House of Commons, 27 February, 1857
RESOLUTION MOVED. RESUMED DEBATE (SECOND NIGHT).
HC Deb 27 February 1857 vol 144 cc1495-585 1495
§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [26th February]— That this House has heard with concern of the conflicts which have occurred between the British and Chinese authorities in the Canton river; and, without expressing an opinion as to the extent to which the Government of China may have afforded this Country cause of complaint respecting the non-fulfilment of the Treaty:1842, this House considers that the Papers which have been laid upon the Table fail to establish satisfactory grounds for the violent measures resorted to at Canton in the late affair of the Arrow.
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
Mr. Speaker, I rise with extreme anxiety, first of all, to apologise for the presumption of which I may have been deemed guilty, in offering myself thus prominently to the notice of the House. But I should not have done so, had I been able to catch your eye, after several efforts, last night, and were I not about to be absent for a lengthened period on the circuit. I shall take care to offer the only apology I can, by being brief, and not standing long in the way of many distinguished Members whom this House, and none more than I, are anxious to hear on this most momentous question. But, Sir, it is because I think it so momentous, that I am impelled to place my own opinions on record by taking part in the debate, as well as by giving my vote. It is a question demanding dispassionate consideration, as vitally affecting the interests of humanity, and the honour and character of the nation. We ought, on this occasion, to exercise our legislative functions in a true judicial spirit, wholly discarding party considerations, as wholly unworthy of a great deliberative assembly, engaged on such a subject as that before us. For my own part, I solemnly disclaim being influenced by party spirit on this occasion. Before I had the honour of a seat in this House, I declared that I would give the noble Viscount opposite a generous though guarded support, while sustaining the tremendous pressure of responsibility which weighed on him in conducting the late war. I say in his presence, that I have redeemed that pledge. I have never given a factious vote against him, and I will not now. If I did, I should be utterly unworthy of a seat in this House. But when I find the Government deliberately ratifying and identifying themselves with the acts, the objects, and the policy of their representative in China, it becomes of infinite consequence that we should ascertain the true character of those acts and objects—of that policy—and so see whether it is our duty to support or censure the Government, and the grounds of our decision ought to be distinctly understood by the people at large. Sir, a mighty mouth-piece of public opinion—The Times—has this morning said, that in the course of these debates it somehow happens that noble Lords elsewhere, and honourable Members here, contrive to come to conclusions on the subject marvellously tallying 1497 with their political interests and predilections. However that may be, I shall at once proceed to deal with the subject now before us, and which, by the Resolution in its altered form, as you have just read it from the Chair, is narrowed to a single and distinct issue. Do we, Sir, or do we not, consider that the papers which have been laid upon the table fail to establish satisfactory grounds for the violent measures resorted to at Canton, in the late affair of the Arrow? The Resolution being thus disembarrassed of the second part of it, hon. Members, like my hon. Friend the Member for the Cardigan burghs (Mr. Davies), can give their vote upon the broad question as it stands. Sir, let us see how this great affair was introduced to the notice of Parliament, in Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech:— Her Majesty commands us to inform you, that acts of violence, insults to the British flag, and infraction of treaty rights, committed by the local Chinese authorities at Canton, and a pertinacious refusal of redress, have rendered it necessary for Her Majesty’s officers in China to have recourse to measures of force to obtain satisfaction. Those measures had, up to the date of the last accounts, been taken with great forbearance,—[forbearance ! Sir, where has been our forbearance?] “but with signal success as regards the conflicts to which they had led. We are commanded to inform you, that Her Majesty trusts that the Government of Pekin will see the propriety of affording the satisfaction demanded, and of faithfully fulfilling its treaty engagements. Sir, how do these passages look now, by the light of the bulky blue-books since submitted to us? Do they justify those passages—as to the necessity existing for those “violent measures” which our representatives have taken, in shelling a defenceless city? Sir, I do not go the length of the hon. Mover of this Resolution, who says, that these blue-books are “garbled.” That is a very grave charge to bring against the Government—the falsifying evidence laid before us as premises, from which to deduce our inferences; and though I believe he considers himself fully justified in making the charge, I myself have seen no grounds for it, and assume that those papers are genuine—that the noble Lord and his colleagues dare not so to deceive us and the country. I acquit them of that charge; and let me also say, that I intend to impute nothing blameworthy to the naval authorities concerned in these operations. No, Sir, wherever, all over the terraqueous globe, the sunshines 1498 on our blue jackets and red jackets, they only reflect lustre on their country. They do their duty—they obey their orders—and the responsibility rests with those who issue the orders. And, Sir, I think that throughout the whole mass of this correspondence, and of all these papers, one thing gleams forth vividly and with unerring distinctness—that Sir John Bowring has made, or seized, a flimsy pretext for the purpose of carrying into effect, at what he deemed a fortunate moment, long-cherished designs. That, Sir, is my conscientious and deliberate opinion, on weighing this mass of papers, and I shall not lose myself among these details, which are now familiar to every Member of the House. But if that be so, consider how grave is the responsibility of the Government, now that they have deliberately affirmed the acts and adopted the policy of Sir John Bowring. They knew all along what his designs were, and that he was only waiting for a favourable moment to carry them into effect; and when news comes that he has done so, they do not disavow and repudiate, but boldly justify and uphold him and his doings. Does any one here suppose that he would have ventured on what he has done—would have actually commenced a war with China—if he had not felt perfectly certain that he should be supported by the authorities at home, who would assume the full responsibility of ratifying acts done, in fact, in accordance with instruction? Sir, I applaud the spirit and generosity which dictate the supporting of a public servant discharging harassing duties in a distant part of the globe, against captious and unjust cavillings and censure at home; but the Government, in doing so, must have well considered the consequences of so ratifying the acts of their agent. He has, doubtless, then, as we must assume, acted all along on secret instructions—secret instructions which, probably, we shall never know—directing him to seize, or if necessary, make, an opportunity for forcing an entrance into Canton. Had it been otherwise, would they not have instantly taken steps to recall him—to tie his hands—to stop the cruel and prodigal shedding of innocent blood? But they have not done so—bloodshed and war are at this moment going on, with the complete approval of the Home Government!
Sir, the question which then challenges our decision is one swollen into infinitely too great proportions to be capable of being 1499 cramped and condensed into a mere dry legal argument—and yet the legal aspect of the case is essential to be considered—but I regard that as settled completely by the luminous and irrefragable reasons given with perfect judicial cogency in the House of Lords. [“Order, order!”] I beg pardon, I mean by certain personages in a certain other place—a place hidden in dim and mysterious obscurity, and which I am forbidden to name. The opinions of Lord Lyndhurst and Lord St. Leonards conclusively dispose of the whole case, in its legal bearings: and a noble Friend of mine, recently entered into that other place, I mean Lord Wensleydale, as far as I could hear him, while upholding the legality of those proceedings, said that he was by no means clear upon the subject, and was not without considerable misgivings. But, Sir, there was another noble and learned Lord also present during the discussions in that other place—he heard the elaborate judgments delivered by those two great lawyers and ex-Chancellors—I am alluding to Lord Campbell, a most able lawyer, almost as great a common and constitutional lawyer as any of his predecessors in the office of Lord Chief Justice of England—he heard those two judgments, and had he differed from them, would doubtless have got up and said so. But he did not, because he could not conscientiously, and by his significant silence gave assent to their unanswerable reasonings. Sir, that silence I regard as a weighty and a remarkable fact, and it helps to relieve me from the necessity of offering any legal arguments to the House. Well, Sir, war has now commenced with China, and is being carried on, according to these very papers themselves, in a way at which humanity shudders. Thus the vast question seems—is it a just or an unjust war? That depends on whether there were a fitting occasion for war—have the Chinese really afforded us a distinct and conclusive justification for our warlike proceedings? Or has a flimsy pretext been manufactured for the purpose by Sir John Bowring,—in fact, a false pretence? Look, Sir, at the only two short sentences with which I shall trouble the House, for they completely settle this part of the question.
Says Sir John Bowring, in writing to Mr. Parkes:— I have conveyed to Sir Michael Seymour an opinion that if his Excellency and yourself agree on the fitness of the opportunity”— Mark, “the fitness of the opportunity!”— 1500 it would be as well if the vexata quœstio of our entrance into the city should now be settled, at least as far as to secure us an official reception there. And on another occasion Sir John Bowring says to Sir Michael Seymour:— If your Excellency and the Consul should concur with me in opinion that the circumstances are auspicious for requiring the fulfilment of treaty obligations, as regards the city of Canton, and for arranging an official meeting with the Imperial Commissioner within the city walls, I shall willingly come to Canton for the purpose. Now, Sir, I see before me the two law officers of the Government—the Attorney General and the Solicitor General. My hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General is an eminent equity lawyer—a dexterous and profound equity lawyer, and possessing a scientific knowledge of its principles. He knows that one great maxim of his Court is, that they who want equity must do equity. Where, I ask him, is the equity of our proceedings in China? We have none, as I shall presently show, in a word. Then there is my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, skilled in common law and criminal law. Let him come to the rescue of the Government. It is a principle of our law, that acts indicate intention. A man’s previous intentions are to be judged by his subsequent acts. What, in our consciences, do we believe to have been Sir John Bowring’s intention in seizing on the alleged insult to our flag on the Arrow? Actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea—and if his intention in doing so was not really to avenge a deliberate insult to his country’s flag, but to afford a pretext—a colourable claim of right—merely to give him an opportunity of effecting an ulterior, sinister, and long-cherished object—to vamp up a pretence of right in order to take a bloody revenge for an alleged infraction of it, can there be two opinions on his conduct? I challenge the Attorney and Solicitor Generals to rise and defend the Government on this part of the case, and, in doing so, to prove from these papers that the Arrow was a British ship, which I totally and emphatically deny.
Sir, I spoke just now about the equity of our proceedings, and I beg the permission of the House to call its attention for a moment to a certain important debate which took place here on the 9th of April, 1840, when the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir James Graham) brought forward a Resolution— 1501 That the interruption in our commercial and friendly relations with China, and the hostilities which have since taken place, are mainly to be attributed to the want of foresight and precaution on the part of Her Majesty’s advisers in respect to our relations with China, and especially to their neglect to furnish the Superintendent at Canton with power and instructions calculated to provide against the growing evils connected with the contraband trade in opium, and adapted to the novel and difficult situation in which he was placed. That Resolution was enforced by the right hon. Baronet in a speech of great power, and was followed by the late Sir Robert Peel, from whose speech I beg leave to read a single passage. This was how he spoke, with grave apprehension, when he merely suspected that we were at war with China:— I beg the House to remember that, although no communication has been made from the Crown, although no message has been sent down to the House, it appears, from the distinct and intelligible declarations of two Ministers of the Crown, that we are on the eve of hostilities with a country which, in point of population, exceeds all that of the continental countries of Europe—nay, at this moment we may actually have entered into hostilities with a nation comprising a population of 350 millions of inhabitants—very little short, in fact, of one-third of the whole human race! It is certainly not surprising that with these indications of hostilities, which none can mistake, although the Crown has sent down no communication, and has invited no opinion from the House of Commons—it is certainly, I repeat, not surprising that the House of Commons should inquire what are the causes of, and who are the parties responsible for, this great and acknowledged calamity. Sir, this question has now to be asked by ourselves—when we are actually and avowedly at war with this immense empire—and we, too, have had no previous communication made from the Throne—no Message sent down to the House to take our opinion on so momentous a subject. We have been dragged, or rather plunged into war we knew not why or wherefore—a war which may be attended with great and totally unlooked-for results—and I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) in what he said the other night, that our boasted control over the exercise of the prerogative in making war is a mere farce. If we inquire before it begins, the noble Viscount jumps up and says—”Oh, you are too soon.” If we ask while it is going on, he says—”Don’t interfere—you’ll ruin all.” If we wait till it is over—”Oh, you’re too late; it is ungracious and useless!”—Sir, the Resolution of the right hon. Baronet to which I have referred 1502 points to the hidden root of the whole matter—the opium trade with China. We have not clean hands. We have made the Chinese our deadly enemies. We insist on doing so in spite of their long-continued objections and resistance—we are corrupting their morals and their health, and destroying the internal strength and resources of the Celestial Empire—and all for filthy lucre. Sir, no man is more anxious than I to see our commerce flourishing and extending itself all over the earth; but are there not higher considerations than trade and commerce—than money-making? What are they to public morality—to national virtue—to the maintenance of the national character for justice and humanity? It is these great interests that are now imperilled, and it is this that invests this subject with its real importance. I wish to extricate the true question as one of public morality from the meshes of mere moneymaking and commercial enterprise. I am no member of the peace-at-any-price party, as it is called, but very jealous of the national honour and dignity. I have met—I don’t know where—with a noble line which I think exactly indicates the proper attitude and spirit of this country with reference to foreign States—that it should be a— Lover of peace, but not afraid of war. But, Sir, if we are bent blindly and obstinately on persevering in war for a sinister and unhallowed object, we shall attract to ourselves the reprobation of the whole civilized world. Let us look above the mists of passion, of selfishness, and love of gain, at the star of justice and then we need fear nothing.
- ”Thrice is he armed, who hath his quarrel just,
- And he but naked, though locked up in steel,
- Whoso conscience by injustice is corrupted.”
Sir, I speak in a perfectly calm temper, and say that our vote is a matter of conscience. It behaves every one of us who has, according to our bounden duty, read and considered these papers, to ask himself, do they establish, or do they fail to establish, satisfactory grounds for the late violent proceedings at Canton? I believe the eyes of the whole country are intently fixed on us, and that it will closely and sternly scrutinize the decision at which we may arrive, and so will foreign countries. I, who belong to the Opposition, consider it the duty of a loyal Opposition to presume in favour of Her Majesty’s Government—to support Her authority, which they wield, as long as I believe they 1503 are doing it wisely and justly, and for the benefit of the country; but as I feel in my conscience—having looked into the matter with as much light as I could get—that I cannot bring myself to approve of what has been done at Canton—believing, on the contrary, that it is altogether wrong—it is my duty to affirm the Resolution of the hon. Member for the West Riding. I hope that even yet, at this, the eleventh hour, some clear, satisfactory, cogent reasons may be given by the Government in support of these lamentable transactions. Such expectations I await with anxiety, but, I confess, with little hope; and in the meantime I say that I shall give my sincere and cordial support to the Resolution.
said, he would endeavour to state as briefly and clearly as he could the grounds upon which he thought the proposition of the hon. Member for the West Riding ought not to receive the sanction of the House. The sentiments so strongly expressed last night by hon. Gentlemen who supported the Resolution, at all events commended themselves to every generous mind, and he was not surprised that they had produced considerable effect upon the House. But, although he had himself been carried away to some extent, he felt, as the tide of eloquence rolled on, that they had been travelling somewhat too rapidly over difficult and dangerous ground. It was quite true that the topics upon which they heard so much last night were most important in the consideration of a question of this nature. Peace with a great nation like China—the respect due to its antiquity, its civilization, and its enormous population—the regard which ought to be entertained by a strong Power towards one of comparative weakness—the prevention of mischievous intermeddling which might plunge this country into war without sufficient reason—the faith of treaties—the maintenance of the great principles of international law and justice—all these were topics deserving careful consideration. There was, however, another side to the picture. They must not overlook the question of individual justice to those who had been entrusted with great authority in a distant part of the world. They ought to be careful how they condemned men who were not only absent, but who had not the means or the opportunity of defending themselves. Great consideration was due to representatives of this country who were obliged to act in moments of serious emergency 1504 without the possibility of receiving instructions from the home Government. There was also this important consideration—that much independence of action was necessarily entrusted to Plenipotentiaries, and the principle that so long as they were not proved to have done wrong it was the duty of the Government and the country to support them. Although, no doubt, it was a most unfortunate circumstance that this country should have been involved in war with China, the first duties of our representatives in that country was towards those who were entrusted to their protection. He must warn hon. Gentlemen that in discussions of this nature, if they did not make sure that they were accurately dealing with the facts, what was said and done in that House might occasion injury to the national interests which it would be impossible to remedy. He was ready to adopt the maxim quoted by the noble Lord the Member for the City of London,—”Be just, and fear not,” but let them be sure they were just. He did not speak simply of justice to individuals, for it was the lot of public servants in this country that they must sometimes submit to injustice; but injustice to individuals in such circumstances was, nevertheless, a national calamity. It often happened that individuals suffered severely from discussions in that House in consequence of imperfect information, and that through them the public service suffered also. But let the House be sure they are just to themselves and to the national interests.
