HL Deb 19 July 1875 vol 225 cc1630-41

rose to call the attention of the House to the Coolie traffic; and to ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies to state the result of his inquiries into the death of two Indian Coolies from flogging in Province Wellesley; and to ask what progress has been made in framing a law for the protection of Indian Coolies in the Straits Settlements; and to move for the law for the protection of Indian immigrants to be laid upon the Table. The noble Lord remarked that on the 11th of May a deputation of the Anti-Slavery Society waited on the Secretary of State for the Colonies to make representations as to Coolie labour in all the Colonies and the necessity of supervision of the transport of Coolies, of the contracts entered into by them, and of their treatment when their engagements expired. Owing to misreporting, the deputation were represented to the world as having requested the Secretary of State to put down Coolie labour, and an evening paper said that the supervision of Coolie contracts was as little necessary as that of Irish or English emigrants' contracts, though those emigrants went out to join people of their own language, religion, and laws. What really happened was that Mr. Sturge, speaking for himself only, stated to the Secretary of State, what a short time before he had written to the leading journal—that the immigration of Coolies was only the Slave Trade under another name. Now, he would mention in defence of Mr. Sturge that a French Deputy, M. Victor Schœlcher, came over to London a short time before the deputation went to the Colonial Office, to represent the state of the Indian Coolies in the French Antilles to the Aborigines' Protection Society, and he there made a similar statement to that of Mr. Sturge, of his conviction that Coolie immigration could not be distinguished from the Slave Trade, and in support of this view he had brought with him a French colonial newspaper called The Journal d' Outremer, containing a report of the excessive mortality of Indian Coolies on different plantations. While excepting the islands of Mauritius and Bourbon and the Straits Settlements, he entirely concurred with Mr. Sturge and M. Sehœlcher as to the more distant West India Islands, and believed that it was almost impossible to prevent the transport of Coolies to those islands differing from the Slave Trade. He might remind their Lordships that all the horrors of the African Slave Trade owed their origin to a want of thoroughness on the part of the philanthropists in the beginning of 1500, and to the adoption at that time of the principles, nay, of the very words used by the noble Earl to the deputation— Considering the commercial depression that exists in many of the West India Islands, a system of Coolie importations, if it can be administered under due safeguards, should be favoured by Government. These were the considerations which brought negro slaves to America for the relief of the Mexicans and Caribs, who were fast dying out under the labour imposed upon them, and whose sufferings stirred up the good Bishop Las Casas to write of the destruction of the Indies. The burdens that were destroying the aborigines of America and the Antilles were transferred to the shoulders of the Africans till Wilber-force raised his voice in behalf of those oppressed men, and with such effect that the Africans were now almost everywhere emancipated; but if the Secretary of State for the Colonies did not take care the error of transporting Africans across the ocean to relieve Americans would be repeated under his auspices, and Hindoos and Chinese would have to relieve the negroes by suffering all the horrors formerly imposed upon the Africans. When his noble Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies answered the deputation of the 11th of May, he did not think he could have read the Blue Book on the Macao Coolie traffic; not a word in that Blue Book contradicted the assertion of Mr. Sturge, and there was much in the Reports of Sir Brooke Robertson and in the despatches of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs which confirmed it. Sir Brooke Robertson wrote— I trust this is the last we shall hear of that most iniquitous trade. Publicly and privately I have ever done my best to expose its inhumanity and bring pressure to bear on the Lisbon Government to decree its extinction, and at the last the end has come, and Macao, upon whose shore more tears have been shed than in any other spot on earth, will have to look elsewhere to enrich its citizens, in a more legitimate manner, and more in accordance with the professions of a Christian nation. This Blue Book contained a table of disasters and mutinies which had occurred to 34 ships containing kidnapped Coolies between the years 1852 and 1872; and he would read a despatch from the Earl of Derby to Her Majesty's Chargé d' Affaires at Lisbon, dated October 19, 1874, which said— I have to instruct you to express to the Portuguese Minister for Foreign Affairs the satisfaction with which Her Majesty's Government have received His Excellency's assurances