§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
said, he rose to move the series of Resolutions of which he had given notice on the condition of the Navy. They had recently renewed the navy by the addition of a magnificent steam fleet, and they now found that they must begin the work of re-construction by the adoption of a kind of vessel entirely unknown before, constructed on principles as yet very imperfectly understood; for, in fact, the whole theory as respected building iron-cased ships was at present in the most uncertain condition. During the last twenty years they had spent an enormous sum of money in the construction of shipping, notwithstanding which the idea had been steadily gaining ground among every class of the community that the government of naval affairs had not been found equal to the national exigencies. The administration of naval affairs was so clumsy that it was utterly impossible that they could be carried on with efficiency. For this he blamed entirely the system, and not the individuals who performed the duties of that department. The question did not at all involve the character of the many eminent men who had managed our naval affairs during past years. On the contrary, they resembled the crew of a ship sent to sea in an unseaworthy state, which it was impossible to keep afloat, and not the slightest slur could be cast upon them in the matter. Although the administration of the Admiralty was admitted to be bad, and although its machinery had grown entirely out of date, the question had always arisen—how were they to repair it; by what means were they to reconstruct it so as to enable it to perform its functions properly. He had consulted many high authorities upon this subject—men rising in the profession, and upon whom in times of trouble would devolve the duty of conducting our fleets—and he had always found them agreed not only on the point that there must be some change, but on the main features of the change In order to place his views before the House he had drawn up a statement showing the various reforms which were needed, and a series of Resolutions which followed as a mere corollary from his statement. He did not expect, on the very short notice it had received that the House would adopt those Resolutions at once, but, no doubt, they would lead to a full consideration of the 1125 question, and if eventually adopted, he thought they would go very far to get them out of their present difficulty.
It was plain to every one who had looked into the matter, that it was of great importance that naval affairs should be conducted with efficiency and economy, and that to ensure the efficiency of the navy, upon which the safety of the country and its best interests depended, it was necessary to have a sufficiency of active experienced officers, and a highly disciplined, well-trained, and contented body of seamen, with a reserve of each for war. At present we had a sufficiency of active experienced officers, but we had not a highly disciplined, well-trained, and contented body of seamen. Accounts from all quarters agreed in stating that the discipline of the navy at the present moment was much below par. He had not himself, within the last three years, seen a single one of Her Majesty's ships in what he could call really smart order or a state of perfect cleanliness. The crews were unusually defective, and he could read extracts on that subject which would surprise the House. Boys trained to the service were equal in value to more than two of such men as now entered it; and they could have plenty of boys trained to it if they only increased the number of their training schools. Another indispensable requisite was the construction of ships armed on the most improved system of modern warfare. The strength of our fleet ought to be equal to the strength of the combined naval forces of France and Russia, and the introduction of iron-cased ships established a new feature in the character of war, rendering an immediate reconstruction of our fleet absolutely necessary. It was a matter of complaint that ships of an obsolete character had continued to be built long after the other nations of Europe had seen the necessity of change. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Droitwich was at the head of the Admiralty, he began to build iron-clad ships, and it certainly seemed to him that some of those ships ought to have been completed long before this time. The Warrior was to have been launched in May, last year, and he could not imagine why it was thought necessary to extend the time which wa3 allowed to the contractor. She was not launched until the 28th of December, and then the Admiralty deliberated a long time with regard to the plates with which she was to be covered, 1126 and declared eventually that the plates should be grooved. The result was, that although the planing machinery, both at Woolwich and the Thames Iron Works, had been employed ever since in planing the edges of the plates, they were not even yet in such a forward state as to enable the Admiralty to form an idea as to when the vessel would be ready. Then, again, the Black Prince was only launched yesterday. How long would it be before they would be able to send those two ships to sea and discover whether they were after all the right thing or not? Our neighbours on the other side of the water had a considerable number of those ships; we were very inferior to them in that respect, but it did not appear to him, from the Navy Estimates, which had been laid on the table that evening, that there was any intention to take a Vote for the purpose of increasing the number of our iron-clad ships. Then, again, it was evident that by the present mode of manning the fleet they did not obtain the best class of seamen. In order to obtain a ready supply of seamen in all emergencies, a sufficient staff of well-organised recruiting officers was necessary. The Naval Commission which sat two years ago recommended that school-ships should at once be established at all the outports of the kingdom. Had that been done at once, and had a sufficient number—8,000 or 10,000—been entered, those boys would then have been sixteen or seventeen years of age; and he would rather go to sea with well-trained boys of that class than with such seamen as were now found on board the ships. The bounty had brought utterly unfit men into the navy; it had collected the scum of the seaports—men who were both morally and physically incapable of forming good seamen, who required punishment to keep them up to a proper state of discipline; but whose enfeebled and diseased bodies were unable to bear that punishment. The Naval Reserve was a very good idea, but it had only answered to a very limited extent. They had only got 3,000 or 4,000 men, but they wanted at least 40,000. They had discovered at Hastings and in other places that the men at the outports were perfectly willing to enter the service as a volunteer force, and to practise at the guns, and he thought that if the gentry of the neighbourhood took this matter up they would be able to get together a body of about 300,000 men—aquatics 1127 of all kinds, such as fishermen, longshore men, cobble-men, and men of every sort who got their bread upon the water, and who were as accessible to the influence of men of respectability in the neighbourhood as those of the rural districts were. Such was the kind of naval reserve which he desired; and he believed those aquatics would be a material aid to our navy in the event of any disturbance taking place. To render the service more attractive, it was necessary to establish a complete system of barrack accommodation, where the seamen might remain embodied under good officers, and the practice of disbanding whole crews which had arrived at a perfect state of discipline ought to be discontinued. The practice of paying off ships and turning the men on shore to ruin their health, and to fall into the hands of all sorts of cheats and sharpers by whom they were robbed and plundered, was a relic of barbarism, the existence of which was irreconcilable with the maintenance of a proper state of discipline. Docks or basins ought to be provided, in connection with which each ship might have her own storehouse, an exercising ground, and barracks, in which the men should remain under the charge of their officers. In that way a great part of the men might be barracked in the towns to which they belonged, near to their families and friends, and by that means gradually weaned from those temptations which at the present moment were cast in their way. The practice of paying off ships, he repeated, was perfectly incompatible with the maintenance of an efficient state of discipline, and it was impossible to stigmatise it in too harsh terms. It was melancholy to see a fine ship come home, all in the smartest trim, her hands under the most admirable discipline, knowing what each other could do to a pound, and all of them fit for the most arduous duty, and to reflect that in a few hours the ship would be stripped and her men sent adrift only to return miserable wrecks of their former selves; or, in most cases, he was afraid not to return at all, but to die of disease and neglect. The system was a disgrace to the age, and nothing more or less than a relict of barbarism. Last year, at the close of the Session, the noble Lord came down to the House, and in a speech replete with brilliancy, asked for £10,000,000 to fortify our dockyards. Why, if he had asked for £10,000,000 more for the purpose of making docks and barracks, and had ex- 1128 plained the reasons, the House would have given it at once. All that the House required to know was that there was a real and actual necessity for the outlay, and that it was absolutely necessary for the maintenance of the efficiency of the navy that boys should be trained up to it, and it would give any money they asked for. Nor would the provision of such a system of dock accommodation be attended with any enormous expense. At Aberdeen a dock containing 39 acres of water, larger than any at Cherbourg, with an average depth of 19 feet, and 22 feet over the sole of the gate, had been constructed for £150,000 or £160,000. At Portsmouth there was an extent of mud beyond the north-wall of the docks, where, for a couple of hundred thousand pounds, we might excavate docks to hold 30 sale of the line; and there were 120 or 130 acres of Government land which would afford space for barracks, exercising grounds, and all other necessary accommodation. It was astonishing to him how little importance the Government had attached to dock accommodation. It was not so with the merchant shipping. Look at the docks at Plymouth, Stonehouse, Southampton, London, Grimsby, Leith, and Aberdeen. Why at Liverpool and London alone the merchant shipping had twenty times as much dock accommodation as was possessed by the whole of Her Majesty's Navy. So alive were the East India Company to the importance of dock accommodation, that as early as 1784 they built one of their extensive docks near Blackwall, and ten years afterwards they built the other, whereas, with the exception of a small basin of about seven acres and the dock at Keyham, Her Majesty's Navy were completely destitute of dock accommodation, and all the ships which came home were obliged to be stripped in the stream or alongside the dock wall. The next point was that the transport service ought to be extended so as to meet all the requirements of peace, and thereby to increase the school for training men who would be available for war. This was a most important point. Many ships which were useless for the direct purposes of war might be with advantage devoted to the transport service, and form an important auxiliary to the marine of the country. It was with the view of creating an administration capable of carrying out these objects that he had framed the following Resolutions:—
Those Resolutions might not be perfectly drawn, but he believed that they contained the germ of a plan which would, in all probability, by whomsoever it might be carried out, be the means of getting us out of our difficulties. He did not intend to press them to a division, but desired that they should act as a guide to the Committee which was about to be granted; and he, therefore, hoped that the terms of reference to that Committee would be made sufficiently wide to embrace all the subjects to which they referred. The present was, no doubt, a crisis in our naval history. We could not go on much longer spending enormous sums in constructing and reconstructing our navy without having any direct responsibility for this expenditure. The Admiralty broke down in the Baltic. It was admitted that they could not send out any more men, and that such as the fleet was it must remain. The ships were 1130 then of the most inefficient character. We had vessels without bottoms, and mortar boats without bows, and good service was not to be got out of them. Now the navy was to be re-constructed, but he had no confidence in the Board of Admiralty who were intrusted with this duty. You could not point to a single thing which was to be done and find the man who had to do it. In Sir Charles Napier the House had lost a man of great ability and of indomitable courage and honesty, and he feared there was now no one whose voice could be raised so effectually upon the abuses of the navy. In reply to his strictures the Government defended Admiralty management in general, but the House could never find out, for instance, who drew the lines of ships, who placed the engines in them, and how the country became possessed of such a number of inefficient vessels. They were told that the draughts came out of the Surveyor's Office, but that meant anything or nothing, and gave no information respecting the great failures which had occurred in the navy. He heard that the Government now intended to grant a Committee of Inquiry into the working of the Board of Admiralty, but the witness whose evidence would be of the greatest importance was under orders to sail for the Cape on the following Saturday. He hoped that the departure of Sir Baldwin Walker would be countermanded, for he believed that the gallant officer would do good service by his revelations of the mismanagement existing in his late office, that mismanagement being totally beyond his control. In the Resolutions before the House, he (Sir James Elphinstone) did not wish to trench on the Motion which was to be made on the next day; but having some little knowledge of seafaring matters, he took the opportunity now offered of inviting a discussion, and of sketching, if possible, a plan by which the Admiralty business might be conducted in its several departments with some chance of efficiency. He now left the subject in the hands of the House, certain that they in their wisdom would devise a remedy for a state of things which had gone on from bad to worse, and the evils of which were now admitted even by the Government. The hon. Member then moved his Resolutions.
