HL Deb 23 March 1858 vol 149 cc556-9

My Lords, I much regret I had left the House when my noble and learned Friend opposite (Lord Brougham) put a question last evening to my noble Friend the Under Secretary for War with respect to a plan which my noble and learned Friend supposed was about to be carried into execution for recruiting for the Indian service on the Western coast of Africa. I will explain to him exactly how the matter stands. It is quite true that a plan was entertained for enlisting on the Western coast of Africa a class of men called Kroomen, many of whom at present form, and for more than fifty years have formed, part of the crews of her Majesty's ships, and of all merchant vessels on that coast; and so little is this done in the dark that the pay of these Kroomen has been included in all the Naval Estimates published for a great number of years. There is therefore no deceit or concealment about the matter. I will tell my noble and learned Friend why I entertained this proposal. I wish to save the lives of English soldiers, and to increase the efficiency of the English army in India. I am also desirous of enabling the Indian Government to send the naval brigade to China, where its services are much wanted at present. My noble and learned Friend knows very well the position in which the Indian Army now stands. Formerly we had the assistance of a large force of Native soldiers, who did duty under exposure to the sun; while the European troops were kept under cover, ready to fight, indeed, whenever that was necessary, but subjected to none of the inconveniences and dangers of the climate which could possibly be avoided. During the last year, unfortunately, we have had reason to distrust the Native soldiers, who cannot now be relied upon in the same degree as before. One of the greatest dangers which pressed upon us arose from the circumstance that the Native army was altogether uniform in its formation, and in case of mutiny was likely to act in a body. Hence it is desirable, if possible, so to compose the army in future as to destroy that uniformity, and to give less cohesion to its different parts, in order to render combination in mutiny more difficult. With these views I thought it most desirable to obtain the assistance of these Kroomen for service in India. Hitherto they have done good service in Her Majesty's ships, and I think that at the mouths of the Ganges and the Irrawaddy, they would now perform more useful service than they render at the mouths of rivers on the coast of Africa. I understand they arc most excellent seamen indeed. They average five feet nine inches in height; they eat nothing but rice, which is particularly convenient in Bengal; they have very small pay; and at the end of their service they do not care to receive money, but arc ready to accept payment in commodities, taking muskets, ammunition, and goods, and going away perfectly satisfied. They can be most useful in war, being dead shots, and they can hit at the extreme limit to which a musket will carry. I was therefore desirous of employing them, and, as they possess all these qualities, I believe they would turn out most useful as light troops in front of an army. But we wanted to employ them in the first instance on rivers by way of experiment, to see whether they were capable of performing that duty. Unfortunately, it was found that this could not be done without an alteration in the terms of the Mutiny Act. The moment I understood this I wrote to my hon. and gallant Friend at the head of the War Department, The third reading of the Mutiny Bill stood for Monday, and I requested that the necessary alteration should be made in it. It seems, however, that according to the usual practice no alteration except a technical one can be made on the third reading of a measure; and the plan could not therefore be carried out. As soon as I became aware of this fact I wrote to the Chairman of the Court of Directors on the subject.

LORD BROUGHAM, after observing upon the strange kind of non-intercourse that seemed to exist among the different Departments of the Government, said, he had put his question last night in his noble Friend's absence, because he understood that the gallant Officers who were to be employed on this service on the coast of Africa were to leave town that morning. [The Earl of ELLENBOROUGH: Just so; they were obliged to do so, because the mail goes to-night.] It was stated last night by the noble Lord the Under Secretary for War (Viscount Hardinge) that there was no foundation whatever for the rumour. Now, however, it appeared that such a plan had been thoroughly matured, and had since been abandoned, owing to an unforeseen difficulty. Although he did not doubt that some measures might be devised for obtaining the valuable services of well-trained and disciplined negroes in our Indian regiments, yet he could not but regard with the greatest suspicion any such operations if performed upon the coast of Africa, even with respect to Kroomen; because, unless it were intended to raise troops upon a considerable scale; as, for instance, four or five regiments, he did not see what effectual aid it would be to the Government of India; and if they did so intend, he knew that as Kroomen could not possibly be so raised, the inevitable consequences must be to run counter to the Resolution which had been agreed to unanimously by their Lordships upon the 17th of July last, in an Address to Her Majesty. That Address, which he had the honour of moving, prayed Her Majesty to use her best endeavours to prevent all operations upon the coast of Africa connected with the emigration of what were called "free negroes," and all operations which had a tendency directly or indirectly to promote the African slave-trade by encouraging the purchase—and liberation he would admit in this case—of negroes either captured in war or otherwise obtained. Now, he was perfectly convinced that, unless the greatest possible precaution wore adopted, the plan suggested by the noble Earl would end in enlisting, not merely Kroomen, but in taking "free negroes" — which meant captives ransomed or slaves purchased, and only freed, or pretended to be made free, after being so obtained. He confessed that he was exceedingly gratified that, from whatever cause it might have arisen, the scheme of the noble Earl had been for the present delayed.


I must protest against the doctrine laid down by the noble and learned Lord, that because this country is determined to put an end to everything which should not only have the reality, but the appearance of sending out negroes from Africa, whose liberation might be effected by very doubtful measures, and thereby practically encourage the slave trade, we are thereby precluded from availing ourselves of the military and naval services of men who for many years have been employed, without difficulty or objection, in our naval service. Although it is perfectly true that there is only a small portion of Africa where the people are in a state of freedom, yet there is no doubt that the Kroomen do form an exception to the general rule—that they are perfectly free, and perfectly able to dispose of their own services, perfectly aware of their value, arid perfectly ready to enter our service, where they have constantly, regularly, and usefully served. I am quite sure that there is no cause for apprehension that in recruiting for them we are likely to lead to a renewal of the slave trade.

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