§ Mr. M. F. F. Berkeley,
in proposing the Motion of which he had given notice, to call the attention of the House to the present system of manning Her Majesty's Navy, and the difficulty that arises in procuring able seamen for the service, observed that the speech recently made by the hon. Member for Peebles-shire, that he had not formerly voted for the Maynooth grant because it was so small, had not created more surprise than the statement of the hon. and gallant Admiral opposite (Sir G. Cockburn), that he could man the Navy effectually, and with good and able sea men, to any amount at the present moment, were it necessary. In the course of his political life, there was one thing of which he was prouder than any other, and that was his conduct with regard to the Navy of this country. He had never allowed that subject to take the form in his mind of a mere party question. Whether sitting on the Government or the Opposition side of the House—whether in office or out of office—he had always stuck to the manning of the Navy as the most important feature connected with that service; and had contended that it was useless to build costly ships, and go to the expense of experimental squadrons, unless they provided for the ships, when 440 built, being fully and ably manned. He could not, he thought, do better, in bringing the subject under the notice of the House, than to read some remarks from a leading public journal, in which he fully agreed. The writer said—The maintenance of our naval supremacy is intimately blended with our feelings of national pride, and with all our plans for the preservation of power; and perhaps no surer proof of want of patriotism could be evinced by any man, than in converting matters connected with the Navy into party questions. The Navy is strictly national; and it is the one branch of the Public Service for which John Bull never begrudges payment. It is, then, of the first importance that it be preserved in the best possible order.He was free to admit that the hon. and gallant Officer opposite, and the Board of which he was a Member, deserved a meed of gratitude from the practical officers of the Navy for having, when they first came into office, done away with that absurd practice—that anomaly in the service—which had created two different complements for a British man of war, viz., a peace complement and a war complement. For that they had deserved and obtained the gratitude and good will of the whole Naval Service; not merely of the practical officers, but what was of more consequence, of the able seamen. But he was surprised to find, that having once decided that what had been understood as the peace complement should no longer exist—that having once put an end to the absurd distinction between a peace complement and a war complement, they should have reverted back to the old system. The hon. and gallant Admiral shook his head, as much as to say that he (Captain Berkeley) was mistaken on this point. He hoped it was so. When the Albion was fitted out under Captain Lockyer, her complement was supposed to be from 800 to 830 men. The hon. and gallant Officer, he admitted, had said that it was not intended that ships on the home station should have the full complement which they would have if sent to a foreign station; but that they should have a small complement, which should be filled up to the full amount as they were sent to sea. Well, the Albion, having been a short time on the home station, was sent to sea—to Lisbon—it was true that might not be called a foreign station, but she was sent out with 100 men less than the full complement—that was, she 441 was sent out with a sort of betwixt-and-between complement, having more men than she would have had on a home station, and less than she should have had on a foreign. She was, however, destined for a particular service; and she went with this reduced complement of men to watch the French squadron in their operations off the Coast of Africa. It was true she was not called into action; but suppose she had — and it was by no means an improbable event to look forward to at that time—was it a fair position in which to place her officers and crew, to put her upon such a service with a complement 100 short of that which the Admiralty themselves acknowledged to be the proper one for a ship of her class? The hon. and gallant Officer (Sir G. Cockburn) said that ships of the same class, when employed by the late Government in the war with Syria, were sent to sea with only 690 men on board. The hon. and gallant Officer was here referring to the period when he (Captain Berkeley) had parted from his Friends in the Admiralty, because he differed with them upon this very subject—the insufficient manning of the ships. But when the hon. and gallant Officer came into office, it was generally understood that he meant to man the fleet properly and effectually. The distinction between peace and war complements was absurd and ridiculous; the proper complement was the thing required, and that should be for each ship in proportion to the number of her guns, and the weight of metal. That was the way in which the complement of every ship should be determined; and from it no alteration should be made while she was in commission, whether in peace or war. He wished to know why, after the Board of Admiralty had, after consultation with officers of every grade and all political opinions—after full consideration of all the circumstances—established upon the best and only principle a clue for arriving at the proper complement for a British man of war of every class, why the hon. and gallant Officer had afterwards gone back to a practice that had been condemned as absurd? They had heard much of right hon. Gentlemen opposite taking up the garments of the party they had succeeded; but he thought they would have done well if they had in this followed the example of the Whig Board of Admiralty, under Lord Minto; for no- 442 thing showed a greater desire to do justice, and to consult the interests of the service, than the principle laid down by that Board—a principle approved of by Sir G. Seymour when out of office, but equally so when in office. He sent Sir G. Seymour the plan for manning the Navy upon the principle he had stated, viz., in proportion to the number of guns, and weight of metal of each ship; and Sir G. Seymour's reply was—I return your papers. I am confident no suggestions can be more useful than those made on improving the manning of our ships. I trust the Board will adopt them.Shortly after this, Sir G. Seymour came into office; and from the conversation he then had with that gallant Officer, he found him as anxious to carry out that principle as he had been before. Now, he would take the case of Sir G. Seymour's ship—an 80 gun ship—she was to have the same number of men, he found, as an 84 gun ship. It was quite impossible, that under a proper system, an 80 gun ship and an 84 gun ship should have the same complement of men; either the one must have too many, or the other too few; and, in either case, there was a just ground of objection. Why, he asked, was a 90 and a 92 gun ship to have the same complement of men? If the one had two guns more than the other, why was she not to have the requisite additional number of men to work them? The arbitrary manner in which the Board of Admiralty had acted in manning the ships cut two ways—it was as wrong to overman a ship as to underman it. They were about to send to sea an experimental squadron; but it would not satisfy the purpose which they had in view if they sent it undermanned. In that case, good able seamen would not enter; as in half-manned ships