HC Deb 05 March 1847 vol 90 cc994-1004

On the first Vote,


said: I hope my gallant associates, hon. Members belonging to the profession whose affairs we are now discussing, will not deem me an interloper if I make a few observations on the present occasion. Whilst I greatly approve, and am satisfied with the general character of the estimates for the present year, and admire the ability with which they were brought forward, I must at the same time express great regret and disappointment that no vote was taken for a purpose which I think of the first importance, and even indispensable to the safety of the State in these times; and which I cannot doubt the Committee would have received by acclamation, and the country would learn with general approbation—I mean a vote to provide, in some form or other, for a reserve of seamen to be organized and kept always ready to form fighting crews, for a moderately extended establishment in case of any emergency or combination; thus to insure, that in the event of any aggression upon us, any sudden breach of the peace, the first operations might be telling and triumphant. The material of our Navy is in the most efficient condition. We could commission in a day twenty or thirty sail of the line, and innumerable smaller vessels. Our armament is the most perfect in the world; our ships and fleets commanded by excellent, and in many cases experienced officers; and those vessels might gradually be manned by abundance of British seaman, trained to the sea by our commercial marine, if we touch not the great principles of our navigation laws. But where are the men to man, promptly, those ships for the first emergency of a war?

The Secretary of the Admiralty stated most correctly that power is relative; and he referred accordingly to the prodigious exertions, and the liberal provision made by the French Chambers for the extension of the maritime and naval power of France; and I concur with that hon. Member in admiring and applauding the lofty policy of a country that permits no considerations of pecuniary economy to interfere with matters intimately connected with the maintenance of national safety and power. Now, Sir, France, exclusive of her seamen in her active ships, provides a large reserve of seamen, ships' crews, ready to man a very considerable number of additional ships of war, by means of the establishment of what she calls the "Equipages de Ligne," of which I hold in my hand the first "Ordonnance" for the organization of those establishments; and also the decrees by which they have been more recently increased in number and improved in composition. Let us see the increase in the number of seamen voted in the Marine Budget since 1830. In that year it was 12,963 men. In 1843, the number of seamen was 26,926. In 1845, it was 29,073, of whom 23,704 are to serve afloat; the remainder forming reserves of "Equipages de Ligne" in the ports. I think one hundred companies of the "Equipages de Ligne" were first established. The creation of others, the last being of fifty new companies, has since been decreed. A division, formed of a considerable number of these companies, is established at each of the five ports—Brest, Toulon, Rochefort, L'Orient, and Cherbourg; the two first being of the first class. Each division of the first class is commanded, in chief, by a "capitaine de vaisseau," assisted by a "capitaine de frégate," and a "capitaine de corvette," and five lieutenants. The divisions of the second class are commanded by a "capitaine de vaisseau," with a smaller staff. Each company is composed of two lieutenants, a certain number of "elèves," 10 petty officers, and 60 seamen, able, ordinary, and inferior, and 26 boys. Exclusive of these, companies of boys are established at Brest, consisting of 127 boys each; at Toulon, 157 each; at Cherbourg, 65 each. The companies of the "Equipages de Ligne" are