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Inclosure 1 in No. 1.
Mr. Bonham to Acting Commissioner Seu. (Extract.)
Victoria, Hong Kong, June 7, 1848. I HAVE now been here a sufficient time to have made myself personally acquainted with the difficulties attending our mutual positions, and I am satisfied that, could I have personal intercourse with your Excellency, many questions that are now misapprehended would at once be set at rest, and that many others now in abeyance would be satisfactorily arranged.
But at present I cannot have the gratification of meeting you, for I take it for granted that your onerous and responsible duties would prevent your Excellency's coming to Hong Kong, and for the present, as you are aware, I cannot visit you at your palace in the city.
There are, however, so many questions open for discussion, some of which must he shortly set at rest, that I am very desirous that your Excellency and myself should thoroughly understand each other, that we may know on what points we agree, and on what we disagree, so that I may make early reference to my own Government and to Pekin, if necessary, on such as we may entertain different opinions.
Various objects present themselves for discussion, and I will briefly enumerate some of the most pressing. The opening of the city gates in April next has been conceded by Treaty, and settled by your predecessor to take place in April next, but it may be necessary, notwithstanding, for us to have communication on the subject before the time arrives.
Inclosure 2 in No. 1.
Acting Commissioner Seu to Mr. Bonham. (Translation.) (Extract.)
SEU, High Imperial Commissioner, &c., sends the following reply to a letter of the Honourable Envoy just received, in which it is stated that there are at present many points for consideration, and amongst them some which ought soon be settled. Having read these various subjects that are enumerated carefully, I now transmit my remarks upon each of them as follows:
1. Entrance into the city. Since the various nations have traded in Canton, none of the officers or merchants of their respective countries had ever any business requiring their going into the city. When our Government concluded a Treaty of Peace with your honourable nation, no entrance into the city was stipulated. Natives and foreigners lived previously peacefully together, and the commerce was in a flourishing condition. When, however, the entrance into the city became subsequently a subject of discussion, all the inhabitants entertained fears and suspicion ; the merchants were on this account hampered, and their trade gradually dwindled away. The late High Imperial Commissioner, Keying, therefore ordered some deputed officers and the local authorities to take proper steps for quieting (the populace), and fortunately no disturbance ensued. If we now again enter upon the previous consultations about it, the public will, as before, feel fear and annoyance, goods will become unsaleable, and very great obstacles accrue to the trade. The British merchants have traversed a wide ocean, and should they have conje here in order to enter the city? The entrance into the city is, moreover, in reality injurious, and no ways advantageous to English merchants. Why should then, by the useless entrance into the city, the commerce, their original object, be lost?
Though you remark in your letter that there ought to be a mutual understanding on this point to manage it properly, I think that the Honourable Envoy is fully aware of the existing state of affairs, and I therefore speak in this manner. When the late High Imperial Commisioner, Keying, settled the term of two years with your honourable country, he knew very well that the entering into the city would not be productive of mutual tranquillity. It may be looked upon as a measure dictated by peculiar circumstances for the moment, but by no means as the way for ensuring perpetual protection. To sum up the whole (1 may observe) that the entrance into the city has not the slightest show of justice in its favour, and would much interfere with the peaceful relations and the commerce of our two nations. You, the Honourable Envoy, being thoroughly conversant with affairs, ought to endeavour to secure a lasting mutual tranquillity, and I trust you will not follow any mistaken view of a temporary nature.
Taoukwang, 28th year, 5th month, 17th day. (June 17, 1848.)
Inclosure 3 in No. 1.
Mr. Bonham to Acting Commissioner Seu.
Victoria, Hong Kong, June 21, 1848. I HAVE received your Excellency's communication of the 17th in reply to my own of the 7th, and am concerned to find that you have been unable to meet my wishes, and that your explanations are so unsatisfactory.
As to the right of entering the city, I do not choose to discuss the advisability of insisting on a privilege which your Excellency's predecessor solemnly engaged should, after the 6th April, 1849, be no longer withheld : but I must confess myself astonished that your Excellency should declare it to be your opinion that his promise is to be looked upon merely “as a measure dictated by the peculiar circumstances of the moment." I can only consider, therefore, that your Excellency is inclined to evade that which has been guaranteed by your predecessor, and the consequences of receding from a compact so made will rest with your Excellency alone. It cannot be for me to consider how far the insubordination of the people may tend to obstruct the fulfilment of conditions agreed to by the high officers of their own Government.
Viscount Palmerston to Mr. Bonham.
