HC Deb 12 April 1888 vol 324 cc1170-4

Postponed Resolutions [9th April] reported.

Resolutions Four and Fourteen further considered.

MR. BUCHANAN (Edinburgh, W.)

said, the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) had agreed to the postponement of this Resolution until to-night, in order that he (Mr. Buchanan) might endeavour to elicit some information from the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Sir James Fergusson) in regard to the condition of things at Lake Nyassa and in the neighbourhood. In the Vote there was a sum of £180 voted for Consular buildings there, and two years ago a sum of £1,000 was voted for the Consulate at Nyassa; therefore, as the House had agreed to expenditure on the Consulate there, he might fairly urge that the Government should do something for the protection of British subjects in that part of the world. The House was aware of what had recently taken place at Nyassa. The settlement of Karonga had been attacked by a raid of Arabs from the North-West from the district around Lake Tanganyika, and the attack had been warded off. The right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary was aware of all the facts. The attack was defeated by the efforts of the settlers, but there was still great anxiety felt as to the fate of those who remained after the Consul and his supporters withdrew from the district attacked. Though the latest accounts somewhat lessened the anxiety, undoubtedly the members of the Mission Stations and the commercial settlers were in a very critical position. First they were exposed to a combined attack by Arabs from the North-West, and, on the other hand, they bad their only available route to the Lake country from the port of Quilimane by the Shire and Zambesi gradually being closed by the Portuguese, who were not only imposing increasing duties on whatever might be sent in, but had recently seized a British vessel there. So, not only were the Nyassa settlers in continual danger from the Arabs, but they were also in danger of having their communication with the outside world shut off by the Portuguese. Therefore, he wished to urge on the Foreign Office some means of protection for the missionary and commercial interests of British subjects at Nyassa and the African Lakes district. In the last two years we had spent more than £1,000 on the Consulate, and he would suggest that to make the outlay effectual we should increase the power of the Consul in the district, providing him with a steam launch on the Lake, and a small armed force for its protection. Also he might be enabled to raise some kind of Native Consular force for the protection of British interests where there was no administrative authority but his own. The right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary knew—but it was worth while recalling the fact—that this part of Central Africa was first opened up by the discoveries of Dr. Livingstone and the explorations of other enterprizing Englishmen, and the Government encouraged settlers to go there, attaching as conditions to the recognition of their interests that there should be no sale to the Natives of ammunition or liquor. He believed that these conditions had been strictly observed, and there was every promise of these becoming the most flourishing settlements in Africa. He urged upon the Foreign Office the duty of keeping open the only permanent, effective, and available route from the outside to this district by the Zambesi River. Since he had put Questions on the subject to the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary the Sultan of Zanzibar had died. The Sultan in former times exercised great authority outside the actual limits of his jurisdiction over the Arab populations. Had this influence diminished, or was it no longer exercised? Would the Foreign Office endeavour to induce the Successor to Sultan Burghash to use the same controlling influence over Arab marauders who came down to the settlements and did all in their power to revive the African Slave Trade in an active form? To put down this Slave Trade we had spent hundreds of thousands of pounds, and still voted tens of thousands every year, while the trade was still fostered by the Arabs. There were ample grounds for urging on the Government some steps for the protection of British interests at these Lake settlements.


said, he must apologize to the hon. and learned Member for not being ready to answer his Question on a previous occasion, though he might be excused, because in Committee on the Vote no observations were made upon any item. Upon the points to which the hon. and learned Member had directed his remarks he might say a few words, and hoped they would be satisfactory. The hon. and learned Member had referred to recent events at Nyassa, in which great gallantry was displayed by a few European residents, acting in concert with Native tribes, between whom and themselves feelings of mutual confidence had grown up. One or two European settlements were menaced by one of those marauding Arab bands that infested the country to the great distress of the inhabitants. Joining hands with Native tribes, retaliatory measures were taken, and a blow was struck at the Arabs, which he hoped would for some time secure more peace in that region. The Arab position was carried by the Europeans leading Native tribes, who, according to some accounts, seconded their leaders but badly; but in the result the Arab position was severely damaged, and the European residents were relieved from the apprehension of immediate danger. It was most likely that in due time further measures would be taken by the settlers for their own protection. The settlers in this distant region had shown the greatest courage and the ability, so far, to defend themselves; but it could not be doubted that there was considerable ground for apprehension in the minds of those who had invested large sums of money in these Central African enterprizes. The question raised was how far Her Majesty's Government ought to give material support to British subjects in that part of the world, and it was a very serious question. They had to consider that these settlements could not be approached through British territory at all, or even through territory over which this country exercised a Protectorate; and it was a difficult matter to consider how, under such circumstances, military responsibility could be entered upon. He was afraid that those who went so far into the interior on commercial or missionary enterprize must be prepared to incur great risks, without any great expectations of being supported by the country, unless, indeed, engagements in that direction had been entered into such as the hon. and learned Member would not say existed in this case. The hon. and learned Member had pointed out the importance of maintaining the great highway up the Zambesi River, and, undoubtedly, this was a legitimate object for Her Majesty's Government to seek to attain. Unfortunately, it did not come within the scope of the Berlin Agreement, which had reference to the Congo River. Nevertheless, it was the object of Her Majesty's Government to maintain freedom of access by the Zambesi, which was the only route by which these settlements could practically be approached. Of course, while Africa was being extensively colonized and European influence spreading in that dark Continent, settlers must have the sea-board for a base; you cannot commence in the centre of the Continent; you would only involve yourselves in enormous responsibilities and troubles. The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the beneficial influence that might be exercised through Zanzibar, and he (Sir James Fergusson) was happy to say the new Sultan appeared fully willing to carry out all the engagements into which his Predecessor entered; and he felt quite sure that all the influence the Sultan could bring to bear for the suppression of the Slave Trade, and the discouragement of expeditions into the interior would be exercised. By that influence he hoped something might be done to facilitate intercourse between the sea and the great lakes, or inland seas, by which so much had been done by Englishmen to introduce civilization into the heart of the Continent. But he should not be doing his duty if he did not state frankly that Her Majesty's Government could not undertake military responsibilities in so distant a region, and that military responsibility could not be limited when once an armed force was employed by the Consul there. He hoped the hon. and learned Member would be satisfied with what had been said, and he might be assured that the interests of our countrymen in that distant region would not be lost sight of as far as they could properly be followed.

COMMANDER BETHELL (York, E.R., Holderness)

said, unless something was done without delay, the Zambesi, as a means of access, would be gone altogether. Already the Portuguese had begun to colour their maps, including this in their territory.


said, he had intended to point out that Her Majesty's Government were fully aware of their duty in this regard, and their endeavour was to keep open this water highway.


said, he acknowledged the courtesy of the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State. By the indulgence of the House he might be allowed to say that he did not ask that any military responsibility or military expenditure should be incurred, but that the position of the Consul, upon whom we had already spent much money, should be strengthened.

Postponed Resolutions agreed to.

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