1857-02-26 - Richard Cobden
When I see to how large an extent the national conscience has been moved upon the question to which I am about to invite the attention of the House, judging from the manifestations of opinion given by those organs of opinion by which we learn what is passing in the minds of the people of this great nation, and believing, from all the indications which we can have, that there is a large amount of sympathy felt for the subject of my Resolution, I can only regret that the task which I have to perform has not fallen into abler hands.
But let me, therefore, stipulate at the outset that, whatever may be the decision of the House, it may be taken on the merits of the case, and that it shall not be allowed to suffer, to any degree, on account of its advocate. I beg distinctly to state that I have no personal or party object in view, and that I have no motive whatever but to arrive at a just decision on the important question which I am about to submit. Personally, I have every motive for avoiding to give pain to any one, and still more to visit with retribution the gentleman who now fills the situation of Plenipotentiary at Hong Kong, who, except his conduct is endorsed and adopted by the Government, I hold to be entirely responsible for the proceedings which I am about to bring under your notice. Sir John Bowring is an acquaintance of mine, of twenty years' standing. I can have no vindictive feeling against him, and I have no desire for vengeance upon any person, I wish the Government had not adopted a hasty decision upon this subject, as we might then, without embarrassment, have come to a consideration of the case before us solely with the object of dealing with it on the principles of justice.
Now, to begin at the beginning, it appears that on the 8th of October last, a vessel called a lorcha - which is a name derived from the Portuguese settlement at Macao, on the mouth of the Canton River, opposite to that where Hong Kong lies, and which merely means that it is built after the European model, not that it is built in Europe - was boarded in the Canton River by Chinese officers. Twelve men were taken from it, on a charge which appears to be substantiated by the depositions of witnesses, that some of them had been concerned in an act of piracy. Twelve men were removed from, and two were left in charge of, the ship. Immediately upon the matter coming to the knowledge of Mr. Parkes, our Consul at Canton, he made a demand upon the Governor of Canton, claiming the return of these men, on the ground that, by the treaty between this country and China, any malfeasants found on board of a British vessel, and claimed by the Chinese authorities, should be demanded from the Consul, and not taken by the Chinese officers out of a British ship. The answer given to Mr. Parkes - and the whole of the question turns upon this point - was, that the ship was not a British but a Chinese ship. The matter was referred to Sir John Bowring at Hong Kong, which is about six hours' steam passage from Canton. On the 10th, that is, two days after, nine of these men were returned to Mr. Parkes. Three others, against whom grave suspicion existed, were retained, in order that their case might be further inquired into. And thus the matter remained, when Sir John Bowring determined that unless, within forty-eight hours, the whole of the men were returned in a formal and specified manner, and an apology offered for the act of the Chinese officers, and a pledge given that no such act should be committed in future, naval operations should be commenced against the Chinese. On the 22nd of October the whole of the men were returned; and a letter was sent, in which Yeh, the Chinese Governor of the province, stated that the ship was not a British ship, that the English had really no concern in it, but that he returned the men at the instance of the Consul. That letter was accompanied by a promise that, in future, great care should be taken that British ships should never be visited improperly by Chinese officers. On the 23rd - that that is to say, the day after - operations were commenced against the Barrier Forts on the Canton River. From the 23rd of October to the 13th of November, these naval and military operations were continuous. The Barrier Forts, the Bogue Forts, the Blenheim Forts, and the Dutch Folly Forts, and twenty-three Chinese junks, were all taken or destroyed. The suburbs of Canton were pulled, burnt, or battered down, that the ships might fire upon the walls of the town; and bear in mind that these suburbs contain a population entirely dependent upon the foreign trade, and were our only friends in the neighbourhood of that city. These operations continued until the 13th of November; the Governor's house in the city was shelled, and shells were thrown at a range of 2,000 yards that they might reach the quarter in which the various Government officers resided at the other side of the town. These things are set forth in the pathetic appeals made by the inhabitants, by repeated communications from the Governor, and by the statements of deputations, including some men of world-wide reputation, such as the Howquas and others engaged in trade. This was the state of things up to the date of the last advices.
I lay these things before the House as the basis for our investigation, not with the view of appealing to your humanity, not with the view of exciting your feelings, but that we may know that we are at war with China, and that great devastation and destruction of property have occurred. What I ask is, that we shall inquire who were the authors of this war, and why it was commenced? and that I ask, not in the interest of the Chinese, but for the defence of our own honour. I ask you to consider this case precisely as if you were dealing with a strong Power, instead of a weak one. I confess I have seen with humiliation the tendency in this country to pursue two courses of policy - one towards the strong, and the other towards the weak. Now, if I know anything of my countrymen, or anything of this House of Commons, that is not the natural quality of Englishmen. It never was our ancient reputation. We have had the character of being sometimes a little arrogant, a little overbearing, and of having a tendency to pick a quarrel; but we never yet acquired the character of being bullies to the weak and cowards to the strong. Let us consider this case precisely as if we were dealing with America instead of China. We have a treaty with China, which, in our international relations with that country, puts us on a footing of perfect equality. It is not one of the old conventions, such as existed between Turkey and the other European States, in which certain concessions were made without binding clauses on both sides. Our treaty with China binds us to a reciprocal policy, just as our treaty with America does; and what I say is, let us, in our dealings with that country, observe towards them that justice which we observe towards the United States, or France, or Russia.
I ask, what are the grounds of this devastation and warfare which are now being carried on in the Canton River? Our Plenipotentiary in China alleges that a violation of our treaty rights has taken place in regard to this vessel, the Arrow. In the first place, I think that is a question which might have been referred home, before resorting to extreme measures. In the next place, I ask, what is the case, as a question of international law? I will take the opinion of one of the highest legal authorities of the country; for I should, after the statement which I heard made by Lord Lyndhurst in another place on Tuesday evening, think myself very presumptuous if I were to detain you by any statement of my opinions. I heard Lord Lyndhurst declare that, with reference to this case of the Arrow, the Chinese Governor is right; and I heard him say that, in giving his opinion, he could not do better than use the very words used by the Chinese Governor - that this vessel, the Arrow, is not in any respect a British vessel.
