HC Deb 21 February 1868 vol 190 cc1008-11

said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for India, Whether, looking to the very unsatisfactory state of the telegraphic communication between this country and India, the Government have taken any steps to es- tablish a more direct system; whether the Government have opened any negotiations with any private Companies with this object; whether the Government has included in such negotiations the question of establishing a direct telegraphic communication with the Abyssinian forces; and, whether the Secretary of State will inform the House what has been, or is likely to be, the result of any steps they may have taken in this matter?


replied, that the telegraphic communication between this country and India was not all that could be desired, but he did not think that it deserved the description of being in a "very unsatisfactory state." The average rate of the transmission of messages during the first twenty days of February, viâ Russia, was three days and nine hours, and by Turkey three days and eleven hours. Within the last week the average rate had been two days and twenty-two hours; and individual messages had occasionally been received on the day of despatch viâ Turkey and Russia, and frequently on the day following the date of the despatch. He might observe that steps were being taken, which he hoped would improve the existing lines of communication, in consequence of a concession recently obtained by Messrs. Siemans and Co., from Prussia, Turkey, and Russia. Nevertheless, it would be an object of great interest and advantage to this country to obtain another line of communication viâ the Red Sea. Whenever the attention of the Government of India had been called to the subject, they had admitted that another line was much to be desired; but it was not the opinion of the Council of India that they had a right to burden the revenues of India with any guarantee or subsidy to establish such a communication; and it was obvious that the expense of any line of telegraphic communication between India and England, if borne by Government subsidy or guarantee at all, ought to be borne, not by India exclusively, but jointly by India and the Imperial Government. The principle laid down by the Imperial Government with respect to submarine telegraphs was that it was not fit, in the present state of submarine telegraphy, to advise a guarantee or subsidy, but that it was better to give facilities in the way of surveying and in other modes. Such being the case, several proposals had been made to private companies, but they had led to no result. However, at the time of the Abyssinian expedition it was brought under the notice of Government that the establishment of telegraphic communication between England and Massowah, or whatever other point might be selected as the point of departure for the expedition, would be a great advantage; and in consequence of the sense which the Government entertained of the importance of establishing, if possible, such a communication, he entered into communication with the Directors of the Telegraphic Construction and Maintenance Company, who were disposed to meet the Government in the most liberal spirit; but when their proposals came to be examined, it was found that it would not have been possible to establish a submarine cable from Annesley Bay, so that it could be worked before January. Under these circumstances, the great advantage of telegraphic communication, while the expenditure was organizing, would be lost, and, therefore, it was not thought advisable to incur the cost of laying a cable to Annesley Bay. It had been said, that the expense of doing so would not be lost, because that point was so much on the road to India; and the Government stated that if the Telegraph Construction Company would lay down a cable, the Government would willingly pay for its divergence to Annesley Bay; but that suggestion was not adopted. Since then there had been proposals for the purpose of establishing telegraphic communication across Egypt, but every proposal made by the Government had broken down, on one ground or another, and it was not found possible to establish any telegraph line which would be satisfactory, in a reasonable time or at a reasonable cost. He might, therefore, say that practically the intention to establish telegraphic communication with Annesley Bay was suspended or abandoned. He had received, on the previous day, a private letter from Sir Robert Napier, in which the gallant General said that the only way in which telegraphic communication could be established would be by a submarine cable down the Red Sea. Such a cable Sir Robert Napier thought would be desirable, as it would be laid down on the road to India; and with regard to the expedition it would be useful if the expedition were prolonged; but, he added—and this was a most satisfactory part of his letter—that he had no doubt the expedition would be concluded in the present season. Therefore, Sir Robert Napier did not press the laying down a cable, in consideration of its advantage to the ex- pedition, but chiefly on the ground of its forming a line of communication with India; but to encourage the formation of such a line by subsidy or guarantee was not the policy of the Government, but they would be very glad to see it established by private enterprize.