HC Deb 27 March 1871 vol 205 cc663-80

, in moving, according to the Notice he had given, a Resolution that it was expedient to make additional provision for the defence of the commercial harbours of this country, said, that although this country, happily, had not been involved in the Continental entanglements of the last few months, yet the public were impressed with the necessity of placing our defences upon a more permanent and reliable basis than at present. Last week the Prime Minister had delivered a most impressive forecast of the future, and no one could have listened to his words without feeling the cloud had not entirely passed away; but, whether the danger had passed away or not, it was incumbent upon Parliament, in time of peace, and in the absence of panic, to consider whether we could not utilize our magnificent and unrivalled maritime resources, by devising some scheme which might be maintained at small cost through years of peace, ready to meet any emergency that might unhappily arise. War was now reduced to a question of weeks instead of years, and the nation that was found unprepared, in the event of being involved in war, would find, when too late, the cost of neglect. He was ready to admit that we had a powerful seagoing fleet—probably superior to that of any other nation; but considering our insular position, our dependence on foreign supplies, the vast interests we had to protect at home and abroad, and the necessity of keeping free and uninterrupted communication with India and our Colonial Empire in every part of the globe, he was not willing to admit that we possessed a fleet sufficient to meet all those requirements, and at the same time capable of resisting any attack which might be directed against us by a coalition of maritime Powers. They could not shut their eyes to the very great improvements which had been made in modern warfare. The use of steam had revolutionized all our previous experience; it equalized to a large extent the powers of nations; and gave to an attacking, or invading Power, the great advantage of being able to concentrate at one point, and at a specific time, a very large and powerful force. Nor must it be forgotten that the pre- cision and power of modern artillery, the use of submarine weapons of destruction, and the application of rams in naval warfare rendered such effective service, that even victorious fleets coming out of future actions would be so crippled that they would find it not only hard to maintain their position at sea, but the vessels would have difficulty in reaching a port, where they would have to remain for weeks, perhaps months, for repairs, owing to their peculiar construction. It was said we had the command of the Channel, but what did that mean? If it meant that we had a fleet capable of preventing the fleet of any other nation from entering the Channel, he believed we had such a fleet; but if it was meant that the fleet would prevent invading operations being undertaken in swift steamers passing through fleets, perhaps hundreds of miles apart, under cover of night, we had not, in his opinion, such a command of the Channel as we ought to aim at. In order to obtain security of the reliable character which the country required, it would be necessary to provide an inshore flotilla of small and powerfully armed light-draught steam vessels. Such vessels, distributed throughout the commercial ports of this country, would, in his opinion, create a defensive force sufficient not only for the protection of the harbours themselves, but for the protection of our coasts, and capable of supporting our fleets in operations of a more extended character. The utterly defenceless state of our commercial harbours had long been a subject of great anxiety to the country, and such a protection as he suggested would effectually stop those periodical panics, which embarrassed so seriously the commercial operations of the country, causing a great stoppage of our industry, and serious loss to all engaged in peaceful trade. The attack of an enemy would not be directed against armed places, and, surely, if defences were necessary, they were essentially necessary to our commercial ports, which were the great emporiums of trade, and which, by their wealth and their weakness, would absolutely invite attack. The hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Macfie) had, on more than one occasion, endeavoured to bring this question before the House. The hon. Member had reason for anxiety in the matter, for the shores of the Firth and the capital of the North were with- out the slightest protection. Coming down to Tynemouth and Sunderland, those ports had docks usually filled with ships lying parallel with the coast, and absolutely at the mercy of any passing vessel that desired to shell the shipping of the town. Again, the Humber was not protected, and from the peculiarity of the channel leading to the important port of Hull, could only be defended by floating batteries—forts or land defences were practically useless. No doubt, attempts would always be made to defend the Thames, for many good reasons. The hon. Member for Falmouth (Mr. Eastwick) had sought to draw attention to the state of that harbour; and the Chambers of Commerce at Bristol and Cardiff had recently petitioned the House, asking for defences in the shape of floating batteries. With regard to the port of Liverpool, efforts had been made during the last 16 years to get something done for its protection. Hon. Members were doubtless acquainted with the position of the port and the character of its enormous trade. The exports passing through it probably amounted to one-half of the entire exports of the country; and there were few days in the year when property of the value of from £30,000,000 to £40,000,000 was not lying within rifle shot from the river. Although they might withdraw their pilots, and remove their buoys and light-ships, it would be perfectly easy for any dashing officer to bring his ship up the river on the flood tide, and after throwing red-hot shot and shell into the shipping in the harbour, and the warehouses along the docks, filled with combustible materials, make his retreat in safety on the next ebb. There was not a fort or a ship there capable of resisting such an expedition. That was a state of things which ought not to continue. In a moment of alarm in 1855, the Government of the day wrote to the