HL Deb 10 July 1883 vol 281 cc927-31

, in rising to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty, If he will lay on the Table the finding of the court martial in the case of Price, seaman of the "Triumph," in 1882; and to move for this and other Correspondence, said, that Louis Price was a boy on board Her Majesty's ship Triumph on the Pacific Station. He had a very good character, and the captain, who had special opportunities of knowing him, from his having been captain's messenger, thought him one of the most promising lads in the ship. While a boy he had committed two faults; one so trifling that the commander dealt with it summarily, without reporting it to the captain. When he was 16 he had been ashore near Valparaiso, and had come back on board rather fresh and noisy. The other, also trifling, consisted of some boyish impudence, and was punished with caning and black list. Few boys were so rarely in the defaulter's book. The character on his certificate was generally "very good," and never less than "good." In March, 1882, he reached the age of 18, and was rated an ordinary seaman, passing an excellent examination. Unfortunately, owing to the injudicious Admiralty Regulations, rum began to be served out to him. One day in April, probably hotter than the others, his allowance of rum put him into a heavy sleep; he came up, not drunk, but in a cross, dangerous state from being roused from sleep caused by drink; he was found fault with by the instructor, a gunner's mate, and struck him. For this, he was brought before a court martial. Price said he did not know what he had done, that he was very sorry, and pleaded guilty. The sentence was five years' penal servitude, which the Admiralty reduced to three. As the lad pleaded guilty, the statements of the gunner's mate were not proved; and the good character of the lad, and evidence which his captain would have given in his favour if he had been called, were not before the court martial. He was in the prison ship in the Pacific from April, 1882, to October, when he came home in the Triumph, was then sent to gaol, and had been in penal servitude at Chatham since February last. Mr. Clements Markham then applied to the Admiralty, asking them to be satisfied with two years' imprisonment. The reply he got gave two reasons for insisting on the penal servitude—1, That the offence was very cold-blooded; 2, that the boy had committed two offences before. As regarded the first, the captain had found at the time, on investigation, that young Price, though not drunk, had been roused from heavy sleep, the effect of the regulation allowance of rum. As regarded the second, if the Admiralty took those trivial offences into account, they were bound to call on the captain for a report as to the lad's character and general conduct. After Mr. Markham's failure, the parents of the lad, who were very respectable people in Chelsea, and about 60 constituents, sent a Petition to their Member, Sir Charles W. Dilke, entreating him to try and obtain a remission of the sentence. After some weeks, Sir Charles W. Dilke sent an answer. He said— The case of young' Price is, in my opinion, a hard one, and I have done all in my power in his behalf. I wish I could do more; but I fear the case is now finally closed. He (Lord Stanley of Alderley) had a great regard for Sir Charles W. Dilke, and he feared that, at the next Election, he would find the case not "finally closed," as far as he was concerned, and that these 60 constituents, with a friend each, would remember that their Member could do nothing for them; and that it was he, and his section of the Liberal Party, who brought about such a frightful punishment as penal servitude and ruin for life, instead of four dozen, for an offence against discipline not involving moral turpitude, accompanied by extenu- ating circumstances. He would urge on the noble Earl the First Lord of the Admiralty a consideration which, though it could not be pleaded before a court martial, should have weight with him and with their Lordships. Though he (Lord Stanley of Alderley) would admit that subordination to the petty officers must be upheld as much as in the case of the commissioned officers, yet a sailor who struck a petty officer, who but a short time ago was his comrade and equal, more easily committed such a fault than he would in the case of a lieutenant, whose lace and epaulets would remind him that he was in the presence of a superior officer. They already admitted this principle, since in India, if a policeman were struck, it was resistance to the law if he were his badge, and only a common assault if he were without his badge. The sentence on Louis Price appeared to be yet more unjust, unequal, and capricious, when compared with another reported in the newspapers of June 30. On board Her Majesty's Ship Victory, T. J. Thorpe, of Her Majesty's Ship Asia, was tried for striking a ship's corporal, his superior officer, twice in the face, and for using insulting language to the first lieutenant. Sentence: two years' imprisonment. This man was a carpenter of mature age, and aggravated his offence by insulting the first lieutenant. It was, he thought, evident that the sentence in this case was too light, or that upon Price too heavy. He (Lord Stanley of Alderley) had a friend who was in Holland a few days ago, and spoke to a Dutch Commodore and Councillor of State on the subject of naval punishments. Some years ago, flogging was abolished in the Dutch Navy, and terms of imprisonment in a military prison substituted. But men who had committed mere military offences were never herded with ordinary criminals. Such a proceeding would be looked upon, not only as unjust, but as injurious to the State. That such things should be done here excited amazement. In this case, by this sentence of penal servitude, which involved herding with the worst criminals, disqualification for all civil and military service under the Crown, and ruin for life, a promising lad, who, up to the present, had borne a good character, was lost to the Navy, and perhaps a gaol bird let loose on society. The Naval Discipline Act was passed when flogging was in use, and it needed revision now that flogging was abolished. At present the punishments inflicted were more severe and inhuman than in the worst days of flogging. The noble Lord concluded by moving for the Papers of which he had given Notice.

