HC Deb 01 April 1811 vol 19 cc670-80

The House having gone into a Committee of Supply,

Mr. Ashley Cooper

proceeded to call the attention of the Committee to the Ordnance Estimates for the present year. The Ordinaries were considerably greater than they were last year, arising principally from the transfer to this head of service of several articles from the Extraordinaries, particularly the Artillery Drivers, Waggon Train, &c. He had endeavoured as much as possible, to follow a similar plan to that adopted in the Army Estimates, as being the most likely to make his statement intelligible to gentlemen who had been accustomed to attend to the Army Estimates. As the Estimates, however, were so transposed, it would not be necessary for him to compare them with the Estimates, of last year. He should, only say, in general, that they were 500,000l. more than those of last year This arose particularly from the article of Prize Money, amounting to 170,000l.; Foreign Service 200,000l.; and an addition, of 13,000 men, amounting to 40,000l. There was only one new article in the Extraordinaries which it would be neces- sary for him to mention, being for Magazines 50,000l. There were at present various floating magazines employed in the keeping of powder, but they were found neither to be so safe nor so useful as magazines on shore. The floating magazines besides being dangerous, were apt to render the powder damp after it had been for any considerable time on board. In providing sufficient magazines for this purpose on shore, an additional expence must in the mean time be incurred, but, in the long run, if, to be permanently followed, it would produce a saving. He had seen a calculation of the expence of one of the floating magazines, amounting to 9,000l. and which contained 3,500 barrels. A permanent magazine on shore which would contain 10,000 barrels, it was calculated would cost 15,000l. The expence of floating magazines capable of containing the same quantity of powder, would amount to 28,000l. so that it must be obvious, that, besides the disadvantages attending magazines afloat, those on shore would be infinitely less expensive. He should not detail any of the other articles in these estimates, but should be happy to give any explanation relative to any of them, which gentlemen might please to desire. He concluded by moving," That the sum of 3,412,211l. 11s. 10d. be granted to his Majesty, to defray the expence of ordnance for his Majesty's land forces for the present year."

