HC Deb 11 May 1866 vol 183 cc814-7

rose to call the attention of the House to the official notification and address of Consul Meadows at Newchang to the foreign community, dated the 4th of December, 1865, respecting the danger to life and property from the proximity of the rebels; also to the official notification and address of Consul Medhurst, of Hankow, to the foreign community, dated 21st of January, 1866, to devise measures against an expected attack from a body of revolted Imperial troops, and the advance of the Nienfee rebels. He had on the 12th of April called the attention of the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs to the official circular of Consul Meadows at New-chang, on which occasion his hon. Friend told him Consul Meadows had been very much alarmed at the prospect of an attack on the part of some rebels, but the Government had no ground for thinking that any attack on Newchang had taken place, or was likely to take place. The European Consuls and their communities at Newchang had, however, very serious grounds for believing that their lives and property were in danger, for in a circular, dated the 4th of December, 1865, addressed to the community at Newchang, Consul Meadows used the following language:— The undersigned begs to inform the foreign community of this port, that the commandant of the district called upon him yesterday and made a communication to the following effect: 'A body of upwards of 1,000 robbers or rebels has for some months past infested the north-eastern portion of this province, and has there inflicted a series of severe defeats on the Imperial forces sent out against them. Recently they have taken the city of Hong Kong (the first capital of the Tartars in China), on which occasion the chief civilian and second military officers of the city, with a number of the soldiers were slain. Afterwards a detached body, about 300 strong, entered the city of Fungkwang, about 150 miles to the east of this port, and this body has since advanced in this direction, being six days ago at a place about 100 miles off.' At a meeting consequent upon this circular Consul Meadows said, such was the unprotected state of the place, and so great were the perils to which the European community was exposed, that it was necessary to consult upon the measures of defence necessary to be taken. The meeting was attended by various Consuls and the foreign community, and Mr. Meadows, as senior Consul, took the chair. He said that there were no means of defending Newchang, and that a body of 300 mounted men who were lurking in the neighbourhood might at any time make a raid upon the place, and destroy the property of the merchants as well as of the natives, apart from the violence that might be offered to individuals. That was not a matter to be considered lightly by his hon. Friend (Mr. Layard), nor could it be considered lightly by the present Tartar Emperor, for the ancestral tombs of his family were in the hands of the rebels. With respect to the great commercial entrepÔt of Hankow, the hon. and gallant Gentleman read a statement to show the threatening nature of the circumstances under which Consul Medhurst officially called upon the community to meet in order to take measures for their own defence. It appeared that a force of 8,000 revolted Tartar troops and some 30,000 or 40,000 robbers called Nienfei were surrounding the city on all sides, de- vastating the country and creating the greatest alarm among the inhabitants. The meeting which took place was attended by both the French and English Consuls. His object in reading the statement was to prove that the two Consuls, instead of being pusillanimous, as was necessarily implied by the ridicule thrown on the affair by his hon. Friend, were men of judgment and sound discretion and had done their duty. When he called the attention of the Under Secretary to the matter his hon. Friend said— With respect to the attack on Hankow, he had to state that he had no reason to believe that that city had been threatened by a large rebel force. It seemed that a considerable number of peasantry took refuge there and in the neighbourhood, that the Consul went out to see what was the matter, but that, instead of 80,000 rebels, he found eight men on horseback, armed with spears and bags, that shots were fired at them, and that they thereupon ran away, leaving behind them the bags, which were found to contain eight women. His hon. Friend was not now in his place; if he had been, he would have commented in just terms upon what he said on that occasion. He was sorry his hon. Friend had not shown better taste and feeling than to raise a laugh in the House by stating that the danger which had alarmed Consul Medhurst resolved itself into eight robbers carrying off eight women in bags at their saddle-bows—not a matter for laughter to the parents or husbands of these poor females. In order to show the gravity of the case, the hon. and gallant Gentleman read a long extract from the official circular of Consul Medhurst and the French Consul Dabry, dated the 21st of January, 1866; also from the Hankow Times, which stated that the surrounding country had been devastated, and the consequence was a large influx of the population into Hankow, where they received shelter; that subscriptions were raised in their behalf, and relief was administered as far as practicable. He had reason to believe that similar danger impended over that great commercial emporium up to the time of the latest accounts, and that the Imperial Government was incompetent to protect the place. What was, therefore, to be done? Were we or were we not to make such arrangements as would give confidence to our merchants for the security of their lives and property and the lives of their wives and children? Copies of the documents he had quoted ought to be in the Foreign Office, which would con- firm what he had stated, but his hon. Friend he supposed would say that they had not been received. He wished, by calling attention to the matter, to show that our consuls, instead of having exposed themselves to ridicule for their just alarms, were entitled to praise, and to urge that measures ought to be adopted to insure security to the foreign communities at Newchang and Hankow.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House, Copies of the Official Notification and Address of Consul Meadows at Newchang to the foreign community, dated the 4th October 1865, respecting the danger to life and property from the proximity of rebels; also of the Official Notification and Address of Consul Medhurst of Hankow to the foreign community, dated 21st January 1866, to devise measures against an expected attack from a body of revolted Imperial Troops, and the advance of the Nienfee rebels,"—(Colonel Sykes,) —instead thereof.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.