HC Deb 08 July 1856 vol 143 cc510-24

said, in submitting the Motion of which he had given notice relative to the disadvantageous position of certain officers in the navy, he should be very glad if the Admiralty would take the matter out of his hands, and save him the trouble of laying it before the House, for none could be more deserving of their consideration than the officers whose cause he was about to plead. He considered that the case of these meritorious men was a peculiarly hard one, and he hoped before he sat down to convince the House that it was one which demanded immediate redress. They were about to do honour to-morrow to brave men who had fought the battles of their country for two years, but the men whose case he wished to bring before the House had fought through a twenty years' war. All of those persons had been wounded several times—some had lost legs, some arms, and others the sight of their eyes. He would not indulge in any declamation on the subject, but confine himself to the facts, and he trusted, if any official reply was made to him, that the Government would do the same, and show that there were good and substantial reasons for refusing the request made by those officers who claimed, and he thought justly claimed, to be placed in the same position as the governor, lieutenant-governor, and chaplains of the hospital, and to receive their half-pay in addition to their residence in the hospital. It might be taken as a general rule that none but poor men would take the benefit of Greenwich Hospital. Many of them had large families, too, and it was a great consideration to them to get a residence free. They had to pay rates and taxes, however, and they had duties to perform which put them to a certain amount of expense in uniforms and the like. Those officers, eighteen in number, addressed a memorial to the Admiralty, praying for their half-pay, in the middle of last year, and to that the Admiralty replied that they had no power to grant their request. There appeared at that time to be some idea at the Admiralty that there was an Order in Council which did not allow of half-pay being given to these officers; but that was found to be a mistake. The officers memorialised again in January, and then the answer given was that it was not deemed advisable to comply with their prayer. Acting on his (Captain Scobell's) advice they memorialised again about six weeks ago, that time through their Governor, who himself backed their request by a letter to the Admiralty. To this memorial they received a very cold reply, to the effect that the Admiralty "could not comply with their request." Every step for securing justice had been taken in vain, and they now came to that House as a final Court of Appeal. The Governor and Lieutenant-governor had, as he had previously stated, their half-pay in addition to residences and large salaries. The chaplains had also their half-pay in addition to their salaries. The officers not receiving half-pay had been in active service from forty to sixty years, when the pay was less by fifty per cent, than it was now, and it was exceedingly hard that having, simply for the advantage of a residence in the hospital, given up their chances of promotion, that such an exceptional mode of dealing should be applied to them. He would read some documents which bore on the case of these officers. He would not, however, read the memorial of the officers, though some parts were very strong, and it was signed by the eighteen officers who conceived they were the subjects of the hardships complained of. According to a return, moved for by Mr. Hume, in 1854, the Governor of Greenwich Hospital got £2,266, including half-pay, and the Lieutenant Governor, £1,256 a year, including half-pay. The captains, including all emoluments, got £456; the commanders, £353; the eight lieutenants, £275; the masters, £245; but the two chaplains, who had not served for fifty or sixty years, and had not been wounded and so cut to pieces, £500 each; and the surgeon £650. If those arrangements had been intentional they would have been most disgraceful, but he believed that no such bad intention existed. The officers at Greenwich both above and below these had their half-pay, and it was but fair that these officers should be put on an equal footing with their superiors and inferiors. He had in his hand an account showing the services of each of these men. Of the four captains one was eighty-four years of age, and had served sixty-seven years; another, seventy-one years of age, had served fifty-eight years; another, seventy-two years of age, had served fifty-eight years; and the last and youngest, fifty-eight years of age, had served forty-seven years. The result of the account was that the eighteen men had, in the aggregate, served 1,000, or an average of fifty-five years each. They had among them forty-two wounds, including losses of legs, arms, and eyes; and had received thirty medals and