HL Deb 26 March 1838 vol 41 cc1211-5
The Archbishop of Canterbury

stated, that he had a petition to present of great importance. It was a petition of a peculiar character, not on account of its subject, for on that he believed there was hardly two opinions in the country, nor from its numbers for it was only signed by between forty and fifty persons, but important from the character of the petitioners, It came from the ministers of all denominations in the town of Birmingham, who, however they might differ in other respects, were united on the subject of the petition. It was signed by twenty-three clergymen of the Church of England, and by the same number of Dissenting ministers of all denominations. He said, that the subject was most important, and he was sure that their Lordships would concur with him when he read the prayer of the petition. The petitioners expressed their feeling that the interference of the East India Company's servants in aid of the superstitions prevalent in Hindostan, together with levying taxes on pilgrims, and granting licenses, were, in the judgment of the petitioners, wrong in principle, offensive to God, and tending to lower the British character in the eyes of the natives, and to prevent the spread of Christianity amongst them. The petitioners therefore prayed that such a course should be adopted, as would prevent any profits arising from the idolatrous worship in India, and that all servants of the Company, whether civil or military, should not be allowed to participate in the rights and ceremonies connected with the superstitions of the country. The Directors of the India Company said, with respect to toleration, that all religious rights not flagrantly opposed to humanity and decency ought to be tolerated, and that protection ought to be given to the exercise of those which did not offend against the law. He begged to express his entire concurrence in the reasons given in that document, and in the conclusion founded upon those reasons, and at the same time, he entirely concurred in the prayer of the petitioners. All that they desired was, that the order which had been sent out to enforce those resolutions should be carried into effect. Directions had been sent out to the Governor on the 20th of February, 1833, to act on the principles expressed in those resolutions. That being the case, the Europeans were naturally impatient at the delay which had taken place, in adopting any measures to carry those resolutions into operation; and suspicions were excited that nothing was intended to be done. Those suspicions, too, were increased by transactions which had occurred in India. A petition signed by the clergy of Madras and others, was sent in August, 1836, to the Governor of Madras, praying that those directions might be acted on. It appeared, however, that that was not a subject in which the Governor of Madras could properly interfere, and that it must be referred to the Supreme Court, and the petitioners accordingly requested that it might be so referred. In a few months afterwards, the petition was presented to the Governor General, and accompanied by a letter from the late Bishop of Madras, whose loss he deeply regretted—one who had been long resident in India, and who was a man of eminent zeal and piety. That letter was written in such a tone of moderation, as might be expected from a man of his principles and habits; but, in the answer which was returned to that application, the Governor General declared himself in direct opposition to the orders sent out by the East India Company, openly avowed his sentiments, and administered a rebuke to the Bishop, from which, at least, he thought his office should have protected the prelate. Could it, then, be considered surprising, that suspicions should be entertained that nothing, or worse than nothing, was intended to be done? Could it be supposed that the Governor would hold such language if it had not been thought that it would be agreeable to the authorities at home? Were not the petitioners, then, warranted in all their suspicions? Again, their suspicion was naturally strengthened by what had occurred at home. Four years had elapsed since the instructions were sent out, and nothing had yet been done. But, still further, after having in 1833, sent out those orders, the Directors, on the 22nd of February, 1837, passed another resolution, in which they called for information. Information! Why had they not on the former occasion all the information which was necessary, especially as the question was not one of finance? The Directors, however, desired information, and said, that they could not proceed to the consideration of the whole subject until that information had been laid before them. It was desirable, however, they said, that no unnecessary delay should occur in bringing before them the whole subject in all its bearings on the financial interests, the political obligations, and moral character of the Government. Now, he could not be thought uncharitable, when he said that it was evident from all their transactions that they had but little regard to its moral character; but whatever might be the bearings of the question, their Lordships would observe that that resolution bore date in February, 1837, and although six months now sufficed for communication with India, in February, 1838, no answer had been received. Great feeling prevailed in India on this subject, and it would manifest itself more and more. The directors gave positive orders, founded on the best reasons, five years ago, and now they said that they were deliberating upon the subject, and that it now engaged their most careful attention, and that of their governors abroad. Was that conduct which could inspire confidence? Could such conduct fail to excite suspicion that nothing would be done to relieve British subjects from participation in those idolatrous rites and to rescue the British name from connection with these unholy ceremonies? Had he unjustly charged he directors? Every word that he had said was justified by the directions which had been given by the East India Company to their governors. There was another case to which he would allude. A proposition had been made the other day by a proprietor in favour of carrying out those directions; but the Directors, supported certainly by a number of the proprietors—who naturally considered that the Directors were the best able to form an opinion on such a subject—passed a resolution to the effect that the public discussion of such questions was extremely dangerous. Now he admitted that any injudicious interference with the natives, any great change unaccompanied by preparation and explanation, might perhaps be dangerous; but he had seen enough of terrors of this kind to know that they were generally imaginary evils only. The greatest apprehension, he remembered, had been expressed when missionaries were first introduced, and it was said that nothing but revenge and ill-will would be excited amongst the natives. Then, again, there were terrors of the same kind when a Bishop was first sent out to Calcutta, and it was said that the natives would assuredly imagine that a serious intention was entertained of overturning their religion and establishing upon its ruin that of the British inhabitants. Another instance occurred on the abolition of the suttees, although it was subsequently evident that the Governor-General, acting on his own discretion, might safely have adopted that measure many years before. He begged again to express his entire concurrence in the prayer of the petitioners, and he was sure that the British subjects in India, whilst they entertained an anxious desire to effect the object stated in that petition, were at the same willing to act upon those principles of toleration which every wise and good man must desire to see in operation, and he felt persuaded that, consistently with those principles, they would contribute to relieve the natives from the onerous and disgraceful superstition in which they laboured.

