HC Deb 19 April 1858 vol 149 cc1338-48

(2.) £34,671, to complete Sum for Wages for Navy.


rose to give an explanation with regard to a matter which had been alluded to the other night.


said, it would be irregular to refer to what took place in Committee of Supply upon a previous evening.


said, he had supposed that in the consideration of these Estimates he should be at liberty to allude to questions which had arisen before relating to the same subject. However, he would endeavour not to shock the ears of the Committee in this way. It was known that the Vote for Wages had been transferred from the Accountant General to the Surveyor. That arrangement was made in 1848, and not in 1850, as was supposed—before, therefore, he was in office. He was furnished with papers in explanation of the question.


again reminded the right hon. Gentleman that his observations were irregular.


would bow at once to the decision of the Chairman, but at the same time thought it very hard that questions should be referred to one day without any notice to him, and that when he was furnished with papers to show that the allegations made were entirely incorrect, the Orders of the House prevented him from making any explanation on the subject.


hoped that, in declaring certain allegations made on a previous occasion to be incorrect, the right hon. Baronet was not referring to what had fallen from him, because he decidedly denied this.


said, he was not allowed to state what was incorrect, and seemed to be in this position—that the right hon. Baronet was permitted to allude to the debate while he was prevented from doing so.

Vote agreed to.

(3.) £789,742, to complete Sum for Naval Stores.


trusted that the reduction in this Vote had not been made without due consideration, for it was of the utmost importance that the steam machinery of the navy should be kept in the most efficient state. The hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. Williams) had formerly complained of the amount of the Vote taken for steam machinery; but without it, it would have been impossible to send out many of the vessels which composed our magnificent fleets in the Baltic and Black Seas during the war. There was, however, one point in which he thought economy might be enforced with advantage. He noticed an increase of £35,000 for coals used by steam vessels, and of £20,000 for fuel for steam transports, making altogether an increase of £55,000 upon this one item alone. Now, steam ought, in his opinion, to be considered as only an auxiliary for the large vessels in the service; and if the captains were made to understand that it was not to be employed except in cases of emergency, there would be much less wear and tear of machinery, as well as a large saving of expense in coal. He also thought that a stock of well-seasoned timber ought to be kept in our dockyards, for if this had been the case when the gunboats were required during the last war, they would not have been attacked with dry rot as was now understood to be the case.


said, he had stated upon a former occasion that the reduction of £50,000 made in this Vote for the purchase of steam machinery had not been resolved on without due deliberation. The Board of Admiralty had carefully reconsidered the question, and, after having communicated with the Surveyor of the Navy on the subject, had determined to persevere in the reduced Vote. The communication which he had received only on that very day from the Surveyor fully justified the reduction; but if an opinion to that effect had not been received from this officer, he had been prepared even at the Very last moment to reconsider the amount of the Vote. With regard to the use of steam only as an auxiliary, he fully concurred with his hon. and gallant Friend's opinion on this point. There were already very strict injunctions to this effect. Captains were bound to enter on their logs every case in which they had recourse to steam, and the Board had it in contemplation to insist more urgently on the observance of these orders, and on the employment of canvas, except in cases of emergency.


rose to call attention to the suggestions which had been made for the construction of ships clad in mail, on the plan invented by the Emperor of the French. He doubted whether any of the six which we had constructed had been under fire. One of the French vessels of this kind had been engaged at Kinburn, but it was a question, after all, whether these ships fulfilled the promises held out respecting them—whether they were really shot-proof. Wrought-iron shot would very easily go through these iron plates. No ship's crew could stand the splinters that such shot would make; and, therefore, as he had been informed, the French objected to iron-plated ships. The Admiralty might endeavour to cover the ships in the Royal Navy with an impenetrable mail, but it should be remembered that the power of projectiles was undergoing a great and constant increase; and that increase he believed would be more than a match for any improvement that could be effected in the construction of ships. The press had claimed the honour of having occasioned the introduction of the present improved small arms into the army; but he thought it right to state that it was to Lord Hardinge, as was generally known, that the army was indebted for them. And it was owing to the recommendation of his noble Friend the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston) that the monster mortar invented by Mr. Mallet was introduced to the public service. The Committee to whom the examination of it was referred declined to approve it; but the strong recommendations of his noble Friend prevailed, and the result had been most successful. Dr. Scotland, in a work on projectiles, the frontispiece of which contained a description of the mortar, stated it was thirty inches in diameter, its bursting charge 4801b., and the extent of its penetration twenty-seven feet; whereas that of the ten-inch mortars was only between five and six feet.


