HC Deb 25 April 1876 vol 228 cc1635-58

, in rising to call attention to the alteration which is gradually being effected in the system under which Her Majesty's ships are navigated; and to move— That, in the opinion of this House, it having been determined gradually to abolish the system of employing a separate and distinct branch of officer for navigating duties, it is desirable that greater encouragement and a more extended training than at present adopted should be given to the officers of the Fleet to obtain practical experience in surveying, pilotage, and navigation; and that in carrying out the intended change due regard should be paid to the position and prospects of existing class of navigating officers, said: The subject cannot fail to be somewhat dry and uninteresting, as it is purely a professional matter; but, at the same time, when it is remembered how large an amount we spend annually on our iron-clad Navy, I trust I may claim the kind indulgence of the House whilst I endeavour to state the case as briefly as possible. When I last brought this subject before the House the question then in dispute was whether the old system of retaining a separate class for navigating duties should be continued, or whether it should be relegated to the main executive branch and a general knowledge diffused throughout all branches of the Service. Since then I am happy to say this point has practically been conceded, and I do not propose to re-open it. To render the existing state of things intelligible to the House I ought perhaps to explain that for a number of years we have maintained a separate branch, and I ought to use the expression a separate class of officers for navigating duties, under the general idea that by this means we obtained men with far greater experience as pilots and navigators than we otherwise could. This system originated many years ago, in the time of Henry VIII., when it was necessary to have sea nurses for our captains, and was resuscitated at the beginning of the old French war when it was found necessary to expand our Fleet very largely; we then brought in a large number of old trained mates and merchant captains from the Merchant Navy, and as they had not been brought up trained in gunnery and the discipline of a man-of-war we utilized their services by entrusting them with the navigation of the ships. These officers were first-rate seamen, and in most cases good pilots, and were well satisfied with their position which was subordinate to the executive officers of the ship. As these men died out the Navy had got so accustomed to lean on the old masters that instead of rearing up the pick of our young lieutenants to take their place we unfortunately allowed the distinct and subordinate class to exist, and we entered year after year a mixed set of lads, many of whom were of a very inferior social status, to become our special navigators, without any selection or special qualification. Of late years a much better class of boys were entered who, as they grew up, felt their anomalous and subordinate position must acutely. The general result was, as might be expected, pilotage and navigation got to be regarded as a secondary consideration, the executive class looked, down upon it and took little or no heed of it; whilst, at the same time, the special navigating class grew more and more discontented. At last matters arrived at such a point that the question could no longer be disregarded. In 1865 the Duke of Somerset after carefully considering the question with the assistance of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) determined that the only real solution of the difficulty was gradually to let the old class die out and to rear up officers to take their place from the main line. Thus, to obtain selection and special qualification whilst, at the same time, diffusing the knowledge through all ranks of the Service. This policy was announced by Lord Clarence Paget in June, 1865. Unfortunately before this policy could be fully carried out the Duke of Somerset went out of office and was succeeded by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) now LORD Hampton, who at once proceeded to reverse this policy and to enter again a large number of navigating cadets. I am told, on high authority, that this reversal of policy was not so much due to any very strong opinion on the merits of the question as it was to the fact that the right hon. Gentleman desired to bestow his patronage on a considerable number of lads who were over the age of naval cadets, and by this means they were got into the Service. Whether this was so or not must remain a secret in the archives of the Admiralty; but the fact is undoubtedly true that the policy was reversed, and an attempt was made to bolster up the old navigating class. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tyrone (the late Mr. Corry) who succeeded Lord Hampton continued in the same course. In 1870 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract, on becoming First Lord, determined that amongst the many reforms he would carry out, the abolition of a separate class for navigating duties should be one of them. He at once placed the entry of navigating cadets on the same footing as the other cadets. The enormous amount of work which was then thrust upon him, and his subsequent illness, prevented further steps being then taken. Although my Motion was opposed in 1872 by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen), I am happy to say that within one year the long-delayed step was taken, and a Circular was issued in August, 1873, inviting five lieutenants and 20 sub-lieutenants to volunteer for navigating duties; whilst at the same time it was made clear that the old class were gradually to be allowed to die out. I confess that when the present Government came into office I was much afraid that they might again take a retrograde step. I am thankful, however, to say that the right hon. Gentleman the present First Lord has been able to with- stand all inducements, and has not only adhered to the policy of his Predecessor, but has taken another step in a similar direction. If there were any doubts as to his intention in this respect, they were removed by the announcement he made a few weeks ago, that he proposed at once to amalgamate the navigating midshipmen with the executive line. Starting, then, from this point, let us see whether the policy is being carried out as vigorously as it ought to be, and in a manner likely to render the new system a success. The question appears to divide itself into three subjects—First, Whether the alteration which has been made will speedily diffuse a knowledge of practical navigation and pilotage amongst our captains and commanders, and enable them to handle their ship with greater confidence? Secondly, Whether the officers being trained up to navigating duties in the executive line, to assist the captain, have facilities given them to enable them to become thoroughly experienced and efficient in their duties? Thirdly, Whether proper steps have been taken to meet the grievances complained of by the existing navigating class, and to effect a just settlement of the whole question? And now let us examine the