HC Deb 08 February 1861 vol 161 cc200-8

said, he had given notice of his intention to ask the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty when the Report of the Commission on Dockyard Management will be presented; and whether Her Majesty's Government intend to fill up the appointment of Surveyor of the Navy, vacant by the retirement of Sir Baldwin Walker, before the House is in possession of the evidence taken by that Commission? He understood, however, that the post had since been filled up, but he trusted that the appointment was only of a temporary character, as he wished to show the position in which the department stood, and the necessity that existed for remodelling that important branch of Her Majesty's service. The country had now attained to what was probably the greatest expenditure ever made in time of peace, and it was necessary to turn in every direction to see in what quarter expenses could be judiciously curtailed. In this very department of the Surveyorship of the Navy, he believed more money had been wasted in the last ten years than he was then prepared to state. Two or three instances, however, which had come under his own observation would show that when there were so many masters it was perfectly impossible the work could be properly conducted, or the waste of public money repressed, until the authority of the department was vested in a council, responsible for their acts to that House. About ten years ago we began to alter our sailing ships to steam vessels. The Sanspareil was selected for the purpose of having a screw put into her. That ship was built on the model of the finest French ships taken by us during the war. Originally she had 12-pounders on the upper deck, 18-pounders on the main, and 24-pounders on the lower deck; but these were changed, and she was armed all round with 32-pounders, and some larger guns were placed in her besides, and a 95 cwt. gun on her forecastle; her engines weighing about 400 tons, were placed between her main and mizen-masts, and altogether with her coals, she carried above 1000 tons more than her builder designed her to carry. The consequence of all this overweighting was, that when she got in to the Bay of Biscay she rolled in a manner that was most dangerous; she actually rolled over 47°. On her return she dis- charged a considerable number of guns. He had endeavoured to find the person by whom the injurious alterations had been directed, but from that day to the present had not succeeded in discovering to whose directions or authority her arrangements were due. Any jury of seamen would have told the Admiralty that the ship was overloaded and unfit to go to sea. Then, again, when the Crimean war broke out, in consequence of the representations of the Emperor of the French, we applied ourselves to building floating batteries. Now, how did we build them? We constructed square boxes, plated them with iron, put guns into them, and then ordered them to sail to the Crimea. How in the world the distinguished seamen to whom they were intrusted managed to get them out he was at a loss to imagine, and a still greater wonder was how they got them back again. Any schoolboy who had ever put an old cigar-case in a bowl of water could tell that a thing which was square would not sail. It could not be got through the water. However, the floating batteries found their way to the Crimea, after traversing from one side of the Mediterranean to the other, as a box always would, and were consequently too late. When the French batteries which had fortunately arrived got an opportunity of acting at Kinburn they showed that an iron-cased ship was impregnable; yet, after that we spent three or four years experimenting on iron plates, while we had much better been occupied in building iron ships. We had, perhaps, found out what description of iron would stand hammering the longest, but the great fact of the impregnability of iron ships had been proved at Kinburn. His right hon. Friend the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) commenced building six of these vessels, but he thought it would be found that from the mode of their construction they would be lumbersome and unmanageable vessels; that their utility and efficiency were completely destroyed in consequence of their carrying on the outside what other ships carried inside. How that was to be counterbalanced—how these ships were to be manoeuvred, was a thing which no one could tell till a trial was made. Instead of fitting out the Warrior and sending her to sea, and practically testing her behaviour, we were expending enormous sums on finishing five or six of these ships. It did not seem prudent to be expending £500,000 on each of these ships without seeing how the first of them would behave. He understood that Sir Baldwin Walker had given evidence to the effect that during the time he was Surveyor of the Navy he had eighty-seven masters, and that sometimes when he sent orders to the dockyards on various matters of instruction and detail it was found that letters went down from the Admiralty, sometimes by the same post, giving orders to an exactly contrary effect. If that were stated in the evidence of Sir Baldwin Walker, the House ought to have it. Since the telegraph was established, nothing could be done in the Admiralty without telegraphing. The Port Admiral was nothing more than a servant sitting at one end of a telegraph wire. From hour te hour telegraphs came down from the Admiralty giving directions about matters which it was utterly impossible for any one to superintend who was not on the spot. The Admiral at the dockyard had no power whatever. The whole of his functions were discharged by the Admiralty, who had enough of business without them. They divided their business, but in such a manner that the House had no hold on them. The House could not place the responsibility of the floating batteries or of the rotten gunboats—which could not go more than five miles an hour along the coast, and would not without the greatest delay be able to go from one port to another in a single reefed topsail breeze—on any particular official. Hon. Members could not place their finger on the proper party, or discover who was answerable for what everybody complained of. It was with a view of bringing these questions more fully and clearly before the House that he had asked his question of the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty; and he had, in conclusion, to express his hope that means would be taken to give the House that information to which it was entitled on so very important a question.


