HL Deb 28 May 1889 vol 336 cc1224-40

My Lords, I desire to call the attention of your Lordships' House to the serious state of affairs on the East Coast of Africa, and to the serious danger to which the British missionaries in Eastern Africa will be exposed by hostile operations on the part of the German East African Company against Pangani, or against the inhabitants of other places in that part of Africa; and I have to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what steps he proposes to adopt to avert that danger. I hope the noble Marquess at the head of Her Majesty's Government will be prepared to take the necessary steps for the preservation of the English missionaries on the coast from the great dangers to which they are exposed in consequence of the hostile operations against Pangani and Tanga. In bringing this matter forward, I ask that indulgence from your Lordships' House, which I believe, is always extended to anyone who addresses your Lordships for the first time. I desire to occupy your Lordships' attention for as short a time as possible, but it is necessary that I should state very briefly how the present crisis, which so seriously threatens the lives of Englishmen, has been brought about. Not everyone of your Lordships, perhaps, may be aware how much has been done to promote good government and civilization, and to develop commercial enterprize at Zanzibar by the late Sultan, who died last year, under the influence and the guidance of Sir John Kirk, till recently Her Majesty's Consul General at Zanzibar. As compared with the state of things described by Captain Burton 20 years before, a complete transformation has been effected in the social, material, and political aspect of that part of Africa. Such, at least, is the evidence of the distinguished African traveller, Mr. Joseph Thomson, in an article which appeared in the February number of the "Contemporary Review." Life and property are secure; the missionaries hardly think it necessary to close their doors at night; the whole character of the slave trade is altered, and its worst features have been put down. The Arabs are getting accustomed to the idea of free labour, and trade, which is almost entirely in the bands of British residents, has increased in a remarkable degree. From quite an insignificant amount 20 years ago, the trade has been raised to the annual value of something little short of two millions sterling. So much, my Lords for the material condition of the country. But the religious and moral prospects of the country are no less encouraging. Some of your Lordships may remember the first beginnings and subsequent history of the mission which, about 28 years ago, the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge sent out to Zanzibar and the interior of the country. Those of your Lordships who are acquainted with the history of that mission will, I am sure, bear me out when I say that it is impossible to find a nobler record of work done for God, or with a more absolute and entire sacrifice of self, than is to be found in the history of that mission. My Lords, the Universities gave of their best; they grudged neither men nor money. These men, who were known to us at school and college, gave up everything—home, friends, and prospects—to throw themselves into this work, and some of them have sacrificed their lives to it. They have succumbed to the climate—among them two of the Bishops who headed the mission; but their places were taken by others, and the result is—the Established Church, the Free Church in Scotland, and the Church Missionary and London Mission Societies, having followed in the steps of the Universities' mission—that the east part of Africa is covered with mission stations, and an example has been set of which England has every reason to be proud. How great that work has been may be judged from the words of Mr. Joseph Thomson, who is certainly anything but a favourable witness where missionary work is concerned— The missionaries," says Mr. Thomson, in his article in the Contemporary Review, "have undoubtedly raised the moral level of thousands with whom they have come in contact; they have made the name of Englishman revered and admired throughout the length and breadth of East Central Africa, and they have raised unbounded confidence in his word and good intentions. But that is not all. In the recent troubles arising out of the German occupation, and while the Germans themselves have been in deadly conflict with the natives, the English, by common consent of Arabs and negro tribes alike, have been suffered to go to and fro between Zanzibar and the interior, it being openly declared by an excited population up in arms that this is owing to the value attached to the presence and work of the missionaries, and to the appreciation of the pure and devoted lives of the men they have watched so long and trusted so thoroughly. It should always be remembered that in all this civilizing work, England, with the exception of a French mission, which has also done excellent service, has been the sole agent so that I think there is every reason for the stongest intervention on the part of Her Majesty's Government in the circumstances which I will proceed to lay before the House. I desire to speak with every consideration for the difficulties of the present situation, and the susceptibilities of others; but facts are facts; and if justice is to be done, they must be stated. Unfortunately for the Sultan of Zanzibar and his subjects, unfortunately for the African tribes in the interior, unfortunately for the mission, and unfortunately, as I think, for themselves, the Germans in 1888 embarked in their colonization scheme for East Africa. That scheme was part of the "scramble" for Africa