HC Deb 18 July 1854 vol 135 cc396-403

said, the return for which he was going to move was one of considerable importance as regarded the management and discipline of Her Majesty's Navy. He was induced to bring forward his Motion in consequence of a statement which had appeared in the public papers giving an account of certain cases of flogging and cruelty on board Her Majesty's sloop Star, commanded by Commander Warren. It was said that nearly all the crew of the Star had been flogged, that many petty officers had been disrated to able seamen in order that they might be put in a position to be flogged, and that a considerable number of able seamen had been reduced to ordinary seamen. He, on a former occasion, asked the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Admiralty, whether the statement was correct or not, when the right hon. Baro- net said that only a few punishments had taken place on board the Star, and that those punishments were inflicted in a case where some seamen had stolen a cask of wine and got drunk upon it. He (Mr. Williams) had since that statement received a communication from the crew of the Star, and they indignantly denied the charge, and he was sure the right hon. Baronet had been deceived. He would place his information against the information of the right hon. Baronet, and was ready to go into an inquiry with perfect confidence of being able to show that the right hon. Baronet had been entirely misled. The right hon. Baronet had refused to give the return asked for by the Motion, upon the pretence that the House of Commons was not a fit place for having anything to do with either the discipline or the management of Her Majesty's Navy. The House of Commons had done more for the Navy and the Army than any Board of Admiralty or any Commander in Chief had ever done, by exposing the cruelties that had been practised in both services. What was the consequence? The practice in the Army was to inflict 1,000 lashes. That was the maximum punishment, and it was contended that they could not inflict a single lash less without bringing the Army into a state of insubordination. Well, a Motion was made for abolishing flogging in the Army, and what followed? Why the Duke of Wellington reduced the number of lashes from 1,000 down to fifty. That was done entirely in deference to the opinion of the House of Commons. It was just the same with respect to the Navy. 1,000 lashes was the punishment in the Navy, and these were inflicted with a cruelty that would disgrace a cannibal. Well, he himself brought forward and exposed cases of cruelty in the naval service over and over again; and what had been the consequence? Why, the punishment had been brought down to forty-eight lashes in the Navy. According to returns presented to the House, the number of men flogged in the Army in 1845 and the first six months of 1846, was 341, who received 38,500 lashes, being an average of 112 lashes to each man; the number of men flogged in the year 1852 was forty-five, who received 1,900 lashes. being an average of not quite forty-six lashes to each man. In that same year there were 101 regiments in which not a single stroke on the back of any man was inflicted. In the Navy, in 1842, 2,107 men were punished, who re- ceived 71,024 lashes; in 1852, only 578 men were flogged, who received 17,500 lashes. Why did the right hon. Baronet refuse to give the return he asked for? Did he mean to say that, after the House had placed in his hands 13,000,000l. to expend on the Navy, and that without a single word of objection, they were not entitled to the information that return would give? If the statement made respecting the Star was correct, great mismanagement must have taken place, and the House ought to be informed of it. But the right hon. Baronet at last thought fit to remove Commander Warren from the Star. What did the crew say? They said they were ready to shed their blood in the service of their Queen, but they objected to have their blood shed by the cat-o'-nine-tails by this Commander Warren. He was not surprised that the Government should have removed that man from his ship, for many desertions had taken place in consequence of his treatment of the crew. And what were the crimes for which these brave men were flogged? He had a list of some of them, among which were "telling untruths," "foul language," "disrespect," "insolence," "fighting," "quarrelling," "irregularity," "bad language," "smoking at his post," "absent without leave," and "negligence;" these were the sort of crimes for which these noble fellows had their flesh torn from their bones. It was a disgrace to the country and to the age. There was no flogging in the French army or the French navy. Our fleets and our armies were now joined with the fleets and armies of France, and what must the French think of us when they heard the groans of brave men when suffering under the lash? They must look upon us as degraded beings. He was quite convinced the sympathy of the House would be against the system, and would support him in the Motion he now begged to submit to the Chair.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That there be laid before this House, a Return of the number of Petty Officers, Seamen, and Marines, respectively, who were flogged on board Her Majesty's sloop Star, while under the command of Commander F. P. Warren, stating the alleged offence, the number of lashes inflicted on each, the number who were flogged more than once, and the number of lashes inflicted in each flogging; also, the number of Petty Officers disrated, and of Able Seamen reduced to Ordinaries.


