§ MR. RYLANDS
, in rising to call attention to the present distribution of our Foreign Squadrons, and more especially to the number of vessels now stationed on the West Coast of Africa, said, he had no wish to reflect on the conduct of the present Board of Admiralty. On the contrary, he had a strong sense of the services which the First Lord and the Secretary of the Admiralty had rendered to the country since their connection with the Department. In carrying out the recent reductions in expenditure, the right lion. Gentleman had been exposed to much annoyance, and had undertaken a painful task. It must be always painful to curtail public expenditure, and, on the other hand, it was pleasant to spend public money, and so gratify the large number of persons whose interests were served by such an expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman, therefore, deserved the thanks of the country for reductions of £1,750,000 effected, not only without diminishing, but really adding to the efficiency of the 834 Navy. Even now, however, this year's expenditure would be considerably in excess of the expenditure a few years ago. In 1849–50 the naval expenditure amounted to £6,260,740, being £3,000,000 less than the existing expenditure. He selected that year, because in 1850 Mr. Cobdon made an important Motion, and called upon the Government to reduce the expenditure considerably, reminding the House that in 1835–6 the naval expenditure was £4,000,000, or less than half the present reduced Naval Estimates. He (Mr. Rylands) would not compare this year with 1835–6; but the comparison might fairly be made with 1849–50. The great excess of the present expenditure arose in consequence of the much larger number of blue-jackets and Marines now in the service as compared with 1850. In that year the number of sailors, boys, and Marines afloat and ashore was 39,130, the Vote for wages being £1,355,420, and for victuals and clothing £538,642, making together £1,894,062. This year the number of men, boys, and Marines voted was 61,000, the wages were £2,692,631, and the victuals and clothing £968,957, making £3,001,588. Considerable reductions had been made in the cost of dockyards, victualling yards, and clothes; but these reductions were now approaching their limit, and no great impression on the amount of the Navy Estimates could be hoped for if the present force of blue-jackets were maintained. If we were to maintain our present system, the country must be prepared to pay for it. The cry for economy out of doors could not be answered unless the public were prepared to call upon the Government to withdraw from distant parts of the globe the costly squadrons that were maintained on almost every coast. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tyrone (Mr. Corry), when moving the Navy Estimates in 1868, put this question before the House very clearly. He said—The possibility of effecting any material reduction in the number of seamen to be voted for the service of the year depended in a great measure upon the strength at which the foreign squadrons ought to be maintained. …… I am quite ready to admit that, if these squadrons are useless, if they are kept up merely for the sake of giving patronage to the Admiralty, as some insinuate, or for any other such unworthy motive, then they ought to be at once suppressed; 835 and, if they were so suppressed, millions of public money would be saved. You would save the wages of 10,000 or 15,000 seamen, and a large proportion of the cost of building and repairing ships, and various other charges."—[3 Hansard, cxcii. 36.]The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tyrone on that occasion strongly advocated the maintenance of our foreign squadrons, which he considered the pivot upon which our whole naval policy turns; and in that respect he somewhat differed from the opinion of his Colleague the noble Lord the Member for Chichester (Lord H. Lennox), who, as Secretary to the Admiralty, in moving the Navy Estimates the previous year (1867), made an able and remarkable speech. The noble Lord said—It is, in my opinion, a grave question whether the time has not come for the House of Commons and the country to consider what is the absolute necessity or advisability of keeping up large squadrons in all parts of the world of small unarmoured ships, which, when a more formidable ship than they approaches them must, what is vulgarly termed, 'cut and run.'"—[3 Hansard, clxxxv. 1838.]On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman the present Prime Minister expressed his disapproval ofMaintaining a system of manning every part of the globe with vessels that have no force of resistance, and which, instead of being a force of security, would either have to be defended, or else run away at the first menace of danger."—[Ibid. 1853.]In 1868 the right hon. Gentleman the present First Lord of the Admiralty brought the question of the distribution of foreign squadrons before the House in a speech of remarkable ability, in which he contended that they should be considerably reduced beyond the reduction then contemplated by the Government. His speech called forth some weighty observations from the present Prime Minister, who said—I am glad to find that my right hon. Friend is inclined to reduce the foreign squadrons. That is a reduction which I believe ought to be made with a very strong hand; the old notion of arming all over the world being, as I believe, totally unsuited to the present state of things, and nothing more or less than a gross superstition. There is not a shadow of justification for the system in matters as they now stand."—[3 Hansard, cxcii. 86–7.]The Secretary of State for War had adopted the same principle with reference to the reduction of the Army Estimates; and in explaining the means by which he reduced our Army without affecting the efficiency of the force, he 836 said that scattered troops were a source, not of strength, but of weakness and anxiety. These arguments applied as much to the Navy as to the Army. Why should we not concentrate our naval forces at home, and so avoid the waste which arises from a scattering of power which not only does not assist in the defence of our shores, but which would be a source of danger and anxiety in case of a European war? He did not overlook the argument in favour of foreign squadrons—namely, that they were schools for keeping officers and men in training; and his reply was that the First Lord of the Admiralty had given us the alternative of flying squadrons, which maintained the efficiency of the Navy while they secured us a force which was so much in the hands of the Government that it could be called upon for service if required without the necessity of sending all over the habitable globe. He knew the Board of Admiralty was placed in circumstances of great difficulty in making reductions, and that great pressure was put upon it; indeed, it was impossible to look at the long list of officers seeking active employment without feeling that it must be a godsend to the First Lord to have foreign squadrons to which he could draught off a score or two of urgent claimants; for it must be a painful thing to have at any time to refuse active service to men who were worthy of it. But we could not keep up a costly establishment at the expense of the British taxpayer in order to find employment for patriotic officers; and we must reduce the employment if we wish to reduce the expenditure. The Foreign Office represented an influence all over the world, which, he ventured to say, had been an influence for evil. Men who wanted to back up their personal and selfish interests asked for Consuls and gunboats. The Foreign Office granted them, and the Admiralty was expected to find the gunboats. His right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty would no doubt contend, and with perfect truth, that he had already considerably reduced the foreign squadrons; but" the question was, whether that reduction might not be carried much further? He admitted the First Lord had gone far in the direction of the Resolution he moved, and much credit was due to him for what he had done; but still he had not gone so far as in 1868 he proposed to 837 go. In 1846 the number of men employed in the foreign squadrons was 12,000. The public being asleep, and the spending department awake, to use the words of a high authority, the number gradually rose, until, in 1867, it was 17,785. Great credit was due to the right lion. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Corry) for reducing that number, and the present First Lord had carried the reduction further, until the number of men now was 12,100—still considerably in excess of the number fixed upon by the right hon. Gentleman in 1868. The squadrons of the United States were much less than ours. In the East Indies, China, and Australia we had thirty-nine vessels and they nine; at the Capo of Good Hope and on the West African Coast we had fourteen vessels and they none. On the whole, they had twenty-two vessels to our ninety. We could not be expected to find vessels to protect Canada. It was unreasonable to keep up such a number as we did for the defence of the West Indies; and the Pacific Squadron, which was engaged in visiting our Consuls in a number of little islands, seemed to be entirely useless. We had been involved in a number of wars with China, brought about by the fact that we had planted in China this armed hand of force, which had caused feelings of hostility and antagonism in that great Empire. These wars arose out of keeping up a large force in China; and yet it was the people of this country, and not the China merchants, who had to pay the expense of them, amounting to millions of money. Our interference had made the name of Englishman detested in China, where an Englishman was looked upon as the representative of brute force. Though they might talk about trade, he said that in the long run trade was not promoted by these proceedings, and when it was said that the coast of China was opened up, he replied that they did not know how much might have been effected by a different policy. He had been told by a gentleman, whose name was not unknown to many Members in that House, who had been long in China, and who, at the present moment, had large interests there, that if he went back to China he would leave behind him the name of Englishman and pass under that of an American. [Laughter..] Hon. Gentlemen might laugh; but if they read over the China Papers presented to the House last year, they would find that the 838 manner in which the Chinese had been treated was a disgrace to Englishmen. He would give one or two instances of what had occurred, not in barbarous times, but not longer ago than in 1868. He would call their attention, first, to the occurrences that had taken place in the island of Formosa. A British merchant having bought a lot of camphor, a dispute arose oat of the transaction with the Chinese authorities. The British Consul then appeared—the representative of the Majesty of Great Britain—and because, amongst other grounds of offence, he was not treated with all the respect he conceived his due, he demanded from the poor islanders compliance with certain terms as a recognition of British rights. That was refused, and then the Consul, whose name he would mention, as it ought to be handed down to posterity—it was Mr. Gibson—called on the senior naval lieutenant commanding the Algerine—a suitable name—to vindicates British rights, and the result was that the town of Amping was bombarded for a couple of hours. Immediately it was dark the lieutenant entered the town, surprised the guards, shot down several of them, and in the morning, when a number of Chinese soldiers were seen approaching, he fired into them and drove them away. He then proceeded to destroy the ammunition and arms, and to blow up the magazine. From a deputation of Chinese merchants who waited on him, he required a deposit of 40,000 dollars as a guarantee, and upon that demand being agreed to, he next required a further sum of 10,000 dollars to be applied as follows—namely, one-half to repay the expense of bombarding the town and destroying the property in Amping, and the other half to be distributed as loot, or prize money amongst the officers and men engaged in these disgraceful proceedings. The House might, perhaps, excuse these proceedings on the ground that they were the acts of young men without experience and judgment; but they received the sanction of the Admiral on the station, as in the blue book would be found despatches from Admiral Keppel, in which he stated that—"Lieutenant Gurdon merited praise for the promptitude and gallantry with which he surprised the place at night." He spoke of it as a "brilliant success," and "warmly solicited their Lordships' fa- 839 vourable consideration of his gallant and judicious services." Even the Plenipotentiary at Pekin—Sir Rutherford Alcock—looked upon these transactions with no great disfavour, for in his despatch to the Foreign Office he said—If the means adopted by Mr. Gibson were somewhat sharp and unauthorized, it would seem that they were, at all events, eminently successful, and brought all our difficulties with both authorities and people to a very swift and satisfactory termination, while nine months had been wasted in previous futile efforts by negotiations and remonstrance.However, it was satisfactory to know that Lord Clarendon entirely condemned the conduct of these two subordinate authorities in committing any acts of hostility whatever. He considered the Consul's conduct rash and inexcusable, and that it proved him totally unfit to be entrusted with any discretionary power whatever. Lord Clarendon also condemned the conduct of the commander of the Algerine in requiring the payment of the 40,000 dollars as a guarantee, and of the further sum of 10,000 dollars, which he ordered to be returned immediately to the Chinese authorities. The First Lord of the Admiralty, in his speech in 1867, referred to China, and said that the main cause of the increase in the number of vessels in the Chinese seas was the fact that the British Navy were maintaining the entire police of those waters, and that he described as a Quixotic duty. In reference to that point he would give another instance to show how matters were conducted there, and it also had reference to the same gunboat Algerine, commanded, however, on this occasion, by Lieutenant Domville. In 1868 Lieutenant Domville fought an action with thirteen armed junks, which he chose to call piratical; and in a despatch he gave a full account of the action. After describing the efforts he made to destroy the junks, he said that at length he passed three times alongside the line of the junks and poured in grape at close quarters. It must, he added, have told with fearful effect by the yells that ensued. One vessel was injured and captured, while the others escaped into shallow water. Now, the House would, perhaps, be surprised to hear that these junks were not pirates at all, but armed trading vessels, and the captured junk was afterwards released on that ground. He was