first part of the subject. The main advantage to be gained from the abolition of a separate branch undoubtedly is the diffusion of a greater amount of practical navigation and pilotage amongst our executive officers; and it is of the greatest importance that our captains and commanders should obtain this knowledge at the earliest possible moment. It is with this view I and many others have always urged forward this question, and we are therefore most anxious, now that the general system is agreed to, that no time should be lost in obtaining this result. The grievances of the navigating class, whilst most important, must nevertheless stand second to the primary consideration. Captain Washington, a late hydrographer of the Admiralty, stated these views very clearly in an able memorandum in 1862. He then said— But apart from rendering justice to masters, it appears to me that there is a higher motive for doing away with the class—namely, the general benefit of the service, by breaking up the monopoly of a large share of professional knowledge, reserved apparently for one branch, and that not the principal executive branch of the service. The master, by the Admiralty Instructions, is entrusted with the care of the rigging, and expenditure of stores, the stowage of the holds, the charge of the anchors and cables, the custody of chronometers and compasses, the navigation of the ship on the ocean, the pilotage in narrow waters, and the steering and conning of the ship in time of battle. My great desire would be to see the knowledge, experience, and skill, which may be obtained in the performance of such duties, absorbed among the lieutenants, commanders, and captains, all of whom would become more efficient in their respective positions by the addition to their professional qualifications, which would be the sure and certain result of abolishing the separate class. I am well aware that there are many officers in command of ships who are good navigators and pilots, and I know several captains, who, although they may have neglected this duty during the greater part of their service, have found the responsibility so serious when they became captains, that they have at once set to work to render themselves thoroughly competent. It is, however, only too true that as a general rule, owing to the severance of navigating duties from the main body of the profession, lieutenants after having passed at the college, throw their books aside and think no more of astronomy, or the theory of navigation—in which, in many cases, they have passed brilliant examinations—knowing very well that owing to there being a distinct class for these duties their knowledge will never be required. The result is, that lieutenants become commanders and commanders become captains without, in nine cases out of ten, ever having taken a moderate sized ship from one port to another by themselves. It is true that formal observation and a few "days' work" are occasionally required in some ships; but there is no reality in it; there is no responsibility about it. I remember, in 1872, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Stamford (Sir John Hay), in replying to me, stating that it was new to him that captains did not know how to navigate and pilot their vessels, and he seemed to imply that I had very much exaggerated the case. Now, Sir, I can well understand the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's feelings in the matter. He happened himself to be one of those captains who took an interest in this part of that duty, and it is well known that in one or two ships he had no navigating officer on board, and the ships were navigated with great success. He was well known in the Service to be a very good officer, and I have no doubt in most matters he was thoroughly competent. To show, Sir, however, that I am borne out in the opinion I have expressed by others, I will, with the permission of the House, read a letter by a Staff commander of considerable standing, one out of many sent to me— Speaking as a navigating officer, and feeling acutely the injustice under which we suffer, I am nevertheless convinced that this is nothing compared to the wrong done to the Service and to the country by the continuance of the present system under which the practical knowledge of navigation is confined to a mere handful, when the whole executive class is only waiting for proper inducements to qualify for, and undertake, this first and most important of a naval officer's duty. …. It is often said, both in and out of Parliament, that captains can and do navigate their own ships. I have had 19 years' experience in navigating in charge of all classes of ships, from a gunboat to the largest ironclads, and have served under nearly a score of captains, and this is my experience of their knowledge and practice of navigation. Of the whole number only one took astronomical observations with any regularity, another did so occasionally; and of the remainder I never saw one take a sextant in hand, whilst as to deviation and variation of the compass, &c., &c., such things were merely details of the navigating officer's duty with which they did not concern themselves, and of which they mostly knew nothing; yet the majority were really good officers, but had simply paid no attention to a duty which the Service had brought them up to think would be done for them. ….The position of navigating officers is so depressing that it is no wonder executive officers are not very anxious to adopt their line, and the neglect of that duty very naturally leads to the neglect of the handling of the ship under other circumstances; so that I have seen the Channel Fleet of nine ironclads practically in the hands of the Staff commanders when performing steam evolutions, the flag-ship and one other being the only ships where the captains took charge of their own ships. Lately some improvement has taken place in this respect; but still the chief knowledge and practice of handling the ship lies with the navigating officer, and what I dread is this—that in case of an engagement between two fleets a high-spirited captain would possibly feel himself bound, when about to ram an enemy, to take the direction of the helm out of the navigating officer's hands; when it is not too much to say that in three cases out of four proficiency would be giving way to inefficiency, and failure would be the result. The only way out of the difficulty is to abolish the present class of navigating officers, and diffuse their knowledge throughout the executives; but do us justice in the abolition. I think no one can deny that this letter gives a very decided opinion. The name of the writer of this letter I shall be very happy to give to any hon. Member, and the officer has given me permission to give his name to the Admiralty, if they require it or wish to test the accuracy of his statement. He is a distinguished and able officer, and speaks with considerable authority. SIR, in the present day, with the great alterations in naval warfare, I maintain it is incumbent on our captains that they shall no longer be dependent on a navigating officer. The old days when the master sailed and conned the ship into action are past. We have