said, he wished, before the noble Lord (Lord C. Paget) answered his hon. Friend's question, to say a few words on the subject of that inquiry. He thought the House was indebted to his hon. Friend for bringing forward the subject at so early a period of the Session, because in his (Mr. Baillie's) opinion it was of great importance that they should have the Report of the Commission before they were called on to vote the Estimates for the year. He further thought it would be desirable if those hon. Gentlemen who took so laudable an interest in reducing the expenditure of the country, and who had addressed a memorial on that subject to the First Minister of the Crown, availed themselves of the earliest opportunity for bringing their views and opinions in respect to those matters under the notice of the House, in order that the House, previously to going into the Estimates, might know what those views and opinions were, and what was the mode by which those hon. Gentlemen proposed to have the reduction effected. Now he was one of those who thought that the public expenditure ought to be reduced, and at the same time that it might be reduced without injury to the public service. He was of opinion, for example, that great reductions might be made if a searching reform were instituted in those dockyards and on the whole system of their expenditure, more especially if it were true, as was alleged, that they kept no accounts whatever in those establishments. He believed that reductions might also be made in the Civil Service Estimates. Some hon Gentlemen opposite thought that the number of men voted for the Army and Navy last year might be reduced this year. It would, however, be for them to show that the prospects of Foreign Affairs were more satisfactory this than they had been last year, which, certainly, would be information that the House had not received from the Ministers of the Crown. With regard to the appointment of Surveyor of the Navy, one of the principal duties of that officer was that of selecting all the models, of all the ships of war that were built for the service of the Crown. Now, who were the Gentlemen who of late years had been appointed? He believed that for the last thirty years naval officers had invariably been appointed who had no scientific education, and who previously to their appointment had no knowledge either of shipbuilding or of the science of naval architecture. Take the case of the last Surveyor. Sir Baldwin Walker was a distinguished officer; no one understood better the management of a ship of war, but it was notorious that that gallant officer knew nothing of shipbuilding or of the science of naval architecture when he was first appointed to the office, yet every model of every ship of war built for the last ten years had, he (Mr. Baillie) believed, been selected by Sir Baldwin Walker. He had been told that Sir Baldwin Walker had a peculiar fancy for fitting ships of war with enormous masts and spars, and that, when remonstrated with by naval officers that their vessels were overmasted, he invariably laughed them off by saying that the modern school of naval officers was afraid of carrying too much sail. Now, Sir Baldwin Walker might be right in this view, and the naval officers wrong; but he maintained that these were questions which ought to be decided by scientific men. He thought that there should be a Board of scientific naval officers to settle all such questions; and, in the event of the Government not taking the subject into their early consideration, he hoped that his hon. Friend (Sir James Elphinstone), would bring forward a specific Motion regarding it.


said, that he wished to put a question to the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty (Lord C. Paget) in consequence of the regret expressed by his hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth (Sir James Elphinstone) that the Government, before they embarked in a very large expenditure for the construction of iron-cased ships, had not taken some steps to satisfy themselves as to the success of what they had already done in the same direction. He believed the public were disappointed, and with very considerable reason, at the long delay which had occurred in the launch of the Warrior. That vessel, under the contract for her construction, ought to have been ready for launching in the month of April or of May last. He was on board of her in the month of May, and he was told that she was to be ready in August; but she was not actually launched until the 29th of December; so that the period stipulated in the contract for her completion had been exceeded by eight or nine months. It was impossible to deny that it was very desirable that the merits and qualities of the Warrior as a sea-going ship should be tested as far as possible before the country was involved in the immense expense of building a considerable number of vessels of the same kind; and he therefore wished to ask the noble Lord, whether he could inform the House that the Warrior would be fitted out and sent to sea with the least possible delay, in order that her sea-going qualities might be ascertained?


said, he would not detain the House long, but as the subjects referred to were of considerable importance he hoped the House would allow him to make a few remarks upon the mode of carrying out the principle of the Resolutions agreed to by the House in 1856, as to the system of competitive examinations. A remarkable statement had been made by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Bass), that he had not been able to obtain any information as to the nomination of Naval Cadets. Now, he Mr.(Vincent Scully) repudiated the system of making application to Government for appointments of any kind, and were he asked to obtain one of these nominations, he would refuse to apply for it; for he thought it would be using his Parliamentary influence in a corrupt manner. It appeared, however, that these nominations were obtained by Members of Parliament. If the principle of competitive examination were established, it would give those a chance of obtaining appointments who had no one to speak for them. Formerly the only mode of appointment to Government situations was by patronage; now there were two or three systems in operation. There was still left a remnant of the old system of patronage; there was the mode of examination by a given standard, minimum being fixed up to which every person appointed to an office must come; and there was a bonâ fide system of competitive examination for introduction to certain offices. He wished, however, to guard the House against a mongrel system which was creeping in in Ireland—a system of half competition and half nomination, the effect of which would be greatly to increase the Government patronage—and he mentioned it now to prevent, if possible, its extension to this country, as it would be attended with very great mischiefs.


