HC Deb 29 June 1815 vol 31 cc1048-57
Lord Castlereagh

observed, that be had, on a former occasion, given notice that be should on this day submit a resolution to the House for the purpose of bestowing those marks of national gratitude on the heroes who fell in the late battle, to which their pre-eminent services so justly entitled them; and he did hope, that by delaying to bring forward the motion till now, he should have been able to receive from the distinguished officer who commanded on that memorable day the names of all those who had most signalized themselves. Such, however, had been the course of active operations carried on by the duke of Wellington since that period, that no return, down to the 25th of this month, which was the latest intelligence Government had received from him, had been made out: but they knew enough of all the circumstances of that great contest to enable them to proceed; and he thought no time should be lost in paying that respect and gratitude which they owed to the memory of those who had fallen—[Hear, hear!]. When he last had the honour of addressing the House upon that subject, they were in possession of no other account but the modest statement of the illustrious victor, and it was not until the details of the enemy were published that the full extent of that battle, its character of glory for this country, and its disastrous consequences to France, were known—[Hear, hear!]. Great actions had generally produced great results, but he believed it would be impossible to find one in the annals of modern warfare which had been crowned with greater military trophies, or which had been attended with a greater moral success. It had made that nation to whom, for the last five-and-twenty years, all the calamities with which Europe had been afflicted were owing, feel the whole extent of that misery and misfortune which, its own criminal ambition had so often inflicted on other countries; and he trusted it had also produced that deep impression upon the heart of every Frenchman, as it was evident it had upon the apprehensions of what was called the Government of France, that they would feel no time was to be lost in repairing, as far as was in their power, the multiplied injuries they had inflicted on mankind—[Hear, hear!]. With respect to the question more immediately before them, he was sure the House and the country would deeply lament if some appropriate mode were not devised to distinguish those who had fallen, some mark of national gratitude and exultation to commemorate an action, which, whether it was regarded in its moral, in its political, or in its military character, was the greatest action which, the British arms had ever performed—[Hear, hear!]. The House therefore would doubtless be disposed on the present occasion to travel a little out of the usual manner of distinguishing military achievements, as our brave army had certainly travelled out of the ordinary exploits of war; they would feel that it would be useful to the country even, that we should have the proud satisfaction of contemplating a National Monument erected to the memory of the officers and soldiers [loud cries of Hear, hear!] who so gloriously fell on that great occasion. He should certainly regret if, in paying that general tribute of a nation's gratitude, the merits of those officers whose services were entitled to pre-eminent recollection, were not placed in as distinguished a point of view as on ordinary occasions; at the same time, he was sure if they could now be recalled to their country, nothing would be so gratifying to their feelings as to see some plan adopted which should include the commemoration of their brave soldiers, that they might also live in the gratitude of posterity, and of an admiring world. It was, indeed, no less consistent with the duty of that House than it was congenial to their feelings, to address the Crown in order that a monument of national gratitude might be reared to the memory of all those officers and gallant troops who laid down their lives that day, not only for their country, but for the security and happiness of Europe—[Hear, hear!]. He would not trouble the House at any greater length, as he felt that any thing which he could say must be inadequate to the subject, but should proceed to read his motion, viz.

"That an humble Address be presented to his royal highness the Prince Regent, that he will be graciously pleased to give directions that a National Monument be erected in honour of the splendid victory of Waterloo, and to commemorate the fame of the Officers and Men of the British Army, who fell gloriously upon the 16th and 18th of the present month, and more particularly of Lieutenant-general sir Thomas Picton and Major-general the honourable sir William Ponsonby; and to assure his Royal Highness that this House will make good the expense attending the same."

The noble lord then entered into a cursory view of the eminent services performed by both the officers above named. Sir Thomas Picton, he observed, had distinguished himself in Egypt under sir Ralph Abercromby, and in all the great battles which had been fought in the Peninsula and France, by the duke of Wellington; at Badajoz, Ciudad Rodrigo, Vittoria, in the Pyrenees, Orthes, and Thoulouse—[Hear, hear!]. With respect to the other lamented officer, sir William Ponsonby, his career, though short, had been one of eminent renown and glory. At the battle of Salamanca he served under the command of general Le Marchand, who unfortunately fell early in the action; but whatever loss his country sustained, none was felt by the army at that critical moment, for sir William, then colonel Ponsonby, immediately took the command, and led the cavalry against the centre of the enemy, which he penetrated with a degree of gallantry and vigour that produced the most important effects. His successful efforts on the day in which his gallant life was laid down, could not be too highly applauded; the charge he made was so decided, so energetic, and so characteristic of his usual ardour and intrepidity, that his corpse was found considerably in the rear of the positions occupied by the enemy—[Hear, hear!]