said, he had thought that he was under some obligation to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lambeth on account of the courtesy which had induced him on more than one occasion, at his (Sir J. Graham's) request, to postpone this Motion, and he had not been slow in thanking him for that attention to his request. But he certainly had hoped that the delay would have led the hon. Gentleman to make a dispassionate statement, and that he would have made that statement, when calling for inquiry, perfectly accurate. He would not go through the various cases which the hon. Gentleman had introduced into his statement. The hon. Gentleman had said that there was a time when 1,000 lashes were inflicted in the Navy. He (Sir J. Graham) denied the accuracy of that statement altogether. The hon. Gentleman had also stated that 13,000,000l. had been placed at the disposal of the Board of Admiralty. Now, the hon. Gentleman might be excused in a matter long since past; but he certainly ought to be accurate as to a circumstance which took place during the present Session of Parliament; but 13,000;000l. was not the amount. Then, the hon. Gentleman hinted, that there was a fondness on the part of the Board of Admiralty for corporal punishment. So far from that being a correct state of the case, the Board of Admiralty was against corporal punishment in every case where it was possible to be dispensed with. The very statement which the hon. Gentleman had adduced proved the fact, for he had shown that within the last twelve years, so far from any fondness having been evinced for that kind of punishment, there had been a constant disuse of it, both in the Army and the Navy, so that that species of punishment had, within a few years, been brought down to a smaller amount than was ever known at any former time. Then the hon. Member wished to be in. formed what number of petty officers, seamen, and marines were flogged on board Her Majesty's sloop the Star; and yet the hon. Gentleman himself stated that a petty officer could not be flogged. The terms of his Motion would, however, lead the public to believe that that punishment could be inflicted on them. The hon. Gentleman then said—taking credit to himself, which he (Sir J. Graham) was not desirous of denying to him—that in consequence of some question which he brought before the House, the Board of Admiralty had insti- tuted an inquiry into the case of the Star. So far from that being the fact, however, an inquiry was instituted by the Board into. that case before the hon. Gentleman's question was put. Again, the hon. Gentleman said, that in consequence of that inquiry, which he imagined was instituted by reason of his question—which he (Sir J. Graham) denied—Commander Warren was removed by the Board of Admiralty from the command of the Star. Now, Commander Warren was not removed at all. He was not removed from the command of that ship. On the contrary, the Board of Admiralty was prepared to allow Commander Warren to go out in command of the ship Star, and it was only in consequence of his own solicitation, on account of ill health, that he was not now in command of that ship. The hon. Gentleman further stated, that there was a great unwillingness on the part of the crew to serve under Commander Warren; whereas, the fact was, that two-thirds of the crew had expressed their perfect willingness to go with him to any part of the world. The hon. Gentleman also added, that numerous desertions had taken place from the ship. He would not speak positively, but his belief was, that not more than two desertions from the ship had occurred since what had taken place in that House on the subject. But, on the last occasion, he (Sir J. Graham) had to appeal to the House against instituting itself into a tribunal, or court of review, in reference to the decisions of the lawfully constituted authorities on the subject of the discipline of the Navy, and he then stated that it was not usual for that House, on ordinary occasions, to institute itself into such a tribunal. The hon. Gentleman had referred to a private conversation held between himself and the hon. Gentleman, in which he (Sir J. Graham) stated his objection to the case being brought before the House. He (Sir J. Graham) had not come prepared to hear the hon. Gentleman state to the House the substance of a private conversation; but, nevertheless, publicly he was ready to repeat what he had said privately to the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman must have misunderstood him, if he thought he had said, that it was not one of the functions, nor the high privilege of the House of Commons, to lay down principles for the guidance of the Executive in every branch I, of the Government. If the House of Commons should lay down the principle, that corporal punishment should cease in the Navy, then, though he might demur altogether from such a decision, still, if it were deliberately pronounced, after debate, by a full House, his decided opinion was, that, the Executive must yield to that decision. But, on the other hand, if, in anything, in laying down a principle for the guidance of the Executive, the House should interfere with the authority of the Executive in