HC Deb 28 April 1871 vol 205 cc1872-910

rose to call attention to the Report on the Martini-Henry Rifle, and to move that— A Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the merits of the Martini-Henry Rifle, particularly as to its lock arrangement and mode of stocking; and whether it is the most suitable rifle as compared with others now manufactured to arm our troops with. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said, he brought this question before hon. Members with the full intention of dividing the House upon it, and without the least prejudice in favour of any other invention than that brought forward by the Government, and, as the House would readily believe, with no other interest, with no other view, than that of endeavouring to show that this weapon, which the Government wished to place in the hands of our soldiers and of our Reserve forces, was not the best weapon that could be placed in their hands. He could not believe that any Government, especially the present Government, though they had done many curious things, would attempt in such an important question as this was, at the expense of the ratepayers of this country, to place in the hands of our soldiers and of our Reserve forces a weapon which was not the best. The task he had undertaken was, doubtless, a difficult one. He knew he should have the full power of the Government against him, though he thought from what had just occurred in the House the power of the Government was not so strong as it appeared to be some short time before. He had no feeling against the Committee that reported on the Martini-Henry rifle; on the contrary, he was in favour of it. He believed that the gallant officer who presided over that Committee was a man above all suspicion, a man that would act only in the best interests of his country. And as regarded the other Members of the Committee they were equally honourable; but there was yet another name he had to mention—that of his noble Friend (Lord Elcho) who sat below him, and who joined the Committee last year, and who, though he was at the time prejudiced against the very arm which he now recommended as the best, would no doubt state to the House what made him change his opi- nion on the subject. Having said so much for the Committee, he must now say that, with regard to the position of the Government in this matter, if the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War had paid a little more attention to remarks that were made by the Prime Minister, we should not now be in our present state. On the 12th of October, 1868, the Prime Minister said at Warrington— You have heard much about our troops having been badly armed before, and being well armed now. Why, for the last 15 years we have been doing nothing but arming and re-arming, and building and re-building. Thinking we had found a better method of building ships, thinking we had found a better method of constructing guns or small arms, we rushed with precipitate haste to a wholesale execution of the idea of the moment, and before the idea of the moment had been fully embodied, at vast public expenditure, some superior inventions were brought forward and the whole thing had to be done over again. What is the lesson of common sense under these circumstances? It is this—to proceed with moderation. Of course, when you know of better arms and better ships you must get them; but do not throw yourselves into a fever for the purpose. He cordially agreed with the right hon. Gentleman in those views; but what was the lesson which common sense taught under such circumstances, and what course had the Secretary for War pursued? That right hon. Gentleman having informed the House that we were in a most efficient state, and fit to go to war anywhere, having told us that we had 300,000 breech-loaders in store—of which he (Colonel Barttelot) believed 200,000 were abroad—set to work to convert the Enfield rifle into a Snider breech-loader, and he had armed our troops and our Reserve forces with that arm, which was superior to any arm known on the Continent. We were now, however, asked to supply money for the most costly arm that had ever been introduced into the service, and he would undertake to say that the right hon. Gentleman did not know at this moment whether it was the best. In answer to the Question, why he was in such a hurry on this matter, the right hon. Gentleman said to him (Colonel Barttelot)— My predecessor appointed a most competent Committee to examine the question what rifle should be adopted. About the time of my accession to office, that Committee reported in favour of the Martini-Henry. I referred the Report to the Ordnance Council, and, under their advice, the weapon has been tried by the troops in hot and cold climates, at home and abroad. The Reports from the different regiments have been laid upon the Table of the House, and are eminently satisfactory. I have re-appointed the Committee, under the same Chairman—Colonel Fletcher—with some new members, to consider those Reports, and the final Report of that Committee has been laid upon the Table also. Sufficient inquiry in a matter of so much importance is an excellent thing; but there is a point at which, if the Army is to be armed at all with the improved weapon, inquiry must terminate and action must commence. The present case is, in my opinion, one for decision, and not for further and probable indefinite inquiry. The impression left upon the minds of all was that the right hon. Gentleman, without intending anything actually discourteous in his answer—of which he (Colonel Barttelot) was perfectly assured—was so fully determined to arm the soldiers with this weapon that he would listen to no reasons for delay, and would not farther discuss the question. Having shown that the men were well armed at the present moment, he had another accusation to make against the right hon. Gentleman—namely, that this weapon having been accepted by the Committee in 1869, from that time to the present all other rifles had been shut out from competing with it. In reply to a Question he put, the right hon. Gentleman said that Ms only desire was that the best possible weapon should be ultimately adopted; and, in answer to another hon. Member, he had stated that no limitation whatever had been placed upon the powers of the Committee to examine other arms. These terms were too vague to be employed by a Minister with reference to matters of this importance, and it would have been far more satisfactory had the right hon. Gentleman distinctly stated whether or not private manufacturers, who had been labouring for years to produce a perfect weapon, and who were peculiarly qualified for the purpose, were to be allowed to compete with the Government factories. He was prepared to maintain that the private manufacturers had been totally and entirely excluded from such competition; and, moreover, that it had been found necessary to patch up and alter every portion of the Martini - Henry rifle, adopted in 1868–9, before it could be rendered fit to be introduced into the service. So great had been the alteration in the lock and other parts of that weapon, that it was thought that it would be necessary to alter the manual and platoon exercises before the rifle could be served out to the troops. He had it upon the best authority that all these alterations and mutilations had been made at the Enfield Factory at the expense of the nation. He, however, wished to lay it down as a broad prinple that the whole of these weapons ought not to be manufactured at Enfield, without giving private manufacturers and others out-of-doors an opportunity of competing with the Government. It was not too late, even now, to make the alteration; and he asked the right hon. Gentleman to issue a notice to the effect, that the trade would be allowed to compete with the Government weapon. He suggested that 100 rifles of different descriptions should be manufactured by the trade, and sent down to the troops at Aldershot to be tested by them against the Martini-Henry rifle. His only object in making this proposal was, that the best weapon should be placed in the hands of the soldiers, and if the Martini-Henry rifle maintained its character as the best rifle, he should be the first to express approbation of it. His belief at present, however, was that it was not only not the best, but that it was of such a complicated and delicate construction that it would not bear the test of campaigning. If such should prove to be the case, how great was the responsibility which rested on the right hon. Gentleman. It was not because a weapon shot the best under ordinary circumstances that it was the best for the service. The rifle that ought to be selected for arming the troops was one of simple construction, which under the most adverse circumstances would not get out of order, and which, if it should get out of order, could be repaired with the greatest facility; and if the Martini-Henry rifle answered to those qualifications, he (Colonel Barttelot) would have no more to say on the matter. Now, the adoption of this weapon would involve an expenditure of between £3,000,000 and £4,000,000, and he should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, if he carried his point, how rapidly he proposed to arm the troops with it. If the process were to be commenced at once, it would involve an additional expenditure upon the Army for the present year of £500,000, and he should like to know how the Government intended to meet the extra drain upon the finances of the country. He further contended that when any Committee was appointed to inquire into the relative value of weapons, the War Office had no right to make that Committee both a judicial and constructive Committee. The House was aware of the enormous sums which had been expended for the last 10 years upon the trials of various weapons, and from a Return which he had obtained—and in moving for which, he had fully described what he wanted, but what he had given to him was only the rewards given to inventors, and, moreover, was of a most meagre character—he found that £232,227 had been given as rewards to inventors of ordnance, and £8,124 to inventors of small arms. Those sums, however, did not include the cost of the experiments entered into to try the value of these different arms, which had amounted to an enormous sum. For instance, no less than £1,000,000 had been expended upon the 4 - ton 7 - inch Armstrong gun for the Navy, which they had heard so much of, and which, after all, had been condemned; and yet the country was now to be called upon to sanction an expenditure of £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 upon a weapon the value of which was, at all events, doubtful. He must again say that before they went into the construction of the Martini-Henry rifle, they ought to be sure they had selected the best weapon procurable by either skill or money. He took three objections against the Martini - Henry rifle. In the first place, he objected to the short Martini-Henry rifle with a sword-bayonet, because he regarded the sword-bayonet as being a most unwieldly weapon, which could not be rapidly fixed on an emergency, and would interfere with the men using their rifles with effect. The result of the encounter between the French and the Prussians at Spicheren was decisive against the sword-bayonet, and proved the fact; for, whereas the latter moved with case with their light bayonet, which they fixed in ascending the hill, the former threw away their sword-bayonets when they ran away. His noble Friend (Lord Elcho)had invented a saw-backed sword-bayonet, and he (Colonel Barttelot) gave him credit for it, for there was no doubt that it was better than the one with which some regiments of our Army were at present armed. But what was the sword bayonet to do? If men were accustomed to chop and saw wood with their sword-bayonets, as had been said to be the case, they would end by roasting geese upon the barrels of their rifles. He further objected to the short rifle, as two ranks of men could not fire with it while the front rank stood upright, and nothing was more difficult than to get the front rank, who found themselves sheltered when kneeling, to stand up again. It might be all well enough to arm one or two regiments with the sword-bayonet, such as the Rifle Brigade and the 60th Regiment, but it would not do to place it in the hands of the whole Army. His second and next objection was to the spiral spring in the lock, and to the method adopted for the purpose of raising the "falling block." He should go but very shortly into this part of the subject, as his hon. Friend the Member for Bolton (Mr. Hick), who was well known as a mechanician, would deal with it by-and-by more effectively than he could hope to do, although he must say the opinions in the Blue Book were entirely against the efficiency of the mechanism employed. In regard to the spiral spring, if they looked through the Reports, they would find that when those arms were issued in some places not fewer than 80 per cent of miss-fires occurred. Could it be said that an arm liable to such a percentage of mis-fires was fit to be placed in the hands of our soldiers? [Lord ELCHO: There is a reason for it.] No doubt there must be; but they had to look not to fair weather times, nor to ordinary rifle - shooting matches and the like, when they could do as they pleased with their arm, but to times of emergency and of actual warfare; and to see that that arm did not got out of order, or, if it did, that it could be repaired in the easiest and speediest possible manner. The hon. and gallant Member then quoted the evidence of one of the witnesses—Mr. Davidson—to the effect that the spiral spring in the lock was not the best form of what was at best an uncertain agent, and that the coil spring would be more likely to be effective than the lever. When gentlemen received a fee of 50 guineas—for that was the sum paid to those witnesses—although he admitted that they were men above all suspicion, yet they would naturally be more inclined to advocate one side of the question than the other if they possibly could. He had, however, got the opinions of some authorities, which he confessed weighed with his mind very much in regard to the Martini-Henry rifle. He had the opinions of Mr. Ramsbottom, chief engineer of the London and North-Western Railway; of Mr. C. W. Baker, civil engineer; of Mr. Greenwood, of Leeds; of Mr. John Penn, of Greenwich; of Mr. Robinson, of the Atlas Works, Manchester, and other eminent gentlemen, who one and all condemned the spiral spring and lock arrangement of the Martini-Henry. The opinions of these authorities were equal in weight to those contained in that Report, and surely when they had such a conflict of opinion on the subject, they ought not to adopt an arm which might fail at the very time they most needed it. He hoped, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman would give way, and that he would grant the Committee which was now asked for. Moreover, this matter was discussed by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers at Birmingham, on the 27th instant, Mr. Ramsbottom in the chair; all the rival guns were taken into consideration, and in the conclusion arrived at by that body, it was stated that the details of the lock action in the Martini-Henry involved serious mechanical defects, which, however, might be corrected by employing the ordinary principle of construction in gun-lock action that had been confirmed by long experience; and that this could be effected without any detriment to the principle of closing the breech, while very decided advantages might be gained in respect to other points. That was the opinion of a body whose authority the right hon. Gentleman opposite would not impugn; and if they were so unanimous that there were some defects in the lock apparatus of that rifle, surely he was not asking too much if he again said that he hoped the House would grant him a Committee to inquire into the subject. His third and last objection was, as to the mode of stocking, which in the case of the Martini-Henry rifle was faulty. The stock being screwed on in an extraordinary way, if it got bent it could not be taken out and replaced with the requisite facility as it could be in the ordinary stock at present in use; but it would have to be sawed in two in order to repair any defect occurring in it. He had asked the opinion of a vast number of officers, and they all said that, although that rifle shot well, its mechanism was too complicated for a private soldier. It had been rather difficult to obtain information on the point of merit in shooting; for although there were some rifles sent down to Aldershot, he was sorry to say they were only of one pattern; but when they were sent down the Martini-Henry was being tried at Aldershot, and accordingly these rifles were put into competition with that arm. With regard to their respective merits, he had received two letters which he had permission to use—the one from Sir James Yorke Scarlett, and the other from Major General Lysons. The first letter—from Sir James Yorke Scarlett—had reference to the Westley-Richards rifle. [Mr. CARDWELL: Hear, hear!] The right hon. Gentleman cheered; but he was sorry to be obliged to make use of those letters and of Mr. Richards' name, because, without meaning anything offensive, he thought the right hon. Gentleman had formed a strong prejudice against that arm. The letter of Sir James Yorke Scarlett was as follows:— I have much pleasure in sending you the report made to me by Major General Lysons, whom I requested to try in every possible way the rifle you submitted to me. As far as my own judgment is worth anything, I like your arm better than any I have seen. It is handy and strong, and the mechanism of the lock and block arrangement most simple and easily worked. The bayonet fits admirably, and is a very serviceable weapon. The shooting as to accuracy, trajectory and distance being given, I do not think any better weapon could be placed in a soldier's hands. The only suggestion I have to make is that in the arm now before me the cartridge extractor does not seem to work with sufficient power; if the metal by any chance was to be split in the explosion and stick in the breech, though it throws back so easily now, it might be more difficult of extraction. This, I conclude, could be easily remedied. The index on the lock-plate is easily worked, and adds much to security from accident when the gun is loaded. The report of Major General Lysons, enclosed, said, that the writer had during the summer tried the Westley-Richards rifles which had been sent to him by Sir James Yorke Scarlett's orders, and had submitted them to every sort of practical test. General Lysons reported in the most satisfactory terms of this arm in respect of breech-action, arrangement and make, bayonet, the pull-off miss-fires, cartridge, and bolt arrangement. At any rate, whether the Com- mittee were granted or withheld by the Government, or whether they took the broad ground, and allowed these other arms to be tried at Aldershot, as he thought they should be tried, the country would have an opportunity of judging for themselves on this matter. He was biassed by no wish whatever, as he was actuated by no interest beyond that of seeing our soldiers armed with the very best weapon available; and so he confidently commended his Motion to the House as one to which, as being reasonable, the Government should assent. The hon. and gallant Member concluded by moving his Amendment.


