Justin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthy.

England under Gladstone, 1880-1885 online

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position, but above all to their excellence in shooting, which
enabled them like Swiss marksmen to make every shot tell.
Colonel Anstruther, who afterwards died of his wounds, boro
high tribute in his despatch to the kindness and humanity of
the Boers when once the fight was done.

A. few days after the defeat of the O-ith the fiercest indig-
nation was aroused among the English by the news that one of
the prisoners in the hands of the Boers, Captain Elliott, the
paymaster of tlie defeated regiment, had been murdered while
crossing from the Transvaal into the Orange Free State. Cap-
tain Elliott, with Captain Lambart of the 21st Royal Scots
Fusiliers, who had been captured by the Boers a couple of days
before the engagement at Bronkhorst Spruit, had been liberated
on giving their words of honour that they would leave the
Transvaal at once, and not bear arms against the Dutch again
during the war. They were conducted to the Orange River, and
while trying to cross it at night their escort fired upon them,
instantly killing Captain Elliott. Lambart swam for his life,
climbed the opposite bank, and ran, the escort firing at him
whenever the lightning showed his retx'eating figure. He
managed to escape unhurt, however, to tell his tale. Sir
George Colley, the Military Commissioner, at once wrote to
the Republican Government, who immediately disclaimed all
knowledge of the murder, but pi-omised to do their utmost to
bring the offenders to justice. At the same time the Boer
triumvirate protested bitterly against the British shelling of
Potchefstrom, the order of Colonel Bellairs to fire on all ai-med


parties approaching his position, whether under a flag of truce
or no, the actually firing on a burgher, C. Bodenstein, outside
Potchefstrom, while under a 'flag of truce, and of the language
habitually used by the British leaders towards the rebellion
and concerning the fight at the Bronkhorst Spruit.

Sir George Colley struggled bravely for a while to make
head against the Boers. At Lang's Nek and Ingogo he did
his best, and the men under him fought gallantly, but the
superior positions and marksmanship of the Boei's gave them
the advantage in both fights. Under their murderous fire the
ofiiccrs and men fell helplessly. Oflicer after officer of a regi-
ment would be shot down by the unerring aim of the Boers
while trying to i-ally his men, while the British fire did com-
paratively slight damage, and the troops seldom came to
sufliciently close quai"ters to use the bayonet. But the most
fatal battle of the campaign was yet to come. Sir Evelyn
Wood had arrived at the Cape with reinforcements, had met Sir
George Colley, and had gone to Pietermaritzburg to await the
coming of further reinforcements. On Saturday night, Feb-
ruaiy 26, Sir George Colley with a small force moved out of the
camp at Mount Prospect, and occupied the Majuba Hill, which
overlooked the Boer camps on the flat beyond Lang's Nek.
Early next morning the Boers attacked the hill ; there was
some desultory firing for a while, under cover of which three
Boer storming parties ascended the hill almost unseen. The
British were outflanked and surrounded, a deadly fire was
poured in upon them from all sides. The slaughter was exces-
sive. As usual tlie ofiicers were soon shot down. Sir George
Colley, who was directing the movements as coolly as if at
review, was killed just as he was giving orders to cease firing.
The British broke and fled, fired upon as they fled by the
sharpshooters. Some escaped ; a large number were taken
prisoners. So disastrous a defeat had seldom fallen upon
British arms. The recent memory of Maiwand was quite
obliterated. That was the last episode of the war. General
Wood agreed to a temporary armistice. There had been nego-
tiations going on between the Boers and the British before the


