HC Deb 25 July 1838 vol 44 cc591-603
Sir E. Codrington

rose for the purpose of calling the attention of the House, to the injustice done to the officers of the navy compared to those of the other branches of the public service. He was aware that this was a subject, that had hitherto not been listened to by the House very favourably, but he hoped the time was not far distant when it would be attentively considered. The Parliament would be forced to take it up, for at present the navy was in a most inefficient state. If there were any occasion to no equip a large fleet such was the condition of our ships, and such the destitution of our dock yards, that he did not think, we could send ten sail of the line to sea. But his object was to call the attention of the House to the naval as compared to the civil department. A good deal had been said upon the discussion of the Pension List, about the taking away of pensions, that had been hardly earned. Those observations ought to be applied to the naval profession. There was not any department of the service of the country in which persons were required to perform more duties than in the navy. Now in order to show the injustice done to the navy, he would state that an Admiral's hail-pay was 376l. l0s; his widow's pension, if in distress, was 120l. a year, while in many instances he could mention in the civil service, persons retired with a pension of 1,000l. a year. He found that a deputy Judge-Advocate, who had retired, did so upon an allowance of 900l. a-year, whereas a Vice-Admiral had only 593l. and a full Admiral 766l. Now he did not say, that these gentlemen were too well paid; but if they were not, then the others—the veterans in the service—had too little. Again, an officer was obliged to pay, all his life, to what was called a Widow's fund; yet when he died, the widow, according to Admiralty law, had no claim whatever upon the fund, unless she was in distress, and had a less income than 200l.; and even that allowance was taken away upon a second marriage, which order had led to much immorality. He found an instance of a first clerk to the Secretary of the Customs retired on an allowance of 550l. while a Captain in the navy retired after a service of twenty-eight with an allowance of only 264l. 12s. 6d. Why, he demanded, should these things be? It was gross injustice and ought to be corrected, for sooner or later if continued, it would lead to most dangerous, and disastrous results. There was a gentleman who had served as a clerk in the Admiralty, and afterward as secretary in the Victualling, Office—he received, on retiring, 667l.: while an Admiral on his retiring, received only 766l. a Vice-Admiral only 593l. He could not understand why it was, that the officers of the navy, who had to go through so many difficulties and privations, and who, if they were wounded, received no compensation, should be placed on a lower footing than any other class of persons. He remembered a speech of Lord Castlereagh in which the noble Lord said the Admiralty had no right to interfere with the pay which was allotted for a particular purpose, The masters in the navy were also very unpleasantly circumstanced—there was a great unwillingness to making acting masters full masters, as they immediately went on being advanced to a rank which ensured them half-pay into some other service rather than remain in the navy. What inducement did the House think was given to those men with a pay of 5s. a day to go to sea, where they might be for years on a foreign station, and whose out fit would cost them from 100l. to 150l.? Why the total amount of the increase was 3d. per day. It was clear, too, that surgeons in the navy were not placed upon so good a footing as surgeons in the army. A surgeon in the army had more half-pay after twenty-five years' service than a surgeon in the navy after twenty-nine or thirty years' service. Since the year 1813 no less than 100l. to 150l.? Why the total amount of the increase was 3d. per day. It was clear, too, that surgeons in the navy were not placed upon so good a footing as surgeons in the army. A surgeon in the army had more half-pay after twenty-five years' service than a surgeon in the navy after twenty-nine or thirty years' service. Since the year 1813 no less than 100 surgeons in the army had been promoted to a higher rank, while only one surgeon in the navy had been promoted. How this was occasioned? Why by the general injustice that was done to the navy. He next came to the case of the pursers, and the late alterations had put them in a worse situation than they were in before. He remembered that it was the practice to give something handsome to secretaries, but now men who had been secretaries, fully as important a situation as the Secretary of the Admiralty, intrusted with most important documents, and serving with great credit to themselves, were obliged to retire on 5s. a-day. The situation of half-pay officers was, if possible still more deplorable. Whatever might have been the services rendered by them to their country, these unfortunate men were liable to be struck off the half-pay list by the Admiralty without any investigation being had, or any opportunity given of bringing evidence in mitigation of charges cast upon them. This power on the part of the Admiralty was one which ought not to be suffered to continue. It was too liable to abuse not to be abused. In his opinion that was most discreditable to the Government. The gallant Member went on to quote a declaration of Lord Howick's as to the injustice of punishing officers for alleged misconduct, which was only proved on hearsay, and after an interval of ten or fifteen years. An officer whose case he had undertaken to bring before the House, had been accused after a period of eleven years had elapsed; and he was afraid, that the same justice would not be dealt to him as was dealt to civilians. Again the noble Lord Stanley in his speech on the pension list had made an eloquent appeal on behalf of veteran officers, or the widows and orphans of gallant men, and he must therefore express a hope, that the noble Lord would transfer his sympathies from these pensioners to the deserving officers of the navy. He could not conclude without offering one remark on the subject of prize money. He was convinced there was some great mistake in the principle upon which prize money was distributed. Perhaps the House was not aware, that most of the prize money taken in the last war, was from officers venturing to seize neutrals on the chance of their being condemned. Some alteration ought clearly to be made with a view of putting an end to these very dangerous experiments. In conclusion the hon. and gallant Member moved, that a select Committee be appointed to take into consideration the case of the naval officers compared to the other branches of the public service.

