of The Tablet's first edition
Indian Government's treatment of its catholic soldiers
[This letter is so important
that notwithstanding the press of matter this week we give it entire
SIR, - As the Hurkaru seldom fails in fulfilling its professions of fearlessly advocating the just rights and claims of every class of the community, however humble, depressed, or otherwise neglected, I confidently anticipate your cordial support to the cause which I am now about to submit to your notice.
You are doubtless aware, Sir, that more than one-half of the European soldiery in India are Catholics. This being the fact, it is surely an object of great state importance that they should be provided with religious instruction. I do not here stop to inquire whether the Catholic religion be the true one or not, that question being altogether foreign to my present purpose; and it is one, methinks, with which a wise and enlightened government will not very readily concern itself. The real question, then, to which I solicit your attention is whether it be fair, just, or politic in the Indian Government, while it provides on so magnificent a scale for the religious wants of one portion of its servants, to leave the greater and far more necessitous portion almost entirely destitute? Are not, I would ask, the same duties performed, the same hardships endured, and the same dangers undergone by the Catholic as by the Protestant soldier? Why then, in the name of justice, should advantages be granted with a bounteous hand to the latter, which are denied to the former, merely because he adheres to the faith of his fathers? Although I mean not to insinuate that any such design exists on the part of the Government, either here or at home, yet I maintain that the partial system which now obtains practically operates, in regard to the Catholic soldiery, as a positive penalty on their conscientiously serving God.
When the Catholic chapel at Dum Dum was built, Lord Hastings granted the chaplain, though a foreigner, a salary of 200 rupees per mensem; and I have been assured that that great statesman gave it as his opinion to the home government, in forwarding a petition from the Catholic soldiers to be provided by the State with British pastors, that their request sounded reasonable . With the exception, however, of Dum Dum, the only allowance grant by Government to Catholic clergy for attending (that is, so far as their own proper duties admitted,) to the spiritual wants of Catholics at the different military stations in the Bengal Presidency was, or rather is, 50 rupees a month. This pittance, be it observed, was not originally intended as a remuneration for services rendered, but merely as a compensation for the extra expense for conveyance, &c. to which the nearest Catholic missionaries were unavoidably exposed, in consequence of the continual calls made upon them in behalf of Catholics in cantonments. Such was the origin of this months allowance, which some have so completely misapprehended as to imagine that it entitled the receivers to the appellation of "Military Chaplains."
Petitions from Catholic soldiers praying to be provided with British pastors at the principal military stations, were submitted to government, through the Commander-in-chief, during the administration of Lord William Bentinck. The reply of Government was to the effect that their request would be complied with as opportunities offered. What opportunities were meant, it would be difficult to say; but it seems that they have not yet occurred, and I suspect never will.
All the commanders-in-chief, from the Marquis of Hastings down to Sir H. Fane, were favourably disposed to the claim of the Catholics in the army, to be provided by Government with British chaplains. This claim, however, though deemed reasonable by the Marquis of Hastings, was vehemently opposed by Sir H. Fane, who even refused to forward to Government a petition on the subject from the Catholics of his Majesty's 13th regiment. So much, then, for the vaunted facility of obtaining redress through the medium of what is technically called the regular channel. The attempt has been so often made, and always in vain, that the idea of any further effort seems to be given up as hopeless. The truth is, the local government is well enough disposed; but it has not, I believe, the power to do justice in this matters.
It has been said that the agitation of this subject is calculated to excite discontent and a spirit of insubordination among the Catholic soldiery. The assertion is a vile slander on the character of the Irish Catholics, of whose principles they must be egregiously ignorant who seriously entertain any such notion. As to discontent, what cause for it, let me ask, can possibly be adduced with which every Catholic in the army is not already fully acquainted? And allowing, for the sake of argument, that their grievances were, as they assuredly are not, such as to excite a spirit of insubordination, the publication of them would, I submit, tend to alleviate rather than to aggravate the deprecated evil. I believe, that there is not a Catholic soldier in India who is not thoroughly impressed with the conviction that under no plea or circumstance whatever will his religion tolerate insubordination or disaffection to established authority. No true Catholic, therefore, can possible harbour feelings which are in direct opposition to the positive injunctions of his religion; and such as are regardless of the precepts of their religion must evidently be equally so of the privation complained of.
Whatever may be the degree of contempt which some may think is fashionable, and a proof of their own superiority, to evince for the judgment, intelligence, and good sense of Irish soldiers, be assured, Mr. Editor, that they are far too sensible of their own interest, and keen-sighted, even were they not actuated, as they generally are, by higher motives, not to perceive that by any violation of discipline, they would infallibly forfeit all claim to the favour and indulgent consideration of government, to which they must look for the attainment of the boon they so ardently desire.
