§ On the Question, "That the House resolve itself into a Committee of Supply."
§ MR. ROEBUCK
I am not unaware, Sir, of the danger attending the course which I now propose to pursue. At a time when peace and war hang trembling in the balance, it is of the utmost importance that we should have a Government capable in itself and enjoying and deserving to enjoy the confidence of the country. That consideration involves the difficulty before me; but, on the other hand, there is this danger, that, if we were to let pass without comment the proceedings to which I am about to direct the attention of the House, we should do an injury to the army, which is our great defence, we should paralyse one strong arm by which we resist aggression from abroad, and we should render inefficient one of the most assured means of national safety. Let it be understood, then, that I repudiate all responsibility accruing from the Motion I am about to submit. If the Government choose to build a wall, against which at the same time it pleases to thrust its own head, I am not in fault and I am not responsible. I will at once, therefore, proceed to explain the object of my Motion. Shortly after the army appeared before Sebastopol, there sprang up from day to day, and from hour to hour, whispers of the sufferings to which that army was exposed—whispers which at last deepened, I will not say into a cry, but into a roar of disapprobation expressed by the whole press of this country. From day to day and from hour to hour, there were told to us stories which harrowed the feelings of the community with regard to the army in the Crimea; and at last, when Parliament met, so alarmed was the public mind upon this subject, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Wilts (Mr. S. Herbert), who was at that time Secretary at War, got up in his place and made a defence intended to answer and refute all the stories and rumours then current respecting the dangers and sufferings to which the army was said to be subjected. There was, Sir, such a charm in the right hon. Gen- 1583 tleman's manner, something so frank and ingenuous in his whole demeanour, that it won the House and the country to believe in the statements he then made. I was myself conscious of the delightful influence. I came down to this House on that occasion fully impressed with the conviction that our army was suffering unheard-of misery, and I went away with my mind disabused of and disenthralled from the terrible impressions that had been made upon it by the reports which were everywhere prevalent. I believed that the right hon. Gentleman had made out his case—that the army was not suffering—that they had everything at their command—and that, in a word, they were as properly cared for as an English army ought to be by the authorities of the country. Such was the impression left on my mind by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman; such, too, was the conviction produced in this House and throughout the nation by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. But, Sir, very shortly after this, more stories of suffering and misery were reported from day to day, the same harrowing disclosures occurred, and many days did not elapse before the impression created in the House and in the country by the statements of the right hon. Gentleman was completely obliterated. The country reverted to its former emotions, the same anxiety and alarm which had distracted the public mind before the meeting of Parliament agitated it again after the House was adjourned. I may say, that this was the end of the first act of the terrible drama of the war in the Crimea. When Parliament again met, I, though wholly unequal to the task, gave notice of my intention to move for a Committee to inquire into the state of the army before Sebastopol. Of the effects produced by that notice, the House is already aware. The first effect was, the disappearance from the ranks of the Ministry of the noble Lord the Member for London. He, like a timid fisherman who finds a storm threatening to come on, and sees on the dim horizon a cloud no bigger than his hand, made straight for shore and ran howling on the land. Many exceptions were taken to the Motion I then made. It was stated—and stated, too, by many hon. and gallant Members—that the investigation would do injury to the army; that they were a body 3,000 miles off; that we could not hear with our own ears, nor see with our own eyes, that 1584 which we desired to inquire into; and, in a word, it was contended that a Committee of this House was a means of inquiry unfitted for the case and totally inadequate to the occasion. In spite of these statements and in defiance of the dangers prophesied to result from their determination; the House supported me in my Motion—with what a majority and with what consequences is well known. The first consequence was the utter disruption of Lord Aberdeen's Ministry. The danger at that time was great. We knew it was. We were waging a terrible war with a powerful adversary; yet, notwithstanding the danger that might result from at once dislocating all the faculties and functions of the Government, the House did not hesitate to give me its support on that occasion. We did inquire; and what was the result of our inquiry? Why, that every statement made by the press was verified to the very letter; that every story of misconduct, that every harrowing detail of suffering, was proved to the very letter before that Committee. Thus, then, before two tribunals, if I may so express myself—the press in the first instance, and a Committee of this House in the second—the matter was investigated and the same result followed—the wretched conviction that our army was melting away—that we had sent abroad a band of gallant men to fight our battles—and that they were neglected and left to die of cold, hunger, and disease; and that the power of England was inadequate, in the hands of the imbecile authorities who then ruled the State, to take care of her sons whom she had sent to champion her cause in a distant land. Such was the result of the second inquiry. But at this time—at the very time that the House appointed a Committee to inquire into the state of the army before Sebastopol—the Government which replaced that of Lord Aberdeen, issued a Commission to undertake a precisely similar duty. The gentlemen appointed to that office were Sir John M'Neill and Colonel Tulloch. I am informed that both these gentlemen were extremely reluctant to undertake the office, for they knew that the inquiry they were about to institute would be an ungrateful one, and they were unwilling to place themselves in a position that might subject them to painful and disagreeable consequences. But it was pressed upon them that they were thoroughly conversant with the subject 1585 of investigation; that they were men of high intelligence, in all respects peculiarly qualified to make the inquiry; and upon grounds of public service they were called upon by the Government to undertake the task. They yielded, and went to the Crimea. They inquired; they reported. Their first Report was dated in the month of June last. And what was the result of their inquiry? I dare say it may have disappointed those who nominated the Commissioners; but, however that may be, it is at least certain that it verified every assertion that had been made by the press, as they had already been verified by a Committee of this House. By the Report which Sir J. M'Neill and Colonel Tulloch presented to the Government certain persons were especially inculpated. The persons so inculpated, to whom I will now more particularly allude, are Lord Lucan, Lord Cardigan, Sir R. Airey, Colonel Gordon, and Commissary General Filder. And here let me, in passing, at once say that I think it no part of my business to attempt to justify any of the accusations made against any one of these individuals by the Crimean Commissioners. That is not the object I have in view. These persons were inculpated; and this was the second act of this sad drama. When the Report of the Commissioners was laid before the Government, what course ought they to have adopted? I think that that course was plain and clear, and one that, had it been adopted, would have been satisfactory to the country. They ought to have regarded the Report as equivalent to an indictment from a grand jury. They might, if they pleased, have viewed the statements in the Report as ex parte, and not made—as, indeed, no statements made under such an inquiry could be—upon oath. Still the Report being so thoroughly confirmed by, as it was thoroughly confirmatory of, the results of the previous inquiry, the Government would have been warranted in adopting it as a ground, not for further inquiry, but for the trial of the persons accused. If every one of the accused had been sent before a court martial, what would have been the result? Why, the charges would then have been made upon oath, the parties implicated would have been called upon for their defence, no undeserved injury would have been done to any one, and everybody would have had the opportunity, if possible, of vindicating himself. What, however, has been the actual course pursued by Her Majesty's 1586 Government? Why, they have issued a Commission to certain general officers, directing them to report upon the Report of their own Commissioners. I know that this representation of the case has been objected to; but let any one read the warrant which has been placed on the table of this House, and he will find that it bears out every iota of what I say. This Commission is literally appointed to report on the Report of their own Commissioners, and the Government is actually putting on their trial the very men whom they sent out to inquire on the spot. I assert, then, that by this proceeding the Government are doing an irreparable injury to the army. Nobody can admire more than I do the honesty and the courage of the Crimean Commissioners. Fully conscious of the grave nature of the duty they were about to discharge, they yet manfully told the plain, the simple, the disagreeable truth. But if the Government set a precedent of this kind, how can we be sure that on any future occasion we shall again find men of sufficient vigour and boldness of mind for the faithful performance of such painful duties? Have not the Government done their utmost to prevent the truth from coming to light? Would not other Commissioners, when called upon to undertake a similar task, be inclined to say, "We shall bear in mind the fate of Sir John M'Neill and Colonel Tulloch—we shall so shape our report as to make it suit the views of those to whom it will have to be made; the truth may be unpleasant—it may subject us to public suffering and injury; that is a risk which we will not run? "Sir, I ask the House with confidence whether that is not human nature? But, further, I maintain that the Government are substituting an inefficient for an efficient investigation. When the Sebastopol Committee was appointed the Government told us that its members would be 3,000 miles away from the seat of war. Was their own Commission then, 3,000, miles away? The reason alleged for the necessary inefficiency of the inquiry before the Committee of this House cannot apply to the investigation of the Commissioners on the spot. Yet, having selected as their Commissioners men who were above all suspicion, having received their Report, and having also, if rumour is to believed, given to the world not the whole of that Report, the Government now, forsooth, substitute for the investigation thus made the very mode of inquiry which they condemned 1587 when I proposed the appointment of a Committee of this House. There is this difference, however. I proposed a mode of inquiry, to which the House assented, and I placed upon the Committee men of different opinions, by which the truth was likely to be elicited; because what one Member might wish to keep back, another, for that very reason, would insist upon bringing before the public. But what are the constitution and the complexion of the Commission which the Government now propose? First of all, upon it are to sit some old gentlemen who have seen great service. For them I have the highest respect. But the other night we had a discussion about the age of Judges. Well, the very same arguments which apply to old Judges sitting in the Queen's Bench equally apply to old judges sitting on this Commission. But there are also to be certain carpet knights on this tribunal—men who never saw a shot fired—and I should like to know what is their special qualification for conducting such an inquiry? I can understand what is the capacity of one hon. and gallant Gentleman with whom I had the honour to sit on the Sebastopol Committee last year—I allude to the hon. Member for Huntingdon (General Peel). In the course of that inquiry I found him on every occasion on the side of the persons accused. I do not, however, mean to say that in this the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not act with the perfect honesty and frankness which belong to him. But I only assert that I can quite comprehend the ground for placing him upon this Commission. If he had taken the course opposite to that which I have named in the Select Committee, I think it may fairly be inferred that he would not have been nominated for this Commission. Let the House look for a moment at the probable consequences of this proceeding. First of all, it must militate against the discovery of the truth as to the state of our army abroad on any future occasion. That army, when it is sent to a foreign land to oppose our adversaries, confidently believes that the ægis of England follows it to every clime. It looks also to this House and the Government at home to support it in its season of distress and tribulation. What was the case of your army in the Crimea? I can understand that a gallant man may be struck down in the battle-field in the flower of his youth and vigour, and be at one blow made a corpse; I can understand 1588 such a man dying cheerfully, in the full conviction that his untimely fate will be followed by the sympathy and admiration of a grateful country, the glory of which he has bravely striven to advance. As there is something to sustain, so also there is something to ennoble, the last moments of such a hero. But the soldier who fell in the Crimea succumbed to a very different fate. He perished ingloriously from cold, hunger, and disease; his brave spirit was broken by neglect, and to his heart it went like a bolt of ice, that he was deserted by his country. I therefore warn this House to be careful how it possesses our army with the fatal notion that we are ready to abandon it in its hour of utmost need. Nothing which you have done has so greatly comforted that army as the anxiety you have of late evinced for its welfare and comfort. But I entreat you to beware how you now turn round and show your gallant army that you are wholly given up to feelings of party, and have a care for none save yourselves. Allow your soldiers but to draw that depressing conclusion, and then woe be to you! and woe also to England! Hoping better things of England, of this House, and of the Government, I now beg leave, Sir, to move the Resolution which I have placed in your hands.
To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'the appointment of a Commission of General Officers to report upon the Report of Sir John M'Neill and Colonel Tulloch, is to substitute an inefficient for a very efficient mode of inquiry; and that the effect of such appointment will be to hide the misconduct of those by whom various departments of our army have been subjected to the command of officers who have been inculpated by the Commissioners appointed to inquire into their conduct,'—instead thereof.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
Sir, I find myself somewhat in difficulty on this question, for I am precluded by the forms of the House from proceeding with the Resolution of which I had given deliberate notice. I am one of those, Sir, who entertain a very decided opinion on the conduct of Her Majesty's Government with reference to the transactions adverted to in the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield; and in consequence of that opinion it was my intention myself to draw the attention of the House to these transactions. But I confess, Sir, that it was not my intention to have raised the question at the present moment. I felt upon 1589 various grounds that it might be better to postpone my Motion for some time at least, and within the last two days circumstances have arisen which I think have fairly tended to strengthen these doubts. A Commission has been named by Her Majesty to inquire into this subject, and the grounds upon which that Commission is to act have been clearly stated. I think, therefore, it may be seriously doubted—whatever our feelings may be upon the question generally—whether this is the most proper moment for entering into such discussion. The hon. and learned Member for Sheffield has, however, stated that he thought it his duty at once to raise this question, and that announcement having been made I certainly did feel, after a consultation with those friends with whom I generally act, that the line taken by the hon. and learned Gentleman did render it imperative on me to place upon record the opinion which I entertain upon the matter. But the noble Lord the Prime Minister, by refusing to the hon. and learned Gentleman an opportunity of expressing his views in the shape of a substantive Motion has precluded me from giving my opinion in the form of the Amendment, of which I had given notice. I do not intend to impute blame to the noble Lord on this subject. Whatever difference of opinion may exist between the friends with whom I am connected and the noble Lord, I am bound to say that we have never had cause to complain of a want of courtesy or fairness on the part of the noble Lord. I presume that the noble Lord saw a reason which, in his judgment, made it imperative on him to refuse the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield permission to bring this matter forward in the shape of a substantive Motion, but I confess I am desirous that it should be distinctly and publicly understood that it is because I am prevented by the forms of the House that I now abstain from moving my Amendment. Sir, being thus precluded from moving my Amendment, I am compelled to ask myself the question whether I find it in my power to support the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman. And here I am obliged to say that I am unable to give my support to it. Within the last two days the hon. and learned Gentleman has modified the Resolution which he at first intended to make, but still I am unable to support it. The hon. and learned Gentleman has altogether omitted several points in his Resolution which I think ought not 1590 to have been omitted from any Motion that has for its object to cast censure upon the conduct of the Government; and in other respects upon those points to which he does allude I think the words he has adopted are still open to the same objection as that which I entertained to the first form of words he had used—namely, I think that they tend to prejudge the case, which is still open for investigation, in regard to those officers whose conduct is now to become the subject of investigation. The words of the hon. and learned Gentleman's Motion either favour this construction, or else they censure the military departments for what he calls misconduct, which, in the event of a complete acquittal of the authorities thus censured, would become at the present moment no misconduct at all. Under these circumstances I cannot support the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman. I have decided, therefore, that the course which it is my duty to take at the present moment is to abstain from entering into any discussion upon those difficult and important matters, and to reserve to myself at the same time the power of bringing forward, on a future and more fitting occasion, those opinions that I entertain, and then to state the views and reasons which induce me to support them. In saying this much, I feel bound to state that in my humble opinion the conduct of the Government, in regard to this transaction, has been open to grave censure in almost every one of the points referred to. Whenever I find an opportunity of bringing this subject before the House I shall certainly allude, as I have already done in the form of words in which my Amendment is expressed, to the extraordinary omission on the part of the Government to communicate the Reports of the Commission to the Commander in Chief of the army; and I believe that this House was never impressed with greater astonishment than it felt on a former evening, when, in answer to a question, the Under Secretary of War expressed in a faltering and hesitating tone, which indicated the feelings he entertained at the moment when he made the extraordinary statement, that the first intimation Lord Hardinge received of the contents of these reports was when he received them in his capacity of a Peer of Parliament. When the fitting moment arrives I shall certainly invite the attention of the House to the inference which I intend to draw from that fact—namely, that that harmony which 1591 ought to exist between the offices of the Secretary of State for War and the Commander in Chief is altogether wanting; and I will further draw attention to the great injustice which, in my opinion, has, by the misconduct of the Government, been inflicted upon those officers whose conduct is now to be placed under investigation. On this point I do not now mean to dwell; but there is one of those officers to whom, in consequence of what occurred in the House yesterday, I will for a moment advert. I shall do so merely as an illustration of the injustice done by the Government by the manner in which they have acted. I allude to the case of Mr. Commissary General Filder. Sir, I do not stand here as the advocate of Mr. Commissary General Filder. I never had the pleasure of seeing, I do not even know him by sight; and certainly, any impression I may have derived from the Report before us would not lead me to become his advocate. But we must all feel that Mr. Commissary General Filder stands, perhaps, in a worse position than the other officers whose conduct is impugned; and for that reason I think he is entitled to an ample measure of justice at the hands of the Government. I yesterday felt it my duty, in consequence of a letter I received from Mr. Commissary General Filder, to ask the Under Secretary for War to lay upon the table the letter which he (Mr. Filder) had addressed to Lord Panmure. In making that application I stated, on the authority of Mr. Commissary General Filder, the extraordinary fact that although Commissary General Filder is, perhaps, more inculpated than any other officer by these reports, that these reports inculpating him—and I may say one exclusively devoted to him—I mean the first Commissioners' Report—that that report was in the hands of the Government for seven months without Mr. Commissary General Filder being informed of the charges brought against him, and that in fact he first learned the nature of them from reading them in the public newspapers. In my opinion this is a degree of negligence and injustice on the part of the Government towards this gentleman which neither the country nor the army ought to tolerate. The House will probably recollect when the Under Secretary for War answered my question in regard to Mr. Commissary General Filder, that the hon. Gentleman went out of his way, and in a somewhat irregular manner, adverted to a 1592 subject to which I had not alluded, for the best reason in the world—because I had no knowledge of that subject before. The hon. Gentleman stated that when the proper time arrived he should be prepared to vindicate the recall by Lord Panmure of Mr. Commissary General Filder, and to state reasons for the adoption of that course which he thought would give satisfaction to the public. Perhaps the House will be surprised to hear that I received this morning another letter from Mr. Commissary General Filder, in which he states that until this morning, when he read the statement of the hon. Gentleman in the newspapers, he was not aware he had been recalled. I will not trouble the House by reading that letter, which I have in my pocket. I only mention the fact as an illustration of the mode in which business is conducted at the War Office. Mr. Commissary General Filder writes to say that he left the Crimea on the 18th of August by direction of the medical board, in consequence of his impaired state of health, and that if any recall has been sent out to the Crimea it must have crossed him on the voyage, but up to this very morning he had received no intimation whatever of such recall. I have thought it right, in the vindication of the general view expressed in my Amendment, to state that fact as an illustration of the system at work. Sir, I will not be drawn further into a discussion. It is my intention upon a future day to make this transaction the subject of a substantive Motion. I will postpone it until I think it can be brought forward without risking the inconveniences which might possibly attend a premature discussion at the present moment. But there is one remark upon the subject that I wish to make, and to which I attach some interest. I am sure the House will allow me to make this one branch of the subject an exception to the rule I had laid down for myself upon the present occasion, and that I may be permitted to state my views upon it. What I wish emphatically to say is, that in giving the notice I have, and which it is my intention to proceed with on a future occasion, nothing has been further from my mind than in any manner to prejudge or to do the slightest injustice to those officers whose cases are about to be investigated. I cannot imagine anything more unfair than, at a moment when those officers' conduct is about to undergo investigation by a board of officers, to enter into any discussion which even unintentionally 1593 might have the effect of doing injustice to them. They are undoubtedly entitled to the greatest forbearance on the part of Parliament; and if hon. Gentlemen will refer to the terms of my Amendment, they will find that I have not referred to the conduct of those officers, but only to the conduct of the Government. Upon that subject my opinion remains the same; and I wish to explain the distinction I draw between the conduct of the Government in sanctioning a commission of this character and the conduct of the officers themselves, which is to be investigated by that Commission. The last paragraph of the instructions issued by Lord Panmure to the Commissioners of Inquiry, last year, distinctly directed them to report on the alleged delay that took place with reference to the issuing of clothing and other stores to the troops. To prevent the possibility of mistake, the House will perhaps allow me to read it—You will further make inquiry into the alleged delay in unshipping and distributing the clothing and other stores supplied for the use of the troops; and having obtained all the information in your power, you will transmit to me a full report on the subject.Now the House will see that the alleged delays had been represented by the Secretary of State for War, and that these instructions were signed by Lord Panmure. The word "delays" may not in the ordinary sense appear to be one of great importance; but you must recollect that these delays involve the distribution of those articles of clothing and other stores which were absolutely essential to the health, indeed I may say to the lives, of the soldiers before Sebastopol. Delay having been alleged, the Secretary of State, it appears, felt it to be his duty to direct inquiry, which intimately related to the Quartermaster General's department. I feel convinced that the House and the country will go with me in saying, that, after the Government had directed an inquiry into the Quartermaster General's department, they should have awaited the result of that inquiry before they took any steps in respect to the conduct of the officers involved. I think the Government has been guilty of a want of due caution in this respect, and has acted in an indiscreet manner in promoting those officers to places of trust and confidence at a time when they had directed an inquiry which intimately concerned them, and before the result of that inquiry had been received. 1594 In stating so much, I do not intend to say one word involving the conduct of those officers. If those officers are justified by this inquiry, as I hope and trust they may be—if they succeed in establishing before this new Commission the most triumphant defence—my complaint against the Government will remain precisely the same. I complain, and the country complains, that while the investigation was pending, which directly affects the heads of the Quartermaster General's department, the Government should be so wanting in what was due to their own Commission and their own inquiry as to prejudge that inquiry by promoting those officers to whom it relates. Those officers are now to submit their conduct to the investigation of a new Commission, and I earnestly hope that they will be able to substantiate a fair answer to those charges; but I think the Government has done these officers great injustice in compelling them to submit to this new commission of inquiry. I think that their character has been greatly injured by the course thus taken. It is impossible that they can stand in that position of advantage which they ought to have attained, and which they would have attained if the Government had adopted a more prudent line of conduct. But I hope that they will not be prejudiced by the conduct of the Government. I think the result of the inquiry has produced an exaggerated feeling in regard to those officers. We are bound to recollect that they are, after all, only charged with an error in judgment. No doubt, if an error in judgment were committed by them, it might have led to consequences of the gravest character; but if it were committed, it was committed under circumstances of extraordinaiy difficulty, and many hon. Members here must feel with me that whatever error in judgment may have been committed by them, they are officers of known gallantry and of the highest honour. I am sure, however, that the general feeling in this House and the country will be, that the inquiry before the Commission should not, at all events, be prejudiced by premature discussion. Whatever blame may be attached to the premature promotion of these officers, I wish to call attention to the language held by the Secretary of State in regard to the assumption by the Government of the full responsibility of those promotions. Whatever fault we may be disposed to find with the conduct of the Government, we certainly cannot extend it to a censure of 1595 the language held in this respect. The Government have avowed, in the most distinct manner, that they hold themselves responsible for these appointments, and in so doing I think they have taken an honourable and a proper course. But upon this subject, which is one of great importance, I shall abstain from going at further length. It is, however, a subject which must be dealt with; and whatever satisfaction we may feel as to the language of the Secretary of State, we have a right to have a full understanding as to the responsibility of the Government in regard to all the appointments made in the army. I shall reserve to myself the power of entering more fully into these matters when an opportunity arises for making a substantive Motion. I shall now content myself with saying, for all the reasons stated, that I am unable to concur in the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Sheffield.
Sir, the reluctance which I always feel in rising to address the House, is increased to an almost insurmountable degree, when I have to request its indulgence on a matter personal to myself. I think it, however, extremely hard when called upon to discharge one of the most unpleasant duties that an officer can have to perform, that I should be subjected to the sneers and imputations of the hon. Member for Sheffield; but I think I shall be able to show that, if I have not seen any active service, it has been my misfortune, and not my fault.
I selected the army as a profession—not in a time of peace, for the sake of wearing a red coat or avoiding school—but during the course of the Peninsular war; and I went, at the age of fourteen, to Sandhurst, to prepare myself for it. I passed all the examinations there, and obtained the usual certificates; and three days before the battle of Waterloo, when I was just fifteen and a half years old, I obtained my first commission in the 95th Regiment. Now, I appeal to any person who knows anything of the service, whether an officer, entering that regiment (which is now the Rifle Brigade), at the commencement of a war, and when the three battalions of which it was composed were in the presence of the enemy, was not likely to see active service? The result of the battle of Waterloo, however, put an end to the war; but I had the good fortune of being brought up in some of those infantry regiments, which the Duke 1596 of Wellington so justly described, as being able to "do anything and go anywhere," of which every officer and every private was a soldier in the strictest sense of the word; and I cannot pay a greater or more just compliment to those who now fill the ranks of the Rifle Brigade and the 71st Light Infantry, than to say that they have fully maintained the discipline and character of those distinguished regiments.
I afterwards served in an equally distinguished regiment, the Grenadier Guards, and, without obtaining any promotion in it, returned to the line, and after twelve years' service was appointed lieutenant colonel. And I have a right to assume that I was considered fully qualified to be so, for the then General Commanding in Chief appointed me to the command of his own regiment. I had, however, Sir, at that time the honour of representing the city of Norwich, and, feeling it impossible to do my duty to my constituents and to my regiment, as it was a time of peace, I preferred the former, and wrote a letter to the Commander in Chief, requesting to be placed on half-pay, but expressing a hope that it would not be considered that I did so for my own convenience, but as a matter of duty; adding, that if a war should break out, I should be ready at any time to give up my seat in Parliament and return to the service. When the present war was declared, circulars were sent to every officer, asking whether they were able and willing to serve? I not only answered both these queries in the affirmative, but I wrote a letter to the Military Secretary at the Horse Guards, stating that, believing myself to be one of the youngest officers of my rank in the service, and being blessed with a degree of health and strength that few people enjoyed, I considered it my duty (without wishing to put myself forward, or to ask for any command that my long retirement on half-pay might have disqualified me for) to express my willingness to serve anywhere, and in any capacity that I could be of the least use. Again, after the battle of Inkerman, when it was reported that there were many officers who wished to return home, and that several general officers were in a bad state of health, I went to the Commander in Chief, and told him that I was ashamed of holding the rank I did without having seen any active service, and that I was most anxious to go out to the Crimea in any capacity. I was, however, unfortunately senior to many who held high commands, and my 1597 request could not be complied with. I am aware that there are now younger men sprung up, who have learned their duties in the field;—they have won their laurels well, and may they wear them long!—but I think it is too bad that those officers who have always been willing to serve should be exposed to such taunts and imputations as have just been thrown out. The hon. Member for Sheffield accuses me of having, throughout the whole investigation before the Sebastopol Committee, taken the part of the accused. Now, I will tell the hon. Member the difference between us. He always appears to consider every person guilty of the charges brought against them, whilst I prefer to consider them innocent until they have been proved to be guilty;—but I appeal to every Member of the Committee whether I did not endeavour to have the real facts ascertained. There were only two occasions on which direct accusations were brought:—one referred to Admiral Boxer, who was accused of having improperly detained a transport, and I moved in the Committee that the evidence should be instantly reported to the Admiralty, that they might order an inquiry on the spot. The other case was one in which an officer commanding a regiment was charged with having kept the knapsacks from the men, although they were dying from want of the clothing contained in them. I went myself to the Horse Guards, and to the Secretary for War, to call their attention to the charge, which, however, was fortunately proved the very next day to be unfounded.
I feel it is unnecessary for me to say one word more, further than that, from the moment I was appointed as a member of the Commission that is about to sit, I determined to judge for myself from the evidence that may be brought before us, and not from any previously formed opinion; and my sole anxiety, as a member of the Commission, will be, that justice shall be done to all parties, and the truth made manifest.
§ MR. FREDERICK PEEL
said, it was not to be expected that he should concur in the eulogy which the right hon. Baronet opposite had passed on his own opinions in reference to the present question, or in the Resolution of which he had given notice; but he entirely concurred in his objection to the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield, because that objection was founded on a consideration of the unadvisability, on every ground, of prejudging 1598 a case which had been remitted from the House to a tribunal of a different character. With the instinctive feeling of an English gentleman, with that spirit of fairness which characterised every Member of that House, the right hon. Baronet had himself abstained, and had advised the House generally to abstain, from entering into questions which it was impossible to discuss now without encroaching on the province of the Board of general officers which had just been appointed. At the same time, he was not surprised at the course pursued by the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield in bringing forward this question, but he (Mr. Peel) did not believe it was one which any other Member of that House would desire to be foremost in following. He repeated that he was not surprised at the hon. and learned Member having brought forward this Motion, because the course he had now taken was in principle precisely similar to that which he pursued last year. The hon. and learned Member had minutely described the preliminary Motion he had submitted to the House last year for the purpose of procuring a Committee to inquire into the causes which led to the sufferings of the British army in the Crimea: but he had totally omitted to call attention to the Motion he made after the report of the Committee, to the effect that every Member of the Cabinet who belonged to the Government of this country at the time when the expeditionary army left for the Crimea should be stigmatised and debarred in a manner from entering public life for the future. To that Motion what was the unanswerable objection made by those Members of the Government who had not at the time quitted office, as some others had? They said they had had no opportunity of entering into an explanation of their conduct; that, if they could have had the slightest idea that the result of the inquiry before the Committee would be to inculpate them, they would have claimed the right of appearing before the Committee, and of making such statements as they might have thought requisite; and they added that they felt no doubt that the Committee itself, if it had had any idea that its labours were to terminate in a censure of the Members of the Government, would have called those individuals before it, and given them an opportunity of explaining their conduct. The course now taken by the hon. and learned Gentleman was precisely similar to the course 1599 pursued by him on that occasion. On the eve of the meeting of a Board of general officers the hon. and learned Gentleman stept in and submitted a Motion, which he had himself abstained from discussing or explaining to the House, and which it was impossible to discuss—at least, it was very difficult to draw the line which should separate those matters on which the Government might freely express their opinion, and those other matters on which the Government could not be expected to express any opinion of their own—and sought to obtain the opinion of the House upon the conduct of military officers, the investigation into which had been referred to another tribunal. Such being the course taken by the hon. and learned Gentleman in reference to the officers whose conduct was impugned, he next said that the object of the Government in appointing the Commission of general officers had been to hide their own misconduct. Did the House really think that they could be guilty of such an act of cowardice? Could the House really believe that their object in appointing a Board of general officers was to shift any just responsibility from themselves? Could the hon. and learned Gentleman imagine that they would be guilty of such an act of injustice and of such solemn mockery as to issue a formal document constituting this Board of general officers, and declaring that the sole object was that the truth might be made manifest and justice done, while at the same time they had no other object in view except to hide their own misconduct? The hon. and learned Gentleman had passed great compliments on the Commissioners who went to the Crimea, describing them as men of great energy, courage, and impartiality, and perfectly cognisant of the business they had to perform. But the hon. and learned Gentleman forgot how the first proposition to appoint those Commissioners was received by himself and his friends. Did he not remember that immediately on the formation of the present Government the noble Lord at its head came down to the House and announced the intention of sending a Commission to the East to investigate on the spot the causes of the imperfect supply of commissariat and other articles? And how was that announcement received by the hon. and learned Member and by the hon. Member (Mr. Layard) near him? Why, they said that no possible good could be expected from that Commission; that it was a 1600 sham, a mockery, and an attempt to hide the misconduct of the Government. [Mr. LAYARD: Hear, hear!] The hon. Member for Aylesbury cheered, and he believed it was that hon. Member himself who made use of those expressions, and who indeed went further, and criticised the individuals proposed to be appointed as Members of the Commission. Sir J. M'Neill, it was alleged, was an old man, unable, from physical debility, to go so far as the Crimea, much less to move about and investigate into all the various matters he was sent to report upon. But all this was forgotten now. The Commissioners had gone to the East, and discharged their duty with impartiality and firmness; and they were now declared to be men remarkable for energy, ability, and impartiality, than whom no better persons for the purpose could have been selected. He thought it very strange that the hon. and learned Gentleman, whilst holding such language to-night, should have forgotten, seemingly, the course he pursued on the previous occasion. The hon. and learned Gentleman appeared to be actuated by only one principle—by a desire to condemn every one concerned in the administration of affairs in the Crimea, without regard to the merits of the case. The hon. and learned Gentleman said the Government appointed Commissioners to inquire into the conduct of certain officers, and that, having done that, the Government now appointed a second Commission for the purpose of reporting on the report of the first Commission. He denied that there was a syllable of truth in that representation. He denied that the Commissioners who went to the Crimea went there for the purpose of inquiring into the conduct of certain officers. The very first instruction to the Crimean Commissioners was to inquire into the whole arrangement and management of the Commissariat Department. The Commissioners were also instructed to inquire into the alleged irregularities in the issue of supplies. Three days afterwards further instructions were given to them to inquire into the alleged delays in unshipping and distributing the clothing for the troops. Where, then, did the hon. and learned Gentleman find in their instructions any directions to inquire into the conduct of the officers.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, the hon. Gentleman had misunderstood his Motion. The object of the Motion was to censure the misconduct of those by whom various departments of the army had been placed 1601 under the command of officers whose conduct had been inculpated by the Commissioners appointed to inquire into their conduct.
§ MR. FREDERICK PEEL
The hon. and learned Member had altered his Motion so often that it was somewhat difficult to understand exactly what he did mean. When the hon. and learned Member conceived that the Court of Inquiry was to sit with closed doors, he spoke of it as incompetent, and said the object of the Government was to shield the officers whose capacity had been impugned in the Report. But when he was told that the Board was to be an open one, he withdrew the expression that it was incompetent, and said the object was not to shelter the incompetency of the officers, but to hide the misconduct of the Government. He (Mr. F. Peel) dwelt upon this point the more, because it was in favour of the officers who might be supposed to be inculpated in the Report. He would undertake that the impression of the Commissioners themselves was, that they were not to inquire into the conduct of any particular officers. If the hon. and learned Gentleman would turn to that page of the Report which contained the copy of the letter addressed by the Commissioners, on their arrival in the Crimea, to Lord Raglan, he would see how very foreign to their minds was the idea that they were sent to inquire into the misconduct of any of the officers. They never said it was their business to have before them the officers of the Quartermaster General's Department, or to inquire whether any of the charges that had been brought against them were true. There was another point which ought to be borne in mind as being favourable to the supposed inculpated officers. He wished to observe that a very general impression seemed to prevail that the Commissioners in the Crimea carried on their inquiries in an open manner. That was not the case. It was essentially a close Commission—that was to say, no other persons were present but the witnesses themselves when they were being examined, and no one witness knew what another said. If the object of the Commissioners had been to inquire into the conduct of the officers of the Quartermaster General's Department, they would have said so, and have given those officers an opportunity of hearing the charges against them, and of making a reply. The proposition laid down in the Resolution, 1602 therefore, that the Commissioners were appointed to inquire into the conduct of certain officers was not correct. It was quite the reverse. But, said the hon. and learned Gentleman, the Government having received the Report of the Commission, proceeded to issue another Commission to report upon the Report of the first. He did not know what course the hon. and learned Gentleman wished the Government to have taken. In one part of his speech he said that, having the Report in their possession, they ought to have instituted a court martial and brought the officers implicated before it. Now, one objection urged against the Board of General Officers was, that it was entirely composed of military men. "Contrast that Board," said the hon. and learned Gentleman, "with the tribunal over which I myself presided; when I got a Committee of this House last year I took care to intermingle civilians with military men." [Mr. ROEBUCK: I did not say so; I said, "men of all parties."] The hon. and learned Gentleman certainly objected to the Board of General Officers because it was composed of military men. [Mr. ROEBUCK: No; military men of one opinion.] Just so; and the hon. and learned Gentleman added that it was composed of men advanced in years. But if he had made inquiry into the ages of the officers of the Board, he would have found he was in a great error in that respect, for they were by no means so advanced in age as he seemed to imagine. But the principal objection of the hon. and learned Gentleman was, that the Board was to sit in England to review the proceedings of a Commission in the Crimea whose inquiries had been made upon the spot. He begged to remind the hon. and learned Gentleman, that when the noble Lord at the head of the Government proposed the appointment of a Commission to proceed to the Crimea to inquire into the manner in which the supplies were distributed to the army, so as to divide the labour of inquiry between that Commission and the Committee appointed by the House—a division of labour that seemed in the highest degree reasonable—the hon. and learned Gentleman said that he had no confidence in any such Commission, and insisted on the Committee of the House of Commons assuming to itself the whole of the labour. Now, however, he thought it a matter of essential importance that this inquiry should be conducted in the Crimea; and with singular inconsistency 1603 he argued in favour of a court martial, though he must be aware that it would have to sit in this country. He (Mr. Peel) maintained that the Government had taken the only course by which they could in fairness do justice to all the parties concerned. Indeed there was nothing in the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman which could lead him to suppose that he had really made himself conversant with the contents of the Report of the Commissioners. His statements regarding it were of the most vague and general character. He (Mr. Peel) had had better opportunities than the hon. and learned Gentleman of making himself acquainted with its contents, and of learning the nature of the charges it contained; and it was impossible for him to deny, when he read the document, that the officers—who were, he would not say directly charged, but with regard to whom statements were made which left the impression that charges were brought against them—had a right to call for further inquiry and investigation. The first point to be established—and it was one which the Executive Government was incapable of establishing—was, whether the Report of the Commissioners was founded in every point on the evidence which they had taken. He should be sorry if any of the officers against whom charges were made should be under the censure of the Commissioners, unless it could be clearly shown that there was that in the evidence which substantiated the points alleged against them. There had been things alleged which were highly criminatory of officers who had served with the army in the Crimea. But he altogether refused to give in his adhesion to the accuracy of those allegations till he knew whether those officers had anything to advance in opposition to them. He would give one or two illustrations of his meaning in order that the House might be satisfied of the justice of the course which the Government had taken. What was one of the gravest charges brought against Colonel Gordon? It was that he had neglected to issue greatcoats and blankets at the proper time, and that the troops suffered very severely in consequence. In November and December the troops had nothing but the great coat and blanket that were issued to every man. The weather was extremely cold; the men were in the habit of going to the trenches day and night with their great-coats and blankets to protect them from its severity, and when they returned to their tents, having 1604 no others to exchange for them, they were compelled to lie down on the damp ground in the only coats and blankets which they had. This was one of the most serious charges brought against the Quartermaster General's Department, because it was said they had a very large supply of these articles on hand, and did not issue them to the troops. The Commissioners went on to state that one of the reasons assigned by Colonel Gordon why he did not issue extra great-coats was the existence of a regulation in the army which required that great-coats should only be issued once in three years. But the question arose, had Colonel Gordon himself assigned that as the reason why greatcoats were not issued to the troops? It was hardly possible to accept a statement so improbable. One was naturally unwilling to accept such a statement without seeing the evidence upon which it was founded, without satisfying oneself that the evidence given by Colonel Gordon fully substantiated the allegation. But any one who examined the evidence reported by the Commissioners would look in vain for any passage in which Colonel Gordon assigned that as the reason why he had not issued great-coats to the troops. The Commissioners, after stating that such was one of his reasons, proceeded to say that they thought the Government at home ought to have sent out special instructions to dispense with the regulation authorising the issue of great-coats; that in the absence of such instructions the Quartermaster General's Department should have applied to the Commander in Chief on the spot, for the purpose of obtaining his authority to dispense with the regulation; and that if neither of those courses were available, the Quartermaster General's Department should themselves have assumed that it was the intention of the Government to dispense with the regulation, for otherwise how could it be explained that they had sent out a sufficiency of great-coats to last for no fewer than five years if it was their intention that an issue should take place only once in three years? Undoubtedly the conduct of Colonel Gordon, as represented in the Report, seemed absurd; but in no one part of the evidence given by that officer himself would they find him stating that he was prevented from issuing great-coats to the troops in consequence of the existence of the warrant, or of the want of power to set it aside. Such was one reason why it was impossible for 1605 the Government to adopt the Report as conclusive, and why it was absolutely necessary that some tribunal or other should be created for the purpose of receiving such evidence in defence as might be offered. Let him give another case. It was stated by the Commissioners that when the troops first landed in the Crimea they were directed to leave their knapsacks in the transports, and that several weeks—as many as six or eight—elapsed before the knapsacks were returned to them; and that, in the interim, they were suffering much from the want of ordinary necessaries. Colonel Gordon was asked how he accounted for this