HL Deb 14 July 1859 vol 154 cc1189-95

said, that before he put the Question of which he had given notice to the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Newcastle) he would ask their Lordships' permission to make a few remarks upon the very important subject to which it referred. He wished to ask the noble Duke whether the Government proposed, during the present Session, to take any steps in reference to the North American Territories over which hitherto the Hudson's Bay Company have held an exclusive Licence of Trade with the Indians. Their Lordships were aware that the rights and claims of the Hudson's Bay Company to the territories which they now governed were of a two-fold character; first, that territory which they held round that great inland sea, the Hudson's Bay, and the rivers and streams that run into it, which they possesed by charter granted by Charles II.; and second, that vast district running inland to the base of the Rocky Mountains, and extending over nearly 1800 miles, which they held by virtue of an exclusive license to trade with the Indians. In 1821 an Act of Parliament was passed which empowered the Crown to issue licences for the occupation of this district, and advantage was immediately taken of it by the Hudson's Bay Company to obtain the occupation of the country. Those licences were renewed from time to time, and the last granted in 1838 for twenty-one years; they were now on the eve of expiring, and his right hon. Friend, who was lately at the head of the Colonial Office (Sir E. Bulwer Lytton), after the fullest consideration he could give to the subject, came to the opinion that it was inexpedient to renew the licence on the same terms as heretofore. Great changes were taking place, year after year, in that region of the world; British Columbia had risen to a very considerable position, and Canada itself had acquired a great augmentation of population and wealth. All these conditions were adverse to the renewal of the licence. There was a strong opinion, also, prevailing upon the subject both here and in Canada, adverse to the renewal of the licence. His right hon. Friend had therefore determined not to renew the licence. But as it was obviously a very dangerous policy to allow this extensive tract of country to remain altogether whithout a Government his right hon. Friend proposed to renew the Hud- son's Bay Company for one year, and afterwards he extended his offer to two years, to allow time for some other arrangement to be made for the government of the country; but the Hudson's Bay Company declined both offers. It was not for him to question the grounds on which they had come to that decision; but certainly, considering the long connection they had had with the district, the advantages they had hitherto derived from it, and the close relation in which they had hitherto been with the Indians, he thought they incurred a serious responsibility by their conduct. But he thought his right hon. Friend was justified in not offering to extend the renewal of the licence for more than two years, because in the course of that time they might expect great changes to take place over the whole northern portion of that continent. The rise of the colony of British Columbia had greatly fostered the growth of colonization there, and though it was not more than twelve months since that colony sprang into existence there was already a population there of 10,000 persons. In the course of the next two years, therefore, there was every reason to expect that arrangements would be made which would enable the Government to arrange for the government of this territory in a more satisfactory and permanent manner. As it was, the reasons which first formed the justification for granting the licences, and thus securing to the Hudson's Bay Company a practical monopoly of these hunting grounds, no longer existed. At the time when these licences were first granted there had been a feud between the Hudson's Bay Company and the North-West Company, in which blood was shed, and frequent atrocities committed, and it became necessary for the Government to interfere, at all hazards, to secure peace. At that time the Canadas and the other British North American provinces were in a very undeveloped state; questions of internal administration naturally occupied their attention, and diverted them from any connection with a district which geographically was then so far separated from them. If therefore those vast hunting grounds to the north-west, divided from Canada by lakes and rivers, and by an immense interval of space, had been placed under the Canadian jurisdiction, that jurisdiction would have been little more than nominal. On the other hand, to have abandoned the territory would have been to invite a recurrence of the old feuds. The exclusive licence was therefore bestowed on the Hudson's Bay Company. But now all these circumstances were materially modified. He certainly