HC Deb 03 March 1856 vol 140 cc1702-10

On the Motion for going into a Committee of Supply.


said: I beg leave, Sir, to ask the indulgence of the House for a few moments, while I refer to some observations which were made on Friday evening by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone), who reproved me and others, and, I am sorry to say, not altogether without foundation, for characterising the discussion on that evening as a random discussion, and I am afraid I had a full share in the random part of it myself. There were two names not introduced by the hon. Under Secretary for War, but adverted to incidentally by me. I regret, Sir, that I did so advert to them, because what I said might prove prejudicial to those officers whom I had not the most remote intention of injuring. The first was the name of a junior officer, Major Dowbiggin, who was placed in high command. Since then an old friend of mine, and a relative of his, has sent me a letter with regard to that young officer, which it is most gratifying to me to read. I find that upon the 22nd June, while at the head of 200 men, he distinguished himself by his gallant and efficient conduct in repelling an attack of the Russian, troops. On that account I, for my part, am extremely glad he obtained promotion, which, I am convinced by what I read in this letter—which, in my opinion, is more genuine even than a public dispatch—he amply merited. So far, then, from wishing, in the slightest degree, to injure his professional prospects, and so convinced am I of his merit on that occasion, that if I should see his name in the Gazette again, it would afford me very great pleasure. The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the introduction of General Simpson's name. In his private capacity, Sir, there is no man more highly spoken of than General Simpson. I have not the honour of his acquaintance, but I never heard one syllable to his disadvantage. On reading the paper on the following morning, I observed an expression in my speech which I regret exceedingly. I entirely admit the justice of the reproof of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone), and I now retract every word of which he complains. But with regard to his conduct as a general officer, there is no man in the British army who has a better claim or right to comment than I have, because no officer has been more freely commented upon, and I think rather severely, too, than myself. There is another name, and a much higher one, which I touched upon. I can assure the House that I had not the remotest idea of saying anything disrespectful of that officer; but still, in the heat of argument, in endeavouring to defend myself against the statement of the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for War, I am afraid I spoke of him without that profound deference and respect which I undoubtedly felt towards him. I allude to His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge. It was my lot throughout the campaign in the East to be constantly near him, sometimes supported by, and sometimes co-operating with, His Royal Highness; and it would have been impossible to receive more condescension and kindness than I received from His Royal Highness. It was my good fortune also to have concurred with His Royal Highness in his general views. I could give very striking instances of his excellent perception and good judgment in military matters; I have, therefore, Sir, such a sincere regard, if I may be allowed to say so, for His Royal Highness, that it would afflict me very much if anything I have said, eleven the manner I said it, could in the remotest degree be thought wanting in that profound respect to which undoubtedly His Royal Highness is both personally and professionally entitled. I hope I have thus far exonerated myself from censure in regard to those two points. Sir, the name of Colonel Gordon was introduced by the hon. Under Secretary for War. The hon. Member for Beverley (Mr. Gordon) spoke first in reply upon the subject, and he addressed himself, in reference to his relative, in so generous and courteous a manner, that I must say I have a feeling of compunction in consequence of having spoken of him in the manner I did; and I can only say I sincerely hope he will forgive me for what I said, which fell from me in the heat of debate, and which, if I had had more presence of mind, I would not have uttered. I can only say I sincerely hope that he will attribute anything to me but the intention of inflicting pain upon him. The noble Lord the Member for Tyrone (Lord C. Hamilton) spoke on the subject with more energy, and he used an expression of which I was under the necessity of complaining to him. His reply was most handsome, kind, and complimentary, and I am bound to express my acknowledgments to him for doing so. He certainly used some strong expressions, but I am so conscious myself of very often being in the necessity of asking for toleration and consideration, for the loss of temper and the use of too strong expressions, particularly when personal feelings are engaged—as was the case on this occasion —that I cannot for a moment complain of those other expressions to which I allude. The principal complaint on that occasion against me was, that I was prejudicing Colonel Gordon in reference to the examination before the Board of general officers. Now, it certainly did not occur to me at the time that I should be doing so, and it is to me a matter of the deepest regret and sorrow that I might have said anything which would have such an effect. I am, however, quite satisfied that that Board will not allow themselves to be affected by any unguarded expressions which, in the heat of discussion, may fall from hon. Members in this House. I also stated to the noble Lord that I had my own grievance still, and that I should bring it forward at a future period, not now; for I wish to observe the rule laid down by the right hon. Member for Droitwich (Sir J. Pakington) not to revive the controversy which has arisen. At a future time, however, I think I shall be able to show a little grievance of my own on this subject. Not having had the slightest notice that any evidence had been taken affecting these poor old generals from any party whatsoever, and only having learnt the fact by accident, I venture to hope if I have offended against the distinguished house to which the noble Lord and his relative (Mr. Gordon) belongs, I shall be able, whenever an opportunity occurs, to show that I also have some grounds of complaint in regard to that distinguished house. Having expressed my regret as strongly as I can do, I will now allude to an observation made at the conclusion of the noble Lord's speech, to the effect that I had made a proposition to Lord Raglan, after the battle of Inkerman, and that his Lordship replied to me—"What, do you propose to abandon the cannon and the trenches?" My reply to that was that no such expression was ever used towards me by Lord Raglan. But I did make a proposition to him, and I stated at the moment, from memory, what took place. The following morning, a friend of mine called upon me, and said, "I read what you said last night on that subject, and, perhaps you may have forgotten it, but I have a letter of yours, written immediately after the battle, which had been handed to me by your wife, and which contains the same words which you used in the House last night." I confess I had totally forgotten it; but I have now the letter in my pocket. It is quite at the disposal of any one who chooses to read it, but there are some observations in it, particularly with regard to our allies, to which it would be impossible at the present time to give publicity. The friends and relatives of Lord Raglan, or the friends and relatives of any noble or hon. Gentlemen are quite at liberty to peruse it, but there is not a syllable in it to affect me were I to publish it at Charing Cross. All these things will, in time, be made public, every opinion expressed by general officers will also be made public, and if we are all equally explicit, I confess that, whatever we may be as soldiers, many of us, at any rate, will turn out to be no great prophets. The letter is dated the 8th of November, and the expressions are these:— General Canrobert and Lord Raglan were present directing the troops—the former was slightly wounded in the arm, but nothing to speak of. Shortly after the battle, Lord Raglan, hearing that I was present, sent for me, and expressed himself glad to see me, but desired me to go back to my ship, and not to come in front again until I was perfectly recovered. I then asked him if he would pardon me offering an opinion relative to the state of the army. He said he would. I offered my candid opinion in deep earnestness, and, at any rate, with sincerity. He is not a man to discuss much—at least, with those in my situation, but he appeared by no means displeased, and, I think, possibly he was not altogether uninfluenced by what I said. In this, however, I may be entirely mistaken. There are two chiefs—French and English—and, though they are most true, faithful, and cordial, yet different policies have to be considered, and, I believe, the French have momentous reasons for their course of proceeding, and that course, apparently, must not be deviated from by the British. To enter into a strategical discussion at the present time, and whilst matters are undecided, would, however, be entirely objectionable. I only hope I have not been wanting in my acknowledgments.


