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Petitions Respecting The Renewal Of The East India Company's Charter—From Crediton—Tiverton—Greenock—Dumfries—Livrpool—Montrose—And Scarborouch

Volume 24: debated on Monday 8 February 1813

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A Petition of the manufacturers of long ells and other inhabitants of Crediton, Devon, was presented; setting forth,

"That the petitioners are materially Interested in the E. I. Co.'s export of woollens to China, inasmuch as the staple manufacture of the town of Crediton and its neighbourhood consists of an article for the China market, denominated long ells, which gives employment to the great bulk of the labouring poor, and consumes a large proportion of the growth of wools, and this at a time when the channels of trade continue to be so generally obstructed, that the usual exports of woollens from the western counties are nearly annihilated; and that the E. I. Co. have been long and assiduously endeavouring to establish and increase a permanent system of export in woollens to China, that they have at length succeeded, and established a mode of purchasing, finishing, and exporting their goods so regular and economical, that insures to them a constant supply of the best quality on the lowest terms, and to the manufacturers those steady sales which are so essentially necessary for the employment of multitudes of labourers, whose existence must otherwise be dependent on the scanty pittance of parochial relief; and that the petitioners are alarmed at the attempts now making to deprive the E. I. Co. of the exclusive trade to China, being convinced that no extension of our exports is to be expected from such a measure, but that, on the contrary, the very existence of the China trade would be endangered thereby, the jealous and peculiar character of the Chinese government reqiring all that systematic regularity and caution which the Company and their resident agents are from long habit enabled to practise; and that should it even be proposed to continue with the E. I. Co. the exclusive privilege of trading to and from China, but to permit to the outports a free import trade with India, the peti- tioners conceive that measure would ultimately, but surely lead to the destruction of the regular China trade, by opening such extensive channels to smuggling teas and other articles, as no financial regulations could possibly counteract, the duty of about 95 per cent. on teas, and from 36 to 70 per cent. on manufactured goods, being stimulants to a contraband trade, too powerful to be successfully resisted; and that the petitioners entertain the most serious apprehensions, that this measure, if sanctioned by the legislature, will assuredly tend to the destruction of the E. I. Co.'s China trade, of a most extensive and beneficial branch of the staple manufacture of this kingdom, and to the deterioration of the expensive buildings and machinery erected purposely for its use, thereby occasioning the ruin of many industrious families, and depriving thousands of the labouring poor of their means of subsistence; and that the petitioners are fully aware of the specious reasoning which will be made use of to induce the legislature to concur in the measure of opening the India trade, but they are convinced that no lasting increase of that trade would be obtained thereby, the Company and the private merchants at present engaged therein being already in the habit of furnishing the Asiatic markets with European goods, and the European markets with Asiatic productions, to the full extent of their consumption, a fact which appears to be sufficiently proved by the very small proportion of the tonnage appropriated to the private trade which has been taken up by our merchants; and the petitioners have moreover to remark, that the odium of monopoly, so loudly inveighed against, does not strictly apply to the E. I. Co., because not only every subject of the united kingdom may participate in their trade, and even become eligible to the directorship, by purchasing a portion of its stock, but each individual merchant is, under the regulations already existing, at liberty to embark in the E. India trade, and to use the Company's ships for the export and import of his goods; and that, on an attentive review of this important subject, the petitioners are fully impressed with the belief, that opening the trade to India and China to individual speculation would not only endanger its prosperity but its very existence; and praying the House not to sanction so hazardous an experiment as that of risking a trade, the source of such extensive benefits to the agricultural and manufacturing interests of the kingdom, and of a net annual revenue to the state of nearly four millions sterling; and praying, that the trade to Ohina may, on the renewal of their charter, be continued exclusively to the E. I. Co., and that the imports from India may be confined to the port of London."

