HC Deb 22 April 1872 vol 210 cc1665-74

(MR. Knatchbull-Hugesson, Mr. William Edward Forster.)


Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 (Colonial courts empowered to try certain offences).

ADMIRAL ERSKINE moved to insert in page 1, line 24, after the word "say"— Ships, embarks, receives, or assists in shipping, embarking, or receiving any native or natives exceeding six in number of any of the aforesaid Islands for the purpose of importing and removing such native or natives into any Island or place not being his or their native place, and not in Her Majesty's Dominions, or within the jurisdiction of any civilized power, with or without the consent of such native or natives. The hon. and gallant Member said, he proposed the Amendment with the intention of endeavouring to stop a traffic which it was impossible to regulate, and which consequently must otherwise degenerate into a regular slave trade. Although his Amendment might not have the full effect he desired, yet he trusted, that at least it would secure to the Polynesian Islanders some such protection as that they bad extended to the Chinese coolies. Attention was called on a former occasion to the difference between the emigration between Hong Kong and our own colonies, and between Hong Kong and other ports in that country not under our jurisdiction, and it was shown that in the first case the traffic was so regulated as to be of great advantage to the coolies, as well as those requiring labourers. It was shown, however, that the evils of the coolie traffic were not put an end to by insuring them a decent passage on board ship, but that to make the traffic tolerable it had become necessary to insure that the contract made with the coolies was carried out, and that they wore returned to their homes when their engagement was completed. This was done in the case of the Polynesian Islanders, who were imported into colonies where the English had jurisdiction; but no protection would be afforded to those islanders who were carried to places not under British rule, but to other independent islands. The hon. and gallant Member proceeded to contend that it was a farce to talk of obtaining the free consent of these Polynesians to engage themselves to labour in other places than our colonies, and he also maintained that even the consent of a man who had been sold as a chattel could make no alteration in his position as a slave. He also quoted the opinion of Lord Normanby, Governor of Queensland, that the state of things among these islands was very bad, and that gross atrocities were committed against the natives, but that the vessels belonging to Queensland, where the immigration was well regulated, were in no way implicated in those practices. He also quoted the Emigration Commissioners' Report, to show that the conveying of those Polynesians from one island to another not under our jurisdiction must necessarily be a traffic carried on under our flag which possessed almost the character of the Slave Trade, and even some more objectionable features. This traffic was not new. About 30 years ago, a practice prevailed among the Pacific Islands of embarking natives from one group, either by their own consent or by purchase or hire from their chief, and sending them to some other groups to forcibly occupy trading stations. On one occasion two vessels under British colours—the Sophia and Sultana—took from Tongatabu 64 men in that way, under two Englishmen, named Henry and Scott, and went to the island of Vate, where, in the first onslaught, they killed 26 natives, and suffocated a large number more in a cave to which they had fled for refuge; for the natives, who were only armed with clubs, could not fight against their antagonists, who were armed with muskets. A hundred pounds was paid to Maafu, a Tongan chief, for the expedition, which was considered to be very successful, as it secured a large cargo of sandal wood, at the cost of only 200 or 300 native lives, which was considered a trifle scarcely worth talking about. On another occasion a number of Fiji islanders were taken by an Englishman named Fitzgerald to New Caledonia. The New Caledonians, resenting this forcible occupation of their territory, seized the first vessel, and killed the master and all the crew; Mr. Fitzgerald escaping in the other vessel, and leaving the Fijians at the mercy of their enemies. Military expeditions were also organized among the present settlers in the Fijis. The Fijian Gazette of December last, in announcing one of these undertakings, called attention to the fact that an expedition was being got up to take forcible possession of rich and fertile districts still in the hands of the natives, and said that— Many people would be found ready to shoulder the rifle and take possession of a country which was peopled by blood-thirsty savages living in a state of heathenism horrible to contemplate. The paragraph also spoke of the benefit that would accrue from retaining the natives— In small lots as labourers of the land, where they might be Christianized and civilized, which would be a work of which the world would approve. His hope was that effectual measures would be taken to stop such a nefarious state of things as now existed, and for the reasons he had stated that the House would accept his Amendment.

Amendment proposed, In page 1, line 24, after the word "say," to insert the words "ships, embarks, receives, or assists in shipping, embarking, or receiving any native or natives exceeding six in number of any of the aforesaid Islands for the purpose of importing and removing such native or natives into any Island or place not being his or their native place, and not in Her Majesty's dominions or within the jurisdiction of any civilised power, with or without the consent of such native or natives."—(Admiral Erskine.)


