HL Deb 06 May 1881 vol 260 cc1929-54

rose to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty, Whether Her Majesty's Government have considered the advisability of raising the limit of age for the admission of cadets to the Navy? He would also take occasion, as this was a naval matter, to ask if the Government possessed any further information with respect to the sad loss of Her Majesty's ship Doterel? With regard to the subject of the Question of which he had given Notice, it was stated that cadets should be taken at an early age because there was so much to learn, and further, because the service was so disagreeable and the pay was so bad that if the officers did not join at a very early age we should never get them at all. The latter argument was almost beneath the dignity of the House to consider. He hoped it had not come to this—that a great nation like England should have to decoy officers into one of the most important Services at an age when they did not know what they were doing, in the hope that they would perforce have to remain in the Service, because when they came to the years of discretion, and other men were entering into life and selecting their professions, they would be so handicapped that they would be unable to leave the Service and take any other path in life. In his opinion, the limit of age was at present too low, and the system of education after the admission of cadets was unsatisfactory. After their admission they were put on board the Britannia for two years, during which time they were instructed in the theoretical or scientific part of their naval education. Then they were sent afloat for five years for practical education, after which they were sent to the Naval College at Greenwich, where they had theoretical instruction, which was little more than a repetition of what they had received on board the Britannia. He thought it was a mistake not to have the theoretical and practical instruction combined in one educational course. If boys could enter the Navy at the age of 15 or 15½ years instead of between 12 and 13, they could go to public schools, and in them obtain a more liberal education before entering the Naval Service as cadets, and on their entry they could at once commence their practical education. He trusted that the matter would be taken into consideration by the First Lord of the Admiralty and his Colleagues.


, while thinking that the noble Lord who had brought forward this subject was entitled to the thanks of those who took an interest in the Naval Profession for having introduced this question, hoped the First Lord of the Admiralty would carefully consider the matter in consultation with his Naval Advisers before he adopted the suggestion of the noble Lord. He thought he spoke the opinion of all naval officers of high standing when he said that nothing tended to form the character of our naval officers more than the early age at which they entered the Service. Sending a lad afloat early inured him to the hardships of naval life, and enabled him to learn what was still more essential than scientific knowledge. It gave him habits of discipline, and afforded him an opportunity of acquiring a knowledge of the wants and wishes of the sailor. It was the opinion of the most distinguished naval officers that no one ever could become a thorough seaman unless he went to sea early. The Admiralty had proceeded in a wrong direction when they made cadets pass a long period in the Naval College at Greenwich, when they ought to be at sea. The proximity of Greenwich to London made a residence at that College pernicious to young men.


My Lords, this is not a Party question; and as, I believe, my noble Friend at the head of the Admiralty is anxious that it should be discussed, I will ask to be allowed to make a few observations. There are several things which ought to be borne in mind whenever this question is considered. One is, that the entire system of training young officers, to which we still adhere in the British Navy, is a thing by itself. It is totally unlike that of every other nation in the world. Of course, we may be wiser than the rest of the world. But when we find that America and Russia, France and Germany, Sweden and Denmark, have all of them adopted systems of naval education which in some degree resemble each other, and are all of them widely different from ours, I think we should best show our wisdom by carefully considering this matter. Another point is, that on two occasions, at least, within the last eight years, we have been seriously contemplating fundamental changes in it ourselves. If Mr. Goschen had remained longer at the Admiralty, I believe he would have dealt very thoroughly with this question. And I know that when the late Admiral Sir Hastings Yelverton held the Office of First Sea Lord of the Admiralty under Mr. Ward Hunt, he, too, came to the conclusion that the entire system of entering and training young naval officers ought to be recast. But his illness and retirement from Office postponed the question for the second time. Again, I think that when we find that our system, besides differing entirely from all others with which it can be compared, is in itself of so peculiar and anomalous a nature that any unprejudiced person approaching it for the first time would assuredly condemn it on general grounds, the presumption in favour of its modification is, at least, as strong as that in favour of its retention. Moreover, I believe that the officers of the Navy are themselves by no means generally satisfied with the present state of things. I know that the minds of some of our best officers, from Sir Thomas Symonds downwards, have been for years past considerably exercised on this subject. I frequently hear it said that, at all events, naval officers agree as to its cardinal feature—namely, that boys should be sent to sea as early as possible. But, my Lords, that is not the case. I have already mentioned the name of the late Sir Hastings Yelverton, who, I may say, is generally admitted by naval men to have been one of the most accomplished officers that the British Navy has produced in modern times, as disapproving the present system of naval education. Now, among other things, he was in favour of raising the age of entry. And he was not alone in his opinion. Admiral Sir Geoffrey Hornby, who only the other day, and at a very critical time, was Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean, and is now President of Greenwich College, holds, I believe, similar views. And Admiral Fanshaw, who for some time held the appointment of President of the Naval College at Greenwich, and was afterwards, only the other day, Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth, has expressed himself very strongly on this point. I could mention other names, only that their owners might object to my doing so without permission. But I have said enough to show that I have good reason for asserting that our best officers arc by no means unanimous as to the advisability of sending boys to sea as soon as possible. On other points opinions differ still more widely. Some officers think that cadets should not only be entered later, but that they should be systematically taught both the theoretical and practical parts of their Profession, as much, at least, as they require to know in order to perform its ordinary duties, before they are sent to do the work of officers in sea-going ships. I will presently endeavour to show your Lordships that