HC Deb 31 July 1857 vol 147 cc815-25

SIR JOHN PAKINGTON rose, in pursuance of notice, to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether he will lay upon the Table of the House the Report made by the late Lieutenant General Sir Charles Napier to the Duke of Wellington upon the organization, &c. of the Bengal Army. Perhaps the House might for a moment be of opinion that this question had already been put, and that the request had been already complied with, as they had a paper which purported to be an extract from the despatch of Sir C. Napier. But there was one paper which had been asked for, and which had not been adverted to in any one of the answers given upon this subject; and he had received private information of a reliable character, from which he believed that that paper which had not yet been produced was of very great importance. When the noble Lord at the head of the Government stated, in answer to the hon. and gallant Member for East Norfolk (General Windham) and his right hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), that the papers of the late Sir Charles Napier did not refer to the organization of the Bengal Army, but to the external defences of the country, he must say he thought at the time that the noble Lord was entirely mistaken. He (Sir J. Pakington) had reason to believe there were two distinct papers, of different dates, from Sir C. Napier, to one of which the noble Lord had adverted, but the other of which he had not noticed. The question of his right hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire referred to a Report made by the late Sir Charles Napier to the late Duke of Wellington, upon the stale of the Bengal Army, whereas the noble Lord spoke only of the external defences. He had felt it to be his duty to make inquiries again, lest he might have been deceived as to the existence of two Reports, and upon making those inquiries found his suspicions confirmed. He affirmed that two distinct Reports were made by Sir C. Napier, for he found that, although the Report of which the noble Lord spoke came to the Horse Guards, it was not made directly by Sir C. Napier to the Duke of Wellington, but was presented in the first instance to the Marquess of Dalhousie, and forwarded by the Marquess of Dalhousie to the Horse Guards. The Report presented to the House was written on the 27th of November, 1849, and in that despatch there was a passage which corroborated the statement which he had just made with respect to the existence of a second despatch. It ran thus:— There are some things which admit of correction; this may be put right when the Commander in Chief is placed on a proper footing, but not till then. I shall consider this matter in another letter. It was to that other letter that all these inquiries had been directed, and to that other letter the noble Lord had not referred in any of the answers which he had given to the House. He was informed that it was written early in the year 1850—that it was a Report of considerable length—that it adverted in extenso to the organization of the Bengal Army, to the state of that army, to the grievances of which the troops complained, and to the remedy which Sir C. Napier thought ought to be afforded. If he were correctly informed, the Report went on to foretell the evils which would inevitably result, unless the Government with a bold hand dealt with the condition of the Bengal Army. He thought at least it was clear that, if the Government objected to the production of that Report, it could not be for the reason assigned for not producing the other—namely, that as it related to the external defences of India, the public interest required that it should not be produced. The Report which he now asked for had nothing to do with the external defences of India, but related exclusively to the condition of the Bengal Army. He could not but think that, at this moment of exciting interest, a Report of so important a character would be most acceptable to Parliament. He therefore called the noble Lord's attention to what he conceived to be the misapprehension under which the noble Lord had answered former inquiries. He was sure the noble Lord had not intended to divert the attention of the House from one Report to another, and he was convinced the noble Lord was under some misapprehension with regard to this subject. He wished, therefore, to ask the noble Lord whether he was rightly informed that such a Report existed, and, if so, whether there would be any objection to lay it upon the table of the House?


