SIR JOHN HAY
Sir, since I have had the honour of a seat in this House, now ten years, I have never asked its 962 kind indulgence in the manner in which I am now going to do; but in order to enable the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty to give a full explanation, so that the House may learn how 380 of our seamen are now upon a desert island, how they got there, and how it is proposed to release them from their perilous position, I hope the House will allow me to make a short statement in explanation of the Question which stands in my name on the Paper, and I am the more anxious to make it, because at the time when I gave Notice of that Question, the right hon. Gentleman seemed to imagine I was making a personal attack on himself. I can assure him, however, that I had no such desire; but I may remark that, seeing by the papers that in replying to the hon. Baronet the Member for Manchester (Sir Thomas Bazley), although the right hon. Gentleman exculpated himself with regard to the Question put by my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Mr. F. Walpole), he said nothing respecting his predecessor at the Admiralty. Now, that I consider he ought to have done for this is a departmental question and has nothing of a personal nature. [Mr. GOSCHEN: I said I would reserve that for my statement to-day.] Observing that the right hon. Gentleman had thought I intended some personal attack on himself, I deemed it proper to make these remarks, but I will not now pursue that subject further. For the two years and upwards that I had the honour of occupying a seat at the late Board of Admiralty, I had charge of this special Department, and the Megæra was one of the fleet of transport and store-ships, of which there were 11, under my charge. Besides the vessels employed to convey men to distant places, among them there were certain store-ships used for other purposes. The Megæra belonged to the latter class, and I conceive it would have been unjust to have sent to Australia a ship of that character, which was so unable to sail, and with imperfect steam-power, on any such voyage, not with reference to safety if she were a sound ship, but with reference to the great amount of time that would be occupied in performing the voyage. The Megæra went to Ascension and to other places with stores, a duty for which she was well qualified 963 at that time. Early this Session the noble Lord the Member for Chichester (Lord Henry Lennox) and my hon. Friend the Member for Carlow (Mr. Kavanagh) called attention—the latter twice—to this matter, as did the hon. Member for Kent (Mr. J. G. Talbot), while the hon. Member for North Norfolk, who had a son on board, asked a Question at a later period which has been replied to by the right hon. Gentleman. The facts of the case are as follows:—I have had the advantage of seeing Mr. Reed, the late Chief Constructor of the Navy, who has personally assured me of the correctness of these facts, and I need hardly say that his word is above suspicion, and that he is one of the best officers ever employed by the Admiralty of this country. His attention was called, not by the right hon. Gentleman the present First Lord of the Admiralty, but by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), to the necessity of investigating the state of certain ships, and Mr. Reed reported that the Megæra was in such a condition that she could only continue her service for a certain period of time, though what that period of time was I do not know. [Mr. GOSCHEN: In what year was that?] I understand that Report was presented in the year 1869; but Mr. Reed himself is unable to state the precise date, as he has not access to the documents which are preserved at the Admiralty. At all events, he expressed his opinion that the Megæra was only fit for service during a certain period of time, and that this period had elapsed at the time when she was ordered to proceed to Australia. Early in the present Session the attention of the House was called to the condition of this ship, which had been recently surveyed at Sheerness. That information I did not obtain from Mr. Reed, but through another source. The ship was ordered to be surveyed at Sheerness; but the cost of a thorough survey being greater than the Department thought it right to incur, the expenditure was checked, although it was reported that the plates at the bottom of the vessel were considerably worn. The ship was sent round to Devonport, and the officers on board her reported that she was overcrowded, and not in a fit condition to proceed to sea. The Admiralty ordered her to proceed to Cork, and the Admiral there, having been instructed to inspect her, I believe 964 that 100 tons of cargo were taken out of her, under his personal supervision, in order to make her safe. It is obvious, however, that neither he nor any other officer could have inspected the plates at the bottom of the vessel; but they took it for granted she was a sound ship, and it was considered a mere question of stowage. Well, the ship left this country, and afterwards my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk asked his Question. I should have thought and hoped the right hon. Gentleman would then have made inquiries, or took measures to stop her voyage round the Cape; but what steps he took I really do not know, though, of course, they will be mentioned in the course of his statement; but I know that the representatives of the Admiralty in this House—I mean the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter), whom I do not now see in his place—on very many occasions when he was questioned on the subject treated it with the greatest possible scorn. The hon. Member went so far as to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Carlow (Mr. Kavanagh) that there was not a word of truth of what he was stating. During the time I have sat in this House I have heard many curious things said; but if it is not un-Parliamentary the term "insolent" is the term which I should naturally apply to such an answer. A report had been made that she could only run for a certain time, and the cargo having been improperly stowed, had to be re-stowed and re-adjusted, and certain stores had to be taken out of her before she was sent on. Notwithstanding all that, a Question in regard to her condition was treated in the most flippant manner by the representative of the Admiralty in this House. It is quite evident from the telegram received to-day why she went down. The plates were worn out, and there was a hole in her bottom; and, consequently, it was necessary to run her ashore in order to save the lives of those on board. What quantity of stores and provisions was saved I do not know; but it is clear that the crew cannot be relieved, except by some passing ship, until the 3rd or 4th of September. I have myself passed St. Paul's Island amid hail and snow in mid-winter — that is, in the month of June, and I am sure the climate is by no means an agreeable one for persons to live in for so long a period. The 965 officers and crew will, at all events, have to remain there until some time in the month of September. I think it is a misfortune that no man-of-war was available for taking them away, instead of sending a hired steamer from Hong Kong, and that it was wrong to trust to one ship to rescue all those people. The right hon. Gentleman has ships at Gibraltar, only 40 days off St. Paul's, and I think he ought to have sent a vessel at once from Gibraltar, in addition to the steamer chartered at Hong Kong, so that he might have had two strings to his bow, and have been certain of preventing these men from starving after they had run the risk of being drowned. I will now put the Question of which I have given Notice, and ask the First Lord of the Admiralty, If he will state to the House the circumstances under which the "Megæra" storeship was run on the island of Saint Paul's to save the lives of her crew and passengers; whether he has any information which leads him to think that she left England in an unseaworthy condition; and, if he will lay the Report of Mr. Reed, late Chief Constructor of the Navy, on the condition of the "Megæra" upon the Table? To ensure my being in Order, I further beg leave to move the adjournment of the House.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Sir John Hay.)