Majuba Hill defeat, which need never have occurred if there
had not been a delay in a reply of Kruger's to a letter of Sir
George Colley's. The negotiation's were now resumed, and
concluded in the establishment of peace, on what may be
called a Boer basis. The republic of the Transvaal was to
be re-established, with a British protectorate and a British
Resident indeed, but practically granting the Boers the self-
government for which they took up arms. There was some
clamour in England at the terms made with the Boers. The
curtain ought not, so some argued, to have been allowed to
come down upon a British defeat. Many even who were
willing enough to grant the Boers their liberty were still of
opinion that the disaster of Majuba Hill should have been
eflaced by some signal victory over the Boers ; that we ought
not to treat with them at all until they had been severely
punished for their successive victories. On the other hand, the
Boers were fighting for the freedom which a very large pro-
portion of Englishmen thought they deserved ; they may now
be admitted to have fought fairly and well. It was known
that the British Government intended to grant their demand ;
why then should the concession have been preceded by an act
of savage retaliation ] The misfortune was that the Govern-
ment had not seen their way to come to terms with the Ti-ans-
vaal Boers before Bronkhorst Spruit, Lang's Nek, Ingogo, and
Majuba Hill fights. It was a pity that Mr. Gladstone had
declared shortly after the rising that the demands of the Boers
could not possibly be granted while they were in arms against
the authority of the Queen. The Liberal policy had all along
been opposed to the annexation of the Transvaal. It would
have been truer to itself, and have saved the lives of many brave
men, if it had acted on its principles at once when it had the
power, and not have waited until victory after victory of the
Boei'S gave some colour to the suggestion that the liberty of the
Transvaal had been wrung from England by force of arms; that
the Liberal Government had granted to military success what
it would not grant to justice. Of course, no one doubts that
in the end the English would have been victorious. A soldier


like Sir Evelyn "Wood, with the forces that England would have
been able to send out, could, of course, have inflicted crushing
defeats upon the Boers. But it would have necessitated the
presence of a large standing army to keep the Boers in subjec-
tion, and their independence would hare to be granted sooner or
later. Better sooner, then, without any further loss of brave
lives, any further waste of blood.

The history of each of the towns besieged by the Boers
would b3 in itself a little Iliad of gallant defence. In every
case the beleaguered garrison behaved with a courage that
recalled and rivalled the records of Jellalabad and Cawnpore.
Outside Pretoria a military camp was formed, and the town
abandoned by its inhabitants, who came within the British
lines. This camp, under the command of Colonel Bellairs, held
its own from December until March and the proclamation of
peace. The hardships of the siege appear to have been con-
siderably lightened by the genial preseneeof ]\Ir. Charles Du-Val,
a wandering showman, who happened to be touring in the Trans-
vaal when the war broke out, and who threw in his lot with
those who held the camp at Pretoria. He promptly set up a news-
paper, ' The News of the Camjj,' a journal occupying as curious
and as interesting a place in periodical literature as ' The Can-
dahar News,' with which some of the companions of General
Primi'ose amused their imj^risonment. The Potchefstrom garri-
son were less fortunate though no less heroic than the Pre-
torians. When the Boers came x-iding in to the market square
to get their proclamation printed, Major Clai-ke and a few men
occupied the court-house ; some others occupied the gaol ; the fort
outside the town was held by Colonel Winsloe. The Boers oc-
cupied the buildings in the market square, and a running fire was
maintained for three days between them and the holders of the
gaol and court-house. Then when the Boers were about to fire
the coui't-house ]\Iajor Clarke surrendered, and he and his men
were made prisoners. The occupants of the gaol managed, under
cover of a wet night, to make their escape to the fort, inside
which many of the townspeople had taken refuge. There were
English women and children in the fort. A few of the women


were at first allowed by the Boer commandant Cronje to return
to the town ] then, in spite of the repeated requests of Colonel
Winslow, he refused to allow any more to come out. One of
the Englishwomen died in the fort from the sufferings of the
siege ; one of the English girls was killed, another wounded by
the Boer fire. For three months the besieged held out under
terrible privations from want of water. Then they surrendered
with all the honours of war. This surrender was afterwards
very properly reversed by the Boer Government, as it had been
made after the conclusion of the amnesty, all knowledge of
which had been carefully kept from Colonel Winslow by
Cronje. Cronje alleged that the British destroyed their
ammunition and spiked their cannon before surrendering, con-
trary to the Geneva rules; and, on the other hand, Winslow
complained of the Dutch use of explosive bullets. Of the other
forts, Standerton on the north bank of the Vaal River held out
till the armistice, under Mnjor Montague ; so did Leydenberg,
under Lieutenant Long ; so did Marabastadt, under Captain
Brooke; so did Rustenberg, under Captain Auchinleck and
Lieutenant Despard, and Wakkerstrom, under Captain Saunders.
Utrecht and INIiddleburg had been seized by the Boers without
resistance on the beginning of hostilities. It would have been
quite impossible to defend them. After peace was made n.
convention was concluded at Pretoria which was not considered
satisfactory by the people ot either country. We may a.i well
here somewhat forestall events in order to bring this portion of
our story to a conclu'-ion. For some years incessant negotia-
tions were carried on between the Home Government and the
new rulers of the Transvaal. It was not until many ideas had
been exchanged, and Boer delegates had crossed the seas to
interview Lord Derby at the Colonial Office, that anything like
a solution of the difficulty was ai-rived at. At last, on At.\y
Wednesday, Februaiy 27, 1884, the anniversary of the battle
of Majuba Hill, a new Transvaal convention was signed at the
Colonial Office by Sir Hercules Robinson as representing the
Queen, and by the delegates of what was henceforward to be
called the South African Republic, By the convention the



