HC Deb 04 June 1867 vol 187 cc1596-603

I rise for the purpose of calling the attention of the House to a petition presented by me on the 30th of last month from the inhabitants of the Cape of Good Hope, praying that Her Majesty's forces might not be withdrawn from that colony. That petition, signed by upwards of 1,100 of the most influential inhabitants of Cape Town, was transmitted to me by the Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce; and in order that its prayer might be brought directly under the notice of Parliament, I have deemed it desirable to make it the subject of a special Motion. I will not discuss the wisdom of the policy now generally adopted by the successive Governments of this country with respect to colonial defences, nor will I detain the House with any lengthened statement of the arguments that might be adduced in support of a change in that policy so far as the Cape of Good Hope is concerned; but briefly I will explain the reasons set forth by the petitioners themselves, and leave the House to form its own opinion. The annexation of British Kaffraria to the Cape Colony has taken place at a very recent date, and although I will not go so far as to say that annexation was contrary to the wishes of the colonists, I believe that if they had had notice of it they would have expressed their disapproval of it to Her Majesty's Government. The large tract of country thus added to their colony give them a much greater territory to defend, and is a serious source of weakness in itself, even if it had not been the means of vastly increasing the proportion of natives to the colonists. I believe I may say that there are three times as many blacks as white within the boundaries of the colony, and there is this additional disadvantage, that in the event of a war between the white and the natives, the latter could reinforce themselves from the tribes beyond the frontiers to an unlimited extent. Of late the presence of Her Majesty's troops has been sufficient to check, or at all events to repress, the incursions of these tribes; but if those troops be now withdrawn, and the colony left to its own defences, there is no saying what steps the natives may take against the colonists, and thus create a war which can only be of the most bloody nature. Stupid and debased as these savages may be, they have sense enough to know that if the colonists are left to protect themselves that will be the most fitting time and opportunity to make a descent upon them. And if the colonists find themselves strong enough to withstand any such attack, which is very much to be doubted, it will be no matter of wonder if they, in their turn, become the assailants, and what was originally a war of defence end in becoming a war of extermination. But a second reason to be found for the support of the petition is the fact that the colony at this time is suffering from financial embarrassments to such an extent that it is not, and cannot be for some time, in a position to pay the contribution of £40 per head which is asked by Her Majesty's Government for all troops henceforth to remain in the colony. A succession of droughts, and a terrible cattle disease have lately fallen to their unfortunate lot, and the population being almost exclusively devoted to agricultural and pastoral pursuits the effect of these visitations has been to well nigh impoverish them. They have a heavy sum to provide for annually for their border defence—from £60,000 to £70,000 in fact—and so great is the prevalent distress, that this payment, and the other ordinary expenses of the colony could only be met by means of loans, the bare interest on which presses severely upon the colonists. Under these circumstances, it would be out of the question to attempt to raise more money to pay for English troops, and if the condition of those troops remaining in the colony is to be the payment of the sum demanded by the Home Government, they must go, and the colony be left to itself. But apart from these (which I may term colonial reasons in favour of the petition) there is the important one that the Cape of Good Hope is not only suitable, from its climate, for a training ground for troops destined to serve in India, China, and Japan; but from its geographical position is a valuable depôt for troops in case of any war breaking out in either of those countries. I urge this upon the attention of the Government and the House not merely as an opinion of my own, but as the opinion of men more capable of judging of its importance from a military point of view; and I hope due consideration may be given to it before it is decided to withdraw such troops as may now be at the Cape. Upon Imperial, therefore, as well as colonial grounds, I think the prayer of the colonists is one that the House ought to listen to, and if it cannot be acceded to in its entirety, I hope the alternative prayer—namely, that the troops may remain until the present financial difficulties are tided over, may be granted. I may here add that the late Duke of Newcastle, in one of his despatches, admitted that certain exceptional cases might arise in which it might be expedient that colonists should have the protection of British troops; and I cannot help thinking that the case of the present petitioners, who are so utterly unable to protect themselves, and are in constant fear of the incursions of innumerable tribes of savages, come strongly within the scope of that admission. Taking all the circumstances of the case into consideration, I hope the House will assent to the proposition I am now about to make.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that Her Majesty's Forces be not withdrawn from the Cape of Good Hope."—(Mr. Vanderbyl.)


said, that the very fact relied upon by the hon. Gentleman in support of his Motion, that there was a large number of native tribes in the colony, induced him to think that the Government would act wisely in withdrawing from it British troops as proposed. For the proper management of those tribes it was essential that they should be controlled by a strong and enlightened Government. It was impossible with a divided authority, partly colonial and partly Imperial, that our rule should be of that resolute, firm, energetic, and, at the same time, merciful character which tended to impress the barbarian mind. In the parallel case of New Zealand, the unhappy scenes that had occurred had been mainly due to divided authority, exercised partly by the Governor and partly by the Colonial Minister. This had failed to command the fear or the respect of the natives. Divided authority could hardly fail to produce at the Cape the same result it had produced in New Zealand. If a case could be made out for special assistance to the Cape in consideration of its being exposed to the inroads of native tribes, that assistance would be best rendered in the shape of a subsidy. This would be more effectual than a body of troops not altogether under the control of the Colonial Governor. As divided authority produced confusion, he supported the Government in withdrawing British troops. He hoped the day was not far off when not one Imperial soldier would be left in the colonies.


said, he knew the Cape Colony well. He believed the presence of Imperial troops was mainly the cause of the Kaffir war. It was got up chiefly by the colonists for the sake of the commissariat expenses. Nothing would tend so much to the pacification of the colony as the withdrawal of the British troops.


said, that the prayer of the petitions which had been presented from Port Elizabeth and Cape Town was that this country should continue to protect the South African colonies at the exclusive cost of English taxpayers. Not a word had been said to show, and he could not conceive, why the Cape should be treated specially and differently in this respect from any other colony. The financial embarrassments of the Cape were only such as all countries, including this country, were exposed to. The petitioners spoke of their poverty, bad harvests, and cattle plagues, unconscious of the fact that English taxpayers had to meet similar emergencies. Nor was the Cape singular in being exposed to the incursions of aboriginal tribes. New Zealand was equally exposed, and had nobly confronted the danger, and they were only anxious that the British troops should stand out of their way. The early English colonists of North America not only contended with most formidable tribes, but with the organized armies of France and Spain. But they maintained their own, and themselves added colonies to the British Empire. It could hardly have occurred to the petitioners that, so far from having any special claim, they had not done as much as others in meeting the dangers to which they were exposed from native tribes on their frontiers. He was one of those who had believed it to have been a mistaken policy on the part of this country to establish a foreign Power on the Cape frontier, and so to expose the colonists to danger from the Dutch boors. He had opposed the abandonment of the Orange territory, and recognition of the Sovereignty. But that did not constitute a special ground for maintaining so large a force as had been maintained by the British Government. There might be some force in the view that South African territory should be treated as a depôt for troops for service in India, and there were certainly distinctive Imperial interests in holding Cape Town. But there was a limit to that Imperial argument, which had been considered in the adoption of the policy now under discussion. Not many years ago, thirteen English regiments were accumulated under Sir George Grey's command in the South African colonies. Since that time considerable reductions had been made. Now the question was whether 4,000 British troops were not more than this country could be fairly called upon to maintain, at the expense of the British taxpayer, merely to secure Cape Town, and provide a depôt for India. The petition had really been produced by a despatch of the Earl of Carnarvon's. That despatch expressed the opinion that the number of troops now in the South African colonies was a great deal too large to be maintained solely at the expense of this country, that we were indefensibly treating the Cape in a manner different from other colonies, and that the number of troops in South Africa ought to be gradually diminished, or else partly paid for. Warning had been given to the colonies generally, and to the Cape in particular, the Earl of Carnarvon considered that there should be still more ample warning. Therefore he proposed that reductions should be made year by year, and increasing contribution should be made by the colony to the cost of those troops which remained. During the current year no reduction was to be made. In 1868 one of the four regiments was to be paid for at the same rate as other colonies were paying or to be withdrawn. In 1869 two regiments were to be paid for or withdrawn, and so on. It would not be until 1872 that all the troops were to be either paid for or withdrawn. One regiment, on the ground of Imperial policy, would continue to be maintained at the cost of the English taxpayer, the maintenance of which it was considered would be a sufficient contribution on the part of this country to the defence of the colony, and enough to hold Cape Town secure from sudden attack. The petitioners were quite mistaken in supposing that the Earl of Carnarvon's policy was influenced by the recent annexation of British Kaffraria. That annexation was rendered quite necessary by the circumstances of the case. A frontier or neutral territory had been established between the Cape and the native tribes, as a barrier against incursion. But the will of the House of Commons had been so asserted, that it became necessary to place British Kaffraria and the Cape under the same government, by common representation in the Parliament of the Cape. The real basis, therefore, of Lord Carnarvon's despatch, was a distinct decision of the House of Commons, in accepting the Report of the Colonial Military Expenditure Committee of 1861, which said— With respect to dependencies properly called colonies, the responsibility and cost of the military defence of such dependencies ought mainly to devolve on themselves. The mode of proceeding adopted by Lord Grey in 1851, in announcing to the Australian colonies the terms on which alone Imperial troops could be sent there, may be gradually applied to other dependencies. With respect to the South African colonies, their security against warlike tribes or domestic disturbances should be provided for as far as possible by means of local efforts and local organization, and the main object of any system adopted by this country should be to encourage such efforts, not merely to diminish Imperial expenditure, but for the far more important purpose of stimulating the spirit of self-reliance in colonial communities. The settlers of South Africa should be called on to contribute a larger sum than they do at present towards the military expenditure of these colonies. The last paragraph of the Commissioners' Report was as follows:— In conclusion, the tendency of modern warfare is to strike blows at the heart of a hostile Power; and it is therefore desirable to concentrate the troops required for the defence of the United Kingdom as much as possible; and to trust mainly to naval supremacy for securing against foreign aggression the distant dependencies of the Empire. This was the ground of Lord Carnarvon's despatch. It was the deliberate decision of the House of Commons upon which his policy rested—for, after debate, the Report of the Committee of 1861 was endorsed by the House of Commons. The principles contained in the Report had already been applied to Ceylon, the Mauritius, Hong Kong, British Columbia, Australia, and New Zealand. What did the Cape pay for military? Not £10,000 a year. Their defences altogether cost them £70,000, and that included the cost of the Cape Mounted Rifles and the police. What did England contribute? — £300,000; but was that consistent with our treatment of other colonies, while the Cape Parliament expended out of their revenue only £70,000 a year. The real cause of this petition was the irritation which now existed at the Cape about the annexation of British Kaffraria. The colonists said that they had not been consulted on this subject. But there was no doubt that the policy of annexation was absolutely necessary. This country could no more be expected to keep up a barrier territory against Cape enemies at the cost of home taxpayers, than to maintain their forces for them. Sir Philip Wodehouse had acted most honourably in maintaining the necessity for this annexation, though he thereby drew upon himself personally great odium. [Mr. CARDWELI: Hear, hear!] He fully believed that this irritation was temporary only, that it would rapidly pass away, and that the Cape would soon see that the course which had been taken was as much for its own interest, as it was in justice towards British taxpayers. No doubt such a change might be more or less galling at the moment. The Cape had recently suffered from our free trade policy. But their wine trade had already found new developments, and, thrown on its own merits, had greatly improved. He hoped the Cape colonists would see that if they were to maintain themselves as a great colony of the British Empire, they must take part, in common with other British subjects, in maintaining their own defence.


