HL Deb 06 November 1888 vol 330 cc449-56

said, he desired to put to his noble Friend the Prime Minister a Question of which he had given him private Notice. His noble Friend would remember that last July he (the Earl of Harrowby) spoke with great apprehension of the dangers which he believed awaited our civilization on the coast of Zanzibar, and he wished now to ask his noble Friend the Prime Minister whether he could toll their Lordships what was the "more effective action" as to the Slave Trade which they were assured, by means of the public Press, the English Government were about to take now in concert with Germany on that coast? He confessed that he saw that announcement with some alarm. He had seen another announcement—but he did not know whether that was authoritative also—that the Universities Mission had received a warning that it would be well for them to leave their Mission Stations in the Pangani District—that was to say, in that district of country which stretched along the North of the country which was under the sphere of German influence up to the British territory. Their Lordships were aware that the members of the Universities Mission had been treated with great kindness and consideration by the Natives of that district, even though the whole of that district was in hot insurrection against German influence. A communication had been published from one of the loading Chiefs in the North, who stated that the English need not have the least fear; that the English were their friends; that they had no enmity against the White man as such; but that they were rising against what they considered to be the rough treatment of the Germans. It seemed to him that the moment was a very critical one. The Germans, no doubt, had been driven out, most unfortunately, from their stations along that long range of coast of 400 miles; but he asked himself—"What were the Germans driven out for by the Natives?" Was there the least evidence that the Germans were put to flight from that territory owing to any action on their part adverse to the Slave Trade? In the absence of official information, it was, of course, extremely difficult to be sure of the facts; but, as far as he could judge, he could not see that there was any trace that the treatment which the Germans had met with along that coast was at all owing to active exertions on their part to put down the Slave Trade. If the public papers were correct, it was announced that the English Government were now going to take more effective action against the Slave Trade in concert with Germany. Clearly that was a very important step one way or the other. They could not conceal from themselves that the German name had become very much out of favour with the whole of the Natives of all kinds and sorts along that coast. As Englishmen they very much regretted that, because they all wished that German colonization should answer. But there remained the fact that the Germans, as Germans, were very much out of favour among the Natives on that coast. If, therefore, we were going to unite with Germany in more forcibly repressing the Slave Trade, it might lead to very unfortunate results. The English name, so far, stood very high in that district. Certain Chiefs respected our fellow-countrymen there, and our influence was a very precious position for good. We ought, therefore, to consider the matter carefully before we allied ourselves openly with the Germans. A false step might influence our great position for good in the future over the whole of that vast district. Therefore, he thought they should receive from his noble Friend at the head of the Government some assurance either that this serious step was not to be taken, or that, if it were to be taken, it would be taken in such a way as to prevent a result which they would so very much deplore. He hardly liked to say a word more about the subject for fear of helping to complicate a very difficult position. He trusted, however, that the Prime Minister would be able to assure them that in any attack made by Germany on that coast, whether in retaliation or for the purpose of putting down the Slave Trade, the English Flag would not be seen with hers. The men along that coast had befriended English missionaries, and had shown the greatest goodwill towards the English race. It would be absolutely fatal to our influence over that district if the English Flag were seen joined with that of Germany in anything like an attack upon these men. He hoped that, while showing all anxiety to show a friendly and neighbourly feeling towards the Germans, we should be careful at this moment, when they had become odious to the Native races, not to associate ourselves with them. Portugal, France, and Germany were out of favour with the Native races, while the English name had always been held in high esteem, and it was therefore important that we should not be identified by the Natives with those countries.


said, that, as the Chairman of the Missionary Society to which the noble Earl had referred, he desired to acknowledge the kindness which they had always received from the noble Marquess and from the Foreign Office, and they were particularly thankful for the warning which had been given them as to the necessity of removing their missionaries before any trouble arose. He hoped, however, that the position of the missionary body on the Continent of Africa might be considered before any actual steps were taken. The removal of such a body of men could not be effected in a day. It might be the work of a week or even a month, and precipitate action might jeopardize the lives of men who might be working as far off as Lake Nyassa. Besides, he feared that the name of England would be mixed up in the minds of the Natives with that of Germany and other nations, who were in much disfavour at the present time, to the detriment of the missionaries. He had to-day been presiding over a meeting of the Universities Mission in Central Africa, at which great anxiety had been expressed with regard to the future of the Mission. He would not speak of the work which that Mission had achieved, but the manner in which they had for a number of years maintained even more than friendly relations with the Natives and the noble character of Bishop Smythies were the subject of admiration to all those who were acquainted with the history of the Mission. He had been requested by the Committee of the Society over which he had just been presiding to lay before the House the Resolution which had bean passed almost unanimously, and which, in the main, agreed with what had fallen from the noble Earl who had just spoken. The Resolution was in the following terms:— That, in the opinion of this Committee, any combined Military or Naval operations on the coast of East Africa carried on by England and Germany at the present crisis will be fraught with injurious results to the friendly relations which have been maintained for many years past between the Natives of East Africa and the English missionaries.


