§ MR. HANBURY TRACY
, in rising to call attention to the system under which Her Majesty's ships are at present navigated, and to move—That, in the opinion of this House, the time has arrived when the maintenance of a separate and distinct branch of officers for navigating duties is no longer desirable in the interests of the Naval Service,1376 said: The question which I am desirous of bringing before the House is the present system under which our ships and vessels are navigated; and, although I much fear that the discussion must, to a great extent, prove uninteresting and technical, yet, as I believe it is a matter of the very gravest importance, I trust the House will allow me to go somewhat fully into the subject. Under the existing arrangement, it is well known that a separate class of officers formerly termed masters, now called navigating officers, is maintained for the distinct duty of what is termed navigation and pilotage, whereby it is supposed that a more competent set of navigators and pilots are obtained than could be procured if these duties were undertaken generally by the executive branch. I am anxious to show to the House, that even if it were necessary to have the duties restricted to one branch, that the present system has of late utterly broken down, and must be entirely remodelled; and, secondly, I wish to prove that the only true alteration and satisfactory solution must lie in the entire abolition of a separate grade, and in throwing these duties to a far greater extent than at present upon the captain and commander of a ship. I maintain, Sir, the knowledge of practiced navigation has of late been neglected very much by our executive officers, and it has become to be considered a totally secondary consideration, instead of being, as it certainly ought to be, of primary importance. Officers seem to forget that unless a ship is skilfully and safely navigated any other qualifications they may possess are of little avail, and they do not consider that unless a ship is properly handled and piloted, not only are the lives of all on board endangered, but she is rendered utterly and entirely useless. It seems to me perfectly absurd and ruinous in the highest degree to allow our officers to look upon these duties as trivial; and yet, Sir, unhappily, the long list of vessels which have got ashore during the past 10 years seems to prove conclusively that this state of feeling is spreading, and that there is something radically wrong in the system under which our vessels are navigated. In the present day, the handling of one of our large ironclads is no easy task, and is a very different thing to what it was in the days of sailing vessels, You 1377 go now at terrific rates of speed—18 and 20 knots an hour; you have huge and clumsy vessels to deal with, and the difficulties are increased ten-fold. At no period of our history was it ever so essential to guard with the most scrupulous jealousy that the safe navigation of ships was in fit and proper hands; and yet, notwithstanding this, you still retain the old anomaly of having sea nurses for your captains with divided responsibility, and actually prevent your commanders and captains from acquiring that intimate knowledge of practical navigation and pilotage, and that confidence in themselves, which it is impossible for any impartial man to deny must render a captain infinitely more competent to command. You admit that in all the great passenger fleets—in the Cunard, in the Peninsular and Oriental Company, and in the whole Mercantile Marine of the world, and in every foreign navy—the captain is not only responsible in name, but in deed. It is considered in all those fleets that the captain, with proper assistance, is the only man who can do the work properly. He alone can alter the course, make and reduce sail, ease and increase speed, being the only person on board who is perfectly free and uncontrolled. He it is who is entrusted with the lives of all on board. But, Sir, in the English Navy—which you pride yourselves is the finest in the world, where you have vessels worth half a million of money, where you have interests committed to its charge of the greatest and most vital importance, second to none other—you entrust this great duty of navigating your ship to another officer, and that officer one who you take no trouble to render competent—an officer who, from the time he enters the service, seems to have no friend, is looked down upon, and is made a drudge of. You give this officer no authority—he cannot make the slightest alteration in the course without leave of the officer of the watch—you give him no social status equal to his brother officers; and, to crown all, you take away all prospect of promotion, and every inducement to become zealous and energetic.
Is it to be wondered at that high-spirited officers placed in this extraordinary position become discontented; and is it surprising that the other officers look upon the duties performed by the 1378 navigating branch as of secondary importance, and that your captains arrive at that rank without having paid any attention to what they consider the navigating officers' work—a duty of a separate branch? It is very easy to understand the theory which is sometimes advanced that pilotage and navigation are such peculiar duties, requiring such delicate and careful manipulation, such experience, such confidence, and such intimate acquaintance with harbours and vessels, that it is necessary to have picked officers for this particular duty, who, by devoting their lives to this one subject, become most able and skilful navigators, and that in this manner a superior race of pilots and navigators can be trained up. But, Sir, without going into the question for the moment as to whether or not it is beneficial to have this trained body of men, it is an actual fact—which I defy anyone to disprove—that at this present moment you have not got them, and that your navigating class, separate though they may be, actually receive no special training, and are not selected. If we look back two centuries, and even up to 50 years ago, we find to some extent that this theory of having a trained body of officers was carried out.
In Henry VIII.'s time, when war ships were first built, no attempt was made to organize a professional race of naval officers, and in lieu thereof masters of merchant ships were specially selected as good navigators, and were put in charge of the equipment, stowage, and navigation; and the fighting of the ships was entrusted to military admirals and captains quite innocent of all knowledge of seamanship; and thus soldiers fought the ship, and a few seamen were engaged to take the fighting machine about. As far as I can discover, the French first commenced to organize a naval profession in 1672, and we quickly followed suit, though retaining the masters of the merchant navy to assist.
Now, Sir, comes this extraordinary fact. I find that as the race of our naval officers grew up well trained in nautical knowledge, that when Lord Pembroke was First Lord of the Admiralty, in the year 1692, the evil of confining the professional knowledge of navigation to one man was found so great that an order was actually issued that all commanders of ships were to pass the Trinity House and be examined 1379 as master; and five years after, in 1697, we find another order was issued by Lord Orford that the race of masters were gradually to be abolished, and the captains of 6th rates were ordered to do the navigation duties themselves, and to be called "Commander and Master." This state of things appears to have remained in force until the breaking out of the French War, when, unfortunately, it was found necessary to expand the Navy enormously, and for this purpose a large number of masters were once more introduced into the service from the merchant navy. At the close of the French War the service had got so accustomed to trust to the master for the navigation that no one liked to abolish them; and as time went on they became indispensable, as officers neglected navigation more and more, and in many cases captains, when appointed to their ships, had been so long unemployed that they clung with the greatest tenacity to the master class. These old masters who were introduced were generally of a mature age; they brought with them experience, great practical ability, and their superior seamanship commanded respect. They also had great incentives to zealous work, and looked forward cheerfully to lucrative appointments, which were then open to them. In those days there was one special reason which prevented the line getting as strongly marked as it now is—namely, that a large number of midshipmen and mates were continually being sent away in prizes, and who thus at an early age acquired confidence and experience as navigators.
We thus see that up to the close of the French War the theory of having selected officers was carried out by introducing picked men from the merchant service who were thorough seamen, thorough navigators and pilots. But, Sir, from the year 1824 to this date this selection has, I fear, been entirely swept away. Who are now our specially trained and picked officers? Where do our officers obtain that knowledge which so peculiarly fits them as pilots, and which gives them such an intimate acquaintance with all the harbours and channels of the world? I fear that the answer to these questions cannot but show up the hollow farce which has been enacted since 1824. In that year you ceased to select from the merchant 1380 service, and commenced to rear up a special branch of navigators from lads of about 16 who were entered as masters' assistants. Unfortunately, Sir, this special training has been a perfect myth. You commenced by giving these nominations in many cases to boys who were very much inferior in general ability to your cadets in the other branch. Admiral Sulivan and Admiral Fanshawe gave rather strong evidence on the point before the Committee on Masters in 1862. Admiral Sulivan said—I have known those appointments given in succession to second-rate tradesmen's sons of a naval borough; so that I heard once a man who examined them say, that out of a long batch there was hardly one who had even the appearance of being a gentleman's son. I think that has not been so for many years now; I think that they are generally much of the same class as the executive rank.Admiral Fanshawe said—In the last ship that I was in, the masters' assistants were immeasurably inferior to the naval cadets in all the subjects of which tabulated forms came in to me, and in their studies under the naval instructor they were always the worst, and it was the same in other things. They were dull; they were not easily stirred up to compete, and there was not much emulation amongst them.Of course there have been bright exceptions, and several sons of old and distinguished officers have entered under these nominations; but still far too large a number of lads without ability or position have been considered sufficiently qualified to train up as navigators. Well, Sir, from the day these lads enter, instead of attempting to repair the damage of defective early education, every obstacle is thrown in their way against obtaining knowledge as seamen and navigators. You station your young navigating officer in the store rooms, holds, and tiers, instead of obliging them to be constantly on deck, where alone they can obtain an insight into their peculiar calling. I am well aware that of late years a slight improvement has been made in this respect, especially in the Mediterranean Station; but, practically, it is still in force generally throughout the service; and, as a matter of fact, I apprehend it cannot be denied that hardly any training is given to the navigating officers before they are placed in charge of vessels. Even when these officers are passing their examination, you do not allow them to go to the Naval College. Nobody seems to care for them; and it is 1381 a perfect marvel to me how they are able to get on at all. It is generally admitted that, in nine cases out of ten, these young officers gain their experience after they become navigating lieutenants. In the Baltic some very curious instances of this kind occurred. Admiral Sulivan, in his examination on this point, said—In the Baltic the second master of a flag-ship, when offered a death vacancy, went to the master of his own ship and said—'I am afraid to take it, I know nothing of pilotage and navigation, and I should be afraid to pilot the ship; what had I better do?' The master argued with him, and said—'You will soon pick it up, I dare say, and you will do as well as the others.' He took the post, feeling his incompetency.…… Some of the young masters in the Baltic were really so incompetent, that the things done there were almost incredible, and several captains complained to me of the utter uselessness of the masters, that, for the first time, they had been obliged to take the navigation and pilotage upon themselves, and learn it, as it were, because the masters were utterly useless; therefore it is clear that they had not had the training before they undertook the duties……… It is a mistake to suppose that you get a scientific body of officers, you get good practical sailors and navigators for the ordinary work of surveyed harbours, but place them on a new coast in a difficult position in an unsurveyed place, and they will be just as much adrift as the other officers.Admiral Key, who is well known as one of our most distinguished officers, alluded strongly to this point. He was asked by Captain Richards—Do you think, as a general rule, that the practical part of a navigating officer's duty is learnt after he becomes a navigating officer by experience afloat?—After he has become a master. Just so?—In the early part of my service, masters' assistants and second masters were educated in the holds of ships; and I have known a great many instances in which they have been suddenly brought on deck to be put into the position of masters of ships.I do not mean to imply that you have not some very competent navigating officers; but the result of this curious system is that you have frequently many of your ships in the greatest possible danger during the time that the navigating officer is acquiring experience. I can perfectly understand that some men should have such a high opinion of the difficulties of navigation as to think it necessary to train up a special class selected for that duty; but I cannot comprehend on what possible ground you can defend a special class without special qualifications. Can any reasonable man deny that if you have a navigating class they ought to be selected for their peculiar fitness for that office?
