§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
Sir, if any apology were needed for reviving a discussion which has been lately—although I think very partially—before the House— it might be found in what I consider to be the overwhelming importance of the subject, not merely as regards the enormous outlay and expense involved, but also as regards our position and existence as a naval Power. I must say, and I think the House will not be disinclined to agree with me, that the answers which proceeded from the Treasury bench upon the late occasion were eminently unsatisfactory. What was the reply made by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War? The right hon. Gentleman said he could hold out no hope that the construction of the proposed forts at Spithead, for which contracts had been entered into, would be abandoned. In presuming to bring this question before the House, I do not ask that the works should be at once abandoned. My Motion goes only to suspend the construction of the proposed forts until the value of iron-roofed gunboats for the defence of our ports and roadsteads has been fully considered. I think the House will agree that this is no excessive demand to be made upon Her Majesty's Government under the peculiar circumstances of the case. But, before coming to the more immediate question, I think it right that I should take a rapid and brief review of the history of this question of national defences. I find that the question of national defences first came 581 before this House under most peculiar circumstances. In 1786 Mr. Pitt, then in the plenitude of his power, came down to this House with a Resolution calling upon it to vote £700,000 for the fortifications of the dockyards of Great Britain. And what was its treatment by this House upon that occasion? A long debate ensued—a debate which has almost been revived in the present century—whether floating or permanent batteries were best, and the House came to the conclusion — for the Resolution, 169; against it, also 169; and your predecessor, Mr. Speaker, gave his casting vote against the construction of the forts proposed; but I hope, Sir, that upon this occasion you will not be put to that inconvenience. The Resolution was lost, and nothing more was heard of national defences until in an evil moment, and under the panic of invasion, some ingenious Minister of the day hit upon the wonderful invention of martello towers. A million was expended upon those towers, and I believe the great blunder was made, that being constructed for two guns, it was found that only one could be placed upon each, and at last they were discovered to be totally useless. Thus remained the question of national defences until 1859, when a gallant officer not now in his place, the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster (Sir De Lacy Evans) urged upon the Government the necessity of appointing a commission to inquire into the national defences. The Government, not unwilling to be urged, granted the commission, and it was appointed in 1859. Now, without wishing to criticise too closely the constitution of that commission, I must take upon myself to say that although the names of the commissioners were highly respectable, there were no men upon that commission whose opinions gave weight to the report they made and the conclusions they arrived at. However, that commission made a report to this House, which was laid before Parliament on the 7th of February, 1860, and the noble Lord the First Minister of the Crown came down to the House some time after the report had been presented, and he moved the following Resolution on the 23rd of July, 1860: —That to secure the Royal dockyards and arsenals, and the ports of Dover and Portland, and for the creation in some central point of an inland arsenal, to serve as a substitute for and assistance to Woolwich—And he called upon the House to grant 582 for that purpose, in the first instance, a sum of two millions to be devoted to the fortifications of Portsmouth alone, and not including; in that amount the purchase of land. The noble Lord's speech upon that occasion was remarkable. The reasons given were pointed expressly to our next-door neighbour, France, with an army of 600,000 men; and altogether the noble Lord pointed to the possibility of an invasion, and that invasion not very long deferred. The House was carried away at the time—and I must say that the House generally manifests a great deal of, I was going to say, feminine fear whenever invasion is mentioned—and it it was almost prepared to pass the Resolution on that evening; but it reflected, and delayed, and the Resolution was not passed on that evening. I have said the demand was at first for two millions; but the total estimate proposed to be made for the entire fortifications of the country amounted to £11,850,000. That sum was proposed to be spread over three or four years, although we were told that invasion was imminent and was not likely to be long deferred. But I am prepared to show that the estimates given in the first instance offered no fair idea of the real sums that would be eventually expended. In the first place, to come to the question more immediately under notice—I mean the forts at Spithead—the sum of £1,192,000 was designed to be expended upon Portsmouth alone. That was the original estimate, but at that time the forts on the Spits were designed to be made of granite alone. Subsequently it was found that forts constructed of granite would not be likely to stand against the heavy guns that would probably be brought against them, and accordingly a proposition was made by one member of the Royal Commission—Admiral Elliot—that we should not be content with making the forts of granite, but that they should be covered with iron, of, I believe, 10 inches in thickness. [Sir JAMES ELPHINSTONE: Wrought iron?] Whatever the coating was to be, it is evident that the estimate of £1,192,000 was an incorrect estimate, if these forts are to be covered with wrought iron or any other material of that kind. What was the course taken in this House when these Resolutions were brought forward? My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Lindsay) who on all occasions has resisted the building of wooden ships—much to his credit and, I think, his foresight—brought 583 forward an Amendment calling for time. His Amendment was rejected by an overwhelming majority; only 39 members voted for it. Not satisfied with that result, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Limerick (Mr. Monsell) moved the following Amendment, which is revived on the present occasion:—That in the absence of sufficient engineering and artillery information, it is not expedient to incur any extraordinary expenditure on permanent works.That Amendment met with the same fate as the other Motion; it was rejected by a considerable majority, there being only a minority of 35 in its favour. I cannot help rejoicing that the Motion is not likely to be so ignominiously defeated on the present occasion. In the course of that discussion the late Secretary for War, then Mr. Sidney Herbert—all honour to his memory—made a most remarkable admission. He gave as his reason for preferring forts to floating batteries, which he argued were not likely to be as available and efficient—At present we know little of the way of making them invulnerable by iron coating, and all the works we propose will be of a lasting and permanent character.At that time the Government, in fact, had not sufficient information to state what the structure of these floating batteries ought to be; they declared their preference for forts, being utterly ignorant that batteries could be made available to the degree lately exemplified in the Hampton Roads. I wish to show the House what was the description of the forts proposed to be constructed at Spithead. I am, fortunately, able to give the description exactly in the words of the Royal Commissioners. I ought to have said that the original intention was to construct five forts at Spithead, but on further inquiry the number was reduced to three, which were to be coated with wrought iron. The following is the description:—The forts now designed for erection on the shoals at Spithead will be of peculiarly formidable description, and essentially different from any works that have been hitherto built. They will each be constructed for 120 guns, in four tiers, of iron 10 inches in thickness from low-water mark, unless it is found expedient to carry the foundations of solid granite up to high-water mark, They will be armed with ordnance of the heaviest description and of the greatest penetrating power, provided also with mortars for vertical fire. They will thus be individually in every respect invulnerable to any species of projectile, and impregnable by any force of ships that can be brought against them or by any conceivable mode of assault.584 It is somewhat strange that after the description here given of these forts, as un-attackable by any ship, there should be found in the report of the Commissioners such a paragraph as the following:—We are, however, convinced that no practical amount of fire from batteries can be depended upon to stop the passage of steam-ships, if the Channel be sufficiently clear to allow of their proceeding at great speed.Why, here, at the outset, is the whole case admitted. Granted that you even have the forts armed with heavy guns, the Commissioners admit that it will be totally impossible for them to stop the passage of iron-plated steamers, coming at full speed into Spithead. So struck was the late Sir Richard Dundas with this view, that after the Report was brought in and laid on the table of the House, he wrote a most important letter to the Commissioners of National Defences. The House will bear with me while I give the most material extract from that letter; for Sir Richard Dundas was himself no mean authority, having been present at the bombardment of Sweaborg. The gallant Admiral, writing from the Admiralty, of which he was then the First Sea Lord, says in his letter, dated February, 1861—It appears to me important to suggest for the consideration of the Defence Committee, the expediency of modifying to a certain extent, and before it be too late, the recommendations of the Committee in so far as they relate to the construction of some of the most costly batteries; and I would suggest the possible substitution of iron-cased ships in certain localities for such of the permanent defences as can be constructed only at large cost, and cannot, in all probability, be completed for a long period of time.I rejoice to give his reason—I consider that much importance attaches to recent experience of the nature of iron-cased ships, not only as exemplified in the French ship La Gloire, but also in connection with many other details demonstrating the possibility of adopting movable ships of considerable power in preference to stationary forts for the defence of Spithead and other anchorages of similar character.Let the House bear in mind that this question not only involves the safety of Spithead, but also rules many other cases. Sir Richard Dundas, in his letter, goes on to say—I entertain no doubt whatever that it will be practicable, at a cost of about £60,000 for each ship, to convert ships of the line which are now available into iron-cased ships, with steam power capable of propelling them at a speed of from seven to eight knots, and with an armament of 30 guns of the heaviest and most improved description on batteries at a height of about six feet above water.585 He proposes that those ships should be "constantly available for local purposes;" which is a material consideration; for the House has been led away a good deal with the notion that these ships are to be moved about. Looking to the contingency that stationary batteries alone might not be sufficient to prevent the passage of iron-cased; ships, Sir Richard Dundas lays it down;that—Any immediate outlay of money to be expended in the course of the ensuing financial year would be more profitably employed upon the equipment for purely defensive purposes of ships of this description; and it might be proper that the attention of the Secretary of State for War should be called to the subject, in order that reports, if necessary, from the Controller of the Navy may be called for without loss of time.That letter, I am sorry to say, was not treated by the Commissioners with the consideration to which I think it was entitled. They decided on building these batteries, and a contract has accordingly been entered into. On a recent occasion the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War gave a reason, or, I should rather say, indulged in a speculation, why we shall not be able to give up shore batteries; because, as he said, we do not yet know the weight of the gun which we shall get that will be able to smash the armour of these iron-sides. I would not attempt to predicate for a moment what the science of this country may achieve in the way of producing monster guns—it would be foolish and absurd in me to do so. I know that at this moment, in America, Captain Rodman is designing a gun of 20 inches bore which will throw a shell of 900lb. weight or a solid ball of 1,000lb. But still there are reasons which may be fairly adduced in answer to the speculations of the right hon. Gentleman. While the Government are considering how to arm these forts, I do not think the subject of the armament of the navy has received proper attention. I speak under correction; but I should like to hear from the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty whether it is not the fact, that after we have spent £3,000,000 upon the Armstrong gun with a view of trying to pierce the sides of armour-plated vessels, the only weapon with which that result has yet been accomplished is the old 68-pounder? At the present moment the way armour-plates are tested at Portsmouth is with the old 68-pounder. Therefore, after all the money we have spent, and after all the laudation which the Armstrong gun has received, the armament of our ships is at 586 this moment in a most unsatisfactory condition. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War must also remember that the larger a gun is, the more difficult is its management, and, above all, the greater becomes the difficulty of aiming with any accuracy at a movable object like a ship. That in itself, I think, is an answer in some measure to the speculations of the right hon. Gentleman. I think there is a case in point in the old sailing days, which shows that these large guns have been tried before. In the year 1807, when Sir John Duckworth went up the Dardanelles with a fleet of eleven sailing ships, towing mortar boats, the reception which he met with was rather warm. He was fired at from both sides of this narrow strait, and his ships were repeatedly struck with marble balls weighing 750 lb. It may be said that when he was going up in February he had in his favour the very bad gunnery of the Turkish artillerists. But he returned in March, and in the mean time the fortifications had been thoroughly repaired under the supervision of French engineers, and were to some extent manned by French gunners. The fleet came down towing the mortar-boats as before, and when they attempted to force the passage, a very warm resistance was made. One of the ships was struck by a ball of 800lb. weight and 26 inches in diameter; another, the Windsor Castle, was struck by a shot of 700lb., and the fleet was rather mauled. But he got through without losing a ship, and from Allen's Navy List I see that the English loss was no more than 46 killed and 235 wounded. This was with sailing ships, against French gunners, and it shows that a movable object is not so easy a thing to hit with a gun, however large it may be. So much for the reason adduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War. The noble Lord the Secretary for the Admiralty rather shirked giving any decisive opinion about these forts; and probably, if we could examine the noble Lord in the lobby, we should find; him altogether averse to them. However, he, very properly backing up his superior officer, said, "Look at the advantage of these forts in case a fleet of merchantmen should run in under their protection." Now, of what avail would such forts be to merchantmen running into Spithead? Let us suppose that those forts were built, armed with very large guns, and commanded by the best men in the service. One morning the telegram announces that 587 there are six or seven iron-clad French ships at St. Helen's. They come in, running the gauntlet of the forts, as we are told they can, and get intermixed with the wooden merchantmen. What would the forts do then? Why, they dare not fire, for fear of destroying the merchantmen. And in that instance, therefore, as a protection for merchantmen, they must be totally useless. So much for the reasons given by the noble Lord. Now, I do not expect a display of Spartan virtue; but I think, that if the noble Lord were allowed to do as he liked, he would desire to retreat to the protection of some other forts, and avoid this division. I am convinced that his real opinion is, that the erection of these forts is useless, and the money spent upon them is money thrown completely away. Now, the Commission which sat upon the subject of fortifications made some curious admissions. "The mode of fortification," they say, "must advance with the development of the means of attack. Experience shows that it is less liable to fluctuation than almost any other element of defence." Of course, when the Report was written the Commissioners could not foresee what was done the other day by the Merrimac, or the Virginia, as she is now called; and, by the way, when we remember that the Southerners raised this 3,000-ton ship, cut her down, and plated her with iron from the railway, it says a great deal for their energy and ability. Well, how did the Merrimac deal with the forts opposed to her? I have taken some pains to inform myself on this point from gentlemen who have seen the forts. The Merrimac comes out of Norfolk, and steams by Fort Monroe, one of the most powerful forts in America, and provided, I believe, with two enormous guns. These guns open upon her; she is fired upon by the shore batteries, but she takes no notice of them, and goes straight towards the Cumberland. This wooden vessel was lying under the batteries of Newport News, which are armed with heavy Columbiads—heavier than our 68-pounders. These guns struck her frequently without producing any effect, and in spite of the batteries she destroyed the Cumberland in half an hour. The shore batteries were very powerful ones, but so little did the Merrimac care for them that she merely occupied herself in shelling the camp. It may be asked, "Why did she not shell Fort Monroe?" If the Monitor had not appeared on the scene, the Minnesota would have been burnt to the water's edge; and I 588 think there can be no doubt that the Merrimac would have ended by shelling Fort Monroe. The Americans were much, afraid of this themselves, and go great was the panic at New York that a meeting was called to consider whether, in spite of the fortifications at Sandy Hook, which are of a powerful description, the harbour of New York should not be blocked up to prevent the Merrimac from coming in. But the Monitor made her appearance, and saved New York from that degradation. Here is a vessel which was built in three months, at a cost of £60,000. It has been most unjustly called Captain Ericsson's invention, but it is, indeed, the invention of a gallant countryman of our own, Captain Cowper Coles, of whom I hope the country will hear much in future. As long back as 1855 this officer laid before the Admiralty his plans for the construction of such a boat. A Committee was appointed; they highly approved his plans, and—the plans were laid aside. We hear no more of his plans and of his vessel until they start up in another form under the name of the Ericsson battery; and the Americans, who believe that Captain Ericsson was the inventor of the Monitor, should know that the credit really belongs to Captain Coles. More recently, however, the invention has been tried here on the Trusty, and approved. Now, when I asked the noble Lord the other night, "Why don't you build some of those ships?" what was his reply? We know how suave and bland the noble Lord is in answering questions in this House; and he said that a ship was now being built on Captain Coles's cupola principle. I ask, where is that ship? Where is it building? There may have been a rambling intention on the part of the Admiralty to build such a ship, but I deny that at this moment any such ship is being built; and I want to know why this plan, having been approved by a Committee six years ago, has been quietly put to bed so long, and why the construction of these expensive, and, as I believe, inefficient forts, is proposed in their place? I cannot help thinking that the noble Lord has been leading the House to believe what was not exactly the fact. Of course, the Admiralty cannot resist now, and the noble Lord will no doubt tell us by-and-by that this vessel is intended to be built. The Admiralty know now that the ships must be built, though the plans have been before them for the last six years. But while we 589 have been thinking, the Americans have been acting. They have been satisfied by the experiment, which is doubted upon the Treasury bench here, in the same way as the efficiency of the matchlock was doubted when it superseded the crossbow; of "Brown Bess," when it superseded the matchlock; and of the Enfield rifle, when it superseded Brown Bess. Our great men are very slow to be convinced; and unless the House of Commons urges them on— unless a lesson is taught us on our own shores by the burning of some of our own ships—they will be as slow as the men of former times were. In America there has been promptness of action. A Bill has been introduced into the Senate for the construction of an iron-clad steamer of 5,000 tons, and the completion of an ironclad battery, called the Stevens' battery, in the Hudson River; and it is proposed to spend £2,600,000 in the construction of iron-clad steam gunboats for the defence of the whole Atlantic coast from Portland to the mouth of the Chesapeake. Do they appoint a commission to inquire and talk about building expensive forts? No; they come down to the Senate with the experience of the engagement in Hampton Roads, and the Senate acts upon it. They do not attempt to defend their coasts by costly forts, but construct floating batteries on the plan invented by Captain Coles six years ago. So much for the Ericsson battery, which is really the invention of Captain Coles.
But there is another consideration, also most material, which it will be well for the House to take into its consideration before it decides on this question of the erection of forts. It has been stated by the lay Lord of the Admiralty, the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread), that the Admiralty hesitates to increase the dock accommodation at Portsmouth, because it is only at certain periods of the month that the new class of vessels of war, such as the Warrior, drawing twenty-six feet of water, can get over the bar into Portsmouth harbour. What are we about to do after such a statement? We are about to lavish money on the construction of forts, when there is doubt on the part of the very Admiralty itself whether Portsmouth can be made accessible to the larger class of vessels. But should we precipitately rush into voting away money when we have such evidence as this, given by a Member of the Government intimately acquainted with the working of 590 the Admiralty? That is a consideration the House will do well to weigh maturely. Now, it may be said that it will be very expensive to put a stop to the contracts for the construction of the forts. I do not know whether I am correctly informed, but I believe the contract that has been made extends only to the foundations of these works, not to the entire construction of the forts, or casing them with wrought iron. The Government, therefore, can stop the works at any time, of course making that compensation to the contractor for his plant which he has a right to demand. And will it not be good economy on the part of Her Majesty's Government, should the House be of opinion the forts are not likely to be efficient, to pay that compensation, and not send good money after bad? While I am on this question of economy, let me say I would never, with so grave an object in view as the defence of this country, urge merely economical reasons against it. I would only ask that the money should be well spent, and the works well built. But it has been said that, even on the ground of economy, forts are less costly, because they are more durable than ships. The answer to this is so admirably put by Captain Coles, in his pamphlet on national defence, that I will read it. He says—As to the argument that forts are less costly than ships because more durable, the answer is obvious. The value of an engine of war is measured by its efficiency; and if forts will neither stop iron vessels from entering a harbour, nor prevent them from bombarding the dockyards, forts are extravagantly dear at any price. One iron ship may stop, at least, one other, while she engages her muzzle to muzzle, runs her down, or boards her but no fort will stop an iron vessel.And that has been acknowledged by the Commissioners themselves, and therefore the argument that forts, being permanent, are less costly than ships, when we know that a floating battery can be built for less than £60,000, according to its size, entirely falls to the ground. The whole spirit of modern warfare, I take it, is this; it is mobility against permanence. That, I take it, is the whole soul and spirit of modern warfare as applied to forts and ships. I am not speaking of inland forts, but of such works as we have now under consideration—such works as the forts as Spithead and Portsdown-hill. And they have also had an unfortunate tendency to turn attention too exclusively to the construction of guns that may be placed in such forts, not 591 guns that may be placed on board ship. In spite of the Armstrong guns, and the money that has been lavished on them, I believe the old 68-pounder is the only thing we can rely on at sea to penetrate iron plates. But the whole system of artillery is being, and must be, reconstructed; and in doing so, it will be well to insist on more attention being paid to the armament of ships. It is all very well to lead the country on this wild-goose chase, and make it believe that all difficulties may be met by the erection of forts. But there are other considerations to be taken into view. All the officers who were examined before the Commission were of opinion that the forts will be useless unless you raise your army to the extent that will enable you to garrison them; and that not with hastily raised volunteers: to work the guns, especially the Armstrong guns, will require skilled artillerymen, not volunteers with three or four weeks' training. Therefore, when these forts are erected, you must be prepared—and I do not think you are prepared—to augment your army. What was the opinion of one of the greatest naval commanders on the subject of fortifications? What was the opinion of the man who had seen more service, and done greater things with small vessels against fortifications, than any commander of ancient or modern times? What was the opinion of Lord Dundonald when speaking of the forts at Spithead? His words are somewhat remarkable. He says—Full discussion of this matter would require more space than can here be devoted to it; and should my life be spared I will, on a future occasion, enter more extensively into this and other cognate subjects. Were I now to do so, I am afraid public faith in some of its newly-cherished fortifications would be materially shaken, and will therefore refrain from so doing, in the hopes that improvements in our navy, the only true basis of national safety, will render such remarks unnecessary. In short, immovable stations of defence, as a protection against invasion, are not only costly and of doubtful utility, but a reliance on them is, in my mind, an indication of a declining state. It is little short of national imbecility to suppose that, because we erect imposing fortifications an enemy will come to them, when he can operate elsewhere without the slightest regard to them; and the more so, as the common experience of warfare will tell him, that numerous fortifications are in the highest degree national weakness, by splitting into detail the army which ought to be in the field against him, but who are compelled to remain and take care of their fortifications. Yet half the sum required for fortifications as defences in case of war would suffice to place the navy in a condition of affording far more effectual protection. There is no security equal to that which may be obtained by putting it out 592 of the power of an enemy to execute hostile intentions.I hope I have fairly brought the matter before the House. I have endeavoured to avoid any highly-coloured statements. I have not been induced to introduce the subject from any Utopian ideas of universal peace, though certainly, in some measure, with a view to retrenchment. And whatever the issue of the discussion may be, I do intreat the House to give its serious consideration, and not allow the Government of the country to plunge into a useless expenditure for the erection of still more useless fortifications.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end the Question, in order to add the words "it is expedient to suspend the construction of the proposed Forts at Spithead until the value of iron-roofed gunboats for the defence of our Ports and Roadsteads shall have been fully considered,
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left but stand part of the Question."
§ SIR MORTON PETO
* I have much satisfaction in seconding the Resolution so ably introduced by the hon. Member for Liskeard; and I must congratulate the House on the altered tone and feeling with which the subject is now regarded. When I introduced to the House last year a substantive Resolution of a similar kind, I did not get one supporter. The hon. and gallant Member for Chatham and the gallant Member for Harwich on that occasion both spoke against the Resolution; and in stating to the House frankly, and candidly as they did the other evening their change of opinion, they took a course which, in my opinion, is honourable to themselves and advantageous to the country.