in seconding the Motion, said, he disclaimed any intention of acting in any antagonism to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War or anyone else on this question. His only object was in accordance with that of the right hon. Gentleman—namely, to obtain the best weapon wherewith to arm our troops. He was quite aware of what he had done to effect that object, but he thought he should be able to show that further inquiry was not only desirable but necessary. He approached this subject with great diffidence, because any man attempting to re-open a question apparently settled incurred serious responsibility; but, at the same time, a still graver responsibility would be incurred by those who withheld the expression of the opinion they held as to the defects of the Martini-Henry rifle, as to which there had, he thought, existed considerable misapprehension. The Reports laid on the Table of the House dealt only with the Snider and Martini-Henry rifles, many other rifles—such as the Westley-Richards, the Henry, the Soper, and the Remington—being left unnoticed. He thought it entirely wrong to speak of one rifle as the Martini-Henry, because what was so called consisted of the Martini stock and lock and the Henry rifled barrel. They might as well speak of the Westley-Richards-Henry, or the Soper-Henry, or the Remington-Henry, because the same barrel could be used to any of the locks. This being so, he would put this incontrovertible proposition—given the same barrel, and the same ammunition, in the same hands, and there would be the same penetration and the same accuracy, and consequently he would leave the barrel and ammunition out of the question, and reduce the matter to the Martini lock. The Martini lock would never have attained the position it now held if it had been connected with a barrel inferior to what it had; not that he regarded that barrel as by any means the best, for he believed that it was not so good as the Whitworth barrel, which he was sorry had been so much ignored in consideration of this question. The hon. Member said he would briefy describe the different rifles now before the public; and that he could do plainly enough if he had been able to place before them drawings, diagrams, and models; but as their rules did not permit him to turn the House of Commons into a lecture-room he could only attempt to impart by verbal explanation the knowledge he wished to impart. Having accordingly explained the peculiarities of the several rifles referred to the hon. Member proceeded to say—In the opinion of all practical gunsmiths the flat main-spring was incapable of improvement; at least, it was very undesirable to replace or alter it. The defects in the Martini rifle were—first, the spiral main-spring, which consisted of nine coils placed in a cylindrical cavity in the breech-block, and made to act upon a piston or striker placed in the coil. The spring had an initial velocity of 40 lbs. or upwards. The action was that of a short stiff spring moving through a small space, and was more of a push than a blow. This mode of ignition in connection with this spiral spring was, he thought, open to many objections also. To ignite a cap, a sharp, smart, but not heavy blow was required. The consequence was a liability to miss fire, which it was sought to overcome by introducing a stronger spring; but with what effect? By throwing an increased weight on the lever it was almost impossible to make it go along. To facilitate its movement the tumbler of the lock was bevelled, the result of which was that the act of grounding arms was now frequently sufficient to send the rifle off. The second defect was having the lever so near the centre in which it moved that any wear which might occur was multiplied at least seven times at the other end, so that in a short time the block would cease to be raised to the right point, and then miss-fires would frequently occur; to add to this, it would be almost impossible to get the cartridge home. Another cardinal defect was the liability to rust, and the effect of rust on the coils. The witnesses examined before the Committee stated that the spiral spring was more liable to break than the flat spring, and that the spring was the weak part of the arm; and altogether the statements made on this head were strong and startling. It appeared that the springs became weak at the close of the experiments, and that out of 377 miss-fires, 349 were due to the arm and 28 to the cartridges. Then as regards the stocking—it was said that the mode adopted was very convenient, and ensured sufficient firmness for all practical purposes. To that he (Mr. Hick) entirely demurred, for he concluded that a very slight blow laterally would bend the stock from its true position, and with it the screw, which it would then be impossible to withdraw, and the rifle would consequently be rendered useless. It was of the utmost importance that rifles should have a uniform pull, but the pull of this rifle was stated to be irregular, requiring sometimes a heavy and sometimes a light pressure. The pull of the Martini was a straight pull in the direction of the shoulder, whereas in most other rifles the pull was a simple pressure of the finger and a corresponding pressure above with the thumb. Several witnesses spoke to the liability of the Martini to disablement by rust; and there was also evidence of excessive recoil, which, it was said, would give a man a blow on the nose and put him off the firing. [The hon. Member read numerous extracts from the evidence published with the Report.] With all this weight of evidence, he thought they were fully justified in asking for a Committee to inquire into this matter. It might be, and it ought to be, possible to say a great deal in favour of the rifle; else why had it been adopted? But that was scarcely the point at issue; the question was, whether there was any rifle superior to, and not possessing any of the disadvantages of the Martini-Henry rifle; and he believed he had, at all events, made out a case for further inquiry, and that sufficient had been stated to justify the appointment of a Select Committee. While refraining from expressing his opinion as to which was the best rifle, he had no hesitation in saying that, in regard to the points he had named, the Martini-Henry rifle was the worst.

