HL Deb 04 May 1882 vol 269 cc67-75

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government, Whether their attention has been called to a pamphlet written and circulated by the late Professor of Chemistry and Physics at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich; whether the statements therein contained are undisputed; and if so, what steps, if any, are to be taken to protect professors from the treatment to which Professor Bloxam has been subjected by the military governor and the gentlemen cadets; and, further, to ask with, whom rests the selection of the officer for the appointment of governor, the names of the governors who have successively held that post since 1870, and the period during which they have respectively enjoyed it? The noble Lord said, he wished he could have put these Questions without remark. The subject to which he should refer was of a very painful character, but was one to which he was sure those among their Lordships who had read the pamphlet issued by Professor Bloxam would be ready to give their attention and consideration. That pamphlet presented a state of things in the Royal Military Academy which was deeply to be deplored, and which must interfere materially with the advantages of that Academy, both to the Military Profession and the public generally. Professor Bloxam entered on his duties as Professor of Chemistry at the Academy in 1856, and continued to hold that appointment down to February 1882. When he first entered on his duties, there were at the Academy an Inspector of Studies, an Assistant Inspector, and a lieutenant, who were specially detailed to parade the gentlemen cadets, and maintain silence and attention during the lectures. In 1870 those three officials were removed and a Board substituted, before which the Professor was to attend and lay any complaint he had to make. The withdrawal of those three officers had been disastrous. On two occasions, and on two only, did Professor Bloxam attend the Board to make suggestions of improvement. Upon the second occasion he represented to the Board that the pupils ought not to be allowed to obtain permission from the Governor to absent themselves from the lectures, in order to indulge in games of football and cricket. The result of that complaint was satisfactory, both to the Professor and to the pupils. But, strange to say, from that day the Professor was never called before the Board again, although he had the gravest possible charges to make. One was that the tone of the cadets was so degrading as to be utterly abominable and unendurable. And another was that on one occasion no less than 12 gas-jets were turned on in the neighbourhood of the laboratory at the risk of the fumes passing into the laboratory. Had an explosion occurred the whole of the east wing of the building must have been blown to atoms. There could be no doubt that on the withdrawal of the three officials, insubordination began; and, although the Professor showed the utmost tact and temper, the state of things became completely intolerable. He therefore wrote to the Governor, stating that his health had been suffering from the great anxiety which he experienced in carrying on his lectures in the midst of so much insubordination among the pupils, whose behaviour distracted his attention. The truth of that statement was soon proved, for, at the end of 1879, the Professor was taken ill, and, notwithstanding, he was called upon to continue his lectures to the end of the term. In the early part of 1880 he returned to his duty, by which time a new Governor had been appointed. On July 5, Professor Bloxam wrote to the Governor of the Academy that the teaching of a great number of subjects had been laid upon him beyond those which he had originally undertaken to teach, and that the salary of £600, which he was to receive, had not been paid. He also complained that the conduct of the majority of the boys who came to him for instruction was that of boys in an ordinary boarding school, with a very low standard of moral and religious instruction. To that letter the Professor received no reply whatever; but, having been compelled on one occasion to dismiss the class at a moment's notice in consequence of unseemly conduct on the part of the cadets, he received a message from the Governor through the secretary to the effect that he had adopted an extreme measure in dismissing the class. Having directed, with the view to preserve order, that the outer doors should be locked after the second bell had rung, the Professor received a memorandum from the Governor, commencing "Mr. Bloxam," without any of the usual terms of courtesy, and directing him not to lock the doors. The Professor having explained the reason that had induced him to order the doors to be locked, he received another abrupt communication, in which he, a Professor of 30 years' standing, was ordered to obey the directions of a Governor of 12 months' standing, such communication not even being enclosed in an envelope, and being partly written by a clerk. Professor Bloxam was next written to by the secretary, that an orderly officer would be sent to the class-room to attend the lecture, and that the door was not to be locked, as that it was an indignity to the class. Professor Bloxam replied that the class did not regard it as an indignity. Such was the gist of the correspondence which had taken place, as shown in the pamphlet from which he was quoting. The remainder of the pamphlet related to Professor Bloxam's retirement. The Professor received a civil communication from the Governor, through the secretary, stating that he had made some proposal to the War Department, with the view of continuing for another year his instruction at the Academy, in order to complete the seven years; and he wrote a letter respectfully but distinctly declining that proposal, observing that for several years he had represented to the Governor of the Academy the necessity of certain alterations in the discipline of the classes, to enable him to continue to give instruction without undergoing so much suffering and degradation from the riot and obscene conduct of the students. The condition of the Royal Military Academy was not one which, the country had a right to expect, and could not be one which gave satisfaction to the military authorities. Was the position of the Governer of the Royal Military Academy that of a sinecure for superannuated merit? Was it a grateful retreat for pompous imbecility? Was it a resting-place in a land of promise for high ability and legitimate ambition? He said it was not one of those things, and he wanted to know what it was. Was the post of Governor one of strict supervision or not? Was it one under which such atrocities could be committed as that the lecture-room, the lobby, and the passages could be covered with obscene and filthy drawings of every description without their being removed? [Murmurs.] He was only quoting that pamphlet. Were there any duties attaching to the position of Governor, and was it conceivable that they were adequately fulfilled on behalf of the public? He believed that, however able the distinguished officers selected for that post might be, however high their scientific attainments, however well fitted for command in the field, for a period of 10 years they had not shown themselves qualified for the position of Governor of that Institution if the statements in that pamphlet were correct. What would be said of the Head Masters of our public schools if such a state of things existed in them? The schools would be ruined. He could not receive a pamphlet like that without feeling it his duty to call their Lordships' attention to it; and he concluded by asking the Under Secretary of State for War whether that Institution was to be continued in its present condition, or what steps the Government thought it advisable to adopt in future, with a view either of remedying its defects or of entirely abolishing it?


