HC Deb 27 April 1869 vol 195 cc1701-13

rose to ask for leave to introduce a Bill to make better provision respecting Greenwich Hospital and the application of the Revenues thereof. The hon. Gentleman said that in a Session when so many measures of such gravity in their principles, and demanding so much time for the consideration of details, were being submitted to their consideration, he did not propose to detain the Committee by a lengthy exposition of the circumstances which had induced the Government to ask leave to lay this Bill upon the table; and he ventured to introduce the Bill to the notice of Parliament with less hesitation and with greater brevity, because it had been framed in accordance with the spirit of the present House of Commons—a spirit which demanded that every piece of business, small as well as great, should be done boldly, should be done thoroughly, and should be done once for all. He would not enter upon an historical disquisition with regard to the formation and the object of Greenwich Hospital, or dilate upon the terms of the charter and the original intentions of the founders—the House had enough history of that description on its hands already; he would confine himself to reading a single clause from the charter of 1694— Whereas, the Seamen of this Kingdom have for a long Time distinguished themselves throughout the World by their Industry and Skilfulness in their Employments, and by their Courage and Constancy manifested in Engagements for the Defence and Honour of their Native Country; and for an Encouragement to continue this their ancient Reputation and to invite greater Numbers of His Majesty's Subjects to betake themselves to the Sea, it is fit and reasonable that some competent Provision should be made that Seamen who by Age, Wounds, or other Accidents shall become disabled for future Service at Sea, and shall not be in a condition to maintain themselves comfortably, may not fall under Hardships and Miseries, may be supported at the public Charge, and that the Children of such disabled Seamen, and also the Widows and Children of such Seamen as shall happen to he slain, killed, or drowned in Sea Service, may in some reasonable Manner be provided for and educated. And also the Widows of such Seamen, Watermen, Fishermen, Lightermen, Bargemen, Keelmen, and Sea-faring Men, who shall be slain, killed, or drowned in the Sea Service, and the Children of such Seamen. Watermen, Fishermen, Lightermen, Bargemen, Keelmen, or Sea-faring Men so slain, killed, or drowned, and not of Ability to maintain or provide comfortably for themselves, shall be received into the said Hospital, and there be provided for."—[7 & 8 Will 3, c. 21.] These were the words—the very apt and expressive words—in which the Royal founders conveyed their benevolent intentions towards those gallant seamen who, by their conduct at La Hogue, had shown that the great Revolution had done as much for the Navy of Britain as it had done for her other institutions. Those were the words which it was the duty of our generation to interpret according to the best and highest of its own ideas, as it had been the duty of generations past to interpret them according to the best of theirs: and our interpretation of them was that King William and Queen Mary were bent upon providing that British seamen who had served their country and their Sovereign faithfully should not, at the close of life, or in sickness, or after wounds, fall into distress, but should confidently look forward to being maintained, at the public expense, in decency, in comfort, and in self-respect. These ends they undertook to carry out, after the notions of the age in which they lived, by erecting a great asylum in which the old men might, to the end of their days, lead a life in common, much resembling that which they had led on shipboard, where they might be fed, clothed, and nursed, and physicked, and preached to, and prayed to, and subjected to a little mild discipline. For those were days when no one had yet questioned the belief that charity was best promoted by gathering people into almshouses, and that learning was best promoted by herding them together permanently in richly-endowed Colleges. And it was probable that those who followed that course knew very well what they were about. It was evident that some great change must have passed over the ordinary social and domestic habits, when we remembered that the founders of the Charterhouse, wishing to treat broken-down gentlemen as gentlemen, collected them together in a charitable institution, and dressed them in a peculiar dress, called them "poor brethren," and that under the same roof with a great school of boys. But times had very much altered since then, and with the times the feelings of men; and that alteration told nowhere more than at Greenwich Hospital. The symptoms which indicated that that institution did not square with the modern condition of things became so evident and so scandalous, that it became the duty of those responsible to ask whether the existing organization of this great charity did or did not conduce—as far as it could humanly speaking be made to conduce—to maintaining our worn-out seamen in comfort, in decency, and in self-respect? The question was duly