HC Deb 23 May 1862 vol 166 cc2110-1

Sir, my only object in asking the indulgence of the House for a few moments is to remove any impression of incorrectness in a statement on the part of Captain Cowper Coles, of the Royal Navy, in his letter to the editor of The Times, dated May 12th, last, in which he said "that the shield now fitted in the Trusty floating battery was put together without his knowledge—that it was only through the press that he learnt it was being done—and that he had not been allowed to superintend it." The noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty distinctly stated that permission to this effect had been granted to Captain Coles, and perfectly vindicated the accuracy of his statement, that that officer had been consulted by the Admiralty. Allow me to reconcile and explain the apparent—for it is only, of course, an apparent discrepancy in these statements. On Saturday, May 10th, Captain Coles called upon me, and said that his patent and his reputation would be prejudiced and imperilled, if his Cupola shield should be subjected to the fire of a 150 pounder-gun, unless it was placed in a proper condition under his own charge. He mentioned that he had already communicated with the Admiralty to that effect, and received for answer that he would not be held responsible for the result. This, I said, seemed to me decidedly unjust, and I would therefore write a letter to the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty expressing my intention to call his notice to this circumstance in my place on Monday, May 12th. I did so. Captain Coles left London for Portsmouth on the afternoon of Saturday, May 10th. On the evening of that day, at half-past eight o'clock, a letter from the Admiralty, giving him full power over the construction of his shield, was delivered at his town lodging. That letter so delivered after post hours could not be forwarded that night; Sunday was not a post-day, and he did not ceive it until his return to London on Tuesday. On reaching Portsmouth, Captain Coles read a paragraph in a newspaper which left the impression on his mind, that the Trusty was to proceed to Shoeburyness, and there would be exposed to a trial which his shield was not prepared to stand in its existing defective condition. Alarmed for his repute and patent, he wrote the letter dated Monday the 12th, to The Times. These facts will substantiate the correctness of Captain Coles's statements. He was naturally anxious that the long and costly work of years of anxious thought and toil should not be wrecked in a moment. He felt that he was responsible at once to his profession and to the country, and that every eye would be fixed upon an experiment, which, if successful, would make him a national benefactor, and, if proved a failure, would expose him to certain confusion. It was a matter of professional life or death to him. It is a circumstance of deep satisfaction to me to be enabled to do this act of simple justice to a brother officer, and to clear away any doubts that may possibly have suggested themselves previous to this explanation. I am heartily glad that the Board of Admiralty has now placed the shield so absolutely under Captain Coles's control that it may be tested beyond a doubt, for by the issue the great absorbing problem of the day, the capability of armoured ships to resist ordnance, will be, for the time at least, decisively solved. I feel assured that hon. Members have not only made allowance for an individual officer, confronted with an all-powerful Board on the issue of a question momentous to himself, but have even granted him their sympathy when he availed himself of a privilege which is open to the humblest as well as to the highest in the land, and is used by both—I mean an appeal to the country at large; nor is it to be overlooked that Captain Coles stood in the character of the inventor of the shield. I feel, Sir, that I am only stating an obvious fact, when I say that this officer only asks that consideration which no true Englishman ever denies to another—"Fair play and no favour," and that, in this House at least, he will never ask it in vain.