§ CAPTAIN G. E. PRICE
said, he had given Notice of his intention to ask Questions of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War with reference to the manufacture of 81-ton guns and the application of the "Woolwich system" of rifling and projectiles to the 35-ton gun. He did not mean to enter into the scientific bearings of the question, but the system of rifling called the "Woolwich system," which was in reality French, had met with great opposition from very many able artilleryists. They were not satisfied that it was the right system. Experiments had been tried to test this in 1865 and 1866 with some large 7-inch guns, and as the result of experience it had been abandoned with all those guns which entered into the competition. But for all the larger guns, in which there was no competition whatever, this vicious system was retained. He therefore wished to know whether it was the intention of the Government to carry out the trials between the larger guns rifled on the present system. It was the fact that many of the larger guns had not proved at all satisfactory, and several of them had been returned as unserviceable. He wanted to know not only that the guns were to be rifled on a plan which was safe, but also that the shot fired from them should be made in such a manner that they would not break up in the gun. At present, the gunner never knew whether the inner tube of the gun would or would not crack, or whether the projectile would leave the gun in one piece or several. He begged to ask the Secretary of State for War, Whether it is proposed to manufacture any more 81-ton Guns; whether any 35-ton Gun had been tested to destruction, or what experiments of an exhaustive nature have been carried out with such a result as to satisfy the War Department with the application of the "Woolwich system" of rifling and projectiles to this size of Gun; whether the work done by the present 35-ton Gun is so superior to that done by the 25-ton Gun as to warrant the advisability 304 of building still larger Guns on the same principle; and, whether the Ordnance Department are now prepared to supply the Naval Service with shell calculated to withstand with safety the battering charges of the 18-ton and heavier Guns? The subject was one of great importance, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would be able to give a satisfactory answer.
§ CAPTAIN NOLAN
, in rising to call attention to the present exceptional position of the country as regarded the manufacture of muzzle-loading ordnance, a system abandoned by the Continental Powers of Europe, said, in his opinion, they had displayed extraordinary courage, or rather hardihood, in thus defying the general opinion of those Powers. As a financial question, it was a matter of some importance, for it was proposed that year to expend £200,000 in the manufacture of guns, and the estimate for projectiles was £100,000. A large sum would be spent on the carriages of those guns, and also in adapting the fortifications to them. The latter could no doubt be adapted for breech-loading guns; but if we changed the system, the former amounts, in a great degree, would have been wasted. It was 14 years since we commenced the manufacture of rifled cannon, and our fortresses were not yet entirely armed with rifled pieces. If, therefore, we introduced breech-loading instead of muzzle-loading guns, it would take 14 years to replace the present guns with new and more advanced pieces of ordnance; and, in the end, probably £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 would be found to have been thrown away. But apart from financial considerations, we should incur great danger should we go to war with inferior guns, and find ourselves at as great a disadvantage as the French were in relation to the Prussians in the late war. There was an immense preponderance of opinion against us on this subject. Russia had devoted herself entirely to the adoption of breech-loaders. Having tried muzzle-loading guns on their own plan, and pronounced them a failure, the Russians, since 1866, had adopted the breech-loading principle. Since 1864 the Prussian Artillery had been partially armed with breech-loading guns; but at first muzzle-loading, smooth-bore guns were retained for one-third of the force. Immediately after Sadowa, however, it was reported that 305 muzzle-loading, smooth-bore guns were useless, and that they were an encumbrance which was not compensated for by their power in action; and since then the Prussians had used breech-loading guns exclusively. Austria had, until lately, used both kinds of guns in her navy and for coast defence, with, however, a preponderance of breech-loaders, and now it had determined to exclude muzzle-loaders, and last year, in a panic, it experimented on a field-gun made by Krupp, which was a little better than the Prussian gun. The results of the practice were extraordinary, for it was found that the gun of which Austria hitherto had been proud, made only one-seventh of the number of hits at a target which were made by the new gun at 5,000 paces; one-eighth at 3,000 paces, and one-fourth at 2,000 paces; and the conclusion was arrived at that Austria would be helpless if it were opposed to Prussian breech-loading artillery. Turkey was influenced in her adherence to muzzle-loading guns by her extensive relations with England, and it had been said by a Turkish Pacha that he would not be persuaded even by an angel to take anything that was not manufactured