§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
, in rising to move—That this House regrets to find that the course pursued by Her Majesty's Government has not tended to promote the success of General Gordon's Mission, and that even such steps as may be necessary to secure his personal safety are still delayed,said: Notwithstanding the remarks that have just fallen from the two hon. Members opposite, and certain symptoms of impatience which other hon. Members 32 who sit on that side of the House have shown on the occasion of previous debates this Session on Egyptian affairs, it will, I think, be generally admitted that the subject which I am about to bring under the notice of the House is one of urgency, that it is one on which there is a strong feeling and a deep interest in the country, and that the terms of my Motion present a clear and definite issue to the House of Commons. I do not now intend to question the decision of Her Majesty's Government to evacuate the Soudan, or the means by which they proposed to carry that decision into effect. I take their own policy in this matter as it was described by them to the House in February last, and I propose to address myself to the question— How have the Government carried out, not our policy, but their own policy, and what is their conduct in the present condition of affairs in the Soudan? I hope that before I sit down I shall be able to show some cause for the regret which I ask this House to express—That the course pursued by Her Majesty's Government has not tended to promote the success of General Gordon's Mission, and that even such steps as may be necessary to secure his personal safety are still delayed.When Her Majesty's Government, in the celebrated despatch of the 4th of January last, shattered the Egyptian Government and compelled them to abandon the Soudan, they were at once confronted with the serious danger which menaced the large number of Egyptians, military and civil, who remained in the Soudan. It was impossible that this country could avoid a sense of responsibility for the safety of those people, because that danger was mainly due to the calamity which overtook the unfortunate expedition of General Hicks, an expedition which was permitted by Her Majesty's Government, although they had the power of preventing it. Therefore it was, I suppose, that the Government repeatedly suggested to the Egyptian Government the employment of General Gordon to conduct the evacuation of the Soudan. At last the Egyptian Government consented to the employment of that officer with full civil and military powers to conduct the evacuation. It is not too much to say that no officer over left this country charged with a more important or more difficult mission, or possessing, to all 33 appearance, more perfect freedom as to the means by which he should carry out that Mission. It was a material element in the satisfaction with which the country received the news of General Gordon's appointment that he was to have, as it has been described, "a free hand," and was not to be interfered with by Her Majesty's Government, who had already so lamentably failed in their conduct of affairs in that part of the world. I will venture to add that this interpretation of the appointment of General Gordon had no slight influence in saving the Government from that Vote of Censure which my right hon. Friend near me proposed in February last. What was the policy that General Gordon was appointed to carry out? It was shortly described by the Prime Minister as "rescue and retire." How was General Gordon to carry out that policy? Undoubtedly by pacific means —if that was in any way possible—but that is a very material qualification. No one could have desired or have tried more earnestly than General Gordon to carry out the mission with which he was charged by pacific means. The keystone of his plan was essentially of a pacific character. It was to establish some kind of local government which should be more agreeable to the populations of the Soudan than the Egyptian Government from which he was sent to deliver them, and which, when established, might be able to conduct affairs, at least for a time, during which the evacuation of the country by the whole civil and military Egyptian administration might take place. Well, various suggestions were made by him to Her Majesty's Government in connection with his mission. One after another those suggestions were negatived, and some were negatived precisely at the very moment when Her Majesty's Government were sheltering themselves from the indignation which was felt in the country at the abandonment of the garrison of Sinkat, on the plea that they were compelled not to undertake an expedition that could by any possibility be contrary to General Gordon's wishes, or that would interfere with the success of his pacific mission. What were those suggestions? In the first place, it is perfectly clear that from the very first General Gordon never desired to go to the Soudan as an official of the Egyp- 34 tian Government. What he wanted to do was to appear in the Soudan from the side of Suakin as a deliverer of the people from the Egyptian Government. Well, Her Majesty's Government sent him to Cairo. They sent him from Cairo as an Egyptian Governor General over the Soudan. He proposed, again, to undertake the hazardous task of an interview with the Mahdi in order to exercise upon that individual his wonderful personal influence. Why, Sir, a braver proposal than that was never made by an Englishman. General Gordon is a man who does not consider his own safety or his own life as worth a moment's notice when the interest of his country is involved; but Her Majesty's Government negatived that proposal also. Again, he wanted to commence his operations by first dealing with the Equatorial Provinces. He got a peremptory command not to go south of Khartoum. And lastly, after full consideration of the difficulties which attended his original proposal to establish a certain number of local Sultans throughout the country, he recommended to the Government the appointment of Zebehr Pasha as Governor of Khartoum. I do not wish for a moment to underrate the objections to that proposal. It ran counter to one of the strongest sentiments of this country. It was objected to by persons entertaining all kinds of political opinions—by some of the leading Members of the Party to which I myself belong; but I must say that I think that if the very strong arguments which appear in the Papers which have been published had been before the country at the time this proposal was made there would have been, at least, a considerable feeling in the opposite direction. I do not wish, however, to underrate the force of popular sentiment, which in such matters is inaccessible to reason. I am not blaming Her Majesty's Government for declining to assent to the appointment of Zebehr Pasha, or to any of the other proposals to which I have referred. But it should be remembered that those proposals came to them recommended in no ordinary way. The appointment of Zebehr Pasha was recommended by Sir Evelyn Baring, the trusted Adviser of Her Majesty's Government in Egypt, as well as by General Gordon. Now, what was the Prime Minister's own opinion of General Gor- 35 don? On the 12th of February he told the House that—General Gordon is no common man… It is no exaggeration to say that he is a hero. It is no exaggeration to say that he is a Christian hero.…that in his dealings with Oriental people he is also a genius; that he has the faculty of influence or command brought about by moral means, for no man in the House hates the unnecessary resort to blood more than General Gordon."—(3 Hansard,  722.)This was the man who recommended the appointment of Zebehr Pasha. In seconding that recommendation, Sir Evelyn Baring gave a remarkable hint to Her Majesty's Government. He evidently had in his own mind the past history of their Egyptian policy; and he said to them that if they were unwilling to assume any responsibility in the matter they might give full liberty of action to General Gordon to do what seemed best. Well, Sir, with their usual inconsistency, Her Majesty's Government, having promised a free baud to General Gordon, thought that, not only on the other points to which I have referred, but even in this instance, they were obliged to interfere with him. After long hesitation—indeed, so long that a military demonstration had to be recommended as well as the appointment of Zebehr Pasha—they finally declined the proposal. Now, I have admitted most fully the strength of the objections to it, and I wish to give Her Majesty's Government the full benefit of their arguments. Let us admit, for the sake of argument, that they were right in their decision. But that decision, imposed upon Her Majesty's Government an enormous responsibility. The appointment of Zebehr Pasha was recommended by the authorities I have quoted as the essential means for establishing that temporary local government without which the peaceful evacuation of the Soudan was impossible. Her Majesty's Government felt it right to negative that proposal. If they thought it right to do so, they ought to have accepted any alternative proposal that was made, or to have made some other proposal themselves to carry out their policy. Sir, they did neither of these things; but what they did was something even worse than inaction. While they were insisting upon a pacific policy in one part of the Soudan, and negativing the plans by which alone that policy could be carried out, they went to war in another 36 part, and by those military operations they effectually destroyed any chance which General Gordon might have had of carrying out the policy he was sent to accomplish by the pacific means which they themselves desired. What did General Gordon say when he heard of their refusal to appoint Zebehr Pasha? On the 26th of February he telegraphed to Her Majesty's Government as follows: —Telegram of the 23rd February received respecting Zebehr. That settles question for me. I cannot suggest any other.You throw upon your Christian hero, who is averse from the unnecessary shedding of blood, the necessity of suggesting military action in order to carry out your own policy—When evacuation is carried out, Mahdi will come down here, and, by agents, will not let Egypt be quiet. Of course, my duty is evacuation, and the best I can for establishing a quiet Government. The first I hope to accomplish. The second is a more difficult task, and concerns Egypt more than me. If Egypt is to be quiet, Mahdi must be smashed up.… Remember that once Khartoum belongs to Mahdi the task will be far more difficult; yet you will, for safety of Egypt, execute it. If you decide on smashing Mahdi, then send up another £100,000 and send up 200 Indian troops to Wady-Halfa, and send officer up to Dongola under pretence to look out quarters for troops. Leave Suakin and Massowah alone."—[Egypt, No. 12 (1884), p. 115.]Well, now, that was his suggestion. I suppose we shall be told that any such suggestion was beyond the scope of his mission. How is that? The Prime Minister, on the 3rd of May, stated that General Gordon's mission involved the use only of pacific means. I challenge that statement altogether. I maintain that General Gordon's mission contemplated the use of pacific means; but it was perfectly clear, from the very beginning, both to General Gordon and to Her Majesty's Government, that pacific means might be insufficient, and that a resort to force might be required. Now, what was the opinion of Her Majesty's Government themselves on the 4th of January last? In that despatch directing the evacuation of the Soudan, Sir Evelyn Baring was directed to urge on the Khedive that all military operations in the Soudan, excepting those for the rescue of the outlying garrisons, should cease—except on the ports of the Red Sea, where assistance could be afforded by Her Majesty's Naval Forces. There- 37 fore, at that time, they thought that the Egyptian Government might be compelled to employ force in rescuing the outlying garrisons in the Soudan. What was General Gordon's opinion after his appointment? In the Memorandum of the 1st of February, written by him before his arrival in Egypt, he examined the proposal to transfer the lands to the local Sultans, and states his opinion that they will not accept the supremacy of the Mahdi—If this is agreed to, and my supposition correct as to their action, there can be but little doubt that, as far as he is able, the Mahdi will endeavour to assert his rule over them, and will be opposed to any evacuation of the Government employés and troops.… What should he done should the Mahdi's adherents attack the evacuating columns? It cannot he supposed that these are to offer no resistance; and if, in resisting, they should obtain a success, it would be but reasonable to allow them to follow up the Mahdi to such a position as would insure their future safe march…. Paragraph 1 fixes irrevocably the decision of the Government— namely, to evacuate the territory, and, of course, as far as possible, involves the avoidance of any fighting…. I will carry out the evacuation as far as possible, according to their wish, to the best of my ability, and with avoidance, as far as possible, of all fighting. I would, however, hope that Her Majesty's Government will give me their support and consideration should I be unable to fulfil all their expectations."—[Egypt, No. 7 (1884), p. 2.]Sir, I should like to know what moaning Her Majesty's Government attached to the words "support and consideration" when they received that despatch? Did they really suppose the position to be that General Gordon would only be allowed to use those Egyptian troops who had already suffered so terribly at the hands of the Natives of the Soudan, and that if he should, as would surely not be unlikely, incur defeat, the Government were not to be liable to aid Mm? Is it possible that Her Majesty's 'Government can have saved themselves by sending General Gordon into danger with the understanding that when he got into danger from which he could not escape they were not to save him? Well, but that Memorandum was received, was considered, and was accepted by Her Majesty's Government as embodying the means by which General Gordon should carry out their policy. More than that, they knew that he had been appointed as Governor General of the Soudan with full civil and military powers; they knew that in the Firman 38 appointing him he was directly authorized to retain the Egyptian troops in the Soudan as long as he liked, and to regulate the time and manner of the evacuation in the mode which seemed to him to be best and most politic. They knew all this; and on the 12th of February what did the Prime Minister say to the House on the subject of General Gordon's plan? He said—At Cairo General Gordon formed his plan. …. It was evidently a well-reasoned and considered plan: it was entirely pacific in its basis; it proceeded on the belief—a belief which would have been fanatical or presumptuous in my case, or in the case of most of those in this House, but which in the case of General Gordon, with his experience and gifts, was, I believe, neither the one nor the other— not that he certainly must, but that he fairly might hope to, exercise a strong pacific influence by going to the right persons in the Soudan; and it was his desire, quite as much as ours, that this should be done without any resort whatever to violent means…He went for the double purpose of evacuating the country by the extrication of the Egyptian garrisons, and of reconstituting it by giving back to those Chiefs their ancestral powers, which had been withdrawn or suspended during the period of the Egyptian Government…He had in view the withdrawal from the country of no less than 29,000 persons paying the military service to Egypt. The House will see how vast was the trust placed in the hands of this remarkable person. We cannot exaggerate the importance we attach to it. We were resolved to do nothing which should interfere with this great pacific scheme, the only scheme which promised a satisfactory solution of the Soudanese difficulty, by at once extricating the garrisons and reconstituting the country upon its old basis and its local privileges."—(3 Hansard,  724–5.)Admirable resolutions these, if they could only have been carried out. Well, on the 13th of February arrived the Memorandum of General Gordon containing a scheme for organizing the well-disposed tribes of the Soudan against the pillaging tribes, with the idea of "forming the firm Conservative Soudanese Government which I believe Her Majesty's Government have in view," which obviously would be likely to lead to fighting. I am bound to say that if Her Majesty's Government wanted to form a Conservative Government nearer home than the Soudan, they have taken the very best means of doing so. The right hon. Gentleman again addressed the House in reply to the Motion of the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson); but he did not say a word qualifying 39 those expressions of confidence in General Gordon and the acceptance of his plans which he had before stated to the House. On the 14th of February the President of the Local Government Board addressed the House. He said—Our views with regard to the evacuation of the Soudan are General Gordon's views as well as our own."—(Ibid., 957.)On the 18th Lord Granville stated in "another place" that the confidence of the Government in General Gordon was rather increasing than diminishing. Well, to my mind, these documents and statements conclusively prove that Her Majesty's Government in the middle of February fully understood that General Gordon's mission might very possibly involve fighting, and that, so understanding it, they accepted it. Yet now what do they say? That it was not in contemplation that the duties assigned to General Gordon should be of a nature that would require the despatch of a British Expedition to the Soudan. [Ministerial cheers.] Well, if those hon. Gentlemen who cheered that statement can reconcile it with the facts I have quoted, I shall be glad to hear them do it. That is not all. General Gordon is now openly accused of promoting a policy not of defence or of rescue, but of conquest. What have Her Majesty's Government said in their telegram of the 23rd of April? They accuse him distinctly of a desire to undertake military operations beyond the scope of his mission, and at variance with the pacific policy of evacuating the Soudan. I will venture to say that the most malicious libeller never coined a more unfair or more ungenerous accusation against a public servant than that which these grateful employers have given currency to against General Gordon. Let General Gordon speak for himself. Do hon. Members recollect the statement which appeared in The Times of the 10th of March coming direct from him? What did General Gordon there say? That he was dead against the sending of any British Expedition to reconquer the Soudan; that it was unnecessary; that he would not have a single life lost; that it was his firm conviction that none would be lost by the plan that he proposed, while our honour would be saved; that he liked the people who were in rebellion as well as he did those who were not; and he added— 40I thank God that, as far as I am concerned, no man has gone before his Maker prematurely through me.Will the verdict of history on these transactions acquit Her Majesty's Government of the blood guiltiness which General Gordon disclaimed? Well, Her Majesty's Government, having driven General Gordon to make this proposal of smashing the Mahdi, negatived it. But, as I have said, they did something worse; they deprived him of any chance of carrying out pacifically the commission with which they had intrusted him by their own military operations in the Eastern Soudan. What was General Gordon's opinion upon those operations? It is perfectly clear from these Papers that he never approved of them. On a memorable Saturday the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) asked this House to express its opinion that no reason had been shown for those military operations. Sir, I spoke in favour of that Motion, and I supported it by my vote. And why did I support it? I said plainly that, unless Her Majesty's Government intended that some result in the way of material assistance to General Gordon should follow from those operations, they were unjustifiable. No such result did follow; and I never gave a vote in this House to which I look back with more satisfaction than the vote that I gave in support of that Motion. I have said that General Gordon never wanted you to undertake those operations. When you consulted him, he gave up the garrisons of Sinkat and Tokar as lost; he said that he had not the least apprehension for Khartoum or Berber being in jeopardy from events at Suakin; and that the forces which defeated General Baker would remain in their tribal limits. Her Majesty's Government were very grateful for that message; and on the 12th of February they sent their thanks to him for this expression of opinion, which, they said, "filled them with increased confidence in him." But having done so, of course they proceeded to act in direct opposition to his views. A little later he told them that—As to Tokar and Sinkat, you can do nothing except by proclaiming that Chiefs of tribes should come to Khartoum to the Meglis (council) of Notables, when the independence of the Soudan will be decided.And on the 23rd of February he telegraphs— 41I think if Tokar has fallen Her Majesty's Government had hotter he quiet, as I see no advantage to he now gained by any action on their part; let events work themselves out. Fall of Tokar will not affect in the least state of affairs here."—[Egypt, No. 12 (1884), p. 97.]Of course, the Government were not quiet. They undertook those military operations under General Graham which resulted in the loss of many valuable English lives and the massacre of thousands of brave Arabs, but in no permanent good whatever; while, on the other hand, they tended greatly to weaken General Gordon's power of peaceful negotiation. General Gordon naturally supposed, on hearing of the victories of General Graham, that as the Government had vetoed his proposals for carrying out his pacific mission, and had themselves undertaken military operations in the Soudan, they would take care that his difficult and arduous task should in some way benefit from the victories that had been achieved. He did not know Her Majesty's Government. They can undertake costly and perilous expeditions, but only after the object of those expeditions has been hopelessly sacrificed. He recommended again that a few troops should be sent to Wady Halfa and Dongola, adding that General Graham's victory, if followed up by an advance of two squadrons of Cavalry to Berber, would settle the question of Khartoum, for the people between there and Berber would not think of rising. Now, what did Her Majesty's Government know of his position at that time? On the 13th of March they heard from him that—There was no probability of the people rallying round him, or of paying any attention to his Proclamation."—[Ibid., p. 161.]He told them that if they would not appoint Zebehr Pasha or send British troops to Berber it was no use holding on to Khartoum; for it was impossible for him to help the other garrisons, and he would only be sacrificing the whole of the troops and employés there. He suggested that he should be instructed to evacuate Khartoum, retreating to Berber, and sacrificing everything except Berber and Dongola. He asked for a prompt reply; but he was asking for that which is an impossibility to Her Majesty's Government. In a few days the opportunity was lost. He went on to say that he would resign his commis- 42 sion and start for the Equator. He added these remarkable words—If I could have given any hope to the people as to the future Government, probably things might have been better. It is evident that no one will throw in his fortunes with a departing Government."—[Ibid., p. 162.]In reply, Sir Evelyn Baring directed him to stay at Khartoum, pending instructions from Her Majesty's Government. Then Lord Granville telegraphs to Sir Edward Malet—though we are in doubt as to how many of these telegrams readied General Gordon—stating that Her Majesty's Government declined to send either troops or Zebehr. He goes on to say—If General Gordon is of opinion that the prospect of his early departure diminishes the chance of accomplishing his task, and that by staying at Khartoum himself for any length of time which he may judge necessary he would be able to establish a settled Government, he is at liberty to remain there. In the event of his being unable to carry out this suggestion, he should evacuate Khartoum, and save that garrison by conducting it himself to Berber without delay."—[Ibid.]Then, on the 16th, Sir Evelyn Baring comes to the front and tells Her Majesty's Government that—It has now become of the utmost importance not only to open the road between Suakin and Berber, but to come to terms with the tribes between Berber and Khartoum."—[Ibid., p. 165.]What is the reply? On the 16th Earl Granville says—Her Majesty's Government are unable to authorize any advance of British troops in the direction of Berber until they have received further information with regard to the military conditions of such an expedition, and are satisfied that it is necessary in order to secure the safety of General Gordon… If General Gordon agrees with you that the difficulty of establishing a settled Government will increase rather than diminish with time, there can be no advantage in his remaining, and he should, as soon as is practicable, take steps for the evacuation of Khartoum."—[Ibid., p. 166.]In the whole of these telegrams from General Gordon, I venture to assert that there is not a single trace of a desire for aggression. What he wishes to do is simply this—to place himself in the only position in which, Zebehr having been refused to him, he could carry out the orders of Her Majesty's Government to rescue the garrisons. He required material help to maintain himself at Khartoum, to bring out the more distant garrisons, and even, as time ad- 43 vanced, to evacuate Khartoum itself. For the matter is now reduced to this. On the 24th of March Sir Evelyn Baring telegraphs to Her Majesty's Government—It appears to me that under the present circumstances General Gordon will not be able to carry out your Lordship's instructions, although those instructions involve the abandonment of the Sennaar garrison on the Blue Nile, and the garrisons of Bahr Gazelle and Gondokoro, on the White Nile. The question now is, how to get General Gordon and Colonel Stewart away from Khartoum? In considering this question, it should he remembered that they will not willingly come hack without bringing with them the garrison of Khartoum and the Government officials…Unless any unforeseen circum stances should occur to change the situation, only two solutions appear to be possible. The first is to trust General Gordon's being able to maintain himself at Khartoum till the autumn. …. This he might, perhaps, be able to do, but it, of course, involves running a great risk.How great the risk is we see now. The despatch goes on to say—The only other plan is to send a portion of General Graham's army to Berber with instructions to open up communication with Khartoum…General Gordon is evidently expecting help from Suakin, and he has ordered messengers to be sent along the road from Berber to ascertain whether any English force is advancing. Under present circumstances, I think that an effort should be made to help Gordon from Suakin, if it is at all a possible military operation.Was it a possible military operation? The despatch continues—General Stephenson and Sir Evelyn Wood, whilst admitting the very great risk to the health of the troops, besides the extraordinary military risks, are of opinion that the undertaking is possible."—[Ibid., p. 186.]Of course, there would have been risk to the health of the troops. But what does Sir Evelyn Baring himself say on this subject? When it was proposed to move English soldiers to Assouan, Sir Evelyn Baring, on February 28, used these words—I have only to say that we have undertaken the responsibility of preserving tranquillity in Egypt, and that it is impossible to execute the task without exposing our troops to whatever risks the climatic influences involve."—[Ibid p. 116.]Then we find, again, in the despatch of March 24—General Stephenson and Sir Evelyn Wood think that General Graham should be further consulted."—[Ibid., p. 186.]But was he consulted? Did Her Majesty's Government ask Graham, to un- 44 dertake an expedition from Suakin to Berber? I do not believe they ever put it to him. We have no evidence of the fact; but on the 18th of March we have a telegram from General Graham—Present position of affairs is that two heavy blows have been struck at rebels and followers of the Mahdi, who are profoundly discouraged. They say, however, that English troops can do no more; must re-embark and leave the country to them; to follow up these victories and bring waverers to our side we should not proclaim our intention of leaving, but rather make a demonstration of an advance towards Berber, and induce a belief that we can inarch anywhere we please."