PP/GC/LE/147 Letter from Sir G.C.Lewis to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, on the administrative conventions of the War Office, proposed new defence structures on the south coast, the choice of guns and artillery, and the proposed reduction of armed forces in the West Indies, 26 October 1861
Letter from Sir George Cornewall Lewis, second Baronet, [Secretary of State for War], Harpton [Court], Radnor, to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston: he is obliged to Palmerston for writing a full and interesting account the observations made during a recent inspection. "I cannot sufficiently admire the energy and alacrity with which you have performed this labourious work." Since he has been at the War Department, Lewis has confined himself to supervising the current business; he has refrained from deciding new or important questions until had gained more experience. Meetings are held on alternate Saturdays, which are attended by the Duke of Cambridge and the principal officers of the two departments. These meetings have been interrupted recently and have not resumed since Lewis took office. They will be revived when Lewis returns to London as they afford an opportunity for discussion of the most important pending questions. Several of the questions mentioned by Palmerston will be discussed, for example the defence of the Downs and of part of the Kent coast. "The points which you mention with respect to the fortifications of Portsmouth and Portland will also require full examination in concert with the professional advisers of the office. It seems that wooden and perishable huts do not answer. I remember that Colonel Claremont in a recent report has stated that the French have found brick huts to be the cheapest in the long run, as well as most healthy and commodious." The acquisition of three hundred additional acres at Shorncliff will be considered at next year's estimate. The expense of Aldershot caused objection, but the public seemed to approve. The central arsenal is another question which will require consideration. Lewis has not yet attended to this matter, so cannot say whether sufficient provision has been made in the fortification loan. "I intend to do my best to understand the rights of the rifle question before the session. There is no doubt that the Enfield rifle is a great improvement on the old musket, such as our troops used in the French war. But le bien est l'ennemi du mieux and it seems tolerably certain that the Enfield rifle is not now absolutely the best, but that it has been surpassed by more recent improvements. The practical issue for decision, I apprehend, is whether these improved rifles are sufficiently superior to the Enfield rifle to justify the expense of a change, it being certain that the new rifle thus introduced would be surpassed in a few years." There has been controversy in the newspapers, based on articles in the MECHANICS MAGAZINE, respecting the merits of the Armstrong gun and shells. The official reports received are very favourable to the Armstrong gun but subjudice. The defect in the shell which Palmerston has pointed out might be remedied without much difficulty. The committee of the last session on colonial military expenditure expressly recommended that the military force in the West Indies, including the black regiments, should be reduced. "The black regiments are cheaper and better suited to the climate, than the white regiments." The committee wish that nearly all military force should be withdrawn from the West Indies. "I have no doubt that in time of war the War Office is a labourious office to its chief, but in time of peace it seems to me by no means to deserve that character in comparison with other large departments." 26 Oct 1861
Two papers
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George, second Duke of Cambridge, General Commanding in Chief
North Downs, Surrey/Kent
Portsmouth, Hampshire
Portland, Dorset
Colonel Edward Stopford Claremont, British military commissioner at Paris
Aldershot, Hampshire
Newspapers and the press
British colonial defence; West Indies
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