HC Deb 06 March 1857 vol 144 cc1948-51

said, he rose, pursuant to notice, to call the attention of the House to the conduct of the Admiralty in reference to the Arctic vessel the Resolute. He had no wish to recommend any more Arctic expeditions, because he thought that quite as much had already been done in that way as was required by the honour of the country. Neither did he intend to impute to the Admiralty any intentional disrespect towards the American Government; but he thought that in their mode of dealing with the Resolute they had committed a great blunder, which might be a cause of irritation in America, and might there be construed, however erroneously, into an evidence of want of respect towards that country. He would briefly recall to the recollection of the House the circumstances connected with the restoration of the vessel. The first part of the proceedings with regard to the vessel was extremely honourable to the Lords of the Admiralty, and quite worthy of persons who were in their position. The Resolute was sent out in 1852 with two tenders, to ascertain if any traces could be discovered of Sir John Franklin and his party. In August, 1854, the vessel was deserted by the captain and crew, in obedience to superior orders. In the same year the captain of an American whaler, whilst navigating Davis's Straits and making his way through vast blocks of ice, discovered the Resolute drifting along with the ice. Leaving part of the crew on board his own vessel, Captain Boddington took charge of the Resolute, and took her through that dangerous navigation. A correspondence took place between the Admiralty and the American Government, in which the Admiralty—waiving any claim to the Resolute—placed her at the gallant captain's disposal. By an unanimous vote, Congress determined on purchasing the vessel from the captain, refitting her at a great expense, and presenting her to Her Majesty. There were two things which gave a peculiar significance to this gift,—one that we had recently been engaged in an angry controversy with the Americans; and the other that, owing to the democratic institutions of America, when Congress voted 40,000 dollars for the purchase and refitment of this ship, it was its own money, and not that of others which it voted. On the 12th of December, the Resolute arrived at Spithead under the Command of Captain Hartstein, and on the 16th of that month Her Majesty went on board and received the vessel as a gift from the hands of that officer. Up to that point the conduct of our Government was perfectly satisfactory, but in what had happened since he considered that the Admiralty had committed a blunder. Within six short weeks after Her Majesty's visit to the vessel it was stripped, dismantled, and laid up in ordinary in Chatham dockyard,—a proceeding which could hardly be regarded as very complimentary to the American Government. He had personally inspected the vessel at Chatham yesterday, and found her in a miserably neglected condition, which could not be viewed without extreme pain by anybody who saw her at Spithead. He knew not what further degradation might be reserved for her, but he understood that she was about to receive the dockyard brand, in which case every vestige of her individuality would be lost, so that Captain Hartstein himself, who brought her from the United States to this country, could not tell her from the other hulks that lay near her. He (Mr. Evelyn) knew it might be said that the usual routine had been followed in regard to the Resolute; but that was his very complaint, inasmuch as her case being au entirely exceptional one, she ought not to have been dealt with according to the ordinary rule. She should have been kept for at least one year in the same state as she was when presented by the Americans to our Queen before being stripped and dismantled. The answer given on the subject the other day by the First Lord of the Admiralty was anything but satisfactory. The question put to the right hon. Gentleman had no reference whatever to the provisions on board of the vessel, and yet he had confined his reply to the state of a quantity of rum that had been left in her. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would have no objection to say what was now proposed to be done with the Resolute.


said, that the hon. Gentleman had sketched very correctly the history of the Resolute, from the date when she first went out to the Arctic Seas until she returned to this country as a present from the American Government. He had done Her Majesty's Government no more than justice in acknowledging that in all their communications on this subject with the American Government they had endeavoured to meet the generous conduct of the latter in a corresponding spirit. Every possible attention had been shown to the officers who brought over the vessel, and Her Majesty was graciously pleased to pay Captain Hartstein a visit at Portsmouth on his arrival there. He (Sir C. Wood) came up to town to meet that gallant officer, and his noble Friend (Viscount Palmerston) also saw him. When Captain Hartstein left England he was pleased to express himself very warmly on the cordial reception given to him and his brother officers by the authorities of this country; and, although our Government offered to convey them back to the United States in an English frigate, and the offer was at first accepted, they subsequently thought proper to decline it. So handsome a gift from the American Government to our Queen, and given, too, in so liberal and honourable a spirit by the donors, would, it was thought, be the means of cementing the good understanding between the two nations; and he really did not believe that Her Majesty's Government had been in any way deficient in their courtesy towards the American Government. If it had ever crossed his mind that what was done to the vessel could be construed into a want of respect towards the American Government, he should certainly have been the last person to sanction it. What they had done, however, was to put the ship in the state most conducive to her preservation. It was well known that nothing was so prejudicial to a vessel as to keep her fittings and her stores on board when she was not on service; and it was the invariable practice of our navy to remove the fittings and stores of our most valuable ships when out of commission. If, therefore, the Admiralty had done wrong, their sole object had been to do what they deemed calculated to preserve as long as possible this most gratifying memento of the friendship and good will of our Transatlantic kinsmen. He was sorry that the hon. Gentleman should have been displeased at what he stated about the provisions of the Resolute the other day. He had simply mentioned, as a curious fact that the House would perhaps like to hear, that a portion of the Resolute' s store of rum, which had been out so many winters in the Arctic Seas, had come home again in a most improved condition.