But we have other grounds of testing the legality of this matter. When Mr. Parkes communicated the fact of this visit to the lorcha to Sir John Bowring, he received an answer; and what was that answer? Sir John Bowring, being then within six hours' steam from Canton, receives the letter written by Mr. Parkes on the 10th, and on the 11th he writes a letter, in which he says: -
'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.'
And on the following day, when not called upon to refer to the subject, he says: -
'I will consider the re-granting the register of the Arrow, if applied for; but there can be no doubt that, after the expiry of the licence, protection could not be legally granted.'
Now, I might stop here. Here is the whole case. But what course did Sir John Bowring recommend Mr. Parkes to take under these circumstances? I ask you to consider the matter as though you were dealing with another Power. If you please, we will suppose that, instead of being at Hong Kong dealing with Canton, we are at Washington dealing with Charleston. Not long ago, a law was passed in South Carolina which went very much against the most cherished predilections of this country, by requiring that when a coloured citizen of this country - as much an Englishman as you or I - arrived at Charleston, he should be taken out of the English ship, put into gaol, and kept in custody there until the ship was ready to sail. Now, if there could be one measure more calculated than another to wound our susceptibilities as a nation, it was that. What did our Consul at Charleston do? Did he send for Her Majesty's ships of war, and bombard the Governor's residence? No; he sent to Washington, and informed our Minister of the matter. The Minister went to the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and received an explanation, which amounted to nothing else than this, - 'We are in a difficulty, and you must have patience with us.' And we had patience, and did not resort to force.
Now, had this case which we are considering occurred in America, what would have been the course of our Ambassador at Washington when he received the letter of our Consul at Charleston, saying that he had demanded reparation from the American authorities there? When he referred to the documents which he had in his archives, and found that, owing to the lapse of time, the instrument upon which the Consul had proceeded had become void, and therefore he had no legal standing-ground as against the American Government - which was precisely the case, as admitted in this instance, the licence having expired fourteen days before - he would have written back to the Consul, saying, 'You have been too precipitate. The captain of the ship, by neglecting to renew his licence, has placed himself in an illegal position. You have been very rash in demanding redress from the Governor of South Carolina. Make your apology as soon as you can, and get out of this business. What was the conduct of Sir John Bowring? After telling Mr. Parkes that the licence had expired, and that the Arrow had no right to hoist the British flag, he added, 'But the Chinese have no knowledge of its expiration.'
When I read that letter in the country, it was in the Times newspaper, I would not believe its fidelity, but sent to London for a copy of the Gazette, in order that I might read the document in the original. Always wishing to save the character of an absent man, and believing that that must have been penned in a moment of hallucination, I say that it is the most flagitious public document that I ever saw. The statement itself being published, reveals a state of mind which warrants one in saying, and compels one to say, that the statement is false; because there is an avowal of falsehood, and a disposition to profit by it. I have frequently complained of the number of public documents which are laid before us in a mutilated shape; I always regard with suspicion any letters which are headed 'Extract;' but what was the right hon. Gentleman about who had the revising of these documents? Why did he not leave out that part of the letter? For the credit of the country, and his own credit, I wish he had. At all events, let it be understood that, if we follow out the policy adopted by Sir John Bowring upon no better foundation than this, we take upon ourselves the responsibilities of his acts, and share the guilt of that statement.
Now, connected with this transaction there are questions as to whether, when the Arrow was boarded, she had her colours flying, and that her English master was on board. After what we have heard, I think all these questions secondary; but I am by no means satisfied that we stand any better in regard to them than in regard to that to which I have just referred. Hon. Gentlemen who have read the correspondence will have observed that in the first letter written on this subject by Consul Parkes, he says he has proof in his possession showing, beyond the possibility of doubt, that when the vessel was boarded there was a British captain on board, that he remonstrated against the acts of the Chinese, and that the British flag was also flying at the time. Now, the fact turns out afterwards that the captain, in his own declaration, states that he was not on board the vessel; that he was taking his breakfast with another captain in another vessel. That, however, I regard as altogether of secondary importance.
But there is another illegality in this matter. Here are two illegalities which you have to contend with. First, the clear doctrine of constitutional law, laid down by Lord Lyndhurst, that you cannot give rights to a Chinese shipowner, as against his own Government. An unlearned man like myself, and the Chinese Governor Yeh, seem instinctively to have come to the same conclusion. I cannot, for the life of me, see how it is possible that we can invest ourselves with the power, at Hong Kong, of annexing the whole Chinese mercantile marine, - of protecting it against its own Government, and absolving Chinese subjects from their natural allegiance. But, besides the illegality admitted by Sir John Bowring, there is another: Even admitting that the lorcha's register was all in order, and that the licence had been paid up, still it is declared authoritatively, and is beyond a doubt, that the Hong Kong Government had no power to violate the statute laws of this country by giving any such licence. The Hong Kong Legislature cannot act in contravention of the fundamental principle of our Navigation Act; and therefore the whole register and licence were mere waste paper, even if they were in order.
Thus you have a threefold illegality to struggle against. The noble Lord (Palmerston), I see, is taking a note. I wish him to answer one thing that was said by his colleague in another place. Lord Clarendon, alluding to this point, used a very fallacious argument. He said, a Hong Kong register could not give imperial rights to a ship, but could give only British protection to a ship in China. That is the very place where we say it cannot give protection. It can give protection anywhere else but there. How can the proceedings of the Hong Kong Government, irrespective of the Legislature of this country, have any force in China? It is only through the instrumentality of an Act of Parliament here that the Hong Kong Legislature exists at all; and none of its acts are binding in China, or anywhere, in fact, without the confirmation of this country.
I do not wish to convert this into a legal debate, and it would be presumption in me to say another word on this part of the question. The Duke of Argyle, indeed, finding himself beaten on the law of the case, says, 'Do not argue this case on low, legal, and technical grounds. You must try it on broad, general grounds.' I leave it to other Members of this House to vindicate the legal profession, which lies at the foundation of all civilisation, from the unworthy aspersions thus inferentially cast upon it.
