HC Deb 26 March 1823 vol 8 cc744-9

The House haying resolved itself into a committee of the whole House,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that if, during the closing years of the late war, there were but few occasions, or at least, fewer than had once been the case, in which parliament was called upon to address the crown, on subjects similar to that to which it was now his duty to call the attention of the House, that circumstance arose, not from any want of valour, or enterprise, or credit, or renown, on the part of those who conducted the naval service of this kingdom; but it arose from the singular circumstance, that, in the earlier part of the late war, the exploits of our navy had annihilated, as he might say, those powerful means of resistance which the enemy possessed; and which exploits then gave frequent occasion for addresses similar to that which he was about to propose. It would not be necessary for him to trouble the House at any length on the present subject; but he would say, that, if the recent rarity of these occasions had deprived the House of the opportunity of testifying the gratitude which it owed to those who had devoted their lives to the service of their country, he thought that that was an additional reason why, after so long enjoying all the advantages of that security, which the efforts of our navy had conferred on us; if, in the time of peace, there should occur such an event as the death of a brave admiral, covered with years and glory, it should be the duty of the House to take care that his remains should not sink into an obscure grave. He thought it would be consistent with their feelings, as it would be with their duty, not to forget, merely from the length of time that might have elapsed since the period when great naval services had been rendered by distinguished men, the true value of those services; but rather to hold out to succeeding ages the benefit of their great example. He was sure it was not necessary for him to trouble the House with any details of the lives and general services of the two great officers, to whose merits he was about to call its attention. To say of both that they had entered the service of their country at an early period, and had discharged their duties in the most exemplary manner, was merely to say that which might with truth be said of almost every officer in the British navy. But he should not do justice to those two gallant officers, whose memory he now claimed of parliament that it should perpetuate, if he did not advert to some of the great acts which had conferred immortal honour on their names. Earl St. Vincent, when sir J. Jervis, was appointed to the command of the Mediterranean fleet in the year 1795. Although, in the early part of the war, the success which had attended the British arms in the capture of Toulon, and the destruction of a considerable part of the French fleet there, had for a short period relieved us from the presence of an enemy in that quarter of the world, yet, such was the activity of the French government, that, in 1795, it was enabled to send forth a considerable fleet which ventured to undertake two actions against lord Howe. In 1796, events of great importance occurred on the continent of Europe; he meant the extraordinary and rapid successes which Buonaparté obtained, and which formed a new era in military tactics. The result of those victories was to sweep the Austrian armies from Italy, and to give France the command of all the ports of Italy; and that circumstance, combined with the junction with Spain, compelled the British troops to evacuate Corsica, and rendered it necessary for sir J. Jervis to quit the Mediterranean with the whole of his fleet, and leave that sea at the mercy of the French fleet. It was not possible for sir J. Jervis to prevent the circumstance; because his fleet had been greatly reduced, part of it having sailed to India; and with the ships which remained under his command, he was obliged to secure the retreat of the British troops from the islands of Corsica and Elba. Sir J. Jervis proceeded to Lisbon with his small fleet to refit. In 1797, he received a reinforcement from England, which enabled him again to proceed to sea with the hope of meeting and of defeating the enemy. He left Lisbon early in 1797, and proceeded off Cape St. Vincent. After cruising there for a few days, he had the singular good fortune to learn, that the, Spanish fleet, which was nearly double the force of his own, had left Cadiz, and was then in sight. It was easy to conceive, but difficult to describe, the feel- ings which animated the gallant commander and his officers at the sight of the enemy. Confident in his own strength, and in the courage of those under him, he did not hesitate, with his small fleet, to make a direct attack upon that of the enemy. At the first onset, he threw the enemy's line into confusion, and after a most gallant action, he obtained a complete victory. It was perhaps impossible at the present day to estimate the full value of that victory. When it was considered that the British commander had gained the battle with means and forces so inferior to those of his opponent, it was impossible not to come to the conclusion, that the effect of the victory must have been to dishearten the enemy, and to paralyze their efforts. He would pass over all the other merits of the great commander; but he could not avoid saying, that no man, to use a naval phrase, ever commanded a fleet in better style than earl St. Vincent—no man ever displayed more judgment in the selection of his officers—no man knew better how to enforce discipline—no man ever displayed greater promptitude in action, or made a better use of the means which were placed at his disposal, than that eminent individual. He was not saying too much, when he declared, that earl St. Vincent ranked with the greatest of those illustrious characters to whom the country was indebted for its glory and renown.—With respect to lord Duncan, he was unable to account for the circumstance of the debt of gratitude which the country owed to that commander not having been paid long ago. He had been unable to ascertain the cause of the omission, but he was convinced that the committee would consider the neglect which had occurred as a reason in itself why they should now do justice to the memory of that great man. As in the case of the earl St. Vincent, he would confine himself to a brief allusion to the greatest achievement of lord Duncan; namely, the battle of Camper down. Lord Duncan had been for some time watching the Dutch fleet, and during the period that he was so employed the mutiny at the Nore broke out. He would make no further allusion to that circumstance, than by stating, that it afforded lord Duncan an opportunity of displaying the singular energy of his mind; for although he was aware that a great part of his fleet was tainted with those principles which led to fatal results with respect to some of the individuals who entertained them, and which if acted upon would have produced the most disastrous consequences to the country, he nevertheless continued to blockade the Texel with only two sail of the line, making use of every artifice possible to make the enemy suppose that he was employing the whole of his fleet for that purpose. The artifice to which the commander resorted completely succeeded. In the latter part of 1797, the Dutch fleet put to sea: it amounted, he believed, to one more sail than the English fleet. Lord Duncan, as the earl St. Vincent had done before him, hailed the appearance of the hostile fleet as the sure forerunner of success. He immediately ran his fleet between the enemy and their own shore, and thus rendered it impossible for them to escape without a most desperate action being fought. The engagement took place. The result was a most decisive triumph for the British fleet. Out of the whole of the enemy's fleet, no less than nine ships surrendered. Lord Duncan had the high gratification of receiving on board of his own ship the sword of the Dutch commander, who was one of the most gallant men that ever paced a quarter-deck, and upon that memorable day reflected as much honour upon his country as lord Duncan had done upon England. Parliament would be doing great injustice to the English character if it did not take some measures for expressing its gratitude for the eminent services which the two great men whom he had brought under the notice of the committee had rendered to their country. The right hon. gentleman concluded with moving, 1. "That an humble Address be presented to his majesty, that his majesty would be graciously pleased to give directions that a Monument be erected in the cathedral church of St. Paul, London, to the memory of John Earl of St. Vincent, as a testimony of his distinguished eminence in the naval service of his country, and as a particular memorial of the glorious and important victory which he gained over the Spanish fleet off Cape St. Vincent on the 14th day of February 1797.—2. That his majesty would be graciously pleased to give directions that a Monument be erected in the cathedral church of St. Paul, London, to the memory of Adam Lord Viscount Duncan, as a testimony of his distinguished eminenee in the naval service of his country, and as a par- ticlar memorial of the glorious and important victory which be gained over the the Dutch fleet on the 11th day of October 1797; and to assure his majesty, that this House will make good the expenses attending the same."

Agreed to, nem. con.