HC Deb 22 February 1856 vol 140 cc1224-8

said, he rose to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Control, of which he had given notice. He did not, however, intend to enter into a discussion on the important subject of the annexation of the native states of India. His only object was to elicit some information as to the intentions of the Indian Government with regard to the King of Oude and his dominions. For some time past various rumours had been circulated as to the intentions of the Government on this subject. It was first said that the administration of the territories would be placed in the hands of General Outram, the resident at Lucknow; it was then stated that the revenues of the king would be sequestrated; but the report now was that the king was to be dethroned, and his dominions annexed to the British territories in India. Now that he considered was a subject on which the House ought to have some information. If the sovereign of a country larger and more fertile than Belgium was to be dethroned, and his subjects handed over to the authority of the East India Company, the House ought to know the reasons for such a step. He did not intend to enter into a discussion on the relations between the Indian Government and the native states, but he would read a dispatch written in 1814 by Mr. Ricketts, the then secretary of the Government of India, to Major Baillie, the resident at Lucknow. You are to inform the Nawab that the Governor General will be much gratified if he will show his anxiety for the promotion of British interests by advancing another loan of a crore of rupees. The Governor General is most anxious to know the result of your negotiation, as the Government will be seriously embarrassed if the loan is not obtained. Major Baillie, in his answer, wrote that he had obtained fifty lacs of rupees with great difficulty, and further stated that— The Nawab is beginning to entertain suspicion of our disinterestedness; some persons are endeavouring to persuade him that our object is to drain him of all his wealth, and when we have plundered him entirely to take possession of his dominions. He would, then, ask the right hon. Gentleman whether instructions had been sent out to Lord Dalhousie, empowering him to sequestrate or annex the territories of the King of Oude at his discretion; whether any desire had been manifested by the people of that country to come under our dominion; and lastly, when the correspondence would be laid on the table of the House?


said, he did not expect that the hon. Member who spoke last would have made a speech of; so much importance on the question of the adjournment of the House, but he had no objection to tell his hon. Friend how the question stood, although he was not prepared, nor was it usual to lay a paper on the table of the House before the correspondence to which they related had been brought to a conclusion. The House was, no doubt, aware that, for the last fifty-six years or thereabouts, the state of the kingdom of Oude had occasioned the utmost anxiety to the Government of India; and, to such an extent had these abuses reached during the last summer that General Outram, who was known to be strongly in favour of the rights of native princes, had reported to the Governor General that it was impossible for things to remain in their present state. That opinion was reported by the Governor General to the Home Government, together with a statement of several modes in which it was thought by himself and gentlemen with whom he had consulted that the deplorable state of things might be put an end to. The dispatches on the subject were taken into consideration by the Directors of the East India Company and by the Government, and, after going through the details and difficulties of the questions, and considering the great reputation and long experience of Lord Dalhousie, it was thought that the best course to be adopted would be to give a very largo measure of discretion to the noble Marquess in dealing with a matter requiring so much tact and delicacy. The result of that consultation was communicated to Lord Dalhousie on the 21st of November last, but no answer had as yet been received to it except a simple acknowledgment from the noble Marquess of the pride which he had felt in being intrusted with that discretion, and an expression of his determination to take the responsibility upon himself. He added, however, that, whatever course he pursued, he should use every possible means of avoiding all chance of a collision, and that he should have the most scrupulous regard to the feelings and claims of the natives. Thus the question stood at the present moment; but when a more detailed answer had been received from the Governor General, and the correspondence had been brought to a close, he would lose no time in laying it on the table. With regard to the second question put by the hon. Gentleman, as to whether there had been any expression of opinion on the part of the people of the kingdom of Oude as to their desire to be annexed to the possessions of Great Britain, he had to remind the hon. Gentleman that no appeals or expressions of opinion were permitted by the King of Oude to be publicly made, and that it was consequently very unlikely that the Government of India could obtain any clue to the general opinion of the inhabitants on the subject of annexation.


said, that in his opinion the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman was most unsatisfactory. It was well known that the principles of Lord Dalhousie were in favour of annexing every native state whenever the opportunity occurred; and yet the question of annexing the kingdom of Oude was left to his unfettered discretion. The object of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Otway) was, that the House should decide whether it was an expedient or honourable course that the kingdom of Oude should be annexed, and it was impossible to discuss that question unless the correspondence were laid on the table. The policy of Lord Dalhousie might be the right one, but it was at variance with that of Mountstuart-Elphinstone and Lord Metcalfe. Of late it appeared to be the policy of the East India Company to annex a State whenever it appeared to them that we were in the right; and as that Company always decided that we were in the right, it necessarily followed that they were always in favour of annexation. It had been said when the war against Russia was undertaken, that we had felt it necessary to interfere in order to protect weak States from the oppression of the strong, but he must confess that he had writhed under the eloquent denunciations of the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright), when he charged this country with having practised towards India precisely the same description of policy which Russia had adopted towards her weaker neighbours. To such a policy he would be no party, and he was, therefore, in favour of getting, on the earliest occasion, full information as to the steps taken by the Governor General of India on this subject.


said, he thought it was scarcely fair of the hon. and learned gentleman to anticipate the legitimate opportunity of discussing the subject, which he himself had pointed out, for the purpose of denouncing the policy of one of the most distinguished rulers India had ever known. He hoped the House would not take its idea of Lord Dalhousie's policy from the statement of the hon. and learned Gentleman. He utterly denied the truth of the statement of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Otway) with regard to the monetary transactions of the Indian Government with the King of Oude. Every farthing received from the King of Oude had been received from him in the way of loan, and it had always borne the highest current rate of interest. Every loan had been repaid either in money or by transfer of territory, and if any portion remained unpaid it continued to bear the regular payment of interest just the same as any other loan granted to the Government of India. One reason which had induced the King of Oude to make these loans was that he was afraid, from the disordered state of his country, that his widows and other members of his family, for whom he was anxious to provide, would be left entirely without support at his demise, and he was desirous in that way of making the East India Company responsible for the payment of a regular stipend to those persons. Such statements as those of the hon. Member for Stafford, injurious as they were to the credit and honour of individuals belonging to the Government of India, ought not to be made except upon good grounds, and unless those who made them were prepared to support them.


said, he would remind the House that the hon. Member who had put the question had done so on the authority of a dispatch from the Resident at Lucknow to Lord Hastings, which itself disclosed a case of great hardship. The observations of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Sir E. Perry), in regard to Lord Dalhousie, had been elicited by the panegyric which had been passed upon that nobleman by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Control. It appeared to him (Mr. Phillimore), from all he had seen and read, that Lord Dalhousie was inflamed with a dangerous sprit of aggrandisement. He had already entangled us in one most unjust and indefensible war, and was not a person to whom he (Mr. Phillimore) should like a question of this importance to be referred.


said, he must warn the House to be very cautious of taking upon trust the ebullitions of virtuous indignation of the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir J. Hogg). That hon. Member denied in that House the truth of the assertion as to the practice of torture in India. Taking that as an example and illustration of the value of the denial of the hon. Gentleman, he (Mr. Roebuck) left him and the House to settle the matter.