HC Deb 25 June 1861 vol 163 cc1562-83

said, he rose to move the appointment of a Select Com- mittee to inquire whether a more efficient weapon than the Enfield rifle might not be provided for the use of Her Majesty's forces, without additional cost or serious in convenience to the service? Three or four years ago the noble Lord at the head of the Government mentioned the exertions which had been made by a near relative of his own, when Master General of the Ordnance, to place in the hands of the soldier the most efficient weapon that could be produced. That fact, perhaps, might be some excuse for his having ventured to introduce the subject to the notice of the House. At the time to which he referred a comparison was made of the weapons used by the armies of all the nations of Europe, and the consequence was that there was placed in the hands of our rifle regiments a weapon which was considered to be superior to any other in existence. In 1851 the Minié rifle, the parent of our present arm, was introduced; in 1852 the Duke of Wellington recommended that all our troops should be armed with rifles; and in 1853 the result of the deliberations of a Committee composed of the most eminent authorities, appointed by Viscount Hardinge, was the production of the Enfield musket, which at Inkermann, to quote the able correspondent of The Times "smote the Russians like the hand of the destroying angel." In the year 1854 Viscount Hardinge published a memorandum, the most concise and foreseeing on the subject which had come under his notice, recommending that, before the construction of machinery for the production of rifles, experiments should be tried in order to determine the true principles upon which the barrels ought to be rifled. That noble Lord called to his assistance the greatest mechanician of the age, Mr. Whitworth, who conduct ed a series of experiments in a closed shed, constructed at the expense of the country, 500 yards long, the result of which was Hi at he discovered the true principle of rifling, according to which he constructed the weapon called the Whitworth rifle. Early in 1857 Mr. Whitworth, in the presence of Lord Panmure, experimented with that weapon at Hythe, and with it obtained a figure of merit of 4½ inches, at 500 yards, the best figure previously obtained being 24. After that a Committee of officers was appointed, the Report of which, after being once or twice refused, was produced at the commencement of the present Session. That Report was signed by five out of the seven members, under some sort of protest. The Committee was most unfortunately constituted, four members being Government officials, and three of those being gentlemen who had been engaged in recommending and arranging—for it was really a matter of arrangement—the rifle of 1853. After squabbling for eighteen months they separated without arriving at any conclusion by which the head of a department could be guided. That Report was made on the 1st of January, 1859, but since then, as far as he knew, not a single experiment had been made by the authorities to test the merits of any other rifle than the one which they were engaged in constructing in quantities of 1,000 weekly. They took no steps to ascertain that the weapon which they were placing in the hands of the British soldier was the best that could be procured. The Report bore testimony to the merits of the "Whitworth rifle, but no measures had been taken to settle the questions which the Committee had raised. Having differed among themselves to the extent exhibited by the Report, these gentlemen took the unusual course of signing under protest, detailing at some length the reasons why they did so. General Hutchinson, the president of the Committee, expressed his approval of the Whitworth rifle, and in his draught report entered into the various reasons for the opinion which he entertained. Lieutenant-Colonel Dixon did not discuss the question of the superiority of either weapon, but rather argued down, if he might so express himself, the advantages of the Whitworth rifle. At the same time he was compelled to make admissions in its favour. Though from the experiments there appeared to be no question of the superiority of the Whitworth arm, the Committee adopted the singular course of ordering rifles, on what they called the Enfield model, to be made; but they imported into them all the distinguishing features, with one exception, of the rival weapon. They adopted Mr. Whitworth's ball, the length of his projectile, and the spirality or turn of his groove, and they rejected the polygonal rifling, which was a matter of no importance whatever except as to penetration. Colonel Dixon, the head of the Enfield factory, stated that, "although no extra care was taken with these small bores, the result of their firing in point of accuracy was, at least, as favourable as that shown by the Whit- worth rifle." To Lieutenant-Colonel Gordon very great credit was due for the part he had originally taken in introducing the Enfield rifle in 1853, and he regretted that in this instance he had not adopted a more comprehensive view. His observations were based on a comparison between three and six grooves, a point, as he had stated, really of no consequence in this discussion. Unquestionably the most important member of the Committee was General Hay, who, placed as he was at the head of the musketry instruction in this country, was probably the greatest authority, not only in England, but in any other nation, on the question of rifles and rifle shooting. That gallant General said— As the Report contains no general statement of the relative merits of the Whitworth and En-field rifle 577 bore, and as the instructions point to the 'relative efficiency' of the two rifles as one of the main objects of inquiry, I have thought it right to make a concise statement, detailing some of the advantages the Whitworth rifle possesses over the Enfield 577 bore:—1. Great increase of precision and range, which is, comparatively speaking, more marked in windy weather, owing to the great velocity of flight and rotation of its bullet. 2. Much flatter trajectories, which, with reference to judging distances, is of the utmost importance. 3. Great increase in strength and durability of barrel, which is much required. 4. Greater facility for adapting the tube for shells, rendering them most effective even at long ranges. 5. Great increase of penetration (nearly treble) when on special occasions it may be necessary to use the hardened bullets. 6. Shortness of back sight, that used for the Enfield 577 bore at 900 yards being sufficient for the Whitworth at 1,100 yards. 7. Less weight for the soldier to carry, the reduced bore rendering it possible to use the old weight of bullet—namely, 480 grains—with perfect effect, and with a quarter of a drachm less powder. But the question of the superiority of the Whitworth rifles over the Enfield did not rest on the testimony of those gentlemen, but on much stronger evidence. The National Rifle Association put forth an advertisement, calling for the most perfect rifle that could be invented. All countries were invited to come forward and compete for furnishing the rifle to be used in shooting for the Queen's prize. Among other arms the famous "small-bore Enfield" was used. The result was that after trial the Whitworth was declared to be the best rifle known, and accordingly it was adopted. This year the same advertisement had been put forward, but no one had attempted to call in question the superiority of Mr. Whitworth's rifle, so that it now stood incontestably the finest rifle in the world. The House would remember that when, at the contest for the prizes, Her Majesty was about to fire the first shot, the rifle was mechanically fixed. The shot was fired from the Whitworth rifle, and it not only struck the bull's eye, but was only an inch and a half from the centre. Considering that the shot was calculated beforehand, and that it was fired in the open air and at a distance of 400 yards from the target, it was probably the most marvellous shot that ever came from a rifle. He remembered going down to Wimbledon and seeing the Swiss riflemen who carried off the first prizes in their own country. They were much distressed at the fact of their own rifles having been detained in a foreign custom-house. Those arms arrived the next day; but on going down again he found the Swiss not shooting with their own rifles, but with the Whitworth. They had laid aside their own, and were shooting with the Whitworth at long ranges. At the French rifle meeting, to which the whole world were invited, Mr. Whitworth was present. He had not been in Paris many days when he received an invitation from the Emperor to an interview at St. Cloud. The interview was a long one. The Emperor entered at great length into all the questions connected with the rifling of small arms and great guns. He told Mr. Whitworth that he was in possession of two of his rifles, and that he much desired to see them shot with. Mr. Whitworth