of the determination of the Portuguese Government not to allow a revival of the Macao Coolie traffic in any form, as reported in your despatch of the 6th instant. So long as the Colonial Office could not efficiently provide for the well-being and protection of Indian Coolies in Mauritius, Réunion, and the Straits Settlements, it would be still more doubtful if it would be able to secure these objects and safeguards in the more distant West India islands. The Chinese Coolies in the West Indies were in still greater need of protection than the Indian Coolies, who, being our subjects, found zealous supporters among the Calcutta, Madras, and India Office officials. Most of the Chinese who had been transported to Peru, Cuba, and other parts of America had been taken there against their will, or in ignorance of where they were going. They did not require to go to America for the purpose of emigrating, for there were ample fields for Chinese emigration nearer China, places to which they could go and find their countrymen and associations ready to assist them on their arrival. And how could the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs consistently urge the Portuguese Government not to allow emigration from Macao under any form, and even after proposing regulations for the protection of the emigrants, if the Secretary of State for the Colonies were to encourage a similar emigration, and so appear to justify the criticism of the Portuguese Minister, that— the British functionaries had markedly hostile dispositions to any emigration which might seek other shores than those of British Colonies? It might be readily understood that the Secretary of State for the Colonies should have been rather too much influenced by the Colonists and by Colonial representations, and by the natural desire to hear of flourishing Colonial Budgets, and should have lost sight of the public opinion of this country, which would not allow of the substitution of Chinese for African slavery; he (Lord Stanley of Alderley) might also say the public opinion of Germany, for in the Blue Book on the Macao Coolie traffic there was a note from the German Ambassador strongly repudiating, on behalf of one of his subjects, the imputation of being concerned in this iniquitous trade. The public opinion in Spain and Portugal was also very much changed of late years, for in the modern novels of the Peninsula the villain of the plot was always a slave trader, and the name of negrero, or negro trader, was now a most opprobrious epithet. He desired also to call the noble Earl's attention to a matter of which he had been informed by an Australian magistrate—namely, the kidnapping of women in Polynesia, which was said to have become so general that nearly every master of a vessel and many of the mates carried Polynesian women on board their vessels, entered on the ship's articles as wives of men they had nothing to do with. The law of Western Australia, that no women be permitted to be shipped in these vessels, should be copied in the other Colonies. He did not intend to go into the ease of the Coolies in Mauritius—the subject and the Blue Book relating to it were too large; but when the noble Earl talked of safeguards for the protection of the immigrants, he (Lord Stanley of Alderley) would ask what measures he was taking, and why he had not already taken measures, to remedy the state of things under which the families of Coolies who died in Mauritius were robbed of their property under forms of legal administration? Among the cases of property left by Indian Coolies and absorbed by the curator reported by the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the abuses concerning Indian immigrants into Mauritius might be quoted that of Millapore Monisamy, who died and left effects which were sold for $630 82c, or about £130. The legal expenses amounted to $630 51c, leaving a balance of 31c, or 15½d. There were, however, other legal expenses which were defrayed by the sale of Monisamy's jewels, which sold for $877 52c, or about £183, and when all legal expenses were paid there remained a balance of $11 53c, or £2 8s. There was also the case of Jaunkee, who went temporarily made: when he recovered he found that his property, worth £44, had been sold for £8 12s. 4½d., and that 8s. 8½d. of it had been left to his children. He petitioned Sir Arthur Gordon on the subject, who asked why the Curator had meddled with the property. The Governor was told that had he not done so the property might have been robbed; to which Sir Arthur Gordon replied, that in that case Jaunkee would have been no worse off; and he declined to write a Minute on the subject lest he should express himself too strongly. He would also ask the Secretary of State whether he intended to take any steps to relieve the immigrants who had completed their five years' contract service of the heavy charges imposed on them for photographs (2s.) and pass-tickets (20s.). From the Report of the Commissioners it appeared that for a number of 116,333 photographs the sum of £23,311 12s had been charged to Mauritius during five years. The photographer