this plan would be preferable to the present arrangement. But, first, I will describe what the present arrangement is. Cadets enter the Britannia by limited competitive examination between the ages of 12 and 13½. Many of them are then mere children. Some are almost babies. But all are far too young to choose a profession for themselves; and they are too young, also, for a competitive examination to be a satisfactory test of their intellectual ability. They enter the Navy, some because in their simplicity they fancy it offers the nearest escape from lessons and from school; others because their imaginations have been fired by Peter Simple and Midshipman Easy; but the greater number because their parents are anxious to get their children off their hands—and the Navy offers the earliest and cheapest opportunity of being rid of them. Having passed the examination, they go for two years to the Britannia, the trainingship at Dartmouth. I may say, in passing, that it is only by courtesy that the Britannia can be called a ship. It is not really a ship at all. It is only a hulk, or rather two hulks, securely moored in Dartmouth Harbour, and as steady as any house. There are no masts, except a jury foremast and bowsprit; and the internal fittings and arrangements do not resemble, in any way, those of a man-of-war. The course of instruction embraces elementary mathematics, French, navigation, and such seamanship as can be taught by books and models. All this could, of course, be better taught on shore. But that is a mere matter of detail, although I must say it is a very expensive one to the country. On passing out of the Britannia, cadets go to a sea-going ship as officers, for a time varying from 4½ to 5½ years. Now, I especially wish to call my noble Friend's attention to those five years of sea service as midshipman, because, next to the early age of entry, this point is, to my mind, the weakest in our present system. The life that a midshipman leads, although I myself thought it a very jolly life at the time, is a curiosity in its way. From an educational point of view, looking at it merely as a means of training young officers in the duties of their Profession, it seems to me now, now that I am able to look back upon it with more knowledge and experience, to involve a very great and unavoidable waste of time. It is about as ill-organized and as unprofitable, even from a purely professional point of view, as can well be conceived. It combines the maximum of hard work with the minimum of opportunity for acquiring professional knowledge and experience. And chiefly for this reason, that a midshipman is expected to do both the duties of an officer and the lessons of a schoolboy—two things which are absolutely incompatible with each other. He has to lead, as it were, a double life; and except in those ships where the naval instructor is a man of exceptional zeal and ability, or where the captain of the ship takes a great interest in the midshipmen, only the cleverest and most energetic boys succeed in performing that feat satisfactorily. The teaching staff of the British Navy is probably nearly equal in number to that of all the other Navies in the world; but it is impossible to expect that all the 72 naval instructors whose names are on The Navy List should be men of exceptional ability. Neither can every captain of a ship find time to look very closely after his midshipmen. I know that an average boy in an average ship finds it very up-hill work, and makes little progress in anything, partly because his time is so broken up, and partly because, owing to the age at which he left school, he has not, generally speaking, been sufficiently grounded in anything. First, as to his officer's duties. He is generally in four watches—that is to say, he has to be on deck for six hours out of the 24, and on three nights out of every four he has a four hours' night-watch, either from 8 to 12, 12 to 4, or 4 to 8. Then he has his quarters—I mean his division of guns—to attend to. The cleaning and inspection of these, and the inspection of the men belonging to them, together with their rifles and cutlasses, give him, on an average, another hour's work every day. He has also to keep lists of all the clothes of the men belonging to his division, and to help the lieutenant of the division to inspect periodically the men's kits and bedding. He has to attend all drills and evolutions aloft, and all the general drills of great guns and small-arm companies, besides being drilled himself for his own instruction. When on watch his duties, though useful and even necessary for the discipline and cleanliness of the ship, are, generally speaking, not very improving to himself. I might almost say that, unless the ship is at sea under sail, or under steam, and in company with other ships, these duties, so far as the acquirement of professional knowledge and experience go, are scarcely better than waste of time. There is little more to be learnt from them than habits of obedience and tact in the management of men—two things which, if he is made of the right sort of stuff, an English boy does not require five years to learn. He has, of course, at all times to see that the officer of the watch's orders are carried out, and sometimes, no doubt, he learns a good deal by doing so. Then at night he has to go the rounds periodically, generally once every half-hour, in company with the ship's corporal. In the day-time he has to see that the decks are properly swept and scrubbed, and the brasswork properly polished. When these performances are going on it is the midshipman of the watch's duty to act as a sort of house-maid superintendent. I should not object to his doing this if only he had already learnt the rudiments of his Profession instead of having them still to learn, and no time to learn them in. Some of your Lordships may, perhaps, have seen the burlesque called H.M.S. Pinafore. Well, the opening scene of that burlesque is really not much of a caricature. It is a tolerably accurate representation of what takes place on board a man-of-war every morning. I need not, therefore, describe in detail those bits of routine. Neither will I enlarge upon their educational value. I will leave your Lordships to judge of that; and I feel sure that when my noble Friend has time to look into this question of naval education, and to examine it for himself, he will agree that it is a mistake that young officers should be compelled to give so much time to the superintendence of mere details of routine, at a time of life when they ought to be employed in acquiring knowledge that would be of use to them afterwards. In addition to these duties, a midshipman is expected to study for a couple of hours, at least, every forenoon, and in some ships again in the afternoon as well, with the naval instructor. It is becoming more and more the custom to relieve midshipmen from their watch on deck, in order that they may attend school, as it is called; and to such an extent is this carried now-a-days, that a captain of a ship now in commission applied, not many weeks ago, to the Admiralty for some additional warrant officers to do midshipmen's duties, because his midshipmen were constantly down below with the naval instructor. I know that many officers think that this change is not for the bettor, though that is not, I believe, the general opinion, nor, under the circumstances, is it mine. But I admit that it is very possible that midshipmen may thus lose much of the