HL Deb 03 May 1855 vol 138 cc9-14

THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY rose for the purpose of repeating the question which he put to the noble Lord the Secretary for War, on a previous evening. The noble Lord on that occasion complained that the notice of the question he (the Marquess of Salisbury) intended to put was not sufficiently explicit. He could assure the noble Lord that it was not from any want of courtesy that he did not enter more into detail. The whole matter was comprised in the very smallest compass, as it was simply reminding the noble Lord of what must have passed through his own office. With regard to what occurred the other night, their Lordships must be convinced of one fact, namely, that the noble Baron knew nothing of the circumstances of the case. On that occasion the noble Baron laid the whole blame of the transaction on the Quartermaster General. Whether that was just or not it was not for him to say; but he thought after that imputation by the noble Lord, the country had a right to know on whom the blame ought to rest, and who were the parties by whom a body of troops were despatched for foreign service. He had always understood that, when the Minister for War had received Her Majesty's Commands for such a purpose, he communicated with the Commander in Chief at the Horse Guards, and that after conferring together, they made an application to the Admiralty for the transport of those troops; and that on receiving the necessary information from the Admiralty, the Quartermaster-General was then directed to take measures for their removal. It was essentially necessary to know who was to blame in this matter, and why the Guards were sent to Portsmouth for embarkation before the ship Alma was ready to receive them. The blame of this transaction had been shifted from one quarter to another until it was impossible to find to whom it should attach. He hoped, therefore, the noble Baron would be able to give their Lordships some information on the subject.


said, nothing had been further from his intention than to contradict anything which the noble Marquess had stated. What he had said was, that he had heard for the first time from the noble Marquess that the events to which he had called attention had taken place. If the noble Marquess had given him notice of his intention to call attention to those events, he would have prepared himself to give an explanation of them, and would have entered into the details of the facts the other night; but all the notice he had received was, that the noble Marquess intended to put a question with regard to the embarkation of the Guards on board the Alma. The noble Marquess asked what were the regulations for the embarkation of troops for foreign service? Formerly the Secretary at War determined what regiments were to be sent abroad; and it then rested with the Commander in Chief to make the arrangements with the Admiralty and the other authorities as to the embarkation of the troops that might be required. Now, however, it was different, and when it was settled what troops were to go abroad, the Secretary for War signifies to the Transport Board the number of troops that were to embark and the time of the embarkation, the Transport Board provided tonnage for those troops by the day named; the embarkation is then carried on by the officer of the Quartermaster General's department in conjunction with the officers of the Transport Board. With respect to the Alma, on the 20th of March the Admiralty had notified to the War Department that the Alma would be ready about the 5th of April to receive 1,420 men. The Alma was fitted at Liverpool, and 420 men of the 18th, 71st, and 50th regiments were embarked there; she then went to Portsmouth to embark the Guards. She had been surveyed by the officer attached to the Transport department at Liverpool, and reported to be fitted to carry 1,420 men, and she had also been passed by Colonel Scott, the inspecting officer at Liverpool, as fitted to carry that number. When she went round to Portsmouth she was reported by the officer there to be incapable of carrying that number, and he believed this report arose from the fact that, while at Liverpool they had calculated that a certain number of men would be constantly on deck and upon watch, they had not taken that circumstance into consideration at Portsmouth. The authorities therefore determined that the vessel could not carry more than 1,048 men. In consequence of this report, the detachments of the 18th, 71st, and 50th regiments were disembarked at Portsmouth, were marched into barracks, and remained at the depot waiting for further orders. His noble Friend (Viscount Hardinge) reminded him that the commanding officer at Liverpool had written to say that the ship was capable of carrying 1,420 men. After some delay—which he thought had been somewhat exaggerated—in landing the detachments and embarking the Guards, the vessel sailed. The whole of the statements concerning the Alma were considerably exaggerated. A statement had been made that a large portion of the baggage of the troops which had disembarked were carried in the Alma to the Crimea. He had found upon inquiry, that nothing belonging to those troops was carried off except a couple of articles belonging to two officers, and he was sure that if these officers had taken the slightest pains to look after them both of those articles would have been rescued. There had been some mistake with regard to the embarkation of the baggage belonging, not to the detachment of the Guards which then embarked, but to the Guards already in the Crimea. With regard to the orders and the counter orders which had been issued, he had to state, that two of these counter orders had arisen from the fact that a storm had taken place at Portsmouth, which had prevented the Alma from being brought into a position proper for the embarkation of the troops, but due notice of this circumstance had been given to the troops before they had left London. He had received communications from officers who sailed in the vessel, to the effect that, whether as regarded their accommodation or that of the men, none of them had ever experienced more comfort in a transport, nor had the health of the men ever been a subject of less anxiety than while they had been on board the Alma. With regard to another question of the noble Marquess he begged to state that he (Lord Panmure) had fallen into a mistake the other night; it was his impression that every regiment which had embarked from this country had embarked with the Minie rifles. He was happy to state that all the men who embarked for the East, whether in regiments or detachments, were as far as possible, trained to the use of the Minie rifle; but as it was desirable to carry on the usual drill on board the vessel which could be better done with the old arm, they were armed with the smooth-bore musket, which they exchanged at Constantinople for the Minie rifle, which was kept in store there for that purpose. He thought this a sufficient explanation of the circumstances; and he had further to say, that the result of the inquiries he had made convinced him that the Quartermaster General was free from all personal blame in the matter, and that if any confusion had taken place it lay between the district officers at Liverpool and at Portsmouth, who had reported differently as to the capacity of the ship, and the number of men she could properly carry. There was a desire to send the men on board as quickly as possible, and if an error had been made, it was on the right side, namely, to adopt that arrangement which enables the troops to be conveyed with the greatest comfort and the greatest possible consideration for their sanitary condition. The result was, that there had been no complaint of overcrowding, and, indeed, none could arise in this case.


had heard a statement made by the noble Lord which could not fail to raise in the minds of their Lordships various reflections as to the conduct and the present state of the War Department in general, and as to this embarkation in particular. It struck him as being very curious to see the noble Lord, who must be considered a civilian, entering into an explanation of the details of all the different branches of the War Administration, when a distinguished general—the Commander in Chief of the army—was sitting at the noble Lord's right hand and acting as his tutor by telling him what to say upon the subject. This was a bit of machinery which he ventured to say would not work. If he understood the noble Lord rightly, he stated that the system now was, for the Secretary for War, when he wished to send troops abroad, to write to the Transport Board, and then the Transport Board communicated with the Admiralty; and then the Secretary for War informed the Commander in Chief, and then the embarkation took place; whereas, under the old system, as he was informed, a simple communication took place between the Commander in Chief and the Admiralty.


said, he had been informed by his noble Friend (Earl Grey) that the mode formerly adopted was, that when a regiment was required to be sent abroad, the Secretary for the Colonies informed the Admiralty of the fact, and the Admiralty provided the proper amount of transport service.


said, perhaps he might be allowed to state, in corroboration of his noble Friend's remarks, that the usual course was for the Secretary for War to state to the Admiralty that such and such regiments were about to be sent abroad on such and such a day, and that department provided the necessary amount of transport.


was understood to corroborate the observations made by the noble Lord the Secretary for War (Lord Panmure).


had misunderstood the observations of his noble Friend (Lord Panmure). It appeared now that no alteration had been made in the mode of communication. With regard to the Alma, it appeared that considerable difference of opinion had prevailed, for, whereas at Liverpool she was considered capable of carrying 1,400 men, it had been thought at Portsmouth that she could only carry 1,000. The public naturally hoped that some clear definition would be given as to how many men could be sent out in proportion to the tonnage, and as to whether the men should be under the deck or not under deck. He remembered having once seen 4,000 men embarked in a ship of 2,000 tons, and sent from Constantinople to Samos. They were not permitted to move from their places. It appeared to him that the various opinions entertained at the various ports of embarkation would very materially damage the means of conveyance. It was absolutely necessary that some distinct arrangements should be made with regard to the embarkation of I troops.

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