according to "Woolwich fashions; but since then the mother of the Sultan had presented the Army with Krupp guns, and breech-loaders had been exclusively a dopted for their field artillery. Sweden adhered as long as possible to muzzle-loading guns, as best suited to her cast-iron manufacture, but she had now adopted breech-loaders. Belgium had been in favour of the breech-loading system for a long time. France had had breech-loading heavy guns for some time; but she went into the last war with her field artillery armed with muzzle-loading guns; and the return of the war showed that 10 percent of wounded Prussians and 25 per cent of wounded Frenchmen were wounded by artillery fire, so that the Prussian guns were twice and a-half as effective as the French guns. That was the material effect, and, of course, the moral effect would be great among men who knew they were losing 50 men for every 20 they disabled. Italy had oscillated, but he believed now had adopted breechloaders. Spain followed the example of France until the last war, when both sides, Carlists and Alfonsists, found muzzle-loading guns useless, and adopted 306 breech-loaders. "Whatever arm they might adhere to in time of peace, each of these countries, when it entered into war, or found danger imminent, changed to the breech-loading system. Some people might say that such a subject would be better dealt with by a Scientific Committee. He (Captain Nolan) was not of that opinion, because the House of Commons had always displayed great power in comparing opinions; he thought, therefore, that they were fully qualified to deal with this subject. Scientific reports, moreover, had already been made in the case of other European nations, and it was on the strength of those reports that the system of breechloaders had been generally adopted. It might be said that Holland still had some muzzle-loaders, but her principal gun for coast defence was a breechloader. The United States was practically without an artillery system, and during the Civil War both sides used chiefly smooth-bore guns; but its Government had lately directed Captain Simpson, a naval officer, to inquire into the different systems of Europe; he had carefully studied the English method, devoting one of the two large volumes of his report to English Artillery; and he had reported strongly and decisively in favour of breech-loading. China, Japan, and Brazil followed our example, because they bought their guns in England without making independent experiments. Practically, we stood alone, in face of the military opinion of Europe, and also in face of the opinion of our own civil engineers, as expressed a few weeks ago at a meeting of their Institute, when all the speakers expressed a decided preference for the breech-loading principle, and the President stated further that Sir Joseph Whitworth and Sir William Armstrong were both in favour of it. As to our military authorities, unfortunately they made experiments and Reports while the question was in process of solution, and while Europe was divided in opinion, and if there were further reference to these authorities, it would be hard for them to go back on their previously-expressed opinions. For all these reasons, and because the question was so important, it was one for the decision of the Cabinet, who would not be free from responsibility if we suffered from an adherence to the muzzle-loading system 307 after all other countries had decided I against it. Before entering upon the I question of the relative superiority of the breech-loader and the muzzle-loader, it was necessary to clear the subject from extraneous considerations, such as the proper material of a gun and the nature of the projectile employed. When rifle guns were first introduced, each country had its own views as to the best metal. Prussia was in favour of steel guns. Sweden and the United States preferred their cast iron, which was better than that made elsewhere; while Great Britain, which was more celebrated for its wrought iron, tried to manufacture its guns from that material. It was then found that wrought-iron guns were not to be relied upon, and, eventually, only two metals were used—steel, or a mixture, as in this country, of wrought-iron with a certain proportion of steel. The performances of the projectiles employed, such as the number of men they might kill or the depth of iron plates they went through, were equally extraneous to the point at issue, because either breech or muzzle-loading guns might be made to show very destructive effects. The only superiority which he now claimed for breech-loading guns in regard to projectiles was in the absence of windage. The great superiority of breech-loading guns was in the diminished exposure of the men. He might illustrate that by referring to what happened when a sportsman had to fire at wild game from behind a bank. If after firing once, he wanted to try for another shot, he would have great difficulty in hiding himself from the game when he had to use a long and clumsy ramrod. So, in an engagement, three or four men had to stand in front of a muzzle-loader to load, ram down the shot, &c, and while they were thus serving the gun more men would always be shot than in serving a breech-loader. Perhaps in an engagement between two ships or two batteries not more than 30 or 40 additional men would thus be shot, and that might not be thought a large number; but the moral effect of losing the most skilled and the bravest men by exposure to fire would be great and of a cumulative nature, and, in the long run, men would not do their work so well when they were exposed as when they served under the cover of a breech-loading gun. 308 A muzzle-loader was loaded in one position and fired in another, and the same amount of cover could not be secured for both, except by adopting Major Moncrieff's invention, which no doubt made it as safe during loading as in firing. The fact, therefore, that the men were more exposed to destruction in serving muzzle-loading guns was the main reason why Continental nations had adopted the breech-loader. The question then arose as to which gun lasted the longest. The life of a gun must be measured by the number of charges it would fire, and these must not be what were called ordinary or full charges, but battering charges, which alone could be effective in active service, so far as armour-piercing guns were concerned. In reference to the point a Committee had reported that the difference of recoil, when two descriptions of charge were alternately employed, caused serious delay in loading, and they directed the use of the battering charge only in actual war. Then came the question, what number of battering charges could be safely allowed, and in regard to that point, the latest order which had been issued was, that guns over 10-inch were not to fire more than 100 battery charges without being sent to be re-examined. That appeared to him to be a small number of rounds, and in the case of a vessel sent abroad the limit would soon be reached. This great wear and tear of the muzzle-loader was caused by the erosion, and because the projectile could not exactly fit the gun. Now, foreign Governments had taken a great deal of trouble to ascertain the relative endurance of the two systems of guns, and there were some important experiments made at Tesel, in 1868, bearing upon this subject. The Prussians sent over for a 9-inch gun, and tried a 9¼-inch gun against it. The first result was that the English gun beat the Prussian gun. The Prussians then altered the projectile and the powder charge of their piece, then the armour-piercing performances of both guns became practically equal—the Germans claiming a slight superiority. But what was the real result of this experiment? This fact was established, that the German gun possessed far the greater endurance. This question of endurance was one of great importance. The English 309 muzzle-loader fired 200 or 250 rounds, then becoming unserviceable, while the Prussian gun fired 600 rounds, so that the Prussian gun lasted three times as long. Austria had also made a similar experiment expressly to check the last-mentioned result, by which it appeared that the English muzzle-loader at the 111th round became unserviceable, but the Austrian gun remained good. With reference to the Navy, he could not undertake to speak authoritatively, in the presence of so many naval officers. Here the question of relative speed became specially important, and he would not on this much debated point claim now a superiority for the breech-loader, although his own opinion was even here in its favour, but as with keepers in cover shooting, great skill and practice were necessary to load muzzle-loaders fast, while fair proficiency with the breech-loader was more easily attained. With the want of protection, however, to which he had already referred, the skilled men might very soon fall in action, and then the superiority so claimed would cease to exist. Captain Simpson, in speaking of the reasons for the adoption of the muzzle-loading gun by this country, said, that the Armstrong breechloader having been found to fail, it was given up, and then arose a prejudiced belief that as we had failed in a solution of the problem, the problem must be necessarily incapable of solution. No efforts were made to adopt the system prevailing abroad, although the English mind was ready to embark in the breech-loading system. The Government, he added, committed itself entirely to the muzzle-loading system; the plant at Woolwich was adapted to the sole manufacture of that system of gun, and it would now require an immense superiority in the breech-loader to induce them to adopt that system. He (Captain Nolan) believed that other causes operated to bring about the present state of things. As people believed that the fact that the muzzle-loader had been adopted was in itself a proof of its being a better gun, he would point out that there were four causes which had induced England to adopt the system of muzzle-loading. In the first place, England had been accustomed for a short time, some four or five years ago, to use a very strong description of powder, thereby committing a 310 mistake, as was now admitted. The consequence was that we had short guns, and by that had lost some of the benefits we might otherwise have obtained. A different powder was now used, and we could employ long guns which obviously demanded a breech-loading arrangement much more than the shorter pieces. Again, the kind of breech-loader first adopted was one where the breech piece had to be lifted every time out of the gun before the ammunition could be introduced; and as our guns got heavier it became very awkward to lift the breech piece, and consequently it was found that for large guns this breech-loading system would not answer; but that reason did not act in any other country, because they had only to displace horizontally the breechblock. A further reason arose from