§ Sir A. S. Hamond
presented a petition from the commissioners of the navy; the object of which was, he said, to obtain from the house permission for the navy board to exculpate themselves from die charges made against them, in a letter of Mr. Tucker, formerly a commissioner, addressed to the board of admiralty, on the 24.th of April: a copy of which letter had been ordered to be laid before the house. The object of the commissioners in this petition was, to have laid before the house two letters, with their inclosures, addressed by them to the admiralty, on the 4th instant, which they deemed indispensable to the vindication of their own honour, from the charges made in the letter first mentioned, and in which they pledge themselves to refute the statement made by Mr. Tucker.—The petition was received, and is as follows: "A petition of the there undersigned principal officer's and commissioners of his majesty's navy was presented to the house, and,read; setting forth that the petitioners have learnt from the votes, that Benj. Tucker, esq. late a commissioner of his majesty's navy, did, on the 25th of April, present a petition to the house, praying that a copy of his letter to the secretary of the admiralty of the 24th of April might be called for, and which letter has been since laid before the house, and printed; and that the petitioners deeming Mr. Tucker's petition and letter of a most libellous and slanderous nature against them, they have felt themselves bound to 624 address the lords commissioners of the admiralty in vindication of their honour and the proceedings of their board; and being anxious to remove any impression which may heave been made in parliament to their disadvantage by Mr. Tucker's letter and petition, they pray that the house will be pleased to give directions that a copy of the petitioners' two letters to the secretary of the admiralty of the 4th instant may be laid before the house."
§ Sir A.S. Hamond
then moved, that copies of the letters from the commissioners of the navy to the board of admiralty, of the 4th instant, by laid on the table.
rose, not, he said, to oppose the motion, but to call the attention of the house to the time and manner in which it was brought forward by the hon. member. Six weeks had now elapsed since he (Mr. Kinnaird) had given notice of his intention to bring forward a motion of enquiry respecting the conduct of an hon. officer (sir Home Popham) on the ground of which motion he was certainly fortified, and very considerably, by the letter alluded to. During the whole of that time, the navy board, and without any previous notice had moved for the production of letters, written but three days since, which, before their house knew any thing of their contents, were professedly calculated to overturn all imputation upon the navy board, with respect to the hon. officer. How board, with respect to the hon. officer. How was it that the navy board, who seemed so much alive to injurious imputations, had not written those letters of vindication sooner, or why was the production of them deferred to so late a moment, as to render it almost impossible for them to be printed in time for the due consideration of members? He hoped the house would be gratified with some explanation on this ground from the hon. member. He (Mr. K.) had given notice to bring forward his question to-morrow, and by that notice it was his intention strictly the house, that this was the very first intimation received of any document intended to be brought forward in contradiction to those documents already before the house, and upon which solely members were left to form their opinions; he would there- 625 fore be guided by the opinion of the house, whether he was bound to abide by his former notice in bringing forward his question to-morrow, if the letters moved for by the hon. member should turn out to be of such a nature as to place his intentions in a view in which they ought not to stand, or involve any new mattes that required farther deliberation, or rendered necessary the production of other documents, in order to the fullest and most mature discussion of a subject so highly important. To vindicate his own conduct, as well in first proposing to bring forward the enquiry, as in persevering to that end, he begged leave to read the following passage from the letter of Mr. Tucker to the board of admiralty, so strong and so clear upon the subject, that he was at some loss to conjecture how the navy board, by any letter of theirs, could refute statements evidently made upon the ground of their own reports and accounts: "having, I trust, fully vindicated every part of my conduct through the whole of this investigation, I think it my duty to their lordships, to the country, and to the house of commons in particular, to call their attention to one of the papers which has been laid by the navy board before the house of commons, dated the 19th February, 1805, (page 301,) purporting to be "an account of the expences of the Romney, from the 25th Nov. 1800, to the 2d June, 1803, as nearly as can be ascertained at the navy office," in order that their lordships may judge,whether that paper could have possibly been drawn up with any other view than to deceive and mislead the judgement of parliament. That account is declared to be framed, so as to bring under one point of view "how much she exceeded the proportion of the vote of parliament allowed for wear and tear, or came within that sum." Sir, in that statement there are omissions of the most extraordinary nature and magnitude; and I must take the liberty to add, in the language of the navy board, that I scarcely think there ever were such extraordinary means resorted to, to produce a particular effect! Will the navy board pretend that they have not examined that account before they signed it, and that their confidence has been a second time misplaced, and upon whom will they charge it? Or, sir, will they continue to vouch for the fairness and truth of that paper? Sir, in that paper they have omitted, by what accident they best know, all her repairs, and the stores supplied to her, be- 626 tween December 1801, and June 1803! They have suppressed all knowledge of the stores purchased in the Red Sea, and of those supplied at Madras, as well as of her repair and refit when she was docked at Bombay, in the months of October and November, 1802; notwithstanding they have, in that very paper, given credit for eight months stores which were brought home in her, and must of necessity have been received at one of these places; and that it appears (page 114), "a frigate could not have come out of dock at Chatham, by two tides, had it not been for the Romney's sea store of copper!" They cannot plead ignorance of these transactions; the purchases in the Red Sea have been reported on by the navy board to their lordships (page 378), and the repairs at Bombay have proved on oath (page 99), by the carpenter of the ship at Chatham, before the junior surveyor of the navy! These facts, sir, speak too plain to require any comment from me, or to be susceptible of satisfactory explanation any where, but at their lordships table, or at the bar of the house of commons.—Having shortly adverted to this passage of Mr. Tucker's letter, he begged leave to ask the hon. member, whether the vindication he proposed to bring forward, applied merely to this part of the letter of Mr. Tucker, or to the whole; and to this question he requested to call the attention of the house, for it was of much importance to know, whether the vindicatory letters were intended to cancel the errors stated in this paragraph, or whether they took a wider scope? If to this only, he should bring forward his motion to-morrow. But if to the whole subject of enquiry, he should think it indecent to press his motion, until the house had full time to consider the subject of those letters, and be prepared for any subject of discussion they were calculated to introduce.
