HC Deb 09 February 1847 vol 89 cc1061-73

moved— That there be laid before this House, a Copy of the Returns of Corporal and other Punishments on board each of Her Majesty's Ships in the Royal Navy, in each year from the 1st day of January, 1844 to the 31st day of December, 1846, stating the name, rating, nature of the offence, date of punishment, the number of lashes, and remarks of commander in chief or senior officer, as to any excess of punishments or otherwise, according to the Schedules published and ordered in the Admiralty Instructions, dated the 1st day of January, 1844, for the Government of Her Majesty's Naval Service; stating, also, the number of Seamen and Marines employed in each year, and the average number flogged; distinguishing those with and those without trial by Court Martial; distinguishing the number of Commissioned and Warrant and Petty Officers; also, specifying the names of Her Majesty's Ships and Vessels, and the name of the Commanders in which no corporal punishments have been inflicted in any of these years.


seconded the Motion.


could assure the House, on the part of the officers of the British navy, that they had no wish whatever to inflict more punishment than they could prevent. He must say that that constant interference on the part of Members of that House—that constant telling to seamen that they were subject to inflictions of which they had not before complained—was likely to subvert the best interests of the British Navy, and bring the service into disrepute. To show how unfair it was to draw conclusions from the amount of punishment inflicted at one short period as compared with another in an officer's ship, he might adduce an instance, which he himself remembered, of a sailor being condemned to be flogged round the fleet: the ship of the officer under whom the sailor served was excepted, on account of the excellent discipline which the officer maintained in his vessel. That was a compliment which the gallant officer highly valued, and well he might; but shortly afterwards that same officer was given another ship, in which the same excellent discipline had not been previously maintained, and for the first three months he was in command, he was obliged to inflict more punishment than he had ever before inflicted. Now, how unjust would it be to take this latter period of that officer's command as a criterion of his treatment of his men. It was too much the habit of hon. Gentlemen to place before the public and the House exaggerated accounts of occurrences, without feeling responsible for their ever having taken place; and he must say, that to hold officers up before the country, and to make that House a place of appeal from the Admiralty, and tell a man over and over again who had been honourably acquited by a court-martial, that he had been guilty of cruelty—and he would say, that if he had been a member of that court- martial, he would have come to the same opinion that the members of it had—to pursue such a course, was to act contrary to the best interests of the Navy. With respect to the Motion of the hon. Gentleman, he had no objection to give the returns, but they were not to be retrospective.


said, it was impossible, after seeing the manner in which hon. Gentlemen brought forward, on every occasion, most invidious remarks respecting the officers of the Army and Navy, and seeing the unscrupulous and unconstitutional manner in which hon. Gentlemen attacked, on all occasions, the best public men, and prepossessed all whom they could influence against officers who had done their duty—it was impossible to view their proceedings without jealousy and suspicion, For his own part, if he were to divide the House alone on the Motion, he would oppose it.


