HC Deb 19 March 1858 vol 149 cc427-36

said, he rose "to bring before the House the subject of certain parties professing to obtain Commissions in the Army without purchase or examination, by raising men for Her Majesty's Service." Since he brought this subject before the House on a former evening he had received several communications from persons complaining that commissions in the army were given without examination. There was no branch of the public service of which the people were more justly jealous than the administration and patronage of the army. In The Times of that morning—a journal which both led and followed public opinion—there was an article on General Havelock, of whom the writer said "He had not attained to high rank or high command, for he had no family influence nor political interest at his back;" and "It seemed pretty certain that he had reached the limits of any advancement possible under the circumstances of this peculiar case." That showed the state of public opinion on the question of the advancement in the array. He held in his hand a letter from Mr. Galbraith, a Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, and one of the most distinguished scholars in Ireland, complaining of the want of a proper competitive examination for the scientific branches and higher grades of the service; and upon the same point he would just allude to a letter in The Times of that morning. The particular case which had directed his attention to the subject of commissions in the army might he briefly stated. Some time ago a young gentle- man, a friend of his, saw the following advertisement in The Field, a newspaper likely to attract young men fresh from Eton:— The Army.—Commissions without purchase. —Young gentlemen are now permitted to raise 100 men for the army, and thereby obtain without purchase or examination an ensigncy in the Line. Those who have obtained their orders or wishing to do so will study their interests by applying by letter, in the first instance, to Captain Hunt, 3, Montague Place, Islington, London. Militia aspirants will be attended to. Upon application by letter being made to Captain Hunt, the following communication was received:— 3, Montague Place, Islington, London, March 3. Dear Sir, — If you are under twenty-three years of age, I shall, I have little doubt, be enabled to get you a cornetcy in the cavalry without examination. In the first instance you must lodge at the army agents a stipulated sum, to be paid over to me upon your name appearing in the Gazette. No money required before. Procure a certificate of your birth, a certificate of your education and moral conduct from your schoolmaster, a certificate as to what religion you are from your clergyman, two or three of the most influential testimonials you can procure regarding your respectability, &c. When you procure these call upon me by Friday evening. It must be by Friday evening at furthest, as I leave for the Lancashire recruiting district— say, seven o'clock on Friday evening. Captain Hunt subsequently called upon the young gentleman and took him to the office of Messrs. Armstrong, 2, Russell Court, St. James Palace, by whom the following advertisement had been inserted in The Times:Army, Militia, and East India Company's Service. Gentlemen desirous of entering any of the above services, or of effecting exchanges in any of them, may receive full information and assistance to accomplish their wishes from Messrs. Armstrong and Co., 2, Russell Court, St. James Palace, who can also furnish 100 men for gentlemen qualified to obtain ensigncies in the Line. At the office of Messrs. Armstrong he was required to fill up an application to the authorities for leave to raise fifty men for the Cavalry; and he was then taken down by Captain Hunt to the Horse Guards. He was left alone in one of the lobbies connected with the Commander in Chief's office, and Captain Hunt upon his return stated that he had had an interview with some person whom he did not name. They then proceeded to the office of General Wetherall, where the same scene took place. After a few days an answer was returned from the Horse Guards to the effect that they would not permit this young gentleman to raise men, and would not avail themselves of his services. The young gentleman then went to Messrs. Armstrong, and they said, "It is not of the least consequence; we expected that you would be refused; but we will get you your commission—here is a letter saying so." This was a letter from Captain Hunt to the following purport:— Patten Arms, Sunday, Warrington. Dear—,—I send my Friend Stringer to London to complete our agreement. He is my partner, and empowered to act for me. Loose (sic) no time, as the recruiting will be very slack, as soon as agriculturists commence their farm operations. Drop me a line as soon as you hear from Ireland. My reason for naming an additional £50 was that we might be enabled to give a greater inducement to recruits than other fellows who are in the field here, and thus give you the first choice of a regiment. Well, the following letter was received from Messrs. Armstrong:— 2, Russell Court, St. James's Palace, March 9. Dear Sir,—As we shall make the application in the proper quarter in order to receive the permission to raise fifty men for the cavalry and thus obtain a cornetcy, we beg you will have the deposit made at our bankers, according to the