HL Deb 29 June 1857 vol 146 cc512-25

My Lords, the disastrous news which has just been received from India, and which far surpasses my forebodings, serious as these forebodings were, induces me to put another question to the noble Earl (Earl Granville) with respect to the measures which the Government may intend to take for the purpose of averting the great calamity which threatens us in India. It is now twenty days since I put to the noble Earl this question—whether instructions had been sent, or would forthwith be sent to India, directing the different Governments to make known at every station of the army in that country that the Government would for the future, as in the past, protect all its subjects in the undisturbed exercise of their religion. In reply to that question, the noble Earl intimated an opinion that the Government of India had acted judiciously in issuing no Proclamation of that character. Now, in the face of that opinion, I find by the news received this morning that not only the Lieutenant Governor of Agra but the Governor General in Council of India has issued a Proclamation in the strongest terms of the tenor I have described. But, my Lords, upon what day was that Proclamation issued? On the 16th of May, when the mutiny at Meerut was already known, when the occurrences and mutiny at Delhi were known, and when the Proclamation of the King of Delhi was known. Now, the issuing of that Proclamation at that moment might possibly tend to prevent the spread of the mutiny, but it could have no possible effect in preventing the outbreak. I desired to prevent the breaking out of the mutiny, and not only to keep it from spreading. My Lords, the Government had ample notice in India of the danger that was impending. As long ago as the 22nd of January, an incendiary fire broke out in cantonments at a short distance from Calcutta—a thing almost entirely unknown and unheard of. From that period, for more than three months, these indications of the dissatisfaction of the troops continued to appear at all the principal stations of the army. The cause was perfectly well known, and arose from an apprehension on the part of the troops that their religion was to be interfered with. On the 25th of February the 19th regiment mutinied. It was not till the 31st of March that this regiment was disbanded. On the 6th of March the Government sent to Rangoon for the Queen's 84th regiment, and so deluded was it as to the extent of the ill-feeling and the mutinous disposition of the Native army, and the effect of the disbandment of the 19th regiment, that in a few days after that disbandment it was considered advisable and was actually under discussion whether that regiment should not be sent back to Rangoon. They have now sent for three Queen's regiments to protect the capital of British India. These indications of a bad spirit among the troops occurred at Allahabad, Agra, Meerut, Umballah, and all the great stations. No one can doubt that there was combination, and that one general feeling animated the whole. Now, it may be a matter deeply to be regretted, but it is undoubted, that events of the highest importance, especially in India, greatly depend upon the personal character of an individual. On the 3rd of May, Sir Henry Lawrence, a distinguished and decided officer, having reason to expect that there would be an outbreak on the part of the 7th Native Oude Infantry, moved at the fall of night two Native regiments, Her Majesty's 32nd regiment, and a battery of artillery upon them. He came upon them unawares, disarmed the regiment, and at once made them prisoners. Sir Henry Lawrence took the initiative. But what was the case at Meerut? At Meerut the mutineers took the initiative. They rose at six o'clock in the evening, and, according to the accounts we have received, it was not until nightfall that Her Majesty's carabineers were able to move. If General Gillespie at Arcot had not moved his dragoons to Vellore with more promptitude, the mutiny at Vellore might have spread through the whole of the Madras territory, and produced effects as dangerous as those which we have now to deplore. And who was the officer in command in Meerut? How did it happen that with a Queen's regiment of infantry, another of cavalry, and an overwhelming force of horse and foot artillery, the mutineers yet escaped without injury to Delhi, making a march of thirty or forty miles? His name, it is said, is Hewitt. I do not find that he has at any time served with troops at all. He is an unknown man. There may be some difficulties, and there no doubt are, in making proper appointments in the army in consequence of the system of seniority which prevails. But that system has been of late modified, and the Government have now authority to appoint the men whom they think most fitted for a particular post. They ought, I contend, to have acted upon that authority. No Government is justified in placing in a most important command a man of whom the troops know nothing, and with whose qualifications they themselves are unacquainted. We see what has been the consequence of taking a contrary course. Give me now leave to ask where was the Commander in Chief upon this occasion? Why was not he in the midst of his troops? He must have been aware of all the difficulties which were growing up. He must have known the dangers by which he was beset. He did know that those dangers existed, for upon the 9th of April he assembled the troops at Umballah, and