HL Deb 03 August 1866 vol 184 cc1999-2004

on rising to put the Question of which he had given notice to the Under Secretary for War, said, he desired to say a few words upon the subject of sanitary reform in the army, in which he had long taken a deep interest. Impaired health and eyesight, however, now prevented his taking the active part he once did in promoting this important subject; but he had been exceedingly grateful for the success which had attended the labours of others, including the great Minister, the loss of whom the country was still deploring, and successive Secretaries of State for War. He referred more particularly to the late Lord Herbert, Lord de Grey, Dr. Sutherland, Mr. Rawlinson, and last, though not least, Miss Nightingale. That their efforts had not been without result would be shown by a few facts, which he desired to bring under the attention of their Lordships. At the time he first brought forward the subject in the House of Commons the average death-rate in the army was 17 per 1,000, and in the Guards 20 per 1,000; but for some time it had been reduced to 9 per 1,000. In India the death-rate was formerly about 60 per 1,000, but it had been reduced to 20 per 1,000. The Duke of Wellington stated that the average illness in the army might be reckoned at 10 per 1,000; but complaints were now made that some of the new Hospitals—for instance, the Herbert Hospital at Woolwich, which was built to hold 7 per cent—had been constructed on too large a scale, and that, consequently, they were not adequately occupied, and money had been wasted in making too much provision for sickness. But this gratifying result was owing to the great improvement which had taken place in the general health of the army, which had been caused, no doubt, by the labours of those to whom he had alluded, and the working of the Contagious Diseases Act, which was passed within the last year. At the same time, it was proper to say that the unfortunate loss of life in Ashantee—the disastrous march to Mhow, and the frightful mortality recently experienced in Hong Kong—showed that much remained to be learnt, and that additional precautions were necessary for the health of our army. It was worthy of notice, as a proof of this, that even greater success had attended the sanitary reforms in foreign armies, and particularly among the French troops, than had attended our own. He found that the average death-rate in the French army was formerly 19 per 1,000, but it was now as low as 9. In Algeria it was in one part once 140 per 1,000; for some time it was 64; and now the average was 17 per 1,000, which, it would be seen, was lower than the mortality in our Indian army. In some parts of Algeria, indeed, the death-rate had been reduced to 12 per 1,000, and on one occasion, notwithstanding the marches and counter-marches to defeat the rebels in the interior, the mortality was only 14 per 1,000. Lord de Grey had promised, he believed, that a Commission or a Committee should visit Algeria for the purpose of investigating what had been done there and learning the lessons which might be derived from the proceedings of the French in that country. It had been discovered that the improved health in Algeria was partly owing to improved food and clothing, and to a kind of sanitary reconnaissance made previous to the choice of sites for encampment, especially for stations. But he had been informed that the improvement in health of the army of Algeria had chiefly arisen from what Sir Hugh Rose had done so much to encourage in India—namely, improving the general sanitary condition of the military stations and a certain area around them. In one place, in particular, which had been three times entirely depopulated, such success bad attended the efforts there that the birth-rate greatly exceeded the death-rate. This result, he believed, was mainly attributable to the land drainage operations, which had been carried on by the soldiers themselves, greatly redounding to their moral and physical benefit. The works were designed and superintended by French Engineers, and executed by the soldiers, who received extra pay for it. It appeared from cases which had occurred in our colonies, and especially in India, that the only persons to be relied upon for devising and superintending works required for the sanitary benefit of the troops and the surrounding Native population were the Royal Engineers, a distinguished scientific corps, which had been admirably trained for defensive or offensive work against human enemies; but it was deficient owing to there not being an organized system of instruction, not only in practical knowledge of sanitary works, but in book knowledge of such matters. Lord De Grey, he believed, promised that a kind of Aide Memoire, or manual of instruction, should be prepared for the benefit of the corps. Some of the works it had constructed in Madras were held to be comparatively satisfactory, because the mortality among the soldiers stationed there was only 20 per 1,000, but when it was found that the mortality among soldiers' wives in India was about 50, and among their children nearly 90 per 1,000, and that the diseases which caused such ravages among them belonged to that class which was more particularly affected by sanitary works, he could not help arriving at the conclusion that better sanitary works conducted on a larger scale would benefit not only the soldiers and their families, but the surrounding population. Reports had been made of the exceeding low rate of mortality among the Prussian soldiers while on the march, but their authenticity had been questioned. There could, however, be no doubt that the great sanitary improvement in the French army had greatly increased its efficiency, adding something like 4,000 a year to its numbers as compared with former times. In a pecuniary point of view, and putting humanity and justice to our brave men aside for the moment, this was an important consideration, and justified him in calling the attention of the Government to the matter. He was aware that the War Department had made many wise and economical requisitions for barrack improvements which had not been acceded to by the Treasury. Then he held that the case for constructing improved dwellings in the fortifications was as great as that of barracks, and that some advance might reasonably be made for this purpose, to be repaid by instalments. Large sums of money had been expended on the barracks, but be was informed that they still remained in an unwholesome condition. Limerick he especially instanced as an example of this. He would conclude by asking his noble Friend the Under Secretary of War, Whether any Arrangements have been made for carrying on Observations as to the Application of sanitary Science in foreign Armies analogous to those usually made as to the Progress of combative Sciences in foreign Armies in the Field: And also, to inquire whether any and what preparation is being made for the better Instruction of the Royal Engineers in planning and directing the Execution of sanitary Works in India and the Colonies, or in Barracks, Military Hospitals, or Fortifications at Home and elsewhere?


