HC Deb 09 April 1875 vol 223 cc643-53

, who had given Notice that he would move— That it is expedient that there should be further inquiry into the question of the locality and constitution of the proposed College for Naval Cadets before any grant of public money is taken for that purpose, said, that formerly the training of those young men had generally been conducted in the vicinity of our great Dockyard establishments. In that arrangement there was a great advantage, because in those establishments the youths had an opportunity of seeing carried out all those mechanical operations connected with the construction, equipment, fitting out for sea, and repairing of ships which were year by year gaining greater importance for their profession. That would greatly encourage their studies and facilitate their education in the drier and more purely literary branches of instruction. Moreover, the Naval Service had great traditions, and the boys who entered it could not be too early embued with its spirit, and there was no place in which that spirit was more rife than in those great establishments which were the homes of the Navy, and where all its various grades and branches were concentrated. Their constant contact there with the officers of the Navy would inspire those boys with that pride in their profession, which was one of its most valuable characteristics, and which he trusted the Navy would always retain, whatever might be its mechanical developments. Before fixing the site of the proposed College, therefore, it was desirable to consider carefully the evidence as to the suitability of the places recommended. The Britannia training-ship was now stationed at Dartmouth, a place which he considered objectionable as a site for the College, because it was entirely removed from the great Dockyard establishments of the country, and because it was a small place. The harbour in certain states of the weather was inaccessible, and it was close to one of the roughest parts of the British Channel. He did not come forward as the advocate of any particular locality, but, from his own experience, he thought that such a place as Portsmouth, where there were large Government establishments, a roadstead in which training-ships would be always safe, and where the boys could at all times of the year be exercised, was eminently suited for a training establishment. There was besides a large quantity of land belonging to the Government which could be utilized as the site of the proposed College without any cost. He had no doubt there were other places which might he recommended. All he wanted was that the advantages offered should be carefully-considered before a decision was come to. Perhaps, it would be an advantage if the College could be opened to boys for the purpose of being trained for the Merchant Service, on payment of a small fee, the experience of our public schools in destroying exclusiveness having shown that it was desirable to have boys who were destined for different professions educated together.


said, he thought that if the Britannia was to be retained, there would be much to say in favour of keeping her at Dartmouth; but as it had been determined to do away with that training-ship, and establish a College on shore, the question was very much altered. The distance of Dartmouth from London was an important consideration, for it was desirable that the College should be under the immediate supervision of the Board of Admiralty; and in connection with the Britannia a thorough supervision had not been found practicable. Moreover, the distance of Dartmouth from the homes of most of the boys would cause many of their parents a serious expense; and it was not a place which one would choose on account of any advantages in regard to climate, as it would be found too relaxing. Although he had not the same interest in Portsmouth as the hon. Member who had last spoken, he believed it to be one amongst a number of places which were well worth considering. Amongst the others he would name as examples the Isle of Wight, the north side of the Solent, Weymouth Bay, and Branksea Island. The only argument in favour of Dartmouth was that they had already some small institutions there, as an hospital and a playground; but these were so small that they ought not to be allowed to interfere in the settlement of the question. Turning to the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Waterford (Lord Charles Beresford), who had addressed the House in a manner which gave considerable promise upon a different subject, he understood the first point to which he had called attention to be the length of time which many boys were kept unemployed after the period of their train- ing. That had always been found a considerable difficulty at the Admiralty. There were 7,000 boys, of whom 3,000 were in training ships, and great difficulty was experienced in finding places for the remaining 4,000 in sea-going ships. A proportion of 4,000 boys to 18,000 seamen was very large. It was recognized as necessary that 3,000 boys should enter every year, in order to keep up the supply of 18,000 seamen, which showed that the waste of seamen must be very great. The point which the noble Lord had brought before the House, whether something could not be done for the better training of those boys in the interval between leaving the training-ships and finding places in seagoing vessels, was well worth the consideration of the Government. The training ships, no doubt, furnished admirable material for the Navy, but after all it was a question of some importance whether we should rely entirely on the training of boys, and not encourage the entrance into the Navy of men from the Merchant Service. It might be said that in the present condition of the Merchant Service it would not be easy to get the men we wanted, and complaints had been made last night of the difficulty of procuring men for the Merchant Service itself. But when we considered the large number of men in our Mercantile Marine, there could hardly be any extraordinary difficulty in the matter. One obstacle was the difference of wages for continuous-service men in the Navy and Merchant Service. The wages of non-continuance men in the Navy, however, were still lower, and as long as that remained so, he feared there would be no use in trying to get men to enter from the Merchant Service into the Navy. It was, therefore, a matter worthy of the consideration of the Admiralty, whether some greater inducement than was held forth at present should not be offered. Very great advantage to the Navy would be derived from the building of naval barracks at Portsmouth, Plymouth, and Devonport. If the men, when brought ashore, were placed in naval barracks, they could be better trained than they were now, and we should be enabled to get rid of some of the stationary and depôt ships now in use which ran away with a great deal of money for repairs. He thought the noble Lord had done good service in bringing the question before Parliament.


