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REFUTATION OF CERTAIN CALUMNIES AGAINST THE EAST-INDIA COMPANY'S CHINA TRADE.
To the Editor of the Asiatic Journal.
Sta: As you were so obliging as to allow a place in your Journal to a letter from me on the China-Trade, in reply to certain strictures upon it contained in a late number of the Edinburgh Review, I trust you will also permit me to trouble you with the few following observations on the same subject, which I find are called for by a somewhat extraordinary comment on my letter, which appeared in a newspaper some weeks ago, but which I never saw or heard of until this morning.
It is there assumed, in the first place, that my letter proceeded in fact from the Court of Directors. To this I reply, that so far from proceeding from the Directors, it was written without the least previous communication with them, jointly or individually; without any view either to their approbation or disapprobation; and solely for the promotion of rauth; being anxious to contribute my mite to prevent the people of this country from being misled by false theories and statements, and induced to favour innovations, which if adopt
Asiatic Journ.—No. 102.
ed would, I am confident, most se. riously injure, if not totally destroy, this most valuable branch of our eastern commerce. It accordingly follows that, whether the facts I have stated are true or false, the arguments I have employed sound or unsound, the Court of Directors are wholly uncommitted by them—none but the author is or can be responsible. Having stated thus much, the next allegation, that I have attempted to answer only two out of the many charges brought forward by the Edinburgh Reviewers, is easily disposed of Had the Directors considered it expedient to take the field themselves on the present occasion, their reply would no doubt have embraced every branch of the subject, and have included every one of the charges against them and the Company; but when an uninterested individual steps forward in their defence, it is but just and natural that he should confine himself to those points with which he is most conversant; and it is surely more to his credit that he Wol. XVII. 4 G *
should do so, than that he should
attempt to give to the public, at .
second-hand, that branch of their vindication which he is aware many other persons are much better qualified than himself to afford. Upon this principle I have certainly passed over sub silentio the charge of “trampling upon Acts of Paliament.” I can only say that, if the Court of Directors shall be found guilty of this offence, I shall be the last man to support them in it. I am certainly a decided advocate for the China monopoly, as by law established; but abuses of the monopoly against law, or violations of the conditions on which it is granted, should any such exist, which, however, I neither admit nor believe, I shall by no means attempt to defend. I-advocate the monopoly, not as an approver of monopolies generally, nor even for the sake of the East-India Company (whatever claims it may have to the gratitude of the country for the vast and splendid addition to our empire which has been acquired and consolidated under its auspices), but solely because I conscientiously believe that, under the special circumstances of the ease, the preservation of this monopoly in their hands is essential to the real interests of the country at large. But although it is true that I have only undertaken to discuss two points of the argument, they are cardinal points: they are the points upon which the whole question hinges. For , if I have proved that the argument founded on a comparison between the price of tea at New York and in London is untenable, what becomes of the conclusion drawn from it, that the nation is annually plundered of more than two millions sterling through the operation of this monopoly: This is the great imputed grievance: the other allegations are merely subordinate, and chiefly arise out of attempts to explain or account for it. Now I have proved from their own statements, that with respect to the
leading article of congo, two thirds of the whole, the argument is a mere fallacy. I have shewn that the article sold at New York under the name of congo was in fact an inferior sort of bohea, and I have proved this by the fact of its having, according to their own statements, sold for less than bohea in the same New York market (not London market, as the newspaper, by a strange misrepresentation of the argument has chosen to insinuate). In corroboration of the fact of this tea being bohea instead of congo, I have stated that the Americans are obliged to pay twice as much for real genuine congo at Canton as this pretended congo was sold for in America; and this statement remains uncontradicted. It is perfectly evident, therefore, that all inferences drawn from such comparisons as these, are perfectly nugatory. Tea may, after all, be dearer in England than in America; but the fact, if it be one, still remains to be proved. The next point in my letter which has been contested, is my estimate of the duties and emoluments of the supracargoes. On this subject the materials of vindication are ample; and I will now enter upon them somewhat more at large than I before thought necessary; but let it be remembered, that unless the former assertion, namely, the extravagantly high price in England of tea, can be satisfactorily made out, this latter question does not signify one farthing to the country at large. If the nation is well supplied with tea at fair prices, it is not likely to trouble itself very much about the mode in which this is accomplished. First, with respect to the emoluments; my assertion that the supracargoes have no fixed salaries, has not been contradicted; but the false estimate of the amount of their commis. sion has been re-asserted. I find, upon further inquiry, that I have rather over-stated the amount, instead of under-stating it; but it is waste of time to argue the matter further now, as I find that these accounts have been moved for, and are upon the point of being laid before Parliament. It is only by official documents thus officially produced that calumnies like these can be put down effectually. I understand that these accounts will prove thatt he whole expenses of our China establishment, including charges of every description, do not exceed three pounds per cent. on the trade, a charge which every one must admit to be surprizingly small; below, I believe, that of any private agency whatever of a similar nature, and amounting to such a complete disproof of the alleged extravagance of the establishment, as to render an examination into minor details of comparatively little consequence. • That I may not, however, appear to evade the discussion, I will add a few remarks upon each of the alleged instances of mismanagement. First, as to the supracargoes being permitted to enjoy full allowances whilst absent from their station on leave. If the supracargoes were paid by fixed salaries, there might have been something in the argument, but as their emoluments consist wholly of a certain per-centage on the trade, it matters little either to the country or the Company (so that the business is properly done) in what proportions that per-centage is divided; nor is it in fact of much consequence even to the supracargoes themselves, as the advantage, whatever it is, is enjoyed by each of them in succession. . It seems most probable that the severe and peculiar privations attending a long residence in China, and the advantage which has been found to arise from an occasional personal communication with their servants there, have led the Directors to adopt this arrangement, for facilitating their return to Europe, in a greater degree than in the case of their servants in India. Thus while by their residence in China, their local knowledge and
experience is matured, it is by these occasional visits to England that the spirit and feelings of Englishmen are renewed and invigorated. Secondly; with respect to the insimuation that one of the individuals on the establishment is not in a state of health to be able to perform the duties of his station—whether this be so or not, I certainly shall not undertake to examine; but if it be so, it is a visitation of Providence, for which it is surely rather hard to make the monopoly responsible: and as to his enjoying his emoluments under such circumstances, it may be a hardship on his colleagues, who receive so much less out of the common fund in consequence, but it can be no act of extravagance on the part of the Company, as not one shilling more is thereby taken out of the public purse. Thirdly; as to the public table. This is really too contemptible a subject to argue upon. No person of common sense will deny the propriety and necessity of a public table being kept up by the Company in China: and as to lurury, I re-assert that this table is in no essential respect superior to the private tables of the Captains of the Indiamen: there may, indeed, be display, as in this town, at a tavern dinner; but lurury is seldom any where enjoyed at what is called a public table. Lastly; it is asserted that some one individual in the factory now draws a salary of £10,000 per annum. I must premise that I believe this to be a very considerable exaggeration: but admitting it to be true that considerable allowances are enjoyed by the supracargoes towards the close of their residence in China, this is more than counterbalanced by the fact, which I know to be true, of their serving there, in many instances, during the first ten or twelve years, for little or nothing. The fact is, that the supracargoes do not finally return to England until after a period of from twenty to twenty-five years' service, and then barely realize a sufficient fortune to maintain themselves in the same rank of society with the retired servants of the Company, of the same standing, from India. If, therefore, the servants of the Company in China are overpaid, so must be also their servants in India in a far higher degree; for they do not submit to the same sacrifice—they do enjoy, in the midst of their labours, some of the luxuries of civilized society: their banishment is not without some comforts and alleviations to compensate for it. I next come to the duties of the supracargoes. It is amusing to see the manner in which the newspaper writer deals with this part of the subject. My account of their duties was abridged from a published work on the China trade. It is, he says, a flaming statement, which cannot be abridged ; yet he does abridge it; that is, he leaves out all those branches of their duty which are peculiar to their situation as a factory in China. Their ordinary and strictly commercial duties, which he does enumerate, he says are no more than what are performed by the clerks of an English counting-house. This is far from correct in various respects, yet there is certainly some analogy between the cases; and if we add together the labours of the partners, confidential and inferior clerks, of some ten or twelve countinghouses in London, the sum total will certainly give us some idea of what the supracargoes may have to do in this branch of their duty. Even this will shew that they have no sinecure; but if this were all, I do admit that such duties as these might possibly be performed by a somewhat lower class of public functionaries: but the misfortune is, that there neither are, nor can be, in China, any “inferior agents or understrappers,” as is pretended, to perform all this drudgery. The very peculiar and precarious tenure of our connexion with China is such, that the residence
there of persons of inferior responsibility and trustworthiness can by no means be permitted. This drudgery must all be accordingly performed by persons destined for higher things; by persons who either are, or are soon to be, entrusted with the administration of millions of capital ; with the supreme control over thousands of British subjects who, as merchants, officers, and sailors, frequent the port of Canton from Europe and India; and with the direction of the most difficult and delicate negociations, in cases of the highest emergency, with a most sagacious and singular people, and with the most jealous, arbitrary, and despotic government on the face of the globe. If it were not trespassing too largely upon your limits, I could easily shew you how every privilege which, by commivance or express concession, the trade, whether English or American, at present enjoys, is directly attributable to the exertions of our supracargoes; I will, however, venture to quote one instance of great importance. In 1814 the Chinese Provincial Government, instigated by some interested individuals among the Hong merchants, proposed, and even obtained the Emperor's sanction to some changes in the Chinese system of trade at Canton, of the mest important mature. Among other innovations, the number of privileged Hong merchants was to have been reduced to three, and these three so closely associated together as to render any division amongst them, with a view to competition, or any other object in which the interests of foreigners were concerned, utterly hopeless. This scheme, which, upon a moderate calculation, would have raised the prices of Chinese produce, and depressed those of European manufactures, some thirty or forty per cent., besides subjecting the trade to many intolerable shackles in other respects, the supracargoes, by a series of deli