HL Deb 26 July 1878 vol 242 cc336-8

I rise, with permission of your Lordships, to make a personal explanation. The accuracy of a Ministerial statement is of national importance. The accuracy of a statement by an individual Peer is only of importance to himself, but to himself it is of great importance. On Thursday, the 18th, and on Tuesday, the 23rd, irreconcilable statements were made by the Prime Minister and myself respecting the port of Batoum. There is no question, I hope, of either of us wishing to deceive the House. The question is, which was best informed. The noble Earl, in referring on Thursday week to the cession of Batoum, said, among things— It will hold three considerable ships, and if it were packed like the London Docks, it might hold six; but in that case the danger if the wind blew from the west would be immense. On the Tuesday following, I quoted what the Prime Minister had said, and I said that I did not know how many ships Batoum could hold, but that I knew that recently it had held not three, not six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, or 12 but 13 men-of-war and a transport. Yesterday the noble Earl read, as a Memorandum from the Royal Hydrographer, as follows:— Batoum can only be described as a bay and not as a harbour. The area within which ships can anchor is limited to a circle of about 850 yards in diameter, but this area is further reduced by the very deep water—upwards of 45 fathoms—of the central part. The anchorage ground with any reasonable depth is thus confined to the shore segments of the circle, and certainly not more than three iron-clad ships could take up anchorage here, and swing clear, even with a limited amount of cable and in fine weather. With reference to the statement made that the port has contained thirteen-men-of-war and a transport, this could only have been effected by the ships being placed parallel to each other at short distances, and their sterns secured to the shore near the town on the western side of the bay. These are not the conditions attached to free anchoring ground, and it could be only under very exceptional circumstances that such a squadron would be so packed, and even then with insecurity. I have seen in The Morning Post a letter from Hobart Pasha, which I shall read— SIR,—As considerable doubt seems to exist in the public mind as to what sort of place Batoum is as a seaport, I would like to give some information on the subject. The Prime Minister was perfectly right when he stated that only three ships could lay at anchor in the port, if he meant to convey, as I presume he did, vessels laying at anchor in the ordinary way with room to swing; but if ships are hauled into the shore with their sterns made fast with the beach (that is called laying in tiers) 12 or 13 vessels could moor in Batoum harbour. If any mistake was made by the Prime Minister in his statement regarding the capabilities of the harbour of Batoum for holding ships, it evidently arose from a technical error on the part of his informant, who had not calculated on the great advantage of the existence of deep water close into the shore, merely, I presume, having measured the size of the harbour and allowed so much space for each ship to anchor in, so that she might swing with safety.

On seeing this letter, I took the liberty to write to Hobart Pasha—

"July 26, 1873.

"DEAR HOBART PASHA,—I have just read in The Morning Post a letter in which you give an explanation of Lord Beaconsfield's mistake respecting the capacity of the harbour of Batoum. You were not the person who gave me the information on which I spoke on Tuesday, but I should be much obliged if you would tell me whether Batoum is a bay or a harbour; whether it is or is not a fact that 13 men-of-war and a transport have recently been held in that harbour; whether of these men-of-war seven were not iron-clads and one or two other ships taking up an equal space; and whether they were not perfectly safe in all weathers?"

I received the following reply:— DEAR LORD GRANVILLE,—Batoum is more than a bay; it is a harbour though small, and a very safe one, as no sea or wind over endangers the safety of ships moored to the shore. It is well-known to sailors that all vessels immediately on entering the harbour have to secure their sterns to the shore, where they arc quite safe. Thirteen men-of-war of different sizes, of which six were iron-clads, and two large wooden frigates, were lying moored to the shore on more than one occasion. I trust your Lordships will think I was justified in giving the contradiction which I did on Tuesday to the previous statement of the Prime Minister, that Batoum could only hold three considerable ships, or six closely packed, which would then be in immense danger if the wind blew from a certain quarter. On authority even better than the Hydrographer, it appears that 13 men-of-war have lain there more than once in perfect safety from any weather.


All I can say is that the statement of the noble Earl fully bears out that of the Royal Hydrographer.


Yes, but not that of the noble Earl.