authorities to say that it had been decided to build a fort upon the northern extremity of the docks, and batteries on five pierheads; but nothing had yet been done. Within the last few days a communication had been received, asking whether the fort could be proceeded with. This, however, was another spasmodic movement; but, whether it was or not, he, for one, did not wish the matter to sleep again. It might be satisfactory for the time to be told, as they had been by the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department, that in the event of war the ports would be protected; but those who understood the subject would know that Her Majesty's Government would not have the power to do so on the outbreak of war, for in such an emergency every nerve would be strained to send every ship we possessed against the enemy, and thus it would be impossible for the Government to entertain applications from particular ports. He would not presume to offer an opinion on the relative merits of shore and floating batteries; but he might be permitted to point out that while the former involved enormous expenditure and considerable loss of time, the latter could be built at once at a comparatively moderate cost. It was notorious that we were deficient in the smaller class of vessels to which his proposition referred; and it was because the Navy Estimates—which had been in the hands of hon. Members for two or three weeks—only provided for some half-dozen of those vessels that he had felt it his duty to bring this question before the House. If further increase in the number were now contemplated, Supplemental Estimates ought to have been laid on the Table. With regard to maintaining these vessels, he had to state that, besides the Coastguard and Naval Reserve, which we had in all large seaports, there were also in such places classes of maritime population who were not utilized as they might be for purposes of defence. There were pilots, riggers, and boatmen—men who had spent their lives upon vessels of the very class required, who would take as much pride in them as Volunteers did in their corps. The local knowledge which these men had of tides, banks, and currents, would be of the greatest value in manning defensive vessels; and in time of peace it would be only necessary to keep up a small permanent staff—namely, a warrant officer and gunner, and one or two seamen-gunners. Some objection would probably be raised with respect to the cost of this scheme; but 40 or 50 vessels of the Staunch or Plucky class, carrying an 18-ton, or even heavier gun, would not cost more than £7,500 each, so that the whole inshore flotilla would only require an expenditure of from £300,000 to £400,000, spread over a couple of years. Such a flotilla would, he be- lieved, be most useful in shallow estuaries, being able to cope with superior forces; because, by moving rapidly, they would concentrate their fire upon a special object, while each would offer a very small target to the enemy. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer was unable to allow an addition on this account to the sum provided in the Estimates, he should not hesitate to suggest that the building of other vessels should cease for the moment, in order that the money intended to be spent on the larger class of vessels might be applied to the building of those smaller vessels, which were a primary necessity. There were few ships composing the iron-clad Navy of England which drew less than 26 feet of water, and still fewer harbours, north of Brest, which they could enter. Coast operations would be simply impossible; and if ever we found ourselves engaged in a European quarrel our fleets would return to our ports, as the French fleet did from the Baltic—without firing a shot. He could not avoid alluding, in passing, to the scheme of the Government for re-organizing the Army at a cost of many millions, with the prospect, in the opinion of competent authorities, of very doubtful results. If it were possible to divert any portion of the expenditure to providing a fleet of small vessels, he believed that we should then have such protection as would enable us in a short time to diminish our Army instead of increasing it. The Secretary for War told us that the Army organization scheme would require seven years. [An hon. MEMBER: 12 years.] Well, in these times seven years were a political generation; great changes might occur within the next seven years, and what was wanted by the country was something that would render us prepared at the moment, and enable us to gain time for that organization of the Army that might be carried on afterwards. It appeared to him that we had begun at the wrong end—that in a homely phrase, we had "put the cart before the horse." We had, in fact, commenced to furnish our house before we had seen that the doors were capable of being properly secured. If he had power to divert a portion of the expenditure from the re-construction of the Army, as it was called, and which, if passed to-morrow, would not give any further protection to the defences of the country than existed at this moment, he certainly should feel it his duty to do so. He believed that if we only substituted for the Coastguard ships vessels of the Cyclops class, powerful vessels with slight draught of water, and attached to them gunboats, and if we utilized the Reserve, and the maritime population of the adjacent districts, we should then have a line of defence which would not only make England invulnerable, but would leave our fleets free to do that which they had always done before—block up the mouth of every suspected harbour of the enemy, and attack the enemy's fleet wherever it could be found. It was too much our habit to talk of our fleets as lines of defence. That was not the language of 50 years since, when the Navy of our country won for itself imperishable renown, not by defensive, but offensive, operations. He believed that this question was one which involved a high policy, and that the House ought to express an opinion upon it. He asked for the question he had brought forward a fair and unbiassed consideration; and if the House should support him in the proposal that he made, he believed that we should have a protection round our shores which would meet every requirement of the country, and would be obtained at a very moderate cost. The hon. Member concluded by moving his Resolution.


