LORD HENRY LENNOX
, in rising to call the attention of the House to the circumstances under which Her Majesty's ship Captain was received into the Navy, and subsequently sent to sea; and to move a Resolution, said, he wished to state in distinct terms how deeply he felt the importance of the question, and also to express, in the most emphatic language, his anxious wish neither to overstate nor to understate anything which could elucidate the circumstances of the national disaster which had happened. He must first of all apologize to, and account to the House, for the delay that had occurred in bringing the subject forward from the time when first his name had appeared on the Notice Paper in connection with the subject. His first Notice was at the commencement of the Session, to introduce the subject on that day fortnight, but the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government announced to him that the First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Childers) was very ill, and expressed a hope that the right 1196 hon. Gentleman would be able to return to his place in about three weeks. At the end of three weeks or a month the hopes and wishes of the right hon. Gentleman, which doubtless were shared by the House generally, were not fulfilled; the right hon. Member for Pontefract had returned to England in such a state of health that he was obliged to retire from office, and he was succeeded by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Goschen.) A Question was then put to him (Lord Henry Lennox) whether he meant to proceed with his Motion on the loss of the Captain, and he at once said he did not think it would be fair or decent towards the right hon. Gentleman to ask him at so short a notice, when he had only just joined the Admiralty, to reply on its behalf upon a subject of such importance and so varied in its ramifications. He, therefore, again postponed his statement upon the subject. After that an announcement was made in "another place" by a noble Lord (the Earl of Lauderdale) with far better right to call attention to the matter of his intention to do so; and he waited to hear the discussion in the other House, hoping that he might be spared the painful duty of submitting it to that House. He had hoped that the representative of the Admiralty in the other House would have taken such a course as would have enabled this House to pass by this sad disaster with an expression of their regret and sorrow for those who were lost; but the representative of the Admiralty in the other House really made matters worse. By that time the business of this House had got into that inextricable confusion to which reference had been made nearly every night, and for an allusion to which he got a discourteous and certainly an uncalled-for rebuke from the Prime Minister the other evening. He found the Government had taken possession of the private Members' days—Tuesdays and Fridays—and that the only resource left to him was to take a Tuesday or a Friday evening at 9, when hon. Members had been wearied by a Morning Sitting and could not be expected to enter dispassionately upon the consideration of so grave a question. There was still another reason for delay. When first the disaster occurred, and the Court Martial had reported, many gallant of officers of the Navy and many civilians, including 1197 himself, hoped that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Admiralty (Mr. Childers) would come down and frankly say he had lately assumed an autocratic and solely responsible position for everything that concerned the administration of naval affairs, and that he, like many professional persons, had been mistaken and deceived; that upon him rested the sole responsibility for that frightful catastrophe, and the country had the best security that at most it was an error of judgment in the sad and melancholy fact that he trusted his own son on board the Captain. Had the right hon. Gentleman taken that course, he would not have heard one word more from him (Lord Henry Lennox) on the subject; but the right hon. Gentleman had adopted a different course, and it was upon that course he was about to comment. The Court Martial blamed the Admiralty, and the Admiralty—that was to say, the late First Lord, retorted upon the Court Martial with a rebuke which he believed, considering who were the officers who composed it and the officer who presided over it, was unprecedented in the annals of the Admiralty, or of official records generally. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract then issued to the country during the Recess, under most exceptional circumstances, that now historical document, of which they had heard so much, the Minute with reference to the loss of the Captain. He would not reiterate what he had said before as to how deplorable he considered the circumstances under which that Minute was made public, and what a terrible breach of faith and confidence towards Colleagues was involved in making publicly such a charge as it made, involving responsibility for the loss of 500 souls and the most noble ship in the Navy, without informing them of the thunder that was hanging over their heads or of the denunciation that they first heard of through the columns of The Times. It would be his duty that morning to comment at some length upon that document; but he would not go further into the matter now than to say that one objection to the document was that while it professed to be a calm and judicial statement and investigation, and a review of the Court Martial at Portsmouth, it was, as he thought he should be able to show before he concluded his speech, from 1198 first to last, by inference, if not actually in words—a most specious ex parte statement—designed by the late First Lord to shake off from himself all responsibility, and to fix discredit and responsibility upon Colleagues and subordinates. The question of high freeboard versus low freeboard had become very much embittered, far more so than he thought any question affecting the nation ever should be; and in very much of what fell last night from the present First Lord upon this question of bitterness he fully agreed, believing, with the right hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. Corry), that they ought not to quarrel about one another's ships, except with the object of producing the very best ships. It was, therefore, deplorable that so much of feeling and personality had pervaded the controversy between high freeboard and low freeboard. From 1859 to 1866 the Press and the Parliament rang with clamours for the fair trial of turret-ships; and the Board of Admiralty, present and past, were denounced as being determined not to give them a fair trial. He had in his hand several passages from what was written during that time, and all were of one tone and tendency, which was to show that no turret system could be properly carried out while intrusted to the hands of those who were strong advocates of a rival system. This clamour for fair play went on from 1859 to 1866. In 1863 Captain Coles renewed his application to be allowed to build turret-ships. The then Board, of which the Duke of Somerset was first Lord, and his (Lord Henry Lennox's) gallant relative, Lord Clarence Paget, was Secretary, refused the application, alleging as a reason that certain trials of the turret system was then going on in the Royal Sovereign, the Prince Albert, and other ships. In 1865 Captain Sherard Osborn reported upon the trials of the Royal Sovereign, and they were considered to be so favourable that in the following year Captain Coles was authorized to prepare a drawing for a turret-ship after his own heart. When speaking of Captain Coles's turret-ships, he spoke of such a ship as Captain Coles always suggested was the best for seagoing and cruising purposes—namely, one rigged as a sailing vessel and with a very low freeboard. In 1865 the design of Captain Coles was reported upon by the Construction department, and the 1199 Report was referred by that department to a Committee over which a gallant Admiral presided. With regard to the Report by the Construction department on the turret-ship they had, in the pages of the Minute of the right hon. Member for Pontefract, an evidence of his determination to throw blame on the Construction department of the Admiralty. In the Minute, referring to this design of Captain Coles, of 1865, the right hon. Gentleman said—In these Reports no reference is made to any want of stability in the ship, which was to have a freeboard of 10 feet; on the contrary, it is stated that 'the seagoing qualities of the ship will be very good;' and again 'that there is no reason to suppose that her seagoing qualities would be inferior to others, with the exception that her bulwarks might be destroyed in a heavy sea, and her decks swept clear after their loss.'What was the object in drawing attention to the fact that the Controller's office did not fear a want of stability in the ship? The ship designed had a freeboard of 10 feet, and with that comparatively high freeboard, much higher than Captain Coles afterwards directed, it had a tonnage of only 2,000 instead of 4,300 tons; therefore there was ample freeboard to give security to the ship. But when the right hon. Gentleman called pointed attention to the fact, as he did throughout the whole Minute, that the Construction department had never warned him of any want of stability, he was going rather far out of his way to rake up a ship of 1865, which, according to the recent experience and compared with the recent designs of Captain Coles, had a very high freeboard, and would probably have great stability. That design was referred to the Earl of Lauderdale's Committee, and they reported against its being built. A second indication of the animus of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract against the Controller's department, and of his determination to throw blame on that department and on the then Chief Constructor of the Navy, was furnished by the following extract from the Minute:—On the 27th of April the drawings of the ship and the Controller's Report were referred to a Committee of Naval Officers, presided over by Admiral the Earl of Lauderdale, who were instructed to report on every point connected with the proposal, examining such witnesses as they might think necessary. Their Report, which is very full and critical, and which concludes by recommending that a ship should not be built on 1200 this design, says only, with respect to her stability, that there 'was nothing in the construction of the ship to lead them to believe that her stability would be different or inferior to any other armour-plated ship of similar dimensions, but that on this point they only drew their conclusion from the evidence of the naval architects whom they had examined.'The passage cited was given in inverted commas, as if the words were those of the Earl of Lauderdale's Committee's Report; but, on reference to the Report, it was found that its words really were—But that on these points as well as on the question of speed we have entered with considerable diffidence, as they more particularly come within the province of naval architects, from the evidence of such of whom as we have examined, combined with our practical experience, we have drawn these conclusions.The next point he had to discuss was also one which was fully discussed in the Minute of the late First Lord of the Admiralty, upon whom the responsibility rested of the design and construction of that turret-ship, which, as he had already remarked, was built in 1866. On the 16th of July, 1866, the Board of Admiralty, then presided over by his right hon. Friend (Sir John Pakington), took the subject into consideration, and at their first sitting reviewed the decision come to a few days previously by the Duke of Somerset with respect to Captain Coles's design, and on the 23rd of July it was mentioned in the House of Commons, and his noble Friend the present Under Secretary for War (Lord Northbrook) stated in "another place" that the Board approved Captain Coles being allowed to have a fair trial of his system. The Board presided over by his right hon. Friend resolved to place the responsibility whole, sole, and undivided with regard to the construction in the hands of Captain Coles and of the builders whom he selected—namely, the eminent firm of Messrs. Laird, Brothers, of Birkenhead. The Board only made the provisions which were thus stated in a letter to Captain Coles—My Lords have only further to add that they consider it indispensable that in any sea-going turret-ship, provision should be made for the efficient protection of the vital parts of the ship from heavy shot; for the health and comfort of a crew sufficient in number, not only to work the guns and to handle the ship with ease, but to keep her in the order required for an efficient ship of war; that she should have sufficient speed, and that she should possess the sea-going qualities of a good cruiser.1201 The design was referred to the late Chief Constructor of the Navy, who reported that, taking for granted that the ship must have a low freeboard, he approved the design, but remarked that he did not consider the structural details of the hull to be in all respects satisfactory, although he felt reluctant to incur the responsibility of suggested changes to the builders under the very exceptional circumstances of the case. The Controller of the Navy likewise approved the design, but expressed certain doubts respecting the degree of immersion, which afterwards were unhappily confirmed. The responsibility of the design was thus placed clearly and distinctly on Captain Coles, subject of course to the nature of the workmanship and materials, which were always kept under the direction of the Admiralty, and he, therefore, learnt with the utmost astonishment that the Court Martial considered that the responsibility lasted only till the time when the design was submitted to the Admiralty. The Board only required the design to be submitted to them in order to see whether there was any radical and fatal error in it, and whether it possessed the qualities he had already referred to. He would now proceed to quote some documents, which showed most convincingly where the responsibility lay; and, first of all, he would read a letter bearing his (Lord Henry Lennox's) own signature, and addressed by order of the Board to the Controller of the Navy—July 23, 1866.With reference to your Report, No. 3,008, of the 20th inst., on the design submitted by Captain Coles and Messrs. Laird, for a sea-going ship, to carry four 600-pounders in two turrets, I am to acquaint you that their Lordships have informed Captain Coles that they approve a ship being built on this design, as proposed, on the entire responsibility of himself and Messrs. Laird, but subject to the usual Admiralty inspection as to materials and workmanship.Captain Coles, on the part of himself and Messrs. Laird, signified by letter his and their entire acquiescence in the conditions proposed, and on the 10th of August their Lordships addressed a letter to Messrs. Laird, containing the substance of the submissions of the Controller and the Chief Constructor. Messrs. Laird were informed that—Before calling on you to tender for the construction of this ship, it is in contemplation to place on you and Captain Coles the entire respon- 1202 sibility of the design, the efficient construction of the ship, and the satisfactory accomplishment of your undertaking to complete her as an effective sea-going man-of-war, bearing two turrets with four 600-pounders, and attaining a speed under steam of not less than 14 knots when in all respects ready for sea. The works will be carried on under the inspection of an Admiralty officer, empowered to reject all bad materials, or imperfect workmanship, at his discretion, but not to interfere in details of construction, for which you will be held responsible.The question as to the sufficiency of the allowance for weight of hull was also raised, and Messrs. Laird were told that it was—Very desirable you should thoroughly satisfy yourselves in regard to the weights and the position of the centre of gravity, which in a ship so armed and plated will probably be found to be high.Again, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract said in his Minute—It is clear that whatever may have been contemplated by the previous Board, and to whatever extent the approval, on the 23rd of July, of the ship 'being built on that design, as proposed,' was intended to express approval of the actual design, Captain Coles and Messrs. Laird accepted the entire responsibility for that design, and that the Controller of the Navy and his officers were for the time relieved from any responsibility as to the design.In a manner which to him appeared quite unaccountable, the right hon. Gentleman afterwards tried to make out that the design was never authorized by the preceding Board of Admiralty. The right hon. Gentleman