HL Deb 30 June 1853 vol 128 cc942-5

said, he wished to ask the noble Duke the Secretary for the Colonies, whether he was aware of a proclamation which had been issued by Governor Roberts, the Governor of the colony of Liberia, on the coast of Africa, and which was dated the 26th of last February, which he (Lord Brougham) had seen in an American paper? and, if so, had the noble Duke any objection to lay on the table a copy of the contract referred to, which was understood to have been made with Messrs. Hythe and Hodges, of London, by the Government, for supplying free negroes to one or other of our West Indian colonies? The statement made by Governor Roberts in the proclamation was this—that the gentlemen alluded to had offered an advance of ten dollars a head on the market price—that phrase so repugnant to all one's feelings in such a case—of a negro on the coast of Africa; and he added that it was known to those whom that mystery of iniquity, the slave trade, was familiar, that ten dollars was the whole price of one of those unhappy mortals on the coast, and that the consequence of the offer would be, that the native chiefs would immediately grasp at it—they would keep all the negroes they could get in houses—which, by what would have been a gross abuse of language, he had nearly called houses of refuge, but which were houses of torment—where those poor creatures would be kept in a state of torture by scores and hundreds till they could dispose of them to the contractors; and that, not content with these negroes they had already, the chiefs would use the old accustomed and ordinary means of increasing the number of their slaves by war and pillage, which they carried on in the neighbouring districts. The Governor, naturally enough, said that he had understood all the efforts of this country had been directed to the extinction of the slave trade, but that the consequence of this proceeding would be the encouragement of that traffic; and he, therefore, had issued a proclamation, which was all he could do, warning the persons interested of the danger of carrying away any of those negroes against their will, which he suspected took place, though the negroes were supposed to be, and were called, free. The noble and learned Lord concluded by repeating his question.


said, he had not seen the proclamation to which his noble and learned Friend alluded, but that he was quite well acquainted with the transactions to which the proclamation referred. He was aware there was an arrangement with the persons named by the noble and learned Lord for carrying free negroes to some of our colonies, though he could not say whether it had been entered into by the Colonial Office, and that they had agreed to introduce free labourers from the coast of Africa to several of our West Indian colonies—Guiana, he believed, being one in particular. He knew very well the danger to which the noble and learned Lord pointed in allowing any traffic of this nature to go on without the most careful watchfulness on the part of the Home Government, not only to prevent the slave trade, but the suspicion of it; and he could assure his noble and learned Friend his attention had been more than once called to the circumstances connected with this case; and he felt, though the arrangement was safe in the hands of such very respectable persons as Messrs. Hythe and Hodges, there was no doubt that there was very great danger that it might become, if not slave traffic, something very like it, in the hands of other persons. He had no objection whatever to produce the contract referred to; and he thought it would be desirable to accompany it with the correspondence which had taken place with the Emigration Commissioners, that their Lordships might thoroughly understand, not only the nature of the transaction, but the care taken by the Government to prevent it from degenerating into anything like slave traffic.


thought it only just, as he was at the head of the Colonial Office at the time the contract was made, to state how the matter arose. Some years ago—he thought it was in 1848, a time of the greatest distress for the West Indian colonies—it was arranged that liberated Africans who had been rescued from slavers, and who should volunteer to go to one of the colonies, instead of being sent out there at the expense of that colony, should be sent out at the expense of the Government, and arrangements were entered into with Messrs. Hythe and Hodges for that purpose. They were most respectable shipowners, who entered into a contract for the performance of this service, and they carried it out in the most satisfactory manner; and whereas there had been the greatest difficulty in conveying those unhappy creatures to the colonies without a formidable mortality on board the ships, after the service was put into their hands, by the completeness of their arrangements those liberated Africans had been transferred to the colonies at an exceedingly low rate of mortality, and in some instances not a single death occurred on the voyage. It had long been the study of the Government of this country to encourage, as far as possible, the free immigration of Africans to the West Indies, and he had no hesitation in saying he thought it was a great national object. Various attempts had been made to accomplish it, particularly from a part of the coast of Africa where slavery was not practised—the Kroo coast. When he had the honour of filling the office of Secretary of State for the Colonies, Messrs. Hythe and Hodges offered to endeavour to get free immigrants from that part of the coast, for conveying whom they would be entitled to a certain bounty for emigrants under the provisions of the colonial laws; and the offer was accepted. He believed it was to British Guiana the offer was made in the first instance. Messrs. Hythe and Hodges undertook to make it; but it was laid down as a strict rule, that under no circumstances were they to purchase any of the persons sent over to the West Indies. There were many persons connected with the West Indies who had long urged on the Government that if it was allowed to buy slaves in Africa, and then to liberate them in the West Indies, it would be of great utility; but the proposition had been strongly resisted, and for this simple reason—if they allowed that to be done, though it was quite true they might relieve from a much worse fate many individuals, and prevent their being put to death, still it was perfectly clear, that the indirect effect of the system would be to lead to a universal slave trade on the coast of Africa. Therefore, while he held the office of Secretary of State, though many applications were made to him to relax the regulations, he never allowed the immigration to be carried on in any manner which did not afford the most perfect security that money was not given in any shape to persons in Africa to induce them to obtain emigrants; for, however strict the regulations might be made, if they allowed it to be understood that 3l. or 4l. were to be got by producing a voluntary emigrant, or a man called so, the system would inevitably tend to a universal slave trade. He was quite satisfied, from what he knew of Messrs. Hythe and Hodges, and from the admirable manner in which they had executed the service before, they would not be parties to anything likely to encourage that abominable traffic.


begged to say, he only knew of Messrs. Hythe and Hodges from Governor Roberts's proclamation. The remarks of the noble Earl were most valuable and important with respect to the prohibition of all purchases of emigrants.

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