said, that, in seconding the motion, he was animated by the strongest sense of public duty. His hon. Friend had alluded to the failure of the operations of the French fleet, owing to the deficiency of vessels of light draught adapted to coast defence. Our own experience in the Baltic campaign, when a powerful fleet of line-of-battle ships and frigates was condemned to inaction for want of gunboats, and the successes, on the other hand, of the American naval operations, owing to the United States possessing vessels of light draught, were matters of history. The most eminent professional authorities strongly recommended the construction of a flotilla of vessels of moderate draught for the defence of our coasts and harbours. The Defenee Commissioners, in their Report of 1860, advised that £1,000,000 sterling should be spent in aid of the land fortifications which they suggested, and they laid it down as a rule that the extreme draught of a vessel adapted for coast defence should be 16 feet. Subsequently, however, a Committee was appointed, with Lord Landerdale as president, to examine into the merits of Captain Cowper Cole's system of turret armament, who strongly recommended that the turret system should be adopted for vessels designed for coast defence. But he believed that at the present time there was not in the British fleet a single turret-ship which drew less than 16 feet of water. The vessels we had afloat largely exceeded the draught laid down as essential for vessels for coast purposes. On comparing the resources of the British Navy with the navies of other Powers, in respect to this class of vessels, he found that our deficiencies were of a very serious character. In the Russian Navy there were 24 iron-clads, of which 22 were vessels of light draught powerfully armed, 13 being of the Monitor type. The American fleet contained 52 iron-clads, 45 of which were of light draught and adapted for coast defence. Now, compared with these two statements, the British Navy was alarmingly deficient in vessels adapted for coast operations. He should be sorry to advocate increased expenditure, and he would suggest that we ought to substitute for the costly vessels of deep draught now in contemplation vessels of more moderate cost and lesser size, and better adapted for the defence of our coasts. With regard to line-of-battle ships, we were undoubtedly superior to any other maritime Power, and perhaps superior, to all the other maritime Powers taken together, and, therefore, it was unnecessary at present to expend more money in constructing vessels of this class. When they considered that the Sultan, which cost £394,000, could be destroyed by a single successful torpedo, it was enough to make us pause before we constructed more of this class of ships, especially as in 10 years' time this class of ships might be found to be obsolete. Further, he would suggest that we might suspend the construction of a number of vessels of the Inconstant type until a sufficient number of vessels were supplied adapted for coast defence. Our mercantile navy, especially the powerful ships which performed a regular service between Liverpool and New York in the most tempestuous winter weather, and under favourable conditions, attain- ing a speed of 14 knots an hour for several days consecutively, would, in the event of war breaking out, be admirable substitutes for vessels like the Inconstant. He submitted that we might without danger postpone the construction of more Inconstants at the present time, and that we could spend our money to greater advantage by building vessels of the Staunch class, which his hon. Friend (Mr. Graves) had referred to as being essential to the defence of our harbours and shores. The programme of the Admiralty of last year contemplated the construction of 12,000 tons of armourplated shipping per annum. The Secretary of the United States Government in his last Report suggested that the United States establishment in time of peace should include 40 armoured vessels for coast defence of a tonnage not exceeding 800 tons. Assuming that we adopted that tonnage as sufficient for our Monitors, or in order to secure a more thoroughly efficient type of vessels, increased the size of our Monitors to 1,000 tons, we could, by suspending the construction of vessels of the Devastation type provide by the end of three years, without any addition to the present Vote for ship-building, 36 vessels of a type admirably adapted for coast defence. Again, we could build 33 vessels of the Staunch class for the same money which it would take to construct an Inconstant. Thus we might have in three years 100 gunboats of the Staunch class, which, taken together with 36 Monitors, would form a substantial and reliable defence for the great arsenals and commercial harbours of the country. There was one more suggestion which he wished to offer with respect to the utilization of our mercantile marine for purposes of naval defence. He had often contemplated the possibility of making arrangements with the owners of the tug and coasting steamers which were to be found in "numbers numberless" around our shores, by which those vessels might be made a very valuable defence of the harbours to which they belonged. He believed that a sum equal to a third or fourth of the original cost of such vessels would be gladly accepted by their owners upon condition that they should be constructed with such modifications of scantling and fitment as would adapt them to carry a gun, mounted on Captain Scott's plan, so successfully applied in the Staunch. For a sum not exceeding what we should spend in maintaining a like number of the steam gunboats in reserve the owners of those vessels would probably be glad to keep them in a state of repair satisfactory to an inspector and sufficient to enable us to rely with confidence on them in case their services should be required. He would conclude by expressing a sincere hope that the Government would find it consistent with those economical principles which they had adopted to increase our defence flotilla, so as to render impossible in the future the recurrence of those periodical panics which did so little credit to this country.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, it is desirable to make additional provision for the defence of the Commercial Harbours of this Country, by building, without delay, gun vessels of a light draught, armed with heavy guns, which may, in case of emergency, be manned by any existing local or other force,"—(Mr. Graves,) —instead thereof.

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


was very glad that the hon. Member for Liverpool had brought forward this question, for it was impossible to overrate its importance. It was not to be wondered that attention was called to this matter, when it was considered what an enormous amount of property was really in a defenceless condition. He must, however, confess that he should be sorry to see adopted the plan of dispensing with building the larger class of vessels in order to construct small ones for home defence. His hon. Friend had given a very good reason against his own recommendation—namely, the enormous time required to repair a fleet of iron-clads after an action, and we could not look upon our Channel defence as complete unless we had a reserve of iron-clads fit to go to sea when the others returned in a damaged condition. He quite agreed that ships of lighter draught were the only vessels for harbour defence. He would ask the House to bear in mind the history of the last 18 or 20 years, and to consider whether the history of that time did not furnish the strongest reason for constructing small vessels such as those which had been recommended. At the commencement of the Crimean War we were entirely unprovided with gunboats. A noble Earl (the Earl of Hardwicke), who was a distinguished naval officer, made a recommendation in 1853 that the First Lord should immediately lay down 100 gunboats; but that recommendation was not attended to. Well, on the outbreak of the war, we set about building 150 gunboats, but in such a hurry that in 12 months they were all rotten; and we contrived to have the boats finished just as the war was over. If we had had 100 gunboats earlier we should have taken Cronstadt without difficulty, and probably should have entered Sebastopol, and the whole character of the war would have been changed. We had also had more recent experience on the subject. There was the report of the commanders of the French squadron in the late war; and they said that the French iron-clads in the Baltic were perfectly useless for all purposes of offensive warfare, whereas if they had had 100 boats of light draught the fleet would then have been most useful as an aggressive force. We had heard a good deal lately of our treaty obligations; but let us imagine that we were called upon under treaty obligations to prevent an attack upon Antwerp, which was the point most looked to when any question of European concern was at issue. What could we possibly do? What use would our large iron-clads be with their draught of water? We had really not a single ship of war that we could send up the river to defend the place. Looking at the history of the past, and the necessities of the present, he did not think that we could do better than build small vessels such as those which had been referred to.