- "1. That the mismanagement of naval affairs is due to the inefficiency of the present means of 'naval administration.
- "2. That no efficient administration can be hoped for without direct personal responsibility.
- "3. That to obtain direct personal responsibility, it is essential to abolish the Board of Admiralty, and to substitute for it a Minister of Marine, with a secretary in this House.
- "4. That the Minister of Marine shall be directly responsible to this House for the conduct and management of naval administration.
- "5. That he shall be assisted by a council of not less than four naval officers, whose opinion he may consult, but to whom he is not bound to defer.
- "6. That the members of council be appointed for five years.
- "7. That each department of the navy shall have a known and acknowledged head, appointed also for five years.
- "8. That the heads of departments shall be directly responsible to the Minister of Marine, and that he shall be responsible to the country that efficient men fill them.
- "9. That all promotions and appointments be the act of the Minister of Marine in council, submitted to him through the proper heads of departments, but for which he is personally responsible.
- "10. That all naval commanders-in-chief be empowered to manage, and be responsible for, all questions of detail relating to their command.
- "11. That the following departments are, in the opinion of this House, of sufficient importance to require the special superintendence of separate heads:—The discipline and training of the navy, and general superintendence of the fleet in commission, and the submission of the appointment and promotion of officers; the manning of the fleet; the construction of the navy; the victualling of the navy; the paying of the navy; the controller of the coastguard; the Royal Marines; the medical department; pensions and rewards; the store department; the department of works; the hydrographer; the transport service."
§ MR. H. BAILLIE
said, that in rising to second the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member, he was anxious to explain the reasons which induced him to prefer the Resolutions to the Motion for a Com- 1131 mittee to inquire into the administration of the Admiralty of which notice had been given. A Committee of Inquiry was, no doubt, under certain circumstances, very useful and advantageous, but there were occasions on which it became practically an obstruction in the way of reform. When, for example, it was adopted by the Government in answer to remonstrances which were backed up by public opinion, and which, though distasteful to the Government, could not be resisted, such a Committee impeded reform, instead of aiding it. A Committee of Inquiry was an amusement in which the House of Commons delighted. Hon. Members were anxious, and even canvassed to have the opportunity of serving upon it, and knowing that he was not surprised at the willingness of the Government to appoint one; but what would be its result as regarded the public interest? No doubt the Committee would be impartially constituted. Hon. Members would be chosen from both sides of the House. It would sit during the whole of the present and perhaps of the next Session. A vast mass of evidence would be taken. Two ponderous blue books would be produced, and in the year following the question of Naval Reform would stand exactly in its present position, except that the Government would be armed with just as much evidence against reform as there was evidence now in favour of reform. Now, if the Government were of opinion that no such reform was required at the Board of Admiralty, they would be quite right in granting the Committee; because the Committee would, to a certain extent, satisfy public opinion. But if the Government thought that a reform in the Admiralty was necessary, and that changes might be made in that body with advantage to the public service, then it was the duty of the Government to make those changes without delay, and on their sole responsibility as Ministers of the Crown. But he feared the Government had no intention of carrying out any reform, and he was induced to draw that inference from an answer given by the noble Lord the Secretary of the Admiralty to a question put by his hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth. The question was, whether the Government intended to appoint a new Controller of the Navy, the office being vacant, before they had received the Report of the Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the management of the dockyards. The question 1132 was a pertinent one; but the answer was, that a naval officer had already been appointed as controller for a period of five years. Now, that appointment was a very important one, and as it had been already made, it did not appear that any immediate change at the Admiralty was contemplated. He believed he should be able to show and prove that most of the waste and extravagance of the naval administration had been caused by the imperfect manner in which the duties of the office of controller had been performed. That being the case, he need not apologise for occupying the attention of the House for a short time while he entered into some details on the subject. He would first state what the duties of the surveyor or controller of the navy were; for, considering the appointments that had been made to the office, he almost doubted whether the Admiralty quite appreciated those duties. The terms surveyor and controller were used indifferently. Captain Symonds was called Surveyor of the Navy; Sir Baldwin Walker was called the Controller. Now the duties of the Surveyor of the Navy, as officially laid down by the Commissioners of Naval Revision in 1806, were these:—The senior surveyor, besides the ordinary duty of his office in the committee of correspondence, is to direct in preparing the drawings of ships and vessels ordered to be built for His Majesty's service, either in the King's or merchants' yards, and to determine the dimensions and scantlings of their frames and masts and yards; to examine and approve all notes from the yards for task and job-work; to propose prices to be allowed to workmen not already established; to correspond with the officers of the yard respecting the propriety of estimates from the several dockyards, for an explanation of such parts thereof as do not appear clearly stated, and to make such alterations and additions therein as may be necessary; to consider the prices proposed by the officers of the yards for all works performed by contractors upon valuation; to visit the several dockyards, and to inspect the building and repairs of King's ships in merchants' yards," &c.The House would observe that these duties involved the whole science of naval construction, the economy of labour, its adjustment and superintendence. All these were intimately connected with the office of Surveyor of the Navy. Previous to the year 1832 these duties were performed by a Board called the Navy Board, consisting of the controller and two surveyors, sometimes three. The duty of the second surveyor was to attend to the department of construction; the junior surveyor had the exclusive superintendence of the dockyards. In 1832 the right hon. Baronet 1133 the Member for Carlisle (Sir James Graham) was First Lord of the Admiralty, and a change was made as to the Navy Board. There was no man to whose opinion he would yield greater respect on this subject, or any other, than to that of the right hon. Baronet, who he regretted was not in his place. But when he made this change he was only at the beginning of his brilliant ministerial career; and the change was avowedly made as an experiment. By that change the Navy Board was abolished altogether; the surveyor at that time was Sir Robert Seppings, who had built some of the finest ships of war the country possessed. In place of the Board the right hon. Baronet appointed a single naval officer to do the whole duty, and that officer was Captain Symonds. He was distinguished in his own profession, was a man of ability, and had been an amateur shipbuilder; but it was avowed that he had no scientific or practical knowledge of naval construction. The appointment naturally caused a good deal of controversy. A debate on the subject took place in the House of Commons; and on referring to that debate he found that the most distinguished naval officers then in the House unreservedly condemned the appointment. It was condemned also by the most distinguished Radicals, among them by Mr. Joseph Hume. He mentioned that to prove that it was not made a party question, for the Radicals were at that period stanch supporters of the Government. It was about that time Mr. Hume declared he would vote that black was white to keep in the Ministry. But the appointment was strongly condemned by Sir Byam Martin and Sir George Cock-burn. Sir Byam Martin regretted that the then First Lord of the Admiralty, passing over the pupils of the School of Naval Architecture, many of whom had had seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen years' experience of the duties of a shipwright, had appointed a gentleman as controller who, "though of acknowledged abilities, had no practical knowledge of the building of a ship. The very ship he was employed to build he was unable to make the necessary calculations for, and he actually sent to the Navy Board to ask them to make the calculation, so utterly incapable was he of doing it himself." Sir Byam Martin added that if none of the young men of the School of Naval Architecture were considered competent, there were still the master shipwrights of the 1134 dockyard to select from, many of whom had been practically engaged in the duties of their profession for forty years. Sir George Cockburn declared that the pupils of the Naval School were much more fit to be appointed to the office of surveyor than Captain Symonds. It had always been considered that the Surveyor of the Navy should be the actual superintendent of everything done in the building of a ship, and be able to tell the master shipwrights where they might have committed an error. Such were the opinions of two distinguished officers of the navy on the appointment. But he could adduce a much older authority against the principle of appointing as Surveyor of the Navy a man without practical experience of shipbuilding. It was that of Mr. Samuel pepys, Secretary to the Admiralty in the reign of Charles II. He expressed an opinion almost identical with that of Sir George Cockburn. He describes the ruinous condition to which the Navy of England had fallen in consequence of not having a practical shipbuilder as a surveyor. He states that in 1679, when the Duke of York, who was Lord High Admiral, went abroad, he left the duties of the office to be discharged by Lords Commissioners; and such were the corruptions and abuses then prevailing that Sir Anthony Dean, the surveyor, and a man of practical experience, resigned his office in disgust. Upon the accession of James II., who was anxious to improve the state of the navy, he sent for Mr. Samuel Pepys, who recommended him to send for Sir Anthony Dean, a practical shipwright, assuring him that the want