HC Deb 13 April 1858 vol 149 cc986-96

said, he rose, pursuant to notice, to call the attention of the House to the condition of the settlements in the Straits of Malacca,—namely, Penang, Singapore, and Malacca — commonly called the Straits Settlements; and to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether there would be any objection on the part of Her Majesty's Government to except the Straits Settlements from the action of the Bill for placing the territories of the East India Company under the control of the Crown, and to place them under the immediate control of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. He had put his notice on the paper in the form in which it stood, because as Her Majesty's Government had given an intimation that they were willing to submit a series of Resolutions on the subject of the Government of India in Committee of the House, perhaps they would allow this matter also to form one of the points so to be considered by the House. If hon. Gentlemen referred for a moment to the geographical position of the Straits Settlements, they would perceive that they were so situated at the base of the great Malayan peninsula as to be in the highway, as it wore, of the commerce between the east and the west, and that they also formed the most natural depots for the trade of the south and the east. This being the case, it was evident that the subject to which he now invited attention—the condition of the colonies of Singapore, Malacca, and Pulo Penang — was one of great national importance. In the earliest times, before Europeans traded in those seas, the Arabs and Hindoos, who then held the trade and commerce of India, had stations at those places, and every succeeding Government which had held the command of those settlements had invariably established trading points on the coast there, and regarded them as of great commercial importance. When the Dutch held the settlement of Malacca, when the British power was growing up in India, and when British traders began to establish commercial intercourse with China, it was found necessary to impose some check upon the aggressive and regressive policy of the Dutch, the object of which was to prevent the native States from trading with British merchants, and at the latter end of the eighteenth century the settlement of Penang was formed. It was not, however, until 1819 that Sir Stamford Raffles, who had been Governor of India, appreciating the enormous commercial importance and valuable resources of Singapore, inaugurated that policy which had the effect of establishing British ascendancy in the Straits of Malacca. After great trouble both with the authorities in India and at home, he obtained leave to establish a settlement at Singapore, and in the course of a year the trade which had heretofore been carried on at Penang was almost entirely transferred to the new settlement. From that time to the present the trade of the Straits Settlement had enormously increased, and according to the last return for 1857 it amounted to the value of £15,000,000. After Sir Stamford Raffles had made the settlement at Singapore, and whilst it was progressing in this rapid and almost unprecedented manner under the control of the East India Company, whose servant he was, and in whose name he had founded and maintained it, the trade of the East India Company with China ceased to be a monopoly; consequently it ceased to be a matter of great importance to India whether Singapore and the Straits Settlements continued to flourish or not. But in proportion as it ceased to be an object of exclusive importance to India whether the trade flourished or not, in that proportion did ft become a matter of importance to this country. These Straits Settlements were, in the strict sense of the word, "colonies;" for bodies of men were established there under British rule, attracted by the security of British laws, and perhaps the personal influence of British subjects. These were by no means a conquered people, such as were the inhabitants of India, who were ruled and kept under entirely by the strong hand. In very many respects they were placed in a much more advantageous position than the people of India. Their trade, which in 1840 amounted to only £4,000,000, had, as already stated, increased to £15,000,000 in 1857. By a very fortunate accident, at the first establishment of Penang the land tenures were granted in perpetuity. When the Dutch were in possession of the country they granted enormous tracts of land to any one who chose to claim them; but when the settlements were ceded to the English there was a difficulty in carrying out the land tenures as they had been ceded by the Dutch, because, though the Dutch settlers were willing enough to give up all the lands which they did not use, yet they reserved to themselves the right that if these territories should afterwards pass out of the hands of the British, then their heirs would be replaced in possession. The Straits Settlements had properly no connection with India. They had ceased to be of any importance to that empire since India had ceased to trade exclusively with China, in fact, they appeared to be only regarded by the Indian Government as useful for a convict station. The whole of the convicts of Bombay, Madras, and Bengal were sent there, and one of the principal complaints made in the Singapore petition, which he had the honour of presenting to this House some few weeks ago, was that they were not only made the receptacle of the scum of the Indian population, but by a system of injustice, which he believed to be almost unprecedented in history, were compelled to pay the whole expense, not only of the convict establishments, but of the military who guarded them. Another instance which showed how little the Government of India knew or cared about the prosperity of Singapore was an interference with their currency. The East India Company wished to establish one uniform currency all over their territories, and introduced the rupee and smaller Indian coinage into the Straits Settlements, which had always hitherto been accustomed to a dollar currency. The small Indian coinage did not fit into the dollar currency, and great confusion and embarrassment to trade had resulted. Another complaint made by the inhabitants of Singapore related to the restrictions which at various times had been sought to be imposed on the freedom of their trade. The great foundation of the prosperity of Singapore was that it had heretofore been a free port, and therefore attracted much of the shipping which passed the Straits on its way to China. The East India Company, however, attempted to impose tonnage dues upon shipping frequenting the port, and were only prevented from inflicting this injustice upon the people of Singapore by the most energetic remonstrances to the home Government. All these circumstances proved, he thought, that the interests of the Straits Settlemenrs were very much more Imperial than Indian, and that those settlements would be much better govern- ed if they were brought immediately under the control of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Another point was that Singapore required protection against the aggressive policy of the Dutch, who prevented the native States from trading with them and diverted their trade into Dutch ports. At present these settlements were under a delegated authority from India, consisting of a governor at Singapore with resident councillors at Penang and Malacca, on whose reports, made secretly, the Indian Government were obliged entirely to depend. The population had no means of forwarding their views to head-quarters, and questions were often decided without any regard to their feelings, and in fact entirely at variance with them. One advantage, indeed, they possessed. Their laws were not administered by the Company's civil servants, but by trained barristers; and they also had the advantage of a grand jury, which might, he hoped, hereafter form the nucleus of a constitutional Government there. These grand juries had repeatedly, when the Judges were on their circuits, pointed out the different requirements of the colonies; but the unvarying answer of the Indian Government had always been that, without entering into the rights of the question, they were not prepared to entertain the subject at all. Since the Singapore petition had been sent home all public works in the Straits Settlements had been stopped; but it was surely very hard that this colony, which had really nothing more to do with India than Nova Scotia or Canada, should be deprived of all useful public works simply because of the events which had happened in India. These were the principal grounds on which they begged that they might be removed from the control of the East India Company, and placed immediately under the authority of the Crown. Looking at the enormous progress which these settlements had made in a few years, the large European community assembled there, and their peculiar advantages and position for trading purposes, he hoped to hear from the Government a satisfactory answer to the question of which he had given notice. In 1809 the island of Singapore was nothing but a resort of Malay fishermen and pirates; now there was a large settlement there under English laws, which, situated as it was, midway between India and Australia, effected a junction between the trade of the North and the trade of the South. In addition, he begged to move for copies of any correspondence which had taken place between Her Majesty's Government and the East India Company on the subject of the Straits settlements, in order that the House might have the advantage of listening to any discussion which might arise.


