HC Deb 10 December 1857 vol 148 cc502-14

Order for Second Reading read.


said, that, though he had very frequent occasion to oppose votes of public money, in this instance he felt great pleasure in supporting the proposition of the Government. General Havelock, by his exploits, had covered himself with glory and conferred an inestimable service on his country, and he fully merited all the reward which the Queen and the Legislature could bestow upon him.


said, he felt it his duty to take that opportunity of stating, that in his opinion they were dealing very inadequately with the great services of General Havelock. What had General Havelock done? He had performed one of the most gallant services that the military history of the country contained. With small forces he had done what had seemed impossible. He had saved an empire. Now, what were they going to give to General Havelock as a reward for his great and heroic services?—a pension of £1,000 a year for his life. Consider what a pension for his life meant. Why, General Havelock was being shot at fifty times a day. What was his life worth? What benefit to his family was it to confer a pension for his life? Such a pension seemed to him to be extremely inadequate. There was a report, which he trusted the Government were in a position to contradict, that General Havelock had been killed. He trusted that was not so, but at any rate his life was in hourly danger. In general the practice was to give a pension to the person who performed the services and one or more of those who succeeded him. It was done in the case of General Lord Gough. He did not wish to underrate that General, but he did not think that the services of General Lord Gough were superior to the services of General Havelock; and even if they had been he thought that they ought rather to abound than to be deficient. He thought that the services of General Havelock were such as well entitled him to a pension for his next successor in the dignity which Her Majesty had conferred on him. They had seen the dignity of baronet conferred on a gentleman because he happened to hold a high civic position at the time that the Prince of Wales was born, and on another gentleman because he had given a dinner to the Emperor of the French. He did not think that any one could say that the honour to General Havelock was at all equal to his merits. Parliament ought, therefore, to be more anxious to see that what had been called the substantial part of his reward should be ample. If no other hon. Member undertook the duty he should himself move in Committee that the pension be continued to the son of General Havelock, himself a gallant officer, whose services had procured him the great distinction of the Victoria Cross.