said, it would be a great advantage to the country and to the Navy itself if a little more information were given as to the best site for the Naval College before Dartmouth was definitely decided on. No doubt an admirable site could be found at Dartmouth, though it might be thought that the climate there was of too relaxing a nature. But a point which should have great weight with the Admiralty was that the Naval College should be somewhere in the vicinity of some great naval station, dockyard, or arsenal. If there was one spot more than another where an opportunity would be given of seeing what the Navy really was, what our naval establishments really were, and the quality of those great ships which were rather machinery than anything else, it would be found in the neighbourhood of great dockyards like Portsmouth or Plymouth; whereas, if Dartmouth should be selected, the boys would never see Her Majesty's Ships from year's end to year's end. There was ample room between Portsmouth on the one hand and the Southampton Water on the other along the shores of the Solent to find a better site for a Naval College than on any other part of the Coast. This was a subject upon which it would be well that the Government should give full information before a large expenditure was incurred.


said, the House was indebted to his noble and gallant friend the Member for Waterford (Lord Charles Beresford) for having initiated a very interesting discussion with regard to the state of the Navy and the way in which it was to be manned. For his own part, he felt very much gratified that his noble and gallant Friend should have taken such a part in this debate, because he considered that the practical experience of a naval officer on such subjects was exceedingly valuable both to the House and the Government. In a great deal of what his noble and gallant Friend had said he went entirely with him. He felt there was a great want of proper employment and training for these young seamen when they were first rated on leaving the training ships, and the Admiralty were taking steps to provide a remedy. It was their intention not only that brigs should go out in the winter as well as the summer for the purpose of training these young lads when first rated, but that another and a larger ship should be provided to supplement the accommodation furnished by the brigs. It was no doubt a great fault that those boys should spend so much time in harbour, and it had long been felt that when they were first rated—for they were only boys at that time—they did not acquire such habits as were desirable if they were not sent to sea at once. But that was the result of a system very valuable to the country—that of having a Reserve in our ports. Supposing the plan were adopted of sending them to sea at once, then we should have no Reserve. But if we wanted to have sufficient men for our ships in time of need, we must have a number of young seamen sometimes employed "to do horse," to use the phrase quoted by his hon. Friend. It had been proposed as a remedy that we should build naval barracks, which would promote the efficiency of the men by the training they would receive there. No doubt, a more perfect system than the present one might be devised, but then all the pros and cons would have to be considered. The establishment of naval barracks would be a matter of considerable expense, and would meet only one of the difficulties, but not that of not sending these young men to sea. If they were kept in those barracks they would not be acquiring habits of seamanship more than at present. His noble and gallant Friend had touched on the question of the pay of the seamen, which, he said, had not been raised since the Battle of Trafalgar. That, though accurate as regarded the seamen generally, was not accurate as regarded the petty officers, who had received a considerable increase. And, besides, there was now a great inducement held forth in the shape of additional pay to seamen in the Fleet who conducted themselves properly and discharged their duties meritoriously. Therefore, it was open to any seaman to obtain a higher rate of pay than the pay at first fixed. But that the rate of pay was sufficiently attractive to the class of men who were inclined towards a seafaring life was proved by the number of men who joined again for a period of 10 years. He entirely approved of the desirability of retaining men who had already served 10 years in the Service, in respect of which his noble and gallant Friend had stated that out of 1,100 men in one year, 900 joined again for a period of 10 years. That was a large percentage. His recollection, however, entirely bore out the statement of his noble and gallant Friend, for that was very nearly the proportion in which men did re-enter the Navy, and he thought it was a very satisfactory state of things. It went to show that the pay now received by the Navy was sufficiently attractive to induce