I hope, Sir, that, under the peculiar circumstances, the House will favour me with its attention for a few minutes while I refer to what took place on Friday night. I can with unaffected sincerity assure the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster that I never intended by any expression of mine to reflect in the slightest degree on his known and well-tried gallantry, or in any way to call in question his brilliant courage. On the contrary, the very words which I addressed to the hon. and gallant Member when I spoke to him with reference to the matters now under consideration are so fresh in my memory that I can repeat them to the House. I told him that his courage had been so well established on many a hard-fought field that any man who could cast an aspersion on it would but cover himself with confusion and shame. It is clear, therefore, that I could not have myself intended to take any such course. All that I desired to impute to the hon. and gallant Gentleman was a certain want of fair play in the attack he made the other evening on a gallant relative of mine. But now that the House has heard the remarks which the hon. and gallant officer has thought fit to offer with reference to a somewhat remarkable statement made by me on Friday evening, I trust that I also may be allowed to say a few words in explanation. I am sensible that in so doing I shall be trespassing on the rules that govern our proceedings, but I venture to hope that under the peculiar circumstances of the case the House will extend to me its indulgence; and the more particularly when I assure them that I will not trespass at any length on their attention, nor deviate from what I believe to be necessary for establishing the simple fact that the statement which I made on Friday evening I did not make without, believing that I had good grounds for it. I do not ask the House to declare that I was justified in my opinion; all I ask is that they will permit me to lay before them and the country certain facts; and, having done so, I will leave to them and the country to decide whether or not I was so justified. I am apprehensive of being thought to occupy the position of one who lightly and without sufficient foundation has made a very remarkable statement affecting in some degree the military character of the hon. and gallant Member. ["No, no!"] I will not refer in detail to the language I used the other evening; but I will show that my assertion, that on the 5th of November, the night after the battle of Inkerman, the hon. and gallant Member counselled and strongly and repeatedly urged the immediate embarcation of the British army and the leaving of our guns and our French allies to the mercy of the enemy, was not wholly without foundation. I will read to the House the evidence on which that statement was founded. I hold in my hand—["Order, order!"] If the House will not bear with me—if they think it right that I should remain in the position of having made a statement for which I cannot give grounds or assign reasons, I, of course, must acquiesce in their decision, and resume my seat.