§ Sir A. S. Hamond
answered, that although the letters in question were certainly directed to the leading subject of the hon. gent.'s motion, yet surely there were other topics to which it was equally necessary to direct refutation. He could assure him, however, the letters were so short as to require no delay for consideration, and might, he hoped, be printed in time, or might lie on the table for the perusal of members; and as to the delay of the navy board in writing to the admiralty to refute the assertions of Mr. Tucker, no avoidable 627 delay had occurred; for when the hon. member was informed that the navy board were unremittingly employed in their avocations from ten in the morning till six in the evening every day, he would perceive they had little leisure to answer the long letter of a gentleman who had nothing to do. He begged to observe, that the navy board were brought into this question in a very extraordinary way. The hon, officer, who was the object of the enquiry, had stated himself to be extremely anxious that it should come forward, but on reading the original report, he stated that there were considerable inaccuracies in it, and referred for revision to the navy board; upon which revision it appeared that there were such inaccuracies. It was then upon this report that the imputations of Mr. Tucker were founded; but he trusted the navy board would not he refused the right of producing correct statements for their own vindication, which he pledged himself would prove those imputations to be unfounded.
§ Mr. Kinnaird
said he should persevere in bringing forward his motion; but he begged the hon. member to recollect, that the original report was made six weeks ago, and that no attempt had been made to correct its alleged inaccuracies until after the suggestions of the hon. officer (of whose vindication he should be as proud as any man) and on the very eve of bringing forward the question upon the original report.
§ Mr. Tierney
thought it would be right maturely to consider upon which of the two reports the house was to found its deliberations. He thought to-morrow too soon, however, to bring the question forward, as the documents now proposed to be brought forward might render it necessary to move for others. He could not see that the discussion, as it related to sir Home Popham, was likely to extend to any great length; for such was the nature of the several items for consideration, that it was impossible for any men but naval officers, professionally and technically acquainted with them, to be competent to the discussion. He hoped the hon. member would postpone his motion for a few days, more especially if the letters should turn out to be such as to require farther time for consideration.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
was inclined to think, the proper mode of proceeding in this case was not that which 628 now seemed to be in contemplation of gentlemen, namely, an open discussion by the whole house; but that it would be much more proper to refer the question, with all the documents thereon, to the investigation of a committee, who should be instructed to report the evidence, with their opinions thereon, to the house, and such he understood to have been the original intention of the hon member who proposed the question. But if it was to be an open discussion, he could see no inconvenience that would arise from the delay, if necessary, of a few day; but however that might be settled, he would take leave to say, it was quite impossible that any understanding on the subject should be arrived at to-day, as to any arrangement that might appear expedient on to-morrow. He hoped the house would not, however, proceed to any decision without a fair hearing, and affording a full opportunity to the gallant officer to bring forward every proof necessary for clearing his own character. It was not merely the character of the hon. officer, it was not merely the character of the navy board, that were at stake; there were other persons, in other quarters, whose characters depended on its result. It was a matter that involved some of the dearest rights of the constitution of this country, and materially concerned the exercise of prerogatives, which involved the safety of every man. A right hon. gent. seemed to think the subject one which could occupy no great length of discussion, but let it not be imagined, that the subject the question involved was to pass sub silentio, for it was one which demanded the fullest investigation.
§ Mr. Tierney
was as anxious as the right hon. gent to sift the subject to the very bottom; feeling, as he did, that the navy board stood in a situation of such high and important trust with the country, that it ought not to remain a single hour in a dubious light. He was therefore inclined to oppose any delay of the discussion not absolutely necessary; but as to the hon. officer, he could have no sort of objection to allow him every fair opportunity for his vindication.
§ Mr. Kinnaird
said, he was far from abandoning the charge he had made, founded as it was upon the reports of the navy board themselves; but it was impossible not to see that the navy board themselves were connected with the charge, for they assumed to themselves that which only was 629 meant to refer to the conduct of an hon. officer.—The motion of sir A. Hamond was put and agreed to; and shortly afterwards the, letters were laid on tie table by Mr. Dickenson, and ordered to be printed.