§ SUPPLY considered in Committee.
§ £2,000,000, towards defraying the expenses of the Expedition to Abyssinia, beyond the ordinary grants for 1867.8.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, in moving that this Committee do grant a credit to Her Majesty of £2,000,000 sterling, in consequence of 182 the transactions now taking place in Abyssinia, I would ask permission to recall to your recollection for a moment the state of the relations between Her Majesty and the ruler of Abyssinia at the time when Her Majesty's present Advisers acceded to office. At that time Her Majesty's Consul had been arrested in his course by the King of Abyssinia—had been thrown into captivity by that sovereign—and had remained in captivity for three years. He was not alone in that sad condition, but had as companions more than one individual, subjects of Her Majesty. In consequence of that state of affairs, Her Majesty had been advised to send a special Envoy to Abyssinia, in order to obtain redress, and to obtain it in the most conciliatory manner. Her Majesty even deigned that her Envoy should be the bearer of a letter bearing the Sign Manual of Her Majesty. But the Committee is aware that although Her Majesty's Envoy was received with apparent cordiality, and even, to use his own phrase, with "magnificence," after some period a misunderstanding would seem to have arisen between him and the King. He also was arrested, and after a short time became strictly a prisoner, though he was not placed under the same sad conditions as those under which the Consul was confined. The House will, I am sure, agree—whatever difference of opinion there may be upon other topics—and I trust that the result of this discussion will be to remove many of those differences—I am sure that the House will agree that such a state of affairs was most distressing and scandalous. It was a state of things which it was quite impossible should be allowed to continue—it was intolerable. The alternative which presented itself, of putting an end to it by having recourse to arms, was one which every one I am sure would contemplate with the utmost solicitude and regret. Immediately on their accession to office, Her Majesty's Government had their attention called to the question of Abyssinia. I am bound to say that their investigation and the result of their consideration was not favourable to the hope that by conciliatory means a satisfactory solution of the question could be effected. The matter had gone on too long; and notwithstanding what has been said of the caprice and arbitrary character of the King of Abyssinia, there appeared to us to be a certain method in his conduct which did not point to a very happy solu- 183 tion of the difficulty. Although he knew very well how to assume, when any difficulty arose, language of an amicable character, still it was impossible not to observe that there was a consistency in his conduct; and up to the moment when we had to consider the question, no one—with one exception, which, when examined, will prove no real exception to the rule—who had entered his dominions had been allowed to leave them. It resembled the classic cave; there were no signs whatever of returning footsteps. The Consul had been detained, imprisoned for years, and there were many other persons who bore no allegiance to Her Majesty, but whose condition necessarily and naturally excited the sympathies of the English people and Government, who were also detained; and though it is true, as I shall presently mention, that one individual was permitted to leave Abyssinia on the business of the King, with the view of communicating with this country, he left behind him the sacred hostages of a wife and children, which would in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred secure—and which did secure—the return of the Envoy. Under such circumstances, when Her Majesty's Government had considered the question, they were impressed with a strong feeling that any attempt at further means of conciliation were not likely to have a very happy result. But they were disposed—and I think everyone in their position would have been disposed—to exhaust every possible means of obtaining the freedom of these persons, especially those who represented the Majesty of the country, before resorting to force. They were not blind—and I should think no one in this country could be—to the great injury which must accrue from the indignity attaching to such a state of affairs. But while they were hesitating as to the course they should take an event occurred, almost at the time when they were in deliberation, which afforded them an occasion for making one more effort. They would not have invented it themselves, but they did not think, after due deliberation, they ought to deprive themselves of the advantage which might result therefrom. About the 12th of July last, a German missionary, who had been one of the captives in Abyssinia, was permitted by the King, or rather was sent by the King at his own suggestion, on a mission to this country with a letter from the King to Her Majesty, and with other marks of the King's confidence, in order that he might 184 obtain certain machinery, and a number of skilled artizans to work it, and to assist him in his operations, and there were expressions on the part of the King of so friendly a character, that it was hoped that if we complied with his demands, a favourable result would be obtained, and the great object of the country and the Government in obtaining the release of the prisoners secured. At that time a gentleman, who upon this subject from his local experience was an authority of the highest class, our Resident in Aden, happened to be in England; and he, a man of excellent judgment and not likely to be swayed by any violent prejudices in the matter, was strongly of opinion that a most favourable opportunity had arisen for obtaining the release of the captives, if only this mission, peculiar as was its character—consisting only of a released captive—were treated with consideration, and the advances of the King, notwithstanding his previous conduct, were met with cordiality and confidence. Under these circumstances, Her Majesty most graciously consented even to give a personal audience to the German missionary who came over from King Theodore; for it was considered to be of the highest importance that upon his return he should be able to say to that monarch that he had actually seen and conversed with our Sovereign. Her Majesty was further graciously pleased to place herself again in personal communication with King Theodore, and a letter under the Sign Manual was intrusted to Mr. Flad by Her Majesty. The greatest care was taken that the King should not be disappointed with respect to the articles he desired, and the artizans selected were the best that could be obtained, both with respect to their practical knowledge and skill and their general conduct and character. Every means, therefore, were taken for the accomplishment of the wishes of the King of Abyssinia. And as our Resident at Aden returned about the same time, it was considered a great advantage that he should have the management of the transaction. There appeared then at that time to be considerable hope that there would be a happy consummation.
The House is perfectly aware from the Papers placed in their hands, and no doubt from the general interest which for a long time the subject has commanded throughout the country, of what has been the result of this last effort. Mr. Flad returned to Abyssinia; but before he arrived in the country the conduct of the King had become 185 extremely violent and tyrannical, the indignities offered to Her Majesty's representative, Mr. Rassam, had been aggravated, and the prospect of obtaining the object we had in view was certainly not so favourable as at one time it had appeared to be. I think it was in October, late in the autumn of 1866, when Mr. Flad ar-arrived in Abyssinia on his return. Meanwhile it had been found that the King would not release the prisoners; and our Resident at Aden, who had returned to his post, and who had, as I have stated, at first anticipated the success of the mission, changed his opinion on receiving this information, and strongly advised Her Majesty's Ministers to insist on the redress they had already demanded—the immediate relief of the prisoners. The King of Abyssinia would give us no satisfaction in that respect. The year 1867 had commenced while there was still some hope of the negotiations being successful; but it was advancing, and it was at last fairly concluded by all those whose judgment was likely to influence us that it was hopeless to expect that redress would be obtained. In the spring Her Majesty's Government, thinking that the question ought to be brought to a more intelligible conclusion, forwarded to the King of Abyssinia, through the Foreign Secretary, a letter, which has been described as an ultimatum, and which may be so considered. Even if we had resolved upon resorting to force, it was impossible to resort to it then, because the ultimate decision of the King not to release the prisoners must have been come to early in the year, and at the commencement of the season, which in that country is not merely unfavourable to military operations, but during which military movements are impossible. I think it was about the middle of the month of April that my noble Friend transmitted to King Theodore a letter, giving him three months in which to release the prisoners, and stating that unless they were restored within that period all friendship between Her Majesty and the King of Abyssinia must cease. We were informed that the answer to that ultimatum might probably be counted upon in the middle of the month of August; and I have endeavoured, avoiding prolixity, to recall to the recollection of the House—no doubt familiar with the details—the state of affairs up to the time when the ultimatum was transmitted. During the months of June and July especially Her Majesty's Government, not relinquish- 186 ing all hope of the King's complying with their request at the end of three months—but, I must fairly acknowledge to the House, not being at any moment sanguine as to the consequences—during that interval Her Majesty's Government, while not omitting any opportunity, when opportunity offered, of attempting to accomplish their end by peaceful means, began to prepare for an event which they contemplated with as much reluctance as any hon. Gentleman in this House, but which they felt that ultimately the interests of this country might absolutely demand. They therefore opened the necessary communications with the different Departments of the Government connected with the fitting out of an expedition, and they communicated especially with the Governor of Bombay on the subject. These communications were extremely active towards the end of July, when an hon. Gentleman, a Member of this House (Mr. H. Seymour), gave notice of a Motion on the subject. It was, no doubt, inconvenient at that moment to the Government that the question should be brought under the consideration of Parliament; but we did not intimate that feeling, and for two reasons—first, because it would not have been advantageous to the public service that we should have given in detail our reasons for wishing that the subject should not be discussed; but, secondly and mainly, because we were satisfied as a general rule it is advantageous that all subjects of commanding interest should be discussed in this House. The discusssion took place, and the opinions of the Government were represented by my noble Friend the Secretary of State (Lord Stanley). The speech that he made on that occasion appeared to me to be distinguished by that reserve which becomes a Minister speaking upon so critical a matter; but, to my mind, it entirely and faithfully represented the feelings of the Government and the position of the question according to their view. I mention that because I have seen a great deal of ingenious criticism upon the speech of my noble Friend, by which an inference is sought to be drawn that the opinions which the Government then expressed are inconsistent with their subsequent conduct. There is no doubt if you take the speech of my noble Friend and pick out extracts from one part and connect them with expressions from another—which I shall not call "garbling," because that is an offensive word, but which is a mode of selection very fashionable at the present day—you 187 may not find it very difficult to prove that my noble Friend was opposed to any recourse to force under the circumstances in which we found ourselves. At the same time I will undertake to produce the speech of my noble Friend, and, by a similar process to that to which I have adverted, I will not only prove that he was in favour of having recourse to force, but that he announced that an expedition was preparing, and courted the responsibility which, under the circumstances, would devolve upon himself and his Friends. But it is highly desirable in a discusssion of this nature that we should proceed with perfect fairness and I will therefore tell the House what was the exact view of the Government. It was, to my mind, strictly and faithfully represented by the Secretary of State upon the 26th of July. The Government had for a considerable period, then, been making inquiries and preparations as far as regarded the obtaining of information necessary for fitting out the expedition. Her Majesty's Government were at that time impressed very much with the feeling that it might be too late in this year to have recourse to force, and it was absolutely necessary that we should not prematurely announce that we were going to fit out an expedition or have recourse to any extreme proceedings unless we were prepared to act immediately on the announcement. We considered that if the state of affairs was such as not only to justify but absolutely to call for a determined interference on our part, such an announcement not being followed up immediately in a practical manner would have the most injurious effect upon the position of the prisoners, and certainly would not tend to that vindication of the honour of the country which we desired. Now, between that period when that representation of our policy was made by the Secretary of State and the period when Her Majesty addressed the Houses of Parliament at the prorogation, a considerable amount of information had reached the Government. Three days after the speech of the Secretary of State we received an absolute declaration on the part of the Governor of Bombay that he would undertake that the expedition should be completely ready this year provided certain conditions which he pointed out could be complied with on our part. We had no difficulty in complying with those conditions. Therefore, even in the course of three days, the position of the Government was considerably influenced 188 by the information received. But there was also other information for which we had asked, and which we had taken measures to obtain, relative to the coast and the condition of the country. That information also reached us at that time, and was calculated materially to influence the determination we might be called upon to arrive at. Our position at the time of the discussion was one of considerable difficulty, as I have shown the House, because, although we were not prepared to come to a final determination until we received some precise information that we expected, and although we could not formally come to that determination until we received the answer of the King, which was looked for at that time; yet it was practically impossible to postpone our decision, either for the arrival of particular information, or the letter of the King, because if it had been necessary in the middle of August to act, unless we had made some previous preparation another year would be lost. That was the position of the Government at the time. Well, under these circumstances, after the arrival of the information given by the Governor of Bombay—who undertook that everything should be prepared for an expedition in good time—we resolved to make what I may call "provisional preparations;" and we made preparations in the manner described by the Secretary of State for India in a letter to the Governor of Bombay which will be found in the blue book; and he made a still more intimate communication in a private letter. The Governor of Bombay was advised to take all the steps necessary for the conveyance of troops, being informed at the same time that the greatest economy was to be employed, and that his arrangements should be made in such a way that if it was found ultimately necessary that the expedition should not take place in the present year they might serve for the year 1868. That was the course we pursued from the end of the last week in July until our final determination was taken—because had we not followed that course it would have been impossible to have acted in 1867. I think, whatever difference of opinion there may be as to the policy or impolicy of that expedition, all will agree that if we were to act at all the sooner we acted the better.
Well, under these circumstances, in the middle of the month of August, when the Committee of Supply had been closed several days—when, in fact, so far as public business was concerned, 189 this House had ceased to assemble, and preparations were making for the prorogation—we received from the Resident at Aden authentic information that the King of Abyssinia had rejected the ultimatum of my noble Friend. The letter in which that information was conveyed appears in the blue book, which is in the hands of hon. Gentlemen. It is a letter from Colonel Merewether, dated the 26th of July, and was received on the 13th of August. In consequence of the arrival of that letter Her Majesty's Government had to deliberate upon the general question. They had to deliberate upon it with the advantage of all the information they had received, with the conviction that with becoming energy an expedition, and a suitable expedition, could be fitted out to act in the present year. They believed that the interests of this country required that the honour of our Sovereign should be vindicated. I will not dwell upon the high duty of rescuing from captivity the subjects of Her Majesty, because really that consideration is involved in the honour of the Crown. I shall not conceal from the House the great reluctance with which Her Majesty's Government arrived at this resolution. Nothing but the conviction that it was our duty to take such a course would have induced us to come to that decision. It is, I admit, a vexatious thing that we should be obliged to have recourse to arms in order to control a Sovereign like the King of Abyssinia. I feel that, if ever there was a case in which a great nation, governed by a Sovereign like ours, could show magnanimity and forbearance this was one. Magnanimity and forbearance, however, have limits, for though in public as well as in private matters, when an insignificant or an unworthy individual wishes to fasten a quarrel upon you, magnanimity and forbearance would be shown by every right-minded man, we know that, practically speaking, there is a limit to the exercise of those qualities, or if persisted in, would assume the character of pettiness and timidity. Now, magnanimity and forbearance had in this case been exercised by Her Majesty in an eminent degree. Every pacific means which it was possible to take had been taken by Her Majesty's Government. I am not speaking of the present Government merely, but of her advisers at all times. We believed, therefore, that the period had arrived when it was absolutely necessary to the interests of this country that there should be a recourse to arms, in 190 order to vindicate the honour of the Throne, and to obtain that justice without which the possession of power would to my mind have no charms. We must remember that even from the saddest circumstances some useful moral may generally be drawn and some advantage obtained, and I think that in the present instance we may arrive at this conclusion, that hereafter it may be wise to be more cautious in opening relations with Sovereigns such as the King of Abyssinia. I cannot help feeling also, when we are going to war not to obtain territory, not to secure commercial advantages, but for high moral causes—and high moral causes alone—that it is perhaps well in an age like the present, which certainly is distinguished by an almost absorbing love of wealth and power, that the country should feel, as I believe it does feel, that there is something more precious than power and wealth.
Well, Sir, the Government having come, on the verge of the end of the Session, to the conclusion that it was their duty to advise Her Majesty to have recourse to arms, they resolved as far as they could to insure that the expedition should not fail. Humanly speaking, therefore, they have taken all the means in their power to prevent disaster and to insure success—and I am bound to take this opportunity of expressing on the part of the Government their sense of obligation to the Governor of Bombay for the great energy and resource which he has displayed. He has shown, indeed, more than energy and resource; he has shown a quality which I attribute entirely to his House of Commons training—he has shown a great regard to the interests of the public purse—for I have observed that eminent functionaries who have not had such a training are not so scrupulous in that respect as those who have had that advantage. I thought the Committee would not be displeased that I should thus refer to one who sat many years among us, and who is remembered not merely for his talents, but for his many genial qualities. Now, I wish the Committee to understand that, having resolved to undertake this enterprize, Her Majesty has not expended a single shilling which has not been voted and appropriated by Parliament. Whatever expenditure has been hitherto incurred has been voted and appropriated by Parliament; and it is now, when those votes and appropriations are exhausted, that we come to Parliament to ask for further assistance, and to beg their 191 aid in supporting the policy which we think it wise to pursue. I may remind the Committee that the last step which the Government has taken with regard to the King of Abyssinia is this:—They have directed that Sir Robert Napier should deliver a peremptory message to the King demanding the release of Her Majesty's Consul and the other prisoners, and they have instructed him to support that peremptory message by force if required.
It will now be my duty to explain the probable cost, as far as we can ascertain, of the war in which we may have to embark, and for which we have to a great degree prepared, and also to explain why I have fixed upon £2,000,000 as the amount which it is, on the whole, wisest and best to vote under the present circumstances. The Committee is entitled to the fullest confidence in this matter, and I do not know that I can proceed in a manner more satisfactory to the Committee, as well as to the Government, than if I place before them all the information that we have upon the subject, and state what we believe will be the complete cost of this war if it should commence and be pursued not only to its probable but to its possible termination. The Estimates before us, I need hardly remind the Committee, cannot be prepared with the precision with which Estimates are usually laid upon the table of the House, because they refer to expenditure taking place in a distant country, and they must therefore be described as "rough Estimates;" but I wish the Committee to understand that though I avail myself of an epithet in common use and call them rough Estimates, they are not careless Estimates. They have been submitted to as severe an investigation as was possible under the circumstances, to much criticism, and to the judgment of most experienced men, and they have led to considerable inquiry even in the distant places where the expenditure must to a great degree take place. We offer them, therefore, with as much confidence as we have a right to feel, and that confidence is by no means slight. Assuming, then, that the war commences, and is carried on until the end of the month of April, about which time it would be expedient that our troops should leave Abyssinia, we believe it will be necessary that we should incur an expenditure of £3,500,000. That amount will no doubt be increased if we are called upon to replace the forces of the Indian Government that are now assisting Her Majesty in this enterprize; 192 but the increase will not, comparatively speaking, be considerable—I say comparatively speaking, because I have seen the most absurd estimates on that head in the public papers. In case we have to replace the forces which the Indian Government now lend to Her Majesty, there will be an increase in the Estimate of £300,000, more or less. That is the whole amount which we believe would be required, and would give a total expenditure of £3,800,000; but the Government would contemplate the possibility of an expenditure, in round numbers, of £4,000,000, if we have to replace those troops. Now, of this £3,500,000, £2,000,000 alone will be payable by the Home Government during the present financial year—that is, the year ending on the 31st of March—that is to say, £2,000,000 to meet the advances and make the allowances on account to the Indian Government, which would become due before that day, and to make good those advances which have been supplied by the services at home from the appropriated Votes. It certainly will not exceed the sum of £2,000,000 in the course of the present financial year; and Her Majesty's Government are therefore of opinion that it is unnecessary to trouble the Committee of Supply for a greater amount than that. There is also another reason—though I think I have already given a sufficient one—why it is convenient not to contemplate at the present moment a greater expenditure than £2,000,000; for, as far as we can calculate, it will take exactly that sum to place our complete force upon the soil of Abyssinia. I think that General Napier may find himself with his army completely equipped and ready for action in Abyssinia, at a cost of £2,000,000. I do not wish to indulge in any sanguine expectations; but we ought not to be blind to this contingency, that after these great preparations, and after the invasion of Abyssinia by disciplined troops, it is possible that the further horrors of war may be spared. There are many persons, some of whom are persons on the spot, who entertain even sanguine expectations on the subject. I myself give no opinion upon it; but I think it my duty to place that view of the matter before the Committee. If that result should happily occur, the Vote I am going to ask the Committee to give us would meet the expenditure we should have incurred, and it would not be necessary to ask for any further Vote in Supply for the Abyssinian Expedition.
193 I have now placed before the House as clearly and as succinctly as I could the general state of affairs. I have avoided as much as possible all points of controversy, because I thought it inconvenient, when asking the House for this Vote, that I should enter at all into them. At the proper time, if they are entered into, my Colleagues and myself will be prepared to vindicate our policy. But for the present I merely place in your hands, Mr. Dodson, the Vote of which I have given notice.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £2,000,000, be granted to Her Majesty, for defraying the expenses of the Abyssinian Expedition, beyond the ordinary expenses of the year 1867.
§ MR. LOWE
Mr. Dodson—There is one remark of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer in which I entirely concur—he has avoided all topics of controversy, but at what expense to the completeness and perhaps to the accuracy of his narrative I will now endeavour, in as few words as I can, to show to the House. With so much of his speech as deals with the causes of this unhappy quarrel I have nothing to say. I will concede to him, as far as my own opinion goes, anything he likes: for it would indeed be strange if a great country like this could not contrive to get the weather-gauge, in a matter of the law of nations, of such a person as King Theodore. I will not trouble the House on that point, and I more willingly pass it by because there is a weighty matter which I have to submit to the House, and to which I crave, for your own sakes and for the sake of the Constitution of the country, your most serious and minute attention. This war has been commenced without being notified to the House of Commons. That is the undoubted Prerogative of the Crown, and I should be the last person in the world to dispute it. But those who advised the Crown in the exercise of its Prerogative, absolute as that Prerogative is according to our law, are bound by the responsibility they owe to this House and to the country to temper their advice with prudence. And as the Crown, when it comes to make war, must necessarily sooner or later—in this case, I am sorry to say, sooner rather than later—come to this House to furnish it with the sinews of war, I think it is advisable—and I believe that every hon. Member I address will agree with me—that Her 194 Majesty's Government should in every respect consider the feelings and wishes of this House, and should show, so far as is consistent with their duty to the Sovereign, the most marked deference to the feelings and rights of that assembly from which, in the last resort, they must receive the means of carrying on that war which it is the Prerogative of the Sovereign to declare. The charge I make against the Government, and which I will endeavour to substantiate as well as I can from the materials before us, is that they induced the House to believe that they were not going immediately or in a short time to take any decided steps against King Theodore; and that having created that impression in the House by the speech of a Member of the Cabinet, they never ceased from the moment that speech was made to push on preparations for that expedition as hotly and as fast as they could, and that they only communicated the fact of their intention of going to war to this House at that supreme moment of its existence when its powers were in the very act of being suspended by the prorogation of Parliament. That is the charge I make against the Government, and that charge I believe I shall be able to substantiate. To come as quickly to the point as possible. On the 26th of July in this year the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs delivered a speech to this House, of which the right hon. Gentleman has spoken highly, and, I will concede to him, not more highly than it deserves. The noble Lord in that speech was exceedingly cautious. He evidently spoke under a high sense of responsibility, laying down principles to which I, for one, give my cordial concurrence. But the right hon. Gentleman says that in that speech the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs made these two statements. He says he announced that an expedition was preparing, and that he courted responsibility. ["No, no!"] I took down the right hon. Gentleman's words.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
The right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. What I said was that if I on my part chose to put sentences together or, if you like, to "garble" it, I could prove from that speech the two propositions to which the right hon. Gentleman now alludes.
§ MR. LOWE
I am glad to be corrected. I have misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman. Then I understand he admits that 195 the Secretary of State did not announce that an expedition was preparing, and did not announce that the Government was prepared to take any serious responsibility. Well, that will serve my purpose quite as well. Now, the right hon. Gentleman spoke of "garbling," and he says that anything may be made out of a speech by "garbling" it. Well, I will not "garble" it, but he forces me to read rather a longer extract than I intended. It shall be read straight off, without leaving anything out or putting anything in. The noble Lord (Lord Stanley) said—On the other hand, I feel bound to tell the House frankly and fairly that to obtain the release of these men by force is not an easy matter. I do not speak of military resistance, which in all probability would be insignificant, but we have to consider the country, the climate, the heat at one season and the heavy rains at another, the cost of supplies, the absence of all means of transport, and our total ignorance of what would be the feeling of the people towards an armed force advancing through their country, and all these things taken together make operations against Abyssinia a very serious matter."—[3 Hansard, clxxxix. 251.]Nothing could be more just, nothing more statesmanlike, and nothing more true. He then went on—Something has been said about our having Aden near as a convenient point of departure for such operations. But Aden is a place without stores or resources, and all the supplies that would be required for the invasion of Abyssinia, whether proceeding from Egypt or from Bombay, must be provided beforehand. Magdala, where these men are detained, is at least 300 miles from the coast, and must be approached through a country which is known to be mountainous and difficult, without anything which we should consider as a road, in many parts said to be destitute of water, and of which we really know very little. I am sure, therefore, that the House will feel that, however anxious we may be to attain the object we all have in view, it would be madness to throw a British army into an unknown country, in a tropical climate, far from the sea, very far from its reserves and its supplies, without a full previous investigation as to the means of moving, feeding, and keeping them in health. That inquiry we look upon as an indispensable preliminary."—[Ibid.]Most admirable. Mark the word "preliminary"!I have been in communication with the War Department and with the India Office as to the best mode of proceeding. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India has telegraphed to the Indian Government to send over an officer or officers on whom they can rely to meet Colonel Merewether at Aden, and with him to examine minutely the points on which information is necessary. I do not wish to anticipate the result of that inquiry, but I hope that the House will be of opinion that in making it we had only done our 196 duty—that, on the one hand, we cannot consent to leave these men to their fate without some attempt to rescue them, and, on the other hand, that by precipitation and by acting in the dark we should be running the risk of involving ourselves in great calamities, and might bring on ourselves not only political, but also the possibility of military disaster."—[Ibid.]I will omit a few sentences about King Theodore not being in earnest about releasing the prisoners. Then he goes on—Obviously, We must be guided to a great degree by the reports we receive from those whom we employ to make the investigation to which I have referred. I do not think we should be called upon even now to give any pledge on the part of the Government as to an expedition, unless it is found to be practicable with only a reasonable expenditure of men and means."—[Ibid.]That expenditure of men and means was to depend on the report that the noble Lord was to receive. Well, I put it to the candour of hon. Gentlemen opposite whether any one who heard that speech or read it would not go away with the impression that Her Majesty's Government were deeply impressed with the importance of the enterprize that was presenting itself to them, and were determined, for a considerable time at least, to take no step that would bind us in any way, and that they would not require to come to Parliament for assistance, or to pledge the country in any way, until they had ascertained those difficult facts which the noble Lord had sketched with so masterly a hand. The words are as plain as words can be. The noble Lord sketched out an outline of the enormous difficulties which we should have to encounter, he dwelt with great force on our ignorance of the nature of those difficulties and the necessity for investigation, and, having done so, he announced the intention of the Government to stay its hand until that investigation was completed and the results are at its disposal. That was on the 26th of July. From that time until the 21st of August the Government never ceased pushing on their preparations for war, not merely with regard to transport but to other matters. On the 21st of August Her Majesty was advised to make this declaration to the House, when its debating functions were at an end, and when there is no more power of answering the statements of the Speech from the Throne than there is of our answering a clergyman in the pulpit. Pray bear in mind the statement I have read, and now compare it with this emanation from the same Government within a month of the other— 197The Communications which I have made to the reigning Monarch of Abyssinia, with a view to obtain the Release of the British Subjects whom he detains in his Dominions, have, I regret to say, thus far proved ineffectual. I have therefore found it necessary to"—What? To direct inquiries to be made as to the possibility of marching, of moving, of feeding a British force, and if those inquiries turn out satisfactory it is my intention to commence operations against him? No—I have therefore found it necessary to address to him a peremptory Demand for their immediate Liberation, and to take Measures for supporting that Demand, should it ultimately be found necessary to resort to Force.[Cheers.] I would ask hon. Gentlemen who cheer how they are able in their own minds to reconcile these things. I ask them how they can reconcile that Speech with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman to-night. If they can do so, I shall for ever respect their powers of reconciliation. I now come to the next point. This having occasioned some comment, a defence has been set up for it, and a noble Lord who has at least as good a right as anybody to speak on behalf of the Government said in "another place"—Now, my Lords, it has been said that this language was held on the 26th of July, while the first intimation given to Parliament of an intended expedition was contained in the Queen's Speech on the prorogation of Parliament on the 21st of August. The explanation of this circumstance is perfectly simple. At the commencement of the month of June my noble Relative had, as he stated in his speech, taken steps to obtain the most perfect information from the most reliable Indian sources with regard to Abyssinia; but that information was not obtained until the 13th of August, when we received intelligence which led us to believe that we might with a reasonable prospect of success send an expedition to Abyssinia to accomplish the object we had in view. Parliament was prorogued on the 21st of August, and it was not until the 19th of August that, having carefully considered the information we had received from India, we came to the determination to send out an expedition to Abyssinia. Having come to the determination on the 19th of August, at the earliest possible opportunity on the 21st we communicated that determination to Parliament."—[3 Hansard, cxc. 41.]That, then, is the defence which is set up. The first item of that defence is, as the House will see, that the information on which the Government were to make up their minds whether they should take active steps or not was not obtained till the 13th of August, and that they did not make up their minds what they were to do upon that information till the 19th 198 of August. The first question, then, which arises is what was that information? The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer tells us that they received a despatch from the Governor of Bombay, which, as I understand, is to be found at page 4 of the blue book, and in which that very active and energetic officer showed a degree of promptitude for which they seem hardly to have been prepared. The Governor of Bombay wrote thus—The operations ought to commence by January, in order to be finished in one season. I can have the force ready in time, provided only that I can obtain animals, which should be collected immediately. We shall want waggons and stores from home. To obtain transports now is easy; but if the decision is long delayed we must use new transport ships. It would have been better to have commenced earlier.That, I suppose, is the despatch to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, although he alluded to it only in general terms. Now, the House will bear in mind that what the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary said on the 26th of July did not point to the question of the getting together of a force or of transport or ships, but to inquiries into the nature of the country and the sort of enterprize they were to embark in when they arrived there. Therefore, as they were waiting, on July 26, for information on these points, it is no answer to say that on some day in August the Governor of Bombay wrote that he could find them troops in time. It was a question of the features and character of the country, of its climate, and the difficulties to be encountered. ["Oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen opposite may say "Oh;" but I have read the statement of the noble Lord to them in full, and there is not a word in it about obtaining troops. Then the Chancellor of the Exchequer tells us that another thing which weighed very much with the Government was that the King rejected their overtures for the giving up of the prisoners. The despatch from our Political Resident at Aden, dated July 26, says—He (the messenger) delivered the despatch into the King's own hand. The King took it, and saluted it by conveying it to his head; a few words were addressed to the messenger. He was then told to retire, with an order that he was to receive two dollars at once, and daily two sheep and five breads. After ten days he was dismissed, at the same time with several other messengers from Tigre. No letter was delivered to him, and when he purposed asking the King about it he was prevented doing so by the bystanders. This is the man's own statement.