—[Ibid., p. 176.]Now, Sir, I believe that if General Graham had been instructed to send the kind of forces that General Gordon desired to Berber it would have been found that such a force could have marched wherever they pleased. What does General Gordon himself say a few weeks later? He affirms that the insurrection at Khartoum had spread; but he urges that it is a trumpery insurrection that 500 determined men could put down. What is the reply of Her Majesty's Government to Sir Evelyn Baring's recommendation? I do not think that a more heartless despatch ever was written than that of the 25th of March; and yet that one, like the previous despatch, was sent openly, so that the news that Her Majesty's Government did not intend to relieve General Gordon was in the possession of all his enemies, whether it reached him or not. The despatch says as follows: —Having regard to the dangers of the climate of the Soudan at this time of the year, as well as the extraordinary risk from a military point of view, Her Majesty's Government do not think it justifiable to send a British expedition to Berber, and they wish to communicate this decision to General Gordon in order that he may adopt measures in accordance therewith. Her Majesty's Government desire to leave full discretion to General Gordon to remain at Khartoum if he thinks it necessary, or to retire by the southern or any other route which may be found available."—[Egypt, No. 13 (1884), P. 1.]What does that mean? It means simply this—"We know you are in difficulties and in want of help, but we will not help you ourselves; we will not tell you what to do. You may stay in the trap if you like, or you may leave it as best you can; by yourself if you choose, or, if you are able, taking those who have trusted you along with you." I will venture to say that a more disgraceful 45 suggestion than the suggestion to a British soldier and a Christian hero that he should desert those who had placed themselves in peril for his sake was never made by a British Government. What sort of opinion has General Gordon himself of such a suggestion? What does he say on the 3rd of March? He says—Pray do not consider me in any way to advocate retention of the Soudan; I am quite averse to it, but you must see that you could not recall me, nor could I possibly obey until the Cairo employés get out from all the places. I have named men to different places, thus involving- them with the Mahdi; how could I look the world in the face if I abandoned them and fled? As a gentleman, could you advise this course? It may have been a mistake to send me up, but having been done, I have no option but to see evacuation through, for even if I was mean enough to escape, I have no power to do so. You can easily understand this; would you do so?"—[Egypt, No. 12 (1884), p. 156.]Would any hon. Member do so if he were in General Gordon's place, except those who sit on the Treasury Bench? Then, later on, we have that well-known telegram of April 16, in which General Gordon says—As far as I can understand, the situation is this—You state your intention of not sending any relief up here or to Berber, and you refuse me Zebehr. I consider myself free to act according to circumstances. I shall hold on here as long as I can, and if I can suppress the rebellion I shall do so. If I cannot, I shall retire to the Equator, and leave you the indelible disgrace of abandoning the garrisons of Sennaar, Kassala, Berber, and Dongola, with the certainty that you will eventually be forced to smash up the Mahdi under great difficulties if you would retain peace in Egypt.Did any British Government ever receive such a telegram from one in their employment without the power of resenting it? And why have they not got that power? Because they know full well that the country agrees with General Gordon. So all help is refused, and that prophecy of Gordon's is fulfilled which, on the 7th of March, was published in The Times newspaper—Be sure of one thing; if Her Majesty's Government do not act promptly, Graham's victory will go for naught, and, with the useless expenditure of blood, the effect of it will evaporate.Now we find how the net begins to close around him. On the 17th of March he is described as defending himself against the rebels around Khartoum with soldiers who are defeated simply because 46 they do not desire to fight. On the 25th we hear of two Pashas being executed for treason, and General Gordon receives a hostile and insolent message from the Mahdi. On the 7th of April comes the first news of danger to Berber. On the 19th the massacre of the garrison at Shendy takes place, and on the 20th Sir Evelyn Baring reports that unless there is some prospect of help held out to Hussein Khalifa, there is risk that he will be thrown into the arms of the rebels, which would seriously affect Gordon's position; and yet, on the 24th of April, having heard all this on the 22nd, the Prime Minister actually told the House of Commons that there had been no essential change in the position of General Gordon in consequence of the fall of Berber. I think that that is not an unfair instance of the extraordinary way in which, for weeks past, Parliament and the country have been misled by the obstinately optimist ideas of the Prime Minister and his Colleagues. Of course, I do not question that those right hon. Gentlemen believe what they told Parliament; but I find it absolutely impossible to understand how they can have derived from these published despatches, or from any confidential Papers in their possession— which, indeed, I fear are more likely to show a worse side of the case—impressions so diametrically opposed to those which, I venture to say, any unbiassed mind must have derived from the perusal of these despatches. On the 21st of April Her Majesty's Government at last discover that the danger at Berber appears to be imminent, and to suggest —and this is almost the only suggestion they have made—negotiations. On the 23rd the Governor of Berber reports that all the country is joining the Mahdi, and asks for troops, which obviously could not then be sent to Berber in time, inasmuch as, in the opinion of Her Majesty's Government themselves, it would take 16 weeks to perform the journey. Now comes the last telegram, which is a most remarkable one. I do not wish to do any injustice to Her Majesty's Government. I am going to make an admission. Her Majesty's Government are charged in many quarters with wilfully abandoning General Gordon. The admission I am going to make is this—that the Prime Minister has admitted to the full the obligation 47 of Her Majesty's Government to provide for General Gordon's safety; but, unfortunately, in spite of all the proofs that the net has closed around him, Her Majesty's Government, and first of all the Prime Minister, absolutely refuse to recognize that the General is in any danger at all. Why, Sir, on the 3rd of May the Prime Minister told the House that there was no military danger threatening Khartoum. But what did General Gordon himself think of his position? A month ago this bravest of soldiers telegraphed to Her Majesty's Government—"God willing, I will never be taken alive." Would General Gordon have used those words if he had recognized that there was no danger in his position? What are the facts? I have no doubt that we shall be told that Khartoum is amply supplied with provisions, although even that point does not now seem absolutely clear. My noble Friend near me asked this evening about a despatch from Sir Evelyn Baring relating to this matter, from which it is perfectly obvious that some material facts connected with this subject are not known to the House. It may be; and from the words of that despatch I fear it is only too likely that after all "the sufficient supply of provisions" at Khartoum is not more than enough to last to the end of the current month. But granted, if you like, that Khartoum is sufficiently provisioned until the autumn, famine is not the principal danger with which Khartoum is threatened. The principal danger which besets General Gordon is not famine, nor even, the attacks of the insurgents outside; but it is treachery within the town. The House will remember that a considerable number of the soldiers whom General Gordon sent down to Berber went over in a body to the insurgents. The House will remember that, when called upon to fight against the insurgents, General Gordon's own soldiers were defeated simply because they declined to fight. The House will remember that General Gordon had to execute two Pashas for treason, who, of course, had friends in the garrison; while, if the last report be true, General Gordon has had to fortify himself within his own town against the disaffected part of the population. If it should happen that his position becomes so dangerous that he may wish to escape 48 with his friends by the river, what chance has he of effecting such an escape? The Nile is low, and the insurgents have not only rifles, but they have artillery. They have six guns, besides the Krupp gun which they captured from General Gordon, which was said to have been spiked, but which we have since heard was not permanently injured. This constitutes a formidable danger to any chance of escape which General Gordon might have had. Yet, in the face of these facts, what are the terms of the telegram of the 23rd of April? General Gordon, who is in this position, is asked in that telegram by Her Majesty's Government to inform them, in reply to a question which will probably never reach him, not only as to any immediate, but as to any prospective danger to Khartoum. General Gordon, beleaguered in Khartoum by hosts of enemies, bound there even more strongly by those feelings of honour of which Her Majesty's Ministers never seem to think, is asked to state to Her Majesty's Government the cause and intention with which he continues in Khartoum. General Gordon, who cannot know anything that is passing outside Khartoum, except from the merest rumours, is asked to advise those who have never yet taken his advice as to the force necessary to secure his removal from Khartoum, the condition of the roads, and the proper time for the operation. Could anything exceed the cruel irony of that telegram? If anything could add to the astonishment and disgust with which it has been read by the country, surely it would be the concluding words expressing respect and gratitude to General Gordon for his gallant self-sacrifice and for the good he has achieved. What is the value of that respect and gratitude? This is a matter which cannot be trifled with by the Government. I believe that the people of this country are determined, whatever Her Majesty's Government may think of General Gordon's position and claims upon them, that not a hair of his head shall perish, and that he shall be saved with those who have trusted in him. To rescue him you must rescue them also. What are Her Majesty's Government going to do? It is not for me to suggest the course which they should take. What I have undertaken, however imperfectly, to show to the House is how, by their own conduct, by their own inaction, when 49 action was possible, they have brought things to such a pass that it is difficult indeed for anyone to know how to carry out that which we all, I hope, desire to accomplish. There is one thing which Her Majesty's Government ought to have done weeks ago, and which they ought to do, if it be not too late, to-night, and that is to proclaim, their determination that General Gordon shall be rescued; and they ought to follow up that statement by taking actual steps to place themselves in a position to carry out their intention— peacefully, by all means, if possible; but by warlike means if the work cannot be done without military co-operation. I venture to say that every hour of delay will only increase the danger of General Gordon, the difficulties of Her Majesty's Government, and a still graver risk, because it is a risk of wider scope than anything that can happen to General Gordon himself. Sir, there is a very old quotation which I should not think of inflicting upon the House did it not contain a moral which, it seems to me, is never present to the minds of Her Majesty's Government. It runs as follows: —Principiis obsta; seró medicina paraturCum mala per longas convaluere moras.As individuals, Her Majesty's Government are men of decision and action; but collectively they are cursed with this fatal curse—that they are never able to make up their minds in time. It was but the other day that the Prime Minister pointed out to Parliament the success which General Gordon had achieved in putting a stop to the onward movement of the troops of the Mahdi. That statement was perfectly true. The personal influence of General Gordon did achieve, for a time, very material success in this direction. I believe that if General Gordon had been supplied with material assistance, at a time when it could have been sent to him at a comparatively small risk, he would have been enabled absolutely to stem, at Khartoum, that wave of religious fanaticism and social anarchy which we call the movement of the Mahdi. But what is the position now? General Gordon lies helpless and beleaguered at Khartoum. The advancing tide has surrounded him. It has overwhelmed Berber; it is rapidly approaching Dongola, although its approach is concealed by 50 the euphemistic words of the Under Secretary, who said that near Dongola there is a very considerable movement among the population. Notwithstanding this, all that we have heard of any preparations for meeting this rapidly-advancing and terrible danger is that two or three battalions of the Egyptian Army may possibly be despatched to Upper Egypt, and a rumour that Her Majesty's Government intend to send a great British expedition to Egypt in October. Why, Sir, if the recent news be true, long before October our small British garrison in Lower Egypt may be fighting for their lives. This danger must be stemmed somewhere. It is a duty incumbent upon us by reason of our position in Egypt, and a duty the fulfilment of which will rightly be exacted from us by the whole of the civilized world. Have Her Majesty's Government the faintest conception of their responsibility in this matter? In the debate which took place on the Motion of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in February last, some right hon. Gentlemen sitting on the other side of the House, who were naturally anxious to find a reason for supporting Her Majesty's Government, told us that they would give their votes on the side against which they spoke, because they believed that the policy of hesitation which the Government had up to that time pursued had been discarded, and that energetic action had taken its place. I should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen), or the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) are quite satisfied, after reading these despatches, that the expectation which they then formed has been fulfilled? I am quite aware that votes on a Motion such as that which it is my duty to propose are often decided by a feeling of general confidence in the Government of the day, which it is now, perhaps, somewhat difficult to justify, and which, therefore, is more likely to be privately entertained than openly avowed. It is a remarkable circumstance, however, that, either in or out of this House, it has been impossible up to this time to find any expression of complete approval of the policy of Her Majesty's Government in the particular matter which it is my duty to bring before the 51 House. The hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) may be congratulated upon the fact that he has, for once in a way, been able to formulate a proposition with which everyone in the House must agree. We must all, of course, regret with the hon. Baronet that General Gordon has not yet succeeded in bringing to a successful conclusion the mission which he has undertaken; but I do not think Her Majesty's Government will be able to agree with the rest of the hon. Baronet's Motion — I mean the part in which he asks the House to express its objection to any course which will involve the taking of any military steps in connection with General Gordon's mission — for the Government have already admitted their obligation to provide for the safety of General Gordon. Then comes the Amendment which has been put upon the Paper by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell). The phrases of the hon. Member are a little involved, as is not unusual; but, as far as I can understand, what the hon. Member means is that General Gordon should be ordered to abandon the expedition on which he has embarked, and to abandon also those with whom, and in defence of whom, he has stated his determination to remain at Khartoum. Her Majesty's Government have been competent to suggest such an abandonment; but I do not think that even they would venture to order it. Then the hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Heneage) begins with a censure on Her Majesty's Government, for he expresses his regret that General Gordon has not been recalled. He goes on, however, to express his confidence that Her Majesty's Government will take all possible measures to insure the safety of Generals Gordon and Stewart. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his confidence; all the more because the only basis on which it can be founded is, that they failed to take steps in time to relieve the abandoned garrison of Sinkat, and that they have themselves declined, in the despatch of April 23, to recognize the danger of General Gordon, or to do anything to relieve him until they receive information, which there is hardly any chance of their being able to obtain. We do not ask that Her Majesty's Government should undertake an impos- 52 sible task; but we do ask, and I will venture to say the country demands, that Her Majesty's Government shall not call measures impossible simply because they are unwilling or afraid to try them. The Motion which I make cannot, I believe, be met by the Prime Minister with any comments, however free, upon the repeated Votes of Censure which have been brought forward in Parliament, or be put aside by appeals to that popular feeling which it is very difficult to excite in favour of a more rapid progress with the legislative proposals of the Government. No, Sir; the Motion can only be met by Her Majesty's Government undertaking and proving that they will leave no stone unturned to avert from this country the intolerable stain which would be left upon her honour by any injury inflicted upon General Gordon, and that they at last have made up their minds, in a moment of supreme difficulty, to do what they ought to have done long ago—namely, to grasp this Egyptian Question boldly, as becomes the Government of the Queen. Sir, if the Prime Minister cannot satisfy the country upon these points, I will venture to prophesy that in spite of his great career, and in spite of his commanding abilities, he will not long escape the condemnation of an outraged people. The right hon. Baronet concluded by moving the Resolution, of which he had given Notice.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House regrets to find that the course pursued by Her Majesty's Government has not tended to promote the success of General Gordon's Mission, and that even such steps as may be necessary to secure his personal safety are still delayed."—(Sir Michael Hicks-Beach.)
Sir, I will first discharge that part of my duty which is the most agreeable, and state to the House that, in my opinion, the right hon. Baronet has delivered a speech of great force and eloquence. Beyond that I am afraid I can only speak in language of strong animadversion, except upon a single point in reference to which I would point out what appears to me to be a fundamental inconsistency in the position which the right hon. Baronet has assumed and the doctrines which he has laid down. Referring to the telegram of the 23rd of April, the right hon. 53 Baronet makes an admission that it fully and absolutely pledges the Government—
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
The right hon. Gentleman has mistaken me. I was referring not to any particular telegram, but to a statement made in this House by the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the safety of General Gordon.
I am quite willing to accept the explanation of the right hon. Baronet. My view is that the telegram of the 23rd of April went very far beyond the statement to which the right hon. Gentleman says he was referring. The right hon. Gentleman fully admits that Her Majesty's Government have pledged themselves to shield General Gordon from danger, and, should necessity arise, to the best of their ability to do this with due consideration to all the circumstances, and by the free use of the power of this great country. That admission, at least, the right hon. Gentleman makes. Then, what does he mean by saying, towards the close of his speech, that it will be an intolerable shame if we do not proclaim our intention to rescue General Gordon?
Yes, actions; but actions must have reference to time and place. I am about to criticize the speech of the right hon. Gentleman; for what does the right hon. Gentleman mean when he scoffs at the idea of relieving Khartoum in the month of October? He means this, but he has not put it in his Motion. I will make pretty free comments on his Motion—as he has spoken of free comments—in contrast with his speech; but in his speech he has distinctly intimated that it is our duty to overlook what are called the climatic difficulties, to trust to the energy and the omnipotence of England, to send out troops at once without regard to questions of climate and danger of military difficulty; for, unless he means that, there is no meaning at all in his scoffing at the month of October. Well, then, I ask the right hon. Gentleman why, with this most valorous speech which he has delivered, abounding in big words from beginning to end—and never did I hear a speech in this House which made a freer use of them—why is it that lie has made a Motion on which 54 he did not venture himself to offer a single comment? Evidently, Sir, because he could not persuade those who sit around him to adopt for their guidance or proclaim to the House the opinions that he has himself declared, and consequently that he had to acquiesce in a Motion one of the most pale and colourless ever submitted to the House as to what it asserts, at the same time when by his speech he was calling upon the House and reproaching the Government for falling short of his calling—calling upon the House to adopt schemes as wild, as needless, as impracticable, as ruinous in their consequences, as unsound in their principles, as I have ever known propounded. The right hon. Gentleman scoffs at us because he says there was some idea that in October we might, if we admitted the need, be at Khartoum. I suppose he thinks that May, June, July, and August—any of these months—irrespective of the condition of the Desert, irrespective of the supply of water, and irrespective of the state of the Nile, would suit. The right hon. Gentleman is far too high in the clouds to take into his view these conditions. One of his main reproaches is this—that when we have contemplated the possibility of any military proceeding we have actually waited for further information. The right hon. Gentleman obtained loud cheers from his Friends when he ridiculed the Government that they could think for a moment, after having received a proposal from a civil source, it would be their duty to obtain further information from military authorities which they could discuss upon their own responsibility. But the right hon. Gentleman has gone further than this, and he has plainly avowed to the House that it is the duty of England to take in hand and put down the Mahdi's movement. [Cheers, and "No!"] What, no? ["No!"] "No," forsooth, says some left-handed Friend behind. But those were the words of the right hon. Gentleman himself. ["No!"]
The right hon. Gentleman quoted repeatedly this declaration—that unless it is put down in the Soudan it will advance on Egypt, so that it is not merely stemming. He has adopted that language—to keep it 55 out of Egypt it is necessary to put it down in the Soudan; and that is the task the right hon. Gentleman desires to saddle upon England. Now, I tell hon. Gentlemen this—that that task means the reconquest of the Soudan. I put aside for the moment all questions of climate, of distance, of difficulties, of the enormous charges, and all the frightful loss of life. There is something worse than that involved in the plan of the right hon. Gentleman. It would be a war of conquest against a people struggling to be free. ["No, no!"] Yes; these are people struggling to be free, and they are struggling rightly to be free. [Interruption by Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL.] I appeal to the noble Lord's courtesy. The right hon. Gentleman himself quoted from General Gordon a passage in which that high-minded man said—"I am as much attached to the rebels as to those who take my side." we hear of the Mahdi and emissaries of the Mahdi at Berber and at Dongola. What does all that mean? It does not mean that they are men over whom the Mahdi has power— General Gordon, when he went to the Soudan, pointed out that the power of the Mahdi was extremely limited—but it means that they are men who carry from the Mahdi invitations to the local tribes in the several districts, inviting them to join in the war for freedom; and it is that war that the right hon. Gentleman wants England to put down. I shall have to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question or two upon various parts of the speech; but this I would say of his speech in general—if it were possible by great carelessness as to facts, by an extremely careful method of selection, by a total avoidance of historical continuity in actions, and by the resources of an ingenious mind in discovering grounds of suspicion against political opponents—if these united resources and instruments make up a case, undoubtedly the right hon. Gentleman has made one. But, Sir, what is the carefulness of the right hon. Gentleman as to facts? He says that General Gordon never desired to be a servant of the Egyptian Government. The right hon. Gentleman is as absolutely wrong as any man who ever delivered the most unfounded assertion. The action of the British Government in the mission of General Gordon was limited 56 to sending him for the purpose of reporting on the evacuation of the Soudan; and it was General Gordon himself who, governed by the most generous motives, in absolute contradiction of this confident statement of the right hon. Gentleman, suggested that he had bettor be armed with the authority and position of Governor General, in order to carry through the work of peaceful evacuation. Well, then, the right hon. Gentleman says that General Gordon proposed a visit to the Mahdi; and one of our offences, the right hon. Gentleman says, is that we negatived the visit to the Mahdi. But even this the right hon. Gentleman cannot state with tolerable accuracy. we did not negative his visit to the Mahdi. Sir Evelyn Baring, hearing of the proposed visit to the Mahdi, before consulting us, conceived, and justly, I think, conceived, a most unfavourable opinion of it. Sir Evelyn Baring accordingly wrote a strongly dissuasive telegram to General Gordon, and also telegraphed home to the Government stating—"I hope you will arm me with authority to put a negative on his visit to the Mahdi." The right hon. Gentleman has not thought it worth while to observe that we approved of this dissuasive telegram. Is that the same thing a 3 an absolute negative? It is totally different. An absolute negative would set aside entirely the judgment of General Gordon; but this dissuasive telegram was one stating that we saw great objection, but such was our disposition to respect in everything the judgment of General Gordon that we acquiesced in that message, which was calculated to give him the opportunity of stating his own view of the case, as we declined to send the prohibition which the right hon. Gentleman said we did send. The right hon. Gentleman said that General Gordon desired to deal first with the Equatorial Provinces. He never desired first to deal with the Equatorial Provinces as part of the plan he received from us. The right hon. Gentleman's case depends almost entirely on the manner in which he has selected from the different parts of the Blue Book and pieced together language and sentiments belonging to different times and circumstances, and he has put them before the House as if they belonged to the same.. It is quite true that at one time General Gordon 57 once spoke of dealing with the Equatorial Provinces; but he never spoke of dealing with them as part of his commission from the Government of England. He referred to them, apparently, as another plan for going to work under the King of the Belgians. Then the right hon. Gentleman says if we had given General Gordon material aid—his mind is always on material support—at the time when it would have been comparatively easy; I should like to know when that time would be—
The middle of March. Material support about the middle of March! Well, the time computed as necessary for the ascent of the Nile is 16 weeks, and as General Gordon had not been seven weeks on his way at that time we see the value of the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman, backed by the high authority of the hon. Member for Eye, that we ought to have sent material support to General Gordon at Khartoum at a time when he himself not only did not desire, but actually disclaimed it.