Assuming, then, that the whole thing was illegal on our part - and this cannot be denied, for no lawyer with a reputation at stake, and who is not on the Treasury-bench, will venture to assert a doctrine contrary to that laid down by Lord Lyndhurst - I pass to another branch of the question, with which I can more appropriately deal. It may be true, that although the Chinese did not violate the law, still they might have had the intention to insult us. It is alleged, that in boarding the Arrow, the Chinese authorities did it premeditatedly, in order to insult us. Having the law on their side, they yet might have enforced it with that view. I say that is quite a distinct issue; - but let us see what grounds there are for this assertion. In the first place, without travelling out of the question, I may remind you of the exceptional character of the trade carried on by European vessels on the coast of China. We all know that a great deal of irregular trade exists on that coast. Do you suppose it a very extraordinary thing that the Chinese authorities should board a vessel of European build, and carrying the British flag? In the correspondence relating to the registration of colonial vessels at Hong Kong, Sir John Bowring gives a case in which two vessels entitled to bear our flag were seized by the Chinese authorities because they had cargoes of salt. Being seized under the Treaty, their contents were liable to confiscation; but the Chinese Government had no right to retain the vessels themselves. The Chinese having taken the vessels to empty them, having dismantled them, and having kept them too long, our agents made a demand for their return, and sent a ship-of-war's cutter to bring them away. This might have been all very regular; but it only leads to the inference that the Chinese have occasion to visit our vessels without necessarily intending to insult us.
I hold in my hand a communication from an American gentleman, who left Canton on the 16th of last November, and was one of those who entered within the walls of that town in the rear of our forces. His name, which I am at liberty to mention, is Cook; he lives at Whampoa, where he has been for four years, holding the position of United States Marshal, and therefore having jurisdiction over the flag of his own country. In course of conversation, Mr Cook, in answer to my inquiries, stated many cases in which British ships, with the British flag, were engaged in smuggling transactions; and he mentioned one in particular, of so very glaring a nature, that I asked him to put it on paper, in order that I might read it publicly. I give this as an example of what has been going on in the neighbourhood of Canton, because it affords a valid plea for what the Chinese authorities have done in this case of the lorcha. Mr. Cook, in his letter, written to-day, says: -
'In answer to your query, whether I have any objections to the use of my name regarding our conversation on China matters, I say, most certainly not; and I will give you the facts in regard to the seizure of the lorchas as nearly as possible, from memory, having no data to refer to. During the summer of 1855, in June or July, there lay near our chop, which is close to Her Britannic Majesty's Vice-Consulate at Whampoa, from ten to fifteen lorchas, engaged in smuggling salt, and eight or ten of this number hoisted British flags during the day, the salt being discharged at night. The number of vessels was so large at that time, in consequence of the Mandarin boats having been sent above Canton to repulse the rebels. But the Government could not keep ignorant of so bold a matter long, and twelve or fifteen Mandarin boats, each containing upwards of sixty men, made their appearance early in the morning, and captured the whole fleet, five or six of which had British flags flying at the time, the Europeans (generally a captain) as well as the Chinese jumping overboard and swimming to the different vessels for safety, several of whom came on board of our vessel. The Mandarin force took the captured fleet to Canton, and the parties having the right to fly the flag subsequently claimed their vessels, which were eventually returned, and the remainder retained by the Government. This is by no means an isolated case as regards the illegal use of the flag, and you have only to refer to the Hong Kong papers to find plenty of cases where the right was questioned to grant the flag, as it had been done by the Hong Kong authorities.'
In justice to Mr. Cook, I must say - and without this proviso he would, I am sure, feel that I had been guilty of a breach of faith - that he is as completely anti-Chinese as anybody I ever met. He wishes every success to every one who will go and attack the Chinese for the purpose of making them more American and more European in their notions, and he would not be supposed to say a word to save them from any horrors that you may inflict upon them. Yet he candidly tells me, 'You have chosen a quarrel which is the most unlucky that you could possibly have stumbled into, for' (he adds) 'you have not a leg to stand upon in the affair of the Arrow.' I confess I listened with some humiliation to what he said of the doings of ships carrying our flags; and when so much is asserted about our flag being insulted, I cannot help feeling that it is such transactions as these which dishonour and insult our flag. Mr. Cook, who, as the American Marshal, has control over the American flag, also said to me, in a very significant tone, 'I don't allow any such doings as these under our stars and stripes.'
In what position do we place the Chinese authorities by our licences? I will tell you, on the same authority. A Chinese goes to Hong Kong, and by means of some mystification which they have adopted there - such as becoming the tenant of Crown lands, or becoming a partner with somebody else who is - for, you will observe, the Chinese are infinitely clever in matters of partnership, and are exceedingly prone to limited liability - a Chinese subject, I say, goes to Hong Kong, obtains an English ship, and then gets an Englishman for a captain. What sort of man is this captain? Why, any man with a round hat and a European coat on will do. He is put on board, and called the nominal captain. The ship is owned by a Chinese; but they keep this man on board, who is generally some loose fish - some stray person, or runaway apprentice; for in this case you have Mr. Kennedy and another witness both stating their ages at not above twenty-one. When we hear of young men of twenty-one being placed in positions of this sort, I think we may draw a very natural inference. In fact, they are, I am told, nearly always runaway apprentices or idle young seamen. They have plenty of grog to drink, and nothing else to do but to drink it, for they are not expected to take any share whatever in the working of the ship.
That is the process which is going on in the Chinese waters, and it is most dishonourable, I contend, to us as a nation, to permit it. One of the consequences which I should expect from the appointment of a Committee would be a strict inquiry into the trade carried on with China, and an endeavour to devise some scheme to put a stop to this disgraceful system of obtaining licences. Hon. Gentlemen will be able now to see, from the letter which I have read, the advantages of having one of these licences. A dozen smuggling vessels are seized; half of them, having a colonial register, are entitled to carry the British flag, because they have paid the licences and are registered. The Chinese authorities take out their cargoes, but are obliged to return the vessels. As to the other half of the vessels, they are seized and confiscated with their cargoes, and the smugglers also are kept. So that a smuggler who has a register can carry on his trade with nothing to fear, except the occasional loss of his cargo. This, then, is a reason why we ought to be tolerant to the Chinese, and not assume, as a matter of course, that they intended to insult us because they boarded this lorcha, even though the British flag might be flying at the time.