always kept up to their establishment: first, by the "Inscription Maritime;" second, by the law of enlistment; third, by voluntary engagements. Then there is established in each of the principal naval arsenals, a "depôt," or gunnery establishment, for the training of naval gunners; of which there is always a considerable reserve kept ready; and there are two gunnery frigates, I believe of the second class, kept always afloat, to train the gunners so educated to sea practice. These vessels attend the squadrons of evolution, and are thus "depôts" and reserves of well-trained gunners. Then, exclusive of these establishments, there are extensive establishments of marine artillery and marines. When a vessel is brought forward for com- mission, the greater part of her crew is at once given her, by embarking a certain number of these permanent companies; the regulated quota of gunners is transferred to her, which, according to regulation, is such as to supply first and second captains of guns. The quota of marines is added; and the Prefect Maritime furnishes whatever additional hands may be required to complete the crews. This indicates, sufficiently, the indispensable necessity of our having some establishment of reserved seamen ready to form the fighting crews of a certain number of ships suddenly commissioned in case of any emergency. I feel convinced that this cannot have escaped the vigilance and the forethought of the late Admiralty, and that the noble person who presides over the naval affairs of England, and the able and distinguished officers who aid and counsel him, are alive to, and must have prepared some plan of this kind; and I earnestly hope that no considerations of pecuniary economy will deter Her Majesty's Government from speedily adopting some such plan. The hon. the Secretary of the Admiralty, adverting to the state of our coast defences, referred to the vast out lay making in France on works which we have too long neglected. I hold in my hand the Projet de Loi, preceded by a detailed exposé, to which the hon. Member the Secretary of the Admiralty adverted, of the motives and objects of the immense outlay, for which credit was taken by the vote of that Session, in addition to the sums voted in 1841, when, it appears, a great stimulus was given to those works. These amount to no less than 126,560,900 francs — about 4,800,000l. sterling thus appropriated. To Cherbourg, 15,500,000 francs; to L'Orient, 8,000,000 francs; to Rochefort, 3,000,000 francs; to Toulon, 14,300,000 francs; to Havre, 25,880,000 francs. Never has any nation made such stupendous exertions—such successful efforts in creating, or at least recreating, a naval power of the first order as France since 1815. Her commerce had been destroyed, her commercial marine ruined, her naval power destroyed; but, guided by a lofty policy, sacrificing nothing to her docteurs économique, she has restored her commerce, fostered her maritime resources, and reconstructed a formidable naval power. Not in the days of Rodney and De Grasse, Hughes and Suffren, was the Navy of France more powerful than it is now. No British statesman, of whatever party, can, or ought, to be unmindful of this. No British House of Commons, however economical in other respects, should affect to disregard this. Distant may the period be, when these tremendous powers are to be called into activity; but whilst we are determined to commit no act of aggression, let us not fail to provide effectually the best means of preserving peace, namely, to be well prepared for war; and that, if any act of aggression, any pregnant ambition be attempted against us, we may always be in a condition to make the first blow of a war the most effectual, and so herald a course of successes as signal as those which distinguished the commencement of the late war, and terminated with an ever memorable naval victory.