which, since 1884, has, so little to their credit, been displayed by the nations of Europe. The immediate result of that scheme of colonization was the violation on the part of Germany of all the rights of the Sultan of Zanzibar, who was forced to sign concessions greatly against his own interests, and who eventually found himself deprived of great portions of territory over which he had claimed authority. Large tracts in the interior were declared to be within the sphere of German influence, while within the limited region still left to him two-thirds of the coast line nearest to Zanzibar, including the access to our missionary stations, is to be administered by the German East African Company. The remaining third, but which is quite outside the sphere occupied by the missions, is to be administered in the same way by an English company, the country behind it being declared to be under British influence. Now, my Lords, I am compelled to ask, in the first place, by what right powerful European countries should portion out in that way large tracts of country that do not belong to them? Are they entitled to do so merely because they are more civilized and powerful than those with whom they come in contact? Can the fact that the authority claimed is indefinite in its character affect in the slightest degree the justice of the transaction? And then, secondly, if limits are to be traced and boundaries fixed, why are all the arrangements made without the representatives of the mission being permitted to know what is going on? Why is the mission all-owed suddenly to find itself transferred from the sphere of British influence and handed over to the German East African Company, whose ideas of liberty and the rights of individuals are entirely different from those current among Englishmen, and that, too, when a slight alteration in the boundary, which would have left the Germans in possession of a road to Kilima-Njaro, might have prevented, even if nothing else had been done, the particular. sources of danger to which the mission is now exposed? Without, however, pressing these questions, what cannot be denied is that the consequences of the arrangements are agreed to have been disastrous. The Sultan, with the loss of his territory, lost also his influence; the mode in which the German East African Trading Company proceeded to carry out their settlement was aggressive in the extreme; and the Arabs and the negro tribes made common cause and rose up in arms against them. It soon became apparent that what was left of the Sultan's authority on the coast would not be recognized by either Arab or negro if he continued his arrangements with the company, and that the company, without armed intervention, could not hope to re-establish themselves in any coast town. Trade ceased altogether, security for life and property disappeared, and the present state of affairs is this, that the German Government, though it has censured the conduct of the colonists, is now engaged in a struggle for the re-occupation of a territory out of which the lawful owners have been partly cajoled and partly threatened, and of which the new owners have never at any time had more than a nominal possession. All that, as your Lordships will see, is not enough; but, bad as it is, the position of affairs becomes infinitely worse when. England, under the plea of assisting in an attempt to put down the slave trade, is. induced to join in a naval blockade against the transport of slaves and munitions of war along the whole coast, But, my Lords, whatever it may have been with us, the primary object of tha blockade was not the suppression o the slave trade with others. Those who know Africa best are unanimous that it could affect the evils of the slave trade only in the very slightest degree; in some respects, indeed, it has increased them. It has inflicted untold miseries on the natives. The object of the blockade was to assert the alleged rights and repair the failure of the German East African Company; and what it has done has been to inflict untold miseries, not only on the so-called insurgent towns, but on the innocent tribes of the interior, who, being deprived of their supply of firearms and gunpowder, are at the mercy of their marauding neighbours—miseries which we might have prevented, but instead have rendered possible by our co-operation with Germany. Hitherto, while the Germans have never met with any encouragement from the natives, Englishmen have been received everywhere with open arms. Now they are both being classed together as the natural enemies of the black man. I have said enough to put your Lordships in possession of the present position of affairs. The immediate peril to the mission which results from that position of affairs, if the East African Company, as they threaten to do, attack Pangani and Tanga, both of them within 30 miles of the mission stations, and by which access is obtained to them from the coast, is most grave and imminent. We may have the most serious news at any moment, for it is expected that Lieutenant Wissmann, who commands the German forces, will commence operations against those places at the close of the rainy season, and if he does, such an attack may very probably lead to a general massacre,which will sweep away the whole of the missions and missionaries together. It is to meet this peril, if indeed it be not too late, that I have brought the matter before the attention of your Lordships' House, and I would ask Her Majesty's Government, with all the earnestness of which I am capable, what steps they are preparing to take in order to avert it? The missionaries desire no interference on their behalf with either the Arabs or the negroes, but they do expect, and those who are interested