HC Deb 30 August 1880 vol 256 cc648-51

asked the Secretary of State for India, Whether his attention has been called to a letter published in the "Times" of August 28th, from Major Leach, V.C., an officer on General Burrows's Staff, dated Khushk-i-Nakhud, July 18th, in which appeared the following passages:— You will have seen by the telegrams that our expedition to Girishk has ended so far in a way which my previous letters may have led you to a certain extent to anticipate—an action with the mutinous troops of our ally and nominee, Shere Ali, the Wali of Candahar. On the 5th, as Ayoob Khan's advance from Herat had passed beyond the phase of 'idle rumour,' and was beginning to cause a stir among the numerous malcontents at Candahar, a brigade under General Burrows* * * moved on Girishk. Our instructions were to support the Wali's troops should Ayoob Khan attempt to force them, to prevent his crossing the Helmand; and, lastly, to confine our operations strictly to the defensive, and on no account to cross the river. These instructions assumed that the Helmand at Girishk was ford-able at one or two points only; that the Wali's troops could be relied upon to give us timely information of any such crossing being contemplated; and that supplies would be plentiful. As I have hinted in previous letters, the supposition as to the Wali's troops was, under any circumstances, a sanguine one, as sinister reports as to their disaffected state had been only too prevalent for some weeks past.* * * To prevent a crossing it was necessary that we should be able to patrol efficiently a considerable distance both above and below our point of observation at Girishk and be independent for information of our 'friend' the Wali. For supplies we had to depend entirely upon his cooperation. Our force was strong enough, assuming that all went well, but weak for vigorous and energetic action, and sadly crippled by the large quantity of baggage, animals, and followers, and, whether any explanation has been received from the Viceroy, and can be laid upon the Table, of the reasons which induced the Government of India to order the advance of General Burrows in co-operation with allies known to be of doubtful fidelity, and to leave Candahar with an inadequate garrison at a time when the nearest reinforcements could not be brought up without a month's previous preparation; or, if no such explanation is now in the hands of the Government, whether the India Office will instruct the Viceroy to furnish it by telegraph before the discussion of the Appropriation Bill?


inquired whether the information from which the order for the advance of General Burrows's force was given by the Commander-in-Chief, was of such a full and trustworthy character respecting the force of Ayoob Khan, the disaffection of the Wali's troops, and the supplies available, as it should have been; and, if not, who was responsible, and whether the necessary inquiries would be made?


The hon. Gentleman, the Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff), has already asked this Question in a great variety of forms, with an evident desire of placing the responsibility of the disaster in connection with Ayoob Khan on the Government of India. I am only able to repeat the substance of the Answers which I have already given on previous occasions. The advance of General Burrows was ordered by the Government of India after consultation with Sir Donald Stewart, and with the advice of the Commander-in-Chief. I am not at present, but I expect that I shall shortly be, in possession of the reasons which induced the Government of India to think that the course which they took was, under the circumstances, the most advisable. I do not see that the view which is taken by the hon. Member is in any way strengthened by the long extract which he has quoted from the letter of Major Leach; and I do not think it is possible to form an accurate opinion as to how far the responsibility is to be divided between the Government of India and those who were in command on the spot until we receive much fuller information than we have at present in our possession. I am quite willing to admit that part of the responsibility does fall on the Government of India; but I must again remind the House that Lord Ripon is not responsible for the amount of the force which was left at Candahar; and it was an important question for consideration in what way the force could best be employed in view of the advance of Ayoob Khan. No doubt it is open to the hon. Member, as to any other Member, to criticize what has been done after the event; but I may ask the House what would have been the opinion in this country and in India if the considerable force which was left at Candahar had remained inactive, while Ayoob Khan's force overran the country, or made a flank march, as appears to have been expected, for the purpose of making an attack on Khelat-i-Ghilzai. With respect to the mutiny among the Wali's troops, some despatches, though not full despatches, were received by the last mail, and I have given directions that all the information relating to this subject shall be immediately laid on the Table. With reference to the Question of the hon. Member for Cardiganshire (Mr. Pugh), I have already stated that the amount of Ayoob Khan's force was ap- proximately telegraphed from Teheran by Mr. Thompson; but, as appears from the accounts we have received, the political officers with Generals Primrose and Burrows were very imperfectly informed with regard to the particulars to which the Question relates. No doubt inquiry will be made as soon as possible as to whom the real responsibility rests upon. While on this subject, the House would, perhaps, like to hear a telegram which was received late last night from General Roberts. It is as follows:— Khelat-i-Ghilzai, Aug. 23.—The force under my command arrived here this morning. Authorities at Candahar having stated on the 17th inst. that they have abundant supplies, and can make forage last until September I, I halt tomorrow to rest troops, and more especially the transport animals and camp followers. The force left Ghazni on the 16th, and has marched 136 miles during the last eight days. The troops are in good health and spirits. From this, purpose moving by regular stages, so that the men may arrive fresh at Candahar. I hope to be in heliographic communication with Candahar from Robat, distant 20 miles, on the 29th. I am taking the Khelat-i-Ghilzai garrison with me, making the fort over to Mahomed Sadik Khan, a Toki chief, who had charge of the place when we arrived in 1879. The present Governor, Sirdar Shernidil Khan, refuses to remain. Wo have met with no opposition during the march, and have been able to make satisfactory arrangements for supplies, especially forage, which at this season is plentiful. The cavalry horses and artillery mules are in excellent order. Our casualties to date are—one soldier, 72nd Highlanders, one Sepoy, 23rd Pioneers, one 2nd Sikhs, two Sepoys 3rd Sikhs, dead. One Sepoy 4th Goorkhas, two Sepoys 24th Punjab Native Infanty, duffadar 3rd Punjab Cavalry, missing; six camp followers dead, five missing. The missing men have, I fear, been murdered. I telegraphed from Ghazni on the 13th, and from Oba-Karez on the 18th of August. A telegram has also been received to-day from the Viceroy, which repeats the above message word for word, but omits the last short sentence "I telegraphed," &c. It adds that the message came vid Chaman.


intimated that in consequence of the unsatisfactory Answer he had received from the noble Lord with regard to the events which had occurred in India two months ago he would call attention to the affairs of India upon one of the stages of the Appropriation Bill.