said, if the hon. and gallant Officer had read the official documents attentively, he must have known that there was no power in the French Navy to cope with ours. The gallant General talked of the French Navy as if it were equal with our own. Look at the finances of France; year after year there was a deficiency; the Government was involved in debt; its embarrassments were continually increasing; and the Minister did not dare to state to the Chambers the real condition of the finances. Look at the national credit of the two countries. Could any one contrast them without seeing that the condition of England was superior to that of France? We had no reason whatever to feel any sort of alarm at the state of the French Navy; and no one could pay a visit to any of the French ports without seeing the inferiority of their Navy, and the impossibility of its competing with ours.


Has the hon. Member read the Prince de Joinville's pamphlet.


I have, and it did not alter my opinion.


observed, that the jealousies and ill-will between France and England were produced by such observations as those upon the inferiority of the French Navy compared with ours.


concurred in every word that had fallen from the gallant Officer (Sir H. Douglas), not only as to the necessity of having a reserve, but of a proper alarm as to what was going on at the opposite side of the Channel; and perfectly disagreed with every word that had fallen from the hon. Member for Coventry. In making a few observations, he would be as short as possible. He could not help expressing the gratification he felt at the very able manner in which the Secretary of the Admiralty had brought forward the Navy Estimates, and the bold and manly way in which he stated that the system in the dockyards was carried on by jobbing. He wished, however, that the Admiralty, in making all their alterations, had authorized the hon. Gentleman to go one step farther, and that they had acted like the Board of Customs, which with the consent of the First Lord of the Treasury he supposed—for the head of the board could not be believed to do it of his own accord—had issued instructions prohibiting all clerks and employés from making use of private interest for their advancement, and warning them that so far from raising it would depress them in their situations. He wished the Admiralty had said the same to every officer in the fleet, from the admiral to the lieutenant, and told them to look to themselves for promotion, and not to the interest of Lord This or Lord That. He had read over their plan with a great deal of attention, and wished it every suceess; but the only certain mode of putting an end to jobbing would be by disfranchising the whole of the dockyards. That would put an end to it, but nothing else would. If all men were honest, the proposed plan would be very good. When the builder chose three men for promotion, it was very possible he might choose two Tories and one Whig, or two Whigs and one Tory; and if the Government of the day were Whig or Tory, it required no ghost to tell them which of the three would be chosen by the Admiralty. He could have wished that the superintendent of a dockyard were allowed to choose his men, as an admiral was allowed to select the sailors for his ship, and then he would look for the best men, and it would soon go to head-quarters who had abused his trust. If that could not be done, he hoped they would at least give the superintendent the power of discharging a man immediately he neglected his duty. It was said the Government did not get a fair day's work for a fair day's wages under the present system, and there were rumours abroad also that our ships were not built in a proper manner. The confusion and conflicting orders and authorities which now prevailed were such as to give him no hope, unless the whole of the present system were reviewed. As to the building of our vessels, his gallant Friend who brought forward the Estimates put a shot between wind and water into the Admiralty when he said they did not know their own mind; and he would certainly divide the House, unless he got an assurance that a different system would be carried out. The late Secretary of the Admiralty informed them that there were only seven iron steamers used as vessels of war. He expected the gallant Officer who was more particularly charged with the gunnery department of the Navy, would give him his opinion whether those vessels which had been built were fit for war or not. But in reference to the statement of the late Secretary, on looking to a paper with which he had been furnished by the Admiralty, he found a long list of vessels which had been built since 1843. The gallant Officer then read a list of a number of vessels, specifying the number and nature of the guns they carried. The hon. Gentleman said that nine vessels were built because it was difficult to obtain wood; but that was no reason why so many of them should be built. Those which had been built were found very difficult to manage on account of the way in which their compasses were affected, and the recruit brig had to be taken into dock after every cruise in order to rectify them. He left it to the House to judge whether it was right or proper for any Admiralty, he did not care who they were, to begin to build thirty-three iron vessels before they had fully tested their capabilities. He wished above all things to know if there was any intention on the part of the Board of Admiralty to revise the articles of war, and make them a little more humane than they were at present? Now was the time to change them, when public opinion was strong on the subject. He did not at all approve of their order the other day, however, which would act in a most improper manner, and create one mode of punishment ashore, and another in blue water, giving the men to believe there was one discipline in England, and another abroad. He wished also to impress on them the propriety of increasing the ship-carpenters, and giving them better pay. It was so small at present that it was extremely difficult to get good carpenters to enter the men-of-war. He repeated again his wish that his gallant Friend opposite would answer whether the vessel built of iron were fit for men-of-war; and whether when a shot was fired into them, it went through, as your finger would through a sheet of brown paper. In the experiments that had been made, the shot was only fired from a jingal. What would be the effect if it came from a 32-pounder? If his hon. Friend could not tell, he (Sir C. Napier) could. The vessel would go to the bottom like a stone.


