HL Deb 08 February 1810 vol 15 cc348-54
Lord Mulgrave

on rising to make his motion for a Vote of their lordships' Thanks to lord Gambier, began, by alluding to the motion of earl Grosvenor, for the letter of the Admiralty to lord Cochrane, which he still thought could not bear directly upon the present question: though his lordship admitted the right of any noble lord to make such parliamentary use of any paper produced, as he might think fit. He thought this was a case, in which party feelings ought not to be suffered to operate; and adverted to the case of the Vote of Thanks to lord Keppel, and to the protest against the Vote of Thanks to lord Wellington for the glorious battle of Talavera. He considered the operations of the navy in Basque Roads, under the direction and command of lord Gambier, as highly contributing to the honour, the advantage, and glory of the country, and fully deserving of their lordships thanks, the only reward almost which they had in their competence, to bestow. He could not agree with those who were so very nice and critical in voting the thanks of parliament to our brave officers. He never could reconcile himself to penuriousness in awarding to them the well earned meed of praise. The service that had been performed was of an unexampled description. The judgment, caution, and skill of the noble admiral under whom it was performed, as well as the courage and decision with which it was more immediately effected, called for their lordships' tribute of approbation and gratitude. No service ever demanded reward more amply. It was with great surprise, that he first heard that a noble lord, serving under the noble admiral, and a member of another House, had intimated his intention to oppose the Vote of the House of Commons, on the ground that his commander had not done his duty to the utmost.—The noble lord then entered into the details of the affair, complimenting highly capt. Beresford and admiral Stopford, who, with 7 sail of the line, kept 11 sail in check. The fireships were ordered here on the 7th of March. On the 19th lord Gambier wrote that the French ships could be attacked, stating also the attendant risks. On that very day lord Cochrane arrived at Plymouth. He had, on a former occasion, been employed in blockading Rochefort, and was acquainted with the coasts. He was therefore consulted; and he spoke with greater confidence of the success of the attempt than those who wrote from that quarter. It was not, however, merely the zeal and desire of exertion he showed, but also the talent and knowledge he displayed in meeting the objections started by naval men, which induced the Admiralty to employ his lordship, and write to lord Gambier to inform that noble admiral of his appointment; in doing which, there was not the least doubt insinuated, because none could possibly be entertained, of the merit of all the other officers in lord Gambier's fleet. In the course of the last century, there were two services performed by fire-ships, mentioned by his lordship; the first in 1702, at Vigo, and the second off Minorca, in 1792. But what was the present service? Recollect a fleet, protected by shoals and currents, in sight of their own coast, and in presence of their countrymen. Nothing in the annals of our navy was more brilliant. The boom was broken by the Mediator, and the enemy's vessels were opposed to our fire-ships. Their ruin was then achieved, under the auspices and direction of lord Gambier. He trusted the report of opposition was unfounded. Our glory and our salvation depended upon parliament doing its duty to our brave military and naval defenders. But if party feelings should operate against those who had no other party than their country, we might find our bold and independent officers reluctant to place themselves in situations which might expose them to be too nicely sifted and cavilled at. His lordship concluded, with moving Thanks to lord Gambier for his zeal, judgment, ability, and attention to his Majesty's naval service, &c.

Lord Holland

represented in strong terms the light in which ministers placed themselves before parliament and the country, by coming forward so hastily in the first instance to procure thanks, and then suddenly sending the noble admiral to a court martial, with the thanks on their lips. The noble lord opposite did not want the officers' conduct nicely sifted; but he thought that in a matter of parliamentary thanks, the case should be clear and strong to receive such a reward. What! said lord Cochrane, "look at and sift the log-book." He condemned the precipitancy of ministers, who, by their measures, endeavoured to stultify the House, as they had already stultified their own administration. After sending lord Gambier through the ordeal of a court martial, he now came down, pronounced his praises, and called on the House to vote him their thanks! It was not in this manner that the French government conducted itself to their admirals and generals. They instituted a very severe inquiry as to this affair at Basque Roads, and many of their commanders were most severely punished. They did not give thanks to general Monnet, for his defence of Flushing; but on the contrary, they censured his conduct most severely. If the barren thanks of both Houses of Parliament were often to be voted in this way, they would soon cease to be of any value. The noble lord who moved those thanks, had spoken a great deal about the battle of Talavera, and the resistance that was made to the Vote of Thanks in that instance. Now, it did not appear to him, that the battle of Talavera had any thing to do with the action at Basque Roads, or with the conduct of lord Gambier. But if the resistance to the Vote of Thanks to lord Wellington was adduced as a proof of party motives, he thought it might as well be considered a proof of party spirit on the other side, to bring forward motions of thanks for services of such a description.

