HL Deb 30 April 1914 vol 15 cc1180-93

rose to call attention to recent events on the British East African and Abyssinian frontier, and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the question of the frontier between British East Africa and Abyssinia is one which has for some years past caused considerable interest and a certain amount of anxiety among those living in British East Africa. Some of us who are interested in both countries have for some time past urged the occupation of this frontier for several reasons—first for the protection of the tribes living within British territory and for the protection of those who have fled into British territory to escape the cruelty of the raids by the Abyssinians; secondly, for the protection of the trade routes between Abyssinia and East Africa, which are very considerable; and thirdly, of course, for the prevention of the raids by the Abyssinians. I found in a description of a journey by Mr. Archer—the same Mr. Archer who has been already mentioned this evening—that the reasons which the Government had for effectually occupying, as he calls it, this frontier were exactly the same reasons as have always been given for that. We wanted the frontier occupied, and in 1909 or 1910 a Government expedition under the leadership of Mr. Archer was sent from the Juba River to Marsabit near Lake Rudolph. The expedition consisted of Colonel Thesiger (Inspector-General King's African Rifles), the officer commanding the East African Rifles, and one or two other officers; and I understand that Colonel Thesiger reported very unfavourably on the proposal to establish isolated chains of forts along this frontier. I do not know whether the noble Lord will let us have that report, but if he is going to give any Papers on the subject I think I might ask for that report. These posts however, whether Colonel Thesiger condemned them or not, were established.

Now, raiding by Abyssinians in British territory is an old and a continuous story. If it is not checked you will have endless trouble along your Abyssinian frontiers; you will have endless expense, and you will have very considerable loss of life. Recent events in Somaliland have, of course, done nothing to enhance our prestige, and recent events in British South Africa are hardly calculated to help that either. The first time these posts were attacked I understand you abandoned your exterior lines and occupied lines further south. The present state of Abyssinia makes it much more difficult than it would otherwise be for His Majesty's Government. The present Government of Abyssinia is, I imagine, in a state of chaos, and even if it were as strong as it was in the days when Menelik was well, I very much doubt whether it could or would do very much to assist you. Some of us who have travelled in both countries have from time to time expressed apprehension of what would happen along this frontier, and I hope that my noble friend Lord Cranworth, who will follow me this evening, will bear me out in that respect.

May I give your Lordships one or two short instances taken at random after one of these raids? When I was travelling in Abyssinia twelve years ago I found that the average price of a slave near the capital was about £3. I could give many instances of cruelty which I saw practised both by the Abyssinian soldiers and by wandering bands. Then there was an article in the Geographical Journal, written by Mr. Montanden in 1910, in which he speaks of having passed a large caravan of slaves in Abyssinia tied in fours by a chain. Then, as you know, there is considerable trouble with these slave raiders on the Sudanese and Abyssinian frontier. It is the same story on all the borders of Abyssinia. The prospect of tribes living in British territory if these raids are allowed to continue is not a particularly bright one, and I imagine that the white settlers themselves in British East Africa are becoming rather anxious how far the Abyssinians will be allowed to raid down into the country.

I would ask the Government what they intend to do? As I have said, they occupied isolated posts, but at the first sign of trouble apparently they have abandoned them and occupied other isolated posts not quite so far to the North. I would like to ask the noble Lord whether it is correct that they have abandoned the all-important post of Marsabit, on which, I understand, a considerable amount of money was spent, and which was described by an officer as admirably laid out and as a most important post on the trading route? Then, what is going to be given to these posts in the way of communication? I understand that at present the only means of communication are by native runners, a rather slow and unreliable method; and when rivers are in flood delays, I imagine, of a week or a fortnight are not impossible. I should have thought it would have been perfectly simple, when the Government had made up their mind what chain they were going to occupy, to have set up Marconi stations, anyhow in the main posts.

