Go back to Chapter 13 or forward to Chapter 15

Go back to Autobiography Contents Page.

.

CHAPTER XIV
Military Duties: Channel Tunnel 1880 - 1886

Starting in 1880, Stokes is back being a military engineer, checking out the operational functions of heavy guns. He was on the Pay and Promotions Board, and was also promoted himself. His son is sent to South Africa to deal with the Boers and London has a most amazing snowstorm.

One of his young officers is murdered and his daughter Gina gets married. This was just prior to the family's move to London. There he worked as Deputy Adjutant Generaland also advised a Royal Commission on matters relating to the Suez Canal. He becomes involved in a Commission to improve Alexandria Harbour and early in 1882 he becomes a member of a committee investigating a Channel Tunnel between England and France. While visiting the tunnel works he sees one of his fellow officers attempting a crossing to France in a balloon. Stokes comes down against the tunnel on security grounds.

In May 1882, Stokes was involved in military planning for a so-called "police" action in Egypt. Stokes had his hands full sorting out disagreements resulting from this military action. Prime Minister Gladstone thanked Stokes for his diplomacy. The British shipowners were keen to build a competing canal which was not acceptable to De Lesseps. He has a discussion about a second canal with the Prime Minister. Stokes has Charles de Lesseps staying at his house, so he had a good idea what was going on with negotiations.

General Gordon comes and visits him before leaving for Khartoum, and then his brother visits from Australia. He is then promoted to Major General He gets lumbered with a committee job by Lady Strangford. He has a holiday in Wales and remarks on wife's illness and he finishes work with the military.

Stokes is the bridesmaid at his sister-in-law's wedding, and welcomes his brother Frank back to England, and his home.

All through the summer of 1880 I was employed on interesting work connected with experiments of the breaching qualities of our new guns. Solid revetments had been built at Dungeness during the past year to represent a front of fortification. These were now to be tested by firing from batteries constructed at Lydd, just off the Romney Marsh. I passed many days in watching the firing, and inspecting its effect on the revetments. We also carried out night operations with submarine mining defences at Portsmouth, in the month of August. These military duties, as well as a great deal of Suez Canal work, kept me very closely occupied for the remainder of the year. In the month of November I was appointed a member of the Royal Commission on Tonnage Measurement, of which Mr. C.M. Norwood M.P. was Chairman. The other members of the Royal Commission were, Sir E.J. Reed. K.C.B. M.P., Mr. H.C. Rothery, Mr. Thomas Gray, Mr. J.P. Corry M.P., Mr. R. Capper, Mr. John Glover, Mr. William Pearce, Mr. E.B. Royden, Mr. Bernard Waymouth, with Mr. J.E. Wilkins as Secretary.

Back to the Top

On my return from the Constantinople Commission in 1874, a Select Committee of the House of Commons, presided over by Sir Charles Adderley, who was then President of the Board of Trade, was sitting for the consideration of the tonnage measurement of ships in this country. I was summoned to give evidence before it concerning the rules adopted at Constantinople for the International tonnage measurement, and was plied with 300 questions by thirteen of the fifteen members of the Committee. These questions were, many of them, interesting and they turned upon my Danube work, as well as on that at Constantinople, drawing out some replies which I find it amusing to read now.

Nothing was done in the way of modifying our tonnage rules in consequence of the report of that CommiKee, but difficulties, then existing, had been growing, and it was determined to submit the whole question to a Royal Commission. We began our duties on the 26th. November 1880, but, as our labours lasted for six months, I reserve mention of the results till later.

Back to the Top

In addition to all these duties I had, early in June, been appointed member of a Committee for considering the question of the Pay and Promotion of the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers, and during the remainder of the year had to attend a great number of the meetings which were presided over by the Earl of Morley, the Under Secretary of State for War. On the 9th. December after attending one of these Committee meetings, as I was walking along Pall Mall, I met General Gallwey, Inspector General of Fortifications, who gave me the important bit of news that I was going to be "kicked upstairs". My post of Commandant at Chatham was to be given to Sir Andrew Clarke and I was to be appointed Deputy Adjutant General of the Royal Engineers.

I received this news with very mixed feelings. Undoubtedly, the post of D.A. General of the R.E. is a very important one, but though, subsequently, I was entirely reconciled to it, at that time, with my dear wife Iying so very ill at Chatham, it was a great blow to me to think that I must turn out of our comfortable home there, surrounded as I was by so many friends both of my Corps and of my youth, and I shrank from the idea of it. The change was not to take place immediately as Col. J. Grant, then holding this appointment at the War of five, was not to vacate it till the Ist. April following.

Back to the Top

In 1880 I received a sword of honour from the Sultan of Morocco in recognition of the attention received by three of his Officers who had been sent over to the School of Military Engineering for instruction in military matters, and who had been there for two years under my general directions specially superintended by Capt. Plunkett R.E. whose services I had mentioned and to whom the Sultan also awarded a sword of honour and a present of 100.

Early in January 1881, the news came of the revolt of the Boers against our authority in the Transvaal, and my son's battery, commanded by my dear old friend Major Harry Edmeades, R.A. was among the first of the reinforcements ordered out. The General Commanding at Chatham, Sir Evelyn Wood, was sent out to take command of these troops, and I was able to introduce to him my friend Hartley, who was making a trip to Africa to see his brother, then living in Natal.

My dear boy's Battery was ordered to Portsmouth where they embarked on the 12th. January. I had gone down there on the 10th. to see him, and had the pleasure of meeting Sir Henry Acland, of Oxford, whose son was a subaltern in the same Battery. I stayed at Portsmouth with Col. John Jervois, who was Commanding Engineer there. I also met my friend Major Percy Smith R.E. who was the Director of Works in Portsmouth Dockyard. At this time also, I had to consider the question of the Alexandria harbour dues again.