immediately telegraphed for the person who was in the habit of shooting with his rifles. A trial was made at Vincennes; and, at from 500 to 700 metres, Mr. Whitworth's beat the best rifles in the French army by two and three to one. After 700 metres the French rifles were withdrawn, and from that point Mr. Whitworth's shot with its usual successful results. Mr. Whitworth received the congratulations of the Emperor of the French; and, when speaking of the matter to him as an Englishman, he contrasted the prompt and practical manner in which the question had been dealt with in France with the way in which he had been badgered and bullied in this country, after having for so many years given up his valuable time to the improvement of those important instruments of warfare. Not only at the contest which had been inaugurated by the Queen, but at the subsequent great trials, all the best shooting was made either by rifles made by Mr. Whitworth himself, or rifles made on his plan of rifling by Mr. Westley Richards. Mr. Ross won the great prize at Wimbledon with a Whitworth; and the Prince Consort's, the Duke of Cambridge's, and the Duke of Wellington's prizes were all won with breech-loading rifles made by Mr. Westley Richards under licence from Mr. Whitworth. The Enfield rifle was completely snuffed out after 600 yards; a high authority told him that he would as soon go out and play at marbles as shoot with an Enfield rifle over 600 yards. Last year Lord Herbert made a statement, in answer to a question put to him on this subject. He did not think that the noble Lord denied the merits of Mr. Whitworth's rifle, but he said that its cost was so great that it was impossible to adopt it as an arm for general use. His Lordship stated its cost to be £10. On the moment, it appeared to him to be contrary to common sense to suppose that a difference in the barrels could cause such a difference between the price of the Enfield and that of Mr. Whitworth's rifle. He put himself in communication with that gentleman, and received the following letter:— Fenton's Hotel, July 12th, 1860. My dear Sir,—In reply to your letter making inquiries respecting the Whitworth rifles, I beg to inform you that there would be no difficulty in adapting the Enfield machinery to the manufacture of service muskets rifled on my system. Indeed, I offered upwards of two years ago to give my assistance in making the required alterations. The service muskets rifled on my principle would be manufactured at the same cost as the present Enfield, the quality of workmanship and materials being the same. The only change required would be to substitute the form of rifling adopted by me in place of the triple-grooved form. I feel confident the change could be made without difficulty, and, supposing materials, workmanship, and cost to remain the same, it would afford a rifle having, I believe, at least double the efficiency of the rifle now made. I am of opinion, however, that a slight extra expense—say 5s., may be advantageously incurred in making the barrels with greater care; that slightly increased expense would be an economical outlay, as the efficiency of the rifle would be thereby increased in a far greater proportion. Most erroneous conclusions have been drawn from the fact that rifles supplied from my establishment cost £10. It should be remembered that those rifles were manufactured in a newly organized establishment working on a limited scale; that their fittings, materials, workmanship, and finish are all of superior quality; they are, in fact, rifles suited to supply the special demand which exists for them. They are not intended as pattern service muskets, nor can their cost, when manufactured in a private establishment, carried on on a limited scale, be compared with that required to manufacture muskets in such an establishment as Enfield. As a proof of the advantageous application of my system of rifling to the ordinary service barrels, I may refer to the success of Mr. Westley Richards's breechloaders at the trials at Wimbledon. Mr. Richards made his breech-loaders with ordinary service barrels, and rifled them on my principle, under licence, with his ordinary machines. His breechloaders were first in the contest for the Duke of Cambridge's prize, and also in that for the Prince Consort's prize. The highest number of points (24) gained at the long ranges—800, 900, and 1,000 yards—were gained by Mr. Ross with one of my rifles; the second highest number of points (22) gained at the same ranges with a like number of shots, were gained by Lieutenant Lacy, with one of Mr. Richards's breech-loaders, having an ordinary service barrel, rifled under licence on my principle. I remain, &c, JOSEPH WHIIWOETH. Hussey Vivian, Esq., M.P. That letter put the question of cost beyond a doubt. He had handed that letter to Lord Herbert, and hoped he might be spared the necessity of bringing the matter before the House. He thought that the acknowledged superiority of the Whitworth rifle over the Enfield, and the possibility of manufacturing it at about the same cost, would have induced the Government to adopt the Whitworth rifle. In confirmation of his statement, that the Whitworth rifle could be produced for the same sum as the Enfield, he might mention that he had that morning received an assurance from Mr. Westley Richards, that he had manufactured an ordinary service musket on the Whitworth principle, at a cost not one sixpence greater than that of the ordinary musket. He was further informed that last year twenty muskets were made at Enfield in the ordinary manner, as if they were intended to be rifled on the Enfield system. These rifles were sent to Mr. Whitworth, who finished the boring and rifled them on his principle. Before returning them to the Government he ascertained by experiment that the figure of merit of these twenty rifles averaged 6in. at 500 yards, that of the Enfield ranging from 12 to 20in., thus showing a marked superiority even at this short range. These rifles were returned to the Government, on the 13th September, 1860, but so far as could be ascertained they had never yet been tried. They had now 500,000 rifles on the Enfield plan. Lord Hardinge said that 1,000,000 were required by the country. The British Army was so divided that in no country in the world could anew system be introduced more easily. The machinery at Enfield could be perfectly adapted to the manufacture of Mr. Whitworth's rifle, and if this were done and contracts rearranged in no long space of time 100,000 Whitworth rifles could be issued per an- num. The "life" of an Enfield rifle, the barrel of which was thin and the grooves shallow, did not extend beyond twelve years. Within that period of time, therefore, the Government must renew every musket in their possession. This year there were sums asked for in various Votes, which, added together, made an aggregate of £760,000 for small arms. Would the House of Commons permit the Government to go on spending this sum in producing a rifle confessedly worse than that which could be made for the same money? He trusted that the House would consider him justified in occupying its time with this matter, and that hon. Members would support him in his desire to get the question investigated. He might be told that the House was not a proper tribunal for the consideration of such cases; but there were many hon. Members as well qualified to form an opinion upon the relative merits of the Enfield and Whitworth rifles as any of the officers to whom the matter had formerly been referred. A House of Commons Committee was a painstaking, just, and impartial tribunal, and be should have much greater confidence in its decision than in that of the prejudiced officials to whom the Whitworth rifle was referred. He was informed that three out of seven of the Committee that reported against the Whitworth were the originators of the Enfield rifle. Only two members of the Committee could be said to be wholly unprejudiced and impartial, and they were both in favour of the Whitworth rifle. He said, therefore, that the advisability of continuing to manufacture the Enfield rifle ought to be investigated. He should be sorry that the hon. Under Secretary for War should allow the reputation he had gained by the effective manner in which he had done his work to be tarnished by his refusal of a just demand. The present question could not and should not be allowed to rest, for if his Motion were rejected, he pledged himself to renew it next year. He had only to say that when first he took up the question he had scarcely any personal knowledge of Mr. Whitworth He had no personal interest in the matter, and he had only been induced on public grounds to bring the subject under the consideration of the House.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Select Committee be appointed, to inquire whether a more efficient weapon than the Enfield Rifle may not be provided for the use of Her Majesty's Forces, without additional cost or serious inconvenience to the Service.


