England's Colonies her Strength.
Bemrose & Sons Printers London, E.C.; and Derby 23, Old Bailey
England's Colonies her Strength.
"If called upon to declare the circumstance in the condition of England which, more than all other things, makes her the envy of surrounding nations, it would be to her Colonial Possessions that we must attribute that feeling. In the eyes of foreigners those possessions are at once the evidence of our power and the surest indicant of its increase."
—J. R. Porter.*
Of the many important questions which are at the present moment exercising the public mind, there is no one more deserving of a foremost place in our thoughts, and worthy alike of the serious consideration of the statesman and the earnest attention of all thoughtful Englishmen, than the maintenance of our Colonial Empire.
The interests involved are of the first magnitude, nor is it possible for us to be too familiar with the stupendous issues they present.
* Joint Secretary, Board of Trade, and Author of the "Progress of the Nation," from which the above extract is taken.
Again, the total wealth of the British Empire amounts to twelve thousand five hundred millions sterling, in which our Colonies figure for no less than four thousand millions sterling; while we can lay claim to no less than one-third of the entire commerce of the world, of which proportion about twenty-one per cent, belongs to the United Kingdom, and thirteen per cent, to the Colonies.
These figures, then, not only illustrate the vastness of our possessions, and our unparalleled wealth, but they also clearly demonstrate that this wealth is not England's alone: it is closely bound up with and largely due to and shared by her Colonies; and this view is further strengthened by the significant fact that, whereas since the year 1869, exports of the produce of the United Kingdom to foreign countries have only increased by ten per cent., the total increase of such exports to our British Colonies amounts to over seventy-three per cent.
Lastly, on this score, it cannot be too often laid down that, while the Australian Colonies and Canada are consumers of British produce to the extent respectively of over £8 and £2 per head, the United States does not take more than 14s.; France, 12s.; and Germany, 9s. worth.
Here is, perhaps, the most cogent testimony that could be well adduced in support of the dictum of John Stuart Mill, "that colonization, in the present state of the world, is the best affair of business in which the capital of an old and wealthy country can engage." And yet the Government look on supinely, moving neither hand nor foot to encourage or direct the mass of British emigrants which annually leave these shores for the United States, (in 1888 they amounted to 191,578 persons) to proceed to our own Colonies, where they would lose neither their allegiance nor their Hag, and being thus preserved to us, would, in the future, like those who have gone before them, be endowed with all happiness and prosperity, while adding to the lustre and greatness of our race.
Ponder these words of wisdom given to us by Edward Gibbon page 5 Wakefield, than whom no one is better entitled to be heard on the value of our Colonies:—"I think that whatever the possession of our Colonies may cost us in money, the possession is worth more in money than its money cost, and infinitely more in other respects. For by overawing Foreign Nations and impressing mankind with a prestige of our might, it enables us to keep the peace of the world, which we have no interest in disturbing." . . . "The advantage is that the possession of this immense empire by England causes the mere name of England to be a real and mighty power, the greatest power that now exists in the world." . . . "You tell us of the cost of dependencies: I admit it, but reply that the cost is the most beneficial of investments, since it converts the mere sound of a name into a force greater than that of the most costly fleets and armies."*
* Vide pp. 98, 99, "A View of the Art of Colonization.'
And here I may say in passing, anent the several schemes of Federation now in the air, that I am profoundly convinced it is on the sound basis enunciated in these statesmanlike words of Adam Smith, and on this basis alone, that the connection between Mother Country and her Colonies can endure.
The failure of the Premier to meet the repeatedly, collectively, and urgently expressed wishes of the Australian Governments in regard to the annexation of New Guinea, marks a departure in our colonial history, the gravity of which cannot be over-rated.
