§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
Sir, I rise to put a Question to the noble Lord the Secretary of the Admiralty, of which I have given him private notice. I have this morning received a letter from a gentleman at Devonport, who is well known to me, and who, I think I may venture to say, would not have made me any statement which he did not believe to be strictly accurate. My object in putting the Question is to ascertain from the noble Lord whether the statement which I have received is true; and, as I think it necessary that it should be understood with the utmost precision, if the House will permit me, I will read it—Devonport, March 7.Dear Sir,—It appears the Admiralty telegraphed to the authorities here to despatch the Avon to intercept the Narcissus, with a view to recall Sir Baldwin Walker.The Port-Admiral replied that the Himalaya was under steam, and being a very fast vessel, whether it would not be better to send her out to look after the Narcissus.The Admiralty answered 'No, send the Avon;' showing they have no wish to recall Sir Baldwin Walker. The Avon is a mere tub.I merely wish to ask my noble Friend is that statement true?
§ LORD CLARENCE PAGET
Sir, in reply to the question of my right hon. Friend, perhaps the best thing I can do is to quote the telegrams that have passed on this subject between the Admiralty and the Port-Admiral at Plymouth. I must, however, premise these by saying that the Himalaya has been under repairs in the Dockyard of Devonport; that her cylinders have been very defective, and that it was very doubtful whether she might not require new ones. This explanation will make the telegrams more intelligible—March 5.From Plymouth to the Admiralty.—The Himalaya has gone out on her trial.—(Received at 11.42 a.m.)1632To Plymouth.—Send the Avon to the southward of the Eddystone to endeavour to intercept the Narcissus. Make the officer the bearer of an order to Sir Baldwin Walker to repair to Devonport.—(Sent 11.52 a.m.)From Plymouth.—The Himalaya is just returning into the Sound. Shall she also proceed in search of the Narcissus?—(Received 1.21 p.m.)To Plymouth.—Why does she return so soon? What is the state of the weather?—(Sent at 1.38 p.m.)From Plymouth.—I have signalized to the Himalaya to know why she has returned. In answer to a question previously asked whether trial was satisfactory, she has signalized, 'Cannot report until to-morrow morning.' Weather, moderate and overcast; wind, west by south.—(Received 2.21 p.m.)From Plymouth.—The Himalaya's trial is concluded, but officers cannot report until cylinders have been examined inside.—(Received 2,44 p.m.)To Plymouth.—The Himalaya need not be sent in search of the Narcissus in addition to the Avon.—(Sent 3 p.m.)From Plymouth.—The Avon proceeded under steam at 3 p.m.—(Received 3.30 p.m.)Those were the telegrams received on that day. On the day following this telegram was received:—March 6.From Plymouth.—Examination of the Himalaya concluded. The hull appears perfectly sound; the after cylinder is so defective that the ship could not proceed to sea without incurring serious risk. Written report will be sent by post.—(Received 11.27 a.m.)
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
I wish now to put the question which I asked yesterday, and which the noble Lord said he could not answer without notice. I want to know whether there were not other steamers—fast and powerful steamers, one of them being the Jason—in Plymouth harbour, at the disposal of the Admiralty, at the time they sent out the Avon to bring back Sir Baldwin Walker?
§ LORD CLARENCE PAGET
said, he could only say that, under all the circumstances, the Admiralty considered that the best vessel that could be sent was the vessel which could be sent to sea at the shortest notice, and that vessel was the Avon. He regretted those constant and unremitting attacks on the Admiralty made it necessary for him to go particularly into the circumstances of the case. The Avon was ordered to go out into the Channel to cut off the Narcissus, not to follow her. No vessel lying at Devonport could possibly have followed, with a chance of catching her, a smart-going steam-frigate like the Narcissus. The order given to the Avon was to cut her off, and she had 1633 endeavoured to do so. If the right hon. Gentleman wished for further information he could inform him that he had seen the log of the Penguin, tender to the Narcissus, who had started with that ship, and had put into Plymouth for shelter, and it appears from that log that the Avon must have been very close to her, but the weather being overcast she failed to make her out.
