HC Deb 06 May 1862 vol 166 cc1282-92

said: Sir, in bringing before the House the subject of which I have given notice, I am well aware that there are probably many Members here whose acquaintance with the East and personal experience in that part of the world to which I am about to refer would have enabled them to call your attention far more effectually to the consideration of a question of so much importance. Those Gentlemen will, however, I trust, give us the benefit of their knowledge and experience this evening; and, for my part, I may say that I have not been induced to undertake this duty through any external influence, or at the instigation of any interested parties, but solely by a desire to promote the good government of our dependencies, and, as far as is consistent with justice and sound policy, to save the Imperial Exchequer. With this object, I hope to occupy the time of the House very briefly, and will take care not to weary it by reading many extracts and statistics; for this subject ought to be as interesting as it is important, if it had fallen into the hands of those who could treat it with the ability it deserves.

In advocating the transfer of so important a dependency as the island of Ceylon to another department of Her Majesty's Government, it may be as well, however, that I should refresh the memory of the House with a few facts respecting that colony. This island appears by all accounts to be perhaps the most beautiful, and in many respects the most interesting, in the world. Though tropically situated, it has a healthy climate and every variety of temperature. Nearly the size of Ireland, or about 25,000 square miles, it had a population of 1,876,000 by the census of 1860, and, in accordance with its usual ratio of increase it has probably, now, not far off 2,000,000. In 1835 it had 1,240,000, so that its annual increase has been about 2 per cent. The shallow channel dividing it from India is about sixty-five miles across, and in character, climate, religion, and to some extent in race, and in all the characteristics which mark a nation, it is essentially Indian. In Asiatic poetry it has been styled the pearl which has dropped from the brow of India; and certainly within its comparatively limited area nature seems to nave granted it everything which can make life interesting and attractive to mankind. Mankind, however, seem to have taken care that this paradise of our first parents, as it is sometimes regarded in Eastern story, should suffer here all the evils of the Fall, for its annals present a long career of war, famine, and misery; but I will not trouble the House with any details of its early history. It is sufficient to state, that at the beginning of' the sixteenth century the Portuguese took possession of its maritime provinces, and remained in the island till the days of Cromwell, when the Dutch drove them out; and these last, in their turn, were expelled by the East India Company, who in 1796 fitted out an expedition from Madras, and wrenched the island from their dominion in about three weeks without loss or difficulty. For two years, or till 1798, it was administered by the East India Company, when it was transferred to the Crown, and settled at the Peace of Amiens as a Crown colony in spite of the strongest remonstrances of the Marquis Wellesley against such a transfer. The province of Kandy, in the interior of the island, had, however, never been conquered by Europeans, but that mountainous region had always remained under its native princes. The treachery and cruelty of the last King of Kandy, and his invasion of our territories, obliged our Government in 1815 to dethrone him and expel him from the island. In 1817–18 another insurrection in that country followed, which was also soon quelled, and since that time no serious rebellion has taken place, for the insurrectional disturbances in 1834, and during Lord Torrington's rule, can hardly be called by that name. Good roads have now been made through the previous inaccessible district of Kandy, and, indeed, over the whole island, and I believe these highlands of Ceylon are as tranquil now as those of Scotland.

This Crown colony, as it is called, having comparatively few of our race, not more than 7,000 Europeans, and composed chiefly of Asiatics and Eurasians, is governed, like India, despotically; but the Governor is assisted, like the Governor General of India, by two Councils—one executive, composed of four or five of the principal officers of the colony; and the other, legislative, more numerous, representing planters, chiefs, and other proprietors in the island; but the paramount authority ever rests with the Governor. The civil service, though much improved of late years, appears at the same time to have become more expensive, absorbing more than a third of the largely-increasing revenue, and, according to Sir Emerson Tennant, who wrote in 1859, it is still in an unsatisfactory state; and of course, with such a limited area of selection, it is not easy to get men of the stamp and ability which has shed such a lustre over the service of the other part of our Indian Empire.

To quote the words of Sir Emerson Tennant, he observes— Those who seek Administrative Reform will here find a rich field for their exertions. It is cumbrous and embarrassed, complicated in its processes, and slow in its performances. It is in reality a relic of the old Dutch system patched and altered by successive Governments to meet emergencies; but requiring at the present day fundamental changes to adapt it to the transition through which the colony is passing. He then goes on to say— Few servants of ability have been trained in the colony, and in fact the narrow area of selection obliges the Governor to refer to England for the higher posts in the service. Further changes have lately been made at the Colonial Office, and cadets for the Ceylon civil service submit to a certain kind of competition in this country, the effect of which time alone will reveal.

