§ MR. ANDERSON
* Sir, I rise to call the attention of the House to the Report of a Select Committee, which was ap- 370 pointed on my Motion, in the Session of 1849—To inquire into the practicability of providing, by means of the commercial steam marine of the country, a reserve steam Navy, promptly available for the national defence, when required.And I propose to conclude by moving the following Resolution, namely—That it is the opinion of this House, that in order the better to provide for the public safety, to economise the public resources, and to preserve peace, it is desirable that measures should be adopted, with a view to render the commercial steam navy promptly available for the national defence, in case of emergency.Sir, in bringing forward this Motion, I feel it to be necessary to state to the House some practical facts in support and explanation of it. And, although I feel that I have but slight claims on the notice of hon. Members, from any ability which I possess for addressing them, yet I trust they will favour me with their indulgent attention to these facts, because, Sir, I think they will show that the object to which they relate is scarcely second, in public and national importance, to any question which can be submitted to the consideration of this House. Sir, the recent violent and extraordinary political changes which have occurred on the Continent of Europe, but more particularly in France, have led to considerable apprehension and solicitude in the public mind as to our means of defence, in the possible event of a hostile aggression or invasion of this country, by our neighbours on the other side of the Channel. Hence, we have a Militia Bill introduced into this House, proposals for establishing associations called Rifle Clubs, and other measures for resistance, should the French land upon our shores. Now, Sir, without wishing to raise a question, on this occasion, as to the expediency or otherwise of these measures, I consider that, in adopting them in the first instance—while, as I propose to show, we have overlooked means which are in our power to prevent any hostile force from landing—we have begun, as it were, at the wrong end. I submit, Sir, that we ought to direct our attention, first and foremost, to meeting our enemy on that element on which we have always been accustomed to conquer, and by those means which have ever been considered our best bulwarks of national defence—our Navy and our maritime resources.
An opinion has been broached, and pretty widely circulated, that the introtion of steam navigation has divested us 371 of the advantages which we previously derived from our insular position—that we are how more exposed to invasion. But, Sir, I consider that nothing can be more fallacious than such an opinion, I maintain that we are more invulnerable, if we only choose to make use of the means at our command, to any army landing upon our shores, than we ever were at any period of our history.
Why, Sir, assuming, as I have a right to do, that after the enormous expenditure which has been made upon our regular Navy, it is at least equal, and ought to be superior, to the French navy. Look at the contrast which the commercial steam navies of the two countries present. For every private or commercial steam vessel possessed by France, we have twenty. The United Kingdom has now about 1,300 steam vessels, of all classes, in her commercial steam navy, amounting to about 300,000 tons, and 100,000 horse power of machinery. There is scarcely one of these vessels but what can carry an armament fit to render it efficient for coast defence. In support of this assertion, I beg to quote the evidence given before the Select Committee to which I have alluded, by no less an authority than Captain Chads, of the Royal Navy, commanding the Excellent, gunnery ship, that ship forming, indeed, the school of naval gunnery for the Royal Navy. He states thus:—Is it your opinion that some of the smaller vessels might be made capable of carrying a long 24 or a long 18-pounder amidships, that is, what is technically called a 'Long Tom,' and might, in some events, be made useful?—I would have no armament under a 32-pounder, and I believe there is no steamer that we have that cannot carry a 32-pounder of one description or the other.The smallest that we have?— The very smallest steamer. I do not think that there is a steamer upon the river, of any kind, that will not carry a 32-pounder.In the suggestions, however, which I am about to submit to the House, I do not propose to extend the arrangements therein contained to anything like the whole of our commercial steamers; a small proportion of them, I consider, will suffice for the object in view.
Steamers of from 400 up to 800 or 1,000 tons, have been stated, on competent evidence, which I will presently quote, to be able to carry the heavy traversing or pivot guns used in Her Majesty's steamers. Now, if the Government were to make arrangements with the owners of 100, 150, 372 or 200 of these vessels, in the manner I am about to point out, and to the effect that they should have the fittings requisite to enable them to receive a heavy armament, immediately they were required to do so; also that they should be replaced at the disposal of the Government whenever required—the owners, in such case, to be indemnified for their being so taken and used, by the award of competent arbitrators to be mutually appointed by the Government and the owners of the ship—a means of coast defence, so far as ships are concerned, would be provided, sufficient to meet any possible attempt at invasion of our shores. In short, I wish to apply the same arrangement to the steam vessels employed in our coasting and short over-sea trade, as the Government already have with the private steam vessels employed in the Ocean don tract Packet service; and I may here also state that the steam vessels which I now have in view are exclusive of the Contract Packets. These vessels will be, and, in many instances which I could mention, have been, most valuable auxiliaries in hostile operations; but a great number of them being on distant foreign stations, and engaged in a service which a state of hostilities would render more important than ever, they could not, at least the greater number of them could not, be made available for coast defence.
