HC Deb 17 June 1886 vol 306 cc1715-7
MR. HOWAED SPENSLEY (Finsbury, Central)

asked the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Has the Government any definite knowledge of the asserted massacre of French citizens at the New Hebrides; if not, does the Government intend to make due inquiry into the matter, and in the meantime take steps for a joint occupation of the Islands?


Before the hon. Gentleman answers that Question, I should like to ask him another on the same subject—namely, Whether Her Majesty's Government have received information as to the alleged hoisting of the French flag in the New Hebrides, and if he can state the nature of any communications that may have passed between the two Governments on the subject?


In reply to the Question of the hon. Member for Central Finsbury, and to the Question just addressed to me by the right hon. Baronet the Leader of the Opposition, I have to state that the only official information in the possession of Her Majesty's Government as to the reported massacre of French citizens at the New Hebrides is derived from the statement made to Lord Lyons by M. de Freycinet, on the 10th of June, that a French Company had sent a considerable number of Frenchmen to work in the New Hebrides, of whom several had been massacred by the Natives; the rest had called upon the Company either to make provision for their safety or to remove them. On the application of the Company to the Governor of New Caledonia, two French ships had been sent with troops on board by the Governor to the places where Frenchmen were in danger. On that occasion M. de Freycinet added that it was possible that a temporary post might be established until quiet should be restored, but that the measure taken had no political significance, and that there was no question whatever of occupying the New Hebrides, or of anything tending to relax the obligations of France towards Great Britain respecting them. On the 14th instant, Lord Lyons again saw M. de Freycinet, and represented the excitement, both in England and Australia, which the mere presence of French troops in the New Hebrides was calculated to produce. M. de Freycinet repeated, in the most positive manner, his assurance that France had no designs affecting the political condition of those Islands, nor any intention of occupying them, and that she held herself bound by her agreement with England to respect their independence. He did not know whether any troops had been in fact landed, but if there had been any put on shore they would be withdrawn directly the emergency had passed away. The only official information respecting the hoisting of the French Flag which Her Majesty's Government possess is contained in a telegram from the Acting British Consul in New Caledonia to the Governor of New South Wales stating that he had reason to believe that the French Flag was hoisted in the New Hebrides, and that he had made a formal protest to the Governor of New Caledonia. The commanders of two British ships of war now at the New Hebrides have been directed to report occurrences without delay. No report as to the hoisting of the French Flag has yet been received from them. Lord Lyons has been further directed to call the immediate attention of the French Government to the reported hoisting of the French Flag, and to the excitement resulting from it, and to inquire as to the circumstances under which it took place, as well as to the particulars of the massacre referred to in the Question. The House may rest assured that Her Majesty's Government is fully sensible of the gravity of the matter.


Can the hon. Gentleman inform us how long it takes for telegraphic information to come to this country from the New Hebrides?


The New Hebrides are at least three days' sail from the nearest point in Australia with which telegraphic communication exists.


Who is the British Consul at New Caledonia who sends these alarming telegrams? Is he a mercantile gentleman or a paid Consul?


The hon. Gentleman had better give due Notice of that Question. All I can say at present is that the official in question is the Acting Consul.