HC Deb 19 May 1863 vol 170 cc1969-84

said, he rose to ask the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty, What are the regulations by which Naval Courts of Inquiry are constituted and their proceedings governed? The officers of the navy were subservient to one of the strictest naval codes in existence, but till very recently they felt that they could rely on the justice with which it was administered. A short time ago, however, much of that confidence was dispelled by a fact which occurred in the West Indies. A captain, having lost the vessel of which he was in command, was tried by court martial, and fully and entirely acquitted. The Admiralty, however, took it upon themselves to censure every officer composing that tribunal, as well as the captain who had been tried; although, according to the naval code of this country, the sentence of a court martial was final. Another case had since occurred which had again tended to shake the confidence of the naval officers. On the 22nd of October last a man-of-war steamer, ordered round from Leith to Sheerness in one of the most severe gales ever known on the coast, grounded upon the Gunfleet Sands. The vessel was at the time in charge of a pilot licensed by the Leith Trinity House. She was in pilot waters of a most dangerous character, in which the most eminent naval officer would not have ventured to take her out of the pilot's hands; and yet the captain was deprived of his command without knowing the why or wherefore; the master lost his command also, while not the slightest notice was taken of the misconduct of the pilot. According to the rules of the service an officer running a ship on shore was bound to report the fact to the admiral, and the Admiralty was re- quired to try him by court martial. But what was done in the case to which he referred? The Admiral instituted an inquiry, having previously ordered the officer out of the room; and when the inquiry was over, they informed him that his services were no longer required. When that officer applied for a court martial, which was his legal right, what was the reply of the Admiralty? Why, that if he could disprove the facts, he was welcome to a court martial. And what was the statement made by the First Lord of the Admiralty in another place? Why, that when a ship was going along a well known coast under the guidance of an inexperienced pilot, who could neither read nor write, it was the duty of a captain to see that his vessel did not get aground. Now, he (Captain Jervis) was on the coast at the time of the occurrence, and could testify that the wind was blowing a hurricane, and that nine vessels were lost within half a mile of the place where the Vigilant went ashore. The harbour of Harwich was full of vessels which hail suffered in the gale. It had been stated that the pilot could neither read nor write, but that was not the case, and he had written a letter to disprove the statement. He was, moreover, a Trinity pilot, and had the highest testimonials. The question really was, whether naval officers were to understand that the pilot was no longer responsible for navigating the vessel in shoal waters; and when they committed a fault, they were not to have a chance of a fair trial before their brother officers, but they were to be at the mercy of the Admiralty, who might or might not do them justice. He hoped that the noble Lord by his answer would re assure the naval service, which, as he must know, was anything but satisfied with the result of this case.


said, he had no wish to insist upon an individual grievance, except in illustration of a vicious system. In his opinion these courts of inquiry were contrary to every principle of justice as it was administered in this country. Naval officers had no means of defending themselves under such a system, nor did he believe that any system of the kind would be allowed to prevail in the army, or that a staff officer would be deprived of his command without being heard in his defence. In the merchant service it was illegal for a captain to take a vessel out of the pilot's hands.


