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Supply—The Kaffir, War

Volume 117: debated on Monday 23 June 1851

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Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [16th June]—

"That the Resolution reported [16th June] from the Committee of Supply, 'That a sum, not exceeding 300,000l., be granted to Her Majesty towards defraying the Expenses of the Kaffir War, beyond the ordinary Grants for Army, Navy, Ordnance, and Commissariat Services, for the years 1850–51 and 1851–52,' be now read a Second Time."

Question again proposed: Debate resumed.

said, he had objected to this Report being confirmed, on account of some statements which were calculated to mislead and give offence in the colony. The Vote was for 300,000l. for a first instalment of the expenses of the Kaffir war. He was sorry to say, he differed altogether from the Government in the statement they had made as to the necessity for this call on the finances of the country. Nothing but gross mismanagement had led to the present state of affairs in the Cape colony; and he objected to the Vote, as burdensome, not only to this country, but to the colonists. The money was to be applied in aid of a war, not at the Cape, but in the remote district of Kaffraria, which was governed by a separate commission from the Queen. If the people of this country were from day to day to be heavily amerced for carrying on discreditable wars in our own Colonies, and contrary to the wishes of the inhabitants, the policy would prove a ruinous one. He had long advocated representative institutions for the colony. The war now raging was most wild and visionary. To talk of extending British rule to the Equator, as was contemplated by Lord Grey and Sir H. Smith, was most outrageous. Unless the colonists of the Cape could assist in putting down the military inroads of the Kaffirs, this country would be amerced to an enormous extent. No matter what might have been the cause of the war—he believed it to have been aggression and injustice on our part—the only thing now to be done was to put down war and hostile inroads on the frontier, and it was essential that this should be done without delay. He hoped the Government would reconsider their determination of not giving the Cape representative government till the war was at an end. Let this objection to the co-operation of the colonists be removed at once, by carrying out the letters patent, and then the colonists would be ready to assist heart and hand in putting an end to the war: were they disappointed in the object they had so long sought, he feared they would not be so ready to co-operate with our troops. But if the colonists were not to obtain their civil rights, the noble Lord should explain the grounds on which they were to be kept out of them. Having said so much, it was not his intention to oppose the Vote. However, he should observe the war was not a war of the colony, but one caused by the Governor, and which would not have taken place were there a responsible electoral government. The noble Lord (Lord John Russell) had done a great injustice in stating that the gentlemen called into the Council by Sir Harry Smith, instead of aiding, thwarted the proceedings of that Council from the outset. The noble Lord of course spoke from the despatches laid before him; but he (Mr. Hume) asserted that these documents were incorrect, as he could prove that the noble Lord in that respect was very much mistaken or misinformed. On the arrival of intelligence at the Cape that the Imperial Government was about to confer constitutional government on the colony, it caused great rejoicing amongst the inhabitants; and, so far from difficulties being thrown in the way, the people readily responded to the call of Sir Harry Smith to elect five representatives to sit in Council to prepare the basis and outlines of the constitution. Whatever opinion he (Mr. Hume) entertained of Sir Harry Smith as regarded other matters, yet in that particular he considered him worthy of great praise and credit. He placed the right of election in the hands of the people themselves to fill five vacancies, the men to be considered as elected who should have the highest number of votes. Now these gentlemen considered they were elected, not with a view to prepare the estimates, or to transact any of the other ordinary business, but simply to prepare a form of constitution. The speech of the Governor to the Council, as might be seen by the despatch of the 6th of September, informed the gentlemen to that effect; for he (the Governor) said—

"You are aware that one of the principal objects for which you are now called together is to pass an ordinance to frame a basis of new government for the colony on the principle of popular election."
After such a statement as that, he did not think it was fair of the noble Lord to lay such an accusation as he did against those gentlemen, simply for declining to do that which they conceived they had no right to do. They regretted much that the constitution was not framed: but they expressed no regret whatever, nor did they entertain any, in reference to the course they had adopted; rather, on the contrary, they would, if placed in the same position, act again in the very same manner. The views entertained by these gentlemen as to their non-interference in the preparation of the estimates, or other general business of the Council, were supported by large numbers of the colonists in public meetings assembled; and, therefore, in his opinion, the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) was bound to relieve these gentlemen from the charge uttered against them—uttered, he believed, on misunderstanding. Therefore, he appealed to the noble Lord, as he regarded the state of the colony, the state of the finances of the empire, and for the sake of peace, not to allow further time to pass without giving to that colony the blessings of a constitution which its inhabitants so earnestly desired. He had prepared an Amendment to be added to the vote, to the effect that "it was the opinion of that House that the speediest way of terminating the war, was, by granting to the colony the constitution guaranteed it by letters patent."