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 merits of the Martini-Henry Rifle, particularly as to its lock arrangement and mode of stocking; and whether it is the most suitable rifle as compared with others now manufactured to arm our troops with,"—(Colonel Barttelot,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


having been a member of the Committee whose Report was under consideration, and which had been so extensively and minutely criticized, believed it was the wish of the Secretary of State that he should at once, on behalf of that Committee, offer a few remaks to the House. This he should do most readily, as he was anxious to justify the recommendations to which he had attached his name. Being aware of the strong common sense which his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Sussex (Colonel Barttelot) always so clearly expressed, he had looked forward to his speech with curiosity, though not with alarm. Many years ago he heard the late Mr. Hume remark of some hon. Member, that he was the greatest "allegater" in the House, and he (Lord Elcho) thought his hon. and gallant Friend would in some sort come under that remark, for his hon. and gallant Friend had made a number of allegations which he had wholly failed to subtantiate. He stated that the rifle would not do this or that; and that it had been so altered and transmogrified that its own parents would not be able to recognize it—indeed, his hon. and gallant Friend went on "allegating" in this way to a great extent, but did not give the House documentary proof of any sort whatever. On the other hand, no one could complain in this respect of the hon. Seconder of the Motion, who had displayed much ingenuity and industry in accumulating documentary evidence—indeed, the hon. Gentleman had handled the subject in a most clear and scientific manner. But how did he preface his remarks? He expressed a wish that he could produce diagrams, drawings, and sections, in order to render the subject more intelligible; but this he was unable to do, because the House of Commons was not a lecture-room. He (Lord Elcho) himself also regretted immensely that diagrams could not be exhibited; but, surely, the circumstance showed that a discussion of this nature was not a fitting one for the House of Commons. A chance vote might be given one way or the other; but such a question could not be satisfactorily discussed here in any matter connected with its technical details. He would cite a case in point. After the question of a survey of Scotland had been carefully inquired into by Committees and numerous scientific men, the Report which was drawn up did not satisfy an hon. Member of this House, who procured its rejection; and if a deputation on the subject had not gone to "another place," and got a Commission appointed, there would have been no great cadastral survey of Scotland. He denied that the House of Commons was a proper arena for the discussion of technical questions of this kind, and must say of the manner and extent in which the subject-matter in dispute had been entered into, that probably no technical question had undergone a more protracted and searching investigation than this of the Martini-Henry rifle. He believed the result was thoroughly satisfactory, and that the Report of the Committee rested on grounds which could not be shaken by quoting the opinions of one engineer against another, or by selecting passages from Reports concerning rust and miss-fires. It had been said that if you put an Irishman on a spit you would always find another Irishman ready to turn him; and, in the same way, engineers were always ready to contradict the opinions of their professional brethren. His hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Barttelot) told the House that his object was to get the best rifle; but surely this was the object sought by everybody. At all events, this was the object which the Committee endeavoured to attain. The hon. and gallant Gentleman patted the Committee on the back, but fell foul of the Secretary of State for having gone on manufacturing Sniders, instead of adopting the Martini-Henry rifle. The right hon. Gentleman, however, was obliged to do so, because the store of arms was so low that it was absolutely necessary to procure a fresh supply of rifles, and it would have been most imprudent to have ordered the stoppage of the manufacture of Sniders, and the alteration of all the machinery at Woolwich, in order to manufacture a rifle on which the Committee had not at that time finally reported. The House ought to understand that the Committee had gone to the very root of the matter. It originated under these circumstances. Our country was far behind the rest of the world in regard to breech-loaders. Prussia having used breech-loading arms to suppress the revolutionary movement of 1848; but it was not till 1866 that steps were taken to supply our Army with a breech-loading weapon. In that year General Peel, then Secretary for War, offered three prizes: one of £1,000, for the best combination of qualties in a military rifle; another of £600 for the best breech-loading arrangement; and a third of £400 for the best ammunition. An invitation was sent to a number of gun-makers, and 105 responded to it. In March, 1867, a Committee was appointed, consisting of Lieutenant Colonel Fletcher (President), Captain Rawlins, Captain Mackinnon, Earl Spencer, Mr. Edward Ross, and Captain Hay, of the Royal Artillery, who was secretary. This Committee reported in 1869, when it issued five Reports of different descriptions, and its course of procedure was as follows:—Out of the 105 arms sent in, 37 were selected as having complied with the terms of the competition; but with regard to ammunition, the terms had been complied with by one person only—Mr. Daw. Out of the 37 arms they selected nine, and six of each of these nine kinds of arms were ordered to be supplied, together with 1,000 rounds of ammunition. These were tested; the result being that the Committee awarded the second prize to Mr. Henry, while Mr. Daw took off the third prize of £400 for the only ammunition sent in. It might appear strange that the Martini-Henry rifle, which was one of the selected arms, did not obtain a prize in the first award, but the simple reason was that the ammunition was very faulty. The powers of the Committee were then extended, so as to enable them to examine and report upon the best arm for the service. This they proceeded to do, having first reported unfavourably of repeating rifles and compressed powder. From 64 arms sent in, the Committee first selected 10, which they divided into two categories—namely, bolt-rifles and block-rifles—and then, having examined them and tried them further, they adopted the first-named variety, and decided finally in favour of a weapon which was a combination of the Henry barrel with the Martini breech. The Report of the Committee, drawn up in 1869, two years after its first appointment, having been endorsed by the Ordnance Council, according to the customary regulation on the subject, six rifles, made by hand on the model which had been supplied, were sent to Canada, India, Dublin, and elsewhere, to be tested and reported on. Other 200 similar rifles, made by machinery, were afterwards sent out to be tried. This completed the first great division of the question. Immediately after this two minor Committees were appointed, one consisting of military members of the original body, to consider such questions as those of bayonets, muzzle-stoppers, and the rest, and the other to report upon the powder best to be used, and other similar questions. He now came to the second branch of the question—the period at which he himself individually had any connection with it, and that was when the second Committee was appointed in May, 1869. With the 200 arms which had been sent to all parts of the world were sent out 20 questions to be answered by the regiments and persons to whom the arms were forwarded. Reports came in gradually, and he quite admitted that it did appear from these Reports that the arm had not been satisfactory. The Secretary for War in 1869, proceeding anxiously and steadily, as he was bound to do, appointed this second Committee to collect these Reports, tabulate them, consider them, and advise on the whole question. The Committee went very carefully into the Reports, and the result was a Report drawn up in July upon long-action arms. It appeared to the Committee that there had been miss-fires, but it arose from the fact that whereas the Henry-Martini had a spring with a striking power of 40, these arms had been sent out with a striking power of 26 only. Stronger springs were then substituted, and, as a result, miss-fires had practically ceased. The ordinary soldier pull was 6 lbs.; for fine shooting with a small-bore it was fixed at 3 lbs. and the pull of the Martini-Henry had been reduced to 3 lbs. The hon. Gentleman who seconded the Motion before the House, held that a proper "pull off" could not be obtained with the stronger spring, but he did not know at what the hon. Gentleman estimated the "pull off" with such a spring would be.


