HL Deb 24 June 1872 vol 212 cc81-91

My Lords, the question which I have to put to my noble Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies applies to a law as yet incomplete; but as it only awaits the final and formal stage of receiving Her Majesty's assent, I may treat it as already passed. My Lords, I was absent from the discussions on the Bill for the protection of the Pacific Islanders; but I have made myself acquainted with what passed on those occasions, and I see that in introducing the Bill the noble Earl gave a narrative of the events which led up to it. In the remarks, therefore, with which I shall preface my Question, I shall confine myself to the past and future—I may almost say the present—state of the law in relation to this matter, and to the means necessary to enforce it. Four years ago the Legislature of Queensland passed an Act regulating the labour traffic with a view of insuring the good treatment of the natives who had agreed to become labourers for a certain time. In this respect Queensland stands alone. As regards Fiji, Tahiti, and other places, the trade is not regulated by British law at all; further than that, British masters are subject to the common law and to the Act of 9 Geo. IV., c. 83, known as the New South Wales Act. As regards Queensland, abuses no doubt formerly prevailed, and recently the master of a ship called the Jason has been prosecuted by the Government for breaches of the law on the subject, and having been convicted—although there were doubts in some quarters as to his guilt—he was severely punished. Still, I believe that in that colony the law is honestly enforced. The Marquess of Normanby, the present Governor, who has taken especial pains to render himself fully acquainted with this subject, writes thus to the Earl of Kimberley on the 24th November, 1871. Referring to his visit to the schooner Lyttona, recently arrived from the Islands, he says— From the conversation I had with Mr. Gadsden (the Government agent on board), and from other circumstances that have come to my knowledge of late, I think there can be no doubt that the state of things among the Islands is at present very bad, and that gross atrocities are being committed against the natives. At the same time, I have every reason for hoping that the vessels belonging to this colony are in no way implicated. Every precaution is taken, not only by placing an agent on board each vessel, but also by strict investigation on her arrival in port, and I feel sure that not only my government but the employers of labour themselves, would be most anxious to check any irregularities, and to bring the perpetrators to justice. And further on he continues— I would, therefore, venture to suggest to your Lordship whether the time has not arrived when it would be desirable for Her Majesty's Government to take steps to put a stop to any illegal practices which may be perpetrated, whether by Fiji or Queensland vessels. These Islands are so numerous, and the area they cover is so great, that I fear the presence of one man of-war would be of little use; but as no resistance need be anticipated, the service might very well be performed by gunboats, or even by three or four small fast sailing vessels, the expense of which would be less than that of one man-of-war. I will now refer to statements made to me by two clergymen connected with, the London Missionary Society, and who have lately returned to this country. One of them, the Rev. S. M—,(I have not his permission to mention his name) told me that he knows of no kidnapping from his—the Loyalty—islands. Fast young men go willingly enough. Natives have come back from Queensland with, property. He knows that planters in Queensland have interposed to prevent natives from being imposed upon. Natives have imposed upon a magistrate in Queensland, saying that they had only engaged for one year, when they knew very well it was for three, preferring to work for weekly wages. He says that natives, even nominal Christians, are very unreliable. The Rev. W. G. L—told me that some time ago about 20 natives of his island were engaged at Samoa to go to Queensland. All but two, who died, returned. They did not understand the questions put to them on their arrival in Queensland. They were not well treated on board ship; but were so after their arrival. Nine died within a year of their return to his (Mr. L—'s) island, perhaps in consequence of variety of climate. Young men would be willing enough to emigrate, but the native authorities object. So much for Queensland. I now come to the past state of the law elsewhere—whether British or French colonies, or independent places—and I can best explain this by illustrating it with the cases of the Daphné and the Challenge schooners, which were tried in Sydney in 1869 and 1871 respectively. The Daphné was a schooner which had a licence under the Queensland Act to recruit 50 labourers for that colony, and she was found by Captain Palmer, the then Commander of Her Majesty's ship Rosario, at Levuka, Fiji, a place in a totally opposite direction, with, I think, 101 natives on board. Captain Palmer thought the circumstances justified him in seizing her, and he sent her with a prize crew, not to Brisbane, the nearest Australian port, and where she could have been prosecuted under the Queensland Act, but to Sydney;—I presume because it was the head-quarters of the station, and because his own orders were to return there when he had finished his cruize;—to be prosecuted for a breach of the laws relating to the slave trade. The Crown took up the case, and the master was brought before the magistrates and acquitted, for a reason which I will mention presently. The Attorney General afterwards prosecuted the vessel on behalf of Captain Palmer in the Vice-Admiralty Court, and she was ordered to be