§ MR. FAWCETT
said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for India, Whether our position will not be greatly complicated in Abyssinia if it be true that the Egyptian troops are advancing into that country; and, further, to ask whether high Indian officials—namely, Sir Henry Durand and Sir William Mansfield, did not emphatically warn the Government, before the war was decided upon, that the national feeling of Abyssinia would be united against us, if it appeared that we were obtaining any aid or support from Turco-Egyptian alliance; and whether, considering these warnings, the Government, before commencing the war, obtained any assurance from the Sultan and the Viceroy that they would abstain from all interference. He also wished to know whether some of the troops were not suffering from great dearth of water; and, whether the monthly cost of freight between Bombay and Abyssinia was not £392,000?
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, in reply, that with reference to the Question as to the serious complications which might arise from any advance of the Egyptian troops, the House was aware that it had been represented by those who were acquainted with the state of feeling in Abyssinia, that it would be very undesirable that, in any action that we might take in that country, we should invite Egyptian assistance, and therefore Her Majesty's Government had carefully abstained from asking any such assistance from that Government, and from doing anything in the nature of forming an alliance. But as our troops had to advance from a point in the Egyptian territory, and as a portion of our supplies had to be forwarded through that territory, it became necessary to enter into communications with the Egyptian Government, in order to ascertain whether there would be any objection to our using their territory with a view to our having proper facilities for obtaining supplies for the troops. These facilities were given, and, as far as communications had passed between the Egyptian and British Governments, those communications had been of the most friendly character. The Egyptian Government had intimated their desire to assist in any way that was proper, but there had been no attempt on the part of the British Government to obtain any assistance other than such as he had men- 888 tioned. With regard to the Question as to whether Government had made representations to the Egyptian Government requiring an assurance that they would abstain from all interference, he had to observe that it would hardly have been decorous to make such a request, when they had no reason to contemplate that the Egyptians would interfere, and, therefore, no such assurance had been asked for at the commencement of the proceedings. Recently, however, communications were received from the commanders of the British force that there were movements of Egyptian troops at Massowah, which appeared to indicate that there was a disposition on the part of the Egyptian authorities to send troops into Abyssinia, and it was represented that that would produce a bad feeling against the British forces in Abyssinia. Accordingly, representations were made by the Foreign Office to the Viceroy of Egypt to the effect that any movement of that kind would be misunderstood, and a request was made that His Highness would countermand any orders given for the advance of Egyptian troops. Those representations were received in a most friendly spirit, and the Viceroy stated to the British Consul that reinforcements, the amount of which had been very much exaggerated, had been sent to Massowah, but that he would order a battalion to be recalled. This was the information received by the British Government, and, in all probability, a portion of the Egyptian troops had been recalled. With respect to the reports in the newspapers, made on he knew not what authority, as to the advance of Egyptian troops, he might observe that he had received telegrams from Sir Robert Napier and Colonel Merewether since the date of the reports in question, and no reference was made in them to the advance of Egyptian troops, and he therefore concluded that the reports had reference to the earlier proceedings to which he had alluded. With regard to the Question relative to the supply of water, he had to state that he had no information to the effect that the troops were suffering from want of water. All accounts seemed to show that there was water in abundance. In a letter received from Sir Robert Napier, dated the 8th of January, it was stated—The water daily condensed by the two fixed condensers and by the vessels in harbour amounts to 160 tons. Of these, 120 tons are daily placed on shore, which affords a copious supply for all the troops, followers, and animals at present at Zoulla.889 Sir Robert Napier, in his last letter, dated January 25, stated—This place (Koomayloo) is one of great importance to us; it has the first good water. The wells are in the bed of a river; the water excellent and plentiful, requiring only means of pumping it out. I think there is little doubt that this should be our supply for Zoulla, having the convenience of the railway to bring out the piping, and the convenience of the pipes to supply water for the engines. It is a very important question. The human consumers of water at Zoulla by the last estimate amounted to 11,500, and a failing of water would be something not to be thought of without great anxiety. Of course, as long as we have our condensers at work we are sure of a general supply, but if a bad gale came the ships might be out of gear for a time.With regard to the monthly cost of freight, he did not know on what the calculations referred to by the hon. Gentleman were founded. All he could say was that he had no information which would enable him to name any particular sum as the cost of freight. The information he had received of course placed the cost at a very much less sum. In anticipation of the Session he had telegraphed to the Governor of Bombay for all the accounts as to the charge of transport that could be furnished. That morning he had received a considerable number of them, and he had given directions that the best Estimate that could be made should be drawn up from them. He had no reason to believe that the report alluded to by the hon. Gentleman was founded on correct information.
said, he wished to know Whether the right hon. Gentleman had received any information as to King Theodore having reached Magdala; and, also, whether any encounter had taken place with his troops?
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
We have received no such information. Those telegrams which have been received since Saturday morning make no mention of it; but, according to the latest information, he was at no great distance from Magdala. It is not probable that there had been any engagement between him and Menalek.
§ MR. FAWCETT
said, he wished to know, Whether the right hon. Gentleman will lay the Estimate of the expense of freight, when made, on the table?
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
The hon. Gentleman must wait till I see what information has been received, and whether it is such as can be laid on the table.