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The loss of HMS Megaera in 1871
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|Extracts from the Times newspaper|
|Ma 29 January 1872|
The Royal Commission on the Megaera met on Saturday forenoon in the House of Commons' Committee Room No. 11, Lord Lawrence in the chair.
The only witness examined was the Right Hon. Hugh C.E. Childers, M.P., ex-First Lord of the Admiralty.
Lord LAWRENCE, addressing the right hon. gentleman, said, - I believe you were First Lord of the Admiralty during the years 1869 and 1870?
Mr. Childers. - I was First lord of the Admiralty from the 22d of December, 1868, to the 12th of March, 1871; but from two or three days after Christmas, 1870, I was incapacitated by illness from discharging any of the duties of that office.
Lord LAWRENCE. - Will you explain to what extent the selection and details of the arrangement and equipment of ships came under your personal supervision?
Mr. Childers. - It would be difficult to give any precise answer to that question, because the word "ship" includes vessels of very different character, used for very different objects. If the question applies specially to the Megaera, I can state exactly all I know about her; and possibly I may be examined afterwards on the general question.
Lord LAWRENCE. - Will you state, then, in what manner the Megaera came under your notice during your tenure of office?
Mr. Childers. - The first I heard of the Megaera was a few days before I took office. After it was known that I was at the head of the Admiralty I received from Sir John Hay, the former Fourth Sea Lord of the Admiralty, I think, a note enclosing a paper giving a list of the troop and store ships. The enclosure, to what was a private note, addressed "My dear Childers," I have here. It gave a list of the troopships, commencing with the Himalaya, and ending with the Euphrates and Malabar. It then proceeded to give a list of the storeships, with the Megaera at the head of the list, and going to the Supply at the bottom. It stated with respect to some of these vessels whether they were in want of repairs, but with respect to the Megaera all it stated was that on the 4th of September she left Rio for Spithead, and might be expected home very soon. I am not certain of the exact day on which I received this letter and paper, but upon the day when I formally took office I handed the paper to Sir John Hay's successor, Lord John Hay, and I presume that he dealt with it as a communication from his predecessor. The next occasion on which anything connected with the Megaera came under my notice was a few days afterwards, on the 14th of January, when Sir Spencer Robinson and Sir Sydney Dacres thought it not satisfactory that an accident should have happened to her and no information be sent to the Admiralty, and I approved a communication being sent to Woolwich Dockyard on the subject. This involved what I may call a provisional censure of a high officer, and naturally the paper would come to me. In the result, however, the explanation was satisfactory, and no censure was pronounced. I heard nothing of the Megaera except what may be derived from the ordinary printed papers till sometime in March or April, 1870, when a question was asked in the House of Commons as to some coal supplied to the Megaera. I asked for the facts, and I gave the answer in Parliament. The question related to some coal having got heated; I was asked what coal it was, and my answer is, I presume, in Hansard. I have not referred to it. The next occasion when I heard of the Megaera was in August of the same year, when Sir Sydney Dacres brought under my notice some papers relating to her, and reported to me that in his opinion she was an extravagant vessel, and had better be paid off. I approved her being paid off. That is the whole of my personal information with respect to the Megaera.
Lord LAWRENCE. - When you approved her being paid off, was it with the understanding that you would not employ her again?
Mr. Childers. - No such question was put to me. I approved her being paid off in the ordinary course. Whether she should be at some future time employed or not was not submitted to me by those who advised that she should be paid off.
Lord LAWRENCE. - But I presume her being paid off implied that for a time, at least, you would not employ her?
Mr. Childers. - For a time she would be put out of commission. She was employed as a storeship, and I concurred in the opinion that as a storeship she was extravagant. As to whether more was communicated to me - in the multiplicity of business I can only speak to the best of my memory on questions of that sort.
Lord LAWRENCE. - Were you consulted in any way with reference to her employment on the Australian voyage ?
Mr. Childers. - No. I think I have stated that I was taken ill a few days after Christmas, 1870, and the question of so employing her, to the best of my knowledge, came up some time after that.
Lord LAWRENCE. - Had you not been ill, that, as a matter of importance, would have come before you?
Lord LAWRENCE. - It has been stated that the changes of organization introduced in 1869 considerably affected the working of the various departments of the Admiralty; will you be good enough to explain the nature of those changes?