of such a person in the Civil Department of the Admiralty had cost His Majesty and his Royal brother no less than £500,000, no small sum in those days. The Board of Admiralty, however, did not take advantage of that example, and Sir William Symonds retained his position for fifteen years, building ships upon erroneous principles. During that period he launched sixty-four ships, and laid down forty-two others. The results of Sir William Symonds's proceedings were set forth in a pamphlet, published in 1847, by a naval officer, who based his statements upon official documents. He said that we had then twenty-nine sail of the line of from 2,000 to 3,000 tons burden, twenty-five frigates of various classes, and a host of corvettes and smaller vessels, besides fifty steamships; and scarcely one of those vessels swam upon the lines origi- 1135 nally laid down for her construction, while many could not carry their armaments. The displacement of the Queen varied 270 tons from her lines as laid down, the Albion 250 tons, the Superb 230 tons, and the Vanguard 100 tons, while the experimental brig Flying Fish, if all her stores, guns, and deadweight had been left on shore, could not have swum at the line intended by her construction. The steamship Retribution of 1,600 tons, which cost £100,000, could only carry six guns, for although she had a magnificent row of maindeck ports she could carry no guns in them. In 1844–5–6 experimental squadrons were sent to sea in order to determine the merits of certain vessels, and the result was to arrest the progress of five first-rates building after the model of the Queen, and six 90-gun ships after the model of the Albion. In 1846 the Admiralty was further alarmed at the numerous failures of their ships to carry their guns and stores at the expected displacements, and a Committee was appointed to inquire into the subject. That Committee made a Report which resulted in an order to pull to pieces six 90-gun ships, and to construct others upon a different model. Those statements, he repeated, were made by the author of the pamphlet from which he quoted upon the authority of official documents. He (Mr. Baillie) would ask whether such a state of things did not need reform, and did not those hon. Gentlemen who lately signed a memorial to the noble Lord the Prime Minister for a reduction in our public expenditure think that it would be well for them to turn their attention to a system which involved such an enormous waste of public money? He was persuaded that the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty agreed with him in that statement, for the noble Lord himself had said, "There has been a system of extravagant expenditure pursued in the shipbuilding department of the Admiralty which should be thoroughly looked into." He (Mr. Baillie) wanted to know whether that system had been thoroughly looked into. Pursuing the history of the Admiralty system of shipbuilding he next came to the year 1847, and then the career of Sir William Symonds closed. But he was not dismissed then for all the blunders and mistakes he had committed. He dismissed himself, or he would probably have been allowed to remain much longer in his office. The occasion of his retirement was remarkable. In 1847 the Board of 1136 Admiralty received information that the French had constructed an 80-gun screw ship to steam ten knots an hour. This took him by surprise, and they sent immediately for the Surveyor of the Navy and told him they must have a steam line-of-battle ship laid down. Sir William Symonds disapproved screw ships, and he immediately resigned his office. Then Sir Baldwin Walker was appointed, although why that officer was selected he (Mr. Baillie) could never discover. Whether they supposed that by his serving with the Turks he had acquired a knowledge of shipbuilding he (Mr. Baillie) did not know; but certain it was that Sir Baldwin Walker was much surprised himself at his appointment. Sir Baldwin Walker went before the Admiralty and plainly told them that he knew nothing about shipbuilding or scientific naval architecture; but the Admiralty said that was of no consequence, he would make a good surveyor, and he was appointed. It was fortunate for the country that Sir Baldwin Walker was a man of sound common sense, and did not, like his predecessor, appoint as his assistant a man who was as ignorant as himself; but he selected from the school of naval construction a most distinguished man, Mr. Isaac Watts, and to the assistance of that gentleman we were indebted that the ships built of late years could swim at the calculated displacement and could carry their armaments. Undoubtedly a superior class of ships had been built during the administration of Sir Baldwin Walker under the superintendence of Mr. Watts; but the right course would have been to appoint Mr. Isaac Watts the Surveyor of the Navy, and thus have had complete responsibility. As the case stood, if any blunders were committed, and fault were found with Sir Baldwin Walker, that respectable functionary might say that it was Mr. Watts who had built the ships. If, on the other hand, they complained to Mr. Watts, he might say that Sir Baldwin Walker had ordered the lines of the ships. He did not know to what extent Sir Baldwin Walker might have interfered with Mr. Watts, but certain it was that the administration had not been quite free from blunders. One of those blunders was the construction of the iron-cased ships during the Russian war which were sent out to the Crimea. Anything more extraordinary than the construction of those ships he supposed no naval man ever conceived. He was told that 1137 any shipwright would at a glance have told the Admiralty that it was impossible the vessels could be either propelled through the water or steered, so imperfectly were they built. He would like to know who was responsible for their construction—Sir Baldwin Walker, Mr. Isaac Watts, or who? Those ships, as his hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth said on a former occasion, were sent out from this country; but as they could not be steered or propelled they were for weeks tossed about at the mercy of the winds and waves, and either never reached their destination at all, or only reached it after the war was over. Not so the French vessels of the same description. Having been made both to be propelled and steered they did arrive at the Crimea in time, and were present at the siege of Kinburn. There they were placed within 500 yards of the Russian batteries; those batteries they destroyed, the balls of the Russians falling harmless on their sides. The English officers who visited those French vessels alter the action admitted that then and there the question of iron-cased ships was solved; the French recognized the same fact, and from that day directed their attention to their construction. Not so the Admiralty of this country. Whether it was that Sir Baldwin Walker was disgusted with the utter failure of his own ships it was impossible to say, but certain it was that he never turned his mind to the construction of iron-cased vessels; and it was not till the advent of the right hon. Member for Droitwitch to the Admiralty, who forced their attention to the matter, that the subject was entertained. All credit was due to the right hon. Baronet for that; for had it not been for his efforts we should have been much more behindhand in the construction of proper ships of war than we now were. We were still, it was to be feared, far behind the French; for it was said they would have twenty of those ships afloat before we had ten. However, we had made a commencement in this respect, and the result of our experiments remained to be seen. He now came to the resignation of Sir Baldwin Walker; and here he must remark the curious coincidence that Sir William Symonds should have retired just as we began to reconstruct our navy by the introduction of the screw propeller, and that Sir Baldwin Walker should have done the same just as we commenced the building of iron-cased ships. 1138 The officer appointed to succeed Sir Baldwin Walker was Admiral Robinson. The noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty gave rather an amusing reason for that appointment. He told the hon. Member for Portsmouth that Admiral Robinson was selected because of his knowledge of steam machinery. Now, steam machinery was precisely the thing which was not constructed in Her Majesty's dockyards. It was all manufactured in private establishments. We had, indeed, in the Royal dockyards workshops for repairing machinery; but it was evident that Sir Baldwin Walker's successor was chosen for his knowledge of that which was unnecessary. He knew not how foreign nations carried on such affairs; but he was inclined to think we should be much less tolerant of their errors and mistakes than we were of our own. What, for example, should we say if told that at Constantinople it was the practice, when an officer was wanted to superintend the dockyards and arsenals, to select a man who was openly declared to know nothing at all of the business which he was called upon to perform? What should we say if told that it was also the practice there, when a man was wanted to superintend shipbuilding, to appoint one who understood steam machinery? We might not be surprised at such things happening in Turkey, and we should feel infallibly certain that the sick man's days were rapidly drawing to a close. But as they were happening among ourselves we passed them by unheeded; and so in that happy-go-lucky fashion the Navy of England was constructed—that navy upon which the greatness, the power, and even the existence of our country as an independent nation absolutely depended. In making these observations let it not be supposed he had any wish to cast any reflection on those who constituted the present Board of Admiralty. It was the system of which he complained. He confessed that he thought the present Board the best we had had for many years. He reely admitted the honesty and great industry of the noble Duke at its head, as well as the great industry and practical ability of the noble Lord its Secretary. The other naval Lords, too, were all distinguished officers, and perfectly competent to discharge any duties they might fairly have cast upon them. What, however, he asserted was that the present system prevented them from devoting their abilities to the greatest advantage of 1139 the service. His hon. Friend had intimated that he did not intend to press his Resolutions to a division. But those Resolutions had not been hastily prepared; they had been drawn out with great deliberation by officers of distinguished merit. No doubt, they bore a strong resemblance to the system which prevailed in France; but, surely, that ought not to be any disparagement to them if the French system was found to work well in practice, while it also gave satisfaction both to the public and to the service. That he believed to be the case with the system in France. He for one feared that the system in this country gave satisfaction neither to the one nor the other. For these reasons he trusted that the House would take his hon. Friend's Resolutions into its favourable consideration.