I must beg the House to remember who the correspondents were. On the one side, you have Consul Parkes, a gentleman of considerable ability, no doubt, and a good linguist - I believe some of us saw him not long ago, when he came over with the Siamese Treaty, but still a young man, without experience, and without having gone through the gradations of civil employment calculated to give him that moderation, prudence, and discretion which he may one day possess; and, on the other side, the Governor of a province which, according to Mr. Montgomery Martin's book, contains 20,000,000 inhabitants, - a Cabinet Minister, and one who has no doubt gone through all the grades of civil employment. Now, bear these facts in mind, and I ask any man who has read this correspondence, does it bear on the face of it the slightest intimation that the Chinese Governor wished to insult the British authority? Must it not be admitted - as was said by Lord Derby, in that brilliant and admirable speech of his - that, 'on the one side, there were courtesy, forbearance, and temper, while on the other there were arrogance and presumption?'
The correspondence loses half its effect, if we do not bear in mind the dates and the circumstances under which it was written. While it was being carried on, every day witnessed the demolition of some fort, or the burning of some buildings; and yet here, on the 12th of November, a fortnight after his own house had been shelled and entered by a hostile force - I have no doubt that the officers and men who performed their duty conducted themselves with all moderation, but I am informed that they were followed by a rabble, who destroyed a great deal of valuable property - Commissioner Yeh writes to Sir John Bowring in this mild and conciliatory tone: -
'Again, the twelve men seized were all taken back by Hew, assistant magistrate of Nanhae, on the 22nd ult.; but Consul Parkes declined to receive either them or a despatch sent with them from me. The letter under acknowledgment says that, had the authorities been accessible to the Consul, the affair might have been disposed of in a single interview. The assistant magistrate, Hew, was sent twice with the men to be surrendered; it is through him that (foreign) correspondence with me is always transmitted. Now, the assistant magistrate is a commissioned officer of the Chinese Empire. Heretofore any foreign business that has had to be transacted by deputy has been transacted by officers similarly deputed, and the present was a case of all others requiring common conference; but Consul Parkes had made up his mind not to consent to what was proposed. On a subsequent occasion, I sent Tseang, Prefect of Lay-chow-foo, to the foreign factories, to consider what steps should be taken; but the Consul now insisted on something more than (the rendition of) the men captured on board the lorcha. There being in all this no inaccessibility on the part of Chinese officials, what was there to make an immediate adjustment impracticable? Yet on the 23rd, 24th, and 25th ult., the different forts of the city were occupied or destroyed; and from the 27th ult. to the 5th inst. a cannonade was kept up, by which numberless dwelling-houses in the new and old city were consumed with considerable loss of life. I still forbore, remembering how many years you had been at peace with us; but the people were now gnashing their teeth with rage at the terrible suffering to which they had been subjected. Imagine it, that the simple fact being that a seizure was made by the Chinese Government of Chinese offenders, whom it was a duty to seize, it is pretended that the British ensign was hauled down; and this is followed up by a movement of troops and a cannonade to the infliction of terrible suffering on the people. I must beg your Excellency to pass an opinion on such a state of things.'
Does not this letter prove that the man who wrote it under such harrowing circumstances had, above all things, a desire to conciliate and smooth down the differences which existed? Nothing is more striking in this correspondence than the manner in which Commissioner Yeh constantly harps upon the same string - that the Arrow was not a British vessel. I have counted in the papers no less than eight letters in which that declaration is reiterated in different forms to Consul Parkes, to Sir John Bowring, to Admiral Seymour, and, I believe, even to the American representative. There are instances in which his language is as terse, logical, and argumentative as if it had been Lord Lyndhurst himself who spoke. Here is an example - and I read this extract, because it is the very dictum laid down by Lord Lyndhurst the other night. Writing to Sir John Bowring on the 21st of October, Yeh says, - 'The whole question amounts to this - a lorcha built by a Chinese purchased a British flag; that did not make her a British vessel.' I venture to say that Westminster Hall, with the Court of Chancery to boot, could not frame a decision more terse and more comprehensive than that. It is the whole law of the case. A Chinese, by buying a British flag, cannot make a Chinese vessel a British vessel. And it is a most remarkable thing, that during the whole of this discussion our authorities never once attempted to answer this argument. What is still more remarkable, Lord Cranworth talked a good deal about something else the other night, but he never attempted to answer it. I have no doubt we shall hear the Attorney-General talk a good deal about something else to-night. But I venture to say that we shall not hear any man, with a character to lose as a lawyer, much less a man who aspires one day to sit on the woolsack, declare in express language that the dictum of Commissioner Yeh is unsound in law. Here is another instance. Yeh writes to our Plenipotentiary on the 17th of November: -
'I have always understood foreign flags to be each one peculiar to a nation, they are never made so little of as even to be lent; how, then, could a foreign nation do anything so irregular as to sell its flag to China?'
Observe the acute reasoning of this man. He puts the question at once upon its real footing - ' You have not made a Chinese vessel a British vessel; you have only sold your flag to a Chinese vessel.' He then goes on: -
'This appears to your Excellency a proceeding in accordance with law; all I can say is, that I am not aware that foreign nations have any such law. As I have said before, therefore, had the flag belonged bonâ fide to a British merchant-vessel, it would have been proper to follow some other course than the one pursued; but the fact being, that a Chinese had fraudulently assumed the flag, why should Mr. Consul Parkes have put himself forward as his advocate? Simply because he wanted a pretext for making trouble.'
Upon my honour, I believe the whole matter is contained in these last words. I believe there was a preconceived design to pick a quarrel, and I very much suspect that there has been more or less encouragement forwarded from head quarters.