arrived at a time when rams and torpedoes will be the deadly weapons of the future, and when the captain who handles his ram the most skilfully must win the day. It is difficult to picture to oneself a more unpleasant position for a captain to be placed in than to have command of one of our great ironclad rams, and to have to leave the handling of his ship to another officer. Captain Noel in his prize essay, states the necessity of careful handling of a ram so well that I feel 1 cannot do better than quote his words— What iron nerves, what cool-headed determination, what almost instinctive guidance will be required to steer one of our largest iron-clads, moving at the rate of eight or 10knots, against one of another fleet approaching at the same rate, with the firm resolution of ramming her should opportunity offer! There will be no prompting, no time to ask advice, no opportunity for further calculation than the eye and senses can command at the moment; the decision must be instantaneous, and immediately carried into effect, the only encouragement being in the knowledge that the enemy's ship is commanded and guided by a man undergoing the same fearful test, and that the most determined man of the two, if sufficiently skilful, must secure his object. I know the old worn-out argument that the captain has so much to do in a man-of-war of the present date; that she is such a complex machine that it is impossible for him to attend to the navigation of the ship. My answer is simply this—that I should be the last to desire that he should have the whole of the detail work of navigation and piloting thrown on his shoulders, and that he must have as his assistant the most qualified man it is possible to obtain; but I maintain it is one of the first qualifications of a seaman and a captain that he should have thorough acquaintance with the handling of his vessel, and a practical acquaintance with navigation and piloting, so as when necessary to take charge himself and to have confidence in himself as he has in every other of his duties. In order to give this practical knowledge to our captains, I am convinced that you must take additional steps to those now in force. Do not let us forget that until our new system has had time to develop itself we shall remain the only Navy in the world in which pilotage, navigation, and the handling of his vessel are not considered the most essential duties of every captain. In Germany they have copied every other institution, but they have taken great care to make all their captains serve an apprenticeship in navigating their ship. By the system inaugurated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen) you have obtained four lieutenants and 23 sub-lieutenants who have qualified; and assuming that the Admiralty select annually some 15 or 20 for these navigating duties, you will in the course of 15 years have several of your captains officers who have been navigating officers, and you will gradually arrive at the proportion of one-fifth of your captains being experienced navigators. But, SIR, I apprehend we cannot wait 15 years, and the problem seems to be what steps can you take to infuse an immediate acquaintance with these duties. With the certainty that rams will be very largely used in any great naval war, the handling of our ships will form a most important part of the chances of success. I fear that unless some great alteration is made, some fearful catastrophe will one day occur, and with iron-clads costing over £500,000 the Admiralty incur a fearful responsibility if they allow the present want of practice to continue. It is 14 years since Captain Washington warned the Admiralty of the danger they would be placed in, and yet no change had been made. His remarkable words, read now after this lapse of time, are curiously prophetic— It is not impossible that the introduction of armour-plated ships and steam rams may have an important bearing on this question. If a steam ram were about to give her stem to an opponent, is it conceivable that the captain of the ram should delegate his authority to a master at that critical moment? Would he not rather, at all hazards, be bound to take the responsibility on himself? If this be so, should he not have a training for handling and steering his ship promptly under any emergency? Would he not feel far more confidence in himself had he passed through the grades of navigating officer, and had for some years had charge of the steering and conning of the ship? Very recent events point to this mode of warfare as likely to play a prominent part in any future naval action; and would it be wise, then, to wait until the time of need before training our younger executive officers to acquire that self-reliance and confidence which can only be gained by continual practice? The remedy I would venture to suggest for this state of things appears to me very simple. You have torpedo schools, you have gunnery schools; why not at once institute a school for practical navigation and pilotage and allow your officers to go through a course. It is no abstruse science, but one easily learnt—only requiring practice. There would be no difficulty whatever in getting your captains and commanders to go through it voluntarily. We have 39 captains who have not yet been appointed to a ship since their promotion, and unfortunately it is still four and a-half years before a man obtains a command. It is the greatest blot in the profession that this should be so. Officers in the prime of life, with a full knowledge of their profession, are condemned to hopeless inactivity for four long years on a miserable pittance called half-pay. In these days, when even one year makes a vast difference in our knowledge of naval architecture and science of naval warfare, it is suicidal to keep the officers—so much depends upon rusting—in some inland village. Surely every endeavour and every inducement ought to be held out to them, not only to keep up their knowledge, but to increase their attainments. If you cannot give them ships, attach them to dockyards, to committees, give them the opportunity of studying at college and in the various schools. If you were to offer full pay and harbour-service time to officers passing a certain standard, for, say, six months, course, you would have nearly all the captains coming forward; and if, in addition to this, you were to make it generally known that a good examination would be a stepping stone to a command, all difficulty would be removed, and you would soon have captains possessing thorough confidence in themselves as practical navigators. In creating a school such as I have suggested, it would be necessary to have two or three steamers attached for practical pilotage in the Channel. To carry out the same object, in other grades, I would also suggest that no lieutenant should be promoted to commander until he had passed through this practical course. As regards the second part of the subject, whether the young lieutenants and sub-lieutenants who are being trained to navigating duties have facilities given them to enable them to become thoroughly experienced and efficient, I have not much to say. As far as I can judge from inquiries, those who have come forward and