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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 4

The Edinburgh Courant, 27th June 1876

The Edinburgh Courant, 27th June 1876.

Proofs of the commercial and political value of our Imperial dependencies are multiplying in almost the same ratio as proofs of the instability of foreign trade and the risk of foreign investment. It is a fact recognized in almost every branch of English industry, that in the past three years of depression the colonial demand has suffered far less than any other; it has stood out even better than the home trade itself. Only a fortnight ago it was stated at a colonists' banquet in Glasgow that more than a fourth of the new vessels being built on the Clyde are for Australia. Sir James Fergusson, speaking as an ex-Governor of two leading colonies, remarked that instead of the mother country benefiting the colonies, it was now the colonies which were benefiting the mother country. Dr. Forbes Watson, the well known Director of the India Museum, though we believe not a colonist himself, has become a staunch believer in the importance of the colonial connection. He desires to see the material wealth and progress of the colonies displayed at home, as those of India are in the museum under his charge. But it is not part of his ambition that the colonies should join him at South Kensington. He finds himself one too many there, and his zeal in behalf of the colonies does not pretend to be wholly disinterested, for if he could help them to a site for a museum which he has in his eye on the Thames Embankment, he might also facilitate his own deliverance from a South Kensington exile. His brief experience in the scientific suburb has convinced him that comparatively few visitors to London find time for such a pilgrimage. As the locale of any institution intended to interest men of business or students with limited time at their command he considers it wholly a mistake. The proper position seems to him to be in the neighbourhood of the Thames Embankment. There he has sought and found a site for a joint India page 22 and Colonial Museum, which he declares to be perfect. Close to the new street which swept away Northumberland House, and adjoining Whitehall Place, is the site of Fife House, with an area of two acres and a half, nearly all frontage. On the river side it overlooks the public gardens skirting the Embankment. Eastward it has a long frontage towards Whitehall Place; behind it communicates both with Whitehall Yard and Middle Scotland Yard. There are so many facilities of access that the several groups of colonies might have each a separate entrance if they chose. Across the road from Whitehall Place are the India and Colonial Offices. At five or ten minutes distance is Fleet Street, and from the Charing Cross Station it is but a few minutes journey by rail into the very centre of the city. The ground is Crown property, and as Mr. Lowe is no longer at the Treasury, Dr. Watson flatters himself that a purchase or a lease might be obtained on favourable terms.

To the use he purposes making of the site the Treasury could have no possible objection; neither could the Metropolitan Board of Works nor the parishoners of Westminster. It would add a new and striking ornament to that already well ornamented and highly privileged part of London. The Royal Aquarium would have reason to be jealous could Dr. Watson realise his magnificient design in solid Portland stone. The dependencies of the Crown would be as splendidly housed as either the Crown itself at Buckingham Palace or its Ministers in Parliament Street. By an Indo-Colonial federation Dr. Watson hopes to be able to bring under a single roof the products of India and the colonies, including the small army of agents-general who are scattered about in hired offices between Westminster Abbey and Victoria Station. His vaulting ambition may, however, have overleaped itself in regard to the single roof. It would be an achievement of which he or any one else might be sufficiently proud to bring India and the colonies together on a single site. To attempt to accommodate them in the same building will not only enlarge his scheme to an impracticable size, but encumber it with insuperable and superfluous difficulties. In an Imperial Museum the accommodation that would be required by India and the colonies is so different, that the utmost freedom of separate action should be secured for them consistent with general unity of design. Apart from India, the colonies will find many obstacles to co-operation, and it might be a labour of years to adjust their respective claims so as to enable them to live harmoniously together. He will be a clever architect who can design a building and portion it out in satisfactory sections for Canada, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, not to say anything about either the Malay Peninsula, the Gold Coast, or the Windward Islands. The work when done would be an immense boon to all who had the privilege of sharing in it; but we fear Dr. Watson does not quite realize the political difficulties which stand in his way. He appears to have taken active measures for making known his proposal wherever it has a chance of finding support; but he might have learned from the experience of Mr. Froude at the Cape that federation is still in its infancy.

The federal spirit burns very feebly in the more advanced and intelligent colonies. Is Dr. Watson aware how many intercolonial conferences have generally to be held in Sydney or Melbourne before the Australian Governments can agree on such a very simple matter as a new postal contract. Were he to read up Australian blue books he would find that the "Corrobberies of Chief Secretaries," as they are irreverently termed, are the most capricious performances in anti page 23 podean politics. If he is wise he will not commit himself too deeply to details, but confine his attention to the main point, securing the admirable site he has discovered. The Colonial Governments could not possibly wrangle much about the preliminary requisite. They will all see that the ground must be got and paid for, and a method of assessing its cost might be easily devised. A few of the wealthier colonies might readily take that risk upon themselves. Canada, the Cape, Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, Queensland, and New Zealand have all official representatives in London, whom they could empower to act with the Indian Government in negotiating for the site. A scheme could afterwards be framed for admitting the minor colonies, or they might be invited to join when a provisional agreement had been arrived at as regards the building. Though not sanguine that the scheme, or any part of it beyond the acquisition of the site, is likely to be realized speedily, we might anticipate great benefit to the colonies from merely taking it up. It is a very practical question for all of them, and most of them will at once recognise it as such. A few years ago they had a kindred but much inferior project under consideration for opening a permanent exhibition at South Kensington. One or two Parliaments had actually voted money for carrying it out, when it collapsed along with the South Kensington annual shows. They may accept Dr. Watson's congratulations on not having condemned themselves to the exile under which he labours. Fife House and the Thames Embankment should kindle their zeal far more than the scientific suburb did. On Dr. Watson's site they would not only be more accessible to the public, but they would have more convenient means of conducting their own business. It is for the agents-general to say if they would prefer being brought together under a single roof. Dr. Watson may have correctly divined the strength of their feelings of fraternity, and he may not. That would be another question to reserve for future consideration. The agents-general, however they may think the project is going to affect themselves, will, no doubt, warmly support it as far as regards its main feature, the combined Indian and Colonial Museums. Such a living, substantial symbol of our colonial empire would do more than any Parliamentary enthusiasm to hasten the achievement of Imperial federation.