Author: Jacob Bright

Title: "The Congo Treaty"

Journal: Bristol Selected Pamphlets

Date: 1884

Places: Ambriz (Angola); Kinsembo (Congo); Luanda (Angola); Portugal; Saint Thomas Island; Stanley Pool; Zanzibar


Jacob Bright (1821-1899) was a member of the British Parliament, representing the Borough of Manchester from 1867-1874 and from 1876-1885. From 1886-1895, he represented the Southwest Division of Manchester. Bright was a Liberal who challenged Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone's support of a treaty that would recognize Portugal's control over both sides of the Congo River. Bright successfully prevented ratification of the Congo Treaty in the House of Commons. The General Act of the Berlin Conference would later insure the freedom of commerce on the Congo. [note 1] Bright's article lays out a case for rejecting the treaty, in part by depicting the Portuguese as greedy, depraved rulers incapable of developing "commerce and civilization" on the continent. He surveys Portuguese contact with Africa since the fifteenth century and concludes that the places in Africa where commerce thrives are free from Portuguese influence.

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The Congo Treaty.

Jacob Bright, M.P.

The region with which this treaty with Portugal deals lies between 5 deg. 12 min. and 8 deg. South latitude on the South-West Coast of Africa. It embraces both banks of the Congo, and has become of extreme importance owing to the knowledge we now possess of this greatest of African rivers, whose flood is said to freshen the surface of the ocean for seventy miles. Cargo-carrying vessels can, according to the statement of Liverpool merchants, ascend the Congo as far as Bull Island, 12 miles from the mouth and here goods have to be transhipped for trade beyond. In Vivi, 115 miles, navigation is closed by rocks and cataracts. From Vivi to Stanley Pool, a distance of 200 miles, there is difficult communication, partly by land and partly by water, and then commences free navigation for nearly 1,000 miles. The river has large tributaries, also navigable, and the productive character of the country is said to be great.

[. . .]

Again, in 1860, when Portugal tried to seize Kinsembo, a village on the north of her present frontier, Lord John Russell wrote to the Portuguese Minister threatening war, and added, "the interests of Portugal would be far better consulted by developing the resources of the vast territories which she already possesses in Africa than by seeking to extend a barren sovereignty over further tracts of country on that continent, which can only be acquired by violence and bloodshed." Lord Derby in 1876 wrote that "the orders which were issued in 1856 to the commanders of her Majesty's cruisers to oppose any attempt on the part of the Portuguese authorities to extend the dominions of Portugal north of Ambriz remain still in force."

[. . .]

Lord Mayo last year described to me his journey in the steamship Angola, from Benguela to Lisbon, in company of a cargo of slaves. He said that between Angola and the Island of St. Thomas there is a regular traffic in slaves, and that official forms are made use of in order to conceal its character, and to enable the officers of the Government to reap some portion of the reward. Slaves are brought from the interior to Catumbella—they are called "Colonials." The price here is £7 a head. They are then sent in lighters to the Portuguese steamship at Benguela, thence to Loanda, where official forms are gone through.

[. . .]

A similar case of the enormous advantage of the absence of the Portuguese is to be found on the East Coast of Africa. Some 100 years ago the Arabs took away much territory, including Zanzibar, from Portugal, and now the trade of Zanzibar, under native rule, is eight or ten times that of Mozambique, which has the advantage of civilized Portuguese rule.

[. . .]

At Ambriz—a port on the northern boundary of Angola—they boast of a tariff of 6 per cent., but they have recently added the following taxes—a public works tax, no fixed amount, but arbitrary, as required; a 10 per cent. income-tax on such amount of income as the Portuguese official thinks the trader ought to pay; a 10 per cent. property tax; a 3 per cent. house duty; a tax of 6 per cent. on the transfer of property and a licence tax of 20 dollars on every trading firm and on every shop or store. The Customs duty is levied on the valuation of property delivered in Ambriz and the valuation is often arbitrary. Goods of British Traders are constantly seized and detained for weeks and moths until too late for the season. The English Consul is frequently sent for, but goes up very seldom. He cannot speak Portuguese, which greatly impairs his usefulness. Every English house, except one, has abandoned Ambriz. They have gone to Kinsembo, seven miles north, where Portuguese civilization does not exist, but where it is about to be established by her Majesty's Government.

[. . .]