HC Deb 15 February 1894 vol 21 cc469-72

I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies whether his attention has been called to a letter from a trooper in the service of the British South Africa Company, published in The Pall Mall Gazette, of 9th February, in which it is stated that five prisoners taken at Shangani were, because they were found a nuisance, handed over to the native contingent, who shot them when the column moved off'; whether be is aware that substantially the same account of this transaction has been given by two other troopers, whose letters have been published in the public Press; what steps have been taken in the matter; whether there is any punishment for murder by a British subject in Matabeleland other than a severe reprimand from the High Commissioner; whether any steps to secure the punishment of the persons accessory before the fact to this murder would have to be taken before the British Magistrate at Buluwayo; who is British Magistrate at Buluwayo; and whether ho is in the service of the British South Africa Company?


Yes, Sir; my attention has boon called to the letter in question, purporting to be signed by a trooper in the service of the British South Africa Company, in which the statement is made as set out in the question. In connection with this matter, I had also noticed a statement of a much graver and more specific character which appeared in Truth a few days ago, and which, purporting to come from an officer of the Salisbury Horse, directly accused by name certain other officers of the column of being accessory to the shooting of these same wounded prisoners. Both the statements are anonymous, and, as such, not entitled to much weight. Before taking action, therefore, I was waiting until the House met in order publicly to ask my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton to supply me with the name of his correspondent, of whose identity and bona fides he has, of course, satisfied himself. This officer will, I am entitled to assume, be prepared to substantiate the very grave charges he has made, and I therefore invite my hon. Friend to give me his name. The Secretary of State will then send the Correspondence to Sir H. Loch with instructions that a careful inquiry is to be made into the matter. As regards the fourth and fifth questions, any case of alleged murder would be brought before the Resident Magistrate at Buluwayo, who would have power to commit for trial but not to try; and probably the course that would be pursued at the present moment would be the committal of a murder case for trial to the Court of the Chief Magistrate of British Bechuanaland. The British Resident Magistrate at Buluwayo is Captain Herman Hayman, who was appointed by Sir H. Loch under the Order in Council of May, 1891. He is in the service of the British South Africa Company.

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

I am, of course, in possession of the name of the gentleman who wrote to me, but obviously I must ask his permission before I give the name to my hon. Friend. I cannot do it without permission. I may point out that the statements made by this gentleman are confirmed by Captain Francis. In the Pretoria Press my hon. Friend will see an interview with Captain Francis, in which he confirms the statement.


I quite agree with my hon. Friend that if his correspondent has given his name in confidence my hon. Friend must communicate with him before he can disclose it. But I am bound to say that it seems to be hardly consistent with what I should have thought would be considered honourable conduct among officers, for one officer to make such grave charges anonymously against his fellow-officers without being prepared to give his name and to support his allegations. With regard to the other matter, my hon. Friend says that the letter or interview with Captain Francis which appears in Truth this morning, and which appeared originally in the Pretoria Press, confirms the statement of his correspondent; but I must point out that Captain Francis's allegations affect a totally different column. They do not affect the Salisbury column at all. It deals with a totally different time and place. It can, therefore, hardly be said that these statements confirm each other. I should like (with the permission of the House) to add that, whilst the statement ascribed to Captain Francis in Truth, that serving in Commandant Raaf's column he was instructed to shoot all prisoners, whether wounded or not—to shoot, in fact, "all the niggers he saw"—was copied from the Pretoria Press, my hon. Friend omitted, no doubt in the exercise of his discretion as editor, to publish the contrary statement and counter-allegation of another member of that force, Sergeant-Major Davidson, which appeared in the same number of the same journal, and which could not have escaped his observation. Sergeant-Major Davidson traversed almost every statement made by Captain Francis, and added— As regards shooting wounded prisoners (or prisoners who were not wounded), I never in the whole expedition saw a prisoner shot; on the contrary, I thought that those in command were too lenient with them. They used to feed them when without food, and, after questioning them, they were told to go to their homes and plough their lauds. Of course, if Captain Francis shot the two prisoners, as he says he did, that is his look-out. The same day there appeared in the Cape Times statements by Trooper Crichton and Captain Griffiths in which they absolutely denied, as regards their own column at all events, of which alone they had any knowledge, that any prisoner, wounded or otherwise, was shot. Captain Griffiths further said that Captain Francis's statements in the Press are "deliberate lies," and that no prisoner, wounded or otherwise, was shot during the whole expedition. I must apologise to the House for having made so long a statement; but I thought that as these allegations have been made, it was only due to those implicated that I should put the counter-statements before the House. Let me add that if any specific charge can be made against officers or men, either in the police or in the forces of the Chartered Company, we are prepared and desirous to have it inquired into fully; but until we have specific facts before us, and also the names of those who make these charges, my hon. Friend will see himself that any examination which we might institute would be abortive. Therefore, I hope that he will obtain permission to give the name of this officer who has made the only specific charge that has been made, and we will have the circumstances inquired into.


I have no doubt at all that he will be prepared to give his name; but when a letter is sent to a newspaper, it is impossible for the editor to disclose the name of the writer until he has obtained permission.