HC Deb 16 March 1812 vol 21 cc1310-3
Mr. Yorke

rose to propose a resolution for granting the sum of 80,000l. on account of the intended Breakwater in Plymouth Sound. The right hon. gentleman observed, that he should propose to vole the sum in the first instance for the better protection of his Majesty's ships in harbour, trusting that as the papers on the subject had been long on the table, they were fully known to gentlemen. The two principal points upon which he claimed attention were, in the first place, to ascertain whether it was expedient and necessary to do any thing in Plymouth Sound; and secondly, whether the plan on the table was the most beneficial. As to the first point, every gentleman who had turned his mind to, or was acquainted with the naval service, must conclude that the western ports and roadsteads were highly deserving of consideration. No doubt the naval service was the most popular, and that House naturally looked to it with a sort of affectionate regard, which the nature of the service generally assured, though he was one of those who was not disposed to think that service the only one to which the country was indebted for its protection, yet it was the most material part of its defence. The greater part of the world placed dependence on the British flag for protection; a flag which had carried the glory of their country to its highest pitch. The House, however, would not be justified in entering blindly into a proposition of the nature he was about to bring forward, without due consideration of its principles. The ports and arsenals of the navy were capable of great improvement, and when it was considered that the skill and courage of the navy were carried to the pitch of greatness he had just stated, it might be desirable, as affecting the safety of that navy, that the civil improvements should be attended to, and it might be worthy of consideration to inquire into the state of all the ports. He would, however, confine himself more particularly to the Western ports. For many years past, Plymouth Sound had been found to be the most magnificent arsenal for the rendezvous of ships of the line, but the Hamoaze for the last 20 years had not been judged so safe for ships of the line to anchor in. During the summer months there was some little security, but not for large fleets at any season. At the breaking out of the American war, in 1778, the fleet under admiral Keppel anchored here so late as the middle of October. Sub-sequent to 1790, not a ship of the line had been enabled to anchor there; they were obliged to go into Cawsand Bay, that part of the roadstead being a better shelter from the winds. It was, notwithstanding, a more confined anchorage, and open to tempestuous seas; the consequence was, that our fleets were compelled to use Torbay and Falmouth. If an adequate protection could be, given to Plymouth Sound, he should be justified by every naval man present in saying, that it would be preferable to either Torbay or Falmouth. Though Toxbay was a noble anchorage, yet in 1795, when lord Howe's fleet anchored there, they were caught by an easterly wind, which did some damage, and the greater part were in considerable danger. If gentlemen would look at the chart, supposing proper shelter was afforded in. Plymouth. Sound, they would perceive that the facilities in sailing from it with an easterly wind would be greater than from any of the western ports. Another advantage would be the opportunity of being prepared for the enemy's fleet. It was true, that at present the enemy had no fleet at Brest, but the House would not therefore suppose that at some future time that most important port of France might not have to boast of a fleet. At present there was but one solitary ship of the line in the harbour; there might be at some future time 25 or 30 ships, as formerly. If it would be proper to make Plymouth Sound a safe harbour, why not do it now, in order to. be prepared in the event of the enemy having a fleet at Brest? Another great object was, to save as much as possible, the wear and tear of the ships. With these, views it would be desirable to make it a place of safety for the western fleet. The question was now, whether the mode suggested for improving the harbour was the best? The committee would be aware that the idea was not modern. A variety of plans had been suggested. In 1806, lord Howick had directed the plan of Mr. Rennie to be taken into consideration, and persons were appointed to survey the Sound, and report upon the practicability of carrying the plan into execution. The result of the investigation was, the proposal of a Breakwater, leaving open a passage to the East and West, to cover not more than three nautical miles; the extent of the Breakwater to be something more than one mile; the depth of the water would not be great, not more than between 28 and 30 feet, sufficient however for receiving, any ship of the line. The opinion of Mr. Jackson, the present Master Attendant of Plymouth Yard, was, that the water would be of depth sufficient for thirty-six ships of the line; but supposing that not more than fifteen or twenty were safe moored under this proposed shelter, it would be a great gain to the country. The estimated expence of the whole of the works would be about 1,500,000l. That sum would be soon repaid in the saving which would arise in the fitting out of ships; With respect to the plan, it was proposed to form the Breakwater upon shoals now very dangerous, as the Shovel and Carlos Rocks, which do harm to the Sound. In proceeding on the works there would be no speculation, for it was well known what had been done at Cherbourg, similar, in many respects, to the present plan. It was first proposed by M. Vauban after the battle of La Hogue, but was not carried into effect till the year 1785. The situation of Cherbourg was different from Plymouth Sound, for it was exposed to the most tempestuous weather, with great rapidity of tides. It was proposed to sink a few cones, but that not succeeding, they had recourse to stones, and the works were completed in that manner. It was carried in extent two miles and three quarters in between nine and ten fathoms water, and now afforded complete shelter for the enemy's ships of the line, in all weathers. If, therefore, the works were completed at Cherbourg, why might they not be completed at Plymouth Sound, where the facilities were greater, the proposed road not being more than one mile, whereas the French road was two miles and three quarters; the shoals at Plymouth not being more than from 14 to 15 feet, and between 5 and 6 fathoms water. The probability of the success of the undertaking being so great, and the advantages likely to result so beneficial to the country, he frosted there could be no objection to the proposition. The right hon. gentleman then moved, "That a sum not exceeding 80,000l. be granted for the purchase of quarries, and to carry en the works in Plymouth Sound, in order to form a Breakwater."

The motion was agreed to.