HC Deb 08 April 1884 vol 287 cc112-6

said, he was very sorry to interpose between the House and the Holidays; but the news had been confirmed by the Treasury Bench that the tribes between Khartoum and Berber were in full revolt, and that all communication with General Gordon had been cut off. In the face of this intelligence, the Government had stated that they were doing absolutely nothing to save General Gordon and the garrison and civil population in Khartoum. It was evident that the Government were wholly inappreciative of the danger in which General Gordon stood, and had decided to take no steps for his relief. The Secretary of State for War might not assent to that; but the Prime Minister had stated that General Gordon believed himself to be safe in Khartoum, and that he saw no danger; and the noble Lord himself had said that the Government had no knowledge that General Gordon desired that any troops should be sent to him. The Government had taken no steps to ascertain whether General Gordon needed troops or a military diversion at this moment. The Government had been accused of having abandoned the brave Governor of Sinkat; and that had been justified over and over again. Now a worse charge could be proved against them — namely, that they had betrayed General Gordon. The Prime Minister had stated that General Gordon was under no constraint to remain, but could leave; and yet, at that moment, the Prime Minister knew, as the noble Lord had subsequently informed the House, that the Government had actually asked General Gordon to remain at Khartoum in consequence of their refusal to appoint Zebehr Pasha as his successor. Could the Government say he was under no constraint to remain when they had invited him to remain in consequence of their refusal to assent to the only proposition he had made, and in face of the fact that he had undertaken to rescue the garrisons and the civilian population of the Soudan? As long as there was breath in his body General Gordon would consider himself bound in honour to remain and endeavour to save the people and the garrisons whom he was sent out to rescue. General Gordon informed the Government, four weeks ago, that he thought a military diversion was necessary to achieve the object the Government had in view. He urged that if Zebehr was at once appointed, a military diversion should be made by a British. Force from Suakin to Berber, or by Wood's "Invincibles," to Wadi Haifa. He asked for that a month ago; but the Government now shielded themselves behind the pretext that General Gordon only asked for that aid because Zebehr was going to be appointed. Much had happened since to make this ten-fold more necessary. At that moment Gordon was in command of Khartoum and of the road to Berber; there had been no defeat of his Army; there had been no rising of the tribes; there had been none of that threatened revolt of the great Bishari Tribe; there had been no breach of communications. And yet, when Gordon gave that advice, and when the communications were perfectly secure, the Government decided that it was not necessary to make any diversion. Since then Gordon had been cut off; he had been surrounded, and Berber and Dongola were threatened. If there was any ungenerous and unworthy answer it was that which the Government had given. It was all very well for them to say now that the heat was too great to enable British troops to advance; but this was not a question of the present moment; they had had it before them ever since the 19th of January, when they sent General Gordon out on his almost impossible mission. They had repudiated the only important appointment that Gordon had made—the appointment of Zebehr. He (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett) had no great objection to that repudiation; but he would justify the proposal by saying that General Gordon only made it to save the Soudan from universal anarchy. Gordon practically said— "Better Zebehr than universal anarchy." The Government had known all along since the 19th of January that Gordon's position would probably become impossible—on the 12th of February, when they sent out General Graham; on the 29th of February, when Osman Digna was beaten at Teb; on the 14th of March, when the battle of Tamasi was won. Why, then, did they not take action, and send a few squadrons to Berber? It could have been done at a slight cost—they only wanted a few thousand camels to carry water. A slight cost would have saved Gordon, the Soudan, and the credit and honour of this country. But the Government allowed matters to drift along until they found themselves in this position, that this chivalrous officer, doing the highest work of humanity, had been cut off from communication with us, and he had practically been abandoned. That was the position with regard to General Gordon. He (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett) asked the Government what had been the object of the slaughter—the frightful slaughter—near Suakin? What was it for? Why were 5,000 brave Arabs and 200 gallant Englishmen sacrificed near Suakin? What was accomplished by that terrible loss of life? A few earthworks, an expenditure of £10,000, and 1,000 troops—Indian troops, British troops, good Egyptian troops— would have protected Suakin against Osman Digna. But Her Majesty's Government, by the retreat they had ordered, had thrown away all they had gained. They did not relieve Sinkat; they were too late to relieve Tokar; they were too late to disperse Osman Digna's forces. If they had opened the Berber road and saved Gordon, and saved the garrisons at Kassala, at Khartoum, at Berber, at Dongola, or at any of the other places, they might have something to show for this vast sacrifice. But what they had to show for it now, or would have to show for it in the future, he knew not. The Government could not explain it, the country did not understand it. Only this afternoon he had put a Question to the Government on the subject, and the Prime Minister's answer that that Question was "misleading" had justified him in taking up the time of the House to-night for 10 minutes while he put the matter again before them. His Question was not misleading; it was a very simple Question. If hon. Members tried to save General Gordon by putting Questions in this House they were accused of Obstruction; when the whole Press of the world defended General Gordon's claim to be relieved they were charged with being bribed by financiers. It was, however, essentially necessary that these Questions should be put. His own Question had simply been— "Do you intend the House and the country to understand that you abandon Gordon?" It was a pointed Question, not a misleading one, and it was a justifiable Question. He wished to make this protest against the course pursued by the Government with regard to General Gordon as a course which was most unjust and ungenerous to that gallant officer, and which was discreditable to Her Majesty's Ministers. It was a course which cried aloud to the country for the most severe reprobation.


I quite understand that the House should desire to go to a Division, and I can assure them that I do not intervene at this late hour from any wish to continue the discussion upon this subject. The hon. Member who has just spoken has probably felt a considerable anxiety to deliver his own soul, and is not very anxious that there should be any long reply to his observations. I can only say over again, and I hope without any disrespect to him, that Her Majesty's Government have on several recent occasions placed before Parliament, both here and in "another place," their views upon the situation in general, and in regard to the position of General Gordon in particular. I do not think it would be possible to enter with advantage at this late hour into any of the numerous points which the hon. Gentleman has brought before us; but whenever the proper time comes we shall be ready to enter upon all these questions, as we have done upon other occasions. We have had much Egyptian debate in Parliament of late; and I hope the hon. Member will be satisfied with making his own speech, and will not think me disrespectful to him if I say no more upon the subject now.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 86; Noes 27: Majority 59.—(Div. List, No. 62.)