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Navy—The Flying Squadron

Volume 203: debated on Friday 29 July 1870

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Question

said, he had intended to call attention to the great loss of men which had resulted from the employment of the Flying Squadron, but he would now condense his observations into the form of a Question. Last year he took the opportunity of objecting to the employment of six ships and 2,800 men of the Navy in a way he thought not advantageous to the public service. He admitted that the assembling of the squadron and the practice of the men in evolutions were likely to be advantageous, and it was not to the assembling of the squadron that he in common with the right hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. Corry) objected; but they thought it wrong that the ships and men, the former being extremely scarce, should be sent to a distant part of the world, as should circumstances arise in Europe requiring their aid, the Government would not have the power to employ them. Such squadrons of evolution or exercise should be employed in the Mediterranean or Atlantic, where their services would be available at short notice. Moreover, the part of the world to which they were sent was likely to be injurious to the health of the crews, and the temptations there to desert were considerable. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty stated the other night that 58 men had deserted during the short time the squadron was at the Colonies. It had been stated that the squadron had been telegraphed to return, but the only mode of telegraphing to Valparaiso, the next port of call, was by telegraphing through North America to Cuba and thence viâ ship to Panama and Chili, or by packet to Rio do Janeiro and thence by wire to Valparaiso. Telegraphing, therefore, was no use, and he could not see how the squadron, though telegraphed to return immediately, could reach this country before November, and though men were scarce, yet, if the statement in the newspapers were true, the right hon. Gentleman was about to send out another Flying Squadron. He thought such a proceeding would have the effect of weakening the national force near home in a way disadvantageous to the country, and he, therefore, wished to know, Whether the right hon. Gentleman purposed to commission another squadron for particular service, for that was the technical expression, and to keep it in distant seas, so that the Government would be deprived of the opportunity of availing themselves of its services if they should be required?

said, that last year the hon. and gallant Baronet (Sir John Hay) objected to the squadron being sent to New Zealand, which he said was in a disturbed state. [Sir JOHN HAY: And it was not sent in consequence.] Yes it was sent there, and to three ports instead of two, and the Government had received despatches from that Colony stating that its visit had conferred great benefit there, and expressing a hope that the Government would send another squadron to New Zealand. The Flying Squadron had visited Japan; but there had not been the smallest objection made to its presence there, as the hon. and gallant Baronet had prophesied. On the contrary, Admiral Hornby had been requested by Her Majesty's Minister there, at the desire of the Japanese Government, to receive a certain number of Japanese students on board, and the result of the visit had been in every way satisfactory. The hon. and gallant Gentleman had now raised a fresh set of objections to the Flying Squadron. One was that the parts of the world to which it had been sent were not favourable to health or discipline; but there was not the smallest foundation for that prophecy after the events. The health of the squadron, instead of being so much injured by its movements, had been improved. A report had appeared in the newspapers that the squadron was in an unsatisfactory state owing to the short supply of water; but, on inquiry, it was found that a mistake had been committed by the newspaper's correspondent, the supply per man being stated at a quart and a-half per diem, whereas it ought to have been a gallon and a-half. Then as to the alleged number of deserters, the fact was that in one of our Colonies the men had been granted free tickets over all the railways, and in consequence some were "stragglers" when the Fleet went to sea, and among them 80 or 90 blue-jackets. Some of these had since been recovered, but the desertion had been greatly exaggerated. It was said he had telegraphed to Valparaiso to order the squadron to return; but the fact was there was no telegraph to Valparaiso, and the squadron was not ordered to alter any of its movements, but only to use a little more coal. The hon. and gallant Member asked whether it was intended that there should be a second Flying Squadron. He had stated, earlier in the Session, that a squadron of seven frigates and corvettes would be ready to sail in October or November next. Of course it would be impossible for him in the month of July to say—and the House would appreciate the reasons why he should not say—where that squadron would be sent. All he could say was that there was abundance of men and stores for the purpose, and when the time came the Government would take care that it was properly equipped and sent to the proper place.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.