HL Deb 05 July 1855 vol 139 cc446-9

THE EARL OF HARDWICKE rose to call the attention of the House to the State of Education of Cadets in Her Majesty's Navy. Some time ago, he had obtained a return on the subject, which was well worthy the attention of the Government. It showed, that although provision was made on board ships of a certain rating for the education of cadets by providing schoolmasters who had taken respectable degrees at the Universities, yet there were now in the fleet twenty-five said to be un provided with schoolmasters. It was of the utmost importance at the present moment that the attention of the Government should be given to the education of our naval officers. At present a child of thirteen years of age, on entering the Navy, was required to pass an examination suitable to his age. He was then placed on board a ship, and delivered over to the schoolmaster, under whom he was supposed to gain a certain amount of education during the two years in which he had to remain in the position of a cadet. Supposing that education to be properly carried out, it was the most imperfect of all educations that could be given, for his attention was constantly distracted from it by being called upon to perform the duties of the ship, and by the variety of the scenes he witnessed, and the exciting nature of the services in which he was employed. He (the Earl of Hardwicke) considered that the system of education for naval cadets had completely broken down; yet these youths were called upon at stated periods to undergo most severe examinations, and unless they passed them satisfactorily they could not attain the position of midshipmen. Having served four years in that capacity, they had to undergo another serious examination before they were eligible for the rank of lieutenant. The only mode by which he got through these examinations was by a system of cramming, which was a most unsatisfactory course of proceeding. Fourteen or fifteen years ago the system was not even to be compared to that which was now given, and, in fact, the education given was no education at all. But there did exist an important and valuable seminary at which certain portions of instruction were given. After the Reform Bill, certain feelings were so strongly impressed upon the House of Commons that they gradually got rid of the Naval College altogether, thus abolishing the only system of naval education that existed at all. Then they set up a new system, which was the introduction of schoolmasters of high character on board ships of war. During a time of peace, that system might, and did, answer to a very considerable extent; but now, in time of war, in consequence of the difficulty of getting men of sufficiently high character, capacity, rank, and education for masters, the system had completely broken down. In the Naval College a distinct plan was followed. It took three years to complete the system of instruction, which comprehended hydrostatics, gunnery, mathematics, and every branch of naval tactics, so that at fifteen or fifteen and a half years of age the boys turned out proved very valuable accessions to the ships-of-war. For the period he thus spent at the College, the youth reckoned two years' time in the service. If he completed the regular course of education in less than two years, he was still allowed the two years' time; but, if he was not found proficient at the end of three years, he was considered incapable, and did not enter the service at all. The education given at the College was not only theoretical, but eminently practical, the pupils being taught hydrostatics, fortification, all the practical operations connected with seamanship, the use of cannon, and many other necessary branches of a naval education. At present, however, there was really no naval education at all, for the system which had been established upon the abolition of the Naval College was an entire failure. A child required to be trained to the naval profession from his infancy in order to become an efficient seaman, and, as the present system had broken down, he wished to ask Her Majesty's Government if it was their intention to re-establish a Naval College? If a college were established, at least 100 boys might be educated, thirty or forty cadetships might be given annually, and officers would be turned out accomplished and useful men. The education of a youth on board ship was, at the most, extremely imperfect. After all, it was nothing more than a professional education. No knowledge of languages or history was acquired, and no religious instruction was given; and, unless attention were paid to these important branches of education, he held it to be almost impossible to make a child a valuable servant to the country. Having felt deeply interested in this question, he had ventured to bring it before their Lordships, in the hope that the First Lord of the Admiralty might be induced to look seriously into the question, in order that some remedy might be applied to the unsatisfactory state of things existing at the present moment.


agreed in the remarks which had fallen from his noble Friend in reference to the unsatisfactory state of the education of naval cadets. From returns which had recently been moved for by his noble Friend, it appeared that there were only 86 ships entitled to carry schoolmasters out of 300 at present in commission. Two-thirds of our ships were consequently altogether without schoolmasters; but even supposing there was a schoolmaster to every ship, how could it be expected that now, in time of war, the boys would be attending to studies when cannon were booming in their ears? As far as instruction was concerned, he thought a boy's time could be much more profitably spent in a Naval College than on board a ship. In the French navy every officer was required to go through a course of study in a naval school, and he thought that if a similar plan were adopted in this country the service would be greatly improved. He must say the subject well deserved the attention of the Government.


said, he could not profess the same intimate knowledge of a technical matter like that under discussion as the two noble Lords who had spoken, but certainly the information with which he had been supplied gave him a very different idea of the character of the education now received by young cadets on board Her Majesty's ships, from that just given by the noble Earl. The noble Earl had referred to the severe examinations required of boys before they became cadets and midshipmen; but he complained of the inadequate nature of the instruction given to a boy before he became a midshipman. Besides the naval instructors, the Government had put the boys under the eye of the captain, and whenever there was no naval instructor the master received a gratuity for giving the required instruction to those young men. With regard to the boys being crammed, that was, no doubt, a danger, but it was one which no efforts had ever succeeded in entirely preventing. In a time of war like the present, neither the instructor, the captain, nor the boys were inclined to attend to instruction so much as in times of peace, but still he disagreed with the noble Earl in thinking that a child could not learn much that was useful in time of war, and much that would materially tend to form his character. The subject was, no doubt, of great importance, and he should make it his duty faithfully to report to the First Lord of the Admiralty what had passed in their Lordships' House, who would ascertain whether the representations of the noble Earl were strictly accurate; and he had no doubt that his right hon. Friend would attempt to improve the system, either by increasing the number of instructors or by establishing a Naval College.

House adjourned till To-morrow.