in their welfare have a right to claim for them, that the Government at home shall use all the influence which diplomacy can exert to protect them and the people among whom they have been working for so long, from the consequences of the action of another European Power. It seems to me that prompt and vigorous action is required from all those who are interested in the welfare of the African people, and who have the safety of the missions and the honour of England at heart. I think, and I trust your Lordships will agree with me, that the time has come when a strong protest should be addressed without delay to the German Government against the threatened attack on Pangani and Tanga. My Lords, I think it might be represented to Prince Bismarck that such an attack must go far to destroy the fruits of the devoted labours of British missionaries, which, during 25 years, have cost this country most valuable lives and large sums of money, and must place the lives of the missionaries themselves in the gravest peril; that if any serious catastrophe, arising from the conduct of the German company, should occur, the feeling of indignation in England is likely to be so strong that it would make any cooperation with Germany in maintaining the blockade impossible; and that the German Government might therefore be asked to take immediate and effective action to restrain the company from undertaking military operations against Pangani and Tanga, or in any other place where they were likely to expose the missionaries to danger. My Lords, it does not appear to me that such remonstrances need be the less firm and decided because they are made in the most friendly and conciliatory spirit. We should, as it seems to me, frankly admit the very serious difficulties in which the German company have found itself placed, and we should express a most sincere desire to afford it every help in our power in endeavouring to extricate itself by peaceful means from the difficulties by which it is surrounded. What has already taken place on the African Coast, and in view of the present state of feeling of the native population, makes it impossible that peace and order can be re-established among them by force of arms without an expenditure of lives and money altogether out of proportion to any benefit that can be derived from it. My Lords, I think this state of things is also a proof of the evils resulting from conferring powers of government and administration on trading companies, as distinct from facilities for commercial enterprize. Your Lordships will remember that in 1833, when the Act for renewing the charter of the East Indian Company was passed, the company was prohibited from engaging in the future in any mercantile transaction, on the ground that it was not expedient to allow a body of traders to exercise the powers of government. The German company, if its attentions were confined to agriculture and commerce, might prove successful in deriving a profit from its operations; but the success of trade and agriculture is impossible without peace and order and the goodwill of the population, and all hope of these, for the present at least, has been lost by the harsh way in which the powers which the Sultan of Zanzibar was made to concede to them have been exercised, especially by the way in which duties on imports have been levied. This feeling of hostility to the company will certainly not be removed by further warlike proceedings, and while it lasts, neither agriculture nor commerce can be carried on with profit. Nor is it more likely that the company, after paying for the cost of maintaining its authority by force of arms, will realize a revenue by taxation which will afford the means of paying an interest on the capital of the shareholders. Considerations such as these, which are in the interests of the Germans themselves, might surely be submitted to Prince Bismarck, and might lead not only to such steps in the immediate present as are required to insure the safety of our missionaries, but to further arrangements in the future, to the great benefit of Africa and of commercial enterprize generally. Without entering, however, into these larger matters, I will only repeat that I earnestly hope, whatever else may be done or left undone, Her Majesty's Government will at once address an energetic protest to the German Government against the proposed attack on Pangani and Tanga. If that duty be not performed, and a disaster should be suffered by the British missionaries, I am convinced a very deep feeling of indignation will be aroused throughout the country. It has, indeed, been suggested that in order to avoid the dangers hanging over them the missionaries, should withdraw, but I do not think that any Member of this House would endorse such advice. Danger is no reason why the missionaries should withdraw. It is a reason why they should stay. It is not necessary to save one's life, but it is necessary to save it from dishonour. The missionaries cannot—they will not —abandon their converts, and leave them exposed to what is worse than death, the danger of apostasy. The Bishop writes in the most explicit terms to say:— We should consider it the gravest dereliction of duty and disgraceful to us as Christians and missionaries to abandon the native Christians, and under no circumstances can we consent to do so. He and his clergy and the staff of the missions will remain at their posts, and, if need be, die at them. If they do they will have done their duty, and they will reap their reward; and I, for one, shall pity only those who, directly or indirectly, are responsible for a state of things which has produced such a wrong to our own country, such misfortune to Africa, and so great a disgrace to the English name.


