HC Deb 20 March 1866 vol 182 cc644-9

said, he rose to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the Mortality in the Troops in China; the causes which led to it; and the conduct of those Departments of the Government whose duty it has been to administer to the wants of those troops. As the Government had expressed their willingness to grant the Committee he would make but very few remarks upon the subject. The fact that the Committee would be granted was primâ facie evidence that he was not about to give unnecessary trouble by the Motion which he was about to make. On the 8th of December last the feelings of the people of this country were most painfully excited by a statement in The Times of the deplorable condition in which a detachment of the 11th Regiment landed in Japan, and of the melancholy state of health of the force at Hong Kong. Feeling the deepest interest in these unfortunate men, and especially in those of the 11th Regiment—in which he commenced his military service and in which he was subsequently adjutant—he communicated his intention to his noble Friend (the Marquess of Hartington) that as soon as the House met he should move for all the correspondence, and for any information which could be given on the subject of this deplorable event. It was only fair to his noble Friend opposite to say that every request which he had made for information in connection with the case had been instantly complied with with his usual courtesy. The question was no party question. Hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House had relations and friends in the army; but, independent of all such considerations, it was, he thought, the duty of the House to bear in mind the interests of the noncommissioned officers and privates, a body of men who always served with fidelity their Sovereign and their country, and who never shrunk from exposing their lives to the unhealthful influences of pestilential climates or the deadly bullets of an enemy. As there would be no opposition to the granting of the Committee, he should merely call attention to two or three of the letters contained in the correspondence which had been placed in his hands. It opened with a letter from General Guy, the commander of the forces in China, dated 12th of November, 1864, which, after stating his intentions as to the accommodation of the 9th Regiment on its arrival, and pointing out the diffiulty of providing for them, closed as follows:— I would therefore request your Lordship's instructions as to the disposal of the 2nd battalion 11th Regiment, which by Horse Guards' letter of the 26th August last it is proposed to send to China, as under existing circumstances it will be impossible to provide for it in this country. The result of that statement not having been attended to, he would presently show. The second battalion of the 9th Regiment landed at Hong Kong on the 7th of February, 1865. Its strength on landing was 34 officers, 839 men, 47 women, and 19 children. Within eight months and a half officer, 36 men, 5 women, and 23 Children—amounting in all to 65 persons—had died; while officer, 78 men, 20 women, and 27 children were invalided, making a total, dead and invalided, of 193 persons. The second battalion of the 11th Regiment landed at Hong Kong on the 28th of May. 1865. It consisted of 25 officers, 784 men, 54 women, and 92 Children, and out of that number, in the course of only four months and a half 2 officers, 49 men, 3 women, and 48 children, or in all 102 persons, had died; while 3 officers, 124 men, 16 women, and 14 children were in Valided—making a total of 259 dead and invalided. That report was made tip to the 15th of October last, and did not include the Artillery, the Engineers, or the Staff. A ship was freighted for the purpose of taking many of the invalids to England, but on the passage from Hong Kong to the Cape, out of the 234 persons who embarked on board the Gresham, 31 men, 3 women, and 6 children, making a total of 40, died. He should, with the permission of the House, read an extract from a letter dated Capetown, December 18, 1865, which said— The Gresham left Hong Kong on the 13th of October, 1865, with 239 persons on board, and arrived at Simon's Bay on the 6th of December, having lost by death 31 men, 3 women, and 6 children, principally from dysentery, the remaining invalids being in a very unhealthy state. The commodore had the troops immediately removed from the ship, some, the healthiest, were put into huts; some not so well were sent on board Her Majesty's ship Seringapatam, and the remainder, 21, were sent to the Royal Naval Hospital, of whom o men and I child have already died, and there are but slight hopes that any of the others will recover. In consequence of the state of debility that many of the men and women were re duced to, and very advanced stages of their diseases, it was considered advisable some should be left behind. I therefore made a careful selection, and regret to state that there were 34 men who did not present any favourable hope of arriving in England. On the arrival of the Gresham at Portsmouth, his Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief had ordered a report to be I made, with the view of ascertaining whether the mortality was attributable to any defect in the ship, and the following was the letter of Deputy Inspector General limes, dated Portsmouth, February 5, 1866:— Sir,—I have the honour to report that a Board of Officers on which I attended was ordered: by his Royal Highness the Field Marshal Commanding-in-Chief to ascertain whether the mortality on hoard the hired transport Gresham, on her late voyage from Hong Kong to Spithead, is to be traced to any of the arrangements on board that ship. The result of a careful and minute inquiry into all the circumstances was a unanimous finding in the negative. The accommodation for the troops was spacious, thoroughly ventilated; the supplies and medical comforts good and abundant; the excreta from the sick were promptly thrown overboard, and disinfectants freely used. The ship was easy at sea, carrying her ports always open. The soldiers and their families on board expressed the fullest satisfaction I with the treatment and accommodation they had; received. The Board ventured to express a high opinion of the attention and care displayed by: Captain Burland, the officer commanding, and I Staff Assistant Surgeon Adams, in medical charge. The detailed proceedings of the Board were for warded to the military authorities. The amount of the deaths and invalidings in those two unfortunate regiments was, in the case of the 9th, 193; and the 11th, 259—making a total of 452 persons—of whom 40 died on the passage to the Cape; at the Cape, 5; 34 being left at the Cape as there was no favourable prospect of their reaching England. The Agincourt was now on her way home with another batch of invalids of those regiments. The expense, according to the account which he had received the other day as being paid by the Government, from China was £29 10s. per head for 235 men, or no less a sum than £6,827, and that merely for one detachment. He did not wish to impute to anybody blame in the matter, but it was, he thought, the duty of the House to ascertain to what cause the frightful mortality to which he had called their attention was to be attributed. He could not close his observations without expressing the greatest admiration for the conduct of the Military Medical Department, and especially for the conduct of Dr. Saunders, surgeon of the 9th Regiment, who, in the absence of his senior (Dr. Dick), took the whole responsibility on his own shoulders and saved many valuable lives. The report of Dr. Snell was also entitled to much praise. The hon. and gallant Member concluded by moving— That a Select Committee be appointed 'to inquire into the mortality in the Troops in China, the causes which led to it, and into the conduct of those departments of the Government whose duty it has been to administer to the wants of those Troops.'