been selected are likely to prove valuable officers. The same suggestion which I have made as regards captains, I would also apply to these officers, and that they should obtain their knowledge of pilotage from actual experience in the Channel, and not, as at present, obtain their practical knowledge after they have passed. It is another proof how little is thought of pilotage and navigation, that although a strong recommendation was made, as long ago as 1862, by the Committee which sat on the subject, that steamers should be set apart to teach officers training for pilotage duties the practical part of their duties, no attempt whatever has been made to carry it out. The Report states— A thorough knowledge of the pilotage of the Channel and of the coasts of the British Isles is at all times desirable, and in the event of a war might be of vital importance to the country. We therefore recommend that at least one vessel should be appropriated for this service, and that before Staff lieutenants are confirmed in that rank they should serve, not less than three months, in that or some other vessel in the Channel and around the coasts of the United Kingdom. It can hardly be credited that navigating officers pass their examination in pilotage at the Admiralty without any such assistance, and take charge of navigating and pilot duties without having had any experience of the different harbours. There are many plans, in addition to this, which might be thought of. We have a large number of revenue cruisers round our coasts, which might all be commanded by lieutenants, and four or five sub-lieutenants attached to each, so as to acquire an intimate acquaintance with our various harbours. Then, SIR, why should not our young officers attach themselves to pilotboats to acquire experience. If some such steps are taken, I have every confidence that the lieutenants and sub-lieutenants now coming forward will prove experienced pilots and able navigators. The Admiralty have the pick of the whole profession, and ought therefore to have no difficulty in rearing up well-qualified officers. There is one school for our officers in these duties and also in seamanship which I fear has been much neglected, I mean the surveying school. It is only necessary to go back a very few years to see how many officers of the main executive branch were employed on surveying service in comparison to the number now. I believe every naval officer will agree with me that the surveying service ought to be well kept up; not only for the great national advantages we derive from careful surveys, enabling our merchant fleets to be safely guided in difficult channels, but from the splendid school which affords for training our surveyors, navigators, and pilots. In time of war when buoys are taken up, and charts of little use, the men who have been trained in distant surveys are invaluable. It is these men who, in all our wars, have conducted our fleet in safety in difficult channels, and seem to have acquired a natural power of smelling out rocks and shoals. I regret to find that the number of our bonâ fide surveyors have of late years much dwindled down. There were—captains and commanders—in 1849, 28; in 1855, 24; in 1865, 18; in 1876, only 4. It is perfectly true that several lieutenants have lately been brought into this Service, and will eventually become bonâ fide surveyors. I am also aware that the surveying requirements in one respect are not so great as they used to be, owing to several foreign nations having come forward to take their share in the work; but, as a school for the Navy, the requirements are even greater than ever. In 1849 we had 12 surveying ships in commission—in 1875 we had only 3, showing a great reduction. In addition to these modes of training our officers, the Admiralty ought to enforce the suggestion made, I think, by Admiral Ryder, that as the gunnery lieutenants instruct officers in gunnery so the navigating officers should instruct them in practical surveying, navigation, pilotage, and meteorology, and thus enable them to make useful surveys of reefs, running surveys of coast lines and harbours; that in every ship, unless good reason could be shown to the contrary, a survey for exercise and experience should always be on hand in every ship. By these means you would very soon diffuse a general knowledge, and you would raise these important duties to the primary position they ought to hold in the mind, of every seaman. I now come to the third and last portion of my subject—namely, the grievances of navigating officers. Although I treat this last, it is a most important matter and cannot be neglected. Your navigating officers have for years been in a most anomalous and subordinate position, galling to every man of any spirit, and in many cases almost unbearable. They have, notwithstanding this, done their work very well, and I apprehend that now you are altering the whole system you must meet their just complaints, and deal with the matter in a broad and comprehensive spirit. I know that it is a difficult question, and as the Duke of Somerset stated before the Committee of 1862, great care must be taken that in trying to do justice to the navigating class you do not do injustice to the main executive line. But it is much easier to deal with this class of officers now than it ever was, the numbers having been very greatly reduced since 1865. In that year there were 696 navigating officers of all ranks; in 1875 there are only 367, and the number will soon be further reduced, as the First LORD of the Admiralty has signified his intention of amalgamating the navigating midshipmen with the main line. Year after year promises of special promotion have been made, but with one or two rare exceptions they have never been carried out. Only so late as 1870 my right hon. Friend (Mr. Childers) made a regulation that the Admiralty might promote three in each year, but instead of up to this time 18 having been promoted, only one has received the benefit of the regulation. A few years ago you gave them relative rank according to their seniority with their brother officers in the main line, but prevented it taking effect on board ship, so that a staff commander with 20 years' service is junior to the lieutenant of a day's standing. In cases where Staff commanders have command of store ships it is most irritating to find themselves placed under a junior lieutenant in command of a gunboat. On the other hand officers in the main line say that is perfectly true, but they have not been brought up to a knowledge of discipline and gunnery, and why should they interfere with us? Giving every allowance to this argument, I am bound to say that the time seems to have come when, with a class gradually dying out, and with a new race of officers training up for navigating duties, you must take a somewhat determined step, and put an end once and for all to the constant irritation and discontent which one so con- stantly hears of. I would, with all due deference, solve the questions of retirement, pay, and widows' pensions by at once placing them on a similar footing as the main line. With respect to the question of rank, I would withdraw the stipulation which prevents their holding