delay. He replied that shortly after the battle of the Alma a circular was addressed to all the general officers who commanded divisions, inviting them to state whether they were desirous that their men should have their knapsacks again or not, and adding, that if they expressed a wish that the knapsacks should be returned, there would be no difficulty in getting them landed from the transports. And in answer to that communication, it was stated that all the general officers commanding divisions, with one exception, declined to receive the knapsacks at that time. It was added that when the Commissioners returned to England they met some of the general officers, and inquired of them how they came to decline receiving the knapsacks? As stated in the published Report, one officer denied positively that any such offer had been made to him; another stated that he had no recollection of it, although it might possibly have been so; while, with regard to a third, the Commissioners regretted that they had not had an opportunity of communicating with him on the subject. Here, then, was a statement directly impugning the veracity of Colonel Gordon; and who, without inquiry, would undertake to say at once which was right—whether the reason given by Colonel Gordon why the knapsacks were not returned to the men was one which exonerated him from blame, or whether he had been incorrect in stating that the general officers who commanded divisions were unwilling to receive the knapsacks? What Colonel Gordon now said was, that when he gave his answer to the Commissioners he had in his hand letters from no fewer than three general officers who commanded divisions, declining to receive the knapsacks; that the fourth had verbally explained to him why he was unwilling to receive them; and that there 1606 was an entry as regarded the latter in the official memorandum book of the Quartermaster General's Department confirming this statement. This was another illustration of the impossibility of adopting the Report as conclusive, and of the absolute necessity for appointing a new tribunal for the purpose of receiving explanations. Let him give one more instance. The charge against the Quartermaster General's Department was, that, having an abundance of stores in their possession, they omitted to issue those stores to the troops; and that, too, at the very moment when the men were suffering and dying from the want of them. General Airey was the head of that department; he was the officer who was responsible for any omission of duty; but if they examined the evidence they would find that General Airey was not examined by the Commissioners at all. General Airey stated that he extremely regretted that the Commissioners had been unable, from illness, to remain in the Crimea for the purpose of receiving his evidence; that he, of course, was not responsible for the necessity they were under of leaving the Crimea; that it would be unjust to condemn him because they were unable to receive his evidence; that, although they had addressed to him written questions, and although he had made written answers to those questions, yet he was not once called upon to explain why the stores in the possession of his department were not issued. Thus it appeared that the only point upon which the Quartermaster General's Department was condemned was the point upon which, for some reason or other, no question had ever been put to the head of that department. It was upon these grounds that the Government deemed it absolutely indispensable that a Board of General Officers should be formed for the purpose of receiving from the inculpated officers any explanations or answers they might wish to offer with reference to the statements in the Report. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich had abstained from moving his Amendment, but had expressed his dissatisfaction with the Government in not communicating the Report to the Horse Guards prior to its being laid on the table of the House. It was rather a disadvantage to the Government to be uncertain whether they should enter into a full explanation of that matter now, or defer it until the right hon. Baronet fulfilled his promise to bring the subject before the 1607 House at a more fitting period; but no harm could be done by stating that, although it might have been proper in point of form to communicate the Report to the Horse Guards, prior to its being laid on the table of the House, yet, in point of fact, the authorities of the Horse Guards could not have had an opportunity of becoming acquainted with its contents, far less of inquiring into the accuracy of its statements, because it came into the hands of the War Department only a day or two before the meeting of Parliament, and it was immediately laid on the table of the House. If the War Deparment had withheld it until the authorities of the Horse Guards had examined all its statements, and until the inculpated officers had had an opportunity of entering fully into their several defences, could any man believe that it would have been possible to resist the Motions which would unquestionably have been made for the immediate production of the Report? Why, he could not even withhold a portion of certain papers which were intended to form part of the Report, but which for sufficient reasons had been omitted, without having daily inquiries whether he meant to present the whole of the documents or not. He therefore thought that the course adopted by the Government was, under the circumstances, the one most advisable to pursue. As the hon. and learned Gentleman's Resolution distinctly imputed misconduct to the Government for having appointed officers to commands who were inculpated in the Report; and as the right hon. Baronet opposite, although he objected to the form of words proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman, on the ground that they prejudged the question in reference to those officers, blamed the Government for their premature appointment to posts of importance, he felt bound to give some explanation of the course which had been taken by the Government in reference to those officers. The hon. and learned Gentleman pointed out the Earl of Cardigan, the Earl of Lucan, General Airey, and Colonel Gordon as being the officers most inculpated by the Report, and he maintained that the Government had been guilty of misconduct in having employed those officers pending an inquiry which had resulted in the production of charges against them. But how did the case stand with regard to each of them? He would take that of Lord Cardigan first. The 1608 Earl of Cardigan had been appointed Inspector General of Cavalry in the month of January last year, at a time when the country resounded from one end to the other with the fame of the Balaklava charge—when the noble Earl was receiving universal praise for having ridden at the head of the light cavalry to what was looked upon as almost certain death—at a time, too, antecedent not only to the appointment of the Commission, but even to the existence of the Government with which the Commission originated. How that could fairly be made a charge of misconduct against the Government he could not understand. Next, with regard to Lord Lucan. The Earl of Lucan had received the command of a cavalry regiment. Now, considering that he was the only general officer commanding a division who had not received the command of a regiment—considering, also, that although it had been necessary to recall him in consequence of a difference with the general in command, it was agreed on all hands that he ought not to be proscribed on that account, there could be nothing wrong in appointing him to the command of a cavalry regiment at a time when the Commission had not made its Report, and when it was not known that any charge would be brought against him. Then, there was Colonel Gordon. Colonel Gordon had been Assistant Quartermaster General of the army, and the Government was blamed because he had been appointed Deputy Quartermaster General at the Horse Guards. Now, considering the authority and responsibility of the office which he had held in the army, the Government was not to blame for the appointment at the Horse Guards. In December, 1854, Lord Raglan recommended Colonel Gordon to be made a Deputy Quartermaster General of the army and a Queen's Aide-de-camp. That recommendation was not complied with by Lord Hardinge. Lord Raglan repeated it in the month of March, 1855, and it was again disregarded. Colonel Gordon was neither made a Queen's Aide-de-camp nor a Deputy Quartermaster General. He was then a lieutenant colonel in the Guards, and he shortly afterwards became a colonel in the army, not by favouritism, or the influence of Lord Raglan, out of his turn, but by seniority, being the senior lieutenant colonel at the time when a vacancy occurred which gave him the step. Twice Lord Raglan recommended him to be made a 1609 Deputy Quartermaster General of the army, and twice that recommendation was attended with no effect; but soon after Lord Raglan died, and Colonel Gordon availed himself of the opportunity to come home. He was about to return to the Crimea when the death of General Torrens left vacant the office of Deputy Quarter master General at the Horse Guards, and it was by no means unnatural that Lon Hardinge, in the month of July or August before this Report was presented, and before it was known that these charges would be brought against Colonel Gordon, should have appointed to the vacancy an officer who had filled a similar post in the Crimea, and who had discharged its duties so efficiently as to induce Lord Raglan, on two separate occasions, specially to recommend him for promotion. The right hon. Gentleman opposite was of opinion that the appointment was premature, because the Government knew that that officer's conduct was being inquired into; but would the right hon. Gentleman seriously maintain that, because the Government knew that the conduct of certain officers was being inquired into, they would have been justified in recalling them? If they were not bound to recall them, how could they be justified in refusing to employ them in situations of an analogous character? If the House acceded to the doctrine of the right hon. Baronet, that no officer whose conduct was being inquired into should be employed, the consequences might be most embarrassing. Take, for instance, the case of Colonel Wetherall. The charge against the Quartermaster General's Department was, that it had neglected to issue stores in its possession of which the army was in need; but it so happened that the officer who was responsible to a certain extent for the issue of those stores, who was detached from all other duties for that special purpose, was Colonel Wetherall; and yet, since this Commission was appointed, Colonel Wetherall had been employed in several very important posts. He was first of all sent as Deputy Quartermaster General to the Turkish Contingent, in which office he gave the greatest satisfaction. When General Airey came home many persons in this country and both the Generals in the Crimea—General Simpson and General Codrington—were of opinion that the fittest man to succeed General Airey was Colonel Wetherall, but when that vacancy was filled by another officer Colonel Wetherall was placed at 1610 the head of the Land Transport Corps, and, with all possible respect for the energy and judgment displayed by Colonel M'Murdo, he was convinced that no one could have done more service to the army in the Crimea than Colonel Wetherall had by the manner in which he had handled that important department. Last of all came the case of General Airey. General Airey was Quartermaster General of the army in the Crimea first under Lord Raglan, and afterwards under General Simpson. When General Simpson returned home considerable changes were made in the important offices in the Crimea. General Codrington was made Commander in Chief, and General Windham, a junior officer to General Airey, became chief of the staff. It was necessary, therefore, that General Airey should return home; and it was just at that juncture that General Freeth, after a service of forty-two years, resigned the post of Quartermaster General at the Horse Guards, and retired into private life. Would the hon. and learned Gentleman deny that it was an immense advantage to Lord Hardinge and Lord Panmure, while the war continued, to have at their elbow an officer who had discharged the duties of the Quartermaster General's Department for two years with an army in the field? Could any officer be preferred to General Airey with his experience? Impossible. The estimate formed of the character and services of General Airey by Lord Hardinge was shared by the Members of the Government, for otherwise what could have induced them to send General Airey to Paris to take part in the military conferences, and arrange plans for the ensuing campaign? If the Government thought General Airey capable of rendering service in the Conferences, was it unreasonable in Lord Hardinge to suppose that General Airey could render efficient service in the Quartermaster General's Department at home to that army with which he had served for two years in the field? He thought that no appointment could be more politic. He did not know whether Mr. Filder had been named by the hon. and learned Gentleman, but he had been pointedly referred to by the right hon. Baronet, and it had been said that great injustice had been done to that officer. It was said that injustice had been done to Mr. Filder, because he was not aware that he had been recalled until he (Mr. Peel) had so stated it in the House, and because he had not been shown the Report containing alle- 1611 gations affecting his administration. It was thought that his recall by the Government convoyed some censure. Now, he had not intended in the answer he gave last night to use the word "recall" in that sense, but he would state the circumstances under which Mr. Filder has ceased to be Commissary General. When Lord Panmure first came to the War Department, he certainly formed the impression that the duties of the Commissariat; Department in the Crimea had not been so satisfactorily performed as they ought to have been. The Report made by the Select Committee of that House, presided over by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Roebuck), strengthened that impression, and the first Report of the Commissioners could not but tend to confirm it. At the same time the Government heard that the health of the Commissary General was failing, and, under these circumstances, it was not unnatural that Lord Panmure should take the first opportunity of relieving that officer from the discharge of his duties. Lord Panmure knew that there was a prospect of the army remaining another winter in the Crimea, that it would be largely increased in numbers, and that, great as were the exertions necessary for the proper supply of the army in the Crimea in 1854–5, still greater exertions would be required for the winter of 1855–6. In consequence of these concurrent circumstances Lord Panmure came to the resolution of intimating to the Commissary General that another officer would be appointed to succeed him. A dispatch was accordingly sent out to General Simpson stating these reasons, but in the kindest and most considerate manner. At the time this dispatch of the Government was on its way to the Crimea Mr. Filder had applied for a board of medical officers to report upon the state of his health with a view of returning to England and being relieved of his post, and before the Government dispatch arrived in the Crimea he had left the seat of war. Had he remained in the Crimea he would have been made acquainted with the fact of another officer having been appointed to succeed him. He had been asked why he had not communicated to Mr. Commissary Filder the first Report of the Commissioners? At the time the Government received that Report, the Commissary General had returned to this country, and he doubted whether it was an advisable or a necessary course that the Government 1612 should communicate this Report containing charges against him when the whole question was settled by his resignation. It must be remembered, too, that the first Report, received in June, was not transmitted in the form in which it now appeared—complete with the evidence upon which it was founded. It was the bare Report of the Commission, sent hurriedly, to show the Government that no time had been lost, and in order that they might be acquainted with the defects in the Commissariat as soon as possible. The Government were, therefore, unwilling to do anything which would give pain to Mr. Filder, but in the month of January last the Commissary General applied to Lord Panmure to recommend him for the Order of the Bath. A correspondence commenced, which continued for some time, and it there became necessary for Lord Panmure to tell Mr. Filder that he was unable to recommend him for the honour of the Bath, because he was not satisfied with the way in which he had conducted the duties of the Commissariat, and because he had not made all the exertions that he might have made to get supplies for the army, and to provide for their systematic and regular distribution. This communication was not made to Mr. Filder till the middle of January, soon after the complete Report of the Crimean Commission had reached the Government. This was all he thought it necessary to say on these subjects at present. It was obvious that the statements in the Report of the Commissioners rendered it necessary that further explanations should be received from the officers implicated, and it was considered advisable to deal with Mr. Filder in that respect as it was proposed to deal with the others. When the hon. and learned Gentleman imputed misconduct to the Government, that they had placed the army under inefficient officers, and that some of their appointments were open to blame, let them have credit for others to which no exception could be taken. The departments generally were now admitted to be filled by the fittest men. The present Adjutant General of the army in the Crimea was an officer of acknowledged ability, who had paid great attention to drilling the troops and teaching them the use of their weapons, and to forming an infantry which in any future action would be found to have attained greater effectiveness than had ever been attained before by the infantry of this country. If they 1613 referred to what had been done by the present Quartermaster General in the Crimea, they would find that the quarters of the troops, their huts, tents, and supplies testified to his capacity. The medical department in the Crimea was presided over by the same officer, Dr. Hall. [Mr. ROEBUCK: Hear, hear!] He supposed from that cheer that the hon. and learned Gentleman was of opinion that Dr. Hall ought to have been removed. But let the sanitary returns testify whether Dr. Hall was not doing his duty. The last returns gave seven deaths in seven days in an army of 70,000 men. Compare that with the state of the army last year [Mr. ROEBUCK: Hear, hear!], when in a force of about one-half or one-third of its present strength the number of deaths was at one period 100 a day. Take any other department in the army in the Crimea, and it would be found that men had been appointed to the posts they were best qualified to fill. He would now leave the question in the hands of the House, not doubting, after what the right hon. Baronet had said, that the House would shrink from any course which would prejudge the case of the officers whose conduct was called in question. They would make their explanations to a board of general officers, and in the meantime some merit, he thought, was due to those who had done their utmost to provide an army which was now strong in numbers, strong in spirit, and eager to measure its strength with the enemy. Every one must desire that peace would be the result of the Conferences now opened at Paris; but, if war were the only alternative before us, we should enter upon a renewal of the conflict without any doubt or misgiving as to the result.
said, when he heard the Motion brought forward by the hon. and learned Gentleman, and recollected that the hon. Gentleman had originated the only two or three important discussions of the Session, he felt justified in stopping at the outset to consider the political objects which the hon. and learned Gentleman had in view, and before he came to a decision on the question before the House, to decide, from that hon. Gentleman's antecedents, how far he could give him his confidence. The hon. and learned Gentleman had commenced his Parliamentary career in the present Session by a remarkable assertion; an assertion which had been referred to in the House, and 1614 widely commented on in the country; he had stated it as his opinion that this country had embarked in the war with Russia for the sole purpose of protecting our Indian possessions, and not for maintaining the balance of power in Europe. Considering that the hon. and learned Gentleman adduced no proofs in support of this assertion, he (Mr. Bentinck) was justified in regarding it as of a very doubtful character, and, therefore, as a statement abounding in indiscretion. On this ground alone, he (Mr. Bentinck) could not feel confidence in the Motion of the hon. and learned Member. But that was not all. The hon. and learned Member, during the pending negotiations with America upon a critical and delicate subject—a subject on which it might be supposed every one with a sense of what was at issue would avoid irritating discussion—had thought proper upon this occasion to force the House into a discussion on this delicate subject at the present critical moment. The good sense of the House prevented this discussion; and by so doing it marked in the strongest manner its sense of the indiscretion of the hon. and learned Gentleman. The next indiscretion of the hon. and learned Member was the Motion before the House. It looked like a determination on the part of the hon. and learned Gentleman to attack every man who was in difficulty. He (Mr. Bentinck) fully admitted that the conduct of Government was the cause of the difficulties that existed. The position of affairs, as he understood it, was this. Certain gallant officers, holding high appointments, considered themselves wronged by the Report of the Commission, and they impugned the accuracy, therefore, of the members of that Commission. Admitting, however, to the full, that Her Majesty's Government were in error in their manner of prosecuting the affair, he (Mr. Bentinck) contended that, under present circumstances, it was impossible to render justice to all parties without Her Majesty's Government taking the step which had been taken in this case. They had created the difficulty, and they were bound to find a solution of it, by the appointment of an efficient tribunal to investigate the charges against these officers. Such a course had become indispensable under present circumstances; and he (Mr. Bentinck) was therefore at a loss to know why the hon. and learned Gentleman should confine himself to a violent attack upon the Government for taking it—considering that 1615 the hon. and learned Gentleman suggested no remedy himself for the wrong. The hon. and learned Gentleman, however, was always more inclined to attack, right or wrong, than to suggest a remedy; and he (Mr. Bentinck) would suggest to the hon. and learned Member, if it was his intention to continue daily to edify the House, by playing the part of the indignant and independent patriot, that he should exhibit more accuracy in his facts and more discretion in the selection of the subjects which he brought for discussion before the House.