our Indian position. In India the simplicity of muzzle-loading guns gave some undoubted advantages, and as muzzle-loading guns and ammunition could alone be manufactured in that country its Government had favoured muzzle-loaders, and it was directly through a Committee on Indian guns that we had first definitely pronounced for muzzle-loading. Another reason might be found in the Feathers decision that the Crown might adopt warlike inventions without compensating the inventors, which had prevented foreigners to a very great extent from introducing their inventions to this country. Prussia acted in very much the same manner with reference to foreign military inventions; but, on the other hand, she had been careful to try the systems in vogue in England. He would press a last reason of the greatest importance on the House. It ought to be borne in mind that, while we had adopted a system as regarded ordnance totally different from that of any other civilized Power, the science of artillery was continually progressing; and it was hard to say what country in Europe did not every year contribute to its advancement. It was therefore of great importance that the Government should consider every improvement, and exercise the greatest vigilance in order that the best system might be adopted, for while it was extremely difficult to introduce into the muzzle-loader the improvements effected from time to time in I the breech-loader, other countries would probably be able to adapt to their 311 breech-loaders improvements originally devised for other breech-loaders. England in this matter had taken up an isolated position and was not able to adopt the improvements of other countries. In fact, we declared ourselves wiser than our neighbours without carefully testing those parts of their systems which we pronounced inferior. At the same time he believed, it was acknowledged that it was a mere question of time as to when we were to take up breech-loading, and therefore in adhering to our present system we were only postponing the evil day and putting off a change, which, when it did come, would, he feared, be a costly one.
§ LORD EUSTACE CECIL
hoped that as the hon. and gallant Member for Devonport (Captain Price) had not favoured the House with a lengthy speech upon the subject he would excuse categorical, answers to his Questions and that the answers would be satisfactory. To the first Question the Answer was, that it was proposed to manufacture more 81-ton guns, and he (Lord Eustace Cecil) believed one of the reasons was, that the Navy would very shortly require these very large guns. To the second Question, the Answer was, that no 35-ton gun had been actually tested to destruction, because it was not deemed necessary to do so; but long exhaustive experiments had been carried on with 35-ton guns, which combined with their experience had satisfied those most competent to judge of the matter that the "Woolwich system" was applicable to that sized gun. To the third Question the Answer was, that the work done by a 35-ton gun was so superior to that done by a 25-ton gun in the opinion of those who presided over the matter, that it was deemed advisable to build still larger guns on the same principle. To the fourth Question the Answer was, that the Ordnance Department had supplied the naval service with shell calculated to withstand 18-ton and heavier guns. As to the subject which the hon. and gallant Member for Gralway (Captain Nolan) had brought forward with his usual knowledge and ability on these matters, he thought he might remind the hon. and gallant Gentleman that it was hardly ripe for discussion in the House of Commons. Opinion was very much divided, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself 312 had admitted, upon these matters, though no doubt there was a certain amount of foreign scientific opinion in favour of his view. He (Lord Eustace Cecil) was talking now of English scientific opinion. He must remind the hon. and gallant Member that that was not the first time that we as a nation had embarked in a breech-loading system. We adopted in, he believed, 1858, the Armstrong breech-loading system. That system was very carefully tested, and after a considerable amount of trial it was gradually abandoned both by the Artillery and the Navy, and no breech-loading guns were manufactured after 1868. He need not enter into the defects of the Armstrong principle. It would take too long to enter into very minute detail with that subject; but he might say it was very carefully considered by a number of scientific Committees. The hon. and gallant Gentleman, who was a member of a scientific corps, would not throw any doubt on the value of the Reports of those Committees, because the officers who sat on them were of the highest experience and ability, and were as competent to give an opinion as any gentleman, whether of civil or military experience, in the country. The first Committee, which reported in 1864, was the Ordnance Select Committee, and their Report led to the adoption of the present Woolwich system. Then there was the Armstrong and Whit-worth Committee, before whom both these inventions had a very fair trial, but the Report of the Committee was not in their favour. Then there was the Committee of 13 superior officers of the Royal Artillery, in 1866, and they were unanimous in recommending muzzle-loading field guns. Next there was the Dartmoor Committee of 1869, and they also reported in favour of muzzle-loading guns.
