that the questions put by his hon. Friend related to a subject which had of late occupied a considerable amount of public attention. Unfortunately the retirement of the emigration officer from Hong-Kong had prevented him from receiving such detailed information upon that point as would, no doubt, otherwise have reached him. But he would state the facts of the case as accurately as he could. The John Calvin had left Hong Kong with a cargo of Chinese coolies. The number on board was less than she was authorised to carry in relation to her size. But undoubtedly there had been a most important irregularity in the case, inasmuch as the emigration officer at Hong Kong, whose duty it was to ascertain that the emigrants had been voluntarily engaged, had not licensed her to carry more than eighty-one of those on board. All the passengers she had carried beyond that number had, therefore, been carried in contravention of the spirit of the Act. There seemed, however, to be some difficulty in ascertaining whether the letter, as well as the spirit of the law, had been violated. He proposed to communicate upon the matter with the law officers of the Crown, and if they should think that there were grounds for a successful prosecution of any parties, he should take care to have proceedings taken against them in the name of the Crown. If, however, on the other hand, it should appear that there existed no grounds for such a prosecution in consequence of a defect in the Act, it would be his duty to see that that defect was removed. Such an improvement would not require the interference of the Imperial legislature, but might be effected by means of a colonial regulation, under the sanction of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. With regard to the Consul at Havannah, there was no reason, as far as he could judge, for imputing any blame to that officer. It seemed he had been warranted in stating that in the cases of both those vessels the passengers had been treated with humanity, and that the regulations as to the supply of the necessary provisions had been complied with. It was true that the Consul had not adverted to the irregularity as regarded the numbers on board the John Calvin; but there was reason to think that his instructions upon that point had not been sufficiently clear to have led him to inquire into the matter. The attention of the Government was being anxiously directed to the whole subject, and his noble Friend Lord Clarendon had recently determined to appoint an emigration officer at Amoy, for the purpose of affording an additional security that the provisions of the Passengers Act should be carried into effect. He could assure his hon. Friend and the House that no exertions would be spared on the part of the Government by which they could prevent unfortunate occurrences of that description.