released; because it is, as I understand it, required, to constitute a breach of the laws relating to the slave trade, to be shown not merely that the persons on board the vessel have been brought there by force or fraud, but that it was intended to take them to a country "where slavery was a recognized legal institution." Now, it could not be shown that Fiji was such a place, nor indeed had it at that time any recognized Government at all. As regards the Challenge, she was seized last year by Mr. March, the British Consul, at Levuka, under suspicious circumstances, and at his request Captain Montgomerie, of Her Majesty's ship Blanche, took possession of her, and sent her with a prize crew to Sydney, to be tried on a like charge as the Daphné, in 1869. On the way she met with bad weather and was dismasted, and with some difficulty reached Newcastle, a port about 75 miles from Sydney to the north. On her arrival there the Commodore requested me to send a Government steamer to tow her to Sydney. I referred the matter to my legal adviser, the Attorney General of the colony, and by his advice declined to do so. He held that no breach of the slave trade laws had been committed, and that by towing her to Sydney we—the New South Wales Government—might make ourselves parties to an illegal seizure. He (the Attorney General), however, directed the master to be prosecuted for an assault, he having fastened the hatches down on the natives, who had been induced to come on board the vessel. The master was committed for trial at the Supreme Court, was found guilty on two counts, and sentenced to three years' imprisonment in all. Acting on the Attorney General's advice, Captain Montgomerie declined to prosecute the ship in the Vice-Admiralty Court. The owners sent in a claim for £700 damages, &c. Captain Montgomerie declined to pay this—stating his intention to plead a section in an old Act of Geo. III., originally passed more than 100 years ago for the prevention of smuggling in the North American Colonies, and subsequently made applicable to the slave trade laws, which section provides that if the Court is satisfied that a seizure has been made "with reasonable cause"—even though the vessel be not afterwards prosecuted—it may decree that the seizing officer shall be fined in an amount not exceeding 1s., with 2d. costs. In this case there might have been a difficulty, because, in fact, Captain Montgomerie had not, and said he had not, seized the Challenge, but Mr. March. Now, Mr. March was, I think, clearly a trespasser, not being a seizing officer under the Act of Geo. IV (relating to the Slave Trade), which provides that a naval or military officer, an officer of Customs, or the Governor of a Colony, or his deputy, alone may seize on suspicion of a breach of the Act. It might, however, perhaps have been possible to satisfy the Court that Captain Montgomerie by subsequently taking possession had constructively seized her, and at any rate the matter was allowed to drop. These legal difficulties have now been met by the Bill which has recently passed through both Houses. Whilst upon this subject I may remark that I fear that the clause, which has been inserted into the recent Bill by this House, no doubt with a view of making the law more stringent, by which it is provided that all vessels engaged in the labour traffic shall be licensed, will make the Act unpopular with those in the colonies who object to the labour traffic altogether, on the ground that by regulating it, it has licensed it. I am, however, aware that there is not much in this argument, because the traffic, if properly conducted, being not in itself illegal cannot be licensed. But besides the abuses which I have drawn attention to, I have little or no doubt that even a worse state of things than kidnapping prevails in the Pacific—namely, what is called "skull hunting." I will refer your Lordships to a report which I received not long ago, made by the Rev. C. H. Brooke, one of Bishop Patteson's party, at the time of his murder, and which appears in the last Blue Book on the subject of the deportation of South Sea Islanders, laid before Parliament. Mr. Brooke, in his report, dated Norfolk Island, October 19, 1871, after stating some facts about the labour trade, says— I wish now to refer to another class of vessel which visited Florida during my stay. On July 10th I was told that nine men had been murdered, and their heads carried off by a vessel which came from the north-west. The scene of the murder was near a small island some distance from the mainland. The nine had gone off to trade. … On August 17th, the same vessel or another, I cannot say exactly which, killed four out of five men about four miles from where I was staying. I had a long interview with the survivor. He said that he and his four companions put off in two canoes, and that when they had been alongside for a short time, a man stepped down from the vessel, upset the canoes, and seized him by the belt which broke and he fell astern, where he remained concealed until, watching his opportunity, he swam ashore. He saw a boat come round from the other side of the vessel with four men in it. He says white men, but it is possible that he means light-coloured natives, or men with white hair; but that is a detail of small importance if the captain of such a vessel be a white man. These four proceeded to kill his companions. He gave me the order of their deaths. They were first beaten with the oars, and then beheaded with tomahawks, &c. The heads were taken on board. After searching in vain for the fifth, the vessel took her departure. Another vessel was seen on the morning of August 29th; she was lying about a mile and a-half from the shore. The native chief had issued orders to the effect that no one was to leave the shore; but one canoe did