HC Deb 07 June 1811 vol 20 cc519-32
The Chancellor of the Exchequer

observed, that, according to the course of proceeding adopted by the House in the present session, orders of the day were to have precedence of motions on his day; still however, be felt a conviction, that the motion which he had to make, a motion recognising the merits of the general, the officers and the gallant army engaged in the glorious battle of Albuera, would be allowed by the House to take precedence of any other business. (Hear, hear.) He colleted from this cheer an admission on the pan of the House, and should therefore proceed. Now again be felt himself placed in the situation, in which he had imposed upon on him the agreeable duty, which several times during the present session he had had to perform, of presenting to the consideration of the House the eminent services of the British and allied armies—services which had been so frequently crowned with the most signal and brilliant success He had again to bring under the notice, and recommend to the attention and approbation of that House, the meritorious conduct of the officers and men of that army, who had so nobly distinguished themselves in the glorious cause in which they were engaged—the defence of the oppressed people of the Peninsula against the most grinding system of tyranny and oppression to which any nation had ever been exposed. He had on this happy occasion to enrol upon the illustrious list of those heroes who had signalized their valour and skill in their country's service, the names of general Beresford, who so ably commanded the allied army at Albuera, and of the other officers, whose eminent merits contributed to the brilliant victory obtained in that part of the Peninsula. To himself it was grateful, as he was convinced it would be satisfactory to every gentleman who heard him, and to the country, that, although they might feel a pride in contemplating the accumulated glories and honours acquired by particular generals, yet the country could reflect with exultation that it was not to one or two generals they could look with confidence for signal talents and heroic achievements in the field, but that the country had numerous generals competent to meet any general of France, with an army nearly equal in numbers, not only with glory to themselves, but with defeat to their enemies. It was remarkable, that, in the short period of the present session, this was the third time it had become his duty to bring the eminent services of the army under the consideration of the House, as introductory of a vote of its thanks—the highest honour it could bestow. And here, he trusted, that the House would do his Majesty's ministers the justice to allow, that they had not studiously taken advantage of gallant exploits of equivocal character or inferior importance, to call upon the House for its thanks, for the purpose of obtaining an indirect attestation of their own merits and exertions in providing the means of accomplishing such successes. The House would, therefore, he was fully persuaded, give them credit for not having multiplied their applications to parliament for the high honour of their thanks to reward eminent military services, with any such paltry view. No, it was a duty imposed upon them by the blessing of Providence, which enabled his Majesty's forces to achieve in the short period which had elapsed of the present campaign, more signal and glorious successes than had been heretofore obtained in almost any space of a tedious and protracted war. Sure he was, that upon this point the House would be more disposed to censure the conduct of ministers for having been too sparing in their applications—for having withheld the thanks of that House from meritorious services—than to complain of their having multiplied the instances in which they called upon the House to record their high approbation of the gallantry and good conduct of their brave officers and troops. He need not here allude to the capture of the island of Banda in a most romantic and chivalrous stile by a small but heroic band—an enterprize entitled to rank for decision and intrepidity with any to be found in the annals of military achievements. Neither need he point out the masterly and gallant manner in which the conquest of the islands of Bourbon and Mauritius had been accomplished; an object of so much importance, not only from the annoyance which they enabled the enemy to give to British commerce, but from the anxiety which every minister of this counry had manifested to obtain possession of them. The House would acquit ministers of any anxiety to drag before their view services, however important, which might admit of doubt as to their claim to the thanks of Parliament. The occasions to which he had alluded particularly, as having submitted for the approbation of that House, were the gallant exploits performed in the peninsula; from the glorious victory of Busaco, obtained by lord Wellington in his retreat to his lines, to what surpassed all—the important victory at Almeida. Under all the circumstances of the case, it would be admitted that they had rather abstained from overloading the Journals with Votes of Thanks, than unnecessarily squandered that proud distinction; and if any gentleman were to criticise their conduct, his animadversion would be directed to their forbearance, at a period when scarce a day passed without an expectation of same victory; which expectation was uniformly realised by the ext accounts. In short, such a tide and flood of victory flowed in our favour, that of our army it might be said, as of an army of old, "Hostis nihil aliud est nisi perpetua gloriæ materia vestræ." The enemy, by the incessant victories gained over them, seemed to serve only as a fund to supply materials for the accumulating glories of the Bruish army. He had only to refer to the manner in which the former votes had been received, to shew that he had not been lavish in bringing these votes forward.