1382 Now, Sir, I hope it will not be thought that I wish to disparage or cast a slur on the navigating officers as a whole. I am well aware that you have among them some very clever and distinguished men. After these officers have acquired experience, many of them became very clever pilots and navigators, notwithstanding the continuous slight and annoyance they are daily subject to, and notwithstanding the fact that they are an isolated body without promotion to look forward to, or any real inducement being held out to them to work. Some nine years ago, when discontent had reached a point which could not be ignored, the Admiralty attempted to make the position of what was then, called masters somewhat more tolerable; but like most half measures, the remedy has completely failed in giving satisfaction. The name of master was then abolished, and the cognomen of navigating lieutenant and staff commander were introduced, making them retain, however, their old position as junior to the lieutenant of the watch. The result of this change has, I fear, rendered matters much worse. It has had the effect of drawing the line of a navigating class much sharper and clearer. Even the additional rank, which was given as a sop, with the extra amount of gold lace, has proved a matter of heartburning and soreness. You have not, and cannot do away with the peculiar inferior social status they are placed in. Unfortunately, there is still existing throughout the service an amount of grumbling and discontent which has the effect of making officers callous of their work, and must prove a source of weakness in time of danger. Navigating officers find themselves hampered at every turn in carrying out their duty—constant irritation must beget slovenly work. You may depend upon it that officers will not do their work efficiently when they are discontented.
I will not, Sir, dwell further on this part of my Motion. Whatever course it may be found necessary to take, I am confident that matters cannot remain as they are, and I think I have proved that even if you continue a separate class the present system is so unsatisfactory that it must be entirely remodelled. But, Sir, let us examine my second proposition—that the only sound remedy is total abolition and to throw these duties on the executive officers. During the last 10 1383 years there have been three Committees which have more or less examined into this subject, and have brought together a mass of most valuable evidence, a portion of which I will quote from. We have the Report of the Committee on Naval Promotion and Retirement; secondly, the Report of a Departmental Committee; and, thirdly, we have the Report of the Committee which inquired into the question of the Higher Education of Naval Officers. Captain Washington, the late Hydrographer of the Navy, drew up a very carefully expressed Memorandum, which he laid before the Committee of 1862. In this paper he shows very clearly the prejudicial effect this separate branch has on the other officers—I think it cannot be denied that the system of entrusting the pilotage and navigation of Her Majesty's ships to a single class, as masters, must have a tendency to beget indifference or inattention to those particular duties in the lieutenants and other officers of the main executive branch. It can hardly be expected that a young officer, who knows that when once he has passed his examination at the Naval College, he will probably never be called upon to navigate a ship, should keep up his knowledge of navigation or astronomy. The master is there to attend to such duties, and why should he give himself any trouble about it, unless an officer has a special taste for the subject, such as is, I fear, too generally the result. Whereas, by throwing the work and responsibility of navigating and piloting and conning the ship on the lieutenants and other officers of the executive branch, a more general acquaintance with those duties would be cultivated and diffused throughout the service; emulation would be encouraged, and those who might subsequently be called upon to command Her Majesty's ships, even if they had not performed the special duties of a navigating officer, could not fail to have a more general knowledge of those subjects, and thus prove far more efficient commanders and captains.Then, again, Sir, we have the strong testimony of Admiral Sulivan, and it must be remembered that both of these officers have been surveying captains, and therefore having studied the question in a practical form are most competent to form a true and unprejudiced opinion. Admiral Sulivan was asked—Do you think it would be beneficial to Her Majesty's Naval Service in general if the class of masters, second masters, and masters assistants, were done away with as a separate branch of the service?—Most decidedly. I think that the present system is merely the result of the old custom, when sailors only navigated ships, and soldiers fought them; and that has been handed down by degrees until the service is totally altered, and yet the anomaly of the separate class is retained; that is the only reason that I have ever been able 1384 to see in the slightest way for having two classes of executive officers in a ship.I know, Sir, that some officers think that these opinions are only shared by surveying officers. Indeed, I was gravely informed the other day, that no captains or admirals who had sailed with a fleet were in favour of the change.
Now, Sir, it so happens that we have unmistakable proof to the contrary. We have the recorded evidence before the Committees of seven admirals and 11 captains in favour of abolishing the separate grade as at present constituted. These names include some of our most distinguished officers, and they cannot fail to carry great weight in solving the question. We find amongst them Admirals Sir Spencer Robinson, Sir William Hall, Sir Frederick Nicolson, Sir B. Sulivan, Hon. J. Denman, Fanshawe, Cooper Key; Captains Goodenough, Corbett, Arthur, Moorman, Bradshaw, Chatfield, Shortland, Field, Rice, Rolland, and Nares. But, Sir, these are only names of officers who have given official evidence. I could, if it were required, quote a long list of other distinguished and gallant officers who are in favour of the change; but I have thought it best to confine myself exclusively to the evidence which is now on the Table of the House. The evidence of some of these officers is so much to the point that I hope the House will allow me to read a few extracts. I find that Admiral Fanshawe, who is now Commander-in-Chief on the North American Station, stated in evidence—I should propose that the regular naval service should do the masters' duty altogether, and that the masters should cease to exist as a separate class. I think now, taking the service as it is, that they are what might be called an unnecessary excrescence upon the service; it was not the case in olden times, but it is so now…… I feel very strongly now that the circumstances under which the masters were beneficial to the service as a separate class have passed away, and that being no longer beneficial to the service, it is very desirable to get rid of them as a separate class…… I think it stands to reason that a man who has had those duties to perform, and has navigated a ship, and had the responsibility attaching to it as lieutenant, would have perfect confidence in himself as a captain.Then Admiral Sir Frederick Nicolson, who was a Commodore, and was some years in China, stated—Many young officers work up their navigation so as to be able to pass their examinations, and then it dies away entirely out of their minds, 1385 But I do not see any difficulty in making captains entirely responsible for the navigation. I think that the divided responsibility between the captains and masters has always been a drawback, both with respect to the navigation and pilotage. I dare say, if the thing could be traced out, ships have got on shore, and may even have been wrecked, owing to that divided responsibility.Admiral Denman, who has only lately been in command of the Pacific Station, when asked if he would do away entirely with the masters as a class, said—I would. I think great advantage would accrue from it, as introducing more harmony into the service.And then he was asked—Would not the frequent change of the navigating officer on his promotion or otherwise deprive him of the experience necessary for the safe conducting of our large ships?—I do not think so at all. I think that the attention of some of our ablest officers would be constantly given to the subject, and all officers would give more attention to it than they do now. I think you will find that at the present moment that objection would apply to the masters of one half of our large ships—namely, that they are very young masters—masters of six or seven years standing. I consider that the special duties of a master are not in any degree more difficult to learn than the duties of seamanship in general; and that any man who is a thoroughly good seaman, and an educated man, could, in a very short time, acquire all the special knowledge which is required of a master.Admiral Ashley Cooper Key, who has been appointed to superintend the College at Greenwich, and is most deservedly regarded as one of the most scientific officers in the service, and one who probably knows more about the requirements of young officers than anyone else, was asked—You are aware that the question of the abolition of navigating officers as a separate class, has frequently been urged upon the Admiralty. Supposing that measure should ever be adopted, do you think there would be any difficulty in inducing sub-lieutenants and lieutenants to qualify themselves for the performance of navigating duties on board ship, including, of course, pilotage?