said, he wished that, before they proceeded any further with the construction of ships, they should have a regular trial of the strength of an ordinary three-decker and of a frigate plated with iron on the principle which he recommended. In order to make that experiment, he would get two such ships to fire broadsides into one another until their respective powers were fully tested.


complained of the unsatisfactory form of the Estimates. Details were given with unnecessary minuteness of comparatively unimportant Votes, while no detailed explanation was given of such large Votes as these:—£363,000 for the purchase of timber, and £509,000 for the purchase of stores. The names and descriptions of the principal ships for which this timber was required ought to be inserted in the Estimates, in order that the Committee might form an opinion of the necessity for such ships, of their size, construction, &c, and make suggestions to the Admiralty. The Committee ought to be furnished with the Estimate of the cost, &c, of every large ship proposed to be built by the Admiralty, to be expended on every ship, and of what was for repairs. Again, we were going on, building large ships, and our only reason was that the French were doing the same. That was true; but when the French were asked why they continued to build large ships, they answered that they were obliged to follow our example. For his own part, he could conceive of a comparatively small ship capable of sinking half-a-dozen of our three-deckers. Let a ship be built to go one knot an hour faster, and to throw shot 500 yards further than our large ships, and he ventured to say that, though she might be no larger than a frigate, she would be able to sink any reasonable number of our men-of-war without one of them succeeding in touching her. America aimed in the Niagara at producing such a ship; she had not succeeded, but had she obtained her object our line-of-battle ships would have been rendered perfectly worthless. What he would suggest, therefore, was, that a premium of at least £1,000 should be offered for a ship capable of attaining greater speed, with larger capacity for guns and stowage than any at present in existence. With respect to the item for the purchase of stores, in 1851 he was a Member of the Committee appointed on this subject when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Portsmouth (Sir F. Baring) was First Lord of the Admiralty. At that time no improvement had been made in, anchors, and the Government offered a premium for the best that could be constructed. There were six ship owners from the merchant service, and six officers of the Navy, who competed. He was one of them, and they devoted a great deal of attention to the matter. The Report of the Committee was that the Admiralty anchor was the worst; but although it was so pronounced, and eight years had since elapsed, the labours of the Committee had been in vain, and the same description of anchor was now employed. The best anchor was universally stated to be Trot-man's, and we were losing a great deal of money by neglecting to use Trotman's anchors, though they cost only a third of the price, and were little more than half the weight. It was proved that the Himalaya's anchors were far lighter than those used by the Transit, and altogether superior. If the House appointed Committees, he thought they ought to be attended with some benefit, and that the old anchor, when reported against, should not continue to be used. There was another item to which he thought attention should be directed—that for the purchase of coals. He did not advise in general the acceptance of the lowest tender, but in the case of coals he thought that the supply should be thrown open to public competition, and the lowest tenders accepted.


admitted that it was a difficulty at present to line a ship with iron of sufficient strength to resist wrought iron shot; but in a pamphlet recently published by Captain Moorsom, a very distinguished naval officer and the inventor of a shell known by his name, there occurred the following important passage:— Recent experiments have shown that a 4-inch wrought iron parapet backed with wood is a perfect protection against horizontal shells of any nature yet in use, and that it is a very tolerable defence against the effects of the heaviest solid shot even at short range; indeed, comparing the result of the experiments that I have seen against iron butts at Woolwich with the results of actual service against earth-works, I think the iron butts are equal as a, defence to ordinary earth-works, for even they will not withstand the continued battering of heavy ordnance at moderate ranges. It must be recollected, also, that there was a limit to the weight of shot, so that if we could make the side of a ship of sufficient strength to resist a shot of about eight inches diameter—he referred to horizontal firing—we should be proof against even wrought iron. Captain Moorsom said:— The question of applying wrought iron defences to ships of war is merely one of relative weight, and may be stated thus:—Supposing that the Duke of Wellington, 131 guns, was razeed so as to leave only her lower deck battery, the weight removed in hull and guns would be about 1,200 tons; now to case her all round with 4-inch wrought iron plates, extending twenty-five feet from top to bottom, would require a weight of less that 1,000 tons, and it is therefore clear that there would be no difficulty whatever in constructing iron-cased ships carrying one tier of guns, having all the sailing and steaming qualities of our present three-decked ships; and there cannot, I think, be a doubt that the iron-cased single decked ship would be a mere formidable vessel than the wooden three-decker either as opposed to ships or forts. He believed the limit of the weight of ships' guns and the size of the projectiles used in naval warfare had been attained, but they had not yet carried the science of strengthening ships' hulls to the full extent. If a 4-inch iron casing would resist an 8-inch iron projectile, he conceived that the best plan would be to give our ships a 6 or 7-inch iron casting, and then they would be protected against any serious damage.