arrangement we made with you. We trust that you will pardon our reminding you of the necessity of complying with our conditions, as we have to make ourselves responsible to other parties. He (Mr. Bagwell) came to London at that time, and the young gentleman, having sent to him, he went to the office of the Messrs. Armstrong; and, this part of the business resting on his own testimony, he was ready to state on his honour as a Member of that House,-or on his oath before the tribunals of the country, the propositions made by those gentlemen. There was no disguise on his part whatever, and he asked them how it was to be done. They said, "It is no matter how the tiling is to be done; we will get fifty men and a commission for your nephew; as soon as the commission is got you will pay £550, and we shall not require one shilling from you before." He asked whether they would apply to Sir Charles Yorke or to General Wetherall, and they did not seem to like the application to either of those authorities; and he then wrote to say that he would have nothing more to do with the transaction; upon which he received the following letter:— 2, Russell Court, St. James's Palace, March 12. Messrs. Armstrong and Co. have received Mr. Bagwell's letter, declining to accept the proposal they had made to Mr. —. Messrs. Arm strong would suggest the propriety of Mr. Bagwell cautioning his ward not to enter into arrangements entailing a vast amount of trouble and expense on those with whom he is in treaty, unless he be prepared to carry out his proposals. It was fortunate that Messrs. Armstrong did not rely solely on promises, or they might have been seriously compromised in high quarters, and feel greatly indebted to Mr. Bagwell for having saved them from the dilemma. He then received on Thursday last the following letter from Captain Hunt:— Pattern, Arms, Warrington, Lancashire. Dear Sir,—Having known you some years ago, and having enjoyed myself frequently on your beautiful grounds at Marlfield, besides having been in communication with your ward about raising men for his commission, I beg to inform you that you have made some grave errors in your misstatements in your address to the House. What could your object have been in standing between your ward and his commission? Surely you are not so ' verdant' as not to know that in London money is everything, and that for money properly applied, money I say, mind you, properly applied, any desire can be gratified. Now, Sir, if you are disposed to forward your ward's wishes, I repeat — what has been already told you—that for £550 I will procure him fifty men, and thus entitle him to a commission in the cavalry, and will also furnish him with two first-class chargers for £220. Yours faithfully," DE VERE HUNT. It may be well to acquaint you that I possess the highest influence in very high quarters, and to impress upon you that I require no money, not one shilling until Mr. —shall have been gazetted. You are at perfect liberty to publish this letter. The gravamen of the matter was this— that here was a man, who in one letter signed himself as a captain in the recruiting service, who went to public offices, went through all the forms, and stated that he had authority to get commissions for sums under the regulation price. He (Mr. Bagwell) applied the other night to the right hon. and gallant General at the head of the War Department (General Peel), and he expected that some notice would have been taken of these agents; but no notice, as far as he was aware, had been taken of the matter since. It struck him that the whole affair might be a mere swindle; yet he did say that when people advertised themselves as army agents, and went through the form of going to the proper authorities, some notice ought to have been taken of the matter by the authorities at the Horse Guards, in order that a stop might be put to these proceedings. If that had been done when he first mentioned the subject in that House the House might probably have been spared the present lengthy appeal; but when it was stated over and over again by these people that they could procure these commissions, by which representation the public were probably gulled of their money, he thought it was a grievous error on the part of those who stood in a position of high authority not to take any notice of the matter. If there was one thing more than another necessary in the administration of the Army it was, not only that no irregular applications such as he had alluded to should be tolerated, but the administration should be above all suspicion. He should be ready, if necessary, to move for a Committee in order to prove before it all that he had stated; and if a stop should be put to these proceedings, and to robbing young gentlemen of their money, he should consider that, at all events, he had done some good. If he had let the matter rest, he did not think he should have been performing his duty as a parent, magistrate, or Member of that House. He left the matter now in the hands of the House, but at the proper time, if the reply he should receive from the Government should not be satisfactory, he should be prepared to move for a Committee to inquire into and report to the House upon the alleged system of granting commissions in the army, without purchase or examination, upon the condition of bringing a certain number of recruits for Her Majesty's service.