To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'the mismanagement of Naval affairs is due to the inefficiency of the present means of Naval Administration.'"—instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
said, the Resolutions moved by his hon. and gallant Friend raised three distinct and separate questions. First, had they received full value for the large sums of money they had voted for the navy? secondly, had they kept pace with the progress of science in the description of vessels they had added to the navy list? and third, had they based their estimates on accurate information as to the naval armaments of foreign Powers? On each of these important questions he wished to say a few words, and first of all he wished to call attention to our total expenditure. It would conduce to the clearer understanding of the matter if the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty would lay on the table in a condensed form a Return, first, of the total expenditure on the navy for the last ten years; second, the number of ships they had added to the navy in that time; and, third, the number of ships in commission on the 1st of January in each of these years, with the names of the ships, the number of guns, and the number of men employed in each ship. He had himself taken the expenditure from the Naval Estimates for the last four years, and he found that the Votes for 1858–59 amounted to £9,140,000, for 1859–60 to £9,800,000, 1140 for 1860–61 to £12,860,000, and for this year to £12,029,000. These were vast sums of money, and he feared when the House came to examine them they would be found not to have produced the results which they had a right to expect. That arose from various causes. Some of them had been dealt with by his hon. and gallant Friend who moved the Resolutions, and by his hon. Friend who, in a speech of great clearness and information, seconded the Motion. But there were others. Amongst them was the conversion of ships where in many cases it would have been better if they had built new ones; the constant changes at the Admiralty, every new set of Lords that came in having different notions; and the inability to fix responsibility upon any one. It was true the Secretary to the Admiralty had a seat in the House, but no one would think of fixing on him the responsibility of constructing their ships of war. He had long been one of those who felt that there was room for great and radical changes in the administration at the Admiralty. But, in his opinion, the House was the proper place to deal with this question, and though he could hardly go along with all the Resolutions of his hon. and gallant Friend, he thought they formed a step in the right direction. He agreed with the first, second, third, and fourth of the Resolutions, and with a portion of the seventh; though the duties at the Admiralty were divided into too many heads. He could not, however, agree with the fifth Resolution. He objected to the proposition that the Minister of Marine should be assisted by a Council composed entirely of Naval Officers; because, with all respect to naval officers, they were, as a rule, not the best administrators. Besides, the proposal would lead to the same state of things that existed at present, for a distinguished Member of the House, the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle, who had always been regarded as a great administrator, had distinctly stated in evidence before a Committee of the House, that the First Lord of the Admiralty was virtually supreme, that he was not bound to take the opinion of any of his colleagues at the Board, but that he could act perfectly independent of them, and only took their advice when it suited his purpose. If they had not value for their money the fault arose in a great measure, if not entirely, from the system. 1141 He would illustrate that by one case. They had now at the dockyards Admiral Superintendents, men of high position, and receiving large pay; and yet he did not hesitate to say that from the system which prevailed a clerk with a salary of £100 a year would fill the office equally well. And why? Because these officers had no power whatever; they could not send so much as a barrel of tar on board a ship without consulting "My Lords." Again, the captains of vessels had no power; they were treated as mere machines, and the sailors knew it. They could not punish an offender without reference to the Board; and how could the House expect either discipline or economy in the navy without responsibility? Give the captains responsibility and they would feel a pride in the condition of their vessels. He was sorry to say they had no inducement for such pride now. He would also give the Admiral Superintendents at the dockyards a discretionary power, subject to the control of the Admiralty, and then they might expect a competition between Portsmouth and Plymouth as to which could turn out the most efficient ships at the lowest cost.
The question of the manning of the ships had also been brought under discussion. They had spent a large sum of money upon that matter, and he was sorry to say to a large extent in vain. He had the honour to be named a Member of a Commission appointed to inquire into that subject. He considered the question calmly and seriously in all its bearings; and though it might be considered a bold thing for a person in his humble position to differ from the noblemen, Cabinet Ministers, and Admirals, who were his colleagues, yet he did differ from them, and after grave consideration, he entered his protest against their scheme, which he felt to be a clumsy one, and ill-suited to effect its purpose. At the same time, he could assure the House that he regretted as much as any one that that scheme had failed, which was a serious thing for any scheme launched by the Government, as there would be a great, difficulty in retracing the step. He did not believe, however, that they would ever, under that scheme, get one-half the number of men they wanted; indeed, at present he believed they had not raised more than a tenth part. A question was put to the noble Lord the other night about placing a gun boat at the service of the long-shore men who 1142 had offered to volunteer, and he was very sorry his noble and gallant Friend did not think the scheme worth consideration. He knew there were difficulties in the way; but it would have been a great thing to secure the services of such men who were willing to incur all the expense and trouble of naval drill. To use a homely phrase, his noble Friend had given these men a great slap in the face, but he hoped it was not yet too late for him to take the scheme into consideration.
He would now come to the next question, whether they had kept pace with the progress of science in the description of vessels they had built? He found from various reports and pamphlets that as far back as 1855 gentlemen competent to form an opinion on these matters had distinctly stated that steam would entirely change the mode of naval warfare, and that the adoption of a description of gun which had the power of throwing shell, would bring all actions at sea to a speedy conclusion. The hole which an ordinary shot made in the side of a wooden ship could easily be plugged up by the carpenter. But if a wooden ship were struck by a shell between wind and water, the hole would he so large that it would be impossible to repair it, and the vessel must speedily sink. Now, those statements were made by scientific men certainly not later than 1856, and not in this country only hut in France. The French Government were aware of this opinion; and since that time he was informed the French Government had not laid down a single wooden line-of-battle ship. They had directed all their attention to the building of iron-plated vessels which scientific men told them were, for all practical purposes, invulnerable. The fact was known in this country also. It was stated in the Report of a Commission of Officers on Naval Gunnery. But the Admiralty went on building large line-of-battle ships, notwithstanding that scientific men told them they would be sunk by the stroke of a single shell; and, further, that one iron-plated vessel would walk through a whole fleet of wooden ships, and sink the half of them, receiving very little injury in return.
He came next to the third question, whether the Estimates had been framed on an accurate information of the preparations of foreign Powers. It was especially the duty of the Government to know what 1143 France was doing with regard to her naval armament. Now, he had been much in Paris during the last six weeks—he was happy to say on very different business from that they were now discussing. But he there heard a statement with regard to the naval power of France which, he would confess, had alarmed him. Because, although he had ever been, a humble advocate for economy, he had always felt that they must, at all hazards, maintain their maritime supremacy; that if France went on building ships of the line, they must go on building, not merely a sufficient number of ships to cope with her, but a sufficient number to cope with France and any other of the great Powers of Europe combined. However much he might deplore it, it was a necessity. Their very existence depended upon it. They had Colonies in all parts of the world to protect, they had transactions with every part of the world, they had a flag in every sea, they lived surrounded by the ocean, and they had their homes to guard. Therefore, it was the first necessity of the ministers of the day to see that they had a navy, not only equal to that of France, but equal to the navies of France and any other Power combined with her. Well, as he had said, when he was in France he had received from this country a statement which had alarmed him, believing it to be accurate in all its details. It set forth that at the end of the last year France possessed 448 ships, of which 327 were steamers and 121 sailing ships. Many of these were transports, and gunboats, and small vessels; but the ships of the line were—35 steamers afloat and 2 building or converting, and 8 other effective sailing ships; total, 47. The frigates afloat were 36; building or converting, 12; sailing ships, 27; total, 75. Well, that was a large fleet. But another statement alarmed him still more. It was that France was building no less than 15 iron-plated vessels independently of the 5 floating batteries built during the Russian war. Those 15 vessels were to mount 318 guns, throwing 22,2601b. of shot, and having an aggregate horse power of 6,360. Two of these vessels were to mount 52 guns each, with 1,000 horse power; one was to be of 40 guns, and 900 horse power; three of 36 guns, and 900 horse power; 4 of 14 guns, and 150 horse power. The other 5 were gunboats, mounting each 2 guns and having 33 horse power. Now that was a large force; but when it was stated distinctly that all those vessels 1144 could be ready for sea by midsummer he must say he felt very uneasy. He said to himself he could not understand it. France was entering into treaties of commerce with us, apparently friendly and desirous to maintain peace with Europe, and, above all, with England. He was at a loss, however, to understand why the Emperor was building so large a number of iron-plated vessels, to be ready in the month of June. Although he had never entertained the idea that France contemplated invading England, it would be a very awkward thing to have a neighbour with such a number of iron-cased vessels ready by June, while we had not even one. He mentioned that to his friend M. Chevalier, who said the thing was impossible, that the votes would not admit it, but suggested that he had better at once speak frankly on the subject to the Minister of Marine. "Well, he did so. He put into the hands of the Minister of Marine the piece of paper which had been sent him with the statement, and asked, "What means this mighty