HC Deb 26 May 1870 vol 201 cc1442-61

Sir, I ask the kind indulgence of the House whilst I bring before it a subject of great importance—namely, the right of naval officers when on half-pay to exercise all the rights and privileges of English citizens. The immediate cause of the Notice which I have given is to be found in a speech addressed by an hon. Member, whom I see present, to this House on the subject of the West African Squadron. He, with some geographical incoherence as it seemed to me, drew the House upon this Notice into a China debate, and then thought it his duty to comment in very disparaging terms upon the conduct of some naval officers in that part of the world, whose only fault seems to have been obedience to orders and gallant performance of duty. Two of these gallant seamen, Admiral Sir Henry Keppel and Commander Gurdon, are Norfolk men, of whom Norfolk is proud; and they were so well defended by their hon. Member on that night, that the hon. Member who brought forward the consideration of the West Coast of Africa Squadron stated to the House that he had no desire to attack their personal characters. Perhaps that hon. Member does not know how sensitive naval officers are as to their honour, and is not aware that to call naval officers pirates is attacking their honour. Be that as it may, Commander Gurdon, so soon as he saw the debate, and observed that his character had been maligned, did what many others do—he sought redress and relief in a letter addressed to The Times. The letter did him honour. It was temperate and discreet, and merely quoted official correspondence, then in the hands of hon. Members, to show that he had carried out the orders of his superiors in a gallant and faithful manner. Well, a few days after another hon. Member addressed a Question to the First Lord of the Admiralty as to the right of a naval officer on half-pay to write such a letter. I have consulted with my right hon. Friends the Members for Tyrone and Droitwich, and they say that to such Question they would have replied that the matter was beyond their jurisdiction, and that they had nothing to do with it. A Question indeed might, perhaps, have been addressed to you, Mr. Speaker, for Commander Gurdon, though in most respectful terms, did introduce the name of an hon. Member into his letter, and in so doing perhaps violated the privileges of this House. I am quite sure that you would have done all that might be needful to protect the freedom of debate; but as this indiscretion has frequently occurred of late, I am sure you would have done so without damaging the prospects of this gallant young officer. The First Lord of the Admiralty, however, returned an answer which very much surprised many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who have been connected with the Board of Admiralty. As far as I recollect, the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty replied in these terms to the Question of the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. R. Shaw)— I beg to say that my attention was drawn to a letter published in a newspaper by a Commander in the Navy commenting on debates in this House, and that by the 12th chapter of the Queen's Regulations officers are forbidden to write to any newspaper on subjects connected with the naval service, or publish, or cause to be published, directly or indirectly, in any newspaper or other periodical, any matter or thing relating to the public service. There is no doubt that the publication of that letter was not in accordance with the regulation I have just read; but I am bound to say that this regulation has been, both lately and for some time past, so frequently violated by officers of much higher rank than the officer to whom I presume my hon. Friend alludes, that I should think it far from fair if I took public notice of this letter, considering that others have committed the same irregularity without any notice being taken of it. Under these circumstances, it is not my intention to take any public notice of this proceeding; but the attention of myself and my Colleagues has been given to this subject, and before long we propose to take such steps with reference to the Queen's Regulations, as in our opinion will be advisable, with a view to preventing a repetition of irregularities in this respect. Now, the House will observe in this reply three points which require its attention. First, the First Lord of the Admiralty asserts that naval officers on half-pay are not free to write letters to the public journals; second, he promises that Commander Gurdon shall not suffer for writing; third, that the Board are about to issue more stringent Regulations to prevent officers writing letters to the Press.