The Hon. J. W. Ward

said, that he was anxious to take that opportunity of saying a very few words upon a subject, yielding to no other in public interest, and which the nature of the Resolution now before them brought fairly within their consideration. He alluded to the late brilliant action fought upon the heights of Barrosa. In the debate upon the proposition of thanks to general Graham, he was unwilling to divert, for a moment, the tide of eulogium that was flowing in, from all quarters, upon the distinguished merits of that day, by introducing any other subject than that of the British general and his British army; but now that they might be supposed to have looked at the other circumstances of that memorable day, he hoped he might be allowed to ask for some explanation of—or if that could not be given, to express his deep regret at the unfortunate and deplorable misconduct of our allies in the battle of Barrosa. Of that conduct it would be idle to affect to speak in doubtful terms: it unfortu- nately wore but too decisive a character, and was known, talked of and reprobated with equal indignation by all parties throughout the country. General Graham had not, to be sure, spoken of that misconduct in the terms which it appeared to have deserved; but when the delicacy of the situation in which he stood, and of the duty he had to discharge were considered, his forbearance would be attributed to that wise discretion in which such minds were seldom found to be deficient. But though general Graham had, for obvious reasons, forborne to complain, yet the conclusions to be drawn from his silence must speak in a language too emphatic to be for a moment misunderstood: They were not to be told how general Graham and his army fought: neither need they be reminded in whose cause that army had prevailed over a much superior force. But, was it to be endured, that while the British troops were performing prodigies of valour in an unequal contest, that those allies, for whose independence they were fighting, should stand by the cold-blooded spectators of deeds, the bare recital of which should have been enough to warm every man of them into a hero? If, indeed, they had been so many mercenaries, and had been hired to fight for a foreign power and in behalf of a foreign cause;—if they had been so many Swiss, in that case their breach of duty, however culpable, would have been less unaccountable, and perhaps more excusable; but here, where they were allies bound to this country in obligations greater than ever before one nation owed another—our brave men lavishing those lives which their country had so much better right to claim, in defence of that cause in which those allies were principals—in such a case, tamely to look on while the contest between numbers and bravery hung in doubtful issue,—this did appear to him to betray an indifference, an apathy, which, if he could suppose it to prevail among the Spaniards, must render, in his mind, the cause of Spanish independence altogether hopeless. (Here the Chancellor of the Exchequer betrayed some symptoms of disapprobation). He did not presume that such was the general sentiment in Spain, but sure he was, that what he had stated, as to the conduct of the Spaniards in the action of Barrosa, was the prevalent sentiment in the public mind; if that sentiment had been adopted upon false grounds, what he had said then would have this good effect if it had no other, of giving the right hon. gent. an opportunity of setting the public right in that respect. But to put it as a question of policy, and not of gratitude, he should wish to know from those gentlemen who thought all along with ministers upon the question of the Spanish war, whether they continued to hope for the cordial cooperation of the Spaniards?—At Barrosa they were on Spanish ground—on the spot where they might have won the rescue of their wives and children from the bonds of a licentious enemy. When or where could they have had stronger motives to behave like men? And if they hung back in such a moment, at what other could they be relied on? Gentlemen would not, he presumed, talk of any prospect of success without the cooperation of the Spaniards themselves. They would not talk of this country conquering France in Spain, in spite of Spain herself. He did not wish to libel the Spanish people [hear! hear! from ministers]. He repeated that he did not. It was not of Spain as a people, but of Spain as a government, that he complained. He was not so blind to history, or the lessons it afforded, as to suppose a people who had produced a Pizarro, a Gonzalvo, a duke of Parma, Alva, or a Berri, could voluntarily submit to be slaves; but their misfortunes were to be traced to their government—a bad civil government and a bad religious government had been doing their bad work. First, we heard of juntas—juntas without number: then we had provisional juntas, which we were told were to do wonders. They, however, gave way to the central juntas, and left the wonders to be done by them. And lastly came the Cortez, as useless, inefficacious, and troublesome as any of its predecessors: if not more so. They began by fulminating an ostentatious decree against some French words, excluding a few French words from their language, while 300,000 Frenchmen were in possession of their country—they then proceeded to establish the liberty of the press, while they drove out of their country one of her most zealous, faithful, and active adherents, the late duke of Albuquerque. After some other observations, the hon. gent. concluded by asking, if it was to be endured that such men as general Graham and his army were to be subject to the command of such a man as La Pena had shewn himself to be. What did that officer mean when he ordered the jaded troops of general Graham, jaded from the double toil of a long march and a hard fought victory, to push their success and raise the siege of Cadiz? Where were his own soldiers? or was the command issued sarcastically? He was aware that these were delicate points, and that in a country where they appeared as an ally, they must he cautious how they laid claim to any chief or exclusive command; but there must be a limit to that delicacy; it must not carry them beyond all consideration of their own army. He would rather run the risk of offending the Spaniards, than sacrifice such an army as that commanded by general Graham. This country, in her proudest days, could ill spare such an army—its safety should not be risked upon punctilios to those who did not seem to know how to estimate its value; besides, they were not warranted in counting upon precisely the same glorious results in the recurrence of similar circumstances. A very little more advantage on the part of the enemy might have turned the scale even against the same portion of skill, discipline, and intrepidity: numbers on the part of disciplined troops were a formidable advantage, against which no skill or courage could calculate with certainty. He thought it necessary to make these few observations upon a subject which he thought of all others called for explanation. He took the present opportunity in preference to that offered him in the debate on the question of thanks, for the reasons he had already stated.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

