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The Panmure Papers, Vol II

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Chapter XXVII

March 1857

THE letters of this month are chiefly occupied with the military expedition to China.

The Commander-in-Chief recommends the immediate despatch of troops to reinforce the ‘distant and hard-pressed colony of Hong-Kong,’ urging that four regiments then under orders for India be sent out forthwith. This was agreed to. The composition of the force to be sent out is given in Lord Panmure’s letter of March 8th. The command of the expedition had been declined by Sir Colin Campbell, and the authorities having reluctantly decided that Sir John Pennefather was too aged and infirm to be charged with it, it was entrusted to Major-General the Hon. Thomas Ashburnham. The Duke of Cambridge expresses himself as highly pleased with his inspection of the expeditionary force, and of the troop-ship in which it was to sail, but regrets that no Native troops are to take part in the expedition. Also, the Persian war having been brought to a successful termination, he suggests the sending on to China of one of the Brigades then at Bushire, and recommends the granting of an increased, or ‘Indian,’ allowance to troops bound for China. At the same time he insists on the necessity of increasing the Queen’s troops in India.

In reference to Military Education, which is again under discussion, Lord Panmure suggests that the Commander-in-Chief be nominal head of the Board or Council, and assures the Queen, who had expressed her interest in the subject, that, in future, certain qualifications will be insisted on in officers appointed to staff employment, and that examinations for first commissions will be made more stringent than heretofore. For the rest, the Duke urges that despatches of a decidedly military character, and in which any portion of Her Majesty’s troops are concerned, be submitted to the Commander-in-Chief; whilst Lord Panmure, in his turn, remonstrates on the inconvenience arising from changes in the personnel of Engineer officers placed in charge of specific works.


March 1, 1857.

I have received your letter of yesterday. The Queen is very much satisfied with the manner in which you settled the question of the plumes and express yourself about the sales of lands and buildings.


ST. JAMES’S PALACE, March 5, 1857.

Urges sending troops to Hong-Kong.

I have been thinking a great deal of the state of affairs in Hong-Kong since I saw you this morning, and it occurs to me that no time should be lost in sending reinforcements to that distant and hard-pressed colony. We have four regiments of Infantry ready to embark at once for India. Why not send them out at once? No additional expense will thereby be incurred to the public, as to India they must go within a very short period. It is a favourable period of the year, I believe, to make the long passage out, so do not let this necessary measure be delayed. If not required in China, direct them to India, to be there disembarked to replace other troops to come home. The matter is one of so much importance that I cannot remain silent on the subject.


March 8, 1857.

Lord Panmure presents his humble duty to Your Majesty, and has the honour to inform Your Majesty that the Cabinet finally resolved to send to China the four regiments at present under orders for India. Should the crisis in China have passed away, and affairs have assumed a more amicable condition, these regiments will go on to their respective destinations, and the military arrangements for your Majesty’s troops will not be disturbed.

Composition of force to be sent to Hong-Kong, and arrangements for its despatch.

It is proposed with Your Majesty’s sanction to give Sir John Pennefather charge of the expedition, which will consist of four regiments of rank and file, 1000 strong, organised in twelve companies per regiment. These, in addition to the 5th and 59th Regiments, which they will find at Hong-Kong, will form a force of about 5000. To this body of Infantry it is proposed to add four companies of Artillery, and one of Sappers, with two dismounted troops of the Military train, and 200 Medical Staff Corps. These troops will form a Division, and be further divided into two Brigades, under the command of two of the best Brigadiers that can be selected, whose names will be submitted for Your Majesty’s approval by His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief.

It is proposed to despatch the first two regiments in a week, in the Himalaya and Transit troop-ships, which have been commissioned for the purpose, and in two or three weeks Lord Panmure hopes to have the whole Division on its way to China.

No horses will be sent, as the country is not adapted for their use, and any that are absolutely necessary will have to be brought from India.

On receiving Your Majesty’s approval of the selection of Sir. J. Pennefather, Lord Panmure will communicate officially with the Commander-in-Chief. Meanwhile all the various, but very important, preparations are proceeding, viz.: Medical department, commissariat stores, etc., etc. In all branches of the force Your Majesty shall be furnished with the most full and minute details. Lord Panmure intends to make such arrangements as will enable the troops to live as much as possible on board ship while in the Chinese waters, as every one concurs this will be the most ready means of avoiding sickness, so prevalent in hot seasons.


WINDSOR CASTLE, March 8, 1857.

Proposed expedition to China.

The Queen has just received Lord Panmure’s letter of this day’s date, with the proposal for the expedition to China, which she highly approves in all its details, and is rejoiced to see that it is being executed in all its details according to the new arrangements, which she thinks most essential.

The Queen only hopes Sir J. Pennefather’s health will be good enough for this undertaking. 1


ST. JAMES’S PALACE, March 9, 1857.

As to Sir Colin Campbell going to China.

