HL Deb 14 June 1881 vol 262 cc453-7

, in moving for a Return of the entire expenses caused by the proceedings of the Committee appointed to inquire respecting the loss of H.M.S. "Atalanta," said, that the Report which had been made by the Committee appointed by the Admiralty to inquire into the loss of this vessel had caused a great deal of pain in professional circles; and it was not, he thought, in accordance with the evidence which had been taken and also published. If the evidence had been published alone, it would have afforded much instruction. The Report had gone beyond the evidence, and was a strong condemnation upon the constructor (Sir William Symonds) of the vessel, which was one of a class well known in the Navy for about 40 years. The evidence against her consisted of a charge of excessive rolling. The evidence to that effect was given by Mr. Johns, and upon it the Report seems to have been based. Mr. Johns was, undoubtedly, a clever man, and a man of great scientific attainments; but he had no knowledge of practical seamanship, and his testimony appeared to have been brought out by Mr. Waymouth, under whom he had received part of his education. Against that evidence there were the statements of Mr. Barnaby and Mr. Barnes, who saw no reason to think that the vessel would capsize at an angle of 40 degrees. There was also the evidence of practical seamen, which was totally different to that of Mr. Johns.

Admiral Wellesley thought that 4 0 degrees was by no means excessive. There was other evidence to show that at that inclination the men on board were perfectly able to stand on their feet and work the vessel. When the Atalanta was a man-of-war and called the Juno she was spoken of as being perfectly safe, and a most comfortable ship, and opinions were largely given in her favour. When made into a training-vessel the masts and rigging of the Atalanta were altered, and many persons said that she was entirely spoiled by those alterations. Sir William Symonds, when he built the vessel, said that if his conditions of construction were departed from she must not be considered as of his building. Statements had gone abroad that many of Sir William Symonds's vessels had been lost; but that was not the fact, as in 30 years four only had been lost, and every year many ships were, under the same circumstances of wind and weather, lost at sea. Sir William Symonds was a man who had many opponents, and who always hit straight and never flinched from his opinions; yet he converted many men who had opposed his system of construction. The charge made in the Report against Sir William Symonds was not against a private but a public individual—one of the most eminent men in his profession; and although he was not any longer amongst them, their Lordships would agree that the character of a public man must always be public property. He hoped, therefore, he had not wasted the time of the House in making this defence of the character of such a man, especially when the opinions of Sir Henry Keppel, Sir Bryan Martin, Sir Robert Stopford, and Sir William Parker, and many others, were in favour of his ships. Their evidence and that of others he could quote to show that the charge against Sir William Symonds's ships was unfounded. He begged to move in the terms of which he had given Notice. Moved, "That there be laid before this House Return of the entire expenses caused by the proceedings of the Committee appointed to inquire respecting the loss of H.M.S.' Atalanta.'"—(The Viscount Sidmouth.)