I beg the noble Lord to understand that I never charged him with having made a statement which he did not believe to be correct. I am ready to enter into any explanation why I said this or thought that; but I put it to the noble Lord and to the House whether it is desirable that I should be compelled to take such a course? I put it to the House whether it is possible that a question such as this should be disposed of by a single statement? I do not think that the noble Lord should continue his observations unless it is understood that I shall be permitted to reply, to discuss the question in all its bearings.


I hope that the noble Lord will not attempt anything so irregular as the revival of a former debate. It is competent for any hon. Member to offer a personal explanation of anything that may have fallen from him on a previous occasion, should he think fit to do so; but it is against the rules of the House that he should revive a former debate.


Sir, I have no intention to prolong this discussion; but I hope I may be permitted to state, on my own behalf and on that of my gallant relative, the great satisfaction with which I have listened to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster, to whom I beg to offer my best thanks for the manner in which he has this evening expressed himself with regard to certain words used by him on a former occasion. For his complimentary allusions to myself I know not how to thank him; but I beg that he will do me the justice to believe that I am not ungrateful. Having said so much, I venture to think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will thank me for taking this opportunity to bring under his notice another expression used by him in the course of the same debate. ["No, no!"] I would appeal to the indulgence of the House while trespassing for a single moment on its attention. [Loud cries of "Order!"] I will not further intrude on the patience of the House.


Undoubtedly, Sir, you have laid down correctly the rule which ought to guide the proceedings of this House, except on some very extraordinary and exceptional occasion, namely, that it is contrary to our rules, and at variance with all the good order of our proceedings, to refer in one debate to that which has passed in a previous debate. The circumstances, Sir, which did, however, occur in the last debate were such as to justify an exception to our rules; and I think my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Westminster was perfectly justified in addressing to the House the remarks which he has on this occasion made. But I hope the House will agree with me in thinking that the explanation which my hon. and gallant Friend has given ought to be satisfactory to the feelings of all those who might have considered themselves in any degree aggrieved by those observations which in a former debate he, as is often the case with Members of this House under similar circumstances, made use of in the eagerness of debate. I am sure, Sir, that this House will best consult the feeling and the character of all concerned, and be acting in a manner most consonant with our usual practice, if the matter be now allowed to drop after the explanation which my hon. and gallant Friend has made.


Sir, I was exceedingly anxious to hear the noble Lord rise to address the House in the tone in which he has just addressed it. It appears to me, Sir, that the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Westminster this evening has very much removed the painful feeling which, I believe, prevailed in this House. Sir, I think the careful, yet frank, manner in which he addressed himself to the various topics that formed the subject of his speech is appreciated by both sides of the House. At the same time, Sir, I think that as regards the conduct and position of my noble Friend behind me (Lord C. Hamilton), there is no mistake in the minds of the Members of this House. I think I state the feelings of the House when I say that no imputation rests upon my noble Friend of having made a statement which he did not believe to be authorised by facts, and which he was afraid to stand by. Sir, I believe no one doubts that when my noble Friend made that statement he considered he had sufficient evidence of its truth; and there may be sufficient evidence to sustain the statement which my noble Friend made the other night, and which he is prepared to repeat to-night and to prove. But, Sir, the view which I wish to throw out to the House is, that statements of that kind cannot be satisfactorily met according to our rules in this House. Some analogous, perhaps, almost identical, expressions may have been used by a gallant officer in the position in which the hon. and gallant General found himself; but, Sir, to arrive at a correct and safe conclusion on the subject, we must have details such as it is not in our power to have brought before us in general and popular discussions such as those that take place in this House. Of course, Sir, the character of the suggestion made by a gallant General in a particular emergency would depend upon the manner in which that advice was given, on the circumstances under which it was tendered, and upon a thousand details, which it would be impossible to put this House in possession of in the careful manner that would be required in considering a matter of the kind. It is very satisfactory that the hon. and gallant General should have come down here, and in a manner so agreeable to the feelings of all parties removed any unpleasant impression that his speech of a former evening might have left on the mind of the House; but at the same time I believe I but bear testimony to the general feeling of both sides of the House when I say, that my noble Friend the Member for Tyrone lies under no imputation of having made a rash statement which he is not prepared to justify. As I interpret it, the general opinion of hon. Members is, that we could not investigate such a matter by a general debate in this House. And, Sir, I believe that the hope of the House is, that this debate has only been raised on the present occasion to terminate, and terminate for ever.