—No; I do not think that there would be any difficulty whatever in finding a sufficient number of sub-lieutenants and lieutenants to qualify for those duties.The evidence of Admiral Sir W. Hall, well known as "Nemesis Hall," is also very important. This officer was at one time a master, and was promoted for gallant conduct in China. There is, perhaps, no one who from actual experience, first as master and then as captain of a ship, has a better right to be heard. He stated, before the Committee— 1386I have long been of opinion that the line of masters, from their not having sufficient rank, and not receiving that encouragement to which from their services they were entitled, ought to be done away with altogether, and that well-qualified lieutenants ought to be selected to navigate the ship, under the captain, and that the navigating lieutenant should undertake all the duties that the master has now to perform, with better pay, and the same chances of promotion as the other lieutenants. I have known, during my long service, many ships nearly lost by running on shore and foul of other vessels, for want of the authority which, as masters, they ought to have possessed. I have known the lead's-man taken out of the chains, the masthead-man called down to wash decks, and a request to just lower the peak, or hoist the jib, to clear danger, to have no attention paid to it by the lieutenant of the watch. In fact, there has always been a sort of jealousy and rivalry existing between the master and the other officers, and I have found that the public service suffers by it.Then, Sir, we have also the testimony of Mr. Pullen, a master of considerable standing, in favour of the change, and being in command of a vessel, he speaks from his experience, not only as a navigating officer, but also as a captain, thoroughly versed in these duties. He says—My opinion is, that you would add considerably to the efficiency of the officers in the service, if the masters, as a class, as they are at present, could be done away with. I am speaking now as a master in command of a ship; I think that the entire navigation of the ship, and all the responsibilities attached to it, ought solely to be entrusted to one person. I think that that is the duty of the captain of the ship.…… My ideas may be peculiar upon that point. I am in command of a ship myself, and in the position that I occupy, I feel that I could not tolerate any one in her to navigate under me—in fact, I do it all myself. I take the sole responsibility of whatever happens in that ship, and I am ready to abide by it myself. I could not leave it in the hands of another man to do this work for me. Moreover, when the captain of a ship has this responsibility, he will take care, whenever he is in pilot waters, that all the energies of the officers and the crew of the ship shall be devoted to looking after her safety.There is a great deal more of similar evidence; but what I have already quoted appears to me to prove that however badly the system may work, so far as it relates to the navigating branch, it is the source of far greater evil, of far greater mischief to the service generally. It is impossible to deny that lieutenants, commanders, and captains are lulled into a state of apparent security in all that relates to the navigation of the ship, owing to the presence on board of this special branch. They naturally 1387 reason that it is not their duty to look after the navigation, as that is in the hands of one man who has it under his peculiar guardianship. Directly a sub-lieutenant passes his examination at college he throws aside his books, being well aware that nearly all the subjects he has qualified in will never be required of him again. He may have gone through a brilliant examination in nautical astronomy, and may have, after an infinity of labour, come out the first or second on the list as an accomplished navigator, and yet from that very moment he is well aware that until the end of his career all incentive to continue his studies is gone. He knows that in future all he will have to do will be to send in a few formal days work to the captain, take a few sights during his watch, but that no practical work or real responsibility will be required of him, and that he will be for ever debarred from following out or calling into use that knowledge which he has taken such pains to acquire—and which he may be peculiarly fitted for. Can it be wondered at that the result is so deplorable that to the great majority of officers nautical astronomy and the theory and practice of navigation soon become forgotten, and that on all these subjects which your naval officers ought to be so accomplished in, the mind becomes a blank? Surely, Sir, it is melancholy to reflect how entirely this process has the effect of alienating the watchful care of all the executive officers of the ship. If anything were wanted to show this more conclusively, perhaps nothing could prove it better than the late catastrophe which occurred to the Minotaur and Lord Clyde. In the first case, you find the admirals and captains resting with the blindest possible faith on the staff commander's knowledge. It was apparently the general feeling that it was nobody else's business to attend to the navigation, and the result was that one of your finest ironclads drifted on to a well-known rock in broad daylight. In the second instance—that of the Lord Clyde—you had on board a very superior and able navigating officer; but notwithstanding this, and clearly owing to the want of a general knowledge of practical navigation on the part of the other officers, and the absence of all precautions, this ship was allowed to drift helplessly ashore. The captain and officers of the watch seem to 1388 have been in a state of helpless apathy as regarded the true position of the ship. We see in this instance, as in many others I could quote, no care taken when the officers relieved watch that the position of the ship was accurately placed on the chart. In some ships you have chart houses on deck supplied, and yet in too many cases instead of the officer of the watch being able to consult the chart, as he is able to do in nearly every foreign navy, no facilities whatever are afforded. I have alluded to these two cases as being the most prominent as pointing out with the most fatal precision the defects of the existing system. Now, Sir, I am well aware that although I have quoted the names of several most distinguished officers who are in favour of a change in the present system, my right hon. Friend at the head of the Admiralty will undoubtedly be able to bring forward an equally long list who are opposed to the alteration. I am free to confess that amongst the senior officers—the admirals and captains—there may be even a majority against me, and I do not think it is to be wondered at that officers who have been brought up under the old system should cling to it; but, Sir, if you were to poll the junior officers, the lieutenants, and commanders, I am confident there would be found an overwhelming preponderance in my favour. Whatever importance the House may attach to these opinions, there is one argument in favour of improving the navigation of our ships which I know cannot be gainsaid and must carry with it immense weight.
I have spoken of two catastrophes—those which happened to the Minotaur and Lord Clyde—but these are a very small fraction of what have occurred. Thanks to the courtesy of my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Baxter) I have been permitted to see an epitome of all the Courts Martial and Courts of Inquiry which have been held during the past 11 years, and from this data I have arrived at this astounding result. During the last 11 years—from 1860 to 1871—no less than 106 ships have been stranded. In 41 of these cases no blame was actually attached; but of the remainder 65 the Courts of Inquiry clearly showed that they had got ashore from bad navigation. In 13 of these cases the vessels were never got off. Can it be denied that with these figures 1389 before us great improvements ought to be made in the navigation of our ships? Now, Sir, I have gone carefully into the value of these ships which have been stranded, and although I have taken the accounts considerably under what I should have been perfectly justified in putting them at, yet, after allowing a fair depreciation for the time they had been employed, I think the House will agree that the figures are rather startling. Of the 106 vessels, 26 were small, some of them gunboats, which at £20,000 were worth £520,000; 7 ironclads, which at £250,000 were worth £1,750,000; and 73 were various vessels, which, at £70,000 each, were worth £5,110,000; so that the value of the vessels stranded was £7,380,000. No blame was attached in the cases of 13 gunboats estimated to be worth £260,000; and 28 other vessels, worth £1,960,000, making a total of £2,220,000, which, deducted from £7,380,000, left a value of £5,160,000, endangered from careless navigation. The approximate value of ships lost from stranding through bad navigation was as follows:—1 line-of-battle ship, £150,000; 3 gunboats, £60,000; and 9 other vessels, £630,000—making the total approximate value £840,000. To this must be added the cost of repairing the 65 vessels that were got off, which might be put down at £250,000—so that the total value lost was £1,090,000. I am quite confident that I have very much understated the value, and yet we have this astounding fact—that in 11 years no less than £5,160,000 worth of property has been run ashore and placed in jeopardy from careless navigation, and £1,090,000 worth actually lost. In the Reports of many of these Courts of Inquiry it is only too evident that if full and entire responsibility had rested on the captain, and he had been the duly qualified and competent navigator of the ship, with a skilful assistant under him, many of these accidents would have been avoided. It is true that a certain dual responsibility rests with the captain, and that of late years, since the loss of the Conqueror, an attempt has been made to draw the reins tighter, and to make the captain more so. The recent Courts Martial have endeavoured to drive home this responsibility more and more. I rejoice to see it, as pointing clearly the direction you must take of making the captain absolutely responsible. 1390 What you do is this—you place the navigating officer to do the duty, being well aware that the captain has had no experience in the practical work, and yet, if the ship gets ashore, you make the captain liable. I ask the House, can anything be more absurd? What I urge is to make the captain capable, make him a good navigator and pilot, and then by all means make him responsible, giving him a competent assistant. It is true some captains do even now navigate their own ships, and will not allow this duty to be thrown entirely on the navigating officers; but I fear these instances are rare.
The strong action which my right hon. Friend took after the Court Martial on the Agincourt in dismissing those gallant officers who were in command, showed that he thoroughly appreciated the principle that the ship ought to be in charge of the captain absolutely, giving him whatever assistance may be necessary; but that on him, and on him alone, must lie the onus of her safe conduct. The strong reprimand which was then administered most certainly had a very beneficial effect; but, still, every impartial man must allow that these gallant officers were very harshly dealt with, as it was the baneful effect of the system which was really at fault, and they only acted in blind adherence to the old tradition of leaving all to the navigating officer. Sir, the abolition of the navigating branch is no new idea advanced by me: it has for a number of years attracted great attention by the different Boards of Admiralty. I understand that when the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) was at the head of the Admiralty, in 1859, he determined to try the experiment, and in one noted case he sent for a young commander, and asked him if he would take the vessel without a master. The reply was, that he was not fit to command unless he could also navigate. The ship sailed, and was very well navigated. When the Duke of Somerset came to the Admiralty he was opposed to the change; but, after having been at the head of affairs for some years, and having seen how badly the system worked, he came to a very different conclusion. After long and anxious consultation, he deliberately determined to abolish the navigating class. Lord Clarence Paget, in 1865, when Secretary 1391 to the Admiralty, announced this policy. He said—The result to which we have arrived is that, upon the whole, it would be better to let the class die out. We propose to appoint lieutenants who would do the work quite as well as the masters, whom, however, I would not at all disparage, for many a time have I had to thank my stars for having a good master. I believe, however, under the extremely difficult circumstances of the case, brought about, I am bound to say, by the masters themselves, the lieutenants will replace the masters with advantage to the service.The Duke of Somerset, assisted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), who was then at the Admiralty, had the foresight to see in what a dangerous condition we should be placed in during war time if this canker worm were not rooted out; and, cutting aside all the deep-rooted prejudices which clung round the question, he stopped the entries, and thus paved the way for gradual abolition. Unfortunately, the Duke did not remain long enough in office to carry this alteration out, and he was succeeded by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington), who at once reversed the important step which had been taken, and commenced re-entering navigating cadets, and which was continued by the right hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. Corry). When my right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) came into office, notwithstanding the enormous amount of work which he found thrust upon him, he seems to have determined to carry out the Duke of Somerset's policy of gradual abolition, and for this purpose he placed the entry of navigating cadets on exactly the same footing as naval cadets, and I am sure that if he had remained at the Admiralty the class would have been allowed to die out. Some officers, I know, think that you can retain a separate class, making an immense change for the better, by giving special training, special inducements, and, above all, having selected men; but, Sir, I much fear that whilst you may improve the status of this class, whilst you may also lessen the number of disasters by these alterations, the one evil you will not remedy is the very one I attach the greatest importance to—namely, the absence of all inducement on the part of the other officers—your lieutenant, commander, and captain—to attend to this great branch of a seaman's duty, and 1392 the natural consequence is that the captains of your ships will still be deprived of that confidence in their own ability to navigate, which I hope to see absolutely essential as a qualification in a captain. It is absurd to believe that any expedition could be fitted out by private enterprise where the captains were not made the actual navigators and solely responsible. When Captain Sherrard Osborn fitted out his China squadron, what did he do? Why, Sir, he made the captains navigate their own ships. He stated before the Committee—When, in 1863, I had to organize a naval force for the Chinese Government, I consulted Captains Burgoyne, Charles Stewart, Nicholas, Noel Osborn, Captain Allen Young and others, and I deliberately made each of them responsible for the navigation of their ships, and their logs and work books were admirably kept. The ships were most successfully piloted, and many of those naval officers have expressed subsequently their obligation to me for having compelled them to acquire a knowledge of a branch of their profession which they had hitherto much neglected.He was then asked—Have you in the course of your service found that a want on the part of executive officers of a practical acquaintance with navigation, has resulted disadvantageously for ships on expeditions?—Yes; I was first struck with it in the Arctic service, where I felt my own shortcomings, and I remarked to what a lamentable extent it existed, even among a picked body of officers that were sent out on two expeditions to those seas.The scheme which I would propose is this—1. Gradually to abolish the navigating class, making ample compensation in doing so. 2. Make all your captains, as soon as qualified, the actual navigators of their ships, absolutely responsible, giving them a lieutenant to assist them. In carrying this out I would venture to suggest that—1. Captains should be given (say) £100 a-year extra pay for the additional work. 2. Lieutenants list increased by 150. 3. An extra lieutenant be appointed in all the large ships. 4. All lieutenants, after having served two years as officers of the watch, should be made to pass an examination similar in all respects to that which the navigating lieutenants now go through, in pilotage and practical navigation, and according to the examination passed so they should have preference in being selected to assist the captain, giving a small increase of pay. 5. Commanders, during the first two years after their promotion, should be made to go through a course of pilotage 1393 and practical navigation in the Channel in two vessels to be specially appointed for that duty; and, in order to the proper inducement to officers to qualify, I would give to those who came up to a certain standard full pay, and sea time, and so on in proportion to their merit. 6. No lieutenant should be allowed to hold the duty of assistant navigating officer to the captain longer than five years. 7. In every ship, without exception, there should always be a survey in progress, so that all officers might have the opportunity of acquiring an intimate knowledge of surveying. There may be many other plans which might be suggested, and I offer these with considerable diffidence; but, at the same time, after considering the matter very carefully, I believe this would answer the purpose and give complete satisfaction. As to expense, the present system costs £125,000 a-year, while the plan I suggest, including extra pay to captains, would cost only about £90,000.
Now, Sir, what are the main objections which are urged to this plan? I am well aware that it will be stated that it would be impossible to give the captain the additional burden. My strong belief is, that with a competent assistant, it would really give a captain less anxiety, and therefore less work, as he would have thorough confidence in himself, whereas now he seldom feels it. If captains have too much correspondence, by all means curtail it. If the captain of every other foreign navy in the world is able to do this work, surely the argument falls to the ground. Then, secondly, I know I shall be told that it is quite true that foreign navies have no such separate grades. But their vessels are not navigated with the same boldness as ours, and French officers are continually praising our system. Sir, I should be very sorry, indeed, if any change were effected which would militate against our ships being navigated with the utmost boldness consistent with safety. Undoubtedly every consideration must be subsidiary to this one point; and it is only because I believe that ships would be navigated with far greater boldness, and with far greater security, if the captains had practical acquaintance with these duties and felt themselves thoroughly responsible, that I thought it my duty to bring this Motion forward. As regards the opinion of foreign officers, I am 1394 quite certain that amongst thoughtful and working officers a feeling of the opposite nature is prevalent. Admiral Sulivan gave strong testimony on this point. He was asked—Have you been informed by French officers that they lament that they have not got the rank of master, as we have?—Never. I believe that I have served more with French officers and with French ships than any man in our service. I am the only officer in our service, I believe, who has lived in them, has piloted them, and been in charge of them. I had upon one occasion nine or ten months daily experience with them, and doing piloting and surveying work for them in consequence of their not having any surveying officers, just the same as I have done for our own squadron or fleet, and in no case do I ever recollect them lamenting the want of masters; but they have frequently expressed to me their regret that they had not a class of surveying officers as we had; therefore, they have felt the want of that very class that I have alluded to; but I never heard them say that they were in want of officers for the ordinary pilotage or navigation of their fleet.Then Sir Spencer Robinson was asked—Have you had any opportunities of hearing the opinion of superior French officers with regard to their navigating system as compared with ours?—Yes, I have spoken to many French naval officers, who thought it a very excellent thing to have a master, and on talking to them about it, I found that the general view of the greater part of them was a desire to discharge themselves from that labour and responsibility. That motive, of course, ought not to influence any officer, and therefore I do not consider that opinion of any great value.Surely, Sir, however, there is one satisfactory answer which cannot be got over—namely, that if our system was really considered so very satisfactory it would very soon be introduced into not only the French but every other foreign navy. The very reverse is, however, the case; and in the Russian Navy, where a similar system is now in force, I understand that it is intended to abolish it. In the German Navy, whilst copying every other institution, they have most carefully avoided this. Then, Sir, I shall probably be told that if this navigating class is abolished you will deprive many naval officers of the boon they now have of getting their sons into the Navy which they could not afford to do as naval cadets; but surely, Sir, this may be an argument in favour of giving scholarships or of increasing the pay of cadets, but certainly is no reason in favour of retaining a bad system of navigating your ships. I may be told that five years is too short a time for lieutenants to act as assistant navigators; 1395 but it must be remembered my fundamental principle is that they shall only be assistants to the captains, who are themselves to be the thoroughly experienced navigators and pilots. I will not detain the House any longer, Sir; but before I sit down I am anxious to say that I hope my hon. and gallant Friends who sit in this House, and who, I understand, are nearly all opposed to my Motion, will not think it presumption on my part to have raised this question, having only been a lieutenant in the Navy when I left the service. I assure them I have done so in all humility, being well aware of the great authorities which are opposed to me; but I have felt the late disasters to be so serious, and having a very strong opinion on the subject, I did not think I should be justified in not expressing it.
