HL Deb 13 July 1857 vol 146 cc1323-35

My Lords, I am anxious to put a question to the noble Earl with reference to the news which has been received from India, and the course which Her Majesty's Government intend to pursue. It is now three months since the minus of the most reflecting men have been directed with great anxiety to the state of the army in India, and every successive mail has tended to increase that anxiety. But, not withstanding this state of affairs, no one word of official information has yet been given to Parliament. We have been left to depend upon private letters and upon articles in the newspapers; and while the empire is in danger, we know nothing of the cause of the danger or the nature of the measures adopted by Her Majesty's Government to suppress it. My Lords, I do not think that this is a state of things that ought to continue. I have said that every successive mail increases our anxiety, and yet by every successive telegraphic de- spatch we are told that the crisis is past, that the danger is over, and that things have been at their worst. My Lords, it is hot so. In a case of this kind—of a dangerous and extensive mutiny—things go on from worse to worse, and so will proceed until the strong hand of power has interfered to suppress the resistance to the authority of the Government. As yet no indication has been given of the existence on the part of the Government of India of that power which is necessary to suppress the present mutiny. The general tendency of those who call themselves the public instructors of the country is to endeavour to induce persons to believe that this is only a passing calamity, and that slight measures only are required to put down the rebellion in India. It seems to me that there are many among us who resemble that sagacious animal which, when pressed by its pursuers, hides its head in the sand and thinks it is not seen because it cannot see. My Lords, all Europe is regarding with the deepest interest the conduct which under the present circumstances we are pursuing. Upon that conduct depend our present character and our future position in India. I do not believe that there exists in this House or in the other any indisposition to grant to Her Majesty's Government all the means they may ask for the purpose of establishing our authority in India. If we do not do right, the disgrace is with the Government, but the loss of India must undoubtedly be with us. But it depends upon the noble Lord at the head of the Government whether he shall obtain for himself a reputation similar to that which was obtained under difficult and dangerous circumstances by Lord Chatham, or allow his Government to go down to posterity as the most calamitous, the most disastrous, and the most disgraceful since the time of Lord North. My Lords, what Her Majesty's Government have done since the last telegraphic communication which we have received is, so far as I am acquainted with their conduct, right. They could not, I think, have appointed a better officer than Sir Collin Campbell to be at the head of the army in India. I have at all times held the highest opinion of that gallant officer. I received it from the late Sir Charles Napier, who from the first moment of his acquaintance with him formed his opinion, which was afterwards fully confirmed, that he was one of the first officers we had. But in order to give full effect to the abilities of Sir Col- lin Campbell, two things are necessary; first, that in acting as Commander in Chief in India he should be altogether relieved from the thraldom which it has been too customary to subject commanders of forces in the field in India to—the thraldom of politicals: the next is that he should, as Lord Harris did in the time of Lord Wellesley, carry with him the whole strength and force and power of the Governor General. It was the pride of Lord Wellesley that he thus supported the officers under his command, and we see what successes in the field rewarded his wise and generous conduct. I approve the wise measure which has been adopted by the Government in India in appointing Sir Patrick Grant to the temporary command of the army. I do not ask whether they are strictly and legally justified in making that appointment, nor is it at the moment a matter worthy of consideration. They have regarded the public interests in placing the best man they could find at the head of the army. In doing so they have deserved well of their country. But, my Lords, observe this—that on the arrival of Sir Colin Campbell, Sir Patrick Grant will cease to hold the military command; and I must say that I have long regarded it as an object of the greatest importance that the Governor General should have the aid of Sir Patrick Grant as his military adviser in this crisis. It occurs to me that this great object can be effected in this manner—by enabling for a time the Court of Directors to appoint as an Extraordinary Member of Council a, military officer. When once they appoint Sir Patrick Grant, he will remain in Council with the Governor General and aid him with him advice. There are already two respectable officers who act in that capacity—the one as military Member of Council and the other as military secretary. I respect them both for the creditable manner in which they discharged in previous situations their duties—the one as political officer and the other as Judge Advocate. But there was nothing whatever in their previous services which could enable them to give to the Governor General that advice upon which he may rely as an authoritative expression of that which it is right for him to adopt; and it is most desirable that his Council should contain such men. I know that persons are very much disappointed at not having received by this telegraphic communication an account of the capture of Delhi. I think that disappointment unreasonable. I did not expect to receive that account; nor do I think any one can fairly impute blame to the commander of our force that, at the worst season of the year, and without the means of carriage, he should not have made a march of more than 130 miles in the time that was anticipated. I