The name of the officer concerned has not yet been mentioned, but I know of no reason why it should be concealed. The case is that of an officer with whom I have scarcely any personal acquaintance, but he is one of the most promising young officers in the service—Lord Elphinstone. Now, I wish to speak with the greatest reserve and caution, because I know we are touching delicate ground in interfering in this House with the decision of the Board of Admiralty, acting upon their responsibility in a case of alleged misconduct by an officer. I do not, for a moment, mean to imply that there can have been any intention on the part of the noble Duke at the head of the Admiralty to treat Lord Elphinstone with unfairness or any undue harshness. But this case raises two questions which seem to me to require serious consideration on the part of the Admiralty, and to demand some clear explanation as to the grounds on which those two points have been decided. The first point is, what is the real position of an officer commanding a man-of-war when, upon coming into shoal waters, he takes on board, as was the case here, a duly qualified pilot? The Vigilant was caught in very heavy weather; she was a difficult ship to steer; and that fact, perhaps, may not have been in the knowledge of the pilot. It appeared that Lord Elphinstone had a competent pilot on board when his ship was run ashore. Supposing that the captain of a ship, under such circumstances, disregards the advice of his pilot, and takes the conduct of the ship into his own hands, and that while under his charge she runs on shore, which is the converse of the case now under consideration, what would be the judgment of the Admiralty on the captain? Would he not be held to have acted with great rashness? The hon. Gentleman opposite has, I believe, stated correctly the rule of the merchant service, that when a ship is in charge of a pilot, the responsibility of the captain ceases. I do not know exactly what the rules of the Admiralty are in cases of ships sailing under such circumstances; but I submit to the House, as a matter of common sense and common justice, that if she runs ashore, the officer ought to be at once acquitted of all offence, or that his offence ought to be regarded as one of a venial character. Such an occurrence ought not to involve a young and promising officer in anything like severe or harsh censure. But whatever may be the responsibility of an officer when he has a pilot on board, before he was deprived of his command he ought not to have had such language addressed to him as that used by Admiral H. Johnstone, who said "I am in receipt of their Lordships' direction to signify to you, and to Mr. Phillips, the master of the Vigilant, that my Lords consider your respective conduct in this matter to have been highly reprehensible and deserving of their Lordships' severe censure." A young officer receiving such a censure must feel that he would labour under a stigma for the rest of his life. But no officer ought to be subjected to such censure unless he has been fairly tried by a properly constituted tribunal. During my short experience at the Admiralty I do not recollect any case coming under my notice which was referred to a court of inquiry. This is a point on which we ought to have some information from my noble Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty. What are those courts of inquiry? How are their proceedings conducted? Are they at liberty to disregard every principle of justice? Have they power to examine witnesses on oath? At all events, have they power to try an officer for an offence of this kind in the absence of the party accused? It appears that this court of inquiry was ordered to assemble on board Her Majesty's ship Formidable, at Sheerness. It consisted of three post-captains—Captains Thomson, Fisher, and Luard. Lord Elphinstone made his statement, and, on the next witness being sent for, the noble and gallant Captain asked whether he was to remain in court. The reply was, "No, you are to retire;" and during the remaining five hours of the inquiry, and while eleven witnesses were successively under examination, he continued in ignorance of the proceedings, and, of course, had no opportunity of cross-examining those witnesses. He did not wish to dwell further on the subject, for it was a painful one; but he hoped his noble Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty would state to the House what was expected of the captain of a ship in pilot waters, with a pilot on board, and whether officers were to be subjected to loss of command and severe censure after trial by such a tribunal as this court of inquiry.


said, he thought that the service was much indebted to the hon. and gallant Gentleman who had brought the case under the notice of the House. The proceedings of the Admiralty, with reference to the Conqueror and the Vigilant, had given rise to very strong feelings in the naval profession. In the latter case an officer had been tried, condemned, and, he might say, executed by the Admiralty, on the report of a court of inquiry, before which he was not present, which had not examined witnesses on oath, and which had received the evidence of persons whom the accused could not cross-examine. Lord Elphinstone was allowed to read a statement of the proceedings of the court of inquiry. He did so, and made remarks upon them. He then sent to the Admiralty to ask for a court martial. The Admiralty replied that they saw nor cason to alter their censure; but that if, after such a statement of their opinion, he wished for a court martial, he was welcome to it. Would any officer have accepted a court martial after that? Why, such a court would have been trying the Admiralty, and not Lord Elphinstone. If it removed the censure from him, it would have placed one on the Admiralty. He believed it would have come out before a court martial, that when the ship went ashore, Lord Elphinstone showed much courage and ability in getting her off, and that the ship's company believed they owed their lives to him; but the inquiry could not have removed the censure, or given Lord Elphinstone back his ship. It was supposed by some that Lord Elphinstone had put his ship ashore on seeing a light when running before a gale of wind; but the contrary appeared to be the fact. He was creeping up in order to anchor in a place that would be out of the way of other ships. He anchored in a place where a considerable depth of water was marked in the Admiralty charts; but, so far from there being such a depth there, the fact was, that at low water the men walked round the ship. Again, it was said that the accident occurred from the captain attempting to "wear" the ship. No attempt was made to "wear" the ship at all. But the question at present was, not what Lord Elphinstone had done, or how he had got his ship on shore, but what the service was to look for in future. Was an officer to find himself censured and turned out of his command by a court that could not be considered a fairly-constituted tribunal? That was a question which deserved the attentive consideration of the House.