Back to the Top

On the 18th. January occurred one of the most violent snowstorms that I have ever witnessed in this country. It reminded me of the furious blizzards we used to have in the Danubian Provinces. Next day I had to attend one of the meetings of the Tonnage Commission in London, and found on my arrival at Charing Cross that no cabs could possibly get about. The snow was standing eight or ten feet deep in Pall Mall: it was piled up against the walls so that I could only struggle along with a man to carry my portmanteau, to No.26, (Hartley's rooms) where at that time, I generally stayed when I was in town. The whole country was buried in snow, trains were stopped in all directions, and many people suffered much from cold and hunger while imprisoned in their railway carriages for hours. I remained two days in town and then made my way down to stay at Fartherwell, in Kent with my dear old friend Edward Bligh, and his nice wife and daughter. The Dean of York and Lady Emma Cust and other dear friends were there. I had a further opportunity of judging of the tremendous fall of snow that had taken place all through the country as I drove to the station at Snodland and my track was level with the tops of the hedges.

I managed to get home next day and found that a sleigh which I had had made the previous year, had been sent to meet me at the station. For a day or two we had a very pleasant amusement in sleighing about the country. Our sleigh with our old Galatz equipment of wolf skins and bells, made a great sensation as we glided merrily through Rochester and over to Cobham. The fun did not last however, for the snow disappeared under a warm rain, even more quickly than it had come. Unfortunately, the cold and glare brought on an acute attack of my old enemy, rheumatic opthalmia.

Back to the Top

I may mention a very sad occurrence that took place in the barracks while I was laid up. On the I Ith. Febr. a young officer, Lieut. Roper R.E. was murdered just outside his room door. Being laid up at the time it was impossible for me to take any active part in the investigations which followed. I cannot say whether I or anyone else could have done more than was done. Good detectives were employed at once but in spite of all they could do, no clue from that day to this has ever been found by which the murderer could be traced.

It may easily be imagined what a profound sensation all through the garrison this murder created!. My daughters were at a concert given for the Sappers that evening and though they became aware that something terrible had happened, they were kept in ignorance of the actual facts until afterwards.

In the same month (January 1881), whilst suffering from this attack I had a surprise one evening, by being asked to give my permission for my eldest daughter, Gina, to be married to Mr. Arthur Hamilton, the younger son of the Reverend Canon Hamilton, of Rochester Cathedral, with whom we had long been on very intimate and friendly terms. In view of the early move we were about to make, and of the desire of all that the wedding should take place while we were still at Chatham, it was necessary to fix an early date for it, and the 1st. of March was eventually decided upon. Being the first wedding in the family, at home, it was of course a great event. It was especially agreeable to us that the marriage should take place where we had so many friends, and in the cathedral, of which Arthur's Father was Canon, with which I had been connected all my life, and with the principal authorities of which I had lived in most friendly intimacy for several years past. Dean Scott had been a friend of my brother Edward at Oxford, when he was Master of Balliol, and his wife and daughters were intimate with my family as well as with that of the Hamiltons.

The wedding was a very gay affair, as all the officers attending it were in full unifonn and we had the whole country- side including our dear friends from Cobham Hall, Owletts, Nurstead and Camer as well as the General and Admiral and the whole Garrison and the Marine and Dockyard officers, as our guests in the choir, while the nave was filled with an immense number of people. The ceremony was performed by the dean, assisted by Canon Hamilton and his son the Reverend Charles Hamilton.

We had a great gathering afterwards at the Commandant's house, sitting down to Breakfast. Walsham How, my wife's cousin, then Bishop of Bedford, (afterwards of Wakefield) honoured us with his presence, and proposed the health of the Bride and Bridegroom. The universal sympathy and satisfaction of all our friends was a source of great comfort and pleasure to us; the only drawback being the condition of my Pool wife, which prevented her from entering into the general happiness, although she was in a measure better than she had been when I returned from Egypt the year before.

Back to the Top

During the previous weeks we had been much occupied in looking for a house in London, where we had to make our abode during the coming five years, for which, in the ordinary course of things, I should hold the Staff appointment. This we found in Gledhow Gardens, in South Kensington. The house we took, No. 11, proved a very nice and comfortable one. Arrangements for the move were made in such a way as to have rooms ready for my wife on the day she left the quarters at Chatham. By the use of an invalid carriage we managed the move for her most successfully, and without injury or discomfort. It was naturally very trying to part with our many friends. I should mention among others the Revd. D. Cooke, who had known my Father many years before, and with whom we lived on the best of terms. He was one of our near neighbours at Chatham. He was Vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Brompton, and afterwards Canon of Rochester. I often used to help him by reading the lessons.

Before we left Chatham we had the pleasure of a visit from the young couple, after their short honeymoon, curtailed by their kind desire to help us in our move.

As Deputy Adjutant General I found my duties in connection with H.R.H. the Duke of Cambridge, the Commander- in-Chief, exceedingly pleasant. He was a most kind and courteous Chief, with whom it was very easy to work. His Royal Highness had always shown great consideration in allowing me to carry on, simultaneously with my military duties, those I had to perform for the Foreign Office, and the missions I had had to execute in Egypt. This kindness he further extended when I came upon the Headquarters Staff, by allowing me still to absent myself from the War Office in order to carry out the important civil work of which I had so long been in charge; in addition to which my attendance at the various meetings of the Royal Commission on Tonnage made a further inroad upon my time. As D.A.G., I was exceedingly fortunate in having for my Assistant Adjutant General, Lt. Col. Micklem R.E. He was a very able and efficient officer, and a charming companion in every respect, so that when I had to absent myself as above mentioned I could feel perfect confidence that my office work was thoroughly well carried out.

Back to the Top

Among my other duties about this time was that of advising the Royal Commission of Colonial Defence, on matters connected with the Suez Canal. This brought me in contact with the Earl of Carnarvon, who was Secretary of State for the Colonies, and Chairman of the Commission.

