HL Deb 02 July 1861 vol 164 cc187-91

House in Committee (according to Order).

Clause 1 (Power to Her Majesty to accept the Services of Masters and Mates of Merchant Service as Officers of Reserve to the Royal Navy), agreed to.

Clause 2 (Power of the Admiralty to enrol Officers of Reserve to Royal Navy),


rose to move the Amendment of which he had given notice, that officers of the merchant service who joined the Reserve should undergo the same examination before the same tribunal as officers in the Royal Navy. It might be said officers of the merchant service had already passed the examination prescribed by Act of Parliament, but the two services were so entirely distinct in the manner of conducting ships, their character, and discipline, and everything else, except the theory of navigation, that it was essential the same examination should be undergone by all officers. Merchant seamen were not true sailors—they were mere navigators who understood the propulsion of vessels by steam. They had no experience whatever in gunnery, and could not be entrusted with the firing of a ship's battery. All he asked was that the officers of the Naval Reserve should be subjected to the same examination as midshipmen in the Royal Navy. The noble Lord moved an Amendment at the end of Clause 2, to add the following words:— But before they can perform the executive Duty of Lieutenant aboard any of Her Majesty's Ships they are required to pass the same Examinations, and before the same Tribunals, as the Midshipmen of the Navy do before they are eligible for the Rank of Lieutenant.


entertained great objection to doing by Act of Parliament what could be done equally well by Regulations sanctioned by Order in Council, because the latter could be more readily and effectually adapted to any altered circumstances of the case. He was anxious not to excite the jealousy of the officers of the Navy, and at the same time he was anxious to secure the services of the officers of the merchant service; and he, therefore, thought the Bill should be, as far as possible, of a general character, and that the details of the scheme should be left to Regulations and to Orders in Council. He was very unwilling to fetter the discretion of the present or any future Board of Admiralty on the subject. The examination of masters in the mercantile marine was as strict as that in the Navy, although it was quite true that it did not include gunnery. It was no doubt very desirable that officers of the merchant service should understand gunnery; but, in spite of their deficiency in that respect, should any emergency arise their services would still be of great value on board of steam-vessels, in which they must recollect any future war would be chiefly carried on. The simple truth was that the Admiralty could not do without them. If a war broke out they would be obliged to call in their assistance; and it was of great importance that they should avoid exciting any ill feeling among them by unnecessary restrictions. Care would be taken to drill them well in gunnery, and he had no doubt that before long they would themselves come forward and offer to prove their competency by undergoing examination. He trusted that the noble Earl would not press his Amendment.


I agree with the noble duke that nothing should be done by an Act of Parliament which can be done as well by an Order in Council, and, therefore, I am somewhat surprised that this Bill should have been brought in at all, inasmuch as sufficient power already exists in the hands of Her Majesty to effect that which the Bill aims at doing. It is unquestionably not expedient to fetter the discretion of the Admiralty as to the application of our naval resources; I believe, moreover, that if you require officers of merchant ships, before you accept their services, to prove by examination that they possess the same qualications as midshipmen, you will not get a man to come forward, for they will deem it derogatory to their dignity and position. I am, however, glad to see this measure brought forward, because I am glad to see a determination on the part of the Government to make preparation in time of peace for a war which I have always regarded as inevitable, and which may come upon us no one can tell how soon. It is not sufficient to have your preparations ready at the end of the first six months of the war—you must be ready for the first six days of the war. Whenever war, unfortunately, does break out, you may depend upon it that preparations will have been made for it long beforehand by the enemy, who will be ready for immediate action and invasion; and it will be within the first few days of the war that we shall require the help of all our reserves. I am therefore, most anxious, as we have neither sufficient officers nor men, that measures should at once be adopted to prepare for the worst. We must bear in mind that without some special training merchant officers are not fit to walk the deck of a man-of-war. They may know navigation, but practically speaking that is of little importance,—what is required of them is a knowledge of gunnery, and a knowledge of steam and its management. It is, therefore, very desirable—indeed, absolutely necessary—that the Government should afford to the gentlemen of the merchant service the opportunity of becoming proficient in gunnery as practised on board of war ships, and of learning the practical application of steam to naval purposes. When they have satisfied the Government that they are able to execute the duties of naval officers, then let them acquire the rank and receive all the respect which accompanies it. I do not apprehend that any captain would venture to place an officer fresh from a merchant ship in command of a watch on board of a man-of-war. I do not expect that these gentlemen whose services we are anxious to secure will be employed, nor do I think that they ought to be employed, in large men-of war. Naval officers, who know the discipline of the Navy, and whom man-of-war's men respect, are the only officers who can exercise authority on board large ships. But the service of these gentlemen will be inestimable in the command of gunboats and of small vessels engaged in the protection of our coasts. The Naval Coast Volunteers, whose services are limited to a certain distance from the coast, and many of whom are not seamen but merely men living on the seashore, may be usefully employed under these commanders. I believe there are 110 gunboats not in commission. They would require 220 officers and 5,500 men. Here we should find the men who would willingly obey these officers, and the officers in these small commands would practically learn a great portion of their duties and become excellent officers of the Navy if the war was continued. I consider these gentlemen in the light of officers of a Reserve of Volunteers rather than as officers of the regular Navy. Whatever they may desire in the way of rank we shall be willing to give them, but it should be rank in the Naval Volunteers, and not rank in the Navy. I have no prejudices, but I respect the prejudices of others, and I should be extremely sorry if anything were done to hurt the feelings of any officer. I think that this measure may be so worked with discretion as not to injure the interests or affect the feelings of any naval office in Her Majesty's service. I think it may be so managed as to produce the greatest possible good by providing in time of peace for the instant emergency of the first outbreak of war. It is for that emergency that we must provide. I hope the noble Duke and his successors will constantly bear that in mind, and make provision for naval defence in time of peace; as, should they not do so, I know not what calamity might be brought upon us in the first week of a war.

Amendment negatived: Bill reported without Amendment; and to be read 3a on Thursday next.

House adjourned at a Quarter-past Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, Half-past Ten o'clock.