§ MR. LAYARD
said, that, without any disparagement to his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sheffield, he thought that the course indicated by the notice which he had given of his intention to call the attention of the House to the report of Sir John M'Neill and Colonel Tulloch was, in many respects, preferable to that which had been pursued by his hon. and learned Friend in bringing forward this Motion. He thought that that Commission ought to have been thoroughly discussed; and he should confine himself entirely to that part of the subject. The right hon. Baronet who had given notice of an Amendment (Sir J. Pakington) had said, that he did not think that this was the right time to enter into the question. He (Mr. Layard) perfectly agreed with the right hon. Baronet, so far as referred to the part of the subject which concerned the officers whose conduct was impugned by the Report. After the course which had been taken by the Government, it would be most unadvisable to enter on that part of the subject, and he therefore listened with extreme surprise to the extraordinary and indiscreet speech made by the Under Secretary for War. He would not return to the history of the army in the Crimea, which, in his usual epigrammatic style, his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Roebuck) had laid before the House. That history was well known to every Member of the House, to every man in the country—he might almost say, to every man in the world. Let him, however, remind the House, that when the Motion of his hon. and learned Friend for a Committee was carried, the Government which then held the reins of power fell, and the noble Lord, now the Prime Minister, who succeeded, made a very remarkable speech. He endeavoured to take the inquiry out of the hands of the House, and said, in the words of a King of England,—"I will be your 1616 leader. I will take upon myself to examine the culprits. I will be responsible for the punishment of the guilty." If such were not his words, that was their purport. Notwithstanding that speech and that declaration, the Committee was appointed, and it went into a full inquiry. The noble Lord chose two gentlemen to carry on another inquiry. He declared that the Committee could not have a sufficient opportunity of examining witnesses, and that, being 3,000 miles away from the scene of the occurrences into which it was to inquire, it could not arrive at a definite or just conclusion. He therefore sent Sir John M'Neill and Colonel Tulloch to make an investigation upon the spot, and to report to the Government, to this House, and to the country. The appointments were unexceptionable. Sir John M'Neill commenced life as a surgeon in the army; he consequently had considerable knowledge of the details of his profession as connected with a military force, and was, in that respect, well qualified to perform the task imposed upon him. He had been ambassador in Persia, and was acquainted with the resources of the East. Moreover, he had, during the latter years of his life, held a semi-judicial office in Scotland, and was well qualified to sift and examine evidence. Colonel Tulloch was an officer of admitted attainments and abilities. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Peel) had said that he (Mr. Layard) had criticised those appointments, and he had stated the grounds of his criticism. What were they? The hon. Gentleman said he had criticised them because the report would be a sham, and because Sir John M'Neill was in delicate health. Had not the hon. Gentleman himself shown that that criticism was well founded? He (Mr. Layard) said the report would be a sham, because he felt sure that the Government would not adopt it. The hon. Gentleman had that evening gone into an elaborate examination of the report, and the report itself had been overthrown by the Government. The hon. Gentleman went on to say that General Airey had not been examined because Sir John M'Neill had been compelled by ill-health to leave the Crimea. He (Mr. Layard) remembered meeting Sir John M'Neill at the time of his appointment, and asking him the state of his health. Sir John M'Neill told him that his health was delicate and that he went out with considerable misgivings; but he added that he had a duty to perform, that the office had been 1617 pressed upon him by the Government, and that it was at their urgent request and entreaty that he was going out. Had not his (Mr. Layard's) prognostications been fulfilled? Had not the remarks of the hon. Gentleman that evening justified all that he had said? He would not now discuss the report of the Commissioners. What, however, were the circumstances under which it was presented? The Commissioners went to the Crimea, returned home, and made a report to the Government. They acted like a judge summing up the facts. They did not give any opinion. The hon. Gentleman himself said they did not condemn any officer. They merely stated the evidence which they had collected, and referred it to that House, to the country, and to the Government, as a jury; and that House and the country were as well able to judge as any board of general officers, however carefully constituted, or however well its Members might be chosen, of its veracity and its impartiality. The Report was recognised by the Government in the most solemn manner, and it had been in the name of Her Majesty communicated to both Houses of Parliament. By that mode of communication the Government had virtually adopted and endorsed it with their sanction. But to his astonishment, he had just heard the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Peel) go into an elaborate criticism of it; and how trumpery a criticism! He was almost ashamed to refer to it; but there were two subjects on which he thought it necessary to enter into some explanation. The hon. Gentleman had charged Sir John M'Neill and Colonel Tulloch with a want of veracity, and in support of that charge he referred to two points in the evidence of Colonel Gordon. He said that Sir John M'Neill and Colonel Tulloch had stated that Colonel Gordon had asserted that the knapsacks were not given because the Generals refused to accept them. The Commissioners did mention in their Report that Colonel Gordon had made this statement, but they added that three Generals of division had contradicted it. They merely described the fact that Colonel Gordon said one thing and three Generals another; he (Mr. Layard) did not say which was right. The hon. Gentleman said Colonel Gordon had letters in his possession to show that the knapsacks were refused by the three Generals in question. Those letters were never produced. He believed Colonel Gordon had found them since the Report was made. He 1618 did not wish to throw blame on Colonel Gordon, but it was unfair to charge Sir J. M'Neill and Colonel Tulloch with want of veracity when they stated, as a matter of fact, that which was true as far as it went.
§ MR. FREDERICK PEEL
said, he had not impugned the veracity of the Commissioners. What he said was, that Colonel Gordon had made an assertion which was contradicted by the Report of the Commissioners, and that the Government could not undertake to say whether Colonel Gordon or the Commissioners were right.
§ MR. LAYARD
Very well; the next point related to the great-coats. The hon. Gentleman said Sir John M'Neill and Colonel Tulloch had reported that the issue of great-coats was restricted by the Queen's warrant to every three years, while no such words appeared in the evidence of Colonel Gordon. What Colonel Gordon stated was, that the issue of greatcoats was only restricted by the terms of the warrant, and the Commissioners inserted the words, "by the Queen's Warrant, restricting the issue of great-coats under ordinary circumstances to every three years," because those words were essential to make the evidence clear and intelligible to the public. The usual mode of proceeding at the Horse Guards had been adopted in this matter. Weak men had been thrown over; strong men promoted and rewarded. The hon. Gentleman had attempted a defence of the conduct of the Government towards Commissary General Filder; but it appeared to him that his defence was as lame as possible. The hon. Gentleman now said Commissary General Filder was not recalled, although he stated the other day that he had been so. The hon. Gentleman declares that Commissary General Filder was only relieved from the further performance of his duties. Up to that moment it was evident that Mr. Filder had never received any official intimation that he had been thus dealt with. A communication to that effect must either have been addressed to Commissary General Filder, or to those in authority above him. If it were addressed to those in authority over him, it was undoubtedly a recall in the strict sense of the term, and no glossing of the hon. Gentleman could make it anything else. When public indignation was excited in consequence of the Report of Sir John M'Neill and Colonel Tulloch, the noble Lord at the head of the Government had recourse to his usual 1619 tactics. He appointed a Commission. No doubt the Government originally intended to make that a close Commission, but, when the noble Lord found the popular feeling would not allow for a moment of such a proceeding, he changed his policy and made it an open Commission. An open inquiry was very different from a close inquiry; and he should take a very different course in the one case to what he should have taken in the other. Still he had many objections to the Commission, some of which he would briefly state. In the first place it was undoubtedly an inquiry into a Report. Those were almost the words of the warrant, notwithstanding the denial of the hon. Gentleman. The words of the warrant were, that inquiry should be made by the general officers hereinafter mentioned into the statements contained in the Reports, and into the evidence affecting the officers referred to. The warrant directed inquiry into a Report accepted by the Government, communicated by the Government to the House, and made by officers whom the Government had chosen. His next objection to the Commission was, that it was an appeal by the Government against their own sentence. He had shown already that the Report of the Commissioners, endorsed by the Government, was their own sentence. He objected, thirdly, because it was impossible there could be a fair trial. Let the House look at the remarkable manner in which Sir John M'Neill and Colonel Tulloch pursued their examination. They were perfectly aware of the nature of the task intrusted to them, and they knew perfectly well the difficulties they had to encounter. They did not commence by examining the general officers or men high in position. They commenced with the lowest man in the scale and worked upwards until they got to the highest, because they knew that not a single man would have dared to give evidence which tended in any way to contradict his superiors. He had gone through the evidence, and carefully read every word of it; and he was convinced that, even with these precautions, though many officers were examined, only four or five spoke their minds openly. Now, the course which the Government had taken justified the prudence of those officers who hesitated to give evidence. Everybody who knew the rules of the army—everybody who knew the power of the Horse Guards—knew very well that no inferior 1620 officer would dare to speak his mind before this Commission if it involved him in the contradiction of his superiors. He appealed to any man in that House—to any honest man in the army and navy—whether any officer low in rank would either dare to repeat unpalatable evidence given in the Crimea, or give fresh testimony to upset the statements of his superiors? He stated unhesitatingly that no officer would venture to do so, and he was sure that statement was one which no one could contradict. One case would completely illustrate his position. Two or three years ago there was a rebellion in Ceylon. Proclamations were issued, signed by a Captain Watson, of a very arbitrary and violent character, so much so that an inquiry was ordered. Two gentlemen, civil servants in the Madras Presidency, judges and men of high character, were sent to the island of Ceylon to investigate, and their investigation proved most undoubtedly that the proclamations were issued by Captain Watson, and that he was guilty. The Horse Guards, however, interfered, appointed a court martial, a second inquiry took place, and Captain Watson was acquitted. Yet there was not a man in Ceylon who knew the facts who did not clearly see that the court martial was appointed solely to relieve Captain Watson from the effects of the first inquiry. He objected also to the Commission, because it was a clumsy mode of carrying out the intentions of the Government. The noble Lord at the head of the War Department stated the other evening, in another place, that "these general officers would have the same power of taking evidence and satisfying themselves upon the matter adverted to as the Commissioners in the Crimea had." What did that mean? Were they to understand that the whole of the evidence was to be gone over again, or were they to understand that witnesses were to be called to contradict those who spoke to facts in the Crimea, and that the latter were not to be allowed to reassert or explain their statements? If the latter was to be the mode adopted, it would be most unfair; and, if the former, then, as he had said, the inferior officers would not dare to repeat their statements under the terror which the Horse Guards inspired among all men in the army. Another objection was, that no oath would be administered either to those who formed the Board or to those who were to be examined 1621 before it. He regretted that the hon. and gallant Member for Huntingdon (General Peel) should have left his place, because he had very much misunderstood what had fallen from his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Roebuck). His hon. and learned Friend was the last man to cast one word of doubt on the honour and gallantry of the gallant Gentleman. (Mr. ROEBUCK: Hear.) What his hon. and learned Friend had said was, that the hon. and gallant Gentleman had had no experience in the field, a fact which the hon. and gallant Member had himself admitted, when very modestly stating how much he had desired and how unfortunate he had been in not having had that experience. He (Mr. Layard) did not think the composition of the Board was such as would command the confidence of the country. If the Government had named such men as Sir William Napier and Sir George Pollock—men who had had large experience of armies in the field, had held high commands, and gone through great campaigns—they would have been capable of judging in these matters; but the officers named in the Commission were not capable of judging from experience, and they did not, with one exception, enjoy the public confidence. Another objection was, that the appointment of the Commission undoubtedly did condemn Sir John M'Neill and Colonel Tulloch. The terms of the warrant were condemnatory. The warrant said they were to inquire into the statements contained in the Reports of those gentlemen, as well as into the evidence given before them. The use of the word "statements" was, undoubtedly, a reflection upon them. Another objection was that, under the plea of sending to the Crimea, or something of that kind, there would be delay, until the House was not in a position to take any further steps in the matter. He was very much surprised at the Government justifying this Commission by that which was appointed to inquire into the Convention of Cintra. The question was so deeply important that he trusted the House would allow him to read one or two opinions upon the appointment of the Board of Inquiry into the Convention of Cintra. The opinions were so remarkable that they could not fail to strike the House. Mr. Windham was reported to have said—What the Ministers wanted was, that, as a public tribunal, they should determine whether the country ought to acquit his Ministers. They pervert, therefore, the whole nature of the tri- 1622 bunal, and have produced out of it such a strange, anomalous, and inconsistent proceeding as was never known in the laws of this or of any country, and which cannot be made conclusive to any purpose that shall be at once rational and honest. It is a trial and no trial. It can neither condemn so as to inflict punishment on the guilty, nor acquit so as to protect the innocent from further prosecution. …. The Ministers wanted to hush up the business so as to prevent that full disclosure which a trial would bring out, and which might involve statements not so convenient to themselves. For this purpose, either no inquiry at all, or an inquiry in the regular mode, with shut doors, would have been most convenient. But that the impatience of the public would not readily acquiesce in. To that the terrors of the newspapers were opposed. They therefore conceived and brought forth that monstrous production, unknown to our laws and our usages, au open Court of Inquiry, of which the only effect has been to throw dust in the eyes of the people—by a show of trial without the reality."—[Hansard, xii. 939.]This was prophetic of the case now before the House. He would read another remarkable opinion, no less than that of Lord Henry Petty, now the Marquess of Lansdowne, who impugned the appointment of that Commission—I am sure that in this House it will not be thought that any form of inquiry that has passed already, or anything that has borne the name of Inquiry, has been of a nature to preclude the expediency and necessity of this House taking up the inquiry itself, because, with whatever respect I may view the individual and military characters of the persons who composed the Board of Inquiry assembled by His Majesty's command, I must say that, constituted as that Board was, and directed as its functions were, that Board was a tribunal more incompetent to give satisfaction to the country, more irreconcilable with all the known and received principles of law and equity in this country, than any that has ever existed. … I hold in my hand the opinion delivered by Lord Woodhouselee on the subject of Courts of Inquiry. He asserts that, although there is in the King a power inherent to convene such Boards as Courts of Advice, yet still that their decisions have no binding effects on the party accused. And, though it has happened that persons suspected have been examined by them, the call was not founded in justice, nor can persons be compelled to obey them. In this opinion Mr. Macarthur and Mr. Adey, two gentlemen who have also written on this subject, concur…… There is, besides, in our history a memorable instance, in which the reference to such a court was pregnant with evils; yet, will it be believed that this very instance, which has proved in its operation so mischievous and in its consequences so pregnant with evil, was the very identical precedent on which the servants of the Crown recommended to their Sovereign the formation of the late Court of Inquiry! I allude to the case of Sir John Mordaunt, whose conduct was first submitted to a Board of Inquiry, which next sent him to a court martial, where he was acquitted upon the ground that the only evidence against him arose from his own answers tending to criminate himself. Such 1623 an example is of itself sufficient to satisfy the House of the inconvenience and disadvantages arising from that particular mode of inquiry. I therefore do think myself justified in asserting that a Court of Inquiry, held as this has been, opening its doors to the public, calling upon the very parties to give their testimony, and drawing from them information by which they were to be subjected to criminal prosecution, was a tribunal calculated rather to defeat than to promote the ends of justice or to give satisfaction to the public. Even by the constitution of the Court itself it was impossible for it to inquire into any demerits beyond those of the officers."—[Hansard, xii. 898.]The next authority he should quote was that of no less a person than Sir Arthur Wellesley, afterwards the great Duke of Wellington, who, speaking in the House of Commons on the 21st of February, 1809, expressed himself to this effect—He perfectly agreed with the noble Lord (Lord H. Petty) in the wish that this Court of Inquiry might be the last of the kind which should ever assemble. It was not a Court before which any officer would desire to be tried. A general impression has gone abroad that this Court had been instituted by his noble Friend (Lord Castlereagh) out of friendship to him. It was rather hard upon him to be subjected to such a reflection; as, if he had been tried in any other manner he must have been acquitted. As far as he was concerned, he must say, without meaning to blame any of the members, that this Court had been a source of injustice, and he therefore hoped it would be the last Court of the kind to which the investigation of the conduct of officers should be submitted."—[Hansard, xii. 935.]Such were the opinions expressed by three men whose authority on such a subject no one could venture to call in question. Yet the House had been given to understand that it was upon the precedent of the Commission appointed to inquire into the Convention of Cintra that the Government had founded their determination to nominate the present Board. Anything more absurd or irrational than such a vindication for such a proceeding it would be difficult to imagine. If it should be objected that the interference of the House in these matters was inconvenient, all he could say was, that the Horse Guards had only themselves to thank for it. It appeared to him that they had brought it all upon themselves. They had defied the indignation of the country and pursued a policy which, rendered into language, might be thus interpreted—"We care nothing for public opinion, nothing for the indignation of the country. You may bring forward what evidence you please to establish the unfitness and incompetency of any man. 1624 We care not. We have the power of appointment and promotion in our own hands, and we will exercise our right, and appoint or promote these officers in spite of you." It was idle to contend that Sir R. Airey received his appointment in September, for it was well known that he was actually appointed on the 26th of December. Lord Panmure, it was said, had not seen the printed Report reflecting on Sir R. Airey until it was presented to Parliament. That was very possible. But what an evasion was this! Would it be said that he had not seen the written Report? Why, it was within his (Mr. Layard's) knowledge that that Report had been seen by many persons long before the month of December. [Mr. F. PEEL: Sir R. Airey was appointed in September, but not gazetted till December.] In that case the conduct of the Government was all the less excusable; for as long as the appointment was not gazetted a retreat was still open to them, and they had a very fair excuse for retracing their steps. The under Secretary for War had gone out of his way to defend Lords Lucan and Cardigan—a superfluous proceeding under the circumstances, for not one word had been said about those noblemen by the hon. and learned Member who had proposed the Motion. But the fact was, that the Under Secretary had got up a speech on the subject of a totally different Motion, and had prepared certain statements in reply to remarks which he took it for granted would be made by him (Mr. Layard). Equally gratuitous, but still more unfortunate, were the hon. Gentleman's allusions to Dr. Hall. If in these deplorable proceedings there was one case more gross and of a deeper dye than the others, it was that of Dr. Hall. There was a concurrence of testimony against that Gentleman. He was reported against by the Sebastopol Committee; and the Duke of Newcastle, Dr. Andrew Smith, Dr. Cumming, Mr. (now Sir) Benson Maxwell, and other witnesses, all concurred in pronouncing his condemnation. The only man whom Sir John M' Niell and Colonel Tulloch directly censured and almost charged with want of veracity was Dr. Hall. Yet, in defiance of all this, on the 6th of February, only three weeks ago, he was gazetted a K.C.B. In this case, no pretext of not having seen the reports before the distinction was conferred would avail the Government. They had seen all 1625 the reports, both written and printed; but in spite of them all, and in utter disregard of this accumulated evidence, they had gazetted Dr. Hall. Such was the contempt with which the Horse Guards were prepared to meet that House and the country. Never was there a more glaring case. Such proceedings not only created indignation at home, but exposed us to the ridicule of foreign notions, and in Paris he had himself heard the greatest surprise expressed upon the fact that Sir Richard Airey, whose conduct was impugned, was among the persons selected for the honours and distinctions which the Emperor had conferred upon British officers. He did not mean to say that Sir Richard Airey was not innocent, for he would not prejudge him; but he ought not to have been appointed to the place he now held under such circumstances. But it was to be hoped that the day was not distant when a better state of things would be inaugurated. At present the Horse Guards had joined issue with the country, saying, "We defy you!" The country accepted the challenge, and if the Horse Guards were defeated they must prepare themselves for the result—the utter and immediate abolition of that system of trickery and deception to which the best interests alike of the army and the country had been remorselessly sacrificed. In conclusion, he would only observe that when the time arrived for that House to take up the main question and to pronounce a verdict upon it, it would be their bounden duty to do justice to their countrymen who had died not by the sword of the enemy, but fallen victims to the incapacity of their leaders and to the incompetence or negligence of those whom the Horse Guards had sent to take care of them.
