HC Deb 01 March 1866 vol 181 cc1317-22

in bringing under the notice of the House the grievances of which the Masters in the Royal Nary complained, said, that the Masters in the Royal Navy were astonished at the way in which their case was stated to the House on a previous occasion by the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty, and at the earliest opportunity they had drawn up a statement, in which they alleged that the valuable services of the Masters in the navy during late years could not be disputed. They then particularized the grievances under which they laboured, and embodied them in a pamphlet. In that pamphlet they alleged that the Masters did not gain the advantages to which they were entitled, that they were placed in an unfavourable position, and that the recommendations of the Committee of 1862 had never been carried out; and they alleged further, that when the noble Lord the Secretary of the Admiralty stated, as he had upon one occasion, that no memorials had been received from the Masters in the service with regard to their pay, it must be well known that the framing and signing such memorials were contrary to the Queen's Regulations. By the Naval Discipline Act of 1863 any officer was fully authorized to make known to his superior officer any just cause of complaint; but he was not permitted to combine with others for the purpose of obtaining redress. Finding individual remonstrance of no avail the Masters presented a memorial, which would be a sufficient answer to the assertion of the Secretary to the Admiralty, that they had asked for no increase of pay. It prayed that, with regard to relative rank, pay, pensions, and social position, they might be placed on the same footing as medical officers, of whom they had always had precedence since the Order of March, 1808. The noble Lord had also stated that the recommendations of the Committee which inquired into the grievances of Masters in 1862 had been carried into effect; but no assertion could be more incorrect. The title of "Staff Commander" was, as he had said, simply a delusion, conferring no rank, pay, or privileges. When it was granted, Masters expected some privilege, such as an allowance for travelling expenses incurred in surveying, for which £1 a day was allowed to Commanders; but the position of Masters in this respect remained unchanged, so that a Commander when travelling received 10s. a day more than a "Staff Commander," although the latter often discharged lieutenant's and other duties. He could not sit on a court martial; in action his place was by the side of the captain; on an enemy's coast his duties were most hazardous. At the time of the Crimean War, when the crew of a line-of-battle ship were paid off, the captain received the decoration of a Commander of the Bath; the first-lieutenant, the commander, the surgeon, and the captain of marines were all provided for; and the only officer who was neglected was the Master, who retired on 5s. a day. Under all these circumstances, it was not to be wondered at that the number of Masters had been for some years past steadily on the decline. In 1840 there were 140; in 1850, 90; in 1859, 85; in 1860, 74; and in 1861, 76. He did not pretend to say that there was any advantage to the navy in having this class of officers. It was considered a great boon by old officers to have their sons educated at a comparatively small cost and brought up as second-class cadets, to be eventually Masters in the navy. As such they ought, at least, to be dealt with fairly and honourably, and if injustice were committed Parliament was made particeps criminis. He was glad to see the Secretary to the Admiralty in his place; and he would therefore say that, although on several occasions the noble Lord had led the House to believe that it was the earnest wish of the Admiralty to deal fairly, liberally, and generously with the Masters in the navy, they had received the reverse of such treatment. When complaint was made, the noble Lord promised that, if patience were shown, a boon should be conferred; but would the House believe that the Admiralty had withdrawn from the Masters the privilege of being able to enter their sons as second-class cadets? As an instance of the treatment received by Masters in the navy, he would cite the case of a man who became a volunteer of the second-class in 1825, and who, after serving in every clime, and being twice shipwrecked and twice invalided, was assigned Coastguard duties, which required the strength of a man in the prime of life, at the most exposed station on the coast of Cornwall, where he was obliged to walk many miles over slimy rocks, night and day, in all weathers. Having fulfilled these duties six or seven years, he received a letter informing him that he had been placed on the reserve list of Masters, that he would lose no advantages that he then enjoyed, and that he would be retained on Coastguard service; and he thereupon wrote to the Lords of the Admiralty. The Lords of the Admiralty in their reply expressed their regret that his services did not, under their regulations, entitle him to Greenwich out-pay; but, as a favour, he was placed on the 6s. list, and about a month afterwards he was promoted to the rank of Staff Commander, without increase of pay. The memorialist concluded by stating that, at fifty-seven years of age, he found all his prospects destroyed by ill-health, contracted in a service which had brought him no rewards, save a number of highly-commendatory certificates, a rank equal to that of lieutenant-colonel, and a pension of 6s. a day, on which sum he had to endeavour to support himself and his family in the position of a gentleman and an officer in Her Majesty's service. Such was the position in which an officer in that navy of which Englishmen were so justly proud found himself placed. Masters in the navy had rendered to their country many most important services by surveying dangerous coasts, not only for the purposes of war, but, what was still better, for the sake of the safety of the mercantile marine. These officers, who had deserved so well of their country, and who had been treated so badly by that country, worn out, and with starvation staring them in the face, had the consolation of reading every day in the paper accounts of the honours, promotions, and increases of pay which were received by officers who had entered the navy at the same time that they had; reading, perhaps, at the same time the fallacious promises of the Secretary of the Navy, and the unfounded accounts of the great things which had been done for them. He had often heard it stated that the present expenditure of England was excessive; and they knew what enormous sums were spent in building ships which would never be used; and it was a source of great mortification to find that the country was so poor, so mean, or so parsimonious as to neglect in their old age officers who had faithfully served her. He would by one illustration show how unfairly, as compared with other officers, Masters were treated. Under the present regulations the pay of a Staff Commander or Master was £182 10s. per annum, that of a surgeon was £273 15s., and that of a paymaster £249. After ten years' service, the pay of a Staff Commander or Master was £237 5s., that of a surgeon was £328 10s., and that of a paymaster £349 15s.; after twenty years' service the Master or Staff Commander received a salary of £328 a year, the surgeon £401 10s., and the paymaster £600 14s. But the Master was not only paid badly, but he was also debarred from receiving the same honours and rewards as the other officers. When a great service was performed by any of Her Majesty's vessels, every officer on board that vessel could receive a reward except the Master, to whose skill the successful performance of the service may have been in a great measure due. What the Masters asked was really not much, considering the onerous nature of their duties. The Masters said, "If you think the service would be better without us abolish the class; but if, on the contrary, you think we have done our duty, treat us fairly. Do not give us a name which in reality you withhold. If you give us the rank of Staff Commander put us on an equality with the commanders in the navy. If you think our services worth recompensing, give us justice, and let us have a chance of rising in our profession." Taxed as the country might be, it was rich enough to award justice to its public servants, and he trusted, therefore, that the appeal which he now made to the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty would not be made in vain. If, however, the Admiralty continued to deny this class of officers justice, they might fairly appeal to the country and to Parliament to see them righted.