clasps. The average period during which they enjoyed the scanty advantages of Greenwich was but nine years. In some cases men had died so poor that their widows had not been able to administer to their wills, or subscriptions had to be raised for the payment of debts which they had contracted in order to furnish their humble dwellings. They were all men with families, having children to educate; and they had not the means of showing to each other the common courtesies of life. Now, if the First Lord of the Admiralty doubted that statement, let him go and dine with one of them, and judge for himself. The sum which would be required to give those men their half-pay was not so much as the salary of the First Lord of the Admiralty. The right hon. Baronet (Sir C. Wood) may be an excellent First Lord, but be (Captain Scobell) did not see why thou- sands should be lavished on those who did duty at Whitehall, while those who had done their duty and had still to discharge duties at Greenwich were neglected. If it should be said that those gentlemen, when they went to Greenwich, knew what their emoluments would be, he would reply that during the time that the present First Lord of the Admiralty was President of the Board of Control, his salary was increased by about £1,000 a year. The memorial of these officers having been referred to the Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital, they said, in a letter to the Admiralty, that as the funds of the hospital were not affected, they had no opinion to offer, but stated, at the same time, their conviction of the justice of the claim and also of the value of the boon to the memorialists. The Lieutenant Governor had also written a letter in which he recommended that this small addition should be made to the pittance of these officers. Last year his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Christchurch (Admiral Walcott) brought forward the case of Captain Dickinson. That officer came up to him (Captain Scobell) in the lobby, and said that if the House refused his request it would be the death of him. The Motion was lost by a minority of one, and within a month the gallant captain was dead. There were civil service clerks, some of them connected with the Admiralty, who had £700, £800, or £1,000, a year retirement. What business had they to have more than these old men? Was that the way in which warriors—in which men who had fought and bled for their country, were to be treated? Many public situations were held by naval officers who received half-pay. It was received by Lords of the Admiralty being naval captains, by the Controller of the coastguard, by the Deputy Controller, by the Usher of the Black Rod, by the two Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital, by the captains, commanders, and masters serving under the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners, by the naval officers serving under the Board of Trade, and by those employed in the Customs. Captain Drew, the storekeeper at the Cape of Good Hope also obtained half-pay. Yet none of those gentlemen I had nearly so strong a claim as the class of officers whose cause he was advocating. Their case was one of such hardship that he entreated the noble Lord at the head of a Government which called itself "Libe- ral" to do justice to these aged and meritorious officers. Coming next to the old commanders and lieutenants in the navy, their position was certainly a most extraordinary one. He had in his hand a list of retired captains numbering 100, to whom had been lately added about 144 more. Before being placed on that list they all received 10s. per day, and now 10s. 6d. was given to them. The first 100 of these officers, none of whom had served less than fifty years, were clearly entitled to rank with colonels in the army, each of whom received 14s. 6d. per day if in the infantry, and 15s. 6d. if in the cavalry. He would ask why was there that disparity of remuneration in favour of the army and against the navy? The fact was that the former service was more effectually represented in Parliament, and if such a grievance as he was describing existed in the army it would be rung in the ears of the House—and very properly so—until it was redressed. But, happening in the navy, the thing was not exposed; although it could not he supposed that the country begrudged fair and equal remuneration to the officers of both services, rank for rank. But what he had stated was not all. By the warrant of last year £60,000 per annum was apportioned among officers of the army to induce them to retire on full pay; while not a single man in the navy could retire on full pay. It was manifest, then, that the naval officers were grievously oppressed. The old commanders were in this position:— there were 551 on the active list, and of these 342 efficient men were unemployed. There were ninety-seven reserve commanders, who had all served upwards of forty years and been decorated with