practical experience which is the main object of their being sent to sea, and that it is equally possible that they may gain comparatively little theoretical knowledge to make up for that loss, owing to the many hindrances to study which are inseparable from ship life. As to the first of these two points, I am only stating a well-known fact when I say that it is the general complaint among officers in the higher ranks of the Navy that, whatever be the cause, midshipmen are less useful as officers, and that they learn less seamanship now-a-days than formerly. Here is a statement made by Admiral Ryder, who is now Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth. He says— I think that a change has come over our Service, and that lads from 16 to 19 learn much less seamanship than they used to do. For this reason I should have no objection to officers, who have passed an examination at 19 for the rank of sub-lieutenant in certain branches of seamanship, undergoing an examination of a more advanced description subsequently—say at 21 or 22—for the rank of lieutenant. Well, my Lords, if there is any falling off in respect of seamanship, it is a serious thing. To my mind, no amount of theoretical and mathematical knowledge could make up for any falling off in the ready practical instinct which is supposed to be, and ought to be, characteristic of a naval officer. But how would the case stand, my Lords, if, instead of gaining a great deal of theoretical knowledge by this sacrifice, it should turn out that in the great majority of cases the gain is almost nothing, and in some cases even a minus quantity? What do the highest authorities say on this point? Admiral Sir Cooper Key says in evidence— We know that the course of study at sea is very desultory and irregular, and that the midshipmen, therefore, lose a great deal of what they learnt in the Britannia. He also says, speaking as President of the Naval College, and referring to the six months' course through which midshipmen, or rather acting sub-lieutenants, have to go after completing their five years' service at sea— All we teach, or nearly all we teach them, they ought to have known when they left the Britannia. Dr. Hurst, the Director of Studies, says that this examination for sub-lieutenants is almost, if not quite, as simple as the examination which they passed as naval cadets on leaving the Britannia. And one of the Naval Instructors of the College, Mr. Oborn, says— Speaking in a very general way, they have forgotten everything nearly; but, of course, there are exceptions. I think you may say that they have forgotten everything. Mr. Laughton, the senior Naval Instructor at Greenwich, says— They have so utterly forgotten what they learnt in the Britannia, that it would be difficult to say that they had learnt anything. The Committee, in their Report, commenting on this evidence, remark, with a simplicity which seems almost ironical— It is unsatisfactory that these young officers, after having been six years at sea, mostly under naval instructors, and after the half-yearly examinations on board ship, should have to recover at the College the knowledge which they had carried with them when they left the Britannia." Well, my Lords, this evidence, I think, proves pretty conclusively that a midshipman's studies in a sea-going ship—except, as I have already said, in the case of men of unusual energy and ability, or placed in exceptionally favourable circumstances—are a snare and a delusion. And this is precisely what any unprejudiced person acquainted with the internal economy of a man-of-war would expect. For what sort of a school do you suppose, my Lords, is it possible to set up on board of a man-of-war? Why, even under the most favourable circumstances, when the captain gives up his cabin, as he sometimes does, to be used as a school-room, it must still be vastly inferior to a school on shore. In bad weather it collapses altogether, and in fine weather it is impossible to escape from the noise of work on deck and from the word of command of the drill instructors. And apart from those hindrances there is not much work to be got out of an average boy of 16 or 17 who has had a four-hours' watch the night before. Therefore, I say that the attempt to set up a good school on board ship is futile, and ought to be discontinued. No regulations that my noble Friend may issue will enable an average boy to learn as much book work in three years on board a sea-going ship as he could learn in one year on shore. Why, then, persist in a system which involves so great a waste of power, and of which officers in the higher ranks of the Service complain that it costs too great a sacrifice of practical experience? Whether it be regarded as a means of acquiring practical knowledge of seamanship, or as a means of acquiring scientific and theoretical knowledge, I am convinced that these five years' sea service as half officer and half schoolboy are eminently unsatisfactory. And I must confess that for some time past it has been a mystery to me how it is that such evident and palpable waste of power and time should still go on. There is another point to which I should like to call my noble Friend's attention. In our present system of naval training there is no provision whatever for training officers in what I may call the A B C of practical seamanship. By practical seamanship I mean dexterity in the art of handling ships in every variety of circumstances, coupled with a certain faculty of judgment in such matters as wind and weather. Your Lordships will understand that it requires long experience at sea to make a really accomplished seaman; but there is a great deal in the beginning which can be taught and ought to be taught, and which is taught in every Navy except our own. Our midshipmen are expected to pick it up for themselves, even if the whole of their five years' sea service should be spent, as it sometimes is, in an iron-clad. Nothing, my Lords, can be more unreasonable than this. You might as well expect a boy to learn to swim on dry land as expect that he will become a seaman by serving in an iron-clad. Practically, seamanship can only be learnt at sea; and it would be learnt more thoroughly and quickly if it were systematically taught. But I complain not only that no pains are taken to teach young officers this branch of their Profession, but also that so many of them do not even get a fair chance of picking it up. For it is the custom now-a-days that midshipmen should be only appointed to ships which carry naval instructors, and a great many of these are iron-clads, which rarely move out of harbour, and never go on a long cruise. Other Navies have sea-going training ships for their young officers; but we only have them for our men. Perhaps my noble Friend will remind me that, not very long ago, we did have sea-going training ships for naval cadets, but that they were found a failure, and were given up in consequence. That is perfectly true. But there were reasons for that failure, with which I need not trouble your Lordships, but which fully accounted for it. I will only say that these training ships never had a chance. Under the circumstances they were bound to fail, and they did fail. My Lords, after having said so much, I feel that I am bound to make some suggestion. I fear that I shall be thought presumptuous; but I must run the risk of that. The first thing to be done is to endeavour to make sure of getting the right sort of material for making good