HC Deb 28 March 1804 vol 1 cc1062-72
The Chancellor of the Exchequer

moved the order of the day for the House to resolve itself into a committee of supply, and that the papers respecting Lord Hood's claims relative to the captures at Toulon, should be referred to the said committee; which was ordered. The House having resolved itself into a committee, the right hon. gent, said, he had to call the attention of the committee of a subject, which he could not help thinking required all that indulgence and liberality which they were always accustomed to shew to the exertions of the British navy, a subject which connected itself with one of the most splendid exertions of our navy, during the last war, and related to officers and seamen as meritorious as any in the British service. It was impossible that any one could doubt the merit of the service performed by Lord Hood at Toulon. The present subject affected the interests of Lord Hood, Lord Keith, Lord Radstock, and other distinguished officers, and of all the officers and seamen under the command of Lord Hood, upon that occasion, who were now living, and the families of those who were deceased, all were involved in The consideration of the subject, which he felt it incumbent upon him to submit to the committee.—It was not his intention to go into any particular detail with respect to the surrender of Toulon; it would be recollected that the inhabitants of the southern part of France, weary of the worst of tyranny that ever degraded the human race, expressed a wish to be placed under the authority of the legitimate heir of their murdered sovereign. In consequence of this, Lord Hood became possessed of the town and harbour of Toulon, and several French ships, which, by a convention, were, to be held, in part, for Louis XVII. to whom they were to be restored. During the continuance of the war, it was obvious that the nature of the terms agreed upon, precluded Lord Hood from claiming any remuneration for himself and the officers and seamen under his command. After the ratification of the definitive treaty of peace, Lord Hood presented a memorial to his Majesty, claiming a reward for the officers and seamen. on account of the French ships destroyed and taken possession of at Toulon, together with their ordnance and stores,. His Majesty was pleased to refer the memorial to the Privy Council, a committee of whom took it into consideration. It was the opinion of that committee, that it was not expedient to grant any remuneration for the ten sail of the line, and other vessels which were destroyed, because it was not the practice to grant remuneration for ships destroyed at sea, it was only when they were captured, that the captors became entitled to prize-money, head-money, &c. The committee of Privy Council however recommended that a remuneration should be given for those ships which were brought away from Toulon, and afterwards employed in his Majesty's service. It was then referred to the Lords of the Admiralty, and to the Master General of the Ordnance, to report the value of those ships, and of the ordnance and stores taken in them. The Lords of the Admiralty reported the value of the ships at 236,742l. and the value of the ordnance and stores at 28,504,1. 14s. lOç. On these reports being received, the Committee of Council recommended the granting of a remuneration to Lord Hood, which was approved of by his Majesty in council, and it was upon this recommendation approved of by his Majesty, that he submitted the proposition for remuneration to the committee. In considering this subject, let it be remembered, that in this instance, the officers and seamen of his Majesty's navy had been favoured in a similar manner to that now proposed. At the Helder several Dutch ships were taken possession of by Admiral Mitchell, in the name of the Stadtholder; and without detracting from the merit of that service, would any man say that the service performed by Lord Hood at Toulon, did not establish at least an equal claim to the gratitude of the country? The ships taken at the Helder, were libelled in the Court of Admiralty, but never condemned: the ships taken by Lord Hood, at Toulon, had not been libelled; but, would any man say, that if they had, they might not have been condemned. The distinction, however, was immaterial. The value was given for the ships taken at the Helder. The two other instances were, the ships destroyed by Lord Nelson at Aboukir, and those destroyed and taken at Copenhagen, in both which compensation was given. He only asked that the House would not, in this instance, take advantage of the want of condemnation, and that they would give the officers and seamen employed at Toulon the value of those ships which they had taken, and which had been employed in his Majesty's service. It might be asked, if the claim he-now made was so just, how it happened that it was not brought forward sooner? From the nature of the terms agreed upon with respect to the ships taken possession of, it was evident it could not be brought forward during the war. Afterwards, some time was taken up in the consideration of the subject. The reports of the Board of Admiralty and Ordnance were made on the 31st of March and the 1st of April last year. There was no necessity to real to the recollection of gent, how much govt. and parliament had been employed from the 1st of April to the end of the last session. On the 31st of Aug. the Privy Council finally recommended the remuneration, and it was approved of by his Majesty. He did not think it proper to bring forward a subject of such importance in the present session previous to the Christmas recess, when the attendance was thin, and afterwards it had been delayed from obvious reasons. He wished, however, that whatever blame might be attached to the delay, it might be wholly imputed to him, and that it might not be suffered to injure the cause of Lord Hood, or the officers and seamen who were under his command, and who, he trusted, would experience that attention and indulgence which the House were always disposed to shew to British officers and British seamen. He concluded by moving, that a sum not exceeding 265,336l. be granted to his Majesty, to be distributed to the officers and seamen under the command of Lord Hood at the capture of Toulon, being the estimated value of the ships and vessels taken possession of upon that occasion, and the ordnance and stores on board them.