§ MR. GOSCHEN
Sir, I can assure the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Stamford (Sir John Hay) I do not think he wished to treat this question as a personal one. I can also assure him that I look upon the loss of this ship as so serious a matter as not for a moment to allow of any personal considerations being mixed up with it. Anyone who has read the letter of Mr. Reed, published in The Times newspaper, must have gathered, from the mode in which allusion is made to his Report, that the Report was made before the Megæra was despatched. It is not, indeed, absolutely so stated, but it is inferred, and I think Mr. Reed believed in his own mind when he wrote that letter that such must have been the case, or he would not have made use of the expressions which occur in it. According to his own statement, Mr. Reed, when the Megæra sailed, had a knowledge of a certain fact, and 966 the Admiralty and myself had not that knowledge. It was not brought to our notice till a week after the departure of the ship. I will deal, in the first place, with what is, perhaps, the most important part of the Question asked by the hon. and gallant Baronet—namely, that relating to the ship, and the circumstances under which she went on shore; and at the outset I may remark that I have no knowledge of those circumstances beyond what was stated in the telegram which was communicated to the Press, and which the hon. and gallant Baronet, in common with all of us, has seen. I think the hon. and gallant Baronet is a little quick at jumping to a conclusion as to the cause of the accident. He may be right, but I trust the House and the country will suspend their judgment until full particulars have been received as to the actual cause of the accident. And now I will say a few words with regard to the provisions and the means which have been taken to relieve the crew. The first Admiralty telegram was silent as to the provisions being landed or not, but the hon. and gallant Baronet must have seen in the telegram received this morning a statement that the provisions were landed safely. It appears from these particulars sent to the Admiralty that there was no hurry at the time, and that, therefore, there was ample opportunity for landing the provisions; and it was a fortunate circumstance in this very unfortunate affair that there were 40 tons of provisions intended for Sydney on board the Megæra besides the provisions which she carried for herself. Consequently it is not anticipated, though provisions may be somewhat short, that any suffering will arise. As to the means which are being taken to relieve them, I concur with the hon. and gallant Baronet that, in an emergency, it is not sufficient to have one string to one's bow, and accordingly the Admiralty, besides ordering a steamer to be chartered at Hong Kong, caused inquiries to be made at Bombay and Batavia, and, in consequence of the latter inquiries, Her Majesty's ship Rinaldo has been ordered to proceed to St. Paul's with all haste possible from Singapore, that being the closest point to St. Paul's from which it is possible to communicate easily with that island. At this moment, no doubt, the Rinaldo is on her way there with provisions, 967 besides the steamer being chartered at Hong Kong. The hon. and gallant Baronet must, I think, have no doubt that a steamer will proceed much quicker to St. Paul's from Singapore than from Gibraltar. We are informed, moreover, that the steamer from Hong Kong is expected to arrive at St. Paul's on the 29th of this month—some days earlier than the date mentioned by the hon. and gallant Baronet. Indeed, the Rinaldo may perhaps arrive before that date. I have now communicated to the House that which I know of the circumstances connected with the loss of the Megæra and the steps taken for the relief of the passengers and crew. I believe that we have done all we could to relieve the crew, and that no step has been left untried to secure their speedy release. I now come to the second part of the Question, and I trust the House will not think me tedious if I describe in some detail what occurred when the ship was at Queenstown, as great interest is felt on the subject, and as such very serious charges have not unnaturally been made. I must, in the first instance, ask hon. Members to dismiss from their minds for the moment the first and second letters of Mr. Reed, and all that has arisen from them, because the facts therein mentioned were not before us between the 1st and the 14th of March, when the ship was at Queenstown, and although hon. Members may now look at the matter in the light of those letters, I and my colleagues at the Admiralty had not an opportunity of regarding it in that light, as the Report was not before them. I do not ask the House to pronounce any judgment on the present occasion, but I entreat them for the moment to dismiss from their minds the statement about the thin plates, as to which not a single word was said in any of the Questions put in the House, and to listen to the evidence which I shall adduce; and here I may distinctly remark that if I quote the evidence and statements of subordinates, I do not do so in order to relieve the Board of Admiralty or the First Lord from any responsibility whatever in connection with this matter. I must quote their Reports, however, in order that the House may form a judgment, although the responsibility of sending the ship to sea rests on the First Lord of the Admiralty. It is true I had not been long in office, but I sifted the evidence 968 to the best of my ability and I must be responsible. The Megæra, having fitted up at Sheerness, went to Plymouth, whence, after some events to which I shall call attention presently, she proceeded to Queenstown. The first serious remonstrance which reached the Admiralty was in the shape of a letter from the captain of the Megæra, dated the 28th of February. This was after the journey from Plymouth to Queenstown, during which it had been found that the ports on the main-deck leaked, and that the officers and men suffered some discomfort. The captain wrote—I have the honour to inform you that, owing to the leaky condition of the main-deck ports and the connecting piece of the outer bobstay having broken off in the stem, I have thought it advisable to bring Her Majesty's ship under my command into this harbour that these and a few more defects may be made good. 2. We left Plymouth Sound on Saturday, the 25th inst., and used steam to insure a good offing, banking the fires on Sunday at noon. Since then the wind has been contrary and the weather bad, during the whole of which time the main-deck has had water washing from side to side, wetting the men's bags, clothes, &c. The officers' cabins have been literally afloat the whole time, although the watch have been constantly employed to bale the water up. The main-deck ports were lined with fearnought and well greased; but, from being warped and old, would not keep the water out, some of the bolts drawing out when screwing them up. 3. On Monday, the 27th inst., the outer bobstay carried away, and, having secured the foremast, we bore up for this anchorage.When that letter arrived I think I was not in office; but when I saw it I made inquiries respecting the serious defects to which allusion is therein made, and the measures taken for remedying them. In what I am stating now not a single word shall be omitted which goes, if I may use the expression, against the Board of Admiralty, and I will accordingly read the further evidence we had against the ship. On the 2nd of March the captain wrote a letter to Admiral Forbes, the Commander-in-Chief at Queenstown. It was in the following terms:—I have to inform you that the officers and ships' companies on board this ship have represented to me the extreme discomfort of the ship in consequence of every available space below being taken up for cargo, bringing the ship considerably deeper in the water than she ever was before, and rendering her very wet. That the whole of the troop-deck and part of the main-deck are stowed with cargo, thus curtailing considerably their sleeping and living place. That the troop-deck being filled up there is no place for the men's bags except on the deck under the mess tables, and that they have been continually wet 969 from the ports leaking. To remedy these defects I have to request that you may permit me to land 100 tons of the cargo. I beg to enclose a list of articles proposed for landing, and a letter from the officers and one from the medical officer of the ship, trusting that this application may meet with your approval.The Commander-in-Chief sent the letter to the Admiralty, accompanied by this memorandum—Submitted for the information of their Lordships with reference to my telegram of this date. I have been on board the Megæra and examined into the causes of complaint; both officers and men appear to be in great discomfort owing to the crowded state of the decks and to the quantity of water which has found its way to the main-deck. The ship is very deep in the water, and as it will be difficult to keep the ports tight in a seaway, I think it would be a great advantage, if space could be obtained on the orlop-deck for the stowage of the men's bags, and also for such portions of the officers' property as they may not be able to find a place for in their store-rooms and cabins.I will now read to the House the remonstrances of the officers themselves; but I ask the House to suspend their judgment on the facts till they have the reply to these letters. In a letter dated "Her Majesty's ship Megæra, March 2, 1871," they say—We consider the Megæra is too heavily laden and too crowded to successfully encounter such weather as reasonably may be expected in making the long voyage to Australia. The cabin accommodation for officers entitled to them is inadequate. In consequence of the ship's deep draught (17 feet), the ports at sea are generally barred in the mess-place, which has but one small ventilator. The water-closets are insufficient for the number of officers using them. There is insufficient stowage for officers' wines and provisions.There was also a letter from the surgeon pointing out, with regard to the sanitary view of the question, the inconvenience of the main-deck ports having been closed. It should be borne constantly in mind that the remonstrances from the captain and the officers arose principally from two causes—namely, the overloading of the ship and the leakage of the main-deck ports. [Sir JOHN PAKINGTON inquired whether there were any military officers on board?] No; the Megæra took out the crews and stores for the Blanche and the Rosario stationed in Australia, but they were all naval officers on board. Having read the remonstrances of the officers, I come next to the Report of the Flag Captain at Queenstown, in the absence at the moment of the Admiral upon the station. He says— 970Mersey, at Queenstown, March 2, 1871.1. Submitted for the information of their Lordships, observing that the repair of the bob-stay plate appears absolutely necessary, and is now being made good; it would be desirable to caulk the waterways if a few days fine weather could be obtained. 