Now, Sir, the mode in which I think the arrangements in question might be most readily effected, would be something like this: I would suggest that the Admiralty should issue notices to the Steam Companies, that they (the Admiralty) Were prepared to receive tenders from such owners of steam vessels as might be willing, for a consideration, to fit their vessels for receiving guns, and to place them at the disposal of the Government, if they should at any time be required for the national defence. On receiving such tenders as might be considered eligible, the fittings would be placed in the vessels under the direction of a competent person. And here I may observe, that since 1849, when my Committee sat, the progress of mechanical science has been such, in fitting these heavy guns, that the ordinary class of merchant steamers, which it was then estimated would cost from 500l. to 600l. in additional strengthenings to enable them to carry these guns, require now no strengthening, except a post to receive the socket for the pivot of the carriage, and two very small beams, technically called carlings, which, together with 373 the eye-bolts and traversing sweeps on the deck, will cost only from 50l. to 150l., or for the very largest class of ship and gun, 200l. I can, indeed, find a private tradesman, who will undertake to fit any number of vessels on these terms; and considering the trifling amount of it, I consider it would simplify the arrangement, if the Government were to fit the vessels at the public expense, instead of paying the owners an annual premium for the outlay, especially when it is considered that from 10,000l. to 20,000l. would probably fit up from 100 to 200 steamers. Now, the vessels being thus prepared, I propose that armaments should be selected for them from the Ordnance Stores, from whence, I assume, there would be no difficulty in providing them; that they should be marked with the name of the auxiliary steam vessels to which they correspond, and be placed either at the ports to and from which the vessels usually ply, or under any other arrangement which would best facilitate the prompt arming of the vessels. Well, Sir, we have here the materiel in ships and armaments of an Auxiliary Steam Navy. The next question which naturally arises is, how is this auxiliary fleet to be manned? I answer to this, that you will get the most important part of their manning—the skilled portion of their crews, required for the navigation of the vessels—with the vessels. Their mercantile officers, engineers, and crews, there is evidence to show, would volunteer to serve in the vessels; and thus, if you were to select, say two hundred vessels, you would have with them from eight to ten thousand men, engineers, and officers, all skilled in their navigation. The remainder of their crews, which might be required to make up a war Complement, might, I think, be supplied, first, from the Coast Guard, in which there are about six thousand men. These men would not be required on shore, in case of the contemplated emergency, as the steamers themselves would form a coast guard against smuggling. A corps of sea fencibles might be formed out of the fishermen or maritime population of our coasts. But, Sir, even failing these two sources, where would be the difficulty in finding a sufficient number of men to man this auxiliary fleet out of the 230,000 seamen which our merchant service now employs? With the offer of a bounty and good wages, no difficulty would be experienced, especially for a temporary service, as this would necessarily be. I have omitted to advert to another class of 374 the skilled portion of the crews, namely, the gunners. Two trained gunners would be required for each of the heavy guns to be carried by these vessels. These, I believe, could be readily furnished from that very useful corps, the Marine Artillery, and also from the school of Naval Gunnery in the Excellent, at Portsmouth. For what I may call the fighting part of the officers, our half-pay Navy list, I think, furnishes ample room for selection. Such, Sir, is an outline of the plan which I would suggest for forming out of our commercial steam marine a reserve force for the national defence, in case of emergency. I will now ask the attention of the House to one or two short extracts from the evidence taken before this Committee of 1849, on two points, which I consider to be of much importance, namely, the capability of merchant steamers for carrying and using heavy armaments; and the willingness of the mercantile officers and crews to serve in them, in the event of their being required for the national defence. Before reading these extracts, I feel it to be necessary, however, at this stage of my statement, to detain the House, for a moment or two, on a matter which, although personal to myself, I consider of some public importance.
When, Sir, I moved for the appointment of the Committee referred to, it was rather industriously insinuated and circulated, that I had some private interest of my own to serve in doing so; and that impression remains on the minds of many, whose attention has been drawn to the subject, I believe, to this day. Now, I consider the statement of one fact will suffice to remove such an impression. That fact, Sir, is, that I have no direct or indirect personal interest in any steam vessel, or steam navigation company, except the extensive enterprise with which I am publicly known to be connected—the Peninsular and Oriental Company. The vessels of that Company are already, by the terms of the Company's Charter of Incorporation and Contracts for the Mail Service, under similar engagements, as to their liability to be appropriated for the public service in case of need, to those which I now propose to be extended to the coasting steamers. After this statement, even were the arrangements I suggest calculated to involve any very lucrative benefit to steam-shipowners, —which they certainly do not—I trust I shall stand acquitted of anv sordid motive in bringing forward this subject; and I as- 375 sure the House that I should not have thought it worth while to trouble it for a moment with this digression, had it not been that I was unwilling that the due consideration of so important a public object should be exposed to any prejudice, by the supposition that it had been put forward for the purpose of subserving some private interest of its advocate.
I now, Sir, beg to read the extracts from the evidence taken by the Committee. That of Captain Chads, which I have already quoted, established, I think, the fact that there are scarcely any of our commercial steam vessels that are not capable of carrying pivot or traversing guns. There is the evidence of another very competent person, with regard to a larger class of steam vessels, namely, Mr. Engledue, formerly gunnery-lieutenant of the Excellent, and to which post he was promoted, for his efficiency in naval gunnery, by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon, when First Lord of the Admiralty. Mr. Engledue has also the advantage of an extensive practical acquaintance with the capabilities of mercantile steam vessels, having commanded several of them, of different classes, and being now naval superintendent at Southampton of the Oriental Company's fleet. He states that he considers nearly the whole of our sea-going steamers capable of armament, and that, according to their sizes and scantlings, guns of a certain size, weight, and bore, may be placed in them; and subsequently, that second-class sized steam vessels, namely, from 500 to 800 tons, are capable of carrying 68-pounder guns in addition to the 32-pounders; and that with very few additional fittings, Coasting steamers, 200 to 400 tons, can carry heavy 32-pounders pivot guns.
Another witness, Mr. Andrew Lamb, superintendent engineer of the same Company, and who has, during nearly his whole life, been practically and extensively acquainted with the habits and feelings of the engineers and others employed in merchant steamers, says that there would be no difficulty whatever in the engineers entering Her Majesty's service, in the event of their steamers being converted into vessels of war; they would require nothing but an understanding that in the event of their receiving any bodily injury they shall receive the same consideration as is granted to the service generally. And subsequently, Mr. Lamb addressed a letter to the Chairman, stating that he had had a meeting 376 with all the engineers in a certain port, and they had unanimously expressed their willingness to act under Government orders in the case of emergency.
