HL Deb 21 June 1858 vol 151 cc70-83

, in moving an Address for Copies of Extracts of Correspondence between the Colonial Department and the Governor of Hong Kong, and between the Colonial Department and the Foreign Office, on the subject of Emigration from Hong Kong and from the Chinese Empire to the British West Indies and to Foreign Countries and their Possessions, since the 1st of January, 1856, said, it seemed to him that, after the manner in which we had stood forth before the world as the abolishers of slavery and the slave trade, no guilt could be greater than that which we should incur if, through any carelessness or cupidity, we suffered our people to be again drawn into that accursed traffic or to encourage that abominable institution. The circumstances of some of the dependencies of the British Crown did, however, to a certain degree necessarily expose our nation to the temptation of becoming involved in this odious traffic. He was afraid that that was the case in many parts of the world. He was afraid that at this moment, in the neighbourhood of Natal, we were in danger of being involved in this guilt. He was afraid that the Boers in the territory which we had abandoned to them were, mainly through our regulations, establishing among themselves the institution of slavery. He was afraid that, in this respect, we were guilty to a great degree, because we had refused to allow the African tribes whom the Boers had spoiled and enslaved to be supplied with gunpowder or the means of defending themselves, whilst we supplied it to the Boers for means of aggression, and thereby, in point of fact, handed over these tribes helpless into their hands. He believed, too, that there was great danger of this spreading from the Boers to our own neighbouring province of Natal; and that at this very moment, under pretence of taking the children of Africans and bringing them up, a new slave trade was growing up among some of the border settlements of the colony of Natal, which it well became the British Government carefully to look into, in order that the moral feeling of the Home Government might correct the natural deficiencies of the local Governments in that distant land. It was because he felt this to be a great duty that he had ventured on a former night to press upon their Lordships the necessity of enforcing our treaties with Spain. He had been misunderstood on that occasion to have recommended that we should go to war with Spain, with the view of enforcing the obligations of our treaties with that country for the suppression of the slave trade; but their Lordships would bear him out in saying that he had said nothing of the sort. What he said was, that all fit and proper methods should be taken to induce the Spanish Government to fulfil its treaties, and he did not say that he recommended we should go to war, because he did not believe, among other reasons, that it would be in the least necessary that we should go to war; but that the proper use of the power of this country would be by little and little to enforce upon that country the fulfilment of its obligations. Besides this peculiar form of danger there was another which beset us, from the fact of our possessing large territories for the cultivation of sugar where the labour of slaves, or something very nearly approaching the form of slavery, was supposed to be the most convenient machinery. At the time when we abolished slavery, it was felt to be necessary by those who contemplated the wants of the colonies in which slavery had before that existed, that provision should be made for allowing the introduction to those countries of free labourers; in the first place, from the East Indies to the Mauritius, and afterwards to our West India settlements. But then he would have their Lordships remember the exceeding care with which the Government at home allowed the introduction of those free labourers, and the many, the repeated attempts which were made here, by interposing checks, a system of vigilant watchfulness, and the like, to prevent the trade growing up into a slave trade, under the pretence of being the introduction of free labour into those colonies. He need hardly remind their Lordships of the heavy volumes of returns which now loaded their shelves, showing how ordinance after ordinance, and Order in Council after Order in Council had sought to provide for this, and strongly marking the exceeding danger, unless the greatest vigilance were used, of the lawful exportation of free emigrants being converted into the unlawful exportation of slaves under the name of emigrants. With all the caution, however, that had been exercised, and all the safeguards that had been adopted, those who had watched the question most attentively had, from time to time, entertained misgivings with regard to the application of the system. So far as the British Colonies were concerned—certainly as far as the Mauritius was concerned—he believed that the experiment had been eminently successful, and that, under the provisions which had been adopted, there had grown up in those Colonies a set of labourers who were really and bonâ fide free, and were at the same time paying well those who employed them by their honest and contented labour. But whilst he rejoiced in those results, the point he wished to urge upon their Lordships and the Government was this, that, when this system was applied to any new part of the world, the utmost vigilance was needed in preventing the traffic from lapsing—as it would most easily lapse—into the accursed slave trade. The possession of the colony of Hong Kong particularly exposed us to the danger that Chinese