Mr. Buller' s motion for Navy Supplies

HOUSE OF COMMONS.

Wednesday, November 1, 1775.

The Order of the Day being read,

The House resolved itself into a Committee of the Whole House, to consider of the Supply granted to his Majesty.

Mr˙ Buller moved that twenty-eight thousand Seamen, including six thousand six hundred and sixty-five Marines, be voted for the service of the year 1776, at the rate of

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four pounds per month. He spoke of the stations of the fleet; particularly that the one under Admiral Shuldham, who was to command in North-America, was to consist of seventy-eight sail.

Admiral Keppel opposed the motion, as inadequate to a war, and too large for a peace establishment. He said that no vessels could keep the sea upon the coast of North-America in the winter season; arraigned the proceedings of the First Lord of the Admiralty in his conduct of the Navy, which he represented to have been in a much better situation before the present noble Lord came to the head of that department than since.

Captain Luttrell. When the Address, which, we are told; pledged us to nothing, passed this House, I did suppose Ministry would think it politick to vote Navy, Army, Militia, supplies, and every grant they may want, to exhaust the treasure of this country, without giving time for reflection, information, or inquiry; and therefore I am not surprised at the precipitate manner in which the honourable member has brought before us a question of such great national import; but as I suspected it, I was eager to learn from the noble Lord opposite to me, when he mentioned the number of land forces proposed to be employed for the present year, what the naval establishment was to consist of. His Lordship carefully avoided being thus communicative, though he assured us, in too general terms, that the most proper economy had been, and would be, observed with respect to the Navy. Sir, I do not mean to accuse that noble Lord of an inclination to impose upon this House or the publick, because his ignorance of naval affairs will acquit him with me of any such design. But, sir, let him beware here how he puts implicit faith in the information of a man who, with little more maritime knowledge, may, perhaps, have much subtlety, and is wise to rest such assertion as this upon the credit of the noble Lord rather than upon his own; for I believe it will puzzle any man in this House to produce more than one jnstance where this boasted economy has been observed, and there profusion would have been excusable, if not commendable: I mean, sir, when his Majesty went to review his fleet at Portsmouth. Butr sir, it would take me till midnight to enumerate the various instances of bad management, ignorance, and extravagance that have followed one another since the noble Lord who now presides at the head of the Admiralty was appointed to such office; proceeding, in part, I am sure, from his not taking the advice of a very able and respectable sea officer, who is a Lord of that Board, but obstinately following his own naval ideas, and being unable or unwilling to discern that, though a subtle statesman, he is but an ordinary seaman.

Sir, where, then, is this economy to be found? Is it in the summer parade of that noble Lord, sailing from one King' s port to the other, and wasting every year some hundred pounds of the publick money, by the single expenditure of powder, to notify his arrival? By prostituting the honour of the flag, and claiming distinctions he must know, if he knows anything of the service, he is no way entitled to, and therefore ought to be ashamed of? Is it by the loss to the publick of the artificers' labour while they are doing homage to this mighty Lord? Is it in sending a royal yacht with his son to Lisbon, which will, cost the publick one thousand pounds, when he might have gone in a packet for fifty pounds? Is it in the wise regulations he has made in the Navy, which we hear of in the newspapers, and by his dependants, but nowhere else? Or is it in that careful inspection into the state of the fleet so to prevent abuses, that the best men-of-war may be sold for one thousand pounds, while the worst appear to have cost forty thousand pounds in repair? And, sir, as it is the custom to call up the attention of the country gentlemen upon every alarming subject, I will crave that indulgence for a minute to mark one instance out of very many where this economy is not to be found. [He then entered into the abuses and misapplications that had prevailed in the naval economy since the year 1770. He showed that, though in the course of five years upwards of two millions sterling had been granted by Parliament for the repairs of the Navy, over and above the sums annually for wear and tear, yet the Navy debt had increased in the same five years upwards of five hundred thousand pounds. He proved that the Africa, a ship of seventy guns, had been sold for nine hundred pounds, though she was in better order than two-thirds of the fleet, and could

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have been made as good as new for three thousand pounds; while it appeared upon the Journals of the House there had been demanded of Parliament, for the use of the Dragon man-of-war only, within four years, though she had never been at sea in the time, thirty-two thousand nine hundred and seventy-three pounds, being extra work over and above what she had cost under the articles of wear and tear, and ordinary; and is now laid up in Fareham-Creek, unfit for service without further repair. He likewise proved, that the noble Lord at the head of the Board was the cause of the late insurrection of the shipwrights, as he had encouraged them to petition Parliament for an increase of wages, in opposition to the application of the Captains of the Navy for an increase of their half-pay: he himself having told their committee that the shipwrights were a set of more useful men to this station, and much more entitled to the favour of Government. He said that the task-work was the most destructive manner of building and repairing possible; that it must inevitably increase the naval expense, and ruin the fleet of this Kingdom.]