asked, and was answered in a most unmistakeable manner by the Commission of 1859. He would not quote from the Report of that Commission. It was notorious at the time, and was easily attainable now. But the gist of it was that the expense of the establishment was only equalled by the discomfort of its inmates. Good seamen would not surrender their pensions to enter Greenwich Hospital to live in a barrack under vexatious discipline, with nothing in the world to do, and 1s. a week of pocket money out of which to maintain their wives and families. Their places were filled by a class of men who, to say the very least and mildest, were utterly unfit objects for so noble a charity; and yet, even thus, only 1,600 people could be got together; and the only wonder was that 500 real sailors could have been induced to enter upon such a career of restraint and idleness when they compared it with the busy roving lives which they had hitherto led in the pursuit of their calling. When we thought of the distaste with which College Fellows so frequently regard that life of compulsory celibacy and retirement into which they have drifted, or been tempted, under our present University system; and when we remembered that these men were the most highly educated and often the ablest persons of their time, with every intellectual resource at their command, we might judge what must be the state of mind of an uneducated man, who had consumed the prime of life in hard but not unexciting manual labour, when he found himself amidst hundreds of his fellows in the same plight, condemned to do nothing from morning to night, and night to morning, except to take his stated meals at the stated hour, cut off from all the associations of home and friends, and all the thousand little interests and cares of the happy private citizen. What wonder, then, was it, that they were only able, by sweeping together—to use the expression of Dr. Liddell—the very dregs of the Navy, to collect 1,600 men in the Hospital—a good 1,000 below the number it was built to contain. And on this miserable number, of 1,600—a mere drop in the great sea of naval destitution—£99,577 was expended, not leaving a single farthing for out-pensions to that great number of infirm and helpless seamen for whom King William and Queen Mary had ordained the benefits of the Hospital, and for whom successive Sovereigns had loaded it with the produce of fines, confiscations, shares, stoppages, and percentages. An institution, out of gear with the customs and ideas of the age, it had become pre-eminent for evil among other institutions of the same faulty nature. While at Greenwich, £99,000 a year supported 1,600 inmates, the 3,500 pensioners of the Invalides were maintained on very much the same scale of personal comfort for £112,000. There probably was not an extravagant or corrupt Board or Committee of Management, from one end of the island to the other, that did not plume itself on the reflection that the establishment at Greenwich—the salaries to military and civil officers, clerks and servants, with rates, taxes, and repairs to buildings—consumed £48,667, at the rate of £28 18s. 4d. per head to each individual pensioner. It was very much this state of things that the Board of Admiralty found in 1865, and that they considered it an imperative duty to remedy. It was their duty to see that the intentions of the founder were fulfilled as far as the varying circumstances of generations would admit. And those intentions evidently were—for William was both a wise and a thrifty man—that his bounty should not be jobbed and should not be wasted, but that—set aside as it was for the advantage of our Navy—it should be made to go as far as possible, and in the direction most agreeable to the Navy itself; and, therefore, the Board resolved upon a policy by which that bounty should be so expended that the greatest number of seamen and marines should be benefited in the way which they themselves would individually prefer. That policy may generally be described as the conversion of Greenwich Hospital into an infirmary for infirm, decrepid, or imbecile pensioners, and the engrafting once more a system of out-pensions upon the funds of the institution: once more, for to satisfy the consciences of those who loved precedents, up to the year 1829, either the whole or part of the out-pensions to seamen had been paid by Greenwich Hospital. This policy was carried into effect by offering to the men inside the Hospital certain pensions and money allowances which made up £36 10s. a year, or 2s. a day. It was obvious that if these men preferred to live in their own homes, at a cost to the Hospital of £36 10s. a year, instead of living inside it at a cost of £60, both parties in the transaction would be largely benefited. Admission was then afterwards only to be given to real seamen and marines who could prove their claim to the title—who were actually infirm, helpless, and in real need of being nursed, housed, and tended. It was calculated that this measure would enable the staff to be diminished to what would be sufficient for 600 patients, and the Bill of 1865, accordingly provided for reducing the overgrown establishment to more manageable and defensible dimensions. Such an infirmary, it was