§ MR. CONINGHAM
said, he wished to know whether the Government admitted that it was impossible to bring back Sir Baldwin Walker?
§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
said, he looked upon this as a matter of very great importance. On Friday night several Members called upon the Government to recall Sir Baldwin Walker. (Cries of "Order!") He would conclude with a Motion, in order that he might be in order. Sir Baldwin Walker was then in Yarmouth Roads, where the Narcissus lay till 10.30 on Monday morning, when she proceeded to sea. The weather was then such that he was satisfied no man would have proceeded to sea of his own free will, especially with a new ship, a fresh ship's company, and new rigging; and the inference he drew was that Sir Baldwin Walker had been forced to go to sea, and with orders not to be caught.
§ LORD CLARENCE PAGET
said, he rose to order. The hon. and gallant Gentleman's statements were totally unfounded. Sir Baldwin Walker had no such orders from the Admiralty.
§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
said, he wanted to get at the bottom of this transaction. He wished for more information.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, he rose to order. The time for asking questions had not passed, and till then no statement could be made by any hon. Member.
§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
said, he intended to conclude his remarks by moving the adjournment of the House. The question was very important, and it behoved the Admiralty to clear the question up. The House were about to appoint a Committee to inquire into the doings of the Admiralty. Sir Baldwin Walker had been Surveyor of the Navy for something like twenty years, he had been concerned in two reconstructions of the navy, and he knew more of that branch and of the working of the Admiralty than any other man, and yet he had been sent out 1634 to the Cape of Good Hope just before that Committee began their inquiries. The labours of that Committee would, in his opinion, be perfectly futile without the assistance of Sir Baldwin Walker. He would ask whether Sir Baldwin Walker had not been forced to sea on this occasion at a time when a ship would not naturally have proceeded to sea during the late heavy gales of wind, and whether the ordinary means of getting Sir Baldwin Walker back had not been neglected. If the Himalaya had one of her cylinders defective that would not disqualify her from proceeding to sea for a day or two, though it was a reason why she should not start on a long voyage. The Avon was an old paddle-wheel tub, one of the slowest vessels in the navy, and in very heavy weather all she could do would be to get a little southward of the Eddystone, off the Lizard, and there stop. The House was also entitled to know why the Narcissus was allowed to pass Hurst Castle after Friday, when it was understood distinctly that Sir Baldwin Walker was to remain. Until Monday morning the Narcissus lay in Yarmouth Roads, and it would have been easy to communicate with Sir Baldwin Walker, without whose evidence the labours of the Committee would be useless. Moreover, if the Admiralty were really anxious on the subject they might yet succeed in bringing back Sir Baldwin Walker by sending a vessel to Madeira. He begged to move the adjournment of the House.
said, the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth had on Friday expressed a desire that Sir Baldwin Walker should be kept at home. The noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty then said that the Government had no objection to that course. The only person, however, whom the noble Lord could consult was the hon. and gallant Member (Admiral Duncombe), who had moved for the appointment of the Committee, and that hon. and gallant Member distinctly stated that he did not think the evidence of Sir Baldwin Walker would be required before the Committee. The noble Lord, having no other one to consult, did not then take any steps to detain Sir Baldwin Walker; but two nights afterwards the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) expressed a strong opinion that Sir Baldwin Walker should be detained, and even went so far 1635 as to say that the Committee would be a total failure unless he was detained. Other hon. Members spoke to the same effect, and then the Government adopted every means in their power to stop Sir Baldwin Walker. He must say he was surprised at the number of telegrams that had passed to and fro on the subject, and he doubted whether even the Himalaya could have overtaken the Narcissus. The Admiralty, he believed, took the only course that was practicable, and he could tell Gentlemen that it was not so easy a matter to intercept a vessel at sea. Looking at the matter in an impartial spirit he was of opinion that the Admiralty had done everything in their power to carry out the wishes of the House, and the reflection which had been cast upon the noble Lord was not in the slightest degree warranted.
