HC Deb 17 March 1834 vol 22 cc349-55
Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

rose to bring forward his motion for a grant of 5,000l. to Captain Ross, in consideration of the services rendered by him to science, and the sufferings he endured in his expedition to discover the north-west passage. He fully agreed with the hon. member for Oldham, that the public money ought not to be given away for mere asking. This he could assure the hon. Member should not he done in the case of Captain Ross, if the House should agree to this vote. Nothing had contributed more to raise the character of this country for naval enterprise and skill than the efforts that had been made for the discovery of the northwest passage. The voyages of Franklin and Parry had placed the discovery more within reach than it ever had been before. Captain Ross certainly had not succeeded in the object of his expedition; but the result of his voyage was so far useful as to show clearly the direction in which a passage was not to be found. Captain Ross himself was unable to meet the ex- penses of such an undertaking; but the necessary outlay of the expedition was supplied by the princely munificence of a merchant and citizen of London. Captain Ross sailed in 1829, and was absent four years and a-half. He and his crew sustained hardships unexampled in the annals of the British marine. He ascertained that no passage was to be found as far as latitude 74. This was a most important point to be determined. It must be recollected, that Captain Franklin and Captain Parry had given it as their opinion that a passage was practicable in a certain direction. This Captain Ross made trial of, and ascertained that a passage was not practicable through the inlet mentioned by these navigators. This discovery alone entitled Captain Ross to recompense from the public, because Franklin and Parry having stated that a passage might be found in this direction, it would be the duty of Government to send out an expedition to determine whether such was the case or not. Captain Ross saved the public the expense of this expedition. Only one man of the crew had died from the commencement to the close of his arduous undertaking, though in a climate where the thermometer was occasionally ninety-two degrees below zero. This fact alone sufficiently proved the care and attention of Captain Ross to the health and comfort of his men. The hon. Member read a letter from Sir John Franklin to the nephew of Captain Ross, not knowing the address of the Captain himself, expressing his congratulations on the safe return of the Captain, and his perseverance and ability in the prosecution of the object with which he set out. He ought to mention, that this was not the only service rendered by Captain Ross to the public, for, in 1818, he discovered in Baffin's Bay a most valuable fishery, by which this country had since then been considerably enriched, as could be attested by several hon. Members of that House. The hon. Member concluded by moving the following Resolution:—"That it is the opinion of this Committee, that a sum not exceeding 5,000l. be granted to his Majesty, in order to enable him to reward Captain Ross, of the royal navy, for the arduous and meritorious services performed by him in his voyage to the Arctic Sea, in the promotion of science and maritime discovery."

Mr. Hutt

had formerly presented a Pe- tition on this subject, and it was one in which his constituents were deeply interested. He fully concurred in all that had been said by the hon. and learned Member as to the merits of Captain Ross. His country had drawn no less than 2,000,000l. from the fishery discovered by him on the southern coast of Baffin's Bay. Services of this kind were those that ought to be rewarded with pensions. He had as much dislike as most men to the Pension-list, but there were still some names which it gave him pleasure to see, and he would mention in particular that of Admiral Rodney.

Sir Robert Inglis

regretted, that he felt himself called upon to make any opposition to a Motion of this kind, nor should he do so were it not that it involved a principle. He was not satisfied with the part taken by the Government in this business. If Captain Ross were in truth deserving of a reward it was the duty of Government to come forward and propose it. The Motion seemed, as it now stood, to be the act of a private individual. It was true, indeed, that the noble Lord (Lord Althorp) said that the Government concurred in the proposition; but in place of giving to the Crown the grace and favour of such a proposal, the noble Lord admitted a private individual in no way connected with the naval service, to bring it forward. This, however, might be considered a mere matter of form; but it involved an important principle. A person who wore the King's uniform should not apply for reward through a private individual. He should expect his reward from the public at the recommendation of the Sovereign. During the whole time of his absence on this expedition Captain Ross was receiving half-pay as Post Captain in the navy. He must, therefore, be considered as still in the public service. A Motion of this kind should not be thrown out to be scrambled for in the House. It should have been brought forward officially by one of his Majesty's Ministers. The House had no means of knowing what were the merits of Captain Ross, or what he had done. Perhaps his right hon. friend (Sir James Graham), being at the head of the Admiralty, and having, of course, seen his papers, was the only person who could tell what he had done. Reference had been made to a voyage of Captain Ross in 1818. This voyage was undertaken, not as a private speculator, but at the King's expense. After that voyage, undertaken in company with Captain Parry, without consulting that officer or without his consent, Captain Ross announced that he had discovered certain mountains, to which he gave the name of the Croker mountains. Now the truth was, that such mountains did not exist, for Captain Parry subsequently sailed over these very mountains, at least over that part where they were said by Captain Ross to be situated. Captain Ross's last visit was as much for the recovery of his own character as for the discovery of the North Pole. He had as yet to learn that Captain Ross had gone westwards by ten degrees, or to the north by five degrees, as far as Captain Parry; and as the latter had received no reward for his services, he could not see what especial claim the former had to a parliamentary grant. He should, therefore, meet the Motion by a direct negative.