I will only further add that on no former occasion have you ever had such an opportunity to make this alteration. You have a large number of sub-lieutenants ready to increase your lieutenant list. You have a great scheme of naval education which you are about to set on foot—which you have the evidence of all your naval professors cannot be complete until this change is effected. The late disasters have drawn the eyes of all foreign navies upon us, and such navigation, if repeated, cannot fail to become a scandal. The whole service is looking forward to the change—sooner or later it must come. Clinging to a system of more than two centuries old, and not in harmony with the age, will not avail us in time of need. I entreat my right hon. Friend to make the alteration soon, before he has a fresh roll of disasters to mar still further the prestigé of the British Navy. I beg to move the Resolution of which I have given Notice.
§ MR. T. BRASSEY
Sir, I rise for the purpose of seconding the Motion of my hon. Friend, with an intimate conviction that the change which he has advocated will prove beneficial to our naval service. It would, indeed, be presumptuous in a civilian to entertain a view on a subject so strictly professional, which was not based on the clearly-expressed opinions of naval officers of high reputation. That this essential foundation is not wanting in the present instance, will be clearly demonstrated by reference to the most recent Parliamentary literature on the subject. The 1396 evidence taken by the Committee on the Education of Naval Officers comprised much weighty testimony in favour of the abolition of a special class of officers for navigating duties. The change was advocated by Admiral Cooper Key, as an inducement to officers to study; and the Committee in their Report gave it as their opinion that volunteers could be obtained from the executive branch, and that, in a purely educational point of view, that mode of providing for the performance of navigating duties would exert a beneficial influence on the general knowledge of navigation and pilotage among the officers. To show how valuable the abolition of the special class of navigating officers may be as an incentive to the general study of navigation and pilotage in the Navy, I will quote from the evidence of the naval instructors—gentlemen who possess unique opportunities of judging whether we may safely rely on selected officers of the executive branch for the effective performance of navigating duties in the Navy. Professor Main has well explained the distinction between encouragement to study by the hope of reward, and the attempt to enforce a high standard in compulsory examinations. In his Memorandum, presented to the Committee on Naval Education, he says—All compulsory education should end with the examination for sub-lieutenant. It should be the province of the Admiralty from this point to stimulate talent and zeal in special branches, by creating special classes of officers. This has been already most successfully done in the case of the gunnery lieutenants. If it be thought desirable to do away with the navigating officers, as a distinct class; it will be attended with the greatest benefit to naval education generally. The increase of pay for performing these duties should be such as to afford a sufficient inducement to volunteer for the appointment; and it should be always looked on as a stepping-stone to promotion, and as a claim for employment. I have no doubt this would give an opening for many young officers, who have a natural liking for astronomical work, and at present have no useful way of employing themselves in it.Another naval instructor, Mr. Buckley, of the Duke of Wellington, and formerly instructor of navigating cadets in the St. George, gave the following answers to the following questions:—"Did any among the navigating cadets passed out of the St. George give promise of being first-rate navigating officers?" "Certainly," he replied. "Many?" was 1397 the next question. The answer was—"About a quarter of the number." He was then asked—"Do you think that the other three quarters would be either indifferent or bad navigating officers?" He replied—"I think so." He was then asked—"Whether he thought that, if the navigating officers were chosen from the lieutenants generally, and if they qualified themselves specially, that you would get upon the whole a better class than those you were likely to have under the present system?" His reply was—"Certainly you would." Captain Powell, who had formerly commanded the Britannia, abundantly confirmed the opinion of the instructors. He recommended that the navigating duties should be performed by lieutenants, and he predicted that by this means you would often have officers in command of singular ability in manœuvring and navigating ships. These opinions ought to satisfy the most doubtful minds as to the possibility of obtaining competent navigating officers from the executive branch. If that be so, the other arguments in favour of the abolition of a special class of navigating officers deserve the most favourable consideration. The tendency of our present system must inevitably be to divert the attention of the executive officers of the Navy from the study of navigation and pilotage. If this branch of duty were no longer reserved for a special class, we should not, says Admiral Sulivan, see such a disgraceful occurrence as a commander of a sloop at Spithead—otherwise a good officer and sailor—refusing to obey a signal to proceed to the assistance of a ship on shore outside the Isle of Wight, and twice repeating the signal of inability to weigh, because the master was on shore. Again, to quote from a pamphlet, recently published by a staff commander in the Navy—A certain flag-ship was recently required to proceed from Portland to Portsmouth; but she had no master. The Admiralty telegraphed that the navigating officer of the ship remaining behind was to be sent on board. With a captain, a commander, and six lieutenants, does not this appear lamentable? Can the system be correct, if the absence of one man reduces a ship to a comparative state of inefficiency?The present system seems, in the highest degree, anomalous. Admirals and captains are held responsible for disaster, if any should occur, from improper navigation, and are liable to suffer the most 1398 severe penalties which can be imposed on officers in the Navy; yet, from the time when they pass their examination as lieutenants, until they actually hold a command, they have but little, if any, opportunity of acquiring a practical knowledge of an art, proficiency in which can only be attained by practical training. It is quite impossible to understand how an officer can effectually conduct a naval operation without being well acquainted with navigation and pilotage. Lord Nelson, in his interesting autobiography, written on board his flagship, in Port Mahon, in 1779, twice alludes to the opportunities which he had enjoyed, and of which he had eagerly availed himself, to become acquainted with the art of pilotage, as having been of much service to him in his subsequent career. In the first passage, speaking of the year 1772, when he was only 14 years of age, he says that, when on board the Triumph, at Chatham—As his ambition was to be a seaman, it was always held out as a reward that, if he attended well to his navigation, he should go in the cutter and decked longboat which was attached to the commanding officer's ship at Chatham.Thus by degrees he became a good pilot for vessels of that description from Chatham to the Tower of London, down the Swim and the North Foreland, and confident of himself amongst rocks and shoals, which had many times since been of great comfort to him. Again, somewhat later in his career, Lord Nelson says that when he was second lieutenant of the Lowestoffe frigate of 32 guns he went to Jamaica.But even a frigate," he says, "was not sufficiently active for my mind, and I got into a schooner, tender to the Lowestoffe. In this vessel I made myself a complete pilot for all the passages through the Keys Islands, situated on the north side of Hispaniola.These passages from the autobiography of Lord Nelson appear to me to suggest the importance to the naval profession not merely of a knowledge of navigation and pilotage generally, but especially of an acquaintance with our own coasts, the navigation of which is in some parts exceptionally difficult. The Channel Fleet, so called, is too little seen in the Channel, and rarely appears on the East coast, in the St. George's Channel, or in Scotland. But even if the Channel Fleet were to remain more constantly at home, it would not be possible for our young officers to study the intricate 1399 navigation of the estuaries of the Thames, the Mersey, or the Humber, in vessels of the prodigious dimensions of our modern ironclads. For this purpose smaller vessels should be commissioned, more capable of being handled under sail, and able from their moderate draught to enter many ports which our large ironclads cannot visit. I believe that the reserves of seamen in our home ports are at the present time sufficiently large to provide crews for the vessels commissioned for the relief of ships on foreign stations, and also to man, at least in the summer season, a few small corvettes and sloops, which would afford to the officers appointed to serve in them opportunities of becoming acquainted with our home waters. We have not a single vessel in commission on the Home Station which can be regarded as an available cruising vessel for the instruction of officers in the entire pilotage of the English Coast; and when we take into view the increasing number and enormously increasing value of Her Majesty's ships, designed especially for coast defence, the necessity of giving to naval officers more opportunity of becoming familiar with our home waters will be generally recognized. I will not enlarge on one of the objections to the special class of officers for navigating duties—I mean the social difficulty. In spite of many changes and concessions of higher nominal rank to masters, this difficulty still remains and will ever continue, so long as they are retained as a distinct class in the service. A stronger sentiment of jealousy of all class privileges prevails at the present time than was evinced 60 years ago. The pathetic appeals of Sir Charles Napier are not yet forgotten in this House, in which he described the discouragement of the neglected and unknown men in the subordinate ranks of the Navy, with no friends at court. If such disappointment were felt by one class of officers, is it not fair to presume that it is as strongly felt by the other? In conclusion, I may add that while the majority of the senior officers of the Navy are opposed to the abolition of the master class, the majority of the younger officers of the Navy are, so far as I have been able to ascertain, in favour of the change. I am therefore confident that sooner or later an alteration of system, so desirable for the improvement of the service, 1400 will be carried out. Meanwhile, I trust that the First Lord of the Admiralty may be able to hold out hopes of an early movement in this direction. The recommendations of the Committee of 1862 in favour of a trial of lieutenants of the executive line was, there is reason to believe, cordially welcomed by the then Board of Admiralty; and in moving the Navy Estimates of 1866, Lord Clarence Paget stated that, while ever desirous of improving the condition of the masters, the conclusion at which they had arrived was that it would be better to let the class die out. "We propose," he said, "to appoint lieutenants, who would do the work quite as well as the masters." The Committee of 1862 recommended that, as an experiment, 10 lieutenants should be appointed in 10 of the smaller vessels to take charge of the navigation. Let the Admiralty adopt this suggestion. Let an additional lieutenant be appointed, instead of a master, to the first 10 corvettes, commanded by officers who will gladly accept them as substitutes for the navigating officers, and let the merits of the new system be tested by results. I am convinced that the result will be favourable; but as many officers, whose opinions deserve the most attentive consideration, object to a change, in deference to them it would be prudent to wait until we have acquired experience of the new system before we do away with the old. Whatever the issue of the controversy may be, the House will appreciate the importance of securing the highest attainable perfection in the navigation of the costly vessels of our modern Navy, and will not regard as time wasted the endeavour to improve a system which has acknowledged defects.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, the time has arrived when the maintenance of a separate and distinct branch of officers for navigating duties is no longer desirable in the interests of the Naval Service,"—(Mr. Hanbury-Tracy,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ SIR JOHN HAY
said, he would remind the House that this was very much a naval question. It had been brought 1401 under the notice of the House by his hon. Friend the Member for the Montgomery Burghs, a naval officer of experience, and his remarks deserved some reply from those who, like himself, had had experience in the same profession. There was, however, one part of his hon. Friend's speech to which he must take exception. He regretted that his hon. Friend should have said that the present condition of the navigation in Her Majesty's Navy was a scandal to the profession. It was in his judgment hardly a right expression to use in that House, for he believed our ships and fleets were navigated as well as those of any nation in the world.
