HC Deb 09 July 1858 vol 151 cc1190-4

said, he had placed upon the paper a Motion relative to the clothing and ammunition of British troops in India, a subject of the highest importance as it affected the efficiency of our troops in that country. They had in India a small body of Englishmen, who had to contend against tenfold odds, and it was self-evident that in order to enable them to do so successfully it was essential that they should be supplied with clothing suited to the climate in which they were employed, and that their ammunition should be of the very best description. That, he was sure, was the wish of the House and of the country, and it was the universal belief that our army in India was in every respect most suitably clothed and equipped. He feared, however, from what had lately appeared in the public prints, that this was not exactly the state of the case, but that, so far from our troops being clothed in a manner suitable to the climate, some of them retained the clothing they were accustomed to wear in this country, minus, in one instance, shoes and stockings. He held in his hand an extract from the last letter received from the correspondent of The Times newspaper in India, who said— Whatever the exact nature of the attack may be, it is evident that the best preventive must be found in protecting the head and the body from the sun, and I own I am distressed when I see the 60th Rifles dressed in dark-green tunics, which absorb the heat almost as much as if they were made of black cloth, and their cloth forage caps poorly covered with a few folds of dark cotton. What shall we say of the 79th Highlanders, who still wear that picturesque and extraordinary headdress, with the addition of a flap of grey cloth over the ears? If it were white, perhaps it would afford some protection against the sun, but, as it is, this mass of black feathers is surely not the headdress that would be chosen by any one, except a foolish fantastic savage, for the plains of India. The most decisive argument against it, however, is afforded by the objection of the men, who say they would much rather be without the bonnet. Can the most learned antiquaries ascertain the period when the trade in ostrich plumes between Africa and the Highlands was so brisk as to afford material for this national military headdress? I regret to say, indeed, that in some points our soldiers here are not so well provided for as they might be. At home you will be surprised, and perhaps disgusted, to hear that many of the men of the Highland regiments are without stockings to their feet, and that their shoes are worn through and through, nor can they get any others. It was unnecessary for him (Lord Elcho) to dilate upon the importance of doing all that could be done to promote the comfort and efficiency of the army employed in India. It would be necessary in future to maintain a large British force in that part of the world, and it was impossible to foresee the difficulties that might arise in obtaining a sufficient supply of recruits. It appeared that in this instance somebody must have been blameable, but he hoped it was an exceptional case, and that the Secretary for War would be able to give a satisfactory answer to the questions which he (Lord Elcho) was about to put to him. With regard to the ammunition supplied to the army, he found that The Times' correspondent made the following statement:— The Enfield ammunition of some regiments is so bad, so infamously made, that it almost destroys the utility of the weapon. When will the authorities have the courage to hang a fraudulent contractor? Imagine the men of the 79th being obliged to hammer down their cartridges by striking the head of the ramrod against a stone in the wall, and, even when loaded after this fashion, the weapon is rendered useless by the rim of the bullet sticking in the breach. It appeared to him that this was a very sorry return for the large amount of public money expended upon the establishment at Woolwich for the manufacture of small arms. He had visited that establishment, and could state that nothing could be more efficient than the manufacture of ammunition for the Enfield rifles. The machinery by which it was made was exceedingly well adapted to the purpose, and the general work turned out was in every respect satisfactory. It appeared, therefore, as if some mistake had been made, and the ammunition to which the correspondent of The Times referred was probably old ammunition, or some which had been made up in India. [An hon. GENTLEMAN: Read on] He (Lord Elcho) knew it was stated in the letter that the ammunition appeared to have been made up in India, and the cartridges might have been manufactured in an inferior manner in that country, or—as he knew that some of the ammunition originally manufactured for the Minié rifles was very defective—it was probable that some old ammunition might have been served out by mistake. It was well known that when accounts were received from the Crimea, describing the state in which the troops then were, the enlistment of recruits was materially affected, and he feared it was not improbable, if an impression got abroad that our army in India was not properly provided for, a similar effect might be produced. He hoped the case to which he had referred was a purely accidental one, and that care would be taken that for the future no ground of complaint should be afforded. He begged to ask the Secretary of State for War whether due provision was made by the Government for insuring to every British soldier on landing in India a supply of clothing suitable to the climate, and the best ammunition which this country could produce?


