HL Deb 04 April 1854 vol 132 cc367-76

, in rising to move for certain returns of the numbers of Wives and Children of Soldiers on active service in the East, or ordered there, said, he wished, in the first instance, to be distinctly understood as not proposing to interfere with the regulations of the Horse Guards relative to the marriage of soldiers without leave. Soldiers, under these regulations, were not permitted to marry without leave; and those who did so had not the same advantages afforded them as those who had been married with leave. He did not desire to interfere with those regulations, which he regarded as very wholesome; but the question was, whether any Government support should or should not be afforded to the wives and children of the men now sent upon active service? He should regret to have recourse to Government aid, and, unless it were found that such aid was absolutely necessary, he hoped that a measure of that nature would not be resorted to, as it might lead to mischief hereafter. The question then was, what ought to be done to afford relief? In considering the matter, it should be borne in mind that, as respected the condition of the Army, a great change of circumstances had occurred of late years. The condition of the soldier had been very much ameliorated; the Government had provided and regulated schools for their children, and there were many other privileges which soldiers could now enjoy which were not in existence in former times; and the period of enlistment had been shortened. At present the soldier enlisted for a limited duration of service, and at the expiration of the term for which he enlisted it was left to himself whether or not he would continue in the service and adopt it as a profession. He (Lord St. Leonards) could hardly imagine that any large number of soldiers would marry during the first period of their term of service, because at that time they would be of an age when prudence would forbid them from entering into matrimony. At a subsequent period, however, there would be a necessity that a certain portion of the soldiers should marry, and no one could doubt that they would adopt that course. He should be extremely glad if, for the future, some measure could be considered and provided to relieve the Army in some degree from the pressure which now fell upon them, both as regarded marriage with or without leave, and which might be the means of making some provision for the wives and children of soldiers during their absence upon active service. Their Lordships must bear in mind that the wives and children of soldiers who were left behind when their husbands and fathers were upon active service, must, so far as they were unable to maintain themselves, he maintained by assistance from without. As maintained they must be, the question was, what was the best mode of maintaining them? It might be asked, "Why should there be any particular movement now, when no similar movement has ever taken place upon any former occasion?" The answer to that question was obvious. In the first place, the condition of the soldier had been advanced, and, he hoped and believed, very much to the benefit of the service. It would not, therefore, be consistent with the duty of the Government and the country to neglect, as in former times, to make some provision for the maintenance of the wives and children of soldiers in the absence of our Army on active service. It was also said, "What do you do with the wives and children of your soldiers who are sent abroad to the Colonies? Nobody is in favour of making any provision for them." The answer to that question was, that service in the Colonies was a portion of the common service of the Army; and, as the number sent out was not very great, and the occasion not very sudden, the soldiers themselves ought to be enabled to make some provision against any hardship falling upon their families when they were called away. In such a case, therefore, there was no necessity for any particular movement; but the present circumstances were exceptional; for, after having enjoyed the blessings of peace for many years, we were driven into war. That war had come upon us suddenly, the number of soldiers sent away was larger than upon an ordinary occasion, and consequently a considerably larger number of women and children were thrown upon the liberality and care of the country than in any other case. And the feelings of the people of the country with regard to the present war must also be borne in mind. We were now embarked in war, and there was but one feeling throughout the country respecting it—namely, a determination to support it to the utmost. That feeling, expressed so warmly by the country, naturally extended to the soldiers who were going out to fight our battles, and who went out amid the enthusiastic cheers of large crowds of their countrymen who accompanied them on their way to embarkation. Their Lordships would have read of the crowds who lined the streets and filled the windows of the houses to cheer the troops in their progress; and what did that cheering show but that the people of England were unanimous in supporting the war, in which we were engaged, and were determined to maintain the honour and dignity of their country? And surely they would hardly cheer the troops in the way they had unless that cheering meant something substantial, and was intended to convey to those to whom they were given that their wives and children would not be forgotten in the absence of those nearest and dearest to them. Under any circumstances the wives and children who were left helpless and destitute must be maintained, and he was aware of but three ways in which aid could be given. The first was Government aid, which he hoped might not be resorted to if it were possible to avoid it. In the next place, unless some other provision were made, that which had already taken place with regard to the wives and children of the soldiers of the regiments ordered off in the first instance, must inevitably occur—namely, the forwarding by Government, according to ordinary rules, of the families left behind to those places which were called their abodes, and which were generally where the soldier himself enlisted. In that case, the women who were burdened with children requiring constant nurture and attention, were prevented, by the pressure upon them, from earning a subsistence, and were in consequence thrown upon the Union. The result was, that the soldiers leaving families behind them necessarily felt that they were not only injured but degraded by the circumstance that their wives and children must of necessity be thrown upon the Union for support He believed it was a fact that, excepting the idea of dishonour before the enemy, nothing weighed so heavily upon the mind of the soldier as the thought that while he was in a foreign land, fighting the battles of his country, those nearest and dearest to him were receiving parish relief in a workhouse. The third method in which aid could be afforded was private benevolence. It was within the power of every noble Lord, and within the power of every individual, to assist in providing a private fund which should be under the control of persons who would properly direct its expenditure. He would not call it charity; because, though charity was a sacred word when properly used, it was too odious in the common sense of the term to apply it to assistance rendered under these circumstances. By a little care, he thought their Lordships and the people of this country might be enabled, without inflicting any great burden upon themselves, to provide for the whole of the wives and children of our troops sent on active service. Already a considerable sum had been subscribed to an association formed for the purpose of aiding soldiers' wives and children, and he had no doubt that the managers of that association would carefully and judiciously disburse the funds entrusted to them. But there was still this great disadvantage attending this mode of proceeding, that the money thus doled out by 51., 101., or 201., though it might be of immediate aid, would not give permanent relief; and there was also a danger which ought to be carefully avoided—namely, that the money doled out to the wife of a soldier in her husband's absence might render her unfit to be a soldier's wife, and accustom her to look forward to support and assistance from others, and thus prevent her from exerting herself. Of the various methods which he had adverted to, which was the best? Having had occasion lately to consider the matter attentively, he ventured to say, that if the people of this country generally—and it could be done without any very great effort or expense—would take upon themselves in the different parishes to which they belonged to provide for one, two, or three soldiers' children during the war, they would not only provide maintenance and education for the particular children they took under their care, but they would, by taking off a portion of the burden, enable the soldier's wives to provide adequately for themselves and the remainder of their offspring. But in order to do good, a communication must be kept up with the commanding officer, and he had, then, no doubt that all that was required could be done. Supposing a woman of excellent character and the wife of a soldier of excellent character, were left here with six children, it would be out of her power to provide for all, and she would be compelled to fall upon the parish for relief; but if two of her children were placed under the charge of some respectable woman, she would be enabled, with the assistance of her friends, to maintain herself and four children by her own industry and exertions. If the women were enabled in that way to maintain their families, the result would be, that when the soldiers returned from service they would find that their children had been well cared for, they would receive them back in health, and, he hoped, much improved in respect of education. He asked for the returns for which he now moved, because he thought that when they were laid upon the table their Lordships would be enabled to form a proper judgment as to the best course to pursue. If Government aid were found necessary, it would no doubt be afforded; and he thought their Lordships might rest satisfied that under any circumstances a provision for the families left destitute in this country would do more to cheer the heart of the soldier on active service than any other measure that could be adopted.

