HL Deb 01 June 1882 vol 269 cc1775-7

, in rising to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty, Whether it would be feasible to supply the means for the efficient scientific instruction of the junior officers of the Royal Navy elsewhere than at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, and without so long an interruption of their service afloat as is necessitated by the existing regulations? said, he wished to call attention to the fact that instruction at the Royal Naval College was given to junior officers of 19 or 20 years of age, who were then at a period of life when, in the opinion of the best naval authorities, they would be better employed on board ships. As things were, the young officer at the crisis of his education was withdrawn from his naval studies, in order to go through a six months' course of English, French, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, steam, and other subjects, which could not possibly be learnt in the time allotted. And, while no one could become proficient in these subjects in the given time, there were many young men to whom the six months thus spent were virtually thrown away, but who would, for all that, make admirable officers. Without disparaging science or being unduly a laudator temporis acti, he could not but think of the past glories of the British Navy, and reflect that the system from which they resulted scarcely needed an apologist even in the present day. He objected to Greenwich as a place of study. It was not the best of places for young men, being only about five miles from London, where they came to pass their holidays, and where they acquired expensive habits. He understood that the education of the sub-lieutenants was progressing very well under the efficient direction of Sir Geoffrey Hornby; but he trusted that the noble Earl would be able to change the present arrangements, that special scientific instruction might be given to those who had a taste for it, or, at any rate, that it would not be thought necessary to withdraw all the young officers from the sea for six months of the most important period of their lives.


said, that the noble Viscount asked two Questions, and he was sorry that he could not hold out any expectation of giving an answer in the affirmative. As to the position of the College, it was carefully settled some years ago, during the tenure of Office of his Predecessors. It was considered that the College would afford great facilities to the senior officers in learning the duties of their profession, and also enable the junior officers to acquire the instruction which would be necessary for advancement in their profession. It was considered that the proximity of the College to London, whence the highest scientific assistance could be obtained, would be a great advantage to a Naval College. As to the noble Viscount's statement that Greenwich was not a suitable place for young men, he (the Earl of Northbrook) had received no information which led him to believe that it was worse in this respect than any other place. On the contrary, he had been assured by Sir Geoffrey Hornby, whose high capacity had been rightly praised by the noble Viscount, that the presence of the young officers at the College was in no way disadvantageous; indeed, his own opinion was that it was important for them thus early in life to associate with officers of higher rank than themselves. He was, therefore, unable to hold out to the noble Viscount any hope that the College would be removed from its present position. At the same time, the noble Viscount had certainly touched upon one of the difficulties of modern naval education—the problem—namely, of reconciling the attainment of practical and scientific knowledge. The question did not admit of an easy settlement; but, after five years spent at sea, six months would probably not be thought too long a time to allow for the theoretical part of an officer's education. To these six months must be added the short period spent at Portsmouth in the study of gunnery and torpedo warfare, without which knowledge no officer would be fit for service in the present day. The Board of Admiralty were not of opinion that any choice should be allowed to the young officers of the various branches of the Service to which they might wish specially to devote themselves. Practical seamanship would always be of the greatest value; but as ships were now wholly propelled by steam, scientific knowledge was every day becoming more and more important. He was sorry he could not give a different answer to the noble Viscount's Questions.


explained that his objection was that the period was too small for the immense amount of work to be done.

House adjourned at a quarter past Five o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Ten o'clock.