endeavoured to do that by quoting a Minute of his (Lord Henry Lennox's) signed "H. G. L.," and also a letter of the 10th of the following August, in which, by-the-by, no distinct allusion was made in reference to the responsibility for the design; but the right hon. Gentleman, at all events, thought the Minute in question was never shown to Captain Coles or Messrs. Laird, and omitted to quote in full the letter he had just read to the House, and another, in the same sense, on December 11, 1866. That letter stated—Neither the design nor the specification met with the entire approval of the Controller of the Navy, and their Lordships were aware of this fact when they accepted the design. The responsibility of the design and specification must, therefore, rest with you and Messrs. Laird.As a proof that that responsibility was complete, and that the Admiralty never interfered, in any way with Captain Coles as to the design of the ship, he might mention that it was stated in 1203 evidence before the Court Martial that the Department had no communication with Captain Coles during the building of the ship, and that no alteration was made in the proposed design on account of the recommendation of the Chief Constructor. In fact, the ship had been completely and honestly handed over into the charge of Captain Coles, in order to afford him the opportunity of trying to work out the problem which the country was so anxious to solve. In saying that much it was far from his intention to blame Messrs. Laird or his gallant and lamented friend Captain Coles for the disastrous result which ensued. On the contrary, he thought that in building the Captain they had solved many difficult problems, and her faults might have been easily avoided in any vessels of the same class subsequently constructed. Indeed, if more time had been taken to test her capabilities, she might have been made thoroughly seaworthy, and one of the most useful vessels in the British Navy, and have reflected the utmost credit upon both Captain Coles and Messrs. Laird. The next charge he would have to make would involve the most serious accusation it was in his power to prefer. He deplored as much as any man could do the making of charges against an absent Member of that House; but in that case, he thought, when that Assembly had heard his statement, it would agree in whitewashing both himself and his Colleague from the stains which the right hon. Gentleman had sought to cast upon them. Having delayed as long as he could bringing that painful question forward, in the hope that such a course would have been taken by the right hon. Gentleman and the present Government as would render such a course unnecessary, he was now compelled, from the force of circumstances, to ask the attention of the House whilst he unfolded all the important facts connected with it, agreeing in opinion with his right hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), that it would be disgraceful if nothing were said before the close of the Session of the loss of 500 gallant souls and of one of the noblest vessels in Her Majesty's Navy. He deeply regretted that his speech must necessarily be one conveying a series of charges against the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract, the late 1204 First Lord of the Admiralty, in having framed a Report, purporting to be fair, can did, and impartial, but which was, in his mind, an ex parte statement from beginning to end. The gravamen of the charges made by the right hon. Gentleman was that in one case he had received no warning at all as to the inequalities of the ship, and in the next that he had received an insufficient warning of the dangers of a low freeboard ship. Now, so far from that statement being true, he (Lord Henry Lennox) said on the contrary, that from the first to the last the right hon. Gentleman was in possession of the fullest warnings, not only as regarded the general principles upon which the ship was built, but in respect to the ship itself before and after she had been built, and up to the time of her going to sea. He had before him three extracts from documents in the Board of Admiralty in regard to the general principle of a high freeboard. As Sir Spencer Robinson remarked, the Admiralty archives from 1862 to 1869 teemed with warnings on this subject. The gallant Admiral said—I had shown over and over again that I did not recommend that ships carrying with them this element of danger should be built; but it was to prove the opposite theory sound—namely, that such ships ought to be built, that the Captain was designed and sent to sea. She was built to prove that she could be as good and safe a sea-going cruiser as ships with higher freeboard, and that theory or principle two successive Boards of Admiralty had decided should be tried.In the same Minute Sir Spencer Robinson again alluded to his having drawn the attention of the First Lord to the danger of these low freeboard ships, and he referred likewise to an article by an eminent French naval architect in the Revue Maritime for July on an able lecture delivered by the Constructor of the Navy. In that lecture, delivered before the Institution of Naval Architects, and which, remarkable to relate, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract quoted in his Minute, the following passage occurred:—It must be obvious from this that the danger to be apprehended to these Monitors when under canvas is very great. And when we think that they are liable at any moment to be overtaken by sudden gusts of wind, and that if they are heeled over beyond 8 deg. or 10 deg., the farther they go the less resistance they offer to being capsized, their unfitness to carry sail must be quite evident.And again— 1205Should she roll beyond her position of maximum stability, she would have her time of roll increased, and the following circumstances would then occur:—When reaching the hollow, she would not have finished her oscillation, and might be still rolling towards the approaching wave; the alteration of the direction of the water surface caused by the front of the approaching wave, instead of developing in the ship a greater amount of stability tending to right her, as is the case with all ships which have a high freeboard, would diminish what stability there was remaining, and the danger of her being blown over, if she carried sail, would be very great.
LORD HENRY LENNOX
said, that all these warnings with regard to the general principle of low freeboard and high-rigged ships were within the reach of the right hon. Gentlemen the late First Lord of the Admiralty. In 1867, his right hon. Friend the Member for Tyrone (Mr. Corry) invited competition among the naval architects and builders throughout the country for designs of efficient turret-ships. Many plans were sent in, the best by far being those of Messrs. Laird, Brothers, at Birkenhead. All these different schemes were laid before the Construction department, when Sir Spencer Robinson praised Messrs. Laird's design as being far the best. He said—The turret system of armament properly designed in vessels known as of the Monitor type is superior to all others, and the most formidable engine of war that can well be conceived, so that I still maintain that combining a sea-going ship with masts, rigging, and sails, and this kind of armament entails a sacrifice of a large portion of its efficiency, and compels a choice to be made between serious difficulties, the solution of which in a satisfactory manner has not yet been accomplished.Again, he said—The lowness of the deck, though absolutely necessary to enable the rest of the design to be executed, is one of the difficulties inseparable from this mode of designing a sea-going turret-ship. I cannot but think that in practice it will be found of greater moment than Messrs. Laird suppose.Before the Captain was designed, and when the general principle was taken for granted that the vessel must have a low freeboard, Sir Spencer Robinson addressed the Admiralty to the effect that he was doubtful whether the proposed height of the deck out of the water would be satisfactory for a sea-going cruiser. And in August, 1866, 1206 just when the ship was being built, Mr. Reed said—I am the more apprehensive of this because the hull appears to me to be somewhat heavily designed in places, and the weight allowed barely sufficient; and if any suggestions of mine led to increased weight, occasion might thus be afforded for a transfer to this department of a responsibility which does not belong to it in the event of the ship proving too deeply immersed. …. It also appears to me desirable that their attention should be called to the probable position of the centre of gravity as regards height. In my preliminary Report I expressed no doubt as to the stability of the ship; but on investigating the matter I find that the centre of gravity of ships armed and plated in the proposed manner is situated higher than would appear probable at first sight; and I would advise that Messrs. Laird be requested to thoroughly satisfy themselves on this point.The House should bear in mind that whereas the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract appeared to think he was without any warning as to the nature of the ship built according to the designs of Captain Coles, he had warnings on the subject from every quarter. It might, perhaps, be supposed that, as all responsibility for the design had been taken away from the Construction department, they would have been silent on the subject. This was not so. On every convenient opportunity words of warning and advice in reference to the Captain were given to the Admiralty by the Controller and Chief Constructor of the Navy. On the 27th of March, 1869, the Captain was floated out of the dock at Birkenhead, and on that occasion Mr. Barnes, an able officer of the Admiralty, was present, and reported that she was too deep in the water. The Chief Constructor pointed out at the time what a serious thing this was, for whereas—In his paper at the United Service Institution, Captain Coles said—deliberately on a paper, not warmly in a discussion—'The Captain stows 610 tons of coal in her bunkers, and could stow, if required, in a compartment between the turret-rooms, 491 tons more, making 1,100 tons of coal in all;' it now appears that with 610 tons of coal on board she will have a freeboard of 6½ feet only, and with 1,100 tons a freeboard of 5 feet 3½ inches, which is not very much more than the Scorpion's and Wyvern's, and, therefore, utterly unsafe, and out of the question in so large a ship without a breastwork.That was on the 31st of March, 1869. In 1870, the ship went round to Portsmouth, and the trip, by its successful character, raised the spirits of all who were interested in her; but at Portsmouth it was found that the calculations of Mr. Barnes 1207 were only too true, and that the ship, instead of having a freeboard of 8 feet, as she should have had, had only a freeboard of 6 feet 7 inches. Thereupon the Chief Constructor made a Report, containing, perhaps, the strongest language ever used with respect to the safety of a ship. That Report was handed to the Controller of the Navy, who specially recommended it to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract, of the First Sea Lord, Sir Sydney Dacres, and of the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter), at that time Secretary to the Admiralty. Mr. Reed said—My reason for advising their Lordships to withhold further payments upon the ship until she has been tried at sea is to be found in my strong conviction that a ship of her size, with this height of freeboard only, and with the guns so near to the deck as the guns are, cannot possibly prove a satisfactory sea-going ship for Her Majesty's Navy. If the original height of the ship's freeboard had been conformed to, it would still have been a serious question whether the guns could be fought in all weathers; but with the height reduced to the amount already stated, I am unable any longer to anticipate a satisfactory result to the trials of the ship in such seas as the Monarch has already had to encounter.Surely no more emphatic warning could have been given? He hoped the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Goschen) would not narrow the quotation, as a noble Lord in "another place" had done, and try to make out that Mr. Reed merely warned the Admiralty that the Captain's guns could not be fought in heavy seas. The last three lines clearly showed that Mr. Reed's statement was not confined to this—I am unable any longer to anticipate a satisfactory result to the trials of the ship in such seas as the Monarch has already had to encounter.He had never heard, until the noble Lord said so in "another place," that ships encountered heavy seas with their guns. That warning was merely placed on the Admiralty records. No further inquiries were instituted—there was no consultation of the Members of the Board; but Sir Sydney Dacres recorded his knowledge of the error that had been perpetrated, and the Captain was sent to sea. He could not help contrasting that conduct with that of the Board of Admiralty on a similar occasion when he (Lord Henry Lennox) and his Friends were in office. There were then two ships of a novel type, neither of which when sent to sea behaved so satisfac- 1208 torily as was expected. The captains of those ships, like captains generally, were naturally somewhat averse from saying anything against the vessels they commanded; but, notwithstanding that, they informed the Admiralty that one of these vessels on the Coast of Ireland, and another on her voyage to Gibraltar, had behaved in such a way as to render them almost unseaworthy. On the Report being received, the Board met, and long deliberations ensued. The Chief Constructor and the Controller came day after day to give their opinions, and a well-matured decision was arrived at in regard to those ships. Certainly, his right hon. Friend the Member for Droitwich did not, like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract, after receiving the warning, send the ships to sea without making further inquiries. He would now call attention to the circumstances under which that ship was received into the Navy, after her trials had been pronounced unsatisfactory, and after the responsible professional officer had recommended the payment of the money to be suspended. That recommendation of Mr. Reed was forwarded to the Admiralty, and the Controller, Sir Spencer Robinson, suggested that the matter should be referred to the Solicitor to the Admiralty. The Board wrote to Messrs. Laird to the effect that they would withhold payment for the present. At the same time they pointed out in the strongest language the serious errors which had been committed, and desired Messrs. Laird to make some modifications in her hull. Meanwhile, on the 8th of May, the Captain went to sea, and on the 18th of July Messrs. Laird responded to the Admiralty letter stating that they could not accede to the request. On the 18th of July the vessel returned home, and the accounts by Captain Commerell and Captain Burgoyne of her behaviour on her second trip were excellent. In the same month the Controller requested that the ship should be inclined, which was accordingly done. On the 4th of August the ship again proceeded to sea, and on the 8th of August Messrs. Laird renewed their application for payment. Meanwhile, the Controller of the Navy hastened to bring the Reports as to the result of the inclining under the notice of the First Lord, and he afterwards forwarded to the right hon. Gentleman 1209 a very strong letter on the subject. Now, that was his charge against the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract, who, upon this subject of the inclination of the vessel, said—The Controller's Minute of the 24th of August, in which allusion is made in that Report, gives no indication that it was otherwise than satisfactory to him, or that there would be any advanage in sending it to the Fleet.The Controller said in his Memorandum—The Report referred to—that was, Mr. Barnes's preliminary Report—has now been received, and is enclosed. I propose, in consequence, that Messrs. Laird should be written to.But the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract said the Controller wrote to him as follows:—"I propose that Messrs. Laird should be written to," the other words being omitted. Thus the interpolation by the right hon. Member for Pontefract of these words between inverted commas was not an extract from an official document, and, in fact, the pith of the whole thing was left out. Anything more unfortunate than the omission of the sentence at the commencement of the Controller's letter it had never been his lot to notice in an official document. He was aware that an effort had since been made to explain away that incident, and an excellent and talented young friend of his at the Admiralty wrote to The Times saying that the omission was owing to his fault and that of a copying clerk. The context, however, showed that that was not the case. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract said the Controller's Minute of the 24th of August, in which allusion was made to the preliminary Report of Mr. Barnes, gave no indication that it was otherwise than satisfactory to him; and that it would have been better if the attention of the First and the Sea Lords had been directed to it. Now, that was exactly what he did, for if the right hon. Gentleman had accompanied that document with the Minutes made by the hon. Member for Montrose, by himself, and by the Controller, the House of Commons and the country would have seen that the Controller did convey to the First Lord a strong opinion that the Report was otherwise than satisfactory to himself. Every line of the comments by Sir Spencer Robinson on that document was written with a view of bringing under the notice 1210 of the builders the grievous deviations in the design, and of inducing the First Lord to pause before the ship was accepted. It was, no doubt, open to say in reply—but how could the First Lord have refused payment for the ship when the Solicitor of the Admiralty stated there was nothing in the contract to enable the Board to do so. He (Lord Henry Lennox) thought, however, he knew the firm of Messrs. Laird too well to suppose that if the Board of Admiralty had on that occasion again appealed to their professional honour and character not to force the ship on the Admiralty until certain modifications had been made in her, he would stake his word that Messrs. Laird would willingly have joined the Admiralty in turning out a ship that would be creditable to them and their firm. Although the contract was made when they were in office, and they were in some way responsible for it, he hoped the present Lord, for the future, when he made a contract for a ship of war, would take care that he had not to pay for her, or receive her into the Navy unless she complied in every respect with the terms of such contract. The right hon. Gentleman blamed the Controller for not having advised him and Sir Sydney Dacres to send the Roport to the captain and officers of the ship; but, after all, that amounted to nothing, because the First Lord of the Admiralty was the responsible Minister for the Navy. There was conclusive proof that none of the facts of the case were unknown to the officers of the ship. Captain Sherard Osborn, in a letter sent to The Times on the 14th of September, after the dreadful disaster occurred, said—Captain Coles was fully aware of the serious nature of the experiment he was about to enter upon—in designing a sailing ship with a low freeboard—and, prior to the first cruise of the Captain, we had a long and anxious conversation upon this very subject, and by diagrams and models which were before us he agreed with me that, if the leverage of the sails canted the low-sided ship over beyond a certain point, the danger of her not recovering herself would be very great; and I urged him to be most careful in his experiments on this head, and at all costs not to hesitate, if caught in bad weather, to furl all sails and bring the ship under steam, and her bow to the sea—an opinion in which he cordially agreed, and on the last occasion I saw him and Captain Burgoyne together we were unanimous on this point.It was a most extraordinary thing that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract, who was so indignant 1211 with his subordinates for withholding information as to the dangers to which the Captain was liable, should himself have been guilty of a similar omission. For he allowed Sir Alexander Milne to go to sea with the Meet, having only with him Sir Thomas Symond's Report, which was favourable to the Captain; and the right hon. Gentleman withheld from Captain Burgoyne, Captain Coles, and the other officers the whole of Admiral Robinson's Report, which was drawn up from personal observation, and, without actually condemning the Captain, was well calculated to convey a warning. There could be no doubt upon this point, for Sir Alexander Milne distinctly reported that after the Captain had been sent out upon her experimental trip to look for bad weather, he fully expected to receive from the Admiralty details as to the qualities and behaviour of the ship; the only papers, however, which he received were Sir Thomas Symond's Report. Where, then, was the Report of Sir Spencer Robinson? The next point to which he would advert was the responsibility of the Construction department, and which had attracted much attention in the country, and produced a powerful effect upon the public mind, as being the weak point in the subject under discussion. He was sorry to weary the House with extracts, but he wished to deal fairly with all those to whom he might be in a position of antagonism. Mr. Childers, in his Minute, writes—I am at the same time of opinion that the experiment to ascertain the actual position of the centre of gravity should not have been postponed until just before the Captain's fourth trial at sea. The Chief Constructor had, in his Report of the 2nd of August, 1866, pointed out the risk of mistakes in this respect, to which ships armed and plated like the Captain were liable; and when Messrs. Laird, on the 24th of February, 1870, requested that the experiment should be made, it was deferred by the Chief Controller of the Navy, on the recommendation of the Chief Constructor only, until after the forthcoming steam trials, when an opportunity might offer and the weather was settled. Within a few days after Mr. Reed made that recommendation, the error in the construction of the ship, bringing her about two feet deeper in the water than her design had contemplated, was formally reported upon and discussed in the Construction department. It is, therefore, in my opinion, to be regretted that no recommendation to the Controller to take the experiment in hand was made by the Chief Constructor, who did not leave office until the following July; the first intimation received, either by the First Sea Lord or by me, of any such proposal being a sub- 1212 mission from the Controller himself, dated the 20th of that month.If that paragraph stood merely by itself, he might ask the House to consider what must be the state of oganization of a great public Department in which a Colleague and subordinate received an important communication of that character and never brought it under the notice of the Chief of the Department. If Boards had been held before which every paper of importance was brought, as in the olden time, this request of the Messrs. Laird would at all events have come before the eyes of the First Lord and the First Sea Lord, even though they might ultimately have come to the same decision as the Controller—namely, to defer the experiment until after the steam trials, when the weather became settled. Great, and he thought somewhat mistaken, importance, was attached to the notion of inclination. People seemed to think that if the vessel had only been inclined her unhappy want of stability would have been discovered, the ship would have been kept at home, would not have been sent to the Bay of Biscay, and the lives of all those gallant sailors would have been saved. But what was the real state of the case? The Captain was treated like all the other iron-clad ships of war—that was to say, she was not inclined until the time came when the question of building another vessel of the same type arose, when it became of vital consequence to obtain with the most extreme accuracy the position of her centre of gravity. Messrs. Laird, Brothers, had indeed, suggested that the ship should be inclined, but having made the suggestion they did not press it upon the Admiralty, knowing it to be out of the ordinary course. On the contrary, when the gallant officer who perished with the ship of his own invention, amid the regrets of his friends and the nation, was communicated with on the subject by Messrs. Laird, Brothers, he observed—It is a purely naval architect's and shipbuilder's question, and, therefore, is a matter on which I should not wish to interfere; subject to this observation, however, I would remark that any experiments that in any way would delay her going off for her sea-going trial, or are not actually necessary, would be better postponed until after her coming cruise.In consequence, the Captain was not inclined at the time. Less importance was probably attached to the inclining of the ship at that time, because in August, 1213 1866, Mr. Romaine, on the part of the Admiralty, had suggested to Messrs. Laird, Brothers, that it was very desirable they should thoroughly satisfy themselves in regard to the weights and the position of the centre of gravity, which in a ship so armed and plated would probably be found to be high. And Messrs. Laird, Brothers, in reply, wrote—We have carefully considered the position of the centre of gravity and the disposition of weights, and have no reason to fear that the vessel will be deficient in the stability necessary.And, again, in 1870, before the vessel left Birkenhead, her centre of gravity was tested. But the Minute of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract showed how persistent he was in laying blame upon the Constructor and Controller of the Navy for the non-inclination of the vessel—I am also of opinion," he wrote, "that (irrespectively of Messrs. Laird's application for the determination of the centre of gravity) the late Chief Constructor ought to have recommended to the Controller of the Nayy that the Captain's curve of stability should be calculated. No such recommendation was made by him either before or during her trials.This insistance by the late First Lord of the Admiralty upon having the ship inclined—upon which process he appeared to think that the ascertainment of the curve of stability depended—he could only ascribe to absolute ignorance of the facts of the case. There was not a naval officer who heard him—or, probably, a naval architect who might do him the honour of reading his remarks—who would not concur in the statement that, from the information at the time in the possession of the Admiralty, the curve of stability might have been ascertained with sufficient accuracy for all practical purposes. The postponement of the inclination of the vessel, however, was not due to any hostility on the part of the Construction department to the work of Messrs. Laird, Brothers. On the Court Martial at Portsmouth it was distinctly stated by the Assistant Constructor of the Navy that the Monarch was not inclined for some months afterwards, and then only in consequence of the war breaking out and the desire felt for accurate information before constructing other turret vessels. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract made charges, in his most solemn tones, against the Construction department—charges couched in lan- 1214 guage calculated to convey a very erroneous impression to the public mind. For if the vessel had been inclined in March, and the centre of gravity had been found, as it would then have appeared to be, even more favourably situated than the Messrs. Laird had stated, would not the result have been to add to the confidence of the officers who commanded and the sailors who sailed in her? All through, the right hon. Gentleman made charges against the members of his own Department. For instance, writing to Mr. Reed, he said—I am aware that in his evidence before the Court Martial the late Chief Constructor stated that, 'as soon as the news of the Captain's disappearance reached this country, I concluded that she had capsized under the pressure of her canvas;' and again—'I also knew that a friend of mine, an Admiral in the service, took great pains to impress upon Captain Burgoyne that particular danger of her capsizing under her canvas to which reference has been made.' I cannot, however, bring myself to believe that Mr. Reed's memory was accurate when he gave these answers. For if they correctly describe his anticipations, a heavy responsibility rests upon him, in never having warned the Controller of the Navy of the danger he apprehended, and in having, on the contrary, recommended that the ship should be tried at sea.Hon. Gentlemen would see at once that it was a very different thing to say beforehand that a particular ship would go down, and to say after a disaster had occurred that the mode in which the vessel had perished recalled to mind such and such circumstances. Nobody in the House would have expected six weeks ago that the Megœra would have to be run ashore on the Island of St. Paul to save the lives of the hundreds of sailors imperilled by the neglect of the Admiralty authorities; but the moment that occurrence was reported, it at once occurred to all those who knew anything of the previous history of the ship that the disaster was most likely to be attributed to the old and worn-out condition of her plates. And nothing, therefore, was more likely than that the Chief Constructor of the Navy, when he heard of the Captain being lost, should think of the warning which he had given the Admiralty on the 14th of March. [Mr. GOSCHEN: March 21.] No; March 14, 1870. He was speaking entirely of the past, and made no complaint whatever of the present First Lord of the Admiralty, unless, indeed, he adopted the acts 1215 of his predecessor. The charge of silence brought by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract against Mr. Reed, and his complaint that he had not prevented the Captain from going to sea, were not sustainable, for he had warned the Admiralty as fairly as he could of the danger of such vessels. But the House must remember the very delicate position occupied by the Construction department, who had all along been held out as opponents of Captain Cole's system. The ship had been to sea, favourable reports had been received of her, and if they had suggested anything productive of delay in the trial of the experiment on which Captain Coles and his friends had set their hearts, the motives of the department would have been misunderstood and misrepresented, and they would have been placed in a most painful position. He felt that it would be extremely indelicate upon his own part if he were to attempt to assign any professional reason for so frightful a disaster. Most certainly he would not assert that Captain Burgoyne was not justified in carrying the sail which he did carry on that fatal night. He knew him well; his character as an officer was a noble character, a lesson to all men, and he was a noble seaman. Whether the loss was attributable to some sudden, unlooked-for gust of wind, or whether it was owing to some change in the weights of the ship, as suggested at the Court Martial, he would not undertake to say, although, knowing Captain Burgoyne's character as he did, he had a strong conviction that there must have been some change in the weights of the ship, and that Captain Burgoyne believed himself to be justified by the experience of the ship's behaviour in the storm of the previous 29th of May in carrying the sail which he carried that night. He would not, however, enter upon that part of the question. Still less was he going to harrow the feelings of those whose relatives perished on that occasion by any description of the fearful effects of that most ghastly night. But he must say this—that the story detailed in the evidence of the daring and gallant Burgoyne seated on the boat turned bottom uppermost, and bidding each one of the seamen jump into the boat which was floating by while he himself remained to the last to meet his doom, would ever be looked upon as a 1216 bright spot in the annals of the Navy, and one creditable to the English nation. Reading through the Minute of the late First Lord of the Admiralty upon the loss of the Captain, it appeared to be neither more nor less than one prolonged tirade against the system which he himself had introduced into the Admiralty. He did not go the length of saying that if Admiralty Boards had met constantly the disaster would have been averted, and the ship and her sailors saved. But he did assert that the complaints made in that Minute by the First Lord of the Admiralty were every one of them capable of having been avoided and removed if there had been that cordial concert and co-operation existing among himself, his colleagues, and his professional advisers which befitted the administration of a great service like the Navy. A fearful disaster had been sustained; for that, unhappily, there was no help. But he hoped and trusted the feeling entertained and expressed by the House upon the loss of the Captain would be that all future Ministers who assumed autocratic power and responsibility during the fine weather of their administrative career, should not, in the time of stress and calamity, seek to throw off the responsibility so recently assumed upon the shoulders of subordinates and inferiors. The noble Lord concluded by moving for the Select Committee of which he had given Notice.
