§ THE EARL OF HARDWICKE,
in rising to move, That there be laid before this House Copy of the Contract made with 349 the Owners of the Steam Ship Austria, for the Conveyance of the 94th Regiment to India, said, that the conveyance of troops was a question which at all times interested the public, and it was a question relating not only to the economy of time and money, but regarding also the safety of brave men. In the month of August last the 94th Regiment was ordered to proceed to India. That regiment, he might say, having been sixteen years in that country, though it had been but one year at home, was selected as one peculiarly fitted for the service. The Government naturally wished to despatch the regiment with all speed, and the East India Company, with the sanction of the Government, engaged a vessel named the Austria to transport the troops. That vessel was not the property of an English subject or an English company. She was to sail from Cork upon the 5 th of October. The troops were prepared to embark upon three separate occasions, but were prevented by delays. At length they sailed, but very soon the vessel was obliged to put back to Plymouth. Again they sailed, but again they put back, and eventually the Government were obliged to send the troops by the overland route, and to engage an Irish steamer to convey them to Alexandria for that purpose. The Austria was taken up from a Dutch company as he understood. It was now a thoroughly established principle that the Government were to accept the lowest tender for conveyance, where good securities were given. That principle should be carried out, but there were occasions on which it was right to make exceptions, and it was a question whether those exceptions were not fitly made where shipping was employed on important objects, considering that the shipping of the British nation was far better adapted for British purposes than the shipping of foreign nations. With respect to this particular ship he understood that she was a fine looking ship, but she was pronounced by the surveyor to be unfitted in her then condition for the conveyance of troops to India. It was then proposed that she should have a spar deck put over her main body, so as to make her more commodious. After a time, that deck not being finished, she put to sea with the regiment, having partly completed her deck, but starting probably to avoid the penalties of demurrage which a continued delay would 350 have entailed. She, therefore, went to sea in this condition, contrary to the directions of the surveyors. When she got into the Bay of Biscay, she shipped so much water that she was compelled to put back. The surveyor then ordered the deck to be put on; which detained her six weeks; after which, on the 4th of October, she put to sea. On the 25th of November a portion of her machinery broke down, and she put back to Plymouth. When deprived of the use of her engines she was found to be a most difficult vessel under sail, and she had to be towed into Plymouth by two steamers. The crew were all foreigners but two, and there was no possibility of communication with them. This fact in a great degree augmented the anxiety of the passengers. From the 5th of October, when that vessel sailed from Cork for the East Indies, she had only arrived at Plymouth. On the point of economy of time and money, therefore, this vessel had completely broken down. While this system was going on, there were in the ports of England a steam navy boasted of as numbering 270 ships of various sizes, and a reserve of 10,000 men substituted for the coast-guard, instead of pressing men for the sudden manning of ships. It had been observed that the manning of the navy had been very much lost sight, and that there was a large list of officers doing nothing but receiving the public half-pay. It was a subject of astonishment that these officers were not otherwise made use of. The St. Jean d'Acre was lying at Plymouth, and of all the ships in the world there was nothing like a British man-of-war for carrying troops. Take out the lower guns, and there was the most perfect transport that existed in the world. The contract cost of conveyance of each man on board the Austria was £45, or nearly £30,000 on the whole, so that in point of money the employment of the Royal steamers would be a great gain to the country. With the experience of the Russian war before us, in which the transport service had cost the country no less than £9,000,000, he was justified in asking the House to consider whether it would not be advantageous to avail ourselves of the resources in the Royal harbours and dockyards. Now that we should have to maintain nearly 100,000 European troops in the East Indies, it was probable that there would be a re- 351 gular demand for vessels to convey troops to that country, and he would suggest that the Government should organize a system of transports, which should be entirely under their control, in order that they might, with facility and at a moderate expense, send troops to any quarter of the globe at a moment's notice. The noble Earl then moved for the Paper.
§ LORD PANMURE
said, that his noble Friend, in making the Motion which he had just submitted to the House, seemed to have altogether lost sight of the fact that the transport of troops to India was contracted for by the East India Company, and that the vessels which were employed upon that service were surveyed by a surveyor, specially employed by the Company for the purpose. He might also inform the noble Earl that the system was one which had not been adopted of late years, but one which had been in existence ever since the troops of the Sovereign began to be conveyed to India. The Company was responsible for the expense of the conveyance of our troops from this country to India, but when they were about to return home, and were consequently no longer to be regarded as in the service of the Company, we were obliged to bear the cost of their transport. Now, out of the large number of vessels which had been employed by the Company in the conveyance of nearly fifty thousand soldiers who had left these shores for India, the Austria was, he believed, the only one in whose case a casualty had occurred, and the only one in reference to which he had heard any complaint made against the Company for not having paid due attention to the comfort and safety of the regiments which were embarked under their auspices. It was quite true that they had been accused, and perhaps not without some degree of justice, of selecting, in the first instance, ships of too small a calibre, and of distributing the troops in too many vessels; but, be that as it might, nobody could deny that the Court of Directors had latterly shown the greatest anxiety to secure for the transport of the troops the best vessels. With respect to the Austria, he would only say that the facts in relation to her had been correctly stated by his noble Friend opposite. She had been in the first instance found not to be sufficiently well adapted for the conveyance of troops 352 upon a long voyage, and after considerable delay on the part of the Company in chartering her—for he must say in justification of the illustrious Duke at the head of the army, that he was not responsible for any delay which might have taken place in the embarkation of the 94th Regiment, inasmuch as when it had been notified to him that the regiment had been ordered on foreign service, he had made every endeavour to send it at once down to the port of embarkation—a still further loss of time had been occasioned in fitting her with those decks and cabins which had been considered to be essential to the comfort of the troops upon along voyage. When, after those alterations had been effected, the Austria had set out upon her voyage, she met with an accident, but it was one of a nature which, he must contend, might happen to any vessel, and no sooner had the occurrence of the accident been ascertained than the determination had been come to to send the 94th Regiment viâ Alexandria, so that it might be expected to arrive in India not long after the period at which it would have reached that country had it been conveyed by the vessel in which it had embarked in the first instance. With reference to transport service generally, to which the noble Earl had called their Lordships' attention, and which was entirely under the control of the Admiralty, he could only say that he entirely concurred with his noble Friend in thinking that there could be no valid objection to the employment of the large class of vessels at the disposal of the Admiralty. Indeed, to prove to his noble Friend that Her Majesty's Ministers were not disinclined to use those vessels, he might state that in bringing home our troops from the Mediterranean one of Her Majesty's ships had been engaged. The noble Earl must, however, bear in mind that the officers in the navy were extremely adverse to having their ships employed as transports. Indeed, there was nothing which the captain of one of these vessels would in all probability like less than to be obliged to take out his lower-deck guns for the purpose of conveying a regiment of troops, and that such was the case his noble Friend must from his own experience be aware. A circumstance of that nature, however, was not one which ought to preclude the use of those vessels, when necessary, in 353 the transport service, and he should only add that upon no occasion on which it had been found necessary to send troops to any part of the world on the responsibility of the Government had the Board of Admiralty shown any indisposition to devote to the transport service the best vessels at their command. He should, of course, if his noble Friend wished for its production, have the copy of the contract which had been entered into with the owners of the Austria laid upon their Lordships' table; but as that document had nothing to do with the general question of the conveyance of troops upon the responsibility of Government, he trusted his noble Friend would deem it unnecessary to press his Motion.
§ In reply to Lord MELVILLE,
§ LORD PANMURE
stated, that the officer by whom the Austria had been surveyed was a gentleman who was employed by the East India Directors exclusively for the purpose of surveying their transports
§ Motion agreed to.
§ House adjourned at Eight o'clock till To-morrow, Three o'clock.