HL Deb 04 February 1841 vol 56 cc249-56
The Earl of Minto

rose, in pursuance of the notice which he had given, to move the thanks of the House to Admiral Sir Robert Stopford, G.C.B., and the officers and men employed under his command in the late operations on the coast of Syria. In doing so, he should detain their Lordships for a very few moments, because he felt that it was really unnecessary that he should enter into any details with reference to events with which their Lordships must be perfectly familiar. It was true, that, on many former occasions, the British fleet had been called into action against more formidable enemies, and had been engaged in more sanguinary contests; but he was sure their Lordships would admit that throughout the whole course of these operations on the coast of Syria, abundant proofs were given of the skill, of the bravery, of the resources, of that originality of enterprise, and of character, which had always distinguished the British navy. But there was one very peculiar circumstance connected with these operations which he wished particularly to press on their Lordships' attention. He alluded to the singular rapidity with which, and the very short space of time in which, those many brave and gallant enterprises, all of which ended in the most complete success, were effected. On the 9th of September, after receiving the refusal of the Pacha to accede to the terms proposed by the Sultan, Sir Robert Stopford appeared before Beyrout; and, without the loss of a single day, nay, he might say, without the loss of a single hour, he launched Commodore Napier on that career of victory and success, which he so unremittingly continued to pursue throughout the whole of the campaign. On the 9th of September, Commodore Napier landed at Djouni, a bold and able operation in the midst of superior forces; and on the 3rd of November, the contest was concluded by the reduction of the fortress of Acre. In those few weeks, the mountaineers had been armed and organized, and every gar- rison, every magazine, and every town, in short, the whole extent of coast from Tripoli to Jaffa had been reduced by one or other of the detachments of our fleet. Commodore Napier had twice marched on shore against the forces of Soliman and of Ibrahim which he routed and dispersed and in the interval between these two actions had proceeded to Sidon, which he entered by storm at the head of a mixed force of British, Austrians, and Turks, amounting to scarcely 1,000 men, and from which he returned, bringing in his train, nearly 3,000 prisoners. He had felt it necessary to dwell on the rapidity with which these conquests were effected, because in this contest, time was every thing. It was not only most important to the efficacy of our operations, but, if the contest had been protracted to another campaign, it might have been attended with disastrous consequences to the peace of Europe. As a further proof of the promptitude which characterized the whole of these transactions, he Legged leave to refer to Sir Robert Stopford's despatch of the 31st of October. He there stated, that he had just received instructions from Government to reduce the fortress of Acre, an undertaking which had already engaged his attention. That resolution was taken on the 29th of September. On the 31st of October, he wrote that all the arrangements were completed, and that he was prepared. In fact, the expedition sailed on that day, and in three days from the date of his letter, the fortress had fallen before British valour. The Admiral was most ably and gallantly seconded in all his operations by Admiral Bandeira, who commanded the Austrian squadron, in which the spirit and gallantry of the Archduke Frederick was eminently conspicuous. In Commodore Napier's account of the attack on Sidon, he spoke in the very highest terms of the conduct of the Archduke; and at Acre he landed during the night along with the marines of his ship, in order to to secure the entrance of the town and fortress, a resolution highly creditable to the spirit and activity of this young Prince. To Admiral Walker much praise was due. His services had eminently contributed to the success of her Majesty's arms. He was in every action—had gallantly maintained that reputation in the British navy—which had obtained for him the high post which he now so ably filled, as commander of the Turkish fleet. He felt that it was quite unnecessary for him to add one word more, in order to induce their Lordships to concur in the vote of thanks which it would be his duty to conclude by proposing. He would only repeat, that throughout the whole of these operations British valour and skill were most conspicuous; more especially in the last achievement, the attack on the fortress of Acre, where the precision and accuracy of the British fire proved that we had added a new element of strength and power to the British navy. From what had been done on this occasion by British skill and valour, their Lordships might judge what the British navy, if called upon, was able to effect; and showed that the talents and bravery of the officers and sailors of Britain had not in any degree deteriorated. He hoped their Lordships and the country would receive this as an earnest of what they might expect, should, unfortunately, the fleet be brought into any more formidable collision. In his opinion, the gallant conduct and consummate skill manifested by our officers and sailors had given the best answer to all those cavils and complaints of the degeneracy and decay of the British fleet which had been made in many quarters during the past year. On that head he would not add another word. All must feel that the brave men in the fleet had given a much better answer to the calumny than any which he could offer. The noble Earl then moved The thanks of the House to Admiral Sir R. Stopford, G.C.B., for the operations conducted by him on the coast of Syria, particularly for the decisive attack on the fortress of Acre on the 3d of November 1840; to Commodore Sir C. Napier, K.C.B., and the several captains and officers of the fleet employed on the coast of Syria; and that the House highly approves of the services of the seamen and Royal marines employed on the occasion. Also, that the thanks of the House be given to Major-General Sir C. Smith and the Royal Artillery and Engineers serving under his command on the coast of Syria; to Rear-Admiral Baron Bandeira and the naval force under his command, for their valuable assistance and cooperation during the proceedings on the coast of Syria; and to Sir B. Walker, commander of the navy of his Highness the Sultan; and that the Lord Chancellor be directed to signify the same to Admiral Sir Robert Stopford.