You may not have said it, but I am construing the words of the right hon. Gentleman. They are extremely dark words. I complain of him for not specifying what was the time at which we might so easily have supplied him with material support. Look at the consistency of the right hon. Gentleman. He says that at an earlier period we ought to have supplied material aid to General Gordon. He admits that we were bound to try pacific methods, and although thus bound to try pacific measures, we were to send him this material support mixed with pacific methods. He has actually told us that the sending of General Graham and a force to Suakin was totally and absolutely incompatible with the pacific mission of General Gordon. Then the right hon. Gentleman quotes a telegram from. General Gordon on which I reserve my comments; but I will throw back upon the right hon. Gentleman the language and gestures with which he commented on that telegram, and in which he spoke of the indelible disgrace of abandoning the garrisons of Dongola and Sinkat. Sir, after all, the speech of 58 the right hon. Gentleman is not before the House; but the Motion is. Was there ever anything more ludicrous than the contrast between the exuberant valour of the speech and the pale and colourless character of the Motion, which speaks, forsooth, not of what we have done, but of the effect our action tends to produce, and which speaks of our delaying measures, not which are necessary, or which appear probably to be necessary, but which, in the wide range of possibility, may be necessary for the security of General Gordon? The House must give its vote on the Motion; and little as the right hon. Gentleman seems to be in love with his own Motion, of which he has not chosen to be the sponsor, even to the extent of a single remark, I must ask what it is to which he invites the House to give its assent? There is nothing clear about the Motion, or about the policy connected with it in the Motion itself, except the desire and the intention that the Motion, if carried, should displace Her Majesty's Government and—which, I admit, is a perfectly fair and straightforward proceeding—and carry over the direction of these matters into the hands of the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends. I must, I am afraid, trouble the House with some examination of the Motion thus despised by the right hon. Gentleman who moved it—and not deemed worthy of a word. He said our proceedings had not tended to promote a fulfilment of General Gordon's mission. Sir, I will endeavour to test that passage, and I will say one word only by way of introduction to these observations. The Egyptian Question which we are not now discussing, except as connected with the Soudan, presents, in a degree quite unexampled in my experience, this remarkable combination. It is secondary, altogether secondary, in respect to the interests of this country, and commands little notice or attention—I am not speaking now of General Gordon among the mass of the population—and while it is thus secondary, it is attended with difficulties, such as no Government, to my knowledge, has ever been called upon to encounter. I am not now inquiring into the origin of these difficulties. I will only speak of their amount, and I will frankly own to the House that such is their amount—such is the constant ne- 59 cessity for taking decisions upon evidence, which we feel to be insufficient for a thoroughly satisfactory conclusion, such is the pressure of events requiring those decisions to be made, and threatening, if not made, that greater evils will ensue, that I, for my part, cannot wonder if hon. Members say we do not know how to justify this or that. It may be so, Sir. We have been confronting these difficulties to the best of our ability; we have proceeded from day to day with certain objects in view; and one of our main objects is absolutely at variance with the object of the right hon. Gentleman, for we are determined not to undertake the reconquest of the Soudan, not to place this country in conflict with a people struggling for their freedom, and not to draw this country blindfolded into any wild engagement of which it had not had due notice, and to which it does not give its full approbation. This question thus difficult we have had to carry on from day to day under the pressure of Parliamentary action, of Parliamentary interposition in every form, by Questions, by argumentative Questions, by menacing Questions, by demands for information, by Votes of Censure, made and attempted about once in three weeks in defiance of all precedents and customs of Parliament; and we have had to carry on this matter in the face of the aggravation of these difficulties produced by the persistent action of a considerable part of this House. That is what we have had to do, and that is what we shall continue to do. We shall continue to struggle, and, however you may endeavour to aggravate the position in which we stand, we believe that strong in the support of the majority of this House and of the country, we shall baffle your purposes, and prevent your action from attaining the ends it has in view. Well now, Sir, what is the Vote the right hon. Gentleman proposes? He proposes you should vote that our proceedings have not tended to promote the mission of General Gordon. I think we have a question to settle first, and that is—What was the mission of General Gordon? General Gordon, according to the right hon. Gentleman, received from us a power to make peace or war as he pleased. He received nothing of the kind. His mission was absolutely a pacific one, and it was nothing else, as far as we were concerned. He may de- 60 tach himself from his mission; he may undertake another line of action— [Cries of "Oh, oh!"]—I am not now speaking of what is the proper limitation of his individual freedom; he is not a permanent servant of the Government—["Oh!"]—I am speaking of his freedom only, and I do not understand these exclamations. I am speaking of that only, and not of the limitations of the mission lie received from the Government. What was the mission of General Gordon as described by himself? The right hon. Gentleman has quoted one of the earliest Papers General Gordon wrote upon that subject after he had reached Cairo, and had had plenty of time for consideration, and when he was on his way, and far advanced on his way, to Khartoum. He wrote a telegram, which will be found in the Blue Book, No. 12, at page 88, under date of February 11. He says—I understand your desire to be the pacification of the country without bloodshed and the formation of native Governments; also that, on public grounds, I am to run no risks. I will fulfil your orders, and feel sure I am not presumptuous in assuring- you that I have every hope of success, and of running no danger.What is the evidence which is produced by the right hon. Gentleman on the other side? He states that General Gordon said in one of his letters he may fail to carry out all the designs he has in view, and in that case he hopes for our "support and consideration," and the right hon. Gentleman says "support and consideration" can mean nothing else than the licence to transform a pacific into a warlike mission; and that our having received General Gordon's application for support and consideration binds us to support him by military means in the wide and extensive projects which the right hon. Gentleman's speech unfolds. The right hon. Gentleman has been condemnatory in his language, and he will not be fastidious about the words I may apply to him. I must say that statement is perfectly absurd. To turn the words "support and consideration" into a licence to embark upon war and bloodshed is as great a licence of interpretation as I ever heard applied to a public document. And what does the right hon. Gentleman show in support of it? That General Gordon said that the Egyptian garrisons, in extricating themselves from the position in which they 61 were, would be opposed; if opposed, they might fight; if they fought, they might be victorious; if victorious, we could not prevent them from, following up their victory and putting down the Mahdi. But what has that admission to do with the monstrous contention that we, because those Egyptian garrisons might be involved in those difficulties, were to be bound to undertake the projects of conquest which the right hon. Gentleman had in view? When General Gordon went to Khartoum, he did not go there as an ordinary agent, he went there as a great personality—[Laughter.] —he went there as a great personality, and I hope it will not be reported in the newspapers to-morrow that two or three Gentlemen sitting behind the right hon. Gentleman received that expression with laughter. Sir, it is a very serious matter. We never said we were sending General Gordon with an apparatus of means to support him. The situation of the Soudan as to Egypt was hopeless. Egypt had no means of extricating the garrisons, and no means of pacifying the country. It appeared that the mission of General Gordon, pacific essentially in its beginning and end, might have the effect of casting a ray of hope upon that condition, and might give a chance of escape to those who otherwise would have no chance at all; and therefore we felt it to be our duty to give General Gordon every support in our power in prosecuting a mission of that character. Now, has the right hon. Gentleman, or has he not, shown that we failed in giving that support? I am very glad to find that there is now in this House on the opposite side such a vehement desire to support General Gordon. About two or three months ago I did not perceive that desire. When there came out a Proclamation of which a single term relating to slavery was capable of being construed in a manner adverse to General Gordon, then threatening Questions rained in upon us from the other side, wanting to know what we could mean— we, of course, being held responsible—by a Proclamation tending to support slavery. How did we meet these threatening inquiries and these menaces from different parts of the House? We met them by a declaration of our unshaken confidence in General Gordon; and I want to know whose conduct on that occasion tended and whose conduct 62 did not tend, to support the mission in which he was engaged? Again, the right hon. Gentleman has told us tonight that the sending of troops to the Red Sea, with the view, if possible, to relieving Tokar, was utterly at variance with the pacific mission of General Gordon. But what happened at that time? When the desire for sending troops for the relief of Tokar was first expressed we stated that we would not undertake that enterprize without first consulting General Gordon and ascertaining whether in his view such a measure would not interfere with the pacific purpose of his mission; and I think it was from the opposite Bench that one of the leading speakers of the Opposition told me it was an insult to the House to suppose it could possibly interfere with the pacific mission of General Gordon. That was the course taken at the time when the Government could be wounded through the side of General Gordon. There was no indisposition at all to strike at that hero and bring him into disparagement, to suggest that one whose life had been a protest against slavery was going to promote slavery, and that it was ridiculous to consult him as an authority about the military measures contemplated for the relief of Tokar. Those were the measures that were taken. Then, with regard to Zebehr, what was the case there? The right hon. Baronet has stated that a great deal could be said in favour of sending Zebehr; but which of these Gentlemen said so at the time? At the first moment when the idea of sending Zebehr was broached, again there sprung up on the other side of the House the same vehement determination that he should not be sent. The question was asked both here and elsewhere—"Is it possible that you contemplate such an action as the Bonding of Zebehr?" I think the House should have fairly before it this matter of the sending of Zebehr. There is no doubt it has been a subject of very great importance. It was dealt with in this House in the most peremptory manner. The right hon. Gentleman says we dealt with it in an uncertain and hesitating way. The meaning of that is that we, attaching, as we did, the greatest weight to the declarations of General Gordon, even when they went against our own leanings, determined to give to General Gordon every opportunity that 63 he could possibly desire for showing the whole case in support of Zebehr, and for meeting the arguments which had been advanced against his appointment. That is the reason why we did not presume peremptorily and at once to put an absolute negative upon the proposition; but we did not disguise from him from the first the difficulties we saw in the way. We never gave him the hope that he would got Zebehr. We told him we believed public opinion would not tolerate it; and now, forsooth, the right hon. Gentleman seems to insinuate that we ought to have sent Zebehr. Well, the right hon. Gentleman does not know anything about it. He does not give a judgment about it. he is not prepared to say either "Aye" or "No;" and if he is not prepared to say either "Aye" or "No" he ought to have a little more compassion and consideration for people who have had almost every day to consider questions on the most lightly-balanced evidence, and who were obliged to confess the difficulties under which they have laboured in discharging their duty to the country. The right hon. Gentleman says he made an admission, and I am going to make a confession. I may give offence, perhaps, to some hon. Gentlemen behind me; but, for my part, I felt a disposition to go every length not inconsistent with principle in the support of General Gordon's recommendation. General Gordon told us, and gave us his reasons for thinking so, that Zebehr, if inclined to the Slave Trade, would not be able to pursue it, and would have the strongest possible motive for not attempting to pursue it in case we allowed him to stay at Khartoum. For my part, I thought the arguments and the weight due to General Gordon so great that in my own mind it would have been a great question whether we ought not to have given way to his wish. Yes, but for one consideration; and what was that consideration? Why, that we should not have announced that intention 48 hours when a Vote would have been passed in this House not merely to condemn the Government, which is a trumpery affair, but to recall Zebehr; and I think that not improbably the right hon. Gentleman himself would have been the man to have made that Motion. Now, I think I have shown something as to who they were who supported the mission of Ge- 64 neral Gordon, and who they were who took every opportunity when that gentleman could be used as a means of attacking the Government to endeavour to enfeeble and cripple his mission. But, happily, we have upon record the declaration of General Gordon himself. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman has overlooked and made no reference to it. Knowing that this Blue Book was full of matter that might be used as evidence either one way or the other, the right hon. Gentleman took good care to quote nothing, except to piece together a number of incongruous statements to make a case against the Government. Has he read this declaration made by General Gordon on the 11th of March, telegraphed to Sir Evelyn Baring?—I would like to express to you and Her Majesty's Government my sincere thanks for the support you have both afforded me since I took up this Mission, and to acknowledge that you have both given me every assistance I could have expected. It is not in our hands to command success. I say the same for the Khedive and Egyptian Ministers." — [Egypt, No. 12 (1884), p. 187.]Well, Sir, that is what General Gordon said on the 11th of March. I shall be asked, perhaps, what he has said since. I am not going to pursue the conduct, for example, of the right hon. Gentleman. I am going to state the worst of what he has said since. He has sent two telegrams which signify displeasure, and oven indignation. In one he tells us of the indelible disgrace—the telegrams are to Sir Evelyn Baring, although that is the same thing—of sacrificing the garrisons of Sennaar, Kassala, Berber, and Dongola; and in the other he complains that he cannot undertake to walk about the streets of Khartoum for years like a dervish. When were these telegrams written? I have shown what General Gordon thought up to the 11th of March. After the 11th of March it is now upon record from Sir Evelyn Baring that down to that time and long after the time when General Gordon wrote these telegrams lie never received any of the telegrams sent by Her Majesty's Government. In these circumstances, General Gordon believed—and it was not unnatural he should have believed—that he was abandoned, and, not receiving intelligence from us—not, perhaps, asking himself whether there might not have been obstacles in the way of its arrival—the gallant General 65 stated what he has stated in these two telegrams. Now, Sir, I want to put a point to the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman pointed to me and said—"You hear of the indelible disgrace of sacrificing the garrisons of Berber, Kassala, Dongola, and Sennaar." The first question I have to put to the right hon. Gentleman is this—Are these the only garrisons in the Soudan? There are six other garrisons in the Soudan, containing, I think, a majority of the whole force in the Soudan. Are these six other garrisons to be sacrificed with safety to our own honour if we go into the country to rescue those four? Upon what principle is the distinction to be drawn between them? There is no principle at all. The only question is this—that whereas some of these garrisons are at a great distance and difficult of access, others are at a greater distance still. But when you have got to these garrisons, why not go forward to the others? What is the answer of the right hon. Gentleman? I think he has no answer to give—probably he does not want to give an answer—but I ask him now, is he prepared to say that it is the military duty of England to rescue these garrisons of Kassala, Sennaar, Berber, and Dongola? The right hon. Gentleman is dumb.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
I merely wish to say that what I read to the House was General Gordon's opinion.
It was only "an abstract opinion. ["Oh, oh!"] He says so. ["No, no!"] Please allow me to try and bring this matter to an issue, if I may do so, with the utmost respect to the right hon. Gentleman. Does the right hon. Gentleman adopt that opinion or not? What does he mean by quoting it if he does not adopt it? What does he mean by pointing to me—what does he mean by pointing to me to dishonour me in the eyes of my country—[Cheers and counter cheers].—as these Gentlemen now echo his evident intention of doing; what does he mean unless that it was an indelible disgrace to leave these garrisons unrescued? Now, the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends will not escape from this debate without answering that question. Is it an indelible disgrace to leave them? If so, is it an honourable obligation to rescue them; and if it is an honourable obligation to 66 rescue them, why has the right bon. Gentleman not had the courage and the manliness, instead of confining himself to big words and loud reproaches, to put something that had intelligibility, something that had force, something that had the promise of a policy, into the terms of his Motion? It is the old story—a transfer of power is the object of the Motion, the same as dictated the three previous Votes of Censure, not one of which contained an intelligible idea, when Gentlemen opposite availed themselves of the just interest which the country feels in the honour and the safety of General Gordon for the purpose of—what? Not of substituting a better policy in the Soudan or in Egypt, but for the purpose of effecting a change, which they are perfectly justified in desiring to do. So much for the tendency of what we have done; and then the Motion says—That even such stops as may be necessary to secure his personal safety are still delayed.On that point I think I may say that we have failed in nothing which it was in our power to do, and which would have tended to General Gordon's safety. It is quite true that we declined to send troops to Wady Haifa. Both the military authorities and Sir Evelyn Baring were entirely against it. It is quite true that we declined to send troops under the conditions suggested to Berber and to other places; but, in so doing, we acted on the advice of military authorities; and the right hon. Gentleman quietly admits that if we had attempted to send 200 men, there would have been extraordinary military risks. But permit me also to say that, while there would have been extraordinary military risks, there would have been, as far as we could judge, very little military advantage. What would General Gordon have been the better in Khartoum for having 200 or 300 British soldiers 200 miles off at Berber? There was nobody to conquer at Berber. The whole difficulty lay in the uneasy, rebellious state—though I do not think the term "rebellious" particularly appropriate—of the tribes between Berber and Khartoum; and this small British force would have had no effect whatever in clearing the country between those places. You may say we think they might have gone on to Khartoum. That 67 is the very thing which General Gordon has never desired, asked for, or even hinted at, though I admit an expression in a telegram might seem to lead to a different conclusion; but he has not even hinted at anything of the kind. I have shown how we supported General Gordon when he was glanced at in this House by oblique insinuations, and when those who are now so keen in his behalf appeared to take a very different view of the capabilities of his position. So much with regard to the tendency of our measures; but what with regard to the steps which the right hon. Gentleman says ought to be taken? Surely the phrase he has adopted is extraordinary. "Steps," he says, "are still delayed which may be necessary for the relief of General Gordon." Which "may be necessary." Why does he open the whole bounds of possibility? Is it the duty of every Government to take all the steps which may prove ultimately to be necessary in every given case for defence or anything else? If he wants to make charges against us with respect to the steps necessary for the safety of General Gordon he ought not to show that we have failed to take steps "which may be necessary;" but that having had fair, rational, and probable evidence of what were necessary steps we failed to take them. And just so with regard to the tendency of our measures, the right hon. Gentleman ought to have shown that there were some measures which would have tended to the support of General Gordon's pacific mission which we might have taken and failed to take. I ask the House, did he point out a single word? He pointed to supplying General Gordon with soldiers when he did not want them, and before his pacific mission had almost begun; and that is the only reference he made to a measure which might have been adopted by us, with respect to which measure I may observe that it would have been entirely impossible, circumstances of time and place considered. The right hon. Gentleman insisted that General Gordon in Khartoum is in military danger. He proves this by showing that General Gordon has said in one of his communications—"I will not be taken alive." What General Gordon has done is this. He has never asked at any time for a British soldier. He has never stated that he was prevented from 68 leaving Khartoum, and he has said— "If I cannot suppress the rebellion I will retire to the Equator." He has never represented that he was in any danger from without. The right hon. Gentleman gives up the case of danger from without, and he says that the great danger is the danger from within; and he proves the danger from within by showing that on the 16th of March General Gordon's troops failed in an action against the forces in the neighbourhood of the town. The right hon. Gentleman has entirely failed here, as elsewhere, to observe the consecutive order of events. It is quite true that General Gordon spoke of danger at one time from within the town. He said—There remain 1,400 fellaheen soldiers. Supposing I sent down these fellaheen soldiers in a few days the town would send to the Mahdi its submission."—[Egypt, No. 12 (1884), p. 150.]It was also true that on the 16th of March there was a failure in an action, due, it is said, whether truly or not— for we cannot speak positively upon that —to the treachery of two important officers. But while the right hon. Gentleman entirely founds his supposition of danger in Khartoum on what happened on the 16th of March, and thinks that General Gordon could place no reliance in those people, he conceals, or entirely omits to observe, that on the 21st of March General Gordon describes both the people of Khartoum and the troops as having behaved themselves in a most kind and proper way, which he thinks binds him not to leave them. [Cheers]. Yes, the hon. Gentleman cheers "not to leave them;" but why did you not cheer the other part of the sentence that the people behaved in a most kind and proper way. The right hon. Gentleman founded his case of danger to General Gordon on the danger from the interior, and he founded his idea of danger from the interior on the action which took place on the 16th of March, whereas I say that on the 21st of March both the people and the troops were, in General Gordon's opinion, entirely trustworthy. I trust I shall not offend the right hon. Gentleman if, pursuing a totally different course from that which he has thought proper to follow, I make General Gordon his own witness, and by something like continuous testimony. My references will be extremely short; but in order that Gentlemen may be 69 placed in no difficulty I will give them as I proceed. At page 171, on the 8th of March—that is a good while ago— General Gordon states that he has provisions for six months. On the 9th of March (page 172) he says—"As for Khartoum itself there is not any fear." In page 183, on the 15th of March, he sends out a steamer with 1,200 men to relieve Halfaya, and that steamer effects its relief. And although it is quite true that in one sense Khartoum is invested, because there are tribes enough around it to prevent strangers from going in, yet operations against these tribes are offensive, and he is in a condition to carry on these offensive operations. On the 17th of March (No. 13, page 7) he writes—"We are all right up here." On the 23rd of March (No. 13, page 8) he writes—"We have plenty of ammunition." On the 13th of March he writes—"The market is well supplied," which is not a very likely condition of a besieged town. On the 7th of April —"The town is all right, and we have plenty of provisions." On the 9th of April, when he speaks of the trumpery nature of the revolt, he says—"Be sure for the present, and for two months hence, we are as safe here as at Cairo." On another day in April, which we cannot quote, but it is about contemporaneous with the date just given, he says—We have provisions for five months, and are hemmed in…Our position will be much strengthened when…. Nile rises."— [Ibid., pp. 33–4.]Since that time we have had no direct communication from General Gordon. But we have just received, and laid on the Table of the House to-day, so that it will be in the hands of Members tomorrow, a telegram from the Governor of Dongola. The last effort we made to communicate with General Gordon was by transmitting a telegram by a considerable variety of routes, and we have no knowledge as yet of its arrival by any of those routes. But we have the knowledge from Dongola that that route has failed. The Governor writes, on the 10th of May, that the messengers whom he sent had come back and reported that they could not get into the town. Then he goes on to say—They report that the rebels have invested Khartoum; that, in consequence, excursions in steamers are made on the White Nile in order 70 to attack those on the banks; that the rebels have constructed wooden sheds to protect themselves against the projectiles; when the Government forces pursue them into those shelters, the rebels take flight into the country beyond gunshot; that this state of things makes it impossible to get into Khartoum."—[Egypt, No. 21 (1884).]Thus the rebels seem to have for their highest ambition to keep people out of Khartoum, and when they are attacked by General Gordon's steamers they run away into the country. The right hon. Gentleman, perhaps, had not that Paper before him; but I am afraid that if he had it he would have used it as he did all others when they happened to be totally at variance with the strain of the argument which he adopted. That is to say, he would have passed it over. Sir, I will not detain the House much longer; but I will endeavour to describe the position in which the Government stand with respect to their engagements. The fundamental differences between the right hon. Gentleman and ourselves —and I am only sorry that he has not given a more manly and courageous expression to them—[Cheers, and cries of "Order!"]