HC Deb 13 May 1862 vol 166 cc1658-65

rose to move, That in the distribution of the Parliamentary Grant to Sailors' Homes, it is desirable that the Admiralty should be empowered to give assistance to such Sailors' Homes as in its judgment it may deem most deserving of support, whether situated in the neighbourhood of dockyards or not. As the subject had been well ventilated since he had introduced it to the House last year, it would be unnecessary for him to occupy their time at any great length. His object was to increase the discretionary power of the Admiralty in regard to the granting of assistance to Sailors' Homes. At present the Admiralty was authorized to afford encouragement to Sailors' Homes and other institutions in the neighbourhood of dockyards. What he wanted was, that its power of giving assistance to Sailors Homes should be extended to others than those situated in the immediate vicinity of dockyards. He hoped he would be able to show that those Sailors' Homes to which he alluded were as deserving of assistance as those to which the public money was at present limited. He would remind the House that those Homes were institutions mainly intended to afford a refuge or asylum to the sailor immediately upon his landing from his ship. That was the great moment of peril and temptation to the sailor from the allurements of his deadly foe the crimp, who too often succeeded in getting possession of his clothes and money, and led him into scenes of drunkenness and debauchery, to the destruction of both his morals and health. He could refer to various cases to show the dreadful results that had followed from this system, but he would mention only one, which would be in the recollection of all Members of the House:—he alluded to the case of the young sailor Devereux, which occurred some months ago. It was reported in most of the papers, and particularly well reported in the leading journal. That lad, who was only nineteen years of age, was charged with stabbing a crimp; and when called on, in the usual form, to say why sentence of death should not be pronounced, he told his story in so artless a manner as deeply to affect every one in court. According to the report in The Times, Baron Martin, the Judge who tried the case, was obliged, on several occasions, to pause while passing sentence of death on the prisoner, being quite overcome by his feelings; while many of those present were sobbing audibly. The crimp had induced that young sailor to go from the ship to his house, and to deliver over to his custody the money and clothes of which he was possessed. He never saw one shilling of his money, and on asking for his clothes they were refused to him. Enraged at this refusal, and maddened by drink, he stabbed the crimp. He could adduce many other instances of the pernicious consequences of the crimp system, but he was unwilling to trespass too long upon the patience of the House. He knew that in the Mercantile Marine Act there was a clause to prevent crimps coming on board vessels until a certain time after their arrival. But that provision in many instances was not observed, and captains very often allowed those parties on board, where they exercised their vile calling, unfortunately too often successfully, in inducing young sailors to enter their dens of infamy, to the loss of their property as well as their reputation. Now, he contended, if they gave greater encouragement to the Sailors' Homes, they would save the sailor from those pernicious influences, and by so doing they would secure a much better and more able-bodied class of men for the service. That opinion was shared by every naval officer to whom he had spoken on the subject. His anxiety was to save the sailor from those dreadful influences by which he was often surrounded at present. It was occasionally urged that Government aid had a tendency to weaken voluntary efforts. He was totally of an opposite opinion. He remembered the case of the Sailors' Home in Devonport a short time ago. In consequence of the Government aid having been for a time diminished, a panic ensued amongst the subscribers, who believed that the Government were about to withdraw their support altogether from the place. The result was the reduction of the subscriptions to such an amount that the managers of the Home were obliged to dismis3 the superintendent, who was an old lieutenant, with a large family. Exactly the contrary occurred in the case of the Sailors' Home at Queenstown. There an intimation that the Government aid would be withdrawn from that establishment if the voluntary aid was not increased had the effect of doubling the latter within a year. He could enumerate many other examples of the necessity of Government aid, to quicken the voluntary exertions of the public generally. It was well known that sailors, when they once enjoyed the comforts and protection of the Homes, invariably returned to them when they had the opportunity. One of the strongest passions of our nature was self-interest. Savings Banks at those Homes excited that passion; and if excited to a greater degree by the encouragement of Government to them, they would be sure to have a greater number of sailors stopping there. He hoped he might for a moment allude to the great loss Sailors' Homes had sustained during the past year in the death of that good and most benevolent man the late Prince Consort, who was the founder of several Sailors' Homes and a subscriber to many more. Not alone the Royal Navy, but the whole seafaring class had reason to lament his decease. He was glad to see the noble Lord at the head of the Government in his place. He thought that the noble Viscount would retire to rest every night with feelings of satisfaction when he reflected on the benefits which he had conferred upon shipwrecked sailors by becoming President of the Home at Southampton. The country ought to feel grateful to him for taking the lead in such a movement. What would those 500 or 600 sailors that came annually to that Home have done if they had not had such a place provided for them? The usefulness of these institutions being admitted, he only asked the House by his Motion to declare that their advantages should not be contingent on their being in the vicinity; of a dockyard. A shipwrecked sailor never thought for an instant whether a Home was near a dockyard or not; he went where he knew his exhausted energies would be recruited. At this moment he could point to one Sailors Home, remote from any of the Government establishments, in which one-fifth of the inmates were sailors belonging to the Royal Navy. Similar institutions were now being founded for soldiers; the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for War had taken a Vote to provide for their encouragement and support; and the same leading journal to which he before referred had written strongly in favour of Sodiers' Homes. He hoped that paper would adopt the same view with regard to the undertakings in which he was more particularly interested. He believed that a very small portion of the £1,600 voted actually reached Sailors' Homes, and it was surely desirable that the Admiralty should have power to save from annihilation any failing institution deserving of aid. At Dublin, quite recently, one of these institutions had all but perished for want of a sum of £25, but that amount was kindly advanced by another charitable institution, and the existence of the Home was preserved, he had consulted, he believed, every naval officer in the House; he had certainly spoken to every naval Member of distinction, and they all unanimously approved the object of his Motion, which would do much to further the good understanding between the naval and merchant services, which the late regulations had done much to promote. To utter any panegyric on the sailor was unnecessary. They all knew the obligations under which society laboured to him, the hardships and risks which he underwent to minister to their comforts, and even to their luxuries, and how often he was actually the pioneer of civilization. Under those circumstances he trusted the House and the country would encourage those institutions which had been founded for the benefit of sailors when they most needed their assistance.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That hi the distribution of the Parliamentary Grant to Sailors' Homes, it is desirable that the Admiralty should be empowered to give assistance to such Sailors' Homes as in its judgment it may deem most deserving of support, whether situated in the neighbourhood of dockyards or not.