observed, that their naval discussions had this Session commenced very early. He hoped to be able to lay the Navy Estimates on the table in a few days, when those interested in naval matters would have a whole night to themselves, and would be able to discuss at length all the questions relating to iron-cased vessels and other important matters of that kind. He trusted the House would pardon him, therefore, for not going into details on those questions on the Motion for the adjournment of the House to Monday. In answer to the Question of his hon. Friend the Member for Chatham (Sir Frederic Smith), with regard to the competitive system being introduced in the case of Marine Cadets, he had to state that the present First Lord of the Admiralty had introduced a system of limited competition in the case of Marine Cadets. He knew that his hon. Friend did not approve of that, as he wished to introduce a system of unrestricted competition. But this was a question on which very different opinions prevailed—some persona being in favour of limited competition, some unlimited competition, and others of no competition at all. He, for one, did not hesitate to say that he was in favour, as far as possible, of unlimited competition. But his noble Friend, the First Lord, in regard to Marine Cadetships, had introduced a great improvement upon the old system. That old system, though objectionable in some respects, could not be called one of favour, as the cadetships were mostly given to the sons of meritorious officers. It was thought that the system of limited competition would be a very proper and wholesome one in that corps, and accordingly as vacancies occur in the corps, a certain number of candidates are called up for competitive examination, and the most successful are appointed to fill up vacant places. The system he thought a fair one. His hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Bass) had alluded to Naval Cadets, and found fault with the Admiralty for not appointing Naval Cadets by the mode of competitive examination. This subject was a good deal discussed last year, and he then showed that it was one beset with difficulties. These Naval Cadets were very young boys of twelve to fourteen years of age, and they could hardly devise a mode of examination which would test their abilities when grown up. He would now turn to the question of his hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth. The hon. Gentleman asked him when the Report of the Commission on Dockyard Management would be presented, and also whether the Government intend to fill up the appointment of Surveyor of the Navy, vacant by the retirement of Sir Baldwin Walker, before the House was in possession of the evidence taken by that Commission. He was unable to answer the first question, because there were various matters which would require much consideration before the Committee made their Report. With regard to the appointment of a new Surveyor of the Navy, it was impossible for him to mention the name of Sir Baldwin Walker without expressing his great satisfaction that he had received a command worthy of his talents and reputation. He was the more anxious to bear his testi- mony to the merits of the gallant officer, because the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir John Pakington), had on a former occasion accused him of making a personal attack upon Sir Baldwin Walker. So far was this from being the case that he admired the gallant Admiral as one of the first officers of the Navy, and he rejoiced that he had been brought back to a service which he would honour, as he had ever honoured it in every situation in which he had been placed. Sir Baldwin Walker's health had suffered so grievously that he had begged to be relieved from his duties at the Admiralty. The Duke of Somerset had, however, been unwilling to lose the benefit of Sir Baldwin's assistance until the Estimates were framed. When they were ready, and the noble Duke found himself able to dispense with the gallant officer's services, it was necessary to consider what was to be done. Was the noble Duke to wait until the Committee had sent in their Report on the Control and Management of the Dockyards, and keep this important office in abeyance until their opinion was known? Any one who knew the great and onerous duties of the Surveyor of the Navy must admit that it was impossible for this situation to remain in abeyance, because the whole business of the dockyards would in that case come to a standstill. His noble Friend at the head of the Admiralty had, therefore, chosen for the vacant post an officer who had obtained a great name in the Naval service for his knowledge of steam machinery. That officer had written a work on steam; and he was, in other respects, a remarkably intelligent officer. Under the circumstances, however, his noble Friend had thought it better not to make the appointment a permanent one, and the new Surveyor of the Navy had therefore been appointed for five years. The noble Duke had now under his consideration the enormous duties of this department, and the necessity of appointing some officer to communicate between the Surveyor and the dockyards, so as to carry out the Surveyor's instructions. With the constant duties of the Surveyor in London it was impossible for him to give his personal attention to the dockyards, and some such appointment as he had described would probably be made. The hon. Gentleman (Sir James Elphinstone) appeared to think that this department should be managed by a council. Well, he (Lord Clarence Paget) thought that if anything were going out of fashion it was divided responsibility. They read every day that the great defect of the Admiralty was a divided responsibility, that one department shuffled the blame of anything wrong upon another, and that no one knew who was really responsible. If any department of the Admiralty required responsibility, indeed, it was the department of the Surveyor of the Navy. The hon. Member for Inverness-shire found fault with the appointment of a naval officer to the office of Surveyor of the Navy; but any one not a naval officer could scarcely imagine the marvellous amount of nautical knowledge required in building ships. The putting together the planks and the mere shell of the ship was not the business of a naval officer; but when they came to the upper works a great amount of nautical knowledge and experience was required. The right hon. Gentleman opposite appeared to blame the Admiralty for building too many iron ships. [Sir JOHN PAKINGTON: I found no such fault.] Then the right hon. Gentleman was satisfied that the Admiralty should go on building as many iron ships as our neighbours over the water?


The question I put was, whether the Government intended to test the sea-going qualities of the Warrior with a view to assist them in the construction of other iron ships?


would admit that the contractors were partly to blame for the delay in launching the Warrior, but there were various causes for the delay in building that vessel. He trusted, however, that in the course of the present summer the Admiralty would be able to test the qualities of the Warrior.