SIR FREDERIC SMITH
said, the Question of which he had given notice might appear a small one, but it involved the turning-point of the discussion which would take place in a few days with regard to the Spithead forts. Those forts were to stand in the Channel at distances of 2,000 yards apart, and the mid-channel consequently would be 1,000 yards from each. It seemed of the last importance that forts which were intended to stop armour-clad vessels from coming in by day or night, should be able to fire upon them with effect at that distance of 1,000 yards, but hitherto the experiments had been confined to ranges of 200 yards. A section of the Warrior, fired at from the latter distance with a 300-pounder gun with a charge of 50 lb of powder, had not been penetrated, so that a vessel under such circumstances would have escaped. What, therefore, would have been the consequence at 1,000 yards? The forts would be powerless to stop an iron-cased ship by day, and at night a wooden vessel might run past them with the greatest ease. He did not want to prejudge the question of the Spithead forts, though it seemed to him that Gentlemen had been appointed members of the Defence Commission whose minds were already made up regarding them. The questions addressed to him as one of the witnesses came rather from advocates than judges, and were framed apparently with a view of con firming a foregone conclusion rather than 2149 to ascertain the opinions of the persons under examination. What bad taken place at the passage of the Mississippi showed that wooden vessels of very small size were able to pass shore batteries; and, without data more conclusive than the Government had yet obtained, he feared the money they proposed to expend at Spithead would; be thrown away. They ought to try experiments at long ranges before further expenditure was incurred in building forts on the Spithead shoals; and if at 1,000 yards they could sink a vessel, then let the forts be built. It was said that a I 600-poundor gun was to be constructed; which would require a charge of above 100 lbs of gunpowder. They might rely upon it, that if such enormous charges were used, great caution would be necessary to avoid accidents to bystanders. If the new forts were to be armed with guns carrying a 600 lb. shot, they would endanger not only the lives of the gunners, but the stability of the works themselves. He believed that even now a flaw had been discovered in the large Armstrong gun. It was said that the target had been very much battered, and that a sound spot could not be hit at the distance named; but would it not be more economical to construct a new and sound target, than to spend millions upon those forts in complete ignorance of their probable worth? He must protest against the desire for secrecy shown by the Government in the experiments conducted with reference to the inquiries of the Committee on Iron-plates. The results of those experiments were no secret abroad; they were known to a great number, of officers, seamen, and civilians, to gentlemen totally unconnected with the service, and he believed were even known to officers of foreign Powers. The experiments conducted by the Austrian Government, on the other hand, were not only published, but he believed their reports would be found almost identical in many points with those of our own Iron-plate Committee. A great deal of time and expense would be saved by the publication of the experiments now going forward, as inventors and manufacturers, in ignorance of the results attained, were applying themselves to the production of targets of the very nature which experience had shown to be useless. For instance, that very day, it was no secret—although the Government wished to keep it so—that Mr. Scott Russell's target, made of eight or nine inches of iron, had been 2150 tried and penetrated by the Armstrong gun, whereas the Warrior target, only 4½ inches thick, and backed with teak, had resisted the utmost powers of that weapon. The cost of experiments at long ranges need not frighten the Government; they had only to move back the gun 800 or 1,000 yards from its present position, and to construct a new platform at an expense of about £20. In conclusion, he would beg leave to ask the Secretary to the Admiralty, Whether any experiments have been tried to ascertain the effect of the most powerful smooth-bore and rifled Guns on the section of the Warrior, or any other target, at ranges about equal to half the interval between the proposed Spithead Forts; and, if not, whether orders will be given to have such experiments, forthwith made; and, in either case, whether the results will be communicated to the House?
