HC Deb 15 July 1859 vol 154 cc1322-33

House in Committee.

Mr. MASSEY in the Chair.

(1.) £414,537; Stores.


said, it appeared to him that all the preparations which we were making with regard to fortifications and ships were comparatively immaterial when viewed in relation to the vast improvements which were being effected in artillery. Other Powers had furnished themselves to a great extent with artillery of a character that we had not. They were going on with their preparations upon a much larger scale than we were, and whilst we were building ships, constructing new fortifications, and accumulating enormous stores at Gibraltar and Malta, we had an inferior description of artillery to oppose to theirs. Now, the Armstrong gun had created a great deal of interest in the course of the past year; but he owned it was rather disappointing to learn that we should only possess 100 of them by Christmas next, and but 300 at the end of the present financial year. Considering how large a supply circumstances might render necessary, he must say that it did not appear to him that the manufacture was proceeding altogether satisfactorily. The reason of that was, he believed, that we had only a single factory at work; but he could not help feeling that if there were danger of any kind impending over us against which we were making preparations, we were making those preparations so slowly that we were neither prepared for war, nor had we all the advantages of peace. It was very evident, however, that if any danger at all was to be apprehended, it was a danger that was not very distant, and one which would also be somewhat sudden. We talked of making preparations, and being in a state of forwardness at the end of the financial year. Austria had talked in the same manner, but she found before the financial quarter was ended that she had a superior artillery opposed to her. He was anxious, therefore, that our preparations, so far as the present machinery went, should be accelerated. And he could not help impressing upon the Government that, whilst we were incurring great expense in every other branch of the military department, that which was the most important of all—namely, an improvement in our artillery—was the one in which we were not making a corresponding progress. He understood that the French had rifled all their old cannon; we, too, had a large quantity of old guns, and he should like to know if it were contemplated by the Government, pending the manufacture of the Armstrong gun, to rifle the guns of which we were already in possession? The artillery was that branch of the military service to which everybody attached the greatest importance; and he regretted to say, after looking through the Estimates, and listening to the explanation of the Secretary for War last night, that he did not think we were making the progress that we ought.


wished to remind the right hon. Gentleman that what he had said on a former occasion was that at the end of the present financial year we should be in possession of 300 Armstrong guns. After that time the manufactory would go on turning out two or three guns per day, so that at the end of the next financial year we should have a very large number indeed of those guns. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Government were most anxious to push forward the manufacture of those guns, and very lately he had himself asked Sir W. Armstrong whether any sum of money which would enable him to procure additional labour or more rapid machinery, would assist him in the quicker production of those guns. To that question Sir W. Armstrong replied that he had every means, and as much machinery as he could possibly use, and that he could not make the guns any faster than he was doing. Sir W. Armstrong had two factories, one at Woolwich and the other at Newcastle, in constant work, and he believed that every exertion was being made to produce the guns as rapidly as possible. As to the question of rifling guns, his right hon. Friend was in error in supposing that the French had got all their guns rifled. Sir W. Armstrong was making experiments on the subject at that moment, and he hoped he would be successful. It was comparatively easy to rifle the brass guns, but more difficulty was experienced with the iron guns. Every effort would be made to overcome that difficulty.


said, that as a practical artillery officer, he wished to say a word on this subject. During the last three or four years there had been very great attention paid to what were called rifled field guns, and within the last year there had been introduced in France a sort of adaptation of the principle of the Lancaster rifled musket to field guns, but it had not been applied to anything beyond guns of a very small calibre. A great deal had also been said of the French rifled large arms; but he thought it was quite clear they had no such thing as rifled siege guns. No better proof could exist that the French rifled guns were not of the importance attributed to them than the fact that when the French were before the great fortresses in Italy, they felt that the taking of those fortresses was more than they could accomplish. Sir William Armstrong had done more for this branch of the service than any man who had ever existed. It was true he was a civilian, but it should be remembered that rifling guns had nothing to do either with the civil or military service. It was purely a question of mechanical contrivance; and, having some knowledge of the subject, he could assure the House that England was at this moment ahead of every other country in the world in the art. There had been a good deal said of employing these Armstrong guns in ships and adapting them for siege purposes. No doubt this might be accomplished, and would be in time; but the difficulties in the way were of a very serious character. Such an improvement would be the result of many years' experience, but even at the end of that time he had no hesitation in saying England would still be ahead of all the nations in the world in the art and manufacture of her artillery.

Vote agreed to, as were also—

(2.) £123,500, Fortifications, and

(3.) £23,450, Buildings.