armament? Whatever you may think of the party who wish to maintain peace, there are 991 English people out of every 1,001 who are resolved to make any sacrifice to maintain our maritime supremacy; and if you build fifteen of these vessels they will insist that we build thirty; and if you build fifty, England will have one hundred." "But," he (Mr. Lindsay) added, "what is all this rivalry in arms leading us to? We are saddling the people of the two countries with extra taxes; we are engendering an ill-feeling between the two peoples; making them jealous of each other." The minister smiled, and said, "I did not think you believed those stories." He said, "They are sent to me in a form in which I cannot deny them. I wish you would put it in my power to to do so." The minister went into the matter fully, analyzed every one of those statements, and showed him that of this supposed fleet of fifteen iron-plated vessels only one was now ready, La Gloire; another would be ready in the course of the present year; that the Magenta and the Solferino would not be ready till at least a year hence; that three of those vessels of fourteen guns were not suited to go to sea, but were built as batteries for the protection of their harbours; and, in fact, that those fifteen vessels could not be ready for two years-and-a-half from the present time. That entirely altered the case, more especially when it was considered 1145 that the Emperor of France had not laid down a single wooden ship since 1856; and, as he must have a navy to protect his shores and his commerce, he would have that description of ship which his scientific men told him was the best for the purposes of war. No doubt he looked at wooden ships as being nearly obsolete. It had been further stated that he was about to build immediately ten more vessels of the size of La Gloire—even the names of three were given. There was no truth, however, in that. The Minister said, "If you go through our docks you will find blocks laid down, but no orders have been given for these vessels. I do not mean to say that in the course of years we shall not have ten more ships. In 1847 we laid down a policy under Louis Phillippe; and we go on, step by step, building a certain amount of vessels every year, and keeping pace with the improvements of the age." Not satisfied with making that statement, the minister presented him with a copy of the estimates for the navy, the statement recently laid before the legislative body, as to the condition of the empire. In that document, under the head of "Marine," he found the actual number of ships given. It was very different from the other statement; very different also from the belief generally entertained in this country. The only French men-of-war really worthy of that name were steamers. There were 88 altogether. Of these 12 were screw ships of the line, 23 mixed; total, 35. There was 1 iron-plated frigate, 10 ordinary frigates, and 6 mixed frigates; 17. There were 7 corvettes, and 28 despatch boats; making altogether 88 vessels afloat and equipped. The minister did not wish him to understand that that was the whole fleet. On the contrary, he gave him a small book published on the first of February, which contained a description of the whole of the ships of the French navy, and the stations at which they were. He had carefully analyzed it, and he found that France had 35 steam ships of the line afloat, and 2 building; total, 37. He would not trouble the House with the sailing vessels. Well, by the Return laid on the table of the House the other day, he found that this country had afloat at the present moment 53 screw line of battle ships, and 14 building or converting— total 67, besides 9 block ships—in fact, altogether 76 steam ships of the line, as against the 37 steam ships of the 1146 line belonging to France. Therefore, as regarded ships of the line they need not fear France, even were she combined with any other Power. Of frigates France had 17 screw ships afloat, and 8 building or converting. But what did they consist of? Five of them were of only 200 horse power, and one building was of 480 horse power. So that France had really, as stated in the Return, only 11 effective screw frigates. On the other hand, we had 31 screw frigates, effective vessels, and 12 building; a total of 43 as against the 25 built and building belonging to France. On neither of these heads, then, ships of the line or screw frigates, was there anything to alarm us. Resides, our frigates were vastly superior to any of the French. Any one of our frigates was superior to any one of the French. In paddle-wheel frigates France was before us. We had 8, France had 17; but the House was aware that for war purposes these were of little use, as one shot would completely disable the paddles. Taking all together, then, we were far before France. With regard to those instruments of destruction, the iron-plated ships, France had one afloat and ready for sea, and she would have another ready in the course of the year. Well, we had the Warrior launched, and she would be ready, as he understood, for sea in August. If we had done as we ought to have done—turned our attention to the building of iron-cased ships earlier, and he thought the country was deeply indebted to the right hon. Member for Droitwich for introducing the matter as he did when at the head of the Admiralty— we might have been in a very different position. France, as he had stated, had at present only one iron-cased vessel afloat, La Gloire, and he went over her at Toulon. In the dockyards of that place there did not seem to be that extraordinary activity in the construction of vessels of war which some people talked about. He had also been over the Warrior, and, looking at both ships with the eye of a sailor, he could say that he would not be afraid to meet in the Warrior two La Gloires as enemies. The Warrior was double the size and threw double the weight of metal. There was, then, nothing to alarm us with regard to French vessels of war. The Minister of Marine was anxious that the feeling of alarm in England on that subject should be got rid of. He said, "I have shown you everything; I have given you of- 1147 ficial documents; I will do more, if you desire. Will you go and visit our dockyards and arsenals? I will send a gentleman with you who will throw open everything to you, and you may see with your own eyes everything" He (Mr. Lindsay) declined, saying he was tired of wandering about; but the statement which he had received, confirmed by these books, was so different from what was commonly believed, that he had sent the figures of the Minister of Marine to his noble Friend the Secretary of the Admiralty, and extended to him the invitation of the Minister of Marine to visit the French dockyards and arsenals. He had received a reply in which the noble Lord pleaded want of time and pressing engagements, but still seemed to entertain doubts as to the accuracy of the statements. After receiving that reply from the noble Lord, he mentioned the subject to his Friend, M. Chevalier, and told him that he feared many of his (Mr. Lindsay's) countrymen were still unbelievers in regard to the naval preparations of France. Subsequently he received a letter from M. Chevalier, in which that gentleman made the following observations:—We have in this country an old proverb: 'None so deaf as those who won't hear,' and I begin to fear it is pretty much so in this instance. You have a full statement of our navy—you have it in a blue book—you are told officially by the Government, and privately, in the most friendly and honest manner, by our Minister, that of iron-cased vessels France has only one fit for use, that in a short time we are to have a second, but that a full year must elapse before we can get two more, and two years before we shall be in possession of a fleet of six iron-cased vessels; and it is in the face of such a fact that England feels herself so dangerously menaced, that she spends millions without number to get rid of the peril of an invader. The Government here, and I may say the people at large, except some few individuals, are making all their exertions to give you the evidence of their feelings of friendship. It is of no avail; then what have we to do on this side of the water? Nothing, indeed, but to wait patiently until you have recovered full possession of your renowned wisdom and much-esteemed sagacity.… Our frigates are only eleven, and not forty-eight, as you have been told.… As to the expenses of our navy, I have minutely gone over with you all the accounts, and you have seen how small they are compared with yours.He quite agreed with that letter; it confirmed what he said to the House last year, when he opposed the measure for fortifications, when there was such a fear of invasion. An invasion! Did they mean to say any nation would attempt to invade 30,000,000 of free people? It was an 1148 idle dream, or something worse. Did they think any Power in Europe would attempt it? It was as idle as it was insulting to this country. He had no doubt several hon. Members still doubted the accuracy of his statement, and expected all these iron ships belonging to France to be afloat in July. If they would not believe the statements solemnly made by France; if they would not believe what he had seen, would a statement of the money the French spent annually in their navy be of any avail. He had examined the accounts minutely, and running over the expenditure he found France did not spend on her navy on an average more than £5,200,000 a year, including everything. He had taken the votes from the Estimates of 1858 and 1859, and compared them with the English Votes. He took 1858, it being a year of peace, when the expenditure of England was rather small, as compared with the three succeeding years. He took, first, the administration of the Admiralty in France in 1858, and it cost in round numbers £40,000; in England the Admiralty administration for that year cost £140,000; and in France they seemed to build ships in accordance with the improvements of the age, whilst in England they did not. Then the scientific branch in France, in 1858, cost £18,000, in England £60,000; and judging by results they found France had been producing the best description of vessels, whilst England still built on the old school in opposition to that very scientific knowledge for which it paid £60,000 a year. Altogether the sixteen Votes in France, in 1858, amounted to £5,274,000; and the seventeen Votes in England amounted to £9,140,000, and this year they amounted to £12,802,000. Of course he admitted that England had a larger navy to support and more ships in commission; but that could not account for the difference between £5,000,000 and £9,000,000, nor would it account for the difference between the £9,500,000 of 1858, and the £12,500,000 for the present year. With regard to the Motion for a Committee to inquire into the Admiralty, he quite agreed with the hon. Gentleman the seconder of the Motion before them, that the House had sufficient information to deal with the whole question. They had various Reports on the Admiralty already before them, and, having some experience in Committees and Commissions, he had no hesitation in affirming that if they sent that question up- 1149 stairs it would not come down for a couple of years; and whenever, in the meantime, any complaint as to the Admiralty arose, the Committee would be referred to as a means of putting an end to the complaint for the time. The hon. Member for Portsmouth had given them an outline of the direction in which they should go. and it would be well if the House would go in that direction instead of deputing its power to a Committee. Considering the statements of the hon. Member for Portsmouth, and the hon. Gentleman the seconder of the Motion—considering further that they might expect the Report of the Commission appointed last Session to be before them in about ten days, it might be well to allow this question to rest till they had the Report of the Royal Commission on the table. Unless there was any urgent necessity for haste, the Estimates could rest for ten days; and then, having the Reports before them, they could deal with the question with greater facility, and with a better opportunity of having full information. In conclusion, he had to thank the House for the attention they had paid to him in making his somewhat lengthy observations.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