said, he felt he should be doing an injustice to a distinguished gentleman whom he had the honour to reckon among his constituents if he did not second the Motion. The general opinion in the country, and especially in the district which he represented, was that very scant justice had been done to Mr. Whitworth after the series of experiments which he had carried on for many years to such a successful result, and when the skill, knowledge, and patience that had enabled him to produce a valuable weapon had not been acknowledged by the Government. It was the general opinion that Mr. Whitworth was the most celebrated mechanician of the age, and he had made an ample fortune in carrying to a successful result machinery of the most complicated nature, not only for the manufacture of textile fabrics, but for making the very instruments by which that machinery was constructed. That gentleman's absolute precision in mechanism was now so universally acknowledged that in all the workshops in the world his principles were adopted. It had not been Mr. Whitworth's wish to enter upon the manufacture of these rifles; but, having been applied to by the Government, he gave his skill and energy, and devoted thousands of his money, to carry on experiments which were first originated at the instance of the Government. Mr. Whitworth had no desire to make a fortune by the manufacture of rifles, but he had a desire to bring his skill to bear in producing a weapon which should enable the troops of this country to meet the enemy both at home and abroad with effect. That was the only honour he sought. He should not enter into the details of the question before the House, but it was generally admitted that he had produced a weapon more effective than the one now in use, and at as small an expense. In the hands of a good marksman it was as effective as three or four Enfield rifles, and, therefore, there could be little doubt which ought to be in the hands of the army.


