HL Deb 23 February 1885 vol 294 cc1017-9

asked the Under Secretary of State for War, Whether it is the case that in the summer of 1884 Lord Wolseley demanded that a force should be sent forthwith to Suakin? The noble Lord pointed out that the Suakin-Berber base now being established had been pressed upon the Government from almost the beginning of their military operations in the Soudan, and especially by General Stephenson, the reason of whose supersession on the 28th of August last year was that he advocated that route. He would make the Government a present of this proof of their inconsistency, and would only say that those who had any conversance with military matters, and who looked at Lord Wolseley's present position, drawing, as he must do, his whole supplies from the Nile Valley, and the imminent danger of his being cut off by any advance on Dongola, could not help feeling that the gravest responsibility rested upon Her Majesty's Government for their sins of omission and commission. It would be remembered that the Suakin-Berber route was urged upon Her Majesty's Government with all the insistence, persistence, and knowledge of all military officers; and the Government must expect to find the matter brought up against them in the House again and again so long as they remained at the head of affairs.


in reply, said, he would not discuss the alternative route at the present moment, but would only say one word as to the Question put by the noble Viscount. He could not help thinking that the Question was based on a somewhat remarkable idea of the functions of the Adjutant General of the Forces. The responsibility for any military operations rested upon the Ministers of the Crown, and not upon their Military Advisers; and the Ministers of the Crown were perfectly prepared to undertake all their responsibilities. No doubt advice would be asked of the Military Authorities as to the military measures necessary to give effect to a particular line of policy; but he did not feel quite certain whether it was judicious to inform the House what was the confidential advice given to his noble Friend the Secretary of State for War by his Military Advisers. He might, however, say that at the time and before the time when it was determined to send out an Expedition there was, of course, a very considerable amount of discussion as to the various routes. No doubt, military opinions differed as to the best route for such an Expedition to take. Those opinions had been most carefully weighed; and after a most careful consideration, and with the full concurrence of the noble and gallant Lord (Lord Wolseley), it was decided that the route by the Nile was the only route possible, at the time when the Expedition was finally decided upon by the Government. In answer to his noble Friend's Question, he would say that he was not aware that Lord Wolseley ever did insist upon a force being sent to Suakin at the time mentioned. He would also like to mention that the noble Viscount was mistaken as to the supersession of General Stephenson. That gallant officer still remained in the position he held at that time. He, having given an adverse opinion to the Nile route, could not fairly have been called upon to conduct the Expedition which it had been decided to send by that route.


read a telegram from the War Office to General Stephenson to the effect that after anxious consideration Her Majesty's Government had come to the conclusion that it would be unjust to that officer to ask him to be responsible for directing the operations, and that they had, therefore, decided to send Lord Wolseley to take generally the command in Egypt. When an officer was told that he, being in chief command, was to be replaced by another officer, it was impossible to say he was not superseded. It was only playing with words, and not dealing fairly with the House, to say that General Stephenson had not been superseded.


said, that, with regard to the supersession of General Stephenson, of course the noble Viscount was technically right; but the simple fact was that General Stephenson gave it as his opinion that an Expedition by means of boats up the Nile was not likely to succeed, and no one could call upon a General to undertake the command of an Expedition which he could not recommend. That being so, what could be more natural than that Lord Wolseley, having given his opinion that the Expedition up the Nile was feasible, should be called upon to take the command? There could be no possible slur upon General Stephenson in that.