HC Deb 01 December 1852 vol 123 cc813-5

moved for Copies of Reports received at the Admiralty from Commander Wolridge, of Her Majesty's ship Inflexible, relative to the Melbourne (late Her Majesty's screw steamer Greenock), now belonging to the Royal Australian Steamship Company, having put into Lisbon in a defective condition. He would beg to refer to the sufferings which had been endured by the passengers on board the Melbourne in consequence of the defective accommodation which had been provided for them. He wished to know whether the Admiralty had received any information respecting the amount of damage that had been done to the mail-bags that were on board, and also whether they had any means of affording protection to the passengers on board the ships that carried Her Majesty's mails? Because, if they had not, the public ought to be warned not to take passages in vessels which had a Government contract, for, in such cases, they would obtain no redress for any grievance they might have to complain of.


said, that there could be no objection on the part of the Admiralty to granting the Returns which the hon. Member asked for; and he begged to take the opportunity of this Motion to say a few words, which, if they did not give the exact state of the case as regarded the Melbourne, would, at all events, be far nearer it than that which had appeared in the public papers—he meant at least as regarded the Admiralty. And the reason why the public could not possibly be in possession of the whole state of the case was this—that an inquiry had been ordered into the conduct of the captain on his return to this country, which, of course, had not yet taken place, though it was known that the Company had sent out Captain Henderson with orders to supersede Captain Cox, and to send out the vessel under the charge of the officer next in command, or to act otherwise in the matter as he should think best fitted for carrying on the voyage. The hon. Gentleman had asked if the Admiralty had received any account of the extent of the injury which had been done to the mails. The facts on that point would be found fully detailed in the papers which had just been moved for; but in the meantime he might state that the accounts which had appeared in the papers of the damage to the mails were very much exaggerated, and that the statement that the mails had been saturated in the brine of the Bay of Biscay was altogether erroneous. The state of the case with regard to the Admiralty and the Melbourne was this; the Melbourne was one of the four iron screw steamers which were ordered by the Admiralty in 1845. This vessel, however, was not built till 1848, and was not finally launched till April, 1849. On trial it was found that she stood too deep in the water; and, to remedy this, her engines, which were 500-horse power, were taken out, and replaced by engines of 250-horse power. He had no wish to express a pre-mature opinion of the conduct of the captain, but this at least he might be permitted to say, that though it was notorious that the Admiralty had found the engines too heavy, and had replaced them by lighter engines, the first thing the captain did was to take on hoard 160 tons of pig iron at Woolwich. The responsibility of this rested of course with the Company and the captain, and not with the Admiralty. The Admiralty could not be responsible for a ship that was altered subsequent to its sailing. In the contract between the Company and the Government it was expressly provided that an Admiralty surveyor should be permitted to survey the vessel before sailing, and that proper accommodation should be provided on board for the officer who had charge of the mails. With respect to accommodation for the passengers, that was left to be arranged between the Company and the passengers themselves. If the accommodation was good, passengers would be more likely to avail themselves of it; and if it was bad, the interests of the Company would suffer from the consequent loss of remuneration. AH that the Admiralty were bound to look to was the security of the mails and the accommodation of the naval officer who was placed on board to watch over them.


said, that from the time the Australian Royal Steam Company had commenced its operations till now, there had been a continual series of complaints against their management; and he thought that it was the duty of the Admiralty, who were paying the Company an immense sum for the conveyance of the mails, to take every precaution to secure the safe and rapid transit of the passengers. He hoped that the hon. Secretary of the Admiralty would take care that there should be a proper investigation in this case.


wished to know whether any complaint had been made to the Admiralty respecting the conveyance of the mails, to the effect that the Company had not fulfilled their agreement with the Admiralty—for that was the point to look to?


, in reply, begged to state that no such complaint had been received by the Admiralty; and, in the absence of correct information, it would be injudicious in the House to prejudge the case. He had to request the hon. Member to add to his Motion the words "also copies of letters from Captain Phillimore, the Government agent on board the vessel."

Motion agreed to.