HL Deb 26 July 1858 vol 151 cc2097-103

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in asking their Lordships to give a second reading to this Bill, said, that those who happened to be familiar with the very graphic accounts which had appeared in the newspapers with regard to the discovery of gold in the north-western part of British America, would feel, probably, that little justification was required for the introduction of the present measure. A complete revolution had recently taken place in that country, which was bounded on the west by the Pacific, on the east by the Rocky Mountains, on the south by the territory of the United States, and on the north by a chain of hills, lakes, and rivers, and which embraced an extent of about 400,000 square miles. That district, but a short time since tenanted only by wild beasts and still wilder savages, with here and there a hunter, had suddenly become the scene of gold discoveries, and was already the theatre of action, enterprise, and adventure. It was late in July, 1856, that information first reached this country of there being a suspicion of gold in those parts. At long intervals, and by occasional mails, some confirmation of that suspicion was brought from time to time; but it was not till March of this year that full and complete assurance was received. We then learned for the first time that emigrants were departing in crowds from the gold mines of San Francisco and were proceeding to this new El Dorado in the British territory. The account of that immigration was only to be compared to that which had taken place in former years to San Francisco itself. The hardy adventurers sailed up hundreds of miles by sea, they pierced the frontier, they found roads for themselves along the valleys, they launched their frail canoes upon the river, which was full of hidden rocks and not less dangerous eddies and currents; and though many lost their lives, were drowned in the river, or wandered from the road, or died from destitution, the great majority at length reached the scene of action—the haven of their ambition. It was to enable us to establish something like law and order, to frame something like a nucleus of civilization round which future laws and institutions might gather themselves, that be asked their Lordships to give this Bill a second reading. It might be perhaps argued that the Government had been rather precipitate in entering upon this step; but any one who was acquainted with the history of the gold colony of California must admit that in such a case it was far better to anticipate than to find ourselves in the rear. There were, moreover, certain circumstances which gave peculiar embarrassment and anxiety to this question, and which at the same time appeared to call for immediate action on the part of the Government. In the first place it must be borne in mind that the whole of this territory was at present in the main, though not actually, subject to an exclusive license to trade with the Indians which the Hudson's Bay Company had for many years enjoyed. It was true that that license expired next year; it was also true that the Government had no intention of renewing that license, and that it would, therefore, in point of law become entirely inoperative; yet the effects which it would leave behind it, and the influences which it had sown would exist, and might easily lead to complications and to serious embarrassments unless provision were at once made for some effectual machinery of government. It must also be borne in mind that we had not to deal with an exclusively white population. There was a population of native Indians there, considerably outnumbering the whites, and those savages naturally looked with distaste and aversion upon those who, as all experience taught them, must in the end deprive them of their inheritance. These were some of the elements of difficulty and danger which it was necessary to provide against, and the Bill which was introduced for that purpose was very simple. It first proposed to give power to the Crown to make laws and ordinances for the new colony. It then assigned a limit of four years' duration to the operation of the Bill itself. It then proposed to establish a Governor, who should hold the reins of office provisionally for that period; but who should be entrusted with very full and absolute powers. At the same time it provided that the Crown, whenever it saw fit, should establish a freer Government and a more liberal system of institutions. And, finally, power was given to the Crown at any time, upon the joint address of the two Houses of Assembly of Vancouver's Island to annex that island to the new colony. It had been objected to this Bill in some quarters that we were establishing a Governor with absolute and arbitrary power, that we were departing from the path of free institutions, and adopting a narrow and retrograde policy; and it had been argued that we ought either to give complete freedom and independence to the new colony, or to prescribe in the first instance the particular form of government which we wished to see established, and to appoint a provisional Governor, holding the reins of power simply until the new system could be introduced. The advantage of giving free institutions to our colonies was undeniable, but in this case there were at present no materials for carrying them into operation; and it must be borne in mind that the settlers who resorted to the colony were not likely at first to be permanent. At present, therefore, he thought that free institutions would be a useless gift; but he should be glad if, within four years, the Government of that day should be able to announce that the materials for a freer Government existed. Of course that matter would soon be settled, if the gold was found in sufficient quantity to attract to and retain people in the colony; but he must say that the amount of gold found was not sufficient to afford a very satisfactory criterion for the future. Objection had been made to the name of the new colony; but New Caledonia was the name found on the old maps, and by that name it was designated by the distinguished philosopher Humboldt. The objection, however, was not without foundation, for there was already the colony of Nova Scotia, which was pretty much the same as New Caledonia, and, moreover, there was a New Caledonia amongst the New Hebrides. Her Majesty had, therefore, been pleased to order that the name by which the new colony should be called in future should he British Columbia and not New Cale- donia. He hoped that this colony, though the newest, might prove to be one of the most loyal and devoted of those which paid allegiance to Her Most gracious Majesty.