A Petition of the inhabitants of Tigerton, Devon, was also presented; setting forth,

"That the renewal of the charter to the E. I. Co. for an exclusive trade to China, and the means of preserving it unmolested, is of vital importance to the interests of the town of Tiverton, which, during some years past, has had very little of other employ for its numerous labourers but the manufacturing an article called long ells for the E. I. Co.; and that, previous to the war, there was a considerable commerce from that town to different parts of Europe, which consumed the wool grown within many miles of it, and gave full employ to the labourers, but since that time there has been no demand for the usual sorts of woollen goods, and, but for the orders given by the Company for long ells, the labourers, with their families, must have been reduced to depend on parochial relief, and the establishments in the town have remained idle; and that the E. I. Co. have been long and assiduously endeavouring to establish and increase a permanent system of export in woollens to China; that they have made great sacrifices, and incurred heavy losses, for the attainment of these objects; that they have at length succeeded, and established a system for purchasing, finishing, and exporting their goods, so regular and economical, that it insures to them a constant supply of the best quality on the lowest terms, and to the manufacturers those steady sales which are so essentially necessary for the employment of their labourers; and that the petitioners are alarmed at the attempts now making to deprive the E. I. Co. of the exclusive trade to China, being convinced that no extension of our exports is to be expected from such a measure, but that, on the contrary, the very existence of the China trade would be endangered thereby, the jealous and peculiar character of the Chinese government requiring all that systematic regularity and caution which the Company and their resident agents are from long habit enabled to practise; and that, should the trade to China be thrown open, even should this much-to-befeared event not take place, as it is a well-ascertained fact that the company without a competition cannot get a price for the long ells at Canton that will leave a profit, the petitioners cannot expect, when there are rivals in the market, the Chinese will give as much as they do at present, or, even if they did, that individuals would export goods for public benefit only; the result must therefore be, in either case, the destruction of the almost only remaining woollen trade in the western counties; and that, should it even be proposed to continue with the E. I. Co. the exclusive privilege of trading to and from China, but to permit to the outports a free import trade from India, the petitioners conceive that measure would ultimately, but surely, lead to the destruction of the regular China trade, by opening such extensive channels to smuggling teas, and other articles, as no financial regulations could possibly counteract, the duty of about 95 per cent. on teas, and from 36 to 70 per cent. on manufactured goods, being stimulants to a contraband trade too powerful to be successfully resisted; and that the petitioners entertain the most serious apprehensions that this measure, if sanctioned by the legislature, will assuredly tend to the destruction of the E. I. Company's China trade, of a most extensive and beneficial branch of the staple manufacture of this kingdom, and to the deterioration of the expensive buildings and machinery erected purposely for its use, thereby occasioning the ruin of very many industrious families, and depriving thousands of labouring poor of their means of subsistence; and that the petitioners are fully aware of the specious reasoning which has been and will be made use of to induce the legislature to concur in the measure of opening the India trade, but they are convinced that no lasting increase of that trade would be obtained thereby, the Company and the private merchants at present engaged therein being already in the habit of furnishing the Asiatic markets with European goods, and the European market with Asiatic productions, to the full extent of their consumption, a fast which appears sufficiently proved by the very small proportion of the tonnage appropriated to the private trade, which has been taken up by our private merchants; and that, on the most atten- tive review of this important subject, the petitioners are fully impressed with the belief that opening the trade to India and China to individual speculation, would not only endanger its prosperity but its existence; and praying the House not to sanction so hazardous an experiment as that of risking a trade the source of such extensive benefits to the agricultural and manufacturing interests of this kingdom, and of a net annual revenue to the state of nearly four millions sterling, and that the trade to China may, on the renewal of their charter, be continued exclusively to the E. I. Company, and that the imports from India may be confined to the port of London."