medals, now receiving 7s. per day—an allowance for below that paid to a major in the army, of corresponding rank. 100 retired commanders only received 8s. 6d. per day, being 2s. 6d. less than a major; while another list of retired commanders, 246 in number, only obtained 7s. The old naval lieutenants were not better off—indeed, the lower they descended in rank the greater they would find the hardship. Only thirteen out of between 600 and 700 retired lieutenants got 7s.; 150 of them got 6s.; and the remainder, though many had been wounded, and wore several medals on their breasts, got but 5s. That was the reward given to men who had bonâ fide the same rank as captains of marines and captains in the army, whose allowance was 7s. per day. He had calculated the service of twenty modern lieutenants, with such names as Rowley, Balfour, and the like, and found that when put together it only amounted to seventy-four years; while the service of the same number of old officers of corresponding rank amounted in the aggregate to 700 years. The latter twenty bore such plebeian names as Smith, Thompson, White, and Johnson, and were men who, of course, never got on, but were left half-starving. The twenty men who had been so rapidly advanced had only three medals among them; while the men who had been kept back had almost all medals a piece. Now, that was an illustration of the treatment received by the navy; and if the House, now that it had been made acquainted with the system pursued, did not see that it was speedily amended, it would be responsible for all the oppression which that system inflicted. The question was one wholly unconnected with party considerations, and might be impartially and dispassionately dealt with. If his Motion were not favourably entertained by the First Lord of the Admiralty, he should feel it his duty to divide the House. It was not enough for him to expose the injustice done to deserving officers; he must take the opinion of the House whether that injustice should be suffered to continue. He was actuated by no personal feeling, although his own name was on one of the lists. He had been kept on half-pay much against his own wish, and although he had used every exertion in his power to get afloat, he had not sufficient interest to accomplish his object. If he had had nothing to depend upon but the pittance he received as half-pay, he could not have worn a gentleman's coat on his back. He now committed the case of these old neglected officers to the decision of the House of Commons. The hon. and gallant Officer concluded by moving that the disadvantageous position of the captains, commanders, lieutenants, and masters of the Royal Hospital at Greenwich, and other officers of Her Majesty's navy, is worthy of the early and favourable consideration of the Board of Admiralty.


in seconding the Motion, said, that his hon. and gallant I Friend the Member for Bath had made an appeal to the First Lord of the Admiralty on behalf of the officers to whose case he had called attention; but the person upon whose heart it was necessary to produce an impression was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who exercised control not only over the Board of Admiralty, but over all other boards. He (Sir G. Pechell) might remind the House that, although officers who were placed in the Royal Hospital at Greenwich, as a reward for their services, were deprived of half-pay, officers who held civil appointments were allowed to receive half-pay. For a series of years the naval Lords of the Admiralty, whose salaries were £1,000 a year, did not receive half-pay; but a very cunning and clever Secretary to the Admiralty found out an Act of Parliament, under the provisions of which the Lords of the Admiralty might receive their half-pay; and it was speedily arranged that they should not only enjoy half-pay for the future, but that they should receive the back-pay of which they had been deprived. He hoped the case of the officers to whom his hon. and gallant Friend's Motion referred would be taken into consideration by the Government. He (Sir G. Pechell) had brought the subject under the notice of the House on several occasions some years ago, and he had suggested that the amount received for the conveyance of bullion in Her Majesty's ships from South American ports, amounting to some £50,000, or £60.000, or £70,000 a year, might be applied to meet the claims of those officers; but he could never induce the First Lord of the Admiralty to turn his attention to the matter.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That, in the opinion of this House, the disadvantageous position of the Captains, Commanders, Lieutenants, and Masters, of the Royal Hospital at Greenwich, and of the Retired Captains under the Orders in Council of 1840, 1851, and 1856, and of the senior Commanders and Lieutenants of Her Majesty's Navy, is worthy of the early and favourable consideration of the Board of Admiralty.


