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The loss of HMS Megaera in 1871
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Despite misgivings in some circles about her suitability for the task, the 22 year old iron troopship Megaera was commissioned in 1871 to take new crews out to the Blanche and the Rosario on the Australian station. In the Indian Ocean she developed a leak and had to be beached on the remote St Paul's Island (Google map; photos). The crew of nearly 300 all survived this ordeal despite having to wait nearly three months before being rescued. This event led to accusations of sloppy administration and complacency at the Admiralty, accusations which were shown to be fully justified by a Royal Commission subsequently ordered to investigate the case. The investigations of this Commission showed that the Admiralty had lost track of the fact that the ship had not been properly examined since 1864, and that an experimental cement - to protect the inner surface of the iron hull - which had been proved to be quite unsuitable, and had been replaced in other vessels to which it had been applied, was never replaced in the Megaera. The personnel of the Royal Naval dockyards were also shown to take, apparently unbeknown to the Admiralty, a very restricted view of their responsibilities, only dealing with problems reported by the ships crew, and declaring ships to be fit for sea without proper investigation. These failures allowed the Megaera to be sent on a voyage to the other side of the world, with plates seriously weakened by the action of bilge water on the unprotected inner hull.
(See also the accounts and illustrations in the Illustrated London News, an eyewitness account by an anonymous officer, published in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, this description from the journal kept by the vessel's Surgeon, William Hogarth Adam, and the Report of the Royal Commission appointed to investigate the case.)
|Extracts from the Times newspaper|
|Fr 4 August 1871|
LOSS OF HER MAJESTY'S SHIP MEGAERA.
Intelligence has been received at the Admiralty, by telegraph from Batavia, that Her Majesty's ship Megaera has run ashore, in a sinking state, at St. Paul's Island. Crew and passengers all saved.The following telegram also has been received from the Commodore at Hongkong, dated August 3, 4 53:-
"Megaera ran ashore; sinking; Saint Paul's Island; all saved. Have chartered steamer here take people Sydney."
|Fr 4 August 1871||The telegrams received at the Admiralty yesterday, following upon the loss of the Captain and the stranding of the Agincourt, cannot but produce a painful impression on the public mind. The troopship Megaera has been lost halfway between the Cape and her destination, Australia. If any one will look at a map, he will find two little islands, St. Paul's and Amsterdam, lying in mid ocean just in the middle of the course from Cape Town to the southern point of West Australia. Upon the former of these isolated points the Megaera was run in a sinking state early in the last month or, perhaps, towards the end of June. Her crew and passengers, consisting of 93 officers and some 350 men, have all been saved, and, though the brief telegraphic despatches received at Whitehall give no information on the point, we may assume that at the actual time when the ship was run ashore the weather was not otherwise than fine. The Megaera may have encountered bad weather after leaving the Cape, so as to reduce her to such a plight that her captain was obliged to run his ship ashore to save the officers and troops on board, but the fact that the crew and passengers were all saved argues a smooth sea at the time of the wreck. What would have been the result had not these islets of St. Paul and Amsterdam lain in the way is too distressing for us to discuss. We should not, indeed, be justified in suggesting the reflection but for the circumstances under which the officers were embarked on board the Megaera when she set out on her voyage. When we remember the warnings then given we cannot avoid thinking of the risk which has been run of her disappearance in mid ocean, unknown and unthought of, until after months of slowly-waning hope a melancholy conviction of her loss had forced itself upon the minds even of those most dearly interested in believing her possible safety.|
All have been saved, and we give hearty and humble thanks for their deliverance. The inconveniences they must have suffered and will suffer are as nothing. By some means or another intelligence of the disaster has been conveyed to the Dutch settlement of Batavia, and has reached Hong-kong, and the Commodore at that station, in his telegram dated yesterday, says he has chartered a steamer to convey the shipwrecked people to Sydney. It will take that steamer at least three weeks, probably a month, to reach the sufferers; but we may fairly hope, from the circumstances of the wreck, that sufficient provisions have been saved, and, in the mild climate of an island in 38 deg. S., the shelter of tents rigged up with spars and canvas will be ample protection. The question will, however, of course, be asked, how it could have happened that in a direct run from Cape Town to Australia one of the troopships of HER MAJESTY could have broken down midway and exposed so many valuable lives to peril. We shall not attempt to discuss a question which must be investigated before a Court-Martial, but we cannot help remembering the questions and answers - we might almost say the bickerings - between Mr. KAVANAGH and Mr. GOSCHEN as to the seaworthiness of the ship before she left Cork. On the 6th of March last Mr. KAVANAGH asked the FIRST LORD whether the ship then in Cork harbour was not overloaded both with men and cargo, and, "moreover, in an unseaworthy condition, leaking from stem to stem," and whether the ship had not been ordered to proceed from Plymouth to Cork in spite of the distinct assurance of her Commander that she was not ready for sea. Mr. BAXTER, in Mr. GOSCHEN'S absence, replied that "there was not a word of truth in the statement that she was unseaworthy, and leaking from stem to stern," but admitted that after her loading had been completed a large quantity of private baggage and stores had been taken on board for which sufficient allowance had not been made, and "the condition of some of the main deck ports, moreover, seems to have been imperfect, and in consequence the water washed from side to side, wetting the things that had not been stowed away." The Captain (THRUPP) had sailed from Plymouth with some reluctance, but the Rear-Admiral at Cork reported that the ports were then mended and relined and new ones placed where necessary, and if about 100 tons of stores were landed and the officers on board reduced by four the ship might be sent on her voyage. Four days later it appeared, in answer to a second question from Mr. KAVANAGH, that the diminution of the cargo by 100 tons had been deemed sufficient without reducing the number of officers. Six days later Mr. KAVANAGH again questioned the FIRST LORD on the state of the vessel, and this time Mr. WALPOLE also made inquiries. Mr. GOSCHEN'S answers stated that the Megaera was built in May, 1849, and had just been reported upon as "sound and strong," and that last year she had brought 270 passengers, in addition to her crew of 92 men, and 337 tons of stores, from Malta to England. In reply to a suggestion that the Admiral at Queenstown had ordered her ports to be closed, caulked, and pitched, and had added that they might be opened when the ship got into the tropics, Mr. GOSCHEN denied it altogether, saying that the lower half ports had always been closed and caulked, and their caulking had been renewed, but the upper half ports were fitted to open, and had not been closed. Once more, however, Mr. GOSCHEN was asked on the 21st of March whether he would lay Mr. REED'S report on his survey of the Megaera on the table, when he said he believed there had been no such survey, and, at all events, the Admiralty had no such report, and he should have probably refused to produce it if it existed.It is unnecessary and it would be unjust to do anything more, at present, than recapitulate the questions and answers which form the recent Parliamentary history of the Megaera. She sailed from the Cove of Cork, and put into Simon's Bay on the 18th of May for supplies, leaving again for Australia on the 28th. A month after, or thereabout, she must have been reduced to the state which compelled her captain to run her ashore at St. Paul's. What occurred in the interval, whether anything happened to make a seaworthy ship unseaworthy, or whether the patching up she had received was insufficient for the strain of a course across the Southern Ocean, are points on which judgment must be suspended until information has been received and judicially examined. Yet we must give expression to a feeling all Englishmen must share of something like alarm at the degree in which our confidence in the Navy has been lately shaken. Our Navy is our right arm, and if our right arm fails us in peaceful times what will it do in real danger? The compliments the commanders of other Navies have been pleased to shower upon our holyday trim in port furnish small comfort when we hear of a troopship reduced to a sinking condition in mid seas, before we have recovered from our astonishment at one of our finest vessels running in open day and in fair weather upon a rock familiarly known to our seamen for generations past, and while we are still lamenting the terrible tragedy of the Captain.
|Sa 5 August 1871|
THE LOSS OP THE MEGAERA.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir,- With reference to your remark, in a leading article of The Times of to-day, upon an alleged survey of the Megaera by me - a remark based upon a question put in the House of Commons in March last by the Hon. Mr. Walpole, M.P. for North Norfolk - permit me to say that I certainly examined the Megaera in Woolwich Dockyard several years ago, and reported her fit only for a very brief period of further service, in consequence of the extreme thinness to which her plates had become worn by many years of almost continual use at sea. That period has long been exceeded.
The state of this ship is one of the many subjects respecting which I was anxious on leaving office to communicate with my successors, but upon which the late First Lord of the Admiralty preferred that I should be silent - nay, insisted that I should be.
When the seaworthiness of the Megaera was called in question in March last, Mr. Goschen publicly assured Mr. Walpole that I had apparently made no survey of, or report upon, the ship; but if he had done me the honour to ask me the question, instead of trusting to those who knew nothing about it, he would at once have ascertained that I had examined her, and that the ship was not fit for sea service, I wrote privately to Mr. Walpole to that effect, but in these days a county member of Parliament seems to be as little able to secure attention as a subordinate officer of the Admiralty, such as I once was. And yet it would seem reasonable that questions involving the life or death of some hundreds of Her Majesty's subjects and servants should secure a little thoughtful consideration occasionally.
I have said before, Sir, and I beg leave to repeat now, that the present administration of the Admiralty is utterly inconsistent with the safety of Her Majesty's naval officers and seaman, and, if it is continued, can have before long but one result - that of the refusal of both officers and men to embark in Her Majesty's ships.
I have been precluded for a whole year from making known to the professional advisers of the Admiralty the nature and grounds of my apprehensions touching certain vessels, but the time is coming when the safety of the Navy will claim at least equal consideration with the economy of the Navy, and when I shall not only be allowed to speak, but requested to do so, on matters lying within my own knowledge. It is amazing to me that men of intelligence, to say nothing of men who assume to manage the affairs of a nation, should fail to see that, in thrusting the great Navy of England into the hands of one man after another who knows nothing whatever about it, Parliament is both inviting and insuring a long course of disaster.
I have the honour to be, Sir, your obedient servant,
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir,- Observing in The Times the reported stranding of Her Majesty's ship Megaera on the island of St. Paul, in the Indian Ocean, and the fortunate landing of the passengers and crew, though upon so utterly destitute and barren a rock, I hasten to communicate to you, in the hope of mitigating painful anxieties of the relatives of the ship-wrecked, in case it should be assumed that no provisions, &c., could be landed with the crew, as to the local resources for obtaining food and water, that some few years since I visited St. Paul's Island, on my way to China, being anxious to determine its longitude, which differed in various records to the extent of 20 miles. This small island, only a few miles in circumference, is evidently the remains of an extinct volcanic crater, the edge of which has on one side broken down, leaving a water passage from the sea into the crater, which forms, as it were, a harbour for small ships.
Although destitute of springs of water, cattle, trees, or useful vegetation, yet the astonishing resources of its surrounding waters in large fish and Crustacea enabled us, when fishing inside the crater, to procure a vast supply in a few hours, the catch being so great as, indeed, almost to endanger the large boats.
As to the supply of water, assuming that none could be landed from the ship and none could be caught by awnings, &c., I would observe that no doubt advantage would be taken of the following remarkable circumstance:- the soil and the beach on the level of the sea in the crater is so hot that, when bathing and standing in the water upon the sand, the feet could not be allowed to sink into it beyond an inch or two without pain. The high temperature in the soil on the beach would enable a supply of fresh water to be obtained from the sea by distillation, by sinking some of the ship's iron tanks or condensers into the intensely-heated ground.
For supply of fuel for culinary purposes, there is a considerable quantity of driftwood upon the inland, although thousands of miles distant from the mainland; but, should this fail, food could be cooked by the great heat of the soil thus so wonderfully provided in mid-ocean. I would only add that the island has high, abrupt sides, and a central plateau which is not acted upon by the heat apparent in the lower strata, and as many vessels sight the island, and others pass at some distance from it, I doubt not that our countrymen have long since been rescued.
I remain, your obedient servant,
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir,- I have just read in your journal the telegram announcing the stranding of the above vessel on the Island of St. Paul, in the Indian Ocean.
As this singular volcanic isle is not often visited, a description of it may not be out of place at the moment, particularly to the friends and relations of the crew and passengers of the illfated ship.
I visited the island on an outward-bound voyage some years since, and although it was then uninhabited and barren, it still offers the means of sustaining life by means of the abundance of fish to be found in the Crater Basin. This remarkable basin is about two miles in circuit, and has 30 fathoms water in the middle, which depth is maintained until within 50 feet of the shore. The rocks round the crater rise to 600 or 700 feet high, and the view from the summit is very impressive. All round the edges of the basin smoke was rising, amid the stones lining the shore, indicating that smouldering fires still lurked below. On landing we found the water on the shore of the crater in some places too hot to permit our hands remaining in it for any length of time. The temperature by thermometer in the hottest part was 204 deg. Great fun was created by catching fish at one end of our boat, and, without taking them off the hook, letting them drop into the hot water, and cooking them. Should any of your readers doubt this statement, I refer them to Horsburg's Sailing Directions to the East, and to Vlemming, the Dutch navigator who discovered the island in 1697.
Should the Megaera have been so unfortunate as to lose her stores in attempting to land them in the heavy surf that beats upon the shore, considerable sustenance may be obtained in the Crater Basin, for the fish are plentiful and good eating, and a natural fish-kettle is always at hand and boiling. Seals, also, are plentiful.
