HC Deb 11 August 1857 vol 147 cc1447-56

Sir, I rise for the purpose of requesting the attention of the House to a matter of considerable importance, affecting as it does not only the character of an eminent deceased public servant, but also the character of a great public body, and the trustworthiness of documents furnished by them for the information of the House. It will be in the recollection of the House that on the 18th of June last, on the Motion of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Ewart) a return was made on tenures of land in India by the Directors of the East India Company, in order to illustrate the subject of the growth of cotton in India then under the consideration of the House. The return contained much interesting matter in a small space; but, unfortunately, instead of being confined to the subject of tenures of land, matter utterly irrelevant had been introduced into it, for the purpose, apparently, of reviving calumnies which I hoped had been forgotten, against a distinguished man whose name had been frequently mentioned in the discussion just ended—I mean the late General Sir Charles Napier. The calumny to which I refer imputed to that gallant General, that having conquered Scinde and identified his reputation with the policy which led to that conquest, he had endeavoured to enhance its value by unfair means and deceptive representations; that grain being the main revenue of Scinde, he had taken advantage of his position to sell it to a starving people at high prices; and had also supplied it to the Commissariat at exorbitant rates, and by these means given a fictitious importance to the revenues of the conquered territory. That was the calumny. I will now read the extract from the return, of which I complain:— In Scinde, not many years ago, the revenue throughout was collected in grain by actual division of the crop; the gain was then sold by reserved auction at artificially high, and sometimes even at famine prices, by the Government, as the great grain dealers of the country. The natural condition of the market thus directly interfered with by the Government, was yet further forced by the circumstance of the Commissariat drawing the grain required for the troops at nominal prices from the Government grain stores. Great progress has been made in superseding this objectionable system by cash assessments, which have already been introduced into several districts of the province. In the Shikarpoor collectorate generally, but in Larkhana particularly, the advantages of a light and fairly distributed cash assessment have been most marked and beneficial. The taxpayers are contented, and the Government demand is readily responded to. The House will observe that there is no connection whatever between the passage I have quoted, which relates exclusively to the manner of dealing with the revenue, and the subject of the return, which was the tenure of land. Then why was it introduced? for the purpose, as I shall prove, of reviving a foul calumny against an obnoxious man, and of furnishing his enemies with weapons to be used in blackening his memory. Now this charge first appeared in the Bombay newspapers, and was treated with silent contempt. But (to use Sir Charles's own language)— Could I laugh, when after India had resounded with these falsehoods, I found, by the mistake of a Clerk in Calcutta, that the Bombay Government had sent a secret note of Council to be registered there against me, accusing me of making up a false revenue, not only by levying taxes, but more than that, for if I recollect aright, they only hinted at that, they said I was doing this by a monopoly of grain, the price of which I raised by my command of the grain, and sold dear to the troops, so as to make the loss fall on the Bombay Government! In short, of an net so infamous, that, had there been one iota of truth in it, hanging would be too good for me. I beg the special attention of the House to what follows:— Had" (continues Sir Charles) "the Clerk not made this mistake, I should have had in both the Bombay and Calcutta archives, a heinous crime registered against me by my bitter enemies, which might hereafter be brought to light and given to (he world when I am no more, as an irrefragible proof of my bad conduct. Sir Charles Napier is no more, and as he anticipated, this miserable charge has been repealed against his memory on the authority of the Bombay archives, and has been used to justify his slander by the bitterest of his enemies. Well, Sir, I recently entered a notice of Motion for the Despatch of Sir Charles Napier in answer to the official charge against him, but I was assured that it could not be found. The answer was most full, distinct, and particular in meeting every point of the accusation against him, but, although the charge was forthcoming, the answer to it cannot be found. The hon. Member for Guildford, (Mr. Mangles) has informed me that this injurious paragraph was copied from a return from the Bombay Government, and that search has been made, but without success, for Sir Charles Napier's answer. I do not doubt the good faith of the Indian Directors nor the diligence of the search, but there is something unpleasantly suspicious in the non-appearance of this document. It was forwarded to Bombay; either it has been improperly retained there, or, if sent to this country, it has been thrown aside and lost. I will venture to say that such is not the treatment which charges made against Sir Charles Napier have received—they will all be found carefully preserved and duly ticketed, and ready for immediate reference. Of the answer itself, I will pledge my word to the House that it was as full, as complete, and as satisfactory as an answer could be. In the absence of this document, let me, by the kind indulgence of the House, be permitted to bring forward some evidence on this subject, the very strongest which could be produced. Sir Charles Napier left Scinde on the 1st October, 1847, and was succeeded in the Government by Mr. Pringle, a civilian. On the 31st December, 1847, Mr. Pringle made an elaborate report on the state of Scinde. With reference to Sir Charles Napier's financial policy, Mr. Pringle wrote:— Moderation, simplicity, and equity have taken the place of rapacity, complexity, and oppression; and although there may be much room for improvement, I am inclined to think the progress hitherto would bear a very favourable comparison with that of most provinces which had been for the same time under our rule, and reflects much credit on the officers to whom it is due. Mr. Pringle thus sums up his observations on Scinde:— I hope it will not be considered in excess of my province if, in concluding this report on the civil administration as I