HL Deb 11 July 1881 vol 263 cc491-6

asked, Whether it is the fact that there has been during the Spring much mortality and sickness among the troops stationed at the Gold Coast, particularly in the 2nd West India Regiment; whether such mortality and sickness is not greatly aggravated by unhealthy quarters and by road making during the hottest hours of the day; and whether any stops have been taken to prevent the recurrence of such of these evils as are due to preventable causes? The noble Lord said that he had the evidence of eye witnesses that the regiment referred to arrived at the Gold Coast at the rainy season of the year, no preparations having been made for them; and that they were quartered in the worst part of the town—the sanitary condition of which was frightful. The consequence was that fever broke out, and that great hardships were endured by both officers and men. It had been stated by Mr. Childers that the men had been put under canvas, and that the health of the regiment had since been better; but he (Viscount Bury) was informed that the climate did not allow of men being put under canvas, and that as soon as they were so quartered the medical authorities were chiefly exercised in devising means for getting them out of it. Ho was also told that troops were landed on the Gold Coast at a season when they could not be employed up the country, and when they might perfectly well be detained at St. Helena, only a few days distant. And not only, ho believed, were the troops made to work in the hottest part of the day, but they were not allowed to carry umbrellas or other head coverings, although the thermometer stood at over 100 degrees in the shade. The rationing of the troops, too, he understood, was unsatisfactory. Necessaries were so dear that the 1s. a-day allowed to the men was not enough; and animals sent from Sierra Leone for their consumption were in such a diseased state that the men refused to eat them. Of course, he did not impute any blame to the Government for this state of things, which was no doubt due to the action of officers on the spot; but he should be glad to hear from the noble Earl opposite how matters really stood. He felt it was his duty to ask these Questions, and he believed the lives of Her Majesty's troops were dear to their Lordships on both sides of the House.


said, that the welfare of our troops must always be a subject of great interest. In answering his noble Friend, he would recall to his mind that when the troops were sent to the Gold Coast fears existed that difficulties would arise between ourselves and the King of Ashantee. It was consequently necessary to send a large body of men to that Colony, and the Government telegraphed to the West Indies that the 2nd West India Regiment must proceed to Africa without delay. It was not possible to detain the troops at St. Helena, because it was anticipated that au attack might be made on our Colony. It was not a question of sending troops into the interior, for it would have been difficult, if not impossible, at that season of the year to send troops into the jungle; but it was a question of defending the possessions of Her Majesty at the Coast. He ventured to say that the prompt presence of the troops which were ordered to repair to the Colony had a most useful and quieting effect. There was undoubtedly considerable mortality among the troops, the climate on the coast, always unhealthy, being specially so when they were there. But in the 2nd West India Regiment only one officer died in April. It was true that out of 55 officers 21 were on leave. The barrack accommodation in the Colony was limited, and the troops had therefore to be housed in Fantee towns, in huts, and under canvas. In the early days of the month of April the sanitary condition of the Fantee towns was pronounced to be very bad by the principal medical officer, and the troops had to be removed from them, and placed under canvas. The malaria fevers which prevailed in April and May attacked the men when they were in tents with less violence than when they were in the Fantee towns. The medical officers would call the attention of the local authorities to the desirability of trying to mitigate the unhealthiness of the Colony. In a case of great emergency it was, of course, impossible to make provisions which should be absolutely satisfactory in so unhealthy a quarter. With regard to the question of supplies, he had to say that as soon as the telegram was despatched ordering the departure of the 2nd West India Regiment, orders were also given for the despatch of a large quantity of supplies, which arrived at the Colony on March 12, and were landed on the 17th. The 2nd West India Regiment did not arrive until March 19. The supplies consisted of preserved meats, biscuits, lime-juice, and other stores. In fact, there were abundant supplies in addition to those sent from Sierra Leone. Supplies and cattle were also sent from Sierra Leone. It was known that some of the cattle on that coast was unhealthy; but the fact that the consumption of fresh meat by the troops at the Gold Coast increased in each month during their stay there proved conclusively that the disease was not so general as the noble Viscount assumed, and that there were a considerable number of cattle which were not unfit for food. Another point that had been raised referred to the route-marching of the troops, and their employment in road-making. Well, on May 8, the officer in command of the troops said he had discontinued route-marching, as in their delicate state of health it was trying to officers and men. The road-making, he said, would continue, for the working parties were healthy, and worked willingly for the extra pay which they earned. It was clear from these statements that the officer in command was not unmindful of the health of his troops. The garrison at the Gold Coast was now almost reduced to its normal strength. The headquarters of the 2nd West India Regiment left the Gold Coast for the West Indies on June 16. He did not deny that troops ran great risk of disease and fever on the Gold Coast, especially in the unhealthy seasons. No one, however, could be held responsible for the illness which had prevailed. It was the result of natural causes, and causes which, under those circumstances, were unavoidable. He would only add, in conclusion, that on the occasion to which the Question of the noble Viscount referred most valuable services were rendered by the troops which were despatched to the Gold Coast, for though they not called upon to take the field their presence not improbably prevented serious complications.