might be exported thence in ignorance of where they were going, of the labour to which they were to be subjected, and the little probability of their return, and of their suffering in that dependency a new form of slave trade to arise. And this was not an hypothetical danger. Not longer ago than the month of September, 1854, an ordinance was issued in that colony, which stated that the evil had already arisen, and that one case had been detected; and that it had come to the knowledge of the local Government that the transport of Chinese coolies to the Chincha Islands had resulted in the most aggravated form of slavery. And very lately reports had reached this country, from quarters which were well entitled to carry weight with their representations, which led to the conclusion that the evil was breaking out again, and that those who represented the British Government at Hong Kong had not acted with sufficient deference in this matter to the feeling of the people of England. Now, their Lordships had only recently heard in that House an eloquent, heart-stirring condemnation of the rise of a similar traffic, under the flag of a neighbouring Christian nation; and he appealed to them whether we ought not to be doubly careful that by no possible conjuncture of circumstances so great a sin as this should be brought upon ourselves and to our own doors, and that we should not be rendered unable to argue with France as to the evils of its present measures, by France being able to turn round upon us and say, "What have you been doing yourselves in your dependency of Hong Kong?" We ought to be in this matter above suspicion; we ought to be in the position to show the world that what we taught others we were practising ourselves, and that no gain, no advantage, no colonial convenience, no fear of shocking the prejudices of those who were settled in our distant Colonies should ever prevent us from laying down in a plain, clear, unmistakable voice, our determined resolution that neither directly nor indirectly should the grievous crime of kidnapping and making slaves be again entailed upon the British nation. At present he brought no definite accusation against any individual. He merely said that rumours had reached him from quarters which he should be wrong to discredit with reference to this subject, and all he asked of Her Majesty's Government now was, that they would consent to produce the papers, for which he begged to move, in as complete a form as possible, and with all the information they possessed upon the subject up to the present time, so that their Lordships might see where there might be any lurking tendency to encourage this trade, and, where it was necessary, to throw the Imperial protection over the agents of the British Government who had been standing up for truth and right, if there were any danger of truth or right being overthrown. He knew that the present Governor of Hong Kong had been supposed by many, and he hoped truly, to be alive beyond almost all other men to the danger, and determined to prevent it; and he trusted that the papers for which he now moved would show that Sir John Bowring continued in the same virtuous course, and had not in any way been induced to turn aside from it. The right rev. Prelate concluded by moving an Address for the correspondence.


said, that his right rev. Friend had travelled in the course of his observations over a very considerable space. Commencing with reference to a trade which he said had begun to show itself upon the borders of the colony of Natal, he proceeded thence to the Mauritius and the West India islands, doing justice on his way to the system which was pursued there; and subsequently arrived at the colony of Hong Kong. Now, so far as the papers for which his right rev. Friend wished were concerned, he (the Earl of Carnarvon) had no objection whatever to their production, though he owned he was not prepared, from the wording of the Motion, to say anything with regard to the colony of Natal. As to the papers which related to Hong Kong, he was bound to say, and he should be acting most disingenuously by their Lordships if he did not say that those papers would open up in many respects a very painful story, which, however, Her Majesty's Government had no desire or wish to withhold. He was glad that his right rev. Friend had moved for papers from the 1st of January, 1856, as the starting point, because that was the date at which the operation of the Chinese Passenger Act commenced. That Act was passed in the Session of 1855; and when his right rev. Friend alluded to the ordinance of 1854, which stated the existence of great abuses at that period, he must bear in mind that the Act was not then passed. It had been attempted to include this subject in the General Passenger Act of 1854; but it was found that the matter was one of too great importance to be dealt with in that manner, and consequently a special enactment—the Chinese Passenger Act—was passed in the following year. The object of that Act was to appoint an emigration agent at the port of Hong Kong, whose duty it would be to inspect every passenger ship which cleared out thence, in order to ascertain that she was properly fitted out for the accommodation of the number of passengers she was to carry, and, above all, that the passengers themselves had embarked with a full knowledge of the nature of the service upon which they were to enter. In accordance with that Act an officer was appointed at Hong Kong, and subsequently, in consequence of the amount of business which had to be transacted, and the frequent evasions of the law which were practised, it