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
Sir, I hope the House will not think it necessary to enter at any length into a preliminary and partial discussion of a question which must come before them in a more formal and distinct manner in a short time, when the subject of the Spithead forts is brought under their consideration. I have this evening laid on the table the Report of the Commissioners on the subject, and it will in the course of a few days be in the hands of hon. Members. Now, the gallant Officer who has just spoken says lie should have more confidence in the Report of the Commission if those of whom it was composed did not happen to entertain preconceived opinions on the question which they were appointed to investigate; but I think it right to mention, in order to prevent the existence of any suspicion on that score, that four—two military and two naval—members were added to the Commission in whose case the imputation of partiality because of their preconceived opinions does not apply. In answer to the question put by the hon. and gallant Officer, I can only say that several experiments have already taken place at Shoeburyness, but not at the distance of 1,000 yards. I have not I myself given any particular directions with regard to those experiments, but I think it might be desirable to make some with I the view of ascertaining how far the ordnance in question will act at a considerable distance. It must, however, be borne in mind that the increase in the power of ordnance is rapidly progressive, and that, although no gun at present in existence might be able to pierce the side of an iron 2151 ship at 1,000 yards, yet the lapse of six months or a year might bring about quite a different state of things. So far as the general argument of the hon. and gallant Gentleman is concerned, it seems to me that, if pushed to its legitimate extent, it would go the length of proving that all ordnance is useless; because, if a gun on a fort cannot pierce an iron-plated vessel, no more can a gun fired from another ship; so that naval warfare would be reduced to the old system, in accordance with which one vessel tried to run down another by force. I can, however, scarcely suppose that we are likely to revert to so elementary a state of things, while I have no difficulty in stating that it is the wish of the Government that the most complete experiments should be made by way of testing the value of new inventions. With respect to the question of secrecy, I need only say that I believe every one of the experiments which have been made has been viewed by a considerable number of spectators. I may add, that although no authentic information in reference to them has been laid on the table of the House, I have no doubt those who take special or professional interest in the subject have had no difficulty in obtaining accurate information as to the result.
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
Sir, I regret the absence from the House of my noble Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty on this occasion. Early in the evening our attention was called by the hon. and gallant Admiral the Member for Christchurch (Admiral Walcott) to a correspondence, reflecting in terms, I think, rather unnecessarily severe, on a distinguished gentleman—Captain Coles—in consequence of a letter which he wrote in the public press. Now, I think my noble Friend ought to have taken the opportunity to remove a misapprehension which seems to prevail with respect to the intentions of the writer of that letter; and as the noble Lord is not now in his place, I must ask leave to correct some of the statements on the subject which have been made. The noble Lord objected, and I think justly, to an officer on full pay carrying on a correspondence on professional matters in the public newspapers. That, in my opinion, is a course which in principle is mischievous. But then Captain Coles does not come before the public as an officer on full pay, but as an inventor, and an inventor, too, who has not been treated with the greatest courtesy or con- 2152 sideration by the Government officers. Now, when the noble Lord tells us—as a proof of the great generosity with which he had been treated—that Captain Coles had not only been put on full pay but that he was receiving a sum of £1 a day for his invention, I feel disposed to be rather ashamed of the parsimony manifested in the case of a man, so distinguished. Is that the way, let me ask, in which Sir William Armstrong has been dealt with? No, he gets £2,000 a year, and is guaranteed a large sum (some £80,000 or £100,000, I believe) in the event of the Government not carrying out their engagements with him; while actually, when the noble Lord made his accusations against Captain Coles, that gallant officer had requested to be put on half-pay. He was simply told, however, that he might have his £1 a day, of which he has been in the receipt only since last November. It appears to me, therefore, that Captain Coles, who has been kept seven years waiting, and who might have sold his invention over and over again to foreign Powers, but from a strong feeling of patriotism has refrained from doing so, has been somewhat harshly treated. But, passing from his case, I now come to the question which has been put by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chatham, in dealing with which I shall not, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War, anticipate any discussion which may hear after take place in reference to the Spithead forts. I may, however, observe that I was somewhat surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman speak of accurate information having gone forth to the public with respect to the experiments made at Shoeburyness, believing, as I do, that there has been the greatest misrepresentation on the subject. Indeed, I have reason to think that the House at this moment imagines that the experiments which took place on the 9th of this month established the success of the gigantic Armstrong gun—of which we have heard so much, and which, after all, is not an Arm strong gun, but a smooth-bore—in going through a section of the Warrior. Now, it is but right that the House and the country should be put in possession of the real facts of the case. This gun was, I believe, fired on the 9th with a charge of 40 lb. of powder at a part of the Warrior which had been battered all through the winter and spring, and damaged by the shot of a 68 smooth-bore. Well, at this target two shots were fired at 200 yards 2153 under the most favourable circumstances for the gun, and, hitting the damaged part, they penetrated the 4½-inch plate, and lodged in what is technically called the skin of the ship. They did not go through, and are still sticking where they lodged, notwithstanding that the experiment was