I will not fatigue hon. Members by reading any further extracts, although I may observe, that the blue book which I now hold in my hand would repay a perusal by any hon. Member who may desire to be more thoroughly acquainted with this question, inasmuch as it contains, in its rather unpretending bulk, I venture to assert, as great a number of valuable practical facts as any book of its' size which has been, like it, consigned to the shelves of the Library. I will now, Sir, come to the verdict pronounced by the Committee, after a full and careful investigation of the facts submitted to it. The Committee, I think it right to state, was obtained with the consent of Her Majesty's late Government. The Members of it were nominated consequently by themselves, or with their concurrence. And here are the names of the Members who served upon it:—
My hon. Friend the Member for Lymington kindly consented to preside, as I considered I could better assist the inquiry by being out of the chair than in it. The House will observe that there were no less than four ex-and-present Lords of the Admiralty on this Committee; that it contained four naval officers, three of them of high rank—a circumstance, I will remark, which subjected my suggestions, in regard to the fitness of mercantile steam vessels for purposes or war, to the advantage of a severe scrutiny. For any one who will look into the evidence will see that the esprit de corps, which I know (having myself been in the service) to be somewhat prevalent in the Royal Navy, was rather reluctant to admit that a vessel constructed for commercial purposes, could ever approach in capability for warlike purposes a vessel constructed for Her Majesty's service, and intended to have a pennant flying at her masthead. The evidence, however, which that feeling necessitated, will, I think, be found to negative satisfactorily the assumed unfitness, by crankness, weakness, 377 bad sailing qualities, and otherwise, of merchant vessels for the object of the inquiry.
Mr. Arthur Anderson. Hon. Francis Scott. Capt. the Hon. M. F. Berkeley. Right Hon. T. Milner Gibson. Lord John Hay. Mr. George Duncan. Admiral Bowles. Mr. Matthew Forster. MR. T. A. Mitchell. Mr. R. J. Tennent. Right Hon. H. T. Corry. The Earl of Shelburne. Mr. Richard Cobden. Mr. W. A. Mackinnon. Captain Fordyce.
And this, Sir, is the Report of the Committee, drafted by the gallant Admiral the Member for Gloucester, and lately First Naval Lord of the Admiralty (whom I do not now see in his place), and unanimously adopted:—Your Committee are of opinion, which is corroborated by the evidence taken before them—That mercantile steam ships, of the size and strength necessary for the reception of such guns as are in use in the Royal Navy, would be a most useful auxiliary force for national defence; and your Committee do not foresee any difficulty in carrying out such a measure.That the prompt development of the whole available maritime resources of the country, in the event of threatened hostilities, is most desirable, as a means for the preservation of peace.That the steps necessary to render such mercantile steamers available for the purpose, and the remuneration to be given by the public for fitting them and holding them liable to be called into the public service, must be matter of arrangement between the owners and the Government, upon which your Committee do not deem it necessary to offer an opinion.I have thought it necessary to advert to these particulars in order to show, as they do, that, this important proposition does not rest on the opinion of so humble an individual as myself, but is supported by the unanimous recommendation of a Committee of this House, eminently well qualified to investigate it. That recommendation, in so far as the adoption of any practical step for carrying it out is concerned, has remained a dead letter for three years, notwithstanding that I have, on several occasions, both publicly and privately, drawn the attention of Her Majesty's late Government to it.
And now, Sir, that public attention has been so much excited as to our means of national defence, I consider I could render no more useful public service, within my humble ability, than to bring this question under the notice of the House. It will be seen, I hope, from what I have stated, that this proposal is not intended to supersede (as has also been insinuated against me) the Royal Navy. That best branch of our national defence, I trust, will always be kept in a state of efficiency and adequate force; although, with such an organised auxiliary force as I propose, much expense may, I think, be saved to the country by not extending it, especially in times of public alarm and panic. And here, Sir, I may briefly advert to a statement made by the gallant Admiral, the late First Naval Lord of the Admiralty, a few evenings 378 since, in this House, namely, that he could, in twenty-four hours, have lined the Channel—and which he has since explained to mean, from the Channel Islands to the North Foreland—with steamers of the Royal Navy, within signal distance of each other: a statement which was commented upon by another naval officer with apparent incredulity. Now, I think, on the contrary, that it would have been very discreditable to the gallant Admiral, and his colleagues at the late Board, not to have been able to do something more than this. Why, Sir, thirty vessels would form a line within signal distance, for that extent. Even the private Company with which I am connected, could do that. But to effectually prevent invasion, we must do much more than that. We must have a Hue of steamers within hailing distance of each other, that could in a few hours be concentrated upon any part of the French coast where a large force might be required, and that could hermetically seal up every channel, port, and creek in France, against the entry or departure of even a fishing boat. And this, such an auxiliary reserve Steam Navy as I propose, would undoubtedly enable us to do.
And now, Sir, I will advert shortly to some other advantages which I consider this proposal to possess.
First, for its preliminary organisation it will entail no expense on the country, inasmuch as the comparatively trifling cost of it may well be balanced by curtailments from other branches of naval expenditure which its adoption would render necessary. Secondly, it would in no manner interfere with the trading occupations of the vessels, which would continue in their usual employment. Thirdly, they would form a force which would never be used, except for national defence; and in the event of their ever being required for the national defence, little or no permanent burden, such as would be caused by the increase of a regular navy, would be entailed upon the country, inasmuch as the vessels and their crews, when no longer wanted, would return to their ordinary trading occupations. Fourthly, it would give us a description of maritime defence, which already far exceeds that of all Europe combined, which is increasing in a ratio far beyond any similar progress in other countries; and the very knowledge, by other Powers, of our possessing such an enormous and increasing means of national maritime defence, would deter such Powers 379 from the contemplation of any hostile aggression on our shores; and it would consequently prove the most effectual, as well as cheapest, instrument for the permanent maintenance of peace.
This, Sir, is the mode of national defence which ought, in my opinion, to be adopted by the. Government of this country, and I find I cannot express my sentiments more clearly or forcibly on the subject, than by quoting a passage which I have only this morning seen in one of the public prints. The writer says—It cannot be too often or too emphatically repeated, invasion must be made impossible. If ever a foreign army seta foot on our shores, a wound will have been inflicted on security, on credit, on the common weal and the commonwealth, which no pecuniary saving, past or future, can heal or can atone for. If ever a foreign army sets foot on our shores, either our naval service must have been awfully and most criminally remiss in the performance of that duty which 'England expects' from it, or our Ministers must have been guilty or incapable beyond the reach of pardon."—Economist, 27th March.In this, Sir, I fully concur; and having, I trust, shown how invasion may be rendered impossible, I leave the question with the House and the Government. I beg to thank the House for the attention with which it has listened to me, and to move the Resolution in your hands.