I was in hopes my hon. and gallant Friend would have confined himself to the Question which he had put on the paper, and that this unfortunate stranding of Lord Elphinstone's ship would not have been brought before the House, for I agree with the hon. Gentleman behind that it can do him no manner of good. The accident which happened to the Vigilant was undoubtedly a great misfortune, and I must add it was certainly accompanied with very grievous neglect on the part of Lord Elphinstone. She was coming from Scotland bound into the Thames. The wind was blowing hard from the south-west, and at the time of the accident the vessel was in the channel called the Swin. If there is a channel in the Thames better known than another, it is the Swin. It is admirably buoyed, with lighthouses and floating lights on every sides, and it is laid down in new and admirable Admiralty charts. It is true that the Vigilant was in the charge of a pilot, and undoubtedly the fact of a vessel being in charge of a pilot tends in a certain degree to exonerate her commander if she gets into trouble; but I can assure the House that the captain and the master cannot be absolved on that account from great blame for allowing the ship to ground on a well-known sand in a perfectly well-known channel, and in the middle of the day too. Whether or not Lord Elphinstone was in the act of wearing his ship is a matter of minor detail. There is a conflict of opinion about it; but if he was wearing in order to turn her off the sand, it shows he knew the danger he was in. There was evidence to show that he was steering a course, and that is a point of great importance which was dealt with by the court of inquiry. I am glad to give my testimony to the zeal and courage displayed by Lord Elphinstone afterwards in rescuing his ship from her perilous position. The gallantry of himself and his officers cannot be too highly commended, but the fact of his getting his ship aground was one which the Admiralty could not pass over without awarding great blame. The first step which the Admiralty took was to appoint a court of inquiry. These courts of inquiry are of old date, and no practical naval man will say that they do not afford great facilities for inquiry into important matters connected with the discipline of the navy, and that, on the whole, they are very advantageous to the service. My right hon. Friend (Sir J. Pakington) shakes his head, but I would ask him by what other means could we conduct the inquiries which are occasionally necessary with respect to accidents or the conduct of officers upon distant stations, where it is difficult to get a sufficient number of officers together to form a court martial, or on matters which are not of sufficient gravity to be referred to a court martial. When a ship is lost, the survivors are tried for losing it; and when a ship grounds, there is generally a court of inquiry. After this disaster the Admiralty ordered a court of inquiry to be held at Sheerness, and three distinguished officers were appointed to it. I am bound to admit that they committed a great mistake in not permitting Lord Elphinstone to attend, or, I should say rather, in not recalling him, for there is a great distinction between refusing an officer permission to attend, and simply directing him to withdraw after his evidence has been given, and not recalling him. I admit that they ought to have allowed him to be present during the inqury. The Admiralty having expressed their censure of Lord Elphinstone, he wrote back requesting to be tried by a court martial, and they then immediately sent him a copy of the whole of the evidence, in order that he should have an opportunity of inspecting it, and said, that if he then wished for a court martial they would grant him one.


; Yes; but you punished him first.


The Admiralty censured him certainly on the evidence laid before them.


And you dismissed him from his ship.


Not so. The course the Admiralty pursued was this. The ship was greatly damaged and was no longer fit to go to sea. The consequence was, another ship was commissioned, the crew was turned over to her, and another captain was appointed.


And the Vigilant put out of commission.


Yes, the Vigilant was put hors de combat. Lord Elphinstone declined the court martial, because he said a court martial could not restore him to his ship, nor remove the census. But I appeal to the House whether a court martial, which is essentially a court of honour, would have been biassed in their judgment by the fact of a censure having been expressed by the Admiralty. I do not believe that any court martial in the army or the navy would take such a fact into its consideration. The Admiralty then had offered Lord Elphinstone a court martial, and he had wisely refused it. Then why is all this indignation expressed? Are we to be told that because a captain has a pilot on board, that therefore he has no longer charge of his ship? An hon. Gentleman says that this is the case in the mercantile navy while merchant ships are in pilot waters.; but why is that? It is because the insurance would be vitiated if the captain interfered with the pilot in pilot waters. But are captains of the navy to be put in charge of pilots? I think every naval officer will demur to that. I regret that the case of a very promising young officer should be bandied about in public. His character stands as high as ever. He has had the misfortune to suffer a disaster which has happened to many a good officer besides him. He has had a severe censure from the Admiralty, which he richly deserved; and I contend that but for his injudicious friends he might have risen to an eminent position in the navy, worthy of his historical name. I am asked two questions by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwitch:—First, whether a captain is justified in disregarding the advice of the pilot when the pilot has charge of his ship? My answer is, that we do not acknowledge in the navy (and it is so distinctly laid down in the Queen's instructions) that the presence of a pilot, whether unable to read and write or whether a man of; superior ability, relieves the captain and master of the responsibility of disregarding, if necessary, the wishes of the pilot. It has happened in many instances before this, that officers have been blamed for accidents to their ships, even though pilots have been on board. The second question which the right hon. Gentleman puts to me is-with regard to the absence of Lord Elphinstone from the Board. I confess, that so very important does that omission appear to the Admiralty, that the Duke of Somerset has under consideration the giving directions to prevent any such omission in any future case. But if it be the opinion of hon. Gentlemen in this House that courts of inquiry are unadvisable and work injustice, I believe that officers of the navy of all ranks are of opinion that they save many an officer from the more severe and more public ordeal of a court martial, and I am quite certain that I am expressing the feelings of the navy generally when I say that courts of inquiry are of very great advantage to the service. I should here finish my observations had it not been that the hon. and gallant Gentleman who opened this discussion alluded to the Navy Discipline Act of 1861. I believe he said that officers had the idea that there was no security that any sentence passed would be considered binding by the Admiralty, and that the proceedings with reference to the Conqueror had given very general dissatisfaction. [Captain JERVIS: I referred to the case of the Conqueror, and not to the Discipline Act.] I understood that the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to the Act. I saw it stated that Captain Sotheby of the Conqueror, having been acquitted by a court martial, had been most unjustly censured by the Admiralty. The reason of that was, that it was absolutely necessary that an error which had crept into the navy, that the captain was not responsible for the conduct and safety of his ship, should be eradicated. In the case of the Conqueror the court martial fully acquitted the captain, and blamed the master. Seeing, however, that the captain had conducted the ship into a narrow and dangerous passage, and had let the fires out when passing a dangerous reef, the Admiralty would have greatly neglected their duty if they had not censured the conduct of Captain Sotheby. I am afraid that this discussion will not be to the advantage of a fine young officer, in as much as it will tend to make more public a disaster in which I admit there was a great deal of ill luck, but with regard to which I cannot for a moment deny that there was gross neglect on the part of Lord Elphinstone.


