HL Deb 16 February 1866 vol 181 cc586-92

in drawing the attention of Her Majesty's Go- vernment to the Deficiency of Lifeboats and other Means of saving human Life on the Coasts of Great Britain and Ireland, desired to state that any observations he might make had no reference to any particular Member of Her Majesty's Government, but to the Government as a whole; and he would express the opinion that it felt less deeply than it should the necessity of providing means for the preservation of human life upon the coast. The present stormy season had produced ample evidence that the means provided were insufficient; and he would particularly direct the attention of the noble Duke at the head of the Admiralty (the Duke of Somerset), as well as the President of the Board of Trade, to that statement. It was remarkable that this great maritime country, having the largest Royal and mercantile fleet in the world, should, until a few years ago, have been so deficient in this respect. In 1850 only twelve lifeboats were employed upon the coast of Great Britain. Since then, they had largely increased in number; but in all cases they had been built, kept in repair, and navigated at the expense of private persons. The subscriptions collected from charitable persons by the Royal National Society for this purpose amounted to about £30,000 a year. Of the noble institutions that had been established in this country, none was more noble, or more creditable to the honour of England than this. The Institution, notwithstanding it was supported by voluntary contributions, and received no aid from the State, had done wonders. During the past twenty years, or some similar period, it had been instrumental in saving 15,000 lives. The leading members of the Institution had told him that they would still rather continue to be left to themselves—that they wanted no subsidy, or other assistance from Government, and they believed that a subsidy would diminish their contributions. He (the Earl of Malmesbury) was rather astonished at that statement, because he had always found that when subscriptions were asked for, people were ready to give if certain others would contribute also. But the great question was, whether, with all its zeal and activity, the Institution was capable of fulfilling the duties which it took upon itself. The members believed that it was, and they had such confidence I in it that, quoting the returns of the Coastguard officers, Lloyd's agents, and others, they declared that no part of the coast was unprovided with a lifeboat where one was needed, or there were a sufficient number of resident fishermen and boatmen to justify one being provided. Mr. Lewis, the Secretary of the Institution, had called upon him and left him a map of Great Britain, which showed where lifeboats were stationed, and also indicated where wrecks had taken place. From this chart he found that on a most dangerous part of the coast of Scotland no lifeboat was stationed, and on the west coast of Ireland only one lifeboat was stationed from the north to the south. This conclusively showed, in his opinion, that the Society had not sufficient machinery at its command completely to do the work it proposed to itself. On Sunday last the storm which swept the English Channel was one of the heaviest ever known, the wind blew at a strength of 401b. upon the square inch, while the maximum pressure in Great Britain seldom exceeded 30lbs. or 35lbs. The coast between Poole and the Solent was much exposed, and only one lifeboat was stationed there. Near where he resided, at Christchurch, there were open roadsteads, exposed to southerly and westerly winds. On Sunday, when the storm was at its height, a brig was in danger, some 200 or 300 yards from shore. It was thought no common boat could live in the sea that raged there; but a gallant act was performed by some men in a fishing-boat, who put off and saved four of the crew of seven. The rest died from exhaustion; but every fisherman on the coast was ready to declare, that if succour had reached those men earlier, they would all have been saved. Why, then, was there no lifeboat at Christchurch? He found on referring to the chart that Christchurch had been transplanted to the mouth of the Southampton Water, and if the position assigned to it had only been correct, of course no lifeboat would have been required. He also learnt that the officer of the Coastguard had been asked if there was a sufficient number of boatmen in the neighbourhood to manage a lifeboat, and that his answer was that there were sufficient boatmen, but none who could be depended upon in case of emergency, unless they were remunerated for their services. He also stated that he did not know how an honorary committee could be formed among the neighbouring gentry for the purpose of managing the lifeboat station. He certainly could assert that, as far as he himself was concerned, he had never been asked to join such a committee, and he would assure their Lordships' that, if he had been, he should with pleasure have done what he could to make himself useful. He would, if required, hand in the paper from which he had obtained this information, although he would not mention the name of the Coastguard officer who, with such complete ignorance upon the subject, had yet given such advice to the National Lifeboat Institution as had prevented them from placing a lifeboat at that spot. A coroner's jury had returned a verdict in the case of the men drowned upon the foundering of the brig to which he had alluded, and in that verdict they expressed their opinion that life might have been saved if the Coastguard had rendered the fishermen that assistance which they ought to have done in preparing the boat. He thought that the Government ought to afford assistance in some way or another to this noble Institution. It was not, in his opinion, creditable to this great maritime country that the rescue of our imperilled seamen should be entirely left to the care of private generosity and benevolence. The Government had certainly done a good deal, but in the last and most pressing emergency, they refused to lend a helping hand to those who were carrying on the commerce from which this country derived its wealth and importance, and our seamen were indebted for their rescue solely to this great and noble Institution.


