HC Deb 07 March 1881 vol 259 cc428-31

asked the First Lord of the Treasury, with reference to the negotiations for peace with the Boers, Whether the Government forbade any fresh attack to be made on the Boers until the answer which it has been stated "was then expected from them" had been received?


Though we are not in a perfect condition to give full and complete information to the House—and, indeed, we have not perfectly clear information on all points ourselves—yet it is known that, in answer to a communication from Mr. Kruger, as the civil head of the Boers in their present position, there was a communication made to the Boers through the late Sir George Colley, and it is in reference to that, I think, that my hon. Friend asks the Question. His Question is, whether, during the interval while that communication was on its way—while an answer was being prepared with respect to the communication—we had given military instructions to the General forbidding any fresh attack being made. I think the best answer I can give is to state strictly the substance of the telegram sent on the 16th of February to the General Officer Commanding in Natal. It is as follows:—

(Telegram from Sir E. Wood to Lord Kimberley, received March 6, 10 20 p.m.)

"With reference to Lord Kimberley's telegram as respects the interval that must elapse before the reply can in due course be received from the Boers, we do not bind your discretion, but we are anxious for your making arrangements to avoid the effusion of blood."

I may, perhaps, mention, as a matter of interest to the House, that this day a telegram has been received from Sir Evelyn Wood, dated yesterday, the 6th of March— Have signed agreement with Joubert for suspension of hostilities until midnight of the 14th of March, for the purpose of receiving Kruger's reply"—

perhaps I ought to say, parenthetically, that we are given to understand that Mr. Kruger has gone further up country than had been expected, and hence there will be some difficulty in transmitting his reply— and any further communications. We have power to send eight days' supply to our garrisons, and Joubert has undertaken to pass them through the Boer lines, and on arrival of provisions at such garrisons the blockading and besieged parties will cease hostilities for eight days. I hope you will approve.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War has received a telegram to-day, stating the conditions of the armistice, which he will be prepared to read to the House.


Was the armistice agreed to at the request of Sir Evelyn Wood, or at the request of the Boers by Joubert?


I do not think it would be possible to give a perfectly clear answer to the Question until we lay the whole of the telegrams upon the Table of the House, and I doubt whether it would be desirable to do so until we have received further communication from the Boers, which we are expecting, and with regard to which we have no means of saying, at the present moment, that it has been actually sent off. At what precise moment we can produce these communications I am unable to say until we receive the further communication referred to.


I wish to ask the Secretary of State for War a Question, of which I have given him private Notice—If he is able, without detriment to the Public Service, to state generally what are the conditions under which the armistice has been agreed to, and what terms have been made?


I shall read the telegram from Sir Evelyn Wood as to the terms of the armistice. It is in these words— The following are the conditions of the armistice agreed to this day between Joubert and myself. Object of the armistice to allow time for Kruger to reply to communication from late Sir George Colley and subsequent communications with a view to a peaceable settlement. We mutually agreed to a cessation of hostilities from noon on the 6th till midnight on the 14th March. Conditions:— I. In that period both provide" [we read, however, this word as 'promise'] "not to make forward movement from present positions, but each to retain the liberty of movement within our lines. II. Sir E. Wood is allowed to send eight days' provisions, but no munitions of war, to all the Transvaal garrisons, the Boer officers undertaking to pass on these provisions to the garrisons. III. Joubert undertakes to send notice of the armistice conditions to the respective garrisons and to the Boer commanders, and will use his influence to induce the Boer commanders to allow the withdrawal of British wounded from these garrisons into Natal.


asked, Whether the Secretary of State for War had received any information as to a report of the death of Sir Evelyn Wood which appeared in the evening papers?


All I can say, in reply, is that no such intelligence has reached us; and I think, if there had been any foundation for the rumour, it is certain that before this hour we should have received it.


gave Notice that he would, to-morrow, ask, Whether, in the event of Kruger's reply proving acceptable to the Government, they intended to conclude terms of peace with the Boers before communicating those terms to the House of Commons in such a way that the House might express an opinion?