said, he was most unfortunately absent from his place when the hon. Member near him introduced this Motion; but he felt bound to state that it was the feeling of the Board of Admiralty that what the Army did, the Navy both could and ought to do; and as the returns of the number of corporal punishments in every regiment in the service had already been conceded by his right hon. Friend the Secretary at War (who was prepared to lay the returns of the first year on the Table in the course of the evening), so he thought, with every respect to the high character and good intentions of the officers of the navy, that they ought to be prepared to submit to the same conditions, and to grant the returns, provided they were not made retrospective. Publicity, he thought, would prove a wholesome check; for whilst it would not intimidate the good officer, it would make the man of hasty and impetuous temper cautious in the punishment he inflicted. Whilst he could not consent to give these returns for the last two years, when no notice or caution had been given that they would be expected—whilst this was the case, he was directed to assent to the Motion prospectively, and to state that in future returns precisely similar to those ordered in the Army should be laid upon the Table by the Admiralty, giving the punishment inflicted in each ship. He anticipated no evil from such a step. He admitted it involved a great change; but if they did retain the power of inflicting punishment at all (and even his hon. Friend who made the Motion admitted that was necessary), they could only maintain it by convincing every reasonable person that it was subject to the same check which the excercise of power in every department was subjected to. He held in his hand a letter from Sir Hugh Pigott, commanding the station on the western coast of Ireland, the contents of which would, he was sure, be so agreeable to the House, that he needed no apology for referring to it. The letter requested him, in handing in the return for the December quarter, to direct the attention of the Lords of the Admiralty to the gratifying fact, that in thirteen vessels of war, with 1,400 supernumerary marines under his command, not an offence had been committed calling for the infliction of corporal punishment, notwithstanding the harassing duties which they had had to perform, and the temptations to which they had been exposed in their frequent visits to the shore for the transfer of provisions from the vessels to the various depâts in the neighbourhood. The letter also stated, that in the former return for the September quarter, but one instance of corporal punishment had occurred. That only showed what might be done by a good system, in maintaining a power which must be maintained, which could not be dispensed with, but which he believed would be exercised with greater discretion than it ever had been hitherto, when it should become certain that the amount of punishment inflicted would be made the subject of an annual return. He admitted that they could not judge from the experience of a month or two; but when they found a great amount of flogging kept up for a long period of time, there must be something wrong either in the officer or the crew. He might add, that when his right hon. Friends came into office, an order was made, in August last, to the effect that no punishment should be inflicted on a station, without the consent of the senior officer in command. He was prepared to give his hon. Friend returns which he believed he would be contented with, viz., returns precisely similar to those which his right hon. Friend the Secretary at War was prepared to lay on the Table.


said, he regarded the former Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose, relative to punishments on board the Amazon, as unwise, ungenerous, and unjust towards Captain Stopford, who, he was glad to say, had been honourably ac- quitted by the court-martial. In acceding to the present Motion, he did not at all agree with the Secretary of the Admiralty in making the returns prospective, because the officers had had no warning that such returns were to be given. He said, let returns be given for as many years back as the hon. Member thought proper; and from what he knew of the service, he was sure no officer need be ashamed to have his punishments brought before the House to be searched into as much as the House thought fit. The remarks of the Secretary of the Admiralty would only encourage the idea, that captains of the Navy were tyrants unfit to be entrusted with discretionary power. The Secretary of the Admiralty had also referred to what he must call an extraordinary order—that the captain of a ship on a foreign station was not to inflict a punishment until it had been submitted to the senior officer in command. Why where were they to find the senior officer? There might be no opportunity of communicating with him. Why, an officer in the Mediterranean would have to apply to Sir William Parker at Lisbon before he could inflict a punishment. Surely the Secretary to the Admiralty had said so. He thought that the regulation made by the Admiralty many years ago—before 1844—was the best. That order required all naval officers to make returns of punishments regularly every quarter to the Board of Admiralty; similar returns also had to be presented to the Commander-in-chief, and if too much punishment had been inflicted, it was quite competent for either of those authorities to call the officer to account; and he knew that in some cases officers had been called to book when an excessive amount of punishment appeared in the returns. He did not object to the present Motion. Whether the hon. Member introduced it from a love of popularity, or from any other cause, he did not know; but he could assure the House that throughout the whole British navy the wish of the captains, with a very few exceptions, was, if possible, to abolish corporal punishments. Such being the case, whilst he did not oppose the Motion, he thought the matter would be best left in the hands of the Navy.


Permit me to explain to the House what my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty intended to say. Few men who had been so short a time in the Admiralty could have got up their work so well as he has done. I only wish to say that the order to which my hon. Friend referred is, that every punishment in Portsmouth, Plymouth, and Sheerness, must be countersigned by the admiral before it is inflicted. [Sir C. NAPIER: More shame if it is so.]


said, if naval officers had conducted themselves in the admirable manner described by some of the previous speakers, he could not conceive why the gallant Commodore should object to the returns. [Sir C. NAPIER: I did not object.] He ridiculed the idea that discipline could not be maintained on board a man-of-war without flogging. Those who supported that doctrine seemed to have less confidence in the commanders of ships of war than in those of merchantmen. The number of ships in the mercantile marine was ten times larger than that of ships of war, and millions and millions' worth of property was intrusted to the care of their captains; and yet, although they had the power to flog, it was a rare thing to hear of that power being exercised. He thought the course taken by the Government in granting these returns, would raise the character of the Navy. It would teach the seamen to revere the flag of their country, and they should not see them, as in the last war, driven by flogging and harsh treatment to serve under the banner of the enemy.