estimated, would be maintained for £45,000 a year, which would leave, therefore, about £60,000 available for out-pensions. The anticipations which had been entertained with regard to this change had been fully borne out. No less than 987 out of 1,382 inmates of the Hospital had at once accepted the terms offered and had become out-pensioners, and 150 more would also have accepted the terms if they had come within the circle that would have been been benefited by the offer. Only thirty-one of those who had accepted terms had applied for re-ad- mission. The beneficial action of the change upon the men's health had been most marked—the annual death-rate among the out-pensioners being 6.4 as against 12.3 per cent among the inmates of the Hospital. The saving that had been effected in the management of the funds had enabled a further pension of 9d. a day to be paid to every out-pensioner over the age of seventy who had been on the books for ten years, and 5d. a day to those over fifty-five years of age who had been on the books five years. It was only within the last two months that the present Board of Admiralty had found themselves in a position to enter into this arrangement. The Board of Admiralty were anxious that this beneficial state of things should be carried still further, and with that view, they had determined to propose a reduction of the number of in-pensioners to such as could be accommodated within the walls of the infirmary. Any person visiting Greenwich Hospital would see there a large building of quite a different description to the rest of the buildings. That was the infirmary, and within that it was proposed to lodge the in-pensioners. There would then be at the disposal of the Government the large building designed by Inigo Jones; but the Government had not determined to what use they would apply it—whether to some naval or to some other purpose of great national interest. All the Government knew was, that the building could not be profitably utilized for the purposes to which it was at present devoted, because they found this immense building with its great corridors and fine rooms—a palace in itself—actually deserted. It was simply a lodging for clerks and others connected with the establishment, and the expense of keeping the place in repair amounted to something just below £5,000 a year. In order to reduce the number of the inmates of the infirmary several of the patients were to be sent to Haslar and Portsmouth Hospitals, where they were to be maintained at the cost of Greenwich Hospital. Henceforward the admission to the infirmary would be given only to naval pensioners who were helpless and infirm, to seamen and marines who had served for ten years, or to men discharged from the service on account of wounds received in the service. After their exa- mination they would have the alternative of entering the infirmary or receiving a pension not exceeding 1s. 6d. a day. It was considered probable that a great proportion of the old men would adopt the alternative of the 1s. 6d. a day, so that we might look forward to the time when the infirmary would be closed; and, if closed under these circumstances, it would be brought to an end by the suffrages of the seamen themselves. The effect of these changes might be thus stated—The sum spent upon establishment, salaries of officers, contingencies, and repairs of buildings, amounted, in 1859, to £48,670, and that was deducted from the comforts of the men. Then came the change of 1865, and then the sum amounted to £21,083; but under the system proposed by the present Board of Admiralty, the sum would only amount to £6,831. It was probable that, in a few years, those charges would entirely disappear, 'and that the whole of the Greenwich Hospital might be applied to the maintenance of those seamen who had a claim on the country. He should not, however, go into details on this subject, because they would be found fully set out in a Paper which he would lay upon the table in a few days. He now came to the most important part of the scheme. When the Government proposed to diminish the number of inmates in Greenwich Hospital they were told that there were a large number of seamen of the Royal Navy in the workhouses of England, Scotland, and Ireland; and that, therefore, the proposed diminution ought not to be made. He believed it was notorious that the seamen of the Navy who were in the workhouses belonged to the class of permanently invalided seamen who had been discharged from hospital, and who had not served a sufficient time to entitle them to a pension. There could be no doubt that the nature of the service sometimes caused men to be invalided, who, had they followed agricultural occupations, might have been in comparatively good health. Accordingly the Committee were of opinion that if funds could be procured for the purpose, all men who had lost their health in the service should be received into Greenwich Hospital. The Admiralty believed they saw their way to providing for all these men by giving them the alternative either of entering Haslar Hospital or Plymouth Hospital, or of receiving a maximum pension of 1s. 6d. a day, on which they might live in comfort and decency. If the scheme was carried out Parliament would have the