HL Deb 31 March 1884 vol 286 cc1124-7

was understood to ask Her Majesty's Government, Whether the arrangements which were reported to have been made for the departure of our troops from Suakin could be delayed or postponed, as it would be a great advantage if the Government could devise some means—the road to Berber and Khartoum being now open, and there being plenty of water—to render assistance to General Gordon? They would probably meet with no resistance, and would be of the greatest service in relieving General Gordon in his task of defending the lines of Khartoum. He should like also to have some information respecting the health of the troops.


My Lords, I do not wish, on my own personal authority, to controvert anything that has been said by the noble and gallant Lord (Lord Strathnairn). There is no doubt whatever that we have reason to be deeply grateful for the general state of health of the troops near Suakin at this present moment, for it is very satisfactory. At the same time, your Lordships will remember that very great hardships were for some time endured by them, and great difficulties experienced in respect to obtaining a supply of water; and I rather think that the noble and gallant Lord will allow that a march of 240 miles into the interior, when the climate is becoming worse every day, is hardly the same thing as the late advance of a few miles inland from Suakin. As to defending the lines at Khartoum, no doubt, it is very desirable they should be properly protected; but I must remind the noble and gallant Lord that General Gordon is undoubtedly a very great General; and not only so, but he is one of the most distinguished members of the Engineer Corps of this country.


My Lords, I had hoped that the noble Earl opposite (Earl Granville) would have taken advantage of the opportunity of these two questions to have made some statement to the House with respect to the present anxious and lamentable position of affairs in Egypt, and would have given us some indication of the policy which Her Majesty's Government are prepared, under the circumstances, to pursue. I should have been glad if it were possible for the noble Earl to tell us in what manner it is intended to hold Suakin, and in what manner it is intended to relieve General Gordon; for I imagine that both of these objects must be constantly present to the mind of Her Majesty's Government, and that they must surely have formed some plan for achieving them. I must confess that, as far as matters have gone at present, although I can quite understand the hesitation which the military authorities in this country may well feel before authorizing a march from Suakin to Berber—an undertaking which, although sanctioned by the great authority of my noble and gallant Friend (Lord Strathnairn), yet is evidently one that is surrounded with difficulty—although I can understand their hesitation in this respect, yet the particular objects and aims of the policy of the Govern- ment are to my mind more shrouded in mystery than they ever were before. As far as the gallantry of our soldiers or the ability of our officers is concerned, we must look back on the last few weeks with the most unfeigned congratulation. There has been nothing but that which we can felicitate ourselves upon; but if we ask ourselves what are the results that have been obtained by this campaign, I do not see that we can give any other answer than that some 6,000 Blacks and some 200 Whites have been killed. I cannot see that any other result has been obtained. The lines of Suakin are just as defensible now as they were then, and they were just as defensible then as they are now. No change whatever has been made in that respect by the operations which were undertaken. There is no doubt that a great advantage might have been gained if it had been possible to impress the Native mind with any permanent and abiding belief in our power and the fear of our resentment. But have we been able to impress them with any such feeling? Is there any sign that such a conviction has reached their minds? On the contrary, is not that sudden retirement certain to impress them with the very opposite conviction? They do not understand the mysterious ways of your policy; they cannot understand that you have made such a great expedition with the mere object of shooting so many Blacks and then coming back again. They must have thought that there was some ulterior object which we intended to achieve, and it is perfectly clear that we have not achieved it by immediate retirement. They can draw no other conclusion than that your campaign has absolutely failed. I regret very much that this should be the result; but the impression of which I speak is the natural result of what I must think the hasty and uncalculating action of Her Majesty's Government. They do not seem, at any stage of these long troubles, to have looked for two or three months a-head of the very period in which they were acting. They appear to have never asked themselves—"If this move fails, what will be the next move to take? "And the result is that we find ourselves forced by the climate to withdraw our troops at the very moment when some advantage might have been obtained from the sacrifices that we have made, and the blood that has unfortunately been shed. This has been simply the result of the miscalculation of the Government. I suppose they have formed some plan for the future. I suppose that there are some arrangements by which trustworthy troops will be left to defend Suakin, the defence of which has been held hitherto to be the great object of all our efforts. Then, I suppose that the gallant man who has gone to Khartoum, with his life in his hand, in order to retrieve the blunders of English policy, will not be abandoned to his fate; but I shall be glad to know by what means Her Majesty's Government propose to attain objects which appear to be so unattainable.


said, that before this Question was passed, he would like to ask the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, whether Her Majesty's Government had received any official confirmation of the news which had appeared in the newspapers with respect to the defeat of General Gordon at Khartoum?


, in reply, said, that he had heard—and he was sorry to say the news was perfectly true—that a sortie had been made by the garrison from Khartoum, which had not been successful; but the Government were awaiting fuller information with respect to the engagement and the position of affairs at Khartoum. He wished to add, however, that Her Majesty's Government had confidence in General Gordon as to his maintaining his position at that place.