HC Deb 02 July 1883 vol 281 cc29-32

asked the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies, Whether any information has been received at the Colonial Office which can enable him to say whether the account in the "Standard" of the 26th instant of the fighting at Talliah is correct, in which it is stated that our native allies after the enemy were routed pursued them into the country; that no quarter was given or expected; that the wounded were murdered as they fell, and that the horrible custom of mutilation followed; that they took many prisoners, the males being ruthlessly killed in cold blood; and that the per centage of wounded who escaped our relentless allies would be small indeed; and, whether he will cause an inquiry to be made as to the truth of these allegations?


asked the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies, If he will inform the House whether Mr. Pinkett, in the absence of the Governor in Chief of the West African settlements, is responsible for the direction of British policy in British Sherbro, and for the military operations lately undertaken against the Chief Gbow at Talliah; what previous experience in dealing with Natives he has had, and who appointed him; and, whether Her Majesty's Government will cause an independent inquiry to be made into the administration of affairs in British Sherbro during the past twelve months?


asked the First Lord of the Treasury, With reference to a Despatch addressed by Lord Clarendon to Sir Rutherford Alcock, in 1869, containing these words:— Her Majesty's Government cannot leave with Her Majesty's Consuls or Naval Officers to determine for themselves what redress or reparation for wrong done to British subjects is due, or by what means it should be enforced. They cannot allow them to determine whether coercion is to be applied by blockade, by reprisals, by landing armed parties, or by acts of even a more hostile character. All such proceedings bear more or less the character of acts of war, and Her Majesty's Government cannot delegate to Her Majesty's servants in Foreign Countries the power of involving their own Country in war. And also with reference to Lord Granville's communication in 1880 to Mr. Consul Easton, on the West Coast of Africa, to this effect:— I am to observe that Her Majesty's Government would deeply deplore the recurrence of warlike operations against Native tribes whose progress in civilisation they desire to assist, and I am to impress upon you the importance of exercising the greatest caution against the adoption of hostile measures on your own responsibility, whenever it may be possible for you to refer home in the first instance for instructions; whether, at the same time, Lord North-brook, as First Lord of the Admiralty, addressed Mr. Commodore Richards, prescribing certain rigid formalities before those commanding Her Majesty's ships should for the future lend themselves to such operations against Native tribes, and especially enjoining them not to take action, wherever there is any doubt, without previous reference to Her Majesty's Government; whether similar instructions were at the same time sent to all consular officers on the West Coast of Africa, and to all commanding officers of ships on the same Coast; and, whether those instructions are still in force as respects British agents and officers abroad, and whether they were observed by those in authority previous to the recent expedition from Sherbro, as described in the "Standard" newspaper of June 26th, which led to the total destruction of two Native towns, the slaughter of between three and four hundred Natives, and the commission of great atrocities upon the wounded and upon prisoners by the Native Allies of the British Forces?


Sir, the late operations in British Sherbro were undertaken by the officer administering the Government of Sierra Leone against a Chief named Gbow, who, with his war boys, occupied a place named Talliah as his central stronghold—a little outside of British territory. He has for years been the terror of the district, commanding, as he did, a floating body of marauders, who went from one place to another wherever strife could be stirred up and plunder obtained. The peaceful inhabitants were mercilessly harried, and, when caught, were sold into slavery. Latterly, he has turned his attention in our direction. In the early part of the year, a British boat that was passing up the River with the pay of the police at outlying stations was seized and plundered. Shortly after this, British territory was invaded at a place called Mosaipah, within view of Bonthe, the head-quarters of the district. The property of British subjects was seized, and 25 men and women were carried off. This was the third raid, and other places, I believe, in British territory were threatened. The Expedition which, in consequence, was sent out, was directed to the destruction of Gbow's stronghold, and the dispersion of his band. There were no less than 1,500 armed men in occupation of the stockade; but the whole place was speedily destroyed. The newspaper account to which the hon. Member refers, of the events in the Sherbro district, is, as such accounts are apt to be, much exaggerated. The official Report, which we have received, contains no corroboration of the worst details contained in the Question; but it confirms the statement of the large number of Gbow's warriors who were killed in the bush. It appears that when the enemy evacuated the fort, and fled into the surrounding country, the Natives all round who had long been suffering from their acts flocked from all parts, and fell upon the fugitives. As to Mr. Pinkett, he is, undoubtedly, in the absence of Mr. Havelock, responsible for the direction of affairs in British Sherbro. He was appointed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Gloucestershire (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) to be Crown Solicitor, and Master of the Supreme Court at Sierra Leone; he was afterwards promoted to be Chief Justice. He has, therefore, been about four years in the Colony, and has already before now administered the Government. Inquiry will be made as to the allegations which have been made in the Press as to the conduct of the Native allies; but until the Government has received further information, they cannot say what steps will be necessary. Papers will very shortly be laid upon the Table of the House. With reference to the Question of my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr (Mr. Richard), I would point out to him that the instructions to which he refers were all addressed to Consuls, or Naval officers, by the Foreign Office and Admiralty respectively, and presumably point to operations in countries entirely outside British territory and jurisdiction. This affair at Sherbro was partly on British territory and partly beyond; and it may be regarded as one of self-defence to repel actual or prevent anticipated attacks. However, as soon as we heard of it, we sent a despatch to the administrator reminding him of the necessity of avoiding generally, as far as possible, such actions until the Home Government could be communicated with, and their sanction obtained.


Can the Under Secretary say whether the Government has any confirmation of the news of the destruction of the town as distinct from the destruction of the strongholds?


No, Sir. The town and the stronghold are identical. They consist of three stockades—one within another, the huts inside being occupied by the Chiefs men.