suggested that his hon. Friends opposite would have acted more wisely, if they had agreed at the Board of Admiralty more definitely what were the returns they were willing to grant, rather than come to the House with each of them of a different opinion. He certainly did think that checks upon the exercise of the power of flogging ought to exist; but at the same time, the question ought not to be argued as if flogging was not permitted elsewhere but in the royal Navy. It was felt to be the only means of maintaining a discipline necessary for the safety of a vessel during its lonely transit across the Atlantic or other oceans, many miles apart from land and the civil authorities; and the power of flogging was given to captains of merchant ships. The civil law also sanctioned the infliction of corporal punishments in particular cases to repress crime; and that House, within the last two or three years, had passed two measures authorizing corporal punishments as a means of preventing crime, and it had been found to be entirely successful. They had passed a Bill which enacted cor- poral punishments as the means of putting down attacks upon Her Majesty; and a second Bill for the same purpose, in cases where some half idiots, for the sake of personal notoriety, destroyed works of art which were publicly exhibited, as in the British Museum. In both these instances, corporal punishment had been successful in the great object for which all punishment was designed, namely, the prevention of crime. The House, then, ought not to be carried away with the cry that a custom so abhorrent to the feelings of every one, ought to be abolished in the Navy, as if that were the only place in which it was inflicted. There was a wide difference, too, in corporal punishments, and in the manner in which they were inflicted, in the army and in the navy; and therefore it was no argument to say, that, because the return of punishments in the army was made, a similar return for the navy ought to be given. If the House wished to know the system of discipline, he thought every end would be answered by a general return of the numbers who had undergone punishment, and the crimes for which it had been inflicted. But when they required the returns to specify the particular nature of the offences, they constituted themselves judges, and the officers who feared censure would be making friends with hon. Members to make speeches and a flourish in their favour. They would destroy the service when they taught the sailor to look to other authorities than the Crown both for reward or blame, and the officer to regard the decision of a professional tribunal as to professional conduct as not a final decision. If the Government, however, thought fit to grant the returns, he should not divide against them. They were the persons who represented the Crown, and had, doubtless, well considered what they should give and what they should refuse. He, however, did not think that officers ought to punish or award pardon for offences with a view to returns to be made to the House of Commons; they ought to be actuated by no other motive than a sense of duty.


said, that in the observations his right hon. Friend had just made, he had overlooked the fact of a return having been consented to by Government with reference to the army at the close of the last Session, upon which his hon. Friend the hon. Secretary to the Admiralty proposed to frame a similar return for the navy. When they remembered the circumstances under which the subject of corporal punishment, both in the army and the navy, was brought under the consideration of the House last Session—and the deep interest which was taken by the people, from one end of the country to the other, as to the effects of corporal punishment which had been inflicted in the army at that time—he thought the House would admit that any returns that could be granted of the number of punishments which took place either in the Army or Navy, and of the manner in which those punishments were awarded and inflicted, which would not be injurious to the respective services, ought to be granted by the Crown. With that feeling, and being convinced, from his acquaintance with the army, that it would do no possible injury to the service, he had consented at the close of the last Session to give a return to the House of the number of corporal punishments which were inflicted in the Army, naming the regiments in which they had taken place, but abstaining from giving the names either of the officers who composed the courts by which sentence was passed, or of the parties upon whom the punishment was inflicted. He (Mr. F. Maule) still adhered to the opinion that punishments in the Army ought to be submitted to the test of public opinion. He said this, not only as a Member of that House, but as having served for some years in the Army; and he maintained that no injury would be done to the service if the public were acquainted with every punishment which took place in the ranks of the Army. Those punishments were inflicted under the law by competent tribunals; and, therefore, so long as he had any voice in the matter, it certainly would not be raised to withhold any information he could give the public on the subject. Not only was he prepared to afford this information with reference to corporal punishments, but he should be quite prepared to lay before the House a detailed statement of the whole system of military imprisonment, of the number of persons who passed through our military prisons, of the committals and recommittals which took place, and generally of the effects which that system had upon the discipline of the army. From such a course, he was sure, no officer of the British Army would dissent; and, he might observe, that, since the 13th of August, when he (Mr. F. Maule) assented to the returns to which he had alluded, he had received no complaint from any officer of the Army that he had allowed the production of returns which were likely to be injurious to the service. He would suggest that his hon. Friend (Mr. Hume) would do well to take the returns in the form in which they would be laid before the House, in compliance with the Motion of the hon. Member for Winchester. In the course of a few days those returns would be placed upon the Table of the House.


