HL Deb 01 May 1884 vol 287 cc1020-3

rose to ask the Government—First, their reasons for the evacuation of East Soudan by the troops under General Graham after his great successes over the rebel forces had created a panic and a complete depression of the "morale" among them, so that he was able to detach cavalry patrols from Suakin to considerable distances through the south and west, as well as through the northern district in the direction of Berber, proclaiming English supremacy over rebellion and anarchy; second, further to ask Her Majesty's Government whether this sudden and unexpected retreat from the scene of action, ordered by them, had not as seriously damaged British influence as General Graham's successes had previously raised it in that part of the world; third, whether this most serious loss of influence has not endangered the position and life of General Gordon, as well as the lives and properties of foreign consular agents and of a large number of loyal inhabitants in the Soudan districts; fourth, whether, even at this late hour, it would not save the dangerous situation now existing in the Soudans to concentrate Indian cavalry and infantry at Suakin, a safe port and base, in addition to making a military demonstration from Assouan southwards, which could be turned, when required, into a real movement? And whether these dispositions to attack the enemy in front and rear, thus placing him between two fires, might not have a wholesome effect in arresting a further development of rebellion round Khartoum and Berber, and throughout the Soudans? The noble and gallant Lord said that the object of these Questions was to show by official facts the serious and unenviable responsibility to the country, which rested upon Her Majesty's Government, for their incomprehensible policy in having abandoned the most satisfactory position, either in a political or a military sense, secured to them in East Soudan by the great and decisive successes of General Graham and his troops, and in having descended into its antithesis, a retreat to Cairo and England, which was, to the minds of Orientals, a certain proof of weakness, whether in policy or warfare. The Soudanese, Zulus, and Lazzees were the bravest populations in the East; but, brave as they were, they were not free from this Oriental characteristic. And the British successes at the last general action of Tamanieb were marked by unusual terrors of war; no less than 6,000 men killed on the field by the improved arms of the Royal Artillery and Infantry, which left an indelible impression on the minds of the Soudanese soldiers, and of their countrymen, of the invincible power of British troops. Nothing could have effaced this except the evacuation. The Soudanese troops, in fanatical devotion to the Mahdi's cause, rushed to the attack, recklessly exposing themselves to the iron storm of case of the battery under Captain Holley, to whom the country could not be sufficiently grateful for the all-important service he and his brave gunners, as General Graham said in his despatch "not protected by Infantry," rendered at a critical moment. The enemy were shot down before they could reach the guns like the Austrians in the campaign with the Prussians in 1866. The Austrians charged often and gallantly; but before they could reach their opponents, they were shot down by the Prussian Nadelgewehr. The Soudanese had practical proof at Tamasi and Tamanieb that even the Mahdi, by whose orders they fought, and in whose service they died, could not save them from either death or defeat, a proof the more impressive, as their best fighting men, their leaders, were the first to fall. They broke, dispersed, and fled in complete disorder in every direction, never to rally again, until encouraged to do so by the policy of the Government. He took a glance at the great interests which the Government had sacrificed, and the bad passions of rebellion, anarchy, and massacres, which they had developed by their retreat. From the moment the transports conveying our soldiers disappeared from Suakin the Mahdi and all the former germs of disorder revived, and every newspaper teemed with afflicting accounts of the desperate state of things in the Soudan. But had Admiral Hewett and General Graham "par nobile fratrum, quos gloria junxit," remained, they would, with the good common sense of Englishmen, have established temporary order and government by the issue of a resolute and sensible Proclamation calling on the Native authorities of every grade to do their duty faithfully, promising them support and reward if they acted with loyalty, justice, and energy; and, on the other hand, proclaiming suspension from their duties if they acted in a contrary manner. The English Commanders might have collected confidential information respecting the Slave Trade, which would have enabled Her Majesty's Government, in concert, if possible, with the Egyptian. Government, to adopt measures calculated to lessen the horrors of slavery, although unable to abolish it altogether. Worst of all, the Government abandoned, and exposed to great peril, their Representative in Soudan, at Khartoum, the only fortified stronghold in Upper Egypt. The excuses the Government had made were of no avail, and the country would universally condemn the policy which Her Majesty's Government had pursued.


My Lords, I have listened with attention to the interesting essay which my noble and gallant Friend has been good enough to read to us; and your Lordships will easily understand that I do not feel myself competent to enter into the military details with which his Questions are chiefly concerned. I say Questions, because the Notice he has given is really more of an argumentative statement of his views. I shall, therefore, shortly say, with regard to his first Question, that Her Majesty's Government are certainly of opinion that the only object of keeping the body of General Graham's Army at Suakin after the victory he gained would have been if we intended to send them on to Berber. We believe, rightly or wrongly, that the difficulties of sending large bodies of troops to Berber at that time were great indeed. I think it would have been possible to have sent a few Cavalry; but the thing would have been one of extreme risk, and certainly recent events have not disproved the necessity of the caution we exercised in that respect. With regard to the second and third Questions, I can only say I do not agree with the views of my noble and gallant Friend; and, as regards the fourth, I will not now give an opinion. Papers lately presented give some reasons against the use of Indian troops for this particular service; and I may remind my noble and gallant Friend that another distinguished officer, Lord Napier of Magdala, though disagreeing with the Government, deprecated the other day the use of Indian troops, and wished that British troops should be exclusively employed in any operations that might be undertaken.

House adjourned at a quarter past Five o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Ten o'clock.