Mr. Pierrerpoint

bore testimony to the excellent character left behind them at Toulon by Lord Hood, Lord Hotham, and the other Officers serving there. Had any of them fallen in that affair, the House would not have hesitated to have voted them a monument; and with respect to those who survived, let it not be said, that, when living, you denied them bread, to whom, if dead, you would have given a stone.

Mr. George Johnstone

felt it a painful task to oppose a motion like the present, where personal feelings were interested, and especially the feelings of persons who had so signally deserved of their country. There was a distinction to be taken in the present question, it was intended to decide on the interest, not on the honour of the persons concerned. But to make it plain and distinct, it was only necessary to determine it was a. question of right; or to examine whether it came before the House as a case of liberality? Perhaps the right hon. gent, intended to make it assume both aspects. For his arguments appealed at one time to the liberality, at another to the justice of the House. It was true, indeed, that in such cases, it seldom happened that the liberality of the House was appealed to in vain.—If, however, the House was to decide according to strict justice, the question before them would simply be, whether the capture, or the possession rather, of the ships at Toulon, was prize or no prize? This might be collected from attention to the circumstances under which they came into our power; but he was not willing to enter into a detail of the particulars which accompanied the transaction. It was enough to state, that the ships came into our possession in consequence of a convention. Then we did not take possession of them by capture, but by virtue of a treaty. When the condition on which they came into our possession could not be fulfilled, the power to dispose of them then devolved on his Majesty, not on those who merely took possession of them. The only case which the right hon. gent, thought strictly in point with the present, was that of the capture at the Helder. But between these two cases, in his mind, there was no just analogy. In the Helder case we took forcible possession of the ships: they attempted to remove from our attack, but we followed them, and stood close in with them in array of battle. In corroboration of this assertion, the hon. gent, read to the House several passages of the Dutch Admiral's answer to the summons of our Admiral calling on him to hoist the Orange flag. They confessed themselves to be, and were in reality, made prisoners of war. Where then was the analogy between the two cases? at Toulon the whole business was done by a convention. The right hon. gent, says, the ships were libelled in the Court of Admiralty: if so, the question may be simply decided on that point. Let it be determined under the prize act whose property they are, and if they are declared to be that of Lord Hood, he should not hesitate a moment in acceding to the motion. The prizes at the Helder were adjudged by a legal decision. But was 236,0001. a trifling sum under the present impaired and labouring state of our finances; or if such a sum is thus to be voted away in the present situation of the country, are not the land forces, who co-operated with the fleet in that service, entitled to their share of the reward? It was unfair to acknowledge the right of the one, without attending to the claims of the other.—But if the right existed, no one would more cheerfully concur in the vote than himself. But let it be submitted to the decision of the learned gent, opposite him (Sir Wm. Scott); it was for him to declare whether they were prize or not, and by that proper decision he should abide; if there was no right, why vote away a sum of so large an amount. It was incompatible with that system of economy which the right hon. gent, seemed anxious to pursue, and for which he gave him the greater credit, as a contrary lesson had been taught him by his predecessor. But again, he had only to repeat, let the question be tried before the proper tribunal; let the ships be declared prize or no prize, and then the question might easily be decided.

Sir Home Popham.