The entrance to the Crater Basin is about pistol-shot wide, but across the throat there is a bar composed of pebbles, over which nothing larger than a boat can pass, and I believe this is the only practicable landing-place to be found. A strong current sets over the bar, and at half ebb it if difficult to get boats over, but once passed smooth water if found in the basin.
It is to be hoped, therefore, that the sufferings of the crew and passengers of the Megaera may have been considerably alleviated by the natural resources of the place, and it is with a desire of quieting apprehensions upon this point that I trouble you with these remarks.I am, Sir, yours obediently.
Harp Hotel, Dover, Aug. 4.
|Ma 7 August 1871|
HER MAJESTY'S SHIP MEGAERA.
The following telegram was received at 9 42 a.m., August 5, from Hongkong, dated August 5, 7 a.m.:-
"The Peninsular and Oriental Company's steamer Malacca, 1,680 tons, embarks provisions here. Should reach about the 29th. Can bring old (? whole) crew home.
The Admiralty have aiso received the following telegram, in reply to a telegram sent to Batavia, asking the cause of the disaster, and whether provisions were landed from the Megaera at St. Paul's. In addition to her own provisions, the Megaera carried a considerable quantity of naval provisions destined for Sydney:-"FROM FRASER, CONSUL, BATAVIA, Aug. 5, 2 51 P.M.
"Leak reported about June 8. Kept under for several days by hand pumps. Leak increased; steam then used; water kept under. Insufficient coal to reach Australia; steered for St. Paul's. June 17 anchored. Survey held; diver employed; reported unsafe to proceed; hole through bottom; landed provisions; weather stormy; lost three anchors. June 19 ship was run on the bar full speed and filled. Lieutenant Jones left July 16, all well; men under canvas; 80 tons cargo saved. Steamship Rinaldo left Singapore yesterday for St. Paul's, viâ Batavia."
|Ma 7 August 1871|
HOUSE OF COMMONS, SATURDAY, AUGUST 5.
THE LOSS OF THE MEGAERA.
Sir T. BAZLEY begged, in consequence of the declarations he had seen in the morning papers, to ask a question of his right hon. friend the First Lord of the Admiralty whether it was true that, after he had been warned by a question put to him by the hon. member for North Norfolk [Frederick Walpole], with regard to a report alleged to have been made by Mr. Reed on the state of the Megaera, he had allowed that vessel to sail, without taking steps to obtain information from Mr. Reed himself as to the survey.Mr. GOSCHEN. - No, Sir, the statement is not true (hear, hear) that the question was put to me by the hon. member for North Norfolk before the Megaera sailed. It was put a week after the ship had sailed (hear, hear), and then it was impossible for me to have prevented the sailing of the vessel by personal reference to Mr. Reed. (Hear, hear.) I do not wish to add anything to forestall the statement it will be my duty to make in answer to the question of which notice has been given for Monday. But, meanwhile, I leave the House and the public to judge of the candour of the criticism that is made in advance, without the circumstances being known, from the fact that already it has been insinuated that, by personal reference to Mr. Reed, I might have prevented the sailing of the ship, when, in point of fact, my attention was not called to there having been any report by Mr. Reed till the week after the sailing of the ship. (Hear, hear.)
|Ma 7 August 1871|
THE LOSS OF THE MEGAERA AND ITS LESSONS.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir,- The number and nature of the communications which I have received respecting my letter in The Times of this morning induces me to trouble you with a communication, in order to establish the more firmly the facts of the case.
But, first, permit to say that I have been asked officially to state the date and form of my report upon the Megaera, and, having given the best information that my memory furnishes, I trust my remarks upon her may be found recorded at the Admiralty. But, whether they are found or not appears to me to be a matter of no great importance - to my argument, at least - because the mere employment of a ship a year or two beyond the time suggested by a survey is not at all uncommon, and forms no part of my complaint against the Government. That complaint is - first, that on leaving office I was debarred from communicating with my successors upon the many points that required attention in the various ships of the Navy; and, secondly, that when in March last Mr. Walpole put his inquiry to Mr. Goschen, he (Mr. Walpole) having, as I happen to know, a son in the ship, Mr. Goschen gave a reply which was bad in spirit and based upon very imperfect information, while, by a simple reference to me, he might have learnt the truth of the matter. In the House of Commons to-day Mr. Goschen has stated that the Megaera, had sailed before Mr. Walpole's question was put. Some persons may consider this a reason for doing nothing; others may consider it should have been an incentive to greater urgency.
We do not yet know the actual cause or the disaster to this ship; it may have been occasioned by something more, or something other, than her worn and weak state, and great injustice to the Government may be done by neglecting this consideration. But my recollection of the state of the ship is quite clear. I had the thin ironplating which formed the side drilled in several places, and ascertained the exact thickness and only passed her for a further limited period of service because of the circumstance that her plates, being small in surface taken separately, and connected by broad strips at the edges and butts, were for the most part doubled, so that the wasted surfaces of the single plating were small in extent and well supported. This inspection was the only occasion on which I examined the Megaera's plating, and finding it somewhat peculiar, although in the main characteristic of early shipbuilding in iron, I inserted a brief description of it in my work on Shipbuilding in Iron and Steel, About the facts, therefore, there can be no doubt.
Permit me to say, in the next place, in reply to some influential correspondents, that I am well aware of the gravity of my statements respecting the present dangerous state of our naval administration as regards Her Majesty's ships, and the necessity of a speedy change if a proper measure of security is to be given to the Navy. I have the most solid grounds for making them, and I wish them to be accepted in their full gravity. When I left office the value of the ships of my design then building (to speak for the moment of those building only) amounted to about three millions sterling, and their aggregate crews will number many thousands. Many of these ships were of perfectly novel type, the offspring of my own mind, and in some cases an offspring conceived and produced under great pressure from the political head of the Admiralty. Common sense, common judgment, common patriotism, and common humanity made me anxiously desirous to communicate to my successors all that was in my mind, but undeveloped as yet in the drawings of these ships. I was scarcely less desirous of going over the names of the various ships on active service, and offering such suggestions upon them as my experience dictated. Of course, the Admiralty were free to carry out afterwards other views than mine if they pleased, but that they were bound to attend to what mine were cannot be questioned. In order that no small personal feelings or irritations might operate to prevent the free communication of my views to my successors, I forbore to mention in my letter of resignation the long course of antagonism to which I had been subjected on account of my persistent disapproval of the Captain, and excluded from it every word that could give personal offence. How was this studied moderation of mine responded to? By a strong and steady refusal to give me any official opportunity whatever of communicating with my successors, and by the instant and compulsory cessation of my connexion with every ship in the Navy! Knowing the imperious power of the Ministry, I had apprehended the danger of such a course and striven to avert it. I next strove to get it corrected. I wrote privately to Sir Sydney Dacres; I spoke to Sir Spencer Robinson; and I got Mr. Lushington to point out to Mr. Childers the perils which might and would ensue. But the Government had a large majority, and Mr. Childers was safe in pursuing his own course, and so he pursued it. Sir Spencer Robinson wrote, I believe, a very strong official Minute upon the absolute necessity of the duty being carefully transferred, and or the risks and dangers which would ensue if it were not, but without result. Three months after came the loss of the Captain, and the very man who had closed my lips officially upon every ship censured me in a public document for not having spoken freely of this ship. This imputation, designed to stain me with the blood of the Captain's crew, was the distinction which a Liberal Government sought to confer upon me in my retirement as a reward for seven years of most trying service at the Admiralty, not the least trying part of which had been my resistance to ships of the Captain type.
Mr. Goschen, on entering office, instead of making the reversal of this mistaken and critical action of his predecessor touching Her Majesty's ships one of his first acts, silently acquiesced in it, and in his answer to Mr. Walpole appeared to indicate that he had succeeded to the spirit as well as to the office of his forerunner.
Now, it is this line and this style of action on the part of the Government which occasions my apprehensions, and compels me to pronounce their policy inconsistent with the safety of the Navy. We have had the Captain's case; we now have the Megaera's, and I fear we may have others. I see it announced, for example, that the turret-ship Glatton is to be taken out for a cruise "to test her seagoing qualities." I took a recent opportunity of mentioning to Mr. Goschen that she was not designed as a sea-going ship, and might be sacrificed if her peculiarities were not borne in mind, and it is now likely that, under so capable and experienced an officer as Lord John Hay, her trials will be properly conducted. But, apart from this, I strongly object to officers and men being ordered to embark in the Glatton under present circumstances. This is one of the low freeboard Monitors, with a very small margin of safety, and her proper subdivision into watertight spaces, pumping arrangements, anchor gear, means of clearing the deck from water, and other details were the subjects of much anxious thought and care with me. Suddenly, my connexion with her ceased; I was debarred from offering a word of advice respecting her; and she has been completed I know not how. How can the gentlemen who have finished her, and how can Mr. Goschen, know that no essential points have been overlooked? It is idle to say that my successors are clever and careful men. I am quite aware of that; but the more capable a man is the more anxious he will be in taking over the charge of such a ship as this to have the fullest possible information from her first designer. Moreover, the best of men are liable to errors and oversights, and we all know that the Captain was pronounced safe not many days before she was lost. This, at least, is true, -viz., that the officers and crew of the Glatton were entitled to every assurance and means of security which could be given to them; and yet Mr. Childers, first, and now Mr. Goschen have withheld from them, one most important element of safety, and have, as I maintain, incurred a truly horrible responsibility. I shall have to say precisely the same thing of the Thunderer and Devastation when they arrive at completion; for the Committee of 15 officers and gentlemen who sat for some months upon these and other ships have not pretended to inquire into many of those points upon which my anxiety and apprehension hang.
These are some of my reasons for considering the conduct of the Government in this manner ill-judged, imperious, and dangerous, and such as demands the scrutiny of Parliament. If the House of Commons, with these facts before them, votes the supplies without protest or remonstrance, the consequences may be fatal and widespread - the alarm certainly will be.I have the honour to be, Sir, your obedient servant,
London. Aug 5.
|Tu 8 August 1871|
HOUSE OF COMMONS, MONDAY, Aug. 7.
The SPEAKER took the chair at 4 o'clock.
Sir J. HAY [Conservative; he had been Fourth Naval Lord in the Admiralty Board, in Benjamin Disraeli's first (minority) ministry, that was defeated by William Gladstone's Liberals in the general election of November 1868]. - Since I have had the honour of a seat in this House I have never asked its kind indulgence in the manner in which I am now going to do; but in order to enable the right hon. gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty to give a full explanation, so that the House may learn how 380 of our seamen are now upon a desert island, how they got there, and how it is proposed to remove them from their perilous position, I hope the House will allow me to make a short statement in explanation of the question which stands in my name on the paper. (Hear, hear.) At the time when I gave notice of that question the right hon. gentleman seemed to imagine I was making a personal attack on himself. I can assure him, however, that I had no such desire, but I may remark that, although, the right hon. gentleman exculpated himself with regard to the question put by my hon. friend the member for Norfolk [Frederick Walpole, Conservative member for Norfolk North], he said nothing respecting his predecessor at the Admiralty [Hugh Childers, who resigned in March 1871].
Mr. GOSCHEN [Liberal; First Lord of the Admiralty, replacing Childers in March 1871].- I said I would reserve that for my statement to-day.
Sir J. HAY. - Observing that the right hon. gentleman had thought I intended some personal attack on himself, I deemed it proper to make these remarks, but I will not now pursue that subject further. For the two years and upwards that I had the honour of occupying a seat at the late Board of Admiralty, I had charge of this special department, and the Megaera was one of the storeships under my charge. Besides the vessels employed to convey men to distant places, there were certain storeships used for other purposes. The Megaera belonged to the latter class, and I conceive it would have been unjust to have sent to Australia a ship of that character, which was so unable to sail, and with imperfect steam-power, on any such voyage, not with reference to safety if she were a sound ship, but with reference to the great amount of time that would be occupied. The Megaera went to Ascension and to other places with stores. The hon. members for Chichester, Carlow, and Kent [Lord Henry Lennox, William Addis Fagan and ??? (there were various Kent constituencies)] drew the attention of the right hon. gentleman opposite to the subject of the Megaera, and at a later period my hon. and gallant friend the member for Norfolk asked his question. The facts of the case are as follows:-I have had the advantage of seeing Mr. Reed, the late Chief Constructor of the Navy, who has personally assured me of the correctness of these facts, and I need hardly say that his word is above suspicion, and that he is one of the best officers ever employed by the Admiralty of this country. (Hear.) His attention was called, not by the right bon. gentleman the present First Lord of the Admiralty, but by the right hon. gentleman the member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers [the previous First Lord of the Admiralty]), to the necessity of investigating the state of certain ships, and Mr. Reed reported that the Megaera was in such a condition that she could only continue her service for a certain period of time, though what that period of time was I do not know.
Mr. GOSCHEN. In what year was that?
