HC Deb 09 July 1877 vol 235 cc1031-7

rose to call attention to the case of Lieutenant Colonel Wellesley, Military Attaché at St. Petersburg. He said were it not for the absence of his noble Friend the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho), the sad cause for whose absence they all so much regretted, the question he had to submit to the House would have been in much better hands; but, fortunately, it was a simple question of justice, or, in his opinion, of gross injustice, that he had to bring before the House. It was a very cruel one, of the supersession of eight or nine officers of Colonel Wellesley's own regiment, to say nothing of a vast number of lieutenant colonels of the Line. Six years ago, an old and lamented friend, an officer of high standing, of considerable military experience, and of tried tact and discretion in his relations with foreign officers, having been military secretary to the general commanding the Army in the Crimean War, was succeeded in his somewhat difficult and delicate position as military attaché at St. Petersburg by a young officer of eight years' standing—a subaltern in the Guards. With regard to this young officer, undoubtedly he was an officer of great intelligence, and very painstaking. He was for some considerable time adjutant of one of the battalions of the Guards, and no one was appointed to that very responsible post that did not most fully merit the appointment. Lieutenant Colonel F. Wellesley, at the age of 18 was appointed to the Rifle Brigade, and in the same year (1863) he was removed to the Coldstream Guards, making him a lieutenant in the Guards and captain in the Army. In April, 1875, he was promoted without purchase to a company in the Guards, making him lieutenant colonel in the Army. When he was first appointed military attaché at St. Petersburg, being a subaltern in the Guards and captain in the Army, it did not affect his promotion; but the appointment of a military attaché, if held by a lieutenant colonel for five years, gives him the rank of a full colonel in the Army, but whether rightly or wrongly it was not for him to discuss. He thought it no qualification, and in this ease it was most unjust, seeing that when the Guards were brigaded together, Colonel Wellesley would probably take the command over the heads of those who had fought and bled in the Service when he was a mere child.


rose to Order, and asked whether it was not the rule that military matters could only be brought on before going into Committee on the Army Estimates?


said, that such was the rule, but that it only applied to Motions when Supply was the first Order of the Day. That had not been the case to-day, and the hon. and gallant Member was therefore in Order.


said, he was about to state that when Colonel Wellesley at tained the rank of lieutenant colonel, certain officers of the Coldstream Guards went to the Horse Guards and strongly expostulated, because if, by any accident, he was continued in his position as military attaché beyond the regulated period of five years, and completed his second five years, he would supersede all the older officers in the Coldstreams. They received a positive promise, that he should return to his regiment when his five years was expired. Instead, however, of rejoining his regiment in July, when his term of Staff service expired, he had been allowed to continue. And with what result? He would actually supersede officers in his own regiment, the Coldstream Guards, who were not only in the Army, but fighting for their country when he was but nine years old. The services of Colonel Wellesley, who first entered the Army in 1863, could not be compared with that of these other officers of his regiment, who had distinguished themselves by their services in the Crimea and in India. Yet if the present arrangement were allowed to continue, he would within the next five years become a full colonel, and with that Army rank rejoin his regiment in 1880 superseding when in brigade the older officers referred to, never having commanded even a company, and having been nine years absent from his regiment, and receiving full pay while other officers had been doing his duty. He held in his hand the records of services of some of those who he thought likely to be thus hardly treated, but at that very late hour he would not trouble the House by reading all. One of these officers—Lieutenant Colonel Fitzroy Fremantle—joined the Army in August, 1854; he was captain in 1857, and lieutenant colonel in 1870. He was in the Crimea from November, 1854, to July, 1855. He was engaged in the Quarries on the 8th June, and at the Bedan on the 18th of June, where he was wounded. He was afterwards all through the Indian rebellion, and at the capture of Lucknow was mentioned in the despatches. Colonel Wellesley, on the other hand, had not—and it was a misfortune for which he was not to blame—seen a shot fired; and although it might be said as a justification for conferring this appointment on Colonel Wellesley, that he had taken great pains in learning the Russian language, yet if the appointment had been offered to other officers of great military experience, would they not have done the same? As a matter of fact, however, French was the language used at the Russian Court. It would also be said, and with truth, that it would be inconvenient to move Lieutenant Colonel Wellesley at the present time; but was such the case last July; or, if so, why was he, at that period, offered the appointment of Consul General at Warsaw? He reminded his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, that in Committee on the War Estimates last Session, he pointed out that the military attachés at St. Petersburgh were underpaid, and now it appeared that the result was that only comparatively rich men could take the appointments, and that they could thus indirectly purchase a higher step of rank than was ever before purchaseable. He thought Colonel Wellesley ought to be ordered to rejoin his regiment, and should not be permitted to supersede men who were in every respect excellent officers, and of whom the Army had every reason to feel proud. They had received a most positive promise, that they should not be superseded in this way, and he hoped, therefore, that the Secretary for War would make arrangements for Colonel Wellesley giving up his present appointment, and returning to his regiment at an early date, so that this injustice might not be inflicted on the senior officers of the Coldstream Guards.