said, that no one in the House could dissent from the terms in which both the hon. Gentlemen the proposer and seconder of the Motion had mentioned Mr. Whitworth. That gentleman's reputation was an European reputation, and nothing that he could say could add to it. Nor could any one suppose that there existed any interested motive either on the part of his hon. Friend or of Mr. Whitworth, for desiring a more extensive use of that gentleman's inventions. He would add—what his hon. Friend seemed not quite so ready to recognize—that there was no disposition on the part of the officers connected with the War Office and at the head of establishments for the manufacture of small arms to throw obstacles in the way of the introduction of improvements. They were not interested in the manufacture of small arms. They could lay no claim to the invention of the rifle manufactured at Enfield, though, no doubt, they had introduced improvements in it, but there was no jealousy on the part of those gentlemen with respect to the introduction of any improvements into the manufacture of small arms. Therefore, he hoped that the House would put away any notion of "prejudiced officials," and any idea that Mr. Whitworth had been "bullied and badgered" in this matter. He was not aware that Mr. Whitworth had made any such charge against any person with whom he had been brought into communication. Since he had belonged to the department with which he was now connected he had seen no representation from Mr. Whitworth to give colour for the language used by his hon. Friend.


explained that he had used the expression simply in reference to the Committee on small arms which he alluded to.


said, that he was glad to hear the explanation, as he had thought the allusion was made to the officers to whom he had referred, and who he was sure had always acted with every courtesy to Mr. Whitworth. As to the speech of his hon. Friend, he would say a few words on two preliminary matters. First, as to the memorandum written by Viscount Hardinge. What was proposed in that memorandum had been actually carried out under the noble Lord's own instructions; and in consequence Mr. Whitworth was allowed permission to erect at the public expense all that apparatus to which his hon. Friend alluded. Those experiments involved not a small cost, but something like £16,000 were spent, and very properly spent, by Mr. Whitworth at the public cost. Therefore, Viscount Hardinge's memorandum was actually carried out. But if his hon. Friend meant that in consequence of that memorandum all measures for the supply of small arms should have been stopped until the result of those experiments had been ascertained, as that did not take place until 1857, the effect would have been that the supply of rifled muskets to the troops in India, would have been very little or none at all. And such a result would certainly not have met the expectations of the House or of the country. Next, with respect to the Report of the Committee, to which his hon. Friend had alluded, he did not think that it was a very great encouragement for the appointment of a Committee of that House, with the view of investigating the same subject, to find that gentlemen of great scientific attainments had arrived at very different conclusions; and when his hon. Friend, in commenting on the constitution of that Committee, objected to certain gentlemen on the Committee as being interested or connected with the manufacture of small arms, he omitted to state that Mr. Whitworth was himself a member of that Committee. [Mr. VIVIAN: I mentioned that circumstance.] There was no unfairness, therefore, at all events, in the constitution of the Committee, though the proceedings disclosed very different opinions on the part of persons qualified to express a judgment on the subject. His hon. Friend was not correct in saying that no further progress had taken place since the Report of the Committee. Owing to circumstances with which Mr. Whitworth was in some degree connected there was a great delay in preparing arms for experiments; but after those delays were got over it was intended to have a trial of a rifle manufactured by Mr. Whitworth from the same metal used at Enfield with a rifle manufactured at Enfield with a new grooving. That trial, he believed, was now actually commenced, rifles having been supplied on both sides, and it was in progress under the supervision of the Ordnance Select Committee. Therefore, there was no indisposition on the part of the Government to continue the experiments with the view of ascertaining if any improvement could be made in the Enfield rifle, and his noble Friend the Secretary of State for War and all persons connected with the War Office were ready to avail themselves to the utmost of the skill and ability possessed by Mr. Whitworth, in order that the most perfect weapon might be placed in the hands of the British troops.