said, he wished to put a question to the gallant Admiral (Admiral Duncombe) who had moved for the Committee. Now that the House had been informed of the fact that Sir Baldwin Walker had escaped he asked whether his hon. and gallant Friend would be kind enough to postpone the nomination of the Committee till Monday or Tuesday? He had agreed to serve on the Committee, but he wished to have time to consider whether he ought now to serve on it or not, having great doubts whether the Committee could be of any public utility. They must remember that this was no ordinary Committee, but one which would have to undergo great and lengthened labour; and the question with him was, whether, in the absence of Sir Baldwin Walker, its labours would be of any use?
said, that he had not the slightest objection to postpone the appointment of the Committee for the convenience of hon. Members. His desire, however, was that as the House had decided to have a Committee, no unnecessary delay in its nomination should take place. Some delay had already taken place in consequence of the Motion brought forward the other evening by the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth. He was in doubt whether his hon. and gallant Friend (Sir James Elphinstone) having carried his Motion for a Committee on another subject, would be able to serve on the Admiralty Committee. He found that his hon. and gallant Friend would still be able to serve on the Committee, and he was desirous that as little further delay should take place as possible. He should be sorry 1636 if anything prevented his right hon. Friend (Mr. Henley) from serving on the Committee, as his presence upon it would be of the greatest possible importance. He must say that he thought a great stalking-horse had been made of this matter of Sir Baldwin Walker. He had already stated, and he was still of the same opinion, that the presence of Sir Baldwin Walker before the Committee was not necessary. Sir Baldwin Walker had been fully examined before the Dockyard Commission, and the Report of that Committee, comprising Sir Baldwin Walker's evidence, would be laid before the House immediately; and nothing would be easier than to refer that Report to the Committee which had been appointed to inquire into the Admiralty. That Report contained every tittle of evidence Sir Baldwin Walker could give upon the matter. Every one who had heard his gallant Friend examined before the Committee knew that he did not make a very good witness. Sir Baldwin Walker was so very anxious and so over careful of every word he uttered, that he was not so good a witness as people might suppose. The evidence which the gallant officer gave was in print, and, therefore, much more valuable to the Committee than his re-examination would be. It was evident that the Admiralty had made one mistake—in not putting the Avon under the command of his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth, for his hon. and gallant Friend (Sir James Elphinstone) said nothing would have been easier than to have cut off the Narcissus—naval officers sent on special orders were, however, he thought, usually active and diligent, and he felt satisfied that if it had been possible the duty would have been accomplished. When he understood that the Government acceded to his Commission, and that Sir Baldwin Walker would be detained to give evidence before it, if the Committee thought it necessary, he expressed an opinion that the public service demanded that the gallant Admiral should leave this country and repair to his station as rapidly as possible. Sir Baldwin was appointed to his command before the Committee was thought of, and, as the Cape of Good Hope station had been without a commander for six or eight months, he could not allow the public service to suffer from any supposed necessity for the presence of that individual.
