HL Deb 04 February 1840 vol 51 cc1169-75
Viscount Melbourne

I rise to bring forward the subject of which I have previously given notice. Some days have elapsed since that notice was given; but I have deferred bringing the subject forward, that your Lordships might have the opportunity of reading the papers which have been laid upon the table of the House. I feel convinced that the perusal of those papers will induce your Lordships to concur with me on the subject, and agree with me in the resolution I am about to propose; and will also relieve me from the necessity of addressing many observations on that resolution. I know not whether your Lordships have read the mass of important matter which has been laid upon the table; but I am sure that you are acquainted with the principal events relative to the affairs of India—of the expedition across the Indus—of the attempt of the British army to relieve Candahar and Cabool —to drive Dost Mahommed Khan from a country, the dominion of which he had usurped—to place that King on the throne who was entitled to it, and who was favourable to British interests. If your Lordships have read the papers, I am sure you will see sufficient reason to agree with me in the resolution I am going to propose, from the facts which are there stated, and sufficient reason also, that, merely in relation to the subjects to which they refer, I am strictly absolved from now entering on any political considerations. I shall, on the present occasion, entirely refrain from the consideration of all political matter, and shall confine myself exclusively to the military account of that expedition, which has been brought to so happy a termination by the Government of India, and by the officers and men serving under it. If there were not sufficient reason on political grounds, considering the nature of the undertaking, the object which it had in view, and the consequences which it has produced, I should still believe, that an unanimous vote would be given by your Lordships in favour of my motion; and I should think it, knowing the strong difference of opinion which is entertained on the subject, in the highest degree unjustifiable and reprehensible now to call on your Lordships for your sanction of the Government in India, and connected with it, of the Government at home, I will not do so. I will strictly confine myself to the motion of which I have given notice, that the thanks of this House be given to the Government of India, and to the officers and men composing its army, for the signal victory recently achieved by them. This, I believe, is the course which has always been adopted. When the thanks of Parliament were moved to Lord Wellesley, for the exploits recently performed by him, and for the victories which he had so triumphantly gained—and when resolutions to that effect were proposed, both in this and the other House, many opinions existed, both unfavourable to the Administration, and strongly opposed to the conduct of Lord Wellesley. Such opinions, I am proud to say, have since that time entirely passed away, and he now sees every shadow which dimmed his glory removed and dissipated. His name now shines out in its proper relief, and, with a fame the most unsullied, he stands forward amongst the many great men who have conducted the affairs of India—he the greatest of them all—having performed the most high, the most prudent, the most beneficial services which a subject could render to his sovereign or a citizen to his country. In 1819, a series of events took place, arising from apparently so insignificant a cause as incursions of predatory hordes of banditti, assisted by some of the native princes, hostile to the interests of Britain. Affairs began to assume a serious aspect, and to be considered of serious consequence to the empire. That combination was entirely put an end to and dispelled by that great man, the Marquess of Hastings; and Mr. Canning, in moving the thanks of the House of Commons to that nobleman for his services, confined himself entirely to the military portion of the expedition, and did not ask the sanction of the House to the general policy of the Government. He entered very fully and with great minuteness into a defence of the British empire in Hindostan, justified the means by which that empire had been obtained, and the manner in which it had been extended. It is not necessary for me to enter into that question at present. On it many erroneous notions have vanished, and sounder opinions have prevailed. It is not necessary for me to enter into such a question, more than to say this—that whatever opinion may be entertained respecting the justice of the measures adopted at the foundation of the British empire in India, now it will be admitted on all hands that the strength and power of England, in political influence and commercial prosperity, are directly and intimately blended with the affairs of India—that the maintenance of her dignity, carrying along with it the dearest considerations, can only be procured by good order and good government; and on that alone can depend the support of those countries and that multitude of inhabitants which the decrees of Providence committed to our care. It is my intention, then, to confine myself to the military part of the affairs of India, and I shall be enabled, therefore, to abridge the observations which I shall feel it to be my duty to make. It is not for me to deal with military matters—to describe marches, and give the full particulars connected with sieges. These are matters with which I am little acquainted, and which I shall be little able to explain or illustrate; but yet I can judge, as can every one, of the difficulty of this undertaking—of the courage with which it was executed—of the success by which it was attended—and of the advantages and benefits by which it was followed. Considering the magnitude of the undertaking, the difficulty necessarily attached to the transports, the uncultivated and unknown nature of the country—considering also, that in India the nations by whom they were surrounded were, though not openly hostile, yet were by no means friendly, on whom it was necessary to keep a watchful eye—and considering that the Governor-general was prepared for every species of hostility, it is impossible not to feel that from the manner in which the expedition was begun—from the manner in which it was carried on, how the transports were provided, and everything that was necessary attended to —the whole affair conducted on so large and so difficult a scale of operations, it was impossible not to feel that the Governor-general, and the army, deserved the gratitude and the thanks of the House. It is not my intention to pretend to state the details of the operations of that march. It is impossible to speak of them in higher praise, or in a stronger or more emphatic manner, than in the words of the Governor-general himself. I will read an extract from his report. [The noble Viscount here read the extract alluded to. It very briefly expressed the Governor-general's high admiration of "the soldier-like conduct of the troops—of the gallantry, and at the same time the apparent comfort of the soldiery."] The noble Viscount proceeded:—Your Lordships know the manner in which this expedition was conducted, and the brilliant success with which it was attended; and you all know, my Lords, of the memorable exploit of the taking of Ghuznee. With respect to that exploit, I can use no language more emphatically descriptive, than that adopted by Sir John Keane in his despatch. The noble Viscount read the following despatch:— TO THE RIGHT HON. LORD AUCKLAND, G.C.B., &c. &c. My Lord,—I have the satisfaction to acquaint your Lordship that the army under ray command have succeeded in performing one of the most brilliant acts it has ever been my lot to witness, during my service of forty-five years in the four quarters of the globe in the capture, by storm, of the strong and important fortress and citadel of Ghuznee yesterday. It is not only that the Affghan nation, and, I understand, Asia generally, have looked upon it as impregnable, but it is in reality a place of great strength, both by nature and art—far more so than I had reason to suppose from any description that I had received of it, although some are from officers in our own service who had seen it in their travels. It is, therefore, the more honourable to our troops, and must appear to the enemy out of all calculation extraordinary, that a fortress and a citadel to the strength of which for the last thirty years they had been adding something each year, and which had a garrison of 3,500 Affghan soldiers, commanded by Prince Mohammed Hyder, the son of Dost Mohammed Khan, the ruler of the country, with a commanding number of guns and abundance of ammunition and other stores, provisions, &c, for a regular siege, should have been taken by British science and British valour in less than two hours from the time the attack was made, and the whole, including the governor and garrison, should fall into our hands. It is impossible Viscount Melbourne continued to add anything to that testimony, as that anything that I could say, could enhance the merit of so glorious an exploit. Considering the manner in which the whole expedition was begun—considering the preparations that were made—considering the manner in which it was conducted—and considering the complete success by which it was crowned, I move, that the Governor-general, and the officers, and the men serving in India, are well and fairly entitled to the gratitude of this House—the highest testimony to their merits. I think they justly merit the thanks of Parliament, and I therefore propose the following resolution. The noble Viscount then read the motion, the effect of which is, that the thanks of the House be given to Lord Auckland, the Governor-general; Lord Keane, the commanding officer; to Sir Willoughby Cotton, and the other officers and men who composed the army of the Indus; and that the resolution of the House be transmitted to Lord Auckland in India.