a greater share of duty fell to the lot of such men than they would, under different circumstances, be subjected to. He entreated the House not to underrate the difficulty of manning ships. He had had some experience of that difficulty in 1836. He was in that year appointed to the Hercules, fitting out at Sheerness. The Asia was there also under orders for sea. Two or three ships were also fitting out at Portsmouth; in all about seven sail of the line. At the same time it was right to state that there were several well-manned ships in the Mediterranean. He, however, experienced great difficulty in getting sea- 443 men for the Hercules. The captain of the Asia found a similar difficulty. The then Board of Admiralty ordered them to receive men from the coast-guard service. He remonstrated against such a system, for he found that men so supplied were frequently rated able seamen, when they had no pretensions to such a character. It would not do to say that the Navy was well manned, because the per centage of able seamen borne upon the ships' books was greater than it had been in Lord Nelson's time. The fact was, that when captains were appointed to ships, in their anxiety to please the Admiralty, to get their ships manned and to sea as soon as possible, they frequently took on board, and rated as able, men who were but very ordinary seamen. Men discharged from other ships with the rating of ordinary seamen, had frequently come to him and offered to join his ship, provided he would rate them as able seamen: this he had invariably refused to do. No man ought to be rated as an able seaman until he was able to do his duty efficiently in every part of a ship. The lack of able seamen was the great want of the Navy at present. To return, however, to his experience in manning the Hercules. On going out of Sheerness, after completing his complement, and with plenty of nominally able seamen on board, he found, when they came to be actually tested, that not more than half a dozen could be trusted to steer the ship, and that only seven were able to perform the duty of sounding. Upon his arrival at Lisbon, the station to which he was bound, he found that Sir W. Gage, the admiral commanding the squadron there, had received an order from the Admiralty to the effect that men should be allowed to volunteer from the Hercules to reinforce his ships. Now he (Captain Berkeley) knew that if he threw any difficulty in the way of the wishes of the Board of Admiralty, he would—and very properly—be visited with their displeasure, and probably lose his ship. Notwithstanding this, he wrote to Sir W. Gage, stating, that if among the men who might leave the Hercules, any of the able seamen on board should be included, he did not consider that, in the winter time, his ship would be safe in the chops of the Channel. Upon this Sir W. Gage came on board the Hercules, turned up and examined the crew, and, having completed his inspection, declared that he would not 444 take one able seaman from the ship. The whole system of entering men from the coast guard and from rendezvous opened in seaport towns, would never answer. All sorts of persons were entered at these rendezvous without any proper inquiry. He remembered a story of a man coming to one of these rendezvous in 1836, and offering himself as a seaman. He was asked how long he had been at sea? He replied, twenty-two years. He was immediately put down as an able seaman, while, in fact, he was nothing more nor less than a discharged marine. He had talked of the difficulty of manning a ship in 1836. In 1840, when he was appointed to the Thunderer, he made great efforts to induce a due number of able seamen to join. The Vanguard was also preparing for sea in Portsmouth harbour. She, however, could get no men, and what was the reason? Why, they preferred joining the Thunderer, a Plymouth ship, in preference to the Vanguard. The captain of the latter vessel told him that he had frequently met able seamen in the streets, and asked them to join his ship. They replied they would not — they would enter for the Thunderer, because she was commanded by an officer who wished to make their work comparatively light, by making the complement of men as complete as possible. This was a specimen of the feeling of sailors with respect to undermanned ships. He would be allowed, however, to allude to one of the principal causes which now rendered the manning of ships more difficult than ever. In the first place, they had substituted machinery for manual labour—steam boats for vessels navigated by able seamen. Look at the Scotch smacks. Each of these vessels used to carry some twenty-five or thirty of the best seamen, accustomed to the severest of weather. Where were these smacks now? Let them remember the old sailing packets of Liverpool and Dover, plying to Ireland and France. They were all gone. So was a great part of the boatmen and wherrymen of Portsmouth and Plymouth. The same was the case with respect to the Thames watermen. During the war a great many able seamen were furnished by the Thames Watermen Company in return for the exemption they enjoyed from impressment. But a great proportion of the Thames boatmen were also gone. Thus, their great nurseries for seamen were being daily destroyed. This, of 445 course, was no fault of the Admiralty; but the circumstances he had mentioned, as they accounted for the greater difficulty now felt in obtaining seamen, ought to impress upon them the necessity for adopting the best possible means of obtaining those men who were still left to them. Before proceeding further with his case, he might be allowed to revert to some circumstances connected with the views of the subject which he was endeavouring to impress, and which he had omitted to mention at an earlier part of his speech. In August, 1840, he commanded the Thunderer. The Mediterranean squadron, to which she belonged, was then liable from month to month to hostile collision with a French fleet. It was known to the House that the complements on board the Engtish squadron at the time were peace complements. Efforts were made, however, to put our ships into a more efficient condition. The first batch of men sent out consisted of 300 marines. They came in September; but the number was not more than sufficient to fill up the casualty vacancies. The next batch was composed of 600 men. They were received in January. Every exertion had been made, but these were all the fruits the Admiralty could obtain for their exertions. Out of the last 600 men, twenty were apportioned to the Thunderer: on mustering them, he found that the first six consisted of three pair of sawyers. The next man he inspected was one whose face he thought he knew, and who actually turned out to be a person who had, upon his (Captain Berkeley's) representation, been discharged from the Hercules, as utterly unfit for the service. Such a way of manning the Navy in the case of an emergency would never do. They must have a well-digested system of manning their ships, and, above all, they must not break faith with the seamen. They must not do as they had done by the seamen who were employed in China. They had taken a great mass of booty, which ought to have been their own property as prize money. He had no hesitation in saying that anything more calculated to prevent able seamen from entering the Navy had never occurred, than the conduct of Government towards the sailors of the Chinese expedition. Let the House recollect the feelings of sailors upon the point. A seaman would always prefer 10l. of prize money to 20l. of wages. He trusted that no such policy 446 as that pursued with reference to the