HC Deb 10 March 1851 vol 114 cc1167-76

Sir, I wish to make a statement with respect to a question asked me on Friday last, with reference to the state of affairs at the Cape of Good Hope. I have to say, in the first place, additional information has been received from Sir Harry Smith, in a despatch dated the 20th of December; that was at a time when there was no apprehension of the peace of the colony being disturbed. A despatch has also been received, dated the 24th of December, giving an account of an ineffectual attempt by Colonel Mackinnon to arrest Sandilli. Then follows a despatch detailing an ineffectual attempt of Colonel Somerset to join Sir Harry Smith; and then there is an account of the irruption upon Britain and other towns, and the murders which took place. These are the most recent accounts received in this country, which are contained in the public newspapers, which Members of the House have no doubt seen. The next point I wish to give an explanation on is as to the amount of force in the colony to meet these hostile barbarians. On the 1st of June, 1844, there was an army amounting to 3,303 men, of which 280 were mounted cavalry. By the last returns there were 3,397 men, out of which there were four companies of mounted rifles. Sir Harry Smith sent home the 2nd battalion of Mounted Rifles: he did not think there was any necessity for keeping that mounted force, as there was no apprehension of danger, and he considered the force at his disposal was sufficient for all necessary purposes. That was the state of the forces at the Cape at the time of this outbreak. The stores generally were very well provided, and means have been taken to send an additional supply. With regard to the measures which the Government have taken, a regiment has been despatched to the Cape by the Vulture, and orders have been sent out that the various detachments stationed around should move to the point of action. The hon. and gallant Member for Westminster asked a question with regard to the heavy expenses caused by these hostilities, and desired to know on whom they were to fall. On this subject, I have to state that, immediately on the receipt of the intelligence, Sir Harry Smith made very large requisitions upon the Commissary General for rations and provisions, and heavy requisitions for the arming of the burgesses. These requisitions were complied with, as it was the duty of the Commissary General to provide all stores which the Governor and Commander-in-Chief should require. In the despatches laid before the House, dated the 21st of March, 1848, and the 21st of June, 1848, Earl Grey declared to the colonists that it was not to be expected that this country should in future bear the expenses incurred by maintaining a force to defend the colony, and that it was incumbent on the colonists to make a suitable provision for that purpose. On the outbreak the Governor had no opportunity of doing anything else than calling on the Commissary General, for the purpose of immediately checking and suppressing this rebellion. The Secretary of State for the Colonies, within the last two days, has written a despatch to the Governor, from which I will read an extract to the House:— The steps you have taken for calling upon the inhabitants of the colony to arm in their own defence, and to form a large volunteer force in aid of Her Majesty's regular troops, appear to have been well suited to the emergency; and, though a large expense must thus have been incurred, there can be no doubt of its having been absolutely necessary, and that it was far better to make a great exertion with the hope of promptly terminating the war, than to run the risk of its being protracted by hesitating to employ to the utmost all the means of increasing your force which were available. In whatever manner it may ultimately be determined that the charge should be provided for, you were clearly right in increasing the expense, which was indispensably necessary in taking the measures required for the safety of the colony; and I am glad to learn that you have acted upon this view of the subject, at the same time adopting all the precautions in your power to prevent any irregular or improper expenditure. With regard to the question as to how this expenditure is to be provided for, I must reserve my judgment until I am in possession of further information. You are aware, from my despatches referred to in the margin (No. 108, March 31, 1848; No. 141, June 17, 1848; No. 147, June 21, 1848; and No. 247, January 16, 1849), that Her Majesty's Government are of opinion that, while such an amount of regular force is maintained at the Cape as can be allotted to that colony with a due regard to the national resources, and to the demands of other parts of the empire on the services of Her Majesty's troops, it is the duty of the Cape colonists to take upon themselves the charge of all further measures which may be required for their own defence against the barbarous tribes on the frontiers. This is the view which is still entertained of the subject, but it will, nevertheless, be matter for consideration, when fuller information as to the recent transactions shall be received, whether the extent of the present calamity and the circumstances under which it has occurred are such as to justify Her Majesty's Government in recommending to Parliament that assistance should be given to the colony in meeting the heavy demand upon its resources which this war must have occasioned. In the meantime, whatever sums you have been compelled to draw from the military chest for the payment of the force you have raised, or for any other expenses not incurred on account of Her Majesty's regular troops, must be regarded as advances to the colonial treasury. I thought it my duty to make this announcement to the House, and in conclusion I may observe that there will be no objection to produce the whole of the despatch to which I have referred.