The sudden and eventful action, of Queensland in the early part of 1883, in desiring to forestall the planting of any foreign flag in a land in such close proximity to her shores as New Guinea, endorsed as it was by all the other Australian colonies, was in itself a testimony of deep colonial feeling, so conclusive that it should never have been disregarded. And the attitude of the Cabinet on this question is all the more to be deplored, not only because their estimate of the situation has been proved to be lamentably wrong, but also from the fact that they have left themselves open to the reproach of having deliberately raised hopes which they were apparently not prepared to satisfy.
The contention that New Guinea should not have been originally annexed by Queensland without the sanction of Mother Country may be dismissed by the observation that no general rule, however politic, can be held to govern exceptional cases.
There are to be found many instances in the past, in the history of our American Plantations, showing the advantage of independent Colonial action, and for modern precedents we have but to refer to the examples afforded by the annexation of the Middle Island of New Zealand, and the Island of Perim, which commands the Babel-Mandeb entrance of the Red Sea, and both of which important possessions would have been lost to England had their acquisition depended upon the primary sanction of the Home authorities. St. Lucia Bay may, more recently still, be cited as a strong case in point.
That the case under review was a very exceptional one, there page 7 can be but little doubt, and urgency for independent and immediate action has been only too abundantly proved by the regrettable circumstance that, that which Australian Statesmen dreaded and wished to provide against, has come to pass, namely, a foreign Power has established itself in New Guinea.
But the possibility even of such a step on the part of Germany, no less than any other Power, was altogether scouted both by the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Prime Minister.
The former declared in the House of Lords on the 2nd July 1883, "That there was not the shadow of a proof forthcoming," that any Power wished to seize part of New Guinea; and he, moreover, on the same occasion unequivocally asserted that, "We would not view it as a friendly act if any other country attempted to make a settlement on that coast."
These words of seeming reassurance were but the echo of what Mr. Gladstone had to say on the same date in the House off Commons.
"The apprehension," said the right honourable gentleman, "which some have entertained with regard to the occupation of New Guinea by Foreign Powers" is, "an apprehension which we have no reason to entertain"; and again, on the 18th of the following month of August, Mr. Gladstone stated, in answer to a question in the House, "We have no reason whatever to apprehend any intention on the part of any Foreign Government to make new territorial claims or establishments with respect to that Island," and concluded his observations by saying, that the evidence upon which he spoke was "by no means confined to mere negative testimony."
We all now know the unfriendly act has been committed, the evidence upon which the Prime Minister relied has been scattered to the winds, the wisdom of Australian statesmen has been overwhelmingly justified, and now the country is entitled to demand, and anxiously awaits, some explanation.
The position of the Prime Minister is, indeed, a no enviable one, nor will his responsibility be lessened by the fact that it is due to himself alone that Germany is established on the north coast of New Guinea.
Had the right hon, gentleman treated Colonists less cavalierly, page 8 and prudently and considerately given credit to the Queensland Government for, at all events, some of the very ample reasons which influenced its action—in a word, had he awaited those explanations which, he freely admitted in the House of Commons on the 18th August, 1883, it was open to him to do, instead of peremptorily quashing an annexation which had already received the official countenance and enlightened sympathy of three millions of England's sons in Australia—there surely would have been no room for the German flag in New Guinea, and Mr. Gladstone would, moreover, be now spared the keen mortification—for mortification it must be—of seeing, in this regard, his every judgment falsified, his best hopes unfulfilled, and his policy widely discredited and condemned.
Meanwhile, who will say that our Australian fellow-countrymen have not grievous cause of complaint?
"If the Australian people desire an extension beyond their present limits, the most practical step that they could take, the one which will most facilitate any operation of that kind, and diminish in the greatest degree the responsibilities of the Mother Country, would be the confederation of those Colonies in one united whole, which would be powerful enough to undertake and to carry through tasks for which no one Colony is at present sufficient."
Perplexingly enough, the noble lord had previously declared that the Government were "not prepared to undertake the annexation of New Guinea" at all, but, on the other hand, here are words which appear to clearly and explicitly bear the honest interpretation that, if Australian Colonies would proceed to confederation, they would obtain the territorial guarantees they demanded. Trusting in this declaration, as we are aware, they did proceed to confederation, but, notwithstanding this, and the fact that Lord Derby's words just quoted were further confirmed by despatches from the Colonial Office, bearing date respectively the 11th July and the 22nd October, 1883, the Colonies have, nevertheless, without qualm, been thrown overboard and left in the lurch.
Shall we then wonder that Colonial indignation, loud and deep, has been generally expressed—aye, even murmurs of separation page 9 have made themselves heard; or that the Prime Minister of Victoria on the 20th December last addressed a Minute to the Governor declaring that "The reported hoisting of the German flag, not only in the Western Pacific, but also on the Northern side of New Guinea, has already created consternation in this community."
Anterior to this the Marquis of Normanby, on the occasion of the prorogation of the Victorian Parliament, in November last, speaking of New Guinea and other Islands of the Western Pacific, said if those lands became possessions of a Foreign Power it would be a "National misfortune," "a calamity," and a "standing menace" to Australia's peaceful shores.
Let me add, with Germany in New Guinea, has come to a disastrous end that isolation which hitherto has been Australia's bulwark and her strength; a permanent military tax, from which until now she has happily enjoyed a well nigh complete immunity, will, in the future, be her lot; while, on the other hand, we at home must be prepared to accept the full consequences of the diplomatic pressure which surely awaits us in our various relations with the Great Powers, and which will, inevitably, be brought to bear upon us, by and through those whom Mr. Gladstone has so tamely suffered to acquire harbours and possessions where, if needs be, hostile fleets or armed cruisers may refit and sally forth, and raid on our "New England of the Southern Polo"!
If we turn from Australia to South Africa, we find the outlook no less gloomy.
There it is not much to say "the incessant and universal blundering of the Foreign and Colonial Offices," to use the language of the Pall Mall Gazette,* has provided for us one of the darkest pages in English History.
The no less radical Echo, speaking of the contents of the German White Book, says: "Documents more humiliating to this country were never published."§ And, in all conscience, the story of Angra Pequena, as disclosed in our own Blue Books, is a sufficiently painful one.
The facts are clear and beyond cavil.
* Pall Mall Gazette, 24 Dec., 1884.
§ Echo, 15 Dec., 1884.
In July, 1883, the attention of the Colonial Office was first drawn to the settlement of a German Trading Company, at Angra Pequena, on the west coast of Africa, and contiguous to our possessions in Cape Colony south of the Orange River. Previous to this, in the month of February in the same year, the German Embassy had inquired of the Foreign Office whether British protection would be extended to a factory about to be established by a German merchant north of the Orange River.*
To this enquiry no immediate answer appears to have been given, but in the months of September and November, 1883, Baron Plessen and Count Münster, on the part of Germany, having requested to be informed whether Her Majesty's Government claimed the suzerainty or sovereignty over the Bay of Angra Pequena, or the adjacent territory, Lord Granville, on the 21st November, 1883,§ wrote that, although no proclamation of the Queen's sovereignty over the territory in question had been made, nevertheless, any claim on that part of the coast by a foreign Power would be an infringement of British rights.
Far, however, from it being correct to say that the sovereignty of England had not been proclaimed, the truth is that such sovereignty over the whole of that coast had been very authoritatively proclaimed so long ago as the year 1796, by Captain Alexander, in His Majesty King George's name, and a further specific proclamation of Her Majesty's sovereignty over the harbour of Angra Pequena was made by Captain Forsyth, acting under official instructions, in the month of May, 1866. Thus we find this marvellous position was taken up by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs—that England had no rights, notwithstanding she had rights, and therefore that any territorial claim by a foreign Power would be an infringement of that which this country did not possess! This was the dog-in-the-manger policy propounded by Mr. Gladstone's Government in reply to the courteous enquiries of a friendly Power after a lapse of nine months.
* Angra Pequena, c. 4265, 1884.
