HC Deb 28 May 1872 vol 211 cc806-15

, in rising to call attention to the affairs of South Africa, and to move— That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that facilities should be afforded, by all methods which may be practicable, for the confederation of the Colonies and States of South Africa, said, that at present there were in that quarter of the world a great variety of interests, and if a confederation of States could be brought about rivalry would be put an end to, and great advantage result to the people themselves. The question of confederation had already been discussed in that House, and it had been a great deal discussed in the South African colonies, as was evident from the Papers that had been presented on the subject. One question which had created much discussion, and on which the most eminent statesmen of this country had given their opinion, was that of responsible government in the Cape Colony. He ventured to urge on the Government that if they were to introduce responsible government it should be on a large scale, comprehending all the colonies of South Africa. That part of the world was now split up into several States, which were sometimes placed in a position of rivalry by a conflict of interests, and their individual interests would be very much promoted by confederation. Governor Sir George Grey, when Governor of the Cape of Good Hope, wrote a remarkable letter to the then Secretary of State for the Colonies, the present Lord Lytton, forcibly urging the confederation of the South African States on the plan which had since been carried out in North America; and the wisdom of the words he used had been vindicated by everything that had occurred in South Africa from that time to this. His Excellency said— The defects of the present system appear to be that the country must be always at war in some direction, as some one of the several States in pursuit of its supposed interests will be involved in difficulties, either with some European or native State. Every such war forces all the other States into a position of an armed neutrality or of interference. For if the State is successful in the war it is waging, a native race will be broken up, and none can tell what territories its dispersed hordes may fall upon; nor can the other States be assured that the coloured tribes generally will not sympathize in the war, and that a general rising may not take place. Ever since South Africa has been broken up in the manner above detailed, large portions of it have always been in a state of constant anxiety and apprehension from these causes. In South Africa there were five States—the Colonies of the Cape of Good Hope and of Natal; Western Kaffraria, which was entirely surrounded by British territory, and which must be considered in any scheme of confederation; and the two Republics which, unfortunately, had been allowed to separate themselves from Britain—the Transvaal Republic, which left us in 1852, when the colonies were under the administration of the right hon. Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington), and the Orange Free State, which separated from us two years later, under the Colonial Secretaryship of the Duke of Newcastle. In the Papers just presented to Parliament, Sir Henry Barkly alluded to the question of confederation, and seemed to advocate it for the Cape and the Orange Free State. Recently, in "another place," there had been a discussion on the desirability of giving the Cape of Good Hope responsible government; but it was a very different question whether responsible government should be given by a large scheme of confederation such as that which he suggested. With regard to Natal, he wished to pay a passing tribute to the Native Minister, Mr. Shepstone, to whom the colony and this country were deeply indebted for his exertions in maintaining satisfactory relations with the Natives, and he hoped that Her Majesty's Government would place that gentleman in a position which would enable him to carry out his views for the improvement of the Native races, who were in excess of the White population. In Natal, Mr. Welbourne had proposed a scheme of railway communication with the Free State, which had the support of the Legislative Council, and of all the most influential men in the colony, and which could be carried out without a tunnel, and without a greater gradient than 1 in 32. This line seemed to be recommended by very weighty considerations. The state of locomotion in Natal was very bad indeed. The present roads were mere tracks; waggons were often detained three or four weeks; during the last dry season 4,000 head of cattle perished of overwork and want of sustenance; and the transport of sugar 40 miles from the county of Victoria, which produced from £200,000 to £250,000 worth of sugar yearly, cost double its freight from Natal to London. This state of things could not fail to exert an injurious influence on the colony, and showed the pressing necessity of railways, which here, as in America, ought to be constructed even before roads. There were 350,000 Kaffirs who had been gradually trained to habits of industry; their productive toil was absolutely paralyzed; and with improved communications their thousand ploughs might be multiplied by ten. The unani- mous support which the railway scheme had received in the colony entitled it to the attentive consideration of the Secretary of State, and should make the Government hesitate to exercise its power of veto. The Papers contained a curious correspondence with regard to a gentleman who came to this country as the Envoy of the Orange Free State, and who claimed, as the representative of an independent State, to confer with the Foreign Secretary; but it appeared that Her Majesty's Government very properly held that the relations between that State and the Mother Country ought to be dealt with by the Colonial Office. A question arose as to whom the diamond fields belonged, and the Orange Free State wished to have it referred to arbitration. It was suggested that three Commissioners should be appointed by each party; but the Orange Free State urged that there should be a power of appeal to some independent authority. To this proposition the Earl of Kimberley most properly objected, on the ground that England could not allow the question of her relations with South Africa to be interfered with by any foreign Power. Recently a rumour had reached him that the matter they had urged should be referred to the Dutch Minister in London; but he could not doubt that Her Majesty's Government would pursue the policy which the Earl of Kimberley had indicated. With regard to the South African Republic he might mention that he had seen a letter written by a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, who said the state of affairs had greatly altered there, and that public opinion was now against slavery and wars with the Native races. He trusted the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for the Colonies would be able to give information confirmatory of this statement. On former occasions he had called the attention of the House to the great atrocities connected with the system of "comandoes," which, in point of fact, was but another name for carrying children into slavery; but he was glad to learn that this practice was greatly on the decrease. The Rev. F. Leon Cachet, a clergyman of the Dutch Reformed Church, residing at Utrecht, in the Transvaal territory, says— Slavery in the Republic has received its deathblow. Notwithstanding the activity of our Government, notwithstanding the efforts of the enemies of justice, slavery in the Republic is dying out—never to be revived. The better-minded majority is having the upper hand over the evil minority. As regarded the diamond fields, a number of proclamations by Sir Henry Barkly, the Governor of the Cape, were printed in the Parliamentary Papers, and they showed the great wisdom with which Sir Henry had endeavoured to settle the affairs of that country. There was, however, one point on which he trusted the Under Secretary would furnish additional information. A paper which had been sent to him by Sir Fowell Buxton contained a report of a meeting held in the diamond fields, at which a resolution was passed to the effect that when any person purchased diamonds from a native, such native should receive 50 lashes in the public market-place. Such a punishment was most severe and unjust, and he felt assured Her Majesty's Government and Sir Henry Barkly would use their utmost exertions to prevent its being inflicted. He was glad to see the Government had given their support to the eminent statesman who now administered our affairs in South Africa. Sir Henry Barkly had distinguished himself in every part of the world, and it was very fortunate that he should now be able to govern our dominions in South Africa. In conclusion, he expressed a hope that it might be Sir Henry's good fortune to establish in South Africa a system of government similar to that by which our North American Colonies had been united. Everybody must have been gratified at the proofs given during the last few days of the attachment of our North American Colonies to their Sovereign and to the Mother Country, and he trusted the result of the exertions of Sir Henry Barkly and of the Government might lead to a similar satisfactory state of things in South Africa. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Resolution.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that facilities should be afforded, by all methods which may be practicable, for the confederation of the Colonies and States of South Africa."—(Mr. Robert Fowler.)


