HL Deb 29 April 1841 vol 57 cc1243-4
Lord Ellenborough

had a petition to present on a subject, to which he begged to call the attention of the noble Lord at the head of the Government. The petition, which he held in his hand, came from Bombay, and was signed by nearly all the merchants belonging to that city. The petitioners stated the very great injury which their trade had received from the interruption of our intercourse with China, and they appealed to their Lordships to take what measures they thought most expedient to establish our trade in that quarter of the world on a stable and permanent footing. The petition contained a narrative of the affairs which had taken place in China, commencing with the expulsion of the British from Canton in the month of May, 1840.

Lord Ashburton

wished to ask the noble Vicount, at the head of the Government, whether he had received any further information from China, and whether the Government had come to any decision on the preliminary articles which had been agreed to by Captain Elliot?

Viscount Melbourne

My Lords, her Majesty's Government are not in possession of any more decided or conclusive information on the subject than the public in general. We are in possession of the preliminary articles to which the noble, Lord had adverted, but I apprehend that it would be premature for her Majesty's Government to form any conclusion on those preliminary articles until they are in possession of the treaty founded on them, and until they know whether the matter has been brought to a conclusion. Unquestionably her Majesty's Government had not come to any conclusion on these preliminary articles.

The Duke of Wellington

wished to correct a mistake that appeared in the petition. It was there stated, that the British were expelled from Canton on the 5th of May. He, however, inferred, from what had taken place, that the British were obliged to retire at the end of March. Looking to the events of the present year, they appeared to him to be exceedingly unsatisfactory. And to what, he would ask, was this owing? It appeared to him that this state of things was to be attributed to improper advice. The interests of the country, in various parts of the world, had not been properly protected. If there were not a general war, they were placed in a situation that tended to it; and this arose from their having reduced their establishments far below what they ought to be, even in a time of peace. This was the true cause of the present state of things in China, and of delay and consequent misfortune elsewhere; and he much feared that circumstances would occur to cause still further regret at the course that had been adopted with respect to their establishments. He told Ministers so at the time they were making those reductions in 1837. He stated to them then that they were not taking such care of their establishments as would enable them, in the event of war, to contend with success. The reduction of their establishments had been pursued in different parts of the world where they were engaged at present, and now they saw the consequence.

Earl Stanhope

said, the noble Duke was entirely wrong in his chronology when he asserted that we were driven from Canton in March and not in May. Captain Elliot arrived in the last week of March; but he did not advise the British to quit that place till May; and, but for that advice, there was no necessity for them to have left at all.

Petition was withdrawn, in consequence of informality.

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