Object #1008133 from MS-Papers-0032-0159
From: Letters - Francis Dillon Bell to W Fox & W Gisborne, Reference Number MS-Papers-0032-0159 (9 digitised items). Nine letters written from London and Dunedin, 1869-1870 (some undated)
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25 March 1870
My dear Fox
I must begin by apologising for having accused you by last mail of not sending any telegram. Gisborne's telegram reached us all right, but the day after the mail had gone out. There is some reason for the officials not sending on your telegrams at once from Galle, at the same time as they send the press telegrams: we imagine it is because they are not marked on Government service, and we have got Reuter to send special orders to his agents at Galle to forward any telegrams for us without a moments delay. It is very unfortunate that this month the only telegram you have sent us is about the Postal Service via San Francisco; that is to say, we have received no other as yet, though we hope there may turn up one. The day after the arrival of the mail last Monday there came a press telegram published in the papers of Tuesday that "great depression existed among the colonists in New Zealand on account of the renewal of hostilities, and that several skirmishes had already taken place. This produced an uneasy feeling among all our friends here, and as we have no intimation ourselves of what the report means, we can say nothing in answer to constant enquiries.
I write this to you instead of to Gisborne, in order to keep up the chain of correspondence: but you must of course know that my letters are really addressed to all, and Gisborne must not think me neglectful because I don't specially reply to the letters from him received by last mail.
There is nothing satisfactory to tell you: nothing to say,
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indeed except that we have done nothing whatever and for all the good we have been to the Colony had far better have staid away. You will receive the Debate on Ld Carnarvon's motion, and will easily judge what a fiasco it was. Not that this resulted from any lukewarmness in Ld. Carnarvon, on the contrary nothing could exceed the kindness he showed to us and the trouble he took: but the debate was in fact ruined by Lord Grey. We had gone to Ld Grey and expostulated, as we knew he meant if possible to bring out his panacea of a suspension of the Constitution: but he had resolved to take the opportunity of ventilating his crotchets. Accordingly, when Lord Granville sat down he got up, and would not give way to Lord Salisbury, who wished to speak. Ld Salisbury was ready to make a dashing onslaught oh the Government, and as it wasknown he would come out, a regular phalanx had gathered behind Ld Granville, to cheer and support him. Ld Salisbury's projected onslaught had even brought the Prince of Wales and Duke of Cambridge, and we expected a rattling debate. But when Lord Grey began drawling out his warnings and his advice, the House got thinner and thinner, till at last the clock began to suggest their lordship's dinners would be kept waiting: and very shortly a general clear out took place No one indeed supposed that the Peers would have come to hear anything about New Zealand; they came to hear Lord Salisbury have a go -in at the Government, and as soon as they saw this was not to be they went off to dinner as British Lords are above everything bound to do. So ended the Debate from which a good deal had been hoped. For my part I hoped but little. The truth is that I have been astonished at the position held by Lord Granville, and as soon as I fully realised it I quitted hope about the troops. It has been said
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that Rogers ruled the Colonial Office: that was my own impression, and Sir George Grey said so in the strongest terms. But I am perfectly certain there is nothing of the sort. It is the universal statement at the Clubs and in political circles that granville and Gladstone and Lowe are the Cabinet: and you may be perfectly certain that he acts in this New Zealand question on his his own hook. Every one concedes to him the greatest astuteness and dexterity: and men like Sir Gore Browne who have the entree of the Clubs tell us how much influence he really exercises. We must dismiss the idea that any one but himself is master in Downing Street. At the same time it is quite certain that if we had had the authority to spend money on entertainments we might have done a good turn. We have been asked out to a great many houses; but I am now refusing every invitation, simply because I cant return the hospitalities that are offered. One cant go on dining with people without dining them in their turn, and of course to do so at one's own expense is impossible: but it is a pity, for you may remember Napoleon's advice to his Ambassadors was always "Tenez bonne table et soignez les femmes," and if we could have done so our embassy might have been less of a failure. Nevertheless, it may be said with certainty that the ministers had absolutely made up their minds before we ever came here, and that (considering what Ld Granville really is) we never had much of a chance. The Government cannot be operated upon politically in any way. Not only have their measures been carried by enormous majorities, but they really deserve success. The Irish Land Bill, the Peace Preservation Bill which they had a majority of 400 upon, the Education Bill, --- everything almost that they have brought forward has been received with unanimous support: and in addition to this
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the Revenue has been so magnificent and the economy so great that it is expected Lowe will come out next week with a surplus of more than three millions, and great reduction of taxes. In the face of such a position, an English Ministry is of course omnipotent; and we like others must accept their fiat. In only one instance have they received a check, and that has been on Cardwell's proposals about shelving officers and shunting numbers on the half pay line: the army men got their backs up, and the kind of influence which they can yield being also of its kind almost omnipotent, Cardwell and Lowe had to cave in. Since last mail we had a long interview with Gladstone. Not of course as an appeal against Granville, but to tell him that we could not feel satisfied without laying our case before the man who is really responsible for the policy of England. He listened to us civilly and patiently --- admitted the responsibility of England for the war but plainly gave us to understand that they knew exactly what they were doing and had resolved to carry their decision through. As soon as I saw this Prime Minister, and knew that with his eyes intently watching us he was still sternly resolved not to yield, I gave up the ghost as far as the regiment is concerned: and here we have stuck. I am myself, after the most complete consideration I can give to the subject, thoroughly convinced that we shall not get an Imperial soldier; and according to the habit of my mind I cease to fight for it. If I had my own way entirely I should have gone Granville at once and tried something else. In his speech on the Emigration question Gladstone had said something about Lord Granville being in communication with the Colonies about guaranteeing the repayment of advances made here for Emigration: but we have never been able to ascertain what was meant. Magniac went to Monsell who said he had never heard of it: Monsell went to Ld Granville, who went
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at once to see Gladstone about it;
however it was shunted off, but I think a great step would be gained by trying to get them to help us about Immigration, and I was glad to see in Gisborne's letter a suggestion to apply to the Government to be generous in this in exchange for their shabby treatment of the troops question I mean to put down my own views about it in some way, if even only for transmission to yourselves privately next mail; that is, unless we see our way jointly (Featherston and I) to the same conclusion, that it is best to give up the regiment question and try immigration help.