backed up by the Admiral, who spoke in his despatch of the skill and 840 gallantry displayed by both officers and crew in engaging and dispersing a force so vastly superior, and expressed a hope that Lieutenant Domville would meet with some mark of their Lordships' approval. But, fortunately, the Foreign Office again condemned the proceeding of the Algerine and the conduct of the lieutenant in command. He would trouble the House with only another instance, which occurred in the same year. A party of the men belonging to the Cockchafer went up a creek at Swatow; the villagers were known to be hostile, and they yelled at the barbarians, as they called them, and threw stones at them. What was the consequence? The blue-jackets resorted to their arms. They said they were the first attacked; but no doubt the Chinese would say the contrary. The Consul called for "summary vengeance" by means of gunboats, and the Commodore chastised the villagers. He fired into a number of the villages, and burnt several. The villagers sued for pardon, and the usual naval despatches were written. The Commodore praised the acting Consul, and the acting Consul praised the Commodore, and Admiral Keppel, as usual, came in at the end and reported the conduct of all engaged as worthy the approval of the Admiralty. The correspondence would not be complete without the notice of our Plenipotentiary at Pekin, and accordingly Sir Rutherford Alcock sent home a despatch in which he said that, although the object had not been effected without a good deal of damage to the offending villagers and many of their piratical forces, there was not much to regret, and he went on to praise the gallant spirit which had been displayed by the naval force. He was glad to say the authorities at home had condemned both the naval and consular officers; Admiral Keppel no longer commanded in those seas, and he hoped the Admiralty would take care that he had not a similar command given him elsewhere. He had alluded to the questions of trade and piracy, and he would not dwell on disputes in connection with the missionaries. He hoped they were all anxious to see the doctrines they believed, of peace and goodwill, carried to the ends of the earth; but when these doctrines were backed by gunboats, they did much to prevent the spread of Christianity. It was a serious question how they were to 841 remedy these evils in future. On this subject Lord Clarendon, much, to Ms honour, in a despatch to Sir Rutherford Alcock, said—The active interference of Her Majesty's naval force should only be had recourse to in cases of sudden emergency and of immediate danger to lives or property.But these cases of emergency were to be judged of by their Consuls Gibson and Lieutenants Gurdon, as in their justification of the outrage committed on Formosa, which Consul Gibson said was necessary for the "bare existence of British subjects." And it must be remembered that in China the public opinion upon those matters was very different from the feelings entertained in this country. As an instance of this, he might refer to some proceedings which took place last year at Hong Kong. At a dinner given to Admiral Keppel on leaving, and at which the whole of the leading merchants and officials seemed to have been present, a certain English Colonel responded for the "Army." One of the China papers thus reported his speech—As regarded China, he contended that the Chinese were an inferior nation, and should be brought down and shown that they were the inferior nation. [Loud cheers..] He strongly objected to the tampering policy followed by the present economical Government, and styled it a most pernicious policy, and a policy which would not have been tolerated for a moment 200 years ago.The Overland China Mail, of the 19th of October last, spoke thus—Let us say to China 'This must be done because we choose.' There is no other way of appealing to the nation. … What can avail but threats? We may be thankful that just at this moment the hollowness of their pretended desire for progress has become apparent. Should another war, as is most probable, occur, the peace-mongers will no longer be able to weep over the injuries inflicted upon a 'meek and progress-loving people.'A similar feeling appeared to animate all our officials in China. It was no doubt very well to talk of 300,000,000 backs to be clothed with English calico; but we had no right to compel men to take what they did not want. We were in danger from this state of feeling of being lugged into another war with China, and he, for one, was very much afraid of it. It was said the Chinese were so broken in spirit, so sat upon, that there was no chance of their going to war; but the feeling in Pekin was 842 different. He would read an extract from a letter which had appeared in The Times. It was written by a correspondent of The Times in Pekin, and, judging from what they knew of the correspondents of The Times, they might fairly believe that the writer was a man of intelligence, on whom reliance might be placed. The correspondent, speaking of the China merchants, said—The opening up of the country is their cry, 'progress' is their motto, war is their object. Trade is slack at present. It is necessary to live, and, Micawber-like, they hope for something to turn up in the general disruption it would infallibly produce. Nor is it wholly impossible that an Abyssinian expenditure in China might be to their advantage; while, at the same time, it is evident they would not have to contribute to it. House rent would go up, old steamers he chartered, and older stores find a ready market, and the Chinaman would be treated like the dog they think him to be for presuming to imagine that his own country belongs to him.Under the present system he complained they were placing the honour and power of the British nation in the hands of people like Consul Gibson and Lieutenant Gurdon, and involving the country in all the chances of war. It might be said they could not change their policy in a moment; but they ought to proceed on the principle of concentrating their forces and. concentrating the trade in China in certain entrepôts, and leaving those who created disputes to settle them as best they could, without backing them up by Consuls or gunboats. They should withdraw the Consuls from the distant ports, and lessen very considerably the number of their gunboats. If a man, from a love of enterprize or a desire for increased profits, chose to go beyond the region where there was a certain amount of British support and of commercial civilization, he ought to feel that in doing so he went there on his own hook, and that with the advantage of extra profits he must be prepared to take the extra risk. If an Englishman, under such circumstances, felt that he had no Consul or gunboat to rely upon, he would be much better disposed to keep the peace and be of good behaviour. The general question of the distribution of squadrons was one on which such different opinions were entertained, and such important issues depended, that he had not ventured to move any substantive Resolution upon the subject, though it was one upon which it would be well that the country should be enlightened by a discussion in 843 Parliament. But on both sides of the House there was such a concurrence of opinion as to the West African Squadron, that he felt himself justified in challenging a vote upon that subject. In 1867 the noble Lord the Member for Chichester, then Secretary to the Admiralty, said he should feel the greatest satisfaction if the moment should arrive when Her Majesty's Government deemed it to be consistent with the interests of humanity and the public service to modify or remove altogether the African Coast Squadron. By that means numbers of our seamen and officers would be saved from being devoured by the frightful pestilence which is so destructive on those shores. The noble Lord, till lately Member for King's Lynn, whose removal from the House of Commons they all regretted—both in itself and from the cause to which that removal was owing—speaking in 1865, said—If the people of this country knew what has been and what is the waste—I do not say of money merely, but of what is much more important, valuable lives on that coast—that African squadron would very shortly be numbered with the things of the past."