I propose to examine the second of these propositions first, to see in what way the Board keeps faith with naval officers, and how the First Lord has fulfilled his promise that Commander Gurdon should not suffer for doing what he had a perfect right to do. Commander Gurdon has written me a letter, which, with the permission of the House, I will now quote. It will show the manner in which he has been treated after the First Lord's public statement that no notice was to be taken of his having written a letter to a newspaper. With the per- mission of the House I will read an extract from Commander Gurdon's letter. He writes— As I see that your question of any law against half-pay officers writing to the papers is coming on, I take the liberty of writing to acquaint you with the particulars of my case. I wrote what I believe everybody acknowledges a very temperate letter to two papers, pointing out several inaccuracies in Mr. Rylands' speech. Three or four days afterwards I went to the Admiralty, to ask for the appointment of Commander of the Clio, which my old friend Commodore Stirling (whom I had served with previously) desired me to do. On asking Sir Sydney Dacres for the appointment, he said to me—'I shall not give you the appointment, Captain Gurdon, because you have been writing to the papers.' I mentioned that, being on half-pay, I conceived that I had a perfect right to do so, more especially as I had been attacked. Sir Sydney told me that I had no such right—that the Admiralty had determined to put a stop to officers writing in the papers, and then said—'You are not fit to be a commander of a ship if you write in the papers.' Commodore Stirling stated in his telegram to me that he expected to sail in three days. I may add that on my speaking to Sir Sydney Dacres three weeks before about this appointment, he then told me that Captain Stirling should have anyone he asked for as commander On my reminding him of this he said—'Ah, but you had not written to the papers then.' This is the way in which the present Board fulfils the promises made by the First Lord to the House of Commons. Commander Gurdon is one of the youngest and most distinguished Commanders now on the list; yet, stung by the treatment he has received, he has resigned his commission. I perceive that the First Lord of the Admiralty shakes his head. I understand from this letter that Commander Gurdon has sent in his resignation. Of course, I cannot say whether the First Lord has accepted his resignation; but I am not surprised at his intention to resign after the scandalous treatment to which he has been subjected. I understand that the Admiralty, to avoid an unpleasant scrape, have stated that Commander Gurdon is too junior a commander to receive the appointment to the Clio. The House will judge of the value of this excuse, for if they look at the official Navy List they will find that Commanders Fisher, Durrant, and Sheepshanks are all junior to Commander Gurdon, but are all employed. But if the treatment of Commander Gurdon is scandalous and contrary to the pledge given by the First Lord to the House, I also contend that his whole reply is founded on an entire misapprehension of the law. The only clause which in any way forbids any naval officer to write a letter to the papers is the 12th clause of the Queen's Regulations. This clause is in the chapter on Discipline. It is as follows:— Every person belonging to the Fleet is forbidden to write to any newspaper on subjects connected with the naval service. The chapter on Discipline contains instructions to those who are embarked and employed in the Fleet on full-pay, and the Regulations themselves are addressed "To the Flag Officers, Captains, and Officers commanding Her Majesty's ships and vessels of war." A half-pay officer not only is not bound by them, but he may have no legal knowledge of their existence. Indeed, where, as in the case of receiving presents from those with whom he may have served, it is deemed desirable to guard against an officer retiring on half-pay to evade the Regulations, the phraseology is changed, and that clause is addressed to all the officers of Her Majesty's Navy. Indeed, if the right hon. Gentleman had turned to Article 70, the last clause of the chapter on Discipline, and generally considered to govern it, he would have found that Article 70 declares— Officers, &c., shall, so long as they are borne on the books of the ship, be deemed to be persons in and belonging to Her Majesty's Navy, and subject, &c., to the Naval Discipline Act. It will be seen from this that "belonging to the Fleet" and borne on the books of; Her Majesty's ships must qualify the condition of naval officers over whose power to write letters the Admiralty can claim any control. Why, Sir, the only power the Admiralty has to issue and enforce these Regulations is contained in the Act for the Government of the Navy, passed in 1861, and the Naval Discipline Act, passed in 1864. Clause 83 of the Naval Discipline Act thus provides— Every person in or belonging to Her Majesty's Navy, and borne on the books of one of Her Majesty's ships in commission, shall be subject to this Act; and all other persons hereby made liable thereto, and all spies, shall be triable and punishable under this Act; and the First Lord has no power whatever to extend the application of this law to officers on half-pay. No such attempt has been made for more than a century. In 1749, indeed, an attempt was made to bring half-pay officers under the authority of martial law; but it met with a defeat at the hands of the then House of Commons; and I trust that the present House will not be less vigilant for the rights and liberties of any class of Her Majesty's subjects than was its predecessor in 1749. I quote from Mc Arthur on Courts Martial, Vol. I., cap. ix.