§ CAPTAIN NOLAN
said, that that Committee was appointed exclusively to consider the question of shells, and had nothing to do with muzzle-loading and breech-loading.
§ LORD EUSTACE CECIL
wished to pay due deference to the superior scientific knowledge of the hon. and gallant Member upon the subject; but still he must observe that, though the Committee did not directly report upon the question now under discussion, yet indirectly they did, and in a manner that was unfavourable 313 to the breech-loading system. Further, there was the India Committee upon field-artillery equipment, in 1870, who were in favour of the muzzle-loading gun. He believed the hon. and gallant Member stated, in the course of his remarks, that one of the reasons why we introduced the muzzle-loading guns was that India introduced them, and that we were obliged to follow suit. That might be so; but it was quite new to him (Lord Eustace Cecil), and he had never heard that it was one of the reasons which weighed with the authorities at the time. Then we came to the Committee of 1871 on muzzle and breech-loading guns, consisting of 11 officers, who with one dissentient only, stated that the muzzle-loading gun was superior in range and accuracy, in point of simplicity, facility of repair, easy working, rapidity of fire, and original cost. That Committee sat in full view of the affairs that had occurred on the Continent, and they were able to judge from practical experience of the merits of the two systems. The hon. and gallant Member would probably say that he was placing rather an official value upon these Reports, and that he might feel himself bound to support those who had reported to the Secretary of State for War, and therefore he would refer the House to the opinion of a gentleman who did not come within this range. The late Director of Naval Ordnance, Captain Hood, in his Report to the Admiralty, made some remarks of importance upon this question. He summed up a very able Report upon the two systems, and said that the points of the greatest importance in connection with these rival guns were strength, endurance, accuracy, and liability to accidents. As to strength and endurance, he stated that breech-loading weakened the breech; as to accuracy of firing, that the muzzle-loading gun was very satisfactory, and that the power of penetration was good, and had been greatly increased by the adoption of pebble powder. The operation of loading also was very much simpler in the muzzle-loader, and accidents with that weapon were far less likely to occur in action. No doubt it might be said—" How does this bear upon the fact that so many foreign countries had taken up this breech-loading system as against the muzzle-loading system?" To that question he would 314 say that there was nothing so successful as success. Man was an imitative animal. They all knew that Prussia was fortunate in the last war; she used breech-loading guns, therefore almost everybody jumped to the conclusion that breech-loading guns were the things with which to conquer their enemies. But upon a matter of this kind it was most essential that the Government should proceed with caution and care. They found that the Austrian", and even the Germans, were not quite confident about the success of the Krupp guns. It was certain that an extraordinary number of accidents, with loss of life, had year after year taken place in the German service, arising from the guns; and at Woolwich one of the Krupp guns burst upon the second loading. Whatever the future of Artillery manufacture might be, it was quite certain that the Krupp type of gun had not yet reached perfection. No doubt the hon. and gallant Member (Captain Nolan) had made some very strong observations in favour of the breech-loading gun, and had quoted the opinions of several distinguished officers bearing upon the same point, and had also said the Institute of Civil Engineers, as a body, had decided in the same direction; but in 1873 there was the report of a foreign officer, who said that, although the immediate future was for breech-loading, it was still perfectly certain that they should not adopt the gun loading by the breech, unless they could find one that was superior to all known guns that were loaded by the muzzle. The French Government also, in 1873, after a most exhaustive trial, said that the Woolwich service gun gave results which were not inferior to any other field gun in service in Europe. He (Lord Eustace Cecil) did not say that these opinions settled the question absolutely; but they did show that there was very great