HC Deb 08 July 1875 vol 225 cc1159-73

rose to call attention to the measures adopted for repressing the East African Slave Trade; and to move— That no treatment of the question of the East African Slave Trade is satisfactory which does not include the presence of a squadron in the Red Sea. The hon. Gentleman said, that in the suppression of the slave trade on the Eastern Coast of Africa we had this difficulty—which did not apply to the suppression of the slave trade on the Western Coast of Africa—namely, that we had to deal with men who were not of our race, our colour, or our creed. In spite of the difficulties connected with the suppression of the slave trade on the Western Coast, we undertook the suppression of it; but with regard to the slave trade on the Eastern Coast, what had we done? Unfortunately, all we had done for 25 years for the suppression of that trade was to trust to treaties made with other nations whose interests and sentiments were in favour of that trade. Those treaties were mere waste paper, mere screens behind which the trade was carried on as vigorously as before. But it might be said that our main object in inducing the nations in question to enter into these treaties was to obtain the right of employing a squadron, if we chose, to suppress the slave trade on the East Coast. What had been the case as regarded our employment of a squadron on the Eastern Coast? On the Western Coast we had spent £20,000,000, and had employed 15 vessels in the suppression of the slave trade. For 25 years all we had done on the Eastern Coast to suppress the slave trade was simply to employ a squadron of sometimes four, at other times of three, and at other times of two vessels; and sometimes we had no vessel at all to blockade a coast 4,000 miles in extent. Moreover, instructions which were contradictory had been given to the captains of the vessels we employed on the Eastern Coast, and therefore they did not know what they might seize and what they might not. Two Committees which sat in 1871 found, as a matter of fact, that the slave trade had actually increased, that its horrors also had increased, and that legitimate commerce had been very much diminished. One reason assigned for the increase of the slave trade was that we had suppressed piracy in the region in question; But, unfortunately, having suppressed piracy, we allowed the slave trade to take its place; and through our not having an efficient squadron to watch the Eastern Coast the value of a slave deteriorated in Africa, and a greater number of them were purchased and exported from Africa. The consequence was that poorer dhows were sent for these wretched creatures than formerly for fear they might be captured, and when an English vessel appeared in sight the slaves were either thrown over-board in order that the dhow might be saved, or else they were run into land and hundreds were drowned in attempting to get through the surf. Bishop Steere, who certainly could not be regarded as a prejudiced authority, stated that in the search for slaves legitimate commerce was very much harassed. The two Committees which investigated this subject in 1871 looked about for a remedy. They thought it essential to have a new treaty, giving us the right of seizing slave vessels in waters further South which were now excluded, and they likewise laid stress on the necessity of increasing the squadron to about 13 vessels. For a year nothing at all was done, and then suddenly Sir Bartle Frere left London for Zanzibar in hot haste, carrying with him a treaty taken from a pigeon-hole in the Foreign Office. It was a treaty for obtaining fresh concessions from the Sovereign of Zanzibar. In his opinion, we ought to have done more ourselves, instead of trusting to treaties concluded with men whose interests were all the other way. One result of the treaty undoubtedly was that the slave trade on the sea had ceased within the last few years between Zanzibar and the Persian Gulf; but, unfortunately, in the same period the slave trade between Madagascar and Mozambique had largely increased. With regard to the Madagascar trade a great portion of it was carried on under the Trench flag, and that country had refused us the right of search, and he thought that we had the right to ask for some concession on that point. One result of the present system had been altogether to abolish the passage of slaves by sea; but that had to be counteracted in two ways. Slaves were still going North by sea, for large numbers