The Commissioners appointed to consider the Defences of the United Kingdom recommended the erection of forts on two grounds.
1st. As part of the most available and least expensive means of protecting our coasts against the landing of an enemy.
2nd. As the best means of protecting the Royal Dockyards, as a vital point, against attack from the sea.
First I would desire to consider how far their recommendation met the first condition. They stated in their Report that it is not possible to fortify the entire line of coast, as there is an aggregate of nearly 300 miles on which a landing might be 593 easily effected. We may therefore dismiss entirely the consideration of its in any way preventing an invasion, and look simply at the second—namely, the protection of the dockyards.
I find the number of guns and men, by their Report, required for the Portsmouth Works are—guns, 1,267; men, 8,820. For the entire defence of dockyards— 3,721 guns, and 30,580 men—itself a large army of artillerymen and sailors; and looking at the aggregate of our army, I must at once press on the House to consider the policy of such an abstraction.
It may be said that these forts might be manned by Volunteers; but Volunteers are understood to be a class of men to be depended upon to resist the landing of an army, and it was never contemplated that they should be placed in forts during the continuance of a war; and it is obvious, therefore, that the effect would be, as Lord dundonald has stated, that forts only split into detail the army which ought to be in the field against an enemy, but which would be compelled to remain to take care of the fortifications in which they were placed. Lord Dundonald further states that half the sum required for fortifications as defences in case of war would suffice to place the navy in a condition to afford far more effectual protection.
But let us look at the utility of these forts at Spithead. The recent engagement in America has shown that an iron ship can pass forts within range without injury; but this is not new. The evidence before the Commissioners clearly shows this fact. Captain Sullivan in his evidence states—Evidence, Q,. 84. "If casemated works of three tiers of guns are placed on the Horse-shoe and Noman's Land, will the anchorage at Spit-head be secure?—Most assuredly not. The forts will be 2,000 yards apart, and, however strong, could certainly be passed by wooden ships at night and by iron-cased ships by day or night.Q. 87. "Have you had any experience of ships running past forts?—Yes; I have formed; this opinion from what I saw first, on a small scale, in the Parana. However small the vessel, and however slow the speed, it seemed almost impossible to stop a vessel passing batteries, even at a close range.Q. 98. "Have you ever heard of any one instance of a ship being sunk by a fort either when attacking or running past?—I do not know of one.Q. 102. "The conclusion I draw from your; evidence is that no amount of direct fire will stop even wooden ships which are determined to pass batteries?—I would not say even wooden ships, because in a very narrow channel, and with very heavy batteries, they might disable a single ship; 594 but certainly not in the case at Spithead, which we are alluding to here. I doubt whether a single vessel, although a wooden ship, could be stopped even in the day time by the heaviest batteries you could build there.The late Admiral Sir Richard Dundas, K.C.B., said—Evidence, Q. 3. "The proposed forts at Horseshoe Buoy and Noman's Land will not, in my opinion, be sufficient to prevent the approach of an enemy in force.Taking into account all the expense and all the difficulty which must necessarily attend the construction of batteries upon the shoals at Spithead; and looking also to the contingency that stationary batteries alone might not be sufficient to prevent the passage of iron clad ships, and would imperfectly defend the entrances to Spithead, against ships so protected, I am of opinion that any immediate outlay of money would be more profitably employed upon the equipment, for purely defensive purposes, of ships of this description."— Letter to Major Jervois, dated 8th Feb., 1861.Captain Robert Hemlett, R.N., C.B., said—Evidence, Q, 251. "Do you consider that forts of any size or description would: prevent the passage of iron-plated ships through a clear channel?—Most certainly not.And the Defence Commissioners themselves reported—We are convinced that no practicable amount of fire from batteries can be depended upon to stop the passage of steam-ships, if the channel is sufficiently clear to allow of their proceeding at great speed.It is, moreover, evident from the report of the Commissioners, that a vessel, without approaching nearer to the Dockyard than 3,000 yards, could bombard the Dockyard with comparative impunity, and this might be done by taking such a position that the vessel bombarding would be so far out of range as to render the fire from the forts, with the most powerful artillery which we can conceive, comparitively harmless. I believe it will be generally admitted, that the effect of a ball at a mile distance of 1000 lbs. weight would be less destructive than one of 100 lbs. weight with an ample charge at close quarters.
The examples of Sebastopol and Cronstadt may be quoted as cases in which forts were available as a protection to those cities—but neither Sebastopol nor Cronstadt were attacked by heavy iron-plated ships. I must call the attention of the House, also, to the fact that the Monitor has no plates on her of any single thickness of more than one inch; and all who have given attention to the subject will know that four single thicknesses of one-inch plate, as it is technically termed, sand- 595 wiched together, would not give a greater strength than a solid plate of two inches. In the construction of the Merrimac, railway iron was first used and afterwards discarded, and the greatest difficulty was experienced in obtaining plates at all suitable for her construction. Yet, amidst these difficulties, we have it clearly shown, that a wooden vessel can never again be used by any Government to oppose an iron one; and when I reflect that, in 1855, the experience at Kinburn led the French to altogether discontinue the construction of any wooden vessels, and that in that year Captain Coles laid before the Admiralty his plane, of which the Monitor is but a bad copy, I cannot but wish that Captain Coles had taken them, when so coldly received by our Admiralty, to the Emperor of the French, for had His Imperial Majesty ordered one ship, and had the fact been known at our Admiralty, we might have saved at least some part of the ten millions uselessly spent since that period in the erection of wooden ships.
In a recent debate the noble Lord the Secretary for the Admiralty observed—He should like to know, if they left the defence of Spithead entirely to ships, how were they to find refuge for those thousands of merchantmen, who were continually running up and down the Channel, and which, in any emergency, would make for the best of all the Channel harbours?And Sir Richard Dundas observes in his evidence—It should be borne in mind that in all former wars Spithead has been a perfectly secure rendezvous, for the fleet convoys of 100 merchant vessels at a time have been assembled there.Now suppose such a fleet reassembled under these batteries, could the fortresses protect them? There are good grounds for believing they could not.
1st. The iron vessel would be protected from the ball fired from the forts, even if it touched her at the distance at which she could place herself.
2nd. Considering the low angles at which the heavy guns from the fortresses must be fired, there is reason to think they would not touch her at all.
3rd. If they did not touch the enemy, they would, probably, create mischief and slaughter on board the ships to be protected.
4th. A vessel engaging the fort always has the advantage of being enveloped in her own smoke; and being a small object, the fort cannot obtain her range.
5th. This difficulty is immensely increased when the vessel, being propelled by 596 steam power, is able to move in any direction under cover of the smoke from her own fire.
The all-important question which really arises here is the comparative value of fixature and mobility. The fort fixed and immovable has only one power of destruction, limited to the power and range of its guns. The iron-ship is practically a fort, with the advantage of being able to move out of range—to avoid action or close with its adversary, as may be desirable—to act as a steam-ram, and, by constantly moving, destroying the accuracy of the range of the fixed fort.
The noble Viscount at the head of the Government in a late debate said—I defy you to construct a ship covered with iron-coating of sufficient thickness to repel the heavy shots which may now be sent from cannon, and yet be buoyant enough to float on the water.But the answer to the noble Viscount is, that the iron-coated ship is proved to be as impregnable as the fort, with the superior advantage of mobility.
The noble Viscount further said in the same debate, "There is a limit to the resisting power of ships." This is not proved by the American action; but it is proved that the mobility of the ship gives her great superiority in action with a fort.
I would beg further permission of the House to refer on this important point to a letter from Captain Sherrard Osborne, C.B., of H.M.S. Donegal, 101 guns. He states—The Donegal under steam drawing 27 feet of water shall rattle about the waters at Spithead at 8 knots an hour, hit a fixed object every time with her hundred-pounders, and that not one in 200 shots would hit her. As to mortar shells, the air will have to be filled with such falling projectiles to ensure lodging one on her decks; and all the engineers in all the forts shall fail to get her range or position for more than one minute at a time— her change of position being at 8 knots an hour equal to 16,000 yards in 60 minutes, or 266 yards per minute.It is well known to all engineers that it is the most difficult thing possible to hit a moving object from a fixed battery; the artilleryman having not only to allow for the time taken by the projectile in its passage through the air, but for the motion of the object to be struck, and for the alteration of his elevation so as to allow for the variable increase of range. Apply these reasons to vertical firing from mortars as Captain Osborne indicates, and it becomes a mere accident to hit the object fired at.
Fixed forts, therefore, can be no protection to ships liable to be cut out by iron- 597 cased vessels, or to be run down by the steam-ram; and therefore these Spithead forts are practically useless in protecting merchant shipping against the enemy.
The noble Lord the Member for Tiverton laid great stress on the larger guns which the forts might carry. But I would ask the noble Lord of what use is the larger ordnance, if there is so little probability of the object itself being struck?
The next point to which I would wish to ask the attention of the House is, the large cost of these forts.
They are thus estimated by the Defence Commissioners—
and this without land, which, from all I have heard, would be a very large item indeed.
"Spithead Forts £ 1,100,000 Needles 150,000 Isle of Wight 130,000 Portsdown Hill 650,000 Gosport and Gosport advance 370,000 Total £2,400,000"
§ The forts now erecting at Spithead are estimated at£840,000; but I must call the attention of the House to the fact that this is only an estimate. The foundations only are let, and these are at a schedule of prices.
No Contractor would be safe in taking them with all their liabilities at a fixed estimate. My own belief is that their ultimate cost will be more than three times the amount now stated.
The noble Lord the Member for Tiverton stated—
The forts we propose, will not cost so much as the Fleet required to be stationed at Spithead to defend Portsmouth.
Is this so? Admiral Sir Richard Dundas states—
I entertain no doubt whatever, that it will be practicable, at a cost of about £60,000 for each ship, to convert ships of the line now available into iron-cased ships, with steam-power capable of propelling them at a speed of from seven to eight knots, and with an armament of thirty guns of the heaviest and most approved description, on batteries of about a height of six feet above water.
§ Now six such ships stationed permanently within the Isle of Wight would afford much more effectual defence than the construction of any of the permanent forts before suggested:—and if it be argued that a difficulty would be found in manning these vessels, I would point to the Dockyard Reserve, and the policy of training all the men employed in the 598 dockyards so as to render their services available for the defence of the place where their daily bread is earned.
The noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, in the same debate to which I have before referred, said—
Moreover, the ships will decay or require constant repair:—they will require a large body of sailors to work them. In point of economy, therefore, the balance is in favour of forts.
§ This, I submit, is altogether wrong. Such ships as I have referred to would not require constant repair. They might, as I have said, be manned from the dockyards themselves; and with regard to the economy of the forts, I must further observe that even according to the Defence Commissioners themselves they admit these forts can afford no protection to Portsmouth without other fortifications to protect them. First, the enemy might enter the Needles, and attack the shipping in the Solent; therefore fortifications at the Needles are necessary to aid the forts. Secondly, the enemy might land on the south side of the Isle of Wight, and assail the forts from Bembridge; therefore it is needful to fortify the Isle of Wight;—and even the best engineering officers admit, that to obtain a cross-fire to support the Spithead forts, it will be necessary to have forts on the land called the Hyde Middle, and elsewhere.