  .  .  .  I don’t know whether or not you have again heard from Colin Campbell. I was told yesterday that he was almost sorry he had not consented to go out, and that he was coming to see me about it, but he did not call. I cannot help thinking that, if a little pressure were put upon him, he would accept the post, and depend upon it he would be the best man to go. His very name would carry weight with it, both at home and abroad, and people would know that we were in earnest. Pennefather is an excellent man, a most gallant soldier, but I am sadly afraid of his health giving way.   .  .  . 

The expedition to China.

I suppose you will take care in your despatches to India to give directions that any force sent to China from India (should such force have been sent meanwhile) must be subordinate to the command of the officer going out direct from home. This is important, to avoid any slacking of authority from taking place.


March 12, 1857.

Lord Panmure presents his humble duty to Your Majesty, and has the honour to acquaint Your Majesty that the Cabinet, on reconsideration of the appointment of Sir John Pennefather to command the expedition to China, partake so much of Your Majesty’s suspicion that his health is insufficient for so serious an employment that they have resolved not to call upon him for his services.

Substitutes General Ashburnham for General Pennefather as proposed Commander of expedition to China.

Lord Panmure therefore has the honour to submit to Your Majesty the name of Major-General the Hon. Thomas Ashburnham as an officer every way qualified by experience in the field in India, and likewise by his habits of command of a Division in quarters and cantonments, as the best officer to be employed in command of the troops about to assemble in China.

Lord Panmure has ascertained through a private source that General Ashburnham feels quite able for this or any other service, and the possession of many qualities which officers are sometimes deficient in renders him peculiarly fit to act with and under a Civil High Commissioner.

On receiving Your Majesty’s sanction, Lord Panmure will communicate officially with H.R.H. the Commander-in-Chief.


ST. JAMES’S PALACE, March 17, 1857.

As to Native troops accompanying expedition to China.

  .  .  .  From all I can gather from various quarters, there seems but one feeling of regret, that no Native troops are to form a portion of the China expedition. They say that certain duties must be performed by natives, which cannot be done by Europeans. I only tell you what I hear, and I think it right that you should know it.

Details as to China expedition.

I do not at all like the accounts from China I have just read in the newspapers. The colony of Hong-Kong wants immediate assistance. Would it not, after all, be possible to send off to China one of the Brigades at present at Bushire? Transports are ready at once to take them up, and Generals Ashburnham and Garrett could proceed at once to take charge of these troops, whilst the remainder of the expedition goes by long sea, and does not arrive till the operations can be commenced. I think it is well worthy the serious consideration of the Government, for if Hong-Kong or Singapore were to be hard pressed for want of troops, it would be very awkward. As regards the question of allowance, I cannot but think that, after all, you will have to give the troops increased if not Indian allowances. I hear, during the late war in China, a subaltern officer could not live for less than twelve shillings a-day, whereas his pay and allowances combined, as now intended, do not amount to more than 6s. 9d. This appears to me a rather hard case, and as all the four regiments going out are destined ultimately for India, I cannot help thinking that the correct thing to be done would be to let them have the Indian allowances during the period of war in China.


March 18, 1857.

Urges that despatches of a military character be communicated to the Commander-in-Chief.

You promised to send me the military despatches received from China, but I have not seen them, nor have I seen anything from the Persian Gulf, though you said you would speak to Vernon Smith on the subject. I cannot help bringing to your notice that I think it would be most desirable to make it the rule that all despatches of a decidedly military character, and in which any portion of Her Majesty’s troops are concerned, should be communicated to the Commander-in-Chief. It can hardly be thought right that the only information the Commander-in-Chief at present obtains on these matters is either by private letters or by the public journals.


ST. JAMES’S PALACE, March 19, 1857.

Termination of Persian expedition.

I return you the papers on Persia with many thanks, and am glad that you entirely agree with my view that the Commander-in-Chief should see all military despatches in cases in which the Queen’s troops are concerned. The papers themselves are most interesting, and contain information which would undoubtedly have proved of great importance had the war lasted. It is quite clear that the force at present at Bushire would not have been of sufficient strength to have undertaken any permanently forward movement.


March 20, 1857.

Remonstrates on the inconvenience caused by a change in the personnel of Royal Engineer officers charged with specific works.

Inconveniences have occurred in the changes of Engineer officers in charge of works, and it is much to be desired that these changes should be made with caution, and with reference to the expenditure which is entrusted to the officer to be removed.

I would therefore suggest that all changes recommended by the Deputy Adjutant-General of Engineers, and sanctioned by Sir J. Burgoyne in his military capacity, of Engineering officers, should be sent to me through the Military Secretary by order of your Royal Highness. I can then report the position and employment of the officer, the works with which he is charged, and how far inconvenience will attach to the change proposed.

The present practice is that the Deputy Adjutant-General of Engineers reports personally to Sir J. Burgoyne the changes he proposes, without any consultation with the members of his staff, whose duty it is to look after the progress of the works, etc., and getting his assent, the change is submitted to me with Sir J. Burgoyne’s approval attached. This leads to such inconvenience as the following. 2 Colonel Williams is removed from Bermuda, whilst still a member of a Committee for considering the defences of that island, and all has to be commenced de novo.