Moved, "That there be laid before this House the finding of the court-martial in the case of Price, seaman of the "Triumph," in 1882; and correspondence relating thereto."—(The Lord Stanley of Alderley.)


said, he would confine himself to answering the Question put by the noble Lord (Lord Stanley of Alderley), for he trusted their Lordships would not be induced to enter upon the general question of flogging in the Navy on this occasion, nor did he think, and he hoped their Lordships would hardly do so, that that House was the place to review the decisions of courts martial. He could deal only with the official Report of the case, from which it appeared that Price, who, while at drill on the quarter deck, was corrected by the instructor for some mistake, threw away his rifle, used insubordinate and obscene language, knocked down the instructor, and struck him in the face when he was trying to get up. The noble Lord stated that Price was drunk, or stupified, from the effects of drink at the time; but the "circumstantial letter," written by Captain Markham, the captain of the Triumph, who sent Price for trial, stated that "the evidence goes to prove that he was quite sober, and accountable for his actions." Captain Markham considered that he ought to be tried by court martial; he pleaded guilty, and the court sentenced him to five years' penal servitude. Although the case was a very bad one, it was decided by the Board of Admiralty, on account of Price's youth and his former good conduct, that some remission might be given; and it was settled that when he had served three years of the sentence the case should be brought up for reconsideration. This was done before the receipt of a petition from his family, supported by other persons; and, in reply to the petition, the petitioners were informed that the case had been so decided. If Price behaved himself well, and got the number of good marks that it was possible for him to obtain, the three years would be reduced to about two years and six months. For the sake of discipline it was necessary that an example should be made in such a case; and their Lordships would see that the manner in which the case had been dealt with did not indicate any desire to visit this heinous offence with excessive punishment; and he could not hold out any hope that the case would be further reconsidered. There were no documents except the finding of the court martial and the petition of the family, and the precedents were entirely against laying them on the Table. It had not been done in any case for the last 50 years. In the interests of discipline, he hoped the Motion of the noble Lord would not receive the support of the House.


said, that, contrary to what had been expressed by the noble Earl the First Lord of the Admiralty (the Earl of Northbrook), he (Viscount Sidmouth) was of opinion that their Lordships ought not to be deterred from discussing a matter so recently before the House. He thought the noble Lord opposite (Lord Stanley of Alderley) had done right in bringing it before the House, because it showed the great amount of loss and injury done to the Navy by the abolition of corporal punishment. The case before them went far to confirm the adverse opinions expressed on the Bill lately under discussion abolishing corporal punishment, and more than ever justified his conviction, that the abolition of corporal punishment in the Navy was a mistake. This was just one of the cases in which flogging would have been a much more appropriate sentence; and it would have had this advantage—that if this man, or rather boy, whose antecedents were good, could have received a punishment which was not at all uncommon in social life he might have retained his good character, which was now gone so far as the Navy was concerned, and he would not have been prevented from trying afterwards to become a useful member of the Navy. Price was only 18 years; and, at a similar age, many of their Lordships, including the occupants of the right rev. Bench, had been subjected to the same kind of discipline in the public schools.

On Question? Resolved in the negative.