HL Deb 28 June 1860 vol 159 cc1082-4

presented a Petition of George Crawshaw, Robert Bainbridge, and George Hobart, for inquiry into the conduct of the Colonial Office with respect to Pirates in China. The petitioners complained that a number of European sailors had committed a piratical attack upon a Chinese village, and one of them, when indicted for misdemeanour, pleaded "guilty," but in extenuation of his conduct he stated that before he had committed the act he had made the intention known to an officer of the local Government, who offered no opposition whatever. Upon this the Court having received the plea of "guilty," inflicted no punishment upon the prisoner. The petition stated that a charge of a most grave kind had been brought against another member of the local Government, and in an action which was consequently instituted by him the jury found a verdict for the defendant, on the ground that the charge was true. He knew nothing whatever of the transactions adverted to by the Petitioners beyond what had appeared in the newspapers; but he submitted that the state of affairs at Hong Kong, and the conduct of persons connected with that colony required very serious attention.


said, his noble Friend had allowed him to see the Petition ten days ago, and at that time the Government had no information with respect to the proceedings referred to. He was not aware that his noble Friend was about to present the petition that evening, or he would have ascertained whether there was any information upon the matter in the despatches which had just arrived from Hong Kong. With reference to the other part of the charge of the petition, he could assure the House that there had been no such neglect on the part of the Colonial Office, as the petitioners supposed. The petition was from a number of persons who had constituted themselves into "a Committee of Foreign Affairs," and who met at Newcastle and at Sheffield. From the constant correspondence which they kept up with him—he must say not in the most civil terms—they seemed to think it was wrong if everything was not communicated to them which took place in reference to the Government of our Colonies. As a Minister of the Crown he did not feel disposed to lay information before the Foreign Affairs Committee as to all the despatches he received from or the instructions he gave to Colonial Governors. The public, however, were not without information upon this particular subject, for an enormous blue-book had recently been printed by the Colonial Office, much of which he must say reflected but little credit upon many parts of the service at Hong Kong. On his appointment to the Colonial Office he found that his predecessor had just before appointed a new Governor for Hong Kong in consequence of the anticipated return of Sir John Bowring. He (the Duke of Newcastle) saw the new Governor, Sir Hercules Robinson, and directed him to make inquiries into the charges which had been made by Mr. Chisholm Anstey and others, cautioning him however against stirring up again all that mass of mud which appeared to have accumulated over the society of Hong Kong; and he had subsequently addressed a despatch to the Governor in reference to the affair. He believed that the inquiry was being prosecuted, but no result had been at present arrived at. He was bound to add, though with the greatest possible regret, that in no part of Her Majesty's dominions was libel so rife and flagrant as at Hong Kong. For men to libel one another in the most reckless manner seemed to have become the normal state of society in that island. There had been prosecutions for libel, some of which were successful, and some not successful; but he mentioned this to caution their Lordships against placing the same amount of credit in statements in Hong Kong newspapers, unless authenticated by other circumstances, as, he was happy to say, they were accustomed to place in statements published in English newspapers. The inquiries into those charges had not been neglected, and he hoped that those who were interested in the well-being and respectability of the society of Hong Kong would further any efforts which he might make to redeem the colony from the evil reputation which in consequence of these transactions attached to it.


wished to say a few words in reference to the Foreign Affairs Committee, who he believed could hardly think it was the duty of a public office to furnish all their correspondence; but if they did so think they deserved to be mistaken. It was indeed impossible for the Government to answer communications of such a kind as that which had been referred to. He was, however, rather inclined to applaud these associations. The members of this Committee had instructed themselves to the best of their ability in foreign affairs, and they had acquired a surprizing amount of knowledge, though they bad fallen no doubt into some mistakes. They took a great deal of pains to read all Parliamentary papers; they debated questions in a debating society; and, upon the whole, a deal of information was obtained by—he believed—a body of artisans. He had had a deputation from them before him, and he found them extremely well-informed men; and, he must say, that he on his part liked to forward the objects of any body of men who took an interest in the affairs of the empire. He, however, hoped that they would not think themselves treated disrespectfully if the Government did not find time to answer their correspondence.

Petition to lie on the table.