HC Deb 06 July 1854 vol 134 cc1267-9

said, he wished to ask the hon. Gentleman the Clerk of the Ordnance, whether his attention had been called to the complaint contained in the Times newspaper of the 10th day of June last (a letter from their correspondent at Scutari), to the following effect, namely— It may be as well to let the authorities know that the tools issued to the well are all bur useless. The hatchets, bill hooks, and adzes, furnished to the men of the various regiments would be much more serviceable if they would only cat, but they have yielding edges, which obstinately refuse to keep sharp or straight. The soldiers complain of them loudly, and it will not make these utensils one bit more useful to produce bushels of certificates or letters from generals, commissaries, or tool-makers, declaring that nothing could be better. Let them come and try to chop wood (to boil their cooking tins) with them, and the authorities will soon alter their opinions as to these Government supplies. No one who has not had practical experience of camp life, can imagine the annoyance caused by such a circumstance as this, or the real discomfort it originates, in carrying out the details of a life under canvas. In the same way that most indefatigable and valuable body of men, the sappers and miners, are impeded in their labours, nor only by the tools they have being frequently indifferent, but, what is worse, by the want of the implements which they ought to carry. And whether any such complaint had reached the Board of Ordnance from the army authorities: and, if so, whether the articles alluded to were manufactured or purchased at Sheffield, and by, and of whom; and, if not, whether the manufacturers at Sheffield, and all other places, were permitted to compete for Government orders in regard to quality and price, or to price only; or were prevented from doing so by any unsatisfactory mode of testing the quality?


In answer to the question of the hon. Gentleman, I beg, in the first place, to put him out of all pain and apprehension on the subject, so far as regards the manufacturers of Sheffield. The articles referred to were neither manufactured nor purchased in the town of Sheffield, but I shall be able to show him that if they had been obtained there, they would have done no discredit to the manufacturers of that town. The statement in the paper to which the hon. Gentleman refers me is, first, that the hatchets, billhooks, and adzes furnished to the men of the various regiments in the East are of a bad quality; and, next, that the tools of the sappers and miners are bad, and there is not a sufficient supply. With regard to the second point, I have received a communication on the subject from Sir John Burgoyne. He says, that the commanding engineer in the East has not made any complaint about the quality of the entrenching tools sent nut. As regards the quantity, it was sufficient for the operations at Gallipoli; though there was some apprehension, from the additional supply being detained at Malta, that they would not have arrived in time, a few were purchased at Constantinople, and the further supply was received from Malta. With regard to the other point, in reference to the hatchets, bill-hooks, and adzes, that were said to be furnished to the army in the East, there are no hatchets furnished to the army, neither are there any adzes. I presume the writer meant axes; both bill-hooks and axes have been supplied to the army in the East. A complaint was sent—I think from the Guards, through Lord Raglan—to the Ordnance, with regard to the structure of the bill hooks and the quality of the axes; and the explanation sent by the Ordnance to Lord Raglan was considered entirely satisfactory. When this subject was brought to my attention by the hon. Member for Sheffield, I caused different specimens of the articles to be brought up from the stores, and had them examined by Sir John Burgoyne and other competent persons, and they considered that as to pattern and quality they were excellent. It would be strange if it were not so, for the patterns were arranged, after the most careful consideration, by a Committee in 1827, assisted by Major General Miller, Major Jones, and Mr. Wright, then senior clerk of the woks in the employment of the Ordnance. Tenders are issued for those materials and the specifications are extremely minute. The articles are furnished, not by open competition, but contractors of proved respectability are put upon the Ordnance list. When these articles are required copies of tenders are sent to those persons, and they send in their tenders. Therefore, it is not correct to say, that respectable and competent persons have to contend with persons who are not respectable. There has been, since these complaints have been made, a Committee appointed by the Board of Ordnance, with an engineer officer at the head of them; and though they have not yet concluded their labours, in their opinion the articles submitted to them are of good quality and proper pattern. The axes to which I presume reference is made have been supplied by Mr. Elvin, the eminent manufacturer of Wednesbury, from a pattern brought over by the Guards from America after the rebellion in Canada, and it was considered the best for the purpose that it was possible to get. As to the question, whether the people of Sheffield would be allowed to compete for these articles on fair terms, I beg to inform the hon. Gentleman that no greater service can be rendered to the Ordnance than that those gentlemen should compete for these articles, and every facility shall be given to them to do so. It is an error to think that nothing is considered but the price, for the quality of the articles is severely tested; and never have there been any complaints as to the mode in which the review of the articles has been conducted, except that the review has been considered by some persons to be too strict.