HL Deb 30 July 1857 vol 147 cc691-7

My Lords, when the noble Earl opposite (Earl Granville) read some extracts the other evening, from information which he had received from India, and laid upon the table certain papers on the subject, he stated that if the information which those papers contained should not be sufficient, he would consider any suggestion which any noble Lord might offer on the matter, and would willingly fall into any recommendation that might be made. There is one most important paper which is not contained in the documents that have been laid before the House—namely, the Proclamation of the Governor General in Council of May 16, in which, on the part of the Government, he declares in very strong terms—so far as I remember the purport of the document as it appeared in the newspapers—the determination of the Government to adhere to their former practice of not interfering with the religion of the Natives. That Proclamation is alluded to in a letter from the Court of Directors to the Governor General, and the Court of Directors express their hope that the effect of that Proclamation, which they adopt in all its parts, will be extremely salutary. That Proclamation has not yet been presented with the other papers; but I apprehend that there can be no objection to laying it upon the table. Before the noble Earl answers the question, I wish to recall to his recollection and to that of the House that so far back as the 28th of January, General Hearsey communicated to the Governor General that among the Sepoys there was a report that they were to be forced to embrace the Christian faith. On the 11th of February again, General Hearsey says, "We are on a mine ready to explode;" and yet, the cause of danger being the apprehension on the part of the Sepoys that the Christian religion was to be forced upon them, it was not till the 27th of March that the Governor General in Council agreed to a General Order, nor was it till the 31st of March that that General Order was read to the troops at Barrackpore, on the occasion of disarming the 24th Native Regiment; and even then that General Order only went to the extent that the invariable rule of the Government of India had been to treat the religious feeling of all its servants with respect, saying nothing whatever of the future. Then came the proclamation of the 16th of May, which was not issued until after the affair at Meerut. I fear, therefore, that the salutary effect which the Court of Directors anticipated from that Proclamation will hardly be attained. But allow me to call your Lordships' attention to two or three circumstances connected with the papers which have been laid before the House, showing, as I maintain they do, the inefficient manner in which the Government of India has been administered. I find that on the 21st of January, at Dumdum, there was a very strong feeling among the Sepoys that it was impossible for them, consistently with their religious prejudices—as we should call them—or persuasions, to use the cartridges which had been provided for them; and on the 22nd a correspondence commenced on the subject. Eight different letters are written with respect to it, and four days were allowed to elapse before the Government of India and Calcutta became acquainted with that most ominous event, the dissatisfaction upon religious grounds of the Sepoys, which took place within eight miles of the Government House. The Government then began to act. Three more letters were written, and two days more elapse, before it was communicated even at Barrackpore that the objection of the Sepoys was removed, and another day, or nearly another day, must elapse before that communication was made to the Government. On the 28th of January General Hearsey complains of what he considers an improper order, given by the officer commanding the 53rd Regiment, at Fort William, to the officer commanding the wing of that regiment at Dumdum, and an explanation is asked for from that officer. Eight days elapse before the explanation is received; nine letters are written, the officers being within a mile of Government House the whole time, so that in one hour the whole explanation might have been given and received. Again, on the 6th of February, a very important and menacing event occurs at Barrackpore. The Government are not made acquainted with that event until the evening of the 10th, four days afterwards, the distance between Barrackpore and Calcutta being sixteen miles, which might have been got over in a good gallop. The Government did seem rather astonished at this, and asked how it happened. A sort of explanation is given, for, says General Hearsey, "I have no means of communicating anything to the Government; I have no mounted orderly, no express camels. I must always write by the post, and that leaves Barrackpore at the most inconvenient hour of three o'clock in the afternoon." It is in that way, in a time of danger, that business is conducted, when there are the means of sending half-a-dozen mounted men from Barrackpore to meet half-a-dozen from Calcutta, and of thus conveying despatches in the shortest time possible. Does the noble Earl, does any one suppose that if Lord Wellesley or Warren Hastings had been there these things would have taken place? I know what would have been done. The officer at Dumdum would have written his official letter, but he would have got into his buggy, would have driven to Government House in an hour, would have seen the Private Secretary of the Governor General, would have been taken at once to the Governor General, would have seen the Military Member of the Council and the Inspector General of Ordnance, the Governor General would have set off at once to Dumdum, General Hearsey would have been directed to meet him there, and the whole thing would have been arranged on the evening of the 22nd, and in the presence and by the order of the Governor General. If this delay between the 22nd and 29th had been avoided, I know not what would have been the effect in India, especially if the suspicions of the Sepoys had been removed by the presence of the Governor General. All this correspondence may look like business. It may be very agreeable to the Court of Directors to receive every now and then a very large packet and a great many letters; they may be pleased to see the zeal and industry with which their servants in India discharge their duties: but it is perfectly impossible that any Government can be conducted in times of danger, if it be carried on in the manner exhibited by this correspondence. It shows me, and I regret it, that the Government of India is not conducted by the Governor General in person—that it is in the hands of secretaries and clerics; and if it be left in those hands you may depend upon it, the consequences to the public service will be of the most serious character. I notice another important fact in these papers. I think it is impossible for any one who reads them not to come to the conclusion that the objection of the Sepoys to the cartridges was one really founded on religious grounds. I rejoice that it does so appear, because, although undoubtedly in the first instance and at the present time their mutiny, arising from that cause, destroys the confidence which we have hitherto placed in them, it does not preclude the revival of that confidence under more favourable circumstances, when their minds have been brought to a just sense of the real facts. We must endeavour to disabuse their minds, and to satisfy them not only that the Government never did, and that it does not now, but that it never will, interfere in the smallest degree with their religion. In the meantime, no doubt, it is our duty to put down by our arms an armed rebellion in the field. But I must say that a mutiny arising from such causes is, in some measure, to be pitied while it is condemned. My Lords, that confidence we must in some manner restore. I feel satisfied that, take what precautions we may, it is impossible for us to carry on the Government of India unless we can re-establish our confidence in the Sepoy. Our efforts must be to restore his confidence in us; and I do hope that at no distant time we may again rejoice in the possession of an army on whose fidelity we can rely, as we have hitherto relied on the native army of India. My Lords, there are many matters arising out of the telegraphic communication received yesterday upon which I am very desirous of offering an opinion. But I think, considering that in all probability we may obtain further information by this time to-morrow, it will, perhaps, be better to postpone my observations until then.


