HC Deb 17 August 1860 vol 160 cc1476-8

said, he rose to call attention to a horrible event, which he feared was about to take place, and which would cause a great sacrifice of human life. He found the following account of what was expected to take place in a West African newspaper: His Majesty Badahung, King of Dahomey, is about to make the 'Grand Custom in honour of the late King Gezo. Determined to surpass all former monarchs in the magnitude of the cere- monies to be performed on this occasion, Badahung has made the most extensive preparations for the celebration of the Grand Custom. A great pit has been dug, which is to contain human blood enough to float a canoe. Two thousand persons will be sacrificed on this occasion. The expedition to Abbeokuta is postponed, hut the King has sent his army to make some excursions at the expense of some weaker tribes, and has succeeded in capturing many unfortunate creatures. The young-people among these prisoners will be sold into slavery, and the old persons will be killed at the Grand Custom. Would to God this might meet the eyes of some of those philanthropic Englishmen who have some feeling for Africa! Oh, for some man of eloquence and influence to point out to the people of England the comparative useless-ness of their expensive squadron out here, and the enormous benefit that must result to this country, and ultimately to England herself, morally and materially, if she would extend her establishments on this coast! Take away two-thirds of your squadron, and spend one-half its cost in creating more stations on shore, and greatly strengthening your old stations. He need not impress upon the House the importance of taking some steps to prevent this awful sacrifice. It might, indeed, be already too Into for interference; but probably there was yet time, as the victims could not he collected very speedily. No time should be lost in impressing upon the King of Dahomey the propriety of abandoning that frightful custom; and the Kings of that country bad always been inclined to listen to advice from England. Unfortutunately, this country refused to make treaties with African potentates, except upon condition of the abolition of slavery; a very excellent plan when it could be carried out; but, as the late King of Dahomey said, when urged to give up slave dealing, his army, his government, and everything were supported by the produce of his slaves. Still the Kings of Dahomey had expressed a great desire to have commercial relations with England, whereby slavery might be undermined. He thought that the influence of England might be usefully exerted in a remonstrance; and he wished to ask whether any attempt had been made to dissuade the King of Dahomey from the contemplated massacre?


said, he was happy to say that Dahomey was not one of Her Majesty's Colonies. He was not, therefore, able to enter into the question connected with the slave trade, which had been opened by the noble Lord the Member for Marylehone (Lord Fermoy). Those questions properly appertained to the Foreign Office. He was sorry, however, to say, that from information received there was every reason to believe that the statements as to the intended massacre at Dahomey were but too true. The state of the case was this. The British Government had considerable influence in different parts of the coast. On the Gold Coast a handful of colonists exercised a sort of protectorate against the inroads of the King of Ashantee. Further eastwards there were no English colonies, though the influence of the British name was great, but inland that influence almost entirely disappeared. What the Government had done in the matter was as follows: in the spring they received information of the contemplated sacrifice of human life, and of the territory of Abbeokuta having been singled out as the hunting ground from which the King of Dahomey was to find his victims. It was also believed that those captives who were not fit to be sold into slavery would be reserved for immolation in honour of the deceased King's manes. Upon that information the noble Lord at the head of the Foreign Office immediately gave instructions to the Admiral on the station to send a solemn message of rerconstrance to the King of Dahomey, and warning him that, as the people of Abbeokuta were friendly to the English, the latter would give them every assistance in the event of their being attacked. He had great doubts, however, whether this interference would be effectual. The potentates in the interior of Africa were hardly vulnerable to our ships, and, as to remonstrance by means of missionaries, the day for the success of such influences had hardly come yet. He was told that the Governor of the Gold Coast once remonstrated with the King of Ashantee on a similar massacre, who said that he should be glad to put an end to these horrible customs, but that he durst not, so rooted were they in the superstitions of the people. Everything had been done short of employing actual force, which he was afraid could not be brought to bear in the present case.