He would next say a few words with respect to the propriety of altering the bore of the musket used in Her Majesty's service, for that was the main question under discussion. His hon. Friend very much understated the number of Enfield rifles now in use and store. It was rapidly approaching to the amount of the 1,000,000 mentioned by Lord Hardinge, for more than 800,000 were in the possession of the troops or in store. But if a fresh bore were introduced into the service the effect of that would be to re-arm the whole army, at a cost which might easily be calculated. The new rifles would be more expensive than the Enfield, and could hardly cost less than £4 a piece; and the whole of the existing ammunition, in store would become useless. Therefore, it was desirable that no change of that kind should take place without due consideration and the clearest proof of its necessity. He would not enter into a discussion of the scientific merits of the different systems of rifling; but even the hon. Gentleman admitted that the Enfield rifle was a better weapon than Was in the hands of any other army in the world, and he thought that, putting those two facts together, the House would think Her Majesty's Government were justified in hesitating to make a change before it was clearly proved that a weapon could be introduced superior to the Enfield rifle, not only in range but in the many other no less necessary qualities for use in war. Another reason he had to offer for not consenting to the Motion was that in a matter of so scientific a nature it was impossible for a Committee of the House of Commons to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. Experiments were necessary, which it would be impossible for a Committee of the Hottse of Commons to superintend. The Government objected to the Motion, not upon the ground that no improvements could be introduced into the weapon in question, but because they believed that those improvements should be most carefully considered, and that a Committee of the House of Commons had neither the power nor the time to enable them to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion upon a matter of that description. He would simply add that he thought the present Ordnance Select Committee was. a tribunal perfectly competent to advise the Secretary of State upon such points, as was evinced by the fact that great satisfaction had been given in those cases reported upon by them; and he would observe that no nation in the world possessed ordnance better adapted to the service than ourselves. That we were in that position was, he had no doubt, partly to be attri- buted to the care and attention which the Ordnance Select Committee had bestowed on all the proposals and inventions which had been brought under their notice, and the House might rest satisfied that the Government would not be found neglectful of any improvements which Mr. Whitworth or any other man might bring forward; while there remained the assurance that all the suggestions which might be made on the subject would be properly weighed by persons who had not only a scientific knowledge of the weapons themselves, but also a practical acquaintance with that which the soldier required for service in the field.