officers before going to the expense of working it into shape. That is one of the things that it is utterly impossible to do now owing to the age of entry. No human being can say what sort of a man a boy of 12 will grow into. I cannot say that I have any faith in nomination, because I know that during the two and a-half years that I served as commander on board the Britannia it did not exclude many unpromising boys. Nor have I much faith in competition either in the case of boys of 12 and 13. But, on the whole, I think it is the best of the two. In theory I grant that, in some respects, nomination is charming; but, in practice, boys are, for the most part, nominated by the First Lord of the Admiralty, who, however great his ability as an administrator may be, can have no personal knowledge of the boys nominated, and is, consequently, in ignorance of the important point as to whether or not they are likely to make good officers. The opinions of fathers and mothers, and relations and friends, are not to be trusted. For that reason, and for other reasons of a general and obvious character, I would abolish nomination entirely, and raise the age of entry to 15 or 16, when competition would be less objectionable. By that time a lad would be able to judge for himself whether the Navy was likely to suit him or not, and the Civil Service Examiners might then be fairly asked to select the ablest boys. Then, as personal fitness for the Service seems to me to be undoubtedly the most important point of all, the newly entered cadets should be tested at once. I would, therefore, send them straight to sea in a training ship for, say, five or six months, in order that they might get over their sea-sickness, see something of the ships of the Fleet, and generally make acquaintance with naval life. During that time they should be, as it were, on probation; and at the end of the cruise all those who find the life too hard or too irksome, or were evidently unfitted for it, should be allowed to go. The remainder should be sent to a College or naval school for 18 months or two years. During that time they should learn all the mathematics and theoretical navigation that they would require for the ordinary duties of a naval officer, together with such seamanship and knowledge of steam machinery as can be taught with the help of books, and models, and diagrams. They would learn far more book work during those two years than they now do during the five years' sea service as midshipmen. At the end of the College course they should go to sea for, say, one year in a sea-going training-ship. During the first half of that time they should work with the men; during the latter half they should perform officers' duties; and during the whole of that time they should receive practical instruction in the working of steam machinery. At the end of that year, after going through a short course of gunnery, in order to learn their drills, I would send them to sea-going ships as midshipmen. The youngest would then be over 17, the oldest under 19. After two years' service as midshipmen, during which time they should take a certain number of nautical observations, they should pass an examination in seamanship for the rank of sub-lieutenant. But they should be required to serve at least one more year at sea before being eligible for promotion to the rank of lieutenant. That is an outline of the course of training I should like to see adopted. It would not be any longer than the present course. It differs from it in that it would not begin almost in the nursery; and as it would only attempt to teach one thing at a time, it might fairly be hoped that something, if not everything, would he thoroughly well taught. It would avoid the unhappy and impossible combination which midshipmen now-a-days are made to attempt, and it would certainly provide for a far better practical training than is now given. Of course, it would require a great deal of careful consideration to put it into shape. Nevertheless, I am convinced that some such plan as I have indicated must be ultimately followed, if our naval officers are ever, as a body, to make full use of the ample opportunities for higher education which the Naval College at Greenwich affords, and are, at the same time, to regain the dexterity in practical seamanship which so many people think is gradually disappearing. I will even go farther, and say that if our officers are, in future years, to hold their own with the highly-trained officers of foreign Navies, some such changes as I have advocated must be introduced. But without making any radical change at all in the plan of our present system, the noble Earl would greatly improve its working if he could see his way to adopt, in some degree, the suggestion of my noble Friend. Suppose the age of entry were raised by a year and a-half, or even a year only. Surely that is not a very alarming suggestion. Its effect would be this—It would allow the standard of examination both for passing into and out of the Britannia to be slightly raised, and cadets would get a fair hold of mathematics, navigation, physics, and general book work, which the majority now do not get; they would afterwards require less study during their five years' sea service in order to keep them up to it, and would arrive at their sub-lieutenant's examination at Greenwich better prepared than they are now. In addition to this they would have more leisure when at sea in which to exercise their powers of observation, and to gain practical experience as officers, than they have now. No new machinery would be required, and no expense incurred. Of course, I know well what will be urged against even this change. In the first place, it will be said that the chief defect in young officers of the present day is want of experience in handling ships, and want of practical knowledge of the details of a seaman's duty, and that this defect is not to be put right by an additional year at school. In that I agree. But while I admit the defect, the remedy is not the one I propose. My remedy is to give young officers more actual sea experience than they have now by relieving them of some of their schoolboy work while they are at sea. Moreover, I would require every officer to serve a certain length of time as sub-lieutenant in addition to his five years' service as midshipman. I do not think that anyone should be allowed to reach the rank of lieutenant before the age of 22 or 23 at the very earliest. The average age would be a year or two later. It seems to me quite unreasonable to suppose that because in the days of Nelson a naval officer was considered qualified to hold that rank at the age of 19, he should, therefore, be considered equally qualified to do so now, when so much more is required of him. Those who object to the age of entry being raised invariably say the same thing—what is the use of entering boys at 14 or 15, instead of at 12 or 13, when all you want out of the majority of them is that they should become good practical seamen? Well, even admitting, which I, however, do not, that an average naval officer need be nothing more, I must point out that people who argue this assume, in an entirely arbitrary and unreasonable manner, that if officers are entered later than 12 or 13, they must necessarily have a less thorough practical training than they now have. But I have already disposed of that point. And I have shown, moreover, that, as matters stand, our young officers have scarcely any practical