The late commander-in-chief peremptorily refused to lay before government a petition for British pastors from the Catholics of His Majesty's 13th regiment, but did they, for that reason exhibit any backwardness at the storming of Ghuzni? That they were not indifferent as to the practice of their religion, may, I think, be safely inferred from the fact of their having contributed, from their scanty means, about 6,000 rupees towards the erection of a chapel at Kurnaul. They were fully aware that in Afghanistan they would find no chapel nor priest to succour them, in sickness or death, with the helps and consolations of their religion, while they beheld the tender care with which their Protestant comrades had been provided with a chaplain. Nevertheless, they went without a murmur. Such was the conduct of the Catholics of this gallant corps; and such would, under similar circumstances, be the conduct of the Catholics of every corps in India, whatever merit or favour some may expect to acquire for themselves by maintaining the contrary, as if the circumstance of being Irishmen, Catholics, and soldiers, placed men beneath the sphere of common sense and right feeling. If the discussion of their grievances and privations were capable of rendering Irish Catholics disaffected, why, in that case, they must have been in a state of rebellion for the last fifty years; whereas, it appears that troops have been withdrawn from Ireland to keep down rebellion in England.
I have already mentioned the extent of provision made by government for the spiritual wants of the majority of its European soldiers before the passing of the New Charter Act. From the remarks which fell from the President of the Board of Control, during the discussion of that measure, Catholics were naturally led to expect that some suitable provision would be made for their religious necessities. This reasonable expectation has hitherto been grievously disappointed; for with the exception of an occasional donation of the paltry sum of 500 rupees (about 50l.) towards the erection of a chapel, nothing, absolutely nothing , has yet been done in redemption of Sir Charles Grant's (now Lord Glenelg) pledge. Much importance cannot, I think, be justly attached to these parsimonious donations, which do not in their aggregate amount to much, if at all, exceed 2,000 rupees, when it is borne in mind that the poor Irish soldiers have to contribute from their slender resources nearly as many thousands as the government give hundreds: and also that Protestant chaplains, and places of worship, are provided entirely at the public cost.
Catholic soldiers, with the exception already mentioned, continue solely dependent on the nearest Catholic missionary for spiritual aid. The station of Hazereebaugh may probably be deemed an exception, inasmuch as the missionary there has, I believe, no charge but the soldiers. He however receives only 50 rupees from government, and his expenses beyond that trifle (2l. 10s.) are, I presume, defrayed by the voluntary contributions of the poor soldiers.
Independently of the inestimable benefit with the appointment of British Catholic chaplains at the principal military stations would be to the Catholic soldiery, the measure would, I confidently submit, prove highly advantageous to the government itself. It will be admitted by those who have had the best means of forming a correct opinion on the subject, that nothing could more effectually tend to promote sobriety, and consequently health and efficacy among the men, than the influence of religion enforced by a zealous pastor of their own faith and nation. And if this would, as I contend, prove highly beneficial among old soldiers, how much more so would it be among the hundreds of young recruits who are continually arriving here? Among them a good priest, who understood their national feelings, would be looked upon as a father, and he would, I am persuaded, be the happy means of preserving many of them to do good service to their country, who will otherwise fall early victims to intemperate habits. That much good would result from the ministry of clergymen of their own faith among the Catholic troops, is not a gratuitous assumption on my part, but is fully borne out by the testimony of several distinguished and experienced military officers. Upon the whole, Mr. Editor, there can, I think, be no reasonable doubt that to provide the Catholic soldiers with chaplains of their own creed and country, would not only be an act of justice, but would prove a blessing to the men, and an ultimate benefit to the government.
It is perhaps not generally known, that in the Crown colonies vicars-apostolic receive 500 l ., and priests from 150 l . to 200 l . per annum from the state, besides a suitable allowance for passage and outfit: now, I cannot imagine in what respect the claims of the Catholics on the liberal consideration of a just, enlightened, and paternal government, are less strong in the East, than in the West Indies.
With reference to the above observations regarding the government expenditure on account of the Church of England, and Scotch Kirk establishments, I beg to annex the following items of information which I have obtained from sources which have no possible doubt of their accuracy. You will observe, that with the exception of the bishop, the clergy under the Bengal Presidency only are included; I have no means of ascertaining the payments made on account of those under the Agra Presidency. An allowance of 1,045 rupees paid monthly to the bishop as "visitation allowance," is not included, though I think it ought. I have struck out an item of 48 rupees for regulating the clock, from the establishment of the Kirk, because that is for public convenience. The government pays 853 rupees a month as rent for the site of the Kirk, which, along with some observations of our own correspondent, we are compelled to defer till next week.
Church of England salaries
- Rs.19,552 9 1
St. Andrew's Kirk, salary
of two ministers - Rs. 1,926 2 0
The monthly expense to Government
of the churches in Calcutta, not including repairs, is as follows:-
The handsome pensions to which chaplains become entitled must not be forgotten, nor the enormous expense of building and repairing churches, &c., the Kirk and St. Peter's, for example. OBSERVER.
Upon this letter the editor of the Bengal Hurkaru makes some remarks.
[*The Church of England and Presbyterian establishments cost the East India Company upwards of 10½ lacs per annum (105,000l.) independently of the expense of building and repairing churches. Note of the Editor of the Bengal Catholic Reporter.]