Sir, I think the debate has afforded ample proof how very extensive and complicated this question of naval administration is, and how desirable it is, if we wish to effect any practical good, that we should endeavour as far as possible to confine our attention to one part of it at a time. The Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth proposes certain very great reforms; but his speech consisted almost entirely of remarks, I am afraid only too well founded, on the present defective state of the crews and discipline of our men-of-war. In seconding the Motion my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness-shire adverted chiefly, if not entirely, to the question whether the building department of the Admiralty should be presided over by a naval officer or a professional builder? Again, the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, distinguished as it was by the acuteness, clearness, and industry which always characterises his speeches, was not addressed to the question immediately before us, but to naval affairs in general, and the superiority of armour-plated over wooden-ships in particular. These are subjects pressing for a decision, and upon which we have a right to receive—and I have no doubt we shall 1150 receive—a full explanation of the views of the Government. I doubt, indeed, whether we ought not to defer the discussion of these matters until after we have heard the noble Lord's explanation of the intentions of the Government. We could then consider these important subjects seriatim, and decide what policy we ought to adopt. I dissent from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sunderland in thinking that it would be wise to affirm these Resolutions which my hon. Friend (Sir James Elphinstone) said he would not to-night press to a division, and that the House of Commons could thereafter decide what should be the constitution of the Board of Admiralty. Such a course would be without precedent, and I think it would be most inconvenient to settle these details of a great department of the State by a debate in the House of Commons. We have, however, to thank my hon. Friend for having drawn up a series of Resolutions, as a means of showing his views on this important and interesting question. Without approving all the details contained in the Resolutions of my hon. Friend, I agree with the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lindsay) in thinking that they are a step in the right direction, and will commend themselves to almost everyone who has given his serious consideration to the subject. I will go further, and say that one main object at which we ought to aim is expressed in the second Resolution—namely, the necessity that exists for increased responsibility in every part of the government and management of the Royal Navy. I concur with my hon. Friend (Mr. Baillie) in his doubts whether a Committee of the House of Commons is a good machine for investigating this subject. I certainly gave notice of a Motion for a Select Committee, which I waived in favour of my hon. and gallant Friend, for reasons that I have already stated to the House. To-morrow I intend to give my support to the Motion of my hon. and gallant Friend for this reason, that the Government leaves us no alternative. I still think that the right mode of dealing with this subject is for the Government to undertake it. I think that the interests of the public require that the present constitution of the Board of Admiralty should be investigated and improved, but I have much more confidence in an investigation by the Government than in one conducted by a Committee upstairs, which must of necessity be a laborious and prolonged inquiry, occupying 1151 more than one Session, and thus making it a long time before we arrive at that reform which is necessary. If the Government is not disposed to enter upon this inquiry itself, I should prefer an inquiry by a Royal Commission to an inquiry by a Select Committee. The Government, however, have decided not to do this reform themselves, or to grant a Royal Commission; and, therefore, there only remains to support the Motion for a Committee of this House. I will assume that it is the intention of the Government to accede to the Motion to be made tomorrow for the appointment of a Committee of this House, and I will, therefore, say no more on that subject. I wish before I sit down to put a question to the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty, of which I gave him notice this morning. My question is whether it is the intention of the Admiralty that Sir Baldwin Walker should leave England before he gives evidence to this Committee? I have heard with great surprise a report that Sir Baldwin Walker is to sail for the Cape on Saturday next, although the Committee is to be moved for to-morrow. Now, Sir Baldwin Walker, after his long experience in the building department, is, if not the most important witness who can be examined before that Committee, at least one of the most important witnesses whose evidence they will take. I will suggest to my noble Friend whether, if Sir Baldwin Walker is allowed to leave England the very day after the Committee is appointed, an impression will not be created in the public mind that the Admiralty do not desire to have him examined before that Committee? The noble Lord shakes his head, and I do not say that is the feeling of the Admiralty; but there is an obvious danger that such will be the impression on the public mind. I adverted to this subject in my place a few days ago, and I had hoped that the intention to allow Sir Baldwin Walker to leave England before he gave his evidence would be abandoned, I hope that my noble Friend will be able to assure the House that evidence so important as that which Sir Baldwin Walker can give will not be lost by a few days' delay in taking his departure.
§ LORD CLARENCE PAGET
said, that when the right hon. Gentleman alluded to Sir Baldwin Walker's departure a few days ago he consulted the hon. and gallant Admiral who had given notice of his in- 1152 tention to move for a Committee (Admiral Duncombe) to ascertain whether he and the other Gentlemen whom he intended to propose as Members of the Committee desired the attendance of Sir Baldwin Walker to give evidence before them. He added that if it were the desire of the Committee that Sir Baldwin Walker should remain, the noble Duke at the head of the Admiralty would offer no objection, although very important duties called Sir Baldwin to his station. After consulting with those Gentlemen, the hon. and gallant Admiral stated that it was not necessary for Sir Baldwin Walker to remain and give evidence, because he had already given his evidence at large before a Royal Commission on the constitution of the Admiralty, so far as related to the department of shipbuilding. That was all the evidence he could give on the subject, and if he remained he could add nothing to that evidence. Even now, if it were the wish of the House of Commons that Sir Baldwin Walker should remain a few days to give evidence before the Committee, the noble Duke would not put himself in opposition to its wishes.
With regard to the Question before the House, he was not prepared to do justice to all the important topics which had been started in the course of the discussion. The House had, in fact, a little anticipated the Navy Estimates. The Motion of the hon. Member (Sir James Elphinstone) was couched in rather strong terms. It was like hanging a man first and trying him afterwards, and was not altogether consonant with the English love of fair play and of giving every man a fair trial before he was condemned. No doubt, the hon. Gentleman's sole object was to discover the best way of remedying what he considered to be the defects in the constitution of the Board of Admiralty, and some of his Resolutions contained suggestions that were certainly valuable. He was not prepared to agree in all the matters mentioned, and there was one most important omission, for the accountant's branch was not even adverted to. He wished to correct a statement which had been greatly misunderstood with respect to the Volunteer Marine Artillery. He could assure the House that, as he stated the other night, the Admiralty would do anything in their power to forward that great national movement. He was instructed to state to the House that if they could see their way to some prac- 1153 tical plan of giving the Volunteer Marine Artillery proper practice with great guns they would be glad to do so. It must be obvious that if ships were to be placed all along the coast of England for the purpose it would be necessary to add largely to the naval expenditure. In practically considering such a project, it must always be borne in mind that a ship might be caught in a gale of wind, and the men might then be kept on board for several days, and the Volunteers fed and lodged at the public expense. The Admiralty were considering a proposition for erecting batteries with ship guns and all the necessary gear at various places on the coast, with the view of affording facilities for exercise to the Volunteer Marine Artillery to the Coast Volunteers and others. He was not prepared to say that means might not be found for giving greater assistance to these Volunteers, but all that he now stated was that the Admiralty were deliberating on the erection of batteries, as far as possible, along the coast. The hon. Member for Sunderland had referred to the appointment of officers of the Royal Naval Reserve. That question of officers had been dealt with at the Admiralty, and after a plan had been prepared in connection with the Board of Trade it was found that an Act of Parliament was required. His intention, therefore, was to bring in a Bill to enable the Admiralty to enrol merchant officers as officers of the Royal Naval Reserve. He thought such plan would be very popular in the merchant navy and useful to the country. The hon. Member for Inverness-shire (Mr. Baillie) had called attention to the appointment of the Controller of the Navy; and, beginning with Mr. Pepys, gave an interesting history connected with the matter; but, Mr. Pepys, clever and honest as he was, had some prejudice against naval men, and was not a very fair judge as to propriety or impropriety of appointing a naval man to the situation. It must be borne in mind that the building of ships in former days required two branches of knowledge—shipbuilding and practical seamanship. In the present days a knowledge of engineering also was required. The question, then, was which of these branches should be deemed the first? It had always been held that the practical naval officer had on the whole the most important duty to perform, as he had to see to the arming, rigging, and fitments of the vessel, and 1154 therefore it had always been held that at the head of the ship building department there should be a naval officer. It had been asked whether it was respectful, when the Commission was just about to report, to appoint a naval man to the office for five years. His answer was that a naval officer never could be said to be appointed permanently to such a post, as he might he got rid of to-morrow by his services being required in another way. Therefore he held that the noble Duke at the head of the Admiralty had done wisely in filling up the office, and had chosen, on the whole, the best man for it.