was found expedient to appoint one at each of the five ports open to European commerce in China. Now, with regard to the effects of this measure, he very much feared that in its operation it had proved far less satisfactory, upon the whole, than was to be desired; for he regretted to state that in one branch of the trade the law had been constantly and systematically evaded. The right rev. Prelate seemed, in the course of his remarks, to deal with the traffic to which he called their Lordships' attention as one whole and general trade; whereas it included two distinct branches—that which embraced the conveyance of Chinese passengers to English Colonies, and that which involved their transmission to foreign possessions. In the trade with the English Colonies the papers would show that the Act had worked satisfactorily, and that the trade was in a thoroughly wholesome and healthy state; whilst, on the other hand, those papers would also show that the other branch of the trade, that with foreign colonies, contained, in spite of every effort made to subdue them, very serious, very grievous, very crying abuses. The causes which had led to those very different results were, no doubt, to be found in the fact, that in the case of emigrants to the English Colonies every security which Government could provide for the proper treatment of the passengers was afforded. The vessels in which they were conveyed were subjected to the supervision of an emigration agent, whose duty it was to see that all the necessary preparations were made for the safety and comfort of those who were placed on board, to furnish returns in connection with the subject, and to take care that contracts were duly entered into, by means of which a certain rate of wages was secured to those emigrants upon their landing in the colony for which they happened to be destined. Upon their arrival there it became the duty of a Government officer, appointed for the purpose, to inquire into the history of the voyage, and, if the slightest cause for complaint or suspicion were found to exist, closely and rigidly to analyse it; while the emigrants themselves were provided with various employments, in as short a time as possible, and might be said to enjoy all those privileges which free labourers were entitled to, in disposing of their services in open market. Such was a correct statement of the case so far as the emigrants to English Colonies were concerned, and be believed no one who read the returns upon the subject could fail to perceive that everything had been done to promote the happiness and well-being of that class of passengers. He held in his hand a return with regard to the material advantages enjoyed by coolies in the British Colonies, the reading of which could not leave a doubt as to the general well-being of that class of people in those Colonies. His right rev. Friend had spoke of the Mauritius, and he did no more than justice in saying that the system had been very successful there. Now, by the return alluded to be found that in the Mauritius, from 1834 to 1856, more than 170,000 coolie emigrants were imported from China, of whom 134,271 were remaining resident in the colony in 1856, a fact which, in his opinion clearly proved that they were satisfied with the position in which they were placed; that their wages were from 13s. to, on one occasion, 17s. a month; and that he had reason to believe that a coolie could save from 200 to 250 rupees in five years. In the case of British Guiana the number imported was 23,000, and their wages were a dollar for ten hours' work. In 1856 the coolies held 40,000 dollars in the British Guiana Savings Bank; and on the last return passage coolies paid to the authorities for transmission no less a sum than £6,033. In Trinidad the number of coolies imported was 11,000, their wages being 2s. a day, besides house, garden, and medicine. The coolie now got £2 or £3 on yearly indenture as bonus. On the last return passage 343 coolies deposited £5,389 with the authorities, and took on their persons £900, making together the sum of £6,289. From the same reports he also found that the Chinese were considered the best class of emigrants for the due performance of that kind of labour for which men were required in the Colonies; that during 1857 only one-sixth per cent. of the Chinese emigrants died; that seventeen had been baptized, five had married creoles, and three were about to marry. Having described what was the condition of the coolies in the English Colonies, he would now ask their Lordships to consider what was their condition when transported to other than English Colonies. In the first place, the ships sailed from some of the northern ports of China in order to evade our regulations; or if they sailed from Hong Kong, and all those regulations were strictly complied with up to that point, upon their arrival at Cuba or other foreign country they were at once beyond our jurisdiction, and it was no longer in our power to enforce the law or exact the guarantee for the coolies' treatment. With regard to the mortality amongst the Chinese emigrants, the re- turns were less complete than was to be desired, and no very strong argument could be drawn from comparing the mortality on board the ships which conveyed them to English colonies and those which conveyed them to foreign possessions. At the same time it was worth while to give the House some idea of the average mortality as far as it could be ascertained in these two cases. The mortality amongst Chinese conveyed in British ships into the British West Indies was as follows:—

Colony. Ship. Date of Departure No. Embkd. Deaths.
B. Guiana Glentanner Sept. 1 305 43
Lord Elgin July 23 154 69
S. Boddington Nov. 23 352 52
Trinidad Australia Dec. 15 445 13
Clarendon Dec. 29 254 3
Lady F. Hastings 314 9
Jamaica Epsom April 1 311 43
Total 2340 232=10 per cent.
On the other hand, the deaths amongst the Chinese imported into Cuba in 1847 to 1857, were—
No. of Ships. Tonnage. Chinese Embkd. Deaths Per-ct.
British 26 18,549 9,606 1,391 14⅛
American 9 7,832 3,910 372
Dutch 8 5,003 2,773 310 11¼
French 6 4,453 2,825 347 12¼
Spanish 5 2,038 1,779 290 11¼
Portuguese 3 1,246 1,049 28
Peruvian 3 2,484 1,314 502 38¼
Bremen 1 560 249 13
Norwegian 1 470 221 42 19
Chilian 1 250 202 47 23½
Total 63 42,930 23,928 3, 342=14 per cent.
He was not disposed, however, to lay any great stress upon the latter return, though undoubtedly the mortality was very large, because he must say that the evidence as to the causes of this mortality was much less clearly brought out than he could desire; but in some cases it did no doubt result from non-compliance with the regulations of the Emigration Act; in other cases from want of ventilation, from bad water, and such causes; but more often from the class of men from whom the selection of emigrants was made being men who had passed the middle age, whose constitutions had broken down, and to whom a change of climate or of diet would most likely prove fatal. He scarcely knew whether he was right in going further into this matter; yet he presumed it would be satisfactory to their Lordships if he briefly touched upon two or three cases which had attracted his attention, and the particulars of which would be found in the papers for which his right rev. Friend had moved. The first of these cases, which had created some little sensation, was that of the ship John Calvin. Her passage was 185 days from Hong Kong to Havannah, on the 12th March, 1856, with 297 Chinese on board; she lost during the voyage and in quarantine 122, and eleven died in hospital after landing. The next case was that of the Duke of Portland, from Hong Kong to Havannah, 1st April, 1856; she carried 332 emigrants, and her passage was 150 days; 128 died on the passage. The Chinese mutinied before the vessel sailed, on the ground that they had not received certain stipulated payments. Attempts were made during the voyage to seize the ship. The Chinese were brought from Macao, and the captain believed one-third were kidnapped between Hong Kong and the Straits of Sunda; the suicides numbered three daily. In the case of the Edwin Fox and the Admiral, British ships to the Havannah—the Fox embarked 309, of whom forty died; and the Admiral embarked 373, of whom ninety died. Again, the Gulnare sailed from Swatow to Havannah on the 11th of March, 1857, with 432 Chinese on board; arrived at Hong Kong on 13th of March. On the following day an attempt was made to seize the vessel, which was put down by the determination of the officers; nine of the Chinese were killed, many wounded, and three jumped overboard to escape capture. Twenty were landed for trial, one of whom was executed, and the rest transported for life. She sailed from Hong Kong on the 1st of April. The voyage lasted twenty weeks; and there were fifty-eight deaths, being at the rate of 17.79 per cent. Sir John Bowring (in a despatch to Lord Clarendon, dated August 8th, 1856) related the case of a Dutch vessel in which the emigrants, being insubordinate, were fired upon with grape shot; when they set fire to the vessel, and great numbers, including, it is said, the captain, were burned or drowned. So much as to the state of things on the voyage. He believed that his right rev. Friend was quite correct in saying that the coolies were kidnapped. They were in some instances seduced, in others kidnapped, and in others taken by force. Sir John Bowing (in a despatch to Lord Clarendon, March 12, 1858), enclosed statements by Captain Boney, of the barque New Margaret, who stated that there were at the time of his visit six ships loading coolies, at Swatow, namely:—two American, one Spanish, one Danish, one Norwegian, and one Chilian, that the Chinese are brought down from the villages under false pretences; that if they fall sick on board the ships they are landed on the beach to die and rot there; that in Double Island he found many coolies so landed; that he counted on the beach sixteen dead bodies and saw several who were dying from hunger. Some of these were said to have been landed from an American vessel. Captain Boney was credibly informed that there was on board a Danish ship a party of thirty coolies, who had been engaged to cure fish in one of the neighbouring islands, when they suddenly found themselves placed on board that vessel, leaving their wives and families in ignorance of their fate. Lord Elgin, in a Report dated Amoy, 6th March, said, in allusion to this case at Swatow:— The Rev. Mr. Burns, the missionary, stated that he visited a shed on Double Island, where he found seven Chinese discharged from some vessel—six of them corpses in a state of decomposition, one still surviving. Some