put off with five men in it. I stood on the beach in company with a large crowd, to watch the progress of this canoe; when it got near the vessel, which was a large black brig, two boats were lowered and pulled for the canoe. Anticipating what was about to happen, I could not look steadfastly at what took place, but I have not the least doubt that my companions saw everything plainly. At each successive act in the murder of their fellow-islanders they raised a loud cry, and at length launched a war-fleet, and put off either to save their friends or to have revenge. The boats did not wait, and they returned empty. Had my life been taken on the spot who could have been surprised? As it was, the chief came to me and made me promise to do my best to revenge them. The heads were taken as before. The theory concerning this latter class of vessels is this—that the white master takes on board skull-hunters from the north, who are allowed by him to take the heads of these southern people whom they are ever striving to subdue, and that in consideration of this aid, the white master may take men, or trade on their return to the north. This used to be done in New Zealand many years ago, so that the credibility of the story is not impaired by its novelty. On receipt of this information, I caused Mr. Brooke's report to be referred to the Crown Solicitor, who, after submitting it to the Attorney General, placed it in the hands of an experienced detective, who was usually employed in South Sea Island cases, and who in the course of a few days made a report, from which I have extracted what follows:— Detective is informed that there are various means resorted to to obtain possession of the natives, one being when the canoes come off to the ship to trade, the ship's boats are lowered, pull between the land and the canoes, and so cut off the chance of the natives escaping back to land. …. Detective further reports that he has made inquiries relative to paragraph 3, in attached communication, and is informed that it is a custom with the natives of those parts to obtain the skulls of other natives as trophy of valour; the more skulls a chief gets the greater man he is supposed to be, these skulls being kept by them in their houses. The only brig answering the description of that referred to, known to be in the labour trade, is said to be the Water Lily, owned now, Detective is informed, by the notorious Captain Hayes, and at present sailed by him; and from the antecedents of this man, he is considered capable of any atrocity. Detective is further informed that the rendezvous of the Water Lily is at an island called Bonin," (since ascertained to be Bornabe or Ascension)" to windward of the Marshall group, four degrees north latitude of the line. Enclosed in this was a statement by a seaman named Walter Gates, who had sailed in 1868 on board the Maoroa, a vessel flying the French colonial flag—which has a curious history of her own—and who said that at Peru, in the Gilbert group, the King having objected to give natives— The captain, Charles Steenholt, said he would give him three days to consider, and if he did not give them he would take them. We had a gendarme named Du Sander on board at the time. On the third day the gendarme said he would not go on shore; he would stop on board, and let the captain go to see if he could get any natives, as he was getting tired of waiting, for he wanted to get the ship filled quick, so that he could get back. The captain then went on shore. He stopped on shore about five hours, then came on board with 37 natives. The men all told me that they had great sport in the bush catching them, and making them fast. These natives were confined down below under lock and key. Next day boats went on shore, and brought on board 15 natives, taken in the same way as the others. Next day boats went on shore, and took seven more natives. The captain said—'I think we had better clear now, for they are getting too wide awake.' At one place—Arrowi, in the Gilbert group—the men being frightened said—"Do not hurt us, and you can steal all the women you like, so long as you make them fast," and 38 young women were made fast by the hair of the head and stolen accordingly, Further on Oates stated— I have heard that natives are brought from the north-west and landed in the southern islands by European vessels, who are trading for tortoise-shell or other produce. By this means they enforce trade, and the skulls go as payment to the natives in return for services. I have never heard of a white man taking part in procuring these skulls, otherwise than bringing the natives from the north-west to the south, and taking the natives back with the skulls to the north-west. My Lords, I daresay he never did hear of anything more, because when people commit murder they do not talk about it. The conclusion I have come to is that Mr. Brooke is mistaken in supposing that "skull hunting" is carried on in connection with the labour trade; but I think it does exist in connection with trade of a different sort. At my request Commodore Stirling wrote to the naval Commander-in-Chief in China to ask him to send a ship to try and bring Captain Hayes to book, and I hope that if my noble Friend learns that anything has resulted from this he will lay the Papers on the Table. [The Earl of KIMBERLEY: Hear, hear!] I also wrote to the Governor of New Caledonia, and I have no doubt that he will do all in his power to assist in putting a stop to these abuses. I will only trouble your Lordships with one more quotation. Captain M'Serie, the Inspector General of Police at Sydney, reports as the result of his general inquiries— The plan said to be adopted by the masters and owners of the different vessels is to clear from the different Australian ports with cargoes of gin, tobacco, powder, caps, muskets, fancy