explained that he had stated the amount of pull would reach 12 lbs. to 14 lbs.


said, he had shot with one of these rifles, and the pull did not amount to anything like what the hon. Member had stated. As Chairman of the National Rifle Association, he was naturally anxious to obtain one rifle instead of many, and he made inquiries with a view of ascertaining whether, for finer or small-bore shooting, in which they required a pull of not more than 3 lbs., such a result could be obtained with the description of spiral spring that had been resorted to in order to prevent miss-fires. The question was submitted to Mr. Perry, of the Small Arms Factory at Enfield, a most intelligent working man, to whose opinion he hoped the House would attach due weight, and Mr. Perry in his reply stated that a "pull off" of 3 lbs. could be obtained with perfect safety, by a very slight modification of the spring, and without interfering with its principle. The Committee, in accordance with the decision it had formed upon its consideration of the subject, then recommended the issue of 22 short-actioned arms to troops in different parts of the country. The difference between short and long-actioned rifles was that they were constructed in the breech for using short and long cartridges respectively, and in addition to other advantages possessed by the short-breech action it was thought that it gave a neater and lighter rifle. These rifles having been tried and returned with the Reports, the Committee reported in the strongest terms in favour of the weapon with the short-breech action. This was not, however, the final Report of the Committee, for proceeding cautiously and steadily they were at length able to obtain a Martini-Henry weighing 8 lbs. 7 oz. instead of 9 lbs. 7 oz., the original weight, which was a great advantage, because it enabled a soldier to carry a larger quantity of ammunition with the same aggregate weight. ["Hear, hear!"] His hon. Friend opposite cheered that statement; but he (Lord Elcho) maintained that a more handy or better shooting rifle than the one in favour of which the Committee finally reported had never been seen. Having thus stated the course that the Committee had pursued, with the result that had flowed from it, he now proposed to deal with the objections that had been taken to the weapon by the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Barttelot) and by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hick) who had seconded his Motion. Their first objection was to the sword-bayonet; but if the hon. and gallant Gentleman was of opinion that a simple bayonet, which could be used for no other purpose than thrusting, was the best form of that weapon, and that the sword-bayonet on a rifle ought not to be used in a military point of view, on the other hand, Lord Sandhurst had warmly approved the new sword-bayonet, and had pronounced it to be a great and important improvement in the equipment of the British soldier. The Report of the Committee rested upon the practical experience of the new arm of regiments and officers in all parts of the world, which he thought was a sound and secure basis. The hon. and gallant Gentleman had laid great stress upon the opinions of two officers whose letters he had read to the House; but the Committee had had before them the opinions of no less than 90 officers, all of which were summarized and reported on by the Committee, and contained in the book which he now held in his hand. The hon. and gallant Gentleman had further stated this weapon to be of such a delicate and complicated construction that it was utterly unfit for a soldier's arm, and he had stated that the spiral spring was defective, rusted easily, and would not work. But what were the reports which had been received on this subject from India—a country whose warm, moist climate was calculated to test the durability of the weapon and its power of resisting injury to the utmost—thereby showing the opinion of soldiers upon the matter, a jury in whom he was perfectly ready to risk the practical issue of the question? From every quarter in that country reports had been received to the effect that, when the spiral spring had become stiff from the action of rust owing to the want of oil, by opening and closing the breech a few times the freedom of its action was restored. He should like to know whether the same could be said of flat or any other description of springs. It was further stated that, with regard to accuracy, the rapidity of the bullet's flight, and consequent flatness of the trajectory, simplicity of the breech mechanism, and extreme non-liability to get out of order, it was unrivalled, and that compared with it on all these points the Snider was a mere toy. The miss-fires that had occurred with the weapon at one time had entirely ceased now in consequence of stronger springs having been adopted. A large number of these rifles had been fired 1,500 times with ball, and 6,000 times with blank cartridges, and one of them had been fired 10,000 times without being injured. He concluded, from these ameliorations, that the defects found to exist in the long-action rifle, arising mainly from the cartridge and miss-firing, were entirely obviated by the new arm. But, in addition to these opinions of practical soldiers, the Committee had had those of scientific men on the subject. He might, perhaps, be permitted to state that when he first saw this weapon he was greatly prejudiced against it, and it was only after it had been tested at Wimbledon by the best shots in the country, that he began to look upon it in a different light. It appeared to him when he first saw it to be heavy, ill-balanced, and to have a defective lever. This was in March, 1870, and he wrote to the Secretary of State for War to point out these defects. He added that the Westley-Richards seemed to him to be a better arm, and that he had asked Mr. W. Richards to make a rifle free from these defects, which had been done, and which he examined closely, and finding the principle well adapted for the ends proposed, he accordingly submitted it to the notice of the Secretary of State. When it was proposed to him to serve on the Committee, he stipulated that the best and most decisive scientific and mechanical authorities should be invited to examine the breech action. The question arose who should be on the Committee, and he recommended Mr. Gregory, President of the Institute of Civil Engineers. Mr. Gregory was added to the Committee, and was consulted as to the scientific witnesses who should be examined. He recommended Mr. Bramwell, Mr. Nasmyth, Dr. Pole, and Mr. Woods as scientific men, and Colonel Dixon, Mr. Perry, a practical man from Enfield, Captain Beaumont (South Durham), and Mr. Martini were also added to the list; but of these, Mr. Bramwell declined to be consulted, because he had already given his opinion on the subject; the rest of the gentlemen named entered upon a thorough investigation of the Martini rifle. It occurred to him that the scientific evidence would be overhauled, and he asked Mr. Gregory the grounds upon which he had recommended these gentlemen to the Committee. Mr. Gregory replied that they were not only men of high scientific character and distinguished antecedents, but also of different orders of mind and methods of treating the subject; for instance, Mr. Woods was a member of the College of Civil Engineers, and was held in great estimation, and Mr. Nasmyth was well-known as the inventor of the steam hammer, and as a judge of delicate machinery. It was supposed that these gentlemen, because they received a fee of £50, were likely to report in favour of those who gave them that fee. All he could say was that the Committee had great difficulty in getting this fee for them, which he (Lord Elcho) did not think excessive, considering the nature of the labours they undertook to perform, and a correspondence went on for nearly three weeks upon the question whether they should receive £2 2s. or £50. They answered a long string of questions put to them in writing, and they were also examined vivâ voce. An hon. Member, quoting the evidence of Mr. Davidson, said—"And he was one of your own witnesses." Well, the witnesses were not bribed by the Committee, nor were they asked to bolster up the evidence in favour of any particular rifle. Mr. Davidson was the only witness who gave evidence in favour of the case attempted to be made out to-night. Everyone who knew anything of deerstalking was acquainted with the difficulty of getting practical gunmakers to alter their weapons when improvements were pointed out to them. The deerstalker was like the soldier; he wanted to get the most efficient weapon for shooting which was, at the same time, the lightest to carry. The deer-stalker had lightened his gun in defiance of the practical gunmaker's opinion, and inquiry had proved that the soldier could be supplied with a 7½ lb gun equal in effect and with less recoil than the old one. He was not surprised the gunmakers preferred the old form of lock, because a change would oblige them to alter their patterns; but it had been proved beyond question, by the opinions of Dr. Pole, Mr. Nasmyth, Mr. Rigby, the well-known gunmaker of Dublin, and by Mr. Whitworth, that the striking power of the Martini-Henry lock was greater and gave a smarter blow than the exposed mechanism of the old lock. The evidence of gunmakers even showed this. Mr. Lancaster, the gunmaker, had expressed the opinion that the present lock was obsolete for breech-loaders, and that the spiral spring was preferable; other evidence had shown that the spiral spring could be made without difficulty, and that there was no objection to using it long. On the other hand, there were some witnesses, including Mr. Westley-Richards, who did not approve of the lock; and he might remark that the mechanical engineers of Birmingham, at a recent meeting, suggested for what they considered defects remedies which would conform to the character of the Westley-Richards lock. The breech block had also been objected to as unmechanical; but Mr. Nasmyth had said that by the same rule every action of the human arm was unmechanical, and he laid down a far more reasonable test when he said the question was—Did the contrivance do the work required of it? He had quoted evidence showing that it did work; and, in fact, they had in favour of this weapon a combination of evidence founded on practical experience such as had hardly ever been adduced on any matter submitted to Parliament. The allegation that the block pin would be strained by use had been proved to be false by the fact that the Committee had caused a rifle with a leaden block-pin to be fired many times, and then withdrew the pin without difficulty. He must further say that tests had shown that the stock was better than the ordinary stock, even before the arm had been further strengthened. He had felt bound, as a member of the Committee, to justify its action, and to show that the members had no foregone conclusion—unless, like himself, they objected before going into the inquiry to this rifle. Yet he became a warm advocate of the arm, and after hearing the evidence of three of the witnesses he had named to the House, he moved that no further evidence be taken; but the members of the original Committee, and others, determined to go on with the inquiry. They had been prepared to try other arms if necessary, and he resolved to apply to the Secretary of State to obtain such a trial if the Martini-Henry proved defective. He was relieved to find, however, that it was one of the most perfect arms they could obtain. The matter had been submitted for four years to gentlemen who were admitted to have been unprejudiced, and to have acted fairly, and perhaps not unintelligently; and he could bear testimony to the admirable tact, judgment, and firmness of the Chairman of the Committee. It was desired to put the best arm in the hands of the troops; but when were they to do it? When they had got such an arm. They had got this arm after the most laborious work, and after great sacrifice of time and convenience by the members of the Committee, who had gone thoroughly and searchingly into the question. The hon. and gallant Member who proposed another Committee might have the names of gentlemen amongst them, perhaps, being gunmakers, who were disappointed rivals of this weapon; but it did not follow that their evidence would be conclusive. Another inquiry would not settle the question; and if they found the arm defective they would have to throw open the competition to the gun trade of the United Kingdom, for they could not select for trial the rifles of Mr. Westley-Richards, or Mr. Henry, or Mr. Soper. Thus the possibility of arming our troops with the best rifle would be deferred to a remote period. That would not be a practical course; and he might add that gentlemen, whether professional or scientific, or Members of that House, would be discouraged from undertaking such inquiries as he had described if they found that, after all their labour, the question could be re-opened by a Motion and referred to a Committee, which, with all deference to the House, he must say was not so good a tribunal as the one which had drawn up this Report.


said, the noble Lord need not apologize to the House for occupying its time, for the country was indebted to him for the trouble and patience he had bestowed upon questions of this kind, and of which the one under consideration was not the least important. He did not profess to rival the noble Lord's acquaintance with the subject, and would only repeat the opinions of men who combined the highest science with a degree of practical mechanical knowledge which qualified them to be the most competent witnesses. The question was certainly one of a purely technical character, and no one could thoroughly discuss it who was not master of all the technical details. In accordance with that, it would not be easier to find a higher authority upon it than Mr. Whitworth, and he was informed that Mr. Whitworth was totally opposed to the rifle under consideration. At present, the weapon had really no existence, because the Committee in their Report recommended certain alterations, and all they said was that the desired weapon could be produced by improvements in the Martini-Henry rifle. No doubt the witnesses examined were men of the highest character and engineering qualifications; but with the exception of Mr. Davidson, of the Royal Laboratory at Woolwich, they had not had any experience of that description of mechanism peculiar to the rifle, and Mr. Davidson objected to the Martini arm on several grounds. He (Mr. Bass) was told that the pull-off was heavy; that, instead of being 4 lb or 5 lb, as it ought to be, it went up to 7 lb, and some regimental reports stated that it varied from 6½lb to 17 lb. Such a variation would surely not be sanctioned at Wimbledon, and it would render the arm quite unreliable in a campaign. No foreign Power had adopted the principle of this rifle, and the Portuguese Government had examined it, and had rejected it as an undesirable military weapon. The objections against it had been urged by men of scientific attainments, who were also working mechanics. He was informed that many high authorities at Enfield were strongly opposed to this rifle, and there was a prevailing opinion that the Snider as a military weapon was better. It might not be as accurate in shooting, for he believed the barrel of the Snider was not equal to that of the Martini-Henry; but the mechanism of the lock and breech was far more simple, more effective, less liable to get out of order, and, in short, the Snider was far more serviceable. Was it to be supposed that in the four years which had elapsed since the Committee sat there had been no improvement in rifles, and that the experience of the late war had been thrown away? If this question had been discussed eight months ago, he would have said—"Make any number of Martini-Henries you can;" but now there was no danger, and having waited for four years we might very well wait for a few months longer, for there was a prevalent opinion, that there were many other rifles which would shortly be brought under the public notice, far superior to the one now adopted by the Government. He was further of opinion that such delay would afford the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War a better opportunity of deciding upon the weapon which should be finally adopted. He had that very day received a letter, dated yesterday, in which the writer, who was pretty well known to hon. Gentlemen opposite, had asked him what he thought of a rifle that made 10 shots at 1,000 yards with 35 points, 10 shots at 1,100 yards with 32 points, 10 at 1,200 yards with 26 points, 10 at 1,300 yards with 24 points; and in 40 shots only once was the target missed. He should like to try the Martini-Henry against that rifle. He must support the Motion for inquiry as proposed by the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Barttelot).