The Pay and Promotion Committee, on which I had been serving for so many months, also continued to occupy my time. It might well have been called a "Committee for committing suicide"!, as the recommendations we had to make, in order to harmonise the promotion of the Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineers with the existing state of things in the Army, necessarily involved fixing periods at which officers would have to retire. Hitherto, we were accustomed to serve as long as our health permitted, and when I joined the service, I had no idea of leaving, until I should be incapacitated by infirmity. The abolition of purchase in the Army had made it evident that promotion would be so slow that no officer could arrive at superior rank until he became old, and thus among the junior ranks a feeling of despair of ever rising would be engendered. We, in the Ordnance Corps of the Artillery and Engineers, where there was no acceleration of promotion by purchase, had felt this disadvantage for many years; in fact the first Company to which I was appointed in 1845, had a Captain who passed his examination for a Commission in the year 1815. Owing to the peace reductions after Waterloo, he did not get it till ten years after that, so that he was a man of some forty six years of age when he became a second Captain. That, perhaps, was an extreme case, but it was an example of the desperate slowness of promotion at that time. I had been fortunate in many ways as I became a Captain after only ten years service and then the Crimean War had quickened promotion considerably, but now nearly twenty five years had elapsed, and promotion was getting very slow indeed. The abolition of purchase was likely to bring the whole of the Army into a similar condition, and the principle of obliging officers to retire who had not reached a certain rank by a certain age, had been adopted generally for the Army. Our Committee was now proceeding to make this applicable to the Royal Artillery, and Engineers, and therefore, I had before me in these recommendations the improbability of ever arriving myself at the rank of General, and the certainty of having to leave the Service when I might still have many years of good work left in me. Being on the Headquarters Staff gave me many opportunities of moving about the country with the Duke for inspections, at the different garrisons; this I found very agreeable and interesting. My Official position, and connection with the Foreign Office, led to our being invited to many State and official functions.

Back to the Top

After a good deal of diplomatic correspondence, I had the satisfaction of bringing together the International Technical Commission for the improvement of the entrance to the Alexandria harbour, for which I had the authority of the Khedive. It was composed of my colleagues M. Laroche and M. Dionisio, the French and Italian Engineers of the Alexandria Harbour Commission, to which I had added by permission, my friend Col. Pasley C.B. R.E., who was the Director of Works at the Admiralty, and had great experience of such questions as that with which we had to deal. During the month of August we had several meetings, and drew up detailed plans and estimates, which we despatched on the 24th. August to Riaz Pasha, the Grand Vizier of the Khedive. Unfortunately for us, this report which we had signed on the 22nd. August, must have arrived in Cairo just at the beginning of the troubles with Arabi Pasha, with the result that it was "pigeon-holed" and nothing was done for several years towards carrying out our proposals. Although the plan we recommended as the best was not adopted, on account of its cost, the year 1900 saw the alternative scheme carried out to the very great improvement of the harbour. My share in this is that of having vanquished, in 1880, the great objections the Egyptian Government had to the work to be done. The influence we have acquired in Egypt since then would undoubtedly have caused this opposition to disappear eventually, but it was a diplomatic success for me. My brother officer, Sir Colin Scott Moncrieff, has the credit of having resuscitated our proposals, and of having successfully carried out the works which produced the desired effect. The consent which in 1880 I had obtained from the merchants of Alexandria to the tariff of dues for re-payment of the cost of the works, had, however, become nullified by the dreadful losses they sustained in the bombardment of Alexandria by our fleet in 1882, and by the destruction of the European quarter of the town caused by Arabi Pasha's followers.

Back to the Top

In the early autumn of 1881, I had the pleasure of shooting my first grouse at Dunskey in Wigtonshire, with Col. Gerard Smith. My daughter accompanied me in this visit, and from Dunskey we went into Aberdeenshire where we spent a pleasant few days with Dean Ranken at Old Deer.

A severe chill troubled me a good deal this autumn, obliging me to spend some time at Bournemouth to get rid of it. Among our near Neighbours in London were Sir Edmund and Lady Henderson, (the latter I had known since she was a child). Opposite us were Col. Leach R.E. and his family, next door Percy Smith's father and mother, and a very old friend, Lady Bovill, whose father was my Godfather, lived not far from us. our house in Gledhow Gardens was very spacious and we were always delighted to see any of our friends from the country, who would come and stay with us during the five years we were there.

Back to the Top

About a year after I had taken up my duties as D.A.G. R.E. I was made a member of a Committee appointed by the Secretary of State for War "to enquire into certain points in connection with a proposed Sub-Marine Tunnel to connect, for railway purposes, the English and French coasts."

Major General Sir Archibald Alison Bart. K.C.B. was Chairman, three officers of Royal Engineers, two of Royal Artillery, two Civil Engineers and the Chemist to the War Department, were members. We were directed to "make a full and exhaustive investigation, from a scientific point of view, into the practicability of closing effectually the projected tunnel" and to report "what appliances, whether of destructive or obstructive or of flooding -- should be provided -- so that the use of the tunnel in every imaginable contingency may be beyond doubt, denied to an enemy."

The first meeting took place on the 27th. February 1882. On the 3rd. March we went to Dover, and the next day first inspected St. Margaret's Bay where it was intended by one project, that a tunnel should debouch. In the afternoon we went down into the tunnel which the S.E. Railway had already begun and carried some distance under the sea. The tunnel was being rapidly driven by a very effective boring machine worked by compressed air, - this was the invention of Major Beaumont R.E., whom, as a young Lieutenant, I had taken to the East, as one of my Captains in the Turkish Contingent Engineers. One great advantage of this machine was that the compressed air escaped after each stroke upon the chalk through which the tunnel was being driven, and ventilated the gallery completely, so that, although we were twelve hundred yards from the shaft down which we had descended near the water line, the air was perfectly fresh.

Back to the Top

As an Engineer I found the project very fascinating, and its working, so far, practical and likely to succeed, but from a political point of view I was strongly opposed to the tunnel, because I believed that it would, if constructed, be a great danger to this country. I did not apprehend that an invasion in force could be made through it, but I believed that there would be a great danger of the English mouth being seized by a body of troops suddenly thrown across the Channel at night, of sufficient strength to hold its own for 24 hours. During this time overpowering re-inforcements could be pushed through the tunnel and a strong army formed which would be superior to any forces we could muster. With the tunnel in their hands the enemy would be able to keep its army fully supplied and constantly re-inforced without any fear of our Navy.

