HC Deb 27 May 1879 vol 246 cc1382-9

Question again proposed, "That this House, at its rising, do adjourn until Monday 9th June."


I have but a very few words with which to detain the House. What I was saying was this—that the policy of Her Majesty's Government with regard to South Africa had neither been a policy of annexation, nor certainly a policy of anything that could be called revenge. It was a policy the main object of which was directed to the establishment of secure and satisfactory relations for Her Majesty's Colonies in that part of the world. We have to consider the position of those who occupy the territories under the Sovereignty of the Queen. We have to consider what arrangements ought to be made in order to promote the welfare of those Colonists, and preserving peace between them and their neighbours. Now, it is quite obvious that for that purpose it is important we should be—and should appear to be—strong and powerful ourselves, so as to maintain satisfactory relations with our Native neighbours. These are the relations we desire to promote, and we earnestly hope we shall be successful in their establishment. I do not think it would be at all likely to promote that object that we should attempt too tightly to tie the hands of a man like Sir Garnet Wolseley, who goes out with all his experience of the country, with a thorough knowledge of the spirit which animates the Government, who possesses sympathy with that spirit, and who has an earnest desire to do all that he can not only to bring the war to any early conclusion, but to bring about a satisfactory settlement which may be of an enduring character. We are anxious in every possible way to promote that; and I trust the result of the step we take will be an end of the war, and that the Colonies will enter upon a state of peace, of which they have had but little ex-Perience.


thought that if the House was quite satisfied that the reasons given by the Government for their change of front in their Zulu policy were the exact opposite of their real reasons, they would be very well contented with what had been done. When he had brought forward his Motion, some time since, he pointed out that the Government having censured Sir Bartle Frere ought to remove him from his post, which they at that time refused to do, and stated that he continued to have their confidence. But now they had taken a step which was tantamount to removing him, and the reason they gave was that it was necessary to concentrate the command. But, as a matter of fact, there would be no concentration of command at all; for just as Sir Bartle Frere was High Commissioner, so Sir Garnet Wolseley would be High Commissioner now, in a portion, but not the whole of South Africa, and Sir Garnet Wolseley would hold the supreme command in that part just the same as Sir Bartle Frere did before. It would now be necessary to cancel the commission which was given to Sir Bartle Frere, because the powers given by that commission were obviously the powers that would in future be exercised by Sir Garnet Wolseley. They must, therefore, accept the action of the Government as a change of front in policy, whatever reasons they might put forward for the change. With regard to the speech made by the noble Lord (Lord Elcho) he was very sorry, indeed, to hear such statements made, which, he feared, were calculated to stir up an ill feeling in the country, and to prevent that peace which all so much desired. He also wished to state that the stories which he gave to the House with regard to Cetewayo—and notably that in which he was stated to have covered his prisoners with honey and put them in an ant's nest—had no foundation, and there was not the slightest scrap of evidence to support them. He strongly deprecated such statements being made.


said, he could not help feeling that the House and the country should know on what grounds the Government were going to act, or what they were doing. It was quite evident to hon. Gentlemen in the House that the sending of Sir Garnet Wolseley into South Africa was not simply to concentrate the command—that was put forward as a specious reason. They knew there was a much graver and more pressing reason on the minds of the Government, and the point which he wished to press on the Secretary of State for the Colonies was this. Was it intended that the powers conferred on Sir Bartle Frere by his commission should continue so as to overlap and conflict with those given to Sir Garnet Wolseley? [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: No.] He was glad to hear that, and therefore he presumed the House would be justified in assuming that the powers given to Sir Garnet Wolseley would be supreme, and would reduce those given to Sir Bartle Frere; but he should, like an explicit statement on the question.


said, he rose to speak in defence of an absent man. In his opinion, he was a most ill-used man. He had been sent out to act in circumstances of considerable difficulty, and when he had done his best in those circumstances he was visited with censure. He called upon the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea to say whether there were in the instructions given to Sir Bartle Frere nothing to vindicate his action in Africa? He thought he had been treated most unjustly. The Government, whose policy was distinctly annexational in the time of the Earl of Carnarvon, had given him very largo instructions, and though Sir Bartle Frere had not exceeded those instructions, the Government had now left him in the lurch. His conduct being disapproved of by the Government, it would have been merciful, kindly, yea only honest, to have recalled him at first, instead of throwing him overboard in the way they were doing now into the humbler position of mere Governor of the Cape.


gave Notice that in consequence of the withdrawal of the Motion of the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), he would use all the Forms of the House against any further Votes of Supply for the Zulu War until the Government had submitted to the House the terms on which Cetewayo would be admitted to peace.