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 circumstances under which Her Majesty's Ship 'Captain' was received into the Navy and sent to sea,"—(Lord Henry Lennox,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, after listening to the speech of the noble Lord opposite (Lord Henry Lennox), he hoped the House would not forget the circumstances under which it became his duty to reply to the speech of the noble Lord. He was obliged to do so in the absence of his late Colleague the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), whose state of health had rendered it impossible to communicate with him in such a way as to enable 1217 anyone to approach the defence of his conduct in a manner that any friend of his could desire. The House would also perceive that from the nature of the transactions in which the right hon. Gentleman had taken a leading part, it was impossible that many persons could be cognizant of the different circumstances which were spread over a period of three or four years. He had hesitated for some moments before rising, in the hope that any hon. Member who had further charges to bring against his right hon. Friend would do so before he spoke, for though the noble Lord stated that he had refrained from bringing on this Motion, and had given him time that he might master the case, he could not conceal from the House the extreme difficulty of dealing with circumstances in which one had borne no personal share, and in which others who might have been able to give information upon the subject were likewise absent. It was chiefly, if not exclusively, by written memoranda that he had been able to inform himself upon the case, of which he would say distinctly at the outset that it was a case a man must fight for himself. The noble Lord himself had spoken continually of the motives of his right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract. How was it possible for anyone to do justice to the motives of another man? The noble Lord took credit for deferring his Motion till now. He did not complain of the noble Lord for bringing it forward, especially if his object was rather to relieve others from responsibility than to throw responsibility upon the late First Lord. But, speaking for himself, and as one who had to answer all these charges, he should have preferred to encounter them at once than to wait for the lapse of so many months. He entreated the House and the public not to condemn the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract till he had been heard to give his own account of these transactions, and till he came forward, as he would have done if present, to take the share of responsibility properly devolving upon him, and to explain the reasons by which his action had been governed. There was this further difficulty in meeting the charges of the noble Lord, that until those charges were made, it was impossible to know what they would be; and he had already explained what were the only sources of 1218 information open to him in reply. He would therefore again urge upon the House not to decide upon the merits of the case, until his right hon. Friend had had an opportunity of defending himself before them, which he (Mr. Goschen) hoped would be the case at an early period of next Session. He believed he might say that the gravamen of the charge, as stated by the noble Lord opposite, consisted in the publication and substance of the Minute by his right hon. Friend; at any rate, the remarks of the noble Lord generally tended in that direction, and they likewise referred to the line taken by his right hon. Friend as to the responsibility of the Controller's department. He did not understand the noble Lord to say that his right hon. Friend was to blame in sending the Captain to sea. The noble Lord did urge some arguments on that subject up to a certain point, but he dropped them without pursuing the question further. In the course of his speech he referred to the course his right hon. Friend had taken in writing a Minute upon the Court Martial. The noble Lord spoke of the Minute as being made by the First Lord of the Admiralty, and said that the Controller refused to sign it; but he (Mr. Goschen) believed that it was a notorious fact, from the documents that he had seen, that that comment on the proceedings of the Court Martial was one of the matters discussed and acted upon by the Board. It was not the act of the First Lord. He judged from the fact that Sir Spencer Robinson did not sign the Minute that the other Members of the Board were not of his opinion. He believed that the Minute was signed by the Secretary on behalf of the Board.
SIR JOHN HAY
pointed out that there were not any other signatures, and that the Minute did not apparently bear the seal or stamp of the Board.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, he thought it would be found upon inquiry that it was a Minute made with the assent and by the authority of the Board, and verified by the Secretary in the usual way. As to the other Minute, for which the late First Lord himself was undoubtedly responsible, some misconception had arisen. The Minute was obviously one emanating from the First Lord himself, but the misconception in the public mind arose from the publishers 1219 having printed upon it the same words which were attached to all documents passing through the Stationery Office—"Published by the order of the Board." He thought it due to his right hon. Friend to note this matter, though the noble Lord—aware, possibly, of the explanation—had not touched upon the point. The Minute upon the Court Martial it was said was unprecedented. Well, but the verdict of the Court Martial was also unprecedented, for, instead of confining themselves to matters which were brought before them, they passed a vote of censure upon the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich, and others who had accepted the Captain, saying that she had been built in deference to public opinion. That certainly was an extraordinary proceeding on the part of the Court Martial, for they passed sentence upon the Board of Admiralty without giving the Board any opportunity of being heard by witnesses before them. Into the early history of the Captain, from the first signing of the contract down to the payment of the builders, he did not think it necessary to follow the noble Lord further than might be necessary for the purpose of explaining any portion of the Minute of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract. But one sentence dropped from the noble Lord in reference to the share of his own Government in the matter, which was deserving of notice. The noble Lord said that, as the Members of the Government to which he belonged had signed the contract, there might be a certain amount of responsibility attaching to them. Undoubtedly there was, for it was the Government of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli) which decided to build the Captain, at the same time taking the extraordinary step of throwing, or attempting to throw, upon Messrs. Laird, Brothers, and Captain Coles the whole responsibility of the design and construction. But he did not believe they could shift from themselves the whole responsibility of this great experiment; moreover, they were wrong in attempting to shirk that responsibility, and he was confirmed in that view by the statement of Sir Spencer Robinson, who was in office at the time. This he felt it right to say, although he did not wish to introduce anything of a party character into this discussion. He called attention to this part of the case 1220 because it connected itself with the warnings which the noble Lord quoted, and which he said the late First Lord ought to have taken to heart. Those, however, were warnings—for he had asked the dates of some of them—against the class of ships—against low freeboard Monitors generally. They were not warnings in all cases, even against ships identical in character with the Captain; but warnings against the whole class of vessels to which she belonged. But when these warnings were quoted against his right hon. Friend, he must remind the House that they applied equally to vessels which had been sanctioned and built under the auspices of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) himself. There were, no doubt, opinions of very eminent men opposed to this class of ships which might be quoted to show that it behoved the Government to be exceedingly careful. But had not these warnings lost some of their force and stringency when, after they had been fully considered, the deliberate step was taken of building the Captain? General warnings were not such as fairly to deter the Government from carrying out an experiment when once it had fairly been entered upon and commenced. He did not understand the noble Lord seriously to assert that if the Government to which he belonged had remained in office those warnings, or the lectures to which he had alluded, would have deterred him and his Colleagues from sending a ship to sea which they had ordered to be built. A wide distinction, therefore, must be drawn between warnings which might have been received by the Government against a class of ships generally, and special warnings against this vessel, the Captain. The two were on different footings. He now came to the particular warnings against this vessel, and to the more special charges brought against his right hon. Friend. The noble Lord had spoken of the various steps which were taken by the Chief Constructor and by the Controller of the Navy to warn the First Lord of the Admiralty. He was not dissatisfied with those portions of the speech of the noble Lord in which he had endeavoured, as far as possible, to relieve the Constructor and the Controller from blame. With regard to the "inclination" of the vessel, and to several other matters, the noble 1221 Lord had been able to make out a good case, though he might wish that his right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract had an opportunity of stating his own views in reply. But it was necessary to notice the charges brought against his right hon. Friend, and the warnings which he was alleged to have received. One of those was said to have been given by Mr. Reed on the 14th of March, when the ship was nearly completed, which, after alluding to the question of deferred payment for the vessel, referred to the immersion being more than the contract authorized, to the extent of 1 foot 10 inches more than was agreed for. At the moment the noble Lord mentioned that date, he thought he had made a slip of the tongue, and therefore interrupted him. For just before he had been speaking of the Megœra, and, without saying that he was going back again to the Captain, he mentioned the date of March 14, which, curiously enough, was the date of the sailing of the Megœra. The Report of Mr. Reed, to which the noble Lord referred, was to the effect that the unsatisfactoriness of the Captain as a sea-going ship was due to her low freeboard, and to the fact that her guns were very near the deck; and it was, he thought, abundantly proved that in all the controversies respecting the ship the question of the guns was considered quite as much as was the seaworthiness of the vessel. The actual words used by Mr. Reed in his Report were these—My reason for advising their Lordships to withhold further payments upon the ship until she has been tried at sea is to be found in my strong conviction that a ship of her size, with this height of freeboard only, and with the guns so near to the deck as the guns are, cannot possibly prove a satisfactory sea-going ship for Her Majesty's Navy. If the original height of the ship's freeboard had been conformed to, it would still have been a serious question whether the guns could be fought in all weathers; but with the height reduced to the amount already stated I am unable any longer to anticipate a satisfactory result to the trials of the ship in such seas as the Monarch has already had to encounter.Those who had not gone carefully into the case might ask what the question of the guns had to do with bad weather; but as was shown by the words of Mr. Reed just quoted, one of his most serious objections to the Captain was that she would not be able to fight her guns in bad weather. At the particular moment to which he was referring, Mr. Reed was not called upon to renew or repeat the 1222 whole of his objections to the particular class of ship to which the Captain belonged. He was entitled to say that, as his views on the general question were known, he would simply show how the further immersion of the ship would impair or destroy her value in one especial point of view. Captain Macomb, in his Report to the American Secretary of the Navy, quoted by Mr. Reed, stated—With the height of freeboard which the Monarch has, and which is considerably more than double that which the Captain will possess, I consider that there are but few occasions in which the roughness of the sea would prevent the Monarch from fighting her guns; but if there be any occasions in which guns so lofty as the Monarch's will be prevented from fighting by the mere height of the sea, it seems to me out of the question to suppose that guns so low as those of the Captain can be fought even under the conditions of sea which are frequently met with in the cruises of the Channel Squadron, and to which a British sea-going man-of-war of the first or second class is at all times more or less liable.The House would perceive from what he had stated, and the extracts he had quoted from Mr. Reed's Report, that it was not by any means a narrow interpretation of the matter to say that the question of the guns was the one uppermost in the mind of the late Chief Constructor at the time when he sent in his Report of the 14th of March, 1870. Sir Spencer Robinson, in his reply to Mr. Childers' Minute, made some observations on the same subject, in the course of which he said—The constant reference throughout the Minute to the Captain's stability makes it necessary to observe that the stiffness under sail of a seagoing steamship of war, though an important quality, is not the only one. Such a ship would never fight an action under sail, and her fighting qualities (among which is steadiness of platform, very antagonistic to stiffness under sail) must always take the first and most important place in considering her efficiency.This showed Sir Spencer Robinson's view to be clearly that the most important question to be considered was the provision of ships which could fight their guns under all circumstances, and it was to the deficiency of the Captain in this respect that attention was continually drawn. Not only that, but the noble Lord had himself raised the same question. Further on, in the same reply, Sir Spencer Robinson said—No doubt, throughout the Papers referred to or quoted in the Minute, more objections are to be found respecting the bad effects of low sides and the low position of the guns in a fighting 1223 ship intended to cruise, they being of primary importance, than on the secondary quality of stiffness under canvas, the want of which careful and judicious handling would almost entirely neutralize.These words, written in March of last year, and a long time before the end of the controversy on the subject, showed clearly that his right hon. Friend (Mr. Childers) did not by any means disregard the distinct warnings given to him by Mr. Reed. He now came to the very grave charge which the noble Lord had made against his right hon. Friend, of having omitted a passage in the print of a document written by Sir Spencer Robinson in reference to the case, whereby it was made to appear that Sir Spencer Robinson had not called his right hon. Friend's attention to a Report of Mr. Barnes in reference to the Captain, after the experiments had been made. The noble Lord had here made a charge against his right hon. Friend of a very serious character, alleging that he had omitted important passages, by the omission of which blame was thrown upon Sir Spencer Robinson. The noble Lord's case was this—that his right hon. Friend blamed Sir Spencer Robinson for not calling his attention distinctly to a Report; that he had then omitted a phrase which showed that the Report was inclosed, and that by the suppression of that fact he damaged Sir Spencer Robinson's case, and improved his own. He (Mr. Goschen) could not for a moment admit that his right hon. Friend had wilfully garbled the document, and thought he could show the House conclusively that the omission of the words in question were, if anything, damaging to his right hon. Friend, and not to Sir Spencer Robinson. The noble Lord had said that the letter of Sir Spencer Robinson was distinctly a letter of warning to his right hon. Friend, and he wound up by saying that all the representations made in it were in favour of causing delay before the ship should be accepted; that it ought to have induced the late First Lord to have stayed proceedings; but that, on the contrary, the advice was not accepted, and an unseaworthy ship was sent to sea in consequence. The purport of the letter was, however, to upbraid, very properly in some respects, the Messrs. Laird for the ship not being according to contract; but still to say that the ship should be accepted. One 1224 of the most important paragraphs in the letter was as follows:—The result has been to show that, though under certain conditions the stability of the Captain is not altogether satisfactory, the ship may be accepted, and their Lordships have accordingly given instructions for the final payment of the account, waiving the condition which they had proposed on the 5th of May, that this payment would be made provided Messrs. Laird would hold themselves responsible for the cost of making alterations should such be necessary.
