HC Deb 02 June 1865 vol 179 cc1216-24

, in calling attention to the proceedings of the Ordnance Select Committee, said, that when on a former occasion he had thought it his duty to direct the attention of Parliament to what he considered the mismanagement of Ordnance Department, he then stated that the Ordnance Department had been unable during the last five years to furnish the Admiralty with sufficient guns for naval purposes; that a vast and extravagant expenditure had occurred without any adequate result; and that the Department was administered by a committee of officers, who were practically without responsibility, and who had very anomalous duties to perform; he stated that they were called upon to pronounce judgment upon the inventions and manufactures of other persons, whilst they themselves had become rival manufacturers and inventors, carrying on their experiments and transactions at the expense of the country. These statements were at the time denied by the noble Lord the Under Secretary for War, and he was also surprised to hear a very emphatic denial from his right hon. Friend the hon. and gallant Member for Huntingdon. He, therefore, felt, under the circumstances, that it was his duty not only to state but to show that not only was the statement he then made perfectly correct, but that the evils that existed, if continued, must prove injurious to the public service. The Ordnance Select Committee was appointed by his right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon when he was Secretary of State for War, the previous Ordnance Select Committee having been dissolved upon the ground that some of its Members had become inventors; and his right hon. and gallant Friend stated, before a Select Committee of the House, that when he appointed the Ordnance Select Committee he had no intention that they should become inventors. He (Mr. H. Baillie) did not know what might have been the understanding at that time, but this he did know, that his right hon. Friend had not left office many months before the Ordnance Select Committee commenced their career as inventors, and he would show that the President and Vice President of that Committee had become inventors, and that their inventions were submitted to the Committee over which they were called upon to preside. The President of the Select Committee appointed by General Peel was Colonel, now General, St. George, and the Vice President was Captain Wiseman, R.N. He found, from the evidence published by the Select Committee of 1863, that a table was put in of various inventions undertaken by inventors for the purpose of strengthening cast iron cannon, so as to convert them into rifle cannon. And among the inventions he found in 1860, a few months after General Peel had left office, two 32-pounders, cast iron, smoothbore, slightly tapering from trunnions to breech, on a plan proposed by General St. George, C.B., and bored up to 68-pounders; but the experiments failed, the gun having burst after sixty-seven rounds. He found again that two 32-pounders, cast iron blocks, were treated in the same manner and submitted to a trial, and that they also burst after sixty-eight rounds; so that here they had the President of the Committee submitting his invention in cast iron guns to the Committee over which he was called upon to preside. Then he found that Captain Wiseman, Vice President of the Committee, submitted an invention for a new gun-carriage for ships, which received the seal of the Committee; so that the gun-carriage was actually received into the service. One hundred and fifty of them were constructed at Woolwich, and they were tried on board the Excellent and failed. He now came to the Vice President of the present time, Captain Heath, R.N. He, he found, was the inventor of a magnum shell with a large bursting: charge. The shell was tried on 3rd November, 1864; and one shell turned over at a distance of 434 yards from the muzzle of the gun, and the remainder were unsteady, and the experiment was regarded as a failure. Now, he did not blame those officers for trying their experiments at the public expense. It was quite natural they should do so if they were permitted; because, if they succeeded, they gained all the honour and glory of the trial, while if they failed the expense was borne by the country. It was not, however, only as individuals that the Committee were inventors. The Committee itself bad invented a gun which was brought forward as the gun of the Ordnance Select Committee. The public had heard very little of it—it was proved, but had been heard of no more—but he had been curious enough to examine into the matter. He had procured a description of the gun from an artillery officer of high rank. That description was as follows:— The Select Committee gun weighs 82 cwt. 1 qr.; length, 9.5–12; calibre, 7.1 in.; spiral not known; grooves, 15, 0.73 in. wide by 0.5 in. deep; charge, 16lb.; shell, a compound of steel, cast iron, and lead; body cylindrical, of cast iron, inclosing a steel core; head, hemispherical, false; lead outside all; bottom of shell secured with a wooden sabot like Bashley Britten's. Altogether, it appears to combine the worst properties of many inventors' shells without their