HL Deb 21 April 1856 vol 141 cc1248-51

presented a petition from the merchants and inhabitants of Singapore, complaining of the introduction by the Government of India of a novel and inconvenient currency instead of a long-established, convenient, and satisfactory one, thereby throwing confusion into the commerce of that and the associated British settlements in the Straits of Malacca. The noble Earl said that the colony from which this petition emanated was industrious and enterprising, and well entitled to the consideration of any Government, but more particularly of one which affected free-trade principles. Thirty-seven years ago Singapore was a wretched collection of huts, inhabited by some hundreds of pirates and fishermen, and a scene of robbery and violence. Now, its imports and exports amounted to £7,000,000 sterling, and with those of the sister settlements to £10,000,000. Contrast this with the continent of India. For ten years the imports to that continent had showed no increase; indeed, they would but for this settlement of Singapore, the account of which appeared in the Parliamentary return of the revenue of Bengal, have shown a considerable decrease. In Singapore there was no land tax, no moturpha, and, consequently, no torture, no import or export duties, no anchorage dues, nor any charge upon ships or cargoes; yet that settlement managed to meet its expenditure, and in its case a surplus of revenue was as much the rule as in that of Hindustan it was the exception. The currency of Singapore was a decimal one, and perhaps the most perfect that could be devised. It was based upon the Spanish dollar, which was divided into cents, half cents, and quarter cents. That was the coin which was best suited to the people, inasmuch as it had been the coin used in these settlements ever since the Spaniards established a Mint at Mexico three centuries ago. The Act which was to inflict upon Singapore the injury of abolishing this coin was called the 17th of the Indian Government. It was, indeed, said that Her Majesty's Government had signified their intention that if it inflicted injury upon commerce it should be repealed. But why should this flourishing colony be made the corpus vile on which every currency quack should try his hand? for this experiment had been tried before. When the colony was established in the year 1819 the dollar was displaced, and rupees were introduced in the proportion of 25 to 100 dollars. The same result followed as obtained in Java upon the introduction by the Dutch Government of the guilder and florin. The Spanish dollar was depreciated. The sicca rupee, which was now declared to be the currency of Singapore, was the most barbarous and inconvenient coin that could be conceived; it was divided into twelve parts, and each part was resolved into a number of small shells which might be picked up on the sea-shore, and were about the value of a periwinkle, or not so valuable, for they had not the fish in them. In 1827 an attempt was made to inflict the rupee currency on Singapore; but Lord William Bentinck yielded to the remonstrances of the merchants, and the attempt was abandoned. Since then the inhabitants of Singapore had been continually protesting against the introduction of the rupee. Unfortunately, the blundering Indian Act of 1853 established a Legislative Council which, he understood, gave satisfaction neither in Leadenhall Street nor in Cannon Row, and to which, like new Frankensteins, the Government were about to put an end. This Council had, by a majority of one, with a Mr. John Peter Grant, the originator of this precious scheme, at its head, determined to inflict the rupee upon the merchants of Singapore. It was, however, impossible to reconcile the barbarous rupee currency with the previous dollar currency and its simple divisions. The result of this step would be that they would mulct their servants at Singapore of from 10 to 12 per cent of their salaries by paying them in a foreign coin which must necessarily be at a discount; and they would ultimately be compelled to do what the Dutch Government had been compelled to do—namely, to repurchase Spanish dollars in large quantities to replace the rupee currency. Although he could understand the adoption of such a measure by the Legislative Council of India, the majority of whose measures were in violation of legislative science, he was surprised that Her Majesty's Ministers, who were professed freetraders, should impose such a restriction on the trade and commerce of Singapore and the associated settlements as this barbarous currency. He held in his hand a tabular statement, published by the Government, being an attempt to adapt the fractional parts of a rupee to the fractional parts of a dollar. In this he found the word "pie," with which as applied to finance he was previously unacquainted, but which was, he supposed, used in the sense in which it was employed in a printing office—to describe the confusion of the whole matter. A single line of this table showed that 10½ pie were equal to 7 halfpice, 3½ pice, 1¾ dollar pice and 2½ cents. An integer with fractions converted into an integer with fractions! This showed that for small sums in the dollar currency there could be found no equivalent in the rupee currency. Three times he (the Earl of Albemarle) had pleaded the cause of those whom he now represented against the East Indian Government, and twice ho had been successful. He hoped that on this, the third occasion, Her Majesty's Government would see the necessity of repealing the absurd 17th Act of the Indian Government, and would, by its abrogation, restore prosperity to Singapore.


said, he should not occupy their Lordships' time by following his noble Friend, but he would only say that the question was not quite so simple a one as his noble Friend seemed to think. No doubt the Spanish dollar had long been the currency of the Straits, but it had never been authoritatively settled as the circulating medium of Singapore, the Government having always adopted the fractional part of the rupee in the payment of the salaries of officials and the pay of the military. In 1854 orders were issued by the Indian Government that rupees only should be issued; and when that was reported to the Home Government, they in their reply expressed some doubt as to the expediency of the measure, and directed that its working should be watched, and a report of its effect made to them, so that an alteration might be made if it was found necessary.

Petition to lie on the table.

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