were smuggled by night in small canoes to Zanzibar, and it was impossible for our cruisers to stop them. The difficulty of taking them up to the North was easily surmounted, because, according to the interpretation put on the treaty by our Grown lawyers, the captain of a cruiser had to prove that the slaves whom he seized were being taken for sale. "We still had no right to seize domestic slaves. This, however, was a minor point in comparison with the question of the enormous increase of the traffic by land that followed immediately on the conclusion of the treaty. What happened now was this—the slaves were marched up to the Somali country and were bought by the Somalis, who preferred buying these Southern slaves, and sold the Gallas and other slaves, who were too near home, to the Arabs of the Persian Gulf. As the result of the treaty this disastrous state of things had come about—a land route had been opened involving much greater miseries than the sea route; greater numbers of slaves were transported; and unless we stopped the trade in the Bed Sea we had much better send our cruisers away altogether. Unless we went into the Red Sea it would be impossible to stop the transport of these slaves to the Red Sea and across it. He would now refer to the old slave trade. Before the Committee of 1871 General Rigby stated that there was a considerable traffic in slavery between Turkey and the Red Sea; and Sir Bartle Frere said that the numbers had been understated, and that a large and increasing slave trade was carried on through the Red Sea ports. That evidence was given before the new traffic was established by way of the Red Sea. It could hardly be said that our cruisers should be excluded from the Red Sea, and he could not understand why we had allowed the slave trade to be carried on under our own eyes, when we had been endeavouring to force our views on the petty Powers outside the Red Sea. There could be no doubt that the supply of slaves had been increasing year by year, and that the demand for them in Egypt and Turkey had considerably increased. We had lent Sir Samuel Baker and Colonel Gordon to win for the Khédive fresh territory, confessedly of no practical value except for ivory and slaves. This new territory would, in fact, be the great emporia from which the slaves of Egypt and Turkey would be recruited, and through increased commercial prosperity the wealthier classes in both those countries now employed more slaves than ever they did. Now, he thought we might fairly go to Egypt and Turkey and say—" You have conceded the principle and have expressed your anxiety to supress the slave trade. Why refuse the right of search in these waters where your flags cover so large a traffic in slaves? "Owing to our alliance with Turkey during the Crimean War she had been brought within the pale of the European community, and was bound to give us the same right that was given to us by other Powers, and work with us in suppressing the slave traffic; and he could not help thinking that, if the matter were properly put to France, she would give us a power of search which was not likely to be abused, and which was only wanted in the interests of humanity. It might be said that the traffic was a local traffic only, from one portion of the dominions of the Sultan of Turkey to another, but that could hardly hold water, because the trade from Zanzibar to Muscat was also a home traffic between two Sovereigns of the same nationality, and we had actually forbidden Zanzibar to carry slaves within its own territory. To deal one measure to the weak and another to the strong—one measure to the Sultan of Zanzibar and another to the potentates of Turkey and Egypt—was not likely to increase our prestige in the East and was unworthy of us as a great Indian Power. Having once undertaken this work we could not afford to let it drop. "We had not only got to repress the traffic with our cruisers—a work which could go on only for a limited time, but we had to supplant it by something else which could be nothing else but legitimate commerce, which would have the effect of raising the price of labour in Africa and making it too expensive to export labour to Turkey and elsewhere. In a speech which his hon. Friend (Mr. Bourke) made to his constituents at King's Lynn he said that this was a traffic with which we could not palter in any way but must stamp it out. In the full confidence that his hon. Friend would now be able to use the same words, he begged to move his Resolution.