understand, however, that our troops have succeeded in defeating a body of the enemy which opposed them in the vicinity of Delhi. This account brings two things to my mind. The first is that the insurgents must have been much stronger than we supposed if they were induced to go out beyond the walls of Delhi; and the next, I rejoice to say, is that it impresses me with the conviction that they have no leader to command them. Happening to know the ground I am not in the least degree surprised that they should have lost all their guns; because in such a position it would be impossible for them when pressed to carry their guns away. My Lords, we hear that the defection is becoming very general—that it is extending to the whole of the Bengal army, of whom 26,000 are in revolt. We hear more than this—we hear that in the Punjab all the Native regiments have been disarmed. Now, among those regiments there are two of which I happen to know the recent history—namely, the 16th Grenadiers and the 26th Light Infantry. The 16th Grenadiers was one of the noblest regiments of the Indian army. It bore on its colours almost as many records of actions fought and victories gained as any regiment in Her Majesty's service. It was brigaded with Her Majesty's 40th Regiment during the whole of Sir William Nott's operations in Affghanistan. It served at Maharajpore, and by the side of the 40th Regiment it equalled the Queen's troops in courage, fortitude, and devotion, and lost as many men. The 26th Regiment of Light Infantry distinguished itself under the command of Sir George Pollock. When Sir George Pollock joined the army at Peshawur, 800 men, out of the whole 4,000 men he found there, were in hospital, the majority of whom, however, suffered more from their own apprehensions than from any actual sickness. The only troops, under those circumstances, upon which Sir George Pollock could entirely depend were this 26th Regiment which has just been disarmed. My Lords, there must have been a continuance of mismanagement and misconduct which I cannot comprehend before the nature of the soldiers composing those regiments could have been so changed. There cannot have been one non-commissioned, and certainly not one commissioned, Native officer in those regiments who did not show his gallantry and fidelity under General Nott and General Pollock; and it is lamentable to think that the glories of two such regiments should be obliterated from the Indian army, or that any circumstances, whatever they may have been, should have occurred to alienate them for an instant from the Government, and to make the officer in command think it necessary to deprive them of arms which they have always borne so nobly and so successfully in the field. It becomes us, then, my Lords, to look forward and consider, from the facts we have before us, what is likely to be our position in India on the 1st of November—the time when our troops will arrive, and when, after the rains, it will be possible to move. I have endeavoured, my Lords, to form an opinion on that subject. I assume that we take Delhi—I assume that our troops continue to hold Delhi, Meerut, and the neighbouring stations. But I know the locality. No European regiments are ever stationed there on account of the sickness which, prevails; and at the end of the rains even the Native regiments have from two-thirds to three-fourths of their strength prostrated. Therefore, if our troops take and occupy Delhi, if they expel the King from his palace and drive out all his forces, and even if they do everything in their power to promote the health of our men, you cannot possibly expect them to be in a state to resume operations on the 1st of November. All I can venture to hope is that they will be able to hold the places they occupy. In the very centre of the mutiny our troops will be like the French in Spain—they will hold what they stand upon, but little or nothing else. When the army, which constitutes our strength, is dissipated and gone, and the men have become, as they will do, rebels or robbers, it is impossible to believe that we shall be able to collect the revenue and administer the government. In the Punjab things may be a little better. You have able men there who, I trust, will be able to maintain their own. They may perhaps be able, through the aid of the local corps, to collect a portion of the revenue, but I do not think they can possibly do more. Certainly they will not be able to move beyond the banks of the Sutlej to render assistance to any other corps. All I can hope is, that in these provinces our autho- rities will stand their ground, and that the Punjab will be maintained. With your Lordships' permission I must enter into a few details, and examine what force we really want; because it is idle to talk of sending out regiments unless we know what are the demands upon us and what the troops are to do when they arrive. When the insurrection first broke out we had only two regiments at Calcutta and its neighbourhood. The Government sent for one regiment from Madras, and two from Bombay, which were in the Persian Gulf at the time. This, with another regiment previously ordered up, will make six regiments at Calcutta when these troops arrive. The first thing to consider is the protection of the capital, the seat of Government, where there is a treasury containing many millions, and an enormous amount of mercantile property. It is the point through which alone the Customs, the salt tax, and the opium revenue can be levied. It is essential to the maintenance of British authority in India not only that Calcutta should be held, but that there should be no possible doubt as to our holding it, and that the Government should be always able to act and legislate there in perfect security. In order to do this you must maintain at least three regiments there. In addition to the troops there you ought to have at least six steamers in the river to protect the Government offices, &c. Allahabad is a most important station at the junction between the Jumna and the Ganges; while at Lucknow—the centre of a great Mahomedan population—there ought to be more that one regiment. Thus, the