HL Deb 06 February 1852 vol 119 cc190-2

said, that as the subject of the Kaffir war had been that evening brought under consideration, he could not refrain from putting—though without notice—two or three questions to the noble Earl opposite of a professional character. His first question had reference to the despatch of Earl Grey, dated the 14th of January last, conveying to Major General Sir Harry Smith the opinion which he had formed on his military operations. Now, he had heard with the greatest satisfaction the speech delivered last night by his noble and gallant Friend near him (the Duke of Wellington)—the highest authority on military matters in the world—on the subject of Sir H. Smith. He felt that his noble and gallant Friend had spoken most fitly for his own dignity, and most fitly for the high character of Sir H. Smith. His noble and gallant Friend's speech would be a panacea for the feelings of mortification which Sir H. Smith must endure on hearing that he was made a victim by the noble Earl opposite. He (the Marquess of Londonderry) did not dispute the right of the Government to dismiss any officer; but it was of the highest importance to the well-being of the Army that that right should be exercised with the greatest discretion. It should not be in the power of Government to dismiss an officer of high reputation at its pleasure, and to place in his stead an officer whose military exploits were not known. It seemed strange that any Government should venture to place in command an officer who knew nothing of his duties, and should dismiss an officer who had had great experience in the art of war. The selection made of a new Governor for the Cape of Good Hope must go to the country as a selection of the noble Earl; for the determination to dismiss Sir H. Smith was not formed on any decision of his noble and gallant Friend near him, but on the ipse dixit of the noble Earl alone. Sir H. Smith was not an officer of ordinary character; for, without him, where would have been the victory of Aliwal? His high character was the property of his country, and therefore he (the Marquess of Londonderry) wished to know what the precedents were on which the noble Earl defended his recall of Sir H. Smith, and the appointment of Major-General Cathcart as his successor? If the war should become worse in Kafraria, on the noble Earl and the Government would rest the responsibility for the disaster. He doubted the policy as well as the justice of dispensing thus unceremoniously with the services of such an officer as Sir H. Smith, after the high testimonial to his merits which had been recently given by his noble and gallant Friend the Commander-in-Chief. He concluded by asking the noble EARL whether the dismissal of Sir Harry Smith was approved by the Commander-in-Chief, or was entirely the act of the Colonial Office; and whether the appointment of Major-General Cathcart as successor to General Sir H. Smith, late Governor of the Cape of Good Hope, was founded on the selection of the Horse Guards, or whether it was the appointment of the noble Earl himself?


My Lords, I am not sure if the questions just put by the noble Marquess opposite are of a very usual description. I am quite certain that many of the remarks that he has made are remarks in which it would be very unfitting in me, on this occasion at all events, to follow him. If the noble Marquess wishes to question the measure which has been adopted by the Government, let him do so in the regular way, and take the sense of your Lordships' House on the subject, and I shall be prepared to defend the course which we have pursued. But mere irregular remarks at this time on so important a subject shall not lead me into following the noble Marquess, I will only say thus much in answer to his question, first, regarding the recall of Sir Henry Smith. It appeared to me, for the reasons stated in those despatches to which the noble Marquess adverted, that that officer ought to be relieved from his present duties. I consulted my Colleagues on the subject; and, with their unanimous consent, I determined to submit the advice to Her Majesty, on considerations not exclusively military (as to those who read the papers on the table will be evident, and as is further evident by the very recent discussion and conversation in this House), that we considered it necessary, although a most painful duty, to relieve Sir Harry Smith from his duties as Governor of the Cape of Good Hope. Having determined on that course, most undoubtedly I did not determine on the selection of the officer whose name I submitted to the Queen as his successor, without consulting the highest military authority to which it was in my power to appeal. I did consult the noble Duke at the table (the Duke of Wellington), and I think the noble Duke will bear me out in saying that on naming Major-General Cathcart as the person who might properly be appointed to this responsible situation, the answer of the Commander-in-Chief was, that if Sir Harry Smith was to be relieved, he did not think that any officer could be selected more fit for that military employment than Major-General Cathcart. This answer I hope will satisfy the noble Marquess; and certainly I decline to go any further, and discuss now at greater length the reasons for the measure we have taken. I will only add, that having had intercourse with Sir Harry Smith before he went to the Cape, and having had the highest respect for his character, and believing him entitled to the high reputation which he bears, it has never been my lot while I have had to conduct public affairs, to have so painful a duty cast upon me as having to advise Her Majesty to recall him. But believing in my conscience that that measure was necessary, I could not shrink from performing my duty, however painful it might be.