—in the Motion he has made. That appears to some hon. Members to be an undue licence of Parliamentary language; but it was not thought undue licence for the right hon. Gentleman to point to me and signify "my indelible disgrace." The fundamental differences are these. The right hon. Gentleman declared that the movement of the Mahdi must be put down by England sooner or later; and, as I understand him—and I do not think he will deny it— he has said that the sooner it was put down the easier would it be to do so. la other words, the right hon. Gentleman advises us to carry the line of conquest by British and Christian arms among the Mahommedan people struggling for their liberty in the Soudan. The next difference between us and the right hon. Gentleman is, when he contends that General Gordon had authority from us to proceed by warlike means, if pacific means should fail. I contend that he has not adduced a rag of evidence to support that allegation, and that it is contradicted by every declaration that we have made in Parliament, and by every passage in the Books we have submitted to Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman is also apparently at variance with us upon many other 71 matters; but those differences are fundamental, and establish a gap between us which it may be impossible to bridge. But the right hon. Gentleman has said that we have admitted our obligations to General Gordon. Now, Sir, we have another obligation. We are under a double obligation. We are under an engagement or obligation to the nation, and we are under an obligation to General Gordon. I must say that it appears to me that our duty is to harmonize and reconcile those obligations. We must consider the treasure of the nation, the blood of the nation, and the honour of the nation. [Cheers from the Opposition.] Some Gentlemen by their cheers affirm my statement that the honour of the nation is to be considered; but by their silence appear to question my statement that the blood and treasure of the nation must be considered also. we must first weigh carefully before we ever contemplate taking military measures the necessity for taking arms. [An hon. MEMBER: Alexandria.] An non. Gentleman thrusts in the reproach Alexandria. We are not talking of Alexandria, and such references can have no other effect than to disturb the course of the observations which I am making to the House, and I am afraid to lengthen the time which I shall have to occupy. It is our duty, in opposition to the right hon. Gentleman, to consider every circumstance of climate, season, distance, and military possibility. All these things we must weigh with the utmost care. It may be our duty to plant a British force in that terrible country It is described as a terrible country by General Gordon. It was known as a terrible country more than 2,000 years ago, when the head of the greatest Empire in the world—the Persian Empire —was quite strong enough to put down what had been the rival Empire of Egypt, but was not strong enough—I refer to the well-known case of Cambyses—to overcome the difficulties which Nature presented in the country which we now call the Soudan. It is our duty to consider all these things, and not to be in a hurry to place an army—Sub curru nimium propinquiSolis, in terrâ domibus negatâ,without endeavouring to attain to some firm view in our own minds of what is possible to man and what is not. And, Sir, we have this to bear in mind—that 72 if we fail to consider any of these things we should be pretty sharply taken to task; and we should be most sharply taken to task, not by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), and others, who are opposed to military measures in general, but by Gentlemen opposite. We have proof already that that would be so. In February I declared in this House that Her Majesty's Government, after ascertaining that General Gordon had no objection, had determined to send a force to the relief of Tokar, and that declaration was received with loud cheers by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House. Time passed on, and when the expedition of General Graham, conducted by him with great ability, produced its lamentable but necessary consequence in considerable bloodshed, the hon. Member for Northampton consistently moved that there was no justification for that bloodshed; and hon. Gentlemen opposite who had urged us on—in the first place, by their questions and demands, and then, when the announcement was made, by their warm and hearty cheers—those same Gentlemen came down to the House, and in a body voted that there was no justification for the bloodshed which was the consequence of the action which they had demanded. So we are forewarned with regard to what we are to expect from so eager an Opposition if we fail to do our duty—a failure which I hope will not occur—in respect to what it is our duty to consider before committing the people of this country. But I have said that we are also under an engagement to General Gordon. The life of General Gordon is, in all circumstances, of necessity a valuable life; but, like many other valuable lives, at times his life is in a different position from that in which it would be were he only acting as an individual on his own responsibility. General Gordon is in a very different position now. He has undertaken a commission from the country, and the country never grudges any salutary and reasonable effort for the purpose of protecting its agents in the execution of its desires. In this instance the obligation to the agent is to be measured by the generosity and the self-sacrifice which that agent shows; and I need not say that I mean by that refer- 73 ence that the value of General Gordon's life is greatly enhanced. Well, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman seems to think that we have been very wrong in asking General Gordon's advice and opinion as to the best mode and circumstances, and form and time, of affording him succour should the necessity arise; and he says that the probability is that General Gordon will never hear of these inquiries. Can the right hon. Gentleman seriously mean that we should have done our, duty to the country if we had not made those inquiries, that we were to proceed in the face of General Gordon's declarations with regard to the military safety of Khartoum, in the face of all we hear of his operations against the people armed in his neighbourhood; that we were to engage in some great scheme, casting aside all considerations of climate and all other difficulties, and contemptuously passing by General Gordon himself, and not caring one shred as to what he thinks the best mode of operation? We thought very differently. We thought that General Gordon was by far more qualified than anyone else, from his knowledge of the country, the people, and the climate, to point out the best mode of assisting him. We may not be able to get at him. That I admit; but it was our duty to try. If we fail, we must judge according to the best means in our power, always bearing in mind the two engagements which, as I have said, lie upon us. Sir, I think the right hon. Gentleman is dissatisfied with the telegram of April 23. I must own that I was surprised at that dissatisfaction, for it appears to me that in that telegram we have entered into a solemn covenant with General Gordon, and have assured him that upon any reasonable evidence of danger—and reasonable evidence, I suppose, is what it is our duty to look for—we should endeavour to use the resources of this country for his protection. That covenant was printed in the Papers just submitted to Parliament. We thus make a covenanted Parliament and a covenanted nation. I am not aware how we can go further, unless we go the unreasonable lengths of the right hon. Gentleman, who scoffs at the consideration of season, who mocks at the mention of the month of October, and implies that it is our duty to overleap the barriers which Nature and necessity at certain times in the year may place in our way. If the right hon. Gentle- 74 man can show that there is any real lack in those assurances, let it be done; but it is not to be done by inviting us to these vast schemes of conquest, and it is not to be done by taunting us with "indelible disgrace" for not adopting proposals which the right hon. Gentleman himself is afraid to adopt, and does not care to embody in the Motion which he submits to the House. Sir, in these circumstances, with a task of almost unparalleled difficulty in our hands, with that task aggravated by Parliamentary action almost from day to day, with the necessity, which we admit, of forming practical conclusions for the avoidance of greater evils, upon evidence which we often know to be less than could be desired, we shall continue to use our best efforts to maintain the honour of the country, and to fulfil the duty of the country towards the gallant man who has undertaken the arduous task which is in the hands of General Gordon. But we will not consent, under the threats of the right hon. Gentleman, to be responsible for the consequences of a policy which may be his, but which is diametrically opposed to ours; and we appeal from the unjust and captious criticism, of hon. Gentlemen opposite to the fair and the equitable judgment of the House, the country, and the world.
said, he felt sure that the remarks of the Prime Minister would deeply disappoint the just expectations of the country. He believed that not only the House of Commons, but the whole of the people of the country, expected that upon this occasion the speech of the right hon. Gentleman would contain some assurance of the intention of Her Majesty's Government to fulfil their duty to General Gordon beyond the vague generalities which the right hon. Gentleman had given to the House before, and which he now thought fit to give again. The Prime Minister had found fault with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Gloucestershire (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), because he had not made sufficient allowances for climatic considerations; but it appeared to him that the Government sheltered themselves under the plea of climatic considerations. They were indisposed to stir in the deliverance of General Gordon; they did not even inform the House that in the month of October they would be able to take any step for the 75 purpose of his deliverance; and the House was thus left in the exact condition in which it had frequently been left before. They had had a vague, general promise that General Gordon would not be abandoned, while the Government refused to take any practical step whatever to give effect to that declaration. Events, however, might happen in Egypt which might hasten the decision which they hesitated to take. There was one person in Egypt who would not wait for climatic considerations, and that was the Mahdi. The insurrection of the Mahdi was spreading with extraordinary rapidity down the Valley of the Nile; and the Government might, before they had made up their minds, find it necessary to undertake military operations, not for the purpose of rescuing General Gordon, but for the purpose of defending the integrity of Egypt. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Gloucestershire had laid great stress on that danger; but he had been met by the taunt that he was urging the House of Commons and the country to undertake the suppression of the Mahdi. While there was much in the speech of the Prime Minister to which the House had listened with pain and regret, there was one expression which they must all have heard with pleasure and satisfaction. It was the right hon. Gentleman's announcement of his return to his old sympathies with people struggling to be free. One could not help thinking, when the right hon. Gentleman gave expression to that sympathy, what a pity it was that Her Majesty's Government had not thought of that two years ago, when they entered upon the unfortunate obligation of giving an earnest support to the Government of the Khedive—[Mr. GLADSTONE: The late Government.]— and what a pity it was that the right ton. Gentleman incurred the great responsibility of suppressing the movement of Arabi and of the people of Egypt, who were two years ago struggling to be free. The right hon. Gentleman had just met him with an assertion that this was an undertaking entered into by the late Government. But whatever pledge the late Government made earnestly to support the authority of the Khedive was assumed and renewed by the present Government without any objection or protest; and the present Government took upon itself 76 with a light heart the duty of the Suzerain of Egypt, thereby making itself responsible for the acts of the Khedive and the welfare of the people of Egypt. It was, no doubt, true that the incident of the Soudan was a mere episode in the history of the mismanagement of affairs by the present Government in Egypt; it was a conspicuous example of the failure of a course of policy which had been marked by misfortune in its beginning, and would probably be marked by misfortune to its end. The Government had, in fact, undertaken a task in Egypt which it was impossible to fulfil. The late Government was a thing of the past, and was now left to the judgment of history alone; but the present Government was before the bar of public opinion, and was liable to the censure of the House of Commons, and of the country; and its errors were aggravated by the fact that the policy it had pursued, and was still pursuing, in Egypt was a violation of its principles and its most cherished convictions. It had dragged, and was still dragging, its supporters through a series of political humiliations until even their patience was almost exhausted. Up to the time of the disaster which befel the army of General Hicks, how confident the Government were that the Soudan, at least, was outside the sphere of their operations in Egypt! How confident they were that there was no risk of any British blood being spilled in the Soudan, and no risk of any treasure being squandered there! Even after the disaster to General Hicks, the Government believed that their intervention would be strictly confined to two objects—namely, the rescue of the Egyptian garrisons and the removal of the Egyptian Government. We had seen so far the results of their attempt. The incident was not closed yet; but we had, at least, four months' experience of the policy which had been pursued. The Government had not yet rescued one single garrison. It had not yet withdrawn the Egyptian Government from one single Province of the Soudan; except in those cases where the followers of the Mahdi had saved it the trouble of withdrawing by massacre. It had already made one military expedition attended with the most frightful loss of life, and without the slightest practical result; and the concluding remarks of the Prime Minister indicated 77 the possibility, or even probability, in the course of the present year of some further military expedition having to be undertaken, probably with equal loss of life. When the Government sent General Gordon upon his mission there were, no doubt, two methods by which their policy of rescuing the garrisons and retiring the Egyptian Government might have been carried out. One was a perfectly pacific method; the method which General Gordon was peculiarly commissioned to undertake. The second possible method by which the object of the Government might have been attained was by the employment of military force. But there was this peculiarity — that both those methods could not be carried out with any hope of success. But, unhappily, Her Majesty's Government, with the peculiar misfortune which appeared to attend all their efforts in Egyptian affairs, determined to try both methods, and both at the same time. Although warned, not only by its own knowledge of the circumstances of the case, but by the direct warning of General Gordon that the employment of the second method would render a peaceable termination impossible, the Government actually sent their expedition to Suakin before General Gordon had arrived at Khartoum. They sent the expedition, although the garrison of Sinkat had fallen, and when the case of the garrison of Tokar was hopeless. The revolt which was taking place in the neighbourhood of Sinkat and Tokar had been excited by the perfidy of the Egyptian Government. Where was the Prime Minister's zeal for people who were struggling to be free when he sent that expedition to Tokar? The first act of General Gordon, when he arrived at Khartoum on February 18, was to advise, by telegraph, that a Proclamation should be issued at Suakin desiring the Chiefs of the tribes then in arms and in insurrection to repair to Khartoum for the purpose of meeting him, and to learn from him what the destiny of the Soudan was to be. When this telegram of General Gordon was communicated to Admiral Hewett, who was in command at Suakin, he refused to issue any such Proclamation, for the reason that he could not ask the Chiefs to leave their people and meet General Gordon at Khartoum when he knew that English troops were about to be sent 78 against the people in question. The object of General Gordon's mission was frustrated by the warlike operations of the Government. On February 23, General Gordon again expostulated with the Government on their military operations at Suakin. It was then known that the garrison of Tokar had fallen; and General Gordon said—I think if Tokar has fallen Her Majesty's Government had better be quiet, as I see no advantage to he now gained by action on their part; let events work themselves out. Fall of Tokar will not affect in the least state of affairs here."—[Egypt, No. 12 (1884), p. 97.]Three days later he again telegraphed "to leave Suakin and Massowah alone." One would have thought that when Sinkat and Tokar had fallen, and when the Government had been assured by their responsible officer that nothing was to be gained by military operations, this peace-loving and philanthropic Government would have stayed their hands. But no; because General Stephenson telegraphed that the rebels were "in force on Baker Pasha's late battle-field eager to fight and confident of victory," and strongly recommended that Graham should be ordered to advance towards Tokar. the Government—although there was no object whatever to be gained by fighting a battle, and although the officers in whom it had placed its confidence for the pacification of the Soudan advised it to stay its hand—directed the General to march out to fight two bloody battles at Teb and Tamanieb, slaughtering 4,000 or 5,000 of the men fighting to be free, for whom the Prime Minister had just expressed such strong, but rather tardy sympathy. When all these people had been slaughtered, and the lives of many of their own brave troops had been sacrificed, the Government discovered that there was a military impossibility in advancing to Berber, and though General Gordon then advised such an advance, the Government declined to make it. The whole incident of the Suakin expedition was over; and the results of that part, at least, of the policy of Her Majesty's Government in Egypt could be most accurately estimated. What were they? First, they did not relieve Tokar; secondly, they did not open the road to Berber; thirdly, they had not prevented an attack on Suakin by Osman Digna, because Osman Digna had now assembled his people, 79 and Suakin was preparing a defence against his attack. All that the Government had done by that expedition was—first to kill 4,000 or 5,000 Arabs; and, secondly, to render the peaceful mission of General Gordon impossible. There was an incident connected with the expedition to Suakin to which he would like to call the attention of the House. On the 25th of March a discussion was raised in the House by his noble Friend the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) on the occasion of the third reading of the Appropriation Bill. In that discussion the noble Lord pointed out to the House and to the Government the danger which the military operations at Suakin imposed upon General Gordon at Khartoum; and he asked the Government what were the precise objects in view. The noble Lord the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in reply, said the object of the operations at Suakin was to open up the road to Berber. It was a very remarkable declaration on his part, and it created great interest in the country. The Government succeeded for the moment in inducing the House and the public to believe that the opening of the road to Berber, which General Gordon at that time was urging, and which he and many others believed to be essential to his safety, was, in reality, the object for which so many lives had been sacrificed. This, he thought, showed in a remarkable degree the perfidy with which the Government had treated the House of Commons throughout all these transactions. At the very time when the noble Lord was giving these reassuring statements to the House of Commons, the Government were concocting the telegram of March 25, which he supposed was sent out about the time the noble Lord was speaking, refusing finally, positively, and absolutely to allow any force to advance upon the road to Berber, or to take any active steps for the opening of that road. The Prime Minister had spent a great deal of time in criticizing the particular language of the Motion which had been proposed; but he hoped the country and the House would look to the way in which the right hon. Gentleman had met the terms of the Resolution. How had he met the substantial accusation, which the right hon. Baronet brought against the Government? He met it by a substan- 80 tial admission of the justice of the accusation made against the Government. The substantial accusations brought against the Government were these—when they sent General Gordon to Khartoum, upon a difficult and dangerous mission, when they gave him carte blanche to do anything that he could to rescue the Egyptian garrisons and withdraw the Egyptian Government, they refused every single proposal which General Gordon afterwards made to them. The object which led General Gordon to that view was the establishment of some stable Government for the purpose of securing the withdrawal of the garrisons and of the Egyptian officials. It was quite clear that it was impossible to scuttle out of the country without making an arrangement at least for a stable Government, which would last over the time occupied in the withdrawal. The Government appeared to have fallen into the notion that they could withdraw from the Soudan, yet that everything in the Soudan would be carried on in a way to meet with their approval. They wanted—what was impossible—to repress slavery in the Soudan, and at the same time to clear out of the country, and to escape all responsibility for what went on in it. If a policy of non-intervention was to be adopted, the Government ought to make up their minds not to be disappointed if affairs were carried on in a manner of which they did not approve. The sending of Zebehr Pasha appeared to have been the keystone of General Gordon's policy at Khartoum. No doubt when he first reached Khartoum the gallant General might have exaggerated his personal influence, and he might have considered that his presence alone would be sufficient to secure a stable Government and to restore order in the country. If so, he was very soon undeceived, for only a few days after his arrival at Khartoum he found it necessary that he should be supported by some Mussulman of ability whom he could make Governor of the Soudan, and who would be able to secure the temporary pacification of the country. Time after time, with the most obstinate pertinacity, General Gordon urged upon Her Majesty's Government that if they wished him to carry out the mission on which he had been sent, he must be allowed to summon Zebehr to his assistance. The Prime Minister 81 said that the application for Zebehr's services was received with unfavourable criticism, both in the House of Commons and in the country. This was true; but the House and the country were not in possession of the information which Her Majesty's Government had as to the persistence with which Zebehr was sought for by General Gordon. The latter was not contented with one refusal, but continued to press that Zebehr should be sent. In circumstances of this kind the Government ought to have done what they thought right. They were advised by their officer of the necessity of taking a particular step, which would, no doubt, be unpopular in the country until it was explained, and the advice was endorsed by Colonel Stewart, by Sir Evelyn Baring, and others. Under these circumstances, one would have thought that the Government of Great Britain, supported in the House of Commons by an overwhelming majority, ought to have taken the responsibility of doing that which it thought right to be done. He confessed he had heard with shame from the Prime Minister the new theory of Ministerial responsibility as stated in the despatch which said that the public opinion of this country would not tolerate the appointment of Zebehr Pasha. For a Foreign Minister to tell his Agent abroad that he could not take a certain step which both thought to be right because the public opinion of the country would not tolerate a certain appointment was a shameful confession of the mode in which our Government was administered. But that statement was out-Heroded by the declaration which had been made by the Prime Minister at the Table of that House. The Prime Minister said, in so many words, that he thought General Gordon was right, and that he should have yielded to his importunity if he had not believed that had he done so a Motion might have been made in the House of Commons which would have placed the Government into a minority. It was, therefore, to be accepted henceforward that in dealing with matters of such unexampled difficulty as the affairs of the Soudan, Her Majesty's Government were not to be animated by the sense of what was right and by their duty to the Queen and country, but 82 were to pursue that particular line of conduct which would secure for them a majority in that House and the retention of their Party in Office. But had the Government acceded to any other of General Gordon's demands? He had asked over and over again for troops to be sent to Wady Halfa—not to take part in military operations, but to give him the benefit of their moral support. The application was ignored for weeks and weeks; and, when the position of General Gordon had become almost desperate, was at last refused upon the advice of the military authorities. But if the Government acted upon military advice in this case, did they do the same when they refused to allow an advance from Suakin to Berber? The Prime Minister had said so in his speech; but he had been able to find no such advice in the Papers presented to the House, and he should be glad to hear where it was to be found. General Graham and the military officers at Suakin were so far from the opinion that an advance from Berber was impossible, that they were most anxious to make such an advance, and it was a remarkable thing that they actually did advance 12 miles along the road. It was also remarkable that Sir Evelyn Baring, who was in daily communication with General Stephenson, should have sent a despatch most strongly urging on the Government the recommendation to advance on Berber. The Prime Minister might induce persons who had not read the Papers to believe that the desperate condition of General Gordon was a matter of quite recent occurrence. On the 5th of April the right hon. Baronet the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) moved the adjournment of the House, for the purpose of calling attention to the condition of General Gordon, and was taken to task by the Prime Minister for presuming to state that General Gordon's mission had then failed, and he gave the House to understand that the Government entertained no such opinion. We know now, however, that as early as the 13th of; March Her Majesty's Government had in their possession the remarkable telegram from General Gordon of the 9th of March, a telegram in which he practically declared that he had entirely failed in his peaceful mission, and stated 83 the imminent personal peril in which he and his friends were placed. General Gordon said—You know exactly the position of the different garrisons as far as I can explain it, and that there is no probability of the people rallying round me, or of paying any attention to my Proclamation. If you mean to make the proposed diversion to Berber (of British troops), and to accept my proposal as to Zebehr, to instill him in the Soudan and evacuate, then it is worth while to hold on to Khartoum. If, on the other hand, you determine on neither of these steps, then I can see no use in holding on to Khartoum, for it is impossible for me to help the other garrisons, and I shall only be sacrificing the whole of the troops and employés here. In this latter case, your instructions to me had better be that I should evacuate Khartoum, and, with all the employés and troops, remove the seat of Government to Berber…. You must give a prompt reply to this, as even the retreat to Berber may not be in my power in a few days; and even if carried out at once, the retreat will be of extreme difficulty."—[Egypt, No. 12 (1884), p. 161.]Yet the Prime Minister said that Gordon was in no peril. The answer returned to this desperate telegram was as follows:—Her Majesty's Government are unable to accept these proposals. If General Gordon is of opinion that the prospect of his early departure diminishes the chance of accomplishing his task, and that by staying at Khartoum himself for any length of time which he may judge necessary he would be able to establish a settled Government at that place, he is at liberty to remain there."—[Ibid., p. 162.]What a satire to send such a reply, after Gordon's statement that there was no chance of accomplishing his task unless the Government did the things which they refused to do. From the 13th of March the events which General Gordon foresaw had followed with remarkable rapidity. The Prime Minister said that, although Khartoum was surrounded and no messenger could get into it, it was not in danger. That certainly was not the opinion of General Gordon himself, nor was it the opinion of any person of ordinary common sense; and if the country had an opportunity of expressing its feelings the Prime Minister would find that it was not the opinion of the people. The Government had sent General Gordon on a dangerous and difficult mission. They had refused every proposal he had made. They had given him no assistance of any kind whatever, and they had heard from him that he, together with the garrison and civil employés, was in a position of ex- 84 treme difficulty and danger. The invasion of the Mahdi was spreading- with marvellous rapidity into tipper Egypt. Under these circumstances, what did the Prime Minister do? He took his stand on the telegram of April 23rd. That telegram expressed the Government policy, and everything beyond it was vague and general assertion. It had been sent to Khartoum by every possible route and every possible description of messenger. The messengers who went to Dongola had come back; but messengers were going from Suakin, Massowah, and every other quarter; and until that precious telegram had been communicated to General Gordon no further step was to be taken. If by any chance that telegram of the 23rd of April should reach General Gordon at Khartoum, it must grieve the brave Christian hero whom the Prime Minister so much admired. It seemed to add insult to injury. He was asked to keep the Government informed, not only as to any immediate, but any prospective, danger at Khartoum, as if he could send out telegrams, like the Foreign Office, every half-hour or so; and he was to advise Her Majesty's Government as to the force necessary for his security, its amount, its character, the route for access to Khartoum, and the time of operation. In other words, the Government asked General Gordon, cut off at Khartoum from communication with the rest of the world, to advise them what policy they were to pursue. They asked him to perform the duty which ought to be performed in Downing Street — to come to the determination which ought to be come to by the Prime Minister, after consultation with the military authorities; and they asked him to do this, abandoned as he had been most shamefully and disgracefully by the Government. A great part of the Prime Minister's speech was filled np with taunts that the right hon. Baronet who proposed that Motion did so only with the view of obtaining Office for himself and his Friends. He did not know that there was any particular danger of such result attending that discussion; but he believed that if the Prime Minister was present he would acquit him of ever having made a speech in the House on affairs of that kind from a Party point of view. He had been anxious to express on this 85 matter opinions which were shared by many independent Members on both sides of the House. On the Ministerial side they were muzzled, and could not give expression to the feelings and sentiments which were in the hearts and the mouths of the people of this country. Those who sat on his side of the House were happily free to speak; and if the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues deluded themselves into the belief that that Motion was the mere expression of the opinion of a political faction they were miserably mistaken. The neglect of the Government to support General Gordon, the danger that he was at present incurring, and the feeling that he had been abandoned by the Government which he had so well served, had made a deep impression on the vast majority of the people of this country; and although the Government might escape a defeat by the use of their loyal and patient majority, they must not believe but that the accusation made against them by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), unless it could be answered by arguments and statements better than those furnished by the Prime Minister, would be endorsed by the opinion of the country.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
