HC Deb 25 February 1853 vol 124 cc658-68

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


said, in moving the Address of which he had given notice, he wished to direct the attention of the House to a few circumstances connected with the Burmese war, as they were made to appear in the documents now on the table of the House, which brought the accounts down to March, 1852. He should not have pressed the matter if he had not felt that the whole question of peace and war in India ought to be considered by Parliament. In other cases of wars, there was in Parliament a responsible Minister to go to, and an House of Commons to guard the public purse; but in India there was no check on the exercise of the practically unlimited powers lodged in the hands of the Governor General and his advisers. The war in which we had lately been involved with the Burmese might be a just one or not; if it were not just, we had got into a hopeless scrape. The question in his mind was, whether this war might not have been avoided, and whether, in point of fact, the British Empire had any great interest in carrying this war to a conclusion. He thought that of late years the military and naval forces of the Empire had been directed with too great recklessness against those nations of the earth who happened to be less advanced in civilisation than ourselves. We all know what had been the consequence of invading Affghanistan, and also of the Burmese war in 1825, which had led to such a waste of treasure. The Indian finance was damaged to the extent of ten to twelve millions, though it was true we recovered 1,000,000l. of the expense from the King of Ava, paid in very doubtful coin; but it would be difficult to make out that the British Empire gained much by that transaction. He wished, however, to call attention to the origin of the present war in Burmah. It arose in 1851 in consequence of wrong done to the owners of two ships, and he believed so far there was a good foundation for it. But he should like to ask the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) whether there was any definite policy laid down to induce the Governor General to take the course he did? The policy began on a demand for 10,000 rupees, or under 1,000l., and in one year it changed into the annexation of one of the most valuable provinces of the Burmese Empire. So great had been the change of policy, that he (Sir H. Willough-by) wished to know the ground of it. On the 31st of October, 1851, the Governor General laid down the principle of negotiation, and that there should be no act of hostility till definite instructions were given by the Governor General to the party charged with the negotiation. On 28th November, 1851, Commodore Lambert was sent to Rangoon to negotiate and to obtain redress, by the recall of the Governor of Rangoon. The Governor was recalled, and in January, 1852, Commodore Lambert expressed great confidence in the intentions of the king. The new Governor of Rangoon having arrived on 2nd January, a dispute arose on a question of etiquette, which was very strictly observed in Ava. The Governor expected a visit from the Commodore; but an inferior officer having been sent, differences arose, and on the night of 6th January, the Commodore took possession of one of the King of Ava's ships of war, and in carrying it off on 10th January a contest took place, in which many Burmese were killed, and on that day the whole question of peace or war was determined. If Commodore Lambert had not succeeded in negotiation, he should have established a blockade according to his express orders; but instead of that, by way of reprisal, he took a ship of war, and from that time all hope of accommodation ceased, and thus the course taken by the Commodore defeated the peaceful policy of the Governor General. No allusion was made in the despatches to the wrongful seizure of that ship, which was the cause of the war. After the loss of the ship, the Burmese were still willing to negotiate, and they sent a letter in a case covered with velvet, and officers with golden umbrellas, to the Resident at Moulenden, to see if he could bring matters to a happy conclusion; and yet, after all, we had this second edition of a Kafir war, with the addition of swamps and a pestilential climate. It was most important that no war should be undertaken in India without the distinct authority of the Government at home. This was not a war in India Proper. What was intended? Were we going to annex the whole Burmese Empire, and then go further? The people on the frontiers were robbers, and just the sort of neighbours we should wish to avoid. It was said Pegu would pay; but how were we to defend the frontier? When we saw the effect of the war there, it must be felt that the responsibility of the question of peace or war should be in the hands of some one in this country. With regard to the military operations, he did not believe that at home we had sufficient data to form an opinion upon them; but it was clear there had been a great vacillation in policy, towns had been taken, evacuated, and retaken with loss of valuable lives. If any proof was wanted of the kind of enemy with whom we had to deal, it would be found in the despatch of General Godwin of 29th December. It was a despatch sufficiently elaborate to have described the battle of Waterloo, yet not a single Burmese was taken killed or wounded. He wished to know whether the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Control would grant the papers he (Sir H. Willoughby) asked for. It had been supposed that the power of peace and war lay with the directors of the East India Company in Leadenhall-street; but in fact they were just as much responsible as be (Sir H. Willoughby) was, and all they had to do was to pay. Nor was the power in the Secret Committee, which was only a means of communication between the Board of Control and the directors. He thought the war had not originated with the Governor General, but in the hasty acts of Commodore Lambert in seizing the Burmese ship, after which diplomatic negotiations were at an end.