said, that, remembering the improvements in small arms effected between 1851–4 by the late Viscount Hardinge, not without the assistance of a Committee of that House—and recollecting the large sums which the House was called upon to Vote for small arms, he was not surprised that the hon. Gentleman should have brought forward this Motion. In 1850–1 Viscount Hardinge discovered that the French army was armed with a weapon much superior to that which was placed in the hands of the British soldier. He could answer from personal knowledge that when Viscount Hardinge set himself to repair that deficiency, he met with obstacles which would not have been removed but for the assistance of such competent civilians, as Mr. Westley Richards, and the extraneous action of that House. There was an unwillingness on the part of those who were officially charged with the equipment of the army to make changes, which only the interference of that House could overcome. They had to thank the right hon. the present Chancellor of the Exchequer during his former tenure of office for the willingness which he manifested to grant funds for the conducting of these experiments, the practical issue of which was the question now before the House. Having voted the funds with which these experiments had been made by Mr. Whitworth and Mr. Westley Richards, united in a Commission for this purpose, and having, at so much expense to the country, ascertained the results of their experiments, would the House now bring them into practical operation? His belief was that it was idle for the Government or the House to imagine, in an age of progress, that if they did not adopt the improvements which were offered to them other Governments would not do so. From his own personal knowledge he could state that other Governments were attempting to monopolize for themselves the results of the experiments which had been conducted at so much expense by this country. He thought, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman opposite had done the country good service in bringing this question before the House. He did not wish to impugn the conduct of the gentlemen who were officially employed by the Government in this department; but it was impossible that gentlemen specially employed in the manufacture of a particular description of weapon should not become wedded to it; and he had good grounds for believing that the same obstacles were thrown in the way of improvement now, that Viscount Hardinge encountered previous to 1854. The evidence taken before the Small Arms Committee of 1854 proved in contestably the disinclination on the part of officials for change. No doubt, the changing of the bore was a very serious question, for it was most inconvenient that the arms borne by the army should be of different bores. Still he would ask the House to consider how the battles of Alma and of Inkermann were won. It was well known that the troops engaged in them had muskets of different bores in their hands. Some had the old smooth musket, some the rifle which succeeded it, and some had the Enfield rifle, which had since superseded them all. It was clear, therefore, that the difference in the bore did not prevent our soldiers from securing victory. The hon. Under Secretary of War stated that our troops were armed with the best weapon of any army in the. world. He (Mr. Newdegate) rejoiced in sharing that conviction; he wished that that advantage should be continued to our soldiers, and in order to effect this object that the Government should adopt those further improvements which were called into existence at the expense of the country, and which had been tested in a competition against all comers. That House ought not to attempt to dictate but to suggest to the Government whether the Reports of their own official Committees on this matter ought not to be adopted. The hon. Under Secretary for War told them that they had now in store 700,000 or 800,000 muskets of the Enfield pattern. He was glad to hear it, as it proved that the country was for the present safe, but it also showed that they need not stand still, but were in a condition to make improvements in the composition of the musket. The hon. Gentleman who made the Motion spoke of the indisputable excellence of Mr. Whitworth's rifle. He, for one, did not wish to dispute that assertion: but he would remind the Committee that the rifle of Mr. Westley Richards was also produced before the Committee, and he recollected hearing Viscount Hardinge urge on Mr. Westley Richards that he should never consider the improvements complete till the English Army had a breech-loading musket. Now, experiments had proved that Mr. Westley Richards' breech-loading rifle was in several respects superior for military purposes to Mr. Whitworth's musket; and he rejoiced to know that the Government was about to arm the cavalry with a breech-loading carbine of Mr. Westley Richard's pattern; and he hoped that would prove a step towards the realization of Viscount Hardinge's anticipation, and that our whole army would continue to be, as it is now, armed with a weapon superior to that of every other army in the world.


said, he had never before heard so many remarks with so little foundation. In the first place, it was argued that there was an opposition to the Whitworth rifle on the part of the officials, which only showed the profound ignorance of those who made that charge of the way in which those things were managed. If any inventor had a new idea he sent it to the War Office, and it was submitted to be tested by the Ordnance Select Committee or by a Special Committee. If their report was favourable, then the Secretary of State directed the departments to manufacture so and so, and it was done. It was nothing to the department whether they manufactured Mr. Whitworth's rifle, or Mr. Westley Richards' rifle, or the Enfield, or any other rifle. In 1852 those improvements were commenced which resulted in equipping our army with the best weapon in the world. The whole small arm trade of this country was called upon to submit improvements on the arm then in use. A Committee of General Officers was appointed at the Ordnance Office to maturely consider their proposals, and a sub-committee was appointed which went to Enfield to try experiments, because there happened to be a range there. The result of that Committee's Report was that the present pattern arm was adopted; and it was called the Enfield pattern, not because it originated there, but because the experiments of the sub-committee had been carried on at Enfield. It was then the question was raised how far the bore of the musket could be reduced without endangering its efficiency in the field, and it was reduced from 7.02 to 5.77. The hon. Member for Warwickshire said that the French musket was superior to ours in 1854.


I beg pardon—I meant to say 1853.


Well, the next question was as to the accuracy of fire at long range; and it was said that in that respect the Whitworth rifle was superior. But when his experiments were made a clear and broad principle was laid down, that all arms should be tried under equal and similar circumstances—in other words, that there should be no reduction from the size of the Enfield bore. Now, Mr. Whitworth, who was eminent for his mechanical skill, could not produce better shooting than the Enfield rifle without reducing the bore. He departed, therefore, from the rules laid down and did reduce his bore to 4.5. He (Captain Jervis) objected, therefore, to the question being put whether they ought to adopt the Enfield or the Whitworth rifle. The real question was whether they would reduce the bore or not? and if they determined on reduction, then they ought to do as they did before—they ought to call in the whole trade to the competition and see whether, with a reduced bore, a better weapon could not be produced than even Mr. Whitworth's? But, then, that House was not the place to decide the experiment. The arming of the troops was one of the prerogatives of the Crown, and it was almost absurd to suggest that a Parliamentary Committee should constitute themselves a tribunal for deciding what arm should be given to the service. Such a Committee could not sit in the lobby to take evidence. The experiments must be conducted at Shoeburyness, and they would necessarily extend over a considerable period of time. He might, for instance, take the question on which there was great objection to Mr. Whitworth's rifle—that of fouling. It would require more than a few weeks to decide that point alone. The experiments ought to be tried during the great heat of summer, and some muskets ought to be sent out to be tried in India. He would only say, in conclusion, that there was no hostility to Mr. Whitworth on the part of those engaged in previous inquiries. Their great and, indeed, only anxiety was to see that the best arm was supplied to the troops, and there was not the slightest foundation for the statement that they subjected Mr. Whitworth to a severe badgering.