of the corpses had been devoured by dogs and other animals on the island. There was no guarantee for the good treatment of the coolies after they were landed at Cuba. There was evidence to show that the servitude to which they were there subjected was, under the name of free-emigration labour, nothing but practical slavery. In fact, no matter what might be the contract which was entered into with the coolies on the Chinese coast, their future position in Cuba would be one of unmitigated slavery. He could assure their Lordships that his right hon. Friend the Secretary for the Colonies had given much consideration to this subject. He (the Earl of Carnarvon) was not in a position at that moment to promise a remedy; but he was of opinion that a broad distinction ought to be carefully preserved between those ships that conveyed coolies to Cuba and these which conveyed emigrants to English colonies. In English colonies the condition of those emigrants had in many cases very much improved, while in Cuba the contrary was the fact. He again assured their Lordships that the question should continue to receive the earnest attention of Her Majesty's Government.


said, that if half the horrors which his noble Friend (the Earl of Carnarvon) had narrated existed, there was but one course for the Government to take—absolutely and instantly to prohibit this traffic to foreign colonies or other possessions of foreign Powers. To talk of the trade being regularly conducted—to talk of the evils being mitigated, was from the nature of the case quite unsatisfactory. We might certainly exercise some check and control over the traffic between Hong Kong and our own settlements. But what security had we at Cuba? If we took all possible care to prevent these people from being kidnapped, what possible chance was there of protecting the emigrants after arrival there? In that island we could not see that the bargain was duly executed; that their treatment was satisfactory; that their return was provided for; and their expenses back to their own country defrayed. There was, therefore, he repeated, nothing but absolute prohibition of the traffic; the enormity of which had, he believed, been under rather than overstated. It had been represented that his right rev. Friend (the Bishop of Oxford) had shown himself the advocate of universal war, in order to put down the slave trade. That was not so. His right rev. Friend was a man whose sympathies were not confined to the uncivilized—his philanthropy extended to all mankind, and he would be the last man to counsel or encourage unnecessary war, knowing that it was the greatest calamity by which mankind could be afflicted. What his right rev. Friend said was, that we must exert our influence, which with Spain must be powerful, in concert with our French allies; and referring to the treaties of 1835 and 1837, we were certain to prevail on Spain, if we well and rightly used our means of influencing her, to put down this infamous traffic. With regard to the slave trade in Cuba, there was one point of considerable importance which deserved attention. If this trade were put an end to, then all the labourers imported into the island since 1835 were illegally carried into slavery, and had a right to their release. Now, from calculations which bad been made, it appeared that of the 800,000 or 900,000 slaves in Cuba, one-halt had been themselves, or were the chil- dren of persons thus illegally imported contrary to treaty, and contrary to the Spanish law by which the slave trade had been abolished. As these, then, had a right to their liberty, their obtaining it would virtually amount to almost a general emancipation; for, if one-half of the slave population were set free, it would be utterly impossible for the Cuban or Spanish Government to continue the rest in slavery. This was an important question with reference to the United States. The great object of the United States was to obtain possession of Cuba, and those persons in the States who were interested in slave speculations flattered themselves that if they could get possession of Cuba with its existing institution of slavery, three or four slave States might be created in Cuba, and that the balance of opinion among the United States, which was now a majority of one State only in favour of slavery, would be changed into a majority of four. On the other hand, if a general emancipation took place in Cuba, and the United States got the island afterwards, the majority of one in favour of slavery would be converted into a majority in favour of freedom. The result of such a state of things as that might be the universal abolition of slavery. He thought, however, that the traffic in coolies now permitted in English vessels to foreign settlements ought to be prohibited, for if we made any representation to France or America on the subject of the slave trade, their answer would naturally be, "You have no right to complain of our obtaining slaves from the western coast of Africa, when you are carrying on a similar trade in Chinese coolies."


