HC Deb 13 July 1868 vol 193 cc1140-3

said, he rose to ask the Secretary to the Treasury, What direct means of Postal or other Communication exist between this Country and the above Colonies? Although the Postal Directory announced mails three times a month to Vancouver's Island, they were forwarded only by the United States as far as San Francisco, where they awaited the arrival of a vessel of large tonnage, which was occasionally sent from the Pacific squadron for the purpose of conveying despatches or mails to that island or British Columbia. This duty might be performed by a despatch boat at much less expense. He wished to know, whether it was the habitual practice of Admirals in charge of large vessels in Her Majesty's Service to carry mails, and whether despatch boats similar to those used by the Trinity House would not be better suited for the conveyance of mails than ships like the Sutlej and the Zealous, which were of 3,066 tons and 3,716 tons measurement respectively? He wished to know under what head in the Estimates the cost of the occasional conveyance of the mails of which he had spoken is charged?


said, the noble Viscount must confine himself to asking a Question.


said, that having listened for some time to the statement of the noble Viscount he was really at a loss to understand the object he had in view. He could readily understand that as the noble Viscount was interested in the prosperity of Vancouver's Island he might feel it to be a matter of regret that the colony should not enjoy postal communication with this country. But that was not the only colony which had to forego that advantage. It was only the other evening that it was stated that the important colony of Penang had been deprived of such communication. He hoped the day might not be very far distant when direct postal communication might be established, but it must be somewhat remote, as the expenditure would probably be not less than £10,000 a year in addition to what was already paid, and the correspondence with Vancouver's Island was diminishing in amount. He believed the whole difficulty arose from this, that the colony of Vancouver's Island was unable or unwilling to pay the money that would be necessary to keep up a postal communication with San Francisco, but was no doubt very desirous that the Imperial Government should be at that expense. Any of Her Majesty's vessels that might happen to stop at the colony might carry the mails, but that was an act of grace; there was no obligation on them to do so. If direct communication with this country were the object, it must be effected by means of the Russian steamers from the Isthmus of Panama; that would involve very serious expense, and he was not aware of any intention of incurring it at present. It was for the colony to make arrangements for a line of vessels between itself and San Francisco; and if that were done the communication might be suffi- ciently speedy. The noble Viscount had asked under what head of the Estimates the expense was charged. [Viscount MILTON: The casual expense.] Under no head of the Estimates whatever. A stamp was affixed according to what the American Government charged, and he was not aware that Her Majesty's Navy if they chose to carry those mails would receive any remuneration. They certainly would not. The noble Viscount would find one or two items in the Postal Estimates which might have a bearing on this question—for instance, there was an item of £150 for a Post Office agent at San Francisco, and another for conveyance of mails by private ships; and it was a fact that ships did take out mails from time to time, but there was no direct communication with the colony. The noble Viscount wished for all the Correspondence since 1859, but it would be a waste of money to produce all that had occurred since that remote date. He was sure, however, that his right hon. Friend (Mr. Adderley) would be willing to produce any letters which might bear on the subject, if it were not a fact that the communications were in an altogether imperfect state at present. Remonstrances had certainly come from the colonial Government, but the Government at home did not see its way to establishing this communication. He saw no object in producing the Correspondence; but if the noble Viscount at a future time should move for information in a different shape, it would, if possible, be produced.


said, that the House was very much indebted to the noble Viscount for having brought so important a subject before it as the correspondence between British Columbia and this country. The noble Lord had stated that he was informed by a publication from the Post Office that if he wished to send a letter to British Columbia, put it into the Post Office, and paid a certain sum, it would arrive at a certain time, and, in like manner, that an answer would be received at a given time. But it appeared from the statement of the noble Lord that there was no security whatever that the promise thus given to the public would be kept. Something like a deception was practised by the authorities in this country, in stating through the Postal Directory that there was a weekly communication with Vancouver's Island, when, in fact, such communication did not exist. The Government ought carefully to consider whether it would not be cheaper to employ small vessels to carry the letters, instead of transmitting them by men-of-war. The Commanders of the naval force stated that they were put to great expense, and the Admirals complained that they were worried in consequence of carrying despatches and letters. The answer which had been given was that our young colonies must find the means to carry on their postal communication. But surely it would be better to give them a small subsidy. The money expended for coals for men-of-war carrying letters, and for agencies, would suffice to supply small vessels for the service. It was the fashion of the day to tell colonists that they must do everything themselves, which was grossly unfair.


said, that at this moment letters were despatched every Saturday by New York across America to San Francisco, and from San Francisco by an American packet to Portland in Oregon, and so to Victoria and New Westminster. Up to last year the authorities in Vancouver's Island had made their own arrangements, but the result was a complete failure. They got into debt and were unable to continue the subsidy. Since then Her Majesty's Government had been attempting to make some arrangement for establishing communication between San Francisco and Victoria. The negotiations were now going on, and would, he had no doubt, terminate satisfactorily. The Correspondence between 1859 and 1867 would be absolutely use less, as it related to an arrangement which had fallen to the ground, and the colony itself had changed its condition; while it would be inconvenient to produce the subsequent Correspondence, because it was incomplete at present, and because it involved the part which the United States Government were taking in the negotiations. This country could not undertake the communication by subsidy. He assured the House that the matter was receiving the most careful consideration, and he hoped it would soon be satisfactorily settled.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.