addressed them in the most sensible terms, endeavouring to undeceive them and to bring about among them a right feeling. He, however, went to the Hills, leaving the dangers to which I refer behind him in the plain. Such is not the conduct which a man occupying the position of Commander in Chief ought to have pursued. Let us for a moment look to the position in which General Anson now stands. From all I have learnt I believe the measures which have been taken by the Government of India from the moment they heard of the occupation of Delhi have been prompt and judicious. I have no fault to find with their conduct since that period; but I do find fault with them for having been blind to that which ought to have been obvious to all, and for having taken no precautions before this dreadful calamity took place. Well, what is the position of General Anson? He had with him two European regiments of cavalry, two European regiments of infantry, an ample supply of artillery: he had, beside, two regiments of Ghoorkas, which he anticipates would remain faithful; but I am afraid he cannot absolutely rely upon any of the other native troops by whom he was accompanied. If with that force, however, independent of the three other native corps, General Anson were to meet the mutineers in the field, he may beat them, though they should be of double his numbers, without much difficulty. But, there are two enemies besides the mutineers with whom he will have to contend, of whom the people of this country make no account, but which are foes infinitely more dangerous than the mutineers—I allude to the climate of India at the season at which these occurrences took place, and to the total want of carriage. When the regiments go into cantonments the carriage is dismissed, and it would therefore be almost impossible for General Anson to move the European troops. The only resource open to him consists in impressing men from the hills. He may by that means bring down 3,000 or 4,000 persons to carry burdens, but to obtain the means of conveyance for the troops for a distance of eighty or a hundred miles, I believe he would find to be impossible. Just consider for a moment what is the nature of the season. It is the most severe of the whole year. It is just the concluding period of the hot weather, during which hot winds prevail: it is a time during which no European could venture into the sun, and when no officer would think of forcing a soldier to go into the open air if he could possibly avoid doing so. The late Sir Charles Napier was compelled by imperative circumstances to go into the field at a season such as that I have described. The consequence was that forty-five Europeans were struck down by the heat in one day, Sir Charles Napier himself being one of them, and the only one who survived. Such is the danger with which we have to contend. But I will assume that General Anson has been enabled to bring his troops up to Delhi. If he has done that, he ought I think by this time to be in possession of that city, and in possession of it, not owing to any vigorous attack of artillery, but by the most simple of all means—namely, taking possession of the canal by which Delhi is supplied with water and cutting off the water, so as to deprive the inhabitants of all supply. Towards the conclusion of the dry season there is but a very small quantity of water in that canal and the people of Delhi, amounting to the number of 60,000 or 70,000 persons, are, as a consequence, invariably reduced to great difficulties, and are compelled to resort to the Jumna, to procure the water which they require. To obviate that inconvenience I established a large tank in front of the Palace of Delhi, containing a sufficient quantity of water to supply the inhabitants of the town for a period of three weeks. I regret, however, to be obliged to say that the Government in India, actuated by that spirit which has characterized them since I left it—a spirit which has led them to desire to obliterate all trace of my having ever existed in that country—have allowed the tank to which I allude to go to ruin, and I believe that fortunately at this moment it will not furnish the inhabitants with a supply of water for any time; so that if the canal were cut off as I have suggested, and their access to the Jumna prevented, they would be precluded from obtaining water altogether. That is my only hope in the present emergency. Observe what will happen. I left police battalions in India. They were formed for the purpose of enabling the Government, in case of necessity, to move all the troops from any cantonment. Lord Hardinge was, owing to the establishment of that military police, enabled to move three battalions of infantry during the war in the Punjab, a step which, under other circumstances, he would not have been in a position to take. Now, General Anson has no such police battalions at his disposal. They have, I understand, been abolished, and he must leave a sufficient force at the different cantonments at Meerut and Umballah, or they will be burnt down behind him. It is no easy matter to protect a line of cantonments extending over seven miles, but if that is not done the consequence, as I have said, will be that those places will be burnt down and the Europeans will have no place to afford them shelter. That is what I apprehend, and there can be no doubt that General Anson's position would then be one of the most serious character. But it is not only in Meerut