§ LORD CLARENCE PAGET
I am only going to say one word in answer to the hon. Baronet (Sir James Elphinstone). 1637 I stated distinctly that the Admiralty had not either publicly or privately given any order to Sir Baldwin Walker to get away as soon as he could, so as to avoid any chance of being stopped. Sir Baldwin's orders were sent to him on Wednesday, 27th February, and he did not leave until Saturday the 2nd March. There has been no further communication with him, and the first knowledge of his whereabouts was a letter from him received at the Admiralty on Tuesday last, stating that he was under way, and had left Yarmouth Roads within the Needles on the morning of the 4th. It is a totally inaccurate assertion that the Admiralty desired to force him off. It is equally inaccurate to state that the Admiralty, when they had the opportunity of stopping him in Yarmouth Roads, failed to do so.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
Sir, I should not have taken any part in this discussion but for the speech of the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Lindsay) who seems to have an inaccurate recollection of what has taken place in connection with this matter. I would remind him of these facts—as long ago as the 15th of February I spoke to the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury, and also to the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty, and expressed my strong opinion that the evidence of Sir Baldwin Walker was necessary for the Committee, and that I hoped he would receive the earliest possible intimation that it was necessary for him to stay and be examined. When I explained to the House the reason why I had given up the intention of moving for the Committee, I also explained to the House why, in my opinion, it was of importance that Sir Baldwin Walker should be examined. Nothing further occurred until Thursday in last week, when the hon. Gentleman the Member for Portsmouth, in moving his Resolutions relative to the Admiralty, made a strong statement of the importance of Sir Baldwin Walker's evidence. I followed, and repeated my opinion to the same effect. The noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty then gave a pledge that if it were the wish of the House of Commons Sir Baldwin Walker should be detained.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
I have stated nothing that is not correct. The next night my right hon. Friend (Mr. Henley) repeated his strong opinion that Sir Baldwin Walker ought to give evi- 1638 dence. On both occasions these opinions were received by the House in the manner in which it is the habit of hon. Members to express their concurrence. There was the wish of the hon. Gentleman (Sir James Elphinstone), that of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Henley), and my own, all strongly declared, against which no strong opinion was expressed, except by the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Admiral Buncombe) who told the noble Lord he did not wish to detain Sir Baldwin Walker. This occurred on Friday night, and on Saturday morning Sir Baldwin Walker went to sea. Late on Monday evening I felt it my duty to call the attention of the Government and of the House to the circumstances under which Sir Baldwin Walker was sent to sea, and what occurred then? The noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty, in answer to an appeal made to him by myself and others, pledged himself that night to take steps which should secure the recall of Sir Baldwin Walker. The noble Lord the Prime Minister followed, and his expression was "immediate steps shall be taken." We have now heard from the noble Lord the manner in which that twofold pledge was redeemed. Nothing was done that night. At nearly twelve o'clock next day a telegram was sent down to Devonport, and an order was given that the Avon, notoriously the slowest vessel in the service—at least one of the slowest—should be sent after the Admiral, while two or three of the most powerful vessels in the service were at the disposal of the Admiralty. This the noble Lord forgot or he would never have said that the Government had done all they could to secure the return of Sir Baldwin Walker.
§ MR. BENTINCK
said, that occasional discussions of this kind were very good things, and no doubt were very refreshing; but it appeared to him, at all events, that fair play should not be lost sight of, and that a proper understanding of the case should be arrived at. He confessed it appeared to him that a great misconception existed in the minds of several hon. Members in respect to this matter. In the first place, his noble and gallant Friend the Secretary of the Admiralty was distinctly charged then and had been charged on a former occasion with having broken a pledge he had given to that House. Now, he (Mr. Bentinck), having been present at all the discussions that took place on this subject—having attended to them carefully, and having been one of those nominated to serve 1639 on the Committee—felt, perhaps, a special interest in the matter; and he was bound to say, so far as his opinion went, he thought that the charge against his noble and gallant Friend was totally unfounded.—[An hon. MEMBER: There was no such charge.]