training at all. My Lords, I am as far as possible from wishing that all naval officers should be men of science rather than practical seamen. It is desirable that there should be a few here and there with high scientific attainments. But to my mind it is enough if the general run of them are thorough seamen, with sufficient scientific knowledge and intelligence to have a general understanding of the ships and the weapons with which they may have to fight, and whose general culture includes the knowledge of one modern language. It is one of the faults of our present system of naval education that, by attempting too much training, or rather too many things in too short a time, it achieves nothing satisfactorily. Another well-worn objection that is sure to be urged against my noble Friend's proposal is, that lads who are 16 years old when they pass out of the Britannia would be unprepared for the rough and uncomfortable life they would experience during their first few years at sea, and would not be able to stand it. Well, my Lords, judging from my own experience and my own recollection of what a midshipman's life was, I do not believe that. But the real answer to it is, that those who cannot stand a certain amount of hardship are not the sort of stuff out of which naval officers should be made. Men have gone to sea a great deal older than 16, and have done very well. The finest seaman that, perhaps, the Navy ever possessed—Lord Dundonald—was nearly 18 when first he went to sea, and in those days the hardships of a sea life were worth talking about, which now they are not. Far too much importance is attached to the supposed roughness and discomfort of a sea life. Things are very different now from what they were 50 years ago. But even supposing the hardships were as great as many people seem to fancy, I should still feel confident that in these days, when the sons of rich men, and even of noble Lords in this House, are seeking employment in the backwoods of Canada and in the Western States of America, we should be able to get an ample supply of young men willing enough to face the discomforts of ship life. Again, I have sometimes heard it said that it would be difficult to instil into lads of the age of 16 the habit of implicit and ready obedience to superiors, and the knowledge of the character of seamen, which are necessary to fit a man for command at sea. Well, my Lords, I cannot agree in that opinion. It is based on no reason that I can see. But as it is only an opinion, and not a fact, it is extremely difficult to disprove it. It is said, too, that the ways and habits of seafaring life can rarely be adopted except at a very early age. My Lords, I doubt that very much, and I certainly do not believe for a moment that one year or a year and a-half would make all the difference. Boys are not boys at 15, and old men at 16. If it be true that naval officers should begin so very young, how is it that every other nation on the face of the earth not only thinks, but acts differently in regard to this particular point? Is it that Englishmen have less aptitude for the sea than the men of other nations? I trust, my Lords, I have shown the reasonableness of my noble Friend's suggestion. I trust, too, that I have shown some reason for the dissatisfaction with which I regard the entire system of training young officers—if, indeed, that can be called a system which is so very unsystematic—and for the changes I have advocated. But my case will seem stronger, perhaps, if your Lordships will allow me to quote from a Report on this subject, presented to the Senate of the United States about a year ago by the Secretary of the United States Navy. It was drawn up by an American naval officer who was sent to Europe for the express purpose of examining into the systems of naval education pursued in England, France, Germany, and Italy. It is an exhaustive document, and I have it here bound in the shape of a book. After devoting no less than 88 pages to a minute examination into the details of naval education in the English Navy, he sums up his criticism in the following words:— In the English Service there seems to be a theory that a naval officer is a creature of a delicate and sensitive organization, whose regard for his Profession, and whose zeal for a high standard of professional attainment must be stimulated by surrounding him internally with all its minor details, to an extent unknown in any other walk of life. To make a sailor, he must begin at 12 or 13, even though he does not go to sea for two years, to accustom him early to his duties. During these two years he must live on board a ship, and be able to climb the rigging, to familiarize himself with details, though the ship lies at anchor in the river, a few yards from the shore, and carries no spars but her foremast and headbooms. He must sleep in a hammock to inure himself to hardship. In the opinion of a majority of officers, he must have his College for higher instruction in a naval port, or he will forget his duties, and he must pursue his scientific researches in a Dockyard, because he will be surrounded by officers engaged in the work of the Profession, with whom he can discuss articles in the professional magazines. If the Naval Profession has become what many enlightened officers of the present day would have us believe, an occupation involving accurate scientific knowledge, the system of training in England has a tendency to grasp the shadow while losing the substance. The expedients adopted with reference to the higher education of voluntary students, and the admirable courses of instruction for officers who have taken up one branch of the Service, notably in the Excellent and Vernon, do lunch to remedy the inherent defects of the system. And the promotion in two grades by selection excludes the most incompetent officers from positions of great responsibility. But it seems impossible that the injurious effects of the method of training pursued with young officers during the first eight years of their professional life should not be felt by the vast majority throughout their whole career.….The fatal defect of this system has been aptly set forth in a remark of one of the Greenwich Professors in his evidence before the Commission, where he says that the standard for sub-lieutenants is that for cadets in the Britannia; but the essential difference lies in the fact that at Greenwich the students actually reach the standard, while at Dartmouth they do not. No one who has had much experience in educational methods will deny that such a system must be productive of harmful results when applied. rigorously to the training of a body of young men; and one is, therefore, led to the conclusion that the high scientific and professional attainments of many English officers are not in consequence, but in spite of their early education. I have trespassed far too long on the indulgence of the House, and fear that I have sadly wearied your Lordships. My best and only excuse for doing so is that this question is one of the very greatest importance to the Navy, and I am deeply impressed with the conviction that, in regard to it, we have hitherto taken an entirely wrong road. I am aware that my noble Friend at the head of the Admiralty wished that this question should be fully ventilated and discussed. But I can assure your Lordships that nothing would have induced me to address this House at such length but a sincere and strong desire to do my duty to the Service.


