THE BRITISH CONSULAR SERVICE
AN ADDRESS BY GERALD CAMPBELL, C.M.G., HIS
MAJESTY'S CONSUL GENERAL, BRITISH CONSULATE
GENERAL, NEW YORK.
26th March, 1931
MR. CAMPBELL was introduced by PRESIDENT STAPELLS, anal said: In Washington the other day I met the Charge d'Affaires, Mr. Hume Wrong; I told him I was coming here to speak on the British Consular Service, and he said, "That is fine, because I do not think any audience will know anything about what you do." I said, "I do not know myself, and when the people ask me what I do during the day I have not the slightest idea." We are appointed by the King, and our commissions read, "by all lawful means to aid and protect our merchants and others our subjects who may trade with, or visit, or reside within his consular district." That cannot be done without the recommendation of the heads of the country in which we are to reside.
We never know when we may get a telegram saying that we are to be transferred, and asking when we could leave. We go where we are sent, and go with a smile. We may not know the language of the new country, but regulations say the language should be learnt in a given time, and we try to learn it, because you cannot gain experience otherwise. Before we quit this world we will be able to speak Choctaw. (Laughter). Soon after the war, in addressing a group of young consulars, I advised them to go willingly wherever they were sent. Years afterwards I met one of them, and he said that all he remembered of the address was what I said about having a piece of rubber pipe on hand so that if he struck a man over the head it would not leave a mark. (Laughter). He said that became known as the "Campbell method". (Laughter).
It is hard to be practically separated from one's wife and family, but in spite of, and sometimes because of the changes and chances, the life of a consular agent is an interesting and expanding existence. After six months of happy married life I was trekking in Africa" and my wife was at home. We each had a code book, containing what was called the Uno Code, and I often searched for words for a cable, wondering whether the word was spelt correctly, for the messages were often mutilated by native bearers. One evening I received a cable which was twisted, and there was only a difference of one lettcr between "daughter and mother doing well" and "twins both dead, mother dying". (Laughter).
In former days the consular service was a receptacle for those who wished to wander-Members of Parliament who had not come up to scratch, or who scratched too much-(laughter). In the Victorian era a book was written in which the consularate was mentioned with an asterisk placed against the word, and the note underneath read, "A consular is not necessarily a gentleman" (laughter). In 1905 the consular service was reformed, and the candidate for appointment had to show a degree from a recognized university,, or have been called to, the Bar, or enrolled as a solicitor, or have spent three years in a successful business house. He then took a stiff competitive examination. We had to work twelve or fourteen hours a day for a year, taking languages, mathematics, political economy, commercial and physical geography, and other subjects. The successful candidates were then sent to work in the Foreign Office or Board of Trade for six or eight weeks, and after a year's practical work they were paid a salary of £ 350. Nowadays, a man wanting to go into the service takes the same examination as the Foreign Office, diplomatic service or Indian and Home Civil Service, and is sent to an office such as Chicago, Paris" or Antwerp, to be supervised and coached. After two years there he becomes a Vice-Consul proper, and it is my experience that the Government service is the hardest to leave once you get into it (laughter). A man is a Vice-Consul ten or fifteen years; a Consul ten or twelve years; and a Consul General ten or twelve years; retiring at sixty with a pension from a grateful government. There are 378 consuls, or salaried consular offices, in the British Empire. In the matter of salaries the government has been more generous since the war, and the service has consequently reached a higher level. The consular service is not amalgamated with the diplomatic service, as it is with most other nations, which I found advantageous.
Our most important work is in connection with trade and commerce. Every year we make a trade report, but I may tell you, as a dead secret, that we generally get some friendly merchant to write the report, and we take the credit. During the war the Department of Overseas Trade was started, and it is interesting to note that the High Commissioner in Ottawa" Sir William Clarke, built up that Department more than anyone else. Then we work with the Mercantile Marine. Every British vessel staying more than forty-eight hours in a foreign port has to deposit its papers with the consul. Seamen are engaged or discharged, and in many cases are left in our care. Any trouble between the master and the junior officers, or between the master and men, is brought to us, and regular reports are made. There is the question of repatriation. Some British subjects, especially in these days, think that we have a vast fund, out of which we can afford them passages deluxe back to the mother country. We try to help any British subjects in the city where we are living. In San Francisco I was able to raise a British benevolent fund, and with that we looked after the people there, feeling that they had established themselves, and it was better to find means of livelihood and clothing, rather than send them back to add to the number of unemployed in Great Britain.
