HC Deb 18 July 1881 vol 263 cc1124-6

asked the Secretary to the Admiralty, Whether he can state by what authority Commodore Wilson despatched Captain Maxwell with Her Majesty's ship "Emerald," to attack the inhabitants of the Solomon Islands; whether Her Majesty's Government approve of the manner in which the attack was carried out, when, according to Captain Maxwell's Report, without preliminary inquiry into the alleged guilt of those assailed, without any resistance on the part of the natives, flourishing villages were burned, crops were destroyed, fences were levelled, large numbers of the cocoa-nut trees were cut down, and houses shelled, although these houses did not, in one instance at least, even in the opinion of Captain Maxwell himself, belong to the culprits against whom the expedition was nominally directed; and, whether hostilities have been concluded with these islanders, or whether any further attack is in contemplation?


Sir, Commodore Wilson, when he despatched the Emerald, acted in communication with, and with the full approval of, Sir Arthur Gordon, the High Commissioner of the South Pacific. I am bound to state a fact which is not referred to in my hon. Friend's Question. The Emerald was sent in consequence of five different outrages, in which 27 unoffending people, including a woman, had been barbarously murdered in cold blood. In the case of the Sandfly, we have reliable evidence now in England that the Chief whose tribe butchered our people was thoroughly aware that they belonged to a race which did not encourage, but had, as far as its power would go, suppressed the abuses of the labour traffic. As a result of the expedition, only one life, so far as we know, was taken; but acts of war of a very rigorous nature were inflicted, the only method of checking and punishing these outrages which at present exists. Her Majesty's Government regret that no other method exists, and are doing their best to find one; but they believe that Commodore Wilson and Captain Maxwell did their best under the very trying circumstances in which they were placed. No further acts of war are in contemplation; but two of Her Majesty's ships, the Cormorant and the Beagle, are now in and about the Island, with Mr. Romilly, a Deputy Commissioner, on board, and Mr. Romilly will visit all the principal trading and mission stations in those seas.


asked whether the House was to understand that Sir Arthur Gordon, the Governor of New Zealand, had authority from Her Majesty's Government to declare war upon the inhabitants of the Island in question?


said, that Sir Arthur Gordon undoubtedly had authority to send a ship of war to exact retribution for violence of the nature to which reference had been made.


asked if the hon. Gentleman's attention had been called to a passage in the Report of Captain Maxwell, which stated that troubles were not infrequently caused by the violence of the captains of so-called trading vessels?


, in reply, said, that, undoubtedly, several outrages had been caused owing to the conduct of the captains of trading vessels; but it was well known that, so far as this country was concerned, the abuse of that traffic had been entirely brought to an end. The outrages to which he referred were, he repeated, committed when it was known quite well that the people attacked had no connection with this traffic.