The Duke of Wellington

My Lords, considering the relation in which I have stood throughout the greatest part of my life, towards those officers and a great part of those troops who are now thought deserving of your Lordships' approbation, your Lordships will forgive me for the presumption of offering myself at this early period of discussion to claim for a few minutes your attention. My Lords, I cannot sufficiently express my approbation of the prudence, foresight, and discretion of the noble Viscount, in offering the observations which he selected for the address which he has just made to your Lordships in proposing this motion. My Lords, it is perfectly true, that this House has for some time had under its consideration, a vast number of the papers which might be the means of giving a knowledge of the political arrangements which have occurred in India, which have rendered necessary this war, and which have been carried into effect by the expedition which has been so gloriously achieved. There may be, and it is thought that there is, throughout the country a great difference of opinion on those political arrangements. I agree entirely with the noble Viscount, that it was not desirable to ask for our sanction to these political arrangements, when the motion only was for a vote of thanks to those who have succeeded in carrying those arrangements into effect. When we are called upon to express our approbation of the manner in which the exploit was performed, it is not the time to give our opinion on the policy which rendered necessary the adoption of such measures. It is certainly fit that the House should consider that policy on a different occasion; but let us all now refrain either from opposing or agreeing to that policy, and let us consent to nothing but what is necessary for the occasion. My Lords, I have the greatest pleasure in bearing my testimony to the excellence of the military measures, and of the manner in which those measures were carried into effect by the officers and the privates. Having been during a great part of my life employed, under the direction of superior authority, to carry into execution measures of this description, I am perhaps capable of judging the method which a Government can adopt by planning and carrying into effect such measures, and I should be the last man to doubt the expediency of expressing our approbation of those political servants who have assisted in planning and carrying into execution arrangements necessary to the execution of great military operations. I have happened to have had frequent opportunities of noticing the arrangements made for the execution of great military enterprises, and I must say, that I never knew an occasion on which the duty of Government had been performed on a larger scale, on which more adequate provisions had been made for all the contingencies which might have occurred, or in which more attention had been paid to the wishes of the officers, the comforts of the soldiers, and all those considerations which are likely to make a war successful. It would be presumptuous in me to say more, than what I have happened to have known by accident of the arrangements made preparatory to the campaign now under your Lordships' consideration. In respect to the military service, I will not say more than has been already stated by the Governor-general. I am well acquainted with the officers who directed and performed the exploit of the taking of Ghuz- nee, and I will assert, that there are no men in the service who deserve a higher degree of the approbation of their Sovereign, or who are more entitled to the gratitude of Parliament and the country, and that there has been no occasion since I have been in connection with such ser-vice where any exploit has been performed in a manner better calculated to gain the approbation of Parliament. I shall have the greatest pleasure to give my voice in approbation of the motion of the noble Viscount.

Lord Hill

said, that he could not allow this opportunity to pass by without expressing his great satisfaction at finding that his gallant Friend Lord Keane, and the troops under his command, had acted in such a manner as to call forth this mark of approbation from their Lordships—an honour which he knew would be duly appreciated by every individual of the army. He begged to return his thanks to the noble Viscount for having brought forward his motion, and for the very handsome manner in which he had been pleased to express himself regarding the conduct of the British troops.

Motion carried nem. con.