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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 64


page 67


In 1842 Franco obtained the sovereignty of the Marquesas by treaty, and established a military colony upon Nukuhiva. In 1859 that experiment was abandoned. A few officials, and a couple of Roman Catholic missionaries, who have given up all hope of converting the natives and taken to planting, alone remain on the group. In 1844 the French Government established a protectorate over Tahiti, or the Society Islands, and consequently over the Paumotas (Low Archipelago), as there has always existed a close connection between the two groups.

In 1854 France took official possession of New Caledonia. With the exception of soiling a fair island with the refuse of her population, France has not made any colonising efforts. The natives are not benefited by the contact, and the resources of the islands are not developed. No matter how anxious the authorities at home may be for the progress of the colonies, French officials abroad alone represent their country—the nation does not appear to follow Government action. French occupation in the Pacific deteriorates but does not improve the native islanders, who are first awed into submission and then demoralised. Religious instruction is supplied by the Roman Catholic missionaries, who can always rely upon the bayonets of the gens-d'armes for assistance. France has found it impossible to do anything with the Marquesas, although a finer or more intelligent race of natives does not exist. The immorality of the Tahitians is a standing disgrace to French occupation. The natives of the Loyalty Islands, over whom France, I suppose, claims sovereignty (I have not seen any official notification of the fact), would much prefer our English missionaries to the Roman Catholic missionaries and French bayonets. If the English missionaries would but speak out, what a charge-sheet could they bring against France and the French in the Pacific! Oppression of white industry, bribery, forcible conversion of the natives, kidnapping, etc., etc., would be but a few of the charges.*

* While entertaining every respect for the Roman Catholic religion—for every religion, in my opinion, is entitled to respect—I cannot help stating that in the Pacific its members have been too anxious to extend their particular creed. Surely, when other Catholic missionaries had been striving for years to Christianize the inhabitants of any particular group of islands, Roman Catholic missionaries might well have refrained from interfering. "Go thou to the right, and I will go to the left," might have been a good maxim for their I guidance. With the hundreds of millions of Chinese and Japanese almost entirely in their hands, the few thousands of Polynesians might have been left to the Protestant missionaries, especially as they were first in the field. I feel certain that neither Christianity nor civilization has benefited by this interference, for the natives now hardly know which particular creed to respect. It is true that Protestant missionaries sometimes acted antagonistically to Roman Catholic clergymen, but the question is, whether the Utter should have given cause for such antagonism.

page 68

Whether France claims sovereignty over any other groups of islands is uncertain. Her right to claim anything at all is a matter of dispute. The manner in which the protectorate was established over Tahiti was quite unworthy of a great nation. New Caledonia was taken possession of without even the nominal consent of the native population. They hardly knew anything of the circumstance. The treaty made with Admiral du Petit Thuars, by which France claims the sovereignty of the Marquesas, is no doubt a curious document. Neither were the interests of the many Protestant missionaries, the only foreigners who could well claim any interest, considered. The natives generally knew nothing of France; had never committed any offence against that Government, and did not desire its interference. They had been accustomed to regard England and the English as their friends, and next to England, America. English missionaries, English men-of-war, and English traders were always beside them, and many American whalers. Of France they were utterly ignorant; but they were powerless. The English Government did not think it necessary to support the Queen's subjects resident in the islands, and France acted as she pleased. It must be very mortifying to our missionaries to see so much of their labour completely thrown away. After devoting many years to the Loyalty Group—after rendering those islands habitable—France steps in and reaps the advantage. Our clergymen have to leave the group, for although France professes the greatest religious tolerance, their stay is useless. The Roman Catholic missionaries will not work amicably with Protestant clergymen, and as the first receive the active support of the Government, the second had better leave the field. The New Hebrides are about 150 miles from New Caledonia. Nearly every island in the group has been stained with the blood of English missionaries. Sydney and New Zealand traders have opened up the resources of the group, and a few Englishmen are settled there. France may claim the New Hebrides, and the English Government may allow her to quietly take possession of that which British energy has rendered valuable; but England would be hardly acting fairly either to the natives or to English subjects.

In the case of New Caledonia, the action of the home Government is scarcely to be admired. In 1774, as I have already remarked, New Caledonia was discovered by Cook, who so named it in consequence of its resemblance to Scotland. It was duly taken possession of for George III., and was at one time included either in the commission of the Governor of New South Wales, or in that of Sir George Grey's commission as Governor of New Zealand. In 1854 the French took possession. Hearing that military barracks, etc., were being erected, Sir George Grey went down and informed the French Admiral that New Caledonia was British territory. page 69 On his return to New Zealand he reported the circumstance to the Colonial Office, and the matter ended by his commission being cancelled so far as it concerned New Caledonia. The Government of the time did not wish to go into the question. The Sydney papers of the day bitterly lamented the inaction of the home authorities.