said, he was free to confess, as the noble Lord had anticipated, that the subject which he had brought under the notice of the House had not sufficiently occupied the attention of the Government. The fact was that they did not consider it necessary, at a time when the whole Government of India was about to be discussed in this House, to deal with questions of detail respecting what must at present, at all events, be considered a portion of the Indian empire. Nor was it possible for the Government to have taken this subject into consideration, for in order to do that, it would have been necessary to communicate with the Home Government ', of India and the Governor General, since, j as the noble Lord had stated, this colony was one of the great penal stations for Indian convicts. With regard to the complaints made in the petition, which had been presented by the noble Lord, and reiterated to-night, he (Mr. Baillie) could not altogether admit their justice. It was alleged, first of all, that the Indian Government had made repeated attempts to impose duties on the trade of Singapore, which attempts had only been frustrated by appeals to the home authorities. Now, the petitioners could hardly complain that their interests were unattended to when their grievances had thus been redressed. Again, with regard to the complaints about their currency, it was very natural that the Governor General should desire to establish a uniform currency throughout the whole of the territories subject to his authority. But, after the complaints made at Singapore, this grievance also was redressed, and the currency which had been imposed on the colony was changed back to the dollar currency. He thought that this, therefore, did not give the petitioners a right to complain. The only just ground of complaint which, in his opinion, those colonists could urge was, that Singapore had been made a penal settlement, and that, no doubt, was a complaint which was well entitled to consideration. It should, however, be borne in mind that Singapore had been made a penal settlement before it had risen to its present importance, and that the prosperity which it now enjoyed was to no small extent the result of convict labour. The convicts had been employed in dock labour and on public works, and now, as often happened with the colonies, when they rose to wealth and power, they desired to get rid of those very means by the help of which they had risen. But, although he was prepared to admit that the complaint to which he had just adverted was one which was deserving of notice, he could by no means concur in the justice of the statement which had been made by the noble Lord, to the effect that the expenses connected with the maintenance of the military establishment at Singapore were entirely defrayed by the colonists. Such was by no means the case, and he might add that the military defences of the colony involved a question of the utmost importance for the consideration of the Government; because, if Singapore were to become a Crown colony, this country would have to take upon itself the onus of defraying the charge for its military defence—a charge which could not be estimated at a less sum than £300,000 per annum. The House would recollect at the commencement of the Chinese war great excitement prevailed in Singapore, inasmuch as there were 40,000 or 50,000 Chinese at the time in the colony. It had, therefore, been deemed expedient to increase, to a considerable extent, its military defences, and he believed that there were at the present moment no less than three regiments stationed in the settlement. At no period, indeed, could its garrison, in his opinion, be estimated at less than two regiments and a battery of artillery, the maintenance of which would cost this country nearly £300,000 per annum at the very lowest calculation; for that was an amount of expenditure which could not be thrown upon the resources of the colony itself, inasmuch as its revenue was barely sufficient to defray its ordinary civil expenditure and to admit of its furnishing £15,000 a year towards the outlay for military purposes. The subject, therefore, was one which was well worthy of serious consideration; and before Parliament proceeded to take any active steps with respect to it, it would do well, he thought, to bear in mind that the commerce of Singapore had within the last six years increased at least 75 per cent.—a fact which afforded the best evidence of the prosperity of the colony. Under these circumstances, he trusted that the noble Lord would be satisfied with the explanation which he had given in refer- ence to a subject which had not as yet been brought under the special consideration of the Government, and which, when the future Government of India was settled, might at any time press itself upon their attention.


