Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

thereary proceritate stemwait and ch pre

of the Fijian group, were put more cogently and clearly than those on the other side of the question, and he appeared rather to excuse than to defend the present refusal of the Government to anpex, resting their justification rather upon the uncertainty that the desire of the population of Fiji and of Cakobau still tended in that direction, than upon those considerations of expense and of doubtful advantage which we have seen advanced elsewhere. Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen declared his opinion that annexation was far preferable to - a protectorate; but that having refused the cession of the

country when freely offered, it would be hardly fair to step in uninvited and annex it at the present time for our own advantage. “It was, however, by Australian energy that the • resources of the Fiji Islands were being developed, and if • they could be governed by one of those colonies considerable • advantages might be the result. That was the proposition

which the Government had made in the last despatch pre6 sented to Parliament. It was far better to wait and to act

with caution than to take any precipitate step. Having said so much, the Under-Secretary proceeded to lay down as an axiom of policy that there were higher considerations than those of economy, and that there was nothing wrongful in

the acquisition of territory freely offered by the inhabitants, • by which good government and the promotion of civilisation rand Christianity were secured, and new markets opened for (trade. He recapitulated the steps which the Government had taken with regard to the passing of the ‘Pacific Islanders' • Protection Bill' and strengthening the squadron, and bore witness to the high character of the two men (Messrs. Thurston and St. Julian), who had just succeeded to the offices of Premier and Chief Justice in Fiji, hoping that under their auspices good government might prevail in the islands. His concluding words, however, were not such as to discourage the advocates of annexation :

Instructions had been sent out to the English representative there to recognise the Government as a de fucto Government; but the extent of our recognition would depend upon the ability of the Government in the islands to maintain good order, and on the sincerity of their efforts to suppress the slave traffic. We did not see what other course Her Majesty's Government could take; and if hereafter the white population and the natives should desire the territory to be annexed, the British nation would never hesitate, when the interests of Christianity were concerned, to take whatever steps would best promote those ends. But it was better to be too late than too soon; and while progress was being made in the Fiji Islands, the British Government exercised a wise discretion in not forcing a protectorate upon them.'

It is scarcely to be wondered at that Lord Sandon, in the warm colonial speech' with which he followed, said that his

honourable friend had to a great extent conceded the point in • dispute.' Not sufficiently so, however, for Mr. Kinnaird, who with much vehemence and excitement protested against anybody who had ever said anything against annexation, praised to the skies Lord Palmerston (who was Prime Minister of the Cabinet which refused to annex these islands in 1859), and concluded by saying that it was all very well ‘for members of the Government to make pretty speeches * about our colonies, but we wanted something else-we

wanted action.' Encouraged by the general tone of the debate, Mr. M'Arthur somewhat irregularly altered the terms of his motion, which was eventually submitted to the House in the following shape :

“That an humble address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty that she may be graciously pleased to take into consideration the propriety of establishing a protectorate over the Fiji Islands, or of annexing them, provided this may be effected with the consent of the inhabitants.'

This alteration, together with the tone and statements of Mr. Kinnaird's speech, called up the Prime Minister, who demurred to the Government being placed in the position to decide between a protectorate and annexation, and pointed out some of the difficulties which surrounded the question. Mr. Gladstone, however, was by no means strong in his language against the possibility of annexation at some future period. Although, he observed, the Government was not prepared to accept the responsibility with which it was proposed to saddle them, this was not because it professed a policy of indif• ferentism, or had registered a vow in heaven that nothing

should induce it to add to the territory or territorial respon“sibilities of this country. He stated that as far as it was • possible to lay down an abstract rule upon this question, he • would lay down this rule, that Her Majesty's Govern‘ment would annex no territory, great or small, except in cor

formity with the well-understood and sufficiently ascertained desire of the inhabitants of the country proposed to be annexed. Mr. Gladstone concluded his speech with these suggestive words:-If honourable members wished to take steps with "regard to this question, let it be done by means of a motion

calling upon Her Majesty's Government to ascertain the wishes of the Fiji Islands in the course they wished to see taken. This was the only form in which he, on behalf of Her Majesty's

howerility Governo it was propolier et pothing

* Government, could accept any responsibility with reference to the question.

In spite of the somewhat irregular course taken in the sudden alteration of the motion, and in the face of the protest of the Prime Minister, the House of Commons only rejected the amended motion by 135 votes against 84, and the feeling in favour of the acquisition of these islands was unmistakeably evinced during the debate. Whether or no the suggestion of Mr. Gladstone will be adopted, and some such motion as that which he shadowed forth be introduced early in the next session of Parliament, will probably depend in some measure upon the intelligence which may reach us in the meanwhile concerning the new Fiji Government. The importance of these islands seems to be generally admitted, and the force of the argument of expense and responsibility which would be entailed upon this country by their acquisition has been somewhat weakened by the expressed readiness of the Government to consent to their being acquired and governed by New South Wales or Victoria. For since (in spite of the anti-colonial party of which we have heard, but which has apparently disappeared and has certainly met with no favour from the present occupants of the Colonial Office), these colonies are happily still component parts of the British Empire, the acquisition of territory by either one of them is practically acquisition by Great Britain, and our responsibility in connexion with Fiji, if acquired by New South Wales or Victoria, would be precisely the same as if it were an integral part of the Australasian continent. It may be, as stated by Lord Kimberley in his despatch of November 3, 1871, that it is principally 'on account of the Australasian Colonies that the affairs of the · Fiji Islands are a matter of concern to this country;' but it is worth while to remember that Australasian interests and our own are so far identical in this matter that any state of things in Fiji which injured the one would indubitably injure the other. The main argument, from a selfish point of view, against our annexation of the Fiji group may be found in the assertion that the command of the waters of the Pacific is the best and surest protection for our Australasian Colonies, and that so long as we possess that command, our fleets are sufficient for us without the acquisition of territory which might be burdensome in time of peace and easy of attack by an enemy in time of war. But, supposing that Fiji were annexed to-morrow, we should none the less command the Pacific, whilst the possession of her harbours and the establishment of a coaling station would be of no inconsiderable benefit. Nor, indeed,