—[3 Hansard, clxxvii. 550.]The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Staffordshire obtained a Committee upon this subject, and though that Committee did not adopt the draft Report which he proposed, its terms were fully borne out by the evidence which was given. One passage from the draft Report ran as follows:—Your Committee deprecate the needless employment of English officers and military on such a shore as costly to this country, not only by actual mortality, but by the numbers invalided in mind and body and rendered unfit for other active service. … The scattering of forces, both naval and military, in such parts of the world ii an additional evil, which in case of general war would be of serious consideration.No doubt the West African Squadron was established originally with the most humane and benevolent intentions; but the evil which it was intended to sup press had practically ceased to exist, and there was not sufficient trade to justify the maintenance of so large a force. Tin whole export trade to the West Coast he found from the official Returns amounted to less than £750,000. Mr. Tobin, an African merchant of high standing, was examined before the Select Committee of 1865, and stated that, sup posing the slave trade were to cease, only a very small force indeed would be re- 844 quired to visit the different parts of the coast—nothing like the present squadron. In former years, both France and America joined in keeping up large squadrons on the West Coast of Africa. The Trench were bound, under a Convention, to keep up twenty-six ships; but since the Russian War these had been entirely withdrawn. The American Squadron also since the Civil War had been entirely withdrawn. Why should this country be the only Power to keep up a large naval force upon that coast? The unhealthy nature of the service had been conclusively shown in a Return obtained in 1860 by the hon. and gallant Member for Aberdeen (Colonel Sykes). From this it appeared that the number of vessels stationed on the West Coast during ten years, from 1858 to 1867, inclusive, averaged about twenty - two vessels. During those ten years the cases of sickness amounted to 33,713, invaliding to 865, and deaths to 448. The pay for ten years was £740,875, and the number of slaves captured 8,330. He gave the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty credit for reducing the ships upon that station, though not to the full extent which he had given the House reason to expect. From a Return published as to the health of the Navy for the last thirteen years, it appeared that the relative proportions on the Home and West Coast Stations were—for every 1,000 of the force—at home, 1,027 cases of disease and injury, twenty-five invalided, and eight deaths; while on the West Coast the ratio was 1,966 cases of disease and injury, fifty-seven invalided, and twenty-six deaths. Efficient sailors were costly of production, and he appealed to the House no longer to allow the lives of these men to be exposed unnecessarily on this pestiferous service. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving that the African Squadron ought to be materially reduced at the earliest possible date.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, in the opinion of this House, the African Squadron ought to be materially reduced at the earliest practicable date."—(Mr. Rylands.)
§ MR. LIDDELL
said, he felt bound to remonstrate strongly against the course which the hon. Gentleman opposite had taken. Nobody could have supposed, from the terms of the Notice 845 placed upon the Paper, that the House was to be launched into a China debate without an opportunity being afforded to hon. Members of refreshing their recollections as to facts, or of preparing themselves to reply to the arguments which might be used. In the main, he agreed with the policy which the hon. Gentleman had sketched out as the right one for the House to pursue; but that lion. Gentleman had brought a heavy bill of indictment against more than one public servant and several gallant officers; and it was not fair to hon. Members that charges, which would grate harshly and cruelly upon the feelings of officers engaged on distant and arduous services, should be made in the House without the possibility of their being met in debate, unless hon. Members ventured to trust to memory, which, in cases of this kind, was often a delusive support. He complained of the course adopted by the hon. Member in bringing into debate without notice, charges against the character and conduct of officers who were absent on foreign service, and he hoped this course would not be taken as a precedent. Last year, in the debate upon Chinese affairs which occurred, almost every circumstance which had been alluded to came under the view of Parliament, and the matters were fully explained by the Minister. References were then made to the conduct of the Earl of Clarendon, and he took occasion to express approval of the conduct of that noble Earl in reference to his Chinese policy. He might also remind the House that Consul Gibson, who had been frequently mentioned in the speech of the lion. Gentleman, was removed by Lord Clarendon by a summary act of authority, which, in his opinion, his Lordship was perfectly justified in exercising. The hon. Gentleman had also alluded to Admiral Keppel and Lieutenant Gurdon. Now, Admiral Keppel was an officer who was an honour to the service, and who, if he had been so minded, might, probably, have been able to adduce evidence, derived from public documents to justify his conduct in many particulars. As for Lieutenant Gurdon, it must be a painful thing for him to have his character attacked without being able to defend it. Lieutenant Gurdon, it should be remembered, was a young officer. Now, a young officer, when called upon 846 by a Consul to do a thing, had very little choice but to obey the summons; and all must admit that Lieutenant Gurdon performed his duty with the utmost gallantry and success. He merely referred to these matters with the view of showing the inconvenience of the course taken this evening by the hon. Gentleman opposite. The House had been already deluded by the terms of the Motion, and he had no doubt that many hon. Members had come down to discuss the question of which notice had been given. In regard, however, to the maintenance of the African Squadron, he concurred in the line of policy which the hon. Gentleman had sketched out. The hon. Gentleman had very ably and forcibly stated the reasons why that squadron should be reduced to a minimum. The policy of maintaining the police of foreign waters and coasts was a policy which, in his opinion, the House ought to condemn. We had far too long pursued that policy, which he trusted, however, a Reformed Parliament would absolutely refuse to support.
