« ForrigeFortsett »
as Mr. Lindsay, considering that very strong and cogent reasons should be given for the large Estimates proposed. The disturbing causes having ceased, why, he asked, should we not return to the ordinary average rate of expenditure in 1857 and 1858? He stated facts to show that there had been a delusion as to the strength of the French navy.
After some further discussion on these topics, Lord Clarence Paget made his statement to the House, referring in the first place to the observations just made by Mr. Lindsay and Mr. Baxter. He asserted that the account he had given of the French iron fleet was true; that the vessels he had enumerated were all in existence and in progress. He then proceeded to explain various matters connected with the details of the Estimates. The total amount asked for the year 1802-6:1 was 11,704,305/., being a diminution of expenditure, compared with 1801-62, of 846,-4X3/. The actual decrease in the number of men was 2200, the number of men and boys to be voted this year being 76,000, against 78,-iOO'last year. The number of boys was the same. Ho next stated the number of vessels on the home and foreign stations, the total force afloat being 160 vessels. The total number of men to be maintained afloat was 54.QOO. The Royal Naval Reserve, whose noble conduct he eulogized, amounted to 10,100 men, and the cost, including all items, was 13/. per man annually. He calculated thnt the future cost on account of pensions would be Hi. per man. Adding to this force that of the Naval Coast Volunteers, he thought wo were com
ing to a satisfactory state as to the force at home and our reserves. After noticing the force of boys under training, and their cost, he entered into details showing the satisfactory state of the fleet, describing tho progress made in improviug the condition of the seamen, one step of which was by reducing tho complement of ships, to obviate the objection that vessels were overcrowded. Corporal punishment hail diminished in tlie navy. The Admiralty had taken measures to effect what the navy wanted—organization in barracks. He then gave the numbers of steamships afloat and building, the grand total being 580; and details of the reduction of the armament of ships, pointing out the advantages attending the reduction. He next approached the subject of iron-cased ships, and the progress made in their preparation. There were 15 in progress. 11 of which would be completed this year, one next year, and the whole number in I8tl4. With regard to their cost, that of the Warrior was 854,885/., without the armament,which cost 13,000/ The reports which the Admiralty had received of the qualities of that vessel justified him in saying that she was fit to go round the world; the sinister reports respecting her, he believed to be totally without foundation. After referring to certain experiments in relation to a new class of iron ve^«els, and to details in relation to the future of our iron fleet. Lord Clarence entered upon an explanation of the several items of the Estimates, replying, as he proceeded, to observations made in the preliminary discussions, in doing which he indicated the
intention of the Government regarding the enlargement of docks, the construction of naval barracks, and the erection of hydraulic machinery by which iron plates might be bent and put upon the ships on the spot.
After considerable discussion on the various topics embraced in Lord C. Paget's speech, the votes proposed by him were sanctioned by the House.
The account of the remarkable engagement which took place in the month of March, this year, between two American iron-cased vessels, the Confederate Merrimac and the Federal Monitor, in Hampton-roads, produced a lively sensation in this country, and led to a serious consideration of the consequences of this new mode of naval armament, as affecting the defence of our own coasts, and the alterations required in our navy. Some persons were inclined at once to adopt the conclusion that this experiment had proved the uselessness for purposes of war of all wooden vessels, and that a total revolution must take place in shipbuilding; by others, the result was not considered so decisive. The question of the coast fortifications, on which our Government had in the former Session resolved, with the sanction of Parliament, to make a large expenditure, was closely connected with that of naval armaments, as it was argued by many that the new iron-cased floating-batteries would be found a much more efficient engine of defence against invasion than fixed fortifications on the shore could be, and that if vessels could be so sheathed with iron as to be made impregnable to artillerv, there would
be little utility in building forts to resist them. The two subjects, therefore, of iron-clad vessels and of forts, became necessarily mixed together in the discussions which arose respectingnaval armaments.
