HL Deb 14 May 1827 vol 17 cc767-74
Lord Goderich ,

in pursuance of the notice which he had given, rose for the purpose of proposing to their lordships to pass a Vote of Thanks to the Army and Navy of England, which had been recently employed in the eastern hemisphere; and if it was now some time since the period when their lordships used to be called upon, almost annually, to testify the sense which they entertained of the invaluable services which the fleets and armies of his majesty rendered to the country, it was impossible that their lordships should not recollect, that the very infrequency of these motions resulted from the peace, which was itself the result of the unparalleled successes, for which their lordships had been called upon to express their gratitude. He felt it to be impossible for him to discharge the duty which he had to-day to perform, of proposing to their lordships to thank the army in India, without recollecting, with no ordinary degree of pride and satisfaction, that it fell to his lot, at the termination of that war, to be one of those individuals who were selected by the other House of Parliament to convey their thanks to a great and illustrious duke, whom they thought it an honour to themselves to thank for the services which he had rendered to his country; and he was persuaded, that there was no man in their lordships' house, or in the country, who would join with him with greater sincerity, in asking parliament to express their sense of the services of the army in India than that noble duke himself; particularly when he recollected, that the theatre where those services were performed was the theatre where the illustrious duke first unsheathed that sword which had flashed so many years in terror to the enemies, and in glory to the friends, of this country. He felt it his duty to make these preliminary observations, as an act of justice to that noble individual; and he should now proceed to submit to their lordships the grounds upon which he thought they were called upon to pass their approbation; and in doing so he should not advert to any of those political topics connected with the cause and origin of the war against the Burmese, or the attack upon the fortress of Bhurtpore. It was manifestly desirable to abstain from topics which had a tendency to disturb that unanimity which was most desirable in cases of this kind, and which certainly added no ordinary grace to the thanks of parliament. The circumstances which led to the operations conducted by sir Archibald Campbell against the Burmese, originated a considerable time before the government of India felt called upon to resort to actual hostilities; and it was impossible that they should not feel, that they were about to undertake operations of no ordinary difficulty. The country was entirely unknown, and communication was exceedingly difficult. The only mode for our troops to strike a decisive blow against the enemy, and capture the capital, was by availing themselves of the course of the great river which led from the capital to Rangoon. Although the nature of the enemy's country was unknown, this circumstance was perfectly known—that the people were warlike and resolute men, who had a very high sense of their own importance, and of their own means. It was impossible, therefore, that the operations of our troops could be attended with immediate success, in a country where great difficulties were opposed to the movements of the troops. However, as soon as a hostile feeling was shown on the part of the Burmese, the most active preparations were made to take the field. And it was impossible for language to convey in sufficiently strong terms the efforts made by sir Thomas Monro, the head of the government of Madras; in which presidency the main body of the troops was collected, who were drawn from great distances with the utmost rapidity. But the merit of the praise was not due to sir Thomas Monro alone, who brought the troops together; for there were few circumstances under which the native troops had so signalized themselves, and their conduct gave a character to that portion of the forces of the East India company, which was beyond all praise, and which was, in a military point of view, of no ordinary interest; for their lordships well knew the aversion which the native troops felt to operations of such a kind; besides which, a superstitious feeling prevailed among them with respect to the fortress of Bhurtpore. Most of the native troops had been brought from distances of many hundred miles; some from a distance of a thousand miles, and yet there were no more than two individuals who had not embarked with their corps. The first operations of the army were directed against Rangoon; and, though the enemy had not the means of making a defence of that position, yet our troops found it impossible to advance a single step without opposition. The enemy knew the strength of his own country, availed himself of his own resources, and kept up that desultory warfare, which exposed our troops to every privation, and made the effects of climate still more destructive. The skill which the enemy displayed in the defence of his country manifested no ordinary degree of capacity, bearing on defensive warfare. Nothing, however, could withstand the attack of our troops. Every inch of ground was contested, step by step, in personal conflicts between man and man; and in every instance our troops were successful, and the result was the entire dispersion of the force which the enemy could collect, and his ultimately suing for peace. But he ought to advert—indeed, it would be gross injustice to another branch of the service if he did not advert—to the advantageous co-operation of the naval force, without the assistance of which it would have been totally impossible for the land operations to have succeeded. The supplies could never have been carried up, but for the facilities the river afforded; which were not, however, without countervailing difficulties. The river was navigated by vessels of the enemy, denominated war-boats; and, if there had not been a competent naval force, directed by that energy which had always characterized the British navy, that naval force of the Burmese would have rendered unsuccessful the operations of the troops. However great might be his opinion of the services of the army, he was hound to manifest the same feeling with respect to the co-operations of the navy. He did not think it necessary for him to trouble their lordships by going into details, or by mentioning, in particular, the names of individuals. Those names were contained in the motions; and would find, in the records of their lordships' House, a testimony which was far beyond the transitory eulogium which so humble an individual as himself might presume to pass. With respect to the fortress of Bhurtpore, those persons who had not applied their minds to subjects of this kind, might, at first view, think it not deserving the attention of their lordships, that a small and isolated fortress should have been captured after a regular siege and assault: but there were some circumstances connected with that fortress, which gave it no ordinary importance in the eyes of the government of India, and the successful assault of that position fully deserved their lordships' thanks. That fortress had always been considered in India as a very strong place, and had, twenty years ago, successfully resisted a vigorous attack made upon it; and the failure of that, attempt had inspired the natives with such a conviction of its strength, or rather such a superstitious belief that it was invulnerable, as made it acquire in their eyes the greatest importance, and rendered it the rallying point of every person hostile to the Indian government. It was impossible to say what the consequences would have been, of either leaving that fortress in the possession of the rajah, or of failing in the attempt which had been made. He could say, with perfect truth and justice, that the preparations made to ensure the certainty of success were only equalled by the attack. An attack was made upon the fortress by sir Edward Paget, and afterwards by lord Combermere, when the accumulated number of troops and artillery made success infallible. It was of no inconsiderable importance, and the circumstance was a strong proof of the judgment with which the attack was planned, that, when every thing was prepared, and the batteries erected, not a moment was lost in giving them their full effect; and, in the course of a few weeks, this mighty, and hitherto considered impregnable, fortress was taken by assault, though defended by the greatest vigour and bravery. After the loss of four thousand men, the enemy was under the necessity of surrendering this key-stone of their strength, and of yielding up a fortress of the greatest importance to the security of our empire in the east. He was afraid he had detained their lordships too long; but he hoped they were too ready to do justice to the efforts of their countrymen, not to pardon the weakness of his eulogium. He now begged leave to move, "That the thanks of the House should be given to lord Combermere, Commander-in-chief of the forces in India, for the zeal and meritorious conduct he displayed in commanding the troops employed in the attack upon Bhurtpore, and particularly for the judgment with which he planned the assault upon that fortress, the success of which has been highly valuable to the reputation of the British arms." He likewise moved votes of thanks, similar to those passed in the House of Commons on Tuesday last, to the different officers and men, and to the army and navy.