relative rank on board ship; but I would make this proviso—that in no case should the navigating officer (if of the separate class) take seniority over the commanding officer, giving him, if necessary, brevet rank. If, therefore, in a large ship, the commander and captain were both away the first lieutenant would be acting commander, and senior to the staff commander. By this means all difficulty as to the position of navigating officers would be removed, and, I believe, the main executive line would have no objection to the relative rank holding good when it was once made clear that the navigating officers would not interfere with the discipline of the ship. It is quite evident that some such plan must be adopted; for if the First LORD of the Admiralty carries out his proposal of amalgamating the navigating midshipmen, you will, under present arrangements, have this peculiar result—that the navigating midshipman amalgamated with the main line may, in three or four years, become a lieutenant, and then be senior to the staff commander who had served all his life in the navigating class, and has put up during many years with his subordinate position. As the lieutenants and sub-lieutenants now being trained take the duties of navigating officers, all question of rank will subside, as these officers will be kept well versed in gunnery knowledge and the discipline of a man-of-war. The old class must now gradually die out, and I do sincerely trust the First LORD will take this to be a fitting opportunity for doing a long-deferred measure of justice to a body of men well deserving the thanks of their country. I will not detain the House any longer, and I thank them very much for the kind manner in which they have heard me. I will only say this, that I am quite at a loss to understand the Amendment of my hon. and gallant Friend, as he appears to concur with me as to the necessity of increased means of instruction, and ought therefore to agree with my Motion. If, however, he conceals a wicked desire to bring back the old system of a separate class for navigating duties he may rest assured that it is already a thing of the past, and that no First LORD dare incur the responsibility of what could not fail to prove a most disastrous policy. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Resolution.


said, on a former occasion he had seconded a Motion by his hon. Friend the Member for the Montgomery Borough for the abolition of a separate class of officers for the navigating duties in Her Majesty's ships. Although that Motion was opposed at the time by the First Lord of the Admiralty, in the following year it was announced that the Government had re-considered the subject. He was convinced that the Admiralty were wise in their final decision. It could not be consistent that an officer should be appointed to a command, unless he possessed a competent knowledge of navigation and pilotage. The perpetuation of the old arrangement for the navigating duties of the Fleet must tend inevitably to make executive officers indifferent to their nautical work; and if, as lieutenants, they were in the habit of neglecting navigation, when they came to occupy more responsible positions, in command of ships, they would run the risk of finding themselves, at a critical moment, mainly dependent on the judgment of a subordinate. When contending against a gale, on a lee shore, or in battle, when all might depend on giving or avoiding the blow of a ram, how could an officer, imperfectly acquainted with the art of steering or navigation, be regarded as competent to command? It could not be said that the duties of a navigating officer were too difficult for an intelligent officer, belonging to the general line of the Service. The practice of navigation was so simple, that nothing more was required than accuracy in elementary arithmetic. Pilotage required more experience; but it was experience of a kind, which every naval officer ought to possess. Nerve and quickness of eye were necessary to carry a vessel through a narrow and tortuous channel, between rocks and shoals—but these were just the qualities which would enable an officer to select a happy opportunity for giving the stem to an enemy. He had already expressed his satisfaction at the decision of the Admiralty to abolish the navigating class. As, however, there were to be no more navigating officers, it was necessary that executive officers should be encouraged to qualify themselves for navigating duties. For this purpose, adequate inducements should be held out, and officers should be made to believe that proficiency in navigation would be as highly appreciated at the Admiralty, and would be as sure a road to promotion, as knowledge of gunnery. Once let this conviction be established generally throughout the profession, and there would be no lack of captains, commanders, and lieutenants, ready to avail themselves of any opportunity, which might be accorded to them, of acquiring the requisite amount of practical knowledge. For this purpose, a special course of instruction in the pilotage of our own coasts might be established, on the same footing as the torpedo school, which had already proved so valuable to the Navy. In addition to the school of pilotage, surveys might be prosecuted with increased energy. In an able lecture, Captain Hull, the keeper of the charts at the Admiralty, recently called attention to the great extent of coast, which was as yet unsurveyed. Even seas, which were constantly resorted to by traders, were imperfectly known. He might mention particularly the River Plate, the West Coast of South America, the Pacific, Java, and Red Seas. Surveys offered an admirable school for naval officers. Some of the most distinguished men in the Navy had spent several years in surveying ships. His practical knowledge of pilotage was of signal service to Lord Nelson. It had been stated by Sir R. Collinson that the battle of the Nile would not have been fought at the hour it was, if Nelson had not himself been a pilot. At Copenhagen, soundings were taken under the personal superintendence of LORD Nelson, and by that means his ships were enabled to take up positions within close range of the Danish batteries. Surveying was now taught at Greenwich; but not much could be done at a college in a subject so essentially practical. The teaching of the College would be thrown away, unless followed up afloat. A surveying ship could be kept in commission, according to Captain Hull, for £14,000 a-year; and a larger sum was often wasted in doubtful experiments in shipbuilding. He begged to second the Motion of his hon. Friend.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, in the opinion of this House, it having been determined gradually to abolish the system of employing a separate and distinct branch of officer for navigating duties, it is desirable that greater encouragement and a more extended training than at present adopted should be given to the officers of the Fleet to obtain practical experience in surveying, pilotage, and navigation; and that in carrying out the intended change due regard should be paid to the position and prospects of existing class of navigating officers."—(Mr. Hanbury-Tracy.)