I might read numberless passages from the correspondence, but as the attention of hon. Gentlemen has already been called to them by the discussion which has occurred in another place, it is unnecessary for me to trouble the House with any lengthy quotations. I may say, however, that all the communications on the part of the Chinese authorities manifest a forbearance, a temper, and a desire to conciliate, which should put to the blush any man who asserts that they intended to insult the British representatives. I observe that in another place Lord Clarendon did not content himself with referring to recent transactions, but he said that for a long time past the Chinese Government and authorities have been encroaching upon the rights of foreigners, and have shown a disposition to infringe the Articles of the Treaty. I can only say, that if such conduct has been pursued by the Chinese authorities, it was the duty of her Majesty's Government to take earlier steps to check their proceedings. Why did the Government allow us to drift into a quarrel, in which our cause is bad, if for years sufficient grounds have existed for their interference? If, as Lord Clarendon tells us, these wrongs have been inflicted upon English, French, and Americans, why, in the name of common sense, did not that noble Lord, or the Prime Minister, or some one in authority, say to France and to the United States, 'We are joint parties to the Treaty with China; our rights are invaded; the terms of the Treaty are not fairly fulfilled; let us make joint representations on the subject at Pekin?' That would have been a statesmanlike mode of proceeding; but why did the Government allow these infractions of the Treaty to go on until your representatives have stumbled into a quarrel, and commenced a war, for which, in the opinion of your best lawyers, there is no legal grounds? I deny that the assumption of Lord Clarendon is true. I say, that if you refer to the blue-books that have been laid upon the table since 1842, you will find most striking proofs that the Chinese authorities, in every part of the empire to which we have access, have manifested the most consistent and earnest desire to carry out the provisions of the Treaty.
I will make one remark with reference to the correspondence recently laid before us. Why was this blue-book laid upon the table on the very morning of the day on which Lord Derby was to call attention to the subject, and why was a paper presented in the name of the Sovereign caricatured by being termed 'Correspondence respecting Insults in China?' My experience in these matters almost tempts me to say that this blue-book was laid upon the table on that morning for the very purpose of mystifying us. Many hon. Members - plain, simple-minded country gentlemen - who have not so voracious an appetite for blue-books as I have, would say, 'Mercy on us! Here is a book of 225 pages, all about the insults we have suffered in China. It's high time that Lord Clarendon should interfere for the protection of British interests, and it's quite right to go to war on the subject, if necessary.' I have read the blue-book through; and what is it? It consists of garbled extracts from correspondence extending from the year 1842 to the year 1856. What do these extracts relate to? A few street riots, a few village rows. An Englishman straying out of bounds to shoot, is hooted back by the peasants. An Englishman goes out shooting, shoots a boy and blinds him. The Consul awards the boy 200 dollars to buy a piece of land. That is put down as an 'insult in China.' When I commenced reading the book, I thought - 'Here is the record - garbled, as I will afterwards show you - of all the disputes and misunderstandings we have had with China since we concluded the Treaty which gave us access to the five ports of that empire.'
Now, I will ask the House to turn their attention to the position occupied by this country during the same time with regard to the other great Powers of the civilized world. What have been your relations with the United States during that period? Three times you have been on the verge of war on the subjects of boundary disputes, enlistment disputes, and fishery disputes. I have seen a large fleet at Spithead reviewed by the Queen, well knowing at the time its significance - that it was meant to back the representations we were making to those who are our coreligionists, and, I may almost say, our countrymen. Then what has been our position with regard to France? Twice we have debated the measures to be adopted in order to guard against the possible descent of the French upon our shores. We have called out our militia, and we have increased our fleet, for fear of violent proceedings on the part of France. What have been the relations existing between England and Russia? Those Powers have engaged in the most gigantic duel ever fought; they have waged the most bloody and costly war - for the time of its duration - that ever occurred - a war in which four or five empires were involved. I may be told that China is now plunged into revolution; but within the last sixteen years, has not all Europe been plunged into revolution? Talk of insults to England! Were not all the English workmen in France driven from the railroads in that country? If such a thing happened in a country whose manners, habits, and religion are similar to our own, ought we not, in dealing with an empire to which we have so recently gained admission, and which has had so little contact with the Western world, to have exhibited more tolerance and moderation? Is it not an insult to this House to bring down such a blue-book as that upon the table, in order to make up a case for Lord Clarendon, on the ground that we have had constant reasons to complain of the breach of our Treaty with China? I have said I would show the House that the extracts contained in this book are not fairly given. Many of these extracts are collected from returns which were laid before the House long ago, and I will trouble the House with some extracts from the original papers.
Now, here is a letter from Sir John Davis, the British Plenipotentiary, addressed to Lord Palmerston, and dated 'Hong Kong, Feb. 15, 1847,' which, if it be in the blue-book before us, I have not been able to find: -
'My Lord, - I deemed it right, on the approach of the Chinese year, when Canton is crowded with idle persons, to address the enclosed official despatch, on the and instant, to Captain Talbot, not that I have any expectation of the occurrence of acts of violence and disorder, if our own people will only behave with common abstinence.
'The following extract of a letter from Major-General D'Aguilar, now at Canton, will tend to corroborate all that Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Cochrane, myself, and the Consul, have had occasion to report upon this subject; and we have none of us any motives for seeking popularity by appealing to passion rather than reason:-
' "I have been a great deal on the river, and constantly in the streets about the factories, and extended some of my walks close to the city gates, and have never met with anything but courtesy and civility. I believe a great deal - I may say everything - depends upon ourselves, and that a kind manner and a bearing free from offence is the best security against all approach to violence and insult." '
Before I read a letter in a kindred spirit from Admiral Cochrane, I may observe, that I have sometimes been accused of entertaining feelings hostile to the military and naval services. I have many excellent and brave friends in both services, and, although I am a friend to peace, yet in a case of veracity I would take the word of a soldier or a sailor rather than that of any one else. This letter is dated 'Her Majesty's ship Agincourt, Hong Kong, Nov. 20, 1846:' -
'My dear Governor, - In pursuance of the intention I communicated to you, of visiting Canton for the purpose of seeing, before my departure for England, the changes that may have occurred in the four years that have elapsed since I was last there, as well as to ascertain how far any just cause existed for the apprehensions of the British merchants residing at Canton, or for a ship of war being constantly stationed off the factory gardens, to her imminent peril, were any real hostilities to take place, I went there from hence on Sunday and on Monday, landing in plain clothes accompanied by my flag-lieutenant and Captain M'Dougal. I walked for full six hours in in every part of the town where I thought it likely to meet a crowd, finding myself, without intending it, close to the dreaded city gate, within seven or eight doors of which I passed some time in a shop, making purchases, the doors surrounded as usual by lookers-on from the crowded street that leads to the gate, of whom not a single individual showed the slightest incivility. On the contrary, some in the most friendly and respectful manner examined the texture of my coat as well as my gloves, the latter being, as you know, a curiosity to them. In short, I sought every position where public feeling was likely to be exhibited, and blinked none; and I can positively declare that I, and those with me, passed through the streets with as much freedom and as little inconvenience as in any street in London, and met with precisely the same reception I have done at Shanghai or Ningpo, and if any circumstance had been required to confirm the opinion I have more than once expressed - namely, that the Chinese will never be the aggressors - the visit of Monday would fully do so; and if I required further proof of the bullying disposition of my own countrymen among foreigners in the first instance, and their unreasonable expectations as to anticipated protection afterwards, it will be found in what has already passed, and in the statements made to you by the Consul on the first recall of the Nemesis, and another by her commander on her arrival here, that, on being ordered down the river after lying three months without moving from the factory gardens, the merchants made loud complaints, and I expected to have heard that she had been followed by a petition for her return. If the merchants would believe that their best, and by far most efficient, protection is to be found in their own circumspect conduct in treating the people with urbanity and goodwill, and avoiding rather than seeking sources of conflict, I feel persuaded that they will soon practically discover in these measures more persuasive advocates with the Chinese than in all the force I could bring against them.'
