§ MR. HADFIELD
said, he wished to ask the Secretary to the Admiralty, Whether his attention has been drawn to the proceedings of a court martial, held on board Her Majesty's Ship "Victory," at Portsmouth, on Charles Thomas, a seaman, charged with insubordination and using offensive language to a Boatswain, who had ordered the liberty- boat to leave before its appointed time, when the prisoner was returning to his ship after the expiration of his leave of absence to get married; and if so, whether it be true that, under the circumstances of that case, the prisoner was adjudged to be reduced to the second class, to receive forty-eight lashes, to be imprisoned in Winchester Gaol for two years, and then to be discharged with disgrace from Her Majesty's Navy; and whether he will lay the proceedings of the court upon the table of the House?
§ LORD CLARENCE PAGET
, in reply, said, that as the hon. Gentleman appeared to have been misinformed with respect to some of the particulars connected with the court martial on Charles Thomas, he (Lord Clarence Paget) would shortly state the circumstances of the case. It was customary, especially at the home ports, to allow the seamen, as far as possible, to go on shore after their day's work, it being understood that they were to return to their ship on the following morning; and at a given hour a boat was sent for what were called the liberty men. Now, the first point on which the hon. Gentleman seemed to be misinformed was that the liberty boat to which he referred, left the shore before the appointed time, assuming which to be the fact, the House would naturally be led to infer, that it was not Thomas's fault that he had not returned to his ship in due course. The boat, however, had not quitted the shore before the time appointed, and, according to the evidence of the sailors in her, Thomas was not down in time to go on board. He had, however, later found his way on board, and was very indignant with the boatswain who had charge of the boat, towards whom he used most violent, offensive, disgusting, and insubordinate language—language which he also made use of in reference to the captain. His offence was of so grave a nature that it was thought requisite that he should be tried by court martial. Now, the hon. Gentleman seemed to assume that Thomas 975 had been on leave of absence for the purpose of getting married; but he had set up no such defence on his trial. On the contrary, he stated that he had been on shore to see his brother, had been drinking with him, and had, unfortunately, become intoxicated. The evidence of the sailors who were with him, however, was to the effect that he was sober when he used the language just referred to. The sentence passed by the court martial was stated perfectly accurately in the question; but he was bound to say that those tribunals, like individuals, were sometimes liable to error. They sometimes erred on the side of leniency; sometimes on that of severity. All sentences of courts martial came under the revision of the Admiralty, which not unfrequently exercised the privilege of mercy in mitigating a sentence, when in their opinion it was too harsh. He (Lord Clarence Paget) had no doubt that in this case the Admiralty would have an opportunity of mitigating the sentence; but he must be allowed to say, that if such a mitigation occurred, it would not be the consequence of the subject having been brought before that House, because nothing could be more fatal to the discipline of the navy, than that the House of Commons should be turned into a Court of Appeal from the judgments of courts martial. He hoped that the hon. Member would not move for the proceedings of this court martial, which would, under the provisions of the Naval Discipline Act, be obtainable by the prisoner at the end of three months.
§ MR. HADFIELD
said, he wished to know, whether the Admiralty could not take steps to prevent misunderstandings respecting the proceedings of courts martial, getting abroad? The matter was one on which the public mind was very sensitive.
§ LORD CLARENCE PAGET
sincerely wished the Admiralty had the means of preventing misunderstandings on such subjects. And here he might refer to a question of which the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. E. P. Bouverie) had given him notice, respecting a case where it was stated in a newspaper that a sailor had actually been ordered fifteen years' hard labour for attempting to commit suicide. There was not a word of foundation for that statement. The only way in which erroneous assertions respecting the Navy could be corrected, was by hon. Members having the goodness to draw his attention publicly to them as they occurred.