I shall not take up very much of the time of your Lordships' House, but I wish to strongly emphasize the fact which has been so plainly pointed out by the noble Viscount, that it is absolutely impossible the missionaries should be withdrawn from their posts. It is not as if they had just gone there and were beginning their work. They have won a large number of converts; they have lived among those people and conciliated their affections; and it would be quite impossible for them in the hour of danger to withdraw without doing spiritual mischief such as it was impossible for ministers of the Gospel to contemplate. Any advice that might be given to the missionaries to withdraw from their posts would, I am certain, be quite useless, and, indeed, such advice ought not to be given. The circumstances are such as to make it imperative upon them to stay. My Lords, I do not venture to enter into details as to what should be done in this matter. I have the greatest confidence in the Government, and believe that they earnestly desire to see that right is done; but I think it might assist them in doing right if they were supported by a strong feeling in the country that every effort should be used to maintain peace in Zanzibar. If it be possible to put a stop to warlike operations, if the Government have it in their power by any means whatever to prevent or diminish bloodshed—and it is no ordinary bloodshed that is likely to result from the continuance of such warlike operations as are threatened—I would press upon the Government that the effort is a duty which they owe to both the interest and the honour of England.


My Lords, I cannot help adding my voice to the appeals which have been made to the Government in this matter. I do not think there can be anything of much more importance in the interest of humanity than for us to do something now, if it be possible, towards paying the debt we owe to Africa for the wrongs we have done her for so many generations. I feel, my Lords—as indeed I am sure you must all feel—that it is a terrible reproach to European civilization, and to the Christian name, that apparently we cannot come into contact with savage tribes without doing them harm and wrong. My Lords, we have been for some time past endeavouring to repair the many wrongs we have done these people by all the means in our power. There is every ground for confidence that the efforts which are being made to carry civilization and the Gospel into the interior of Africa from the east coast will be successful in achieving a very great work if they are not interfered with. All the accounts which have reached us of the conduct of the noble band of men who have been engaged in that work, not only evoke the strongest sympathies of us all in the great work they are doing, but create the greatest confidence that, unless something is done to frustrate their work, it will bring blessing to Africa. Not much more than a year ago we had accounts of the devotion not only of the English missionaries, but of young men, their converts—Africans, negroes—who had been sent out, had stood the fire of a cruel persecution, and had suffered torture and death with a fortitude equal to that of the primitive Christian martyrs. The account of those young negro men who died by torture rather than do base and vicious acts at the command of the barbarous chieftain of the country in which they lived, was, I think, equal to any heroism that we can read of in history. I am sure that the work which is going on, so great and promising as it is, cannot fail to receive the respect and sympathy of all. Germans are now, by their military operations, in danger of counteracting this work in that region, in which they may be said to have first begun it; for it happens that about 50 years ago the first explorers of that region were two German missionaries, named Kraps and Isenberg. If the dangers now threatening this good cause were thoroughly understood by the German Government, I feel sure they would take means to compel their citizens to limit their warlike operations in the interest of humanity.


My Lords, I am unwilling to detain you by anything I can say in this matter lest I should take away from the effect which the eloquent yet cautious appeals made to your Lordships must produce. I can only add my testimony to what has been said, having been lately engaged in looking through the history of the work done by the missions. I must bear my testimony to the fact that the noble Viscount has made his statement upon the work of the missions without exaggeration, and that he has understated rather than overstated the good effected. The knowledge of this work has penetrated this whole country. I am sure I do not exaggerate when I say that a deep feeling of thankfulness has taken possession of all for the work done by these African missions. It was only last week that St. Paul's was filled with an immense congregation at a week-day morning service, and meetings equally crowded were held in the afternoon and evening to listen to addresses upon this subject from people who knew what they were saying. It is, I agree with the speakers who have already addressed your Lordships, altogether impossible that these benefactors of Africa can withdraw one foot. They have not only been doing their work as clergymen and civilizers, but they have already succeeded in planting settlements over a great tract of African Continent, and are moving onward in a new path. My Lords, if they were to withdraw, or were even advised to withdraw, this would be a thing unparalleled in the whole history of Christianity. Such a work, such a mission, has never been with drawn from yet by the Church for fear of danger. My Lords, I should like to point out that the danger is not merely the general danger which women, children, and missionaries are likely to suffer when a general state of warlike agitation exists in the country. All are of course placed in a position of danger. But there are distinct, definite dangers to which the very work that has been done peculiarly exposes these missions and converts. At this moment the news of the expected onset of war is travelling inland like a great wave rushing onwards among all the tribes of that part of Africa. When war does break out it is quite certain that the tribes of the interior will come pouring down, and making no distinction, will look upon all white faces as the faces of enemies. But, my Lords, there is another great danger which exists in the very excellence of the buildings which the missionaries have erected. Almost the only solid, substantial buildings in the districts are those which have been erected at these missions. The missionaries have built great granite churches, huge rectangular buildings and courts of all kinds for the purpose of carrying on their civilizing work. There is the definite certainty that those substantial buildings must be occupied by belligerents, either invaders or invaded, and they will he made the basis of operations if warfare begins at all. That, therefore, is a great danger to be avoided. There can be no doubt that the first burst of assault on either side will be delivered on the homes of the missionaries. It is not merely, therefore, protection of their persons that is wanted. If they were withdrawn, or if they removed in order to be taken care of, a great obstacle would be laid in the path of Christianity. It would be felt that these missionaries who came there with professions of love and zeal for the welfare of the African people were ready to desert their fellow Christians whom they had made believers, and to take care of themselves in the hour of danger. My Lords, I am sure there is an intense feeling throughout the country, which is deepening every day, a trust that some arrangement may be made between the German and the English Governments by which, in the first instance, the persons of the missionaries and their people might be protected, and, in the second, the whole cause saved from destruction.


My Lords, I much wish that the notice of the noble Viscount had indicated more fully the subject matter he intended to bring before us, because he has mixed up with the matter indicated in his notice—that of immediate danger to the missionaries—many controverted questions with which it is impossible to deal unless sufficient notice has been given. There are questions of diplomacy which could not be raised in the absence of some of those who are largely responsible for what has passed. I am not prepared to give to the noble Lord's account of those transactions that testimony for accuracy which the most rev. Prelate has given to his account of the condition of the Universities mission. There are many points in respect of which I should challenge his account of the past. For instance, he spoke of German colonization having begun in 1888. I cannot follow his chronology, for it began with the German Protectorate in 1884. Negotiations went on at the end of Earl Granville's time, during the time I was at the Foreign Office, and during Lord Rosebery's time, and the line which the noble Lord alluded to, settling the limits of German and of English influence, was drawn about two months after Lord Iddesleigh came into office. No doubt this is a subject suitable for discussion; there are a great many interesting questions raised by it; but it is a subject which can only be examined by the light of the correspondence, if we had it in our hands, and which cannot be properly dealt with without any notice that it would be the subject of special consideration. We must draw a line at the time when the Germans became, by International Law, practically masters of the territory in question. The procedure by which they became masters of it is, of course, open to comment and discussion and to the examination of any responsibility that any Minister of the Crown may have had. When once we pass the time at which agreements were made and this territory had become to all intents and purposes German territory, it is then merely confusing the question to mix up the consideration as to how that territory was acquired with the events that subsequently occurred. Again, I must take exception to the terms in which the noble Lord described the blockade. He rather intimated that the two Powers which had undertaken it had done so without any intention to suppress the slave trade. I do not think there is the slightest foundation for such an insinuation. I believe that during the time the blockade has lasted the slave trade has been absolutely stopped; many hundred dhows have been searched; and in not more than one