HC Deb 09 June 1864 vol 175 cc1458-63


Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)


Mr. Massey, Sir, the duty which I have to perform will, I am sure, commend itself to the acceptance of the Committee. There is no occasion upon which this House is more entirely the organ of the feelings of the nation than when it acknowledges the eminent services performed by those who have sacrified their time, their health, and even their lives in the public service; and the proposal which I am about to make is one that falls within that category. That which I have to propose is that, in accordance with the recommendation of Her Majesty, this House should agree to confer a pension of £1,000 a year upon the widow of the late Earl of Elgin in acknowledgment of the public services of that lamented statesman. I may state that the Indian Department, equally sensible of the great services which the Earl of Elgin performed in the East, have agreed to settle upon his widow another pension of equal amount; so that the provision will be £2,000 a year—£1,000 I hope to be provided by this House, and another £1,000 by the Indian Department. Sir, it has seldom fallen to the lot of any public man to perform services more varied with regard to the scene of their action, more important with regard to their results, or attended with greater personal exertion and personal exposure than were performed by the late Earl of Elgin. He began his services as Governor of Jamaica, the affairs of which island he administered with great ability; and he was removed thence, in consequence of the high opinion which was entertained of his abilities, to become Governor General of Canada. He was four years in Jamaica, and eight years Governor General of Canada. During that period he had the fortune to conciliate the good will of the Government of the United States, and he was able, undertaking a mission to Washington, to conclude that treaty of reciprocity between those States and our North American Colonies which has produced so much advantage to the intercourse of those two countries, and also indirectly to the commerce of this country. In 1857 the Earl of Elgin was selected to go on a mission to China—a mission attended with very great personal difficulties, and labour, and exposure, and peculiarly difficult in consequence of the character of the people with whom he had to negotiate. He accompanied the expedition, which had to carry on military operations, and succeeded in negotiating and concluding the Treaty of Tien-tsin. He returned to England, and, as is well known, became Postmaster General, but he was afterwards despatched to China upon another mission in consequence of a rupture which took place between the English and Chinese Governments, resulting from the refusal of the latter to ratify by the Emperor's signature the Treaty of Tien-tsin. He succeeded, after overcoming many difficulties, in obtaining the ratification of that treaty, and establishing our Minister at Pekin; a result which I am sure those best acquainted with China will acknowledge to have been pregnant with good results, and most favourable to the maintenance of friendly relations between this country and the Government of China. Not only did he succeed in that very important transaction, but he also went to Japan and concluded the Treaty of Jeddo, which has opened a field of very profitable and extensive commerce to this country. To succeed in those difficult negotiations with people so little acquainted with the habits and manners of Europeans as the Chinese and Japanese, so accustomed in their intercourse with foreigners to deal in deceit, evasion, and even sometimes in breaches of faith, required a singular combination of firmness and conciliation, and I may say of the late Earl of Elgin that he was in an eminent degree the possessor of those peculiar qualities. He returned from that successful enterprize in China and Japan, and was performing his duties as Postmaster General when the unfortunate loss of Earl Canning rendered it necessary to appoint a successor to him in the Governor Generalship of India. I ought to mention, in connection with the Earl of Elgin's mission to China, that being on his way thither with troops, and with every prospect, therefore, of an early and successful accomplishment of the object of the very important mission which had been intrusted to him, and hearing of the mutiny in India, he sacrificed all personal considerations, forewent that which might perhaps have been the turning point of his diplomatic career, returned to Calcutta, and gave to Earl Canning the most important and effectual assistance which it was in his power to render. That was an act of great decision, of great vigour, and of great forbearance and self-denial, and of great patriotism. Being in England at the time when news arrived of the unfortunate loss of Earl Canning, he was asked to undertake the Government of India, and although it was well known that to encounter the climate of that country at his time of life was not unattended with certain hazards, the opinions of those who from their knowledge of his ability and experience urged him to undertake that important duty prevailed over all other considerations; he went to India and became Governor General. If it had been the will of Providence that he should have fulfilled the ordinary term of government in that country, he would, like other Go- vernors General, have been able to make such a provision for his family as would have placed them beyond the necessity of any appeal to the country for assistance. It so happened, however, that his life was cut short, and he was, therefore, unable to make any provision for his family. We all know that when a man first undertakes an appointment of that kind he has to incur great expenses, which are only reimbursed by his continuing to enjoy the emoluments of the office for some time. I trust, then, that the Committee, considering, on the one hand, the great and valued services of the Earl of Elgin, and, on the other, that he was unable to take that advantage of his Indian appointment which in the natural course of things he would have been enabled to do, will concur with me in thinking that we are only paying a proper tribute to his merit and making a proper acknowledgment of his services by agreeing to the Vote which I have now the honour to propose. The noble Lord concluded by moving a formal Resolution conferring upon the Countess of Elgin for life a pension of £1,000 a year.