A Petition of several merchants, shipowners, and manufacturers of Greenock, was also presented; setting forth,

"That the petitioners laid before the last parliament a Memorial praying for a participation in the trade to the eastward of the Cape of Good Hope and westward of Cape Horn on the approaching termination of the Charter of the E. I. C.; and that, in consequence of the dissolution of that parliament, the petitioners now humbly address themselves to the House, praying for a full and free participation in all the trade of the East within the limits of the Company's Charter, subject only to such restrictions, on the part of his Majesty's government, as may be necessary for the political safety of India, and for the due collection of his Majesty's revenue; and that whatever tends to increase the foreign trade of a country, the great nursery for seamen, goes to benefit the nation at large; and that the opening a direct communication between India and the out-ports of this kingdom must produce a great increase of trade, and consequently add to the number of persons required to carry it on; and that, since the petitioners had the honour first to bring this important question into public notice, the subject has been laid fully before the country; and that the impolicy and injustice of a renewal of the monopoly have been established by so many irresistible arguments, that the petitioners do not consider it necessary to trespass farther on the patience of the House, though much might still be said on the subject; and that the petitioners will therefore conclude by expressing their confident hope that the House will not suffer the voice of the nation to be stifled by the hollow preten- sions of interested individuals, but that they will grant the prayer of this Petition by allowing a participation in those rights and privileges to which all British subjects have an equal and undoubted claim."

A Petition of the provost, baillies, and councillors of the royal borough of Dumfries, was also presented; setting forth,

"That the petitioners submitted to the consideration of the last parliament a humble Memorial and Petition, stating in general, that the Charters granted by parliament at different periods to the E. I, C. were highly oppressive and injurious to the other subjects of his Majesty, in as far as while they conferred on that Company extensive powers and privileges, they limited the capital and commercial speculations of those other subjects, who were restricted from interfering with that Company under severe pains and penalties, which appeared to the petitioners an impolitic if not an invidious distinction; and that the flags of other nations in amity with Great Britain have been permitted to exercise an extensive freedom of commerce without any such limitations or restrictions; and that, from these and many other considerations, the petitioners conceived that a renewal of the Charter would be only a continuance of the degradation to the commercial spirit of the nation; and they prayed, that parliament in its wisdom and justice, would adopt such measures as should give to all his Majesty's subjects at least a participation of the trade and commerce to the East Indies and to China; and that the petitioners, understanding that a renewal of the Charter is again become the subject of discussion in the House, now presume humbly but constitutionally again to offer their sentiments against such renewal for many reasons, and particularly because the powers and privileges heretofore vested in the E. I Co. appear to them to be in direct opposition to every principle of justice and policy; and that these privileges have been allowed to foreign states while his Majesty's subjects in general have been excluded from the enjoyment of any part of them, and as it now appears, in the case of the United States of America, these privileges have contributed to relax the resources of this country, and strengthen those of the enemy; and that they are calculated to repress the energies and to interfere with the title of all British merchants to judge what is best for their own interest; and that, at a time when it is of the utmost importance to secure the peace of the community, by affording full work and fair wages to the operative classes, when, from the want of sufficient vent, the skill and industry of the manufacturers are inadequately occupied, and consequently a part of the population remains unemployed, when the prosecution of an expensive war renders it necessary to adopt every means for augmenting the revenue, and when the honour, prosperity, and independence of this nation depends so much on the maintenance of its naval superiority by encouraging a nursery for seamen, which the trade to India and China is in an eminent degree calculated to promote, it becomes not only highly expedient but indispensibly requisite to open every legitimate channel of commerce for the preservation not only of internal security, but for the prosecution of our mercantile, maritime, and financial interests; and praying, that no exclusive grant may be given to the trade with the countries to the eastward of the Cape of Good Hope, or any part thereof, that this commerce may not be confined to any particular port of the kingdom, but that the House will, in its wisdom, adopt such measures as will restore and secure to his Majesty's subjects those just rights and equal privileges to which they possess an unquestionable right, and which are so obviously calculated to promote the peace, welfare, and interest of the country at large."