§ Sir STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Read on. 199It is evident the King has no intention of sending any reply, or of acting in accordance with the demand contained in your Lordship's letter.The House will remember the observation I have made before—namely, that the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn did not speak at all of the action of the Government depending upon the conduct of the King, but upon the preliminary inquiries to be made into the features of the country and the nature of the enterprize. We are dealing with the facts, not with Colonel Merewether's interpretation of them. It is no answer, therefore, to urge that the King treated with contempt or did not obey the message which was sent to him. One further passage, and I will not trouble the House with any more on this point. At page 24 of the blue book you will find this stated in a despatch of the 13th of August from the Under Secretary of State for India to the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs—Sir Stafford Northcote has instructed Mr. Seymour Fitzgerald to despatch certain selected officers, connected with the Commissariat and other public departments, to the coast of the Red Sea, in order to make, in communication with Colonel Merewether, the Political Resident at Aden, inquiries into the features and resources of the country to be visited.That is the inquiry which the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary contemplated, and though that inquiry was thus directed to be instituted, no answer as to these particular points has been received at all. The noble Lord the Foreign Secretary said there must be a preliminary inquiry into them, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer now seeks really to substitute one thing for another. The Government must either stand by the noble Lord's speech, or they must abandon it. If they stand by it, they must show that they received the information which the noble Lord said they waited for. If they do not show that, it is of no use showing that they received all sorts of information upon other and different matters. Therefore, as they cannot show the first, on that point the defence wholly breaks down. Then it is said they received news on the 13th of August. Well, what was it? Nobody has said what that was. The noble Lord in "another place" did not state, and the right hon. Gentleman to-night has not stated, what the news was which they received on the 13th of August, and which fulfilled the condition laid down by the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary in his speech last Session. I cannot imagine what it was. But now 200 mark what was done. It is quite clear that one announcement was made on the 26th of July, and quite a different one on the 21st of August. It is said the information they obtained in the interval caused them to alter their opinions. I do not accuse them of altering their opinions. I know nothing of their opinions. I accuse them of announcing one thing in July and another in August. If you read the whole of the blue book from the beginning you will find one consistent line taken up and steadily pursued throughout; there is no jerk, no acceleration or retardation visible; nothing happened more after the 13th of August than before it; step after step is taken, until the whole thing assumes a mature development. It is alleged that the Government did not make up their minds until the 19th of August. Just look at the things which they did before the 19th of August. I am now citing from the 25th page of the blue book. There you find a telegram from the Secretary of State for India to the Governor of Bombay, dated August 14th, or five days before the 19th, to this effect—Authority should be given to the officers to draw on Bombay. The Government of India have been instructed to supply you with funds. Purchase the steamers. Tell Sir Robert Napier to make a peremptory demand for the delivery of the captives, and to follow it up by such measures as he thinks expedient. We leave all preparatory measures to your discretion. Your requisitions will be complied with.Is that the language of a Government which does not know whether it is going to war or not? And not only did they do this, so zealous were they that they actually rode straight through a most peremptory Act of Parliament, as appears from the very passage I have just read. They ordered money to be paid out of the Indian revenue. Are we to be told that the Government took no resolution when they took such a step as that? The 55th section of the Government of India Act of 1859 says—Except for preventing or repelling actual Invasion of Her Majesty's Indian Possessions, or under other sudden and urgent Necessity, the Revenues of India shall not, without the Consent of both Houses of Parliament, be applicable to defray the Expenses of any Military Operation carried on beyond the external Frontiers of such Possessions by Her Majesty's Forces charged upon such Revenues.Well, not only are the rights of this House set aside when public money is thus expended, but the Act of Parliament, which 201 seems to have provided for this very case, is broken; while the Government assure us in the very same breath that they have taken no step at all, though they have done the things which I am pointing out. But this is not all. In the blue book there appears this telegram of August 13, from the Secretary of State for India to the Governor of Bombay—It is proposed that the command should be given to Sir Robert Napier. You shall have an answer about the transports when it is decided by the Cabinet.Again, there is at the same page of the blue book (25) this telegram from the Secretary of State to the Governor of Bombay:—Please to give an early reply about the proposed purchase of the steamer transports. Have arrangements been made with the Governor General about finding the funds? In the Gulf and the Red Sea draughts on Bombay are better than on Calcutta. The time is passing quickly; a month's delay may make the difference of the proposed equipment and success.Then you come to No. 31, which says—Authority should be given to the officers to draw on Bombay. The Government of India have been instructed to supply you with funds," &c.Then, in a despatch—not a hurried telegram—from the Secretary of State for India to the Governor of Bombay, dated August 16, a little before the Government state that they made up their minds, it is said—It having now, however, become manifest that the King will not release the captives until he is compelled to do so, Her Majesty has resolved on making a final and more peremptory demand upon him, and on supporting that demand by adequate military operations.Is that consistent with the Government not having made up their minds to have recourse to military preparations at all? If they had, what is to be said of the conduct of the Government and of its treatment of this House? The despatch goes on to say—Her Majesty's Government are of opinion that the contemplated expedition should be organized in India, and that Bombay should be selected as the base of operations. It is their desire it should be placed under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir Robert Napier, K.C.B., the Commander-in-Chief of the Bombay Army, with Brigadier General Sir Charles Stavely, K.C.B., as second in command, who will accordingly receive the necessary instructions from His Royal Highness the Field Marshal Commanding-in-Chief.Then there is the despatch of the Field Marshal Commanding-in-Chief appointing Sir Robert Napier commander of the expe- 202 dition. All this was before the Government had made up their minds. I do not know that I need quote much further from this blue book. I can quite understand that hon. Gentlemen opposite do not look upon those extracts as very acceptable, but there is another to which I would invite their attention. The Assistant Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, writing to the Under Secretary of State for India on the 17th of August, says—I have laid before Lord Stanley your letter of the 13th instant, stating the steps which have been taken in anticipation of the necessity of sending an expedition to Abyssinia for the purpose of effecting the release of the captives detained by King Theodore, and I am to inform you in reply that, as Her Majesty's Government have decided on immediately prosecuting this matter and on leaving all arrangements therewith connected to be carried out by Her Majesty's Indian authorities, Lord Stanley has requested the Lords of the Treasury to place themselves in communication with the Secretary of State in regard to the question of expenditure.Observe this verbose official mode of making an announcement which, in plain English, means, "We have determined to go to war, and we desire you to find the money." Such, then, is the state of the case. Her Majesty's Government, through one of its most important Members, made a statement which led the House to believe that a careful investigation would be instituted, and that some time would be allowed to elapse before war would be resolved on. Having done that, they immediately set to work to prepare for war; they send oral instructions to India to have mules and stores provided for the purpose, and, notwithstanding that the House was all the time sitting, they preserve the most absolute silence on the subject, never breathing to us a word with respect to these preparations, until we hear that war is determined on through Her Majesty's Speech. Now, if the House is called upon to support the Government on such an occasion, it is, I maintain, entitled to have the fullest confidence placed in it. Nothing ought to be concealed from it. It is a mere pretext to say that there were reasons which required that we should not be supplied with the information with which I contend we ought to have been furnished. There is in a defence of that kind no sort of solidity, especially in the case of a barbarous Power, in regard to which it would not matter whether the announcement that we were about to go to war with it was made sooner or later. I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite do they feel that the House ought 203 to have been so treated? I rose mainly to complain of the course which has in this respect been pursued by the Government. I can imagine no more dispiriting or humiliating position than that in which we stand at the present moment. We are placed in a worse position than a debating society, because a debating society can select the conclusion at which it wishes to arrive. We, however, have not that miserable consolation. We are asked to vote money, a great portion of which has been already spent, and to give our sanction to an expedition which has already started. We cannot, of course, allow the public credit of England to suffer, or a mission sent on a perilous errand to want anything we can find for it because the Government did not choose to take the House into their confidence. We must vote the money—the right hon. Gentleman knows it well—and thus give an apparent sanction to this expedition, although we have never been consulted in the matter and never had an opportunity of giving a free opinion as to its policy. I now turn to another part of the subject, and that is the question whether we are not entitled to have a little more information as to the expedition laid before us. The noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs told us on a former occasion, most fairly, that we ought to know everything about the country which our troops are about to invade which could be ascertained by inquiries, and that it would be madness to send our army to a distance from its supports without obtaining the fullest information of that kind which could be procured. Has this been done? We have certainly got an immense blue book; but, for my part, I "cannot see the wood for the trees." It is impossible to wade through the numerous documents which it contains. There is a correspondence about the theological scruples of a dragoman, and as to whether a sub-dragoman should get £500 a year, and whether some other man whom he required should accompany him. Everything that is superfluous—merely official routine—is crowded into the blue book; but there is one thing which is not to be found there—and that is information as to the selection of routes. It were better, in my opinion, that 850 of those despatches were left altogether out of the book, and that we should be furnished with information compiled from Bruce and other travellers, which it is said at page 58 was most useful to the Secretary of State, because in such information lies the pinch of 204 the whole question. Why, I would ask the noble Lord, has that been printed and circulated which he regards as a necessary preliminary to enabling us to make up our minds on this question, and yet not laid before the House? As to the base of operations, that would appear to be settled. The place fixed upon, I believe, is one within sixteen miles of which there is no water, and where men and animals are now supported by distilled water. I am not now canvassing the merits of the expedition. I am simply speaking of the information which I think the House ought to have, and with which it has not yet been furnished. I should like, for instance, to learn something about the routes. There are a number of caravan routes in Abyssinia. If the Government had chosen any one of these, it would be easy to show that it would be almost practically impossible to avail ourselves of it for the purposes of the expedition. They have not done so, however; but they have, instead, made a selection of a route of which, as far as I am aware, no one appears to know anything. I once heard of a doctor who said that he had no such confidence in any medicine as in that which he had never prescribed before. It seems that the Government have no confidence in the known routes, but the greatest in a route with which everybody is unacquainted. They give the public no information on the point beyond stating that it follows the top of a range of mountains. Then, again, I would ask whether the expedition is entered upon with the idea that King Theodore has the prisoners in his possession or not? If he has not, there is surely no use in attacking him in order to rescue them. If he has, he will most probably retire with them into some part of the country in which it will not be easy to get at him. I should like to know also whether the Government have made any calculation as to the exact destination of the expedition, whether Magdala, Debra Tabor, or some other point. They do not, I suppose, hope to get fairly into the country until the end of December. Then, there will be only four months before the rainy season will come on, and I trust we shall hear from the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs whether it is contemplated that our troops should pass that season in Abyssinia. If so, how is it proposed to meet the danger to which they will be exposed by the climate? Then the roads are such, as we are informed by Mr. 205 Dufton and Mr. Bruce, that persons travelling by them are compelled to proceed for forty or fifty miles together in single file. Has it been taken into account how that process can be gone through by an army consisting, including non-combatants, of 40,000 or 50,000 men, incumbered with beasts of burden? Why, one man falling from sunstroke or illness on the route, one mule turning restive or requiring its load to be adjusted, would, under such circumstances, stop the advance of the whole force. It should be borne in mind that they would not be marching in a climate like that of England, but in a country where the sun is vertical almost all the year round, and where long exposure in the heat is perilous in the extreme. Yet upon these important points no assurance is given to the House that such perils can be avoided. There is one other point to which I should like briefly to advert. Our route will lie from Annesley Bay, and Mr. Scarlett, our Minister at Florence, very properly invited the opinion, as to the nature of the country to be traversed, of his Belgian colleague, Count Cuelebroeck, who says—a suggestion, be it remembered, having been made that we should send, among other places, to Constantinople for mules, where I, at least, never saw a mule. The Belgian Minister, speaking of the only routes we can take from Annesley Bay or Massowah, said—You arrive at the plateau, 8,000 foot high, by Dixan or Halai and the ascent begins at some leagues from the coast. There is no trace of road, and it is well to remember that horses and loaded mules cannot pass there.This exactly agrees with what Bruce says in his travels. He says he had to unload his mule and crawl up the rock himself with his luggage, because it was impossible for the mule to get up with it. The Belgian Minister further said—The inhabitants employ oxen, which have this special quality, that they employ their knees to climb the rocks, which horses could not reach with their feet.Considering that such is the character of the passes by which you must keep up your communication with the army, and through which all your force of artillery and all your bottled beer and light claret must be carried, I want to know whether the attention of the Government has been called to the fact, and whether they have taken or are now taking any measures in order to enable the army to maintain any real communication with the shore? These 206 are some of the points on which I hope that the Government will give us information; but what I rose mainly for was to draw attention to what I conceive to be the manner in which the House has been treated, and I now leave the matter to be dealt with by abler hands than my own.
Sir, in rising to support the Motion of my right hon. Friend, I am painfully conscious of the difference between that remarkable display of rhetorical ingenuity to which the Committee has just listened, and the plain unvarnished statement of facts which is all that I can venture to lay before them. But I rely with confidence upon the strength of the case which I have to urge—I rely upon the often-tested justice of this House, and upon the support of impartial opinion out of doors. In the first place, I think I am not asking too much if I beg the Committee to believe that this Abyssinian expedition is an undertaking in which nothing could have induced the present Government—or I suppose any Government—to engage, except the conviction of an imperative necessity. No Minister could desire to deprive himself of the means of promoting those financial reforms for which we are all so anxious; no Minister could wish to incur the inevitable unpopularity of increased taxation; nor least of all, could any Government willingly undertake the risk and responsibility which must necessarily attach to any campaign carried on in a remote and difficult country. It is quite unnecessary, I think, to disclaim in this case any idea of permanent occupation or protection, or of conquest. We have quite as much territory already on our hands as we care to hold, or as we can safely hold; and if we had not, I do not think Abyssinia is precisely that part of the world in which England would covet new possessions. No, Sir, this work comes to us as a duty—as a duty not agreeable, but which has to be undertaken, and which neither in honour nor in justice to those engaged in the service of the Crown, nor with any due consideration of our interests in the East, it would be possible for us to leave unperformed. It is as a duty alone we consider it, and it is in this point of view we believe it will be considered by the country. At the stage which we have now reached it is not, I believe, of much practical importance to discuss the question whether or not it was wise in the first instance to enter into diplomatic relations with Abyssinia. That is a matter on which I at least am not called to 207 express an opinion. It was a thing done long before Pier Majesty's present Advisers were responsible for the conduct of affairs. The appointment of the first Abyssinian Consul dates as far back as the year 1848. I neither praise nor blame the establishment of that Consulate; I only feel bound to state, in justice to those by whom that step was taken, that even if it should be considered unnecessary and unwise to have sent a Consul to Abyssinia, I do not think that the results which have actually followed were within the reasonable expectations of any one. King Theodore was at that time known to be an able and ambitious sovereign; somewhat unscrupulous, perhaps, and careless of life—but that apparently insane mixture of suspicion and violence which now characterizes his disposition had not then developed itself, and could not have been foreseen. Nor do I wish to discuss at any length the causes which led to the original detention of Mr. Cameron. Indeed, although I have read all that has been published upon that subject, and have heard the opinions of various persons with respect to it, and although it has necessarily been a good deal in my thoughts, I am bound to say that all the results at which I have been able to arrive are of an exceedingly negative character. It may be that King Theodore himself would be puzzled to say by what act or series of acts his feelings of suspicion or jealousy were first excited. It may be that his mind had been poisoned by some of the other European residents at his court, who were many in number, and on bad terms with one another. It may be that he had listened to stories which were unproved, and accusations which were simply baseless. It may be that the intercourse, slight as it was, which Mr. Cameron held with the Native tribes, or the suspicion that he was in communication with the Egyptian Government, first awakened the hostile disposition of the King. It may be that there was something in the circumstance we have all heard of, of the letter which was never answered. It may be—and I, for my part, lean to this as the least improbable of the many solutions that have been offered—it may be that King Theodore expected from the friendship offered by England something very different from what we intended to offer. We, of course, merely proposed friendly intercourse and commercial facilities; he may have expected an alliance and active assistance in that which has been the fa- 208 vourite project of his life—a crusade against the Turkish power; and, however unreasonable that expectation may appear to us, it is not unlikely to have been entertained by him, and he may have considered himself ill-used because it was not gratified. It may be, again, that the original detention of the prisoners was a mere act of caprice, for which no intelligible reason can be assigned, and that he has since detained the prisoners, not so much from a feeling of enmity as from a fear of releasing them, because he imagined that he might then lose the hold he now possesses on England, and be, in consequence, exposed to punishment. All these are explanations more or less plausible, and more or less capable of being supported by argument; but which of them, or whether any of them, is true, is more than I can pretend to say. The materials for deciding that question are before the public, and every one must be left to form his own conclusion upon them. But I think that it is a matter which is not now practically urgent. If King Theodore had a grievance either against our Consul or against the British Government, and had made that grievance known in an ordinary and rational manner, we should have been able to explain it away if it were ill-founded, or to redress it if there were any grounds for it. But as he has not at any period of these proceedings, from first to last, condescended to tell us what is his cause of complaint, I do not think we should be required to conjecture its nature. And in the next place it must be plain, that if on the one hand his complaint is against the Government it is an act, not merely of injustice, but of absurdity, to punish the innocent Envoy; while if, on the other hand, what he has to complain of is something in the personal conduct of the Consul, then the obvious and natural remedy would be to refer the matter to the Government by whom the Consul was sent out, whose business it would be to take cognizance of it, and, if necessary, to inflict proper punishment. I say this because I have seen of late some attempts, although but a few, to represent the detention of Mr. Cameron as, if not perhaps justifiable, at least capable of explanation and excuse. But even if that were admitted for the Bake of argument, what can possibly be adduced in excuse of the detention of Mr. Rassam? Mr. Rassam gave no offence; Mr. Rassam held out no hope of assistance from the British Government; Mr. Rassam held no 209 communication with Native tribes; his sole mission was to procure the liberation of Mr. Cameron—and yet, although the King has used the most friendly language towards him, he remains in prison without a prospect of rescue, unless by the means which it may be necessary for us to adopt. When we acceded to office, some fifteen months ago, we found this state of things existing, and we had to consider what was, under the circumstances, best to be done. There were those even then, and among them people who knew Abyssinia best, who said that negotiation was of no use, and that nothing except force would attain the result we all desire. The event has proved this opinion to be correct; but it was not our wish, and I believe the Committee will be of opinion that it was not our duty, to act upon that theory unless we could say with certainty that all other resources had failed. Our first step was to consider whether we should send out a third mission. There were, no doubt, volunteers ready to undertake that hazardous and honourable service; but after the failure of the two former missions we felt that to send out a third similarly composed upon the same errand, would be only to expose to needless risk valuable lives, and to increase the number of those we should ultimately have to rescue. What we did therefore was to employ an agent whom we found ready to our hands—Mr. Flad, the German missionary, to whom the right hon. Gentleman has referred. He had enjoyed for some time the friendship of the King—such friendship at least as that Sovereign is capable of. He had been allowed to return to Europe, leaving his wife and children behind as hostages, and was thus bound in any case to go back. On that account he was selected to convey the Queen's letter to King Theodore, while Colonel Merewether went over to Massowah to give him all the assistance in his power, and to inquire into the possibility of obtaining the release of the prisoners. Mr. Flad reached Massowah in October. What followed is on record in the papers which have been published. The King expressed some anxiety to see the artizans and presents, but would say nothing at all as to the liberation of the captives. Colonel Merewether, then, acting on the instructions he had received for such a contingency, declined to give the presents or to send on the artizans. I have seen some criticisms upon this proceeding. I have seen it stated that we unnecessarily offended the King by showing a distrust of him. My answer 210 is that after his past conduct we could not help feeling such distrust, and if any other course had been taken, and that had followed which I believe would have been the inevitable result, we should not only have been his dupes, but his dupes by our own act and choice. In April we demanded the prisoners in a formal manner, avoiding at the same time all threats except that of forfeiting the friendship of England. But, at the same time, in anticipation of possible contingencies we began to communicate with the India Office and the War Office with respect to the possibilities and prospects of an expedition. The letter of April the 16th reached King Theodore in June; no reply followed; and it was when we found that that mission had been ineffective, we began anxiously to consider the question of using force. It was only on the 13th of August that the result of the inquiries made in India was reported to us; and about the same date we heard from Colonel Merewether that the messenger who had been despatched to the King had returned without a reply, making it clear that he had decided on giving no answer. On the 19th we wrote to Colonel Merewether, announcing that the expedition had been decided upon. I may mention in passing that the peremptory demand referred to in the Queen's Speech was intended to have been sent out at the same time; but on consideration we thought it better to keep back the demand for a few weeks on the ground that to send to the King a menacing message without at the same time showing by the state of our preparations that we were in earnest and able to enforce it, might in the interval have exposed the prisoners to increased danger. That demand bears date the 9th of September, and was forwarded a few days later. Such is a brief narrative of what has taken place. There is only one other circumstance in this narrative to which I deem it necessary to advert. We have within the last few weeks received from the Viceroy of Egypt an offer of diplomatic assistance in the shape of a mission which he proposes to send to King Theodore, advising him to comply with the British demands. That step was not taken at the request of Her Majesty's Government, but it was taken with our consent and sanction. At the same time, we have not allowed it to interfere with the preparations for the expedition. It was a chance which we thought we ought not to throw away; but we did not attach much 211 importance to it. If it should succeed so much the better: if it should fail we should be none the worse. There has not yet been time to learn what has been the result of that negotiation.
Now, Sir, reviewing the course of events, if objection is taken to the sending out of the expedition, my answer is, what else was there to do—what other alternative remained? No doubt there was one other alternative—the simplest of all, and which some might have thought wisest—to leave the prisoners as they were. There would have been a precedent for such a course—that was done in the case of Stoddart and Conolly, who were imprisoned and put to death in Bokhara. But in their case there was a reason—unfortunately too valid a reason—for the decision then adopted, and it was this—that it was believed at the time—and as far as I can venture to judge the opinion was a sound one—that to send an expedition from India to Bokhara was an undertaking physically impossible. England was not then in possession of the Punjaub; the distance from the then existing boundaries of India was over 1,200 miles; the road layover some of the highest mountains in the globe, through countries very thinly peopled, and whose inhabitants, where any existed, were fanatically hostile. The rescue of those officers was therefore not attempted simply because it was judged to be impossible. We cannot say the same thing in the present case. To march through Abyssinia may be a difficult task, but it certainly is not an impossible one. But even if—which I do not believe—even if opinion in this country would have tolerated as a lesser evil than the sending out of an expedition the leaving the prisoners to take their chance of being murdered or kept in chains for the rest of their lives—even that is not wholly the question we should have to consider. We have to consider opinion in India as well as here. If Europe alone were concerned you would have known the worst—you would have incurred a certain amount of ridicule and reproach, and even of humiliation.—Your diplomatic position would have been somewhat affected: but still I suppose no very serious evil in an Imperial sense would have arisen. But how would it be in India? The possession of India is no doubt a great glory, but it is also a great responsibility, and under some circumstances a great danger. We rest our position there on what is vaguely called prestige. We hold 212 our power in India not indeed exclusively by the exercise of force, but in a great measure by the knowledge that, however mildly and justly British authority may be exercised, it is backed in the last resort by a power which cannot be resisted. It follows as a consequence of this position that whatever it may cost we cannot allow that idea to be dispelled; we cannot accept an insult from any uncivilized tribe, and merely say we are very sorry, but it is out of our power to punish it. Even that case of Stoddart and Conolly, as I have been told, and as I believe, did us considerable harm in India. But I will take a much later instance. What was the origin of the war in Bhootan? Why it was precisely the same—the detention of, and an insult to, the British Envoy. That war was costly—it involved reverses, and it brought no return in the way of material advantages. But it succeeded; and no one, I believe, either in England or in India, said that it was unjustifiable or unnecessary. I know it is stated by some persons that it is a delusion to suppose the Native population of India know anything or care anything about what takes place in Abyssinia: but I believe that is a complete mistake. I have heard from the lips of many persons in the Madras Presidency—and I give it as an instance of how far and how fast intelligence sometimes travels among an Oriental population—I have heard that the news of our great disaster at Cabul was well known in the Native bazaars of that distant part of India before, or at least as soon as it had reached the British authorities. I will add another fact, or rather another statement of opinion. I believe that the conviction which the Sepoys had come to entertain of their own power—a conviction without which the great mutiny would never have taken place—was founded to a very considerable extent on the rumours—no doubt greatly exaggerated and distorted rumours—of what was said and thought in England with respect to what was called the break-down of our military system in the Crimean war. Well, it may be pretended that we despaired too soon of a peaceable solution of this question, and that we ought to have sent another mission. I confess, however, I do not see how—two previous missions having failed—the one under Mr. Rassam and the other under Mr. Flad—there could be any reasonable prospect that a third mission would succeed; and it is to be remembered that any attempt of that kind would 213 have inevitably led to the loss of another year. I have heard it asked, again, where would be the difficulty, if the matter were set about properly, of obtaining the release of the prisoners by the payment of a ransom? and some people have put the question, whether £100,000 offered to King Theodore would not have saved the captives, and have spared us the cost of the expedition? Now, with all deference to those who support that policy, I answer that we went as near to such a mode of proceeding as we could have done in decency or in honour—when the artizans were encouraged to go out, when presents were sent, when the Queen herself was advised to write a letter to the King couched in the most courteous terms, and in which she professed to consider all that had passed as the mere result of a misunderstanding: I think, after all these things, that the policy of concession and conciliation has been carried as far as was possible. Again, I doubt whether if a sum of money had been offered it would have been accepted. As far as we can see, it is not avarice, but an overweening vanity and cruelty of disposition that mark the character of King Theodore. But, apart from that, I think it is very doubtful on larger grounds whether it would be wise for us, who have necessarily numerous dealings with half-civilized tribes in every quarter of the globe, to buy off an imprisoned Envoy with a ransom. Ransom is easily confounded with tribute, and we all know what tribute implies. If we were to pursue that course once, it would in my opinion act as a premium on the detention of English Envoys and of English travellers, because let it once be thought "Here is a Government which will not fight but which is always ready to pay," and you will be called upon to pay first, and will probably have to fight in the end.