With regard to the troops maintained in the colony, it appears by the Military Colonial Expenditure Committee of last year, that their numbers consisted of 846 European Infantry, 1,356 Native, and 135 Artillery, and 7 Sappers; the colonial military disbursements amounted to £70,000, and the Imperial expenditure connected with this garrison, and to which I wish more particularly hereafter to direct your attention, amounted to £110,268, or altogether £180,268. Before going further, however, into the military question, I wish to state the amount of the revenue and expenditure of the colony during the last few years. It appears that the revenue, which in 1854 was only £408,000, had risen in 1860 to £767,000, or an increase of about 90 per cent, and an annual increase of about £50,000 on the average. The ordinary expenditure during the same period rose from £393,268 to £705,440, or an increase of expenditure in these years of nearly 80 per cent, or an annual increase of about £40,000; and altogether, after an outlay of £1,270,000 on roads, bridges, and other public works, there still remains in the hands of the Government a large accumulated revenue. The extension of coffee planting may be regarded as the leading cause of this improvement of the revenue, and of the general prosperity of the island. The exports of coffee in the year 1835 were only £1,870,143; in 1847, £33,000,000; in 1860, £69,454,847. The land revenue and customs more than doubled, as well as the tolls from the extension of roads; and nothing but the want of labour, which is dear, prevents extensive cotton planting. Though Malabars come in swarms from India, like the Irish for the harvests in England, still the supply is not equal to the demand.

But now, having shown such a flourishing state of affairs in the colony, perhaps I shall be asked, Why suggest any change now? Why not let well alone? Why not follow the old political maxim "Moxere non quieta"? We could understand such a Motion immediately after the disturbances during Lord Torrington's government, when that noble Lord expressed his regret that Ceylon was not united to India; but now, when neither distress nor disaffection prevails, when is all calm, clear, and prosperous, surely, however geographically anomalous is the rule of the Colonial Office, you had better leave things as they are. I fully understand and appreciate the force of the argument, but in reply I would observe that this transfer is merely a very mild change, and not a revolution. The administration of the island under the orders of the Secretary of State for India and Governor General need involve very few alterations, and in fact none in the form of the internal government of the island. When under Dutch rule, though it had its separate governor and council, yet it was always subject to the paramount authority of the Governor General of the Dutch settlements at Batavia. It might, therefore, and probably would, retain its quasi representative institutions and character as a separate government or presidency. The change would lead probably to a considerable improvement in the civil service. It is, however, the military expenditure to which I have before adverted, and to which I would particularly direct your attention, because such a charge ought not to be thrown on the Imperial exchequer as £110,000, under whatever department the colony is in future administered. India has probably sent to England 180 millions for home expenditure of Government, and has never cost the public exchequer one 6d. from the time of its conquest. Why should Ceylon, which is really an insular portion of the same empire? In proportion to its population, the country and the Government are much richer than India. The revenue of India is about 6s. per head, that of Ceylon nearly 8s. 6d. or 9s.; and it has also a surplus revenue, after large deductions for public works. It has far less to fear from foreign aggression, as its iron-bound coast and insular position enable our navy to give it efficient protection. The garrisons, therefore, can only be required for police purposes, and internal pacification. If the whole forces of our Indian possessions, insular and continental, were under the orders of one Commander-in-Chief, he could secure the military protection of the island on more efficient and economical terms; for, with the facilities of intercourse that steam create, and the additional power which unity of action and command will afford, the forces of India might be employed at such times and in such a manner that the garrison of Ceylon would involve a very slight increase of the whole Indian army.

I could here quote the opinions of many statesmen to whom the House has been accustomed to listen more or less in favour of this view. Before the Committee on Colonial Military Expenditure, last year, both Lord Grey and the Duke of Newcastle thought that ultimately Ceylon should defray her whole military expenditure. Mr. Herman Merivale, formerly Under Colonial Secretary and now Under Secretary at the India Department, declared before the same Committee that he did not see any reason why the colony should not, like India, pay its whole military expenses, and that the present system, to quote his exact words, was based merely upon practice. Sir William Moles worth observed, that physically and morally it belonged to our Indian Empire, and advocated m the strongest terms its transfer to the Indian Department. Lastly, the Marquis of Wellesley deprecated most strongly the transfer of the island to the Colonial Office in several most able despatches, well worthy the consideration of Her Majesty's Government, where he lays down the principles and reasons which induced him to propose that this bulwark of our Indian Empire, as he calls it, should remain under the orders and control of the Governor General and Commander-in-Chief.