Now, sir, to return to the question immediately before us: My objection arises, as it did last year, from a persuasion of the insufficiency of the number of seamen applied for to man the ships already in commission, and those fitting for foreign service: if six thousand six hundred and sixty-five marines are to be included, one thousand two hundred of which the honourable member allows to make a part of your standing army, and are now serving under the General of your troops in America, how, then, can the ships in this country be fitted for war, if occasion should require it, without the assistance of these marines, who, with the few volunteers we have, can alone be trusted to man the boats, get the stores on board, guard the ships, and the men we receive from the impress traders? The honourable member has told us, that Admiral Shuldham' s command is to consist of seventy-eight sail of men-of-war. In that case it is trifling with Parliament to come with such a demand as this, when I am sure it is impossible, by any calculation, to prove them sufficient to man such a fleet as is now in commission, and fitting for foreign service; and if you except, out of twenty-eight thousand seamen, the one thousand two hunded marines under the command of our General at Boston, sea officers, petty officers, and servants, the number of foremast men will not exceed fourteen thousand; therefore these must be ordinary grants; you may judge of the extraordinaries by what you have heard respecting the Dragon, and of which there are many more instances equally alarming.

Sir, though I am totally against a great increase of revenue for the destructive purposes it seems at present intended, it was my best hope that a large share of it would be appropriated towards the support of what is generally acknowledged to be the great strength of this nation; that when the American ports were shut up, and we had lost that trade, we might have secured the seamen out of employ, by fitting out a formidable fleet; not because I think it will prove useful on the coast of America, but as the best security against a foreign Power.

Sir, talking of America, a right honourable member said there had been a fault in the Navy somewhere. Will the noble Lord declare that Admiral Graves has ever received positive orders that he did not execute; or have they been, as I have reason to believe them from the operations of the fleet, so artfully discretional that, if your ships should be wrecked upon that frozen coast, or any misfortune attend them, the blame may be laid on the Admiral, and his reputation as an officer be sacrificed to shelter the wicked proceedings of these Ministers?

Sir, an honourable member told us, we need not be dispirited with our misfortunes in America, for that our fleets were unsuccessful at the beginning of the late war, but afterwards proved victorious. Sir, this is a position similar to that of the naval economy, which I think can hardly be marked in above one instance, I mean the loss of Minorca. Where else did ill success await our naval arms? Was it in Europe, Asia, South or North America, where, from the commencement to the conclusion of the war, we were making captures? How, then, sir, was the ill success, misfortunes, or calamities, that attended this country in any foreign war to be compared to the sea of trouble we are now embarked in, but which, I hope to God, may calm sooner than I fear the minds of those men will do, who can tell us, in a language

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that is shocking to hear, they are riveted to coercion against our fellow-subjects in America?

Lord Hinchinbroke said, his brother was in such a situation, that the noble Lord, his father, had no other means of sending him.

Lord North said, the ships built at the end of the war were of green wood, which not being so durable as the seasoned wood, were very bad, had lately proved very rotten, and that this circumstance had been the cause of the great expense.

Sir J˙ G˙ Griffin did not get up to oppose the number of seamen, because he thought if any operations were to be continued against the Americans, they ought to be confined to that service only. He then declared that he had hitherto supported Government on principles, without regard to men; thinking it his duty, as an honest man, so to do, as long as the true interest of the country appeared to be consulted, and the publick affairs conducted to the credit or honour of the nation. He denied that to be the case at present, and called on any of the Minister' s best friends to contradict him; adding, he should ill deserve to sit there any longer, if he continued to afford his support to men, the effects of whose pernicious measures had reduced us to so shameful a situation. He professed himself an advocate for the supreme legislative authority of this country over its Colonies; disclaimed, however, on the one hand, vindicating the rash and indiscreet measure of having taxed the Americans, as he did on the other their mode of resistance. The noble Lord [North] had in the last session given it as his firm opinion, that the forces then voted, and the other measures the House had adopted, would put an end to all our unhappy disputes with America, even without a drop of bloodshed; yet notwithstanding we all felt so seriously the grievous effects of these ill-advised measures, the noble Lord, with fatal experience against him, was determined to seek our total ruin, by persevering in the same wild and extravagant system; instead of which, he added, a tender of conciliation on terms suited to the true spirit of the British Constitution ought to be preferred and held out to the Americans, which, if found not successful, we ought to relinquish all connections with them: or otherwise, if practicable, to harass them with your fleets, by interrupting their trade, till at length they might perhaps be brought to sue for protection.

He contended that measures of this nature would save the nation from impending ruin and destruction, which must otherwise be attendant on the system of coercion and conquest; that our finances might thus be kept unimpaired; that we should have no occasion for foreign troops, for the vast exercise of our Army establishment, or for calling forth the Militia, to the prejudice of trade and of the cultivation of our lands, and that we should preserve to ourselves what, it was to be feared, might be too soon wanted — security at home, against foreign or domestick insults; and that, in the worst even,t, the loss of America could never be adequate to the blood and treasure of which this country must be exhausted in the endeavour to recover it, and to preserve it, if in the end victorious.

The motion was agreed to without a division, and Mr˙ Speaker resumed the chair.

Sir Charles Whitworth reported from the Committee, That they had come to several Resolutions; which they had directed him to report, when the House will please to receive the same.

Ordered, That the Report be received to-morrow morning.

Sir Charles Whitworth also acquainted the House, that he was directed by the Committee to move that they may have leave to sit again.

Resolved, That this House will, upon Friday morning next, resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole House, to consider further of the Supply granted to his Majesty.