My Lords, perhaps it would have been more convenient if my noble Friend had deferred the Question he has asked me until I was able to lay some Papers touching the matter on the Table, which I hope to be able to do before the end of this week. But since the Question has been asked the best course I can follow is briefly to indicate what the position of things has been, and the course that Her Majesty's Government have thought it right to adopt. In consequence of the events which have taken place on that part of the coast which is under German influence, the German Government came to the opinion that it was necessary to take more effective measures than had hitherto been taken for preventing that kind of traffic on which the Slave Traders had hitherto subsisted. They formed a very strong opinion that it was to the action of the Slave Traders that their calamities were due. My noble Friend appears to think that that suggestion is answered by the fact that the Germans were not engaged in any special hostility to the Slave Trade. No; that is quite true. But they were engaged in doing that which would have absolutely killed the Slave Trade—that is to say, founding Colonies along the coast, and their operations were looked upon with very great apprehension and disgust by the Slave Trading Arabs. I confess I share, to a considerable extent, the opinion that these disturbances are due to that agency. I am led to that opinion from seeing that other indications of a recrudescence of this horrible traffic are to be found at the present time. We have most of us heard the facts laid before the world by Cardinal Lavigerie. They are more than fully confirmed by our own countryman, Mr. Cameron, who says that the Slave Trade is four times more active than it was a few years ago. We have it that from Lake Nyassa, far away in the South, to Suakin in the North, agencies apparently of the same kind are the cause of the serious attack upon European influence. I do not say that the Slave Traders have been the only cause of the calamities on the coast. I should say that the increase of the Slave Trade influence has been the disposing cause, and the very grave errors committed by the German Company have been the exciting cause, and the two together have resulted in the terrible misfortunes that have occurred. When the German Government came to the resolution that it was necessary for them to take measures to oppose and prevent the importation of arms and the exportation of slaves, they came to us and asked us if we would take the same course. Their ground for appealing to us was a very obvious one—namely, that we were their next door neighbours; and if you closed the German portion of the coast to the importation of ams and exportation of slaves, and left the English portion open, the result would be obvious; it would simply lead to turning the traffic round to the English coasts. We had to consider the question, and what we were asked to do was what, practically, we are doing at the present time. We have long been struggling against the exportation of slaves. We have lately prohibited the importation of arms; and a more general measure for the purpose on the African Coast had been a great deal under consideration. In fact, your Lordships will have seen that the Congo State has recently taken a very definite step in that direction. If we had only to deal with these facts, I should have said it was a wise step to accept the co-operation of Germany for purely naval measures—for there has been no suggestion or intention of our taking any military action whatever. It is purely naval action, to prevent the importation of arms and the exportation of slaves. I should say it would have been a wise course to have acted with Germany in this matter, especially if by so doing we were upholding the sovereignty and maintaining the independence of the Sultan of Zanzibar; whereas, if we stood sullenly aside, we might expose his authority to a variety of dangers from which it might be difficult to shield him. There was another consideration which, to my mind, was quite decisive. I refer to the great difficulty we have experienced in struggling with the Slave Trade from the refusal of France to give us the right to search ships. This refusal has now lasted for a great number of years. I do not want to utter a word of criticism on the conduct of the French Government in that matter. I have no doubt they are as earnestly anxious as we are to stop the Slave Trade, although some national considerations of high moment may have led them to adopt the course to which I have referred. But the fact is still the same, that they refused us the right of search. We cannot search a vessel running under the French colours. There are scarcely any French ports on these seas. But French papers are got without great difficulty in Madagascar and the Comoro Islands, and we have undoubted evidence that a trade has been carried on under the French Flag, which we have been wholly unable to check, because we have no right to stop and search French vessels. We represented this view very strongly to Germany, and the two Powers took occasion to approach the French Government. The French Government, although unwilling to depart from her traditional policy in this matter, have said that they are content to look upon a blockade such as we propose to institute as carrying, as one of its incidents, the right of searching every vessel, under whatever flag she may be running. So that we obtain by this arrangements with the Germans, for the first time, that which is of priceless value—namely, the power of stopping all vessels, under whatever flag they may sail, and I am glad to say that the French Government are going further, and it is probable that they will send a ship to join us in the naval operations which are about to take place. For these reasons I trust it will be seen that the advantages we gain by the arrangement far exceed any disadvantage with which it can be attended. My noble Friend (the Earl of Harrowby) rather reproached me last year with the consequences of the recent action taken on the East Coast of Africa, as giving greater facilities for the Slave Trade, and suggested that the accursed traffic was reviving. Well, now, here an opportunity occurs of striking against it such a blow as was never struck before. Are we to refuse that opportunity, lest, in the minds of some undistinguishing Natives, who hear of our actions out at sea, we should be confounded with the Germans, and the acts attributed to the Germans should be attributed to us? Surely that is a very slight and shadowy ground for refusal to carry out in the most effective way we can the policy that is traditional to this country, and being true to the cause which for three-quarters of a century we have upheld. My Lords, I fear that if we are to be particular as to our associates—if we do not like to be confounded with the Germans, the French, or the Portuguese, and will not accept any assistance in carrying on that great work of mercy in which this country has been engaged, we shall expose our sincerity to much suspicion, and I am sure we shall not be answering the earnest and generous wish of those at whose bidding these devoted missionaries—as the right rev. Prelate has said—have gone out. The Consul General, no doubt, telegraphed to say that he thought it would be desirable that the missionaries of the Universities Mission should be withdrawn for a time, or, at least, that the ladies and laymen should be withdrawn. Naturally, receiving such an intimation, we lost no time in communicating with the Universities Mission. But I do not myself believe that our operations at sea to prevent the exportation of slaves or the importation of arms, seeing that it is a thing which, so far as the exportation of slaves goes, we have done for many years, can add in any appreciable degree to the danger in which the lives of those excellent men stand. I believe they have the goodwill of all the innocent populations of those coasts. I believe they have the hearty ill-will of the Slave Trading community. But I am sure the Slave Trading community is one which will never be disarmed by affection or concession, and can only be operated upon by fear. Looking at the matter fairly and truly, I am of opinion you will really find an additional security for the life of every missionary in Africa if you break this accursed traffic, which is the only hindrance to the full fruition of their endeavours.


My Lords, I have only a few words to say on this important subject, inasmuch as the noble Marquess has promised to lay Papers regarding it on the Table. It appears to me that these Papers are likely to be of a satisfactory character, and I propose to defer any observations until they are in your Lordships' hands.