HL Deb 27 January 1860 vol 156 cc206-14

in rising to move, according to notice, for returns relating to the importation of cotton, said he understood there would be no objection on the part of the Government to granting them. He thought it would be most satisfactory to all to know that since the repeal of the duty there had been such an enormous increase in the importation of cotton, from 63,000,0001b. to 1,024,000,000 lb., or sixteen-fold on all cottons, and an increase of thirty-two fold on the importations from the United States alone, which had risen from 23,000,0001b. to 830,000,000 lb. This enormous increase in the importation of cotton—so advantageous to our manufacturers and the community at large—had been accomplished at the trifling cost of about £500,000, which was the amount of the duty upon cotton previous to its remission. He hoped the fact would be an encouragement to repeal duties without any regard to what was called the reciprocity system, but to repeal them simply because we wished to got rid of the burden imposed upon ourselves by those duties. There were now no less than 480 articles upon which Excise or Custom duties were levied, to the great obstruction of trade and the injury and vexation of those who dealt in the articles, while the total product to the revenue was under £1,000,000; indeed, he believed it was only about £700,000, or not above £1,500 per article. He rejoiced in the benefits which had resulted to the people of the United States, as well as to ourselves, from our repeal of the duty on raw cotton, but he expected to see those kinsmen of ours suffer greatly by a falling off in the cotton sales; for it should not be forgotten that some of our own colonies presented great facilities for the growth of cotton, and he hoped that in British Guiana, Jamaica, and in Africa every encouragement would be afforded by the Government to the cultivation of this most important material. Above all, he trusted that a trade in cotton would be opened on the east coast of Africa, in the districts explored by Dr. Livingstone; for upon the high lands of that country cotton to any amount, and of the best quality, might, with a slight encouragement, be raised. He was told that a capital of £20,000, judiciously directed, there would be sufficient to secure this very great advantage; and he did hope, that if it were inexpedient for the Government to interfere in such matters, his wealthy as well as worthy friends at Manchester and Liverpool would lend a hand to promote that in which they had so great an interest, and would help to raise the money. Let us consider how this change would operate in the United States. There they have what they call the domestic institution, though we might rather call it an offence than an institution, except that, not many years ago, we were ourselves offenders. So the slave-trade as well at slavery, was defended by referring to its antiquity, and here again we had little to say, having been, till of late years, ourselves culprits. That the Americans had not ceased to offend when we did is deeply to be lamented, although their Government appears well disposed to put down the traffic; but they have, in parts at least of the Union, now committed an offence in which we never at any time had any share—an outrage so atrocious as almost to exceed belief, and to mate one hope that the accounts of it which have reached this country have no foundation. They have declared all the free people of colour slaves, unless they instantly go into banishment. It is supposed that this may be only a threat in Maryland, but in Arkansas and Missouri it has been carried into execution. Many persons have been driven from their homes, and those who refused to go have been reduced to bondage. All this enormity is grounded on the inability of the State to control those poor people from the defective condition of its police. That such a crime should be perpetrated in the middle of the nineteenth century—nay; in any age, or by any civilized people—seems altogether incredible, and one hopes to see the whole statement contradicted. A wholesale massacre of the unhappy race would not be much more shocking to our feelings; and might be justified by the same kind of reasons as are used to defend this monstrous proceeding, the convenience of the State in getting rid of a troublesome part of its subjects, and the high antiquity of the crime; for certainly murder dates from the very beginning of the world, the first man who was born having murdered the second. All these things, however, belong to the internal affairs of the United States, and we have no right to complain; but we have a light to feel; and it is impossible to restrain the feelings of reprobation, nay, of horror, from finding vent in the accents of indignation. If, however, we have no right to complain of our kinsmen in the Southern States, so will they have no right whatever to complain of us if we take every course most likely to increase our supply of cotton from other quarters than their grounds, although the effect of that change may be not only to secure the benefits to our own manufacturers, but to shake the "domestic institutions," which it most assuredly will, as our markets take seven-eighths of all that the Southerns grow. He should be glad to learn from the noble Duke that these accounts from the United States can be contradicted; and also that if no direct encouragement can be given to cotton-planting in our own colonies, and in Africa, at least all obstacles to it will be removed, and these on the west coast as well as the east. But without further pursuing the subject at present, he should be satisfied with moving— That there be laid before this House, Account of the Quantities of Cotton imported into Great Britain during the Years 1814, 1815, 1844, 1858, 1850; distinguishing the Countries from which such Quantities came.