, who had the following Amendment on the Paper:—That this House, approving of the instructions to General Gordon to remain in the Soudan only so long as he sees a prospect of relieving the garrisons and establishing a settled Government by peaceful means, considers that the time has come when he may be relieved of responsibility by orders to leave whenever he sees any possibility of doing so,said, he was sorry to hear the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst), because he was not usually much of a Party man; and yet his speech that evening was nothing more than a Party attack on the Government. He (Sir George Campbell) felt that he ought not to shrink from speaking a few words in the sense of the Resolution he had put on the Paper, though under the circumstances, and after the speech of the Prime Minister, he did not propose to move it. His position was like that of the hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson), and a very few others who sat in the same quarter of the House—a consistent one. They had opposed these proceedings from the first, and their only anxiety 86 was to get out of the place as soon as they could, and with as little loss as possible to the material welfare and honour of the country. Regarding the matter in that sense, he should not vote for the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach). The Prime Minister had clearly shown that there was nothing in the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman, and little more in his speech, than a violent attack on the Government. In fact, it was all through an attempt to make out a case of "Gordon v. Gladstone." There was only one tolerable card the right hon. Gentleman played, and it was so good that he played it over and over again, and that was that he had voted with the Radicals on that Saturday when the Government was placed in rather an awkward position. He (Sir George Campbell) strongly entertained the opinion that they were not bound to rescue the Egyptian garrisons shut up in the Soudan. He went further, and said that in the interest of humanity it was not desirable to make an attempt to do so. To do so would only be to endanger the garrisons and to cause a much greater loss of life than if they were left to make their own terms with their co-religionists, which experience had shown they were well able to do. The garrison of Sinkat was encouraged by the Jingo cry to hold out and were killed; the garrison of Tokar were more prudent and escaped injury, as he hoped would be the case with other garrisons. True, they were deeply engaged to save if they could the lives of General Gordon and his English companions; but in this matter General Gordon was somewhat of a volunteer. ["No, no!"] Well, he was interviewed by The Pall Mall Gazette, and let it be known that he thought certain things ought to be done; the Government asked his advice; his advice was that he should be sent; he had done his best, and that was a failure. The case of Colonel Stewart was different; he was in no sense a volunteer; and the Government were bound to rescue him at any reasonable cost. But it was satisfactory to hear the Prime Minister boldly say there was a limit when it came to the prospect of sacrificing thousands of lives. Even the Mover of the Motion did not deny the impossibility of sending an expedition to Khartoum at present, and he made but a childish attempt to prove that the Go- 87 vernment had not done the best they could do in the circumstances. As to the refusal to allow General Gordon to go to the Mahdi, it was simply that the Government could not assent to his going into a trap in which he might be caught, when we should have had to rescue him. It was to be hoped that General Gordon would, after all, go to the Equator. While, on the whole, the balance of argument was in favour of sending out Zebehr on the demand of General Gordon, and it was the duty of Ministers to do what was right regardless of public opinion, the Government were probably right in believing that it was impossible to resist the cry against that course, supported as it would have been by the whole strength of the Party opposite. [Sir JOHN HAY: No!] Well, the right hon. and gallant Baronet was one of the independent Members on that side of the House. If that course had been followed, the great majority of Members opposite, and a great many on the Ministerial Benches, would have raised an outcry against it. With respect to the other measure which had been suggested—that of sending troops—he emphatically expressed his opinion that there was a bargain with General Gordon that his mission should be a pacific one. He was not aware that the Government had ever said that General Gordon had a free hand. He was sent for certain purposes only; and, knowing the bold and enterprizing character of the man, the Government had done well in putting down in writing that he was to do his best to rescue the garrisons by pacific means and not by force of arms. The Government were perfectly right in not sending an expedition in the present conditions of climate and other circumstances, and they were also right in resisting any suggestion of sending out troops at any time during recent events. It would have been madness to send Cavalry to Berber; knowing the way in which the Arabs fought, it would have been the height of madness to attempt such an expedition. It was now Gordon's duty to make his escape from Khartoum, and it would be the truest courage on his part to do so. It was with that view that he had put down the Motion which stood in his name. After the events which had happened, the Government were not bound to rescue the garrison by sending troops; nor 88 was Gordon bound to stick to the garrison. The garrison had not shown unwavering loyalty to Gordon. Nor were the loyal civilians in danger, for there were some 2,000 refugees already at Korosko. There was no evidence to show that Gordon could not leave Khartoum. His latest telegrams pointed to the opposite conclusion. If the worst came to the worst, he might possibly still retreat to the Equator. It would be most unwise to induce Gordon to postpone leaving Khartoum by holding out any prospect of an expedition, and such an expedition would entail a fearful loss of life and a heavy burden on the taxpayers. It was Gordon's duty to escape if he could, although, if he could not, we might be placed in a serious dilemma. So far as mere money was concerned, he would vote almost any sum to save the necessity of sending troops to Khartoum. He would be prepared to offer a reward of £1,000,000 to anybody who would get hold of General Gordon and lodge him safely and securely where there would be no need of sending an expedition to his aid. In these circumstances, therefore, he should vote against the Motion, and in favour of the direct negative which had been presented by the Government.
§ BARON HENRY DE WORMS
said, he had listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) with no small amount of amusement. The idea in the mind of the hon. Gentleman was not to save Gordon, but to save the Government; he endeavoured to put Gordon on the one side of the scale and Her Majesty's Government on the other. Those who read the speech of the hon. Member would come to the conclusion that if that speech represented the views of the House, a great change had come over the character of that Assembly. In former days it would never have been proposed to place gold on one side of the balance, and the honour of the country on the other. He regretted to say that the hon. Gentleman's views were also expressed in very vehement terms by the Prime Minister himself. Before considering some of the utterances of the Prime Minister, he could not allow the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy's statement as to the impossibility of relieving General Gordon to pass unchallenged. Not long ago, in "another 89 place," Lord Napier of Magdala, who had saved the honour of this country in circumstances similar to those in which it was now sacrificed, gave his opinion, as a distinguished General and a man of practical experience, that it was quite possible to send an expedition for the relief of General Gordon. His Lordship was then met by the same sort of argument to which the House had just now been treated, for Lord Kimberley answered that in taking into consideration the views of the noble and gallant Lord he must not forget that the Estimate of the Abyssinian Expedition had been understated by about £2,000,000. [SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL: Hear, hear!] The hon. Member, by his cheer, proved that he (Baron Henry Do Worms) was correct in saying that he placed the honour of the country on the one side and the gold of the country on the other. He would now endeavour to unravel the twisted skein of eloquence and sophistry with which the Prime Minister had woven a net in order to embarrass the intelligence of those who sat on the Opposition side of the House, and to entrap the political consciences of those who sat on the other side. The right hon. Gentleman appealed with considerable emphasis to Members from Ireland with the phrase that he hoped we should do nothing against oppressed nationalities. In point of fact, nobody on that side of the House had suggested that they should do anything against oppressed nationalities. If that was the argument of the Government, and if the Mahdi was the representative of the national feeling of the Soudan and the future Ruler and guide of the national feeling of Egypt, how could they justify their conduct in sending an expedition against the Mahdi's lieutenant at Suakin to massacre, not in a battle, but rather in a battue, 7,000 or 8,000 Arabs? A more illogical or absurd statement had never been advanced. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say it was absurd and Quixotic for the Mover of this Vote of Censure to urge upon the Government the relief of all the garrisons in the Soudan. In answer to that he would remark that the right hon. Baronet the Member for East Gloucestershire (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) never made any such suggestion. In point of fact, that suggestion originally came from the Prime Minister himself, when he deprecated the idea of endan- 90 gering the lives of 29,000 men in the various garrisons of the Soudan for the relief of the small garrison at Sinkat. The statement in the right hon. Gentleman's speech that most surprised him was the concluding one. They had expected to hear that, even at the last moment, the Government were prepared to do something to vindicate the honour of the country. The right hon. Gentleman emphatically denied that the honour of the country was being compromised by his policy; but the concluding statement in his speech proved that the charge was literally true. The House had waited with breathless expectation to hear that the Government were prepared to do something towards the relief of General Gordon, towards preserving the safety of that man, whose responsibility the right hon. Gentleman had adopted, whose success he would have taken, and whose defeat he was now to share or prevent. But all the right hon. Gentleman told them was, that when time and circumstances and weather should be sufficiently propitious, Her Majesty's Government might, perhaps, conceive some plan which might ultimately lead to the relief of General Gordon. He did not know whether hon. Gentlemen opposite, in their blind belief in the Prime Minister's infallibility, would be content to allow their political consciences to be placed in the right hon. Gentleman's keeping, and to sacrifice the honour of England to the exigencies of a Party vote. He was unable to share the view that a Government could, like individuals, be freed from responsibility by expressing contrition. The mere fact of their being induced by the shadow of a Vote of Censure to take some action could not acquit them of the responsibility of past disasters. But for the Vote of Censure, which was moved some months ago, the relief of Tokar would not have been attempted. It was unconstitutional for the Government to continue, simply by means of their mechanical majority, a policy which was not that of the country, and which had not an echo in any part of the country. He challenged the right hon. Gentleman, by appealing to the constituencies, to test the opinion of the country on the subject. The voice of the country would be found against them. This was, perhaps, the first instance in our history where a man who had been employed in the service 91 of the country, and who would have been received with open arms if he had been successful, was to be allowed to perish because he had not been successful. He was astonished and ashamed to hear the Prime Minister endeavour to repudiate responsibility for the actions of General Gordon. The Prime Minister had said that the right hon. Baronet the Member for East Gloucestershire had only picked out of the despatches which had been laid upon the Table of the House just as much as would serve his purpose; but the Prime Minister had been unable to pick out of those voluminous despatches a single sentence that would serve the purposes of the Government. The composition of the Blue Books on this question was most remarkable; they were made up principally of what was known as "padding," which consisted of despatches to the Khedive which had no bearing whatever upon the case, and if the despatches had any bearing on it the answers to them were either wanting, or they were confidential and could not be produced. He denied the allegations of the Prime Minister, behind which he shirked all responsibility for the troubles in Egypt, that those difficulties were the outcome of a covenant made by his Predecessors in Office. No such covenant was ever made, and no pretence for such a statement could be alleged, unless it were an arrangement which had reference solely to Egyptian finance. The Blue Books, and the answers given in the House to Questions relative to Egypt, reminded him of the saying of a witty diplomatist —"La diplomatic est part de mentir impunément." It was far from his intention to infer that this definition was applicable to the diplomacy of Her Majesty's Ministers; but he could not help thinking that the course which they had pursued in this matter might load to such art inference being drawn. A few days ago the Prime Minister had denied indignantly that General Gordon was in any danger; but how did the right hon. Gentleman reconcile his assertion that the General was safe with the fact that the latter had stated that he must leave Khartoum by the Equator and the Congo? Such a journey would take General Gordon 1,100 miles out of the ordinary route. Why, he might as well be asked to escape by a balloon. This showed the difference between the mean- 92 ing attached to the word "safe" by the Prime Minister as compared with that attached to it by General Gordon himself. The Prime Minister had said that if they were convinced that General Gordon was in danger the Government would probably consult together to see whether anything could be done to relieve him. The policy which Her Majesty's Government were pursuing was a vacillating, cowardly, and imbecile one. The Prime Minister had said that General Gordon had never asked for troops; but the despatch of Sir Evelyn Baring on the 11th of April showed that General Gordon asked for Turkish troops. Lord Rosebery the other day, at Hanley, in referring to General Gordon, had said, with amiable cynicism, that he had carried with him on his Christian mission the good wishes and the prayers of the nation, but that since he had left very little had been heard of him. This was all that an ex-Minister could find to say of a man who had saved the Government. It was absurd for anyone who understood the Oriental character to suppose that General Gordon could possibly make terms with the Mahdi, who deemed himself to be invested with sacred authority to perform a certain mission, and could not, therefore, in any circumstances, make terms with mere mortals. The advance of the Mahdi meant that, little by little, the power they were now supporting in Egypt— the power of the Khedive—was being supplanted by another man, who could command the masses. The advance of the Mahdi would extend down the Nile till it would arrive at the doors of Cairo and Alexandria. That wave of fanaticism would take the place of the bastard civilization which, they were now holding up, and they would have a repetition on a larger and more important scale of those massacres at Alexandria which shocked the world. They were holding out a hand to the progress of barbarism over civilization, and they were encouraging the progress of Mahomedanism over Christianity, and they sooner or later would reap the benefit of that in their Indian Empire. The opinion which he held in regard to the safety of Gordon was—and he was authorized to state this—shared by Sir Samuel Baker, who, writing recently, had expressed the opinion that in the event of Khartoum falling the rebels would 93 shoot General Gordon in revenge for the execution of the two Pashas by the General's orders. He warned the Government that if they allowed General Gordon—their emissary and envoy—to be murdered like a rat in a cage, the whole of the United Kingdom would justly hold them responsible for the transaction.
§ MR. LAING
said, that after nearly half-a-century of Parliamentary life he had never found himself in a more difficult position; and having acted for so many years with one political Party, it was inexpressibly painful for him to have to separate himself from them upon the present occasion. But he could not, holding the opinions that he did, conscientiously share, oven by a silent vote, in the responsibility for a policy which, in his judgment, had brought so much disaster and disgrace on the English name. Having spent many years in India, his acquaintance with Oriental policy and Eastern people enabled him to realize more vividly than most hon. Members could the magnitude of that disaster, and the difficulty in which they were now placed. He endorsed every word of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down as to the extreme gravity of the position, arising from the ascendancy which had been given to the Mahdi, and the outburst of fanaticism with which they would have to contend. There was universal expectation, not only throughout this country, but throughout the whole Continent of Europe, that an improved condition of things was about to follow the occupation of Egypt by the English. No one doubted that the English arms would give perfect security; that order and peace would follow the establishment of the English authority; and that the finances of Egypt would improve, and capital and credit would go into the country. Those expectations were very well justified at the time, because the same thing did happen in India; but the misfortunes which had overtaken us and the crowning disaster and ignominy of General Gordon's abandonment had arisen from the absolute determination of the Government not to look facts in the face, but to substitute phrases for realities. The whole of these evils might be traced back to allowing the hazardous and desperate expedition of General Hicks Pasha to go into the heart of 94 Africa. Why was that done? Because the Government chose to think that by a mere verbal disclaimer they could get rid of the inevitable consequences of that expedition. But surely it did not require much statesmanship to see that, disclaim as the Government might, a disaster could not befall that expedition without being disastrous to English prestige. The Government had chosen to indulge in a flattering vision of making Egypt a sort of Oriental Belgium, a Constitutional country, with a pretty little Parliament, which they could support with a regiment or two of troops for a short time, and then withdraw and wash their hands of it. If the present Government had been in power at the time of the war in the Punjaub they would have constituted a pretty little Parliament of Sikh Notables, left a regiment or two there, and then withdrawn behind the Indus. He asked anyone present whether that would not have been the course the present Government would have adopted, and where would have been their great Indian Empire now? The resolute action we took in restoring peace and order to the Punjaub gave prosperity to the people, and so attached them to our rule that when the Mutiny occurred they fought on our side. It had been argued repeatedly that they could not enter the Soudan without undertaking a great expedition of reconquest and permanently annexing the country. That was not so in Afghanistan. After restoring their prestige in that country by the victorious march of Sir Frederick Roberts, as a matter of policy they had evacuated that territory. Granted that the policy of evacuating the Soudan was right, it was known that there were garrisons there of the Egyptian Government which they protected. They could not leave those garrisons there to be massacred one after the other without sustaining a great blow to their prestige, and in the East prestige was the only substitute they had got for bloodshed. If they did not maintain an opinion of their superiority, sooner or later they would have to fight for it, and that was especially the case when they were dealing with a Mahommedan people. They were the easiest of all people to govern as long as they felt that we were the stronger; but the moment they imagined that they were the stronger, then, prompted by all their religious 95 feeling, if they Lad a chance they would fly at our throat like so many tigers, and we should have to shed oceans of blood to restore our prestige. After the victory of Tel-el-Kebir a dozen English sportsmen might have traversed the Desert without molestation; but time was allowed to elapse, the garrison of Sinkat was allowed to fall, and the difficulties of communication immensely increased. When the Vote of Censure was brought forward at the beginning of the Session, he considered very anxiously with himself how his duty would be to vote; and he made up his mind that it was one of those cases in which he ought to vote that black was white in order to help the Government in power. [Laughter.] He said so deliberately. He was not ashamed of it, and for this reason—he could not see that the Opposition had any decided policy, or any means of carrying it into effect if they had one. For a time it looked as if the Government were opening their eyes. During the short period that the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) represented the Government in that House, they had speeches which, to his mind, had a great deal of resolution in them, and wonderfully different from anything else they had heard. For instance, they were told that an expedition to Suakin was justified because it was on the road to India, and that the Government were determined that no one should get possession of those stages on the road to India. That was a straightforward and intelligible argument, and it was the only one there was for their presence in Egypt at all; because if they went on the principle of the Prime Minister that they should not interfere with nationalities, why were they in Egypt now? Why did they go there? Was there any reasonable doubt that Arabi did fairly, on the whole, represent the feeling of Egyptian nationality at the time? Was there any doubt that now, if they could put it to the un biassed plébiscite of the Egyptian people they would vote us out of the country, and perhaps vote him back again? The true greatness and happiness of a nation, as of an individual, consisted in noble effort, not in ignoble case. If the Prime Minister had lived in Chatham's times he could imagine his denunciations of the victories which helped to build up the Empire; and in 96 the interest of the independence of nationalities what denunciations they would have had of Olive's victories, and of the other successes which made their Indian Empire. The whole series of proceedings latterly in Egypt had been of a nature to injure and lower the self-respect of the English nation. What could lower the respect of the nation more than allowing the gallant little garrison of Sinkat, within sight of the English Fleet, and almost within reach of the English guns, to be massacred, when by a single word Her Majesty's Government might have saved it? If they had sent General Graham to Suakin six weeks sooner they would have saved the garrison, and probably had no fight at all, in consequence of which there would hare been no danger of Khartoum being surrounded, and the torrents of blood that he was afraid would now have to be shed would have been avoided. What was their position now? Suppose they waited until October, and General Gordon was then cut off, or by a miracle had saved himself across the Equator, they would be surrounded as by a fire, and they would have to maintain in Egypt a far larger force than they ever contemplated. Considering that the Conference was to meet, he would not say anything about Egyptian finance; but he would say that if Her Majesty's Government adopted the same policy of shutting their eyes to disagreeable facts, and taking halfhearted measures, they would find themselvesl anded in as great a difficulty financially as they had been socially. As long as there had been a chance of events teaching the Government, and of their adopting a more resolute policy, he, for one, had been willing to condone the past and vote for them; but he must say that it would be giving way to illusions as gross as those which had misled the Government if he were to do so any longer, in view of the speech which they had heard from the Prime Minister. He regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had fallen back upon a policy which only differed from the old policy in being "Retire without Rescue," instead of "Rescue and Retire." [Opposition cheers] The position in which he found himself was a painful one. He did not wish to stand there and get cheered from the Benches opposite. He was simply speaking out his own mind and conviction. He had nothing to gain by it. If 97 he were a younger man, he might say he had everything to lose. But he was now approaching the period of life when he might look forward to retiring from political life; and if it were his latest breath he would say that, believing, as he did, that the policy that had been inaugurated in Egypt was writing the first chapter of the History of the Decline and Fall of the British Empire, he, for one, whatever might be the consequences, would not be a party to it.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I must, for one, offer the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down my most sincere congratulations, not only on my own account, for the very great pleasure I have derived from the very able speech he has just delivered, but I must congratulate him also upon having given up his former policy which he himself describes as voting that black is white—a policy which he has at last discovered to be profitable neither to his country nor his Party. I hope the hon. Gentleman will be followed into the Lobby upon this question by all the Gentlemen sitting on that side of the House who share his views; and if that should prove to be the case I have little fear of the results of the Division. I shall compress my remarks into a much more narrow compass than the hon. Gentleman; for I propose to confine myself not only strictly to the question of General Gordon, but also strictly to the speech of the Prime Minister. The House, I think, is justified in estimating the strength of the case of the Government by the speech which the Prime Minister has this evening delivered. But if this be so, then surely the Liberal Party has never been in greater difficulties than it is at this moment; as may be proved, if further proof is required, by the fact that so large a part of the speech of the Prime Minister was devoted not to the defence of his own acts, but to an attack upon the Opposition. The right hon. Gentleman attacked, among other things, our motives. He said the motives of the Opposition in taking the course we are taking are not dictated by a desire to preserve the honour of England, but by a desire to turn out the Gentlemen who sit on the Treasury Bench. The right hon. Gentleman did not confine himself merely to an attack upon our motives in the present debate; but he went back upon our motives in the past. 98 He accused us, among other things, of inconsistency in the manner in which we had dealt with the expedition professedly designed for the relief of Sinkat and Tokar. The right hon. Gentleman said we cheered the expedition when it was proposed to be sent out; but that, after the battle of El Teb, we cheered a Motion accusing the Government of causing the useless effusion of blood. But there is here no inconsistency. What we approved was a military expedition to relieve the garrisons; what we condemned was an expedition which produced a terrible effusion of blood, and which had not, and could not have, the result of relieving any thing or anybody. Then the Prime Minister has attacked us in this House for the manner in which we have bombarded the Government with Questions. [An hon. MEMBER: Raining Questions upon them.] I think "bombarded" was the word, but it may have been "raining Questions on the Government." He says that that was an unjustifiable course. Not only did the Government shelter themselves under their responsibilities — of which we made no complaint—whenever they thought it inconvenient to answer a Question; but they went much further, because, undoubtedly, on more than one occasion they misled the House and the country. I am making no accusation, of course, that they deliberately misled the House and the country; but I say distinctly that some of the answers delivered in this House would not have been different had the Government desired to perpetrate a deliberate fraud. As a proof of that, I will quote the answer delivered by the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War, in reply to a Question put to him on the 1st of April—a characteristic date, as I hear an hon. Member say. In that answer the noble Marquess said—We have received news from General Gordon in which General Gordon does not appear to have made any reference to the expectation that assistance by British troops would be rendered."—(3 Hansard,  1277.)Earl Granville, a few days later, in "another place," stated—We have not received from General Gordon any demand that troops should be sent to Khartoum, and what communications we have received are reassuring as to his position in that place."—(Ibid. 1611.)Now, on the 24th of March—that is to say, six days before the noble Marquess 99 replied to the first Question, and about 10 days before Earl Granville replied to the second Question, Sir Evelyn Baring had telegraphed to say that General Gordon was evidently expecting help from Suakin, and had ordered messengers to be sent along the route to Berber to ascertain whether any English Force was advancing. It is, indeed, worse than useless for the Opposition to put Questions to the Government if they are to receive answers such as these. The right hon. Gentleman proceeded to accuse the right hon. Baronet who opened the debate of having too carefully selected and abbreviated the quotations he made use of, so as to make the case against the Government appear unduly heavy, Well, the Prime Minister himself does not always finish his quotations. One of the quotations of the Prime Minister, perhaps the most telling one which he made in the course of his speech, was this. He quoted these words from a telegram of General Gordon—We are in this position: we have provisions for five months, and are hemmed in. Our position will be much strengthened when Nile rises.Here the Prime Minister stopped; but listen to what General Gordon said directly afterwards—Do you think that an appeal to the millionaires of America and England for the raising of £200,000 would be of any avail?"—[Egypt, No. 13 (1884), p. 13.]