2. The chief carpenter for Haulbowline, Mr. James Burnett, could find no defect in foremast.But I will further show the House that it is not true, as has been reported, that we took no pains at the Admiralty to inquire into the truth of those allegations. We took three steps. First of all, we telegraphed to Admiral Forbes, at Queenstown, and directed him to—Proceed on board Her Majesty's ship Megæra, inquire strictly and carefully into her state and condition, and report by telegram and letter his opinion as to the fitness of that ship to undertake the service upon which she had been ordered.In thus applying to the responsible officer and asking him to report, we thought we were taking the step which was proper under the circumstances; and the following is the answer which we received from the Commander-in-Chief at Queenstown—I find the Megæra much crowded with stores, and I have ordered a part to be landed to give more comfort to the officers and men. I am of opinion that she is fit to undertake the service she has been ordered upon.That reply came by telegram from the Admiral after he had enjoyed the opportunity of examining the ship and speaking to the officers. He afterwards sent a long letter upon the state of the vessel. I will read to the House the summing up of that letter, but if any hon. Gentleman wishes to have the whole of it there will be no objection on our part, as we do not wish for one moment to withhold a single particle of evidence which we possess. The Admiral reports that having closely and carefully inspected the Megæra, and having already telegraphed his opinion that the ship was fit for the service on which she was employed, he now forwards in detail fuller particulars of her state. He states that her draught of water forward is 17 foot, and aft 17 feet 3 inches; that her full supply of coal is on board; andAll the decks are much lumbered, but she is very ill stowed, and much clearance may be made when this is better done.He then goes on to the accommodation of the ward-room officers, says that the troop-deck is much choked with cargo; that the men's bags are 971Most inconveniently stowed under the mess-laths, where they have got wet from water shipped through leaky ports, to the great discomfort of the men," but that "the ports are now mended and re-lined, and new ones placed where necessary;" he says that "the main-deck is also inconveniently crowded for sleeping," but "by clearing out the troop-deck below, as suggested, many men now berthed above may be berthed there;he then enlarges upon the question of how further accommodation might be given in the sick-bay; and the Admiral sums up as follows:—The result of my inspection is that the Megæra has been inconveniently crowded with cargo, considering the quantity of stores and effects accompanying the number of officers and men she takes out; that landing about 100 tons weight would rid her of this evil; that the officers taking passage have also been crowded, considering the length of the voyage. If the number of them was reduced by four the remainder would also be relieved.And the Admiral concludes thus—The ship is of old pattern, and wanting in many of the conveniences of later days, but I see no reason whatever of unfitness for performing the service she is employed in.The hon. and gallant Baronet opposite made use of one expression—either I caught it across the House, or it fell from him in his opening remarks—to the effect that the Admiral, in the inspection which he made, could not get at the thinness of the plates. [Sir JOHN HAY: Hear, hear!] Precisely so; but the hon. and gallant Baronet will see that the remonstrances which brought about this inspection had nothing to do with the thinness of the plates; we were dealing with the ship as it had been despatched from Sheerness, and with circumstances that had happened from that time. One of the charges brought against the Admiralty, as I understand, is that, in spite of what happened between Plymouth and Queenstown, and in spite of the Question asked in this House, we sent, as I understand it, a leaky ship to sea. The fact, however, is that we took the greatest pains to inquire into every detail of what had occurred between Plymouth and Queenstown, with a view of having those matters remedied. I will not say at this moment that they were actually remedied; but I will say this, that I have seen extracts from a letter written by the captain of the Megæra from Madeira, in which he states that the ship had been going on satisfactorily; and that I have also heard of a letter received from the 972 engineer on board the ship, written from the Cape, in which he states that everything had been working satisfactorily. I do not wish to make out a case for the Admiralty upon this occasion at all; I wish to answer every allegation made against us, and not to go an inch beyond that point. So far we have been dealing with these considerations; certain defects were discovered, and those defects were dealt with upon the responsibility of the Admiralty; and I say most distinctly that I do not hold Admiral Forbes responsible for one moment for what occurred afterwards. The matters brought to his attention by the letters before him he dealt with; and I believe they were effectually dealt with, and none of the questions which were asked pointed to any of the defects which led to the loss of the Megæra. The fault, if fault existed, must be sought for elsewhere. Meanwhile, in the next place, we asked Admiral Codrington also to report as to the truth of the statements which had been made. Sir Henry Codrington, in replying, with regard to the occurrences, wrote a long letter, the general drift of which was that Captain Thrupp never remonstrated with him for one moment as to the seaworthiness of the ship, but brought some trifling defects to his notice; and that the point upon which he expressed reluctance to leave was with regard to the stowage of the cargo. Of course, I cannot say what may have passed verbally; but as far as the Admiralty are aware, no question was raised as to the unseaworthiness of the ship. The captain wished to delay longer in order to stow the cargo better and to arrange the officers' and seamen's baggage; but no questions as to more serious matters, or the unseaworthiness of the ship, appear to have been raised at all. A statement was published to the effect that Admiral Codrington, by direction of the Admiralty, had ordered Captain Thrupp peremptorily to proceed to sea, in spite of the captain saying he was not ready. On reading that statement, we applied to Admiral Codrington for his account of the transaction, and I am perfectly willing to lay that letter on the Table of the House should there be any wish to see it; but I can assure the House there is nothing whatever in it as regards the seaworthiness of the ship. In the third and last place, we telegraphed to Sheerness, and asked the 973 authorities there to state their views as to the seaworthiness of the ship. The reply was as follows:—With reference to your Minute on Chief Constructor's letter of the 3rd inst., s. 1733–1767, respecting defects in Her Majesty's ship Megæra, we have the honour to report that a list of defects sent in on the 29th of July, 1870, and reported on by us on the 2nd of August last, showed no complaints of the main-deck ports or the shackle for the bobstay. The defects were made good, and had the ship not been paid off she would have again proceeded to sea without any further repair. While in the 1st Division of Reserve the ship was refitted by the Reserve, when the ports in question were thoroughly overhauled and left efficient for temporary service. Before being commissioned she was docked for repairing the bottom, and had any defects been then apparent in the ship they would have been made good.I have now dealt with all the complaints which have been made, and I have shown the House all the evidence which the Admiralty had before them, brought about by those circumstances which it is stated ought to have warned the Admiralty as to the condition of the vessel. So far from treating the matter lightly, or, as the hon. and gallant Baronet seemed to suppose, cross-questioning nobody, and knowing nothing about the ship, we questioned, among others, the Director of Transports, the Chief Constructor and the Controller of the Navy, and we communicated with the authorities of Sheerness Dockyard, where the local knowledge was to be obtained. I venture, therefore, to say that we did all that was possible under the circumstances to ascertain the truth. Then I come to the question as to what information we had before us to warrant us in sending this ship to sea at all. I have just stated that she was docked in January, and that she had been docked in August and was then carefully examined. But before she was actually employed a telegram was sent to the Captain Superintendent of Sheerness Dockyard, as follows—If the Megæra were wanted for a nine months' service at sea, is she in a fit state to undertake it, and what time would be required before she could receive her crew and a large body of supernumeraries?The reply received was in the following terms:—Megæra is ready, with the exception of completing the stores and coal, but she has been five months out of dock and would require to have her bottom cleaned. The tides will not admit of docking her until Friday, the 20th. She might receive her crew the following Monday (23rd inst).974 Upon receipt of this telegram the authorities at the Admiralty, the then Controller of the Navy, the First Naval Lord, and all the responsible officers, assented to the Megæra being sent out. However, to make still more certain, the Junior Naval Lord at that time put this distinct question to the Assistant Constructor, Mr. Barnaby—Please tell me in what condition is Megæra as to seaworthiness, as we talk of her for a trip to Australia.The answer was as follows:—I beg leave to state that the Megæra, having undergone repair at Sheerness, is reported to be complete. She is a good seaboat, and, although more than 20 years old, is sound and strong. Her boilers are, however, only good for one year's service.That term, however, was sufficient, for the voyage contemplated was only one of nine months; no question moreover arises as to the state of the boilers. Thereupon, the Captain Superintendent at Sheerness was told that he might dock the ship. But what had been the character of the ship before, for the question has been put before the House, as if we ought never to have entertained the notion of sending such a vessel to sea at all? Hon. Members might, indeed, at first sight, think that the character of the Megæra was such that she ought not and could not have been employed with safety; but, from an Admiralty document relative to the sailing and other qualities of Her Majesty's ships, she showed no signs of weakness. We keep a book at the Admiralty in which the opinions of the captains themselves with regard to their ships are recorded, and I will tell the House the answers which were made by successive commanders of the Megæra to the queries which were put to them. In the report of sailing qualities, the question put is as follows:—"Is she, generally speaking, a well-built and strong ship, or does she show any symtoms of weakness?" Captain M. B. Dunn, who commanded her in 1865, writes—"Appears to be a well-built ship and shows no signs of weakness; a good seaboat in heavy weather." In 1866 Captain Dunn again writes—"Appears to be a well-built iron ship." In 1867 Captain J. Simpson, a fresh captain, writes—"Appears to be a well-built iron ship; a good seaboat in a gale." In 1868 Staff Commander