HC Deb 08 February 1858 vol 148 cc862-5

said, he wished to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether it is true that General Ashburnham proceeded from China to India in pursuance of instructions from home, and whether he has since returned to England, and, if so, under what circumstances, whether voluntarily or whether he has just been recalled; and, in the latter case, whether there be any objection to state on what grounds?


Sir, it is well known that General Ashburnham was sent out from this country to take the command of the forces which were intended to operate against Canton. Those forces have been diverted from their destination at the request of Lord Canning, in order to reinforce the troops which have been engaged in India. In consequence of this, and of the necessary suspension of any active operations against Canton for an indefinite time, General Ashburnham was directed by the Commander in Chief to leave China and to go to India, in the expectation that his services might possibly be useful in India in some active operations in the field. General Ashburnham went, therefore, to India; but on arriving at Calcutta he found that he should have no opportunity of obtaining active employment in the field, and likewise that there was not room upon the Staff for an officer of his rank. He waited there for three or four weeks, and, finding that there was no immediate prospect of any active employment in India, he thought it best to return home and to place himself at the disposal of the Commander in Chief in this country. He was not recalled, because there was not time for the fact to become known at home that there was no employment suited for him in India; but he came home of his own accord, and placed himself at the disposal of the Commander in Chief.


said, that the question was one which involved honour and character, and he must throw himself, therefore, upon the indulgence of the House. [Calls of "Order!"] He would, however, put himself in order by moving the adjournment of the House.


I have usually observed that in eases where the honour or character of individuals is involved the House is in the habit of allowing a departure from its strict rules. If it is the pleasure of the House to take that course on the present occasion I trust that the proceeding will be confined to individual explanation, and that it will not be allowed to lead to a debate.


said, that be would not trespass longer upon the time of the House than would be absolutely necessary for the purpose of an explanation. He was obliged to his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Midhurst (Mr. Warren) for having done him the honour to ask whether he thought the question would be a proper one to put, and he at once replied to his hon. and learned Friend that, judging from his own feelings and from a knowledge of the high character and honour of General Ashburnham, he believed that, so far from such a question being regarded as an unfriendly act, it would confer the greatest possible favour upon General Ashburnham, because it would afford him the earliest opportunity of making an explanation of the circumstances under which he had returned to this country. Those circumstances had been most correctly stated by the noble Lord at the head of the Government; but, as his gallant Friend had intrusted him (General Peel) with a detailed account of the matter, he would, with the permission of the House, read to them General Ashburnham's statement. It was as follows:— On the 26th of October I received official notice of my nomination as Lieutenant General on the stiff in India, with directions to proceed to Calcutta, in company with the senior officers of the general staff in China, Colonels Pakenham and Wetherall. I took my departure from Hong Kong on the 17th November by the first direct opportunity. On arrival in Calcutta I found no instructions awaiting me, and the Governor General informed me that he knew of no way in which my services could be employed. I reported my arrival by telegraph to the Commander in Chief, then at Cawnpore, stating what I had learnt from the Governor General, and adding that if there were no employment open to me I wished to return to England. In answer to this I received the following telegram from the chief of the staff:—'Your message has been laid before the Commander in Chief. You can learn from Colonel Birch the decision as taken regarding Lieutenant General Beresford, whose case is similar to yours. I will write at length by post and convey his Excellency's views to you.' I immediately went to Colonel Birch, Military Secretary to Government, and learnt from him that Lieutenant General Beresford remained in command of the division he held, as Major General, previous to his appointment as Lieutenant General. Some days after I got the following letter from the Chief of the Staff, dated Cawnpore, the 12th of December: 'Sir—I have the honour, by desire of the Commander in Chief, to inform you that there is no command in the field to offer to an officer of your rank at present. It would appear that the only mode in which your services may be made available at this time is the command of such division as the Governor General in Council may be pleased to put under your orders. When Government shall have decided on this question his Excellency will take care that you shall be instantly informed. (Signed.) M. MANSFIELD, Chief of the Staff.' After this I had some further conversation with the Governor General, who offered me command of the Lahore Division, about to become vacant. I replied that, having been appointed (as an exceptional case) Lieutenant General on the Staff, I did not conceive I should fulfil the intentions of his Royal Highness by taking command of a permanent district removed from the scene of action, and that my acceptance of such a command would deprive other officers of a post to which they were entitled by recent distinguished service in the field. I added, that I should be happy to take the command of any force, however small, on active service. It should be borne in mind that the command of a division is the best appointment open to a military man in India, excepting that of Commander in Chief. My acceptance of such appointment, to the exclusion of any of those officers whose rank befitted them for it, and at a time when many had rendered such brilliant service, would surely have seemed an act of injustice. What would the people of England have said if I had obtained such a prize before Major General Sir Archdale Wilson of Delhi? I wrote accordingly to his Excellency the Commander in Chief that, as there was no command in the field open to me, I proposed returning at once to England, and it was notified by the Military Secretary of Government that the Governor General had no objection to my so doing. That was the whole history of the case. He admitted on the part of General Ashburnham that he was aware that he might have been guilty of a breach of military etiquette in not awaiting in India until be received permission from the Commander in Chief to return to England; but he trusted that the House would agree with him that his gallant Friend had been actuated only by the most honourable motives in wishing, as he could not obtain a com- mand in the field, not to supersede other officers who had distinguished themselves in the service.