The speech of the hon. Gentleman who last addressed the House may be divided into two parts—the one upon the subject of a representative constitution to the Cape of Good Hope, and the other the present war upon our frontier in that colony. Now, I do not know that I can add much to what I have stated on a former occasion, in expressing the views of the Government on this subject; but if I can make those views more clear, I will endeavour to do so. With respect to the question of granting a constitution to the Cape, letters patent were transmitted from this country; but those letters patent did not contain the complete detail of the scheme of representative government that was to be established. They contained the outline of a scheme which was to be filled up at the Cape of Good Hope, and when so filled up the constitution was not immediately to be put in force, but the details were to be sent back to this country in the shape of Ordinances. Those Ordinances were to be considered by the Government at home, and such advice tendered to Her Majesty thereon as Her Majesty's Ministers might deem fitting to the occasion, and suitable for the welfare of the colonists. What happened upon the occasion of those letters patent was this: Sir Harry Smith, instead of appointing nominees to the vacant seats in the Council, thought that it would give greater weight in the colony to any opinions that might be given in the Council, and to the results at which they might arrive, if a certain number of members of the Council were chosen by election, and thus formed, as it were, a kind of representation even in the body by which the new Ordinances were to be proposed. He was not very fortunate in the result of that operation; because whatever might have been the motives of the four gentlemen who were elected to these seats in the Council—and I do not mean to impugn their motives—they certainly differed so considerably from the majority of the Council (the greater part of them consisting of official members, but with the addition of two who represented the eastern district of the colony), that at length they, considering that after the difficulties which had occurred a reconciliation was not to be expected, quitted the Council, and the majority were thus left to consider what should next be done. It was resolved, with the advice of the law officers of the colony, to constitute a Commission to take further proceedings independent of the Legislative Council, and to consider in that Commission the whole of the details concerning the representation of the colony. Now, it is evident that that proceeding could not lead to the result which was originally contemplated by Her Majesty's Government, because such a Commission could not send home to this country Ordinances in such a shape that they could be taken into consideration here, and sent out again to be put in force in the colony. Still less could they have done what the hon. Member seems to suppose was practicable; that is, put in force immediately in the country, without further deliberation, such a constitution as they thought advisable. Then comes the question of the representations made in this House with regard to the conduct of those who formed this Council; and if I have at all given a wrong colour to their motives, or imputed to them intentions which they did not entertain, I am exceedingly sorry so to have represented them. But the authority on which I spoke is Sir Harry Smith's letters home; for he thought, whether justly or unjustly, that they had intended to resign before they actually did so. He says—