said, that he had been practising the use of the rifle for the last 20 years, and flattered himself he had acquired a good knowledge of the weapon. He must be allowed to correct the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. M. T. Bass) in respect to the evidence given by Sir Joseph Whitworth, as that gentleman, when giving evidence before the Committee of 1869, stated that he could see no objection to the use of the spiral spring; at the same time, he must allow that he (Mr. Malcolm) did not know what his present opinion might be on the matter. [Mr. M. T. BASS: The very reverse.] With regard to the "pull," having handled 9 out of the 12 rifles sent down by the Government to Wimbledon last year, for the use of the Volunteers at firing points, he must say that he had felt no difficulty whatever as to the "pull," and no variation at all in its working. In the com- petition for the Duke of Cambridge's Prize, 3,119 rounds had been fired from 12 rifles, in the hands of 77 men, none of whom could have had any previous experience of the weapon. Therefore the Martini-Henry could not be such a very difficult arm to manipulate. It had been stated that the Whitworth barrel was superior to the Henry barrel; but, if that were so, why did the makers of all the other rifles choose the Henry barrel? He thought it was a conclusive proof that the latter was considered the best. In noticing the foregoing objection, he must also take notice of the one that had been raised by some hon. Gentlemen to the name of this rifle. He did not think there was any validity in that objection, inasmuch as the breech action was purely that of Mr. Martini, and the barrel and ammunition that of Mr. Henry, than whom no man deserved greater credit for having devoted the whole power of his mind to the lubrication of the bullet and the manufacture of the best ammunition. In all the statements made on the subject that night, no rifle was put forward to compete with the Martini-Henry; no other rifle had gone through the same amount of test and trial. Many hon. Gentlemen, however, seemed to think that the competition ought to be kept still open. Now, every gunmaker had had a fair chance for competing; the time was fixed for all those rifles to be sent in; and every man who had put in his rifle had it fairly tested, the result being the adoption of the two parts combined in the Martini-Henry rifle. A great many hon. Members had paid no attention to the Reports of the two previous Committees. A great deal of stress had been laid on the evidence of Mr. James Davidson. No doubt that gentleman was a very able man, and was employed in the Laboratory at Woolwich. He was, however, more accustomed to the manufacture of ammunition than of arms. Mr. Davidson, speaking of the arrangement of all the parts of the breech action, said he thought that the Martini-Henry rifle was the best that could be devised, and that it protected the working part from any injury. That gentleman concluded by saying, that he was not prepared at present to suggest any better arrangement of the main spring than that shown by the combination; and that he had a high opinion of the spiral springs as far as they had gone, but what he was afraid of was, that they would not continue the same when made in large numbers. Against this last observation, there was the opinion of Mr. Nasmyth, who said he could make 10,000 of them at a time of the same strength. With regard to the objections about the lever he (Mr. Malcolm) thought that the lever did its work, and that it had not in any case failed to do it, either on the trial given by the troops, or at the long-continued firing which the weapon had passed through at the hands of the Volunteers at Wimbledon. He knew an instance in which one of these rifles fired 3,102 rounds in England between December and March without cleaning. At the end of that time it was taken to pieces, when it was found that the coil spring was all right, and that the oil and dirt which had penetrated, to a very small degree, through the hole out of which the plunger had come, had made a perfect case for the spring, which was as bright and as good as when it was first put in. Another had fired 5,097 rounds of ball cartridge and 1,020 blank cartridge without cleaning; while Mr. Perry, the gunmaker, had taken to pieces 65 arms which had been returned from various regiments, and although some of those weapons were returned in a wretched and rusty state, which showed that they had undergone severe treatment, the action in every case worked freely, and the springs were found to be without the least rust. A little practical experience was worth an enormous amount of theory, and the experience derived from this gun showed that it had done its work well. One of the objections urged against it was that the coil springs would get weak, but it had been found that when supplied with the proper 40 lb spring there were no cases of miss-fire. In all these trials, only one coil spring had been broken, and no one could tell how that one breakage had happened. There had been no loss of strength in any other of the coil springs, and when examined those springs were found to be of the same length as when first supplied. No springs could do more than withstand such severe trials as these had been subjected to. As to the trials at Wimbledon, it should be remembered that the man who shot the rifle had a great deal to do with its success or the want of it. The Martini-Henry rifle had been handicapped very heavily at Wimbledon; because, as it was a Government weapon, the general body of men had not been able to get hold of it until they went on the ground; but notwithstanding that it had made extraordinary practice and carried off many prizes. With regard to the question of expense, the cost of this rifle was very much the same as the Snider-Enfield—the difference between them was not more than 1s. The troops themselves declared that for accuracy, flatness of trajectory, penetration, strength and simplicity of mechanism, and strength and safety of ammunition, this rifle was infinitely superior to the Snider. Under all the circumstances, he hoped the Government would decline to grant a Committee; because by granting a Committee they would only be putting off the arming of our troops with a thoroughly efficient weapon for at least three years more. He ridiculed the proposal for referring this question to a Committee of that House, who would merely be able to weigh the evidence of gunmakers on the one side or the other; for no Committee of that House could afford the time for going down to Woolwich Marshes and practically testing the rifles in every possible way. He trusted the Government would decide upon adopting this arm, which was peculiarly suited for the steady courage of the British soldier.


said, he was disposed to recommend the Government to appoint this Committee upon many grounds. He was glad that a large number of our troops were armed with the Snider rifle, which he believed to be a most useful arm; and he must totally dissent from the opinion that this was not a fit subject for that House to take into its consideration. The subject, moreover, was one of the most special interest to the taxpayers of the country, as it involved a very large expenditure. The machinery of our small arm factories ought not to be altered to suit this weapon, until it had been proved beyond doubt that it was the best arm that could be obtained; and it was evident from the Report of the Committee, that its construction had been considerably changed, and that its final form had not even yet been decided upon. [Lord ELCHO: The pattern was sent in on Tuesday last.] Well, even if that was the case, the House had not yet had time to consider the question. The weapon had continually miss-fired, and the evidence given before the Committee proved it was only by a very recent change that that evil had been remedied. While allowing that that object had been attained, he must still, however, object to the rifle on the ground that its efficiency was liable to be seriously impaired by rust. In his opinion, a Committee of the House of Commons would be the best judge of the merits of the weapon; and it could scarcely be disputed that this country was entitled to have the full advantage of the whole intellectual and scientific progress that had been made during the past year. He hoped, therefore, the Government would allow the Committee, moved for by the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Colonel Barttelot), to be appointed.


said, this was not a question of four or five shillings, but a question of the re-arming the whole Army at an enormous expense, while they were at present in possession of the very best rifle in Europe. He should not enter into details or engineering questions, because he had been long enough in the service to know that inventions cropped up daily; and although they had gone on improving, it would be years yet before they got a perfect weapon; but from what had occurred in that House, even recently, he thought the Government might well reflect before they asked the House to refuse an inquiry into the expenditure of several millions for re-arming our Army, that was already well armed. His objection was not to the Martini-Henry, but that the Report of the Committee which sat on it would not have the confidence of the Army or the people. He had been long enough in the Army to remember the change from the old Brown Bess to the Minié rifle. That weapon was adopted, not on the recommendation of a scratch Committee, but on the report of a Board of general officers, assisted by competent persons to carry out the experiments. There was not a single officer on the late Committee in any way connected with the small arms department; and the only witness found fault with by the Committee was the only practical man called before them in any way connected with the service—the foreman of the Laboratory at Woolwich. The basis of small arms should be the cartridge, and after that the barrel, stock, and lock. No practical evidence was given before the Committee, and the Inspector of Small Arms, who was one of the most able men in the service, was not called, and consequently they knew nothing of his opinion upon the matter. That being so, why did the Government refuse further inquiry? If this country was famous for the production of one thing more than another, it was in the manufacture of weapons of warfare; and whilst our manufacturers supplied nearly every Government in the world, they were not employed by our own. When the war broke out between France and Prussia, the Government was extremely anxious to arm the service, the Militia, and the Volunteers, with the best weapon that could be had. The heads of the small arms department in Birmingham and London were sent for; but their answer to the Government was that their offers had been so repeatedly refused that they were not then in a position to supply arms, from the want of the requisite machinery, and that it would take them several weeks to provide it. The course of the War Office had been, to rely on those connected with it, instead of the great manfacturers of the country. He spoke practically and not theoretically. He was for more than 12 months at the head of the whole of the small - arms branch in Birmingham, and since then he had had considerable experience in the department in London, and he knew that the manufacturers had at all times been most anxious to do everything in their power to serve the country; but repeated Governments had done all in their power to break up the trade. The arming the British Army was not a question of Whig, Radical, or Tory, but to do what was right, and he for one should be happy to give the Government any assistance in the matter. It was unsatisfactory to the Army at large to know that the armament of the service was in the hands of a Committee of that House—what he might call a political Committee, and Gentlemen not practically acquainted with the small arm branch—instead of being in the hands of general officers to report to the Secretary of State for War. To be practically acquainted with the subject, it should be learned as a mechanic; and unless a man paid attention to one particular branch, he could not expect to become master of the art, and the country could not get what was wanted. This, he again said, was not a party question, and he hoped that if the Government consented to the appointment of the Committee of Inquiry, it would not be with the desire of throwing a silent shield over the question of the superiority of the Martini-Henry, which was started before they came into office, as he was of opinion that neither the Army nor the country had the same confidence in the Martini-Henry rifle as had been expressed by the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho). He believed the Government had done their best to carry it through; and if a new arm was to be issued, he was desirous it should be done with the fullest consideration, in order that those who gave and those who accepted might be confident they had the best weapon in the world, and not one that had been supplied to them from any political motives. He should, from these considerations, support the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex (Colonel Barttelot).


