HC Deb 05 May 1892 vol 4 cc173-5
MR. SAMUEL SMITH (Flintshire)

I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he is aware that the Government of Queensland is about to re-open the traffic in Polynesian labour, which was prohibited two years ago in consequence of the horrible atrocities that disgraced it; whether he is aware that a Royal Commission investigated the whole matter in 1885, and reported that it was a traffic accompanied with every circumstance of deception and cruelty; that they reported that, in the case of the labour vessel HopefulThe history of the cruise is one long record of deceit, cruel treachery, deliberate kidnapping, and cold-blooded murders. The number of human beings whose lives were sacrificed during the recruiting can never be accurately known"; whether a Petition was signed in Queensland by 28,000 persons to get the murderers and kidnappers in the Hopeful pardoned on the ground that these atrocities had been common, and it was hard to make these men the first victims; whether these men are now out of prison, and whether he is aware that it was proposed to give them a public banquet in the colony; whether he is aware that the Royal Commission stated that the average mortality of these Pacific islanders on the sugar plantations of Queensland was 17.2 per cent. in one year, and that the wages paid are from 4d. per day, whereas white labourers earn from 5s. to 8s. per day; whether he is aware that several islands of the New Hebrides have been almost depopulated by this inhuman trade; and whether the Government will take steps to prevent what is virtually the revival of the slave trade under our flag?


Her Majesty's Government understand that the Queensland Legislature have passed a Bill for allowing the re-introduction of South Sea island labour to the colony; but no copy of the measure has yet been received. It is understood, however, that the Queensland Government are fully sensible of the necessity for stringent regulations for the protection of the labourers. The Commission to which the hon. Member refers did not investigate the whole subject of the traffic, but it embraced an inquiry into three voyages, including that of the Hopeful, in which labour was recruited from the Louisiade Group and other islands adjacent to New Guinea. The Queensland Government, after the Report of the Commission, took measures for returning to their homes the whole of the surviving labourers recruited on these voyages. The hon. Member will find Papers on these subjects in the Blue Books [C. 4,584 and C. 5,883]. The hon. Member will see that there were special features in connection with these voyages, upon which a general condemnation of Polynesian labour could not fairly be based. We believe that such a petition as that mentioned in the third paragraph of the question was made, but not on the grounds stated by the hon. Member. It was alleged that the evidence on which the prisoners were convicted was unsatisfactory and insufficient to establish their guilt. The men were released, but I am not aware that there was any intention to give them a public banquet. As regards paragraph four, I do not find any statement to this effect in the Report of the Commission; but there appears to have been an exceptional mortality among the labourers recruited by the particular ships I have referred to. The money wage may be as stated in the question, but it must be borne in mind that the expense of the Polynesian labourer includes food, clothing, and lodging, and the cost of the return voyage as well as of the voyage to the colony. It is believed that the population of the islands of the Pacific generally is diminishing; but there are other causes at work, and in the absence of authentic records it is not possible to say to what extent particular islands may have suffered a loss of population from recruiting. Her Majesty's Government will support the Queensland authorities in any measures they may take to surround the engagement and employment of these men with proper safeguards; and if due precautions are taken, it should be possible to regulate the traffic without the evils which the hon. Member anticipates.


In consequence of this very unsatisfactory reply, and in consequence of the Government sanction of what is practically a renewal of the slave trade, I give notice that I will call attention to this matter again.

MR. HOWARD (Middlesex, Tottenham)

I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he can state what the reasons are which have induced Sir Samuel Griffiths to remove the prohibition against the introduction of Polynesian labour into the colony of Queensland; and whether, having regard to the kidnapping and crime inseparable from this traffic, and brought to light by a Royal Commission, he will take steps to induce the Premier to reconsider his determination?


The reasons assigned by Sir Samuel Griffiths are that there are not at present in Queensland a sufficient number of Europeans able and willing to do the necessary work, and that, in consequence, the sugar industry is suffering, and the productiveness of the lands of the colony will be diminished. I have answered the remainder of the question in my reply to the hon. Member for Flintshire (Mr. S. Smith).