§ COLONEL SYKES
remarked that the I hon. Gentleman's speech had no reference whatever to his Notice of Motion, which was headed "Navy—African Squadron." That had nothing what ever to do with our Chinese policy—the substance of his speech, which was entirely out of place on the present occasion. When, however, the subject came to be discussed, he (Colonel Sykes) would undertake to prove that all the hon. Member's statements were misapprehension of facts. For example, the hon. Member had spoken of Lieutenant Domville attacking the vessels; but the truth was that, in doing so he was acting under the express orders and superintendance of a Chinese mandarin, who was on board his gunboat. The vessels were conveying opium surreptitiously along the coast, and the mandarin knowing that very well, ordered Lieutenant Domville to attack them as pirates, which he did with distinguished gallantry. There was no failure of duty on the part of Lieutenant Domville, for everything was done in conformity with the treaty. To revert to the Notice of Motion: the loss of life on the African Station had no doubt been very great between 1858 and 1867, as the Parliamentary Returns moved for by him had shown, and the squadron was main- 847 tained at a very heavy cost, although years had latterly elapsed since a slave ship was captured. Twenty-five of our vessels were formerly kept there; but his right hon. Friend (Mr. Childers) had reduced the number to eleven. The right hon. Gentleman could not, therefore, be fairly accused of having done nothing; but, on the contrary, he was entitled to the thanks of the House and of the country for what he had done during the last two years. He should, however, like to see a further reduction, as, in his opinion, eleven vessels were not required on the African coast now that the slave trade had been abolished. All we wanted now was sufficient protection for our trade, which was much more considerable than the hon. Gentleman seemed to imagine.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
, having been referred to by the hon. Gentleman who introduced this Motion (Mr. Rylands), wished to say a few words upon it. In the first place, he might mention that he himself had no intention of again bringing this subject forward, as he was quite satisfied with the assurance given last year by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty. He agreed with the remarks which had fallen from the hon. Members for Aberdeen (Colonel Sykes) and Northumberland (Mr. Liddell), that the Mover of the Resolution had travelled out of the original question, and that the hon. Member had passed strictures on the naval, military, and civil authorities of a somewhat unusual character. Whilst he agreed in the condemnations which had been passed with regard to our policy in China and other distant countries, he thought the hon. Member had hardly placed the blame on the shoulders of those who were really responsible. He ought rather to have addressed his observations to those who inaugurated the mischievous commercial foreign policy which had for so many years prevailed in this country, and not have cast the blame on those officials whose duty it had been to carry out that policy. As to the maintenance of the squadron on the West Coast of Africa, he thought the hon. Gentleman hardly laid sufficient stress upon what his right hon. Friend (Mr. Childers) said last year. The right hon. Gentleman said that in the future disposal of the squadron regard would be had to the trade of this country; but that the 848 supposed existence of that defunct institution—the slave trade—woiild not be taken into account. He confessed he was strongly of opinion that the horrors of the slave trade in former days were actually caused, in a great measure, by the maintenance of this squadron, in addition to the great sacrifice of the lives of our sailors. He looked upon the entire policy of these slave squadrons as a mischievous Quixotism, and he cordially rejoiced that the reckless waste of British lives had been brought to an end. The slave trade had ceased to exist as an institution, not in consequence of the exertions of the squadron, but because there was now no demand for slaves from the West Coast of Africa. He had every reason to believe that his right hon. Friend had faithfully carried out the assurance he gave last year to the House.