§ MR. HANBURY TRACY
explained that he was only referring to the cases of the Lord Clyde and the Agincourt.
§ SIR JOHN HAY
was glad to hear that the expression was not intended to be applied to the state of the Navy generally. Allusion had been made to the Committee of 1862 by another Committee, which investigated the subject in 1866, and expressed a decided opinion that to retain a separate class of navigating officers would be of the greatest advantage to the Navy. It was in consequence of the Report of that Committee that his hon. Friend the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) reversed the arrangements which would have eventually extinguished that class of officers. That course was taken with the concurrence of all the naval Members of the Board, and was entirely approved by the right hon. Gentleman's successor (Mr. Corry). The question was, how our ships of war could be best navigated, and it was quite new to him to learn that a captain was not completely responsible for the safety and navigation of his ship. It was new to him that the captain was not wholly responsible; as for 2 years out of the 12 that he had a command, he had no master on board, although at that time, according to the hon. Member, he ought to have known nothing, for it was shortly after his promotion from a lieutenancy to a command. It was also new to him that lieutenants had nothing to do with navigation; did not look at the charts; and did not make themselves acquainted with the position of ships, and he thought it would be little credit to a captain if he did not take the lieutenants into his confidence and let them know the position of the ship and everything affecting 1402 her safety and navigation. It was however one thing to superintend navigation and another thing to attend personally to all the minute details involved in it, for the safe conduct of a large ship required constant attention on the part of an experienced and practical man, giving his undivided care to compass, chronometer, observation, and calculation; and while it was best that these duties should be entrusted to a practical man of unbroken experience, their due discharge was incompatible with the multifarious duties and responsibilities which devolved upon the captain, and which required experience and training of a different order. The masters, moreover, had special pilot-knowledge of our own harbours and coasts, which could, therefore, be navigated without taking pilots on board—that, indeed, being the duty for which they were originally constituted. It was of the greatest advantage, then, to have a separate and distinct class of men; but it was a question whether it might not be advisable to do something to increase their position and prospects, and he trusted the Admiralty would not make any change in the direction of abolishing the special class of navigating officers, who were of the greatest possible value to the Navy.
§ ADMIRAL ERSKINE
said, that if the deplorable picture which the hon. and gallant Officer who moved the Resolution had drawn accurately described the general condition of the officers of the Navy, a great change must have taken place in the 10 years that he had been on shore. He confessed, however, he was rather disposed to agree in the opinion expressed by the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. T. Brassey). But the question was, whether there did not exist in the Navy sets of duties not requiring any great scientific knowledge, but that precision and punctuality that could only be acquired by special attention to the matters immediately connected with those duties—in short, to which the principle of division of labour should be applied; and that in the case of ships of the Navy—which was totally different from that of passenger ships, merchant vessels, and yachts, were navigation from port to port was all that was required—the navigation required an amount of accuracy which was only to be acquired by special study of its 1403 peculiarities. There was necessarily great subdivision of labour on board a man-of-war, and navigation and pilotage were as important as any other special responsibility, and though the captain was required to have a general knowledge of everything connected with his ship, there was an engineer to attend to the engines, a carpenter to look to the hull and masts, a boatswain, and a sail-maker; and, for a similar reason, there was great advantage in having specially trained officers to attend to the navigation, for it was impossible that the officer who was called upon to discharge general duties could be as exact in his attention to a special duty as those who devoted their whole time and attention to it. As an illustration of what experience would do in navigation, he would point to the black pilots of Bermuda—the best pilots in the world, yet many of those could not read nor write—whose skill could not be increased by any amount of science. Again, in the Crimean War, we sent a number of masters up to the Baltic to make themselves acquainted with the Cattegat, the Belts, and other passages, and they acquired such a familiarity with them that our Fleet went into the Baltic without a Baltic pilot on board; and not only that, but Sir Richard Dundas performed the feat—which Danish pilots thought impossible—of starting from Kiel with the whole Fleet one morning, and getting out of the Cattegat by the next morning. Compare that with what was done by the French in the late war. Their fleets lay at Brest and Cherbourg for several days, waiting for Baltic pilots, of whom only one old man could be obtained; an able commander was paralyzed for want of acquaintance with the coast; and the fleets returned without having done anything worthy of their fame. Twelve years before that occurrence he had had a conversation with a distinguished officer of the French Navy, commanding one of the squadrons on the occasion referred to, who attributed our great superiority to our having a special class of navigating officers—a class which he regretted the prejudice of French officers excluded from the French Navy. There was one point on which his hon. Friend had shown some confusion of ideas. He appeared to confound navigation and seamanship—two very different subjects, as understood in 1404 the Navy. With regard to that point, he would remind his hon. Friend that he could not have held his lieutenant's commission without the possession of two different certificates, given at different times and different places by two different classes of examiners—one as to his proficiency in navigation, and the other as to his proficiency in seamanship. His hon. Friend wanted to persuade them that the want of a scientific knowledge of navigation on the part of executive officers had been the cause of many of the mishaps which had lately occurred. But that was not so. In the case of the Lord Clyde, the mishap was attributable not to the want of a knowledge of scientific navigation, but of practical seamanship. The officer of the middle watch got permission of the captain to steam; but the young officer who took charge of the deck in the morning watch was so ignorant of seamanship—if the evidence on the Court Martial was to be trusted—that he proceeded to wash his decks without ascertaining his position and without taking the trouble of sending to the navigating commander, if he mistrusted his own eyes. Practical seamanship was of all things the first to be desired in an officer having charge of a ship, and it would certainly not add to his efficiency to impose on him also the necessity of a constant practice in details, of which great accuracy was the principal recommendation. The science with which his hon. Friend would endue young officers reminded him of the story in a well-known fiction—the tailor in Laputa who made Gulliver's clothes by the quadrant, but they fitted very badly, because he made a small error in a single figure—and the miscalculation of one figure might lose a ship. He hoped, therefore, his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty would pause before he adopted this recommendation.
