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which has proved so fatal to His Majesty's brave troops, was known to be most prevalent; and that the advisers of this ill-judged enterprize are, in the opinion of this House, deeply responsible for the heavy calamities with which its failure has been attended.”
No. II.- 1st. “ That Lieutenant-General Sir Eyre Coote having, on the 9th of September, been left in the command of Walcheren, with an army of about 15,000 men, did, on that day, make an official report on the state of the island, the extent of force required effectually to guard it, the nature and conditions of its defences, and the number of men then sick and unfit for duty; representing that, after such his exposition, His Majesty's ministers would be the best judges of the propriety or possibility of keeping the island; and adding, that the advantages must be great indeed which could compensate the loss of lives and treasure which the retention must necessarily occasion.
2d. “ That on the 23d of September, Sir Eyre Coote stated to His Majesty's ministers, that the alarming progress of disease was such, that, if it should continue in the same proportion for three weeks longer (as he added there was every probability that it would), our possession of the island must become very precarious.
3d. “ That on the 6th of October Sir Eyre Coote, after stating that the number of sick was increasing, and that the effective force was thereby rendered so trivial, as to make the defence of the island, if it should be attacked, extremely precarious, did express his anxiety to be informed of the intentions of His Majesty's government as to the future state of Walcheren.
4th. “ That notwithstanding these, and many other pressing representations, in the alarming condition of the troops, and the danger to which they were exposed, His Majesty's ministers did neglect to come to any decision until the 4th of November, and that the final evacuation of Walcheren did not take place until the 23d of December.
5th. “ That on the 10th of September the number of sick in the Island of Walcheren was, exclusive of officers, 6938 ; and that the total number of sick embarked for England, between the 15th of September and the 16th of November, was 11,199 making in that period an increase of sick of 4,268.
6th. “ That although the great object of the expedition had been abandoned as impracticable, a large proportion of the British army was (without any urgent or determined purpose in view, or any prospect of national advantage to justify such a hazard, or to compensate such a sacrifice) left by His Majesty's ministers to the imminent danger of attack from the enemy, and exposed during a period of more than three months, and under circumstances of aggravated hardship, to the fatal ravages of a disease, which, on the 31st of August had been officially announced to be daily increasing to a most alarming degree.
7th. “ That such the conduct of His Majesty's advisers calls for the severest censure of this House."
The resolutions were opposed by Lord Castlereagh, in a very long speech, in which he defended his conduct, and that of His Majesty's ministers, and said, that the failure arose from causes which the framers of the expedition could not foresee or control, The plan was well conceived, and the armament perfect in all its parts. The want of success was solely to be attributed to the chances of war. The debate was adjourned until the 27th, on which day the motion was supported by Mr. Ponsonby, and opposed by General Crauford, who moved the following resolutions :
“ That this House, taking into consideration the extreme importance of destroying the extensive and increasing naval means and arsenals of the enemy, in the Scheldt, where a considerable navy had already been constructed, and was growing with great rapidity, and to a formidable extent; and taking also into consideration the expediency of effecting a diversion in favour of Austria, at the period at which the expedition was undertaken ; considering, also, the probability of success arising from the reduced state of the enemy at that period in the neighbourhood of the Scheldt, is of opinion, that His Majesty's ministers were justified in applying the naval and military means of the country, in a manner which combined a great national object with a prospect of affording essential assistance to our ally; and in advising the undertaking of the expedition, notwithstanding the difficulties with which it was known to be attended; difficulties which appear to this House to have increased to a degree which could not be foreseen or provided against, by a state of wind or weather altogether unusual at thạt season of the year, and most unfavourable to the projected operations.
“ That this House sees with the deepest regret, the loss of the valuable lives occasioned by the sickness of the
in the late expedition to the Scheldt. Yet, taking into consideration the great and acknowledged importance of the possession of the island of Walcheren, commanding the entrance of the principal naval station of the enemy, and considering all the circumstances connected with its retention, as they appear in the papers, and in the evidence before the House, this House is of opinion that no blame should be imputed to His Majesty's ministers for not having at an earlier period advised its evacuation.”
The House adjourned to the 29th, on which day Mr. Canning, Captain Parker, and Mr. William Fitzgerald opposed the original resolutions; and General Tarleton, Lord F. Osborne, Lord George Grenville, and Mr. Whitbread supported them. They contended that the measure was impracticable and extravagant. Ministers were ignorant of the state and of the defence of the country, and even of the navigation of the river Scheldt. That their indifference about the lives of their fellow-countrymen was culpable in the extreme; and if any proof was wanting, it was but too fully established by the retention of a pestilential island, contrary to the opinion of the medical men and military officers, and for no purpose whatever except to cover their disgrace.
Mr. GRATTAN declared his reluctance to enter into any contrast between the military enterprizes of His Majesty's Government, and those operations of military policy con
ducted under the administration of the great Lord Chatham. He would at once proceed to the immediate discussion of the great question before them, and try it upon its merits as detailed in the evidence collected at their bar. It was idle to assert that, in viewing the policy of the late expedition, much was obtained by the conquest of Flushing. Would the right honourable gentlemen opposite contend, that for that acquisi. tion alone such an armament should have been sent out? If they did, he would in answer tell them, that for such an object the sacrifice of so many lives, and of so much treasure, was unwarrantable. But it is averred, in defence of the detention of that pestilential island, that Sir Richard Strachan had conjured the government not to issue orders for its abandonment until he should have a personal communication with them. Let us, for the purpose of duly estimating the authority of that officer upon that point, take into our consideration the whole of his expressed opinions. It was true, that he did write to the Admiralty in the manner specified. But what was his final impression upon that subject ? Did he not tell you, at the bar, that if he had calculated the incidental expence, and the increasing sickness, he could not have thought the detention advisable? That information the government must have had in their possession when they received the letter of the gallant admiral, and therefore it was a most idle paradox to fortify their conduct in continuing a British army in that scene of contagion, upon the unexplained desire even of such an officer.