said, that, as he had himself given notice to call attention to vessels of the Staunch class, he would say a few words in support of the Motion that was now before the House. He had come to the conclusion that there could not be any more effective mode of defending the harbours of this country than by building gunboats carrying one gun. He had a letter from Sir William Armstrong to the effect that the cost of two iron-clads would construct 100 of these vessels, and that these vessels would be of much more importance to the harbours of this country than a fleet of iron-clads. These small vessels were ubiquitous; they could move from one place to another, and they could not be all destroyed at once. It was not competent for hon. Members to move any increase of the Estimates, therefore he would not press the subject further than by saying that he believed there would be in the Estimates provision for six of these vessels, and he would be inclined to press upon Government to proceed further in this direction.


desired, with the permission of the House, to say a few words on the subject. He entirely agreed with what had fallen from the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. G. Bentinck) that there should be no delay in completing the larger iron-clads, with the view of devoting the money to smaller gunboats, if it were not that the iron-clads we were constructing were not of that type which it was desirable to provide; so that he thought the proposition of his hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool was entitled to some weight, because they knew the value and exceeding cheapness of that class of gunboats, and that the seven iron-clads which were now being constructed were the subject of consideration by an important Committee. Although they had not reported yet, something was known with regard to the Fury, Thunderer, and Devastation. The Fury had been entirely suspended, though it was held up in the autumn to be a vessel of great importance; but he was glad to learn that the money expended had not resulted in a great loss to the public, as he believed only 1/56th had been completed. He was quite sure he was right in saying that no Committee would say it was the type of vessel that should be adopted. They desired to see the experiment tried by dealing with the Thunderer and the Devastation; but one would probably be constructed in the original manner, and the other according to an altered design. With regard to the other four vessels of the Cyclops class, there was no doubt they had the advantage of drawing not too much water, and in that respect they would be a very serviceable vessel. But as he understood, the Committee had reported that in such seas as would be met with on the north-west and south coasts of Ireland, and on the west coast of Scotland, they would be in great danger, and they would roll over and go down as the Captain went down. He thought vessels of the Staunch class did not carry large enough guns, as they ought to carry an 18-ton gun, rather than a 12-ton gun, and ought to be constructed so as to be able to lay with their heads to the sea and fire abeam. He believed a sum of £8,000 would produce a gunboat of a class which would be able to take care of itself in almost all weathers, navigate in shallow seas, and fire with great precision. The Defence Committee of 1860 had advised the expenditure of £1,000,000 for this purpose, and he would be glad to hear from the First Lord of the Admiralty what course Government was pursuing in this matter. A considerable number of these vessels should be constructed in each year, and he urged upon the representatives of the commercial ports to consider how these vessels should be manned and preserved in their ports. They should cost the country nothing but ammunition for the training of the men. One gunner, a warrant officer, should be in charge of each of the various gunboats in the various ports, and in that way the country would have a force which the mercantile body itself would be interested in keeping efficient. By this means they would not be subject to those panics which occasionally arose, as they would have their vessels at hand, armed with guns of the heaviest calibre, and ready to be manned for the defence of the port.


