HC Deb 16 June 1865 vol 180 cc400-9

said, he rose to ask the noble Lord at the head of the Government the question of which he had given notice, and in doing so claimed the indulgence of the House, feeling that he was treading on somewhat delicate ground. The appointments to and promotions in the Order of the Bath which had recently been made had attracted the attention of officers of all grades in both branches of Her Majesty's service, and they found themselves unable to reconcile those appointments and promotions with the original design with which the order was instituted. The decoration of the Bath had, above all others, been looked upon as the reward of merit exclusively, but some of the late appointments had given rise to the suspicion that it was in danger of losing its distinctive character and of being lowered to the level of those foreign insignia which meant so little and were so easily acquired. He did not know whether it was in contemplation to make a fusion of the several distinctions which were comprised under the general name of the Order of the Bath, but it seemed that what had lately been done was a step in that direction. It was hardly necessary to remind the House that the Order of the Bath was revived by George I. in May, 1725, and was further enlarged by the Prince Regent in 1815, he being desirous of commemorating the auspicious termination of the long and arduous contest which the country had been engaged in, and of marking in an especial manner the valour and devotion shown by officers engaged by sea and land. It was then directed that the Order should in future consist of and be divided into three classess—the Grand Cross, Knighthood, and the Companionship of the Bath. The regulations connected with it were expressly laid down by statute, and it was ordained that no person should be admitted to the third class Unless his services should have been marked by especial mention in despatches, as having distinguished himself by his valour and conduct in action against the enemy whilst in command of a ship of war, of troops, or while at the head of a military department, or as having by some actual service under his immediate conduct and direction contributed to the success of such action. No one could for a moment dispute the fact that it was the intention of the Prince Regent when he expressly laid down the rules which were to form a guide for the entrance into the lower grades that the same should apply to the higher, and that, therefore, no officer should have the Grand Cross or Knighthood of the Order conferred on him unless he were qualified to become a Companion of the Order. But, as if to show this more distinctly, in the year 1847 Her Most Gracious Majesty was pleased to still further enlarge the Order by the construction of a Civil branch, comprising three grades as in the military. This branch had enabled Her Majesty to confer the decoration on those who by long meritorious service and devotion to the Sovereign in a civil capacity were entitled to some such mark of distinction. But the very creation of this division unmistakably pointed out that it was the wish of the Sovereign that military and civil services should receive distinct rewards, and that the prestige and dignity of the military decoration should be kept alive intact. Such, at any rate, had been the principle and character of the Order as viewed by officers both of the army and navy. The value of a decoration consisted entirely in the rigid observance of the regulations under which it was first instituted. In a service where there were few such decorations, in a country disliking ribands and insignia, that which distinctively pointed out a man as having distinguished himself in action as well as having served his country for a long number of years was naturally regarded as the only Order of merit, and was prized accordingly. Among the appointments which had lately been made there were cases which had created the impression that the old constitution of the Order had been altered or was about to be changed. They found officers who had never distinguished themselves in action, officers who by the rules expressly laid down in 1815 were not qualified even to become Companions, receiving the Grand Cross and Knighthood of the Order, and, what was even still stranger, it was found that officers had been transferred from the civil to the military branch. If it was urged that whether the country was at peace or at war it was necessary that the number in the higher grades should be kept complete, and that therefore during peace officers must receive the decoration without any very distinguished service, it was a sufficient answer that there were very many officers now Companions of the Order who were well qualified to enter on the higher grades, and that as England always had some little war in hand there never would be a lack of distinguished officers. When he looked among the list of Companions he found officers whose services none could dispute, and whose deeds of gallantry before the enemy had appeared in despatch after despatch, but who were passed over, while others with no military claims whatever under the existing statute received the highest honours. He thought that no more remarkable instance could be shown than in the case of an officer well known to that House for his deeds of daring. He alluded to "Nemesis" Hall, now an admiral, but who ever since he received the Companionship of the Order had been placed entirely in the background. Was it to be wondered at that under these circumstances great dissatisfaction should prevail both in the army and navy, and that officers who for heroic conduct and bravery in action received the Companionship, thinking at the time it was but a stepping-stone to the next, should look with dismay at these decorations, and were anxious to know whether the C.B. was in future to be the only military decoration, and what were the regulations to be enforced? He hoped that in what he had said he would not be thought to dispute the Royal Prerogative to confer this Order on whom it pleased. He had raised this question with the view of guarding that gift most jealously from being lowered in value. His only object was to set at rest a feeling of uneasiness which had pervaded both services during the last few months, and in justice to those gallant officers who had received the Military Order in former years for actual service. He felt confident that the statutes of the Bath were either entirely misunderstood by the army and navy, or that the regulations had undergone some silent alteration. He begged to ask the noble Lord whether it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to recommend to the Crown the amalgamation of the Civil and Military Orders of the Bath; and to move an Address for returns of any alterations and the regulations.