Moved that the Bill be now read 2a.


said, that though no opposition had been offered to the principles of the Bill in the other House, considerable doubts were entertained out of doors, by persons well acquainted with colonial matters, as to the propriety of creating a Government for this territory at this particular time. It was thought that, considering that Vancouver's Island was about to lapse to the Crown next year, and that the license of the Hudson's Bay Company would also expire very soon, it would have been better to await the course of events. He did not share, however, in those doubts. The Government, he thought, had adopted the right course in endeavouring to establish a Government of some kind for this territory. No one had advocated responsible government for the Colonies more strenuously than he; but such governments were only applicable to colonists of the English race. In this colony there were but few English settlers, except here and there a trapper of the Hudson's Bay Company. The great want in such a society was a strong Executive, and that want would bo supplied by some such measure as that which their Lordships were then considering. He should, however, add that he had considerable doubt as to the expediency of their adopting the third clause of the Bill. That clause would give Her Majesty the power to grant free institutions to the colony by charter, if she should think fit. Now that was a right which Her Majesty would possess without such a provision, and he feared that, considering the Government provided by the Bill was to last only for four years, by its express insertion in an Act of Parliament unreasonable and dangerous expectations might be excited. The very unfortunate name of "New Caledonia," which had been given to the colony was, it appeared, to be altered. He was glad that such a change was to be made, although he certainly did not think that the new name of "British Columbia" was either very felicitous or very original. Very great difficulties, and dangers, and doubts were at issue in connection with the government they were about to form, arising from the peculiar circumstances of the country, and the extreme difficulty that there was in intro- ducing any form of settled government. But there were greater facilities for the furtherance of a good system of colonization and for future prosperity than the mere irruption of gangs of gold diggers. These could not be adopted too soon. Vancouver's Island was not like some of the other gold producing districts, of an inhospitable and rocky nature, but rather of an opposite character. He believed it to be a singularly fine country for all the purposes of colonization, quite apart from discoveries of gold, and nothing would have prevented its earlier colonization except the distance at which it was located. He understood that it had magnificent wood, and that some of the finest timber for ship building was to be found in the country; that its fisheries were exceedingly abundant; that it had excellent fuel and coal of a nature to generate steam most admirably; in short, all those conveniences and elements that were calculated to render a colony prosperous. Could not, therefore, some means be taken at once for a settlement of the colony, and to induce persons to go out, not merely for the purpose of searching for gold, but to avail themselves of the advantages of a permanent settlement? Steps should be taken to lay out a town, and to adapt the lands to agricultural pursuits, and prevent the colony from becoming the receptacle for ruffians; steps should be taken to introduce habits of decency and order, to establish a certain amount of force, such as would keep the inhabitants in decency and good order, and thereby obviate the difficulties that attached to the first days of a colony of this description. There was another point to which he wished to call the attention of Her Majesty's Government. There was about the spot where the gold was discovered, and where it probably extended, a considerable number of Indians of a warlike and somewhat savage nature; and it was an undoubted fact that, whether from their communications with the Hudson's Bay Company, or from other causes, they were by no means unfriendly to the English—though they had a great dread of the Americans, who would, no doubt, come over from California, and people a large portion of these lands; and it would be one of the first duties of the Government to intervene for the protection of these aborigines. He did not mean to sentimentalize on a matter of this kind. Wherever the white man and civilization extended the red man fled before them, and eventually perished from the face of the country. This appeared to be one of the laws of God which the efforts of civilization and humanity could not prevent; and it was one of the paramount duties of a good Government, in carrying out colonization, to interfere as far as possible to prevent those cruelties and horrors that had been perpetrated in the early days of our Colonies where there were a number of aborigines, and which, unfortunately, prevailed to a great extent in the western portions of the United States. The third point to which he thought the attention of the Government ought to be directed was with reference to the military force in that country. If they established a government for the purpose of maintaining law and order among the population, they must of course have a force of that nature. Now, this was a difficult question, and it would be the business of statesmen to look to the future, as well as to mitigate and to provide for present emergencies. Now, if they sent soldiers out, they must find accommodation for them there which did not at present exist—as well in winter, which he believed was not severe, as in summer, which was not unfriendly to the English constitution. Provisions would also have to be procured, and all provisions for maintaining the required force must be carried up the country and kept in constant supply. This, owing to the distance of the colony from England, would be a matter of considerable difficulty. Another question also presented itself, as to whether they were to send organized regiments or some other kind of force, bearing in mind that, apart from this, there was another question looming in the distance—that of provision to be taken in the Bill for the eventual addition of Vancouver's Island to this colony, if the Legislature of that island desired it. It had been stated by the noble Lord the Under Secretary for the Colonies that the new colony was not so far distant from the mother country as appeared upon the map, and that the Government had had overtures from Cunard to establish a line of steamers that would bring the colony within thirty-five days' sail of this country. He did not attach any value to such a speculation, for it could not be maintained unless it paid but whether it did or not, they must bear in mind that the communication could only exist in time and for the purposes of peace; he did not apprehend that they could transport soldiers or relieve garrisons with facility even in times of peace, but unquestionably not in times of war; so that, practically, as far as the advance of this colony was concerned in time of war, the Government could only reinforce and strengthen any garrison via Cape Horn. The question was one that ought to be well and carefully weighed; and he would exhort the Government, in any military arrangements they might make, to look to the future, and to bear in mind that any military force they would be placing in New Caledonia would be in a totally different position to that of any military force they had hitherto had in any of our Colonies. It would probably not be thought desirable to maintain so expensive an establishment as at Gibraltar, Malta, or Corfu; but it must be borne in mind that this colony was not like Australia or New Zealand, as remote from great Powers as from England—it was near to great Powers, but remote from us. In conclusion, the noble Duke referred to his efforts in the House of Commons to give Vancouver's Island a constitution, when it was proposed to hand it over to the Hudson's Bay Company, and expressed a hope that now, when that event was about to take place, the Government would, in all their arrangements, look upon it as certain that the people of Vancouver's Island would avail themselves of the provisions of this Bill, and at an early date declare in favour of a junction with the new colony.


believed that Nature had given us one of the finest positions in the North Pacific, and it behoved the Government to consider seriously how to take advantage of it. They ought also to take into account the position of the Russians on the Amoor river, and of the Americans in California and Oregon, and the difficulty that might arise from those circumstances in the event of a war in those parts.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read 2a accordingly; and committed to a Committee of the whole House To-morrow.