HL Deb 08 July 1847 vol 94 cc17-23

brought forward the Motion of which he had given notice— That an Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty to be graciously pleased to direct That the Order of the Admiralty, dated the 1st June (directed to all Persons serving on board any Ship of War engaged with the Enemy between the years 1793 and 1815, the Captain of which Ship shall have received a Medal for any Action during that Period), be directed to all Persons serving on board any Ship of War engaged with the Enemy between the Years 1793 and 18i6, the Captain of which Ship shall have received a Medal, or where the Fleet, Squadron, or Ship shall have received the Thanks of both Houses of Parliament, or where the Commander in Chief shall have been created a Peer, or received a step in the Peerage for any Action with the Enemy during that Period. He feared that the Government were taking a step which was full of injustice to a number of distinguished and eminent men now living, and which would injuriously affect the memory of many eminent and distinguished men who had departed from among us. His notice had been long on their Lordships' books; but he had put it off from day to day, because he believed there existed on their part, or at least on the part of certain Members of the Government, a feeling that other steps should be taken in the matter, and a belief that new arrangements were actually under consideration respecting it. He still believed this to be the case, and for that reason did not intend asking a formal expression of opinion from their Lordships that evening with respect to his Motion. But as the Motion was standing on the papers, he would take the opportunity to move it pro formâ, chiefly with the object of eliciting from his noble Friend at the head of the Admiralty an expression of opinion that the door was not entirely closed with reference to the manner in which those honours were to be disposed of. They all knew how dearly valued by the deserving soldier were marks of distinction from his Sovereign. In fact, such honours were prized in all countries, more highly than, perhaps, any other class of distinctions; and it was, therefore, with no ordinary feelings that he had seen and observed the manner in which the Governments of this country had recently honour- ed men who had distinguished themselves in the public service. Old and highly meritorious officers had seen younger men than themselves walk into the presence of the Sovereign decorated for recent services; while they felt that they had themselves performed in times past services quite as glorious, for which they had no honours to show. Now, my Lords, in the Order of the Admiralty, bearing date the 1st of June, the decorations which were proposed to be given for naval services were limited solely to such crews, the commanders of whose ships and fleets had been previously decorated—by what? By a medal. He was completely at a loss to know on what grounds such a distinction should be made. The only answer he had heard attempted was, that the rule held good in the Army, and that it was right that the Navy should be subjected to the same regulation; but he denied that the Army and Navy were similarly circumstanced. It was the misfortune of the Navy that its government was essentially political—that is to say, that it changed with Governments; whereas the Army was governed by a soldier eminent for his military services, who was essentially non-political, and did not change with the vicissitudes of time and party. In the Army medals were given for all great and glorious actions between 1793 and 1815—in fact, for all Peninsular battles without distinction, so long as they were great and brilliant services. In the Navy they were given for eminent services undoubtedly, but only for such services on a few glorious occasions, such as the engagements of the 1st of June, and the 14th of February—Lord Duncan's victory over the Dutch, the battle of the Nile, Sir Richard Strachan's, in 1805, Sir John Duckworth's, in 1806, and the battle of Trafalgar. They were also given for encounters between single ships, contrary to the practice in the Army, which did not recognise decorations for skirmishes. But he could show that there were many actions which were quite as sanguinary, such as the following single actions—Captain Seymour, in the Thetis, Captain Stewart, in the Seahorse, Captain Mounsey, in the Bonne Citoyenne. Sir William Hoste, Captain Talbot, Captain Hope, and two or three others—as important and as ably contested as any for which medals wore given; but the men engaged in which, owing to the death of the captain, or for some other reason, were left to this day unrewarded. Out of all the great and distinguished naval actions which took place between 1793 and 1815, there were only seven for which medals had been awarded. He could easily mention instances of other actions having occurred between 1793 and 1815, which were quite as worthy of the favourable notice of the Sovereign as any of those for which medals or decorations had been awarded; and yet those who took part in them were to this day without any distinctive