— The Bill for amending, explaining, and reducing into one Act of Parliament the laws relating to His Majesty's Navy, when it was first presented to the House (Feb. 1, 1749), contained an article rendering the half-pay officers subject to martial law, in the same manner as if they were on full-pay. As this was a subject that had never been canvassed, it met strong opposition. The reading of the Bill was put off till the 24th of February, at which time a petition was presented against it by Sir John Norris, and supported by Sir Peter Warren. This Petition was signed by three admirals and 47 captains. In the subsequent readings and progress of the Bill (April, 1749) this article occasioned warm debate, and the Minister, Mr. Pelham, beginning to apprehend some disagreeable consequences from the spirit then manifested without doors, yielded to the Opposition, and agreed that the article should be omitted. Further on in the same volume it stated that in 1785— The court-martial appointed to try General Ross respecting a letter written by him reflecting on General Boyd, met to receive the opinion of the 12 Judges on the point submitted to them—viz., whether General Ross, as an officer on half-pay, was subject to the tribunal of a court-martial. The Judges gave an unanimous opinion—'That he was not, as a half-pay officer, subject to military law.' The offence with which General Ross was charged was exactly the same as that with which Commander Gurdon has been charged; and I venture to say that if it was referred to the Bench of Judges they would affirm the judgment of their predecessors, and decide that the First Lord of the Admiralty has not only exceeded his powers but mistaken the law. The right hon. Gentleman has exceeded the most arbitrary act that any of his predecessors have ever attempted, for he has refused employment to Commander Gurdon, a most distinguished young officer, for having done that which he, being on half-pay, had a perfect right to do. A more unjust and uncalled-for act has, in my opinion, never been perpetrated by a Minister of the Crown. The subject of officers on half-pay writing to newspapers has come before the Admiralty on several occasions. When that very excellent scientific officer Captain Coles was on full-pay during the building of the Captain, he entered into a very stormy correspondence in the newspapers, which appeared to reflect upon the Admiralty; but even in that case the Admiralty did not take proceedings against him, but had merely cautioned him against a repetition of such conduct. In the case of another distinguished officer, known to many Members of this House, the late Sir William Bowles, who was appointed Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth in 1863, and who became engaged in a correspondence in the newspapers, the Admiralty of the day, thinking it improper that the correspondence should be continued, Sir William Bowles resigned his command, and continued the correspondence as an officer on half-pay, a proceeding which the Admiralty felt they had no right to object to. The course which has been taken by the present First Lord of the Admiralty is not only unjust, but imprudent and impolitic, because it tends to induce officers to write to newspapers anonymously instead of under their own names. Should the officers cease to place their signatures at the foot of their letters to newspapers, it might be possible that they might attack their superiors more freely than is at present the case—not that I believe for a moment that those gallant gentlemen are likely to be guilty of such conduct. The right hon. Gentleman has taken the step he has done in this matter in order that he may attempt to introduce a regulation which has never been attempted since 1749. The right hon. Gentleman is the last person who ought to have attempted to stop officers writing to the newspapers, inasmuch as when he took the command of the Channel Fleet he took with him his own reporter on board his ship to write criticisms upon the conduct of gallant officers who, being officers on full-pay, were precluded from writing to the newspapers in their own defence. Under these circumstances, the right hon. Gentleman should be the last to attempt to muzzle those who, having been called "pirates," sought to defend themselves from the imputations cast upon them, and in making such an attempt he is doing that which he has no business to attempt. It is under these circumstances, and for the reasons I have assigned, that I beg to ask the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty to lay upon the Table of the House any Regulation which prohibits Naval Officers on half-pay or retired pay from writing letters to the public journals; and to move, That any new Regulation on the subject which may be decided upon by the Board of Admiralty, be laid upon the Table of the House.