wished to be informed what was the real state of the Government at the Cape of Good Hope. The letters of the Secretary of the Colonies of 1848 and 1849 might have been applicable to a people entrusted with self-government, but unfortunately the people at the Cape had never enjoyed that privilege. The colonists had declared in public meetings over and over again, that they had nothing to do with the expenditure of the previous war; that the money was expended by men appointed from home; and that, if they were allowed the management of their own affairs, they were perfectly prepared to adopt all measures necessary for their safety, and to protect themselves. Such was the language held at public meetings, and such were the declarations of the colonists. But what was the condition in which this country was placed? It was all very well for Earl Grey to write letters, but did he do that which he ought to do? Did he place the colonists in a position to protect themselves? Did any man in that House think that they could call on the colonists to contribute one single shilling for the expenses of this war—and why then were they to be thus trifled with'? The fact was, that Earl Grey would sink any Administration with which he was connected. The colonists manfully resisted the orders of Earl Grey, and the result of that resistance was, to obtain what they wanted—a Government to be conducted by themselves. Three days before the opening of Parliament last year—Her Majesty's Ministers had allowed six months to go over—but three days before the assembling of a Parliament, an Order in Council was prepared for giving this free government, and the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade brought it down to the House and read it. Upon that occasion he (Mr. Hume) had probably expressed too much satisfaction, for he believed that he saw an end to the anomalous state of things then in existence. Any man who knew anything about the Cape, must know, with an extended frontier of one thousand miles, that it was impossible for a person going out there from the Treasury or Horse Guards to be capable of conducting affairs equally with those residing on the spot. The noble Lord at the head of the Government, on the occasion to which he referred, made as able and eloquent a speech as he had ever heard on the policy which ought to be adopted towards our colonies. He pointed out what the colonies were entitled to, and what, in justice to the country, it was necessary to concede. He did so with the approbation of this House, and the order was sent out to the colonists to prepare for the reception of free institutions. The inhabitants elected four individuals to meet Her Majesty's Government, in order to frame a constitution. No election was ever so unanimous. Well, they met. Sir Harry Smith told them that the first thing they were to do was to vote the military supplies. These gentlemen replied that I they had been sent to frame a govern- ment, and, as soon as they had done so, the inhabitants would send the proper persons to arrange these matters. Sir Harry Smith was obstinate: he, of course, had his orders. After some time spent in wrangling, the whole four members felt it their duty to leave the Council, and throw themselves on their constituents; and their constituents approved their conduct. It was then determined, at one of the largest meetings ever held at the Cape, to appoint two persons to come home and represent the feelings of the colonists upon the subject. One of them had been in England for the last three months—the other could not come, owing to ill health. Yet nothing had been done by the Government. The Colonial Office would do nothing until it received some orders from the Cape. Under these circumstances, the House would understand that it was not too much to say that the people of England would have to pay for this war, at the very moment they were seeking relief from an overweight of taxation. Probably the whole surplus of the revenue would be swallowed up by these expenses; and he did think it was trifling with the House to have such a letter read, which assumed conditions which were never performed. It was trifling and absurd to pretend to throw a doubt as to where this debt must rest; they had not a shadow of a claim to call upon the colonists, and Earl Grey knew that as well as any man in the House; but as long as they had such men as the noble Earl to direct them, it was impossible that the country could swim. [Laughter.] He spoke of a country swimming when it paid its debts. He did not like the idea of paying a bill of two millions for another Kafir war. He might be sensitive, but still he could not bear to see the money of the country wasted which might be so much better employed. Would it not have been better if they applied the whole two millions to educate the people? They were grumbling at giving a sum of 200,000l. for the purposes of education, while they were throwing away millions in consequence of the mismanagement of those who were in office. The sooner the whole of the papers referred to were laid before the House the better, for the time was come when some decisive step should be taken; and if such a letter of Earl Grey's as was alluded to should be placed upon the table, he trusted that it would be immediately thrown off. That letter was inconsistent with what Earl Grey knew to be the case. It was an insult to the people, after they had taken away their Government and erected a kind of military despotism to rule over them.