Sir J. HAY. - I understand that report was presented in the year 1869. but Mr. Reed himself is unable to state the precise date, as he has not access to the documents which are preserved at the Admiralty. At all events, he expressed his opinion that the Megaera was only fit for service during a certain period of time, and that this period had elapsed at the time when she was ordered to proceed to Australia. Early in the present Session the attention of the House was called to the condition of this ship, which had been recently surveyed at Sheerness. This fact I learn from Mr. Reed. The ship was ordered to be surveyed at Sheerness, but the cost of a thorough survey being greater than the Department thought it right to incur, the expenditure was checked, although it was reported that the plates at the bottom of the vessel were considerably worn. The ship was sent round to Devonport, and the officers on board her reported that she was overcrowded, and not in fit condition to proceed to sea. The Admiralty ordered her to proceed to Cork, and the Admiralty [sic; shold be Admiral] there having been instructed to inspect her, he took out 100 tons of cargo, in order to make her safe. It is obvious, however, that he could not have inspected the plates at the bottom of the vessel. Well, the ship left this country, and afterwards his hon. and gallant friend the member for Norfolk asked his question. I should have thought the right hon. gentleman would then have made inquiries, but what steps he took I really do not know, though of course they will be mentioned in the course of his statement; but I know that the representative of the Admiralty in this House - I mean the hon. member for Montrose [William Edward Baxter] - on very many occasions when he was questioned on the subject treated it with the greatest possible scorn. The hon. member went so far as to tell my hon. friend the member for Carlow (Mr. Kavanagh) that there was not a word of truth in what he was stating. During the time I have sat in this House I have heard many curious things said, but if it is not unparliamentary the term "insolent" is the term which I should naturally apply to such an answer. (Hear, hear.) A report had been made that she could only run for a certain time, and the cargo had been improperly stowed, and had to be re-stowed and readjusted. Notwithstanding all this a question in regard to her condition was treated in the most flippant manner by the representative of the Admiralty in this House. It is quite evident why she went down. The plates were worn out, and there was a hole in her; and, consequently, it was necessary to run her ashore. What quantity of stores and provisions was saved I do not know; but it is clear that the crew cannot he relieved, except by some passing ship, until the 3d or 4th of September, 1 have myself passed St. Paul's Island amid hail and snow in midwinter - that is, in the month of June, and I am sure it cannot be an agreeable thing to be left there for so long a period. The officers and crew will, at all events, have to remain there until some time in the month of September. I think it is a misfortune that no man-of-war was available for taking them away, instead of sending a hired steamer from Hongkong. The right hon. gentleman has ships at Gibraltar, only 40 days off St. Paul's, and I think he ought to have sent a vessel at once from Gibraltar in addition to the steamer chartered at Hongkong, so that he might have had two strings to his bow, and have been certain of preventing these men from starving alter they had run the risk of being drowned. (Hear, hear.) He would now put the question of which he had given notice, and ask the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he would state to the House the circumstances under which the Megaera store-ship was run on the Island of St. Paul's to save the lives of her craw and passengers; whether he had any information which led him to think she left England in an unseaworthy condition; and whether he would lay the report of Mr. Reed, late Chief Constructor of the Navy, on the condition of the Megaera upon the table. The hon. baronet concluded by moving the adjournment of the House.
Mr. GOSCHEN. - I can assure the hon. and gallant baronet I do not think he wished to treat this question as a personal one. I can assure him that I look upon the loss of this ship as so serious a matter as not for a moment to allow of any personal considerations being mixed up with it. Any one who read the letter of Mr. Reed, published in The Times newspaper, would have gathered from the mode in which allusion was made to his report that his report was made before the Megaera was despatched. It was not, indeed, absolutely so stated, but it was inferred, and I think Mr. Reed believed in his own mind when he wrote that letter that such must have been the case, or he would not have made use of the expressions which occurred in it. Mr. Reed, when the Megaera sailed, had a knowledge of a certain fact, and the Admiralty and myself had not that knowledge. It was not brought to our notice till after the departure of the ship. (Hear, hear.) I will deal, in the first place, with the most important part of the question asked by the hon. and gallant baronet - namely, that relating to the ship, and the circumstances under which she went on shore; and at the outset I may remark that I have no knowledge of those circumstances beyond what was stated in the telegram which was communicated to the Press, and which the hon. and gallant baronet has seen. I think the hon. and gallant baronet is a little quick at jumping to a conclusion as to the cause of the accident. He may be right, but I trust the House and the country will suspend their judgment until full particulars hive been received as to the actual cause of the accident. (Hear.) And now I will say a few words with regard to the provisions and the means which have been taken to relieve the crew. The first Admiralty telegram is silent as to the provisions being landed or not, but the hon. and gallant baronet must have seen in the telegram received this morning a statement that the provisions were landed safely. It appears from these particulars sent to the Admiralty that there was no hurry at the time, and that, therefore, there was ample opportunity for landing the provisions; and it was a fortunate circumstance in this very unfortunate affair that there were 40 tons of provisions intended for Sydney on board the Megaera besides the provisions which she carried for herself. Consequently it is not anticipated that any suffering will arise. As to the means which are being taken to relieve them, I concur with the hon. and gallant baronet that, in an emergency, it is not sufficient to have one string to one's bow, and accordingly the Admiralty, besides ordering a steamer to be chartered, caused inquiries to be made at Bombay and the Cape, and, in consequence of the latter inquiries, Her Majesty's ship Rinaldo has been ordered from Singapore, that being the closest point to St. Paul's from which it is possible to communicate easily with that island. At this moment the Rinaldo is on her way there with provisions, besides the steamer chartered at Hongkong. (Hear, hear.) The hon. and gallant baronet would perceive that a steamer will proceed much quicker to St. Paul's from Singapore than from Gibraltar. We are informed that the steamer is expected to arrive on the 29th of this month - some days earlier than the date mentioned by the hon. baronet. Indeed, the Rinaldo may perhaps arrive before that date. I have now communicated to the House that which I know of the circumstances connected with the loss of the Megaera and the steps taken for the relief of the passengers and crew. I now come to the second part of the question, and I trust the House will not think me tedious if I describe in some detail what occurred when the ship was at Queenstown, as great interest is felt on the subject, and as such very serious charges have been made. (Hear, hear.) I must, in the first instance, ask hon. members to dismiss from their minds for the moment the first and second letters of Mr. Reed, and all that has arisen from them, because the facts therein mentioned were not before us between the 1st and the 14th of March, when the ship was at Queenstown, and although hon. members may now look at the matter in the light of those letters, I and my colleagues at the Admiralty had not an opportunity of regarding it in that light, as the report was not before them. I do not ask the House to pronounce any judgment on the present occasion, but I entreat them for the moment to dismiss from their minds the statement about the thin plates, as to which not a single word was said in any of the questions put in the House, and to listen to the evidence which I shall adduce (hear, hear); and here I may distinctly remark that if I quote the evidence and statements of subordinates, I do not do so in order to relieve the Board of Admiralty or the First Lord from any responsibility whatever in connexion with this matter. (Hear, hear.) I must quote their reports, however, in order that the House may form a judgment, although the responsibility of sending the ship to sea rests on the First Lord of the Admiralty. It is true I had not been long in office, but I sifted the evidence to the best of my ability and I must be responsible. (Hear, hear.) The Megaera, having fitted up at Sheerness, went to Plymouth, whence, after some events to which I shall call attention presently, she proceeded to Queenstown, The first serious remonstrance which reached the Admiralty was in the shape of a letter from the captain of the Megaera dated the 28th of February. This was after the journey from Plymouth to Queenstown, during which it had been found that the ports on the maindeck leaked, and that the officers and men suffered some discomfort. The captain wrote:-
"I have the honour to inform you that, owing to the leaky condition of the maindeck ports and the connecting piece of the outer bobstay having broken off in the stem, I have thought it advisable to bring Her Majesty's ship under my command in to this harbour that these and a few more defects may be made good. 2. We left Plymouth Sound on Saturday, the 25th inst., and used steam to insure a good offing, banking the fires on Sunday at noon. Since the wind has been contrary and the weather bad, during the whole of which time the maindeck has had water washing from side to side, wetting the men's bags, clothes, &c. The officers' cabins have been literally afloat the whole time, although the watch has been constantly employed to bale the water up. The maindeck ports were lined with Fearnaught and well greased; but, from being warped and old, would not keep the water out, some of the bolts drawing out when screwing them up. 3. On Monday, the 27th inst., the outer bobstay carried away, and, having secured the foremast, we bore up for this anchorage."
When that letter arrived I think I was not in office, but when I saw it I made inquiries respecting the serious defects to which attention is therein made, and the measures taken for remedying them. In what I am stating now not a single word shall be omitted which goes, if I may use the expression, against the Board of Admiralty, and I will accordingly read the further evidence we had against the ship. On the 2d of March the captain wrote a letter to the Commander-in-Chief at Queenstown. It was in the following terms:-
"I have to inform you that the officers and ships' companies on board this ship hare represented to me the extreme discomfort of the ship in consequence of every available space below being taken up for cargo, bringing the ship considerably deeper in the water than she ever was before, and rendering her very wet. That the whole of the troop-deck and part of the main-deck are stowed with cargo, thus curtailing considerably their sleeping and living place. That the troop-deck being filled up there is no place for the men's bags except on the deck under the mess tables, and that they have been continually wet from the ports leaking. To remedy those defects I have to request that you may permit me to land 100 tons of the cargo. I beg to enclose a list of articles proposed for landing, and a letter from the officers and one from the medical officer of the ship, trusting that this application may meet with your approval."
The Commander-in-Chief sent the letter to the Admiralty, accompanied by this memorandum:-
"Submitted for the information of their Lordships with reference to my telegram of this date. 2. I have been on board the Megaera, and examined into the causes of complaint; both officers and men appear to be in great discomfort owing to the crowded state of the decks and to the quantity of water which has found its way to the maindeck. The ship is very deep in the water, and as it will he difficult to keep the ports tight in a seaway, I think it would be a great advantage, if space could be obtained on the orlop deck for the stowage of the men's bags, and also for such portions of the officers' property us they may not be able to find a place for in their store-rooms and cabins,"
I will now read to the House the remonstrance of the officers themselves. In a letter dated "Her Majesty's ship Megaera, March 2, 1871," they say, -
"We consider the Megaera is too heavily laden and too crowded to successfully encounter such weather as reasonably may he expected in making the long voyage to Australia, The cabin accommodation for officers entitled to them is inadequate. In consequence of the ship's deep draught (17ft), the ports at sea are generally barred in in the mess place, which has but one small ventilator. The water closets are insufficient for the number of officers using them. There is insufficient stowage for officers' wines and provisions."
There wan also a letter from the surgeon pointing out, with regard to the sanitary view of the question, the inconvenience of the maindeck ports having been closed. It should be borne constantly in mind that the remonstrances from the captain and the officers arose principally from two causes, - namely, the overloading of the ship and the leakage of the maindeck ports.
Sir J. PAKINGTON inquired whether there were any military officers on board.
Mr. GOSCHEN. - No; the Megaera took out the crew of the Blanche and the Rosario, but they were all naval officers on board. Having read the remonstrance of the officers, I come next to the report of the Flag Captain at Queenstown, in the absence at the moment of the Admiral upon the station, He says:-
"Mersey, at Queenstown, March 2,1871. "1. Submitted for the information of their lordships, observing that the repair of the bobstay plate appears absolutely necessary and is now being made good, it would be desirable to caulk the waterways if a few days' fine weather could be obtained. 2. The additional carpenter for Haulbowline, Mr. James Burnett, could find no defect in foremast."
But I will further show the House that it is not true, as has been reported, that we took no pains at the Admiralty to inquire into the truth of these allegations. We telegraphed to Admiral Forbes at Queenstown, and directed him to "proceed on board Her Majesty's ship Megaera, inquire strictly and carefully into her state and condition, and report by telegram and letter his opinion as to the fitness of that ship to undertake the service upon which she had been ordered." In thus applying to the responsible officer and asking him to report, we thought we were taking the step which was proper under the circumstances (hear, hear); and the following is the answer which we received from the Commander-in-Chief at Queenstown:-
"I find the Megaera much crowded with stores, and I have ordered a part to be landed to give more comfort to officers and men; am of opinion she is fit to undertake the service she has been ordered upon."
This reply came by telegram from the Admiral after he had enjoyed the opportunity of examining the ship and speaking to the officers. He afterwards sent a long letter upon the state of the vessel. I will read to the House the summing up of that letter, but if any hon. gentleman wishes to have the whole of it there will be no objection on our part, as we do not wish, for one moment to withhold a single particle of evidence which we possess. The Admiral reports that having closely and carefully inspected the Megaera, and having already telegraphed his opinion that the ship was fit for the service on which she was employed, he now forwards in detail fuller particulars of her state. He states that her draught of water forward is 17 feet, and aft 17 feet 3 inches; that her full supply of coal is on board; and "all the decks are much lumbered, but she is very ill stowed, and much clearance may be made when this is better done." He then goes on to the accommodation of the ward-room officers, says that the troop deck is much choked with cargo, that the men's bags are "most inconveniently stowed under the mess laths, where they have got wet from water shipped through leaky ports, to the great discomfort of the men, but that "the ports are now mended and relined, and new ones placed where necessary;" he says that "the main deck is also inconveniently crowded for sleeping," but "by clearing out the troop deck below, as suggested, many men now berthed above may be berthed there;" he then enlarges upon the question, of how further accommodation might be given in the sick bay; and the Admiral sums up as follows:-
"The result of my inspection is that the Megaera has been inconveniently crowded with cargo, considering the quantity of stores and effects accompanying the number of officers and men she takes out; that landing about 100 tons weight would rid her of this evil; that the officers taking passage have also been crowded, considering the length of the voyage. If the number of them was reduced by four the remainder would also be relieved."
