HL Deb 06 June 1864 vol 175 cc1223-4

wished to put a Question to the noble Earl the Secretary for War on a subject of some importance as regarded the lives of Her Majesty's subjects. A few days ago a waterman, named George M'Cay, had been employed to convey an officer of H.M.S. Warrior to that vessel, and on his return his boat was struck by an 8-inch shell fired from the citadel, where firing practice was going on at the time. The result was that M'Cay himself was killed; the boat was upset, and another man who was with the poor waterman nearly lost his life also. This practice from the citadel had for a long time been a great inconvenience to the inhabitants of Plymouth and its neighbourhood. In some cases its consequences were ludicrous, while in others, such as that which he had just stated to their Lordships, they had been fatal. On one occasion a Dutch Admiral was on his way across the Sound to pay his respects to the authorities of the port, when his boat was surrounded by a shower of missiles. The gallant officer at once hoisted a flag of truce, and despatched a boat to inquire whether war had broken out between the two countries, that he had been assailed in that way. The case of M'Cay was not an isolated one, and there were several persons at Plymouth who had received compensation for damage done to their boats. The defence set up in the more recent case was not sufficient to justify the continuance of the practice. Captain Henry said that the firing was right, but that the shells sometimes went to the right or the left out of their proper course when there was a ripple on the water. In this case the boat was not within the line of fire, but then the accident had been caused by the deflection of the shell from its proper course; but, as a similar occurrence might take place again, he submitted to the noble Earl the practice was a dangerous one. He knew it to be so from personal experience, a shell having fallen on one occasion within fifty yards of a boat in which be was seated. He wished to know the opinion of the Government on the subject.


said, that unhappily the fact stated by his noble Friend was but too true. The unfortunate man had certainly lost his life in consequence of a shell fired from the citadel at Plymouth. But it was due to the officer commanding the firing party to state that he had ordered the line of practice to be cleared upwards of two hours before the firing was commenced; and that the shell which killed the poor man had deflected almost at right angles, and ricochetted several times before it struck the boat. He had further to observe that the shell was not a charged shell, but had merely a bursting charge. At the same time the liability of those missiles to deflect, and the fact that such a lamentable accident had taken place, clearly showed that the matter was one deserving the most serious consideration of the Government; and on hearing of the accident he at once gave directions, which had, in fact, been anticipated by the General commanding at Plymouth, that while the matter was under consideration, firing from the citadel should be discontinued. It was not easy to find places for firing practice, but he need not say that no consideration of inconvenience would weigh on the minds of the War Department as against the probable recurrence of such a melancholy accident.


said, he was very glad to hear the answer of the noble Earl; because last summer he had been an eyewitness of the danger arising from the practice from the citadel. It had been blowing a gale the day before, the Sound was full of yachts and fishing boats, the shot was falling around them, and one shot fell not more than twenty yards astern of his own yacht.


suggested that a general measure should be introduced, empowering officers superintending firing practice from forts to remove vessels out of the line of fire.


said, he was afraid that he should not be able to introduce such a measure. It was due to the officer in command at the time the accident took place that he should express his opinion that no blame was to be attributed to him.

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