§ The cost of these Spithead Forts should not be estimated simply by the construction of the forts themselves; but immense additions must be made for the works which the forts themselves entail.
§ For all these reasons I trust the House, and I trust the Government, will hesitate before proceeding with this expenditure without further inquiry.
§ I rejoice, Sir, to think that this cannot be construed by any possibility into any party question. So far as the Governments are concerned, if we go into the question who is to blame, neither can throw the first stone. But with the fact before us that between two and three millions of money is likely to be spent, and that upwards of 8,000 men are to be employed in what, after all, is a most questionable result; and considering, also, that when the Defence Commissioners recommended all this outlay, it was never committed to them to consider how far the object itself to be protected was likely, in these ever-varying phases of warfare, to be of the same value to the country in the time to come as it has been in the times 599 that are past,—I trust the House will agree unanimously in the Motion which I have the honour most heartily to second, and thus the Government will not commit itself to the perpetration of what I most sincerely believe to be the most gigantic folly ever committed in any country and in any age.
§ MR. BENTINCK
Sir, after the notice which I have ventured to put on the paper, I need hardly say that I concur with the Motion of the hon. Gentleman opposite on the subject of the forts. But when I read the notice of the hon. Gentleman, it appeared to me that it did not go far enough—that it went in the right direction, but that it stopped far short of the point; which we seek to attain. Looking on this subject, not as one of the most important, but as the most important subject that could be brought before this House at the present moment, I ventured to put on the paper the Motion which stands in my name, which is—That this House will, on an early day, resolve itself into a Committee to empower the Government to apply monies voted for the construction of forts to the construction of iron-sheathed vessels, or to the conversion of wooden vessels into iron-sheathed vessels.I wish, however, before I address myself to that part of the question, to refer to one or two points in the speeches of the two hon. Gentlemen opposite. The hon. Gentleman who proposed the Motion, in a very able speech, urged one argument which will, I am quite sure, from the acuteness of the Treasury bench, be brought, against him; therefore perhaps, it will be better to dispose of that at once. He quoted the case of Sir John Duckworth, who passed up and down the Dardanelles. Now, that of course is a question that is very easily answered, by the simple fact that the current in the Dardanelles always sets one way. The going up may be very difficult, but coming down is easy enough. In one case the ships would pass at four or five knots an hour, in the other fourteen or fifteeen, when of course it would be very difficult to hit them. The other point that I wish to refer to was in the speech of the hon. Baronet who spoke last. I take it for granted, that the question is — Supposing these forts to be useful; supposing them to be built, how do you propose in time of war to garrison them? That is the question that is always lost sight of, and I am glad that the hon. Baronet has prominently brought it under the attention 600 of the House. I have always contended that the forts at Spithead, one on the No-man and the other on the Horse Sand, would be perfectly useless alone as defences. But assuming that they would be useful, we are told by the Government that it will take five years to complete them, and we are also told, that when they are completed, we must not judge of their efficiency by the modern ordnance, but that we shall have guns of such a gigantic description that they would blow everything out of the water. We are, however, at the same time told, by eminent authorities, that the success of these gigantic guns is extremely hypothetical. What, then, is the position in which you place us? You ask the country to wait five years for adequate means of defence, and you then tell us that you will use guns the success of which is a matter of doubt. Now, supposing the guns to be mounted on the forts, I ask any man who is conversant with the subject—any one who is commonly conversant with the means of defence—to say what sort of action would take place between the forts and any ships that might attempt to run through the anchorage at Spithead. Why, would not the success of those forts depend entirely on the success of one shot? I defy any number of gunners, however well trained they may be, to reload and retrain a heavy piece of ordnance in time to get a second shot at the same vessel. Supposing, then, that these forts are constructed to receive these enormous guns, the whole success of the forts will depend upon every shot being successful. I would ask, then, of what use would such weapons be against a small object passing in the night, or in very thick weather? It appears to me that the use of the forts alone will be perfectly chimerical.
The point, however, to which I want to come, is that at which I conceive the Motion of the hon. Gentleman stops short. The hon. Gentleman proposes that we should suspend the construction of these forts. Assuming for a moment, for the sake of argument, that all we have heard from the other side of the water is true, what position does that place us in? Why, you suspend your land defences without at the same time increasing them at sea. Nor are you preparing the means of defence against this tremendous agent, this new description of weapon. We have learned two most important facts from the action that has occurred on the other side of the Atlantic. We have, in the first place, 601 learned what really are the comparative powers of forts and ships. There was an impression some time ago, and that impression was strengthened by the Russian War, that ships were perfectly harmless in front of forts; but I appeal to the House whether that idea is not now, to a certain degree, dispelled, and whether it has not been shown that iron ships can range for hours within reach of the guns of a fortress. There is, however, another and a more important lesson to be gathered from what we have recently heard. We have learnt what if two months ago any man had asserted he would have been scouted as a lunatic; we have learned that the boasted navy of Great Britain, when opposed to iron vessels, is useless as a fighting navy. There is no blinking that question. That is what we have learnt. I should be very glad if any Member of the Government, or of this House, were able to get up and disprove what I assert. I wish to refer to what is reported to have been said by a high authority in another place. I read it with very great pleasure, as it appeared to me to be a brilliant speech, entering into all the circumstances, and, but for one exception, a speech of great promise. The Duke of Somerset, in the course of his able speech, is reported to have said, speaking of the late action, "It is said that it alters everything;" and he says, "Now I should wish to state what I think it alters and what it leaves unchanged." Now, I beg leave to call attention to the next sentence, because it appears to me that the whole question hinges upon it. "It leaves unaltered the relation between iron ships and wooden ships. We knew before that iron vessels could destroy wooden ones." It is precisely because I entertain the conviction that, so far from what has occurred having left the relations of iron and wooden vessels unaltered, it has completely and entirely altered those relations, that I think we are called upon to deal with this question. The noble Duke is reported further to have said, "We knew before that iron vessels could destroy wooden vessels." Well, we knew it so far that we had that impression; but formerly it was matter of opinion; it is now matter of fact— fact confirmed by circumstances so remarkable that I was much surprised when I read the opinion, "that the relations of iron and wooden vessels remained unchanged." Suppose a man, a month ago, had told us that a first-class American 602 frigate, fully manned, armed, and equipped, had been found to be a perfectly impotent opponent to a much smaller vessel, carrying a fewer number of guns, what would have been said? Who would have believed his statement? But what has been the double result of this engagement between the Merrimac and the Monitor? First, as to the action between the Merrimac and the wooden frigate; the latter was destroyed in a few minutes, without the slightest impression having been made on the Merrimac. The next fact we have is, that the Monitor, a comparatively small vessel, a shapeless monstrosity, engages the Merrimac. These two contend with each other for several hours, and apparently with perfect impunity. It is even now a moot question whether the one was damaged by running down the other or by shot; while we have very good evidence that the other vessel was not damaged at all. If further confirmation were wanted, what did we hear from one of the highest authorities on such a point? I allude to the hon. and gallant Member for Wake-field (Sir John Hay), one of the most distinguished members of his distinguished profession, who said that a man would be a fool to fight in a wooden vessel against such an antagonist; and further, that the man who sent another man to fight under such circumstances would be a wicked man. Can any one suppose that my hon. and gallant Friend would make such an admission without deep regret? Could any sailor, holding the high position occupied by my hon. and gallant Friend, tell the House of Commons that our navy is useless, unless he has had the conviction forced upon him by circumstances which he could not dispute? And could there be a higher authority— one more competent to form an opinion upon this question—than the hon. and gallant Member? But supposing, for the moment, that any one could be found to doubt the authority of my hon. and galland Friend, do you think it possible to find any member of his profession who does not agree with him, and who will not confirm the opinion he has expressed? I have, however, another authority—one coming from a quarter of which I think the House will not think lightly, I have here an American newspaper—not a mere gossiping journal of the day, but a scientific journal—which gives an account of these vessels, their different modes of fighting, and the different effects of their shot. I will read to the House one or 603 two of the statements made in the paper, and then I will ask whether they do not fully bear out the opinion I have quoted from my hon. and gallant Friend. Speaking of the Merrimac, it says—The Merrimac's projectiles were mostly percussion shells, fired from 10 or 11 inch rifled pieces. Twenty-three shot struck us, including two from the Minnesota, which during the engagement fired over our heads. The deepest indentation on our turret was 2½ inches, produced by an 150 lb. percussion shell, fired at a distance of 20 feet perpendicular with the side. Our deck received four shot, making slight depressions.Now it may be said by those who are captious on this point, that that was only the effect of shells, which are much lighter than shot. We will therefore see what description they give of the effect of the shot. It is as follows:—Now the 11-inch guns of the Merrimac carry balls weighing 180 pounds—nearly three times heavier than the most destructive shot ever tried against iron plates in England. These shots were fired at exceedingly short range, some of them said to be at only 10 feet distance; and 37 struck the turret of the Monitor without inflicting the slightest injury.The next sentence shows that what ever the course determined on by this country our American cousins are not wanting in energy and activity—This contest was the most severe test to which armour plates have ever been subjected, and it puts the final seal to the fate of all wooden ships of war. Calling upon Captain Ericsson the day after the fight to congratulate him upon the brilliant success, we found him engaged upon the drawings of a large sea-going steamer, after the plan of his battery, with the proper modifications for that class of vessel.That shows, then, that the Northern States of America are perfectly alive to the discovery in which this action has resulted, and are fully prepared to act upon it. Now, I want to ask this question, and I put it more particularly to those hon. Gentlemen who are largely connected with our great seaport towns—I want to know what is the position of our seaboard? What means of defence have we for the Clyde, the Mersey, the Cork Harbour, and every description of great estuary of the kind frequented by large numbers of merchant shipping, when it is in the power of any country possessing even a small naval force to build at a very short notice, in a very short time, and at a very small expense, a class of vessel which is perfectly invincible because it is perfectly invulnerable? Do not let me be told that the Monitor cannot cross the Atlantic. I shall probably be told that; but I beg to remind the House that 604 it is perfectly easy to construct vessels quite as invulnerable, and therefore quite as invincible as the Monitor, and yet possessing all requisite sea-going qualities for making a passage to any part of the world. What, then, I ask, is the position of our seaboard? I do not wish to raise any question as to the probability of war with this country or with that country. But all these speculations are based upon the probability of a war; and I say, therefore, but merely for the sake of argument, that if we find ourselves at war with France or the Northern States of America, we shall find it in the power of these countries, within a few weeks, to construct, at a very small cost, a description of vessel which would devastate and lay waste the whole of the localities to which I have alluded. Such is the position in which this country has been placed by circumstances over which neither Her Majesty's Government nor any one else has had any control; but is it a position in which this country ought to be allowed to continue one moment longer? Now, what is the converse of the remedy which I propose? It is that we are to do nothing for the present, and suspend operations; but assuming that those operations are resumed, at the end of five years we are to have a number of forts which, in the opinion of those best informed on the subject, will, as the sole means of defence, be perfectly useless. Will you, I ask, allow this state of things to exist when you have at your command means of an unlimited character over and above every other country for supplying the want which exists? Sir, I am not putting this question in a tone of despondency. So far from it, everything that we have heard and all that we know tends to show that our fate is in our own hands. Our resources are unlimited. We have the invention of the distinguished officer, Captain Cowper Coles, which I believe has been already submitted to and approved of by the Admiralty. We have several other suggestions by other scientific men. We have, in fact, everything but the requisite amount of determination and energy to make use of the means we possess. I have no wish, in putting forward the views I have expressed, other than a desire to put my shoulder to the wheel for the purpose of doing all I can to assist in remedying the defects at present existing. I say that no man should attempt to make a question of this kind a party question. Let us all work together. Let us meet a common 605 difficulty with a warm and cordial spirit of assistance towards each other. Let no man attempt to mix up in this discussion anything that can be at all construed into an irritating or party feeling. I only ask the Government not to pursue that course which has been too often pursued, and that they will not attempt to postpone what is looked upon by all Governments as an "evil day," namely, the day of coming to a decision. No blame attaches to them. They could not have dealt with this question before, because it had not arisen. But now that it has come before us, I ask them to deal with it at once, and not to convert merely difficult circumstances into circumstances of danger by any want of the energy and spirit which has always been claimed as one of the attributes of this country. With that view I will propose the addition to the Amendment of which I have given notice.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, it was not competent for the hon. Member to move the addition at that moment.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
