HC Deb 14 March 1879 vol 244 cc928-9

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Whether his attention has been drawn to the publication by "The Daily Telegraph," on Tuesday the 11th instant, of a General Order by Lord Chelmsford, and of the Official Despatch by Lieutenant Chard, relating to the successful defence at Rorke's Drift under Lieutenants Chard and Bromhead; whether Her Majesty's Government have received, that General Order and Despatch; and, if not, when they expect to receive it; and, whether pending the War in South Africa Her Majesty's Government will take those steps at Madeira and St. Vincent by which they can place themselves on a par with a portion of the daily press in obtaining reliable information from the seat of war? I would like to add that The Daily Telegraph, in the same publication, gave the list of killed and wounded.


Both the General Order and the Official Despatch, being from the General in command of the Forces, would naturally be forwarded to my right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State for War and not to me. I understand from my right hon. and gallant Friend that he has not yet received them; but I apprehend they will arrive by the mail now due. It may be taken for granted that they were published officially in one of the Cape papers issued before the date on which the mail left Cape Town, and that the correspondent of The Daily Telegraph telegraphed them from Madeira on the arrival of the steamer there. The despatch, no doubt, is one of high interest; but it is not one of a character demanding any immediate action on the part of Her Majesty's Government, or urging upon them any pressing requirements from the General commanding in South Africa. Therefore, so far as my opinion goes, Lord Chelmsford is not open to blame for not having given instructions for it to be telegraphed from Madeira. I may say that steps have already been taken for securing that any telegram sent by the official authorities in South Africa shall be at once forwarded from St. Vincent or Madeira here. I do not think that the Government have always received such full telegraphic information as might have been desired; and a fortnight ago I requested Sir Bartle Frere to supply us in that way with any news of interest. I trust, therefore, that the telegrams received in future by the Government will be rather more full than they have hitherto been. With reference to the last matter alluded to by the hon. Member, I would say that there is great danger in publishing telegrams containing the names of persons killed and wounded in action. A telegram reached me the other day from the Lieutenant Governor of Natal, and I published it in the ordinary way. A few days afterwards I found that, owing to the error of the telegraph clerk, some of the names had been mis-spelt, and that others were entirely wrong; so that I think, on the whole, it is much better to wait for the Official Despatch.