Tennent to Merivale (Permanent Under-Secretary)
Office of Committee of Privy Council for Trade
18 September 1858
The Lords of The Committee of Privy Council for Trade desire me to call the attention of the Secretary of State for the Colonies to certain circumstances in connexion with the New Settlements of Her Majesty on the Western Coast of North America, which as they threaten to retard the commercial prosperity of NewColumbiaManuscript image Columbia, and to place British interests in a disadvantageous position in the important Department of shipping; point to the expediency of a renewed attempt to induce the Government of the United States to relax the existing policy in relation to her coasting trade.
The sudden impulse which has directed a current of immigration to the Frazer River and to Vancouvers Island necessitates a large resort of shipping, not alone for the Conveyance of passengers, but for the import of the manufacturednecessariesManuscript image necessaries of life, and the transport of the products of New Columbia. The present probabilities point to an increased demand of this nature, and the future prosperity of the Colony will mainly depend on the prompt and continuous supply of means of communication with Europe, and the great Sea-bordes of the Pacific and Atlantic.
The maritime policy of the United Kingdom, whilst in 1854 it threw open unreservedly the Coasting Trade of Great Britain to the flags of all Nations, observedaManuscript image a due consideration for the independent action of the Colonies, by reserving to their respective legislatures, the power of retaining their own coasting trade exclusively for the British Flag, or of throwing it open when they should deem it expedient to the shipping of all nations. The latter course has been taken, by some of our Colonies east of the Cape of Good Hope; but generally speaking, the Colonial Coasting trade; including that of Vancouver's Island and New Columbia, is still to be regarded as closed against all butBritishManuscript image British Vessels.
On the recent development of enterprize in these settlements, and the unexpected influx of Colonists to which it gave rise; neither British nor Colonial Shipping was to be found in their Ports, adequate to meet the emergency. Hence, as My Lords are informed, the Officer administering the Government has adopted the expedient of permitting American Ships to take part in the Coasting Trade on condition of their seeking a licence from the Colonial Authorities.
In Manuscript image
In the propriety of this course their Lordships entirely concur; as tending at once to assist the independent rights of the Colonists, and at the same time to provide for the commercial requirements of the period, by facilitating the temporary access of foreign shipping upon ascertained conditions.
But although this state of affairs cannot be regarded as permanent, and it is naturally to be hoped and expected, that British enterprise will exhibit its wonted energy in the new British Colonies; and that within a reasonable time theBritishManuscript image British flag will make its appearance in these waters; it has been forcibly represented by the Shipowners Association of Liverpool, 1 and My Lords cannot but concur in the apprehension expressed by them, that for some time to come the Shipping interest of Great Britain will take up its position under circumstances so disadvantageous as compared with their American rivals, as seriously to discourage the resort of our own flag to the Frazer River.
The grounds of this apprehension are connected withtheManuscript image the geographical position of California, the nearest organized State on the route between Europe and New Columbia. American shipping on the Californian Coast can with ease and profit extend its operation as far north as Vancouvers Island; and should it on this line encounter opposition from British Ships, it will exhibit the preponderating advantage of being privileged to supplement its trade, by touching on its northward voyage at every American Port in successionfromManuscript image from San Francisco to the Frazer River—whilst a British Ship on the same track would be confined to a single departure, and excluded by American Law 2 from all trading operations at intermediate stations. A Competition, carried on under circumstances so unequal, presents few attractions to British Shipowners, and it is to be feared that without some concessions on the part of the United States, the shipping of that Country may for some time to come enjoy a practical monopoly of the carrying Trade in Goods toandManuscript image and from one of the most promising British Colonies.
My Lords direct me in further elucidation of this case to call to the attention of Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton an aggravation of the difficulty arising from the severance of New Columbia, and its erection into a distinct Colony apart from Vancouvers Island. By the existing laws of the United Kingdom, a voyage from one British Colony to another, however contiguous, is not held to be "coasting", so that at present there is nothing in the legislation oftheManuscript image the two Colonies, to impose any restriction on American Ships trading between the Island and the main land, a voyage which is at this moment the most important in that region. But it is important to remember that by the 328th Section of the 16th & 17th Victoria C107 3 it seems to be competent for Her Majesty by Order in Council on joint addresses from the Legislatures of any two or more neighbouring possessions, to place the trade between them on the footing of a Coasting trade.