said, he thought he should he able to make a few remarks which would give some satisfaction to his hon. Friend and all those who were interested in this important question. He must point out, however, that the course pursued by his hon. Friend was somewhat inconvenient, as he had originally given Notice of his intention to discuss the affairs of South Africa generally, and it was not until last evening that he gave Notice of the particular subjects he intended to submit to the consideration of the House. So impressed were the Government with the desirability of attaining the object desired by the hon. Gentleman that they were willing to waive their usual objections to abstract Resolutions of this character, and to accept his Motion. His noble Friend at the head of the Colonial Department had stated in public despatches his willingness to accept the principle of confederation which was now occupying the attention of the colony. If the colony should adopt this principle, it would probably be necessary by Imperial legislation to empower the Cape Legislature to create provincial assemblies, and to vest powers of legislation in such assemblies, leaving the Colonial Legislature to pass a law embodying the necessary details. He did not propose at this moment to enter into this vast question of the desirability of adopting responsible government at the Cape, because Her Majesty's Government had expressed in public their opinion as to its desirability, and would now confidently leave the subject to be discussed by the Cape Colony. Some little time ago there was sent to this country what purported to be an address of the Governor of the colony in reference to this subject, but which was, as a matter of fact, a hoax. He hoped speedily, however, to present to Parliament an authentic report of what the Governor said. The question of responsible government at the Cape stood in this position at the present moment—Some years ago Sir Philip Wodehouse made a proposal to the Assembly in the direction of giving more power to the Crown and less to the people of the colony, but this was rejected by the Cape Parliament. As the colonists refused to approximate themselves to the position of Crown colonists, the only alternative was to adopt a system of responsible government, the present system having proved unworkable; but this was rejected by a small majority of the Legislative Council. In opening the present Session of the Colonial Parliament, the Governor said that, having now had time to form an opinion as to the direction which legislative reform in the colony ought to take, he was convinced of the thorough fitness of the colonists to be entrusted with the management of their own affairs, and had no doubt that responsible government might be safely adopted in the colony, and that its adoption was most desirable. With regard to another branch of the question, he had no doubt that federation and responsible government ought to go together, and he felt sure, further, that the more fully this question was discussed, both at home and in the colony, the more strongly would public opinion take the direction to which he was alluding. He did not intend to go into the vexed question between the Orange Free State and Transvaal Republics and the government of Cape Colony; but the Orange Free State especially must suffer from the present state of things, by which she was cut off from the sea and had to import everything through the Cape Colony, and he could not but feel that it would be to the advantage of both these Republics if they were again brought under the jurisdiction from under which they ought never to have gone. This question was, however, one which would gain nothing by premature discussion.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,