§ MR. MAGNIAC
said, that had it not been for the extraordinary remarks which had been made on worthless authorities he should not have taken any notice of this subject; but as negotiations were proceeding at the present time, with the view of improving the relations of this country with China, he was anxious that the House should not take for granted all that had been said for the want of a specific and distinct reply. The hon. Member (Mr. Rylands) had revived an old but unfounded calumny; and because he was not personally acquainted with the circumstances of the case, he had quoted The Times' Commissioner and Admiral Keppel—neither of whom was qualified to speak on behalf of the China merchants—and on their authority had stated that war was the object of the China merchants, who wished to force their goods upon the Chinese. Although the hon. Member might not be aware of it, yet it was a fact that merchants were not in the habit of sending their goods into the interior of a country when a warlike expedition was being carried on, and, from an extensive experience, he (Mr. Magniae) could state that a war caused merchants to lose in one year more than ten times as much as they gained during the same time of peace. China merchants were not unknown to this House, while out of it they were distinguished for the noble manner in which, during very difficult times, they had discharged their obligations, and one of them had been 849 rewarded by Her Majesty for the noble manner in which he sustained the lives of thousands of his fellow-countrymen. With regard to the "good behaviour" which had been alluded to by the hon. Member, he (Mr. Magniac) might inform the House that, since the date of the treaty by which British merchants with passports were allowed to travel into the interior of China, not an instance of misbehaviour had occurred, nor had there been the slightest difficulty with the Chinese authorities. That fact he had occasion to represent to the Government when he recently asked them to endeavour to obtain an extension of the privilege, to which the China merchants attached great importance, and he repeated it to the House without fear of being contradicted. This subject would probably come before the House again, when what he and hon. Members near him had stated would be fully sustained; but they did not desire to embarrass the Government in the negotiations which were now going on. He left the matter with confidence in the hands of the Government, and asked the House to suspend its judgment, except as to those statements which he could confidently allege were made in utter ignorance of the subject.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
said, that when the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Rylands) gave notice of his intention to move a Resolution in reference to the squadron on the West Coast of Africa, he had no idea that it was the intention of the hon. Gentleman to cast a severe censure on the conduct of those officers who, in recent years, had been employed in the service in China. As, however, the hon. Member had spoken in harsh terms about a young officer (Lieutenant Domville, of the Algerine,) who was nearly related to him, he asked the House to allow him to make some remarks in that gallant officer's defence. Without fear of contradiction from either side of the House, he asserted that from the day Lieutenant Domville entered Her Majesty's service to the present time he had borne as high a character for steadiness, discipline, bravery, and good conduct as any officer that had ever held a commission. His gallant relative, when a very young lieutenant, had the command of Her Majesty's ship Algerine in the China Sea, and with that vessel only he encountered thirteen war 850 junks in a remarkable action, the result of which was that Admiral Keppel, under whom he served, wrote home to the Lords of the Admiralty in these terms—The skill and gallantry shown by Lieutenant Domville and by the officers and crew of the Alqerine, in engaging and pursuing a force so vastly superior, will, I trust, meet with some mark of their Lordships' approval.He might add that Lieutenant Domville engaged those junks at the request, and with the concurrence of the mandarin, who was on board the Algerine, and with respect to that matter he submitted to the House that it would be useless to put a mandarin on board one of Her Majesty's vessels, in order to advise officers as to what course they should take, if those officers were not to be guided by the advice which the mandarin might give. Prior to that action, the Chinese junks had fired upon Lieutenant Domville's ship, and after the high terms in which Admiral Keppel had spoken of the engagement, the Board of Admiralty thought proper to promote Lieutenant Domville to the rank of commander. He submitted that that promotion for his gallantry was a fact which ought to shield Lieutenant Domville from anything like censure, especially when it was remembered that he had risked his life and the safety of his ship. He could not help adding a remark upon the despatch which the Admiralty sent out in March, 1869, because he thought that in that despatch there was language which endangered the contentment of our naval service abroad. He alluded particularly to these words, which were addressed to Admiral Keppel—Looking to the foregoing considerations, my Lords have no hesitation in expressing their inability to concur with that part of your despatch which lays it down that, when a number of armed vessels fire on one of Her Majesty's ships on the high seas, rather than permit their papers to be examined, that act is primâ facie evidence of piracy.The despatch proceeded to state that Chinese merchant vessels were, by law, entitled to navigate the high seas armed with heavy guns; but he (Sir John Pakington) contended that they were not entitled to use those guns on Her Majesty's ships. He should be glad to hear the explanation of the First Lord of the Admiralty on this point; but he submitted that it was a dangerous doc- 851 trine to say that a young officer, who was guided by a mandarin, was not to be at liberty to regard as pirates vessels which, fired on him under such circumstances as those which occurred to the Algerine. Such a doctrine would much embarrass officers in command of ships abroad in discharge of the difficult and delicate duties which devolved upon them in dealing with the piracy which was well known to prevail in the China Seas.
§ MR. BUXTON
could not forbear saying, in reply to the hon. Member for York (Mr. J. Lowther), that no other nation had ever pursued such an unselfish, generous, and noble policy as that which England took with regard to the suppression of the slave trade. Although that course might not have been exactly in accordance with the principle of political economy, it had been sanctioned by some of the most distinguished statesmen which the country had produced, amongst whom were Mr. Pitt, Lord Aberdeen, and Lord Palmerston; and he was therefore sorry to hear any expressions which seemed to indicate that the present generation would not accept the policy which their fathers carried out. The slave trade might not have been abolished by squadrons on the West Coast of Africa; but there could be no doubt that it was thereby repressed, and would otherwise have attained such proportions that England would not have been able to suppress it. The hon. Member for York tad said that it was the attempts which were made to suppress the slave trade which gave rise to incidents of a horrible character; but having heard that statement made elsewhere he (Mr. Buxton) had made inquiries, and had found that when Wilberforce first brought forward the subject, the condition of the slave vessels was quite as bad as they had ever been since that time. There was no doubt now that the slave trade was extinct, or all but extinct, that the reasons for the maintenance of that squadron had disappeared. Indeed, it might have been reduced, in his opinion, of late years far more than it had been, and it was, he believed, only because the Admiralty once they got into a groove were liable to remain in it that it had not more rapidly diminished. Under the energetic rule of his right hon. Friend the present First Lord of the Admiralty 852 (Mr. Childers) a waste of money and life, which everyone must deplore, would, he felt sure, be put an end to.