said, that with respect to the calibre of the guns to be used in the Navy, the present Board of Admiralty had carried out the views of the late board, in respect to the use of as few varying calibres as possible; and he hoped the amount of different calibres would remain as it was fixed at present. The gallant Officer had asked his opinion as to the capabilities of iron vessels to be used as ships of war; but he would rather that the gallant Officer would call for the opinions of the board than that of an individual. He was sorry this point had been touched upon, because as the present Secretary to the Admiralty said, that the present board did not build, and did not intend to build, any more iron steamers, except for such purposes as packets, he had hoped that that would have been a sufficient indication of the opinion of the board on the subject. It had been said, that the firing at the Ruby by the Excellent was an absurd experiment; but he wished that experiment had been before made so many iron vessels had been ordered, for he was bound to say that the experiment proved that iron vessels were not fit for the purposes of war. In this he was borne out by the gallant Officer who made the experiment; and also by what happened in the River Plate, where the admiral, who commanded, thought the circumstance so extraordinary, that he sent home the shot which passed through the Lizard, making on one side a hole as in a sheet of brown paper, and a star on the other, so that it was hardly possible to stop it by a plug. By the trial on the Ruby, it appeared that the greater the thickness of the iron, the greater the injury. Iron butts were made of great thickness, and shots fired at them, and these shots had greater effect on them than shots fired at rotten wood would have on that material.


defended the appointments made by the late Board of Admiralty in the dockyards, all the higher stations having been conferred on supporters of the present Government. He would next refer to the charge made by the hon. and gallant Admiral (Sir C. Napier) against the late Board of Admiralty, with refer- ence to the building of iron ships of war. The question might be divided into two parts: the one a question of strength, and the other a question of durability. As to the question of strength, he referred to a letter of Lieutenant Hoskens, who stated, that if the Great Britain steam vessel had been built of wood, she would have broken up—if not before—on the 20th of November, when the tide rose to an extent much higher than usual. The next question was as to the durability of iron vessels. On this point he had some evidence which he should read to the House. The first iron steam vessel was built in 1821. She was built and commanded by the present Sir Charles Napier, and had been for a considerable time in use. In 1833, the Dublin Company commenced the building of iron vessels, and from their experience of them they had no idea of returning to wooden vessels; and the great majority of the steam vessels engaged in trade in that country are now built of iron. When the hon. and gallant Admiral (Sir Charles Napier) taunted them with not making experiments before building more vessels, he begged to inform him that they did make experiments at Woolwich, which were attended by a late Lord of the Admiralty, the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Sir George Cockburn), who had as many hard knocks as many of them, and it was his opinion that iron vessels were decidedly fitted for war. Now, as to the result of the experiment with regard to the Ruby, he would ask what must necessarily be the consequences when they took a ship of that kind, put her in water, and fired away at her; and having done that, was it fair then to say that an iron vessel was not fitted for war because she did not resist the shots which were directed against her? He referred to what had occurred with respect to the Swiftsure 74-gun ship, to show that a wooden vessel was equally vulnerable as an iron vessel; and could it for that reason be said that wood was an unfit material for the building of ships? The damage done to the Lizard had been adverted to; but a vessel of such light scantling must necessarily suffer, and it would appear that in similar circumstances wooden vessels had likewise suffered. He thought the late Board of Admiralty was quite justified in what they had done, and he conceived that all the experiments tended to prove that iron was a fit material for vessels built for the purposes of war; and even if they were not fitted for the purposes of war, they were fitted for the conveyance of troops.


said, as he had reason to suppose that the expense of giving additional pay to the petty officers of the Navy would not amount to more than 30,000l. or 40,000l., he hoped that some proposal of this nature would be laid upon the Table as a supplementary estimate. He thought it of great importance that a measure of this kind should be brought forward pari passu with the measures relating to secondary punishments, and the reduction of corporal punishments. He would also urge upon the Board of Admiralty the importance of adopting means to give a more practical education to the naval cadets. He would suggest that one of the old jackass frigates should be fitted out, and placed under the command of a smart officer with a crew of seventy or eighty able seamen, on board which 100 cadets should serve, and learn to steer, heave the lead, and do their duty aloft, together with the rigging, fitting, and handling a ship, and that as many mates as convenient should serve in rotation to learn the pilotage of the Channel, and to steer a ship by the marks and the chart.


