HC Deb 05 December 1867 vol 190 cc632-4

, in moving a Resolution approving the Contract with Mr. W. Cunard, for Conveyance of the Halifax, Bermuda, and St. Thomas Mails, said, that the contract was for a sum of £19,500 for ten years, for a service once in four weeks; but in the event of the Postmaster General desiring to determine the contract at the end of five years, Mr. Cunard was to receive £1,000 a year additional. The reason for the maintenance of this service was concisely given in a letter from the Secretary to the Admiralty to the Secretary of the Treasury, dated April 26, 1867— With reference to my letter of the 31st of July, 1866, respecting the discontinuance of the contract with Messrs. Cunard for conveying the North American mails, I am commanded by my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to acquaint you that they have received an inquiry from the Postmaster General as to the necessity of continuing the mail service between Halifax and St. Thomas, viâ Bermuda, which, under existing arrangements with Messrs. Cunard, will terminate on the 2nd of January next. I am commanded by their Lordships to request you will state to the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury that their Lordships have informed the Postmaster General that the withdrawal of this mail packet would be attended with the greatest inconvenience to the public service. It is by this route the naval Commander-in-Chief on the North American station keeps up his communications with Jamaica, Barbadoes, and all the various islands and colonies in the West Indies and the Gulf of Mexico, and to cut off this means of communication appears to their Lordships to be most unadvisable. Under these circumstances tenders were called for, and the tender accepted was the only one presented. The amount was considerably higher than the Treasury had expected, and the Admiralty were therefore asked whether they could not undertake the service themselves. Their reply was as follows:— In the event of the service having to be undertaken by this Department, it could not be performed with less than two vessels. The cost of building two suitable vessels is estimated at £70,000, there being none of Her Majesty's ships at present disposable. The annual cost of wages, victuals, coals, and wear and tear is estimated at not less than £25,000. There seemed, therefore, to be no alternative but to accept the tender. As to the terminal port of St. Thomas, power would be given in the contract to the Postmaster General to change the port to another port in the West Indies if such a change should hereafter be deemed necessary, the terms to be paid to Mr. Cunard for this alteration to be settled by mutual agreement, or failing that, by arbitration.

Moved, "That the Contract entered into with Mr. W. Cunard, for the conveyance of Mails between Halifax, Bermuda, and St. Thomas, be approved."—(Mr. Hunt.)


said, that the last statement had rendered it unnecessary for him to make the remarks he had intended to offer. He was glad to hear that the Postmaster General would be empowered to remove the mails from the pestilential island of St. Thomas, from which ship after ship had brought home the yellow fever. Another reason why St. Thomas should no longer be the central point of our mail services to the West Indies was that the island had now ceased to be a Danish dependency, and had become the property of the United States. The main objection, however, to it was the mortality among the sailors and passengers in the mail packets. Another route might be adopted with equal advantage. He congratulated the country that this power was reserved to the Postmaster General, and hoped it would soon be exercised.


complained that sufficient time was not allowed in making the arrangements for these contracts, and that they were left to the last moment. He found no fault with the Cunard Company, which did its work well; but why could not some of our Government vessels do this service? Surely it would be a good thing for the men and officers of the Royal Navy to have something to do in this way.


said, that the Secretary of the Treasury had already answered the hon. Gentleman, by showing that the performance of the service by the Royal Navy would not be an economical arrangement. It would be absolutely necessary to build new vessels, for a man-of-war would be as unsuitable to the service as a mail packet would be to perform the duties of a man-of-war. The Board had reduced the squadron to the lowest point compatible with the duties it had to perform; and it would not be an economical step to increase it.

Motion agreed to