said, he thought that the Government had not conferred sufficient honour or remuneration either on General Havelock or General Wilson. He was quite certain that Parliament would have been heartily glad if greater honour had been done them, and would have been ready to bestow a much larger pension on General Havelock if the Government had proposed it. He might safely say that never in the annals of the British army had there been such an example of extraordinary skill and undaunted courage as had been displayed by Sir Henry Havelock in his march to Cawnpore and Lucknow. The same might be said of General Wilson, whose assault on Delhi—a strongly fortified place, garrisoned by 15,000 or 20,000 soldiers—was one of the finest exploits recorded in history. He hoped that the Government would reconsider the propriety of conferring still higher rewards on the men who had saved our Indian Empire. What was £1,000 a-year for life to General Havelock, shut up in Lucknow, with 70,000 men outside the walls, in hourly danger—a position on which no one could think without trembling? His son also was serving in the army with him, and while they were voting this inadequate pension to the General for his life he might at this very moment be no more. He would not say this was a shameful way of rewarding him, but certainly it was not a proper way. The fact was, however, that officers, who devoted then-whole lives to the service of their country were, generally speaking, not sufficiently rewarded for their services—certainly not those who served in India. His gallant relative fought two great battles and conquered a kingdom, and what was the reward he got? Her Majesty took a bit of red ribbon off his neck and put it over his shoulder—that was all he got, not a farthing of pension. General Havelock had not been properly rewarded, he repeated. How had the last batch of Peers got their honours? One was made a Peer because he was father-in-law to a Duke; another because he was brother to a Marquess, and a third because he had written a book. He believed if they polled the whole population of England the unanimous opinion would be that General Havelock ought to be made a Peer, at all events. General Keane was made a Peer for his military services; but did he perform half the military services that General Havelock had rendered? So, too, was Gough. He, it was true, was Commander in Chief; but Havelock excelled every man of whom he (Sir C. Napier) had ever heard. General Havelock had gained more victories in a few weeks than were won in the whole Peninsular campaign; and now, with only between 2,000 and 3,000 men under his command, he was menaced with 70,000. It was true they were but comparatively small battles, but his forces were also small. He and General Wilson had performed some of the most extraordinary marches, and that too under a tropical sun, while thousands of men on their way from this country to India to reinforce them had been tossed about at sea for weeks and months in sailing vessels, who might have been conveyed to their destination by steam-ships without any unnecessary loss of time. He would read to the House a copy of a letter which appeared in The Times of that day, and was written in Calcutta on the 1st of November:— The sailing troop -ships Nile, Areta, Barham, Ulysses, and Surrey, are all that have yet arrived of those which left England with troops in June and July. The steamers Golden Fleece, Sydney, and Australian, which left England on the 14th and 15th of August, and the steamer Thebes, which sailed on the 31st of July, have arrived. The Golden Fleece brought a complete regiment (Her Majesty's 34th) in perfect comfort, without a sick man, in sixty-eight days. Would it not be as well to keep up twelve or twenty such ships in Her Majesty's Navy expressly as steam troop transports for the relief or reinforcements which may be required for the colonial, Indian, or war service of England? The advantages would be,—firstly, a whole regiment is transported complete in all parts and ready to act together. There have been some portions of Her Majesty's regiments here for six weeks, the other portions of which have not arrived. Secondly, the greater speed and greater certainty would enable more correct calculations of periods of arrival and of movements dependent on them. Had the soldiers despatched in June, July, and August in sailing vessels been sent by steamers, ten regiments might have been here and marched up on the 1st of October, instead of one so marched up then; and on this date such ten regiments might have been at Cawnpore. Thus, instead of the hard and desultory fighting in Oude now going on with some peril to the besieged garrison, the whole of our force could have been employed in such strength as to crush and destroy the enemy by a complete and overwhelming blow. It would be in the recollection of the House that in June last both he himself and an hon. Member on the opposite benches—a man who had had great experience in navigating the Indian seas—urged the necessity of employing steam-vessels in preference to sailing ships in conveying the troops then about to be sent out to India. They were, however, overruled, for the First Lord of the Admiralty, and he believed the Secretary too, stood up and told the House that sailing vessels would perform the voyage as soon as steam-vessels. He (Sir Charles Napier) asked, had they done so? He had read them a communication showing that sailing vessels had not arrived in the same time, nor anything like it. The steamers had arrived at their destination in five or six weeks shorter time on an average than the sailing vessels. He said that was a grievous error on the part of the Admiralty, and it was a fit subject for the House to inquire whether the country was ruled by people who understood their business or by those who did not. He admitted that after they opened their eyes—which it took them a precious long time to do—the Admiralty made the greatest efforts to repair the blunder they had committed, as did also the Prime Minister, the Secretary for War, and the rest of the Government. He did not blame the noble Lord at the head of the Government for not sending the troops across the Isthmus of Suez, as some had urged him to do, inasmuch as he could never calculate upon what number of sailing vessels could be got there for conveying them on to India. This led him to another question. It was stated the other night elsewhere that one reason why the troops were not sent out to India in men-of-war was that officers in the navy had a great disinclination for such a service. That feeling might prevail among them to a certain extent. He could understand a captain of a man-of-war disliking, under ordinary circumstances, to carry troops in a fully-manned ship to Portsmouth or Plymouth; but in such a crisis as this Indian rebellion he did not know a captain in the navy who would not have been delighted to sail to India on such a service. If they were to land her marines, and take out her lower-deck guns, such a ship as the Duke of Wellington, for instance, would carry 1,000 or 1,200 troops out with all the ease in the world. Why, then, had that not been done? It was not the fault of the Government; it was the fault of the House of Commons and those hon. Gentlemen who led it. After the Crimean war was over the universal opinion of the House was, that we should keep up our army and navy, and never let them be reduced so low again. When Parliament met in 1857 we had a navy on the home station of ten sail of the line, and a disposable army. But the dissolution of Parliament was decided on, and then arose the cry of retrenchment. And who raised that cry? First of all, the noble Lord the Member for the City of London (Lord John Russell), then the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone), and then the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli). It was those three distinguished individuals who raised the cry of economy and retrenchment, and he (Sir Charles Napier) remembered standing up in his place and doing the best he could to dissuade the noble Lord at the head of the Government from being led away by it. The noble Lord did not choose to take his advice. He (Sir Charles Napier) supposed, like all Ministers, he had a certain degree of fear that he might lose his place. What, then, did the House do? "Why, they paid off the navy by wholesale—discharging marines, seamen, boys, almost everybody, in fact, connected with the service, right and left. If those ships had not been paid off, in something like forty-eight hours any one of the men-of-war on the home station could have been prepared to sail with 1,200 troops; and let the House conceive, what would have been the effect in Calcutta if a squadron of ten or twelve sail of the line, each conveying 1,000 or 1,200 soldiers, had arrived there? Its salute would have been heard all over India, and produced the most salutary effect on the Native population. He did not mean to say that Cawnpore might have been saved; but what would have been the result in the garrison at Lucknow, the very next news from which might be—but God forbid that it should be so—that our whole army there had been destroyed, and the women and children butchered? Before, however, so horrible a tragedy should be committed with innocent women and children as was enacted at Cawnpore, he trusted General Havelock would have sufficient courage to place them on his magazine and blow the whole of them up. No English General ever would permit women, still less his own countrywomen and their children, to be so outraged if he himself had the means of terminating their lives at once. The General in command there would take the whole responsibility of such a last resource upon himself, fearful as it might be, and would fight to the last moment, as would every soldier under his command, rather than that a single woman or child should be touched by such infernal villains. The last news from Lucknow was that the garrison were short of provisions, and that they were obliged to kill their own gun-bullocks. What of that? Rather than that the people about him should starve for want of food, if he were General Havelock, he would kill every Hindoo that came in his way and eat him. [Great laughter.] Hon. Members might laugh; he spoke his own sentiments. A bit of a Hindoo would certainly not be a very agreeable meal; but he would destroy every one of them rather than allow a single hair of the head of any woman or child to be touched by such inhuman ruffians. He trusted, however, they would soon have better news from Lucknow than the last, and that Almighty Providence, which had done so much for us already in this crisis, and a great deal more than we had done for ourselves, would protect our unfortunate countrymen and women, and that General Havelock would still be able to hold his own.