said, he quite agreed with his noble Friend that the National Lifeboat Institution was one of the noblest of the many noble institutions established by the private benevolence of the country, but he should strongly deprecate any interference with its work, because he believed such interference would only be attended with injury. If the Government undertook to do any part of the work now performed by the National Lifeboat Institution they could not avoid clashing. As the noble Earl had not informed him beforehand of the charge which he intended making against an individual branch of the Coastguard, he had of course been unable to make any inquiries into the circumstances. He could only say that the Coastguard all along our coasts had contributed largely towards saving life and property. In 1864 the value of property saved through their instrumentality amounted to £740,000, and the number of lives saved was 598. In the first three-quarters of last year they had saved 432 lives, and £390,000 worth of property. During the last three months the number of lives and the amount of property saved was proportionately still larger. If there was any case in which the Coastguard had not done their duty it must be an exceptional one. They were constantly ready to risk their own lives in the hope of rescuing the property and the lives of others. But it was not correct that the National Lifeboat Institution was not in any way assisted by the Government. The Board of Trade allowed £18 to each lifeboat when they wore reported well manned and ready for cases of emergency. What the National Lifeboat Institution did was to place a lifeboat on those parts of the coast where they found the fishermen ready to drill and be trained, and offers of boats had been made to the National Lifeboat Institution which they were as yet unable to accept, because they could not find the men to undertake their management. He had no doubt that if the Government were to take upon themselves that duty their interference would be destructive of the National Lifeboat Institution; and he would remind their Lordships that the Society had excited so much admiration in France that the French Government had given their countenance to the establishment in their own country of one of a precisely similar character. The founders of that French institution had applied to their Government for assistance; but the Emperor, with that sagacity which distinguished him, had refused to accede to that application, and had stated that he would not in that matter interfere with the generous and benevolent action of his people. He admitted the excellence of the boats possessed by the Institution, and he had had some of them copied and sent to the West Coast of Africa, where they were of great advantage in landing through the surf. With regard to the rocket stations, he had to observe that they were furnished at the expense of the Government, that those stations at present amounted to about 250, and that last year they had been instrumental in saving 180 lives. He repeated that he did not think it would be wise on the part of the Government to interfere further than they had done in assisting the National Lifeboat Institution. During the past year the boats of that Institution had saved 500 lives, besides giving rewards to the owners of shore and fishing boats who had saved 200 more. Under these circumstances, he thought it would be bad policy not to leave the action of the Institution uncontrolled.


said, he was anxious that he should not be misunderstood in reference to the Coastguard. He had referred to the report of an inquest in a particular case which had appeared in the public newspapers. The noble Duke might be right in assuming that any interference on the part of Government might do more harm than good, but that did not alter the fact that there was a deficiency in the number of lifeboats on our coast—a fact that was amply proved by the constant endeavours to increase their number. In the case of Christchurch, to which he had referred, the lifeboat, which was offered, but refused, might have saved lives last Sunday.


said, he believed the National Lifeboat Institution were ready to give the most favourable consideration to any application that might be made to them for the supply of a lifeboat; but it was necessary, before a lifeboat was stationed at a place, that it should be shown that it could be advantageously employed, and that there were a sufficient number of persons willing to come forward to form a committee. Had this been the case at Christchurch a lifeboat would doubtless have been stationed at that place, although it would not have been of much use, as wrecks off that coast were very rare, it being only frequented by small coasters. With regard to the statement which had been made that the Government did not contribute in any way towards saving the lives of our sailors, he felt bound to say that Government defrayed the whole expense of the rocket stations, which were worked by the Coastguard. That body, however, had other duties to perform, from which it would not do to take them away in order to attach them to the Lifeboat Institution—especially as the efficiency of the Institution was more likely to be preserved when under the management of private persons whose local interests induced them to give a zealous watchfulness over the efficiency of the service, than when left to the services of Government officers who might have other duties to perform. He, therefore, thought it would be better for the matter to be left in the hands of those who had so efficiently managed the affairs of the Institution up to the present time. The Institution had attracted the attention of the Emperor of the French, who had requested the association to supply him with eleven boats for the use of the coast of France; but he had distinctly expressed his objection to their being placed under the control of the French Admiralty, preferring that they should be managed as they were in England by private enterprize. He should, therefore, advise the Government not to interfere further in the matter.


repeated that the main reason why no lifeboat was stationed at Christchurch was that the Coastguard officers there declared that it was not wanted, and that there was He local committee ready to look after the undertaking. He had again to express his belief that the latter statement was unfounded.