whole of the six regiments which will arrive at Calcutta will be required for the protection of Bengal alone, without the power of moving beyond the confines of that Presidency, and, therefore, they will have no disposable force for retrieving affairs at the other provinces. Of these six regiments three must, at the earliest convenient moment, be sent back to their previous stations—one to Madras and two to Bombay—we must not run the risk of a movement in those Presidencies. Consequently of the eight regiments which we know have now been ordered to sail for India three will be detained in Bengal to supply the place of the corresponding number who will return to Madras and Bombay. Thus there will remain of the entire force of which we have as yet heard, only five regiments for any operations from Allahabad. I hold that five regiments are totally insufficient. And here I ought to observe that whatever force the Government may send out the difficulties of the Governor General in affording it the means of movement will not perhaps be insuperable, but they will be enormous; and unless he interferes in the business himself, looking into every detail and communicating personally with the officers intrusted with the duty of furnishing transport for the troops, our measures will entirely fail. There is no use in having men if you cannot move them. In Bengal you cannot find horses to mount the cavalry, or for the purposes of the artillery. It is absolutely necessary that the horses should be sent from hence; and it is most desirable that you should at the same time give orders at the Cape and in Australia for the forwarding to India of all horses fit for the service of the cavalry and artillery. But I shall assume that these five regiments have all reached Allahabad. They will not, however, be there by the 1st of November. That is the day on which they will arrive at Calcutta; and, having obtained the means of transport, they cannot possibly get to Allahabad before the 1st of January. This force will be wholly inadequate to enter without cavalry or artillery into a country with from 30,000,000 to 40,000,000 of inhabitants, full of disbanded troops, and containing the really military population of India—the Rohilla population. I say that your force should consist of at least nine regiments of infantry, three regiments of cavalry, and six batteries of artillery. Upon a late occasion Calcutta was left with only one battery of six guns, and although it is contrary to all our previous notions, it will be necessary, for the first time, to send artillery to India. And now comes another difficulty. The gun-carriages made here will be of no use there, and unless you send out orders to Madras and Bombay to provide gun-carriages, those made in this country will crack in pieces, and your guns will be lost. My Lords, I think I should fail in my duty if I did not say most decidedly that I do not think it sufficient to act on one line of operations only. There will be on the right bank of the Sutlej a force which may maintain its own, but which will be in jeopardy in the midst of a great population very warlike and very hostile, and I hold it essential that there should be a movement of troops by the line of the Indus and the Sutlej, which may connect itself with the force from Allahabad, and crush all opposition between those two points. This force should be equal to that proceeding from Allahabad. And more, I hold it to be most expedient, wise, and necessary, to go yet further, and to have some reserve of perhaps two European regiments—one reserve at Allahabad, and another at Sukkur on the other line of operations I have indicated—to which some Native regiments might be joined who might be relied on for the purpose of completing the communications, of sending up supplies, and protecting the rear of the army. And now, my Lords, what force is required? Five regiments we have for the operation from Allahabad. If all the troops now in China are sent to India, those five regiments would supply the infantry force required for the movement from the side of Bengal. I assume that three regiments could be spared from Bombay for the movement up the Indus. You require, therefore, in addition to the eight infantry regiments now to be sent out to the five from China, ten regiments of infantry, six of cavalry, and twelve batteries of artillery; and with these troops you must send horses, or they will he immovable. I firmly believe that, if Parliament and the Government will reinforce the army of India to the extent I have suggested, you may with absolute certainty—subject to those unforeseen accidents which befall all military operations—calculate that, by the end of April, the authority of the British Government will be firmly re-established in every part of the upper provinces. But, if you act in a different way—if you act undecidedly—if you think there is nothing in it, and that it will die out of itself—if you are not determined to put forth your whole strength, and crush this rebellion against your dominion, which threatens your existence in India as conquerors, you may depend upon it you will have entailed upon you campaign after campaign, and the suspense which will affect the minds of the whole people of India will imperil your rule, and destroy your character and authority in India. My Lords, I do not believe there will be any indisposition on the part of Parliament to support the Government, if the Government take the right view of the present state of things. It is for them to decide. I trust that they will prove worthy of the difficulties of their position, and of the greatness of the danger in which we are all involved, and that, by coming forward in a manner to maintain the national character and the public interests, they will give permanent security to our Indian empire, as well as honour— which I shall not grudge them—for themselves. What I wish to know from the noble Earl is, what measures the Government now intend to take for the reinforcement of the army of India, and whether it is their intention to give, at the earliest period—that is, within three days—official information on the subject.