Will the hon. Member allow me to explain? I quoted what had reference to the security of General Gordon, and to the necessity for military operations.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not quite understand what General Gordon wanted with £200,000, or 2,000 or 3,000 men, if his position was so secure.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
If the hon. Member wants me to continue I will read the whole of the despatch. It goes on to say—With this sum you might get permission of Sultan for the loan of 2,000 or 3,000 men.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
—With these men we could not only settle our affairs here, but also do for the Mahdi, in whose collapse Sultan will be necessarily interested. I would not send many Europeans with them, as they cost too much100 Now, the hon. Gentleman was very anxious that I should finish that quotation, and I have not had the slightest hesitation in indulging him; because all I desired to show was that if the Prime Minister had finished the quotation he would have proved to demonstration that General Gordon's view of his own position was that he required 2,000 or 3,000 men, and £200,000 to smash the Mahdi and settle affairs there. There was one remarkable contention which ran throughout the whole of the Prime Minister's speech to which I specially desire to draw the attention of the House. He invariably represented the Mahdi as heading a struggle for national freedom. In consequence of that, it must necessarily be supposed that General Gordon's desire to "smash the Mahdi" was opposed to national freedom. As a matter of fact, this is an entirely new contention on the part of the Government. It is not a new theory of the Government that we ought to restore national independence in the Soudan; but, according to the old theory, this was very different from restoring the Mahdi. Their desire was to restore the local Sovereigns, and to have asettled Government at Khartoum. But the authority of the Mahdi in the Soudan was as inconsistent with that of the local Sultans, as I believe it to be with the existence of a settled Government at Khartoum. We cannot forget that one of the principal objects with which Her Majesty's Government sent out General Gordon is inconsistent with the authority of the Mahdi; because they say, in their instructions to him—We trust your Excellency will adopt most effective measures for establishing an organized Government in the different Provinces of the Soudan for the maintenance of order and the suppression of all incitements to revolt.It clearly appears from that despatch that General Gordon was expected to leave a settled Government behind him. But if any opinion may be with certainty drawn from the despatches, it is that in the view of General Gordon and Sir Evelyn Baring the only way of leaving a settled Government in the Soudan was to prevent the intrigues of the Mahdi from spreading to Khartoum and to instal Zebehr as Gordon's successor. [Mr. GLADSTONE: Hear, hear!] The Prime Minister cheers that remark about the Mahdi, because, perhaps, he ima- 101 gines that I would shrink, as some Gentlemen on this side of the House have shrunk, from saying that I think that Zebehr ought to have been sent. I do not thus shrink. Nor do I admit that there is any inconsistency in holding this view, and at the same time deploring the necessity under which General Gordon was of issuing his original Slave Proclamation. But it is not the issuing of that Proclamation, nor is it the sending of Zabehr which will promote slavery in the Soudan. It is the abandonment of the Soudan by Her Majesty's Government. And if any proof is wanted of that I will give it to the right hon. Gentleman from one of Sir Evelyn Baring's despatches, in which he says—It is obvious from the first that the revival of slavery in the Soudan would result from the policy of abandonment. Nothing that General Gordon can do in Khartoum will prevent the revival, and he knows that he is powerless to stem the tide of slavery in the future.It is obvious that that quotation puts it beyond doubt that when the Government declared that they would leave the Soudan they gave up the whole question of slavery in the Soudan altogether. Having given it up, why did they shrink from Zebehr? Mr. Sturgo, the Secretary, I believe, of the Anti-Slavery Association, wrote to Earl Granville on the 10th of March, earnestly pressing him not to appoint Zebehr, and added, on behalf of the Committee he represented, that—They earnestly hoped that in the event of Her Majesty's Government making an arrangement for independent rule at Khartoum the conditions will be such as shall secure the country alike from a reign of anarchy and barbarism, and from that of the slave trader."—[Egypt, No. 12 (1884), p. 147.]The objects to which Mr. Sturge directed his hopes were admirable, and the only objection was this—that the circumstances under which the Government evacuated the Soudan rendered it impossible to carry them both out. It was possible by sending Zebehr to save the country from anarchy; but it was not possible, at the same time, to save it from the slave trader. The result of the Government policy could only be to hand over the country both to anarchy and the slave trader; and their refusal to appoint Zebehr rendered the future good, government of that country absolutely hopeless and impossible. The 102 Prime Minister was very severe upon my right hon. Friend who opened the debate. He said my right hon. Friend had no policy to suggest except that of sending an expedition in the summer months to extricate General Gordon from Khartoum. But why are we driven to the summer months for' sending out an expedition? That is a question which the Government have to answer. If they had carried out the policy indicated by every single one of their advisers in Egypt, including General Gordon, they would not have had to wait until the summer months. It is the Government who have compelled the country to choose between sending a military expedition under most dangerous and difficult circumstances, and sacrificing the national honour. The Government have in truth sent out General Gordon in order to get rid of their Parliamentary difficulties; and now that they have sent him, and that he has served their purpose, their sole desire seems to be to get rid of him too. They have not given him, as far as I know, any advice; they certainly have not given him any assistance; but they have restricted the whole of their functions to refusing every single request he has made to them seriatim. But no! I did the Prime Minister an injustice. The right hon. Gentleman did claim to have done one thing for General Gordon. He said he had defended that eminent man against the attacks which have been made against him on this side of the House. I am afraid that the attack which General Gordon has to fear is the attack of a very different and more dangerous enemy; and unless the Government can send out assistance against those more formidable foes I think they will find themselves mistaken in believing that they have the support of the country in, the policy they are pursuing.
§ MR. FRANCIS BUXTON
said, he would promise to delay the House but for a very few moments. His hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour), and his hon. Friend the Member for Orkney (Mr. Laing), had shown more clearly than some hon. Members what the real question before the House was. The hon. Member for Hertford had not only spoken in favour of the employment of Zebehr, but had spoken against the evacuation of the Soudan. The hon. Member had also 103 referred to the Anti-Slavery Association. Now, the Anti-Slavery Society, instead of having taken active steps to arouse the country and induce it to speak out against the perpetration of the horrors of slavery in the Soudan, had remained almost absolutely silent throughout the whole of this Egyptian Question. Why had they done so? ["Hear, hear!" from the Opposition. Hon. Members cheered, perhaps, because they knew. They had done it for this reason—the Anti-Slavery Society held that it was not the Soudan which was at the root of all the evils of the Slave Trade, but that the Soudan was merely the route for the passage of slaves who were seized and carried off from the district of the Congo down to the Red Sea. ["Oh!"] Hon. Members might say "Oh!" but if they would appeal to the officers of the Anti-Slavery Society they would find that that was the opinion held by the Society. He thought the speech of the hon. Member for Orkney showed more clearly than anything they had yet heard what was the real question before the House at the present moment. The hon. Member spoke strongly, and without any hesitation, in favour of our not only remaining in Egypt, but of remaining in the Soudan. He had been very sorry to hear the speech of the hon. Gentleman; and he regretted to think that such a speech should have come from a Member sitting on that side of the House. He believed that the hon. Member would never again venture to contest a Liberal constituency. He (Mr. Francis Buxton) would not be sorry, for many reasons, if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Gloucestershire (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) were able to carry his Resolution that night, so as to necessitate an appeal to the country upon this question. They could then have brought distinctly before the country the great question which the hon. Member for Orkney had raised— whether or no we were to remain permantly the masters of Egypt? He, for one, was not in any way in favour of such a policy as that. He was in favour of withdrawal not only from the Soudan, but also from Egypt; and he heartily supported the Government in the views he had heard expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister. The Resolution submitted to the House was— 104That this House regrets to find that the course pursued by Her Majesty's Government has not tended to promote the success of General Gordon's mission, and that even such steps as may be necessary to secure his personal safety are still delayed.He was very glad that the Resolution did not go behind General Gordon's mission. It started with that as its main point. He must confess that if the right hon. Baronet had worded his Resolution somewhat differently, and had found fault with the mission, then he should have been in a very much more difficult position, because he should have felt tha the could not vote against such a Resolution. But the right hon. Gentleman had started with General Gordon's mission as his standpoint, and had by the terms of the Resolution admitted that such a mission was a wise and correct one. ["No!"] He did not think himself that it had turned out that the mission was wise. He thought the Government had narrowly escaped making a mistake in sending General Gordon; and it was also something very near a mistake to have sent out the expedition to Suakin. He thought both were mistakes; but they had been brought about by one reason, and one reason only—namely—the extraordinary outcry got up by the Conservative Party for more active measures to be taken. If the Government had made mistakes it was wholly in consequence of the course taken by the other side. Much had been said that night about the mission of General Gordon. The Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman found fault with the Government for not having done more in respect of General Gordon; but he thought it would be very difficult to find from the speech of the right hon. Member for East Gloucestershire (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) what he would have had the Government do in regard to Zebehr. The hon. Member for Hertford said that he himself would have recognized the sending of Zebehr; but if he had followed the advice of General Gordon, his advice was not only that Zebehr should be sent, but that when sent he should receive the moral support of the British Government. To his mind, that gave a very serious complexion to the whole of the question; and if General Gordon's opinion were taken as being a good one on the other side of the House, his recommendation was not only that Zebehr should be 105 sent, but that he should receive the moral support of Her Majesty's Government. He, for one, had never joined in the outcry against the sending of Zebehr. He fancied that if the Soudan were to be given up, it was to be given up altogether, and that Zebehr might have proved himself to have been a good buffer as between the Native population of Egypt and the barbarians beyond. But when they came to read the Papers, and found that General Gordon was backed up by Sir Evelyn Baring in his view that Zebehr, if sent, should receive the moral support of the Government, would right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the other side contend that the Government ought to have followed General Gordon in all his opinions? Certainly that was an opinion that he (Mr. Francis Buxton) could not support for one moment. Colonel Stewart, whose opinion was even more valuable than that of General Gordon, wrote at the time an able despatch on that question from Khartoum; and he said—As to the sending of Zebehr it is a most difficult question. The whole question rests on whether the Government are going to remain permanently in Egypt, or whether they are going to withdraw. If they intend to withdraw from Egypt there is no question that they ought not to send Zebehr. Further than that, I say that they ought not to send any Governor in any part to whom they would have to give the moral support of the Government.He looked upon that opinion as a very valuable one. As to General Gordon, whom right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House said they ought to have followed in all his opinions, what would they have said when he recommended that this country should send Zebehr and give him the moral support of the' Government? He should like, in the course of the debate, to receive an answer to that question from one of the Gentlemen on the Front Opposition Bench. Would they have followed the advice of Gordon in asking them to send five British officers, as he asked them to do on the 5th of February, or would they have followed the advice contained in the postcript of the same letter not to send any officers at all? Would they have allowed Gordon to go himself to the Mahdi into the centre of Africa, and put himself in the way of being made one of those dervishes of whom he spoke in his letter? He thought the right hon. Gentleman, 106 if he pinned his faith upon the opinion of General Gordon, would find it a somewhat difficult path to follow. He had no doubt the Government did the best they could in sending out General Gordon. It was in compliance, to some extent, with an extraordinary outcry in the country; but to his mind, after reading the Papers very carefully, he could not help thinking that the opinion of General Gordon had been absolutely unreliable ever since he went to Khartoum. These were strong words; but he used them advisedly, after careful study of the Papers which had been issued. He believed that the opinions of General Gordon since he had been at Khartoum, as gathered from his letters and despatches, were absolutely unreliable. He did not think that hon. Gentlemen opposite could say that they were reliable. If this were the case, and the opinions of General Gordon turned out to be absolutely unreliable, he thought the Government had not only been right, but that they were in duty bound, to consider first the interests of their own nation before the interests of General Gordon alone. The right hon. Gentleman who opened the debate said he was inclined to think that an expedition ought to be sent to relieve General Gordon; but at this time of the year nobody could doubt that such an expedition would be attended with fearful risk of loss of life, and might lead to grave complications beyond that. Further than that, on reading the despatches very carefully, there was evidence, as the Prime Minister had shown, in almost every despatch that General Gordon was satisfied of his own safety. He only wished he could read to the House some of the quotations he had made. From the very day General Gordon left Cairo he wrote that he was convinced of success; that "we need not fear any longer for the garrison of Khartoum." That was written on the 12th of February; and although down to the very latest date, which was, he thought, the 16th of April, and, indeed, whenever they had any message from General Gordon, he said he was perfectly happy about the safety of Khartoum. On the 16th of April he telegraphed to Sir Samuel Baker, and in that very despatch he used the words—"All goes well at Khartoum." He (Mr. Francis Buxton) would ask the House were those the 107 words of a man in great peril of his life? What the other side maintained was that he was in such grave peril of his life that they ought to send out an immediate expedition. He was glad to think, from what the Government had said that night, that there was no doubt about their not sending an expedition. At the same time, they maintained that they were responsible for General Gordon's safety; and he sincerely hoped that General Gordon himself would relieve them from the necessity of taking further action by taking the best route he could find for leaving Khartoum immediately. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, and other speakers, had used brave words about remaining in the Soudan. Perhaps they would allow him to use a few words of General Gordon's as to his opinion of the Soudan. In a Memorandum of the 22nd of January, General Gordon said—It would be difficult to reconquer these people and to hand them back to the Egyptians without a guarantee for their future good government.Therefore, according to General Gordon, we should have to reconquer this people; and if we did not stay in the Soudan we should have to hand them back to Egypt without any evidence of future good government. General Gordon added—It is evident that this cannot be secured without involving an inordinate expenditure of men and money. Nobody who has over lived in the Soudan can avoid coming to the conclusion—what a useless possession this land would be.He thought those were very strong words on the part of General Gordon. This was the third Vote of Censure which had been moved during the present Session. [An hon. MEMBER: The fourth.] Some hon. Member said the fourth, and it really seemed to him that they had been forced to discuss Votes of Censure ever since the Session began. His own impression from the action of the other side was that they were thinking not so much of the abandonment of General Gordon as of the abandonment of the Reform Bill. That he supposed was behind this Motion. Under all the circumstances, he should gladly vote with the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister in opposition to the Resolution; and also against what he believed to be the object of the Opposition—namely, 108 a return to a policy of aggression, annexation, and aggrandisement.