mark of honour. He might allude to the engagement which was conducted by Admiral Cornwallis in the year 1797, when five sail of the line and three frigates having to compete with twenty-three French ships, eleven of which were of the line, and twelve frigates, Lord Cornwallis brought his squadron safe into port, with but small loss in men, and none in ships. Was not a good retreat a most important service? Then, too, there was the battle of Copenhagen, when, with twelve sail of the line and five frigates, we sank or took seventeen vessels of the enemy, silenced their batteries, and compelled them to an advantageous treaty. For those two distinguished affairs, no medals were given. The Government were about to refuse decorations to the survivors engaged in those glorious engagements, while they were going to bestow medals for actions which, in comparison, were not, in any way, superior in merit. Similar neglect awaited those who were engaged under Sir J. De Saumarez at Algesiras; and yet the thanks of Parliament was voted for all those actions, and distinguished honour was shown to the commanders—but not by a medal. And Lord Nelson, speaking in their Lordships' House, declared Sir J. Saumarez's to be a most gallant and intrepid action. He might also mention the engagement of Captain Brenton in the Bay of Naples, and Sir Bryan Martin's action with the Immortalité neither had medals, while Hoste and Seymour had medals; and yet the crews who fought under the two former chiefs are to be forgotten, and those who served under the latter are to be honoured again. There were sixty or seventy frigate actions in that war, and the number of medals bestowed was seven. Another rule must be adopted than that which has been laid down, or the grossest injustice would be committed. He had shown that injustice had been done to a large portion of the service between 1793 and 1815; and he now asked the House to consider what had occurred from 1815 to the present time. Honours had been bestowed for Navarino, Syria, and China; but actions had taken place during that period which had been esteemed highly meritorious, for which the thanks of Parliament had been awarded; and if the officers and men did not now receive honorary distinctions, he contended that injustice would be done them. The action before Algiers was fought for a great purpose. At an enormous cost this country had emancipated the slaves in the West Indies; and so tender and feeling had we been on the score of oppression to the human race, that we had undertaken to send out a squadron for the purpose of relieving the unfortunate white people held in slavery by the Dey of Algiers. Could anything be more inconsistent than to pay 20,000,000l. for the emancipation of the black slaves, and not give a bit of ribbon to a set of gallant men, who, at the cannon's mouth, had freed the white slaves of Algiers? The action at Algiers had been conducted with admirable ability; and had it not been so the result would have been very different; for a thousand guns were on the walls, and were well served, as the list of killed and wounded amply proved. The action was most skilfully and gallantly conducted, at a great loss of life—greater than in any action of modern times, except the Nile; and it was hard on the followers of that great chief, Lord Exmouth, to know that because he did not get a medal, those who followed him were to be now passed over. And why did not Lord Ex-mouth and his captains get medals? Because the division of the Order of the Bath, was made partly with a view to get rid of medals. Now, Lord Exmouth's captains did get the C. B. decoration, which was therefore tantamount to a medal. With respect to Navarino, the commander had received a decoration and the Thanks of both Houses of Parliament; and the officers had received decorations; but the men, who had fought bravely under the directions of their officers, had been passed over. For the China campaign, decorations were given in abundance. All he could say was, that the Government, in determining to give decorations and honours, had taken the very worst way of effecting their object satisfactorily. In taking the course he had done this evening, he begged to say, that it was his own act. He had not been urged on by his profession; he was actuated by a desire to strengthen the hands of the noble Lord opposite, and enable him to do that substantial justice which it was known he desired to do. Various expedients had indeed been suggested for the purpose of obtaining that justice for the Navy. It had been proposed that the service should petition the Queen; but he declared to their Lordships that the men whom he had seen and spoken with on the subject were shocked at the notion of being obliged to ask for honours to be bestowed upon themselves. The universal sentiment among them was—"If we are not to be honoured by the free gift of our Sovereign, we will not ask for it. We would rather submit to what we cannot but feel to be a deep injustice, and bow to the will of the Sovereign, who, if the case had been properly laid before Her, would, we know, desire that ample justice should be done us."