I do not know whether my right hon. Friend (Mr. Labouchere) can find that letter in the blue-book, but I have not been able to find it. The correspondence appears to me to have been culled to find some letters of a very different character.
I will only trouble the House with one other letter. It is a letter by Sir John Davis, written in 1846. You had riots at Canton afterwards, and great destruction of property. The letter is dated the 12th of November, 1846, and Sir John Davis, writing to Lord Palmerston, says: -
'I am not the first who has been compelled to remark, that it is more difficult to deal with our own countrymen at Canton than with the Chinese Government; and I offer the last proof of this in the fact, that it has cost me infinitely more trouble to make Mr. Compton pay a fine of 200 dollars, than to obtain compensation to our merchants of 46,000 dollars for losses which occurred partly from their own misconduct.'
I did not find that letter in the blue-book. Sir John Davis, also writing to Lord Palmerston, on the 26th of January, 1847, says: -
'I may add, that the subjects of every other civilised Government get on more quietly with the Chinese, and clamour less for protection than our own.'
Lord Clarendon gave great prominence to the case of the merchants.
Now, it is probable that I am the only man who would say on this subject what I am about to say, without being misunderstood. No one will doubt my mercantile tendencies. All my sympathies are with the mercantile classes, and my public life has been passed in enlarging the sphere of their honourable and beneficial employment. Lord Clarendon called attention to the English merchants in China, and said, they were all in favour of the violent proceedings which have been carried on in Canton. In one of these papers - which I need not read to you - I find a communication on that subject, written in 1847, by Sir George Bonham, who says, there are a great many young men there, some of them engaged as junior partners and clerks at Canton, who have not a large stake at issue, and who are naturally eager to have access to the country, and to compel the Chinese to break down the barriers to their excursions; but that, on consulting the older and more experienced men, he did not find that they were in favour of hostile proceedings, although he admitted they were in a minority. I sympathise with the position of the English merchants at Canton. It is not a pleasant thing to live on the borders of a river, and not to have a distance of two miles for exercise. At all events it would not suit me, who am fond of exercise, and I should be most glad to see them in the course of being emancipated from that state of duress in which they are placed at Canton. One of my reasons for regretting that which is being done is, that it tends to retard indefinitely any such extension of the liberty of my countrymen. But while I say this, I cannot lose sight of the fact that there are a great many merchants in China who are engaged in a traffic of a very exceptional character, which is detrimental not merely to the health but to the morals, to the souls and bodies of the Chinese. That trade is founded on a certain degree of licence and lawlessness; it flourishes in times of disorders and commotion, and anything which plunges the East into anarchy and confusion, is promoting the interests of these merchants and serving their unholy gains. With those merchants I have no sympathy; but I am afraid that English merchants abroad do to some extent merit the reflections made by the gallant men whose letters I have read. And I doubt whether it is always for their benefit, as merchants, that they are placed in a position which enables them to summon to their aid an overwhelming force, to compel the authorities to yield to their demands. If hon. Gentlemen opposite will not take offence at a reference to a bygone question, I should say, that there may be too much protection for British merchants as well as for British agriculture. It is a fact, that while our exports are going on increasing, they are passing more and more through the hands of foreigners, and not through the hands of Englishmen. I speak from ocular observation and personal experience when I say, that if you go to the Mediterranean, or the Levant, or to any of the ancient seats of commercial activity, you will find the English merchants, with all their probity and honour, which I maintain is on an equality with that of any other people, have been for some time in foreign countries declining in numbers. At Genoa, Venice, Leghorn, Trieste, Smyrna, Constantinople, you will find that the trade has passed out of the hands of British merchants, and into the hands of the Greeks, Swiss, or Germans, all belonging to countries that have no navy to protect them at all. This is the fact; and what is the inference? It may be that English merchants are not educated sufficiently in foreign languages; but it may be also that Englishmen carry with them their haughty and inflexible demeanour into their intercourse with the natives of other countries. The noble Lord inscribes Civis Romanus sum on our passports, which may be a very good thing to guard us in our footsteps. But Civis Romanus sum is not a very attractive motto to out over the door of our counting-houses abroad.
Now, without wishing to do more than convey a friendly warning to a class with whom I have so great a sympathy, I may remark, that our merchants have at present a very large trade in China, in South America, and in India; and the same failings which have lost the footing of our merchants in the Mediterranean, may be also a disadvantage to us in China and elsewhere.
I come now to the consideration of the case of the Chinese merchants, as it is put forward by Lord Clarendon, and 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: -
'That a revision of the tariff of Customs duties should be made consistent with the spirit of the Treaty concluded by Sir Henry Pottinger - namely, an ad valorem duty of five per cent. on imports and exports.'