§ MR. GIBSON
I will tell the hon. Member and the House one thing, at all events, that we are satisfied is behind the Motion which has been moved tonight, and that is the conscience of the entire country and of the whole civilized world. I venture to think that to-morrow morning, when on the wings of the Press the speech of the Prime Minister is read, in many a home it will be read with bitter disappointment. Many people have been looking forward to to-night for a possible vindication or assertion of what England had a right to expect in the way of a manly utterance in unmistakable tones from a responsible Minister of the Crown; and I feel confident that the utterances actually made, when read to-morrow, will be read with a pang of bitter disappointment. After all that has been written, and all that has been said on this subject, on which, practically, all England is united, we are treated to the same weary round of words clothing the same policy of uncertainty and vacillation. The tone of the Prime Minister was not the tone which we had a right to expect from the Prime Minister of this country, bearing in mind that this is a Motion which deals with the safety of a brave and trusted English General, who accepted a service of peril—it may be of deadly peril—at his own bidding, and at the call of public duty. The only attempt of the Prime Minister to make a diversion on this question was his statement of a charge which broke down almost before he completed the utterance of it — a suggestion that has been made feebly, haltingly, and more than once— that my right hon. Friend was advocating a policy of conquest, and was animated by a desire to involve us in widespread engagements. There is not a solitary syllable in his speech which gave the slightest countenance to an assertion of so remarkable a character. When these two speeches are read tomorrow by the English public, the fearlessness combined with the moderation, logic, and patriotism of my right hon. Friend will contrast favourably with the speech of the Prime Minister, which, lacks every one of those characteristics. There is, from beginning to end of the speech of the Prime Minister, nothing like a frank assertion of the 109 future action of the Government—not thing like a clear recognition of the responsibility that rests upon them. The highest level of decision that can be gained from that able and laboured performance of the Prime Minister is that possibly at some time—he was cautious not to fix the date—at some time or other—[An hon. MEMBER: At the proper time.] Sir, I am not aware that even in the mouth of the best trained and best brought up moralist the expression "proper" can be said to be a very definite one, and the highest precaution I have been able myself to gather from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman is this—that at the time he puts as not being improper the Cabinet may possibly be prepared to decide upon doing something or other. What are the dates? They speak with trumpet-tongued vehemence in condemnation of the wretched indecision and the clear and obvious determination not to decide that exists in the Government. Why, Sir, it is a month since they have had tidings of General Gordon. It is over a fortnight since they sent the last despatch of the 23rd of April—a despatch that, let us hope for the sake of morals, at some time or other—at some proper time—Gordon will receive; but which, from the despatch the Prime Minister referred to to-night of the Governor of one of the beleagured garrisons, it is perfectly obvious that he has not received up to this moment. What a change there is in the tone of the Prime Minister and the method of his address to-day compared with a month ago or longer. I do not dwell upon it, but I will point out this. In February, the Prime Minister relied upon General Gordon as his guardian angel. Then, no words of eulogy were too—I must not say extravagant—but no words of eulogy were too extreme to be used by the Prime Minister in praise of the heroism, the chivalry, the devotion, the noble, the splendid, and the resourceful qualities of General Gordon. [Mr. GLADSTONE: Hear, hear!] Yes; but the Prime Minister leaves me to use these words to-night, and cheers me when I use them. What is the mission of General Gordon? The right hon. Gentleman made some criticisms upon the manner in which my right hon. Friend has performed an important duty. My right hon. Friend presented those por- 110 tions of the Blue Books which he thought material, and did not endeavour to confuse the issue by mixing up with them immaterial references. The Prime Minister to-night, when he referred to the mission of General Gordon, attempted to dwarf the importance of that mission by picking out a brief reference to some of the duties. General Gordon was sent out with clear and specific instructions from the Government. The Government sanctioned the widening of those instructions when he went to Egypt, and the position of General Gordon and the avowed instructions of the Cabinet were these—he went out as the authorized Agent of England to effect the evacuation of the Soudan by extricating the garrisons, and to reconstitute in that country a Government by substituting a settled form for that which was removed. There can be no possible doubt about that, because I have the words of the Prime Minister himself spoken with almost unusual plainness and directness on the point. ["No, no!"] I would not quote anything in my remarks but for the fact that the right hon. Gentleman dissents. If it is not so, I will not quote his words; but I will assert that I have here the words of the Prime Minister corroborating the statement I have given of General Gordon's duties —that he went to the Soudan with an express mission and authority from the Government, and with the sanction of the Government, to extricate the garrisons there — not a garrison, but the garrisons—and to reconstitute the Government of the country on the evacuation being completed. [Mr. GLADSTONE dissented.] The Prime Minister shakes his head, and so I must read his words, and the words of the right hon. Gentleman on the 12th of February were these—That General Gordon went for the double purpose of evacuating the country, by the extrication of the Egyptian garrisons, and of reconstituting it by giving back to those Chiefs their ancestral powers."—(3 Hansard,  724.)[Mr. GLADSTONE: Hear, hear!] Then, why did the Prime Minister contradict me? He went there, as I have pointed out, for the double purpose I have indicated; and, more than that, he was told, permitted, and authorized to accept such further duties as the Khedive should give him. Those duties were communicated through Sir Evelyn Baring, and 111 he was told throughout that he was trusted in the discharge of those difficult and arduous duties with the widest possible discretion. Now, what were the agencies given to this great and heroic man? The agencies placed at his disposal were summarized forcibly to-night by the Prime Minister in his description of General Gordon—that he went to Khartoum as a great personality, clothed with great and special influence following from the strength of that personal character. Well, he went there as a great human personality, as it were, to work by human agencies, and not by miracles, spells, and incantations; and, accordingly, we find that the great personality of General Gordon was permitted and sanctioned by his instructions to retain as a human agency the Egyptian troops as long as he thought necessary. More than that, in his own statement, before he arrived in Egypt, on the possibilities before him, he intimated that the Mahdi's troops might possibly make an attack on the retreating garrisons, and in that case he might not be able to act up to the letter of his pacific policy. That is to say, on the Egyptian troops being attacked and defending themselves, they would be defending themselves under the authority and by the command of the General under whose orders they were acting, that General being General Gordon. Another thing is this, we have got a mass of correspondence in these deplorable Blue Books. I have never been at the Foreign Office, and I am bound to say that I have not much ambition to go there; but, speaking as an outsider, if any method can be suggested in order to introduce a glimmering of common sense into the manner in which the Foreign Office prepare their Blue Books, it would be of the greatest possible comfort to the outside public. We find a question in one Blue Book, and the answer in another; and you would require the aid of the cleverest man who ever made cross references in order to enable you to find out what is the nature of the narrative all through. The mission of General Gordon, of course, was a pacific one. Every one of his objects was pacific. There can be no doubt about that. More than that, it was pacific in the means by which it was sought to effect those objects as far as it was humanly possible. There is no question about that; but in 112 all human affairs, and in affairs of State particularly, it is needful to contemplate that there may be a point where the best pacific intentions require aid, and where an appeal to force is necessary. Of course, that was the condition under which General Gordon went in these circumstances. Now, the great difficulty of General Gordon was to try and conciliate the Mahdi, because it was impossible to have a pacific policy without some effort at conciliation. The Government unquestionably—I care not what their motives might be—did not assist in the pacific solution of General Gordon's mission by their operations in the Soudan and on the Red Sea Coast. It is not the way to conciliate most men —even if it be a false prophet—by slaughtering 5,000 of his followers. I do not care what you call your motives, whether for self-defence or for the defence of Suakin. You said, after Tel-el-Kebir, you were only seeking peace through war; but I care not what your motives were, you could not expect that that action on the Red Sea was in the slightest degree calculated to advance the pacific mission of General Gordon. The natural effect of the great slaughter at El Teb was, as has been pointed out by my noble Friend the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill), that which actually did occur—namely, to exasperate the Mahdi and to render the pacific solution of General Gordon's mission practically hopeless. Well, I would forgive a great deal of that slaughter if you had absolutely saved Sinkat or Tokar; but you did neither the one nor the other. You waited until Sinkat and its great Egyptian hero — its Egyptian Gordon — had fallen. You waited until Tokar fell; and then you only interfered with the slaughter on your own account when it was too late to save either of those garrisons, and when there was only time to hamper and thwart the action of General Gordon. At all events, General Gordon left you in little doubt as to what his opinion was when you did appeal to him. When Sinkat and Tokar had fallen, he said—Send the Chiefs here to meet me in friendly conference at Khartoum.When that message was sent to Admiral Hewett, what answer was returned by Sir Evelyn Baring? It was—Hewett says he cannot ask the Chiefs to meet General Gordon at Khartoum when he 113 knows that English troops are about to he sent against the people.Therefore, you find your own operations actually exasperated the Mahdi, and your accredited Minister did not — I think, for sufficient reasons—carry out the policy which General Gordon had directed and advised. Now, I should think the affair at Tamanieb annoyed the Mahdi very much. He may be a very logical man, although a very disagreeable person; and a logical man may possibly forgive a victory over himself if he is satisfied with the reason of it. But the Mahdi is one of the oddest men on the face of the earth if he is satisfied with the slaughter of his troops for no reason whatever. The only possible justification for the slaughter of the Mahdi's troops at Tamanieb would have been the intention to open up the road to Berber, in order to relieve General Gordon. I thought that the Prime Minister, when, in the course of his speech, he pulled out of his pocket that piece of paper containing the telegram which he read to us, was going to cite to us some grave military document which he had got some of our Generals to sign, stating that there was no better or quicker course than that adopted by the Government. But this debate has gone so far, and the Prime Minister has not demonstrated to the satisfaction of anybody why that battle was fought, or why, having been fought, it was not utilized. The Prime Minister has said, and said it more than once, that General Gordon was not in any military danger at Khartoum. What is the meaning of that? Did he expect that General Gordon, a a man brave to the point of chivalry and heroism, would go whining about saying that he was afraid, and demanding relief in every telegram he sent? Why, you do not guage the dimensions of your own hero. You might perceive from passage after passage of his despatch that he saw he was in danger, and recognized that that danger was extreme. In one sentence that he used he said— "Even if I were mean enough"—he seemed to think, poor man! the Government were always trying to sound the depth of meanness in his composition—Even if I was mean enough to escape, I have no power to do so.When he wrote that, did you think he meant to escape? In another sentence 114 he said—"I will never be taken alive." Do you think a man like General Gordon, being a brave and capable man, simply makes use of idle expressions that can be only used to indicate the extremity of danger? We had to-night a document read by the Prime Minister from the Governor of Dongola, showing that at the present moment General Gordon is hemmed in and surrounded, and that no communications can either reach him or come from him; and to tell me that a man hemmed in so that he cannot send a message or receive a message is not in danger is trifling with the meaning of the English language. He was anxious for the safety of those in Khartoum who were loyal to him, and of the troops who were faithful to him; and in a despatch of March 3, he put the matter with great plainness and fairness to the Government. He says—It may have been a mistake to send me up; but having been done, I have no option but to see evacuation through;and then come the words I have previously quoted—for even if I was mean enough to escape, I have no power to do so.—[Egypt, No. 12 (1884), p. 156.]Will anyone say that the officer, the right-minded man, who wrote these fair and generous words, is a man to be deserted or put aside by quibbling excuses? He was anxious throughout, not for his own safety, but for the safety of those whom he would not desert. I greatly suspect the purposes of the Government in this case. You can judge of them by their suggestions. Some of their suggestions to General Gordon were—"Desert and save yourself." And does not the House suppose that those who make such a suggestion to a brave and courageous public servant may think that the time may come when it would be wise and prudent in them also to desert? General Gordon suggested that a small force of 200 men should be sent to Wady-Halfa. That explodes the ridiculous suggestion of the Prime Minister, with which he tried to blind the eyes of the House and the country, about Gordon embarking on the conquest of the Soudan. The supposition is nonsense on the face of it. General Gordon asked for a demonstration of 200 soldiers, who were to be sent to Wady-Halfa, and he remarks that— 115The revolt will collapse if I can say that I have British troops at my back.And you expect this man, with his great personality, to sustain not only his own courage, but the belief in his power and courage which must have pervaded those who had hitherto trusted in him, when he is not allowed to feel that he can say he has British troops at his back. One word about the Berber and Suakin route—a point that certainly was not put in a clear light by the Prime Minister. General Graham, as will be readily found in Blue Book, No. 12, after his victory at Tamanieb, was ready and willing and quite prepared to open up that route unless he was checked, discouraged, and prevented. Of course, the Government have an Intelligence Department, and I am not surprised if at some point they made some effort to obtain intelligence; but remember that General Gordon is, in himself, an entire intelligence department rolled into one man. He was Governor of the Soudan for three or four years; he has a thorough knowledge of the locality; and if there be any doubt on that, I can perform once more a labour of love—that is, quoting the Prime Minister, who said—General Gordon is better qualified than anyone else to point out the best mode of assisting himself.That is the tribute and belief of the Government in reference to General Gordon. Well, General Gordon's opinion was that he could be relieved by the Berber and Suakin route; and it rests with those who have paid that clear and justifiable tribute to General Gordon to prove by overwhelming military reasons why they overruled his clear opinion; and not his opinion alone, because Sir Evelyn Baring—whose correspondence I am bound to say is the production of an able and capable man—pointed out later in these transactions that, bearing in mind that the question was how to get General Gordon and Colonel Stewart away from Khartoum, he thought the effort should be made if it was possible, wise, and statesmanlike caution. He referred the question to his military advisers, General Stephenson and Sir Evelyn Wood; and they said that, although there were risks to the troops and risks from the climate, unquestionably it was possible. So that you have got General Graham, as I assert, Gene- 116 ral Gordon, the highest authority of all, and Sir Evelyn Baring, a high political authority, supported by his military advisers in Egypt, all pointing out that this route was available, and could be made available. We are not to be frightened by being told that there are difficulties. What is the use of putting capable men in the Government if they are to evade all criticism by telling us they have had difficulties to face? If Ministers are not to face difficulties, a dozen men of even inferior capacity could govern the country just as well. In one part of the Blue Book it is said that 35 pilgrims were able to make the journey from Berber to Suakin in 14 days. I am quite aware that pilgrims do not invite attack, and that they do not make attack; but they only saw a few unarmed men in the whole transit during these 14 days, and they saw nothing to indicate the smallest particle of danger to anyone attempting to open up that route. The Prime Minister has tried to place some reliance upon a mere complimentary telegram in which General Gordon expresses his thanks to him for the support of the Government. I do not know whether General Gordon is a man given to irony; but assuredly if he is, and assuming that the man he was addressing would understand that figure of speech, I think that that was one of the most ironical and remarkable telegrams that was ever sent to a Minister. But, however, in the desperation of his position the Prime Minister appeared to be pleased with that telegram. On the 11th of March of the present year, on the very same day, it will be found that General Gordon reiterated his request that troops should be sent to open up the route from Suakin to Berber. So that I venture to think the gratitude which General Gordon expressed was that human form of gratitude which expresses a hope more than a memory. General Gordon is, I am sure, a man of deep religious feeling; but a man of the very strongest religious feeling has limits to his patience, and General Gordon unquestionably has had his patience worn out. Can any man in this House, I care not how extreme his views may be, wonder at that? General Gordon got indignant at his abandonment; if he had been an angel in Heaven, and if it were possible for an angel to feel anything at all of an earthly or unworthy 117 passion, I have a strong suspicion that there would have been a decided suggestion of indignation. Unquestionably, General Gordon used words which were very grave to be addressed by a public servant to those who employed him— words which they had no right to submit to unless they were completely justified by facts; unless he was using words which were absolutely true, seeing that he was suggesting that their policy was the climax of meanness, they were words which were insubordinate and not to be tolerated. He said that the Government had indicated to him a course which involved indelible disgrace. I should like to know what Ministry of England ever before had such words addressed to them calmly by one who was their servant, by one who had been chosen by them to perform an important mission, and yet, at the same time, you are bound to submit to such words because they are absolutely true? One who is your servant tells you that your policy involves the very climax of meanness, and yet, in your next telegram to him, you tell your Minister there to express your respect and gratitude to the man who has thus spoken to you. On the 16th of April, in the last message received from General Gordon, but which, from evidence on the next page, seems to have been sent out on the 9th of April, he used the words "indelible disgrace" with reference to the policy you proposed; and then, in your last message to him, you use this phraseology of cheap eulogy—you request Sir Evelyn Baring "to add expressions of respect and gratitude." Respect is a very good thing, and has value according to the source from which it proceeds; but I do not gauge at any great measure of value the respect to which you are entitled after your action towards General Gordon. I leave General Gordon himself to appraise the value of your message; but with regard to those words "indelible disgrace," I do not think that anyone ever heard anything like the special pleading of the Prime Minister. It was perfectly startling. He says that there was no principle involved. What on earth was the meaning of that? Gordon was sent to extricate the garrisons. He says to his employers—"You indicate to me, in reference to four of those garrisons, a course of conduct which I denounce as an indelible disgrace;" and 118 the Prime Minister, specially pleading in a way, I hope, was intelligible to himself, says the letter involves no principle. Then, gathering a little more force as he went on on that point, he said it might be put aside as abstract. What part of it was abstract? This man was dealing with four definite towns and definite garrisons which it was his duty to extricate; he was dealing with a Cabinet that was not an abstract thing. I decline to go into the case of each of these garrisons. You have sent General Gordon to extricate the garrisons with your own estimate of his capacity, the highest that could be given to mortal man, clothed with the highest possible discretion, to carry out your views. You have no right to blame the man if he accepts your instructions as plain English, conveying to him a clear meaning. My right hon. Friend has put the case with unanswerable plainness. What help, from the beginning to the end of this transaction, have you given to Gordon? You sent him on a service of deadly peril, such as no man unendowed with high heroism and splendid courage could undertake. What help have you—the English Government—given your trusted servant from the first moment he reached Khartoum up to the present moment, when he is hemmed in there awaiting your assistance? Every proposal he has made has been refused. When General Gordon and Colonel Stewart concurred to make a proposal, it was refused. When, in addition to General Gordon and Colonel Stewart, Sir Evelyn Baring gave the great weight of his authority to a proposal, it was equally refused. You are not able to point to any solitary proposal coming from Khartoum, made either by Gordon, or Gordon and Stewart, or Gordon, Stewart, and Baring, to which you have not said a barren and despicable "No." The policy of the Government is one of barren negatives and incapable sterility. The Government are responsible for the life and liberty of General Gordon; and they are, therefore, deeply responsible for every refusal which they have given, and for interfering with the exercise of Gordon's discretion, when he was sent out with nothing but discretion to help him. Gordon's mission has been blighted and cursed by the persistent vacillation that has marked every particle of the 119 wretched thing which you call Egyptian policy. The Government had not the manliness to assume responsibility themselves at any stage of their transactions in Egypt. The same miserable hesitation has marked their conduct with regard to General Gordon. They were responsible for Egypt after Tel-el-Kebir; but they hid their responsibility from themselves in a petty way that deceived nobody; and now that they are responsible for General Gordon locked up in Khartoum, you see it in the half-hearted suggestions they offer, and in even the more mean and despicable statement that he is largely and mainly answerable for his own safety. Ask any reasonable man, either in or out of this House, whether Gordon has been fairly treated, and see what the reply is. If any man in this House had accepted a mission like General Gordon, and had gone out at 48 hours' notice, throwing up a high appointment with a great philanthropic Ruler in Europe, at the bidding and calling of his own Prime Minister—if he had rendered this service and been treated as Her Majesty's Government have treated Gordon—I should like to know what his sentiments would have been? Has he had that support which an English officer in a service of deadly peril has a right to expect? Are the Government not mean in making as they do sham pretences to-night of not having as yet actually deserted him? What language has the Prime Minister used this evening that will reassure General Gordon or the country? I have often heard the Prime Minister make good speeches; I have heard him often make good speeches when he had a good cause; and I have heard him make very good speeches when he had a bad cause. He had a bad cause to-night; and it is not for me to characterize the speech he delivered in regard to it. But I ask, in reference to that speech, and to those who heard it, has the right hon. Gentleman's speech satisfied the House that there is any real intention on the part of the Government to save Gordon? If there is, I should be glad to know on what special part of the speech any hon. Member bases his trust? The Prime Minister used the expression —"A covenant with the nation and with Gordon." Now, "covenant" is a very technical expression; and bearing in mind the meaning which the Prime 120 Minister endeavoured to attach to an isolated passage of a conversation between two Ministers before he came into Office, which passage he christened a covenant, when anyone can see it is not even an engagement, I am disposed to question the right hon. Gentleman's meaning of the term, especially when I turn to the poor, wretched, cunning despatch of April 23. What is that despatch? The House have it before them. It is the last despatch the Government have sent in reference to these transactions. Will Gordon ever get it? Why was it written? Supposing, however, that he does get it—hoping against hope, credulous in difficult circumstances, let us suppose that the Government mean that he should get it, and that he does get it. What then? What is that despatch? This is the last despatch sent by the Government, containing the deliberate decision of the Cabinet in reference to Gordon, and we had hoped that it might have been eked out to-night by some frank and manly English words. But we have been thrown back on this wretched despatch of the 23rd of April, and we are asked to be satisfied with the Prime Minister's statement that it is a covenant, which is surrounded by a number of qualifications and modifications, which the Prime Minister's mastery of language enabled him to wreathe around it? What is it, and how is Gordon to interpret it? It is a very strange document; but I suppose that every Member of the House has read it more than once—Gordon should be at once informed that he should keep us informed to the hest of his ability.We do not oven know whether he has received that telegram. And are you going to tell us that nothing is to be done until Gordon keeps you informed as to the danger he is in at present? How are you going to act if you get no answer? We have not yet been told that, either by the Prime Minister or by anybody else. On the contrary, we have always been told, in answer to Questions, that you are waiting for a statement from Gordon as to what he wishes and desires. Well, you ask a man who cannot inform you to tell you if he is in any immediate or prospective danger. Is there any man in the House who does not know that you are endeavouring by that to throw dust in the eyes of the 121 English nation? Then General Gordon is asked to advise you as to the force necessary to secure his removal. He has been advising all that for the last two months. He has asked you for English troop?, for Indian troops, and for Turkish troops, sometimes backed up by Sir Evelyn Baring, sometimes by Sir Evelyn Wood, and at others by General Stephonson; and then, when you have persistently refused all his advice, is it not a farce, if it were not so near being a tragedy, to ask this man to advise you what course he would recommend? The tone of this despatch shows the depth that can be reached by a Cabinet of men, each of whom I have no doubt is a brave and courageous Gentleman, but a regard for truth would prevent me from applying those epithets to them in their collective capacity. Nobody has a higher respect for the individuals composing the Cabinet than I have, and for their personal honour, dignity, and courage; but it is a different thing to criticize their actions in a public and collective form. And what is the last statement in this miserable document? It goes on to say—If with this knowledge he continues at Khartoum, he should state to us the course and intention with which he so continues.How is the man to get away? You ask him in the beginning to tell you how he would like to get away, what forces would be necessary, and you ask him at the end to explain why he does not get away. I do not know which Member of the Cabinet has the privilege of making the rough draft of these curious documents; but I am bound to say that this is one of the most wretched and painful documents ever turned out by an English Government in the face of the English nation. If the Government do not mean to protect Gordon, they should do one or the other of two things boldly and frankly. A man can be courageous even in his meanness. It would be frank for the Government to say at once to General Gordon—"We have hitherto thwarted every one of your plans; we have refused all your proposals; you are hemmed in now and in danger; we mean to do nothing for you; save yourself if you can, and accept our expressions of respect and gratitude." That would be mean, but there would be a certain courage and frankness in the meanness. Then there 122 was another thing they could have done, and that was this. If, instead of making what the Prime Minister called to-night a covenant, to be possibly executed at a proper time under certain qualifications and modifications not clearly intelligible to the untrained intellect, they had used one manly, straightforward English sentence to a gallant and straightforward Englishman—"Hold out as long as you can; we know your difficulties; we mean to save you; and if you hold out as long as you can, we will help you as soon as we can"—that would have been clear, intelligible, and frank. But there was something of even a lower depth than cowardice, and that was to leave this man in doubt whether you really meant to betray him, and only pretended to save him. I should like to know what will be the result to this country—I will not talk of Europe —if General Gordon, falls at Khartoum, and those he is trying to save fall with him? Does not everybody know it will be one of the most disastrous stories that was ever told of this country, costing this country more blood and more money than many a war that was bigger and was entered into with far more deliberation? Ah! I could not help noticing to-night, when the Prime Minister was stating so slowly and so painfully the topics which the Government would have to consider before they prepared themselves for practically considering how they would begin to think of saving General Gordon, that he mentioned several things, and put the honour of the country last. Vacillation is certainly not a glorious policy. Cowardice is a very ignoble policy; and I believe myself that vacillation and cowardice combined make the dearest and most disastrous policy that England has ever seen. You may, in its process, tarnish the honour of the country; but I speak but the language of sober common sense when I say that before the nation has compelled you to disentagle yourselves from, the meanness of such an administration, you will have found that you have largely drained the National Exchequer. The Prime Minister appealed to-night to the vote that would be given on this Motion. I do not know what that vote will be. Many a man who will give it is glad that he can give it in silence and with bowed head; and I shall be surprised if, in the pro- 123 gress of this debate, we have any independent Member on the Government side rise in his place and say that he is prepared to sanction or approve, in word or in detail, any portion of the Government policy with regard to General Gordon. I know not what the vote of to-morrow night will be. I shall vote, without hesitation, for the Motion of my right hon. Friend; and I am satisfied, that whatever may be the result in this House, the vote will express the conviction of every man in it who has studied the question with an earnest desire to act according to his conviction. More than that, I say that the Motion of my right hon. Friend expresses the convictions of the whole civilized world, and will command the sympathy and the support of the united nation.
§ LORD EDMOND FITZMAURICE
the right hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down commenced his oration, and he has concluded it, by asserting that he represented the voice of the whole civilized world. I have always observed that in the course of the speeches which the right hon. and learned Gentleman makes in this House he nearly always does claim to represent the whole voice of the civilized world.