Foreign Office, September 19, 1848. I HAVE had under my consideration the correspondence of which copies are inclosed in your despatch of the 21st of June; and I have now to instruct you to say to the Imperial Commissioner, that Her Majesty's Government have had before them his letter of the 17th June; that they are very sorry to see from its contents that the Commissioner evinces a disposition to evade a plain fulfilment of the engagements entered into by the Chinese Government and its authorities towards the British Crown and British subjects; and that as such a course of conduct, if persevered in, would compel the British Government to take measures and to have recourse to proceedings which would be very inconvenient to the Chinese authorities and people, and very disagreeable to the Chinese Government, and as he, the Imperial Commissioner, would no doubt incur in his own person the high displeasure of the Emperor, for having by his unjust conduct been the cause of such things, Her Majesty's Government cannot doubt that he will feel and acknowledge the friendly intentions which prompt the British Government to desire you to warn him seriously of the consequences which would follow if he should refuse or neglect to fulfil faithfully the engagements which have been entered into by the Chinese Government and its officers.
I amı, &c. (Signed) PALMERSTON.
Mr. Bonham to Viscount Palmerston.—(Received September 25.)
Victoria, Hong Kong, July 20, 1848. IN continuation of my despatch of the 21st ultimo, I have the honour to forward translation of a letter that I have received from the Imperial Commissioner, in reply to mine of the 21st ultimo, a copy of which was duly forwarded to your Lordship in the above-mentioned despatch.
The Commissioner's letter is altogether unsatisfactory; but from it your Lordship will gather that Seu is by no means prepared to compel the populace to permit British subjects to enter the city in April next. If, therefore, Her Majesty's Government propose to insist on the city of Canton being thrown open, as are the other four ports, it will be necessary that I should be supplied with full instructions as to the wishes of Her Majesty's Government, and the mcans to be placed at my disposal to enable me to carry them into effect.
Your Lordship will be aware that, by orders from the Colonial Office, I am precluded from moving troops from Hong Kong; but without some military demonstration, I am satisfied that it will be useless to attempt an entrance into the city.
Personally, I have not, heretofore, considered it a matter of much importance; but it is clear that, until the privilege be conceded to us, the British authorities cannot, in any case, have personal intercourse with the Chinese officers : the want of this was particularly felt on the late occurrence at Kwangchuh-ke; and, perhaps, had the means existed for urging the Government officers to greater activity, some of the unfortunate gentlemen who lost their lives on that occasion might have been saved.
But should the Chinese authorities sanction our entrance into the city in April next, from fear of the immediate consequences of their refusal, and I myself be permitted to visit the Imperial Commissioner at his residence, we should have no security that, in less than a week after, some British subjects would not be insulted and beaten, and, perhaps, in the mêlée, murdered.
I have myself come to the conclusion that the authorities are by no means desirous that we should be admitted; but I am also impressed with the opinion that, even if they were disposed to concede this, they have not the power of compelling the people to behave themselves in a quiet and peaceable manner. The result of our insisting on entrance, under such circumstances, into a city said to contain nearly 1,000,000 of people, is tolerably obvious; unless, indeed, we keep a force ready at hand to take satisfaction for the very first insult or act of violence that may take place.
As tending to throw some light on the feelings and temper of the Chinese authorities at the above port towards us, I also forward, for your Lordship's information, copy of a document handed to me by Mr. Gutzlaff, and a private letter from Seu to Keying.
The absence of Keying from Canton (and the report is that he will not return) adds to our difficulties at this juncture. The present Commissioner is totally ignorant of Europeans and their manners; he is likewise reported to be generally unfavourable to concession to foreigners; and his style of correspondence, to a certain extent, corroborates the rumour.
Inclosure 1 in No. 3.
Acting Commissioner Seu to Mr. Bonham. (Translation.) (Extract.)
SEU, High Imperial Commississioner, &c., sends the following reply to a letter of the Honourable Envoy.
I fully perused your remarks about the entrance into the city. Every one is aware that the going into the city will interfere with the tranquillity of the inhabitants. As I, the great Minister, am perfectly conversant with the state of affairs, I must speak truly, and say what is right. If I, on this occasion, gave you a confused answer, this might lead to disturbance when the time arrives. Difficulties would arise both to natives and foreigners, and this would by no means be the way for ensuring protection to merchants. In my previous reply, therefore, I discussed this subject according to truth, because I am deeply interested in the protection of the mercantile classes, and in benefiting the trade. It was not myself who originally agreed to this measure, and why should I, therefore, use evasives, or how can it be said that I break the engagement ? To sum up the whole, we ought, in all things, to adapt ourselves to public opinion. This is a rational principle, which is the same in China as well as your honourable country; for it is difficult to resist the indignation of the multitude, and impossible to realize thus the wishes of a single individual. I trust that the Honourable Envoy is aware of this, and will not trouble you again to dwell on this question.