The Duke of Wellington

said, he did not mean to enter into the details which his noble friend had gone into, but he hoped it would noble deemed presumptuous in him to offer a few words on the occasion, particularly when their lordships considered the relation in which he stood to the officers and troops employed in India. If he had had no other motive for addressing their lordships, he should have been induced to do so by the kind remarks of his noble friend, who had attached more merit to him than his services deserved. With respect to Bhurtpore, his noble friend had acquainted their lordships with that superstitious notion which invested the fortress with impregnability; and he had also informed their lordships of the attack which had been made on it twenty years ago. It was only justice to the governor of India to observe, that he had prepared the way for the success of lord Combermere, and had displayed the greatest anxiety, that means sufficient for the purpose should be placed under his command. This justice was due to the governor-general; but he must also say, that no time was lost in beginning operations. His noble friend, lord Combermere, had lost no time in joining the army on his arrival in India, and had travelled upwards of a thousand miles in ten days, in order that he might begin the operations at a proper season. He had commenced those operations, and carried them on, with that vigour and activity which ensured their success; and had closed them by a military feat which had never been surpassed by any army upon any occasion. With respect to the operations in Ava, he must say, that little more was known of that country than its name. The Indian government knew nothing of the climate, nor of the nature of the government or the people. They knew nothing respecting its military force, or of any of those circumstances which would enable a man to form a plan of military operations, or found any notion in what way to proceed to carry on a war. The government knew nothing of the topography or geography of the country. Under these circumstances, sir A. Campbell went to Rangoon with his army, at the commencement of the rainy season; and it was not, therefore, to be wondered at, that the operations should have excited so much anxiety and doubts as to their termination. The army found that every animal had been driven out of the country; and every man suffered under great privations, in consequence of the want of provisions. It was not possible to describe the nature of those privations which the troops had suffered; and which were aggravated by the climate of the country. The officers and troops had, however, borne all these privations, and encountered every difficulty, with the greatest cheerfulness; and, after vanquishing a numerous enemy, brought the contest to an end honourable to this country, by that which he hoped would be a lasting peace. Under these circumstances, he conceived there never had been an occasion upon which their lordships had been called upon to express their approbation, where it was better deserved.