That 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. They then go on to say: -
'The British Government should insist on the right of opening to foreign trade any port on the 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 rivers and ports of China.'
Let us by the way of illustration, and bringing the matter nearer home, suppose that this is a document which has come to us from Moscow, and that it is addressed not to China but to Turkey. Let us read it thus: - 'The Russian Government should insist on the right of opening to foreign trade any port on the coast of Turkey, or on the banks of any navigable river, at any time they may think fit, and of placing Consuls at such ports; that Russian ships of war should have the free navigation of and access to all the ports and rivers of Turkey.' Can you imagine anything more stunning than the explosion that would take place at Liverpool if such a ukase as that was to come to us from Russia? As a friend, not an enemy, of these gentlemen, I must say that such language as that is to be reprobated. I say it is to be reprobated, because it tends to place us who sympathise with mercantile men at a great disadvantage as regards even the naval and military classes. Contrast the kind and conciliatory language used by General D'Aguilar and Admiral Cochrane with the downright selfish violence and unreasoning injustice with which the Liverpool Association would treat an empire containing 300,000,000 people. I think I know more about the trade of China than these gentlemen, and I will venture to say, that there is not a great empire in the world where trade is so free. I only wish that we had, not five ports but, one port in France, Austria, or Russia, where we should have the same low tariff as we now have in China. There is not a country on the face of the earth where trade is carried on with greater facility than in China. There is no place where if you send a ship you can get her unloaded and loaded with greater despatch, where the port charges and other expenses are so moderate, or where you are more certain to find a cargo of the produce of the country. You will find that statement corroborated by the evidence of captains who have sailed to every quarter of the globe, and who have stated before a Committee of the House that there is no country in the world where trade can be carried on with greater facility than in China. Mr. Cook, the gentleman to whom I have already referred, confirmed it to me today. He said, 'I have known a ship of 1,500 tons coming into Whampoa, discharging her ballast, taking in her cargo, and sailing in five days.' He added, 'Can you beat that in Liverpool?' I am afraid not.
But what is it the Liverpool Association want? Do they think that by opening a dozen other ports they will necessarily, by sheer violence, increase their trade? That was tried in the last war. We all remember the gloom which hung over this country in the summer of 1842. It was once remarked by Sir R. Peel, that the fine harvest of that year and the news of the Chinese Treaty saved England from the most fearful state of panic and distress. We all know that the report of the Treaty with China, when received here, raised the most extravagant expectations. Our friends in Lancashire threw up their caps, and said, 'In an empire of 300,000,000 people, and with free access to the northern ports, if every Chinaman buys a cotton nightcap, all our mills will be kept going.' What, then, have been the results to our exports? During the last three years, our exports to China have not averaged more than £1,250,000. Before the war broke out, we had frequently years in which our manufactured exports amounted to as much as that. In fact, since 1842 we have not added to our exports in China at all, at least as far as our manufactures are concerned. We have increased our consumption of tea; but that is all.
I have here a letter, from the East India and China Association of London, signed by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mr. Gregson), and written in so different a spirit from that of the Liverpool Association, that I have not one word to say against it, except that my hon. Friend has too great dependence upon what can be done for him by force of arms in China. You will find it stated in that letter that -
'Our trade with China has become one of the greatest importance. The import at the time of the Treaty was, in 1842, 42,000,000 lbs. of tea; in 1856, 87,000,000 lbs.'
It is hardly fair to compare these years, because 1842 was a year of war, while 1856 was a year of large consumption. The statement in the letter with respect to silk is still more fallacious. It is this: -
'In 1842 (yearly average), 3,000 bales; in 1856, 56,000 bales.'
Well, that may be accounted for by the failure of the silk crops in France and other parts of Europe; and it is an illustration of the immense resources of China, that when you have a sudden demand for silk, owing to the failure of the crops in Europe, by sending silver you can get any supply you want from China, no matter how unexpected may be the demand. But it is not fair to put that as the normal state of our trade.
I have said that our imports have increased. Those imports have been paid largely by opium. It is said that our exports to India have also increased. True, our merchants may send their longcloths to India, and there exchange them for opium; that opium may go to China, and in return for it we may get silver back to India or to England. But I apprehend that if the land in India were not employed in growing poppies, it would be employed in growing something else, enabling the natives to buy the longcloths of England, and that if the Chinese were not spending large sums upon opium, they, too, would buy something else. That question, however, I shall not go into; it is a very large one, and would be apt to excite angry passions. What I wish to say is, when the Liverpool merchants ask you to compel China to admit them to all her rivers, accompanied by ships of war, and to allow them to set up their shops wherever they please, do not, upon their authority, be deluded into the belief that the war in 1842 has increased our trade with China, and that a new war is likely to be followed by similar results. I venture to predict that the hostilities in which we are now engaged with China will diminish, not increase, our exports.
Having trespassed so long upon the attention of the House, I shall allude to only one other point - the claim of foreigners for admission to Canton. I have been careful to word my motion with a salvo upon that question. I am of opinion, whatever doubts may be entertained by others, that when the Treaty was signed in 1842, it was contemplated that foreigners should have as free access to Canton as to Shanghai or any other of the open ports. But a controversy has been carried on on that subject between our officials at Hong Kong and the authorities at Canton. In the papers will be found despatches, not only from Mr. Bonham, but from the noble Lord now at the head of the Government, in which the very best possible grounds are urged why our authorities at Hong Kong should not persist in trying to gain admission for English merchants to Canton. It is stated, and I think in good faith, that the population of Canton, and, in fact, the population of that province of which Canton is the capital, is fierce and ungovernable; and they have hostile feelings towards the English; and that, if our merchants were admitted into Canton, the greater contact would only lead to greater ill-will. I believe that apprehension is well founded. Whether it arises from the fierce and lawless disposition of the Chinese, or from their past intercourse with the East India Company - which, we all know, yielded much for a little temporary peace - or whether it appertains to their southern clime, for in all countries the southern region is inhabited by the more fierce and turbulent part of the population - I know not; but certain it is that these Cantonese entertain feelings of the most hostile kind towards the foreigners, and I believe it was in good faith that it was urged by the Chinese Commissioner, by our own Plenipotentiary, and by Lord Palmerston himself, that it was not desirable to press further the question of admission into Canton.