Having stated thus much as to the circumstances in which he brought forward the motion of that night, he should proceed next to state the circumstances of the action to which his motion applied, It appeared by the dispatches, that general Beresford was engaged in the siege, when he received intelligence that marshal Soult, having collected from the corps of Victor, Sebastiani, and from the interior of Spain, all the force which he could assemble, had broken up on the 10th of May from Seville, to march to the relief of Badajoz. Upon receipt of this intelligence, it appeared that be considered how he should meet the attack; whether he should raise the siege of Badajoz and await the attack of Soult, or provide for both objects. He determined to prepare for the attack, lest by endeavouring to attend also to the siege, he might risk the loss of both objects. He then took up a position on the river Albuera, where he was joined in the evening preceding the action by the allied force under generals Blake and Castanos, in pursuance of a previous arrangment with those officers; and it was not till the morning of the day on which the battle was fought, that he was joined by the corps under general Cole, which had been left to cover the conveyance of the heavy ordnance and stores from before Badajoz to Elvas.—The right hon. gent. then proceeded to detail from the official dispatches, the order of battle—the Spaniards on the hill on the right, general Stuart's division on the left of them, and general Hamilton's on the left of general Stuart's. The enemy made a demonstration on the left, and taking advantage of the weather", which masked his operations, directed the main body of his force and all his attention to an attack upon the position occupied by the Spaniards on the right. The Spanish troops resisted this concentrated attack with intrepidity and courage, but were at length obliged to give way to superior forces, and were driven from the hill. To the immortal honour, however, of these gallant troops, they rallied at the bottom of the hill, turned upon the enemy, and kept them in check by heir fire, till the brigade of lieut. col. Colbourne came to their support. The brigade of general Cole was stationed in the rear of the Spaniards. The brigade of colonel Colbourne, not being able to dislodge the enemy from their position by their fire, proceeded to charge them with the bayonet; and it was in this charge that that brigade, consisting of three regiments, suffered so severely from an unexpected charge by a division of Polish cavalry. A small regiment, the 31st, kept this cavalry in check, till the brigade of general Hoghton came up; when that brave and distinguished officer fell, cheering his men to the, charge.— Whilst stating this circumstance, he trusted the House would agree with him as to the propriety of marking their admiration of the glorious circumstances of his death, by erecting a monument to the hero at the public expence; at once a testimony to posterity of their gratitude and his glory. (Hear, hear!) In the course of this contest it would be observed that every man did his duty. But it was against the right that the principal efforts of the enemy were directed. In this point, the brigade of general Cole, and particularly the fusileers, took the French on their left flank, and making a combined charge with the other troops, drove them from the eminence which commanded the British line, and which was the great object of their efforts to acquire, and of their ambition to retain. It was upon being driven from this hill that the French were broken, and forced with great slaughter down the hill. Never had there fallen in so small a space so many victims to the fury of war as on the acclivity of this hill, after the enemy had been driven from the summit to the bottom.

When he stated that the whole of the battle took place on the right, he did not mean to be understood that no efforts had been made in any other part of the line. The enemy had directed serious attacks in other quarters, and if no other action had been fought but what had taken place at the bridge of Albuera, that alone would be enough to immortalise the glory of that day. Such had been the circumstances of this glorious battle; the consequences of which were—the flight of the enemy from the scene of action—the abandonment of their wounded: and the situation of the miserable remnant of the French array might be estimated from the intercepted letter of general Gazan to Marshal Soult, which represented the force under him of wounded to amount to 4,000 men. But the usual consequences of this glorious victory would prove most highly beneficial to the cause in which we were engaged. When they considered the effect that must necessarily be produced by the signal disappointment of all the boasts of the enemy, by the frustrating of all their proud pretensions and anticipated triumphs, it was impossible to describe that effect in stronger terms than in the language of general Beresford, who alluded to the impression that would be made by the return of Marshal Soult, after all his boasts, to Seville with a broken army, and what was worse, a diminished reputation. But in the circumstances of this action there were some particulars which might afford the enemy a pretext to claim a victory. In the charge which the brigade of colonel Colbourne had sustained from the Polish cavalry, the three regiments of which it was composed undoubtedly lost their colours. The colours of one of them were afterwards recovered, one standard re-taken from the enemy, and the other preserved for his corps in an exemplary manner by the gallant officer who had the charge of it. The colours of the two other regiments undoubtedly were in the possession of the enemy, and would in all probability be made the ground of a claim of triumph. Whilst upon this topic, he trusted the House would excuse him for adverting to the very gallant and heroic conduct of the two officers who bore the colours of the Buffs, which had been preserved. One of them was surrounded by the enemy, and when asked to give up his colours, answered, "Not, but with my life!" and his life was the instant forfeit of his refusal, (a call of Name! name!) The name of this heroic individual was ensign Thomas. The standard thus taken was afterwards recovered from the enemy. The manner in which the other standard was preserved, was marked by circumstances equally meritorious and honourable to the individual who preserved it, and equally entitled to the applause and admiration of his country. Ensign Walsh was the officer he alluded to. This gallant individual, having the staff of the colours broken by a cannon bail, which also severely wounded himself, fell upon the field of battle, and more anxious about his precious charge than for himself, contrived to separate the flag from the remnant of the staff, and secured it in his bosom, from which he afterwards produced it when his wounds were dressed after the battle. (Hear! hear.) He was rejoiced to name these heroic individuals, and to give all the splendour to their reputation, which the mention of their deeds in that House was calculated to confer.—He knew not whether it might be permitted him here to mention also the case of General Beresford himself. After the charge of the Polish cavalry, which had proved so disastrous to the brigade of colonel Colbourne, one horseman, separated from his corps, and unsupported by any others, approached so near Marshal Beresford, either from the effects of intoxication or the phrenzy of military enthusiasm, as to aim a blow at his life. The general, anxious only to preserve the life of the man, evaded his blow by his dexterity, and, availing himself of his superior strength, pulled him to the ground; but no sooner was he perceived still meditating a blow at the general, than he was instantly dispatched by one of his orderlies. He mentioned this only to shew that this unforeseen accident might have deprived the country of the services of this gallant officer.