said, he entirely concurred in the policy of keeping the navigating class separate from the executive class of officers, and that appeared to be the opinion of almost all the most experienced naval officers whom he had consulted on the subject. At the same time, he was willing to admit there were others who were entitled to respect, who entertained a strong opinion to the contrary; and if he were to classify the opinions that had been expressed upon 1405 the subject, he should do so much in the same way that it had been done by the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. T. Brassey)—namely, that young officers were in favour of the amalgamation of the two classes, whereas the older officers were for keeping them separate. There was, however, a third class—the navigating officers themselves—whose opinions were naturally influenced by personal considerations; but, certainly, all the older officers who had had the responsibility of command, and who knew what it was to be answerable for the safety of a ship and the lives of all on board, were decidedly in favour of maintaining the navigating officers as a separate class. One of the main arguments in favour of amalgamating the two classes was, that it would improve the knowledge of the lieutenants of the Navy in seamanship and navigation. Now, if a lieutenant could be selected and made a navigating officer at once, and return to his executive duties after a short period of service, that argument would be entitled to weight; but such was not really the case, as long and special training was necessary to the proper performance of the duties of a navigating officer on board ship. That view was confirmed by the Committee which sat in 1862 to inquire into the expediency of abolishing the rank of master, consisting of four Members; and, with only one dissentient, they reported that to abolish a useful class with the view of improving another would be an experiment which, if unsuccessful, would materially injure Her Majesty's naval service, and was a step which they could not recommend. He had paid much attention to the evidence, which entirely convinced him of the soundness of this opinion. Mr. Allen, himself a master, said there should be a navigating class; and if you have a navigating class, you must keep them in that class, for it takes some eight or ten years before a man acquires that faculty of knowing what to do with a ship under all circumstances, near land, by night and day, in thick weather, and so on. Captain Mends was asked—"Do you think that it is for the good of the service that the classes should be merged?" He said—I do not think so; but I think it is important to hold to the office. I do not think you can place it in what I may call the migratory class—that is to say, the executive lieutenants who are passing on continually to the higher grades.1406 Captain Forbes, in answer to the question—Supposing the masters to be done away with as a class, do you think it would answer to give the navigating duties to lieutenants or other officers in the executive branch?"—said, "No; I do not think it would, and for this reason—that for a master of a line-of-battle ship you require a person of great experience and a thorough knowledge of his profession, which I do not think could be gained at the age at which a lieutenant still holds that rank. If a lieutenant who had acquired sufficient knowledge to become a good master of a line-of-battle ship was not promoted above that rank, he would be unduly kept back in his profession. Of the average lieutenants of average service that I have met with, very few would be equal to the duties of a master of a line-of-battle ship.Captain Luard, the present Superintendent of Sheerness, and one of the best officers in the Navy, expressed the strongest opinion in the same sense against the amalgamation of the two classes. Admiral Sir Lewis Jones said—I should be very sorry to see the line of masters done away with. I think it imperative that the officer who has the charge of keeping the ship's reckoning should be retained in that office, not subject to frequent change. It is requisite that he should devote himself specially to that duty. The aptitude for piloting is not easily acquired; it requires steady nerve and confidence; hesitation is fatal to the successful performance of it. To acquire that habit, close application is requisite, and steady perseverence, and study of the tides, the appearance of the land through a haze, and of the special capabilities of the ship he may be serving in. I think for these reasons that it would be very inconvenient to do away with the office of master.Admiral Richards, Admiral George Elliott, Sir Thomas Cochrane, Sir George Seymour, Sir William Martin, Sir Michael Seymour, Sir Rodney Mundy, Sir Alexander Milne, and Sir Sydney Dacres, with many other first-rate officers, all gave similar opinions. There were, moreover, several officers before the Committee, who were in favour of amalgamation, yet the evidence they gave appeared to him to be strongly opposed to the opinion they expressed. Captain Washington, the only Member of the Committee in favour of amalgamation, fully admitted the necessity of special training, though he denied in toto the necessity of a special class. But it appeared to him (Mr. Corry) that the one involved the necessity of the other, exactly as in the Army the Engineers and Artillery required special training, were distinct from the Line. He would here notice in passing, that the hon. Gentleman had told the House that 1407 among the lost vessels he referred to there were 26 gunboats; but it should be borne in mind that gunboats were not navigated by masters, but generally by the lieutenants in command. For his part, he could not see how to separate a special training from a special class in regard to navigating officers. It was stated that the education of the young navigating officers, as a class, was not sufficient, and that they were kept between decks, where they had no opportunity of obtaining experience in navigating duties. That occurred more in former days than it did now. The Queen's Instructions required that these young officers should be on deck on all occasions of going into and coming out of harbour; and it was the duty of the master to see they were educated in their special line. When he was at the Admiralty, a vessel in the Channel was specially appropriated to the training of young navigating officers in pilotage. This subject was well worthy of the attention of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and he hoped that right hon. Gentleman would consider whether further instructions ought to be given to navigating officers in the special and important duties they were called upon to discharge. As to the social part of the question, it was no doubt painful to think that many most meritorious officers were debarred from rising to the top of their profession, except under special circumstances; but, on the other hand, there were officers and others, with large families to support, who could not, for want of means, put their sons into the executive line where it cost at least £80 a-year to maintain a lad as midshipman, but were glad of the opportunity afforded to them of introducing their sons into the naval service in what was called "a lower grade." At all events, at the beginning of their career, these sons of poor officers had advantages which were not enjoyed by young gentlemen in the executive line. He was surprised to hear what had been said about the superiority of the French system. He had always understood from officers who had served with the French in the Baltic, that although the French ships were, in general, as well handled as the English, they failed to present as favourable a comparison directly they got into pilotage waters where the navigation was difficult and intricate; and this was 1408 entirely owing to the want of a class of officers specially trained to navigating duties. The evidence in favour of maintaining the navigating officers strongly preponderated, and he was glad to understand that the Resolution of the Committee of 1862 was not to be reversed by the present Board of Admiralty.
said, he agreed with the hon. Member who brought this subject forward, in thinking that many changes were necessary in the class of navigating officers, and the advantages they enjoyed in the junior ranks did not compensate them for the disadvantages they experienced as they grew older in the service. He could not, however, support the present Motion, because he thought that that House was a bad tribunal to direct the Admiralty in a matter of detail. He did not agree with the hon. Member in the opinion that there should not be a separate class for navigating duty, nor did he entirely agree with him as to the peculiar advantage supposed to belong to the French Navy from the absence of masters. He recollected that on one occasion, when he was on the coast of North America, the captain of a French ship going to the same destination declared that he envied him for commanding a ship with a master; and though the French captain had a pilot, he said that a pilot was nothing compared with an officer in whom he would have confidence from knowing him personally. He should not be able to support the Motion if it should be pressed to a division.
§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
, in describing the course of naval training in the service in which he was brought up, said, he had first to pass through an examination of Channel pilotage, then in the mathematical stowage, and in the management of a ship below her upper deck; and the last examination for a navigation officership consisted in the working of various astronomical problems for obtaining latitude, longitude, &c., and in a further examination in Channel pilotage, and in the whole pilotage of every port in India and China. Since then, he had often discussed this question of masters with his brother officers, and their opinion was, that as long as there was a distinct service, possessing a certain number of ships which performed a certain programme of service, 1409 such an arrangement as that was faultless, but in a service like the Navy the business could not possibly be carried on without a class of officers specially educated for the purpose. He wished, therefore, as a seaman outside the Navy, to say a few words in vindication of the navigation and seamanship of the Navy from the aspersions which had been thrown upon it by the hon. Gentleman. We had in all about 300 ships in commission, including gunboats, and in the course of 11 years, according to the statement of the hon. Gentleman, 106 ships stranded or got into such difficulties as to induce the officers commanding at the stations to hold inquiries. That was less than 10 ships a-year, or 3 per cent. Now, he would ask any hon. Gentleman who knew anything about the insurance of shipping, whether that did not show an almost infinitesimal fraction of the number of ships employed? Why, any commercial concern that had 300 ships, and only 3 per cent of accidents in the year and one total loss, would consider itself very well off. Indeed, the thanks of the public were due to the hon. Gentleman who had brought the subject before the House, for having shown how admirable the navigation of the Navy was, instead of being "scandalous," as the hon. Gentleman would have the House believe. The disasters had been attributed by some to a want of navigation, by others to a want of seamanship. With regard, however, to one or two of those accidents which had lately occupied so much of the public attention, he would like to say a few words. The accident to the Agincourt had arisen from a slight error in pilotage. The ships were hardly stemming the tide—the two lines were gradually converging to the shore—there was a haze from the land—and the officer who was conducting the lee line made a mistake, which any man of his age and service might have fallen into, in calculating his distance from the land. An error in pilotage got that ship aground; but a most remarkable exercise of seamanship, to which we might turn with pride, got her off, for it should be remembered that there was a mass of iron of from 5,000 to 6,000 tons upon the rock, and that all their exertions could only lighten her to about 11 or 12 inches of her enormous draught. In fact, he had conversed with 1410 officers outside the Navy of the same class and grade as himself, and they were all of opinion that that was the most creditable performance that had occurred in the Navy for many years; and he must say, that instead of the degradation of the officers, he would have been inclined to promote them. Then, as to the Lord Clyde, that vessel had been sent to perform a certain service at the island of Pantalaria. The captain was fettered probably by the orders with respect to the consumption of coal, and that probably might have had some share in the disaster which ensued; but if he had steamed his ship 20 miles off land on a moderate night, he would have been called to account, and no one could say what would have happened. There was another case to which the hon. Gentleman did not advert, but as to which we might congratulate ourselves as furnishing one of the brightest examples of British seamanship—he alluded to the Megœra. Here there was no want of pilotage, when Captain Thrupp ran his ship that stormy morning on St. Paul's, when he could keep her no longer afloat. When we consider the coolness, the resource, and the indomitable courage of Captain Thrupp, and the sharp way in which he repressed the slight germ of insubordination which manifested itself, as well as the manner in which he found his men, provided for their every want, and did not leave a single wooden cross over a grave in the island, we must be filled with admiration. Admiral Sullivan had been alluded to more than once in the debate, and his plan—which he (Sir James Elphinstone) had often talked over with the gallant officer—was well deserving of the attention of the Admiralty and the right hon. Gentleman. The Admiral's plan was to have regular survey squadrons in which officers intended for masters should be educated. For instance, he would have one ship in the Baltic, and the officers on board should be entirely of that class. When on examination found proficient in the pilotage of the Baltic, they should be sent to the West Indies until they were proved to be perfect in the pilotage of those seas; then to the East Indies, Australia, and so on. Then, after a certain number of years, those officers should be drafted into Her Majesty's ships. In conclusion, he must say that 1411 the term scandalous might be applied with more propriety to the accommodation for the Survey department at the Admiralty than to any officers or men in the Navy. If the right hon. Gentleman would turn his attention to that subject, and to the formation of a squadron to carry out surveys which were deficient in many parts of the world, it would be of greater advantage than the consideration of a question of this kind, with regard to which officers of high rank and great experience were agreed.