The noble and learned Lord concluded by movingThat there be laid before this House, Returns, as far as can be ascertained, of the Number of Married Women belonging to each of the Regiments ordered on Foreign Service, the Numbers who are married with Leave, and the Numbers married without Leave, and the Number of Children.


said, he had been in hopes that some Member of Her Majesty's Government would have risen to express an opinion upon the subject now brought under the notice of the House. He had certainly himself but very few observations to offer upon the matter, but he must say this, that any plan which could be adopted, either by individuals or by the public, which would have the effect of inducing women more freely to marry soldiers, would be the most unkind thing that could by any possibility be done to them. His noble and learned Friend, in introducing his Motion, did not seem to recollect that after a soldier enlisted in a regiment of the line he remained at home in no case for more than five years, and was then sent abroad to the Colonies, where he remained for fifteen or twenty years; so that, in point of fact, a marriage with a soldier was not a marriage for life, as in the case of another man, but, at the most, only a marriage for five years. At the end of that time the husband and wife were almost necessarily separated; and, unless the woman was childless, it was far better that she should be separated from her husband than go abroad with him; and for this reason, that, if she went abroad with him, and took children with her, all such children must be under five years of age, and there was a great probability that in most of our Colonies the result would be their death. He had no doubt himself that more than one-half of the women sent to the West and East Indies, and nearly all the children who accompanied them, fell victims to the climate. His noble and learned Friend intimated that assistance was not required except in the case of the troops sent, or about to be sent, on service in Turkey. Now, if any new system was to be adopted with regard to the maintenance of the wives and children of soldiers sent on service abroad, he thought it would not be proper to confine that assistance to the wives and children of the soldiers sent on special service to Turkey. The hardship of being separated from their wives and families was just as great upon the men sent to India as upon those sent to Turkey. The only peculiar claim in the latter case was that they had been sent abroad sooner than they would have been had no war taken place. There was no other difference; and the condition of the men and their families, with this exception, was precisely the same. He wished to call the attention of Her Majesty's Government to one arrangement connected with the departure of troops for the East, which, he thought, might lead to considerable inconvenience. He thought nothing could conduce so much to inconvenience, and tend to increase the misery and destitution of the wives of soldiers, as the removal of the depôt from the place at which a woman whose husband had gone abroad had been residing at the time of the departure of her husband's regiment. He understood that it was intended to bring together the depôts of all the regiments sent to Turkey, and station them in the Isle of Wight; but he thought the adoption of such a measure would lead to the constitution of a society it was not desirable to create, and would be the means of inflicting a most serious burden upon the parochial authorities of the Isle of Wight, who would have to support all the wives and all the children of all the soldiers sent on service to Turkey. It was no doubt desirable to relieve the soldier from the apprehension that his wife would of necessity, in her destitution, be subject to parochial relief; and, if it were possible to find any body of persons to take upon themselves justly to apportion the relief to be given to a soldier's wife in a case of destitution, it might, in that case, be a matter for consideration whether that portion of the expense which would otherwise be borne by the parochial authorities might not be borne by Government. No new charge would be made, but it would merely be transferring to the Government a charge that would otherwise be borne by the Unions throughout the country, and, at the same time, the soldier would be relieved from the apprehension that his wife and family were receiving parochial relief. The great difficulty in such a case would be to find any number of persons, not interested in the matter, who would justly and without favour assign the relief to be given to each family. He apprehended that in all cases it would be most beneficial to allow the depôt to remain at the place from which the regiment took its departure for foreign service. The wife of a soldier of such a regiment might probably be established at the place at the time the regiment took its leave, and might be earning a subsistence by washing, that, in fact, being the occupation of most of the wives of soldiers. No doubt when the regiment was sent abroad, the greater portion of her customers would be taken away; but she might be a native of the place, or have friends there, and be enabled to gain a livelihood by her own industry. He could not but conceive that, if the depôt was to be the place from which the regiment departed, and the place to which it would return when it came back from service, and where the wives would be located during its absence, it must materially conduce to the assistance of soldiers' families. He would conclude the observations he had to make, as he had begun them, by saying, that if the Legislature did anything to hold out a further inducement to women to marry soldiers, it would be the most unkind thing that could be done.