said, he had thought it his duty, when the gallant officer (Captain Scobell) placed his Motion on the paper, to go to Greenwich Hospital for the purpose of procuring the best information in his power on the subject. He then addressed himself to the Governor, Sir James Gordon, one of the most distinguished Admirals in the service, who, with a singleness of mind and sincerity of heart and purpose that did him the highest honour (characteristics which had endorsed him to his profession), freely communicated to him his own sentiments, and made him acquainted, as far as lay in his power, with all that he desired to know. In making one or two observations, he should set out with stating that the officers of Greenwich Hospital were paid out of the funds of the hospital, and received nothing from the Government; that in the year 1812 the salaries of the officers were arranged by the authorities of the hospital, and from that year up to 1829 the half-pay of those officers was paid into the Exchequer, the nomination of those officers being in the same year transferred from the hospital to the Admiralty. From that time to this he (Admiral Walcott) could gain no information as to what had become of this half-pay; but this much was certain, that it was not received by those officers. He contended that half-pay was given for good and meritorious services performed, and not in anticipation of future services, provided only, if called upon, officers were capable of service; in this case these officers were deterred from ever entering on actual service by an Order in Council of January, 1856, and therefore the Admiralty was not justified in withholding from them the half-pay to which they were justly entitled. The Governor of Greenwich Hospital told him that these officers obtained their nomination at a very advanced period of life for wounds received, or for gallant service. They had a house given them, but no furniture, and in order to furnish it they were generally obliged to go to their agents and borrow money. If they did not live sufficiently long to repay the agents, the consequence was, the furniture was sold, and their families left in a state of great distress. Because the funds of the hospital provided the salaries of the officers of the department, the existence of such a fund should not be considered a bar to their half-pay. On what plea did the: Governor and Lieutenant Governor of the hospital receive their half-pay, when, as the Governor himself told him, they had no claim to it which those officers did not possess? It must not be supposed they had no duties to perform, as they were placed over some hundreds of old men, who require a great deal of care and attention. He would not go into any invidious comparisons of the difference of pay received by officers in the two services; but he would remind the House that the surest evidence of the decline of a nation was its neglect of those who had fought its battles in the hour of need, who with the promptitude of youth devoted their lives to the service of their country, and redeemed that pledge by the gallantry of manhood; to them assuredly is due all becoming testimony, and which ought to be dealt out in a free spirit and with an ungrudging hand; but if those in power will permit meritorious services to pass unrewarded, and favour to rule dominant in the bestowal of honours, promotions, and employment, then those who have a voice there will lift it against the decision of unreasoning judgment, for fear the absence of a decoration should be considered the credential of honour, and the insignia of distinction become the by-word of the brave. He earnestly implored the First Lord of the Admiralty to take the Motion of the hon. and gallant officer opposite into his favourable consideration, and he would only add that no circumstance of his life would give him more gratification than that he had raised his voice in the House of Commons in the support of the claims of those poor and meritorious officers.


said, he did not know whether it was owing to any change which had taken place in the constitution of Parliament, but when he first knew the House of Commons it exercised very considerable influence in checking the disposition of Governments to what was deemed unnecessary expenditure. That course, however, was now very much reversed, and in order to prevent an increase of expenditure, the Government felt themselves obliged to check Motions made in the House, from time to time, in favour of the claims of particular classes of officers or other public servants, and those often made entirely without reference to claims of others. The hon. and gallant Member for Bath, who introduced the subject, stated that officers of the navy of the same rank with those in the army did not receive the same amount of half-pay, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman apparently forgot that the officers of the army purchased their commissions, and that a great part of their half-pay must be regarded in the light of interest on the purchase-money of those commissions. It would doubtless be remembered that on one occasion an hon. Gentleman brought forward the case of the officers of marines as one of great hardship. He (Sir C. Wood) represented at the time that they were really better paid than the officers of the navy of corresponding rank, but the House was of a different opinion, and it was carried that every officer of marines ought to have a higher rate of pay; and now his hon. and gallant Friend (Captain Scobell) brought forward the hardship of the ease of the navy officers as compared with the marines in their turn. In this way the House of Commons was every now and then taking up individual cases, one at a time, without taking a general view of the different branches of the service. With regard to the first class of officers whose case his hon. and gallant Friend had brought before the House, the captains and commanders of Greenwich Hospital, he could only say that he was quite disposed to agree in the well-merited eulogium which had been paid them. The Governor of that hospital was one of the most distinguished officers in the service) and had suffered much in the discharge of his duty to his country) and the Lieutenant Governor and other officers had served with great distinction. Sir James Gordon had received one of the few prizes in the naval service, and he should be sorry to see