He would not, however, make any further observations in the way of exordium, but would proceed to call the attention of the House to the more immediate questions before it. There were two questions before the House—one was whether the proceedings of Sir John Bowring and his coadjutors were according to international law; the other was whether, supposing they were legally right, the policy they pursued was such as ought to have been followed in the circumstances in which they stood. With respect to the question of law, he entered on it with some amount of diffidence. Great authorities had pronounced against the view which he humbly took. Great names had been quoted in that House against it, and it was with all the humility that a man ought to feel in such circumstances that he ventured to state his opinion; but at the same time he thought it right to say that, giving all due weight to those great legal 1505 authorities, the opinion he had formed was one which he held without much hesitation. He thought it could be demonstrated from the proceedings before them that there was no true ground for saying that any principle of international law had been transgressed by the authorities at Hong Kong. He was anxious to get the House out of the region of generalities with which some speakers had surrounded the subject, because he believed it would be found that the only safe way in which the legal question could be sifted was to deal with it in connection with the facts as they had taken place in China—he meant, to apply the actual law to the actual facts:—for a good many of the general propositions of law which had been laid down might be more or less true, while they had no application to the facts out of which the whole question had arisen. The facts were shortly these:—After the treaty of 1842, and down to 1855, a large population had sprung up in the colony of Hong Kong, and when these proceedings commenced there were about 60,000 Chinese in the colony. He did not say they had ceased to be subjects of China, or had lost their allegiance to the Emperor of China; but they were living under our laws and under our protection. In virtue of the powers which he had as the colonial Governor, Sir John Bowring allowed these Chinese who were living in the colony to become possessed, as lessees, of Crown lands in the colony. He (the Lord Advocate) did not say that was naturalization to the fullest extent; but it was a step towards it, and was in accordance with law. A civil war broke out in China, and there existed a great deal of smuggling along the coast. For the double purpose of knowing to whom the coasting vessels belonged and enabling them to attack with more effect the smuggling trade, an ordinance was passed in March, 1855, under which any Chinese holding property in Crown lands in Hong Kong who chose to apply might, on certain conditions, have their vessels registered, and be entitled to use the British flag. Was that ordinance a dead letter? Was it a thing done in a corner? Or was it unknown to the Chinese? In point of fact, lorchas were registered by hundreds, and it became notorious that the coasting trade of China was almost exclusively carried on by these lorchas sailing under the British flag. Under these circumstances what was the conduct of the Chinese Government? In September, 1855, the Chinese seized four lorchas bearing 1506 the British flag; Sir John Bowring remonstrated, and pointed out to them that by the treaty they were not entitled to seize those vessels—that they might seize the cargoes, but that the vessels they could not seize. Accordingly the vessels were restored by the Chinese. On that occasion the Chinese made no complaint about the ordinance; they never pretended they were ignorant of it, for, indeed, a copy of it was sent to them; and without the least remonstrance the lorchas were restored. Now the position he maintained was this:—and it enabled him to establish his defence of the proceedings of Sir John Bowring as a matter of international law. It was a principle of international law that if a nation was in possession of and exercised an alleged right which had not been disputed, whatever the merits or grounds of that right might be, the nation was entitled to continue in possession of it without interruption till a remonstrance was made against it by the proper party. That was one of the most elementary principles of international law as was well known to every student of Grotius. It was a principle not only of international but of municipal law. If an individual were in possession of a right, it was not in the power of a fellow-citizen to deprive him of it by taking the law into his own hands. He was bound in the first instance to remonstrate, and if remonstrance failed, then they might proceed to their legal remedy. To take an example:—There was an island near Bushire that formerly belonged to the French. We had lately landed troops there; supposing they were to remain for two years, that might give us no right to it; but still the French would not be entitled, without first remonstrating, to take steps for the recovery of the island, or to and a body of troops for that purpose. The principle of international law is this; a person in full possession and exercise of a right is entitled to keep it until steps have been taken to show that he is in the wrong. How could the affairs of nations be carried on on any other principle than that? Of course, if the element of bad faith were once admitted the argument did not apply, for against fraud there always existed a remedy; but if the nation acted in good faith, then no violence could be proceeded with in the first instance to interrupt its possession. He, therefore, did not care to stop to inquire to what extent we might or might not have had power to license these lorchas, but the object of granting 1507 them was obvious. These ordinances were framed, not only for the colonists of Hong Kong but for the benefit of the Chinese themselves. These lorchas were licensed for the benefit of the Chinese themselves; and a proof of this was that the licences were very extensively used. The ordinance was framed by us in order to enable us more effectually to put down smuggling on the coast, and that we might be able to distinguish between those who were licensed traders and those who were smugglers. But, whether that were so or not, it was plain that the Chinese never imagined the ordinance was against them, for they allowed the system to go on for two years and a-half without remonstrance. But what were the objections that had been stated? And here he must say that matters had been confounded which were entirely and essentially different. One objection was that no country was entitled to grant such licence to the ships of another nation; and another was that the ordinance of 1855 went entirely in the face of our own municipal law. Now, the second of these objections appeared to him to have nothing to do with the question. The Chinese had nothing whatever to do with our municipal law. If the ordinance was justified by the law of nations, it was clear that they could have no right to say they objected to it because they had a repugnance to our Merchant Shipping Act of 1854. Was there to be no force in the ordinances of our colonial Governments so far as regarded foreign nations, unless the latter were first satisfied upon every question of law that might arise upon them in this country? How many questions might not in this way be raised? The appointment of the Governor of Hong Kong himself might be liable to objection; but were the Chinese to satisfy themselves as to the propriety of his appointment? There might be irregularity in sending him out, and they might question his powers. So also of many other matters. It is quite enough as regards foreign nations that those representing this country act in pursuance of powers of which they are in the undisputed exercise, and which are not challenged by the Government of Great Britain. He contended, therefore, that the Chinese had nothing whatever to do with the passing of the Merchant Shipping Act. But the question had been put on another ground that was perfectly intelligible. It was argued that it was impossible to give privileges to foreign vessels 1508 as against their own country. That was tantamount to saying that it was impossible to register a vessel owned by a foreigner. Now, no one disputes that it is lawful for a nation to register a ship upon any terms that it thought proper. But it was said that, granting the possession of a register, the vessel could not be called a British vessel, because the owner owed allegiance to another country. Was that correct, even as regarded our own practice? In the existing Merchant Shipping Act it was enacted that not only natural born subjects of this country might be the owners of British vessels, but persons born in other countries might also, provided they had letters of naturalization, and took the oath of allegiance. But did the taking of the oath of allegiance to the British Sovereign prevent them from remaining under allegiance to their native Sovereign? If the Chinese of Hong Kong took the oath of allegiance to Queen Victoria, did they cease to be Chinese subjects? Hon. Gentlemen opposite declared exactly the reverse, and he said the same. The question of letters of naturalization was raised the other day, when it appeared that, although a man might be naturalized here, that did not release him from his allegiance to the country in which he was born. But if we registered a ship under our Merchant Shipping Act, and a British merchant chartered it and took a British crew, would we allow our flag to be pulled down by any nation in the world under the pretence that the original owner was a foreigner? When we once registered a vessel and used it as a British vessel, would we not protect it against all the world? Suppose that when we were engaged with hostilities with Russia a neutral Power had fired upon our flag, under the pretext that the owner of the vessel was originally a native of that country, would we have put up with that insult or permitted it to go addressed? Certainly not. The true principle was, that it lay with Britain to say what a British ship should be—that it belonged to each country to say to what kind of vessel its authority should be given. If any other country thought it had a right to complain, it had the power of remonstrance; but, in the first instance, it lay with Britain to say what should and what should not be entitled to the protection of her flag. The enforcement of that principle was a boon, not an injury, to the Chinese themselves. [“Hear!”] He 1509 repeated that the fact of these lorchas carrying a British flag, so far from being against the interests of the Chinese, was, on the contrary, a protection to the Chinese and to ourselves against the pirates and smugglers who infested those seas. Such was the view he was inclined to take of the international question; and it appeared to him that the first ground was conclusive, namely, that when we were found in the undisputed exercise of a right for a series of years, the Chinese were not entitled to take the law into
their own hands.
That being the state of matters, the Arrow—he would not go into the question whether the British flag was flying or not, but he thought Sir John Bowring was entitled to the credit of knowing what the facts were—was lying in the waters of Canton; was boarded by a party of Chinese officials—evidently not by accident or chance, but in a manner which showed that their proceedings had been preconcerted—and the crew were carried off. The first question was—was that justifiable by the law of nations, on the pretence that our Government had no power to pass the ordinance and had no right to grant the register? Looking at the position in which matters stood, and the use which had been made of the ordinance without remonstrance or question, he said that the Chinese were bound in the first instance to make a representation to the British authorities, if their ground of action was that they disputed the legality of the register or our power of passing the ordinance. But the real question lay here—was that proceeding on the part of the Chinese in good faith or not? It would be difficult for the House to settle that question from the papers; but while on the one hand the conduct of the Chinese might be immaterial if proceeding from accident or mistake, it became on the other most important if proved to be the result of intention and design. If the British flag was flying they knew the fact, and they also knew that the vessel professed to be sailing under British authority. Under these circumstances their course was simple. Consul Parkes was living on the spot; and, instead of sending two mandarins on board to carry off the crew at once, it was their duty to apply to him, in order to ascertain whether the vessel was really under British protection. Why did they not do that? Was it that no remonstrance had been 1510 made before? Not in the least. There had been a remonstrance in the previous September on the same subject, and that remonstrance had been successful. Was it that they were ignorant of what the vessel was? He rather thought not. He thought there were plain indications in the correspondence that they knew the history of the vessel. He had no doubt that their proceedings were no mistake at all. They knew perfectly well the circumstances connected with the vessel except the expiry of her register; their proceedings were designed, and were taken for the purpose of showing that they did not intend to recognize the British flag under such circumstances. If they were not bound to recognize the British flag, they were at least bound to say so. Talk of civilized nations! Any civilized nation, if it disputed a right which we had been exercising for a long time, would in the first instance remonstrate with our representatives. But he could not say that a country which offered rewards for the heads of its adversaries appeared to him entitled to be put in the category of nations with which it was possible to deal according to strict international law.
He had hitherto been arguing this question on the point of international law. He now came to a part of the case which he thought had called forth remarks a great deal too strong—he meant the letter in which Sir John Bowring referred to the fact of the expiry of the register. He should assume for the present that the view he had stated of international law was correct. But it turned out that the register of the Arrow, having been granted in September, 1855, had expired about a week before the seizure by the Chinese officers. Sir John Bowring wrote a letter in which he stated that— The question presents two important inquiries—first, the rights of the vessel in question, and second, the conduct of the Chinese authorities. It appears, on examination, that the Arrow had no right to hoist the British flag; the licence to do so expired on the 27th of September, from which period she has not been entitled to protection. You will send back the register to be delivered to the Colonial Office. But the Chinese had no knowledge of the expiry of the licence, nor do they profess that they had any other ground for interference than the supposition that the owner is not a British subject. That, however, is a question for this Government, who granted the register, and it is clear that the Chinese authorities have violated the 9th Article of the Supplementary Treaty, which requires that all Chinese malfaisants in British ships shall be claimed through the British authorities. 1511 The hon. Member for the West Riding had used very strong language in regard to this letter, calling it “the most flagitious public document” that he had ever seen. He did not know that he was wise in trying to stem the torrent of indignation which the remarks of the hon. Member had excited against the letter. Perhaps, being a lawyer, he might be accused of a secret sympathy with sharp practice; but, having read the letter carefully, having formed an impression regarding it entirely different from that of the hon. Member for the West Riding, and believing that what it meant to say did not savour of duplicity, or secrecy, or false dealing, but amounted to the simple assertion of a very pertinent truth, he should be ashamed of himself if he declined to state frankly what his impression of the letter was. Sir John Bowring said that “the Chinese had no knowledge of the expiry of the licence, nor did they profess that they had any other ground for interference than the supposition that the owner was not a British subject.” Did that mean, “Don’t tell the Chinese—don’t let them know how good a case they have—it is lucky they were not aware that legally we had no means of resisting them?” Not at all. Sir John Bowring meant to say that when the Chinese boarded the Arrow and tore down our flag they intended to insult us, and that it made no difference, as far as the insult was concerned, whether the register had expired or not, because they did not know of it. Would any hon. and learned Member venture to say that it was not a principle of international law that if a man committed an outrage upon another without a knowledge of facts which might justify it, he was liable to reprisals as if those facts had no existence? Take the case which he put a little while ago. He believed that in America there was some limitation to the period within which a man could own a vessel authorized to carry the national flag—he must reside a certain time in the States before he can own an American vessel, and if he ceased to reside for a certain time, his right ceased. If the Chinese fired upon American ships, believing them to be American ships, with the American ensign flying at the mast head, could we imagine that our high-spirited brethren on the other side of the Atlantic would have forborne to make immediate reprisals if it had been alleged that, unknown to the Chinese, 1512 the liberty of carrying the American flag had expired? Was that to be the rule of those who represent Britain abroad? Were they to stop before they resented an insult, in order to discover a ground to justify the insult which those insulting them never could have discovered? Surely not. The very essence of an insult consisted in the animus of the person who offered it, and he was perfectly ready to adopt Sir John Bowring’s opinion, that it made no difference as to the course to be followed in demanding redress for the insult that the licence of the lorcha had expired, if the Chinese had been intent upon insulting the British flag. He quite agreed too with Sir John Bowring, that it rested with the Government which had granted the register to determine whether or not the register remained in force; and if the vessel were bonâ fide returning to her port where the register might be renewed, but owing to a stress of weather were detained, so that the licence expired in the interval, it was for the Government to decide whether she was still entitled to be regarded as a registered vessel. That was Sir John Bowring’s view and he said, “The Chinese did not know at the time that the licence had expired, and if they had known it, it was a matter for our consideration and not for theirs.” Thus stood the case, and although it was easy to say that it was a matter of small moment, that we were making a mountain of a molehill, and that we were going to war about a trumpery lorcha, yet, if there was a deliberate insult offered to the British flag, what ought Sir John Bowring to have done? Was he to submit to the insult? What course was he to follow? No doubt, the fact of the expiry of the licence placed him in a difficulty, because it enabled the Chinese authorities, who had acted upon totally different grounds, to raise a quibble on the point; but he (the Lord Advocate) contended that great latitude was to be allowed under such circumstances to those who were on the spot, and he could not forget that while people in this country were discussing the conduct of our Plenipotentiary abroad that conduct had met with the approbation of every person, not a Chinese, who was upon the spot. It had been approved of by the French Consul in the very strongest terms. It had been approved by the British Admiral, by the French Admiral, and by the Americans. If the French and Americans thought that we had been precipitate they 1513 would have said so; but the fact was, that there was no one who was cognizant of the proceedings as they arose who did not regard the steps which our representatives had taken as perfectly justifiable. Moreover, there was scarcely a man who had a practical knowledge of the subject, and who had been in China and knew the Chinese, who would say that Sir John Bowring had acted wrongly. He believed that those who were connected with the China interest were all but unanimous in support of him, and he did not think, despite the character of the British merchants drawn by the hon. Member for the West Riding, that such a general concurrence of opinion could have arisen if there were not something more important in the times and circumstances of the affair than the mere seizing of a lorcha.
The noble Lord the Member for London stated on the previous evening that the Government, in their despatches, had expressed no feeling of sorrow or regret for the bloodshed that had taken place. He (the Lord Advocate) did not think that any such expression was necessary. It was impossible for any one to view without regret the bombardment of such a town as Canton; but he did not see that it was requisite to give utterance to the sentiment. If the Government believed that the British representative had acted properly it was their duty to support him publicly, and not to condemn him either with unjust suspicion or faint praise. He did not say that every person would have acted precisely as Sir John Bowring had done in the matter; but the moment was one of great trial, requiring promptitude and decision of action, and he contended that down to the period of the seizing upon the lorcha there was nothing in the conduct of our representatives which the House could condemn. This brought him to the second part of the case—did we adopt unreasonable measures to enforce redress upon the seizing of the lorcha? No doubt the seizing of a lorcha was a small beginning for a great war; but every one was aware that, in dealing with Orientals, it was a most dangerous thing to neglect small beginnings, and that if we submitted to trifling injuries and insults more important ones would follow before long. Above all things, unless we showed a jealous sensitiveness of anything that was intended as an insult it would be impossible to keep our footing there. Upon this point he would read one sentence from the 1514 work of M. Hue on the Chinese Empire, who, writing dispassionately upon the subject, said:— We have observed elsewhere that the Chinese, and especially the mandarins, are strong against the weak and weak against the strong. To domineer over and crush all around them is the object they constantly have in view, and to attain it they have an inexhaustible resource in their native cunning and pliability of character. Once allow them to get the upper hand, and it is all over with you; but if you can only succeed in mastering them, you will find them ever after as docile and manageable as children. You may turn and twist them which way you will; but beware of showing yourself weak with them for a moment, for they must be ruled with an iron hand. The Chinese mandarins are pretty much like their own long bamboos. If one can but manage to get hold of them in the right way they are easily bent double and kept so; but if for a, second you let go, they are up again in a moment as straight as ever. It was quite manifest, then, that it was impossible to measure the magnitude of the issue by the apparent smallness of the commencement; and this was not the first war in the East which had had its origin in small beginnings. He remembered a war which did not turn out of very long duration, but which was very glorious, as wars were called, which brought great honour to those who conducted it and a great accession of territory to this country—he alluded to the late war in Burmah, which owed its origin to a loss of £900 which had been sustained by a British merchant. A noble Lord (the Earl of Ellenborough), in another place, having commented upon the trifling nature of the circumstance which had given rise to that war, was thus answered by the Earl of Derby in 1853:— He had no hesitation in entering into an examination of the representations which his noble friend the Governor General had sent home of the necessity of his first proceedings, in sanctioning the course which he had felt it necessary to adopt, and in coming to the conclusion that, reluctantly as he had been compelled to undertake hostile operations against Ava, the amount of insult, if not the extent of the individual injury done to British subjects, was such that, if it were felt necessary to maintain the prestige of the British character in India, and to guard ourselves from future insult and injury, they must not be allowed to pass unnoticed and unredressed. His noble Friend had stated very truly that this was not the first offence which had been offered by the Burmese. It was not because a loss had been sustained by a British merchant to the extent of £900 that we had been compelled to demand of the Governor of Rangoon first, and of the King of Ava afterwards, a thorough indemnification and reparation for the insult and injury which had been inflicted upon a British subject: but it was because, from the year 1826, a succession of insults 1515 and encroachments had gradually deprived us of all the benefits which had resulted from the last war with Burmah, had driven our Minister from that post which he had been directed to hold, had gradually deprived us of all the privileges to which we were entitled, and had succeeded in thwarting the operations of our commerce—because each successive insult had been tamely acquiesced in, perhaps from necessity, by the Government of the day—it was the continued succession of those injuries and insults which had at length made it incumbent on the Governor General not to pass them over. Without discussing the merits of this particular case he did not hesitate to say, that when the papers should be produced, they would completely bear out the assertion that, unwillingly as the Governor General had had recourse to hostilities, it was impossible for him to have avoided them, and that, having entered upon them, it was necessary to carry them vigorously forward.”—[3 Hansard, cxxiv. 537.] So said Lord Derby on the Burmese war. He (the Lord Advocate) did not stand there to justify all the wars which we had undertaken under such circumstances, or to discuss the question as to whether or not they might have been avoided:—what he contended for was, that in order to pronounce whether the present war was or was not necessary, we must judge by a full consideration of all the surrounding circumstances. Hon. Gentlemen appeared to be quite enamoured and enchanted with Chinese composition. No doubt in composition they excelled, and, if they were only as trustworthy in negotiation and as true in action as they were elegant in penmanship, our relations with them would be much more agreeable than they were. But while they were all honey upon paper, they were quite the opposite in action; for all the time Commissioner Yeh was writing plausible despatches to Sir John Bowring he was exciting his own populace against the British, in order to provide a pretence for refusing to admit our ambassador; and evincing the partiality he entertained for Englishmen by putting a price upon their heads. The French authorities, be it said, in regard to this last point, had felt it necessary to declare their entire sympathy with us and to remonstrate with Yeh on a proceeding so uncivilized. It was impossible to judge from their writings, then, how such persons should be dealt with. It must be remembered that the Chinese Government was at the same time arrogant and weak, and that very weakness much increased the difficulty of dealing with it. Commissioner Yeh admitted the fact; and although no doubt he had exaggerated the difficulty of dealing with the people under 1516 his control, still unquestionably some difficulty did exist. As an instance of the weakness of the Government the Commissioner of the Chinese Government in 1844 said:—”We cannot let you into Canton just now because the people are much excited against you, but wait two years and then you will be entitled to admission.” There was no doubt, therefore, that the Imperial Commissioner had some difficulty to contend against in governing the Chinese people; but in dealing with nations of that description, nations which were not always able to fulfil their obligations, it was necessary to insist on the fulfilment of those within their power, and take advantage of favourable opportunities for enforcing their fulfilment. Some persons might think that when the men who had been seized on board the Arrow were sent back the matter might have been allowed to end there. That was of course a matter of opinion, and he (the Lord Advocate) was of the opinion that that was not a sufficient reparation for the insult. The real question to be considered was, whether or no the opportunity was a favourable one for enforcing the fulfilment of the Treaty of 1849. The mere return of the twelve men was no satisfaction for the insult which had been offered, and there could be no doubt that they ought to have been sent back as publicly as they were taken away. If what was done had been accepted as a reparation, the Chinese would have at once said, “See these Englishmen, they are willing to put up with insult!” and in all probability they would have added insults more grave. But then came the question, was it a proper opportunity of enforcing our right of admission into Canton—not free admission, but that reasonable opportunity for communication with the Chinese Government, from the want of which communication great difficulties had arisen, and which was permitted by all civilized nations? They had admitted the Ambassador from Siam and representatives of other Powers, but they refused to hold relations with the British Plenipotentiary. The noble Lord the Member for London had stated that notice ought to have been given to them of our intention to enforce the provisions of the treaty. But it should be remembered that we were entitled to enforce the observance of the treaty at any time, it had been made the subject of a correspondence, and in enforcing the right of a personal audience with the Chinese Minister, Sir John Bowring was only insisting 1517 on that being done which the treaty gave him the right to have done, and which all civilized nations are entitled to require from each other. Upon a review of the whole case, he could not think that Sir John Bowring had done anything to deserve the censure which it was now proposed to pass upon his conduct.
He had been driven to trespass longer than he had intended upon the patience of the House, but he besought the House to consider well the consequences of this discussion on the future. It must be remembered that the proceedings which were now being discussed had taken place two months ago; and was any one prepared to retrace the steps which had been taken? He would venture to say that whatever might be the opinion of any man, no one, when he saw how much depended upon what had been done, would be prepared to retrace those steps. With interests so grave at stake it would be better, and even more just, even if a false move had been made, to proceed rather than to go back. If there were anything on the score of justice or morality which the House deemed worthy of censure, they must of course decide accordingly; but if it were the question of policy alone that was at issue, they must remember that to retrograde now would be to raise up a barrier between the Chinese and the English more dangerous and difficult to pass than any which had yet existed. The House must recollect how important it was that the representatives of Great Britain throughout the world should have a firm hand, and allow no insult to the flag of Great Britain. The hon. Member for the West Riding had spoken about the horrors attending the bombardment of a town containing 2,000,000 inhabitants; but he could not find in the papers before the House anything like the sufferings described. On the contrary, he thought that what was done, if it were necessary that it should be done, had been done in the most moderate manner. At all events, he was not disposed to accept Yeh’s statement as a true description of the case. From the dense population of China, a war with that country must always be a horrible war, and, therefore, certainly, care ought to be taken how one was entered into. But, on the other hand, by not acting with readiness and promptitude when the occasion called for the exercise of those qualities, calamities infinitely more horrible might be incurred hereafter.