My Lords have brought these circumstances to the notice of theSecretaryManuscript image Secretary of State for the Colonies, with a view of suggesting to Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton the propriety of considering in conjuction with the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the best mode of renewing with the United States, the communications opened in 1854, with a view to some relaxation in their laws regarding Coasting. In March in that year the Earl of Clarendon, on the occasion of the passing of the law by which the Coasting trade of Great Britain was thrown open to Foreign flags, addressed a Circular Despatch 4 to Her Majesty's MinistersabroadManuscript image abroad, calling their attention to the fact, and directing them to invite the various Governments to which they were severally accredited, to reciprocate the advantages yielded on our part unconditionally. Sir J. Crampton in his approaches to the Ministry at Washington, was met by Mr Marcy who was their Secretary to the Treasury, in a spirit, which although unfavourable as to the prospect of immediate action, was not without encouragement as regarded the hope of future results. Mr Marcy stated that so far as his "own individual opinion went, he concurredinManuscript image in thinking that the reciprocal throwing open of the Coasting Trade in both Countries would be mutually beneficial," but he added that "he would be misleading Sir J. Crampton were he to say that there was any reasonable chance of the measure being adopted by Congress at this time. We shall come to it (said Mr Marcy) I have no doubt, and perhaps sooner than is generally expected; but not now, as there would be a great majority in both houses against such a measure."
Some months later in September1854Manuscript image 1854 Sir John Crampton acquainted Lord Clarendon that during the negociation of the Reciprocity Treaty, a Member of the Senate was strongly in favour of embracing that opportunity to throw open the Coasting trade of the United States to the British flag; and was only deterred from proposing it formally, from the fear of checking, by premature defeat, a feeling which was gaining ground in America, and especially in the Southern States in favour of such a measure.
From that time to the present My Lords have received nofurtherManuscript image further communications on this subject in relation to the United States, but it will be for Her Majestys Government to decide on the propriety of resuming the negociation, provided any reasonable grounds exist, for believing that the progress of opinion predicted by Mr Marcy has not been impeded by any subsequent events.
My Lords would suggest, that however averse the American Government might be found to entertain the proposal in its entirety, of removing every impediment from the Coasting Trade of the Statesuniversally,Manuscript image universally, motives might possibly be applied that would induce them, even partially to relax, the stringency of their present legislation.
The immediate object of solicitude is the Coasting Trade of the Pacific, and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility, that the legislature of the United States, finding that by law
What law? Do they mean laws to be enacted? [HM.]
5 they are excluded from the rising trade of New Columbia, and are admitted to it pro tempore only on sufferance, might be disposed in return for a free participation in it, so far torelaxManuscript image relax their own prohibitory system as to admit the British flag to the Coasting trade of California. It would also be well that the Government of the United States were made aware of the existing law to which I have before adverted, by which it would be competent for Her Majesty, on addresses from New Columbia, and Vancouvers Island, to place the trade between these two possessions on the footing of a Coasting trade; and thereby to exclude the Americans from the voyage from the Island to Frazer River.
Should Manuscript image
Should the Government now or hereafter evince a disposition to yield in this matter, the Coasting trade of the States, on the Atlantic would be no disproportionate equivalent for that of Canada, the St. Lawrence, and the Lakes.
I am further directed by their Lordships to call to the attention of Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, a point, which in the absence of official information, is involved in some uncertainty—namely; how far the carriage of passengers coastwise iscomprisedManuscript image comprised in the Statute Law of the United States, which prohibits the Coasting trade in Goods.
Land Board might know. [Abd.]
By the Constitution of the States, the Supreme Government at Washington exercises the right of framing laws, "to regulate commerce with foreign nations and amongst the several States." But it appears to have been held that Persons, not being subjects of commerce, and not being imported Goods; they do not fall within the meaning founded upon the constitution of a power given to Congress, "to regulate commerce." (See Peters Public StatutesatManuscript image at large of the U.S. of America. Vol 1 p. 13. w.) 6
Hence the question arises, although by the Navigation Act of the United States, (Ibid Vol. III p 351) 7 it is enacted "That no goods wares or merchandize shall be imported under penalty of forfeiture thereof from one Port of the United States to another Port of the United States in a Vessel belonging wholly or in part to a subject of any foreign power" whether this prohibition extends to the carriage of passengers or whetherthereManuscript image there is any other law of the States for so extending or construing it.
The importance of this enquiry, in connexion with the Stream of New immigration now flowing in the direction of New Columbia,