said, that on Friday night many observations were made, to which answers were expected; but the Lords of the Admiralty had not given any. He would be glad to do away with the jobbing in the dockyards; but as he wished to hear the right hon. Baronet (the Member for Dorchester), he trusted that an opportunity for discussion would be given on a future occasion.


said, that after the observations of the gallant Admiral (Sir C. Napier), and of the Secretary of the Admiralty, he was afraid that any observations of his own would be of little weight, since his experience at the Admiralty was now of ancient date, and the practice then was different from what it was now. It was admitted on all hands that the patronage of the Board was now in the hands of the Secretary; but when he was at the Admiralty it was in the First Lord, with the advice of the Board, and the Secretary had only a somewhat peculiar branch of the Admiralty—the clerical patronage in the appointment of chaplains. He was quite astonished to hear, that in making the appointments, it was an ordinary question to ask what were the political opinions of the master shipwrights or of the foreman of the works. He was himself in office only for the two years consequent upon the great election after the Reform Act; and, before he left office, he had seen the bad effects of giving the right of representation to Woolwich, and then to Chatham, then to Devonport, and then by attaching to the Pembroke district of boroughs the dockyard of Pembroke, and also by giving the full franchise to Portsmouth, which before was a close corporation; and though he had taken no notice of the political opinions of the officers in the yard, nor inquired how they exercised their elective franchise, yet he must say that, if this question were constantly put by different Boards of Admiralty, it would be a great impediment to the efficiency of the yard. The possession of the elective franchise was an important question as connected with the public service. The expenditure in the yards was enormous, and nothing could be a greater evil than the prevalence of this system. The spirit of the suggestions laid upon the Table by the present Secretary of the Admiralty did him the highest honour; and they were directed to the remedy of this evil. He was inclined to agree with the gallant Member for Marylebone as to the propriety of making promotions in the naval services and in the dockyards by merit; and he had been advised by Admiral Sir Thomas Hardy, and by Admiral Dundas, to proceed on the principle of concentrating the responsibility, and thus increasing the efficiency. He had sought to give the right of rating and disrating in the master of the yard as every captain had in a ship, which concentrated all the power and responsibility, and ensured efficiency; but still he had great doubt whether there was not much force in what the gallant Member for Marylebone said; and it would be a grave question whether they must not at last—though he was opposed to disqualification—with a view to the efficiency of the public service, come to the same regulation with respect to the dockyards as existed in regard to other situations under the Government. The officers and men employed in the coast guard were connected with the collection of the revenue, and were disqualified from voting. The analogy between them and persons employed in the dockyards was very close; and though disqualification was invidious, it would be a question whether the elective franchise should not be confined to the inhabitants of the towns; it was a grave question to be decided on public grounds. Still, the plan of the Secretary of the Admiralty was honest and fair, and he was willing to give it a trial.


expressed his deep gratification at the manner in which the right hon. Baronet had been pleased to speak of the plan of the Admiralty. He trusted that when the officers saw the general feeling on the subject, and, more, saw that an honest plan was put before them, they would endeavour to carry it fairly into effect, especially when they were made aware that if this plan should fail, the alternative must be disfranchisement. Should the scheme fail, he trusted the House would not hesitate to concur in applying the more extensive remedy to which the right hon. Baronet had alluded.


doubted the policy of appointing four measurers to each dockyard. If the measurement were effectual, there would be required a much greater number of officers for this purpose.


said, it was expected the services of these officers, who would have assistants, would be effectual for the purposes for which they were designed.


would assure his hon. Friend the Secretary of the Admiralty that he must have his eyes and ears open, and, after all, unless he had an opportunity of checking the officers themselves, he would only remove the impression, now unfavourable to the Admiralty, to them. He thought the disfranchisement of the dockyards objectionable, and would recommend, as the most effectual remedy for the evils complained of, that the Treasury should listen very unwillingly to all applications for influencing the patronage of dockyards.

Several Votes were agreed to.

House resumed. Resolutions to be reported.

House adjourned at half-past One o'clock.