e circumsWashingtoed in its doulet

would the islands be open to easy attack from an enemy, naturally protected as they are by coral reefs, unless our fleets should have been previously so disposed of that the enemy had obtained that command of the ocean which we now possess, in which case the ownership of Fiji would probably concern us but little.

It is, however, interesting to know the feelings of other nations with respect to the possession of harbours in the Pacific, and at a moment when our position with regard to the Fiji group has been so much debated, it is well worth while to call attention to recent proceedings upon the part of the United States. About three hundred miles distant from the Fiji group are situated the Navigator Islands, which have hitherto been under the rule of a native king, the European residents living in harmony with the aborigines, who, however, seem to have been in the habit of indulging in civil wars to some considerable extent. It must be premised that no papers have hitherto been presented to Parliament, to which we may refer for an official account of the recent transactions to which we are about to allude, but the circumstantial account given in the Sunday Morning Chronicle,' a Washington newspaper, bearing date June 2, 1872, seems to be confirmed in its main particulars by private accounts, and there is no reason to doubt its substantial accuracy. The correspondent of this news. paper, writing from Apia, a town in the Navigator Islands, under date of April 18th, gives a graphic description of the situation and fertility of the country, glances at the circumstances under which a 'fratricidal war' has been desolating the country for ten years past, and proceeds to narrate the events which had then just taken place.

"On the arrival,' he says, 'of Mr. Stewart, the President of the Central Polynesia Land and Commercial Company, he at once requested a meeting of the King Malestoa and his principal chiefs, representing to them that the Company he represented had purchased large tracts of land on the island, and that it was impossible that the war could be continued longer without entirely destroying the native race. The King at once agreed with Mr. Stuart, and signified his wish to hand over his right to the United States and the Company, and immediately an agreement was drawn up, handing over the royalty of the island to the United States. The following day the other party met in the house of the United States Consul, and agreed to the same proposition, and in accordance thereof a treaty was drawn up, the fifth clause of which reads thus: “ We do acknowledge the absolute authority of the United States of America with regard to all matters whatsoever, and bind ourselves to adopt " the common laws of America."' '

· This agreement, continues the writer, “is signed by the *two kings and one hundred and twenty chiefs, and the British and American Consuls attach their signatures and seals as * witnesses.'

The description of the Island of Upolo, thus said to be annexed by the United States, is then given in vivid language by the correspondent of the · Sunday Morning Chronicle. He says that the whole group of islands contains an area of 2,600 square miles, of which this island has an area of 1,027 miles of perhaps the most fertile land in the world, and · more than three-fourths of the island is suitable for cultivation. The • very rocks seem to bring forth vegetation; the eye cannot • discern anything but the beautiful tropical verdure. His conclusion is too delightful to be omitted. • Upolo is like no other place on our globe, and the stranger is forced to exclaim

that it was the last place created. The Creator, beholding all the most beautiful things in nature, centred them on the Samoan group.'

In the midst of this rhapsody, which reminds us of the South Sea enthusiasm of · The Earl and the Doctor,' he points out the practical reasons for the acquisition of this island by the United States. The central position of these islands, right

in the track of the United States, New Zealand, and Ausstralian mail steamers, about sixteen hundred miles from • Auckland ... point towards them in the future as being • the great depôt of commerce in Polynesia. The coaling • depôt of the steamers is to be at Samoa city, in the harbour of - Pango Pango, and our Government has already taken possesssion of the magnificent land-locked bay as a naval station.'

Of course the above account must be taken with reserve, especially that part of it which alleges that the British Consul signed as a witness to the transfer of the island to America ; but that some transaction of the kind has taken place is tolerably certain. The Melbourne · Age' of April 23rd states that the Government of the United States has obtained the 6 sovereignty of one of the Navigator Islands. The American • frigate “ Narraganset” has taken possession of Titiula, 6 where a coaling station will be formed. Thus, whilst Great Britain has been coy and bashful in the matter of Fiji, the Government of the United States has been prompt and active in the acquisition of a harbour and coaling station in waters where a similar possession is of at least equal necessity to this country. It may be that the knowledge of American action in the case of the Navigator Islands may have had something to do with the tone of the House of Commons debate of June VOL. CXXXVI. NO. CCLXXVIII.

The coalin

depôt of the spot of commerce them in the ingo Pango, and ours to be at Samoa citsla.

« ForrigeFortsett »