gave the hon. gent. great credit for his forbearance on a former occasion, and thought it would be most unfair on account of such forbearance, to preclude him from the right of subsequently discussing the subject. He could not, however, help saying, he thought the hon. gent. had expressed a stronger and more determined censure on the Spaniards than could be justified by the evidence in the possession of the House at present. If he had confined himself to expressions of sincere regret at the circumstance of the English having been left to fight the battle alone, and required some explanation on the subject, he should have thought such conduct on the part of the hon. gent. perfectly natural and perfectly right; but, uninformed of the whole of the circumstances (as he con- ceived he must be, as no information had been furnished on the subject by general Graham), to venture to describe all the Spaniards as cold blooded spectators of the contest, was, he thought, neither generous nor just to those persons who were now to be put to their trial in Spain. It was not generous to the individuals, nor was it just to the cause. It was impossible to think such men could consider themselves fairly dealt with by this country, if they were thus to be prejudged when their conduct was yet to undergo a legal investigation. Did general Graham in his letters furnish grounds for any such statements as had been made, that they were all cold-blooded spectators, and all anxious to withdraw themselves from the field? If he did not, such a statement could not be justified. But what if he had said the reverse? He had said so in fact; in no instance had he furnished grounds for such a sweeping sentence. In his dispatch he had said, "The exhausted state of the troops made pursuit impossible. A position was taken on the eastern side of the hill; and we were strengthened on our right by the return of the two Spanish battalions that bad been attached before to my division, but which I had left on the hill, and which had been ordered to retire. These battalions (Walloon Guards and Ciudad Real) made every effort to come back in time when it was known that we were engaged." Why, from this they had the authority of general Graham himself that whatever might be the propriety of the order previously issued, these two battalions no sooner knew the English and French armies were engaged, than they made every effort in their power to come back, and actually did return as soon as they could, though not before the firing had ceased, and the enemy had commenced his retreat. When the situation of the Spanish army, posted at four miles distance, was taken into consideration, it required more information than the House had at present, to justify the passing of a censure on the whole of the Spanish army, or even on any part of it, excepting these two battalions. With respect to the governments of Spain, though they might not answer the expectations of the hon. gent. great allowances were to be made, considering the circumstances under which they had come into power. They could not expect to find, in persons suddenly forced out of their ordinary habits, patterns of statesmen and patterns of legislators, such as the Spanish governments had been—they, however infirm they might be, bad kept their country unsubdued by France, to the great disappointment of those in that House, who now, in retrospect, censured ministers for failing to do what before by anticipation, was pronounced to be impossible. Instead of condemning all the Spaniards, they ought rather to dwell with admiration on their national character, and contemplate with satisfaction the resistance they had made to the gigantic strides of France. It was not necessary for him to speak of the merits of this or of that government, but he was rather surprised to hear any observations from that side of the House, which seemed to reflect on the Cortes for their early efforts to establish the liberty of the press. What had not been said on that side of the House, from time to time, of the imperious necessity of giving the people immediately a free press, to inspire them with courage equal to the magnitude of the struggle, and give them something to fight for, worthy the best exertions of patriots and of men. He by no means meant to say, that the Spanish governments were uniformly all that could be wished: he did not say that they had always acted with perfect wisdom, or with perfect propriety, but he could not see that they ought to endeavour to lower the character of the existing government, unless they could supply them with those qualities in which it might be complained they were deficient. The hon. gent. had said general Graham ought not to have been placed under such an officer as gen. La Pena. He knew not why this should be complained of. If general Graham thought (without having received any peremptory order to that effect from this country) that by cooperating with a Spanish general he might be enabled to force the enemy to raise the siege, and that to that end it was necessary to put himself under the Spanish commander, he should think it difficult to form a better judgment of the propriety of doing so than that of the officer who had adopted such a line of conduct. General Graham would, from past experience, act with sufficient caution for the time to come. Every proper intimation would be given him to use his discretion with caution. Adverting again to the censures bestowed on the Spanish army, he contended that such censures ought not to be so peremptorily passed, not only on the general officer, but on all serving under him; more especially, as they had received such testimonies of the intrepidity displayed by various corps of the Spanish army: at least they ought to pause before they proceeded to give judgment.

Mr. Whitbread

should have been glad to have joined in the general expression of exultation called forth by the victory of Barrosa in a recent debate. He should have been glad to have added to the general tribute his mite, in applause of the heroism of that day, and to have done himself the honour of claiming the hero of that day as his much valued friend: this he should have been glad to have done, if he could have had sufficient controul over himself to prevent him from doing more; but he was apprehensive that he could not have abstained from speaking of the conduct of the Spaniards. The right hon. gent. had spoken like the advocate of the Spaniards; they must be defended at all events: no matter how! And yet what was it that was attempted to be defended? The English army was on the point of being sacrificed—the Spaniards were in sight of them, within twenty minutes quick march of them! and yet what did they? What were they? Why, just what they had been described by his hon. friend—cold blooded spectators of the battle! Was this doing their duty to themselves or to their brave allies? It was not easy to speak upon this topic without giving way to indignation; and after coldly witnessing a band of heroes fighting and dying for their cause, general La Pena tells our small army, exhausted with its unparalleled victory over numbers, that, forsooth, now was the time to push its success. What did this redoubted general mean? Was it insult, or treachery, or cowardice, each, or all? He did not mean to complain of the Spanish people, but of their officers. He should be sorry to say any thing so severe of that army, as that every soldier there felt as their general did. He only wished that the Spanish soldiers were put under the command of British officers, as the Portuguese were, and, he had no doubt, that they would behave as the Portuguese had behaved. He placed himself upon the silence of general Graham, and let the right hon. gent. dislodge him from that ground if he could. While that silence remained as it did, be should ever think of Barrosa as a day memorable for the glory of the Britons, and not less memorable for the infamy of the Spaniards. Was it to to be endured, that our brave fellows should be so basely deserted, after an excessive night-march, the moment they entered the field, against a foe always formidable from discipline, and then doubly so from numbers? Why were the two battalions, concerning which the right hon. gent. vapoured so much, why were they with-drawn from the heights of Barrosa? why was their position abandoned precipitately to the French? who gave this order but a Spanish officer? What! should not this excite a jealousy? Was this the first time a Spanish army had been cold-blooded spectators of British heroism? Did they want this to remind them of the stately indifference shewn by Cuesta in the battle of Talavera? Was all sound in Cadiz? Was there no French party there? Were British armies never before betrayed till the battle of Barrosa? He said betrayed, for it was nothing less: the two battalions never came up till our army had repulsed the French, beaten them off, and was in hot pursuit of them as fast as our army could pursue—as fast as their exhausted limbs could carry their noble hearts! then what had been our allies—at Talavera nothing—at Barrosa nothing—or rather at both, perhaps worse than nothing: the history of Barrosa was not yet told—a mystery hung about it. The allied force sailed from Cadiz—the British fought—the Spaniards looked on. The British conquered: and yet the siege was not raised. Again he asked, was all sound at Cadiz? Was it true that general Graham had been obstructed and toiled in all his plans—that in the midst of the fight, while the British troops were doing feats which perhaps British troops alone could do, their allies were doing what, he hoped, such men alone were capable of—plundering the British baggage? Was this true? It was not the Spanish people he complained of; he gave them every credit; but he gave their leaders none. If all this was so, or nearly so, were the British armies to be risked so worthlessly? Were they to be abandoned to treachery or cowardice? For in either or both must have originated the unnatural, ungrateful and infamous treatment they had met with.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