Mr. C. Wood

said, he did not intend to follow his hon. and gallant Friend through the various details which he had given, and which he (Mr. C. Wood) must say the hon. and gallant Gentleman had contrived to misrepresent most completely; of course it was undesignedly, but so it happened, that the hon. and gallant officer had most ingeniously misrepresented the whole state of the case in reference to every class of officers. Now, his reason for opposing the motion was this—early this Session a commission was appointed to take this very subject under their con- sideration. He did not think, therefore, that they ought to appoint a Committee of that House for the purpose of effecting the self-same object, for the commission, as he conceived, fully embraced the whole subject of the pay and rewards of officers of the army, navy, and marines. But before he proceeded further, he must say, that there never was an assertion more utterly unfounded than that of the hon. and gallant Officer, with regard to the present state of the navy. He believed, that the service never was in a better state than at that moment. They had twenty sail of the line at sea, and he would venture to say, that if they liked they could send out ten times that number of ships, if they could find men to man them. Nothing, therefore, could be more unfounded than the observations of his hon. and gallant Friend on this part of the subject. But in fact, the mistakes of his hon. and gallant Friend were so great, and so many, that he hardly knew what assertion to contradict, unless he contradicted them all. With regard to the case of lieutenants in the navy, what was the fact? Why, that a certain number of lieutenants who wished to have rank—that was to say, nominal rank only—without an increase of pay, were listened to by the Admiralty and their request granted. Yet the hon. and gallant Officer complained, that an injustice was done, because pay was not given—not to these, but—to certain other persons! A more complete non sequitur could not be stated. With regard to the removal of officers by the Admiralty, he was not there to defend the present board for no one accused them; but as for the assertion of the hon. and gallant Officer with respect to former boards of Admiralty, or, that they had ever removed a man from the navy list without a full and complete inquiry, it was wholly without foundation. He had gone through the whole of the cases lately, and he was, therefore, able to speak decidedly on the subject. He would state what the practice of the Admiralty was, in cases of this kind, and thus he trusted he should remove the impression which the assertions of the hon. and gallant Officer were calculated to leave upon the House. With regard to the case of Mr. Booth, which had been so repeatedly brought forward by the gallant Admiral, how stood the facts? That officer had caused to be laid before the Admiralty certain documents, which, from their inaccuracy, were considered to be forgeries, and the result was, upon the fullest inquiry the Admiralty could make upon the subject, this gentleman was struck off the list. On reference, however, to Lord Exmouth, under whose command the officer had been, it appeared, that the inaccuracy which had originated the suspicion had been committed by Lord Exmouth himself, and the day after this, information had been received, an order was given for restoring Mr. Booth to the list. And this occurred within a few days of a former motion of the gallant Officer in which he brought the subject before the House. The circumstances of the case, therefore, clearly proved, that the course the Admiralty had adopted on that occasion had not been forced on them by any intimidation arising from any proceeding in that House. The gallant Officer had put some questions to him (Mr. C. Wood) yesterday, which, agreeably to the forms of the House, he could not then answer. He need hardly say to an assembly of English gentlemen, like the Members of the House of Commons, how necessary it was, that every officer, whether of the army or navy, or any other service, should conduct himself in a manner becoming the character of an officer and a gentleman. If an officer on full pay subjected himself, or was subjected, to the charge of conducting himself in a manner not becoming an officer and a Gentleman, then that officer was dismissed the service; and, on the same principle, if a similar charge was made against an officer on half pay, who was not amenable to a court martial, then the Admiralty ordered a full inquiry, and if the board was satisfied as to the justice of the charge, on a full inquiry—that the conduct of the individual impugned had not been that which was becoming the character and honour of a gentleman, then they considered it to be their duty to remove him from the list. Would it be contended for a moment, that persons who had been guilty of swindling had any claim to be considered as persons who had pursued a course becoming the character of men of honour and of gentlemen? It must be recollected, that half-pay was not only a reward for past services, but a retaining fee—that the officer entitled to receive it did so subject to a liability, that liability being to be called into active service. Now the effect of the gallant Ad- miral's proposition would be, as regarded individuals, who, from the peculiar circumstances of their case, would never be called upon to serve, to render them subject to no responsibility whatever. And here was the absurdity of the gallant Officer's proposition in reference to this point. He would retain upon the half-pay list persons who, under no circumstances whatever, could be employed, and who would be subject to no liability. A more monstrous proposition than this it was impossible to conceive. Now with regard to cases, and they were numerous, in which applications were made to the Admiralty by creditors of officers, asking for the interference of the Admiralty for the purpose of obtaining payment of their debts. The advisable course under such circumstances was, to say, that the Admiralty did not interfere in such matters—that they left the parties to their civil remedy and to the civil process. In such cases, he thought, the Admiralty right not to interfere, neither did they interfere. If it so happened, that the officer against whom the claim was made was abroad on leave, the Admiralty forwarded the letter containing the statement to the officer, in order to insure, as far as such means could insure, his being made acquainted with the demand; but if the officer was resident at home, they invariably gave the address which the officer had appended to his name, and which every officer on half-pay was bound to give if a charge was made by any individual or individuals against an officer for fraudulent conduct, the invariable practice of the Admiralty was to call upon such officer for an explanation, and if it was found there was no ground for the charge, no further notice was taken of the matter, but if substantiated, then the officer so offending was struck off the list. The Admiralty never interfered as between officers of the navy and other individuals with respect to private matters; but if charges were brought forward against officers of having been guilty of conduct unbecoming their characters, as men of honour, and as gentlemen, and if such charges were, on the fullest investigation, proved to the satisfaction of the Admiralty, then, and then only, did the Lords of the Admiralty strike them off the list. They did so on public and not private grounds, and he thought the course pursued by the Admiralty in this respect, was perfectly justifiable.