§ LORD EDMOND FITZMAURICE
The right hon. and learned Gentleman says he has only done so once or twice. I am very glad, indeed, that he recollects the phrase; and if he remembers using it once or twice, he must excuse us for recollecting that lie has used it a great deal of toner than once or twice. That being so, and as we are familiar with his rather turgid style of declamation, we need not be alarmed at his having come forward again to-night and told us that he represents the voice of the whole civilized world; or because, in addition to that, he has used all those various flowers—perhaps I ought to say those primroses of rhetoric—which are in familiar use on the other side of the House whenever the foreign policy of Her Majesty's Government is to be called in question. We have been told, in the course of this evening, almost in the famous language of O'Connell, that we are base, brutal, and bloodthirsty. We have been told that we are cowardly that there is hardly any mixture of meanness and atrocity that we are not 124 capable of; and, on the other hand, the right hon. and learned Gentleman in the early part of his speech, drew a beautiful picture when he declared that his Party was the Party of prudence, logic, and moderation. Perhaps we may some day see a great historic group representing the three right hon. Gentlemen whom I see opposite to me, sculptured by the hand of some kind sculptor, to represent prudence, logic and moderation; but I am not inclination think that so long as the right hon. and learned Gentleman indulges in language of such extraordinary vehemence, no to say violence, when that gro
omes to be formed the sculptor will assign the figure of moderation to him. I am glad to be able to say that there was one little break this evening in the course of the violent stream of denunciation from the other side. That was afforded by the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst); but I am sorry to say I think that was only because the hon. and learned Gentleman desired to pay compliments to himself. He said he represented truth and candour; that he always had represented truth and candour; and that it was a well-known fact—one, indeed, to which it was almost unnecessary for him to allude—that he was the representative of truth and candour. I was very glad to hear that; but I should have valued his observations on truth and candour a great deal more if, before he made them, he had not grossly misrepresented a speech of mine. I am sorry to say that he misrepresented that speech not for the first time this evening, but for the second time; because, not long ago, he made the same observation, and I corrected him at the time. He then misrepresented a statement by my noble Friend the Secretary of State for War; and, not satisfied with that, he has returned to the charge this evening, and repeated it with regard to myself; and having done so, poses on his own account as the representative of truth and candour. He accuses me of having stated in the debate in this House on. the Appropriation Bill that it was the intention of the Government to open up the road to Berber by sending a force of Cavalry, or even a stronger Force—at all events, that that was the half-formed intention of the Government. Now, it is a notorious fact that I never said anything of the kind. What I said was, 125 that it was the object of General Graham to open up the road to Berber by means of certain negotiations with the heads of the neighbouring tribes; and if any hon. Member has any doubt upon that subject, he can refer to the Papers laid before Parliament covering the period to which I am alluding, in which he will find a telegram and a despatch from Sir Evelyn Baring upon this subject, stating that the machinery by which this attempt was to be made had been arranged. The method adopted was the sending of certain officers well acquainted with the language and habits of the people, whom we trusted would be able to open up the road. In connection with this question of the Barber and Suakin road, the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gibson) made a very extraordinary statement. He said—"Have you not seen in your own Papers that a certain number of pilgrims went down that road?" Yes, we have seen that; but we are not inclined to think that, because on a particular day one or two pilgrims went down that road, that would afford a justification for risking an English Force. If I may draw a comparison from the Middle Ages, everybody knows that when the roads were most insecure, pilgrims were almost the only people who were able to travel along them at all. Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman think that because we found that on a particular day a body of pilgrims went down a particular road, we, knowing that the road was insecure, should be justified in sending a British Force along it? It is notorious that these pilgrims, who probably were going across the Red Sea to visit some holy shrine, were precisely the persons who would be respected by the followers of Osman Digna, who were not merely in arms through discontent with the established order of Government, but were animated by religious motives. There were some other points put forward by the right hon. and learned Gentleman; but I do not desire at this late hour of the evening to detain the House with what I may call minor points. I rather desire to avoid the example of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and not to bring forward a great number of scattered extracts from the Blue Books, couched generally in the shape of some 126 interrogation. I rather desire to place before the House once more the main position in this matter — the principal answer of the Government to the charges which have been made against them. Now, Sir, the charge which has been brought forward by the right hon. Baronet (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) falls, if I may say so, under three principal heads. He first of all charged the Government — having, I think, made a more careful perusal of a newspaper which has taken a strong line on this subject, than of the Papers presented to the House — with having prevented General Gordon, at an early stage of his proceedings, from carrying out his wish to go to the Mahdi. The plain, truth is contained in a Parliamentary Paper, from which, if the right hon. Gentleman had read it, he would have seen that General Gordon disavowed having any such wish. The evidence of General Gordon having that wish to go to the Mahdi is hearsay evidence. It is something that somebody has been told by someone else. Nevertheless, the Government thought it desirable, in, view of the gravity of this alleged intention, to inquire into the matter, and therefore they asked Sir Evelyn Baring to ask General Gordon whether he had such an intention; and hero is the brief telegram General Gordon sent in reply—With reference to my despatch of the 6th instant, I have the honour to inform your Lordship that I have received a telegram from General Gordon stating, as regards the message conveyed to me by Lieut. Rhodes, that he has no intention of visiting the Madhi."—[Egypt, No. 16 (1884), p. 3.][An hon. MEMBER: What is the date?] That is a favourite observation of hon. Gentlemen opposite. They seem to think it shows great observation. The date is February 11th; but I do not see that that in any way invalidates my argument. Therefore, that head of the indictment falls to the ground. The second count in the indictment which right hon. Gentlemen opposite have brought against Her Majesty's Government is that after General Gordon had left England the Government did not support him in any of the proposals which from time to time he made to the Government. Now, it seems to me that any Agent who takes service under the 127 Government, however delicate the position which he occupies, however great the sacrifice which he makes, cannot expect that whatever proposals he makes, no matter what their character may be, are to be adopted as a matter of course. That is not in any way whatever the condition upon which members of the Diplomatic or Consular Service are engaged by the Government. There are questions as to time and place, and what is desirable and possible, as to which the Government alone must be the judges. They are the judges, and naturally they take the responsibility— and they do not shrink from it. Her Majesty's Government do not shrink from it to-night; nor will they on any future occasion shrink from bearing the full responsibility for the advice they have given, and the decisions at which they have arrived. The right hon. Member for East Gloucestershire says to me across the Table, that he does not think they know what responsibility means. ["No, no!"] The right hon. Gentleman may say he said it to the right hon. Gentleman next to him; but he said it loudly, and I thought it was addressed to mo, and I think it would be better and more courteous if interruptions of this kind were not made. I believe that in the course of these debates, whatever differences may unfortunately separate the two sides of the House, no one as yet attempted to show that the Government have in any way shrunk from bearing the responsibility for the various courses of action which they have had from time to time to take with regard to this Egyptian Question; and I am inclined to think that when such a charge is made it had better in any case be made in public speech than in an observation of the kind the right hon. Gentleman has just made. Now, what were the instructions to General Gordon—for that is what the whole matter turns upon—before he left for Khartoum? It is much more convenient for right hon. Gentlemen opposite to give their own versions and paraphrases of the matters before the House than to give the facts. Therefore, I desire to call the attention of the House to the actual words of the final instructions given to General Gordon by Sir Evelyn Baring, dated January 25th. The instructions ran as follows:— 128You will bear in mind that the main end to be pursued is the evacuation of the Soudan. This policy was adopted, after very full discussion, by the Egyptian Government, on the advice of Her Majesty's Government. It meets with the full approval of His Highness the Khedive, and of the present Egyptian Ministry. I understand, also, that yon entirely concur in the desirability of adopting this policy, and that you think it should on no account be changed. You consider that it may take a few months to carry it out with safety. You are further of opinion that the restoration of the country should be made to the different petty Sultans who existed at the time of Mohammed Ali's conquest, and whose families still exist; and that an endeavour should he made to form a confederation of those Sultans. In this view the Egyptian Government entirely concur. It will, of course, be fully understood that the English troops are not to be kept in the Soudan merely with a view to consolidating the power of the new Rulers of the country."—[Egypt, No. 6 (1884), p. 3.]Now, these instructions are governed specially by the first paragraph I have read—You will bear in mind that the main end to be pursued is the evacuation of the Soudan,I can very well understand that lion. Gentlemen opposite are very desirous of losing sight as much as they can of that first paragraph, because they are unable to keep back the fact, but from, time to time they allow it to slip out, as it were, that they are in favour of an, active and forward policy in Africa, as they were in Central Asia and other quarters of the globe. But that is not the policy of Her Majesty's Government; and with regard to part of the question, I do not hesitate to say that as between this side of the House and that side of the House there is an unalterable difference of opinion. General Gordon went upon his mission with these instructions. He arrived, as the House is aware, at Khartoum on the 18th of February, and he had not been long there when he commenced to make those proposals and suggestions with regard to the employment of Zebehr Pasha, and the expedition to Berber, which have been the staple of a large portion of this debate, forming what I may call the second count of the indictment against the Government. I must say that, in the course of this debate, I have felt a great deal of commiseration for the position of certain hon. Members with regard to Zebehr Pasha. How they must regret that they made those 129 speeches against his appointment! [An hon. MEMBER: What speeches?] An hon. Member opposite asks what speeches. Is he unaware that the Leader of his own Party in "another place" almost bounded to his feet the moment he thought that Zebehr Pasha was to be appointed, and said it was a thing so horrible that he desired at once that it should be disowned? Is he unaware that numerous Questions were asked of myself and the Prime Minister with regard to the alleged appointment of Zebehr Pasha; that one hon. Member who spoke to-night—the hon. Member for Greenwich (Baron Henry de Worms) —was conspicuous in asking those Questions—that he was as ready to abuse General Gordon about the recommendation in connection with Zebehr Pasha and the Slave Trade Proclamation, as he is now to praise him sky-high?
§ BARON HENRY DE WORMS
I am sure the noble Lord does not wish to misrepresent me. I never abused General Gordon at all. I merely criticized the possibility of the Government adopting a policy which would encourage the Slave Trade.
§ LORD EDMOND FITZMAURICE
Then I suppose I must take the hon. Member's observation in a Pickwickiansense. At the time they were not understood in that sense; and it was not only once, but more than once, that the appointment was opposed; and it was not only by the hon. Member, but by the hon. Member supported by his Friends; and in any case, even if he is able to exculpate himself from that, I do not know how he will get rid of that awkward and inconvenient speech made by the Leader of his own Party in "another place." That being so, the right hon. Gentleman opposite and hon. Members opposite, in the course of this debate, have not ventured openly to condemn the course which the Government had pursued with any force or any unanimity with regard to Zebehr Pasha. They are obliged, owing to the position which they themselves have assumed, to acknowledge that that recommendation was one for which, to say the least of it, there was a great deal to be said. The right hon. Baronet who introduced this Motion to the House was not himself very clear on the subject; and it was difficult to see exactly what 130 his views on the subject were. He was evidently very anxious—and that was clear all through—to condemn the Government about everything; but with regard to Zebehr, even he assumed an attitude of prudence and moderation. But when he arrived at the other part of this portion of the indictment against the Government—I mean as to the Berber expedition—he was very strong indeed as to the wickedness of Her Majesty's Government in refusing to send this expedition; but he did not condescend to enter into any particulars. He did not show in what way Her Majesty's Government would have been justified in disregarding the clear warnings they had received from military authorities of great eminence, as to the immense risk of such an undertaking; and I venture to say this—if Her Majesty's Government had decided otherwise; if they had ventured at a period when the great heat of that country was making itself felt, although not yet in its full strength, to imperil, however small a portion of the British Army, at once there would have come from right hon. Gentlemen opposite a chorus of condemnation as to the wickedness of running the risk of losing even a single British life in an expedition which from the very first they would have denounced as dangerous and as foolhardy. The fact is, that hon. Gentlemen opposite are consistent only in one thing, and that is in condemning whatever course is adopted by the Government. They hounded us on to send an expedition for the relief of Suakin and Tokar; but when the expedition was gone, and when those battles had taken place, you might almost have imagined that the Bench opposite was a Colony of the Society of Friends; that it was a Peace Society that had sat down there; for at once there began exclamations about the horrors of war, the awful sacrifice of human life, and the wickedness of wasting the life of a single British soldier in a quarrel with which we had no concern. Why is it that those observations did not occur to hon. Gentlemen opposite sooner? The fact is that they thought that in certain sections of opinion in this country — in certain sections represented chiefly on this side of the House—the terrible slaughter that did take place in these battles had occa- 131 sioned a certain amount of feeling; and they at once thought, with that short-sighted policy which distinguishes their Party, they could drive a wedge in between the different sections of the Liberal Party and posture as Quakers—as Members of the Society of Friends—and make the Government odious to a large section of their own followers. But the fact is, that those whom they desired to take in by that rather absurd manœuvre were persons of much too solid a character and too sound an intellect to imagine, when they saw the Party opposite masquerading in the garb of the Society of Friends, that they were anything at all but our old friends the Conservative Jingoes out for a holiday. The third count in the indictment is that the Government were fully aware for a long time of the position of General Gordon, that they knew, or in any case ought to have known, that General Gordon was asking for assistance; and that they, knowing all that, deliberately refused such assistance when he asked for it. The Prime Minister has shown with perfect accuracy that no specific request for troops to be sent to Khartoum itself was made by General Gordon; but no doubt that is not by itself an answer to the whole charge made by hon. Gentlemen opposite; and I desire, therefore, to point out that the general charge made by them will not bear examination. It is a matter of dates; and I should have thought that hon. Gentlemen opposite, who are so fond, at Question time especially, of showing their great acuteness by calling out "Date" whenever a telegram is mentioned, might have condescended to examine the dates in this matter. If they had done so, they would have found that the charge they bring forward is one which is entirely baseless. It was on the 9th of March, as has been pointed out in the course of this debate, that General Gordon asked that if he could neither have Zebehr Pasha nor troops sent to Berber, he should be allowed to come away. The telegram sent by him to Sir Evelyn Baring was only delivered to the Government on the 13th of March. What happened then? Was there any delay—and that is a point of great importance—in answering General Gordon? It was on the 13th of March— 132 on the day upon which that telegram reached the Government— after the consideration of that telegram by the Cabinet, that in the evening the telegram, which is numbered 244 in Blue Book No. 12, was sent; and that telegram, with the telegram sent on the 16th of March immediately following, may be said to be the Charter of the policy of the Government. I have read to the House just now what were the instructions to General Gordon; and the House will see that these two telegrams are based upon the adherence by the Government to those instructions, which, as I have shown, were given to General Gordon. For what is it that Earl Granville, in the telegram on the 13th of March, says? He says to Sir Evelyn Baring—I have received your telegram of the 13th instant on the subject of General Gordon's suggestions with regard to the appointment of Zebehr Pasha as Governor of Khartoum and the dispatch of British troops to Berber. Her Majesty's Government are unable to accept these proposals. If General Gordon is of opinion that the prospects of his early departure diminishes the chance of accomplishing his task, and that by staying at Khartoum himself for any length of time which he may judge necessary he would be able to establish a settled Government at that place, he is at liberty to remain there. In the event of his being unable to carry out this suggestion, he should evacuate Khartoum and save that garrison by conducting it himself to Berber without delay. Her Majesty's Government trusts that General Gordon will not resign his commission. He should act according to his judgment as to the best course to pursue with regard to the steam vessels and stores."— [Egypt, No. 12 (1884), pp. 162–3.]Then, on the 16th of March, in reply to a further communication from Sir Evelyn Baring, Earl Granville says—While the objections of Her Majesty's Government to Zebehr are unaltered, the prospect of good results attending his appointment seem to be diminished. The instructions to General Gordon to remain in the Soudan only apply to the period of time which is necessary for relieving the garrisons throughout the country, and for affording a prospect of a settled Government. If General Gordon agrees with you that the difficulty of establishing a settled Government will increase rather than diminish with time there can be no advantage in his remaining, and he should, as soon as is practicable, take steps for the evacuation of Khartoum in accordance with the instructions contained in my telegram of the 13th instant. On evacuating Khartoum, he should exercise his discretion as to what is to be done with the steamers and stores there."—(Ibid. 166.)I ask the House, whether the Govern- 133 ment could have given instructions to General Gordon with regard to the removal from Khartoum consequent upon their refusal to meet his views with regard to the two particulars of Zebehr Pasha and an expedition to Berber with any less delay? In fact, is there any delay at all? I assert that not only was there no delay, but that the Government acted with great promptitude in the matter. But right hon. Gentlemen say—"Your telegram never reached General Gordon." Was that our fault? The whole case of the Party opposite, when closely examined, comes to this— that we are to be condemned because at a certain period the telegraph between Berber and Khartoum was cut, and that at a slightly later date it was therefore impossible to send through a message. I assert that a charge based upon such a substructure as that is preposterous, and one which not even the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson), speaking to-night, as he says he does, for the consciences and in the name of the whole civilized world, could support even before a small fraction of the British public. I am aware that in this debate it has been the object of the right hon. Baronet (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) and the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Gibson), by departing from the historical order of dates, so to mix up the dates and jumble up the despatches that they may keep the attention of the House from the order and sequence of these events; and I must say I have a fair ground of complaint against the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin, because, having done so, he attempted to shield himself by saying that the Foreign Office Blue Books were issued in such order that it was not easy to follow them. To a certain extent the Foreign Office Blue Books have departed from strict historical order. But why? Because of the constant pressure by hon. Gentlemen opposite for Papers, and by nobody more so than the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin. The right hon. and learned Gentleman made special complaint that the Paper on General Gordon, which is contained in Egypt No. 7, was published as a separate Paper, thereby anticipating earlier Papers. 134 Why, it was published as a separate Paper in consequence of the reiterated demands from the Front Bench opposite for its immediate production. I speak within the recollection of the House, and I ask, is it not a notorious fact that almost every day at Question time I am asked to lay on the Table separate telegrams, and thereby break the continuity and order of the Foreign Office Papers? When I resist the applications made to me, I am met with something very nearly approaching to abuse; and when, from a desire to meet the wishes of right hon. Gentlemen opposite as much as I can, I present these Blue Books as rapidly as possible, I am told by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin that the Foreign Office publishes its Papers in such a way as to make them difficult of comprehension by the House. The right hon. and learned Gentleman must take his choice; he must either give up his constant demands for Papers in anticipation of the ordinary course, or he must take the Papers as they are presented. Then the case of the right hon. and learned Gentleman was very much strengthened by a certain number of haphazard quotations from the Blue Books with regard to the position of General Gordon. I am very unwilling, indeed, at this late hour of the night—1 o'clock—to trespass upon, the attention of the House by reading any extracts from Blue Books; but so much has been said upon this question that I feel I should not be doing justice to the case if I did not point out to the House that all through the months of February and March, and through much of the month of April, we received in a regular sequence telegrams, from General Gordon showing that with regard to the military position of Khartoum he was under no apprehension. The position of right hon. Gentlemen, opposite in this matter is very peculiar. They like to use dates and quotations, but they like to use them in their own way. I recollect that only a very short time ago I was told by hon. Members opposite that I had contradicted the Prime Minister with regard to the position of General Gordon, because I had said that Mr. Power, who is with General Gordon at Khartoum, had been congratulated by the Foreign Office for his 135 devotion and self-sacrifice in remaining at Khartoum at a period of danger; while, on the other hand, the Prime Minister said that General Gordon was in no immediate danger. There was a good deal of capital made out of the alleged contradiction; but I assure right hon. Gentlemen opposite I did not mind it. It, in reality, amused me a great deal; because I was conscious of the fact that the congratulations to Mr. Power upon his gallant conduct in remaining at Khartoum related to a period when General Gordon had not only not arrived at Khartoum at all, but when General Gordon was not even in Egypt. The House will see that there is no divergence between the views of the Prime Minister and myself; and it will see, also, that right hon. Gentlemen opposite are not very much given to reading the Blue Books which they are so exceedingly anxious should be presented. Sir, in the month of February General Gordon telegraphed to Sir Evelyn Baring that there was no chance of the Mahdi advancing personally from Obeid to Khartoum. On the 13th of March he said Khartoum was quiet and well supplied; and on the same day he said again—Khartoum is quiet, and the people are volunteering for Government service."—[Egypt, No. 18 (1884), p. 9.]On the 16th he said—We are all right at Khartoum, and have plenty of provisions if steamers come up." — [Ibid., p. 14.]On the 17th he said—Two most important tribes are bitterly inimical to the Mahdi."—[Ibid.]Again, in March, in an undated telegram, he said—I think we are now safe, and that as the Nile rises we shall account for the rebels."— [Ibid., p. 16.]Later he announced that a steamer had come up; and on the 29th of March he used very remarkable language indeed with regard to the rebels. He said—They do not appear to number more than 1,500, and of these, perhaps, there are not 150 determined men."—[Ibid., p. 23.]On the 31st of March he said—I wish I could convey to you my impressions of the truly trumpery nature of this revolt, which 500 determined men could put down.…. Be assured, for the present and for the next two months, we are as safe here as at Cairo."—[Ibid., p. 24.]136 Later he said—Khartoum is all right.In April he said—The Mahdi evidently distrusts rebels here, and will send no aid to them."—[Ibid., p. 30.]And then he added this most important statement—We have provisions for five months, and are hemmed in by some 500 determined men and some 2,000 rag, tag, and bobtail Arabs."— [Ibid., p. 33.]It is, therefore, clear from General Gordon's own telegrams that, in the first place, he did not believe that outside Khartoum he had the main force of the insurrection to deal with; that, secondly, he did not believe the Mahdi would advance personally; and that, thirdly, he had, from a military point of view, the very lowest opinion of the force by which he was confronted. I have dealt now with the main points of the case brought forward against Her Majesty's Government. I am inclined to think that the House and the country will, as the Prime Minister has said, consider that the position is one fairly open to much; discussion; but not one which can at all justify the violent language and extreme denunciations used in the House, more especially with regard to the Prime Minister. I recollect that during the last Parliament hon. Members opposite used to complain that their own foreign policy was subject to a considerable amount of discussion. Discussion on foreign policy as well as home policy is, of course, the life and essence of our Parliamentary institutions; and nobody on this side of the House or upon the Treasury Bench will complain for a single moment of any amount of discussion. But what we do feel is, that we have a right to ask for a calm and independent judgment in regard to the policy of the Government—a judgment founded upon considerations of truth, and logic, and moderation, of real truth, true logic, and genuine moderation, and not one animated by the violent and denunciatory tone which has run through the speeches on the other side of the House. I feel assured of this—that whatever may be the views of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, the feeling of the vast majority of the House would show itself; that Her 137 Majesty's Government will again receive the support of a substantial majority; and that that majority in this House will form a faithful reflex of the public opinion of the people of this country.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."— (Mr. Chaplin.)
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow, at Two of the clock.