During our visit to Dover,Col. F. Brine R.E. who was a great enthusiast about ballooning, was bent upon making an ascent at Canterbury, passing over the Channel, and alighting in France. His wife paid a visit at my office in Pall Mall to beg me to give him orders not to run the risk. This I declined to do, and, as it happened, he chose the very day that we were at Dover to make his attempt. As we left the sunlight to descend into the tunnel, the Colonel's balloon was sailing gaily in mid-air above us, but when we came out again it was nowhere to be seen. We went into Dover and heard that the balloon had collapsed, and on going down to the Admiralty Pier we saw the Colonel and his half-drowned balloon arrive. Happily for him his misfortune had been seen by the people on board the boat from Calais and he had been picked up, a wetter and, let us hope, a wiser man!

On our return to London we resumed our sittings and the taking of evidence. From 27th. February to 15th. May, we held 21 meetings, and our report was signed on the latter day.

It indicated several modes by which the tunnel could be destroyed in the event c danger; either by blowing in the sides, destroying the ventilation, or flooding thz channel. My colleagues were most of them in favour of the Tunnel and the Report was rich in measures for neutralizing its danger.

My opportunity came when the concluding paragraph was discussed; it ran as follows:

"How far will these proposals, beyond reasonable doubt, secure the use of the tunnel in every imaginable contingency being denied to an enemy?

In their opinion the application of the Principles and Measures adopted by them will, with that amount of intelligence, fidelity and vigilance which the State has a right to expect from its servants, effect this -- but it must always be borne in mind that, in dealing with physical agencies, an amount of uncertainty exists which can never be wholly eliminated. It is only by the multiplication of means, which can be placed under the control o independent authorities acting from different localities, that this element of uncertainty can be to the greatest extent minimized, and this consideration your Committee have steadily kept in view in the recommendations which they have made."

Back to the Top

The Report also contained the following: Fortifications.

1. It is undesirable that the tunnel should emerge within range of effective fire from the sea. I therefore submitted the following as a Minority Report which I requested might be appended to that of the Committee:

Whilst concurring with the majority of the Committee in certain of the principles which they have adopted, and in the measures which they recommend for the purpose of making the tunnel useless to an enemy, I should be wanting in my duty if I did not record my dissent from one very important principle which they have adopted, and express an opinion on the efficiency of the measures proposed, which goes further than that expressed by my colleagues.

The Committee have laid down as a principle that the tunnel should not emerge within range of effective fire from the sea.

I am strongly of opinion that the exit of the tunnel should be under the fire of our fleet, for the following reason: The principal objection to the tunnel is that if, in spite of all the precautions taken to prevent its falling into an enemy's hands, it should ever do so, it may become a safe communication, by which he can draw supplies and reinforcements from the Continent undisturbed by our fleet. one of the wisest means of obviating this danger would appear to be, to bring the tunnel-mouth under the fire of the fleet; so that, even if, by a temporary command of the Channel, an enemy gained possession of Dover and the tunnel, our fleet, on regaining the command of the sea, could make it impossible for the enemy to enjoy the undisturbed line of communication which is the real danger. For this reason no defences should be erected, as suggested by the Committee, to protect the land approaches to the Tunnel from fire from the sea, for the Country would have more to hope for from its own Navy than to fear from hostile ships.

This by no means implies that the first duty of the fleet is to be the defence of the tunnel; but that it shall not be shut out of the possibility of retrieving a national disaster, should such occur.

If we should permanently lose the command of the sea, it would matter little whether there were a tunnel or not, our place among the nations would be lost; but until that unhappy moment arrives, I believe that our fleet could always most effectively neutralize any advantage an enemy might gain by seizing it. I therefore entirely and emphatically dissent from this conclusion of the Committee, which I did my best to prevent.

The Committee have, in obedience to the instructions of the Secretary of State, indicated several means by which the tunnel may be made absolutely useless to an enemy either for a time or for all time, and they have considered, and reported on, the various appliances by means of which the use of the tunnel may be denied to an enemy.

But in my opinion these appliances cannot be relied upon to deny the use of the tunnel to an enemy "in every imaginable contingency", because in war the best devised schemes of attack or defence frequently fail, and the unexpected event decides the issue. Some sudden combination inspired by genius, carried out by daring bravery, and even assisted by treachery, incompetency, or unpreparedness on the part of the defenders, may defeat the most complete and apparently unassailable plan of defence. History furnishes many examples of fortresses, reputed impregnable, having been thus surprised.

A long period of peace and continued security might engender carelessness in maintaining the many delicate arrangements for the destruction of the tunnel proposed by the Committee, whilst a misplaced economy might lead to forts being left unarmed or insufficiently manned.

Provide therefore, as we may, against danger from the tunnel, I am unable to satisfy myself that it will be "rendered absolutely useless to an enemy in every imaginable contingency."

J. STOKES, Colonel, R.E., D.A.G.

Back to the Top

Mr. Gregory, the principal Civil Engineer on the Committee, supported me, in the following note; I agree with the Committee in their Report generally, and in the principles and measures adopted by them, which I believe, would reduce to a minimum the dangers which would arise from the establishment of a Channel Tunnel; but I regret that I cannot agree with the Committee in their answer to the question

"How far will these proposals, beyond reasonable doubt, secure the use of the tunnel, in every imaginable contingency, being denied to an enemy?"

The conditions of safety implied by the terms used are so absolute that I do not see how they can be fully attained; and I submit that the nature and amount of unavoidable danger are not adequately set forth in the concluding paragraphs of the Report of the Committee, but are more correctly described in the concluding paragraphs of the Minute of Colonel Sir John Stokes.

Charles Hutton Gregory.

Whereupon the Committee modified their concluding paragraph as follows;

In conclusion your Committee have now only to record their answer to the question:

How far will these proposals, beyond reasonable doubt, secure the use of the tunnel in every imaginable contingency being denied to an enemy?