Sir, I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for the West Riding, that the question under consideration has been debated elsewhere with an eloquence which all must admire. The question of legality involved in the issue has been decided by one whose ideas are as luminous, whose logic is as exact, as when the fire of youth inflamed his words. The question of legality has been decided a second time by the authority of one of the most accurate Judges and profound writers upon legal subjects of his time. I was in hopes, therefore, that no Member of the legal profession could have risen to pledge his reputation to the assertion that the course which has been adopted and which has been sanctioned by the Government was legal, was justifiable, was constitutional. But the learned Lord Advocate, for whom I have a sincere respect, has at last come to the rescue, and it is for us to examine with perfect fairness the arguments which he has put forward, and to ask ourselves conscientiously, has he been able, even with his attainments, to burnish the wretched and disgraceful case which the Government has laid before Parliament? Sir, I own I am in a difficulty; my wish is to speak as calmly as I can; but it is impossible to speak coldly upon such a question; the speech of the noble Lord the Member for the City of London has so excited my feelings that I can with difficulty repress my indignation. That speech was not replied to by the Vice President of the Board of Trade. It was the speech of an English statesman; it was the speech of an English gentleman, and every sentiment the noble Lord uttered came home to our hearts. For my part, Sir, as a Member of the House of Commons, I am glad to see it is not so easy to write down the reputation of an eminent man. It is said that we are contending about a legal question. Well, if that is so, I confess I wait with some anxiety the statement of my hon. Friend the Attorney General. Now, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies addressed the House last evening. The right hon. Gentleman is the framer of a celebrated statute upon the improvement of the navigation laws, in which he explained the position of the British shipowner and the nature of British ownership; and in his address to the House the right hon. Gentleman used these words:— I think, in exposing the British shipowner in 1519 the manner I propose to competition with all parts of the world, it is but reasonable that he should be afforded every facility for obtaining his ship at the cheapest rate. I, therefore, propose to do away with the restrictions which at present limit the right of acquiring a British register to a British-built ship. I propose that a ship built abroad, but owned by Englishmen, shall be entitled to a British register whether that ship be employed in the coasting trade or in foreign commerce. With regard to the ownership, I do not propose any material alteration. There are some anomalies which I hope to remove; but with regard to the general principle of rendering British ownership necessary, I do not make any change.” —[3 Hansard, xcviii. 1012.] That was the language of the right hon. Gentleman in introducing an Act of Parliament which had been carefully considered and elaborately framed to carry out the principles which he thus enunciated. The law was an Imperial law, and it was a wise law. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of Oxford (Mr. Cardwell) brought in an amended Shipping Bill somewhat later, which dealt with the coasting trade; but the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies took the alarm, thinking that it was carrying the principles of free trade too far, and on July 5, 1853, he delivered to us these instructive observations:— Parliament was now called upon to enact a law by which it would hereafter be sufficient for a merchant ship to have what was called a ‘British owner,’ without having a single English soul on board from the captain to the cabin-boy. For aught he knew, this ‘British vessel’ might never come near our shores; she might be built at Bordeaux and navigated by Frenchmen, and trade with every country but England.”—[3 Hansard, cxxviii. 1228.] Now, what would the right hon. Gentleman have said, if it had been then proposed to dispense with the whole foundation of our navigation laws, the necessity of British ownership for British vessels? I think the right hon. Gentleman would have scathed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of Oxford with indignant sarcasm had he introduced such a proposal. What, let me ask, is the authority of a local legislature? What, let me ask, is the authority of Sir John Bowring? We have a book in our library, published by authority of the Government, containing directions as to the powers of our representatives abroad; and at page 12 we find:—”They can sanction laws—such laws, however, not being repugnant to the laws of England.” Such is the Imperial law—such is the law under which Sir John Bowring exercises his authority. And he has as much power to 1520 alter that imperial law of his own motion as he has to cut off the head of the noble Lord the Member for the City of London—not that I think it would be expedient for the noble Lord to intrust himself to Sir John Bowring if he were in a passion, because if he were to execute such a purpose, it might be difficult for the noble Lord to obtain redress for the grievance. Sir John Bowring, then, had no power to go outside the law. But the Act of Parliament we are considering was so prudently framed, that it was made to contain a section showing how it was possible for a colonial legislature to deal with this Imperial law. Accordingly it was enacted— The legislative authority of any British possession shall have power, by any Act or ordinance, confirmed by Her Majesty in Council, to repeal wholly or in part any provisions of this Act relating to ships registered in such possession; but no such Act or ordinance shall take effect until such approval has been proclaimed in such possession, or until such time thereafter as may be fixed by such Act or ordinance for the purpose. Sir, the blue-book has been the brief handed by the Government to their legal friends to make out a case. Now, one blue-book has been disposed of by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the West Riding; but the blue-book before us says nothing about the repeal of this Imperial law or of any part of it; therefore, Sir, we are at perfect liberty to conclude there was never any relaxation, much less a repeal of the law sanctioned by the Queen in Council. So that the Imperial law does stand unrepealed, and Sir John Bowring had no right whatever to repeal or disobey it, although I admit he would have done so if he had taken it into his head.
Now, the House will be so good as to observe what was the first point to which the learned Lord Advocate addressed himself. Evading the true question, he thus speaks—
Let us lay aside all considerations of international law—all considerations of the legality of what Sir John Bowring did—let us lay aside these trifles, and address ourselves to the very serious question whether the Chinese, upon the legal point, have not waived their right to object; and whether Sir John Bowring and his confederates had not a right to make a murderous onslaught upon the people of Canton, because they did not make their objections at the particular moment it was becoming.
Now, he could understand such a justification 1521 if there was no treaty regulating the intercourse of the two countries later than half a century ago. Doubtless lapse of time might suffer such a state of things to grow up as might account for the behaviour of the English officials. But here there was a clear treaty between the two nations; and I must say I have yet to learn that, if England addressed a letter to the Chinese authorities, making certain assertions, and the Chinese authorities did not think fit to answer it, I have yet to learn that that would suffice for putting an end to the treaties between them. Sir, I would like to know what the noble Lord at the head of the Government could say to this position: the Emperor of Russia forwards to him a communication which the noble Lord thinks is not of a nature that it is desirable for him to reply to, would, therefore, the Emperor have a right to assume that all existing treaties between the two Governments are altered and changed? Upon what did the Lord Advocate rest his argument? Why, his main point was, that in 1854 the Chinese committed an error in seizing two lorchas. Well, but what was the error? It was this: according to the 12th section of the treaty to which the learned Lord Advocate referred, the Chinese were authorized to seize and confiscate all goods on board ships that came into Chinese waters for the purpose of smuggling. The clause of the treaty declares— In any positive instance of smuggling transactions coming to the consul’s knowledge he will instantly apprise the Chinese authorities of the fact, and they will proceed to seize and confiscate all goods, whatever their value or nature, that may have been so smuggled, and will also be at liberty, if they see fit, to prohibit the ship from which the smuggled goods were landed from trading further, and to send her away, as soon as her accounts are adjusted and paid, Now, that I admit only authorizes the seizure of the goods. The Chinese, however, in the instances relied on, seized upon the hulls. When the English agent demanded them back, and the Chinese Government delayed complying with the demand, we despatched a sloop of war, and it brought back the two vessels. The Chinese, however—impracticable people as they are regarded—submitted to the treaty, and acknowledged that they were only entitled to seize the goods. Sir, the untenable argument of the Lord Advocate is, that because these two vessels were removed without dispute or protest from the Chinese when they were wrong, that, 1522 therefore, this treaty was in some way or other altered by the communication of Sir John Bowring—a document upon which, by the way, more turns than has yet appeared to the House. At the end of this letter is a sentence of no small value in regard to the question at issue. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Labouchere) read the extract the other night, but forgot to read this sentence:— I trust that your Excellency will instruct your subordinates to be more cautious in examining the papers of vessels they may have occasion to board. Vessels bearing the British flag, and in any way offending against Chinese law within the five ports, must be complained of to the consuls. Those found to be carrying it without authority, are liable to serious penalties; but where they are entitled to fly it, the British navy is instructed to resent unauthorized interference with it as an act of piracy. Thus, wherever ships are entitled to fly the British flag, there the navy of England would protect them. On the other hand, it follows, I hope, that when they are not entitled to the British flag—when they turn out to be pirates—our navy will not interfere for their protection as against the authorities of their own nation.
But, Sir, has the House observed that the absurdity of the complaint made against the Chinese is more striking even than the atrocities committed under pretence of getting redress? The House has not been able to find out anything about this “British” ship. We know, certainly, that she did not find her way into the waters of Hong Kong until the month of June, 1855, when she applied for a colonial register. But where do you find even that fact? Now, there is a mode of composing a blue-book, and there is a mode of discomposing one. Let me ask the House, if this ship was registered, where is the register? Does it suppose that there is a copy of it in the blue-book? All I can say is, that if ever there was such a copy in existence, it has been most carefully suppressed, for in no part of the book is there the slightest trace of its existence. We only find mention of it in an extract from a newspaper called the Friend of China, and this is the only evidence supplied to Parliament to prove that the lorcha was registered. But what evidence is that? Why, how do we know that the paragraph was not written to order, to instruct Parliament and edify the people? And see what a strange story the Chinese Mail tells us. Why, never was such a story presented to rational men. 1523 And yet this is the evidence upon which Parliament, without doubt and without difficulty, is to sanction the shedding of human blood, not to speak of the destruction of property. It seems that this lorcha was originally engaged in piracy. At last it was captured by the loyal party, and was put up to auction in Canton. It was there bought by a Chin-chew hong, who sent it for sale to Hong Kong. At Hong Kong it was claimed by one Quantai, who declared it was his property before it fell into the hands of the pirates. The then owners, of course, disputed his claim, whereupon arbitrators were appointed. They could not agree, and referred the question to an umpire, an Englishman, who found himself in great difficulty to decide who was the owner of this “British” ship. Ultimately the umpire awarded that the ownership of the Arrow should continue undisturbed, but that Quain-tai should receive 2,000 dollars, of which 1,000 dollars were to be paid by the Chin-chew hong and 1,000 by one Fong Aming. Throughout the whole transaction the most microscopic examination of evidence cannot discover where there is to be found an atom of evidence to show that the Arrow is a British ship. There is something curious about the 1,000 dollars paid by Mr. Block or his comprador at Canton. The Chinese Commissioner discovered that a Danish merchant had paid the 1,000 dollars, and he came to the conclusion that it was paid on account of the register. Now, with all our boasted superiority, I think the English Commissioners at Canton have had very little chance in argument with the Chinese Commissioner, for he always reverted to the true point in the case, and that was that the lorcha was a Chinese ship. “Prove to me,” says the Chinese Commissioner, in effect, “that this is a British ship.” But Sir John Bowring, to whom the query was put, felt perhaps that he should be descending from his dignity if he favoured this Chinese barbarian with an answer; and consequently he never answered this simple inquiry. I cannot help remarking, that however degraded in our eyes may be the Chinese character, it was perfectly evident that in the present affair the Chinese spoke no untruth; but I am sorry to say, I am not able to say as much of our own officials. The Chinese Commissioner has always put the point of the Danish merchant advancing 1,000 dollars as part of the purchase-money, to obtain an English register, and has 1524 always contended that the ship was a Chinese ship. I am now speaking of what took place in the month of June, just about the time the lorcha arrived at Hong Kong. The authorities at home were then considering whether the ordinance of Sir John Bowring should be considered in its colonial character, or whether it should exist at all. When Sir John Bowring sent home this ordinance, for the approval of the Home Government, the noble Lord the Member for London was Secretary for the Colonies. I am gratified by reading the proceedings which took place in this country on that subject. The noble Lord the Member for the City of London and his predecessors acted on that occasion in a manner which nobody can blame. When Sir John Bowring sent that ordinance to London, the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, who was then Secretary for the Colonies, forwarded it to the Board of Trade, and the answer of that department to the noble Lord was, that it was contrary to law. Mr. Booth, writing on behalf of the Board of Trade, says:— There is nothing in the Act providing that the Chinese residents to whom colonial registers may be granted should be British subjects, nor are any local limits assigned within which the register is to be in force: and if it be intended that the grant of a colonial register shall confer on the vessel the rights and privileges attaching to a British vessel, it appears to my Lords extremely questionable whether this departure from the Merchant Shipping Act (17 & 18 Vict., cap. 104), according to which British ownership is an essential condition, and, in fact, the only condition of British registry, should be sanctioned by Her Majesty. That is a strong hint that it was faulty and contrary to law. The noble Lord accordingly did not give Sir John Bowring authority to go to war, but he sent a letter to him in these terms on the very day on which the lorcha was arriving in Hong Kong:— Having referred the ordinance passed by the Legislature of Hong Kong ‘to establish a proper system of registration for colonial vessels’ for the consideration of the Lords of the Committee of the Privy Council for Trade, I transmit for your information the copy of their Lordships’ reply; and I have to request that you will transmit to me any observations which you have to offer on the objections entertained by their Lordships to some of the provisions of this ordinance. The ordinance having gone out to Sir John Bowring, he, as usual, wrote an essay on the matter. That is dated on the 29th of August, 1855, and the ordinance was returned 1525 with it to this country. On the 30th of November in the same year, a very reluctant assent was given on the part of the Board of Trade to that dangerous proceeding. Mr. Booth, communicating that assent, used these words:— I am at the same time to suggest, for the consideration of Mr. Secretary Labouchere, whether, as some doubts may be entertained as to the lawfulness of the use of the British flag in vessels registered in the name of Chinese residents, as provided by the ordinance, it might not be desirable that an ordinance should be passed, under the authority of section 547 of the Imperial Act, declaring that, notwithstanding anything in the Imperial Act, the vessels in question, if possessing a colonial register, and while being navigated within the proposed limit, should be entitled to use the British flag. That advice having been given, the ordinance went out to China. I need hardly remind the House that kings have lost their crowns for usurping a dispensing power over the laws of this country. I will ask has the Secretary of State the right of exercising that dispensing power? I contend that there was illegality in every step of this proceeding from first to last. There never was a legal or valid ordinance confirmed by Her Majesty to alter the law, nor was there ever a proclamation in the colony confirming the ordinance. Consequently whatever was done by Sir John Bowring in this respect was utterly and absolutely void. But what has he done? What did Sir John Bowring and his Attorney General do? They drew up an ordinance, which states that on and after the passing of this ordinance no ship owned by a British subject shall be at liberty to trade in the waters of Hong Kong unless she have a colonial register. The period for which the register was to be granted was afterwards limited to one year and no longer. It is true that at the expiration of the year it might be renewed, but if the party holding it took no step to procure its renewal it ceased to have any further operation. Adverting to the conduct of Consul Parkes, it appears to me to be very much worse than that of Sir John Bowring in one respect. What is to be thought of Mr. Parkes’ saying, in a letter to Sir John Bowring, under the date of October 12, 1856:— I also forward, as directed by your Excellency, the register of the Arrow. When this document was deposited with me on the 3rd inst., the year for which it was granted had expired five days previously. I am astonished, after hearing this extract, how any Gentleman respecting truth can 1526 support the Government in this matter. Now, Sir John Bowring, in a previous document, says the right of British protection depends upon the right to use the British flag, and admits in the same breath that this vessel had no right to use it, for the register had expired, and the right to protection had expired with it. Then comes the Consul, who says the register under which the vessel was entitled to carry the British flag was at an end. Both those gentlemen, however, subsequently assert the direct contrary when they attempt to bully a weak nation; and, when the advocates of the Government are required to defend their conduct, they defend it on grounds even worse than the original crime. They in effect say, “We told a lie, but the Chinese did not know that we told a lie.” Anything more flagitious in reference to a question of morality never came before a body of independent, conscientious men, and it is not surprising that the learned Lord Advocate, with all his ability, has not been able to make out the shadow of a case. It was impossible to do so, and I am rejoiced to find that, however much hon. Gentlemen in the House may differ in political views, yet, when a matter of this kind comes before it, Members on both sides were eager to respond to the inspiring appeal of the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, and to agree with him that there is something more than commerce—something more than budgets—to be considered by the Parliament of England—the eternal interests of truth and justice.
I have but few more remarks to make respecting the Consul; but there is one passage to which I wish to call the attention of the House. Mr. Consul Parkes drew up an elaborate paper, which he called a notification to the Chinese to remove misconceptions, in which he says:— At Hong Kong, being a British colony, it is competent for the owner of any vessel of any country, when he shall have obtained the requisite security, to make application, through the proper official channels, to the supreme authority for a colonial register. Under this the vessel hoists a British ensign, and, the register once issued, she is regarded in all respects as a British vessel, while those on board her become alike responsible to British control and entitled to British protection. I want to know from the learned Lord Advocate, who bears a high legal reputation, whether that statement is true in law, that subjects of any country in the world going to the colony of Hong Kong, 1527 and obtaining a colonial register for a vessel, having once hoisted the British flag, that vessel becomes to all intents and purposes a British ship, which we are bound to protect all over the world against all other Powers. I deny it to be good law; but in that matter I will not attribute worse than ignorance to the young man fresh from a counting-house who is suddenly invested with such important functions. It is not only a misstatement of law, but it is a misstatement of fact. There is no mention of the requisites to be complied with before a colonial register is granted, and the charge against Mr. Parkes is that he drew up that statement in order to deceive the Chinese, and to obtain by compulsion what never could have been obtained by the true construction of the treaty.
The learned Lord Advocate has told us that a great deal depends upon the animus of the Chinese. Be it so; but why are we always to assume that all the points in debate are in our own favour? First, it is assumed that the British flag was insulted; secondly, it is assumed that the lorcha was a British ship; and, thirdly, that she should be considered as having a British crew. Now, every one of those assumptions I deny. I deny there was a British flag; I deny that the vessel was a British vessel, and I deny that the crew were British subjects. Then, as to the animus displayed by the Chinese,—were there ever such proceedings as those which have taken place? A Chinese, passing up the Canton river, observes a man who a few days before had taken part in an attack upon him and in the murder of four persons. He proceeds to Canton, makes a deposition which is as full and accurate as if it had been made in a police office of London. Upon that a warrant is issued by the Canton authorities, and the native officials proceed to the vessel where the supposed criminal was seen, and where they find him and capture him. A complaint of this proceeding being made to Commissioner Yeh, he, to justify it, sends a copy of the depositions and another statement to show where the ship was built, which he encloses in a clever despatch to Sir John Bowring, adding that, as it was plain that both the ship and the criminal were Chinese, there was no necessity for a prolonged correspondence. Now what was the fact which was asserted by one party, and denied by the other, in respect to the flag? I hope the Vice President of the Board of Trade has 1528 recovered his official composure from his burst of eloquence last night, when he said he was prepared to wrap the flag of England around his body, and like one of the heroes of old Rome to die gloriously in its folds. Now I would respectfully recommend the right hon. Gentleman, rather than make such a dreadful sacrifice, to husband around him those comforts which he derives from his seat at the Board of Trade. I have a great respect for the flag of England, which is no doubt the emblem of the power and the glory of the country, as well as the guardian of its freedom. I hope that that flag will float triumphant so long as it is identified with the honour and the justice of England. But, on the other hand, I say that that flag is degraded and disgraced when it is upheld for the purpose of screening crime, of tyrannizing over the weak, or of attacking the defenceless. That flag then becomes no longer the emblem of a great and a powerful nation. The Lord Advocate said that the French Admiral had assented to these proceedings. Now I want to put a question to the learned Lord—can he inform the House of Commons whether this French officer knew of the equivocations, misrepresentations, and evasions which our authorities at Canton had resorted to? Did he know that the flag of England hoisted on board this vessel was really not entitled to give the protection which it claimed? Did he know that the acts of Sir John Bowring were wholly invalid and void from their inception? Did he know that the first alleged outrage on the part of the Chinese had been more than avenged, and that a new affair was invented for the purpose of making another attack upon the unoffending city, without the sanction of the Sovereign or of the Government? I find in a letter signed “Thomas Wade, Chinese Secretary,” page 111, of the blue-book, a new phase of the matter is given. Now, the proposition I want to prove is, that at a certain time the original cause of quarrel was completely at an end—it was thought that a sufficient quantity of blood had been shed and property destroyed. Now, observe, what Consul Parkes says as given in his letter of Wade— If simple reparation for outrage in the Arrow case had been all we required, the Admiral would doubtless have been long ago satisfied with what had been done, but that a principle was at stake which could not be abandoned. Evidence of necessity for access to the authorities he had long had; the Arrow case confirmed it, and less than intercourse as we asked it, we could not take. 1529 Here it is evident they were starting new grounds for a quarrel when the case of the Arrow had been disposed of.