apprehended that no one who had paid any attention to the subject would differ from the noble Earl in thinking it undesirable that undue encouragement should be given to the marriages of soldiers, for the sake either of the soldiers themselves or of the women; but at the same time he thought the observations of the noble Earl were not called for by anything which fell from the noble and learned Lord opposite. The noble and learned Lord's Motion was intended merely for the purpose of calling their Lordships' attention—and, through their Lordships, the public and private individuals—to this highly interesting and important subject, and not at all for the purpose of discussing the question whether the Government should undertake a duty which the noble and learned Lord believed, and he (the Duke of Newcastle) thought rightly, ought rather to fall upon individuals than the Government. The noble and learned Lord deprecated any expenditure by the Government for the purposes to which he had called attention, and he (the Duke of Newcastle) apprehended that any attempt of the kind would lead not merely to the evil just referred to by the noble Earl (the Earl of Ellenborough)—namely, the undue encouragement of marriages among soldiers, but to abuses in the expenditure of the Government funds. He felt that his noble and learned Friend (Lord St. Leonards), in bringing this subject before their Lordships, and through their Lordships before the public, was only following out a system he had begun in his own private capacity very much to his credit, and no doubt very greatly to the advantage of those to whom it had reference. In regard to the subject mentioned by the noble Earl (the Earl of Ellenborough), he was not by any means convinced that the concentration of the depôts could be beneficially proceeded with to any great extent. It might be valuable with a view to the training of the companies left at home, but there were other military grounds on which it was extremely objectionable. At the same time, on behalf of the Government and of their Lordships, he would thank the noble and learned Lord for directing attention to the subject before the House. He could assure the noble and learned Lord that that subject had not been neglected by the Government. Immediately on the necessity arising for ordering troops abroad, the attention of the Government was directed to the point. They were at first inclined to think that more could be done than now seemed practicable, but any suggestion the noble and learned Lord might make should receive every consideration; and in any actual efforts he might make he would not only carry with him all the sympathies of their Lordships' House and of the country, but every facility and assistance that could be afforded by the Government would be given him.


wished to ask the noble Duke whether his attention had been called to the case of a regiment which had been ordered to the East, having only just returned from Canada, where it had been stationed for some time? A considerable number of the men belonging to the regiment, he was informed, had married women from Lower Canada, and, being ordered on foreign service, were obliged to leave their wives here, most of them unable to speak a word of the language and far away from their own friends and relations. This was a case, he thought, quite exceptional, and presenting very peculiar claims on the attention of the Government, and, as such, he had taken the opportunity of mentioning it to the noble Duke.


replied that he had not heard that rumour, and that no case of the kind had been brought to his knowledge. At the same time, it was true that several regiments recently come from Canada had been ordered to the East, and he, therefore, could not say that no such case existed, It was an exceptional case, certainly, if it existed; but he should make inquiry into the matter, and, if it should turn out that the rumour was true, the matter should have the attention of the Government.


thought that the case of the wives of soldiers, ordered abroad on colonial service in the regular course of duty, was not less hard than that of the wives of those recently ordered to the East. When a large army was ordered abroad on urgent service, as at present, it was impossible that some hardships should not result to the wives of the soldiers, but the case of a regiment sent to a colony on merely garrison duty was by no means the same. It was not desirable that an unlimited number of soldiers should be induced to marry, but when a regiment was ordered on colonial garrison service for perhaps fifteen or twenty years, it was a great hardship that their wives should not be allowed to accompany them. A free passage ought to be afforded for those women in the Government transports. They could be maintained as cheaply in the colony as at home, and would be, beyond doubt, a great comfort to their husbands; but the refusing them a passage in the transports was in effect an absolute separation in the great majority of cases, and often for life.

On Question, agreed to.

House adjourned to Thursday next.