said, he agreed in many of the facts stated by the hon. and gallant Member, who, however, had overlooked the fact that the Bill did not attempt to remedy every abuse, or follow up every crime which could be mentioned in connection with this traffic. It had been found that gross abuses existed in regard to the importation of labourers from these islands. British subjects had been concerned in these practices; but when the ships commanded or owned by them had been arrested by Her Majesty's vessels, it was impossible to condemn either the individuals or the ships, because it could not be proved that the persons confined in the ships and carried away had been so removed for the purpose of being, in the legal sense of the term, employed as slaves. The object of this Bill was to meet that difficulty, and to prevent natives being decoyed away by false pretences and under contracts which they could not understand to what was practically a state of slavery. Had the provisions of the Bill been law, the Daphne, and other vessels of a similar character, would not have escaped, whereas at present the difficulty of conviction deterred British officers from incurring the responsibility of seizures, which might expose them to prosecutions. The Bill provided that it should be felony to take these natives without their consent and employ them as labourers; but the Amendment propose that it should be felony for any British subject to embark these natives with or without their consent. It would therefore apply to islands over which we had no jurisdiction, and forbid British subjects to assist people from one island to another, even for an innocent object. It was not possible to accept such a proposal. There was another point which must not be forgotten. All the provisions of the Bill had been carefully agreed upon with the Australasian Colonies, on whom much of the expense of carrying the Act into force would fall. By an extension of jurisdiction the responsibility and expenses would be increased, and it would be a serious proceeding to cast that additional responsibility and expense on the colonies without their approval. He hoped the Amendment would not be pressed.


said, he must express his deep regret that the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies could not see his way to the adoption of the Amendment proposed by the hon. and gallant Member for Stirlingshire (Admiral Erskine). There was not the slightest room for doubt that the most specious and fraudulent representations were made to the poor people, for whose protection the measure under consideration had been introduced; and that by the very nature of those representations they were frequently deluded and entrapped into giving an apparent consent to their expatriation from their native country. Moreover, from difficulties arising from language, it was almost practically impossible to discover whether a bonâ fide consent had, in doubtful cases, been given. For the purpose, then, of ameliorating those objections, he thought every possible means should be adopted to stop such iniquitous practices, and that the Amendment proposed, he thought, was well calculated to effect. Before he sat down he wished to pay his tribute of admiration to Mr. March, the Consul at the Fiji Islands. Mr. March was a young man who, previous to his appointment, had distinguished himself by most gallantly saving several seamen from drowning. His conduct at the Fiji Islands had been such as to deserve the gratitude of the friends of humanity, and he hoped in the very difficult circumstances in which he was placed, and in which he had shown such ability, he would receive the confidence and support of the Government.


condemned the traffic in natives from the Fiji and other islands, and was sure the Bill would be inoperative without the Amendment.


said, that the Bill under discussion was practically condemned by our Government with reference to the traffic with Chinese emigrants. It was nothing but a slave traffic; and this was so well known that we had found it necessary to restrict it.


protested against the British flag being disgraced by the toleration of this nefarious traffic under the pretext of the exigencies of emigration. He thought it highly desirable the same restrictions should be imposed in reference to the traffic between these islands, as was taken with respect to the emigrants from China to the East Indies. It was really the worst kind of slave trading.


said, he was as much opposed to the slave trade as anyone, but he thought that the hon. and gallant Admiral must show that those islanders could not be imported to their own advantage before the House could accept his Amendment. The only fault of the Bill was that it did not impose on the colonies the expense of carrying out the regulations.


suggested that if the Government could not accept the Amendment, they would bring up some provision which would have effect of putting a stop to the traffic they all regarded as so objectionable.


was not wedded to the terms of his own Amendment, and would willingly accept any provision having a similar object which the Government might suggest. His main object was to secure that these islanders should not be carried from one island to another, where they were sold into slavery. His Amendment had nothing to do with the Australian Colonies.


said, he should be glad to support the Amendment of his hon. and gallant Friend (Admiral Erskine) who had special knowledge on this subject.


reminded the hon. and gallant Admiral that the crime complained of—that was, kidnapping—was punishable as felony under the Bill; but there was no such thing as kidnapping a person with his own consent.


thought that on the face of it, this traffic was immoral, and ought at any cost to be stopped, for passengers would not be carried from one island to another without payment, but the wretched natives had no means of paying for their own passage. When they were taken to Queensland, the colonists paid for them, sometimes £10 or £12 per head, and when taken elsewhere natives were claimed as property by the masters of vessels on pretence of their not having paid their passage money.


said, Her Majesty's Government could not accept the Amendment, because it would render it difficult for the friendly co-operation of the Australian Colonies to be obtained in carrrying out the provisions of the measure.


suggested that the provisions of the Bill should be adopted, and the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Admiral added as a rider to the clause. He would point out that kidnapping men to take them from one island to another was really an injury to emigration to the Australian Colonies, therefore there was no reason to suppose that the colonies would not act.


said, that although he hated the trade as much as anyone could do, he yet feared that if the Amendment was carried it would go beyond the public opinion of the colonies, and so imperil the effective working of the measure.