complained of the terms in which the hon. Member had referred to the young officers of the army. Those officers were men possessed of as high a sense of honour as the hon. Gentleman himself, or any other Member of that House. Last Session it was the old and distinguished officers whom the hon. Gentleman selected as the objects of his attack. Now, it was most painful to the feelings of those veterans that they should have been assailed as they had been, and that the House should have endured to hear them spoken of with disrespect. The hon. Gentleman, in a speech at Liverpool, affected disgust at the word "Peninsula," and even went the length of wishing that 1626 he could take a sleeping draught so that he might never hear it more; yet there was a time when English hearts beat high at the mention of that word, and when Englishmen delighted to hear the names of the gallant men who in the Peninsula raised their country to the highest pitch of glory. He trusted that that time had not yet passed away. England did less than any other country to teach her soldiers and officers their duties, yet her army was second to none in the world in doing its duty in the field. The fact was to be attributed to the esprit de corps which existed to a greater or less extent in every regiment. Traditions of personal valour fired the emulation of the whole corps, and in every regiment the memory of the brave deeds performed by officers and men, and mostly in the Peninsula campaigns, was cherished with the fondest pride. Yet it was the gallant Englishmen who had done these deeds, and whose bright example was, so to speak, a guiding-star for the army, that the hon. Member for Aylesbury would hold up to obloquy and contempt. [Mr. LAYARD: No, no!] In every branch of the service glorious acts had been performed. Take our Cavalry. What soldier of that service, no matter how short a time he had been with his regiment, but must have heard of the gallant deeds of Sir Stapleton Cotton, now Viscount Combermere? Take, then, our Infantry. In the regiment in which he (Colonel North) had served, the name of Lord Gough was never mentioned in other language than that of admiration; Sir Edward Blakeney was still thought of with pride in the 7th Fusileers; Lord Seaton was still the glory of the 52nd, and the Royal Artillery were fondly jealous of the splendid reputation of Sir Hew Ross. The corps of Royal Engineers were proud, not without cause, of the brilliant career of Sir Harry Jones. Yet, in what terms of contempt had "Our own correspondent" alluded to that distinguished officer, whose gallant nature urged him, notwithstanding his severe illness, to witness the last assault on Sebastopol. Some wretched artist, too, had profited by the hint, and produced a miserable caricature, in which he represented the three English Generals as sitting in a ditch, while the battle was raging around. Why, from such representations as these, one would think that we were a nation of cowards. But all this was to be expected, as the Government had remained silent while generals and officers whom it was their duty to support were made the 1627 objects of unsparing attacks. Members of the Ministry might not have felt themselves quite competent to explain and defend the strategy and tactics of their commanders from hostile criticism, nor could they, as they would not admit a soldier into the Cabinet, although this country was carrying on a great war; but they might, at all events, have taken credit for the appointment of an officer like Raglan, whose characteristic courtesy and good temper, and his reputation in the opinion of our Allies as the bravest soldier of the age, peculiarly qualified him above any other general that could have been named for maintaining that friendly concert and perfect accord between the English and French armies upon which the success of the war so greatly depended. When the news of Lord Raglan's death arrived, Members of the Government rose, one after another, in praise of that gallant officer; but one could not but feel, that if what they stated was their true opinions of his services, they had disgracefully abandoned him when he was so unscrupulously assailed in the press, and throughout the country, and did not rise to offer a single word in his defence during his lifetime. With regard to the Report now under discussion, the noble Lord at the head of the Cabinet had been distinctly understood to declare that the Report of the Commissioners would not be laid on the table, because those gentlemen had been sent out to collect information for the exclusive use of the Government; and certainly the witnesses who were called to give evidence before them were not made aware that their statements would afterwards be converted into grounds of accusation either against themselves or against other persons. Seven months had been suffered to elapse since the Report was prepared; the poison of detraction in the meanwhile had gone forth, far and wide, unchecked, and the whole country rang with incessant outcries for the recall of Sir Richard Airey, Colonel Gordon, Mr. Filder, and other officers. If the Report must have been made public, it ought at least to have been withheld until the persons it implicated had had an opportunity of vindicating themselves. By this means the antidote might have gone out in time to counteract the bane, and the injustice done by the course that had been taken would have been avoided; for, as it was, however complete might be the answer of the accused, it would have been so long, 1628 but involuntarily delayed, that ninety-nine out of every hundred of the public would refuse to believe it, and would adhere to their foregone conclusions as to the culpability of individual officers. Sir Richard Airey was one of his oldest friends, who, he believed, would be able most satisfactorily to clear himself; yet that officer had been kept in ignorance of the allegations contained in the Report until it was laid before that House. Nothing could exceed the lameness of the excuse offered for not allowing Lord Hardinge to see the document—namely, that it only referred to the Commissariat. What on earth ought to be made known to a Commander in Chief if he was to be kept in the dark as to the state of a branch of the service on which every movement, and even the very existence of an army depended? But, overlooking that irresistible consideration, why, even as a mere matter of courtesy, was not a copy of the Report furnished to Lord Hardinge? The House, under such circumstances, ought to suspend its judgment respecting the persons implicated until they had had an opportunity of making their defence. Those officers had innumerable difficulties to contend with; and, moreover, let the country abuse its Governments, its Generals, or its Admirals as much as ever it pleased, there could be no doubt that the real blame was deserved much nearer home—the House of Commons. For a series of years the Minister who asked for the lowest sum to meet the expenditure of the public service had invariably been patted on the back for his economy; and that, too, wholly irrespective of whether his particular department was in good or in bad working order. England did not require a very large standing army; but, however small the force we maintained, the Commissariat and other auxiliary branches should always be fully efficient, and ready for rapid expansion on the occurrence of any sudden emergency. Parliament, before the war, had also reduced our military and naval forces to a miserable scale; and it was sincerely to be hoped that the recent lesson it had learnt would teach it to avoid a repetition of the same deplorable blunder.
§ SIR DE LACY EVANS
I should have been very glad, Sir, to have remained silent on the present occasion, but after what has taken place it is impossible for me to refrain from troubling the House with a few observations. I entirely concur 1629 with the hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke last in the eulogies he has passed on my brother officers; but the remark which he made, to the effect that ninety-nine out of every hundred persons in the country will refuse to credit any Report which the proposed Government Commission may draw up, could hardly have been agreeable to this (the Ministerial) side of the House. For myself, I regret that, owing to the blunders and inconsistencies of the Government, such a result as the hon. and gallant Gentleman anticipates is not, in my opinion, at all unlikely to be realised. I am also exceedingly sorry that the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for War did not act upon the suggestion offered by the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir J. Pakington), who said he regarded this discussion as entirely premature, and promised to bring forward a substantive Motion on the same subject hereafter, if the question were for the present postponed. Now, when I heard that assurance given by a Gentleman of so distinguished a position in that House as the right hon. Baronet, I considered it would be more preferable, if compelled to speak, to do so deliberately on a proper occasion. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Peel), however, having evidently got up his speech, as was very well said, and to have got it by heart, could not be prevailed upon to reserve himself for the future and more legitimate opportunity thus proffered to him by the right hon. Baronet, but must launch rashly at all hazards forth on the present occasion, and level his pent-up accusations right and left on every hand. And, first, he must needs fall foul of the generals of division. Now, it is perfectly true that Colonel Gordon alleged, as an excuse for the knapsacks not being delivered sooner to the regiments, that all the generals of division declined to receive them—all, at least, save His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge. And here I must say that I could not but admire the judicious and courtier-like exception in favour of the Royal Duke thus made by Colonel Gordon. But I put it to the House whether it is probable that His Royal Highness, who never saw an enemy before, would know best of all what was needful to be done, while the four older generals, of greater experience, were entirely and stupidly ignorant on the matter. Of course, my bare assertion is not more valuable than that of Colonel Gordon or the hon. Under Secretary for War. I do not 1630 arrogate to myself a monopoly of the truth; I only ask the House to look to what are the probabilities of the case; and I challenge the hon. Gentleman to adduce any proof that the four senior general officers really did refuse to receive the knapsacks. I challenge him to prove that assertion. But, after what Colonel Gordon has stated, we must, of course, assume that the Duke of Cambridge's division actually got their knapsacks. Now, it so happened that at the very time when Colonel Gordon was giving this evidence in the Crimea, the Duke of Cambridge was also giving his evidence in this country. Well, does His Royal Highness corroborate the statement on this point which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Peel) has most gratuitously and imprudently ventured to make here to-night? And let me ask, what right has the hon. Gentleman to indulge in these rash and inculpatory assertions? Is it because he happens to be the Under Secretary of State for War that he presumes in this manner to level his unprovoked accusations against the four older generals of divisions? What did His Royal Highness state when examined before the Sebastopol Committee in the month of March, 1855? The question was—Is Your Royal Highness aware at all of what was the reason of this great delay in the restoration of the knapsacks after they had been taken away?—The reason was simply this, that, instead of each ship, after coming round to Balaklava, entering the harbour and discharging its cargo of knapsacks, and care being taken that the regiments were informed at the time that such would be the case, a sort of circular was sent round that a ship was outside or inside the harbour, and the chance was taken of getting the knapsacks out. It occurred once or twice, on sending down for them, that the ship had sailed in the meantime to Constantinople or Marseilles upon another service, and the knapsacks were gone. Is the fact within Your Royal Highness's knowledge, that ships laden with those knapsacks went two or three times backwards and forwards across the Black Sea without landing?—I think that that is true. Does not that imply great neglect in some quarters?—I think it a very bad arrangement.Thus the Royal Duke, who was ready to receive the knapsacks, did not get them any more than the four foolish old generals of division who refused them. Then, again, what does His Royal Highness say further?—Would it not have been possible, after the flank march was determined upon, to have all the knapsacks collected together out of the different ships into one, and to have sent them round to Balaklava?—I have no doubt that some arrangement of the sort might have been made at the 1631 time. Of course at sea it is not, perhaps, a very very easy matter to shift knapsacks from one ship to another. I apprehend the simplest course would have been, to have landed the knapsacks of each regiment at Balaklava, and then to have made the ships available at once for any other duty.If the hon. Gentleman, in his study of blue books—a study to which I believe he is much addicted—would only refer to General Bentinck's evidence, he would find that gallant officer fully corroborates His Royal Highness, and that he could not get the knapsacks, notwithstanding the wonderful alacrity of Colonel Gordon. Then, what does Colonel Wilson, of the Guards, tell us? He was asked—You stated that the men had no change before you came away; had they not got their knapsacks?—Before I came away I do not think twenty of our English soldiers had their knapsacks, except the two companies of the regiment which had been placed on board the Bellerophon, under Lord Frederick Paulet, and Lord Frederick brought those men on shore with their knapsacks, and those, I believe, were the only men that had their knapsacks out of the whole brigade.And, again—Do you know what steps were taken on the part of the officers to obtain their baggage while encamped before Sebastopol?—I know that the officers repeatedly sent down their servants to Balaklava to endeavour to discover the ships in which they had sailed to the Crimea, for the purpose of getting their baggage. I did so myself, and on one occasion the Tonning, the ship in which I before said I sailed to the Crimea, did arrive, and I sent my servant down, and they told him that they had been ordered at Constantinople to disgorge all the baggage, and to put it into store there, so that I got nothing.That was the excellent arrangement which Colonel Gordon made for the Guards.
I do not wish to trouble the House with a variety of evidence upon this subject, but perhaps hon. Members are not aware why it is that the subject of the knapsack is dwelt upon so much. I must remind them that it was stated by the medical officers that, in consequence of the troops not having a change of clothes, their sufferings were aggravated; and I know the sick and wounded went down to Scutari with their shirts sticking to their backs, in the most deplorable condition, no provision at all being made for them at Balaklava. So much for the willingness of the Duke of Cambridge to receive the knapsacks. Now, Sir, as soon as I heard of this, I obtained a document from General Pennefather, who commanded one of the brigades under my orders, and from Colonel Armstrong (General Adams, who commanded the other 1632 brigade, having, unfortunately, been killed), in which those officers said they sent down to Balaklava whenever they heard of a ship coming into harbour with baggage, but they invariably found that the knapsacks had been sent on to Marseilles, or Constantinople, or some other place. The hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary quotes Colonel Gordon, without knowing whether what Colonel Gordon says is sound or not, and I complain that he has not candidly avowed he was not aware of the evil consequences which have resulted from the knapsacks having been withheld and sent about from place to place except to that place where they were required. I admit that perhaps some confusion was inevitable, but I do not think that such efforts were made or arrangements concluded as prudence would have dictated. I complain, also, of the readiness, which I discover from the evidence, Colonel Gordon displays to shift any blame which might be attributed to him upon the shoulders of other persons. The five generals of division were all absent, one of them unhappily having perished, and then Colonel Gordon says, slapdash, except His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge, those generals caused all the difficulty by their refusal to receive the knapsacks. The hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for War, not appreciating the discreet observations of the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Pakington), goes into and opens up the whole question, and challenges the opinion of Parliament upon it. At one time he says, a Commission is about to be appointed, a trial is pending, and, therefore, it would be unfair to make any remarks, but the moment after he commences an attack upon everybody. The hon. Gentleman says this Motion is unfair, because the Commissioners are somewhat assailed by this proceeding, but immediately afterwards he does not hesitate to commence an attack himself upon the Commissioners. Surely, those Commissioners are as equally entitled to fair play as the officers who are said to be reflected upon by their Report. And, Sir, after all, those Commissioners were officers appointed and selected by the War Department, and now down comes one of the organs of the War Department and complains of them. It seems to be intended to lay down a rule that everything may be said about any one except as to those officers who have a connection with the Court. I cannot help saying that I believe the public imagine that different justice is administer- 1633 ed by the Government to noble Lords and hon. Gentlemen favoured at Court than that awarded to humble and friendless individuals. I confess, too, I did not like the announcement of the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston), that this Board of Commission is to close its doors occasionally whenever its members may decide to do so. Let us understand whether evidence is to be heard while those doors are closed. I have also heard it said, and am not sure that there is no foundation for the statement, that one of the modes by which these gentlemen, who consider themselves inculpated, intend to escape from censure is to cast all the blame upon the late Lord Raglan. Sir, Lord Raglan and the Adjutant General can no longer confront each other, and I would advise the friends of the late Lord Raglan, of whom there must be many in this House, to be upon their guard against any attempt on the part of certain individuals to exonerate themselves at the expense of the late Commander in Chief. Why, I want to know, is there to be any secrecy at all? Tell us that. A distinction has been drawn by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Layard), between the Commission or Board and that which sat after the Convention of Cintra. Upon that occasion there was ample reason for caution and even for secrecy—there were great strategical points to be discussed. I myself have been placed in a false position in Spain, when I could amply have defended myself from an imputation made, but was prevented from so doing because an explanation would necessarily expose to the enemy the intentions of the Government which I was then serving. But here, Sir, there is nothing of the kind—here the question is simply the provision made for the material wants of an army. I must say I have no confidence in the Government upon this subject, and it is most important that every part of this matter should be inquired into publicly and above-board. There was an instance not long ago of a secret inquiry somewhat remarkable in its circumstances. I will not mention the exact date, but there was an imputation made affecting the character of an officer of high rank, connected with two or three ducal families—an imputation certainly very discreditable. It was brought, in the first instance, before the late Duke of Wellington, and I venture to think that upon that occasion the illustrious Duke did not proceed with all the equity which might have been expected, and was to be desired. 1634 The papers were taken away, and locked up. However, it so happened that the matter was brought under public discussion, and then it became desirable to take some step which would save certain noble families from annoyance; and what was done? There was a Board, as it was called; two or three old gentlemen of my acquaintance were placed on it; and one or two of them were in so low a state of health that they were quite unable to examine minutely and scrupulously into a difficult and disputed question. But a lawyer was given to assist them—a Deputy Judge Advocate General—into whose hands the whole business, of course, fell; and what was the result? Some eight or ten officers of the highest rank appeared before the Board, and made statements as to a particular fact; they were supported by two eminent scientific witnesses; the court was closed; and then what was the finding? Some gentleman of rank and position had come forward and said they could not think that the officer in question—their friend, so honourable a man—could have done anything to forfeit that good opinion. Well, the gallant officers, who had, he apprehended, little to do with drawing up the finding, at last said—"At your Lordship's desire, we have proceeded to inquire into this matter. It has been an excessively painful task, and we have been met by very conflicting evidence; in fact, the evidence is almost balanced on either side. Some of it was of a character which would not have been received in Westminster Hall, but we are not gentlemen accustomed to split hairs. Subject to these remarks, we find the hon. and gallant officer perfectly innocent of the whole charge." I do not know whether in this case the Board will exercise similar ingenuity, but I have not the least doubt that an attempt will be made to induce them to do so. Now, with that recent case in our recollection, what is to be thought of the secret court which, in the first instance, the noble Viscount informed us was to be constituted on this occasion? The warrant constituting this court states, I think, that the object of the Government is to elicit the truth; but if that is their desire, I think all the documents bearing upon the subject should be placed before the House, and that no portion of them should be withheld and concealed. There are, however, particular documents which we cannot extract from the Government. We 1635 do not ask for opinions; we ask for returns and facts, and these facts are of the most frightful description. The truth is, that the Government are fearful to disclose them. It appears—I think on page 37 of the Report—that papers detailing such facts have been laid before the Government, and in other parts of the Report it is stated that the average number of deaths in the army from sickness was 35 per cent. The House must not suppose, however, that that was the loss of all portions of the army from sickness, for it was probably in some cases 50 or 60 per cent. We find also from the Report that some regiments lost only 5 per cent; and we find that, while non-commissioned officers and soldiers were perishing, as it is stated, at the rate of 35 per cent, the mortality from sickness among the commissioned officers was only 3 or 4 per cent. What could be the cause of this difference? It was not attributable to the climate, but to neglect of the non-commissioned officers and soldiers. We find that in the cavalry and artillery and in some of the regiments encamped near Balaklava the loss was small, compared with that suffered by those portions of the army which were in more exposed positions; and yet the average loss was 35 per cent. To what conclusion are we led when we find that 35 per cent was the average mortality, and that in some branches of the army the loss was only 5, 6, or 7 per cent? It must be that in some portions of the army, therefore, the loss was 50 or 60 per cent. I will go even further than that. It has been reported in the public press—and, as we know, hitherto the public press has been pretty nearly accurate—that some of the regiments which went out with a strength of 900 or 1,000 men, were absolutely nearly annihilated. Now we want the documents which will show whether this loss was attributable to the misconduct of those who had charge of the regiments. It is stated that one regiment—the 46th, I believe—disembarked in the midst of very heavy rain, and on reaching the muddy shore nobody took the least notice of them. The men were unprepared for such hardships, and I believe the consequence was, that in thirty-six hours or so the regiment almost entirely disappeared. Now, if the Government refuse to give in the specific documents which will prove these facts, does it not show that their object is concealment? Is such conduct 1636 consistent with the statements in the warrant appointing the Board of Inquiry, that they are "desirous that the truth should be made manifest?"