Back to the Top

In their opinion the application of the Principles and Measures adopted by them should, with that amount of intelligence, fidelity and vigilance which the State has a right to expect from its servants, effect this; but it must always be borne in mind that, in dealing with physical agencies an amount of uncertainty exists which can never be wholly eliminated and that it is equally impossible to eliminate human fallibility. It is only by the multiplication of means, which can be placed under the control of independent authorities acting from different localities, that this element of uncertainty can be to the greatest extent minimized, and these considerations your Committee have steadily kept in view in the recommendations which they have made. But they cannot disregard the possibility that a long period of peace and uninterrupted tranquility might engender carelessness in maintaining in good working condition the arrangements applied to the partial or complete destruction of the tunnel, and might lead to fortifications being left so inefficiently armed or insufficiently manned as not to be secure against surprise. They therefore desire to record their opinion that it would be presumptuous to place absolute reliance upon even the most comprehensive and complete arrangements which can be devised, with a view of rendering the tunnel absolutely useless to an enemy in every imaginable contingency.

It adopted the conclusions of the second part of my separate remarks, so I consented to omit them, though I felt bound to maintain the first part regarding the distance of the tunnel-mouth from the sea.

I have always maintained that my action in the matter had an important influence in checkmating the Channel Tunnel project, as I think the following remarks will show.

In 1883 a joint Select Committee, of five members from the House of Lords and five from the House of Commons, sat, from the 26th. April to the 10th. July, on which day Draft Reports were submitted by the Chairman, Lord Lansdowne, and by six of the Members of the Committee. Most of these Reports, even Lord lansdowne's which favoured the construction of the Tunnel, dwelt upon the concluding paragraphs of the Report made by the War Office Committee, on which too Lord Wolseley, in his important evidence before the Select Committee, more than once dwelt with emphasis. In the end Lord Lansdowne's draft report was rejected by six votes to four; on three of the other six drafts the votes were equally divided, and the remaining three were withdrawn. The Committee therefore adopted the following Resolution; "That the Committee have had under their consideration the several Draft Reports which have been laid before them, but it has been found that no one of the said Draft Reports receives the entire approval of a majority of the Committee. The majority of the Committee are, however, of opinion that Parliamentary sanction should not be given to a Sub-Marine Communication between England and France. The individual Reports of the Majority, together with the Report of the Minority, who are of a contrary opinion, are appended to this Report."

It was then voted "that the above Resolution be the Report of the Committee," and it was communicated to each House of Parliament. I cannot of course pretend that it was only the passages above referred to which influenced the majority to vote against the Tunnel. Nearly six hundred pages of evidence were taken, comprising the opinions of the most distinguished military men of the country, but these opinions differed diametrically on the essential points, whereas most agreed on the possibility of the wisest and most scientific preventive measure being frustrated by carelessness engendered by long security. And, as I have said above, even the Minority Report of the Chairman "expressed concurrence in the paragraph with which the Military Committee have concluded their Report, and which, considering the terms in which they were entrusted with their enquiry, they could not with propriety have omitted."

Back to the Top

In the month of May 1882, the troubles in Egypt connected with Arabi began to be acute, and I was called into Council at the Admiralty and the Foreign Office in connection with them. In these conferences I used to meet Lord Granville, Lord Northbrook, Lord Dufferin, Lord Hartington and Mr. Gladstone. On one occasion, after the bombardment of Alexandria, we were discussing matters with Lord Granville and I made a remark as to what we should do while we were at war, when he rounded on me and said, "We are only acting as police for the Khedive." I was much amused by this gloss put upon our Naval and Military operations, as we were then preparing a large force to go out. The organisation and equipment of this force entailed a great deal of labour upon me at this time though the decision was not made known till the 20th. July.

Later in the year, when the expedition arrived in Egypt, and after the withdrawal of the French Government from any share in the operations, the actions of our forces on the Suez Canal and the attempt of M. de Lesseps to interfere between them and Arabi Pasha led to the British Directors having much work in Paris in order to avert trouble with the Suez Canal Company. The events in Egypt had led to Lord Granville making an appeal to me to bring about some change in our relations with the Company, with a view to giving us greater control over their administration. I did not think it feasible, and told him so, but promised to do my best to bring about the improvement he desired. At this time many complaints were being made against the Suez Canal Company for the inefficiency of their control, for the number of groundings taking place in the Canal and for the high charges. Moreover, an agitation was being got up to form a Company to cut a second Canal. All this led to very long discussions between Sir Rivers Wilson, Mr. Standen, the Lesseps, and myself. The friction between M. de Lesseps and the Naval and Military authorities on the Canal, during the operations, had made the maintenance of friendly relations between ourselves and the Company very difficult. We managed, however, to keep them on a friendly footing, but it was only by the exercise of much forbearance and by mutual goodwill that we were able to bring about negotiations with the Company in the sense of the instructions which Lord Granville had given us.

In the month of December 1882, we had begun to produce some impression and through the early months of 1883 we got into shape an arrangement with the Suez Canal Company, under direct instructions, principally from Mr. Childers as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Back to the Top

During the month of June we had frequent conferences at the Foreign Office and the Treasury, and most difficult negotiations between H.M. Government and the Company. At length the Lesseps came over to London and had personal conferences with Shipowners. On the 23rd. July Mr. Gladstone made his statement in the House of Commons.

The following letter was received from him in reference to these matters.

10. Downing Street,

Whitehall,

30. July 1883.

Dear Sir,

Mr. Gladstone is obliged to you for the message which you have conveyed to him from M. de Lesseps through Mr. Standen. It is Mr. Gladstone's hope to find an opportunity in tonight's debate of referring to your and Sir R. Wilson's services connected with the Suez Canal Directorate: and whether or not such an opportunity occur, I know Mr. Gladstone is most sensible of the value and use of your work in connection with the Canal Company, both generally from 1875 downwards, and in regard specially to the recent proceedings.

I remain,

Yours faithfully,

E.W. Hamilton.

Col. Sir John Stokes. K.C.B.

The upshot of all our negotiations for the improvement of relations between the Canal Company and the shipping interest came to this, that Lord Granville recommended M. de Lesseps to treat direct with the Shipowners, which he did later in this year.