Captain Pechell

considered the gallant Admiral entitled to the thanks of the naval profession for having so repeatedly and manfully brought this subject under the notice and consideration of the House; and he must say, that he thought it extremely discourteous on the part of the hon. Secretary for the Admiralty (Mr. C. Wood), to have accused his gallant friend of misrepresentation. He begged to deny that the subject now before the House had any connection whatever with the inquiry now going on before the commission alluded to. Far he it from him to undervalue or depreciate the services of the officers of the army; all he wanted was, in common with the gallant Admiral, that the officers of the navy and army should be placed, in every respect, on the same footing. Such unfortunately was not the case. In the case of a shipwreck or damage to a man-of-war, if an officer's furniture or property were lost or destroyed, he received no compensation; while, if a similar accident occurred to a transport, with troops on board, the officers were indemnified. He would also contend that the principle laid down by his late Majesty had recently been departed from, because William 4th. had been desirous to afford to the officers of the navy their fair share of public appointments. Such, however, was not the case now. Let hon. Gentlemen look to the brevet put forth in consequence of the coronation, and they would find that while there was a column of names of officers in the East-India Company's service, who were nominated to the order of the Bath, there were only the names of six naval officers added to the inferior grade of the order, and only two admirals, gazetted for the riband. He had always stood up in that House, and always would stand up, to defend the interests of that much-abused class of officers—the mates and midshipmen of the navy. He thought their claims ought to have been a subject of inquiry by the commission on the pay and promotion, &c., of the army, the navy and marines; and he should have been glad to see one of the body of mates nominated as a member of that commission—No doubt this might appear an extraordinary proposition, but at least it was not more extraordinary than, that a cornet of dragoons, which was the case at no distant period, should be a Lord of the Admiralty. The House would, perhaps, recollect that a few nights ago he had offered to present a petition from the nearest relative and administratrix of an officer, complaining that 12½ years' half pay, the amount due to her relative, was withheld from her, but which petition he was obliged to withdraw in consequence of an irregularity. The case was this, The officer in question had been confined for 12½ years in a lunatic asylum, and although the Admiralty supported him there for the charge of ls. 6d. a-day they charged 3s. 6d. a-day against his half-pay, as having been the expense incurred for his support and maintenance in the lunatic asylum. The administratrix memorialised the Admiralty, and at length they communicated to her by letter that they had ordered the balance between 3s. 6d. and 1s. 6d. to be paid to her; but in eight days the Admiralty relented of what they had done, and cancelled their former order, alleging as the ground for their doing so, that if they acceded to the proposition they would have to pay in the same proportion some 90 other widows whose husbands had been, while living, the inmates of lunatic asylums. All he required was, that equal justice should be done as between the army and navy, and in order to attain that object he gave his cordial support to the motion which the gallant Admiral had submitted to the consideration of the House.