said, the subject was of great importance, but he thought he could assure the noble Earl who introduced it (Earl Fortescue) that the Army Medical Department was fully competent, and kept pace with medical knowledge at home and abroad. He could not say whether a medical expedition had visited Algeria, but the Department was well acquainted with what had taken place there. In the beginning of 1865 a medical officer of eminence was sent to the United States to study and report upon matters connected with army medical science. His report had not yet been received, but such information as recent events in America could furnish might be depended upon from him. Application had been made to the Foreign Office to send medical officers to Germany to investigate the medical arrangements of the armies in the field, and also to report, as far as he was able, upon the results of the convention which took place two years ago for the amelioration of the condition of sick and wounded soldiers in the field. The departure of these officers had been delayed only by the change in the Government; from their reports, however, much valuable information might be expected. With regard to the second portion of the noble Earl's Question, he had never heard that the Engineers were defective either in the theory or in the practical application of sanitary principles, either to the construction or alteration of barracks. They had, however, many difficulties to contend with in consequence of very faulty construction and very badly selected sites; and in many cases the difficulties had been very successfully dealt with by the Engineers. He would read a very short memorandum made for the instruction of officers of Engineers in planning and directing sanitary works. The general reports of the Army Sanitary Commission are circulated. One of these reports deals with all barracks at home, and another with those at the Mediterranean stations. Besides containing recommendations in detail on the several barracks, these reports contain general principles for guidance. The Report of the Royal Commission on the Indian Army, and a pamphlet drawn up by the Army Sanitary Commission in connection with it, have also been circulated. Other minor papers, whenever considered of general interest or application, have also been sent. The Engineers have also the advantage of an annual course of lectures by the Professor of Hygiene to the Army Medical School. £30,000 a year has been now authorized for some years for sanitary improvements; the details of the whole of it are examined in the Works Department of the War Office, to see that the expenditure is conducted on sound principles. The observations made here tend, of course, to instruct others. Instruction in these matters is now given to the young officers at the establishment at Chatham. In 1862 a Committee recommended the gradual withdrawal of civilian clerks of the works, to be superseded by officers and Sapper serjeants; and this scheme is now in course of adoption, so as to insure a more close personal supervision by officers of works, sanitary or otherwise. In conclusion, he felt that he could assure the noble Earl that the Army Medical Department fully appreciated the necessity of progressing in a sanitary direction; he thought he could also assure him that the officers of the Royal Engineers were competent to conduct the necessary inquiries.


expressed great satisfaction at receiving the information afforded him; but he doubted whether knowledge to be searched for in many different Reports would be as useful as it would be if condensed into a portable manual with regard to drainage and barrack erection, altered from time to time as fresh information was acquired,

House adjourned at Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, Twelve o'clock.