HC Deb 12 February 1858 vol 148 cc1266-9

said, he rose pursuant to notice, to call the attention of the Secretary of State for the Colonies to a Report of a public meeting held at the Red River Settlement, in which it alleged that a British Subject has been imprisoned by the authorities of the Hudson's Bay Company on suspicion of having infringed the exclusive right of trade of the Com- pany; and to inquire what instructions were given to the officer commanding a party of the Canadian Rifles, who are stated to have acted on the occasion in question under the directions of a chief Factor of the Company? He would accompany the question by a short statement of the facts as he believed they occurred. A gentleman of the name of Bannatyne, residing at the Red River, went for the purpose of trading some 300 miles above that settlement, where he was arrested by Major Wright, an officer of the Hudson's Bay Company, and imprisoned at a place called Norway House. Afterwards, when a party of Rifles were returning from York Fort to the Red River, he was sent with them to the settlement, where at length he was liberated. In putting his notice upon the paper, he (Viscount Bury) expressly reserved any opinion as to the conduct of the Hudson's Bay Company, or even of putting any question to the Government, having been informed of the anomalous position in which the country was placed by having members of the Company as the sole magistrates and judges. He was informed that Mr. Bannatyne had brought his case before the law courts of Canada, and there he (Viscount Bury) would be content to leave the question. The only question, therefore, he wished to put was as to the rights of the Company to take these proceedings, and by whose authority the right was exercised.


said, he did not wish to interfere between the noble Lord and the right hon. Secretary for the Colonies; but he thought it best to put to the right hon. Gentleman the question he was about to ask once for all. He wished to know whether the Government were prepared to do anything with regard to the Hudson's Bay Company, in pursuance of the recommendation of the Committee which sat last year? He did not wish to enlarge upon the subject or its importance, but he believed that the right hon. Gentleman was duly impressed with its importance, and that the Government felt themselves bound to act upon the matter speedily.


said, with regard to the question of his noble Friend, he had received no account of the public meeting' to which he had referred, and his (Mr. Labouchere's) whole information on the subject was very imperfect. As far as it went it was as follows:—The Gentleman in question, Mr. Bannatyne, was formerly a Factor in the Hudson's Bay Company's service, residing at the Red River Settlement. He went northwards from Red River with the avowed purpose of entering into a free trade with the Indians, and upon arriving at Norway House his progress was stopped by a Chief Factor of the Company, who told him that he was performing an unlawful act, and turned him back to the Red River. He (Mr. Labouchere) did not believe that any imprisonment had taken place. Mr. Bannatyne was merely prevented from going on. It was, however, asserted that he had been imprisoned, and it was alleged that the warrant under which he was arrested was irregular. It also happened that the canoe in which Mr. Bannatyne was sent down to the Red River became attached to a number of canoes in which a party of Rifles were returning to the settlement, and then a rumour went abroad that he was in custody of the Rifles; but this mistake arose out of a mere accident. In reply to the question of his noble Friend, whether the Rifles acted on the occasion under the direction of the Company's Chief Factor, he (Mr. Labouchere) could only say that the instructions given to the troops in that part of Her Majesty's dominions were precisely the same as those given to any other of the Queen's troops in the other parts of her dominions, and the Canadian Rifles, therefore, would have exceeded their duty if they had interfered in the way assorted. These circumstances, no doubt, produced great excitement in the settlement at the time; but it had now subsided. With regard to Mr. Bannatyne, it appeared that he was bringing an action against the Chief Factor; and probably the Hudson's Bay Company were bringing an action against him for infringing their privileges; but he had since adopted a different course. He had agreed to appeal to the Directors of the Hudson's Bay Company at home, relying on their fairness and justice, and to abide the result of this appeal before taking further proceedings. He (Mr. Labouchere) believed that the Company had desired their Governor General to visit the Red River Settlement and inquire into all the circumstances, and he hoped an amicable result would follow. With respect to the more important question that had been put by the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield, he could beg to assure him that he felt with him that this was not the occasion to go at any length into the im- portant subject of the Hudson's Bay Company and of the British interests which were connected with that body. Her Majesty's Government considered and maturely deliberated upon the important stops that had been recommended by the select Committee, and had taken measures in conformity with their report. It had been his duty to give notice to the Hudson's Bay Company that the Government had determined to form Vancouver's Island into a distinct colony, and to sever all connection between it and the Hudson's Bay Company. At the same time he must state that Her Majesty's Government were disposed to renew the licence of exclusive trading in the remainder of their territory, but to attach to that renewal certain conditions. Whether the right to found any new colonies would be retained by the Company, or retained only subject to a right of withdrawal by the Government if they should think fit, was another consideration. With regard to the boundary between Canada and Prince Rupert's land, Her Majesty's Government had expressed their willingness to come to some arrangement with the Company by referring the question to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. A right would, in fact, be reserved to Her Majesty's Government to enter into any arrangement with the Company with regard to questions of charter or boundary that was necessary, or that the colony of Canada might require. If, however, the hon. and learned Gentleman thought proper to move for the papers connected with this subject, he would find in them an explanation of all the details of the measures about to be taken by the Government.