as a Member of the Select Committee of 1871, seconded the Motion. That Committee found that what we had done on the East Coast of Africa was utterly inadequate, and only added to the evil rather than diminished it; and that it was impossible to deal with this question effectually without further treaty provisions and a considerable increase of the naval squadron. That was the practical effect of their recommendations. He felt bound to express his satisfaction with the manner in which the question was taken up at the earliest possible moment by the late Government, and the way in which their measures had been carried on by the present Ministry. Some tangible results had been obtained from the efforts which had been made. The slave market at Zanzibar—the horrors of which had been so graphically described by Sir Bartle Frere—had been shut up, and the traffic by sea to the North of Zanzibar had been almost entirely put an end to. A debt of gratitude from this country was due to the officers and men of the naval squadron who had so well fulfilled such difficult and dangerous duties. Because there was still a traffic between the coast of Africa and Madagascar, and there were large caravans going North, some thought the treaty was useless, but he did not agree with them. It was the opinion of those who knew best that those large caravans were but the remanets, that they were the slaves in store, and the Committee had no evidence that this traffic would be maintained. The question arose whether it was politic to interfere with the land traffic. We might interfere in two ways. We might go to the Sultan and demand a revision of the treaty to enable us still further to interfere, or we might say—"These men are carried further North for the purpose of being exported, the treaty is not properly carried out, and we have a right to enter and stop this thing ourselves." He knew this was a point which was under the consideration of Her Majesty's Government, and that they had not hesitated to carry out the treaty entered into by Sir Bartle Frere. The Seyyid, our guest, was very loyal in the matter; and if we remembered that we were dealing with a weak man whom we should have to help, and that we must not ask too much from him, we might effect a great deal of what we desired. It was the old traditions of the Foreign Office under Lord Palmerston that we were carrying out. His hon. Friend hit a great blot with respect to the power of search being denied us by the French, Turks, and other nations. If we went on as we had commenced it would prove commercially a great success, for it was impossible by all accounts to exaggerate the resources of the country with which we were dealing. He predicted that a large amount of work would be required at the Foreign Office in connection with this work of putting down the slave trade, and he therefore urged that the special Slave Trade Department should be restored.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "no treatment of the question of the East African Slave Trade is satisfactory which does not include the presence of a squadron in the Red Sea,"—(Mr. Hanbury,)

—instead thereof.


said, that the question of slavery required the most continual and constant watchfulness, and he therefore cordially agreed with the hon. Baronet that the Slave Trade Department of the Foreign Office should be restored. That Department was at present merged in the Consular Department, and he trusted it was about to be revived. The Queen's Speech at the end of last Session contained the following paragraph:— The Treaty recently concluded with the Sultan of Zanzibar, having for its object the suppression of the East African Slave Trade, has been faithfully observed, and has already done much to put an end to that traffic as carried on by sea. The exertions of my Naval and Consular servants, in that part of the world, will not be relaxed until complete success has been obtained. That was a promise which he hoped and believed the Foreign Office intended to fulfil. But experience showed that there were several loopholes by which the repression of the slave trade was prevented from being accomplished. The first was the extraordinary interpretation put by the Crown Law Officers upon the Treaty of 1873—an interpretation which went against the law of Zanzibar, in that it defined our right to capture slavers to exist when we could prove that there were slaves on board. It was also important that special attention should be given to the inland traffic; and for this purpose we should extend our moral, financial, and physical assistance temporarily to the Sultan of Zanzibar. We should help him to consolidate his power over the inland districts of his Empire, and in return for that assistance he should prevent any such inland traffic as we understood was now going on. He also thought great advantage would be derived from the establishment of a British possession North of Zanzibar, to which free negroes could go; it might be very small; we could purchase it from the Sultan, and it would be a post of observation, so that no caravan could go North without the cognizance of the British authorities. He could not help thinking that our Consular Agencies in the Bed Sea might be increased with advantage, and the presence of a gunboat would also serve materially to check the traffic on the east side of that sea. Care should also be taken that the new territories which our adventurous countrymen were bringing under the immediate rule of Egypt should not be turned into slave markets. If the Foreign Office showed the same spirit and disposition in this matter as the Colonial Office, there could be no doubt that the best results would attend their efforts.