represented by the noble Lord the Secretary for the Admiralty as perfectly successful. Again, the gun was fired with a charge of 50 lb. of powder, and most extraordinary accounts appeared of the noble Lord and others who were present climbing up the side of the target and congratulating each other on the circumstance that the shot had gone quite through it; but the fact is that it is still sticking in the skin of the ship. Thus much for the experiments of the 9th of May. I now come to those which took place two or three days ago. One shot was fired last Tuesday. Did it go through the target? Not a bit of it. It struck a sound part, and did not even penetrate the skin, and even after such a shot at 200 yards a ship would be in fighting condition. With these facts before us, it seems to me the public are justified in entertaining some doubt with regard to the great merits of this Armstrong gun. Now, it is a somewhat singular fact in the history of naval war fare that, notwithstanding £3,000,000 of money have been spent on these Aim-strong guns, the best gun you have, at the present moment, is your old 68 smooth bore. I ask the Chairman, of the Iron-plate Committee, and other hon. Gentlemen who are well informed on the subject, whether what I have stated is not the fact? Is not your 68-pounder the gun with which every seaman would wish to go to sea? I very much suspect that your Armstrong gun will, after all, be discarded as an instrument of naval warfare. I have stated facts to which I challenge contradiction, I know them to be facts. I do not know whether my hon. and gallant Friend opposite, who wishes more experiments to be made at a greater distance, is aware—evidently the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for War is not aware—that they began those experiments at 500 yards; that so little impression was made at that distance, they reduced the range to 400 yards; and that they have now come down to 200 yards. This being the case, I think it would be a waste of public money to go further with those experiments, which, after all, have been made under 2154 very questionable circumstances, because a gunner firing at a fixed object, with no one firing at him, does not afford the most conclusive mode of experiment in matters of this kind. Let us go into the approaching discussion as unprejudiced as possible. Let not the House and the country be led away by the idea that those experiments at Shoeburyness have proved that the Armstrong gun, with a charge of 50lb. of powder, is able to throw a 150lb. shot through the side of the Warrior, which has, up to this time, resisted all such experiments. I have been told that they fired three times to-day with this gun. In doing so I think the gunners showed the usual valour which distinguishes our countrymen, for they fired at a very considerable risk. I understand that a fissure has occurred in the gun; that, on turning it over the other day, it was found that in the part where the ball fixes in the powder one of the coils had given way. This is the account that I have heard. I am glad this Report is to be laid on the table of the House. The sooner the discussion conies on the better. I hope the Government will do their part, that the Secretary for War will come here well prepared, and that we shall do battle and abide by the result.
§ SIR JOHN HAY
said, that having come that day from the scene of action, he thought it right that he should say a few I words on the subject. He had also some little criticism to offer on the remarks made with respect to the Armstrong gun by the hon. Member for Liskeard. The Warrior target was a section of the strongest part of the Warrior. Ft was constructed of wood raid iron, the plates on the outside being 4½in. in thickness. That target had been put to the severest tests in the experiments which had been conducted. Whether by happy accident, or as the result of the possession of better data than those on which the builders of other ships had gone, it so happened that those who constructed the Warrior had adopted the most satisfactory form of side for sustaining the effect of heavy projectiles. Experiments had been made with a gun not rifled, but made on the Armstrong principle, from which 150 lb. shot had been fired with a 50 lb. charge of powder. The target was first struck at a part which was supported in the rear by a piece of framework, which gave that portion of the section additional strength to what it would have in the ship. On the moment it was impossible to ex- 2155 amine the target in the rear, and the appearance which it presented was that of being absolutely destroyed; but after taking down the supports it was manifest that less damage had been inflicted on the internal skin than was supposed to have occurred. On a very recent occasion—Tuesday last, he thought—there was another experiment tried, in the presence of a large number of spectators, including several Members of that and the other House of Parliament. A portion of the target, about two feet square, which had not hitherto been hit, was fired at with a shot of 150 lb., thrown with great velocity, the charge of powder being 50lb. The effect was perfectly clear. The armour plate was totally damaged; a great orifice was made in it, and the fragments were driven into the wooden backing and absorbed by it. And he might say that the internal skin was bulged out, but the interior itself resisted the shot. A person leaning against the inside would have received a severe blow; but a person standing a short distance from the inside of the section would not have received any injury. What he deduced from this was, that as at 200 yards they could not penetrate a ship like the Warrior, it was impossible that with such a gun as the one used in those experiments they could penetrate such a ship at 1,200 yards. The gun in question was a very large one, constructed on the Armstrong principle, and as good a one as they were likely to have produced. It consisted of a series of coils, and at the fifth or sixth of these was the chamber in which the powder and shot were placed. A strengthening coil was placed at that part of the gun. On one occasion 90 lb. of powder were put in, and that quantity caused the charge to extend beyond the strengthening coil. The result of firing the gun under such circumstances was to cause an impression to be made on a coil just next the one to which he had referred; but the gun had been fired three times since with a 50 lb. charge, and no further impression had been made on it, which showed that it was quite fit for service with that weight of charge. In conclusion, he begged to state that he entirely disagreed with the hon. Member in the opinion he had expressed with regard to the Armstrong gun, considering it, as he did, by far the most powerful description of artillery that had yet been constructed.
