HL Deb 12 May 1854 vol 133 cc212-5

begged to call the attention of the noble Duke the Secretary of the War Department to a statement of great importance which appeared in a newspaper of that day, and hoped he might be able to give them information respecting it. If information could not at present be given respecting it, it was a matter that required the immediate attention of Her Majesty's Government. There appeared in a letter, which was stated to have been received from an officer on board the Andes, which was employed in the conveyance of troops, the following statement— I write these few hasty lines to inform you of our safe arrival at Malta, which is now about ten miles distant, We have had, altogether, a very fine passage. From Plymouth to Gibraltar it was splendid, having left Plymouth on Friday, at half-past seven P.M., and passed Gibraltar on Tuesday afternoon at half-past three. During the night, however, of Tuesday it blew a gale right ahead, which delayed us two days, otherwise there is little doubt we should have made the run to Malta in a week. We had a most providential escape yesterday from total loss. The ship caught fire, and for about two hours we were working for our lives, and got it under, thank God, without accident. The regiment behaved capitally. It was certainly the most alarming two hours of my life. We were a long way from land, had only two small boats, and had 1,050 men on board, and several tons of gunpowder, so the loss of life must have been immense. We threw overboard 50,000 rounds of ball cartridges. Though he had heard reports that the ship was not so well prepared as it might be, he had no remark to make upon that subject on the present occasion; but he wished to call the attention of the noble Duke to a fact that was stated positively, namely, that in that ship, laden with a vast number of men, there were only two small boats. That was a statement which, if it could not be contradicted, would cause great alarm for the safety of other troops that might be sent from our shores. It was a fact—if it were a fact—that required the attention of the Government; but he should be most happy if the noble Duke could give them reason to believe that the report was incorrect, or give them an assurance that care would be taken that no such case should happen again. There was very great difficulty in all these transactions under the present arrangement of the War Department; but he did not mean to go into that subject, which had been so ably spoken to on a former occasion. No one knew on whom the responsibility would lie if the statement be correct, or if such a case as that should occur again, and the tremendous loss of life it might occasion should happen. This was not a ship belonging to Her Majesty's Navy, and therefore he did not know that the Admiralty would be to blame. This was one of those ships that had been taken up for a particular occasion, and they did not know to what officer, if any, was awarded the duty of taking care that in all respects a ship so chartered and provided should be properly prepared for the troops despatched in it. But their Lordships would see that, if it were true, and if this large number of men were sent out in a ship with only two small boats on board, the officer, whoever he was, must have grossly neglected his duty.


said, that it was perfectly true, as stated in the newspapers, that the ship Andes caught fire when about 300 miles west of Malta. The fire was supposed to have originated in consequence of the too great draught of the furnaces. With regard to the question put to him (the Duke of Newcastle) by the noble Marquess, as to whether it was a fact that there were only two small boats on board that ship, he certainly was not able to answer whether such was the case or not. He had sent to the Admiralty to ascertain if they had any report, and had learnt that they had not. Neither was the fact mentioned in the report received from the Horse Guards from the commanding officer of the regiment, who gave a detailed account of the transaction, and spoke in the same terms as the newspaper correspondent did of the conduct and discipline displayed by the troops. To return, however, to the question of the boats, he could only say that these vessels, not belonging to the Royal Navy, but being taken up by Government, were surveyed prior to being taken up and prior to leaving this country by officers appointed by the Admiralty, and he could not but think that it was impossible that any vessel could have passed that survey which carried only two small boats. He had heard it suggested that the boats belonging to the vessel might have been left behind in consequence of the increased quantity of baggage and other articles which it was necessary to carry; but he could only say that if it really were the case that the ship had only two small boats, the officer appointed to survey the vessel would have been highly culpable in allowing it to put to sea with those boats left behind. But for the statement made by the gentleman who appeared to have been on board the Andes at the time she caught fire, he should have conceived that it was impossible that such could have been the case. It was a matter of such importance that he had requested the Admiralty to make an inquiry into the subject, and ascertain if the statement referred to by the noble Marquess was or was not correct.


said, he thought it quite impossible to believe that the fact as stated was true, because there was no doubt as to the letter written by the officer in command of the troops, who had an interest in ascertaining the facts with regard to the number of boats on board, when the lives of himself and others were involved. It was essential that a great number of boats should be attached to those ships, not only for their usefulness during the voyage, but because, when they arrived in Turkey, it might be expected that they would be employed in the conveyance of troops from one point to another, and in landing the troops. He was confident that to have a sufficient number of boats was a matter of the greatest consequence.