HL Deb 06 February 1852 vol 119 cc187-90

said, that seeing his noble Friend the Secretary for the Colonies in his place, he should like to ask him a question, before answering which, he hoped he would not require the formality of a notice. He had seen in the papers which the noble Earl had laid upon the table of their Lordships' House, a statement which he was sure would be extremely revolting to the public, as showing a degree of cupidity and a forgetfulness of all feelings of patriotism which was highly discreditable to this country. The statement was, that a large quantity of gunpowder had been recently exported from this country to the Cape Colony, and there sold to our enemies the Kafirs. The noble EARL, in these papers, spoke justly in thé strongest language of this practice. Certainly the noble EARL appeared to have done what he could on the occasion, by giving directions to the Governor to follow up with severity any person detected in selling this ammunition when it reached the Cape; but he wished to ask the noble EARL whether he could not take measures in this country for stopping the further export of that material; because, if he was not mistaken, large quantities of gunpowder could not be exported without some permission from the authorities in England, and must be shipped, he believed, almost under the eyes of the Ordnance. He wished to ask, therefore, whether the noble EARL had any intention of bringing persons guilty of such an offence in this country to trial or exposure; whether there were any means of preventing the continuance of such a practice; and whether he was aware that arms as well as ammunition were carried from this country to the Cape to be sold to our enemies?


said, in reference to the important subject involved in the noble Earl's question, he thought the best mode in which he could answer it was by simply stating to the House precisely what had occurred. He was quite aware, before the war broke out, that very large quantities of gunpowder had been sent from this country to the Cape of Good Hope; but he was also aware that there was no law to prohibit it; he believed, also, that the merchants of this country sent it out without knowing the bad purposes to which it was applied; for in peaceable times gunpowder was one of the main articles of export to the Cape, where a great quantity of it was used, it being a necessary article in the colony. But in the month of November last, the Chairman of the Board of Customs communicated to his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to himself the fact that these shipments of gunpowder and arms to the Cape were going on. The moment that he received this intimation, he (Earl Grey) wrote a despatch at once to the Governor at the Cape (which despatch was included in the papers on their Lordships' table), and in it he called his Excellency's attention to the circumstance, that he might direct immediate measures to be taken to prevent the arms and ammunition from being used so as to fall into the hands of our enemies. At the same time, on consulting with the Board of Customs and other persons that he thought capable of giving him the best advice, he had come to the conclusion that it would be inexpedient to attempt to stop the exportation of arms and gunpowder from this country; and for this reason, that by doing so, if the gunpowder was intended for unlawful purposes, it would only put the exporters on their guard, and they could send it first to France or Holland, whence it could be taken and landed on the southern coast of Africa without going to Cape Town or Graham's Town: and, secondly, because he thought that by continuing to allow the transmission of arms and ammunition to the Cape, without any interference with it at home, he should be able to cut up the traffic more certainly and effectually; and he was happy to say that, in a report that he had received within the last few days from the collector of customs at the Cape, that gentlemen expressed a strong opinion that the best course to adopt was to endeavour to arrest the traffic when it approached the colony, rather than attempt to check it from this country. Their Lordships would be aware from the despatches on the table, that an ordinance had been passed (he was bound to say, when it was too late) by the Legislative Council at the Cape, for intercepting the trade there; and he had received, only yesterday, from the Admiralty, a report from the Commodore on the African station, stating that he had despatched one of the vessels under his command to prevent gunpowder from being landed on the West Coast of Africa. He was informed by a very able officer that the places where the landing of it was practicable were so very few that there would be no difficulty in interrupting the traffic; but at the same time it was utterly impossible to prevent the loyal inhabitants and farmers in the colony from purchasing powder, because they required to have it for their own defence, not only against the Kafirs, but also against the wild beasts abounding in that part of Africa, and which were a source of very serious danger. After a full consideration of the question, the Legislative Council at the Cape had decided on a measure which had now become law, as on the whole the best course that could be adopted; and he was led to hope, by the information that he had received, that being armed with these powers the Government would be able to suppress this traffic. But he was concerned to add that, in his opinion, this precaution had been taken much too late, and it was to him quite incomprehensible, knowing the strong laws in existence at the Cape against the sale of gunpowder to the Kaffirs, that this trade had been allowed to go on so long. The Commodore reported that the trade was now stopped; but his expression was that during the last few months several hundred tons of powder had been landed along the western coast.


said, it appeared to him that if the sale of gunpowder at the Cape was placed under this restriction, that licences should be procured from the Government by persons to whom it was necessary for self-defence, either against the Kafirs or wild beasts, we should have some guarantee against the enemy obtaining it. The noble EARL had forgotten that his question applied to arms as well as to gunpowder.


said, there was no fault to find with the ordinance of the Legislative Council, except that it ought to have been passed last February instead of last November. The instructions he had given extended to the prevention of the trade in arms as well as gunpowder intended for the enemy. He had seen in the newspapers a report of certain shipments of arms from this country; but he had no reason to believe that they were intended for the Cape; he believed they were for traffic on the north-western coast of Africa.


was understood to make an inquiry about the use of arms by the population at the Cape; to which


replied, that he thought in that country it was the fashion for almost everybody to carry arms.