HC Deb 07 April 1864 vol 174 cc621-4

rose to call the attention of the House to the armament of the Volunteer Artillery force. The Royal Artillery were not interior to any similar force in any country in Europe; but they were not a large force and they were scattered over the face of the world. It was, therefore, considered an excellent arrangement when, six years ago, a large part of the Volunteer force enrolled themselves into artillery corps. As regarded the Rifle Volunteers, they were promised, and they had received, the best arms the country possessed. But that was not the case with the Volunteer Artillery. When they were enrolled, they were informed that they must take such weapons as the War Office could provide, but the Secretary of State promised that they should ultimately be armed as effectively as the Royal Artillery. The Volunteers accepted that promise, and the Royal arsenals were ransacked to find guns wherewithal to arm them. They received six-pounders which, for ought he knew, might have been with Wolfe on the Heights of Abraham; field artillery which had seen service at Fontenoy and Culloden, and certainly numerous guns which had followed Wellington throughout his campaigns from Assaye to Waterloo. At first the Volunteers were satisfied with these weapons. They could learn their drill with them, and that was all that they then wanted. Six years had, however, now elapsed, and not the slightest improvement had been made in their armament. Let the House suppose the case of an invasion, an attempt by means of a flotilla to make a descent upon our shores. The noble Lord the Secretary for the Admiralty understood this part of the question, because with the noble Marquess the Under Secretary for War, to whom, in virtue of their offices, he was united in a bond of red tape, he formed a perfect Siamese twin of artillery—he would ask the noble Lord and the noble Marquess, against such a flotilla, consisting of gunboats carrying the heavy artillery of the day, what could our Volunteers effect with their old rotten 18-pounders, which had been disused for forty years? There were artillery officers enough in the House to tell them what would be the result of such a contest. At a range of a mile these old smooth bored guns hit the bull's-eye about once in thirty shots, while with rifled ordnance it was struck twice out of three times. Some Volunteer Artillery corps were so disgusted with the guns which had been supplied to them that they had armed themselves. Messrs. Horsfall and Clay, of Liverpool, had for some time been making 12-pounder breech-loading guns on the pattern of Captain Forbes, a very distinguished artillerist. Four of these guns had been either purchased by or presented to the 8th Lancashire Artillery Volunteers, of which Mr. Clay, a member of the firm, was commander, and with these they were able to hit the bull's-eye at a mile range twice out of three times. It might be asked why such guns were not noticed by the Government, and the only reason that he could imagine was that they were too cheap. It seemed as though in the eye of the Government quality signified nothing. These guns without appurtenances cost only £95 a piece, while the price of similar weapons of the Armstrong pattern was £ 125. They might, however, at least be admitted to a trial; but it seemed that anything which came into competition with Sir William Armstrong's productions was regarded with the greatest disfavour by the Government. Perhaps he should be told that guns could not be made fast enough to arm the Volunteers; but it seemed to him that six years was quite long enough for the accomplishment of that object. The refusal to supply these corps with proper weapons savoured very much of that ignorance which characterized the Ordnance Department at the time of the Crimean war, when our army was sent into the field to contend with guns of inferior calibre against the 32-pounders of the Russians. At the battle of Inkerman two 18-pounders, which had probably been sent out by mistake for pork or cocoa, or something of that sort, turned up at the right moment, and did the work which the poor little 6-pounders could not effect. A remarkable instance of the importance of efficient artillery was afforded by the present war. The Danes had neglected their artillery, and, being armed for the most part with old smooth-bore guns, were cut to pieces by the Germans with their improved artillery. The able writing of the two Correspondents of The Times, one with the Danish and the other with the Prussian army, established the inferiority of the old Danish artillery and the superiority of the modern Prussian guns. Were we to wait till war came to our own shores? If the Volunteers were only for show, let the force be abolished; but if, as he believed, they were the best force which could be relied on for the support of the army, let justice be done to them by providing arms with which in case of need they could do themselves honour. Expense, no doubt, would be urged as a reason against furnishing this improved artillery; but he might mention that a proposition had been made to rifle all the brass ordnance in this country in the same manner that the Emperor Louis Napoleon had done, at the cost of less than £2 a gun. He begged to ask the noble Lord the Under Secretary whether any steps had been taken, or were likely to be soon adopted, for arming the Volunteer Artillery in the same manner as the Royal Artillery?