HL Deb 30 June 1857 vol 146 cc605-8

said, he rose to ask a question of his noble Friend, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs relative to a subject which had excited much alarm among those who, like himself, were friends of the African race, and who hoped they had seen the end of that great scourge, the slave trade. It was understood that a body of West India planters had approached the noble Viscount at the head of the Government, and had urged him to facilitate the importation into our colonies of free negroes from the coast of Africa. It was also understood that measures of the same sort were contemplated by the colonial interests of France and Spain, and it was even stated that the Emperor Napoleon had given permission to a house at Marseilles to fit out an expedition for importing 20,000 free negroes, as they were called, into the French colonies. One vessel, it was alleged, had already sailed to Quidah, on the coast of Africa, well known as a slave-trading port—the very port, indeed, from which the King of Dahomey formerly carried on that infernal traffic. No wonder, then, that alarm had been excited at the prospect of such an expedition to the port of Quidah, with the professed object of inducing negroes to take ship and be conveyed over to the French colonies. It was well known that one of the most remarkable acts of the life of the first Napoleon, the only act of his in favour of human rights, was his decree for putting down the French slave trade—our ancient allies, the Bourbons, having altogether omitted to take such a course. He felt assured that the present Emperor of the French would not, by pursuing an opposite course, tarnish the glory of a policy which reflected so much honour upon his predecessor. It was also said that a similar movement was taking place in Spain, that the importation of free negroes into Cuba was to be encouraged by the Spanish Government. Now, there was, no doubt, a great difference between any measure having for its object the importation of free negroes into Cuba upon the one hand, and a measure, the object of which was their importation into the French or the English colonies, upon the other. In the latter case, of the French colonies, slavery had been abolished, so that free negroes could not be enslaved after their importation. But the free negroes who were imported into Cuba, might in reality be compelled to undergo a state of endless bondage; and he hoped his noble Friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs would be able to give him some assurance that the new Governor of the Havannah was treading in the footsteps of those among its predecessors who had shown a disposition to put down the slave trade, and was not following the example of those by whom a contrary course had been pursued. That a disposition existed in Brazil to put an end to the traffic in slaves he entertained no doubt, and the course which the Government of that country had taken in reference to the subject was such as, in his opinion, redounded greatly to its credit. When persons emigrated from this country to the colonies care was taken that they should he provided with sufficient accommodation on board the vessels in which they were conveyed. Medical attendance was afforded them, and a vigilant superintendence was exercised at the various custom-houses in their regard, security being taken that they should be landed at the port to which they intended to emigrate. In the case of those free negroes, however, who were to be shipped on the coast of Africa no such precautions could be taken, and the consequence would be that the greatest abuses must arise. Such a state of things should not, he contended, be allowed on any account. Security should be taken that those negroes should be landed at the port for which they were bound, and that whenever they became dissatisfied with their new position they should be enabled to return to their own country. As this, however, was manifestly impossible, the whole scheme should be discountenanced. Since the abolition of the slave trade, what he might term the innocent commerce of Africa had increased to a considerable extent. In the year 1855 upwards of £1,500,000 worth of goods had been exported from this country to those ports in Africa which were not in our own possession or under the dominion of France, while goods to the value of £250,000 had been exported to Sierra Leone and other English settlements on the African coast. Now, nothing could have a greater tendency to cheek that growing commerce than the encouragement of the traffic in slaves, and he hoped, therefore, to receive from the Government some assurance both as to the intentions of the Spanish and Portuguese Governments, and as to the project which had been brought under the notice of his noble Friend at the head of the Government.


, who was very indistinctly heard, was understood to say that he entirely concurred in the opinion which had been expressed by his noble and learned Friend, and was sorry he was unable to give a detailed answer to the various inquiries which had been made; because, although his noble and learned Friend had given him notice of his intention to put a question with regard to the slave trade, he had not given any intimation as to the precise nature of that question. A deputation had certainly waited upon his noble Friend at the head of the Government to propose some measure having for its object the importation of free negroes from Africa to the colonies, but he was not aware of the precise nature of the proposal, or of the answer returned by his noble Friend. He was quite certain, however, from all the antecedents of his noble Friend—from the fact that all his energies had been directed to the suppression of that detestable traffic—that no encouragement, either directly or indirectly, would be given by him to anything that could in the remotest manner lead to a renewal of that traffic. Portugal had set its face entirely against any attempt, whether by mercantile associations or otherwise, to import free labour from the African coast. As to the rumour that a licence had been given to a French commercial company at Marseilles, and that a ship had sailed from that port for Quidah, Her Majesty's Government had received no official information on the subject, and he thought it would have been impossible for such an expedition to have sailed without the attention of the Government having been officially drawn to it. His noble and learned Friend had not at all understated the progress of commercial enterprise in Africa, and it was to be hoped that industry had taken such a spring in that country as would lead to the most happy and beneficial results.

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