HL Deb 18 February 1856 vol 140 cc912-4

presented a petition from merchants and other inhabitants of Singapore, praying for Protection from Piracy of the trade of the Port of Singapore. With regard to the value of this trade, he might state that in 1854–55 the imports to Singapore, Penang, and Malacca amounted to £5,000,000, and the exports to £4,250,000, while the tonnage inwards, being of the same amount with the tonnage outwards, was 440,000 tons. The trade affected by the piracy complained of— namely, that of China, Siam, Cochin-China, Cambodia, and the Malayan Peninsula— amounted to £1,500,000 of exports and the same amount of imports. But this was not all. The men-of-war sent to the Eastern Archipelago to protect our own trade had the same defects which marked those sent to the Baltic to destroy the trade of the enemy. They were utterly unfitted for the seas they sailed in, and for the office on which they were employed. They were generally frigates and sloops of war, with a deep draught of water, and were therefore unable to pursue a light pirate vessel that could run at once into shoal water, and be drawn up in the mud among the bamboos that lined the coast. It ap- peared, besides, that the instructions of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, according to the construction put on them by the naval officers, at the various stations, prohibited them from either pursuing or detaining a vessel except when in the act of piracy, which was in effect an immunity from punishment. As to the East India Company, in whoso government the protection of those settlements was placed, the petitioners stated that they had no vessels whatever in those seas. The most formidable piracies at the present time were those of the Chinese. These were un-known a very few years ago, and they had grown out of the rebellion in that country. The pirates having vessels better manned and better armed than the natives of the Archipelago, they became proportionably formidable to the European vessels of ordinary size, and large Chinese junks were in no danger from, but the smaller class of junks, and the native craft generally fell an easy prey to, their attacks. Apart from the social and moral obligations which lay upon us to put down piracy, we were bound by a convention with the Government of the Netherlands, agreed to in 1824, to take measures for its suppression in those seas. The Dutch had performed their duties honestly and faithfully. They had a flotilla of steamers and other small vessels which were constantly employed in the pursuit of pirates; but how could we be said to perform our part of the bargain when we employed vessels wholly unfit for the purpose, and, moreover, shackled those we had with conditions which made it impossible for them to pursue a pirate unless caught in the act? He begged, therefore, to ask what answer had been given to the memorial from the merchants of Singapore addressed to the Lords of the Admiralty in June, 1855, on this subject?


said, the Lords of the Admiralty had in the course of last year received information to the effect that the pirates in those seas were doing great injury to trade by means of the small boats which they employed, and that the ships sent out from this country were not of a description to deal with them effectually. Orders were accordingly sent out that a class of smaller vessels should be employed for that purpose. It appeared that considerable difficulty had been experienced in finding the description of vessels required, in consequence of the great demand that existed for the export of cavalry regiments from the East Indies to Egypt; but at the last accounts the Admiral on the station had been able to detach one steamer for the pirate service, and arrangements were being made for the adoption of more rigorous measures.

Petition to lie on the table.

House adjourned till To-morrow.