Despatch from Anthony Musgrave to Right Hon. Edward Cardwell (7 August 1866)

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Date: 1866-07-10
By: Anthony Musgrave
Citation: Despatch from Anthony Musgrave to Right Hon. Edward Cardwell (10 July 1866) in UK, Parliament, Correspondence respecting the Proposed Union of the British North American Provinces (London: George Edward Eyre and William Spottiswoode, 1867).
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No. 13.

Copy of a DESPATCH from Governor MUSGRAVE to the Right Hon. The Earl of CARNARVON.

(No. 117.)

Government House, Newfoundland, August 7, 1866.
(Received August 27, 1866.)
(Answered No. 8, August 30, 1866, page 157.)


I HAVE the honour to forward a memorial to Her Majesty which has been presented to me for transmission to your Lordship, of which the prayer is in substance that nothing may be done for the purpose of including Newfoundland in any scheme of Union with the other Provinces, until the question of Union shall have been definitely submitted to the people at a general election. I annex a printed copy.

2. It is not very obvious why any uneasiness should be felt on the point which causes apprehension, as no attempt has been made in the existing Assembly to force a decision on the queen of Union, nor has it appeared that nay such attempt was likely during the last session to be successful. The arguments used in the memorial are weak and scarcely consistent. I do not in fact regard this document or the manner in which it has been produced as of any importance, now as indicating with any truth the present state of public feeling.

I have, &c.

(Signed) A. MUSGRAVE.

The Right Hon. The Earl of Carnarvon,
&c. &c. &c.

Enclosure in No. 13.

To Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen.


The Petition of the undersigned Merchants, Traders, Fishermen, and other inhabitants of Newfoundland, most humbly […]:—

THAT under Your Majesty’s gracious favour this Colony has for many years enjoyed the blessings and privileges of self government and local legislation, the imposition and appropriation of duties and taxes, and the general management of its local affairs.

That the sentiments of all classes of its people have been and still are of the most loyal and devoted characters that its necessities or demands for protection from the foreign enemy or from internal disturbance have never been a heavy burthen or a serious cost to the Imperial Exchequer; while from the fact of its staple products being confined to fit and oil, and the country having limited agricultural and no manufacturing resources, its chief import trade is prosecuted and its most intimate commercial relations are held with Great Britain. Newfoundland, while holding a prominent and formidable position upon the Atlantic as the point nearest to England, is practically more remote from the principal ports of the Canadas than from Britain itself, and has never had any political and only minor commercial connexion with the former, a connexion which is entirely cut off by sea for nearly six months of the year, during which time there can be no communication with Canada except through the territories of a foreign power, the United States of America. The inhabitants of this Colony would desire to see this Island always retained separately by Britain as its ocean fortress and military outpost in this part of the World, whatever might be the future destiny of the Colonies on the main land; but let the value attached to her position in an Imperial view be what it may, the Colony has from its distinct trade and its different characteristics, no community of interests with Upper or Lower Canada, and little with the other maritime Provinces.

The people regard therefore with grave apprehension and alarm any project which has for its object the union of the Island of Newfoundland with the other British North American dependencies of the Crown. Some reasons which might influence them to receive it with favour are just those which make it undesirable for Newfoundland. The motives which in their case have actuated the police of Great Britain for the promotion of the Scheme of Confederation are entirely wanting in ours. We are no cause of offence, we are not in the path of possible aggression, or in the way of attack, unless and until the national cause of Great Britain involves us in a common fate. We are comparatively small burthen on the Home Government, and in the present condition of affairs obtain those supplies from Britain which we should, under the proposed Union, have in a great measure to abandon for the inferior manufactures of Colonies with which we have little trade.

And yet, may it please your Majesty, it is proposed to include this Colony in a Confederation on the basis of the Quebec Convention of 1861, and by this measure to deprive her of those civil, constitutional, and territorial rights, which she has so long held and so dearly prized; and for a loss so great there is no offer of a substantial return.

Our taxation, already burdensome, will be assimilated to the much higher Canadian tariff.

Our revenues will go to the Central Exchequer, and in return we shall receive a sum far below our present income, without any corresponding advantages.

No matter how a rapidly growing population, the development of our resources, or our future necessities, may call for augmented supplies, not to speak of the constantly increasing demands for public improvements; no matter how large at any time our contribution to the Federal finances may be, our receipts from it are proposed to be permanently limited to 112,000/. per annum.

The proposed Central Government will also possess the dangerous power to levy duties upon the exports of a Colony whose only wealth and industry lie in them, and which from its peculiar circumstances, will be utterly without the means of local taxation wherewith to promote public improvement or receive its people from a pauperism which to some extent is necessarily chronic and frequently widespread and disastrous.

The chief exports of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are expressly exempt from the power of Federal taxation.