He would now make a few remarks in answer to the statement of the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Lindsay) in respect to the French navy. The hon. Member had been in Paris, and appeared to have gained the confidence of all the most important persons there; and he was very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the information he had given to the House respecting the French navy. The hon. Member said that the French navy was composed of very few ships, and that, in fact, there were only eighty-eight screw ships afloat. Well, a return might be made of the English navy showing not a very much greater number if all vessels were excluded, such as the French excluded, from calculation; he had looked to the French return of eighty-eight ships with a considerable amount of interest, and he found that it excluded all ships in reserve, all paddle ships, all small vessels, and all transports; and let the House remark that the French transports were magnificent vessels, and would do good service in war. He had no doubt that the Return was a perfectly honest Return in its way, but it was not, according to the English view, a correct Return of the navy. With regard to the British Navy he had laid on the table a return showing every ship building and afloat. The hon. Member talked about people being alarmed. There was no alarm, for there was nothing to be alarmed at, as the British fleet was in a very satisfactory state. However, though there was no cause for alarm, there was cause for making progress in the construction of iron-cased vessels. The hon. Member had told the House that France had fifteen of these ships, but that five of them were the old floating batteries used in the Crimea, that only La Gloire was launched, and the Magenta and Solferino would not be ready under two years, while the rest were in their infancy. 1155 That was all a matter of opinion, and he had reason to believe that those ships were very nearly ready. He believed that every one of those ships, if the French desired it could be afloat this summer. He had had curiosity like other men, and had seen some of them. A sister ship of La Gloire was launched, another was ready to be launched, and he believed that the others were in a fair state of preparation. Let the House remember that the French had fifteen iron cased ships, two were vessels of 52 guns, of a very large class. There were four others, sister ships of La Gloire; and four more of a very formidable character, which they called floating batteries. That made ten, and five iron-cased gunboats gave a total of fifteen, exclusive of the old floating batteries of the Russian war. We had only seven under construction. It was true ours were finer ships. He agreed with his right hon. Friend that they were much finer ships; but he said this, that if they found much more progress made over the water or among any other nation in building these ships it would be the bounden duty of the Government to come down to the House and state frankly and fairly what was going on with a view, if necessary, to extend the number of our iron-cased vessels. With regard to other questions to which reference had been made he would postpone his remarks until his general statement in Committee.
§ MR. BENTINCK
said, he could assure his noble and gallant Friend that he did not share the views of his distinguished predecessor, which had been adverted to; nay, he went further, and would say that he was exceedingly glad to see his noble Friend holding the post which he now occupied to the great advantage of the service. But he believed that with all the independence of character of his noble and gallant Friend even he was not entirely exempt from those inconvenient trammels which surrounded official men. He thought that he traced symptoms of these trammels in the remarks of his noble and gallant Friend upon the subject of the Naval Volunteers. No doubt every hon. Member had perused the printed statement which he held in his hand, and which was signed by Captain Harcourt. The document contained a statement of facts, and some correspondence with his noble and gallant Friend, and in the course of the statement Captain Harcourt said that the two remarks which his Lordship made to 1156 him were that in all probability the Board of Admiralty would not incur the expense of feeding these men if the ships in which they were driven to sea by stress of weather; and, also, that they would not consent to put on board men who were not subject to the laws of naval discipline. He (Mr. Bentinck) thought that he saw the trace of official trammels in that answer, for he could not but think that when the object to be attained was so obviously advantageous, and where the expense was so comparatively trivial, his noble and gallant Friend, if he had taken the course which he himself approved, would at once say "Even if you go to some expense there is no possible way in which you can get such an efficient class of men so cheaply as this." Even if the expense of keeping the men on board in a case of bad weather coming on were incurred the expense would be perfectly absurd as compared with the advantage of giving the men an opportunity of training. Surely if they were to give the system official encouragement so slight an additional outlay ought not for a moment to be considered. He hoped that his noble and gallant Friend would induce those who influenced him to reconsider the matter, and that before the Estimates were passed the Government would be prepared to make the trivial outlay which would be necessary for an object already sanctioned, and the utility of which was generally acknowledged. He had listened with great attention to the hon. Member for Sunderland, but he was not going to touch upon those parts of his speech which had been answered by his noble and gallant Friend. There were, however, one or two other points to which he must advert. Everybody must concur with him that, at all costs, the maritime supremacy of this country must be maintained; and he was glad to find that his hon. Friend held the view that our navy ought to be equal to that of France and of any other country combined with it, which meant that it ought to be equal to compete with the whole world. His hon. Friend had given them some curious and interesting anecdotes with reference to the French navy, and had also entered into the very broad and intricate question of the intentions of France. His hon. Friend rather inferred that they were to anticipate, as one of the results of the Treaty with France, a continuance of amity with that nation. All he (Mr. Bentinck) could say was that 1157 in so doing they would be trusting to a broken reed. His hon. Friend went on to say that the French were only doing that which they were required to do in order to maintain their position as a first-class nation. He (Mr. Bentinck) should like to know what possible argument could be urged to show that France required any navy at all, comparatively speaking, in order to maintain her position as a first-class nation. He apprehended that France was exclusively a military nation, and that she did not require a navy like that she now possessed to maintain her position. He contended that the naval strength which France now possessed could only be used for the purpose of aggression; and that to buoy themselves up with the idea that France in constructing these vessels meant peace was absurd, and such an opinion was clearly not worthy of the great ability of his hon. Friend. His hon. Friend then touched upon the discipline of the navy, and suggested that the constant system of telegrams from the Admiralty had an injurious effect, but he (Mr. Bentinck) should like to remind his hon. Friend that there were other causes which affected discipline. The tone of the discussions in that House, the tone of the public prints, and other circumstances affected it. Every jury which had to try a question between a foremastman and the master of a merchant ship wore doing all in their power to subvert it. On the question of commanders he had to remark that there was a great deal of hardship in the system adopted; and he thought that he could show at the proper time that the new arrangements were not over liberal. The hon. Member for Inverness had expressed his regret that the earliest opportunity had not been taken for trying every possible experiment with these iron-sheathed vessels. It appeared to him (Mr. Bentinck) that a greater mistake could not be committed than laying the vessels up in ordinary without first testing their sailing qualities. Then came the important question, who were the responsible parties in the management of the different branches of our naval service? He would state a fact for the purpose of illustrating the difficulty in which that point was involved. In the course of last Session he had been a Member of the Committee appointed to inquire into the defective condition of our gunboats; and in order to ascertain who was answerable for that evil, he had made a Motion to the effect that certain 1158 right hon. and other Gentlemen who had been members of the Board should be examined; but that Motion had been rejected by a majority of the Committee, and as he had been persuaded that that was the only effective mode of arriving at the whole truth in the matter, he had not any further attended its sittings. He hoped that the course which that Committee had pursued would not be followed by any members who might hereafter be appointed to inquire into the administration of the navy, but that they would sift the subject referred to them to the bottom.
§ SIR CHARLES WOOD
said, he wished to make a single observation. He thought that the question as to the persons on whom the responsibility as to the gunboats rested had been once for all put an end to by the Report of the Committee which his hon. Friend (Mr. Bentinck) seemed to have deserted. Two or three years ago his hon. and gallant Friend, the late Sir Charles Napier, persisted in stating that he (Sir Charles Wood) had ordered those gunboats to be built without the slightest communication with the naval Lords. He had been surprised to hear that some difficulty had been thrown in the way of allowing evidence which would elucidate that subject to be brought before that Committee, but ultimately Sir Maurice Berkeley was examined, and gave most clear evidence that those gunboats were built with the entire concurrence of every naval member of the Board. The fact was, that he (Sir Charles Wood) had never had a misunderstanding with any member of the Board, and upon no material point connected with his office had there been any difference of opinion between him and the members of the Board over which he presided. There was another point to which he wished briefly to refer. The hon. Member for Inverness-shire (Mr. H. Baillie) had stated that the building of iron-plated batteries had been neglected in this country. But the fact was that in the year 1855 the French sent two of those floating batteries to the Crimea, and we also sent two; while in the following year we had not less than eight of them to the two possessed by the French.
§ MR. BENTINCK
said, that he had made no allusion to the question who had ordered the gunboats to be built. The only point into which the Committee had to inquire was the condition of those boats at the end of a period of two years.
said, he thought the 1159 navy would be very much disappointed by the speech of the noble Lord the Secretary of the Admiralty, since there was a general feeling among them that the affairs of the navy were not managed in a satisfactory manner. The system of administration was condemned by all. In the matter of building ships they might not be so much behind their neighbours, but in the manning of the navy they were vastly inferior. They had nothing to fall back upon in time of emergency. When the Russian war broke out they resorted to all sorts of modes of manning the fleet; but, though they had plenty of time for preparation, everybody knew that the fleet was most inefficiently manned. The arrangements they had recently made for the purpose also seemed to be inefficient, and their reserve was in anything but a satisfactory condition. He was very sorry to hear that the noble Lord was not able to announce that means were in preparation for putting us in a position to meet an emergency.
§ SIR MICHAEL SEYMOUR
said, he thought it was quite clear that some change was necessary to meet the complaints of the unsatisfactory manner in which the business of the Admiralty was transacted. He was not one of those who thought that politics had influenced the Board of Admiralty of late years, at least to any great extent; but, undoubtedly, a contrary impression prevailed both in the Naval Service and in the country at large. The time had arrived when great public advantage might be derived from the labours of a Committee or of a Commission, although he was bound to say, at the same time, that successive Boards of Admiralty had worthily fulfilled the trust reposed in them by the country. Nor ought it to be forgotten that, under their guidance and control, the Navy of Great Britain had maintained the independence and dignity of our flag. Perhaps the greatest difficulty was the manning of the navy. Every attempt recently made to man our ships or to form a reserve had been a failure. The bounty had not succeeded, and the measures adopted upon the Report of the Manning Commission of 1853 had produced only a comparatively small addition to our force of seamen. At present we had actually not the means in reserve for manning a single ship. Whether the ballot should be put in requsition was a point upon which he would give no opinion, but the whole subject connected 1160 with the manning of our navy deserved the most careful consideration. He hoped that whatever might be done in future in the extension of the navy would be in the direction of iron-plated ships. He even thought it was worth consideration whether some of the line-of-battle ships ought not to be brought forward and plated. He agreed with the hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) when he said the discipline of the navy ought to be such as to bear strict inquiry. He hoped it would always be such as to bear the most open criticism.
