HC Deb 15 July 1856 vol 143 cc936-9

said, he rose to move for a copy of the correspondence between the Minister at War and General Beatson, as to certain charges preferred against that officer. The question connected with this correspondence involved the conduct of a general officer who had served for thirty-five years in the British service, who had gained the gold medal, and had six times received the thanks of his country for his distinguished services in the field. The facts connected with the case were as follows:—Last year the Government had deemed it necessary to raise a corps of Turkish troops, and selected to command them an officer who was well acquainted with Asiatic customs. General Beatson was the officer who had attained this high distinction. The corps of Bashi Bazouks, known as Beatson's Horse, were ultimately placed under the command of General Vivian. General Beatson was recalled, and when he left the country there were accusations made against his conduct after he had received orders to deliver up the troops to General Vivian, which, if true, subjected him to the punishment of death. On the 5th of March, General Vivian wrote to Lord Panmure referring to those charges. The first was that he had endeavoured to excite mutiny amongst the officers and men under his command; the second was, that he had sent out a "round robin" amongst the men, with a view of obliging the Government to re-appoint him to the command. General Vivian thought it his duty to forward those charges to the Government, with a view, not only to the good of the service, but also in justice to General Beatson himself. The Government directed a Court of Inquiry to assemble at Schumla to investigate those charges, and that Court of Inquiry took place altogether unknown to General Beatson. Now, he (Colonel Dunne) must complain that that was a course which had never before been followed in the British service. On the 5th of March this inquiry was entered, upon, and on the 6th of April the Court sent forward its Report. General Beatson, up to that time, knew nothing whatever of thecharges that had been made against him. It was not until the 17th of May that, at General Vivian's suggestion, a copy of the charges was sent to him. Now, it was the fact of this secrecy of which he (Colonel Dunne) complained. Nothing, however, resulted from this Court of Inquiry, and General Beatson did not to this hour know whether he was considered guilty, or was absolved from these charges. Now, he would ask, was that fair, either to himself or to the profession to which he belonged? He (Colonel Dunne) supposed that the Government considered that the charges were absurd, because, if they had believed their to have the slightest colour, they ought to have brought General Beatson to trial before a court-martial. They had, however, done nothing; they had only refused to give to General Beatson a fair acquittal, and to acknowledge that they were in error. He should therefore move that the whole of the correspondence should be laid upon the table and given to the public. General Beatson was ready to meet the charges. He had over and over again written to the noble Lord at the head of the War Department, but could get no satisfaction. The first charge was that General Beatson had incited two colonels to mutiny. General Beatson had written to both these officers, and from their letters it appeared that there was no foundation for that charge. If General Beatson was guilty of the charges brought against him, the papers ought to be laid on the table that he might receive the condemnation which he would deserve. If, on the other hand, he was innocent, a brave and distinguished officer ought not to be kept in ignorance of who were his accusers, but should have the fullest opportunity of clearing himself from the false and malicious accusations brought against him. He therefore demanded, as a simple act of justice to General Beatson, that this extraordinary correspondence should be at once produced, and the whole case against him placed before the world.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House, a Copy of the Correspondence between the Minister at War and General Beatson, lately employed as Commander of a Turkish Contingent, as to certain charges preferred against that Officer.


said, that the hon. and gallant Member had correctly stated the nature of the employment which had been given by the Government to General Beatson. That officer was instructed to raise a body of irregular cavalry in Asia Minor, Syria, Bulgaria, and Albania, and to take the command of the men when raised. That force first came under the command of General Beatson in the month of June; but in the September following it was deemed expedient that it should form part of the Turkish Contingent under General Vivian, and that another body of irregular cavalry should be placed under General Beatson. The charges brought against General Beatson were connected with this transfer of his command to the officer who succeeded him. They were to this effect—that he had instigated some of the commanding officers of the regiments under him to decline to serve under any other officer than himself, and had sought to induce the natives of the force to prefer remaining under his command rather than that of any other person. These accusations wire sent anonymously to General Vivian, who forwarded them to Her Majesty's Government, who felt it their duty to direct an inquiry into the matter, with a view, if possible, of verifying the statements made. General Smith, at Schumla, who was with General Beatson on the occasion, was instructed to set that inquiry afloat. That inquiry did take place, and the statements of the commanding officers were forwarded to the War Department. That inquiry, however, might still be considered pending, inasmuch as the correspondence connected with it had not as yet closed. The result, however, of this inquiry, as far as it had gone, did not justify the Government in taking any proceedings against General Beatson. The course taken by the War Department was the obvious and usual course, in instituting an inquiry with a view merely of ascertaining whether there were primâ facie any grounds for taking proceedings against General Beatson. From what had taken place he apprehended there would be no further proceedings in the matter. As, however, the correspondence had not as yet closed, he could not assent to the Motion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman.


said, he wished to ask whether it was usual to hold a secret Court of Inquiry upon a British officer in respect to charges contained in an anonymous communication? Would the hon. Gentleman tell him what was the report of this Court of Inquiry? He (Colonel Dunne) would venture to say that such a proceeding could not take place in the most absolute army on the Continent—even in the Russian army. Having served in the British army since he was a boy, he certainly never thought that such an occurrence could take place. He considered that the Government should have sent to General Beatson at once, not only the nature of the charges that were to be brought against him, but the Report of the Court when they had received it. General Beatson had applied frequently to the War Department on the subject, but could get no redress from it. The country, he believed, would be thoroughly disgusted with the conduct of the War Department in the matter.

Motion put and negatived.