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Navy—Arrest Of Seamen—Leave-Breaking— Question

Volume 228: debated on Monday 1 May 1876

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asked the First Lord of the Admiralty, Whether he has seen in "The Times" of the 25th instant an account of the penalties incurred by fifty-eight seamen who were arrested by the Kent County Constabulary at Sittingbourne Railway Junction, while on their way back to the Royal Naval Barracks at Sheerness, on the ground that they were either stragglers or deserters; and, whether that account is substantially true, and, if so, whether the Naval authorities at the port acted in accordance with the regulations of the service and have, or will have, the approval of the Admiralty in the alleged course of action pursued by them in the matter?

, in reply, said, there were certain statements in The Times which required qualification, and there were also certain omissions of facts which, when they were supplied, put a different colour on the transactions. He would read the material part of an official Report on the subject by Captain Darcy Irvine to Vice Admiral H. Chads, dated the 28th of April. Captain Irvine said—

"I have the honour to report that the men of the Royal Naval Barracks were granted as has been usual each year, with your sanction, the Easter leave. But before they went I assembled them and pointed out the bad effects of the great irregularity of leave-breaking, and urged them to return punctually; and, moreover, in order to get them to do so, I stated I would obtain an extra day's leave for them, so that all excuses, as at other times given, would not be required. Before dismissing them, I distinctly made it known to all that if they broke faith I would administer the full rigour of the law. The usual Easter leave consisted of five days, and on this occasion it was extended to six. The greater proportion of men returned to their time, but a most unusual number, notwithstanding the extra day given them, did not. I, still considering the holiday time of year and the chance that a train might have been missed, ordered no notice to be taken of their absence, until they had had ample time and opportunities of returning. Finding after the arrival of the second train the stragglers had not returned, I ordered their descriptions to be sent out (vide Post Orders), and offered £1 reward as permitted by chap. 27, art. 3, par. IV., page 213, of the Admiralty Instructions. On inquiry, I found out the greater number of the stragglers were captured at Sittingbourne during the lapse of 24 hours, where I presume the constabulary stationed themselves, knowing it was the high road to Sheerness. The stragglers may or may not have been returning to the barracks at that time; but, in any case, they were stragglers and subject to the law. I have reason to believe a very large portion of the men arrested had no intention of coming straight into the barracks on their arrival at Sheerness, so, had they not been captured at Sittingbourne, their offence of leave-breaking would have been worse. Out of the number arrested (34) the police had occasion only to handcuff four who were most troublesome. On their return to-day they received the punishment according to the scale laid down in the Summary Punishment Table, Admiralty Regulations, and customs of the Service. The defaulters had nothing to say but that they fully deserved the punishment awarded them. The number arrested was 34, and not 58. Some were taken at Sittingbourne, others at Sheerness and the country about."
Whether the handcuffing was a justifiable proceeding he had not sufficient information at present before him, though he should be extremely sorry that resort should be had to such a proceeding against seamen, unless it was rendered necessary by their own conduct. The other punishment awarded to the men was in accordance with the Admiralty regulations.