J. 975 Loane, a fresh captain, reports—"Appears quite strong and well-built, and shows no signs of weakness, and appears an excellent seaboat in heavy weather." In 1869 Staff Commander H. D. Sarratt, a different captain, writes—"Appears quite strong and well-built, and shows no signs of weakness; an excellent sea-boat in heavy weather;" and again, in 1870, Staff Commander Sarratt wrote in precisely similar terms. Now, as regards her draught of water, that is said to have been so excessive as to endanger the ship. But even before the 100 tons of cargo were taken out the draught was not in excess of what it had been in former years. Her draught of water in 1870 was 17 feet forward and 17 feet 3 inches aft; in 1871 her draught was 17 feet 3 inches forward and 16 feet 9½ inches aft; and on the day prior to her sailing from Queenstown it had been reduced to 16 feet 6 inches forward and 17 feet 1 inch aft. I have shown to the House that we really did take pains to ascertain whether the Megæra was a good and a seaworthy ship, and that we did not take this matter lightly, but investigated it thoroughly. My surprise was great when I heard for the first time, on Saturday, on seeing Mr. Reed's letter in the newspapers, that the plates had been so thin as to endanger the vessel. ["Hear, hear!"] That was the first time I heard of it. Now, let me say a word about Mr. Reed's Report. I was asked on the 21st of March whether there was not a Report from Mr. Reed upon this subject. I made inquiry, and search was instituted, but no such Report could be found. The hon. and gallant Baronet opposite states that, after a conversation with Mr. Reed, he believes that the Report was made in 1869. [Sir JOHN HAY: Yes, about 1869, I think; but the date was not given.] I do not know why the hon. and gallant Baronet should say it was 1869. Mr. Reed states that my right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) was in office at the time. The date, however, is not 1869, but 1866, when the hon. and gallant Baronet himself was in office. When I saw that statement I asked for a copy of the Report—I know the House will feel that I desire always to state not merely what is true in fact, but what is true in spirit—and I was told that no such Report could be found, and there is no such Report now 976 to be found. But it is true that Mr. Reed surveyed the ship in 1866.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
Late in the month of July or August. I do not know exactly whether the right hon. Gentleman was in or out of office.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I think it was at the end of July. At all events, it was the hon. and gallant Baronet who would have to deal with the Report. I do not make any charge against him with respect to it. I merely state that Mr. Reed now says, inaccurately, he made a Report, five years ago, as to the thinness of the plates to Mr. Childers, of which Report not a trace can be found at the Admiralty; and, unless the matter were brought to the notice of Mr. Childers, I do not see how it was possible for him to have acted on it. The information seems to have remained in the mind of one man above all others—Mr. Reed, and he communicated that knowledge to an hon. Member of this House, whether before or after the ship sailed I know not. A week after the ship sailed, however, a Question was put to me in the House, and I will only say that I would rather be myself, with my ignorance of that Report, than I would be anyone else who knew that the plates were thin and did not state it. Mr. Reed states that Mr. Childers insisted upon his not making any communication to his successors. ["Hear, hear!"] I see that there are two hon. Members in the House who accept that statement as true to the full extent. Does the House really believe that in the full sense of the term? But, if true, there are many ways in which that may be explained. I have had access to Mr. Childers's private papers, though, of course, I cannot be sure that I have seen them all. But I think it may be said in Mr. Childers's absence, that this is a very serious charge to bring against an absent man, who has no opportunity of immediately replying. Mr. Reed, at all events, worked in his Department with able subordinates, one of whom has himself certified to the fitness of the ship for going to sea, and is a near connection of Mr. Reed himself. I have asked this officer—indeed, I have asked them all—"Have you had any hint or warning whatever upon this 977 matter by a single line from Mr. Reed, either before he went out or since?" And he and all of them have assured me that no such warning whatever has been given. But Mr. Reed says Mr. Childers insisted upon the condition that he should not communicate with his successors. Mr. Reed has been good enough to offer assistance to me—and I fully appreciate his kindness—and to state that he would give me information as to any matters which I might require. These offers, however, were made after the sailing of the Megæra. Why, then, should Mr. Reed have felt himself precluded from doing a few weeks earlier what a few weeks later he voluntarily did—namely, to offer me courteously the information he possessed? I do not, moreover, understand what intimation from Mr. Childers prevented Mr. Reed from communicating upon a matter of such great importance with his friend and relative of whom I have spoken. By a single line he could have warned any one of his friends in the Department—"Look up the records of four or five years ago, and you will find this ship badly spoken of by me, in which the lives of 380 seamen are now about to be endangered." That was not done, and yet a week after she had sailed I was asked whether I had known of that Report of Mr. Reed's. I do not wish to make any charge against Mr. Reed; but I do say, when these letters are written to the newspapers charging us with want of knowledge, and charging us with every conceivable negligence in connection with this ship, I certainly do regret that no public or private hints were given, and that no official letter even was written by Mr. Reed—for I believe there was nothing whatever to preclude Mr. Reed from writing an official letter upon the subject. I am aware that Mr. Reed wanted to make some private communications to Mr. Childers, and that Mr. Childers replied by asking him to put them into an official form, which Mr. Reed refused to do, having written them as a private letter. I believe it will turn out that this view of Mr. Reed about Mr. Childers not wishing him to communicate arose from the reluctance of Mr. Childers to receive any communications not capable of being used as public letters. In a letter this morning Mr. Reed alleges that he spoke to Mr. Lushington, the Secretary to the 978 Admiralty, and got him "to point out to Mr. Childers the perils which might and would ensue" if he was not listened to. But is the Navy of this country in such a position that if Mr. Reed suddenly dies there is no means of obtaining information as to the perils with which any of our ships may be threatened? I refuse to believe that matters are in such a state that the whole safety of our Navy depends upon the knowledge that is enshrined in the breast of one man. I have received from Mr. Lushington a memorandum which does not correspond with the recollection of Mr. Reed. Mr. Lushington says—With reference to Mr. Reed's statement in to-day's Times—'I got Mr. Lushington to point out to Mr. Childers the perils which might and would ensue'—I beg to state my recollection of what took place. A short while after Mr. Reed had resigned and had quitted the office, and after, I believe, Mr. Childers had declined to enter into any private correspondence with him, he (Mr. Reed) called at the office and asked to see me. I am not sure whether he was shown up to me in the first instance. If so, I had no conversation with him, but said at once that I could receive no verbal communication from him without instructions from Mr. Childers, and went at once to the First Lord's room. I recollect seeing Mr. Childers, and being instructed by him to inform Mr. Reed that I could not receive any oral statement from him, but that any official letter would receive due attention. I remember seeing Mr. Reed, and stating this to him in as civil and friendly terms as I could (for I had always been on friendly terms with him). He was somewhat angry, and went away. Mr. Reed at no time entered into any statement to me about the Megæra, or any other ship, and I cannot accept his statement that he got me 'to point out to Mr. Childers the perils which might and would ensue.' 'Perils' were never named or suggested to me by him. I never was at any time aware of any perils likely to ensue to any of Her Majesty's ships.I heard an hon. Member say that Mr. Reed would not write an official letter because he was no longer in office. But Mr. Reed had marked his letter "Private," with two dashes under the word "Private." Mr. Childers asked him to remove that word, and he refused to do so. The only objection on the part of Mr. Childers was to receive communications which could not be produced by him; but he said that if Mr. Reed would make his communication public it would receive full consideration. I do not know what further evidence I have to communicate. All I can say is, that upon the evidence I do not believe we could have acted in any other way. If Mr. Reed had made any communication 979 about the Megæra he would have done great service. I do not think that it can be justly alleged against Mr. Childers that he has refused to receive such hints. I know that so far from my refusing to receive them, I should have been very glad if they had been offered me. Mr. Reed says, in the letter which he addressed to The Times of Saturday—I reported her fit only for a very brief period of further service, in consequence of the extreme thinness to which her plates had become worn by many years of almost continual use at sea. That period has long been exceeded.Now, I say I can find no Report whatever from Mr. Reed; but I do find that he surveyed the ship, and I find Reports upon the subject alluding to that survey. The word "only" is, however, interpolated by Mr. Reed, for the actual documents state that £250 would be required to repair her, and that then she would be fit for eighteen months' or two years' service. They do not say that at the end of that period she would not be fit for service. [Mr. DISRAELI: What is the date of those documents?] Yes, I ought to have given the date. The first is dated Woolwich Dockyard, July 30, 1866, and the next the 31st of July, 1866. The latter says—With reference to the enclosed supplementary estimate for the repair of the hull and fittings of the Megæra, amounting to £250, to be performed by the Factory at Woolwich, I beg leave to report that the Chief Constructor has made a careful examination of the ship, and is of opinion that this supplementary estimate should be allowed, as the ship may remain fit for service for eighteen months or two years longer when repaired. I therefore submit that the estimate be approved, and directions for the work to be proceeded with be given.Here is a remarkable little rough paper on which this submission appears to be based, and it is to this effect—"To allow vessels running for eighteen months or two years longer, £250." In the Reports it is stated how long the ship will last with the repairs then