said, that before the right hon. General the Secretary for the War Department answered the statement just made, he wished to express his opinion that the House were much indebted to the hon. Member for Clonmel for having brought the subject before them. There could not be a more scandalous system than that which appeared to have been adopted. He did not know by whom it was introduced, but it was ruining the service; and every word stated with regard to those agents he knew to be true. They were going on with this trading with commissions under the sanction of the War Department. He did not blame the present Government; for it was carried on long before they came into power, but it was a nefarious system. An education test had been laid down for young gentlemen entering the army; they had to go before examiners, and their names were placed on a list for commissions according to rotation. They often waited until they were too old to enter the service; while commissions were given to men who were allowed to raise fity men for the cavalry, and one hundred men for the infantry, without any educational test whatever. The men having that permission went to these agents, and the jobbing which went on at the offices of the agents was beyond all belief. He thought it discreditable to a country like this that young men should be brought into the army without that test which had been laid down as the basis upon which young gentlemen should enter the service. He hoped the head of the War Department would take very strong measures to put a stop to these proceedings.


thought the hon. Member for Clonmel ought to have inquired further before bringing this case before the House. Had he done so, he would have found that transactions such as that of which he complained might be made the subject of public advertisement, but that, in the end, the promises they made turned out to be unfounded. However, these things were not done by the regular army agents who were authorised by Government, and the proper distinction ought to be drawn between those gentlemen and persons who entered into the bargains complained of. These latter persons offered to get commissions for a larger sum of money. [Mr. BAGWELL: No, but smaller.] He meant that they procured the necessary number of men by giving a larger bounty than the recruiting sergeant, and so interfering with the regular recruiting for the army. This was, however, a matter with which the War Department was in no way connected. The persons who published those advertisements, and made those promises, had no official authority to do so.


I trust the House will believe that the Government are anxious to afford every information in respect of the Orders issued by the Horse Guards and the War Department. I am now in a position to give a fuller explanation to the hon. Gentleman than I was when he first mentioned this matter. The date of the circular which originated the granting of the commissions, to which the hon. Gentleman has more particularly referred, is 1st September, 1857. It will be in the recollection of the House, that in the month of August last year almost every available regiment had been sent from this country to India, and the moment was one of great pressure for raising additional troops. His Royal Highness the Commander in Chief, with the consent of the noble Lord then at the head of the War Department, issued the circular to which I have just referred. That circular was printed, and made known throughout the kingdom. It announced the adoption of the principle of giving commissions without an examination, on the condition of the applicant raising a certain number of men. But the House should remember that this was an exceptional case. There was a large and sudden drain of troops; and some new measure became necessary in order to obtain a sufficient number of recruits for the requirements of the service. The result has been this: that whilst, during the whole year 1855, only 33,000 men were raised, 36,000 have been raised during the last six months. This order, whether a good or a bad one, was made perfectly known to the public. The conditions it prescribed were these: That any person who was a candidate for raising this number of men should, in the first place, present himself to the Adjutant General in England, to Lord Seaton in Ireland, or to Lord Melville in Scotland. On obtaining the sanction of one of those authorities to his raising the men, he was to produce certificates of his baptism, of his moral character, and to comply with certain other prescribed forms; but he was not to be subjected to that examination which other young gentlemen entering the army in the ordinary way were obliged to pass. Having obtained permission from the Horse Guards to raise a certain number of men, he was not to make use of the services of the recruiting sergeant, but was to report himself to the officer in the district in which he proposed to raise the recruits. He had to bring the men to this officer, who gave him credit for them; and as soon as the required number were enlisted, the officer reported this fact to the Horse Guards, and the gentleman got the commission. The consequence of this circular was, that a great many gentlemen applied for permission to raise men, and these candidates were taken from the list exactly in the order in which they applied; and no person, by any possibility, could have obtained through an agent permission to raise men. But, having obtained the permission from the proper authority, the question arose how to raise them. There, I have no doubt, the system of agency which has been referred to commences. "Get your permission to raise the men, then lodge the sum of money we require, and we shall raise the men." No doubt that was the substance of the agreement with those various agents. Many of these young gentlemen who applied for, and obtained, permission to raise men, would no doubt have been unable of themselves to do so. They must employ some agent; and the House will see that unless those agents gave more bounty than the recruiting sergeant they would have very little chance of getting recruits in preference to him. The amount of money to be supplied by the candidate for a commission is, therefore, a mere matter of arrangement between himself and his agent, and is confined merely to the number of men, and not to the obtaining the commission for money; for these commissions cannot be obtained by purchase, and that, when obtained, they have no money value, for the recipients have no power of selling them. The power of selling such commissions depends entirely upon the length of time for which the officers who receive them remain in the service, and permission to sell can only be obtained after service for a certain number of years. I can only say, on the the part of the military authorities, that nothing can have been more open than their conduct, and they were most anxious that any inquiry which may be considered necessary shall be instituted with regard to persons who advertised that they were able, for a certain sum of money, to obtain commissions. There is no authority for such statements, and the arrangements are mere private bargains between the agents and these young men, of which the Horse Guards have no knowledge. With regard to the particular case brought forward by the hon. Member for Clonmel (Mr. Bagwell), Messrs. Armstrong stated that that gentleman's nephew, being a candidate for a cornetcy, and having failed in his examination applied to the firm; that they replied, "Get the proper authority from the Adjutant General, lodge £550 in your own name at our banker's, and we will endeavour to get you the men." Messrs. Armstrong assert that they never undertook, or pretended to undertake, to obtain commissions; but that all they said was, "First obtain your authority from the Adjutant General, and the raising of the men is a matter of bargain between you and ourselves." I am, however, able to inform the House that the system under which these proceedings have taken place no longer exists. The Government consider that there is not now such a pressure for troops as justifies its continuance, although, when it was originally adopted, it undoubtedly afforded a just and proper means of obtaining recruits.