did not mean to argue the question of monopoly on general grounds, as he believed all their Lordships were convinced that a monopoly, except the most pressing necessity could be shown for its existence, was indefensible. But it was argued that there were such grounds to be urged in favour of the monopoly of the Hudson's Bay Company; and, first of all, it was said that their monopoly was essential to the welfare of the natives. Now, he was ready to admit that their rule over the natives had, been mild and on the whole beneficial; but they had kept them in the most absolute and child-like dependence on the Company not only for the luxuries and conveniences of life, but for the most common necessaries—for powder and shot, food and clothing. This state of things rendered it necessary to proceed with caution, lest the sudden withdrawal of that superintendence should prove destructive to the Indians; and therefore he trusted that the noble Duke, if he made any changes, would exercise the utmost vigilance as to their working, else the population of this district might be exposed to some serious catastrophe. Then it was said that this monopoly was the only means by which they could preserve the fur trade. Now, he was quite willing to admit the value of that trade, but surely it would not be maintained that it was the all-important subject for consideration in this House. He, for one, saw no difficulty in devoting a considerable portion of the territory—say the northern portion, which was most adapted for the purpose—to the fur trade; but the southern portion, which offered great facilities for colonization, ought no longer to be left waste for the purpose of stimulating the fur trade. The first object which the Government ought to have before them was as soon as possible to provide some provisional means by which persons might be authorized to dispense in a general way a rough sort of justice, or the power to decide cases of dispute both among the white settlers themselves and between the white men and the Indians; while all grave and serious offences might be sent to be tried at one or other of the neighbouring colonies—British Columbia on the Red River Settlement. Such a mode of administering justice ought to be sufficiently simple and elastic as to be capable of being adapt- ed to all the circumstances of the territory. It would not be necessary to have a large staff of magistrates for the purpose, but he would place them in much the same position that was occupied by the British vice consuls in the East. If they were at first well selected he was sure they would exercise great influence over the natives. There was one point more to which he wished to call the attention of the noble Duke. It was said that the country was impracticable for colonization. Now, he had already admitted that a considerable portion of the territory was so. But in the southern portion there were considerable tracts of good land. A Committee of the House of Commons had lately sat on this question, before whom witnesses were examined, who reported most favourably from personal experience of the capabilities of the country. They described it as abounding in wood and water. About two years ago an expedition started through the country, and they described the soil from the Red River Settlement to the base of the Rocky Mountains, and their testimony was to the same effect. This was the country where enormous herds of buffaloes were to be found, which, of course, argued something for the goodness of the pasture. He might add that the very same argument was used some years ago against the colonization of British Columbia, yet no one now denied that that country had in it all the elements of prosperity. It was true that gold had been the effectual means by which a population had been drawn to British Columbia and other new countries; but wherever nature afforded a fair prospect of reward to encourage the energy of man, there colonization might be expected to advance, if it were not precluded by impolitic restrictions. What he wished to impress upon the Government was, first of all, the necessity of establishing good communications between Canada and British Columbia; secondly, the formation of colonies—he did not care how small they were—which would indicate our title to the undivided sovereignty of the territory on the northern side of the boundary line; and, in the meantime, the establishment of a provisional system of government, and the appointment, as soon as possible, of magistrates, who might exercise more or less control and administer justice; above all, he would impress upon the Government that the privileges of a trading company ought not to he allowed to stand in the way of Imperial colonization. It was most important that no time should be lost in carrying these objects into effect, and he hoped that the noble Duke opposite would be in a position to state that steps would be taken immediately to do so.


