HL Deb 03 July 1868 vol 193 cc587-93

, in rising to move for Copies of a Circular Despatch of the 30th of January, 1868, from the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and of a Despatch of the 31st of March, also from the Colonial Office, said, he feared that the subject to which he was about to call the attention of their Lordships was not so exciting a one as that which had just engaged their attention. For himself he was resolved that no word should escape him calculated to give cause of complaint hereafter in reference to a very delicate question. For this reason he proposed to sedulously avoid entering on a controversy on the subject of letters patent, or on that of the general state of the colonial Church. He wished to call the attention of his noble Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies to two despatches on the subject of the consecration of a Bishop in South Africa, and which had reference to the state of things prevailing in the Church at Natal. On the 30th of January his noble Friend the Secretary of State wrote a very important despatch, in which he observed that it had come to the knowledge of Her Majesty's Government, through the newspapers, that there was an intention on the part of a colonial Bishop to consecrate another Bishop to the see of Natal; and that such an intention was viewed with, apprehension and regret by Her Majesty's Government; and the Lieutenant Governor was instructed to use any influence he might possess to prevent such an occurrence. It is also stated that any ecclesiastical officers receiving a salary from the Government would be deprived of his salary and office if he assisted in such consecration. Now, though he (the Earl of Carnarvon) could not say that he agreed in that despatch, he did not want to enter into any discussion as to its terms. However, his noble Friend seemed to have reconsidered the subject, for on the 23rd of May he wrote a second despatch to the Lieutenant Governor, in which he stated that he had had certain communications with the Bishop of Capetown, who declared that it was not his intention in any manner to interfere with the legal rights of Dr. Colenso, his object simply being to consecrate a Bishop for those who would voluntarily submit themselves to his spiritual jurisdiction, and that nothing would be done by the new Bishop that would in any way conflict with any legal rights which Dr. Colenso, by virtue of his letters patent might have. Under these circumstances, his noble Friend the Colonial Secretary went on to state that Her Majesty's Government would interpose no obstacle to the proposed consecration; and that they would not require the Lieutenant Governor to use his influence to prevent parties from being concerned in the proposed consecration. Now, though this second despatch appeared to have been written in consequence of a misapprehension having existed when the first despatch was sent out, he (the Earl of Carnarvon) believed from a number of private letters which had reached him on the subject that the first despatch had been misunderstood in the country to which it was addressed. It appeared that immediately on the receipt of that despatch the colonial authorities of Natal wrote to Dr. Colenso communicating the purport of it to him, and requesting him to communicate not only to the salaried clergy, as his noble Friend had directed, but to all the clergy. Indeed, he was informed that the Natal authorities went very far beyond the terms of the despatch. They did not stop with the clergy, because he held in his hand unquestionable evidence that they so far mistook its tenour as to convey a most extraordinary warning to all civilians in the Government employ to take no part in the consecration, and give no countenance to it, under pain of the displeasure of Her Majesty's Government. He was sure his noble Friend had never intended that such a use should be made of the despatch. He need not point out to their Lordships how improper it was that such a communication should have been addressed to civilians serving under the Lieutenant Governor-He was further informed—though he confessed he was very reluctant to believe that such a tiling could have occurred—that the military officers in. the colony were induced to sign a document pledging themselves to take no part in the consecration. From some other circumstances which had reached him he was afraid that the local authorities had gone not only beyond the instructions of his hon. Friend, but beyond all constitutional limits. He was informed that a clergyman who had been for some time in possession of a church in Natal, and had held a school in that church which was acknowledged to be an excellent school, had been suddenly deprived of his grant for it, because he had declined to acknowledge Dr. Colenso for his Bishop. When he gave up the church and removed the school to a private house a technical argument was made use of to the effect that as the school was not held in a church he was not entitled to the grant. He had been furnished with another case, in which another clergyman had been deprived of a school grant. There were a large number of poor men dependent, in a great degree, on the local Government, who had been prevented attending certain churches to which they would otherwise have gone, in consequence of their fear of giving offence to the local authorities. Some of the information supplied to him had been furnished under the seal of secrecy—so much afraid were persons of compromising themselves in this matter with the local Government. Through this miserable controversy all the missionary labour of the Church in Natal, and all its civilizing influences were declining. From these facts he apprehended that there was much going on in the nature of religious persecution, and he thought the matter was well worthy the consideration of his noble Friend the Secretary for the Colonies. He thought it very much to be regretted that local authorities should depart from a position of neutrality, and should lend the weight of their patronage and support to either of the religious parties in the colony, contrary to the Instructions of previous Secretaries of State. Accordingly, he hoped to hear from his noble Friend that he had not countenanced proceedings on the part of the local authorities which, if they had not relation to such a serious subject, he should call ridiculous; but, on the contrary, that he had advised them to intermeddle as little as possible with religious matters. They could not hope permanently to maintain a Church with privileges and endowments in the colonies; and it was but common sense that if a Church could not be maintained with exceptional privileges, it should not be weighted, at least, with exceptional restraints. Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for, Copies of Circular Despatch of 30th January 1868 from the Secretary of State for the Colonies relative to the Consecration of a Colonial Bishop in South Africa, and of a Despatch of 31st March on the same Subject.—(The Earl of Carnarvon.)