South African Republic obtained Tvhat was practically, though
not absolutely, complete independence. All the rights which
the Boers exercised over the Transvaal previous to the visita-
tion of Sir Theophilus Shepstone were conceded, under cei'tain
conditions. These conditions prohibited the introduction of
slavery into the country, prescribed complete religious liberty,
and stipulated that the native races should be allowed the right
to buy land and to have access to the courts. The Transvaal
debt was reduced fi'om 385,000^. to 250,000/., and a sinking fund
was established to jirovide for its extinction altogether in a
quarter of a century. Furthermore the British Government
reserved to itself a right of veto over any treaties that the
South African Eepublic might conclude with any foreign Power.
The Home Government was especially anxious to secure the
rights and well-being of the border tribes of native race. The
Eev. Mr. Mackenzie, a strong sympathiser with the native
laces, although not a very popvilar jDerson with the aggressively
anti-black Africanders, was appointed British Resident in
Bechuanaland. The resuscitated republic was further required
to pledge itself not to make any treaties with native races to
east or west of its territoi'ies without the sanction of the British

To these terms the Boers not unnaturally agreed. The in-
dependence for which they had fought so well and so success-
fully was practically conceded to them, for the Crown's
nominal right to veto was but u slight check, possibly never to
be used against the now formally recognised * republic* On
the other hand, the restraint put upon their encroachments into
the lands of the native races was undoubtedly irksome to the
Boers. But upon that point the Government was firm. It
was willing to give up the suzerainty for which it had waged
so unfortunate a war ; it was willing to abandon its ' British
Resident ' in the Transvaal ; but it would not abandon the
native tribes of Goshen and Stcllaland, Zulu and Swaziland,
to the mercy of the freebooters of the ' Afrikaner Traditie.'
On these terms, tlien, and for the time being at least, the
Boers and the British were friends again.


The new Ministry was not able to do very mucli in the way
of domestic legislation. Other questions occupied the greater
part of the broken session which the Liberals had left to them
of the year. Still they accomplished something. The fii'st busi-
ness of importance was the Supplementary Budget, introduced
by IVIr. Gladstone on Thursday, June 10, 1880. The revenue had
been fixed at 82,260,000^., and the expenditure at 82,076,000?.,
leaving a surplus of 184,000?., which had, however, been swal-
lowed up by 200,000?. of supplementary estimates. He was
then unable to make any definite proposal with regard to the
claim in connection with the Indian deficiency. The Govern-
ment proposals were to reduce the duties on light foreign
wines ; to exchange a beer tax for the existing malt tax ; to
meet any loss occasioned by these measures by an increase of
one penny to the income tax ; with a plan for increasing and
adjusting the licence duties for the sale of alcoholic liquors.
The general result of the Budget was that 1,100,000?. of revenue
was sacrificed by the abolition of the malt tax, and 233,000?. by
the reduction of the wine duties, which, with the 200,000?. sup-
plementary made an expenditui^e of 1,533,000?. On the other
side, the addition to the income tax was reckoned at 1,42.5,000?.,
and the increased licence duties at 30-5,000?., which, with the
surplus of 184,000?. provided by Sir Stafford Northcote, made
an addition to the revenue of 1,914,000?., leaving a final svirplus
of 381,000?. The Budget was, on the whole, satisfactory to
the followers of the Government, and was accepted with but
slight modification. Some of the Irish and Scotch members had
objections to raise to the unequal taxation of alcohol in whisky.
The wine duty clauses, being dependent upon the successful
negotiation of a new commercial treaty with France, were
withdrawn. Of course the additional penny on the income tax
caused considerable grumbling. The absence of any statement
with regard to the Indian deficiency was felt to be somewhat
unsatisfactory by many who, like Sir George Campbell, were
curious to laiow where the money was to come from.

