HC Deb 21 April 1864 vol 174 cc1460-9

, in rising to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the claims of Mr. John Clare, jun., on the Government for compensation for Inventions and Designs supplied to the Admiralty in connection with Iron Ship Building and the construction of Gun Boats, said, he must ask from the House more than an ordinary share of indulgence in bringing the subject forward. He feared, on the one hand, that his client might suffer from him, and he from his client; because, as to the last, in this case it was supposed that a great demand had been made; and when a great or disproportionate demand was made for compensation a prejudice was created. But, on consideration, he believed the House would think that Mr. Clare was deserving of sympathy and assistance. Mr. Clare had suffered great injustice and oppression, and that would be rewarded as some condonation for the eccentricities he had displayed. He (Colonel Dickson) intended no attack on the present Board of Admiralty by this Motion, for Mr. Glare had been the victim of injustice to Boards of Admiralty composed of different parties in the House, Mr. Clare was a young man of the most respectable position, possessed of great talents and ingenuity. In 1847 he had his attention first drawn to the subject of iron shipbuilding, and the necessity of substituting iron for wood in those great sea defences in which this country had always felt a pride. It was in 1853 that his correspondence with the Board of Admiralty first began. The House would remember that this was a most interesting period in our naval history, when we were commencing a struggle with a powerful nation of which no one could fortell the end, and when it became necessary that there should be a total rearrangement of our naval forces. The first letter of Mr, Clare was in December, 1853, and was addressed to Mr. Bernal Osborne, then Secretary to the Admiralty, in which he sketched the nature of ins invention, and sought the attention of the Admiralty to it. A correspondence took place with various Boards of Admiralty— as well during the administration of those who sat on his own side of the House, as while the party opposite were in power. The reply of the Admiralty to Mr. Clare's application was to the effect that, if "Mr. Clare had anything new to suggest as to the mode of constructing gunboats, and would forward it to the Admiralty, it would be considered." He did forward his ideas to the Admiralty; but for some time heard no more of the matter. In 1855 he addressed Sir Charles Wood then at the Admiralty, pointing out the futility of employing the then description of gun- boats against the Russian batteries. And here he (Colonel Dickson) should like to know what had become of those gunboats which Mr. Clare had denounced. But then followed a letter from his right hon. Friend Mr. Corry, when his right hon. Friend Sir John Pakington was at the Admiralty; and in that letter in reply to Mr. Clare, the singular answer was returned that the Board of Admiralty limited applications to their own officers and to those who were in a position to build the vessels, and that therefore they could not comply with Mr. Clare's request, but would be willing to receive any suggestion on the subject. So that in order for the Admiralty to avail themselves of an invention, it was a necessary condition that a man should either be able to build a ship or have a large balance at his banker's. The correspondence with the Admiralty went on for six years. The plans and models of Mr. Clare were placed in the hands of the Admiralty in 1854 and 1855; they were in Sir Baldwin Walker's office in 1857, and the Warrior was not built till 1859. The Warrior, let it be remembered, was built entirely on Mr. Clare's plan—a plan on which no ship had been ever built before, and to the invention of which that gentleman was wholly and solely entitled to lay claim. He (Colonel Dickson) should be told that this case had been tried in a court of law, and that, therefore, Mr. Clare had no claim on the sympathy of the House. Now, he in no way intended to make the House of Commons a court of appeal from a court of law, and far be it from him to impugn a court of justice like the Court of Queen's Bench; but this he would say, that with the usual fatality that had attended all Mr. Clare's attempts to get justice done him, his case was most wretchedly put into the hands of counsel, evidence which should have been brought forward was not brought forward, and the evidence on the part of the Government was the evidence of partisans, almost all of them being officially connected with the Admiralty. If a Committee were granted, almost every part of that evidence could be contradicted, He would refer to the not unimportant evidence of Sir Charles Fox. That witness, in speaking of the ship constructed in the yard of Messrs. Laird, of Birkenhead, in 1852, and in which Mr. Macgregor Laird went out to the west coast of Africa, deposed that she had her longitudinal and vertical framework on the principle now claimed by Mr. Clare; but Mr. Morrison, in the employ of Messrs. Laird, who had witnessed the building of the ship from first to last, and who ought to have been examined but was not, declared he was in a position to give a flat contradiction to the evidence of Sir Charles Fox on this point. In fact, it was well known that before the Warrior no ship had been built with longitudinal framework. In the same way a gentleman who was subpoenaed from the Admiralty sent a medical certificate stating that he was too unwell to appear, though it was known that he was in town, and at the Admiralty that very day. No doubt the demands that were made by Mr. Clare were extravagant, and his manner of supporting them eccentric, and this might have had an effect upon the Judge, whose summing up was more like the impassioned argument of an interested counsel than the calm deliberation of an impartial Judge. The jury arrived at an adverse verdict, finding that the patent was not infringed, and secondly, that the specification did not show longitudinal and vertical framework separate from the plates—which he (Colonel Dickson) contended it did. But he (Colonel Dickson) would ask, if Mr. Clare did not design the Warrior who did? She was not built until 1859, and she was the first ship built upon the principle of longitudinal framing. Had anybody claimed that invention? Nobody but the officials of the Admiralty. Where did Mr. Eady, Mr. Ward, and Sir Baldwin Walker, obtain their ideas about the Warrior? Mr. Clare's plans and specifications were at the Admiralty for six years, and it was not until 1859 that the first ship, the Warrior, was built embracing the novelty which they contained. Sir Baldwin Walker and the other officials had been confined all their lives within the Admiralty routine, addicted to the building of wooden vessels, and where then could they have got their ideas of iron shipbuilding? Considering that Mr. Clare's plans had been at the Admiralty all this time, and that a correspondence had been going on which must have drawn the attention of everybody at the Admiralty to the subject, it was pretty palpable that their plans for the Warrior must have been founded on hints at least drawn from Mr. Clare's invention. He (Colonel Dickson) believed that Captain Cowper Coles had taken a great many of his ideas from Mr. Clare's invention, and Captain Cowper Coles had received for his remuneration captain's pay, £600; three guineas a day, £1,149; expenses of travelling, £470; and interest on £5,000 at 5 per cent, £250; with £100 for every cupola he made for fourteen years. Captain Cowper Coles, however, had rather higher connections than Mr. Clare. He (Colonel Dickson) would appeal to the noble Lord at the head of the Government, who, he believed, entertained pretty much the same sentiments on the subject of Mr. Clare's claims, and the manner in which he had been treated, that he (Colonel Dickson) did, to use his influence with the House in behalf of justice to Mr. Clare; and he appealed to the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty to throw off the trammels of red tape, and, like the generous sailor that he was, to take a similar course; and lastly, he appealed to the House, whose duty it was to protect the interest of every subject of the realm.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the Claims of Mr. John Clare, junior, on the Government for compensation for Inventions and Designs supplied to the Admiralty in connection with Iron Ship Building and the Construction of Gun Boats,"—(Colonel Dickson,) —instead thereof.


stated, in reply to the question of the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. Maguire), that the case of Cork came within the order of reference to the Committee now sitting on the subject of dockyards, and would receive fair and full consideration.

In answer to the question of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. A. Smith), he said the Government could not undertake to publish the paper of Sir Snow Harris on the School of Naval Architecture. If they were to do so they would have in fairness to publish all the papers which had been written on the same subject, including the very able and interesting one from the pen of the noble Lord the Member for Huntingdon (Lord R. Montagu). The better way would be for Sir Snow Harris to print his essay at his own expense, and send a copy to the hon. Member for Truro. Although it had been determined to establish a School of Naval Architecture in London, the hon. Member wanted the House to rescind its vote, so that naval architects might be educated in the provinces. Now, we had already got good dockyard schools, but the education given in them was not of that high order which naval architects required; and London had been chosen as the site of the new schools, because there eminent lecturers and professors could be obtained with the greatest facility. He was persuaded the public would have reason to be satisfied with the course the Government had taken. The hon. Member had asked what was to become of the youths in the summer when they went round the dockyards to learn their practical duties. They would have a certain allowance per head for their personal expenditure, and whether they got it in London or at the dockyards, would make no difference in the matter of coat. So far as he could ascertain, the School of Naval Architecture would not cost more than £4,000 a year, and, indeed, some thought it would become self-supporting, though he himself was not quite so sanguine as that.