Lord Melville

said, that in agreeing to the vote of thanks to lord Gambier, he thought he would be acting in conformity to the general sense of the House and the country. He could not, however, avoid making some observations on the conduct of the admiralty, which, he thought, a due regard to the discipline of the navy made necessary. He thought the admiralty was wrong in ordering a court-martial to be held on lord Gambier. When the letter of that noble lord was first published, there was no other feeling throughout the country but exultation and applause. It did not, at that time, occur to anyone that he deserved to be brought to a court-martial. It appeared to him, that when the first lord of the admiralty first conceived it to be his duty to move the thanks of the House to lord Gambier, he ought not to have allowed himself to be stopped in what he felt was due to that noble lord, by any expressions which fell from a junior officer. Although the noble lord had been most honourably acquitted, yet, he must contend, that there was no sufficient cause for putting him on his trial, and subjecting him to such an ordeal. He must also say, that he conceived the admiralty to have acted extremely wrong in giving to a noble lord (lord Cochrane) a command, which was so contrary to the usual rules of the service, and which must have been so galling and disgusting to the feelings of the other officers in lord Gambier's fleet. He respected as much as any man the zeal, intrepidity, and enterprize of the noble lord (Cochrane), but it was wrong to presume that these qualities were wanting in the many brave captains of that fleet, who were in standing superior to his lordship. The making such a selection naturally put that noble lord upon attempting enterprizes by which great glory might be obtained by him personally, whereas the other noble lord (Gambier) was principally to attend to the safety of the whole fleet committed to his charge. Lord Gambier had sufficiently distinguish- ed himself in the battle under lord Howe, and afterwards at Copenhagen, to make it unnecessary for him to deviate from the most prudent course, to add any thing to his professional character.

The Earl of Liverpool

defended the conduct of the admiralty.

Earl Grosvenor

did not think the services of lord Gambier of such a nature as to require the particular thanks of the House. He thought that they should only be given on very signal and important victories. Nobody could doubt that they were due to lord Howe for his victory on the 1st of June; to lord Duncan, for his victory at Camperdown; to lord St. Vincent, for his glorious achievements near that cape from which he took his title; or, to the immortal Nelson, for the splendid exploits with which he has adorned our naval history. These were things which spoke for themselves, and nobody could doubt the propriety of voting thanks, as it were, by acclamation. He thought, however, the services of lord Gambier were of a very inferior description, and called for no such reward.

Lord Grenville

observed, that so much had been urged, and so little answered on the subject of the motion, that he should not have occasion to trouble their lordships at great length. If ever the thanks of that House should happen to be voted on principles of party feeling, their value would diminish, and they would no longer be the object of the valour and enterprize of our soldiers and seamen. Their lordships should reserve their thanks for great occasions; he would not say that this was not one; but as far as the admiralty could do, they had rendered it a matter of doubt. They had brought the noble admiral to a court-martial, not on the accusation, not on charges preferred by an inferior officer, but merely on his declaration, that, as a member of another House, he should feel himself obliged to oppose the thanks.

The Earl of Buckinghamshire

regretted much that government had departed from the usual course upon such occasions; it was always customary, on hearing of any great victory, to vote the thanks, upon which principle lord Gambier should have been thanked in the first instance. He admitted that the service was important, and was persuaded that the public thought more highly of lord Gambier, since the court-martial, than before it; he, for his part, would give the thanks to the noble lord for having destroyed the enemy's ships; and also for having withstood that advice, which was calculated to hurry him into a course of conduct, the consequence of which must have been greater loss to the fleet which he commanded.

The Lord Chancellor

thought that party should not interfere in questions of this nature. If the thanks of parliament were merited, they ought not be given under circumstances which went to lessen their value, nor should any other question be agitated upon such occasions, not connected with the point at issue. A noble viscount had censured the appointment of lord Cochrane, though he had often said before, that that was not the place to discuss the propriety of such appointments. He entered into a justification of the government in granting the court-martial, which, especially as lord Gambier himself had applied for it, he considered it was right to appoint; nor could he see, if it was right to vote for the thanks before the court-martial, that it could be wrong to vote for them after. The question of the court-martial affected the government alone, and was in no way connected with the merits or demerits of his lordship.

Lord Sidmouth

conceived that there were two questions for the consideration of the House. First, If there was sufficient evidence to have induced them to grant the thanks of the House to lord Gambier before the court martial took place. And, secondly, If any thing had there occurred to render questionable a circumstance of which, previous to that time, there could have been no doubt? His lordship was of opinion, that, in both these respects, an answer in favour of the noble gallant admiral must be given. It was impossible not to say, that previous to the question in consequence of which the court martial was granted, every thing seemed highly honourable to the gallant and noble lord; and it was equally indisputable, that, the event of the court martial had added to, rather than detracted from the merits of the noble and gallant admiral.

Earl Darnley

had no objection to the vote of thanks; but at the same time, he thought this one of the efforts now too often resorted to, by voting thanks to the officers employed, to throw a false lustre on the government. To attempt to compare the service rendered to the country by the achievement in question, with the battles of the Nile or of Trafalgar, would be the height of presumption.

The question was then put and agreed to.

The votes of thanks to the other officers, non-commissioned officers, sailors, and marines, &c. were also passed nem. dis.