I will take this opportunity of calling attention to another most important matter. In consequence of the great mortality which took place among the troops, the medical officers applied themselves to trace the progress of disease in each of the regiments, to ascertain the number of deaths from wounds and disease, and to compare the losses of regiments occupying different positions in the country. The information thus obtained is regarded as most important and valuable, not merely by military surgeons, but by medical men generally; and, from its bearing upon medical science, a strong desire exists among the profession that the returns sent in to the Government should be made public; but, notwithstanding the reiterated applications which have been made on all sides, the noble Viscount the First Minister of the Crown has persisted hitherto in withholding these returns. It has, however, been intimated that perhaps they may be produced hereafter. That certainly may be the most convenient course for the Government to pursue, and they may be influenced by very good reasons. It is alleged in the Report that while the troops were suffering from that dire disease, scurvy—and many hon. Gentlemen may, perhaps, not be aware that when scurvy affects large bodies of men it is accompanied by diarrhœa and a variety of internal complaints—there were 20,000 lbs. of lime-juice in store, and we ought to know who declined to issue some portion of that lime-juice. Scurvy may be checked to a greater or less degree by proper regimen. Well, there was rice in store, and why was not that issued? Diarrhœa was prevalent, and it is alleged that medicines suitable for that disease had been provided; but they were not forthcoming, and why were they not issued? Then, in many of the regiments the men were so much affected by scurvy that they were unable to eat biscuit, but no bread was to be had. At that very time the French troops were supplied with bread, and now and then, with great kindness and consideration, they made presents of bread to our men. I remember that on one occasion we received 20,000 rations of bread from the French. When our horses were perishing for want of straw, General Canrobert sent us three small ships laden 1637 with straw as a present. Now, if there are any documents in the possession of the Government which will throw light upon this subject, is it not proper that they should be placed upon the table? I say that these are most serious matters. The whole question has been raised and discussed. I quite agree with the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Pakington) that it would have been much better if the discussion had been postponed, but the hon. Under Secretary for War would not allow it to be postponed. He has gone into the characters and qualifications of the officers of the staff, to show that they deserved to be appointed to high situations. During part of the calamitous period to which I have referred General Airey was ill, and Colonel Gordon acted as his factotum. When I saw that Colonel Gordon was appointed to the office of Deputy Quartermaster General of the army, I confess I felt some alarm. Why do I say so? Because I have seen that when this country is involved in war the chief situations on the staff and in the most important departments of the army are forthwith filled from the desks of the Horse Guards. The men who are to occupy almost every important executive office—at all events the principal offices—on the staff are brought from those desks. I believe that some of the officers engaged in the present war in these departments had not been in the field for forty years; some of them had not seen service for a period of twenty years; and the greater part of them had never met an enemy; nevertheless, they were supposed at once to possess a perfect knowledge of their duties. We may expect that Colonel Gordon will become Quartermaster General, and in the next war he may be Quartermaster General of the army in the field, and ultimately even Commander in Chief. Now, what is my knowledge of Colonel Gordon? I should not have thought of alluding to this subject unless I had been provoked into doing so; but I said I was alarmed at the appointment of Colonel Gordon, because an incident of a serious nature took place between that officer and myself, and I think the attacks which have been made by an hon. Member upon the generals of division justify me in mentioning it. On the 23rd of October Colonel Gordon informed me he had received an order from Lord Raglan to direct me to take my division down into the Valley of the Tchernaya, and to attack and capture a Russian 1638 convoy of 1,000 carriages. He also told me that the Duke of Cambridge was ordered to turn out his division for my support. I was astonished at this order. I had, with my staff officers, been observing the enemy; we had seen no trace of a convoy, and I do not believe there was any such convoy. If I had taken my division into the valley and had been followed by the Duke of Cambridge in support, we might have been placed in a most awful position, for the enemy were posted upon precipitous heights, and could have directed upon us the fire of some twenty guns, so that they might have crushed us without it being possible for us to return a single shot. I therefore said to Colonel Gordon, "I think there must be some mistake about this." "Oh, no, there is not," he replied. I then said, "I certainly think somebody must be mistaken, and so, before I move any of my troops, go back to Lord Raglan and tell him what I say." With some reluctance this gentleman went back and returned with the same order, but with the slight qualification that his Lordship was willing I should exercise my discretion in the matter, and that I should do nothing against my own judgment. "Well, Sir," was my reply, "you must find out that this convoy really is where you say it is before I sacrifice my opinion on the subject; and, therefore, you had better go with Colonel Herbert to the top of that hill, and if the convoy can be seen I shall take steps accordingly." Accordingly, he went up the hill with Colonel Herbert, but they could not discover any convoy. They came back. Poor Captain Nolan, who was also despatched on a subsequent occasion from the Quartermaster General's Department, and fell immediately afterwards, accompanied Colonel Gordon, and I told Captain Nolan to go with another staff officer, examine the position, and return and tell me whether he did not think the British troops would be completely compromised by any such movement as that indicated by Colonel Gordon. Many attacks, which I cannot answer, have been made upon Captain Nolan for his conduct in another affair, but I must say that his reply to me on that occasion showed anything but imprudence and want of sense. He assured me, as I had myself anticipated, that if I moved the troops into the valley they would have been utterly compromised; and that fact induces me to hope that some of the statements made to his dis- 1639 advantage regarding the affair at Balaklava are not altogether well founded. Very different to the behaviour of Captain Nolan was that of Colonel Gordon, the favourite of the Palace. When Colonel Gordon came back I said to him, "Well, have you seen the convoy?" "No, Sir, I have not seen it." "Ah, I suspect there is none." "No, I think it is there notwithstanding." "Where is it, then?" And this was the answer—"Why, I think it has probably halted in some corner of the road." Many persons may perhaps think this rather a ridiculous anecdote, but, unfortunately, I might have lost 1,000 men if I had not hesitated to comply with this imprudent demand. Colonel Ainslie, who afterwards came up from another division, reported that they had seen no convoy in the position indicated, but that there had been a convoy on the other side of the valley, four or five miles off.
I wrote a very strong letter to Lord Raglan on that occasion, and I think it is my duty to state the fact here, when the officer of whom I am speaking is being placed nearly at the head of the English army. That letter will most likely be found by the friends of Lord Raglan among his papers. I did not detail to his Lordship the whole of these particulars, but I told him that Colonel Gordon had very good qualities, that he was extremely industrious and possessed many attainments, but that unfortunately those attainments were fearfully neutralised by a total unconsciousness of his own incompetence and by a most prodigious opinion of himself; and I requested his Lordship, whenever he had any further orders of importance, to send them to me by some other officer. This was a serious letter to write regarding an officer of that rank. I have in my hands the answer of Lord Raglan. If Colonel Gordon had reported to me accurately the order he was desired to communicate, I am sure a man of high honour like Lord Raglan would have told me that no fault was to be imputed to the officer he had so employed. But no such thing. Lord Raglan does not in the slightest degree exonerate Colonel Gordon. I will only read the passage in his letter referring to this particular case:—My dear General,—Your letter has just been delivered to me, for which I am much obliged to you. I fear there has been some misconception in this matter. I had no idea of your undertaking any serious operation. My object was 1640 merely that you should cause some interruption to be given to the convoy if convoy there had been, which it is evident there was not.Well, now, I ask the House if, after such an inculpation proceeding from me—and I challenge the friends of Colonel Gordon to search among Lord Raglan's papers for the letter I am speaking of—I ask the House whether it is possible to doubt that Colonel Gordon on this occasion made a serious mistake? There was, too, another small affair which led me to think that Colonel Gordon, in spite of his attainments, by no means possessed that judgment and discretion which the Government ought to have been assured he possessed before they placed him in so responsible a position. What I regret to perceive is, that this is taken up as a personal question. Such unfortunately, in too many similar cases, is the practice of this House,—as if the whole matter to be considered on this occasion is, whether the conduct of Colonel This, or Major General That, or Mr. Commissary the Other has or has not been judicious. Now, Sir, I, who know something of these matters, think there are greater interests at stake and weightier considerations involved in this question. It bears upon the death of many thousands of gallant soldiers; and I can assure the House that, though my physical health gave way, and perhaps would have given way in any case, from my not being sufficiently young to bear all the fatigues to which my position exposed me, yet my sorrow at seeing the blind and inconsiderate conduct which was being adopted frequently disturbed that repose which might otherwise have refreshed and restored me. In spite, however, of all this we are told that we must not inquire into this matter, and that we are to leave other armies under similar circumstances to be exposed to similar evils. I believe 10,000 or 11,000 men are said to have died out of our small number, and if you add to these the number invalided and sent into the hospital what a state of things it will disclose! Surely such facts ought to be inquired into most amply and publicly; yet it appears to me to be very evident, from the concealments attempted by the Government, that no such inquiry will take place unless the public continue to insist upon it.
Whenever a substantive Motion is brought forward upon this subject I shall think it my solemn duty to go into the 1641 case as far as my humble abilities will allow me. In the meantime I must say that the conduct of the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for War, as the representative of the Government, as well as the conduct of the noble Lord the War Minister towards these Commissioners, is the most ungrateful and unjust that I ever heard of. About a week ago I was listening in another place to a debate, in the course of which some very pertinent and important questions were put to the War Minister by Lord Derby. The War Minister made a very plausible reply, with all that pleasing self-complacency which prevades his countenance when he speaks; observing that he was the last man in the world to wish for additional patronage. Why, I could tell as much about the nepotism in the War Department as in any other department. I am told that one of the clothing officers, who have very handsome salaries on this account, is a nephew of the noble Lord, and not a few other appointments have fallen, I believe, to Maules and Ramsays. I have heard—the story was current at the time in the Crimea, and I have heard it a hundred times—a very good specimen, illustrative of the excessive delicacy of the noble Lord with regard to the exercise of patronage. When the noble Lord communicated to General Simpson that he was to have the command of the army, the telegraphic despatch ran to this effect:—"Lord Panmure to General Simpson. General Simpson is appointed to command the army. Take care of Dowb." Now, General Simpson is a modest, honourable, and gallant man, and I think nobody has a right to blame him. He has been one of the most unlucky warriors I have ever heard of, and I wish to Heaven that he had never been placed as he was, but I do not blame him, because he was forced into the position. Can anything, however, be more egregious on the part of a War Minister than to force upon an old General a situation of such vast importance, requiring the greatest possible energy and physical powers? This poor general officer did not wish to have the command, but Lord Panmure insisted upon it that he was a man of energy and resolution, and quite competent to discharge the duties devolving upon the Commander of the forces at the seat of war. Well, as I was saying, together with the first news of his appointment came the strange addendum, "Take care of Dowb." Such an incom- 1642 prehensible message distracted poor General Simpson's mind, and made it more obtuse than it naturally was. What could "Taking care of Dowb" mean? "Perhaps," said the general, "it is some outpost or other," because I am afraid poor General Simpson was not as conversant with the exterior defences of an extended line as a younger man would have been. The consequence was, that in the usual way an answer was sent by the telegraph—an instrument to the operation of which I wish to God an end were at once put, for it has performed some of the most extraordinary antics that can be conceived,—and that answer was "General Simpson to Lord Panmure.—Repeat the message;" which is the usual way of saying. "I don't understand what you mean." Another message then arrived, and the word "Dowb" was extended to "Dowbiggin," the name of a relative of the noble Lord; and then the mystery was explained and the message made clear and manifest.
Now, the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for War, in the oracular statement with which he has this evening favoured us—and I must say that when he deals with military topics he does assume a degree of oracularity which I, notwithstanding my service in the army of nearly fifty years' duration, would not venture to affect—has endeavoured to make us understand that the present Government are unexampled judges of military affairs, and therefore I feel myself called upon to make a few observations on the subject. As regards the telegraph, I may say, in passing, that when the Estimates are introduced I sincerely trust that it will be found to be like the boots of last year, omitted altogether. [Mr. MONSELL: No; it will be included.] Well, then, I am very sorry for it; for it has caused a great many blunders. Let me just mention to the House a circumstance which I have been informed of upon what I believe to be very good authority. The House is, of course, aware that a Turkish Contingent was formed under the command of General Vivian. Now, I have watched the progress of that contingent with great interest, for I have a very high opinion of General Vivian, and I was very anxious to see formed in Turkey the nucleus of a regular army well officered, and all the accounts which I have heard of that contingent have confirmed the partiality with which I have always regarded it; but I must say that the favourable progress 1643 which it has made is not to be attributed to the Minister for War, but has taken place in spite of him. Now, the House has, I dare say, heard that that contingent has been ordered to a variety of places by our great War Minister. At first they were stationed on the Bosphorus, and near the Dardanelles was a body of irregular cavalry under General Beatson, with Bashi Bazouks, who were certain to get up quarrels and play all kinds of antics if nothing were given to them to do, and it was clear, therefore, that they ought to have been sent as quickly as possible to the scene of action. This, however, was not done, but it was determined at last to move them, and I have it upon very good authority that in the course of, I believe, six weeks, about nine different destinations were telegraphed by the War Department to that unfortunate contingent. One day an order arrived that it was instantly to proceed to Shumla, and Commissariat officers were sent to make the necessary preparations. In about two days, I think, another order arrived that they were not to go to Shumla, but to Eupatoria, and there also Commissariat officers were despatched. Then came an order that they were to go to Varna, then to Kertch, and all these varied destinations were assigned to the contingent by that great personage at the War Office, that second Carnot—my Lord Carnot, in fact. Is not such a state of things most pitiful and deplorable? Then, again, the Dragoons ordered to Kertch found that the country about Kertch was not adapted for cavalry at all, and, consequently, had to return to Balaklava, the horses, meanwhile, suffering most severely, and it being found necessary to throw many of them overboard; but when they arrived there they were not allowed to disembark, but were informed that they must go back to the Bosphorus, and so for twenty-nine days, for no purpose whatever, those horses were kept on board ship. That, Sir, is a specimen of the manner in which the War Department conduct their business.
There is another subject to which I wish for a moment to refer, although I wish that the initiative had been taken by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House. An hon. and learned Gentleman on that side of the House (Mr. Whiteside) has given notice of his intention to provoke a discussion upon the circumstances which led to the fall of Kars. But, as the Opposition display so much forbearance towards Her Majesty's Government, I do not know whe- 1644 ther that discussion will be brought on or not, and will therefore make a passing allusion to that subject now. The noble Lord at the head of the Government did me the honour, about the 9th or 10th of last August, of desiring me to wait upon him in order to give him some expression of my opinion as regarded the army in the East, and of course it was my duty to fulfil the request of the noble Lord. I must now remind the noble Lord that three months and a half before the fall of Kars, on the occasion to which I am now referring, I pointed out to him the great anxiety which I felt for the danger in which that city was left. I will not relate what else took place upon that occasion, but I will only say that the noble Lord did not appear to me to be as firmly impressed with the importance of the subject as I was myself. Kars was blockaded for five or six months, and yet no assistance was sent to that garrison, and it fell. I do not hesitate to say that that disgraceful and disheartening circumstance is to be attributed to the management of the War Department. An attempt has been made to throw the blame upon Lord Stratford de Redcliffe—an old diplomatist, and the War Department appear to have thought that he ought to be perfectly conversant with the carrying on of great military operations; but I say that Lord Stratford de Redcliffe did not accept the office of Minister for War, and I also say that all military operations in which we have taken or could have taken part ought to be most carefully and vigilantly watched and directed by the War Department of Her Majesty's Government. Had any attempt been made to relieve Kars, the Turkish army would have afforded you most willingly all the assistance which it was in its power to afford. You were masters of the Black Sea, and had ample means for sending troops to any part; but yet not the slightest assistance was given to that garrison. This is a very incidental method of referring to the subject, but I have been led to make this remark by the laudation passed upon the War Department by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Peel) who talked so jauntily about military matters. Let me remind the House of what happened a few nights back in another place. The noble Lord at the head of the War Department, in reply to a question put to him by Lord Derby, said, "See what a vast superiority there is in the material state of the army in the present year as compared with last year." Now, 1645 I think that in making that statement the noble Lord was treating his former friends rather harshly. The effect of it, in fact, was to say, "See what a nice man I am, and what a change I have effected;" for, while he mentioned the change which had been effected, he carefully omitted saying how it had been brought about. I shall not follow that example, and I now most distinctly say that it has been mainly brought about by those Commissioners whom the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for War has this night been instructed to depreciate and disgrace. I do not say that Mr. Filder should be made a scapegoat of. He was a very active and diligent man, but if none of the persons who were in communication with him knew what they were about, how could a commissary general be expected to understand everything? I still think, however, that the Commissioners conferred a benefit by explaining to the Government that there was an abler man in the Commissariat Department out there than Mr. Filder. Who was it, also, that caused fresh provisions to be sent for along the various coasts of the Black Sea and the Bosphorus? Why, the Commissioners. There were 1,500 miles of coast along the Black Sea, and upwards of 1,000 along the Bosphorus, covered with cattle and provisions; there never was an army in the world that had such vast means of transport at its command; we had unlimited command of the sea and an enormous amount of vessels at our disposal; and, although these things were known, it was the Commissioners, who have been disparaged to-night, who first convinced the Government of the facts. I speak, therefore, of the Commissioners with gratitude, because of the material benefits which they conferred upon the troops. I fear that they are in a very perilous position; at least, I will not say that, for, although they have incurred the displeasure of the Government, they are men of too much independence to care for it. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Peel) has not been content to pass the Commissioners by this evening without notice, as was done a few nights since by the noble Lord the Secretary for War; but he has ventured to impugn the veracity even of those gentlemen. Sir, I do not regret the absurdity of which the Government have been guilty in publishing the Reports of those Commissioners. They first publish the Reports, thereby making known to the world that 1646 they approve of them; and they then come down and say, "We are not sure that those Reports are correct, and therefore we will have another Commission." They do not stop there even, but they do their best to disparage and impugn the veracity of the Commissioners. I rejoice that the Government have committed the gross blunder, injustice, and inconsistency, that they have upon this occasion by publishing these Reports; because, independently of the proceedings of the Commissioners having saved the lives of some thousands during the last six or eight months, and having immensely contributed to the efficiency of the troops, the Reports of the Commissioners and the evidence with which they are accompanied will remain on record as a menace to incompetence and to Governments who may be willing to place favourites instead of competent men in high stations, and will point out to the staff, Commissariat, and military of other armies, and perhaps of other ages, what ought to be done to protect the lives and health of an army in the field.