With regard to Tahiti, French occupation means absolute authority. Now, the British public contributed thousands of pounds to the cause of civilization in this group, and the records of the London Missionary Society testify to the loss of life which the work entailed. For nearly fifty years the head-quarters of our missionaries in the Pacific were established in the group; yet the French were quietly allowed to add it to their Colonial possessions by the establishment of a nominal protectorate. In the petition for protection, which certainly is a most curious document, it will be seen that the poor Queen had to especially stipulate for the English missionaries to be allowed to pursue their calling unmolested. That the clause was necessary is shown in the fact that our clergymen, since that date, have been expelled from the group, only one remaining. I believe, however, that it is their intention to return.

Writing upon the civilization of the Pacific, one is almost inclined to say that the advent of the French drove the true civilizers—English missionaries—from the field. Is it not time that this portion of international law should be looked into, especially as regards the Pacific? English missionaries are also British subjects. Surely no foreign power has the right to occupy lands in which they reside without paying some deference to their interests. If any nation has acquired a vested interest in the Pacific, England, through her missionaries, planters, and traders, has most assuredly done so. Certainly no foreign power ought to occupy any such islands without at least informing the British Government of its intention so to do.

I purposely use the word occupy, as it possesses a peculiar meaning. Colonies are acquired by conquest, cession, or occupation. No power, with the exception of Spain, has acquired a colony in the Pacific by conquest; neither does any power wish to do so. Cession and occupation appear to be the favourite modes of acquiring possession therein. In a ceded group I of islands, such as Fiji, the voice of all interested is taken, and no injury to any foreign interest is committed. France, however, chooses to occupy certain islands—viz., New Caledonia and the Loyalty Groups—whereby that Government greatly injures all foreign interests, besides ignoring the native population. In my opinion, the only fair and international mode of acquiring these islands is by cession. Civilized nations ought to treat the Pacific islands somewhat differently to their usual customs. It must be remembered that the islanders can make use of all then-islands. There page 70 are no vast tracts of unused land in the Pacific, such as there were, and still are, in Australia and New Zealand, upon which the surplus population of Europe can find place. Every acre of land in Polynesia has an owner, and every man knows his land. The manner in which the Middle Island of New Zealand was taken possession of was, I suppose, international, but certainly most undignified: two war-vessels, belonging to two Great Powers, almost racing to see which should first raise the flag of the country which they represented, and by that simple operation claiming the land. International law, so far as regards this portion of the globe, sadly requires some little alteration. The nation whose subjects have devoted many years to the civilization of any particular spot, or whose protection is sought for, is the one entitled to the sovereignty of the land. No disinterested power, at the caprice of a moment, has the right to raise its flag and occupy the land. That proceeding partakes more of conquest than occupation. France by nominally fan-means has acquired Tahiti, the Paumotas, and the Marquesas, and by actual might New Caledonia. Our Government should not acknowledge her right to any other islands. If a notification were sent to the French Government that British subjects have certain vested interests in the Loyalty, New Hebrides, and other groups of islands near to French possessions, a great deal of trouble may hereafter be prevented.*

It appears to me that the entire action of the French Government in the Pacific was taken for the purpose of establishing a good convict station, and at the same time obtaining good naval stations. England was making use of Australia and Tasmania for a similar purpose, and France desired to do likewise in the Pacific, the civilization of the natives being the last con-sideration. England forestalled France in the acquisition of New Zealand,

* The "Statesman's Year Book" for 1875 affords the following information concerning French possessions in the Pacific:—

Name. Date of Acquisition. Area, Square Kilometres. Population.
1. Colonies—
New Caledonia 1854 17,400 29,000
Loyalty Islands 1804 2,147 15,000
Marquesas 1841 1,244 10,000
20,791 54,000
II. Protected Colonies—
Tahiti and Dependencies 1841 1,175 13,847
Paumota Islands 1844 6,600 8,000
Gambier 1844 30 1,500
Toubouai and Varau 1845 103 550
7,908 23,897

page 71 and so saved that colony from being a French convict station. French official documents testify that neither Marquesas nor Tahiti was considered suitable for the purpose. New Caledonia was chosen, and there are now many thousand convicts on the island. The official notification of the act of taking possession was made in the presence of the officers of the corvette "Le Phoque" and the French missionaries. The Admiral was compelled to build a block-house for the protection of the veryflag which he erected.

With regard to the convicts at present upon the island, they will no doubt, in time, gradually extend themselves over Australasia and the Pacific. It can hardly be said that they will be of any advantage to the cause of civilization therein; rather the opposite. I sincerely trust that the Australasian Colonies will endeavour to prevent any other European power following in the footsteps of France. Every country should maintain its own degraded citizens. Colonising from a convict root may be a problem, but the time has gone by for its solution. It is, in my opinion, almost an imperative duty for the Australian Colonies to discourage by every means in their power the continuance of the convict station at New Caledonia. If France requires a colony in the Pacific, so near to our own, let the colonics see, for their own benefit and for the benefit of the Pacific, that free emigrants are sent, no matter how poor.