HL Deb 05 April 1869 vol 195 cc131-5

on rising to put the Question of which he had given notice, said, he would take that opportunity of reading to their Lordships an extract of a statement from the directors of the London Missionary Society—a body to which he was exceedingly anxious to do justice—to the effect that they had nothing to do with the Inland China Mission at Yang-chow, and were in no way responsible for its proceedings. The Inland China mission was an entirely distinct society, differing in many ways from their own views and practices, since the missionaries of the London Mission Society resided in treaty ports, or at Pekin or Hong Kong, and, with scarcely any exception, had had no occasion during the past twenty years to apply to any British consul for personal protection. They added that they were always anxious, whenever practicable, to co-operate with the English Government. He was glad to exonerate the London Missionary Society from being mixed up in these proceedings, for that body was well acquainted with China, and he was also glad to find that they were sensible of the imprudence of sending missionaries to ramble through the country, instead of confining them to treaty ports and to Pekin or Hong Kong, for it was the passing beyond these places which had caused difficulties and had brought our religion into hostility with the people of China. He now wished to know whether the Foreign Office or the Admiralty could furnish any information as to proceedings of Missionaries and Gunboats in Formosa? Having understood a short time ago that no hostile operations were to be undertaken by British consuls or officers without first communicating with the representative of Her Majesty's Government at Pekin, he had heard with surprise that operations not thus authorized had taken place in Formosa. Missionaries having gone there, the people, being very violent and fanatical, rose against them and drove them back—whether with any loss of life he could not say—and next attacked, as they were very apt to do, all the foreign residents. Then came the inevitable gunboat—for, as he remarked on a previous occasion, gunboats were always called in where the missionaries had made these unfortunate inroads on the feelings of the people—and ten or twelve natives were killed. Now, was this the way to promote Christianity in China? It was surely right that the attention of the public should be called to the subject, in order that, if such proceedings could not be otherwise prevented, they might stop the supplies, without which these missionaries would not carry on their operations.


said, he believed that all the information in the possession of the Foreign Office for which the noble Duke asked had already been laid on the table, being comprised between pages twenty-two and fifty-six of the China Papers. From these Papers they would gather that the affair at Formosa originated in the destruction of a mission-house, and that there were also some commercial disputes, an attack upon a British subject, Mr. Pickering, and one or two other matters for which redress was sought. He was afraid that the Foreign Office could not furnish a connected narrative of what had passed; but the Admiralty had received an account from the acting consul and from the commander of the gunboat, which had enabled the Government to form a judgment on the proceedings. He was sorry to say that that judgment was unfavourable to both the officers concerned—except, indeed, as to the professional part of Lieutenant Colonel Gordon's duty, for the operations conducted by him exhibited great judgment and forethought, while the skill and gallantry with which they were carried out entitled all concerned to the highest praise. But the fact was that the operations ought not to have been undertaken at all, for all danger to life and property had passed away several weeks before, and the only question left was that of reparation. This should have been ascertained, and then if any remissness had been shown by the authorities in giving redress it would have been a matter for communication between Her Majesty's representative at Pekin and the Chinese Government, and was not to be made a subject of reprisal and violent action by, two subordinate officers. The Government wholly disapproved the exaction of a considerable sum of money—$ 40,000—as compensation for the outrage and still less of two sums of $ 5,000 each—one for the military stores used in storming the Chinese fortress and the other by way of reprisal—and they had directed that the money should be returned, with an expression of regret for what had occurred. The conduct of the vice consul also appeared to them highly reprehensible, and directions had been given that he should no longer act in that capacity. He hoped this step would have a salutary effect on the whole consular body, and that they would understand that they would incur the severest condemnation if they wantonly undertook military operations without the sanction of the Government, or without absolute necessity. He was glad that his noble Friend (the Duke of Somerset) had done justice to the London Missionary Society, for since the previous discussions on the subject he had received a numerous deputation from that most respectable body, who feared that his noble Friend had placed upon them the blame of what had occurred, and who, therefore, placed in his hands the statement to which his noble Friend had referred. He wished also to refer to a dispatch that had lately been received from Sir Rutherford Alcock, because he thought that the public should know the result of his great experience in China, and of the labour and the study that he had bestowed upon missionary questions. He said that the hostility to missionaries was general throughout China, and that it did not come from religious intolerance, but was partly personal and partly political. He considered that they had an enmity against the very name of Christianity; and they disliked it on account of the support that had been given to the rebellion; and also from a spirit engendered by the French missionaries, who taught their converts to rely upon no authority but their own, and to despise the native authorities. There were also great differences between the Protestant and Roman Catholic missionaries, of which Sir Rutherford Alcock gave some very unseemly instances. There was, further, a great fear all over China that the missionaries would so exercise their influence as to interfere with the local authorities, and these officers, therefore, induced the literati and gentry to encourage and institute acts of oppression against the missionaries. Sir Rutherford Alcock truly observed that, unless we intended to carry on the work of proselytizing by the sword, it was absolutely necessary that the missionaries should not establish themselves at places where they could not have constant communication with their countrymen. It would be absolutely impossible to protect the Chinese converts except by naval and military forces; and Sir Rutherford Alcock added that if ever Christianity was to become general in China it would be through the upper classes, and not in spite of them, and therefore it was most material that missionaries should confine themselves to the treaty ports and carry on their labours with great judgment and caution. Quite recently a most offensive placard against the Roman Catholic religion had appeared on the walls of Shanghai, and Sir Rutherford Alcock doubted whether any prospect of success which the missionaries were entitled to entertain would compensate the dangers they incurred in disregarding not only the laws of the country and the prejudices of the people, but the advice of their own Government. While all must admire the undaunted courage with which, in the spirit of martyrs, the missionaries laboured for the spread of religious truth, he hoped their zeal would not altogether exclude discretion, and that when once they became thoroughly convinced of the dangers to which they exposed themselves, of the risk they ran of producing riot and bloodshed and of embarking this country in war—when convinced, too, above all, that they were not in the path leading to success even in their own calling, both they and the societies which sent them forth from this country would see that the system hitherto pursued must be abandoned. He trusted that the stringent instructions which he had sent out and the good sense of the missionaries themselves would bring about a better state of things; and for this no moment could be more favourable than the present, for he had received a telegram from Sir Rutherford Alcock, informing him that order was restored in all quarters, that the instructions recently sent out had been communicated to the Prince of Kung, that the best understanding existed between the Prince and the Foreign Ministers, that there was no more cause for anxiety in any point, and that our relations with China had never been more satisfactory.


sincerely hoped the missionaries would take the excellent advice given by the noble Earl, and of this he had not the slightest doubt, for all the great societies were acting with great moderation, judgment, and care. He believed, however, that in the case of Formosa the missionaries were not concerned. There was a Presbyterian congregation there; but it had not been the action of the missionaries which had led to the disturbances, except that they had been instrumental in making converts. The attack was made on the converts, and they being entitled to certain rights under the treaty, redress was sought on their behalf, the missionaries having nothing to do with it.