begged to join most heartily in every word which the hon. Baronet had uttered in praise of Sailors' Homes. Those institutions throughout the country had been of inestimable service to the seamen, and he trusted they would receive the protection and assistance of all connected with the seafaring business of the country. The only point in which he differed from the hon. Baronet was in thinking that the public ought not to pay for every one of these establishments, but that they ought rather to be supported by the large mercantile interests whose sailors occupied the: Homes, and for whose direct interest it therefore was that the Homes should be provided. This was one of many questions the real effect of which, if assented to, would be to draw upon the public purse. Although the hon. Baronet had placed before the House a most pathetic appeal, which had been listened to with great interest and attention, it would be his (Lord C. Paget's) duty to show that there were no real grounds for calling on the public for assistance to these institutions. He had not exactly gathered from the hon. Baronet whether he thought the Admiralty; ought to propose a much larger Vote for this particular object; but he entertained no doubt that such was his intention. If they were to increase the area of assistance, that area must be extended to the whole United Kingdom; and if the hon. Baronet's proposition was confined to the sum already at the disposal of the Admiralty, it could be of very little avail if it were divided among a great number of such establishments. As the hon. Baronet must be aware, the grant now at the disposal of the Admiralty for Sailors' Homes and other charitable institutions was very small. It amounted to but £1,621 per annum, of which only £500 found its way to Sailors' Homes, all of which were either in the immediate neighbourhood of the dockyards, or situated so near to them that when the seamen of the navy were on shore on liberty they could make use of them. It was therefore only equitable, that as the sailors of the Queen's service frequented those institutions, the country should make some contribution towards their cost. He was not aware of any bargain ever having been made by the Admiralty that they should not give any such contribution unless the private subscriptions raised amounted to a certain sum. The single consideration with the Admiralty was that the seamen of the fleet made use of these Homes, and therefore it was only due to their managers that the Government should bear a share of the expense. The hon. Baronet had referred to the case of a poor sailor who was sentenced to death for murdering or attempting to murder a "crimp." If that sailor did not succeed in his attempt, he might say, for himself, that he almost regretted it, for those miscreants are the ruin of thousands of gallant sailors. At all events he trusted that he had received a pardon. The hon. Baronet had cited the support given to Soldiers' Institutes as an argument for increased encouragement to Sailors' Homes; but it should be remembered that the former class of institutions were entirely designed for men in Her Majesty's service; and that as far as the latter were available for the seamen of the Royal Navy they were already assisted by the State. Again, if Parliament were to make further grants for this purpose, the funds ought to be administered by some Department which had the requisite machinery at all the ports for superintending the management of these establishments, and ascertaining that the money was properly expended. The Admiralty had no such machinery, and therefore he must protest against this being treated as part of their legitimate duty. The hon. Baronet had alluded to the countenance given to these Homes by the lamented Prince Consort, who had on various occasions attended the opening of these institutions; and certainly one of the most beautiful traits in the character of that great and good man was the warm interest he took in the sailors of this country. At the same time, if the House were to agree to the present proposition, it would open the door to a very large demand upon the public Exchequer, because it was of no use to say that they would assist this or that Sailors' Home—they must be prepared to give a very large grant if they meant it to be of any real service. But one other strong reason why he opposed the Motion was, that if the Government undertook to support Sailors' Homes generally, the practical result would be to dry up those sources of private benevolence on which they now depended, to weaken the motives for their economical management, and thus seriously to injure the excellent institutions which they wished to benefit.