and Delhi, but in the Punjab, Ferozepore, and in almost every part of Bengal that this disposition to mutiny has been evinced. I regret to say that I fear we cannot at the present moment with any degree of security rely on the fidelity of any of the regular regiments of the Bengal army. The irregular troops will, I trust, remain faithful, and I hope we also may depend on the artillery, although it is said that some have been seduced or threatened into a junction with the mutineers at Delhi. I, nevertheless, trust that we may rely on the fidelity of the artillery. I believe we may place implicit confidence in that of the Ghoorka regiments, as well as in the good faith of the Native Princes whose territories approach Delhi—in fact, we possess in the neighbourhood of that city but a very small extent of territory—it chiefly belongs to the Native Princes. Our position, then, is such as I have described. The Government have drawn all available troops to Bengal, as it seems to me, very prudently and very properly, but in doing so they have left both Madras and Bombay almost defenceless. We know not the danger to which such a state of things may give rise. In short, my Lords, we are really—and I trust Her Majesty's Ministers are alive to the fullest extent of the danger—we are really in a position in which it becomes necessary for us to use every effort which this country can make to maintain—perhaps it may be to recover—that great empire which we have acquired in the East. Well, let me ask how do we stand? We have at this moment upon our hands three wars in Asia. Those wars we are reduced to the necessity of prosecuting with a reduced peace establishment. We have sent to China that naval force which should, in my opinion, be left upon the shores of England, to give security to this country even under the auspices of the most profound peace. The whole of that naval force, however, has been despatched to the waters of China; and for what?—to carry on a contest between Sir John Bowring and Commissioner Yeh. Six battalions of troops have been sent out there for the same purpose, and I cannot help thinking that those six battalions will be found totally inadequate to effect the purpose for which they have been sent, and quite insufficient to bring under our control the numerous population of Canton. The consequence will be that we shall find ourselves under the necessity of sending out further reinforcements, which should have consisted, in my humble judgment, of Native troops. But are we, with India in danger, to fight the battle of the Government? Are we, my Lords, determined, happen what may, to persevere in that fatal policy which Her Majesty's Ministers have adopted? Are we to strain every nerve to enable Sir John Bowring to march in triumph into the residence of Commissioner Yeh? I hope not. I maintain that, if the war with China were as sound in principle as I believe it to be the contrary, common sense and the dictates of the simplest policy ought to have induced the Government to remain for a time on the defensive, and not at once to involve the country in two wars contrary to all the principles by which the proceedings of a military State ought to be directed. I might have spoken of three wars, my Lords; but my noble Friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs will probably tell me that we have brought one of them to a close. He will say that the war with Persia has been concluded. The noble Earl, it is true, has brought about a treaty with that country—he has not as yet got a peace. The treaty is one which I cannot help regarding as unsatisfactory. No, my Lords, I cannot deem it satisfactory that we should have entered into such terms with the King of Persia as that treaty contains after the insults which he heaped upon the British Minister at his court. We have, however, entered into that treaty; but even under better auspices than the present we should experience great difficulty in carrying it into execution. Persia may withdraw her troops from Herat, but that will be of little avail unless some other government be established there. If Persia will not yield it up upon those terms the evident objects of the treaty will be almost entirely defeated, and I have not yet heard that it has been decided on what Government shall succeed the Persians at Herat. The noble Earl must be aware that the British force now remaining in Persia is totally unable to hold Bushire and Mohammerah if there should be the slightest chance of any attempt at opposition on the part of Persia, and can any one who is acquainted with the national character of Native States for a moment doubt that this great calamity in India may have a very material influence in changing the policy of the Court of Persia? That is the present state of affairs. Our position in India at the present moment is that of being compelled, not only by a sense of interest, but by our sense of honour as a nation as well as individuals, to protect our empire in that country. It is as much the duty of the Government to protect our empire in India as it would be to protect the county of Kent, if attacked; and I trust that there never will exist in this country a feeling that, under any possible circumstances, that noble empire shall be abandoned. We must, therefore, send to India a sufficiency of force; but, while doing so, we must consider in what position we leave ourselves here. I fear that, under present circumstances, the noble Earl the