HL Deb 07 April 1865 vol 178 cc870-3

Order of the Day for the House to be put into a Committee on the said Bill read.


wished to ask, Whether the noble Lord the Under Secretary of State for India could furnish the House with any information as to the actual state of our relations with Bhootan? Their Lordships would remember that the Queen's Speech at the opening of the Session contained a paragraph with reference to this subject, in which it was stated that a force had been despatched which, it was hoped, would procure reparation for the past and security for the future. But the force had done neither, for it appeared that they bad turned back in consequence of a flight of arrows or some such proceeding on the part of the Natives. The whole affair was simply this:—We sent an ambassador to a savage tribe by whom he was ill-treated, as might have been expected; and the consequence was the war which was now being waged. An opinion was pretty generally entertained that the territory of Bhootan was to be annexed. We had made many annexations which had been profitable, and for those the robber's plea might be admitted; but he could conceive nothing more worthless than the annexation of Bhootan. Now there were three questions which he wished to ask in connection with this subject—namely, whether there was any intention to annex the whole of Bhootan or a part of it; if so, what number of troops had been sent for that purpose; and what provision had been made to secure the troops against the severity of the climate?


deprecated, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, any discussion about the war in Bhootan until their Lordships had had an opportunity of examining the papers on the subject, of which a part had been laid upon the table, and the remainder was in preparation. As their Lordships were aware, for a long series of years the people of Bhootan had been in the habit of carrying their depredations over the frontiers of Her Majesty's dominions. Before the outbreak of the Indian mutiny the Government of India had it in contemplation to insist on some reparation; but in consequence of that event the intention of doing so was postponed. As the inhabitants of Bhootan, however, continued to carry off, not only the goods of British subjects, but also British subjects themselves in great numbers, it became obvious that some decisive measures must be taken. It was thought advisable to send an Envoy, in the first instance, for the purpose of making representations to the Government of Bhootan. That Envoy, as was well known to their Lordships, had been subjected to gross ill-treatment; but that circumstance only rendered it the more necessary that some decisive course should be followed. Accordingly, it was determined to organize a military force for this special purpose, and to despatch it into Bhootan. Bhootan consisted of a long, narrow territory, principally of a mountainous character, but it was bordered by a flat strip or riband of very fertile soil; and it was considered that by pushing our frontier a little further north—some fifteen or twenty miles—and getting possession of this strip, we should be able to put an effectual check upon the depredations of the people of Bhootan. Accordingly, four columns marched towards the hills, which they occupied without any opposition worthy of mention, and four forts were taken possession of by our troops. Three of those positions were still in our hands, and there was no doubt, from the information we had received, that they would be held with success. The fourth of these positions we had been compelled to give up, but the reason of that was the difficulty which was experienced in procuring water. There was no doubt, however, that in a short time we should be able to occupy the whole of the territory we considered necessary for our purpose. With regard to the question as to the permanent occupation of Bhootan, he could assure the noble Lord that no intention of the kind had ever for a moment been entertained by Her Majesty's Government. Any noble Lord who should read the papers would be of opinion that the course adopted by the Government of India was one which their Lordships ought to approve. The force to be sent forward would consist of a regiment and a half of European troops, two batteries of artillery, and three regiments of Native levies.


inquired, whether it was by the orders of Sir John Lawrence that the expedition had been undertaken?


said it was.


My Lords, when this expedition was sent forth it should have been considered that the country which it was about to enter was exceedingly unhealthy, and every possible precaution should have been taken to secure the health of the troops. I think the time at which it must have moved was unfortunate. It could not have moved before the 25th of March, when the season required that troops should go into cantonments. My Lords, I confess I have read the accounts of this expedition with very great alarm—an alarm proceeding not only from the apparent want of discretion in the arrangements made for the purpose of carrying on the campaign, but also from the evident weakness and incapacity of the new regiments formed and officered as they now are for the conduct of the operations. The same error was committed last year that was committed the year before. A force was sent into an enemy's country without any reserve being at hand to support it in the event of disaster. A force of 5,000 men was sent against the enemy at the end of 1863. They advanced three miles into the enemy's country; but they had not been there twenty-four hours before they sent for 5,000 more to protect their communications; and these 5,000 could not arrive until after the lapse of six weeks, That is not the way in which we can carry on war with the chance of success. The same' want of foresight occurred in the present instance. Three or four weeks elapsed before the European and Native troops ordered up as re-inforcements could move. That is not the way in which we can carry on war with advantage. The noble Lord says it was not quite so bad as that, and that they were obliged to retreat for want of water. But did any man ever hear of such an occurrence as was stated to have happened in this instance? It is incredible. I do not understand how any man who ever wore a red coat could carry on a war without making due provision for supplying his men with water. It was impossible that these troops, without water, should hold their position against an enemy. I tell your Lordships that at a very early period you will be compelled to give your most earnest consideration to the whole question of the expediency of maintaining that new organization of the Indian army which was established four or five years ago. It is the first time since the introduction of standing armies that an attempt has been made to maintain an army without regimental organization. These regiments are officered from time to time by gentlemen from the Staff. I have looked through the list of officers of one of those regiments—the 43rd. I find that the commanding officer has been for a long time at the head of that regiment. In its former condition it might be considered rather as a body of police than as a regiment, and I regret extremely that there has been given to it the name of one of the noblest regiments of the Indian army. They are nothing but a parcel of police. Looking at the list of the other officers, I find it most unsatisfactory. One of the officers who joined in November went into the field with the troops in December. Others joined only at the beginning of the year. It is impossible to expect discipline and efficiency in the field if you send new officers to join a regiment just as it is going into the presence of the enemy. You cannot do that safely with your own European troops; how then can it be done with Native troops, who look to European officers to take them into action? I trust that no long time will elapse before the attention of your Lordships will be called to this subject. It is one that has occupied my mind seriously for a very considerable period. There are no means of filling up the ranks of that Staff—none whatever—when the old officers of the East India Company's army are gone. The Queen's army does not offer recruits to that service. You are within a few years of having no officers whatever to command the Native troops of India. It is absolutely impossible to carry on the present organization, and it is time for the Government, without regarding the discredit of so doing, seriously to consider, if not the expediency of going back to what was, at all events to make a material alteration in what is, and to establish a real regimental organization of the Indian army.

House in Committee.

Bill reported, without Amendment.