HL Deb 28 May 1847 vol 92 cc1241-5

rose, pursuant to notice, to call the attention of the House to papers which had been laid upon their Lordships' Table, respecting the destructive fire which some time ago had taken place at St. John's, Newfoundland. When, in the first instance, it was thought necessary to bring the subject before Parliament, his noble Friend the Secretary of State consented to lay before them the papers that were required to develop the whole transaction. Those papers had for some time been before the House; and, having considered them, he took it upon himself to say, that the case was one which did require the attention of their Lordships. The money which had been subscribed in consequence of this disastrous fire, was not only not applied to the purposes specified in the Queen's Letter, but was applied, by private arrangement, to matters which had not even been mentioned in Her Majesty's Letter. Both the purposes to which the money had been applied, might have been in themselves good; but it was not for both, it was only for one of the number, that the subscribers gave their contributions. The Society for Propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts, had subscribed 2,000l. towards rebuilding the episcopal church at St. John's. But the collection under the Queen's Letter was made from door to door, and many became subscribers who never thought that they were giving their money for the purpose of rebuilding an episcopal church, inasmuch as many of the subscribers were Dissenters, who, in giving their money, thought that they were merely contributing to the relief of their distressed brethren. The petition praying that a Queen's Letter be issued, asked for assistance generally, and particularly referred to the rebuilding of the church; but the answer to that petition, as well as the Queen's Letter, was silent on the subject. What he complained of was this, that having in the first instance taken what seemed to be a perfectly safe, sound, and cautious course, namely, referring it to the governor of the colony to inform him whether it was desirable that any part of the money collected could be spared for the purpose of rebuilding the parish church of St. John, and, if so, what portion should be so applied, his noble Friend the Secretary for the Colonies did not wait for the answer of the governor, but suddenly jumped, as it were, to the conclusion that one-half was the precise proportion that ought to be granted for that purpose. There was one more stage of the proceeding to which he would refer. The Bishop of Newfoundland requested that the money should be kept in this country, and placed somewhere, so that interest might accrue upon it, whereby it might become a larger sum, and be more useful than if sent to the colony at first. His noble Friend the Secretary for the Colonies consented to that course; but unfortunately another authority in this country stepped in, and the Lords of the Treasury declined to adopt the suggestion. It was evident that there was great distrust of the authorities of the colony, though from what cause it was not for him to say. But there was this difference between the case of the fire in Newfoundland and that of Quebec; in the latter case, the money collected under the Queen's Letter for the relief of the sufferers was sent to Lord Metcalfe, the governor of the colony, for his appropriation and distribution; and he, therefore, was responsible for the whole proceeding; but upon this occasion, there appeared to have been an understanding with the London Committee, and with the right rev. Prelate, and also with the noble Earl the Secretary for the Colonies, that the parties who contributed the money should not be told the purpose for which their money was asked. In his opinion, however, it was desirable that in every case where the people of this country were asked to contribute their money for any purpose, they should be distinctly told what the purpose was. The noble Lord then concluded with expressing his hope, that their Lordships would concur in the Motion he was about to make— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty to direct, that as often as Her Majesty shall be graciously pleased to issue Her Royal Letters, directed respectively to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, authorizing the Collection of voluntary Contributions within their several Provinces, Accounts shall be presented to Her Majesty of the Amount of Money received under such Letters, of the Persons to whom paid, under whose Authority, and for what Purpose it is expended.


said, that the statement of the noble Lord looked very much like a charge of having obtained money under false pretences. The noble Lord said, that the money had been collected for one purpose, and improperly applied to another; but the money was collected for the general purpose of repairing the damage committed by the fire; and the clergy and the congregation of St. John's were sufferers by that fire. He maintained, therefore, that providing funds for the rebuilding of the parish church was a work of charity. That a great part of the money collected, was contributed by persons who believed that a portion of it would be applied to rebuilding the parish church, he did not entertain a doubt; nor could he conceive that any member of the Estab- lished Church could make any objection to such application. The whole matter, from the beginning, was most open; there was no concealment—no delusion—and he must repel, without any qualification, the charge of having been accessory to a measure, the effect of which would be to collect money under false pretences. The London Committee, having very charitably and benevolently exerted themselves to raise funds by general subscription for the relief of the distress occasioned by the fire in St. John's, considered that an appeal ought to be made through the usual medium to the members of the Church of England; and he himself believed, that the money was almost exclusively collected from members of the Church of England. The committee appealed to the Secretary of State for a specific mention of the church of St. John's in the Queen's Letter; and the answer they received was, that the Queen's Letter had already been issued; he then wrote to the chairman of the committee, and the reply which he received was, that the committee were unanimously of opinion that a portion of the funds should be applied to the rebuilding of the church of St. John's. He, therefore, could not conceive that there had been any breach of trust, or the slightest deviation from the strict line of duty, on the part of the Secretary of State in the course he had taken. He himself had little responsibility in the matter; but, if the whole rested upon his shoulders, he should consider that he had but done his duty. At the same time, he thought that when money was given for general purposes of charity, an account should be furnished to the donors of its application.


said, it was true that, on the 7th of November, 1846, he did refuse to allot any portion of the money to the purpose of rebuilding the church of St. John's; but shortly afterwards he received a despatch, dated the 26th of November, 1846, from the officer administering the government of Newfoundland, stating that the grant of money that had been already made, had had a demoralising tendency, as the people seemed to have an idea that, whether they were in poverty or not, they had a right to relief out of the money that had been subscribed, and requesting that the rest of the funds might be placed in the hands of the Secretary for the Colonies, to be appropriated as he thought fit, and in particular recommending that a part of it should be applied to the rebuild- ing of the church. He placed his change of determination expressly on the ground of fresh information, and on the fact that the principal sufferers had received almost the whole amount of their loss, whilst those who had not received the amount of their losses were the small shopkeepers, on whom the expense of restoring the church would principally fall. Besides, the officer administering the government, had recommended a fixed proportion of the money to be applied to this particular purpose. With respect to the Queen's Letter, it was contrary to precedent to notice all the objects to which the collections were to be applied; and it was the usual course to leave the distribution of the fund raised to a committee administering any general subscription, the Government having, in fact, no means of distributing these voluntary contributions. At the same time, he saw no objection to the present Motion.


said, so far as he had the means of judging, no appropriation could have given greater satisfaction to the clergy than that of providing for one of the most grievous disasters amidst the general calamity; and such an incident as the destruction of the church, ought not to have been omitted from general assistance. The parties who applied for the Queen's Letter, the authorities in the colony, and Her Majesty's Government, had all concurred in the necessity and propriety of this application of the money; and he believed it met with general assent.


replied, disclaiming any intention of imputing blame to any of the clergy, though there was a different interpretation put by them upon the Queen's Letter.

Motion agreed to.

House adjourned.

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