have found it to exist, I take occasion to express the sense with which my inquiries have impressed me of the wisdom, energy, and ability with which it has been organized and directed by his Excellency the late Governor, under circumstances of considerable novelty and difficulty. Here was direct testimony as to the character of Sir Charles Napier's financial policy. But it may be objected that this was written after only two months' experience, and that a more careful inquiry might have brought a change in Mr. Pringle's opinion. Two years afterwards, when Sir Charles Napier was appointed to the command of the Indian army, Mr. Pringle, who had no personal acquaintance with Sir Charles Napier, wrote to him as follows:— On your fitness for military command there is but one opinion. I speak as one who has had more than ordinary means of forming a judgment, when I say that your aid will be found not less valuable in the civil government, if your colleagues be wise enough to avail themselves of it; and I can wish nothing better for the interests of our newly acquired provinces in the Punjab, than that they may have the benefit of the same strong and just government which was so successfully applied to the introduction of order here. Now, let me ask, could it be credited that, if Sir Charles Napier had been guilty of the malpractices imputed to him, Mr. Pringle, who succeeded him in the Government, would be found, two years after he had possessed the fullest means of acquainting him with the facts, going out of his way to express such strong opinions of the justice and energy of Sir Charles Napier's rule in Scinde? But the indirect evidence does not end here. Mr. Pringle was succeeded by Mr. Frere, the present chief commissioner of Scinde, a man whose integrity and ability are well known to many Members of this House. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Frere in this country last year, and he told me that, highly as he appreciated Sir Charles Napier as a I soldier, he thought his genius for civil Government still more remarkable. And I was much struck with a remark of Mr. Frere, that so deeply imbued was the mind of Sir Charles Napier with the principles and practice of civil government, that he was satisfied that if he had been awakened in the middle of the night, and I asked to dictate a Minute on any measure of police or revenue, or any detail of civil administration, he would have done so with out hesitation, in language which would not have required the slightest alteration. And Mr. Frere could hardly find words to express his sense of the tenderness, humanity, and kindliness which underlay an exterior somewhat rugged, and a disposition somewhat irritable. Sir, the facts I have brought before the House would in themselves justify the time I have occupied in refuting this official slander; but the necessity for this refutation will be still more apparent, when, I read to the House an extract from a pamphlet written recently by Dr. Buist, in which he justifies all his former and present attacks on Sir Charles Napier, by quoting the very paragraph in this return of which I complain. Here are Dr. Buist's own words:— A paper has been presented, by order of Parliament, on the Land Revenues of India, from which the following is an extract:—The parliamentary paper seems nearly a transcript of the official intimation sent formerly, and not, as asserted by mistake of the clerk, to the Governor of Scinde in 1846. It shows, that not only may we have war and conquest in India, prosecuted against, all authority, but we may have cooked accounts, grain raised by monopoly to famine prices, transit; duties under the most obnoxious form of taxation, without any one having the power to punish or prevent. And then followed the extract from the return laid before the House. The hon. Member for Guildford informed me that a justification for this statement in the Report would be found in Colonel Rathborne's evidence, as quoted by Sir George Clerk. As Colonel Rathborne had been a collector in Scinde under Sir Charles Napier, I looked with some interest at the passage furnished me by the hon. Gentleman. It was in these words:— The Collector was in the position of a wholesale corn-merchant, and acted precisely as one in the trade would do. Of course he did, and it was Sir Charles Napier's duty as long as the revenue consisted of grain to get for it the highest market price. But that was a very different thing from forcing up prices by virtue of his position, and selling grain at fictitious prices to the Commissariat. The Commissariat accounts and the prices current of the day were still in existence and would easily refute the latter charge. With respect to the former and more serious Charge of raising unnaturally the price of grain to a starving people, it was wholly untrue. Sir Charles indeed continued the system which had long subsisted in Scinde of exacting a portion of the grain for the purposes of the revenue—but he reduced the proportion—and introduced many improvements in the manner of levying it, while he encouraged the substitution of money-payments by arrangements favourable to the tax-payers. The years succeeding the conquest were years of scarcity and suffering, for not only had agriculture been neglected during the war, but an unusual dearth produced a scanty crop, nearly all of which was devoured by a flight of locusts, which desolated Scinde in common with several other regions of Western India. But Sir Charles did his utmost to mitigate these sufferings by allowing all grain to be introduced from Foreign States, such as the Punjab, Moultan and Bhawulpore, at a mere nominal duty of 1s. 3d. per quarter, while no duty whatever was charged upon grain, imported from the provinces of British India; and, as Scinde was accessible from the North by the Indus, and from the South by the sea, the neighbouring province of Goojerat being the most fertile corn-growing country in India, the absurdity of supposing that he dictated prices in Scinde, while he admitted unlimited importation, is too apparent to require argument. And it is remarkable that Scinde was the only province in India in which no tax was laid upon salt. Nor would arguments be required by any of those who personally knew the great man, or had read his life, to disprove charges affecting his humanity, for if one quality more than another shone forth in his character, it was the depth and earnestness of his sympathy with the poorer classes. Yet as official authority has been given to this unjust and cruel imputation, I conceive I have only performed an act of simple justice to the memory of an illustrious public servant, when I vindicate it from charges so repugnant to his character and so destitute of truth.