has any trace of the slave trade been discovered. The slave trade across the water has been absolutely stopped by these operations. Of course, you cannot stop a great crime of this kind without irritating the criminals. You must give up all hope of ever arresting this terrible scourge if you are to be deterred by the fear of what may be done by those who set it on foot and who get their living by it. You must brave their wrath if you are to carry your efforts to a successful conclusion. But the matter which is the subject of the noble Lord's question, and which, I think, is a proper subject for our consideration, has nothing to do with the original acquisition of the German territory. When the strip of coast was taken possession of by the German company it was terribly mismanaged. Great mistakes were made, and the result was a rising among the Mahomedans principally, aided by many natives, and this caused a vast calamity. If the noble Lord asks for our regret for that, we give it earnestly, but it is not we who caused the calamities. We had nothing to do with the conduct of the colonizing operations; we were not responsible for the mistakes that occurred or the calamities that followed them. Now, we are in the presence of this state of facts. The German Government say that for the sake of their military honour, for the sake of their colonial interests, for the sake of the rights they have acquired, it is essential to them as a nation to re-establish their supremacy upon those points of the coast where they have been defeated, and it is at their expense and under their authority that the operations are being conducted. The result of those military operations, which are just like any other military operations, which are as defensible or as indefensible as any other act of war, has been to cause a natural feeling of violent excitement and perturbation throughout the surrounding country—an awakening of animosities and quarrels and race hatreds, creed hatreds, and hatreds arising from prejudices. That state of things is not, of course, peculiar to those military operations; it is the same in any operations that may be conducted against any nation on any uncivilized coast—in any we may have conducted in the east or the south, just as much as in those conducted by the Germans. But most unhappily at a station not far from the coast there is established the Universities mission, which is maintained by Bishop Smythies and a devoted following from the Universities. I most freely and earnestly subscribe to all that has been said by the previous speakers in praise of the splendid self-denial of those men. It is impossible to speak of their high duties and action with too great enthusiasm. Whether they have on this occasion adopted a right course of conduct I very much doubt. They were warned by the Consul General in August last that their position was dangerous, and that they had better withdraw in time. They were warned again in November, they were warned again in April, and I believe they have just been warned once more. But to all those warnings they have turned a deaf ear. They said a higher duty than any earthly prudence impelled them to remain where they were. It is impossible to praise too highly the spirit which dictates such conduct, but the position of the secular authorities becomes embarrassing in the extreme. Every British subject has a right to appeal to the British Authorities to do all they can to protect him, to save his life and liberty, to rescue him in any difficulties. But as a corresponding duty he must conform to the advice of the secular authority to which he appeals; and this is what the missionaries decline to do. In those circumstances, they declining to move from this agitated district in the presence of great, immediate, but only temporary danger, and their friends at the same time here calling on the British Authorities to protect them, we are placed in a position which, I think, any one who will consider it calmly must acknowledge to be one in which we ought not to be placed. I do not believe that, if I may express my opinion on so great a question, it is an article of Christian duty to remain unnecessarily in the presence of danger which by reasonable precaution might be avoided. I do greatly honour the motives of the men doing those things, but I cannot honestly say that I think they have taken the wisest, best, and most Christian course. The noble Lord calls upon us to rescue them. How are we to do it? We cannot despatch an army. I do not suppose the noble Lord will recommend us to send the Mediterranean fleet to stop these operations. But he recommends us to try the exhortations of diplomacy. Does any one who has paid any attention to diplomatic history seriously think that the considerations on which the noble Lord dwelt with so much eloquence, passion, and evident sincerity have not been weighed by the men who are responsible for this conduct; and that coming from us, they will have the power of turning back the strong motives which are expressed in the words "military honour and Imperial necessity"? I can only say that heart and mind I am most earnestly with everything said by the noble Lords who have spoken; and whatever may be the subject matter of their recommendations the mere authority of the two right rev. Prelates and the noble Lords who spoke is enough to cause me to make earnest representations to the German Government. This I shall do, being urged to it by their representations and their high authority. But I do not for a moment say that I believe it is in the power of any diplomatic exhortation, or any exhortation of a higher kind than diplomatic, to put a stop to those military operations. The only sonnd, proper, and genuine way for the missionaries to reconcile their Christian duty with the danger in front of which they find themselves, and the only way to avert calamities, which will be heartrending to all who hear of them in this land, and which will give a terrible blow to the progress of Christian missions, is for them to withdraw for a time, for a brief time, in presence of a danger which is the necessary result of military operations, and which will disappear when those military operations are at an end. My voice is not strong enough to reach them. I have done my best, and I shall earnestly impress any possible precautions in this matter on the German Government. I trust that those devoted men may not suffer a fate which I cannot but feel that their own imprudent conduct has to some extent courted.