—He begged the hon. Member's pardon. A charge was distinctly made, unless his ears deceived him, that his noble and gallant Friend had broken his pledge to that House. He again repeated, as far as he was able to understand the facts of the case, that such a charge was without foundation. He would tell the House why he thought so. It was true that an appeal had been made to his noble and gallant Friend on the subject of the Admiralty detaining Sir Baldwin Walker; and, as he understood, his noble and gallant Friend said he would assent to that appeal if it were the wish of the House. But his noble and gallant Friend afterwards consulted the hon. and gallant Admiral the Member for the East Biding of Yorkshire (Admiral Duncombe) on the subject, and it was the opinion of that gallant officer that the presence of Sir Baldwin Walker before the Committee was not necessary. Now the suggestion made from that (the Opposition) side of the House was not followed up by any distinct Motion or recommendation on the subject; and it, therefore, appeared to him that his noble and gallant Friend was entirely exonerated from the charge of having violated any pledge. But there was another point upon which he thought a misconception had arisen. Hon. Members supposed that Boards of Admiralty were not as cognizant of sea-going matters as they ought to be. His noble and gallant Friend had been charged, and the Board of Admiralty likewise, with having trifled with the House, after having undertaken to recall Sir Baldwin Walker. ("Hear, hear!") He had no doubt but that the hon. Gentleman who had just cheered so loudly was fully acquainted with the details of a chase of this kind down the Channel. But the case was simply this. Hon. Members had gone on harping on the fact that the Himalaya had not been sent after the Narcissus. The reason, however, for not having done so had, he thought, been distinctly shown by his noble and gallant Friend. It was true as had been stated that the Avon was a very slow steamer. But he believed that any man who was commonly acquainted with he subject was aware of the fact stated by his noble and gallant Friend—namely, that as the object of sending out the Avon 1640 was not to chase the Narcissus, but to cut her off, if only three knots an hour could begot out of her, she would be just as competent to do that duty as the fastest vessel in Her Majesty's Navy. ("No, no!") He hoped that the hon. Member who differed from him in that opinion would distinctly show that what he said was wrong. He again repeated that the slowest tub that ever left the shores of Great Britain was just as competent to the discharge of the duty assigned to the Avon as the fastest-steamer that ever swam. It appeared, too, from the log of the Avon, that so far from her not having been fast enough, she was actually dodging in the track of the Narcissus at the time the Narcissus passed Plymouth, but from the state of the weather she was unable to sight her. He asked what would be the use of sending out a vessel that steamed twelve knots an hour if a vessel that only steamed seven knots was fully able to arrive at her destination in time to effect her purpose. That entirely disposed of any suspicion that the Admiralty had not done all that could have been done under the circumstances. He concurred in the opinion expressed by the hon. and gallant Member for the East Riding of Yorkshire that there was no necessity for Sir Baldwin Walker's examination. He did not, however, think it necessary to go into that question. He was of opinion there was a total misconception of the whole question, and he should be glad to hear any hon. Member attempt to show that he was wrong in his impressions of the facts of the case.
§ MR. CONINGHAM
said, that it was very important that the House should not lose sight of the real question, which was whether it was necessary that Sir Baldwin Walker should appear before the Committee, and whether the House expressed a desire the other evening that that gallant officer should be detained. He had heard the whole discussion, and went home with the conviction that Sir Baldwin Walker's progress to his station would be stopped. When the position which Sir Baldwin Walker had held was considered, it seemed like trifling with the common sense of the House to send abroad on the eve of an important investigation respecting the navy the man who by his practical knowledge could give the most important evidence to clear up disputed points, and he was of opinion that the Government were bound to produce him as a witness.
§ MR. COCHRANE
said, he felt himself 1641 incompetent to speak upon the qualities of I steam-vessels. He could not, however, but express his regret that at the very time when a Committee of inquiry was being appointed, the hon. Member for Portsmouth should have made observations tending to raise doubts as to the veracity of the Admiralty.
§ SIR LAWRENCE PALK
said, he could not but express his surprise that the noble Lord the Secretary of the Admiralty should require the opinion of the House of Commons upon what his sense of duty ought to have instructed him. Recollecting how eager a reformer of abuses at the Admiralty the present noble Secretary to that Board used to be, he should have thought that the noble Lord would have made every effort to bring all the evidence possible before the Committee. He was convinced that the opinion out of doors would be that fair play had not been exhibited towards that House, and that the Admiralty had managed to get rid of one who might have proved a very inconvenient witness for them.
§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
said, he wished to say a few words in explanation. The gallant Admiral (Admiral Duncombe) had made a statement which seemed to impute to him (Sir James Elphinstone), in his observations that evening, an intention of reflecting upon the character of the commander of the Avon as an efficient seaman. He begged to say that he bad intended nothing of the sort. On the contrary, he thought if it were possible for the Avon to have intercepted the Narcissus she would have done so under the guidance of her commander.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Put and negatived.
§ On Motion "That the House at rising do adjourn till Monday next"