§ c. 4190, No. 30, p. 24.
And now I have to invite particular attention to a most extraordinary chapter in these events.
A despatch was received at the Colonial Office in Downing Street, on the 22nd May, 1884,§ from our High Commissioner at the Cape, stating the German Consul had notified him that the territorial acquisitions of a German subject (a certain Mr. Lüderitz), at Angra Pequena and elsewhere north of Orange River, had been placed under German protection.
Notwithstanding this, however, Mr. Gladstone's Government did not hesitate, as we have seen, i.e., on the 2nd June, 1884, nearly a fortnight after the receipt of the important and definite intelligence of the official action of the German Government, to record in a formal despatch that Her Majesty's Government had finally decided to grant under the British flag that protection which, having hung lire so strangely and so long, had been already undertaken by Germany.
* Vide p. 14, c. 4190. Ho. 55, Angra Pequena.
§ Vide p. 42, c. 4190, No. 50, Angra Pequena.
† Vide p. 46 enclosure I, in No. 158, Angra Pequena.
But, in order that all question touching the doubts diplomatically raised by this despatch from our Ambassador may be effectually dispelled and set at rest, we need only point out that on the 23rd June, 1883,* just three weeks after Lord Derby's despatch of the 2nd June, intimating that Her Majesty's Ministers had at last deemed it expedient to arrive at a heroic conclusion to do something! Prince Bismarck took occasion to inform the Reichstag that it was quite true a telegram had been actually despatched by him on the 24th April—exactly two months before—to the German Consul at Cape Town, declaring Mr. Lüderitz's acquisitions north of the Orange River under the protection of the German Empire, a step, no doubt, forced upon the Imperial Chancellor, principally by the circumstance that he had failed to obtain that British protection, which for upwards of a year he had demanded of Mr. Gladstone in vain.
Prince Bismarck also expressly declared that this telegram was at once communicated to the English Government.
Independently of this, we likewise know that this same telegram was given full publicity to, at the time through the medium of the Press.
Thus it would appear that Mr. Gladstone only made up his mind to do that which he had been invited to do eighteen months previously, after he had been officially made aware that he was too late! In these circumstances we will perhaps do well not to enquire too closely into the motives which prompted the official despatch dated 2nd June, 1884, that our Government was prepared to give protection under the British flag, notwithstanding that such a proposal must have been the merest mockery, from the fact (which cannot be too often repeated) that, that very protection had already been undertaken by Germany, and that communication of this fact had been made to Mr. Gladstone's Government.
* Vide pp. 52 and 53, c. 4190, enclosure 2, in No. 66.
Comment on these facts is superfluous; they speak for themselves.
But it may safely be said that never in modern times has British diplomacy and British prestige suffered severer reverses than we find revealed in these murky passages of the Blue Book, affecting us, as they do, not only in England, but reaching in their baneful consequences to the fairest Provinces of our Empire.
Nor can they be set down to other cause than a Policy of Makeshift tempered by feeble procrastination.
We cannot, however, quite concur in the view expressed by the Pall Mall Gazette, that the Secretaries of State for Foreign Affairs and for the Colonies are to be singled out and held liable for a responsibility that indubitably must be held to rest elsewhere, and which, in truth, Mr. Gladstone has himself claimed in no uncertain language to be fondly his own.
Under the title of "England's Mission" (Nineteenth Century, September Number, 1878), has not the right hon. gentleman twitted and spoken with scorn of all those who look with pride and satisfaction on the magnificent prospect of our splendid possessions, and treated with ridicule, and as savouring of imposture, the idea that our Colonies could afford us military aid in time of need?
Strange irony of fate!
The very same year, in which these views found light, witnessed a European war, largely averted by the presence of our Indian troops in the Mediterranean, strongly reinforced in that position by loyal Canada, who vigorously proclaimed her readiness and power, and at her own cost, to supplement this demonstration by ten thousand men.