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "any new Regulation prohibiting Naval Officers on half-pay or retired pay from writing letters to the public journals which may be decided upon by the Board of Admiralty be laid before this House,"—(Sir John Hay,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has spoken at so great length compared to what I had expected from him upon this subject, has ended his statement with a facetious remark, which is as little founded as I shall be able to show are the charges contained in the earlier part of his speech. He states that on a recent occasion, when the Admiralty went to sea with the combined fleets, I had employed a person on board the flag-ship as reporter for a certain newspaper, and that he made observations which could not be answered by the very numerous persons to whom they referred. I will at once dispose of that assertion by stating that on board several of the ships, by permission of the commanding officers, there were present persons who afterwards wrote very interesting accounts of what passed during the cruise, which appeared in the newspapers; but I was not responsible for what happened in this respect on board one ship more than another; and on the whole, the persons who wrote those accounts reflected more upon the Admiralty than upon anyone else. Therefore, I think I am justified in saying that upon that point, at all events, the hon. and gallant Gentleman has drawn upon his imagination. Passing from that subject, however, I will now proceed to deal with the main question of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. About two months ago a debate arose in this House, nominally upon the strength of the fleet upon the West Coast of Africa, but which really branched out into matters that related to the fleets generally. During that debate allu- sion was made to circumstances connected with several officers who had been employed upon the China Station, and two very young officers, whose conduct had been the subject of some correspondence during the previous year, and had not been entirely approved by the Admiralty, although they had exhibited very considerable gallantry, were particularly referred to. Under these circumstances it became my duty to defend these officers as well as other officers who had been personally alluded to in the course of the discussion. A day or two after that debate took place these two young officers felt disposed to write to the newspapers with the view of questioning the accuracy of some of the statements that had been made in the course of the debate. One of them having consulted a relative of his who has a seat in this House, was advised not to enter into such a correspondence, and he very properly acted upon that advice; the other, however, unfortunately did not take that prudent course, and wrote a letter to the newspapers on the subject on which he felt himself aggrieved. The attention of the public having been drawn to the subject, an hon. Member (Mr. R. Shaw) asked in this House whether it was my intention to take any notice of the letter written by that officer. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has pretty fully, but not quite accurately, as far as words go, given the substance of my reply to the Question. What I did state on that occasion was, that it had been of late, not unfrequently, the custom for officers to write letters to the newspapers of the nature of those that had been written by this gentleman, and that, therefore, I thought that it would have been very unfair if I had taken notice of this particular officer's conduct when others who had written similar letters had not been interfered with. I said that it was not my intention to do so, and I further stated generally what was the Admiralty Regulation upon this subject. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has, from these observations, jumped to a very wide conclusion—namely, that I intended or wished to bring half-pay officers under the Naval Discipline Act; and he has entered into an argument to show that for many years past it has been understood that officers on half-pay should not be subjected to naval discipline. I will not enter into any argument on the question, for every tyro in politics must know well that it is one of the most vital constitutional principles, that officers on half-pay are not subject to the Naval Discipline Act; and any First Lord of the Admiralty who attempted to bring an officer on half-pay before a court-martial would deserve the censure of this House. The hon. and gallant Gentleman, therefore, was quite wrong in assuming that I had any idea of subjecting officers on half-pay to naval discipline. There is, however, another, and a very different question—namely, whether officers on half-pay are in such a position that it is not competent for the Admiralty under any circumstances to take notice of anything done by them.