Amendment proposed— To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'An humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House, Copies or Extracts of Communications which may have passed in reference to hostilities in Ava, and in relation to the annexation of any portion of the Bur-mah territory to the British Empire in the East' —instead thereof.


said, he did not think that the House would he of opinion that this was a convenient opportunity for discussing the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's observations as to the responsibility on the question of peace and war in India. An opportunity would, without doubt, occur in the course of the Session for that discussion. With regard to the Motion of the hon. Gentleman, he (Sir C. Wood) had intimated that he would lay on the table all the papers, completing the information contained in those which had been laid on the table at the close of the last Session. The war in Ava had reached an epoch by the annexation of Pegu; and he thought that the House should be put in possession of all the papers, and they were now in the hands of the printer. Should the hon. Member, after reading the papers, be desirous of reopening the subject, he (Sir C. Wood) would be prepared to meet him. At the same time, it was desirable to correct, on the present occasion, an error in the statement of the hon. Member. It was not strictly accurate to say that the war originated in the question of etiquette which had been referred to. It might have been the proximate cause of hostilities, for it was a realisation of the old proverb, that it is the last pound that breaks the horse's hack, and it was the last of a series of injuries and insults on the part of the Governor of Rangoon which led to consequences which were as much deprecated by the Governor General and the authorities at home as by any one. Every effort had been made to avert hostilities. It was said that in Ava much im- portance was attached to ceremonies; hut that was the case among all Oriental nations, and a submission on our part to studied insult would have been construed into a sign of weakness. The insult offered was most offensive and grievous to a British officer. An opportunity was given to retract, to apologise, or to explain; hut no step of that kind was taken. Under all the circumstances he would say no more at present. The Governor General was anxious to avoid annexation, but the step was forced upon him, and he (Sir C. Wood) was convinced that when the House saw the papers, they would agree with the present and the late Government in approving his conduct, and admit that all he had done was forced upon him by the Government of Ava. After a careful review of the instructions sent out by his (Sir C. Wood's) predecessor, he must say that he entirely concurred in them. He would now only repeat that the House would he in a better condition to discuss this question when the papers were before them, which they would be in three or four days.


said, he agreed with the right hon. President of the Board of Control that the present was not the most convenient time for discussing the subject. The hon. Baronet opposite (Sir H. Willoughby) should know that the responsible Minister for India was the President of the Board of Control, and that everything that took place in reference to peace or war was by his authority. The people of this country erroneously supposed that the East India Company had the power of making war in India; but they had no more to do with it than he (Mr. Hume) had. At this moment the Court of Directors were not in possession of a single despatch to show the origin of the war, and were as ignorant of it as he (Mr. Hume) was himself. In like manner, with regard to the first Burmese war, the Indian Government had been obliged to pay 13,000,000l. for its expenses, without having before them a single despatch. He agreed with the hon. Baronet in thinking that this war might have been avoided. Commodore Lambert had sent on shore an officer to obtain an interview with the Governor of the fort at Rangoon, who, probably thinking that the affair ought to have been arranged in an interview between the Commodore and himself, deemed himself improperly treated, and redress was, in consequence, refused, which led to the seizure of the Burmese ship. What should we think if the French or Americans sent an Ambassador here, whom we refused to receive on the ground of his credentials being informal, and proceeded, in consequence, to seize British ships in their own waters and towing her away. In speaking of Lord Dalhousie, he had every reason to believe that he had a difficult duty to perform, and was as anxious to avoid war as any person; but by the course that had been adopted, the Government of Ava was called upon to deal with a man who had taken and kept one of their ships. But though the King of Ava had to send a message to a man who had, as he thought, violated the law, the most complimentary mode of sending it was adopted by him, as indicated by the number of attendants, that being the mode resorted to by the native princes of evincing their desire to pay a compliment. As far as his (Mr. Hume's) impression went, Commodore Lambert was the cause of the war, though he perceived that he had already received a pension of 150l. a year for good services on the Irrawaddy. He hoped that these events would lead to the adoption of a different course with regard to the Government of India. He differed from many persons who thought that the Court of Directors might be dispensed with. He thought they could exercise most useful powers in examining the details of the revenue and of the Army, and to enable them to do so effectively they should be made acquainted with the facts. He had a strong opinion that there were men in the Court of Directors whose local experience and constant attention and devotion to the affairs of India would make them an able council for any Government to carry on the affairs of India. He wished to see a Minister for India in that House, instead of having a Board that never sat, and Commissioners that never acted. All that was a perfect mockery, and an insult to common sense; but he hoped the result of the inquiry now going on would lead to a better state of things.


