HC Deb 28 April 1898 vol 56 cc1363-5
SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether any confirmation has been received from Colonel Pilcher of the visit of the French expedition to Argungu, east of the Niger and south of the Say-Barruwa line, since the 21st February, when information was given to the House; and whether any fresh communication bearing upon the matter has been made by the French Government since the Declaration of Lord Salisbury on the 22nd February that that Government did not believe the news to be true, and that the French Minister for the Colonies had assured M. Hanotaux that there were no French troops in the region?

MR. G. LAMBERT (Devon, South Molton)

At the same time may I ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he has received any further information relating to the telegram he read to the House on 21st February last from Lieutenant-Colonel Pilcher, that four French European officers and 100 men had arrived at Argungu, in West Africa?


A written confirmation of the assurance given in Lord Salisbury's declaration of February 22nd, referred to in the Question, was handed to Sir Edmund Monson on February 23rd. In it M. Hanotaux stated that— According to information obtained from the Minister for the Colonies, no French force has entered Sokoto, or the country of Argungu, and that no expedition has been sent into these regions. This assurance was repeated to Sir Edmund Monson verbally on the 25th of February, and again on March 6th, when M. Hanotaux reaffirmed that there were no French forces on the east of the Niger south of the Say-Barruwa line, and that the strictest orders had been given long ago that no movement was to be made across the Niger, and that France had no designs on the territory lying east of the river, to the south of the Say-Barruwa line. On the 19th of March Sir Edmund Monson reported that the Minister for the Colonies had that day received from Dahomey information that Captain Casamajou, in spite of the repeated and positive orders of the French Government, did pass through Argungu towards the north; but that he had no European companions, and only a very small following. In a note dated March 25th M. Hanotaux repeated that the expedition under Captain Casamajou was privately organised, and that it had been ordered to keep north of the Say-Barruwa line, but had apparently been forced to go to the neighbourhood of Illo in search of supplies, and to transfer its starting point to that district. This modification of the original itinerary was unauthorised, and the Minister for the Colonies, on receipt of information from British sources, telegraphed to Captain Casamajou, on February 24th, to move northward. I have now received a telegram from Colonel Lugard, from which it appears that a foreign force, presumably French, consisting of 40 troops and three Europeans, had been at Argungu, but had since gone away to the north. It appears from this that both sides were more or less misinformed, as our reports greatly exaggerated the numbers of the expedition—of the presence of which, in Argungu, the French Government were, in the first instance, entirely unaware.


Does the right honourable Gentleman know whether this force with three officers, being the number originally named, is the same expedition as that referred to in the admission of the French Government with regard to one officer, because it was said to be privately organised?


I believe it was an expedition privately organised by Prince d'Aren-berg, and no doubt the reference is to the same force. I have no doubt that this force was reported to us through native sources, as consisting of a large number of men.


The right honourable Gentleman says it was ordered to go north of the Say-Barruwa line. Has any agreement been come to with the French Government as to these lines?


I must ask for notice.