Lord Colchester

heartily concurred in the tribute of praise which the noble Earl had bestowed on the navy in moving this vote of thanks. Great as must be the satisfaction of the noble Earl, that these events had taken place while he was at the head of the Admiralty, that satisfaction must be much increased by the reflection, that one of the officers commanding a ship employed in the late operations on the coast of Syria was a son of the noble Earl. The noble Earl had so fully described the series of operations which had taken place, that he would not trouble their Lordships by going over the same ground. He would only say, that he entirely concurred in all that had fallen from the noble Earl, as to the activity and dauntless courage displayed by Sir C. Napier, and in the tribute of praise which the noble Earl bad given to the officers and seamen employed, more especially for the gallantry which they had shown in the attack on the fortress of Acre. The noble Lord had alluded to a supposed complaint, that the navy of England had degenerated. He was not aware that any such charge had been brought against the officers and seamen employed in the naval service. Charges had certainly been made against the civil administration of the navy, which this was not the proper opportunity to discuss; but he had never heard of any charge of degeneracy made against the navy itself. He would take that opportunity to offer his tribute of praise to Sir Robert Stopford, and with that view he would advert for a few moments to the previous services of that gallant officer. Were he to go through the whole of those services, he would have to recount to their Lordships the naval history of this country for nearly sixty years past. Sir Robert Stopford had begun his career with the victory of Rodney, in whose fleet he had served. He had on many previous occasions received the thanks of that House for his gallant services. On the 1st of June, 1794, Sir R. Stopford commanded one of the frigates attached to Lord Howe's fleet. He then received the thanks of the House as one of the captains engaged on that memorable occasion. In 1806 he commanded a line of battle ship, under Admiral Duckworth, in the action off St. Domingo, and received the thanks of Parliament as one of the captains who had fought under that gallant commander. Again he had received thanks for his conduct in the expedition to Copenhagen; and, in 1812, by name, for his services in the capture of the island of Java, this last expedition being one of so much importance, that the Governor-general of India left his government to accompany it in person. In 1830, after having held the command at Portsmouth, full of years and honours, he might have expected to retire from active service, being then nearly seventy years of age, but his country required his services, and now, for four years, he had commanded in the Mediterranean—an employment which, from the political state of the countries bordering on that sea was one of the most arduous nature. In the hostilities of last year his former skill and talent had been brought into action, and he had given new proof of the ability and judgment that had ever characterised him, by the lute glorious operation before Acre, that fortress, which had been deemed impregnable, having been, in the course of a few hours, reduced to ruins by the skill and courage of the British fleet under his command, and the question of the Levant, which had so nearly disturbed the peace of Europe, been in consequence settled. Those services, in his opinion, demanded the warmest thanks of the House. Thanks were all that this House could bestow; but he did trust, that while honors and decorations were liberally bestowed on other officers who had been employed in the capture of Acre, their gallant commander, who had not yet received any mark of her Majesty's approbation, would not ultimately be neglected, but that the name of the conqueror of Acre might be soon enrolled in this House—as it would at all events be hereafter in the annals of his country—with those of the victors of Algiers, of Bhurtpore, and of Ghisnee. He had thought it right, as a member of the naval profession, thus briefly to state his sentiments.