The motion being read from the chair,

Mr. Wynn

expressed his entire and most cordial concurrence in the motion before the House, and was proceeding to observe, that he hoped the intended monument would not be erected in any particular church, when

Lord Castlereagh

observed, that the intention was to erect a pillar, or triumphal arch, some architectural monument, in fact, suitable to the magnificence of the nation, and which, of course, would not be confined within the walls of a church.

Mr. Wynn

said, he was glad to hear the explanation of the noble lord. He also wished that the name of every man who fell in that battle should be commemorated. He was aware, that from the great number of names there might be some difficulty in doing that, but still he thought it was practicable, and it would thus become a proud record for any one to refer to who should inherit the name of those gallant warriors; a record which he hoped would never perish. He was anxious, likewise, that distinct monuments should be erected to those two general officers who were mentioned in the motion, especially when it was recollected what their services were, and in how many hard-fought battles they had participated. He had heard that nearly the last words which the gallant Picton uttered before he left this country, was to express a hope, in the presence of two members of that House, that if he should fall, which he seemed to anticipate, he might not be forgotten, but receive the same distinction as had been conferred upon other officers—[Hear, hear!] And perhaps it would be impossible to produce a stronger proof of the wisdom and utility of those honours conferred by that House, and the great effect which the contemplation of them produced on the minds of British officers. There was another thing which he wished to suggest, namely, that medals should be struck in commemoration of the battle, and distributed to the survivors. After the battle of the Nile, a patriotic individual caused a number of such medals to be struck and so distributed; and he had heard from many officers that the effect produced by them was of the most gratifying kind. Many of those gallant men who had shared in that battle, when dying in a foreign land, had expressed in their last moments the most anxious solicitude about the disposition of those medals, the record of their services on that glorious day: some wished that it should be buried with them, others that it should be carefully transmitted to their families; but all of them placed more value upon that small medal than on any other property which they happened to possess. He thought, therefore, that it would tend to nourish a noble spirit of emulation and heroic pride, if similar tokens in commemoration of the battle of Waterloo were struck and distributed.

Lord Castlereagh

said, that the suggestion of the hon. member, as to the erection of distinct monuments to the memory of sir Thomas Picton and sir W. Ponsonby, was one that the House might readily accede to, as they had only one object in view, that of distinguishing the eminent services of those lamented officers. He would therefore subjoin, as an amendment to the motion, "and that funeral monuments be also erected in memory of each of those two officers in the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, London."

Mr. Wynn

, And that the names of those who fell be inscribed on the National Monument.

Lord Castlereagh.

That had better be left for arrangement in the execution of the plan.

General Gascoyne

suggested the propriety of interring the body of sir Thomas Picton, which had been brought over to this country, in the Cathedral where a monument was to be raised to his memory. On the day previous to the great victory of the 18th, he had been dangerously wounded. From the moment he had left this country, till he joined the army, he had never entered any bed; he had scarcely given himself time to take any refreshment, so eager was he in the performance of his duty. After the severe wound which he had received, he would have been justified in not engaging in the action of the 18th. His body, he understood, was not only blackened by it, but swelled to a considerable degree; and those who had seen him, wondered that he should have been able to take part in the duties of the field. He had fallen, gloriously afterwards at the head of his column, maintaining a position, which, if it had not been kept, would have altered the fate of the day; and its issue might have been different from that which now occasioned such well-founded rejoicings. He repeated his wish that his body should be interred in the Cathedral where the monument was to be erected, and suggested that some of the distinctions conferred on him should be extended to his family.

Mr. W. Smith

expressed his concurrence in the motion, and hoped the suggestion of his hon. friend (Mr. Wynn) would be adopted, for recording the names of all who had fallen. It would have the best possible effect, and might be done with little difficulty. They knew that some of the most famous actions of antiquity were so recorded, and the record had even come down to the present age; He must again repeat what he had pressed upon, the House on a former night, that he hoped a palace would be erected for the duke of Wellington, and that Parliament would not be contented with merely purchasing for him a house which had been built for some other individual.

Mr. Wilberforce

said, he agreed with the sentiments expressed by his hon. friend, and that if a ready-made mansion was provided for the duke of Wellington it would not, in his opinion, mark that full tide of national gratitude which would be conveyed by the erection of a palace, specifically in honour of his great and meritorious services. They would act much more wisely in erecting a palace, even though it should cost somewhat more; they and their posterity, in fact, would be the gainers: for it should be recollected, that in building such a palace, it would be done, not to gratify the duke of Wellington merely, not to acquit themselves of the debt of gratitude they owed him, or to gratify their own feelings, but to show to all the world, that when a great man, selected by Providence, became the instrument and means of conferring signal blessings on mankind, such, a man was to be honoured from first to last. With respect to the motion before the House, it had his entire support.

Mr. Alderman Smith

observed, that there were several large buildings in the country in which national monuments might be erected, and among them was the church of St. Alban's.

Mr. Bankes

had every wish to do justice to the memory of those brave men to whom the country was so deeply indebted for their glorious services in the late victory. From whence, he asked, could the ornamental part of the National Monument which was about to be erected, be better derived than from that centre of the enemy's country to which the inarch of their brave comrades was directed? To that capital which he trusted was, ere now, in the possession of the illustrious Wellington. Paris, twice in the possession of conquerors, ought not to be allowed to retain the plunder which the French had, for so many years, been gathering from the whole of civilized Europe. She ought to be compelled to refund a portion; and no occasion could be so fitting for the employment of it, as the commemoration of the fall of a tyranny oppressive to France itself, and the achievement of a victory glorious to Great Britain.

Mr. Maurice Fitzgerald

, although perfectly disposed to afford every honour to the memory of our brave heroes, differed completely from the hon. gentleman who had just sat down as to the mode of accomplishing that object. He could not agree that a national monument to our own army should be ornamented by pillage from the capital of another country. If that pillage were to be surrendered, let it be given to those countries to which it originally belonged. Our intrinsic glory ought not to be diminished by following the example of France; but if that example were followed, let the monument be ornamented with the cannon which were captured in the battle. If he wanted any authority to condemn such a proposition as that, made by the hon. gentleman, he thought he could derive it from the illustrious individual at the head of our troops. On the duke of Wellington's having been very recently reminded, that on the last occasion on which the English army entered France, they behaved with extreme delicacy towards that country; his answer was, "I promise you that if it is in my power they shall behave with equal delicacy now;" a magnanimous declaration, which did as much honour to the man as to the soldier. He strongly recommended, that as the merits of the three countries had been equal in the late battle, a national monument should be erected in Edinburgh, and another in Dublin, as well as that proposed to be erected in London.

Mr. C. Grant

although, so many hon. gentlemen had addressed the House on this subject, yet, in obedience to his feelings, could not allow the question to be put without saying a few words in reference to a gallant and lamented friend, sir Alexander Gordon, who had gloriously fallen in the late memorable contest. He should not enter into any minute description of those qualities in private life which, endeared that brave man to all who had had the happiness of his friendship. Even if his present feelings would permit him to do so, he would abstain from dwelling on that part of his character. The death, of such an officer was a national loss. Although only 29 years of age, his career, short as it had been, had been one of the most active and arduous duty. During the last ten years, his services had been incessant; and he could confidently appeal to all who were acquainted with the British army, whether, among the promising young men with whom it abounded, there was one more eminent for his zeal, more distinguished for his reputation, or more fully possessed of the confidence of the illustrious chief under whom he served, than the gallant officer to whose memory he was, on this occasion, anxious to pay this tribute, unworthy as he felt it to be of his object—[Hear, hear!]. He would not expatiate on the consolations by which the grief of the country on the loss of so many of her brave sons ought to be moderated, but content himself with saying, that, valuable as were the lives which had been sacrificed, they had been sacrificed for the acquisition of a victory almost unparalleled in the annals of the world—a victory which promised more benefit to the cause of humanity and civilization than any military achievement of modern or ancient occurrence; closing, as it did, operations which had crowded, into a few weeks, events that would have been considered most brilliant, had they been the results of many successive campaigns—[Hear, hear!]

Sir C. Burrell

observed, that if, instead of purchasing a mansion, a palace worthy of the illustrious individual who was to inhabit it were to be erected, he would be kept 12, 15, or 2O years without any residence while it was building.

Mr. Wilberforce

, in allusion for what had fallen from the hon. gentleman who spoke last, begged to be allowed to say, that he was sure the duke of Wellington would derive the greatest pleasure from observing the gradual growth of the building that national gratitude would erect for him.

The motion was agreed to, nem. con.