Whether this discussion will be of advantage to Lord Elphinstone I do not presume to offer an opinion; but I have a confident expectation that it will be of advantage to the Admiralty. The noble Lord asks what is the meaning of all this indignation. I have not the honour of knowing Lord Elphinstone, but I frankly tell the noble Lord I feel the indignation which I trust and believe every hon. Member feels when he hears that a gross and palpable injustice has been committed; and I say that, upon the confession of the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty himself, a more palpable injustice has never been committed than in the present case. I must ask the House to consider the details which they have heard from the noble Lord. My hon. Friend asked what was the reason for appointing a court of inquiry at all, and what were the cases in which such courts were usually appointed. The noble Lord says courts of inquiry are very useful in two cases:—First, on a naval station where there are not officers enough to con- stitute a court martial; and secondly, for the investigation of minor offences which are unworthy the attention of a court martial. Was this either of those cases? Are there not a sufficient number of naval officers in and near London to constitute a court martial; and does the noble Lord mean to say that a charge against an officer of stranding a valuable ship through carelessness is a minor offence not worthy the attention of a court martial? I say there is no reason given why the legitimate mode of investigation into a grave offence by court martial was departed from, and a court of inquiry adopted. But that is a trifle to what follows. The noble Lord says that with regard to the proceedings by the court of inquiry the Admiralty are very sorry to say a grave error was committed; that Lord Elphinstone was called upon to give his testimony, and when that was done he was desired to retire. [An hon. MEMBER: Was not re-called.] He was desired to retire, and I should suppose that was a tolerably broad hint that he was not to come back. But the noble Lord says the evidence taken behind Lord Elphinstone's back was quite clear and convincing. I remember a story in a book, which we have probably all read, of a celebrated rural magistrate, who said he always liked to stop at the end of the evidence of one side, for when the evidence on the other side was given it was very confusing. And in this case I cannot help thinking that the course which the court of inquiry took was eminently calculated to produce clear, unvarying, straight forward evidence. There was no cross-examination. No witnesses were called except on one side, and there was no examination on oath, I believe, at all. The noble Lord calls this a court. I hope, in future, the name will be abandoned. It was somewhat a mockery to call it a court. Call it by any other name you think fit, but pray do not call it a court. It is a contradiction in terms, and the name had better be given up. So much for the justification by the Admiralty of the course which was pursued. What happened? An inquiry takes place, in which the Admiralty admit a grave error was committed, the accused party not being allowed to be present to conduct his case. Under those circumstances, what did the Admiralty do? The noble Lord says they administered a severe censure, founded, be it observed, upon the report of the court of inquiry which committed so grave an error. But the grave censure is only half what they did. Was there no dismissal? I will tell the House what took place. The Vigilant was put out of commission. The very next day another ship was commissioned. Every officer, every man, and every boy in the Vigilant were transferred to the newly-commissioned ship with the exception of Lord Elphinstone. I am in the judgment of the House. Was that, or was it not, a dismissal of Lord Elphinstone?—and that, be it observed, upon the footing of the report of a court of inquiry which, in the judgment of the Admiralty, had committed a grave error, and I say an error going to the whole root of the conclusion at which they arrived. What happens next? The Admiralty are appealed to by Lord Elphinstone. Lord Elphinstone, having had no means of being present and conducting his own case, or of calling the witnesses whom he wanted, asked to be tried by court martial. If the Admiralty had admitted the error, recalled the censure, held it in suspense until a full and perfect trial had taken place, and ordered a court martial to assemble immediately, they would have substantially retrieved the error, and no great harm would have been done. The Admiralty send the evidence to Lord Elphinstone, and desire him to make any observations he pleases in the margin, and to send it back. Lord Elphinstone makes observations on the evidence, and the Admiralty pass a new sentence, unhesitatingly declaring that the court of inquiry had come to a proper conclusion; but that if Lord Elphinstone liked to have a court martial, he might have it then. It certainly is something new for a man to be punished first and then told that he may have a trial. And then, when the question is brought before the House of Commons, what is the atonement offered by the Admiralty at the last hour? The noble Lord says the Admiralty is extremely sorry, and that a great misfortune has occurred in the matter; but, at all events, things are now going to be set right, inasmuch as for the future care is to be taken that there should be full inquiry. How such a statement can be regarded as doing justice to Lord Elphinstone I am, however, at a loss to understand.