The subject which has been brought under the consideration of the House by my hon. Friend behind me, and the hon. Gentleman opposite is one the importance of which it is difficult to exaggerate, because it involves nothing less than some of the dearest and most vital interests of our common country. Therefore I trust it is unnecessary for me to say that I accept cordially and frankly the assurances which have been given by those who have made this Motion, and supported it, that they do so in no party spirit; that they do not propose this as a party question; that they do not seek to obtain any momentary party triumph; but that they are actuated by a sincere and patriotic desire that that course should be pursued which is most conducive rapidly and efficiently to provide for the defences which are requisite for the interests of the country. I can assure the House on the part of the Government that we go into the consideration of this subject upon precisely the same principles. We should be ashamed of ourselves if we were to be led by previous opinions, or if, by a desire to adhere strictly to plans and opinions which at a former period have been entertained, we were to shut our eyes and to close our ears against facts and reasonings which are entitled to mature reflection, and which may alter previous opinions or confirm them. Those facts and reasonings deserve, and not only deserve, but require, 606 the most calm and deliberate investigation. They are not matters which tarn on one accidental event, or on the opinion of this or that man, however distinguished by professional knowledge and merit either in the army or navy. These are questions involving great expenditure and great outlay, and an outlay and expenditure which the Government, undoubtedly, ought not to undertake without having ascertained beforehand, as far as experiment can ascertain it, that that which they are about to do, and which they call upon Parliament to furnish the means of doing, will be really effective for the purpose for which it is intended. I am not surprised that the public in general should have been struck with the encounter in the American waters, not having turned their minds attentively to the question as to the degree to which iron plating is proof against cannon shot, and not aware of the degree to which the question has been investigated by the Government, or the extent to which experiments have been made. I am not surprised that the public at large should have their eyes opened, and their minds struck, by the conclusions naturally derived from the event which has taken place. But I can assure the House, although it may be unnecessary to do so after the statements and explanations made by the First Lord of the Admiralty, that these matters have occupied the anxious attention of the Government for a great length of time. Experiments have been made in order to test questions of great importance with a view to the conclusions at which we could safely arrive. Take one instance, which has been adverted to by one of my hon. Friends—the relative value of rifled cannon and smooth-bored cannon in attacking iron plating. The impression originally was that rifled cannon would be more destructive. But, on the contrary, it is found by careful experiments that within those short distances at which ships are likely to engage, the smooth-bored gun is more effective than the rifled gun. When you come to think of it, it is natural that it should be so, because a smooth-bored gun sends out a ball with much greater initial velocity than a rifled gun. The shot from a rifled gun, being longer than the spherical shot from a smooth-bored gun, and meeting with less resistance, though it goes further and straighter, preserves its velocity longer, and at a distance is more effective. But the solid sphere—the solid ball coming out of a smooth-bored gun, starting with greater 607 initial velocity, does not get that velocity diminished within a certain limit of distance; and, the momentum being a compound of velocity and weight, strikes with greater momentum within 300 or 400 yards than the rifled shot. That is one instance in which experiments carefully made have altered the opinion which was previously entertained. Well, then, with respect to the power of the armour to resist shot. That has been tried, and very successfully tried, on a target representing the sides of the Warrior, at a very short distance—some 300 or 400 yards, or less—200 yards, indeed,—and it has been found that the largest shots we are now in the habit of using have not succeeded in piercing that target. These experiments have naturally led the Government for some time past to that conclusion to which the public mind has suddenly arrived by a knowledge of what has taken place in the American waters. But that which happened there, though a lesson in one way, is also a warning in another; because it not only shows us what armour will do, but what kind of vessel will not do for the general service which we require of our ships. In the first place, with respect to the power of that American armour to resist shot, I should say that the great part of the shots fired in the recent engagement were hollow shots; and it is well-known that hollow shots will not make that impression on armour which solid shots are enabled to produce. On the other hand, though the Monitor and Merrimac were well enough adapted for the smooth water in which they had to act, yet those who happened to look at the report which was published as coming from America, would see that the crews of those ships were very nearly suffocated, because, being very low in the water and confined below, they had not sufficient air when the action began; and, moreover, the decks were so near the water's edge that, in the case of Ericsson's vessel, the sea, in roughish weather, got over and came down the funnel, so that there was a chance of all going to the bottom. Therefore it will not do to take these vessels as your model; and when the House is told that they cost comparatively but a small sum, and were completed in a short space of time, I must say that is not ground sufficient for us to go on with respect to the ships we may construct. My hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard went through a list of improvements which have 608 taken place in implements of war. He told us about the crossbows, the matchlocks, the flint locks, the percussion locks, the Brown Bess, and the Enfield rifles. No doubt, human ingenuity and the progress of science from time to time make great changes in the implements of destruction. So for a long time we were content with sailing ships. Not many years ago, it was found that a sailing ship was no' match for a ship propelled by steam, and then the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir John Pakington) began, with great credit to himself, what he announced as "the reconstruction of the navy"— namely, the substitution of ships propelled by steam for sailing vessels. That was a great improvement' at the time. Since then other nations have covered their ships with iron sides. We have not failed to follow their example. The Admiralty is busily engaged in doing so. The right hon. Baronet led the way by ordering that very splendid ship the Warrior. On that model the Black Prince was also made, and these are sea-going vessels, which those floating batteries are not. In addition to these, my noble Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty has ordered others, and in the course of this year there will be four iron ships afloat and fit for sea. In the course of the next year two other iron ships will be afloat and fit for sea; and by the end of this year, I believe, five wooden ships will be plated with iron and fit for sea, and the Achilles, a large ship, is to be built next year. Besides all this, four other iron ships are ordered, and are in progress of construction, and tenders are sent out for the construction of a ship on the cupola system—that of Captain Coles—which, I believe, will turn out most effectual for coast purposes. Whether it can be made capable of going to sea is another thing, but for all purposes of coast defence we are of opinion that the construction of that vessel will turn out most effectual. The experiments made on these cupolas are perfectly successful. They have turned out proof against any shot fired against them, and I have no doubt that a ship so constructed will prove to be of the greatest possible value. I mention these things to show that the Admiralty is not inattentive to the matter, but has been actively engaged in the work, as far as the means afforded by Parliament permitted, and has already realized some means of defence of this kind; and other means are in preparation which will provide us in the 609 year 1864 with 16 iron ships, of different, sizes, but all of a very respectable and formidable character.
Then comes the question whether, with respect to the defence of Portsmouth and the anchorge at Spithead, forts or iron vessels are the best. Much has been said in disparagement of the report of the Defence Commission, but hon. Gentlemen seem to forget that the recommendation of that Commission was that both forts and floating batteries should be constructed, and that £1,000,000 should be allotted to the construction of floating defences. We felt, in considering the question of the expenditure of several millions of money for the purpose of creating defences for our chief ports and dockyards, which I humbly think are of great importance, that we were justified, inasmuch as the fixed defences were permanent works, which would last for a great many years to come, in dealing with them as improvements of the freehold, and in charging the expense on the freehold for a certain number of years, by means of a loan, or terminable annuities for a limited period of time We doubted, however, whether we should be justified in applying the same principle to floating defences, inasmuch as, however constructed, they cannot be considered as equally durable and permanent with fixed forts. Therefore we omitted to recommend to Parliament to provide for the construction of the floating defences out of a loan, and left them to be provided for out of the annual Votes. It appears now that it is the opinion of the House that no time ought to be lost in multiplying these floating defences. If we were to follow the advice of the hon. Member who has just sat down, and to provide for all commercial ports ships on Captain Coles's principle, the expense certainly might be very considerable; but probably the hon. Member would be content with such a number as would be sufficient for the defence of our dockyards and most vulnerable ports. Some hon. Gentlemen have said that it is nonsense to think of fortifying the coasts to prevent invasion. No one ever dreamt of that. It is obviously impossible. It is said, that if you erect forts, the enemy would not come near them, but would land elsewhere; and that you cannot fortify the coast so as to prevent a landing. Well, all you can do is to take certain vulnerable points of the utmost importance, such as the dockyards, and leave the rest to be protected by the army on land, and 610 by the navy. The navy only can prevent an enemy landing. Ridicule has been attached to the Martello towers. I do not believe that they deserve any ridicule of the kind attempted to be thrown on them. Taking ships as they were when those towers were built, and the modes of warfare then pursued, I am inclined to think that the Martello towers constituted a respectable means of national defence. They have now gone by, like Brown Bess and other things; and now the chief use of those towers is to test the power of guns to destroy. One of them has proved a very useful target, and has been employed to; test the relative value of projectiles of different kinds. Therefore the real question, which the House is now considering, is whether it is desirable to suspend for a time, and until a more serious decision can be arrived at upon fuller information, the construction of the forts at Spithead, for; the purpose of applying, in the meanwhile, to the construction of iron ships that amount of money, which otherwise would ' be spent on the forts. Well, I do not mean to deny that there is a great deal of plausibility in that recommendation, nor do I at all mean to say that the Government are indisposed to adopt that course. The contracts for these forts as already stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard, are not contracts for completing the forts. They are contracts for the foundations up to the level of low or high water, as it may be. Indeed, the Government have not yet made up their minds as to what would be the best construction of; forts to be built on those foundations. It was thought at one time that a certain thickness of iron—ten inches—would be sufficient. It was found by experiment I that that would not do, and that further power of resistance would be necessary. So far, therefore, from the Government having entered into a contract for the erection of these forts, they have not as yet been enabled accurately to ascertain what would be the best description of fort to be constructed. The contract simply relates to the foundations, and undoubtedly, if the House thought some delay would be advisable in regard to proceeding with those foundations—there is only one quarter in which a large amount of work is already laid down—that opinion might be acted on; but you would, of course, under those circumstances, have to make amends to the contractor for the loss of time, for the discharge of workmen with whom he 611 may have entered into engagements, and also for the materials provided. Some expense would therefore be entailed by such a course of proceeding, but it might be prudent to incur that expense for a time, until this question can be more fully, deliberately, and calmly considered.