recommended, but it is never stated what is to be done at the end of that time. But does the hon. and gallant Baronet contend that the ship should never have been employed at the end of the two years? If that be the case, I may remind the hon. and gallant Baronet that Mr. Reed remained Chief Constructor of the Navy long after that time, and that year after year he passed estimates for the repair of that ship without any remark. In no scrap of paper that I have read—and I have 980 read all I can find—is there any allusion to this investigation made in 1866. There may be some parties to blame for not having carried these circumstances in their minds, and that requires the strictest inquiry, but the position of the Admiralty at this moment with respect to the ship is this—that when these repairs were made in 1866, the Report on which they were made was accompanied by one received from Woolwich, in which it was said that, owing to the thinness of the vessel's plates round the water-line, if the ship were used beyond the time stated she would require to be more thoroughly repaired. Now, I do not wish the House to absolve the Admiralty if they have done wrong in this matter. I admit that we did not go back to 1866, but we went back to 1870, when the ship was last docked. The hon. and gallant Baronet says that when the ship was docked, the estimate furnished for her repairs was reduced. That is perfectly true, and it is equally true that that estimate was certified by Mr. Reed as Chief Constructor of the Navy. Mr. Reed did not then say that the ship's plates were so thin that she was not fit for sea, and, what was more, the authorities at Sheerness certified that her bottom was better than had been expected, and that it was not necessary to incur further expense. With the matter at the time, too, the political department of the Admiralty had nothing to do—it belonged to the Chief Constructor's Department, the Department which possessed this information, and with them it remained. Nor did the colleagues of Mr. Reed either in 1870 or 1871 have their attention called to what had occurred in 1866. The ship has been docked several times since 1866, and on each occasion it has been reported that after the repairs recommended she would be ready for the service on which she was ordered. Mistakes may have been made, and I do not wish the House to think that because I quote the whole of the facts I or my colleagues wish to be relieved of any responsibility with regard to the vessel. Possibly we ought to have surveyed the whole of these records from year to year, in order to ascertain what repairs had been done to her; but we took the Reports made with respect to the Megæra when docked, the Reports of her captains, and the Report which was made 981 about her at Queenstown, and we gave the whole subject our most anxious consideration, in order that we might answer any Question that might be asked as fully and as satisfactorily as we possibly could. Do hon. Members think there is not a great responsibility in ordering any ship to be sent to sea? The responsibility is a great one. We may be accused of not having gone back years enough; but we did make every effort to ascertain if she was fit for service. I do not wish judgment to be pronounced upon myself, or upon others at present; but I say, of course, the most rigid inquiry must be made into the whole of the circumstances of this case. I feel the disaster as much as the hon. and gallant Baronet. I naturally feel the loss of this ship infinitely more than the hon. and gallant Baronet possibly can feel it, because I know that we have lost more than the ship by this loss, in the lessening of public confidence that may arise, and therefore I do not regard it as any personal or light matter, but as a very serious one. It is one calling for rigid inquiry, and if we have done wrong we must bear the responsibility and blame. I have now laid before the House, as far I can, all the circumstances as I know them, and in the order in which they have reached me, and I ask the House and the public to suspend their judgment until they know more, and until proper inquiries can be instituted. And I do ask all those who have influence over public opinion in this House, or out of it, to do nothing by way of exaggeration which can tend to increase this disaster by spreading panic and alarm. I trust that every man will recognize that there is a great responsibility incurred by anyone who exaggerates that which I and everyone feel to have been a very miserable calamity.
LORD HENRY LENNOX
I have no intention, Sir, I beg to assure the House, of making any personal attack upon the right hon. Gentleman opposite the First Lord of the Admiralty, in reference to this unfortunate disaster; but as some remarks have been made with reference to the Board of Admiralty of which I was a Member, I cannot allow that the statement of the right hon. Gentleman is in any respect satisfactory. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that the Report which he cannot find was made by Mr. 982 Reed between July and August, 1866. That was at the very moment when a change of Government took place, and when my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stamford (Sir John Hay) assumed the command of the ships belonging to the Transport Department. After, however, having seen and studied the Report of Mr. Reed, and the Report from Woolwich, in which it was stated that the ship might be made seaworthy for eighteen months or two years, the then Board of Admiralty placed the ship at the bottom of the store-ships to be employed, and though during our tenure of office a great pressure came upon us to provide ships for carrying stores in connection with the Abyssinian War, we did not employ the Megæra, and did not deem her sufficiently seaworthy for such a voyage as would then have been necessary. It is not, however, only because I was then at the Admiralty that I feel I have a right to address a few words to the House upon this question; for I was one of the two hon. Members who in March last received such a snubbing at the hands of the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter). I then asked if it was true that the ship was in such a state that the baggage was floating about and the decks were under water, and we were told by the hon. Member for Montrose that there was not one word of truth in the statement so made. I must here also regret very much that the Admiralty did not adopt the rule laid down in the Controller's Department — a rule sanctioned by the Board presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers)—namely, that when a store-ship is fitted out at a port, if on her voyage to the next port she is found to be unseaworthy from damage not notorious to her commander, her stores and troops shall be transferred to the port where they were embarked, and the officers at that port held responsible for the insufficient examination which must have been made. All through the right hon. Gentleman's statement he takes that for granted which it is my privilege to deny, and he says that the leakage which was apparent in the Megæra came from the main-deck ports. Then the right hon. Gentleman said that no examination of the ship's plates took place at Queenstown; but I am not surprised that Admiral Forbes should not have examined the plates at the bottom 983 of the vessel, because it could never have entered his head that the Admiralty at London would have sanctioned a vessel being sent on a voyage round the world without a thorough and satisfactory examination on this point. What I object to in the statement of the right hon. Gentleman is the idea of there being any question raised in England or elsewhere as to the seaworthiness of any vessel, after she has been ordered to go round the world. We have abundance of vessels seaworthy, and fit to do the passage, which could have been employed for the purpose on which the Megæra was sent. If I am not mistaken, there are documents at the Admiralty upon this subject; and on another occasion I will ask the right hon. Gentleman whether there is any Paper from the late Controller of the Navy, in which he recommended that the old line-of-battle ships which had already been prepared should be used for this service, as the Donegal had been on a previous occasion. [Mr. GOSCHEN: Instead of the Megæra?] No: a Paper in general terms; and whether he did not recommend that the Revenge should be prepared for this service. Now, the right hon. Gentleman has quoted a great many opinions of the captains who commanded the Megæra, as to her being a good seaboat; but I fail to see what they have to do with the question. No one disputes that the Megæra was a good vessel in her day; what we say is, that her plates had been worn so thin as to admit the water, and consequently she was not in a fit condition to go to sea. The right hon. Gentleman has attacked a gentleman of great eminence in the shipbuilding world, and has partly charged him with knowing that the Megæra was in an unseaworthy condition, and with not communicating the fact either to himself or to the Department. I believe that at the time this occurred Mr. Reed was in the heart of Russia, where owing to the fact that our Government had turned him out of office—[Mr. GOSCHEN: No; they did not turn him out of office.] Well, they made office impossible for him, and by a series of manœuvres or evolutions, as I will call them, on the part of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract, they made it impossible for him to remain with honour to himself in the office which he held with advantage to the country, just 984 in the same way as on a later occasion the same Board of Admiralty managed to dispense with the services of his able and gallant chief. ["Hear, hear!"] Sir Spencer Robinson did not resign; he was ignominiously expelled. Mr. Reed did not wait to be expelled; he found the place too hot to hold him, and preferred to resign. Mr. Reed was at the time in Russia, and was designing, as I believe he now is for Germany, a powerful fleet of iron-clad vessels. [Mr. GOSCHEN dissented.] I am by this time perfectly accustomed to the right hon. Gentleman's silent contradictions; but if between this time and three months' hence, the right hon. Gentleman is able to tell me that my statement is erroneous, and that Mr. Reed is not designing vessels for the Emperor of Russia and for the Emperor of Germany, I will retract what I have now said.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I beg the noble Lord's pardon. I did not wish to contradict that portion of the noble Lord's statement; my contradiction related to the part in which noble Lord said that Mr. Reed was in Russia on the 1st of March last. I believe Mr. Reed was not in Russia in the early part of March.
LORD HENRY LENNOX
I did not say that Mr. Reed was in Russia on the 1st of March; but he has been in Russia all the summer, and has returned only within the last few days. I should not have referred to the general question of Mr. Reed's treatment by the Admiralty at all, had not the right hon. Gentleman quoted Mr. Reed's letter. I had intended to mention the subject of the treatment of iron ships when the Navy Estimates came on; but the First Lord of the Treasury has taken good care to prevent me from having that opportunity.
The noble Lord forgets that he had the offer on Monday week of the next Tuesday evening and declined it.