Chinese expedition would ever be repeated. Now, as to the mode which he would suggest under present circumstances for manning the Navy. He thought that the coast-guard service should be put under the control of the Admiralty, and that the men who might be entered into the Navy from that service should, at the expiration of the term for which they were engaged, be allowed to return to the stations from which they had been taken. Why should not the revenue service be placed under the control of the Admiralty, as a nursery for seamen? He could tell them. It was because it would injure the patronage held by the Treasury. We used formerly to have a great resource in the merchant service; but that resource was now done away with. Ships were now rigged in dock by the old Greenwich pensioners, and the seamen were not called on to perform the usual duties. When the ships came back from sea the men were discharged, and the ships were unrigged by the Greenwich pensioners. Instead of the Navy drawing its supply from the merchant service, the latter was supplied with men from the Navy, and for this reason, because the pay was better. He had, he thought, proved his case from 1836 to 1840; and he did not think there was anything in the present Board of Admiralty which, up to the year 1845, could induce the men of a better class, or in larger numbers, to join the service. He might be asked why he brought forward this discussion, as he concluded with no Motion. His answer was, that he was informed by several, amongst others by his hon. and gallant Friend (Sir C. Napier), that if he were to conclude with a Motion, he should be told by Ministers, "Leave such questions in the hands of the Executive; if the Government is not fit for its duties, you should bring forward a more decided Motion." He maintained, however, that such discussions as the present did a great deal of good; and not only that, but that they carried the point very often to which they related. He had brought forward a Motion, condemning the 10 gun brigs as unseaworthy. It was true there was a great majority against him, and that majority was swelled by the present Conservative Secretary of State for the Home Department; but though the right hon. Gentleman voted against him, he was the first, 447 as a Whig First Lord of the Admiralty, to condemn those ships. No less than four of these brigs were about to be sent to the Coast of Africa. But the press took up the arguments which he had used; public opinion was found to be against them. The Shipwreck Committee took up the subject, and the Admiralty did not dare to send out those brigs as they intended. The termination of that debate fully justified the course which he look on the present occasion.
§ Sir G. Cockburn
was surprised to hear the hon. and gallant Officer, who was usually so fair in his Motions, and to whom he always listened with much respect, begin his speech by saying, that he (Sir G. Cockburn) had asserted there was no difficulty in manning our fleet. Another gallant Officer on a former occasion said something to the like effect, which he had then immediately contradicted. So far from having made the declaration imputed to him, he had commenced his remarks by saying it was impossible to get the number of seamen wanted at a moment's notice; but there would be no difficulty in finding as many seamen as you chose to give bread and employment to, but no more. At the end of the war there was an enormous number of seamen paid off. These men had gone into foreign service, or found other employment at home. They were no longer available to the Navy. If the Navy was reduced to the extent of 3,000 or 4,000 men, in a few years those men could not be had, and this, in fact, was the substance of his argument. The number of seamen allowed by Parliament would always be kept up. They might educate 40,000 boys if they chose; but then if they found employment and bread for only 20,000 seamen, the first number would ultimately dwindle down to the latter. The number that maintenance was provided for would always be had, and would always be retained. It was, therefore, unfair to charge him with saying that the Navy could be manned momentarily, when we pleased, when his words were directly opposed to that assertion. The fact was, the Government had now obtained the number of men they wanted. They had manned all the ships, except the Queen, the Hibernia, and the Canopus, and those ships were but a few short; and thus they had been able to procure more seamen than under all circumstances they had been authorized to anticipate. The hon. and gallant Member (Captain Berkeley) complained 448 that the men were not able seamen, and that when he went out to sea, his ship was very inefficiently manned. When he (Sir George Cockburn) commanded a ship, he always questioned the men before he "rated" them. [Captain Berkeley: The men were sent to me "rated," and that I complained of.] In that case he thought the hon. and gallant Officer ought to have written to the Admiralty on the subject; he ought to have questioned the men—and, if he found they were unable to steer or perform other requisite duties, he should at once have complained to the Admiralty. With respect to the manning of the ships now fitting out, the Superb had half her crew able, and the remainder ordinary seamen, having only six or eight landsmen. This and other vessels had received more seamen than under the existing difficulties Government had reason to expect. He agreed with the hon. and gallant Officer, that in sending ships abroad, they ought to be full manned; but that the complements of those ships at home might be on a reduced scale. Having ten sail of the line at home equipped, though not full manned, would be of much more advantage than if the ships were laid up in ordinary. In former times the complement of line of battle guard ships was 300 only. When in office before he had a resource which enabled him to man ships on an emergency. He could draw upon those men who were employed on shore against smugglers. When, therefore, it became necessary to send a fleet to Lisbon, though the ships of the line had their masts struck, yet by availing himself of the resource which he had referred to, he was enabled to have all the ships manned within forty-eight hours. If ships were laid up in ordinary, such a proceeding would not be practicable. It happened at present that Government were anxious to try the capabilities of certain ships constructed on different plans; and they were desirous of knowing which plan was the best. Therefore, for making such trials, and to exercise the officers and men at sea, he had availed himself of the assistance of the men of the ordinary, the seamen employed in the dockyards, and additional marines, which, added to the home complements, would render the ships sufficiently well manned to go to the mouth of the Channel for the purpose stated. The Admiral in command would know the extent to which the ships were manned, and would take measures accordingly. He had no doubt the gallant Officer would find that, generally speak- 449 ing they were capable of doing the duty required of them. In war time, ships were frequently short of hands from sickness, and from having some of their men wounded or killed; and he considered the ships now going to cruise at the entrance of the Channel were as well manned as many of the ships were during the war. These ships when they returned, and were placed in our ports, with their home complements, would afford us the resource of ten sail of the line perfectly equipped, which could be speedily sent to sea; and no doubt Government would find men enough if the