—Sir; the question before the Committee, on which I did not expect any difference of opinion, is so intimately connected with the profession to which I have the honour of belonging, that I cannot resist offering a few remarks on the subject, especially us neither the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or the hon. gent, who spoke last have fairly and correctly stated the case with respect to this point; whether the French fleet was delivered over to the noble and gallant Admiral, or whether it was taken possession of by a military operation. That the operation might have been combined I have no doubt, and that intercourse might have been had with some of the factious in Toulon is also very probable, but the predominant feature was certainly military. On the 23d of August Lord Hood appeared off Toulon with 14 sail of the line, where he found Admiral St. Julien (a creature of the Republic) in command of the French fleet of seventeen sail of the line, and who had suspended Admiral Trogoffe from all his functions and command, and consequently all the expected co-operation on the part of Trogoffe was at an end, and the gallant admiral decided to attack the French fleet in the formidable position in which it was moored; and like a great general (having long established his character as a great admiral) he disembarked the part of the army serving in his fleet with the marines, and took possession of Fort La Malgue. After this was achieved, did he not send a flag of truce to St. Julien, the French admiral, and make a disposition to attack his fleet at anchor from the catteries of La Malgue and the co-operation of the British fleet? These preparations, and the name of the noble admiral, and the recollection of the victories that composed its glory, had the greatest effect on St. Julien; the British admiral's conduct at Basse Terre, where he manœuvred the French admiral De Grasse from his Anchorage, and took possession of it, was fresh in St. Julien's memory, he knew he had to contend with a man who had been in the habits of turning his countrymen out of their roadsteads, and taking possession of them and that the same military talent might be applied here. Shall we, says St. Julien to his partizans, give another opportunity of adding new laurels to the English flag, and increasing the disgrace of France. No! Let us retire, let us join the army of Carteaux, rather than risk the issue of a battle. These were the. motives which induced St. Julien to desert his fleet, accompanied with the crews of seven ships most attached to him, at the very moment the British admiral was about to enter to attack him. Can this then be called a convention? No! there was no condition, no convention between the contending commanders. And even in this, as well as after Lord Hood entered Toulon, he was seen to act not only as a gallant naval officer, but also as a great general, and consummate statesman; and then whether the fleet surrendered, or was taken in trust for Louis XVI. the operation to all intents and purposes must be considered as a military operation, and is entitled to the highest praise. It was difficult to say upon what ground a claim so well founded, could be objected. If the idea is to go abroad that the liberality of the House will not show itself to signal services at the recommendation of his Majesty, what discouraging effects may it not produce? Even at this moment, when Lord Nelson is blockading that same port of Toulon; when perhaps he is on the eve of capturing the French Fleet either by valour or negociation, is it to be held out that for such services as these there is to be no reward, because they may be said to be achieved by a convention. I contend that Lord Hood's conduct throughout the whole of this business, evinced the highest sense of honour, and the most refined delicacy.—The question, in my opinion, is of the first importance, and recommend it: of the serious consideration of the House, and warn them how they permit either sophistry, or a mere quibble of the law to frustrate the claims of acknowledged merits to the strongest proofs of their liberality. Aware of the great, and interesting business now standing in succession in the order of the day, I shall not trouble the committee further, and earnestly hope the. remuneration recommended by his Majesty in council will be voted without another dissentient voice.

Mr. Creevey

considered this motion to involve a question more proper for the Admiralty Court to decide upon than that House; and as he knew nothing more dangerous than any interference on the part of the House with whatever belonged to the jurisdiction of the courts of law, he should therefore conceive it his duty to oppose the motion.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

explained what he had said with respect to the original capture of those ships. He admitted that there was something of the character of a convention about it, but not such an one as that attributed to it by the learned gent, on the other side, lie denied that he had ever pressed this motion as a claim of right, lie urged it as an appeal to the liberality of the House; and he confessed that he felt it to be an appeal to something more than liberality, considering all the circumstances, although he had relied on that principally, and he was persuaded it was that to which a deserving British officer could never apply in vain. When the peculiar nature of this case was candidly viewed; when the time which those ships had been in use, and the benefit resulting there from to the country was considered, he trusted that no difference of opinion could arise as to the propriety of granting to those gallant officers a full equivalent, particularly as it must be recollected that the application was not new in principle, but recognized by the cases to which he had already referred; cases which he contended were analogous to that before the committee.

Dr. Laurence

wished it to be distinctly understood, that liberality was the only ground upon which this proposition rested; und, in such a case, he certainly was not disposed to be a niggardly remunerator to any of those gallant men who formed the pride and glory of the country. The learned gent, took notice of the remarks of the hon. admiral (Sir H. Popham) that we should accede to the motion before the committee, lest the rejection of it should damp the zeal of our fleets, particularly that now probably before Toulon. For himself, he felt no apprehension on that score. Whatever might be the result of the present motion, he knew the gallant and disinterested character of our navy too well, to suppose that any consideration of gain could stimulate them, or any apprehension of loss could restrain them, from the utmost exertion of their duty. He recommended that further time should be taken fully to examine the nature of this question, before the motion should be adopted; and that a motion of this nature should be preceded by a resolution of the House as to the fact of the merit of the force to whom the proposed reward was to be given. He concluded with acknowledging the conduct of Ministers, in thus submitting the measure to the consideration of the House, to be nothing more than a performance of their duty, but deprecated any hasty decision.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the learned gent, had done ministers nothing more than justice in stating that they had brought this motion forward from a sense of duty. As to the distinction made between the grounds of right and liberality, the proposition of this claim to Parliament was itself a proof that it was not conceived to rest upon the ground of right; for if it was, no such application need have been made. Neither of the cases referred to, namely, those of the Helder and Copenhagen, were brought before Parliament. The right of his Majesty to grant a remuneration for those ships was not doubled; but yet, from the amount of the present claim, and from the time which had gone by since the expedition to Toulon, referred to in the motion, an application to Parliament was deemed the proper mode of proceeding.