He begged the House now to allow him to allude to the moral consequences which must result from this victory—such a victory occurring at such a time and under such circumstances. When they considered the attempt of Massena to relieve Almeida, and the almost contemporaneous effort of Soult to relieve Badajoz, they could not consider both in any other light than as a desperate attempt, undertaken in pursuance of orders from their govenment, to retrieve the character and the honour of the French arms in the Peninsula. He had also to acquaint the House, that it was now well ascertained, that Marshal Soult, on leaving Seville, in the confidence of anticipated victory, published one of those boasting proclamations for which the French generals were so remarkable; and that he had frequently on his march addressed his troops upon the certainty of their success. The utter disappointment of all these confident expectations of victory must raise the hopes and increase the confidence of the Allies, at the same time that it must lower the tone and the pretensions of the enemy. He could not but consider it as opening new and flattering prospects to us in the Peninsula.—He was aware that some gentlemen were of opinion, that there was no limit to the means of the French emperor, and that he could have no difficulty in sending three or four hundred thousand men into the Peninsula. For himself, he should say, that he did not think it so easy for him to send any large force thither; particularly when there was a prospect that he might have employment for so many of his forces elsewhere. But even if he should be able to place his force in the Peninsula on the same footing as before, he would find the allies better prepared to meet him: he would find from the glorious example set by the Spanish troops at Albuera, far different enemies to contend with. When he looked to the grevious disappointment of the hopes of the enemy, he could not think he entertained any exaggerated confidence in the operations of war: their issue was in other hands. Whether the pleasing hopes he entertained were well founded, under all the circumstances, he should leave to the public to decide; but whatever might be the foundation of his expectations, he prayed that God, in whose disposal the issue of all contests was placed, would grant that they should be realised. He would now conclude with moving, "That the Thanks of this House be given to lieutenant-general sir William Carr Beresford, knight of the most honour" able order of the Bath, for the distinguished ability displayed by him on the 16th of May last, in the glorious Battle at Albuera, which terminated in the signal defeat of the enemy's forces."

