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in the province of English literature; and we are happy to perceive that his claims have not been entirely overlooked by the dispensers of ecclesiastical preferment.
ART. III.-Statements, Calculations, and Explanations, submitted to the Board of Trade, relative to the State of the British West India Colonies. Printed by order of the House of Commons. 7th of February, 1831.
Papers laid before the Finance Committee. Printed by order of the Committee. 1828.
WE E have long been of opinion that the whole scheme of our Colonial policy required to be carefully revised, and, in many respects, materially modified. Hitherto, however, circumstances of more immediate interest have attracted so much of the public attention, that the subject of the Colonies, though of primary importance, has been, in a great measure, neglected. But the difficulties, or rather, we should say, the bankruptcy and ruin, which threaten to overwhelm every one in any degree connected with our sugar Colonies, make it impossible much longer to defer the consideration of such measures as may appear best calculated to arrest the undesirable consummation that is so rapidly approaching. A committee of the House of Commons was appointed to investigate the causes of the existing distress, previously to the late prorogation, and will, no doubt, erelong resume its labours. But it does not appear that those who have attended to the subject can have much difficulty in tracing the sources of the present depression-how much soever they may differ as to the measures that ought to be proposed for its relief. Even with respect to the latter, there is not really so much room for differences of opinion as is generally supposed. And as the subject is of vital importance, and must occupy the early attention of the legislature, we think we shall not be doing an unacceptable service in embracing this opportunity to offer some remarks upon it.
It is not necessary that we should introduce our remarks by any observations with respect either to the value of Colonial possessions in general, or those of the West Indies in particular. Our opinions upon both points are well known; and we believe that the number of those by whom they are approved is every day becoming greater. But whether we originally did right or wrong in colonizing and monopolizing the trade of those islands, is no longer the question. The sugar Colonies exist at this
moment as integral portions of the British empire; 150 millions of capital, belonging to Englishmen, is supposed to be vested in them; the owners of this capital-that is, the planters, merchants and mortgagees, shipowners, &c., connected with the Colonies, resident in this country-form a very numerous and important class; and though neither their interests, nor those of any class, are to be promoted by the adoption of measures inconsistent with the public prosperity, they may fairly expect, and should receive, whatever relief may be afforded to them, without touching on this fundamental principle.
The immediate cause of the distresses of the West India planters is, the low price of all articles of Colonial produce, coffee only excepted, which has risen considerably within the last six months. During the last ten or twelve years, the prices of the great staple, sugar, have been constantly declining, particularly within the last two or three years; and they are now admitted on all hands to be so low as to be totally inadequate to afford the planters any thing like profit, or even to indemnify those in unfavourable circumstances for the expenses of cultivation.
Such being the undoubted cause of the distresses of the planters and merchants, it is necessary, first of all, to inquire whether there be any prospect of a diminution of the supply of sugar, or of the consumption being so much increased, as to occasion any material rise of price. We have no hesitation in saying, that we look upon all expectations of any considerable relief in either of the ways now stated, as altogether illusory. It is true, that the fall in the price of sugar has, notwithstanding the heavy duties with which it is every where loaded, led to an extraordinary increase of its consumption, both here, on the continent, and in America. In Great Britain, the consumption has increased from about 100,000 tons in 1800, to about 180,000 tons at this moment; and had the duty not been so exceedingly oppressive, we have no doubt the consumption would now have amounted to at least 250,000 tons. The following table shows the whole imports of sugar into Great Britain, the deliveries for export and home consumption, and the stocks on hand, in the three years ending with 1830.
53,635 65,325 60,200
Home Consumption. Deliveries of Raw Sugar from the Ports.
1828. 1829. 1830.
Tons. Tons. Tons. Tons. 1,485 191,005 182,350 190,840 2,930 12,100 12,020 20,240 1,855 4,870 1,200 2,000 2,835
Total Tons, 18,550 16,300 16,550 218,410 210,090229,270
Deduct Export of Refined Sugar, reduced
38,830 40,420 47,650
Do.of Bastard Sugar, 1,700 1,000 2,350
Actual Consumption, including Bastards made from Molasses,
40,530 41,420 50,000
It is not possible to give any accurate statement of the progress of consumption on the Continent; but the following account of the importations during the last four years, has been drawn up by the first mercantile authority, and may be regarded as sufficiently correct for all practical purposes :
In the United States, the consumption is increasing much faster than in any European country.