(4.) £36,370, Barracks.


said, that the barracks at Aldershot seemed to have involved the most extraordinary accumulation of expense that had ever come before the House. Last night he asked the Secretary for War what would be the sum required to complete these barracks, and was told when the money was spent there was an end of it. Originally the total estimated cost of completing the barracks at Aldershot was £260,000. It had, however, gradually increased, and last year it was expected to be £400,000. Even then it was described as the total estimate "towards" the erection of barracks. In the Votes for the year 1859–60, which the Committee were now considering, the estimated cost for these permanent barracks, instead of being£400,000, amounted to £574,265, besides £40,000 for other items. He wanted to know what was the meaning of this continual increase in the estimated cost. It appeared to him that there was something radically wrong in getting up these Estimates, and there was the appearance of treating the House of Commons like children, who could not bear to hear the truth at once. The total sum proposed to be voted this year was £65,000, whilst last year it was said that the sum wanted to complete the whole work was only £20,000. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would be able to give the House some satisfactory explanation.


said, he wished to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that last year a correspondence had been laid upon the table, on the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster (Sir De Lacy Evans) respecting the deaths of a great number of officers and men belonging to a detachment of the 41st Regiment at Trinidad.


said, he rose to order. He wished to submit to the hon. Gentleman in the Chair whether this correspondence was relevant to the Vote before the Committee.


said he had not yet gathered the spirit of the hon. and gallant Member's observations, but he had no doubt that they would be found applicable to the subject under discussion.


said, that he was proceeding to show that it appeared that 4 officers, 3 sergeants, 17 privates, and 10 women had died from yellow fever in that island, and the mortality was attributed to the state of the barracks. A letter from Dr. Macdonell, the Deputy Inspector General of Hospitals, dated Barbadoes, September 27, 1858, contained the following:— I will this day recommend to the Commander of the Forces that the troops be kept for some time under canvass, purely that the St. James's Barracks is in the worst position possible. I may safely assert that if a premium had been offered to any person to select the worst spot he could in the neighbourhood of Port of Spain to erect a military barrack, the person who chose the ground for the present barrack would have been the successful candidate. Another letter from Dr. Macdonell, dated the 27th of October, 1858, stated that— Lieutenant Byham, of the 41st Regiment, who died of yellow fever, was attacked with that disease in barracks; he was acting as fort-adjutant, and having his office in barracks he preferred to remain there; it therefore shows that the disease, as yet, has confined itself to the barracks. A letter from Dr. Macdonell of the 10th of January, 1859, stated that "a case of yellow fever proved fatal in barracks on the 5th of December." On the 25th January, 1859, Dr. Macdonell, writing to the Inspector-General, said:— In a letter that I addressed to your office of dated the 9th of May, 1857, you will find that I alluded to the foul air occasionally strongly perceptible in the immediate neighbourhood of the hospital, which was evidently caused by a closed sewer running across the front of the hospital. On my return to Barbadoes from my tour of inspection, the matter was brought to the notice of the Commander of the Forces, and some alterations were made in the sewer. The effect of my last letter, of date the 13th of January, 1859, to the Commander of the Forces is, that he has called upon Colonel Ford, commanding the Royal Engineers, to attend to my letter in its fullest extent. Colonel Ford informed me yesterday that he had estimated for the alteration he proposes, and if approved by the authorities at home, I think they will be effectual. It appeared that as long ago as the 9th of May, 1857, Dr. Macdonell drew the attention of the authorities to the condition of a drain which ran in front of the barracks and in rear of the hospital. On the 25th of January, 1859, nearly two years afterwards, the attention of Colonel Ford, commanding the Royal Engineers, was called to the subject, but although estimates were made for the alterations requisite, neither that officer nor the Commander-in-Chief in the West Indies had the power, to make such alterations without authority from home. It was altogether the most painful correspondence he had ever read, and he hoped the attention of his right hon. Friend, who had evinced such interest in sanitary measures, would be directed to this subject, and that immediate steps would be taken for the improvement of the barracks at Trinidad.


said, he could not but express his thanks to the hon. and gallant Member for bringing forward this matter, with the object of preventing the lives of our gallant soldiers being sacrificed. It was owing to want of liberality in that House and to the want of courage on the part of Ministers, to make the necessary demands, that military hospitals had been so badly constructed, and not to any remissness on the part of the military authorities. It was owing to the want of a feeling in former times, which now happily existed, of interest in our soldiers, and a determination that those who fight our battles should be well cared for. He trusted that the Government would take advantage of the feeling which at present existed for the purpose of adopting measures which would not only prove of advantage to the service, but would in the end prove to be those of true economy.