The Duke of Wellington

expressed his cordial approbation of the services performed by the navy in the Mediterranean, which well deserved the thanks of the House. He was sorry that the noble Earl had adverted to any supposed complaints or cavils with respect to the degeneracy of the naval service. For his own part he had never heard any such charge made in that House. The noble Earl had also adverted lo the time when these operations had taken place, and he could not avoid expressing his regret that the noble Earl had made the remark on this occasion. That was a matter entirely irrelevant to the present question, for all they had to do was to record their thanks for the services that had been performed by those who were engaged in this glorious expedition. He had had a little experience in services of this nature, and he thought it his duty to warn their Lordships on this occasion, that they must not always expect that ships, however well commanded, or however gallant their seamen might be, were capable of commonly engaging successfully with stone walls. He had no recollection, in all his experience, except the recent instance on the coast of Syria, of any fort being taken by ships, excepting two or three years ago, when the fort of St. Jean d'Ulloa was captured by the French fleet. That was, he thought, the single instance that he recollected; though he believed that something of the sort had occurred at the siege of Havannah, in 1763. The present achievement he considered one of the greatest deeds of modern times. That was his opinion, and he gave the highest credit to those who had performed such a service. It was altogether a most skilful proceeding, he was greatly surprised at the small number of men that were lost on board the fleet; and on inquiring how it happened, he discovered that it was because the vessels were moored within one-third of the ordinary distance. The guns of the fortress were intended to strike objects at a greater distance, and the consequence was, that the shot went over the ships that were anchored at one-third of the usual distance. By that means they sustained not more than 1–10th of the loss which they would otherwise have experienced. Not less than 500 pieces of ordnance were directed against the walls; and the precision with which the fire was kept up, the position of the vessels, and lastly the blowing up of the large magazine, all aided in achieving this great victory in so short a time. He had thought it right to say thus much, because he wished to warn their Lordships against supposing that such deeds as this could be effected every day. He would repeat, that this was a singular instance, in the achievement of which great skill was undoubtedly manifested, but which was also connected with peculiar circumstances which they could not hope always to occur. It must not therefore be expected as a matter of course, that all such attempts in future must necessarily succeed.

The Earl of Hardwicke

said, their Lordships must feel, after the very lucid statements which had been made to them by the noble Lord, and by the noble Duke, that it would be perfectly absurd for him to enter into any further statements, and take up any more of their time; but be could not help expressing how perfectly he concurred in the opinions which had been given, and how satisfied he was that at no period had the British navy exhibited an act of greater bravery and skill. Taking it altogether, no affair had been more rapidly or more ably conceived and executed than the siege of Acre; and he perfectly concurred with the noble Lord in stating, that any man who thought the navy was in any way degenerated—that any man who at any time was so unfortunate as to have thought so—must on this occasion feel perfectly satisfied that all his conceptions had been mistaken.

Lord Hill

begged to express his perfect concurrence in the approbation which had been bestowed on that part of the service which at all times, and on every opportunity, had been distinguished for its valour and good conduct. It also gave him pleasure to find included in the vote of thanks, his gallant friend Sir Charles Smith, and the officers of the engineers.

The Earl of Minto

begged to assure the noble Duke, that in attempts against fortresses by ships of war, he was fully sensible, from conversation with able men (and he never met with an able man who was not a sensible one), of the great disadvantages under which ships must always labour when brought to operate against walls and fortresses. He thought, however, that we might trust to the prudence and discretion of our officers so to govern their love of enterprise as not to undertake any attack of this description without a fair prospect of success—such a fair prospect of success as the gallant Admiral felt he had before him when he went to Acre. Of late years, a great and remarkable improvement had taken place in gunnery. The practice before Acre was one of the greatest examples of this; in it the fire was such as it was almost impossible to withstand with any degree of steadiness. This he considered was a new power acquired to the navy of late years, and one which rendered an attack on stone walls and fortresses a much less dangerous undertaking than it might have been in the days of more random firing. The attack on Algiers had been made under much greater disadvantages than the recent one on Acre, owing to the great improvements in gunnery since that time. Knowing that the noble Duke only meant to give a caution against rash enterprises, he did not believe that the noble Duke meant to give his great authority to a statement that the power of ships of war was never to be ventured against batteries on shore.

The Duke of Wellington

did not mean to say that ships of war should never do such a thing. He stated a fact.

Resolutions unanimously agreed to.

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