Early in April, a statement of much interest was made in the House of Lords by the Duke of Somerset, First Lord of the Admiralty, in explanation of the measures adopted and contemplated by the Government, in reference to the new system of nautical operations lately introduced. The statement was made in answer to the Earl of Hardwicke, who requested the noble duke to inform him what number of iron-plated ships were then afloat, or in building, and what would be done with the ships of the fleet built with timber. Lord Hardvvicke, in asking these questions, entered at considerable length into the question of ironcased ships, and suggested that many of our wooden ships might, at a moderate cost, be cut down and plated after the manner of the Merrimac, and so rendered exceedingly effective vessels. He foresaw in the new system, not only a change in our ships, but a great change in the duties and character of our naval officers and seamen.
The Duke of Somerset, having thanked Lord Hardwicke for having brought this subject before the House, stated what steps had been taken by the present Government to build iron vessels since 1859. The late Government had proposed to build two iron-plated vessels, but from information subsequently received, he had advised these two to be increased to four—viz. the Warrior, the Black Prince, the De
fence, and the Resistance. Not being contented with these vessels, the Government had ordered the Valiant to be built on improved principles, for, as the whole system was in a state of uncertainty, there were necessarily defects in the first experiments. At the present moment we had four iron ships afloat, another to be launched in August, and five wooden ships in course of plating, two of which would be launched in the autumn, and three in the ensuing spring. Not satisfied with this, he had caused experiments to be made with Captain Coles's cupola, the results of which, both in regard to the revolving of the cupola and its power of resistance to very heavy firing, were entirely successful. A vessel of this class of 2000 tons, and drawing only 20 feet water, would be shortly laid, as money had been taken for the purpose in the Estimates. At the same time it was intended to apply the principle of the cupola to wooden vessels, and these, he believed, would be the best vessels we could have for the defence of our coasts. There were now building six different kinds of iron-plated ships, but he was not satisfied with any of these, as the means had not yet been discovered of making the iron plating contribute to the strength of the vessels. In reply to Lord Hardwicke*s question, he stated that we had the frames of five line-of-battle ships, seven frigates, and eight Urge corvettes in progress, and these frames could be easily adapted to bear iron plates. Of our present wooden vessels we could easily cut down 20 lineof battle ships, and by fitting them with iron plates adopt them
for the defence of our coasts and the Channel, still retaining a fleet of 40 ships to oppose to any wooden fleet which might be sent to attack us; and if it were necessary to fight iron ships against iron ships, we were able to meet any navy in that arm. In regard to the question of expense, he did not think it would be so great as anticipated, neither did he think the inferences drawn from the recent engagement as to the invulnerability of iron ships, especially in the face of the very great improvements being made in the speed of ships and the force of artillery, correct. He then entered at some length into the merits and defects of the Merrimac and Monitor, pointed out the alterations which the new system of iron-plating would introduce in our navy, deprecated undue precipitation in building vessels of iron, but confessed that we ought to refrain from building more wooden ships, and concluded by asserting the propriety of not discontinuing to build forts, as the arguments drawn from the recent contest on that point were by no means conclusive.
The Earl of Malmesbury expressed his acknowledgments to the noble duke for his valuable statement, which would be received by the public with great interest, and the discussion terminated.
The subject was revived shortly afterwards in the some House. upon a question asked by Lord Vivian, of the Government, whether or not they had abandoned the intention of proceeding with the proposed forts at Spithead, or whether they would proceed with tho construction of iron-cased bhips.
Lord De Grey and Ripon said it was not desirable that Her Majesty's Government should take any hasty action founded upon a single event, nor abandon too hastily a course adopted by Parliament after full discussion. Although the foundation of the forts at Spithead had been already contracted for and commenced, the Government had decided to suspend the works going on at these forts, and to refer the matter for reconsideration to the Defence Commission, which would then report on the subject. It must not be imagined that out of the money voted for commencing these works there would be any surplus for building iron vessels. The Governmen t would, no doubt, when the Defence Commission had made their report, apply to Parliament for the necessary funds to carry out their suggestions, and would then state what course they proposed to take. He then proceeded to point out the exaggerated opinions which had been based upon the engagement between the Merrimac and the Monitor as to the invulnerability of ships and the inutility of forts. The recent experiments at Shoeburyness had sufficiently shown a steady average superiority of the gun over the iron plates. At the same time, it must be remembered there was a limit to the thickness of armour-plating for ships, while the power of artillery was capable of much greater development. He, therefore, thought it would be unwise entirely to suspend or abandon the erection of forts, especially as forts, in combination with floating defences, would be of the greatest value. He believed, however, that the result of the ex
periments would be to leave the relative qualities of ships and forts very much where they were previously.