Back to the Top

During the Autumn M. de Lesseps, acting upon the recommendations of Lord Granville, opened communication direct with the Shipowners, and came over to discuss with the leading men among them the various suggestions and complaints which they had made. one of the suggestions put forward by them had been the construction of a second canal which should compete with that of M. de Lesseps.

He maintained stoutly that the concession which he had obtained to construct the Suez Canal, gave him a monopoly of all rights of that kind across the Isthmus, and that no other association could legally obtain from the Sultan or the Khedive the concession for a similar enterprise.

M. de Lesseps and his son Charles both came over to England early in November, and were invited to the Lord Mayor's dinner at the Guild-hall on the 9th., at which I was present, and had, I suppose, the unique experience of hearing a Greek quotation in the speech of Mr. Gladstone, capped by the Lord Mayor, Sir Robert Fowler, with a further Greek quotation!

The de Lesseps were very well received in England, and visited the principal ports where they held meetings with the shipowners, who finally appointed a large committee in London to treat with them. The old man left England on the 24th. Novr, and his son Charles carried on the discussions.

Back to the Top

On the 23rd. November I had a very interesting interview with Mr. Gladstone, in consequence of telegrams received from Egypt as to pressure being put upon the Egyptian Government to favour the construction of a second canal. The conversation of which I immediately afterwards took a note, ran as follows -

Mr. Gladstone: "The position taken up by H.M. Government in Egypt gives them no right to interfere in any internal question between the Egyptian Government and the possessors of private rights and privileges. The Egyptian Government would be guided entirely by their own view of such rights. I can emphatically say that, taking our stand on this principle, no pressure has been, or will be, put upon the Egyptian Government by the Government of Her Majesty. The French Consul General is probably under some misapprehension . "

Sir John Stokes: "His telegram receives some confirmation in one received this morning by Sir Rivers Wilson which mentions that the Anglo-Egyptian Bank has offered the Egyptian Government ten millions sterling to construct a second Canal. May I assure M. de Lesseps that H.M. Government will not only put no pressure on the "Khedive but will not allow pressure to be put upon him?"

Mr. Gladstone: "Our position is what I have described to you. We stand entirely aloof. You may say that we have not put, and shall not put any pressure whatever on the Khedive or his Government."

Sir John Stokes: "But the world at large, and particularly the French, will not believe that any pressure put is not countenanced by H.M. Government, they will not believe in the neutrality of the English Government."

Mr. Gladstone: "I do not say neutrality, I say absolute non-interference. Of course, (and you need not say this to M. de Lesseps) I have no doubt that the Egyptian Government being pressed for money, are looking very narrowly into their rights as regards the Canal, and will be glad to discover that they can obtain some pecuniary compensation for fresh concessions. I speak from memory only, and with the reserve which I always maintain when considering matters not in my own Department, but I have no recollection of any report tending to show that the Egyptian Government claim to have any other right as regards M. De Lesseps' Canal than that of a fresh concession being required for a second canal. I have stated in the House of Commons and elsewhere that M. de Lesseps' claim to exclusive right must be the subject of a judicial decision. Is not that your opinion?"

Sir John Stokes: "Yes, certainly."

Mr. Gladstone: "Personally, I have a strong feeling that in equity M. de Lesseps' claim is good, and I moreover think that his Company can carry out the work more economically than any other body."

Sir John Stokes: "M. de Lesseps has made good progress with his direct negotiations with the Ship-owners and others, but he feels himself paralysed by the telegram he has received, and inconvenienced by the attitude of The Times. He says that if he comes to an agreement with the Ship-owners and is supported by H.M. Government, he does not doubt that the "Times" opposition will cease: but if there should be anything like want of support from H.M. Government, what he is doing would become useless. M. de Lesseps has since the summer, been acting very loyally towards us, and has abstained from exciting any feeling in France or going to his own Foreign Office."

Mr. Gladstone: "I quite recognise that M. de Lesseps has behaved extremely well and I have never doubted, if he and the Ship-owners come together, that, as the parties really interested, they would come to an understanding. Is he pleased with his dealings with them?"

Sir John Stokes: "Very much so, he found them reasonable and straightforward, and, if things go on as they have begun, he expects to arrive at a complete understanding with them. M. de Lesseps thinks that, in such an event, he should see a member of H.M. Government. Would that enter into your views?"

Mr. Gladstone: "Yes, I have always maintained that he should first come to an understanding, and as I stated in Parliament, H.M. Government would then be in a position to take up the question again. He should see Lord Granville, or Mr. Childers, but I fear that they are not in Town. What are the conclusions come to as regards the improvement of the Canal? Are they in favour of a second Canal or of widening the present one?"

Sir John Stokes: "This point is one of great difficulty and has not been touched in the discussion. It is reserved for a Commission of experts. The understanding has borne upon the reduction of dues and increased share in the direction."

Mr. Gladstone: "Very good, What is your own opinion as to the necessity of a new concession as between widening or a second Canal?"

Sir John Stokes: "I think that for widening the Canal or making a second water-way under the same water surface, no new concession could be required, as it would be for a second Canal on the best lines. (I then explained the second water-way) In these discussions Sir R. Wilson and I have held quite aloof but we have of course been kept acquainted with all that is going on with a view to keeping H.M. Government au fait with what was passing."

Mr. Gladstone: "You have taken quite the correct course. Your position has been most difficult and delicate. I may almost say you have been in a false position, for, as Directors, you have had to defend the interests of the Company and, as representing H.M. Government, which again represents so many various interests, you have had to defend those interests."

Back to the Top

M. Charles de Lesseps was staying in my house and therefore I knew, day by day, everything that was passing. The upshot of his discussions with the shipowners, which one might almost say were carried on day and night, (on one occasion he only came in at three o'clock in the morning) ended on the 30th of November in a complete understanding being arrived at. It was agreed that the Company should either enlarge the present Canal or construct a second channel as might be hereafter determined. In order to arrive at a proper decision in this matter a Commission of Engineers and Shipowners was to be appointed to go into the question, and not less than half of the members were to be English. In addition to three Directors nominated by H.M. Government, seven new Directors, chosen from among British Shipowners and Merchants were to be admitted as members of the Board. These English Directors were to form a Consultative Committee to meet in London. The last surtax of 50 centimes was definitely to disappear on the I st. January 1884. from which date also the Company was to abolish all pilotage dues and, from the Ist. January 1885, to reduce the dues by a further 50 centimes. Arrangements were also to be made under which there would be a further reduction as traffic increased, until a maximum of five francs a ton was reached. There were also other points provided for which I need not recapitulate.