Secretary for Foreign Affairs would feel his hand paralyzed if the material force of this country should be dispatched to the East. How, under such circumstances, would he be able to speak with ordinary firmness or dignity; or could he avoid temporizing, if he felt that England was powerless to defend herself in case any foreign Power should choose to take the opportunity of attacking her? Even before this calamity occurred, I entertained a distinct opinion that, by our reduced establishments, we were reducing this country to a state in which, if we were not paralyzed, our power was materially weakened. We have now, however, a new war upon our hands, which will require an expenditure approaching that which was necessary for the contest in the Crimea, and which will require, in addition to the force which it is now proposed to send to India, an additional force of at least ten regiments of infantry, three regiments of cavalry, with their horses, for it will not be possible to horse them in India—and at least six batteries of artillery, with their horses, because at present, in some provinces, the artillery force is very small, and no troops can possibly move without guns. When we look to the force which it is absolutely essential to send to India, how can we fail to contemplate the material increase that is necessary to the military force of this country. I would recommend Her Majesty's Government to look the danger fairly in the face—not to take any exaggerated view of the case—but, at the same time, not to attempt to deceive themselves; and I think that the course which they ought to adopt is, to place this country under arms. While we are fighting battles of such interest in the East, we must be secure at home; and I know of no mode of suddenly obtaining that security but to adopt the same means as those which were adopted during the Crimean war—namely, to embody the militia. That step should be taken at the earliest period possible, as well as that of calling together the yeomanry, which has never before, since 1814, been allowed to go for a year without exercise: and we should adopt any other measures which the Government may consider necessary for placing at their disposal the whole military force of the empire. I have read in history that Hyder Ali, the great rival of the British power in the Deccan, used to say, with regard to the British power, that he was not afraid of what he did see, but of what he did not see; and it is for us now to show to the Natives of India that which they have not yet seen. We must come forward with increased strength upon every point, and teach them that to contend successfully against us in the field is a thing impossible. I wish, therefore, to ask the noble Earl what are the measures which the Government intend to adopt for reinforcing the army in India, and at the same time for placing us at home in security, while we are occupied in such an important war?


My Lords, the noble Earl has taken a very large view of a subject which is unquestionably of great importance—of so much importance, indeed, that I should feel myself to be almost trifling with your Lordships, were I on the present occasion to attempt to go seriatim through all the events which have been lately going on in India. I may say, however, that with regard to the disbanding of the 34th Regiment, it appears to me quite clear that a short delay was wise and judicious, when that delay gave an opportunity for concentrating such a European force as prevented what would have been a most serious disaster. In respect of what has fallen from the noble Earl in reference to the disaster at Meerut, it certainly appears, so far as we are able to judge, from the accounts that have come to hand—though it should be remembered that we have at present no official information as to the facts—that some mismanagement has occurred; but I am quite sure that it is wiser—I will not say for individuals of your Lordships' House, but it is wiser and fairer for the Government to give no opinion whatever upon the subject, until the whole of the facts of the case have been placed before them. I quite agree with the praise which the noble Earl has bestowed upon Sir Henry Lawrence, and admit the complete success which attended the movements which he made, and, without doubt, a decided and energetic course of action may often solve a difficulty of that description. The great difficulty, however, in dealing with disaffection among the Native troops is the difficulty which arises from not knowing to what extent it has reached, and where it is likely to break out; and I may inform your Lordships that I know it as a fact, that up to the last moment the most confident assurances as to the loyalty and good feeling of those troops were received by the Indian Government from the colonels of those regiments. The noble Earl has praised the steps which have been taken by Her Majesty's Government since the juncture arrived, but I regret that he thought it his duty to follow up that expression of praise by a statement which, coming from a person of his high authority, will, I fear, create unnecessary alarm. The forces which he mentioned as being gathered together by General An son before Delhi, will be met by the English troops which have been despatched from the hills to join him; they will also be met by the troops of the Native princes, who have shown a most cordial and praiseworthy desire of co-operating with the British troops—and I think