said, that after the observations of the hon. and learned Member for Belfast it might seem to be superfluous that he should trouble the House with any observations; but having served with Lord Elphinstone, and knowing, as he did, his high professional character, he was unwilling not to bear testimony against what he considered to be the misconduct of the Admiralty in the particular instance under discussion. He was able to speak with some knowledge on the point, because he was, he believed, the very first person with whom, as an old captain of his, Lord Elphinstone had communicated on the subject of the misadventure. The Vigilant, he might add, left the coast of Scotland under orders from the Admiralty in October last. The very heaviest gale of the season was blowing as she passed Harwich. She was in charge of a pilot who had a certificate from the Trinity House, who had the very highest testimony from Admiral Smart and the captain of the Porcupine, and who was naturally received on board the Vigilant with the utmost confidence. The vessel was brought down to the entrance of the Swin, and was steaming up the Swin at eight o'clock in the morning. It was at the flood tide, the gale was blowing from the S.S.W., and with the wind on the starboard bow. The captain and master came up and asked the pilot, who had been up all night, to go down to breakfast. As the ebb tide would make directly and the vessel would be drifted out to sea again, the master suggested to Lord Elphinstone that he should anchor. Everything was got ready for anchoring, when the pilot was sent for to select the place. It was, no doubt, the bounden duty of the captain of a man-of-war to see that the pilot was a competent man; but if up to the moment that the vessel went aground, the pilot was found to be perfectly competent, the captain had a right to place confidence in him. The pilot came on deck, and with the master examined the chart, suggesting, that as the Vigilant was a vessel with low masts, she should, to avoid the danger of being run down while at anchor, be anchored nearer to the light vessel. Lord Elphinstone made every arrangement, by working round head to wind, to steam in towards the light vessel. There was no question as to the management of the ship, but the difficulty was, that in the heavy gale blowing the pilot could not see a buoy, which ought to have been visible. The master asked, whether he was not going in too far, and the men were in the chains with the lead, and the pilot declared that he knew the ground well, and that they must go farther in. Lord Elphinstone, however, gave the order to "slow" the engines; but, in less time than it took to describe what occurred, the ship was ashore. What time was there, then, to displace, the pilot, even if it had been right to do so? In half an hour the vessel was high and dry; and although, when the tide flowed again, the waves broke with great violence, the arrangements were so seamanlike and skilful, that the ship was taken into Sheerness in safety, though somewhat damaged. A court of inquiry was subsequently appointed to try Lord Elphinstone, and yet, after his evidence had been taken, he was excluded from the court, and was not allowed to know anything that was going on. Lord Elphinstone immediately took steps to call attention to the fact, and he (Sir John Hay) held in his hand a letter in which Sir W. Johnson, the Commander-in-Chief at Sheerness, the officer under whose authority the court sat, admitted the irregularity of the proceeding. The ship was then put out of commission, and Lord Elphinstone was placed upon half-pay—dismissed from his ship, as he (Sir John Hay) should call it. Lord Elphinstone then applied for a court martial, but that was refused him. Lord Elpinstone had assured him that he had applied personally at the Admiralty for that measure of justice before his letter was written, and that he was treated with disdain and contumely. He would not go further into the case, as the facts had been most accurately stated by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Belfast; but what he wanted to point out was, that officers of the navy did not agree with his noble Friend as to the disadvantage of such cases as that of the Vigilant being brought under the notice of the House. He thought that Lord Elphinstone had gained extremely, and that the Admiralty had lost extremely, by the discussion. With reference to the question of the Conqueror, which bore considerably upon the case, the action of the Admiralty with reference to the court martial in that case, had shaken the confidence of the navy in the value of courts martial and their decisions. In Lord Elphinstone's case, whatever confidence they might have in courts martial, it might be expected that the decision of such a tribunal might be influenced by the fact of having to try the Board of Admiralty for an unjust censure, instead of an officer in the service for alleged misconduct.