said, that he entirely concurred in that part of the speech of his hon. Friend (Mr. Hanbury) in which he said that having undertaken the suppression of the slave trade on the East Coast of Africa, we could not afford to let it drop. Neither was there a single word which he (Mr. Bourke) had said in the speech quoted by his hon. Friend or elsewhere which he was not prepared to hold to. But his hon. Friend had mixed up two things which were entirely distinct—namely, the traffic on the East Coast and the slave trade carried on in the Bed Sea. Somali Land was far south of the Bed Sea. It was, no doubt, a fact that the slaves were absorbed in Somali Land; but the slave trade in the Bed Sea had no more to do with the traffic on the East Coast than it had with that on the West Coast. In a recent interview with Dr. Kirk, he was informed that no slaves for the East Coast were taken beyond Lamoo, which was one degree below the Equator, for the best of all reasons—namely, that it did not pay, as in making the transit, even up to that point, 80 per cent of the slaves died. His hon. Friend did not, he thought, do justice to what had been done by the late and the present Government with regard to suppressing this inhuman traffic. The hon. Member showed that the difficulties to be met were very great; but he did not show the amount of success that had resulted from their operations. He (Mr. Bourke) might start at once by telling the House that the traffic on the East Coast had been practically stopped by sea. Was not that an enormous gain compared with the condition of things proved before the Committee of 1871? When we recollected the antiquity of the traffic and the miserable barbarities which attended it along the coast, and in the Persian Gulf, the statement that absolutely no dhows ever left the coast now was sufficient to show, in a rough way, that a great deal had been done towards suppressing the African slave trade. With regard to the land route, he wished all who had the suppression of the slave trade at heart to understand that that route was as formidable as ever, perhaps more so, up to a certain latitude; and the question was, what was to be done. It did not appear to the Government it was at all certain that the slave trade by land would continue, and that the increase of the trade by that route during the last two years was not due to the coasting trade being stopped; and there were those who thought that when the supply from the interior was diminished by reason of the traffic by sea being stopped, the land traffic would to a great extent stop also. We also knew that slaves who were formerly taken to Persia and other countries were being absorbed along the coast, partly in Somali Land, and partly in other territory. Now that the sea trade was stopped the demand for slaves must be limited, and if the trade from the interior towards the coast was now diverted along the land route, it was believed that when the slaves were absorbed—who had left the interior before the blockade had been thoroughly established—the demand for them would cease, and that in that way the trade itself would stop. Her Majesty's Government were perfectly aware of the trade that went on between Madagascar and Mozambique, and they had directed the attention of the Portuguese Government seriously to the subject, and they had received considerable encouragement from that Government on the subject. They had ordered the Governors and commanders of steamers to act in concert with ours in putting it down; and it was only a short time since that the captain of the Thetis had been in communication with the Governor on the coast of Mozambique, and by his co-operation was able to search several harbours and make several very important captures, and there was every reason to believe that when the Portuguese Government really co-operated with us there would be an end of the slave trade along that part of the Coast. Two of the most important captures of the last two years were made between Mozambique and Madagascar, and the number of slaves thus rescued would seriously reduce the number of Africans who had orginally been carried into slavery. It was an important question how to deal with liberated slaves. Some persons were of opinion that it was desirable to form a settlement for them on the East Coast, where they could be placed under the guidance of missionaries, who should undertake their education. No doubt if it were established it would assist materially in putting a stop to the land traffic, for the caravans would not go near it; but by establishing such settlements we should be incurring very great risk if differences should arise, and after they were established there was the probability that they would become absorbed in the general population of the country, and, if not, that they would go to something worse—be re-captured and taken into the interior. It was also considered highly inexpedient that the African, after he had been reduced to slavery and liberated by British cruizers, should be ever allowed to return to his native country from the absolute horror with which they regarded such a prospect. The House would hesitate a long while before it consented to establish a regular British settlement on the East Coast, and certainly the Government were not prepared to do it now, whatever efforts might be made