Then I come to another class of objections, of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne has given us some admirable specimens to-night. "What do you really know about Abyssinia? What data have you got to go upon? Have you undertaken this expedition with any reasonable prospects of success?" My answer is that the information collected from various quarters by the War Department, and which has this very evening been laid upon the table—information which, I am bound to say, I was not aware was accessible and available when I addressed the House last Session, in July last—I say 214 that that information shows that we know as much about the interior of Abyssinia as we knew of many of those various countries with which, unfortunately, we have from time to time been compelled to go to war. The main features of the country are clearly laid down. It has been mapped, the principal roads have been travelled over, and the physical geography and resources are tolerably well understood. In fact, we know more regarding Abyssinia than we did of Bhootan, and probably as much or more than we did of Burmah when we first went to war there in 1826, and of Scinde at the time of its conquest, in 1843. As to the chances of success, that is a question upon which the opinions of the highest military authorities have been carefully and anxiously taken. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe) asks whether the expedition is possible? But my difficulty in giving proof to the contrary is, that it has never entered the mind of anybody concerned with it to consider that the expedition was impossible. Those whom we have consulted have spoken of delay, of difficulty, of the cost of providing the necessary transports, which no one doubts; but no one speaking with any authority has expressed so much as a doubt of the ultimate success of the expedition, or even hinted that the physical obstacles are insurmountable. If a contrary opinion had been given, and supported by competent authority, as in the case of Bokhara, then, however much we might have regretted that the honour of the country could not be vindicated, we should have felt that our duty was clear, since no man can be expected to contend with insurmountable physical obstacles, and though that result would have been in some respects unsatisfactory, it would not have been without its consolations. What we have felt is this—that if this thing cannot be done, there would be an end at once of our duty and responsibility; but if, on the other hand, it can be done—and we are told that it can—then there is in honour and duty no choice but to go forward. No doubt those who have the conduct of this expedition will find difficulties in the way. But England was not made what England is—the Indian Empire was not built up—by men who shrank from facing difficulties in the course of a clear and obvious duty; and, observe this, that the difficulties here anticipated appear least formidable to those who from training and occupation are best ac- 215 quainted with obstacles of the kind. Indian officers are accustomed to rough countries and rough work, and of these officers Sir Robert Napier is by common consent recognised as one of the ablest. Whatever can be done by skill, by pluck, by perseverance, Sir Robert Napier will do. I have myself known enough of him to hazard that opinion—an opinion which I think will be endorsed by the whole of our Indian service.
Then, again, it is said by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe), "You have an enemy to contend against that no amount of moral courage or (skill will avail you to vanquish, and that is the climate." I believe that opinion to be widely prevalent in England, and I shared it to some extent myself when last year I spoke upon this subject. I believe that that opinion rests generally upon the assumption that Tropical Africa is unhealthy, and that because Abyssinia is a portion of Tropical Africa, therefore Abyssinia must be unhealthy. The fact, however, is that the whole of the interior of Abyssinia, as far as is known to us, is an elevated plateau 4,000 or 5,000 feet above the level of the sea; and that is just the elevation that is chosen by preference for the Indian Sanitaria. The low country to be traversed is not more than fifty or sixty miles across. Of the climate Mr. Plowden speaks in the highest terms; Mr. Rassam says that, upon the whole, it is a very healthy country; and Mr. Mansfield Parkyns, who spent five years in the country, describes it as being one of the healthiest climates in the world. Moreover, we must not overlook the fact that the health enjoyed by the prisoners at Magdala has been very good, notwithstanding the severe privations to which they have been exposed, and all the depressing influences of anxiety and harsh treatment. As to the Commissariat, Colonel Merewether reports that "once the plateau is crossed there is an abundance of good water and plenty of forage, fuel, meat and grain." And since I entered the House this evening I received a telegram which states that—Chief of Telhonda (?) met me on the road and went with me to Texonda (?). Ascent to Texonda (?) practicable for mules and camels, but difficult. Senappo route preferable. … 120 villages have applied to Colonel Merewether for friendly treatment, and offer services.I think the Committee will agree that this information is very satisfactory. We have had a very formidable picture drawn with 216 regard to the matter of roads. Now, I certainly do not mean to contend that Abyssinia is a country where you are likely to find good roads; but does anybody suppose that the obstacles in this respect will be more serious than were overcome in Affghanistan? I know that that word is a name of ill omen; but the Committee must recollect that, although there misconduct and mismanagement produced a great catastrophe, yet Anglo-Indian armies, of no great numerical force, traversed the country victoriously from end to end. Now I venture to say that Affghanistan presented as many physical difficulties as Abyssinia can do; but there is this in favour of Abyssinia—that Affghanistan is inhabited by a singularly warlike and hostile population, which certainly is not the case in Abyssinia. Serious military resistance in Abyssinia is hardly to be expected, and an expedition supplied with all the appliances of the present day cannot fail to do that which the comparatively feeble Portuguese expedition actually accomplished 300 years ago. Then, again, it is said that there are other difficulties, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire asks, "What will you do supposing King Theodore decamps and abandons his capital, falls back into the furthest interior of his country, and takes the prisoners with him?" My own belief is that he cannot do that. As far as we know what is passing there, the greater part of the country is in a state of chronic insurrection against him, and those who submit to his authority do so through fear, and not from love. Should his army be disbanded, and he should seek to take refuge among the half-independent chiefs in the interior, my belief is, that without our interference, he will very shortly cease to reign, and possibly cease to live. Further it is argued, "Suppose he should murder the captives, how will you have gained the object of your expedition?" My answer is, that there are a hundred chances to one against that probability. King Theodore has never shown himself wanting in cunning. I concur with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne, that he is not at all likely to throw away that which, if it come to the worst with him, is his best chance of buying peace. He has been warned that for the safety of these prisoners he will be held personally responsible; and, moreover, it is to be remembered that the prisoners themselves, amongst whom the probability of liberty has been again 217 and again discussed, are well aware of the risk they run and have made up their mind to it. They have implored us to ignore this difficulty, and have urged us to go forward. There is another criticism which I may mention by anticipation, because it has found favour in many places, and that is that the expedition is too large, and that one upon a smaller scale would cost less and would have a better chance of success. Upon that point my answer is that, being a military question, we have consulted the best military authorities, and that Sir Robert Napier has declared that with less than 10,000 or 12,000 men it would not be safe to make the attempt. No doubt a smaller force might succeed; but we wished to make sure, as far as in war anything can be sure, of the success of the expedition. Nothing would be more damaging to our reputation—nothing more costly in the long run, than if, by reason of too small a force, we should have to stop half-way, lose the season for action, have to send back to India for reinforcements, and begin again in the winter of 1868. I said before, and I repeat it, that I believe the amount of military resistance to be expected in the open country will not be great; but there are no doubt natural forts to be occupied along the line of march, difficult passes to be traversed, and even after reaching Magdala there will be a long line of communications to guard. But, after all, that is a professional question, and I must say that the Government, though not fearing responsibility, would have shrunk from the responsibility of undertaking to send out an expedition of this kind with means which those who were to take the command of the expedition told them was in their judgment inadequate. Another difficulty has been raised to which I must advert, because I think more importance has been attached to it than it is entitled to. It is said, "You may easily get into Abyssinia, but how are you to get out? You may destroy the Government, but you cannot make another; and anarchy will result." Well, Sir, anarchy is a bad thing; but if all be true that we have heard, anarchy itself will be an improvement on the Government of King Theodore. But I entirely deny that England must be held responsible for what may happen in Abyssinia after the withdrawal of the expedition. No doubt the population of Abyssinia will suffer for the errors of its rulers; so it has always been, and I suppose always will 218 be. For that we are not responsible. All we can do is to take care not to hold out false hopes or encourage any one to believe that our occupation will continue. No doubt a great deal must be left to the discretion of Sir Robert Napier; but this is very clear—that the sooner the object for which we go to Abyssinia is secured, and the sooner we are again out of the country, and the less we have to do with it in future, the better. We can do very well without Abyssinia, and the Abyssinians must learn to do without us.
Well, now, Sir, I come to the point on which so much stress was laid by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne, and it is one which, though of less real importance than that which concerns the policy and the prospects of the expedition, cannot remain unnoticed. If I follow the argument of the right hon. Gentleman correctly, his statement is that, in consequence of the time at which our decision to use force was communicated to the public, no opportunity was given to Parliament for the expression of opinion on the subject. Now, Sir, although I think that that charge is unfounded, I, for one, entirely concur in the spirit by which it was dictated. I think—and in accordance with that belief I have, as a Minister of the Crown, in times past always endeavoured to act—that any unnecessary reticence towards Parliament is an act of folly; and I do not hesitate to say that if at the time the subject was discussed in July last—when we were pressed by one or two hon. Members to say that an expedition should be sent out—when I used language implying that the expedition had not been decided upon—if at that time we had decided to use force and yet had concealed our intention, we should have been guilty not only of an act of folly, but of a grave offence against political morality. But I deny most distinctly that that was the case. The debate took place on the 26th of July. I then placed the information we possessed in the strongest possible light before the House. I stated the objections which existed to an expedition as reasons for not committing ourselves to the adoption of such a course; but I left the Government perfectly open to take whatever course they should think necessary. Between that time and the close of the Session nearly four weeks elapsed. The final decision of the Cabinet to undertake the expedition was not arrived at until within a week, or I think even less, of the close of the Session. 219 A great deal has been said regarding our making preparations for the expedition before we had determined on despatching it. The tenor of the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman on this point proceed upon the assumption that we decided upon the expedition the moment we commenced to make preparations. As if there was no such thing as providing for an event which though probable is not certain; and as if any set of men in their senses would determine upon entering into such a war without having first of all taken certain preliminary steps which, no doubt, might be unnecessary in the event of their arriving at an opposite decision! Again, I may be asked, why was not the decision to send out the expedition arrived at earlier, and what occurred between the 26th July and the end of the Session to cause this change in our conduct. Well, in the first place we had acquired at the close of the Session, and only then by the arrival of despatches on the 13th August, the certainty that our last despatch had reached Theodore, and that he had rejected our overtures. In the next place, we had only on the 13th of August—the same day—communications from India satisfying us upon the point upon which we had hitherto been in doubt—namely, the possibility of sending out an expedition in the course of this winter. For my own part, I confess that when I spoke upon the subject in July last I did not think that, in the event of force being necessary, it would have been possible to complete our preparations in time to take advantage of the winter season; and I may observe, that it was only during the interval between July and the close of the Session that we obtained from the War Department the mass of information which has shown us that we knew a great deal more about the country and its resources than I had imagined. Moreover, between the period of the debate and the time at which we agreed to send out the expedition, the subject had been much in the public mind and had been much discussed in the public press, and we felt convinced in adopting a policy of action we should have the support of public opinion, of the existence of which up to that time we could not satisfy ourselves, and without the support of which in this country no enterprize can be reasonably undertaken. Without these three things—first, the conviction that the employment of force wag necessary; next, that the expedition was physically possible; and lastly, that we should be supported by 220 public opinion in the use of it—we could not, and we ought not to have decided to act. That is my answer to the question—"Why did you not come to the decision of embarking in the expedition sooner?" If, on the other hand, we are censured for undertaking the expedition with undue haste, instead of waiting till the opening of another Session, my reply is equally clear. There was not a week to lose. A delay of even two or three weeks would have probably involved the loss of the year. It must be borne in mind that operations upon the coast of Abyssinia are only practicable at certain seasons of the year; and if we had wasted that season rather than have accepted the responsibility which the situation imposed upon us, I do not think that either this House or the public out of doors would have held us free from blame. There is one thing, no doubt, which we might have done. It would have been possible, four or five days before the close of the last Session, to have mentioned the policy which we had only then decided upon, instead of leaving it to be announced in the Speech from the Throne. But what would have been gained by taking that course? Will it be suggested that we could have taken the Vote at that time? If we had not taken that course it would have been useless to refer to the subject; and, if we had taken it, we should, I think, have subjected ourselves to far graver censure than any which can now fall upon us. What was the state of the House during the few weeks immediately preceding the close of the Session? The House, no doubt, was still sitting; but at least seven-eighths of those who occupy these Benches on both sides had disappeared. Many of them were scattered not only over England, but Europe, everywhere between Norway and the Mediterranean. To the best of my recollection there was only an average attendance during the last week of between sixty and seventy; and, moreover, those who had gone had gone upon the distinct understanding, invariable in such cases, that nothing remained to be done but to wind up the formal business of the Session. They had disappeared. To bring them back was impossible. To have proceeded with this business in the absence of seven-eighths of the House would have been, in our judgment, something like perpetrating a fraud. In substance, whatever it might be in form, to 221 have snatched a hasty Vote from the House, the majority of whom were Members or habitual supporters of the Government, and to have made such a Vote an excuse for putting off all discussion regarding the expedition till February, would have been a far more unconstitutional course than the one which we have pursued. As to evading responsibility, that accusation is childish. It is plain that whatever other results it may have, the course we have taken has increased and intensified our responsibility. Our personal interest lay in exactly the opposite direction. There were three alternatives open to us. One was to put off all action for fifteen months, another was to take a Vote in August, thus pledging the whole House by the Vote of a small portion; and the third was to call Parliament together at the present time, leaving the House unpledged, and committing only ourselves, in the confident belief that our proceedings would be recognised and sanctioned the moment Parliament assembled, The first alternative would have been feeble; the second unfair; and the third alone remained, open, no doubt, to some objection, but, on the whole, in our belief, the least inexpedient. Well, Sir, we have incurred expense, but we have incurred no more than a necessary expenditure; and we believed that to postpone that expenditure was to delay the prisoners for at least another year in Abyssinia—a policy which we believed England would not sanction. We have called the House together at the very earliest possible moment compatible with the personal convenience of Members, in order that their judgment might formally be taken upon what we have done, and on what we are doing. From that judgment we shall not shrink; and even if it be adverse, which I cannot contemplate, I, for one, shall not feel less convinced that, so far as the weakness of human judgment allows, we have in this painful and difficult matter done neither more nor less than our duty.
§ MR. HORSMAN
Sir, I waited for a moment supposing that the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) would be followed by some person on this side of the House who might be more disposed than I am to take issue with him on the policy of the Government in deciding upon this expedition. It must have been satisfactory to the House to have heard the speech of the noble Lord. It must also have been a great advantage to the noble Lord to have an opportunity 222 of addressing the House, because on those points of my right hon. Friend the Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe) which he thought were open to be grappled with he gave him an answer. I hope, however, that on those other points in the speech of my right hon. Friend to which no reply has been given by the noble Lord we shall have an answer in the course of the debate. I am not surprised at the uneasiness which has been exhibited on the part of the Government respecting the grave position in which they stand with regard to the Abyssinian war. I can say that I do not remember the House to have ever before been afflicted with so disagreeable a duty as that of either assenting to or dissenting from the policy now before us—because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Calne said, we have no choice; we must accept the situation with all its consequences. But, at the same time, it is open to us to complain—it is our duty to complain—and I hope the Government will give some answer to our complaints. We have been led into this position rather blindfold; we have been kept in ignorance—in darkness. We have not been asked for our opinion of this war—we have not been asked for our opinion of the expenditure—because it is only in the month of November, after we have been actually plunged into these hostilities, that these papers are put in our hands, by which we now discover to our surprise that so far back as the month of April last the Government had abandoned all hopes of a peaceable solution of the difficulty, and that from April to August, during the whole of which time Parliament was sitting—though on that point the Chancellor of the Exchequer now throws some doubt—I think it is clear from these papers that during all those months an expedition has actually been preparing, which we knew nothing of, which we heard nothing of, which we expected nothing of, till we were summoned to the Bar of the House of Lords to hear Parliament prorogued; and of which we knew nothing positive till we were actually called together in the month of November, three months after the war actually commenced. That is a part of the case which neither the Chancellor of the Exchequer nor the noble Lord has answered. There are two distinct questions raised by those papers, and raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Calne; but to only one of these has the noble Lord or the Chancellor of the Exchequer addressed himself to-night. They are questions which deserve very 223 different treatment. There is the question of the expedition, on which I think the Government are entitled, not only to great consideration and forbearance, but also to a sympathy with them in the difficulties with which they have to cope, and a favourable construction of their acts. While the noble Lord was speaking of the expedition, it was impossible not to observe what a feeling of uneasiness oppressed him. The tone of his whole speech was that the Government felt the affair to be a most serious one; but they could not help sending an expedition. The affair is a most serious one—more serious, perhaps, because of the insignificance of the foe as compared with the magnitude of the undertaking. It is serious, again, because we know that our friends are in the hands of a man whose nature is so constituted that it is impossible for any one to calculate as to what he may do next. The noble Lord referred to the early life of King Theodore—to the vigour and energy of character which he at one time displayed—and remarked on the fact of his being so much changed. Our Ministers have represented him us being a man wholly under the influence of his passions, and guided by no rule of conduct. They have felt obliged to approach him as they would a tiger; they have endeavoured to extricate his captives as if the latter were in the possession of a wild beast; they have gone on flattering him and offering him every mode of conciliation till every mode of conciliation has been exhausted, and the Government has felt compelled to face that war with all its uncertainties to which the noble Lord alludes. No one can calculate on the probable conduct of a man who puts his own soldiers to death in cold blood. It is possible, as the noble Lord has remarked, that when he hears the expedition has landed he may give the captives up. That is just possible. It is possible, also, that the rebels may welcome us as allies; but it is also possible that our presence may reconcile the differences, and that our army may have to contend with the difficulties of a march through the enemies country. The noble Lord has told us that all these contingencies have been considered, and that Government had come to the conclusion that they had no option but to march at all hazards to the release of these captives. But though the immediate object of this expedition is to relieve the captives, we must be influenced in this matter by that other consideration which the noble Lord put so well and so forcibly 224 —namely, that in extending our active aid to these unhappy captives we are proclaiming protection to great numbers of our countrymen in the East. Therefore, on the question of the expedition itself, I do not take issue with the Government; but as to the other point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Calne, I was surprised that the noble Lord passed by so lightly such a strange departure from the paths of the Constitution as withholding information from the House and engaging us in wars and the expenses of war without the consent of Parliament. I think that neither the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer nor the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs kept clearly before them what was the complaint against Her Majesty's Government. I confess that till I read the blue book which has been delivered this Session I had no idea of the state of things which had existed previously to the close of last Session. Papers were delivered in the Autumn of 1866, but they did not bring events in Abyssinia down to later than the autumn of 1865. At that time Mr. Rassam had not yet been made a prisoner. But during last Session there were two authoritative declarations from the Government as to the state of the negotiations. Of course, we accepted those as accurate and complete. One of those was the speech of the noble Lord on the 26th of July, the other was the speech of Her Majesty on proroguing Parliament. But I was sorry to find, when I looked into the blue book, that it was impossible to reconcile those official declarations with the facts as set forth in the papers now presented to Parliament. It is impossible to reconcile the statements of the noble Lord on the 26th of July with the papers which he himself had in his possession. My right hon. Friend the Member for Calne read a portion of the speech of the 26th of July; but perhaps the noble Lord will excuse me if I now, for the purposes of argument, recall to the recollection of the House what were the main characteristics of his observations on that occasion. In answer to arguments in favour of an expedition, the noble Lord spoke of the uncertainty of such an undertaking; of the difficulties arising from climate; of our ignorance of the country, and of the necessity for further information. A few evenings ago the noble Lord reminded us that on that occasion he had guarded himself from giving any pledge for or against an expedition. In listening 225 to the noble Lord on the 26th of July I believed, as the House believed, that even the practicability of an expedition was at that time a question of doubt with the Government. I believed, and I think the House believed, that the Government were instituting further inquiries, and that on the result of those inquiries was to depend the action of the Government, which was still a matter of doubt. Was that the impression the noble Lord intended to convey? because, if it was, I am sorry to say it was directly at variance with the facts contained in the blue book. No one who had listened to that speech and who had not read the papers in the blue book would have supposed the inquiries of the Government were then so far completed, and their conclusions so far matured, that an expedition had virtually been decided on, and that the preparations for that expedition were in a state of advancement. Let me inform the House that the noble Lord was not then waiting for further information as to the state of Abyssinia. He was waiting for a reply from the King of Abyssinia, which reply he had made up his mind would be unfavourable. In consequence of this being his impression an expedition had virtually been decided on, and for that expedition expenses had been incurred. Am I stating what is inaccurate?
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Quito incorrectly. When that speech was made, no expenditure of any kind had been incurred.
§ MR. HORSMAN
I shall be glad to be corrected if I am wrong; but I think I hold in my hand the evidence of what I have stated. In the Queen's Speech it was stated that a peremptory demand had been addressed to the King of Abyssinia, and that on the answer to it depended whether there should be a resort to arms. What was the meaning of that paragraph in the Speech from the Throne? It implied, as plainly as words could do so, that a demand was to precede the resort to arms; that the answer to that demand was being waited for; and that the actual expedition stood over and was not to be decided on till that answer should have been received. Does the right hon. Gentleman deny that at the time that Speech was made an expedition had been determined upon, and that at that very time we were, in fact, at the commencement of military operations? The right hon. Gentleman says that I am mistaken in saying that before the noble Lord made 226 that speech the expenditure had been practically decided upon and preparations made for it.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I said that at the time the speech was made—on the 26th of July—no expenditure had been incurred.
§ MR. HORSMAN
But the arrangements had been made in the Government Departments which would cause expenditure to be incurred. Does the right hon. Gentleman deny that? Of course, I can only repeat what is stated in the blue book as to the arrangements which had been made. Whether those arrangements were actually carried out by the Departments or not I cannot say. And now I will lay before the House the evidence of what I have asserted. The noble Lord's speech was made on the 26th of July, and I say that when that speech was delivered the noble Lord was not waiting for further inquiries respecting the interior of Abyssinia. I say that at that time the noble Lord was only waiting for an answer to the ultimatum which he had sent to King Theodore, and with his own mind made up that that answer would be unfavourable and would be followed by a military expedition. Does the noble Lord admit that that is correct? I understand he assents to that statement?
I do not assent to it. You must not assume that we assent to everything because we do not at once contradict it.
