HC Deb 09 April 1875 vol 223 cc639-43

, in rising to call attention to manning the Navy, said, in the observations he sought to offer he had no desire to criticize the present or any other Board of Admiralty. He considered the subject which he was about to treat of as one in which the country felt deep interest. What he was particularly desirous to allude to was the defect arising from the absence of barracks, with accompanying frigates as drill ships, in which the men might be accommodated and trained for the Service during the time that they were in port. With regard to the men of the present day, he believed it would be agreed by all naval officers that the seamen of the present day were infinitely superior to the class of men who were employed in it 10, or 15, or 20 years ago. At that time there were 1,100 men in the ship which he joined when he entered the Service, and of the 1,100 at least 500 could neither read nor write, and their habits were different in many respects from those of the men at present in the Service. Their mouths were generally filled with tobacco, and when they came on shore they commonly spent their money in getting drunk. That state of things, however, did not now exist, for under the new regulations the men, when paid, did not get the same amount of leave on shore as formerly. In France, and other foreign countries, there was better training accommodation for their sailors than this great maritime country had for its seamen, and owing to the absence of the necessary training ships the country did not get more than two-thirds of a man's actual work and time, because the rest of his time was spent in making him become what he should be. Before the Russian War, the men who joined were those who had been connected with the Mercantile Marine, and who were good seamen; but now those joining had to be taught. Therefore, what he wanted, as he had before observed, was to urge the necessity of providing regular head-quarters for the Navy—barracks, having frigates in connection with them—through which men and boys could be drafted in proper rotation to vessels which required them. The men in the depots were constantly being employed in dockyard work, and the time was thus wasted which might be turned to good account in re-qualifying them for service on board ship. If, however, they were in barracks, they would have to go through a certain amount of drill, and would, with even a very small amount of practice, learn, at least, how to hold a rifle. He must also insist on the necessity of having seamanship taught when young, for it was impossible to acquire a thorough knowledge of it in advanced years. It would require every year 3,000 boys to keep the Navy up to a strength of 19,000; but as we only got about 2,700, it became necessary to draft into the Navy for boys ordinary second-class seamen. There were from 1,300 to 1,800 boys constantly waiting in guard-snips to be drafted into sea-going ships; and it would be of great advantage to them if they could be removed into barracks as soon as they left the training ships. The system of training ships was most excellent, but where the system failed was, that when boys had to wait for nine months or so upon guard-ships they became discontented more or less. The Estimates were always made out for pure seamen. A pure seaman, however, was nothing under an A.B., and the Estimate, therefore, ought to be made out for so many pure seamen, and so many ordinaries of the first and second class. In 1874 there were 5,063 ordinary second-class seamen, and of others who were rated as men there were 1,193, or in all 6,256 embryo seamen. These, however, were included in the 18,000 who were supposed to be pure seamen; and deducting them, there would only be about 11,000 real pure seamen left. In 1874 there were 221 ships in commission; of these 72 were fighting ships, and 189 were yachts, tugs, troopers, gunboats, and so on. In the 72 fighting ships there were 11,000 seamen, leaving 7,000 men in ships of other kinds. If there were barracks, all these 7,000 men might be re-qualifying for their next ship. Many of the first-class reserve men were also used in the depots to do dockyard work. When he was at Plymouth, he was often asked by seamen to get them on to sea-going ships. One of these, a very smart seaman, when he applied, was asked what he had been doing lately, and the reply was—"Well, Sir, I have been doing horses for the last nine months." It seemed that he had, with a horse, been towing timber round the dockyard; an occupation in which such a man was really wasted. Another thing he complained of was that there was no fixed system by which seamen were taught gunnery—no roster, according to which every seaman was instructed in gunnery. Why, also, should not the non-competent class of men—the stokers, &c.—be trained? In the Hotspur class they were 55 per cent of the number of seamen; yet they would be quite useless in a hand-to-hand fight. If there were barracks, the non-competent men, while living there, could be at least trained. As to the Reserve Force, while it was impossible to deny that the material of our Mercantile Marine was as good as ever, he must contend that they did not have the practice which was necessary to fit them for serving on board a man-of-war. There was no captain, he should think, who would care about employing men on his ship who had never been under man-of-war discipline, however willing they might be. We had 10,000 men in the Royal Naval Reserve, each of whom could be obtained at the rate of £15 a-year, including the cost of food and clothing. But why, he would ask, should we not keep the 10 years' men, who were the most valuable class of men whose services we could secure? He saw no good reason why each of them should not get £7 or £8 a-year with that object. Almost all those in Captain Shaw's brigade were such men, and, indeed, they were a class of men whom anyone would be glad to have in his employment. In fact, at present they became signalmen on railways, and occupied other responsible posts. The average number of them who left the Navy every year was 1,163; of these there came back to the Service 935, so that there were 228 of these 10 years' men lost every year. If they could be retained there would be no necessity for calling them out every year; indeed, once in three years would suffice, and in the event of sudden war he was satisfied they would be found to constitute a most admirable force, while if they know they were to receive £6 or £7 or £8 a-year, such a prospect would have a great effect in stopping desertion, which generally began before the expiration of the 10 years. Another thing which he wished to mention was this startling fact—that the pay in the Royal Navy had not really been augmented since the days of Trafalgar. In 1805 the pay of an able seaman was £21 15s. 6d. a-year, and in 1874 it was but £24 6s. 8d.; but at the former date a seaman got a pint of rum a-day, whilst now he got only half-a-gill, and the slight increase in wages would barely pay for the rum. He admitted that the comforts of the men had been in this time immensely increased; but when wages ashore had risen so much, it was not astonishing that men deserted to get the higher wages. Another thing was that there was now no prize money, which had formerly constituted a principal inducement for men to join the Navy. In conclusion, he begged to thank the House for the patience with which they had listened to him, and hoped that these matters would receive attention at the hands of the Government.


said, he thought the noble Lord had done good service by bringing that subject forward. The present system of training boys to supply the waste of the Navy was excellent as far as it went, and it met the ordinary requirements of the Service in time of peace; but in time of war, they would have to draw as they now did for the Naval Reserve, upon the Mercantile Marine. If they were to look to the Merchant Service as a nursery for the Navy, they must encourage some kind of interchangeability between the Navy and the Merchant Service. For that purpose they should increase the nominal strength of the Navy, and allow a certain number of men, either 5,000, 10,000, or 15,000, as might be found necessary, after they had qualified and served a certain time in the Navy, to go on furlough into the Merchant Service for a stated period, say for two or three years. That would be a great advantage to the Merchant Service; and in case a war broke out, there would be a large and a real Reserve of men who could be called to man the vessels of war. In the same way, a Reserve of stokers might be created. There was a Reserve of seamen, but none of stokers; and the same principle might be extended to the Marines. He had mentioned his idea to several Friends who were well acquainted with maritime affairs, and they were of opinion that some such arrangement would be invaluable to the Royal Navy, and also be most useful to the Merchant Service. He was not prepared with any matured scheme; but he thought that the suggestion was worthy of serious consideration.