HC Deb 23 June 1815 vol 31 cc989-93

The House having resolved into a Committee of Supply,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

rose and observed, that the opinion which the House had just expressed as to the merits of the distinguished individual to whom he also had to call their attention, would relieve him from the necessity of saying much to induce them to concur in the vote he should have the honour of proposing. He was anxious, however, to state some peculiar circumstances connected with it. It had long been the opinion of that House and of the public, that there was no extent of honours, or of pecuniary provision, which could be equal to the glorious services achieved by that great captain; but still, as honours and rewards were the only means by which the approbation of Parliament, or the gratitude of the nation could be testified, it became their pleasing duty to confer those tokens upon him. Very liberal sums had undoubtedly been voted already; though, at the same time, large as these were, he was convinced that all who heard him would agree that they were not so large as the rank which the Crown had bestowed upon him required. He wished to state, that since the resolution of the House last session, and since the passing of the Act by which it was carried into effect, much inquiry had been instituted by the trustees to find a suitable estate and mansion for the duke of Wellington, but they had not as yet been completely successful. Many designs, also, for erecting a dwelling had been submitted by various artists, whose uniform opinion it was, that a smaller sum than from 150 to 200,000l. would by no means be sufficient to erect and furnish such a mansion as would become the gratitude of a great nation for such services as the duke of Wellington had performed. At the same time, he was quite satisfied that a mansion adequate to the wishes of the duke of Wellington might be obtained for a much smaller sum. [Hear, hear!] His intention, therefore, was, to move in the committee, that the sum of 200,000l. should be granted, and vested in the hands of trustees, either to erect or purchase a suitable mansion; and if they were enabled to accomplish the latter, at a less expense than the present vote would cover, then the surplus of the grant was to go to augment the fund, by which the dignity of that illustrious, and, he hoped, perpetual family, was to be maintained. Before he sat down, he hoped the committee would allow him to make a few observations upon the transactions of that memorable day, which his noble friend had so forcibly described. He understood that the illustrious commander who guided the course of that momentous struggle, transcended, in his own personal exertions, even the great deeds of his former campaigns. He had himself received a letter from an officer of high rank, who was on the field of battle, and one well qualified to form a correct judgment, who stated, that the personal exertions of the duke of Wellington were incredible, and threw all his preceding achievements completely into the shade. At a critical period of the battle he took possession of a high ridge, from which he declared he would never stir, nor did he stir, until he quitted it in triumph. At another, when his position was strongly attacked, he threw himself into the centre of a square of infantry, which was furiously charged by the enemy's cavalry, but which, fortunately for his country, and the world, resisted the shock with dauntless intrepidity. "I mention these things," said the officer, "because they are precisely those of which you will not find a word in his own dispatches. [Hear, hear!] Every person around him was either killed or wounded." There was another characteristic trait of that illustrious commander, which he could not abstain from communicating to the House. He had seen a letter from the duke of Wellington, dated from Binch, a town in advance of the place where the battle was fought; and in a postscript he says, "I forgot to mention, in my public dispatch, that 5000 prisoners have arrived at Brussels, that 2000 are on the road, and that more are expected." The right hon. gentleman concluded by moving, "That a sum, not exceeding 200,000l. net, be granted to his Majesty, for the better enabling the trustees appointed under an Act of the last session of Parliament for settling and securing an annuity on Arthur Duke of Wellington and his heirs, and for empowering the lords of the Treasury to advance out of the Consolidated Fund of Great Britain a sum of money to purchase an estate in order to accompany the said title, to carry into effect the provisions of the said Act with respect to the purchasing a suitable residence and estate for the Duke of Wellington and his heirs."