said, he felt quite satisfied the House would agree, that if the Admiralty had allowed the case of a vessel of war being lost on a well-known sand to pass without inquiry, they would have rendered themselves liable to the severe censure of the House. It being the duty of the Admiralty to inquire, two courses were open to them. They might have made that inquiry by means cither of a court of inquiry or a court martial. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich asked what a court of inquiry was. Mr. M'Arthur, in his work on Courts of Inquiry, said that "From various precedents and long-established custom they have become an essential branch of naval and military jurisdiction." [Sir JOHN PAKINGTON: Does he say that they are not hound by the rules I of justice?] He said nothing of the kind; but he said that they were ancient courts, instituted by the prerogative of the Crown, for the purpose of informing the Grown as to the merits or demerits of its officers. Courts martial were criminal courts, having power to pass sentence; courts of inquiry were not criminal courts, they could not pass sentence, and had no power to examine witnesses upon oath. The court of inquiry having made its report, Lord Elphinstone, complaining, and with justice, that they had proceeded in his absence, asked for a court martial. There lay the whole gist of the case, because the Admiralty had offered him a court martial and he had refused it. [An hon. MEMBER: After the censure.] True, but after the court of inquiry, and after the censure, he asked for a court martial. The Admiralty wrote informing him that he might have a court martial if he pleased, but recommending him, before he accepted the offer, to read the report and minutes of the court of inquiry, which were transmitted, and upon which he was offered an opportunity of making any remarks he pleased. Lord Elphinstone returned the record of the proceedings with a statement in which he excused himself by throwing all the blame upon the pilot, asserting that he placed implicit confidence in him, and that he did not in any way assert his authority as commander. Now, it was expressly directed by the rules and circulars of the Admiralty that the commander of a vessel of war should not trust to a pilot, but should himself be responsible. It was on Lord Elphinstone's own statement, therefore, that the Admiralty replied that there was nothing in it to alter the opinion which they had formed, but that he might have a court martial if he desired it. Lord Elphinstone refused the court martial, and that was the whole case. The court mar- tial which he desired was offered, and he was allowed time for consideration. After considering and reflecting he refused the court martial, and thought it more desirable that his case should be brought before that House. In answer, it was suggested that a court martial would not have done its duty. ["No!"] He was glad to hear that contradiction; because it was a gross libel upon naval officers to say they had so little spirit, so small a sense of honour, or be slight a regard to their oaths that they would be influenced by the foregone conclusion of the Admiralty. The case amounted to this. There was a miscarriage on the part of the court of inquiry; but on the part of the Admiralty there had been no miscarriage. They were bound to act on the report of the court of inquiry. Lord Elphinstone desired a court martial; they had offered it, he had refused it, and under these circumstances had no grievance.


said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman, who no doubt spoke in his capacity as counsel to the Admiralty, had failed to show that there was any Act of Parliament warranting the Admiralty in trying a man by a court of inquiry. But if there was, surely such a court must proceed according to the ordinary rules of law, and not send the accused out of the presence of his judges, saying, "It makes no matter whether you are present or absent; we intend to dispose of you, and you will hear from the Admiralty when sentence is pronounced." Thus, like judge Rhadamanthus, sentencing first and inquiring afterwards. If the Admiralty was to act as it had done in that instance, it would be necessary for the House to look sharply after the Departments, and take care that important branches of the public service should not be so disposed of. The hon. and gallant admiral the Member for Wake-field (Sir John Hay) had stated that Lord Elphinstone had applied personally for a court martial, and that he was treated with disdain. No Department, he maintained, ought to venture to treat a man, who had a claim to justice, in such a manner as that. The noble Lord the Secretary of the Admiralty said, that when they had discovered that the court of inquiry had acted in an improper manner, they said to Lord Elphinstone, "Now that we have censured you, and proclaimed your in competency, we will send you to be tried by a court martial;" and that is called justice. I trust that my hon. and learned Friend, when he has an opportunity of advising the Admiralty in future, will help them from getting into such scrapes.