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Proceedings of Her Majesty's Naval Forces at Canton.
Sir J. Bowring to the Earl of Clarendon.-—(Received June 29.) My Lord,
Hong Kong, May 8, 1857. THOUGH I, perhaps, ought to rest satisfied with the prompt, generous, and unreserved approval with which Her Majesty's Government sanctioned my proceedings as connected with the recent events in Canton, I feel, after reading the debates in Parliament, that I owe to the defence of my own character some observations in reference to the lorcha " Arrow," and to the extent of protection which, under the flag she bore, she seemed entitled to receive at my hands.
The papers connected with the Ordinance No. 4 of 1855, under which the flag was granted, having been published, I have to add, in explanation, that one of the main objects of that Ordinance was to place under periodical revision the proceedings of vessels enjoying the local privileges conceded under its sanction. It is not necessary I should re-state the grounds which led to the passing an Ordinance which was unanimously adopted by the Legislative Body here, inasmuch as, after deliberate consideration, it was approved by Her Majesty in Council. That Ordinance gave to me prompt means of punishing any irregularity, and the Chinese, who had been made acquainted with its provisions, never objected to any of them, and were bound to treat with becoming regard any vessel which bore prima facie evidence of having complied with the conditions on which the license was granted.
When I discovered the fact that the term for which the license was conceded had expired, I wrote to the Consul, for his guidance, that the term of protection had so expired.
But it was not less a question for my consideration whether the fact of the expiry of the license gave to the Chinese jurisdiction, and authorised the violence exercised towards the crew of the “ Arrow.”
In my judgment, it did not.
For, first, they were w holly ignorant that the term of the license had expired, and never for a moment put forward that excuse for their proceedings. Had they done so, had they acted as they were bound to act under Treaty obligations, the Consul would, no doubt, have made a special reference of the point to me, and the Chinese would have had all the advantage of having discovered a flaw in the title of the vessel, and their representations would have met with prompt attention from me.
But, secondly, I had to look at their intentions, as exhibited by their acts. There was no doubt in my mind that it was their distinct purpose to disregard the rights, and trample on the privileges, of a British flag-rights and privileges which I thought it my especial duty to maintain.
Thirdly, the surrender of Chinese subjects, who most undoubtedly believed they were entitled to the protection of the flag under which they served, to so bloodthirsty a ruler as his Excellency Yeh, whose frightful sacrifices of human life probably exceed in numbers and in cruelty anything in the records of history, would, in my opinion, have been an unpardonable abandonment of unfortunate men.
Fourthly, the case of the “ Arrow” was but one of a succession of wrongs of which I had to complain, and for which I could obtain no redress. Yeh has always exhibited a contemptuous disregard not only of my representations, but of those of the Ministers of other Treaty Powers ; and the affair of the lorcha was but an accidental incident in a long history of grievances, though it undoubtedly
brought about the crisis which no man acquainted with Chinese affairs will, I believe, hold was other than inevitable.
Fifthly, the expiry of the license, the failure of the owners to seek its renewal, placed the ship under Colonial jurisdiction, and she became responsible to the Government for the penalties she might have incurred. The Chinese had no title whatever to interfere with her except through the Consulate. Their plea that she was a Chinese, and had never been a British vessel, was altogether without foundation. This was the locus standi on which his Excellency Yeh chose to base his argument: this was the question between him and me. I hold that he was altogether wrong, and his wrong warranted my assertion of our rights.
I repeat, then, that whether the “ Arrow” was entitled to protection or not, the Chinese had no jurisdiction; and their proceedings were unwarrantable, and to be resented. The expiry of the license did not make the lorcha a Chinese vessel, and gave the Chinese no right to interfere, except through the Consul. She could only be a foreign vessel in their eyes. The papers, whether in order or not, were deposited at the Consulate, and if they had acted in accordance with the conditions of Treaty, and had put themselves in communication with the Consul, there would have been no collision. The papers granted were, I contend, of undoubted validity against any but British authority—the authority which alone granted, and which alone was entitled to withdraw, protection.
If, then, the fact of the expiry of the license, of the right of the lorcha to
I have, &c.
RETURN to an Address of the Honourable The House of Commons,
dated 15 June 1857 ;-for,
“ COPIES or EXTRACTS of any CORRESPONDENCE with Sir John Bowring on
the subject of his Application for a Vote from Parliament to defray the Expense of Measures of Precaution and Defence at Hong Kong, required by the state of Affairs in China.”
(Mr. Chichester Fortescue.)
Ordered, by The House of Commons, to be Printed,
19 June 1857.