§ MR. GORDON
Sir, it was not my desire, nor was it my intention, to have addressed the House to-night, for I knew that the deep interest which I cannot but feel in this debate would render it a difficult task for me to take any part in it with satisfaction to myself; but I have now no choice. I have listened with some surprise, as well as with some pain, to several of the remarks that fell from the gallant General who has just sat down, because I know that a gallant relative of mine, of whose conduct he has felt it his duty tonight to speak in the language of unsparing censure, has always esteemed it a high privilege that he enjoyed, as he believed, the good opinion and esteem of that gallant officer. I have heard him speak with pride of the testimonials of that good opinion that he had received from him; and I have heard my gallant relative say that to him it was a proud moment when a veteran officer like the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster, who has seen so much and so distinguished service, selected him, after the battle of the Alma, from another division and another service, he being then in the Adjutant General's department, to fill the office of Quartermaster to the gallant General's division in place of Colonel Herbert, who had been temporarily disabled by a wound. It was true that that appointment did not take effect, because, the day be- 1647 fore, my gallant relative had been appointed to the Quartermaster's staff at head-quarters. I know that when my gallant relative hears of the attack to-night to which the House has been listening, it will be with as much surprise as I now feel, because of the good opinion which he believes the gallant General to entertain of him; and he will hear with regret that the gallant General has seen reason to change that opinion. The gallant General's censure upon my gallant relative has taken the form of several charges. He has stated that in his evidence he has shown a disposition to shift the blame from his own shoulders to those of others, and to get rid of all responsibility by throwing it upon other persons. I am happy to inform the House that that is not the opinion of the Commissioners before whom that evidence was given. I have a letter which my gallant relative received from Sir John M'Neill only a few days ago, in which, referring to his evidence, he says—Greater candour and greater care to avoid asserting anything too much, or greater readiness to furnish every information you could afford, it was impossible for any man to have shown. This has made so strong an impression upon me that I have frequently spoken of it, as well as of the excellent arrangement of your office, which enabled you at once to refer to what was wanted.That is the opinion of Sir John M'Neill respecting the evidence of my gallant relative; and I hope the House will not think it is saying too much when I say I consider that opinion entitled to weigh equally with the opinion of the gallant General. But, Sir, the most serious charge which the gallant General has made is one of a very grave character indeed. He has informed the House at some length and with considerable detail, of a conversation which took place between my gallant relative and himself, on an occasion when my gallant relative was the bearer to him of certain orders from Lord Raglan. He has repeated that conversation, and he has alleged what I think would amount to a very serious charge—a misconception of orders and general misconduct. I think it deserves no less a name. I, Sir, am not a military man; my gallant relative, unfortunately, has not a seat in this House. I cannot pretend to enter into military details; of course I am ignorant of the particulars of the transaction alluded to, and it is impossible for me now to enter upon a detailed defence of my gallant relative. But I think, and many will also think, that 1648 such a charge as this—a most grave and serious charge—should not have been brought forward without some notice having been given to the object of it. I think I shall have the assent of the House also to this opinion—that if the conduct of Colonel Gordon was what it has been represented to have been, then it was the duty of the gallant General to have made the strongest representations at the time to Lord Raglan; if he behaved in a manner prejudicial to the service, the gallant General ought to have followed up the matter on the spot, or ought to have held his peace upon it afterwards; he ought not to have passed it over at the time, and then come into this House and tell the story when there are no means of refuting it, though I have no doubt that it can be explained in a satisfactory manner. Whilst I say some notice ought to have been sent of this intended attack, I am, of course, bound to believe what the gallant General says, that his speech was provoked by the speech of the Under Secretary of War. Yet I am afraid from one circumstance, that he expected that during the discussion to-night something of the kind was to be brought forward. What did the gallant General do? Why, he read a letter from Lord Raglan, and it was the only document he read. Did the gallant General anticipate bringing this subject, or something like this, before the House, or does the gallant General always carry that letter about with him in his pocket? If he does not, then I am justified in supposing that he must have had some idea of bringing the conduct of my gallant relative before the House. I have mentioned this point, and I have given the only answer of which I am capable at the moment to the charges made by the gallant General, which ought rather to be investigated by a military court. He has stated that Colonel Gordon has made inaccurate statements in his evidence before the Commissioners on the subject of the knapsacks. Into that question I will not enter, but I believe the gallant General will find that there is in existence evidence as to the expressed wishes of the generals of division. I will not enter on the general question. I only rose in consequence of what had fallen from the gallant General. Before I sit down I will only state this, the gallant General has more than once alluded to Colonel Gordon as a favourite of the Court, as a man of a courtier spirit, a Court favourite. I think I ought to state that my gallant relative is not one who in any 1649 manner owes his promotion to the favour of the Court. For many years he has been employed on active service. He was on duty in Canada during the troubles of 1838. Since that time he has been continuously engaged, not only in purely military duties, but in others of a scientific nature. He has received the highest certificates as to his military knowledge. I will not go further, but, before I sit down I will make an appeal, not only on behalf of Colonel Gordon, but on behalf, also, of the other officers who must be summoned before this Court of Inquiry. I would appeal in the strongest language againt the injustice of prejudging this question, by going further into matters of detail, and discussing particulars and evidence which are not before the House. Those gallant officers have enough to contend against already, in the natural desire to find some person responsible for the disasters which have happened. They have to contend against the general prejudice which exists against them. And they have also against them that great organ of public opinion whose power we all acknowledge, and whose attacks even the strongest and bravest among us are unwilling to face. They have to contend with many prejudices, and I appeal to the sense of justice not only of the House collectively, but of its individual Members, whether they ought further to prejudge a question, which must be discussed elsewhere.
§ SIR DE LACY EVANS
said, he wished to explain one point. The hon. Gentleman who had just spoken laid great stress on the fact that Colonel Gordon had been appointed to the office of quartermaster-general under him. Now, the following were the facts of the case—after the battle of the Alma, Major Vaux came to him and said, "My cousin, Colonel Gordon, wishes to occupy the vacancy which has occurred through your quartermaster being disabled: have you any objection?" He (Sir D. L. Evans) replied that he had not, but there had certainly been no offer on his part to Colonel Gordon. What he wished to say further was something to the credit of Colonel Gordon. He wished to express his conviction of Colonel Gordon's merits and his attainments; but he did not wish to see him in a responsible situation.
I cannot help expressing a sentiment which I am sure many will share with me, namely, that of deploring, and as far as I can, checking the 1650 latitude that has been given to this debate. It is but just, at the same time, that I should say I do not think that latitude has been in any degree owing to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Droitwich (Sir J. Pakington), for he has done all in his power to prevent it. The right hon. Gentleman briefly stated reasons amply sufficient, as I think, to justify him in postponing and amply sufficient to condemn him if he had proceeded with, the Motion of which he had given notice. A proceeding has been initiated by the executive Government of the country, in which the honour and feelings of many brave and distinguished men are involved. Whether this proceeding is exactly such as we should wish, whether it has been taken at the right time, and whether objections may be rightly urged against the conduct of the Government on any point connected with it, is not now the question. I venture to say that we all feel—that even the gallant General below me feels—that it does not become us to interfere with the province of that court of inquiry. I deeply lament that we have heard in this debate so much of the names of the officers mentioned in the Report of the Commissioners; but when I listened to the speech of my hon. Friend the Under Secretary for War it was easy to anticipate what would follow. Undoubtedly, my hon. Friend was actuated by a generous regard for the character of the officers to whom he referred; but I think he must be by this time aware that he would have acted, if not with greater generosity, at least with greater prudence, if he had refrained from introducing names, and kept clear from personal topics. But if I lament the introduction of the names of General Airey, the Earl of Cardigan, the Earl of Lucan and Colonel Gordon, as well as those of some others who are more or less affected by the Report—affected, that is to say, not by the Report itself, but rather from the inferences which may possibly be drawn from it—I still more lament (I say it with all due respect to the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster) the introduction of the name of Sir James Simpson into this discussion. I will first point out, with respect to Colonel Gordon, the effect of this partial and random discussion. Colonel Gordon was not the head of the Quartermaster-General's Department. He was not the person in that department charged with the issue of army clothing. Now, the great question raised during the debate has been the supposed deficiencies with re- 1651 ference to that issue; and yet to have listened to the discussion, and to have listened, above all, to the speech of the Under-Secretary for War, one would have supposed that Colonel Gordon was either the head of the Quartermaster-General's Department, or the person primarily responsible: because it is necessary to maintain that principle if you wish to lay the responsibility upon him. But there is a question of great public importance involved in the papers before us. I much regret that this question has been brought under the notice of the House at the present time; I regret that we are now called upon to say anything with regard to the position of the Crimean Commissioners, either in their relations to the Government or in their relations to the country. But I am bound to say that when I saw the Amendment of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwitch, in which he states that the Government have appointed a Commission "to inquire, without equal or adequate means of information, into the conclusions at which another Commission had arrived," and when I saw the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Sheffield, in which he states that there is to be a Commission of general officers, "to report upon the report of Sir John M'Neill, and Colonel Tulloch," I felt convinced that surely there could be no ground for such imputations and that the Government would feel the sacred obligation incumbent upon them to respect and uphold, wherever they are right, the Commissioners who, at their instance, had undertaken a laborious and important duty; one of the most painful, invidious, and thankless, and, let me add, one the performance of which has been attended with immeasurable benefits to the army, whose condition was the subject of their inquiry. I felt convinced that the Government, whatever steps might be taken for the vindication of the officers affected by the Report, would at least take care to give no colour to the assertion that a board of general officers was to be appointed—to use the words of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield—"to report upon the report" of the Commissioners. But in that respect I have been considerably disappointed; and although I most heartily subscribe to all that has fallen from preceding speakers, with respect both to the prudence and the duty of the House not to prejudge any man in reference to these subjects, and though I regret that the name even of a single officer whose con- 1652 duct has been impugned should have been introduced into the discussion; yet I think that the maintenance of the authority of the Commissioners is a matter of public importance, and one which having been once raised it is impossible for us to pass by altogether in silence.
A paper has been put into our hands which purports to be a copy of a Royal warrant—Appointing a Board of General Officers to inquire into the statements contained in the Report of Sir John M'Neill and Colonel Tulloch, and the evidence upon which that Report was founded.I am afraid that any one who reads that title would at once take it for the language of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich. Not only so; it might almost have been copied from the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield, which says that this new commission is "to report upon the report" of the Crimean Commissioners. Now, this is a very serious matter for us all, but it is especially so for myself and for some other Members of this House with whom I have the happiness to stand in the relation of personal friendship, as I have had in that of official political connection. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir James Graham) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wilts (Mr. S. Herbert), together with myself, chose rather to quit our offices than to be parties to an inquiry by a Committee of this House into the state of the army before Sebastopol, the main ground upon which we founded ourselves was this, that the result of the inquiry would necessarily be feeble and futile, as well as unjust; that the Committee would have no power to suggest improvements, and that their conclusions, whatever they might be, could not be acted upon by the House. Whether those predictions have been verified or not will be in the recollection of those gentlemen who remember the fate of the Motion made by the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield last summer, when he proposed the virtual adoption of the report of the Committee, and when by a majority, almost as triumphant as that by which the Committee was appointed, the House resolved to take no cognisance whatever of the result of the inquiry. But we were responsible for what afterwards occurred, because we had said that the inquiry to be effective must be conducted on the spot. It was only, we said, upon the spot that the evil could be tested, and it was only 1653 upon the spot that a remedy could be devised. The selection of Sir John M'Neill and Colonel Tulloch was an Act in which neither my right hon. Friends nor myself had any share. We were not consulted upon the constitution of the Commission, nor upon the nature or scope of its instructions. Upon that point I shall say nothing except this, that when the names were announced in this House by my noble Friend at the head of the Government it was felt by every man that it would have been impossible to choose two individuals better qualified by their character, their talents, their experience, their activity, and intelligence to constitute or at least to form part of such a Commission. It appears then from the heading of the warrant, as I have already read it to the House, that the Board of General officers is to inquire into the statements contained in the Report of Sir John M'Neill and Colonel Tulloch and the evidence on which that Report was founded. The form of expression used at the head of the Royal warrant might have been accidental—the title might have been framed with less care than the body of the document itself; but the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield in his speech gave utterance to a challenge to the Under Secretary for War upon this subject. He said, "Are you going to re-try the report of the Commissioners?" I am sorry to say that challenge remained entirely unanswered. I listened with anxiety and eagerness to the speech of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for War, but I did not hear so much as one word throughout the whole course of that speech even in acknowledgment of the labours of the Commissioners. I did not hear one word of any benefit that has resulted from those labours. I did not hear one word of the intention of the Government to uphold them. What I did hear was, that there were discrepancies between the report and the evidence, and that those discrepancies were about to be referred to another tribunal. Now, I do think that if there are discrepancies between the report and the evidence which impair to any material extent the value and effect of the conclusions arrived at by the Commissioners, it was the absolute duty of the Government, enjoined alike by prudence and by good feeling, to bring those discrepancies to some settlement before they threw the report upon the table of the House, before they made us judges of all those passages containing, or 1654 supposed to contain, vague imputations upon one person or another, and leading, I must say, of necessity to discussions of the character of that into which we have plunged to-night. The warrant itself, I am sorry to say, does not appear to be more definite as to the principle upon which it proceeds than the title prefixed to it. It states that "the conduct of certain officers on our general staff, and others in our army, has been animadverted upon in the said reports and evidence; and the said officers have demanded a full inquiry into their conduct." It is not stated who those officers are. We have no idea who are the persons whose conduct is to be referred to this tribunal. Now, I take the case as it is before the House. It appears that, in the opinion of the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster (Sir De L. Evans), a certain portion of the evidence reflects upon the conduct of the generals of division. Is this new tribunal authorised to try the conduct of the generals of division? Is it entitled to try anybody excepting those against whom there are animadversions contained in the report? One of its most difficult duties will be to ascertain what comes within the scope of its commission. The warrant states that it will have to inquire into the cases of those "officers whose conduct has been animadverted upon in the Report and evidence." But is it true that the Report contains great multitudes of animadversions upon officers? On the contrary, it appears to me that there are but one or two passages in the whole Report which can possibly be construed into animadversions upon any of the officers employed in the Crimea. There is certainly a censure passed upon a few individuals; for example, the Commissioners censure the conduct of Dr. Hall, but it is not true that Dr. Hall has demanded an inquiry, for he is not in this country, and I apprehend there has been no time to communicate with him since the Report was received and the warrant published. Again, with respect to the Earl of Cardigan, it may be doubted whether his conduct is animadverted upon in the Report. At any rate, what is the evidence as to his having demanded an inquiry? Lord Cardigan has, with hig honour and spirit, written a letter, which has been printed for us, in explanation of those parts of the Report which are unfavourable to him; but, so far from demanding a full inquiry, he says that, after the statement he has submitted, he will 1655 leave his case in the hands of the Government and of the country. Thus, we neither know who are the persons to be tried nor who have demanded an inquiry. Then, with respect to General Airey, a question was put some nights ago to ascertain whether any communication had taken place between him and the Under-Secretary for the War Department; the hon. Gentleman stated that he was ignorant whether General Airey had demanded a full inquiry, but he knew that he was preparing a written statement in answer to the Report. But the most important question in the case is, as to the position in which the original Commissioners will stand before the new Commission. Those Commissioners were not appointed to try the conduct of officers engaged in the Crimea, and I therefore think that the words of the hon. and learned Gentleman's Motion involve a manifest error. Their instructions gave them no authority to inquire into the conduct of officers, and I am bound to say they have adhered with singular fidelity to those instructions. They were ordered to collect the facts of the case, and were also authorised, under submission to the authorities on the spot, to suggest remedies for the evils they might discover. With the remedies they suggested we have nothing to do, but they were ordered to collect facts, and their report, on the whole, is a collection of facts. No impartial man can read it, setting aside the inferences that arise from it, without seeing that the Commissioners have done no more than obey the orders they received. But it may be said that out of this collection of facts arise inferences prejudicial to the character of certain officers. Is that a reason why the Report should be re-tried? Whether I look to precedent or to reason, I think there is but one form of proceeding that the Government could justifiably adopt. These are cases necessarily of the utmost difficulty and delicacy, and the creation of a bad precedent in relation to them is a great public mischief; it is therefore important when they arise that we should look back to the precedents which the care and consideration of our forefathers have left to us. Now there is a precedent laid down in the inquiry which immediately followed the Convention of Cintra. That was a case of much less difficulty than the present. There was in that case no authoritative document to deal with, there was no body of Commissioners to which the Government had given its confidence; 1656 there was merely a feeling of dissatisfaction entertained by the public at home and by the Government. But what was done? A Commission was appointed, not for the purpose of hunting here and there for facts, or of determining responsibilities, but simply for the purpose of considering whether the facts, when they were collected, gave a ground for any "further military proceedings." Those were the words used in the warrant by which the commission of inquiry was appointed. I greatly regret that this precedent has not been followed in the present instance. I think my hon. and gallant Friend (Sir De L. Evans) will agree with me, that if it had, the path of the Commissioners would have been clearer than it now is. I am not thinking of having them relieved from any portion of their duty, for, no doubt, they will undertake it in a spirit of strict fidelity to their instructions; but I am thinking of the gross disparagement—for such I must call it if I am to form my judgment from the statements contained in the speech of my hon. Friend the Under Secretary for War—the great disparagement of the authority of the Commissioners who have brought home a great mass of facts who are, it seems, to be re-investigated by a tribunal of which they are not to be members and at whose inquiries they will only have the privilege of access in common with the rest of the public. This is a matter of a very serious character. One may conceive the case of a commission having collected facts and performed its duties in so slovenly and careless a manner that nothing could be founded upon its proceedings; but is that the case here? Are the facts stated by the Commissioners in the main unproved? My hon. Friend (Mr. F. Peel) referred to two cases, of course the strongest he was able to select—in which he thought the Report of the Commissioners required rectification. But they were simply cases in which the evidence of a witness did not appear to have been reported with perfect precision. Now, as to that point, I am exceedingly grieved to hear that a Commission, with so important a task to perform, was sent out to the Crimea without the ordinary and cheap assistance of a shorthand writer; and really, when we consider that these gentlemen, in addition to their other duties, were compelled, with their own pens as I understood was the case, to take down evidence which now fills a large blue-book, I am only astonished that a greater number of in- 1657 accuracies have not been discovered. At any rate, a court of inquiry is not required to set right discrepancies in the Report of such a character as these. It was the business of the department to which the Report was made if it did contain errors of fact, to give the parties interested a power of correcting those errors, and to append to the document whatever explanations might be necessary for the purpose of correction. The scope and purpose of the new Commission, if this had been done, would have been made clear, and those doubts would not have arisen which at present exist as to the position of the members of the old commission, and as to whether they are to be rewarded for their labours by being compelled to stand almost as criminals at the bar of the tribunal about to be constituted. I was anxious to rise before my noble Friend at the head of the Government, because, in the main part of my remarks upon the speech of the Under Secretary for the War Department, I have found fault rather with what he did not than what he did say. I greatly regret his omission of any reference to the Commission, to the authority due to its Report, and to the intention of the Government to support it. And I trust my noble Friend will tell us in what position Sir John M'Neill and Colonel Tulloch now stand before the Government in regard to that Report, a Report which, whatever may be said as to its slight and insignificant inaccuracies, has earned for its authors the gratitude of the country. I also hope that my noble Friend will assure us that, whatever else the words of the warrant before us may appear to imply, with regard to the nature of the inquiry which the new commission is to undertake, the intention with which it has been appointed is substantially the same as that with which the commission of inquiry after the Convention of Cintra was appointed, and that it is not intended to re-try questions, as to the facts collected for us on the spot, before a tribunal sitting in England, but simply to investigate the military responsibility of such officers as may appear indirectly to be impugned by the statements of the old commissioners, and to determine whether there is room for any, and if any, for what military proceedings. I rose to make these remarks with reluctance, but as the warrant has been laid upon the table, and we are deliberately waiving discussion upon all the points about to be inquired into, 1658 I thought it might be more convenient that those who entertain a strong feeling as to the necessity of carefully defining the limits and the objects of the inquiry should express their views now rather than wait until their remarks were too late for any practical object, and they had laid themselves open to the observation that their objections to the warrant ought to have been stated when it was first laid upon the table.