The Earl of Carlisle

thought, after the satisfactory testimony which had just been borne to the services of those troops whom it was proposed to thank, it might be deemed presumptuous in him to attempt to follow up that testimony by any expression of his sentiments; but, having formerly held a situation, however subordinate, connected with the affairs of India, he felt anxious to offer his humble tribute of applause to those important services rendered by the capture of Bhurtpore; the conquest of which would, he trusted, secure permanent peace to that part of the British empire. But if their lordships admired the gallantry which led to that conquest, they ought, in a still greater degree, to admire the cool and collected courage, the patient and enduring spirit, which animated the army, and preserved its energy, until the time for action arrived, when they pursued a new enemy in a new country, hunted him from his recesses, and finally dictated the terms of peace at a short distance from his capital. He thought that praise was due, not only to the military, but to the naval force. He had no wish to create any difference of opinion; but he could have wished, that the name of the governor-general, who had so ably made every preparation for the war, might have been inserted in the thanks of the House. He perfectly understood the distinction drawn by his noble friend; but he regretted that the noble lord who presided over the government in India had been subject to unfounded misrepresentations, though he trusted that his noble friend would answer those misrepresentations satisfactorily to his country, by two expressive words—Ava and Bhurtpore.

The Earl of Morley

thought that, considering the patient and enduring spirit of the army, it would be difficult to select an occasion upon which the tribute of national gratitude was more deserved. Though he felt, with his noble friend, that it would not be strictly within the usage of parliament to express, in a separate motion, the sense they entertained of the civil government of India, still he thought it would be an act of gross injustice, if he did not advert to the firmness and wisdom of those councils which gave energy to our armies. The votes of thanks were restricted to the operations in Ava and against Bhurtpore; but it did not appear by any thing in those motions, that the one operation was not subsequent to the other, and that the resources of the one were not transferred to the other. Such, however, was not the case. It was during the most trying period of the operations in Ava, that the enterprise against Bhurtpore became urgent; and government so admirably managed their resources, that they were enabled to equip and send into the field an army, fully adequate to the purposes for which it was formed. He thought great praise was due to the governor-general for his firmness and wisdom, without which the capture of Bhurtpore would never have taken place. Great as had been the success against Bhurtpore, and the advantages derived from it, that noble lord was as slow to claim merit for those advantages, as he was before ready to repel those charges brought against him, during the continuance of the military operations. Grievous were the forebodings, and grievous the complaints, against that noble lord during the prosecution of the war. It was now, indeed, generally acknowledged, that at the time that noble lord arrived in India, the question of going to war with Ava was no longer an open question; and such was the determination of the government of Ava to measure their forces with us in the field, that a few months of feverish repose were the most that could be expected.

The Earl of Harrowby

said, that after the observations that had been made, he considered it necessary for some member of government to declare, that the glorious results of the war were not only attributable to the valour of our troops, but to the judgment and discretion of the governor-general. The only reason why the noble lord had not been included in the vote of thanks was, that it was not usual that thanks should be voted to the civil officers of the state. The only occasion in which that usage had been departed from, was in the instance of a noble relative of the noble duke, who had, to a certain extent, adopted the military character, by placing himself at the head of the expedition. He begged to declare, in the most unqualified manner, that great merit was due to the noble lord at the head of the government: for it was not only the valour of our troops, but the firmness and judgment of the noble lord, which had secured to the country such brilliant success. The noble lord had already received from the hand of his sovereign a splendid mark of his approbation; and if any thing could add to the gratification, it would be the sentiments expressed by their lordships on the present occasion, especially by the noble duke. The resolutions were agreed to, nem. dis.