said, he seconded the Motion, He thanked the hon. and gallant Gentleman for the manner in which he had submitted it to the notice of the House. The officers and men of our army, unlike that of other countries, were frequently obliged to spend a considerable time away from their homes in unhealthful climates, and it was the duty of the House of Commons to see that the necessary precautions were taken to provide for their health and safety. If it should be found that this great mortality among our troops was occasioned by negligence the authors ought to be severely punished. He was glad that the Government had consented to a full inquiry.


said, that the Government, in common with the House and the country, deeply regretted the unfortunate occurrences narrated. Undoubtedly, both the House and the country, and more especially the friends of those who had perished, had the fullest right to demand investigation and inquiry as to whether the causes of that mortality resulted from the negligence of the Government or of the commanders of the troops. While acknowledging the candid and impartial manner in which the subject had been brought before the House, he must state that he should be prepared to deny that these unfortunate events had occurred through the shortcomings of the Government. It might be said that the matter might have been disposed of in the House, and that the question of the responsibility of the Government, or of individuals, might have been decided there, but there were circumstances which rendered it more advisable that the subject should be investigated in a Committee. In a discussion in that House when the conduct of individuals was called in question, assertions were often made and rumours were referred to which it might be impossible at the moment to deny, but which on further investigation might prove to be perfectly groundless, and such rumours and charges could be more properly met in a Committee than in a debate. So far as he was aware, every one connected with the Government and with the War Department, including his noble predecessor (Earl De Grey) was anxious that the affair should be thoroughly investigated, and was ready when called upon to stale what had passed in reference to these transactions. His hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel North) had said that the mortality had occurred in consequence of the Government not having attended to the recommendation of the General; but his representations were not neglected by the War Department, as two letters in the correspondence would show. In the first reply of the War Office to General Guy he was told that the distribution of the troops which would remain at his disposal in the command between Hong Kong, Kowloon, and Japan, was left to his discretion, subject, of course, in the case of Japan, to his consulting Her Majesty's Minister there. A subsequent letter, dated the 23rd of March, contained the following more specific instruction:— With regard to the difficulty which you anticipate in providing sufficient accommodation for a second regiment at Hong Kong and Kowloon, I am to acquaint you that the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, have decided on withdrawing the Royal Marines now serving in Japan. There will, therefore, be no objection to your sending the 2nd battalion 11th Foot, on its arrival from the Cape, or such portion of it as you may be unable to accommodate at Hong Kong, to Yokohama, where the climate is better suited than that of China to the European constitution. It never was intended, as had been stated in the press, to replace the Indian troops who were last year serving in Hong Kong by a British regiment. What was intended was the reduction of the garrison in China. It was thought that a force of three battalions was an unnecessarily large one to be stationed at Hong Kong, as it was never intended that the force there should exceed one or one and a half battalion. It was possible the Government might be accused of attempting to get rid of some responsibility in leaving the matter to the consideration of a Committee; but if it were thought necessary afterwards to bring forward a Motion impugning the action of the War Department, he would then make any statement which he was now prepared to make. If it were said they were delegating to a Committee a duty which more properly devolved upon that Department—an inquiry as to the degree of responsibility that ought to attach to any of the officers of the army—he repeated, as far as he was personally concerned, he was quite ready, if it were the wish of the House, to undertake the responsibility of an investigation.

Motion agreed to.

Select Committee appointed, "to inquire into the mortality in the Troops in China, the causes which led to it, and into the conduct of those departments of the Government whose duty it has been to administer to the wants of those Troops."—(Colonel North.)

And, on April 10, Select Committee nominated as follows:—Colonel NORTH, The MARQUESS of HART-INGTON, Lord HOTHAM, Mr. BAXTER, Mr. ADDERLET, Lord FREDERICK CAVENDISH, Mr. ROEBUCK, Colonel PEROT HERBERT, Mr. DALQLISH, Lord HENRY PEROT, Mr. CALTHORPE, Major ANSON, Lord JOHN-HAT, Mr. TREVELTAN, and Major O'REILLY:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records Five to he the quorum.