said, it was not then his intention to follow the hon. Gentleman through all the details of the question which he had brought before the House. Other opportunities, and those much more suitable, would offer themselves for the House to consider the various points to which he had alluded. But the hon. Gentleman had referred to one point in a manner which, he thought, showed how little of dependence was to be placed upon any of his statements. He told the House that the Government had been employed in depriving the Cape of Good Hope of its representative institutions. [Cries of "No!"] At all events he (Mr. Labouchere) had so understood the hon. Gentleman. And then, as an instance of the spirit in which the Government had dealt with the question of representative institutions at the Cape, he stated that it was only three days before the meeting of Parliament last Session that Her Majesty's Ministers for the first time bethought themselves of issuing an Order in Council establishing representative institutions in the colony. But what were the facts? So far from that being the case, months before that Order in Council was issued, Government had referred to a Committee of the Privy Council to consider the whole of the various and grave matters connected with the question of what institutions it was necessary should be given to the Cape of Good Hope. And what was the result of that inquiry? Why, the recommendation of the establishment of institutions, which he ventured to say were at the time considered, and justly considered, to be the most liberal that had ever been sent from this country to any colony she possessed; giving to the colony not only an Eelective Council, but even the choice of the Second Assembly, which in all other colonies was appointed by the Crown. Was it fair or just then, he asked, to hold up the Government to the reprobation of the public, as shrinking from the duty of giving, in the largest sense of the word, free institutions to the Cape of Good Hope? He now told the hon. Gentleman that it was not the case, and further that the hon. Gentleman would have little weight attached to any of his statements, if he persisted in dealing out such sweeping assertions as those which he had used on the present occasion. He (Mr. Labouchere) would not enter into the causes which had prevented the Government from carrying out its intentions. It was his belief, however, that the difficulties had arisen at the Cape of Good Hope itself. Still foundations had been laid, and laid by the Government of this country, which would ensure to the people of the colony liberal and free institutions in the largest sense of the word; and he did think that the Government which had so conducted itself upon such a question, did not deserve to have such sweeping allegations directed against it. He repeated that he would not he drawn into a discussion on the details of the subject; but knowing as he did how exaggerated was a part of the hon. Gentleman's statement, he felt that he ought not to refrain from addressing these few observations to the House.


said, after the statements of the right hon. Gentleman, he must express the conviction at which he had arrived, after the closest possible investigation, that though he believed Her Majesty's Government were not to blame for the Cape not being at that moment in the enjoyment of representative government, yet he had not the slightest doubt that want of concert between the Government and the agents of the colony was the cause why the colony was still prevented from enjoying those representative institutions the absence of which would involve this country in considerable expense. He thought, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman could not wash his hands of the responsibility of the present state of things, as undoubtedly the Government was responsible for those causes which prevented the colony from enjoying the benefit of free institutions. But as the right hon. Gentleman deprecated any discussion at that moment, he would only say that he hoped the time would soon come when they would have a discussion upon the subject, which was so deeply interesting to this country. He rose now to ask the noble Lord at the head of the Government whether it had ever entered into his contemplation that British Kafraria was altogether a different thing from the Cape colony; that it was not a part of the Cape; that it was altogether a separate British possession, under a separate administration, and neither politically nor fiscally connected with the Cape? Therefore, the noble Lord must not delude himself with thinking that the Cape could be compelled to spend one farthing to defray the expenses of this war. It was no affair of theirs; they were in no way connected with it. It might, indeed, endanger their property, but they could not be compelled to expend one farthing in the defence of the frontier. Let it be borne in mind also that an enormous loss of property would be incurred in British Kafraria, and that this country would therefore be called upon to pay not only for the military expenditure, but also the expense of all the forces raised at the Cape, and sent into British Kafraria, must be defrayed from the same source, and that that expense would fall wholly and solely upon the Imperial Treasury; though he believed that if the noble Lord had shown more deference to the opinions of a large body in this House, who had long pressed upon him the necessity of giving the colonies free institutions, he might have avoided the lamentable disaster which had now occurred, and which might be expected to occur year after year, so long as their interests were recklessly neglected. He would now beg to ask the noble Lord whether among the last despatches an answer had been received from Sir Harry Smith to a former despatch of Earl Grey, relating to the disputes that had arisen respecting the constitution? When he some time ago requested that the correspondence respecting these disputes should be laid upon the table, he was informed that it would be inexpedient to lay the papers before the House till the answer of Sir Harry Smith to Earl Grey's last despatch should be received. If that answer had now come, he presumed there would be no further objections to the whole correspondence being laid before the House.


