HL Deb 27 March 1843 vol 68 cc1-5
The Marquess of Lansdowone

said that, seeing the noble Earl at the head of the Foreign Office in his place, he wished to take this opportunity of putting a question to him on a subject which had been the cause of great anxiety—he must say, of very natural anxiety—to a most numerous and respectable class of persons in this country: he meant those persons who were connected with that group of islands in the Pacific, the principal of which was Tahiti, and which island, recently under a treaty, had been occupied, and authority exercised there by the French. It would be most probably known to most of their Lordships that, for a great many years past, a very great improvement in the civilisation and religious instruction of the inhabitants of these islands, amounting, he believed, to a population of 150,000, had been occasioned by persons, who, from benevolent and religious motives, had taken up their residence there, and who, having acquired a considerable influence over the natives—that influence had now extended so far as to have induced the inhabitants entirely to change their habits of life—to introduce education, to found schools, which were now numerous there, and in every other respect greatly to benefit the condition of these inhabitants. In stating that to be the fact, he by no means intended to say that any legal authority or dominion had, either on the part of these persons or on the part of the Government of this country, been acquired in these islands. He did not mean to say that it was not open—that it was not now open to the government of France by treaty, to obtain either sovereignty or the right to exercise authority in any one of these islands. He was not one of those who viewed with jealousy, at least with unnecessary jealousy, any attempt on the part of the French government to extend its system of colonization; but admitting such to be the right of France to the full extent to which we ourselves bad exercised that right, it must be, at all events, a matter of anxious observation; it could not be in any case a matter of indifference, to see on what ground and under what circumstances, that right was exercised; and, above all, to see that it was not exercised in a manner inconsistent with that protection which was due to her Majesty's subjects residing in any part of the globe, and especially to that portion of her Majesty's subjects who had such well founded claims on the protection of the parent Government as those persons had, who, by their exertions, had materially benefitted the population of those islands. The question, therefore, which he wished to put to his noble Friend was, whether he had received any explanations and assurances on the subject—explanations and assurances which would satisfy his noble Friend that English subjects already settled in Tahiti, or having occasion hereafter to settle in those regions, would obtain from the French authority to be exercised there that degree of protection, which was justly their due, and that they would not be subjected to any unjust treatment, or, above all things, to expulsion from those islands? He felt confident that the answer of his noble Friend would be satisfactory in that respect, for he confided, not only in the character of the French Sovereign, but, in this instance, in the personal character, virtues, and principles, of the eminent individual who was the chief adviser of his Majesty the King of the French; and was convinced that they would not adopt any system, the effect of which would be to obstruct the current of civilisation from prevailing in those regions, or attempt to introduce any other system but that which he was sure this country had alone sought to introduce, in taking possession of any colony or country under the same circumstances.

The Earl of Aberdeen

said that her Majesty's Government had certainly received intelligence of the events to which the noble Marquess had just referred, but he was not sufficiently informed of the precise grounds upon which the French government had acted, or of complaints made against the authorities in those islands, which had led to the convention, to be able to give any explanation upon the subject, nor was he called upon to express any opinion at present respecting the transaction. He entirely agreed with the noble Marquess, in being one of those who looked with no apprehension to the establishment of the French in those seas. He did not apprehend that our commercial or political interests would be affected by the French going thither. On the contrary, he thought he could perceive reasons which induced him to view their establishment with satisfaction, and from it to anticipate advantageous results. He was ready to admit to the noble Marquess, that those who had been the means of civilizing and converting the natives of those islands from idolatry to Christianity, ought to receive the utmost attention at the hands of her Majesty's Government; and as soon as he was informed of the occupation—(occupation it was not, for the French had not occupied the island, for, as he understood the convention was for a protectorship to be exercised by the French King, without the island being occupied by a French force)—as soon as he was informed of the facts, he lost no time in making representations to Paris on the subject, and he was happy to say that those representations were met with the most unqualified assurance, that every degree of protection and encouragement would be afforded to the British missionaries residing in those islands. He might also say, that, by one of the articles of the convention, giving the protectorship to the French King, it was expressly stipulated that protection should be given to all the places of worship at present existing, and that the fullest liberty would be given to the missionaries to exercise their functions in the islands. The attention of the French government having been called to the subject, and sharing with his noble Friend in the confidence to be reposed, not only in the King of the French himself, but in the minister who, at this moment, was the principal adviser of that Monarch, he could not entertain any doubt that the missionaries would be protected in the discharge of their praiseworthy labours. Indeed, the same demand had been made in the French Chambers by a Protestant Member of the Legislature, who very naturally felt himself interested in the success of the labours of the missionaries, and he had received from the French minister the most unqualified assurance to the effect which he had already stated. The noble Marquess must be well assured that the attention of her Majesty's Government would continue to be applied to this subject—to the protection of the interests of the persons to whom the noble Marquess had alluded, and that all due care would be taken to procure for them every freedom and every privilege which could reasonably be expected.


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