said, he was not disposed to regret that his noble Friend (the Earl of Carnarvon) had not postponed this Question till after the two Despatches had been produced, although he had rather misrepresented the policy indicated in them. He concurred entirely with the opinion which had been expressed by the noble Earl, that religious matters in the colony should be as little interfered with as possible by the civil Government, Colonial or Imperial. Salaried officers appointed by the Crown, and holding office under the pleasure of the Crown, in his opinion, ought not to interfere in matters of partizanship; and accordingly he had thought it better to warn those officers not to interfere in such proceedings. The occurrences in the colony to which his noble Friend had referred amounted to what he could call by no other name than persecution; they had occurred without any authority from home, and, according to the advices hitherto received, some of those occurrences, at least, while the Governor of Natal was absent from the seat of government. At the same time, he believed that when many of those occurrences had been inquired into, they would be found capable of full and satisfactory explanation. In one of the cases referred to by the noble Earl, it would seem that a grant had been withdrawn from a school in consequence of its being removed from the church to some other place. There was no doubt that the school was a good one, and that the teachers were well-qualified; and it certainly seemed to him, upon first reading the papers, that a building of an ordinary character was better suited than a consecrated church to the holding of a school. But, on looking further into the matter, he found that the grant given by the colony for that particular year was for a school to be held at and in this certain church, and which could not be moved to any other place without the sanction of the Government previously obtained—a condition which appeared to have been utterly lost sight of. He had felt it his duty to point out to the Governor of the colony that such reasons, although applicable in the particular case, ought not to be reasons for withholding pecuniary aid; and he felt certain that the Governor, when he returned to the seat of government, would take such measures as would avoid the appearance of partizanship with either of the parties which had unhappily arisen ill the colony. Having had an interview with the Bishop of Capetown, and learnt his Lordship's views as to many of the proceedings which had occurred, he felt it Ins duty to write the second despatch to which his noble Friend had referred. And there was a passage in that despatch which he desired to explain. It was drafted in accordance with what he understood to be the views of the Bishop of Capetown, expressed in two or three interviews; but unfortunately, owing to his Lordship being out of town, the final draft could not be submitted to him till the very evening that the despatch was to leave. His Lordship was strongly opposed to a particular phrase, and various suggestions were made before one could be adopted in which he felt disposed to concur; but eventually this difficulty was overcome by words written with his Lordship's own hand. It afterwards appeared, however, that his Lordship had an objection to some words which preceded this particular phrase, to which he himself did not attach any importance, and which were not struck out; so that the despatch, being rapidly transcribed, and there not being the opportunity of again submitting it to his Lordship, included these particular words. He could only say that he regretted there had been the slightest misconception on the subject; not one word had been intended to give the slightest offence to his Lordship. It was not light that ecclesiastical officers in the colony holding offices under the pleasure of the Crown should lend the weight of their authority to proceedings upon one side or the other; but, at the same time, it had never been contemplated to interfere with the fullest and freest independence of religious opinions. This was the principle that had been acted upon, and he thought it a most important principle to maintain in our colonial legislation. The despatches would be laid on the table as soon as possible, together with any further information that should happen to be received in the meantime.


said, that he wished the Papers had been on the table before the subject came on for discussion, because without them it could not be fairly dealt with. As, however, there was little chance of the question being again raised, he wished briefly to express his opinion on it. Remarking that the observations of the noble Duke were eminently statesmanlike, he expressed the belief that as long as the officials of the colony could be kept from the controversy the better it would be for the colony and the country. Injustice on one side naturally engendered injustice on the other; and much of what had happened could easily be traced to the treatment which the whole subject had received in this country, so widely different was it from the course recommended by the noble Duke. But since the feeling originally engendered had been uselessly kept up by discussions in the most distinguished body in this country, he did not think we could complain. The questions, however, which Dr. Colenso had started were quite beyond the province of this House; and he believed the best efforts of the noble Duke or of any other person were quite unable to settle the difficulty which had arisen. Dr. Colenso stood at this moment the spiritual and temporal Bishop of the diocese, and he exercised his right with great temper and judgment; and it was much to be regretted that he had not been treated with more brotherly friendship and kindness, He wished only to repeat his desire—the desire of all those who believed Dr. Colenso had been treated with great injustice—that the spirit advocated by the noble Duke would in future animate all those in this country who concerned themselves in the matter.


said, that while agreeing with the noble Lord that the subject could not be well dealt with until the Papers were before their Lordships, objected to the latter part of his observations, expressing an opinion that the position and proceedings in the colony I were concurred in by only a very small minority.


said, he had no intention of entering upon the general question, but could not refrain from saying a word upon what had fallen from the noble Baron (Lord Houghton), who took upon himself to lecture ecclesiastics and others for not having treated the person to whom he alluded with kindness and brotherly friendship. The fact, however, was as diametrically opposite to the statement of the noble Baron as it was possible for any fact to contradict any statement. Dr. Colenso had received private remonstrances, brotherly counsel—the tenderest and kindest counsel—from his brethren at home; but every attempt in the direction of counsel and remonstrance had only led him to some new outbreak of violence. He could not let the statement of the noble Baron go un-contradicted, though of course it had been made in that absolute ignorance of the subject which it was natural he should possess, and equally natural he should express.

Motion agreed to.