HC Deb 26 July 1869 vol 198 cc706-8

said, he rose to draw attention to the practice of sending Naval Officers out to India via the Red Sea during the summer months, when the heat is so intense that it has been determined that Her Majesty's Military Forces shall not be subjected to it. In accordance with the recommendations of the Committee which sat in 1858, a service of magnificent transports had been established for the purpose of conveying our troops to India by the Red Sea route. That sea was 1,240 miles long, was of immense depth, and throughout the greater part of its length it ran between inaccessible mountains. He need scarcely say that the heat of this trough in the summer was almost unbearable. To make matters worse, the wind for nine months in the year blew down towards the ocean, and the result was that a vessel starting from Suez, keeping pace with the wind, found herself in a calm without having a single breath of air to blow the smoke from her deck, while the heat on her deck was usually 100 deg. From continual evaporation the density of the water in the sea was one-fourth more than that of the ocean, and consequently the speed of the vessels was impeded to a considerable extent, while the heat of the surface water was usually 3 deg. above that of the atmosphere, varying, according to Captain Engledue, who had been in the service of the Peninsular and Oriental Company, from 80 deg. to 106 deg. of heat. As might be imagined, the mortality attending a six days' voyage along this sea was very great, especially during the months of June, July, August, and September. In August, 1863, eight persons were struck down in this sea by apoplexy, of whom three died. Anyone who ordered an officer to go this voyage during those months incurred a very grave responsibility, which he should be sorry to take upon himself. An hon. Member of that House, who was connected with a large commercial firm in India, had authorized him to say that no mercantile firm in India would send out an assistant in those months, except upon the greatest possible emergency. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would take the matter into his earnest consideration, and endeavour to follow, as regarded the naval officers, the course that had been already taken with respect to the officers of the Army. He had no personal acquaintance with Sir Henry Kellett, and he had only brought the question forward in the general interests of the Navy.


said, that he had himself been three times through the Red Sea in the hot season, and once in the month of August, and he could, therefore testify to the accuracy of his hon. Friend's statement. The interesting remarks of his hon. Friend as to the density of the water of the Red Sea should, however, have been addressed to the Peninsular and Oriental Company rather than to any Member of the Government, inasmuch as the Government had no ships in the Red Sea at the present season of the year, while the Peninsular and Oriental Company had one each way in it every week. He had to inform his hon. Friend that no such practice as that of sending naval officers out to India via the. Red Sea during the summer months prevailed at the Admiralty. The custom of the Admiralty was to send naval officers out to China both in the summer and the winter months, by the long sea route. Three-fourths of the officers sent out during the last year had gone by that route. The Government transport ships between this country and India did not run in the summer months, but only during the eight cooler months, and as it was easy to manage that the reliefs should be sent out in these latter months, the Government avoided as much as possible sending out either officers or men during the four summer months. Directions had been sent to India that the authorities there should, as far as possible, avoid sending home men in the hot months. But when his hon. Friend asked him to give a pledge that under no circumstances whatever should an officer be sent by the Red Sea in the summer months he must decline to give any such pledge. It had been arranged that Sir Henry Kellett should go out by the Red Sea route and meet Sir Henry Keppel at Singapore. A departure from that arrangement would nave led to much inconvenience. During the last twenty years it had been the invariable custom for the officer appointed to Sir Henry Kellett's command to go by the Red Sea route.