his emoluments reduced. But the hon. and gallant Member had forgotten the difference between the pay of active service and the retirement allowance for past service. The chaplains and surgeons of Greenwich Hospital were actively employed in the duties of their profession. The surgeon was not appointed for his past services, but for his surgical skill, and it was not quite fair, therefore, to compare the salaries and emoluments given to such officers of Greenwich Hospital with the pay for past services. The surgeon might not have been wounded or shed his blood in defence of his country, but he was paid for performing active surgical duty in the hospital. With regard to the naval Lords of the Admiralty, an Act of Parliament was passed twenty-four years ago regulating their salaries. It was then considered that the salaries they received as Lords of the Admiralty were low in proportion to their duties and position, and it was provided that they should receive their half-pay in addition to that salary. His hon. and gallant Friend appeared to be labouring under some misapprehension with regard to the amount received by some of the officers to whom he had referred. When, he (Sir C. Wood) was told that those appointments were not worth having, he did not find that that was the view taken of them by the naval profession, by whom they were considered not at all bad places, and who were most anxious to obtain them. The hon. and gallant officer said that the officers of Greenwich Hospital were inadequately remunerated. Their duties, however, were of a light character, and if the hon. and gallant Member compared their half-pay and allowances with the half-pay of officers of much higher rank, he would find that they were not so inadequately remunerated as he seemed to think. The half-pay of a vice admiral was £593 a year. The captains in Greenwich Hospital were found in apartments. It was difficult to estimate the value of the apartments, but one of the captains was not provided with apartments, and he received£2 12s.6d. per week in lieu thereof. Putting that estimate, then, upon the value of the apartments, the emoluments of the captains in Greenwich Hospital were £595 per annum, being£2 more than the half-pay of a vice-admiral, an officer of much higher grade in the service. He therefore could not honestly say that he thought that a very inadequate payment for a naval officer of the rank of captain. The half-pay of a rear-admiral was £456 a year. The allowance of a commander of Greenwich Hospital might be estimated at £492, being £36 more than the half-pay of a rear-admiral. The lieutenants of Greenwich Hospital received an allowance of £417, taking apartments into account, which was more than the half-pay of a captain, which was only £365 a year. He could not say, therefore, that such a retired allowance was insufficient for officers of their rank. His hon. and gallant Friend had complained of a letter in which the Admiralty stated that it was not in their power to give these officers half-pay in addition to their allowances. That was quite true, because the Admiralty could not give them half-pay without the sanction of the Treasury. When the Admiralty were again applied to they replied, "We cannot do it." He saw nothing discourteous in that reply, which was simply true. In considering the question the House were bound to regard it in relation to the general question of allowing half-pay to be received with other emoluments derived from the public. The hon. and gallant Member for Christchurch (Admiral Walcott) had declared that half-pay was a reward for past services, and not a retainer for future services, [Admiral WALCOTT: It is a retainer, I admit.] Then it was not simply a reward for past services, as the hon. and gallant Admiral seemed to think. [Admiral WALCOTT: That is still my belief.] He could assure the hon. and gallant Admiral that he was quite mistaken; it was both a reward for past and a retainer for future services. It was in the power of the Treasury to allow half pay, with other emoluments; but it was generally withheld when other emoluments of considerable amount were enjoyed. Considering the amount which the officers of Greenwich Hospital received one way or the other, he did not think the decision not to allow them half-pay so exceedingly hard, and if they were allowed it, a large class of officers in the country, who were receiving other emoluments, would also press their claims upon the Government. With regard to the old commanders and lieutenants, Government had, in the course of the present year, asked for an increased Vote of £11,000 a year, for the purpose of malting additions to their half-pay. A considerable number of commanders had been given the rank of captains, with the lowest half-pay of captains; those who had not obtained that advantage would become entitled to it by seniority, as vacancies occurred; and on looking through the list, he could not see any great number not included in that number, who had any strong claims on the score of service. With regard to the old lieutenants, he could only repeat what he had said on a former occasion. Promotions were made largely in the years 1814, 1815, and 1816, and from the reduction of force consequent on the peace and it was perfectly impossible that any great number could afterwards be employed. The consequence was, that very few had seen much sea-service. Many of them had received half-pay for forty years; they now received a higher rate of half-pay, and a number had been promoted, the number of commanders having last year been increased. He quite agreed with his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bath, that it was unjust not to reward officers who had devoted themselves to the service of the country, and he did not believe Parliament would begrudge the application of public money to officers who had distinguished themselves; but he must say that a great number of lieutenants who had served in the late war had seen far longer sea service than many of the old lieutenants, and there was no reason, in his opinion, why the House should vote a larger sum to the latter officers. He believed he had now replied to all the points touched upon by his hon. and gallant Friend, and he trusted that he had satis- factorily explained to the House why he thought there was no ground for giving still larger boons than had already been extended to those officers.