said, he thought the case of Singapore was one of those instances in which the Legislature showed an ignorance of, and want of sympathy with, the settlements and dependencies of the country by no means creditable to it. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down treated this question as if it were one of complaint against the East India Company, but he believed, from all the information he had been able to obtain, that the question was rather one of public policy. There was not in history an instance of such remarkable growth as the settlement of Singapore. Forty years ago it was a mere haunt of pirates, but now its trade had risen to the value of £10,000,000 per annum,—a trade which had, as had been stated by the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken, increased 75 per cent. during the last six years. Now, that progress had been made in spite of misgovernment which, if it ever came to be detailed, would surprise the House. Take two of those cases which had been mentioned. Nothing could be more natural, said the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken, than that the Governor General should think that the currency which was suitable for India would also be suitable for Singapore, and so by a single stroke of the pen the prosperity of the whole island was jeopardized. The other case was still more remarkable. Singapore, though a small island, was made the depot for criminal convicts from all parts of India, and the colony was not only made to pay their expenses, but, as if to cap the climax, they had to receive Sepoy regiments to guard them. Now, suppose these Sepoys had sympathised with their brethren in Bengal and mutinied, let the House conceive what would have been the effect in Singapore. The real question for their consideration was, what had Singapore to do with India? They were now legislating on the principle that India should govern India; but why should it govern Singapore? Ceylon was only eighty-five miles from Singapore, but it was a colony independent of India; but Singapore, though it was nearer to China than to India, and though it had more trade with England and with China than with India, was dependent upon India. They might as well have made Hong-Kong, or Australia, or the Cape of Good Hope, colonies dependent on India, as Singapore. Singapore, with its thousands of Chinese inhabitants, was well called the Liverpool of the East, and he thought they ought to seize every opportunity of fostering its trade. The hon. Gentleman, however, had stated very fairly that this question had not yet been considered by the Government, and his noble Friend had properly refrained from pressing the Government to come to an early decision on the subject. He thought his noble Friend had acted wisely in doing so. If the Government should—which he did not anticipate—decide against Singapore, it would then be time to appeal to the House, and he had no doubt the House would support him.


