HL Deb 02 July 1867 vol 188 cc849-51

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, it affected such a numerous class of Her Majesty's subjects that he should feel it right to offer a few observations with regard to it in asking their Lordships to give a second reading to the measure. The Mercantile Marine of this country consisted of no less than 41,000 vessels, with a tonnage of 7,302,000 tons, employing upwards of 350,000 seamen. The discipline of this great navy was, to a certain extent, dealt with by the Merchant Shipping Act, 1854, which provided, among other things, for the measurement of ships, the engagement and discharge of seamen, their accommodation on board ship, and various other matters connected with the Mercantile Marine of the country. It was not astonishing that, after the lapse of thirteen years, certain defects in that Act should have come to light, rendering necessary the introduction of the present measure, which proposed to deal with the following among other points:—Change in the name of the ship, survey of ships, provisions relating to the health and accommodation of seaman, the prevention of scurvy, medical examination of seamen, and other trifling matters with which it was not necessary to trouble their Lordships. The law, as now existing with regard to the first of these points, was frequently evaded by the colourable sale of a ship to a foreigner, and subsequent colourable re - purchase by an Englishman, whereupon a different name was given to the ship. Without troubling the House with any lengthened details, he might state that a provision contained in the Bill would render very difficult any such transaction in future as the conversion of a British merchant vessel into a foreign ship of war, A remarkable instance of what could be done in the way of change of name was afforded by the case of a British merchant vessel, variously called the Adeline and the Beatrice, then the Confederate cruiser Rappahannock, and finally the British merchant ship Scylla. Her career began as Her Majesty's ship Victor, in which capacity she formed one of some old wooden vessels that were sold off; and in the course of a few weeks following the sale she underwent all these rapid changes. He proposed to meet such cases in future by the simple enactment that when a British ship was sold to a foreign merchant and re-purchased by the British owner, the vessel should be registered in the same name which she bore prior to the sale. The next point—one of the most important in the Bill—was that which proposed to deal with the dreadful disease called scurvy, the scourge of the Mercantile Marine. The Papers presented to the House of Commons showed that the disease had extended in the most alarming manner, and it was one of the points which reflected least credit on the regulations hitherto governing the Mercantile Marine of England, that the disease was one hardly known in the Royal Navy, and almost unknown among the navies of foreign countries. The magnitude of the evil was admitted by all, and the remedy was easy of application. Shipowners who really had the welfare of their crews at heart were most desirous of getting a proper supply of pure limejuice, as this, with fresh vegetables in proper quantities, was the best cure for scurvy. The Merchant Shipping Act of 1854 required that limejuice should be served out, but no penalty attached to selling an inferior article. In consequence, ships put to sea with what served as good limejuice for a time; but when most needed it was in many cases found to be bad and so noxious that it was absolutely impossible to get men to take it, and the disease in those cases had its way. It was therefore proposed to mix the limejuice in bond with a certain quantity of spirits, and pack it in special bottles for safe keeping during a voyage; and the Bill also provided for the limejuice being duly and properly served out to the men. Other provisions of the Bill related to the sleeping and other accommodation of the men on board merchant vessels. The present law required that shipowners should provide a certain amount of space for their men; but although the space was given, it was found that ventilation and light were sadly wanting in cases where the shipowners were careless about the wellbeing of their men; this Bill therefore proposed to insist upon the supply of all accommodation necessary for the perfect health of the men, and proposed to exempt owners from paying tonnage on account of the space used for their seamen if proper accommodation were given. In order also that seamen might not embark on a long voyage with disease in their midst, it was proposed to subject them to medical inspection at various ports. The last clause of the Bill might, at first sight, have an exceptional appearance; but on full consideration of it, he thought it well advised. It provided for the punishment of men who committed offences against foreign vessels. On a recent occasion a small French vessel stranded near the English coast was set upon by some men of Harwich, the captain was subjected to violence, and the ship taken possession of; yet the offenders escaped unpunished, because their offence was committed on a foreign vessel outside British soil. A remedy for this defect in our law was provided in the clause he spoke of, by providing that the offender shall be punished in the same way as if the offence had been committed against an English ship. He concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.


expressed general approval of the Bill. There were, however, great difficulties in the way, which he hoped might be overcome.


trusted that some provisions would be introduced referring to the adjustment of compasses in iron ships.

Motion agreed to: Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.

House adjourned at half past Six o'clock, till To-morrow, Eleven o'clock.