We look after the property and estates of deceased British subjects, generally those who die intestate. We have a certain amount to do with the question of nationality, including the granting of attestations, and the grant
ing of attestation facilities in deportation cases. At present there is a drive in the United States to find and deport aliens who are not legally in the country, and also criminals and other unsatisfactory persons. This is compliated by reason of an Act passed in 1923 under which the wife does not take the nationality of her husband.
We deal with extradition matters, and in New York especially we help Canadian officials. There is notarial business to be done, the requisition of documents to be used in any part of the British Empire; the registration of deaths, and the birth of a child in the foreign country, also registration of his nationality when he or she comes of age. It may not be known that the consuls perform marriages for British subjects in all countries except Germany and the United States, even if only one party is British. In all other countries the consular marriage is the real marriage, and the church marriage is supplementary; the record is sent to Somerset House, as are the records of births and deaths. Some years ago, at a port in Brazil, there had been a salaried consul who had a marriage warrant; however, as that post was closed, an honorary consul was set up in his place. The salaried consul had taken the marriage warrant away, but forgot to take the registers. The honorary consul saw these registers" and married about five people, sending in his returns. He received a frantic message from the Foreign Office to notify each couple that they were not married and would probably have to have their marriage legalized by Act of Parliament. This poor fellow wrote his letters of explanation, packed his bag, anal sat on the pier, hoping that the next steamer would come in before the enraged couples came down on him. But his fears were groundless, because the enraged people did nothing of the kind; he received the most friendly letters; one man asked him what was his favorite brand of cigars. (Laughter).
We never know what we may find in a day's mail. We get letters from prisoners, all innocent, even though they have pleaded guilty. We have wives looking for husbands, and sometimes husbands looking for wives, and a surprising number of people who are not quite mad enough to be locked up (laughter). One day a woman came to see me and said she was being followed and persecuted by a man who threw electric sparks on her, and the result was that she had to wear asbestos underwear. (Laughter). We have daily visitors, and cannot begin to dictate or write letters until the office is closed. These visitors are most interesting, for they come to us as though we were doctors, clergy, or lawyers, or all three in one. Frown them we get a wonderful insight into human nature and human relationships; and I probably have the same idea as you-some human nature is good and some is bad (laughter). The telephone never ceases ringing. One day I had a call from an American citizen asking "Do you know anything about the inland tribes of Java?" I replied, "Yes, I will put you on to our expert; fortunately they had just sent up a new probationary vice-consul whose father had been a trader in Java; if the request had come a week later or earlier I could not have been of any help (laughter).
In all branches of our work we do what we can for the Dominions, and the Canadian Legation in Washington often corresponds with us in matters of extradition, rumrunners, etc. The trade commissioners in New York, Chicago and San Francisco, look after anything financial, industrial or commercial between Canada and the United States that may come to them; in other matters it is our business to work with the Dominions. The representative or social side of a consul's life depends a good deal on the man and his wife. I may mention that my wife and I are out, or entertaining in our own home, every night of the week from November to May. Then there is the speechmaking side" which I do willingly, because I feel that we need interpreters everywhere who will explain us in a sympathetic way. I make this confession unblushingly, although it does imply that I am trying to share Canada's endeavour to be interpreter and liaison officer between the two great English-speaking communities. I wish you more power to your elbow, because I feel there is too much misunderstanding of each other, and consequent disappointment. I speak for myself and colleagues when I say that we want to render any service that we can to this Dominion and any other Dominion. We are always glad to have a chance to do it. So may I wish luck to Canada-a land great today, but destined to be still greater in the very near future. (Loud applause)
Horn. N. W. ROWELL expressed the thanks of the Club to the speaker, and from personal experience paid a hearty tribute to the splendid work of the British Consular Service.