No doubt this movement of our Sepoys was at the time vehemently denounced by Mr. Gladstone, but do we not now know that the receptive genius of the Prime Minister, having become well alive to the importance of these Oriental Auxiliaries, he has since been wisely content to take a leaf out of the book of his great page 14 rival, Lord Beaconsfield, and unconsciously render homage to that illustrious statesman by utilizing, with signal success, the services of Indian soldiers in the late campaign in Egypt, a step which has been only very naturally followed by the employment of Canadian voyageurs in the present military operations in the valley of the Nile.
Thus it is that the inexorable logic of events has proved abundantly the wisdom of our late leader—bearing good fruit even at the hands of his most determined political foe, and in the manner, perhaps, best calculated to refute Mr. Gladstone's small opinion of the invaluable services which may be rendered to Mother Country by her children beyond the seas.
But it may be urged that, if grave blunders have been committed, and extraordinary errors indulged in, there are yet others than Mr. Gladstone open to censure.
"With regard to the Dominion there are, no doubt, many thoughtful men—statesmen and speculative persons—who, after deeply meditating the subject, have come to the conclusion that, in course of time, a perfectly friendly separation should take place between England and Canada."
And it might also be added that the noble lord who uttered these words was but following in the footsteps of Mr. John Bright, who, on another occasion, had said—"I do not object to separation in the least; I believe it would be better for us, and better for them."
Or, again, it would be possible to affirm that the Colonial Policy of the Cabinet cannot but have been influenced in some degree by another noble lord in the Cabinet, who, in 1871, wrote a despatch of such a character that it called forth a Memorandum from the Representatives of New South Wales, Tasmania, and South Australia, declaring that those Colonies emphatically repudiated "the views of those who, in the Imperial Parliament and elsewhere, have expressed a wish that the bonds which unite us should be severed."page 15
"The truth is, that turn where we will, we are met on every side with proofs that the cares and calls of the British Empire are already beyond the strength of those who govern and have governed it."*
Depend upon it, this is the key-note of that fatal policy of vacillation and delay which has caused the late Prime Minister of Queensland to bitterly declare that, if the language used to him by Liberal Ministers "was heard at the antipodes, the connection between Australia and Great Britain would not be worth a year's purchase," and, moreover, to express his conviction that Mr. Gladstone and other of his colleagues "would not stretch forth a finger to save the Colonies to the Empire."§
Depend upon it, it is this halting and irresolute mood that has led to the regrettable occurrence of our Minister for the Colonies having recently been burnt in effigy in Australia; which has led the Prime Minister of Cape Colony to publicly declare that as a stout Englishman he spoke with shame of the action of Mr. Gladstone's Government, which had " treated with contempt the wishes of the Colony"†—and which has culminated in a state of affairs so precarious, so critical, that at one moment the grave alarm which was created by the loudly-rumoured necessity of recalling Lord Wolseley from Egypt, has at another time only been intensified by the unexpected threatened movements of the Channel Squadron—an incident of such serious import that it not only heavily depressed the money markets, and even our British Consols, but found ominous echo on the 10th of this month in the speech of the Gorman Chancellor at Berlin.
* Vide p. 581, "England's Mission," September number, Nineteenth Century, 1878.
§ Vide Pall Mall Gazette, 15th August, 1884.
† Vide Times, 20th September, 1884.
"To all our statesmen so they be
True leaders of the land's desire!
To both our Houses, may they see
Beyond the borough and the shire!
We sailed wherever ship could sail,
We founded many a mighty State,
Pray God our greatness may not fail
Through craven fears of being great."
Fortunately for the integrity of our great inheritance, there has hitherto been no suspicion, however remote, of the Conservative Party being tainted by any such fears, and we may rest assured that it is to that party Englishmen must look if they would jealously safeguard and hand down to posterity, unsullied and unimpaired, an Empire which in the world's history is peerless, whose dominion extends to every zone.
J. H. De Ricci.
27th January, 1885.