§ MR. MACKINNON
Sir, having been Chairman of the Committee moved for on this subject in the Session of 1849, I feel myself called on to say a few words on the subject. The Committee, which agreed unanimously to the Report quoted by the hon. Gentleman who has brought this Motion before the House, was of a most impartial character: it consisted of the Members of the late Admiralty, of the leading Members of the Admiralty that preceded them, also of the Member for the West Riding, and of some Gentlemen connected with the shipping interest: this Committee agreed that it would be desirable in case of war to use our mercantile steam vessels. For this purpose it appeared, before the Committee, that the number of vessels of sufficient tonnage to be made war steamers, amounted in Great Britain to 320; that these steam ships could be made effective for carrying guns, if strengthened by (I will not use technical terms) beams from the deck to the keel, by which the decks could bear an additional weight; that this mode of strength could be made effectual in about three weeks. It appeared, also, that the immense mass of guns and ammunition in our several dockyards and arsenals being 380 ready, these ships might he equipped and made ready for active service in a short time. The next question was, how were they to be manned? The evidence of the owners and officers was, that the crews by whom they were now navigated were willing to continue in them if allowed the same wages and enjoying the same advantages as the men in the Royal Navy. In reference to the working of the guns, eight or ten men to each gun, either from the dockyards or the preventive coast guard, would answer the purpose. By these means you would have 320 steam vessels of war in less than six weeks; to which, if you added the steam and other ships in the Royal Navy now in commission, or that might be put in commission, you would raise such a force as would render the chance of an invasion hopeless. Now the only difficulty that arose in the Committee was, in what manner were the owners of these vessels to be indemnified for the expense attendant on preparing their steam vessels to carry heavy guns, and be fitted? out as ships of war? It was suggested in the Committee, that an exemption from the light-dues might be an equivalent to the owners for the additional expense to which they would be liable. The House was aware that the light-dues was a tax levied under an Act of Parliament on all vessels, by the Trinity House Board, to keep up the light-houses on the coast, and it was asserted by some that the receipts of the Board were greater by 100,000l. a year than the expenditure, and therefore that part of this surplus sum might be allowed by a remission of the dues to the owners of vessels fitted out as already mentioned. Before he sat down, he (Mr. Mackinnon) would observe that the apprehension of invasion from France appeared a sort of bugbear that had more or less at different periods of our history haunted the imagination of the English people. In the early part of this century, the Emperor of France had made formidable preparations to invade this country. Napoleon was then the master of the Continent of Europe; his army was deemed invincible; he had, as tributaries, Spain, Holland, and nearly all the maritime States, except Russia, on his side; his ambition was to invade England. Had he done so, had he ever made the attempt? He was too wise; he was aware of the danger, of the difficulty, of nearly the impossibility, of crossing the Channel in face of a superior opposing force; of landing artillery, ammunition, and cavalry, either in 381 a fog or gale of wind. If this man in the height of his glory and fame could not succeed, was it likely that any other person could make the attempt? He (Mr. Mackinnon) was aware it might he answered, that steam power was now in use, which was not the case at the period before mentioned; but he would beg of the House to bear in mind, that if steam was of service in means of attack, it was equally so in means of defence; and with a fleet of steam vessels such as this country could bring out to line our coast, an attempt at a successful invasion was quite an absurdity. The crossing of the Channel in a gale of wind or a fog would be impracticable for an enemy; and if he made the attempt in fine or even moderate weather, in face of an opposing force, it was unnecessary to predict the result. For these reasons he would support the Motion.
§ MR. STAFFORD
said, he must do the hon. Member for Orkney, who had brought forward this important subject, the justice to say, that whatever decision the House might come to with regard to this question —whether favourable or otherwise — his course had been not only plain and businesslike, but entirely removed from all party considerations. The hon. Member had turned his attention to the subject, not as a partisan, but as an Englishman; and he (Mr. Stafford) must say that he had never known a Committee which had paid greater attention to a subject or conducted an inquiry in a more fair and impartial manner than the Committee of which the hon. Member for Lymington (Mr. Mackinnon) was chairman. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Anderson) considered that when the attention of the country was intently fixed on the question of our national defences, it was an opportune period for discussing this subject, and in that opinion he (Mr. Stafford) entirely concurred. If he understood the hon. Gentleman aright, his proposal was, that as we had already a reserve of seamen, we should carry the principle further, and have also a reserve of steam vessels. He was consistent in making that proposal, and no better opportunity could have been taken for bringing the question before them. As the Board of Admiralty had not yet found an opportunity of laying any lengthened statement before the House relative to the Navy, it was thought desirable that he should, on the present occasion, bring before them a few particulars, and to those he called the earnest attention of the House. He would first proceed 382 to lay before the House the state of our naval force as compared with that of foreign Powers. His right hon. Friend the Secretary for the Home Department stated last night in his speech on the Militia Bill, the following to be the number of vessels of war on the home station and ready to serve—nine sail of the line, five frigates, one sloop, nine screw steamers, and eight paddle steamers. There were fifteen other vessels nearly completed. The whole of our naval defence on the home station stood thus:—
To these add Hecate (cruising), 160 men; Pluto, 55; Antelope, 55; Vulcan, 152; making in all 52 vessels and 12,328 men, exclusive of 4,500 marines on shore, and coast-guard and dockyard battalions; being altogether 29,648 men. In addition he had to mention the Simeon and Vulcan, large screw steamers, each capable of moving a regiment; and several small steamers besides. The whole of Her Majesty's ships in commission were—
Vessels. Men. Woolwich 9 530 Sheerness 7 1,544 Portsmouth 16 6,642 Devonport 11 2,822 Cork 5 368 Total 48 11,906