corresponding advantages. It produced no effect on the target. He would presently refer to another gun which had been produced by the Committee; but before he entered into what they were about at the present moment, it would be necessary that he should advert to the present state of our naval armaments, which, be regretted to find, were in a more uncertain and doubtful condition than they were when he last addressed the House on the subject a few months since. Now, what were the modern guns which they possessed at the present time? They knew that they possessed 1,000 of those fine-groove breech-loading guns commonly called the Armstrong 110-pounders; but these guns, they were lately given to understand, were not deemed suitable for naval purposes, and were to be superseded by a new 64- pounder shunt gun. It was perfectly true that at the commencement of the present year these new 64-pounder shunt guns were sent on board the ships of Her Majesty's fleet; but they now heard that these guns in their turn (150 only of them having been completed) were to be superseded by a new gun, to be called the Woolwich gun—a gun totally different in principle from either of the others, and admitted to be so far imperfect that the depth and width of the grooves of the rifling, or the gaining, or even the twist, had not yet been decided upon. With reference to the introduction of the shunt gun into the service and its discontinuance, he found the following remarks in The Mechanics' Magazine, and, from the information he had received, he believed it to be perfectly correct. The statement was to the following effect:— The shunt gun has been definitively abandoned, and no large guns will for the future be rifled on that principle. The 64-pounders which have so very recently been finished and issued to the Royal Navy have utterly failed on trial on board ship. The shot with the hollow head did not travel in a straight course, and were found to break up on impact, or even by a fall upon the ship's deck. The intention now is to make a new shot, which is to be hollow in the rear. The shells from this naval 64-pounder have been found to burst prematurely in the gun, and in one gun on board the Excellent the rifling was entirely destroyed from this cause. A second gun was also seriously damaged by a similar premature explosion of the shell. The rifling of the French gun, which has a gaining twist, has been strongly recommended by the Ordnance Select Committee for naval guns. The Committee, however, state that it will be necessary to introduce sundry modifications, which it is now engaged in carrying out, previously to applying the system to the naval guns of 7, 8, and 9-in. bore, weighing 6½, 8, and 12½ tons respectively. The new gun, constructed according to the Committee's modifications of the French rifling, is to be called the Woolwich' gun. This, then, is the present position of matters in this respect, a position which speaks so plainly for itself as to render more than superfluous any comment on our part. That state of things was, he thought, sufficiently alarming for the British taxpayer, even if regarded simply as a question of present money payment; but when it was borne in mind how great was the confusion which was thus being introduced into our armaments, it would, he thought, be considered high time to inquire how such sudden changes in the opinions of those to whom those important matters were intrusted had been brought about. What, he would ask, was this Woolwich gun? Who were its inventors? Hon. Members were all aware who invented the finely grooved breech-loader, and the shunt gun, the Whitworth, the Lancaster, and various others; but of the new Woolwich gun they absolutely knew nothing, except that it was recommended to the naval service by the Ordnance Select Committee to rival all others on this principle. They had no information with respect to this gun except that it was put forward and recommended by that Committee which they had been told by the Government did not invent, and which the public believed to be sitting in calm and unbiassed judgment upon the inventions and systems recommended by others. Now, everybody knew how fond inventors were of their own productions, and it would, he was sure, be admitted that they were the last persons to be relied upon for a fair opinion upon the works of their own brain. But that did not appear to be the view taken of the subject by the Government, for they seemed to think that inventors must naturally be the best judges of their own inventions. He would, with the permission of the House, give an example of the injustice to which the system which prevailed naturally led, and of the evils which must result from it should it be continued. For the last twelve months it appeared that the Admiralty had been very urgent in their demands on the Ordnance Select Committee to be furnished with a gun rifled upon the most approved principles for the naval service. The Ordnance Committee were, unfortunately, nil abroad, and could not make up their own minds as to which system was the best. They had many systems before them, but they could not come to any definite decision as to which it was most desirable to choose. At last, being strongly pressed by