Gisborne's minute in reply to the dispatch of 7 October is admired as it deserves. Nothing could be better than the tone and temper of it; and it came just in time to prevent too great a crow by the Colonial office over the tone of your own Minute about the Conference, which they were of course very delighted at. I must tell you that when Granville sent us privately, some days after last mail had left, a copy of his dispatch to Bowen of 25 February, we wrote to say that since that decision was thus communicated we had no alternative but to send in a remonstrance, as any further appeal to Ld Granville on our previous terms would be fruitless. Featherston was very anxious for this memorandum to go in before the mail came in, as we had heard by your telegram that your own reply was on its way: but I could never please myself about composing it, and was besides, for my own part, most desirous to see your own line first. So that we put it off till the mail came in, and then I set to drafting it: but neither I nor F. like my work, and I must reconstruct it altogether. We both hoped it would at any rate have gone in before the mail left, in order that you might get it now: "but it is not so, and you will have to wait. It is a very difficult thing to fix what the line of such a memorandum from ourselves should
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be. Your minute has in fact answered the Dispatch of 7 October and left nothing to be said on that: and to go into the questions generally would take a long and most carefully guarded statement, at the same time that for all practical purposes it will be useless so far as the Troops question goes. We shall however do our best: but I wish I had not lost, as I find I certainly have done, the ease I used to feel of old in writing. I could dash off a Minute in the old days without trouble; now, every dispatch is a great labour.
But apart from the line to be taken about the past, is the much more important matter of the line for the future. You shadow out, yourselves, the possible cutting of the painter as the consequence of Lord Granville's course; and I see that many of the newspapers are agitating that way. Now for my own individual part I cannot have anything to do with seceding from England, though I admit we should be justified in going, and I will not coincide in any action that looks like a menace of that consequence really taking place. Sir George Grey is here every day, preaching separation and Independence with great eloquence and pertinacity; and I dont sometimes know how to answer him, except that I am resolved to have nothing to do with them. I see every day more and more that there is a party here, and one getting stronger, which is in favour of colonies cutting the painter; but then it seems to me that is just playing into the Ministers' hands. Grey has got into very hot water by his agitation; and is turned out accordingly into the cold; he will soon join the Conservative cause, and is now gone down to Newark with the Tory whip's support to see if he cant get into Parliament. Now I believe in trying for something that is possible: I look upon New Zealand Independence as moonshine; not mere nonsense, but really very dangerous to us. For if once Lord Granville can set
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down the New Zealand Commissioners as going in for cutting the painter, he will turn us out into the cold too, as Sir George Grey has been; and I think it wd be far better for us to pack up our traps and be off at once. If, indeed, the Assembly seriously goes in for it, that will be another thing: but in my opinion the Assembly will do nothing of the sort. I believe on the contrary that if the question of Independence were raised now in the Colony (I dont mean as a newspaper talk but as something serious where men wd have to face the Supreme Court and make sacrifices) it would be dissipated into thin air in a moment. What we should try for is to get some help from England towards Immigration, and I believe a plan could be proposed which the Government might be inclined to look favourably upon: but I dont know whether anything can be hoped for unless we as Commissioners give up the troops question in the first instance. It has been a disappointment not to be able to write you anything about Emigration yet, but I hope that another mail will not pass without doing so. You would not believe how busy we are doing nothing. We have neither of us been to see a single friend or relation, have not even been able to find time to pay back the numerous visits made to us, and yet there is nothing to show for it. About the consolidation reopening I felt sure we should send you details by this mail, but we must put that off too. We have communicated with the Crown Agents, and are still engaged in considering the steps to be taken. We are especially wishful not to be or appear to be in a hurry. There are some large owners of the old debentures whom we want to getin, and then the rest will follow: for instance Larnach if the Bank of New South Wales holds more than 100,000 of the old Fives, and is rather anxious
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about the conditions on which we shall reopen; and there is another man who holds between 40 and 50,000£ of Provincial Bonds, whom we should like to draw in first. In all these things there is nothing like not
seeming to be too anxious, and we may find it worth while to delay the reopening for a few weeks more. It is far better to do this than to make a mistaken calculation; especially as if the bad news by this telegram is confirmed when the next mail comes in, we may find ourselves in a fix about a price, as everything will of course depend on the look of the market at the time. By the way I may mention that Larnach who was here the other day spoke about any agitation for separation as certain to cause a fall of from 10 to 20 % in our Bonds, in his case this would mean the loss of 10000£ or 20000£, so you will easily fancy he is dead against Colonial Independence. And we must all consider that this question of the result to private fortunes by our political action is an essential one to our credit even if we dont separate. The mere agitation, if countenanced or undertaken by the Government may bring down the N. Z. funds and hurt us greatly.