The state of the matter at present is this:—I proposed to the House the year before last a Bill to enable the Government to raise £2,000,000, for the purpose of erecting dockyard fortifications at Portsmouth and Dover. This was a sum, as it were, on account, for the purpose of beginning and carrying on to a certain extent, as far as Could be effected in the course of that year, the different works specified in the Estimate laid before Parliament. More time was found to be necessary than was then imagined for the purpose of making accurate working drawings and arranging the purchase of land; and, though I am speaking of what took place nearly two years ago, the £2,000,000 which I have mentioned will not be payable for work done until the early part of this summer, about June or July next. It will, however, be payable at that time for works sanctioned by Parliament, and undertaken in consequence of that sanction. Well, it would then be our duty in the course of the present Session to apply to Parliament for further powers to issue terminable annuities to continue those works, among which would naturally be the forts proposed to be erected at Spithead. It would, however, be perfectly in order—and, if the House wishes it, there would be no difficulty on the part of the Government to take this course:—My right hon. Friend the Secretary for War has already instructed the Defence Commission to examine the question as to the utility of those forts, as compared with floating defences, and as combined with those defences, and has asked them to send in a report on the subject. That report will be in the hands of the Government, in all probability, before the lapse of any great length of time. No great expense would, perhaps, be incurred by desiring the contractor to suspend for a couple of months—say the works in connection with those foundations which he has laid. When that time has expired, we should have to submit to Parliament a Bill for the further issue of those terminable annuities, and then it would be for Parliament to decide whether, with the information which they would have before them, they 612 would think fit wholly to discontinue those forts, or to suspend for a longer period their construction; and to what extent they would think it desirable to devote a portion of the terminable annuities to the rapid construction of floating batteries for the purposes of our coast defence. That floating defences can be constructed more rapidly than forts there is no doubt, and there is, perhaps, as little doubt that so long as those floating defences were not sent elsewhere—so long as they were available, and had their machinery in order, they would, in all probability, be as effectual, for the purpose of which I am speaking, as forts. There is, however, this consideration to be borne in mind with regard to the relative power of forts and iron-cased ships. A limit it set to the weight of armour and the weight of guns in the case of a ship which has to float. The whole weight of a ship's armour and guns included must not be greater than the weight of the water which she displaces. If it were greater, the ship would go down. Now, there is no such limit to the weight of guns or means of defence which you can employ in the case of forts, because it is obvious you may have in connection with a fort any thickness of rampart or bastion you please, and you may place upon it a gun of any weight you can work. But it is said that it would take several thousand trained artillerymen to man these forts. Now, I feel assured my hon. and gallant Friend (Sir Frederic Smith) will not back that assertion, because it is well known that the working of the guns in batteries is to a great extent performed by what are termed handspike-men, and two trained artillerymen to a gun are quite sufficient. It is not true, therefore, that the whole number of men required to work a gun should be necessarily trained artillerymen, or that men taken from our dockyards and militia—men not skilled in the science of artillery practice—could not discharge many of the duties which would be required. In the first place, therefore, the number of trained artillerymen which we should want to man our forts would not be so great as is represented; and, in the next place, I am convinced that the improvements in guns will keep full pace with the improvements in armour-plates. I am told that the French have already constructed a gun which has pierced their armour-plates. Their iron is, perhaps, not so good as ours; but they boast that they have a gun which will penetrate armour-plates. I have no doubt we shall have a gun of the same sort, and it 613 is clear in my opinion, that, with a view to permanent defence, a combined fixed and floating defence is that which would most completely answer the purpose which we have in view. There is at the same time no doubt that time is a great element in this matter, and that if you can get your floating defences rapidly, you had better do that than wait for a long time for your land defences. It ought, however, to form a question for careful consideration whether you should only postpone or abandon these permanent defences, which would, I believe, be found to be of great value, especially in connection with floating defences.
This, then, is the state of the case. We are quite willing to accept the disposition which I think seems to prevail in the House, and to facilitate the more rapid organization of floating defences. A question arises in connection with this subject— the relative advantages of ships built entirely of iron, like the Warrior, with only wood interposed between two iron skins, and ships such as the five now being constructed, wooden ships simply cased with iron—which admits of two opinions. Each has its advantages. There is no doubt that a ship with iron ribs, and an iron skin with teak beyond it, and iron plating on the teak, is a much better sea-boat than a wooden vessel, because the iron ribs will not give way to the same extent as wooden ribs when exposed to the agitation of the sea. Upon the other hand, iron bottoms are liable to get foul, and hitherto no method of securing them from becoming so has been discovered; whereas wooden vessels may be coppered below the water-line and would not stand in need of the cleansing which iron-bottomed ships would require. It must also be borne in mind that line-of-battle ships, such as those now existing, can be more rapidly converted into iron-cased ships than you can build iron ships from the beginning. We have a great many three-deckers and two-deckers of wood, which I quite admit are not competent to meet in action iron ships. It would seem, therefore, to be the most economical arrangement to convert more of them into iron-cased ships, and that could be done more rapidly than you could construct a vessel like the Warrior or Achilles made entirely of iron.
One great change in naval warfare has not, I may add, been adverted to much in the course of this discussion. I allude to the introduction of large guns sending hollow shot and shells. It is quite clear, as was 614 proved by the fire of the Merrimac on the Cumberland and afterwards on the Congress, that shells sent into wooden ships are most destructive. Now, on e great advantage of iron casing is that shells, at all events, will not penetrate it, though solid shot will; and we all know that a shell bursting between decks, as in the case of the Congress, is a missile of a very formidable character. But, be that as it may, what we propose is, that my right hon. Friend having already instructed the Defence Commissioners to reconsider their former Report, and to state again what, with all the knowledge they have since acquired, especially from the events which happened the other day in America, they consider to speediest and most effectual method of providing for the defence of the country, we should give notice to the contractors to suspend for the present any further works upon the foundation upon the Horse Sand which has been begun. I would also propose that soon after the recess we should bring the matter again under the consideration of the House, lay the whole thing before them, and ask them to say what they think, upon the whole would be the best course to pursue—whether we should include in the terminable annuities a sum for the more rapid and more extensive creation of armour-cased vessels for defence purposes: and whether we should on that account, for the present at all events, suspend any further operations upon the Spithead Forts. That would be a matter which the House would have under their full consideration. Our only wish, as I am sure it is the wish of the House, is to do that which is best for the public interest. We have no personal feeling. We have no official feeling, we have no party feeling in the matter. There can be but one common object am0ong us all, and that object is far too important to be rashly and hastily decided. It requires to be fully and fairly considered, and we are quite ready to go with the House, after the recess, into that full, fair, and calm consideration.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
Sir, I am sure we have all heard the speech of the noble Lord with the greatest possible pleasure; and after the announcement which the noble Lord had made, it will not be necessary for me to detain the House for more than a few minutes. I entirely agree with the noble Lord that it is quite impossible to exaggerate the importance of this question. I believe the noble Lord has only 615 done justice to the motives of those who have brought it forward, when he has expressed his conviction that they have been influenced only by a desire to promote the real interests of the country. I think the noble Lord has exercised a very wise discretion in meeting the Motion of the hon. Member for Liskeard in a spirit and a manner which, I believe, are in accordance with the general sense of the House. The Motion of the hon. Member consists of two portions. One part of the Motion refers to the suspension of the works upon the forts at Spithead; the other relates to the construction of iron-covered ships. I think that upon the question of carrying out the construction of the forts at Spithead, recommended as that measure had been by the Royal Commission, it would have been hardly right to interfere with the discretion of the Executive Government; but upon the other portion of the Motion—namely, the building of iron-cased ships—I cannot say that the explanations of the Government have been quite satisfactory, or what we might fairly have expected. The noble Lord has alluded to the recommendations of the Royal Commission but the noble Lord cannot have forgotten that the Royal Commission distinctly recommended, not only the construction of the forts at Spithend, but also that £1,000,000 should be devoted to the building of iron-covered vessels. I am sorry to say the noble Lord; has given us no information as to the extent to which that second recommendation of the Commissioners has been carried out by the Government. The Government, as far as we know, have taken no steps in that direction. In 1860 the noble Lord came down to this House and announced the plan which the Government intended to pursue—namely, to raise by terminable annuities £9,000,000 for the construction of land fortifications; but the Commission recommended, in addition, that £1,000,000 should be devoted to the construction of floating batteries, and £500,000, I think, for armaments. The Government, how-ever, decided that the £1,000,000 which the Royal Commission had recommended should be devoted to the construction of floating batteries ought to be charged upon the Estimates of the year. It has not been; charged upon the Estimates, and up to this moment the Government have taken no measures whatever to carry out that portion of the recommendations of the Royal Commission. I the more regret 616 the neglect of the Government to act upon the recommendation of the Commission with respect to the building of floating batteries, because I am obliged once more to remind the House and the Government of the unsatisfactory position in which we stand relatively to other Powers upon this most important point. Upon the authority of a statement made elsewhere by the First Lord of the Admiralty, the noble Lord has told us that we shall, during the present year, have four iron-covered ships in water. I think the noble Lord has rather understated the case, for, as I read the statement made in another place, we shall have five of these vessels afloat during the present year. The noble Lord has also informed us that next year we shall have two more; but in the mean time, if we may believe the accounts published in the newspapers, for I do not pretend to speak from official information, the French Government at this very moment have five iron-cased vessels ready to put to sea. They have another which will be ready shortly, and I am told that two of the largest class—the Magenta and the Solferino—might be prepared for sea within three months. It is broadly stated in the newspapers that within eight months it would be in the power of the French Government, in the event of war, to place twenty-four of these iron-covered ships in line. I have not seen that statement contradicted, and it is asserted in addition that the French Government have in preparation sixty gunboats which are more or less covered with iron. I am afraid the noble Lord will be unable to tell us that we have any gunboats at this time covered with iron, or that the Government are constructing gunboat3 of that description. Last year I was reproached for having wished to excite alarm in the country. I have no such desire, but I cannot imagine any greater impolicy than to shut our eyes to the facts I have stated. The noble Lord himself has justly said that the importance of this question cannot be exaggerated. I rejoice sincerely in the concession which the noble Lord has made to the feeling of the House, but I wish he had spoken more decidedly with respect to the intentions of the Government as to carrying out that which they should have carried out long ago —namely, the construction of a large number of iron-covered ships. The noble Lord has used language to-night which seems to imply that he wishes that matter to be further considered by the Royal Commission. 617 I submit that the Royal Commissioners need not be asked their opinion upon it. Their opinion is now before us. We know what their recommendations are. They have distinctly recommended that £1,000,000 should be devoted to the construction of iron-covered ships, and we want no further reference to the Commission upon the point The question of forts is a doubtful one. It is notorious that the most experienced officers differ in opinion upon it. I have myself, within the last two or three days, consulted naval officers of the highest reputation, and I have received from them conflicting opinions. Some regard forts as comparatively useless; others think them of the highest importance; but as to the importance of an iron covered fleet there is no difference of opinion, no doubt at all. I do hope, therefore, that we shall hear from some other Member of the Government that the recommendation of the Royal Commission upon this subject will be forth-with attended to, and that the noble Lord will consent to the Amendment of which notice has been given by the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck)—namely, that a portion of the money raised for defensive purposes shall be devoted to the immediate construction of iron-covered vessels, without waiting to charge the cost upon the Estimates of the year. I believe Parliament would cordially approve that appropriation of the money.