§ LORD CLARENCE PAGET
Before you leave the chair, Sir, I wish to allude to what has been said by the hon. Mem- 2156 ber for [Liskeard (Mr B. Osborne), with regard to Captain Coles. I greatly regret that I was not in the House this evening when my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Christchurch (Admiral Walcott) referred to the invention of the gallant Captain; because, I think it right the House should be aware that since the Admiralty first arrived at the conclusion that Captain Coles' shield promised to be a valuable species of armament for the service, they have taken every means to bring it to perfection. It has been stated, I understand, by the hon. Member for Liskeard that the Admiralty never took up this invention till they were forced to do so by public opinion.
§ LORD CLARENCE PAGET
I cannot answer for former Governments; but my hon. Friend was Secretary to the Admiralty for several years. He was Secretary when Captain Coles brought his plan before the Admiralty; and if he felt so strongly on the subject, why did he not take it up then? However, I only deal with the case as regards my noble Friend the Duke of Somerset. In 1858, during the time of the late Government, Captain Coles submitted his plan for protecting the Armstrong guns by means of an iron-plated machine. No measures were taken by the Admiralty, but the Secretary of State for War thought so well of the invention that he desired Captain Coles to prepare a shield for trial, and the shield was accordingly commenced. As soon as the present Government came into office, one of the first important matters they had before them was the invention of Captain Coles, and very soon afterwards the Admiralty proposed to the War Office to finish his shield, and to put it on board a vessel. That was in 1859—three years ago,—and before there was any question of Merimacs or Monitors Captain Coles was desired to prepare that shield, and put it on board the Trusty, an old floating battery. The trial of the cu pola on board the Trusty having proved satisfactory in 1861, in January of the present year I proposed that Parliament should vote a sum of money for the construction of a vessel to carry Cap- 2157 tain Coles's shield, and the House thought proper to agree to this proposal. Meantime it was thought advisable to submit the cupola to further tests. So stood the matter, when Captain Coles unfortunately thought proper to rush into a correspondence with the newspapers. On Saturday, May 10, Captain Coles came to me at the Admiralty, and also saw the Controller of the Navy. He stated that he thought his shield would not have fair play; that it had been very much shaken by the experiments that had taken place with the 68-pounder and the 100-pounder Armstrong; and that the credit of his invention would be lost if his shield were destroyed by a 300-pounder. I must say I thought Captain Coles's representations on this subject were reasonable, and I mentioned the matter to the First Lord of the Admiralty, who desired that Captain Coles should superintend the strengthening of his shield against the 300-pounder. Unfortunately, Captain Coles was then in the country, and did not receive my letter until the following Tuesday, or else he never would have put that letter in The Times if he had known that the Admiralty had, on his representation, ordered that he should himself superintend the strengthening of his shield. I am bound to say that from the first the Controller of the Navy has given Captain Coles every opportunity to perfect his invention, and would have told him to go himself and strengthen his shield; but what was considered necessary to be done was so little that it was not thought of sufficient importance, and Captain Coles was not sent for. The moment, however, he came to the Admiralty, and said he thought it was but just he should have the repair of his shield, orders were given by the Admiralty that he should go and superintend the work and give the best advice as to the matter. That is how the matter stands now, and I think the hon. Gentleman the Member for Liskeard has been very unfair to the Admiralty in his remarks. The Admiralty have taken up this invention in good faith and zeal, and therefore the hon. Gentleman is not justified in making an attack upon the Admiralty on this subject.
§ LORD CLARENCE PAGET
I am thankful that I have to bear the blame, if blame there be, for it is much fairer 2158 to attack me than absent men. But I deny the hon. Gentleman's assertions, and I challenge him to the proof that I have been anything but a zealous and ardent supporter of Captain Coles's plan. I have already stated that the first person who called my attention to the value of the plan was His Royal Highness the late Prince Consort. I have been in personal and frequent communication with Captain Coles, and there has not been a day when he came to mo that I have not given him a frank reception, with a view to giving him every opportunity of trying his shield. I defy the hon. Gentleman to assert that I have acted in any other way than as a supporter of what I believe to be a clever and promising plan. I may add that Captain Coles is about to receive, as soon as the arrangements are completed, a. very fair sum for his invention. He will likewise receive a royalty on every shield that is used by the Admiralty, which will be altogether a suitable but not excessive remuneration for the trouble and expense which he has incurred.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.