HC Deb 30 April 1872 vol 210 cc2014-7

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty, Whether his attention has been drawn to a letter in "The Times" of yesterday, signed by Lord Clarence Paget, recently Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Squadron; whether he will lay upon the Table of the House the series of Orders restricting the use of the engine referred to in that letter; and, whether it is true that the Admiralty contemplates a revision of those Orders; and, if so, whether the Revised Orders will also be laid upon the Table?


Yes, Sir, of course my attention has been called to the letter addressed to The Times by the ex-Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Squadron, on subjects which most deeply concern everyone who is interested in the efficiency of the Navy, and in that cordiality which must exist between the Admiralty and the service if the efficiency of the Fleet is to be kept up. Of course, Sir, my attention has been called to this letter, on account, among other reasons, of its assumptions as to the causes of disasters when the results of the inquiries into those disasters have not yet reached this country and are not yet known. Of course, Sir, my attention has been called to this letter, the assumption in which, respecting eases the particulars of which are known, is against the weight of evidence. The House will remember that in the case of the Captain the signal made by the Admiral in command of the squadron was that the ships should get up steam sufficient to maintain a speed of six knots per hour, and connect their screws, whereas, as regards the Agincourt, she actually had not attained a greater rate of speed than four knots per hour when the casualty that occurred to her took place. As to the Defence, I may mention that the steam was up in that vessel at the time of the disaster. She was lying at anchor off the Island of Pantellaria, with steam up in two of her boilers, when the wind freshened, and the captain gave orders to get up steam in the other two boilers also. He inquired how long it would take to do this, and the engineer said it could be done in 20 minutes. There was a mistake, however, in delivering the message, and the time was reported to the captain as five minutes. The captain accordingly waited till that time had elapsed, and then, assuming that the four boilers had been connected, let slip his cable—a circumstance which resulted in the accident. The House will now be able to judge whether there was no steam up, and whether any regulations of the Admiralty led to the disaster. As regards the Lord Clyde, she proceeded almost at full speed to the assistance of the ship being wrecked off Pantellaria, I believe with six boilers at work. She arrived there at night, and had to wait until morning before she could render assistance. I am dealing now not with controverted matters, but I am giving the account of the captain himself. When she arrived the fires were banked up in four of her boilers, and she was capable of going with those four boilers at the speed of 10 knots an hour. With regard to the cause of the other disasters I can say nothing until the Reports of the Courts-Martial have arrived; but I think I have cleared up one important point, and shown that steam was up in the cases to which I have alluded. I think this matter is one of such extreme importance that when we have the full materials before the House—and we shall have them shortly—I shall be able, in my place in the House of Commons, to rebut the charge which has been brought against the Admiralty in this matter. Then I am asked, whether the revised Orders respecting the use of the engines will be laid on the Table of the House? Certainly, Sir, every Order shall be laid upon the Table of this House. But I would remind the House that there are regulations restricting the use of coal which date as far back as the year 1856, in addition to the modern restrictions. The first of these modern restrictions is as follows:— Aug. 3, 1865. My Lords having observed that in many instances the Captains of Her Majesty's Ships have used steam power when, in the opinion of their Lordships, the service on which they were employed did not require it; and that it had also been used in leaving and entering harbours offering no difficulties to vessels under sail, they think it necessary again to call the attention of officers to Articles 7 and 8, cap. 20, page 175, of the printed Instructions. My Lords further direct that Commanders-in-Chief and senior Officers shall on all occasions distinctly state in the sailing Orders they may give, to what extent steam may be used, and they are carefully to examine the logs and steam registers of the ships under their orders, calling the attention of the commanding officers to any unnecessary expenditure, and reporting the same to the Admiralty. The quantity of coal consumed in the 24 hours and remaining on board is to be inserted daily in the log accompanying the report of proceedings, and when steam is used (in addition to the notification underlined in red ink, ordered in Article 11, cap. 20, page 176), the knots and fathoms are to be written in red ink. My Lords desire to impress upon all officers in command the very great importance of reducing the expenditure of coal on board their ships to the lowest point consistent with the safety of the vessels and the due performance of the service on which they may be employed. This Instruction was addressed to all Commanders-in-Chief, Captains, Commanders, and Commanding Officers of Her Majesty's ships and vessels. With regard to this Instruction, I may state in candour that the Secretary to the Admiralty was not satisfied with the strength of these Instructions, and he proposed still stronger regulations forbidding the use of steam on ordinary passages altogether. The House will, not unnaturally, ask the date of these Instructions. The Instruction was dated 1865, and it is signed "By command of their Lordships, Clarence Paget." The House will see, therefore, that the Secretary to the Board of Admiralty who proposed regulations more stringent than any of those now in force was Lord Clarence Paget. [Mr. CORRY asked the date of the revised Orders.] The revised Orders were passed by the Board of Admiralty on the 26th of April, and they shall be laid on the Table of the House, together with the other Instructions.