holding the contract informed the Commissioners that his profits were £6,000, leaving £17,311 for the cost of photography; but the Royal Engineers' highest estimate came to £5,201, leaving £12,110 to be accounted for. Two Coolies were flogged by two planters on the Malakoff estate, in Province Wellesley, in the Straits Settlement; they died of it, and the planters were sentenced to three and four months' imprisonment. These sentences appeared to be very lenient; but it happened that the brother of one of the planters died, and application was made to the Governor, Sir Andrew Clarke, for his release, in order that he might look after the plantation. The Governor accordingly remitted half of his sentence and set him free, and, as the other planter was in the same case, he remitted half of his sentence also, apparently to avoid invidious distinctions. If the Governor had made his remission of the sentence conditional on the payment of some compensation to the families of the Coolies whose deaths they had caused, he would have shown more regard for justice and for those safeguards which the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies desired to establish for the protection of Coolie immigrants. He (Lord Stanley of Alderley) did not in this matter impute any fault to Sir Andrew Clarke other than that of excessive good nature, and, perhaps an inability to say no; but for the sake of the future, he would ask his noble Friend to join with him in an expression of regret that Sir Andrew Clarke should have allowed himself to be induced by the planters' representations to remit half of sentences which were already too lenient. To show that contracts and engagements of Coolies required supervision and revision by an officer of the Indian Government, he might mention a case which recently happened in the Straits Settlement. Some 70 Coolies had engaged to labour for planters (Messrs. Brown and Co.) for two years, and had had their passage-money from India advanced, which advance had been repaid. These Coolies left off work six days before the complete expiration of their two years, and a portion of them were brought before a magistrate, under the Indian Act XIII. of 1859. The magistrate dismissed the summons, and his decision was reversed by Mr. Justice Ford, who held that these Coolies' contracts were binding on them, which obliged them to be jointly and severally responsible for one another's labour, so that one man out of 100 might have to make good the work of 99 absconders. The appellant, the agent for the planters, did not ask for this, so Mr. Justice Ford only required the magistrate to order the Coolies (1) to work up the six days, and (2) to work up the loss of labour occasioned to the planters by their default. Now, this decision of Mr. Justice Ford, if it were upheld, would establish a system of slavery. It would probably be met by the Indian Immigrants' Protection Act, now under the consideration of the Colonial Office. This draft Act omitted, however, to limit the period for which Coolies might be engaged. In the Straits the practice had usually been for two years; but in the Mauritius five years was the usual term. He would take leave to read to the House the Secretary of State's opinion of such indefinite engagements founded on advances, taken from his despatch of August 21, 1874, to the Governor of the Gold Coast, in Paragraph 20, in which he was considering how to provide for the abolition of native and domestic slavery. He said— But besides slavery proper there is a species of slavery called 'pawning,' which has its origin in contract, and the chief feature of which is that the pawn remains in servitude to a temporary master, as a pledge for debt. A person whose opinion had great weight with him (Lord Stanley of Alderley), and he believed, would have no less with the Secretary of State for the Colonies, observed to him that before the Straits Settlements passed under the Colonial Office the immigration of Coolies from India was free, and as beneficial to the immigrants as it was to the Settlements. He (Lord Stanley of Alderley) believed that the cause of the change and of the necessity on the part of the Indian Government of imposing restrictions on Coolie emigration to the Straits had been the diminution of protection given to Coolies in the Straits, owing to the falling off in the quality and independence both of Judges and magistrates since the transfer of the Straits from the India Office to the Colonial Office. This falling off of judicial and magisterial quality seemed on the increase, and this downward tendency had been much advanced by the fact that summary jurisdiction formerly confined to the Government police magistrates, had recently lapsed into the hands of merchant and planter magistrates, who were not so well qualified. The noble Lord concluded by asking the Secretary of State for the Colonies to state the result of his inquiries into the death of two Indian Coolies from flogging in Province Wellesley; and to state what progress had been made in framing a law for the protection of Indian Coolies in the Straits Settlements.

Moved, That there be laid before the House, copy of the Law for the protection of Indian Immigrants.—(The Lord Stanley of Alderley).


, with all respect to the noble Lord who had just sat down, declined to deal with all the multitudinous points to which he had referred. The noble Lord had asked, first, whether any precautions were to be taken against the abuses which had been shown by the Report of the Commissioners recently appointed to inquire into the matter to exist. The best mode of answering this was to refer the noble Lord to the despatch which he (the Earl of Carnarvon) had based upon the Re-port and sent out to the Colonies, and which contained a great deal of information upon the subject. That despatch contained 27 distinct recommendations, and as the noble Lord had only criticized two of them, the remaining 25 might be claimed on the other side. It had been asked whether precautions would be taken to prevent the property of intestate Coolies from being wasted; and he could only say that this was probably a point well worthy of legislation. But, as a matter of fact, it sometimes happened that, even in our country, the property of intestates was wasted; and, therefore, it was not surprising that something of the same kind should happen in a distant part of the world. He had read an article recently published in a review, and mentioned by the noble Lord; but he was unable to agree with its conclusion that the Coolie system amounted to a modified form of slavery. Abuses might exist in connection with the system; but he saw no insuperable difficulty in the way of dealing with them in the Mauritius or elsewhere. The noble Lord, in speaking on this branch of the subject, had mixed up the question of the importation of Chinese Coolies in foreign ships and from foreign ports, with the importation of Coolies from India and China in English ships, under the English flag and under English law. He was quite willing to concede that the importation of Coolies from Macao under the Portuguese flag had been attended with cruelties and horrors. "Whatever might have been the intentions of the Portuguese Government, there could be no doubt that atrocities were committed under her flag the like of which he utterly and indignantly denied had ever occurred in English ships. If abuses had taken place they had been exceptional. Sir Bartle Frere, in drawing a distinction between the condition of the Coolie in India and his condition in an English Colony, put the case thus: In India the Coolie could not, as a rule, earn more than 1½d. or 2d. a-day, and was nearly always on the verge of starvation. In the British Colonies, on the other hand, he worked only five days in the week, and earned 1s. a-day; if he took task-work, he received for each task 1s.; he was well lodged, he was provided with medical attendance when sick, he was protected by special legislation, protectors were appointed to watch over him, and in almost every Colony he was guaranteed a free return passage to his own country if he desired it at the end of his period of service. Those persons, therefore, who spoke of them as undergoing modified slavery, threw about their words with a recklessness and imprudence which was mischievous, if not something worse. The condition of the Coolie in the English Colonies might be inferred from some figures which he was in a position to give their Lordships. In British Guiana, in eight years ending in June, 1872, 2,100 Coolies returned to their own country, taking with them no less than £64,000 of savings. In 1872, 1,100 returned, with £44,000; and in 1873, 950, with £24,500. From Trinidad, in 1873, nearly 400 returned, with £11,500 of savings; in 1874, 330, with over £16,000; and, besides this, there was no less than £40,000 stored in the Bank of Trinidad by these Coolies; and 60 of them alone had succeeded in placing £6,000 in the Colonial Bank at interest. Their position in the Colonies could not, under such circumstances, be said to contrast disadvantageously with their position in their own country. He would take one more instance. In the Mauritius, in seven years, ending in 1872, no less than £24,000 was remitted by Indian Coolies to India; in 1873, 619 returned homo with £8,500; and between 1860 and 1871 the enormous sum of £93,400 was actually invested by Indian Coolies in land in the Mauritius. These figures were so remarkable that they called for no comment from him. As he had already stated, every Coolie was entitled to a passage back to his own country; but in British Guiana they constantly refused it and preferred to remain in the Colony, and the same thing happened at Trinidad and the Mauritius. He wished he could answer as satisfactorily another part of the noble Lord's statement—namely, that which referred to the grievous cases of harshness and ill-treatment which were said to have occurred on two estates in the Straits Settlements. On inquiry, it was found that no case had been proved in reference to the transactions on one of the estates—the Alma—but on the other there had been gross mismanagement and cruelty, which in the case of some of the Coolies had been followed by the most serious results. There was want of hospital accommodation, of medical treatment, and of proper dwelling-houses, and there had been severe corporal punishment. In this case there were found guilty, among others, two Englishmen; they were not the owners of the plantation, but one of them was the owner and the other was an overseer. Although the offence did not legally amount to murder, still it was of a very brutal character and might have helped to cause the death of the two unfortunate men. It was perfectly true that both sentences had been commuted; but one of the men, being convicted under a second indictment, subsequently underwent a period of four months' imprisonment. He could only say that he regretted the whole matter extremely, and took some blame to himself that he had not made use of stronger language in reference to it. In future the Government would take every precaution by legislation to prevent a miscarriage of justice in cases of the same nature, and with that view he had pressed upon the local Government for a new ordinance which should deal with such questions, and which would prevent injustice being done to the Coolies. Much consideration had been given to the matter, and communications had been held with the Indian Government and with his noble Friend the Secretary of State for India, and the result had been that, although it was impossible to sanction all the proposals which had been submitted, still, so nearly was the business now concluded, that he hoped they might soon see the ordinance upon the subject. He trusted that a few days or a week would be sufficient for the purpose. He believed that he had fairly answered all the noble Lord's questions, and though they were questions which did not excite much interest in this country, yet they affected to a most important extent the condition of the Coolies. He felt, however, that do what the Government would in regard to legislation, there would always be some possibility of abuses springing up; but he hoped that by improved regulations those abuses would be reduced to a minimum.


said, he had heard the fair and able defence which had been made by his noble Friend in reference to the Coolie traffic, and was glad he was able to agree so cordially with much of what had been said. As he had himself taken part in this matter, he was unwilling to let the subject pass without making any remark. There were, no doubt, two sides to this question, the bright side and the dark one, which had been presented to their Lordships in respect of this particular instance in the Straits Settlements; but it would be unfair, unjust, and impolitic—and, indeed, most disadvantageous to the planters and to the Coolies, if they should rush to the conclusion that because abuses had occurred that there was no hope of a better state of things. As regarded the Mauritius, he was not one of the six persons referred to who had mastered the Report. It was exceedingly bulky, and required much study, and that was his excuse for not being better acquainted with the contents of that Blue Book; but he would suggest that the power which existed in the West Indies of depriving plantations of Coolie labour in case the Government should not be satisfied with the treatment of the Coolies should be resorted to in other Colonies, and he contended that Coolie emigration to the Mauritius should be entirely stopped if the Government there did not do what Her Majesty's Government required to be done. He was glad to find that new regulations had been made for the Straits Settlements, for it was not safe that Coolies should be employed in large numbers on any estate without special regulations being made for their well-being.


said, that he was entirely satisfied with the reply of the noble Earl the Secretary of State as to the Coolies flogged in Province Wellesley, and that their Lordships' time had not been wasted since that reply had been elicited. As to the savings of the Coolies in Guiana, that proved the faulty administration in Mauritius, and when the noble Earl said that the losses of intestate Coolies in Mauritius were the fault of the lawyers, he had forgotten that in this country there was a law for poor intestates to save them from inordinate legal expenses, and that quite recently their Lordships had passed a Bill of the same kind for intestate widows in Scotland. In answer to the noble Earl's denial that the statement of disasters and mutinies on board Chinese Coolie ships concerned England, and that such had never occurred in English ships, it was clear that the noble Earl had not read the Macao Blue Book, which was a Foreign Office Blue Book, since in the table there given out of 34 ships which had been set on fire, or on which the Coolies had mutinied, 14 were British, and 8 ships had sailed from the British port of Hong Kong. With regard to the Motion for Papers, as he had only set it down in order to secure for himself a reply, in consequence of the innovation in the practice of the House, by which the noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond) had recently prevented a noble Lord (Lord Carlingford) from replying as he had made no Motion, he would withdraw it with the leave of the House.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.

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