matters of discipline and regulation, his opinion was, that it would be fatal both to the Army and to the Navy. In this particular case of the Star, an inquiry was first instituted by the Board of Admiralty; an eminent naval officer was directed to investigate the case, and it was afterwards referred to another, who fully reported on the facts. That Report was carefully considered at the Board of Admiralty, at which were present himself, three admirals, and one naval captain, and they all came to the conclusion that there had been indiscretion and misconduct on the part of the commanding officer, but not of such a character as subjected him either to be tried by court martial, or to be superseded. The commander had the opinion of the Board read to him, and he was then admonished to be more careful in future. With respect to the crew, it was shown that there had been much want of discipline, much insubordination and drunkenness among them. It was true, that at Rio de Janeiro, four men had been flogged on one occasion, and, although the hon. Gentleman had denied the statement, he (Sir J. Graham) would repeat that those punishments arose out of the circumstance that a cask of wine was broken open, and that four sailors were drunk and grossly insubordinate on that occasion. They were accordingly punished, and, in his opinion, were properly punished. Similar cases of insubordination and intemperance were on other occasions punished, but it was a gross exaggeration to say that two-thirds of the crew had been punished. It was quite erroneous to say that petty officers had received corporal punishment on board that ship. He should be very sorry if the House, in a matter of discipline which had been carefully reviewed by the proper authorities, should erect itself into a tribunal or court of appeal in this special case. If the House should desire that corporal punishment should not be inflicted in any case, he hoped that they would at least allow that justice had been administered in a merciful manner by the Executive, and that they would not do anything that would tend to weaken that authority which was absolutely necessary for the maintenance of order, discipline, and subordination in the Navy. He, for one, was fully aware that corporal punishment was most painful either to witness or to inflict. As he had already stated, the cases in which it was inflicted were very few, but it was absolutely necessary, when a vast body of men were congregated in a narrow space under circumstances so peculiar, that, in order that authority might be upheld in the hands of one man, punishment must be brief and decisive. At the same time, that authority was so limited that it could hardly he abused without detection; for, as he had on a former occasion stated to the House, that although the service required prompt punishment, yet the rule was, that corporal punishment should not be inflicted till after the lapse of twenty-four hours—that there should be a warrant for the execution of the punishment in which the facts of the case justifying its infliction should be recorded, which warrant should be transmitted to the Board of Admiralty. Each case was submitted to the Board, and he was sure the House would not believe that the Board of Admiralty was so wanting in feeling and humanity as not to look into, or that there was any disposition on their part against looking into, all these cases. He could assure the House it was a most painful duty, but he trusted that it was a duty which, for the honour of the laws and for the safety of this country, more especially in a time of war, the Executive would never neglect faithfully to discharge. He hoped, therefore, the House, on the whole, would be content with the statement he had made, and not agree to the Motion, nor interfere with the arrangements which the Board of Admiralty had already effected. The ship had gone to a distant station, and the matter was at an end.


said, he was led to believe, from a letter of Admiral Dundas, which he had seen, that the best way of abolishing flogging would be to discontinue the supply of rum in the Navy. Sir John Ross had found that he could do very well without it in the Arctic regions.


, in reply, said, the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Admiralty, instead of meeting the question, had had recourse to special pleading. He (Mr. W. Williams) knew that petty officers, as such, could not be flogged; but the moment they were dis- rated they could be flogged, and this had been done for the purpose. He did not ask for any change in the discipline of the Navy; all he wanted was a statement of the extent of punishment in the Star. The right hon. Baronet said that Commander Warren had not been removed; but he had requested that this Motion might be postponed until the Admiralty had determined what should be done, and he understood him to say that Commander Warren had been removed.


I did not say that; I said he had resigned.


said, that was merely a gentle way of letting him down.


said, he must deny that any petty officer had been disrated for the purpose of being flogged. Such a course would be contrary to the rules of the service.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.