said, he was quite aware that in cases of felony and of conduct unbecoming a gentleman, the Admiralty would have power to take notice of the conduct of officers on half-pay.


Exactly; although I should have thought that it would scarcely have been necessary to consider whether the Admiralty could take notice of the conduct of officers who have been guilty of felony. But what would be the consequences of the doctrine laid down in his speech by the hon. and gallant Member? If the view of the hon. and gallant Member were carried out—and, except as to cases of felony, a half-pay officer was to be treated as an ordinary civilian in private life—what was there to prevent him from publishing information which he might have obtained while employed, or threatening to do so, or to enter into newspaper controversies, unless employment was given to him? Let me remind the House what a half-pay naval officer now is. At the present moment, to a considerable extent, and soon I hope almost universally, a half-pay officer is a public servant who has lately been on full-pay, and who is urging the Admiralty to re-employ him. Surely it cannot be said that he is, under those circumstances, to have no more reticence with respect to newspaper writing or controversies than any ordinary civilian. I will illustrate this by examples taken from other articles in the Queen's Instructions, which the hon. and gallant Gentleman says do not relate to half-pay officers. The article as to newspaper writing is the 12th in the chapter as to Discipline. The 13th for- bids officers to receive presents from foreign Sovereigns or States. If this does not refer to half-pay officers, what is to prevent an officer the day after he strikes his flag or goes on half pay from receiving presents for service done while employed? So, the 12th article prohibits an officer from being "complimented" by presents or by collective expressions of opinion on the part of officers and men of the fleet. Will anyone pretend that the day after he goes on half-pay he would be allowed to receive such presents or testimonials? Again, the 11th article prohibits combinations of officers to bring about alterations of regulations, especially as to pay. Is it to be understood that while officers on full-pay may not combine to get their full pay raised, officers on half-pay may combine for such a purpose? Such a doctrine would be destructive of the discipline of the service. The real fact is, that while half-pay officers are not subject to naval discipline—that is to say, cannot be tried by court-martial, they are like all other public servants, bound to obey the lawful Regulations of the Service laid down by competent authority, and applying to them, and may be reprimanded or refused employment for breach of those Regulations. As to newspaper writing, this is by no means a new question. The matter has been very carefully considered, and decided in the most unmistakable manner by previous Boards of Admiralty. In 1849, Sir Charles Napier, while on half-pay, wrote several letters to Lord John Russell, then Prime Minister, through The Times newspaper, reflecting upon the administration of the Navy, and Sir Francis Baring, then First Lord of the Admiralty, with whom it appears he had had an interview and some conversation, wrote to him disapproving officially of the correspondence, and informing him that he had "set a most unfortunate example to the naval service, for having made such attacks on those to whom Her Majesty had intrusted the administration of the Navy," complimenting him "for his professional character, but doubting his discretion." This drew an impetuous letter from Sir Charles Napier to the Board, asking their protection against Sir Francis Baring's remark on his want of discretion. Sir Charles was informed in reply that, in the opinion of their Lordships, he had evinced considerable want of judgment and discretion in the publication of these letters. The Board at that period consisted of Admirals Deans-Dundas, and Berkeley, and Captains Lord John Hay and Milne. I have examined the Papers left on record at that period, and find the greatest unanimity of opinion among these officers on the subject. Admiral Dundas says— I highly disapprove of the improper mode Sir Charles Napier has adopted of stating his opinion and grievances on naval affairs. Admiral Berkeley says that "it is a bad example to junior officers." Lord John Hay states that he— Cannot admit the circumstances of Sir Charles Napier being on half-pay sanction in any degree a practice dangerous to the discipline and best interests of the naval service. Sir Alexander Milne, now in command of the Mediterranean Station, and Senior Naval Lord of the Admiralty during the last Administration— Recommends that Sir Charles Napier should be informed that their Lordships deeply regret he should have adopted a course likely to prove mischievous in its results, and that by so doing he has shown a most pernicious example to the junior officers of the fleet, tending in a high degree to subvert the discipline of the service. Nothing could be further from my wish than to prevent officers on half-pay writing temperately to newspapers, as long as the subject of their correspondence does not relate to their own services, but to matters connected with the service generally. I agree that the public often gains much from the free and open discussion of general naval questions by officers on half-pay; and it would be most impolitic to interfere with the absolute liberty of half-pay officers in this respect; but the discussion must be general and not personal to themselves, I admit that in parts of the Queen's Regulations there is considerable ambiguity with regard to their application to officers on half-pay, and it is desirable that that ambiguity should be cleared up. When we have an opportunity of revising the Regulations in this respect, care will be taken to lay down the principle which I have endeavoured to explain, and I should hope that the present misapprehension will be entirely removed. With regard to the particular officer whose letter is referred to, I have heard with some surprise the statement of the hon. and gallant Baronet. I have already stated in this House that it would be very unfair to punish that gentleman for an act which I think he ought not to have committed, but which had been committed by others, and which I did not intend to take notice of. He is, I believe, the youngest commander in the service, or, at all events, one of the youngest, being only 25 years of age, and it is very rare that officers of that rank are employed until they are three or four years older. He stands almost at the bottom of the list, and the House must remember how great would be the complaint from senior officers, who have been for years unemployed, if he were selected for employment on full-pay in preference to them. He was distinctly told when he applied for employment some time before he wrote this letter, that he must wait his turn, and I still see no reason why he should be appointed to a ship in preference to many others. If there has been any misunderstanding as to words used by officers at the Admiralty to this young officer I will do my best to set it right; but on the general question, I wish it to be perfectly clear that I have not the remotest intention of interfering with the absolute liberty of officers on half-pay to write temperately on any subject which does not relate to their own services.