wished to be understood not as being the panegyrist of the Spanish general, but as wishing to prevent a sentence of condemnation being prematurely passed. As the Cortes had taken up the subject (and this he could state to the House), he thought they ought to suspend their judgment. He begged to be understood not to say that gen. Graham had exercised his discretion improperly, but he thought the experience of the past might make him act differently in a similar situation, and furnish a reason for indisposition to join in any enterprise that might be proposed. An army at Cadiz, he contended, was not, under such circumstances, worse than useless, as experience had proved.

General Tarleton

went over the circumstances connected with the battle of Barrosa. He detailed the events of that memorable day, from which, he contended, there were strong grounds for suspecting the Spanish general not of indifference, but of treachery. The military genius and presence of mind of general Graham, had alone saved the English army from destruction. The Spanish force was never more than four miles distant from the scene of action, yet it made no effort to take a part in it. The cold-bloodedness of the Spaniards, the removal of the two battalions which occupied the heights of Barrosa, combined with all the other circumstances, proved a something more than cowardice, and clearly demonstrated the existence of treachery. In all the battles fought in the peninsula we had gained abundant glory; but as no solid good could be derived from our continued exertions, he wished the Committee to consider well the nature of the vote they were called upon to give.

Mr. R. Wellesley

thought the accusations thrown out against the Spanish government were hard preferred at a time when they were labouring to correct the faults in their constitution. Putting out of consideration the efforts which Spain had made at various times, he thought there was something in her exertions to remove the defects of which we complained, that entitled her to our assistance. He did not think the complete salvation of Spain was to be expected from the proceedings of the Guerrillas; still it was something to find in every province a band of men, who relinquishing their ordinary occupation, ranged the country in every direction in search of the enemy. With respect to what had been said of general Graham having served under the Spanish general, he must observe that general Graham had to consider whether he should do something or nothing. Had he not acted as he did, the opportunity which then offered might never have occurred with such prospect of advantage again, and he had therefore acted wisely in resolving to place himself under the Spanish commander.

Mr. Ward

expressed a doubt as to the propriety of withholding censure till the Spanish commander had been tried, as general La Pena might be tried by such persons as general La Pena.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said that the Cortes had taken up the subject.

Mr. Ward

thought those who had employed him were not fit judges of his conduct.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

wondered the hon. gent. did not recollect that it was possible a government might send out a bad general, without all its members being traitors or unfit to manage affairs. He wished it to be observed, however, that the Cortes were not the government.

Some further explanation followed with respect to the nature of the Cortes as compared with the government, after which the Resolution was put and carried.

Mr. Wharton

moved that the sum of 1,648,260l. should be granted for the Commissariat Department. After some remarks from Mr. Whitbread, Mr. Bankes, Mr. Huskisson, Mr. W. Smith, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in which each expressed his approbation of the conduct of the Commissariat in Chief, and the manner in which the estimates were made up, the Resolution was agreed to.