said, the custom of the Indian Government was to authorize the officer commanding a station to expend a limited sum of 200 rupees for the benefit of the troops, according to his discretion; and the major general commanding a division was, in the same way, authorized to expend a sum of £500. Might not some such regulation be adopted with advantage to the service in other countries?


suggested that the officers' barracks should be furnished with iron bedsteads. It could be done at a trifling cost, and would save the officers much trouble in moving from place to place.


said, he thought the accounts might be stated in a clearer manner and in a way more easily understood by the uninitiated than at present. In some instances they appeared to be contradictory, as for example, when the cost of an establishment was set down at more than the sum estimated. Thus, on referring to the Vote for the new barracks at Gosport, he found the total estimate was put down at £95,000, but in the column headed "account already voted," he found £177,000.


said, he had some knowledge of the barracks at St. James's, Trinidad, and he trusted the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War would consider whether it was not desirable to get rid of these barracks altogether. They were exceedingly handsome barracks, capacious, and well constructed, but they were situated at the end of a ravine, which was death. Even as a matter of pounds, shillings, and pence, the health of the British soldier was worth attending to. Every soldier who carried a firelock in the Colonies cost the country £100, and how easily 100 men were knocked down by disease he need not inform the House. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War would seriously take into consideration the state of these barracks in the West Indies.


said, as a civilian, he could confirm the statement of the hon. and gallant Member in reference to the unhealthiness of St. James's Barracks at Trinidad. They were placed at the end of a swampy ravine, and as the wind always blew there in one direction, it carried to the barracks all the malaria collected in the ravine. When Sir W. Don was at Jamaica he moved the troops to Newcastle and the station on the heights; and as the yellow fever never ascended to a greater altitude than 1,000 feet above the level of the sea, the troops in those barracks were free from it. The same thing ought, he thought, to be clone in Trinidad and Barbadoes.


said, that reports were made yearly by medical officers as to the healthiness or unhealthiness of the different places inhabited by troops in our Colonies, and he thought that it was very desirable that a summary of those reports should be presented to the House. In the United States he was very much struck with the benefit derived from the report of the senior medical officer annually presented to Congress. He did not want lengthy books, but a short, clear, exact summary in reference to healthy and unhealthy barracks, so as to give assistance in applying a remedy to the great evils which existed.


said, he would go through the question which had been raised in reference to the barracks, and he might premise that he was not then asking for any vote for Aldershot with the exception of a small contribution to the railway station. In reply to the hon. Member for Evesham (Sir H. Willoughby) he was unable, from any information before him, to say what would be the future cost of Aldershot; but this he knew, that they were good and comfortable, and he believed the cheapest barracks that had ever been raised. With regard to the new barracks at Gosport, he admitted that the Estimate as it stood was likely to create confusion; that arose from the fact, that if a sum voted was not all expended in the financial year, it was repaid into the Exchequer and a re-vote taken. This explained the fact that £177,000 had been already voted for these barracks; but if hon. Members examined the Estimate they would find the original Estimate was £95,000, the amount expended was £87,000. The amount to be voted this year was £4,804, and in the column amount hereafter to be voted was a blank. The sum now to be voted would complete the barracks, so they would be finished for £3,000 under the original Estimate. With regard to the case of Trinidad it was by no means new to him, and since his accession to office inquiries had been directed to be made whether it would not be wise at once to give up the old barracks, sell the materials and the site, and remove to a better situation. The barrack itself was magnificent and spacious, but when the sickness broke out a certain number of the men were encamped elsewhere. As a proof of the value of space and air, it might be mentioned that when the barrack was thinned of its occupants, the health of the remaining inmates instantly improved. No doubt the building of barracks at great altitude was beneficial for Europeans, but even in the better climates the worse consequences ensued from the neglect of ordinary precautions. A few years ago at Newcastle, when the altitude was very great, a natural hole or large pit close to the barracks was used for depositing filth, and yellow fever broke out in the neighbourhood. He heartily concurred in the suggestion that we ought every year to have an accurate summary of the health of the troops in their different stations; and when he was on the Royal Commission he urged strongly on the medical department of the army the propriety of establishing a statistical branch. Unless intelligible reports on this subject were regularly furnished, neither the military authorities, nor the public would have any proper security as to the health of the troops. The objection had been raised that this would suppy information relative to the strength of our force, which it would be more prudent to withhold. But anybody who opened the army list could see what was the amount of our force, and how it was distributed, and the information could be given without publishing the a mount of the force. But as regards the health of the army, publicity was the true policy. It would stimulate the commanding officers, who were responsible for the health of their men, to do their duty; while it would also act as a spur upon the Secretary of State if he were liable to have questions put to him as to why it was that in certain barracks the morality was 10 or 11 per cent, when it ought to be only two or three. Since he came into office he was happy to say he had been successful in obtaining the sanction of the Commander-in-Chief to his proposal to establish a statistical branch to the medical department, and to the employment of Dr. Balfour, who had devoted his attention to medical statistics, as the head of that branch. From that eminent physician he hoped they would get useful and intelligible reports, which would enable the Government to act and the public to judge correctly in this important matter.