§ SIR MORTON PETO
said, that with respect to the reconstruction of the fleet, it could not be denied that all scientific men were unanimously of opinion that the time had come when the Government should build no more timber vessels, and should expend no more money in altering the wooden ships already built. France had relinquished any such expenditure for some time past, and was building iron-sheathed vessels. He wished that some commission could be appointed to procure accurate information of what was being done across the Channel, for he had no faith in the statements which were made on that subject when a large expenditure was proposed here. The French did not come to a conclusion with regard to the discontinuance of wooden ships without good experience. In the attack on the fort of Kinbourn it was demonstrated that iron-plated ships would be the only safe ones. So in the attempt to force a passage into Sebastopol it was shown that our wooden walls could not cope with stone forts. The French government profited immediately by the experience thus acquired in actual warfare, but the English Government moved more slowly. The fact was that our dockyard staff had been trained to the construction of wooden ships, and when a man had once got into a particular groove, it was very difficult to move him out of it. Thus, the Admiralty and the dockyard staff had constantly opposed the introduction of iron vessels. Twelve years since he had entreated the Government to pause in the expenditure on wooden vessels, and a right hon. Gentleman on the Treasury Bench answered him by quoting the miracle performed by Elijah when he caused the hatchet to swim. Since then he had observed that the introduction of iron vessels into our navy had met with no encouragement whatever at the Admiralty. If he had anything to 1161 bring to the notice of the French Government, he always felt sure that it would receive the most careful consideration, and would be adopted if it seemed of practical value; but he should never think of going to Whitehall to propose anything, being confident that official routine would render its adoption practically hopeless. He was quite sure that the noble Lord, from whom they expected so much, found himself perfectly powerless at the Admiralty, and could only register the decrees of the Board. He (Sir Morton Peto) would resist the expenditure of a single shilling more upon the construction of wooden ships. He was sure of this, that no wooden ship ever constructed would live for five minutes before the broadside of such projectiles as now used from such a vessel as the Warrior. If that was the case, ought the Government to go on spending million after million on wooden ships when every shilling of the money would be utterly wasted? The fleet prepared under the last Administration, and added to by the present, was sufficient to meet every emergency. The French Government had ceased to build wooden ships; then, why should this country be put to such enormous expense for them? He was in Algiers when the Emperor arrived there, and he saw the Gloire enter the port with the Emperor's yacht, though it was very bad weather; the other steamers of the squadron were not then in sight, and did not arrive till some hours afterwards. The Gloire, therefore, had one element of superiority—speed; and any Admiral would admit that the commander who had the fastest ship had in his power one great means of success, as he could always choose his position. He had been told that the Gloire was not an easy ship in bad weather. That was possible; but they might rely on it, with the practical and scientific men the Emperor of the French employed, any defect found in one vessel would be remedied in another. The greater durability of iron-ships was also an important question. An iron-ship would be as good fifty years after she was built as on the first day she floated on the water. He knew from experiment that the wear of iron so applied was scarcely appreciable. In 1859, the right hon. Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) quoted a report of Sir Baldwin Walker, stating that, with the exception of the ships that had then been recently built, there was scarcely a vessel fit to go to sea without extensive repairs. Was not that 1162 an important consideration in reference to iron vessels? If they could never know whether their ships, when built, were seaworthy, was not that an important point for the House to consider when dealing with the question? They had been told by the right hon. Member for Droitwich that the expenditure for new works and alterations in the dockyards themselves had increased 120 per cent. As their ships yearly increased in size, so the docks had to be enlarged also. If everything connected with wooden ships was constantly changing, and causing a constantly growing demand on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, should not the element of superior durability in iron ships claim the serious attention of the House? If they could get what would answer the purpose, and permanently, they should hesitate to spend millions on wooden ships when the only nation that could oppose England had ceased to build them. Let the Government effect some reasonable reduction in what was non-essential. Let them have what was efficient, and what the country could perfectly rely on; lot them treat the question as men of business would treat it. They would not go on building vessels on an exploded system; they would only use their dockyards to repair the ships they had already built. But, unfortunately, the Government never took such a position. Its workmen were brought up only to build wooden ships, and if the Government constructed iron vessels, "Othello's occupation would be gone." Another consideration was that on board an iron vessel the same effective force of powerful guns carried by a wooden ship could be worked by one-third of the number of men the wooden ship required. With the difficulty experienced in obtaining sailors, that was an important consideration. Now, to construct an iron steam navy might require a large outlay of money. But that large expenditure might be spread over a number of years; and it would not press so heavily as the present continual large expenditure, the results of which were so unsatisfactory, while the after expenditure would be almost nominal. He believed the country was prepared to meet any expenditure necessary for its safety. But it would demand of the House that the money so given should not be wasted, that the country should have value received for all it gave. He knew there was a deeply-rooted feeling of dissatisfaction in the public mind on this subject; the coun- 1163 try felt that this question required solution, and they would not do their duty to their constituents unless they met that feeling, and fully settled the question for ever. The hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) he had remarked, often indulged in observations on the motives and intentions of the French Emperor and the French people. Now, he ventured to say that very few Members of that House knew anything at all of the real feelings of the French people. They judged foreigners too exclusively from the statements of the representatives of the English Government at Foreign Courts. These official persons were in the habit of mixing only among one certain set of people; they never descended to the under strata of society where alone they could learn what were the sentiments of the great mass of the people. For a number of years he had employed large numbers of people in France, sometimes as many as 10,000 or 12,000. That had brought him in contact with all classes of French society; and he could assure the House that there did not exist among the people of France the feelings they had been led to suppose. On the contrary, the general feeling towards this country was of a genial, friendly, and cordial kind. They were often told that the French were anxious to wipe out the recollection of the Battle of "Waterloo. There was no feeling of the kind; the idea was without foundation. He had often talked over the Battle of Waterloo good-humouredly with Frenchmen, and he had always found it their firm belief that they won the battle, only another large army came up, and deprived them of the advantages of the victory. But the French were fast becoming a commercial people, and with a reciprocity of trade, good feelings would soon increase between the two nations. As to the Emperor of the French, he had personally received great kindness from him, and had been frequently honoured with his confidence in regard to public works. And he would undertake to say that there was not a Sovereign in Europe who so well understood the interests of his country as the Emperor of the French. He was sure that no person was more desirous of maintaining friendly relations with this country than the Emperor, and he was also sure that the Emperor's policy was peace and alliance with this country, because nothing could add more to the welfare and happiness of the French nation or conduce more to the 1164 stability of his dynasty. He gave the Emperor credit for wishing for that which was his interest to wish for; and whenever that House or the public press took an opposite course, or attributed motives, or excited suspicions, they were not acting for the welfare of the country or doing justice to that alliance which he believed to be sincere, honourable, and trustworthy.
§ ADMIRAL WALCOTT
said, that the country was thoroughly dissatisfied with the present constitution of the Board of Admiralty. Since the year 1828 to the present time there had been no less than sixteen First Lords of the Admiralty, and the number of secretaries and naval Lords in that time was nearer one hundred than fifty. The Board charged with one of the highest, most difficult, and responsible departments of the public administration has no permanency. The knowledge it has acquired of the actual state and urgent requirements of the naval service is lost with its displacement. Like the stone of Sisyphus it is a hopeless wearisome task. Another Board succeeds, labours, and toils with equal diligence; and over and over the work, like Penelope's web, has to be taken up and begun again. An influential member of a former Board is seldom retained; and, if he preserves his seat, has the disadvantage of serving under another chief and with different coadjutors. Yet to these ever-changing Boards we are content to entrust the right arm of our strength, the supervision of our dockyards, the building, equipment, and manning of our ships, the determination of the mode and materials of construction, the distribution of our fleet, the maintenance of the navy equal to any emergency, the supply of stores, the control of expenditure, the victualling, the medical and transport departments—a never-ending supervision which is indispensible to the safety of our commerce—the security of our shores, and the continuance of our reputation and stability as a nation, and yet it was liable to sudden and constant change. Such a state of things could not he satisfactory.
explained that the reason he had communicated to the noble Lord the Secretary of the Admiralty his opinion that Sir Baldwin Walker might proceed at once to his destination was that that station had been now six or eight months without a Commander-in-Chief, and that Sir Baldwin Walker had recently given evidence before the Dockyard Com- 1165 mittee, which could be considered by the Committee about to be appointed.
§ MR. WHITBREAD
said, he felt it due to the officers who had endeavoured to get their ships into good order to deny that the Admiralty had any reason to believe that the discipline of the navy was at all impaired. As soon as the few remaining men who had entered solely for the sake of the bounty were got rid of he had no doubt the fleet would be in a highly satisfactory and creditable condition.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Supply considered in Committee.
§ House resumed.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.
§ House adjourned at half after Twelve o'clock.