A Petition of several merchants, shipowners, tradesmen, and other inhabitants of Liverpool, was also presented; setting forth,

"That the petitioners view, with the most serious attention and the deepest anxiety, the approaching period when the exclusive privileges so long granted to the E. I. Co. will terminate, conceiving, in common with the rest of his Majesty's subjects, that their general interests are most importantly connected with the measures which the legislature may then adopt; and that experience has demonstrated that neither the commercial interests of the nation, nor those of the Company itself, have been promoted by the monopolies which have been hitherto granted, and so frequently renewed; and that the circumstances of great embarrassment in which the affairs of the Company have so often and so recently been placed, and the loans which they have obtained from government, are strong evidences to this effect, well known to the House, and contemplated with apprehension and regret by the nation at large; and that, while the merchants of the United Kingdom were virtually excluded from the eastern trade, they have seen a very large portion of it yielded up to foreign nations, from a deficiency either in the capital or in the energy and enterprize of the Company; and that the most important productions of India and China have been forced upon the country at prices far exceeding those at which they could be supplied from the fair competition of the private merchants, were the trade so laid open as to admit of their embarking in it; and that the forms restrictions difficulties and delays, the unnecessary detentions and heavy expences, to which the limited private export trade (hitherto permitted from London to India) has been subjected, have rendered it nugatory to the merchants and manufacturers of the kingdom at large, vexatious and precarious even to those of London, and unproductive therefore of the national benefits contemplated by the legislature when the measure was adopted; and that again to confine the whole or any part of the trade to the Company or to the port of London, would they humbly conceive, be most injurious to the rights and interests of the kingdom generally, for, as all equally contribute to the support of the state, so all are in justice entitled to participate in every branch of its commerce; and that the national advantages attendant upon a general opening of the trade are great and manifest, inasmuch as it would give a new and requisite field for the industry and ingenuity of our manufacturers, the enterprise of our merchants, the employment of numerous vessels now dismantled in our harbours, and thousands of our people, who, from the state of our foreign relations, are at present suffering the many privations necessarily occasioned by the want of employ; and that it would also strengthen the maritime power of the nation, our best defence and surest barrier against the aggressions of our enemies, by furnishing it with an additional nursery for its seamen, and would augment our resources by an additional revenue; and that the petitioners beg to state that, should the export trade be permitted from the out-ports, while the import trade is confinad to London, they humbly conceive it will not only be an act of injustice in itself, but productive to them of injury rather than of benefit; that the management of their shipping, and the sale of their goods, would by such a regulation be necessarily placed in the hands of agents resident in London, would be taken from under their own superintendence, and incumbered with heavy commissions and charges, from which the London merchant would be exempt; that the out-port shipping, when unloaded, must either be removed to their several ports at a heavy extra expence, or repaired and again fitted out from London, to the manifest injury and loss of the tradesmen and inhabitants generally of the places to which they might respectively belong: that the only means by which the merchants of the out-ports could free themselves from this great and oppressive disadvantage would be by fixing their establishments in London, a measure which would in fact wholly deprive their respective towns of a participation in the benefits of the trade, whilst the manufacturers would find their goods loaded with the heavy additional charges attending the transportation of them to London, and the kingdom at large be taxed with similar charges in bringing the productions of the East from London to the places of consumption and manufacture; and that the E. I. Co., continuing to trade as a body of merchants, would still have a considerable advantage, from their previous knowledge of the trade, and their existing establishments both at home and abroad; and that the port of London would still retain in her trade to the East that same preponderance which, by the wealth, the enterprize, and the influence of her merchants, the magnitude of her consumption, and the advantages of her situation, she is enabled to enjoy in every other branch of our national commerce; and that, from the existing and practicable regulations at the principal out-ports the petitioners feel confident that no difficulty whatever would be experienced either in the collection of the revenue, or the prevention of smuggling; and that all representations to the contrary are only attempts to place an odium upon the out-ports, and create an unjust and unmerited prejudice against them; and that the experience derived from the trade carried on with India and China by the United States enables the petitioners to assert that no danger is to be apprehended from the conduct of the crews of private vessels, as it is generally admitted that the crews of the American ships, though not even subject to any local controul created by their own government, have on all occasions conducted themselves without giving offence or receiving interruption; the crews of private vessels also being in proportion to their tonnage less numerous, their conduct is more easily watched, and their irregularities prevented; but that, as a farther security, the British ships may be placed under the direction of proper officers, who, at the same time superintending the shipment of the cargo at the different ports and places, would be enabled to furnish such manifests as would increase the difficulty of smuggling, and the consequent protection of the revenue; and that the petitioners humbly conceive that less jealousy is to be apprehended from the Chinese government, should the trade be opened to the shipping of the United Kingdom, than when confined to the large and warlike vessels of the Company, the apparent property of a trading body, who are likewise powerful neighbouring sovereigns; but experience also evinces that the government of China is more attentive to the advantages derived from foreign commerce, than to the consideration of the question by whom that commerce is conducted; and that, in the event of the trade being opened, the petitioners repose implicit confidence in the House for forming such laws and regulations to controul the conduct of those merchants, traders, and others, whose concerns will require their residence in the different parts of the Indian empire, as may protect them from all oppression or undue interference in the peaceful pursuit of their commercial objects, and at the same time prevent them from attempting to disturb or oppose the existing lawful authorities, or by any improper means to hazard an encroachment on the known habits and prejudices of the people of India; and that the petitioners therefore, reposing entire confidence in the wisdom and justice of the House, do most humbly pray, that the exclusive privileges of the E. I. Co. to trade with the countries to the eastward of the Cape of Good Hope may not be renewed in whole or in part, but that such measures may be adopted as will secure to the merchants ship owners manufacturers and traders of the United Kingdom a free trade with all the countries so situated, subject only to such regu- lations as may be necessary for the political safety of India, and the protection of his Majesty's revenue."