I think the noble Earl was somewhat unjust to Her Majesty's Government in the beginning of his observations. I am not aware that any information has been sought for which has been refused by the Government. Her Majesty's Government have endeavoured to explain as fully as they can the events which have occurred in the East. There will be no difficulty in giving every information, either with regard to that which has been already received, or that which may be expected this evening or to-morrow, an official summary of which will give full information to the country. I assure your Lordships, once for all—because there are rumours about that the Government possess disastrous intelligence, which they are not willing to communicate—that the object of the Government is not to conceal the real state of affairs, whatever that state may be. I would go at once into the history of all that we know, but I have very little to tell, for the public have been put in possession by electric telegraph of the whole substance of what we know. The Government have only received three or four official communications by electric telegraph, namely, by Malta, Marseilles, and Trieste, all agreeing, in substance, with that published by the ordinary channels of information, and the only addition I can make to it is, that the last telegraph received states that the Punjab is perfectly quiet. I can assure the noble Earl that the Government do not treat this matter lightly. They consider this as a most serious question, and one most seriously to be considered, and they hold that it is their duty to take every precaution in their power, and to treat the matter as one of importance. But when the noble Earl talks of calamity, disgrace, and disaster, I cannot say that the Government share in that opinion. Whatever they may think of this serious crisis, they are not disposed to prophesy, and I think that the noble Earl himself, notwithstanding all his experience, would act more wisely and more safely for the public, if he satisfied himself with giving his opinion upon the facts he knows, and not upon facts based upon his imagination and upon the probability of what is likely to take place. Of course, any suggestions from the noble Earl, if not followed, will always receive, as they deserve, the careful consideration of Her Majesty's Government. With regard to those military details upon which the noble Earl has entered, I am incompetent to go into them, and even my noble Friend (Lord Panmure), and the illustrious Duke (the Duke of Cambridge) behind me, however competent, will, perhaps, not think it convenient or desirable to follow him into those details. But so far as we are acquainted with what the Governor General has done—and I now speak for Her Majesty's Government—we are perfectly satisfied and entirely approve every act brought to our knowledge which has been taken by the Governor General in dealing with these events. In regard to the Government at home, they will not neglect to take every precaution to strengthen the hands of the Governor General. There is a notion, which may, perhaps, cause additional anxiety, that the Government possess information with regard to particular persons, but with respect to whom we have no information whatever. I regret to say, that the melancholy news is too true that General Anson has died from cholera at Kurnaul; but the Government has not received information of the death or illness of any other person. Your Lordships who knew the character of General Anson, and who appreciated his abilities, his sound understanding, his clear judgment, and that presence of mind which is equally valuable in civil as well as military matters, will feel the great regret that the Government entertain at the death of General Anson. I think that the Governor General has acted judiciously in his temporary appointment of Sir Patrick Grant; and I am grateful for the noble Earl's approval of the sending out of Sir Colin Campbell. Whatever may be the course taken in his selection, every one must think that infinite credit is due to that gallant officer in being ready to start for India within a few hours after he was informed that his services were required. I am not aware I can give the noble Earl any further information. The noble Earl argues as if there were a general insurrection, but it has not extended beyond the army. As to the regiments that have been disbanded, we have no knowledge that they had any communication with the rebels. Her Majesty's Government will give the fullest information to Parliament and the country; they will act with the greatest vigour on the present emergency; but they will not give way to unfounded apprehensions of any great calamity and disaster.