said, that while admiring the spirit which actuated the hon. Ba- ronet in bringing this question forward, he could not acquiesce in his Motion as it stood. He concurred in much that had fallen from the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty, particularly in thinking that Government assistance would be the reverse of beneficial to these institutions, because it would lessen their hold upon public sympathy—indeed, he thought it even questionable whether the aid given by the Government to Sailors' Homes in the immediate neighbourhood of the dockyards could be justified by sound principle. The seamen of the navy using those institutions paid the same rate for their hoard and lodgging as merchant seamen. No doubt those homes had done a great amount of good, although, owing to the influence of that worthless class the "crimps," sailors unfortunately did not frequent them in such numbers as had been expected or was to be desired. He thought, however, that, though the Government would do well not to undertake the support of Sailors' Homes, it would be a proper thing to make grants to them on account of the shipwrecked and destitute sailors to whom they gave shelter.


concurred in the opinion that serious inconvenience would arise from adopting the Motion in its present form. There would be no end to the demands made upon the House for contributions towards private charities if they were once to yield to appeals like this; and it therefore behoved them to pause before setting a mischievous precedent. If the House attempted to supersede private charity by public grants, the result would be to dry up the sources of private contributions, and matters would be worse than at present. Even the suggestion of the hon. Member for Sunderland was unnecessary. The shipwrecked Mariners' Society had organized machinery in every port of the kingdom to preserve shipwrecked sailors from starvation, and to forward them to their homes.


said, that he intended his Motion to apply only to the amount at the disposal of the Admiralty, and he did not think that Sailors' Homes received a fair proportion of that sum. He believed, that although Government aid should be given to these institutions, the public aid would be continued to them. He trusted that the Government would feel that this was such a small matter that they would at once grant it, and not force him to a division.


said, he hoped that the hon. Baronet would not press this subject to a division, for these institutions were well supported, and he was sure there was spirit enough in the British shipowners to induce them to do all that they could for the British sailor. He was connected with the Shipwrecked Mariners' Institution, and constantly he was called upon to receive legacies on its behalf, nor was there at any time any want of sympathy, especially when severe casualties occurred. There was no want of sympathy for the British sailor, and nothing was more undesirable than that they should endeavour to induce these institutions to believe that they would receive any large aid from Government. These institutions, if well managed, ought o be self-supporting.


thought there was some misunderstanding on the matter. The funds distributed by the Admiralty were distributed by them as proprietors, and in that light only; they were not to be regarded as a Government grant in any way. He hoped the hon. Baronet would not press the matter to a division.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.