said, the Government, of course, had no objection to the production of this Return, and he assured his noble and learned Friend at the same time that the Government had a deep sense of the importance of extending, as much as possible, the growth of cotton. Great efforts had been made and would every way be encouraged by the Government to promote the cultivation of cotton, by means of free labour. In Jamaica, as his noble and learned Friend knew, attempts were being made to introduce the cotton plant; but both there and in Guiana and other colonies the great difficulty was not so much in the soil as in the want of sufficiently cheap labour. It was not the practice of the Government to enter into commercial speculations, which in this country were properly left to private enterprise; but so far as the Government could assist and even stimulate the efforts now being made to further the growth of cotton they would certainly do so. Thus, on receiving information that in Ceylon lands could be brought into cultivation for this purpose, the Government, departing from their usual custom of not parting with Crown lands except by sale, granted certain of those lands for the period of five years, in order that the experiment might be tried. In the new colony of Queensland, in Australia, he had given instructions to the Governor to encourage the introduction of the cotton plant, and he earnestly trusted that both there and in other of the British dominions this experiment would be successful. His noble and learned Friend was aware, that on the West Coast of Africa the Lieutenant Governor of the Gold Coast had instituted a Society for improving the cultivation of cotton, and had made arrangements for facilitating its conveyance from the interior.


said, he had heard with satisfaction what had fallen from the noble Duke. It was quite true that it was not the custom of the British Government to engage in direct speculations to promote the trade in any article; but with regard to the growth of cotton, the British Government had rendered great assistance in another way—namely, by making the highways of the great continent of Africa—the rivers—accessible to English merchants, so that cotton might be cultivated on each side of them, and the traders have a safe passage up and clown. The difficulty which was experienced in other countries of obtaining free labour to produce cotton did not exist in Africa, where there was an abundant native population, whose cultivation of cotton would be attended with the additional advautage of introducing a wholesome and lawful commerce, which would absolutely destroy the slave trade; for the only way by which that trade could be ultimately destroyed was by teaching the African chiefs that the employment of their dependent people in the production of the raw material of cotton would he more advantageous than selling them into slavery for transportation to other parts of the world. He therefore earnestly trusted that the attention of the Government would be directed to the maintenance and even to the increase of efforts for opening the great rivers in Africa, especially the Zambesi, the opening of which he believed the Government was about to aid, and the Niger, which for years the Government had assisted in opening.


believed that a question of more importance than that relating to the extension of the sources for the supply of the raw material of cotton could not be brought under the consideration of the Legislature. He had therefore heard with satisfaction the statement of the noble Duke, that the attention of the Government was directed to this subject, and that every encouragement, consistent with sound principles, would be afforded to extend and vary the sources of the supply of cotton. The noble and learned Lord (Lord Brougham), had stated that within a short period the importation of cotton into this country had multiplied thirty-two fold, and when their Lordships considered how extensive was the demand for cotton goods throughout the world, and how vast the number of our population depending upon that manufacture for their daily subsistence, they would at once perceive that it was a serious matter to have for the supply of the raw material only a single source, liable to be affected by the uncertainties of climate, to say nothing of the obstacles which any unfortunate state of political relations might raise up in the way of our merchants applying to that source. He trusted that no efforts would be omitted by the people of this country to promote every rational enterprise for the supply of cotton from every quarter where it could he obtained—and as there seemed a reasonable prospect of getting a supply from the West Coast of Africa—he hoped that all the encouragement, which the Government could legitimately give, would be afforded.


said, that their Lordships were, no doubt, aware that the attention of several Administrations had been given to the important point of opening up the rivers of Africa; and two expeditions with that view were now actually in progress, one on the Niger, and the other on the Zambesi. From both very satisfactory information had been received with respect to the supply of cotton; and he would read a short extract from a recent despatch of Dr. Livingstone, dated May 12, 1859, referring to his visit to Lake Shirura and the adjacent country:— Cotton is cultivated largely, and the further we went the crop appeared to he of the greater importance. The women alone were well clothed with the produce; the men being content with goatskins and a cloth made of bark of certain trees. Every one spins and weaves cotton. Even chiefs may be seen with the spindle and bag, which serves as a distaff. The process of manufacture is the most rude and tedious that can be conceived. The cotton goes through five processes with the fingers before it comes to the loom. Time is of no value. They possess two varieties of the plant. One, indigenous, yields cotton more like wool than that of other countries. It is strong and feels rough in the hand. The other variety is from imported seed, yielding a cotton that renders it unnecessary to furnish the people with American seed. A point in its culture worth noticing is, the time of planting has been selected so that the plants remain in the ground during winter, and five months or so after sowing they come to maturity before the rains begin or insects come forth to damage the crop. On May 31, Dr. Livingstone again wrote:— Only two or three of the Portuguese have planted cotton, the people of the Shire on the contrary, brought several bags of cotton for sale on our second visit, though no time had elapsed to allow of planting since we informed them of the existence of a market. The cotton trade is quite ready for development among them by agents such as Sierra Leone supplies to the Niger. The inhabitants are quite independent of the Portuguese, but unless a late ordinance of the Government of Portugal allows foreigners to settle in the country neither cotton nor sugar will be collected. Reports had at the same time been received from the Niger, stating that a very great increase in the produce of cotton had taken place, but the extension of the supply in certain districts was mainly dependent on the suppression of the slave trade. He wished he could state that that great object—the suppression of the slave trade—was near accomplishment. He was sorry, however, to say that the slave trade, on the contrary, had increased, and he feared tended to a still further increase. He concurred with the right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of Oxford) in thinking that the extension of industry and legitimate commerce among the natives of Africa was the ultimate means of extinguishing this most deplorable and execrable trade; and as the cultivation of cotton was a most important branch of industry, the supply of the demand of this country for that article would coincide in a marked degree with the suppression of the slave trade. He was not prepared to discuss the matter referred to by the noble and learned Lord relating to the internal affairs of America, but as regards the slave trade, the United States had, by a recent measure, shown their disposition to suppress it; so that he trusted the people of that country would never encourage that accursed traffic, much less recur to a principle they had repudiated as a nation.