declared that he thought it a Providential circumstance that the small gunboats of 40-horse power which had been sent out to China had safely accomplished so hazardous a voyage, and he hoped that they would not be required to risk a passage home without due consideration on the part of the Government. He believed the engines might be taken out and sold, or applied to useful purposes in the East, and that the hulls would then be of so little intrinsic value, that it would not be worth while to bring them to this country. It had been stated upon high authority, before the Committee which considered the naval and military expenditure of the country, that in consequence of the extensive adoption of steam machinery in the navy, it was impossible to calculate the event of any future naval contest. He thought, therefore, it was of great importance that they should carefully watch the progress of all experiments which tested the efficiency of steam ships of war.


suggested to the First Lord of the Admiralty the propriety of appointing a Committee to inquire into the whole subject. It was obvious that if iron-cased vessels could be built of smaller dimensions than our ordinary ships of war, with an equal amount of efficiency, half the number of the crew usually employed would only be required, and the expense to the country would consequently be greatly reduced. In reference to what had been said about the introduction of the Minié rifle, Lord Hardinge might certainly have first shown the perfection of that weapon, but he believed it was to the Marquess of Anglesey we owed the first introduction of the rifle into the service.


The question having arisen as to whom the merit is due of forcing upon the attention of the Government the first great improvement of the weapon given into the hands of our soldiers, I think it right to say that Lord Vivian, when Master General of the Ordnance, was the first person who introduced the Minié rifle into the army. The importance of that firearm was afterwards recognised by his successors. I think it is due to the memory of that gallant nobleman to bear testimony to the fact that it was he who first turned his attention to the improvement of the weapon that should be given to the soldier.


expressed his belief that the stock of timber in store in our naval shipyards was insufficient in quantity, and of very inferior quality. There were, however, immense forests of excellent timber in Burmah and in the western districts of New South Wales, which were available for the purposes of shipbuilding, and he thought that teak might very advantageously be substituted for oak timber in the building of screw steamships, which were subjected to so much straining from the vibration of the machinery. He put it, therefore, to the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he would not make some arrangement for procuring a supply of teak timber for the purposes of our navy from the countries above named?


believed that millions of the public money had been lost in various schemes for shipbuilding adopted according to the ruling fancy of the day; and he was afraid that they had not yet seen the end of that species of expenditure. What security had the Committee that this Vote of £1,389,742 would be the whole sum spent on naval stores? In the last authentic accounts they had a clear proof that the Parliamentary Vote for this head had been exceeded by upwards of half a million sterling. Supposing there was a surplus upon the other items of charge, would the First Lord think himself entitled to add it to the Vote for stores? Would he give them a pledge that, whatever the sum granted for this purpose, the expenditure upon it would be strictly limited to that sum? Without exacting such an assurance, all these lengthy discussions upon the Estimates were a perfect farce. It was perfectly astounding to find that Her Majesty's Government were the greatest dealers in stores in the whole world; they bought and sold those articles, and the country lost enormously by both operations. He should like to inquire what was the prime cost of the articles represented by the last item of £1,200,000 which appeared under the head of Stores. He believed it was something prodigious. The evidence taken before the Committee on Public Moneys showed that what were called "old stores" were often now stores. One of the first checks which the House ought to impose should be directed against the wasteful and unnecessary purchase of stores.