And the Admiral concludes thus:-
"The ship is of old pattern, and wanting in many of the conveniences of later days, but I see no reason whatever of unfitness for performing the service she is employed in." (Hear, hear.) The hon. and gallant Admiral opposite made use of one expression - either I caught it across the House, or it fell from him in his opening remarks - to the effect that the Admiral, in the inspection which he made, could not get at the thinness of the plates. [Sir J. Hay. - " Hear, hear"] Precisely so; but the hon. member will see that the remonstrances which brought about this inspection had nothing to do with the thinness of the plates; we were dealing with the ship as it had been despatched from Sheerness. One of the charges brought against the Admiralty is that, in spite of what happened between Plymouth and Queenstown, and in spite of the question asked in this House, we sent, as I understand it, a leaky ship to sea. We took the greatest pains to inquire into every detail of what had occurred between Plymouth and Queenstown, with a view of having those matters remedied. I will not say, at this moment, that they were actually remedied, but I will say this, that I have seen extracts from a letter written by the captain from Madeira, in which he states that the ship had been going on satisfactorily; and that I have also heard of a letter received from the engineer on board the ship, written from the Cape, in which he states that everything had been working satisfactorily. I do not wish to make out a case for the Admiralty upon this occasion at all; I wish to answer every allegation made against us, and not to go an inch beyond that point. So far we have been dealing with these considerations; certain defects were discovered, and those defects were dealt with upon the responsibility of the Admiralty; and I say most distinctly that I do not hold Admiral Forbes responsible for one moment for what occurred afterwards. Meanwhile we asked Admiral Codrington also to report as to the truth of the statements which had been made. Sir H. Codrington wrote a long letter, the general drift of which was that Captain Thrupp never remonstrated with him for one moment as to the seaworthiness of the ship, but brought some trifling defects to his notice; and that the point upon which he expressed reluctance to leave was with regard to the stowage of the cargo. Of course I cannot say what may have passed verbally, but as far as the Admiralty are aware no question was raised as to the unseaworthiness of the ship. The Captain wished to delay longer in order to stow the cargo better and to arrange the officers' and seamen's baggage, but no questions as to more serious matters appear to have been raised at all. A statement was published to the effect that Admiral Codrington had ordered Captain Thrupp peremptorily to proceed to sea. On reading that statement we applied to Admiral Codrington for his account of the transaction, and I am perfectly willing to lay that letter on the table of the House. We also telegraphed to Sheerness, and asked the authorities there to state their views as to the seaworthiness of the ship. The reply was as follows:-
"With reference to your Minute on Chief Constructor's letter of the 3d inst., s. 1733-1767, respecting defects in Her Majesty's ship Megaera, we have the honour to report, that a list of defects sent in on the 29th of July, 1870, and reported on by us on the 2d of August last, showed no complaints of the maindeck ports or the shackle for the bobstay. The defects were made good, and had the ship not been paid off she would have again proceeded to sea without any further repair. While in the 1st Division of Reserve the ship was refitted by the Reserve, when the ports in question were thoroughly overhauled and left efficient for temporary service. Before being commissioned she was docked for repairing the bottom, and had any defects been then apparent in the ship they would have been made good."
I have now dealt with the complaints which had been made, and I have shown the evidence which the Admiralty had before them. So far from treating the matter lightly, or, as the hon. and gallant Admiral seemed to suppose, cross-questioning nobody, and knowing nothing about the ship, we questioned, among others, the Director of Transports, the Chief Constructor and Controller of the navy, and we communicated with Sheerness Dockyard, where the local knowledge was to be obtained. I venture, therefore, to say that we did all that was possible under the circumstances to ascertain the truth. (Hear.) Then I come to the question as to what information we had before us to warrant us in sending this ship to sea at all. I have just stated that she was docked in January, and that she had been docked in August and was then carefully examined. But before she was actually employed a telegram was sent to the Captain-Superintendent of Sheerness Dockyard, as follows:-
"If the Megaera were wanted for a nine months' service at sea, is she in a fit state to undertake it, and what time would be required before she could receive her crew and a large body of supernumeraries."
The reply received was in the following terms:-
"Megaera is ready, with the exception of completing stores and coal, but she has been five months out of dock and would require to have her bottom cleaned. The sides will not admit of docking her until Friday, the 20th. She might receive her crew the following Monday (23d inst.)."
Upon receipt of this telegram the authorities at the Admiralty, the then Controler of the Navy, the First Naval Lord, and all the responsible officers, assented to the Megaera being sent out. However, to make still more certain, the Junior Naval Lord at that time put this distinct question to the Assistant-Constructor, Mr. Barnaby:-
"Please tell me in what condition is Megaera as to seaworthiness, as we talk of her for a trip to Australia." The answer, receive d by telegram was as follows:-
"I beg leave to state that the Megaera, having undergone repair at Sheerness, is reported to be complete. She is a good seaboat, and, although more than 20 years old, is sound and strong. Her boilers are, however, only good for one years service."
|Tu 8 August 1871|
|That term, however, was sufficient, for the voyage contemplated was only one of nine months; no question accordingly arises as to the state of the boilers. Thereupon, the Captain-Superintendent at Sheerness was told that he might dock the ship. But what had been the character of the ship before, for the question has been put before the House as if we ought never to have entertained the notion of sending such a vessel to sea at all? We keep a book at the Admiralty in which the opinions or the captains themselves with regard to their ships are recorded, and I will tell the House the answers which were made by successive commanders of the Megaera to the queries which were put to them. In the report of sailing qualities, the question put is as follows:- "Is she generally speaking a well-built and strong ship, or does she show any symptoms of weakness?" Captain M.B. Dunn, who commanded her in 1865, writes, "Appears to be a well-built ship and shows no signs of weakness; a good seaboat in heavy weather." In 1866 Captain Dunn again writes, "Appears to be a well-built iron ship." In 1867 Captain J. Simpson, a fresh captain, writes, "Appears to be a well-built iron ship; a good seaboat in a gale." In 1868 Staff-Commander J. Loane, a fresh captain, reports, "Appears quite strong and well-built, and shows no signs of weakness." In 1869 Staff Commander H.D. Sarratt, a different captain, writes, "Appears quite strong and well built, and shows no signs of weakness; an excellent sea boat in heavy weather;" and again, in 1870, Staff Commander Sarratt wrote in precisely similar terms. (Hear, hear.) Now, as regards her draught of water, that is said to have been so excessive as to endanger the ship. But even before the 100 tons of cargo were taken out the draught was not in excess of what it had been in former years. Her draught of water in 1870 was 17ft. forward and 17ft. 3in. aft; in 1871 her draught was 17ft. 3in. forward and 16ft. 9½in. aft; and on the day prior to her sailing from Queenstown it had been reduced to 16ft.6in. forward and 17ft. 1in. aft. I have shown the House what pains were taken to ascertain that the Megaera was a good and well-built ship; and my surprise was naturally great when, for the first time, I received from a published letter of Mr. Reed's an indication that the plates were so thin as to endanger the vessel's safety. That was the first time this circumstance had been brought to my knowledge. I was asked on the 21st of March whether there was not a report from Mr. Reed upon this subject. I made inquiry, and search was instituted, but no such report could be found. The hon. and gallant Admiral opposite states that, after a conversation with Mr. Reed, he believes that the report was made in 1869.|
Sir J. HAY. - 1869, I think; but the date was not given.
Mr. GOSCHEN. - I do not know why the gallant Admiral should say it was 1869. Mr. Reed states that my right hon. friend the member for Pontefract [Childers] was in office at the time. The date, however, is not 1869, but 1866, when the hon. and gallant Admiral [i.e. Hay] was in office. (Hear, hear.) When I saw this statement I asked for a copy of the report - I know the House will feel that I desire to state not merely what is true in fact, but what is true in spirit (hear, hear) - and I was told that no such report could be found, and there is no such report now to be found. But it is true that Mr. Reed surveyed the ship in 1866.
Mr. DISRAELI. - "What month in 1866?
Mr. GOSCHEN. - Late in the month of July or August.
Lord H. LENNOX. - We came into office on the 14th of July. [Lennox refers to the Earl of Derby's third ministry (conservative) which replaced Earl Russell's second ministry (Liberal) on this date]
Mr. GOSCHEN. - I think it was at the end of July. At all events, it was the hon. and gallant admiral who would have to deal with the report. I do not make any charge against him with respect to it. I merely state that Mr. Reed now says he made a report as to the thinness of the plates to Mr. Childers, of which report not a trace can be found at the Admiralty; and, unless the matter were brought to the notice of Mr. Childers, I do not see how it was possible for him to have acted on it. The information seems to have remained in the mind of one man above all others - Mr. Reed, and he communicated that knowledge to an hon. member of this House, whether before or after the ship sailed I know not. A week after the ship sailed, however, a question was put to me in the House, and I will only say that I would rather be myself, with my ignorance of that report, than I would be any one else who knew that the plates were thin and did not state it. (Cheers.) Mr. Reed states that Mr. Childers insisted upon his not making any communication to his successors. (Hear, hear.) I see that there are two hon. members in the House who accept that statement as true to the full extent. But, if true, there are many ways in which that may be explained. I have had access to Mr. Childers's private papers, though, of course, I cannot be sure that I have seen them all. But I think it may be said in Mr. Childers's absence that this is a very serious charge to bring against an absent man, who has no opportunity of replying. (Hear, hear.) Mr. Reed worked in his department with able subordinates, one of whom has himself certified to the fitness of the ship for going to sea, and is a near connexion of Mr. Reed himself. I have asked this officer, "Have you had any hint or warning whatever upon this matter by a single line from Mr. Reed, either before he went out or since?" and he has assured me that no such warning whatever has been given. (Hear, hear.) But Mr. Reed says Mr. Childers would not allow him to communicate with his successors. Mr. Reed has been good enough to offer assistance to me, and to state that he would give me information as to any matters which I might require. These offers, however, were made after the sailing of the Megaera. Why, then, should Mr. Reed have felt himself precluded from doing a few weeks earlier what a few weeks later he voluntarily did - namely, to offer me courteously the information he possessed? (Hear, hear.) I do not understand what intimation from Mr. Childers prevented Mr. Reed from communicating upon a matter of such great importance with his former colleagues. By a single line he could have warned any one of his friends in the department: - "Look up the records of four or five years ago, and you will find this ship badly spoken of in which the lives of 300 seamen are now about to be endangered." That was not done, and yet a week after she had sailed I was asked whether I had known of this report of Mr. Reed's. (Hear, hear.) I do not wish to make any charge against Mr. Reed; but I do say, when these letters are written to the newspapers charging us with want of knowledge and charging us with every conceivable negligence in connexion with this ship, I certainly do regret that no public or private hints were given, and that no official letter even was written by Mr. Reed - for there was nothing whatever to preclude Mr. Reed from writing an official letter upon the subject. I am aware that Mr. Reed wanted to make some private communications with Mr. Childers, and that Mr. Childers replied by asking him to put them into an official form, which Mr. Reed refused to do, having written them as a private letter. I believe it will turn out that this view of Mr. Reed's about Mr. Childers not wishing him to communicate arose from the reluctance of Mr. Childers to receive any communications not capable of being used as public letters. (Hear, hear.) In a letter this morning Mr. Reed alleges that he spoke to Mr. Lushington and got him "to point out to Mr. Childers the perils which might and would ensue" if he was not listened to. But is the Navy of this country in such a position that if Mr. Reed suddenly dies there is no means of obtaining information as to the perils with which any of our ships may be threatened? I refuse to believe that matters are in such a state that the whole safety of our Navy depends upon the knowledge that is enshrined in the breast of one man. (Cheers.) I have received from Mr. Lushington a memorandum which does not correspond with the recollection of Mr. Reed. Mr. Lushington says:-
"With reference to Mr. Reed's statement in to-day's Times- ' I got Mr. Lushington to point out to Mr. Childers the perils which might and would ensue' - I beg to state my recollection of what took place, A short while after Mr. Reed had resigned and had quitted the office, and after, I believe, Mr. Childers had declined to enter into any private correspondence with him, he, Mr. Reed, called at the office and asked to see me. I am not sure whether he was shown up to me in the first instance. If so, I had no conversation with him, but said at once that I could receive no verbal communication from him without instructions from Mr. Childers, and went at once to the First Lord's room. I recollect seeing Mr. Childers, and being instructed by him to inform Mr. Reed that I could not receive any oral statement from him, but that any official letter would receive due attention. I remember seeing Mr. Reed, and stating this to him in as civil and friendly terms as I could (for I had always been on friendly terms with him). He was somewhat angry, and went away. Mr. Reed at no time entered into any statement to me about the Megaera or any other ship, and I cannot accept his statement that he got me 'to point out to Mr. Childers the perils which might and would ensue.' 'Perils' were never named or suggested to me by him. I never was at any time aware of any perils likely to ensue to any of Her Majesty's ships."