What has happened on this frontier already? Not so many months ago Captain Aylmer was killed by raiders, and I do not think that anything has been done either to avenge his death or to get any compensation or reparation. Then there was another case of an officer coming into contact with the Abyssinians more recently, Mr. Lloyd-Jones, who was very severely wounded, and on this case I would like to dwell for a moment or two. This young officer was shot through both legs and left for dead on the ground at the entrance almost of the zareba which his men carried, and I am glad to say they took reparation on the spot. This young officer, after receiving severe wounds, was carried, I believe, for many weeks before be obtained proper medical attendance. Lockjaw supervened, and, as your Lordships can well imagine, his sufferings for these weeks must have been horrible. In another place, answering a Question on the subject, the Colonial Secretary said that everything had been done that could be done, and that the sub-assistant surgeon, I think an Indian, had proceeded one hundred miles to Mr. Lloyd-Jones's assistance in four days. I am inclined to read this answer of the Colonial Secretary in this way, that nothing more was done because, firstly, there was no surgeon to do it, and, secondly, there was no transport— there was only one camel—and there were either no drugs or a very insufficient quantity. Now I respectfully ask whether this sub-assistant surgeon, whose name I forget, is really a qualified surgeon, or whether, as I am rather inclined to suspect knowing something about the country, he is a "compounder," the sort of medical gentleman often to be found in these out-of-the-way posts? I do not wish for a moment to say anything against this sub-assistant surgeon. I have no doubt he did everything he possibly could, and that he reached Mr. Lloyd-Jones as quickly as possible, but I would like to know whether he was really a qualified surgeon; also why he had not sufficient transport, and why his supply of drugs was so small? It must have been evident to the authorities that a collision between our troops and the Abyssinians must occur on this frontier, and it is to me inconceivable that the whole of the frontier should have been left without a properly qualified surgeon, without sufficient transport, and without sufficient drugs.

Now, I will go for a moment to the other end of this frontier, to Jubaland, which I think was shortly touched upon by Lord Stanhope this evening. Here you have another situation which is full of danger and which is causing, I understand, considerable anxiety. Again I would like to know what policy the Government are going to adopt. You have there a large and powerful tribe of fanatics, a branch of the Somalis called the Merehans. I understand that they are moderately well armed, and that they are warlike and live in a country which is sometimes well watered and sometimes waterless. I believe this tribe has been giving considerable trouble, and that orders have been given to disarm them. We have had trouble in the past on the Juba River in Jubaland on more than one occasion, and I cannot remember that our efforts on any particular occasion have met with very wonderful success. At the present moment I understand that practically every available man in Uganda and British East Africa has been sent up to the Merehan territory and that these two Protectorates are to all intents and purposes denuded of their troops. Thirdly, I would ask what instructions have been given to the military authorities in charge of this Merehan business? I believe that there was a collision between our troops and the Somalis there only a day or two ago. I saw an account yesterday in an evening paper and would ask the noble Lord about it.


Where was this?


I saw an account in an evening paper yesterday, telegraphed, I think, from the African World at Nairobi, that there had been a fight between the King's African Rifles under Major Soames and a section of the Merehan Somalis. The telegram stated that the Somalis had been surprised and lost about 120 men. I would ask the noble Lord whether he will tell us what the Government's policy with regard to these Merehans is. Are they to be disarmed? If they resist disarmament, is there sufficient force to effectually cope with the resistance and to disarm them? And if not, what instructions have been given or will be given to the officers on the spot?

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers relating to recent events on the British East African and Abyssinian Frontier—(Lord Hindlip).


