HC Deb 14 June 1881 vol 262 cc471-2

asked the Secretary to the Admiralty, What steps Her Majesty's Government intend to adopt for the protection of the lives of British subjects engaged in lawful business or commerce in the Pacific Ocean; and, whether Her Majesty's Government will endeavour to cause to be punished the murderers of more than, forty British subjects, who have unfortunately been slain since the 1st January 1880 in that sea whilst pursuing their lawful avocations?


asked, whether it was not the fact that in many cases the murders of British subjects in the Pacific could be traced to outrages committed upon the islanders by White men?


Sir, the right hon. Baronet is, no doubt, aware that, though he selects the date of January 1, 1880, the state of matters in the part of the Pacific to which he refers is no new story. The Solomon Islands and the neighbouring groups where these outrages have occurred are independent of any civilized authority. When any of those horrible murders occur there is no jurisdiction which can legally try the murderers. Twice a savage who had been seized or given up as a murderer has been taken to Fiji and Sydney for trial, and on one occasion the authorities had nothing for it but to send him back untried to the island whence they took him, while in the other case they retained him in custody as a dangerous character. The only method by which these outrages can be checked or punished is by acts of war directed against the guilty villages, and Her Majesty's Government have carried out this species of retribution, the only one in their power at present, in a thorough and effective, but not, I think, an indiscriminate manner, as the right hon. Baronet will acknowledge when he sees the Papers relating to the cruise of the Emerald. A very great number of the murders cannot be traced to the causes which the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) suggests. Her Majesty's Government found this state of things existing, and are not more responsible for its continuance than any of their Predecessors; but they are not content to let matters stay as they are. The Colonial Office and the Admiralty are in communication, and we have this great advantage, that we have on the Board of Admiralty an officer who probably knows this matter by practical experienee better than any man living, and we earnestly hope that, difficult as it is—very difficult as it is—some solution is in course of being found.