Subsequently to the dismissal of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston), a notion had arisen amongst foreign Powers that England was inclined to abandon her efforts for the suppression of the Slave Trade. Whether it might be wise or unwise to keep up the African squadron he would not stop to inquire; but he must be allowed to say, that with regard to the number of vessels on the coast of Africa, so long as they were allowed to remain there, the Admiralty would feel it their duty to keep them in an efficient state. He would now proceed to state the number of foreign ships in commission, and wished to call the attention of the House to this curious document, which had been prepared with great care and attention. To begin with Russia. The number of Russian line-of-battle ships in commission were—in the Baltic, 27; Black Sea, 18; making together 45. Of frigates and corvettes there were—in the Baltic, 12; the Black Sea, 12; together 24. Of brigs, sloops, and schooners there were—in the Baltic, 15; the Black Sea, 19; together 383 34; making a total of 103. Then, with regard to steam vessels, Russia had in the Baltic 8, and in the Black Sea 6 frigates; of small steamers there were in the Baltic 5, and in the Black Sea 15; in all 34—the entire naval force of Russia being 137. He would next take French ships in commission. The French had—of line-of-battle ships, 7; frigates, 11; corvettes, 10; brigs, 11; small vessels, 12; transports, 22; in all 73. Of steam-vessels of 600-horse power and upwards they had 2; between 500 and 600, 1; between 400 and 500, 8; between 300 and 400, 1; between 200 and 300, 15; between 100 and 200, 31; under 100, 8; in all, 66. The naval forces of the three great maritime Powers of Europe were: line-of-battle ships —Great Britain, 72; France, 45; Russia, 45. Frigates—Great Britain, 83; France, 45; Russia, 10. The total sailing force was—Great Britain, 236; France, 257; Russia, 174. Coming to large steamers —Great Britain had 37; France, 61; Russia, 8. Of steamers under 200-horse power, Great Britain had 97; France, 57; Russia, 24. But it should be remembered that we had also the large Transatlantic steamers; and it was shown in a letter from Mr. Turnbull, our Consul at Marseilles, that one of these steamers, the Montezuma, carried, in 1848, from Oran to Port Vendres, from the 20th to the 24th of April, 1,818 men of the 6th Light Infantry and 56th Regiment of the Line, and 195 officers and crew of the ship—making 2,013 men altogether. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Anderson) had compared our present position with that of 1807; but to compare the two periods appeared to him to be idle. There were many additional circumstances now to be considered on the supposition of an invasion. The truth was, that what formerly would have taken a month to do towards invasion, might now be done in a night. At the first outbreak, all depended on our naval supremacy in the narrow seas. Naval defence was requisite for our great arsenals. The Channel Islands were now without any vessel of war, and they could not overlook the state of the undefended towns on our coasts, Brighton, Yarmouth, Harwich, Hull, Newcastle, Leith, Aberdeen, and Dundee. Then they must consider the effect of railways. On the outbreak of a war France might send her sailors across that country from the south to the north; but our fleet was cut in two, divided by the Gut of Gibraltar, while, Malta and Alexan- 384 dria having become the outports of our Indian trade, our interests in the Mediterranean must be protected. He did not bring these things forward to cause alarm; but he felt that they had a close bearing on the subject before them; and he feared that the statement of the greatest general of the age, in 1847, though not forgotten by the people of England, had been too much lost sight of by the Members of that House. Writing in 1847, the Duke of Wellington said—
East Indies and China 19 Cape of Good Hope 9 Coast of Africa 22We have no defence, no hope of defence, excepting in our fleet. … But, as we stand now, and if it be true that the exertions of the fleet alone are not sufficient to provide for our defence, we are not safe for a week after the declaration of war.Then he added—I am bordering upon 77 years of age, passed in honour. I hope that the Almighty may protect me from being the witness of the tragedy which I cannot persuade my contemporaries to avert.Now, certainly, since 1847 a good deal had been done; but the question was, had enough been done for security? The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Anderson) came forward backed by the unanimous report of a Committee, and by the opinions of many most eminent witnesses. Among others the hon. Gentleman had named Captain Chads, a naval officer, for whose character all must feel the highest respect. Captain Chads being asked—In the event of a war, France would send out a number of armed steamers to intercept and annoy our trade. Would it not be very important to have our own mercantile steamers prepared to watch the ports and protect our trade?" answered, "I think they are highly necessary as auxiliaries. I do not think you ought to have less than 150 to 200 of your most powerful vessels, because you cannot expect that they would be all in port at a time; you will not have half available.Captain Henderson, also in reply to the question—In case of war, the first effort would be, I suppose, directed to the destruction of the enemy's steam vessels, as being their essential arm?" answered, "In the first of the war we ought to have a number of light fast steam vessels for the Channel to protect our trade, and to cripple the enemy's vessels; in the event of a war the enemy will always have numberless privateers; they would always have those vessels as fast as they possibly can, with a small quantity of fuel on board, be on our coast during the night picking up and destroying our merchant vessels, and in the morning they can be over on their coast; that is the way we shall suffer most in the case of another war, in my opinion.Not only were these witnesses favourable to the proposition of the hon. Gentleman, 385 but the principle was conceded by the Admiralty in almost all their contracts with steamers. He held in his hand a note of the contract steam packets fit for the purposes of war, and from that it appeared that they amounted to fifty-one vessels, with 18,791 horse power, and 52,343 tons. All those vessels were, or ought to be, unless the contract were in some way violated, fitted to carry arms for the purposes of war. The hon. Gentleman was not correct in saying, that nothing had been done on this subject since 1849. Perhaps not so much had been done as ought to have been done; but the present Admiralty Board, without waiting for the Motion of the hon. Member, had, as soon as they came into office, communicated with those persons who might enable them to carry such contracts into effect. Under these circumstances, the present Board of Admiralty acquiesced in the Motion of the hon. Member; but the Navy Estimates having been passed, there was, of course, no funds available for carrying into effect the proposed Resolution, and he must also observe that to naval men the main difficulty did not appear that of expense, though that of course must be a great consideration; but the question was, whether the naval and mercantile crews would work well together, and whether the latter would like to be placed under martial law—and it was here the chief difficulty lay. The question was one of detail and not of principle, and the present Admiralty Board would rejoice most heartily if every vessel now belonging to a company could be rendered subservient to the purposes of national defence. In consenting to the Motion, the Admiralty would endeavour to carry out the object of the hon. Gentleman in the most fair spirit; and he would read one extract more, which would encourage the House in proceeding in the course suggested. Mr. Laing being asked—Have you had any means of knowing, by conversation or consulting them (merchant seamen and engineers), what are their views on that point?" answered, "The only proof that I could give is this, that last year, at the time there was a little disturbance, and no one know what the result might be at the time, I received orders from the Board to have so many ships in readiness, as they might be required. It never entered into my mind to ask them a question about it. I told them the ships were wanted to go at a moment's notice, and we did not know where, and they never asked me any question about it.He felt great pleasure in expressing the full concurrence of the present Admiralty in the proposition of the hon. Gentleman, 386 and he hoped that not only would the defence of the country be thereby promoted, but that also another link of connexion might be created between the naval and mercantile marine.
