HL Deb 07 March 1881 vol 259 cc376-8

My Lords, I regret I must rely upon the plea of urgency for the Question which I rise to put to the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and of which there was no time to give him private Notice. I wish to know whether the Government can give us authentic information in reference to the rumour—the improbable, I might almost say the incredible rumour—which is contained in the evening papers—namely, that an Armistice has been concluded with the Boers in the Transvaal. I may remind your Lordships that, so far as we are aware, the military position at the seat of war has remained unchanged since the late disaster, and that we have heard nothing except the information which from time to time reached us that negotiations were still in progress between Sir Evelyn Wood and the Boer leaders. I should also wish to ask, if it is true that an Armistice has been agreed to for eight days, whether any provision has been made for the relief of the beleagured garrisons in the Transvaal, and for any further information which the noble Earl can give?


My Lords, the statement that an Armistice has been concluded is correct. I will read to your Lordships two telegrams which I have received on the subject. The one is a telegram from Sir Evelyn Wood to the Secretary of State for War, dated Mount Prospect, 6th March, 3.30 p.m., which says:— Have signed agreement with Joubert for suspension of hostilities till midnight, 14th March, for purpose of receiving Kruger's reply and any further communications. We have power of sending eight days' supplies to our garrisons, and Joubert has undertaken to pass them through Boer lines, and, on arrival of provisions at such garrisons, the blockading and besieged parties will cease hostilities for eight days. I hope you approve. I will read a second telegram dated later on the same day— Telegram from Sir Evelyn Wood to Lord Kimberley, dated Fort Amid, 6 p.m., 6th March, 1881:— The following are the conditions of an Armistice agreed to this day between Joubert and myself. Object of Armistice to allow time for Kruger to reply to communications from late Sir George Colley and subsequent communication with view to peaceable settlement of question. We mutually agree to cessation of hostilities from noon on 6th till midnight 14th March. Conditions:—(1) In that period both promise not to make forward movement from present positions, but each retains liberty of movement within own lines; (2) Sir Evelyn Wood is free to send eight days' provisions, but no ammunition, for all Transvaal garrisons, the Boer officers undertaking to pass it to such garrisons; (3) Joubert undertakes to send notice of the Armistice conditions to respective garrisons and to Boer commanders, and will use his influence to induce these commanders to allow withdrawal of British (the wounded) from these garrisons into Natal. My Lords, I may add that Her Majesty's Government have approved Sir Evelyn Wood's proceedings in connection with this Armistice. With reference to the allusion made to Mr. Kruger in this telegram, I may state, in order to make it intelligible to your Lordships, that some time ago a letter was received front him by Sir George Colley, and to that letter Sir George Colley was directed to give an answer. We do not know precisely all the circumstances connected with the time when the communications with Kruger took place. We have made inquiries on the subject; but I am not in a position to state precisely what took place. In answer to a communication from Kruger to Sir George Colley, a communication was made through him to the Boers. I may observe, so that there may be no misconception, that Sir George Colley was instructed to allow a reasonable time for the answer to be sent by the Boers. We are, however, imperfectly informed as to Sir George Colley's proceedings in connection with this communication. The following telegram was sent to him by the Secretary of State for War with reference to his conduct during the interval:— With reference to Lord Kimberley's telegram as respects the interval before reply from Boers is received, we do not bind your discretion; but we are anxious for your making arrangements to avoid effusion of blood.