HC Deb 17 March 1871 vol 205 cc174-6

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty, with respect to Her Majesty's ship "Megæra," the number of officers and men, also the quantity of cargo and stores it has been found necessary to land at Queenstown; Whether it is not true that, notwithstanding the remonstrances of the Captain of the vessel, the Admiral, on the report of a carpenter who he had sent to see to her defects, ordered her ports to be closed, caulked, and pitched, with a statement that they might be opened when the ship got into the tropics; with regard to the over-crowded condition of the officers, whether it is not true that the fact of landing stores or cargo did not improve it, as the vessel has only berth and mess accommodation for 22 officers, whereas there are 33 on board; whether the three medical officers on board the vessel had not stated in writing that the ship, in her present state, was unfit for such a long voyage, and whether he will produce the statement so made by them; and, to ask who is responsible for this ship being allowed to leave with defective ports in such an overladen and over-crowded state; and, if he has taken into his consideration whether in future Her Majesty's Troop Ships, when embarking men for Foreign Stations, might not be submitted to the survey of the Government Emigration Officers as to space and condition of ship and outfit?


Sir, no officers were landed at Queenstown. Discretion was left to Admiral Forbes to land four officers if necessary, but ultimately none were landed. A hundred tons of cargo were landed in order to remedy the crowded state of the ship, and not on account of the ship being over-laden, or being too deep in the water. The ports have not been closed, caulked, and pitched. The lower half-ports have always been so. They were examined and caulking renewed, but the upper half-ports are fitted to open, and have not been closed. The captain made no remonstrance on what was done, but is stated by Admiral Forbes to have been perfectly satisfied. It is not true that the over-crowded condition of the officers was not improved by the fact of landing stores. It was very much improved by the landing of the 100 tons of stores. The medical officer of the ship wrote to the captain on the state of the ship before and not after the removal of the 100 tons. He stated in his letter that two other medical officers on board concurred with him. It would be most prejudicial to the service and to its discipline if Parliament should encourage the publication of letters written by subordinate officers on matters which have formed the subject of investigation and action by their superior officers, with whom the responsibility rests. As regards responsibility the case is clear. The Commander-in-Chief at the Nore, the Captain Superintendent at Sheerness, and the captain of the Megæra were each and all participators in the responsibility for the state and condition of the ship before she left the Nore, a large share of responsibility resting upon the captain himself, who made no representation as to the ship's ability to receive either officers, men, or cargo, or of her having any defects. Replying to the last Question of the hon. Member, I must frankly state that I must decline to consider whether in future Her Majesty's troop ships might not be submitted to the survey of the Government Emigration Commissioners. There are naval officers of high rank and great ability who are responsible for the condition and outfit of Her Majesty's ships. If they fail in their duty they must be dealt with accordingly; but they ought most decidedly not to be relieved of the responsibility.