men to continue in the service. The hon. and gallant Member for Devonport (Captain Price) thought there might be a system of interchanging men between the Navy and the Mercantile Marine, but he feared there would be considerable difficulty in such a scheme. He (Mr. Hunt) had, however, endeavoured to establish a system by which we might train boys for the Naval Reserve, at the same time that they were training for the Mercantile Marine. That he thought a practicable system, for let the seamen of the Mercantile Marine once acquire the use of arms, and then we should have a force we might rely on in the event of a war. The subject of the proposed establishment of a Naval College had been introduced in a very able speech by his hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth (Mr. Bruce). He pointed out the advantages which would be derived from establishing a Naval College for cadets in the neighbourhood of one of our great arsenals, and he naturally enough preferred Portsmouth. No doubt there would be great advantages in having a College there, where the young officers would see ships in the course of construction, but a great many points had to be considered. It must be known to the House that Portsmouth had its disadvantages, and as a matter of experience, it had been found necessary to remove the Britannia training-ship from Portsmouth first to Portland, and afterwards to Dartmouth. The question had been under consideration for a long period of years, and it was matter of surprise that a decision had not been arrived at sooner. There was at the Admiralty an immense number of particulars about every possible place, from the River Orwell almost to Penzance. Every conceivable place was reported on with regard to the object in view—namely, the education of naval cadets. The result arrived at by the gentlemen in charge of the duty was that four places should be taken into final consideration—Portsmouth, Portland, Poole Harbour, and Dartmouth. The objections to Portsmouth were that the harbour would not be available for boys learning how to manage small boats, being constantly traversed by vessels of all sorts, and there was also the contiguity to places to which it was not desirable boys should have ready access. Portland, as he had said, was tried when the Britannia was removed there from Portsmouth. That had also been under consideration; but the sea was so generally rough at Portland, that boys got drenched to the skin when they went out, and there was a very great difficulty in landing. It would be an exceedingly bleak place for a College. It had also to be remembered that there was a convict prison at Portland, which was objectionable; the country about was very limited, and those amenities generally looked to for walks and recreations were not to be found there. Then with regard to Branksea Island, it was very well worth consideration. It had many advantages but it had this disadvantage, that it was an island, and it would be a great objection, if the College were placed there, that it could only be reached by water. With regard to Dartmouth, he quite saw the force of the objection on the ground of its remoteness. He did not wish to underrate that objection, but they had to consider the pros and cons, and after carefully considering the matter he had come to the conclusion that, on the whole, Dartmouth was the best place. It was known to the House that a very able Committee had looked into the question; they spent some time at Dartmouth, and when they returned, he spoke to one of its Members, who said they could not have a better place than the high land immediately above the boys' gymnasium and bathing place. He was not acquainted with the exact site, but he went down there during the Easter Recess, and he must say it would be very difficult to find a more beautiful site. It seemed to possess every advantage. The harbour was landlocked; the water was almost always smooth, and there was little or no interruption from vessels passing up and down the river. These were great advantages where boys were learning to handle a boat or manage small sailing vessels. There was also the experience of the Britannia on the score of health. He was also told that the site he had looked at was much less relaxing than in the valley of the river. The walks in the neighbourhood were very beautiful, the general healthiness of the place was good., and in every respect, except that of remoteness, it was unexceptionable. On the whole he was satisfied they could not do better than choose it; and his Colleagues, naval and civil, had arrived at the same conclusion. Although satisfied as to the salubrity of the place, he had requested the Medical Director-General to make a special report upon the site. The Admiralty were offered a sufficient quantity of land at a not unreasonable rate; and he believed that any one who went down to the spot would be satisfied that a wise selection had been made.


said, that the best information on record on the training of boys for the Navy would be found in the Proceedings of the Royal Commission of 1866 on the recruiting of the Army. The evidence of Admiral Eden, then one of the Lords of the Admiralty, was taken in great detail, and the cost of training boys was then ascertained, and, although the average was now put down at only £10 in the Estimates, yet he believed that the inclusion of establishment and all other expenses would bring the total cost per boy up to £65 a-year. It would be well if the Admiralty would direct their attention to the ample supplies of fine young lads trained up by the fisheries of the east coast of Scotland, which he believed would furnish a large number of boys admirably suited for the Navy. Under the far more favourable feelings towards the Navy as compared with that which existed in former years, when sailors were so harshly treated and so little eared for, he felt confident that boys from the fisheries to the number of 2,000 or 3,000 could easily be induced to join the service. A little encouragement to parents, the granting of family tickets, even for a few shillings a-month, would have a great influence on boys and parents. The permission to go back to their villages and to be landed along the coast by one of the vessels of war, so readily made available, and again taken up at the end of the leave, would entirely change the distrust, which still remained against naval service, into one of liking. This excellent source of supply well deserved to be encouraged. It would be easy to raise up the fisheries by improved harbours to double the strength in boats, men, and boys, now existing, and if in that improved condition, the Navy might always rely on procuring as fine lads as could be desired. He would also recommend the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War to adopt the same system of training for the Army as existed in the Navy. The Royal Commission of 1866 on Recruiting advised this mode of providing men for the Army to be considered, and now that so much was said about inefficient and insufficient numbers of recruits, he hoped that this recommendation, like many other suggestions of that Commission, would, not remain in a state of neglect.


, as a naval officer, thought that at the end of 13 years it was time that the desirability of this proposed Naval College was settled, and although Dartmouth might not be the best place in all respects, still he should be glad to accept the decision of the Board of Admiralty on that point. He did not think it would be any great disadvantage to the College being fixed at Dartmouth that it would be so far away from the Admiralty. On the contrary, good would result from its being removed from the direct personal supervision of the authorities at Whitehall. A capable teacher would have greater freedom in carrying out his own ideas, and would be more likely to be successful than if he were open to constant interference.


thought the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Mr. Bruce) had done good service by bringing the question of the Naval College before the House. He was glad the First Lord of the Admiralty had given them the reasons which had led to the selection of Dartmouth, and it must be admitted there was considerable weight in them. He concurred with the right hon. Gentleman in thinking that Portsmouth would be an undesirable position for this institution, which would be a school rather than a college. When the Royal Naval College at Greenwich was founded, it was not considered desirable to place naval cadets there, and the objection to Greenwich applied with still greater force to Portsmouth. The remoteness of Dartmouth as the site of the College was, no doubt, to some extent, an objection, not only with regard to its supervision by the Admiralty, but also on account of the distance of the cadets from their parents. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would not proceed further until he had thoroughly satisfied himself from the Report of the Medical Inspector of the Navy that the site was in every respect satisfactory. In that case the establishment of the College was, in his opinion, a wise step. He was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman proposed to give further facilities for the training of ordinary seamen in sailing ships, as the importance of such training could not be exaggerated. When he (Mr. Goschen) was at the Admiralty, he found it advisable to attach to a squadron like that in the Mediterranean a sailing vessel in which ordinary seamen might be trained, and the greatest advantages were derived from that system. If the right hon. Gentleman would attach sailing ships to some of the other squadrons, it would be a further step in the right direction. In his opinion great good would arise from the point which had been raised by the noble and gallant Lord the Member for Waterford (Lord Charles Beresford). The continuous service system must be at all hazards maintained, but there were difficulties in the way of naval barracks. The pre-sent receiving ships were, however, most costly in every way.


said, with reference to the remark of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kincardineshire (Sir George Balfour), that the average cost of training boys for the Navy might be taken at £70. The Admiralty entirely concurred with the hon. and gallant Gentleman as to the naval qualification of the men and boys engaged in the Scotch fisheries, and one object of the recent cruise by some of the Members of the Board was to endeavour to get them to join the Naval Reserve. The hon. Member for Portsmouth (Mr. Bruce) objected to the Dartmouth site on the ground that it was near a convict prison; but the nearest prison was at Dartmoor, and that was 40 miles off.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.