§ MR. C. S. READ
said, he desired to join the general protest against the remarkable course which had been taken by the hon. Member for Warrington in bringing forward a Motion on a general subject, and then going out of his way to attack two gallant officers, whose names were very dear to the inhabitants of Norfolk. When officers were intrusted, in times of difficulty and danger, with the honour and the interests of Britain, hon. Members should, he thought, speak of their deeds with pleasure and admiration, rather than subject them to what must be regarded as false accusations. One of the officers mentioned by the hon. Member (Lieutenant Gurdon) was a rising young officer, who had been frequently mentioned meritoriously by his superior officer, and who was bound to obey, on the occasion in question, the instructions of the Consul, and who executed his task with ability and success. As to Admiral Sir Henry Keppel, it would be impertinent in him to say anything in defence of that gallant officer, whose distinguished career was, he felt assured, not in the slightest degree tarnished by what had fallen from the hon. Member.
§ MR. CHILDERS
said, he hoped the House, before he entered upon the general question which had been raised by the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Rylands), would allow him to dispose of some remarks which he had made with respect to our naval officers in China—the late Admiral in command of the squadron in that quarter and one or two officers of lower rank. He (Mr. Childers) must, to some extent, join in the remarks which, had been made as to the inconvenience of going into particular questions affecting individual officers on general Motions. If he had had any idea of the course which would have been taken, it would have been his duty to have carefully perused the Papers, and to have ascertained precisely what were the views which had been expressed by the Admiralty; but he had received no notice on the point, and he hoped the House would, under those circumstances, excuse him if his reply, so far as the officers in question were concerned, was not so full and satisfactory as they would desire. Anyone who had read the Papers which had 853 been published last year, could not have failed to perceive that the Government felt it to be their duty to state that they could not in all respects concur in the wisdom of certain proceedings which had occurred in China. When that judgment was challenged—and it had been, to a certain extent, challenged last year—the Government would be prepared to meet any charge which might be made in connection with it. He must, however, remind the House and his hon. Friend that the Government had by no means indulged in a general censure of the conduct of the officers engaged in the proceedings to which he (Mr. Childers) referred. As to Sir Henry Keppel—the Admiral on the station—there was no more gallant officer in the service; and it would be his duty, if that gallant officer's conduct was called in question, to be very precise in stating that, while there were some things which, as the published Papers showed, he could not endorse, he, at the same time, entirely approved the course which Admiral Keppel had taken in a great number of cases which had been brought under the attention both of the Admiralty and the public. With respect to another officer—Commander, then Lieutenant, Domiville—he might observe that he had been first promoted by his predecessor in Office; that there was no more distinguished young officer in the service; and that he entirely endorsed what had been said of him by his right hon. Friend opposite (Sir John Pakington). The Admiralty despatch of the 8th of March, 1869, did not, he might add, bear at all the interpretation which his right hon. Friend had put upon it. The facts of the case were that some Chinese junks had fired on a British ship-of-war under circumstances of a very provoking character. After the junks had fired on the ship she succeeded in cutting one of them out, and it was found that the junk thus seized was a merchant vessel and not a pirate, as had been supposed. But having discovered that she was a merchant vessel, there was good reason to believe that the other junks were merchant vessels also. So that the mere fact of their having fired upon Her Majesty's ship was not primâ facie evidence of their being pirates sufficient to justify her on the second occasion in firing upon them, or to justify Lieutenant Domville in commencing a sanguinary engage- 854 ment. That was the view taken by the Admiralty, and they accordingly issued orders that Chinese vessels were not to be attacked, or their fire provoked, unless from previous information there was no reasonable doubt they were pirates. That was the whole meaning of the despatch which was written, after the usual consultation with those who were the advisers of the Department in these matters. He had not, however, had an opportunity of referring to the Papers on the subject, and he could, therefore, only trust to his memory in giving this account. Another officer—Lieutenant Gurdon—had been alluded to, who had since been promoted to the rank of commander; and so far as he was concerned the Admiralty had felt it to be their duty also to state very clearly that they thought he had committed a very serious error of judgment—as, for instance, in having called for a ransom; but of his great gallantry and ability as a naval officer there could be no question. Though, he might add, the Admiralty refused to promote Lieutenant Gurdon at the time, he had since been promoted, and would, he hoped, long continue to be an ornament to Her Majesty's service. Having said thus much with regard to personal matters, he should, in the next place, advert to the general question which his hon. Friend had raised. No one who had heard his hon. Friend's speech could complain of the manner in which he had spoken of the original proposals which had been made by himself in 1867—proposals which had, he might say, been initiated by the statement of his noble Friend the late Secretary to the Admiralty (Lord Henry Lennox), who, in moving the Estimates for that year, though he did not provide for a reduction in this matter, yet hinted that the subject was well worthy the consideration both of the Admiralty and of Parliament. The facts of the case were that the force on the foreign stations to which he alluded—that was to say, North America and West Indies, South-east Coast of America, East Indies, Cape, and West Coast of Africa, the Pacific, China, and Australia—was, exclusive of ships ordered home, 17,400 in 1866; 17,300 in 1867; and 17,500 in 1868; giving an average of 17,400. In 1868 his right hon. Friend who preceded him in Office commenced, in accordance with 855 his statement to the House, the gradual reduction of that force. He had not by him at the moment the Papers showing the extent to which the reduction was carried; but he believed he was right in saying that it did not go beyond 2,000 or 3,000. In 1867 he himself, sitting on the Opposition side of the House, had proposed that the strength of the force at the stations which he had mentioned should be 10,600. He stated at the time that that proposal could not, of course, be based on official information, but only on such information as a non-official member could procure, and he believed he added that he intended the reduction should be spread over a series of years. On taking Office, less than a year and a-half after, the present Government had come to the conclusion that the force should be reduced to 11,800, with the prospect of still further reductions, and at the present time they had been enabled to reduce it to 