said, that the noble and gallant Earl who had just spoken had done so with so much weight, with such a clear and intimate knowledge of the subject, acquired from having been for two years and a-half commander of the Britannia, that it was impossible to follow him in this discussion without a considerable amount of diffidence. But having always taken great interest in the question, and having served for some years in the Navy, he trusted their Lordships would allow him to make a few remarks. The noble Earl had rightly said that the training of our young officers, and all matters connected with their age of entry and their subsequent education, were of the greatest possible importance—indeed, they could not overrate it. It was undoubtedly of the first consideration that they should get the most qualified officers and the best instructed it was possible to obtain at any cost. During the last 30 years our Navy had been quite revolutionized, and it was day by day becoming more and more imperative that our officers should be thoroughly educated, not only in seamanship, but that they should be well versed in every science and every art it was possible for them to acquire. When they remembered that they had ships like the Inflexible, with 30 or 40 steam engines on board, costing nearly £750,000; when they considered the complications of gunnery, with its hydraulic apparatus, together with the mysteries of torpedoes; and when they reflected on the greatly enhanced difficulty of managing these enormous mechanical ships, it was impossible not to recognize the fact that the officers who were to become the captains of these vessels must be highly trained and of great cultivation and capacity. So far, he was cordially with his noble Friend, and agreed with him that no pains ought to be spared in the training of our officers to fill these difficult posts. We had of late years made enormous strides in this direction, and, so far as the advanced education was concerned, for the older officers, they had in Greenwich College all that could be desired; but he quite concurred that there was very much to be done to improve the early training between the time of entry and the period of going to Greenwich College. He could not, however, agree with the noble Earl in his main contention, that the remedy was in altering the age of entry, and that anything would be gained by leaving the boys at the public schools until they were about 16. The idea was that they would thus acquire a more general knowledge and a higher moral standard, instead of being brought up in narrow professional subjects. The noble and gallant Earl believed that at that age their minds would be more developed, and that they would have a far greater guarantee of personal fitness than they now had. Now, he maintained that this supposed advantage of public-school training applied to the Navy was an utter fallacy. In the first place, he was convinced that they could not make a greater mistake than to postpone the age of entry to 16. Whatever might be the merits of a public school, it had hitherto boon considered one of the greatest boons to the Service to obtain young cadets at an age when they were plastic and could easily be moulded into the shape they wished the raw material to take. It was an age when habits of strict discipline could easily be acquired, which was absolutely essential. In early boyhood they could train their lads to stand the roughness and encounter cheerfully the hardships which undoubtedly belonged to a naval life. Public-school training was, no doubt, of the greatest value in civil life, and boys obtained not only an amount of general knowledge, but by the time they reached 17 or 18 they acquired a high tone, and their character had been formed. But, however good this might be in civil life at the age of 18, surely he was right in saying that if they took the boy away at 16 from the public school, what he had gone through actually tended rather to unfit him for a naval life. During that time he had learnt to know how to make himself comfortable, if not luxurious, and to have an idea and opinion of his own position which must be unlearnt in the Navy. He might contrast the life of an Eton boy with that of a midshipman in the Navy. The Eton boy had his little room, his fires, his comforts, his all-night in, his constant holidays to a luxurious home; while the midshipman had his hammock, he had to wash on his chest, and to dress himself with the minimum of privacy, with night watches, long periods away from home, and with innumerable privations and disagreeables to encounter. His firm belief was that this discomfort would, at 16, be felt so intolerable that not one out of 10 would remain in the Service, and those that did would be discontented and unhappy. It was a well-known fact that very few naval officers would not admit that if they entered the Service at 16 they would in a very short time have tried to leave it. But, looking at this matter from another point of view, he would ask, was the education given at public schools up to the age of 16 such as they would select for a boy going into the Navy? Surely he was right in saying that, except in very rare instances, Latin and Greek were the main elements of knowledge at public schools, whereas mathematics and foreign languages, which they specially required a boy to be well grounded in in the Navy, were utterly neglected. In the Report of the Committee which sat in 1875 on the Britannia system this is stated very clearly— At the principal schools in the country far more attention is paid to Latin and Greek than to geometry and algebra. For every hour given to the latter four or five are devoted to translations and composition; and Mr. Hayward, mathematical master at Harrow, when asked if Harrow boys at the age of 15 could work the mathematical paper set at the final examination in the Britannia, stated that only a very small proportion would be likely to obtain half marks in them. He could not