HC Deb 31 May 1860 vol 158 cc1803-6

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to the claims of the Artificers of the Land Transport Corps, enlisted during the Crimean War, and to the non-fulfilment of the conditions under which they were so enlisted; and to ask the Secretary of State for War, Whether it was the intention of the Government to satisfy those claims, or to cause an inquiry to be made respecting them? He wished to state to the House the facts of the case, which were these:—In the Year 1856, it was necessary that a corps should be formed which should unite within it a body of artificers who should be of service in their various trades out in the Crimea. The class of men who enlisted were persons who were earning in this country as much as 5s. and 6s. a day. The enlistment paper for those men was the ordinary enlistment paper used before the magistrate; but, in addition to that, a placard was circulated, in which it was stated what was to be the pay of those men. That pay was to be altogether different from the ordinary pay of the soldier. The placards stated that the pay was to be 5s. or 6s. a day, according to the nature of the employment, and likewise that the men were to serve for two years, if required, and for a further term of one year, if so directed by an Order in Council. He wished now to call the attention of the House to a most important circumstance connected with the enlistment of these men, attested by no less than thirty of those men who had made declarations upon their oaths before a magistrate. He believed also that he should be borne out in this statement by the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Alderman Salomons), then Lord Mayor of London, before whom a number of those declarations had been made. The men stated that they were enlisted upon a clear understanding between them and Captain Vokes, that after their services should be no longer required, they were to get three months' notice or three months' pay. Now, what had been the course pursued by Her Majesty's Government? In August, 1856' a portion of these men, about 130 in number, were brought back to England from the Crimea, and their services being no longer required, they were discharged at Gosport, after having served about six or seven months. Upon their discharge they received £1 which was the ordinary course pursed in regard to a common soldier. They also received a paper discharge instead of a parchment one, which afforded to them no protection against being again called upon to serve by the Government. These men made a claim for three months' pay, not having received three months' notice, according to the contract made with them by Captain Vokes on behalf of the Government. This was refused. Another body of those men, amounting to 170, were, on the 9th of June, 1856, sent to Malta, from thence to England, and were afterwards discharged at Horsfield Barracks, Bristol. These men also complained of the mode in which they were discharged, and made their claim for three months' pay. They were compelled to take the paper discharge, although a parchment discharge was necessary in order to relieve them from the service, and to leave the barracks under coercion, and one man was placed under arrest for protesting against being discharged under such circumstances. Their clothing was taken from them, which was estimated at the value of £4 a man. There had been an attempt made in that House to have an inquiry into the case of these men, but from some cause or other they were not included in the inquiry which took place with respect to the drivers. The case of the artificers and that of the drivers was, however, totally different, and whatever decision that Committee might have come to, it was to be taken as no authority in deciding the case of the artificers. Failing to obtain any satisfaction, the men were driven to make application at the Horse Guards. They had an interview with the Duke of Cambridge, and, as he (Mr. Locke) was informed, his Royal Highness stated that the case did not come within his Department; but he said that the paper discharges which they had received were incorrect, and they ought to have received parchment discharges. He (Mr. Locke) should mention that subsequently parchment discharges were offered to some of the men, but they were antedated, the effect of which would have been that a person taking one of those discharges would have relinquished his claim to the three months' pay or three months' notice. What he had to complain of more especially was, that at an investigation which afterwards took place at the Horse Guards before a board of officers appointed to inquire into the subject, the men had no opportunity of being heard. That tribunal took Captain Vokes's word, without giving the men any opportunity of being confronted with him and making their statement, although they repeatedly demanded to be heard face to face with Captain Vokes. The men complained most strongly of that ex-parte inquiry, so unfair to them and so un-English in its character. After tins a letter was addressed to the artificers, telling them that they had consulted Captain Vokes, who informed the Board that they had no claim to three months' pay. The Board therefore took the statements of the officer who enlisted them and decided behind their backs. This was a most unjustifiable course. Both sides ought to have been heard, and an opportunity should have been given to the artificers to prove before the hoard of officers the statement they had made before the Lord Mayor. The position of the men was certainly, to say the least, quite as respectable as that of the person who was examined, and upon whose ex-parte statement implicit reliance was placed. A contract had been broken, and the ease was one demanding an impartial investigation at the hands of Her Majesty's Government.


said, that when he was Lord Mayor of London some twenty-five or thirty of these men solicited his assistance, and he had taken an interest in their case, because they stated that they were unfairly treated, and they appeared to be respectable men. He had had a correspondence with the authorities, and had seen Colonel M'Murdo on their behalf; but nothing had been done for them, except awarding them £1 each, on their discharge, as had been stated by his hon. and learned Friend. He still thought these men had not been treated fairly, considering the terms of the advertisement by which they were invited into the service. He held in his hand a placard issued by the authorities, which advertised for a number of artificers belonging to certain trades, and which stated that the services of sober and intelligent men were required, and would be paid for at certain rates, from 5s. 6d. to 7s. a day, clothing and rations free. The term of service was stated to be two years, with an option on the part of the Government to prolong it another year, or the men were to be discharged at the end of the war if their services were no longer required. The Government had availed themselves of the last condition, and had discharged these men at the end of the war, which happened when they had been only engaged from three to six months. These men had left good places for the purpose of making an engagement for two years, and with a chance of being required another year in the service of their country, and they were shortly afterwards discharged with only £1 each as a compensation. That was all the reward they had obtained, and he thought there were no men more deserving of the consideration of Parliament, for these men had not had their fair hire awarded to them by the Government, and he was one of those who believed that every man was worthy of his hire.


said, that having served on the Committee which had investigated the claims of the officers of the corps, he must express a hope that the case of the men would meet with the consideration which he was sure it deserved. The officers were about to be shamefully treated when their case was taken up and a Committee appointed. Owing to the proceedings of that Committee, justice had been done to them; and he trusted that the men would not be dealt with in a different manner.