said, that he regretted very much that his hon. and gallant Friend the Chairman of the East India Company was not in his place; but in his absence he begged to say he was in a position to prove that there was nothing intentionally wrong in the Report in question. The words of the Minute to which the hon. Member referred were taken verbatim from the annual Report of the Bombay Government in 1855. Sir Charles Napier was not responsible for the system which he found in force in connection with the revenue, though he might be with the way in which the revenue was afterwards realized. In connection with the subject he would read an extract from the Minute of Sir George Clerk, who had gone to Scinde to make himself acquainted with the state of that province, dated April 24, 1843, which appeared in a voluminous blue-book on the affairs of Scinde, published in 1854, in order to show the evils that existed:— The Government share of grain having been realized and stored, the collector brings forward or withholds portions of the stock in hand, according to the temper of the market, prospects of the season, &c. Should the number of the troops in the district render it probable that the demand will be large, or should appearances tend to show that the succeeding crop will be short, he withholds; and when the scarcity does come his grain is issued in quantities so small as to prevent any fall from a glut in the market. If his information leads him to suppose that the existing prices will remain stationary, or decrease, he sells. Then came the words quoted by the hon. Member, as used by Colonel Rathborne:— The collector is in the position of a wholesale corn-merchant, and acts precisely as one of the trade would.' The opposite statement shows the extent to which wholesale prices varied under this system, even in the same year and in the same collectorate.


Sir, I cannot refrain from saying that I feel deeply and acutely, the charges that have been heaped upon the head of Sir Charles Napier, as represented by the hon. Member who has called the attention of the House to the subject. I say it is most melancholy, us well as humiliating, to the feelings of the friends of the gallant General, who fought so long and so well on behalf of his country in almost every quarter of the globe, to have those charges against him raked up, now that he is no longer amongst us to defend himself, and when death ought to have set a seal upon them for ever. I contend that when such miserable charges as those now before the House were made against Sir Charles Nil pier, a great man, whose name was dear to every Englishman, it was but fair to the memory of that great man, the value of whose services was never appreciated until it was too late to do so, his answer to those charges should be forthcoming. The House had heard the charges against Sir Charles Napier, and he would be glad to see the answer to them. The hon. Member who had just spoken had repeated the charges; and it was but fair to the memory of Sir Charles Napier that his answer should be produced. I feel satisfied that those charges could be refuted, and therefore it is melancholy to see the character and memory of so great and good a man frittered away by unsupportable charges.