said, as one possessing some knowledge of Singapore, he wished to say a few words upon the occasion. He, certainly, had never until now heard any suggestion that Singapore should be placed under the control of the Colonial Office, and he was not at present prepared to give an opinion upon the point; but, having been at Singapore in 1820, when the settlement was first formed, he would give the House some information respecting it. At that time, it was an island, inhabited only by a few Malay fishermen; but, being singularly well adapted, by its position, to intercept the whole trade of the Eastern Archipelago, Sir Stamford Raffles, one of the ablest men who ever visited the East, recommended its settlement. In consequence of its advantageous position, the progress of the settlement had been extraordinarily rapid, and it was now a vast entrepot for the commerce of that part of the world. In the first instance, it was necessary to send thither convicts, to perform public works, roads, and harbours; and a very small military force was sent, to keep them in order; but, as the settlement increased in importance, the elements of disorder increased likewise, for the population, which resorted to Singapore for the purposes of trade, was drawn from the most lawless and savage of Eastern races, —the Bugis, from Celebes; the Sarawak Dyaks, from Borneo; the Syaks, inhabitants of Sumatra, and other wild races, furnished their quota to the population of Singapore. In addition, however, there was a largo Chinese population, who resorted to the settlement in order to make money, with which to return to China. Those men came unaccompanied by women, and they associated with the natvei women of the country, from which connection had sprung a numerous race, called Klings, a most disorderly people. It had, therefore, become necessary to increase the military force, to preserve order among those people, and not on account of the convict population in the settlement, of whom he had never heard any complaints made, but from whom, on the contrary, the residents usually selected their domestic servants. He once knew a lady, the wife of an officer in high position, at Penang, who told him she always selected her servants from that class; and, upon his asking whether she preferred thieves or murderers for service in her nursery, replied that she always chose murderers, their crimes having been generally committed from motives of jealousy, and those motives ceasing, they were very desirable servants. He had never heard that the convicts were at all disagreeable to the residents in the settlement; hut he knew that they were useful in constructing roads, bridges, and other public works, which otherwise would not be performed. He was inclined to agree with the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Board of Control, that it would be a great burden for this country to take upon itself the charge of maintaining peace among that mixed and lawless population. He had no doubt there might be defects in the management of the Strait Settlements, but there could be no doubt but that these settlements were rising in importance. There was, however, an insuperable obstacle to the colonization of the island of Singapore, and that was the immense number of tigers which swam over from the opposite shore, from which Singapore was separated only by a small stream. The opposite coast was an impenetrable jungle, tenanted by vast numbers of tigers, more bold and ferocious than any to be found in other parts of India; and scarcely a month passed without some native being carried off bodily by those animals. That circumstance operated to prevent the cultivation of spice and sugar, for which, otherwise, the country was excellently adapted.


said, that he did not wish, on the part of the East India Company, to put forth a decided claim to the control over the Strait Settlements; but he wished to correct some statements which were contained in a pamphlet, written by an esteemed friend, Mr. John Crawford, the author of Our Eastern Archipelago. In that pamphlet, it was stated that the revenue of the three Strait Settlements— Malacca, Penang, and Singapore—were burdened with charges which were never imposed upon the local revenues of any colony, and that out of it were defrayed the expenses of the military and naval services, and also for the maintenance of transported felons from Madras, Bombay, and Bengal. The fact, however, was, that the charge for the convicts was borne by the Presidencies whence they were sent, and all the military and naval expenses were also defrayed by India. The gross revenues of the Strait settlements in 1855–6 was £97,904; the expenditure for purely local charges, independent of the cost for military and naval purposes, was £74,753, leaving only a balance of £23,151, to meet those expenses which, it had been said, were defrayed by the inhabitants of those settlements, but which, in fact, were paid for by the poor ryots of India. At this moment, the Indian Government was building gunboats at Bombay, to put down piracy in the Straits, the expense of which must come upon the British Government if the wishes of the noble Lord were agreed to. The right hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Horsman) had stated that the settlement of Singapore was exposed to danger from the convicts; but the last speaker had shown how unfounded was the apprehension. The real danger—and a most serious one it was—arose from the large Chinese population in the Strait Settlements; and he would warn the hon. Gentleman opposite, and the House, that, unless strong measures were taken, such as the Government of India were now considering, with respect to the Chinese population and their secret societies, the safety of the settlements would be more jeopardized by those people than ever it would be by the convicts or the tigers. That being the case, he did not know that the control of those settlements was of great importance to the Indian Government, especially as, having lately taken possession of the Andaman Islands, they no longer needed Singapore as a depôt for their convicts; but he would advise the Government not to deal with this matter without consulting the Governor General. If that officer should see no objection to the change, he did not know that the East India Company would be at all unwilling to part with its control over these settlements.

Motion agreed to.

Copies ordered,— Of any Correspondence which may have taken place between Her Majesty's Government and the East India Company on the subject of the Settlements in the Straits of Malacca.