HL Deb 23 June 1879 vol 247 cc401-4

My Lords, before the Business of the House commences, I am very anxious to make a short statement with reference to the sad and painful circumstances connected with the death of the Prince Imperial, that we have all been deploring for the last few days. It is a subject on which I am sure there is but one feeling of sympathy for the illustrious Mother who has lost so much in losing her son, and of deep respect for the gallantry of that young man who unfortunately has come to this, I may say, untimely end. There is very great doubt as to the circumstances in which the Prince Imperial went to South Africa; and I think it is much to be deplored that that doubt should remain for a moment longer than necessary. Indeed, it seems to mo that I should be neglecting my duty if I did not read to your Lordships two private letters which the unfortunate Prince took out with him as letters of introduction to Sir Bartle Frere and Lord Chelmsford from myself. They are private letters, and are the letters under which the Prince attached himself to the Army in Zululand—

" February 25, 1879. "My dear Chelmsford,—This letter will he presented to you by the Prince Imperial, who is going out on his own account to see as much as he can of the coming campaign in Zululand. He is extremely anxious to go out, and wanted to be employed in our Army; but the Government did not consider that this could be sanctioned, but have sanctioned my writing to you and to Sir Bartle Frere to say that if you can show him kindness and render him assistance to see as much as he can with the columns in the field, I hope you will do so. He is a fine young fellow, full of spirit and pluck, and having many old cadet friends in the Artillery, he will doubtless find no difficulty in getting on, and if you can help him in any other way, pray do so. My only anxiety on his account would be that he is too plucky and go-a-head.—I remain, my dear Chelmsford, yours most sincerely, GEORGE. That is the letter to Lord Chelmsford; and I should also like to read to your Lordships that which was addressed to Sir Bartle Frere in order that there may be no mistake—

"February 25, 1879.

"My dear Sir Bartle Frere,—I am anxious to make you acquainted with the Prince Imperial, who is about to proceed to Natal by tomorrow's packet to see as much as he can of the coming campaign in Zululand in the capacity of a spectator. He was anxious to serve in our Army, having been a cadet at Woolwich; but the Government did not think that this could be sanctioned. But no objection is made to his going out on his own account, and I am permitted to introduce him to you and to Lord Chelmsford in the hope and with my personal request that you will give him every help in your power to enable him to see what he can. I have written to Chelmsford to the same effect. He is a charming young man, full of spirit and energy, speaking English admirably, and the more you see of him the more you will like him. He has many young friends in the Artillery, and so I doubt not, with your and Chelmsford's kind assistance, he will get on well enough.—I remain, my dear Sir Bartle, yours most sincerely, GEORGE."

My Lords, all I can say is, after having read these letters, that I think, so far as the authorities at home are concerned, everybody must feel that nothing has been done by them to place the unfortunate Prince in the position which, unhappily, resulted in his death. We all deplore, deeply deplore—I am sure that everyone in this House, every man, woman, and child in this country, everyone, from the Queen on the Throne down to her humblest subject, must feel and deeply deplore—what has occurred; but certainly, as far as the authorities are concerned here, I feel that nothing has been done to produce such a catastrophe as that which we now all so much lament. I have already said how deeply I sympathize with the bereaved Mother, and I am sure your Lordships fully share in that feeling.


I am sure your Lordships have listened with much interest to the letters which have just been read by the illustrious Duke which he has thought it desirable to place before your Lordships' House, and which refer to a deplorable calamity. Your Lordships must share with the illustrious Duke the regret which he expressed, and was experienced be the nation, when we heard of the death of a young Prince—and that, too, a foreign Prince — anxious to serve with Her Majesty's Colours in a distant land, and whose life has been, in my opinion, so cruelly and—I cannot help expressing my opinion—so needlessly sacrificed. Prince Napoleon, my Lords, lived long in this country. He was known to your Lordships and to the country generally. He received his military training at our institution at Woolwich, and he left behind him there a memory of bravery, of probity, of ability, of many virtues, and of many endearing qualities. I feel confident that, had opportunity been afforded, he would have shown the hereditary courage of the gallant nation of which he was a member. It is impossible, at a moment like this, that the thoughts of men should not be directed, as those of the illustrious Duke have been, to one who was the most deeply interested in the life of this young man so prematurely cut off. My Lords, I feel that on an occasion like the present any attempt at consolation must be fruitless; but the day may come when the sympathy of a free and great people may be appreciated by a desolate parent.


I may be permitted to say one word on this very sad case. I think your Lordships will be glad that the illustrious Duke did what he has done on the present occasion. It must be a source of melancholy satisfaction to him to have proved the interest which he felt in the young Prince whose death we so greatly lament, and to have had the opportunity of paying a high tribute of praise to his personal character and qualities. I thoroughly agree with the noble Earl the Prime Minister —at all events, until we have some further explanation of the matter—in what he said as to a person of the young Prince's position and his youth having been placed in the circumstances which, unhappily, have proved fatal to him. I will only add that I entirely concur in the expression of opinion that, absolutely apart from any political feeling, the sympathy of this country is extended in the strongest manner to the illustrious Mother of the young Prince in her almost unparalleled affliction.