HC Deb 23 March 1855 vol 137 cc979-81

said, he wished to ask the hon. Gentleman the Clerk of the Ordnance whether any trenching tools of a superior description to those originally sent out have been forwarded to the army of the Crimea, or whether the Board of Ordnance is still prepared to maintain that the tools originally sent out were of the best description that could be obtained in this country?


said, that in order to give a satisfactory answer to that question he must first call attention to the fact that a large proportion of the tools supplied to regiments were supplied, in the main, by the colonels of the regiments, not by the Board of Ordnance. A certain portion of the regular troops were supplied by the Board of Ordnance, and the whole of the engineering troops were supplied by them. In May last, circumstances arose which gave occasion to the statement which he (Mr. Monsell) made at that time. A complaint was made by a board of officers of the Guards, who were then stationed at Scutari, of the quality of the tools. At that time the patterns of the tools in the Tower and at Woolwich were inspected, in his presence, by Sir John Burgoyne and several persons who were presumed capable of forming a sound opinion on the subject, and they declared them to be excellent. He found that the tools had been supplied almost altogether from the stores at Woolwich, and that, so far from their being of an old or obsolete pattern, they were obtained, part of them in the year 1845, but mainly in subsequent years; and that the patterns, according to which they were procured, were those which had been arranged by the board of officers which sat at the Tower in 1827, to revise the engineers' tools. On the 2nd of last August he received a letter from Sir John Burgoyne, stating that he found, in a letter from Varna, that there were no complaints of the Ordnance tools, but that, on the contrary, they were considered to be very good; but he stated that the tools supplied to the pioneers of some of the regiments, which were not supplied by the Ordnance, were very bad, and had caused a great outcry. He (Mr. Monsell) never heard any more about it until certain statements recently appeared in the newspapers, on the authority of Captain Shakspear, and of a gallant General, and he found, then, that there had been three or four reports sent from Varna and Sebastopol, complaining of the tools. He immediately sent for one of the largest railway contractors in England, who kindly placed at his disposal a most intelligent man, his foreman, to whom he (Mr. Monsell) submitted the patterns of tools taken from the store at Woolwich, and requested him to examine the quality and character of them. That gentleman had made some very valuable suggestions as to the improvement of their pattern; but he said the quality of the tools was excellent. On the other hand, he (Mr. Monsell) should be dealing unfairly With the House if he did not mention that, only one hour before, Major Lovell, of the Royal Engineers, who had been in the trenches before Sebastopol, and had returned home from ill-health, informed him that the tools he had seen used by the sappers before Sebastopol were extremely bad; that he had not only witnessed how they broke in the men's hands—which might have occurred from the men not understanding how to use them properly—but that he had actually broken up some of those tools, and had found that in one pickaxe there was hardly any steel, and that it was extremely bad. He (Mr. Monsell) immediately requested Major Lovell to proceed to Woolwich and to collect some of the tools, to test them, and to report upon them, whether he considered them to be of that same bad quality, or whether he considered them good. When Major Lovell should have made his report the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Baillie) might renew his question; but at present, with such conflicting statements, although he (Mr. Monsell) could not doubt there were a great many bad tools among them, he had not yet been able to ascertain who was in fault for their badness.


said, that while the camp was at Chobham, he believed a Commission was appointed to sit upon the quality of the tools; and the question which he wished now to put was, whether such a Commission did sit, and whether they did not decide against the tools, and whether the tools on which they so decided had been sent to the Crimea?


said, in answer to the question of the hon. and learned Gentleman, he never heard of the Commission; but if the hon. and learned Gentleman would be so good as to renew his question on Monday, he would, in the mean time, inform himself upon the subject.