Now, Sir, concurring with these authorities in recommending to the House the annexation of Ceylon to our Indian possessions, I will not presume to suggest what changes the Secretary of State for India, with the concurrence of Parliament, might establish. He would, I imagine, be influenced by the general opinion in the colony, as there is a mode of ascertaining the views of all the leading merchants, planters, &c, in that island, through their Legislative Assembly. If they wished to pursue their present form of government, distinct from any other Presidency, there could be no objection, I imagine; provided always that the paramount authority of the Governor General prevailed there as in other parts of India. The exchequer might be kept separate, as, of course, Ceylon could not be held responsible fur any portion of the debt of India; and as we see that there is a very decided surplus revenue, no additional burden would in any way be attached to that country to which it would be annexed.

I believe, Sir, I have now stated the principal reasons which have induced me to lay this subject before the House, and they may be summed up as follows:—1st. Unity in the military administration of our Indian Empire; 2nd. Improvement in the civil government of the island; and 3rd. Economy to the Imperial exchequer. I would have referred, if I had not been afraid of wearying the House, to the intimate connection which steam is daily increasing between this island and the peninsula—to the many questions rising up in which they are mutually interested, such as the improvements of Galle Harbour, the Lights on Bass Rocks; also, the improvement in the navigation of the Straits, a Committee on which last subject is now sitting up stairs.

Important as these commercial questions are, it is the military one which is of paramount importance, and I trust that this House will not delay legislation on this subject till the mistakes and disasters of some future war show the evil of a double government and divided command in our Eastern dominions.


said, he was glad to find that the hon. Gentleman had not called upon the House by a substantive Motion to pledge itself to any opinion. When he first saw the hon. Gentleman's notice in the books he was under some fear that the hon. Gentleman had discovered some abuse in the Government of Ceylon, or discontent on the part of its inhabitants, which had certainly not reached the ears of the public or of the Government of this country. He was, however, reassured by a knowledge of the fact, which, no doubt, was known to the hon. Gentleman and to other Members of the House, that there were other possessions of the late East India Company in the East, the inhabitants of which, there was every reason to believe, desired to see a contrary process take place to that proposed by the hon. Gentleman—namely, a transfer of themselves from the Indian department to that of the colonies. Upon listening to the speech of the hon. Gentleman, he was gratified to find, as a representative of the Colonial Department, that the hon. Gentleman's reasons for making his proposal were not that he conceived Ceylon to be ill-governed, or that any discontent or want of prosperity prevailed there. On the contrary, the hon. Gentleman admitted that Ceylon of late years had been well governed, and had consequently attained such a degree of prosperity and wealth that he was anxious to liberate it from the tutelage of the Colonial Office, and to relieve the Imperial Government from any expense whatever on its account. About the prosperity of Ceylon he (Mr. C. Fortescue) thought there could be no question. That prosperity was of very recent date. There was every prospect that it would continue. It dated only from the suppression by Viscount Torrington of the last Kandian insurrection. Since that time the finances of the colony had been restored to a healthy state and Ceylon had continued to progress in prosperity. The revenue was the best test of prosperity. In the year 1854 the revenue of Ceylon was £400,000. It had remained stationary at that point for many years antecedently. But shortly after the year 1854 the revenue increased, and in the year 1860 it became £760,000. That increase of the revenue was closely connected with another gratifying fact—namely, the amount of public works undertaken in the colony. Between the years 1855 and 1860 no less than £1,000,000 had been expended in public works, of which £630,000 had been spent upon roads and bridges and means of internal communication, which were essential to the prosperity of a country like Ceylon. Up to last year no less than 1,800 miles had been made of those; magnificent highways which penetrated the mountains and destroyed all prospects of disaffection in the central parts of the is land. Education was at the same time advancing, and the social habits of the people were improving under the influence of growing prosperity and of the example of the European settlers. Within the last few years an ordinance had been passed by the Ceylon Government, at the request of the natives, which would have the effect of putting an end to polygamy. An opinion certainly had been expressed by Lord Wellesley in favour of transferring Ceylon to the Indian Government; but that was as long ago as 1803, and the opinion was almost wholly founded on the contingencies of a state of war, when it was advisable to concentrate all the military power in one hand. But that did not apply to the present state of things. Under these circumstances there seemed to be no reason why the people of Ceylon should desire to be transferred from their present system of Government under the Colonial Office to the Indian Department; but if such a wish were manifested among them, and if its gratification should be generally considered in this country to be desirable, the Colonial authorities would not offer any opposition to its accomplishment, although they would naturally feel some regret at parting with an island whose general condition reflected, he believed, some credit on their administration. As to the saving of military expenditure, the number of troops in Ceylon was only 2,200; ten years ago the ordinary number was 4,000. The annual military expenditure of the Imperial Government was £110,000; but the Colonial expenditure for the same purpose was a larger amount, £116,000; and in Ceylon the Imperial Government held very valuable harbours and military stations. The question of the military expenditure in Ceylon had been under the consideration of the Colonial Department. His noble Friend the Secretary of State was well aware of the important evidence given by Mr. Merivale and Lord Grey before the Select Committee, and had expressed his own opinion that the time was come when Ceylon ought to bear, if not the whole, a largo propor- tion of that expenditure. The circumstance that Ceylon was in the immediate neighbourhood of India, which was full of Imperial troops, was a good reason why the charges on account of military expenditure in Ceylon should be reduced. It would not necessarily follow that the charges on Ceylon would be increased. Indeed, strong remonstrances had been addressed to the Colonial Office upon the present excessive amount of the military expenditure, and he thought it might turn out that the garrison could be so far reduced as to diminish the charge upon the Home Government without any serious increase in the amount to be borne by the finances of the island. The Government were fully alive to the importance of the subject, and he could assure the House it was still under their consideration.