said, he concurred in the opinion that this was no party or political question, and he was sorry that his right hon. Friend (Sir John Pakington) who preceded him in office, and appointed the Committee, was not present to take part in the discussion. Neither was it a question of expense, because it was not at all necessary or reasonable that if we had got what we considered to be the best weapon, that the country should, on that account, incur greater expense than the circumstances of the time required in anything in the nature of armament. By failing to adopt the best weapon, they would not incur less expense; because, of necessity, the Army must be armed, and in order to do that there must be a reasonable reserve of arms. He hoped the House would not be misled on those points. There were two questions now before them, and they were these—Firstly, had the Committee done its duty, and if they had, had they adopted an arm which, according to their present light and knowledge, it was judicious for them to adopt; and secondly, if there was any doubt about it, was a Committee of the House of Commons the most likely and the most practical way of arriving at a better conclusion? The Mover of the Resolution, the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for West Sussex (Colonel Barttelot), in his opinion had justly praised the Committee appointed by his (Mr. Cardwell's) predecessor, and spoke of them in terms very different from the rather disparaging epithets applied to them by the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Jervis) who had last addressed them. The hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex had not been pleased to speak in complimentary terms of himself (Mr. Cardwell); but had found fault with him for one or two things, and he had endeavoured to extract from his speech what those things were. He thought it was alleged that the Government were in too great a hurry in what they did, and refused the co-operation of the trade; but the charge of hurry preferred by the hon. and gallant Member was simply disposed of by the fact that this matter had already occupied attention for some four or five years; and with reference to the other charge—namely, that competition had been refused, that, also, might easily be disposed of, by the remark that he (Mr. Cardwell) entirely accepted the principle that it would be very undesirable the Government should entirely rely upon their own manufacture, as one of the great sources of strength of this country in the moment of emergency was the command of that vast support which outdoor trade was always able to give to the Government in the manufacture of arms. The only object the Government had in view was to obtain the best weapon. There was a time when they talked about "finality" in politics, and they came to the conclusion that there was no finality in politics, nor was there any finality in inventions; for whatever conclusion they might come to to-day, the intelligence would arrive to-morrow that somebody had invented something which ought to be considered; so that a question of this kind could scarcely ever be closed; and it would always be the duty of the Secretary for War to be open to receive suggestions from every quarter, and to consider, not only their value as inventions, but also the cost their adoption would entail to the country, with a proper regard for the efficiency of the services and economy of expenditure. What had been the actual course pursued in the present instance? In 1866, General Peel, then Secretary for War, invited the competition of all gunmakers for the best weapon that could be put into the hands of the British soldier. A reward of £1,000 was offered for such an arm, and a most competent Committee was named to distribute the reward. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke last had described it as a "scratch Committee." That was not a complimentary term, but the fact was, that the Committee, which devoted much time, energy, and practical skill to the solution of a most difficult question, was appointed by his predecessor in office, and it consisted of a colonel of the Guards; Earl Spencer, the President of the National Rifle Association—who took so much interest in the subject that he left his own pleasures and pursuits, and took a house at Woolwich, in order the better to labour in the inquiry; the other members being Mr. Ross, Captain Rawlings, and Captain Hay as secretary. Surely, this was a Committee worthy of commendation, and not to be described by such a term, as had been used by the hon. and gallant Member. They had before them some 120 arms, a sufficiently wide range of choice, as he thought; and as the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex had attributed to him prejudice against the weapon of Mr. Westley-Richards, he had simply to deny the existence of any such prejudice, and to inform the hon. and gallant Member that no fewer than nine of the arms submitted to the Committee belonged to Mr. Richards, and if they had not a fair chance, Mr. Richards himself was alone responsible, because he withdrew them from the competition. Indeed, he must say, that he should, in no degree, have been sorry if Mr. Richards's arm had proved the best. The Committee sat, more or less, from the year 1867 to the beginning of 1869, and the arm selected was referred to the Ordnance Council, which consisted, amongst others, of the Under Secretary for War (Lord Northbrook), the Surveyor General of Ordnance (Sir Henry Storks), a general officer; Major General Lefroy, Lord William Paulet, Sir Edward Lugard, Sir Hope Grant; Admiral Cowper Key, not a general officer, but competent to give an opinion on the subject; Colonel Jervois, and Colonel Halliday, Inspector General of Musketry, also competent to give an opinion. This council recommended the provisional adoption of the Henry-Martini rifle, and suggested that 200 of these weapons should be manufactured, with a view to their being tried in every climate, by the heat of India and the cold and wet of Canada. This test was absolutely necessary before a safe decision, could be arrived at. Of these 200 rifles which were manufactured, about 100 were forwarded to India, and the remainder distributed in other places. If, as had been suggested in the course of the present discussion, the arm was sent for trial to Aldershot, it could not be there subjected to the test of extreme differences of climate, to which it ought to be subjected before a proper conclusion could be arrived at. They were told that theory was nothing in comparison with practice; that what was wanted was practical experience. Now, what was the way to get practical experience? Was it not to distribute these weapons, and get them used by the soldiers in the field in all parts of the world? That was what the Government did; and in the middle of last year, when the Reports came back they laid them on the Table of the House. Then they appointed a new Committee to examine them; they did not appoint the same Committee. His noble Friend Earl Spencer had ceased to be President of the National Rifle Association, having been called to the discharge of public duties elsewhere, and the noble Lord opposite (Lord Elcho), who had shown by his speech that evening the attention he had paid to the subject, was appointed in his room. Would that justify the imputation that the Government had any prejudice against the arm of Westley-Richards? Why, the noble Lord was at that time the warm advocate of that arm. He had written to him (Mr. Cardwell) to urge the claims of Westley-Richards. Well, he said to Colonel Fletcher, on re-appointing the Committee—"Don't be troubled by the consideration that you are merely to consider one subject. You will find that if you are to have a practical inquiry in every part of the world, and if you are to be continually re-opening the question, you will get into a vicious circle, and will never come to a decision at all, and the result will be, that in looking after the better you will never get the good thing at all. Take care that, if you are of opinion that any weapon other than the Martini-Henry should be examined, you will have the right of examining it." The only mem- bers of the former Committee were Colonel Fletcher, Mr. Ross, and the Secretary. Who were the rest? Captain Chapman, Captain Aylmer, the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho), and the President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, all perfectly independent and impartial men, as must be acknowledged. And what did the Committee? They determined to take scientific evidence. The hon. and gallant Member opposite (Colonel Jervis) said, that notwithstanding that a knowledge of machinery and a knowledge of metals were very good things, they did not qualify a man to give an opinion on small arms. [Colonel JERVIS: With many years' experience.] He would like to know how many Gentlemen there were in the House of Commons whose experience of many years had qualified them for giving an opinion on small arms? There were many Gentlemen in the House of Commons who possessed great knowledge on almost all subjects—a great knowledge of mines, a great knowledge of machinery, a great knowledge of metals. He would not have ventured to say that these were not competent to give an opinion on almost every subject; but the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Colonel Jervis) had cut the ground from under him by saying that they were not competent to express an opinion of small arms. Able speeches had been made by the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire and the hon. Member for Boston (Mr. Malcolm) on the subject, which, in his (Mr. Cardwell's) opinion, somewhat militated against the dictum of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. It would have been his (Mr. Cardwell's) duty to have entered into various particulars recorded in the Blue Books; but he found that the passages which he had marked for that purpose were precisely the passages which had already been quoted in the course of this discussion. They dealt with the question of the coiled spring: they were told that Mr. Woods objected to it, because the spring might rust; but when told that there was a protection against the rust he altered his opinion. They had been told by the last speaker that the Martini-Henry rifles had been treated as pet rifles; but he believed that if ever any rifles were exposed to severity of treatment, whether in Canada, in India, or afterwards at Enfield, those rifles were those in question. After that a Report was made by this Committee, and that Report was considered by the Ordnance Council. He now came to the officers of that Council. The members were not the same. Sir Richard Airey had taken the place of Lord William Paulet; Captain Hall of Admiral Cowper Key; and there were other changes. And what did this new Council? They recommended the final adoption of the Martini-Henry; the Lords of the Admiralty confirmed the recommendation; the Commander-in-Chief confirmed it. That was the course which had been taken with regard to this question. Now, he asked the House—and he wished to do so in the spirit in which the whole discussion had been conducted—were they likely to mend the conclusion by a Committee of that House? The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Colonel Jervis) said there was no need for any hurry in this matter. He agreed with him. He did not think that the Government had shown any disposition to hurry, nor would they desire to hurry the subject in future; neither would they shut their ears to any alteration or suggestion that might be brought forward on the subject. But the question was—"Would improvement be effected by referring the matter to a Committee of the House of Commons? How would the Committee be formed? What witnesses were to be called before it; and what was likely to be the result of the proceedings? The House had already been told that there were no hon. Members in the House sufficiently acquainted with small arms to be competent judges on the subject. What sort of witnesses were they to call? Should they call the Government witnesses? The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. M. T. Bass) suggested men practically acquainted with the subject. He (Mr. Cardwell) took the liberty of interpreting the phrase to mean gentlemen interested in the manufacture of small arms. Now, he ventured to say, that if they appointed this Committee, and that Committee called before them such witnesses, the result would be to verify the old adage of Quot homines, tot sententiæ everybody would recommend his own weapons, and the result would be greater confusion than ever. As practice was to bear the bell, and theory was to be disregarded, every man would recommend his own invention, and claim that his opinion must prevail, on the ground that his experience of it was the greatest; and the general perplexity on the subject would be increased. And when they had got the Report, the House would be in this position—General officers, members of the Ordnance Council, had expressed their opinion as to the recommendation; distinguished soldiers and experienced riflemen had done the same; and that opinion was in favour of the Martini-Henry rifle. The highest professional authorities were unanimous in favour of the Martini-Henry. Then what was that House to do? Were they to send out for another two years a large number of weapons to every part of the world to be reported on subsequently? Great expense would be incurred, delay would be occasioned, and the House would arrive at no opinion at all. To recapitulate, competition was tried, but no weapon obtained the prize that was offered. Then we had a most competent Committee, which suggested a weapon for provisional adoption, and that weapon had been tried in India, in Canada, at Aldershot, in the Navy, and at Wimbledon. It had been again referred to the Committee and to the Ordnance Council, and scientific men had given their opinion upon it; and that being the case, he would respectfully ask the House to be allowed to adopt, as the best weapon known at the present moment, the Martini-Henry rifle. The Government did not propose to launch into any extravagance, and the Estimates were not framed with any view to the total re-arming of the British Army; and though he did not think that the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex had any just ground of complaint against him for giving the troops last autumn the best weapon then available—the new one not being adopted—he did submit that it would be more advisable, now that the superior weapon had been adopted, and had been shown by experience to be better, not to go on manufacturing the former weapon, but, in the true spirit of economy, make the best rifle of which they were aware. Should it come to the knowledge of those who were responsible in the matter, that it was an error to proceed manufacturing Martini - Henry rifles, other measures would be taken. But they would go on to infinity and land in an absurd conclu- sion if, after the theoretical and practical testimony in favour of a particular weapon which they had had, they hesitated, to adopt it, and expended the public money in the manufacture of an arm less desirable and valuable.