Legislature placed the means in the hands of the Admiralty. But there did not appear, at present, any necessity for incurring the expense of a greater vote of seamen to keep these ships full manned while on home duty. The hon. and gallant Member (Captain Berkeley) had complained of the inefficient condition of a ship he commanded, and had stated that, when at Lisbon, it would have been unsafe to part with any of his crew. That certainly must have been the case if the crew were of the description he represented, and if he had only twenty able seamen; but that was a very rare case. The hon. and gallant Member stated that men were anxious to join and remain in the ships he had commanded: he might have paid so much attention to the comforts of the ship's company as to become a favourite officer, and if so the men would be very unwilling to leave him; but he (Sir G. Cockburn) must deny the assertion that had been made that all our ships were now imperfectly manned. The Dublin came home the other day, and the captain told him the men had been four years abroad, and that it was impossible for any crew to have performed their duties better, or to have behaved better. The advantage of having the ships on foreign service well manned was, that the men were rendered most efficient seamen, and they were in a fit condition to meet an enemy. The men were taken out as ordinary seamen, and returned able seamen. And this was the way that the Navy would be able to get itself well manned. But, unless public affairs wore a very threatening aspect, he did not think that, in a time of peace, this country should be put to the expense of maintaining a larger fleet than was necessary for the protection of our commerce abroad. He believed that numbers of merchant seamen would enter the Royal Navy if they were allowed; in- 450 deed, it had been necessary to issue an order to the men of war not to distress the merchantmen by taking their men. He did not know whether many hon. Members who were owners of merchant ships were present tonight; but he must say it had been found that many masters of merchantmen, and, he feared, many owners also, refused to take men into their service except through the agency of crimps. A seaman who had recently entered on board one of Her Majesty's ships at Portsmouth—the Superb or the Vindictive—stated that he was walking towards the Wapping end of the City, when he was asked by a crimp to enter on board a merchant ship. He refused; but afterwards went to the owner's office. He saw the owner, and said, he wished to be entered. The owner said, "Well, I will enter you;" and the master of the ship was in the office, and took the man from the owner's to the crimp's. The man was there entered; the crimp took his note for two months' wages, gave him a few shillings and some slops, and charged him a percentage for discount on his wages. The man had since entered a ship of the Royal Navy at Portsmouth, and there the master of the ship declared him to be in his debt to the extent of his advance given to the crimp, though the man had only received the few shillings he had mentioned. He might, add, that he was in possession of the names of all the parties connected with this affair. He considered it absolutely necessary, for the protection of seamen, that a stop should be put to such proceedings, which involved them in great distress. The Albion, the manning of which ship had been referred to, had been at first sent to sea with 750 men; the Rodney, of the same class, having been sent on service to the Mediterranean, by the former Board of Admiralty, with only 690: being only two deckers, they had only the lower deck for a sleeping place; yet when reference was made to the gallant Officer who commanded the Albion, it was found that there was no difficulty in providing accommodation for 830 men in the ships of that class. All calculations respecting the number of men were made upon a general principle, having reference to the number and weight of the guns. The second-rate ships were divided into two classes, and so likewise were the third and fourth, and also the fifth and sixth were divided into classes according to their sizes, and the number of their guns. Every one knew that the first-rate vessels were insufficiently manned during 451 the last war. In the Victory, for example, at the battle of Trafalgar, it became necessary to bring the men from the lower to the upper deck on a call for boarders; and the fact was, that we had now 100 men less in the complements of our first-rate ships than either France or America. There were men enough, however, in the present establishment to perform every requisite duty in or out of action, and to make the ships perfectly efficient.
§ Mr. Somes
said, he was in duty bound to tell the House that it was impossible to do altogether without crimps. It was well known that seamen were necessarily in advance some two or three months as regarded the matter of wages, and without the assistance of crimps it would be impossible to keep them from deserting. On one occasion when he wanted some men, he was placed in communication with Captain Elliot, of the Sailors' Home, who undertook to provide him with the necessary complement of men; but he very speedily withdrew from that undertaking, declaring his inability to fulfil it; he was evidently wrong to give it up, but he found the task impossible, and, of course, application to the crimps became unavoidable. The gallant Commodore opposite shook his head; but it was impossible for any one to take a different course. Something was said about the deficiency in the number of seamen; but he must declare that he did not think the apprehensions upon this score were at all well founded. In the year 1814, the total number of seamen was 172,000, and at least two-thirds of that number were able seamen. Since 1814, the seamen had been increased to the extent of 42,000; and in the same proportion the number of able seamen had been increased; but in three or four years matters would be still better by reason of the change in the apprenticeship system. He could not let this opportunity pass of saying that the public were greatly indebted to the Board of Admiralty for the arrangements that they had made; and, further, he could not avoid adding, that the description and designations of our ships were of great importance; for if a British vessel of moderate size, denominated a 74, were to be beaten by a so-called American frigate, what would the world say? He, therefore, thought it a great improvement 452 to have the smaller 74's cut down to 50 gun ships; and besides, we should look at the class of vessels which the French were now beginning to call corvettes. The real qualities and power of a vessel should be indicated by her designation.
§ Mr. Lambton
said, that the crimping system had often been most unsparingly denounced by the highest authorities connected with the naval service of the country. Captain Elliot truly described it as a great evil to the seamen, and it certainly was one which the Legislature was bound to remedy. It was a grievous plundering of poor and simple-minded men. When a sailor landed he was usually seduced into some of the low boarding-houses, where every temptation to debauchery was presented to him; he was kept there till all his money was spent, and then he was turned forth to perish in the streets. The House really ought to adopt some measures calculated to remedy these evils. Perhaps it might be necessary to license the boarding-houses, and perhaps also to license the crimps. Of this he felt certain, that there were greater abuses arising from both classes of establishments.