said, that the noble Lord at the beginning of his speech had told them with very great frankness that he would reverse the usual course in regard to putting Questions in that House, by giving information instead of asking for it. He thought, however, that, for the sake of Professor Bloxam, the noble Lord would have acted more wisely if he had exercised a little more discretion in respect to the information he afforded to the House. It would have been still more prudent if the noble Lord, after asking him whether certain statements were undisputed, had waited to hear the answer to his Question, instead of hastily accepting the injurious statements contained in a pamphlet, affecting most distinguished officers. He (the Earl of Morley) protested in the strongest way against the sweeping assertions made by the noble Lord upon the evidence of a pamphlet written by Professor Bloxam under feelings of strong personal irritation, and without hearing anything by way of counter-statement. He would answer the first Question of the noble Lord by saying that the selection of the Governor of the Royal Military Academy—and the appointment was one of great importance—was made upon the recommendation of his Royal Highness who occupied a seat upon the Cross Benches, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State in the same manner as all other appointments to military commands. He would also give the names of the gentlemen who had held that appointment since 1870. In that year Sir Lintorn Simmons was selected, an officer so distinguished that it was unnecesary for him to say anything further respecting him—he was one of the most distinguished and most practical officers who had ever held the post at Woolwich, and the changes of which the noble Lord complained were introduced by him in accordance with the recommendation of a Royal Commission. Sir Lintorn Simmons was followed by Sir John Adye, and Sir John Adye by General Browne, the present Commandant; and he asked their Lordships whether these distinguished officers were examples of "superannuated merit or pompous imbecility?" They were officers whose reputation was known throughout England. Indeed, the case of Professor Bloxam had been put before their Lordships in such a way that it was hardly necessary for him to say much in reply, except as a matter of courtesy to his noble Friend. The gravamen of the noble Lord's first charge was that discipline had been seriously impaired in consequence of the changes made in 1870—changes for which no reason had ever been assigned. Now, if the noble Lord had read a few paragraphs of the Report of the Royal Commission of 1869 he would have seen that there was ample reason for them. Their object was to give to the Professor a better status. Before 1870 the condition of the Royal Military Academy was not at all satisfactory, and the Commission of 1869 issued a long Report on the subject. Among other changes, a Board of Visitors was established. It was also suggested that considerably wider powers should be given to the Professors, in order to enable them to maintain discipline themselves, instead of by the objectionable and degrading practice of having an officer or a corporal present for that purpose. Professor Bloxam, however, though doubtless an eminent chemist, did not appear to have been very happy in his management of young men, and one sentence in a letter he had written was a sufficient condemnation of his attitude, and ought to have restrained him from uttering charges which for the most part were groundless. The Professor wrote— I must either at once discontinue my lectures or disobey the Governor, and I choose the latter course. Professor Bloxam, he thought, should first learn discipline himself before complaining of the want of it in others. His position with respect to the renewal of his appointment was exactly the same as that of any other Professor. He had applied in 1870 for a renewal of the Professorship and had obtained it, though he had not obtained an increase of salary for which he had applied. It was quite a mistake to suppose that a hearing—an indulgent hearing—was not granted to any Professor who desired to address the Board of Visitors, and unless he had much better evidence he should decline to give credit to any allegation to the contrary. He did not think it necessary to reply at length to the statement which had been made about the correspondence; but he was informed that it was the custom to minimize the amount of correspondence as much as possible, and complaints and suggestions were received at a monthly conference of the Professors with the Commandant held for that purpose. The question also of the repairs was so slight that it was unnecessary to trouble the House with it. With regard, however, to the statement respecting the increase of salaries, the noble Lord was in error. The salary of the Governor and of the secretary and treasurer had not been increased, but was precisely the same as it always had been, except in the case of the treasurer, whose salary had been diminished. The increase alleged by Professor Bloxam resulted from the fact that whereas now the pay of the Governor and secretary was consolidated, formerly it consisted of special pay and half-pay, and, consequently, appeared in two different Votes of the Annual Estimates. Professor Bloxom could easily have ascertained this before making this allegation. He thought, therefore, that the charges against the Academy had not been made out The fact was the statements in the pamphlet were exaggerated. It was most unfair to the gentleman cadets and all who were connected with the Royal Military Academy that such charges should be brought against them as were brought by the noble Lord on the ex parte evidence of such a pamphlet as that from which the noble Lord quoted. At the same time, the Secretary of State did consider that he ought to call for a Report, and until that Report came he did not propose to enter more fully into the question.