There was one passage in the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Limerick (Colonel Dickson) with respect to the case of Mr. Clare, in which he cordially concurred—that the House of Commons should not be turned into a court of appeal from the ordinary tribunals. He had heard with great regret the remark of the hon. and gallant Colonel—that the summing up of the Lord Chief Justice was more like the impassioned speech of an advocate, than the calm judicial charge of a Judge. The Solicitor General who was employed in the trial in the Court of Queen's Bench, would be able to give a different version of the summing up; but he might be allowed to say that, in the opinion of all, the Lord Chief Justice was one of the most able and upright Judges who ever adorned the Bench. Another accusation made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman was that nearly all the witnesses were Government officials. Could Sir Charles Fox be considered a Government official? Mr. Samuda was a private shipbuilder, [Colonel DICKSON: He has held Government contracts.] He admitted that Mr. Samuda, like many other private traders, had held Government contracts; but surely nobody would say that an eminent shipbuilder would give evidence contrary to what he conscientiously believed, merely because he occasionally took a Government contract. He could not say at that moment whether Mr. Eady was at the Admiralty when he was represented to be too unwell to attend the trial, but he should think it exceedingly improbable. Did the hon. and gallant Gentleman think the jury had been packed?


explained that nobody could speak in higher terms than he had done of the Chief Justice and the jury who tried the case.


had only quoted the hon. and gallant Member's words, but was glad if they had not been intended to have the meaning he had supposed. He believed that Mr. Clare had had as fair a trial as ever took place in this country. The trial lasted five days, and it was conducted with the greatest patience by the Judge and jury, and the decision was that the Admiralty had not infringed any of Mr. Clare's patents. If the accusations made against the witnesses were founded on fact, the courts were open to Mr. Clare to prosecute them. Having some knowledge of matters connected with the construction of these ships, he (Lord Clarence Paget) had done his best to look into this subject, but he could not for the life of him see that any patent of Mr. Clare's had been infringed in the Warrior, or any other of Her Majesty's ships. That was not the only case of the kind. Mr. Chalmers said that the Admiralty had pirated his invention. It was impossible to state that in some of the details of a ship's construction there might not be some similarity to the inventions of various persons; but, after the decision which a court of law had duly pronounced on, Mr. Clare's claims, he trusted that the House would not now consent to re-open the case.


said, that he was counsel for the Admiralty in Mr. Clare's case, and he would take upon himself the responsibility, which was shared by the Law Officers of the Crown, in advising the Admiralty to resist the petition, for a claim more unfounded and preposterous, he would venture to say, was never brought into a court of justice. Mr. Clare's, first demand was in respect of an alleged contract with the Admiralty, upon the terms of his having a percentage upon all the ships built, amounting to £200,000. Then he further claimed some £400,000 or £500,000 for a supposed infringement of his patent. The case came on to be tried, and the evidence in support of the claim consisted of about 100 letters written by him to the Admiralty, to which he believed only two replies were sent, the substance of them being this:—"Sir, we have considered your application, and cannot comply with it; and you cannot be employed." There was no pretence, on Mr, Clare's own showing, of there having been any contract. The rest of the case, as to the infringement of the patent, was equally groundless. Mr. Clare never built a ship, and never laid down the lines of one. The supposed patent contained nothing new, and there was no pretence for saying that it had been infringed in the case of the Warrior. The case was tried before the Lord Chief Justice and a special jury. The hon. and gallant Member for Limerick (Colonel Dickson) had said, that the Lord Chief Justice had summed up the case not as a Judge, but as an advocate. That was a serious imputation, which ought not to be made lightly or loosely. He asserted that the imputation was wholly unfounded, and ought never to have been made. The Lord Chief Justice summed up in a perfectly impartial and judicial manner. The jury did not hesitate; they found that Mr. Clare had no case, and no pretence of a case. That an eminent shipbuilder's evidence was not to be trusted because he had once held a Government contract was an imputation that no counsel would venture to make in a court of justice, and which never ought to have been made in that House. No case was ever more fairly tried. A Motion was afterwards made be-fore the full court, and they entirely concurred in the summing up of the Judge. He trusted the House would not re-open the Question, that they would he satisfied with the results of the trial, and not interfere with the action of courts of justice.


