HL Deb 10 February 1881 vol 258 cc470-2

said, that, seeing the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies in his place, he wished to ask him a Question of which he had given him private Notice, with reference to the neutrality of the Orange River Free State during the present rising of the Boers of the Transvaal against British authority. Their Lordships were aware that the present scene of military operations was in Natal territory. Natal territory ran in a wedgelike shape between the Orange River Free State and the Transvaal; and it was almost the point of junction, at Laing's Nek, that the Boers had selected as the place to offer opposition to Sir George Colley's advance. After Sir George Colley's force was repulsed last week, it retreated to a place called Hatley's Hotel, where it was now encamped; but, on Monday last, a new force suddenly appeared in his rear. A considerable number of Boers—a mounted force — appeared between Newcastle and the camp. They severed the communication between Newcastle and the head-quarters and captured some waggons; and on Tuesday they fought a very severe action, the details of which their Lordships must have read with the most painful interest. What he (the Earl of Camperdown) wished to know was who wore those Boers, and whence they came? They could not belong to the same force which was encamped at Laing's Nek, and which opposed Sir George Colley. They might possibly he Boers of the Transvaal who had crossed the Buffalo; but such was not the generally accepted opinion of those who were competent to judge. The Times' Correspondent, on February 8, said that— A large patrol of Boers, estimated at 150 to 200 men, is on this side of the Ingogo, and it is expected to cut the telegraph wire. A body of 1,000 Boers is in rear of the left flank of the column in laager. They must have passed through the Free State. It seemed, at all events, probable that those Boers were either subjects of the Orange River Free State who, from an intense feeling of sympathy with their brethren of the Transvaal, had issued from that territory, and were now actively operating against the British forces, or they were Boers of the Transvaal, who had been permitted to pass through the territory of the Orange River Free State. If either of those hypotheses was true very serious questions arose. It was manifestly contrary to the duty of a neutral State either to permit armed expeditions to start from its territory, or, assuming that they were entitled to belligerent rights, to allow either of the belligerents to pass through its territory. President Brand, of the Orange River Free State, was known to many of their Lordships to be a Ruler far too wise, and too well aware of the duties of neutrality as also of the power of this country, to have permitted his subjects to transgress the duties of neutrals if he was able to prevent it. But if it should appear that he had been unable either to prevent the Boers of the Transvaal from passing through his territory, or to prevent his subjects from making an armed expedition, it might become a question, if one of the belligerents was permitted not to respect neutral territory, how far the other could be expected to do so. It was further important to ascertain what measures should be taken to put a stop to such proceedings, and, in any case, it was desirable that accurate information should be obtained with regard to these Boers at the earliest possible moment.


, in reply, said, his noble Friend (the Earl of Camperdown) had given him private Notice of his intention to ask him whether he (the Earl of Kimberley) had any information as to a statement that appeared in the newspapers that some of the Boers engaged against our troops had passed over the Orange River Free State territory. His answer to his noble Friend was, that he had seen that statement in the newspapers, but that he had no information whatever on the subject; and he hoped his noble Friend would excuse him for not following him in the various observations he had made, because he was sure his noble Friend would see that, in the present position of affairs, it was not desirable, without the necessary information, to discuss matters of a very delicate and difficult nature.