, on the contrary, believed the public opinion of the colonies went as far as the Amendment before the Committee, which he, therefore, supported.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 49; Noes 64: Majority 15.


moved, in line 30, after "consent," to insert— Such consent to be in writing, and signed by one of the missionaries resident on the island from which such native shall be imported or removed.


in the interest of the missionaries, deprecated such a duty being cast upon them, which, moreover, might entail very disagreeable consequences upon them, in the event of the death or ill-treatment of natives to whose deportation they had been consenting parties.


said, that the language of the clause was opposed to the instructions of many of the great missionary societies.


said, for that reason, if for nothing else, he must oppose the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 4 to 8, inclusive, agreed to.


, in moving the insertion, after Clause 8, of a new clause— (Holding of Vice Admiralty Courts.) Vice Admiralty Courts shall be holden at Levuka, in Ovalau, or at any other place in the Fiji Islands that may be deemed more convenient, on board Her Majesty's vessels of war, or in territory that may be acquired by the Crown, said: Sir, I beg now to move the clause which stands on the Paper in my name. Believing, as I do, that Her Majesty's Government have framed and introduced this Bill with the sincere intention of extinguishing the odious traffic against which it is directed, I confidently hope that they will adopt this clause, as it must be apparent to them that without a Vice Admiralty Court at the Fiji Islands all the other provisions of the Bill will be futile. Levuka is distant from Sydney—where is the nearest Admiralty Court—more than 30 degrees of longitude. The voyage from the Fiji Islands to Queensland, as we know from the Queensland Polynesian Act, 31 Vict., c. 47, s. 18, occupies 30 days for sailing vessels, and 15 days for steamers, and I suppose we may reckon the voyage to Sydney at about the same. If, therefore, Her Majesty's men-of-war are to convey vessels captured on a charge of kidnapping from these islands to Sydney and to wait there till they are adjudicated upon, it will be three months before they are back at Levuka. Why, Sir, it would be almost worth the while of the kidnappers to sacrifice a vessel every year in order to denude the station of the men-of-war and enjoy such a golden opportunity for carrying on their trade. It may, perhaps, be said that commanding officers might detach portions of their crews to take vessels to Sydney, but to say nothing of the other disadvantages of detaching men in that way, there would be no certainty of their rejoining their ships. The possibility of vessels not being condemned must also be considered. In that case, what a heavy action for damages there would be for the long detention and perhaps for injuries received by the vessels in crossing a dangerous sea! That that is no imaginary case may be seen from what took place with regard to the Challenge, a schooner carried last year to Sydney by Captain Montgomerie, which was dismasted en route. The owners threatened Captain Montgomerie with an action for £700, and had not the captain of the Challenge been condemned, they might have succeeded. I believe, then, that the prospect of such actions would prevent naval officers, or any other officers, from being very zealous in capturing vessels if they had to take them to Sydney. I say this, remembering when I was in Persia, seeing in the Correspondence about the Slave Trade in the Persian Gulf, that there was the same difficulty there, because there was no Vice Admiralty Court at Bushire, and none nearer than Bombay. The voyage to Bombay from the Persian Gulf is not so long and dangerous as that from the Fiji Islands to Sydney, but still it acted as a powerful deterrent to capturing slavers in the Gulf. We heard lately from the noble Lord the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, that although the Slave Trade is as flourishing as ever in the Gulf, yet only three slavers have been captured there in eight years. This he attributes to the paucity of ships of war, but I think it is also in part owing to there being no Admiralty Court at Bushire. I recommended the establishment of one in 1863, and I cannot imagine why it has not been done. I hope, then, I have shown good grounds for establishing a Court at Levuka, and I ask what possible objection there can be to it? The objection certainly cannot be on account of our want of territory. It is true, that owing to the mistaken policy, as I think, of Her Majesty's Government, we have no territory in the Fiji Islands, but neither have we any at Zanzibar, where there is a Court. Neither can it be on the ground of expense; for the Admiralty Courts at Zanzibar and Aden cost nothing—the Consul performing the duties at the former place and the President at the latter. The only reason that I can see for objecting to the clause is, that it may be more in accordance with usage to establish the Court under Letters Patent, or an Order in Council. I find that the Vice Admiralty Court at Aden was established in 1861, by Letters Patent under the Great Seal, and that by an Order of Her Majesty in Council, dated the 9th of August, 1866, the Consul at Zanzibar was empowered— To have all such jurisdiction as for the time being ordinarily belongs to Courts of Vice Admiralty in Her Majesty's Possessions abroad. If it be deemed best to establish a Court at Levuka in either of the above ways, I shall be quite willing to withdraw the clause on receiving an assurance from the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State that this course will be followed.


regretted he could not accept the Amendment; but should have no objection to bring the matter under the notice of the Foreign Office.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 (Powers to seize suspected British vessels).

ADMIRAL ERSKINE moved, as an Amendment, in page 4, line 32, after "officer," to insert— 4. Any consul or consular agent appointed by Her Majesty to reside in any island not within the jurisdiction of any civilized power.


said, he would accept the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered To-morrow.