said, that he disclaimed all idea of giving offence to the distinguished officers who had filled the post of Governor. His object was simply to show that there were grounds for an inquiry into the mode in which discipline was maintained in the Institution.


said, he was bound to protest against the statement which had been made by the noble Lord on this subject. It was true that he had tried to explain away the charges which he had made against the distinguished officer who filled the important position of Military Governor of the Academy; but he had made charges not only against the present Governor, but his predecessor, and his whole argument went to show that from 1870 the condition and discipline of the Academy had not been what they ought to be. It was his (the Duke of Cambridge's) duty to make the appointments to the post of Governor, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State, and he defied the noble Lord to prove that he could have appointed two more efficient or distinguished officers to fill this post than he had. The arrangements now in force at the Academy were simply those which had been proposed by the Royal Commission for the altered state of circumstances. Cadets were entered at a more advanced age, and it was found that the arrangements for the discipline of youths were unsuited to men. Whatever Professor Bloxam's ability as a lecturer might be, from what he had heard he believed he had not the tact to properly manage a class, and this was corroborated by the fact that none of the other Professors had made complaints as to their classes. In these circumstances, he could not but think that the Professor was more to blame than the students. Where was Professor Bloxam's discipline? He went against the rules of the College, and locked up the door of his class-room, that in itself being enough to produce disorder. He thought the Professors should understand that to carry on a controversy or even a correspondence with the Governors was clearly a most objectionable course to take, and he thought it a great pity that Professor Bloxam had ever written at all. He did not hesitate to say that if he had been the Governor he should not have taken the slightest notice of the letters. The noble Lord had thrown out insinuations to the effect that the cadets were subject to very little discipline and received little or no instruction. Such insinuations were altogether unworthy and contrary to the fact, for he could himself say that, with a very few exceptions, the discipline had been extremely creditable, and the exceptions he referred to arose from their being short of officers. The officer who had made the last inspection said that the cadets were the best set of young men he had inspected. Many of their Lordships had gone through the Academy, and could bear witness to its general condition of efficiency. He considered that many statements in the pamphlet were ridiculous and not worth answering; but he could not in justice to the distinguished officers who had filled the post of Governor refrain from justifying the appointment, and even in justice to himself, who had made it.


said, he thought that it was quite right to discourage bringing forward complaints of this character in their Lordships' House; and, in his opinion, the speech of the illustrious Duke and the noble Earl had totally disposed of the matter. He thought, too, the extracts which had been read by the noble Lord behind him were conclusive against the Professor. His only wonder was why, if the learned Professor who made these complaints was so dissatisfied with the changes that were made in the conduct of the business and the discipline of the Academy in 1870, he had continued in his position of Professor so long.


said, it seemed to him that this tribunal, which was a proper one to appeal to on ascertained facts, was not a proper one to appeal to until the facts had been ascertained. There was a way in which this Professor would have been entitled and able always to bring his grievances before independent persons, for the members of the Board which was appointed to go year by year to Woolwich were always selected with the greatest care in order that their judgments might be independent. The reports of the distinguished gentlemen who had filled that office would show the minuteness of their inquiries, and how ready they were to attend to any circumstances which might be brought before them. He did not say that if the facts had been ascertained this subject was not a proper one for Parliamentary consideration, for the Military Academy at Woolwich had turned out some of the best officers in the Service, and it was of the utmost importance that that Institution should be well conducted. He believed it was well conducted, and certainly, in his time, every grievance was carefully investigated. He hoped that in future, when matters of this kind were brought forward, insinuations would not be made like those made tonight by the noble Lord against officers who were wholly undeserving of them.