Taoukwang, 28th year, 5th month, 27th day. (June 27, 1848.)
Inclosure 2 in No. 3.
A PRIVATE letter of the Acting Governor Seu to Keying to ascertain his views respecting the communications from the British Plenipotentiary.
I have long been separated from your respectful presence, and it is now difficult for me to receive your instructions. When I, in my privacy, admiringly look back to them, I find my heart yearning after you.
The“ Gazette” from the capital informed me that you had reached, on your return, the southern entrance of the great canal, and thus would very soon behold the celestial face. I am quite certain that you will attract His Majesty's regards, and be permitted fully to expose your views, and expatiate upon your important expectations. You will thus highly distinguish yourself, confer extensive and renewed benefits, and obtain celebrity. Thus you will show your benevolence and kindness, and bestow essential favours, so that the higher and lower classes of the people may feel encouraged, and your fellow officers share in this extreme delight. When looking forward to this gracious display, I can find no words to convey my satisfaction.
I received some time ago an official letter from the British Envoy, requesting me to send some deputed officers to consult about the entrance into the city, and on other propositions. As I am aware that the sentiments and wishes of the people are opposed to their entering the city and renting ground, I flatly refused both.
Having subsequently received a reply, in which it is determinately insisted upon that both stipulations) be carried into effect, it occurred to me that it was you who concluded an engagement to that effect. Though I might for a short time persuade them to abstain from it, still I would find myself at the end in a great dilemma. I therefore request your explicit instructions how to proceed in regard to these various demands, to avoid giving rise to disturbance when the time (for opening the city gates) has arrived; otherwise difficulties will be created, and my brother as well as myself will be charged with having managed matters badly.
Whilst inclosing copies of the two communications from the British Envoy, and both of my replies, for your perusal, I wish you much happiness, and present the above for your consideration.
My name is elsewhere signed (on a card).
Viscount Palmerston to Mr. Bonham. Sir,
Foreign Office, October 7, 1848. I HAVE received your despatch of the 20th of July, inclosing the Chinese Commissioner's answer to your letter of the 21st of June, inclosed in your previous despatch of that date.
The question which you have brought under the consideration of Her Majesty's Government, as arising out of the evident disinclination of the Chinese Commissioner to give effect to the arrangement by which British subjects were to be allowed free access to the city of Canton in April next, is one on which it is difficult for me to give you positive instructions. On the one hand, evil consequences may flow from allowing the Chinese to refuse or evade the performance of contracted engagements; on the other hand, it is inexpedient to resort to force to compel them to execute promises from the performance of which no real benefit to British interests would accrue. It has always appeared to me to be doubtful whether the right of entering the city of Canton would be productive of any material advantage to British residents ; while it has been plain that the unrestricted entrance of British residents into that city might lead to disputes and collisions between British subjects and Chinese, the consequences of which might be serious. I now understand from your despatch that the principal advantage which would result from free access to the city would be, that on special occasions the Superintendent or the Consul would be able to go to the Chinese authorities, and to communicate personally with them. This, undoubtedly, might often be useful, and such personal intercourse might frequently lead to an easier settlement of disputes, and to the maintenance of a good understanding.
But this advantage might be gained without a general and indiscriminate access for all British subjects to the city, because it might be arranged that whenever the Superintendent or the Consul should wish to communicate with the Chinese Governor, they should send word to him, and that then he should send an escort to attend them through the city, and to convey them back again ; and to this the objection would not apply which the Commissioner urges against the general admission of British subjects to the city.
I should wish, however, to know what practical disadvantage in regard to commerce the British residents at Canton now sustain by not being allowed to enter the city, and what practical advantages, beyond those of pleasure and amusement, British subjects would derive from the power of entering the city when they chose.
There seems reason to fear that at first the appearance of foreigners without escort or protection in the streets of the city, might tempt the lower classes of Chinese to insult or to assault them; and that the police of the town might not always be on the spot, or in sufficient force to protect them. It might, therefore, be arranged that for some time the entrance of British residents into the city should be subject to fixed regulations as to times, numbers, escort, &c., so as to ensure the safety of those who might go in. It is probable that when the novelty of their appearance was over, and when the shopkeepers and merchants of the town found that the visits of foreigners tended to the advantage of their trade, as would probably be the case, the people would grow indifferent to that which they would have become accustomed to, and that thus in process of time the precautionary regulations might be relaxed, and in the end a better state of feeling might be established between the Chinese and the foreigners. But as long as the foreigners are wholly excluded from the city, it seems difficult to see how the first steps towards such a result can be taken.
I wish you to take these suggestions into consideration, and to see whether' it would be expedient to sound the Commissioner as to some such arrangements as those above-mentioned being made.
I am, &c. (Signed) PALMERSTON..