said, he quite agreed with the right rev. Prelate and his noble Friend as to the importance of encouraging the growth of cotton in Africa. It was quite true, as stated by the noble Duke, that in our own colonies the want of labour must for many years be an obstacle to any sensible increase in the production of cotton; but in Africa there was an immense territory fitted for the cultivation of cotton with a population sufficient to carry it on. In many parts of that continent the inhabitants already cultivated cotton to a considerable extent, and beyond doubt this might be increased with infinite advantage both to them and to us. He was sorry to hear that the slave trade had increased, and he was afraid that its increased activity was mainly owing to the assistance it derived from the American flag. To the infinite and eternal disgrace of the United States, that country allowed its flag to be prostituted for the purpose of enabling the slave traders to defeat the efforts made for the suppression of the trade. He believed that if that went on America would incur the reprobation of every man of right feeling throughout the civilized world. She would place herself under the ban of humanity. It was impossible that their Lordships could express too strongly the indignation they must feel at such disgraceful conduct on the part of a great country. But, besides America, he should have been glad to hear from the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs (Lord Wodehouse) that another powerful nation, which was deeply to blame in the matter of the slave trade, had seen the error of her ways, and had adopted a wiser policy. He should have liked to hear from his noble Friend what was the position of France with respect to the slave trade. Their Lordships knew what France had done. While she had nominally abolished slavery in her dominions, her Government had directly authorized the purchase of what were in mockery called "free emigrants"—of men brought down in chains to the coast and shipped as "free emigrants" to French colonies. Their Lordships were told last year that this atrocious system had been put down on the east coast of Africa. He wanted to know what was going on at present on the west coast. There, he was informed, the system still continued, and under the name of dépôts d'Industrie, the French Government had slave-markets—established places to which the slave trader might bring his goods and be certain of a market. To pretend to have abolished slavery in the French colonies and the slave trade while these markets were open for slaves was a mockery and a delusion. Every one knew that the receiver of stolen goods was the main promoter of theft, and was a more dangerous person than the actual thief. So with respect to the slave trade. The Under-Secretary of State had told their Lordships that the growth of cotton in certain parts of Africa had been stopped by recent slave-hunts. For what purpose were these slave-hunts undertaken? Were they or wore they not undertaken for the purpose of obtaining victims to supply the contract authorized by the French Government? That was a circumstance which their Lordships ought to know. England, of course, had no authority to dictate to France. France might do what she thought right; but if she continued to encourage the accursed traffic in slaves, she must expect to have Members in both Houses of Parliament freely expressing their opinions of her conduct, and to find that conduct condemned throughout the civilized world.


regretted to be obliged to concur in the statement of the noble Earl that the American flag had been prostituted for the protection of the slave trade; but, on the other hand, it was some consolation to know that the United States' Government had acknowledged that their squadron on the coast of Africa was ineffective, and had increased it by some small vessels. The proposed addition had not been as fully carried out as he trusted it would be; but, still, what had been done showed the determination of the American Government to maintain the purity of their flag, and to prevent the exportation of slaves from Africa. He was likewise obliged to concur in the remarks of his noble Friend upon the French emigration scheme, but he was happy to say that the French Government had put an end to the system on the east coast of Africa, and had expressed its intention, when the existing contract had terminated, to abandon it on the west coast also. Negotiations were commenced by the late Government with the Government of France for the emigration of coolies from our territories in India to French colonies. Those negotiations had been continued by the present Government, and he trusted they would be brought to a successful termination, in which case the French Government would, doubtless, fulfil its promise to put an end to the unhappy emigration of blacks from Africa, an emigration which, however humanely conducted, under whatever precautions, must tend to perpetuate the horrors of the slave trade.

Motion agreed to.—Returns ordered.