HC Deb 25 February 1887 vol 311 cc569-71
MR. M'CARTAN (Down, S.)

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty, Whether his attention has been called to the following paragraph, which appeared in The Weekly Dispatch of the 20th February instant:— H.M.S 'Ajax' at gun practice. Shameful recklessness. Our Greenock correspondent telegraphs:'The Clyde guardship Ajax, under the command of Captain Durrant, left anchorage off Greenock on Friday morning for Chatham, where she will undergo alterations to rudder, &c., and will thereafter join the Channel Squadron previous to returning to Greenock probably towards the end of the summer. While passing down the Firth of Clyde, and when opposite Innellan, an occurrence of a most remarkable nature happened. It appears that in going down the erew of the Ajax were being exercised in big gun drill with the view of expending their quarterly allowance of ammunition. About half-past 10, at which time the Ajax was directly off Innellan, a shot was seen to issue from one of the guns of the vessel, strike the water, and then ricochet with terrific force towards the shore. It struck the ground immediately adjoining the villa of Mr. G. W. Patton, sugar merchant in Greenock, entering the earth about 10 yards from the north-east gable wall. The shot made a hole in the ground about seven feet deep, and uprooted four large trees, breaking them in pieces, and scattering the branches and fragments all over the roof of Mr. Patton's villa, as well as over the adjoining grounds, besides covering the roof of the house with stones. Every window in the house was broken, and great rents were made in the gable walls; the house, in fact, being rendered quite uninhabitable. The force of the projectile, even after striking the ground and doing this considerable damage, was not yet quite spent, as the shot was carried about a quarter of a mile up the hill, and when it had reached the ground it rolled back for some distance down the hill. The adjoining house, occupied by Mrs. West, also suffered to no little extent. A plumber named Finlay Brown, who was employed at the house at the time, received injuries about the body which necessitated confinement to bed yesterday, and a servant girl with Mrs. Patton had her hands cut. The Board School is in the immediate vicinity of Ashgrove, and at the time of the occurrence was filled with children. A slight deviation of the shot would have brought it into contact wilh this building. The Ajax people did not apparently notice the damage that had been done, because they went on with their firing, although the other shots went in a more seaward direction. The Ajax is due at Sheerness on Monday; whether the statements made in this paragraph are correct; if so, what are the names of the persons injured; to what extent was damage done to property; whether compensation will be given by the Admiralty to the persons so injured, and also to the persons whose property has been damaged or destroyed; whether the "big gun" drill was conducted, as alleged, for the purpose of "expending the quarterly allowance of ammunition;" and, whether steps will be taken to prevent the Commanders of Her Majesty's war ships from endangering the lives of Her Majesty's subjects by discharging "big guns" at such a short distance from the shore?


It is the case that when proceeding to carry out her quarterly target practice a premature discharge of one of the Ajax's turret guns occurred, and that the shot struck the shore in the neighbourhood of Innellan, Firth of Clyde, damaging the houses and grounds of Messrs. Patton and Henderson. Beyond the two cases referred to in the Question—those of the plumber and the servant-girl— there has been no injury to individuals, and they are nearly well. An officer sent from the Admiralty reports that no great structural injury has occurred to the buildings; but that the roof of Mr. Patton's house has received considerable damage, and the grounds have suffered a good deal. The Admiralty will give full attention and consideration to all claims for compensation to persons or property resulting from this accident. The hon. Member may be satisfied that there was no intention of firing a shot in the direction of the shore, and that no one regrets the circumstance more than the Admiralty and the captain and officers of the Ajax. The premature discharge of the gun was owing to the accidental completing of the gun circuit, into the cause of which an inquiry by specially selected officers is being held. The Admiralty will take every possible precaution to prevent a recurrence of the accident.