Now, I appeal to every hon. Gentleman in this House, to any man of feeling or who believes in the truths of Christianity, whether he thinks the measure of vengeance satisfied the offence committed by the Chinese officials coming on board this wretched lorcha and capturing a Chinese pirate, hauling down the British flag, if they did so, not believing it to be a British vessel—whether the measure of our vengeance was not fully satisfied by the release of the criminal, whom by the treaty they were fully entitled to keep in their custody, and the return of the twelve of the Chinese crew which they captured under impressions that they were fully justified in so doing? What is the amount of vengeance to be inflicted upon a nation guilty of such offences? In an able speech made by the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Carlisle (Sir J. Graham), in a former debate on the affairs of China—the following excellent admonition was noted by the right hon. Gentleman, as having been given by the present Prime Minister, when Secretary for Foreign Affairs to the official in China— The Superintendent is cautiously to abstain from all unnecessary use of menacing language, or from making any appeal for protection to our military or naval forces, unless, in any extreme case, the most evident necessity shall require that any such menacing language shall be holden, or that any such appeal should be made; and we do further command and require you, in the general discharge of your duties as such Superintendent, to abstain from and avoid all such language, conduct, and demeanour, as might needlessly excite jealousy amongst the inhabitants of China. Was that advice acted upon by Sir John Bowring and Mr. Consul Parkes? No; on the contrary, their conduct has been arrogant, insolent, and overbearing. They paid no attention to remonstrance—they were determined to persevere in their unhallowed course—their mildest language is, “The whole town of Canton, together with its inhabitants and its property, are at our mercy.” Who authorized those gentlemen to use such language? Are these gentlemen to be at liberty to pursue their own obstinate course, and to plunge us into a war with China, and then, to use the argument of the learned Lord Advocate, are we to support our officials abroad? Are we to stand by this system of injustice, spoliation, and massacre? Will you, a religious people, who will not allow the Sabbath to be 1530 desecrated by musical performances—will you not answer the appeal of the Chinese authorities, pleading for justice and for mercy, in tones which are certainly much more Christian like than those of their cruel assailants. “I understand that your honourable nation has hitherto reverenced the Sabbath day.” The Chinese Commissioner is more Christian than the men who desecrate the religion they profess. I say it solemnly, and I believe it sincerely, that this bloody assault, which has occasioned the loss of so many innocent lives—this destruction of property—this sudden and terrible infliction upon a helpless and crowded city, can never be justified by any man who holds in sincere respect the principles of Christianity. I have heard with amazement some hon. Members attempt to vindicate from censure the character of Sir John Bowring, the author of those calamities. In the presence of such a fact I am compelled to ask, if to the other vices that are recorded in connection with those transactions the vice of hypocrisy is to be added. We have had enough of these blue-books. We hear very often of the blessings of Christianity. It is the foundation of our humble hopes. Christianity came into the world in the character of meekness and charity, with healing on its wings. It tells us of a few great truths which are necessary to be believed, as well as of many duties necessary to be practised. Amongst the most important of those duties is the love of our neighbour. And who is my neighbour? He who spoke as never man spake left us a lesson from which we should never depart in our dealings with individuals or nations. Am I then to be told in a Christian country that such deeds of cruelty as have been practised in Canton are to be tolerated?
The feelings and interests of merchants had been spoken of as an element to be considered when discussing the merits of this affair. The hon. Member for the West Riding, though all his interests are bound up in mercantile pursuits, has done himself especial honour by tearing himself away from the influences of such worldly considerations, and taking a part that so well becomes a man who believes in religion and respects his fellow-creatures. I believe that the British merchant is as active in good works, and holds in as much abhorrence acts of cruelty or injustice as individuals of any other class in the country. But this is a matter in which the authority of the Crown and the power of 1531 Parliament have been set at nought. The whole proceeding, from beginning to end, is unjustifiable. It has now come for decision before the House of Commons—to that tribunal whose power the most potent Kings respect. And I trust that these little despots who are sent out to govern distant dependencies will be made to understand that a real practical authority resides in this House whenever the great interests of justice are concerned and that the House will resent any infraction of them as an insult offered to itself. I have heard men who have been in battle describe the events of the struggle and its consequences. They have described the agonies of the wounded and the cries of the sufferers as lost in the blast of the trumpet and in the shouts of victory. But when the battle was over and the victory was won, they remembered the great object for which they contended; they knew that the war had been engaged in with due notice and warning; that it was undertaken perchance to repel the march of a tyrant, perhaps to assert the independence of a nation, or to maintain the liberty of the world. But what is this affair? It is an unprovoked attack upon the defenceless and the innocent—upon old men, women, and children; without warning; without mercy. And all this upon a miserable, contemptible and baseless quibble. This is the case that now comes before you. You will listen to the best defence that can be made by the Government. I have, I confess, no doubt of the result. I am convinced that the House of Commons will do justice in the matter, whatever may be the consequence.
said, that he fully concurred with the last speaker in his admiration of the speech of the noble Lord the Member for London. He thanked the noble Lord for the manner in which he had spoken of the mercantile interests of the country, which formed a striking contrast with the language of the hon. Member for the West Riding. The noble Lord had said truly, that there were three points involved in the question before, the House. The first related to the lorcha, which resolved itself into this—whether the vessel was or was not bonâ fide a British vessel; and whether the Chinese thought that it was a British vessel when they committed the outrage. Now, there was ample evidence that she was a British ship, the name Arrow was not a Chinese name—the lorcha was not painted as a Chinese vessel, 1532 and there was the British flag—yet the Chinese had boarded the vessel, and hauled down the flag. It was, he thought, evident that the insult was intended, and complete. The hon. and learned Gentleman who commenced the debate that evening, (Mr. Warren) had dwelt at some length upon the legal arguments which had been advanced by a noble and learned Lord (Lord Wensleydale) in another place; but the hon. and learned Gentleman had misconceived what the noble Lord had advanced. He would, therefore, take the liberty of reading to the House what the noble and learned Lord did really say. These were his words— Sir John Bowring had mistaken his case in supposing that the licence had expired; for it was clear it had not, as on the evidence it appeared that the captain of the lorcha at the moment of the seizure was intending to return to Hong Kong, and renew his licence, having previously deposited his licence in the Hong Kong registry. He, therefore, concluded that the seizure was clearly wrong, entitling the British authorities to demand redress, and, considering the case precisely as it stood on the 8th of October, without any regard to subsequent events, he was not satisfied that the British officers had acted unwisely or imprudently in resorting to immediate force. Such was the opinion of Lord Wensleydale, and upon that opinion he (Mr. Horsfall) was prepared to rest his case as far as the law of the matter was concerned. The next point to which the noble Lord adverted was the demand of entrance into Canton, conceded by the treaty. Now, that treaty, he thought, was clear and explicit, and the British Commissioner had a perfect right to insist on its fulfilment if he chose. Whether it were prudent to do so or not he (Mr. Horsfall) would not then stop to inquire, but he did say, that there existed a perfect right on the part of the British Plenipotentiary to take that course if he thought proper to do so. They bad been told that Sir George Bonham had relinquished that right; but those hon. Members who had taken the trouble to read the papers which had been presented to the House would find that there was a great difference between relinquishing a treaty and allowing it to remain in abeyance. The treaty was not relinquished, but only remained in abeyance until the proper opportunity arrived for insisting upon it. Whether the opportunity seized by Sir John Bowring was the proper opportunity, it was not for him to say. He (Mr. Horsfall) was not there as the advocate of Sir John Bowring. That functionary was the 1533 intimate friend of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the West Riding who had introduced the condemnatory Resolutions to the House. The next point to which the noble Lord referred, was the policy which it was the intention of Her Majesty’s Government to pursue; but in the absence of any statement as to their intended policy, that was a point upon which, of course, he (Mr. Horsfall) could not offer any opinion. Leaving the noble Lord, he would now proceed to notice some of the observations of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the West Riding. If that hon. Gentleman had not made some observations personal to those whom he had the honour to represent, he (Mr. Horsfall) thought it very possible that he should not have made any remarks upon the subject under discussion; but if he allowed such language as had been used in that House to pass unnoticed, he should not be deserving of the honour which had been conferred upon him by the great commercial community of Liverpool. It was very well known in that House and out of it, that the hon. Member for the West Riding had a particular affection for Liverpool and Liverpool people, and that he took every opportunity of showing it, and had, therefore, availed himself of that afforded by the discussion of our quarrel with the Chinese. In the course of his speech he said— I will take the memorial of the East India and China Association of Liverpool. These gentlemen are telling our Foreign Minister what they wish him to do in China, and let hon. Gentlemen hear what these moderate gentlemen wish to see effected. And he then quoted these words— That a revision of the tariff of customs duties should be made consistent with the spirit of the treaty concluded by Sir H. Pottinger, namely, an ad valorem duty of 5 per cent on exports and imports. The hon. Gentleman did not object to that, but then he went on to say— This is certainly a tariff which I should like to see applied to Liverpool. Let my Liverpool friends begin at home, and put themselves on the same platform with the Chinese. Now, there was no doubt about what the hon. Gentleman the Member for the West Riding had in view when he used those words. He recollected the penny which Liverpool made him pay on every bale of cotton which passed through that town. Then the hon. Gentleman went on to quote further from the memorial:— The British Government should insist on the right of opening to foreign trade any port on the 1534 coast of China, or on the banks of any navigable river at any time they may think fit, and of placing consuls at such ports; that our ships of war should have the free navigation of, and access to, all the ports and rivers of China. The hon. Gentleman then proceeded to say on his own account— As a friend, not an enemy of these gentlemen, I must say that such language as that is to be reprobated, because it tends to place us who sympathise with mercantile men at a great disadvantage, and regards even the naval and military classes. Contrast the kindly and conciliatory language used by General D’Aguilar and Admiral Cochrane with the downright selfish violence and the unreasoning injustice with which the Liverpool Association would treat an empire containing 300,000,000 people. Now, what was the intention, what was the view which hon. Gentlemen intended to convey to the House by that observation, but that the people of Liverpool intended to urge upon the Minister of the Crown to force their way into all the ports and rivers of China? Was not that the impression which the hon. Gentleman wished to convey to the House? [Mr. COBDEN: The word used is “insist.”] Yes; but neither violence nor force was proposed by the memorialists;—but how could there be selfish violence unless by the exercise of force! Now, what were the facts connected with this memorial to Lord Clarendon? Did the hon. Member for the West Riding know them, or did he not? It was written upon the assumption that we were at war with China, and that consequent upon that war another treaty would be necessary. The memorialists did not propose to Lord Clarendon, as the hon. Member for the West Riding bad stated, to force their way into the Canton ports and rivers, but they proposed—and very properly—that if a new treaty with China were rendered necessary, that in such a treaty the noble Lord should endeavour to obtain access to all the ports and rivers of China—a measure which he (Mr. Horsfall) contended would be beneficial, not only to the mercantile interests of this country, but to the whole empire of China. That was his reply to the charge of selfish violence against the merchants of Liverpool. There was no intention to urge upon the Government acts of violence; all they required was that in the ordinary course in which affairs of that nature were conducted, the Government should endeavour to obtain by treaty access to all the ports and rivers of China. Where was the selfish violence which the hon. Member for the West Riding had charged against the merchants of Liverpool. 1535 He hoped the hon. Member would explain what he meant when he came to reply, or else that he would withdraw his unfounded charge. Then the hon. Gentleman read other portions of the memorial; but he failed to read the last clause, in which he thought even the hon. Gentleman himself would admit that there was not much selfishness:—It was as follows: And that all other nations, whether parties to the treaty or otherwise, should possess the same advantages which may be conceded to Great Britain. He (Mr. Horsfall) thought there was much more selfishness on the part of a manufacturer who paid a penny upon every bale of his cotton which passed through Liverpool, taking every occasion in his power to drag his antipathies before the House. But let hon. Gentlemen mark the modesty of the hon. Member for the West Riding, which was quite characteristic of every speech which he (Mr. Horsfall) ever heard him deliver in that House. There was eloquence, no doubt, in his speech, and argument too, but not much modesty. He said, “I think I know more about the trade of China than these gentlemen.” That might be the opinion of the hon. Gentleman himself. He told the House of many countries in which he had travelled; but he (Mr. Horsfall) had not heard him mention China? But the gentlemen who were connected with the East India and China Association of Liverpool traded with China, many of them had resided there many years, and they know precisely what were its wants and requirements. And yet the hon. Member for the West Riding told them that he knew more about China than those gentlemen. He (Mr. Horsfall) thought he might safely leave it to the House to draw its own conclusion whether the charges which had been preferred against the merchants of Liverpool were at all justified? He might go a little further upon this point, but he did not wish unnecessarily to occupy the time of the House. But he would beg to remind the House and those hon. Friends who sat on that (the Opposition) side of the House, and who were about to follow the hon. Member as their leader on this occasion, that the hon. Gentleman’s knowledge was sometimes a little at fault. He would remind them that this was not the first occasion on which the hon. Gentleman had told the House that he had more information than other people. He (Mr. Horsfall) did not 1536 forget that the hon. Gentleman told the country that there would be no war with Russia—that he could crumple up Russia like a piece of paper. He thought the hon. Gentleman had by this time found that it was rather a stiff piece of paper. Then the hon. Gentleman proceeded to speak of the civilization of the Chinese, and contrasted it with that of the Liverpool merchants, and of those who took part in the hostilities against China. Now bad as Sir John Bowring and Mr. Consul Parkes had been represented to be, he did not think that they were so bad as the person who had drawn up the proclamation which, though it had been so often referred to in the course of the debate, had not yet been read. The proclamation which was issued by Mr. Commissioner Yeh was a rare specimen of civilization, and he would read it for the benefit of the hon. Member:— The English barbarians have attacked the provincial city, and wounded and injured our soldiers and people. Their crimes are indeed of the most heinous nature. Wherefore I herewith distinctly command you to join together to exterminate them, and I publicly proclaim to all the military and people, householders and others, that you should unite with all the means at your command to assist the soldiers and militia in exterminating these troublous English villains, killing them whenever you meet them, whether on shore or in their ships. For each of their lives that you may thus take you shall receive, as before, thirty dollars. All ought to respect and obey, and neither oppose nor disregard this special proclamation. This was a proclamation which emanated from the hon. Member’s civilized friend. He might just observe, that it appeared from the usual sources of information of that morning, that consequent upon this proclamation an English vessel was boarded and eleven persons murdered by the Chinese, and no doubt they received on account of the death of each of these unoffending persons the sum of thirty dollars. He wished the hon. Member for the West Riding joy of his civilized friends. He (Mr. Horsfall) would further observe that though he was not himself now engaged in the trade with China, he was so engaged some years ago. At that time he had a vessel lying off Canton, at the time of the great fire in that city. With the characteristic humanity of Englishmen, the captain and his crew—at least so many of them as could leave the ship—volunteered their services, and were thankfully admitted into the city. They assisted in extinguishing the flames, and fortunately they succeeded. 1537 No sooner had they done this great service than the civilized friends of the hon. Member for the West Riding, instead of thanking them for their services, turned upon them with their bayonets and drove the captain and crew out of the city. That was a specimen of the civilization of the people whom the hon. Member for the West Riding so highly extolled. He might follow the hon. Gentleman through many more of his observations, but he would not do so. There were many legal difficulties in the case which must be solved by wiser heads than his, by men who were competent to deal with points of law, and he would therefore content himself with stating in a few words why he should vote against the Motion which the hon. Member for the West Riding had proposed. He was not one of those who would refuse to vote with the hon. Gentleman because he generally differed from him on political questions, if he thought that the conclusion to which he wished the House to arrive was founded in justice. But he (Mr. Horsfall) believed that if the House should agree to the hon. Gentleman’s Resolution it would be guilty of an act of great injustice. An assent to it would in effect amount to a direct censure on Sir John Bowring, an absent friend of the hon. Member for the West Riding. It would amount in effect to a censure on an absent Admiral—an Admiral who, if he (Mr. Horsfall) was correctly informed, was one of the most humane, as well as the most gallant Commanders in the British navy. It would amount in effect to a vote of censure on that noble Lord who had so well and so successfully conducted the foreign affairs of this country for so many years. It would amount in effect to a censure on Her Majesty’s Government; and although he differed from Her Majesty’s Government on many questions, he was not one of those who could join in the proposed vote of censure against them on this occasion, because he did not see anything in the papers before the House which would in any respect justify such a vote. But he would go a little further. He must look at what the consequences of such a vote as this would be. When he spoke of consequences, he was not alluding to any party consequences, such as the difficulty, as some had supposed, in finding successors to Her Majesty’s present Ministers, to accept the reins of Government; but he was alluding to more serious matters. 1538 What, he would ask, would be the effect in China of a vote on this question adverse to the policy of the Government? Hon. Members must bear in mind that the intelligence of any decision in that House adverse to the British authorities would reach the Chinese as soon as it would the British residents; and judging from the knowledge which a trade in that country had given him, and from the best information he could collect from those who were thoroughly acquainted with China, he would not undertake to be responsible for British property, British interests, or British lives, if this Resolution were agreed to. It was upon these grounds, amongst others with which he would not weary the House, that he should record his vote most cordially, most sincerely, against the Motion which had been proposed by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the West Riding.
