HL Deb 04 May 1899 vol 70 cc1286-8

My Lords, I beg to ask the Secretary of State for War whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to keep Ladysmith as a military station, seeing the general insanitary state of the place. A very few words will, I think, suffice in explain my object in placing this Question on the Paper. There has been a great deal of sickness among the troops in Natal, and I am sorry to say, from what I hear, that this is unnecessary sickness. Under date March 4, I am informed that there are at present 116 cases of typhoid fever at Ladysmith out of a total of 1,800 men. Since November there have been 136 cases and 28 deaths from typhoid, mainly due to bad sanitary arrangement, and to the polluted water supply. The principal medical officer has also reported that the huts are too close together, and that the only way to remedy this defect would be to destroy alternate huts. That, of course, means expense, and it is very difficult to get Her Majesty's Government to agree to incur it. I will read to your Lordships a short extract from a local paper, which will explain the present condition of things— In town this season, so far, there have been only seven cases of enteric fever, and only one fatal result. In the camp there have been at least 18 deaths from this cause alone. This of itself is sufficient proof that the sanitary conditions there are by no means perfect. The state of the drainage at the married quarters, which I commented on yesterday, is very bad, the majority of the refuse of all kinds running into dongas only a matter of 200 yards from the camp. These dongas fill up, and every rain washes the overflow back towards the camp. Beyond those dongas, in Watercress Spruit, about one mile from the camp, the water is disgracefully polluted. It seems that the night-soil and stable litter is carried across the spruit, and the droppings font the carts alone would be sufficient to pollute the stream. The opinion of the medical men is that if Ladysmith camp is to be retained, it should be vacated by the troops during the summer months, and even then it would take £20,000 or £30,000 to make it habitable. I think your Lordships will agree that this is a case which ought to be inquired into.


My Lords, I am afraid I am not able to give my noble Friend any information as to the length of time during which it is likely that. Ladysmith will be occupied as a military station. We regard it as a point of considerable strategical importance, and we are certainly not likely to withdraw from it in 1-he near future. My noble Friend is perfectly correct in saying that the health of the troops at. Ladysmith has left much to be desired. I have made inquiries into the matter, but I cannot find that the climate of Ladysmith, taking one part of the year with another, can be described as a. bad climate, though there are undoubtedly seasons of the year when the weather is both hot and damp, and when the most terrible of all scourges, enteric fever, becomes very prevalent among the troops. We have already done something to improve the sanitary conditions. We spent last year on the improvements of the huts a sum of about £8,000. This year we are spending a further sum of about £15,000 upon the accommodation for the troops in Natal, a part of which will be spent at Ladysmith. It may, perhaps, interest my noble Friend to know that altogether we have spent at Ladysmith no less than £55,000. I have received within the last few days a very valuable Report from the General Officer commanding the troops in South Africa on the question to which my noble Friend has referred. He has made a number of very practical and well-considered suggestions as to the steps which might be taken to mitigate these evils. One of these is to put the troops in camp during part of the year upon healthier ground. Such healthier ground does exist, on the Mooi River. I believe the site is something like 5,000 feet above the sea, and I think I am right in saying that part of the troops have been moved to that place quite lately, and are probably there now. The general officer also calls attention to the necessity of surface draining, and the desirability of improving the water supply and hospital accommodation. These matters will certainly have the consideration of the War Department. I may say that the general made no mention of the fact that huts were in too close proximity to one another, but that is a point into which I shall be glad to inquire. My noble Friend will remember that Ladysmith was occupied in 1897 at very short notice by the troops, and that of necessity there were not at the place those sanitary appliances which are usual in large permanent camps. I can assure my noble Friend that we shall watch the health of the troops with close attention, and no pains will be spared to mitigate those regrettable conditions upon which he has dwelt.