HL Deb 02 March 1888 vol 323 cc9-12

, in rising to ask Her Majesty's Government, Whether it is the fact that there is not a single iron-clad on the Indian Station; and, if so, what steps will be taken for the construction of a dock at Bombay? said, that publicity had recently been given to a statement, which came apparently from a well-informed source, that there was not an iron-clad on the Indian Station, and that this was due to the absence of dock accommodation. The statement might be exaggerated, and, if so, it was desirable it should be corrected, for such statements produced an idea of weakness at home and abroad, which it was undesirable should prevail. We knew that the French had a numerous, if not a powerful, squadron, of the doings of which we had heard a good deal lately; and the Germans had a squadron on the coast of Africa. The French ships at Tonquin were within easy reach of Calcutta and Madras. He did not know whether the French or the Germans had any iron-clads, but it seemed strange that we should leave without the protection of a single ironclad so large a coast and two important coaling stations. As to dock accommodation, we had spent £70,000 at Bombay on a dock available for ships of comparatively small size, but not large enough for anything in the shape of an iron-clad, and scarcely large enough for sea-going cruisers. The only available docks were at Hong Kong, the Cape, and Mauritius, and the passage of ironclads through the Suez Canal was attended with considerable delay and expense. Some years ago there was a scheme for constructing a dock at Bombay, but it fell through, mainly on account of the inability of the Secretary of State for India to provide the necessary funds. He hoped that the same disability would not attach to any such scheme now. He was told that lately instructions had been sent to an engi- neer officer in the Bombay Presidency to prepare plans and sections for the construction of a dock, and he trusted that the work would soon be commenced.


, in reply, said, it was quite true that we had no iron-clad on the East Indian Station, as the Government considered that neither the requirements of the Service nor those of British commerce necessitated—at present, at any rate—the placing of an iron-clad on that station. The Bacchante, the present flagship, was an iron ship, sheathed with wood and coppered, and was considered by the Admiralty better suited for the requirements of the East Indian Station than an iron-clad—so much so that the Admiralty were deliberately sending another ship of the same class out to relieve her. With regard to the dock accommodation, the Admiralty were fully alive to the necessity of having a clock at Bombay capable of taking in armoured ships, should it be found necessary to place one on that station, and they were in communication with the India Office on the subject. There was a dock at the Mauritius which would take in any of the vessels on the Indian Station with the exception of the flagship, and there were docks at Singapore and the Cape of Good Hope which would take in a second-class iron-clad. In reply to a Question put in the House of Commons, Sir John Gorst had said— Estimates and plans arc being prepared and schemes hare been submitted by the Secretary of State to the consideration of the Admiralty as to providing graving dock accommodation in Bombay Harbour for iron-clads and large mercantile steamers. The relative strength of our squadron there compared favourably with that of any foreign Power; and so long as that preponderance was maintained there was no object in strengthening it by the addition of an iron-clad. As compared with the French Squadron in the East Indies, the French had three vessels and three gunboats, mounting 33 guns, as against our 13 ships with 100 guns, independent of two double turret vessels and two gunboats in Bombay Harbour. The noble Lord suggested that the French Squadron from Saigon and Tonquin might make an attack on Calcutta before our ships could be brought round from Bombay. He must point out that Saigon was in China, and that it would be the duty of the Admiral on that station to look after French ships. The French force numbered 11, inclusive of six gun vessels, mounting 56 guns; in addition to which they had 19 small gunboats of 112 to 120 tons, carrying two guns each, in reserve. These small gunboats were, however, for river and harbour service. The British China Squadron numbered 19 vessels, with 121 guns, two of which were iron-clads. As the object of the noble Viscount was to call attention to the want of dock accommodation at Bombay, he could only say it was at present under the consideration of the India Office and the Admiralty.


said, he could not allow a question as to dock accommodation at Bombay to pass without saying one or two words. He felt quite as much as did the noble Lord behind him the absolute necessity of proper dock accommodation at Bombay, and he was happy to say he had every reason to believe that the correspondence between the Admiralty and the India Office was now rapidly drawing to a satisfactory conclusion. Not a moment should be lost on his part, after the matter had been arranged with the Admiralty, in carrying out the works at Bombay, which he held to be necessary for the defence, not only of India, but also of the commerce of the United Empire.


said, he feared that the noble Lord who had answered the Question on behalf of the Government had taken a rose-coloured view of the situation. Some of the dock accommodation mentioned was not of a public character. The Iron Duke, which was not one of the largest vessels, found the greatest; difficulty in docking at Hong Kong, and other vessels had been obliged to go to Nagasaki and other docks belonging to Foreign Powers. We could not always reckon on such accommodation being available. It was preposterous that, with our enormous commerce in the Indian Seas, we should not have dock accommodation for an iron-clad. Mention had been made of two Foreign Powers which had squadrons in these waters, but there was a third which was rapidly increasing its naval strength in the China Seas. He hoped that the Government would lose no time in constructing a proper dock at Bombay, and in giving their serious attention to the insufficiency of the dock accommodation at Hong Kong.