said, he thought it would have been much better to have withheld this discussion till all the papers on the subject of Ava had been laid on the table, especially as his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Control had intimated to the hon. Gentleman who moved for the production of the papers that they would be produced at the earliest possible opportunity. Some reference had been made to the constitution of the Court of Directors; but at present the discussion seemed chiefly to relate to the origin of the Burmese war. Now, whatever observations he might make upon this point, he must declare that the last thing he expected to have heard in that House more particularly was any question as to the justice of that war. It might have been expected that various commentaries would be made on the manner of carrying on the war; but to hear the origin and justice of that war questioned by hon. Members who had had an opportunity of reading the papers already on the table of the House, excited his astonishment. It had been said, and said truly, that the propriety of this war and of the operations, so far as they had proceeded, had been sanctioned by three Governments—by the Government of the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, by the late Government, presided over by the Earl of Derby, and by the present Administration. But there was an authority which had been referred to on this question greater still than any one of these, and that was the authority of the illustrious man who was now no more. In another place the Earl of Derby had in a recent discussion produced and read a memorandum proceeding from the illustrious Duke of Wellington on this very subject; and it was a document which seemed to answer, in anticipation, what had been said there as well as in another place. The noble Duke, with all the necessary papers before him, and only three weeks before his lamented death, said: "It appears to me that the war could not be averted—that the operations fixed upon were judicious, and have been ably carried into execution with great gallantry by the officers and troops." After testimony such as that, not only to the plan of operations and the success that had attended them, but to the necessity of the war, it would be useless for him to occupy their time longer upon that subject. But his hon. Friend (Sir H. Willoughby) talked of the sum of 1,000l. which had been demanded, and seemed to speak of it as an isolated fact that had caused the war. Now, he must by aware that the events connected with these latter transactions were but events crowning a long series of insults cast upon the dignity of the Government of India, and most injurious to the persons and property of British subjects in India; that they were, in fact, but the climax and crisis of a policy that had been going on for a period of ten or fifteen years. Did he not know that by treaty the Burmese Government allowed an Ambassador from the Government of India to reside at the Court of Ava, and that Ambassador (Colonel Burney) was forced to retire from the Court, having been treated with the utmost contempt? Was he not also aware that when Colonel Benson was sent to Ava, he was treated much worse? The outrages and indignities heaped upon him exceeded belief; his life was in danger, and he was obliged to retire. Did he not know of the injuries also committed at various times upon British merchants, and of the refusals continually persisted in to give reparation? As to the course taken by Lord Dalhousie, his great effort had all along been to avoid extremities; and, when driven into unavoidable hostilities, his declaration throughout was, that he desired nothing more than to obtain compensation for the past, and security for the future—that the expedition should be conducted with the least possible risk as to life, and without the least anxiety for an extension of our territory, which he, as everybody else, regarded as a great calamity. Accordingly, he thought that by striking a decisive blow, and taking possession of Rangoon, he would compel the Burmese Government to come to a settlement, make an apology, and thus bring the war to an end. The demand which he then made for money was so trifling that the public press of India made it matter of comment; but his demand not being conceded, he by degrees increased it, though still to a moderate degree. When charges were brought against Commodore Lambert such as had been made that night, he felt bound to say, that so far from Commodore Lambert being desirous of war, he wrote to the Governor General to say that he had every reason to believe he would be able to bring the matter to an amicable conclusion. The hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) had spoken of the usages of the Burmese as an apology for the manner in which they had treated Commodore Lambert. But the fact was, that a deputation was sent to him composed of such inferior officers that the only object could have been to insult him. He, nevertheles, received them with courtesy, and sent, in return, a deputation headed by the second in command. And what was their treatment? They were kept waiting for a length of time in the sun, and at length were told they might go into the shod and wait there, for the Governor was asleep. Now, they could afford to do much and lose much, but in India they could not afford to submit to the slightest indignity or insult, if they meant to retain their power and authority in that country. After the war was commenced, even when matters had gone to an extremity, all that was asked was the expenses of the war and the compensation that was requisite; but when these demands, repeated from time to time, were refused, the conclusion was arrived at that it was absolutely necessary—not to make the conquest of a mighty empire, for that was never thought of by Lord Dalhousie—but to look to the military possession of Pegu, and to take by force that compensation for the past and that