said, he had been appealed to on that subject by Mr. Clare, one of whose counsel he had been at the trial which had been referred to: he had, however, declined to take any part in the present discussion, or to vote on the Question before the House, thinking that to abstain from doing so became a Member who had been professionally engaged in the case. If he were to declare his opinion in Mr. Clare's favour, it might be said that he was speaking as an advocate; and if he gave an opinion against the claim, it might be objected that he had made use of some confidence or trust reposed in him, to the prejudice of the interests of the person by whom he had been engaged as counsel.


said, that whereas the Solicitor General had stated that Mr. Clare received but two letters from the Admiralty, and those only stating that they could not consider his plans, he now held in his hand seven letters from the Board of Admiralty to that gentleman. One of them, dated June 22, 1855, was from the Secretary to the Admiralty, telling Mr. Clare that if he had anything new to suggest, and forwarded it to that office, it would be considered. Mr. Clare accordingly sent in his plans, and a letter describing them. That was surely consistent with the statement they had heard. He fully agreed in what had been said about the high and impartial character of the Lord Chief Justice; but in a passage of his summing up the learned Judge observed— Mr. Clare was evidently a disappointed man. He was disappointed at not having his plans and specifications adopted by the Admiralty. He had impressed upon the Admiralty the great importance of the subject of Iron Shipbuilding, and it was not till some years afterwards that it was taken up. When the history of this great change in our naval architecture came to be written, it would have to be said that; Mr. Clare impressed the subject on the Admiralty, but the Admiralty refused to take it up; that they had afterwards adopted his plan, and that Mr. Clare appealed to them in vain. He trusted that Mr. Clare would not appeal to that House in vain. This was no technical question as to the specification. He trusted that the Committee would be granted to Mr. Clare.


said, that that discussion only supplied another proof, if an additional proof were wanting, of the great necessity for a change in our patent law, for as matters now stood it seemed almost impossible for the Admiralty to adopt any improvement without some inventor stepping in and claiming a patent right in it. In that case a court of justice had decided in favour of the Admiralty and against Mr. Clare, and the Admiralty had now nothing to do with the question.


said, he felt bound to state, though with every wish to do justice to this unfortunate man—for he believed that he might speak of him in those terms—that the House would make a great mistake if, after the decision of a court of justice, they would pass this Vote. His hon. and gallant Friend had repeated the allegation that Mr. Clare was the first inventor of armour-plated ships, and that the Warrior was built upon his plans. There never was any allegation more un- founded. It was said that the Board of Admiralty were only willing to listen to men of capital. Now, the fact was, that when the question of armour-plated vessels arose, the Admiralty felt it their duty to call upon the most eminent shipbuilders, both in England and Scotland, and invite them to offer suggestions upon iron-plated ships. He declared that Mr. Clare had nothing to do with the merits of the construction of the Warrior vessel. He regretted that Mr. Clare should think that he was treated with injustice by any Department of the Government. Last year he (Sir John Pakington) was anxious to know whether Mr. Clare had any grounds for so thinking; and as he met him accidentally in the lobby of the House he asked him to withdraw with him. He heard all he had to say, and after he had done so tried to enter into conversation with him but he found it impossible in consequence of the state of excitement in which Mr. Clare was. The hon. and learned Solicitor General who saw Mr. Clare in the court of justice, must have had experience of this excitement. With regard to the proposed School of Naval Architecture, he (Sir John Pakington) might say that he had long had the pleasure of an acquaintance with Sir William Snow Harris, and felt for him a great respect; but feared that that gentleman had fallen into a serious error in his paper, as he seemed to think that this School had originated with the Board of Admiralty. He (Sir John Pakington), while anxious to do full justice to the support which the proposal received from the Admiralty, must say that the first suggestion to found the school came from the Institute of Naval Architects. Perhaps it might be some satisfaction to the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Smith)—after the refusal of the noble Lord to print the paper at the public expense—to state that the most eminent naval architects were of opinion that this arrangement to place the School in the metropolis, in order that they might have the benefit of superior teachers, afforded the best prospect of bringing the experiment to a successful issue.

Question, "That the words proposed to be loft out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.