The Committee of Shipowners consisted of James Laing, elected Chairman; Thomas Sutherland, Chairman of the P. and O. Company; William McKinnon, of the British India; J.B. Westray, Secretary of the Association of Steamship Owners trading in the East; John Glover and R.S. Donkin.

This proposal was generally agreed to by H.M. Government on condition that the three official directors should form part of the London Committee. The arrangement has proved an eminently satisfactory one. The Commission of Experts named in this first article, (among whom, was my friend Sir Charles Hartley,) visited the Canal in 1884 and made recommendations for its improvement; one half of which have now (1900) been carried out at a cost of four millions sterling, which was raised by a loan on the Paris exchange, and gradually issued as money was required.

As indicated in my conversation with Mr. Gladstone, my part in this matter was that of careful watching, and private assistance to Cbarles de Lesseps in our discussions. What came out pre-eminently in this affair was, that if Charles de Lesseps had, six months earlier been willing to make to the Shipowners one fourth of the concessions he eventually did make, the agreement with H.M. Government in the month of June would not have encountered the opposition which it did, and the Company would have been in a far better position.

Back to the Top

The agreement with the Shipowners was, however, a subject of very acute opposition in Paris. Some of M. de Lesseps' warmest supporters in the Council highly disapproved of the concessions made, and there is no doubt that both his position, and that of his son Charles, were very much shaken by the concessions they had made to English trade. Eventually, however, by tact and verbal explanations, opposition was overcome, and the general meeting of Shareholders held for the purpose, approved the agreement. The concession thus made was of this nature--We had always looked upon the Agreement in the light of a convention strictly binding upon the Suez Canal Company, but, as the de esseps explained it to their Shareholders, to make it palatable to them-it was only called "a programme of what was to be done", and in that way it was accepted. I must say that the Company have so loyally adhered to the programme that it has really had all the force of a binding Convention. Although H.M. Government, as the Shareholders of such a very large portion of the Capital, namely two fifths, naturally have very great influence and weight in all the discussions of the Council, they have not, technically, more voting power than any holder of 250 shares, because the statutes of the Company limit the extreme voting capacity of any one Power to ten votes. Any number of shares beyond two hundred and fifty gives no extra voting power.

The agreement was brought before a meeting of shareholders on the 12th. March 1884 and was carried by the small majority of 82 out of 1604 votes. So great was the opposition that the election of the additional English directors could not then be attempted, as a two-thirds majority was necessary for that. At the end of May a further general meeting of shareholders was held, by which time efforts made had won over many of them, and all the questions submitted were carried by large majorities. The original number of Directors, thirty-two, which had been reduced some years before, was restored, and enabled the seven English Directors to be added to the Board.

I had an active share in all these transactions, which took up a large part of my time. My correspondence with the Government and the de Lesseps was very frequent, and entered into great detail, as the public documents of the time show.

Back to the Top

The year 1884 was a very busy one to me at the War Office, and I could ill afford the time for the affairs of the Canal.

One afternoon I had a visit from General Gordon of Chinese fame, who told me that he had been with Lord Granville all the afternoon, and had consented to go out to Khartoum as Governor-General, to endeavour to make head against the Mahdi movement: Lord Granville being confident of his popularity and influence with the Arabs of the Soudan. He explained the situation to me during a long and interesting conversation, and was full of hopes of success in the near future and of anxiety to resume the work in Africa which he had undertaken for King Leopold.

In May of this year we had the pleasure of welcoming home my brother Frank and his wife who were on a visit from Australia. They arrived on the 12th. May and sailed again on the 1 8th. December. My brother had come home to try to form a Company to acquire a very large property in Australia which he had taken up. This, through some mismanagement for which he was not responsible, he failed to effect. It had caused him a great deal of trouble, worry and anxiety, and in passing through the Red Sea the great heat, combined with that strain upon his health, brought on a seizure which laid him low for the rest of his life.

In this Spring I attained the rank of Major-General, which I had never expected or thought possible under the new regulations. Happily for me, Mr. Childers had introduced an article in the warrant, under which an officer especially required for certain duties, could be retained beyond his age limit, and made a Major-General. We all said at the time that this was for the sake of Sir Andrew Clark; he certainly was the first officer to benefit by it. H.R.H. who had been such an excellent Chief to me at the Horse-Guards, considered that my services were necessary at this time, and to prevent my being shelved this promotion was granted me. It was a complete surprise to me to reach this rank, and the way in which it was done was especially gratifying.

In this same year I took up another work which has thrown a great deal of labour on my shoulders. At the request of my old friend, Canon Scarth, and of Lady Strangford, I joined the Committee which had been formed for erecting a Hospital at Port Said for the benefit of the numerous English seamen passing through the Canal. The accommodation at that time in the Egyptian hospital was so disgraceful that it was not a fit place for English seamen. Eventually I became Chairman and Treasurer of this Committee, and have had the entire working of it since the year 1886 when the building was first begun.

An important event which occurred during the year 1885 was the signing of the Convention neutralizing the Suez Canal. I had a good deal of correspondence with Ministers on this and other Suez Canal subjects.

Back to the Top

In this year we had the pleasure of a long visit from my son Alfred, who came back from the Cape, where he had taken part in the expedition to Bechuanaland, commanded by Colonel Sir Charles Warren. R.E. Sir Charles had taken him up as a Special Service Officer and from Mafeking dispatched him on a mission into Matabeleland, where he carried out his duties very satisfactorily and was well reported upon for it. By some misunderstanding in the Artillery of five, he was summoned back by telegram to take up his appointment in the Royal Horse Artillery in India, which my friend Col. Hay had kindly given him, but for which there was no immediate hurry. He was thus recalled from his Special Mission before he had had time to complete it. However, it gave us the pleasure of having him in England for some months.