remarked that he had never heard a clear statement from the right hon. Gentleman, who was an adept in that species of oratory which was only to be acquired in official circles. On the present occasion the right hon. Gentleman had utterly and entirely shirked the question. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Rylands), who occupied the singular position of representing a minority, had endeavoured, to distinguish himself by taking part in questions which he knew nothing whatever about; and, on this subject, he had only shown the most utter, and miserable, and wretched ignorance. The hon. Gentleman had brought forward a Motion for reducing our foreign squadron. He (Sir James Elphinstone) should like to know whether the hon. Gentleman ever saw a squadron? The hon. Gentleman had calumniated two of the finest; young officers in the service, making statements which were actually inconsistent with the facts of the case: he described the inhabitants of Formosa, who were the greatest miscreants in the world, as the "peaceful inhabitants of Formosa." Now, ever since he first went to sea, it had been as much, as a man's life was worth to be wrecked on the island of Formosa. The natives were mere banditti, who defied the law of nations, and over whom the Chinese had no control. The hon. Member made the most calumnious accusations.


rose to Order. "Calumnious" was not a word which ought to be used by one hon. Member when speaking of the statements of another.


said, the word had been called in question before, when it was not considered to be a word which was un-Parliamentary.


said, he would adopt any word which went as near the Parliamentary margin as possible to describe the statements of the hon. Gentleman. They were such statements as the hon. Gentleman could not possibly substantiate. This young gentleman, one of the most promising officers in the Navy, wrote a most temperate letter, explaining the real circumstances of the case. Thereupon the hon. Gentleman got a Friend of his to ask whether an officer on half-pay was permitted to write such a letter. Now, if he had been the First Lord of the Admiralty, he should have said that such a letter was perfectly right, because this had no analogy with the case of Sir Charles Napier and the other cases cited by the right hon. Gentleman. Sir Charles Napier was a great Friend of his; but, he was not a very subordinate officer, and sometimes said things which he could not justify, although he truly loved him. With regard, however, to the gentleman whose case was under discussion, it might be true that he was one of the youngest commanders in the service, but he was not one of the least distinguished, for, under the most difficult circumstances, he had shown more than ordinary ability and gallantry, and he ought not to have been treated in the way in which he had been. The right hon. Gentleman, at all events, ought not to complain of what had been done, considering that he himself in his celebrated cruise had employed a reporter, who dated his letters from the gun-room of the Minotaur, and who enjoyed the sherry and biscuits and other luxuries which were usually found in a gun-room. The right hon. Gentleman, on that occasion, hoisted the Admiralty flag, and took upon himself the whole functions of an admiral of 50 years' service, though he had not been a Member of the House for 10 years. None of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessors, he believed, had ever hoisted the Admiral's flag. ["Question!"] As the House was about to discuss the Navy Estimates, he would take the opportunity of making a few more remarks. ["Order!"]


pointed out that the subject under discussion was the Amendment moved by the hon. and gallant officer (Sir John Hay).


said, he would support that Amendment, and reserve his other remarks for a future occasion.