I am unable to explain why the Proclamation alluded to by the noble Earl was omitted from the printed despatches; but I am quite sure there can be no objection to furnish it, and I will make it my business to present it as early as possible. With regard to the criticism passed by the noble Earl upon the mode of conducting business in India, of course I cannot pretend to such authority on this point as he possesses. But of this I am clear, that whether at times of crisis or not, the duties of the Governor General are best discharged at the seat of Government, and that no good purpose would be attained were the Governor General to make it a practice to move about the country to support the military authorities, and to remove any suspicions that might be entertained by the Native troops As to the statement just made, that the Government of India is now carried on by secretaries and clerks and not by the Governor General, I am truly at a loss to know upon what it is founded. I can only say that all the information I have received leads me to believe that the Governor General is watching in the most vigilant manner everything which is taking place. And what is better even than the assertions made by a noble Earl well acquainted with these matters is, that if I have seen one I have seen a dozen letters from different parts of India, written by persons most competent to judge, who one and all, without a single exception, say that Lord Canning has risen immensely in the estimation of the whole European community in India, and is regarded by all as having proved himself fully equal to the emergency.


I drew my conclusions from the papers on the table, and from those alone. Dumdum is only eight miles from Calcutta, and the whole thing might have been arranged in an evening drive.


My noble Friend, owing to the pressure of other business, has not perhaps been able closely and critically to examine these depatches. I took some pains to look into them this morning, and my impression certainly is that the noble Earl has very much exaggerated the importance and extent of the delay which took place on this occasion. On the 22nd of January, Lieutenant Wright, the officer commanding this small firing party at Dumdum, first reported to his immediate superior, that there was, not a mutinous spirit, but a feeling of uneasiness among the men, with respect to the grease used in their cartridges. Major Bontain reported to General Hearsey, who was at Barrackpore, and he reports to the Supreme Government at Calcutta. He suggests to the Governor General that the men should be allowed to purchase their own grease in the bazaars—that the cartridges should be served out without any grease, so that the men might be perfectly sure as to the ingredients it contained; and he further suggests that as the feeling seems to be increasing among the men the Governor General should telegraph to the stations in Upper India, recommending that the same measures should be taken there. Well, my Lords, on the very day on which that letter was received, Lord Canning returns an answer, desiring General Hearsey no longer to issue greased cartridges to the men, but to allow them to purchase their own grease. Not only that, but he telegraphs instantly on the same day to the Adjutant General at Meerut—the very place where the mutiny subsequently broke out—and also to Umballah, as far as the electric wires extend, ordering the same precautions to be observed there. In all these proceedings a delay of four days only takes place. The Governor General is known to be a man of very active, businesslike habits; and I must say that in asserting that the Government of India is carried on now through clerks and secretaries, the noble Earl is making a very unfair imputation, and is doing something—although I am sure that it is not his intention—to diminish the power and authority of the Governor General at a most difficult crisis.


All I referred to was the manner in which this correspondence seems to have been conducted, and the delay which took place. The communication was made from Dumdum on the 22nd; three or four letters passed. General Hearsey's letter was written on the 23rd, the letter of the Governor General on the 27th, and it is not until the morning of the 28th that General Hearsey receives permission to do that which he recommended in his letter on the 23rd. The probability is that the contents of the Governor General's reply were not known at Dumdum until the 29th, but certainly not until the 28th; and I do think that that delay, the stations being only eight miles apart, is one which ought to have been avoided by any Government under any circumstances.


observed, that it was all very well for the noble Earl opposite to say that business should be done as rapidly as possible, but business and especially military business, should be always done in order. The Report from the officer in command of the party at Dumdum was made, as it ought to have been made, to his commanding officer, who had reported it to the General of Brigade, General Hearsey, who not thinking it of pressing importance, waited to communicate to the Government by the post. He could have sent his aide-de-camp. If that had been done, the whole business would have been conducted in a strictly military way. In the present state of their knowledge, it was premature to come to any decision; but it appeared to him that if any strictures were to be made they should rest on General Hearsey, for not having sent his aide-de-camp on to Calcutta. Certainly the Governor General was not to blame.


said, the noble Baron would find that under the present system letters had to be written by eight different persons before any thing came to the knowledge of the Governor General.

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