HC Deb 23 June 1864 vol 176 cc155-7

said, he wished to ask the Secretary to the Admiralty, Whether the attention of Her Majesty's Government has been drawn to the Report of an action which took place last Sunday between the United States frigate Kearsarge and the Confederate ship Alabama; and whether they have considered the Report of the Commander-in-Chief at Devonport on the preparation for battle of Her Majesty's ship Research. With the permission of the House he would read the Report of the Commander-in-Chief at Devonport. It was as follows:— The space in the battery is so confined that the men have not room to work the guns with that facility that is required. 1. The battery is 33ft. in length by 32ft. in breadth inside; within this space are four heavy guns, upwards of 80 men, funnel, wheel, hatchway for supplying powder and shell. 2. There is a difficulty in traversing the guns from the broadside to the bow and quarter ports. 3. When the broadside guns were fired with extreme train, foremost ones to the left, after ones to the right, the captains of them could not stand to direct and fire them. These points being of great importance, I have considered it right to bring them before the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty. He would also beg to ask, Whether, as the last named Report shows, that this class of ship cannot fight her guns with advantage, and the first named Report shows that she will easily be destroyed in action, Her Majesty's Government will continue to build ships which cannot be expected either to fight or swim; and he would further ask, as the advantage of guns of large calibre has been so clearly shown in the above named action, whether Her Majesty's Government will at once obtain a proper supply of large rifled guns for the service of the Navy?


In answer, Sir, to the Question of the hon. and gallant Member, I have to state that the Admiralty have considered, as I suppose everybody else has done, the report of the action which took place last Sunday between the Kearsarge and the Alabama, which, I may remark, however, has no reference whatever to the Question of the Research. The Admiralty have likewise considered the Report of the Commander-in-Chief at Devonport on the preparation for battle of Her Majesty's Research. That Report goes to the effect that there is not room enough to work the guns, in consequence of the wheel, funnel, and other matters being within the battery. We are taking steps to remove them. These, however, are matters of detail, and in other respects I have no reason to believe that there is any dissatisfaction with the Research. A few days ago I was on board that vessel, and I asked the captain—a young, active, and intelligent officer—whether he was satisfied with her fighting qualities. He replied that he was perfectly satisfied on that point. With respect to the comparison which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has drawn between the Research and the Alabama, perhaps he is not aware that the Alabama was a wooden ship of light scantling, whereas the Research is armour-plated. Therefore, there can be no comparison drawn between the two ships. With regard to the further Question, whether Her Majesty's Government will continue to build ships which cannot be expected either to fight or swim, I must state that Her Majesty's Government have no intention to build ships that can neither fight nor swim. These vessels are undergoing a fair trial, and I ask for them fair play. I ask likewise fair play for another experimental ship going out in a few days—the Royal Sovereign, designed by a talented officer of the Navy, Captain Coles. I shall be happy to make a frank statement in regard to these ships when they have undergone a fair trial. With respect to the third Question, about the guns, the hon. and gallant Member must be aware that the Government are taking steps to procure heavier rifled guns. The hon. and gallant Gentleman was present at the trials at Shoeburyness, when the average weight of shot was 167 lbs., the average charge; of powder was 30lbs., and the heaviest charge was as high as 50 lbs. The weight of the heaviest shot was 300 lbs. The Admiralty have ordered a considerable number of 10½-inch guns, throwing 150 lbs, shot, smooth bore, and they have likewise ordered a large number of 7-inch rifled 100 pounders. The Prince Albert, the Royal Sovereign, and the Minotaur will go to sea carrying 12-ton guns, throwing 10½-inch shot. I think this will show that the Government are alive to the importance of the subject.