§ MR. HORSMAN
I only want to know whether what I allege is distinctly understood—namely, that at the time that speech was made the noble Lord was waiting not for inquiries about Abyssinia, but for an answer to his ultimatum. Had the noble Lord any doubt as to the answer that would be given, or as to what the action of the Cabinet would be when that answer was received? On the 20th of April, when the packet that was carrying the letter to King Theodore was scarcely out of European waters, the noble Lord wrote in the following terms to Colonel Merewether, who had recently forwarded detailed plans for an invasion of Abyssinia. The noble Lord says—The fact of the King having lost sight of the rule, observed throughout all ages, of considering the person of an Envoy as sacred, and having imprisoned and detained in chains Mr. Rassam and his companions, who were sent by the Queen on a peaceful mission to him, necessarily leads Her Majesty's Government to the conclusion that peaceful relations are not the King's object, and 227 that the idea of entering into friendly relations with him must be abandoned.But the Chancellor of the Exchequer said just now that when the noble Lord made that speech on the 26th of July the hope of entering into friendly relations with King Theodore had not been entirely abandoned. But the noble Lord goes on—Under these circumstances it will be for Her Majesty's Government to consider carefully the course which they shall adopt; but being unwilling, at least in the first instance, to proceed to extremities, I have addressed to King Theodore, by Her Majesty's command, the accompanying letter, which you will forward to him; and if at the expiration of three months from the date of despatching it to him, the captives shall not have been set at liberty and have left Abyssinia, you will either send home, or sell the presents now in your charge, and hold the proceeds at my disposal. I have only to add that I am in communication with the India and War Offices in regard to any further steps which circumstances may render necessary.Now, what were those further steps? It has been stated that a preliminary inquiry was intended; but did the inquiry instituted at that time relate to the interior of Abyssinia? No such thing. It was confined entirely to the subject of military operations. The noble Lord sends to the War Office and the Navy Office copies of the military plans transmitted by Sir William Coghlan and Colonel Merewether, and in doing so says—The time has therefore arrived when it is needful for Her Majesty's Government to consider what further steps it may be at once possible and advisable to take in order to vindicate the honour of the Crown and to protect Her Majesty's subjects from further harm.That despatch was sent on the 20th of April, only four days after the date of the letter to King Theodore, and it was the commencement of the communications with the India Office and the War Office which come under the head of "preliminary inquiry." One fallacy which pervaded the speeches of the noble Lord and the Chancellor of the Exchequer is that they have thought it necessary to vindicate the proceedings of the Cabinet after the 26th of July. They said that after that date the proceedings in the Cabinet and the arrangements in the different Departments were entirely in accordance with the speech delivered on the 26th of July. But I maintain that that speech was not in accordance with what had occurred previously, because three months before that time the preparations for the expedition had been commenced, and were then in progress. Well, the noble Lord sends these plans to the 228 right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for India. I understood him to say just now that before the speech of the 26th of July there were no arrangements made by the Government which could at all fall under the head of expenditure. Now, what was the answer of the right hon. Gentleman to that communication from the Foreign Office—I am further directed to inform you that the Secretary of State of India in Council wishes it to be clearly understood that, while he is anxious to afford all possible assistance for the furtherance of the object in view, by placing the forces of India at the disposal of Her Majesty's Government, he must stipulate that the revenues of India are not to be subject to any portion of the expenditure which may be incurred for an object in which that country has no direct interest.Could any one doubt that the object in view was the fitting out of an expedition, and that the expedition was then in course of preparation? Mr. Murray, of the Foreign Office, writes by the noble Lord's direction to Sir Edward Lugard, as follows:—I am directed by Lord Stanley to request that you will suggest for Secretary Sir John Pakington's consideration, whether, pending a final decision on the course to be pursued by Her Majesty's Government, it may not be desirable to make preliminary inquiries as to the precise steps to be taken in the event of its being found ultimately necessary to resort to force. At present there is no intention of doing so. The Armenian Patriarch at Jerusalem has sent a mission to Abyssinia for the purpose of trying to effect the release of the captives, and Lord Stanley is awaiting the result of the letter which I informed you he had addressed to King Theodore, and which was despatched from Massowah on the 17th of May. Nevetheless, as the time for action in Abyssinia seems to be limited to the period between the 1st of November and the 1st of June, it might be well for Her Majesty's Government to be furnished in time with all information calculated to assist them in their decision, in case warlike measures should hereafter be deemed inevitable.That proves the correctness of my assertion that the noble Lord and the Cabinet were waiting for an answer to the ultimatum, and not for further inquiries about Abyssinia. For what was the information which the noble Lord required to be procured? It certainly was not concerning the interior of Abyssinia. Then it goes on to make seven different inquiries, all relating to military operations. What is the answer of Sir John Pakington? At that time we are told an expedition was not thought of; but I think the answer is conclusive upon that point—Sir John Pakington is decidedly of opinion that the force, in the event of its being determined to send one, should be provided from India, and 229 that the whole expedition should be organized at and proceed from Bombay, and he considers, so far as he is able to judge, that Major General Sir William Coghlan is an officer well suited for commanding the force and conducting the expedition, and also that the Rev. Percy Badger should be attached to the expedition as political agent and interpreter. With reference to paragraph 7 of Mr. Murray's letter, it appears to Sir John Pakington that it would be advisable as a preliminary step that Major General Sir William Coghlan should proceed to Massowah as soon as practicable, accompanied by Mr. Badger, and be met there by a selected medical officer, a Commissariat officer, and an officer of the Quartermaster General's department from Bombay, to inspect the locality and settle what arrangements would be necessary for the landing, reception, feeding, &c., of the force in the event of its being necessary to send one.These extracts prove that so far back as the month of April the noble Lord had made up his mind that the answer from the King of Abyssinia would be unfavourable, and that an expedition would be despatched. So well does it seem to have been understood that an expedition was decided on, that the Secretary for Foreign Affairs was actually in communication with the Secretary of State for India as to how the troops were to be provided, and how the expense was to be borne. The Secretary for War went further, designated the port from which the expedition was to sail, nominated the Commander-in-Chief, and went into minute details about the Medical, the Commissariat, and the Quartermaster General's department, and about the feeding and the landing of the troops. And yet at the time the noble Lord was understood to tell us that the Government had not in the least made up their minds as to the practicability of an expedition, and that they were waiting for further information, although, in reality, the different departments were in a state of the greatest activity and advanced preparation. There are always great allowances to be made for omissions in debate, especially in a speech made late at night; but Her Majesty's Speech was a written document, deliberately prepared and carefully revised, and yet what was the language employed in it? It said that Her Majesty had addressed to King Theodore peremptory demands, upon the answer to which would depend the necessity of resorting to force. At that time the Government had sent their ultimatum, and were awaiting its result, and that result was communicated to the Cabinet, as the noble Lord reminded us, on the 13th of August. It was, as had been foreseen, unfavourable. And what did the Cabinet 230 then do? They did what they had all along determined upon. So prepared were the Government, that not one moment was lost. On the very day—August 13—on which the unfavourable answer was received, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War sent a telegram to Bombay, appointing Sir Robert Napier Commander-in-Chief; and on the very next day he followed it up with this telegram:—Tell Sir Robert Napier to make peremptory demands for the delivery of the captives, and to follow it up by such measures as he thinks expedient.I say that that telegram was war. We have been at war from the very day on which it was sent. I concur in what was said by the right hon. Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe), that the House was not treated candidly by the Government when, in Her Majesty's Speech, it was informed that a peremptory demand for the delivery of the prisoners had been made, and that a resort to arms would depend upon the answer to it, for it is now proved by these papers that the peremptory demand was not to precede, but was to follow, the invasion of Abyssinia, and that it was to take the form of a military summons, made by a hostile force, for the release of the prisoners. I do not see how to reconcile these discrepancies, unless there be papers that are kept back. So far as these papers inform us, they show that on the 26th of July, so far from the Government not having made up their minds, an expedition had been in course of preparation for three months, and so far from the Government waiting the result of an answer to a peremptory demand, on the 24th of August the answer had been received, and we were already in a state of war. Under these circumstances, what are the relations of the Government to the House? What is the position of the House of Commons in regard to its control over the public expenditure? There has been no constitutional principle more thoroughly recognised and established than that when such a course of action has to be taken in a matter affecting the interests and honour of this country and adding to its burdens, it is the duty of the Executive to take the earliest opportunity of communicating that fact to Parliament. It is the Prerogative of the Crown to declare war; it is the prerogative of Parliament to forbid expenditure until the causes of and the necessity for war and all the policy of the Government have been explained. As we all know, there is no subject on 231 which the House of Commons has been be sensitive as the Sovereign taking upon himself, on his own authority, to declare war and incur expenditure, and then calling upon Parliament to vote the supplies. We have not to go far back for a precedent and for an authoritative declaration of the law. Only ten years ago the question of the war in Persia was brought before the House. Lord Palmerston was Prime Minister, and a complaint was made against him that he had involved the country in war during the Recess, and had not called Parliament together. He was impeached for that proceeding by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck), who said the noble Lord had violated the Constitution and treated the House of Commons with disrespect. The hon. Member moved a Vote of Censure, and in an interesting debate, which is now to a certain extent valuable and instructive, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer and the late Chancellor of the Exchequer took prominent parts, strongly supporting the views of the hon. Member for Sheffield. The right hon. Member for South Lancashire divided with him for censuring the Government, and the present Chancellor of the Exchequer only excused himself for not doing the same by showing that the time for the Motion had gone by, and that the censure should have been moved on the Address in answer to the Speech from the Throne, in which the war had been alluded to. It also happened that there had been a dissolution in the meantime, and the country had condoned the act. So strong, however, was the feeling of the House on that occasion, that I believe there was a very general impression that Lord Palmerston only evaded an adverse decision by the speech which he made. He did not excuse or justify what had been done; he gave explanations to show that it could never be drawn into a precedent; and he asserted in the broadest terms all that the hon. Member for Sheffield and those who had followed him had asserted, that it was the duty of the Executive, the instant war was declared, to take the very first opportunity of communicating the fact to Parliament if it were sitting, or of calling it together during the Recess. It was the unqualified manner in which Lord Palmerston gave in his adhesion to that principle which carried the feeling of the House with him, and gave him a large majority on that occasion. It has been shown by the right 232 hon. Member for Calne, that this case of Abyssinia is a very different and a much stronger one than that of Persia. The complaint against Lord Palmerston was that he had delayed for a fortnight only to call Parliament together to tell it of a war which had broken out during the Recess. The complaint against the present Government is that they prorogued Parliament without telling it of a war which had broken out while Parliament was sitting; that they kept that war a perfect secret; that they put words into Her Majesty's lips which conveyed to the House an erroneous impression; and that for three months they carried on that war by their own authority, as entirely free from the constitutional control of the House of Commons as if they were the subjects of an absolute monarch. That is the question which my right hon. Friend thought was deserving of the consideration of the House of Commons. I think it is a question we cannot well evade. It comes back upon us over and over again. It is quite true that parties are in a peculiar state in the House. We are living under a strong Government, which may take great liberties. We are a disorganized House of Commons, which must submit to great indignities. At the same time, we must remember that this is one of those questions on which the House of Commons cannot evade its responsibility. We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that this war expenditure and these preparations for war have been going on for seven months without the knowledge and consent of Parliament; that actual war has been going on, for three months, and expenditure incurred without the knowledge or consent of Parliament. And now we are called together in a November Session to be told that we have nothing to do but to pay the bill. Of course we shall pay the bill; but if we do so without recording, by way of protest, our sense of the manner in which the expenditure has been incurred, we shall add another to the many instances with which the worst periods of English history abound, of Ministers who have forgotten their duty to the Constitution, and of Parliaments that have deserted their duty to the country.
§ MR. AYTOUN
said, he would not enter into the question whether the war ought or ought not to have been undertaken. That question had been already decided by Her Majesty's Government, and the House of Commons had no option left but to vote 233 the supplies. The Government, by making preparations and sending out orders for the embarkation of a force for Abyssinia, had placed the country in such a position before the world, that there was no receding with honour, and the matter had been virtually taken out of the hands of the House of Commons. There could, therefore, be no advantage in discussing the merits of the expedition. But there were other points which called for observation. It became them well to consider how to avoid for the future becoming involved in entanglements such as those which had led to the necessity for this expedition. That was a question which could only be answered by taking a short retrospect of the events which had brought about the present difficulty. About twenty years ago a mission was sent out from India for the purpose of establishing commercial relations with Abyssinia; and a few years afterwards Consul Plowden succeeded in concluding a treaty with the ruler of that country. Consul Plowden was subsequently killed in one of the native wars. A great opportunity was neglected when our connection with that country was severed by his death. When these events occurred the honour of the country was not involved in the maintenance of the treaty then existing. King Theodore had done nothing to insult or injure our honour—indeed, he had put to death a large number of natives in revenge for Consul Plowden's death—and the neglect of that opportunity to put an end to all connection with Abyssinia threw upon the Government of that day the responsibility of all the untoward events which had led to the present expedition. Lord Clarendon, then Foreign Secretary, writing to Consul Plowden, under date October 3, 1853, said that the Government had been led to believe that advantages would arise to British interests if commerce could be opened up with that country, but that he did not entertain very sanguine expectations on the subject; and this view was justified by the Consul's despatches, which described the country as one in which the power was divided amongst a number of feudal chiefs only nominally dependent upon the King, where the condition was very similar to that of France under Louis XI., and where no one was thought the worse of whatever crime he had committed. The only course consistent with sound policy would have been to have allowed our relations with Abyssinia to drop. But that was not the course followed by successive 234 Governments. Consul Cameron was afterwards sent out, with instructions from Lord Russell not to interfere in the affairs of Abyssinia, but to endeavour to compose differences between the various conflicting powers of the country, and to exercise surveillance over the intrigues of Foreign Powers. It was impossible that any one could give satisfaction in such an exceedingly embarrassing position, and the Government that sent out Consul Cameron was primarily responsible for all the difficulties that had arisen. The present Government were not in the slightest degree responsible for those difficulties—the responsibility rested on the previous Liberal Governments. He could not, however, think that with regard to the constitutional question the present Government were equally free from blame. He could well believe that it was impossible for them to come to any conclusion sooner than a few days before the termination of the Session as to whether the expedition should be despatched to Abyssinia, and he did not think the noble Lord required to vindicate himself from the charge of having, on the 26th of July, said one thing when he meant another. But if the opinion of the Government had changed between the 26th July and the time when they came to a different decision, it was quite open to them to announce a different conclusion; and he did think that having determined to send out an expedition, the Government ought not to have put off making the announcement till the delivery of the Speech from the Throne upon the day of the Prorogation. At that time it had become quite impossible for them to bring forward any Resolution so as to obtain an expression of opinion from the House on the question. The noble Lord at the head of the Foreign Office told them that one course which might have been pursued would have been for the Government to propose a Vote on account. He thought that would have been a fair and proper course. It would then have been within the power of any hon. Member, if he thought fit, to propose a Resolution condemnatory of the course suggested, and thus have controlled, in a constitutional manner, the action of the Government. Why was not this done by the Government? The noble Lord told them the state of the House was such that it would have been a mere idle ceremony to pursue any such course. It was possible it might have been so, because the majority of hon. Members were at that time scattered all over the world, so that even 235 if a call of the House had been ordered they could Dot have been brought back in time to render the discussion anything more than a mere form; but if the Government had taken that course they would have relieved themselves from the charge now brought against them, that they did not act in strict conformity with the spirit of the Constitution, as concerning the method of dealing with questions involving the expenditure of the public money; and in such case, if the matter had turned out to be one of mere form, the onus would have rested upon those Members who were away, and not with the Government. But great as was the importance of all the questions discussed that evening with reference to the practicability of carrying out this expedition, they sank into insignificance beside the question of how we were in future to avoid becoming involved in complications with semi-barbarous countries. Such complications were only to be prevented by avoiding any attempt to establish commercial treaties, or to send out Consuls—by, in fact, avoiding any direct attempts to establish trade with such countries, and trusting to the efforts of Native merchants to purchase our goods at the nearest entrepot, and carry them into the country at their own risk. But he thought the constitutional question as to the voting of the supplies was one of still greater importance, and he had ventured to trouble the Committee upon it, because he felt that if he had remained entirely silent it might be supposed that he acquiesced in, and approved of the course pursued by the Government, instead of feeling as he did the strongest disapprobation of it.
said, he rose to make a few observations upon the important matter that was then under discussion. He should not follow those hon. Members who had spoken with regard to the constitutional point as to whether the Government were right or wrong in carrying on this war for three months without calling upon Parliament for a sanction for their proceedings. Upon that point he should only say that he thought, notwithstanding the able speech of the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, that the discrepancies which appeared between the noble Lord's speech on a former occasion, and the action that was being taken at the very moment it was delivered by the Government, had not been satisfactorily explained. Neither would he enlarge upon the policy 236 of sending this expedition to Abyssinia further than to say that he agreed that the honour of England was concerned in liberating these prisoners, and that the prestige of England would be seriously affected if we had not determined on making this effort. But while he approved of the policy of the Government in sending out an expedition, it was a different thing to approve of the means which they had adopted in carrying out their policy. He had listened with attention to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and to that of the noble Lord; but elaborate as they were with regard to all points with respect to the expedition, they almost entirely failed to touch upon the point of the reasons which had induced the Government to form the expedition on so large a scale. He took issue with the Government on this point, and many much more competent men than himself agreed with him in the opinion, that this expedition had been formed on an uselessly extravagant scale. The noble Lord, in one passage of his speech referring to this point, justified the course pursued on the ground that the expedition was based upon the opinion of the officer appointed to command the force. Although he (Captain Vivian) believed the Government could not by any possibility have chosen an officer more capable of performing the difficult duty devolving upon him than Sir Robert Napier, yet he must say that matters had changed very much indeed if the whole dictation was to be left entirely to the officer appointed to command the expedition. It certainly was not so in former days, and he thought it rather an unwise course to pursue. But while the noble Lord passed lightly over this point, by saying that this was only a question for military men to consider, the whole of the rest of his argument went against such a large force being employed. He said that at the time of the first Burmese war we knew less of the Burmese Empire than we now did of Abyssinia; and this was perfectly true. But the first Burmese war was carried to a successful issue with a force of 3,000 men, though we had to go 400 or 500 miles from the base of our operations; and it was equally true that the Scindian campaign was carried out successfully, with a force of 2,800 men. Then, when we invaded the Empire of China with untold numbers of disciplined troops against us, we undertook that great operation with a force of less than 3,000 237 men; and yet we were about to send to Abyssinia a force of 12,000 troops to attack a man who could not possibly bring 4,000 men into the field, and who was on his last legs; surrounded by tribes all in rebellion against him, and those tribes, according to the latest information, were already coming in and giving their adherence to the advanced guard of our army. Under the circumstances, we should be very fortunate if we got off with paying anything like so little as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had shadowed out as the probable expense. He really believed that the large number of men sent out would more likely tend to failure, if it were possible, than to success; because the Committee must remember that 12,000 men, two-thirds of whom were composed of Indian troops, involved about 40,000 mouths to feed, and this would, of course, vastly increase the difficulties of the Commissariat. In the blue book there was a letter written by a French gentleman who travelled with Mr. Scarlett in Abyssinia some years ago, in which he said that he believed one of the greatest dangers of such an expedition was a too considerable number of troops; that they could not form in Abyssinia an army capable of stopping for an hour the march of 1,000 English soldiers; 500, or even less, would almost always be sufficient, and all that they had more than that would be an embarrassment by means of the difficulty of transporting them, and the danger of exciting the fears of the population, who would be probably disposed otherwise to meet them as those who would free them from their enemies. If this were so, it seemed to him (Captain Vivian) that the Government had been rather indiscreet in leaving the whole of the control of the expedition as to numbers in the hands of the general officer who was to command it; for any officer would naturally wish to have as large a force under his control as possible. But even if the Government could justify sending so large a force, he should be glad to know how they would justify the very extravagant way in which this expedition had been carried out. He alluded in particular to the purchase of mules, in reference to which there were some passages in the blue book which excited considerable anxiety in his mind. There were various other details with which he would not weary the House then; but which he thought required considerable explanation, and to 238 which he should recur on some future occasion.
§ SIR HARRY VERNEY
trusted that he injustice would be done to Earl Russell, for the blue book showed that that noble Lord had warned Consul Cameron against mixing himself up in Abyssinian affairs. He believed they all hoped that this manifestation of power might not terminate in war, although it was a warlike expedition; but if war was to take place, what he desired to impress upon the Committee was the great importance of obtaining solid geographical and scientific results respecting the country. Abyssinia had been very little travelled, and he hoped that instructions would be given that the scientific gentlemen who went with the military expedition should have every facility for investigation, and all the assistance that the British authorities could give them. The country was the earliest Christian country in the world, and he believed it was the only Christian country in the East that had never been conquered by Mahometans. There were still existing in different parts of Abyssinia Christian monasteries, and no doubt manuscripts were likely to be found there, and information collected both as to Christian history and scientific matters that might prove to be of the utmost importance. The kingdom of Ethiopia formerly extended over part of Arabia, and it was possible that information as to the latter country might be collected by competent archælogists.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
observed, that without going into the question how this complication had arisen, or where the fault of this expedition rested, he should like to put one or two practical queries, which he hoped some Gentleman opposite would answer. Before he read the blue book or heard the speech of the noble Lord, he had imagined that we were going to war for a clear and definite purpose—namely, to obtain the release of the English subjects who were held in captivity. He was under the impression that Consul Cameron being our Consul at Massowah had been ordered to deliver a letter to the King of Abyssinia; that he remained there contrary to his instructions; and that on a charge of entering into communications with some of the King's rebel subjects, he was imprisoned: he was under the impression that Mr. Rassam was afterwards sent to endeavour to effect the release of Consul Cameron; but that he was also imprisoned, and he understood that we were going 239 to war for the sole purpose of obtaining their release by force of arms. But when he came to read the blue book he found that we were about to do a great deal more. Mr. Rassam had been sent to release an English captive; Mr. Flad was sent with a letter from the Queen to endeavour to release English captives; but it now appeared, according to a despatch, dated September 18, we demanded the release not only of English captives, but all European captives. What he (Mr. Labouchere) wanted to know was, whether we were going to insist on the release of Mr. Stirn and Mr. Rosenthal, the missionaries, who were also imprisoned there. He had the highest respect for these gentlemen, and for the cause which they represented; but they were not English subjects at all, but Prussian and Wurtemburg subjects, and we were not responsible for them. Thus much he learned from the blue book; but he also gathered from the speech of the noble Lord that we were to do more even than this. The noble Lord told them that this war was to be undertaken not only for the release of the captives, but in order to keep our prestige in India. The noble Lord's words were—"You cannot suffer an insult from a Native Potentate without punishing it; otherwise you will lose your prestige in India." So that, according to this doctrine, if King Theodore were willing to release all his English and even all his European captives, we must still go to war with him, in order to inflict punishment on him to keep up our prestige. He (Mr. Labouchere) did hope, therefore, that before the close of the debate some Gentleman opposite would distinctly state what we were going to Abyssinia for, and under what circumstances we should be willing to withdraw; would state whether we should be ready to do so simply when the British subjects were released; or whether we were to go on till all the European captives had been Bet at liberty; or whether we were, besides this, going to war to avenge an insult we had received?
§ MR. OSBORNE
Sir, it occurred to me, during the debate to-night, that it had a very unreal appearance. I cannot help thinking that unreal appearance has been assumed very much from pitching the debate at the beginning in what I may call "too high a key." There has been too much of an endeavour to make this a party debate. Now, Sir, in treating this subject, 240 which is a great Imperial question, I shall endeavour to steer clear altogether of an attack upon any particular Government or upon the particular Government that is in. We are here to consider a great constitutional question. We are about to take the initiative in a Vote, the extent of which we do not know—the Chancellor of the Exchequer puts it at £4,000,000—it may be more, it may possibly be less, I am not in a position to judge of that—I confess I think it more likely to be more than less. We shall have to discuss hereafter, I suppose, how it is to be raised. At present we have to discuss how far the Government are to blame for having involved us unnecessarily in this expedition. Now, I should have been better content to speak upon this question had my right hon. Friend the Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe) moved an Amendment; for I cannot think that after having made such broad charges, pitched in so high a key, he was justified in merely criticizing without testing the opinion of the Committee by a vote. The real constitutional question has rather had the go-by given to it on both sides. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, very judiciously, no doubt, for his own purposes, merely took up the matter from the year 1866. Now this question does not commence with 1866. This is one of those mischievous legacies that have been left us by former Governments. I may say it is a Palmerstonian legacy. For the last twenty years we have been thrusting our intervention everywhere, in every quarter of the globe, under pretence of advancing what is called British influence and prestige and our commercial interests. It is all very well to twit this Government or the last with it. It has arisen solely from the policy of 1848. We all know what took place in that year. Mr. Walter Plowden, a most able man—nobody who has read his despatches can doubt his ability, and nobody who has read them would ever wish to send an expedition to Abyssinia—was sent in 1848 to Abyssinia. No—not to Abyssinia; but to an island in the Red Sea—Massowah. He was not appointed till 1848. In 1848 Mr. Plowden was appointed Consul to Abyssinia; but Abyssinia affording no place for him, he was obliged to go to an island in the Red Sea, which is not Abyssinia. He was sent to inquire into the best means of establishing commercial relations with that country. And what did he do? He involved himself in all the political quarrels and feuds between the chiefs of the country, and event- 241 ually lost his life in the service of King Theodore, who had dethroned and murdered his father-in-law, and who offered up the lives of 1,500 men to Mr. Plowden's memory, by way of conciliating the friendship of the Queen of England. That was the fons et origo mali. We persisted in interfering and sending Consuls to a barbarous State like Abyssinia. The whole thing begins with sending Mr. Plowden as Consul. Well, Sir, what comes next? It is all very well for the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) to say that he neither praises nor blames that policy. All our Foreign Secretaries have endorsed it. Lord Malmesbury, when Foreign Secretary, not only endorsed it, but on the 13th of June, 1865, he urged the Government to undertake an expedition. Lord Clarendon endorsed it; and so did Lord Russell, although in 1861 he said the treaty which Mr. Plowden had made was a dead letter. By the way, it is rather a curious fact that though Mr. Plowden concluded that treaty in 1848, it was never laid before Parliament till 1852. The fact is, Parliament all along has been hoodwinked and kept blind to these transactions. It has never been called upon to put its fiat upon them till it is now called upon to vote £4,000,000. What did Lord Russell do—of whom, I may say, we might have hoped better things from his despatches? In 1861 he sends Mr. Cameron to fill up this Consulate to Abyssinia. His instructions to Mr. Cameron are excessively meagre. He tells him, I admit, not to mix himself up in the internal relations of the Abyssinian Empire. But what does Consul Cameron do? Why, instead of obeying, he goes directly opposite to his instructions. He mixes himself up in all the internal relations of the country, and, in place of siding with the King, he thwarts him in every way—I will not weary the Committee by quoting from the blue book—he takes the Bogos tribe under his protection. His conduct is, however, disavowed by Earl Russell and by the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and the noble Lord the present Secretary of State tells us he will neither praise nor blame him. Now, I examined the blue book with perfectly impartial eyes, expecting to find in it a defence of the Government; but I find that this war has been entirely produced in the first place by sending a Consul to Abyssinia, and in the next place by the conduct, of Mr. Cameron. I do not wish that anything should happen to him in life or limb; but I say he has 242 landed this country in an expedition the results of which we cannot foresee, except that it will prove most expensive, and that it cannot cover us with much honour. There is a short history of the reason why we are involved in this expedition. Now there are two questions which we have to consider—how far are we justified in demanding the release of these unfortunate captives, and how far are the Government justified in undertaking this expedition in the absence of Parliament. I believe the expedition was urged upon the Government in the first instance mainly by Members on this side of the House. I remember what happened perfectly. When the subject was first brought before Parliament I was in the state of ignorance of many Foreign Secretaries, and did not know where Massowah was. I came down to the House late one Friday evening, when the Notices on the Paper are so numerous that one never knows what is going to arise. There had been an Irish debate on the dietary of prisoners, and that debate lasted till half past ten. There was actually a squabble between my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. H. Seymour), when he brought forward his Resolution urging compulsory measures to recover the prisoners, and an Irish Member as to whether the dietary debate was over and the Abyssinian debate had begun. Most hon. Members had left the House, and the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Poole was made to a House of only thirty-five Members, and it might have been counted out at any time. Not a single hon. Gentleman on this side the House who had occupied the prominent, or who might be supposed likely to occupy in the future, the prominent position of a Minister of the Crown, was present or took part in the debate. My hon. Friend's speech was "full of sound and fury," urging that an expedition should be sent; and it was backed up in an able and statesmanlike speech, showing great knowledge of the subject, by his brother-in-law, the Member for Frome (Sir Henry Rawlinson). He was the first person who introduced into the debate the mischievous notion of going to war for the sake of maintaining our prestige in India. I shall have to say a word about that by-and-by. What took place then? There was another hon. Gentleman on this side of the House, the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Layard), who naturally felt interested in the subject, because he had been the means of sending out Mr. Rassam—a most 243 respectable gentleman, who, I believe, conducted himself in a way satisfactory to everybody, but who, I maintain, was a most improper person to send as an Envoy to the Emperor of Abyssinia, on account of his Asiatic origin, and on account of his position as a private gentleman. Mr. Rassam was, however, sent there. And here I have to complain of an important omission in the blue book. We have heard a great deal in the course of this debate about want of information—and I believe it to be excessively meagre. What I want to know is, why the letter with which Mr. Rassam was charged from Her most Gracious Majesty to the King of Abyssinia does not appear in the blue book. We do not know its contents, nor what offers were made by Mr. Rassam to the King of Abyssinia, and I think I am justified in saying that the information on which we are proceeding is excessively meagre and unsatisfactory. Well, Sir, to continue the tale of that night's debate, even my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Layard), who up to that time had pooh-poohed the notion and had resisted all appeals to force to release the unfortunate prisoners, thought himself obliged to confess that an expedition might become necessary. Now, as regards expeditions to recover our Envoys, restore our prestige, or any of those other objects which are dressed up by Ministers in order to draw money from the pockets of the people, I admit that there may be cases where it is necessary to show foreign countries that we are determined that our Envoys shall not be insulted or detained. I grant that; but, at the same time, I do not think any case can arise where it is necessary, while endeavouring to rescue such Envoys, to hoodwink the House of Commons. Without making any party attack on the Government, I think they were a little lax in not communicating their decision to Parliament. There is a confidential letter from the Secretary for India, dated the 31st of July—and the Government have been very frank in publishing confidential letters—which shows that the Government had then decided to make preparations for an expedition. Now, I think the Government having so decided, were bound to tell this House of it before the Queen's Speech was delivered, even at the risk of calling Gentlemen from Norway or from the Mediterranean. They were bound to tell the House—"We are making preparations, and shall call upon you to pay the money." I do not greatly blame them, 244 for I can make excuses for them, and I will not push the argument too far; but I cannot help agreeing with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne, that their conduct on this point is more worthy of blame than praise. Having, however, been urged by Members on this side of the House to undertake the expedition, I think the blame falls more lightly upon them than it would otherwise have done. A good deal more has been said about the speech of the Secretary for Foreign Affairs at the end of last Session than it deserves. As a Minister of the Crown, he was speaking under reserve. Ministers of the Crown must speak with a certain reserve on such matters. But I did not understand that the noble Lord debarred himself by that speech from entering upon the expedition. ["Hear, hear!"] Yes, I will be perfectly fair; and I must say, having listened to the noble Lord's speech to-night, that he put the issue and made his defence upon fairer grounds and in a different manner to what I had anticipated. But I must say I was disappointed when I heard the noble Lord talk of going to war with a barbarous and distant Power like Abyssinia for the sake of our Indian prestige. Although I cannot speak from my own knowledge, I may state on the knowledge and information of a great many officers who knew India as well as the noble Lord and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Frome (Sir Henry Rawlinson), who is rather of a warlike turn, that going to war in Abyssinia in support of our Indian prestige is a chimera. I will go farther, and say it is gulling the people of India by a sort of transmutation—by taking their troops and making them pay for them in their absence, and then saying it was for our prestige. To put the taxation on the people of India, however agreeable it might be to the constituencies of this country, is most unfair to India. No, Sir, if we are obliged to go to war with Abyssinia for the rescue of these prisoners or to restore our prestige, let us meet the question boldly and pay for it, and let the people of this country pay the penalty of having through their representatives watched over their own interests so carelessly, and allowed our Foreign Ministers to settle Consuls where they could possibly be of no use, but might eventually be a source of danger to the country. I have endeavoured to take not possibly a popular view of this question, but I hope a fair one. To say that the House is unpledged and un- 245 fettered on this question by any previous proceeding is a Parliamentary fiction. We all know that when money has been spent it must be paid, and protest as much as we may we must vote it, and the people will have to pay it. The best thing we can do is to pay with a good grace; and I think we should pay with a much better grace if we put the saddle on the right horse, and not put it on the unfortunate people of India, who know as little about Abyssinia as the generality of the Members of this House. At any rate, I say put the saddle on the right horse, and by letting the people of this country feel the burden it will make them more cautious in future about going to war, and in watching the conduct of their representatives in this House.