the Admiralty, they determined to have a competition between the different guns under their consideration, and of that competition he held in his hand the printed programme. From that programme he found the trial was to be one between four guns rifled on four different principles. They were to be 7½ tons weight, 7-in. calibre, wrought-iron guns, which were of the size sometimes called 120-pounders, and were to be fired with five different projectiles. The guns consisted of the Scott gun, the Lancaster gun, the Bashley Britten gun, and the early pattern French gun. The Bashley Britten gun was soon withdrawn from the contest, because it was found to be incapable of standing the heavy charge of 25lb. Subsequently the shunt gun was introduced; and the competition com- menced and was carried up to a certain point, when it was suddenly stopped—no one knew why or wherefore. Up to that point Captain Scott's was the winning gun. It appeared, however, some of the Committee thought they saw that by uniting the principles of two of the systems under trial they might produce a gun of their own which would suit their purpose. They accordingly had a gun constructed adopting in its construction two of the principles of the guns brought under their notice. That was the second production of a Committee which the House was told did not invent, but which was not, at the same time, above adopting the inventions of others and bringing them forward as their own. A few hasty and very imperfect experiments were made with the new gun, but no official report had been made with respect to it. An account, however, of the competition was given in The Engineer newspaper, which was the ablest paper in the world on such a subject. From that account he would read the following extract:— In our last week's impression we gave a table of the ranges of the 7-in. competitive guns, supplied by the President of the Ordnance Select Committee. These ranges were the most favourable for the French gun, its shot having been fired with only 20lb. charges, which their zinc studs could withstand, but when the full powder charge of 25lb. was used the studs were partially sheared off, and the shot, consequently, had a very erratic flight. The loading of the French gun was likewise difficult—so much so that the Committee cut off the rear stud to facilitate the operation, which had, however, the effect of making the shooting still more inaccurate, and they then reduced the size of the buttons. It was at this period that the special correspondent of the Standard, who had been favoured with the ranges, &c., of the 7-in. competitive guns, reported that the French gun was virtually hors de combat, and the contest now laid between the Scott and Lancaster guns. At this point of the competition, when the victory seemed to be secured to the former gun, from its superior facility of loading and its great advantage in round ball firing, the Committee again interposed, and this time entirely broke through the rules of their own printed programme, introducing, as they themselves state, a complete alteration in the 'arrangement of the studs'—the metal was changed from zinc to gunmetal, the smaller stud was placed in front, and the larger one behind; both were attached in a different manner.' Had the inventive faculty of the Committee stopped here this change would still have been a clear breach of faith; but, having once commenced to make alterations, they now went much further, and used the experience already obtained from Commander Scott's well-known plan of loading and centring, and applied it to their new projectiles for the French gun. This plan, so much commended in the work of Mr. A. Holley, U.S.A., consists in keeping the body of the projectile clear of the bore of the gun, so that the shot readily loads upon a narrow bearing in the rifle groove, which is rounded to such a curve that the shot may rise up into the centre of the gun on the first pressure of the elastic fluid in firing. If this statement were correct, it was obvious that the Committee had constructed their gun by adapting the system of Captain Smith to the French gun. Was this fair or honourable to inventors? It was bad enough to steal a man's purse; it was worse to steal the produce of his brains and to bring it before the world as your own. It was perfectly monstrous if this gun had emanated from the Ordnance Select Committee, or had been arranged under their superintendence, that they should be the judges of its value. That this Committee were not above the average of humanity was, he thought, proved by this startling fact—that although they had made a report on the accuracy of the shooting of this gun, under exceptional conditions as regarded actual warfare, they neglected to mention that this accuracy was accompanied by a rapid deterioration of the grooves of the gun, and that the gun was already, after the short trial to which it had been exposed, fissured or split in a very dangerous manner. That was a statement which the noble Lord might verify if he thought proper. He must, however, protest against this or any other gun being introduced into the service until it had received a fair trial before Judges who had not prematurely pronounced upon its merits.