said, he hoped that the hon. Member (Mr. Vanderbyl) would think he had done his duty by his friends in the colony, and would not deem it necessary to press a Motion in which the House would not concur. A judicious and moderate adherence to the Report of the Committee of 1861, and the steady endeavour to throw more and more upon the colonies the obligation of defending themselves, was a policy which the House would support. It would be well to lay before the House the Correspondence, so that they might see how the policy had been carried out at the Cape. To the general purport of that policy he cordially subscribed. It had been his duty to give effect to it in New Zealand. He had also intimated to Sir Philip Wodehouse that the time would not be long delayed when that policy would be applied to the Cape. The annexation of British Kaffraria was really an argument in favour of that policy. That annexation had taken place not for a purely Imperial object, but in order to give the Cape a better frontier and a better means of defence. There was a very excellent mounted police in Kaffraria. He had no doubt that proper attention would be paid to develop and increase that force. If it were found, when the papers were produced, that the course adopted were a judicious and temperate mode of carrying into effect the policy of the Committee of 1861, he was sure that the House would give it their support.


I am unwilling to prolong this discussion; but I must remark, in reply to the hon. and learned Member for Cambridge (Mr. Gorst), that New Zealand cannot fairly be compared to the Cape, the number of natives being very small in proportion to the white population. With regard to the statement of the hon. Member for Bute (Mr. Lamont) that the colonists did not object to the war, being delighted to obtain the commissariat expenditure, I have only to say that no amount of commissariat money would compensate the inhabitants for the destruction of property and enormous loss of life caused by a repetition of Kaffir wars. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Adderley) has confounded Dutch boers with the native blacks. The colonists have never dreaded the Dutch boers. I will not attempt to press my Motion; but, out of deference to the feelings manifested on both sides of the House, will beg to withdraw it.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.