§ CAPTAIN SCOBELL
said, the facts stated to the House by the hon. Secretary to the Admiralty were very satisfactory, and went far to show that the country was in a perfect state of naval defence; but he thought the speech of the hon. Gentleman ought to have preceded the debate of the preceding night, and if it had, it would have dissipated a great many of the doubts and hesitations which had been expressed with regard to the mode of defending the country. Though a steam navy gave greater facilities of attack, it afforded an equal power of defence; and it was hard for a landsman, much less for a soldier, to understand the precision with which steam vessels were now managed. But the force on our coast ought to be so managed that they could be, at any given time, concentrated at any given point. As for invasion, it ought to be borne in mind, that the invaders, if they attempted to effect a landing in rough weather, would find it to be almost impossible; for the landing of soldiers, and ammunition, and artillery, in a troubled sea, was attended with the greatest difficulties; and in fine weather, our cruisers must be very negligent indeed if they did not prevent it. The hon. Gentleman said, there were nine vessels of the line on the home station; but he asked, was there any one of them, except the Rodney, ready to obey a message sent by electric telegraph? And yet, the arguments of the Government last night all went upon the supposition of an immediate available force to meet a sudden and immediate danger. None of the vessels of war, except two or three, were fit to go to sea before seven or eight days' preparation, and during that time the enemy might have landed. Many of the vessels to which the hon. Gentleman alluded were now in dock, and in course of being fitted up. It was not enough to count the names and number of vessels; they must be maimed and ready. But it was upon the steamers they must chiefly rely. In a strong easterly wind they could not get a large vessel of war from Portsmouth to the Downs for several days; therefore, if the coast was to be defended it must be by steam vessels, perfectly manned and ready. As for that moveable squadron, of which the hon. and gallant Member for Gloucester (Admiral 387 Berkeley) had spoken, it was by no means clear that it was in a state of preparation. A great point for us to keep in our eye was, what number of vessels any nation was ready to go to sea with—whatever number they kept, we must always exceed that number. We must keep the supremacy of the sea—we must not lessen our squadron—we must not have fewer ships than foreign nations; and if there be any apprehension of an invasion, we must keep such a force upon our coasts as would be morally certain to overpower any enemy who would come down upon us. A matter lost sight of in these discussions was the time it would take 100,000 men to embark; it could not be done in less than two or three days. It was very easy to transport troops if our enemy had the superiority at sea; it was very easy to effect such a transport where there was no opposition. When the French sent their troops to Rome there was nothing to impede them; they sailed like a batch of pleasure yachts; they went there under sham colours—they went there as friends, but it would be a very different matter if there was an enemy on the water: that would alter the whole case. Look at our own Walcheren expedition, and the difficulties it met with. As to the Motion before the House, he was rejoiced to find the Admiralty had acceded to it. They would then have to trust not only to our men of war and to our war steamers, but also to an innumerable fleet of mercantile steamers, which would back up our Navy, and protect the country. The French naval force had been much spoken of, their line-of-battle ships, and their large war steamers; but they had not a harbour, except Cherbourg, into which a large steamer could enter—not one. It was a very different thing when Napoleon threatened an invasion with his flat-bottomed boats, when there were no steamers to contend against him. In fair weather they might have slipped through a squadron of men-of-war, but our numerous ports gave us a great advantage. Look at our shores, indented with such harbours as Dungeness, Portland Road, Torbay, Plymouth, and Falmouth. He gave his hearty assent to the Motion.
§ ADMIRAL STEWART
said, that on this his first attempt to address the House, he would not long trespass on their patience; but he wished to make a few remarks upon the question now under discussion. He hoped that no such idea would be for a moment entertained as that there was any 388 feeling of jealousy on the part of the Navy with respect to the mercantile marine. Nothing could be more silly or puerile than for any naval officer to entertain such a feeling towards that navy to which the glory, strength, and commerce of Great Britain owed its existence. He agreed in all that had been said as to the expediency of employing the mercantile marine as a means of defence in case of emergency; but he did not shut his eyes to the difficulty pointed out by the hon. Secretary to the Admiralty, that in a mixed crew, partly composed of new men, great difficulties might be experienced, and that they could not take the precaution of testing or experiment-talising upon how such a force would work until the emergency came; but he also hoped and believed that if ever such an emergency arrived, so good a spirit would pervade every part of the force that all minor differences would be sunk, and that all would pull together for the sake of their homes and their altars. He cordially agreed in the feeling expressed by the hon. Secretary to the Admiralty, and sincerely hoped, with him, that no endeavour would be wanting on the part of that House and the country to encourage and promote that cordiality of feeling between Her Majesty's Navy and the mercantile marine. The hon. Gentleman who had spoken on that subject, and especially the hon. and gallant Officer who had last addressed the House, seemed to forget that vast advantages were now to be derived from the application of the screw to vessels of war; and although some time might elapse before such improvements were fairly worked out, yet he hoped they would all live to see the day when no line-of-battle ship would be sent to sea without a screw to her keel, or a steam-tender in attendance. The great advantage of the screw was, that the vessel had within herself the power of steam. If a ship of war took a tender with her, there might be difficulties in taking her in tow, or they might be separated by stress of weather; but if she had the steam power within herself, she would be armed and competent to act in all emergencies. The screw need not be applied until the emergency arose; only a small part of the stowage might be given up, and abundant opportunities would be afforded for a plentiful supply of water. He would not say the late Board of Admiralty had solved the two great problems of naval administration —first, how to keep the active list efficient, and the other with respect to the manning 389 of the Navy, but he would say that the late Board of Admiralty had made a step towards the removal of the difficulty. It was easy to say that the active list should consist only of effective men; but when they looked at the large number of officers who had worn out the best of their days in the service of their country, he thought it would he hard to say to them, "You are no longer efficient, you must leave the service; you are too old, go about your business." He (Admiral Stewart) at least would not like to be the man to give this intimation. It was very difficult to fix the age at which an officer ought to retire. Lord Duncan fought one of the best battles in our naval history when he was 70 years of age. The late Board of Admiralty instituted a rule that not more than seventy-five young gentlemen should enter the service each year, and that a certain number of elderly officers should go upon the retired list: this was a step in the right direction. As to the other problem—the manning of the Navy, this difficulty had been seen by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Sir J. Graham), when he brought forward his Registry of Seamen Bill. But it must be recollected that the raw materials alone could be supplied to the Navy from the mercantile marine, and the qualifications of a seaman for the Navy were not now the same that they used to be. Gunnery afloat at the present day differed as much from what it was at the time of the war, as a blunderbuss differed from a rifle. It was said that merchant seamen were not willing to enter the service of Her Majesty, because there were tyrants among the naval officers. He (Admiral Stewart) would not acknowledge the truth of that doctrine. He denied the existence of tyrannical officers in Her Majesty's Navy at the present time. That class of men was now extinct, and everything was now done in a proper and just manner, every man being held responsible for his acts. There was no naval service in the world in which the men were better fed or so well treated as in Her Majesty's Navy, and he had no fear but that the Navy would do it3 duty in the day of need. But, as the means of transport were now 80 much increased, he did not think that the defence of the country ought to be left to the Navy alone, but that we should be prepared to meet an enemy on shore; so that, as the old song said—If their flat-bottoms in safety get o'er,Why let there be Britons to meet them on shore.