said, that, after the observations which had been made by the noble Viscount, he would shortly remind their Lordships of the circumstances in which the Committee upon the loss of H.M.S. Atalanta was appointed. That unfortunate vessel left Bermuda on the 1st of February, 1880, on her return home, and had never since been heard of—indeed, not a trace or record of her had been discovered. It was about the time of the change of Government that hope was finally given up; and the Board of Admiralty, over which he had the honour to preside, thought that it was desirable to cause an inquiry to be held for the purpose of ascertaining whether any blame could be attached to the ship or to the manner in which she had been despatched on the service upon which she was engaged. In this decision Mr. W. H. Smith, the late First Lord of the Admiralty, entirely concurred, and only expressed his desire that the investigation should be most searching. A Committee was appointed, and he was satisfied that no one could challenge the qualifications of the members of the Committee. It was presided over by Admiral Ryder, an officer of distinction, of independent judgment, and indefatigable in investigating scientific subjects. Two other naval officers of high character were on the Committee. He was fortunate in obtaining the services of Mr. Rothery, the Wreck Commissioner, and the Admiralty asked Mr. Chapman, the Chairman of Lloyd's Registry, to recommend a member of the Committee, and he named Mr. Weymouth, one of the officers connected with Lloyd's. The result of the Committee's inquiry was that they came to a unanimous conclusion that the Atalanta was sound and seaworthy; and that her rigging, equipment, officers, and crew, were in all respects sufficient and suitable to provide for her safety upon the service on which she was employed. As respects her stability, the Committee reported that she was a stable ship, and even more stable when she left on her last voyage than in her previous commissions as a man-of-war. After such a Report the Admiralty considered that it was not necessary to take any further steps in the matter. They believed that everything that could be done had been properly done when the vessel went to sea. The noble Viscount had referred to the evidence; but he (the Earl of Northbrook) declined to deal with it, as he had the Report before him, which was that of an independent body of men, who com- manded the entire confidence of the Board of Admiralty which appointed them. So far as he could see there was was no attack in it upon Sir William Symonds's ships or anything said against him; but he (the Earl of Northbrook), not being responsible for the Report, had communicated with Admiral Ryder, the Chairman of the Committee, and he would read part of a letter which he had received from that officer, which he hoped would satisfy the noble Viscount that no attack had been intended by the Committee upon the ships constructed by Sir William Symonds, whose high reputation was well known, or upon his son, Sir Thomas Symonds, one of the most distinguished officers of the Navy. Admiral Ryder, writing from the Admiralty House, Portsmouth, said— Dear Lord Northbrook,—I have been informed that there are Notices of Questions likely to be put about the Atalanta Report, but I am not aware of their nature. My attention has also been drawn to a Return, No. 81, made and printed pursuant to an Order from the House of Lords. I feel certain, and I can assure you that no statement in the Atalanta Report was intended to reflect disparagingly in the slightest degree on the design of the Juno, nor generally on the ships designed by the late Sir William Symonds, and certainly not on him personally, the most renowned, and justly so, of the naval architects of this country. Without reference to my naval coadjutors (for which there is no time), I can only speak of my own recollections of his ships. I commanded one vessel designed by Sir William Symonds, and was very proud of that command. I shared with, I believe, every captain in the Service the earnest desire to be intrusted with the command of one of his frigates or line-of-battle ships. The exquisite beauty of Sir William Symonds's ships won all hearts—and that these productions of his genius, aided by his thorough knowledge as a seaman, were soon named after their father, was not a reproach, but a compliment. To have sailed in, and still more to have had the command of, one or more 'Symondites' is among the most treasured naval recollections of many of my contemporaries. With regard to the various matters touched on in our Report, the phrases used were selected with great care and after much discussion. I never met with coadjutors on a Committee more anxious to weigh every expression with a sincere desire that it should not err on one side or the other. There was, as might be expected, much difference of opinion at first; it was very gratifying to me that a unanimous Report was ultimately agreed on. Sir Thomas Symonds's evidence was requested and heartily welcomed. He was able to give not only most interesting information as to his father's designs, but also as to the ships themselves; also numerous letters of a very interesting character from officers who had commanded them, all of whom spoke of them in the most commendatory terms. We congratulated ourselves on having received Sir Thomas Symonds's evidence, and were thankful to him for its fulness and frankness. After such a letter from Admiral Ryder, he thought the noble Viscount would feel that he must be under an entire misapprehension when he said that an attack had been made upon Sir William Symonds's ships, and he trusted the noble Viscount would not press for the Return of the expense of the Committee, for the Motion would appear to east a doubt upon the propriety of appointing the Committee.


said, he did not wish to press for the Papers if his Motion were objected to; but he could not see why they should not be in the hands of the House. He could not understand that any reflection had been cast upon the Admiralty in this matter. He thought he was justified in saying that the Committee had condemned the Atalanta when they said in their Report that all the witnesses agreed that the vessel lurched and rolled very heavily; but that was not correct. The Report was, in fact, not borne out by the evidence.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.