§ Captain Rous
said, it was a curious circumstance that on important questions respecting naval affairs there was a great discrepancy of opinion amongst officers who might be considered by the House to be the best authorities on the subject. Both his hon. and gallant Friends the Members for Gloucester and Marylebone, in his humble opinion, took a very ultra view of the question of manning ships of war; and so strongly had his hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester felt on the subject, that he had given up a lucrative and most honourable office in the conscientious discharge of his public duty, for which every good man must respect him; but one of his principal reasons for arguing the question against his gallant Friend was, that his speech was an unfair attack against the late Admiralty, and the popular cry of keeping ships of war fully manned had been swelled into a party cheer when the present Administration took office, implying, of course, that the Members of the late Board of Admiralty 453 had failed in their duty. If that Board had possessed common prudence and foresight, they would have sent out 500 good seamen, or marines, to complete the war complement of the ships in the Mediterranean before the Syrian war: and then, in all human probability, the House would never have heard of the present Motion. But let him take them back to the days of real fighting, and forget Egyptians and Chinese. Let him remind the House what was the state of the Navy when England was fighting for her existence as a nation, and in what manner her ships were manned during a hot war. On the 24th December, 1796, Lord Nelson wrote to Lord St. Vincent—"You will, I am sure, forgive me for interesting myself for our friend Cockburn. He is now near ninety men short of his complement." Now, let the House recollect that this alluded to a frigate's ship's company, always in hard work, sleeping with one eye open. Lord Nelson thus concluded his letter:—"If you can, pray, Sir, procure some good men for Cockburn." Now, he (Captain Rous) appealed to that right hon. and gallant Officer (Sir G. Cockburn) whether, in his experience, from 1796 to 1815, he could not assure the House that ships of the line in particular were generally very short-handed. Lord Nelson talked of being nearly 100 men short of complement in the Agamemnon. From 1812 to 1814, he was a midshipman on board a very dashing frigate, the Bacchante, a ship carrying 42 guns, complement 300 men, but she never had on board above 280, of which 40 were French, Italians, and Germans, all the afterguard were foreigners, and the midshipmen used to stir them up in the Lingua Tuscana. The Bacchante sailed for America in 1814 with an extra war complement of 315 men; but now, in 1845, during a time of profound peace, the Fox, of 42 guns, a sister and a smaller ship, had a complement of 320; by this the House would naturally conclude that his gallant Friend the Member for Brighton was right when he said the seamen have degenerated, that they are not so broad across the shoulders or so long in the arms as they were in his younger days; and of course this would account for 320 men being considered requisite in time of peace, when 300 men in war time was an ample complement; but the real truth was that British seamen 454 were as brave, as active, and intelligent as ever; but, unfortunately, the old captains were not the men they once were. The same impulse which made men of a certain age fancy that the women were not so handsome as they were formerly, influenced such elderly gentlemen, and his hon. and gallant Friend, to believe that British seamen had degenerated. The fact was, they were not so well calculated to command them as they were. Now, with respect to the manning of the ships, he had never expressed but one opinion—namely, that certain classes of Sir W. Symonds's ships, when the tonnage was augmented three-fifths, were undermanned, and no others; and that the late Admiralty exercised a wise discretion in so manning the rest of the Navy. In a frigate he once commanded, the present Admiralty had increased the complement from 275 to 360. In conclusion, he begged the House to recollect that the line of battle ships on the home station had, within a fraction, the same complement which they possessed in 1829. He rejoiced at it; for a line of battle ship was the worst vessel in the world to spoil young officers and seamen. Since that ever memorable trial cruise in November, he believed the ships of the line which were not paid off had never stirred from their moorings. Supposing the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair had sent a son as a midshipman on board the Albion, and twenty young landsmen from his own estate, to learn their duties as seamen, six months would have elapsed, and the ship had never yet been to sea. Would any person call a ship so circumstanced a school and a nursery for seamen? But the Admiralty had given all the ships on foreign stations an extra was complement: so much the worse, he thought. Nothing was so prejudicial to the health and comfort of a ship of war in a tropical climate and making long voyages, as her commander finding himself compelled to put the men on a short allowance of water, and crowding them between decks; nor was there anything so conducive to idleness and ill health. He, therefore, could not coincide in the opinions of his gallant Friend; and if he thought he had any chance of explaining the real fuels of the case to the House, he should propose that all ships on foreign stations be reduced 5 per cent. on their 455 present complements, whereby the nation would be able to keep in commission, without any further expense, at least twenty additional cruisers. If the Navy was to be kept in an efficient state, no line of battle ships should be commissioned during peace except for flag officers; employ nothing larger than frigates, with active young officers, and England would then be ready for any emergency.