I should not have thought of detaining the House for a moment if it had not been for the remarks which fell from the hon. and gallant Member opposite (Sir George Balfour). He appears to me to be under an entire misconception as to the action of the Government with reference to Sir Bartle Frere. He spoke of him having been thrown over and dismissed with disgrace. Nothing whatever of the sort has occurred, or is intended. The whole course of this debate and that of yesterday shows, I venture to say, the great disadvantage of attempting to discuss a question without the Papers relating to that question. Had the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) only waited till he had seen the terms of the commissions which are drawn up, and will be issued at once, he would have seen that the functions of Sir Bartle Frere and Sir Garnet Wolseley are distinctly defined, those of Sir Bartle Frere having to do with one district of the country and those of Sir Garnet Wolseley with another, and that neither will interfere with the conduct of affairs by the other. I was glad—and I am sure the House also was glad—to hear the expressions of sympathy which fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich with reference to Sir Bartle Frere. He has borne eloquent testimony—such testimony as, perhaps, he alone could bear—to the abilities and character of Sir Bartle Frere and to his conduct amid difficulties which were almost unprecedented in the history of any Colonial Government. But I will venture to say for myself that neither in this House nor out of it have I ever for a moment hesitated to bear similar testimony to the utmost of my power. It has been asked what the position of Sir Bartle Frere will be on the arrival of Sir Garnet Wolseley in South Africa? His position will be similar to that occupied by previous Governors and High Commissioners of the highest standing. It is further asked, Why is it necessary to make this change? It is very easy for hon. Members opposite to assume certain reasons, which exist only in their own imaginations, and not to credit the Government with a belief in the reasons they themselves put forward; but the real reason for the change is precisely what was announced to the House in the course of yesterday's discussion by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and no other. The reason is this—that it is necessary, under the present circumstances, to unite in the hands of a single person the functions of civil and military administration in that district of South Africa which is in the neighbourhood of the seat of war; and that is utterly impossible for anyone holding the position of High Commissioner in South Africa at the present crisis to conduct affairs in the district, and, at the same time, to deal with the important matters with which he must deal at Cape Town. It is very well known to the House that for months past Sir Bartle Frere has been absent from the scene of his ordinary labours at Cape Town. During that time questions have arisen connected with the Cape Colony and its borders of the very gravest importance to this country and the Colony. I may refer to one—the settlement of the question now pending between the Government of Cape Colony and this country as to the expenses of the late war. I may refer to another—the position of the Province of Griqualand West in relation to the Cape Colony. Again, there is the question how the valuable Acts passed by the Cape Parliament for the defence of the Colony in the last Session can best be carried out. In connection with all these measures the co-operation, and even the direction, of Sir Bartle Frere are absolutely required by the Ministers of the Cape Colony. But beyond and above all this is the great question of the Confederation or Union of the several Colonies or Territories in South Africa that Sir Bartle Frere was specially sent to endeavour to promote, to which he has devoted singular and special attention, and which he will be instructed at once to bring before the Cape Parliament when it commences its Session next month. These are all matters of the gravest and highest importance to the interests of South Africa and this country, and are amply sufficient to tax the energies of any one man, even though he possess the abilities of Sir Bartle Frere; and I will venture to add that if hon. Members will consult their maps, as they have been advised to do by the noble Lord (Lord Elcho), and bear in mind that Cape Town is 1,000 miles from the seat of war, the extreme difficulty and delay of any postal communication, the impossibility of conducting serious affairs solely by electric telegraph, and the great distance even of the nearest point of the telegraph from the seat of war, they will see that it has become absolutely necessary for a time to divide this great office, and give that portion of it covering the seat of war to a new head, and into the hands of a single person. These are the reasons for the course taken by Her Majesty's Government, and they will be still more fully expressed in the Papers, which I hope will be in the hands of hon. Members on Thursday or Friday morning. The terms of the commissions will be included in those Papers; and if any further question or discussion should arise on them the Government will be prepared to meet it.


I must say that there is not one single reason among those which the right hon. Gentleman has now stated for the course the Government has taken which did not exist in full force two months ago, when the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea brought his Motion forward. The right hon. Gentleman says that Cape Town is 1,000 miles from the seat of war. Why, it was 1,000 miles away two months ago, he says the telegraph is not adequate to carry on detailed communications; but the telegraph communication is not less adequate now than it was then. You knew that you had to send out reinforcements; that you were going to enter on a campaign; that Sir Bartle Frere must meet his Parliament at the Cape, and conduct all these transactions with reference to Confederation; and really for the Secretary of State for the Colonies to get up gravely now, and tell us these things—every single one of which was in their minds and in full force two months ago, when we had the debate on the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea's Motion, when the Secretary of State himself told us that no man except Sir Bartle Frere, from his knowledge of the circumstances, whatever errors he might have committed, could conduct these affairs successfully—is, I think, presuming too much on the patience of this House. It is also, I think, calculated to have a prejudicial effect on the public mind, which the Government should deplore. I venture to say that the reason why both sides of the House and the country outside approve of the course the Government have taken is for a totally different reason from any of those stated by the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The reason why the House and the country approve of that course is because they believe and hope that Sir Garnet Wolseley will carry out the policy of Her Majesty's Government in a very different spirit from that in which it was carried out by Sir Bartle Frere. It is the real cause of the satisfaction with the change; and what possible object the Secretary of State for the Colonies can have in destroying that expectation, that hope, and that conviction in the public mind, by putting the reason for the course they have pursued on a totally different basis, I cannot understand. If the country has really to take his account of the matter, they would derive small satisfaction from it. It is because they thought that the alleged reasons were not true—that the true reasons were totally different—that the course taken by the Government has given satisfaction. Therefore, I do regret that the Secretary of State for the Colonies should have thought it right to give such reasons. It may be all very well to set up this theory for their action, for the sake of Lord Chelmsford or Sir Bartle Frere; but it is not from that point of view that the change is regarded with satisfaction, but because the people believed that Sir Bartle Frere was pursuing—honourably and conscientiously no doubt—a policy which the Government did not desire, and which the country did not desire. That is the reason they are glad to see it placed in different hands; and to tell us that it is merely a matter of concentration of power is unsatisfactory. I think it a great pity, when the Government come forward to announce a determination of this character, that they should not have had all the Papers ready and delivered them to the House at the time. We see that continuous Cabinet meetings have been held, and I cannot see why they should not have had these important Papers ready to deliver. All I can add is, that I hope the real reasons actuating the Government in making this change in the affairs at the Cape are not the reasons which they have alleged; because if they are, I believe they will have destroyed the whole satisfaction which the country has felt.

[The subject then dropped.]