A Petition of the trustees of the Liverpool Docks, was also presented; setting forth,

"That the port of Liverpool has, in the course of little more than a century, from its peculiar local advantages, and by the enterprising spirit of its inhabitants, raised itself from the situation of an humble fishing town to the distinguished rank and importance of the second port in the kingdom; and that the petitioners, whose province it is to provide and maintain the requisite accommodation for the shipping resorting to that port, have, at various times, under the authority of the legislature, and as the increase of the trade demanded, erected extensive docks and other conveniences for the shipping interests of the town, and that, urged by the merchants at large three years ago, when their trade was in great prosperity, the petitioners lately obtained from parliament powers for the further improvement of the port, and that in consideration, not only of the existing want of accommodation in the docks for general purposes, but anticipating also the period when the rights of the merchants and traders of Liverpool, in common with all other his Majesty's subjects, to a free trade with the East Indies would be recognized, the petitioners have commenced various works upon an extensive scale calculated to meet the vast accession of trade which, as they humbly conceive, would be the result of such a system; and that the petitioners therefore, anxious for the prosperity of the important trusts committed to them, and confiding in the justice of the House, most humbly intreat that they will adopt such measures as to their wisdom shall seem best for obtaining to the port of Liverpool, as well as to the rest of the United Kingdom, a participation of the trade with our eastern possessions hitherto solely enjoyed by the East India Company."

