HC Deb 18 March 1847 vol 91 cc196-9

moved for— A Return of the number of persons flogged in the British Navy in each of the years 1845 and 1846, specifying the name of the ship, the offence, the sentence, and the number of lashes inflicted. Also for an 'Abstract of the total number of Corporal Punishments in the Navy, and the total number of lashes inflicted, in each year, up to the 31st day of December, 1846 (in continuation of Parliamentary Paper No. 308 of Session 1845').


I was not aware when I before opposed the production of those returns, that similar ones had been acceded to by the War Office last year at a very late period of the Session, August 17th, when Parliament was on the point of being prorogued, in consequence of a most unjust and groundless clamour excited by the extraordinary proceedings of an inquest at Hounslow; and I cannot refrain from observing that if the Secretary at War had, instead of allowing himself to be intimidated by this clamour, sent a firm and able lawyer to watch the coroner's conduct—to see that the inquiry was legally and impartially carried on—that no lawful evidence was excluded, and no suspicious testimony sought for—he would have better performed his duty, and would have protected Her Majesty's service from these unfounded aspersions. However, Sir, my present object is with these returns moved for by my hon. Friend the Member for Montrose, in the shape in which they are asked; and I beg most clearly to explain that I do not in the slightest degree object to the production of all the information which may be necessary to enable the House to ascertain the increase or decrease of corporal punishment in the Navy; and nobody will rejoice more sincerely than myself at the arrival of that day when the steadiness, sobriety, and good conduct of our seamen may render it no longer indispensable for the preservation of order and discipline. With a very large proportion, that period has already arrived; and I would only therefore most earnestly caution the House against the danger of defeating our own object by indiscreet and ill-judged precipitation. What I distinctly and strongly do object to in these returns is, the giving the names of the ships, because I am certain that most unjust and painful reflections will be cast on the characters of many deserving and honourable officers who, in the execution of their duty, and without the slightest blame attaching to them, have, from circumstances beyond their control, and which cannot now be explained, been more severe than others. I am fully aware that I shall be met by the plausible question—"Is there anything which should be kept back with respect to the Navy, when it has been granted for the Army?" But contend, that no fair comparison can be drawn between corporal punishments in the two services. A regiment is always in a state of organization and discipline. The young recruits mixed up with old and steady soldiers, are daily imbibing instruction in order and regularity, and, above all, that esprit da corps so invaluable in a soldier. The commanding officer has also always the means of confinement at hand, either in barracks or prisons, besides many other secondary punishments. But how different is the situation of the Navy—a ship (especially the smaller classes) has no place of confinement whatever for more than one or two men. Very few secondary punishments can be resorted to; and, what is the strongest part of my case, our system of disbanding and discharging our men every three years, and then recommencing what we have just destroyed—the organization and discipline of our ships—imposes a double amount of difficulty on our officers, and, as may easily be imagined, there is an inevitable increase in the amount of offences and punishments during the first year of a ship being in commission. But how cruel and unjust will it be to an officer who has been faithfully and zealously performing a difficult and painful duty, to hold him up to the ignorant and prejudiced part of the public as a tyrant and oppressor! And yet this is inevitable if the names of the ships are given. I also strongly object to an irresponsible body like this House, assuming the functions of the Executive Government, and virtually constituting itself a court of appeal against the proceedings of military and naval tribunals. The only effect of this proceeding will be to shake the confidence of our men in the justice of their superiors, and thus increase offences and insubordination; and let those who advise this course remember that a former House of Commons succeeded, it is true, both in detaching the Army from its allegiance, and dethroning their monarch; but they were themselves very soon afterwards expelled from their own seats within these walls, by that very Army which they had courted and corrupted. I am fully aware that if Her Majesty's Government is determined to lay these returns on the Table, no opposition of mine can prevent their doing so; but I earnestly entreat them at least to reconsider the question, which has been now, perhaps for the first time, fairly placed before them, before they come to any final and irrevocable decision.


very much regretted that the hon. and gallant Admiral should have thought it necessary to differ from the opinion which had been adopted by Her Majesty's Government, after much delibe- ration upon the subject before the House. They thought that the publication of these returns would be productive of the most beneficial results. He was prepared to sustain the system of corporal punishments on board ship, admitting, as he did, the difference between the two services alluded to by the gallant Admiral, and because he thought that in some instances it could not be dispensed with. But he thought it was desirous to have the safeguard of publicity, under which he did not think that any stigma could affix to those officers who did their duty.


was glad to hear the hon. and gallant Admiral say that he would be glad to see the day when corporal punishment would be dispensed with altogether. But as a proof of the beneficial effects which had followed the publication of the returns of the punishments inflicted, he should observe, that during the close of the year 1845, and the first seven months of the year 1846, the number of corporal punishments inflicted in the Army stationed at home was 316, whilst the total number inflicted since the publication had been only five.

Returns ordered.