HC Deb 18 February 1867 vol 185 cc476-8

wished to put a Question to the First Lord of the Admiralty respecting the invention by Commander Sayer of a folding life-boat which had been brought under the notice of that Department. Commander Sayer was a naval officer of some experience, who, many years ago, was much struck by the too frequent loss of life from shipwreck or fire at sea, in consequence of the insufficient number of boats carried by vessels. Actuated by no hope of pecuniary benefit to himself, but solely by the humane and laudable desire of mitigating the severity of future disasters at sea, he had devoted much attention to the subject. The result was, that after some expenditure of time and money, he had invented a life-boat, in the construction of which, such was the economy of space, that in the space usually occupied by one ships' boat, a sufficient number of these boats could be stowed away to hold from 800 to 1,000 persons in case of emergency. It would be presumptuous in him to pass any opinion on the merits of the boat; but when Commander Sayer requested him, as his representative, to bring the invention under the notice of the proper authorities, it was his duty so to do. The invention had been submitted to the late Board of Admiralty, of which Lord Clarence Paget was then Secretary, but the reception it met with was not very favourable. The boat was tried at Portsmouth in fine weather, but was not sufficiently tested in rough weather, and Commander Sayer, being satisfied with the result of private trials, became dissatisfied with the conduct of the Admiralty. He consulted him (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) again, and, by his advice, sought the opinions of naval officers independent of the Govern- ment. Amongst others, he took counsel and advice with the hon. Baronet opposite, the Member for Stamford (Sir John Hay), who brought his great professional skill to bear on the subject, and after, doubtless, due consideration, thus wrote to the inventor— You should compel Mr. Hugessen and Lord Clarence Paget to give you proper support. Tell them I say so. It is the business of them both to see that so useful an invention is not lost to the country. In answer to a Question put to him on the subject in that House in 1865, Lord Clarence Paget, then Secretary of the Admiralty, said that though the invention was ingenious, and one that might be useful in time of war, yet it was not then thought expedient to make further experiments with it. Fortified by the opinion of the hon. Baronet, Commander Sayer became more than ever discontented with the conduct of the Admiralty and at the General Election in 1865 he withdrew his support in county and borough from all candidates, with the exception of him (Mr. Knatchbull Hugessen), who had formed the late Administration. But let the House mark the sequel. Within the brief space of one year the changes and chances of political warfare drove from office those reckless despisers of inventive genius, and hope again dawned on Commander Sayer when he saw the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir John Pakington) again engaged in the congenial task of re-constructing the navy, and seated by his side at the Board that very individual who had pronounced this invention too valuable to be lost to the country. Hope dawned again on Commander Snyer—but alas for the instability of human expectation! He sent his plans and models to the new Board of Admiralty; but they were returned to him with a note from the hon. and gallant Admiral opposite (Sir John Hay)—and this was the "unkindest cut of all"—saying, that however ingenious the invention might be, the Admiralty were not prepared to adopt it for the navy. He must add that Commander Sayer attributed the refusal to his declining to have any personal communication with the Controller of the Navy, by whom he complained of having been treated with great incivility at a former interview. With that he (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) had nothing to do. He only knew that the models had been some weeks at the Admiralty, and the hon. Baronet would never have given the opinion which he had read to the House unless he had mastered the invention, so as to be fully able to explain to the Controller, or anyone else, that which he averred to be too useful to be lost to the country. He would respectfully suggest to the right hon. Baronet that, whereas of late years they had spent enormous sums in bringing to perfection instruments for the destruction of human life, when the question concerned an invention for saving that life, it surely would not tarnish the lustre of the right hon. Baronet's Administration if to such an invention he gave some consideration and some encouragement. He wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman, What communications had taken place between the Admiralty and Commander Sayer on that subject?


said, that the invention in question, whatever its merits, was of so simple and small a character that it was only through the partial views of the hon. Gentleman that it could be connected with the re-construction of the navy, towards which it would go but a very little way. He remembered that Commander Sayer had brought the subject under his notice in the lobby of the House some time since; and soon after he had the honour of holding his present office, Commander Sayer submitted his invention to the present Board of Admiralty, which took the course that was always followed when such inventions were brought before them—namely, referred them to the departments with which such matters were connected. The Board were desirous of giving a fair trial to his invention, and they directed that it should be considered by the Controller of the Navy. When the notice of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) appeared on the paper, he made inquiries, and the answer he received was that Commander Sayer had had some personal difference with the Controller of the Navy, and was so much offended with that gentleman that he would not consent to his examining into his invention. They were perfectly ready to give a fair trial to the invention; but if Commander Sayer persisted in his unfortunate objection to have any connection with the officer who was the proper person to deal with the matter, it was to be feared that the subject must remain in abeyance for some time.