said, he had failed to learn any satisfactory reason from the right hon. Gentleman why the Committee should not be appointed, as those which he had given would be equally forcible against the appointment of any Committee. The opinions expressed during the discussion surely justified some investigation. The noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) had told them he was no egotist, and that he had sat on the Committee with a prejudice at first in favour of the Westley-Richards rifle; but the noble Lord was just an illustration of the man who "went to scoff and remained to pray." Then the hon. Member for Boston (Mr. Malcolm) said this inquiry would take three years. Now, he (Mr. Muntz) guaranteed it would not take three months; and if, at the expiry of that period, the Martini - Henry was not proved to be perfectly unfit for the use of our troops he should give up the question. They had had five years already of investigation and discussion, and surely an additional three months was a matter of little importance, as there was no immediate hurry. They were beginning to distribute the Snider, which he believed to be the best gun in Europe. It was better than the needle-gun, or even the Chassepôt, the recoil of which was much to its disadvantage; but as to the Martini-Henry, while admitting the excellence of the barrel, the chief cause of its good hitting powers, what would they say of a weapon which in one of its trials had 382 miss-fires out of 1,000 rounds? He had pointed out two years ago that the spiral spring was not sufficiently strong, and that miss-fires might consequently be expected; and the Blue Book had proved the correctness of every word he had then said. He knew he spoke at a disadvantage on this subject, because he was supposed to be urged, on by his constituents. The fact was, however, they did not care one farthing about it. They were indifferent as to the nature of the gun so long as they could secure orders for its manufacture. Then it was also most unfair to insinuate that this was a question of Mr. Westley-Richards, for he knew that gentleman, and if there were an election for Birmingham tomorrow, he would, probably, vote against him (Mr. Muntz); therefore it was unjust to put him under such an imputation. If the Martini-Henry rifle were a safe gun, he should not have said one word upon the matter; but he contended that if the Germans had been armed with it in the late campaign, one half of the muskets would have become useless before they reached Sedan, as he was confident it would not stand the wear and tear of service in the field. In Sir John Moore's retreat from Lugo to Corunna, even the old Brown Bess was knocked to pieces, and became useless. Was it right for a great country like England, which, though she had no great anxiety now, might be compelled, at no distant date, to defend her territories all over the globe, that we should risk the probability of an inferior weapon being placed in the hands of our troops? All that was asked for was six weeks or two months' delay for investigation, and he should be sorry if the Government should incur unnecessary responsibility by refusing the Committee.


said, that the Secretary for War thought that a Committee would be of no service upon the question of small arms; but he (Mr. Newdegate) happened to be a Member of the Small Arms Committee of 1854, the result of whose investigations materially affected the supply of small arms to our troops in the Crimea. The House, acting on the Report of that Committee, induced the Government to send orders to the arms trade of England, though they had sent orders to foreigners, and the result was that the English trade, which had been reported against by the Ordnance Office, supplied all the arms that were wanted, which were five times the number the Ordnance Department said they would be able to produce. This showed that a Committee upon this subject would not be incompetent. It was evident from the debate, that the question had been decided in favour of the Martini-Henry rifle long before the tests to be applied to it had been decided upon; and the Government were acting upon the tests applied to one rifle instead of the many. What was felt was that the tests should be applied to some of the other arms. It did, indeed, hap- pen that tests had been applied to one other of these arms by Sir James Scarlett and the troops at Aldershot, and it had gained the complete approval of the commanding officer at Aldershot, and of the Army also. But the Government ignored the experience thus gained, though the experiments had been conducted under the direction of the Secretary for War. He could quite understand that the right hon. Gentleman was weary of the experiments, and took refuge in the advice of his own officers. For years, officers consulted upon this subject had shown a dislike to the production of any English gunmaker. As a proof of this, he would mention that in 1852 he himself introduced Mr. Westley-Richards to Lord Hardinge, and he attended all the trials of the rifle invented by that gentleman, and he could answer for this—that the arm he shot with was the arm adopted by Lord Hardinge. But the Government had changed the name, and called it the Enfield rifle, although it had been made by Mr. Westley-Richards, under the direction of Lord. Hardinge, and Enfield never saw it until it was complete. He mentioned this as evidence of the objection to which he had referred. It was not unnatural that officers should be jealous of information coming from practical men, for it offended their pride; and unless its producers made over to the officers of Government the credit of producing the arm, they were sure to meet with coldness from the officials. The Secretary for War said that all the arms were tried about two years ago, except the Westley-Richards, and this omission was because that gentleman withdrew his weapon. The reason he did this, was because he feared a repetition of the unfair treatment experienced in former years. He (Mr. Newdegate) thought that it was a mistake to withdraw his weapon; but were they to be deprived of the benefit of having it because of this? He thought that the Secretary for War was making a mistake in refusing the assistance of a Committee, because such a Committee would embody public opinion and collect the knowledge of practical men without being influenced by official prejudice.


said, he opposed the Motion, on the ground that it would be impossible for a Committee of that House to arrive at a conclusion of any practical value on a technical subject like the one under discussion, without causing great and unnecessary delay. Either the question must be hung up for a year, or the Committee must report within three months, a result which he did not think desirable.


opposed the Motion, and denied, as a musketry instructor of experience, that the Martini-Henry rifle was a weapon of such delicate mechanism as had been stated by the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Muntz). It had passed successfully through a test to which scarcely any other weapon had been subjected.


observed, that the principles which had governed the manufacture of rifles of late years were due to Sir Joseph Whitworth; and what was called the Henry was a direct piracy of Sir Joseph's invention.


in answer to a remark of the noble Lord (Lord Elcho), said, he never intended to disavow any statement in regard to the labours of the Committee that had been made by his hon. and gallant Friend the Under Secretary for War (Captain Vivian). He on one occasion urged Captain Fletcher to expedite the labours of the Committee; but praised the diligence and energy they had displayed in conducting the work intrusted to them.


in acknowledging a correction of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hussey Vivian), said, he had omitted to notice the fact that Sir Joseph Whitworth had been associated with Mr. Westley-Richards.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 137; Noes 72: Majority 65.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," by leave, withdrawn.

Committee deferred till Monday next.