Lord Castlereagh

rose to second the motion. He expressed his conviction, that every man would rejoice, after the laborious efforts which general Beresford had bestowed on the creation and disciplining of the army, to find that he was rewarded by an opportunity of proving his valour in the field. With respect to the action itself, it was only necessary to follow the detail of the gallant officer, to admire it; but there was a difficult military question to be decided before the battle, for which he was entitled to the greatest merit. Lord Wellington was enabled to shew a force both at Badajoz and Almeida to the enemy, and it was for general Beresford to decide whether he would wait for the reinforcement which he knew to be coming, or act with promptitude upon the moment, trusting to his own measures. He took the manly and the judicious step. When they looked to the battle itself, they would perceive that the chief stress was on the right wing; and the House was aware in what a narrow space the conflict was decided—no less than 7,000 individuals lying upon the ground. The extent of that struggle might perhaps be measured by the numbers which were lost, numbers only equalled by those at the battle of Assay, considering those engaged. But if they wished to form an opinion upon proper grounds, let them look to the intercepted letter of the enemy; to the circumstances of the retreat, to the fact of the British army being in possession of the field, and general Beresford being enabled to advance a corps upon the retreating enemy. He complimented the ability by which the siege of Badajoz was raised, and though he could not avoid regretting, when he recollected that British soldiers bore the loss of such a number, still, if war must be carried on, sacrifices must be made, and losses expected; and it was consolatory to reflect, that never was a loss sustained under circumstances more honourable to the British character. The way to decide the advantage of this battle, was to weigh it together with the whole campaign, and he would say, that in no campaign was the sacrifice of human life so small, considering the effects produced by it. Lord Wellington had proved himself to be as sparing of the life of the soldier as he was careful of his health; and, checking his propensity to seek for glory, he economised the existence of those placed under his command. He knew, when he was in a situation to be better informed upon such subjects, that the proportion of the loss of the two armies bore no comparison. He was sure the House would feel that a great feature would be absent from the present contest, if, after the expulsion of the French from Portugal, a trial of strength had not been made upon both frontiers. He considered the two contests as trials of strength, undertaken by the enemy, in both of which he was unsuccessful.—In adverting to the co-operation of the Spaniards, he was happy to find that the testimony of the general represented them as having done heir duty in that day's battle, and he hoped the example would lead to happy results in the future. Up to the present moment, France had made but little impression upon Spain; for with all her efforts, she had never been able to send forth a single Spanish regiment to assist in the subjugation of the country. Whatever defects might exist in the military system, and that great defects did exist he was perfectly conscious, the House should recollect that Spain was not conquered, that she was not divided. As to those defects in the national character of Spain, which prevented her from availing herself of our more efficient assistance and co-operation, from putting herself in that condition which would enable her more effectually to resist oppression, it was but justice to observe, that the same untractable character that made her so unmanageable in the hands of her friends, made her more unmanageable in the hands of her enemies. No nation had ever proved more true to herself than Spain; but if she allowed her troops to be disciplined under British officers in the same manner as the troops of Portugal were disciplined already, her cause would be much advanced. At the same time it was to be remarked that she had not the same opportunity that was offered to Portugal. We had never said that we were ready to pay her troops, as well as to take them under our command; and he was confident it contributed greatly to the success of Portugal, that her soldiers were now, for the first time, paid weekly, and accounted with in as regular a manner as the British soldier. He was not sure, giving all the merit to Portugal she deserved, that the national character would have offered the same resistance to France as that of Spain had done. But he did not wish to draw any invidious comparisons—they were both fighting for their liberties—they had both displayed great energies, and he would only say, as had been already said, "that this great contest must be seen out, and that we must do our best in it." No one could pronounce upon the result, but they would have a better eye to posterity and the duty which they owed their constituents by doing all they could, and leaving the rest in the hands of Providence. He allowed that the war was a great burden, but he knew no man was prepared to say that he saw the moment when it ought to be abandoned. He was sure at this moment, that nothing remained for the country to do but to follow up the advantages it had so happily obtained.

General Tarleton

thought that the conflict at Albuera had been one of the most severe and sanguinary during the war; and bore testimony, from private information he had received, to particular instances of gallantry and intrepidity that had been therein shown by our troops. He complimented the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the military precision with which be had stated the details of the battle. He knew no occasion on which the British troops had shewn greater instances of determined courage

Sir Henry Montgomery

could not hope to be able to add to the eloquent statement of the right hon. gent, and the noble lord, but still could not forego the satisfaction of offering his tribute of applause to the gallant general and the gallant army whose services was the subject now under consideration, nor could he contemplate without emotions of pride, that the gallant general, and also generals Cole and Hamilton, who bore so conspicuous a part in the glory of the day, were his countrymen. He hoped he should hear no more in this House that Ireland was a burden to this country. The right hon. gent. had on a former occasion, as well as the present, made honourable mention of glorious events in another quarter of the world, the capture of Amboyna, and Banda, and he was right, fur the picture of more gallant exploits was never submitted to this House, and he requested the House to recollect that these services were achieved in conjunction with the navy, by a part of that army which the tyranny and oppression of sir George Barlow had driven into a state of mutiny; and he was confident when that subject came before the House, this exploit, with a recollection of the long and zealous service of that army, would ensure to it the serious attention of parliament.

General Mathew

hoped that he should not be considered as digressing, if he stated shortly the services of the gallant general who was the object of the present motion. General Beresford had been thirty years in the service of his country. He commenced in America, was at Toulon, at Corsica, in India, at Madeira, in Portugal, and in Spain with sir John Moore. He had only to state to the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer for his consideration, that the gallant general had lost almost all he was worth in the world by the failure of his relative in Dublin. He stated this merely for his consideration, in the hope that some pecuniary reward would be added to his honours.

