HC Deb 13 March 1862 vol 165 cc1452-6

said, before the right hon. Gentleman left the chair he wished to call the attention of the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty to the statements which had appeared in the public newspapers respecting the return of the Victoria transport with the 96th Regiment on board, being a second time disabled and unfit to perform her voyage to Canada. He wished to know whether the statements in the newspapers were correct; and, if they were, he thought the noble Lord himself would feel glad of an opportunity of offering that explanation which the general opinion of the House and of the country deemed to be necessary. It would be in the recollection of the House that at the time when reinforcements were sent out to Canada the Victoria transport was despatched with the 96th Regiment oh board; but no very long time elapsed before she returned to Plymouth, having been completely disabled, and rendered unable to carry the regiment to their destination. Moreover, he believed that he was not overstating the case when he said that it was most providential the vessel did not founder at sea, and that the whole of that valuable regiment was not lost in consequence. It was within his personal knowledge that several of the military officers formed the worst opinion of the capabilities of the Victoria, and were strongly disinclined to be sent to sea again in that vessel. He had addressed privately to his noble Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty an inquiry whether that Board intended to send out the Victoria again with the 96th Regiment, and whether the vessel was in a fit state to convey troops? Subsequently to that a public inquiry on the same subject was made by an hon. and gallant Officer in that House. The noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty, in answer, made, both privately and publicly, the most distinct statement that the Admiralty had taken all possible means to ascertain that the Victoria was in every respect fit for the voyage she was about to undertake; and he added that she had been surveyed by proper officers deputed by the Admiralty, and that the report sent to the Admiralty in respect to her was such that the noble Lord, himself a competent sailor, felt that there was no objection to sending the Victoria to sea. She accordingly went out again with the 96th Regiment, and, from what he saw in the public newspapers, it appeared that she was not three days at sea before she became a second time disabled, her engines failing, water filling her hold, and the vessel suffering injuries in a variety of ways, so that it was only by bearing up to the island of Fayal that her safety was secured. Under these circumstances, he thought some explanation was due to the House, and he there fore asked the noble Lord whether the statements in the newspapers were correct; and whether or not the noble Lord could, on the part of the Admiralty, assure the House that some steps would be taken with regard to the Report made by the officers who surveyed the ship, so that, hereafter, reports on such matters might be deemed more trustworthy than the Report could in that instance be regarded?


said, it was impossible to overrate the importance of the question put to him, or for one moment to suppose that the Admiralty would neglect any possible precaution to ensure the safety of the gallant troops going from this country across the Atlantic. The story of the Victoria was, in truth, a very unfortunate one. That vessel, after originally putting to sea, fell in with a tremendous westerly gale of wind, and from no fault of her own but because the engines were not powerful enough to enable her to make head against the gale, and because her coals had run short, she came back to Cork, for the purpose of replacing the coals. The admiral at Queenstown, hearing that there was a certain amount of alarm among the military officers, who thought the vessel not altogether seaworthy, manifested every anxiety that the Victoria should be sent out in a perfectly seaworthy condition. He consequently instructed the artificers of the ships then lying in Cork Harbour to make a very careful survey of the vessel; and, inasmuch as there had been much blame thrown on the Admiralty for sending out that vessel again, he thought the House would permit him to read the report of the condition of the vessel made by the surveying officers on the occasion. The surveying officers were the captain, the chief engineer, and the boatswain of Her Majesty's ship Revenge, and the master, chief engineer, and carpenter of Her Majesty's ship Hawke, the naval storekeeper and the superintendent dock-keeper, and they reported that they had been on board the steam transport Victoria, and had inspected her hull, rigging, sails, and had not found her defective. They also had the vessel tried under weigh and under steam. Her engines worked very well, her boilers in every respect were in good condition, the boilers got up steam very easily; her engines made 58 revolutions, the mean vacuum being 23½, and the ship made 11 knots. They added, "We are of opinion that the ship is in good trim and in a fit state to cross the Atlantic." That was one report; but Admiral Smart, being anxious that no pains should be spared to secure the ship being in good order, caused the carpenters of the squadron to go on board the ship to try her below, to examine her rivets and other portions of the vessel. They reported that they had carefully examined the state and condition of the hull; she was an iron vessel, built in compartments, and they tried the well in every compartment, and that the greatest quantity of water was two inches. They tried the rivets, and found them perfectly tight, and they were of opinion that she was a strong built vessel, capable of crossing the Atlantic at any time of the year. The vessel proceeded to sea again, and fell in with a succession of hurricanes so dreadful that he (Lord Clarence Paget) believed the like had rarely been known by any seamen who had crossed the Atlantic. It was almost heartbreaking to think of the dreadful losses that had occurred in that succession of hurricanes. He had the log of the vessel in his hand. She sailed the 14th of February from Queenstown. On the 15th there was a moderate gale, with rising sea, which went on increasing until the 18th at 3.30 p.m., on which day there was "a fearful gale." At midnight of the 19th there was "a terrific gale, with furious storms of snow." On the 20th two men fell overboard. At 1 a.m. the gale increased to a hurricane, and the ship became perfectly unmanageable. At 5 a.m. there was "a furious hurricane, accompanied by vivid lightning;" at 11 a.m. a sea struck the ship and stove the bulwarks on both sides, washing away the troops' conveniences. Afterwards the wind moderated a little. On the 22nd, the eighth day, the wind came on again with a strong gale and squalls; and on the 23rd, the ninth day, the engines gave out. So that the vessel had encountered these furious gales during nine days without accident to her engines or leakage. The wind again increased to a strong gale. At 5 p.m. on the ninth day it was found that the ship was making water; and to the end of the story it was nothing but a succession of gales and hurricanes. The vessel must have encountered weather which he believed to have been altogether unprecedented. Many vessels had suffered severely, and the Government had lost a fine steamer called the Trojan, freighted with stores. Part of the crew of that ship were picked up by an American vessel, the captain and crew of which stated that during twenty years they had not experienced such weather as prevailed in the Atlantic during the month of February and the beginning of the present month. Under those circumstances, and seeing that the Victoria withstood that awful hurricane for nine days without any serious disaster, there could, he thought, be no doubt that she was perfectly seaworthy and quite fit to cross the Atlantic. He was bound, however, to say that in consequence of the disasters which had befallen her, and her engines being very much shattered, she would not be employed again. It was impossible for him, however, to quit the subject without congratulating the House upon the noble conduct of the troops. During the whole period that the vessel was at sea, Colonel Scobell, the officers, and troops behaved admirably. They assisted 5n baling the ship and clearing away the wreck. They never gave way to despair or despondency, and in truth it was owing to their exertions that the ship was saved. He hoped that after his statement the right hon. Baronet would be satisfied that the disasters which had occurred to the vessel were, such as it was impossible to foresee or to guard against, and that all they could do was to be thankful that their gallant soldiers had returned in safety.


said, the regiment in question was divided—one wing of it had already arrived at Halifax, and the other wing was on its way to Canada. Looking at the unfortunate result of the second attempt, the War Office had decided not to order the second wing to cross the Atlantic again, and the wing that was at Halifax would be ordered to return to this country.

Motion agreed to.

Supply considered in Committee.