My Lords, in rising to support what has been said by the noble Lord who has just sat down I crave your Lordships' indulgence for but a few minutes, and I do so upon two grounds. In the first place, two years ago by the courtesy of the Government I was permitted to go through North Abyssinia; and, secondly, having been during a considerable portion of the last nine years in British East Africa I know a large section of the populace in that Protectorate. Those of you who have seen the map of British East Africa will know that between the populous part and the northern boundary there is a blank space, a desert in which there is practically no water, and it is very nearly all uninhabited. If you traverse this you come on the far side to an escarpment which forms the boundary; and going along this boundary I must say I was struck by the fact that every acre of land that could be cultivated belonged to the Abyssinians and every acre of sand belonged to us. But at the same time it struck me that the boundary was drawn in that way with the object of placing between ourselves and a barbarian neighbour a frontier which had already been made by nature. But that state of affairs does not seem to be so any longer, because in 1911 a series of posts were made along this line—small isolated posts which certainly seem to me to have no other effect than to offer a temptation to our well-armed and well-disciplined neighbours over the border. During the last few months Captain Aylmer has lost his life. I believe he was not killed by the regular forces of the Abyssinians but by one of the parties of bandits whose happy hunting ground this is. The questions I would like to ask are these—What good purpose the death of that gallant officer has served; whether any reparation in the form of money or otherwise was demanded for his death, and if not why not; and whether, if demanded, such indemnity has been paid or such reparation made?

I turn to the other point raised by the noble Lord, the expedition against the bastard tribe of Somalis called the Merehans. When I left East Africa some ten years ago there were left on the highlands the imposing force of 60 troops. These 60 men were there to protect some scattered white population in the middle of four million natives, who at all events were not unused to murder and pillage. I do not wish to press this point because I believe that as a matter of fact this populace is perfectly safe. I was certainly struck on my return home, as I think any one would have been, by the extraordinary contrast between the quietness and peace-fulness of the natives of British East Africa and the unrest and discontent and turbulence here.

Expeditions against the Merehans and these posts on the northern frontier are very expensive luxuries, and the cost falls, I think, directly, but I am certain indirectly, on the Protectorate of British East Africa. These people in the Protectorates have not only no votes but at the present moment have no representation of any sort or kind. I will not go into the question of why they have no representation, because they might have representation of a sort if they wished it; but the fact remains that they have no representation, and, as your Lordships are aware, voteless people are apt to be suspicious and sometimes also violent. On these grounds I think it does behove His Majesty's Government to give the very fullest information in their power to the people of British East-Africa. There is an old proverb which says that the man who pays the piper should call the tune. I make no suggestion that these people should call the tune, but I do think it is a reasonable suggestion that they should be permitted to know for what they are paying.

It is an undoubted fact, I think admitted by all, that the prestige of the British race during the last ten years has diminished to a very serious extent down the East coast of Africa. It is unnecessary to labour the importance of this diminution in prestige, but I think the reason is obvious. We have had no victories, either in peace or in war during the last ten years, such as would appeal to the native mind; in fact, I can recall but one, the almost unparalleled victory gained by the late Mr. Corfield, and no steps should be taken by which the effect of that victory by that gallant officer could be in any way belittled. I submit that the reasons I have given to your Lordships are sufficient to justify our asking for, and to render it necessary for His Majesty's Government to publish, Papers giving full information on this subject.


My Lords, I cannot help wishing that we had more time to discuss the large number of important questions raised by the two noble Lords who have just spoken, and to whom your Lordships have listened with so much attention. It is always a pleasure to listen to men who know by actual experience these far-off portions of the British Empire. Lord Hindlip and also Lord Cranworth, particularly Lord Cranworth, have had a long and very intimate acquaintance with a large proportion of the East African Protectorate. I think I am correct in saying that Lord Cranworth has travelled across the desert between Marsabit and Moyale and from Moyale right through Abyssinia, and that that is a journey which very few men in this country have made.