said, as this was an occasion when the House was called upon to pay a tribute of respect and admiration to a distinguished individual, he ventured to rise merely as a representative from a particular portion of the empire, in order that the people of Ireland might be understood as joining in the general feeling of admiration of the gallantry displayed by the heroic man who was the subject of this discussion. He would willingly support the proposition to prolong the grant if such a Motion were consistent with the rules of the House, which, however, he was told was not the case. But it was not by any money test that the value of the services of such a man could be ascertained, and the expressed feelings of the House and the country could not fail to be highly gratifying to him who was the object of such praise. At the same time, without seeking to detract from the greatness of the service performed by Sir H. Havelock, he might observe that there were not only other generals, but also soldiers in a humbler sphere, who also had a right to the consideration of the House and of the country. He trusted, therefore, that while they were rewarding General Havelock, they would not forget that there were others also who were entitled to their highest gratitude. Some of these men were unfortunately now no more, but he trusted the House would forgive him as he was induced to make that remark from the recollection of one now no more, who had been his contemporary and friend—the gallant Nicholson; a man who by his great mind and powerful energy had been enabled to enlist in our cause the Sikh nation, and had thereby been our salvation in India. To him was due the suppression of the Sealcote mutiny, and by him, in conjunction with Sir H. Lawrence, the important district of the Punjab was preserved free from any further taint of rebellion. The widowed mother of that gallant officer was now residing in a northern town of Ireland, having previously lost a son in the Affghan war, while a third son had lost his arm in the attack upon Delhi. He (Mr. O'Brien) would be wanting in his duty if, at a time when those honours were being paid which were valued by high-spirited men more than mere money, he had not come forward, as an Irish gentleman, to state facts which would insure to that poor lady in her affliction the consoling thought that her gallant son's services had elicited the enthusiastic approbation of an assembly of English gentlemen. He thought honour was due to all brave men—generals, subalterns—down to Private Scully, who, at the hazard of his life, fired the train which blew up the gates of Delhi.