§ MR. LAYARD
Mr. Dodson—Sir, I had hoped, from the course which this debate had taken in the early part of the evening, that it would have been unnecessary for me to take any part in it; but after the speeches of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. Aytoun) and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham (Mr. Osborne), I cannot remain silent. They have renewed the accusations here which have been made in the Press, and by some Members of this House out of doors, against the late Government, and have endeavoured to throw a large part of the responsibility for this unhappy expedition against Abyssinia upon Earl Russell and myself personally. Now, it is really time that the truth should be known in this matter, and that the story of our difficulties with Abyssinia should be fully told. That it has not been told before, is not on account of any desire on the part of Earl Russell's Government that there should be any concealment from the House, but simply from the fact that if there was one piece of advice more strongly urged upon the Foreign Office than any other by Consul Cameron, by the other captives, by Colonel Merewether, and by every one capable of forming an opinion upon the subject, it was the importance, indeed, the absolute necessity, in order not to endanger the lives of the prisoners, that the strictest secrecy should be preserved as regards the measures taken for their release, and as to the communications which we were able to receive from them. Those who have read the blue books connected with the Abyssinian question, which have been laid upon the table of the House, will not have failed to observe that there were certain persons, both at Massowah and in Abyssinia, who were ready to avail them- 246 selves of all the information and reports, true or false, which they could obtain, in order to convey them to King Theodore, with the view of complicating the difficulties between him and this country, and who were determined to arouse his anger as much as possible against the British Government and the captives, in order to destroy what they considered the influence of England in Abyssinia. Moreover, in this country there was a person, if not persons, as it will appear in the sequel, whose object it appears to have been to frustrate all the endeavours which Her Majesty's Government were making to effect the release of the prisoners. Indeed, I should scarcely even now have ventured to enter fully and unreservedly into the subject, had not the Foreign Office itself released me from the obligation to remain silent, as we cannot yet tell what the issue of the expedition against King Theodore may be. It appears to me that there is much in the two blue books laid upon the table by the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) which is open to strong condemnation. I will not dwell upon the system pursued in the last blue book, of so overlaying the really important information which it may contain with useless and irrelevant matter that it is almost impossible to find that which is necessary to throw light upon the transactions to which it relates; but I wish to point out to the House the ruthless manner in which communications of the most confidential and private nature—communications which the writers never intended for the public eye—have been published. For instance, here is a letter from Mr. Flad of the most confidential character, which, in the concluding paragraphs, he most earnestly requests may not be made public, actually printed with this very entreaty attached to it. I need scarcely say that if such communications had reached King Theodore—as they no doubt would have reached him—whilst he still exercised power over the captives, their lives would have been placed in the most imminent danger.
Sir, I do not believe that the Members of the Committee are as ignorant of Abyssinia as my hon. Friend (Mr. Osborne), who has just spoken, would wish to make it appear; on the contrary, I imagine that there are few Members of this House who have not of late been what is called "getting up" the subject, and who are not now pretty well acquainted with the geography and general condition of that country. I need not therefore trouble the Committee with 247 any sketch of its history; and, consequently, if I go back to the year 1848 with my hon. Friend, it is only to remind the Committee that at that period when a Consul, Mr. Plowden, was first appointed to Massowah, a port in the Turkish territory upon the western coast of the Red Sea, Abyssinia was divided into several kingdoms, governed by independent Kings or Chiefs, who were generally at war with each other, but who seem to have acknowledged as their nominal superior an Emperor who had no real authority whatever. At that time the principal and most powerful of these Chiefs was Ras Ali, King of Tigré. Mr. Plowden was an English gentleman who had travelled in Abyssinia as a private adventurer—I do not use the word in a bad sense, I only mean that he went there in search of adventure, and to seek for information in his private capacity as an English traveller. That he was a man of remarkable abilities and courage his letters and despatches fully prove. He came to this country and made so favourable, I may say so exaggerated, a report to the Government of the natural capabilities and resources of Abyssinia, and of the advantage which relations with that country would be to the commerce and political interests of Great Britain, that Lord Palmerston, on his representations, was induced to name him Consul at Massowah. I am not here to justify or to blame that appointment; but when hon. Members condemn it, they must remember that such appointments are very frequently made upon the representations of—indeed, I may say under very strong pressure from—Members of Parliament. Lord Palmerston, however, in sending Mr. Plowden as Consul to Massowah, evidently foresaw that, unless he was kept under proper restraint, he might involve us in political complications with Abyssinia, for the instructions which he received were very precise in directing him to reside at Massowah, and to confine himself to the protection of British trade. In his letter of appointment, dated in January 1848, he was expressly informed "that he was sent to Massowah for the protection of British trade with Abyssinia and with the countries adjacent thereto," and it is important to bear these significant words in mind, for they prove that the Foreign Office never had the intention of accrediting either Mr. Plowden or Consul Cameron exclusively to Abyssinia, as it has been so confidently asserted.
Soon after his arrival at Massowah, in 248 1849, Mr. Plowden went up to Gondar—at that time considered the capital of Abyssinia—and concluded a treaty with Ras Ali, who, as I have mentioned, was the most powerful Chief or King in that country. The present King, Theodore, who had married the daughter of Ras Ali, was then known by the name of Kasai. He was commencing that career which ultimately ended in the overthrow of nearly all the Chiefs of Abyssinia, and in the establishment of his authority as supreme ruler of the country. Mr. Plowden, as will be seen from his despatches, foresaw the future greatness of the rebel Kasai, and pointed out the remarkable qualities which he possessed; but, at the same time, he describes (I use his own words), "his imperious character," "his bursts of passion," "his pride," and "his fanatical zeal;" and remarks "that it would be impossible to foresee how he would receive European advances." When Kasai had overthrown Ras Ali, had taken the name of Theodore, and had proclaimed himself Emperor of Abyssinia and Ethiopia, Mr. Plowden joined his camp, and remained with him until the time of his (Mr. Plowden's) death. In fact, Mr. Plowden attached himself so completely to the King that he became, it may be said, almost as one of his subjects, accompanying him in his wars, commanding his troops, suggesting campaigns, and instructing his troops in blasting, and in various military operations. When Lord Clarendon, who had succeeded to the Foreign Office, first heard of Mr. Plowden's proceedings, he became very uneasy as to their results, and as to the difficulties in which they were likely to involve us. Accordingly, on the 3rd of October, 1853, be sent Mr. Plowden a despatch, complaining that the Government had been deceived by his reports of the commercial advantages which Abyssinia offered to England, reminding him that his place of residence was Massowah; that he had been sent out to protect British trade, and not to interfere in the internal affairs of Abyssinia, and ordering him back at once to his post. My hon. Friend (Mr. Osborne) asks me whether he obeyed those instructions. He appears not to have done so—and from a perusal of his despatches, and from that which has since happened, I am under the conviction that he was at that time really detained by the King—just as Mr. Rassam has since been although not like that gentleman, placed in actual confinement. Indeed, in a letter 249 which King Theodore wrote to the Queen, in November, 1857, he says that "he had detained" Mr. Plowden until he was successful and fortunate, and had conquered the whole of Abyssinia; and Mr. Plowden could return to England, in company with his Ambassadors, to announce his glory to Her Majesty. It is my decided impression that from 1855 to 1859 Mr. Plowden was so detained, and that he made the best of his position in writing home to his Government. His despatches and Reports to Lord Clarendon were so able and plausible, that he induced Lord Clarendon to express a qualified approval of some of his proceedings. At the same time, Mr. Plowden was endeavouring to conciliate the King, and to induce him to accept the treaty entered into with Ras Ali, and to listen to overtures which, without any authority, he was making to him from the British Government. We actually find him telling the King that England might give him Massowah and the Turkish sea-coast. I quote his own words from his despatch of June, 1855, to Lord Clarendon, published in the second blue book, p. 45—I had ventured to hint," he says "that the sea-coast and Massowah might possibly be given up to him on his consent; but though his ambition was roused at this, he feared the clause conferring jurisdiction on the Consul as trenching on his prerogative, and the time for consideration was so short that though half inclined to say 'yes,' he was too much startled at my proposals to do so.I think it very probable that much which has since occurred may be traced to this unfortunate and totally unauthorized communication from Mr. Plowden to the King, who was thus led to believe that England was prepared to support him in his designs against Turkey and Egypt. The King, it must be borne in mind, positively refused to ratify the treaty which had been entered into with Ras Ali, one of his chief objections to it being the article which conferred upon the British Government the power of appointing a Consul in Abyssinia. This is a sufficient answer to those who maintain that both Mr. Plowden and Consul Cameron were appointed by the Foreign Office Consuls to Abyssinia, and that consequently they were right in assuming that it was intended that they should reside in that country, and not, as they were positively and repeatedly directed to do, at Massowah. By the treaty with Ras Ali that Chief was empowered to send Ambassadors to England. Theodore now wished to do so, and he even hinted that he 250 might send his own son. Mr. Plowden communicated his wishes to Lord Clarendon. I desire to draw particular attention to Lord Clarendon's reply to this request; because it completely, to my mind, justifies that which afterwards occurred with regard to the letter of which we have heard so much, and proves that it was not the Foreign Office, but King Theodore himself who was to blame, if no answer was sent to that letter. That reply will be found at p. 47 of the second blue book. It states emphatically that the Government declined to receive Ambassadors from King Theodore unless he distinctly disavowed his intention of attacking Egypt and the Turks, on the grounds that they were our allies, and that we could not receive an Embassy from the King, which would have to pass through their territories, whilst he openly announced his intention of going to war with them.
I wish now to turn to another matter which has been very much misrepresented. It has been stated, in justification of Consul Cameron's journey to, and proceedings at, Bogos—which King Theodore has repeatedly declared was the chief cause of his anger against the Consul, and of his imprisonment—that he was fully authorized to do so by the proceedings of Mr. Plowden, his predecessor, who, with the sanction of the Foreign Office, extended the protection, of Great Britain to the tribes inhabiting that province. Now, the only grounds for this extraordinary assertion—an assertion which Consul Cameron in one of his published despatches admits he had no authority, as far as he knew, from any documents in the archives of the Consulate to make, and which, he says, "he presumes" he was justified in making—are the following:—It appears from the correspondence in the Foreign Office that when Mr. Plowden was at Gondar, in 1854, the Bey of Takka, an Egyptian province on the borders of Abyssinia, had attacked a Christian district, called by Mr. Plowden "Mogos," over which both the Abyssinian and Egyptian Governments claimed authority, and had carried away as slaves a number of its inhabitants. Mr. Plowden went to Takka to intercede with the Bey for their release, as well as of that of a large quantity of cattle, which had also been plundered; but having failed to obtain it, he wrote an account of the circumstances to Lord Clarendon, who, from motives of humanity, directed the British Consul General in Egypt to intercede in 251 behalf of the captives with the Viceroy. The Consul General did so, and directions were sent by the Pasha to the Bey of Takka to release the slaves and the cattle. This is the simple history of the so-called British protection over the tribes of Bogos.
Mr. Plowden continued, during the time that he was detained in Abyssinia, to address despatches to the Foreign Office. It is curious that King Theodore's first letter to the Queen, proposing to send Ambassadors to England, was received in April, 1858, when Lord Malmesbury was Secretary of State. It appears that no answer was ever forwarded to that letter, or that any notice was even taken of it. Mr. Plowden, and another Englishman named Bell, who had entered the King's service, were now so completely identified with all the proceedings of King Theodore, and with his cause, that in one of his despatches he makes use of these significant words, "If Theodore dies we—namely, himself and Mr. Bell—shall be looked upon by his subjects as national enemies."
Such, then, was the state of things in Abyssinia, when in the summer of 1859 Lord Russell became Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Now, I am particularly desirous of calling the attention of the Committee to the policy of Lord Russell throughout the whole of this important Abyssinian business. It has been most unjustly and unfairly attacked and misrepresented. I affirm, and will prove, that it was not only wise and consistent throughout, but entirely in accordance with the strong opinion which has been expressed in the House of Commons and elsewhere against interference in the affairs of Abyssinia. It was not until the winter of 1859–60, that Lord Russell's attention was called to the state of things in that country, and to the proceedings of Mr. Plowden. What step did he take? Without any delay, on the 18th January, 1860, he wrote to Consul Plowden to the effect—That he had received his (Mr. Plowden's) despatch respecting the proceedings of the King against the hostile tribes, and that Her Majesty's Government did not think any special advantage would be derived from the Consul's repeated visits to the interior; that he should therefore return to Massowah, his proper place of residence, and not leave it, save under very exceptional circumstances, without orders from the Secretary of State.Unfortunately, before this despatch could reach Abyssinia Mr. Plowden was killed, in March, by a rebel chief, and shortly 252 afterwards Mr. Bell met the same fate in an expedition which King Theodore undertook against the tribe to revenge Mr. Plowden's death.
Lord Russell has been condemned tonight for appointing a successor to Mr. Plowden after the unfortunate end of that gentleman. I quite agree with much that has been said by my hon. Friend who has last spoken (Mr. Osborne), and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe), upon the impolicy of entering into relations of any kind with such semi-barbarous Chiefs as King Theodore, and such uncivilized tribes as the Abyssinians. But it must be remembered that the Consul was named to Massowah and not to Abyssinia, and that by the letter of appointment of Lord Palmerston it was his duty to protect our trade "with Abyssinia and the adjacent countries." Moreover, at that time there were special reasons for sending a Consul to Massowah, as will be gathered from his instructions. The French Government had recently purchased a large tract of country upon the Western coast of the Red Sea near this port, with the view, it was supposed, of establishing an extensive French settlement in that part of Africa. Our interests in the Red Sea, of vast importance to India and to our colonies in the East, rendered it absolutely necessary that we should be made acquainted with the proceedings of France in that quarter. Again, at that time the slave trade, almost suppressed on the Western coast of Africa, began to develop itself to a most serious and lamentable extent upon the Eastern coast, and Massowah was one of the ports at which the traffic was principally carried on. These reasons made it desirable that we should then have a Consul at Massowah, who would at the same time, furnish us with information of what was going on in Abyssinia, of which country this port was the principal outlet on the sea-coast. The instructions to Consul Cameron are before the Committee. In them he is expressly told that he is to consider Massowah as the headquarter of the Consulate, and he is specially instructed not to make himself a partizan of either of the contending parties to the contest still going on in Abyssinia. The principles upon which he was to act were distinctly laid down. They consisted ofAbstinence from any course of proceeding by which a preference for either party should be imputable to him; abstinence from all intrigues to set up an exclusive British influence in Abyssinia; 253 and lastly, the promotion of amicable arrangements between the rival candidates for power.It was most clearly understood that it was at Massowah he was to obtain the information which he would send to England, and to act upon the instructions with which he was furnished, and this is evident from the fact of his attention having been particularly directed "to any traffic in slaves which might be carried on within his district." This district could be no other than that of Massowah on the coast, as there was no slave trade in Abyssinia. In addition to these instructions, Consul Cameron was made acquainted before he left England with all the correspondence which had passed between the Foreign Office and Mr. Plowden, and he was consequently fully aware of the views and policy of Lord Russell with regard to Abyssinia. Moreover, the greater part of that correspondence existed in the archives of the Consulate, to which he could at all times refer. In addition to the permanent duties which he had to perform at Massowah as Consul, he had a special duty intrusted to him, which was to convey a letter and certain presents from Lord Russell to King Theodore. That letter was an answer to one which the King had written to the Queen, to announce that he had taken signal vengeance for the death of Mr. Plowden—that vengeance having consisted in the slaughter in cold blood of upwards of 1,500 persons of the tribe by whose Chief the Consul was killed. King Theodore's letter had never reached the Foreign Office. It was only known through Signor Barroni—the then British Vice Consul at Massowah—that it had been sent. It appears to have been lost by the way.
Now, let any one compare the instructions to Consul Cameron on his appointment to his Consulate, with the account which he himself gave of his proceedings on arriving in Abyssinia, in his despatch of the 31st October, 1862, which is before the Committee. It will, I venture to affirm, be found by his own statement that he disobeyed his instructions in every single particular. Instead of going up to Gondar and delivering the letter and presents to the King, abstaining from mixing himself up with the affairs of the country, and returning at once to Massowah, what were his proceedings, as he himself describes them? He says, that on the first day the King announced to him his intention of fighting with the Turks, and of sending Ambassadors to the European 254 nations to justify his conduct. Two days after, the King directed him to put down his business on paper.I wrote immediately," (he says, and I quote his own words,) "that I was deputed to present him with certain gifts, and a letter of introduction; also to discuss with him regarding the future. That when Mr. Plowden was killed there were two points under discussion—namely, 1st, a treaty; 2nd, the sending an Embassy to England. I offered to take these up where Mr. Plowden had left them.Now, there was nothing whatever in his instructions to authorize this communication to the King; on the contrary, the evident and undoubted intention of Lord Russell was that he should not enter into any such negotiations with the King. As regards the Ambassadors, the King had been told, as it has been seen, that Her Majesty's Government would not receive them until he had given a distinct pledge that he would not make war upon the Turks; and he had as distinctly announced his intention to fight with the Turks. Next day—The King renewed his invectives against the Turks, and talked of what he would do if assured of our support on the coast.At subsequent interviews he even spoke more boldly regarding Turkey, and his intention of invading Egypt. After this, Consul Cameron waited several days in expectation of a private audience. His food, he says, became scant and bad, and he was surrounded by spies, who endeavoured so to turn matters that he should be driven to solicit the King to leave. At last, one morning he declared that he would stay six months if his business was not finished—his business having been to deliver the letter and the presents, which he had already done, and then to leave the country. An hour afterwards, the King sent him a peremptory message to leave for the sea at once. Still Consul Cameron refused, and insisted upon having a reply to the question of a treaty. After some further communications with the King, he proposed to go to Metemma, where the King had told him that the Turks had been taking tribute unjustly, and gathering together troops—offering to do what he could to keep them back. The King deprecated his going to Metemma; but the Consul still appears to have insisted. At a subsequent interview the King wrote the letter to Her Majesty, which had now become celebrated. I think that no one who reads impartially Consul Cameron's own account of that which led to this letter 255 will be inclined to call in question the statement which I made on a previous occasion that he exacted it from the King—a conviction which is confirmed by him when he says that he sent a memorandum to the King—Reminding him of a letter which he had expressed his intention of writing to Mr. Colquhoun, the British Consul General in Egypt, and stating the advantage he would derive from it.He was again told by the King to leave for Massowah; but persisting in his determination to act in contradiction to the King's repeatedly expressed wishes and to his instructions from home, he announces, at the end of the despatch from which I have been quoting, his intention to proceed to the neighbourhood of Bogos, "whose inhabitants have been long under our special protection."
Now, what did Lord Russell do on receiving on the 12th February, 1863, Consul Cameron's despatch containing the letter from the King, and giving this account of his proceedings at Gondar? He never changed or modified the instructions which he had originally given, but pursued consistently the same course throughout. It may be said that as Consul Cameron had disregarded his instructions he ought to have been recalled at once. Perhaps it is a pity that this step was not taken, although his recall would not have reached him in time to prevent the mischief which afterwards occurred. But the difficulty of dealing with such cases, as those who have been connected with a public Department will know, is very great. Had Consul Cameron been at once dismissed he would have found many friends and Members of Parliament ready to espouse his cause, and they might with some reason have blamed the Foreign Office for dealing with him so harshly and summarily without first waiting for the explanations he might have to give. The despatch of the 31st October was speedily followed by the one dated 1st January, from Axum, in which Consul Cameron states that on his road to Bogos he had been intercepted by the sudden rising of a rebel and had taken refuge in a sanctuary. This despatch was received on the 9th March, the previous despatch having been received on the 12th February. Lord Russell, as soon as he was able to communicate with Abyssinia, wrote the despatch to Consul Cameron of the 22nd April, 1863, which is before the House, and in which he says—With reference to your despatch of the 31st 256 of October last, I have to state to you that it is not desirable for Her Majesty's agents to meddle in the affairs of Abyssinia, and you would have done better had you returned to your post at Massowah when the King told you to do so. This it will be right that you should do at once, and you will remain at Massowah until further orders.On the 5th of July we received the despatch from Consul Cameron, dated from Bogos, 31st March, giving an account of his proceedings there, and of his interference in the affairs of the Abyssinian and Egyptian tribes. As soon as possible, Mr. Murray, the Assistant Under Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, wrote, by the direction of Lord Russell, an answer, dated August 13, in which he says, after acknowledging the receipt of Consul Cameron's letter of March 31—In reply, I am to refer you to Lord Russell's despatch of the 22nd April last, and to state to you that as you have been ordered to return to and remain at Massowah, your proposal need not be considered. I am also to remind you with reference to the expressions 'Envoy' and 'Mission,' which repeatedly occur in your despatch, that, as Her Majesty's Consul at Massowah, you hold no representative character in Abyssinia.On the 28th August further despatches were received from Consul Cameron, addressed to Her Majesty's Consul General in Egypt, Mr. Colquhoun, giving additional accounts of his proceedings in Bogos, and making various suggestions with regard to our policy and proceedings towards the tribes, which he ventured to say were under British protection, although he admits that he had no proof of it, and says that he can only suppose, not having archives to refer to, that the step which had been taken by Consul Plowden in protecting these tribes had not been disapproved by Her Majesty's Government. These despatches are published in the blue book. Again, Lord Russell, without loss of time, wrote on the 8th September in these terms to Consul Cameron—I have received from Her Majesty's Agent and Consul General in Egypt your despatches of the 20th May last, and I have to state to you that Her Majesty's Government do not approve your proceedings in Abyssinia nor your suggestions founded upon them. I have only to desire that you will abstain from all interference in the internal affairs of that country, and that you will remain at your post at Massowah, whither you were ordered by my despatch of the 22nd April last to return and reside.I think that I have thus shown that throughout these transactions, and in all his instructions to, and correspondence with, Consul Cameron, Lord Russell acted consistently and in complete accordance 257 with the sentiments and opinions of a majority of the House of Commons and of the country with regard to interference in the affairs of Abyssinia, and that he never failed to direct Consul Cameron to abstain from all such interference, and to reside at Massowah, which was the headquarter of his Consulate.
I now come to my own share in this matter. I am not desirous of avoiding any responsibility which may legitimately fall to my lot; on the contrary, whatever part I may have taken in this business I am willing to accept any blame, if there be any, which may attach to the Foreign Office, the Department which I at that time had the honour of representing in this House. I cannot recall to my recollection that I ever saw King Theodore's letter to the Queen, which has given rise to so much discussion. Nor can Lord Russell, I believe, distinctly remember whether he saw it or not. The reason of this can be easily explained. A large packet of papers concerning Abyssinia was received at the Foreign Office. They were, as a matter of course, submitted to Lord Russell, probably with a suggestion that they should be forwarded to the India Office, because the question of Massowah and Abyssinia was really an Indian and not an English question. Were it not for our interests and possessions in the East we should have nothing to do with that country, and the regular course was to refer despatches relating to it to the Secretary of State for India, for any observations and suggestions that he might think fit to make upon them. He did not deem it necessary to make any, and the papers remained for some time in the India Office. As regards the King's letter it did not require an answer, and ought never to have been sent home by Consul Cameron to the Foreign Office. The King had been distinctly and repeatedly told by Mr. Plowden, who had communicated to him Lord Clarendon's instructions on the subject, and by Consul Cameron, that the English Government would not receive Ambassadors from him unless he renounced his intentions of attacking the Turkish and Egyptian territories. In his letter he declared that he was actually going to war with the Turks. "I am now going to wrestle with them," he writes. Consequently, I contend that, after the warnings given to the King and the distinct refusal to receive his Ambassadors, his letter did not require an answer. Moreover, had we sent an answer it would 258 have been necessary for Consul Cameron to return to Abyssinia, and he would probably have renewed those communications with the King and that interference with the affairs of the country which Lord Russell was so desirous of avoiding. Indeed, had Consul Cameron obeyed his instructions, and the orders over and over again given to him by the King to return to Massowah, we should probably never have heard anything more about the letter. But even had an answer been sent to it, would the difficulties into which Consul Cameron has involved himself been avoided? We know that King Theodore wrote letters, precisely similar to that which he addressed to the Queen, to the Emperor of Russia, to the Emperor of the French, and to other Sovereigns. The Emperor of Russia appears to have taken no notice of the communication. The Foreign Minister of the Emperor of the French, M. Drouyn de Lhuys, did send an answer. But how did the King receive it? He imprisoned, chained, and illtreated M. Lejean, the French Consul, and then expelled him from the country. We could have sent no other answer than that given in previous communications to the Emperor—namely, that we would not receive his Embassy unless he gave up his intention of invading and conquering Turkish territory, in, which he looked for our assistance. But for various reasons we had no desire to receive an Embassy from him—we should probably, under any circumstances, have declined to do so—and as the King had refused to ratify the treaty entered into by Mr. Plowden with Ras Ali, he had no right to insist upon sending one to England. It is more than probable, therefore, that on receiving any answer we could have sent him he would have illtreated and imprisoned Consul Cameron. As the Foreign Office had no wish to answer the letter, or to have anything further to do with Abyssinian affairs, neither had the Secretary of State for India. No further notice was therefore taken of it, and it appears to have remained at the India Office. The first time that, in my recollection, I became aware of Consul Cameron's proceedings in Abyssinia, was when the despatch dated from Axum, informing the Foreign Office that on his way to Bogos he had taken refuge in a sanctuary from a rebel Chief, was brought to my notice. At once, on the 11th of March, I wrote a Minute, as indeed did my Colleagues, Lord Russell and the permanent and As- 259 sistant Under Secretaries pointing out that we were involving ourselves far too much in the affairs of Abyssinia, and that we should probably get into serious trouble on account of Consul Cameron's proceedings. The despatch of the 22nd April, which I have already quoted, ordering him to return at once to Massowah, was accordingly sent out to him.