I will, as briefly as I can, reply to some of the questions that have been put to me. I will deal with the question of the Northeastern Frontier very shortly, because I have a statement that I desire to make to the House on the question of the recent operations in the Merehan district. I think no connected account of it has yet been made public. We have not received the Despatches and we have a great deal more information to obtain, but I can give in rough outline what has occurred so far as it has been reported to us by telegram. Lord Hindlip asked whether Mr. Thesiger's Report can be published. I cannot answer a question like that off-hand, but so far as I remember a good deal of it was of a confidential character unsuitable for publication. Then the noble Lord alluded to slave raids, and I was astonished to hear him say what he did. I have heard of no slave raid of any sort or description anywhere in the East African Protectorate since I was at the Colonial Office, and I did not know that anything of the kind was going on. What does happen is that bands of Tigre hunters, who are supposed to be Northern Abyssinians, come across our frontier usually elephant hunting, and the two mishaps which have occurred, the one which caused the death of Captain Aylmer and the other the serious wounding of Mr. Lloyd-Jones, were caused by bands of Abyssinian Tigre hunters.


I admit that the first and primary object of these bands is no doubt ivory, but I do not know that I would admit that that is all they take back to the North. I remember perfectly well that when I was in Abyssinia twelve years ago my caravan was joined on certainly one occasion by Abyssinians who were taking boys back to sell as slaves, but I do not know whether they came out of British territory.


Was that on the Abyssinian side of the frontier?


Yes; it was before the delimitation of the frontier.


I cannot answer offhand, of course, as to what was happening twelve years ago, but nothing of the kind is happening now, and as far as I know the population on the Lake Rudolf side is extremely sparse. There are not enough people there to make it worth while to do any slave raiding, even if any one wanted to do it. I think the House may set its mind entirely at rest with regard to slave raiding there. But there are occasional excursions by these bands of Tigre hunters. It was difficult to stop that when Menelik was at the height of his power, and the condition of Abyssinia is much worse now than then and much less control is exercised over these men than was the case formerly.

The noble Lord mentioned the question of communications from the frontier, and he particularly referred to wireless communication. The difficulty of the northern frontier is not so much the question of telegraphic communication as the difficulty of getting supplies there. There are practically only two routes, as the noble Lord knows, one of which involves a journey of 120 miles across the desert. It is one of the most difficult journeys in the world, through a desert where there are only two watering-places, and where the going is very difficult and the heat excessive. I think the noble Lord will bear me out in that.

As to the case of Captain Aylmer, what happened was that three askaris were going with a food safari to Captain Aylmer to a place called Terkale, and as they passed Gudderh one of these askaris saw barley spilt upon the ground, which is generally a sign of a Tigre hunting expedition. He met Captain Aylmer the next morning and told him of this, and he took ten askaris and his syce and dog boy and went to look at the place. When he got there he saw an Abyssinian on the top of the Gudderh Hill, and then sent back word to stop his camels. He halted the askaris and presently took them round the hill, and there he saw the rest of the Abyssinians, who retreated up the hill to join the man on the top. Captain Aylmer and his men fired and got within about thirty yards of this party of Abyssinians. Captain Aylmer was firing at them, resting his rifle on the bough of a tree, when unfortunately he was shot through the breast and killed on the spot. The noble Lord asks if any claims have been sent in. That is a Foreign Office matter, but I know that claims have been sent in by the Foreign Office, though I have not heard that they have been paid, I am sorry to say.

With regard to the case of Lieutenant Lloyd-Jones, in that case a small expedi- tion was sent out under Mr. Kittermaster the Assistant District Commissioner. He took Mr. Lloyd-Jones and a party of King's African Rifles with him, and his instructions were to travel a distance of not more than 100 miles north of Loyangolani. They met no one on the journey, but saw signs of a considerable safari which was evidently travelling northwards, and which they could not catch up. Turning south they came to the Logandotti Hill and saw a man herding donkeys. They saw there was a boma, and Mr. Lloyd-Jones went forward and called out to these men to submit, but they refused to do so and fired, and some of the Abyssinians with Mr. Lloyd-Jones heard them call out in their own language, "Shoot the white man," which unfortunately they did. As the noble Lord said, Mr. Lloyd-Jones did suffer the most horrible torture before he got medical relief, and even for some time afterwards until he got to Nairobi. But in that particular case it was fully expected that Dr. Chell was at Marsabit. He spends his time between Marsabit and Moyale, but unfortunately he was at Moyale at the time. However I understand that better arrangements have been made, and we hope to have a proper doctor or an assistant surgeon both at Marsabit and Moyale in the future.