said, that while concurring in everything that had been said with respect to the bravery of our gallant defenders in India, and in the expediency of acknowledging their most important services, he must yet remind the House that they were assembled that night for the express purpose of considering the particular case of General Havelock. This short debate, however, would not be without its use, if it showed Her Majesty's Ministers that if they thought fit to extend rewards such a measure would meet with the highest approbation of the House and the country. Without wishing for a moment to detract from the merits of a single man who had been mentioned, he asked the gallant Generals who had spoken whether a case in which an officer had shown great talents in the field in moving large bodies of troops was not a case of superior skill than was evinced in attacking fortresses, however gallant and however successful such attacks might be? Was it not, therefore, a case of special service where an officer had evinced great military talents in moving armies over a great space of country under circumstances of appalling difficulty; and did not such conduct call for particular admiration and reward on the part of Her Majesty? In this case, the gallant Havelock was between sixty and seventy years of age, so that in any case the proposed reward was but a very small one. No doubt it was wise in the Government to study economy in such matters, until they had tested the feeling of the representatives of the people; it was evincing a good discretion not to come to the House for a very large reward. But when the universal opinion of the House and of the people had been so loudly expressed as it had been in this case, he thought that it would be their pleasure, as their duty, to increase that reward.


said, he was willing to accept the reward now offered to General Havelock as an instalment of future honours; and he was quite sure that the House of Commons would accede at any time to pecuniary rewards which Her Majesty thought ought to be offered to such gallant men. Having said thus much, he must say that he could not hear the services of a very eminent man derided by any hon. Member speaking of him as a man who had received a peerage for writing a book. It must be remembered that there were other services worthy of record besides military services. The proceedings of the House of Commons had been rendered more illustrious than ever by the graphic pen of the historian; and he believed that the advice to Her Majesty, in consequence of which Mr. Macaulay was made a Peer, was advice which was quite in accordance with the wishes of the people.


said, he rose as a friend of the Havelock family, and one who had served for twenty years in the same regiment with the late Colonel W. Havelock, to express his cordial concurrence in the praise which had been bestowed on the gallant General. He came of a race of heroes. His brother, who might be known to some as the "fair-haired boy," was he who saved a division of the Duke of Wellington's army, and for that service he was rewarded with a lieutenant colonelcy in the 14th Light Dragoons, and who finally lost his life at Ramnuggur. He (Captain Scott) had addressed the House because the Havelock family might have considered it extraordinary if he had not expressed his disappointment and dissatisfaction with this life annuity to be granted to Sir Henry Havelock. He must express his disappointment at the inadequate reward to be bestowed upon that gallant officer. The family of the Havelocks was not a wealthy family. The late Colonel W. Havelock had nothing but his pay to depend upon, and he believed Sir Henry Havelock had nothing more, having for many years remained a subaltern, which he would not have done had he been possessed of means to enable him to purchase his steps. Upon his death the value of his commission would be lost, as in the case of his brother, and his family would lose the benefit of the annuity now proposed to endure only during the lifetime of Sir Henry Havelock. His son, a young man in the army, was probably dependent upon his pay, and at the death of his father he would find himself hampered with a title with nothing but his pay to support it. Under these circumstances he thought it very hard that the annuity should not pass for two lives.