Amendment proposed, To add after the word "That," in the Original Question, the words "an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House a Copy of any Regulations altering the Constitution of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath."—(Mr. Hanbury Tracy.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."


said, that when he had called attention to the subject of the Order of the Bath upon a former occasion, the noble Lord had conferred a boon upon the gallant officers admitted to the Order by remitting the fees of which formerly they had been mulcted. On this occasion he did not intend to animadvert upon any recent appointments, believing that it was the Royal Prerogative to confer the distinction as it pleased. The Order had always held a distinguished place in the annals of the kingdom. Originally, no doubt, it was a personal mark of honour from the Sovereign. Henry IV. at his Coronation gave a large number of such distinctions, and Charles II. at the Restoration gave away a large number of Red Ribands, and thereby lowered the value of the distinction. In the reign of George I., Walpole met many claims for the Order of the Garter by creating thirty-six Knights of the Bath, and mulcting them of £1,000 each. He took the Order himself, and met the remonstrances of the Duchess of Marlborough, as to her grandson not receiving the Garter, by the reply, "Madam, who takes the Bath now may take the Garter hereafter." The title of Sir Robert Walpole was derived from the Bath; and in later times some of our best known characters, such as Sir Philip Francis and Sir Joseph Banks, were indebted for their titles to this Order of which they had been made Knights. To the end of the Peninsular War the members styled themselves simply Knights of the Bath; hut a time arrived when it became necessary to imitate the foreign Orders of Knighthood, and the Prince Regent was advised to divide the Order into three Classes—Grand Crosses, composed principally of soldiers, but with some civilians, and two other Classes, composed entirely of soldiers. It still, however, retained its character of being in the main a military Order; and the Duke of Wellington, who usually held these honours very cheap, was so attached to this particular distinction that after the battle of Vittoria, when it was intimated that the Prince Regent intended to confer on him the Order of the Garter, application was made by him to Lord Bathurst that the usual practice of giving up the Red Riband on receiving the Blue might be departed from in this particular instance. The answer was that it could not be permitted; but the year following the Order was remodelled, the original K. B. 's being made into G. C. B. 's, and the Duke of Wellington, of course, was one of the first to receive the new dignity. It was a curious fact that the Duke of Wellington received the identical Red Riband which Lord Nelson vacated by his death. At the close of the Peninsular War a large number of Ribands were given; but afterwards matters remained for many years without change. There was another Order, not, strictly speaking, English, but Hanoverian, which was lately in the gift of the Crown, and was conferred for some time with judgment and discrimination, until the reign of William IV. who was so good natured a Monarch that whether the request preferred was for a Riband or a Reform Bill he found the greatest difficulty in saying "No." The result was that the Guelphic Older became inundated with Knights; and the anecdote was told, that the King having complained one day at dinner of the pertinacity with which a country Mayor pursued him with Addresses, one of the King's relations sitting by said, "I should 'Guelph' him, Sir, at once!" On the separation of Hanover from England the Guelphic Order ceased to he given in England, and it was now an Hanoverian Order, bearing a high character. Twelve years ago the second and third Classes of the Bath began to be given to civilians; previously to this the First Class only had been conferred on Cabinet Ministers and Ambassadors, and others whose position and services might fairly be viewed as equalling those of men who had won the Order on the field of battle. This extension of the Second and Third classes to civilions rankled in the breasts of Military men, and it would, in his opinion, have been more prudent to avoid interference with a Military Order, and to have established an Order of Civil Merit. It might be said that Members of Parliament might wish for the Order; but he could not see why it should be harder to draw the line in Civil than in Military life, as to those rendering conspicuous service to the State. In old days there were sinecure appointments, which, no doubt, were abused at one time, but which, nevertheless, were very useful. An officer who had served with distinction abroad came home and was made governor of some undiscovernble fort, with a salary of some £300 or £400 a year. His country recognized his services and he was happy. But now that the wisdom of the present generation had swept away all those sinecures no means existed of rewarding long and meritorious conduct, save by continuing men in Office until they had long become incapable of serving the State—a practice which nobody could defend. He could not help thinking that an Order connected with our Protectorate of the Ionian Islands, but which did not pass away when we surrendered those territories to the King of Greece, might be now made use of with great advantage. The Order had always been one of distinction, conferred principally on Governors of the Island of Malta, Lord High Commissioners of the Ionian Islands, and other important bearers of Office; the officers of the Order performed functions which were altogether honorary, and no fees were demanded of the Knights. In these days it might be said that to institute an Order was an anachronism, but except the Garter, Golden Fleece, and the principal Order of Denmark, there were none of great antiquity really extant. The Order of the Star of India, created by Her Majesty only a few years ago, he had seen quite lately sparkling on the breast of Sir Hugh Rose, one of the most distinguished generals whom this country had ever produced, and he believed it was held in the highest estimation throughout Her Majesty's Eastern dominions.