Sir Home Popham,

in allusion to the notice taken of his sentiments by the learned gent, on the lower bench, said, that perhaps in his anxiety for the adoption of the motion before the House, he might have used expressions too strong; but yet lie hoped it was not supposed that he could be capable of thinking a British seaman would be influenced by such motives as the learned gent, had inferred from those expressions.

Dr. Laurence

said he had only animadverted on the sentiments referred to by the hon. admiral, in order to have it disclaimed.

Mr. William Smith

thought, that whenever a British House of Commons was called upon to vote away such a sum, their disposition to investigate the reasons on which they were so called, ought not to be counteracted by the expectation of any other discussion. The matter itself was of sufficient importance. If he was to consult merely what, generally speaking, was due to the glorious exertions of the navy; if he were to consult his own feelings for many in that service with whom he was connected, he should not feel a moment's doubt as to the voting of the money, and, indeed, he had come down to the House with a disposition to do so; but he must confess, that what he had al- ready heard in the course of this debate, had made a considerable change in his mind, lie did not incline to think, that the gallant officer had put the business on its proper ground. He rather leaned to the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that this was not a question of right, but one of liberality. Now this was a very good reason for a little longer time for enquiry. The quantum of the remuneration would depend upon the danger, the importance, and the brilliancy of the exploit. Then again, the gallant officer had admitted, that the army were concerned in the business. No one could possibly praise the exertions of the British navy too much; no one could possibly feel disposed to praise them more highly than himself; but surely if the army were employed in that transaction, we ought not to reward one branch of service alone, unless any considerable reasons were given for it. The papers might have laid on the table ever since last Jan. but that mere circumstance did not suppose every individual member to be acquainted with them. It was not so material to know when the papers were first laid on the table, as when the notice was first given, which was but one or two days back: but that, in affairs of importance, was not time enough, lie thought there were grounds sufficient to lead to a farther examination of the subject, and for that purpose to a little delay, winch, he hoped, would not be productive of any ill consequences to any of the parties. At the same time, he begged to say, that he was sorry to feel it a duty to interpose any further delay between the generosity of the public, and the convenience of those who had served it. The length of time that had elapsed, might have almost exhausted them, and "hope deferred," might make "the heart sick."

Admiral Berkeley

said, that the soldiers on board Lord Hood's fleet at the time the French ships were taken possession of, were unquestionably entitled to their share of this prize money, but none of the troops which arrived at Toulon subsequent to that transaction.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

thought that there was no doubt that soldiers in the situation on board described by the hon. admiral, would, in the distribution of the prize-money, be considered as marines.

Sir William Scott

declined to give any opinion upon the general question impli- cated in this motion, as it canoe to be de cided upon by him in other circumstances; but with respect to the subject alluded to by his right hon. friend who spoke last, he stated that soldiers serving an board the fleets were entitled to their share of prize money as marines.

Mr. Kinnaird

considered this a question of much importance. He would ask, whether, if the Bourbon family should be restored to the throne of France, this House might not be again called upon to give a remuneration for those ships. He thought such a claim in such an event not improbable, and for that and other reasons stated, he would oppose the motion, and move the previous question.—This motion was considered irregular in a committee.

Mr. Johnstone

observed that Lord Mulgrave was at Toulon, and asked if it was intended in the proposed distribution of this prize-money that his lordship should share as a marine? The hon. member said, that he understood there were 4 regiments of land forces at Toulon, who were entitled to their proportion of this remuneration.

Admiral Berkeley

said, there were only 2 regiments serving as marines.

Sir Charles Pole

observed, that the force which was at Toulon under gen. O'Hara, arrived after the ships were captured, and therefore had no claim to any of this money proposed to be voted.

Mr. Windham

thought the result of all the discussion was this, that the House could not now come to any decision upon the subject, and considering this question exceedingly complicated, he wished that further time should be allowed to examine its details; so fully persuaded was he of the necessity for such time, that if any hon. member would move the chairman should leave the chair, he would support him.

Mr. Kinnaird

rose, and moved that the chairman should leave the Chair.—This motion was negatived without a division, and the original motion was carried. The House resumed, and the report was ordered to be received to-morrow.