replied, but was almost inaudible. The noble Earl admitted that many actions which had been most bravely fought, and of which the results had been most important, did not come within the rules which had been observed in bestowing honours and decorations, but urged the absolute necessity that some rules should be laid down, and adhered to. These rules, as affecting the naval service, had been constructed on the same principles as those which applied to the Army. There had, however, been actions fought and deeds performed which, according to his opinion, might fairly be brought within the scope of these rules; and the subject should receive further consideration at the Admiralty.


was gratified by the statement of the noble Lord, for he thought that the men and officers who had fought at Algiers were placed in a hard position by the recent order of the Government.


concurred in expressing satisfaction at the statement of the noble Lord at the head of the Admiralty; but he reminded their Lordships that all these difficulties had arisen because former Governments had not done their duty to the naval and military professions. Former Governments had not come forward in many cases to give to the subaltern officers and men who had deserved well of their country any mark of honour at all. He thought the Army and Navy were obliged to the noble Lords now in office; but in the reconsideration of the just claims of the Navy, the claims of the Army ought not to be forgotten. Why were not the men who fought in Egypt included in the order as related to the Army? They received, it was true, an order from the Sultan, but not from their own Sovereign. There were other actions, also, for which the men engaged in them deserved to have some mark of distinction.


also expressed his satisfaction at what had fallen from the noble Earl at the head of the Admiralty, over which he was so well placed. With respect to the battle of Copenhagen, the noble Lord was understood to say that Nelson had declared that if he received a medal for any action, he would not wear it until justice was done for the action at Copenhagen.


observed, that it had already been determined to grant medals to officers who had served in the Peninsula; and it was now proposed to extend the distinction to officers who had served at Algiers, Copenhagen, and in other actions which had been referred to. He (Earl Grey) must say, however, that he thought it was of great importance they should be careful not to distribute medals indiscriminately to officers who had seen any description of service. He doubted whether, in cases of this kind, more inconvenience did not arise from attempting to revise the decisions come to at the time by the Government, with a perfect knowledge of the circumstances, at a distant period, than from allowing matters to remain as they were.


stated, that he felt great regret when he heard that Peninsular officers alone were to receive the medals which were to be issued to officers who had distinguished themselves in the late war; and he, for one, would rather not have a medal at all than see officers who had rendered valuable services to their country in every part of the world treated with so much injustice.


said, he thought it was evident, from the careless manner in which the original order of the 1st of June was drawn up, that there must be some extension of that order. Circumstances had been stated to-night, with respect to particular actions, which must attract attention to the justice of the claims of the officers who had been engaged in those actions. He must say, that he thought the Government had un- dertaken a task which neither they nor any man or body of men could perform satisfactorily; for it was a most difficult matter, in weighing against each other the services of different officers, to come to a decision which would give general satisfaction. He could easily understand that an officer who might, perhaps, have been engaged in what was apparently no very distinguished service, but who might have performed the most arduous duties, and who might have been under fire for day after day, and week after week, would naturally feel dissatisfied that he was left without any honorary distinction, while another officer, who had the good fortune to be under fire in perhaps one important action, received a decoration. He considered it essential, in order to maintain the efficiency of the British Army and Navy, that distinctions should be conferred for important services; and he believed no distinction was so much valued as the medal which a soldier or sailor wore upon his breast for good conduct under fire. He believed this was the feeling of every officer, and he might also state that British officers were most anxious that the men who fought under them and with them should be rewarded for their valour and intrepidity. He had been much struck by the expression of General Sir C. Napier, who, when he received the decoration of the Grand Cross of the Bath, said that he would not wear that cross unless the man who saved his life was decorated with a medal; and Sir C. Napier also expressed his determination not to wear the order unless the men who fought by his side were rewarded with medals. He was confident that the Admiralty and the Government were most anxious to pursue such a course as might be satisfactory and gratifying to the Army and the Navy; but he believed they had undertaken a task which they could not perform either to their own satisfaction or to that of the naval and military services.


thanked the Government for what they had done, and expressed a hope that they might be able to make such an arrangement as might be satisfactory to all parties.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned.