HL Deb 13 June 1861 vol 163 cc980-3

said, he wished to refer to a matter that affected the character of a private individual. He had given notice by letter to the noble Duke the head of the Admiralty; he regretted that the noble Duke was not in his place, but he did not intend to say anything that required an answer. What he wished to refer to was a statement made by the noble Duke, on Tuesday evening, affecting the character of a gallant officer in the navy. In the course of a discussion which took place that evening on the Government of the Navy Bill, in adverting to certain statements that had been made by Sir John Pakington in "another place," the noble Duke said— The noble Earl first called your Lordships' attention to the question of iron-cased ships, and referred to a speech lately made in the other House, founded on information furnished to a right hon. Baronet by Admiral Elliot. Admiral Elliot went to France, and applied, through the English Minister there, for leave to visit the dockyards of that country, in the same way as French officers have often applied for leave to visit our dockyards. His request was acceded to with the civility which the French authorities would naturally desire to show in such a case. Admiral Elliot went, and saw all that was going on in those establishments; but I must confess that, under the circumstances, I sincerely regret the course which he took on his return to England. If I myself had given a French officer permission to view our dockyards, and I afterwards found that he took the first opportunity of publishing the results of his inspection in the manner adopted by the gallant Admiral, I certainly should not think he had done a very friendly act. Their Lordships would agree with him that such a statement, made by the noble Duke, might lead one to suppose that Admiral Elliot had visited the French dockyards, perhaps under the direction of the Admiralty, probably of his own accord; but, at all events, that he did something contrary to good manners, or played something like the part of a spy; that he had come back and related what he ought not to have related; or done something he ought not to have done. He was sure the House would also admit that between the officers of the French and English Navies there ought to exist a mutual feeling of brotherly and professional respect and re- gard; so that if the day should ever unhappily come when political events and difficulties should plunge the two nations into war, they might engage in that war free from any feelings of personal animosity. This would not be the case if it was thought that on either side anything like a system of espionage had been carried on. He was sure that if political differences ever led to such a melancholy event as a war between the two countries, the chivalrous feeling of the English naval officers would only be surpassed by that of the French, and even in such a war, he hoped no personal animosities would exist between them. It was, therefore, necessary there should be no misunderstanding on a matter of this kind; that there should not be the slightest impression that any officer of high rank had acted in any manner inconsistent with honourable and correct feeling. Now, what was the history of Admiral Elliot's visit to the French dockyards? Admiral Elliot went to Cherbourg, with two friends, in the yacht of one of them, with the intention of paying a visit to the French dockyards. They saw the dockyard of Cherbourg and afterwards that of Brest, by the full permission of the Prefét and authorities. The manner in which they were received showed that there was no idea they came with any purpose the French authorities were not willing to assist them in carrying out. They were shown over the arsenal and works, the French officers affected no concealment; they were proud, and justly so, of the progress they were making in the construction of the iron-plated ships. He should mention that before he left for France Admiral Elliot called on the noble Duke and told him of his intention. He asked the noble Duke if he could be of any use to the Admiralty; if he wished to have anything reported to him. The noble Duke very prudently replied, "You know all that interests us in England, I shall be glad if you can tell us anything the French are doing in which we are interested." After leaving Cherbourg Admiral Elliot went to L'Orient and Rochefort; these establishments he found he could not see without the permission of the French Admiralty. He wrote to Lord Cowley's Secretary, requesting that the permission might be applied for. It was given, and under that official permission he visited those dockyards also. When Admiral Elliot returned to England he told his friends—among them the Duke of Somerset and Sir John Pakington—what he had seen, and, as far as Admiral Elliot was concerned, there the matter ended. "When the noble Duke said he had "published" what he saw he was sure he did not mean all that the scope of the word implied—that he did not mean the statement to be in any way offensive. Now, supposing Admiral Elliot, when at L'Orient and Rochefort, did see a great deal that he was not shown; supposing he saw, by accident, something of great interest, and supposing he has never mentioned what he saw? Did not that prove the character of honesty, and the absence of anything like an intention to be a spy? He could not say that such was the case, but he was bound to say that all Admiral Elliot did see he saw openly and fairly, and under the eyes of the French officers themselves, nor had he revealed to his friends or to the noble Duke anything except what he had seen in such a manner. In the absence of the noble Duke he felt that he ought not to say more, but in saying what he had he thought he had only done his duty to a brother officer in vindicating, not his character, for that required no vindication, but his acts, from the imputation suggested by the large words used the other night by the noble Duke. Admiral Elliot was only travelling for amusement when he visited the dockyards of France, and not in any way as the agent of Government.


regretted that the noble Earl had not felt it consistent with his duty to postpone his statement. The noble Duke at the head of the Admiralty was absent in the performance of his public duties, and, therefore, had either not received the letter which the noble Earl had addressed to him, or had been unable to take advantage of it. He (the Duke of Newcastle) would have felt it his duty to interrupt the noble Earl if he had not begun by stating that he rose to vindicate the character of an absent Friend; but he still thought it would have been better for all parties if the statement had been deferred until to-morrow. That opinion was confirmed by what had fallen from the noble Earl. The Report to which the noble Earl had referred was, no doubt, accurate; but there was no charge conveyed in the observations of the noble Duke affecting Admiral Elliot's honour, although the discretion of that gallant officer in this particular instance was challenged. The noble Duke never used the word "spy," but the noble Earl opposite said he rose to vindicate his friend from the imputation of being a spy. The statement of the noble Duke had been borne out, for it was within his knowledge that the conduct of Admiral Elliot had given offence to the parties concerned in Prance, who felt that his act had been far from friendly. They would have considered it was the duty of Admiral Elliot, as an Englishman, to report to the Admiralty what he had seen; but the gallant Admiral had gone far beyond that. The noble Earl said that Admiral Elliot had not "published" his information; and true it was that he had not published an essay upon the state of the French navy, but he had taken the best possible means of widely publishing his statements. If he had simply made a statement, as he did, to the noble Duke, he would have done his duty; but the gallant Admiral did far more—he not only communicated his statement in conversation to his friends, but he placed it in writing in the hands of a Gentleman who he must have expected and intended would have used the very best mode of publication in the world. A letter in the newspapers might have attracted comparatively little attention, but the debates in the House of Commons on such a subject were sure to be read. If the noble Earl would have condemned the gallant Admiral for publishing his statement, how could he approve his conduct in taking the very best means of making it public? Sir John Pakington had expressly stated in the other House that he made the statement he did upon the authority of Admiral Elliot. He (the Duke of Newcastle) had chiefly risen to explain the cause of his noble Friend's absence, and he could not but repeat his regret that the noble Earl had not deferred his observations until to-morrow.


said, the course he had taken had arisen entirely from a feeling that the statement put forward by the noble Duke ought as speedily as possible to be explained, especially to our friends on the other side of the water. As to the use made of the gallant Admiral's information, all he need say was that Admiral Elliott and Sir John Pakington were personal friends; that he was justified in communicating what he had seen to his friend, and there, as far as he was concerned, the matter ended. That it was afterwards used in the House of Commons was not his act.