HC Deb 02 March 1865 vol 177 cc1003-10

rose to call attention to the evidence given to the Committee on Navy Promotion and Retirement in 1863 on the subject of re-appointing to the office of Chaplain General of the Navy. He said it was the opinion of many naval authorities that it would be of essential value to the service. We have learnt by experience that the best way of governing men was to appeal to their higher interests and the better portions of their character, and that when a chaplain in the navy duly appreciated his character and position, and was not thwarted in his efforts, he exercised an influence of great importance in raising the moral standard of the men under his care. The position of a naval chaplain was, however, one of peculiar trial and difficulty. All the other officers of a ship had some one to whom to look for advice and counsel. Senior surgeons and junior engineers and assistant masters had recourse to the opinion and advice of their seniors and superiors. In the army, a chaplain, if he desired assistance, might appeal to the Chaplain General of the forces. But the chaplain on board a ship was in an isolated and difficult position. The only naval chaplain examined before the Committee on Navy Promotion and Retirement was the Rev. W. Whitmarsh, chaplain and naval instructor of the St. Vincent, who thought it would be very desirable for unity of action to have a Chaplain General. Mr. Whitmarsh referred to his own experience in the Sanspareil with Captain Dacres. He had been enabled to establish a private library among the officers, and very soon afterwards he found a great desire among the men also to have a private library of their own. He also found great advantage from establishing an evening school. When Mr. Whitmarsh joined the Agamemnon the men and the petty officers asked him to establish for them a library and an evening school, the same as in the Sanspareil. He added that there existed generally among the chaplains a feeling that they would be able to carry out their work more satisfactorily to themselves and beneficially to the service if they received their instructions from some spiritual head. The opinion of the naval officers examined before the Committee was generally in favour of the appointment. Admiral Sir G. R. Mundy thought it would be a very good thing if there were a Chaplain General for the navy, provided the regulations were the same as at the Horse Guards, and that he was appointed under the same conditions. Admiral Elliot thought that a Chaplain General would be beneficial to the service, if it were only that he might, by inquiry, be instrumental in selecting chaplains for the service. The chaplains in the navy, he added, did not report to any superior officer. They looked to the Admiralty through their captains; but it would not be beneficial for naval chaplains to report to a Chaplain General except through their captain. Captain Cooper Key thought it would be desirable there should be a Chaplain General in the navy if he were distinctly under the Admiralty, as he would be if the chaplains made their reports through the captains of the ships. He added, however, that there was a great variety of opinion among the chaplains themselves on the subject. The Duke of Somerset thought there would be some advantages in having a Chaplain General, but that whatever communications were made ought to pass through the captain of the ship. Other officers gave similar evidence as to the importance of appointing a Chaplain General. He had asked the opinion of the Bishop of London, well known as a most earnest prelate, upon the subject, and had received from him the following letter:— My dear Sir Harry,—I am glad to hear that you are likely to draw attention to the importance of appointing a Chaplain General for the Navy. During the eight years of my tenure of the see of London I have frequently been called to consider this subject, and, though fully aware of the difficulties which may be urged, I am decidedly of opinion that the change from the present system would be very beneficial. The senior chaplain of Greenwich Hospital does not appear to exercise the sort of influence which a regularly appointed Chaplain General might be expected to have. The evidence seems to go to this—that a Chaplain General might be of great use in aiding the Admiralty authorities to select good chaplains: that while all reports still passed through the captain to the Admiralty, the advice of an experienced senior clergyman in such a position might both be of great use to the chaplains generally, and he might suggest to the Admiralty many useful regulations for the improvement of the social and religious condition of the sailors.—Believe me, yours truly, A. C. LONDON. He (Sir Harry Verney) had also a letter from the Chaplain General of the army, who stated that in his opinion a naval Chaplain General, so far from impeding the discipline of the navy, would help to establish it by seeing and conversing with the candidates for chaplaincies on board ship, and recommending such as he might see reason to approve of. He would be the adviser of the Admiralty on many points, and would assist in drawing up rules such as the chaplains required; and he could determine the post to which a particular chaplain was fitted, whether to a large or small vessel, or hospital ship, or hospital ashore. The benefit resulting to the service from the appointment would, he considered, be immense. He (Sir Harry Verney) could easily multiply authorities in favour of the proposed change; but it was not necessary to do so. He was unwilling to refer to cases in which the want of a Chaplain General had been felt; but naval men were aware that there had been many instances in which chaplains had acted injudiciously, who, if there had been a Chaplain General of the navy, would never have been appointed, or might, under his advice, have avoided the mistakes which they had committed. Chaplains were now recommended for their appointments by the private secretary of the First Lord of the Admiralty, an officer who could hardly be considered an appropriate person either to select chaplains, or to designate the particular stations to which they should be assigned. He could not overlook the circumstance that under the administration of the Duke of Somerset and through the exertions of his hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) and the late Admiral Pelham, important measures had been adopted for increasing the efficiency of chaplains in the navy; but still much remained to be done. He did not intend to propose any Motion, because he thought that it would be better that the appointment of a Chaplain General should come from the Department than as the result of a Resolution of that House; but, considering the example which might be set, or the mischief which might be wrought by our navy in distant parts of the world, he hoped to elicit such an expression of opinion from that House as would induce the Admiralty to adopt the course which he was now recommending.