difference of opinion among the most competent judges, and would it not be wise under these circumstances—the question being of such very great importance, and there being the Reports of six Committees within the last nine or ten years, which were almost unanimously in favour of our present system—would it not be wise at the present moment to consider what might be the effect of some future invention in reference to the Krupp gun, before we remodelled the whole of our 315 Artillery system? He could not but think that if they took steps at once, they would raise the whole corps of inventors about their ears, and perhaps, after they had gone through many trials and incurred enormous expenditure, they would come back to the point where they where now. He did not think that at this moment the House, or, indeed, anybody else, was competent to arrive at a definite conclusion upon the matter. This, however, he would say, that the matter was one which was being constantly watched. He believed that the Artillery opinion of Woolwich was quiescent upon the subject at this moment; and he did not believe that there was any very strong opinion one way or the other. He recollected, indeed, having a conversation with the late Colonel Milward, who was a great supporter of breech-loaders, but he did not think that there was any very strong feeling about the question at Woolwich. As he had said before, scientific opinion generally was divided concerning it, and he therefore thought it would be best on the whole to let the question rest for the present; but this he was sure of, that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War always took into consideration any evidence that was brought forward, and which would be really useful in enabling anyone to form a conclusion upon the question. He was quite certain that whatever foreign countries did would be known in this country; but the trials abroad were not always quite fair in reference to our guns as regarded the charges used, and the results indicated. That being so, hon. Members should not lay too much stress upon trials of guns abroad, unless they were perfectly certain that the conditions were perfectly equal in all respects. He felt certain that the hon. and gallant Member (Captain Nolan) would take into his consideration the difficulties of the subject; and, indeed, he had some hope that they might convert him to the opinion that the time for action in this matter had not yet arrived.
§ LORD ELCHO
said, he thought the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Captain Nolan) had done good service in calling attention to the subject, as both on board ship and in the field there was under the muzzle-loading system a needless exposure of life. That exposure should, he thought, be made an important point when discussing the comparative 316 merits of breech and muzzle-loaders. The chief point with which at present they had to deal, however, was the erosion of the gun. With regard to that point, he (Lord Elcho) was at the meeting of the Civil Service Engineers which had been referred to, and at that meeting there was a paper read upon the subject by Mr. Lancaster. The result arrived at was the fact that English-made breech-loading guns suffered greatly from the erosion caused by the generation of gases in the act of firing the guns. There was nothing better in the world than the external manufacture of Woolwich guns; but it was found that owing to the escape of gas between the projectile and the body of the gun there was such a rush of gas that the gun was destroyed in a comparatively few rounds. No doubt, great good would be done by calling attention to the question of guns; but the main point for consideration was the erosion of the gun. The Civil Service Engineers were of opinion that there was something radically wrong in our system of boring and constructing guns, because the life of Tube A—that was the inner tube—in the British gun was only about 375 rounds; whereas the life of the same tube in the Krupp gun had been proved to be 800 rounds. Manifestly there must be some defect in a system of rifling which produced results such as that, and he hoped attention would be paid to the subject. On the general question of muzzle-loading versus breech-loading, he ventured to think that as a vast amount of money had already been expended in carrying out the present system, it would be well, before adopting an entirely new plan, involving vastly-increased expenditure, to endeavour, either by an improvement in the system of rifling or some other means, to utilize the existing arms.