said, that in order that the House might know the real value of the statement which had been read to it, he would beg leave to read the following note which his hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvill (Mr. Bruce) had received from Colonel Rathborne:— My dear Mr. Bruce,—I have just received your note, in which you inform me that Mr. Mangles intends to justify the statement as to the sale of grain to the Commissariat at fictitious prices, by the authority of Sir George Clerk, who, he says, quotes me as his authority. In reply, I would merely observe that he no doubt has the authority of Sir George Clerk for the statement, because it forms one of the charges against the Scinde Government, contained in that tissue of falsehoods called Sir George Clerk's Scinde Minute; but which, in fact, was drawn up for his signature by his then revenue secretary, Mr. Goldsmidt. But, though Sir George has been thus unhappily made to father official falsehoods, I am sure he is quite incapable of giving birth to any, and therefore it is impossible that he could have given me as his authority for so gross a misstatement. He agreed with every word that had fallen from the gallant General. The memory of Sir Charles Napier was a thing that belonged to the British people, and they ought not to allow his reputation to be frittered away by the base calumnies of base people. There were always a set of vermin ready to prey on the memories of great and good men. If ever there was a man who did great service to his country, and who, more than another exhibited a spirit of gentleness, and power, and humanity, and wisdom, that went almost before his time, that man was Sir Charles Napier. He fought the battles of England against greater odds than ever had been found even in India, and by his masterly movements and his great skill as a general he won for himself and for us a renown till then almost unknown. The country he conquered for England, he governed with the same skill with which he had gained it; and when he left that country the people looked on the conqueror as their friend, and attended him down the river, thus paying the highest homage to his justice and humanity. Though they knew full well he had, by his capacity and courage, wrung from them their country and conferred it on England, yet, notwithstanding what he had done, so thoroughly were they persuaded of his justice and humanity, that they attended him down the river, and bade him a farewell such as men only-pay to their great benefactors, showing that Sir Charles Napier's capacity as a civil ruler was as great as he had shown in the character of a soldier. England now knows, when it is too late, the full value of Sir Charles Napier. He would ask any man to read the last volume of his life as drawn by his gallant and distinguished relative, and, looking at what had just occurred, to say whether it did not almost seem as if he possessed the gift of prophecy. Every word he had told them with reference to India had been fulfilled, and had his warnings been attended to it would not have fallen to the lot of the Chairman of the East India Company to say that what had happened had come like a thunderbolt on the Government of India. If they had taken the warnings of this wise and far-seeing man they would have foreseen the mischief, and guarded against it. But there was that in the minds of the home Government—there was that in the minds of the Government of India—that led them to hate this great man. They hated him because he was a great man, for he towered above them, and showed by the comparison their inferiority to himself.


said, the question now before the House related to a paragraph respecting the sale of corn by Sir Charles Napier whilst he was governor of Scincle. His object in rising was to correct what the hon. and learned Gentleman said in reference to his colleague, Sir George Clerk. Sir George Clerk was not the man to put his name to a tissue of official falsehoods which he himself had not inquired into. He did fully inquire into this subject. It was a mistake to suppose that either he or the Government of Bombay wished to depreciate the eminent merits of Sir Charles Napier. He agreed with the hon. and learned Gentleman in much that he had said of the supereminent merits of Sir Charles Napier, and he believed that the paragraph in question was put in accidentally, and not for the purpose of disparaging the eminent qualities of Sir Charles Napier, whose memory stood so high in the estimation of all who knew anything of Indian history.


said, the expression "a tissue of official falsehood" was not his expression, but that of Colonel Rathborne.


said, he thought the House ought not to part with this subject without coming to some expression of opinion in vindication of the memory of Sir Charles Napier. A charge had been made against that great man in a return on the revenues of India, and Sir Charles Napier had himself, on discovering by accident the nature of the charge, replied to it; but while the charge still stood, the reply was not to be found. It was on record in the life of Sir Charles Napier that he answered that charge fully, document after document, and line by line. Where, then, was that answer? The charge had been reiterated, but where was the answer? That was not the way in which the character of a man who had served his country ought to be treated and trifled with. He should have been content to let the matter rest on the statement of the hon. Member near him, but the hon. Member opposite, (Mr. Willoughby), speaking on behalf of the East India Company, had reiterated the charge. If the charge were reiterated, the House ought to express its opinion upon it, but if it was abandoned then he had nothing more to say. It was said that this answer was lost, but as the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Willoughby) had reiterated the charge, some effort ought to be made for the production of the answer to it. He would suggest that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvill (Mr. Bruce), who said that he had seen a copy of it, should send that copy to the President of the Board of Control in a private letter, desiring him to ask the Court of Directors whether it was a true copy, and that then the whole correspondence should be laid on the table of the House. That would be an indirect mode, certainly, of getting the document; but the respect due to the memory of so valuable a public servant as Sir Charles Napier demanded that it should be produced even in an indirect manner.