I do not quite see the importance of the [minute?] on this score. HM.
will be apparent to the Secretary of State for the Colonies; and in bringing the subject under the consideration of the Foreign Department, specific information on this point should be solicited through Her Majestys Minister at Washington.
I have etc.
J. Emerson Tennent
Minutes by CO staff
Manuscript image
Mr Merivale
Would it be expedient to ask the Land Board if they can furnish us with any information as to the carriage of passengers on the Coasts of the United States as regulated by U.S. Law, & having got such infn, or none as the case may be, then refer this Letter to the For: Office with the expression of such opinion of Sir E. Lytton on the subject in general as he may think it right to convey.
ABd 26 Sepr
Other documents included in the file
Manuscript image
Draft, Elliot to E. Hammond, Foreign Office, 9 November 1858, forwarding copy of letter for observations and suggestions and warning that such policy would impact unfavourably on colonial interests.
Manuscript image
Draft, Merivale to J. Booth, Board of Trade, 9 December 1858, forwarding copy of letter to Foreign Office and reply thereto, 20 November 1858.
Minutes by CO staff
Manuscript image
Lord Carnarvon
As far as resuming negociations with the U.S. Gov, the question can of course be pressed on the Foreign Office.
But the rest of this letter touches on very delicate ground indeed. It is not a subject on which I can presume to advise. But it is easy to point out the important consequences—Parliamentary and public—to which the policy here indicated by the Board of Trade will lead you.
That policy is neither more nor less than a return to the old system of "encouraging" the British shipowner by throwing difficulties in the way of the American shipowner.
Or—to put it in another form—of inducing the Americans to relaxManuscript image their restrictions against us by imposing restrictions on them.
It is admitted by the Bd of Trade that the Americans enjoy great natural advantages towards carrying on the coasting trade of Vanc. I. & B. Columbia.
That is—to put the same truth in other words—that British colonists in those parts get their commodities somewhat cheaper by employing American shipping, than they could by employing British shipping.
This advantage the Bd of Trade would deprive them of, for the good of British Shipowners.
The immediate & practical question is this: Vanc I. & B. Col. being distinct colonies as yet, the trade between them is not a coasting trade. But if the Legislatures of the two coloniesManuscript image will unite in addressing the Crown, then the trade can be declared a coasting trade, and the Americans shut out.
I do not quite see why the Vanc. I legislature—which, small as it is, is a free one—is to unite in an Address, the result of which must be increased dearness of commodities to their own constituents, if it be true that British shipping is at a disadvantage compared with American, which is the fundamental assumption.
Possibly however the influence of Governor Douglas & the Company (which I presume would be too happy to cooperate in a measure giving a bonus to its own shipping) might persist.
It is however for Sir E. Lytton's serious consideration, whether he thinks this step advisable.
HM S 27
C Oct 6
Manuscript image
This is a matter of the most serious importance and I think the Board of Trade is narrow in its views & not quite correct in its law. Mr Merivales minute puts the question in its true theoretical ground. Nevertheless the Liverpool Shipowners are a powerful body & backed by the Bd of Trade will necessitate some respect. Send copy of their letter to F.O. with a letter, containing Mr M's comments, but suggesting that if application be made to the U.S. it does not seem necessary nor prudent to intimate the retaliatory measures of shutting them out if they dont let us in. And it would never do, to make the annexation of Vancouver to the Mainland which may probably take place on other grounds, appear to the Americans a punishment to them. The Board of Trade seems to me to be growing very senile in its political and economical views and its present letter is twaddle.
EBL Oct 13
  1. INFO NEEDED, Shipowners Association of Liverpool,
  2. = excluding foreign ships from coastal trade INFO NEEDED, US law excluding foreign ships from coastal trade.
  3. The Customs Consolidation Act, 16 & 17 Victoria (1853), c. 107, sec. 328, allowed the Queen in Council to regulate the coasting trade of the colonies. Cf. fn Douglas to Stanley, 10 June 1858, 7828, CO 60/1, p. 29. Explain refs -- An Act to Admit Foreign Ships to the Coasting Trade, 17 & 18 Victoria, c. 5. Annual Review 1854, p. 444. Cf. p. 145. ??
  4. = Circular Des, Mar 54, coasting trade FIND Circular Despatch, Mar 54 re coasting trade. CO 854??
  5. = coasting trade.
  6. = Peters, US statute: Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the organization of the Government in 1789 to March 3, 1845, 5 vols. (Boston, 1845-54). Vol. 1, p. 13 contains Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.
  7. = US Navigation Act I.e., An Act Concerning the Navigation of the United States, Year??
People in this document

Blackwood, Arthur Johnstone

Booth, James

Carnarvon, Earl

Clarendon, Earl

Crampton, John Fiennes Twisleton

Douglas, James

Elliot, Thomas Frederick

Hammond, Edmund

Lytton, Edward George Earle Bulwer

Marcy, William Learned

Merivale, Herman

Tennent, James Emerson

Victoria, Alexandrina

Organizations in this document

Board of Trade

Foreign Office

Places in this document

British Columbia

Cape of Good Hope

Fraser River

Saint Lawrence River

San Francisco

Vancouver Island


Washington City