as an old Guardsman, expressed a hope that the Secretary of State for War would see fit to do justice in this case. It was one which had created a very great deal of scandal not only in the Coldstream Guards, but throughout the whole Army. Certain officers of that regiment had stated that they had received a distinct promise from the right hon. Gentleman. [Mr. GATHORNE HARDY: No.] He must repeat that an allegation had been made by men of the highest honour, and of standing and distinction in society, that a distinct pledge was made to them by the right hon. Gentleman, that Colonel Wellesley should not be made a colonel over their heads. The right hon. Gentleman denied that he had made such a promise; and if that were so, he must have been very ambiguous in his expressions, because the gentlemen referred to, who were treated in this unjust manner, were incapable of attributing to the right hon. Gentleman language which he had not used. At any rate, the matter ought to be cleared up. This young officer, Colonel Wellesley, was a man of the highest social position, and possessed great family influence. He had only had eight years' service, and yet he was appointed over the heads of men of great experience and ability. He believed if the Rules of the House permitted a division to be taken on the question, it would be shown that the House entertained a strong sense of the injustice with which those officers had been treated.


believed that the promise which had been referred to had been made not by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hardy), but by either the Military Secretary, or by His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief. The rule was, that no officer should remain on the Staff for more than five years, but this rule was being continually broken. He thought that at the present time the House would not call upon Colonel Wellesley to return to this country, as he was now in a most difficult and delicate position; but he hoped they would have some assurance from the Secretary for War that the five years' rule should not be broken. He very much regretted the question had not been raised a year and a-half ago, when it might have been decided upon its merits.


said, that so long as Colonel Wellesley was retained in his present position, he was the cause of great hardship to many deserving officers, by standing in the way of their promotion. When he became captain and lieutenant colonel, he passed over the heads of 900 majors of the Line, and two years and a-quarter hence, when he would become full colonel, he would pass over the heads of 920 field officers. All those officers had been serving their country in times of war and peace, while Colonel Wellesley had been enjoying appointments which could not be said to be of a very arduous and difficult nature. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would give an assurance that at the termination of the war Colonel Wellesley would be allowed to revert to his regiment.


thought this discussion inopportune, as it would weaken Colonel Wellesley's position at the pre- sent critical time. He would advise the House to remember President Lincoln's saying that it was not desirable to "swop horses when crossing a stream."


said, it was not always easy to find officers fitted for the appointments of military attachés. The appointment of Colonel Wellesley (then Captain Wellesley) was made in 1871, and in reply to a Question put to Lord Enfield, at that time Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, that noble Lord replied that previous to the appointment, eight officers had been sounded as to whether they would accept the post of military attaché at St. Petersburg, but for various reasons they all refused. The points which the hon. and gallant Member for Sunderland had referred in connection with the double rank held hitherto by officers of the Guards was a matter quite distinct from that of the appointment to the post of military attaché. He did not suppose it would be said that if a fit officer for the post was found in the Guards he ought not to be appointed. A military attaché-ship was a qualifying appointment which enabled a lieutenant colonel to become a colonel, and there was therefore nothing unusual in Lieutenant Colonel Wellesley's obtaining it. Besides, he was well fitted for the post, being not only an able officer, but an accomplished linguist, able to speak Russian; while as to his period of service, the office of military attaché was not necessarily limited to five years, and it was agreed on all hands that, although he had been appointed in 1871, it would have been injudicious to have removed him last year, when events in the East of Europe took such an important turn. Of course, this argument applied with redoubled force to his retaining his post at the present juncture. He was not aware that any promises had been made on the subject of appointments; but if that were the case, they must be subject to the approval of the Secretary of State. The renewal of Colonel Wellesley's appointment in 1876, was not, in reality, a renewal. Having been appointed in 1871, he continued to serve until 1876, when his service became more important than before, and therefore was continued in his office; but whether he was to be continued for the whole period was a matter for the consideration of the authorities. He was quite satisfied that Colonel Wellesley had done work for the country with which it ought to be well satisfied.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," by leave, withdrawn.

Committee deferred till To-morrow, at Two of the clock.