HL Deb 15 May 1854 vol 133 cc302-4

said, he wished to say a few words in reference to a question which was put to him at the last meeting of the House, by a noble Marquess (the Marquess of Clanricarde), whom he did not now see in his place, as to whether he had any information as to the statement which appeared in the newspapers, that the steamer Andes, in conveying a body of troops to the East, took fire near Malta, and had, at the time of the occurrence, only two boats on board. He (the Duke of Newcastle) then informed their Lordships that it was true the ship had caught fire; but that, from the news received at the Admiralty, and also at the Horse Guards, from the general commanding the troops at Malta, and the colonel of the regiment on board, he had the greatest reason to suspect that the statement as to the boats was not correct, inasmuch as the reports in the possession of these departments, although very ample as to the whole state of the case, did not mention that circumstance, which obviously would have been the first to attract attention. He stated, at the same time, that all such vessels were surveyed by officers appointed by the Admiralty, and that it was impossible that such a circumstance could have escaped the notice of the inspector, and that the greatest possible neglect would be chargeable at the door of the port officer at Liverpool, if that accusation could be substantiated. He was now in a position to state that his suspicions were entirely accurate, and that the anonymous statement which appeared in the newspapers, which was brought forward by the noble Marquess, and alluded to by the noble Earl (the Earl of Ellenborough), was entirely inaccurate. So far from there being only two small boats on board the Andes, there were six boats, five only being required by the Act of Parliament. He had felt convinced in his own mind at the time that such would prove to be the case (although he could not venture to state it too strongly), not only on account of the importance of the duties devolving on the Admiralty officers, and his certainty that they could not have failed so grievously, but also from his knowledge of the character of the gentleman to whom the Andes belonged (Mr. Cunard); and he had his authority, as well as that of the officer at Liverpool, for stating that the Andes was supplied with six boats. He would add one word more with reference to another accusation which was made in that same letter—namely, as to the danger which arose from the quantity of gunpowder on board. It was a matter notorious to everybody, that when a military expedition was sent out from this country gunpowder must accompany it, and the only thing that must be taken care of is to see that the powder be properly stowed. In the case of the Andes, as in the case of every other vessel of the expedition, a powder magazine was built expressly for the purpose, and therefore every precaution was taken that was possible under the circumstances.


said, he wished to ask, with reference to the last remark of the noble Duke, whether there were on board the Andes any means of drowning the powder magazine in case of danger from fire? From the account given in the newspapers it appeared that the magazine was in danger, and that a quantity of cartridges were thrown into the sea—a process of extreme danger under the circumstances. He thought it absolutely necessary, when troops were going on foreign service, that the ammunition should not be conveyed in the same ships with a great number of men, unless the most perfect arrangements were made.


said, he certainly was not able to give an off-hand answer to the question of the noble Earl; but he apprehended that every precaution which was generally taken on board men-of-war was taken on board the ship in question, inasmuch as her magazine was built on the same principle and under the same directions. After the extraordinary inaccuracy of which the newspaper correspondent had been detected in one respect, he hoped their Lordships would believe that there was not so much blame to be attached to the officers as might have been at first supposed.


said, he had only to express his satisfaction at the statement of the noble Duke. It would be a great satisfaction also to the public to be informed that no reliance could be placed on those newspaper statements, and also that sufficient care was taken by Her Majesty's Government for the safety of the troops forming the expedition. But he must say there was one precaution which had not been taken. As these ships were taken up by contract, it would be very easy to take care that in the document a sufficient number of boats should be specified as part of the contract. He believed that in the Motion of the noble Earl then on the table a copy of the contract was included; so that they should see by and by whether that had been the case or no. But whether or no such had hitherto been the practice, there could be no difficulty in taking care that such a specification was included in future. In this case it would have been very possible that the proper number of boats were on board at the time when the ship was surveyed by the officer and his return made; but, if he remembered rightly, there was some statement in the newspaper to the effect that, in consequence of some particular crowding, the boats belonging to the ship were left ashore or behind, although they had been provided by the contractor. It was satisfactory, however, to be told that the whole story was without foundation.


said, that as far as it appeared to him, there was no specification of boats in the contract; it appeared that the Admiralty relied upon the provision of the Act of Parliament, that there should be five. But it was not sufficient even to specify the number of boats, the matter of importance was, that the boats should be able to contain all the men on board. It was obviously necessary to have a large additional number of boats in vessels used as transport ships. A man-of-war in her ordinary boats could carry 300 persons. Now, he should like to know how many the five boats of the Andes could have carried? There were 1,050 men on board, and he wished to know what proportion of them could have been saved had the fire not been got under? He wished also to point out that the statement did not proceed on the faith of a newspaper correspondent, but was made by the ordinary correspondent at Plymouth, from a letter received by a gentleman of that port from an officer of the Royals who was on board the Andes at the time.