Alexander Isbister to Frederick Chesson, 1 August 1857, C138/232

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Isbister, Alexander


Indigenous person







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MSS. Brit. Emp. S. 18 / C138-232


House of Commons
Coll of Preceptors 42 Queen’s Square
Saturday Evening

My dear Sir,

This week has been big with events, but I am so fagged by sitting up the last two nights in succession getting up all sorts of things for the Committee and packing up and moving our furniture to this place today that I am afraid I can give you but a very confused account of what has taken place.

Taking up the story (although it is going back some what upon what you know already) from Mr Gladstone’s resolution, these may be considered as having fairly divided the Committee into two parties whom I need not stay to describe to you. Each party produced its report. Mr Labouchere for the one and Mr Christy for the other side. Mr Merivale of the Colonial Office being the writer of one report and myself of the other which you are quite at liberty to … if you think proper. As the Committee is now over and its report is to be published forthwith Mr Merivale’s report was of course eminently favourable to the Company while mine was founded on Mr Gladstone’s resolutions. For these … meetings the Committee discussed the reports (which were both printed for the use of the members) paragraph by paragraph, amending and dividing, taking from one report and the other, the several … as each party carried them, the result being a third report, founded on the two draft reports which will be the report of the Committee, not so … as Mr Christy’s and not so favourable as Mr Labouchere’s.

During the first day’s discussion our side had the … its six or seven paragraphs of Mr Labouchere’s report was voted out two of Mr Christy’s voted in and the remainder left for next day’s discussion. Mr Gladstone, Roebuck and Goderich and Grogan, having stated that they could not attend next meeting, it was agreed that the Committee should not meet in the day first intended and on that understanding these four left ta little before four o’clock. They had scarcely gone when in came Sir John Pukington and said that the proposed charge would be inconvenient to him and asked to have the day again changed to the day first intended. It was put to the vote and carried, the majority alleging that the proposed change would be also inconvenient to them. This I take to have been nothing less than a downright breach of faith, but … the Committee did notwithstanding and as you may suppose Labouchere and company had it all their own way. Christy was there and spoke and voted and divided frantically upon every thing, but was of course beaten and the rest of Mr Labouchere’s paragraphs were passed. Poor Mr Christy, I … you to picture his state after leaving the Committee: beating his bald head and imprecating the wrath of all the gods upon Labouchere and … when he accused of having defeated him by a … after he had had such confident expectations of beating them.

The third day there was a grand row. Christy’s party moved that the passed report, be considered no report, but the whip had been well used on the other side expecting some such move and the vote was lost by one. So the report is to stand, but even as it is thanks to Mr Gladstone’s and Mr Christy’s regulations and report it is not near so favourable to the Company as was at first fear. Vancouver’s Island is to be taken from the Co and means provided for the extension of the Colony over every portion of the adjacent country west of the rocky mountains which is capable of colonization. The Red River and Saskatchewan valleys are offered to Canada if she will undertake to govern them. There was a fierce dispute about McKenzie’s river being added, the whole of my evidence on that subject was read over and the Company defenders asked if they could rebute it. The result I believe is that though McKenzie’s river is not expressly named, the Report is so worded as to allow Canada to ask more than the Red River and Saskatchewan and with a reasonable expectation of getting it. Over the rest of the country the Company monopoly is recommended to be continued and the poor Indians never alluded to. Lastly every word in praise of the Company is remorselessly cut out and the whole question is to be referred to Parliament next session. The present report being only considered in the light of a recommendation.

The question of the Charter remains as status quo. Having received last week a formal authority to act on behalf of the Red River Colony, as well as a number of Capital Resolutions passed at a public meeting of the inhabitants, in May last, which was printed in the Morning Post of Tuesday and appeared in more of the Canadian papers, I took the opportunity in bring these resolutions before the Committee to express on the part of the inhabitants of the Hudson’s Bay territory our objections to the mode of raising the question of the validity of the Company’s Charter, proposed by Mr Draper. I said that if the broad ground taken by Mr Gladstone’s address were not adopted by the Committee, the whole subject should at least be referred to the Canadian government with the view of the question being raised by them in the more solemn form of an address from the provincial legislature.

It is time I think after all your reporting that you should now advise the Canadians what to do, and I do not think that any course will give more general satisfaction to all parties concerned than some such mode of raising the question … The Red River people would I know feel the greatest confidence in the Canadian Legislature and as for the people of Canada, they would take care that any address from the province should take a sufficiently broad ground to satisfy all interests concerned. I could of course raise the question in the way suggested by Lord Grey if the Canadians were to pay my expenses, but this should be the last resource but still preferable to the Draper sham fight on the frontier question. All true friends of the cause should therefore I think write in demanding that the question should be raised by the Canadian Legislature.

Talking of Draper, by the bye, what on Earth is he about all this time when these important events are going on. No member of the Committee ever sees or hears of him now, he communicates solely with Mr Labouchere. The last day of the Committee meeting Mr Christy happened to go to Greenwich on business after it was over, and there for the first time for the last two months he caught sight of the chief justice … of an in dining or something of that kind in a very … a company of ladies. Mr C wanted to have some talk with him but Draper avoided him. During all those late deliberations, Draper has never taken the trouble to address a single communication to the Committee who … that he has been sent over here from Canada solely to help Mr Labouchere. Will I shant say any more about him for my indignation … I think of him is apt to carry me away too far. I hope to live to see him get his desserts some day.

If you are going to write to the Globe you may announce that the resolutions from Red River which have been printed in most of the Canadian papers and seem to have excited much interests have not been admitted as evidence I addressed them formally to Mr Labouchere and put them a Mr Christy’s charge, who fought for them with his usual vigour and … and had a large support from the Committee, but as the Resolutions formally accused Sir Geo Simpson and Dr Rae for giving false evidence before the Committee with regard to the resources of the country and other matters, it was considered unfair to … such resoltuions without giving Sir George an opportunity of defending his statements. For your own sake as a trustworthy reporter I would not advise your touching upon such …, as the numbers of … on each side of any particular subject of discussion are upon the paragraphs taken from one report or the other … the Committee, which lends to a suspicion of unfair means … in getting at the evidence and on the next place as I have them to you founded upon no documents, but merely as they were given to me verbally and perhaps unconsciously distorted or exaggerated, they may not perhaps agree with the official report of the votes and decisions which will appear in the blue book, I trust a few weeks hence. It appears to me therefore to be the safest course to state such things in a very general way, a majority or more, but as the case may be, etc. etc. etc.