HC Deb 03 August 1860 vol 160 cc668-74

brought up the Report of the Resolution which was agreed to in Committee yesterday, on the subject of fortifications.


I do not rise with any intention of offering opposition to the reception of the Report. My object is simply to reiterate the conviction which is universally prevalent and accepted as irresistible, that the British Navy forms the first line of defence which England professes in case any foreign Power should have the hardihood to attempt a descent upon its shores. Such a design could never be entertained by any nation whose resources did not rise far above a parity with our own. The first step—one indispensable—to secure a prospect of success must be the complete annihilation of our fleet. Should the vessels engaged on either side be crippled in an engagement, to whichever of the combatants the better issue of the battle should fall, both fleets would be com-elled to return to harbour to be refitted. Even under these conditions it would be possible for an enemy to cross the Channel with the steamers and transports on board of which his troops were embarked. It therefore appears to me to be a paramount necessity on our part, as a simple provision of precaution, to have in reserve a flotilla of steamgun and mortarboats, as a second line of defence, supported by a strong division of steamrams. I should propose that the length of the latter vessels should be 200 feet, instead of 380 feet, the size of the Warrior—thus enabling them to he bandied with greater ease and promptitude. They should carry a broadside of 18 guns and command a speed of 10 to 14 knots an hour, in order to afford a ready protection and assistance to the smaller vessels, which should be disposed in numbers sufficient to defend every vulnerable point along our shores and every spot practicable for a hostile landing. Such is the obvious system for a complete and practical defence against an invading force. And the recommendation gathers force from the consideration that in order to maintain our vast commerce there was not a sea on which a ship could float where the British colours were not displayed; and that independently of our widely scattered Colonies and numerous dependencies, each of which demanded the presence of our navy. In the outlay of money designed for sea defences or land fortifications this protection of our country and its settlements must form a paramount object. Let me guard myself against any misconception. I by no means would be supposed to underrate the importance of keeping up or strengthening our defences by land. To neglect them would be an act as criminal as to count too curiously for the purpose of a misplaced economy, or of resisting the expenditure, the outlay which must be indispensable to secure their efficiency. Hon. Members have expressed an apprehension that the estimated cost of £12,000,000 may be doubled. Even if I grant that their opinions are well grounded, I must remind them that the premium is small indeed in comparison with the insurance for our security which it will effect. Should our naval arsenals and dockyards, the cradle of our fleets and armies, be left without a sufficient protection, in what manner and in what place—upon the presumption of a reverse at sea—could we hope, or rather be able to repair or replace a crippled navy? If an enemy can once force his way through those wooden walls which have for centuries formed the impregnable outworks and floating bulwarks of this country, and been at once the admiration and envy of every antagonist, let me ask to what source of protection we are to look? Never could I persuade myself that either an enemy will venture upon an attempt to land upon these shores, or should he make the endeavour, that the event would be other than a summary failure or complete annihilation on his part. But even if my assurance is groundless; if I allow, but for a moment, the improbable—nay, Sir, may I not truly say, the impossible contingency, that the British Navy could lose its ancient reputation and lower its proud flag—and, with equal argument I might suppose that the British Army would suffer itself to be overpowered and surrender its time-honoured name—I foresee an event which cannot prove untrue.

Let us be backed with God, and with the seas, Which lie hath given for fence impregnable, And with their helps only defend ourselves: In them and in ourselves our safety lies. The population of this country has armed itself calmly, deliberately, in no moment of hot panic, it has resolved that as England never did, so it never shall, lie at the proud foot of a conqueror. Our watchword, Pro aris et focis, loyalty to our Sovereign, our homes, our country, will lend a giant's strength to even the stripling's arm. Defence, not defiance, is the spirit that animates England at this moment; the foe-man may land, but not one will return to tell the tale; we shall be true to ourselves, but our trust lies in the heartstirring words, "May God defend the right!"


said, that if there were but the most remote danger of an invasion being successful he would be the first man to support the Vote, but he believed that our means of defence were now such, that if the whole world were in arms against us, an invasion would be hopeless. The Emperor of the French had shown in his letter that his army, deducting the men in Algeria, Rome, and China, was little more than 300,000 men. By a return dated the 1st of June, he found that we had an actual force under arms of 323,000 men. An addition of 10,000 more riflemen of the Irish constabulary, of the Militia, and of the dockyard battalions, in all 80,000, must be made, and that gave a force of not less than 400,000 men. It would be perfectly impossible for 100,000 French soldiers to land in England if the British Navy were in an efficient state, and if it were not sufficient to protect the shores of England he should be ready to increase its force. The worst of all these fortifications was, that it would end in a vast increase to the standing army to man them, and, believing that if the whole French army were to land here the male population of the country would surely defeat it, he could not support the proposition of the Government.


said, he would not enter into the question of the wisdom of the Government proposals respecting fortifications, though he would gladly give them his support, as he considered them wise and proper. Before proceeding to the subject to which he wished to call the attention of the Government, he would make a few observations on the mode of conducting the business of the House. It was the clear understanding that the order of business on the paper of the House should be adhered to, and yet the Report on Fortifications, which was the third order on the paper, was made the first business. That was not the usual course of proceeding, though there might be in the present instance some good reason for it.