said, it must be apparent to the House that in the many discussions that had taken place with reference to this subject, the speeches of the Members belonging to the Financial Reformers all partook of one type, containing an essential contradiction in itself—a wild theory and a perversion of facts in every possible way for their own argument. It was of the utmost importance, therefore, that the people of this country should be in possession of the real strength and condition of our naval armaments and of those of Continental Powers. He recollected that in 1845 the late Sir Robert Peel, when the Government were called upon to state to the House the resources of the country for defensive purposes, said it was the duty of the Ministry to withhold that information, and that it was wrong to supply foreign countries with it; but the fallacy of that argument was exposed by the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, who showed that Russia and every other nation were as completely aware of our resources, both by sea and land, as we ourselves, and at all times there came foreign officers visiting our dockyards, and acquiring that information. He felt grateful, therefore, to the hon. Secretary of the Admiralty for his statement. He was glad to find that his opinion as to manning the Navy was now entertained by others; and he hoped the House would think that the Board of Admiralty, in the particular vote for the reserve force, ought to be allowed some margin, so as to enable them to adopt a more general and efficient plan.
§ MR. HUME
wished to make one or two observations on the statement of the hon. Secretary of the Admiralty, which he thought ought to have been made when the naval estimates were introduced. He (Mr. Hume) called upon the country carefully to read the hon. Member's speech, for it would, he thought, be found to contradict the alarms which had been circulated on this subject. It showed that our coasts were not denuded of ships, though the men-of-war belonging to this country had not been summoned from foreign stations. There was one point to which he hoped the Government would pay attention; it was the manner in which our ships of war had been employed in different parts of the world. He (Mr. Hume) quite agreed with the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton (Sir G. Peehell), that the conveyance of specie in British men-of- 391 war was a disgrace to the country, and ought to be done away with; and he hoped the present Board of Admiralty would take care to put an end to the practice. It was quite true, as had been stated in that House, that the officers of the English Navy were superior to those of any other navy in the world; but he could not concur in the view of the hon. and gallant Admiral who had last spoken, that they entertained very friendly feelings towards the commercial marine. Was the extortion of salvage from ships in distress an evidence of kindly feeling? The late Government deserved the thanks of the country for having put an end to the system of salvage; and he hoped that the present Government would co-operate with the late Government, and render it an imperative duty on the officers of the Navy to afford at all times every assistance in their power to ships of every nation when in distress. No American or French captain of a man-of-war ever demanded a single shilling for saving a vessel from shipwreck; but officers in our service had taken most offensive measures, by proceeding in courts of justice to obtain great payments for salvage. The naval officers in all foreign services were called upon to give assistance to any vessels which they found in distress, without the smallest claim to or idea of salvage, in any form or degree. There was no service in the world in which greater improvements had of late years been made than the British Navy, especially in the treatment of the men, their pay, and accommodations. But if there were any difficulty in manning the Navy, the Government should offer bounties, as other countries did, and the difficulty would soon cease. They were going to maintain a reserve of 5,000 seamen. What was to be done with them? He very much doubted the wisdom of the measure. He thought the Government had shown a wise discretion in yielding to the suggestions contained in the recommendations of the Committee; but he would remind them not to act hastily in carrying out those recommendations. Let them examine the question well, and, above all, let them inquire most carefully into the question of expense. He wished the House and the country to read the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Admiralty in connexion with the speech delivered in Paris the day before yesterday. The President of the French Republic had herein expressed his great desire to main- 392 tain peace with all nations, and he (Mr. Hume) thought they might now dismiss the Militia Bill altogether, as unnecessary and uncalled for. When the hon. Gentleman laid before the House that statement, with reference to the navies of foreign countries, he had entirely omitted to mention whether the ships were in commission, or whether they were ready for sea. The hon. Gentleman had told the House that Russia had forty sail in the Baltic, from which some might run away with the idea that we ought to have forty sail in the same waters to watch them. But it was very plain that the Admiralty themselves believed that there was no danger in that quarter, because they had not sent so much even as a single sloop of war to the Baltic; so that the fact of this Russian fleet being in the Baltic could be no argument for increasing our naval armaments. We had no reason whatever to fear this parade of ships on the part of Russia, because there could never again be a coalition of all Europe against England; and besides, we had plenty of ships at our colonies, where three out of every four were perfectly useless, and totally unnecessary for any purposes of protection. It was not the naval force of Russia or of France that we need be alarmed at. He would tell the hon. Secretary to the Admiralty that the first competing Power we could have to contend with was the United States of America, which had a commercial marine almost equal to our own. Yet the hon. Gentleman did not think it necessary to adduce any statistics of the naval power of the United States. Was he not aware that, as soon as the recent hostile ties between the United States and Mexico ceased, the United States arrested her shipbuilding operations, put her line-of-battle ships out of commission, and reduced the number of her captains and other officers from 400 to 350, and every other grade of seamen in proportion. And her reason for taking this course was, that having no difficulty in time of war in getting the requisite number of men, in a time of peace she ought to reduce her establishments, and husband her resources against any recurrence of hostilities. He thought we ought to adopt a similar policy, and, above all, let us encourage our mercantile marine, and by extending the principle of free trade promote the intercourse between England and every part of the world. By that means we should be enabled to man our Navy whenever it was 393 called for. In conclusion, he would acknowledge that the speech of the hon. Secretary to the Admiralty was, perhaps, the most satisfactory statement he had heard for some time past, because it showed that the Government were desirous of doing what they could to give efficiency to the maritime resources of the country.