said, the Order of the Bath was so strictly a Military Order that according to its statutes no officer ever could receive it whose name had not appeared in the Gazette for actual service in the field. Generally speaking it had been accorded to very proper claimants, but one case came to his knowledge where the officer who obtained it was three miles from the spot where powder was being burnt in anger. The name of Admiral Hall had been mentioned, and he felt it right to state with regard to that officer, that while Chairman of the Court of Directors of the East India Company he had felt it right on public grounds alone, without the least personal acquaintance with him, to offer him command in the Indian Navy. The services in India of Captain Hall failed to obtain for him the Order of the Bath, but he afterwards made a new claim for himself by services in the Baltic, which obtained for him the reward that his antecedents ought to have secured. He hoped the public mention of his name on that occasion would give him that further rank to which he was entitled by his services. It was, he thought, very much to be lamented that the real object of according these distinctions was sometimes lost sight of, and that family influence succeeded in obtnining what meritorious service simply had failed to attract.


said, he felt convinced that his hon. Friend who had brought forward this Motion (Mr. Hanbury Tracy) would be the last to desire to interfere with the Prerogative of Her Majesty, and that he only wished that some remedy might be devised which would put a stop to the dissatisfaction which existed with regard to the distribution of these Orders—a dissatisfaction about the existence of which there could not possibly be any doubt. The improvement desired was not dictated merely for sentiment, but would be found advisable in a pounds, shillings, and pence point of view, because gentleman could not be said to enter the Army as a rule merely for the emoluments which the service afforded them. He should regret if anything were done to diminish the value attached to those honours. He knew officers of the Army and Navy who, when they lost their good service pensions by a rise in rank desired that the records should be preserved, so that it might be known that they had received those pensions. It was highly desirable that the feeling of the Army and Navy should go along with the grant of these distinctions.


Sir, I quite agree with what has fallen from my hon. Friend who spoke last, that it is most desirable, especially in the distribution of honours, that the general feeling of the army and navy should go along with the grace of the Crown. At the same time it is in human nature that many people should not be disposed to agree precisely in the particular selection that may be made, and it often happens that a person who is perfectly fit for the honour he may have received, may by others be compared with friends of their own, and there may not be universal acquiescence as to the relative merits of the individuals. I can, however, assure my hon. Friend that those who advise the Crown in the distribution of honours both to the army and navy are most anxious to do full justice to those services according to the ordinances and regulations of the Order, and that those should be selected who are the best entitled to the distinction. I cannot agree with my hon. Friend (Mr. Hanbury Tracy) who made this Motion that it is desirable to consolidate the civil and military Orders of the Bath. They are entirely separate. They are given for distinction in careers altogether different. I think it would diminish greatly the importance which the army and navy attach to the distinction of the military Order of the Bath if civilians wore precisely the same decorations, and were in no way to be distinguished from the others. I think it of great importance to separate the two Orders. No jealousy whatever is felt by the army and navy with regard to conferring the civil Order on those who by civil services have served Her Majesty. Although no doubt the services performed by the army and navy are far more brilliant than those of any civilians, yet there is great merit in the Civil Service, and there are many men who have distinguished themselves in different positions in the Civil Service, and upon whom it is very fitting this honorary distinction should be conferred in acknowledgment of the services they have rendered their country. I am not aware that any change has been made lately in the statutes of the Order of the Bath, and I trust, therefore, that my hon. Friend will not press his Motion for a return the particulars of which he has not stated. Some years ago there was an augmentation of the class of the Civil Service, and I think also of the Military. There is a circumstance to be borne in mind with regard to the military and naval branch of the Order. The regulations of the Service require that the person shall have been mentioned in the Gazette, and performed certain duties in the field before the enemy to entitle him to the decoration of the Order, Of course, in proportion as peace continues the candidates who have fulfilled this condition must progressively diminish, and it becomes matter for consideration whether, in view of the long continuance of peace, service of great merit, although not rendered in the field, may not be considered as coming within the fair spirit of the regulation by which the Order is conferred. My hon. Friend thinks that there is some partiality in the distributions. Of course, as I have said, persons may attach more value to the services of those they know, but I am perfectly satisfied that there has been no intentional departure from the most perfect justice in the distribution of the honours of the Order. With regard to the Mediterranean order of St. Michael and St. George, the hon. Baronet (Sir William Fraser) proposes that it should be enlarged and made applicable to services performed generally. That is a rather taking proposal at first sight, but it seems to me that the Civil Order of the Bath is sufficient for the purpose of awarding civil merit, and there is a great objection and inconvenience in multiplying unnecessarily these orders and decorations. There arises a great embarrassment in selecting persons peculiarly fitted for these distinctions, and as you multiply the means of rewarding services, in that proportion you multiply the claims that are made and the embarrassment of those who have to deal with them. In foreign countries these orders abound greatly, and in proportion as they abound their value is diminished. And so it would be here, nor do I think it is in accordance with the character of the country that we should see a great number of persons walking about the streets with decorations, in regard to which they could not, perhaps, very easily furnish the grounds upon which they were conferred. That would give rise to criticisms such as the hon. Gentleman has bestowed on the distribution of the Order of the Bath, and I think it would be better that the Order of St. Michael and St. George should be confined to those who have done service in the Mediterranean, and should not be made a general Order, like the Guelph for instance. We all recollect that the Order of the Guelph was so lavishly bestowed that its value was greatly diminished, and the anecdote is, I believe, perfectly true that was related by the hon. Gentleman, and that it was said to the monarch of some one—"It would serve him right to Guelph him."

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.