He would now advert to two suggestions to which he wished to draw the attention of the Government. He was disposed to think that the arrangements necessary for carrying out the proposed fortifications must involve a very considerable addition of barrack accommodation and of available space in the arsenals, and he ventured to think that the Government could do nothing more tending to increase the efficiency of the naval service than by establishing naval barracks and naval prisons. Nothing was more important than to improve the discipline of the navy, for it was not what the country and naval officers wished it to be. He believed that for the improvement of naval organization no object was more desirable than to provide the means of giving the sailors barrack accommodation on shore, whereby the discipline of the navy might be maintained, and a gradual approach might be made to what was called a standing navy. He was supported in this opinion by naval officers and he hoped the suggestion would receive the attention of the Government.

The other suggestion he had to make was, that there ought be naval prisons as there were army prisons. One result of the recent concessions made with respect to the punishment of sailors was that, as corporal punishment was so much done away with the imprisonment of sailors was increased. Now, there were no places in which to imprison them, except the common gaols of the country. Sailors were consequently sent to the county prisons, and there exposed to association with, and contamination by, all the felons inhabiting those prisons, the inevitable result being that they came out worse characters than they went in. He read the other day a statement perfectly startling respecting the proportion of the crews of the present Channel Fleet who from various causes had passed through the county prisons of England. He had heard the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War state that the barrack accommodation for soldiers was far short of what the army required; but in respect to fortifications, the fortifications could not be made without casemated barracks, and thereby the barrack accommodation would be increased, and whatever might be the case under the pressure of war, in ordinary times some amount of barrack accommodation would be set free. Of course, any barracks for the accommodation of sailors must be near the sea, and he asked the Government to take into their serious consideration whether the establishment of naval barracks and naval prisons would not afford facilities for improving the character and efficiency of the navy.


said, he entirely concurred with the right hon. Gentleman in regard to both the matters referred to; and it was with the view of establishing some naval prison that the Admiralty had called for returns of the number of seamen imprisoned in various county gaols for some time past. Therefore the Admiralty had not lost sight of this very important matter; but with respect to barracks, he must remind the House of some observations he made on this subject about two years ago, when the right hon. Gentleman was First Lord of the Admiralty. He then suggested, that the barrack system should be tried on a small scale. It was true that there were conflicting opinions among naval officers with respect to naval barracks; some holding that they would not suit the habits of sailors, who would rather, it was said, prefer the hulks. He did not agree in that opinion, but believed it would be advantageous to have naval barracks established at the naval ports. He had said to his right hon. Friend, "Try it on a small scale. you have plenty of barracks contiguous to dockyards, and you may give the scheme a trial there." In reply to this, the War Secretary declared that they were borrowing hulks from the navy, because they had not barrack accommodation for the troops; but he still could not help being surprised that his right lion. Friend, while at the Admiralty, did not attempt to effect these improvements.


The fortifications were not going to be made when I was in office.


expressed his concurrence in the suggestion which had been made for the establishment of naval barracks and naval prisons. The imprisonment of seamen in the county gaols had been found exceedingly detrimental to naval discipline.


said, the sea defences recommended were a matter of immediate necessity; but the land works required great consideration before they were proceeded with. He thought, especially, that, in the present state of knowledge as to fortifications, the works on Portsdown-hill ought not to be at once carried on. In reference to some of the other fortifications at Portsmouth, he would mention that, in case of a siege, the water works would be beyond the lines of defence. It was said that in the event of a siege the inhabitants might obtain a supply from the wells; but all the shallow wells were brackish, and the water would be sure to engender sickness. Then, again, in the case of a bombardment, the value of the works in throwing water all over the dockyard, and in thus keeping down any fires that might break out, ought not to be overlooked. Moreover, the old fortifications, though useless, were to be kept up; although they would be, when the new fortifications were completed, much in the way. He thought that it was prudent that the railway should be carried down to the pier so as to facilitate communication with the Isle of Wight. With regard to the present system of lodging men in hulks, nothing could be more barbarous. These hulks were cold and miserable, there was no proper police on board, the men were suffering often from rheumatism and sickness, and were driven to the public houses, and it was altogether a most demoralizing system. There were barracks at Sheer-ness, and the men were better satisfied and better conducted than at other places. Sir H. Douglas's opinion was, that the land fortifications were too extensive for our force to man them; which opinion was supported not only by Sir Frederic Smith, hut, he believed, by Sir John Burgoyne. Under these circumstances, he thought that further time should be taken for consideration whether, in the event of an invasion, it would not be possible to transport from the interior of the country to the coast a body of workmen who could, in the course of a few hours, throw up defences that it would take weeks, if not months, to over-come. That it is the opinion of the Committee that, towards providing for the Construction of Work for the Defence of the Royal Dockyards and Arsenals, and of the Ports of Dovor and Portland, and for the creation of a Central Arsenal, a sum not exceeding two million pounds, be charged upon the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom, and that the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury be authorized and empowered to raise the said sum by Annuities for a term not exceeding thirty years; and that such Annuities shall he charged upon and be payable out of the said Consolidated Fund.

Resolution agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Viscount PALMERSTON, Sir GEORGE LEWIS, and Mr. SECRETARY HERBERT.

Bill presented, and read [1° to he read 2° on Thursday next, and to be printed [Bill 308],