said, Sir Harry Smith had left Cape Town some time before the last despatches were sent home, and he did not believe that the answer which the hon. Gentleman referred to had been received—at all events, he had not seen it.


Before the conversation closed he was anxious to point out to his noble Friend what he thought was the nature of the information which should be immediately placed before the House with reference to the state of affairs at the Cape of Good Hope. In the first place, his noble Friend had spoken of information from Sir Harry Smith. There could be no doubt that the events in Kafraria had come upon the country altogether unawares, because the last despatch from Sir Harry Smith that had been presented to Parliament, closed in these words, "the Kafirs are now living contented and happy under British rule;" but almost the first announcement made on the reassembling of Parliament was, that another war had broken out in the colony. The primary information which his noble Friend should convey to the House was, therefore, the nature of the causes of the recent outbreak; and as his noble Friend had mentioned despatches, he hoped he would produce them with the least possible delay. His noble Friend had also stated that in March, 1848, Earl Grey sent out positive instructions to the Governor of the colony, that the colonists themselves should be responsible for the expense of all future wars. Those instructions, too, should be laid before the House, together with information as to what steps had been taken with that object in view, what communications had been made to the Governor in council; and what answer they had returned; in short, all that had been done since that despatch of the noble Earl, in order to show that this statement was not a mere idle sentence in a letter, but an official statement made upon the authority of the Colonial Secretary. The House should also be furnished with information as to the condition in which the question of the establishment of representative institutions at the Cape now stood, because, as the hon. Member for Montrose had truly stated, without representative institutions, it was impossible fairly to ask the colony to defray the expense of these wars. With such institutions, however, it was the positive duty of every Member in the British House of Commons to insist upon the colony defraying the expense of any future wars; but he was very much afraid that as long as we maintained such an extended frontier to our South African possessions we should have to lament over the frequent repetition of outbreaks like the present. It was true, as his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade had stated, that there had been no taking away of representative institutions from the Cape colony; on the contrary, the Government had been engaged in the attempt to establish those institutions there. But the House of Commons wished to know with whom the delay rested in carrying out this object, and why representative institutions were not at this moment in operation in the colony. Upon these points, then, he trusted his noble Friend would convey immediate information to the House, as it seemed that the only time when they were to have the opportunity of discussing colonial questions was when the country was in a state of agitation upon these questions; for it was only then that the feelings of the House were awakened to the paramount importance of the subject.


could only say, that as much information as the Government possessed upon all the points mentioned should be laid before the House. With respect to what the right hon. Gentleman had said about the extensive frontier of the colony, he begged to remark that it was the opinion of military men that the frontier was in a more defensible state now than ever it was before.


said, the noble Lord had stated that he had derived part of his information from private letters, which came at the same time with the newspapers that gave the information to the public. Now if private letters had come, it did seem unaccountable that there was no communication whatever of an official kind to the Colonial Office. He begged to know whether there was not some secretary or other officer who, in the absence of the Governor, might have sent a communication to the Government, when he knew there was a ship sailing to this country?


said, there was a despatch from the Secretary of the Governor, addressed to the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies, but it was not so late as some of the private letters.


said, that one of the private letters referred to was from the Commissary General, who stated that the latest news was, that Sir Harry Smith had cut his way through the forces by which he had been surrounded.

Subject dropped.