help thinking that these reasons were conclusive against the proposal; but, supposing for one moment they altered the age and brought the boy at 16 from a public school, how would they proceed? The noble and gallant Earl would send him to sea first for six months to test his fitness, and after that he would make him go through four or five years of College life, interspersed with cruises in training ships for obtaining the necessary knowledge in seaman- ship. That plan would dissociate the midshipman entirely from man-of-war life until he came on board finally as a trained officer, and would be of great harm, not only to the boy, but also to the Navy. It had been the bright spot in our Navy that the seamen had always looked up to their officers, knowing that they had learnt all the practical duties of the Profession from early childhood in the same school and ship life as themselves. Would there not be great danger of losing that, and also that practical eye for wind and weather, that ready resource, and that rapid and. unerring judgment, which could only be acquired by a life spent constantly at sea? The system suggested might undoubtedly give well read, well cultivated, and highly scientific men; but they would be theoretical and not practical seamen. Seamanship was as necessary now as ever, and it would be an evil day when we allowed our officers to sink to so low an ebb in practical seamanship as he often heard it was in other countries. His noble and gallant Friend pointed to foreign Navies as a reason why we should adopt this system, and especially to the American Navy, and quoted some remarks made by Mr. Soley, an American gentleman, who had written a most admirable Report on the system pursued in other Navies. So far as America was concerned, he doubted very much if we ought to take it as an example. In the first place, he understood that of those who entered in America at 16 or 17, no less than two-thirds left in the first two or three years, and of those who remained he much doubted if they turned out as practical seamen as our officers became. He was lately informed by a distinguished naval officer, who had served in a high post on that station, but whose name for obvious reasons he could not give to the House, that constantly when he had discussed the rival systems with American naval officers, they had one and all stated their conviction that the fault of their system was that it gave them theory, but far too little practical seamanship, and that they preferred our plan of entering cadets young and letting them become practical water-rats. As to the opinion of Mr. Soley, it must not be forgotten that it was that of a professor and not of a sailor. But we had had our own Committees, and we had two Reports, one in 1870 and the other in 1875. That of 1875 reported in the strongest way against any alteration of the system— We are unable to approve of entering boys at 15 or 16 from schools, for the reason that the young officer should commence his active sea service at the earliest possible age. We concur in the necessity for a three years' course of training before going afloat, but, in our opinion, is a reason for entering even younger than at present. And the Report of 1870 was, though not so strongly, to the same effect. Surely we need not go to foreign Navies to see what our officers ought to be. He had always thought that our Navy was a model to all foreign countries, and he was certain that our officers were equal in knowledge and experience to any they might come in contact with. Above all, it was an undoubted fact that our officers had the reputation of being thorough practical seamen. His noble and gallant Friend had alluded to H.M.S. Pinafore. If he was not afraid of offending against the dignity of their Lordships' House, he should be much inclined to remind his noble and gallant Friend of the jocular advice given in H.M.S. PinaforeStick to your desks and never go to sea And you all may be rulers of the Queen's navie. But while so opposed to altering the age of entering, he fully concurred with much that his noble and gallant Friend had stated as to improvements which ought to be effected. There were many recommendations in the Report of 1875 which ought to be carried out. In the first place, the Britannia system was not complete until they had proper training ships attached and the two years extended to three, so that the lads might have sea-cruizing and have seamanship properly taught them. Then, again, as to the four and a-half years' man-of-war life between this preliminary stage and the time when the young officers went to Greenwich, there was no doubt that there was much force in what had been said as to the little school work done with the naval instructor, though it must not be forgotten that the knowledge acquired in the Britannia was kept up. The remedy seemed to be to shorten this period, first by the extra year in sea cruising attached to the Britannia, and also by increasing the time a sub-lieutenant spent at Greenwich from six months to 12 months. "Naval instructors" might in this case be very well dispensed with, except in flag-ships for examination purposes, and the money should be applied to the training ships. He trusted that the noble Earl at the head of the Admiralty would say that he had no intention of radically altering our present system by altering the age, but that he would improve and amend it as he had ventured to suggest. His noble and gallant Friend deprecated the Britannia system in no measured terms. Now, he would bring forward the noble and gallant Earl as a living witness against himself. The noble and gallant Earl had gone through the whole course, and certainly the finished article was a credit to the system. Of this he was confident—that if the Britannia continued to produce officers so well trained, so polished, and so able as his noble and gallant Friend, no one would regret more than their Lordships that a change such as he desired should be made.