security for the future which could not be obtained by treaty or conciliation. But, in point of fact, this possession of Pegu, instead of being an extension, was rather a consolidation of our Empire. In another place some animadversions had been made by one whose opinion must always command respect upon Lord Dalhousie and the military operations that had taken place; and being in a position to meet these animadversions, he (Sir J. Hogg) felt it his duty to do so, seeing the opportunity had arisen. It had been said that nothing was so preposterous as to take possession of Rangoon without having an abundance of animals and carriages for the purposes of transport. Now, for the purpose of Lord Dalhousie's occupation of Rangoon, what was necessary? It was necessary to have the power of transporting the carriages for the military force that was moving from Martaban to Rangoon, which was to the eastward of Prome; and the question came to be, was that force without the means of transport? Lord Dalhousie, with that energy, and, he would add, with that judgment and sagacity which characterised him, was personally present, and gave orders that the force should be provided with the necessary amount of animals and carriages. Orders were given to assemble elephants, bullocks, and all that was requisite for the march, and these orders were admirably carried out by Colonel Ogle. Another order was given that 150 elephants should be collected from the Government establishments, and sent to Arracan. It had been said these elephants were utterly useless, because the Aeng Pass over the Arracan mountains was occupied by Burmese forces that could not be displaced. Now, it never was contemplated to send the elephants by the Aeng Pass. The pass through which the elephants were to be taken was within a few miles of Prome, where the forces were; whereas, if the elephants could have passed through the Aeng Pass, they would have descended to the valley of the Irrawaddy, ninety miles to the north of Prome, and would have been utterly useless if they had not been accompanied by an army. He begged to say, that animadversions like these, unless they were merited—unless they were supported by documents that no one could arraign or deny—were most mischievous in their character, and tended to paralyse and destroy the efforts of those engaged in important enterprises. With reference to the cost of this war, the utmost exaggeration had been employed. When the first expedition went for the seizure of Rangoon, the cost incurred was stated in the Indian papers to be 240,000l. But how much, in reality, did the House think this first expedition cost? The financial secretary told him, in a letter which he had received, that the whole expense was 30,000l. A statement had been made elsewhere that the expense of the operations in which we were now engaged could not be less than 130,000l. —probably 150,000l.—a month. Now, a copy of the sketch estimates for 1852–53 had been received, and the whole of the war expenditure from the 30th of April, 1852, to the 31st of May, 1853, was put down at 50 lacs, or 500,000l., being about 40,000l. a month. Reference had also been made to the unhealthy condition of the troops; and this had been attributed to the want of clothing and covering, and proper medical attendance. Now, he was able to say that the wants of the troops in these respects had been provided for most successfully. Before the war broke out, the preparation of skeleton houses, and every requisite accommodation for 6,000 or 7,000 men, had been ordered, and they were conveyed in steamers to the places were they were required. According to the medical returns, it appeared that the health of the troops at Rangoon, during the rain, was as good, on the average, as the health of the troops at the same time in the plains of Bengal. Every precaution in the matter that man could take had been taken, though economically, yet effectually, by Lord Dalhousie. There was one serious consideration that embarrassed Lord Dalhousie, and might have embarrassed that distinguished officer, General Godwin, and that was the fear of compromising the inhabitants of the district of Pegu. During the last war it was rumoured that Pegu would be retained; but the result was, that it was restored to Burmah, and the retaliation taken on those inhabitants who were supposed to be friendly to British power was something so terrific that he should not like to describe it. Therefore, both General Godwin and Lord Dalhousie were apprehensive of giving any intimation that the Peguans had sided with the British against the Burmese, until they were sure that the annexation would be sanctioned, and the troops would not be ordered to withdraw from Pegu. Scarcely had the proclamation been issued, when offers were received from two of the leading chiefs, offering to put down the dacoits and plunderers, and a thousand muskets having been supplied to them, great confidence was thereby given to the natives. By Lord Dalhousie's personal superintendence in that province, he had established order sooner than it had been established in any province that had previously been annexed to the British Empire. He was happy to say that at the regular period for the termination of the Governor Generalship of the Marquess of Dalhousie, India would not be deprived of the services of that excellent administrator. The Court of Directors had, with the remission of the Government, preferred a request to the Marquess of Dalhousie, founded solely on public grounds, that he would not look to the usual period of five years as the termination of his Government. That noble Lord, though having strong private reasons to induce him to return to this country, nevertheless acceded to the request made him, and India would continue to benefit from the noble Marquess's able administration.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.

Question again proposed—

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