said, that the noble Lord had made so long and interesting a tour in North America, and travelled so far beyond the limits of the Question of which he had given notice that he was afraid that he might forget to answer all the points in detail. He recognized to its full extent the importance of this question, affecting the relationships of the Hudson's Bay Company with that immense tract of territory lying between the boundaries of Upper Canada on one side, and the higher portion of the Pacific Ocean on the other. He was not sure that, having so recently assumed the seals of the Colonial Office, he should, under ordinary circumstances, have been prepared to answer the question; but having paid a great deal of attention to the subject for some years, he could venture to do so without any fear of doing injustice either to the Hudson's Bay Company or the other important interests involved, inasmuch as twelve years since, as a private Member of the House of Commons, he brought the whole question of the relations of the Hudson's Bay Company with this territory before that House. The noble Earl, in the latter part of his observations, had travelled a good deal beyond the limits of what was termed the licence territory, and had encroached upon that portion of the country in which the Hudson's Bay Company exercised proprietary rights, and which was known as the charter district, from being held under a charter of Charles II. He had also touched upon negotiations which were still pending with the Hudson's Bay Company with respect to that charter, and therefore the noble Earl must excuse him if he did not follow him in detail upon that portion of the subject, and confined his observations to the licensed portion of the territory which lay between the Rocky Mountains and the ocean. The noble Earl asked whether the Government thought it was proper or not to advise Her Majesty to renew the licence of the Hudson's Bay Company, which, after having been in existence for forty two years, expired in May last. He so far differed with the noble Earl that he considered it was an extremely fortunate thing that the question had been left open, and that the Hudson's Bay Company did not ac- cept either of the offers made by the right hon. Baronet, after full consideration of the question, and, no doubt, with the best intentions towards them, for the extension of the licence for one or two years. He rejoiced that those offers were rejected, not only as they affected the interests of the Company, but the interests of other parties; because he was thoroughly convinced that it was far better that the question should be settled at once than that it should be delayed two or three years more, when, in consequence of the extension of colonization, the discovery of gold in British Columbia, and other circumstances, the settlement of the rights of the Hudson's Bay Company might have become an exceedingly difficult and embarrassing question. he would state at once to the noble Earl that it was not the intention of the Government to recommend Her Majesty to sanction a renewal of the licence to the Hudson's Bay Company for any time whatever; and therefore all that remained was to make such provisions for the government of that territory as were rendered necessary by the extinction of the power of the Company. No doubt it was desirable, as the noble Earl had said, that some provisions should also be made for the regulation of trade and securing the relation between the white settlers and the Indians, and for that purpose legislation would be necessary, but that legislation need not be of a very complicated character. Power would have to be taken to provide a magistracy for the settlement of disputes and the administratration of justice in all simple and ordinary cases, and in the course of a few days, the Government intended to introduce, either in their Lordships' House or the House of Commons, a measure authorizing the appointment of such magistrates. It would not be necessary in the first instance to go to any great expense in the matter by sending out magistrates from England; all that was required would be to select the most respectable and competent persons in the district, granting them power to deal summarily with small cases, but providing that in all cases of an aggravated description, the question of the amount of punishment should be awarded by a superior court; and therefore power would be given to remit such cases either to Canada or to British Columbia. Her Majesty's Government would also have to advise Her Majesty to lay down regulations of trade with the Indians, in order to prevent those excesses which unscrupulous traders would practise on the unhappy natives when all those restrictions were removed which were imposed by the Hudson's Bay Company, and the exclusive licences were done away with. He thought he had now answered succinctly all the questions of the noble Earl. But it appeared to him, that the main point to which the speech of the noble Earl was directed was the necessity of encouraging emigration as much as possible, in order to colonize the more southern portion of the late Hudson's Bay Company's licensed territory, and he also referred to that portion of the country on this side of the Rocky Mountains. Now he (the Duke of Newcastle) did not think it necessary that the Colonial Office should take any decided steps in the promotion of colonization. Of course it was their duty to give every facility to emigration, and remove all impediments in its way. At the same time, he thoroughly concurred with the noble Earl that at some future time this question might become one of great importance. Another point raised by the noble Earl was the necessity of some regular communication between the boundaries of Canada on one side, and the boundary of Vancouver's Island on the other, and he stated that a representation was made to the late Government to induce them to assist in establishing some such line of communication. He was aware that some scheme had been proposed for the construction of a railroad, and he was not one of those who looked upon it as visionary; but, on the contrary, anticipated that the day would come when railroad communication would be made the whole distance. The Government would be anxious to give every proper encouragement to any scheme proposed either by the proposed Company or any other, but they did not contemplate at present the extension of communications by means of subsidies, and if this question involved a demand for a very large subsidy it would be highly objectionable. At the same time he fully admitted the great national importance of a communication across the continent, and such a scheme might depend upon having the warm support of the Government.