Mr. Hume

contended that the gallant Admiral had not said that officers ought not to be removed for conduct unbecoming the character of men of honour and of gentlemen; but that they ought to have some security that they would not be removed if their characters were such as not to deserve so severe a punishment. The practice ought to be the same in each branch of the service, and no officer ought to be removed without a full and fair trial. By the returns for which he had moved, it appeared that within a given period no less a number than 1,000 officers of the army had been struck off the list, and a large number, also, of officers of the navy had been removed without any inquiry. How many officers might there not be who had been placed in a similar situation with Mr. Booth, but who, from less fortunate circumstances, had not been able—they being equally innocent—to obtain from their commanding officer that explanation which Lord Exmouth was entitled to give with respect to that case. Let the House also look to the extreme discontent which prevailed in the navy, as had been alleged in consequence of the system of favouritism. Could any man say who had attended to this subject, or any officer of the navy in that House, that promotion was given as the reward of merit? No, merit was not rewarded, while one-half of the commissions that were given away were bestowed upon the aristocracy, or members of aristocratical families, or their connections. A large number of commissions were given to the scions of nobility, in order to afford them additional means for their support. Why did hon. Members doubt the truth of this statement? Had they not seen the names of Elliott, of Troubridge, and of Gardner, in the recent promotions? These individuals, who had done nothing for their country had been promoted within the last three months, while the heroes of 50 battles, and of 30 years' arduous service were allowed to remain at the bottom of the list. [No, no.] What right had Lord Minto to promote his son? He would contend that Lord Minto had no right to do so; he was placed at the head of the Admiralty for the purpose among other things, of rewarding merit, and not to practise favouritism. But the army and navy lists both showed that interest and not merit, or length of service, was the surest passport to promotion. What had the son of Admiral Troubridge done to deserve promotion? [Sir T. T. Troubridge—Captain and not Admiral Troubridge.—Several hon. Members—the father's services, (alluding we presume to the gallant companion of Nelson, who was lost in the Blenheim, in the Indian ocean, in 1807, father of the present Sir T. Troubridge, and grandfather of the officer to whom the hon. Member for Kilkenny was alluding.] Was he to be blind to these circumstances, and be prevented from speaking the truth. Were they to be told that the naval service was one in which promotion was awarded for merit, when mates and midshipmen of 30 years' standing were passed over and neglected? In the observations he had made he intended no ill will to any one. He had only wished to show in what manner the naval service was conducted as regarded promotions.

Sir Edward Codrington

begged to state, that if he had really fallen into any misstatements, it was because the information for which he had moved, and which was necessary to a correct view of the whole case, had been withheld from him.

Captain Pechell

, alluding to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Kilkenny, with respect to the recent promotion of the son of the gallant Officer below him, begged to state, that that promotion was most gratifying to the whole of the navy, to whom the name of Troubridge was endeared by a thousand recollections. He was satisfied, that the oldest officer who had been passed over would look with pride rather than with envy upon the promotion of the young officer to whom the hon. Member for Kilkenny had so inopportunely alluded.