said, that the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had not shown his usual good nature in the blame he had cast on the officers of the Navy. Whatever they received for salvage was awarded to them by Courts of Law; and whatever might be the propriety of altering the law, while it remained unaltered they were not to be reproached for claiming that to which they were entitled. One case had lately come to his knowledge in which a claim had been improperly made, and it had led to the order of the Board of Admiralty which had been alluded to; but, generally speaking, there had been no deficiency of that generous and liberal spirit which was the characteristic of British sailors. He (Mr. Cowper) regarded the system of reserves as a most economical means of having available for any emergency a force which was not necessary in times of peace, but which, if not held in reserve, would have to be regularly paid as part of the permanent establishment. He could not, like the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hume), blame the hon. Secretary to the Admiralty for comparing our naval strength with that of other nations, because he thought it necessary to consider by what amount of force we were likely to be attacked when we were determining the extent of our own establishments. Now, by a return, he found that the French navy consisted of about 40,000 men, including 15,000 marine infantry and marine artillery; whereas the Estimates now on the table of the House gave England only a total of 39,000 men. The expense of the French Naval Estimates for the home and colonial service last year amounted to 4,276,000l. which was more than was spent for effective service in the British Navy. The amount of our Estimates was 5,600,000l., and if from this were deducted half-pay, and civil and military pensions and allowances, it reduced the amount to 4,140,272l., or less than the amount of the French Naval Estimates, which had not to provide, like our Estimates, for a large number of veterans who had served in the last war. He thought that we ought to have a large preponderance of naval force over our war- 394 like neighbours, to render ourselves safe; for though an hon. Member had ridiculed the idea of invasion, yet when nations went to war they attacked one another; and if we were dragged into a war, we must expect an attempt to attack or invade us. It must be remembered that the attacking Power had advantages, in the choice of the time, the place, and the mode of attack, over the defenders. A large number of steamers would be requisite to cover all the points that were assailable. If the attack was conducted according to the views lately published by a foreign officer, and was made in three different directions, unless the English naval force were strong enough to cover all the points attacked, the expedition that was most weakly resisted would be the most vigorously prosecuted. An attack by sea was no doubt a very difficult military operation; but did it follow, because the operation was difficult that it would not be attempted, or might not be successful? In war, those who were the most audacious, and ran the greatest risks, were often the most succesful; and the best general was the one who made the fewest blunders. All operations of war were uncertain, and particularly those that depended on wind and waves; and we ought not to leave out of calculation the chances that might be against us. He was glad to hear that the measure contemplated by this Motion was to be carried out. There would be no difficulties in carrying it into effect, unless with respect to the question of the light-dues. The reason, in fact, that the Report of the Committee had not been acted upon before was, that the compensation asked—exemption from the light-dues—was thought too much. But if any other compensation could be hit upon which would be agreeable to the owners of the vessels, and which was not excessive, there was no reason against the measure, and it would be attended with great advantage to the country.
§ SIR GEORGE PECHELL
said, he understood that in his absence from the House the hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Navy had referred to the town of Brighton for the purpose of supporting his argument. Now he begged, as the representative of that borough, to deprecate the supposition that it was favourable to the expenditure of any more money upon the defences of the country. It was in vain to think that that town could be defended by placing guns at the end of the chain pier, or at the end of every street. They could not thus 395 prevent ships from throwing their projectiles into the town, and to plant these guns there would only be to give the enemy an excuse for firing upon the town as a fortified place. Did they mean to fortify that town, like Paris? [Mr. STAFFORD: No!] If the Admiralty made a proper distribution of the naval force on the coasts of Kent and Sussex, they might defend them in a proper and efficient manner. But they must not think that that House would vote money to erect fortifications on the coasts, or that the people would submit to them. He recollected the time of the erection of the Martello towers, and the jobbery that was then carried on in connection with them. Then, too, was made that military canal, thirty miles long, by which, although only a few yards wide, it was thought they could stop that French army which had crossed the Rhine and the Vistula! The fact was, the money of the country was then expended for the purpose of keeping out what were called revolutionary principles; just as hon. Gentlemen opposite, in order to keep out reform, were protracting that discussion, to prevent the Motion for the ballot coming on.
§ MR. ANDERSON
, in reply, said, that after the very satisfactory assurance, on on the part of the Government, which had been given by the hon. Member the Secretary of the Admiralty, he felt that it would be unnecessary, as well as unbecoming, for him to press the matter further; and therefore, with permission of the House, he would withdraw the Resolution.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said, that he would just suggest that it might be expedient to exclude iron steam vessels from the arrangements now in contemplation; for he apprehended that they would not be found to be fitted for the purposes of war.
said, that this subject had already engaged the attention of the Board of Admiralty.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.