said, his noble Friend had placed a notice upon the paper of his intention to put a question to him respecting the troops in India; but as the noble Lord did not state what the nature of the question was to be, he (General Peel) felt some difficulty in answering it. Indeed, he always felt great difficulty in answering any question as to anything relating to our troops in India, for he received no report whatever from the Commander in Chief in India, or any information beyond what was conveyed to him through the India Board. With regard to clothing, the regular clothing was served out to the troops serving in India, and was sent out from this country to India. One year they received the tunics, and the next year the serge frocks, and the difference in the price of those articles was paid to the soldiers, to enable them to purchase the light clothing which was furnished by the East India Company. He knew nothing about what was done in India. All the light clothing was served out by the Company, and he had no report of anything that happened to any regiment after its arrival in India. He could not understand how any portion of the troops could have been in want of boots or shoes, as was stated by the newspaper correspondent to whom his noble Friend had alluded, as every regiment sent out from this country was supplied with a year's clothing, and with boots which would last for a year. He might state that 50,000 pairs of boots and 7,000 pairs of the description of shoes worn by the Highland regiments had been sent out. With regard to the ammunition supplied to the army, he conceived that that was one of the most serious questions that could be brought under the consideration of Parliament. If the ammunition for the Enfield rifle was not most carefully attended to, the rifle itself would be perfectly useless. He had no opportunity of knowing, as he had said before, whether the ammunition now complained of had been sent from this country or had been made up in India. Every soldier who had gone out had been furnished with 600 rounds of ammunition, which was manufactured at Woolwich, and which he had no doubt was of the best quality. A great quantity of balls and paper for the manufacture of cartridges had also been sent out to India for the East India Company. It was therefore impossible for him to say whether the ammunition complained of had been made in India, or had been sent out from this country. This most extraordinary fact, however, he might state—that he had seen private letters, written by every mail from Sir Colin Campbell and the Generals commanding detached corps, to the Commander in Chief, who had had the goodness to forward them to him, and he had never found the slightest complaint in any one of them. The instant he found, from the private letters of officers, that with regard to one division of the army—that of Sir Hugh Rose—there were complaints of the ammunition, orders were sent out to Sir Colin Campbell to institute the fullest inquiry with regard to the ammunition, clothing, and supplies of the troops. He had, however, received no information whatever from officers in command in India, and therefore he could only speak upon the same authority as that upon which the noble Lord relied—namely, information derived from private sources.


said, he would take this opportunity for replying to the two questions which had been addressed to him, and at the same time for saying a few words in corroboration of what had fallen from his right hon. Friend. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Vernon Smith) had asked what were the intentions of the Government with regard to the publication of papers respecting the insurrection in India. He begged to say that he had given directions that the publication of those papers, which had for a time been discontinued, should be renewed, and that a selection from them should be printed. He had also been asked whether any compensation would be given to British settlers who had suffered loss from disturbances in India.

He found that as early as December last, instructions were sent out from this country to the Governor General of India to procure evidence and information with reference to claims of that description; and he was desired, as soon as the state of the country would permit, to appoint a Commission to investigate those claims. He (Lord Stanley) believed that Commission had been appointed, but its Report had not yet been received. His noble Friend (Lord Elcho) had put a question to the Secretary for War with regard to the clothing and ammunition supplied to the troops. He could confirm what his right hon. Friend had said, that light clothing was supplied by the Indian Government to every regiment which arrived in India. What became of that clothing after it was issued to the regiment he had no means of knowing; but he apprehended that, if it had not been used by any troops in the field, that was a matter for which those directly in command were responsible, rather than either the East India Company or the authorities at home. As to the Enfield rifle ammunition supplied to the troops, there was no doubt that some part of it was found very defective. Instructions were sent out on the 8th of last month to inquire minutely into these defects, and, as far as possible, to amend them. Skilled workmen were being sent out from England, and machinery was also being forwarded by which defective bullets, either too large or not of the proper shape, could be made fit for use. Government had acted without delay or the information which had reached them, and he believed that all necessary steps had been taken to remedy that very serious cause of complaint.