Lord Althorp

was inclined to believe that the hon. Baronet correctly explained the motives which induced Captain Ross to undertake his expedition, when he said it was for the recovery of his own reputation, and it was owing to his Majesty's Government entertaining that opinion that they had declined coming forward to propose a grant for the purpose of rewarding him. It might then be asked why in such a case they had recommended the Crown to consent to the presental of Captain Ross's petition? To such a question, supposing it to be asked, he (Lord Althorp) would reply, that, considering the feeling of the country to be in favour of rewarding Captain Ross, his Majesty's Ministers would have been acting a most ungracious part had they, by recommending the Crown not to consent to the presenting, of the Petition, prevented a discussion of the subject in the House of Commons. Although, however, he thought the Government would not have been justified in recommending the grant to the House on the ground that the expedition was not undertaken by order of his Majesty's Government, he was disposed as an individual Member of that House to say that, considering the feelings of the country, they would be perfectly justified in acceding to the Motion; and such being his opinion, he was prepared, in the result of a division, to give it his support.

Sir Edward Codrington

said, he would give his cordial support to the Motion.

Mr. O'Connell

thought, that the grant proposed was an exceedingly stingy one, and ought to have been much greater.

Mr. Aaron Chapman

was of opinion that in a commercial point of view Captain Ross's services were well worth the grant proposed. He regretted it was so small in amount.

Mr. George Frederick Young

thought, that the second person in command of the expedition was quite as much entitled to reward as Captain Ross, and with a view of enabling his Majesty to bestow on him such reward, he begged to move as an Amendment that, instead of 5,000l., a sum of 7,500l. be granted, on the understanding that the difference should be paid to Commander Ross.

Sir Robert Peel

wished the House clearly to ascertain the real grounds on which they were about, as he now believed they were, to bestow a grant upon Captain Ross. Was it in consideration of his services, or out of respect for his character and admiration of that chivalrous spirit he was alleged to have manifested? If in consideration of his services, he thought they should have been previously laid in detail before the House, so that they might know exactly what they were. On the other hand, if the vote was to be agreed to out of respect for the character of Captain Ross, and admiration of his chivalry, he feared there would be many equally strong claims for similar grants. He thought that the seamen and others who had shared the dangers of the expedition with Captain Ross ought to have shared the reward, and in order to have clearly ascertained what those actual services were, he regretted much the hon. and learned Member had not moved for a Committee of Inquiry instead of at once proposing a grant of money. This would have relieved them from the dangerous precedent which he feared they were about establishing by adopting the course proposed by the hon. and learned Member.

Sir James Graham

said, that as an individual Member of the House he would support the vote, and he would do so on the ground that every individual composing the expedition, with the single exception of Captain Ross, had already been rewarded for their services by the Admiralty. To the seamen the Admiralty had allotted double pay for the whole time they were employed; while every officer, with the single exception of Captain Ross, had received promotion in some shape or other. That the services of Captain Ross did not deserve to pass unrewarded, every one he thought, must admit; and as the Admiralty had no power to bestow such reward, he trusted the House would accede to the Motion.

Mr. Aglionby

thought it would be far preferable to refer the matter to a Select Committee. The House would then see for what services they were voting, and would regulate the amount of their vote accordingly.

Sir Henry Hardinge

agreed with the hon. and, learned Member, and, as an officer, considered that Captain Ross would be more honoured by having his case brought before a Committee than he would be by any vote or grant they might come to in his favour at that hour, (two o'clock in the morning). As to the men that served under the gallant Captain, they had only had their bare bargain; and he would say in the name of the sailors in his Majesty's service, that these seamen were as well entitled to be rewarded as Captain Ross himself. He thought that his hon. and learned friend who moved the Resolution, would do more justice to Captain Ross, and his officers and crew, by altering his Motion for a grant of 5,000l. to one referring the matter to a Select Committee. He felt certain, that no Gentleman who might be on that Committee would alter the grant to a less sum than 5,000l.

Lord Sandon

begged the hon. and learned Gentleman to submit the case to a Select Committee, since in that way he would best consult the feelings of the gallant Captain.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

, said, that he should be extremely unwilling to resist the inclinations of the House. He was most anxious that the services of Captain Ross should be better understood by the House, though he thought that he had already fully explained to them the great services the gallant Captain had rendered to geographical science in solving one great question that had hitherto been undecided. Under the present circumstances he had no objection to withdraw his Motion in favour of a Committee, and he should, therefore, when the Speaker resumed the Chair, give notice of a Motion for having the matter referred to a Select Committee.

The House resumed; the Chairman reported progress, and obtained leave to sit again.