LORD HENRY LENNOX
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government for his correction, and am equally indebted to him for the offer of an evening which belongs by right to private Members, when the House resumes its sitting at 9 o'clock, and on which, moreover, for the last four or five previous weeks every subject has been well nigh counted out. Now, a 985 very grave question arises with regard to the letter which appeared in the papers this morning, and I say that the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract, in refusing all further communication with Mr. Reed after what the First Lord of the Admiralty calls his resignation, was in the highest degree unwise and unpatriotic. Mr. Reed had been designing ships of the most novel kind—of a kind not hitherto designed by naval architects. When Mr. Reed went out of office the internal fittings of these ships were appointed to be carried out, and are being carried out by men with whom the designs never originated, and who were deprived of the opportunity of communicating with Mr. Reed. The right hon. Gentleman has laid great stress upon the fact that a great many of Mr. Reed's letters were regarded as "private" documents by that gentleman; but will he consent to lay on the Table of the House a Paper which was not marked "private," but which entreated the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract to call Mr. Reed back, in order that his designs might be looked over by himself, and the Admiralty might have the benefit of transferring to his successors the original ideas on which he had based those designs? It is my intention to ask the right hon. Gentleman to name a day on which he will lay on the Table that Paper from the late Controller of the Navy to the late First Lord—a Paper which cannot be described as a private document. Having been in office with my hon. and gallant Friend near me (Sir John Hay), I feel bound to say that the idea never even occurred to me, or to my colleagues, that the Megæra should do anything but temporary service—indeed, she was at the very bottom of our list at that time—and we certainly never contemplated sending her on a voyage such as that she had last attempted under the direction of the present Board of Admiralty.
§ MR. LIDDELL,
claiming the right of any hon. Member to address the House on a question involving the credit of the Admiralty administration, as well as the lives of 380 men, said, that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty had that evening made a very candid statement, and his position was one in which the House, no doubt, tho- 986 roughly sympathized. The right hon. Gentleman had said he did not wish to make out any case for the Admiralty, but he was afraid that the judgment of the House would be, after the speech to which they had that evening listened, that the right hon. Gentleman had made out a very strong case against the Admiralty. To ascertain the responsibility they must go back to the first starting of the ship, and he should be glad to learn why she was sent over a stormy ocean to Australia, on a voyage that would last nine months, when it had been declared in August, 1870, that her boilers were good for one year only. He (Mr. Liddell) believed that the thinness of her plates was not the only point of unseaworthiness in the Megæra, for it was found that she was deep in the water, her ports leaked, her bolts drew, and she was ill stowed before she was examined by an officer of the Navy on her arrival at Queenstown. It was, however, impossible for that officer to examine the ship's bottom. He desired to know who was responsible for sending the ship to sea in the condition in which she arrived at Queenstown. That was a question which the country had a right to ask, and the answer must be given by a searching inquiry being made into all the circumstances of the case, and he ventured to suggest that such an inquiry should be held in England. [Mr. GOSCHEN assented.] He was glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman assented, for besides the unseaworthy condition of the Megæra, there was the fact that she had been at the bottom of the list of storeships and was not on the list of troopships, which justified any hon. Member in challenging the administration at the Admiralty for having ventured upon such a risk as to send this ship to sea in her known condition. With respect to Mr. Reed, his complaint was that with regard, not to the Megæra alone, but also to a number of other ships, he had not had the opportunity of communicating with those who succeeded him at the Admiralty. He knew but little of official life, yet it appeared to him to be unjust to a man who had held such a responsible position that he should not, after leaving his office, be allowed to communicate with those who were responsible for the condition of Her Majesty's ships. He wished to remind the House of another circumstance. A Bill had been before 987 the House for the Regulation of the Merchant Navy, by the provisions of which to send to sea an unseaworthy ship was made a misdemeanour, and the opportunity was afforded to a seaman to leave his ship if it was unseaworthy, and go before a Justice of the Peace, who might order a survey of the ship to be made. If that was the spirit in which the Government regarded the saving of life and the prevention of accidents at sea with respect to merchant shipping, they ought not to be less careful as regarded the Royal Navy. The country would not be content without a searching inquiry being made, and he was glad that the First Lord had said he would insist upon it.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
said, he did not intend to prolong the discussion, as his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty in his candid statement had laid before the House every fact in the possession of the Admiralty connected with the loss of this ship. There were, however, one or two points in the observations which the noble Lord (Lord Henry Lennox) and the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Liddell) had offered of which he felt bound to take notice. The noble Lord stated that it was the duty of the Government to have made further inquiries as to the leakage of the vessel on her way from Sheerness to Queenstown, and assumed that the Admiralty ought to have known that it was due to the defective state of her plates. But the captain in his letter to the Admiralty stated that the leakage was due to defects in the ports; and in the letters from the Cape nothing was said about a leak at all. The noble Lord regretted that that course had not been followed which was prescribed in the Admiralty instructions, according to which when she was found at Queenstown to be improperly loaded, she should have been sent back to the port from which she started. Now there was a General Instruction, to the effect that when a vessel was unseaworthy she should return to the port of starting; but in that case, the cause of complaint was defective ports and overloading, and in consequence 100 tons of cargo were taken out of her, and the defects in the ports were remedied. It had been said that Mr. Reed had not been consulted by the First Lord of the Admiralty; but all Mr. Childers had objected to was, 988 the receipt of information by "private" letters which could not be afterwards produced, and both the present First Lord and himself had had more than one interview with Mr. Reed, from whom they were always ready to receive information with respect to this or any other vessel of the Royal Navy. It was not the case that the Department was in ignorance of the designs of Mr. Reed, for there were three very able men doing duty as a Council of Instruction, one of whom was the brother-in-law of Mr. Reed, and all of whom were brought up in the same school as Mr. Reed, and were equally able and experienced; and certainly with all the knowledge they acquired while Mr. Reed was at the Admiralty they must be assumed to have all the information necessary for carrying out his designs. It was the wish of the Admiralty that every inquiry should take place in this case, and they had already directed that the Court Martial should take place in this country.
said, he should be sorry to prejudge that question, and agreed with the First Lord that it would be premature to jump at a conclusion. But it appeared to him that there was a very strong primâ facie case in favour of the belief that the loss of the ship was to be attributed to the unsound condition in which she left England. He knew something of the Megæra, as he happened to be a Member of the Board of Admiralty in 1844, when she was ordered to be built. She was a very good seaboat; but iron shipbuilding was then much less understood than at present; she had since done much service, and had been put at the bottom of the list of those ships which were employed on the store service. Knowing what he did of the ship, he never should have thought of sending her to Australia with 380 officers and seamen, and to do so was a great risk on the part of the Admiralty, there being a strong presumption that she was in an unsound state. He was informed that it was a very unusual occurrence for iron ships to spring a leak, and the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Samuda) had told him that he never heard of such a case. It was, moreover, quite clear that the Megæra did not sail in a sound state, for her ports were old and leaky, and after the Report which the Board of Admiralty had received from Queenstown, they 989 should have taken greater precautions before ordering her to sea. The First Lord had remarked that the captain of the Megæra had said nothing as to her unseaworthiness; but that officer doubtless presumed that the Admiralty would not send a ship abroad in a dangerous state. He had no means of forming an opinion as to the condition of her bottom, for all he could see was water pouring into the ports, nor could the Admiral at Queenstown have seen more or made any further report. With respect to the fitness of the vessel to go on such a voyage, it was clear that, besides being defective, she was overloaded and crowded to an inconvenient extent. For that there was a grave responsibility somewhere, and it was as reprehensible to send a ship to sea overloaded as in an unsound condition. He did not think that sufficient precautions had been taken by the Admiralty, for as far as could be seen above water the ship was unsound. It was absolutely necessary that a searching inquiry should be made into the matter, for he was afraid there was in existence a feeling that the way to please the Admiralty was to do things as cheaply as possible. In former days, however, they thought of efficiency as well as of economy, and they would not have risked sending such a ship on a long voyage rather than incur the expense of sending another one to Queenstown to take her place.