said, the opinions expressed by the noble Lord on the subject of iron vessels had over and over again been urged upon the House by hon. Members below the gangway, and it would have been well for the country if they had been listened to many years ago. The noble Lord had intimated his willingness to refer the question raised by the Motion of the hon. Member for Liskeard and the Amendment of the hon. Member for West Norfolk — though, by the nay, the latter was not before the House—to the Royal Commission. He confessed he could not see the use of referring the question to that Commission, as the members of it would, no doubt, report in the same manner as they had done before. It was upon their report that he and other Members two years ago divided the House, and protested against the grant of £3,000,00 as an instalment of £12,000,000 for fortifications. The Government were perfectly competent to deal with the question themselves; but if they did refer it, let them do so to persons who had not already expressed an opinion 618 on the question, and who would impartially take into consideration all the circumstances which now surrounded it. The House had already voted £11,800,000 for the navy, partly for the construction of 16 iron vessels. The Warrior and Black Prince were double the tonnage of any ships possessed by any other country; and if the noble Lord proposed to turn over to the Admiralty the money voted for the construction of fortifications, in order to build more iron ships, he must protest against such wanton expenditure. What the Monitor and Merrimac had done was nothing more than was known would take place years ago. It was well known one iron ship would destroy a whole fleet of wooden ships. He had over and over again stated so in his place years ago. Yet since he had divided the House on this question they had been spending millions in the building of wooden ships. Within the last two years they had voted a million and a half for timber. Why, then, could they not appropriate some of that money in building more iron vessels, if they were necessary? He would admit that at all hazards England must maintain her supremacy at sea. But he repeated he must protest against the Fortification Vote being so appropriated.
§ MR. BEECROFT
said, that the noble Lord had admitted that iron plates on the forts 10 inches thick would not afford sufficient resistance. The Defence Commission, however, reported that the estimated cost of these forts was £840,000, and that there was no reason to believe that this sum would be exceeded. But if iron thicker than 10 inches was to be used, the£840,000 would be quite inadequate for the iron work alone.
§ LORD CLARENCE PAGET
Sir, I should not have thought it necessary to say anything on this occasion, for I think the House is perfectly prepared to listen to the proposal of my noble Friend at the head of the Government — namely, that after the recess this subject shall be fairly and fully discussed, and that Government shall then be prepared with a proposal. My only object in rising is to call attention to a statement by my right hon. Friend the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) that the Government had altogether neglected that part of the recommendation of the Royal Commission which had reference to the floating batteries. My right hon. Friend must have forgotten that principally in consequence of the strong recommendation made by the Commission in re- 619 gard to floating batteries, with a view to assist the forts at Spithead and other places, the Government thought it right to convert the frames of five line-of-battle ships into iron-cased ships, to be plated as floating defences. The only distinction I know between the proposal of the Commission and that carried out by the Government is, that instead of taking a part of the Vote of Credit for those ships, the Government thought it better to include them in the ordinary Estimates for the year. I will only add this, that in deference to the opinion of the House upon that most important matter, Which is growing every day in importance — namely, the question of the defence of our coasts — the Admiralty have taken still further steps to augment our fleet of iron-plated ships without increasing the ordinary Estimates of the year. I may tell the House that we have ordered a considerable number of the men who were to be employed in building small vessels to undertake the work of cutting down one or more of our large line-of-battle ships. A three-decker is about to be cut down, She will be either fitted upon Captain Coles' cupola plan, or, at all events, she will be plated. [Mr. BERNAL OSBORNE: For harbour defence?] For Channel defence. Our line-of-battle ships are very superior to this Monitor or Merrimac, and they will be fit, not only for harbour defence, but for taking their part anywhere on the coast of England. Not only that, but we have under consideration the cutting-down of more line-of-battle ships. At this moment, if we chose — if it were necessary — we have twenty line-of-battle ships that we believe would make very efficient plated ships for the defence of our coasts. It is said that the Americans in the course of a few months plated the marvellous Monitor, and we in this country are behindhand; but supposing we were at war to-morrow, do you suppose we could not put forward our energies and create monitors by the dozen in a few months? We have given large Estimates, and I believe in these Estimates we are gradually preparing and adapting our fleet to the wants of the day. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Sunder-land (Mr. Lindsay) talks of timber ships. Now, I think there is a great confusion among the public in regard to this question of wooden and iron ships. It is thought that because these iron-plated ships are impervious to shot the whole navy should be built of iron. But nothing is more vulnerable than an iron ship, unless it be 620 iron-plated. Small iron ships, with merely an iron skin, such as the Himalaya, and vessels in the merchant navy, are the most vulnerable of all. If a shot strikes them, it splinters the iron, and is fatal to the crew on board. For that reason and others, it is very undesirable that we should give up building small wooden vessels for the protection of our commerce. If the House should deem it necessary that a larger sum should be appropriated to the navy, all I can say is, that no opposition will be offered by the Admiralty.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
said, he wished to ask what draught of water would those line-of-battle ships draw when cut down?
§ LORD CLARENCE PAGET
My belief is that they will draw about twenty-six feet.
§ SIR MORTON PETO
said, he begged leave to ask whether it was the intention of the Government to discontinue the building of wooden vessels altogether.
§ LORD CLARENCE PAGET
To a very great extent. There will be scarcely any building of wooden vessels at all.
SIR FREDERIC SMITH
said, he congratulated the Government upon the decision they had come to; but he regretted that the right hon. Baronet the Minister for War should propose to refer the question of defence to the same gentlemen who had reported on it before. He had the most unfeigned respect for the individual intelligence, ability, and zeal of the Commissioners; but he thought it would be much better to refer the question to another set of gentlemen; and if they also should come to the same opinion that the former Commission had arrived at, their recommendations would have great weight with the House of Commons. He wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War whether, if armour-plated vessels were found serviceable for the defence of Portsmouth, it would not be well that they should supersede land fortifications in the case of some of our other great ports also. He was very much surprised to hear the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty say that line-of-battle ships were to be cut down for the purpose of taking part in the defence of Portsmouth. That was not the description of vessel proposed by the Commission. He understood that it was a small vessel, possessing a small draught of water. If they were to give up the Spithead forts, as he hoped they would, he trusted they would have 621 vessels smaller than the one Captain Coles was now about to construct, but larger than the Monitor, as they would effect thereby an enormous saving in cost, in men, and in guns. Hon. Members might not be aware that there were many large forts around Portsmouth already, and he wanted to know where the vessels that were to bombard Portsmouth were to place themselves? They were told that now, with guns having an effective range of five miles, batteries might be constructed on the Isle of Wight which would destroy Portsmouth. But, on the other hand, what would Southsea Castle be doing, and the other forts capable of mounting large guns along the coast? How was it that our ports were to be attacked now, when they had not been attacked in former times? They had the finest fleet in the world at present, and when the measures of the Government were carried into effect in respect to the increase of our fleet, no enemy would dare to enter the Solent. But let them not squander millions in constructing forts, putting stores into them, and garrisoning them with men, many of whom, notwithstanding what the noble Viscount had said, must be trained gunners. It is true that in sieges troops of the Line were used as assistants to the artillerymen; but in positions requiring the most rapid filing, such as coast batteries, where the guns are fired at moving objects, all, or nearly all, the men who work the guns should be expert and well-trained artillerymen; for in such cases rapid firing is of the utmost consequence. Without speed it would be as well not to have guns. He might mention that some years back he went down to Hurst Castle with the late lamented Prince Consort, and they tried the experiment, with the Royal yacht going ten knots an hour, what effect shot was likely to have on a passing vessel. A 68-pounder and 54-pounder were tried with blank cartridge, and in no one case could a second shot have been fired before the vessel had gone out of the limits of training that the embrasure allowed. It was quite evident that it was all moonshine to suppose that a vessel passing could be destroyed by heavy guns. He had received a letter from a gentleman, whose name he would not mention, but who knew more about the navy than almost any other man, and he stated that they had hardly a wooden vessel which could not be made formidable at very little 622 cost, instead of being, as now, almost useless, but that they must make them with shot-proof bows and sterns. He was sorry to hear that it was intended to construct a large number of small wooden vessels to serve as convoys; because, in case of war, to attempt convoying large fleets of merchantmen with such vessels would be likely to be attended with great loss to the country, as they would be captured or sunk by any iron-clad ship of the enemy that might fall in with them.
§ MR. FRANK CROSSLEY
said, he was delighted to find that the Government had fallen in with the views of the hon. Member for Liskeard; but he thought the money voted for the navy ought to be sufficient for the construction of many Monitors. What was the use of discovery and invention if, instead of diminishing expenditure, they led to greater expense? He thought they ought not only to save £ 1,000,000 in the construction of the forts at Portsmouth, but also the money which would go to pay for the large purchases of timber. It was hard for poor men to get a living now, and for their sakes it was high tune that they should have an eye to economy.
said, that forts were being erected in the Isle of Wight, a military road was to be constructed, and land was to be purchased. He wished to know whether these works would also be suspended. It was desirable to know whether the several works at the Isle of Wight were to be suspended until the House came to a decision with respect to the forts at Spithead. The works in the Isle or Wight were mainly intended to protect the forts at Spithead, and there: were other works intended to protect the protecting works. A decision on a question involving such an amount of expenditure could not be too soon arrived at.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, that the observations of his noble Friend at the head of the Government applied only to the Motion of the hon. Gentleman the member for Liskeard, which referred to the forts at Spithead. Those forts defended the roadstead and the entrance into Portsmouth harbour, and had no reference to the works in the Isle of Wight, which were intended to prevent a landing by boats or otherwise, and not to prevent the passage of armed ships. The intention of the Government was not to make any alteration or to extend any works that had been erected in the Isle of Wight.
§ MR. MONSELL
said, that both his hon. Friend (Mr. B. Osborne) and himself strongly objected to refer the question back again to the Defence Commissioners, who, with Captain Coles's pamphlet and the evidence of naval officers before them, distinctly stating that these forts would in no way impede the entrance of iron-plated vessels, had nevertheless decided upon recommending their construction. The matter ought rather to have been referred to some tribunal which had not committed itself, Granting that these forts were armed in the best manner, and manned by the most expert artillerymen, did any one imagine that either the Merrimac or the Monitor could not steam into Portsmouth harbour with perfect safety and destroy everything in the dockyard? He would admit that his hon. Friend's Motion did not refer to the Isle of Wight. But did it refer to every fort that was about to be erected for the defence of our commercial harbours or dockyards, and the feeling of the House clearly was that the proper way of protecting our dockyards or commercial ports was by means of movable, and not immovable batteries. It appeared that £ 3,000,000 had been spent on Armstrong guns, yet it had been stated by the noble Lord at the head of the Government that the old smooth-bore 68-pounder was still the most effective weapon in the service against iron-plated steamers. It hadcome to his knowledge that on board the Trusty, in October last, 146 rounds had been fired with Armstrong guns, and that not less than twelve vents had been blown out. The same thing had happened in other cases. The House might with some reason expect that after Easter the Government would give some further information about these guns. He protested for himself and his hon. Friend, the Member for Liskeard, against being bound by the Report of the Defence Commissioners, and he trusted that there would be no delay in the communication after the Easter recess by the Government of the decision to which they had come.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Sir, what I stated was that it is the intention, and it must be the intention, of Her Majesty's Government to bring the matter before Parliament early after Easter, because a further issue of Terminable Annuities may be necessary and can only be done by Parliament. I never said that the House would be bound by the Report of the Commissioners, but that the matter would be 624 referred to them for reconsideration, and the Government and the House would then judge of the recommendations in their Report as they may see fit.