said, the Motion of his hon. Friend appeared to contain, by implication, a doctrine which was calculated to be detrimental to the interests of the service and fraught with much danger to the future of Her Majesty's ships. Consequently, he had placed on the Paper the following Amendment:— That, considering the greatly increased value of Her Majesty's ships of late years, and the importance of providing for their safe navigation, this House is of opinion that the training and instruction, as well as the position of navigating officers, demands serious attention, but that the abolition of a separate and distinct class of officers to perform these duties is a step which can only be approached with extreme caution and under a sense of the gravest responsibility. He agreed with his hon. Friend as to the disadvantages under which the navigating officers at present laboured and the necessity of establishing a better system of training for them. He was quite ready to admit them, and to urge their immediate removal. His hon. Friend had also called attention to the necessity of supplying to these officers a more perfect system of training and education. If, however, hon. Members assented to the Motion, they would be pledging themselves to effect the abolition of the system of employing a separate and distinct branch of officer for navigating duties. He hesitated to think that such a step had been finally decided upon by the Admiralty, for it would, in his judgment, be highly detrimental to the interests of the Service. He understood that the step which the Admiralty were now taking with regard to navigating officers was merely experimental and tentative. The question of the advisability of the proposed step had been urged on them before, and more than once that House had decided not to abolish navigating officers as a distinct class, and this decision was in accordance with the recommendation of an Admiralty Committee in 1866. That Committee was composed of an Admiral, and four experienced officers, and examined seven Admirals, ten captains, ten masters, and three lieutenants, besides other witnesses. With reference to the proposal to take the duty of navigating out of the hands of a special class and entrusting it to officers of the executive line, they said that no doubt lieutenants might be trained to be equally expert navigators and pilots as masters, if like them they were kept constantly employed, but not otherwise; and they said that the change would be experimental, and if unsuccessful would materially injure Her Majesty's service, and they refused to recommend it, and that masters should be retained in their present capacity as navigators and pilots. In the debates which took place in 1872 most of those who were competent to give an opinion on the subject spoke very strongly against the proposed change. Mr. Corry, a former First LORD, was entirely in favour of keeping the navigating separate from the executive class of officers; and Admiral Erskine, a most experienced officer, said that— Navigation was one of those duties that did not require any great scientific knowledge, but that precision and punctuality could only be acquired by special attention to the matters immediately connected with it. Navigating officers had important functions to discharge, for they had not only to bear the responsibility of taking a ship from one part of the open sea to another, but also to undertake the duty of piloting her in every part of the world; and perfection in the performance of these onerous duties, especially in those of pilotage, could be gained only by many years' experience. It was, therefore, desirable that a special class of officers should undertake duties of such a character. On reference, however, to the Circular issued by the Admiralty it did not appear to be thought necessary that the early training of the lieutenants and sub-lieutenants who might qualify for these duties should be devoted to any special instruction in navigation and pilotage. The only alternative seemed to be that in future the navigation of a ship was to be divided between lieutenants and the captain, which supposed that the latter had not enough to do. That supposition was an erroneous one. The captain of one of Her Majesty's ships was in a way responsible for everything that occurred on board. If she was badly navigated he was held responsible; if the boilers burst, or if a man broke his leg and it was afterwards improperly set, the captain was held responsible; but as to the navigation of a ship, suppose a captain wanted to get to a certain place at a certain time, but that the navigating officer showed him that owing to currents or the necessity of taking soundings it was not expedient to go at a particular rate of speed, if the captain persevered and carried out his original intention, he would, of course, be responsible for any accident which might in consequence occur; while if, on the other hand, he gave way to the advice of the navigating officer, the chief part of the responsibility for an accident would rest upon the latter. A few years ago, owing to an error in the navigation one of our most valuable ships was stranded on the Pearl Rock, and a court martial was held, and punishment dealt out to the officers responsible for her safety; but, as was natural, the chief blame for the disaster fell on those to whom the actual duties of her navigation were entrusted. Under the arrangement now proposed, however, the captain would not only have the chief responsibility in other matters, but also the work of navigating his ship cast upon him. But, suppose the Agincourt had been going out to meet an enemy, and it had been found expedient to pass close