said, he wished to state, in answer to the question of the hon. and learned Member for Southwark (Mr. John Locke) that as soon as his noble Friend at the head of the Foreign Department became aware of the circumstances to which his hon. Friend has referred he put himself in communication with a commissioner from Venezuela, who was then in England, but who was about to return to his own country. Lord Clarendon stated to him what he had heard, and urged him to bring the matter under the serious attention of his Government immediately upon his return. Al the same time instructions were given to Her Majesty's Chargé d' Affaires at Venezuela to take whatever steps he might think necessary. Sufficient time had not yet elapsed to enable the Government to receive an answer to either of those communications, but he could assure his hon. and learned Friend that Lord Clarendon would adopt such measures as the case might appear to require. With respect to the question of the right hon. Baronet opposite, the House would remember that upon a former occasion he stated that the Report to which he understood the question of the right hon. Member for Bucks and the hon. and gallant Member for Norfolk to refer was, not a Report made to the Duke of Wellington by Sir Charles Napier, but one addressed by the latter to the Marquess of Dalhousie, of which a copy was sent in a private letter from Sir Charles Napier to the Duke of Welling ton. At the same time he stated that that Report did not relate to the organization of the Bengal Army, but reform generally to the external defences of India, more especially as connected with the recent acquisitions in the Punjab. He told the House that there were passages in that Report which did relate to the condition and discipline of the Indian armies, and that he would lay those passages upon the table. That promise had been fulfilled this morning; but the right hon. Baronet now stated that the questions of the right hon. Member for Bucks and the hon. and gallant Member for Norfolk related to another and a subsequent Report, and in confirmation of that statement he had quoted one passage from the extracts which had been laid on the table, in which Sir Charles Napier said that his observations upon certain matters mentioned in his Report would be made in a subsequent letter. That letter the right hon. Baronet thought must have been addressed to the Duke of Wellington and not to the Marquess of Dalhousie, and must have been written some time in 1850. It was more probable, however, that the letter, if written, was addressed to the Marquess of Dalhousie and not to the Duke of Wellington, because the first document was a Report to the Governor General, and not to the Commander in Chief in England, with whom the Commander in Chief in India had no official connection. He had now to state to the House that when the questions of the right hon. Member for Bucks and the hon. and gallant Member for Norfolk were first put he made inquiries and was informed that the Report to which his answer related, and from which he had given extracts, was the only Report found at the Horse Guards to answer the description which had been given, and that even this was only found after some delay among private papers. After the statement of the right hon. Baronet, however, he would make more minute inquiries, and if there was such a paper as that to which allusion had been made, and if it contained nothing more than what the right hon. Baronet supposed, he was not aware that there would be any objection to its production; but of course he must read it before he could make any promise on the subject.


said, he rose to call the attention of the House to the petition of the Hindoo inhabitants of Bengal, Behar, and Orissa, for themselves and the other Hindoo inhabitants of the said provinces, in the Appendix to Report from Select Committee on Indian territories, 1853, p. 429. In connection with this petition he was desirous, however, of bringing under the notice of the House the following passage in a communication addressed by Major General Hearsay, to the Deputy Adjutant General of the Bengal Army, and dated, Barrackpore, January 28, 1857:— I beg leave to report for the information of Government that an ill-feeling is said to subsist in the minds of the Sepoys of the regiments at Barrackpore. A report has been spread by some designing persons, most likely Brahmins or agents of the religious Hindoo party in Calcutta (I believe it is called the Dhurma Sobha), that they (the Sepoys) are to be forced to embrace the Christian faith. In the fourth paragraph of the same communication the writer said:— Perhaps those Hindoos who are opposed to the marriage of widows in Calcutta are using underhand means to thwart Government in abolishing the restraints lately removed by law for the marriage of widows, and conceive if they can make a party of the ignorant classes in the ranks of the army believe their religion or religious prejudices are eventually to be abolished by force, and by force they are all to be made Christians, and thus, by shaking their faith in Government, lose the confidence of their officers by inducing Sepoys to commit offences (such as incendiarism) so difficult to put a stop to or to prove, they will gain their object. He (Mr. Whiteside), however, had been informed by a gentleman who had resided fifteen years in Calcutta that these statements of Major General Hearsey were to the last degree improbable. The society referred to in the first extract, he had told him, contained some of the largest landed proprietors, the most distinguished literary persons, and the wealthiest native merchants in Calcutta—men who might be truly said to represent the public and the Natives of that vast territory, and it would be most unfortunate indeed if those powerful and influential persons had really turned against us, inasmuch as we might find it very difficult to hold the country against them. What Major General Hearsey doubtless referred to was a matter of some importance. It had been stated more than once on the part of the East India Directors that they had passed no law except one dealing with what they called the atrocious practice of depriving a man converted to Christianity of his inheritance, and the Chairman had assured the House that no interference had taken place with caste,—a point of great importance, because it affected the opinions and actions of 100,000,000 of people. The Marquess of Dalhousie had taken credit to himself for the passing of the law in question; but according to the statement of the gentleman to whom he had already referred, that law had caused greater alarm and apprehension over the whole territory belonging to the East India Company than any other which had been enacted since England obtained sway in that country. The words of the Act were:— So much of any law or usage now in force within the territories subject to the East India Company as inflicts on any person forfeiture of rights or property, or may be held in any way to impair or affect any right of inheritance, by reason of his or her renouncing or having been excluded from the communion of any religion, or being deprived of caste, shall cease to be enforced as law in the courts of the East India Company and in the courts established by Royal charter within the same territories. What happened when the law was passed in 1850? All the chief landed proprietors, wealthy merchants, and eminent literary persons in Calcutta addressed a memorial against it to the East India Company. The Directors promised to take their representations into consideration, but they did not do so, and the memorial—which though emanating from Hindoos, was one of the most masterly papers he had ever read—was sent to Parliament. It had very likely been forgotten by the House, but was extremely important as expressing the opinions of wealthy and powerful Hindoos. The memorialists, or petitioners, went deeply into all the questions involved in the obnoxious law, which they strongly condemned as a breaking down of every barrier which religion, law, and custom had raised for the protection of Hindoo society, citing instances in which its operation would wound them in their tenderest and most cherished feelings. The petitioners stated that they had no objection to the Act so far as it applied to persons who had lost caste by a change of religion, but that there were many other ways in which caste might be lost—for instance, by neglect of the ceremonies in honour of the dead, and adultery on the part of a woman. In short, they regarded the Act in its entirety as subversive of Hindoo society, and they added that they did not feel called upon to defend their religion, which had been handed down to them from their ancestors, and which was the religion of 100,000,000 of people. That petition emanated from some of the first men in Calcutta—not from armed Sepoys who had deserted their colours, but from men of station, wealth, and intelligence. He thought the petition was very suggestive, and well worthy of the consideration of Parliament, and therefore, he should move at a later period that that Appendix be reprinted.


