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COFFEE, SUGAR, AND COTTON
The year 1848 was a year of political revolutions among the nations of Europe. France expelled her king and established her Second Republic. Germany showed her impatience of the despotism of petty princes by insurrectionary movements, and secured important constitutions. Italy declared a premature war against Austria, established a republic at Rome in pursuance of the ideas of Mazzini, and made her first great but unsuccessful effort to secure national independence. Austria witnessed an insurrection at Vienna, and Hungary rose under the valiant and patriotic Kossuth. In Ireland the continuous agitation for the repeal of the Union led to a rebellion. Everywhere there were indications of the passing away of the old order of things, and the rise of popular institutions and popular power.
Side by side with these political movements there was much commercial and agricultural distress in Europe. In England the contest between the landed classes who wished to keep up the price of corn, and the manufacturing and working classes who wanted cheap bread, was decided by the repeal of the corn laws in 1846. A great impetus. was thus given to British . manufactures; and the vague dream of a self-contained empire dawned on the minds of the people. Was tu possible to make England independent of foreign nations ? Was it possible to obtain her supplies from her own dependencies? Indian tea was slowly replacing China tea; was it possible for India to produce the necessary
supply of coffee? Sugar plantations in the West Indies had declined after the emancipation of slaves; was it possible for India to supply sugar for the consumption of Great Britain ? American cotton fed the looms of Lancashire; was it possible for India to supply that raw material to the extent required ? Parliamentary inquiries were made.
raw material is it possible for Tated the looms of
SUGAR AND COFFEE COMMITTEE.
A Select Committee of the House of Commons was appointed in 1848, with Lord George Bentinck as the Chairman, to inquire into the condition and prospects of “Sugar and Coffee Planting in Her Majesty's East and West Indian Possessions and the Mauritius.” The Committee examined many witnesses, and submitted their evidence with eight reports, covering over two thousand printed folio pages. Lord Palmerston was the first witness examined, but had little to say directly about the trade of India. John Bagshaw, a Member of Parliament, was examined on the same day, and dwelt at length on the many disadvantages under which India suffered in competing with other British Possessions.
“ First : Three millions sterling and 'upward annually taken from the revenue of India towards the payment of the Home Charges of the East India Company, without any return whatever ;
"Second : Fortunes accumulated in India by the Civil and Military Services, seldom if any remaining in that country annually increase the capital of Great Britain from the resources of India
“ Third: The well-known fact that of the revenue raised in British India, the largest portion of it is from the land, by which its produce is necessarily burdened ; this amounts to nearly thirteen and a half millions sterling;
“ Fourth : The difficulties which importers are subject
to from the way in which duties are levied at the Custom Houses of England.” 1
John Bagshaw deplored the extinction of the cotton manufactures of India within the preceding thirty years. In 1816-17 “India not only clothed the whole of that vast population, but exported £1,659,438 worth of goods." Thirty years later the whole of this export had disappeared, and India imported four millions sterling of cotton goods. “The people of India might buy British manufactures which were imported into India at a duty of* 21 per cent., but the manufacturers of India were entirely precluded from getting their goods into consumption here by the prohibitory duty which was exacted.”
Sugar was not produced in England, and some healthy change in the tariffs with regard to this article had therefore been permitted. The result was marked and instantaneous. “There has been no instance of such growth,” said Bagshaw, quoting from an Indian newspaper, “in any article of commerce at any preceding period. There has been no development of the resources of India to be compared with this sudden increase. Last year we [India] supplied England with one-fourth the sugar she consumed; and there can be no doubt that India would in time be able to supply the whole of the home demand.” It is needless to add that this hope was never realised ; and sugar manufacture declined during the last half of the nineteenth century with almost every other manufacture.
Colonel Sykes, a distinguished Director of the East India Company, had carefully studied Indian facts and figures. He spoke of the Economic Drain from India of £3,300,000 to £3,700,000 a year,-and remarked truly: “ It is only by the excess of exports over imports that India can bear this tribute.” Henry St. John Tucker, then Chairman of the East India Company, said that this Economic Drain was an increasing quantity, “ because our
1 First Report
Home Charge is perpetually increasing." 1. The expression of regret from the Chairman of the Company was no doubt genuine, but brought no redress. A cynic might remark that, as the flow of wealth from India to England increased in volume, England paid back the debt by copious streams of sympathy and regrets.
Nathaniel Alexander, an East Indian merchant, dwelt on the great increase in the consumption of Indian sugar in England, but spoke guardedly on its future prospects. The Indian sugar trade had been profitable before 1846, but had not been so latterly; and if that trade declined it was difficult to conceive how the country would draw its annual tribute from India. “I may say generally," said the witness, “that up to 1847 the imports [of India] were about £6,000,000, and the exports about £9,500,000. The difference is the tribute which the Company received from the country, which amounts to about £4,000,000.” 2
. Both Alexander and Sir George Larpent, of whom we have spoken in the last chapter, pointed out to the Committee that, while the West Indies and the Mauritius were mainly sugar-producing countries, India was mainly a sugar-consuming country, and exported only a small portion of her annual produce of sugar. India, therefore, could never compete with other countries in exporting sugar for any length of time. “The equalisation of duties in 1836," Larpent said, “ became profitable solely because the quantity from the West Indies had, during that period, greatly declined, from 200,000 tons, I think, in the year 1831, to 110,000 tons in 1840 and 1841. It • i First Report.
2 Ibid. The truth was clearly perceived over fifty years ago that the annual Economic Drain from India for Home Charges compelled that country to export more than she could import. Trade between India and England was not natural but forced. Matters have become worse after half a century. The manufactures of India have declined ; wbile the Home Charges have increased from three to seventeen millions sterling. India meets this terrible annual demand largely by exporting wheat and rice, the food of the people ; and the result is greater poverty and more frequent famines.
was that which gave an impulse to India and a profit to India; it is nothing but the high prices of sugar here that can lead to a profitable exportation from India.” 1
More than one witness deposed that the system of assessing land, according to their estimated value, had the effect of discouraging the cultivation of valuable products like sugar. The Chairman of the East India Company, Henry St. George Tucker, said: “Sir ThomasMunro's plan was to obtain as much revenue from the country as possible; and he assessed different articles of produce according to his idea of their probable value. He raised the assessment upon articles which were expected to be very productive. Whether he succeeded or failed in that I will not undertake to say, because a reduction of the produce may have taken place from other causes; but certainly in consequence of this assessment upon sugar, I think a very great check and discouragement was given to the cultivation of the article in the Madras territory.” 2
Robert Christian, a coffee planter of Ceylon, gave an interesting account of the commencement of coffee plantation in that island.
“It was about 1837 when we first embarked ; the inducements were in a great measure the falling off of the production of coffee in the West India Islands, and the large protecting duty which British plantation coffee then enjoyed; and the high prices, of course consequent upon those circumstances.” Previous to this the people of Ceylon grew coffee, and exported the article without the help of European capital or agency. In 1838 Ceylon exported to England 2500 tons of coffee, grown entirely by the people of the island. Nine years later, the crop of 1847 was 12,482 tons, of which 7173 tons were grown by the Cingalese and 5309 tons by European planters.
In their concluding report, the Select Committee 1 Second Report. 2 First Report. 3 Sixth Report.