§ LORD ROBERT MONTAGU
said, he could not agree with the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Monsell) that the debate had left the conviction that iron-clad ships were the only means of defending our ports and arsenals. On the contrary, the debate seemed to prove that these vessels were no defence at all for such places. It was stated that the two American ships had hammered away at each other for five or six hours without inflicting much damage. They could not be run down, for the Merrimac had tried to run down the Monitor, and had only injured herself in the attempt. Neither could these vessels be boarded, for they had a deck of iron, and one had a cupola. Suppose an iron-plated French ship thus armed entered Portsmouth. If she went straight on, she might run past the Warrior; and what was to hinder her from sinking every merchantman she came near, destroying the arsenal, and then running out again? The proposition of the noble Viscount at the head of the Government seemed to him to be the only reasonable one — that the matter should be referred for the reconsideration of the most competent persons. It would be, he thought, invidious to choose any other tribunal at present.
LORD ADOLPHUS VANE TEMPEST
said, he thought that the country would receive the statement of the noble Lord at the head of the Government with great satisfaction. It was to be regretted that the noble Lord had not been in his place on Monday night, for then the present Motion might have been rendered unnecessary. He thought the hon. Member for Liskeard ought to accept the proposal of the noble Lord, as before any further action was taken by the Government the matter must be submitted to the House. Having seen the Merrimac, his opinion was that there was a tendency in the public mind to be too much led away by the great success that had attended her. The Merrimac was a totally inefficacious vessel, except in water as smooth as the floor of that House. Nor was the Monitor much of a sea-going vessel. The moral of the action in Hampton Roads was that drawn by the Motion of the hon. Member for Liskeard — namely, that our old wooden ships might be cut down and plated with iron, when they would form a more effectual and more economical 625 defence for our dockyards and coasts than the erection of stationary fortifications. The noble Duke at the head of the Admiralty had said that the Merrimac was covered with railway-iron bars. This he wished to correct. Taking the Merrimac in the state in which they found her, the Confederates proceeded to cover her with iron railway bars. As that interfered with her flotation, they next tried to make iron plates for her, and they would have heard of her achievements long before except for the want of material to fit her out. Commodore Forest, the officer commanding on the station, told him that after he returned to England he would hear of the Merrimac that she would steam out of the James River and destroy every blockading ship on that part of the coast, and then shell the garrison of Fortress Monroe. Great part of that programme had been fulfilled, and the whole might have been executed but for the arrival of the Monitor. Now, having himself been among the Confederate officers, and received the greatest civility at their hands, he could not help stating, without entering at all into the right of their cause, that, cut off from communication with Europe, and left entirely to depend upon their own energies and resources they had shown qualities which he could not help admiring. Instead of what had been demonstrated in that case being detrimental to England, it would prove a great blessing to her. England's policy was defensive, and it had been one of her greatest difficulties how to protect her extensive coasts effectively. If recent events had helped to solve that difficult problem, the country must rejoice at that result.
§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
said, that as the hon. Member for Liskeard had thrown some doubts on the possibility of ships getting into Portsmouth harbour, it was desirable that that point should be placed on a proper footing. He had obtained from the Tide Gauge Office of Her Majesty's Dockyard a statement of the tides at Portsmouth for the first three months of the present year, and he should move on a very early day that that document should be laid upon the table. It would show that out of 180 tides in those three months there were only forty-three in which the Warrior, assuming her to draw twenty-six and a half feet of water, could not have entered with a foot to spare, leaving 137 tides out of the 180 in which she could have entered with a foot to spare. 626 He might add that out of the forty-three tides in which she could not have entered with a foot to spare there were fifteen in which she could have entered with six inches to spare.
LORD HENRY LENNOX
said, that he thought that the country ought to be assured that the tribunal to which the subject of this Motion was to be referred was one perfectly free from all preconceived prejudices. The Commission had reported twice; and as the pamphlet of Captain Coles had in some sense led to their second Report, and yet the Commission had not thought fit to call that gallant officer as a witness before them previous to coming to their second conclusion, it could hardly be expected that the question would be fairly examined if its investigation were now intrusted to the same Commission. It was most indecorous, under the circumstances, not to have examined Captain Coles, who, moreover, had also been refused an inspection of the Commissioners' Report, though that Report was founded on a revision of his own work. Every reform seemed to be postponed until after Easter; but when they had had their holidays, he trusted that the House would not rest till it had taken care to have this vital question sifted by a tribunal in which the country could place perfect confidence.
§ SIR JOHN HAY
said, he wished to prevent an erroneous impression from going forth owing to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Liskeard and the right hon. Member for Limerick with regard to the Armstrong gun. The former hon. Gentleman had made a comparison between the old Brown Bess and the Enfield rifle. He could assure the hon. Member that the Armstrong gun was as great an improvement on the smooth-bore 68-pounder as the Enfield rifle was upon the old Brown Bess. Exceptional circumstances had occasionally caused some failures, which had been much magnified. The particular circumstance which occurred on board the Trusty was quite exceptional, and had since been perfectly remedied. It was desirable it should be known that the initial velocity of a shot from the Armstrong gun and the old smooth-bore 68-ponnder was exactly the same where the weight of the shot and the quantity of powder used were equal. The rifling of the gun made no difference whatever in the velocity.
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
explained, that what he and the right hon. Member for Limerick had stated was that the Arm- 627 strong gun was an excellent weapon for long distances, but that the old 68-pounder was used at Portsmouth to test the strength of iron plates, against which the Armstrong gun was inefficient.
§ SIR JAMES FERGUSSON
said, he thought the answer of the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty to one of the questions of his right hon. Friend the Member for Droitwich very unsatisfactory. The Defence Commission had recommended that we should have a fleet of vessels drawing not more than sixteen feet of water. Neither that recommendation, nor what seemed to be the desire of the House would be carried out by the conversion of large wooden ships into iron vessels, Which would not be capable of following vessels like the Monitor coming in close to the shore.
§ LORD CLARENCE PAGET
said, he had by no means intended to convey that the Admiralty were insensible to the advantages of vessels of light draught. He might state further, that the Admiralty were preparing plans, and had under consideration plans for putting plates on vessels of a much lighter draught of water. There were vessels at present built which they thought might be converted into vessels of that class. He wished also to take that opportunity of observing that in several newspapers he had been accused of deceiving the House in a statement made by him in respect of one of Captain Coles's vessels. Instead of saying that the Admiralty were "building," he had merely said that they had "ordered" one of Captain Coles's vessels.
§ MR. WYLD
said, he wished to know whether hon. Members were to understand from the noble Lord (Viscount Pal-merston's) statement that £ 2,000,000 had already been expended on the fortifications.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
I meant to say that the £ 2,000,000 had been expended, or were due, for the purchase of lands or for works in progress under the provisions of the Act of 1860.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ MR. BENTINCK
said, he would then move, as an Amendment, to add the following words: —and that this House will, on an early day, resolve itself into a Committee for the purpose of empowering the Government to apply any portion 628 of the monies which shall have been voted for the construction of forts, to the construction of iron-sheathed vessels, or to the conversion of wooden vessels into iron-sheathed vessels.
To add at the end thereof the words, "and that this House will, on Thursday the 1st day of May, resolve itself into a Committee, to consider of authorizing the application of any portion of the monies which have been voted for the construction of Forts, and not already expended or appropriated, to, the construction of iron-sheathed vessels, or to the conversion of wooden vessels into iron-sheathed vessels.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, he was afraid it was impossible for the Government to accede to this proposal, for the simple reason that there was no part of the present loan of two millions which it would be possible to appropriate to the building of vessels. The House was doubtless aware that there was a plan, which he thought amounted to about £ 6,000,000 on the whole, and which was described by the late Secretary of War when he opened the plan of fortifications but that the Bill which he introduced, and which ultimately became an Act of Parliament, merely authorized the Government to raise a loan of £ 2,000,000 by terminable annuities, and to appropriate that sum to certain specified works which were set out in the schedule of the Act. After taking into account the sums already expended at Portsmouth, and the amount which was virtually pledged, the House would see that it was impossible that any considerable sum should remain applicable to the building of gunboats out of the money voted last year; so that if the Motion of the hon. Member was agreed to, it would be perfectly nugatory. All that the Government could offer to do was, when they proposed an additional loan for further works, to ask the House for power to appropriate a portion of such additional loan to the building of iron-cased vessels. That would, in fact, be an addition to the Navy Estimates, by way of loan, and it was a matter entirely for the consideration of the House.
§ MR. BENTINCK
said, he was in this difficulty, that having understood that the Government were prepared to assent to the principle of his Resolution, he had stated his belief on that subject to many of his hon. Friends, who had, in consequence, left the House. The Amendment would go a good deal further than the Motion of the hon. Member for Liskeard, and would establish a new and distinct principle. He 629 would propose to insert after "forts," the words "and not already expended or appropriated."
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, the Government had substantially accepted the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman, and he only raised a difficulty upon a point of form that could not be got over. The money upon the present loan was already expended or engaged to be paid, as, if the present plans were not carried out, there would be compensation to contractors and payments for land.
§ MR. BENT1NCK
said, he only wanted to assist the Government and himself out of a difficulty. As the Government had accepted the spirit of his Amendment and only opposed him on a matter of form, he thought that the difficulty could be met by his inserting the words he had mentioned into his Resolution. As altered it would not bind the Government to spend any money which was virtually laid out already.
§ LORD FERMOY
said, he considered that the fact of £ 2,000,000 having been spent upon the foundations of these fortifications, was quite sufficient to prove that this subject ought not to be referred again to the Defence Commission.
§ MR DILLWYN
said, he supposed that the defence of the commercial harbours would not now be proceeded with, and he would therefore suggest that the money intended for that object could be applied to the present purpose.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, that the proposition was virtually one that the National Debt should be increased for naval purposes. He thought that in the then state of the House such a proposition ought not to be decided.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said, the Motion was only that the House, at a future day, would resolve itself into a Committee on the subject before the House. When the Motion was made for going into such Committee, after Easter —and the subject must be reconsidered after Easter—and when the Government should propose means for carrying out the work, the hon. Member for Norfolk could propose the application of a portion of the money for the object he had in view.
§ MR. FRANK CROSSLEY
said, he thought the Amendment would entail an addition to the National Debt for the construction of iron cased ships, and he should oppose it.
§ Question put, "That those words be there added."
§ The House divided;—Ayes 74; Noes.13: Majority 61.
§ Amendment, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to (Queen's Recommendation signified).
That it is expedient to suspend the construction of the proposed Forts at Spithead until the value of iron-roofed gunboats for the defence of our Ports and Roadsteads shall have been fully considered; and that this House will, on Thursday the 1st day of May, resolve itself into a Committee, to consider of authorizing the application of any portion of the monies which have been voted for the construction of forts, and not already expended or appropriated, to the construction of iron-sheathed vessels, or to the conversion of wooden vessels into iron-sheathed vessels.