said, that as a military man he should be sorry to give a silent vote upon this interesting question. In common with his brother officers he looked upon the conduct of Sir Henry Havelock as an honour to the British nation, and as forming one of the brightest pages in our history. He was sure that the Government, in recognition of such gallant services, seeing. the sense of the House and the feeling of the public, would be inclined to deal in a liberal spirit as regarded money matters with Sir H. Havelock. If he should be spared, as God grant he might be, he had no doubt that further honours would be in store for General Havelock; for he was satisfied that nothing could surpass the conduct of that officer and of General Wilson. As other names had been mentioned, he might be allowed to say that in his opinion there was no record of any siege in modern times at all to be compared, either with respect to the difficulties to be overcome or the success of the operations, to the siege of Delhi. It had been attacked by a force sometimes not exceeding 2,500, although it possessed a population of a warlike character to the amount of 100,000, and actual defenders to the number of 50,000 or 60.000. We might gather what had been at all times the warlike character of the inhabitants of Delhi from the exploits of Tamerlane, who had prefaced his operations against the city nearly 500 years ago by massacring in cold blood 100,000 Hindoo prisoners, and by the difficulties experienced by Nadir Shah somewhat more than three centuries later. He certainly must say that the success of the recent siege appeared to him to be marvellous, considering that our men were decimated by disease, and were suffering from the heat of the climate, from sun-stroke, from cholera, and from hard work. All military men agreed that there was no instance of such a siege being undertaken except by regular parallels and under cover of regular approaches; but General Wilson had adopted the bold, daring, and dangerous measure of establishing batteries in the open air, as it was termed, the last battery being actually within 150 yards of the place. There was nothing on record equal to that. He made a breach in the walls and stormed the place without those supports which all military men thought to be necessary. The General, however, was moved by moral and political reasons which were superior to all other considerations. We might have the whole of North-Western India against us, if the place were not taken, and he knew the importance of striking a bold and decisive blow at once, when delay would have been utter ruin. To give an idea of the desperate nature of the attack, it was enough to state that of the engineers engaged in it ten fell in the storming party, including the gallant Salkeld, who was first at the Cashmere Gate, and the no less gallant Home and Hovenden. All these had been pupils of his (Sir F. Smith's), and he need not say that he was proud of his scholars. The last-named officer, having been only shot in the leg, had written to him with his usual spirit. "I got a brick of a grenadier to lift me on his shoulders and carry me in." I will only mention one fact more to show the desperate and determined nature of this assault. Of the eighteen ladders that advanced with the Second Column, five were knocked over at the glacis, and of the ninety men who were carrying them thirty were killed or wounded, and there were not sufficient men to form skirmishers to the ladder party, or to support it. Such were some of the details of the desperate attack made by the gallant Wilson upon Delhi, the success of which was fraught with such vital consequences to our cause.


said, he rose to express his belief that there was not an Irishman whose heart would not beat and whose eye would not glisten as he heard recorded the brilliant achievements of the gallant man to whom the Government now proposed to grant a pension of £1,000 a-year. He must say that he looked upon that pension as quite inadequate, and when they considered that at that moment General Havelock might be no more, and that his family were not in affluent circumstances, he thought that it was the duty of the Government to provide for the family in case of a fatal casualty arising to the General. The East India Company had set a very good example in this respect, having determined that Lady Neill should receive a pension of £500 a-year, and Mrs. Nicholson, the mother of the late General, a like amount. He should be glad to see that example followed in the present instance. He could not agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford that it was improper for Members of that House to interfere with these questions, on the ground that they appertained to the prerogative of the Crown. He considered it to be a most important part of their duty to express their approval of measures of this nature, and he thought that the circumstance that the people had at all times the right of expressing their opinion upon such subjects constituted a strong link between the people and the Sovereign.


said, that a step in the right direction had been taken by allowing the widows of officers to assume the same title that they would have had if the officers had themselves survived to enjoy the honours; and he thought that the example which had been set by the East India Company of giving pensions to the widows of deceased officers who fell in the execution of their duty might very properly be followed by the Government. This observation appeared to him to be particularly applicable to the present case, for General Havelock—to whose heroism and intrepidity they were paying a tribute—might be at that moment beyond the influence of earthly reward and earthly praises. In such a case he was sure that it would only be in accordance with the wishes of the Sovereign that an annuity—either of one-half that conferred on the husband, or of some other amount—should be bestowed upon the widow; and, seeing the strong feeling that there was in the House upon the subject, he hoped that the Government would introduce some provision of that nature.

Bill read 2°, and committed for Tomorrow.

House adjourned at half after Eight o'clock.