The people of Newfoundland have no interest and can derive no benefit whatever from the great public works of Canada, existing or projected. There is no provision even made in the Quebec Convention for a connexion by lines of steamers between this Colony and the other Provinces on the one hand, and Great Britain on the other; while for the North Western Territory guarantees for complete territorial connexion are contained.

These are amongst the objections which apply to the Quebec Convention—even if the project of Union could on any basis be made applicable or beneficial to this Colony, its trade and people.

But the peculiar position and circumstances arising from the nature of its trade, its resources, and its geography are such that the Maritime Provinces in their original project of union never contemplated the introduction of Newfoundland. Even when the Canadas proposed to unite with them this Colony was no included until after the convocation of Delegates at Quebec in the Autumn of 1864, when a request was made to our local Executive to send non-official Delegates to be present at the proceedings.

These Delegates were not clothed with any active authority.

The express terms of the Convention show that Newfoundland was only provisionally referred to.

The subject had never been a matter of popular inquiry or political consideration in this Colony up to that time.

Public alarm has been excited by the result of late elections in the continental Colonies, and by the fact Delegates from them are, it is said, to proceed to Britain to negotiate a Scheme of Union. It is with the view to convey to Your Majesty, our Gracious Sovereign, the aversion of this people to be considered at this time in any overtures or negotiations whatever that may be made or had, that Your Majesty’s petitioners on their behalf humbly lay this petition at the foot of the Throne.

If circumstances should hereafter arise to make it less objectionable than it now is for this Colony to be considered in any project of union with the rest of British North America, our people will, Your petitioners feel sure, lend a ready and loyal car to the Imperial counsels.

In the meantime Your Majesty’s petitioners believe the objections to be insuperable; but if they be wrong the voice of all the people of the Colony may be taken at an early and convenient time.

These people are at this time for the most part […] and engaged in the avocations of the fishery. And it is for this reason that, at this moment of alarm, these petitioners presume to lay before Your Majesty an expression of opinion, and to prefer a prayer which they believe to coincide with the wishes and feelings of the great majority of the people.

In this view they upheld by the action of the Legislature in its late Session, when, in reply to the Governor’s speech at the opening of the Session, it was obliged to give some response to the reference made him to the subject of Confederation. The reply of the Assembly was as follows:—

“On the important subject of Confederation, in recognizing the solicitude of Her Majesty’s Government for the welfare of this Colony, we concur in the view of your Excellency that the abstract advantages of union are so obvious as to be almost universally acknowledged; whilst with regard to this Colony and on the details of so grave a measure, it is natural that much diversity of opinion should prevail. This is a matter which shall engage our serious attention.”

By this resolutions the House of Assembly, being the representatives of the people, clearly excepted Newfoundland from the application of the principle of Confederation, and also objected to the measure in detail. The expression of opinion which accompanied and followed that passage in the address fully confirms this view, and, for example, the language of the Solicitor-General, who proposed the paragraph, was:—

“The only important words added to the original clause were—‘with regard to this Colony and.’ This alteration would show that there is not only a diversity of opinion with regard to the detail, but also to the very principle itself. He (Hon. Solicitor-General) desired to be understood that he not only opposed the Quebec Resolutions, but was altogether opposed tot he principle of Confederation as far as this Colony is concerned.”

The Attorney-General and Premier said:—

“He endured the statement of the Hon. Solicitor-General with regard to the non-committal character of his amendment one way or another, and the Government had no desire or intention to adopt any course which would not be generally acceptable.” “So far as he (Hon. Attorney-General) was concerned, no measure should be attempted to force it on them in opposition to their wishes, to be gathered from the conditional channels.”

And the Premier again subsequently expressed himself thus:—

“The members of the Executive admitted distinctly when the amendment was agreed tot hat they did not regard it as affirming or denying the principle of Confederation.”

It was in this way and upon these terms and express understanding that the Address of the Assembly on this point was passed.
Even the Imperial body, the legislative Council, in its address to the same speech, reserved the definite determination for the Legislature at a future time.

Your petitioners’ loyal confidence in the assurances of Your Majesty’s Ministers, contained in Despatches and openly expressed in Parliament, a well as the affectionate reliance of this people upon Your Majesty’s just and gracious consideration of the premises, induce your petitioners thus boldly to adopt a course, which, while it may be unnecessary, is suggested and impelled by the contemplation of the powerful counter influences brought to beat upon a question of such solemn and serious import to Your Majesty’s subjects, and by desire to prevent or remove any possible misapprehension of the present sentiment of the people of Newfoundland, or of the position in which this Colony stands in regard to the Confederation project.

Your petitioners therefore humbly pray Your Majesty that no negotiations may be had or projects entertained contemplating the present comprehension of this Colony in any Scheme or Union with the other Provinces until this question, involving as it does the vital interests and future fate of this dependency of the Crown, shall have been definitely submitted to the people of Newfoundland at a general election of representatives to their House of Assembly.

And, as in duty bound, they will ever pray, &c.

St. John’s, Newfoundland, July 4, 1866.

Then follow 3,600 signatures.

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