A right honourable gentleman (Mr. Rose), had endeavoured to establish the inference, that it was wise to have attempted the conquest of the Isle of Walcheren, because it had been recommended by Lord Nelson to make such an attempt at a former period with 5000 men. Now, it by no means follows, that though to retain it with five thousand men should be proper, that therefore it was wise, under the present circumstances, to retain it with an army of 20,000 men. Besides, what were the admonitions of Sir Eyre Coote and General Don ? Did they not tell His Majesty's government, that it was absolutely necessary to send out a new force, not alone to defend the unprofitable conquest, but to protect from the enemy your dying army in their hospitals ? The noble Lord (Castlereagh), late Secretary for the war department, had argued upon the propriety of that policy, which, in the state of Europe, during the late struggle between Austria and France, recommended an armament from that country to operate as a favourable diversion for the former power. In compliance with the dictates of that policy, the late armament
was prepared. It was prepared before the armistice concluded between the two armies in Germany was known in this country, but it did not sail until that event was undeniably certain. Then was it to be contended by the minister, that the course, which was right to pursue before such a state of events was known in this country, was also right to be carried into practice after it was fully ascertained that a most lamentable change had taken place in the situation of our allies such a change as left no chance for the success of that object, to accomplish which this very expedition was originally planned. That was, in other words, that you should follow up that very course in the event of peace, which you had just decided upon as applicable to a state of war. So much for the strength of that part of the defence, which rested upon the proposed diversion in favour of Austria. There was also another observation of that noble lord, in which he argued that the expedition was justifiable, because the disposeable force of the country happened at that period to be extensive. Now to what length did this argument extend? It extended to this, that because we chance to have unemployed a very large portion of our army and our navy, it is necessary that we should be doing something. No matter how hazardous the enterprize ; no matter how unauthorized our policy; the defence of the minister is, that we had such a force, and therefore we ought to get rid of it.
Ministers. cannot now shrink from the whole responsibility of this great failure, inasmuch that it has been the sole offspring of the inveterate adherence to their own views. Had they been inclined to accede to the intelligence and information of the officers' whom they consulted, it was im, possible that they could have ever determined upon such an injudicious and fatal enterprize. Those generals had given no dubious, undecided, answer; there was nothing equivocal in their inferences; but one and all exclaimed against the insanity of the proposed project. It was, however, not to be overlooked, that even those answers had the effect of rescuing the country from a more aggravated calamity. The House must recollect that Lord Chatham had stated in his evidence, that it was one of the projects of the government to make the attack upon Antwerp by the route of Ostend. From the mischievous consequences of such an ato tempt, the country had the good fortune of being protected by the unanimous protest of the five general officers with whom the government advised. They mitigate the temerity of the minister, by the decided firmness of that protest, and at the same time that they saved the whole of the army from
absolute ruin, afforded the most convincing illustration of the doctrine, that, upon military objects, your best dependence is upon the advice and intelligence of military men. Contrasted with the ruinous project by Ostend, the combined operation in the Scheldt had only the comparative advantage of being less impracticable. Such was the opinion of all the generals almost, who were consulted or employed. Some who had their doubts before the sailing of your armament found, when they arrived upon the spot, when they were acquainted with all the local circumstances, those doubts fully confirmed. Lord Rosslyn had stated, in answer to a question, whether the failure was the consequence of the delay, that he did not think this formidable expedition would have at any time succeeded. Sir Wm. Erskine told you, that within a week Antwerp could have been secured against a siege; whilst Lord Chatham, the officer selected by the government to command that expedition, stated not only that he had his doubts, which were borne out by the Admiralty, but that he did not place the fullest confidence in the intelligence which had been communicated to his colleagues. The naval officers also afforded nothing that did not tend to discourage any circumspect government from such a hazardous and desperate project.
But ministers had intelligence of a secret nature from abroad, which had the effect of niultiplying the objections of the general officer, and of confirming themselves in the propriety of the policy with which they were originally impressed. What has the report of the secret committee communicated respecting that intelligence? It has given, first, a memoir of the state of Walcheren in the year 1803; secondly, another memoir of the state of the same island, in the year 1805, by a Dutch officer, with notes by Captain Owen. The third is a return of the enemy's forces in that island, anonymous and without any date. And, lastly, a return of the enemy's forces in the vicinity of Antwerp, extracted from a printed French army list, of the year 1808, found in the possession of a French officer, who was taken prisoner in Catalonia. Besides, there were suggestions from a secret person, that, for the defence of Antwerp in case of attack, no reinforcements could be spared from Holland; and on the side of France supplies could not be forwarded before the expiration of a week. Here, then, was the great inducement which engaged ministers to dispatch their formidable armament to the Scheldt. For the attainment of their object, they had the chance, that if they did their business in a week, the French would not be on them; but if not within that time, they must be ruined. Aye; but such stimulating inducements received a considerable increase