The Ashburton Guardian. Magna Est Veritas et Prevalebit. SATURDAY, DECEMBER 17, 1881. The French in the South Sea Islands.
TOWN EDITION. [lssued at 4.30 p.m.j
John Bull has never been squeamish as to the manner in which he has acquired territory, and gradually built up his vast colonial empire; but Jean Crapaud, though not so successful, has been incomparably more high-handed in his acquisitions. Kven in the present day, with a pacific Gladstone as our most influential statesman, our country has obtained Cyprus from the Turks by virtue of some moral suasion and a good deal of physical force in the background; and we have also made unjust wars on Afghanistan and Zululand, in consequence of very small affronts. But our accusers will look in vain for any act of agression like the French war in Tunis, avowedly on account of a dislike of the Mahomedan land law being prevalent in a Mahomedan country, and the thefts of a small band ot robbers called Kroomirs, who, if they existed at all, represented their country to about the same extent as the Kellys represented Victoria. The Sultan of Turkey certainly gave his assent to our occupation of Cyprus, but repudiates altogether the righb of France to any occupation, protectorate, or ownership of any part of Tunis. Quite lately as glaring an instance of the French rule of acting on the right of the strongest, and on that alone, in remote places, as can be furnished anywhere, has occurred with regard to the seizure of Rarotonga, and, it has been reported, of the Harvey Islands, in-the South Pacific. A French man-of-war was reported to have lately visited Rarotonga, and the captain was said to have ordered the chiefs . that henceforth the island was to be subject to France, and was prohibited from trading with any other country. On this report reaching the ears of the British Consul, he at once protested, but was coolly informed by the French captain that no such thing had happened as that described. It appears now that this last statement was nothing more than a deliberate falsehood, for the chiefs of the island have had a memorandum drawn up and have signed it, asking for British protection, and the same freedom to trade as before wherever they found it most profitable. As the trade of these islands with Sydney alone is over 1.50,000 annually, it can easily be understood that the matter is one of no slight importance to the islanders, and also to the Australasian colonies. Besides this, also, if so glaring and infamous a case of oppression is tolerated in this instance it might be in any other. There are many persons still living who ean recollect how forty years ago Tahiti was acquired by the French without a shadow of right, and by means of a little fraud and a good deal of force. After a time the actual cause of the outrage was avowed, namely, that France wanted a naval station in the South Pacific. The islanders there are now slowly undergoing that process of extermination which almost always takes place when one of the lower races of the world comes into contact with the Caucasian, without amalgamating or being raised to his level. The result was one greatly to be deplored in the case of Tahiti. The island never was that moral and religious paradise which the missionaries pictured, and the missionaries, as recognised magistrates in the Native Law Courts, knew that it was not, but still it was remarkably free from crime, and was tenanted by a comparatively moral, industrious, and attractive people, fast advancing in civilisation. The Maori, about whose virtues we often hear much from New Zealand politicians who have an object to gain by the assertion*, is a vulgar savage by the side of the Tahitian of the time of the French occupation. This last ourageous aggression has furnished, by the way, another illustration of the maxim which Cobden, Bright, and others urged long back, that free trade always tended to peace, “ protection ” to war. Before the seizure of Rarotonga it was just as open for France as for Great Britain to carry on commerce with the islands of the Pacific. But a fair field and free competition was not what our Gaelic neighbors wanted, and not able to secure the coveted trade by skill or energy, they have a 1 tempted to acquire it by means of robbery. For all that, the noble principle of freedom of trade, like that of every kind of freedom, when once established in the world, is not likely to die out, but to be more and p)pre recognised, while the mere brute*
force of the conqueror becomes more and more despised.