wished to add that when a reply was received from the Horse Guards refusing permission to his nephew to raise men for Her Majesty's service, the agents said, "We expected that answer; but no matter; we will get you the order to raise the men, and you shall have your commission." He (Mr. Bagwell) saw the agents on Thursday, when they told him, "We shall have the order for your nephew to raise the men on Tuesday; on getting that order we will raise the men, and when your nephew's name is in the Gazette you will pay over to us £550."


said he did not understand the hon. Member for Clonmel to accuse the Government of countenancing the system to which he had called attention; but he (Viscount Bury) wished to know whether there were no means of preventing persons from holding out these inducements which frequently occasioned very serious inconveniences to young men who were desirous of obtaining commissions. He was able to confirm the statement of the Secretary for War as to the non-complicity of the Horse Guards in these proceedings. The son of a constituent of his, who had been reading for a commission, was advised to apply to a gentleman who called himself a captain, but who he believed was not a captain at all, who said he could raise the requisite number of men and obtain a commission on payment of £450. Upon this the young gentleman left off reading, although he was to have been examined next month. The agent or captain told him that as he could raise the 100 men and obtain the commission, it would be quite unnecessary to continue his studies. However, since the hon. Member for Clonmel had brought the subject under the notice of the Secretary for War the captain informed the young gentleman that a new order had been issued, that preference was to be given to applicants who had passed their examination, and therefore advised him to resume his reading. But the examination was to take place next month. He (Viscount Bury) had yesterday called with this young man upon Sir C. Yorke, who repudiated all knowledge of the proceeding; so, of course, the Horse Guards had nothing to do with the matter, which was one entirely between the young man and the gentleman who had deceived him; and Sir Charles very sensibly advised the young gentleman to resume his studies. The £450 had not been paid; but the inconvenience to this young man was that he had lost three months' reading, and, as the examination took place next month, it was not improbable that he would be unable to pass. He (Viscount Bury) had mentioned this case to show that army agents were not the only persons engaged in these practices.


expressed his gratification at the statement of the hon. and Gallant General, the Secretary for War, that an end had been put to the system to which the hon. Member for Clonmel had called attention. One result of the plan clearly was that young men who were unable to pass the examination, or who did not like to continue their studies, had means open to them of obtaining commissions. No doubt, the theory upon which the system was established was that persons possessing local influence in particular districts would be able to obtain recruits, who might not otherwise be induced to enter the service, in consideration of which they should themselves receive commissions. The fact seemed to be, however, that young gentlemen in the position he had described had resorted to agents, who had gone, if he might so say, into the man-market, and had competed with the recruiting sergeant. He (Viscount Goderich) did not believe, however, that under this system a single man had been induced to enter Her Majesty's service who would not have done so in the ordinary course of recruiting, and he hoped some assurance would be given that such a system would not be re-established.