said, he rose to ask Mr. Speaker whether on going into Committee on the first naval Vote Members would be allowed to discuss the Estimates at large?


said, that the question should be addressed to the Chairman of Committee.


said, that the Chairman of Committee had for many years permitted Members to make a general statement on the Estimates when the first Vote came on for discussion.


said, he could fully bear out the observations of the hon, Member for Devon (Sir Lawrence Palk) with respect to the value of the services of the Masters in the navy. He had with him a list of nineteen whom he had known, of whom only one ever failed in his duty in any instance, and even he afterwards recovered his character. But it was far from being the case that their services were left unrewarded; the rewards given them were often very ample in degree. Taking the cases of fifteen with whom he was acquainted he found that five had been appointed Masters Attendant of dockyards, receiving pay to the amount of £500 or £600 a year; two were in command of ships, with the pay of commanders; one held a high situation in the compass department at the Admiralty; and one was at the head of a branch establishment in Portsmouth Dockyard; leaving only six with no pay beyond that of their naval rank. It was impossible in the nature of things to give men employed for special duties and general service the same rate of pay. The most difficult duty of Masters was that of pilotage which was not to be learnt in a day, and, in fact, required almost a lifetime. The old Admiralty regulations ordered that, with the view of encouraging Masters to attain excellence as pilots, they should be paid for every port into which they took a ship half the amount that would be paid to a regular pilot. He believed that the hydrographers of the navy, many of whom were among the foremost in setting forth the hardships and advocating the claims of the Masters, were the very persons who virtually deprived them of that advantage; because, at the end of the ship's term of service, when the certificates of pilotage were sent in by the captains, they were thrown together, and very often only a small sum was awarded to the Master instead of the full pilotage to which he was justly entitled. If that question of half pilotage were only looked into by the Secretary to the Admiralty, he would probably find that it would form a considerable addition to the income of the Masters. With respect to the improvement in the pay of the Staff Commanders, to use the rather fantastic denomination given them in the Navy List, he might mention that the Staff Com- manders had not been neglected, for he found that before 1855 the highest amount of pay was 11s. 8d. a day, and Masters of the Fleet 16s. 6d. In 1860, the highest rate was £1 a day, and Masters of the Fleet £1 6s. He did not mean to say that that was a very high rate of pay for men who had served half their lives in the navy, but still there was no class of naval officers, as far as he was aware, whose pay had been so much increased. In conclusion, he ventured to express a hope that his noble Friend would take the question of pilotage into consideration; and he trusted, also, that the entry of young men for the rank of: Master might be again resumed, and that a system of education which would give those young men a knowledge of pilotage might again be established in the navy.


said, he had served on the Admiralty Committee, and had put many questions to the different witnesses in reference to the position of the Masters. On no question, however, did he receive such a diversity of answers. As to the question of pay, he did not wish to offer any opinion, because, from the evidence which was given, he was totally unable to come to any conclusion on the subject.

Motion, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," agreed to: