HL Deb 30 April 1855 vol 137 cc1943-7

rose to put a question to the Secretary for War, of which he had given notice, relative to the embarkation of troops on board of the Alma. The statements which had been current respecting this vessel and the troops which were to go in her, required some explanation. Their Lordships might have seen in the papers a statement to the effect that on Monday the 2nd April an order was issued for a detachment of the Guards to embark on the following Wednesday, at Liverpool, on board the Alma; that on Tuesday the 3rd a counter-order was issued that they were to embark on Good Friday at Portsmouth; and that several orders and counter-orders were issued subsequently. It was stated that the first delay was in consequence of the ship not being able to receive the troops; for when they arrived at the place named for embarkation, they found that she was full of other troops. It was said that detachments of other regiments and some companies of Highlanders were landed from the vessel; but still there was not room for the Guards, and the greatest difficulty was experienced in getting the baggage on board, and some of the baggage of the Guards was reported to have sailed in the ship, while the Guards themselves were left behind. From the information which he had received, he believed that the first order for the Guards was received on the 7th of April to march on the 9th. On the 8th, between seven and eight o'clock at night, a counter-order was received, and in consequence the march ordered for the 9th was suspended. On the 9th there was a new order, and this was suspended on the 10th, at nine o'clock in the evening. On the 11th, they were ordered at nine o'clock in the evening to march on the next day. When they arrived at Portsmouth they found that nothing had been prepared for them, and they were kept there without rations till six o'clock in the evening. All that had taken place in the House of Commons on the subject was an attempt to shift the responsibility from one to the other of the departments. He desired to hear from the Secretary for War on whom the blame of all this vacillation and great want of ordinary precaution should fall. This he regretted was not a solitary instance of remissness and mal-administration. There was another matter bearing on this question, the neglect in respect to which might lead to very serious consequences. These troops were embarked in their old clothing, without any sufficient provision for the summer months, and without the new clothing, which at this season should be supplied to them. They were also sent with the old regimental musket, and without that invaluable and indispensable arm, the Minié rifle. All this showed great neglect on the part of the officials whose duty it was to look to these matters. He, therefore, wished to ask the noble Lord whether these statements were correct; and, if so, what possible defence there could be, after the vast efforts made by the country to provide sufficient means to equip the army, for allowing these things to occur?


thought their Lordships had, in the present instance, a very good proof that questions might be put and statements made to which it was impossible to give an answer on the spur of the moment, but by which very erroneous and false impressions might be created on the minds of the public with respect to the conduct of the public departments. The notice of the noble Marquess on the paper was "to put a question to Her Majesty's Government with regard to the embarkation of troops on board the Alma for the East." It was quite impossible for him (Lord Panmure) to know, from the terms of this notice, that the noble Marquess was about to enter into details of which to that moment he (Lord Panmure) had never even heard. The noble Marquess had said that great delay and hesitation had occurred with regard to the embarkation of the troops on board the Alma in consequence of the different orders that were issued. The only order that he knew of, with regard to the delay in the embarkation of those troops, was one to suspend the first order; and the reason for issuing that was, that the ship Alma had left Liverpool without having gone through the forms of attestation as to her efficiency for carrying such a number of troops. The noble Marquess had further said that, when the Guards arrived at Portsmouth, they were detained and kept without rations until they were put on board the Alma. He (Lord Panmure) had never heard any statement to that effect, either from the officers of the Guards or from any military department. But he must say that, after the orders for the embarkation of the troops had been given, whatever delay might have taken place in the embarkation of those troops must be referred to the Quartermaster General's department. In respect to the description of arms with which the troops had been supplied, certainly never had heard whether there was any ground or not for the report that had been made. He could not, however, believe it possible that it could be true that any detachment of Her Majesty's troops had left this country armed with the old musket. The noble Marquess knew something of military affairs, and he ought to know, and must know, that the whole army now serving in the Crimea had been provided with rifle arms. With regard to the clothing of the detachment of the Guards, he believed they were embarked with a suit of clothing which had been for some time worn; but the Guards were supplied with two suits, and it was the old suit in which they embarked, the second suit having to be supplied to them, and which was not supplied to the regimental troops.


said, the noble Lord had not answered the question put to him—whether the Alma was full of other troops, and that it was necessary to disembark some of the troops to put the Guards in, and whether some of the Guards' baggage had not been sent on while the men were left behind?


said, it was not true that the Alma was full of troops. There was a detachment of troops on board, which was to accompany the Guards in the Alma, but the ship was not full. The reasons why the Guards were not embarked were sanitary reasons.


could scarcely reconcile the statements which had been made on the other side, because the Alma was lying in the middle of the harbour for several days. How was it that she was waiting so long? Was it for a certificate from Liverpool to enable her to carry these troops? As to the second part of the question, he was aware that a very large portion of troops was put on board, and he himself saw the 50th Regiment disembark. They were in the greatest confusion because they could not get their baggage from the ship. Happening to be on the spot, he was practically convinced that there had been some very great mismanagement as to the arrangements for embarking these troops.


was very sorry to say that he thought the statements made by his noble Friend near him (the Marquess of Salisbury) were correct. He believed it was true that the Guards left this country with smooth-bore arms, and the only way he could explain that was, that the men would, on arriving at Constantinople or at Balaklava, receive the arms there in store, which he believed were the Minié rifle; but virtually the men had left this country for the seat of war without receiving the Minié rifle. With regard to the embarkation of the troops, he certainly thought it was most unfortunate to all concerned, but particularly to the troops, who would experience many discomforts. As regarded his own regiment, he understood that a large quantity of clothing, consisting of 800 pairs of shoes, and 500 pairs of trousers, had been sent down to be shipped with the men, but when the clothing arrived no room could be found in the ship, and consequently it was left upon the beach. He wished to remind his noble Friend (Lord Panmure) that this was not a desirable thing, as shoes were in time of war a most important article, and he understood a month would elapse before they could be sent out to the men. He had thought it right to bring his noble Friend's attention to these matters. He could not help thinking that very great mismanagement had, with regard to the embarkation of these troops, occurred.


was very glad this subject had been discussed, for the more all these matters were brought before their Lordships and the public, the better chance would the heads of the departments have of hearing of them. With reference to the clothing, he was perfectly well aware that a certain quantity was sent down to Southampton, but left behind, and he had had to express his opinion of the conduct of those who were engaged in the transaction. He believed, however, that the clothing would arrive at the Crimea very shortly after the troops reached there, He had heard that the Alma had arrived at, and had left, Malta, and that, so far as the troops were concerned, they arrived there with the loss of only two men out of 1,058; all the rest were safe and in good health.


said, that perhaps the noble Lord would allow him to put his questions again on Thursday next.