The Duke of Cambridge agreed with Lord De Grey and Eipon that it was only by combined defences of forts and ships that Spithead could and ought to be defended, and that after the experiments at Shoeburyness we ought to continue the course of defence originally laid down, as those experiments had fully shown the power of guns of heavy calibre, when heavily charged with powder, to pierce the thickest iron plates. He thought Her Majesty's Government had acted wisely in not giving up the original plan, but in pausing for further consideration. He hoped, however, the pause would not be a prolonged one.
Lord Ellenborough hoped the forts at Spithead would be proceeded with at once, as they would not cost more than three iron ships, would cany some 300 guns, and be a permanent defence. The result of experiments had established the fact that ships' sides, however plated, could be perforated, and though it might be possible to strengthen a ship's sides, such strengthening was limited, while the power of artillery would more than keep pace with improved plating. In conclusion, he urged the necessity of redoubling our efforts to increase our iron fleet and to place tho country in abetter state of defence.
The Duke of Somerset said that there were two great objects to be attained—the defence of the country against attacks from abroad, and from panics at home. He repelled the charge of Lord Ellenborough, that the Government were not moving sufficiently fast in building iron ships, byrecounting the steps that had been already taken for that purpose. He also stated that he had given orders that one plated ship, at least, a-year should be built in each of our dockyards, and had done all in his power to further the construction of these vessels.
Somewhat later in the Session the same questions as to the relative efficiency of iron-clad vessels and of fortifications were raised in the House of Commons. Sir Frederick Smith called attention to the engagement between the Merrimac and the Monitor, giving a detailed account of that action, and asked whether it would not, in the opinion of the Government, be prudent to suspend the construction of some of the proposed forts at Spithead, until the value of such ironroofed gun-boats for the defence of our ports and roadsteads had been fully considered.
Mr. Laird expressed hopes that the result of the late engagement would turn the attention of the Government seriously to this subject. Until our ships were built of iron it would not, he thought, be possible to reduce materially the expenditure in our dockyards.
Mr. Gregory believed that the money expended upon the fortresses would be worse than wasted, and called upon the Government to look the matter in the face; to be prepared fur an entirely new state of thiiif>, that would revolutionize our navy, and to divert the expenditure intended for useless fortifications to the construction of iron Monitor*.
Sir J. Hay said his opinion, as to the necessity of the fort* at
Spithead, had changed. He now thought it would be better to spend the money on vessels of the new construction, moveable forts being more available than fixed fortifications.
After some further discussion, Sir G. Lewis observed that two questions had been raised in this discussion,—one, as to the expediency of stopping the construction of the forts at Spithead; the other, whether wo should alter the whole character of our naval defences. Upon the latter question ho warned Uie House against entering upon so large a discussion at present; the practical result of the suggested revolutionary change in our naval defences might be a supplementary Estimate of 10,000,0007. or 15,000,000/. With regard to the first question, it was identical with that brought before the Defence Commission, which, in a careful Report, expressed an opinion that the best plan of defence was a combined system of forts and iron-cased vessels. Had any addition been made to our knowledge which should alter that conclusion? Not speaking on bis own authority, but from information he had received, be was led to think that the engagement between the American vessels threw little light upon the qualities of iron-casod ships. He expected, however, that the ingenuity of engineers would be stimulated to invent machines that would smash such ships attacking our coasts, and he hoped they would soon be able to attain that result.
Mr. Bright said the speech of Sir G. Lewis was not very satisfactory; he had said nothing to the propositions of Sir i\ Smith