§ MR. WILKINSON
thought that the dates mentioned by the Under Secretary for the War Department had removed many of the doubts which existed with regard to the conduct of the Government in giving appointments to the officers who had been impugned in the Report, but that those officers ought to have had an opportunity of defending themselves.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Sir, I think the course which this debate has taken sufficiently proves that the hon. and learned Gentleman who made the Motion has not exercised a sound discretion in choosing the present moment for introducing the subject. My hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for the War Department has been much blamed by many hon. Members who have spoken for having entered into details connected with matters to which the hon. and learned Gentleman's Motion referred. But if anybody will take the trouble to read the words of the Motion which we are now discussing, he will perceive that those words compelled my hon. Friend to enter into the details which he felt it his duty to introduce into his speech. The Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman is a censure on the Government for having appointed to military situations persons whose conduct, as he contends, is impugned by the Report of the Commissioners; and my hon. Friend the Under Secretary for the War Department but performed his duty by endeavouring to show that the Government was not to blame for the appointments to which the hon. and learned Gentleman alluded. He showed that one of those appointments took place even before the Commission was appointed. He showed that others were made before the Report was presented to the Government; and, consequently, that even if the Report had animadverted in stronger terms than it does on the conduct of the parties concerned, still the appointments, having taken place at those periods, it was impossible for the Government to act on a Report 1659 which they had not got, and that the censure of the hon. and learned Gentleman is, therefore, undeserved, and falls to the ground. Now, Sir, I think it is very unfortunate that a debate should have been brought about which has led to animadversions upon officers who are about to have an opportunity of stating their case before a competent tribunal. The hon. and gallant Officer who spoke from below the gangway (Sir De L. Evans) began by lamenting that this debate had taken a personal turn, and yet almost the whole of his speech was nothing but a tissue of personal allusions, of attacks upon individuals and attacks upon officers, high and low, which I think were really not consistent with the generous character which my hon. and gallant Friend—if he will allow me to call him so—possesses. I think that upon calm reflection he will feel that it would have been more becoming the high position which he holds, both in this House and in the army, if he had spared those attacks upon officers below him, which were, I think, as undeserved by those against whom they were directed, as they were unbefitting the person by whom they were made. Sir, it has been asserted that the course of proceeding which the Government has taken is a reflection on the Commissioners who were sent out to the Crimea. I utterly deny that conclusion. In the beginning of last year two Commissions were sent out to the Crimea, one composed of Sir John M'Neill and Colonel Tulloch for the purpose of inquiring into the supplies of the army, the other consisting of three eminent men, two medical men and an engineer, for the purpose of inquiring into the medical department of the army. Sir John M'Neill and Colonel Tulloch performed their duties to the entire satisfaction of the Government, and with very great advantage to the service; and the result has been that, whereas at the time they went out there was great confusion and irregularity in all the local arrangements connected with the supplies for the army, from the time when they put those matters to rights the army has been exceedingly well provided for, and regularity and abundance have succeeded to irregularity and deficiency of supply. I must beg, therefore, that it may be clearly understood that Her Majesty's Government feel much obliged to those gentlemen for having undertaken so arduous a duty, and for the able and satisfactory manner in which that 1660 duty was performed; and certainly there is nothing in the appointment of a Board of General Officers that implies the slightest reflection on the conduct and proceedings of those two Commissioners. But, Sir, what is the state of the case? It is this. The Report of those Commissioners contains statements which several officers regard as conveying reflections on their conduct, and those officers have a right to expect that some proper authority should be appointed before which they may have an opportunity of affording those explanations which they think due to their own character to make. Sir, what better opportunity could be given to them for this purpose than is afforded by the appointment of a Board of General Officers? Is it through debates in this House that such explanations would be best offered? Why, I appeal to the example of this debate to show how utterly unsatisfactory such a tribunal must be, to the parties themselves, or to this House, or to the public at large. Would the appointment of a Select Committee of this House have been any better? Would a Select Committee of this House be as competent to judge on matters of military detail as a Board of General Officers, conversant as the members of such a Board must be with the subjects referred to their consideration? Sir, hon. Gentlemen have chosen to take their view of the functions of the Board from the title put at the back of the warrant by which it is appointed. If, instead of taking detached words from the back of the warrant, they will only have the goodness to read the warrant itself, they will see that the Board of General Officers are not instructed to "report on the Report" of the Commissioners, but to inquire into certain matters mentioned in the Report of the Commissioners which certain officers regard as casting reflections on their conduct and character, to receive explanations, and to report their opinion thereupon. I cannot conceive anything less objectionable. It seems to me the best and the only proper mode of affording the officers in question that opportunity for explanation to which they are fairly entitled. I cannot, therefore, agree with my right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) when he says that we ought to have followed the precedent of the Convention of Cintra; because on that occasion the Board of General Officers were directed to report whether any military proceedings should take place in con- 1661 sequence of their investigation. In the first place, let me say the case referred to was very different in its nature from the present one. On that occasion the matter to be inquired into was a very simple one, and one on which it was easy to form an opinion. On this occasion the matters to be inquired into are much more complicated in their character. The Board of General Officers are called upon to report their opinion, and that opinion may be either that military proceedings are required, or that there is no occasion for any further proceedings in this or that or the other case which may be submitted to their judgment. Now, Sir, we are told that we ought not to have laid the Report of these Commissioners before the House until Her Majesty's Government had fully inquired into all the matters to which it related, and formed their opinion with regard to every person whose conduct was in any degree animadverted upon. Sir, what would have been the demand for this Report, what imputations would not have been cast upon the Government, if this course had been taken? Would it not have been asserted that we wished to conceal in mystery some great dereliction of duty, that we wished to shelter delinquency, that we wished to prevent the exposure of abuses, and that we wished to keep back information from this House and the country? All this would have been said if we had refused to produce the Report until we had taken all these preliminary proceedings. Sir, there would have been a strong prejudice created in the public mind. There would have been imputations, supported by primâ facie evidence, which would have had a most injurious effect, even though there had been no foundation for them; in fact I think the only course that was consistent with the duty of the Government was to lay the Report, which contains a great deal of valuable information, as soon as possible before Parliament, and then to give those officers who felt that their conduct was impugned by certain parts of the evidence which had been collected, a fitting and proper opportunity of offering those explanations which they thought due to their character. Sir, had any one listened to the speech of the hon. and gallant Officer (Sir De L. Evans) without knowing exactly what year we are in, and what is the present state of things, one might have imagined that we are discussing at this time the state of the army in the Crimea last year. The hon. 1662 and gallant Officer went back to all the unfortunate circumstances connected with the distressing situation of the army at the early period of its service in the Crimea. What bearing has all that on the present state of things? Unfortunately, when that army landed there was a complication of circumstances which exposed it to great and almost unprecedented hardships. The service was one of the most difficult character: difficult on account of the nature of the duties to be performed; difficult because there was a siege to be carried on while the army was dependent for its supplies, obtained from places situated at a distance, upon a small port where there were little or no conveniences for landing stores, and where there was not room for transports to lay; and difficult because the arrangements had to be conducted by persons who were new to the position in which they found themselves. Owing to these various causes, that army was exposed to difficulties and privations which perhaps in the history of the country no British army had ever before had to support. They did support those difficulties and privations nobly and gallantly—they endured those privations and hardships with the same courage and intrepidity with which they faced the enemy upon those occasions on which they were called to confront him in the field of battle; and the patience with which they bore their trials and hardships did as much honour to the army as the valour and intrepidity which they displayed upon the fields of the Alma, at Inkerman, or Balaklava. But, Sir, fortunately, that state of things has ceased to exist. We well know that during the last eight or ten months that army has been in a totally different condition; we well know that the health of the army is better than that of almost any body of troops in any other part of the world. All the statements of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Roebuck) with regard to that period of distress, which at one time alarmed the country, refer to a state of things gone by; and so far from the mortality of the army being now what he represents it to have been at one time, it is, I believe, less than that of any equal number of troops in the healthiest part of the United Kingdom. Then, with regard to other arrangements, whether of the medical department or the Quartermaster General's department—an hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Stafford), who, highly to his honour, has devoted those periods of the year when he is not 1663 attending this House to inquiring into the condition of the army in the Crimea, has most generously borne testimony to the admirable condition of all the hospital arrangements in the Crimea and at Constantinople; and that all the arrangements connected with the supplies of the army are now as complete and perfect as the nature of things will permit them to be. Then we are told that the Government are to be blamed because Sir Richard Airey has been appointed Quartermaster General at home. Sir Richard Airey was, indeed, Quartermaster General at the period which I have mentioned, when the arrangements and supplies of the army were not satisfactory; but he was also Quartermaster General at a subsequent period, when all the arrangements were improved, and when all the supplies were regulated in the most satisfactory manner. Sir Richard Airey having returned home in ill health, and the office of Quartermaster General having become vacant, I should like to know who was the person whom the Government and the Commander in Chief could move naturally have selected for that situation than the officer who had had the largest experience of the duties of the office, and by whom those duties had at a later period been performed in the most complete and efficient manner. Therefore, Sir, the censure which the hon. and learned Gentleman wishes to cast upon the Government in his Motion—and I am now addressing myself to that Motion—the censure, I say, which he wishes to cast upon us for having appointed Sir Richard Airey to the situation of Quartermaster General, is a censure which is wholly undeserved. I am ready to take my full share of the responsibility resting upon Her Majesty's Government in connection with that appointment. In my opinion it was a good appointment. I think it was one which was for the good of the service, and which was fully justified. Then, with regard to Lord Cardigan. Lord Cardigan's appointment took place, as my hon. Friend the Under Secretary for War has mentioned, even before the Commission went out; and every man who knows anything about the merits of officers in the army will do Lord Cardigan the justice to acknowledge that he is a most distinguished cavalry officer. Sir, I remember talking two or three years ago to a general officer of great distinction who had served in India, repecting the merits of different 1664 officers who had served with him. He said to me, "The two best cavalry officers I ever met with were General Cureton," who, unfortunately, fell in action, "and Lord Cardigan." The Government did not, therefore, I think, do wrong in having chosen Lord Cardigan as Inspector General of Cavalry. It seems to me, then, Sir, that the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman is neither well-timed nor just. I think that if, as the hon. and learned Member affirmed, his motive for introducing the Motion was to afford this House an opportunity of canvassing the conduct of officers whose proceedings are about to come under the review of the Board of General Officers which has just been appointed—if, I say, that be his motive, it is, in my opinion, a mistake on the part of the hon. and learned Gentleman—a mistake which I hope the House will not sanction by adopting it. I think it is a mistake to call upon this House to discuss by anticipation, and without an opportunity of explanation being afforded to the officers concerned, matters which a Board of General Officers are about to investigate. On the other hand, if the hon. and learned Gentleman means—as the words of his Motion appear to indicate—to censure Her Majesty's Government on account of the appointments of the officers to whom this Motion refers, I think that censure is not deserved, and I trust the House will not be disposed to concur with the hon. Gentleman in that respect. Sir, I repeat that it is most unjust both to Her Majesty's Government, and to Sir John M'Neill and Colonel Tulloch, to represent that by constituting a Board of General Officers to consider this subject, we are establishing a Commission to report upon the Report of a previous Commission. We are doing no such thing. We are appointing a Board of General Officers to receive explanations from those officers who feel themselves aggrieved by some things which are contained in the Report which has been laid before the House; and so far from implying by anything we have done the slightest disrespect to Sir John M'Neill and Colonel Tulloch, I state in the most unqualified manner that Her Majesty's Government attach the highest value to the labours of those gentlemen. They were chosen as Commissioners because we knew them to be men of high character and of great ability and discernment; and I am sure the public service has derived the greatest benefit 1665 from the inquiries which they carried on, from the suggestions which they made, and from the improvements which they were instrumental in effecting in that department to which their inquiries and efforts were directed. Sir, I really hope that the House will not assume the task of inquiring into or discussing the conduct of individual officers, but be content to leave the matter to that board of general officers to whom the inquiry has been entrusted. I hope that the names of those general officers, their high character, and their standing in the service will be sufficient to satisfy every one that the approaching inquiry will be conducted with a view to the establishment of truth—that it will afford to the officers concerned a full opportunity of vindicating their characters, and that the result will be satisfactory at once to them, to the House, and to the public.
§ LORD LOVAINE
I wish to ask the noble Lord whether, in the investigation that is about to take place into the conduct of the officers in the Crimea, there will be a provision made for the relatives and the representatives of the gallant men who have held commands in the army in the Crimea, not only to attend, which they will of course, the inquiry being open, but to tender such evidence, written or otherwise, as will rescue the memory of those persons from any imputations which may be thrown upon them in the course of this inquiry? I am the more impelled to ask this question, because, from the course which this debate has taken, I have seen with great sorrow that the rules and the esprit de corps which ordinarily prevail between officers in the army have upon this occasion been entirely forgotten; for we have heard—when there has been no possibility of contradicting them—conversations which have passed between one officer and another, and between superior and inferior officers, of the most confidential character, detailed here to-night. I very much fear that what has not been respected in the House will not be respected before the court of inquiry. At a moment of extreme distress, when the late Lord Raglan commanded, and was placed in a position from which no man could scarcely have escaped with honour, and few with life, I deeply grieve that there has been but one man, either in the present ministry or that of Lord Aberdeen—with the single honourable exception of the noble Lord the Member for the City of London—who was generous enough to 1666 say one word in defence of that lamented general. I shall be extremely gratified, therefore, to receive the assurance to which I have alluded from the noble Lord at the head of the Government.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Of course, the court being an open one, those interested in the character of the distinguished man to whom allusion has been made, will, I presume, be in attendance during the whole of the proceedings, and I am quite sure that the Board of General Officers will give every opportunity to the relatives of the late Lord Raglan to explain away any reflections which may be made, though I cannot suppose any such will be made against the character of that distinguished officer.
§ LORD CLAUD HAMILTON
said: I rise to vindicate my gallant relative from the uncalled for, and I had almost said, cowardly attack which has been made on him by the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster. The hon. and learned Member whose Motion is now under discussion, with that spirit of fair play which always distinguishes the English gentleman, refused to go into the details of the evidence taken before the Commission, because he said the officers inculpated were about to be put on their trial, and I am sorry to see that a gentleman bearing the commission of a general in the British army has not followed that manly example. The hon. and gallant General has chosen to detail an anecdote for the sole purpose, as it seems to me, of prejudicing my gallant relative; and I ask the House whether such a statement ought to have been made after so long a silence, and when such a tribunal has been appointed? That it was premeditated was proved by the hon. and gallant General producing from his pocket-book a letter upon the subject, and he told the House that he was instigated to do it by the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for War. By what magic that hon. Gentleman could convey a letter to the pocket of the hon. and gallant General I leave him to explain; but I crave the attention of the House while I make a short statement relative to this anecdote. The hon. and gallant General endeavoured to prove that my gallant relative evinced both inexperience and petulance in the discharge of his military duty. The hon. and gallant General told the House that an order was given to attack a convoy, which order was to be conveyed by my gallant relative; 1667 but that there was no convoy in the position described. He, however, said that the orders were imperative, and at the request of the General he returned with a similar order. Now, in what capacity did Colonel Gordon act in that case? Why, Sir, as one of the staff, and as merely obeying the orders issued by Lord Raglan to the gallant General (Sir De Lacy Evans). But here are the circumstances around which the gallant General seeks to cast such ridicule. It would appear that a very gallant and experienced Colonel of artillery—whose name it is not necessary to produce—saw a large and lengthy convoy coming in towards the direct on of the gallant General's division, and he was led to believe that it would wind along the road and be in a short time under the position which he occupied. Lord Raglan received the communication as conveying important information. At the moment Colonel Gordon was busy in his office, and had no cognisance of the message that had been received relative to this convoy. However, he was suddenly summoned into Lord Raglan's presence, who told him to get instantly upon his horse and gallop as fast as he could with an order to the gallant General to take the convoy. Now, mark! Colonel Gordon never professed to have seen the convoy, or to have any cognisance of its existence. He had simply the imperative orders of Lord Raglan that the convoy should be seized. And why was Lord Raglan so anxious for the capture of the convoy? Because he knew that if he could secure those arabas, he would be able to overcome the great difficulty of the army, the insufficiency of the transport service. That was why his orders were so imperative. What, then, did my gallant relative do? Why, as upon all occasions, he obeyed his orders with alacrity, and, instantly galloping to the gallant General, delivered his commands. The gallant General said, "There is no such convoy." "I think," said Colonel Gordon on the other hand, "there must be, for I have here imperative orders in reference to it." Certainly Colonel Gordon had never surveyed the ground; he never professed to have seen the convoy; all he professed was, to have received imperative orders for its seizure. However, the gallant General demurred, saying he could not see the convoy. Upon that Colonel Gordon went back as fast as he could to Lord Raglan, and informed him that there was no convoy in sight, 1668 and that General Evans did not believe in its existence. Well, so important did Lord Raglan hold it to be to get possession of these Russian arabas, that he suggested the convoy might be concealed from the gallant General's view by a bend in the hill, and he ordered Colonel Gordon to suggest the consideration to the gallant General. Now that was the suggestion upon which the gallant General had endeavoured to heap ridicule—the suggestion of the gallant and departed Lord Raglan given as the possible solution of the non-evidence of the existence of the convoy. Colonel Gordon therefore returned with a reiteration of the order that the gallant General was, by every possible exertion, to try and secure the convoy which a most experienced officer of artillery had informed him was winding along the road. Sir, having said this much, I will now appeal to men who, I trust, are anxious to uphold, not merely the British name, but British honour. Is it fit—is it fair—is it, I will say, consonant with the dignity of the House of Commons, to make such charges against absent men? Charges which, if he had only warned any of the relatives of Colonel Gordon he was about to produce, or had brought them forward publicly, would have been met and answered in the most complete form. Nevertheless, on the part of my gallant relative, I now publicly—not doing so behind the back of his accuser, as seems to be the practice of the gallant General—I invite him to enter into any explanatory statement he may think fit relative to this transaction, which he may consider to impugn the character and capacity of Colonel Gordon—to produce it publicly, and in such a way that it can be met as an Englishman would like. I hope, Sir, the House will feel that I am justified in the challenge, and that it is one the gallant General cannot shrink from. But he has charged my gallant relative with inexperience. Now I hardly know whether I can trust myself to ask the gallant General whether he wishes, before the public, to contrast the inexperience of the gallant General with his own experience after the battle of Inkerman? Does the gallant General who so sneers at the experience of Colonel Gordon remember the results of his own experience then and there? Does he remember that upon that occasion he exercised all the influence he could with Lord Raglan—bringing to bear all his experience as a military man, and invited 1669 him to do—what the House will scarcely believe—to take refuge on board the fleet, with the English army, leaving behind their cannon, and the French at the mercy of the enemy? [Sensation.] Yes, that was the advice given by the gallant General to Lord Raglan after the battle of Inkerman. But what was the answer of Lord Raglan? "What!" said the noble Lord, "abandon my cannon, and leave the French army unsupported?" The hon. and gallant General's answer was, "I am not a diplomatist, but a military man, and that is my advice as an experienced military man." This is a digression, I admit. But let the House decide which is better—the "inexperience" that led Colonel Gordon to obey an order, or the experience which suggested counsels that would have covered the British name with ignominy and shame.
§ SIR DE LACY EVANS
I trust, Sir, I may be allowed to say a few words in explanation. The noble Lord who has last addressed us seems to think that I have been totally unprovoked. Now, as I have already mentioned, I was necessarily drawn into a rebutting statement by what fell from the hon. Under Secretary for the War Department, which amounted to an imputation upon the generals of division in the army of the Crimea. And I think I am justified, when statements have been made reflecting seriously upon us, in endeavouring to retaliate. It certainly was my duty to say, that though Colonel Gordon was an officer of great zeal and attainments, I did not consider him to possess the discretion adequate for the highly responsible situation which he held; but the noble Lord went on to allude to a conversation which I am supposed to have had with Lord Raglan after the close of the battle of Inkerman. Now, at that precise time, I was in great distress both in body and mind, and I used but one sentence to Lord Raglan, to which he made not the smallest reply. However, the noble Lord has informed the House of a series of observations on the part of Lord Raglan, in reply to my suggestion. Now, here is what occurred. I said to Lord Raglan, "My Lord, will you pardon me if I say that I think, from the great losses we have sustained to-day, a re-arrangement ought to be made to enable the British army to take up its position on some other point, rather than incur the risk of great reinforcements being brought to bear upon us in our present position." Now, if any one will reflect upon the 1670 frightful situation which the army then occupied, they will see there was some reason for the suggestion. It is very true that I ought not to have said a word, but Lord Raglan did not make the slightest remark either about the artillery or anything else. Lord Raglan did not invite any discussion, and the House will readily understand that we were all very much subdued by the losses we had experienced. Fortunately, perhaps, my advice has not been followed, and, after incurring enormous loss, we have succeeded. But if the siege of last winter had been raised, the lives of many hundreds would have been saved, and perhaps a greater success might have been obtained if we had taken up some other position.
§ MR. FREDERICK PEEL
wished to observe that the gallant General had been totally mistaken in imagining that his observations were meant to throw any aspersions upon him. He had stated that in the Report there were charges made which in some degree reflected upon the general officers, and he cited that circumstance to show how difficult it was for the Government to know how to interpret the Report.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
Sir, seeing, as, indeed, I usually find myself, that I am palpably in a minority, I decline to divide the House.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.