said, the question was not as to the time when the supplies arrived at the Gold Coast, but as to the time when they were issued to the troops. According to the information which his noble Friend (Viscount Bury) had received, there were no stores issued during the months of March and April. As the question was a very serious one, it would be satisfactory to ascertain whether these stores when they arrived were immediately issued, or at what time they were issued.


said, he should like to have a more full and categorical reply to the question raised by the noble Duke who had just sat down. If there was any truth in the allegations of the noble Lord who had brought this subject before their Lordships, a serious case, not only of mismanagement, but of corruption could be based upon the charges which he made. All who knew anything of the circumstances of the Gold Coast must be aware that it was almost, if not quite, the most unhealthy station to which troops could be sent. Though in recent years there had been an improvement in the general health of the White population on the coast, no one could doubt that the health of troops hastily moved to that Colony for special purposes must be very seriously jeopardized. When he was at the Colonial Office he had in view some arrangements as to barracks; and he should recommend to the Government that such provision should be made for the better accommodation of the troops at the Gold Coast as might at any time be needed. So long as we held that station, so long should we be exposed from time to time to the dangers of sudden and sometimes very serious incursions from Ashantee and elsewhere. The employment of any White troops in that part of the world was very undesirable; and, therefore, it should not be forgotten that the West India Regiments were officered by Englishmen. He hoped the excellent practice of training a sufficient Houssa force would not be departed from. So long as they maintained that force in a state of efficiency, they would be free, as a rule, from Ashantee invasions; but if the force was allowed to deteriorate they would always be threatened with this danger.


said, his noble Friend (the Earl of Morley) presumed that when the stores arrived at the Gold Coast they were distributed; but special inquiry would be made. With regard to the general question brought before the House, he might repeat that the troops had been sent to the Gold Coast to meet an extraordinary and sudden emergency. They had not the slightest intimation of the proceedings of the King of Ashantee until they heard that an Ashantee invasion of the Gold Coast was imminent. They then ordered troops to be forwarded from the West Indies without delay to the Gold Coast, and a detachment also went from Sierra Leone. He was bound to say that the troops sent there had the effect of preventing what might have been a most dangerous and troublesome war. As to the provision of the barracks, he hardly thought it possible they could build a considerable number of barracks to be kept there only to be used in an emergency. That would be a great burden on the Colony. Before these occurrences took place there were not more than 180 men quartered there, and at present there were not more than 350, and they would soon be able to reduce the force to its normal number. With regard to the Houssa force, his noble Friend would be glad to hear that this most valuable force was kept up to a high state of efficiency. He (the Earl of Kimberley fully recognized their value, and was not likely to overlook them, particularly as they were organized while he was in Office on a former occasion. The Houssas were men who could be thoroughly relied upon; they were born soldiers; they were temperate because Mahomedans; they were perfectly faithful and amenable to discipline. On several occasions parties had been sent far into the interior to recruit, and the response was always friendly. An attempt had recently been made to induce the Houssas to settle near the Coast, with their wives and families. The real difficulty was that there was a difficulty in procuring a sufficient number of recruits. As to the Coast, he feared the climate and the deficiency of sanitary arrangements there would lead to the loss of valuable officers; but everything that was within their power was being done to remedy the evils which existed.