Now I come to the question of Jubaland, and there, as I say, I would like to make a statement if the House will allow me, as to what has been occurring there. We have been aware for a considerable time that there is unrest in the North-eastern portion of Jubaland. The tribes, as the noble Lord has said, are nomadic, and they naturally take no notice of the frontier; they cross from our territory to Italian territory, and from our territory to Abyssinian territory, and vice versa. But it is a rather interesting fact that there is on the whole a distinct trend southwards on the part of these men; that is to say, they are coming rather more into our territory. The Merehan country is a convenient undefined term used for the country west of the Juba River between Serenli and Lugh. There are numerous sections of Merehan. the most important perhaps being the Ahmed Wet, the Fara Ugas, and the "holy" Ali Deri, and the more recently arrived Galti Merehan, between whom there is generally rivalry. Besides the Merehan, there are many sections of the Aulihan, such as the Rer Afgab, the Rer Ali, etc. I believe the Merehans are of different blood from the Aulihan, who are Ogaden Somalis.

When Sir Percy Girouard was Governor the Protectorate Government began to take active steps for occupying some of this territory. Troops were stationed at Serenli for observation purposes, and a Transport Corps of 100 baggage camels was established to meet such duties as this policy entailed, the whole being based on Yonte near the mouth of the Juba. Constant patrolling and contact with the tribes was felt to be the best method of dealing with a difficult situation, and our administrative officers were constantly travelling about with an escort of troops from Serenli settling tribal disputes and extending administrative action as circumstances permitted. The "Merehan patrol" proper did not start until October, 1912, a company of Nyasaland (1st Battalion) King's African Rifles being sent up to Jubaland to reinforce the local garrison. It was expected that the patrol would be over by December, 1912. The general results of the patrol were satisfactory, especially in respect of the Far Ugas; but it was felt that the situation was such that we could not decrease the number of troops there at the time. Shortly afterwards Lolleshid was occupied, some 80 miles north of Serenli, as a convenient "jumping off place" for these patrols; but the lack of mobility of our troops hampered their movements very considerably, and in June, 1913, the military transport facilities were considerably improved.

In July of 1913 the Secretary of State telegraphed to the Governor reporting that he was constantly hearing through private channels disturbing accounts of the military position in the north and north-east of the Protectorate, and inquiring as to the truth of a statement made to him that orders had been issued for the disarming of the Merehan or a section of them. The Secretary of State was informed, in reply to this telegram, that there was no ground for anxiety, but that disarmament had been ordered on May 8 for the recalcitrant sections of the Merehan on the advice of Mr. Mure, who was the officer at Lugh, supported by the officer commanding the troops, Colonel Graham. On August 27, 1913, the Secretary of State was informed by telegraph that the officer commanding the troops had returned from the Merehan country and recommended disarming the remaining sections of the Merehan, and that for this purpose reinforcements were necessary. One company of the Uganda King's African Rifles was asked for. In a telegram sent a few days later the reasons for this disarmament which had been asked for were given to us. It was stated to be desirable for political reasons, as inaction would be misinterpreted, especially in view of the Dul Madoba fight on August 9. The Ali Deri and Ahmed Wet were to surrender their arms by August 15; they had not complied with that demand, and it was not considered safe to leave this uncomplied with. The chance of combination of the Garre and Aulihan with the Merehan would be increased by delay. In the fourth place, it was thought that disarmament would stop the Merehan gun-running which had been going on for such a long time on that border.