remarked that he thought the hon. and learned Gentleman had taken a course which went beyond even the usual licence of discussion upon the question of adjournment, for, having given notice of his intention to move for the reprinting of a petition presented in 1853, he had proceeded at once to discuss that petition before the document had been made known to the House. Had he (Mr. Vernon Smith) been aware of the hon. and learned Gentleman's intention he should have been prepared to answer more fully his observations, but there was one matter which he was desirous of noticing at once. The hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to impute some indiscretion to General Hearsey, a distinguished officer of the Bengal army, but one of the very last men who would make any imputation upon the Hindoos that he did not believe to be correct. That officer was married to a Hindoo lady, and was without doubt one of the most popular officers in India; and his popularity was based upon his thorough acquaintance with the language and habits of the people. With respect to the Act to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred, it was true that it was passed in 1850, but it was intended as the development of an Act of 1832, and it was so stated in the preamble of the Act of 1850. A petition was afterwards presented in 1853 to the Committee, and evidence was taken, but nothing had been done since then, as far as he (Mr. Vernon Smith) was aware, by the petitioners or the Society referred to, to counteract the effect of the Act, nor had they addressed the Court of Directors upon it. The Court of Directors in 1851 intimated their entire approval of the provisions of the Act. Upon the 9th of April, 1850, the Marquess of Dalhousie wrote as follows:— The Government will, doubtless, continue as heretofore to administer to Hindoos the general body of Hindoo law; but I conceive that the Government will not do its duty if it leaves unchanged any portion of that law which inflicts personal injury on any one by reason of his religious belief. In now acting on this principle I can see no semblance of interference with the religion of the Hindoos, nor any unauthorised interference with rights secured to them. That was the opinion of the Marquess of Dalhousie, and he (Mr. Vernon Smith) also deprecated any interference with the religious feelings of the Hindoos; but at the same time he would caution the House against fanaticism of another kind, which would leave the convert to Christianity exposed to loss of rights and privileges. They had been proceeding in one direction for some time, but he hoped there would not be a reaction in the opposite extreme, and that we should not permit Christian converts to be persecuted because of their conversion. He admitted that the policy of the Act of 1850 might be a doubtful matter, and that upon a future occasion it might be necessary to remodel it, and place the whole subject upon a better footing; but he hoped the House would not proceed upon an isolated act, but would treat it as a great question that ought not to be frittered away by partial dealing with particular portions.


observed, that he considered it to be important that the House should be aware of the impression which prevailed in India, of the document that had been referred to. When Sir C. Napier came from India he had a communication with the Duke of Wellington, who desired him to place his ideas respecting the Bengal Army in writing. Sir C. Napier did so, and the memorandum he furnished was forwarded to the Marquess of Dalhousie for his explanation. Those explanations were of such a character that it was not thought necessary to take any further steps in the matter. Such was the impression that prevailed abroad, and it would be desirable to know whether it was a correct impression or not.