The Indian Budget was not formally inquired into until
August 17, but it was known to Parliament long before that it

G 1


was to prove alarmingly disappointing. The cost of the war in
Afghanistan down to the end of the financial year 1879-80 was
shown to have been under-estimated by the Government of
India, and by its Finance Minister, Sir John Strachey, by
several millions sterling. The estimated six millions had now
swelled into something like fifteen millions, which, if the frontier
railway charge were to be included, would be still further swelled
to some eighteen millions. Lord Hartington declined to make
any definite statement as to how he proposed to meet this great
deficiency so long as the exact amount of deficit remained un-
ascertained, but he pledged the Government to make some con-
tribution towards meeting the war expenses from the Imperial
Treasuiy, without, however, making any specific statement as
to what form the contribution would take. Indian finances
apart from the war chai-ges were not unpleasing. In the three
years from 1878 to 1880 there was an aggi'egate surplus of over
eleven millions. This surplus, however, as well as a projected
famine fund, were, of course, devoured by the increased war
estimates. A curious example of the loose management of
Indian finance Avas shown by the fact that some five millions
and a half of the excess over the estimate had already been paid
by the Indian Government before it was known that it was due.
The deficit that remained was to be met, at least temporarily,
by the means of loans.

A Burial Bill was brought forward in the Upper House by
the Lord Chancellor, to permit the celebration of Nonconformist
services in churchj'ards. This had long been a strong point
with Dissenters, and it had formed the basis, of Mr. Osborne
Morgan's measure which had been rejected ^ in the former
Ministry. Some attempts wei'e made in the Lords to narrow
the scope of the Government measure by ingenious amendments
limiting the working of the Bill to places where no separate pro-
\asion was made for burying Dissenter-s ; but these amendments
were smoothed away when the Bill passed into the Lower House,
and the Lords made no attempts to put them back again.

Mr. Dodson introduced a Vaccination Bill for the remission
of cumulative penalties; but it met with so much opposition,


both inside the House and out of doors, that Lord Harting-
ton had to announce, at the beginning of the second week
of August, that the Government had made up their minds
to abandon the measure. There still remained the Ground
Game Bill, which was the chief piece of legislative work accom-
plished during the session. This was Sir William Harcourt's
measure, and it was destined to cause a great many debates
indeed before it finally became law. The Bill proposed to give
farmers a right to kill ground game concurrent witli that of
the landlords, and inalienable by contract. The measure had
the support of the farming classes generally, but the landlord
party were, as a whole, opposed to it on the grounds of its
interference with territorial privilege, with rights of property,
with freedom of contract, and the like. The second reading
was moved for on June 10, but it was not obtained for many
weeks later; and when the Bill was finally carried to the Lords,
it was not suffered to pass without remonstrance and ineffectual
opposition. Two amendments were added вАФ one limiting the
rights of shooting to the tenant or to one other person to be
named by him ; and another amendment proposed to establish
a close time from March to August, during which no shooting
was to be allowed. When the Bill came back to the Commons
this close time was rejected, and the right of shooting was ex-
tended to the tenant and one other person authorised by him.
In these final changes the Loixls quietly agreed.

The Employers' Liability Bill, introduced by Mr. Dodson,
was more fortunate than his vaccination measure. It proposed
to alter the legalised relations existing between master and
workman, by which at that time an employer was pi^actically
free from all responsibility towards his workpeople in case of
accident, unless it was proved that his own personal negligence
was the cause of the injury. The Bill proposed to amend the
condition of the law by making the master responsible in cases
where his immediate delegate, or any person impKed to be such,
was the cause of the accident, though this did not go far enough
to please the advocates of the working men. When the Bill
went to the Lords in August, Lord Beaconsfield introduced an


amendment limiting its duration to two years, but this limita-
tion was extended in the Commons again to seven years, and
the extension was not opposed by the House of Lords.

