HL Deb 01 April 1881 vol 260 cc445-6

I wish to ask the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies Questions of which I have given him private Notice—namely, what is the number of troops now under orders to return from South Africa; whether Sir Garnet Wolseley acted on his own responsibility when he sent home a portion of the forces under his command, or under instructions from the Government; and what is the probable force it is intended in the future to retain in South Africa?


In answer to the first Question of my noble Friend I will read a statement of the exact number of troops at present in Natal and the Transvaal, and the orders which have been given. My noble Friend appears to be under some misconception as to troops having been ordered from the Cape, as he will see from my statement that certain regiments on their way have been directed not to proceed, and no regiments have been withdrawn. When the agreement with the Boers was concluded by Sir Evelyn Wood there were in Natal and the Transvaal eight regiments of Infantry, two regiments of Cavalry, and three batteries of Artillery. The numbers we have decided on retaining there for the present are 10 regiments of Infantry, four regiments of Cavalry, and three batteries of Artillery, with other branches of the Service, making altogether a force of about 12,000 men. What has been done in consequence of the conclusion of the arrangement with the Boers is to intercept two Infantry regiments on their way from the Mediterranean, and one on its way from Ceylon—three altogether—and a battery of Artillery on its way from this country. On the other hand, we have strengthened the gar- rison at the Cape by one more battalion. There are thus 12 regiments of Infantry, four regiments of Cavalry, and four batteries of Artillery in the two South African commands, besides Engineers, Army Service Corps, and Army Hospital Corps. The answer to the second Question of the noble Lord is that I have not been able since I received his letter to ascertain the precise instructions that were given to Sir Garnet Wolseley; but I feel absolutely certain that he could not have sent home regiments at his own discretion, but must have had the usual orders sent him from home. As it will be interesting to the noble Lord to know what regiments were sent home by Sir Garnet Wolseley, I will read a statement on the subject. There were sent home one regiment of Cavalry—the 17th Lancers—two garrison batteries of Artillery, and 10 regiments of Infantry. Four regiments of Infantry which remained in Natal and the Transvaal, and were there at the time of the outbreak; a Cavalry regiment also remained; but it had been partly, or almost entirely, withdrawn at the time of the outbreak. I think that is a complete statement with reference to all that has been done.


What are the dates at which the troops were sent home by Sir Garnet Wolseley?


I cannot tell the exact dates. They were sent home after the Zulu War. The last Question of the noble Lord (Lord Lamington), as to how many troops we may be obliged to retain in South Africa, is one I cannot answer. That must, of course, depend entirely on circumstances, and it would be perfectly impossible for me to give any opinion whatever on the subject at the present time.