Sir, I do not intend to detain the Committee, nor do I think it necessary to add anything to what has been said by the noble Lord the First Minister; but upon an occasion of this kind it did not seem to us fitting that entire silence should be observed on this side of the House; and I say for myself, and I know I may say it for those who sit near me, that we cordially and entirely concur in the estimate which the noble Lord has formed and expressed of the public character and services of the Earl of Elgin. When services like his have been rendered, and rendered not to a party but to the State, it is right that they should be recognized by all parties; and I am sure that the Vote which the noble Lord has proposed will meet with no objection or no unfriendly reception from any party in this House.


Will the grant by the East Indian Company be brought before the House in any shape? I have constitutional reasons for wishing to have an answer to that question from the noble Lord.


Perhaps I may be allowed to answer the question by stating what the Council for India has done. A large portion of the services of the Earl of Elgin having been rendered in other parts of the world, it was not for them to take upon themselves the entire charge of recognizing his services, but they felt that services were rendered by him to India on the occasion referred to by the noble Lord, when, with the highest honour to himself, he responded at once to the application of Earl Canning, and diverted the troops which were then on their way to China for the service of India. The service which the Earl of Elgin thus rendered, and also by going himself from Canton to Calcutta to see what further aid could be given to India at the time of her greatest need, had established a claim upon the Government of India which those who had charge of the Indian revenue felt it their bounded duty to recognize. His tenure of office in India was not long. He had no opportunity of distinguishing himself in the way that his predecessors in the governorship of India had done; but he had shown, so far as opportunity has afforded, the greatest discrimination and judgment with regard to all the matters that had been submitted to his consideration. So strongly was this felt that the first act of the Council of the Governor General after his death was to record in a confidential memorandum, which was transmitted to me, an expression of their unanimous opinion that some recognition of his services should be given in the shape of a pension to his widow; and it was their feeling that the revenues of India might bear their part in the general recognition of his services. That confidential memorandum was signed by every Member of the Council of the Governor General in India, and it was transmitted by Sir William Denison when temporarily occupying the position of Governor General, The statement which my noble Friend has made I concur in most strongly; and the Council of India, taking into consideration the distinguished services of the Earl of Elgin, have this very morning unanimously voted a pension of £1,000 a year to be paid to Lady Elgin for her natural life, commencing from the time of her husband's death, in addition to that which I hope and trust this House will be ready unanimously to give.


The question of the hon. Baronet has not been answered, namely, whether the £1000 voted by the Indian Council to the Countess of Elgin, will come before the House. The Countess of Elgin, no doubt, well deserves this pension, and I do not find fault with it. Indeed she might receive with propriety perhaps a more liberal pension than has been granted; but, in a constitutional point of view, it was important to know whether the grant of the additional £1000 would come under the consideration of the House.


There is no doubt that question will not be brought before the House. The Council of India exercises independent functions with reference to the revenues of India, and the Vote of the Council concurred in by the Secretary of State does not require the confirmation of the House.


I have no desire to prolong this discussion, but I wish to impress on Her Majesty's Government, that on another occasion, when a similar Vote will be brought before the House, the noble Lord ought to explain the principle upon which pensions are granted. I think the pension of £1,000 a year a very moderate sum; but when the Vote of £20,000 to Sir Rowland Hill is brought before the House, I shall be glad to hear the principle upon which pensions are granted, more particularly to general officers. It is usual when the Crown confers a title for this House to grant a pension of £2,000 per annum for life, and for two generations; but it is considered by some that it is not a good arrangement or economical to the country, or an adequate sum to enable a noble Lord to sustain his position. When Sir Rowland Hill's pension comes before the House, I do not think it will be an improper time to raise the question, and receive an explanation from the noble Lord of the principle upon which these sums are granted.

Resolution agreed to.

Resolved, That the annual sum of One Thousand Pounds be granted to Her Majesty, out of the Consolidated Fund of Great Britain and Ireland, the said Annuity to commence from the 20th day of November, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and to be settled in the most beneficial manner upon Mary Louisa, Countess of Elgin and Kincardine, widow of the late James, Earl of Elgin and Kincardine, Her Majesty's Viceroy and Governor General of India, for the term of her natural life.

House resumed.

Resolution to be reported To-morrow.