§ MR. SAMUDA
said, he entirely agreed with previous speakers in thinking that all the circumstances of this matter should be known before a judgment was formed upon it; but there were some points which he wished to bring before the House, and he rose for the purpose of doing so. He had that moment ascertained by telegram that the ship had been lost in consequence of a leak in the bottom, which leak had been continuously increasing, till it was impossible to keep it under with the pumps. This was a vessel 22 years old; and that question of age had a great deal to do with the circumstances of the case, for the action of the sea, and especially of the sea water inside the ship, the bilge water, in the early days of iron shipbuilding, was very detrimental. Fifteen or sixteen years ago, he had ships placed in his hands of which not only the plates were considerably reduced by the action of the bilge water, but the 990 ribs were entirely washed away. About that time the plan was introduced of coating the inside of ships so as to prevent the plates and the ribs being washed away by the bilge water. A cement, sometimes composed of Roman cement, and sometimes of asphalte, was applied, and that formed an enamel upon the inside of the ship, which enamel was found 16 years afterwards as perfect as when first put on. If, therefore, a careful course of examination had been adopted during this long period, and such application had been made, the enamel would have prevented the reduction of the plates by the action of the bilge water. Either that course, or the opposite one should have been adopted, of seeing whether any worn plates had been taken out and replaced with new strong ones. He did not attach blame to the present First Lord, since his term of office precluded the idea of making him responsible in this matter; but as regarded the Admiralty the country had a right to expect that everything should be done that was necessary to maintain the efficiency of the Royal Navy, and that a ship should be in a condition to perform a voyage safely unless some untoward accident occurred. It was important to get at the facts of this case; but it was equally important for the credit of the Admiralty that the First Lord should make those facts public. It might be that the ship had given out from inherent weakness, or it might be that sufficient money had not been spent in restoring her; but whatever was the cause of the catastrophe, the country had reason to be dissatisfied at the state in which this vessel was sent to sea. It was absolutely necessary that the First Lord should place before the country a clear statement of the causes that had led to this calamitous end.
§ MR. W. H. GREGORY
said, he had never been a member of the Admiralty, nor was he at all acquainted with Mr. Reed; but he wished to express a view which he thought would be shared by the country at large, and that was that if blame were fixed on any persons, there was one above all on whom it must rest, and that was Mr. Reed himself. Here was a letter from Mr. Reed, speaking in a kind of Cassandra tone of the shortcomings of the English Navy, saying that the Glatton was unfit to go to sea, and the Devastation was in such a 991 state that she would probably go to the bottom unless some important information was received from him. He admitted being aware of the condition of the Megæra before she sailed; but did he go down and tell his friends at the Admiralty, or give any intimation of an official character that such was his opinion? If Mr. Reed had done that he would have stood in a far different position in the estimation of the public than he would now in reference to this unfortunate affair. But it appeared that Mr. Reed was one of those persons who, when they had a private quarrel to fight out, were perfectly unscrupulous as to the means they employed. ["No, no!" and "Hear, hear!"] He must repeat those strong observations, for he believed it was his duty to do so. By withholding his information till a week after the vessel sailed, Mr. Reed showed that he preferred to take an amount of discredit upon himself in the eyes of the public, in order that he might injure a person with whom he had had a quarrel.
§ SIR GEORGE JENKINSON
said, he also thought the House ought to look at the matter with respect to what the country would say, and from that point of view it seemed that there was much yet to be ascertained. The First Lord of the Admiralty had admitted that some of the bolts had been drawn out of the ship, and that Mr. Reed had reported in July, 1866, that she was then fit for eighteen months' or two years' service. This led one to presume that some later investigation had been made.
§ SIR GEORGE JENKINSON
said, the fact remained that five years after the ship had been reported fit for only two years' service she had been sent on a voyage to Australia. The public could not be blamed if under the circumstances information was demanded. It was clear the state of the Megæra was no secret, for in The Globe of March 2 the following passage appeared:—We are asked to intercede with the Admiralty on behalf of 400 British sailors whose lives are in peril. Her Majesty's ship Megæra has just been commissioned at Sheerness to take out crews for the Blanche and Rosario at Sydney. An officer on board the Megæra communicates to us from Queenstown the astounding fact that the vessel is absolutely unseaworthy; that she 'leaks from the bow to the stern;' that upwards of 50 992 tons of water were found in the bilges on the first watch after leaving Plymouth, the men's mess-deck being from 15 in. to 18 in. deep in water, with their boats floating about; and that the men on board the Megæra had been up twice on the quarter-deck about the ship leaking, and on Wednesday last were about to enter a third protest, this time against the vessel rounding the Cape in the middle of winter. Under these alarming conditions it is hardly surprising to hear that all on board the Megæra 'shudder at the prospect of sharing the fate of the Captain.' But another statement excites amazement, and shows at least the necessity for public investigation. 'Captain Thrupp distinctly told Admiral Codrington on Saturday night last,' writes our informant, 'that we were not ready for sea,' but he said 'go we must,' as he had orders to send us off.'Clearly, due diligence had not been exercised by some one in allowing the vessel to be sent to sea with a number of valuable lives on board. The telegram in this morning's papers showed how precisely the fears expressed by the paragraph he had quoted had been realized. The Consul at Batavia telegraphed under date August 5, as follows:—Leak reported about June 8. Kept under for several days by hand pumps. Leak increased; steam then used; water kept under. Insufficient coal to reach Australia.Why was the coal insufficient?Steered for St. Paul's. June 17 anchored. Survey held; diver employed; reported unsafe to proceed; hole through bottom; landed provisions; weather stormy; lost three anchors. June 19 ship was run on the bar full speed and filled. Lieutenant Jones left July 16, all well; men under canvas; 80 tons cargo saved. Steamship Rinaldo left Singapore yesterday for St. Paul's, viâ Batavia.As one of the taxpaying public he demanded a bonâ fide inquiry. Her Majesty's ship had been lost according to red tape and routine; there was blame somewhere, and the public had a right to know where. Ship after ship seemed to be going to the bottom, through nobody's fault, and this was not a kind of thing the public would allow. A full and searching inquiry must be made, and there must be no garbled reports or equivocal statements made in the course of it.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
Sir, I take no exception whatever to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Goschen), and I think no one can have heard it without feeling that he admits the greatness of the calamity and the necessity for inquiry. I frankly admit that as the right hon. Gentleman 993 had only recently acceded to office at the time when the Megæra sailed, he was under the necessity of accepting the statements of others as to the condition of the vessel. But, on the other hand, I think the feeling of the whole country is that the transaction is discreditable to the Admiralty. My name has been alluded to as having been at the Admiralty in 1866, and I can fully confirm the statement that the Megæra has had a bad name for a long time to this extent, that she was known to be a worn-out ship—an old ship; and although it is quite right that we should suspend our judgment, to a certain extent, until we have further details, I think no one can doubt what was the real cause of the disaster. I therefore wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman in what manner he proposes to conduct the investigation, which he admits to be absolutely necessary. We know, of course, that there will be a Court Martial into the circumstances of the loss of the vessel; but I doubt if that Court will go into an inquiry as to the state of the ship, as it ought to have been ascertained by the authorities at the Admiralty. I should therefore like to know what sort of inquiry the right hon. Gentleman proposes to conduct, because I am sure he will admit what everyone feels, that a most searching investigation ought to be instituted, and that there would be some inquiry in addition to that of the Court Martial. Another circumstance that calls for inquiry is the one that has been referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tyrone (Mr. Corry)—namely, the discreditable and shameful state in which this ship left Plymouth and went to Queenstown. It is very discreditable to some one—whoever he may be — that one of Her Majesty's vessels should be allowed to leave Plymouth in such a condition as that in which the Megæra made the passage to Cork. It must be remembered that when she left Plymouth it was in the state in which those who thus despatched her intended that she should make the voyage to Australia; but it is clear that, in order to make her decently safe, 100 tons of her cargo had to be taken out at Cork. But I want to know why they were ever put in? Who is responsible for having thus overloaded the ship and endangered the lives of all on board? I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether that will be 994 inquired into, as well as the immediate cause of the loss of the vessel?
The questions which the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) has asked of my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty are not of such a strictly departmental character that I am precluded from answering them in his stead. He asks what sort of investigation my right hon. Friend intends to institute. I reply that the Government—and my right hon. Friend in particular—have not yet had time to decide upon any positive measures on the subject. The immediate duties connected with the exigency, and the collection of information on the subject, have sufficiently accounted for the hours that have elapsed since the news of this sad occurrence reached us. But this much I may say, we agree cordially with the right hon. Baronet that the investigation by the Court Martial will not be sufficient. It will, doubtless, bring out some points of the case; but it will not bring out the whole of the case as regards the Admiralty. On that important part of the subject the inquiry before the Court Martial will only throw an incidental and partial light. But I think that the inquiry by Court Martial should precede any other investigation; it would be better that it should precede any other investigation, and that when it is finished, or has proceeded towards its completion, arrangements should be made for the other inquiry. I am quite convinced that it is my right hon. Friend's intention to make the inquiry as searching as he can make it. And even if he was disposed otherwise, I am sure that it is the determination of the House of Commons, if any Executive Government should fail to discharge its duty in that respect, that nothing should be left undone in order to get thoroughly to the bottom of all the circumstances connected with the occurrence, because we must always bear in mind that it is by these crucial cases, when a calamity has occurred, that you get a valuable light upon the working of your system and are enabled to correct such errors as may exist in it. In regard to the second question of the right hon. Baronet, as to who is responsible for the overloaded state of the vessel when she left Plymouth, that, of course, will be the point for investigation; but I cannot 995 agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tyrone (Mr. Corry) that it is so serious a matter as that of the seaworthiness of the vessel. Still it is a question that requires investigation; but I must add that no one supposes or professes that there was any idea of danger connected with that overloading. It was a question of inconvenience and suffering to the persons on board; but it was not connected with the safety of the ship. In the same way, I may explain that another point that has been referred to—the drawing of the bolts—really stands thus—that they were the bolts of the ports on the main deck and had no bearing on the structure of the vessel.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
Overloading makes a vessel low in the water, and therefore overloading may be said to be an element of danger.