Colonel Freeth at Gosport is removed pending the execution of great works, both of fortifications and barracks, with which he has become familiar, and which he should be retained to carry out at all events to a point at which he could be relieved. I do not make any complaint, but merely point out these cases as giving rise to inconvenience and the risk of embarrassment to the public service.


ST. JAMES’S PALACE, March 22, 1857.

As to a proposed change regarding Royal Engineer officers.

In answer to your letter on the subject of the change in the Engineer officers, which I received yesterday, I need hardly, I hope, assure you that I shall be only too desirous to make any arrangements in this respect which will facilitate the public service. I had always fancied, and so had Yorke, that these names were first submitted to you for your approval, before being finally sanctioned by me, and I think you will find that your concurrence has in every instance been asked for. I shall, however, see Sir John Burgoyne and desire him to ascertain in the first instance whether any inconvenience is likely to result from my proposed change, and after that is understood I shall send the names to you for approval.

As regards the two appointments you allude to, it is not yet too late, and, if you like, they can yet be stopped.   .  .  . 



As to despatch of troops to China.

Having been absent all day at Portsmouth on Monday, I had not time yesterday to call on you, as I intended to have done, in order to ascertain exactly what are your intentions on the part of the Government as to the despatch of troops to China. From what Yorke said he had understood from you, it would appear that you only intended one regiment (90th) to go in the Transit and Himalaya, besides a company of Engineers, a draft for the 59th, much needed with the regiment, and some of the Medical Staff Corps. That the rest of the troops are only to go in June. As regards the passage out, I am told that of all periods of the year this is the most favourable for a rapid passage, and in this respect the delay would almost be a pity. As regards the climate, the case no doubt is different, but should the troops be directed to rendezvous at Singapore, it would be unnecessary to push them on till they were required for active operation in the field, and no anxiety would have to be felt as regards their health. Under any circumstances, however, it would be most desirable to know for certain whether or not the regiments are to embark shortly, for there are many officers who might wish to spend some short time longer with their friends if they could be permitted to go away on leave.

Result of writer’s inspection of troops and troop-ship.

I was very much satisfied with my inspection of the troops on Monday. The three regiments are in excellent order and quite fit for work, and ready to embark at short notice. I went all over the Transit, and I really can report most favourably of her. She is a very fine ship, plenty of room between decks, and ventilation good; will carry with the greatest ease 750 men on a long voyage, and a much larger number on a shorter trip. Her engines, which are new, have worked remarkably well, and she went ten to twelve per hour. She has a charming captain, a very good fellow, who I know well.

I am sorry the Admiralty object to double awnings. You ought to insist upon having them, as everybody attaches the greatest importance to them.

Importance of appointment of Superintendent of Transports.

I wish you would also insist upon Charles Wood appointing the best man he can find as Superintendent of Transports, which he does not appear at all inclined to do. Depend upon it, the whole success of a combined operation depends on a proper person, being selected for this, the most important of all duties, as being the link of connection between the Naval and Military authorities.


ST. JAMES’S PALACE, March 29, 1857.

Necessity of increasing Queen’s troops in India.

I return the papers you have sent me on the force of the Queen’s troops in India. There cannot be two opinions as to the necessity for increasing this force, whether the war in Persia is concluded or not. I have minuted accordingly, and backed up your opinion as strongly as I can. This minute, however, refers only to three papers. What must not be lost sight of is that we are sending four regiments to India vi^acirc; China. It is possible that, after the last news from China, the troops will not be there required, at all events for any length of time. Suppose, however, that they are required there for some time, what are we to do then as to supplying their place in India, which is a possibility, or rather a contingency, which cannot be overlooked?   .  .  . 


March 31, 1857.

Lord Panmure presents his humble duty to Your Majesty, and has the honour to acquaint Your Majesty that he had a conversation of some length with the Duke of Cambridge yesterday, and the accompanying general heads were the result of that conversation.

The next step is one of somewhat more difficulty, and that is to lay down the scheme by which these principles are to be worked out.

A new departure in education of Army officers.

It is quite possible that the Director of Education may be junior to some officers with whom he would have to come in contact. For instance, Major-General Cameron would be junior to Major-General Sir Harry Jones. Lord Panmure would therefore suggest that the Commander-in-Chief should be the nominal head of the Board or Council of Military Education, and, in that case, all orders being issued in his name would remove any difficulty in regard to rank.

Both the Duke of Cambridge and Lord Panmure thought it essential to make a commencement, and H.R.H. is to issue a memorandum, with Your Majesty’s approval, to intimate to the Army that after a certain date all officers appointed to Staff employment must be possessed of certain qualifications, and examinations for first commissions will be made more stringent.

Lord Panmure will proceed to give his assistance in drawing out the details of the new scheme, founding it as much as possible upon the memorandum on Military Education drawn up by the Commander-in-Chief.

Footnotes to Chapter 27

  1. This hope not being realised, the command was given to General Ashburnham.
  2. Officers of Royal Engineers were only under the Commander-in-Chief in the military capacity, but in respect to their other duties were under the Inspector-General of Fortifications, who in his turn was under the Secretary of State.
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