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, he must regret that his hon. Friend (Mr. Hanbury Tracy) had mainly founded his Motion on what he termed the breakdown of the present system. The onus of proving that breakdown, however, lay upon his hon. Friend, and he did not think he had established his case. He was glad to hear that his hon. Friend limited the application of the word "scandalous" to two or three isolated instances; for at first, he had applied it to the general state of the navigation of Her Majesty's ships. His hon. Friend had placed before the country a fearful catalogue of possible disasters, which, however, had not occurred; but he would certainly have given a very erroneous impression, if he had conveyed to the public the idea that the ships which in the course of 10 years had touched the ground were necessarily in peril. Some disasters had undoubtedly occurred; but it was a dangerous argument to infer from any particular accident that the whole system was imperfect, and he was sure no one would be inclined to think that the navigating officers of the Navy were not a class of the greatest possible value, who would do honour to any country which they served. Doubtless, many officers held that the system might be improved, and many men were dissatisfied with the position and status of navigating officers; but in all the voluminous literature he had read upon this subject, he had not found a single pamphlet, speech, or memorandum that placed the capacity of the navigating officers so low as his hon. Friend had done in his speech that evening. Therefore, he trusted his hon. Friend would allow him to enter a protest against his view, and to say that, although there was much in the present system capable of improvement, he did not think that his hon. Friend should base his case upon the collisions or accidents 1412 in navigation which had occurred. He thought his hon. Friend had included in his list of stranded ships many accidents due to collisions and other causes which were sometimes beyond the control of the navigating officers. [Mr. HANBURY TRACY said, he had carefully omitted the collisions.] In that case, he (Mr. Goschen) must say that his hon. Friend's figures were not correct, because there were only 102 vessels with regard to which court-martials had been held, including those stranded and lost, and of these the Bombay was burnt and the Captain lost. But he objected to totals of that kind, extending over a number of years, being put before the public, to produce the impression of the very great probability of disaster, instead of the disasters themselves being specified. The Motion might have been based on different grounds. During the last 10 years there had been considerable agitation with reference to the position of navigating officers in the Navy, and many attempts, some of which might have been successful had it not been for the inherent difficulties connected with the subject, had been made to deal with the question. One of the difficulties consisted in this—that while the argument was exceedingly strong for keeping a separate class of navigating officers, there was an argument equally strong in favour of giving every opportunity for increasing the experience of the executive officers in navigation. It by no means followed, however, that because there was a separate class of navigating officers, the executive officers were not to be expected to be able to navigate their ships, for there was a great difference between the question of navigation and that of pilotage. There were numerous cases in which ships had been successfully navigated by the executive officers, and he doubted whether there was a ship in the Navy which had not on board a number of officers able to undertake the navigation. The examination of navigating and executive officers, too, was the same, and the latter had to pass an examination in navigation which proved them to be of a certain capacity for navigating ships. His hon. Friend admitted that young officers were taught to navigate their ships, but alleged that as they became older they lost the knowledge so acquired. But if he (Mr. Goschen) was not mistaken there were many captains 1413 who took a great part in navigating their ships, and would be able to do so without the help of a navigating officer. He also wished it to be distinctly understood that there was no doubt whatever as to the responsibility of the captain for the navigation of his ship, although he might have a navigating officer to assist him, and, in fact, no Board of Admiralty had acted upon a different view. In the case of the Conqueror, which had been mentioned, the Admiralty declared that it was the duty of the captain to take every precaution for the safety of his ship, and that in order to discharge his responsibility he should use every means in his power to ascertain the ship's position, the prevailing currents, and the danger to which she might be exposed. He did not think any naval officer of the present day would dispute his responsibility in that respect. Indeed, the first Article on Pilotage in the "Queen's Regulations," was that the captain was responsible for the safe conducting of his ship. Therefore, it was not true to say that these duties were relegated entirely to a separate class. The question remaining was, whether it would be better to attach to the captain, for assistance in navigation, any officer taken generally from the executive branch, or an officer specially trained to perform such duties. Three views prevailed upon this subject. One was in favour of preserving the present arrangement, and of retaining a separate class, educated somewhat differently from the executive officers. The second view was, that we should retain the name and position of navigating officers, but that they should be drawn from the same class as executive officers, and receive a special and separate training. The third view was, as was held by his hon. Friend, that there ought to be no special class at all, and that officers ought to be told off from the executive ranks for the special duty for a brief term of years. The question was, no doubt, very important, and had occupied the attention of the Admiralty. He had met with a small minority of officers who were in favour of changing the present system, and of substituting another class of equal rank and status with the separate officers. It must be owned that the questions relating to the education of the navigating officers, their pay, and promotion were all questions which could not be said to be 1414 settled at the present time, and in which possibly great reforms might be made. While that was so—and judging mainly from the evidence of naval officers, he was not prepared to lay the duty of navigating ships on officers who would only have a very limited experience of their duties from the number of years they might be engaged upon them; and he must still adhere to the practice that ships of such immense value, as those to which his hon. Friend had pointed, should be entrusted to men who had been trained to the special duties in all parts of the world. The practice was this—it was not in the first five or seven years of their duties, that the navigating officers were superior to the executive officers. The point where the navigating officers really began to be most useful and most trustworthy was when they had been for a large number of years engaged on their special work; and while he appreciated the argument for increasing the knowledge of navigation among officers, he thought, considering the immense values of our ironclads, that we could not attach too much importance to the desirability of retaining a number of men trained by the most extensive experience that could be given them to steer these vessels. While many foreign Navies were powerful, there was no point on which we were stronger than in our officers being able to place our ships in position or to navigate a difficult coast without the aid of pilots. The evidence of Admiral Sullivan corroborated that, and was to the effect that he had been in communication with French officers, and that he piloted their ships and placed them in position; and Admiral Sullivan distinctly stated that one great advantage which the English Navy had over others lay in their power of placing ships in difficult positions, and enabling them to approach much closer to difficult coasts, from the number of specially trained men we possessed. The one difficulty which existed with regard to this subject was, what was to be done with the navigating officers when, after a number of years' experience, they were anxious for promotion. That was another of the points which had often baffled schemes for the solution of this question; for it was supposed that navigating officers would not be so competent to command squadrons as executive officers, and this had constituted 1415 one of the great drawbacks. He hoped his hon. Friend would not press the Motion to a division. He could assure him that the giving all possible opportunities of studying navigation to all officers in Her Majesty's Navy was a point which was constantly occupying the attention of Her Majesty's Government. He agreed with his hon. Friend that they should produce as great a number of men in the Navy able to pilot ships as they possibly could; but, looking at the matter from a non-professional point of view, he confessed he had not seen evidence to induce him to accept the Motion, and embark on a somewhat dangerous experiment.
§ MR. G. BENTINCK
said, the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hanbury-Tracy) had referred to the loss of the Lord Clyde. He would not go into the question further than to say that what ever might have been the errors of seamanship that might have led to the catastrophe to that ship, he fully concurred in the opinion of the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth (Sir James Elphinstone), that the economizing of coals had a great deal to do with that catastrophe. As to the points raised by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hanbury-Tracy), he would observe that real seamanship could only be learnt by long practice at sea, and being constantly afloat, as was the case with the present masters; he must, confess, however, that it was quite certain that under the present condition of the Navy any under class of naval officers had not the same opportunity of acquiring the details of their profession which they formerly had. Besides, we had now constructed a class of ships which were almost unmanageable, and the navigation of which required the utmost nautical skill. If the Motion were adopted, therefore, we should have to do away with men whose talents and zeal were undoubted, in order to place the Navy in the hands of men who had not had an opportunity of acquiring a sufficient knowledge of what was necessary for the safety of our ships. He sincerely hoped, in conclusion, the House would not accept the Motion, but that they would adopt the suggestion for the establishment of school ships.
§ MR. KINNAIRD
said, he concurred in what had been expressed by the hon. and gallant Member for Stirling (Admiral Erskine), and thought it a strange policy to place civilians who might 1416 be wholly ignorant of naval affairs at the head of the Admiralty, and he must express his belief that when a crisis arrived, the system would bring this country into the greatest possible danger. There had been some remarkable changes at the Admiralty, and we were now reverting to the state of things which existed prior to the great administrative changes introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract.
§ MR. BATES
said, that, as a shipowner of some standing, he must give it as his opinion that the arguments brought forward by the hon. Gentleman opposite to prove the inefficiency of the masters in the Navy were the very best which could have been adduced to show the great efficiency of those officers. If he only lost one ship out of 25 in the course of a year he should be a gainer by not insuring his ships, and therefore the fact that of the 300 vessels in commission belonging to the Royal Navy, only 13 had been lost in 10 years, went far to prove that the sailing masters were most efficient men. He must repeat, that if he had 300 ships, and only 15 were lost per annum, he should be a gainer by not insuring them.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.