"It was clear to every one that the four Members who afterwards resigned had determined not to proceed with the estimates, or transact any general business. The adjournment was only moved with a view to popular agitation, in order to bring the matter to an issue at once. These gentlemen had from the first meeting of the Council acted together as a party, and having been defeated on several questions in Committee, it was quite clear to every one that they had determined to resing their seats."
That was in a despatch of date September 24, 1850. In a subsequent despatch, dated November 30, he says—
"The fact is, as stated in my despatch of the 2nd of October last, the four Members who have resigned had evidently determined to do so when defeated in the Committee on the question of the qualification of Members of the Upper House."
I think that in so acting, those four members, with Sir A. Stockenstroem at their head, took a most unfortunate course. My hon. Friend says it was impossible for them to proceed with the estimates and the ordinary business of a Legislative Council; but there was nothing whatever in the constitution of that Council which was to induce them to think that it was a Constituent Assembly, and that it was not to take into consideration the ordinary business of a Legislative Council. It was part, as I have said, of the general intention, that any Ordinances which they framed, as the groundwork of a representative constitution, should be sent back here, and should only be put in effect, when they had been considered here; so that it was impossible for Sir Harry Smith not to bring before that Council the ordinary business of a Legislative Council, and more especially the estimates of the year. In the writs of summons for the election of those Gentlemen, there was nothing implying that they were to serve only for the purpose of framing a constitution; but, on the contrary, that they were to serve as members of a Legislative Council. My hon. Friend himself has referred to an address by the Governor to the Legislative Council, in which he says, "One of the principal subjects we shall have to consider is the framing of a representative constitu- tion." That expression clearly implies that this was not the whole business they had to consider; because the Governor would in that case have said, that not the principal but the sole end for which they were called together, was to consider of framing a constitution. They formed, however, a different opinion of their duty; they decided that they ought not to consider the estimates; and the whole work was at once brought to a close. The hon. Gentleman says they were supported in the course they took by the opinion of the colony. They were supported by a considerable number of the inhabitants, no doubt; there was a large party in their favour; and I believe there is also a large party which takes the opposite view of the interests of the colony. What is, at all events, sufficiently clear is, that if the Legislative Council had agreed to despatch the immediate business before them—if they had proceeded to consider the estimates, and settled them by a majority of the Council—if they had considered and decided, likewise by a majority, what should be the plan and the qualification for the Upper House of the Legislature—if they had drawn up ordinances on all those points and sent them home—those ordinances would before this time have received the observation and comment of the Government at home, Her Majesty's assent would have been procured to the whole constitution, and a representative constitution would now have existed in the Cape colony. It was for that reason that I said I thought those gentlemen must regret the course they had pursued. I am sorry to learn that they do not regret it. I certainly would not impute any motive to them beyond a wish, according to their views, to promote the prosperity of the country to which they belong. Sir Andries Stockenstroem is a man who for many years has taken a deep interest in the affairs of the Cape, of which he is a native, and I have no doubt has formed a conscientious opinion as to what his duties are; but I do think it was most unfortunate that he should come to that opinion, and my own belief is that it would have been far more dignified, and far more conducive to the interests of the colony, that he should have continued his services in the Legislative Council, and have submitted, as members of a Legislative Council do, to the decision of the majority. But in the present state of affairs, there is no doubt that very-great difficulties have arisen. Lord Grey has done the only thing that was to be done in the circumstances—directed the Governor for the time to form a Legislative Council which can go on with the current business of the colony. I quite agree with my hon. Friend, that if letters patent had been issued establishing a constitution, and the Government had afterwards proposed to revoke them, and to put an end to the constitution, this would not have been in accordance with the laws and constitution of this country. But the case at present is far more difficult and complicated; because here is a constitution which is merely an outline, and cannot have vigour and effect until it shall be first filled up at the Cape, and afterwards approved and sanctioned by the Government at home; therefore it is at present only an imperfect instrument, and it wants that which is essential in order to give it force and efficacy. I very much regret that state of things. I believe it would be far better that there should be a representative constitution in force; but I own I see great temporary difficulties in the way, when the Governor, who is to be the chief of the Executive, and many of the principal inhabitants of the Cape, are at a distance, employed in defending the frontier of the colony. Still it would not be right to say, if the war should last an indefinite time, that the representative constitution should be withheld during that indefinite time. I quite agree that there must come a day when, in some way or other, more or less imperfectly, according to the best of our judgments, we must put that representative constitution in force. With regard to the second part of this great subject, I think my hon. Friend has not made clear to the House what is the proposition which those hon. Gentlemen to whom he alludes wish to see prevail, and to which they wish to gain the assent of the House. The real fact is, that the existence of this district of British Kaffraria is an extension of the frontier for the purpose, for the sole purpose, of defending the inhabitants and settlers of the Cape of Good Hope against hostile incursions. It is not, as I stated before, for the sake of augmented empire; it is of no other advantage to this country than as enabling us to defend the settlers in that colony; and I do believe that never was an opinion entertained so generally in a country as the opinion that the best mode of securing the safety of the colonists, the best mode by which their lives can be protected, and they can be enabled to cultivate their properties in peace, was the extension of the frontier as originally proposed by Sir Benjamin D'Urban. The way in which that ensued was very obvious; because, in the former state of things, great numbers of Kaffirs, not so well furnished with weapons and offensive arms as they are at present, being on the immediate frontier of the settled parts of the colony, there occurred, from time to time, irruptions—sometimes by a few, sometimes by numerous bands, and, on one occasion, amounting to so many as 10,000 men, sweeping all before them, and invading the country without any warning being given that such an event was likely to happen, it being discovered only by the presence of thousands of enemies, who overspread the country, destroying and burning the farmhouses, carrying away the herds, and murdering the families of the settlers. They argued then—and Sir Benjamin D'Urban approved of that view of the subject—that if there were a country beyond the frontier in which the Kaffirs could be kept in order, and governed by means of their chiefs, with certainly an imperfect allegiance, but still in a state of quasi subjection to the British Crown, that then they would be able to prevent those savages from invading the colony. Well, that is the plan which has been adopted. But now it is said by some of the colonists, or my hon. Friend says it on their behalf, "If it is a question of defending the frontier and our own farms and possessions, we are ready to appear in arms for that purpose; but if the question is as to the defence of British Kaffraria, that is no affair of ours—that is a territory which you are bound, with the money of Great Britain and the arms of Her Majesty's troops, to defend and keep quiet, and you are not to appeal to us for the purpose." I must say that is not a very reasonable proposition; it is rather a deception to say, "Give us a representative constitution, and we will defend our frontier, and save you from the expenses contingent on it." This appears tempting enough; but when you inquire further you find it means, "We will defend that part of the frontier where there is no prospect of aggression, and where there are no persons to attack us; but where the invading tribes live and are likely to be troublesome and aggressive, that part of the territory you must keep quiet yourselves." However, I hope these difficulties will come to an end. For my own part, I believe that the Cape colonists ought to have representative institutions, because men who have such institutions do feel far more zeal and ardour in defending the country to which they belong, than they would if governed by any single person or nominee council, and therefore I expect that, when a representative assembly is established, you will see a more general and more potent spirit in favour of defending the frontier; but I think it would be imprudent to suppose that if you at once send out a constitution for the adoption of the colony, you would be freed from the burden and losses of the war. It is not to be doubted that this colony will yet form, like some other great colonies in which we had formerly losses and disasters to sustain, a prosperous and flourishing community. We ask for a Vote of money to enable us to carry the colony through this contest in which it is now engaged. I differ from my hon. Friend as to time, and other particulars of his arguments; but I hope the day is not far distant when we shall agree both as to the means and all other particulars in establishing this representative government.

Question put, and agreed to: Resolution agreed to.