spontaneously by the missionary societies. There was at present a very efficient squadron on the East Coast of Africa, and that the ship London, which the late Government prepared, and which was sent out by the present Government, was doing good service. The Committee of 1871 recommended the appointment of Consular Agents; but it must be remembered that the East Coast of Africa was an extremely unhealthy climate, and contained a lawless population, and before we established Consular Agents on the Coast we must take care that the Sultan of Zanzibar was in a position to afford them protection; because nothing would be more unwise than to establish Consular Agents in a place where they would run the risk of being murdered by the Arabs or be likely to die of fever. A Consular Agent had been sent to Mozambique, and he had sent home some satisfactory despatches. Her Majesty's Government, however, had taken powers for our Consular Agent at Zanzibar to send persons where it was desirable to obtain information for our cruisers, believing it to be a better mode for accomplishing our object than sending an Agent to a particular spot. He could assure the House that the Government were earnestly considering the subject. An increase had been made in the Estimates this year in connection with the subject, and the First Lord of the Admiralty had taken great pains to send out ships to the Coast that would perform their services satisfactorily to the country. Her Majesty's Government had no reason to think that the number of ships that were employed in this service was inadequate. We had now five ships on the coast, and one of them being a surveying ship did not prevent her from repressing the slave trade. He, therefore, hoped that upon further con- sideration his hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth would see that at present Her Majesty's Government had no reason to think it was advisable to increase the squadron. From time to time, if there were reason to increase the squadron or the Consular Establishment, Her Majesty's Government would be very happy to take steps for the carrying out of the great object which his hon. Friend had in view. As to the subject alluded to by the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. E. Ashley)—namely, the Slave Trade Department of the Foreign Office, no doubt that Department had done a very great work, and we could not forget that the suppression of the slave trade on the Western Coast of Africa was in a great measure due to the exertions of that Department. But now that a change had been made in the Foreign Office and the Slave Department was merged in the Consular, Her Majesty's Government saw no reason at present to change that arrangement. Of course, if it were found that that Department had too much work to do the staff might be increased; but he thought it was undesirable to make any change at present. With reference to the observation of his hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth and of the hon. Member for Poole as to the Khedive's territories having been increased for the purpose of enabling him to carry on the slave trade, he (Mr. Bourke) looked upon that as a great libel upon the Government of the Khédive, He believed that, so far from the Khédive having the smallest intention of encouraging the slave trade in his new territories, his great motive in annexing them was the suppression of the slave trade. All we could hope for, and all we could do in endeavouring to suppress the slave trade on the Red Sea, would depend upon the measures which he believed the Khédive was perfectly able and willing to carry out. There could not be a doubt that there was a great slave trade in the region referred to by his hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth. What Her Majesty's Government had done with regard to that trade was this—they had appointed a Consul at Jeddah, and they had received a great number of communications from him; but he was in a totally different position from the Consul on the Eastern Coast of Africa; he had not power to interfere with the slave trade like the Consul on the Eastern Coast. The Sultan of Zanzibar, by the treaty he had entered into with us, had undertaken to do his best to put an end to the slave trade, and therefore our Consul called upon his officers to help him; but we had no such treaty with the Khédive, nor was there any intention on the part of the Government to ask for such from him. The attempt to obtain a right of search for slaves on board vessels carrying the French flag was not desirable, because it might lead to difficulties and complications we did not want to be involved in. He could not assent to the Motion, because it would pledge Her Majesty's Government to deal with the slave trade of the Red Sea in the same way as on the East Coast of Africa. That was not the course which they were prepared to adopt; but he could assure the House that negotiations were in progress with the Khédive and the Turkish Government. Those negotiations were not yet completed; and until they were completed he did not think it desirable that the Papers asked for should be presented. He trusted that the statements he had made would be satisfactory, and he could assure the House that the subject would continue to receive the most earnest attention of Her Majesty's Government.