said, it was his intention, in addressing the House the other evening, to have alluded to this subject, and to have quoted the opinions, not merely of those persons who felt themselves to be aggrieved by this law, but of other gentlemen of great respectability and impartiality, who felt that great dissatisfaction had arisen in India through the operation of the law referred to by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Whiteside) They had given Imperial pledges that they would maintain the Hindoo and Mahomedan laws of inheritance, and in other especial particulars. It was true that, on the other hand, it was hard that converts to Christianity should be deprived of their rights to property in consequence of their conversion. The feelings of the Hindoos, however, were strong and their prejudices rooted, and without wishing to give undue prominence to the matter, he could not but believe that the law in question had been one among other causes of the wide-spread feeling of discontent which prevailed throughout Hindostan, under the belief that the Government intended to interfere with the exercise of their religion. Then, again, about three years ago a despatch was laid before Parliament changing the fundamental principles upon which education was carried out in India. The former policy was to adopt the purely secular system of education, but the despatch in question introduced the whole system of Privy Council grants to all sects and religions and to every missionary establishment throughout the country. The other day a noble Lord in another place referred to the fact that Viscount Canning had given money in aid of missionary institutions in India. The reply to this was that he had distributed none of the public money for that purpose. But the Natives of India were unable to make any distinction between the public and private acts of the Governor General, and therefore he thought any distribution of money for missionary purposes by Viscount Canning was in the highest degree objectionable. A few nights ago his right hon. Friend (Mr. Vernon Smith) spoke in terms of censure of Colonel Wheeler for having endeavoured to spread Christianity in his regiment; but when the heads of the Government set the example, with what consistency could they find fault with their servants? When the Government of India set an example to their servants in this matter we need not be surprised to find that example imitated. He believed, however, that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Control had acted under the pressure of the House. He felt it his duty to state his opinions to the House on this matter, because he regarded it as one of very great importance. He entreated the Government to take the subject into their serious consideration, for he believed that this, in connection with other causes, had had no slight effect in producing a feeling among the population of India, the consequences of which had been developed so alarmingly in the Native army of Bengal.


, after the fair and proper manner in which the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Whiteside) had brought forward this subject, felt bound to admit in the frankest manner that he (Mr. Mangles) was wrong in what he had stated the other day. He had spoken from memory, and had not seen the law to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred for several years, and he was misled by the circumstance that in the Committee of 1853 one or two gentlemen, one of them a barrister from Calcutta, gave evidence favourable to the views of the society in this matter. The subject of conversion to Christianity and the retention of property by the converts was pointed at, but he did not remember that the question of loss of caste was at all raised. The gentleman to whom he had alluded contended, on the authority of one Sanders, that those who became converts to Christianity might expect to suffer persecution and the loss of their property, and that, therefore, the converts in India had no right to complain if, in becoming Christians and earning all the advantages attached to that profession, they suffered the disadvantages also, one of which was the loss of their worldly goods. He must apologise to the hon. and learned Gentleman, but he hoped he had not contradicted him with anything like rudeness. The law, he might observe, was as applicable to Mahomedans as to Christians. It was intended to save converts from the loss of their property, and he still thought that the law was a wise and a just one.


said, the hon. Baronet had made an attack on the Minute of Education of 1854, which was drawn up, and for which he (Sir C. Wood) was responsible, when he was President of the Board of Control, and he had totally misapprehended the facts when he stated that that Minute was drawn up under any pressure whatever. It was considered with great deliberation, and adopted after having been submitted to the whole Court of Directors. Persons best acquainted with India were consulted on the subject, and they all agreed in opinion that no danger could result from carrying out that Minute to its fullest extent. He would read one or two extracts from the document to show that it was not in any sense open to the charge of introducing a proselytising spirit in India. There was not the slightest feeling against the missionaries as missionaries; but what was very properly objected to was that there should be any attempt on the part of Government or persons in authority acting with Government to endeavour to proselytise in any way whatever. That was an opinion which he very strongly held; it was held by all the members of the Government, and he could truly say that they had ever shown the most scrupulous abstinence from everything that could be construed into interference with the religion of the people of India, whether Mahomedans or Hindoos. The Minute with reference to the Government schools stated that "it was and is indispensable that the education coveyed in these schools should be exclusively secular." Then, with reference to grants in aid, which were given to the schools of all denominations, whether Christian, Jew, Mahomedan, or Hindoo, it was stated, "The system of grants in aid will be based on an entire abstinence from all interference with the religious instruction conveyed in the schools assisted." Requests for aid in certain cases were refused, as being opposed to the religious neutrality to which they had always adhered. It was provided that "schools conducted by all denominations of Christians, Hindoos, Mahomedans, Parsees, Budhists, Jews, or any other religious persuasion, may be affiliated to the Universities." Now, he did not know how it was possible to carry out more completely the principles of religious equality in the schools than was laid down in this Minute, there being, as he had shown, the most careful abstinence from all interference with the religion taught in those schools.

Motion agreed to; House at rising to adjourn till Monday next.