The Resolution was then agreed to nem. con. As were also the following: "That the Thanks of this House be given to Major-Generals the honourable Galbraith Lowry Cole, the honourable William Stewart, John Hamilton, the honourable William Lumley, Charles Baron Alten, Brigadier-General Robert Ballard Long, and the sereral other officers, for their distinguished exertions on the 16th of May last, in the glorious battle at Albuera; and that lieutenant-general sir William Carr Beresford do signify the same to the honourable William Stewart, John Hamilton, the honourable William Lumley, Charles Baron Alten, Brigadier-General Ballard Long, and the several other officers. That this House both highly approve of and acknowledge the distinguished valour and discipline so conspicuously displayed by the non-commissioned officers and private soldiers of his Majesty's forces, serving on the 16th of May last, under the immediate command of lieutenant general sir William Carr Beresford, in the signal defeat of the enemy at Albuera, and that the same be signified to them by the commanding officers of the several corps, who are desired to thank them for their gallant and exemplary conduct."

"That this House doth highly acknowledge the distinguished valour and discipline displayed by the officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers of that parl of the Portuguese army which served under the immediate command of lieutenant general sir William Carr Beresford, on the 16th of May last, in the glorious battle at Albuera."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that though he believed there was no instance in which that House expressed its thanks to the allies, unless when they acted under officers of our own, yet the nature of the present contest justified, he thought, a deviation from that rule: and, upon this ground he should move, "That this House doth highly acknowledge the distinguished valour and intrepidity displayed by the Spanish army under the command of his excellency general Blake, on the 16th of May last, in the glorious battle at Albuera."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

next moved, "That an humble Address be presented to his royal highness the Prince Regent, that he will be graciously pleased to give directions, that a Monument be erected in the cathedral church of Saint Paul, London, to the memory of major-general Daniel Hoghton, who fell gloriously on the 16th of May last in the battle at Albuera, which terminated in the signal defeat of the enemy's forces; and to assure his royal highness, that this House will make good the expense attending the same."

Mr. G. S Rose

begged leave to offer a few words with respect to the conduct of that gallant officer, who had acquitted himself worthily in all situations, both as a soldier and as an accomplished gentleman. He had devoted his life to the most active services, and visited every climate in the pursuit of that glory which his profession held up to his view. He had commanded a brigade at Martinique, and on his return from that country exerted himself to get employment under that illustrious general, his friend lord Wellington, whose greatness he had foreboded at an early period. In his last conversation with him, he had stated it as his distinct opinion, that on no account should England relinquish the scene of warfare upon which she was now acting with so much success. It was his fortune to head one of those bands of heroes, who restored the glory of the day at the battle of Albuera, and to perish in the act of encouraging his men. He trusted he should be forgiven for drawing the attention of the House to the merits of the distinguished general, whose memory they were now about to honour, and adding his testimony to that of the country at large, in favour of his virtues and abilities.

Mr. Villiers

adverted to the memory of the lamented general Mackenzie. The circumstances of his death, in the battle of Talavera, were precisely similar to those attendant on the fall of general Hoghton. He thought therefore that as their rank was the same, and that their deaths had been alike glorious, their names should live in the equal testimonies of their country's gratitude.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

admitted the full force of the observation just made; but there was a line of distinction which regulated the grant of honours, independent of the equal' claim upon the score of merit. What that was, as applicable to the present instance, he confessed himself then unable to state accurately. He should take care to make himself better acquainted with the distinction—and till he did, he should suggest to his right hon. friend the propriety of waving all further discussion on the claims of that much-to-be-lamented officer.

Mr. Villiers

acquiesced in the propriety of this suggestion.

Mr. Whitbread

asked if it was not possible that there might be some expression of the feelings of the House upon the transcendant merits of the two young men who had behaved so heroically in the defence of their colours.

Mr. Abercromby

was glad the observation had been thrown out by his hon. friend. He had long thought that there would be great use in that House noticing and recording every splendid instance of individual valour, however low the rank of the person.

Mr. Canning

spoke to the same effect. At the same time that there must necessarily be some general limit which, whatever might be its latitude, might yet bear hard in its exclusive operation—there were instances however, that might well be admitted as exceptions; of which there surely could not be one more touching and more splendid, than that of the gallant youth who, as he fell, was only anxious to lay the colours of his country to a congenial heart that beat high for her praise" and whose last throb was for the glory of her arms.

The Resolution was agreed to nem. con.