§ Captain Pechell
was greatly surprised at some of the hon. and gallant Officer's statements and arguments. The hon. and gallant Member had stated that the way to get good officers and seamen was to pay off the line of battle ships, and to put their crews into small frigates and brigs, taking care that those vessels were very sparingly manned. If such was now the opinion of the hon. and gallant Officer, as to the superior advantages to be derived from short complements, what must have been the feelings of the gallant Officer when, in command of his frigate in Cadiz bay, he was compelled to acknowledge his inability to perform certain manœuvres ordered by signal by the senior officer, from the circumstance of the absence from the ship of a single boat's crew only; such being the condition of his vessel as to numerical strength. [Captain Rous: This is the first time I ever heard of the circumstance.] The hon. Member for Gloucester sitting below was the senior officer alluded to, and would perhaps refresh the gallant Officer's memory on this subject. It would, however, appear that an opinion so properly expressed from the quarter-deck was not to be maintained and carried out on the floor of the House of Commons. [Captain Rous never had entertained the opinion ascribed to him.] What he complained of was, that a system which had been condemned by Lord St. Vincent was still continued by the Board of Admiralty. There was a vast distinction made between ships on foreign service and those on the home station, and that was extremely unjust both to the officers and men. There were, besides, many circumstances which tended to disgust the seamen, and to alienate them from the naval service. They objected, amongst other things, to the system pursued by the Admiralty of entering them for one ship, and then draughting them off to another. They objected also to being paid off at Ply- 456 mouth when they were entered at Portsmouth. The system of entering them at the outports and of conveying them in small vessels to their destination, disgusted them, and disinclined them to the service. It would be far better if the Board of Admiralty was henceforward to enter the men only on board of the vessels in which they were intended to serve, and to pay them off in the port at which they entered; the Admiralty ought to take some measures to prevent seamen from being paid off at a distant port, from which they were often obliged to convey their chests and their outfits at a great expense and inconvenience. It was very much to be regretted that the merchants and shipowners were not sufficiently united amongst themselves to put an end to the system of crimps, and to man their ships without resorting to such means. The statements made by the hon. Member for Dartmouth would have a very injurious effect in this respect. The consequences of the system of entering the seamen for one ship and of employing them in another, were such as to deter the best men from entering at all. They often found themselves compelled to serve against their will in a class of vessels to which they entertained a great, and he was bound to say, a just abhorhence—he meant the 10 gun brigs. What was the opinion of the public with respect to those vessels? He would quote one fact to let the House see what was the general estimation in which they were held. At a Board of Admiralty held at Somerset House, at which Sir George Seymour, Captain Gordon, Mr. Corry, and Sir W. Symonds were present, several of those brigs was recently put up for sale by Dutch auction, the biddings beginning at 1,000l. and going gradually down to 500l., and still no purchasers; and yet, not withstanding they were so unpopular in the service that seamen would not enter for them, they found themselves placed on board them, by the system to which he had referred. The seamen knew very well that these brigs ought not to be kept in commission a single day, and yet they were forced to serve in them against their will. Notwithstanding, however, the circumstances to which he had adverted, the Navy was considered a very good service; and if the grievances of which the seamen complained were removed, it would be deemed 457 by them to be far superior to the merchant service. The wages given by the Government were such as to compel the shipowners to advance their rates of pay to 3l. and 4l. a month. He wished to see the seamen always in so prosperous a condition; at the same time he could not help stating that it was principally owing to the disputes between the Admiralty and Lloyd's, that the seamen had profited. His hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Westminster had commented on some observations which he had formerly made with respect to the diminished size of the men serving on board Her Majesty's ships; and had argued as if he (Captain Pechell) had asserted that the entire race of seamen had dwindled down in stature and strength to a very low standard. Now, he meant to convey no such meaning as that which his hon. and gallant Friend had attributed to his words. What he had stated was, that owing to the time of year chosen for entering the men, the best seamen were already afloat in the merchant ships. The time for entering seamen for Her Majesty's service was May; whereas the men were engaged at an earlier period of the year by the merchants, and they were for the most part abroad in their vessels when the usual time for entering the seamen for the Navy arrived. Consequently it was not to be expected that the best and most athletic seamen would remain disengaged, or be at the service of the Government at the time. His complaint was, not that there were to be found such men as formerly used to man the Navy; but that, owing to the time of year when ships were generally commissioned, the strong and large-sized seamen were already engaged in the mercantile navy, and an inferior class of men alone remained for the Queen's service. There had been some complaints made with respect to the punishments enforced in the Navy; but he thought the system had been very much improved. He should, however, be glad to learn from the right hon. and gallant Officer opposite (Sir G. Cockburn), why it was that the Admiralty persisted in levying a penalty upon the class of pensioned seamen—or, in plain terms, why seamen who had earned their pensions by serving their full time in the Navy were not permitted to enjoy them whilst receiving their pay? [Sir G. Cockburn: The system referred to by the 458 hon. and gallant Officer no longer exists.] Then it had been altered in consequence of the statements which he had made respecting it in that House. [Sir G. Cockburn: Quite the contrary.] He was glad, however, to find, from the right hon. and gallant Officer's statement, that there had been a change made in this respect. He did not anticipate much from the experimental squadron, though it was not impossible that it might be again wanted at Mogadore or Tangier; and perhaps the officers might again be told that they must not make any remarks or observations on the operations of our own or foreign squadrons, and that they were not to profit by the novel proceedings which they had witnessed. He hoped, however, that the views expressed by his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gloucester would prevail, and that the Admiralty would man the ships in commission properly and efficiently. The right hon. and gallant Admiral had alleged as a reason why no more men could be had, the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had as usual interposed on financial grounds. So that it seemed the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goulburn) was the great hindrance to the accomplishment of those efficient measures acknowledged to be necessary. If the fact were so, he would recommend the right hon. and gallant Officers opposite to retire. They might be perfectly certain that if they showed their sterns to the Admiralty, under such circumstances, it would be difficult to find persons who would take office, or who would accept appointments given up under such circumstances. He was convinced that if the Board of Admiralty would show a little independence, they would be listened to; and he was sure that his hon. Friends the Members for Coventry and Montrose would not object to any extra expense in order to procure a proper and efficient manning of the Navy. He much regretted that the Admiralty was treated as a subordinate body; but he did not see why they should submit to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If he was a great millstone round their necks, why didn't they throw him off, and appeal to this House? Something must be done to improve the condition of the seamen in the Navy; for he much feared that when sailors were most wanted they would be found to be in the service of Foreign Powers.
§ Mr. Somes,
in explanation, observed that the shipowners as a body would, he was sure, be but too happy to destroy the crimp system, if the Government would only suggest some means by which it might be accomplished.
§ Lord Ingestre
was glad that that discussion with regard to manning the Navy had taken place, for no more important subject could come under their consideration; but he did think that the gallant Officer the Member for Brighton employed himself in searching out the grievances of seamen, as if they were not at present properly attended to. With regard to the crimp system, he believed that they would never get rid of it until they educated the seaman and elevated his moral character; when that should be accomplished, the sailor himself, feeling his own moral worth, would cause the system to be abandoned. He had ever been an advocate for the efficient manning of the Navy, and he believed that the ships were properly manned at present. In conclusion, he would repeat what he had before stated in that House, that he should always be happy to promote the interests of the British sailor, and to elevate his moral character.