thought it was better, on the whole, to leave the administration of Ceylon where it was. In the first place, to put it in plain words, India was quite large enough already. If the extent of that empire was one of the great difficulties of its administration, tasking to the utmost the energies of any man, it was unwise to increase the labour and responsibility of the Governor General, especially as the difficulty of governing was likely to increase with the growth among the native population of European ideas. In the next place, he did not believe the people of Ceylon desired the change. When he knew something of the island, some ten or eleven years ago, union with India was the one thing deprecated as contrary to their interests. As the matter now stood, they were in direct communication with England if any question arose which could not be dealt with by the Government on the spot; but if Ceylon were connected with India, upon any such question there must first be communication with Calcutta, and then communication from Calcutta to England. It was obvious that that could not be done without considerable delay and inconvenience; they would become, in fact, the dependency of a dependency. There was some advantage also in the smallness of the island, compared with India. The Governor of Ceylon, if a man at all equal to his post, ought to have a personal knowledge of every part of the country and of every official person who was employed in it. The value of the master's eye was proverbial, and that would be lost if the colony were turned into a lieutenant governorship. He thought there was a fur- their advantage in having the experience of working two different and separate systems of administration, much as they resembled each other, in Ceylon and India, where the population was nearly of the same character. As to the finances, the debt of Ceylon was insignificant. India had a heavy debt; and if the two administrations were fused, some very inconvenient and complicated arrangement would be necessary to avoid the manifest injustice of making Ceylon responsible for obligations which it had no share in incurring. It was said that there would be a wider choice of civil servants; but practically it was found, as in the case of Singapore and the other Straits settlements, that the ablest men shrunk from volunteering for outlying posts, where they would be distant from the notice of the Governor General and in danger of being forgotten. Only a comparatively small number would qualify for service there by learning the languages, which would be useless to them if transferred to the mainland. As to the importance of military union, all that was required was to give the Governor General something like the same supreme power over the island which the Governor General of Canada exercised over the other North American colonies. The question had never practically arisen, and he did not see why it should raise in future, The future dangers of India, in a military point of view, could not well be greater than those already gone through. As to the anomaly of Ceylon paying only part of the military expenditure, while India paid the whole, he thought his hon. Friend was quite right, and certainly the hon. Under Secretary, in treating that part of the case, showed that it was difficult to give a satisfactory answer. Singapore and Malacca had for years asked to be transferred from the Indian to the Colonial department. He thought their request was reasonable, that they understood their own interests, and that an opposite change in the case of Ceylon would be very much objected to by the people of the island.


I am well aware that the House is very anxious to go to a division on another subject. I will therefore not detain it by any reply, but content myself with observing that I am glad, at any rate, to have the assurance from the Government, that although they are not prepared, and perhaps not in favour of the transfer of Ceylon from the Colonial to the Indian Department, yet they agree with me that its military expenditure ought not to fall upon the British Exchequer; and I trust that the Government will take care that no charges in future connected with that colony are entailed upon this country. I beg, Sir, to move for the returns of which I have given notice.

Motion agreed to.

Return orderedOf all Charges, Civil, Military, and Naval, defrayed out of the Imperial Exchequer on account of the Colony of Ceylon during the five years ending the 31st day of December 1860.