All that I had to do up to that time with the affairs of Abyssinia was this—I was in the habit of receiving very long letters about them dated from the classic region of Bekesbourne, and written by a gentleman of the name of Beke. They evidently came from a fussy, busy, mischievous, intriguing, meddling, troublesome person. They were full of schemes for extending British influence and trade; they gave minute and particular accounts of different Chiefs, pointing out with which we ought and with which we ought not to form alliances; they contained violent and exaggerated tirades against the influence and proceedings of French political agents and Roman Catholic missionaries, and described and mourned the fall of British influence; in fact, all that kind of thing which the Foreign Office is in the habit of receiving from that kind of person. Those who have had experience of that Department—and I appeal with confidence to the noble Lord opposite (Lord Stanley) to confirm what I say—know that much of a Secretary of State and Under Secretary's time is taken up with such correspondence. Unfortunately, the writers of these letters generally succeed in securing the support and aid of one or two respectable merchants, who are induced by their specious and highly-coloured statements to believe that their projects and schemes, if carried out, would lead to some great advantages to British commerce and British influence. The next step is to get some influential Members of Parliament to take the matter up and bring it before the House of Commons. If the Government or the Foreign Office do not listen to their representations and take up their schemes at once they are accused of indifference, or even of actual hostility to British interests and to British trade. Knowing, as I unhappily do, the vast amount of mischief which is done by such persons as these when they succeed in involving the Foreign Office in their schemes, I confess that I have a kind of horror of them. Consequently, whilst civilly acknowledging Dr. Beke's letters, I did not, I 260 admit, pay much attention to their contents, but was rather inclined to consign them to the waste-paper basket.
As I have observed, my own conviction, as soon as I had seen Consul Cameron's despatches, was that his conduct in Abyssinia and in the adjacent territories were likely to get us into the most serious trouble. For not only were we in danger of involving ourselves in difficulties with King Theodore, but the Turkish Government also now began to make the most urgent remonstrances, through Sir Henry Bulwer, then our Ambassador at the Porte, against Consul Cameron's proceedings in the Egyptian and Turkish provinces, where, they declared, he was exciting the people to rebel against their authority. Consul Cameron himself, indeed, anticipated that mischief of a grave character might result from his journey to Bogos, as in one of his despatches he actually stated that so irritated were the Mussulmans and the Egyptian authorities against him, that "a second massacre of Jeddah might ensue." It will be remembered that a short time before the massacre of the Christians of that place had occurred.
The first information we received at the Foreign Office of the critical position of Consul Cameron in Abyssinia was through a despatch from Her Majesty's Consul General in Egypt. A certain M. Labarre, who had accompanied M. Lejean, the French Consul to Gondar, and had been expelled the country with him, called upon Mr. Colquhoun, and informed him that King Theodore had recently become most suspicious of all the Europeans about him, and urged that it was desirable, in order to avoid future mischief, that Consul Cameron should be recalled at once from Abyssinia by the English Government. The Foreign Office had already ordered him back to his post at Massowah, and consequently no further step was necessary. The first intimation we received of his actual detention and imprisonment in Abyssinia was through a Mr. Haussman, a German missionary, who had been arrested with the other missionaries by the King, but had fortunately managed to leave the country, and to make his way to Kartoom. He there informed Mr. Petherick, our Consul, that Consul Cameron and the missionaries had been imprisoned. That information was at once forwarded to the Foreign Office through Egypt, and was received on the 8th March, 1864. On the very next day—that is to say, on the 9th—Lord Russell telegraphed to the Consul 261 General in Egypt to communicate at once with Colonel Merewether, the Governor of Aden, the nearest spot from which Abyssinia was accessible, and to direct him—To apply to the King for the immediate release of Cameron, and of any other British subjects detained by him, and for permission for their immediate departure for Massowah. Colonel Merewether was at the same time to tell the King that if he refused, he would incur the very serious displeasure of Her Majesty's Government.Colonel Merewether was further told that there appeared to be other persons detained by the King who were not British subjects, and whose release consequently we could not demand of right, but that the best ought to be done in their behalf. I think that what I have now stated is a full and complete answer to a certain portion of the Press which has persistently maintained that Lord Russell was indifferent to the fate of the captives, and that he only took measures to effect their release after he had been driven to do so by articles and attacks in the newspapers. It was still a matter of doubt whether Consul Cameron was then actually in confinement, as we had received despatches from him in April, dated from the King's Camp on the 2nd October of the previous year, in which he described the King's violent conduct towards the French Consul and Mr. Stern, but did not give us any reason to think that he was likely to incur the same fate.
I may now remind the Committee that the case of Mr. Stern, and the other missionaries, which has been so perseveringly mixed up with that of Consul Cameron, Lord Russell being also held responsible for their imprisonment, because he had not answered the King's letter, had nothing whatever to do with Theodore's complaints against our Consul. There was no connection whatever between the imprisonment of the missionaries and that of Consul Cameron, except in so far as the King may have been angered by any remonstrances or intercession on the part of Consul Cameron in their behalf. Mr. Stern had been maltreated and imprisoned about two months before Consul Cameron, because he had published, during a visit to England, an account of his labours in Abyssinia, in which he had used expressions which were brought to the notice of the King, and were considered injurious and insulting to his dignity. Mr. Stern, by the King's orders, was tried by a tribunal composed of Europeans, chiefly mis- 262 sionaries like himself, at that time in Abyssinia. He was condemned by them to death, but recommended to mercy, as the best means of appeasing the King's anger. The King did remit the sentence of death, but sentenced Mr. Stern to perpetual imprisonment. In the course of Mr. Stern's trial documents which compromised some of his companions came to light, and they also were thrown into chains. It is then evident that the imprisonment of the missionaries had nothing whatever to do with any neglect that may have taken place in not sending an answer to the King's letter to the Queen. Besides, it must be remembered that they were not even British subjects.
Colonel Merewether, on the receipt of Lord Russell's instructions, replied that he had no means of acting upon them at once, as he was without a ship of war with which he could communicate with Massowah. At the same time he forwarded a pencil note from Consul Cameron, which gave the first authentic notice of his imprisonment and that of the missionaries. The terms of it, however, were such that Colonel Merewether expressed his conviction that—The prisoners were in no danger of personal injury, beyond the inconvenience of confinement.He further assured the Government that—As soon as he was furnished with requisite means, no endeavour should be wanting on his part to effect the release of the captives.This reply was sent from Aden on the 21st of April, and reached the Foreign Office on the 7th of May. As soon as it was received, it was determined to send a special envoy to King Theodore to be the bearer of a letter from the Queen requesting the release of the captives, and Mr. Rassam was selected for this mission. The Queen was at that time at Balmoral, and a few days elapsed before her pleasure could be taken as to the terms of the letter, and upon some other matters. It was consequently the 26th of May before the letter was ready. A copy of that letter has now been asked for. I cannot understand why it was not laid before upon the table of the House. I imagine that it must have been in consequence of an oversight, and that it will be at once produced. I can assure hon. Members that it contains nothing compromising to the Foreign Office, no offer of a treaty or anything else, to justify what has since occurred, as some persons have assumed. I have a perfect recollection of its contents. It was chiefly a complimentary 263 letter. It passed over as lightly as possible the illtreatment of Consul Cameron and the missionaries in order to avoid giving further offence to the King, and requested that His Majesty would allow Her Majesty's Consul and others to depart from Abyssinia. The letter as delivered—for some alteration was subsequently made in its terms—further informed the King that Her Majesty would be happy to receive an Embassy from him. Such were the only contents of the letter. There was no proposal for a treaty in it, nor any expression which could possibly have led the King to expect assistance from us in his quarrels with the Turks or Egyptians.
Now, as regards the choice of the person to be the bearer of the letter. Much has been said here and elsewhere against the selection of Mr. Rassam; but I will venture to affirm that, under the circumstances, no better person could have been chosen. What were the facts of the case? The persons from whom we had to select were very limited in number—in fact, they were only three—General Sir William Coghlan, the Rev. Mr. Badger, and Mr. Rassam. There were, no doubt, one or two gentlemen in this country who had visited Abyssinia; but we considered that as they did not hold any rank in Her Majesty's Service, the King might not have been inclined to treat them with proper consideration and respect. The person whom it would have been perhaps most desirable to send was Sir William Coghlan. He was a distinguished officer of great experience in Indian and Eastern affairs, and having long been Governor of Aden, was well known in the countries adjacent to the Red Sea. But he would not have undertaken this mission—as he has himself pointed out in his Memorandum presented to the House—without a considerable staff, including a military secretary and many English officers. It was considered that there would be very considerable risk in sending out such a mission. Indeed, Consul Cameron himself subsequently advised us very earnestly not to send out a great mission, as it would offer a further temptation to the King to endeavour to coerce the British Government by detaining or imprisoning the Envoy and his suite. There is no doubt that if an officer so well known and of so high a rank as Sir William Coghlan—one who had held the distinguished post of Governor of Aden—had been ill-treated and held captive by the King, the effect upon our rela- 264 tions and position in the East would have been very serious. It was believed that a small mission consisting of a gentleman of inferior rank would offer less temptation to the King, and would afford a better chance for the release of the prisoners. Mr. Badger was next suggested; he was a gentleman of considerable ability, and of much experience in Eastern affairs. He had been more than once employed in important diplomatic missions; he had accompanied Sir James Outram in the Persian expedition, during which his services were of great public usefulness; and he had been for some years chaplain at Aden, and was consequently not unknown on the shores of the Red Sea. But there was this objection to his employment: he was a clergyman, and as we knew that many of the difficulties in Abyssinia have arisen out of the quarrels and rivalries of Christian sects, it was considered better that no risk should be run by sending there a minister of the Church of England, to whose mission a religious character might possibly have been attached. There consequently only remained Mr. Rassam, and I will reassert that he was—everything taken into consideration—really the most competent person to undertake the mission, and that no better selection could have been made. I have been accused of sending Mr. Rassam because he was my personal friend; but this is only one of the many malicious inventions of Dr. Beke. Mr. Rassam was solely selected by Lord Russell because he was considered the best person for the service, and was moreover at Aden, and consequently already near Abyssinia. Sir William Coghlan was consulted by the Foreign Office the very moment that we heard of Consul Cameron's detention, and every step that was taken was decided upon after communicating with him. Mr. Rassam's position, character, and history have been strangely misunderstood and misrepresented. Although born at Mossul, where his brother for many years has held the post of Her Majesty's Vice Consul, he came, when young, to England, and was for some time at Oxford, under the kind care of a gentleman distinguished for his learning—the brother of an eminent Member of this House, the late Attorney General (Sir Roundell Palmer). After I had returned to England from my second expedition to Assyria the Trustees of the British Museum selected Mr. Rassam to carry on the excavations at Nineveh, and we owe to his skill and energy the discovery of many 265 very important monuments which are now in the British Museum. On his return to England he was—partly, I believe, on the recommendation of the Trustees—taken into the service of the East India Company, and was sent to Aden, at first in a subordinate position; but by his zeal, his industry, his honesty, and his high character, he rose—a circumstance very extraordinary for one of Eastern origin—to be a magistrate, and ultimately to be Assistant Resident—an office equivalent to that of Lieutenant Governor—of Aden. In that capacity he was more than once left in charge of the affairs of the settlement, and employed on important diplomatic missions, in which he was entirely successful, and received the amplest acknowledgments and approval of the Indian Government. I will venture to quote the following testimony from Sir William Coghlan, which I have already read to the House on a former occasion, as to the position and character of Mr. Rassam. This statement was written by Sir William Coghlan, after the Memorandum in which he proposed that a mission upon a large scale should be sent to Abyssinia, and in consequence of a request from me that he would inform me whether the attacks made upon Mr. Rassam on the ground that he (Sir William Coghlan) disapproved of his appointment were justified by any opinions that he had expressed:—Mr. Rassam's antecedents, his status, and his qualifications are greatly misunderstood and misrepresented by a portion of the Press of this country. He has been variously styled Levantine, Greek, obscure Armenian, Turkish subject, &c. In answer to these assertions, it is but just to a very deserving public servant to say what Mr. Rassam really is. He was born at Mossul, of Christian parents (his brother is British Vice Consul there); he received his education in England; he is a gentleman in manners and conduct; and his qualifications for the peculiar line in which he has been employed during the last ten years cannot be surpassed. I speak with confidence on this point, for Mr. Rassam was my Assistant at Aden during many years of trouble, a part of which time he held charge of our political relations at Muscat, and acquitted himself to the entire approval of the Government which placed him there. In short, Mr. Rassam's whole previous career well justified the expectation which Her Majesty's Government entertained in appointing him to the delicate and difficult mission on which he is now employed. The disappointment of that expectation is not attributable to any fault of his.I may here remark that before Mr. Rassam's employment, such were the relations between the English and the Arabs occupying the country round Aden, that no one 266 could go a mile or two beyond the fortifications, and that we were in constant hostilities with the surrounding tribes. Through his admirable tact, temper, and management, the Arabs were reconciled to us, and Mr. Rassam was actually able to take Sir William Coghlan a journey through the interior, which had before been altogether inaccessible to Europeans. Moreover, as Mr. Rassam's duties were specially connected with the settlement of questions arising out of the relations between the English and the Native Chiefs and inhabitants of the various countries on both sides of the Red Sea, in the vicinity of Aden, he was everywhere well known, and had been able to extend his influence far beyond our colony. But in addition to the testimony of Sir William Coghlan, let me read to the Committee that of Mr. Flad, who had an opportunity of closely watching Mr. Rassam's conduct in Abyssinia, and who, as any one may judge by his letters published in the blue book, was not disposed to conceal his opinions upon any matter connected with the mission. He writes to Lord Clarendon on July 10, 1865, in his letter published in the blue book—I must make here the remark that the Government could not have intrusted a man better fit for the mission of Mr. Rassam than himself. In all his business with the King he was calm, prudent, cautious, and sincere. Not only the Abyssinians, but even the Europeans, did wonder at him.I may further remind the Committee that throughout this unhappy business Mr. Rassam appears to have preserved the personal friendship of the King, who, although he has confined and chained him as a hostage—as he says—for the British Government, has always treated him with kindness and distinction.
Such, then, are the high opinions entertained of Mr. Rassam by persons most competent to form an opinion upon the subject, and I feel it to be my bounden duty to defend him against the very unjust, cruel, and unwarrantable attacks that have been made upon him—now that he is absent on the service of his adopted country and unable to defend himself.
An hon. Member asks me why the Government did not send Dr. Beke to Abyssinia? After what I have said of that gentleman, I need scarcely observe that if we had sent him I should have considered that we had been guilty of a dereliction of public duty. I rejoice to find that the present Government have likewise declined to avail 267 themselves of the services of that most mischievous individual. It is with much regret that I feel myself compelled to speak of Dr. Beke in very severe terms. If he had confined himself to calumniating Lord Russell and myself, I should not have considered it even necessary to notice him; but when he has published letters and a book, which have been quoted by hon. Members in the Committee, and which contained the most slanderous accusations against a public servant employed by the Foreign Office, and when some of those letters have actually been officially communicated to the House of Commons in a blue book, I feel it my duty to take public notice of them. I must say, and I say it with regret, that a more mendacious book than Dr. Beke's History of the Abyssinian Captives, I never read. It is, from the beginning to the end, a tissue of falsehoods and misstatements. To prove what I assert, I will call the attention of the Committee to two accusations against Mr. Rassam. In one passage Dr. Beke insinuates—if he does not distinctly state—that that gentleman had misapplied or misappropriated public money which had been given to him by the King, and that he had spent it "in a manner displeasing to God." He further states that Mr. Rassam had very improperly received presents in money from the King, which Mr. Plowden and others had always refused to do, thereby placing himself in a position of dependence upon the King and compromising his position and dignity. That this statement is in direct contradiction to facts, the Committee may satisfy themselves by referring to Consul Cameron's despatch of the 31st October, 1862, page 52 of the blue book of August, 1866. He says—There seems to be no necessity for irritating the King further at this moment about the 1,000 dollars.… But I must here state that Mr. Plowden was more than once placed in the same difficulty as myself by the King's presenting him with money; which he generally accepted to avoid explanations, making a present of larger value in return.He had previously said—It was with great difficulty that I could get my interpreters to translate this (refusal to accept money), as in Abyssinia a refusal of such a nature, especially to a King, has in it something in the ature of an insult.Consequently Mr. Rassam was perfectly justified in accepting money from the King, and it was his duty to do so if by refusing he would unnecessarily irritate the King and endanger the success of his mission. 268 I only hope that Dr. Beke has been able to give as satisfactory an account of the money subscribed for his mission to Abyssinia by the friends of the unfortunate captives, as I feel convinced that Mr. Rassam, if he ever returns to this country, will be able to afford of every farthing of public money intrusted to him. Dr. Beke's second charge against Mr. Rassam is one of cowardice—on the grounds, first, that he refused to remain in Abyssinia as a hostage when the King made this a condition for the release and departure of the captives, although Dr. Beke offered to remain with him, a statement which I believe to be utterly untrue; and second, that he remained at Massowah with the Queen's letter until he was invited up to Gondar, instead of proceeding at once to the King. As regards this second charge, I will only say that Mr. Rassam was not only acting in accordance with his instructions, but upon the urgent advice and entreaty of Consul Cameron himself, with whom he was in constant communication, who represented to him that if he attempted to enter Abyssinia without having first obtained the permission and received the invitation of the King, he would not only endanger the lives of the captives, but his own.
I now come to the mission of Mr. Palgrave, upon which various comments have been made, and the nature and object of which has been altogether misunderstood. In the summer of 1865 the friends of the captives and a part of the public press became very impatient at the long suspense in which they were kept, and at Mr. Rassam's detention at Massowah, and Lord Russell was strongly urged to send Mr. Palgrave to King Theodore to endeavour to effect the release of the prisoners. I confess that I was much opposed to the choice of Mr. Palgrave for this mission, and upon these grounds. He was a very distinguished and enterprizing traveller, and had accomplished with great success a most perilous journey through Arabia, which he had described with an ability and felicity of diction rarely equalled. But his antecedents, in my opinion, disqualified him for a mission to Abyssinia. I do not wish to say anything which may be disagreeable to him—I merely repeat that which he has himself stated in his well-known work. He had at one time belonged to the order of the Jesuits, and had been engaged for some years in their proceedings in Syria. He was well known in Jerusalem, to which city a large number 269 of Abyssinians constantly resort. He had, by his own account, undertaken his journey into Arabia in connection with some secret mission which was supposed to be connected with his duties as a Jesuit priest. Now, as we know, King Theodore has the greatest distrust and fear of the Jesuits. He had been taught that owing to their interference in the 17th century in the affairs of Abyssinia they had brought great disasters upon the country. He had expelled the Roman Catholic mission from his territories. If he had learnt—as he no doubt would have learnt immediately, for there were plenty of people to tell him the fact—that Mr. Palgrave had formerly been a Jesuit priest, would not his suspicions have been immediately aroused? He would have been convinced that we had some design against him in selecting Mr. Palgrave, and no explanation would have persuaded him to the contrary. However, such was the pressure upon the Foreign Office, that Lord Russell thought it right at last to send Mr. Palgrave; but his mission in no way superseded, as it has been asserted, that of Mr. Rassam, nor did it clash with it. It was, on the contrary, only auxiliary to it. Mr. Palgrave was not intrusted with a letter from the Queen, he was only furnished by Lord Russell with a memorandum of the language he was to hold to the King, and he was divested as much as possible of the official character of an Envoy. He was directed to proceed to Egypt, and thence to make his way to King Theodore, whilst Mr. Rassam a waited the issue of his mission at Aden with the Queen's letter. If, however, Mr. Palgrave heard on his arrival at Alexandria that Mr. Rassam had received an invitation from King Theodore, and was about to go to him, he was to remain at Alexandria and not to proceed on his journey. It happened that precisely at the time when Mr. Rassam heard of Mr. Palgrave's departure from England, he received the letter from the King inviting him to his camp. Mr. Rassam feared that if both himself and Mr. Palgrave were on their way at the same time much mischief would ensue; and he very properly came at once to Alexandria, in order to communicate with the Government, and to ascertain whether it was considered desirable that he should go to the King, or whether Mr. Palgrave should proceed with his mission. As Mr. Rassam's name was mentioned in the Queen's letter as Her Envoy, as he had been in communication with the King, and had 270 been invited to Gondar by him, there cannot be a doubt that he was the proper person to proceed to Abyssinia. He was directed to do so, and Mr. Palgrave was instructed to remain in Egypt. I need not describe the manner in which Mr. Rassam was at first received by the King, as his despatches on the subject have so recently been placed upon the table of the House. It is sufficient to say that his reception was a most kind one. The King treated him as his personal friend, showed him every attention, and released the captives from their chains—writing, at the same time, a letter of explanation, indeed of apology, to the Queen. Suddenly his conduct towards Mr. Rassam was entirely changed, and instead of treating him with distinction, he placed him in confinement and in chains. What led to this sudden change? I stated last year, on the authority of Mr. Rassam himself, that it was owing to Dr. Beke's mission. Mr. Rassam has repeated this statement more than once in his private letters, and in his public despatches, as will be seen by reference to the blue books. Moreover, his statement is confirmed by Mrs. Flad, in a letter also published in the blue book, and by the missionaries themselves. And it appears to me that whilst it may not have been the only cause, it was certainly one of the principal causes, if not the principal, of the King's suspicion of Mr. Rassam, and of his conduct towards that gentleman. I must ask the Committee to go back with me for a little. Dr. Beke, about the time that Mr. Palgrave was sent to Egypt, had prevailed upon the friends and relations of some of the captives to send him out to Abyssinia, to endeavour to effect their release. A sum of nearly £2,000 was subscribed for this purpose, and confided to Dr. Beke. Foreseeing the mischievous effects of a second mission, when Mr. Rassam was already in communication with the King, I earnestly remonstrated against it, and the Foreign Office placed the responsibility of the result upon Dr. Beke and those who sent him out. Her Majesty's agents in the Red Sea were equally alarmed at the probable consequences of this most ill-advised and unnecessary mission. When Dr. Beke, in spite of all the remonstrances he had received, arrived at Massowah, Mr. Rassam was already on his way to the King. The Doctor from thence addressed a letter to the King, announcing his mission. Would it be believed that in that letter he did not even allude to Mr. Rassam's mission, nor 271 to the letter which the Queen had addressed to King Theodore on behalf of the prisoners? Is it surprising that, under such circumstances, the King should have viewed Mr. Rassam with suspicion, especially when he received the most exaggerated reports of Dr. Beke's mission, his innumerable mule-loads of costly presents, his gold and silver shields, and heaven knows what? Dr. Beke has thought fit not only to deny Mr. Rassam's statement, but to write letters very abusive of myself and other people on the subject. I should not have complained of this, or considered such attacks worthy of the slightest notice, had not these letters been re-published in the blue book. I must confess that it appears to me a most unusual proceeding—I would almost say an uncourteous proceeding—on the part of the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) in consenting, at Dr. Beke's request, to include in a blue book letters culminating his predecessors in the Foreign Office, which had already appeared in the columns of the daily press, in The Times and Morning Herald. Dr. Beke denies that his mission had anything to do with the change in the King's treatment of Mr. Rassam, and gives quotations from the King's letter to him, which he says was most kind and cordial. With his usual want of candour, however, he omits to state that the King expressed anger at his having gone to Halai, which was in rebellion against him, and asked him, "Why he went there, when he knew that there were disturbances in the country, without first asking his permission." and directed him to return at once to Massowah, there to wait until he was sent for. In fact, Dr. Beke's proceedings at Massowah caused so much alarm to Colonel Merewether that he did his utmost to get him away, and at last succeeded in doing so. Dr. Beke alleges that the publication of Lord Russell's despatch of the 5th October, 1865, to Colonel Stanton, was the reason for the King's ill-treatment of Mr. Rassam; but this is evidently an afterthought, as at p. 239 of his book, entitled British Captives in Abyssinia, he distinctly says that that was not the reason. He moreover insinuates that Mr. Rassam had made promises to, and entered into engagements with, the King—and indeed into a treaty with him—which Her Majesty's Government refused to recognise, and thus irritated the King. But all these statements are mere surmises and inventions to exculpate himself.
272 Some persons are still inclined to justify the King's conduct even up to the present time—it seems indeed extraordinary that any one should venture to justify the conduct of a mad and cruel savage—upon the grounds that no answer was returned to his letter to the Queen. And this accusation is still persisted in, notwithstanding the King's own declaration of the cause of his anger with Consul Cameron to the contrary. The cause of that anger was stated by Consul Cameron in a letter published in the blue book, dated 16th March of last year, by the King himself, in the written charges against the prisoners enclosed in Mr. Rassam's despatch of the 10th of January of this year, and again in the interview with Mr. Rassam and the captives, as related by Mr. Flad in his letter to Lord Clarendon of the 10th of July, 1860—and it is this:—that instead of going to Massowah, as he (the King) had directed him to do, and there wait until he received an answer to the letter to the Queen, Consul Cameron had been amongst the King's enemies—the Turks—where he spoke ill of and insulted the King, and that he returned to Gondar without having waited for the answer to the King's letter to the Queen, of which he could give no account. The cause, therefore, assigned by the King himself is, not that the Queen did not answer his letter, but that Consul Cameron did not remain at Massowah until that answer was received there. And the distinction is very important, because the King did not know—indeed, he could not know—whether or not an answer had been sent to his letter. But even supposing, for one moment, that the King was angry because he had not received an answer at once, did he not condone, on the arrival of Mr. Rassam, the supposed offence; did he not pardon Consul Cameron, release him from his chains, and write a letter of regret and explanation to the Queen? I cannot conceive how anyone can venture, under these circumstances, to seek to justify the conduct of the King to Mr. Rassam. Mr. Rassam having been placed in confinement, Mr. Flad was sent to this country with a letter from the King requesting that some skilled mechanics and machinery should be sent to him, evidently as a condition for the release of the captives. The noble Lord (Lord Stanley) has been condemned for sending out these mechanics; but I shall certainly not join in this condemnation, knowing, as 273 I do, how extremely difficult it has been to deal with this most perplexing Abyssinian business. I think the noble Lord was right in exhausting every means of conciliation in his endeavours to obtain the release of the prisoners. Moreover, it must be remembered that these mechanics were not sent by the Foreign Office, they volunteered, on the representations of Mr. Flad and Colonel Merewether, to proceed to Abyssinia, the nature of their engagements having been fully explained to them. The noble Lord has been also condemned for not treating the King with confidence, and sending up the mechanics and presents at once to Abyssinia, without exacting first as a condition the release and delivery of the prisoners. But I am of opinion that he acted with proper caution and discretion. After all that has occurred, I think there can be little doubt that the King would not have released the captives had the artizans fallen into his hands, as his object is evidently to get as many British subjects as possible into his power, in order to endeavour to exact terms from the British Government. Had the noble Lord allowed Colonel Merewether to send up the artizans without first securing the departure of the prisoners from Abyssinia, and they had been added to the number of the captives, he would have incurred a very heavy responsibility.
Every measure of conciliation having thus been exhausted, every means having been taken that could be suggested to induce the King, upon fair and honourable conditions, to release his prisoners, what remains to be done? It appears to me that only two courses are open to us—either to leave the captives to their fate, or to attempt their release by force. A third course has, no doubt, been suggested—namely, to offer a large sum of money to the King by way of ransom. But I entirely agree with the noble Lord in thinking that such a course, had it even been likely to effect our object, would not only have been most derogatory to the dignity and honour of the country, but most dangerous to our interests and relations in the East. It would have been a premium upon the seizure and maltreatment of our Envoys and subjects by every petty potentate and chief. It would have exposed us to insults and injuries which no long-suffering could tolerate, and which would have led in all probability to wars far more serious and extensive than that in which we are about to engage. Could we, then, leave the 274 captives in the hands of the King of Abyssinia? It is all very well for my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham (Mr. Osborne) to make jokes upon "Indian prestige." It is no question of "Indian prestige;" but it is a question of the prestige of England—that is to say, of her reputation, honour, power, as a great nation both in the East and in the West, of her ability to avenge and punish insult, and to protect her representatives and her subjects. I entirely agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Frome (Sir Henry Rawlinson) in the definition of prestige which he gave in his speech on the subject of Abyssinia last Session—that it was to a nation like credit to the merchant or the banker—it enables it to do great and useful things with little risk and with small means. This is an Imperial question and one not limited to India alone, although it no doubt arises from the fact of our being an Eastern as well as a European Power. Whilst we hold our Indian Empire we must be prepared to maintain our influence, our interests, and our position in the East. If we were not in India we should not have relations with Abyssinia or Massowah, and the difficulties in which we now found ourselves would not have arisen. My hon. Friend (Mr. Osborne) asks what can India know of our prestige? He must know but little of India and of the East when be asks such a question. The very maintenance of our Indian Empire depends upon the conviction that its populations entertain of our greatness and strength, of our power to punish insults and to enforce our rule. What I said last Session about the Mecca pilgrims has, as usual, been misrepresented. It has been stated that I urged England to go to war with Abyssinia for the sake of Mohammedan pilgrims to Mecca. What I did say was this—and every one acquainted with the state of the Mohammedan population in India will, I believe, agree with me—that the thousands of Indian Mussulman pilgrims who yearly flock to Mecca would inevitably hear that a petty sovereign, whose dominions were not far off, had imprisoned and maltreated an Envoy of the Queen of England and had defied her power, and that we had accepted the insult and taken no step to release her messenger. They would return to India and spread these tidings through the length and breadth of the land—as they come from all parts of the peninsula—and the result would be a contempt for the power of Eng- 275 land, which would inevitably lead to the most serious results. The noble Lord has referred to the case of Stoddart and Conolly as one which has been mentioned as justifying the abandonment of the Queen's Envoy, and leaving him and his fellow captives to their fate. But the two cases are not parallel. In the first place, Bokhara is a country which a British force could not reach except under circumstances which would have rendered a military expedition one of the greatest danger and risk; in fact, I doubt whether at that time we could have succeeded at all in sending an army through the centre of Asia. On the other hand, whatever may be the difficulties in the way of a march into Abyssinia, there can be no doubt that it can be accomplished at no very great risk. Secondly, Stoddart and Conolly were not the bearers of letters from the Queen; they were no doubt, to a certain extent, Envoys, but they were secret Envoys sent by the Indian Government, and little was publicly known of their official character. It is most probable that the circumstances of their death never reached the populations of India. But it is by no means certain that their imprisonment and cruel and unavenged death has not led indirectly to serious results to our dominion in India. The impunity with which the King of Bokhara committed this outrage upon the agents of the Indian Government encouraged him to perpetrate crimes of the same nature upon other Europeans, amongst others upon Russian subjects. This led to war with Russia, and to the conquest of Bokharian territory, and the advancement of the Asiatic frontiers of Russia several hundred miles nearer to our Indian possessions. This may, one day, prove the cause of much danger to our power in India, and may lead to great wars. The noble Lord (Lord Stanley) has also justly mentioned the Indian Mutiny as partly occasioned by the loss of our prestige in India on account of the exaggerated reports of the breakdown of our military system in the Crimean war which had reached that country. It is not unknown that I went to India during the Mutiny, in order to ascerain for myself, if possible, what the causes were which had led to it, and if there was one cause more than another which was assigned by nearly all the authorities upon the subject whom I consulted, it was the "loss of our prestige," arising from the mutiny of two Indian regiments—one at 276 Hyderabad in the Deccan, the other at Berhampore—which Lord Dalhousie had passed over and condoned. The impression derived from this fact by the Natives was that the Government was not powerful enough to punish the offenders. If what I heard be true, it will prove the incalculable disasters which may arise from what is termed, for want of a better word, "loss of prestige." War, then, only remains. I stated solemnly in the House of Commons last year that no one could have been more opposed to the use of force against the King of Abyssinia than myself in all the earlier stages of this lamentable business. I repeat that statement. I may add that my Colleagues in the Foreign Office were equally opposed to it—Lord Russell, and that eminent public servant, Mr. Hammond, who has probably greater experience of our foreign relations all over the world than any man in England. I know, from conversation which I have had on various occasions with the noble Lord opposite (Lord Stanley), that he was no less opposed to an appeal to arms. But now every man who has calmly and impartially examined this question, and has the materials for forming a just opinion upon it, is convinced that no other resource is left to us. Yet all admit that it is a most unfortunate necessity—that we are about to enter into a war from which no profit, nor glory, nor credit can be derived, and which is only undertaken to effect the release of the representatives of this country, to vindicate our honour and our national character, and to punish the Sovereign who has wantonly outraged them. I assert, without fear of contradiction, that never was a war undertaken under so strong a sense of duty, and of the absolute necessity of it, and, at the same time, with so much regret and repugnance. Such being my convictions, I should be the last person to throw any difficulties in the way of Her Majesty's Government. On the contrary, I consider it my imperative duty to give them the utmost support in my power in carrying it to a satisfactory conclusion. I rejoice to find that the Government have solemnly and distinctly defined the objects of the expedition—that it is undertaken solely for the release of the captives and the punishment of King Theodore, who has ill-treated and imprisoned Her Majesty's Envoy. I was glad to see in the Queen's Gracious Speech a distinct assurance that as soon as these objects are obtained our 277 forces will be withdrawn from Abyssinia. I know that there are some persons, especially in India, who are prepared to urge upon the Government to retain permanent possession of a part of the Abyssinian Highlands, and to establish there what is called a "sanatorium" for our Indian troops. But I am convinced that the Government will not listen to any such wild suggestions. No doubt the enemies of England, and those whose business it is to misrepresent her motives and her policy, will declare that she has ulterior views and designs in making war against Abyssinia—that she has undertaken this expedition not for the release of her subjects, but for the extension of her territory and to gratify her ambition. We can afford to treat with indifference these accusations coming from such sources. But I deeply regret to find some countenance given to them by Englishmen in authority, and it was with real pain that I read the speech of an hon. and eloquent Friend of mine, the Member for Guilford (Mr. Onslow), to his constituents, in which he stated his belief that the Government were only entering upon this expedition in order to prevent the French from carrying out their great scheme of cutting a canal through the Isthmus of Suez. We may, in England, be convinced that these statements are unfounded; but the mischief which they do abroad, coming from such a quarter, is incalculable. They arouse against us the suspicion and jealousy of our neighbours, and are calculated even to embitter and endanger our international relations. It is, I think, therefore, of the utmost importance that the Government should publicly and solemnly make the declaration that in sending this expedition to Abyssinia their only objects are to obtain the release of the prisoners and to vindicate the honour of the country. And I may here observe, that even should the King—as it has been suggested that he may do—put his captives to death, even then we shall be bound to persevere in this war in order to punish him for the outrage he has committed. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone) said, on the first night of the Session, with his usual eloquence and felicity of language, that the burden and responsibilities of Empire weighed already too heavily upon our shoulders to lead this country to desire the acquisition of fresh territories. I entirely agree with him. I earnestly hope that 278 as soon as the objects of this expedition are accomplished we shall retire for ever from Abyssinia, and that we shall never again mix ourselves up with the affairs of that or of any similar country. Let us hope that our justice, our long suffering, our moderation, and the absence of all greed of conquest, may make a due impression in the East, and that at least we shall obtain one useful result to compensate for the expenditure and loss of life of this expedition—the conviction throughout the world of our moderation and of the honesty and straightforwardness of our foreign policy. And for heaven's sake let this unhappy business serve as a lesson to us in future to avoid that brood of adventurers, schemers, speculators, and intriguers, who are for ever thrusting upon the Foreign Office their plans and recommendations for the extension and establishment of British influence, interests and trade, in distant and barbarous lands, regardless of the result to this country and to the difficulties and dangers in which they may involve us.
No doubt that some of the steps taken by Her Majesty's Government in carrying out this expedition may be open to criticism. For instance, in my opinion, it might and ought to have been sent earlier in the year—in October. It might, I think, have consisted of a much smaller force—of 2,000 to 5,000 men—with even a better prospect of success. Again, as I urged last Session, negotiations should not have been given up; but an officer, accustomed as a diplomatist to deal with Eastern States, should have been selected to command the force which should have been ostensibly sent out, as it were, to back the negotiator. However, upon these subjects the Government have, of course, acted upon the best advice they could obtain, and upon information which I do not possess. Such being the case, and knowing, as I have good reason to know, the extreme difficulty of dealing with this Abyssinian business, I do not desire to criticize or condemn them. They are, no doubt, acting under a deep sense of their responsibility; and they are carrying out the measures which they consider necessary to the attainment of the objects they have in view to the best of their ability. Of course, whilst approving of the expedition, I do not commit myself to the approval of the measures by which it is proposed to carry it out. Of the grounds of those measures I am, of course, in igno- 279 rance; and if, by their adoption, failure or disaster should ensue, I reserve to myself full right to criticize and condemn them hereafter. I think that this reservation is perfectly legitimate and just; and I am glad to see that it receives the assent of the noble Lord and right hon. Gentleman (Lord Stanley and Mr. Disraeli) opposite. In the meanwhile, I think that it would be inconsistent with the duty of a good citizen to throw difficulties in the way of the Government, or to seek to embarrass them. I, for one, shall give their endeavours to bring this unhappy business to a successful issue my most hearty support.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Sir, it is very natural that the hon. Member who has just sat down (Mr. Layard) should have availed himself of this opportunity for reviewing the course of proceedings which may have led to the unfortunate necessity under which the Government find themselves placed, of having to ask this House for means to enable them to carry on a war in Abyssinia. But it is not my intention—and I am sure the Committee would not desire that I should do so—to follow the hon. Member into a discussion upon the proceedings which led to our present position. As was said by the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, what we have to consider is not so much the faults in the proceedings which have led to this unfortunate result, nor even whether Consul Cameron was or was not to blame in the matter, but whether we are justified in sending out an expedition to obtain the release of Mr. Rassam, a British Envoy, who was seized while discharging his duty as the bearer of Her Majesty's letter, and against whom no misconduct can be alleged. It is in order to obtain the release of that gentleman that this expedition is more particularly designed, and I think, as far as I have seen, that the feeling of the Committee is in favour of the Vote which has been proposed in order to effect that object. There has been no suggestion made in favour of an Amendment being moved; and, although a certain amount of criticism has naturally been elicited by the discussion, no serious intimation has been given by any hon. Member of his intention to oppose the Government proposition. The Committee will, however, see that the proposition now made by the Government is not complete in itself, and does not dispose of the whole matter. There are two other important questions to be 280 considered. The first of those two questions is whether the whole expense of this expedition shall be discharged out of the English revenue, or whether to any extent it shall be borne by the revenue of India. It is to this question that the Resolution of which I have given notice applies. The second question is also one of grave importance—namely, in what manner, assuming the Vote to be agreed to, the funds are to be provided. Upon these points the House of Commons is perfectly free to decide, whatever may be said as to its being more or less pledged by the action of the Government to provide somehow or another for the expenses of this expedition. Perhaps it may be admitted that in the ordinary way in which matters of this sort are dealt with the Government have placed the House of Commons in such a position that they can hardly refuse to find means for defraying the expenses of this expedition; yet it is unquestionably true that with the other points to which I have referred the House is perfectly free to deal. It is scarcely reasonable that at this period of the evening we should ask the House to enter into two questions of such delicacy and such difficulty as those to which I have referred, and which, in all probability, will give rise to some considerable discussion; and therefore I have now to mention, on behalf of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that if the House is willing to agree to this Vote to-night it is his intention to lay before the House in Committee of Ways and Means on Thursday night the mode in which he proposes to provide for the expenditure which the House is now asked to sanction. I have also to state that on that day I shall be prepared to propose the Resolution which stands in my name, and which refers to the part which Her Majesty's Government think should be borne by the Indian Government of the expense of this expedition. Under these circumstances, taking into consideration the feeling of the Committee upon the question now before it, I think I might have abstained from troubling the Committee with any remarks had it not been for one or two observations which have been made in previous speeches, which it is impossible for me, with any regard to the credit of the Government or to the satisfaction of the country, to allow to pass without comment. There are two points on which the course taken by the Government has been challenged and very seriously blamed. I should have hoped 281 that after the speech which we listened to with such pleasure in the early part of the evening, and looking to the character which the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has won for himself ever since he sat in this House, we should have been spared the insinuations—nay, the direct charges—which have been made against him by the right hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Horsman), of having deliberately deceived the House at the end of last Session in the speech which he made on the 26th of July. On that point I feel it due to the character of my noble Friend, and to the Members of the Government generally, to make a few remarks. Again, it has been said—perhaps with some appearance of plausibility—that the course which the Government adopted towards the close of last Session was such as to evade the just control which it is so important that this House should exercise in matters of this kind, and that therefore our proceedings might, in fact, be fairly regarded as unconstitutional. With reference to the first of these points, I wish to prove to the House that what the noble Lord said on the 26th of July was the perfect and absolute truth; that his speech described exactly what the position of the Government was at that time, and that the statement he then made is not in any way contradicted, but, on the contrary, is confirmed by the papers which have been laid upon the table of the House. Now the noble Lord's speech of the 26th of July was made in answer to a Motion brought forward by an independent Member of the House, which asked the House to affirm that it was expedient that force should be used for the rescue of the prisoners. The noble Lord stated, in answer to that Motion, that the matter was undergoing the most careful consideration by the Government—that there were two courses open to us, either to proceed by way of conciliation or by way of force. He stated what the Government had done and were doing in the way of conciliation; but expressed his fear that the time of conciliation was passed, and that there was no prospect of such a policy being successful. He then said that the very grave question had arisen, whether we should proceed to procure the release of the prisoners by force—that he was mating inquiries as to whether force could be safely and satisfactorily used; that the responsibility of the decision must ultimately lie upon the Government; and therefore he asked the 282 House to allow the decision to rest with those on whom the responsibility must rest. That was the position taken by the noble Lord. The House knew perfectly well what the actual position of affairs was at the time that speech was made. They knew well enough that it was under the consideration of the Government, whether recourse should or should not be had to force, and that the decision of the Government, whatever it was, must be arrived at during the Recess, because that would be the season for operations. What happened? Did any one rise and say he objected to leaving the decision with the Government? The matter was before the House for three or four weeks, and yet no hon. Member made any objection to the decision resting with the Government.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Well, perhaps my recollection on this point is at fault; but, at any rate, three weeks elapsed during which neither the hon. and gallant Member for Aberdeen, nor any other Member, brought forward any direct Motion upon this question. It is said that my noble Friend deceived the House and the country. But that this was not the case will be seen by the comments which were made by the press at the time on the speech made by my noble Friend. I had occasion, some time ago, to look back to the opinions expressed at the time by the organs of public opinion, and if any hon. Member will refer to a remarkable article which appeared in The Times three days after the delivery of that speech, they will see it stated therein that it was evident the Government were contemplating an expedition, and that it behoved the country to consider what they were about. I maintain, therefore, that ample opportunity and notice were given that this matter was under consideration; and if, in the opinion of any hon. Member, it was improper to leave the Government to act upon their own responsibility, it was competent for him to have risen and to have demanded a pledge that the Government would take no action without first of all submitting the matter to the decision of the House. But this is not all I wish to say. My noble Friend stated precisely the circumstances 283 as they stood at the time. Now, what was the position of the question, and what knowledge did the Government then possess with regard to these matters? On the 26th of July, when my noble Friend delivered that speech, the circumstances were these. A letter, which has been described as an ultimatum, had been for warded, to the King of Abyssinia by my noble Friend in the month of April preceding, and three months were allowed for the King to act upon the demand contained in that letter. Those three months would expire on the 17th of August. It was the belief of my noble Friend at the time, and it was also the belief of the Government, that we were not likely to know the effect of that letter until some time after the 17th of August; in fact, allowing the usual time for communication to pass, he believed that we should not know whether the King would release the captives or not until the middle of September. We also knew by communications with Bombay that it would take some four months or more to get the expedition ready if we decided upon making preparations for sending it. We were, therefore, under the impression that an expedition could not be fitted out and prepared until something like the middle of January. Under these circumstances, we were under the impression that it would be impossible to begin any preparations this year. At the same time, we had sent letters to certain persons in India and invited their opinions upon the subject, and we knew that Colonel Merewether and others were making examinations on the spot. Now, let me remind the Committee—what will be seen from the blue book presented to the House on the 1st of August—of the proceedings which had taken place in the earlier portion of the year. In the months of April and May the question had been under the consideration of the Government. My noble Friend had determined first of all to exhaust every peaceable means of obtaining the object in view, and had sent this ultimatum; but he requested me to communicate with India, and to ascertain the course of proceeding which the Indian authorities would recommend in case it should be necessary to resort to force. I had written in April to the Government of India and to the Governor of Bombay on this subject, and about the middle of July we were beginning to receive communications in reply to those letters. Two or three days before the debate I had received minutes from Sir William Mansfield 284 and others, giving their views with regard to operations, and very few days after the discussion—and this is one of the important points in our case—we received a most important communication from Sir Robert Napier, whose attention had also been directed to the subject. Now, if the House will kindly allow me to direct their attention to two or three dates, they will see how the matter stood. On the 26th of July my noble Friend said we were making inquiries—and this was perfectly true. On the 29th of July we received a telegram from the Governor of Bombay telling us what we were not previously prepared for—that if preparations were commenced immediately an expedition could be despatched which would finish the whole business in the course of one season. We were not prepared for that. The Governor of Bombay informed us that he must be allowed to collect transport in India. This was a matter of serious importance, and it was brought under the consideration of the Government. The question we had to consider was whether we should begin to make provisional preparations or not. The right hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Horsman) took upon himself to say that expenditure had been ordered before my noble Friend made his speech on the 26th of July. It was no such thing. The first expenditure was not sanctioned by the Cabinet until a few days subsequently, when it was decided—and I believe I quote the exact words—that "we would make preparations for an expedition which it might become necessary to send to Abyssinia." We were in this position—if it should ultimately become necessary to act, and if we had taken no steps to procure transport, we should find ourselves thrown over by our failure in that respect. And when I brought this subject prominently under the notice of my Colleagues I was asked by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer what expense would be incurred. My answer was that it would involve an expense scarcely worth mentioning; because all that would be required would be to make selections of officers and send them to the proper places for collecting animals, and that, if the expedition should be found unnecessary, the purchasing could be stopped by telegraph; and I added, that the expense would probably, at the very outside, not exceed £100,000. On the other hand, if those preparations were not commenced, and if we waited until the middle of September, the time when we expected to know de- 285 finitely the effect of the letter sent to the King of Abyssinia, it might be impossible to undertake an expedition this year, or, if undertaken, it would be attended with greatly increased difficulties and disadvantages. Under these circumstances orders were given—and if I may venture to allude to so small a matter, the House will observe that two telegrams were sent, one on the 31st of July, and a second on the 1st of August. The first one was, "Prepare to collect transport animals," and the second—thought necessary by the counsel of my military advisers who thought that the first was open to be mistaken—"Proceed to collect transport animals." I mention this to show how the mind of the Government was forming itself as to the necessity of these measures. Hon. Gentlemen will see by the confidential letter which I addressed to Sir Seymour Fitzgerald that we left as much as possible to the discretion of the Bombay Government and Sir Robert Napier the decision as to how they should proceed. And why did we so leave it? The important question was not whether we had a good casus belli against King Theodore—not whether there was any probability of conciliatory measures being effected—the important point with us, and it was a point mentioned by my noble Friend in his speech—was whether we could undertake to carry through an expedition into Abyssinia. Now, who was so likely to ascertain the point as the military officer who had been turning his attention to the subject, who knew the troops with whom he would have to act, who had experience of campaigns in countries of a somewhat similar character, and who had been collecting information that would be available. We were therefore, I think, justified in leaving those matters to him; nor can I see that in so doing we were casting off any responsibility which properly belonged to the Government, because we were simply leaving to him questions which a military man alone could decide, and which could best be decided by a military man who knew the country into which the expedition was to be made, and the troops with whose assistance it was to be carried out Now, had Sir Robert Napier acquired sufficient information? That was another point for grave consideration. I am bound to make this case as clear as I can for the credit of the Government and because it really has a great bearing upon the privileges of this House; and I must remind hon. Members 286 that the case stood in this way:—We had desired that certain officers should be sent—and it was to that my noble Friend referred—to the spot to make investigations; but investigations were already going on by a very competent person. In one of the dispatches towards the close of the blue book presented to the House last Session hon. Members will find a reference made to M. Munzinger, the French Consul, who had been taken by Colonel Merewether to Massowah, and who had gone to explore a certain route. On the 5th of August we received a dispatch from Colonel Merewether, in which he mentioned that this gentleman had returned, and had brought very valuable information, which he was about to forward in a separate dispatch. I had telegraphed to the Government of Bombay, requesting them to send officers to make the inquiries, and they replied that they would send those officers when they had seen Colonel Merewether; but that they had first sent for Colonel Merewether. They were disposed to rely on his information, and he had the advantage of the information of the French Consul. Therefore, to a considerable extent the inquiries about which we were anxious had been made. On the 13th of August we received two important papers. One of these is a dispatch, dated the 26th of July, and written by Colonel Merewether, stating towards the close that the King had received the messenger with the ultimatum, and had dismissed him without any reply; and stating, moreover—a matter which I think very important, though it is not regarded in that light by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne—that he was perfectly satisfied from the contemptuous mode in which the King had dismissed the messenger, after eleven days waiting without any reply, that nothing was to be hoped for from the attempt which had been thus made to obtain the release of the prisoners. We had that dispatch before us, and we then knew for the first time that we were free to act. If, however, we had before that come to the House and had asked for a Vote of £2,000,000, in order to fit out an expedition if it should be found necessary, and if the House had been informed that we had not learnt the result of the ultimatum we had sent, I should like to know what answer we should have received? Had we asked for £2,000,000 on account I should like to know what the House would have said? That was one piece of information which we received on 287 the 13th August; but there wag another which was of great importance, and which had a considerable influence in the decision of the Government. I am very sorry that, owing to the pressure of a great deal of other business, the papers relating to this subject have been laid on the table of the House in a form which makes it difficult for any one who reads them hurriedly to trace with exactness the course of events. Another circumstance which makes that difficult for hon. Members who have nothing to guide them but the blue books, is that a great deal of the information contained in them came to me in an unofficial shape before the dates at which they were transmitted officially. Thus, in page 266 of the last blue book will be found a paper from Sir Robert Napier, dated Poonah, July 23, 1867. Now that document reached me privately on the 13th of August, and it was Drought by me before my Colleagues on the 14th of August. It showed that considerable attention had been given in India to the subject of an expedition. We were in this position when the Cabinet met on the 14th of August—that I was able to bring before them the letter of Sir Robert Napier and the dispatch of Colonel Merewether. What did the Government do on that occasion? It has been said to-night that the Government then declared war. They did nothing of the sort. By my letter of the 31st of July the Government gave certain instructions to Sir Robert Napier, directing him to proceed with greater or less rapidity, according to what he might feel to be necessary. By a dispatch of the 14th of August we sent instructions to Sir Robert Napier, through the Governor of Bombay, to deliver a peremptory message demanding the release of the prisoners; but we left to his discretion the time when the demand should be made and the military measures which should be taken to enforce it. At the time we sent out that message we were still uncertain whether Sir Robert Napier, if he should find it necessary to follow up the demand by a resort to arms, would be able to do so during the present season. We had every reason to suppose that he would take a practical view of the matter; and we cast upon him the responsibility of acquiring all that information for which we were so anxiously looking and of which a considerable portion had already been obtained, but of which a considerable portion still remained to be procured. This was on the 14th of August. Now, the House will remember that Committee of 288 Supply had been closed on the 10th of August. It was therefore impossible to bring this matter before the Committee of Supply, because we had not received the reply of Theodore at that time. Of course, we might have taken steps to obtain a Vote of Credit; but in order to do so we must have called hon. Gentlemen back from all parts of the world; and suppose we had done so, what could we have told them? That we really did not know what we were going to do. What had we done? We had put the matter in the hands of Sir Robert Napier; and up to as late a date, at all events, as the 17th of September, we were still in doubt as to whether or not it would enter into his plans to proceed with an expedition during the present season. On the 17th of September, it will be seen, I telegraphed to the Governor of Bombay stating that we required knowing as early as possible when the final demand would be made of King Theodore, when we should hear whether actual operations would become necessary, and on what day the first brigade would start from Bombay. That telegram was sent in order that the Cabinet might decide whether it would be necessary to call Parliament together in November. Up to that time everything had been provisional. Undoubtedly, as matters proceeded, it had become more and more probable that an expedition would be necessary; but there was no certainty on the point till a month after Parliament had separated. I admit that all this is extremely inconvenient; but it did not arise from any voluntary action on the part of the Government, it arose from the nature of the circumstances themselves. I hope that some of the hon. Gentlemen opposite who have challenged the proceedings of the Government will point out at what time and in what way we ought to have acted differently from what we have done. I do hope they will tell us whether we ought to have acted differently after my letter of the 31st of July, or after my telegram of the 14th of August. If they will do so we shall see where we are. The matter rests in this way:—It is impossible for an assembly like the House of Commons to fix the moment at which the Executive Government shall take such a step as declaring war, and even if that were possible such a practice could not be enforced unless Parliament is prepared for this contingency—that it shall be in permanent Session. It is impossible, when the interests of the country require 289 that you should act promptly, that you should on all occasions obtain the preliminary sanction of Parliament unless Parliament shall remain in permanent Session. I have said that we had no certainty on the matter till the 17th of September. Ought we to have kept Parliament sitting all through September? I feel confident that no one will think that desirable. Well, not having done that, we have called Parliament together to ask for its approval at the first moment possible. I will remind the House of what I said when commencing—that in July my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs intimated distinctly that this policy of an expedition was under consideration, though not decided upon. No challenge was given to that; and though much has been said of our having declared war and taken war measures without the consent of Parliament, we have really not done so up to the present moment. I may seem to be drawing a refined distinction, but really it is not so. What we directed Sir Robert Napier to do was to make a demand, and, if that demand should not be complied with, to support it by an adequate force. On consideration of the matter in India, it was thought expedient that the demand should not be made until an adequate force was collected for the purpose of enforcing it. On the 16th of October that letter was sent on from Massowah. It probably did not reach King Theodore until some day between the 5th and the 10th of November; so that it is as yet impossible for us to say how it may be received. The troops who have gone are not in the territory of the King of Abyssinia. They are on neutral and friendly territory, where they are pursuing inquiries as to the state of the Abyssinian country. It was the opinion of Sir Robert Napier that instead of sending five or six officers to make these inquiries the force should be one of greater magnitude, in order that sufficient protection might be provided for those who were engaged in these preliminary inquiries, and also in order that there should be an adequate guard with the animals. That is the reason why the advanced party was larger than the House or the Government had supposed it would be. We were of opinion that the expedition would not commence till the month of December, and therefore that, in point of fact, it would not commence till the sanction of Parliament had been obtained. The preparations of the Indian officers have rather outrun our expectations. 290 They have advanced very far in making preparations for landing, and in carrying out the surveys which my noble Friend had in view when he addressed the House in the month of July. I trust that the Committee will pardon me for going into details at such length; but I was anxious to explain rather minutely to the House, once for all, the exact dates of each transaction in the course of our procedure, in order that there might be no justification left to any one to say either that Her Majesty's Government had deliberately deceived Parliament, or had unnecessarily acted without its sanction. There is only one other point arising out of the discussion this evening on which I should like to make a few remarks, and it is with reference to the size of the force which we propose to employ. That is a point with regard to which I feel a very considerable responsibility, and on which I quite admit the Committee has a perfect right to demand explanations. My noble Friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs has stated truly that the main reason why we assented to the employment of so large a force was that it was proposed by the General in command; but, at the same time, we did not put ourselves blindly in his hands as the hon. and gallant Member for Truro (Captain Vivian) seems to imply. In the first place, his opinion was supported by other military authorities. For instance, the military Members of the Council in India were both in favor of a force of about the magnitude that is proposed. Then, again, the opinion of Sir William Coghlan to the same effect was not to be passed over, and I may add that the illustrious Duke the Commander-in-Chief of our forces was decidedly in favor of the force proposed. The opinion of Sir Robert Napier was also confirmed by reasoning which ought to have considerable weight with the House. If the Committee will refer to the two memoranda to which I have referred of the 23rd of July and the 8th of August, the grounds on which Sir Robert Napier proposed so large a force will be seen; and perhaps I may be allowed to read an extract from a private letter which I have very lately received from him, and they are the last observations I shall address to the Committee. His words I am sure will carry more weight than mine. With regard to the size of the force that should be employed, it appears to me that the remarks of Sir Robert are very conclusive, and they show how the Government were influenced in 291 coming to their decision on this point. He says—I am very glad that you agree with me in the necessity of going on safe grounds. What would be the fate of a small party of 5,000 men, perhaps reduced by sickness and fatigue, if they should find themselves unable to affect the release of the prisoners, or to catch Theodore, or to stay where they were for want of supplies? What would become of their nick and wounded on their return through 400 miles of difficult country? From my experience of the absorption of troops in maintaining communications, I can assure you that I have taken a moderate estimate of the number required to maintain so long a base line. I trust so to arrange as to have strong supporting posts well supplied with provisions, so that when I have to retire I shall do so in increasing strength and security. If it should be necessary to pass a longer time than we now contemplate—which I heartily pray may not be the case—I shall be able to draw up my supplies when necessary. If we take troops where we cannot feed them, we shall only have to bring them back with loss from privation and sickness. If we do not protect them from climate and the weather by proper tent age, clothing, and comforts they will not last long. If we have deficient carriage it will only prolong the business.The object of Sir Robert Napier is the same as ours—namely, to accomplish the matter safely, speedily, and in such a manner as to leave us in no embarrassment when we desire to retire from the country. We have great confidence in his judgment; and we fully trust that in leaving the matter in his hands, and in having made all the preparations which his experience has suggested, we have taken a prudent course, and a course which will receive the approbation of the House and of the country.
said, he was glad to hear the view taken by the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Layard) as to Earl Russell's conduct in regard to the Consuls. He had himself from the beginning taken the same view, for there could be no doubt that we had been brought into our present dilemma in consequence of Consuls Plow-den and Cameron having disobeyed the repeated injunctions communicated in the dispatches of Earl Russell, dated respectively the 2nd of February, 1860, 2nd of February, 1861, April 22nd, 1863, and subsequently. Moreover, the exequatur being expressly for Massowah and Turkish possessions and not for Abyssinia at all, the proceedings in which country he was simply desired to "watch," and nothing more; nevertheless, in 1849 Mr. Plowden went into Abyssinia and made a commercial treaty, dated November 2, 1849, with the then King of that country, which, however, was repudiated by Theodore on his usurping 292 his father-in-law—Ras Ali's—throne in 1854. Lord Russell was advised to insist upon the fulfillment of this treaty; but, in reference to this subject, Lord Russell wrote with prophetic judgment—That, considering the short duration of power of Abyssinian Kings, the difficulty of proceeding with a regular British force to their seats of Empire, the little value of a victory when gained, and the risk of failure and the certainty of expense, it had seemed to the British Government to be the preferable course to withdraw as much as possible from Abyssinian engagements, Abyssinian alliances, and British interference in Abyssinia.Yet in spite of such instructions our Consuls there had involved themselves in the affairs of the country, and had thus led to the present embarrassment. Mr. Plowden was taken prisoner and wounded by brigands in 1860 on his way to Massowah and was ransomed by King Theodore, but he died of his wounds; the King was much attached to him, and resented his capture by entering the district where it took place and slaughtering 1,500 of the inhabitants. Mr. Plowden was succeeded by Mr. Cameron, who, however, was expressly ordered by Lord Russell to go to Massowah, which was not in Abyssinia. Instead of obeying he went to King Theodore in October, 1862, who gave him a letter dated November, 1862, to convey to Queen Victoria; but, instead of obeying the King's instructions, he went into the province of Bogos, sending the letter to Massowah by two Abyssinians, and afterwards went himself to Kassala, in the possession of the King's enemies—the Egyptians. On his return he had the indiscretion to go into the King's camp in July, 1863, who immediately demanded whether he had brought an answer from the Queen; and on his admitting that he had not, the King, in a rage, asked him where he had been. Cameron admitted to Bogos. "Yes," said the King, "but you went also to Kassala among my enemies! who sent you there?" Cameron replied, he was desired to make inquiries by the Foreign Office. "Oh!" said the King, "You can hear from the Foreign Office, and not bring me an answer to my letter; you do not leave me until you do!" and he has been a prisoner since. When the news of Mr. Cameron's imprisonment reached England in 1864, Mr. Rassam was sent out in the character of Envoy, and his instructions were published in the London Gazette, dated 31st October, 1865, and he arrived at Theodore's Court on the 28th of January, 1866. He very much disapproved of this proceeding. Either a mere agent 293 should have been sent, or else an Ambassador clothed with proper dignity, and accompanied by a proper escort. The position of Mr. Rassam did not justify the selection of him as a representative of the Queen. Indeed, he was a subject not of England, but of Turkey. He was at Mosol, assisting the hon. Member for Southwark to dig out bulls and sculptures from the mounds of Nineveh, and was mentioned by the hon. Member in the first volume of his work, at page 54, as the brother of the Vice Consul at Mosol, and he was employed to superintend and to pay the workpeople employed in the excavations. Exactly three years and fifty-eight days after the date of the King's letter to our Queen, Mr. Rassam delivered a reply from the Queen on the 28th of January, 1866, to the King, who received him with great honor, and treated him as a personal friend. On the 29th of January, 1866, the King wrote an answer to the Queen's letter, and on the 17th of April he wrote a second letter to the Queen, repeating that he had released the prisoners. There was a general jubilee, and the King supplied the released prisoners with mules and money for their journey, and said they might go. Knowing the King had a personal dislike to Cameron and Stern—the latter of whom had been condemned to death for treason, and pardoned by the King—Mr. Rassam wished to get them out of the country without taking leave personally of the King, and he sent them away privately, retaining only Dr. Blanc and Lieutenant Prideaux to take leave of the King along with himself. When the King heard of this he said to Mr. Rassam, "Where are the prisoners? I want to see them." Mr. Rassam replied, "You gave us leave to go, and I have sent them away." "What!" exclaimed the King, "without my being reconciled to them?" The King, in a rage, then ordered the three to be put in chains. On the 13th April, the rest of the prisoners who had left Korata were brought before the King in chains, and a most extraordinary scene took place, as narrated by Mr. Flad and Dr. Blanc (blue book, page 39, No. 29, April 17, 1866). The King questioned them in succession. He asked Mr. Cameron first, "Did you abuse me?" and Mr. Cameron said, "I confess I did." All similarly confessed to having abused him and Mr. Rassam admitted to sending away the rest of the prisoners surreptitiously. Cameron and Stern were kneeling on the ground. The King then ordered them to rise, and also the 294 removal of their chains, and said, "I forgive you all in the name of God." The King added, "I have loaded you with chains; you must forgive me; the reconciliation must be mutual." The prisoners desired to waive any claim to forgive the King; but he said it was the custom of the country and he must insist upon it; and he then dropped down upon his face. They told him to rise, and he asked, "Can you forgive me?" They repeated in the form he had used, "We forgive you in the name of God," and there seemed a perfect reconciliation. The King, however, then asked that a steam-engine, artisans' tools, and artisans should be sent to him from England, and said that Mr. Flad should take his letter and requests to the Queen, and that Mr. Rassam must wait until the return of Mr. Flad with these proofs of the goodwill of the Queen. Mr. Flad returned, unfortunately, without the presents. The steam-engine was not ready when he left England, and the artisans and some of the presents he had not brought on from Massowah. The suspicions of the King were thereby confirmed that there was not a friendly feeling towards him, and he would not suffer the prisoners to depart. If the presents and the artisans had been sent forward matters could not have been made much worse, even if he had made prisoners of the artisans. At least, the King would have been put further in the wrong, whereas his suspicions of our sincerity were confirmed by their retention. Had negotiations been continued we might have been saved the necessity of this expedition. As it was, the expedition had been resolved on even before Parliament rose in August; and the House of Commons had now nothing to do but to refuse the supplies and turn out the Government, or to accept the situation and tax the people. Was that a right position for the House to be placed in at any time? Undoubtedly, to have expended money in sending troops from India without the previous consent of Parliament was an unconstitutional proceeding on the part of the Government, and in contravention of the Act of 1858; but the House of Commons was now helpless, having only the alternatives he had named. It seemed doubtful whether all possible inquiries had been made about the routes by which the interior could be reached before the advanced guard of the expedition had sailed from Bombay. A trader who had been fifteen times from Massowah into the in- 295 terior had told him (Colonel Sykes) of passes which men were obliged to go through in single file, and where it was necessary to unload mules, and of ascents so steep, that bullocks had learned to go upon their knees in order to mount them. What prospect did such routes offer to our expedition burthened with ordnance and commissariat stores? Coming to the question of prestige, upon which so much stress had been laid, he asked how our prestige could be affected in India from transactions in a country the very existence of which was unknown to the great bulk of the people of India; he did not believe one in 10,000, nay, in 100,000 of the people of India had a name for Abyssinia. In dictionaries of Oriental languages compiled by Europeans, the Arabic word "Habais" was applied by the Arabs not to Abyssinia, but to the tract along the coast, inhabited by Mahommedans, who are hated by the Christians of Abyssinia. But, admitting our prestige to be in question, it was much more in jeopardy when Hyder Ali was at the gates of Madras—when Baillie's force was cut up and the officers made to work on the fortifications of Seringapatam—when Monson retreated before Holkar and lost his army—when Lord Lake failed before Bhurtpoor; and when our army was lost in Affghanistan; yet we could suffer these disasters, and nevertheless rise to be paramount over 200,000,000 of people; and we might well therefore have afforded to let the petty caprices and insults of Theodore pass, without sending 12,000 men to resent them. At all events, it might have been well if we had waited a little longer and seen if the prisoners could have been released by presents, or by other means than force. The rescue of the English prisoners might cost £1,000,000 each. There were Frenchmen among the captives; but the Emperor did not think of sending a force to release them; and so with the Germans, Swiss, and Italians who were among the prisoners. Their respective Governments did not think it necessary to interfere, and we might suppose their sense of dignity was not less acute than our own.
I am sorry to detain the Committee at so advanced a period of the evening; but I will promise to avoid all unnecessary detail, and there are some points with respect to which it is desirable that the Committee should understand clearly what our position is. I gather from 296 what has fallen from my right hon. Friend (Sir Stafford Northcote) that it is proposed that on Thursday we should proceed to consider the plans of the Government for meeting the expenses of this expedition, if the Vote should be taken to-night, and that we should then likewise consider the Resolution of which my right hon. Friend has given notice with respect to the charging of certain ordinary expenses upon the revenues of India. That is a perfectly fair and reasonable arrangement; and I only beg that my right hon. Friend will inform us on that occasion whether or not the plan now proposed by the Government with respect to the charging of these expenses on the Indian revenue is or is not the same plan as was pursued now nearly thirty years ago, I think, in the case of the first Chinese war. I have no doubt the facts have been under the notice of my right hon. Friend, and the Committee should be put in possession of the precedents which may exist for the course proposed. With regard to the Vote of to-night, it is quite evident that as practical men we have no choice. It is not a question whether we are to have a military expedition against Abyssinia; and as we are to have such an expedition, there is no question but that we must pay for it. These points stand beyond the reach of all debate. The question is whether we are to condemn the proceedings of the Government. Now, I am bound to say that, looking at the whole case and at all its difficulties, though not, perhaps, able to say for myself whether I should have arrived at precisely the same conclusion on the facts, I am wholly unprepared to censure or condemn the policy which the Government have pursued; and I think it no more than justice to admit that—speaking generally and without entering upon the question whether errors of judgment may or may not have been committed, one way or the other—the Government appear to me in their general conduct to have been guided on the one hand by those mingled sentiments of regard to the honor of the country and the fair and just lights and claims of British subjects, more especially of a British Envoy, and on the other hand by that love of peace, which upon the whole is what we wish to find in those by whom the affairs of the country are administered. But while some questions are closed, several other questions remain open. With these views upon the general conduct of the Government, I certainly do not think that any public advan- 297 tage would arise from discussing in detail this or that part of the military operations, which have been undertaken, or from hinting doubts and misgivings, if we entertain any, on that subject. This expedition having been undertaken in the name of the country, and in a cause which is undoubtedly just, the first wish of our hearts and minds must be for its success, and it is far better to abstain from discussions, which perhaps at another time and place might not be unprofitable, than run the risk of weakening in any degree the hands in which authority is placed for the purpose of prosecuting a great public object. Perhaps it may seem almost ludicrous if I say upon one important question, whether all pacific means have been exhausted, that I should have been glad had we heard in the course of the evening what was the ultimate fate of the suggestion of Mr. Petherick with reference to what I may call "the salt blockade." The noble Lord will recollect that ex-Consul Petherick, who is well acquainted with the whole of these countries, states in this blue book, and is to a certain extent supported by Sir William Coghlan, that the article of salt is not obtainable in Abyssinia except from the coast; that it is of such vital importance that, with the exception of certain gold pieces of Austria, it is the only currency of the country; and he suggests that a pressure should be brought to bear upon the King by establishing a blockade and stopping the traffic in salt. It is possible that that may be a visionary scheme; but, coming from a gentleman of such authority, I should be glad to hear what consideration was given to it. There are points of great importance, which, as I have said, stand in a position not entirely clear. I have spoken of the general views and policy of the Government, and I have renounced all criticism upon military questions. But the questions which I think might be clearly answered are these:—We start from the speech of the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) on the 26th of July, in which he described the general dearth of the information which would be indispensable as a preliminary to deciding upon the expedition—a point as to which, undoubtedly, as he has stated, full liberty was reserved to the Government. They had not that information on the 26th of July. They had information on the 14th of August, on which day, as I understand, the decision of the Government was substantially arrived at. Now, of what did 298 that information consist? In the first place, it consisted of a telegram from the Governor of Bombay, which stated that if the Government chose to go forward at once, they were not yet, in his opinion, too late to proceed in the present season. I admit that to be information of great importance. The next point was that a letter was received from Colonel Merewether on the 13th of August, and this letter is treated by the Government as putting an end to the question with respect to the ultimatum. I am not able to see that so much importance is to be ascribed to that letter as the noble Lord appeared to give to it, because the time appointed for the ultimatum had not expired, and after all the declaration of Colonel Merewether's was nothing more than a general opinion, though unquestionably a weighty and important opinion, that the Emperor Theodore would not accede to the terms. His letter darkened the prospect very much for the future; but I do not see what there was in it to precipitate action. Then the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs says that very important information had been obtained from the War Department with respect to routes in Abyssinia. I admit that such information was of the highest importance; but I am surprised that it does not appear in the blue book. And, without wishing to be otherwise than complimentary to the compilers, there is a good deal of matter in the blue book which we could have dispensed with, in order to make room for information about these routes in Abyssinia. They are not in our hands, and I offer no opinion on that branch of the subject. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India mentioned that at the latest moment, on the 13th of August, a paper was received from Sir Robert Napier, which certainly is one of great importance. It would be almost an insult to doubt the accuracy of my right hon. Friend, but I confess I am at a loss to understand his statement; for I find him on the 16th of August writing to the Governor of Bombay, stating that he is expecting to receive by the next mail the very information which is now represented as having arrived on the 13th of August, and to have influenced the deliberations of the Cabinet on the 14th.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
, having referred to the blue book, said that there was, in fact, an error, and that the papers had not been received on the. 13th, as he at first supposed.
There is certainly considerable difficulty in tracing the dates of papers which have been received, first unofficially and afterwards officially; but I think it is clear that this particular letter could not have been received as early as the 13th of August; but then it could not have been considered at the Cabinet Council on the 14th, and until we see this paper which is not yet in our hands, I am not able entirely to understand how the gap had been supplied when the Cabinet met on the 14th. I now come to the communication of this information and of the intention formed by the Government. As to the language held by the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, nobody could have intended to represent, either in this House or elsewhere that the noble Lord on the 26th of July spoke otherwise than according to his own exact and true convictions. The matter is however important as to Constitutional precedent; and in expressing an opinion different from that which the Government have formed with regard to their own action, I do not mean to say that they acted otherwise than, as they believed, in accordance with their duty to Parliament, and, as I believe, attaching an exaggerated importance to the personal convenience of Members. What appears to have taken place was this:—On the 14th of August it was determined to send a military expedition to Abyssinia, subject to a possible change of view consequent upon information from India; as far, however, as the mind of the Government is concerned the decision was made at that time. The Secretary of State for India says, "Tell us what we ought to have done." I will tell him frankly my own opinion. As far as I am able to see, the conduct of a Government animated by a just and strict regard for the principles of the Constitution would have been this—when they determined to send an expedition from India to Abyssinia they should have come down to Parliament and announced that intention. My right hon. Friend said it would have been very inconvenient to have re-opened Supply. No doubt. The noble Lord says that some hon. Members were in Norway, and that probably seven-eighths of the entire number had left town and my right hon. Friend says that, under these circumstances, it would have been almost impracticable to have a Committee of Supply. I dare say that is very true. But we are a Parliament composed of Gentlemen who are bound 300 to sacrifice their personal convenience on great occasions. The noble Lord goes further, and says that it would have been unfair to break a promise that only ordinary business should be done. How could there be a promise that no war should break out in Abyssinia? These promises and understandings necessarily have reference solely to business of the ordinary character, and not to great emergencies such as arose in those few days between the speech of the noble Lord and the date of the Prorogation of Parliament. I say, then, without imputing any motive to the Government, I confess that it appears tome to be clear that their duty was to come down to the Parliament and make known their decision, and ask for such a Vote as, according to the circumstances, they would probably require within the course of the financial year. There is another point which I do not feel very clear upon. It appears to me at least doubtful whether the Act of 1858 has been obeyed. To the argument of my right hon. Friend the Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe) on that head the noble Lord applied one expression which I do not think was quite justified, for he spoke of it as a "rhetorical exhibition." That argument appeared to me very distinct; my right hon. Friend read the words of the Act, and I certainly thought we should have been favored with the view taken by the Government. That Act makes an exception in the case of "sudden and urgent necessity." I do not suppose this will be considered a case of sudden or unforeseen necessity, for it is the consummation and winding-up of a long course of deliberate negotiations and proceedings. And though, of course, the decision to act, when it comes, is sudden, still it is plain that no decision growing out of proceedings of such a character can constitute sudden and urgent necessity. Perhaps it may be said that the expedition is to be paid for by advances only out of the revenues of India, to be ultimately re-paid by the British Treasury. In my opinion, that is the very thing the Act of 1858 was passed to prevent. Because if it be in the power of a Government—I am not now imputing by implication motives which I am sure do not exist to the present Government—to obtain advances from the Indian Treasury with a promise of re-payment, thereby they get from under and remove that very control of Parliament, the privilege of voting supplies, which is the check and counterpart of the Prerogative of the 301 Crown to declare war. The clause says that—The revenues of India shall not, without the consent of both Houses of Parliament, be applicable to defray the expenses of any military operation carried on beyond the external frontiers of such Possessions by Her Majesty's forces charged upon such revenues.A verbal question may certainly arise upon the wording of the clause; but all I can say is, that if the application of the Indian revenues by way of advances be not prohibited by the clause as it stands, that clause is little better than a dead letter. Another Constitutional point of great importance was raised in the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to which, with great deference, I beg to demur. He said, towards the close of his speech, that not 1s. had been spent by the Government excepting monies which had been voted and appropriated by Parliament. I presume, as far as the letter of the law is concerned, the power to which reference is there made would exist. But I will suppose a case for argument's sake. I will suppose that the House, having granted the Supplies for the military and naval services, and also a Vote on account of Civil Estimates, is prorogued in the month of April, and the Government then finds itself in possession of £24,000,000 or £25,000,000. If I understand the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman it is that these Supplies, which the House has voted for the regular and ordinary purposes of a peace establishment, but which undoubtedly the Government is legally entitled to apply to the purposes of war, might by the Government be applied to the purposes of any war, and that war might be prosecuted to the point of approximate exhaustion of the Supplies without any fresh application to Parliament, and yet no unconstitutional act would be done. I do not know whether that be the doctrine; but I protest against that doctrine. I do not at all deny that the Supplies which are voted are applicable to purposes of defense and war as well as purposes of peace, so that I do not stand upon a mere legal distinction; but I stand upon a practical distinction embodied in the Constitution, which I take to be this—that when there arises an occasion for a great deviation from the usual state of things, and when under some decision at which the Government has arrived, it becomes necessary to apply a large portion of the Supplies voted for the ordinary peace establishment for a warlike purpose, it becomes then the duty of the Government to 302 submit the matter to Parliament, and ask for Supplies for the purposes of war, quite irrespective of the question whether their legal power to draw upon the Exchequer does or does not exist. That is, I believe, the true doctrine applicable to the case, and, if it be so, it is well that it should be understood. I therefore wish to state the matter clearly in order to elicit the opinion of the Government and the House upon it. With respect to our condition in the month of August last, I must admit that blank despair would have taken possession of the minds of Members, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had on the 18th of August come down and announced the re-opening of the Committee of Supply. But, at the same time, I insist that no amount of personal inconvenience is to be put in competition with the discharge of duties put upon us by the Constitution. The right hon. Gentleman said, in a striking portion of his speech, that this was an age in which men thought of nothing but wealth and power. I think the right hon. Gentleman might have added that it is also an age in which men think a great deal of ease—and more, I am afraid, as far as Parliamentary habits of thought are concerned, than in former times, because I recall the time when a Parliament which had met in February had its Benches right well thronged on both sides of the House, on the 1st of September, by Gentlemen whose faces were rosy with their first taste of rural pursuits. Obedient to the call, they came up to consider the Amendments made by the Lords in the Municipal Corporation Bill—a measure which, however important it may have been, was certainly not more urgent than the question of a war to be carried on by Her Majesty's forces. I trust that in stating my opinions forcibly on these points I have not stated them offensively. I admit there was a great deal of difficulty in deciding on what would be the right course to take. The conclusion at which I arrive is that as long as a Government retains in its own mind any idea, however remote, that contingencies may arise to prevent the necessity of a military expedition so long should the Government hold back, and I freely accede to the doctrine of the noble Lord that the Government gained nothing by the postponement; Government, indeed, places itself in a far worse position by acting on its own discretion than by submitting its case in the first instance to Parliament, and getting its policy sanctioned by the coun- 303 try. But although I believe the doctrine which I have stated is sound and constitutional, that does not prevent me from according to the Government the credit which I think they deserve for the temper with which they have prosecuted this difficult business, or from affording them every assistance and support I can, both in regard to providing the Supplies necessary for the purpose they have in view now that the honor and credit of the country are pledged to it, and likewise in regard to the provision of Ways and Means by which these Supplies ore to be obtained.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I rise to remark upon one or two observations which have fallen from the right hon. Gentleman, although I feel that I have no cause to complain of their general tone. The right hon. Gentleman and others of his late Colleagues who have addressed the House have treated this question with that candor which, under the circumstances, might have been expected of those who have themselves exercised power under responsibility. I am quite sure that Gentlemen on both sides of the House must feel that there are elements in the circumstances in which we have been engaged this evening which place the general question entirely out of the narrow arena of party conflict. But when I say that, I, of course, do not wish in any way to disclaim responsibility for myself and Colleagues as regards our own special acts. Now, I will not enter again into the question as to whether in the interval between the 26th of July and the 14th of August such information came into the hands of the Government as to justify a change in the general opinions of my noble Friend the Secretary of State. We have heard his vindication of his conduct, and I think the majority of the House must agree with me that it was complete. There are papers yet to be placed upon the table of the House, and the House will be able to form its opinion upon those papers. The second accusation made by the right hon. Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe), to which also the right hon. Member for South Lancashire has referred, arose out of our conduct, as not strictly constitutional, in prosecuting this expedition without immediate appeal to Parliament. With regard to this point, I can say only that that matter was considered very gravely and deliberately; the best advice was taken so far as the merely legal portion of the question is concerned; 304 and as to Constitutional considerations, we believed we were ourselves capable of dealing with them; and it certainly is our opinion—and that opinion is not shaken—that the course we took was one which, while it was convenient for Parliament, was strictly within the limits of Constitutional practice. It is certainly not a course that I would have preferred to take, and, no doubt, upon all occasions it is much more agreeable for a Minister to take the earliest possible opportunity of appealing to Parliament. In that case he would have his responsibility shared to a great degree by Parliament, and have also the benefit of whatever advice he might receive from them, as well as the support and strength which sympathy gives to one engaged in a difficult task. The position in which we were placed was one of great practical difficulty. If on the 15th of August we had come down to the House for a Vote of Credit, that Vote would have been little more than the Vote of the Lords of the Treasury. The Committee of Supply had been closed for several days; the House consisted of few beside Members of the Administration; it was impossible, under the circumstances, to have a call of the House, and an appeal to the House of Commons would probably, at the very outside, not have been more than an appeal to threescore Members, and we must have relied upon the Members of the Administration for our principal support. Now, that is not a satisfactory way to obtain a Vote of several millions for carrying on an unexpected war. So, although it would have been much more agreeable to have appealed to the House for its support, I think, under the circumstances, the course which we took, if it be a constitutional one—and I am prepared to maintain that it is—I cannot but think that it was not only more convenient to the House, but that it was more satisfactory to the country. The right hon. Gentleman seems to doubt—if I collected his meaning precisely—whether we had the power of availing ourselves of the sums which had been voted and appropriated for military purposes. I am advised, and I certainly do myself hold the opinion, that we had the power, and that it was our duty to avail ourselves of those sums. Finding we could avail ourselves of those sums which had been voted and appropriated, we resolved to call Parliament together at a moment which would be convenient for Members, and which would give them an ample opportunity 305 of joining in our councils and exercising a control over this war, just as if we had obtained a Vote of Credit from them at the end of August. I am not aware that there are any other points which require my notice. The charges of the right hon. Member for Calne really consist only of two, both of which were completely met by my noble Friend. My noble Friend has, indeed, met every objection which has been urged against the course the Government has pursued, and against the policy which I trust the House will sanction. I entirely concur with the right hon. Gentleman that there is one subject on which there should be unanimity. We are now embarked in this enterprise, and it is most desirable that the House of Commons should show by a distinct exhibition of its feeling and sentiment that it is interested in the success of the expedition.
§ MR. WYLD
defended Dr. Beke against the attack made upon him by the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Layard). He had had the honor of knowing Dr. Beke for many years, and he could say that he was a gentleman who had devoted his life, talents, and fortunes to discoveries in Abyssinia, and was at all times ready to give information to the Government, and he little deserved the epithets which had been applied to him by the hon. Member for Southwark.
§ MR. FAWCETT
inquired whether the Resolution which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for India proposed to move on Thursday next was likely to come on at an early hour? He asked the question because he strongly objected to the policy of throwing any of the expenses of the expedition upon the revenues of India, and he was resolved to take the sense of the House upon the Resolution.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, that it was the intention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make his statement in Committee of Ways and Means first on Thursday. He apprehended that the discussion on that subject would not take up much time—probably an hour or two would be sufficient. He (Sir Stafford Northcote) would move the Resolution to which the hon. Gentleman referred immediately after.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported this day; Committee to sit again this day.