said, that the condition of the Bengal army was one to which his attention had some time since been directed, and he had no hesitation in saying that it was the worst in the world. The want of discipline which had recently been manifested in its ranks was a circumstance of no unusual occurrence. He had served with that army, and he was therefore in a position to state the reasons to which the difference which existed between it and the Bombay and Madras armies was to be attributed. The system of appointing Native officers in the Bengal army he looked upon as one of the causes of that absence of discipline by which it was characterized, and probably of the mutiny which had lately taken place. Those officers, he might add, were, generally speaking, selected, not for their merit or fitness to command, and were raised from the ranks when they were old men, and when disaffection at not having previously been enabled to obtain their discharge from the service had, to a considerable extent, operated upon their minds. In the Bombay and Madras armies, upon the contrary, a different system prevailed. The havildars in those armies were selected for their intelligence and activity, and were recommended for promotion to that rank by the commanding officers of their regiments. But, be that as it might, nobody could deny that the discipline of the Bengal army was of the worst possible description, and in that light it had been looked upon by the late General Anson, who had in consequence, ever since he had assumed the command of the army in India, deemed it to be his duty to represent to the Board of Directors the absolute necessity of increasing the European force in India—a recommendation to which, however, so far as the Government was concerned, no sort of attention had been paid. In proof of the statement that the discipline of the Bengal army was of the worst description, he might inform the House, that in the year 1849, shortly after the first occupation of the Punjab, when he commanded on, the frontier, two Bengal regiments mutinied; and when he returned home in 1850, he expressed the greatest disapprobation of the condition of the troops of which that army was composed. He was, however, told that, no matter how just his opinions upon the subject might be, he must not give utterance to them in public, inasmuch as it was extremely undesirable that foreign nations should be acquainted with the real state of affairs. The result, at all events, was, that no steps were taken in the matter by the Board of Directors, and that the discipline of the Bengal army continued to be of that character to which he had drawn their Lordships' attention. He had had the honour of commanding the Punjab division of the Bombay army, and he had no hesitation in saying, that nothing could be more praiseworthy than the conduct which the troops composing that division had exhibited. To show their Lordships how different was the conduct of the Bengal army, he might state a circumstance which took place at the siege of Mooltan, and which was reported to him by an officer who was present on the occasion. A covering party was ordered into the trenches, and some disturbance having occurred among them during the night, the officer to whom he referred went to ascertain its cause. He found that it arose from the fact that some soldiers of the Bengal army had been endeavouring to prevent the men belonging to one of the Bombay regiments from digging in the trenches in discharge of their duty, observing that they were sepoys, and should fight, but would not work. Yet the officer in command of those Bengalese had not ordered them into confinement, notwithstanding that they had not done one bit of the work which had been ordered by the engineers; and it was not until the officer threatened to have two of the Bengal men, who were the ringleaders, shot, that they could be got to retire. He might also add, that the morning after the assault of Mooltan, Mr. Lake asked the officer in command of one of the pickets to post a sergeant and twelve men at one of the gates of the town, to prevent any one going in or coming out. The officer did so; but not long after the men had taken up their position, three officers of the Bengal Engineers came up, one of them having a loaded gun, and bearing between them something covered by a piece of tarpaulin, which they represented to be engineering stores. They were, however, told by the guard that they could not pass, and, the tarpaulin having been raised, that which they were in reality carrying was found to be plunder. The circumstance was not reported, lest it should be ascribed to jealousy; it, however, Showed the want of discipline in that army, and that the officers did not perform their duty as those of the Bombay army did. But it was unnecessary to cite further instances in proof of the accuracy of the opinion which he had expressed in reference to the spirit which prevailed among the troops of the Bengal army. He trusted, now that a fitting opportunity of dealing with the subject presented itself, Her Majesty's Government would become alive to the necessity of reorganizing that army, and placing the whole system upon which it was based, upon an entirely different footing. As to the existing mutiny in India, he could not find in the fact that certain cartridges had been issued, a sufficient reason for its occurrence. It was, indeed, difficult to ascertain to what the breaking out of that mutiny was immediately to be attributed; but of one thing he felt assured—namely, that the Government would act very culpably if they did not pay due attention to the representations which had been made to them in reference to the want of discipline which prevailed among the regiments of the Bengal army.


said, he attributed the existing discontent in the Bengal army to the fact, that men of high caste were exclusively employed in the Bengal service, and in that opinion, he might add, he was confirmed by a letter which he had received from Dr. Buist, the editor of the Bombay Times, distinctly attributing one of the causes of the mutiny to the policy of the Indian Government in selecting men of high caste to the exclusion of every other caste. In Bombay, on the contrary, men of high and low caste were employed without distinction, and no difficulty had been found in their acting together; and, although 10,000 men had been sent from that province to the Persian Gulf, a disposition to mutiny had not even in a single instance been evinced among those troops. The mutiny which occurred in 1825 at Barrackpore, was altogether to be attributed to causes having their origin in the prejudices of caste.

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