But let our merchants bear in mind, that what we are now fighting for is not the admission of foreigners into Canton. The sine quâ non of Sir John Bowring, who certainly, I believe with Lord Derby, has a monomania about getting into Canton, is that the foreign authorities, not the foreign merchants, should be allowed to enter that city. I will ask the House, is it worth while fighting for this, that Sir John Bowring should have the right to go into Canton in one costume or another, especially when the Governor was ready to meet him half way out of the town? I have always thought, that if a person of state and dignity left his own palace to meet another half way, it was a greater compliment than staying and making the reception at home. I cannot understand what we are fighting for, and why Sir John Bowring should think himself degraded by an interview with Governor Yeh at Howqua's packing-house. This is a topic worth nothing but a laugh.
But is this admission to Canton, for which we are fighting, of any use? Canton is a walled city, occupied by a native population, with streets eight feet wide. Would any Englishman ever dream of living in such a place? Does an Englishman live in the Turkish quarters of Constantinople? No; the habits and religion of the two races separate them. What would be the advantage to English residents in that part of China to admission into Canton? If they had free access into the country, and could take a ride or a walk for exercise, that would be a benefit to them; but the population in the neighbourhood is turbulent and insubordinate, and our countrymen are not likely to receive good treatment there; and if the privilege were conceded, nobody would ever go into the city except to stare about him, or to make an observation for his note-book. I apprehend that what the Cantonese authorities say is true - that the population is so turbulent, that Englishmen could not expect very good treatment.
But if admission to Canton were desirable, is this the time for pressing it? The blue-book teems with reasons against such an idea. What do the inhabitants of Canton say in their address? They say: -
'The late affair of the lorcha was a trifle; it was no case for deep-seated animosity, as a great offence that could not be forgotten; yet you have suddenly taken up arms, and for several days you have been firing shell, until you have burned dwellings and destroyed people in untold numbers. It cannot be either told how many old people, infants, and females have left their homes in affliction. If your countrymen have not seen this, they have surely heard, have they not, that such is the case? What offence has been committed by the people of Canton that such a calamity should befall them? Again, it is come to our knowledge that you are insisting on official receptions within the city. This is doubtless with a view to amicable relations; but, when your only proceeding is to open a fire upon us which destroys the people, supposing that you were to obtain admission into the city, still the sons, brothers, and kindred of the people, whom you have burned out and killed, will be ready to lay down their lives to be avenged on your countrymen, nor will the authorities be able to prevent them.'
There is great good sense in that; and one of Governor Yeh's letters might have been penned by the Duke of Wellington - it is so sententious. I allude to that in which Governor Yeh, in answer to Sir John Bowring, who asked for admission to Canton, stated that he could not go out of his palace on account of the people, who were complaining of the proceedings of the English. He says, 'If I went into the town, I do not know how I should ever get out again;' meaning that the people would so crowd upon him with their complaints. On the same subject, Governor Yeh wrote to Sir John Bowring: -
'In a letter from his Excellency Admiral Seymour, received some days ago, he says, that the present proposition is in no way connected with those of former years; that his demand is simply for the admission of the foreign representatives. The proposition made before was objected to by the entire population of Canton; the people affected by the present proposition are the same Canton people; the city is the same Canton city; it is not another and separate Canton city. How can it be said that there is no connection whatever between the two propositions? But more than this, the Canton people are very fierce and violent, differing in temper from the inhabitants of other provinces; admission into the city was refused you in 1849 by the people of Canton; and the people of Canton of the present day are the people of Canton of the year 1849; and there is this additional difficulty in mooting the question of admitting British subjects into the city now, namely, that the strong feeling against your Excellency's countrymen having been aggravated by the terrible suffering to which the people have been subjected without a cause, they are even more averse to the concession than they were before.'
That is perfectly natural, and should have put an end to the mooting of the question at the time. It is important that hon. Gentlemen should address themselves to this point, on which there is much misconception out of doors - namely, do the Chinese authorities act in good faith when they tell you that they cannot with convenience or safety carry out that clause of the Treaty which provides for the admission of the English into Canton? I believe that they act in good faith, and the facts, I think, prove it. A previous Governor of Canton wrote to his Emperor with quaintness, but much truth, - 'The inhabitants of Canton who are anxious to fight are many, but those who are conversant with justice are few.' I think that this may also be said of the merchants of Liverpool, whose memorial I have read. The papers already before Parliament are full of proofs of the kind. There is a communication from Sir George Bonham, stating that when a number of our merchants removed to Foo-Chow-foo they took with them their native servants from Canton; but these were found to be so pugnacious that the inhabitants of the province of Fokien, in which Foo-Chow-foo is situated, begged that they (the Cantonese) might all be sent away. But, under any circumstances, I do not think that our admission to the city of Canton would be of a farthing's use. There are thousands of inhabitants outside the walls, in the suburbs which have been destroyed, and these are the shopkeepers and brokers. It is with them that we do business, and, if we had free access into the city, we should still have to do our business outside. Therefore, we have no grievance against the Chinese for not opening Canton.
But, supposing everything I have said on this subject could be contradicted and invalidated, I have only to ask, whether it is right that, with respect to a country with which we have Treaty alliances, our representative should be allowed to declare war, and carry on war, without sanction from this country? That is a question which I intend scarcely to touch upon, because others will be able to deal with it better; but it is apparent, on the face of these papers, that the very difficulty into which we have fallen was foreseen, and that our authorities on the spot have been warned against the very acts they have committed. It is not merely that they have acted against general principles, which it is the interest of all nations to regard; but Sir John Bowring has acted positively contrary to his instructions in regard to the employment of troops. There are letters from Lords Malmesbury and Granville, and particularly one from Earl Grey, which one can read and understand; and these letters gave peremptory directions, that on no account aggressive measures should be resorted to without recourse to England. You have, therefore, to deal with your representative abroad, who not only has violated a sound principle of international law, but has gone against express injunctions. I perceive a great change in the tone of the correspondence between Sir John Bowring and Lord Clarendon, and that which passed between him and other Ministers with whom he had to deal. When Lord Clarendon came into off