LORD HENRY LENNOX
observed that what he said was that all the words in that letter were calculated to point out to Mr. Childers the serious errors which had taken place in the construction of the ship; and he went on to say that having obtained the Solicitor's opinion, the ship could not be refused.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, he understood the noble Lord to say that the letter was one of warning—[Lord HENRY LENNOX: Hear, hear!]—whereas it was a letter to say that the ship should be accepted. And why? "In consequence of the Report made by Mr. Barnes." The most important paragraph of the letter was to the effect that the result had been such as to show that though under certain conditions the stability of the Captain was not altogether satisfactory, yet the ship might be accepted, and their Lordships accordingly gave directions for the final payment of the account. Therefore the case of his right hon. Friend was damaged by the omission of these words, which he was supposed to have intentionally suppressed. As regarded the further proceedings, he thought a great portion of the argument of the noble Lord against his right hon. Friend had been answered by Sir Spencer Robinson in his Minute, and on that subject he should be glad to be allowed to quote the evidence of that gentleman. Sir Spencer Robinson averred that he did not understand that Mr. Reed had such great anxiety as regarded the ship, and added—If the Chief Constructor and myself had apprehended that imminent and tangible danger would have been incurred through sending the Captain to sea, we should have felt ourselves under an irresistible moral obligation to point out with exactness our apprehensions, but we did not believe in any unavoidable or imminent peril. Many proofs are to be found in the Minute of Mr. Childers that, while objecting to masted ships of low freeboard, as inferior for cruising purposes to masted ships of high freeboard, and in various ways as liable to accidents and to be inefficient, 1225 neither did I nor Mr. Reed consider that the Captain was unsafe to be tried at sea, if properly handled.Further on in the same document Sir Spencer Robinson said—I am aware that in his evidence before the Court Martial the late Chief Constructor stated that, 'as soon as the news of the Captain's disappearance reached this country, I concluded that she had capsized under the pressure of her canvas;' and again—'I also knew that a friend of mine, an Admiral in the service, took great pains to impress upon Captain Burgoyne that particular danger of her capsizing under her canvas to which reference has been made.' I cannot, however, bring myself to believe that Mr. Reed's memory was accurate when he gave these answers. For if they correctly describe his anticipations, a heavy responsibility rests upon him, in never having warned the Controller of the Navy of the danger he apprehended, and in having, on the contrary, recommended that the ship should be tried at sea.
LORD HENRY LENNOX
said, he would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the words he had just quoted were those not of Sir Spencer Robinson, but of Mr. Childers.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, he had certainly made a mistake in attributing those words to Sir Spencer Robinson. The mistake had arisen from the peculiar manner in which the document from which he was reading was printed—namely, in parallel columns. There were, at any rate, other passages in what Sir Spencer Robinson had written which vindicated the view taken by Mr. Childers. For instance, he said—The difference between the belief that a disaster was possible, and the apprehension that it was likely to occur is too obvious to need any remark, and though the Chief Constructor in the same evidence stated that he did not expect that the ship would upset, yet when he heard she had been lost, the possibility of such an event happening was the cause of the conclusions to which he came.He also quoted a letter which Captain Sherard Osborn had written to The Times—a letter in which he showed it to be matter of common notoriety that ships of the Captain class should not be too much pressed under canvas, and that, in fact, his advice to Captain Coles was—At all costs not to hesitate, if caught in bad weather, to furl all sails and bring the ship under steam, her bow to the sea—an opinion in which he cordially concurred.Sir Spencer Robinson further said—The extracts show what I conceive has been very much kept out of sight—not only that the Captain was considered safe to go to sea, but was actually and practically safe if carefully handled.1226 In fact, the whole of the Papers relating to the matter showed that the risk and difficulty of sailing such ships as the Captain under certain conditions were notorious, and if the fact was to be accepted as a justification for the failure of Sir Spencer Robinson to warn Mr. Childers on the subject, surely the same indulgence should be extended to the late First Lord of the Admiralty. Sir Spencer Robinson was so well satisfied as to the safety of the ship when properly handled, that he asked for permission to hoist his flag alternately in the Captain and the Monarch, and proceed to sea, in order to test the two principles of high and low freeboard. If the Controller of the Navy was not only not afraid to go, but was actually desirous to go to sea in the Captain, the country would surely acquit Mr. Childers of blame in the matter. He must refer to one more extract, because it bore so much upon the question of the responsibility of his right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract in sending the Captain to sea. Sir Spencer Robinson said—It is clear that I had no doubt of the fitness of the Captain to be tried at sea,and therefore, added Sir Spencer Robinson—I had no moral responsibility whatever for not advising that the Captain should not be sent to sea, this being the very purpose for which her design was approved.What he (Mr. Goschen) had been attempting to show was that the noble Lord brought two charges against his right hon. Friend—one, that of having sent the Captain to sea; and the other, that of having shifted the blame on to his subordinates. Now, Sir Spencer Robinson stated that he did not anticipate any danger in the Captain being sent to sea if properly handled, and he added, like a man of honour, that he would have felt under an irresistible obligation to warn the First Lord had not that been the case. With regard to the publication of the Minute, that was a matter which it was exceedingly difficult to discuss in the absence of his right hon. Friend. His belief was that if his right hon. Friend had been able to be present himself in Parliament at the beginning of the Session, he would have taken upon himself the responsibility for his portion of the transaction. His right 1227 hon. Friend did not disclaim that responsibility in his Minute; on the contrary, he recapitulated his own responsibility and that of his subordinate officers; and he said that they were responsible to him, and that he was responsible to Parliament. Acting upon his responsibility, and in his conscience believing that sufficient warning had not been given him, he said—"I will do my duty in fixing the responsibility where I believe it ought to rest—namely, upon the Constructor's department, for certain omissions." There were complaints being continually made in that House that no one would ever fix responsibility anywhere. ["Hear, hear!"] Well, in this instance, his right hon. Friend had said—"I think there must be blame somewhere, and I shall do my best to find where it lies." His right hon. Friend did endeavour to find out where the blame lay, and the evidence given by Mr. Reed at the Court Martial, and the other publications, led, no doubt, his right hon. Friend to suppose that Mr. Reed had been more alarmed for the safety of the ship than the documents showed. He had no doubt the evidence given by Mr. Reed before the Court Martial produced a great effect upon the mind of his right hon. Friend, who might have said—"Either Mr. Reed knew there was this particular danger, and he ought to have expressed it most clearly and distinctly; or he did not know it, in which case he ought to have taken the pains to ascertain." He asked, therefore, that the question should not be prejudged in the absence of his right hon. Friend, who might fairly say that the Chief Constructor knew more, and that he ought to have been warned. He (Mr. Goschen) believed that the opinion of Sir Spencer Robinson and Mr. Reed—and the previous trials of the ship had tended to confirm it—was, that the ship was safe if judiciously handled. That was the point he asked the House to carefully consider. His right hon. Friend thought that those in the Constructor's department knew more than they did; and if he were right in that inference, he was justified in throwing blame upon the Chief Constructor for not having given him more distinct warning. He (Mr. Goschen) did not claim to himself the right to ask the House to acquit his right hon. Friend, but he distinctly asked it not to pass judgment upon him 1228 in his absence. He could not tell the House how sorry he was that owing to the circumstances of the case, and to having to deal with documentary evidence only, while others had been able to consult individuals concerned, he had not been able to present the case in a clearer form. He wished the House to suspend its judgment on the course taken by his right hon. Friend in publishing the Minute which had been referred to until he had had himself an opportunity of defending it in that House, and as regarded the responsibility of sending the Captain to sea, he (Mr. Goschen) thought he had satisfactorily dealt with, that question. In conclusion, he would say that he did not at all complain of the tone and temper in which the noble Lord had dealt with the question. He (Mr. Goschen) had endeavoured to deal with it in a similar spirit, and if he had felt rather warm it was on account of feeling that his right hon. Friend was justified in acting in the manner in which he had done.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
I regret that this discussion has been brought forward, under unfortunate circumstances, in the absence of the right hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), and of the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter), from domestic misfortune, who were conversant with the circumstances of the case. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goschen) deprecated any unpleasant reference to the conduct of the right hon. Member for Pontefract. I can assure him and the House that I have no disposition to bear hardly upon the conduct of the right hon. Member for Pontefract. Whatever may have been his faults, either of omission or commission, he has suffered terribly, and his absence is greatly to be lamented, for he has to bear the responsibility not only of a national calamity, but of a severe domestic calamity. I entirely concur in what fell from my noble Friend the Member for Chichester (Lord Henry Lennox), that had it not been for the unfortunate step taken by the right hon. Member for Pontefract in publishing the Minute, the country would have been willing to allow the unfortunate occurrence to have been buried in oblivion. But the unfortunate step taken by the right hon. Gentleman precluded anything of the kind; for having made great changes in the Admiralty on 1229 the principle of increasing the responsibility of the First Lord—having altered the system formerly pursued at the Admiralty with that avowed intention, the right hon. Gentleman had attempted to shake off that responsibility from his own shoulders, and to fasten it upon other parties. My motive for rising is, that I think I should be shrinking from the responsibility which falls on me in consequence of the position which I held in 1866, if I did not make a statement of the part which I took with respect to this unfortunate ship. The fact is, however, that the change of Government occurred just when the arrangements between the Duke of Somerset's Board and Messrs. Laird were almost complete for the construction of the vessel. The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken must be relieved from all responsibility, and we must make every allowance for the unfortunate position in which he is placed in having nothing but documentary evidence to rely upon. But the right hon. Gentleman, following in the steps of the right hon. Member for Pontefract, intimated that the Board, of which I had the honour of being at the head, had thrown the responsibility on Captain Coles, and had not taken sufficient precaution to ensure the safety of the new class of ships.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
The right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich has entirely misunderstood me. I merely alluded to the fact that the Government of the right hon. Baronet had laid it down that the responsibility should fall on Captain Coles.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman did not intend to cast any imputation upon me. The Government to which I belonged only very slightly varied the conditions laid down by the Duke of Somerset's Board of Admiralty as the best for the production of sea-going turret-ships of war. These variations had reference to the speed of sailing to be attained. On page 7 of the Minutes I find the conditions which were required by the Board of Admiralty. They say—They consider it indispensable that in any sea-going turret-ship provision should be made for the protection of the ship from any shock; that she should have sufficient speed, and possess the sea-going qualities of a good cruiser.With regard to my own share in the building of the Captain, I do not believe 1230 that if the same thing were to come over again I should do otherwise than I then did. Now, it is well known that the Construction department of the Admiralty had expressed disapprobation of the principles of the ship; but it would not have been fair to say to the builders—"You are our servants, and whether you like it or not, we insist on your carrying out our design." The question as to the merits of the principle of Captain Coles was considered by the whole country to be one of great national importance; and it was desired on all hands that the invention should be tested. It had been done in regard to ships of that class for coast and harbour defences; but Captain Coles had always maintained that his invention was fairly applicable also to sea-going cruisers. Well, and under the circumstances in which I found myself placed, with an arrangement almost completed between the outgoing Board of Admiralty with the intended builders of the ship, I had to decide whether I should step in and stop the arrangement or not. I had no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that it was my duty to carry out the intentions of my predecessors, and I also considered that there was only one method with which the invention could fairly be tested—namely, that Captain Coles should carry out the design fully, on his own responsibility. If there could have been one thing more unjust to him than another, it would have been to hamper him with any unreasonable conditions in carding out his designs in building the ship. I therefore sent for Captain Coles, and told him that this was a great experiment to be tried, and that we thought it right and fit that he should try it; that he was in the hands of a most eminent firm of builders, in whom the country had perfect confidence; and that my only stipulation was, that when he had completed his design it should be submitted to the Board of Admiralty for their consideration. Some time elapsed, and Captain Coles then brought us his design. I am sure that I and all my Colleagues vividly remember the day when we mot in my room at the Admiralty to consider the design. Let me mention that the first thing that struck me with doubt and hesitation as to the design was that it only gave a freeboard of 8 feet to so large a vessel as 4,000 tons. I hesitated whe- 1231 ther, as First Lord of the Admiralty, I should be justified in giving my consent to the construction of a man-of-war of 4,000 tons, as a sailing and sea-going ship, with a freeboard of only 8 feet. I remonstrated with Captain Coles, but finding him unshaken in his opinion that 8 feet 5 inches was sufficient, after reflection the conclusion I came to was this—that although I thought it a very doubtful proposal, it would be better and fairer to adhere to the principle I had laid down, and to leave Captain Coles to construct his own ship in his own way. I therefore waived my objection as to the lowness of the freeboard. Time went on, and in 1870 the Captain was launched; and I shall never forget my astonishment and dismay when I was told, on coming down to the House, that her freeboard, instead of being 8 feet 5 inches, was only 6 feet 7 inches—in short, that it was less by 1 foot 10 inches than it had been intended to be. From the moment of the launch of the vessel and the discovery of this increased draught of water dated that series of events which terminated in the dreadful calamity of her sinking. Well, after the catastrophe that resulted we naturally tried to ascertain where the blame lay. But I think for myself that it cannot justly be concentrated in any one person, but that it must be attributed to several quarters. But of this I feel certain, that notwithstanding the warnings of which we have heard, I do not believe that any one of the parties concerned ever seriously anticipated such a dreadful finale. But it certainly seems to me that when such an excessive departure from the design had been discovered, and that the freeboard had been reduced, in round figures, from 8 feet to 6 feet, it is doubtful whether the Admiralty were justified in accepting the ship. My impression at the time was, and ever since has been, that the Admiralty ought to have said that the ship was not the one for which they had contracted; that it was promised that the freeboard should be 8 feet some inches, whereas it was only 6 feet and some inches. I doubt whether the acceptance of the ship was not the original and most serious error committed by the Admiralty. They had the most serious warnings on the subject. Mr. Reed, in a Paper that he read before the Institution of Naval 1232 Architects—but which was communicated to the Admiralty and became a public Paper—and, in 1868, in reference to the class of ships to which the Captain belonged—Should she roll beyond her position of maximum stability, she would have her time of roll increased, and the following circumstances would occur:—When reaching the hollow she would not have finished her oscillation, and would be still rolling towards the approaching wave. The alteration of the direction of the water surface, caused by the front of the approaching wave, instead of developing in the ship a greater amount of stability, tending to right her, as is the case with all ships that have a high freeboard, would diminish what stability there was remaining, and the danger of her being blown over, if she carried sail, would be very great.Surely, that was a warning that ought not to have passed unheeded. [Mr. GOSCHEN: You were in office at the time, but you did not stop the ship.] The next one came from Messrs. Laird, who acted in a highly honourable manner. No doubt, the first impression of persons who heard of the diminished freeboard of the Captain was to blame her builders, but the course they took was a perfectly open and honest