said, that there could be no question that a necessity existed for some great alteration in our existing system, in order that the chaplains of the navy, instead of being comparatively useless, might be made the willing instruments of elevating the tone of instruction, both religious and secular, making the seamen comfortable while afloat, and so rendering the navy a happy and contented service. The chaplains of the navy stood alone in our services as a solitary instance of a body without a head. He did not deny that the great majority of the chaplains did their duty as far as they could; but, in consequence of the absence of anything like organization, they were unable to effect all the good which might result from their efforts under a better system. They had no one to advise them, or with whom they might take counsel. There was no central authority with which they could communicate, nor had they any means of adopting a united action by means of which instruction both religious and secular might be administered in a uniform manner. What was required was a Chaplain General who would give positive detailed instructions, without which in a great militarily constituted service the most zealous efforts of a chaplain were unavailing. This would release the zealous man from the restraints which now beset him, and enable him to carry out the work he was willing to perform, while, on the other hand, it would oblige the lukewarm and indifferent either to do his duty or give up his appointment. The Admiralty had from time to time shown a consciousness of the weakness and folly of the existing system, and had made some feeble but abortive efforts to cure the defect. In 1827 an order directed chaplains to communicate direct to Dr. Cole (senior chaplain of Greenwich Hospital) on all matters connected with their sacred duties, but this order had fallen into abeyance. In 1859 the Admiralty appointed Mr. Goldmay Chaplain to the Fleet, and in 1861 conferred on him the additional title of "Head of the Chaplains," but this, instead of being a step in the right direction, had turned out a mere delusion, for when chaplains consulted him on various matters they found that he had only the name of a head and no authority to help them in anything. The officials at the Admiralty who were chiefly connected with the chaplains were the Civil Lord and the private secretary of the First Lord, who, among the numerous and varied duties they had to perform, took charge of the appointments and other matters relating to that body. But, was it not impossible that officials who were constantly being changed, and whose time must be chiefly taken up in other duties, could have that knowledge of the various chaplains that would enable them to make judicious appointments? The consequence was, what might naturally be expected, that these appointments were often very badly made young and inexperienced men were sent to the most important posts without reference to their qualifications. The system was unjust to the chaplains, unjust to the navy, and unjust to the country at large. What was much wanted was the introduction into the navy of a system of religious instruction on the one hand, and of secular instruction combined with amusement on the other hand; in fact, to follow out afloat the principle on which mechanics' institutes and other associations of a similar nature had been founded in all our large towns, and which had for many years been introduced into the sister service, the army. In this respect, as in many other, the navy was many years behind the army, and no steps were being taken to remedy the defect. In former times it was too much the custom to regard a sailor as a mere brute beast; now, however, people were beginning to see that he was becoming more and more a skilled mechanic, but, notwithstanding, far too little attention had been paid to him as a moral and intellectual being. If, in every ship a place was set apart in which men might go and read and be tolerably quiet, they would soon have, as a consequence, the navy more popular, and an immense decrease of crime. He knew as a fact that in ships lying in harbour and in depot ships many unmarried men went ashore simply because they did not know what to do if they remained on board, unless to smoke or go to sleep, and they would prefer stopping on board if they had a place to go to where they might read or enjoy some rational amusement. There could not be the slightest reason why in every ship, after evening quarters, a place should not be screened off into divisions—one for the chaplain for religious purposes, another for lectures, another for reading, and another for games. It would, no doubt, be asked how could all this be managed, and who was to superintend it. His answer was—there was a body of officers now comparatively useless, but who might soon be formed into the most perfect machinery. He meant the chaplains, who, under