HC Deb 10 April 1818 vol 37 cc1263-6
Mr Howorth

rose and said;—I am desirous, Sir, of putting some questions, on a very interesting and important subject, to the right hon. gentleman opposite, who is at the head of the administration of India. It has been stated to the public, in the daily prints, that two battles have been already fought between the company's troops and the Mahratta forces. It has been said, that the Peishaw, with a large army, amounting to 40,000 men, attacked a body of the company's troops, which had been admitted into his territory in perfect amity, and for purposes of mutual advantage. I am not aware what could have been the motive for this sudden act of hostility on the part of a chief with whom the company had been for so many years on terms of friendship, but the statement is, that with the army which I have described, he did actually attack a body of 4,000 subsidiary troops in the service of the company. This gallant little army is said to have completely repulsed its assailants, and its success is in a great treasure attributed to the bravery and skill of its officers; but in consequence of the great disparity of numbers in the contending parties, the conflict is described to have been severe, and the slaughter to have been in proportion to that disparity. A few days afterwards, it is said that the company's army, having received a reinforcement, attacked the Mahrattas in their turn, defeated the Peishwa, and not possession of Poonah, his capital. It is likewise stated, that unfortunately two British officers fell into the hands of the Peishwa, and that they were immediately executed. It has been the usual practice with the court of directors whenever dispatches have arrived from India of battles fought and lives lost, to take the earliest opportunity of removing the public solicitude by giving details of the actions and returns of the killed and wounded. In the present instance, the dispatches have not come to the directors, but have been transmitted to the Secret department, and are in the board of control; it is therefore that I ask whether these statements are founded in fact? If they are, I am quite sure that the right hon. president will-feel the propriety of taking the earliest opportunity of relieving the relations and friends of those engaged in these transactions from that anxious state of suspense in which they are at present most painfully placed. But, Sir, I understand that later accounts have been received from India of still greater importance. It is said that the rajah of Berar, with a force similar to that under the Peishaw, made a simultaneous attack on another body of the company's subsidiary troops. I confess, Sir, that this last intelligence fills me with the most unaffected alarm; and I beg to ask the right hon. gentleman, with reference to this as well as to the former report, whether or not it is founded in fact? and if it is so, what are the particular circumstances which have come to the knowledge of his majesty's government with respect to it?

Mr. Canning

said:—I am very ready Sir, to give the hon. gentleman and the House all the information in my power on this subject, although I cannot undertake to enter into any of the details respecting it. It is undoubtedly true, that the Peishwa has commenced hostilities against the forces of the East India Company. It is undoubtedly true, that in two actions fought between armies greatly disproportionate in point of number, the advantage was decidedly in favour of the company's troops. But Sir, I am happy to add, that one part of the statement refered to by the hon. gentleman, is not true, namely, that the slaughter was proportionate to the disparity of the force of the conflicting parties. We are not in possession of such returns with respect to these battles as-it would be fit to publish under the authority of government. While the possibility of doubt exists with respect to the accuracy of the- eturns, it would be highly improper to give them any official sanction; for those who areas well acquainted with India as the hon. gentleman, know well how much private account from that quarter of the world outrun official details in various relations. Some of the statements, therefore, which have been alluded to by the hon. gentleman, I, morally speaking, have no doubt are facts, although I am not competent so to announce them officially. As far, however, as I am informed on the subject, it gives me great satisfaction to say that it does not appear that these conflicts have cost the life of a single European officer, and that not more than three officers were wounded, the names of whom have appeared in all the newspapers, on the authority of the Bombay Gazettes, which, singular as it may appear, have not reached his majesty's government. It is, I fear, true that two individuals, the one an officer, the other a gentleman in the civil service, suffered in the way mentioned by the hon. gentleman. With respect to the proceedings of the rajah of Berar, the information possessed by the secret committee of the directors of the East India Company, and by the board of control, rests on a single letter without a date. If the hon. gentleman asks me if I believe the information which the letter contains, my answer is, I do. But if he asks me if it is of such a nature that I can communicate it with the sanction of official authority, my answer is I cannot. The hon. gentleman will easily see, that an undated letter, which merely states an attack by the Mahrattas, but not the result—I mean any farther than their immediate repulse —is not an account of the transaction which could with propriety be published by authority. This I will undertake to say, that there is no disposition in any quarter to withhold intelligence respecting this interesting subject, or to do any thing not conformable to the established usage respecting Indian affairs. But the hon. gentleman knows as well, or indeed much better than I do, how litte interest is excited here by the occcurrences in that quarter of the globe. Singular as it may seem, it has never been the practice to communicate to parliament any intelligence from India, except in cases of a very extraordinary nature. So far am I, however, from wishing to withhold any thing that can properly be granted, that if the hon. gentleman will frame a motion for such information as ought to be and can be furnished, I will most readily assent to its production: and if he will do me the favour to communicate with me on the subject, I shall be very happy to assist him in preparing such a motion.

Mr. Heworth

expressed himself extremely obliged to the right hon. gentle-man for the candid reply which he had made to his questions. He would certainly avail himself of the right hon. gentleman's kind offer of assistance, and would take an early opportunity of submitting to the House a motion on the subject.

Lord Morpeth

thought the House much indebted to the hon. gentleman, for having called their attention to this important subject. He agreed with the hon. gentleman, in thinking that the circumstances had a very formidable appearance; and he trusted that the public would soon be put in possession of accurate information with respect to them.