HC Deb 17 March 1812 vol 22 cc18-23
Mr. Lushington

brought up the report of the Committee of Supply. On the motion for agreeing to the resolution for granting 80,000l. to commence a Breakwater in Plymouth Sound,

Sir Home Popham

said:—Mr. Speaker, I did not presume to trespass upon the patience of the House, when it was in a; committee on the subject of Plymouth Breakwater. It was in deference. Sir, to the many senior and much more enlightened officers who are now in your presence; I avail myself, however, of this opportunity to record my sentiments on the subject, I am anxious to do so, as two reports have been industriously circulated, which have no foundation the first, that I intended to resist the grant. On the contrary Sir, I think too much credit cannot be given to the First Lord of the Ad- miralty for bringing forward this measure; and I think there is no officer in the British navy who will resist the application of money to give security to the roadsteads of this country. The second report was, that I had a plan of my own to propose. I really. Sir, have no such thing in contemplation: I was called upon by the government of 1805 to give an opinion on the practicability of establishing Breakwaters, and the best mode of doing it. I did so. Sir, but it was on condition that my opinion should not be publicly acted upon, without my going down to Plymouth and examining the Sound thoroughly to enable me to revise that opinion; but I recommended, in the strongest manner, that a committee of experienced naval officers, with an engineer, should be sent there to examine the sets of tides, &c. and a variety of other technicalities with which it is not necessary to trouble the House, as many of its members, both in and out of office, have read that report. Quite satisfied. Sir, that a more able man than Mr. Rennie cannot be found, I am equally satisfied of the great advantage which the service has derived from the works which Mr. Bentham has continued at Portsmouth: and, as civil engineer to the navy, I wonder he was not consulted. I think the country would have been better satisfied, if they could have seen attached to the reports, the name of the present commander-in-chief at Plymouth, the appointment of whom has done so mach credit to the present First Lord of the Admiralty. This gallant officer might have called to his assistance his second in command, another very meritorious officer, and the captain of the St. Salvador, captain Nash, than whom a more zealous officer, or a better practical seaman, does not exist In any service in the known world.—A report, backed by such officers, would have had the greatest weight in the country, and would have rendered it unnecessary to offer a word upon the subject. When I mention committees, I am completely within the practice of the present board: for I had the honour of being attached to a committee, consisting of three flag officers and a captain, to examine a gun carriage; and if this committee, with the exception of myself, had been appointed to examine Plymouth Sound, and report accordingly, the House would have had such an authority to have acted upon, as would have made all discussion unnecessary. This Sir, is a subject on which professional men have a great difference of opinion; indeed, Sir, the very men whose reports are upon your table, differ as much as possible. The one says there is ample room within the Breakwater to moor fifty sail of the line, and that they can weigh at any time, and with all winds. Another says thirty-six sail of the line; and a third tells you he agrees in general to the reports, but he would rather sign for thirty sail. The First Lord of the Admiralty last night reduced his opinion to twenty: and I do say that if the work can be accomplished to that extent, it will be a wonderful improvement, and do great honour to the present First Lord. I cannot. Sir, carry my views to this extent: I do not mean to say that in the area described within the Breakwater, thirty-six sail of the line may not be placed in fine weather to a mathematical nicety. The reports tell us, that when a ship is taking up her lee anchor, her gun-room port will be eight fathom from the weather anchor of the ship astern of her: I know that ships may lie closer, but that must be in deep water, where there is no chance of ships striking upon each other's anchor. The first great feeling of responsibility will be running in, and anchoring twenty, or even fifteen sail of the line, in a heavy gale from the south-south west, in the confined space of one mile by a large quarter wide; and if I had the honour of such a charge, I should feel great uneasiness, and that was running into this confined spot under some degree of risk. I am not quite satisfied about the effect of this Breakwater upon Cawsand bay, it may possibly injure it; and Cawsand bay has proved a valuable anchorage, under particular circumstances. The First Lord of the Admiralty alluded to the state of the enemy's ships, that their activity in building was beyond conception, and although they had now but one ship of the line in Brest water, they might soon have thirty-six, the same number which he proposed to place under the Breakwater. If this thirty-six sail of the line should be caught within this Breakwater, in a strong wind from south to S. S. E. the enemy's fleet might sail from Brest to Ireland, and reach it, before (including the time for intelligence) our fleet could well get out of Plymouth Sound. The distance from Plymouth and Brest to Ireland, is nearly the same. In such a situation of things, Sir, the enemy would be invited to invade Ireland, for who is there who will venture to contra- dict me, when I assert, that Ireland will be the stepping-stone to the invasion of England, and not England to the invasion of Ireland? Then, Sir, would it not be a wise measure, to apply this vote to a naval establishment in Bantry bay, would it not conciliate the affections of the people, and would it not shew that you were determined to treat them with confidence, and afford them the best protection against the common enemy? Sir, I will only detain the House to say, that although I do not think the Breakwater will by any means answer to the effect of the calculation upon your table: yet the right hon. gentleman has every credit for bringing forward any proposition to improve our road-steads. I am sorry to differ as to the extent of advantage, and in some respects as to the mode of proceeding; but on the great principle of improving our naval establishments, I certainly concur. With respect to what fell from the right hon. gentleman on the subject of Cherbourg, I can only say, that while I had the honour of commanding that blockade, in the absence of a most experienced and gallant officer, captain Malcolm, I saw with astonishment the activity with which the enemy was building his line of battle ships, completing the works about his bason, and the Breakwater which formed his roadstead.