conceived that the subject of military discipline was a proper matter of consideration for the House of Commons. They ought to know what progress was made in the abolition of a punishment which they all desired. Notwithstanding the high authority that had been referred to, he should decidedly doubt the policy of laying on the Table of the House of Commons the particulars of each offence, with the names of the officers. [Mr. F. MAULE: The names of the regiments, not of the officers.] But the names of the regiments would disclose the names of the officers. The argument of the hon. and gallant Officer (Captain Berkeley) had convinced him that they might draw erroneous inferences from the returns. The same officers had been able to maintain discipline without corporal punishment, who, under other circumstances, were compelled to inflict it. If the House of Commons were to interfere, by examining into each particular case of punishment, the discipline of the service would be materially interrupted. If, however, the Government did not oppose these returns, he should not be disposed to oppose them; whilst he said, that he thought the modification proposed by the Secretary to the Admiralty was a most dangerous one. The hon. Gentleman said, he would grant the return prospectively, but not retrospectively — that he would not give it for the past two years, but was willing to give it for the next two years; because the officers could not have been aware that it would have been called for, and that their names would be presented to the House of Commons. Now, if the House sanctioned that, he thought a great reflection would be cast, first upon naval officers, and next upon the Board of Admiralty. It was his conviction, that, generally speaking, the officers of the navy wished these punishments to be abolished. A wrong-headed man might wish still to inflict the punishment; but, he believed, the officers of the Navy generally wished them to be abolished. That also must be the desire of the Board of Admiralty. But the Board of Admiralty had a most effectual check against any improper punishment on the part of the naval officers. Let them, if they found the power was abused, or that an officer could not maintain discipline without resorting to severe punishments—that was, without carrying them to excess; for he denied that in every case it was to be presumed they might have been avoided—let them mark the disapprobation of the Crown at the conduct of that officer, and teach the service to look to the Crown, and not to the House of Commons. He was, therefore, decidedly of opinion, that if abuses had prevailed, and the returns had to be given, they ought to know it; but he did not believe, with respect to these returns, they would be discreditable either to the officers or to the Navy. He thought, however, it would be discreditable to say they should not be given now, but should be given in future, when the officers would be aware that their names would be printed, and the House of Commons might exercise some power over them. This would be saying, indirectly, that the House of Commons was to have some direct and immediate control over the service. He hoped, therefore, if the returns were to be granted, they would, in justice to the service and the Board of Admiralty, be granted as moved for.


said, he thought his hon. Friend had been misunderstood. What he understood him to say was, not that he would give these returns, but that prospectively he would give another return, not identically the same, but one which the Admiralty could allow to be made public. [Sir R. PEEL: Surely the hon. Gentleman said these officers had had no caution.] What caught his attention was, that, as returns had been already given for the Army essentially different from those moved for, so his hon. Friend believed that he could frame similar returns for the Navy, which were calculated to inform the public more justly than those moved for. He thought, therefore, his hon. Friend's proposition was not liable to the objections made to it by the right hon. Baronet.


said, as there appeared to be so much difference of opinion amongst the Members of the Board of Admiralty themselves respecting these returns, he thought, before the House came to a decision, the Board should decide among themselves, and state to the House the precise returns they thought ought to be given. He hoped the returns so agreed on would not be liable to the objections he felt to the returns moved for, and still more strongly to those the Government assented to.


