HC Deb 28 January 1847 vol 89 cc594-7

rose to move— That there be laid before this House a Return of the number of corporal punishments, and the number of lashes in each punishment, on board Her Majesty's ship The Amazon, Captain Stopford, during the time of his command; stating the number of the establishment of that ship, and the stations on which serving during that time. The hon. Member said he had annually moved for a return of the corporal punishments inflicted in the navy, with a view of discouraging the system of flogging as much as possible. Quarterly returns were now made to the Government, who had an op- portunity of seeing in what ships the practice of flogging the men most prevailed. This precaution was of great use to the navy; but he regretted that the last year's return showed a very large proportion of such punishments. It appeared that in the navy one man in ten was flogged every year, while in the army the proportion was one in a hundred. The captain of the Amazon, Captain Stopford, had lately been tried by a court-martial, in consequence of the reports laid before the Admiralty showing an excessive severity of punishment on board his ship. The court-martial had acquitted Captain Stopford. He did not wish to try him again, or to prejudice his case while it was under consideration; but he wanted to know what the opinion of naval officers was as to the severity of punishment, or otherwise, and what constituted it. The naval regulations of 1733 were those by which corporal punishments were at present inflicted; and he maintained that they did not empower the captain to inflict two, three, and four dozen of lashes, as was now done, without a court-martial. The greatest number given last year without a court-martial was 48, and the lowest 3; the average, he believed, was 30 or 31. He thought that excessive, and that the captain was not justified by the regulations in inflicting so many lashes.


hoped that Mr. Hume would not press his Motion. It was impossible not to concur in many of the remarks which had fallen from him on the state of naval discipline; but the return asked for was of so peculiar a kind, as to induce him to hope that it would not be pressed for. Captain Stopford was the son of a distinguished Admiral, and he himself was a meritorious officer; and beyond the fact that a court-martial had been held, and a verdict of acquittal returned, nothing further was known. The minutes had not reached England; and it was evident that when an officer was acquitted of a charge, nothing could be more unjust than to publish all that told against him, and which induced the Lords of the Admiralty to direct the inquiry to be made, without any one being able to say a word in exculpation. Nothing was known of the reasons which influenced the court-martial in returning a verdict of acquittal. All that was known was, that officers of the highest reputation were members of the court. He would not pledge himself to produce the minutes when received; that would depend upon the decision of those whose opinions he represented. Under present circumstances, he thought it would be harsh and unjust to try Captain Stopford over again, which would be the effect of complying with the Motion, after his case had been disposed of by the only tribunal competent to deal with it.


was surprised that the hon. Member (Mr. Hume) should go back to the obsolete regulations of 1733; there had been a dozen different codes issued for the naval service since then. It was only misleading the House. Why not state what the present regulations were? It was notorious that those old regulations were not now supplied to officers, and that they acted under quite different instructions. It was most invidious, just after this gentleman had been tried and acquitted, to move for a return, not of the punishments in all the ships in the Mediterranean, but in his ship alone; it was unjust and cruel to an absent man.


had moved on a former occasion for a return of all the punishments inflicted in the fleet in a certain period, and was refused the return. If these degrading punishments were becoming fewer, that was only because of the influence of public opinion; nothing was so useful as letting in light upon these transactions. He did not see why there should be such a distinction between the army and the navy. In the navy, if the captain of a ship filled up the forms required by the Admiralty regulations, stating that the men flogged had been guilty of such or such an offence, he could administer punishment not exceeding forty-eight lashes; and a court-martial must acquit the captain, although he might have been guilty of great cruelty.


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, that if hon. Members who undertook to lecture officers on the infliction of punishment, had the command of a ship, they would be placed in a better position to enable them to form an opinion as to the infliction of that punishment. He should like to see one of those hon. Gentlemen in the command of a ship under difficult circumstances, with a mutinous insubordinate crew. He believed that officers of the navy felt the grave responsibility which devolved upon them in the infliction of punishment in a legal form, according to the Articles of War. The great fallacy of those who usually opposed corporal punishment in the navy was, they appeared to think that naval officers felt a pleasure in the infliction of punishment upon a man; but he could say that he had commanded two ships of war, and he was confident that he described the feelings of other officers when he stated there was no part of his duty which he felt so painful to his feelings as ordering the infliction of punishment. It was a fallacy also to form an opinion from the average amount of punishment. Any such return must be erroneous and misleading, because ships' crews differed so much. Sometimes an officer would get a crew who knew how to behave themselves, while at others, especially in war time, he would have a crew who were, perhaps, the very sweepings of the gaols, and with whom some prompt and effectual punishment was absolutely necessary. He recommended the hon. Member to inform himself more correctly before he made these kinds of statements in the House.


said, that all he had desired to get at was, not whether the decision of the court-martial had been right or not, but what had been the amount and the extent of the punishments inflicted. The gallant Admiral opposite (Sir C. Napier) must have been "dining," or he would not have understood his argument as he had done. The modern rules, he would be prepared to show, were more cruel than the old ones; and, as to what had fallen from the gallant Captain (Harris), all he could say was, that in that House naval officers never raised their voices except in favour of punishment. He had had no intention to cast any aspersion on Captain Stopford, and he was surprised that his Motion should have been construed into a charge against him. After what had fallen from the Government, he would not press his Motion.

Motion withdrawn.

House adjourned at half-past Twelve.