that this is a very important circumstance, not only from the material advantage of their assistance, but also as showing the opinion which prevails in India as to the result of such a contest. When these troops have assembled, it will be impossible for the mutineers long to resist. I thought also that the noble Earl somewhat exaggerated the difficulties of the case. The disaffection by no means extends, as the noble Earl seems to infer, to the whole of the Indian army. In two of the Presidencies the conduct of the Native troops is excellent; and even in Bengal, where no doubt the spirit of disaffection prevails the most, some regiments have remained faithful to their colours, and have shown their loyalty by operating against their disaffected comrades. Now, with regard to those military points with which the noble Earl thinks it will be so difficult for General Anson to deal. I do not like to place my opinion against that of the noble Earl, but I know the opinion of Lord Canning. Lord Canning knew that the General would be at Umballa on the 18th, and before Delhi on the 26th, and he looked forward with the most confident expectation of having a force at his command sufficient to enable him to deal in a satisfactory manner with those unhappy and misguided men; and I think that your Lordships will agree with me in thinking that the confident opinion thus expressed carries with it some consolation, and should teach us not to thoroughly despond with regard to the present state of affairs. The noble Earl, my Lords, has asked me two questions; and the first one, with regard to what reinforcements Her Majesty's Government intend to send out to India in this crisis, I can answer in a few words. Before the arrival of the late news 10,000 men, consisting of four regiments and of reinforcements for European regiments, whether belonging to the Queen's service or the Company's service already in India, and since the arrival of that news, after communication with the Court of Directors, four more regiments have been placed under orders to embark. With regard to the steps which have been taken in India, the noble Viscount the Governor General has thought it right to take every precaution in his power, and to adopt every means to strengthen the troops available for service. The noble Earl will be glad to hear that since the conclusion of the Persian war—which, however, he calls not the conclusion of a war, but only a treaty—the whole of the European troops engaged in the late expedition have left Bushire, and three regiments, having reached Bombay, proceeded to Calcutta, where they arrived in an incredibly short period, and from that place they can be most expeditiously moved wherever their services may be most required. With regard to the second question, I think that the noble Earl looks upon this country as being in a much worse position than it is, when he talks of putting the country under arms. It is manifest that it would ill become me at present to enter into any detailed statement of the measures which Her Majesty's Government may think it necessary to adopt, in order to strengthen the military forces at home—the noble Earl may depend upon it they will take all those precautions which they may think necessary. I agree with the noble Earl that we should consider the subject in no spirit of exaggerated alarm, but I think that if, because we happen to be at war with a portion of the Chinese empire, and that there is an insurrection in one part of India, we were to take upon us to say that our alarm is such, that we think it necessary to prepare this country in the same way as we should do if we were engaged in a struggle which might end in dire calamity and disaster, we should be lowering ourselves in the eyes of the world. The noble Earl has alluded to my private friendship towards Lord Canning: I will not allude further to that subject than to say, that I have this day received a private letter from Lord Canning, in which he goes over all the circumstances of the case with the care and gravity becoming the nature of the subject, and the tone of that letter is such as to give the Government the greatest confidence. He states that, notwithstanding the difficulties, he is able to write in very good heart, and adds—and in that I am sure the noble Earl will concur—that he cannot be sufficiently grateful for having at this moment had at critical places three men so admirably fitted to deal with these circumstances as Sir Henry and Sir John Lawrence and Mr. Colvin. I do not wish to prophesy, but I trust that your Lordships will, at all events, wait until the arrival of the next mail before you allow it to go forth to this country and to the world, that we are reduced to such a strait as that which the noble Earl has pictured.


In a case of this kind, considering our distance from the scene of events, I cannot help thinking that it is of great importance to ascertain what are the feelings—not merely the opinions, but the feelings of alarm founded upon these opinions—of those who are nearer the spot. My noble Friend (Earl Granville) has already told us that the alarm, if it ever existed, has been nearly allayed at Calcutta. Will he also inform us, if he can, what are the feelings in the Presidencies of Madras and Bombay? Perhaps, also, as the money market is a test of alarm not altogether to be overlooked, he will add whether the funds either at Calcutta or Bombay have been materially affected by these events.


