HC Deb 05 March 1896 vol 38 cc193-7

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies, whether his attention has been called to some correspondence published in the newspapers relative to the terms granted to Dr. Jameson's force at the time of their surrender to the Commander of the Transvaal forces on 2nd January; whether it is true that these terms were reported by the British Agent to the Transvaal Government, from information supplied by them, to be unconditional surrender; and whether there is reason to believe that the Uitlanders, then in a state of insurrection at Johannesburg, agreed also to unconditional surrender, from the belief that no reservation had been made regarding the lives of Dr. Jameson and his men?


I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies, whether Sir Hercules Robinson and Sir Jacobus de Wet knew on 7th January of the terms of Dr. Jameson's surrender, and, if so, why Her Majesty's Representatives informed the British Uitlanders at Johannesburg that the lives of Dr. Jameson and his force depended upon their laying down their arms?


With my hon. Friend's permission I will, at the same time, answer the question of the hon. Member for Sheffield (Sir E. Ashmead-Bartlett) on the same subject, and I must apologise to the House—for I am afraid the answer will be rather along one. I have received the following information from Sir Hercules Robinson:— March 3. Number 3.—Your telegram of March 2. Neither De Wet nor I ever heard of the battlefield correspondence till now. The commandant-general reported to him in Executive Council that the surrender was unconditional, and he so informed me. All the newspaper reports of the action gave the same version, and it never occurred to me (us) for a, moment to doubt its correctness. My military secretary visited the prisoners in gaol twice, to inquire as to their health, and to obtain information required by you as to killed, and wounded, and missing. Before Government of South African Republic would give him a pass he had to undertake not to discuss with the prisioners points other than those specified, but the prisoners might have handed him the letters to and from Kronje if they thought proper. They are published here this morning in the London cablegrams.—ROBINSON. March 4. Number 2.—I replied yesterday to your telegram of March 2 re Jameson's surrender, and have telegraphed to Pretoria on subject, and will acquaint you with reply. Meanwhile a Renter's telegram from Pretoria is published here this morning, stating that Willoughby's account of surrender is officially contradicted. It is stated that the terms were absolutely unconditional, and had these not been accepted orders had been issued by commandant-general to resume, firing. I gather from Press extracts telegraphed from London that misapprehension appears to exist in England as to disarmament of Johannesburg without the redress of Uitlander grievances. I may, therefore, explain that an armistice had been agreed to pending my arrival. On Monday, January 6th, when I met President of the South African Republic and Executive Council, the position was this—Johannesburg was only partially armed and altogether disorganised; the city was completely at the mercy of the burgher forces surrounding it, who could have cut off the water and starved the place out in a week. This was admitted to me by an envoy from Johannesburg before I met Government of South African Republic. The Government in Executive Council insisted on unconditional surrender of arms in 24 hours, the alternative being the commencement of hostilities. I should say here that in another telegram it is explained that the unconditional surrender of arms asked for was for the arms for which no legal permit to import had been granted. It was, therefore, a demand for the surrender of arms which had been smuggled into the country without a permit, and which were liable to be confiscated al any moment. I endeavoured to obtain some previous promise of concessions, but was told unconditional surrender was imperative. Government of South African Republic, as the victorious side, was in complete command of the position, and Johannesburg, as the weaker side, was powerless. It is immaterial whether the supposition then existing that Jameson's life was in danger was correct or not; the material point is that the alternative to unconditional surrender was the immediate commencement of hostilities, which would have resulted in much bloodshed and the eventual subjection of the citizens, as well as the probable destruction of the town.—ROBINSON. March 5, Number 1.—The following is the reply of the Government of the South African Republic to the request of Acting Agent General in the South African Republic for information respecting Jameson's surrender:—(Begins.) I have been instructed to inform you that the Government having noticed the same or a similiar published statement as the one contained in the telegram forwarded by you with reference to an alleged correspondence between Kronje and Willoughby, and not having any knowledge of matter has already telegraphed to Kronje for an accurate and full report, and if any correspondence was carried on by them to forward copies thereof to Pretoria, and requesting him also to come personally to Pretoria. His telegraphic reply is not sufficiently circumstantial, but, so far as it goes, he does not agree with what appears to have been published in the newspapers. His arrival must, therefore, be awaited, when I shall report further. In the meanwhile it appears from the correspondence relating to this matter that Commandant Trichardt telegraphed to the commandant-general on January 2 that his burghers were 1,250 yards from the enemy, that he had ceased firing, and had hoisted the white flag. The answer to Commander Trichardt appears to have been as follows:—They must lay down their arms and surrender unconditionally. If not, then the firing proceeds. Give them not more than five minutes to decide whether they will surrender or not, otherwise the firing proceeds. Should they surrender, take everything, then in charge bring them to Krugersdorp, and the officers to Pretoria. Disarm them first. (End.)—ROBINSON. On a review of the whole matter, it appears to me to result—First, that the commandants of the Boer forces had distinct orders to insist on unconditional surrender; second, that, notwithstanding this, one commandant, probably Mr. Kronje, did offer to Sir John Willoughby and his men that their lives should be spared if they laid down their arms and promised an indemnity; third, that, in so doing, he exceeded his authority, and the President now states that he knew nothing of the matter. I have had up to the present time no reason to doubt the good faith of the President—[cheers]—who is, I believe, sincerely anxious to find a satisfactory settlement of all pending questions, but he has great difficulties to contend with from his own people, and my negotiations with him are likely to be prejudiced by the imputations of bad faith which have found credence with persons of high authority in this country, and which are, I believe, groundless, and certainly not sustained by any evidence in my possession. [Cheers.]


Arising out of the Question, may I venture to ask if the right hon. Gentleman is aware that after the letter which has been published, in which the Commandant of the Transvaal forces agreed to grant the lives of Dr. Jameson's force in return for their surrender, Sir John Willoughby, in order to confirm that, wrote a letter addressed——


Order, order! This does not arise out of the Question on the Paper, which has been fully answered. Any other Question must be put on the paper.


I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is not the universal practice that the pledge of a commanding officer in the field——


Order, order! That is a general Question which must be put down on the Paper, and does not arise out of this.


It arises out of my Question. ["Order, order!"]


I have looked at the hon. Member's Question, and I am of opinion that this does not arise out of it.


I am going to ask the right hon. Gentleman a Question on another point—namely, whether he can explain to the House why it was that neither Sir Hercules Robinson nor Sir Jacobus De Wet took any steps to inform themselves of the terms of the surrender—["Hear, hear!"]—it not being open to Dr. Jameson or his officers to communicate outside——


I must ask the hon. Member to give notice of any further Question on this subject. The Question on the Paper has been fully answered. [Cheers.]


I think, Sir, this is my Question on the Paper.


I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman a Question strictly arising out of the Question on the Paper, which is if he can tell us who sent the telegram he has quoted to Commandant Prichardt?


Undoubtedly the Government of the South African Republic.