an efficient head, would soon be able to work out this reform, which would be one of the greatest ever made in the navy. It was to the chaplain, supported by the captain, they must look as the prime mover in all plans for the instruction of the seamen, but it was only under the superintendence of a Chaplain General that this could be carried out. It was my good fortune to have sailed for five years with a man who was always the foremost in everything that could conduce to the welfare of the bluejacket, one to whom I always look back as the beau ideal of a naval chaplain. No games were ever set on foot but he took a prominent part, no lectures but when he started them, and in instruction of all kinds he took an active part. The want of a head of that Department, with well defined detailed instructions, caused some unpleasant disputes, hut, on the whole, in no ship do I think instruction could have been carried on better under existing circumstances, nor was there ever a ship in which both officers and men look back to, as one in which the chaplain was the friend and adviser of all on board. But, Sir, is the case often? Alas ! I regret to say it is not. In many ships captains prevent the good effect which might result from a zealous chaplain, and in others men are not up to their work. I think that in the navy generally, the chaplain is too often regarded as a useless individual, and one that might easily be dispensed with. So little in some ships are chaplains regarded, that prayer and other religious meetings are constantly held, not with the sanction and authority of the chaplain, but often in direct defiance of him. Officers feeling the great want of religious teaching, set themselves up to do that which is the duty of the chaplain, and hold meetings of every style and character which the individual may select. In a large military organized body where each person is supposed to have his allotted task, it is most essential to discipline that that organization should be carried out, and not that officers should be allowed to interfere with one another's duty. You will invariably find that when executive officers take upon themselves the neglected duties of a chaplain, a large number of the men become time-servers, tale-tells and hypocrites. A chaplain on first joining a ship, may be, and often is, a most zealous man, who strives hard for two or three years to do his duty, but at last finding how impossible it is to make headway against all the difficulties which surround him, gradually loses heart and having no one to whom he can refer for counsel and advice, at the end of four or five years becomes a mere cipher on board, looking earnestly forward to the day when he will be able to claim his pension and retire from a service in which he is obliged to live in enforced idleness. I know the noble Lord will say that this appointment is not wanted, and would interfere with the discipline of the service, but how its effect can be other than beneficial is more than I can conceive. A young and inexperienced man is far more likely to go against discipline when he himself has no spiritual superior, and therefore feels that he stands alone, than if he was subordinate to some regularly appointed head, from whom he might derive both counsel and advice. I am sure the hon. Member for Wakefield will join with me in saying that instead of weakening discipline it would tend greatly to promote it. A Chaplain General would be the servant of the Admiralty, and would there correct any infringement amongst his class whilst at the same time he would instruct them properly in their various duties. He would fill the same office as a Director General does to the Medical Department. I must in justice to the Admiralty say that during the last few years, and especially whilst the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) was at the Admiralty, they have made great alterations, and in many respects improvements, in the condition of the seamen. I do sincerely trust that they will go a little further and add another boon to the comfort and well-being of the men by the appointment of a Chaplain General.


trusted that his noble Friend (Lord Clarence Paget) or the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), who he believed might be regarded as Admiralty Bishop, would give some information upon this subject at a future period. He quite concurred in what had fallen from both the hon. Baronet and the hon. Member who had last spoken as to the importance of having a Chaplain General. He had the greatest possible respect for his hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract except in his episcopal character, and he could assure him that he would find the greatest relief in the discharge from his episcopal duties if a Chaplain General, or some such person with whom the naval chaplains could communicate for advice and assistance, were placed at the Board.