said, that he would not follow the example of the hon. and gallant Member (Sir James Elphinstone) by using language calculated to excite animosity, nor would he descend to the use of personalities; but he would content himself by telling the hon. and gallant Member that the right by which e (Mr. Rylands) held his seat in that House was quite as good as the right by which the hon. and gallant Member held his seat. The hon. and gallant Member had charged him with ignorance; but he was not concerned at that, as he recollected that when Mr. Cobden in that House condemned the extravagant expenditure upon the Navy, there were always hon. and gallant Admirals on the other side who got up and told him that he knew nothing of what he was talking about. As he was now charged with being ignorant, he might return the compliment to the hon. and gallant Baronet, who had evidently never read the despatches upon which his statements were founded, and was quite ignorant of the Papers which had been laid upon the Table of the House. He (Mr. Rylands) stated no facts which were not contained in those Papers. And he must take exception to the remark made by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord, that the Admiralty had "not entirely approved" of the conduct of the young officers at Formosa. The fact was, that the Admiralty entirely condemned the conduct of those officers. ["No, no!"] Well, as there seemed to be some doubt upon that matter, he would read to the House some extracts from the despatches which he held in his hand, and which were contained in the Blue Book pre- sented last Session. On February 23, 1869, Mr. Hammond, under the direction of the Foreign Secretary, wrote to the Secretary to the Admiralty in these terms— There was clearly no occasion for these two subordinate officers to commit any acts of hostility whatever; any danger to life or property was, for the time at least, at an end, and had been so for many weeks; the question at issue was the amount of reparation which might be due to be ascertained by local inquiry, and not one to be adjusted by a precipitate recourse to reprisals by a subordinate, civil, or naval officer. Lord Clarendon further instructed Mr. Hammond to state to the Lords of the Admiralty that— His Lordship strongly disapproves of the proceedings on the part of the British officers concerned, and he sincerely trusts that the instructions recently sent to China will prevent the recurrence of these unnecessary acts of violence. Equally reprehensible in Lord Clarendon's view are the many particulars stated in the correspondence, whether as regards the guarantee of 40,000 dollars demanded by the Commander of the Algerine, or the two sums of 5,000 dollars each, one under the title of indemnity for expenditure of warlike stores in attacking the Chinese fort, the other under that of prize money, which were exacted from the Chinese authorities. Lord Clarendon directed that these sums of money should be immediately returned to the Chinese, and the conduct of the British officers "disavowed." The Admiralty sent out this letter of Lord Clarendon to Sir Henry Keppel, the Admiral of the Chinese station, and concurred in this "unmistakeable" judgment upon Lieutenant Gurdon's conduct. He (Mr. Rylands) thought he safely considered that these despatches entirely justified the statements he made on a former occasion. But his object in drawing attention to the subject was to condemn the line of conduct pursued in China, and not from the slightest wish to injure Lieutenant Gurdon. Nor did he desire that any further notice should be taken of that gallant officer's letter to the papers, though he entirely supported the action of the Admiralty in the matter. The effect of Commander Gurdon's letter was to justify his conduct at Formosa, which had been condemned by his official superiors; and it must be contrary to the proper discipline of the Navy if officers were allowed to act in this manner, and he hoped, therefore, that the House would support the First Lord of the Admiralty in laying down such rules as would prevent in future insubordinate criticism in the newspapers on the part of members of the public service, in defence of conduct which had met with animadversion from, their superiors.


said, he should merely allude to the cruise of his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty with the Channel Squadron last year so far as to express a hope that the precedent then set would not be followed by anyone holding the same position in future. The precedent of Sir Charles Napier was not, in his opinion, applicable in the present instance, inasmuch as, if he remembered rightly, the letters of that gallant officer were written to the Board of Admiralty, and strongly censured not only the Board but Her Majesty's Government; whereas in the case under discussion the letter written was written by a gallant officer solely in defence of his own honour, which had been most unjustly and improperly assailed by the hon. Gentleman opposite. But the point to which he wished particularly to draw attention was the discrepancy between the language of the First Lord of the Admiralty with regard to Commander Gurdon and the treatment which that officer received at the hands of the First Naval Lord. His right hon. Friend opposite, if he remembered rightly, told the House that Commander Gurdon should not suffer for his conduct in China; but he had suffered. There seemed to be some great mystery in the case; but it, at all events, appeared that Commodore Stirling offered Commander Gurdon the command of the Clio when he was appointed to the Australian Station, and that when he went to the Admiralty to claim the command Sir Sydney Dacres said—"You cannot have it; you have written a letter to the newspapers." It was no use, therefore, to say that Commander Gurdon would not suffer, for he actually had suffered, and that, notwithstanding the First Lord of the Admiralty had declared in that House that he should not. Those facts did not, in his opinion, speak well for the new state of things at the Admiralty.


explained that Commander Gurdon was distinctly informed, in answer to his own application, some days before the letter to the newspapers was written, that he would not be appointed to the Clio.


stated that on behalf of his relative he had applied for the appointment some days before the letter was written, and he had been told by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Childers) that he could not have it because he was not advanced enough in the service.


asked whether, in accordance with the custom of the service, Commodore Stirling had not a right to nominate an officer to a command under him?


A commodore very frequently applies to be allowed to appoint his own commander; but it by no means follows that his application for a particular officer will be complied with, especially when that officer has been told on his own application that he cannot have the appointment.


said, he would have accepted in silence his right hon. Friend's disclaimer of any intention of extending military law to half-pay officers, but for the expressions that had fallen from the hon. Member for Warrington; and he was astonished to hear from any Member on the Liberal side of the House—and especially from one below the Gangway—a desire expressed to restrict free discussion among any class of Her Majesty's subjects. The hon. Member wished to tie the hands of naval officers in order that he might attack them with impunity. Did he also propose to apply to the Foreign Office for a similar restriction in the case of those Consuls in China whose conduct he had impugned? Officers in the Navy had certainly taken alarm in consequence of its being understood that Commander Gurdon had been refused employment solely on account of his having written a defence of his conduct in the newspapers. He (Admiral Erskine) was ready to admit that nothing could excuse the betrayal of official correspondence on the part of any officer, and that the Admiralty would be fully justified in noticing such an offence. But Commander Gurdon's letter was a moderate and modest statement, in which the only official communications alluded to were portions of published correspondence from our Minister and the Minister for the United States; and, in fact, his justification was that he had obeyed the orders of his superiors. But this was not merely a naval question, but one for the constituencies; and, as representing a large constituency, he claimed—al- though a half-pay officer—the fullest right to correspond publicly on any subject or in any manner he pleased, and he hoped we should hear no more of any proposed restrictions. His hon. and gallant Friend opposite (Sir John Hay) had alluded to attacks on officers made in the public prints during the late cruise of the First Lord of the Admiralty, by a gentleman writing from the very flag-ship of the Lord High Admiral, and who was himself at the time subject to military law, as being borne on that ship's books; whilst the officers so attacked were prohibited by the Queen's Regulations from making any reply to his censures. He (Admiral Erskine) had, in common with many naval men, read some of that gentleman's effusions with much amusement. In language strange to nautical ears he told us how one ship sailed "through the lee of another;" how, when the wind drew on one quarter of the fleet, studding-sails were set on the "opposite side;" and, in one of his last letters, he described, with great praise, a brilliant manœvure, when one ship was laid alongside of another, by what he called "flattening in the topsail-sheets," an operation which he would be bound to say nobody in the fleet understood but himself, unless it were the waggish midshipman who probably suggested the expression. As long as he confined himself to such topics, no great harm was done. Seamen, or even men who had ever seen a ship at a distance, smiled at such nonsense; whilst old ladies at their tea-tables were doubtless astonished at his learning, and wondered "how one small head could carry all he knew." But when it came to praise or to blame, the gentleman used no such ambiguous language. Officers of the highest rank and position were clearly designated and held up to public censure for acts of the most trifling character, and which it was clear, from what he had said before, he could know nothing about; whilst others, with whom he probably came into closer and more hospitable contact, were more favourably mentioned; whilst neither the one nor the other had the power to repudiate his praise or deny his right of censure. He put it to his right hon. Friend whether the toleration, on his part, of such proceedings was not injurious to his own authority, misleading to the public, and unjust to officers; and if this debate had the effect of stopping them for the future, besides having elicited from his right hon. Friend a repudiation of any intention to restrict the rights of a class of men as loyal and as amenable to authority as any of Her Majesty's subjects, some good would have been achieved by the discussion.


believed it to be the right of every Englishman to write to The Times; but the privilege of having a letter inserted was a very limited one, and he saw no reason why calumniated half-pay officers should be deprived of that privilege. With regard to Commander Gurdon, a blight had been thrown over the prospects of one of the most rising young officers in the Navy. The right hon. Gentleman had said that Commander Gurdon's promotion should not be retarded, and he (Mr. Read) hoped that employment would be offered him directly, which would be the best possible means of removing the impression that he had been unfairly treated by the Admiralty.

Amendment and Motion, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," by leave, withdrawn.

Committee deferred till To-morrow.