said, he wished to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the position in which officers of high rank found themselves from not being able to order such alterations as were absolutely necessary when emergencies arose. When such officers, for the good of the service had ordered such works to be executed, they were told that they had acted without authority and must pay the expense thus incurred from their own pocket. In the case of any other profession, when its members were wronged, they had recourse to the public press for redress; but the army never had adopted, and he trusted never would adopt, that mode of seeking a remedy for grievances. He wished to know whether there was any truth in the reports as to the proposed new barracks in London being given up. He had heard that there was some difficulty about the site. The Portman Street barracks were wretchedly inadequate. There could be no better sanitary measures than to provide suitable means of recreation for the troops. Fives courts, cricket-grounds, gymnasia and other facilities for bodily exercise should be generally provided in barracks. By making the men comfortable, healthy, and happy after they had entered the service we should be doing our best to attract fresh recruits to the army and prevent desertion. He was there fore glad to find that a Vote was to be taken this year for those purposes, though he could not see why it should be spread over two years.


said, he wished to warn the Secretary for War that it would not do to offer facilities to general officers on foreign stations for incurring expense on works without making a reference home.


said, nothing could be more unjust than to charge the House with want of liberality in regard to barracks and hospitals. Money enough was voted, but it was badly spent. He would wish to have some explanation of the manner in which Government Estimates were usually prepared. The Gosport barracks, for instance, were estimated at £95,000, but a Vote was taken in respect of them for something like £177,000. The estimated cost of the barracks at Aldershot had been placed at £400,000 last year; it was now stated at £574,000. These were very loose Estimates, and he should therefore like to know who was responsible for them.


said, he could not then account for the discrepancies, but he would make inquiries on the subject. With regard to the barracks for the Guards, the delay was owing to the difficulty in obtaining a site; he had directed the Quartermaster-General to make a report as to those proposed. One site, which the Commander-in-Chief approved of, was saddled with three Chancery suits, and therefore could not be taken. Two or three others were now under consideration. A gymnasium at Aldershot would soon be completed, and he hoped they would be established at other stations. The Commander-in-Chief, at his request, had directed an officer to proceed to Paris to inspect the system adopted at the Gymnasium there, and also to report on the new bayonet and sword exercise.


said, he wished to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the evils arising from the internal and nocturnal arrangement of the barracks.


stated that at the Wellington Barracks two or three methods of avoiding the evils arising from urine tubs were at present being tried, and he hoped that this nuisance would before long be got rid off.


said, he could not but attribute a great portion of the expenditure under this Vote to the fact that persons were employed to select sites for barracks who were entirely unfit for that duty.


said, it was difficult to deal with the subject.


said, he wished to know what was now thought of the situation of Nettley and its adaptation for the purposes of a hospital, and what was to be done with it for the future? He wished also to know what had been done for the improvement of barracks throughout the country, the condition of which appeared before a Committee of which he was a member some years ago, to be such as to be attended with serious consequences to the soldier.


said, his opinion of Nettley had always been that the situation was unfavourable to the purpose of a hospital, and that the erection to be raised on it would be expensive. He raised the question of the salubrity of the site a second time, and scientific men were called in, but they were unanimously against him, and he felt himself bound thereby. The hospital was now in an advanced state, and he hoped he should find by experience that his opinion was wrong. With regard to the barracks generally, he might state that a thorough inspection had taken place, and all requests with regard to ventilation had been complied with as soon as made. There was much want still, however, of further accommodation.


said, he would give the War Department the credit of having very faithfully discharged the duty which they undertook some years ago of spending £40,000 a year in the improvement of barracks. That sum appeared this year in the Votes, and, according to a note appended, it appeared that it was to be expended in improvements for the accommodation of married soldiers—a very necessary and desirable object.

Vote agreed to, as also were the following Votes:

(5.) £1,825, Educational and Scientific Branches.

(6.) £13,370, Rewards for Military Service.

(7.) £41,067, Pay of General Officers.

(8.) £265,702, Pay of Reduced and Retired Officers.

(9.) £95,916, Pensions to Widows.

(10.) £24,433, Pensions for Wounds.

(11.) £17,734, Chelsea and Kilmainham Hospitals.

(12.) £595,380, Out Pensioners, Chelsea Hospital.

(13.) £73,903, Superannuations.