said, that having taken great interest in this question, he wished to express the pleasure with which he had listened to the speech of the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs. It was clear that the efforts made by the late Government to put an end to these terrible calamities and crimes were carried on with the same earnestness by their successors. The speech of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bourke) showed that he had deeply studied the subject, and that he felt a personal interest in the success of the endeavours now being made to put down the slave trade. The Government would obtain every assistance in these efforts from both sides of the House; and if the hon. Gentleman could feel when he quitted Office that he had struck a real blow at this traffic nothing would give the hon. Gentleman greater pleasure or obtain for him more honour in the country. He was glad to find that the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs had taken off a little of the gloom which the some- what exaggerated representations of the hon. Member for Tamworth (Mr. Han-bury) had been calculated to produce. The efforts made to put down the East African slave trade often ended in disappointment, and such was the determination of the men engaged in it that when they were driven out in one direction they sometimes re-appeared in another. He feared, too, that the first effect of our repressive measures was sometimes to increase the sufferings of these wretched slaves. It was difficult to put down the land traffic, and the slaves who were ready for export were in some way or other generally got off. The Government could, however, obtain constant information as to the extent to which it was going on, and he was glad to know that they would do what they could to stop it. It was cheering to know that the Sultan of Zanzibar had thrown in his lot with us. He was the most civilized of the potentates on that Coast, and there was no reason to doubt that he really wished to put down the traffic. This was a great gain, and a most hopeful event in the history of the slave trade. The traffic could not be entirely stopped by our cruisers, and our only hope of stopping the trade was, by the influence of the Chiefs, to act upon the land traffic. He by no means despaired of getting notions of civilization by means of missionaries and otherwise into the minds of the Native potentates. It might be that a certain amount of this traffic was carried on across the Bed Sea; but it could not be expected that the Khédive would permit our cruisers to enter the Bed Sea in order to put down the traffic. At the same time the Khédive entertained very different views from some of his predecessors on this subject, and he did not believe the assertions sometimes made that he wished to enlarge his territories in order to carry on this trade. He rejoiced to learn that a British Consul had been established at Mozambique, and he was glad to hear the hon. Member (Mr. Bourke) speak so confidently of the assistance lately given by the French. There was, he believed, a very strong feeling in this country in regard to the suppression of this slave traffic; and we had pledged our character and honour as a nation to carry on the work, and no civilized nation had ever undertaken such a task. There could be no doubt about the difficulties that we had to contend with; but we were convinced of the evil, and with English tenacity of purpose, we were determined not to be baffled in our efforts to put it down.


said, he believed that the Khédive was most anxious to put down the slave trade in Egypt, but in the lower part of the Nile a considerable amount of the trade was going on. Much depended on the activity of the Consul General at Cairo, and the appointment of European Vice Consuls at various towns on the Nile would do more than anything else to repress the slave traffic on the Nile. Arab Consuls had no real interest in the extinction of slavery. Her Majesty's Government might effectively and at a moderate cost increase our Consular Establishments by appointing Europeans in the large towns up to the first or second cataract. That would do more to assist the Khédive than anything else. Another circumstance ought to be borne in mind. There was at the present moment a statesman in Egypt who for a long period had been out of office. He referred, of course, to Nubar Pasha. In consequence of his influence with the Khédive the Government of this country now had a more favourable opportunity of putting down the slave trade than had presented itself for many years. In regard to the annexation of portions of Upper Egypt, he knew for a fact that the great difficulty felt by the Khédive was the question as to what was to be done with the slaves in the annexed districts. No doubt the Khédive was extending his dominions; but it was absolutely necessary for him to do so if his country were ever to become great, or even if it were to pay the interest on its debt. Mr. Fowler, the engineer, and his staff were now extending the railway beyond the second cataract, and one of the subjects on which the Khédive entered into the most animated conversations with Mr. Fowler was the treatment of the slaves whom he was determined to liberate in the countries annexed. He believed it was the Khédive's intention to form them into a corps by which the railway could be carried on. How could we hope to put down the slave trade except by bringing the uncivilized parts of Africa into the Kingdom of the Khédive? It was quite impossible to change the opinion of the present generation of Mahomedans on the subject of slavery. They thought our interference as unjust and almost irreligious, and if we diminished the Khédive's prestige among his own people by insisting upon the right of search in his vessels, we should be doing more harm than good. The intention of the Khédive, of his family, and of his Chief Minister was as rapidly as possible to suppress the slave trade and to wean the Mahomedan portion of the population from their love of that form of servitude.


concurred in the remarks of the hon. Member who had just spoken. All persons who had a practical knowledge of the subject agreed that we ought to support the Sultan of Zanzibar in carrying legitimate commerce into the interior of his territory. All our efforts, whether by sea or land, would be almost useless except so far as we could give encouragement to men of enterprize to develop the resources of the interior of Africa in mines, agriculture, and so forth.

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

Main Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."