HC Deb 18 June 1877 vol 234 cc1974-87

in rising to call attention to the Report of the Admiralty Arctic Committee, said: My object is to point out that the lessons to be derived from that Expedition are vastly important to the welfare, not only of our naval, but also of our laid Forces, in many conditions when limited food is accompanied with heavy labour. I thought these lessons were so obvious that the Admiralty would have at once proceeded to act upon them; but when I asked the Question in this House, the Secretary of the Admiralty calmly informed us that no other Arctic Expedition was in contemplation, but if another were thought of, then would be the time for a consideration of what produced the breakdown of the late Expedition from scurvy. This want of power of generalization from an important experience is my justification for now asking the attention of the House. The experience of this Arctic Expedition may, however, produce great benefits to the future of our combatant Services, as well as to those civil employments in which labour has to be performed under conditions of imperfect food. Scurvy is not confined to ships; armies in the field suffer from it severely. Our own troops in the Crimea were attacked by it, and the French troops especially felt this terrible scourge. Now, if our Admiralty are to go to sleep upon this important subject until a prospective Arctic Expedition wakens them, much human suffering and unavoidable misery will result, which might have been avoided by accepting the lessons of the late Arctic Expedition. Let me state the case very shortly. Two vessels, the Alert and the Discovery, were sent out in 1875 to make discoveries in the Polar regions. Their officers and crews were selected with scrupulous care, and were men of experience and vigour. The ship dietaries were sufficient in quantity and varied in quality, except that the ordinary supply of one oz. of lime juice daily was scarcely sufficient for such a service. The hygienic condition of the ship and its ventilation are much praised by Sir George Nares, the commander, though I think the evidence proves the ventilation to have been deplorably bad. At night the state of the air in the sleeping deck was much worse than it has been found in any of the lowest class of theatres in London at 11 o'clock, for it generally contained from five to eight times as much carbonic acid as good air does. No means were provided for warming the outer air necessary to ventilate the lower decks, and without such means efficient ventilation was, impracticable. In our barracks 600 cubic feet of clear space is the regulation allowance for each man, but the Alert had only 107, and the Discovery 140 cubic feet. In consequence of the want of circulating air, the moisture condensed along with the organic effluvia, and often flowed back on the bedclothes. When the spring came, the men were examined for sledging, and pronounced to be strong and well. But all the witnesses, both medical and nautical, agree that this long confinement probably predisposed the men to the attacks of disease. We now come to the spring sledging. The men were pronounced fit for sledging about the beginning of April, 1876. The subject of sledge dietary had been discussed by the Arctic Committee in England. On no subject has more knowledge been obtained in recent years than in regard to the science of food. Science has taught us how to supply food in direct proportion to the labour to be performed, for the co-efficient of food with respect to labour can now be calculated. But no chemist or hygienist of eminence was called into council on the subject of dietaries in this Arctic Committee. A scheme of sledge dietary was prepared and furnished to Captain Nares. It was altogether different from the ship dietary. Its main substance was pemmican, a very nutritious compound made of dried flesh and fat. Of this, 1 lb. was the ration for each man. Besides this he had 14 oz. of biscuits, 4 oz. of bacon, and 2 oz. of preserved potato, and some other accessaries. The characteristic of this sledge dietary, as compared with the ship's dietary, is the small quantity of vegetables, amounting to only 2 oz. of potatoes. Nothing is more elementary in dietetics than that a deficiency of vegetables promotes scurvy. Where vegetables cannot be procured, lime juice is used, and since its introduction into our Navy scurvy has almost ceased to exist. Of course, the Admiralty authorities could not forget this fact. The Medical Director General of the Admiralty pointed it out in a strongly-worded Memorandum which the Lords of the Admiralty enclosed to Captain Nares in his sailing directions. On the force of this act I am not qualified to speak; but as I observe various distinguished officers of the Navy apparently in readiness to follow me, I leave it to them to say whether the sailing directions in referring to the medical Memorandum gave an order or merely a recommendation. However, there is no doubt that the importance of lime juice to sledging parties was brought before the Commanders of the Expedition. When they were About to start without it, the doctors, both of the Alert and Discovery, drew the attention of the captain to the omission. They were told that the inconveniences of carrying it were greater than its advantages. Do not let me underrate the inconveniences. Each man ought to have had as a minimum one oz. of lime juice per day. Indeed, two oz. would not have been too much. But the lime juice was frozen into a solid, and besides its own weight, it would have required extra fuel to melt it. This might have been done at the mid-day halt, but it involved additional expenditure of time. Well, these difficulties appeared to Captain Nares so formidable, that he preferred to act on his own responsibility, and rejected the advice of the medical authorities. He was encouraged in this by the remembrance that there had been frequent sledging parties of other Expeditions which had gone without lime juice, and returned either with no scurvy, or with little scurvy. But Captain Nares need not have had to contend with these difficulties at all, if a little foresight and science had been brought into council before