§ Sir Charles Napier
said, he had been with others accused of a propensity to find fault. Now he had never had the least wish to find fault with the present or any other Admiralty, unless there was ground for it. He knew very well that if he had gone on quietly and never found fault with anything, and never pointed out any of the errors to the Admiralty, he should have been in a better position than now. The hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Admiralty smiled, but so it was. If he had behaved himself better, he should now have been in command of an experimental squadron. The gallant Officer had expressed a wish that he should have such a command, and had asked him what ship he would like to have—and then, when another officer was appointed, what was the reason assigned? That he (Sir C. Napier) was too much of a party man. Now he disclaimed being a party man in anything relating to the Admiralty. He would much rather give his opinion to that Board quietly and in a private way, regarding errors that might be corrected; but the fact was, it was impossible to do anything for the good of the British Navy 460 unless by agitation in the House of Commons. How had the condemnation of the 10 gun brigs been obtained? By agitation in the House of Commons. How had the ships at last been fully manned? By agitation in the House of Commons. There was no other means of obtaining reforms unless they were effected in that House, because Governments of all kinds were prone to stick to their own opinions, and it was difficult to get them to change their course, unless compelled by the force of public opinion. With respect to the manning of the Navy, he had understood the gallant Officer to say, that he was surprised they got men so fast as they did, and that ships were manned as well as they were in war time, and he had been supported in that assertion by a gallant Admiral near him. Now, he had been asked whether it were really possible that Sir G. Cockburn could have said in the House of Commons that the ships were now as well manned as in war time, and he had answered that he believed that what the gallant Officer had said was correctly reported in the papers. The other day he was at Portsmouth, and he had heard the opinions upon this subject expressed by the inferior officers; he had even heard those of the seamen themselves; and the general opinion he collected was, that the eight sail of the line were exceedingly ill manned. He could not conceive any reason why those officers and men should so state the case to him if it were not so; and, on the other hand, he could not conceive the gallant Officer stating that the ships were well manned if they were not so. But it was pretty well known that the Admiralty was not a place where truth could always get in. Officers were looking out for employment, and they had to please the gallant Admiral and different people, and things generally went suspiciously if any opinions were expressed adverse to the Board of Admiralty. He believed he was stating, without any exaggeration, the general feeling with respect to the manning of the ships; but he could not, of course, give the names of his authorities. There were good reasons against his so doing. When he had received information he had sometimes said to the party furnishing it—"May I mention your name as authority?" to which the answer was "For God's sake, don't; I give you the fact, but don't bring 461 my name into question." He did not blame the Admiralty for not manning their ships better; it was not their fault—they were placed at the Board to do the best they could—but it was the fault of the Government of the day. When that Government came into office they found twenty-six ships of the line in commission, and they went to work and reduced them. In the first year they reduced them to twelve; in the second year to eight; and at the time we were in a difficulty with respect to our relations with France, we had but three sail of the line, and one fitting out to go to South America. The Government had since seen their error, and he was glad of it. Now that they had fitted out eight sail of the line, he hoped we should not see the day when seamen were sent adrift as they then were. The gallant Officer had expressed his surprise that they should get seamen so quickly. Why, the first ship was commissioned in January. All the months since then had elapsed and they were not gone yet. [Sir G. Cockburn: The ships are not ready.] No; if men had not been got to man them, how could they be ready? Then, there were ships commissioned the other day at Plymouth and other places, and after they had all been manned and stored, they were taken into dock again to have another look at their bottoms, at an expense of 500l. or 600l. a piece. Why had not those ships been put into dock and examined properly before being commissioned? There had, in fact, been sad bungling, and the country had been put to a great deal of expense by it. In the manning of the squadron he contended there should have been fewer marines and more seamen, and contended generally that the fleet ought to be properly manned so that it could be sent to any part of the world immediately, if the necessity for so doing arose, and he represented the difficulty the fleet would be placed in if a war should suddenly break out. With respect to the payment of the seamen, he contended that the finest men were underpaid, and that the best captains took every opportunity to give them increased advantages. With respect to the insufficient manning of the Albion, the gallant Officer had stated that she had been sent out to see if she would hold her complement of men. Why, the Albion was a larger ship than the Powerful or the Thunderer, and 462 he had always understood that she was the largest 90 in the fleet, and broader than any. A youngster who had been only twenty-four hours at sea could have told the Admiralty that she could contain her complement of men. However, a stir was made in the matter, and now the Admiralty came down and told the House it had been ascertained that the Albion could stow her crew, and that it had been increased to 830 men. He was very glad to find that the Albion had at last got that number. He confessed he was surprised to hear an old shipowner like the hon. Member for Dartmouth tell the House of Commons that we had as good seamen now as ever we had. It was true, we had stokers on board the ships, and a sort of half and half fellows, who could pull ropes; but he wanted to know where were the old experienced hands who went aloft on the tops and yards in storm and darkness, exposed to the rain and cold? Where was that race of men? It was true they could order the engineer on board to back his engine, or make her go back or go round, and that was just what the Admiralty had been doing; they had been going back, and from bad to worse. The railroads had destroyed the coasting trade already, and the railroads would be the last finishing stroke to the British seamen. He could quote Lord Melville to show that we could not longer depend upon the merchant service for seamen, but must rear them within the Navy itself. These things were so clear and evident that he hoped the First Lord of the Treasury, to whom the people looked up for safety, would raise more ships, and trust the defence of the country entirely to her Navy. Although at the present moment the clouds on the horizon had not burst into a storm, this country had received a lesson. We had been on the point of war with France, and although we might have escaped the difficulty now, we ought never to leave the country in the state it then was, but have in readiness a Navy adequate to maintain the honour of the country. They were told that a great deal had been done for the improvement of seamen. He granted it. The men were better victualled and provisioned now than in former days. The slop