But, while the demand for sugar has been thus rapidly extending, the supply has been augmented in a still greater ratio, so that prices have been progressively falling. And though there may be temporary rallies, we look upon it as utterly visionary to expect that prices should ever regain their old level; and are not inclined to believe that they have as yet touched their lowest point. This result is partly to be ascribed to the breaking up of the old Colonial system, and to the consequent extension of cultivation in Cuba, Porto-Rico, Brazil, Java, &c.; and partly to its extension in Louisiana, Demerara, the Mauritius, &c. The exports from Cuba only have increased since. 1800, from about 100,000,000 lbs. to about 200,000,000 lbs. ; and the increase in the exports from Brazil has been equally great. In Louisiana, where little or no sugar was produced twenty years ago, the crop is now estimated at about 50,000 tons, or 112,000,000 lbs. The exports from the Mauritius have increased from 4,630 tons in 1825, to 23,740 tons in 1830: There is also an increased importation from Bengal, Siam, the Philippines, &c. And yet, notwithstanding this extraordinary increase, it may be truly said, looking at the vast extent and boundless fertility of Cuba, Brazil, Java, and the other countries that are now becoming the great marts for sugar, that its cultivation may be indefinitely extended; and that, though there were a demand for ten times the present quantity, it might be furnished without any material advance of price.
In whatever degree this state of things may prejudice the West Indians, no candid man can hesitate to admit, that it must prove in the highest degree advantageous to the British public, and the world in general. Sugar is become an important necessary of life; and few things could have happened calculated more materially to advance the interests and comforts of all classes, than the fall in the price of this and other Colonial articles.
It is to no purpose, therefore, for the West Indians, or their advocates in Parliament, to attempt to procure relief from temporary expedients. The present low prices do not originate in circumstances of an accidental or contingent character; so that, supposing distillation from grain were prohibited, or that the exploded quackery of bounties on exportation were again revived, no real benefit would accrue to the planters, at the same time that much injury would be inflicted upon the rest of the community. Those who would lead the West Indians to expect relief from such means, are not their friends, but their
worst enemies. They are amusing them with expectations that cannot possibly be realized; and are withdrawing their attention from those really practicable modes of procuring relief, that would not be more beneficial to them than to the public.
The notion that the condition of the West Indians is unsusceptible of improvement, otherwise than by a considerable rise of prices, though very prevalent, is most certainly without foundation. A planter will be quite as much benefited, if he succeed in saving 5s. or 10s. a cwt. upon the cost of producing his sugar and bringing it to market, as if a corresponding rise were to take place in its price. And so long as he attempts to benefit himself in this way, he is labouring to promote the public advantage, and is entitled to claim, and ought to receive, every assistance in the power of government to bestow. But the moment he sets about contriving means artificially to elevate prices, he is labouring to promote his own ends at the expense of others; and, instead of meeting with public sympathy or support, ought to encounter universal opposition. Both these courses were open to the West Indians, who have, for the most part, unfortunately selected the latter. They have wasted their energies in futile attempts unnaturally to raise prices, and to bolster up their own interests, regardless of the injury they might occasion to their neighbours. As might have been expected, their efforts have not been more successful than those of the worthy Dame Partington. Foreign competition has continued to press them closer every day; and, since they are wholly without the means of sheltering themselves from its effects, would they not do well to set about trying to prepare for withstanding its keen but invigorating breeze?
This is the course that common sense would point out; and if the West Indians will but adopt it, they will not be long in perceiving the advantage of the change. There is really nothing in their situation to lead to the belief that their distresses are incurable. The natural advantages of Demerara and Berbice are not exceeded by those of any other colony; and even our older colonies have nothing to fear, were they placed under nearly similar circumstances, from the competition of Cuba and Brazil. But the truth is, that the Colonies have been made the victims of an erroneous system of policy. Their depressed condition is not a consequence of the flourishing condition of others, but of their being excluded from the cheapest markets for their food and lumber, and of the exorbitant duties laid on their products when brought to England.
Jamaica, and our other West India Colonies, may be viewed