THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (LORD HARRIS)
My Lords, I beg to ask leave to explain and correct an answer I made to a noble Earl not now in his place (the Earl of Erne) on the 7th instant. I was then asked a Question as to the manufacturers of the cutlass-bayonets complained of by the Admiralty. My reply was that they were made by certain manufacturers in England—the number purchased being about 20,000. That, it now appears, was a mistake. These cutlass-bayonets were nearly all made at Solingen, in Germany. The mistake arose in this way—in searching the record book of purchases in order to answer the noble Earl's Question, no entry of the purchase of cutlass-bayonets was found other than those which I mentioned—namely, some 20,000 from Birmingham manufacturers. I naturally concluded that these were the cutlass-bayonets complained of; but, in preparing some information the other day for the Committee now sitting on this question, it was found that the number of cutlass-bayonets converted in 1871 far exceeded the number bought in 1858. The record book was again searched, in order that the discrepancy might be cleared up; but that the record book was unable to do, and it was only owing to an effort of memory that the mistake was found out. It appears, I believe, that previous to 1864 it was the custom that all rifles purchased from the trade were made non-interchangeable— 280 that is to say, that no part of any one rifle was made to fit another; and, consequently, in the Office it was the well-known fact that each rifle was supplied complete in all respects, including the bayonet that was used with it; and the custom, therefore, in making the entry was to enter in the record book at that time the purchase of so many rifles, no mention of bayonets being made any more than of ramrods or trigger-guards. The rifle of that day was not considered complete without its own particular bayonet. It was entered simply as a rifle, and that was how the mistake was not discovered. It will be understood, therefore, why the record showed the purchase of rifles only; and, as I said, it was only an effort of memory on the part of someone who happened to remember the custom of 23 years back that cleared up the difficulty. It appears that the 20,000 cutlass-bayonets mentioned by me were meant, and are so entered in the record book, for naval rifles. But, in 1859, it was decided to purchase a large number of new rifles for the Navy, and 48,000 were ordered from English firms, and 30,000 from Liège. The contract papers show that General Peel authorized the cutlass-bayonets being obtained almost entirely from Germany, at a price ranging from 13s. 6d. to 14s. 6d. I am happy to be able to add that the records also show that, so careful was the Department that the weapon should be a really good one, that a View Department, with English viewers, was set up at Solingen, under Captain Cockburn, R.A., to make sure that every blade passed successfully the test demanded—namely, that it should be sprung to a bend of 3¾ inches over a block 7½ inches high; and every blade passed into the Service did go through that trial, and the Testing Department remained at Solingen from 1859 until 1862. Considering the time which has elapsed since these transactions and the other surrounding circumstances, I hope your Lordships will agree with me that the mistake made was not inexcusable.