§ CAPTAIN G. E. PRICE
gave Notice that, as the noble Lord the Surveyor General of Ordnance (Lord Eustace Cecil) had not answered his Questions in reference to ordnance and projectiles, he should repeat them on another occasion.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said, he agreed that the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Captain Nolan) had done good service in directing attention to the subject, because, although he (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) did not agree in his conclusions, it was unquestionably 317 one of the most important questions connected with our military affairs. This country laboured under a disadvantage as compared with other countries with regard to the number of men, but we ought to be in a much better position than they were with regard to the matériel of war. The muzzle-loading system had not been adopted from any prejudice on the part of our naval and military authorities. When the question was first raised the breech-loading system was in favour, and it was only after a searching investigation by a series of Committees that the muzzle-loading system was adopted. If he remembered rightly, the principal Committee was all but unanimous in its recommendation on that point, only one Member doubting its expediency, and he did so on the ground that, in the case of siege guns worked in entrenchments, muzzle-loaders were more exposed in the act of loading than breech-loaders. They had, however, other than siege guns to provide, and in consequence of the scare in the Navy from the accidents that happened from breech-loaders, muzzle-loaders had to be supplied for that service, in place of the breech-loaders which had been manufactured for it at an enormous expense, and in consequence there were numbers of the latter lying useless at Woolwich at the present time. It was obviously advisable to adopt a system suitable for both services. As regarded field guns, there were one or two advantages which muzzle-loading field guns possessed, and which must be obvious even to hon. Members who, like himself, could pretend to no technical knowledge of the subject. He might point out that it was essential that field guns should be as simple in construction as possible. There should be nothing about them which was easily lost in a rapid movement, or which might require a skilled workman to repair; and there could be no doubt that the muzzle-loader possessed great advantages over the breech-loader in this respect. He did not see how there was more danger in loading one than the other; muzzle-loading might be a longer process than the other, but the risk to a man standing before a gun was not much greater than to a man behind it. All these facts were taken into consideration at the time by the War Office, with their eyes 318 open to what was going on abroad. There was great force in what the noble Lord the Surveyor General of the Ordnance had suggested, that because the Prussians were successful in the war of 1870, other nations jumped to the conclusion that by adopting the same system they also must be successful. He had no doubt that the War Office would be alive to any improvements that were being made, and they would not go on with the muzzle-loading system if they did not believe it furnished the country with the most efficient guns that could be had. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Galway (Captain Nolan) was, as he was informed, under a mistake with regard to India. It was not the fact that the muzzle-loading system had been adopted in this country out of respect to the Indian Government. An attempt was made to construct guns in India of brass; but it proved a failure, and the muzzle-loading guns now used in India were all made in this country.
MR. GATHORNE HARDY
said, he had also to express the obligation of the House to the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Captain Nolan) for having brought a subject of such importance before them. But he declined to follow the hon. and gallant Gentleman to his conclusions, for he found that the opinion of a series of Committees from 1864 down to the present time had been almost entirely in favour of muzzle-loading guns. In the case of field guns, there was an idea that it was safer to serve breech-loaders than muzzle-loaders; but that was open to question, for men behind guns were peculiarly subject to be killed by splinters in consequence of shot striking the gun or its carriage. As regarded durability, he found that there was a very general opinion in favour of muzzle-loaders. Guns of that description certainly possessed the advantage of simplicity, for in the case of breechloaders accidents constantly happened from the breech being carelessly or hastily closed. As the amount annually spent by this country in the construction of guns was very large indeed—the total amount to be expended up to 1876 being £4,220,000—he deprecated any hasty re-opening of the question of the comparative merits of breech-loaders and muzzle-loaders. Captain Hood in his Report spoke specially of the safety of 319 muzzle-loaders both in ships and garrisons, where—in the latter—now they could be drawn within the mantlets and not exposed at the embrasures. In conclusion, he (Mr. Gathorne Hardy) would assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that the matter had occupied the serious attention of the Government. Looking at what was going on in foreign countries, they were determined to keep their eyes wide open and not to shrink from any expenditure that might be incurred when they were certain of being in the right track.
§ Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.