11,500, or only 900 above the number at which he had stated in 1867 it was desirable it should stand. He hoped this result would be considered satisfactory. Certainly he did not anticipate in 1867 that within three years the reductions he then spoke of would be carried out, but it had been to the extent of 900 men less than he anticipated, and he hoped before long to carry the reduction still further. Now, with regard to what had been done at the particular stations named by the hon. Gentleman, he proposed last year to bring the force on the China station down to 2,750 men, and it now stood at exactly that strength; but he had no hesitation in saying that a further reduction was not only feasible but would be advantageous. His hon. Friend had quoted expressions of his about the Quixotic idea that we alone were to keep the police of the seas. Curiously enough, the Government had quite recently received proposals from foreign Governments for combined action as to the suppression of piracy in the China Seas. Those proposals had been warmly received by the Admiralty, and the effect of them would be that the strength of our squadron there would be still further reduced. He could not say to what extent this reduction would go. We had out there a considerable force of gunboats. It would not probably be advantageous to bring them home, but their number would be diminished; they would 856 not be replaced, and probably one or more of the larger ships would also be withdrawn. At any rate, the reduction of the China Squadron had reached the point he anticipated, and would still go on. On the East Indian Station we had a larger force than he anticipated last year, for reasons he explained the other day; but an arrangement had been made with the Indian Government, under which they would contribute £70,000 a year, being the cost of 400 out of the 1,200 men kept there. He was sorry to say that there was an additional source of expense on that station, for on the East Coast of Africa the slave trade was rapidly increasing, and an increased force was required to keep it down. This was not, however, the time to go into a question on which more would be known shortly, and Papers relating to it would have been placed before Parliament; but undoubtedly this cause led to an increase of force on the East Indian station. On the Australian Station they had kept their word, and the reductions which he previously announced had been made; but there again, as the House would remember, a very nefarious traffic had sprung up in the South Seas in connection which the deportation of natives, and a vessel would be put upon the station during the fine weather season to assist in putting an end to this traffic. This would temporarily add one vessel to the force which would otherwise be necessary upon the station. With respect to the ' North American Station, his hon. Friend said the Government no longer wished to incur much expense on account of Canada, while the loss of life in the West Indies rendered that a calamitous station. No person could be more alive than the Government were to the inexpediency of an unnecessary detention of Her Majesty's ships in West Indian waters; the tendency to yellow fever and the loss of life on the station made the Admiralty most anxious to keep down the number of ships in the West Indies. But owing to the serious disturbances in Cuba and Hayti, it had been found impossible to make the reductions that might be desired in these waters; while in the North it was not merely a question of defending Canada, for while technically Canada was part of a dominion that reached the sea, it could hardly be called a maritime colony. But we have serious duties in connection with the 857 fisheries on the Newfoundland Coast and elsewhere, and it would be ill-advised, and, indeed, impracticable, in the present state of things, unduly to diminish our naval force in North America, at any rate during the fishing season. On the Pacific Station and (South-eastern Coast of America, our force had been very greatly reduced. He had anticipated that it would be possible to bring down our force on the South-east Coast of America from 1,100 to 800; but it had been brought down to 550, and on the Pacific Coast it had been reduced from 2,700 to 1,800, or 150 less than he stated last year it was intended to keep there. In all these cases, therefore, the reduction nearly came up to his suggestion in 1867, and was larger than he proposed in 1869. He now came to the "West Coast of Africa, and he was much obliged to his hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Sykes) for pointing out that upon the figures quoted by his hon. Friend (Mr. Rylands), he had more than fulfilled his promises last year. The squadron on the West Coast of Africa used to be separated from the Cape Squadron, and the result was that the men employed on the West Coast had not the advantage of being able, after a certain amount of service in that fearfully hot climate, to go to cooler quarters, unless the ship came back either to the Mediterranean or to this country. The Admiralty had made a beneficial change by combining the two stations, and vessels might now, after short service in the West Indies, be sent to a cooler station in the neighbourhood of the Cape. That change caused some additional expense by increasing the number of men and ships; but the effect upon the health of the crews was a beneficial one, and in the long run it was an economical change. The combined squadron now consisted of two corvettes, five gun-vessels, which acted as cruisers, three stationary ships, a paddle-steamer used for transport service at the Cape, a small steamer used for river purposes, and a store ship. The line of coast from the Gambia down to the Southern Tropic, over 2,000 miles long, was kept by only three cruisers and one senior officer's ship. He did not think it possible to do less in the present state of things, though it might eventually be possible to reduce the force by one ship; but, meanwhile, the effect of keeping only these ships in the hot weather part 858 of the station, and two cruisers and one senior officer's ship in the cool weather station, added greatly to the health of the officers and men. To accept the Motion would be to say that it would be possible to look after British interests along the line of coast he had mentioned with less than three small gunboats; but he thought the House would hardly be inclined to say that the existing force was too large. He should deprecate, therefore, the adoption of the Motion. At the same time, he was quite prepared to give this assurance. There was no one who was more anxious than he was to reduce the West Coast Squadron to the smallest possible extent, and he would leave no stone unturned, no effort untried, to reduce it within proper compass. He thought he saw his way to a still further gradual reduction, and after this assurance he hoped his hon. Friend would not press the Motion.
§ MR. RYLANDS
said, that after the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, he should not trouble the House to divide; but, at the same time, he wished to say that he did not think he was liable to the charge which had been brought against him in reference to what he had said as to certain officers employed on the China Station. He had simply quoted the facts as he found them in the blue book which was issued last year, and he had not meant to make any personal attacks upon individuals; and, upon the wide terms of his Motion, he thought he was quite justified in pointing out that our naval operations there were sometimes detrimental to the interests of the country.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.