trusted that his noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs would direct a search to be made for such papers as bore on the subject, for he thought there were some not included in the Motion of the right rev. Prelate, which would throw much additional light on the subject and would show what the Government had done previous to the year 1856. The papers were no doubt very voluminous, and all of them might not be necessary, but certainly there were papers, dated from the year 1853, which would be extremely interesting to the country, and he would be extremely glad if they were brought forward. They would show what was the state of things which existed before, what were the evils to be remedied, and the way in which the remedy had been applied. It should be borne in mind that it was only in the ports where we had commercial dealings that our action could be applied for the purpose of thwarting tricks and schemes for obtaining emigrants by unlawful means. This emigration generally took place in ports with which we had no commercial intercourse, and it was, therefore, extremely difficult for us to exercise any control over the vessels engaged in the trade. He was glad to advert to a report which had reached his right rev. Friend of there being some change either in the feeling or conduct of Sir John Bowring, the Governor of Hong Kong, or other persons in authority there. Some persons seem to believe that Sir John Bowring thought that too much deference was paid in this matter to the opinion of people in England. If that was the present opinion of Sir John Bowring, he (the Earl of Clarendon) could only say that it had very much changed within the last four months when he had ceased to be in office; for Sir John Bowring had very strongly denounced all attempts to revive what he considered the slave trade, and he was the first person who called the attention of the Government to the practices carried on for obtaining Chinese females. He said no Chinese women would leave the country, and that those who left were taken away as slaves. The Government, therefore, put a stop to these practices, although great pressure was put upon them by the British Colonies, which were desirous of obtaining Chinese labour, but objected to the emigration of men unless they were accompanied by a certain proportion of women. The great abuses which had been practised on an Island belonging to Peru having become known to the late Government, they not only desired that notice should be given to the Peruvian authorities that these practices could not be prolonged, but they gave instructions to the Admiral on the station to visit the islands and ascertain whether they were continued, and to say that Her Majesty's Government would not tolerate such a state of things any longer, and to warn the Peruvian Government against allowing them to be practised. At this time, particularly, it behoved this country to show that her hands were perfectly clean in respect of the subject of slavery, and, therefore, he could not express how much he rejoiced that his right rev. Friend had brought this matter before their Lordships; for a portion of the American press had attemped to show that England was herself carrying on a slave trade infinitely worse than any which existed in the United States. A sufficient answer to that allegation was contained in a despatch which had been sent from this country to the American Government; but it was well to prove in every manner we could that we had no sympathy with proceedings which would even in the most remote degree have the effect of encouraging slavery. He thought that the papers asked for by his right rev. Friend, and the additional documents to which he (the Earl of Clarendon had referred, would, if produced, afford additional testimony of the feeling of the people of England in this respect, and he was therefore glad that there was no objection to the Motion before their Lordships.


said, that there was no objection to include in the papers to be produced those alluded to by his noble Friend who had just sat down.

Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at a quarter past Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.