Captain Beresford

thought the Breakwater would not injure Plymouth Sound; and that if it should only hold four or five sail it was worth the expence. The enemy could not get out of Brest with a south wind.

Sir Joseph Yorke

spoke in favour of the measure; and hoped that the hon. and gallant officer (sir H. Popham) would not press the question of opposing a committee of naval officers. He should have no hesitation of running into the Breakwater in a gale of wind, for which, in his opinion, his right hon. relation (Mr. Yorke) would long live in the recollection of the navy.

Sir R. Bickerton

approved of the measure.

Mr. Herbert

, of Kerry, said, that sir Samuel Bentham had asserted his having seen his plan carried into execution in foreign parts. Had this been enquired into?

Mr. Whitbread

had the highest respect for Mr. Rennie as a civil engineer; but at the same time he thought any thing coming from sir Samuel Bentham, civil engineer of the navy, was deserving of great consideration some of whose objections to Mr. Rennie's plan, owing to some informality were, he understood, never yet examined into. It might be questioned whether the improvement was equal to the expence, which although estimated at l,100,000l. would in the end probably amount to two millions; and it might also now be doubted from the opinions delivered, whether this work would bring about any relaxation in the blockading system. He was glad, however, that something was likely to be done; nothing being so bad as indecision; yet before going too far it might be advisable to enquire farther into the practicability of the measure.

Sir Charles Pole

held the objection of a fleet getting out of Brest before it was possible to get out of the Breakwater perfectly nugatory. He lamented that the work was not begun in 1806.

Lord Cochrane

imputed the supposed necessity for this Breakwater to the usage of making men of war take in their masts, &c. in open roadsteads, instead of going into harbour for that purpose; a practice which occasioned the greatest discontent in the navy, as it prevented the sailors from ever getting on shore. Under the existing circumstances of the country, he thought every expence not absolutely necessary ought to be avoided, but, if he might be permitted to do so, he would move as an amendment to the question before the House, "That towards the construction of this Breakwater, a duty of 50 per cent. be levied on all Sinecures, which the committees of parliament had declared ought to be abolished, and a duty of 20 per cent. on all other sinecures."

The Speaker

observed, that it was not competent to the noble lord to make such an amendment. All that the House could do was, directly to assent to or dissent from the motion for agreeing to the resolution.

Lord Cochrane

said, that the money which, according to his proposition, might be raised from the holders of revenue offices, would be much better employed in dropping stones into Plymouth Sound, than in giving Burgundy, Champagne, and dances to the ladies of London.

Mr. Baring

thought the proposed naval arsenal at Northfleet more necessary than the Breakwater in Plymouth Sound.

Mr. Yorke

said, the Breakwater would in a very few years, by the saving it would occasion, more than repay its expence, He thought that both the arsenal at North- fleet and the present work were necessary; and that we had not yet done enough. Mr. Bentham was not, as had been stated, civil engineer of the navy, and had at present sufficient occupation in his own department. The sum wanted at present was merely to enable the necessary preparations to be made; and no pains would be spared to get information with respect to the carrying the plan into execution.

The resolution was then put and agreed to