HC Deb 07 December 1857 vol 148 cc269-71

said, he wished to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty whether his attention has been called to a recent naval court-martial held on an officer of Her Majesty's ship Juno, and whether any steps are contemplated by the Government in respect thereto?


said, he need hardly assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that the attention of the Admiralty had been called to the court-martial in question, and that they had observed with the greatest pain that an officer of the character and services of Captain Fremantle, himself the son of one of our most distinguished officers, should have placed himself in a position in which he had exposed himself to the severe and merited censure of the Board of Admiralty. At the same time it was only fair that certain circumstances should be known which had weighed with the Board of Admiralty, and which would no doubt weigh with the House of Commons in forming its opinion. When Captain Fremantle, being appointed to take charge of the Australian station, had arrived at his post, he received a letter from the Admiral in command of the Indian station complaining of the relaxation of discipline which had taken place on that station. It was certainly true that Her Majesty's ships were in some parts of the world so scattered about that it was sometimes impossible to hold court-martials, and naval discipline was therefore with some difficulty upheld under these circumstances. Where it was possible the Admiralty sent out officers of different ranks, so that court-martials might be held, but this was not always practicable. Captain Fremantle had reason to take a stricter view of discipline in consequence of the Admiral's letter. He was not himself acquainted with Captain Fremantle, but he was assured by hon. Members who were friends of his that it was impossible he could have been actuated by any other motive than the desire to act in the strict performance of his duty. He believed that the lieutenant brought to court-martial admitted that Captain Fremantle had been a greater sufferer than himself from what had happened. He had had to carry on almost all the executive duties of the ship, and under these exertions, combined with the effects of the climate, his health had completely broken down. The accounts of the court-martial in the newspapers were substantially correct, and hon. Members must have observed that when he appeared before the Court Captain Fremantle was quite unable to perform the duty of a public prosecutor, which it was incumbent upon him to discharge. He was not in a state either of bodily or mental health to enable him to state the case in such a way as to give an account either of his own conduct or that of the officer on his trial. He (Sir C. Wood) did not impugn the verdict of the court-martial, which he thought perfectly-just and right according to the evidence, and he was quite of opinion that the lieutenant was entitled to his acquittal. But it made some difference in their view of Captain Fremantle's conduct and the course which the Admiralty had pursued when they remembered that he was an officer of very high and unblemished character, and of thirty-three years' service. It would be unjust if these circumstances did not carry some weight. At the same time, if the Juno had been remaining in commission, the Board of Admiralty would have felt it to be their duty to supersede Captain Fremantle. As she was, however, under orders to be immediately paid off, and as she had come home with no officer but the captain to conduct the duty, it would have been inconvenient to have removed him from the ship. It was, therefore, not from any regard or feeling towards Captain Fremantle, but simply for the convenience of the public service, that he was not at. once superseded. What the Board felt it to be their duty to do was to write to the Commander in Chief at Portsmouth, desiring him to communicate to Captain Fremantle their opinion that, considering all the circumstances, he had been unjust in the course which he had pursued towards those officers; that if there had been grounds for any charge they ought to have been examined into on the spot, and that he ought not to have subjected them to such a lengthened period of arrest. Captain Fremantle would have been superseded if the Junohad remained longer in commission, but it was thought more convenient to pay her off. A severe censure had been passed. The letter remained on record at the Admiralty and at the Commander in Chief's office at Portsmouth—a warning to all officers who might be placed in a similar position. He thought that, taking into consideration all the circum- stances, and with a proper regard to justice, the House would be satisfied if the Admiralty took no further steps in the matter.