The Bishop of Chichester

, had to present a petition to the same effect, and would take that opportunity to express his entire concurrence in the prayer of it.

The Bishop of London

wished to say but a single word. He knew that their Lordships were impatient to proceed to other business; but this subject was of such a nature that he felt it incumbent on him to state briefly one obervation, and it was this, that the executive Government in India, had not merely taken no step that was calculated to carry into effect the orders issued by the deliberate judgment of the Directors, but they had been retrograding and retracing their steps; and some measures which had taken in consequence of that determination had been since abandoned. He could hardly have believed it to be true were it not stated on authority, which it was impossible to doubt, that the order which had been sent four years ago to the two Commanders-in-Chief in India, and which had been so far acted on that Europeans were not compelled to attend and take part in the idolatrous ceremonies of the Hindoo worship, was now disregarded, and that the attendance in that idolatrous worship was compulsory again. He was not then prepared with the documents relating to that subject; and he would, therefore, then only put the case hypothetically. If that were true he would say that it would be an eternal disgrace on any Christian Government that could for a moment sanction such a proceeding on the part of any of its officers, however high their station, and that the Government would be guilty of the greatest dereliction of duty to their country and to God if they did not at least replace Christianity on the same footing as enjoyed before that order had been issued. I no other Member of that House should adopt that step he should feel it to be his duty to move for copies of any correspondence which could throw light upon the subject, which, appeared to him deeply to involve the character of the nation.

Lord Glenelg

requested the indulgence of the House for one moment. He certainly had been a party to the order which had been referred to, and had intended that it should be brought into operation. If, however, it had not been thought right to carry it into effect—if no steps for that purpose had been taken—he was very much grieved at it, and he could say that he thought that the East India Company had not done their duty to the English residents if they had failed to carry that order into execution.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

had omitted to make one statement which in justice he was bound to add, more especially as it had been said that the Directors, instead of proceeding, had retrograded. One crying grievance had certainly been removed: formerly Europeans had been obliged to assist in dragging the car and to furnish the personal labour for that purpose; but that had been done away with by the Governor of Madras, and that comprised all that had been done in the matter.

Petition to lie on the table.

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