I hope Cracroft Wilson will be satisfied more than he was when we left, when he heard Lord Napier's opinion about his Ghoorkas --- I dare say Gisborne and McLean will be especially pleased to get such a condemning opinion from aman of Napier's reputation. While I am writing McLean's name I should like to say that I did not get his long letter till some days after the arrival of last month's mail; so some one must be to blame about posting it, as it was written at the end of December.
You will have received an application from F. W Hamilton of Canterbury to let him carry on the Trust Company there while Carruthers is in England and I hope you have agreed to his
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request, as many of his friends here are anxious about it. Tell McLean there is a young man called Howard de Walden, son of Lord Howard, who is in Queensland and has applied for a Commission. He was in the Rifles here and has lost his money. At Sir William Hutt's the other evening he introduced Lady Walden whom I promised I would write mentioing her son's name.
We are being very much hounded for not having powers to treatabout Immigration --- if we had, many who wont give time to considering anything without a practical issue, would help us. I find this meeting me in all societies. I was at was at a City Banquet the other day where there were heaps of rich men M.P.'s. The sort of thing they all said was that the troops question is done for and that if we want any help from them, they being very busy making money and so forth, we must ask for it in some shape where we have power to say yes or no to a definite proposal. Every one's time is so precious --- the railway rate at which everyone and everything moves is so great --- that men will absolutely not give an hour to a mere abstract advantage or scheme. They require to know whether you have power to treat, and if they are answered No, they turn instantly to some other scheme which they can get settled on the nail. If we are to have anything successful about Immigration the Assembly must give somebody power to act here; and so if the Session is soon coming you must look at this just as much as at getting a scheme of emigration at all. No scheme has a chance unless you authorise either us or somebody else to treat with full powers within certain limits. If you send any powers home about Immigration, do the same about Telegraphs etc. There are several propositions afloat about extending telegraph communication to Australia and New Zealand, and heaps of questions have been put to us as to what we would do in such and such a case of offer. We can only refer back to the Colony, which stops everything and makes these busy folk shrug
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their shoulders at us for nobodies.
About Arms I send you a rather short memorandum. But I shall go into the matter more fully next mail when I have seen Colonel Dickson again. He is one of the best friends we have had, and nothing could exceed his anxiety to do us service about arms or anything. You will see by the Memo that some of the things proposed by the Committee of last Session wont do.
The man who has shown the most interest is Carnarvon. He really spared no pains --- and would do anything in the world he could to help us. There will be another Colonial Debate on the 5th on a motion of Robert Torrehs. The form of it has not yet been quite settled, and Gladstone promised last night to put nothing in the way of a night for it. I do not think it will come to anything. Sir George Grey is making a good deal out of Sir Alexr Galt's speech in Canada in favour of Canadian Independence; and Philip Wodehouse the Governor of the Cape in his opening speech the other day spoke of the severance of New Zealand from the Empire as being affected under very painful circumstances. Plenty of capital will be made out of this in Torren's debate, but you will see that both Granville and Gladstone will come out with the most positive declarations that nothing could be farther from them than to want the Colonies to go, and then the Times will come out with a flaming leader and there will be an End. They can do as they like, and they know it.
I have to make up our official letters for the mail and so must close this scrawl. I cannot say I look forward with much hope to sending you any better news next month. We have done nothing and I am so ashamed of our failure that if it were only possible I would be on board this very mail steamer on my way back. It remains to be seen whether there is anything yet possible to be done by going again to the Government, for without them or in spite we shall go home with empty hands indeed.
Yours very truly,
F. D. Bell
Hon. William Fox
Letters - Francis Dillon Bell to W Fox & W Gisborne, Reference Number MS-Papers-0032-0159 (9 digitised items)
Series 1 Inward letters (English), Reference Number Series 1 Inward letters (English) (14501 digitised items)
McLean Papers, Reference Number MS-Group-1551 (30238 digitised items)
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