I heard an hon. member say that Mr. Reed would not write an official letter because he was no longer in office. But Mr. Reed had marked his letter "Private," with two dashes under the word "Private." Mr. Childers asked him to remove that word, and he refused to do so. The only objection on the part of Mr. Childers was to receive communications which could not be produced by him; but ho said that if Mr. Reed would make his communication public it would receive full consideration. I do not know what further evidence I have to communicate. All I can say is that upon the evidence I do not believe we could have acted in any other way. If Mr. Reed had made any communication about the Megaera he would have done great service. I do not think that it can be justly alleged against Mr. Childers that he has refused to receive such hints. I know that so far from my refusing to receive them I should have been very glad if they had been offered me. Mr. Reed says, in the letter which he addressed to The Times of Saturday,-
"I reported her fit only for a very brief period of further service, in consequence of the extreme thinness to which her plates had become worn by many years of almost continual use at sea. That period has long been exceeded." Now, I say I can find no report whatever from Mr. Reed, but I do find that he surveyed the ship, and I find reports upon the subject alluding to that survey. The word "only" is, however, interpolated by Mr. Reed, for the actual documents state that 250l. would be required to repair her, and that then she would be fit for 18 months' or two years' service. They do not say that at the end of that period she would not be fit for service. [Mr. Disraeli.- "What is the date of those documents?"] (Hear, hear.) Yes, I ought to have given the date. The first is dated Woolwich Dockyard, July 30, 1866, and the next the 31st of July, 1866. (Hear, hear.) The latter says:-
"With reference to the enclosed supplementary estimate for the repair of the hull and fittings of the Megaera, amounting to 250l., to be performed by the Factory at Woolwich, I beg leave to report that the Chief Constructor has made a careful examination of the ship, and is of opinion that this supplementary estimate should be allowed, as the ship may remain fit for service for 18 months or two years longer when repaired. I therefore submit that the estimate be approved, and directions for the work to be proceeded with be given."
In the reports it is stated how long the ship will last with the repairs then recommended, but it is never stated what is to be done at the end of that time. But does the hon. and gallant admiral contend that the ship should never have been employed at the end of the two years? If that be the case I may remind the hon. and gallant admiral that Mr. Reed remained Chief Constructor of the Navy long after that time, and that year after year he passed estimates for the repair of that ship without any remark. (Cheers.) In no scrap of paper that I have read is there any allusion to this investigation made in 1866. There may be some parties to blame for not having carried these circumstances in their minds, and that requires the strictest inquiry, but the position of the Admiralty at this moment with respect to the ship is this - that when these repairs were made in 1866 it was said that if the ship were used beyond the time stated she would require to be more thoroughly repaired. Now, I do not wish the House to absolve the Admiralty if they have done wrong in this matter. I admit that we did not go back to 1866, but we went back to 1870, when the ship was last docked. The hon. and gallant gentleman says that when the ship was docked the estimate furnished for her repairs was reduced. That was perfectly true, and that estimate was certified by Mr. Reed as Chief Constructor of the Navy. (Cheers.) Mr. Reed did not then say that the ship's plates were so thin that she was not fit for sea, and the authorities at Sheerness certified that her bottom was even better than had been expected. With the matter at the time, too, the political department of the Admiralty had nothing to do; it belonged to the Chief Constructor's department, the department which possessed the information. Nor did the colleagues of Mr Reed either in 1870 or in 1871 have their attention called to what had occurred in 1866. The ship has been docked several times since 1866, and on each occasion it has been reported that after the repairs recommended she would be ready for the service on which she was lately ordered. Mistakes may have been made, and I do not wish the House to think that because I quote the whole of the facts I or my colleagues wish to be relieved of any responsibility with regard to the vessel. Possibly we ought to have surveyed the whole of these records from year to year, but we took the reports made with respect to the Megaera when docked, the reports of her captains, and the report which was made about her at Queenstown. I do not wish to pronounce judgment upon this case either with respect to myself or to others at the present moment. Of course the most rigid scrutiny must be made into all the circumstances. I naturally feel the loss of this ship infinitely more than the hon. and gallant admiral can feel it, because I know that we have lost more than the ship by this loss, in the lessening of public confidence that may arise, and therefore I do not regard it as any personal or light matter, but as a very serious one. It is one calling for rigid inquiry, and if we have done wrong we must bear the responsibility and blame. I have now laid before the House, as far as I can, all the circumstances as I know them, and in the order in which they have reached me, and I ask the House and the public to suspend their judgment until they know more, and until proper inquiries can be instituted. (Hear, hear.) And I do ask all those who have influence over public opinion in this House, or out of it, to do nothing by way of exaggeration which can tend to increase this disaster by spreading panic and alarm. I trust that every man will recognize that there is a great responsibility incurred by any one who exaggerates that which I and every one feel to have been a very miserable affair. (Hear, hear.)
Lord H. LENNOX said, - I have no intention, Sir, of making any personal attack upon the right hon. gentleman, but as some remarks have been made with reference to the Board of Admiralty of which I was a member, I cannot allow that the statement of the right hon. gentleman is in any respect satisfactory. The right hon. gentleman tells us that the report which he cannot find was made by Mr. Reed between July and August, 1866. That was at the very moment when a change of Government took place, and when my hon. and gallant friend the member for Stamford (Sir J. Hay) assumed the command of the ships belonging to the transport department. After, however, having seen and studied that report of Mr. Reed, and the report from Woolwich, in which it was stated that the ship might be made seaworthy for 18 months or two years, the then Board of Admiralty placed the ship at the bottom of the troopships to be employed, and though during our tenure of office a great pressure came upon us to provide ships for carrying stores in connexion with the Abyssinian war, we did not employ the Megaera, and did not deem her sufficiently seaworthy for such a voyage as would then have been necessary. (Cheers.) It is not, however, only because I was then at the Admiralty that I feel I have a right to address a few words to the House upon this question, for I was one of the two hon. members who in March last received such a snubbing at the hands of the hon. member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter). (Hear, hear.) I then asked if it was true that the ship was in such a state that the baggage was floating about and the decks were under water, and we were told by the hon. member for Montrose [Baxter] that there was not one word of truth in the statement so made. (Cheers.) I must here also regret very much that the Admiralty did not adopt the rule laid down in the Controller's Department, a rule sanctioned by the Board presided over by the right hon. gentleman the member for Pontefract [Childers] - namely, that when a store-ship is fitted out at a port, if on her voyage to the next port she is found to be unseaworthy from damage not notorious to her commander, her stores and troops shall be transferred to the port where they were embarked, and the officers at that port held responsible for the insufficient examination which must have been made. (Hear.) All through the right hon. gentleman's statement he takes that for granted which it is my privilege to deny, and he says that the leakage which was apparent in the Megaera came from the main deck ports. I am not surprised that Admiral Forbes should not have examined the plates at the bottom of the vessel, because it could never have entered his head that the Admiralty at London would have sanctioned a vessel being sent on a voyage round the world without a thorough and satisfactory examination on this point. (Cheers.) What I object to in the statement of the right hon. gentleman is the idea of there being any question raised in England or else where as to the seaworthiness of any vessel after she has been ordered to go round the world. (Cheers.) We have abundance of vessels, seaworthy, and fit to do the passage, which could have been employed for the purpose on which the Megaera was sent. (Hear, hear.) If I am not mistaken, there are documents at the Admiralty upon this subject, and on another occasion I will ask the right hon. gentlemen whether there is any paper from the late Controller of the Navy, in which he recommended that the old line-of-battle ships which had already been prepared should be used for this service as the Donegal had been on a previous occasion. [Mr. Goschen. - "Instead of the Megaera?"] No; a paper in general terms, and whether he did not recommend that the Revenge should be prepared for this service. Now, the right hon. gentleman has quoted a great many opinions of the captains who commanded the Megaera as to her being a good seaboat; but I fail to see what they have to do with the question. No one disputes that the Megaera was a good vessel in her day; what we say is that the plates had been worn so thin as to admit the water. The right hon. gentleman has attacked a gentleman of great eminence in the shipbuilding world and has partly charged him with knowing that the Megaera was in an unseaworthy condition, and with not communicating the fact either to himself or to the department. I believe that at the time this occurred Mr. Reed was in the heart of Russia, where owing to the fact that our Government had turned him out of office - [Mr. Goschen. - "No; they did not turn him out of office."] Well, they made office impossible for him (cheers), and by a series of manoeuvres or evolutions, as I will call them, on the part of the right hon. gentleman the member for Pontefract [Childers] they made it impossible for him to remain with honour to himself in the office which he held with advantage to the country, just in the same way as on a later occasion the same Board of Admiralty managed to dispense with the services of his able and gallant chief. (Cheers.) Sir Spencer Robinson did not resign; he was ignominiously expelled. (Cheers.) Mr. Reed did not wait to be expelled; he found the place too hot to hold him, and preferred to resign. (Cheers.) Mr. Reed was at the time in Russia, and was designing, as I believe he now is for Germany, a powerful fleet of iron-clad vessels. (Mr. Goschen shook his head.) I am by this time perfectly accustomed to the right hon. gentleman's silent contradictions; but if, between this time and three months' hence, the right hon. gentleman is able to tell me that my statement is erroneous, and that Mr. Reed is not designing vessels for the Emperor of Russia and for the Emperor of Germany I will retract what I have now said.
Mr. GOSCHEN.- I beg the noble lord's pardon. I did not wish to contradict that portion of the noble lord's statement; my contradiction related to the part in which the noble lord said that Mr. Reed was in Russia on the 1st of March last.
Lord H. LENNOX.- I did not say that Mr. Reed was in Russia on the 1st of March, but he has been in Russia all the summer, and has returned only within the last few days. I had intended referring to this subject on the discussion of the Naval Estimates, but the right Hon. gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury has taken care to prevent any opportunity being afforded. (Opposition cheers.)
Mr. GLADSTONE.- The noble lord forgets that he had the offer of Tuesday week and declined it. (Opposition laughter.)
|Tu 8 August 1871|
|Lord H. LENNOX. - I am much obliged to the Prime Minister for his correction, and am equally indebted to him for the offer of an evening which belongs by right to private members, when the House resumes its sitting at 9, and on which, moreover, for the last four or five previous weeks every subject has been well counted out. (Opposition cheers.) Now, a very grave question arises with regard to the letter which appeared in the papers this morning, and I say that the conduct of the right hon. gentleman the member for Pontefract [Childers], in refusing all further communication with Mr. Reed after what the First Lord of the Admiralty calls his resignation was in the highest degree unwise and unpatriotic. (Cheers.) Mr. Reed had been designing ships of the most novel kind - of a kind not hitherto designed by naval architects. When Mr. Reed went out of office the internal fittings of these ships were appointed to be carried out, and are being carried out, by men with whom the designs never originated and who were deprived of the opportunity of communicating with Mr. Reed. The right hon. gentleman has laid great stress upon the fact that a great many of Mr. Reed's letters were regarded as private documents by that gentleman, but there is one letter from Mr. Reed, relating to his giving his successors the benefit of his ideas, which is, at all events, not private, and which I shall be glad if the right hon. gentleman will lay upon the table of the House. (Cheers.) I can fully bear out the statement of my hon. and gallant friend that it never entered into our heads to send the Megaera upon anything but a temporary service, and I have no doubt that that statement will be borne out by the recollection of my right hon. friends the members for Tyrone [Corry] and Droitwich [Packingham]. What we did was to place her at the bottom of the list, and we should never have thought of sending her on such a voyage as the one for which she has been lately employed. (Cheers.)|
Mr. LIDDELL said that the right hon. gentleman had that evening made a very candid statement, and his position was one in which the House, no doubt, thoroughly sympathized. (Hear, hear.) The right hon. gentleman had said he did not wish to make out any case for the Admiralty, but he was afraid that the judgment of the House would be, after the speech to which they had that evening listened, that the right hon. gentleman had made out a very strong case against the Admiralty. ("Hear, hear" from the Opposition.) To ascertain the responsibility they must go back to the first starting of the ship, and he should be glad to learn why she was sent over a stormy ocean to Australia, on a voyage that would last nine months, when it had been declared in August, 1870, that her boilers were good for one year only. It was found that she was deep in the water, her ports leaked, her bolts drew, and she was ill stowed before she was examined by an officer of the Navy on her arrival at Queenstown. (Hear, hear.) It was, however, impossible for that officer to examine the ship's bottom. He desired to know who was responsible for sending the ship to sea in the condition in which she arrived at Queenstown. That was a question which the country had a right to ask, and the answer must be given by a searching inquiry being made into all the circumstances of the case, and he ventured to suggest that such an inquiry should be held in England. [Mr. Goschen assented.] Besides the condition of the Megaera, there was the fact that she had been at the bottom of the list of store ships and was not on the list of troop ships, which justified any hon. member in challenging the administration at the Admiralty for having ventured upon such a risk as to send this ship to sea in her known condition. With respect to Mr. Reed, his complaint was that with regard, not to the Megaera alone, but also to a number of other ships, he had not had the opportunity of communicating with those who succeeded him at the Admiralty. He knew but little of official life, yet it appeared to him to be unjust to a man who held such a responsible position that he should not, after leaving his office, be allowed to communicate with those who were responsible for the condition of Her Majesty's ships. He wished to remind the House of another circumstance. A Bill had been before the House for the regulation of the merchant navy, by the provisions of which to send to sea an unseaworthy ship was made a misdemeanour, and the opportunity was afforded to a seaman to leave his ship if it was unseaworthy, and go before a justice of the peace, who might order a survey of the ship to be made. If that was the spirit in which the Government regarded the saving of life and the prevention of accidents at sea as regarded merchant shipping, they ought not to be less careful as regarded the Royal Navy. The country would not be content without a searching inquiry being made, and he was glad that the First Lord had said he would insist upon it. (Hear, hear.)
Mr. SHAW LEFEVRE did not intend to prolong the discussion, for every fact which was known to the Admiralty had been mentioned to the House. The noble lord had, however, remarked that it was the duty of the Admiralty to have made further inquiry into the leakage of the vessel on her way from Sheerness to Queenstown, but he had assumed that the Admiralty knew that this leakage was owing to the defective state of the Megaera's plates; yet in his letter to the Admiralty the captain distinctly stated that it was due to a defect in the ports of the vessel. What had since transpired confirmed that theory, for the plates were not repaired at Queenstown. The noble lord had also said that the Admiralty instructions had not been followed in this case. There was a general order that in the event of any vessel proving unseaworthy she was to be returned to the port from which she started; but in this case the defect which was discovered at Queenstown was not one of unseaworthiness, complaint being made of the defect in her ports and of her being overloaded. Some cargo was taken out at Queenstown; her ports were repaired, and that, he contended, was all that could be expected to be done. The hon. member for Northumberland had complained of Mr. Reed not having been consulted, but Mr. Childers had said he would be glad to receive any communications that were not marked "private," The First Lord had two interviews with Mr. Reed, and would have been glad to receive any explanation; and he (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre) had two long conversations with Mr. Reed. With regard to the present condition of the Admiralty, he must remind the House that the Council of Construction was composed of three very able men, one of whom was nearly related to Mr. Reed, and in many respects as able; they were thoroughly competent, and, from the time they had been at the Admiralty with Mr. Reed, might have been expected to possess all necessary information. He need only add that an inquiry would be held, and that it had been determined that the Court-martial should be held in this country. (Hear, hear.)
Mr. CORRY would be sorry to prejudge this question, and agreed with the First Lord that it would be premature to jump at a conclusion. He knew something of the Megaera, having keen a member of the Board of Admiralty when she was ordered to be built, in 1844. She was a very good boat, but iron shipbuilding was then much less understood than at present; she had since done much service, and had been put at the bottom of the list of those ships which were employed on the store service. Knowing what he did of the ship, he never should have thought of sending her to Australia with 380 officers and seamen, and to do so was a great risk on the part of the Admiralty, there being a strong presumption that she was in an unsound state. He was informed that it was a very unusual occurrence for iron ships to spring a leak, and the hon. member for the Tower Hamlets [Samuda] had said he never heard of such a case. It was, moreover, quite clear that the Megaera did not sail in a sound state, for her ports were old and leaky, and after the report which the Board of Admiralty had received they should have taken greater precautions before ordering her to sea. The First Lord had remarked that the Captain of the Megaera had said nothing as to her unseaworthiness, but that officer doubtless presumed that the Admiralty would not send her abroad in a dangerous state. He had no reason to assume that she was unseaworthy, for all he could see was water pouring into the ports, nor could the Admiral at Queenstown have seen more or made any further report. With respect to the fitness of this vessel to go on such a voyage it was clear that, besides being defective, she was overloaded and crowded to an inconvenient extent. For this there was a grave responsibility somewhere. He did not think that sufficient precautions had been taken by the Admiralty, for as far as could be seen above water the ship was in an unsound state. Without "jumping at conclusions," he thought it would have been worth while to detain her at Devonport and re-dock her before she was sent to sea. It was absolutely necessary that a searching inquiry should be made into this matter, for he was afraid there was in existence a feeling that the way to please the Admiralty was to do things as cheaply as possible. In former days, however, they thought of efficiency as well as of economy, and they would not have risked sending such a ship on a long voyage rather than incur the expense of sending another one to Queenstown to take her place. (Hear, hear.)
Mr. SAMUDA agreed with previous speakers in thinking that all the circumstances of this matter should be known before a judgment was formed upon it; but there were some points which he wished to bring before the House. From the information that had been published there could be no doubt that the Megaera was lost in consequence of an increasing leak in her bottom, which could not be kept under by means of pumps. It must be remembered that this vessel was 22 years old, and that the action of bilge water on iron ships which were not cemented internally was very detrimental. Had this cementing process been applied to the Megaera the thinning of the plates by the bilge water would not have occurred. He did not understand whether this ship had been examined internally, and whether any worn plates had been taken out and replaced with new strong ones. He did not attach blame to the present First Lord, since his term of office precluded the idea of making him responsible in this matter, but as regarded the Admiralty the country had a right to expect that everything should be done that was necessary to maintain the efficiency of the Royal Navy, and that a ship should be in a condition to perform a voyage safely unless some untoward accident occurred. It was important to get at the facts of this case, but it was equally important for the credit of the Admiralty that the First Lord should make those facts public. It might be that the ship had given out from inherent weakness, or it might be that sufficient money had not been spent in restoring her; but whatever was the cause of the catastrophe the country had reason to be dissatisfied at the state in which this vessel was sent to sea. (Hear, hear.) It was absolutely necessary that the First Lord should place before the country a clear statement of the causes that had led to this calamitous end.
Mr. GREGORY had not been at the Admiralty, nor did he know Mr. Reed; but he wanted to express a view which he thought would be shared by the public generally, - viz., that, beyond all else, blame should be attached to Mr. Reed himself. (Hear.) In his letter he wrote in a Cassandra-like tone respecting the shortcomings of the Royal Navy, saying that the Glatton was unfit to go to sea, and the Devastation was in such a state that she would probably go to the bottom unless some important information was received from him. He admitted being aware of the condition of the Megaera before she sailed, but he did not give the least intimation of it to the Admiralty. Had he done so he would have stood in a very different position in the estimation of the public than he occupied at present. He was one of those persons who when they had a private quarrel to fight were perfectly unscrupulous as to the means they implored. ("Oh!") Why did he not give some early intimation of the condition of the ship, and why did he allow a week to ellipse after she sailed? He had brought an amount of discredit upon himself in his attempt to injure persons with whom he had quarrelled.
Sir G. JENKINSON thought the House ought to look at this matter with respect to what the country would say, and from that point of view it seemed that there was much yet to be ascertained. The First Lord of the Admiralty had admitted that some of the bolts had been drawn out of the ship, und that Mr. Reed had reported in July, 1866, that she was then fit for 18 months' or two years' service. This led one to presume that some later investigation had been made.
Mr. GOSCHEN said the ship was docked in August last, examined and reported upon.
Sir G. JENKINSON said the fact remained that five years after the ship had been reported fit for only two years service she had been sent on a voyage to Australia. The public could not be blamed if under the circumstances information was demanded. It was clear the state of the Megaera was no secret, for in the Globe of March 2 the following passage appeared:-
"We are asked to intercede with the Admiralty on behalf of 400 British sailors whose lives are in peril. Her Majesty's ship Megaera has just been commissioned at Sheerness to take out crews for the Blanche and Rosario at Sydney. An officer on board the Megaera communicates to us from Queenstown the astounding fact that the vessel is absolutely unseaworthy; that she 'leaks from the bow to the stern;' that upwards of 50 tons of water were found in the bilges on the first watch after leaving Plymouth, the men's mess deck being from 15in. to 18in. deep in water, with their bags floating about; and that the men on board the Megaera had been up twice on the quarter-deck about the ship leaking, and on Wednesday last were about to enter a third protest, this time against the vessel rounding the Cape in the middle of winter. Under these alarming conditions it is hardly surprising to hear that all on board the Megaera 'shudder at the prospect of sharing the fate of the Captain.' But another statement excites amazement, and shows at least the necessity for public investigation. 'Captain Thrupp distinctly told Admiral Codrington on Saturday night last,' writes our informant, 'that we were not ready for sea, but he said 'go we must,' as he had orders to send us off.'"
Clearly, due diligence had not bean exercised by some one in allowing the vessel to be sent to sea with a number of valuable lives onboard. The telegram in this morning's paper showed how precisely the fears expressed by the paragraph he had quoted had been realized. The Consul at Batavia telegraphed under date August 5 as follows:- "Leak reported about June 8. Kept under for several days by hand pumps. Leak increased; steam then used; water kept under. Insufficient coal to reach Australia. (Why was the coal insufficient?) Steered for St. Paul's. June 17 anchored. Survey held; diver employed; reported unsafe to proceed; hole through bottom; landed provisions; weather stormy lost three anchors. June 19 ship was run on the bar full speed and filled. Lieutenant Jones left July 16, all well; men under canvas; 80 tons cargo saved. Steamship Rinaldo left Singapore yesterday for St. Paul's, via Batavia."
As one of the taxpaying public he demanded a bona fide inquiry. Her Majesty's ship had been lost according to red tape and routine; there was blame somewhere, and the public had a right to know where. Ship after ship seemed to be going to the bottom, through nobody's fault, and this was not a kind of thing the public would allow. A full and searching inquiry must be made, and there must be no garbled reports or equivocal statements made in the course of it. (Hear, hear.)
Sir J. PAKINGTON. - No one can have heard the speech of the right hon. gentleman at the head of the Admiralty without feeling that he was fully conscious of the magnitude of the calamity with which we have been visited, and the obvious necessity for inquiry. As the right hon. gentleman entered upon his duties at the Admiralty last spring, it is clear he must have had to trust to others for information respecting the state of the Megaera; but the feeling is strong in the public mind that this transaction is discreditable to the Admiralty. (Hear, hear.) I can say for myself that this Megaera has had a bad name for a long time - that is, she was known to be a worn out ship. There can be no doubt as to the real causes of the disaster but I should like the right hon. gentleman to state the nature of the inquiry he purposes setting on foot. I doubt whether the Court-martial, which will, of course, be held, will be sufficient for the purpose, because I do not think it will go into the question of the state of the ship on leaving, as it should have been ascertained by the Admiralty. There is no question that it is discreditable to some one that this ship was allowed to leave Plymouth for Cork in the state she was then in, because it is evident she was sent away from Plymouth in the state in which those who sent her intended she should go to Australia. And it is quite clear she was not in a condition to make a voyage to Australia, because, when she arrived at Cork, 100 tons were taken out of her to make her less unfit for the voyage. Now, why were those 100 tons put into her? And who was responsible for putting them in? I wish to ask the right hon. gentleman whether this will be inquired into, as well as the immediate cause of the loss.
Mr. GLADSTONE. - The questions put to my right hon. friend do not involve so much Departmental knowledge but that I may answer them in his stead. As regards the form of the inquiry we have not had time yet to come to any conclusion on that point; the inquiries made by my right hon. friend for his own information will sufficiently account for the hours that have passed since the news reached us. We quite agree that the inquiry by Court-martial will not suffice, but I presume the right hon. gentleman will agree that the inquiry by Court-martial should precede any other investigation. Nothing, I can assure him, shall be left undone to make the supplementary inquiry as full and searching as possible into the circumstances attending this calamity, because we must bear in mind that it is by these crucial cases that we get valuable information touching the working of our system, and are able to correct it and prevent errors in the future. With respect to the question as to who is responsible for the overloading at Plymouth, although that is a fit subject for inquiry as affecting the inconvenience and suffering of those on board, I cannot agree with the right hon. member for Tyrone [Corry] that it is as serious a matter as the seaworthiness of the ship. Then, again, the statement that certain bolts had been withdrawn from the ship is calculated to raise apprehensions not justified by the facts. These bolts had nothing to do with the structure of the ship, but, as I am informed, had simply to do with the ports.
Sir J. PAKINGTON. - Overloading makes a vessel low in the water, and therefore overloading may be said to be an element of danger.
Mr. GLADSTONE. - I do not understand that that is admitted by any one connected with the matter. In the official reports the question of overloading is stated as a question of inconvenience and suffering rather than one of danger. The Megaera has been lower in the water before than she was on this occasion, and the right hon. gentleman has assumed that she was intended to perform the voyage to Australia in the same condition as she left Plymouth. That is not quite so, because, according to the shipments she received, a considerable portion of her stores were to be left at the Cape.
Sir J. PAKINGTON. - But she was to go on to Australia.
Mr. GLADSTONE. - Well, there is this point of difference between the statement made by the right hon. gentleman and the fact. Then we are asked why she had not sufficient coal. She was only deficient of coal according to the rules of the Admiralty, and in this case a sufficient quantity of coal would have exceeded the carrying capacity of the ship. The intention was that the journey should be performed partly under steam and partly under sail, and, as far as the question, of blame is concerned, I am sure it is not consistent with my right hon. friend's statement that nobody is to blame. My right hon. friend seemed rather to court than shirk inquiry, and as far as we are concerned the hon. baronet will have no cause to complain of the insufficiency of the inquiry that may be made. Now, I wish to make an addition to the statement of my right hon. friend by reading to the House a material statement from a letter by the Master Shipwright and Chief Engineer dated the 30th of July, 1860. There does not appear to be any written report by Mr. Reed as to the survey of the ship at that time, and my right hon. friend is of opinion that Mr. Reed did not make any, but simply made a statement based on this report which represents the result of Mr. Reed's examinations. I am anxious to place this before the House because an impression seems to exist that there had been a report of the thinness of the plates at the bottom of the ship, and that impression has been coupled with the statement which has come to us by telegraph that a hole had been discovered in the bottom of the ship. But we shall see by this report that the thin plates were not at the bottom of the ship, but near the water-line. The report says:-
"We beg to forward herewith a supplementary estimate for the repair of the hull and fittings chargeable to hull of the Megaera, observing that we have examined the hull and find the bottom to be in good condition, the thinnest plates being ⅜in. thick; but the plates between wind and water all round the vessel to about 20ft. from the stern, from the wall down to the first lap, about 8ft. in breadth in midships and about 5ft. in breadth forward and aft are very thin."
Sir J. PAKINGTON. - Very thin.
Mr. GLADSTONE. - But there's a difference.
Sir J. PAKINGTON. - It is just as dangerous.
Mr. GLADSTONE. - Well, that is another matter. The point is that you have got a statement that there is a leak at the bottom of the ship, and that has been connected with the thinness of the plates. It is important under these circumstances to understand where this thinness was observed, and we find it was noticed near the water-line. The report goes on to say:-
"The thicknesses of the same are forwarded herewith, and although we consider the vessel, if required, may be used for temporary service, we are of opinion she will shortly require to be doubled in the parts abovenamed."
I have nothing more to say on this matter. I quite agree that the demands made upon us, especially by the hon. member for the Tower Hamlets [Samuda] are perfectly fair. I quite agree that it is perfectly fair to inquire as to whether any undue desire for economy has led to this or any other disaster; but, at the same time, the country is in a very sad case if, after paying nine or ten millions for their navy, the transports cannot be depended on for seaworthiness, and that no reduction can be made without risking the lives of our seamen. I must, however, say a word in reply to the noble lord (Lord H. Lennox). It was very desirable that nothing should be dragged into this discussion of a controversial and, I may say, offensive nature; but the noble lord has told me that I have taken good care that the Navy Estimates should not come on. I ask the noble lord whether I am capable of such conduct as he alleges. (Hear, hear.) I pointed out to the noble lord that he had an opportunity on Tuesday week if he had wished to raise any question connected with the Navy Estimates, and the noble lord made me the double answer that the House was always counted out on Tuesdays and that Tuesdays was usually reserved for independent members. It is true the House has been counted out on two Tuesdays, on neither of which was the noble lord opposite present; but on the other six Tuesdays the House has sat until 2 o'clock; it did so on the night in question when the noble lord was not present to take part in the business of the House. (Laughter and "hear.") At the time I made the offer to the noble lord I told him distinctly that we had made arrangements by which through the kindness of certain hon. gentlemen we were able to offer him the evening, and I put it to the House whether under the circumstances the noble lord had acted either in fairness or good taste in making this charge. I regret extremely the postponement of the Navy Estimates; and if the noble lord desired to impute any cowardly feeling on our part I can assure him be has no warrant for any such imputation.
Mr. DISRAELI. - I hope the House will not be led into any discussion of detail connected with this subject. A great calamity has occurred and a full inquiry has been promised, and there, for the present, the matter should rest. I should not have risen but for the last remark of the right hon. gentleman respecting the noble lord's conduct. The right hon. gentleman seems perfectly astonished that suspicion should hare arisen at the end of the session that some difficulties have been offered to the House in the consideration of the Navy Estimates, I was of opinion that for a considerable time past hon. members generally on both sides of the House had been labouring under the impression that there was some influence at work - what influence I do not stop now to inquire - which prevented our going into Committee of Supply and considering the Navy Estimates. (Hear, hear.) I think we have heard every day deploring accents uttered respecting the mode in which the public business has been conducted, the result of which has been that the House of Commons has lost its chief privilege of controlling the public expenditure in Committee of Supply (hear, hear); and the matter of all others in which gentlemen on both sides were most interested was the consideration of the Navy Estimates. Therefore, Sir, I am quite astonished at the innocent surprise and indignation just expressed by the right hon. gentleman (" Hear, hear" and laughter), as if my noble friend was the only individual who had ventured to intimate a suspicion that some influence was used which prevented the House from giving in Committee its attention to that important branch of the public expenditure. As to the opportunity so generously and considerately offered by the right hon. gentleman to my noble friend for bringing forward a subject certainly not inferior in importance to that which has engrossed our attention this evening, I am ready to bear all the responsibility of my noble friend's refusal of that occasion. I did not think that at a few hours' notice, if my noble friend had accepted that very doubtful opportunity, under every possible disadvantage, the attention of the House could have been properly directed to so important a question as the loss of the Captain, and I maintain that the right hon. gentleman ought to have offered my noble friend such an opportunity for bringing forward that subject as would have ensured a discussion worthy of the occasion, and one that would have been satisfactory to the country. (Hear, hear.) The motion for adjournment was then withdrawn.
|Tu 8 August 1871||In reply to the question of Sir JOHN HAY yesterday on the loss of the Megaera, Mr. GOSCHEN did the best thing possible - he gave a full and candid account of what had occurred during his own administration. Whatever judgment may be passed on those who are responsible for sending such a ship on such a voyage - and we fear the condemnation must be severe - Mr. GOSCHEN himself will have the excuse that he was new to office, and had not yet completely turned his attention from Union workhouses to Turret-ships and Transports, before it entered into the heads of his subordinates to employ the Megaera in carrying men to the Antipodes. It is an ungrateful task to charge disasters upon official people; to assert that they are not accidental, but may be traced to the negligence of those whom the QUEEN employs and the nation is bound to trust; moreover, in the present case we are bound to recollect that we are not yet informed with certainty of the causes which brought the Megaera to a sinking state in mid-ocean. But enough has transpired to show that from undue economy, or negligence, or simple stupidity, a vessel was sent to sea under conditions which filled people at the time with apprehension, that the warnings given to the Admiralty were disregarded, and that there is good reason for supposing the disaster to be the direct and almost necessary consequence of the state of the ship.|
The Megaera was an iron vessel, built in 1844. Certain things are stated concerning her, and are not denied. Mr. CORRY distinctly asserts that she had seen her best days; she had done much service, and had been placed at the bottom of the list of those ships which were employed on the home service. She was, therefore, evidently considered by the late Admiralty unfit to carry a full complement of passengers on the longest voyage which it is possible to make on the surface of the globe. "Knowing what I did of the ship," says Mr. CORRY, "I should never have thought of sending her to Australia with 380 officers and seamen, and to do so was a great risk on the part of the Admiralty, there being a strong presumption that she was in an unsound state." Such is the testimony of an ex-First Lord, a political opponent of the present Government, it is true, but not likely to be inaccurate on such a subject, and speaking of matters within his own knowledge. We believe it will also be found on inquiry among some who have had the ill-fortune to sail in her that the Megaera is an old offender, and had years ago properly earned her degradation to the bottom of the list of store ships by perpetual breaks down when employed in the transport of troops. Well, this rickety old steamer, constructed 27 years ago, in the infancy of iron ship-building, was chosen in the early part of the present year to convey 380 officers and seamen to Australia. Whether the Admiralty had direct and positive evidence of the vessel's unseaworthiness, as Mr. REED says they had, we put aside for the moment, and consider the facts as they are admitted by Mr. GOSCHEN. When the news of her loss arrived we recalled the attention of our readers to the circumstances that the proceedings of the Admiralty were questioned at the time. On the 6th of March Mr. KAVANAGH asked whether the ship was not overloaded, both with men and cargo, and, moreover, in an unseaworthy condition - leaking from stem to stern. Mr. BAXTER, in the absence of Mr. GOSCHEN, declared that there was not a word of truth in the statement implied in this question, and that, as to the overcrowding, she had now less than 400 men on board, whereas she had on a former occasion, taken to the Cape 22 officers, 425 men, 24 women, and 56 children, besides her own crew. He also made some explanations respecting the quantity of cargo that had been put on board. Orders had been given to take out 100 tons of it in order to give the men more space. Now, we must, in justice, refer those who take an interest in the safety of our men and the credit of the service to Mr. GOSCHEN's speech of yesterday. There they will find made up from official reports the veritable history of a ship sent on a long voyage and crammed full of officers and men by the British Admiralty. The Megaera sailed from Sheerness, and before she got to Plymouth, her troubles began. The captain, the officers, and men on board united in complaint. The latter, be it remembered, were not soldiers, but naval officers and seamen, who could perfectly appreciate the unfitness of the vessel for the voyage. The first "serious remonstrance" which reached the Admiralty was in the shape of a letter from the captain of the Megaera. from Queenstown. It was found that the ports on the main deck leaked, and that the officers and men suffered, as Mr GOSCHEN mildly puts it, "some discomfort." The captain was a little more forcible in expression. "The wind," he wrote, "has been contrary and the weather bad; during the whole of which time the main deck has had water washing from side to side, wetting the men's bags, clothes, &c. The officers' cabins have bee literally afloat the whole time, although the watch have been constantly employed to bale the water up," The main deck ports, "being warped and old, would not keep the water out, some of the bolts drawing out when screwing them up." The captain also wrote to the Commander-in-Chief at Queenstown concerning "the extreme discomfort of the ship in consequence of every available space being taken up for cargo, bringing the ship considerably deeper in the water than she ever was before, and rendering her very wet." The Commander-in-Chief himself reports that he has been on board and found officers and men in great discomfort owing to the crowded state of the decks and the quantity of water which had found its way to the main deck; the ship was very deep in the water; it would be difficult to keep the ship's ports tight in a sea-way, and it would be a great advantage to find space on deck for the stowing of the men's bags; and so forth. The naval officers who were passengers also remonstrated, asserting that the Megaera was too heavily laden and too crowded to encounter successfully such weather as might reasonably be expected in making the voyage to Australia. The vessel was not only dangerous, but unhealthy. "In consequence of the ship's deep draught (17 ft.) the ports at sea are generally barred in the mess place, which has but one small ventilator."Such was the vessel in which nearly 400 Englishmen were despatched on a voyage to the other side of the globe to brave the heats of the tropics and the storms of the Southern Ocean. Mr. GOSCHEN's defence is that no complaint was made of the essential unseaworthness of the vessel. Neither captain nor officers said anything about leaking or wornout plates; it was the ports only which were said to leak, and these were patched up before the Megaera proceeded on her voyage. The Admiralty, it is urged, had no reason to suppose that anything else was unsound. Yet we cannot conceal from ourselves that the facts thus admitted suggest the suspicion that the real state of the vessel was never inquired into at all. When we have a ship sent to sea so overloaded and in a condition so dangerous that the officers and seamen on board remonstrate, and when we afterwards hear that this same ship was found to be in a sinking state in mid-ocean, we cannot but connect the two events. Why was the Megaera, which had been put at the bottom of the list of store ships, despatched on such a voyage? That is at question to which the Admiralty ought to give some better answer than we have yet heard. Into the controversy between the Admiralty and Mr. REED we do not now desire to enter. Mr. REED says he made a report to Mr. CHILDERS that the plates of the Megaera were dangerously thin. Mr. GOSCHEN says not a trace of this report can be found at the Admiralty, and suggests that if Mr. REED communicated his information it was to a member of the House of Commons. The statement of Mr. REED is, however, substantially corroborated by Lord HENRY LENNOX, who says that the report was made in July or August, 1866, when the change of Government was in progress. After having seen and studied that report of Mr. REED, and also the report from Woolwich, to the effect that the ship might be made seaworthy for 18 months or two years, the Admiralty under that Government placed the ship at the bottom of the list of troopships; and, though the pressure to provide ships was very great during the Abyssinian war, the Megaera was never commissioned, because she was not deemed seaworthy. Yet after all this we find the same vessel crammed with men and cargo and despatched on a voyage of many months!
|Tu 8 August 1871|
HER MAJESTY'S SHIP MEGAERA.
The Cork Advertiser of the 3d of March, 1871, contained the following article on the Megaera:-"It would be worth while on the part of some independent member to move for an inquiry as to the circumstances under which Her Majesty's ship Megaera was recently sent to sea. During the first ten days of February she took on board a number of men and officers to relieve the crews of the Blanche and the Rosario on the Australian station - in all 349 souls. Through want of accommodation the gunroom and ward-room messes were amalgamated, making a total of 33 officers. The manner in which these gentlemen were treated seems almost incredible. For more than a week after they went on board they were without the common necessaries of life. There was not a chair, or a cup, or saucer, or table-cloth in the vessel! On the 16th the 'mess traps' arrived, when it was discovered that the table would accommodate but 22 out of the 33. When mess time arrived there was a general rush to the cabin. Those first down got seats, those behind had to wait until the others were served. In place of having each a sleeping cabin to himself they were huddled by twos and threes into small pigeon-holes. When they arrived at Plymouth they applied lo have temporary cabins built. The Admiral apparently approved this moderate demand, for he gave orders that they might draw stores and have the cabins built by the ship's carpenters. An hour afterwards, however, he hoisted the signal to 'part company' though the captain had just told him that the stores had not yet been drawn. ' Up anchor' and away, with the upper deck still strewn by all sorts of mess stores which there had been no time to bring below. They left Plymouth on Saturday, and on Sunday encountered a stiff breeze of wind, which quickly brought out all the bad qualities of the old craft. The ports all gave way, and during her passage the maindeck was flooded ten inches deep - this being the deck where the men slept and had their food. Their clothes, &c., were all thoroughly soaked with water, and the officers' cabins were flooded the whole time, although baling was constantly kept up. They were consequently obliged to put into Queenstown to remedy defects. Both officers and men, we are informed, protest against being sent to sea in the Megaera in her present condition, where no attention has been paid to the comfort or the necessaries of her numerous passengers; and when, apparently, even the safety of the vessel has not been secured! They have also applied to have 150 tons of her cargo taken out of her, as they assert that she is too deeply laden for safety. Surely, it would have been thought that the loss of the Captain would not have been so speedily forgotten that nearly 500 men should be bent to sea in an old store ship, and totally unprovided with proper accommodation. The Urgent and the Tamar are lying idle, but they would be too expensive, so officers and men are sent out in a small and ill-found craft, and are sent all round by long sea to save the expense of sending a few tons of stores to the Cape! Quousque tandem? [Quousque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra (How long, o Catiline, will you abuse our patience?); from Marcus Tullius Cicero's first speech against the plot of Lucius Sergius Catilina and his friends to overthrow the Roman government in 63 BC]"
|Tu 8 August 1871|
ST. PAUL'S ISLAND
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir, - As the letters of your correspondents of last Saturday leave an impression that the island on which the Megaera is reported to be stranded is uninhabited, and that in consequence the crew will be put to considerable inconvenience for their subsistence, perhaps the following extract from the Nautical Magazine, and republished for the information of the passengers of Messrs. Smith's ship Marlborough when within a few miles of St. Paul's, may prove interesting:-
"But the absence of any natural production at this island for the use of man excepting fish, and the conviction that there should be no reliance on the periodical visits of a single vessel from the isle of Bourbon, has induced the few residents on the island to terrace up every lodgment of soil on the slopes of the crater. In the midst of the rocky crags of the island their little terrace gardens are refreshing to the eye, and gratifying proofs of the ingenuity of man in turning to the best account he can even the most niggardly of nature's gifts. The produce more than compensates the toil, affording even a surplus to exchange with passing ships for groceries, &c. Each of these garden plots consists of about 50 square yards; they are terraced up by ponderous blocks of lava, and they require a flight of steps to be formed, perhaps winding abruptly among the rocks for hundreds of feet, to admit of communication round their almost vertical sides, or from a boat below them in the basin. I found evidence of the genial soil and climate regarding our English vegetables. Peas, cabbages, carrots, turnips, potatoes, and artichokes were in perfection, and the wheat was in full ear, but there is no indigenous vegetable except wild celery and rank grass. Nor are there any animals on the island except those imported, which run wild and are shot or snared at pleasure. These consist of sheep, goats, pigs, cats and mice - the latter in winter and the young whale birds in summer afford food for the cats. The oxen, together with pigs, fowls, and rabbits, are kept at the little settlement. This, with its homestead, occupies a very convenient position close to the entrance of the basin on the right hand. The shore adjacent to it is perfectly sheltered from surf or undulation, and therefore some light stone jetties for landing stand from year to year without dilapidation. It is at these jetties that the boats discharge their catch of fish into the salting sheds, and where the schooner which belongs to the fishing party (only drawing eight feet of water) discharges her salt, goes to fish awhile at Amsterdam Island, and loads with the cured fish for Bourbon.
"The person representing the proprietary of the fishing establishment is an intelligent French mariner, Fred. Poure, of Bourbon, where his employer, Marie Heurtevent, resides, who gave to a Polish merchant $6,000 about five years ago for the fishing establishment. Poure was provided with three men, and has sustained his lone position for six years by attending to the cultivation of live stock when too boisterous to collect fish, and by resorting to his ample library when the heavy fogs preclude stirring abroad."
Speaking of the water supply, the writer says of the natural hot water:-
"These waters, when cold, are drinkable, and, indeed, the residents use them when rain-water becomes stale. The climate has proved remarkably healthy to Europeans. The two great drawbacks to more than a few settling on the island are the total absence of fuel and fresh water."I remain, your obedient servant,
W.E. MONTAGUE, Captain 94th Regiment.
Staff College, Aug. 5.
|Tu 8 August 1871|
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir, - I beg leave to request the prompt insertion, if convenient, of the following remarks upon the discussion in Parliament this evening. I was not present, but I have before me what I believe to be an authentic report, and I will reply in the briefest terms possible to the remarks of Mr. Goschen, in the order in which I there find them. The first passage which I will notice is this:-
"Anyone who read the letter of Mr. Reed published in The Times newspaper would hive gathered from the mode in which allusion was made to his report that that report was made before the Megaera was despatched. It was not, indeed, absolutely so stated, but it was inferred, arid I think Mr. Reed believed in his own mind when, he wrote that letter that such must have been the case, or he would not have made use of the expressions which occurred in it."
What all this means I do not in the least understand, as my survey and report were made several years ago, and that fact I most distinctly stated. Mr. Goschen goes on to say that, "Mr. Reed, when the Megaera sailed, had a knowledge of a certain fact, and the Admiralty and myself had not that knowledge. It was not brought to our notice till after the departure of the ship." This, Sir, is most true, and it forms the very ground of my gravest complaint. The Admiralty ought to have known all that I knew, and they would have known it if they not precluded me from communicating with my successors. From the moment of leaving office I took every means, even those which were personally humiliating, rather than deprive the Admiralty at one stroke of the accumulated knowledge and experience that I had acquired in office. But I was repelled, affronted, and silenced. When the Megaera put into Cork, and I noticed the questions asked in Parliament respecting her, I took it for granted that the Admiralty would make quite sure of the safety of the ship before sending her on so long a voyage. The moment I discovered the spirit in which the subject was being dealt with, and noted the scornful confidence of the Government, I did the only thing open to me, by writing to Mr. Walpole - suggesting that if he mentioned my report in the House it might possibly meet with some attention. I believe Mr. Walpole lost no time in doing this, but in the meantime the ship had been sent off, and no farther action was taken by Mr. Goschen. I regretted having written to Mr. Walpole when I read the offensive answer he had received - to the effect (most sound and true, though stated with sarcasm) that some people knew more about Admiralty business than the Admiralty themselves knew. I questioned at the time whether such a taunt, coming from so very inexperienced a Minister, was in the best taste; the event has proved that it was in the worst.
Next Mr. Goschen says, "Mr. Reed states that my right hon. friend the member for Pontefract [Childers] was in office at the time," i.e., the time of my report on the ship. I am not aware that I have stated this. I do not recollect, nor have I, I believe, assigned any date to the report. I am pretty certain, however, that it was prior to Mr. Childers' term of office. In answering me I hope Mr. Goschen will answer what he is quite sure that I have said.
Further, Mr. Goschen says:- "My surprise was naturally great when, for the first time, I received, from a published letter of Mr. Reed's, an indication that the plates were so thin as to endanger the vessel's safety. That was the first time this circumstance had been brought to my knowledge."
Here, again, I do not know what is meant, or can be meant, unless I wrote in March a published letter which has passed out of my mind. My first published letter on the subject appeared, as I thought, on Saturday last, whereas Mr. Walpole's question made reference four or five months ago to the thinness of the plates, and that question Mr. Goschen has evidently not forgotten, nor is he likely to forget it. How, then, can he have learnt first of the thinness of the plates from my letter of last Saturday?
I have already stated why and how I acted when the Megaera put into Cork; it is unnecessary for me, therefore, to explain why I did not write to subordinate officers of the Admiralty and tell them what to do in order to find out the state of the ship. But I had another reason, and that reason was, that it appears to me entirely out of the question for me to attempt to do furtively and irregularly what I have been deliberately and repeatedly debarred from doing openly and officially. And this brings me to Mr. Goschen's most extraordinary suggestion, that Mr. Childers would not allow me to transfer my duties to my successor because I wished to do so through private communications. It is quite true that I did offer in a private letter to Mr. Childers to do whatever I could to set these matter straight; but this occurred months after I left office, and, if I remember rightly, after the loss of the Captain; and, so far was this from being my only attempt to obtain authority to transfer my work, it was my last and despairing effort, and I am ashamed to say only resulted in a childish correspondence respecting whether I would make the letter an official one or not. I believe I have the correspondence in the country, and I have written for it; as Mr. Childers wished it to be made official there will probably be no harm in making it public. I am quite sure it will show what pains and humiliations I went to in order to secure as far as possible the safe completion of Her Majesty's ships. But I cannot allow it to be supposed that this private correspondence is what I refer to when I speak of having been debarred from conferring officially with my successors. I challenge Mr. Goschen to contradict me when I say that I received an official letter telling me, as the result of my efforts and the Controller's to bring this about, that no further information was required of me; and I believe that this letter was signed by Mr. Lushington - a gentleman who now appears to have written a memorial ignoring the official character of my action in this matter, and accuses me of being "somewhat angry." Angry, Sir! It was not anger, it was shame and pain that he must have observed in me, to find a man in the high station of a First Lord of the Admiralty compromising and sacrificing the interests of the naval service to personal pique and childish resentment. Mr Lushington writes from memory as I do; but he has evidently forgotten the very substance and essence of my visit. Fortunately, however, he remembers and has stated one incident - viz., that he was instructed by his chief to tell me that what I might have to say could not be listened to. As to any official letter receiving attention, the very object of my visit was to soften the harshness or their official letters. I will only add on this point that I most certainly did speak to Mr. Lushington of the perils of the course taken by Mr. Childers; I wrote of them to Sir Sydney Dacres, and there is in the hands of Mr. Goschen, in all probability, that very strong official "submission" of the Controller to which I referred this morning, but to which Mr. Goschen makes no reference. My strong assertions on this momentous subject are susceptible of official documentary proof.
But let the world judge of the past by the present. What does Mr. Goschen now say in justification of his own action? Why, his answer is that if I were dead they would be compelled to complete my ships without reference to me, and he leaves it to be inferred that it cannot, therefore, have been wrong to have done and to do so during my lifetime. I have no desire to contest such a position. If a statesman is not ashamed to take it up, I am ashamed to drive him from it. If Parliament, if the country, if the Navy are satisfied, I may as well be. All I wish to ask is that, being held as dead, I may not, nevertheless. be continually held responsible for the losses of Her Majesty' ships. I had been dead officially three months when the Captain was lost, yet they contrived to blame me for it. I have been out of office 13 mouths, yet I am censured by Mr. Goschen as the one man who ought to have saved the Megaera. I appeal to the common sense of your readers, and ask if this is fair.
The worst part of Mr. Goschen's speech is his accusation that I have "charged them with every conceivable negligence in connexion with this ship." That is precisely what I have not done. I expressly stated in my last letter that I did not complain of their overlooking, or not knowing of, the state of the Megaera in the first instance, and I have been most careful to limit my charges respecting her to one or two points. Mr. Goschen states that my name is attached to some estimates for the vessel even more than two years after the date of my surrey. That may well be so, for while the ship was kept on the duties which she then performed it was absolutely necessary for small defects to be made good. It is precisely because I bore such considerations as this in mind that I stated in my last letter that I did not complain of the Admiralty on any such grounds. Other people may feel at liberty to do so: I do not; and Mr. Goschen should remember that. The utmost allowance should be made for oversights in so large, so various, and so exacting a service as the Navy.
Mr. Lefevre is mistaken in saying that I have had two long interviews with Mr. Goschen. I have had but one, and that was due to quite another reason. It is impossible for me to go on seeking to thrust my ad vice on the Admiralty, and I shall not attempt to do so. I have never received the slightest intimation of their desire that I should; they consider me dead, and no doubt heartily wish I were buried.
But it is high time to end the personal part of this controversy. I had what I held and hold to be a solemn duty to perform, and I have done it. Either others must now act, or the Navy must go on as it is going. But this I must add - and I add it in no Cassandra-like spirit - that there are other serious questions touching the safety of some of the most important of Her Majesty's ships to which I long ago called the attention of the Admiralty (because of their overwhelming interest), and the Admiralty have satisfied themselves that all is safe. They have not been courteous enough to send me the results of their inquiries, and my apprehensions remain. If my fears should ever prove true, the tragedy will surpass even that of the Captain, and Mr. Goschen will no doubt tell us, truly enough, that he could not have foreseen it, but accepts the responsibility. Such is the way the great stakes of life and death are played with in the naval administration of the present day. But what can I do? What can the Navy do?
I should leave unnoticed Mr. Gregory's speech were it not for its errors. He says that I have stated that the Glatton is unfit to go to sea, and that the Devastation will probably go to the bottom. I have said nothing of the kind. They may be perfectly safe; but then they may not be, and what I say is that one important means of assuring their safety has been wilfully neglected, and for that reason officers and men should not be ordered at present to embark in them. May I ask Mr. Gregory if he considers it just to accuse me in the same breath of unscrupulously promoting a private quarrel because I point out the possible danger of some vessels, and of being blamable beyond all others because I did not more speedily or more loudly proclaim the possible danger of another? Again. I ask what am I to do? If I give warnings I am unscrupulous; if I do not, something worse. I venture to suggest to Mr. Gregory that his harsh language in the defence of culpable Ministers could hardly have been well received from a person who is about to take up a valuable appointment with which those Ministers have just presented him. The taste of Parliament is somewhat delicate.
Finally, permit me to remind you that the long string of personal recriminations directed against me in Parliament this evening would not, even if they were just, in the least affect the great public question. I may be neglectful, unscrupulous, unjust, without the world caring very much about it. The great point is that the Admiralty are losing ship after ship, and will, in my belief, go on doing so if some great change is not made. What we require and what the Navy requires is some better assurance of safety. That must be secured. Until that is secured, Mr. Goschen may scold, and Mr. Gregory rage, but there will be no end to the agitation that has now began. The Ministry itself will go first. All the Army Bills, and Ballot Bills, and Royal Warrants in the world will not save an Administration which goes on risking, and shipwrecking, and drowning our seamen from preventable causes.I have the honour to be, Sir, your obedient servant,
E. J. REED.
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