Other measures passed during the session were Mr. Faw-
cett's Bill for the extension of the Postal Savino;s Bank
system, and the introduction of Postal Notes. Mr. Pawcett,
since his appointment to the Postmaster-Generalship, had been
studying his new office very carefully, and distinguished him-
self by the rapidity with which he was able to introduce two
new and valuable measures of reform. The Bill for extending
the system of Post Office Savings Banks proposed to allow
single depositors to deposit sums to the amount of 300^.
instead of the existing limitation of 200Z., and to increase
the total sum that might be deposited by any one person in a
single year from 30^. to \QQl. The Bill further proposed to
give depositors certain focilities for the conversion of a portion
of theii- savings into Government Stock under certain limita-
tions. It contained certain other changes as well. When the
Post Office Savings Banks were established in 1861, the Com-
missioners for the Reduction of the National Debt were bound
to allow the trustees of the old previously established private
savings banks interest to the amount of 3j per cent, on the
money that they had transferred to the new banks. This was
what might be called a fancy interest, much higher than the
Government could properly afford to give; they only gave
their own depositors 2^7 per cent., and there had been a finan-
cial deficiency slowly growing up in consequence. This it was
now proposed to meet by reducing the interest of the trustees to
3 per cent. This slight reduction was regarded by the trustees
and their supporters with much disfavour, while on the other
hand it was considered not nearly large enough by the advo-
cates of the younger system of banking. The Post Office
Money Orders Bill proposed to inci'ease the facilities for the
interchange of small sums which the Post Office Order system
had established, by issumg notes for various small sums, rang-
ing from one shilling to one pound, at prices ranging from a
halfpenny to twopence per note, and which were changeable at


sight lite an ordinary cheque. It really did in fact, in some
measure, establish a paper currency of small denominations.
Both these measures became law and have since worked ex-
ceedingly satisfactorily.

Census Bills for taking the census of the three kingdoms in
1881 were also carried. In the Irisli measure the inquiry into
religion was made optional, while in the English and Scotch
Bills it was as usual excluded. A Grain Cargoes Bill was also
passed, and the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, including the
renewal of the Ballot Act.

Two extraneous debates are worth noticing in this session.
One was on a motion brought forward by Mr. Biiggs, condemning
the erection of a tablet to the memory of the Prince Imperial
in "Westminster Abbey Public opinion was much stirred by
this question, and all the anti-Bonaparte feeling in the country
was aroused. Mr. Swinburne wrote a brilliant and bitter sonnet,
in which he bade ' scorn everlasting and eternal shame ' to ' eat
out the rotting record ' of Dean Stanley's name for proposing
to erect a monument in England's abbey to the heir of the
Napoleons. Mr. Briggs carried his motion, and the tablet was
not erected. The other debate was raised by Mr O'Donnell
on the nomination of M. Challemel Lacour as ambassador of
France to England. Mr. O'Donnell attacked M. Challemel
Lacour for his acts during the Commune, Mr. Gladstone
moved that Mr O'Donnell be no longer heard, and this revival
of a custom that had fallen out of use for some couple of
centuries provoked a long and wrangling debate.

In the end of July Mr. Gladstone was seized with a slight
fever. For a few days there was great anxiety as to his health,
and there were incessant inquiries at the house in Downing
Street, Lord Beaconsiield's name being conspicuous amongst
the callers. Then it was announced that Mr. Gladstone had
recovered, but his medical advisers would not allow him to
return to political life for a time. Mr, Gladstone went for a
cruise in the ' Grantully Castle,' one of Sir Donald Carrie's
vessels, and did not return to Parliament until September 4,
three days before the session ended. During his absence the


position of leader of the House of Commons was naturally
taken by Lord Hartington, who managed the duty as he had
managed it before during Mr. Gladstone's polemical retirement,
with the sturdy determination characterioiic of him, and which,
if not representative of the highest order of statesmanship, is
certainly not undeserving in its way of admiration.

Two days before the year came to an end, on Wednesday,

Online LibraryJustin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthyEngland under Gladstone, 1880-1885 → online text (page 8 of 38)