A Petition of the mayor, bailiffs, and burgesses, of Liverpool, in council assembled, was also presented; setting forth,

"That the petitioners conceive that the subjects of these realms possess an inherent right to a free intercourse of trade with all other nations and countries in amity with this, subject only to such regulations as may be necessary for preserving a good understanding with those countries, and for securing to our own the revenues derivable from such intercourse; and that the monopoly of the E. I. Company, however expedient or necessary at the period of their first charter, is, as the petitioners humbly conceive, in the present state of commerce and of the world, no longer so, and it is moreover inconsistent with those principles which are universally admitted to be essential to the prosperity of commerce; and that every other nation of Europe being, by the signal success of his Majesty's arms, deprived of all territory and influence in the East Indies, as well as of all means of annoyance to the navigation of those seas, an ample field is now open for the exertion of British skill and enterprize, and for the investment of that capital which is rendered in a great measure useless in those channels of trade where it has heretofore been employed; and that the petitioners, as the guardians of the interests of the town of Liverpool, while they lament the distressing suspension of its commerce at this juncture, cannot but indulge a sanguine hope that the sera is arrived which presents to the merchants and traders of Liverpool in common with those of every part of the British empire, new and brighter prospects in the participation of a traffic from which they have hitherto been excluded; and that the petitioners disclaim any wish to interfere with the rights of the E. I. Company, which they apprehend may be maintained inviolate without the continuation of a system that infringes the privileges of others; and that the petitioners therefore reposing entire confidence in the wisdom and justice of the House, humbly intreat that they will be pleased to adopt such measures as may secure to the merchants of the port of Liverpool the advantages of a free trade beyond the Cape of Good Hope; and that the petitioners may be heard, by their counsel or agents, upon this subject at the bar of the House."

A Petition of the provost, magistrates, and town council of the royal burgh of Montrose, in council assembled, was also presented; setting forth,

"That the petitioners are informed that the East India Company have applied to parliament for a renewal of their charter, and they beg leave respectfully to convey to the House their sentiments on a subject of such importance to the empire; and that the experience of past times has proved beyond all dispute the baneful effects of monopolies, and the petitioners think they are sufficiently warranted in asserting that while the monopoly hitherto enjoyed by the E. I. Company has precluded the private merchant from participating in the trade, it has been far from operating to the advantage of the Company; and that the petitioners do not mean to suggest any thing to the House with regard to the government of the Company's possessions in India, but they would humbly propose, that the exclusive privileges of the Company should not be renewed, and that the trade to the extensive countries between the Cape of Good Hope and the Straits of Magellan should be laid open to the commercial enterprize of all the subjects of the empire; and that it appears extremely unreasonable if not unjust, that the subjects of other governments in amity with Britain should be admitted to commercial intercourse with the British possessions in India, while the subjects of Britain are excluded; and that the petitioners are humbly of opinion, that the admission of a free trade with the countries comprehended under the exclusive grant of the E. I. Company will afford an extensive field for the employment of mercantile talents and capital, and be productive of the greatest benefit to the manufacturing interest of the country; and they are likewise of opinion that Leith, the port of the capital of Scotland, should be included in the number of places to which importation should be allowed; and praying the House to adopt such measures as may render it lawful for any of his Majesty's subjects, from and after the expiry of the India Company's present charter, to carry on from such places as shall be judged necessary, a free and unlimited trade with the British possessions in India and with the countries situated to the East of the Cape of Good Hope and to the West of Cape Horn."

A Petition of the merchants, ship-owners, &c. of Scarborough, was also presented; setting forth,

"That as it is expected that the approaching expiration of the E. I. Company's charter will occupy the early attention of the House, the petitioners beg leave respectfully to state their hopes and wishes on that important subject; and that the petitioners are fully persuaded, that if the trade to the British dominions in India, and to the immense and populous countries included in the charter, were laid open to the skill, industry, and capital of private merchants, it would be conducted with a degree of energy and economy of which a large public body is incapable, new channels of commerce would be discovered, the consumption of our manufactures would be extended, and our shipping increased, to the advantage of the parties concerned, and the permanent augmentation of the wealth, power, and resources of the British empire; and that the petitioners do therefore humbly request, that the House would be pleased to adopt such measures as they may in their wisdom think fit for granting to all his Majesty's subjects, after the expiration of the E. I. Company's charter, a free trade to China."

Ordered to lie upon the table.