said, he should have preferred to explain the policy of the Government with respect to this matter in the statement which he had to make later in the evening. It was impossible to deal with one class of these vessels alone; and no better proof could be given of this than the speeches which had just been made by the hon. Members. He was astonished beyond measure to hear the hon. and gallant Admiral opposite (Sir John Hay) mention to the House the substance of a confidential Report which had only been placed upon his (Mr. Goschen's) table two days ago. A very important Committee had been sitting, and every document which he had seen in connection with it was marked "confidential," and most properly so, because it could not be to the advantage of the country that, before the Committee had completed its final Report, the substance of the Re- port they were about to make should be published piecemeal in the speeches of hon. Members—thereby producing a wrong impression throughout the country. Was it right that the gallant Admiral should have mentioned one point of a confidential Report regarding the Cyclops and Devastation, and alarm the country at the progress made with these vessels, before the public had the other points, or were in possession of full materials to enable them to judge? It had been a great question with him whether, in the interest of the public service, he should lay these Reports before the House. They touched on the whole question of the shipbuilding of the country; they were prepared by most eminent men, and went into the most minute questions of shipbuilding. It was a great matter of doubt with him whether he should publish these or not for the benefit of the world. It might be right to publish them, but he thought that it should be left to the Government to decide the question, and it was not right for the hon. and gallant Member to force the premature production of these Reports by quoting from them so much as was unfavourable to the vessels that were under construction. With regard to the question generally, it would be his duty presently to state to the House the policy of the Government with regard to the building of these ships. Hon. Members had assumed, and the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. Brassey) seemed to indicate that the Government was in favour of proceeding with ironclads at the expense of these small gun vessels; but that was not the policy of the Government. The policy of the Government was to proceed with these gunboats, as many hon. Members had proposed; but they were not prepared to do so, at present, on the scale urged by the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves). Progress must, at the same time, be made with other ships which also constituted a portion of the coast defences, beause it was not assumed that these ships which were to remain in the harbours were to be our chief defences. We must have fighting ships also; we must have large ships drawing 26 feet of water, superior in power to the ships of other countries; and therefore Government could not consent to stop the progress of such ships as the Devastation; nor could they stop the progress of the four ships of the Cyclops class, drawing 15 feet or 16 feet of water, even for those which were most useful for coast defences. There would be a considerable flotilla of the very gunboats recommended by the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. Brassey) of the Staunch class, but he did not need to pursue the subject further at the present moment; he would only state that of that class 12 were practically completed, and, further, boats of the same class would be completed during the present financial year. It would be un-advisable to suspend the completion of the Blonde, which was at present in progress of construction. That was a most important and useful class of vessels; but as to the amount spent on them in any one year, and the relative amount spent on the larger class of vessels, that question would be best dealt with when he came to speak on the general policy of the Government.


said, that if he was rightly informed, instructions had been issued to the Committee on Naval Construction which had been referred to, prohibiting them from considering any class of vessels below 2,000 tons. It was of the highest importance that some opinion should go forth from that House that that Committee should have power to inquire into the class of vessels of smaller tonnage and light draught, which he concurred with previous speakers in believing to be most suited for the defence of our shores. He hoped, therefore, that in the course of the evening he should receive some assurance from Government on the subject. He hoped his hon. Friend would not put the House to the trouble of dividing until they had heard the statement of the Government; but it was of such importance that he would be justified in asking the opinion of the House on the question, should the explanation of the Government not be satisfactory.


said, that the ports on the north-east coast were totally unprotected. The only defence which we had at present was vessels of the iron-clad type, but the experience of the French and German War showed that iron-clads were utterly useless for certain purposes. Vessels of small draught of the Monitor class, similar to the Minotauk turret which ran the gauntlet of the Land Forts during the American Civil War were, in his opinion, the best ships for the defence of the coast, and the country would be put to no great additional expense, as the men composing the Naval Reserve could be utilized to great advantage if that suggestion were adopted.


said, the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) was quite justified in bringing forward this Motion. He did not hesitate to say that one or two small Monitors, such as the Admiralty were now building, would destroy the very fine armour-clad ship called the Resistance, now stationed in the Mersey, which was not at all fitted for getting into or out of ports. His view was that the various harbours of this country could be made safe by vessels of the Staunch class and Monitor class. He was aware that Government were building six small vessels for coast defence. It was better for the country to build vessels of this small class for the harbours, even as a matter of economy, because by their means the rest of the Navy would be set free for foreign service without exposing ourselves to the risk of invasion. The vessels now in commission would suffice for all the requirements of foreign service, and we should have no need to build large-class vessels for a long time to come.


protested against the slowness of the present and preceding Governments in providing for the defence of the ports of the country. A vessel of war running into the Firth of Forth would be nearer to Edinburgh than Hyde Park Corner was to the House in which they were now sitting. What a shame it would be if a cruiser were to come from the Baltic and bring the renowned and ancient capital of Scotland to ruins. No considerations of economy, no advantage gained by delay, ought to postpone the expenditure which everyone was convinced must, sooner or later, be incurred on the defence of the coast, and in the removal of those panics which were well founded, so far as the unprotected position of our harbours was concerned. What would be the state of Lancashire and the manufacturing districts if a gunboat were to go up the Mersey and burn up the stock of cotton in the port of Liverpool?