said, that he happened to be in Paris at the time that the French were experimenting upon an improved firearm, and he reported to Sir John Burgoyne that he had seen a French weapon much superior to the ordinary rifle. His letter was forwarded to the Marquess of Anglesey, then Master General of the Ordnance, and afterwards submitted to the authorities at Woolwich, who thought that no musket was superior to that used by our rifle corps. Lord Anglesey then communicated with him on the subject, when he furnished that nobleman with the testimony of Marshal Marmont and others, to prove that, in future wars, our artillery must be very careful how they got within range of the improved French weapon. Application was subsequently made, through Lord Normanby, to the Minister of War at Paris, and a musket of the description in question was sent to Lord Anglesey, upon which a further inquiry was instituted. He was ready to admit that a debt of gratitude was due to Lord Vivian for the attention he had paid to the muskets and swords of our army, and especially to the swords.


explained, that he had not meant to state that Lord Hardinge introduced the Minié principle into this country.


said, that he remembered, as a boy, seeing in Lord Vivian's room samples of arms in use in every state in Europe. He had the honour of introducing the two grooved rifle into our service. Prior to that, the old eight or ten-grooved rifle was in use in our service. Now, quoad rifle, there was no difference between the two-grooved rifle and the Minié rifle. The peculiarity of the latter weapon lay in the expanding ball. The two-grooved rifle was nearly as easily loaded as the Minié rifle. In the old rifle you could not use a large charge of powder, because the ball stripped. But any charge could be used with the two grooved rifle. Therefore, he thought that credit was justly given by the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston) to Lord Vivian, for introducing into use in the army a rifle similar to that which was now in use.


said, he could give no pledge to the Committee that none of the Votes should be exceeded; and, upon that point, he must observe that the Estimates of the great services were, generally speaking, wonderfully correct. He would not give his sanction to the diversion of money voted for one purpose to another, except in the manner sanctioned by the Appropriation Act. With regard to timber, he had heard no complaints of the quality, and there were 9,000 loads more in the dockyards at the end of 1857 than there were at the end of 1856. The Government would take into consideration the disposal of the gunboats, and was obliged to the hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. Warre) for the suggestion. At the risk of drawing upon himself the indignation of a previous First Lord, he would repeat his opinion, that some of the Estimates were not presented in the best shape, and that, among others, the form of this Vote may be improved, so as to give more details. With regard to single-deck ships, encased in iron, being more effective engines of war than the three-deckers, the hon. and gallant Admiral (Sir C. Napier) suggested a duel between one of each sort. The hon. and gallant Admiral would, no doubt, be prepared to take the command of one of them, and he hoped he would favour the Admiralty with a suggestion as to who should command the other. [Sir C. NAPIER: The First Lord of the Admiralty.] He trusted that, in speaking thus, he should not be supposed to undervalue the opinion of the hon. and gallant Member. He was very much obliged to him, and also to the hon. Member for Tynemouth, and his noble Friend the Member for Sandwich. After his short experience, he was sure they would not expect him to give any definite pledge; but he was glad to be able to inform them that the question of encasing ships with iron was now under the consideration of the Surveyor General of the Navy.


recommended the adoption of the system in the United States, where a certain number of ships were ordered, and an estimate obtained of their cost.


said, that a Committee of the Admiralty, in 1851, found that the Admiralty anchors were inferior to six other descriptions, and reported in favour of Trotman's anchor. It had subsequently been reported that the practice had been continued of purchasing the old Admiralty anchors, which were only half as efficient, weighed double the weight, and cost three times the money. He wished to know whether the practice was still continued?


hoped some explanation would be given with respect to the old stores.


said, the merit of Lord Hardinge was in having introduced the improved rifle generally into the army.


said, he could not answer the question as to Trotman's anchor off-hand, the Report of the Committee having been made four years before he was in office. He had not had any complaints of the anchors in use. With regard to old stores, nothing was sold which was fit for the use of the navy. At the end of the war there were large quantities of stores left on hand, as tarpaulings, preserved meats, and preserved coffee. He endeavoured to use coffee in the navy, and issued it to six ships at Plymouth; but in every ship but one the seamen, having been accustomed to cocoa, said they preferred that article.


said, with respect to Trotman's anchors, he believed the simple reason why they had not been brought into general use was, that a great number of anchors of the old construction remained in the yards, and these were used from time to time for the sake of economy.


But what he complained was, that, in spite of the Report of the Committee, the practice had been continued of purchasing anchors of the old construction up to the present time.

Vote agreed to.

House resumed; Resolutions to be reported To-morrow.