§ THE EARL OF HARDWICKE
wished to press on the noble Lord the Minister for War that the despatches from the commanders in the Chinese waters relating to naval and military operations should be made public, as it was customary to publish the despatches from commanders in chief with respect to naval actions fought. To-day, as usual, he had seen accounts from the correspondent of The Times, and also accounts in other papers, giving the whole history of the operations which had taken place, and therefore he thought it not unfair to ask the Government whether those accounts contained a true story—because, to use a vulgar phrase, we had been "licked" if the published news were true. He put the question to the Government, not from any feeling of joy or exultation at an event of that kind, but for the purpose of ascertaining whether those officers in whom the Government had put so much confidence, whom they considered able and well informed on the character and power of the Chinese nation, and whom they were about to support with all the strength of the State, were really fit to conduct undertakings of this kind—whether they were sufficiently acquainted with the nature of the Chinese waters and properly appreciated the events which were likely to occur, and whether they deserved to be trusted to the extent to which they were trusted? The Duke of Wellington once observed of a distinguished individual, that he was a very clever man, but never saw to the end of a campaign; and it certainly appeared to him that Sir John Bowring had not shown that prescient knowledge with respect to the character and power of the Chinese nation which he was supposed to possess. He pressed the Government for the production of these despatches because, if the published statements 2384 were untrue, it would be a great satisfaction to their Lordships to know so; and if on the other hand they were true, their Lordships ought to be satisfied, or rather dissatisfied, by being made acquainted with the fact that those officers, who were so much trusted by the Government, had neither the ability nor foresight to conduct operations of the magnitude and nature required.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
said, he understood that his noble Friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs had stated the other evening that there was no objection to the production of the despatches desired by the noble Earl. He would make it his duty to inquire why they had not yet been produced. With respect to what had fallen from the noble Earl respecting the naval officers in the Chinese waters—
§ EARL GRANVILLE
said, he really did think that Sir John Bowring had been made to bear so much that it was not necessary to throw on his shoulders responsibility for inefficiency and want of judgment in conducting naval operations, particularly as it appeared from the papers before Parliament that the instructions first given by Sir John Bowring were given with the full concurrence of Admiral Seymour and Consul Parkes. For the course pursued there were precedents in the China Seas, for on two previous occasions the British authorities there did, with only two vessels, what had been done now, and then the mandarins complied with the demands made. He denied, therefore, that the Admiral and Sir John Bowring were chargeable with want of judgment in commencing the operations with the force at their disposal.
§ EARL GREY
said, he believed that every one of these expeditions, made with a small force against a nation so numerous as the Chinese, acquainted to a certain extent with the implements and materials of warfare, and daily improving in their knowledge of them, always had the effect of teaching them something more, and led to the danger of collisions being repeated. This was one of many other considerations which the Duke of Wellington felt strongly when he (Earl Grey) sent out the orders in 1847 with the noble Duke's concurrence. It was the opinion of the Cabinet of that day, not only that no subordinate authority should decide whether cause for offensive 2385 war had arisen or not; but that, if cause had really arisen, it was the height of rashness and imprudence, without such preparation and means as would make insistence hopeless, to attempt hostilities. It was only by acting on such a principle that it was likely that bloodshed would be prevented on one side, and, on the other, that the risk of danger and discredit would be averted from this country. He asked whether the events which were now stated to have taken place did not afford a signal proof of the justice of this view of the question? What had happened? Admitting, for argument's sake, the war to be just and politic—though he thought otherwise—yet it had been begun with inefficient means, so that, after burning 7,000 houses in a defenceless town, and after committing acts of violence and cruelty—for so he must call them—on a defenceless population, the British forces were now reduced to a state of ignominious defence, waiting for reinforcements in order to enable further proceedings to be adopted. This was placing the British nation in a position not at all creditable, and it arose from the sanction which had been given to the adoption of a course directly opposite to that which had been adopted by successive Secretaries of State, and renewed so recently as 1853 by the Duke of Newcastle.
§ THE EARL OF ELLENBOROUGH
observed, that there was no charge against the Admiral. The charge against Sir John Bowring, the friend of the noble Earl the President of the Council, was that he had entered upon this war without foreseeing the probable results of the opposition that he would encounter. The excuse of the noble Earl was that other mandarins had been beaten by a smaller force—as if all mandarins, because they were alike in dress, had the same understanding. Sir John Bowring ought to have known that all depended upon the individual character of the man who had the disposal of the Chinese military and naval forces. Sir John Bowring knew the character of Commissioner Yeh, and he must have known the weakness of character of the mandarin with whom Sir John Davis had to deal, and the course he should have pursued was precisely the reverse of that pursued by the former Governor.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
said, that the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Ellenborough) had framed his argument upon the knowledge of the events to which he had referred, 2386 while Sir John Bowring had, of course, to form his judgment before the events occurred. His noble Friend (Earl Grey) had certainly sent instructions to General D' Aguilar not to repeat an attempt with an insufficient force; but if he was not mistaken his noble Friend had previously approved an attempt which had happened to be successful, although success had resulted from the very rashness of the undertaking. At the same time, he did not think he was illogical in saying that it was not fair to put on Sir John Bowring exclusively the odium, if any odium existed, of having miscalculated the strength of the military and naval forces at his disposal. The first duty of Sir John Bowring was to consult the Admiral, and to act upon the advice he received from him as to the disposition of the forces; and whatever ridicule might attach to him for saying so, he was of opinion that if a certain operation, with a very inferior force, had been successful under certain circumstances, some encouragement was thereby afforded to create a belief that a similar proceeding with a stronger force would be successful. He had the honour of the acquaintance of Sir John Bowring, and he certainly would not shrink from considering him as his friend at a moment when he was subject to unjust and intemperate attacks.