one. They wrote to the Admiralty on the 24th February, 1870, as follows—Referring to your letter of the 9th August 1866, on the question of the disposition of weights in relation to the centre of displacement and consequent stability of the Captain, we beg to submit that now that she is completed, and, before she proceeds to sea, a careful experiment should be made by inclining of weights in the steam basin, to ascertain the position in a vertical direction of the centre of gravity with greater certainty than is possible from calculation.That was a second serious warning, and why was it not attended to? Here we are in the presence of one of the most serious errors of the whole transaction. The answer that was made to Messrs. Laird by the Construction department was that they had better wait—that it would do another time—that they would defer it till better weather, and until certain other experiments had been tried. In fact, the warning was not acted upon, it was practically disregarded, and the ship was twice sent to sea before anything in the direction indicated by Messrs. Laird was done. If I remember rightly, the Construction department subsequently said—"Oh, Messrs. Laird never asked again to have it done," 1233 Why should they? Why should they tease the Board of Admiralty to carry out an experiment of that kind, which any man of common sense and ordinary judgment must have seen at a glance to be necessary and indispensable? They deferred the experiment till the month of July, and then it was only done in connection with the demand of the builders to be paid for the ship. Without any such experiment the ship was sent to sea in company with the Monarch, and Sir Spencer Robinson was specially instructed to accompany them, and to report upon their comparative merits, as well as upon the positive merits of the Captain. He made a full Report, in which occurs this remarkable passage—The Captain did not appear to rise to the sea so quickly as the Monarch, and on the 11th and 12th of May a great deal of water rushed over her main-deck against the turret. The Captain had the appearance of an overloaded ship. She steered better than the Monarch under sail, and seemed to answer her helm better. The Captain is not a ship that should have much pressure under sail. A heel of 14 degrees would bring her funnel to the water, and from that point, afterwards, her stability would rapidly decrease.We all know that on the fatal night before she went down she was found to be heeling 18 degrees, and that when it was too late it was attempted to haul down her sails. But will it be believed—and on this point serious blame attaches to the Admiralty — that this warning of Sir Spencer Robinson was never communicated to the Admiral commanding the Fleet or officially to the captain in command of the ship, though I believe that the latter did privately receive an intimation of it from Sir Spencer Robinson himself. There was, in fact, a concealment of the Report; and I must say that I think every member of the Board is to blame on that account. The First Lord undoubtedly is to blame. The First Sea Lord is also seriously to blame. I admit that in a case of this description one is naturally disposed to attach more blame to the professional member of the Board than to the civilian First Lord, but I believe that the real cause of the omission was because there was no Consultative Board at all. Not only that, but the Controller himself was a member of the Board. Why had he not made it public? The warning which might have averted the disaster never came before the Board in 1234 consultation—it was nobody's business to transmit, and it never was transmitted. Well, the next warning was this—when Messrs. Laird applied for payment for the ship, the Admiralty bethought them of having her tested, which ought to have been done six months before; and Mr. Barnes made his Report in August, when the Captain was, indeed, at sea, but when yet there was time to have communicated with the Admiral and with the captain of the ship. But no such communication was made. No reasonable person, I should think, can doubt that if it and the Report of Sir Spencer Robinson had been communicated to Admiral Milne—indeed, we have his own statement to that effect before the Court Martial—henever would have allowed the Captain to carry the sail she did, and the squadron would probably have been hove to on the night of the 7th. I can only say, in conclusion, that while I have no desire to speak harshly of anyone concerned in the affair, and more especially the right hon. Gentleman the late First Lord, who has himself suffered so grievously, I deeply deplore this calamity. I do not regret taking the step I did, and I do not wish to throw blame on any one individual. I think that it must be spread over a considerable number of persons; but I hope and believe that, at all events, this result will follow from this discussion—that a warning will have been given to the country, and especially to those intrusted with the administration of her naval affairs, which will be long remembered.
Under ordinary circumstances I should not have ventured to interfere in the duel which is now going on between the two Boards of Admiralty. The matter itself no doubt is one of great interest—a misfortune so great, bringing with it a loss of valuable human life more extensive than that which took place at the Battle of the 1st of June, the Nile, or at Trafalgar, cannot but be of interest to everyone; but the main reason which has induced me to address a few observations to the House is the state of things which has grown out of the change made by the Order in Council in the arrangements of the Admiralty. Antecedent to that, however, I had the honour of presiding over a Committee which sat to inquire into Admiralty matters some years back, and it was 1235 universally admitted by all who gave evidence before that Committee on the subject, that although we had what we called a Board of Admiralty, still the First Lord and the Government of which he was a part were responsible for every act that was done. Nothing could be more certain but that there were valid reasons given why a Board should exist, because no Board order could be given without the assent of one Lord besides the First Lord; and if that assent was not obtained it was necessary to bring the matter under the notice of the Government. Therefore by no act of indiscretion on the part of a single First Lord could the country be involved in the difficulties which might arise from an indiscreet order, and instances were not wanting where no Member of the Board would coincide with the First Lord, and in that case there was a necessity to go to the Sovereign and get a fresh Patent, and so the Government of the country became immediately responsible for what was done. Now, what has been the result of the change from that state of things? We have heard a great deal about increasing the responsibility of the First Lord; but what does the Order in Council, quoted in the Minute of the right hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), say? The right hon. Gentleman remarks in his Minute—So much was said on this subject of responsibility by witnesses at the court-martial, and in the correspondence produced before it, that it appears to me desirable to state without reserve that what is laid down in the Order in Council of the 14th January, 1869—namely, that the first Naval Lord is responsible to the First Lord of the Admiralty for advice and action in matters relating to the Fleet and the personnel of the Navy; that the Controller of the Navy is similarly responsible to him in matters relating to construction and to matériel; and that so long as these and the other officers whose functions are defined by the Order in Council, faithfully perform the duties of their several departments of business, communicating with each other when necessary, and advising the First Lord, and taking his decision on all matters requiring his authority, he is responsible for those decisions and generally for the administration of naval affairs.But what does that responsibility turn upon? It all turns upon whether these respective parties faithfully perform their duties—it is impossible not to see that that is the construction. But then immediately, in consequence of this grievous loss, this scandal arises; we have the officers of the Department and the First Lord rating one another in public, and 1236 endeavouring to throw the responsibility from one to the other in such a way as to make it absolutely impossible that the country should look for any other result than such a state of things as exists at the Admiralty. Everyone must admit that there must be unity of command in every office and in every ship. If you are to have subordinate officers raising questions as to their responsibility and as to the responsibility of the head of the Department no good service can be done to the country. Much in this discussion has turned upon one Board of Admiralty naturally feeling that they were not to blame, and endeavouring to show that special warnings and circumstances had occurred after their responsibility ceased, which made others more responsible than themselves. Now, I judge men more by their acts than by chance expressions picked out of the heaviest mass of correspondence; and using that test, I find, that this unfortunate vessel was ordered by the Board of Admiralty, one of the heads of which now sits below me. She was built under a contract furnished by them, and there is no doubt that she was built on the responsibility of the head of the Admiralty at the time against the advice of those persons who, ordinarily speaking, would be supposed to have given advice that would have been followed. It is impossible not to read the Papers without seeing that both the then Controller and Constructor altogether disagreed with the sort of vessel; but I am bound to say that they did not express in plain language the view one would have expected them to express had they felt that the vessel would be dangerous. Almost every other disadvantage which it was possible for the vessel to have was stated; but I do not find that they stated in plain unmistakable language anything from which a reasonable man could infer that they believed the vessel to be dangerous. During the progress of the work it was stated that the Controller and Constructor would have nothing to do with the responsibility for the design, and that all that they would undertake of responsibility was that the vessel should be constructed according to the specification and the design. During the building of the vessel, much turned upon questions as to the draught of water and so forth, and when the officer appointed to superintend her visited the Captain, on the 1237 4th September, 1867, he reported as follows:—I found the work everywhere well and honestly done; but if I were responsible for the weight of the ship I should be greatly alarmed at the appearance everywhere of extravagance in the use of material. There is no evidence anywhere of economy in either labour or material. I did not make any observation to this effect to the Messrs. Laird.Well, what is the natural result of all this? It brought clearly home to the notice of the scientific gentlemen at the Admiralty that the vessel was then, as early as 1867, being constructed heavier than they expected or had any right to expect, if the specifications had been strictly adhered to. Plenty of applications had been made to sanction additional weight in some parts; but there seems to have been no general remonstrance on the part of the Admiralty against the additional weight with which the vessel was being constructed. Ultimately she was delivered, and in February, 1870, she was found to be so much heavier than was expected that her line of floating was altogether different from what it should have been. Messrs. Laird, the builders, wrote a letter on February 24, requesting that the vessel should be inclined to ascertain the centre of gravity. That letter was referred by the Controller of the Navy to the Chief Constructor, so that here we have both these officials acting together, and the Chief Constructor minuted it as follows:—Submitted that Messrs. Laird be informed that steps shall be taken for ascertaining the vertical height of the Captain's centre of gravity when an opportunity offers, and the weather is settled; but that it is not considered desirable to attempt to carry out the experiment before the forthcoming steam trials are complete, or while the weather is so unsettled.Within a few days after it was found that the extra weight used in the construction of the ship brought her two feet deeper in the water than was expected. It is difficult to believe that these gentlemen—the Controller and Constructor — had in February and March, 1870, any real foreboding as to the safety of the vessel, because I cannot think that any man who felt that the vessel was unsafe would have put off to a more convenient period to do that which might have aided in forming a judgment of her safety. Now, much has been said about special 1238 warnings; but we are put in this position — that it is impossible to believe that these gentlemen had serious misgivings as to the safety of the vessel. We have Sir Spencer Robinson saying that it was not the duty of the special officers of the Admiralty to incline the Captain, when the Messrs. Laird thought proper to ask that that should be done; but what is the use of professional men rating at one another in this way, like one attorney writing to another and taking six weeks before he does so because the other man has taken six weeks in writing to him? If they had such misgivings they would hardly, where the lives of many people were at stake, have allowed her to go to sea without first using all means to ascertain whether she was safe or not. Seeing how they acted, I am forced to conclude either that those gentlemen did not know she was unsafe, or that, knowing it, they did not plainly and unmistakably state what they knew. Then it is said that a warning was given after Sir Spencer Robinson went for a cruise; but what sort of a warning was that? Sir Spencer Robinson simply gives the opinion of a lieutenant who was with him, and does not add to it one word either of approbation or of dissent. I do not think that that is the way in which a high professional officer faithfully fulfils his duty to his employer or his colleagues, by quoting the opinion of a junior officer—a lieutenant in the Navy — and expecting that to be taken as his own opinion, when it is as clear as the sun at noonday that if it had been acted upon and found not to be satisfactory, he could not have been made responsible for it. Now, I come to what seems to me to be a curious fact. Towards July something or other seems to have alarmed the Controller—for he uses that term himself. The Constructor had then left his office. He says, on the 18th July—Naturally alarmed at the prospect of finding myself and the Constructor's department in such a position, I determined to have all the elements of the Captain brought forward that would affect the question of the propriety of building other ships with a low freeboard to be masted and rigged like ordinary ships.Thus we see that in July he is alarmed about the Captain. But why? He is alarmed lest he should be called upon to build other Captains. That is the reason why he determines on that invest- 1239 tigation, which ought to have taken place in April. He goes on—I therefore, as the first step towards acquiring the necessary information for what I foresaw was coming"—nothing with regard to the Captain herself, but with regard to building other ships—"determined that on the Captain leaving Portsmouth, an experiment for ascertaining her centre of gravity should be authorized.What follows is still more remarkable:—I am bound to say that when I made that proposition, Messrs. Laird had applied for this experiment to be made.Therefore, it is clear to my mind that he took this step not with a view to the safety of the particular Captain, but the responsibility of advising that other Captains should be built. This was in July. Is it possible, after he had any misgiving about the safety of the vessel, that he allows her again to go to sea? How are we to draw a conclusion now from passages out of particular writings? There were warnings after warnings which threw a heavier mass of responsibility on the Admiralty and the late First Lord than they have had to bear for a long time. It is not for me to pass any opinion as to whether it was wise or unwise in First Lords to make experiments against the counsel of their responsible advisers. That is a grave question, which I decline to give an opinion on. Previously to this Order in Council the Lord of the Admiralty who did that incurred the entire responsibility; but since that unfortunate Order in Council, in my opinion, the responsibility is not on one individual, but hangs on the question whether other individuals have faithfully performed their duty in the Reports they have made. That Order, so far as I am acquainted with it — and what has appeared has never been contradicted—instead of fixing the responsibility, as it ought to be fixed, solely upon the head of the First Lord of the Admiralty, who has the control over his subordinates in his office, and can dismiss them if they do not do their duty, and surround himself with men competent to advise—divides it among several persons. The Constructor's evidence throws the responsibility on the First Lord of the Admiralty. I can read his evidence in no other sense. He seems to raise the question to provoke the First Lord, whose reply, in turn, provokes the reply of the Controller. Now, I ask anyone 1240 who has any concern for the well-being of a great Department to say whether it is decent that there should be a possibility of great officers publicly canvassing opinion and endeavouring to cast the responsibility each upon the other? This seems to me one of the greatest misfortunes which could possibly happen. Under the old Constitution it never was doubted that the First Lord was responsible for everything and everybody, and this was evinced in every answer of my right hon. Friend the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington), than whom no man enforced the principle more stringently. This principle was to him as clear as the sun at noon-day, when he gave his evidence, and out of no less than five First Lords who were examined, there was not one but was of the same opinion. The evidence was unbroken; and I think nothing could be more mischievous than to have a divided responsibility, which the Order in Council I fear creates; and nothing can be more certain than that the great disaster has brought the inconvenience of the system strongly into light, and I hope it may be the means of suggesting a remedy. Because I am quite sure that if it were desired to fulfil the prophecy which the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government delivered some years ago, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and was urging some financial scheme—namely, that we could not expect in future to keep the mastery of the sea—nothing could be more certain to bring about such a consummation than to have a divided authority at the Admiralty. Great as the loss of 500 men is, it is nothing to a defeat. God knows we can never know when we shall have to try this great question. Therefore I have taken the opportunity to express strongly my opinion as to the unsatisfactory character of a system of divided authority.
