HL Deb 25 July 1873 vol 217 cc964-6

after again narrating the accident that had occurred to the yacht, on the occasion of the late Naval Review at Spithead, said, that there must have been some mismanagement or the accident would not have happened, and asked, Whether the Admiralty were aware of the effects of pebble powder used without shot, prior to its use at the late Naval Review; whether there was not an ample supply of the small-grained powder ready for use; and whether, if so, the Admiralty still considered that all those in authority were blameless for the accident which was unfortunately occasioned by the use of the pebble powder?


in reply to the noble Lord's Question, said, he had to repeat what he stated on the former occasion, that, in the opinion of the Admiralty, no blame attached to the officers or any person on board the gunboat. If the noble Lord were still not satisfied, he would give him the reasons for that opinion. On the morning of the Naval Inspection an official notice to this effect appeared in The Times, and other newspapers, and was put up at Portsmouth— It is particularly requested that all yachts and steamers visiting Spithead on the 23rd inst. will refrain from passing between the lines of the iron-clad fleet during the inspection by His Majesty the Shah of Persia; and it is also requested that all vessels will refrain from closing round Her Majesty's yacht and other vessels in attendance. Yachts and other vessels should occupy positions north of the gunboat line, and south of the southern line next the Isle of Wight. If those instructions had been obeyed, his noble Friend would not have been under the necessity of putting the Questions which he had just asked. There were two persons, and two only, in the gunboat, who might have been responsible. The one was the warrant officer, or gunner, and the other the captain of the gun, by the firing of which the accident was caused. The former, in obedience to orders, was aft, watching the gunboat astern of his. He was in that position for the purpose of taking the time—six seconds—which was to elapse between the firing of each boat. The funnel and funnel-casing were between him and the yacht; consequently he could not see her. She was not seen by the gun's captain in consequence of the high rifle proof shielding around all the forward part of the boat except where the gun protruded. The captain, when he received the order to fire, carried out that order because he saw nothing in from of the gun; but he had not fired the previous round because he saw there was something in the way. This tended to show that the firing was by no means careless. It had been stated that those on board the yacht received a signal from the gunboat that the latter was not about to fire. Two men in the gunboat signalled to the yacht when she was about 50 yards off. They did so by holding up their hands—which they meant to be taken as a signal that the yacht was to keep out of the way. A gentleman on board held up his hands and the two men understood this to be an intimation that the signal given from the gunboat would be attended to. They saw no more. The engineer did see the yacht when she was only about 15 yards from the mouth of the gun; but at this time there was not time to warn her away. The gun was not fired point blank, but at some elevation. He once more expressed his regret for the accident; but a local inquiry had been instituted by the officer who, on the day of the Inspection, had command of the gunboats generally, and, with all the facts before them, the Admiralty could not allow that the officers on board the gunboat were in any way answerable for the accident. In reply to the first inquiry of his noble Friend, he had to say that, of course, the Admiralty were aware of the effects of pebble powder prior to its use on the occasion of the inspection at Spithead. In answer to his second Question, he had to say that there was an ample supply of small-grained powder in the dockyard; but it was not customary to use those large 18 and 25-ton guns for firing blank charges, and no cartridges suitable for them and filled with small-grained powder were ready on board. As to the result, it did not much matter whether pebble powder or small-grained was used, because the yacht was in such close proximity to the gun that she must have been badly scorched whatever the powder used. In reply to the third Question, the Admiralty did still consider that all those in authority were blameless in respect of the accident.