Sir, I am glad the hon. Member for Liverpool has called attention to this subject. One would have thought that the defences of commercial ports would have been the first thought of a commercial nation. But, perhaps, it has not been attended to just because it was so very obviously necessary. Sir, I regret that I did not hear the beginning of this debate, but I am sure that my hon. Friend has explained the wants of Liverpool with his usual clearness and ability, so that I need add nothing on that head; but I should like to say a word respecting Falmouth—a port at which there is often an immense fleet of ships, and which ought, therefore, to be made perfectly secure. Now, I am far from saying that Falmouth is so defenceless as Liverpool, but what I complain of is that it is imperfectly defended, when a very little additional outlay would make it quite secure. There are two castles of Henry VIII's time—Pendennis, on the west of the harbour, and St. Mawe's on the east. Pendennis is an irregular heptagon with seven very small bastions, in each of which is a 56-pounder gun en barbette. Below are land batteries of 32-pounders, which are quite useless against armour-plated vessels. The top battery is also useless, because there are no bomb-proofs and no expense battery inside the fort, and the three old magazines are exposed to fire, as they can be seen above the parapets. For want of a small outlay this defence, then, is indefensible. St. Mawe's Castle is well placed, but its 12 guns—being shell guns—are of no use against armour-plated vessels. These guns ought to be replaced by 9-inch guns. But two more batteries are wanted—a 3-gun battery of heavy guns on St. Anthony, at the eastern point of the harbour, and a battery at Trefusis Point inside the harbour; for, as matters at present stand, if a vessel could run between the two castles, not a gun could be brought to bear on her, and she might burn the town and sink all the shipping in the port. Having spoken of Falmouth, I wish to say a word on the defences of the Clyde, and then on the general question. At Greenock there is the Black Prince, and no doubt she is a very formidable defence. But I think there ought to be defences on shore as well, and I believe there are no rifled guns. Near Greenock there are two smoothbore guns, but no rifled guns. There are companies of Volunteer artillery in Argyllshire, Renfrew, Ayr, and Dum- barton, and a body of Militia Artillery in Argyllshire; but not a man of them has ever been taught to handle a breech-loading rifled gun. I think that such guns should be sent down, and the artillerymen instructed in their use. Now as to the general question. I believe I am right in saying that harbour defences consist of batteries on shore, armour-plated vessels, and torpedoes. It has been rightly observed that we want a number of small armour-plated ships, of light draught, which could prevent an enemy's vessel or boats from raking out our torpedoes. It appears to me that these latter weapons are the best we can use. In fact, I think the next naval war will be a war of torpedoes. That being so, I am really surprised that the Admiralty has been so utterly supine regarding these most formidable engines. I speak more particularly of Harvey's sea-torpedo, or "otter" torpedo. There was Correspondence about these torpedoes as long back as July 8th, 1868, and most successful trials were made with it against the Royal Sovereign on the 17th and 18th February, 1870; yet it was not till the 29th of December that the Government ordered 20, and on the 22nd of this month, 60 more. But while our Government has been fast asleep over torpedoes—and they are not exactly the things that a reasonable person would choose to slumber over—Russia has been arming to the teeth with them. Sir, it requires a couple of months' practice to manage these weapons successfully; but if it should come to a torpedo war we should be at a great disadvantage as compared with Russia, for it would be the most skilful manipulator—and skill is got only by practice—who would be certain to win. Sir, there can be no doubt that a flotilla of torpedo ships would blow up any fleet of iron-clads in the world. Why, Sir, in 10 trials against the Royal Sovereign, that ship three times got only one shot, and five times only two shots, at the torpedo vessel, and that even in the day; but there can be no doubt that in dark tempestuous nights there would be many chances to one against the torpedo vessel being struck. I hope, therefore, that immediate attention will be given to this subject, and that the crews, not only of the Excellent and Cambridge, but of every man-of-war in the Navy, will be exercised in the use of the "otter" torpedo, and that the services of Captain Harvey will be retained especially and solely for this country, at a fair and even liberal remuneration.


said, he was satisfied with the discussion which had taken place, as it had shown that the opinion of the House was unanimous in favour of the policy of additional defence for commercial harbours. As he did not wish to occupy the time unnecessarily, or to embarrass the Government by dividing the House, he would ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.