said, he would first answer the Question which had been asked by the noble Lord (Lord Monteagle) as to the sad loss of the Doterel. He had only to say that the whole of the information received by the Admiralty consisted of two telegrams, which had been communicated to the public Press. With respect to the question which had been under discussion, none could be of greater importance to Her Majesty's Naval Service than the entry and training of officers, and there was none which deserved more fully the candid consideration of their Lordships. He was, therefore, exceedingly glad that his noble Friends behind him had discussed the question so ably and fully. It struck him that those who criticized the present system of the entry and education of the officers of Her Majesty's Navy had omitted to lay the grounds which should be laid for that criticism, for they had not pointed out in what manner the officers who had entered and been trained under the present system had failed in performing the duties they were put to discharge, or were wanting in those high qualifications which were at present required in consequence of the vast improvements, if so they might be called, or, at all events, the vast alterations, in our men-of-war, and in the conditions of naval warfare. None of the noble Lords who had criticized the system had denied that we possessed officers at present in the Navy who were fit to hold their own in respect of scientific requirements with officers of the Royal Artillery and Engineers, though the latter entered at a later age by public competition, and had received a different class of training. If he might venture to express an opinion on such a subject, not being a professional man, but being in a position of responsibility with respect to the Navy, he would venture to assert that the system which now existed, if capable of improvements, had produced a body of most able scientific officers, among whom there were many who would compare favourably with the officers of any other Service in the world. He agreed with the noble Viscount opposite (Viscount Sidmouth) that it would be rash to make any changes in the training of the Cadets without consulting the constitutional advisers of the First Lord of the Admiralty. He might, therefore, state that the subject had been under the consideration of the Board of Admiralty, which consisted of men peculiarly well qualified to form an opinion upon it, and that all his three Naval Colleagues, Sir Cooper Key, Lord John Hay, and Admiral Hoskins, concurred in thinking it undesirable to raise the age of entering into the Service. There was probably no officer in the Service who was better qualified to express an opinion upon the subject than Sir Cooper Key, who, in addition to his distinguished services, was an officer of high scientific acquirements, and had constantly promoted the scientific instruction of naval officers. Other officers with whom he had communicated had expressed the same views. The arguments on either side had been plainly stated—on the one hand, that the suggested change would introduce to the Navy cadets of increased scholastic acquirements; and, on the other hand, that older boys would not so readily gain habits of discipline and a complete knowledge of the Service. The balance of professional opinion was decidedly in favour of the earlier as compared with the later age. It had been said by the noble and gallant Earl (the Earl of Dalhousie) that foreign nations, while they all differed from us, agreed among themselves in the adoption of another system. They certainly did differ from us; but he must demur to the statement that they were agreed among themselves as to the proper age of entry into the Naval Service. The fact was that there was every variety in foreign systems. In France boys were entered between the ages of 15 and 17; they were two years on board a stationary ship, and one in a sea-going ship. In Italy the age of entry was from 13 to 17 years, and the cadets spent three years in a naval school. In Germany the age of entry was 17, and the cadet first went to sea for six months, and then to a training ship for a like period, after which he went to sea in the ordinary course. In the United States boys were entered from 14 to 18, and spent four years at College, and three on board a training ship. The House would observe that there was every variety, both as to the age of entry and as to the subsequent system of training. But he did not think they were to be bound or guided by the action of any nation in the world in this particular matter, but should, from time to time, be guided by the experience and advice of the first officers of our own Service. His noble and gallant Friend had alluded to the American Professor Soley's Report, and had quoted it as condemnatory of our system of naval training. He fully admitted the ability of that Report, which, by the way, contained some words of praise for the results of our system; but he was informed that the American authorities were dissatisfied with the naval training in the United States, and were now proposing to send cadets to sea at the age of 16, which was about the same age at which they went afloat in our own Service. He believed those responsible for the training of naval officers were less satisfied with the training of young officers during the five years after they leave the Britannia than with any other part of our present system; and the House might rely that the possibility of remedying the defects would not be lost sight of. With regard to the criticisms that had been passed on the education of officers when they enter the Naval College at Greenwich, it was to be remembered that Sir Cooper Key, whose opinion had been quoted, had written seven years ago that since that time many improvements had been made, and that the gallant officer's words were not applicable to the existing state of things. He thought that Mr. Goschen had done wisely in promoting the establishment of the College, and he was heartily glad that the services of so distinguished an officer as Sir Geoffrey Hornby had been secured. Without entering particularly into the details of the various plans which had been suggested, he might state that he did not consider that a year or a year and a-half could make such a difference in the plan of education as his noble Friend suggested, nor was it, in his opinion, of the value which he attached to it; but, on the other hand, they might, by adopting that change, cause considerable practical deterioration in the quality of their Naval officers. The Board of Admiralty were not insensible to the necessity of making such changes in the regulation of the Service from time to time as were deemed most advisable; and in making such alterations they would be directed not only to the scientific attainments of the officers, which were necessary in a certain proportion, but more especially to the maintenance of those practical acquirements which could only be gained by the constant exercise of professional duties.


trusted that, as the two young Princes were receiving a Naval education, the system was a good one; but its merits had been questioned by the noble and gallant Earl, who differed from the authorities both as to the time of entry and as to the general method of education. As he understood the noble and gallant Earl, neither competition nor nomination was satisfactory, but a compromise between the two was preferable. There was a difference of opinion as to the comparative advantages of education in a ship in harbour and in a College on shore. They ought to give a lad an education proper for the profession which he was afterwards to follow; and it was no use to give him a smattering of Latin and Greek. It was far more important that he should have a knowledge of modern languages, and of the practical science specially required in the Navy. At all events, they ought not to begin by sending him to Eton or some other public school where classical subjects were taught, and scientific studies comparatively neglected. At such schools, too, he would get expensive habits and notions which were wholly inconsistent with service in the Navy. He did not wish to prolong this discussion; but he must express his belief that the First Lord of the Admiralty had decided rightly. It had been truly said that unless boys were sent to sea early they did not get web-footed. He should be glad to see an improvement in the education; but, at the same time, he trusted the minds of boys would not be strained too much by severe competitive examinations when they came to enter the Naval Service.

House adjourned at a quarter past Seven o'clock, to Monday next, Eleven o'clock.