Sir James Graham

had not intended to have taken any part in the present discussion, and, certainly, should not have done so but for the unjust and ill-timed remark of the hon. Member for Kilkenny. It was well known, that he differed widely in politics from the gallant officer (Sir T. Troubridge) who sat opposite, yet, he must say, that, he could hardly suppress his feelings when he heard the promotion of that gallant Officer's son impugned. He dissented from the doctrine, that the service or the father was not to operate favourably in the consideration of the son. He thought, that the sons of all meritorious officers ought to be favourably regarded. But, in the present instance, the officer promoted was the son of an admiral who had served with great distinction, and the grandson of an admiral who, in the naval annals of the country, had gained immortal fame. Was it too much that some testimony should be borne to the gallant and honoured name of Troubridge by the promotion of a young officer who stood as high as any in his profession, and who deserved well of his country if it were only from the recollection of the actions of his forefathers? He declared, that he should have thought Lord Minto guilty of a gross dereliction of duty if, because the father (Sir E. T. Troubridge) sat at the same board with himself, he had shrunk from the duty of promoting the son. He would even go further, and say, that in every instance the Lords of the Admiralty having sons of their own reared up in the profession, and thoroughly conversant with its duties, would be fully justified in giving to those sons all the benefit of their high station. One other remark had been made by the hon. Member for Kilkenny to which he also wished to refer. The hon. Member stated, upon what authority he did not know, that if five line-of-battle ships were to be required for active service to-morrow, the whole of the Navy List would not furnish a sufficient number of officers competent to command them. It would seem hardly necessary to give a formal contradiction to such an assertion. It would be enough for him to remark, that if not five but fifty sail of the line were required to-morrow, the Board of Admiralty would have no difficulty in finding officers enough, and competent enough, to command them. As to the general question of the promotions which had taken place in the navy, he would only remark, that he did not approve of the House of Commons being made a court of appeal in such matters. He should, therefore, oppose the motion of the gallant Admiral.

Mr. Warburton

entirely dissented from the doctrine laid down by the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) that those who filled high places should be ever forward, nay, that they should consider it their duty, to heap promotion and honour upon their relatives.

Sir E. T. Troubridge

had intended to have replied to the statement made by the gallant Officer who brought forward the present motion; but the manner in which the hon. Member for Kilkenny had alluded to the promotion of his son totally unfitted him for the task. It was painful, very painful, for him to be placed in the situation in which he then stood; but he had the satisfaction of feeling, from what had already occurred, that the House, and he hoped the country also, would agree in the sentiments so kindly expressed by the right hon. Baronet (Sir James Graham) opposite. He believed also (and this was a great additional consolation to him) that the sentiments so handsomely expressed were shared by a large portion of his fellow-officers. He had had the satisfaction of hearing from many even of those who had been so disappointed in their own promotion, that they had not a word to say against the advancement of the grandson of two Admirals. More than this he could not say. He had come down to the House prepared to speak upon many points involved in the gallant Admiral's motion; but the remark of the hon. Member for Kilkenny took him by surprise, and he confessed he had never felt more overcome in his life.

Captain Gordon

did not intend to detain the House by entering into any discussion of the general question; but he felt it necessary, in consequence of the unfortunate remark of the hon. Member for Kilkenny, to bear his testimony also to the regard in which the name of Troubridge was held in the navy. There was not an officer in the service who would not feel great gratification in hearing of the promotion of any one of the Members of that gallant family.

Sir E. Codrington

inquired why, if sons were to benefit from the merits of the father, the son of Commodore Bathurst, who was killed at Navarino, had been overlooked?

Admiral Adam

thought, that if any fault had been committed by the Board of Admiralty of late years, it was in the promotion of too many old officers, instead of young ones. It was absolutely necessary for the benefit and well-being of the service, that a certain portion of young blood should be constantly infused into the list of officers. This was necessary to maintain the efficiency of the service; and it was a necessity that must be observed even though many good and gallant officers should be passed over. With respect to the distribution of the order of the Bath, of which the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton complained as being much too restricted, he (Admiral Adam) could only state, that the Admiralty had sedulously adhered to the number fixed not long since in a message from the Crown.

Sir Henry Hardinge

had always objected to the House of Commons being made a court of appeal either by the army or navy. If the officers in either service had a grievance to complain of, it was to the Sovereign that they ought to look for redress. It was true, that there might be exceptions; there might be particular cases sufficiently strong to induce the House to take them into consideration; but he confessed he had heard nothing in the debate of that evening which would induce him to depart from the general rule upon which he had always acted since he had been a Member of that House, namely, to object to any motion the effect of which would be to make the House of Commons a court of appeal from the army or navy. Therefore, if the present question should go to a division, he should certainly divide against the gallant Admiral. As far as the gallant Admiral's motion related to the promotion of naval officers, he certainly did not see that there would be any difficulty in bringing that matter under the consideration of the commission appointed at the commencement of the Session, and to which allusion had been made in the course of the discussion of that evening.

Lord Ingestrie

fully subscribed to the doctrine, that it Was fit and proper that the son of a deserving officer should derive some benefit in consideration of the services of his father. Entertaining that feeling, he could not abstain from expressing his regret, that the son of Commodore Bathurst, who fell at Navarino, had not yet been promoted. He mentioned the subject thus publicly on the present occasion in the hope that it would attract the attention of the Lords of the Admiralty, and induce them not longer to overlook the claims of an officer whose father deserved so well of his country.

House adjourned.

Back to