HL Deb 09 March 1854 vol 131 cc515-9

said, he had given his noble Friend at the head of the Government notice of his intention of putting a question to him with respect to certain returns in extension of those ordered by the House of Commons, in connection with a most important subject—the manning of the Navy. He saw in the papers connected with the Navy Estimates a return from April to January last of the number of men voted and the number borne; and what he desired was a continuation of that return for the month of February; and likewise that the coast guard and the pensioners who had been called into service, as well as the marines, should in that return be distinguished from those entered as able seamen. It appeared that, between the months of April and January last, 5,030 men were added to the Navy, including both seamen and marines; but there were no certain means of distinguish- ing how many were seamen and how many were marines. He saw, however, that 2,223 marines were engaged in the financial year ending the 30th of November; and he thought be might assume, for the purpose of comparison, that the enlistment proceeded at the same average rate per month from the end of November to the end of January. He found that the marines engaged for the ten months amounted to 1,939, leaving only 3,091 seamen as the increase added to the Navy in the course of the ten months. When he (the Earl of Ellenborough) was connected with the Navy, it appeared to him that the annual increase of the Navy, without any extraordinary effort, was about 7,000 men; therefore in the ten months there should have been added to the Navy 5,800, whereas only 3,091 men had been added in the course of that period. Now, he thought, under the very peculiar circumstances of the present times, which one would have supposed would have induced seamen to come forward to engage in Her Majesty's service, there was some defect in the course of conduct taken by the Government. If, from whatever cause, the Crown abandoned for the present at least the exercise of its undoubted prerogative and entered the seamen's labour market on equal terms with the merchant, the Crown must outbid the merchant, or the merchant would get the men and the Crown would not. He had read with great interest a little pamphlet published by a most excellent officer, Lieutenant Brown, of the Registration of Seamen Department, which showed that in the course of the year the able seamen in the Queen's service received somewhat more than the able seamen in the merchant service; because in the merchant service the men were only employed nine months in the year, whilst those in the Queen's service were employed twelve. But then the men in the merchant service had what they considered the great advantage of three months' liberty in the course of the year, which liberty was of necessity refused to the able-bodied seamen of the Queen's service. It seemed, therefore, to be necessary, if we wished to obtain good seamen, that something should be offered to the seamen which would counterbalance the three months' liberty allowed in the merchant service. They had been told that there were no men to be had. If that was true, there must have been the greatest possible delusion or exaggeration in all the state- ments they had heard for many years, of the vast increase in the mercantile marine in consequence of the various alterations in the law respecting navigation and trade. Exaggeration and deception no doubt there must have been from the inaccurate manner in which the accounts had been made out. He had no doubt there were men, and that they were to be got—but then they were only to be got for what they were worth. If the Crown would not give the seamen what they were worth in the market, it was contrary to reason to suppose that the men would give themselves for less. They had heard something of the fitting of transports for the conveyance of cavalry horses to Turkey; and he thought he might just as well go and see these ships himself. He went on board one yesterday, and he was perfectly struck with the fine appearance of the crew. He never saw such men in the merchant service before. He asked how long they had been engaged? The answer was, about eleven days only, since the engagement of the vessel. He also went on board an adjoining vessel, for which a crew of forty men had been engaged, equally as good as those which he had just before had occasion to admire; and he was told there was not the slightest difficulty in getting men, and that they were to be had at the ordinary market price, and not under. If, then, it was intended to consult the public feeling and the feeling of the mariners, by leaving them, as far as could be done without injury to the public interest, the freedom of selecting which service they should enter, and if, too, economy in the expenditure for the public service was to be regarded, it would become necessary to revise both the Ordnance and Miscellaneous Estimates. He did not think there could be a Committee of either House of Parliament who would not find in two hours the means of reducing the Ordnance Estimates by 200,000l., by the postponement of charges which could be brought forward at another time. Again, with respect to the Miscellaneous Estimates, which had grown to so enormous an amount within the last twelve or thirteen years, it was his belief that 300,000l. might in the same way be postponed; and with half a million in hand, we might in three weeks man our fleet with the very best sailors in England. But there was one thing necessary above all others, and that was, that the British Navy should be manned by British seamen, and not by landsmen—not by men who did not know what rope to haul upon—not by men who could not go aloft—but by men who could fight their ships as their ships were fought at St. Vincent, at the Nile, and at Trafalgar. It was our duty, if we would protect the shores of England from attack and desolation—if we would maintain our superiority in this war, as we had maintained it in former wars on the seas—to man the Navy as it ought to be manned, cost what it might in feeling or in money; by which means we would place in the hands of the gallant officer by whom it was to be commanded, the most efficient instrument for maintaining the interests and the honour of the country. He wished to know whether there would be any objection on the part of the Government so to extend the return in question as to include the month of February; and to distinguish in it both with respect to the Coast Guard, the Pensioners, and the Marines, and those entered as able-bodied Seamen?


said, that there could be no objection to give the returns moved for by the noble Earl; but the noble Earl in moving for them had taken occasion to make various observations, to which he (the Earl of Aberdeen) considered he had great reason to object, and against which he begged most emphatically to protest, but to make which, he presumed, the present returns had been moved for. He denied that the British fleet, which was shortly to sail for the Baltic, was in any way imperfectly or inadequately manned, which the inference to be drawn from the noble Earl's observations might naturally lead the country to suppose; on the contrary, he was enabled to affirm, on an authority and testimony much more to be depended on in this matter than the noble Earl's, that the British fleet which was destined to leave this country for the Baltic was well and efficiently manned, and in every respect properly equipped for the successful accomplishment of the great purposes for which it was intended. One remarkable feature about this fleet was, that there was not a single "pressed man on board," which was a most favourable and gratifying feature when compared with former years; and another thing to be remembered was, that in order efficiently to man our fleet we had not swept our gaols. With respect to the coastguard men, it was but just to them to say that in every requisite they were seamen and experienced men, and that the proportion of them to other seamen in the present fleet would not be more than usual. There might be some landsmen, also, among the seamen, but not more, certainly, than there were on former occasions; and, generally speaking, of this fleet it might be said that ablebodied and efficient seamen had been selected. This fleet would sail, in fact, as well manned and equipped for war as any fleet that ever left these shores. Having thought it his duty to reply to the inferences which might be drawn from the observations of the noble Earl, he would go a step further and say that he really could not see the advantage to be derived from such observations, even supposing them to be correct—which they were not—and he could not see by what force of reasoning they could be justified, or in what way they could advance any particular views the noble Earl might entertain. He had no objection to have the returns asked for continued up to the period the noble Earl wished; but, at the same time, he could not help entering his protest against the course the noble Earl had adopted, and the inference that might be drawn from his remarks; and be begged in conclusion to assure the House, on the very best authority, that the condition of our fleets was never more perfect and efficient than at the present time.


explained, that the only object he had in view in making these observations, was to expose to the Government what appeared to him to be a danger, in order to induce them to take such steps as might be found desirable to remedy it.

Account showing the number of seamen and marines respectively more or less borne than voted, in each month from April, 1853, to February, 1854, both inclusive: distinguishing such seamen as have been transferred from the coast-guard, or have been called in from the pension lists,

Ordered to be laid before the House.

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