said, it was not his province to defend the hon. Member for the West Riding from the attack made upon him by the hon. Member for Liverpool; but he should observe that the charge made against the Liverpool memorialists by the hon. Member for the West Riding was founded on their demand that British “ships of war should have the free navigation of and access to all ports and rivers of China.” A demand such as that was undoubtedly the most extraordinary ever heard of, and would never be complied with by any independent State that was not reduced to the very last condition of weakness. Did the Liverpool merchants consider when they were making that request that they were making a request that the Government of this country should commence an internecine war in China? The hon. Member for Liverpool, and other hon. Members, had made reference to what had been called the sanguinary proclamation of Governor Yeh. But had they not been told from the Treasury Bench that England was not at war with China? If we were not at war with China, it was clear we were conducting a bucaneering expedition; and if a bucaneering expedition against England was directed from the French or any other shores, would not quite as hostile a proclamation issue from Her Majesty’s Government? It was clear that Governor Yeh was acting on the very conclusion arrived at by our own Government—namely, that England was not at war with China. But he had truly stated 1539 that we had slain multitudes of the Chinese, and had battered down the houses over the heads of his countrymen, when no proclamation of war had ever been issued; and was he not, under such circumstances, justified in considering that those people who were bombarding and sacking the town were bucaneers? As to the opinion of the Liverpool merchants on such matters, he looked upon that as quite irrelevant to the present discussion, and he would tell the House why. He had never been in China, but he had been in a great many other British colonies, and he had never been in one where it was not the desire to go to war with the countries adjacent. The colonial merchants did not pay for these wars, which, on the other hand, were the cause of an immense military expenditure on the colony engaged in hostilities. Therefore, there never was any one so warlike as the merchant of the British colonies. The hon. Member who spoke last seemed to assume that the Arrow was a British vessel. He (Lord Robert Cecil) was not going to enter into the legal part of the question, but he thought that it lay in a nutshell, and was open even to a layman’s apprehension. The learned Lord Advocate tried to escape from the inevitable consequences of asserting that it was truly a British vessel by entering largely into questions of municipal and international law. If the learned Lord Advocate’s position were correct, we might claim to cover every Chinese ship with a British flag. But it could not be questioned that the ordinance of Hong Kong declared that no British ship or vessel whatsoever should be at liberty to enter Chinese rivers unless provided with a certificate in conformity with the Imperial acts in that behalf; and it had been made abundantly clear that the Arrow was not a registered vessel, because fourteen days before the search took place her register had expired. Even if the view put forward by the Government—that the registry would hold good so long as the vessel was at sea—were correct, it did not apply in the case before the House. The Arrow was not at sea; she was not in stress of weather; but she was up the river, where she had been for a fortnight after the registry had expired. She made no effort to have the registry renewed; and therefore all the special pleading that they had heard about the injustice of forfeiting a ship’s register while she was at sea or prevented by a 1540 stress of weather from renewing her register was absolutely worthless. There had been a good deal of dispute as to whether the British flag was hoisted on the Arrow1541 instances been abused by British officials. Within the last year or two, Kars, one of the most important cities in Asia, had been lost to our ally at a very critical moment through the womanish pettishness of an Ambassador. The conduct of another Ambassador had very nearly brought on a war that had been well characterized as a fratricidal war; and in Persia we did not know how far we had been involved by another Helen. If instead of backing up our Plenipotentiaries we did not impose a check upon them, there was no saying to what extent they might not damage our interests and involve us in hostilities. Much had been said of the honour of England; but there could be no doubt that brute force had been employed to an extent injurious to our commercial interests. Were the English looked upon by foreign nations as honest traders? No. It was a fact that many of those nations looked upon the trade of England as the mere precursor to her dominion. Since the time of Clive, the Indian policy of this country had been, to say the least, very equivocal. Look at it in Persia, Burmah, and China—in each our first advances had been repelled with horror and indignation, because it was felt that we should take the first opportunity of picking a quarrel and encroaching on the rights of the native government. An aggressive character was the most dangerous one this country could get. If they had that, no character for honour would free it from the suspicion of independent nations. The statesmen of this country should not proceed on the policy of bearing any insults from strong nations like America, and inflicting insults on weak powers like China. On the contrary, they should always be ready to disavow acts of unauthorized aggression; and a character for honour, justice, and truth, would do more to induce the jealous Chinese to open their ports to us than any demonstration of force and violence we could employ against them. when she was boarded; but it did not seem to him to be very material whether the flag was hoisted or not. What, however, was true beyond all dispute was that the evidence on which Governor Yeh acted was clear that it was not hoisted, and in forming our judgment on his conduct we must look at things from his point of view. We had, besides, evidence to some extent that even if the flag was up, no insult was intended. However, taking the matter at the worst, and admitting that the Chinese officials had been in fault, the question that still presented itself was, had the British authorities acted properly in the steps they took to avenge the insult? What would be the conduct of English authorities if they had cause to complain of the conduct of Russian officials? Would they proceed to batter down Russian forts and cities? No; they would send to St. Petersburgh and enter into diplomatic negotiations. They had done so on former occasions. Why, then, should not a similar course be adopted in respect to the Chinese empire? He said, then, that even supposing the Government to have been right at first, in their mode of vindicating their rights they had violated every international law. But it was said, as an excuse for the mode of action that had been adopted in this case, that the Chinese had been guilty of several previous insults. Now, was that a fair defence? What would they say to a jury who would, on an indictment for arson, find a man guilty because he had previously committed a murder? They ought, at least, to have communicated with the heads of the Chinese Government before making them accountable for the acts of their officials, or any portion of the people. Hon. Members would remember the treatment which General Haynau met at the hands of some of the people of this country; yet our Government declared that they were not prepared to accept the responsibility of being answerable for that treatment. The hon. Member who had last spoken (Mr. Horsfall) had strongly urged upon the House the necessity of upholding our representatives abroad. As he (Lord Robert Cecil) read the history of recent times, it had appeared to him that of late years the prerogative of British power had in many
said, he had so high an opinion of the moderation, humanity, and discretion of Sir Michael Seymour, that be did not for a moment believe that he would have fired one unnecessary shot against the Chinese. In regard to the affair of the Arrow, he believed it certain that Sir Michael Seymour was conscientiously convinced that she was to all intents and purposes a British vessel. It had been said that her licence was out. 1542 But he could not understand how a vessel making a voyage, and detained from bad weather from reaching her port, could thereby lose her protection. Her licence would not be out until she had finished her voyage, and until she had arrived at the port from which she had sailed. It had been said that the Chinese did not know it. He (Sir Charles Napier) did not care whether they knew it or not. That the flag was flying there was no doubt, and there was just as little doubt that it was hauled down by the Chinese. What reparation was asked for this, and for the seizure of the men? All that was required was that the men should be sent back in the same public manner as that in which they were taken out of the vessel—that they should not be taken back in a sneaking private way—and that there should be an apology. Good God! there was nothing extraordinary in that! If a man knocked another’s hat off, and then knocked him down, surely an apology would be required. But we had only asked for an apology, and an apology was refused by the Chinese. Some time ago, when the French were at war with Mexico, the French Admiral, in a very hasty and improper manner, went on board an English man-of-war, and took a pilot out by force. He remembered that the Admiral on the station was very ill thought of for not taking some decisive measures on that occasion. Had he (Sir Charles Napier) been there, he would have insisted upon Prince Joinville going on board the very man-of-war from which he had taken the pilot and making a public apology; or he would have brought him to England. In the present case, supposing that Sir Michael Seymour, knowing that the English flag had been hauled down and insulted, had taken no notice of it, the newspapers would have been furious, and hon. Gentlemen in that House would have said that Admiral Seymour was deficient in spirit and courage, and that he had not done his duty: it would have been urged that he should be recalled, and he (Sir Charles Napier) had no doubt whatever that he would have been recalled. They blamed Sir John Bowring, and they did not blame Sir Michael Seymour; but if Sir John Bowring was to blame, Admiral Seymour was to blame also. [“No, no!”] Yes, it would have been so; for Sir Michael Seymour was the Commander in Chief on the station, and was bound to use his discretion, and if Sir John Bowring 1543 was wrong in his instructions, he ought boldly to have resisted them. If there had been any war junks there, it would have been better for Admiral Seymour to have seized them until reparation was made; but he did not understand that there were any men-of-war junks there—there was thought to be one, but it turned out to be a merchant vessel. If Admiral Seymour had done nothing, but had pocketed the affront, the Chinese and all foreign nations would have united in denunciation of his mean spirit, and would have said that he had allowed the British flag to be hauled down before his eyes, and that he had not the courage or resolution to resent the insult. No doubt they must all regret that innocent persons should lose their lives; but there did not appear to have been much loss of lives in this unfortunate affair; but if there had been, it had been caused by the conduct of the Chinese Commissioner, and the loss of life rested entirely on his head. He repeated that he knew Admiral Seymour to be so just, so humane, and so discreet a man, that he was quite certain he would never have gone to the extent he had done if he could have vindicated the honour of his country in any other way.
said the hon. and gallant Admiral appeared to think he had satisfactorily disposed of the question of the lorcha Arrow by stating what he would have done if the Admiral of the French navy had taken away a sailor from on board one of her Majesty’s ships under his command. He confessed the two cases seemed to him to have no connection with one another. That, however, was the sum and substance of the gallant Admiral’s speech, with the exception of his defence of Sir Michael Seymour, whose conduct was not impugned; and still, therefore, the argument in this debate, except from those who sat on the Treasury Bench, was all on one side. He did not intend to enter at length into the question whether the Arrow was, or was not, a British vessel within the meaning of the Supplementary Treaty, which had been so much discussed already, because he could justify the vote he was about to give, even if, for the sake of argument, everything were granted as to the character of the vessel which her Majesty’s Government advanced. With reference, however, to the severe censure of the hon. Member for the West Riding on the untrue language of Sir John Bowring, the Lord Advocate said that the 1544 despatches did not show that Sir John Bowring concealed the facts of the case from the Chinese. It was true Sir John Bowring’s despatch said the lorcha could not be legally protected, and the Chinese did not know it; but it did not proceed to instruct Consul Parkes not to tell the Chinese. Sir John Bowring did something worse. Having written that despatch to Mr. Consul Parkes on the 13th of October, he wrote to Commissioner Yeh on the 14th of November,—”There is no doubt that the lorcha Arrow lawfully bore the British flag under a register granted by me.” The hon. Member for Taunton (Sir J. Ramsden) spoke of it as an error on the part of Sir John Bowring, meaning that it was an error on his part to doubt whether the Arrow could be legally protected. But that did not alter the moral bearing of the question. Sir John Bowring believed that the Arrow could not be legally protected, and yet wrote to Yeh that she lawfully bore the British flag. The House might be willing to pardon an error which was not intentional, but it was a different thing to endorse an error which involved the deliberate statement of that which was not true. He would not further argue the question as to the vessel because at the present moment we were not fighting about the lorcha Arrow, but really whether Sir John Bowring should or should not be carried in triumph to the gates of Canton. The hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen (Mr. Whiteside) had quoted the very language of Consul Parkes to the Chinese authorities, that if reparation for the Arrow was all they wanted, the Admiral would have been satisfied long ago. Let the House consider the various circumstances under which these demands had been made. Up to the 24th October the only demands made by Sir John Bowring related to the original affront, the affair of the Arrow: he demanded that the men taken from the Arrow should be returned, that an apology should be made, and a promise given that the treaty should be strictly observed in future. On the 24th of October the twelve men were returned, though not received by Consul Parkes on a point of etiquette, and the promise was given that the treaty should not be violated in future. The noble Lord the Member for the City of London—no mean judge of the requirements of British honour—thought it had been sufficiently vindicated. Consul Parkes had stated early in the dispute that if a warjunk 1545 were seized our honour would be vindicated. But not only a junk was seized, but four Chinese forts had been stormed and occupied; and therefore on the 24th of October any reasonable man would have thought there was a possibility of a peaceable settlement. It seemed as if that dreadful supposition dawned on the mind of Sir John Bowring, for he immediately wrote to Sir Michael Seymour, suggesting that circumstances were auspicious to bring forward a fresh demand. Now, when he (Viscount Goderich) read the first batch of papers that had been laid before the House, he was at a loss to understand what could have induced Sir John Bowring to come forward with these demands; for it seemed to him that circumstances were extremely inauspicious for seeking entry into Canton, when we had just been destroying the forts and attacking the Government of that city. But the second batch of papers revealed the secret—Sir John Bowring was bent on seizing the first opportunity, just or unjust, good or bad, to realize the object of his darling hopes. From the first unhappy moment of his appointment as Superintendent of Trade and Plenipotentiary, Sir John Bowring had become possessed by what had been justly termed a monomania for getting into the city. Cautioned by Lord Granville and snubbed by Lord Malmesbury, he stuck to his object with singular pertinacity. In 1852 he wrote a despatch remonstrating against the most wise caution of Lord Granville, which concluded in these terms:—”A demonstration may be useful, but I do not anticipate disasters.” He was prepared, however, to run the risk of disasters for the sake of objects which Sir John Davis and Sir George Bonham had abandoned, which had been repudiated by the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and the attempt to obtain which had been censured by other Secretaries of State. The question the House has to decide is whether we are prepared to sanction such conduct on the part of our agents abroad. No doubt our Government was bound to support its agents if they faithfully adhered to their instructions, or if they were dealing with men who had been led into error by over-zeal, by too strict an obedience to orders or unintentional misinterpretation of them. But was the House prepared to sanction the doctrine that Government was bound to support its agents in such doings as these books revealed?—when Sir John Bowring was using one language to his 1546 subordinates in private, but language absolutely contradictory to the Chinese Government?—when he had pursued a private crotchet of his own, in contradiction to the orders and warnings of successive Administrations—when he had moreover ventured to usurp the prerogative of the Crown, by declaring war without a reference to his superiors at home? It was idle to say we were not at war with China, when it was admitted that we were not fighting about the lorcha, but for the fulfilment of a treaty. It was said, too, that we were not avenging one isolated insult, but a long series of insults. The hon. Member for Taunton (Sir John Ramsden) deserved credit for his selection, in support of this assertion, of a single extract—a mere handbill circulated at Canton without any sign of its being an official document. A list of the various insults offered by the Chinese since the conclusion of the treaty of Nankin appeared in the blue-books laid on the table, with the curious title of “Insults in China.”—They amounted to thirty-seven in all in a period of fourteen years; and what were these outrages which were piled on the back of the lorcha dispute to make it big enough to justify our violence? Two of the alleged injuries were actually insults offered by Englishmen to the Chinese, not by the Chinese to Englishmen; and of the remainder two were American cases, two related to Frenchmen, and were therefore cases with which this country had had nothing to do. In short, when fairly examined, it turned out that only twenty-two of the entire catalogue of thirty-seven insults were instances in which the Chinese had attacked Englishmen, and that in every one of them our successive Plenipotentiaries, down to Sir John Bowring himself, had been satisfied with the reparation made by the Chinese authorities. The Secretary of State for the Colonies, unable to meet the cogent arguments of the hon. Member for the West Riding, had talked largely about our national honour; and the Vice President of the Board of Trade had also put himself forward as though he were the only man in the House who respected the flag of his country. He ventured to tell the right hon. Gentleman that hon. Members who meant to vote for this Motion did not yield to him in love for their country, but they believed they would best preserve the honour of England untarnished, best maintain respect for her flag, by entering their earnest protest against a 1547 policy which combined, in strange and unnatural union, the insolence of power and the duplicity of weakness. They were told that in dealing with an Oriental nation we must be prompt to resent an affront, and never recede from any position we took up. But the legitimate influence of England in the East rested not less upon her reputation for truth and justice as compared with Oriental Powers, than on a wide-spread conviction of her power. The question they had to-night was, what should be the future policy of this country towards China. Two opposite lines of policy were open to us in our intercourse with China. One was the policy of peace and forbearance which had been pursued with so much success for the last fifteen years, and under which our trade had so enormously increased. The other was the Bowring policy, which sought by violence and deception to enforce rights which Sir George Bonham told us would be of no use if conceded, and which would entail on us inevitable dissensions and dangers. The demand of Sir John Bowring to be admitted personally to Canton was avowedly made as only a step towards securing the recognition of the right of all British subjects to enter that city. But our Plenipotentiary was not satisfied with the mere fulfilment of the treaty of 1842 in this respect; for in his letter to M. de Courcy he spoke of requiring “the revision of the treaties with China.” The House was much indebted to the ingenuousness of the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Horsfall) and of his constituents for disclosing their views on this question of the revision of the treaties. They wished our Government to demand that British vessels of war should be admitted into the ports and rivers of China. But if we insisted on any such condition, China must cease in any intelligible sense of the word to be an independent nation. That, however, would be the natural consequence of Sir John Bowring’s policy. The hon. Member for Liverpool told them that he intended to vote against this Motion because it was a vote of censure on Sir John Bowring. He (Viscount Goderich) told them that he intended to vote for it, because it passed a censure on the conduct of our representative in China. He believed Sir John Bowring deserved the censure of Parliament; but if the Government should succeed in defeating this Motion, he hoped it would at least have the good effect of teaching them to be careful for the future 1548 whom they selected as their representatives in distant colonies. They had heard of gentlemen being appointed for various reasons. Some gentlemen were appointed Governors of colonies because it was inconvenient for them to live in England; others because nothing better turned up for them here; and he had heard it said that some had been appointed because, as Members of that House, they had proved themselves such insufferable bores that everybody was glad to get them out of hearing. He hoped no more such appointments would be made for the future. If we persevered in the course we were now embarked in, the time must speedily come when we should have either to take possession permanently of the Chinese ports, or to abandon altogether all the objects of this long contention. Either alternative appeared to him to be equally dangerous; and he would give his vote for the Motion in order that he might do what lay in him to induce the House to express their disapprobation of a policy which he believed to be inconsistent with the character, and contrary to the interests of England, and to mark with their just displeasure the conduct of an officer who had disobeyed the orders of his superiors, and disregarded the interests of his country for the gratification of his own obstinate but puerile ambition.
said, he was prepared to admit that making every possible allowance for the difficulty which a Government must always experience in repudiating the acts of one of their servants in a distant colony, and also making every allowance for the difficulty of obtaining all the details connected with transactions of this kind, quite enough had appeared in the course of this discussion, and from the papers before the House, to justify, as far as its words were concerned, the Resolution of the hon. Member for the West Riding. It seemed to him, however, that that was not all the House had to consider, and that he should be very ill-fulfilling his duty towards those who had honoured him with their confidence by sending him to this House, and his duty to the people of the country at large, if he allowed himself to join in pronouncing an abstract opinion upon certain words contained in the Resolution, without first weighing and considering what might be the consequences both to this and to other countries of the vote he gave. So far as Sir John Bowring and 1549 Mr. Consul Parkes were concerned, he was quite ready to concur in all the censure that had been passed upon them, and to admit that the sooner they were removed from their present position to a somewhat more useful sphere the better; but he was bound to look at the effect which this Resolution would produce upon other persons besides them. Of course, it was not his business to defend the Government of the noble Lord; that they could do for themselves; but he would not permit himself to say “Yes” or “No” upon an abstract Resolution without exercising the full privileges of considering the effect of giving such a vote. He meant no disrespect to the hon. Member for the West Riding; but he was certainly inclined to think that his hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool (Mr. Horsfall) was more likely to be a good authority with regard to the position of the English in China than the hon. Member who had brought forward this Resolution; and it so happened that the opinion which his hon. Friend had expressed tallied exactly with all the information he (Mr. Bentinck) had obtained on the subject; and without reference to the Resolution now before the House or to the demerits of Her Majesty’s Government in the transaction that had occurred, which he would overlook altogether, he conscientiously believed, from all he could learn, that if a vote of censure were passed upon our diplomatists in China and the Government at home, when the announcement of that vote arrived in China it would so complicate affairs there that it might be the means not only of perpetuating the state of things they all so sincerely deplored, but tend to aggravate it to an extent that might produce tenfold the loss that had already taken place. Under these circumstances, he felt he should be abdicating his duty as a Member of that House if he consented to vote upon an abstract Resolution without reference to its consequences. That, then, was one of the grounds on which he was not prepared to support the Motion. He was not prepared to take upon himself the responsibility of giving a vote which he believed might lead to consequences of the most melancholy and deplorable description. But he had another motive for his vote which he would state to the House briefly. He was certainly not a supporter of Her Majesty’s present Government, whom he would leave to fight 1550 their own battles. He would give them, however, this limited merit. They had this one advantage—that if they were powerless for good, they were undoubtedly also powerless for evil; and in his view that negative merit was not a small one. He would further say that there was no man in that House more anxious than himself (Mr. Bentinck) to see a pure Conservative Government at the head of affairs. No man in the House, he would add, would exert himself more strenuously to secure that object. But adverting to the fact that he was bound to look at the Motion as a vote of censure on the Government, and assuming the possibility that an adverse vote might be passed, and the Government resign their seats as a consequence of it, he could only say, that he, for one, would never be accessory, by word or deed, to bringing into power—more particularly in combination with a Conservative Government—any of those right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, who, for the last six years, had been closely identified with all the most anti-Protestant and democratic measures which had been brought before Parliament.
said, he would not trespass upon the attention of the House at any length, as he knew they were desirous of hearing the right hon. Member for Carlisle, who had risen at the same time. He wished, however, to discharge a duty towards an absent servant of the Crown, who was also an absent Friend, whose conduct had been assailed in that House. The hon. and gallant Member for Dartmouth (Sir T. Herbert) had made an attack upon the gallant Admiral in command in the Chinese seas, which he (Sir M. Berkeley) did not think was justifiable. In his opinion, the hon. and gallant Member had been carried away by feelings of partisanship, rather than by a clear idea of the case, and had given an account of Admiral Seymour’s proceedings totally at variance with the facts. The hon. and gallant Member (Sir T. Herbert) said— Surely the circumstances of the case were no justification for our representative, upon his own authority, ordering the admiral, not only to destroy forts, but to bombard for three days a commercial town containing 1,500,000 inhabitants, involving an indiscriminate slaughter of unoffending and unresisting citizens. It was said, too, that such a bombardment was an act of signal forbearance. Forbearance it was, with a vengeance. He could not imagine how a British admiral, without any declaration of war, or orders from 1551 the Admiralty, could have been a party, and, as it appeared, a willing party, to such frightful transactions, and that he should think he was at liberty and warranted to destroy the lives and property of a city because it happened to be governed by a man whom he regarded as being guilty of the crime of pertinacity and discourtesy for declining his offered visit at his yamun in the city. Now, it so happened that, although Sir Michael Seymour bombarded the forts surrounding Canton, he did not fire a single shot into the city until he had sent his own captain on shore twice to warn the “peaceable inhabitants” and “civil people” who had offered a reward for the heads of Englishmen. Sir Michael Seymour took every possible means to acquaint the inhabitants of Canton with the course he intended to pursue, so that they might remove from the danger; nay, more, instead of even then bombarding the city, he directed his fire on the walls instead of the buildings, so as not to injure private property more than was unavoidable. Indeed, had Admiral Seymour bombarded the town, it would undoubtedly have been reduced to a ruin. The hon. and gallant Member had also stated that these proceedings took place without the sanction of Her Majesty’s Government; but surely the hon. and gallant Officer knew that it was necessary that a commander in chief upon a foreign station should frequently assume considerable responsibility without waiting for orders from England. If a contrary principle were adopted, the best plan would be to keep all commanders in chief intended for foreign stations in British harbours, and to send them out when it was too late to accomplish anything. As regarded the qualities of the gallant Officer in question, he must say that Sir Michael Seymour was as well fitted for a command, where great responsibility was implied, as any man he had ever known. Sir Michael Seymour was an officer of great discretion, judgment, and good temper, and—as Christianity had been mentioned—he would say that he was a truly Christian man. The hon. and gallant Member for Dartmouth (Sir T. Herbert) had referred to the statement in a despatch of Sir Michael Seymour, that he had been unwilling to fight on a Sunday. He (Sir M. Berkeley) thought it would be admitted that the Sabbath was not an appropriate day for the commencement of hostilities; but he gave Sir Michael Seymour credit for having availed himself of the plea in order to give the obstinate Chinese an additional twenty-four hours for consideration. 1552 He would not trouble the House further, for his only object was to defend an absent brother officer. He would conclude by quoting the opinion of Lord St. Vincent:—”When your Ambassadors fail, call upon your Admirals; their broadsides will be irresistible; but it is the province of the British officer to go about the world doing no wrong.”
Sir, I would gladly have rested the vote I am prepared to give on this question upon the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for the West Riding, who moved the Resolution, and upon the speech of the noble Member for the City of London—and perhaps it would have been prudent on my part to observe silence—had I not felt that I have a duty to perform to an absent friend, and a debt of justice to discharge to a public servant who has taken a prominent part in the transactions under consideration. My duty as a friend has been in some degree anticipated by the hon. and gallant Admiral who has just addressed the House. I have long known Sir Michael Seymour, the absent friend in question, and I fully corroborate all that has been said by the gallant Admiral of his professional and private character. I believe Sir Michael Seymour to be one of the most brave, humane, and discreet officers in Her Majesty’s service, and I am bound to say I do not think that a better selection for the Chinese command could possibly have been made. I would add also in confirmation of what my right hon. and gallant Friend (Admiral Berkeley) has said, that I do not think that, in the discharge of the duties of his command, any man would be more certainly influenced by a spirit of humanity and by Christian principle than Sir Michael Seymour. I have said thus much of an esteemed and gallant Friend, and all my presumption would be in favour of the course which, in difficult circumstances, that gallant officer thought fit to adopt. My right hon. and gallant Friend has observed, that when the Ambassador fails the Admiral is called upon to act. In this case the Ambassador, invested with the full authority of the Crown, has, in my view, called upon the Admiral to act in the first instance; he exercised his own discretion and has left little or none to the Admiral.
Far from regarding this as an abstract question, it appears to me to be one of the gravest and most complicated, but at the same time one of the most practical questions 1553 that can be raised in any deliberative assembly. It is difficult as a question of law; it is difficult as a question of policy. It raises the gravest considerations of humanity and religion. I am, however, in addition to these difficulties, oppressed with one consideration—namely, the great nicety of the question to what extent, on so distant a station, an Admiral, wielding the immense power of England, should be subservient to the discretion of a civil servant of the Crown, whose judgment, perhaps, is by no means superior to that of the Admiral. Now, immense interests are at stake upon this question, and, on the whole, I am decidedly of opinion that it would be very inexpedient to define within narrow limits the duty of an Admiral in the circumstances which have been described. My belief is, that there must be no hesitation with reference to the quarter in which the supreme authority rests. I consider that an Admiral must be regarded as a ministerial officer in cases of this kind, and that the supreme authority must be vested in the civil representative of Her Majesty. But if that civil representative be armed with such authority, he incurs the most weighty responsibility that can well be conceived when he calls upon an Admiral in command of the naval power of the country to make war without a declaration of war. And if the responsibility of that civil servant be great, how much greater is the responsibility of the executive Government here, which has to decide on the course taken under such circumstances by a civil officer unaccustomed to command, and yet wielding his authority to the extent of involving this country in all the fatal consequences, without, I am afraid, much of the honour of war.
I have said, also, that I have a debt of justice to perform to another public servant. It would be altogether unworthy of me to bear either hardly or unjustly on Sir John Bowring, but the truth must be spoken and justice must be done. We are able to form pretty just estimates of the character of those with whom we have sat within these walls for some time, and many of us did sit in Parliament with Sir John Bowring. I shall freely express the opinion I have formed of him on that knowledge. I think him a man very apt to form strong opinions—to adopt them with precipitation—invariably pushing those opinions to the utmost extreme; and, on the whole, more remarkable for his self-confidence 1554 than for the soundness of his judgment. The responsibility of selecting him for the peculiar duties he has to discharge in China was a very grave responsibility incurred by the Government; but he having been selected, I do think, if the Government believe, on the whole, that he has exercised his discretion wisely, they are bound in honour and duty to uphold his acts. From the moment, however, that they do so uphold Sir John Bowring’s acts, they identify themselves with all that he has done—with his reasons, with his conduct,—and I do not think, therefore, that with reference to this question it would be just to bear too hardly on the officer for whose acts they are responsible. Before I sit down, I shall endeavour to show to the House, that if Sir John Bowring has erred, it is by no means clear that he did not believe that he was simply giving effect to the wishes of Her Majesty’s Government.
Sir, on the question of law involved in this case, I should be sorry to detain the House at any great length. I waited with some anxiety to hear some one of the law officers of the Crown give us an exposition, not only of international law, but of the municipal law strictly bearing on this particular case, especially after the powerful arguments that have been adduced on this subject on different sides of the House. But I have waited in vain, for neither the Attorney General nor the Solicitor General has risen to give us any information on the subject. It would be presumptuous in me, unlearned in these matters, to express too strong an opinion where doubts have been entertained by such grave authorities; but I must say that it appears to me that this matter, after all, as a question of law, lies within a narrow compass. The facts upon which the question arises stare us in the face in the very first page of the book which is in all our hands. Consul Parkes states broadly that the Arrow, a British lorcha, entitled to hoist British colours in the Chinese waters, was boarded by the Chinese authorities, the British flag pulled down, and the rights of the British flag thereby violated. The question then presents itself—was the Arrow in reality a British lorcha, and had she a right to hoist the British flag? What are the admitted facts? The Arrow was built by a Chinese, she was sold by a Chinese, bought by a Chinese, was owned by a Chinese, and was manned by Chinese. And yet it is contended that by some 1555 magic process she has been converted into a British ship. Now, the 17th Article in the Supplementary Treaty has special reference to the smaller class of vessels called lorchas. The ninth Article, which is the principal one, provides that where, either on board a British man-of-war or on board a British merchant ship, any culprits shall be concealed, or, on the other hand, where British subjects escape into the Chinese territory, the authorities of both countries are bound by an act of extradition to surrender such culprits to each other; and all that the 17th Article contains with respect to the small vessels called lorchas, does not in the least degree impair the regulation laid down in the ninth, but merely super adds certain provisions suited to the coasting trade and coasting vessels. The question, then, comes back to this—was the Arrow in a position equivalent to that of an English merchant ship under these articles? The other point, as to the right to hoist the flag, is a minor point, included in the major one of being a British ship; for unless she was a British ship she was not entitled to hoist the British flag. In dealing with this question, I cannot discharge from my consideration the fact that the Imperial Acts of 1853 and 1854 were both introduced prior to the colonial ordinance of Hong Kong, which gives the right to grant licences to these small vessels. The principle with reference to the Merchant Seamen‘s Act of 1854 is most clearly stated by the law adviser of the Board of Trade, in answer to a question put to him by my noble Friend the Member for London, when he was Secretary of State for the Colonies, with respect to this ordinance of Hong Kong. The passage was quoted by the hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen (Mr. Whiteside): he puts the whole matter shortly and clearly to the effect, that the test of being a British ship is confined almost, if not exclusively, to the question of ownership. The Act is worded with peculiar care, and the hoisting of the flag is made posterior to, and dependent on, the greater question of ownership. If there be no ownership, there is no right to hoist the flag. The question therefore comes back always to this point—was the lorcha a British ship? and to prove that she was a British ship, was she owned by subjects of Great Britain? It is not pretended that the owner in this case was a British subject. That is only contended for by the acting Attorney General of Hong Kong; our friend Mr. Anstey 1556 had not arrived when these events happened, and Sir John Bowring had only the advantage of the opinion of the acting Attorney General, who says that Crown tenants, Chinese aliens, though not naturalized, not having taken the oath of allegiance, shall, secundum leges, become British subjects for this purpose, because, as he says, they have done all that they can do to approach that position. My right hon. Friend the Vice President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Lowe) argued this point last night in a manner which, considering his knowledge of law generally, his knowledge of colonial law in particular, and his great acuteness, has somewhat surprised me. He said there were in Hong Kong 60,000 Chinese, and he argued that because Hong Kong was a Crown colony, ceded to the Crown by conquest or by treaty, that that transfer to the Crown converted all the Chinese inhabitants in the eye of the law into British subjects. Somebody puts me in mind that he did not go the length of saying that they were British subjects, but quasi British subjects. I might ask—where does my right hon. Friend find his warrant in the Merchant Seamen‘s Act for making use of the term quasi British subjects? But I will go further—I will state on what is competent authority, that at the conquest of Hong Kong, when the transfer was made to the Crown, there were not more than 1,000 Chinese inhabitants of that island. An immense population from China has since been attracted there, and one peculiar kind of attraction has been the opium trade—they are, in fact, the off scourings of the opium trade. This immense population of Chinese have obtained, under this local colonial Act—which cannot be considered as the act of a deliberative assembly, but only that of Sir John Bowring, with the aid of the assistant Attorney General—certain rights as quasi (as my right hon. Friend terms it) though not expressly British subjects. As I understand, it is a moot point in law whether an alien in the colony has a right to be a tenant direct from the Crown; but, in addition to that, I may state that my noble Friend (Lord John Russell), when he saw this ordinance, exercised the utmost caution with respect to it. He did not venture to give to it, as Secretary of State, the sanction of the Crown without carefully observing all the formalities which the Imperial law imposes. He sent it back to the colony to be reported on with reference to the objections 1557 made by the Board of Trade, and the answer to these objections you will find recorded at page six of the papers which relate to the colonial ordinance. But what was the course taken by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Labouchere) who last night addressed the House on this subject? Upon the authority of an opinion of a very equivocal kind, the Board of Trade, reconsidering this matter and not confining their attention to the question of the law, but introducing questions of policy which it became rather the Government than the Board of Trade to consider, say that, upon the whole, they think the consent of the Crown may be given to this ordinance. Now, observe, Sir, the Imperial Act deliberately says that, with respect to an ordinance of this description two essential requisites must be attended to—first, that the consent of the Crown shall be given by Her Majesty in Council; and, secondly, that it shall be proclaimed in the British colony which it may concern. But the Secretary of State for the Colonies, taking a high prerogative view of the subject, says that the Minister of his own authority may convey to the Governor of a Crown colony the pleasure of the Crown without adopting the preliminary course of obtaining the consent of Her Majesty in Council; and it is further to be remarked that in the present case the important ceremony of proclamation did not take place. Therefore, Sir, whether we regard the Imperial Act with reference to the ownership of a vessel, or whether we regard the colonial Act giving to the Chinese a quasi right as British subjects, the provisions of the Legislature have been set aside; and, as I must humbly contend, until I hear some arguments more conclusive and more convincing than I have yet heard, the register granted to the lorcha Arrow was invalid ab initio, those holding under it had no right as British owners, and, whatever the disputed facts may have been with regard to hauling down the flag, the owners of the vessel were not entitled to hoist that flag. The extradition article, the ship not being a British ship, did not apply; an admitted pirate, who had broken the laws of China, was on board the vessel in the inner waters of Canton, within a stone’s throw of the Chinese authorities; and, if in such circumstances the Arrow was not a British vessel, which I contend she was not, the Chinese had the most perfect right to board her and take the malefactor.
But, Sir, this is a very small part of the 1558 case. The House is fuller than it was when my noble Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Viscount Goderich), addressed you, and put a point, which, it appears to me, is of vital importance in this case. It was also put by the hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen (Mr. Whiteside). The question is no less than this—were not Sir John Bowring and Consul Parkes perfectly aware that at the time of the seizure the lorcha Arrow was not entitled to British protection? I assume for the moment that I am entirely wrong with regard to the British ownership. I assume that the colonial ordnance was valid, and that the licence granted under it was effective. But that licence was only for a limited period. It had been granted for only a year. That year had expired, and, notwithstanding what fell from the hon. and gallant Admiral, the Member for Southwark (Sir Charles Napier), it is not even pretended by Sir John Bowring, by Consul Parkes, or by their legal advisers in Hong Kong, that the licence having expired, and not being renewed, continued valid. There is, indeed, a provision with respect to sea-going vessels, that, after the lapse of a year, until they return again to Hong Kong, the licence shall continue in force. But it must be remembered that the trade between Hong Kong and Canton must be regarded rather as a coasting than as an ocean trade. The distance from Hong Kong to Canton is covered by a steamer in the course of twelve hours. Six days had elapsed after the expiration of the licence. No step whatever had been taken to renew it, and therefore the expiration of the licence must be considered as a fact admitted in the case. Now, by another regulation in the colonial ordnance it is provided that the original licence, when the vessel comes into a port where there is a British consul, must be placed in the hands of that officer. That took place in this case. Consul Parkes held the document, and had inspected it. In the papers it is stated that he was aware of the flaw that the licence had expired. There can be no doubt, therefore, with respect to him, while there is the most conclusive evidence that Sir John Bowring also was perfectly acquainted with the defect in the register, and that he drew the right inference from it,—viz., that the licence having expired the Arrow was not entitled either to British protection or to hoist the British flag. The passage in which he makes that avowal has been read, I believe, 1559 once and again, but still this point is so important that I am sure the House will pardon me if I read the words in which Sir John Bowring makes that admission. He says:— It appears, on examination, that the ArrowArrow had no right to hoist the British flag; and on the 14th of November he writes to Commissioner Yeh that— The lorcha Arrow lawfully bore the British flag under a register granted by me. Now, I am addressing gentlemen who love truth, and I ask you, on whichever side of the House you may sit, putting these two passages in juxtaposition, can there be a doubt that the representative of Her Majesty advisedly, knowingly, and with an intent which I shall not scrutinize, practised a deliberate deception on the Chinese Government, and, having so practised that deception, proceeded to exact terms which he enforced by the last extremities of war? Any argument coming from him after an assertion so ill-founded and so directly at variance with truth is not much to be regarded; but he says that the ignorance of the Chinese of this fact nullifies the justification which they might otherwise plead. I should not have thought much of this subterfuge if it had been confined to Sir John Bowring; but I see with regret that in a despatch from the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs this very identical argument is used, that the ignorance of the expiration of the licence by the Chinese destroys any justification they might otherwise advance. It appears to me, Sir, that the legal question is but a small part of this melancholy case; but still, I do not see, if the principle contended for by the Government is admitted, what security there will be for the observance of the law of nations even much nearer home. Supposing that you admit this right of quasi naturalization—supposing that you grant that quasi naturalization constituting ownership is to give impunity to the vessel and to cover the flag—supposing that the French were to assume to themselves any such right; that a temporary residence on the coast of France 1560 or a tenancy under the Crown in France were to constitute a right of citizenship, and that licences were granted on the assumption of such authority—are you prepared to allow that by the law of nations a British smuggler having obtained letters of quasi naturalization in France may, sailing from France, carry on an illicit trade in our harbours under the protection of the French flag? These principles, Sir, if they be admitted, are dangerous in the extreme. We know not where they may lead us; and it is because they may be asserted with comparative impunity in the distant waters of China that I call upon the House to resist the first introduction of principles so dangerous, so fatal, and so subversive of our maritime and international law. But Sir John Bowring still continues Her Majesty’s representative in Hong Kong. Not only is he not censured for the falsehood I have just demonstrated to you—not only is he not removed—but his acts are approved in the most general terms. I now speak in the presence of many of the most eminent lawyers of whom the Bar of England can boast. I am an unlearned man in these matters; but I say this, that if a solicitor or a proctor were intrusted by me with a case based on a will, purporting to be a last will by which the testator bequeathed property to me, and if he in the course of the suit became acquainted with the fact that that was not the last will, but that there was a subsequent document subversive of my claim, and if he proceeded, even as my agent, to enforce my claim, suppressing the fact of the later will, I am much mistaken if he would not, as a matter of course, if practising at Doctors’ Commons, at once with ignominy cease to be a proctor, and if at common law he would not be struck off the rolls. Why, in the case of the humblest practitioner in the lowest tribunal in England, such falsehood and such proceedings as I have pointed out would not be tolerated for a moment; and yet Her Majesty’s Government advise Her Majesty not only to cover and approve that transaction, but to leave in the exercise of full power and authority, in the most critical circumstances, and at that distant part of her dominions, an officer convicted by himself of that which would occasion the degradation of the lowest member of the law in this country. had no right to hoist the British flag; the licence to do so expired on the 27th of September, from which period she has not been entitled to protection. Now, I shall bring in immediate juxtaposition the opposite assertion of Sir John Bowring himself. Observe the words. He writes on the 11th of October to his own confidential agent, Consul Parkes, the admission which I have read, that the
Sir, so much as to the question of law; now let me for a moment turn to the 1561 question of policy. It is clear that, after all, as you may well imagine, the affair of the lorcha Arrow was but a pretext for ulterior ends. All that could be alleged against the Chinese was that they had erred in that transaction. They offered reparation for their error, and the smallest reparation for such an error might easily have been accepted. According to the principle of an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, a junk would have been an ample reparation for a lorcha. Not so, however, thought Sir John Bowring; and those who have read these papers must see plainly that he was bent upon obtaining a triumph where all before him had failed in the disputed question of access to the interior of Canton. He was bent on being received into that city amid admiring multitudes, surrounded with all the pomp and circumstance of a public triumph, tomtoms accompanying him, peacocks’ feathers surrounding him, and all the attendant glories of a triumphal entry in his train. Various propositions were made to him on this point. Middle terms were offered to him. Outside the gate of the city, in the suburbs frequented by the British merchants, Yeh offered him a meeting. But he repudiated that proposal, and he says deliberately that this disputed point was to him a matter of primary importance, with the view, as he considered, of promoting British interests. This, too, with the knowledge that this vexata quœstio had occupied the attention of many of his predecessors, and had been considered by four or five Secretaries of State in succession. When the noble Viscount now at the head of the Government was at the Foreign Office in 1847, the first despatch which was written by him on this subject was couched somewhat in menacing terms; but, after a little reflection, the noble Viscount exercised, in my humble judgment, the wisest discretion on the point. He saw the immensity of the danger, and the comparative smallness of the object to be attained; he knew the mighty interests at stake; he thought it inexpedient, therefore, that any risk should be run, and he wrote to Sir George Bonham for answers to certain questions before giving any orders on the subject. Sir John Davis, who preceded Sir George Bonham, had already given an opinion upon it. He was inclined to enforce the strict terms of the treaty, and to insist upon the right of entry, and he said—”If I were to give effect to my own wishes, I should 1562 not have hesitated to press this point.” He then added this remarkable expression—”I am surrounded by naval and military officers who, desirous of distinction, would, if I listened to them, press me not to hesitate.” Now, observe—that difficulty attends all Superintendents in that quarter. There is a similar desire also on the part of the British merchants. I will not speak of them in harsh terms, neither will I altogether adopt the view of the hon. Member for Liverpool, that in foreign countries they are at all times meek and gentle in their demeanour and most considerate of the feelings of others; still I am persuaded that the Superintendent at Hong Kong is pressed from time to time by the merchants, by the naval and military officers, and by the English generally, to exercise a tone of command towards the Chinese which is quite inconsistent either with the safety of our trade or with our friendly relations with that country. Sir John Davis resisted their desire. The noble Viscount referred the question to Sir George Bonham, and there are four distinct answers given by Sir George Bonham, in all of which he states that he should like to obtain that admission; that he saw many advantages in it; but that, on the whole, he did not not think that those advantages, weighed against the dangers of a rupture with the Chinese, preponderated to an extent to justify the use of force; and he added that the destruction of Canton might be involved in the attempt to enforce the right. Upon this the noble Viscount came to the decision that it would be inexpedient to press the matter, and Earl Grey, then his colleague and Secretary for the Colonies, sent out a most peremptory prohibition to the officer commanding the military forces, not only at Hong Kong, but at Ceylon, under no circumstances to allow any offensive movement against the Chinese without authority from England. Sir John Davis and Sir George Bonham both admitted the stringency of that order, and Sir George Bonham reminded the noble Viscount of it, and stated that he was peremptorily restricted from the use of force. Sir John Bowring, ever since he arrived at Hong Kong, has fretted under that restraint, and has endeavoured to obtain a relaxation of the order. The matter has been referred to several Governments in succession, and any relaxation of the prohibition has been refused. It was first referred to the Government of the noble Lord the Member 1563 for London, and Earl Granville, speaking in his name, refused to sanction any attempt to enforce by violence the conditions of the treaty. It was then brought under the consideration of Lord Derby’s Government, whence two despatches proceeded, stronger, if possible, than the prohibition which was issued by Lord Granville, and Lord Malmesbury directed Sir John Bowring on no account whatever to take any steps other than the course which had been pursued by his predecessors. But Sir John Bowring, bent on carrying his point, had reason to think, probably, that the moment had arrived when, consistently with the principles laid down in England, he might venture on that step. That principle is, perhaps, to be found in the last despatch written by the noble Viscount, which does not appear to me to be altogether so conciliatory or cautious in its tone as his previous letters. At page 197, and under date the 18th of August, 1849, we have the last dictum of the noble Lord on this subject, couched in words which I think are very inflammable, and which probably did not escape the notice of Sir John Bowring. The noble Lord said— The Chinese great officers at Canton seem to be falling again into the same mistake which was committed by their predecessors in 1839; and they appear to be encouraging and exciting among the people of Canton hostile feelings towards British subjects. But let not the great officers of Canton nor the Government of Pekin deceive themselves on these matters. The forbearance which the British Government has hitherto displayed arises, not from a sense of weakness, but from consciousness of superior strength. And I beg the House to attend to these words:— The British Government well knows that, if occasion required it, a British military force would be able to destroy the town of Canton, not leaving one single house standing, and could thus inflict the most signal chastisement upon the people of that city. Now, it may be said that this is a distant authority to meet a contingent case; but, as I have told you, Earl Grey interposed, Lord Granville interposed, and Lord Malmesbury interposed, all joining in a peremptory prohibition against offensive operations without previous reference to the Government at home; and again you find that the Duke of Newcastle adopted the same line of policy, and in his despatch the same prohibition is conveyed in extenso. Now, what course was adopted by Lord Clarendon? Lord Clarendon, in a despatch dated July 5, 1854, to Sir John 1564 Bowring, of which only an extract is given in those papers, says— Her Majesty’s Government approve of your bringing forward, at a suitable time, the several points specifically mentioned in your despatch as grievances which they are entitled to have redressed. And then he goes on, and these are the important words:— It is, on all accounts desirable that you should obtain access to the Imperial Commissioner at Canton; but there is no reason to expect that you will be more successful in doing so than the Ministers of France and of the United States; and you will use every precaution for ascertaining beforehand that you will not meet with any indignity that will require to be avenged, and this more particularly at a moment when the aid of the British naval force in the Chinese seas might not be available for that purpose? Now, what is the meaning of that? We were at war with Russia at that time, and the naval force of this country was much occupied in different quarters. Well, Sir, at the time that the question of the Arrow arose, Sir John Bowring had just heard that peace with Russia had been established. The naval force in those seas had been greatly augmented. The want of a naval force, therefore, was no longer an impediment. Sir John Bowring kept his eyes open for an opportunity of enforcing his claim; and my conviction is, that he thought the opportunity had arrived—that this dispute about the lorcha was a fitting opportunity of bringing this vexata quœstio to an issue. Now, it is very remarkable that for the first time, I believe, in naval history, not only were the naval operations suggested, but the future course and extent of those operations were laid down by a civil servant, who not only took the command of the fleet as regarded what operations were to be performed, but who laid down in most extraordinary detail the precise mode in which those operations should be conducted. I do not think that the passage has been brought under the notice of the House, and, with its permission, I will read this most remarkable scheme of naval operations laid down by Mr. Consul Parkes. Talk of the discretion of the naval officer, and of holding Admiral Seymour responsible for what has occurred! Why, he was not only called upon to commence naval operations by the civil officer, but the precise nature and extent of those operations were laid down for him. The instructions of Mr. Parkes are dated the 20th of October, only twelve days after the seizure of the men, the Chinese having in the meantime 1565 offered to return to the Arrow all the men they took out of her except the offender, and the matter only turned upon the abject character of the apology which they were to make. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies indicated in his speech last night that it was a desirable thing the people of Canton should be freed from the tyranny of Yeh, and he did so in a way from which it might be assumed that that was one of the objects of the operations. [Mr. LABOUCHERE: No.] It was in explanation of a larger charge brought against him that the right hon. Gentleman said that he thought it would be a great good to the people of Canton if by our instrumentality they were emancipated from the thraldom of Commissioner Yeh.
I beg the right hon. Gentleman’s pardon. What I stated was, not that we had any right to concern ourselves with the deposition of Yeh, but that I trusted that one of the results of these operations might be to induce the Emperor to withdraw his support from this Commissioner.
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that it was desired to emancipate the people of Canton from the control of so cruel a Governor as Yeh. I realty should have thought, for my own part, that the Government had had recent experience on points of this kind quite sufficient to prevent them taking such a view. Unless I am greatly deceived, one point insisted upon in the negotiations with Persia was the deposition of the Prime Minister of that country, and, unless I am equally misinformed, the British Government have found it impossible to adhere to that condition. If we are to go on stipulating, first for the deposition of the Persian Prime Minister, and then for the deposition of the Governor of Canton, I think that the present position of our affairs in the East might well fill this House with alarm. But, Sir, to return to Mr. Parke’s scheme of operations at Canton. In the first place he says— The Imperial Commissioner, I submit, should again be summoned to grant the satisfaction already demanded within twenty-four hours, failing which we should then take possession of the four Barrier Forts. After recommending the seizure of the Barrier Forts he goes on to say— I cannot conceive it possible that his Excellency will then withhold compliance with our demands; but should he still continue contumacious a similar course should then be pursued with the 1566 forts at Canton, and it would be exceedingly advisable, I think, that the residence of his Excellency, which is not far from the water side, should also in that case feel the effects of the bombardment. So that if Yeh continued contumacious he was to be brought to his senses by having his own residence submitted to bombardment. It may be said that this is only a proceeding against an individual, and not against the people of Canton. But is this the case? Mr. Parkes, the Minister of Peace and Commerce, continues his instructions; and he says— I advocate attack on the Barrier Forts in the first instance, because they stand by themselves, and are not surrounded, as are those at Canton, by the dwellings of the people, who should be exempted, whenever it is in our power to do so, from any disastrous consequences accruing from the acts of their authorities, and will, it may be hoped, see the justice of offensive measures being aimed by us solely against the latter. Now, it is clearly shown that the dwellings about the residence of Yeh were well known to be densely populated, and it could not but be equally well known that bloodshed to a frightful extent must ensue if the House of Yeh were bombarded. Well, Sir, this plan of operations, laid down by Mr. Parkes, is carried into effect; but the desired effect is not produced, and then he goes further. The town is shelled, the forts attacked, and the assault carried up to the very walls of the city, and devastation and carnage to an extent frightful to contemplate are carried among its peaceful inhabitants. Unless I am misinformed, these measures were, by the last account received from China, beginning to bear fruit. There was a divided population; there was a rebellion; but now the Chinese have rallied round their rulers, making common cause, and forgetting all their differences, and united efforts will now be made by them to defend their lives and their property against so terrible and so cruel a visitation.
And how stands the approbation given by the Executive Government. It is not approbation unqualified by any regret, as has been stated; but there certainly does occur in this correspondence a passage which I confess filled me with amazement. Not only is there an entire adoption of the acts of Sir John Bowring, and of the attacks directed by him, but you will find the Earl of Clarendon writing to Sir John Bowring as follows:— I have received your despatch of the 23rd of October last, with a report of the operations in the 1567 Canton river; and I have to acquaint you that Her Majesty’s Government entirely approve the course which has been adopted by Rear-Admiral Sir Michael Seymour and yourself; and I have to instruct you also to convey to Mr. Parkes a similar approval of his conduct. Mr. Parkes, you will remember, is the gentleman who sketched out the plan of naval operations, recommending especially the bombardment of the residence of the Governor; and the Government approves his conduct also. Does the matter rest there? I own that my amazement knew no bounds when, on the same page of the blue-book, I found these words. Mr. Hammond, writing to the Secretary to the Admiralty, is directed by Lord Clarendon to express his Lordship’s entire approval of Admiral Seymour’s conduct— And more especially the judgment, firmness, and moderation with which he has acted, and the respect which he has shown for the lives and properties of the Chinese people. Now the question really submitted to the Commons of England is this:—Are you prepared to endorse the approbation of these transactions which has been expressed by Her Majesty’s Government, and especially to express your admiration of the “respect which has been shown for the lives and properties of the Chinese?” Sir, the House will remember the course taken when we dealt with a powerful enemy, whose conduct was indefensible both on account of the violence of the particular act complained of, namely the invasion of the territory of a friendly Power, and the language employed by her in asserting her alleged right. I can well imagine that we should have gone to the greatest lengths in avenging our wrongs in that case and in visiting upon a mighty antagonist the utmost vengeance of which modern civilization and the laws of modern warfare would allow. Well, it was a matter of severe criticism in this House that with respect to Russia an order was deliberately given by the Government that open and defenceless cities should be spared. Odessa, on that principle, was not bombarded by Admiral Dundas; Helsingfors, on that principle, was not bombarded by the gallant Admiral below me (Sir Charles Napier). Is, then, the disrespect shown to the lorcha Arrow’s flag under such doubtful circumstances a matter of such grave importance that the Government deliberately approve of a departure from this principle with reference to the unhappy Chinese? Is the matter one of so much gravity that you not only 1568 bombard a city far more populous than either of the two I have mentioned, but mark for destruction a single house, the house of an individual, and, in order to wreak your vengeance on this individual consider the lives of the surrounding multitude as dust in the balance? My noble Friend (Lord John Russell) remarked the other night that the language of the present day was that the honour of our arms required we should fight for our prestige. The word, I should observe, comes to us from a foreign country, from which we learn the value of the term; but if this be prestige I hope we shall have no more of it. If, however, prestige be your object, do you think having spared Odessa, having spared Helsingfors, that it will redound much to the credit of our naval arms throughout Europe and the world to have destroyed the Bogue Forts and bombarded Canton? Talk of the insulting language which has been used by foreign Powers with whom we quarrel! Why, this doctrine of insisting upon Commissioner Yeh’s expulsion from the Government of Canton is far more than Prince Menchikoff ever endeavoured to effect when he was at Constantinople. I say that this is one of the most dangerous lines on which the Government can begin to move, and it is high time, I think, to arrest our progress in such a direction. We have heard that at Canton there was a protest against these proceedings. I rejoiced, Sir, to hear the protest of Russell and Co. in this House last night. Russell and Co. have been heard, not at Canton, but here; and I hope the effect of that protest will be distinctly marked in the division. Of this, at all events, I am sure—that the speech in which that protest was entered will be memorable in our Parliamentary annals when this miserable transaction of the lorcha shall be buried in oblivion.
Sir, the hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck), who lately addressed the House, stated several reasons for the vote which he is about to give against this Motion. He says it is nothing but an abstract Resolution, a Resolution which he cannot controvert, and against which he is not prepared to argue. But the hon. Member takes views of general policy, and he says that he supports Her Majesty’s present Government because he is most desirous of having a Conservative Minister at the head of affairs; and with that view he thinks it is most desirable to maintain the noble Viscount at the head of the Government. 1569 I congratulate the noble Viscount upon the uncompromising support which the Member for Norfolk gives him. I am sure it must be most agreeable to the Gentlemen sitting on this side of the House to know the reasons for which the hon. Member thinks the noble Lord more anti-Catholic and more anti-democratic than any other Minister to be found at the present moment. I congratulate the noble Lord on this support, and I congratulate the Gentlemen around him on the motives upon which this support is based. But the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary says the Resolution is very ambiguous. Now, I must say that, regarded in the light of the speech which introduced it, I think this a very intelligible Motion. I think it temperate, measured, and moderate in its terms, and therefore worthy of support. Sir, if I am driven to make my choice whether I will vote for this Resolution, or be a party to that approbation of the transactions I have attempted to describe which is expressed by the Foreign Secretary and adopted by Her Majesty’s Ministers, I cannot doubt for a moment what it will be my duty to do. I, for one, will wash my hands of the innocent blood which, in my opinion, has been shed. My belief is that these debates will thoroughly occupy the minds and will reach the hearts of the people of England. I am satisfied that the division to which we are about to go will be regarded with immense interest by the people of this country. I do not think that Russell and Co. will be held subject to limited responsibility. I think the responsibility of that vote is near at hand, and I believe every Member in this House will be called to an account for that vote. But whatever may be the question with regard to any human tribunal, that is not the only motive which influences me. In my opinion, the debate has proved that, whether you regard this as a question of policy, or as a question of humanity, or whether you regard it in connexion with the most solemn of all considerations, and by the light of our Christian principles, these operations at Canton are utterly indefensible; and I never in my life gave a vote with a more clear and conscientious conviction of its propriety than the vote I shall record in favour of the Motion of the hon. Member for the West Riding.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, he could not doubt that every hon. Gentleman who addressed the House on this 1570 question had the fullest sense of the responsibility which attached to him, because those who attacked the conduct of our representatives in China did so under the responsibility of bringing accusations against the British Government calculated to hold it up to the civilized world as having been guilty of a violation of the principles of Justice. It should be well considered, I before that was done, whether the feelings which prompted hon. Gentlemen to take such a course might or might not be somewhat influenced by party spirit. On the other hand, he would freely grant that those who were about to express their conviction, that what had been done in this matter was right in point of law, incurred the very serious responsibility of having to justify the shedding of blood.
Now, this question had been debated with reference to the principles of justice, humanity, and policy. He thought the first and most important consideration was the question of whether what had been done was consistent with justice. He should venture to answer the appeals which had been made to him, and though he was aware he might be charged with presumption, yet he would venture to controvert, not only the opinions which had been expressed in that House, but opinions delivered with so much eloquence, graced with so much dignity, and adorned with such venerable authority, as those which had been uttered in another place. He would proceed at once to present to the House what he believed to be an analysis of these opinions that had been elsewhere delivered on the question under consideration;—for, although he had great respect for the members of this House as a body, and for every individual in it whose acquaintance he had the honour to enjoy, yet he could not for one moment compare their deliberations or their arguments on such a subject as this with the arguments that had been delivered in another place. If he could answer what had been said on the matter elsewhere, he thought he should not fail to answer what had been said in the House of Commons. The arguments in support of the Motion before the House were reducible to three propositions. Firstly, that the colonial ordinance upon which the register of the Arrow was supposed to depend was at variance with our Imperial Statutes, and therefore utterly void. That was the proposition, and the argument of a noble and learned Lord last night in another place. The 1571 second was that, supposing the colonial ordinance to be valid, the register granted to the Arrow was irregular, had expired, and was no longer in force. The third proposition, which was principally insisted on by a most venerable authority, was that, even if the colonial ordinance were valid and the register good, yet that you could not clothe any Chinese with the right to possess a vessel of this description, or, being Chinese property, exempt it from the jurisdiction of the Emperor of China. All that they had heard in that House or elsewhere fell within one or other of those propositions—saving, indeed, the commentary they had heard on the conduct of Sir John Bowring, which had been illustrated by his familiar friend the hon. Member for the West Riding, who said that the letter of Sir John Bowring was a most flagitious document, though he was his Friend. The right hon. Baronet (Sir James Graham) also had a similar faculty, for when he rose to do justice to an absent Friend, he told the House that the writer of the letter was a man more remarkable for self-confidence than prudence, that he was a man who exulted only in the prospect of entering Canton, accompanied by tom-toms and surrounded by peacocks’ feathers. If that was the way in which the right hon. Baronet did justice to his absent Friend—
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, his impression undoubtedly was that the right hon. Baronet claimed the merit of having to speak on the part of Sir John Bowring. [“No, no!”] At least he said that in what he was about to say he proposed to do him (Sir J. Bowring) justice. He (the Attorney General) would, however, pass from those topics to others which bore more immediately on the question under consideration, and which might be discussed without any manifestation of strong feeling. He was desirous of laying before the House what he believed to be a correct exposition of the law on the subject, and in the briefest possible compass.
First of all, he believed this question had been put altogether on an erroneous basis when the title of the Arrow to the character of a British ship was rested on the validity of the colonial ordinance. It 1572 did not rest on that at all; and the colonial ordinance and the registry granted under it were, in point of fact, wholly immaterial to the question. The title of the Arrow to the character of a British ship rested on the treaty with the Chinese. He must here notice a serious error attributed by the newspapers to a noble and learned Lord in another place, who contended that by international law the Arrow, if she had been under the same circumstances in the Thames, would have been visited by the authorities and any who might be offenders in the vessel taken away by them. That noble and learned Lord must have known that, if it had not been for this treaty, the Arrow or any other merchant ship at Canton was liable to be visited by the Chinese authorities. When a merchant ship entered the harbour of another country, those who were on board of her were within the allegiance and sovereignty of the Sovereign of that country; and, if there were among her crew any offenders against the municipal law, it was competent for the authorities of that country at once to enter the vessel and to deal with the offenders according to the municipal law of that country; and undoubtedly the Chinese authorities might have dealt with the Arrow in a similar way if it had not been for the treaty in question. The whole of the argument of the noble and learned Lord on that point, therefore, was based on a simple error. Now, the House would observe that the Supplemental Treaty described exactly the class of vessels to which the Arrow belonged; and by a stipulation between England and China those vessels which were built for the purposes of their local coasting trade were what he should call naturalized. The 17th Article of the Supplemental Treaty, provided— That every British schooner, cutter, lorcha, & c., shall have a sailing letter or register in Chinese and English under the seal and signature of the Chief Superintendent of Trade, describing her appearance, burden, &c. Every lorcha, therefore, receiving that sailing letter was, by the very terms and conditions of that treaty, converted into a British lorcha. [“Oh, oh!”] That was not the way to meet a legal argument. The words in the Supplementary Treaty were “every British schooner, cutter, lorcha, &c., shall have a sailing letter or register in Chinese and English under the seal and signature of the Chief Superintendant of Trade.” He repeated, therefore, 1573 that as between England and China, every lorcha producing under the hand and seal of Sir John Bowring a sailing letter or register was entitled by the terms of the treaty to the character and privileges of a British vessel. That was an international stipulation. But the colonial ordinance was nothing more than municipal legislation for our own municipal purposes. That municipal law was a part of our own peculiar law, not to be used in the interpretation of the treaty, but the contract between us and the Chinese was expressed in the treaty, and it was because the lorcha had what was required by the treaty, and not because she answered the requirements of the municipal law that she became entitled to the benefit of the treaty. Whatever vessel had the sailing register described in the treaty, assumed the character of a British merchant vessel, was a vessel within the meaning of the treaty, and was entitled to the privilege of not being exposed to be visited or boarded by the Chinese authorities, but was entitled to the protection of the British Consul, and could only be overhauled through the intervention of British authority. He was confident that the candour of his hon. and learned Friends would induce them to see at once that the only law and compact between this country and the Chinese, was that which was founded on the treaty, and that, if you brought a vessel within the terms of the treaty, she was entitled to British protection. If that were so, what became of the argument that the lorcha did not answer the subordinate stipulations of the colonial regulations? What had the colonial ordinance to do with it? Then what became of the argument used in another place, and on which the strictures of the “flagitious” letter of Sir John Bowring had been founded? That letter was founded upon a supposition that the sailing licence of the Arrow was not in conformity with the colonial ordinance. He said with great submission, but also with confidence, and with the authority of the man most versed in international law to be found in this country, that the colonial ordinance, being a matter of municipal law, could not be invoked by the Chinese, whether the vessel had abided by or violated the terms of that ordinance, they being bound by the language of the treaty. Before quitting the subject of the treaty he wished to explain what he conceived to have been meant in the Imperial statute by the terms “British ship,” or a “ship 1574 entitled to a British register,” because he wished to show that the Arrow, although only possessing a colonial register, was entitled under the terms of the treaty to the denomination of a British vessel. There had been considerable confusion and, he thought, misapprehension upon that subject. The term “British ship,” which was a peculiar denomination, had been introduced into our law by the old navigation laws. It was a purely technical term, not meaning what was commonly understood by those words—viz. a ship belonging to a British subject, but a vessel entitled to all the privileges and advantages which by the old navigation law and the present Merchant Shipping Act were conferred upon such vessels. There might be a British ship built in a foreign country, manned by a foreign crew, which did not fulfil in any respect the conditions of the Imperial statute, but which would still be a British merchant ship in the sense that she was the property of a British subject. The words “British ship or English merchant vessel” were plainly used in the Supplementary Treaty, not in the technical sense given to the words “British ship” in the Imperial statute, but in the general, universal sense of a vessel belonging to a British subject. It must be observed that he expressly used the term “British subject,” and not “British born subject,” which were the words of the Merchant Shipping Act; and by British subject he meant a person resident in some part of the British territory and living under British rule. In that sense only was the term “English merchant ship” in the Supplementary Treaty to be interpreted. That was rendered abundantly plain if the treaty was read by the language of the 17th Article; because no one could suppose that such small vessels as cutters, schooners, or lorchas, being merely coasters, came at all within the exigency of the Imperial statute. It was plain that by the 17th Article of the treaty a vessel fulfilling certain requirements was to all intents and purposes entitled to the protection given by the treaty to English merchant ships. The House had been told that the colonial ordinance was in violation of the Imperial statute, and that all the privileges and advantages proposed to be bestowed upon lorchas were in contravention of the Imperial statute. The error would be obvious if it were borne in mind that the proper meaning of the words 1575 “British ship” was purely technical, and were words of art, and he (the Attorney General) asserted that it never was intended to apply those words to the Supplementary Treaty, where in fact they were not to be found, and would be inapplicable to the class of vessels there spoken of. The term of an “English merchant ship,” employed in the Supplementary Treaty, meant nothing but a ship, built no matter where, manned in any way that accident might bring about, but belonging to a British subject, and having a sailing register in conformity with the treaty. It should be borne in mind that two things were apparent. First, that the particular lorcha, the Arrow, became entitled to all the privileges of an English merchant ship provided she was owned by a British subject and possessed a sailing register as prescribed in the terms of the treaty; and although she fulfilled not one single stipulation of our Imperial statutes, which were inapplicable, because the treaty had given birth to a peculiar class of vessels, which were to be dealt with under the treaty. The Imperial register—the register given under the Imperial statute, which entitled a ship to the character of a British ship, and entitled her to sail throughout the world—was not of a limited character—it did not require renewal. But a colonial register was a thing limited to the coasts of China, the object being to impose upon vessels employed in the coasting trade the obligation of being registered in a peculiar manner, in order that there might exist a greater facility for redressing any wrong attempted by these vessels, and in particular any wrongs committed in the smuggling trade. These colonial registers were things entirely apart from and independent of the British register. They might indeed consist with the imperial registry, but the vessel having a colonial licence had a more limited authority, which did not touch or encroach upon the registry granted under the Imperial statute. If he had expressed himself consecutively and intelligibly he should have no difficulty in convincing the House that two things appeared plainly on the treaty. The first was that it was not competent to the Chinese authorities to deny to any vessel that had received a sailing register, signed by the Superintendent at Hong Kong, which was owned by a British subject, the character and privileges of a British merchant vessel in the Chinese waters. The next point was, that it was 1576 not competent to the Chinese authorities to set up the colonial ordinance, or any violation or non-observance of the colonial ordinance, as a reason why they should not fulfil their own treaty stipulations, which did not embody the provisions of the colonial ordinance. Consequently, that all the arguments they had heard about the colonial licence not having been renewed, or about the particular terms or want of endorsement of the colonial licence, were not matters in which the Chinese were concerned, but matters which they were precluded from calling to their defence by the stipulations of the treaty. Two things were therefore tolerably plain—first, that a noble and learned Lord in another place was totally wrong when he supposed that the colonial ordinance was altogether inconsistent with the Imperial statute; and, secondly, that that most fertile topic of declamation upon which so much eloquence in that House and elsewhere had been employed, that the colonial register of the Arrow had expired or was irregular, was a topic which it was not competent for the Chinese to bring forward, which could not lie in their mouths, and which was wholly immaterial to the international question at issue.