said, he was sorry that the First Lord of the Admiralty had mixed up the captains' claims with those of the commanders and lieutenants, he quite agreed that a great deal had been done for the commanders and lieutenants, but he thought the officers of Greenwich Hospital were not treated with the liberality which the Admiralty ought to exhibit. The naval Lords of the Admiralty received half-pay, in addition to their salary; and if the united amount of salary and half-pay was only proper remuneration for the naval Lords, he should like to know how it was that the lay Lords did not receive £600 or £700 a year additional salary, to make their remuneration equal? All the members of the Board of Admiralty were in the same boat, and they ought not to make fish of one and flesh of the other. He did not think the comparison between Greenwich captains and vice-admirals a fair one, because the vice-admiral and the rear-admiral were both on the active list, while the Greenwich captains bad totally retired from the service. The Greenwich captains could get no further, and whether provisions were dearer or cheaper their pay was exactly the same. They were in a most pitiable condition. They had formerly been forced to live, perhaps, in a small cottage in the country. They came up to Greenwich to good and large apartments. They were obliged to borrow money of their agents to fit out the apartments, and when they were removed by the hand of Providence their widows and families were left in a very precarious position. That was the case of nine out of ten of all the Greenwich officers, and he could not understand why they should not receive the same advantage as other naval officers holding different situations in the country. For instance, the Usher of the Black Rod received a large salary, and he also received his half-pay. He considered that the Board of Admiralty had behaved well in giving to wounded officers appointments to Greenwich Hospital, but at the same time he did not think those appointments were sufficient rewards. While the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, and the Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital enjoyed their half-pay, he (Sir C. Napier) could see no reason for a distinction between them and the officers of lower grade, except, perhaps, that the higher officers had more influence and interest. The House had perceived the justice of representations made of the case of Sir James Gordon, whose salary as Governor was only equal to his pension and half-pay, leaving his house as the only benefit he derived from his appointment in Greenwich Hospital. In that case the First Lord of the Admiralty had no difficulty in persuading the Treasury to allow the increased emoluments, and it was to be hoped, after the discussion of that evening, the present First Lord would see the propriety of allowing the junior officers of the hospital to receive their half-pay.


said, he should be extremely sorry that a question relating to the English navy, of which they were all so naturally proud, should be summarily disposed of. He considered, in point of fact, that the entire of the money which was devoted to the pay of the officers connected with Greenwich Hospital was not voted by the country, but was defrayed out of private funds belonging to the institution itself. That being the case, he should wish to know if the nation was entitled to save the half-pay of those officers, for such, he contended, would be the result of refusing to grant them that half-pay, upon the ground that they received emoluments from other sources.


in reply, said, he was ashamed of the cold and callous feeling exhibited by the First Lord of the Admiralty for the position of those gallant officers. He (Captain Scobell) must declare that he would rather be what he was—an humble captain in the service—than the First Lord of the Admiralty with such opinions. The fact was, as the right hon. Gentleman knew, that the sweets of the service were given to political and family favourites, and that coldness, neglect, and insult were the only portion of the class on whose behalf the Motion had been made.


said, that the hon. and gallant Gentleman was not justified in saying that his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty had treated the case of those officers with coldness. His right hon. Friend was as anxious as any other man to see naval officers properly rewarded, and to give them an increase of income in their old age; but he had a public duty to perform, and that public duty obliged him to look at the subject, not in an isolated point of view, but as a whole. It was not correct to say that those situations were not coveted, because there always were several applications for each one that became vacant. The present Governor and Lieutenant Governor were gentlemen who had risen by merit alone, and were not indebted for their position to those adventitious circumstances to which the hon. and gallant officer referred. He would again repeat, that he was just as anxious as any Member in the House for the good of the navy, but he must say that he did not think that the present claim was well founded.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 31; Noes 38: Majority 7.