He would now turn to another subject—namely, the advice given by the Committee to the Secretary of State for War, which, it was stated, the noble Lord had accepted, and which, if carried out, would be very costly to the country. The Ordnance Select Committee had decided that the name of the 110lb. Armstrong gun should be changed, and that the gun should henceforth be called the 7-inch gun; they recommended that the weight of the projectile should be reduced from 110lb. to 90lb., and that the charge should be reduced from 14lb. to 10lb. Such a change involved the loss of all the existing projectiles that had been purchased at an enormous cost—not only those in this country, but also those in the colonies, and the immense quantity in store in Woolwich. It was also stated that60,000 projectiles of the new pattern had been ordered. The House was probably not aware of the cost of one of these 110lb. projectiles. He did not pretend to fathom the mysteries of Woolwich accounts, but the charge made at Elswick was 25s. for each projectile. Assuming that they could be manufactured for considerably less at Woolwich, the cost of the charge would nevertheless be enormous. If the money were spent in new guns, the country would have something for its money; but here was a worthless gun rendered inefficient by the charge being reduced from 14lb. to 10lb. What would be the use of the Armstrong gun to the navy with this reduced powder and charge? It might be useful for land service, but not for the navy. It was admitted that the First Lord of the Admiralty was answerable for the guns supplied to the navy. Why did not the noble Duke (the Duke of Somerset) take the responsibility upon himself instead of throwing it upon the Ordnance Select Committee? The noble Duke was well aware of the requirements of navy guns, which greatly differed from those used on land. There were three requirements for a naval gun—simplicity, facilities for loading, and the power of using round spherical projectiles in addition to the projectile appropriate to the gun. They might have had a gun embracing all these requirements, but the proposal was not listened to by the Ordnance Select Committee. The first Lord of the Admiralty was a man of ability and great experience—he had a knowledge of the subject, and he was surrounded by the ablest advisers at the Admiralty—men much more able than the members of the Ordnance Select Committee. Above all, the First Lord was unprejudiced. Why should not the Duke of Somerset take this question into his own hand, and decide upon the rifling as well as the description of gun required by the navy? If he would do so, he (Mr. Baillie) felt persuaded that he would not only give satisfaction to the service, but also to the people of this country, who had so long and so patiently waited for the Ordnance Select Committee to make up their minds, when it was known that it was absolutely necessary that some good gun should be obtained.


said, he had taken the liberty a few weeks ago of asking the noble Lord the Under Secretary for War whether the trial between the French gun and the shunt gun had been made under circumstances favourable to a fair comparison. The noble Lord replied that such questions were very inconvenient, and that he (Mr. Peacocke) ought to take an early opportunity of stating what ground existed for any suspicion of unfairness on the part of the Ordnance Select Committee. His hon. Friend (Mr. Baillie) had relieved him from the necessity of going further into the matter; but he would now give the noble Lord precise reasons for believing that the comparison had not been fairly conducted. The shunt gun was placed on a fixed iron platform; the French gun on an elastic if not rackety wooden one. The shunt gun was given at the muzzle just one-half the windage given to the French gun. Lastly, the bore of the shunt gun was tapered, while that of the French gun was cylindrical throughout its length. He thought that unless the noble Lord was prepared to controvert these statements the House would admit that he had been justified in asking the question of which the noble Lord had complained. The best proof of the fact that some of the members of the Ordnance Select Committee were inventors was one of their own rules, which set forth that members of the Committee should not sit upon their own inventions. This showed that a great departure had taken place from the principle upon which the Committee had been nominated, because the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huntingdon, when he appointed the Committee, stated that one of the fundamental principles of its action would be that no Member of the Committee should himself be an inventor.