said, he wished to correct the hon. Member for Warwickshire on one or two points. In the first place, it was not correct to say that the British army in the Crimea had muskets of different descriptions. In the second place, so far was the Committee of that House which sat in 1853 from being of any advantage to the adoption of any improvements, that he could state considerable delay in the adoption of those improvements was caused by them. He agreed with the hon. Member for Glamorgan that they ought to take immediate steps to ascertain the relative merits of the Whitworth and Enfield rifles as quickly as possible, but he doubted whether a Committee of the House of Commons could render any assistance in the investigation of that subject. The hon. Under Secretary for War had omitted to state why the Government had not exerted themselves more during the last two or three years. Much valuable time had been lost; but if the House could obtain a pledge from the Government that they would take the matter into their serious consideration, and that they would cause experiments to be made without unnecessary delay, he for one would be satisfied with that assurance. Something had been said about the inconvenience of having two bores in the service. Let the Government ascertain, in the first instance, which was the best weapon, and then the difficulty as to the bores would soon and easily be overcome.


stated that experiments were either then in progress, or Would be commenced in a few days.


said, he hoped that the Government would endeavour to have the experiments for ascertaining the comparative merits of the two rifles prosecuted without delay. He had not the slightest doubt as to the superiority of the Whitworth rifle over the ordinary Enfield. Experiments had been made at Hythe for the purpose of ascertaining which was the best weapon to be used in the competition for Her Majesty's prize at Wimbledon. The result snowed that the best Enfield gave a mean deviation at 500 yards of 12 inches, and the best Whit worth a mean deviation of 31 inches. The average deviation of the best Enfield at 500 yards was 17 inches, and of the best Whitworth 6 inches. In point of accuracy every one would admit the superiority of the Whitworth rifle. The only question was whether there ought to be a different bore? His impression was that the division commanded by Sir George Cathcart in the Crimea was armed with Brown Bess. With regard to bore, there had been an impression among sportsmen that a large bore was best to kill deer with; but now not a single deerstalker went to the Highlands with a large bore rifle, because it was found that the small bore killed equally well. The question of destructive results depended on the weight of the ball multiplied by the velocity; and the velocity with the small bore was much greater than with the larger bore. He had heard it stated that during the late war in Italy the Austrian soldiers were armed with rifles of smaller bore than those used by the French, and it was noted that the Austrian soldiers recovered more quickly from their wounds than the French soldiers. The opinion of General Hay was that there was no fear of fouling as regards the small bore rifles; and his impression was that the small bore rifle would be by far the best military weapon. General Hay had been on the Committee, but was not satisfied with the manner in which the experiments had been conducted. Not that the members had any personal interest, but naturally people had a prejudice in favour of what they were engaged in. He, therefore, thought it desirable that some independent inquiry should be instituted, such as might be conducted by Members of that House, not to make experiments at Shoeburyness, but to examine General Hay and other scientific witnesses, and to bring common sense to bear on the question. Mr. Whitworth, it should be remembered, was not a gun-maker, he was what might be called the prince of toolmakers; and the great good he accomplished was that for the first time scientific principles were brought to bear on riflemaking. Gunmakers were not educated scientifically; from apprentices they became workmen, foremen, and masters, but they generally proceeded on the traditions of their trade, not on scientific principles. Mr. Whitworth had applied to riflemaking the best mechanical science, and Viscount Hardinge, to whom they owed much, had shown his wisdom and prescience by applying to Mr. Whitworth upon the subject. Mr. Whitworth had eon-ducted the most extensive experiments; for instance, as to the form of the ball, he had 500 shapes, and so with regard to the length of the barrel, the different modes of rifling and spirality. The Whitworth rifle had a much more rapid spiral, and at long range was infinitely superior to the Enfield. Were they to increase the spiral of the present Enfield rifle they would get much better shooting, without increasing the fouling or in any way breaking the guage. Talking of prejudice and interest, he had stated that Mr. Whitworth was not a gunmaker—he was an outsider. When he was brought in by the Government to tell the best principles on which rifles should be made there naturally arose a feeling of prejudice against him; and he repeated the Government ought in these matters to be guided by the opinion of General Hay, who had to try all the rifles, who knew where every one came from, and who registered every shot fired at Hythe. That register was open to inspection, and the results showed that Mr. Whitworth had hitherto been most successful. Her Majesty had been, graciously pleased to give the National Rifle Association a prize for £200. The association thought for the honour of England that prize should be shot for at the longest possible range and with the best possible description of rifle. If they had had reason to think that the Enfield could have shot accurately at 1,000 yards, unquestionably they would have recommended the Enfield rifle, being the arm with which the majority of the Volunteers were armed, but the tabular results showed that with the Enfield they could not have extreme accuracy at a longer range than 600 yards. They had, therefore, been obliged to get some other weapon; and while all gunmakers were invited to try their rifles at Hythe, the only persons who tried last year were connected with the Birmingham gun trade, with rifles of the same bore as Mr. Whitworth's, but on the Enfield system and with their own projectiles. The results were hollow in favour of the Whitworth rifle. This year no competitor appeared, and again the Queen's prize would be shot for with the Whitworth rifle. As regards precision and accuracy, the question did not admit of dispute, and to show what had been done by Mr. Whitworth it might be stated that in 1853 the mean deviation of rifles by the crack gunmakers at 500 yards was 35 inches, while in 183 7 Mr. Whitworth had constructed a rifle which, when fired before Lord Panmure at the same distance, gave a mean deviation of only 4½ inches. He could not help thinking they might find Members of that House wholly unprejudiced, and quite capable, whether as military men or sportsmen, to give a fair and impartial decision on that most important subject.