I do not understand that that is admitted by anyone connected with the matter. In the official Reports the question of overloading is stated as a question of inconvenience and suffering rather than one of danger. The Megæra has been lower in the water before than she was on this occasion, and the right hon. Gentleman has assumed that she was intended to perform the voyage to Australia in the same condition as she left Plymouth. That is not quite so, because, according to the shipments she received, a considerable portion of her stores were to be left at the Cape. [Sir JOHN PAKINGTON: But she was to go on to Australia.] Well, there is this point of difference between the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman and the fact. The hon. Baronet opposite (Sir George Jenkinson) complained that she did not carry coal enough to perform the whole journey from the Cape to Australia; but that complaint is really one against the general regulations of the Admiralty. She had enough coal for the voyage according to the regulations of the Admiralty, and it would be very costly and inconvenient in many cases, and would entirely exceed the carrying capacity of many ships, if we were to attempt to put on board them the coal necessary for a voyage of that length. The computation of the Admiralty is, that the voyage will be performed partly by steam and partly under sail. Well, the hon. Baronet went on to say that it had been made out that nobody is to blame. Now, 996 I must say that that complaint is wholly inconsistent with the language of my right hon. Friend. If ever I heard a statement in which a person was anxious not to evade the responsibility, but was quite willing to accept the blame, it was the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. It seemed to me almost to court, instead of to shrink from, inquiry; and I am perfectly sure that, as far as the Government is concerned, when the right time comes, the hon. Baronet will not have to make any complaint under that head. I now wish to read to the House a material statement in reference to the Megæra. It is the Report of the master shipwright and chief engineer of Woolwich, who made a survey of her, and it is dated the 30th July, 1866. I may mention that we have not got any Report from Mr. Reed in reference to the survey of the ship; and we think it very likely that Mr. Reed has—not unintentionally—made an error of memory, and that he did not write any Report on her, but saw and adopted the Report I now hold in my hand, and that it represents the results of Mr. Reed's investigations. I am anxious to refer to this point, because the impression prevails that there had been a Report sent in as to the thinness of the plates at the bottom of the ship, and that impression has been coupled with the statement that has come to us by telegraph that a hole had been discovered in the bottom of the vessel. Well, the fact is, that the thinness of the plates observed in 1866 had reference to the plates, not in the bottom, but near the water-line, and that the bottom was in good condition. The Report begins—We beg to forward herewith a supplementary estimate for the repair of the hull and fittings chargeable to hull of the Megæra, observing that we have examined the hull and find the bottom to be in good condition, the thinnest plates being ⅜in. thick; but the plates between wind and water all round the vessel to about 20 ft. from the stern, from the wall down to the first lap, about 8ft. in breadth in midships and about 5ft. in breadth forward and aft are very thin.
Well, that is another matter, and entirely a matter of opinion. The point is, that you have got a statement that there is a leak at the bottom of the ship, and that has been 997 connected with the thinness of the plates. It is important, under these circumstances, to understand where this thinness was observed, and we find it was noticed near the water-line. For myself, though I do not pretend to any of the knowledge of a shipwright, I think that a leak between wind and water-line is not so dangerous as one near the bottom of a vessel. The Report goes on—Though we consider that the vessel, if required, may be used for temporary services, we are of opinion that she will shortly require to be doubled in the parts above-named.This Report, I may, add, has only been discovered to-day among the archives of the Admiralty. I have nothing more to say, and I cheerfully admit the fairness of the demands that have been made in the course of this debate—and especially by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Samuda). It is impossible to state too pointedly the necessity for inquiry, and I quite admit that it is a perfectly fair subject for inquiry whether an undue regard for economy had anything to do with the disaster. But this I must say—that the people of this country are in a very hard case indeed if when they pay £9,000,000 or £10,000,000 a-year for their Navy they cannot have their ships sent to sea in a seaworthy condition, and if they cannot have any retrenchment made whatever, or any limit put to the expense of the Navy, without its being purchased at the cost of risk to the lives of their seamen. I am obliged before I sit down to say a word on the serious charge that has been made by the noble Lord the Member for Chichester (Lord Henry Lennox). I should have thought on a question of this kind that it would have been felt on all hands to be desirable not to drag in a matter of a controversial, and I may even say of an offensive, character; but the noble Lord coolly told me that I had taken very good care that the Navy Estimates should not come on. I decline to stoop to discuss with the noble Lord whether I am capable of such a breach of duty; but I will point out to the noble Lord that on Tuesday week last he had the opportunity—and I am only sorry that he did not have it much earlier—of raising a question connected with the naval Estimates; but the noble Lord said that the House was always counted out on Tuesdays, and he also said that it was a night given to private Members. As to the first plea, 998 it is true that it has happened on two Tuesdays this Session, on neither of which occasions did I see the noble Lord in his place to assist in carrying on Public Business; but it is also true that for the last six Tuesdays the House has resumed at 9 o'clock, and has sat either till 2 o'clock in the morning or later. And on the Tuesday night in question the House sat till 2 o'clock without, however, the presence of the noble Lord himself. With respect to the plea that Tuesday nights were given to private Members, I told the noble Lord distinctly that we had made arrangements with the private Members, and that through their kindness we were able to offer him the evening. I therefore leave it to the House to consider the fairness and the good taste of the charge which the noble Lord has brought, and the sufficiency of the answer he has made as to the Tuesday evening that we offered him. I regret extremely the postponement of the naval Estimates. ["Oh, oh!"] I really doubt whether any good can be done by that method of expression which, under the circumstances, is not a usual one among the Members of this House. I repeat that I regret extremely the postponement of the Estimates, and I do not believe that anyone who hears me believes that it has been owing to any such reason as the noble Lord imputed, or to any cowardly indisposition to meet discussion on the matter in question; and in regard to the offer of last Tuesday week I leave it to the noble Lord to consider whether he can justify the charge that he has made against me.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Sir, I hope the House will not be led into any discussion of detail on this subject. A great calamity has occurred, and a full inquiry has been promised, and there, for the present, the matter should rest. I, myself, should not have risen but for the last remark of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government respecting the noble Lord's (Lord Henry Lennox's) conduct. The right hon. Gentleman seems perfectly astonished that suspicion should have arisen at the end of the Session that some difficulties have been offered to the House in the consideration of the Navy Estimates. I was of opinion that for a considerable time past hon. Members generally, on both sides of the House, had been labouring under the impression that there was 999 some influence at work—what influence I do not stop now to inquire—which prevented our going into Committee of Supply and considering the Navy Estimates. It appears to me that on that point no doubt exists as to there being a unanimity of opinion. I think we have heard every day deploring accents uttered respecting the mode in which Public Business has been conducted, the result of which has been that the House of Commons has lost its chief privilege of controlling the public expenditure in Committee of Supply; and the matter of all others in which hon. Gentlemen on both sides were most interested was the consideration of the Navy Estimates. Therefore, Sir, I am astonished at the innocent surprise and indignation just expressed by the right hon. Gentleman, as if my noble Friend was the only individual who had ventured to intimate a suspicion that some influence was used which prevented the House from giving in Committee its attention to the public expenditure. As to the opportunity so generously and considerately offered by the right hon. Gentleman to my noble Friend for bringing forward a subject certainly not inferior in importance to that which has engrossed our attention this evening, I am ready to bear all the responsibility of my noble Friend's refusal of that occasion. I did not think that at a few hours' notice, if my noble Friend had accepted that very doubtful opportunity, under every possible disadvantage, the attention of the House could have been properly directed to such a question as the loss of the Captain, and I maintain that the right hon. Gentleman ought to have offered my noble Friend an opportunity for bringing forward that subject as would have ensured a discussion worthy of the occasion, and one that would have been satisfactory to the country.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.