He now came to a most important point which had been dwelt upon with so much force and gravity in another place by a noble and learned Lord, for whom he entertained as much affection as veneration—Lord Lyndhurst. It was extraordinary, but at the same time certainly true, that he could concede the whole of the propositions for which his noble and learned Friend contended, and yet declare that the question was wholly untouched by those propositions. He could also bring forward another proposition perfectly consistent with the law which the noble Lord had laid down, and declare that this vessel, even if owned by a Chinese, was perfectly entitled to the benefit of the treaty. The noble and learned Lord said that you could not, by the provisions of international law, convert the subject of another Sovereign into the subject of your own Sovereign, so as to give him rights against his natural Sovereign. He agreed in that proposition; and as the law officer of the Crown, during the last three or four years he had frequently had occasion to appeal to and to enforce the same principle; for he was sorry to say that a great part of our municipal legislation was conducted in a manner that 1577 ignored the existence of international law. Under the Alien Act, general letters of naturalization were granted to Austrians, to Frenchmen, to Italians, and to Turks, and subjects of every other kingdom. These letters of naturalization were without qualification, as if they could convert a Turk into a British subject, as against the rights of the Sultan, and an Austrian into a British subject as against the rights of the Emperor of Austria. But no man pretended to say that the Chinese owner of this vessel might not be personally answerable for any act against his natural Sovereign, done by him contrary to his allegiance. The present, however, was a very different inquiry. The question here was whether, if a natural-born subject of the Emperor of China became resident in the colony of Hong Kong, and there became subject to our allegiance, we might not without violation of the treaty make him the owner of a ship, and give him a sailing register, he being resident within our territory, and in that sense the Queen’s subject; and whether he, as the owner of that vessel, would not be withdrawn temporarily from the authority of the Emperor of China and his ship entitled to the privileges of a British-owned vessel, and to the immunities stipulated in the treaty. It was a singular thing that the case about which they had heard so much general reasoning had actually occurred in the Courts of this country and had been decided there. The same proposition would be found in almost every writer on international law. An hon. Baronet (Sir Bulwer Lytton) whom he always heard with great and singular pleasure, and to whom he was under great obligations, both for his speeches and writings, had cited Wheaton as an authority in support of his view. But if the hon. Baronet referred to this author he would find a proposition which exactly bore out the view that he (the Attorney General) had advanced. This proposition, deduced from all the writers on international law, and supported by a decision of the Courts was this, that although the subject of one country could not in another so far put off his original character and divest himself of his natural bond of allegiance as not to be answerable to his natural sovereign for any act done in derogation of that allegiance, yet that he might become by residence or adoption so far a subject of another country as to be admitted to all the privileges and entitled to all the rights enjoyed 1578 by the subjects of that country. In the case decided in the Courts, British subjects had been forbidden by law to engage in a particular trade. Certain British subjects, however, settled in the United States and became residents there, and they then claimed to be allowed to engage in this trade as residents in the United States, The claim, therefore, was to exercise the privilege of that commerce which as British subjects they were forbidden by British law to carry on. In this case, that of Marryat v. Wilson, which would be found in the Eighth Term Reports, Lord Kenyon laid down the proposition that although a citizen of this country by birth cannot throw off his allegiance to this country, yet he may be adopted and become a citizen of another country for the purposes of commerce; and the circumstance of his being a natural-born subject here cannot deprive him of the advantage of being a citizen of the country of his adoption, so as to disenable him to engage him in a trade forbidden to the subjects of his native country. The same point also arose in another stage of the same case, when it came before a Court of Error, and it was remarkable that the noble and learned Lord who insisted on this topic in another place did not seem to he aware of this authority. By that case a direct answer was given to all the noble and learned Lord’s reasoning; and the answer involved the very point now before the House—namely, whether a native Chinese, becoming a resident in Hong Kong, might not, so long as he was resident there, and therefore a British subject, become the owner of a ship registered at Hong Kong, so that that ship should be entitled by the treaty between England and China to all the privileges accorded to British ships by that treaty. The notes appended to the case state an opinion by the greatest authorities—by Lord Stowell, Lord Eldon, and Lord Redesdale (then William Scott, John Scott, and John Mitford) and they put the point almost in the very language used by the noble and learned Lord in another place. They said that the point had been submitted to Lord Hardwicke in the case of a Scotchman who had been made a burgher of Stockholm, and who was the owner of a Swedish ship, navigated by Swedish seamen. Lord Hardwicke, then Sir Philip Yorke, thought this would not entitle the Scotchman to be considered as a Swede in Great Britain. That was an opinion stated in argument, and unsuccessfully. It was 1579 deliberately overthrown by the Judges of England in the Exchequer Chamber, who held that a foreigner, going to another country, and becoming domiciled there, might become the owner of a ship of that country, so as to entitle himself in his own native country, to the privileges accorded to ships of the country in which he was domiciled. Let that decision be applied to the present case. What was the argument? It was said that this Chinese was attempted by the British authority to be withdrawn from the jurisdiction of his natural Sovereign, and that such a thing was impossible. That involved the whole question. Why, it was perfectly true that, in a criminal sense, he could not be so withdrawn, but it was equally true that by international law, by the British municipal law, and by the municipal law of every country with which he was acquainted, a natural-born subject was permitted to become resident in another country, and to acquire municipal rights and privileges under the law of that country, which were not considered inconsistent with his natural allegiance, though he could not be withdrawn from the bond of allegiance so as to enable him to act in violation of the duty he owed his natural Sovereign. If this matter was argued before the noble and learned Lord he would venture to say that that eminent man, whose candour was equal to the wonderful attainments and great elevation of his mind, would admit that he was wrong in his proposition. The singularity of the circumstances was this—that the noble and learned Lord, while contending that by the British municipal law a man could never be withdrawn from his natural allegiance, so as to make a native-born Chinese owner of a British ship, forgot that by the Merchant Shipping Act the right was assumed to do that very thing. Accordingly that Act required that a British ship should be owned either by a natural-born subject or by a person having letters of denizenation, or having been naturalized and having taken the oath of allegiance. But if the doctrine contended for by the noble and learned Lord were correct in the way in which it was enounced, then the British municipal law pretending to give that privilege was just as great a violation of the law of nations as the proposition against which the noble and learned Lord was directing his argument. The fact was, that the whole of the argument adduced elsewhere, with all the talent and learning which could illustrate the subject, had been brought 1580 forward to maintain the three points he had now gone through; and he ventured to say, that whoever looked at all the circumstances of the case would agree in thinking, that no single proposition maintained in another place had the least application. Now, it was surprising and a little humiliating—and even hon. and right hon. Gentlemen so anxious to do justice to their absent friend, would be inclined to admit, that it was a little hard to denounce Sir John Bowring as having been guilty of error on a question, on which Lord Lyndhurst was at variance with Lord Wensleydale, and Lord St. Leonards was in direct opposition to the Lord Chancellor. Was Sir John Bowring to be visited with the thunder of that House, though he was protected by his friends, because he was ignorant on this particular point, and believed that as the Arrow was sailing under a register in conformity with the stipulations of the treaty, therefore the Chinese were bound by the compact to give it the immunity of a British ship? Sir John Bowring did rightly, then, and justly, in upholding, in conformity with the national honour, that treaty, and in vindicating the ship’s title to the privileges accorded by the treaty.
But it was said that the Government should have been better instructed, and should not have endorsed the error of Sir John Bowring. What did the Government do? Sir John Bowring sent over all the despatches, and made full and ample communication of the circumstances. What, then, became the duty of Lord Clarendon? Our constitutional practice had provided the Foreign Office with a recognized legal assistant—not a Member of the Administration, nor dependent on the caprice of Government, but selected for his ability and his attainments, and made the permanent adviser of the Foreign Office. Lord Clarendon laid the whole of these papers before the Queen’s Advocate—a functionary who was selected by the Government of Lord Derby, and a better choice Lord Derby’s Government could not have made. These papers were laid before that officer, in order that he, the proper adviser, might direct the Government what to do on this legal point. The opinion of the Queen’s Advocate was contained in the despatch dated the 10th of December. Those hon. Gentlemen who were cognizant of the practice of the Foreign Office, knew very well that the opinion was copied into the despatch; and yet poor Sir John Bowring 1581 was held up here to ridicule and reproach by those who assumed the right to criticise his conduct, and had been stabbed in the back by his familiar acquaintances. The expression used in Sir John Bowring’s letter was reiterated by the legal adviser of the Foreign Office—not a Member of the Administration—who said, and in his (the Attorney General’s) opinion most rightly—for he endorsed the opinion fully—that The expiration of the Arrow’s sailing licence on September 27, previous to her seizure, does not appear to have been known to the Chinese authorities; and this, again, is a matter of British regulation which could not justify seizure by the Chinese. He had not the honour of Sir John Bowring’s acquaintance, but he had seen a great deal of the despatches of that gentleman, and he might venture, without any breach of duty, to state that if he were inclined to say anything for an absent friend, it would undoubtedly be this, that from all he had seen he (Sir John Bowring) was disposed greatly to celestialize. In all that he had seen he appeared to evince a determination to maintain what he thought to be the just rights and interests of China. He (the Attorney General) said this because it had been imputed to Sir John Bowring that he wanted to gratify a misplaced ambition at the expense of the Chinese. Upon the great question as to the Shanghai duties, Sir John Bowring distinguished himself by the manner in which he had determined to maintain what he conceived to be the rights of the Chinese, the recognition of which rights he believed would be the best course for the protection of British trade, and would eminently conduce to the advancement of British interests.
And now with respect to the proper meaning of the letter which Sir John Bowring wrote with respect to the Arrow. One of my hon. Friends who took part in the debate of this evening mentioned the legal phrase, non reus est nisi mens sit rea. We must inquire in this case what was the animus with which the Chinese boarded the lorcha. Was there in that act the mens mala which constitutes guilt? If the Chinese had been aware of the special pleading excuses now brought forward to justify them, and the objections to the register of the lorcha, they might have fairly said, “We have entered the vessel believing that we had a right to do so.” They might have justly said, “There 1582 is no mens mala, no malus animus in the matter. We thought that what we did was under a colour of right. We have no disposition to invade British ground or to trespass upon British territory.” Sir John Bowring wrote in that spirit, and, when he said the Chinese did not know that there was an objection to the register of the lorcha, he meant that the Chinese did not act under the influence of that information, but had invaded the lorcha with a premeditated design to commit an insult on the British flag. Now, might not an acquaintance of twenty years have suggested that as a candid, fair, reasonable, and palpable explanation of his conduct? He (the Attorney General) believed that Sir John Bowring did in reality advert to what was really and truly the point to be inquired into. God forbid that he (the Attorney General) should advocate the commission of those things that subsequently took place, if they were not a retribution for wanton insolence, unprovoked outrage, a deliberate intention to violate a treaty, and a desire to try how far they could go, and to see how much would be borne. Sir John Bowring thought it was abundantly plain that the Chinese were actuated by a spirit of wanton insult and a desire to commit unprovoked outrage; and he (the Attorney General) believed that he had arrived at a correct conclusion. He believed so, because of the manner in which it was proved that they treated Consul Parkes, who followed flagrante delicto1583 modern times was carried on with far more generous feelings and a less bloodthirsty spirit than in days gone by. But though in modern times war was accompanied by acts of courtesy and generosity, which smoothed down some of the hard ruggedness of its features, there was still in war something at which humanity shuddered. The House, nevertheless, ought to bear in mind that the extent of these hostilities and the manner in which they had been carried on had been entirely controlled by a most excellent naval officer, whose character he (the Attorney General) would take from the gallant Admiral who sat on the Ministerial side of the House (Sir M. Berkeley), and also, he was happy to say, from one who was not absent and a friend of his—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carlisle (Sir J. Graham). But there was a universal testimony to the humanity of the Admiral who had conducted the hostilities against the Chinese, and he thought that the regard which that gallant Gentleman showed for the lives and property of the unoffending Chinese proved that these proceedings were carried on with as much humanity as any warlike proceeding could be. immediately after they had entered upon the vessel. All the facts showed that the man Yeh was determined, if possible, to put himself at the head of a furious and ungovernable populace in order that he might drive away by violence and outrage the English barbarians. If, then, the law were on the side of Sir John Bowring, as he (the Attorney General) believed it to be, the question was whether it was not more consistent with humanity to inflict a quick and severe punishment upon the Chinese rather than submit to insult after insult, until at length you found yourselves involved in a war of a frightful character, such as was your last war with China? When hon. Gentlemen talked of war and humanity they talked of things that were utterly inconsistent with each other. There was no humanity in war. It was idle, therefore, to speak of testing a war by the feelings of humanity. While he said that there was no humanity in war, he of course admitted that war in
What, then, remained to be said? He had already wearied the House too long. They had listened to his argument upon this question and his exposition of the law. If he had during that exposition not spoken in a manner so calm and temperate as the question demanded, he was unfeignedly sorry. He had endeavoured to lay before the House all the materials with which he was acquainted upon the subject; and he would now merely beg the House to permit him to supply an omission which he made while pointing out to them that it was quite a mistake to suppose that there could not be a British ship that was not registered. The law upon that subject was very correctly expressed in a passage that occurred in the treatise of Chief Justice Abbot upon shipping. The passage was in page 63, and was as follows:— From the language of the foregoing enactment, it does not appear that any ship is absolutely required to be registered; the register is necessary only for conferring the privileges of a British ship. The forfeiture is only for exercising the privileges of a British ship without having obtained a certificate. Ships not entitled to these privileges may be legally owned by British subjects. There was only one other point to which he begged to call the attention of the House—namely, that the respect which was due to the British flag, and the British 1584 papers which were known to be possessed by this vessel ought, independently of anything else, to have entitled it to the protection due to the British flag, without the Chinese entering into any examination of the accuracy of those papers. His hon. Friend the Lord Advocate had clearly distinguished between the case of a ship that had bonâ fide obtained papers that might afterwards turn out to be liable to some objection by reason of something not having been observed, and a ship that had fraudulently obtained papers. The greatest authority on that subject was Lord Stowell, who, in the case of The Vigilantia, reported in Robinson, 13, said:— It is a known and established rule with respect to a vessel, that if she is navigating under the pass of a foreign country she is considered as bearing the national character of that nation under whose pass she sails—she makes a part of its navigation, and is in every respect liable to be considered as a vessel of that country. And so, again, in the case of The Elizabeth (reported in Robinson, 4), Lord Stowell said— It has been decided that a vessel sailing under the colours and pass of a nation, is to be considered as clothed with the national character. The Arrow had, de facto, the character of an English vessel, and the obligation upon the Chinese, according to the treaty, was to deal with her as entitled to its immunities, and if they had a complaint to make, to prefer it through the medium of the English Consul. Let the House observe, too, the manner in which a similar stipulation was made by the Chinese on behalf of their own vessels. Article 14 of the Supplemental Treaty says:— An English officer will be appointed at Hong Kong, one part of whose duty will be to examine the registers and passes of all Chinese vessels that may repair to that port to buy or sell goods; and should such officer at any time find that any Chinese merchant vessel has not a pass or register from one of the five ports, she is to be considered as an unauthorized or smuggling vessel, and is not to be allowed to trade, while a report of the circumstance is to be made to the Chinese authorities. It was a wise stipulation to prevent collision that any interference with the flags or papers of the vessels of England or China should be made through the medium of the local authority of the one or the other.
There were many other circumstances with which at that late hour he would not trouble the House. His object had been to show, that the law of this case required 1585 more consideration than it had yet received. For that purpose he had submitted to the House these arguments, in answer to those hon. Members, who contended that there was no justice or legal right in the protection which had been given to the Arrow. These arguments must be fully answered, and their error exposed, before any hon. Member could lay his hand upon his heart, and say that he would condemn Sir John Bowring, and would condemn the Government, because Sir John Bowring, inflamed by ambition, and led away by arrogance and vanity, had committed a most palpable error in law, of which he was perfectly cognizant, and had, proceeding upon that error, engaged this country in war with a peaceful and unoffending people. Looking at the arguments which had been delivered in another place, and at the contrariety of opinions which prevailed upon this subject, no man could take upon himself to pronounce that judgment; and unless he did so, he could not honestly vote for these Resolutions.
§ MR. R. PHILLIMORE moved that the Debate be now adjourned.
Considering that this is Friday, the end of the Parliamentary week, and that this subject has been very fully and ably discussed, I had hoped that the House would have come to a decision to-night. Of course, if Her Majesty’s Ministers have any desire that the discussion should go on, it would not be fair, as they have treated the Motion as one of censure, that any objection should be made to the adjournment of the debate. If there be not that wish on the part of the Government, I myself should express a hope that the House will go to a division to-night.
So far as we are concerned, we are quite ready to go to a division to-night if the House thinks fit; but, considering that there are many other Members who wish to express their sentiments on a matter of such very considerable importance, I think it is not unreasonable that the debate should be adjourned.
§ Debate further adjourned till Monday next.
§ The House adjourned at half-after Twelve o’clock till Monday next.