said, he could not but express his disappointment at the Government being unwilling to accede to the Motion. What had made Lancashire and Yorkshire celebrated was the great improvements in machinery made by machinery, and not by hand, and in that part of the country Mr. Whitworth had taken a high position. If they appointed a Committee of Members of that House, they would be able to examine into all the improvements made in small arms which would be brought before them from all parts of the world. He for one should have more satisfaction in voting the Supplies if he felt such an assurance as an inquiry before a Select Committee might give that the public money was spent in providing the army with the best possible weapon that could be obtained.


Sir, I wish to say only one word in order to assure the House that I am not at all insensible to the great importance of furnishing the army with the best possible weapon. In fact, the great improvements of the last few years may be appealed to as a sufficient proof that the attention of the Government has been directed to that, as well as to other similar objects. But what was stated by my hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State is quite true, that this is an inquiry which more properly belongs to a department of the Government than to a Committee of the House of Commons. I think, with all deference, that of late we have rather had a tendency to assume to this House the executive functions of the Administration. This is hardly a duty which a Select Committee can satisfactorily or usefully perform. It is evident, for reasons into which it not necessary to enter, that it is not a function which Members of this House can with equal advantage discharge. In the first place, an inquiry of this kind does not turn upon reasoning based simply on matters adduced in the examination of other people, but it is requisite that those who are to form a judment and make a report should be able themselves to verify the statements and opinions given by the different witnesses whom they may call; and it is quite clear that it is impossible for a Committee of the House of Commons to do that with the facility with which it can be accomplished by the Executive. There is no reason to think that the War Department, or those who act under its direction, feel any prejudice or interest in the matter, or have any other motive to guide them in coming to a decision than a real desire to arrive at the truth, and to ascertain not only which would be the best weapon, but, moreover, whether the superiority of a given weapon over another is so great as to counterbalance the additional expense and other inconveniences which might result from a general change of armament throughout the service? This matter had, I think, better be left in the hands of the Government, who, I can assure the House, are now pursuing the very inquiry which my noble Friend suggested ought to be the object of the Committee—namely, a comparison of the rifles made on Mr. "Whitworth's principle and those made on the Enfield principle. I repeat, that it will be the duty of the Government—a duty which they will sedulously perform—to ascertain with the greatest possible accuracy what is the best weapon, and when that has been discovered, also to ascertain whether the degree of superiority in the weapon deemed the best is such as to make it worth while to effect a change in the equipment of the whole army?


briefly replied. The issue of the discussion was so far satisfactory that if the Government gave an assurance to the House that the question should be fully and impartially investigated, and that at the beginning of next Session the result of that investigation should be laid on the table of the Houses he should not now press his Motion to a division. He wished further to say that he had had no intention whatever to impute any personal interest to the officer, who composed the Committee on the Whitworth and Enfield rifles. All he meant was that, under the circumstances, for which they certainly were not individually responsible, they could not bring a perfectly judicial mind to bear on the inquiry.


said, he was glad to hear the hon. Gentleman had withdrawn the implied accusation of partiality against the officers who had formed the Members of the Committee. Those officers were men of the highest character, who had done their duty faithfully and to the best of their power; and there was no ground whatever for impugning their impartiality.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.