§ EARL GREY
His noble Friend had said he (Earl Grey) had approved a similar attempt made by General D' Aguilar. If his noble Friend would read that despatch he would find that it was cautiously worded so as to approve the manner in which a certain enterprise was effected. He was careful to express no opinion upon the prudence of the attempt itself, but he thought the troops were entitled to praise for the gallant manner in which they had conducted the operation. His opinion of the prudence of the measure was to be collected from the peremptory terms in which a repetition of any such attempt without a previous reference to the Home Government was positively prohibited.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
said, that although in a question of military and naval tactics the Admiral and General would be the fittest judges, yet the question here turned upon very different considerations. The Admiral had only recently arrived upon the station, and he knew nothing, and could know nothing, whatever of the character, the disposition, and means of resistance which might be afforded by an 2387 exasperated population. Sir John Bowring, on the contrary, had been a resident at Canton for many years, and it was but becoming and necessary in all matters involving the feelings and character of those people that the Admiral should refer and defer to the advice and experience of Sir John Bowring. Now, upon two points Sir John Bowring had been proved to have made a gross miscalculation. Repeatedly, in the course of this correspondence, he informed the Secretary of State that it was only necessary when this question of entering into the city of Canton was mooted that we should make a demonstration, that such a demonstration would be at once successful, and that there was not the slightest reason for apprehending any disaster, the responsibility of which he expressed himself ready to take upon himself if he could only obtain the desired permission to make the attempt. Successive Secretaries of State had refused to give him leave, but in defiance of them he had endeavoured to carry out his own views, and he could not now escape from the responsibility. Again, in the course of the correspondence that had been laid on the table, Sir John Bowring had repeatedly asserted that the only objection to his entering the city was on the part of the mandarins, and that the Chinese population had no objection to it. If that were so at the commencement of these proceedings, there was the more reason to complain of the conduct of Sir John Bowring in having converted a population who were friendly into the most bitter and resentful enemies that this country ever had. Those were the charges against Sir John Bowring; and without considering the means at his disposal, and miscalculating the opposition he was likely to meet with, and of which the Admiral could know nothing, he had taken upon himself the responsibility of disobeying his positive instructions, and had plunged the country into a war the end and cost of which no man could foretell.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
said, there are now two distinct charges against Sir John Bowring. Their Lordships must see the inconvenience of a debate which thus turned upon the character of an absent authority. The noble Earl who first rose complained that our military operations had ended in defeat, and that the Admiral had been obliged to assume a defensive position.
§ THE EARL OF ELLENBOROUGH
acknowledged that the debate was irregular, 2388 but he would not detain their Lordships more than a moment. He believed that Sir John Bowring held the position of commander in chief. He was not merely the Governor of Hong Kong, but all the military and naval forces were under his direction. No doubt it was his duty to communicate with the Admiral and General with regard to any military and naval operations; but, having heard the opinion of those officers, Sir John Bowring became responsible, not merely for what he ordered, but for what he permitted. He must exercise his own judgment; and it was not fair to go to a military or a naval man to divide the responsibility with him. They could make but one answer, and Sir John Bowring must stand between them and the difficulty in which they were placed.
§ LORD PANMURE
said, that no doubt Sir John Bowring, like the Governor General of Canada, was the commander in chief of the forces. But what was the meaning of that? The meaning was, that if warlike operations were to be undertaken he was to decide what was to be done; but, as to the manner and the mode in which the operations were to be conducted, he should like to know how it could occur to any man of sense that Sir John Bowring at Hong Kong could direct the operations at Canton? He did not wish to put upon Admiral Seymour any responsibility that ought to fall upon Sir John Bowring, but he must say that in carrying out the details of operations which had been arranged in a council of war, where the advice of Admiral Seymour had been called in, to throw the responsibility of those operations entirely upon Sir John Bowring's shoulders was scarcely fair. Admiral Seymour found himself in a narrow river with ships drawing a considerable draught of water, and assailed by ships that drew very little water, which were coming out both above and below him; and to say that, because Admiral Seymour had quitted one position to take up a stronger position, the British force had been "licked," was quite contrary to the fact. Admiral Seymour had not been beaten. He had taken up a position necessary for the defence of his fleet. He had destroyed all the defences of the Chinese in those waters, and in neither of the positions that he had taken up had he shown any want of ability in guarding his ships from the attempts of the enemy to set them on fire. With reference to the position of affairs in the Canton river, one 2389 fact ought to be known to their Lordships which was mentioned by Admiral Seymour in a letter written after his public despatch was sent off; it was to the effect that the Emperor had written to the Chinese officers at the four ports, directing them to remain on terms of peaceful and amicable relations with the English, notwithstanding what had happened at Canton.
§ THE EARL OF ELLENBOROUGH
said, the statement he made the other day was founded on what appeared in the public papers—namely, that a fire-boat had blown up under the bows of one of Her Majesty's vessels. He stated that in his opinion no fire-boat ought to be allowed to come close enough for such an event to occur. The noble Earl was quite wrong in supposing a mere rowing guard would keep off fire-boats, and if he would take the trouble to read the despatches written during the last war, under the direction of Sir George Cockburn and the Duke of Wellington, he would find there were more effectual means than that for protecting the fleet against fire-boats. It ought to be distinctly understood that there was no charge against Sir Michael Seymour for the manner in which he had directed the force at his disposal. The charge was against Sir John Bowring for having undertaken the operations at all.
§ THE MARQUESS OF BREADALBANE
defended, upon high authority, the operations undertaken by Sir John Bowring and Sir Michael Seymour.
§ LORD COLCHESTER
contended that Sir Michael Seymour had acted wrongly under pressure put upon him by Sir John Bowring, and that the latter only was to blame.