HC Deb 18 May 1854 vol 133 cc585-8

Order for Third Reading read.


said, he thought it due to the House and to the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Admiralty, that he should mention that he was fully borne out in stating, that the reply which the right hon. Baronet made to his statements in the early part of the evening was incorrect. In using that term he had not the slightest intention to say anything that could be considered offensive, but he spoke on the authority of men who knew what they said, and who were as good vouchers for the truth of their statements as the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Baronet stated that the Great Britain was not offered twice to the Government, but only once, and that the price was so exorbitant that it could not be accepted, that she would carry no more than 150 horses, and that she was incapable of performing the voyage within the time. Now, in a letter which Messrs. Gibbs and Bright had sent to the Morning Herald on the 5th of April, they distinctly asserted that they had offered the ship twice to Her Majesty's Government. As to the capabilities of the vessel for carrying cavalry regiments, and its means of affording them every accommodation, although there was considerable difficulty in fully explaining this subject, yet he had no doubt that the steamer was perfectly capable of carrying and affording accommodation to such troops, and this opinion of his was further confirmed by a letter which he held in his hand, and which fully bore him out in his opinion that the vessel would be now ready to go to sea in June, and that, if Messrs. Gibbs and Bright's offer had been accepted at the time it was made, three cavalry regiments might now have been, through its means, already at the seat of the war. The right hon. Baronet had said that the vessel would not answer the purposes of the Government, but he thought in this, as in many other things, the right hon. Baronet spoke inconsiderately, and without fully understanding the subject he was speaking on. He could tell the right hon. Baronet that the Himalaya went to Malta in eight days, and he considered the Great Britain capable of doing the same. The right hon. Baronet had reproved him for putting the question which he had done, and pre- facing it by the remarks which he had thought it his duty to make, but he begged distinctly to tell the right hon. Baronet that he did not look to him for an opinion as to what he ought to say or do, and that as he repudiated ever being a follower of the right hon. Baronet, so he would not permit the right hon. Baronet to dictate to him in the assumptive manner which he had thought proper to do. He (Mr. French) had said before, and he repeated it then, that he believed the massacre at Sinope would never have taken place unless it bad been for the orders from the Admiralty; that after such massacre the Russian fleet could have been taken if the orders from the Admiralty had permitted it; that our fleet, if it had not been for the conduct of the Admiralty at home, could have prevented the gathering of the troops from Circassia, as they might also, had it not been for the inefficiency or inactivity of the Admiralty, have prevented the closing up the mouths of the Danube. He wished to know, with reference to Odessa, why, when the Admirals had demanded that the ships from the inner harbour should be delivered up to them, that the fleet was afterwards desired to leave without such demand being complied with? He must complain, also, that the right hon. Baronet, in his answer to him relative to his question about Odessa, had stated, in a kind of off-hand way, that, upon leaving that port, the ships had sailed to Sebastopol, implying thereby they were going to bombard it, when he knew very well that such were not their orders. He believed that the result of the war, if it were left in the feeble hands that it was at present, would be that next year we might find 200,000 French, 200,000 Austrians, and 200,000 Russians hovering about Turkey, and that then we should not only find it impossible, with our small force of 40,000 men, to assist our allies the Turks, but probably difficult to defend ourselves. He did not consider the right hon. Baronet entitled to address him as he had, and he begged to repudiate his assuming any such privilege as he seemed on this occasion desirous of claiming.


said, he thought the House would agree with him that this was not a fit occasion for entering into a protracted discussion of the disasters which the hon. Gentleman had indulged himself in prophesying for this war, nor was he prepared that evening to defend the conduct of the war, to reopen the ques- tion of Sinope, or to discuss the bombardment of Odessa, or any expedition, past or future, on the coast of Circassia. If the hon. Gentleman was desirous of taking the opinion of the House on those subjects, let him give proper notice of Motion, and he (Sir J. Graham) should be ready then to take the field against him; but this was certainly not the proper opportunity. The hon. Gentleman had, in somewhat an adroit manner, tried to make him the assailant. Now, his complaint in the earlier part of the evening had been of what appeared to him a great violation of the forms and orders of the House on the part of the hon. Gentleman, who had put a question not so much, as it seemed to him, with a view of obtaining any information to gratify his innocent simplicity or ignorance with respect to the matter, but rather with a desire of conveying censure —"willing to wound, but yet afraid to strike." That was a course which appeared to him neither consistent with the rules of that House nor exactly consistent with fair play; and therefore he had met it in the manner of which the hon. Member complained. With respect to the facts of the case, he could only repeat that there had been one formal offer made of the Great Britain to the Board of Admiralty. That offer he held in his hand, and all the papers connected with it. Among the tenders sent in to the Board of Admiralty, there was one made on the part of the owners of the Great Britain, in the month of February, he believed, at the rate of 3l. per ton per month, which was a higher sum than had been paid in other cases, and that offer the Board of Admiralty thought fit to reject. Since that time, he believed, there had been no other offer made by the owners of the Great Britain for hire by the month, but there had been an offer—a public offer—made to sell her for a sum which the Admiralty thought was still more exorbitant than that demanded for the hire of her. That offer also had been rejected. With respect to her capacities the Government officer at Liverpool had been directed to survey her, to ascertain whether she was competent to convey a regiment of cavalry, with 340 horses. The report was that she was capable of carrying 180 horses on the lower deck, and twenty on the upper deck. That accommodation the Admiralty objected to. The result, then, was that she was unable to carry a regiment of cavalry, and that even to the extent of 180 horses her accommodation was not such as met the views of the Admiralty. With respect to her speed—and he had no wish to depreciate a vessel which the Government would neither buy nor hire—he did not believe that she could go from any port in England to Constantinople in a fortnight; it had not been achieved by any vessel yet, and he did not believe the Great Britain would be the first to do it. He was always delighted to answer any questions which were put to him, with a desire to obtain information, not intended to convey blame, and if the hon. Gentleman would always put his questions in that spirit, and reserve his censure for his Motions, no doubt they would always continue good friends. He was sorry that anything should have fallen from him to annoy the hon. Gentleman; but it certainly had appeared to him that the mode in which the question was put was not consistent with the rules of the House. He had mentioned more than once that, though he presided over the Board of Admiralty, these matters were mainly under the guidance of a gallant Officer who was not a Member of that House—Captain Milne. A more meritorious officer did not exist, or one who had laboured for the public service more faithfully or more efficiently, and it was very much on his account that he had been desirous of having this matter most fully explained.


If the right hon. Baronet's first answer had been in this tone, he would have heard no more of it.

Bill read 3o, and passed.