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The Charleston Affair in Parliament — a General talk of iron-clads and iron Navies.

J. Elphinstone rose to move that an address should be presented to Her Majesty, that she would be graciously pleased to appoint a royal commission to consider the best mode of construction and form of iron clad ships which were to compose the future navy of England, and to report upon the ships at present built and building, and the amount of dock and basin accommodation required for their use at home and abroad. The honorable baronet said that during his time there had been three reconstructions of the British navy, which had cost large sums of money to this country. One very great objection to our present system was the diversity of sizes in which these ships had been built. There was nothing more essential than equality rate. [Hear, hear.] The ruling rate of speed of a squadron was found to be that of the slowest ship; and whilst the Warrior and Black Prince could make fifteen or sixteen knots, he doubted whether other vessels, when at sea, would be able to maintain a speed of nine knots. This is a point to which a royal commission would assign great importance, and whatever we did, it was essential that equality of speed should be maintained. [Hear, hear.] The noble lord the Secretary to the Admiralty and given the House some description of the iron-clad navy of France. With respect to the iron fleet of America, events have recently occurred in that country which threw the strongest light on the question. The American Administration had been completely untrammeled in the construction of ships, and yet it was most extraordinary that, with the whole resources of the country at command, and with the undoubted skill in naval ship building which the Americans possessed, they had not yet succeeded in constructing one serviceable iron-clad ship. The most reliable information to which he had access was to be found in a French publication, the Revue Maritime et Colonials, in which the various classes of the American fleet were minutely described. It appeared that there were no less than eight or ten different classes, varying in amount of tonnage from four thousand to seven or eight hundred, of every degree of speed, iron coating and construction; and yet in the action which took place the other day before Charleston nine of those ships were entirely destroyed. One was sunk, and the others appeared to have had very great difficulty in getting away. One ship to which he

would beg particularly to call the noble lord's attention, because she greatly resembled the Warrior in construction, the Ironsides, totally and entirely refused to answer her helm. --The Indianola, one of the largest of the ironclad ships, having lost her way, was attacked by two small gunboats on her side ports to such a degree that they were obliged to run her aground, and then she became a prey to the Confederates or was destroyed. The iron fleet of this country, as it at present existed, was totally without that description of vessel which subdued the Indianola. We had no gun vessels laid down to carry a single heavy gun, to go with a good rate of speed, which in the event of one of these enormous masses like the Warrior being brought to a stand still by another opponent, could attack her in those parts in which she no doubt was valuable. The Government had, in a paper which be thought it was a great pity was ever punished, thrown serious reflections upon the building of ships in private yards. There might be some ground for this in the case of wooden ships, for Government never had recourse to building in private yards till their own stock of seasoned timber was exhausted, and no private builder could compete with the Government in the amount of stock. But with regard to iron ship- building it was a totally different thing. Any man acquainted with ship building must know that many of the iron ships built in private yards were the perfection of naval architecture, as far as structure was concerned. But still there were inconveniences which Government ought not to put up with after their public yards were completed. It was needless to say that there was any difficulty in this Whenever the tide rose some twenty feet in a river, the manufacture of iron ships could go to any extent. He affirmed that no iron shipbuilder was so good as a shipwright.

Lord Robert Montague said: ‘ the master shipwrights had to undergo a regular scientific education. It was to France that people from all parts of the world went to learn naval architecture, and not to England, which had always prided herself so much on her marine. It was on persons educated in this manner that the French Government depended for everything connected with the construction or management of ships. Such was the demand for the scholars of the French school, that they were rarely permitted to finish their third year. Mr. Scott Russell had borne witness to the fact that the ships of England were the worst in the world, and that the French were gradually driving us out of our monopoly.’

Mr. Lindsay said: ‘With regard to the cupola ships of Captain Coles, he believed that they were more effective than port-sided ships. It was said that the manner in which cupola ships had suffered at Charleston proved them to be inefficient; but it must be remembered that the cupola ships there engaged were of a very inferior character. He believed our iron fleet was superior to any in the world, and he had no complaint to make of the Admiralty on that ground; but he must say that, in his opinion, our navy cost us a great deal of money. It was not the work they had to do, but what they had to undo, that cost the money, and he would suggest that instead of trusting to one man, a board of five practical men should be appointed to report upon matters connected with shipbuilding to the Comptroller of the Navy.’

Lord Clarence Paget said: ‘A few days ago it would have been said, "Build iron ships, " but the information which had reached us from Charleston was rather against them. No two people agreed as to the form of a ship or the armaments of a ship. With regard to armor- plated ships, the Government were carrying out at this moment experiments in every direction. He had no doubt that these discussions were extremely useful, because they called the attention of the Government and the public to various improvements in the construction of vessels.’

From a Parliamentary return we learn that the cost of the British iron-plated ships since the Warrior had been as follows: The Black Prince, £373,899; the Resistance, £257,848; and the Defence, £252,898. The whole cost of the Warrior, before being ready for sea, is now known; it amounts to £377,373. The principal difference between the cost of the Warrior and that of the Black Prince being in the item of masts and yards, rigging and stores.

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