resumed his observations. He said Her Majesty's Government were desirous to promote a system of federation in the belief that it would be most conducive to the best interests of the colony. The question of railways was one of very considerable importance to the whole of South Africa, and particularly of Natal, which had suffered much from the want of means of internal communication. A scheme proposed by Mr. Welbourne had occupied much attention in the colony for six months past, and opinions in its favour had been pronounced. Her Majesty's Government thought it desirable, as a general rule, that a scheme of so great magnitude ought to be undertaken by the Colonial Government, and not by a subsidized company; but there were some peculiar circumstances connected with Natal which had caused a somewhat different conclusion to be arrived at in the present case. The Earl of Kimberley, in a despatch which was then on its way to the colony, used these words— There are powerful reasons in favour of a colony undertaking to construct and work the railways which it may require, rather than placing them in the hands of a company receiving assistance from the State in the form of a subsidy or other special concessions. The position of Natal is, however, in some respects exceptional, and, after considering the extent to which it would be practicable for the colony at the present time to proceed at once with the construction of the projected railways as Government works by means of moneys borrowed on the security of the public revenue, I have come to the conclusion that the greatest number of miles of railway which could be thus constructed would be so limited that the railways would fail to command a remunerative traffic; and thus, while the colony would be imperfectly provided with means of communication, it would be committed to a very heavy annual charge for interest, with no certain prospect that the railways would either directly or indirectly produce an equivalent return. Her Majesty's Government feel bound to pay great attention to the deliberative opinion of the Legislative Council, which has the advantage of thorough local knowledge, that nothing short of the simultaneous and immediate construction of a comprehensive system of railways will suffice for the present requirements of the colony. The Earl of Kimberley then went on to state the division of responsibility between the Home and Colonial Governments, and, adverting to the careful consideration of the subject by the latter, and their reiterated opinion, added that, under all the circumstances, he should not be justified in refusing to entertain the proposal that Natal should resort to the same means through which many great railways had been successfully established in other countries—namely, to a subsidized company. [Mr. GILPIN desired to know whom the hon. Gentleman was quoting?] He was quoting the Earl of Kimberley. His noble Friend then went on to state that he required certain things to be done which did not appear to be provided for in the scheme, and certain details which were necessary to be arranged. Now that the principle had been conceded, he trusted it might be found easy to arrange those details so that no great delay might arise. The Government had in this instance done what he believed to be their duty; they had departed from the ordinary rules upon which they acted for the purpose of meeting the special circumstances of Natal. One very proper stipulation, he might add, had been made by his noble Friend, and that was that, before the undertaking should be sanctioned, a company should be properly formed and should prove its capability of carrying out the work before the colony was finally committed to it. He hoped that he had given sufficient evidence of the desire on the part of the Colonial Department to promote the interests of South Africa, and that he had shown that, whether in regard to the great question of federation or to that of railway communication, they had no wish to thrust their opinions upon the colony, but that their object was in this, as in all other matters, to consult the feelings and wishes of the colonists themselves.


expressed his thanks to the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken for the course he had adopted in reference to this matter, and said that, in his opinion, even the brief discussion which they had had that evening would exercise a wholesome influence on the colonies, and would prove that the House of Commons was not indifferent to them. If he was to take exception to anything said by his hon. Friend it would be to his allusion to the railways. He considered that the colonies were themselves the best judges of such matters, and while the Colonial Office were no doubt right in laying down certain preliminary conditions, yet it seemed to him that if a colony were agreed in favour of a particular plan, that the great probability was that was the plan which ought to be adopted. Undoubtedly, the whole of Natal was in favour of Mr. Welbourne's scheme. Even the two Bishops, who could not agree in directing the people which road to take to Heaven, could yet agree as to the best mode of sending them to the gold-fields. The rival Bishops had signed a memorial in favour of this line, and it was probably the only document they had both signed since the signature of the Thirty-nine Articles. He knew personally that there was the strongest wish for the carrying out of this scheme, and he rejoiced that the Government was prepared to sanction it under certain conditions.


would be glad to learn when his hon. Friend proposed to lay these Papers upon the Table.


also desired to acknowledge with feelings of gratitude the manner in which his hon. Friend (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) had dealt with this question, and expressed his conviction that the proceedings of that evening, when they came to be read in the colony, would be productive of real good. He thought that it was a matter of congratulation that they had at the head of the colony at this juncture of affairs such a Governor as Sir Henry Barkly, in whose good sense, discretion, and vigour, he had the greatest confidence. For one, he cordially concurred in all his hon. Friend had said as to the necessity of guarding against any hasty decision, especially as in a colony circumstanced like Natal it might be possible for the colony to be surprised into a premature or improvident arrangement. He congratulated his hon. Friend on his good fortune in having initiated a change of policy in relation to South Africa, and looked forward to the future with much satisfaction.


expressed the great satisfaction with which he had listened to the speech of the Under Secretary for the Colonies, which would afford much gratification in South Africa, and especially that part of it relating to the railway, for no better assistance could be given to our dependencies than by developing internal communication.

Motion agreed to.