HC Deb 12 May 1863 vol 170 cc1580-2

said, he rose to ask the Secretary to the Admiralty, If his attention has been called to an article which appeared in the Liverpool Mercury newspaper, respecting the flogging of one of the crew of Her Majesty's ship Majestic; whether the particulars therein stated are correct; whether the punishment was inflicted in the presence of a surgeon; and if he will lay a Copy of the Proceedings of the Court Martial before the House?


My attention, Sir, has been called to the vile and wicked libel inserted in the Liverpool Mercury, affecting, or endeavouring to affect, the character of one of the most distinguished officers in Her Majesty's navy, Captain Inglefield. The libel is too loathsome to repeat in extenso to this House; but I must give the substance of it. It is stated that a man was allowed by Captain Inglefield to be flogged until he fainted, that the captain smiled at his sufferings, and that after the punishment he was placed in the cockpit, where the darkness and the foul air added to his sufferings. It is needless for me to make to the House any statement as to the character of Captain Inglefield. He is an officer well known for his services and his bravery. He has been three times in search of Sir John Franklin to the North Pole, and he is also known to be one of the most humane and kind-hearted officers in the navy. But the House will be glad to hear what was the feeling of those who had the honour, and who have still the honour, of serving under this officer on this occasion. When the ship's company of the Majestic read this malicious libel in the Liverpool Mercury, they came aft on the quarter-deck to their captain, and asked permission to be allowed to contradict the calumny. They instructed the petty officers of the ship to prepare a letter, and the petty officers wrote to the Liverpool Mercury in the name of their fellow-seamen. I must, at the same time, state that the publication of this letter was an irregularity which has been very properly blamed by the Admiralty, because we permit no correspondence of any kind with newspapers. But the provocation was so great, and the ship's company was so anxious and eager that this vile calumny should be contradicted, that they pressed Captain Inglefield, and he allowed the letter to be published. As the letter has been published, perhaps the House will give me leave to read it, in order to show what the crew of the Majestic feel on the subject— Gentlemen,—With surprise and indignation we read in your columns of to-day a version of the punishment on board Her Majesty's steamship Majestic, on the 27th instant, of a man for mutinous conduct; and we, on behalf of the ship's company, beg to state it to be untrue. Instead of the order for the boatswain and his mates to punish the man being given in a stern manner, it was more one of regret. It was also stated that the captain was seen to smile during the punishment, instead of which it was particularly noticed by us that he scarcely took his eyes from the deck during the whole time; the man also did not faint, but appeared quite the contrary. It is customary for men sentenced to any term of imprisonment to be placed under a sentry's charge in the fore cockpit, to prevent desertion, which place is well ventilated, and large lamps burning day and night make it nearly as light as on the upper deck in daytime; also, most of the officers' cabins are on the same deck. We must also remark that the offence, instead of being of a trilling nature, was one of a very gross nature, particularly on two occasions to the commanding officer, an act which no true British tars are capable of. The offences are always committed by those who are pests to society both ashore and afloat. This man had been for former offences sentenced to cells on board and gaol ashore, but nothing would reclaim him. It is with a spontaneous feeling that we write you these facts to clear our captain of the imputation, whom we all honour for his general kindness combined with strict discipline—a fact which is proved by many of us volunteering to remain here year after year when the ship is paid down, when we could go to other ships; many of us having been here several years without committing any breach of discipline. It should also be remembered that none have the power to mitigate the sentence of a court martial but the Admiralty. Hoping you will insert this in your next copies, we bog to remain, gentlemen, yours, &c. The letter is signed by thirty-five petty officers of the Majestic. And now I have only further to state that Captain Inglefield was carrying out the sentence of a court martial, by order of the Admiralty, upon a man for gross insubordination in striking his superior officer while on duty, and for gross insolence. I trust and believe that the House will join with me in a feeling of indignation that any newspaper could think fit to publish so grievous and so gross a libel upon a distinguished officer, without having had any proof whatever, save an anonymous letter. I have only further to add, that the man who wrote the letter wrote it under another man's name, forged that name, confessed his guilt, and that his case is under judicial investigation. With regard to the latter part of the question, I have to state that there was, agreeably with the regulations of the service, a surgeon present, and that it is contrary to custom, and not in accordance with the Naval Discipline Act, to give the Minutes of any court martial until a certain period—never less than three months—after it has delivered judgment.

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