Mr. Whitbread

said, that he had not the slightest intention of opposing the grant, as it was the only means now left for the nation to testify its gratitude, beyond that vote of thanks which they had just passed. It remained for the duke of Wellington to do that, which he alone could do, to add to his own great military fame; and he had indeed done more than was ever done, he believed, by any single commander [Hear, hear!]. It was undoubtedly gratifying to the House, and it must be gratifying to the country, to hear those individual traits of heroism in that illustrious chief, and especially the one which the right hon. gentleman had related, connected as it was with his entire confidence in the bravery and fidelity of his troops. If such a trait were recorded in history, as having occurred ten centuries ago, with what emotions of admiration and generous enthusiasm would it be read—[Hear, hear!]. To see a commander of his eminence, distinguished above all the commanders of the earth, throw himself into a hollow square of infantry, as a secure refuge, till the rage and torrent of the attack was passed, and that not once only, but twice or thrice in the course of the battle, proved that his confidence was placed not in any one particular corps, but in the whole British army—[Hear, hear!]. In that mutual confidence lay the strength and power of the British troops. The duke of Wellington knew he was safe, when he thus trusted himself to the fidelity and valour of his men, and they knew and felt that the sacred charge thus confided to them, could never be wrested from their hands [Hear, hear!]. He should have been sorry if the votes of that day had passed without his presence, to express his most unfeigned approbation of them. With respect to the loss that had been sustained, and which had plunged so many illustrious families in affliction, he could not advert to that loss without dissenting from an expression used by the noble lord, and lamenting the grievous fact, that they had fallen in the prosecution of a war into which this country had neither occasion or right to enter. Neither the events of victory or defeat could alter the principle of the war, and his opinion remained unchanged upon that subject. He could not sit down, however, without discharging what he considered as an act of duty. He had always been one who looked with an eye of extreme jealousy to the proceedings of ministers; but their conduct in the prosecution of this war, waving for the moment all consideration of its necessity or policy, was such as extorted his applause; and he had no hesitation in saying, that every department of government must have exerted itself to the utmost to give that complete efficiency to all the component parts of the army, which enabled the genius of the duke of Wellington, aided by such means, to accomplish the wonderful victory he had achieved—[Hear, hear!].

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

begged leave to add this observation, that the army of France which was beaten was a select army, composed of picked troops; whereas the army of the duke of Wellington was not a select army in any senses of the word. Even the British troops that were with him, were only such as the country could spare him, at a time that a strong detachment of its most veteran troops had been sent to America, and had not yet returned.

Mr. W. Smith

said, he wished it were possible that some other mode could be devised of rewarding such transcendent merit as the duke of Wellington's, instead of a pecuniary compensation. However, as all other modes of approbation were exhausted, he must at least express his desire, that the sum now voted should be employed in the erection of a palace, rather than in purchasing one. Every Briton must look at Blenheim with emotions of pride and satisfaction very different from what would be felt if it were merely a house that had been built for another, and purchased for the duke of Marlborough. For his own part, he would rather add 50,000l. more to the present vote, if by so doing he thought the erection of a mansion for the duke of Wellington would be secured.

Colonel Gore Langton

expressed his warm sense of the merits of the duke of Wellington, and was convinced that no individual in the country, from the first peer to the lowest peasant, would grudge his share of the contribution.

Sir W. W. Wynn

would prefer a grant of Crown lands, according to the precedent of the reward to the duke of Marlborough. To that general a considerable grant of lands was given, on the condition only of presenting annually to the Crown a flag embroidered with fleur-de-lis.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

thought, if a suitable mansion could be obtained at less expense than that which would be incurred by building one, not to adopt the former course, but to erect a palace, would be to sacrifice some of the comforts of the duke of Wellington to national splendour.

Sir T. Acland

could not but feel anxious to mark the sense of the nation on this victory in the most distinct manner; and he should be much disposed to favour the idea of building a palace, if he did not feel that any suitable mansion purchased for the duke of Wellington in consequence of a vole of that House, would bear the same character which would attach to a palace purposely erected for him. If he thought the effect would not be the same, he would willingly consent to a grant of half a million or a whole one to accomplish so desirable an object. The duke of Wellington had greatly raised the military character of England. In India his conduct obtained for him the approbation of his country: he had been praised as the saviour of Spain and Portugal. One thing only was wanting to complete his own glory and that of his country—a triumph over him who was said to have conquered every other general to whom he had been opposed. This object was gained. It was reserved for his last triumph, to supply all that was wanting to the consummation of his glory. Many had heretofore doubted what would be the result of a contest in which he and Buonaparté fought hand to hand; that doubt was gone for ever. We now saw renewed the splendid days of Cressy and Agincourt, and this we owed to the duke of Wellington, who had now gained the last triumph necessary for his own fame, or for that of his country. This he could wish to have recorded in their proceedings.

Mr. Whitbread

thought, as the resolution of the House stated the victory to have been gained over the French army under the immediate command of Buonaparté, it would be unnecessary to add that the duke of Wellington had triumphed over the greatest captain of his age.

Mr. Ellison expressed his concurrence in the vote; after which the Resolution Was agreed to, nem. con.