cotton cloths, and other articles, ostensibly for the purpose of legitimate trade; but on arrival at Fiji the names and rig of the vessels are changed, and fresh registers and papers are obtained at the Islands, and used during the time the vessels are employed kidnapping. Now, my Lords, I think I have shown that the honour of the country demands some decided action, and I come to the question as to what is to be done to put a stop to this state of things? I see my noble Friend is reported to have said that a ship of war would visit the Islands occasionally, and if this is really the determination which Her Majesty's Government has arrived at, they will be doing very little indeed. But from what I have lately heard I have reason to hope they intend to do a great deal more. At present I believe the Australian squadron consists of five ships, and until lately, since 1868, there were only four. Whilst I am on this subject I will say—although perhaps it is not altogether relevant—that I think some of the ships on the station are not the best suited to its requirements. Three of them, no doubt, may answer very well; but the Basilisk, a paddle-wheel steamer, although a fair steamer, would not, I imagine, be of much use in beating to windward, and she replaced a still older paddler, the Virago, which I know by experience could neither, as it is said, "sail nor steam." The Rosario also is a vessel of very little power. I would suggest to the Admiralty that these ships should be withdrawn, and their places filled with fast despatch vessels when they are relieved. There is only one other subject I need allude to, and that is the present position of Fiji. Lately, a sort of responsible Government has been set up by the King Cakoban. At first, they made an unfortunate start; but I see a gentleman has lately been sent for, whose name is, no doubt, well known to the noble Earl (Earl Granville) as having been formerly acting British Consul, who bears the highest possible character, and who, if the experiment is to succeed, is the man to make it succeed. I do not know what decision Her Majesty's Government may come to with regard to this new Government. So far, they have not recognized it, further than by instructing me and my successors to treat it as a de facto Government as respects matters occurring within the territory acknowledging its jurisdiction. I now beg to put to the noble Earl the Question of which I have given him Notice—What steps do Her Majesty's Government intend to take to give effect to the law for the prevention of criminal outrages on the Natives of the Islands of the Pacific Ocean?


said, that no one in that House had more right to speak on this subject than the noble Earl, who had for some time resided in the vicinity of the places to which he had alluded, and who, during the period he was Governor of New South Wales, had done his best to prevent the evils resulting from this traffic. He was glad to hear from the noble Earl that he was not one of those who were prejudiced against the course that had been taken by Queensland in this matter, and that it was evident from the prosecutions which had occurred in that colony that the law was efficient and was impartially and rigorously enforced. His noble Friend the Marquess of Norman by since he had gone out as Governor of Queensland had devoted much attention to this subject; and a law had been passed by the colonial Legislature to put down those practices; and he was sure if that law were found inefficient there would be no want of inclination on the part of the colonial authorities to make such further regulations as might be deemed necessary. That the law was not allowed to be a dead letter was shown by the recent conviction of a captain of a vessel for violating it, and the severe punishment with which he was visited. The Bill alluded to by his noble Friend had passed both Houses of Parliament, and now only awaited the Royal Assent. It was a great mistake to suppose that Her Majesty's Government had in that measure given validity to a practice hitherto held to be illegal. The object of that Act was to regulate and not to entirely suppress this traffic, and it was thought that that object would be best obtained by requiring the master of every vessel to enter into a bond and obtain a licence before he engaged in it; and they had endeavoured by a great number of stringent provisions and penalties to prevent attempts to obtain labourers by fraud or violence. With reference to the horrible practice of skull-hunting, he deeply regretted that there should be found Europeans who, in order to facilitate their own legitimate trade, encouraged the natives to pursue this horrible and monstrous practice, and he agreed with his noble Friend that every effort should be used to put an end to such a shameful and barbarous state of things. He trusted that with the help of the China Squadron sufficient force would be on the spot to prevent such crimes being committed in future. The force in Australian waters at present consisted of six steam vessels of war, four of which, assisted by three or four sailing vessels as tenders, would be employed in preventing the kidnapping of the natives. He could assure the House that Her Majesty's Government would take every step in their power to put an end to the atrocities which had prevailed on these Islands, and to render the Bill which had recently been passed an efficient instrument for repressing this traffic. They trusted that they would be assisted in their efforts to check the abuses of this traffic by those who had set up a Government in those Islands, and who were now recognized as the authorities of Fiji.

In answer to the EARL OF LAUDERDALE,


said, Her Majesty's Government was in communication with foreign Governments with reference to the subject.