the Expedition started. His chief difficulty was the increased weight of the lime juice. As 90 parts out of 100 of lime juice consist mainly of water, why was it not sent out in a concentrated form for the sledging expedition when its importance had been urged? If this had never been thought of before, surely this idea of concentration would have suggested itself to any man of science had he been consulted in regard to it. But more than a century ago, Dr. Lind showed how lime juice may be concentrated by evaporating its water, and that it can be carried in about a twentieth part of its bulk and weight. Since then, many improvements have been made in concentrating vegetable juices at moderate temperatures by evaporating them in vacuo. Carrying out Dr. Lind's idea, lime juice could have been so concentrated that three lozenges a-day sucked by each man would have given him the contents of one oz. of lime juice. But it was not Captain Nares' duty to know about this. That was an actual fault in fitting out the Expedition. I ought to state that Captain Nares had given the men a double amount of lime juice for some time before they started. His intentions were good, for he seems to have thought it possible to saturate the men with lime juice as one can do with calomel. But lime juice is a food, and not a medicine. One might as well try to saturate navvies with beefsteaks and then set them to heavy work upon gruel, as to send men on a long and arduous Expedition without lime juice to complete an imperfect diet. We are now at the point when the sledging expedition started in April, with only two ounces of preserved potatoes to represent vegetable diet, and no lime juice. The sledge crews were put upon the new diet without preparing them for the change. The labour is at once arduous and the cold is intense. But the stomachs of the men rebel against the new food, and they are unable to take their full rations. The dietetic value of their food, independently of its want of vegetables, or its equivalent of lime juice, was sufficient for ordinary labour, but was not sufficient for the extraordinary labour which these brave men then had to undergo. But even if it had been sufficient, the men could not for some time accustom their stomachs to consume the whole rations. Under any circumstances their health must have suffered, but that most depressing of all sufferings, scurvy, need not have appeared if the vegetable had been there in due proportion to the animal diet. On ship-board, under such circumstances of defective food, scurvy appears in about six weeks; but in these sledging parties it attacked the men much earlier. The northern sledging party, which experienced the greatest difficulty, got it in About 10 days; the eastern party, which had similar but somewhat fewer difficulties, in 17 days; and the western party, with a better line of march, in 27 days. Had it not been for the gallant and judicious exertions of Captain Nares and his officers and men in the rescuing parties, far more than three deaths would have represented the mortality resulting from these Expeditions. Out of 60 cases of scurvy, 58 occurred among the men in the sledging parties. Upon this point it is sufficient to quote Captain Nares— Had there been no sledging work, I believe that the disease would not have betrayed its presence among us, and had the officers been called upon from the first to perform as severe labour as the men, I think they would have been equally attacked. At this time Sir George Nares believed that the men started with the seeds of disease in them, and that these seeds fructified under labour. It had not then struck him that the absence of lime juice from the diet might be the cause of the scurvy. But he thinks otherwise on reviewing the evidence before the Committee of Inquiry, because he says in answer to Question 170—"I consider now lime juice to be an essential article of sledging diet; " and he repeats that opinion in other words at Question 496. I mention this, because Captain Markham denies its value, and scouts at the evidence. The Admiralty, in their letter to Sir George Nares, printed a few days ago, regret that he did not follow the medical counsels on the subject, but admit that he had serious difficulties to contend with. With my strong views of the dietetic error committed, I would not have expressed myself in any stronger terms as to the error in judgment. There has been too severe public condemnation of an error of judgment which many of us might and probably would have committed under like circumstances. As to censuring the Government for conferring honours on these brave Arctic explorers on account of their gallantry in an Expedition never exceeded in its dangers and hardships, I should feel ashamed of myself if it could be believed that my object in drawing attention to this subject was to challenge the propriety of these honours, or to lessen the lustre of their achievements. My sole purpose is to entreat both the Departments which have charge of the Army and Navy of this country to lay to heart the teachings of this Expedition. I do not wish them to wait another 100 years, as they have done since the time of Dr. Lind, before they try on a large and sufficient scale, whether concentrated lime juice will not answer the purposes of ordinary lime juice. We need not in future expose our armies to attacks of scurvy, if two or three lozenges containing a day's supply can be carried in each man's pocket. We may also profit by the experience of the Expedition in the knowledge that protracted marches and heavy labour cannot be undertaken by men who have long been kept under the bad hygienic conditions of a vitiated atmosphere due to bad ventilation. Our knowledge both as to hygiene and food has greatly improved in late years by the discoveries of science, and it will not do for our public Departments, or for the officers whom they employ, to ignore the teachings of science, and to be satisfied by the more empirical experiences gathered in past Expeditions, for it was that reliance which proved the sunken rock that wrecked the Arctic Expedition in spite of the gallant and intelligent officers who commanded and served in it.


shared to the fullest extent the admiration of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lyon Playfair) on the conduct of these Arctic explorers. But he must say that in this case the Admiralty was scarcely entitled to so much credit as he was inclined to give to them. Looking at the Report of the Committee, there appeared to have been a terrible want of foresight. A Committee was appointed before the Arctic Expedition went out; but it would seem from the evidence of Captain Stevenson that this Committee did not fully impress upon Sir George Nares the necessity for lime juice. The Medical Director General of the Navy, Sir Alexander Armstrong, was entitled to be heard on the subject; but his advice had been neglected in the matter of diet and exercise. He recommended that the men should have 2 lbs. of meat per day, but it was only given them for dinner. They were not exercised, as he advised, five or six hours a-day, and whilst he recommended that meat preserved other than by salt should have been supplied to the Expedition, it was proved in evidence that the meat supplied was exceptionally salt and hard. He also recommended that the men should be practised to eat pemmican beforehand. This was not done. The want of lime juice was positively inexplicable. Sir Alexander Armstrong had specially mentioned that it should be taken on sledging parties, but it was not taken, even as a medicine. Captain Markham, however, took several bottles with him, and was able to melt it, and by administering it to men who had scurvy, to alleviate their sufferings. Another remarkable fact was that the surgeons of the Expedition gave instructions to the officers in command of the sledge parties only for the various small accidents that might occur. They did not appear to have thought of the danger of scurvy. The consequence was that the officers did not even recognize the signs of the disease. It was stated that the reason why they did not carry lime juice was because of its weight; but it should be remembered that there were other articles carried which were of equal or greater weight. Rum, for instance, was carried, and some of it used for fuel, although spirits of wine would have answered the purpose better. It was stated that lime juice could not be carried in bottles, because they would burst. As a matter of fact, the bottles taken by Captain Markham did not burst; and, in any case, it could have been carried in skins. The fact appeared to be that an outbreak of scurvy was not anticipated during the first year. Then, again, the ventilation of the ships was defective, but that was a matter which should not have been left to the surgeons when they neared the North Pole, but should have been arranged beforehand. It would have been perfectly easy to introduce heated air. As it was the means adopted, though defective, were very creditable to Captain Nares and his surgeon. Another point was the comparative immunity of the officers. The officers had a much more varied diet than the men, and a much smaller proportion, if any, of them were attacked with scurvy. Very little fresh meat was carried in the Expedition, and there were no eggs, though, by a well-known process, eggs could be kept fresh for several months. Neither was there any con- densed milk taken out. In fact, the rations of the men appeared to be much on a par with what occurred 25 years ago. The right hon. Gentleman had done good service in showing what was to be done, and what to be avoided in the future, and had proved that, if ever we were to have another Arctic Expedition, we should test the efficiency of such things as condensed lime juice and other anti-scorbutics without loss of time. He had also proved that the failure of the Expedition did not establish the fact that all further investigation was hopeless and ought not to be entered upon.


said, he was of opinion that Sir George Nares was not entirely free from blame. He was, however, justified in not sending lime juice with the sledge parties. No doubt, in not doing so, he went against the opinion expressed by medical men at home and that of his own medical officers. There were, however, two opinions on the subject, and it should be remembered that he had had experience of hot as well as cold countries, and in the latter men were very rarely attacked by scurvy, being more subject to frostbite. Sir Garnet Wolseley departed from established customs in the Red River Expedition by abstaining from the usual use of alcoholic stimulants—substituting tea, coffee, and milk, and to that he attributed the fact that he had scarcely a single case of sickness from the time he left Montreal to that of his return. There was, however, in all changes nothing like success. He thought they had been too hasty in conferring rewards on Sir George Nares and the Expedition. He thought, however, that there should have been a thorough investigation into the subject at the earliest possible moment, and had that been done the honour which had been conferred on Captain Nares might perhaps have been deferred. He trusted that the experience now gained would be remembered, in order that the use of lime juice might be more carefully attended to on future occasions.


thought the Admiralty had rather put themselves into a difficulty by the method they had employed of dealing with this matter. The hon. Member who had last spoken (Mr. Gourley) had hinted at the probability of the honour conferred on Sir George Nares having been withheld if the inquiry had taken place sooner. He (Mr. Goschen) must confess he could see nothing in the letter that had been addressed by the Admiralty to Sir George Nares, or in the result of the investigation by the Committee, which could justify the belief that Sir George Nares would have been deprived of the honours justly given to him, even if the inquiry had occurred at an earlier date. The purport of the letter—which had not been circulated amongst hon. Members—was, no doubt, that the Admiralty accepted the conclusions arrived at by the Committee, and while they thought there had been an error in judgment in not issuing lime juice, they felt the force of the reasoning that had guided Sir George Nares, and did not wish to censure him, or to destroy the satisfaction he had derived from the honours he had received from his Sovereign. Some soreness had been expressed either by Sir George Nares or his friends as to the Order of Reference of the Committee which was appointed to consider, amongst other things, "whether the orders issued by the Commander of the Expedition were proper orders," and it was contended that that was really placing Sir George Nares on his trial, and that he ought to have had notice of the charges that were to be brought against him, whereas he was not informed, until he was under examination, that the orders issued by him were called in question. It was further represented that if his conduct was to be inquired into, it should be by officers on active service and in the mode in which such charges were generally dealt with. That might be owing to the inquiry having been so long postponed by the Admiralty, and he could not even now understand, why it had not been instituted at a much earlier date. He trusted, however, that Sir George Nares would not attach too much importance to this question of procedure, though the two questions with which the Committee were appointed to deal—namely, the scientific matter and the administration of an officer on active service—were seldom mixed up together and referred to a Committee, as in the present case. He hoped, too, it to be pointed out by the Government that the error of judgment in the case was committed under very difficult circumstances, and did not detract from the general character of the commander of the Expedition. The House knew how sensitive naval officers were to everything like a reflection upon their professional action; but, on the other hand, the Admiralty were quite justified in calling attention to this error in judgment, although it was one which, in the circumstances, any officer might have made.


said, it appeared to him that everyone was to be whitewashed connected with the Expedition. Some one, however, had been to blame. No one had expected the Expedition to return within one year without having accomplished its object. The House ought to go somewhat deeper into the matter, and the question for them to decide was whether it should be in the power of any officer to be allowed to run counter to the express directions that he carried with him. If a naval officer were allowed to run counter to the lessons of scientific investigation which experience had conclusively proved to be true, there would be no security against similar failures in future, and he hoped that not one farthing of the public money would ever be voted for an Arctic Expedition again without taking some guarantees that the rules laid down should be strictly observed. The country had expected that the Expedition would be a success; and, in his opinion, it was owing to a dereliction of duty on the part of the managers of the Expedition that it was not a success.