At that time the Secretary of State naturally refused to commit himself to operations of an unknown character and extent, but he authorised the Government of Uganda to lend one company to the East Africa Protectorate. The officer commanding troops at Serenli was to be allowed with this reinforcement to disarm sections of the tribe from time to time peaceably, as opportunity occurred, but he was told to avoid any action likely to involve considerable fighting or to aggravate the existing situation. But at a later date, after careful consideration had been given and reports tendered by the Governor and the Inspector-General of the King's African Rifles, the Secretary of State approved of the commencement of operations on December 22, 1913. The main arguments that were given for the desirability of these operations taking place were that if action were delayed more extensive operations would be necessary later, and that an early move was essential so that the wells could be occupied in advance of the dry season. The Secretary of State was assured that the available force was adequate for the work, and that some of the Merehan were showing signs of active hostilities by attacks on outposts.

The Secretary of State gave consent on December 22. But on February 5, as so often happens in these cases, a telegram was received by the Secretary of State indicating—and, by the by, these telegrams went by a roundabout course and were not very intelligible; this one was not very clear—indicating that the situation in the Merehan country was unsatisfactory, and that it was giving cause for alarm owing to the under-estimation of the strength and spirit of the enemy, and it was feared at first that the detachment at Garrebehare was entirely cut off owing to the inability of the troops at Serenli to move through lack of transport. We have not yet had full reports of the matter, but it is understood that three more companies of Uganda troops and one more company of Hyasaland troops from Nairobi were hurried to Jubaland, and the Indian Government arranged for the despatch to Kismayu of a transport camel corps of 300 camels with three officers and attendants; and I may say that the quick way in which those camels were sent off from India was a matter calling for very high praise. H.M.S. "Pegasus," later relieved by H.M.S. "Astreea," remained off the coast helping both to transport troops to Kismayu and keeping up communication by wireless between Jubaland and the headquarters of the Government.

Now I will, in conclusion, state the general result of these operations so far as we have heard it by telegram. Several encounters and skirmishes have taken place. I have not the least doubt that the skirmish of which the noble Lord spoke is one of them We have not yet received detailed accounts of the matter, but I imagine that it is rather old history. It is not a thing which occurred during the last few days.


I should think that very likely that is true.


I think so. Several encounters and skirmishes have taken place between the Protectorate troops and the recalcitrant sections of the Merehan, but fortunately the Aulihan have been brought over to our side. In one of the earliest of these encounters Lieutenant Bentinck was wounded, but I am glad to say he is reported to be progressing favourably. Colonel Graham has moved through the whole country as far north as Lugh, and as far as our information shows he has carried out his task most successfully. A number of sections have submitted, and the policy has now been laid down—this deals with the question of disarmament— that future operations should be directed to the early control of the Merehan and the re-establishment of Government prestige in that district rather than to complete disarmament. The latest telegram, which is dated April 20, states that the Ali Dera have come in, and that the Ahmed Wet are believed to be anxious for terms. It is further stated that owing to improvement in the situation the Uganda companies can shortly return; and we now know that H.M.S. "Astraea" has left for the Cape. The situation, therefore, appears to have been greatly improved, and this improvement has been effected I am glad to say with, so far as we know, remarkably little fighting. On the whole, with the information at our disposal we feel that the situation on that frontier, which has been disturbed for a long time, is better now than it has been for a considerable time past.


Will the noble Lord state whether the Government have abandoned Marsabit as a station permanently or only temporarily?


The Governor has mentioned to us that the officer in charge of the northern frontier district did recommend the abandonment of the station at Marsabit because it was not central from an administrative point of view; but it did not appear at that time advisable to abandon the station because of unrest in the neighbourhood. It was not abandoned at the end of December, and we have not had any report on the question since. I am sorry I cannot tell the noble Lord at this moment whether it has been abandoned or not. It is one of the things which may have been done under the discretion of the Governor without being immediately reported.


May I ask on whom the direct cost for these operations will fall?


On the East African Protectorate, I am afraid. That reminds me that I did not reply to what the noble Lord said about representation. As he knows, the question of representation is being considered at the present time, and he will remember that the doctrine of taxation and representation carries with it certain inferences.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.