satisfaction of knowing that no man who had worthily served his country would be in danger of the workhouse. He would now say a few words as to the relation between the Royal Navy and the merchant service. The House were aware that there existed an excellent institution called the Seamen's Hospital. Since 1831 that institution had done much for the national honour with scarcely any aid from the national purse. The Hospital was ordinarily in the Dreadnought, an old ship-of-war; but in cholera times the managers had used an additional ship as an Hospital. The inconvenience of having the sick on shipboard had been felt so strongly that the society had endeavoured to build a Hospital on land, but it was found that to erect a suitable one would cost £80,000. The question was, whether that society might not be benefited by the nation in a way that would not entail any national charge. He had shown that it was highly probable that after a short time the infirmary at Greenwich might not be required for its present purposes. In such case, would it not be well to hand that infirmary over to the society which conducted the Seamen's Hospital? As to the old seamen, the Government had very carefully considered their claim on Greenwich, and the Government were of opinion that they had no legal claim on it. As, however, the Government were prepared to acknowledge that these old seamen had a moral claim upon them, he would not enter into the question at any length. It would be sufficient to say that those who paid this Greenwich sixpence were allowed to count their enforced payment as a payment towards an annuity guaranteed by the Government, and to which they could look forward as a certainty. But when the Merchant Seamen's Fund was wound up in 1851, and the money handed over to the Government, certain onerous conditions were attached to the payment of these pensions—the recipients were not to engage in any other employment, or to be receiving parochial relief. The Government considered that these old men were somewhat harshly treated. Therefore, by way of acknowledging the intimate connection between the two ser- vices—by way of acknowledging that these old men were, if not harshly, at any rate somewhat inconsiderately treated in the year 1851, and above all, in order to remove that deep grievance which rankled in the heart of every merchant seaman—the Government had determined to hand over to the Board of Trade a sum not exceeding £4,000 a year, which sum was to be given in pensions of £3 8s. to men, and £6 16s. to masters, the condition of the pension being that the pensioner should have actually paid the Greenwich 6d. for the space of ton years. These old men always thought they had some claim on Greenwich Hospital, and therefore he thought the Government had taken a very wise course in removing a grievance which existed among a very numerous class of men, whose affection to their sovereign and their country was of the very greatest importance. The Government had not only adhered to the spirit of the recommendations of the Committee as regarded the main provisions of the Bill, but they had accepted several of the Committee's smaller suggestions, and they proposed to abolish the office of Controller over the local receivers, relying, for their check, on the honesty of those receivers, and on the auditor and the securities which he gave. The Government, in the framing of this measure, had been anxious that every penny belonging to the Greenwich Hospital should be expended upon the seamen of the Royal Fleet in a manner most advantageous to the seamen, and with that object they were anxious to cut down all unnecessary establishments and to abolish the remains of a great system of semi-sinecures. He had now gone through the main provisions of the Bill; and had likewise explained to the Committee, as he best could, those arrangements which were within the power of the Board of Admiralty to carry out by means of the Board's own orders. The objects for which the scheme was devised were very simple and yet not unimportant nor ignoble. The Government was desirous to devote every penny of the funds of Greenwich Hospital to the benefit of those for whom the Hospital was founded in the manner which by a rare coincidence was believed to be best for them, and which they believed to be best for themselves. It was desirous, with this end in view, to cut down unnecessary establishments, and to destroy the last relics of a great system of semi-sinecures. It looked forward, and, what was more, looked forward with confidence, to the day when no seaman who had done his duty to his Queen and country need choose between beggary and the parish; when, instead of the benefits of the Hospital being confined as in 1857 to its 1,000 questionable inmates, every genuine mariner of the Royal Navy might come within the circle of its beneficent influence—when the Greenwich pensioner, instead of dragging on a dull existence, pinched by want of money, and worried by monastic rules, might live among his children and grandchildren in the full tide of village gossip, or in some fishing hamlet or seaport town, among the associations of that calling which, to the end of his days, never loses its attraction and interest to the true sailor.


