HC Deb 02 August 1855 vol 139 cc1626-30

On the Motion for going into Committee of Supply,


said, he was desirous of making a statement relative to a question that was somewhat personal to himself, and, what was of much more importance, to the medical officers now serving in the Crimea. It would be in the recollection of the House that a letter appeared in The Times newspaper of the 5th of July, containing certain statements with reference to the treatment of our wounded soldiers after the affair of the 18th of June. To that letter he (Mr. Stafford) had recently called the attention of the Under Secretary for War, and that morning there appeared in the same journal an answer to that letter, signed by two civilian surgeons serving in the army, in which the attempt was made to controvert the statements contained in the letter of the 5th of July, though with what success he should leave the House to judge on Tuesday next, when he proposed to enter fully into the whole matter. The letter which appeared in The Times of that morning contained the following passage:— Instead, then, of it being 'impossible,' as Mr. Stafford says, 'to exaggerate the eulogies due to such men,' who thus, 'notwithstanding the risk of their own professional advancement, bring under the notice of the country the sufferings of the poor patients committed to their charge,' the public will, we trust, form a different opinion of one who for the sake of notoriety could thus gratuitously harrow the feelings of friends at home by making such unfounded statements and wicked exaggerations as are contained in his letter. Now, in justice to himself, he must be permitted to observe that there was not one word of truth in the statement there made, that he had pronounced an opinion as to the writer of the letter of the 5th of July. It was entirely through mistake that the two civilian surgeons had attributed to the writer of that letter—of whose name he (Mr. Stafford) was at present ignorant—the eulogies which he had paid, and most deservedly paid, to the class of surgeons to whom he now referred. On a previous occasion, after inquiring whether the attention of Government had been called to the letter of the 5th of July, whether they had any reason to doubt its authenticity, and if they would be willing to avail themselves of the offer of the writer, and fully investigate the painful subject, he proceeded to say— That statements had been made before the Commission, less generally known than those made before the Sebastopol Committee, which, although they caused the hearts of those who read them to chill with horror, were highly honourable to the regimental surgeons who came forward, notwithstanding the risk to their own professional advancement, to bring under the notice of the country the sufferings of the poor patients committed to their charge. It was not possible to exaggerate the eulogies due to these men. He held in his hand the Report of the evidence which had been taken before the Commission issued by the Duke of Newcastle to inquire into the state of the hospitals of the British Army in the Crimea and at Scutari, and the head of which Commission was Mr. P. Benson Maxwell. Mr. Maxwell proceeded to the Crimea, and proposed to enter into inquiries with regard to the state of our military hospitals there, and to call before the Commission some of the regimental surgeons; and here was the letter which he had found himself obliged to address to the Adjutant General on the subject:—

Camp, Jan. 8, 1855. Sir,—In the course of my inspection of the field hospitals this day, in conjunction with my colleague, Dr. Laing, I was informed by one of the medical officers that several surgeons and commanding officers in the second division had been restrained from answering a series of questions addressed to them by me, by the following order, issued, I was told, by Major General Buller:— "'December 22, 1854.

'MEMO.—Officers commanding regiments, and medical officers doing duty with them, will be good enough not to furnish answers addressed to them upon the hospital arrangements, &c., by any persons, unless under authority proceeding from his lordship the F. M. Commanding the Forces in the Crimea. 'The above refers to civilians, and workmen, without such authority.' I have to request that you will favour me by submitting this order to F. M., the Commander of the Forces, with the view of his removing this obstacle to the progress of our inquiry. I have, &c.,


"The Adjutant General, &c."