I am much obliged to my noble and learned Friend for putting this question. While the funds in this country fell upon the receipt of this intelligence, Government paper at Calcutta and Bombay has remained at exactly the same rate.


said, it was gratifying to think that the occurrences in India appeared now to be of a less serious character than the public mind at first, supposed them to be. The noble Earl had not, however, satisfied him in regard to the measures the Government were about to take to send prompt assistance to India. When we considered the immense distance and time that must elapse before any reinforcements could reach their destination in India, it was most important that the Government should, if possible, enlist the assistance of our great Ally the Emperor of the French, of whose friendship and alliance we had heard so much, to allow our troops to pass through his territory to Marseilles, and to aid us then in conveying them down the Mediterranean. The assistance of the Pasha of Egypt should also be enlisted to convey them across to the Red Sea as rapidly as possible. In the course of his life he did not believe that there had arisen any crisis so formidable as the present was. He considered that they had as yet done little or nothing to meet the threatened danger when he recollected that we had a force at Aldershot of from 15,000 to 20,000 men, who, by some exertion and energy, might be transported to India with the assistance of those powerful friends to whom he had alluded. He thought it was their imperative duty to take those steps he had indicated. The country would judge of the vigour and capacity of the Government by the promptitude and zeal they now showed in sending adequate reinforcements to India. He was disposed to agree with the noble Earl opposite (Earl Granville) in regard to the course taken against China. He thought it would be a disgrace to us if they declined to carry on the war there with efficiency. If the militia of this country were called out and placed in a position of active service, we should have in a short time a good army for the defence of this country; and the Government would then have all the regular troops at its disposal for carrying on to a successful issue the wars in which we might be engaged.


said, that one thing which bad fallen from his noble Friend the Lord President ought to be satisfactory, and that was the fact of the absence of disaffection in the other two Presidencies of India. That assurance coincided with everything he had heard on the subject. He trusted that the relative condition at this moment of the Bengal and Bombay armies would lead to a reconsideration of the different rule and practice with regard to the enlistment of the two armies; for he believed that that system was the principal, if not the proximate cause of the disturbances. The rule and practice was in Bengal to enlist only high caste men, Brahmins and Rajpoots, to the exclusion of all other castes. This had a most deleterious effect on that army, every regiment of which became, as it were, a box of lucifer matches. It was said that the religious feeelings of the country were not interfered with; but he believed the religion of the country had nothing to do with the question, and that the propagandism of the missionaries had nothing to do with it. The Roman Catholics had for 350 years been trying to convert the country without creating disaffection; and the Protestants had been doing the same for fifty years without creating disaffection. Our predecessors as rulers in that country, from Mahmoud of Ghuznee, who was about contemporary with William the Conqueror, down to Tippoo Saib, all made short work of the question of religion. In Bengal the authorities were used to foster and pamper the feeling of high caste by turning out of regiments all low caste men who presumed to enlist. He hoped the Government meant, instead of making caste the qualification for enlistment, to make it, as was done in Bombay and Madras—a disqualification. The Sikhs and Ghoorkas had been faithful on this occasion, and they were of no caste, but were as brave and faithful as any troops could be. On another occasion, he should bring the subject of annexation in India before the House, and call on the Government to explain why, contrary to the advice of the Duke of Wellington, Sir John Malcolm, and Mountstuart Elphinstone, they did that which was shaking our Indian empire to its centre. He would quote the opinions of two well-informed persons on this subject. Sir Henry Russell, an eminent member of the diplomatic service in India, said that "the danger most to be dreaded in India was an extensive rebellion among the native subjects and native troops, and that danger was increased by the enlargement of our territory, which led to an increase of our native subjects and troops." The noble Earl was proceeding, when—


interposed. A question of great interest and importance had been asked and answered, but he hoped the noble Earl would not take up the time of the House by deviating into matters which had no intimate connection with that question. It was now past six o'clock, and the other business of the House should be proceeded with.

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