I understood my noble Friend at the head of the Board of Admiralty, that he thought, with the concurrence of that Board, that there was no objection to give returns of each ship, as similar returns had been given with regard to each regiment in the Army. I conceived that as he is the resposible head of that department, no doubt the question had been seriously considered, and that there was no objection. But, Sir, what would have been said if the opposite line had been taken—if the Government had said it was impossible to give these returns? Insinuations would have been thrown out, and more mischief has already been done by these discussions than could have arisen by the production of the returns. I have seen on many occasions that the concealment of certain facts induces the public to conceive that enormities exist in the various branches of the military and naval services, while, were the whole circumstances known, it would be seen at once that the officers were quite blameless. I am not, then, in general, a friend to concealment; I do not think it is any great advantage to the public service; and this being the fact, no difficulty was made about the military returns. But with regard to the returns of punishment on board each ship, a difficulty did arise, as there is some difference in the constitution of the Navy and the military system of discipline. There could be no reason for concealment in the Army, which is always on land, and generally within reach of the various stations; but with respect to the Navy, the difference of circumstances required somewhat different treatment. I think my noble Friend at the head of the Admiralty was perfectly right to consent to the returns being given, such returns as have been described, and I myself see no objection to their production. I am quite satisfied that with regard to the officers of the Navy, my hon. Friend opposite has given them a true character; and I feel convinced that they do not exercise the powers—the vast and terrible powers—placed in their hands with undue severity. In that opinion, Sir, I am confirmed by knowing that of the officer lately brought to a court-martial—I allude to Captain Stopford, against whom charges of exercising undue severity on board his ship were preferred—that in his case the charges were completely overthrown and disproved by the evidence produced. I agree with my hon. Friend, that it would be unfortunate that the returns for the years 1845 and 1846 should not be given, because the officers of the navy of that time, not expecting those returns would be moved for, might have acted less cautiously than otherwise. I have no such belief, and could not for such an assigned reason withhold the returns. I trust, however, that my hon. Friend the Member for Montrose will withdraw the Motion which he has submitted for the approval of the House. This Motion proposes that the names of commanders of vessels, on board which no corporal punishment was inflicted during those years, should be given; thus holding up those officers to praise and commendation for their apparent discipline, whereas it might be that some of those commanders succeeded to ships where admirable discipline had been established by former officers, and therefore were less deserving of credit than those who probably might have inflicted corporal punishment. I cannot agree to any such Motion. I am willing, as I before said, to assent to the production of returns regularly proved and drawn up similarly to those respecting the Army; and I am confident that if corporal punishment is to be maintained in the Navy, as I believe it is necessary, it is desirable there should be no concealment of the facts, the production of which, instead of being dishonourable to the service, will be attended with honour and credit.


agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War, that public opinion should exercise influence on officers in command of districts; but the first duty of an officer was to see that discipline was maintained, and the second that it was maintained with the least degree of punishment. He did not think it would be fair to distinguish those regiments in which corporal punishment was inflicted, from those in which none had taken place. Such a proceeding would be in the highest degree calculated to bring about a bad state of feeling, and to lead to breaches of discipline which might not be corrected without great difficulty.


said, that after what had been stated, and the willingness shown by the Government to place the Navy returns upon the same footing as those of the Army, he considered he would be best con- sulting the object he had in view by not pressing for the returns. His object was not to gain popularity, for he was above that long ago, but to improve the condition of the Navy. He, therefore, begged to withdraw the Motion.


defended the officers of the navy against any charge of wishing to continue the practice of corporal punishment on board their ships. He begged to say that so far from desiring the continuance of the punishment, several eminent officers had advised the Government to diminish the punishment, as their desire was to see it gradually but safely abolished.


said, there was abundant evidence adduced to show that the Board of Admiralty presented nothing short of a state of mutiny; and whether it was to be brought back to a condition of discipline without the infliction of corporal punishment, was more than he could tell. The right hon. Gentlemen in the present Government connected with the Admiralty were themselves at variance, while their predecessors in the late Government were also at issue. It would, therefore, be very desirable that the House should come to some distinct resolution on the subject, to prevent future misunderstandings.

Motion withdrawn. House adjourned at half-past Twelve o'clock.