HC Deb 29 January 1855 vol 136 cc1115-7

said, he had given notice of a question which he wished to put to the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Admiralty, whom, however, he did not see in his place. The question of which he had given notice was, whether any correspondence had taken place between the Admiralty and the authorities at Portsmouth, with respect to an alleged neglect by them in landing the sick and wounded soldiers and seamen who had recently arrived from the East in the Himalaya, in consequence of which neglect one of the seamen was reported to have died; and whether, in the event of any such correspondence having taken place, there would be any objection to its being laid upon the table of the House?


said, in replying to the question of the hon. Member, he could assure him that it was not through any neglect of his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty that he was not present to answer the question for himself, for he regretted to say that his right hon. Friend was extremely unwell, being confined to his bed. In regard to the question now put, he could only say that the seaman Williams did not belong either to the army or the navy, and was not returned by the captain or the surgeon of the Himalaya as being on board that vessel either in a naval or military capacity, but, in fact, was sent on board and intrusted to the care of the master, in the character of a distressed British subject. After he was landed he was conveyed to the Sailors' Home, and further than that the authorities had no knowledge of him. No public correspondence had taken place on the subject, but the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Admiralty had written a private letter to the superintendent of the Dockyard at Portsmouth, desiring him to make an immediate and searching inquiry into the matter. It appeared that from the Sailors' Home the seaman in question was carried to the workhouse, where he was admitted; and it was but justice to say that the surgeon of the ship had written a very strong letter, denying, that the man was in any way neglected while on board the ship. There were, therefore, no papers in the shape of public correspondence upon the subject which he could lay upon the table; but he had not the slightest objection to produce the private letter of which he had spoken, as well as the answer which was received in reply to it.


said, that his hon. and gallant Friend had confined himself entirely to the case of the man Williams, but he (Mr. Milnes) intended his question to apply generally to the case of the sick and wounded men landed at Portsmouth from the ship in question. It had been alleged that when that steamer arrived there was no one to receive them excepting the people congregated about, and that the poor suffering men were loft for hours together on the shore, and were also treated without proper consideration by the Custom-house officers.


said, he could answer the question of his hon. Friend up to a certain point. When the statement that no preparations had been made for the reception of the sick and wounded men at Portsmouth appeared in the newspapers, he lost no time in writing to Lord Hardinge to beg he would institute an inquiry, which he found that nobleman had already done. He also wrote to the Treasury, inquiring whether or not there was any truth in the statement of the conduct of the Custom-house officers, and whether, if it were true, some change ought not to be made in consequence. He was assured, in reply, that there were no papers or correspondence in reference to the subject which could be properly laid before the public; that, on a strict inquiry into the circumstances of the case, it appeared that the facts had not been quite correctly stated, for, although it was true there might have been some detention of the men who were not wounded by the Custom-house officers, no such detention took place in the case of the wounded soldiers and seamen, nor was any examination made of their effects. The error which had been committed arose in this way: The officer deputed to receive the sick and wounded men went out in a small vessel to Spithead to the Himalaya to make arrangements for the landing of the men, directing that, instead of landing them in boats, the Himalaya should proceed to the quay. Unfortunately, the Himalaya, instead of allowing the officer time to get back, steamed into the harbour at once, and arrived so soon that the officer was not able to make the necessary preparations for their reception. He (Mr. Herbert) would, however, ascertain all the facts, and lay them before the House.

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