HC Deb 31 March 1884 vol 286 cc1161-3

asked the Secretary of State for War; Whether his attention has been called to the following telegram from The Times correspondent at Suakin, dated March 24th: — In point of fact the English Government at present practically protects slave owners and dealers, chiefly by reason of the absurd construction of the convention, which ought to be burned. One simple method should he adopted. This is to ignore the evidence of domestic slavery, and to give masters no redress if the slaves choose to leave them. In Suakin such a measure would produce a wonderful effect, for the numerous rich residents here live by farming out the labour of their slaves. They ill treat them if they do not produce each evening the stipulated sum; thus driving the men nearly to starvation, and the women to the worst possible courses in order to satisfy their demands: and to the following telegram of the same date from the correspondent of The Daily Telegraph at Suakin: — According to the English Consul Baker, and others of our authorities here, the Egyptian Convention is in force, and the British must protect Egyptians who have property in human chattels. We have already sent back several slaves to their Egyptian masters, who, the Arabs say, without us, would remain on the Red Sea Coast. Scarcely half-an-hour ago, a slave of a local dignitary, Sinawi Bey, who fondly thought the presence of the English freed him, ran away, alleging that his master ill-treated him, and look service with a fellow correspondent. Consul Baker says that the man must be returned to Sinawi, who now has two unruly slaves in the police station, where they are being beaten into a tractable condition; and, whether he will cause inquiry into these matters to be made, and, at the same time, inform all English civil and military authorities in Eastern Soudan that they must not protect slave dealers and slave owners, nor insist upon or aid in the return of escaped slaves to their masters?


Sir, I stated last week that we were extremely unwilling to address inquiries to our officers, civil, military, or naval, in Egypt and the Soudan upon vague and indefinite statements in newspapers with respect to their conduct, because it might cause them to infer that there was some doubt as to the manner in which they discharged their duty; but I said, at the same time, that if any definite and well-authenticated statements were brought to our notice we would make inquiries on the subject. With regard to the two paragraphs in the Question of my hon. Friend (Mr. Labouchere), the House will see that the first contains a statement which is absolutely vague and indefinite, and does not contain any evidence whatever in support of that general statement. With respect to the second part of the Question, I am not quite certain whether my hon. Friend accepts the authority of The Daily Telegraph as definite and well-authenticated; but, if he does, I would point out to him that the statement is as to something Consul Baker is stated to have said, and does not have any reference whatever to anything Consul Baker has done. I do not think that there is anything in this statement that gives sufficient cause for further inquiries of our officers in Egypt or the Soudan.


Without making inquiries, could the noble Marquess say whether instructions have been, or will be, given to the English civil and military authorities in the Eastern Soudan not to assist and protect slave dealers or slave owners, or to assist in the recapture of escaped slaves. Can the noble Marquess answer that Question, without making the inquiries which, it seems would be indelicate of him to make?


No definite instructions on this subject have, I believe, as yet been sent to our civil and military authorities in the Soudan, because, until we receive some proof to the contrary, it must be assumed that those civil and military authorities are acting according to what they consider to be their duty.