In July of this year I got a chill and was prostrated by a return of the Danube fever which I had had nearly thirty years before. This laid me up for some time.

It was a satisfaction to me at this time that Mr. W.H. Smith, with whom I had so much to do in Suez Canal matters, when he was Secretary to the Treasury, became Secretary of State for War during Lord Salisbury's short administration.

Back to the Top

I had a pleasant trip to South Wales this year with my son Alfred. We had much lawntennis, and the excitement of an otter hunt in the Cleddan, also a visit to Fishguard to see the James Owens, where I met Hugh Owen, late of the 73rd Regiment who had been at my wedding in '49. We also saw St. David's with its interesting old Cathedral and Bishop's Palace. We then went to Shrewsbury, and Harrogate, where Edith was laid up with rheumatism, and to Derby where Gina and her husband were living at the "Outwoods" a house which had been lent them for a few months at Duffield. I also visited Cobham and Nurstead.

At the end of this year I was put on another Committee on the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, under the Presidency of Lord Morley. We made some important recommendations which were ultimately carried out. My time as D.A.G., R.E., was now drawing to a close, but the Duke wished me to continue it for three months beyond the five years. The year 1885 at the War Office, was marked by the careful development in many respects, of the organisation of the Royal Engineers. At the end of the year Col. Salmond had become my Assistant Adjutant General. It was a great regret to me that Col. Micklem's time had come to an end, but I found Salmond a most efficient successor to him in all our work. His clear head, accuracy and industry, were most valuable to me.

In March 1886 I had to break up my household in London, as, not anticipating that I should be there for more than my five years, I had not taken a longer lease of the house.

My wife had been Iying all these years helpless , unable to speak or do anything for herself, but her health generally was better at this time. I was now looking out for a house where I could establish my family when my War Office duties ceased. Having determined not to remain in London I was trying to find a house in the country. In the meantime, Gina undertook to have her Mother with her until I could get settled: therefore, in the middle of March we moved her down to Derby. In my expeditions to the country I had seen one house at Hayward's Heath which pleased me, but seemed rather more than I required, and I paid numerous visits to other places. Eventually, hearing that my brother Frank and his wife wished to come to England, I decided to take the house at Hayward's Heath, as it would enable me to make a home for them. He had not only been smitten down in health but his affairs had all gone wrong, and it was a matter of importance to him to get a home.

Back to the Top

My term at the War Office came to an end on 1st. July this year. I had taken up the post with misgivings, and unwillingness to leave Chatham but I must say that I was sorry to leave it for this also meant the end of my Military career. I ought to have mentioned earlier that within a year or so after my appointment, the post of Inspector-General of Fortifications became vacant, and H.R.H. was very anxious that I should succeed Genl. Galway, who had been, as we thought, rather unfairly ousted from that position, but the same influence which placed Col. Clarke in my shoes at Chatham, put him into this, the highest position in the Corps. That office would not be vacant again till it was too late for me to be appointed to it, as I could only remain in the Service under the new regulations for a few months, and, although I had the hearty goodwill of the Duke I could not be appointed as it was not to the interest of the Service that any man should hold so important a post for so short a time. Therefore, the conclusion of my service at the Horse-Guards was the end of my Military duties altogether.

I was very thankful that I still had the important appointment under the Foreign Office in connection with the Suez Canal Company, which ensured me an active life for sometime to come and a welcome addition to my income.

On July 1st. I was present at an interesting ceremony, at which I played rather an anomalous part. This was the wedding of my wife's sister, Mimi - Mrs. Robertson Ross. She married Colonel Macdonald of St. Martin's Abbey, Perth. She asked me to give her away and as she, being a widow, had no bridesmaids, I was to act as bridesmaid as well as parent, and found it rather difficult to hold my hat, the Bride's bouquet, and various other ladies' adornments - gloves and so on.

Back to the Top

As I was not to get possession of the house at Hayward's Heath till the end of August, my daughter Edith and I took a very comfortable lodging in my dear old native village of Cobham, where we were near all our dear old friends. This made a very pleasant surrounding for us, and here we stayed for six weeks and were joined by my youngest daughter, Con. We had towards the later part of the time to attend to all the arrangements for our move.

On the 26th. August I met my brother and his wife at the docks on their arrival, and established them at Sir Charles Hartley's rooms in Pall Mall, which he had kindly placed at their disposal, and Edith, Con and I took up our quakers in lodgings at Hayward's Heath while our furniture was moved. We finally welcomed my brother and his wife home to "Good Rest", on the 10th. September, 1886.

Back to the Top

We went down to Hayward's Heath, in the first instance, thinking that we knew no one in the neighbourhood, but we soon discovered two or three families with whom I had been connected in the old times. At Cuckfield we found Captain and Mrs. Farmer, whose daughter Ella married Charlie Conybeare, the son of a very old friend, and near them was living Mrs. Hilton, the daughter of Admiral Sherriff who had been Supt. in Chatham Dockyard in the early forties, and whom I had met at my father's house at Cobham. At Lindfield was a Mr. Arbouin, whose Uncle had been a great friend of Mr. Maynard's, and lived near him in Brunswick Square. Again in another direction, at Bolney, the clergyman was Mr. McLeod whose wife was a daughter of my old friend, William Jelf. These formed a basis of acquaintance to which other neighbours were soon added. At Balcombe, too, Mr. & Mrs. Nicholl were building a new house. He was an old and intimate friend of Sir Charles Hartley. Our vicar, Mr. Wyatt was an excellent man, and our near neighbour; he had a houseful of daughters; his son Geoffrey, being his curate. We soon got into pleasant and friendly relations with these people, among whom we much appreciated Admiral Pakenham of Franklyn, for whom, and his family we had a great regard.

Go back to Chapter 13 or forward to Chapter 15

Go back to Autobiography Contents Page.

This site is maintained by Charles Poynton, of 78 Blencowe St, West Leederville, WA 6007, Australia. ph (08) 9381 7651. If you have any comments, corrections or additions to offer, please contact him on charlesp@odyssey.apana.org.au