HC Deb 25 July 1842 vol 65 cc614-9

On the motion that a sum of 60,000l. be granted to her Majesty, for a gratuity to the officers, marines, and seamen employed in the late war on the coast of Syria,

Mr. Hume

wished to be informed of the reasons for this grant. He did not understand the principle of giving soldiers and sailors gratuities of this sort. We kept an army and a navy; and paid constantly for them; then why should they be paid extra when wanted? The Syrian expedition, he thought, had been a very improper one, and at all events there was no necessity for this extraordinary grant, similar to that which had been, in his opinion, so improperly awarded in the case of the " untoward" Navarino affair.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

thought his explanation would be deemed satisfactory. Every one would agree with him that it would be most improper, in discussing a question of this sort, to enter at all into the merits of the policy in furtherance of which, in obedience to orders which they disputed not, our gallant sailors had been engaged. The gallantry of our troops or of our sailors ought fairly to be considered with reference to what had been the prevailing custom of warfare. That custom had been, it was well known, to give a portion, at least, of all captures to the captors. Now, our soldiers and sailors had stormed and carried Acre with a skill and bravery which had been the admiration of Europe, and in the fortress had been found a great quantity of stores, &c. According to the old practice these stores would have been sold and the produce distributed among the captors. As, however, the goods were delivered along with the fortress to the power whose property they properly were, it was thought fair to give to our brave seamen and soldiers some compensation for the loss of what would, under ordinary circumstances, have become their lawful booty. There had been many parallel cases. In fact, the practice had been uniformly such as he had represented, and except in the case of Navarino, where a question of disobedience to orders arose, it had not been disputed. On the ground of precedent alone the grant was quite justifiable, but when it was considered that our forces had, in a few hours, taken a fortress which had baffled the most renowned and consummate generals of Europe, surely no one could grudge these gratuities. These were the circumstances under which he recommended the vote to the House, and he did trust, that when they considered the gallantry and good conduct of our troops, they would be of opinion that this gratuity was well deserved.

Lord C. Hamilton

was of opinion, that the placing those officers and seamen on full pay during a time of peace was of itself a sufficient remuneration for all their services. He must say, he thought it rather curious that the good conduct and courage of the troops should be urged as a claim for extra pay. If it were to constitute such claim there were soldiers and sailors in other parts of the world equally deserving, or if they looked at home they would find plenty of operatives whose good conduct in an alarming period of distress merited every return at the hands of the Government. For his own part, he thought that if a gratuity was to be awarded at all, those soldiers and sailors had the better claim to it who had not had the opportunity of distinguishing themselves, and gaining the renown and honour attained by their comrades in Syria. The officers and sailors whose services they were now discussing had obtained the advantage of achieving for themselves high honour and distinction. Those of rank among them bore on their breasts glittering marks of the favour of the Sovereigns of Europe. Those in less elevated positions had achieved a credit which might be their proudest boast. It was those who were absent from the scene of such exploits who were to be pitied, and for whom, in his opinion, they ought rather to grant a gratuity.

Captain Pechell

thought that the noble Lord should follow up his proposition, and instead of consenting to reward our foreign ambassadors and attaches, should propose to reward those noblemen and gentlemen who were disappointed of obtaining such honourable offices. The noble Lord seemed to desire that our forces should only be rewarded for the cannon and stores they absolutely captured. Let hon. Members recollect, however, that the Government always had a good haul at the prize-money before the soldiers and sailors could share it, and that it too frequently turned out a miserable pittance after all. As for being satisfied with their stars and orders, however much they might be esteemed, something more substantial was required; and with respect to the argument that full pay in peace was a sufficient reward for service, the noble Lord should recollect how many expenses a captain was put to when he took the command of a ship of war. Why, he was obliged to entertain ambassadors and to feast bishops, just as if he was a prince himself. [Laughter.] They might laugh, but there was a vote on the paper now of 931. for the expense of carrying the Bishop of Exeter to the Scilly Isles. Who, he should like to know, en- tertained the right rev. Prelate on his passage? After all, the vote was hardly worth the conversation it occasioned. When the money came to be divided it would be a very poor pittance, arid certainly a very inadequate reward to our brave marines for all the perils and dangers they had undergone.

Sir Charles Napier

said, that the argument of the noble Lord was one of the most extraordinary he had ever heard in or out of the House. He wanted to reward those who were not present in Syria for no other reason than because they were absent. He would not propose a grant of the description now under discussion, but he was not prepared to vote against it. The noble Lord talked of promotions and honours and rewards being showered down upon the officers and men who were in Syria. True, they had been showered down, and in a very extraordinary manner, by both the late and present Governments. But he should like to ask the noble Lord what the men who did the service would receive? Why the money would not pay for the clothes which those men who were obliged to act both as soldiers and sailors had worn out in the service. Their prize-money would not buy them a pair of shoes, or a jacket and trousers. Would the committee grudge the little they were to have, then? He did not think that the British Government ought ultimately to pay these charges; they ought to go to the Turkish government, and get this sum of 60,0001. from them, and that government ought to think themselves lucky if it got off so cheap. The exertions of the allies had restored to the Turks a kingdom; and he was sorry for it, for he did not think that they deserved it. Also, a large fleet, of the salvage of which the sum of 60,000l. was a part. He thought the Government ought to propose three times this sum, and insist upon the Sultan paying the money for that fleet and all the stores which he got chiefly through the bravery of the British. The noble Lord had said it was not a war;—it was very much like one, as the Duke of Wellington had said. It was one of those "little wars" which the late Government had carried on, and he did not think that 60,000l. was too great a reward for the men who had fought in it.

Mr. Hume

wished to know how many persons were to share in this gratuity He found that there were 15,074 men and 50 ships in the Mediterranean at one particular time, at the beginning of the war. Were they all to share? He should like to know upon what plan the Government intended to proceed in the distribution of this money. He belie red it would turn out that the seamen would receive about 4s. 6d. each. To call it a reward, then, was a mockery.

Sir G. Cockburn

was somewhat surprised at the turn the debate had taken, and particularly at what had fallen from the noble Lord, with whom, however, he agreed so far as to believe that the officers and men serving in Syria, if they had known they were to receive no prize- money or gratuity whatever, would have done their duty, and been as bold and brave as they were on that occasion. It was certainly most proper for a nation like this to reward its officers and men when they had done their duty; it always had a good effect in awakening their zeal and stimulating their activity. But he had risen to explain to the hon. Member for Montrose that this grant was to be given to those officers and men only who were engaged in the war in Syria, for war it was. The gallant Commodore was mistaken if he thought that all the ships at Alexandria were to share in it. He was ready to admit that it was a very small sum; but at the same time It would be gratifying to those seamen who, as the gallant Commodore had said, acted both as soldiers and sailors. With regard to officers being satisfied when placed on full pay, and their anxiety to be employed, he would only remark that in almost every instance when a captain of the navy was appointed to a ship in time of peace, be was a loser and not a gainer by it. Some difficulty was experienced in manning those ships, the crews of which had behaved so gallantly, because they could have remained in the merchant service, but their cheerfulness and zeal in coining forward to serve their country were, he would not say unparalleled, but certainly pre-eminent amongst similar instances of British valour. The manner in which they ran down the enemy's coast, and took every fortified place one after the other, and then ended by that great operation, the taking of Acre, reflected the highest honour upon those who were engaged in that war, and upon the country generally; and therefore he must say that it would be unworthy of the House of Commons if they did not unanimously agree to this vote.

Vote agreed to.

The House resumed. Committee to sit again.

Adjourned at half-past one o'clock.