thanked the hon. Member on behalf of a gentleman who was no longer a Member of the House, but who presided over the Admiralty Committee last year, and whoso labours on this subject were of great service; he referred to Mr. Du Cane, to whom the hon. Gentleman had paid a just and honourable tribute. He was glad to hear his hon. Friend say that the Bill would be a complete measure, and that what was to be done was to be done once for all. That was different from the spirit in which previous Greenwich Hospital Bills had been framed, for hitherto a Greenwich Hospital Bill had been brought in, on the average, about every other year. That shifty legislation depended very much, however, on the fluctuating character of the hon. Gentleman's own position; for Greenwich Hospital seemed to be generally a hobby with Civil Lords of the Admiralty, who did not always agree in their views, and possibly whoever succeeded the hon. Gentleman might introduce a novel scheme of his own for the management of the Hospital. It was not for the good of the Hospital that the views as to the system of management should be continually changing, and therefore he hoped this Bill would contain the elements of stability and permanence. He was glad something was to be done for old merchant seamen; but he wished to know whether men belonging to the Navy, who were incapacitated by wounds or disease acquired in the ser- vice, and unable to provide for themselves, would be entitled either to the 1s. 6d. a day, or, if they did not choose to accept that, to admission to the Hospital as an infirmary. There were many men who might have no relations or friends, and to whom even a pension of 1s. 6d. a day would be very little real benefit. Such men might prefer, if they could, to go into the Hospital. He was glad that the stringency of the conditions of admission was to be relaxed, because as long as it was insisted upon that a man should serve a certain time before he could receive a pension—and only pensioners could be admitted—many deserving persons would be excluded from the benefits of the Hospital—a result which he did not think was the intention of the founders. With regard to the finance part of the question he should be perfectly content to leave it in the hands of his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty. In giving up any part of the Hospital to the Dreadnought, he trusted that it would be made an absolute condition that that portion should again be at the service of the country if any public emergency should render it necessary that the whole of the establishment should be made use of for the Royal Navy. That must be an absolute condition. In regard to the merchant service, he had always been of opinion that they had not any legal claim to the benefits of the Hospital; but, at the same time, there was a moral claim, and he was glad that it was to be recognized by the payment of £4,000 a year to the Board of Trade, to be applied in pensions to the most deserving old seamen of the merchant service who had formerly paid the Greenwich sixpence. He quite approved the spirit in which this free gift was made.


expressed his thanks for the care and attention bestowed upon the Bill, and for the general principles upon which it was founded, believing that it would increase the efficiency of of the Hospital and utilize its property. It was not suprising that the subject had been taken up by successive Civil Lords of the Admiralty, seeing that the establishment charges had absorbed so large a proportion of the revenue, and he thought he saw a guarantee that this evil at least would be remedied, in the proposal to put an end to the establishment altogether. He concurred in the opinion that merchant seamen had no legal claim, and, of course, if they had one, the assertion of it would not require the intervention of Parliament; but they had a very high moral claim, in consequence of the enforced exaction of a portion of their money for many years, and he was glad that the Government recognized the claim, and he hoped the recognition would be approved by Parliament. In the borough he represented there were twenty or thirty merchant seamen in the union workhouse, and, no doubt, their condition would be alleviated by the proposals of the Bill; and in the same borough there were between 300 and 400 sailors of the mercantile marine who had paid the Greenwich sixpence. In the name of all these men he thanked the hon. Gentleman and the Government for the recognition of their claims. A matter which demanded careful attention was whether the vast estates of the Hospital should be retained or whether they might not be realized and the money invested, as such realization would still further reduce the cost of managing the estates, and thus leave a large sum for distribution amongst those entitled to its benefits.


, after stating that nothing could be more satisfactory than the explanation made by his hon. Friend, replied to questions which had been asked. The payment of 1s. 6d. a day was considerably more than was given for out-door relief, and was quite sufficient to keep an old seaman out of the workhouse. Such seamen, however, would have no absolute right to go into the Hospital instead of receiving the 1s. 6d. per day. That would be a matter in the discretion of the authorities. As to the Dreadnought, it was only proposed to hand over to the Committee the Infirmary, if it were not required for seamen of the Navy. There was already power to sell the estates, and it might be exercised under certain circumstances, but that right would have to be exercised with great caution. There was no more unfortunate financial measure than the sales of the Greenwich Hospital estates by Sir James Graham in 1831; they involved the Hospital in great loss; and its income would have been much larger now if the sales had never been made. The establishment charges, which had been one-half the income, were now reduced to one-seventh.

Motion agreed to.

Bill to make better provision respecting Greenwich Hospital, and the application of the Revenues thereof, ordered to be brought in by Mr. TRE-VELYAN, Mr. CHILDERS, and Mr. ADAM.