to the Pearl Rock, could it, he would ask, be reasonably supposed that the captain could pay proper attention to the navigation of the ship while he would have so many other duties, such as preparing her for action, and attending to numerous signals, to perform? As to following the example of other nations, the would only say that in matters concerning the discipline of our fleets we had no need of such example. At the time of the Russian War our ships were notoriously better navigated than those of the French, although their officers were highly educated, showing that the efficient performance of the duty depended not so much on education as lifelong experience. He felt satisfied, therefore, that if the proposal before the House was adopted and that the class of navigating officers was abolished, there was not a captain in the Service who would not feel that in the matter of navigation he had lost his right hand man. The captain had hitherto consulted his navigating officer, not only with regard to such matters, but also with reference to pilotage, and the laws of storms, wind, weather, tides, currents, and so on. He consulted that officer because he had made these subjects his life-long study. Supposing the distinct class of navigating officers were abolished, and that a certain number of lieutenants volunteered for the duty, what would be the result with regard to promotion? In course of time the question would arise, to whom should be given the command of our ships? If our ships were looked upon as fighting machines—the raison ďêtre of a man-of-war—the command ought to be given to men of practical experience in the arts of disciplining men, of organization in naval administration, International Law, internal economy, gunnery, and in handing men on shore, besides other minor duties. If that were so, how could the pledge be fulfilled to the navigating officers in future that nothing should interfere with their promotion in the higher ranks? The navigating officers themselves—at least a great majority of them—did not ask for their abolition as a separate class. With regard to pay, he could only hope that the present wretched remuneration would be increased, and a manifest grievance redressed. In conclusion, he might say that he had called the attention of the House to this subject because he believed, if they were abolished as a distinct class, there would arise in future a storm of difficulties and great disappointment on the part of these officers, which would tend to diminish the efficiency in the navigation of Her Majesty's ships. He therefore moved the Amendment of which he had given Notice.


, in seconding the Amendment, said, this was a question on which difference of opinion existed; but he thought that the preponderance of opinion of experienced officers was decidedly in favour of retaining the class of navigating officers. He was told that French officers had frequently expressed their envy of the office of master in the British Navy. The question involved the difference between the concentration and diffusion of knowledge, and the question was whether one person, knowing thoroughly from long experience and a sense of the strong responsibility of the matter with which he was charged, was not of more value than 20 people knowing only a portion of the subject. A short time ago he asked an experienced naval officer whether he did not think a master was likely to know more of the subject than a person only occasionally called upon to perform the duties, and the reply was, whether he did or did not, the sailors thought he did, and that was an important consideration. This was not a matter of theoretical education, but the knowledge could only be acquired by intense observation, and under a strong sense of responsibility. Whatever they might think of the warlike success of the Baltic fleet, no one could doubt that, as a matter of navigation, it was most creditable to their Navy. No vessel sustained any permanent serious disaster, and everybody knew that they had the assistance of the most competent navigators. He was disposed to give every facility for educating their officers, but do not let them be educated at the risk of the lives of other people. He considered the whole question deserved the serious and careful attention of the House; and, above all, they ought to proceed in this matter with extreme care.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "considering the greatly increased value of Her Majesty's ships of late years, and the importance of providing for their safe navigation, this House is of opinion that the training and instruction, as well as the position of navigating officers, demands serious attention, hut that the abolition of a separate and distinct class of officers to perform these duties is a step which can only be approached with extreme caution and under a sense of the gravest responsibility,"—(Captain Price,) —instead thereof.

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


said, he considered the position of the navigating lieutenants an anomalous one. As to the question of pay, although that was not a matter of such consideration as the question of rank, they seemed to be put in a different position compared with officers of similar rank although occupying a different position. As he was informed, there was a difference of something like £40 or £50 a-year. The unfortunate accident in the Solent, with the severe censure which had been visited on the navigating officer, while the officers engaged in a different capacity escaped, showed the responsibility incurred by the navigating officers and the necessity of recognizing their position and the duties they had to perform.


said, the hon. Member for the Montgomery boroughs (Mr. Hanbury Tracy) had alluded to the inconvenience which arose from constant changes of practice at the Board of Admiralty; but he must remind the hon. Gentleman that he was out of court in complaining of the proceedings of that Board. The House had decided that the Board of Admiralty ought to be a strictly political Board, and had gone further, and recently decided by a large majority that the first essential for a Minister of Marine in this country was that he should by his antecedents have no knowledge of the business which he had to conduct. It was the House of Commons, therefore, and not the Board of Admiralty, that ought to be blamed. The hon. and gallant Member for Devonport (Captain Price) had objected ab initio to this change in our system, by the abolition of the rank of master and of the transference of the duties of master to other officers of the ship. He (Mr. Bentinck) entirely concurred in the views expressed by his hon. and gallant Friend. It was all very well to hold that every officer of a certain standing, and more especially the captain, ought to be qualified to navigate a ship. It required long training to enable a man to undertake the duty of pilot, and yet that was a matter which the officer entrusted with the safety of one of Her Majesty's ships ought to be familiar with. Then, again, there was the practice of reading charts, which needed long habit and experience. The duties of navigation, in fact, required such constant practice that it took a whole life to learn them. It must be the sole business of a man's life to make him qualified to navigate one of the enormous and unwieldy vessels of our Navy. The question had been very properly asked, what would have been the state of things if the captain of the Agincourt had been called upon to prepare his ship for action and had, at the same time, to be looking out for his bearings so as to be clear of the Pearl Rock? The great mass of naval authority was against the abolition of the class of masters, and he trusted that the result of that debate would be to put a stop to a change which, after all, had been only partially carried out, and therefore might easily be reversed, and which, if persevered in, would have the most injurious effect upon the future of the British Navy.


observed, that the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Captain Price) wished to re-open a matter which they had understood that the Admiralty had decided—namely, the gradual abolition of the existing class of navigating officers. The House, therefore, now had before it a very simple question, because there was no dispute on either side that every proper encouragement should be given to whatever officers were charged with the navigation and pilotage of Her Majesty's ships. But the debate had taken the ground put forward by the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, which was whether it was desirable to express an opinion that the policy of the Government in gradually extinguishing the separate class of navigating officers was an unwise policy, and one which ought to be reversed? Upon that point he would observe that it was impossible to galvanize into existence that which was practically dead. The expediency of retaining those officers as a separate class was questioned many years ago. The hon. and gallant Member for Devonport had quoted from a Blue Book in reference to an inquiry which he described as having been made in 1866, but that inquiry was made in 1862. The fact was several years after that inquiry into the subject fresh inquiries were instituted by the Board of Admiralty, and some years before he himself was First LORD decisions were taken on the matter by that Department after full discussion by its naval members. With that Report before them, the Duke of Somerset's Board, of which he was a member, came to a very important decision as to the continuance of the separate class of masters; and he thought it was in 1865 that it was absolutely determined by that Board, as a step preliminary to the abolition of the class altogether, to discontinue the entry of second-class or navigating cadets. He believed that the Board of Admiralty presided over by LORD Hampton reversed that decision, and re-commenced the entry of second-class cadets on a large scale, separating them from the others and training them in a new ship at Portland. When he (Mr. CHILDERS) became First LORD in 1868 he had to consider whether the decision of the Duke of Somerset's Board to abolish the entry of young officers of the navigating class ought or ought not to be adhered to, and what they did was to place matters as nearly as possible back into their former position—that was to say, before the discontinuance of the entry of navigating cadets was decided on. They were to be trained as formerly with the first class or naval cadets, and the only change was that the age for entry was to be the same for both. But from the moment when the naval cadets and the navigating cadets were entered at the same age there were no applications, or very few applications indeed, for the appointment of navigating cadets. Thus it was from no desire of the Admiralty that the masters' class died out, because in 1869 the Admiralty wished to be perfectly fair and to keep up the class if lads offered for it. But as soon as the officers of both classes were put on the same footing, while there was great competition to enter the one, there was no competition to enter the other. In fact, to a large extent the navigating class was formerly recruited from boys who had passed the age for the naval cadetship. This was not the only cause. In old days there was no question about the rank or uniform of the masters, and no difficulty was felt in the matter. But the moment the uniform and rank of the two classes came to be a regular subject of discussion and grievance, and the two in the end were made as nearly as possible the same, so that all the world thought there was no difference between them—the moment they were put as far as possible on a par, the difficulty of keeping up the class was intensified because absolute equality was demanded. But, if the master class was to be restored, he put it to the House whether it would not be better to go back to the same state of things as before, and to let it be clearly understood that the master was to be a master, and not a Lieutenant with some shadow of difference which scarcely anybody understood. It was on these grounds that he hoped the Admiralty would not retrace their steps. As to the other points involved in the Motion, he wished to say that the claims of the dying-out class ought to be generously dealt with by Her Majesty's Government. As to the fitness of Executive officers for navigating duties, it was assumed that the officers of the Executive branch were not competent from their training to undertake the pilotage and navigation of ships. But he would remind the House that the two ships upon whose exploits the eyes of the Navy and of the whole country were fixed—ships which would have no fighting to do except, perhaps, with bears, whose work was navigating and surveying only: the ships engaged in the Arctic Expedition—were commanded by Captain Nares and Captain Stephenson, officers, not of the navigating, but of the Executive branch. He must oppose the Amendment.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present,

House adjourned at a quarter before Eight o'clock.