Thus the House would perceive that there existed somewhere or other in the camp an animus decidedly hostile to those surgeons who were inclined to come before the Commission and give evidence. Of course as soon as the matter was brought under the notice of Lord Raglan the restriction was removed. He (Mr. Stafford) had also stated, and repeated now, that the surgeons who gave evidence as to the deplorable condition of the regiments entrusted to their charge, deserved the highest honour. It could not be said that those statements were made by anonymous writers, for the persons to whom he referred had signed their names in full in the Commissioners' Report; and amongst those who were deserving of the highest eulogies he might mention Surgeons Robert Cooper, 4th Dragoon Guards; J. R. Brush, Scots Greys; J. Paynter, 13th Light Dragoons; H. H. Massey, 17th Lancers; G. E. Blenkins, Grenadier Guards; John Wyatt, Coldstream Guards; J. A. Bostock, Scots Fusilier Guards; C. B. Hearn, 1st Royals; R. V. De Lisle, 4th Foot; and J. Dunlop, 88th Regiment. Between twenty and thirty gentlemen had come forward, whose names had been authoritatively published by the Government, and made a statement of horrors to which the evidence taken before the Sebastopol Committee could hardly bear any comparison. It was to those gentlemen, and to others whom he might name, not to the anonymous writer, that he had attributed the meed of his highest praise, and he only wished that the Report containing their evidence was more generally known. In consequence of what had occurred, he should feel it to be his duty on Tuesday next to read some extracts to the House from the statements made by those gentlemen before the Commission, in order to show how fearlessly and manfully they had spoken out with regard to the condition of the poor soldiers. The two gentlemen who had replied to the letter published on the 5th of July, stated, on the one hand, that the writer was afraid to give his name, and, on the other, that he had written for the sake of gaining notoriety. Those statements appeared to contradict each other, for he could not possibly see how any one who was animated by the desire of notoriety could hope to gain it by writing anonymous letters. That, however, was a proof of how undesirable it was for medical men to attribute to one another motives for the statements they made, when on the truth of the statements, and not on the motives which dictated them, depended the character of those who made them. The two civilian surgeons also stated that the writer of the letter of the 5th of July knew that no official contradiction could be given to him; but if that were so, then those two gentlemen and Dr. Hall were under no obligation to the writer for having been the means of bringing the matter before the House of Commons. No one could suppose for a moment that a letter could remain secret that was published in The Times, when between 70,000 and 80,000 copies must; necessarily be distributed through all the quarters of the globe. The hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for War, in answer to him (Mr. Stafford) the other night, stated that he had seen the letter, and had sent to inquire if its representations were correct, and that as soon as he had received a reply it should be laid upon the table. He considered, therefore, that the medical officers, so far from having any complaint against him, could not have been more fairly treated than they had been at his hands. In the debate on the transport service on Tuesday night, he stated that he had reason to believe that the condition of the wounded and invalided soldiers, who had recently arrived home from the Crimea, was not such as would warrant him in saying that the transport service was not capable of improvement. In reply the First Lord of the Admiralty observed that he was sorry to hear that statement, for no complaints had reached him. Another letter had appeared in the newspaper that morning, and a painful one it was, from the brother of the late Colonel Lowth, in which the writer said— The wife of Colonel Lowth and myself, his brother, went on board the Hansa, and found him in an exhausted state, and in a cabin so ill ventilated that the air of it was pestilential. Our natural wish was to remove him from this terrible hole (for I can use no other term), and out of which his servant Hicken, the most devoted of servants, as every officer on board allowed, declared that his master's strongest wish was to be removed. Hicken at the same time stated that his master's only thought, when not turned upon his regiment, through his long illness, was to land in England once more. On our consulting the medical men, they all agreed that the state of Colonel Lowth was so bad that their opinion was that he would die in the act of being removed from his cabin; but, it must be added, that they all equally agreed that if he remained in that horrible atmosphere he could not survive many hours. Under these circumstances it was for us only to decide whether Colonel Lowth should be left in this hole to die in a few hours, or whether we should fulfil his only wish—to land, and, at the same time, to give him that one last chance of the fresh pure air reviving him. If he was to die, better that he should breathe his last in the pure air he wished so much to breathe again than in that fetid cabin so hateful to him. He did not die in the removal, as the medical men had fully expected, but was much revived by the open air on his way to his lodgings, where he died in half an hour, at least in a better place than in that horrible cabin. Only one word more. The cause of Colonel Lowth's death was not dysentery alone, as your correspondent would lend one to infer. He had been attacked by dysentery at an early part of the voyage, but this was soon checked, as his medical attendant on board himself assured me. No; the causes of his death were the severity of the wound which he received on the 18th of June (which became worse on the voyage), the attack of dysentery, and the exhaustion produced thereby; and, more than all, by the great heat and the extremely bad ventilation of the cabin. Now, when he (Mr. Stafford) heard of the death of Colonel Lowth, though personally unknown to him, he must say that he felt so shocked and horrified that he made inquiries upon the subject, the result of which he alluded to in the question he put to the First Lord of the Admiralty the other night. He hoped the attention of the Government would be directed to the subject, for it was evident that if the accommodation for officers was so bad the accommodation for men would not be better. He trusted that the loss of that gallant officer and the painful letter of his brother, would have the effect of commanding the attention of Government to the subject, and that whatever department had control of the transport service they would insist upon such arrangements for the transport of our sick troops homewards, that an event so painful to all, and so highly discreditable to the system should not again be suffered to occur. He did not ask for any reply from the Government on the present occasion, for he felt satisfied that they would give the matter their most earnest and careful consideration.

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