said, the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Lyon Playfair) began by complaining that a Question he had put did not receive the answer he had expected; but he (Mr. Hunt) did not regret that there had been some misapprehension as to its purport; for if there had not, they would probably not have heard the interesting statement he had just made, which would be very valuable on account of his scientific treatment of the subject, and also for the generous expressions he had used with reference to the commander of the Expedition. He was very glad, also, the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Goschen) had expressed himself in the same sense with regard to Sir George Nares. It had been said there was some feeling on the part of the friends of Sir George Nares as to the nature of the tribunal to which this matter had been referred. That was the first time he had heard of the existence of such a feeling. There was no charge made in the terms of the Reference against Sir George Nares. In settling its terms, he (Mr. Hunt) considered, not that there was any charge of disobeying orders to be inquired into, but that the question was whether Sir George Nares had properly exercised the discretion vested in him in framing the dietary of the sledge parties. He did not consider that in the letter the Admiralty addressed to him there was any serious reflection upon him, although it was stated that he ought to have given more weight to the recommendations of the Medical Director General—a view which he believed was generally entertained. He considered Sir George Nares was placed in a difficult position; but if he had disobeyed orders a very different tribunal would have tried the case. Sir George Nares did not disobey orders. [Captain Pim: Sir George Nares did most decidedly disobey orders.] He was not ordered by the Admiralty to follow the recommendations of the Medical Director General; perhaps the Admiralty was to blame for not giving that order, but it was not given, and all that was done was to give him the recommendations of the Medical Director General, expecting, of course, that he would give due weight to them. [Dr. LUSH desired to explain that he had spoken on the understanding that the order had been given.] It might be said the Admiralty ought to have given the order, but they left a large discretion to the commander of the Expedition. They furnished him with instructions prepared by the most experienced Arctic officers, and with the recommendations of the Medical Director General; and, although these might have been carried out to a certain extent, he could not say that it was possible to carry them out fully. As to the statement of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gourley) that they were too hasty in awarding honours, the officers who had received promotion and honours were well entitled to them, and he should be sorry if that were not the opinion of the House and of the public. The question given to Captain Nares to solve was a most difficult one—as difficult a one as could be given to a man. The amount of weight to which he was obliged to limit the sledge burdens was such that it was impossible for them to carry the quantity of lime juice that otherwise would have been supplied to them. No doubt, he was influenced in his decision by the experience of other sledging expeditions, which took no lime juice, and escaped the outbreak of scurvy; that fact, coupled with the great difficulties that would arise from increasing the burden of the sledges, no doubt induced him to start without the lime juice. All these considerations, in his mind, overbore the recommendations of the Medical Director General, particularly when he remembered that the condition and endurance of the men had been more severely tested than had those of men who had dispensed with lime juice without incurring risk. No man could be put in a more difficult position, and, though it was to be regretted that he did not give more weight to the recommendations, every allowance must be made for him in the circumstances; and he should be sorry that anything like censure should be pronounced upon him, when all credit was due to him for the successful way in which he had conducted the arduous undertaking with regard to every other matter. Those who had read the narrative of the Expedition must admire the great readiness of resource displayed by Sir George Nares and by the second in command, and the ability with which the ships were extricated from great dangers and brought home almost in as sound a condition as they were in at starting. To say that the Expedition failed in its primary object on account of the outbreak of scurvy was to misrepresent the facts, for if there had been no outbreak the Expedition could not have reached the Pole. The Pole was impracticable; therefore, it was wrong to say the Expedition failed in its main object by reason of the outbreak of scurvy. It was quite possible that more of the coast of Greenland might have been charted if the outbreak of scurvy had not occurred; but the Expedition never could have reached the Pole. The appearance of delay in issuing the order for the Committee only needed an explanation of the cause. The matter was first referred to the Medical Director General, who called for a great deal of information, and made a report which was referred to Sir George Nares, who wrote a brief letter, in which he expressed a desire to make a further communication, and the second letter raised the issue whether it was possible for the sledge parties to have carried the lime juice; it was not merely a medical question, but it was whether the limo juice could have been carried. He thought that was a matter that might fairly be inquired into, and he was anxious to have a Committee on which reliance could be placed, and which would command the confidence of the public. It was important to have medical men on the Committee; but it was not easy to find gentlemen not in practice who would command public confidence. There was, therefore, some trouble in constituting the Committee, and, though its Report was short, what was substantially a part of it—the paper written by the medical Members of the Committee—was an elaborate and valuable document, which it was a great advantage to the country to possess. The Committee was fairly constituted; it was presided over by an Admiral of great distinction; there were upon it two other Admirals of Arctic experience; and there were also medical gentlemen connected with the Naval Service. He believed the tribunal was as fair a one as could have been constituted, and that it was practically judicial in character. He was sorry if, in accepting its conclusions, they should be thought to detract from the very great merits of Sir George Nares as commander of the Expedition. It was certainly unfortunate that he did not give proper attention to the recommendations of the Medical Director General as to the lime juice, but he believed that very few men placed in Sir George Nares's position would have made fewer mistakes than he had. With regard to the claims of Mr. John Clare, ever since he had been in that House Mr. Clare had persistently made claims on the Admiralty. They had been examined by successive Lords of the Admiralty and by a Court of Law, and had not been sustained, and he was afraid that those who took them up now would find that they were only beating the air. He was not in a position, at all events, to reverse the decision which had already been pronounced in regard to them.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.