§ MR. GRAVES
said, that in dealing with the case it was necessary to approach it in a judicial and impartial manner, and he would at once admit that when the Captain was laid down and built for the Admiralty the full responsibility was thrown on the builders and on her designer, Captain Coles; yet every step in the course of her construction, every additional weight placed in her, every alteration was submitted to the Admiralty, and plans were sent up to 1241 them. He did not say they were approved by the Admiralty, because the Controller carefully guarded himself against being committed to the ultimate success of the vessel. When launched it was found that her draught was 1 foot 10 inches in excess of her design, no unimportant difference in a vessel intended to have 8 feet 5 inches of freeboard. She was thoroughly investigated before she left Birkenhead by the builders, who asked the officers of the Admiralty to examine her centre of gravity and her stability; and the application they made for that purpose in February, 1870, was entirely ignored. The ship went to sea and made two cruises which proved her, as far as the public knew, to be most successful. But in the month of May some doubts arose at the Admiralty as to the right of the builders to the balance of the contract-money, and a letter was about to be written setting forth the great departure from the original design, the possibility of the vessel's stability being endangered for sea-cruising purposes, and stating that the balance of the contract-money would not be paid over to the builders unless they came under an obligation to make certain alterations which, in the opinion of the Admiralty, might at some future day be required. That letter was written by instructions of Sir Sydney Dacres and the Naval Lords of the Admiralty. From that demand the builders dissented. In July it was suggested not with a view to test the stability of the vessel with reference to that final payment, nor with a view to see whether she was safe, but for wholly different purposes connected with the future shipbuilding of this country, that the Captain should be "inclined," and in August the official Report stated that the result was such as to show that, although under certain conditions her stability was not altogether satisfactory, yet the ship might be accepted, and their Lordships had given directions for the final payment to the builders, thus waiving the conditions proposed to be exacted from them in May. The letter framed on that Report was sent to the Messrs. Laird; and that letter cancelling the decision previously come to by the Naval Lords was absolutely sent without the knowledge of the Naval Lords, or, in other words, without consulting the professional men at the Board who in May had arrived at the conclusion that 1242 they could not pay over to the builders the balance of the contract-money; and accordingly the balance so withheld in May was in August ordered to be paid. Thus the vessel was accepted without the slightest exception being taken to her want of stability or her unseaworthiness, and that even without coming under the cognizance of the Naval Board of Admiralty. That was a strong illustration of the system at work in the Admiralty and of the want of better arrangements for enabling every Member of the Board to know what was going on, and expressing his opinion on every subject that came before it. The vessel, however, was accepted in satisfaction of the original contract; and up to that time there was no question raised that the Admiralty were thus receiving over an unseaworthy ship. Exception was now, indeed, taken to the low freeboard of the Captain and to the safety of the low freeboard principle; but it was a remarkable fact that a year after the order had been given for the Captain the Admiralty invited an open competition among the shipbuilders of this country for designs, and that the Messrs. Laird were awarded the prize for having designed the most perfect sea-going turret-ship that was sent in to them. That occurred in October, 1867, and the Admiralty, in reference to that design, determined, after full consideration, that it was not for the advantage of the public service to adopt it until the Captain and Monarch had been completed and tried. Therefore, in that case, they had the Admiralty's approval of a turret-vessel with a freeboard of 7 feet 6 inches, or exactly 11 inches less than the Captain was designed to be, and 10 inches more than she actually was when afloat. This showed that there was a general desire on the part of all to try these experiments, and not with the view of showing that the Captain was unsafe. He regretted the absence of the late First Lord (Mr. Childers), because he should be sorry to say anything in regard to him that appeared to be ungenerous. But the late First Lord had himself declared that he alone was responsible to that House, and that his officials were responsible to him. The House, therefore, had to do with the First Lord himself, who had assumed the responsibility. Now, he thought the idea of making a contract for a ship and throwing the re- 1243 sponsibility on the builders, was a most mistaken one, and a real shirking of responsibility. There were third parties interested who were not parties to any such contract—namely, the officers and men who had lost their lives in the Captain; and it was a flimsy and untenable notion to say in such a case that whatever understanding might be come to between a particular Department and the builders that Department was to enjoy an immunity from responsibility where so many people's lives were at stake. It was true that exceptions had been taken to the Captain almost from the beginning; but he put it to anybody who read the papers carefully whether there was one word in them to show that any exception had been taken to her otherwise than as a fighting ship. Although the Admiralty might have been at liberty to take exception to her on the ground of her not being as good a fighting ship as a vessel built on another principle, yet they could not shirk the responsibility attaching to them for allowing her as a sailing ship to go to sea in an un-seaworthy condition. Up to this point no apprehension with regard to the safety of the Captain had been entertained, for the late First Lord could have given no greater proof of his confidence in her than in permitting his own son to go to sea in her. The commander of the Monarch, who had put forward a competing design, and who might, therefore, be assumed to criticise the qualities of the Captain as an opponent, had stated that she had an easier roll than the Monarch, that she was superior to the latter in speed, although she pitched more heavily, and on the whole, therefore, his testimony was in her favour. Captain Coles himself had stated that if the ship had one quality more than another of which he was proud it was her stability under canvas. In his opinion, the main cause of the loss of the vessel was that her commander was not informed of her point of least stability, and this was of the more importance because there could be no doubt that up to a certain point the Captain was as stiff and as handy under canvas as any vessel in the squadron, and therefore there was great risk of her commander placing too much reliance on her stability. Had Captain Burgoyne been informed, as he contended he ought to have been, that the vessel beyond a certain point of in- 1244 clination lost her bearing, and that any pressure of canvas causing her to incline beyond that point would render her unseaworthy, beyond all doubt the Captain at the present moment would have been floating safely in one of our harbours, the pride of our Navy. Great responsibility lay upon some person or another for not having communicated the results of the trial made in July to the commander of the vessel, because, if properly handled, she would have been perfectly seaworthy. Had those on board her been acquainted with her unseaworthy points, she would have been handled with tenderness and delicacy when her inclination reached the point of danger, and the terrible calamity that happened in September last would never have occurred. The noble Lord, in his concluding remarks, alluded to what must be regarded as the moral of this debate. In his opinion, the moral of this debate was that the House should not endeavour to ascertain the particular officials or officers who were to blame for sending the Captain to sea so much as they should try to ascertain how a repetition of such a sad occurrence might be prevented for the future. It, however, appeared to him that the plea of ignorance ought not to be allowed to be put in such a case as that under consideration. Such a plea was advanced the other night with regard to the Megœra; but there ought to prevail in the Navy such a system as was adopted in the merchant service of testing vessels, which would ensure the positive rejection of those which were not perfectly safe. Had there been a more thorough understanding between the various departments and the head of the Admiralty neither would the Megœra have been left on the Island of St. Paul nor the commander of the Captain been permitted to go to sea in ignorance of her point of dangerous inclination. The present First Lord had shown such an earnest desire to grapple with the difficulties of his position, that it might be hoped that he would make responsibility an actual reality. He could not avoid expressing his fear that a want of a proper system at the Admiralty had, after all, more to do with this question than many were willing to believe. If there had been such harmony of action and policy as ought to exist at the Board of Admiralty, he believed there would not have been those dis- 1245 graceful recriminations which occurred after this sad event. Possibly some consolation might be felt if this great loss led to the adoption of a system at the Admiralty which would prevent the recurrence of calamities of this kind by establishing a more harmonious policy as between the departments and their Chief. In future no attempt ought to be made to shift the responsibility for a vessel from the shoulders of the Admiralty upon those of her builders and designers. Every vessel constructed and sent out by the Admiralty should be sent out on its full responsibility; and he would conclude by expressing a fervent hope that this calamity would at least result in a reform of the department, and in securing the country against a recurrence of so frightful a calamity as the loss of such a fine vessel and the sacrifice of so many valuable lives.
§ ADMIRAL ERSKINE
said, that the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) had placed so much stress upon the value of the practical test of inclining a ship, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), whose opinions upon every question on which he addressed the House were of the highest value, had also attached so much importance to the fact of the experiment not having been tried at the time the request was made, that he begged the permission of the House, as a practical seaman, to give his reasons why he acquiesced with the noble Lord the Member for Chichester (Lord Henry Lennox) as to the extremely small importance of the experiment as regarded vessels generally, and to state that, in his opinion, the fault of the omission to make the experiment in the case of the Captain was really of the smallest consequence. In the course of 50 years' experience as a sailor, employed in Her Majesty's service, it never occurred to him to see this experiment made of trying a ship by weight but twice, and in one case it was that of the ship which he commanded. It was resorted to, not from any doubt that he had about the ship, but in order to corroborate an opinion which turned out to be correct, that she was one of the safest ships in the Service. He was, however, so much impressed with the importance which the First Lord of the Admiralty placed upon this experiment of inclining a ship, that he recently ad- 1246 dressed a note on the subject to Sir Spencer Robinson, after he had quitted office as Controller of the Navy. He asked him whether it was the custom to incline iron-clads, in order to ascertain by actual experiment what ought to be obtained by nautical calculation, and he replied that it was not the custom to do so; but that it had been done in one or two cases, and that the actual centre of gravity of a ship could easily be ascertained by calculation. The first experiment of this nature applied to iron-clads was done by his order, simply for statistical purposes, and it went extremely near to verify the results obtained by calculation. He went on to say—The calculation of naval architects has always been sufficiently close to make it perfectly safe to send a ship to sea without this conformation, by actual experiment, for it is nothing more.Precisely the same rules were adopted in making the calculations with respect to ascertaining the centre of gravity in iron-clads, as were applied to every fishing-boat or merchant ship, and not one vessel had had the calculations confirmed by actual experiment, with the exception of some of the iron-clads and one or two other ships built in the Royal Dockyards; and it had always been considered a piece of old fogeyism that they should have gone out of their way to prove by actual experiment what nautical calculations ought to demonstrate. In no one case had such a thing been practised by foreign nations. If that were the case, all the difference of opinion between the right hon. Baronet and the present First Lord at the Board of Admiralty was as to the difference of 22 inches in the draught of the Captain when she was accepted by the Government. Now, he (Admiral Erskine) should like to ask the right hon. Baronet whether, if the Captain had floated 22 inches lighter than she ought to have done, he would have been willing to have accepted her? Nay, more, would he even now be willing to accept ships of the Captain class, provided they complied with the other conditions? If that were not so, it was not the difference of the 22 inches in the draught of the ship, but the construction of the Captain class of ships which was objected to, and which had been strongly protested against by the Controller of the Navy, and which must have determined the question as to whether the Captain herself should have been ac- 1247 cepted. He asked the House to consider for a moment what this inclining of the ship did, and what it would have done under any circumstances? The noble Lord told them, and he believed that other hon. Members would corroborate the fact, that the stability of the Captain—that was to say, the initial stability, for that was all the experiment would practically show—was greater than was supposed. What was the reason why the stability of the ship, up to a point, was greater than was supposed? It was simply because she was much deeper in the water. It removed the centre of gravity from the meter centre, and made her initial stability greater. Another remark he must make upon the loss of this unhappy ship—and that was, that Captain Burgoyne was strongly warned by Admiral Sir Alexander Milne on that particular day. He (Admiral Erskine) had it from Sir Alexander Milne that the ship did appear to be much less stiff than she actually was. Now, in point of fact, if the ship had floated at her original calculation, and had been sent to sea, her initial stability would not have been less, or her danger less. As to the grave question of responsibility—namely, upon whom it should fall—he should decline to enter upon the question, leaving the House to determine for itself; but this he must say—whatever might be the opinion at the Board of Admiralty, or among officials, it was generally believed out-of-doors and in the country at large, that the person on whom, at all events, it did not rest was the late Controller of the Navy—Sir Spencer Robinson—yet he, unfortunately, was called upon to pay the whole penalty, although he was persistently opposed to that type of vessel.
§ LORD HENRY SCOTT
said, that the question of responsibility had been raised with great tact and ability by the noble Lord the Member for Chichester (Lord Henry Lennox). The Court Martial had found that the Captain was unsafe, as not possessing sufficient stability, and the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) had expressed a doubt whether the Admiralty should have accepted her from her builders, in consequence of her not fulfilling the conditions which had been laid down for her construction. There was great difficulty in discussing the question of responsibility in the ab- 1248 sence of the right hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), and he should proceed to inquire what course had been taken by Sir Spencer Robinson. There was nothing on record to show that Sir Spencer Robinson considered the Captain a dangerous vessel to go to sea. It was true that both Sir Spencer Robinson and Mr. Reed objected, to her construction; but the Controller was present at all the trials that took place, and neither then nor since her loss had he ever stated that he considered her to be unstable. Sir Spencer Robinson opposed the turret system from the beginning, and it was only with great difficulty that he was induced to acquiesce in the building of the Monarch. The First Lord was, no doubt, responsible for the Admiralty; but the Board was of a composite character, and it was evident that the First Lord must look to the officers of the various departments for advice. Mr. Reed, no doubt, opposed the building of the Captain very much on the same grounds as those on which he objected to the turret system; but when they came to the question of the acceptance of the ship, he held that the person who recommended the acceptance must be considered open to responsibility, and in accordance with that view, it was the business of the Constructor to call the First Lord's attention to the fact that the vessel was unstable if such was his view; but he allowed her to make three trips to sea without giving any warning, and he therefore could not altogether escape from the responsibility for what had occurred. Before the ship had been sent to sea all those upon whom responsibility rested ought to have taken most active measures for testing her capabilities and her safety; and all he could say was that whoever knew the faults of the ship and did not represent them to the Admiralty, had great responsibility resting upon his shoulders.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
said, that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Goschen) had justly complained of the difficulty in which he was placed by the unavoidable absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), with whom he was unable to have either written or oral communications; but, at the same time, had that right hon. Gentleman been present during this debate he could not have been dissatisfied with 1249 it in any way, because, although much fault had been found with him by certain hon. Members, still most of the views expressed in his Minute had been approved by many hon. Members on both sides of the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) had found fault with the Order in Council of 1869, being under the impression that under it the First Lord of the Admiralty could relieve himself from all responsibility by shifting it upon the shoulders of his subordinates. That impression was entirely erroneous, because by that Minute the responsibility of the First Lord was clearly defined. According to the Order in Council of 1869, the First Lord was to be held responsible to Her Majesty and to Parliament, and the First Naval Lord was to be held responsible to the First Lord. He did not think it was taking a fair view of that Minute to say that Mr. Childers intended to throw the responsibility of the loss of the Captain upon subordinate officers. In any remark he might make to-day he should endeavour, as far as possible, to avoid throwing the responsibility of that unfortunate event on Sir Spencer Robinson, of whom he had the greatest admiration, or upon Mr. Reed. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) had very frankly taken upon himself the responsibility of accepting the design for the Captain. It was quite true that the Board in which the Duke of Somerset was the First Lord, and which preceded that in which the right hon. Baronet was the First Lord, entertained the idea of building the Captain, and they gave directions to Captain Coles to prepare a design; but in those instructions the Duke of Somerset expressly reserved to himself the power of approving the design. He believed there never before had been a case in which a design was accepted by the Admiralty which had not been approved by the Constructor's department. The design of Captain Coles, practically speaking, was not submitted to the Admiralty until the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich came into office, and it was accepted by the Board of that right hon. Baronet. [Sir JOHN PAKINGTON: When the design was submitted to me, I was struck with the lowness of the freeboard.] With reference to the acceptance of that design, the Con- 1250 structor wrote a Minute to the effect that before such a ship could be satisfactorily constructed or equipped it would be necessary to subject the drawings and specifications to further and more minute investigation. Sir Spencer Robinson wrote a Minute to the same effect. The Board of Admiralty, of which the right hon. Baronet was First Lord, accepted the design of Captain Coles, although their attention had been called by the Constructor and by the Controller to the great importance of referring back the design to them for more minute investigation. When she was completed it turned out that she floated two feet deeper in the water than had been intended. But if the design had been submitted to that minute criticism desired by the Controller's and the Constructor's departments, that defect would, in all probability, have been discovered, and the Admiralty would not have been compelled to accept a vessel which floated two feet deeper than had been intended. What he contended was, that the Board presided over by the right hon. Baronet took a most unusual course. There was a difference observable in the tone adopted by the right hon. Baronet and by the noble Lord the Member for Chichester (Lord Henry Lennox). The noble Lord, while finding great fault with Mr. Childers, very carefully avoided charging him with the fault of sending the vessel to sea; but the right hon. Baronet had not been so prudent, and had made several charges against the Board of which Mr. Childers was first Lord. The right hon. Baronet said that he was filled with alarm when the vessel was discovered for the first time to float two feet deeper than was intended by the design, and that, in his opinion, the vessel ought never to have been accepted with that serious defect. Well, he was very glad to hear the right hon. Baronet state that he was filled with alarm when he heard that the vessel floated two feet deeper than was intended, because that statement showed that it was a matter of notoriety from the very beginning that the vessel floated two feet deeper than it had been intended, and it had a very important bearing on the question whether the Admiralty would be justified in sending that vessel to sea or not. A debate arose on that very subject some time after the launch of the Captain, at a time when it was a matter of public notoriety 1251 that she floated two feet deeper than had been intended, and his right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract was seriously taken to task for not having already sent that vessel out to sea. By whom was that charge made? By his right hon. Friend the Member for Tyrone, whom he did not then see in his place. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tyrone, speaking on the Estimates, on the 28th of February, 1870, after complaining of the want of trial of the Monarch, said—She ought to have been subjected to every possible trial in the worst weather, and under the eye of the Admiral commanding the Channel Fleet, instead of only on a summer cruise with the Admiralty. … But if I regret the insufficiency of the experiments in the case of the Monarch, much more do I regret the absence of all experiment with the Captain … Nothing short of impossibility ought to have prevented the Admiralty from testing her sea-going qualities last year; and if I had been at the Admiralty, nothing would have prevented me from so testing them. I know that a difficulty arose, and delay occurred in respect of her gun-carriages, and, therefore, that her power of fighting her guns in a seaway could not have been practically ascertained. But it might have been ascertained whether she could keep her turret-ports open in bad weather, and all her other qualities could have been perfectly tested with the Channel Fleet if she had been sent to sea with her turrets properly weighted. … I think this was, to say the least of it, a grievous error in judgment."—[3 Hansard, cxcix. 972–3.]The right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich thought the vessel ought not to have been accepted when it appeared that she floated two feet in the water deeper than had been intended. His (Mr. Shaw Lefevre's) answer was that great hesitation and delay took place at the Admiralty when it was discovered that she floated two feet deeper than had been intended. The Admiralty were advised that in consequence of the contract made with the Board of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich, in which the entire responsibility in respect of this vessel was thrown on Captain Coles and Messrs. Laird, they were bound to accept the vessel if she were approved and certified to be a good sea-going vessel by Captain Coles. Captain Coles reported in his certificate that the vessel had been built and safely delivered according to the contract. On that the Admiralty addressed a letter to Messrs. Laird pointing out that the draught of water exceeded the stipulated amount, and the letter showed that it was quite clear that the 1252 intention of the Admiralty was to try the vessel tentatively, and see what her seagoing qualities were, and then to make such alterations as might appear to be necessary. And he was bound to add that the actual acceptance of the vessel never took place until she was really lost. The Minute of the Controller, recommending the payment of the balance to Messrs. Laird in respect of this vessel, was written only on the 24th of August. Sir Spencer Robinson recommended in that Minute that a letter should be written to Messrs. Laird, to the effect that the serious and unexampled error in reference to the Captain had been already adverted to, and that their Lordships had taken an early opportunity of ascertaining the facts of the case by actual measurement, and that the result was, that though the ship was not altogether satisfactory, she might be accepted. Therefore, he repeated, the vessel never was accepted finally until the 24th of August. But that letter never was written to Messrs. Laird, although payments were eventually made to them. The intention of the Admiralty was to try the vessel at sea, and after trying her sea-going qualities, and after receiving from Captain Coles a final certificate, then finally to accept the vessel and pay for it. The next point raised by the right hon. Baronet was that the Report of Sir Spencer Robinson should have been communicated to Admiral Milne. But the Report had been placed in the hands of Captain Coles and Captain Burgoyne, and therefore the parties interested had all the information it contained. It was stated in the evidence that Admiral Milne was alarmed at the way in which the water was going over her shipboard, and, therefore, even if there had been an omission in forwarding to Admiral Milne the Report of Sir Spencer Robinson, it could not very much affect the conduct of Admiral Milne. As to the centre of gravity of the vessel, Messrs. Laird stated in February that they had calculated the centre of gravity, but they wished the Admiralty to make further observations. The noble Lord the Member for Chichester had pointed out that even if the calculation had been made at an earlier date nothing would have resulted from it. It was not for him (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) to say Sir Spencer Robinson made a mistake or not on that matter; but in the 1253 opinion of Mr. Childers that calculation ought to have been made sooner. There was much to be said for the argument of the noble Lord that nothing would have resulted if the calculation had been made at an earlier date, inasmuch as the final calculation on that point showed that the centre of gravity was in or very near the place assigned to it by the calculation of Messrs. Laird. In conclusion, he would say that the Government had dealt with the matter under considerable difficulty, and they trusted the House would come to no final conclusion until Mr. Childers had had the opportunity of speaking in his own defence, and stating his views with regard to it. At that late period of the Session it was too late to take any step in the matter; but he had no doubt Mr. Childers would take the first opportunity of making known his views on the subject.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
I think my hon. Friend the Member for Reading has evaded the main subject of the debate, and thrown a party animus into the debate. [Mr. SHAW LEFEVRE: No, no!] He has charged me with being—
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Droitwich could only make an explanation.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
said, he merely wished to explain that he had done exactly what his hon. Friend said he had not done. So far from not having submitted designs of the Captain to the Constructor's department, as his hon. Friend had charged him with, he held in his hands a Report from the Constructor's department on the subject, which was as favourable as could be expected, considering the known opposition of the Constructor to that class of ships.
said he could make only a single remark, as the clock reminded him that the debate must close in three minutes, but he had heard that during his short absence the hon. Gentleman who spoke last (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) had endeavoured to fix on him a share of responsibility for the loss of the Captain. The hon. Gentleman, he was informed, had said that he (Mr. Corry) insisted that the Captain should be sent out to sea to test her sea-going qualities. She was built as a sea-going vessel, and of course he wished her to go out to sea; the object in building her was to test the applicability of the low freeboard 1254 principle to ships designed to keep the sea in all weathers; but he assumed that the Admiralty would, take every possible precaution to test her qualities before they sent her to sea. That, he regretted to say, was not done.
§ Amendment and Motion, by leave withdrawn.
§ Committee deferred till To-morrow.
§ House adjourned at Five minutes before Six o'clock.