system, too, had been rectified. Formerly, the men had no means of getting their slops with their own money, and 463 were clothed in a manner that would have been disgraceful to the worst poor-house in the country. He thought that the supplying of slops ought not to be in the hands of the Government; but that when a ship was put in commission, the captain ought to have authority to open a contract for the supply of his crew. [The Chancellor of the Exchequer: That would never do.] The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that would never answer; but the right hon. Gentleman would excuse him if he differed from the right hon. Gentleman, and contended that it would answer remarkably well. A sample of the clothing to be supplied should be produced, the men should be measured for the clothes they were to wear, and thus they would be made more comfortable, and be better satisfied. The only reason why such a plan would not answer was, that a certain amount of patronage in giving a contract to somebody would be taken away; and it would not do for a person knowing nothing about sea affairs to tell him that an officer could not be entrusted with superintending the clothing of his own crew. He knew that at the present moment the men were not satisfied with their clothing; that they could buy better articles elsewhere, and that they would rather, if they had the money, go to a slopseller at Portsmouth for the articles they required than to the purser. Another point he wished to notice was connected with the manner in which the men received their wages. The men did not understand the present system of thirteen months in the year. Now, he would ask his hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Somes), how he paid his seamen 2l. a month, twelve months in the year, or thirteen months in the year? [Mr. Somes: Twelve months.] Exactly. So a gentleman of great experience in all that related to seamen and ships told the House, the Government, and the Admiralty, that sailors did not understand what thirteen months in the year meant. He (Sir C. Napier) could not understand why the Government did not give up this ridiculous custom, for the continuance of which he could see no reason, unless in its antiquity. Sailors liked to reckon in round numbers, and he asked for them, therefore, 2l. a month, twelve months in the year, which would be only 1l. 15s. a year more than they now received, and 464 the men would then be satisfied. That, however, was not all—there was not sufficient distinction between the seamen and the petty officers; the first class of these ought to get 4l. a month, and the second class 3l.; but if the Government would not go that length, why should they not receive 3l., and 2l. 10s. per month? Thus a better distinction would be drawn between the two classes, men would be stimulated to do their duty, and there would be more inducement to enter the service. Another point to which he wished to advert was the Sailor's Home, an institution established, to his immortal honour, by an individual, a captain in the service. What encouragement had that institution received? When the seaman came home he was surrounded by the sharks called crimps, the moment he landed; he was persuaded to go on shore to the house of one of these fellows; there he was made drunk, induced to spend his money, and then to run in debt, after which he was set up again by the crimp, taken on board ship, charged an enormous price for his necessaries, and then launched again without a sixpence in his pocket. He would tell the Government they must set to work to put down these crimps, and he had said as much before, when other people were in office, who were as bad as those who now filled it. ["Hear, hear."] Yes, he said so, for when he spoke of matters connected with the Admiralty, he cared not two straws who was in office. But the institution had received no encouragement. Men in office had never gone near it, and done nothing for it, unless, perhaps, sending their 1l. subscriptions. He had before tried to get a small grant for this Seaman's Home, to enable the managers to reduce the board from 12s. to 8s. a week, but in vain; and he now repeated not only that a small grant should be given, but that Government ought to establish Seamen's Homes in Portsmouth, Plymouth, Chatham, Sheerness, and every place where ships were paid off. The men would then know where to go with perfect safety. They could lock up their property and their money, and if they wanted to go out for a cruise, which of course they would after a long voyage, they could put 10s. or 12s. in their pocket, and start without being robbed and ruined by sharks. If the Government would do this, they would do good to the seaman, and improve his 465 morals and character. He now wished to say a few words with respect to prize money; and he did not hesitate to assert that the conduct of the Government with respect to the China prize money was abominable. They required seamen to go out to China, not a healthy country; and when they had seized Canton, the Government took the whole of the Canton ransom. But that was not all. Worse was behind, for hundreds of vessels were captured by our seamen in China, and large sums of money paid for them; and instead of our seamen receiving the value of the guns captured, the whole of the money was returned. He had a statement, which showed that there was now in the possession of the East India Company 100,000l. produced by captured guns and stores, in addition to which many vessels had been captured. Why, seamen had been always accustomed to receive prize money. The idea of prize money had been handed down from father to son; there was not a boy in the service who did not look forward to his prize money, and yet the Government had taken all this money to themselves, and had given up the vessels that had been captured, in order that the Chinese might hand to the Government a sum of money to pay them for the expenses of the war. Seamen did not understand that that which they had been accustomed to consider as belonging to them should go into the Exchequer in such a fashion. It was a stupid policy, a penny-wise and pound-foolish system; and he was sorry that the Government, although they were in distress at the time, should have lent themselves to such a fraudulent malversation of the sailor's prize money. He would not now trouble the House further, but hoped that what he had said would not be without its effect in opening the eyes of the Government to the real state of the Navy.
said, he had always advocated the efficiency of the Navy, and if the Government were that night to state that our foreign relations required an increase of that branch of the Public Service, he should make no objection whatever to such increase. He wished the Government, however, would take measures to secure the services of the British seamen to the British flag. If those who were now serving other countries could be secured for this, we should have nothing to fear in the 466 event of a war. It was not for him to venture an opinion how this was to be accomplished; but whether by an increase of wages, or other means, it would be the best possible economy that could be adopted, and he entreated the Government to direct their attention to the subject. As regarded the question of prize money, he agreed in what had been said by the hon. and gallant Officer; and, anxious as he was to save money to the country, he should be sorry to see those funds go into the Exchequer which, otherwise applied, might have the effect of securing the services of British seamen to the British flag.
§ Captain Berkeley
wished to say one word in explanation. He had not, through the whole of his speech, uttered one syllable that might be construed into a proposition for imposing further expense on the country in one way or the other.
§ Question again put that the Speaker do leave the Chair,