Mr. Childers. - I will do so, and perhaps I ought to apologize to the Commission in answering that question if I detain them at some length, as I am very anxious that my answer should be as full as possible. I propose, therefore, to state, in reply to the question, the nature of the organization of the Admiralty before I took office at the end of 1868, the motives which induced me to make certain changes in that organization, and the results so far as they were verified up to the time of my leaving office, or rather when I became incapacitated for work at the end of 1870. I must ask the Commission to be good enough to make some allowance if my statement is not so perfect as I could wish, first because of the interruption for a whole year of my attention to business, and the difficulty I feel of going through a very detailed statement; secondly, because I am on this occasion deprived of the assistance of both my private secretaries - one unfortunately being dead, and the other commanding the Flying Squadron, somewhere about the Cape of Good Hope; and thirdly, the Commission will excuse me if it has not been in my power to peruse the evidence and details of the papers adduced before the Commission as minutely and fully as I could wish, I think I may also be forgiven if I say this - observations in connexion with the subject, but not in some cases very directly connected with it, have been made by some witnesses, and are in the minutes of the Commission. I am, therefore, in this difficulty - that if, in describing these matters, I omit to refer to some observations of that kind it might be supposed that I have no answer to them, and, on the other hand, if I do refer to them I might possibly draw the Commission into a discussion which they would not wish, and might appear to be not pertinent to the inquiry; and the request I would, therefore, make of the Commission would be this - that if after what I am going to state on the present occasion the Commission think the observations made by others were relevant, and any doubt exists in their minds on the subject, so far as affects me, I shall ask them to examine me on those points; but if no doubt exists in their minds, of course, I would not dream of asking them to go into any matters of that sort. I will now proceed to describe what was the state of things as to the organization of the Admiralty when I took office. The first and salient point in that organization was the extraordinarily scattered condition of the department. The Lords and Secretaries transacted their business in the square at Whitehall, the centre of the department. The Controller of the Navy transacted his business in an entirely separate house at the corner of that square. One of his sub-divisions - the Steam Office - was at some distance, in Spring-gardens. The most important sub-department connected with shipbuilding - that is, the Naval Store Department - was the better part of a mile away in Somerset-house. The Works Department, also a most important department in connexion with the dockyards, was also in Somerset-house. The whole of the accounts of the department were away in Somerset-house, except a very small branch which, with somewhat undefined discipline, was in the Controller's Office. The Transport Office was away in Somerset-house. With respect to the First Reserve of the Navy - what is generally called the Coastguard, though its preventive duties are the least important - that was administered by a small Admiralty of itself located in a house in New-street. The Victualling and Medical Departments were also away at the considerable distance of Somerset-house. In each of these departments there was a large clerical staff, each on its own organization, and between each of those departments correspondence was carried on and the necessary records kept just as if they were perfectly independent bodies. The supreme government of the Admiralty was in the hands of a Board, and those who have perused former inquiries on the subject will be aware that the extent to which these affairs were administered, in the ordinary way by a Board, personally by members of the Board, was always a question in controversy. Formerly, I understand, when Sir James Graham was First Lord, the different lords had not separate rooms, except the first Lord and, I think, the First Sea Lord, but transacted all their business in the Board-room itself, in. which also one of the Secretaries sat - each lord going from time to time to the different departments of the principal offices, exercising a superintendence over them at Somerset-house, including the Controller, then called the Surveyor, and carrying on their general supervision strictly as it would be carried on by the Board in the Board-room. Before, however, I became First Lord of the Admiralty that system was found to be utterly unworkable, and, by degrees, the different Lords had their own rooms, transacting a large amount of business in those rooms, and meeting together in a Board in a manner I shall describe later. The position, in the same way, of the Secretary, of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty had always been one of some difficulty and controversy. I remember well its being said that Lord Clarence Paget, with whom I served at the Admiralty for some time, was only the mouthpiece of the Board of Admiralty - that he was their servant - a very different position from what out of doors it was supposed to be - when in a Parliamentary point of view he was second only to the First Lord. The system of work was most complicated. I will take, for instance, the manner in which the dockyards were governed. Some instructions went to the dockyards directly from the Board, and communications were received from the dockyards directly. Of the result of this the Commission have had an instance in Commodore Edmonstone's telegram, which, most important as it was, went directly to the Board, was never seen by the Controller, and by some accident or confusion was lost. Some instructions went to the dockyards through the Controller, and some were sent by the Controller not coming from the Board, but acting on his own authority. In the same way with respect to the manufacture and custody of stores; inasmuch as the Storekeeper-General, an officer of high position and equal is rank to the Controller, was responsible for these matters. He also conveyed, in many instances, direct instructions to the dockyards; and, in this way, the want of system and responsibility was very great. At the dockyards there was a similar want of responsibility. There was nobody there who could be called the manager of the work of the yard. At the head of the yards was a Superintendent - a naval officer, but the reports made to him were joint reports; the different civilians charged with different parts of the work, and it was a very difficult thing to fix responsibility on any one of them. Coming back to the Controller's Office, there was a most extraordinary division; so much of the business as related to the construction of ships was placed in the hands of the constructor in one building, but so much of the business as related to the construction of engines in the hands of the engineer in New-street, and great confusion, to my knowledge, resulted from this anomalous position - the direction of naval ordnance being placed under a different lord from the lords who superintended either the construction of ships or the purchase of stores. In the Secretariat it was the opinion of the very experienced gentleman who managed that department that the system was admirable, and at the present time I will not question that opinion; but it had very grievous defects, patent, I should think, to almost every man of business. In the first place, there was no register whatever of papers inwards, and the registration was not for a considerable time afterwards made when the paper might be held to have been for the time finally dealt with. There was a very cumbrous system of copying - copying machines apparently being unknown at Whitehall; there was practically no use made of the printing press, which is so exceedingly useful in the transaction of business of that kind. I won't refer to other imperfections, as I don't wish to travel outside the questions which have specially come before the Commission; but I may say this, in illustration of what has come before the Commission, that there seems to me a great absence of foresight in regulating the dockyard business - for one reason, because of the retention of a large number of old wooden ships which had become obsolete, and from the practical difficulty of getting rid of these ships in consequence of the state of the Store laws, which prevented anything like a reasonable price being got for them. This apparently very small difficulty was removed by a clause in an Act, but it was not easily surmounted, from the great opposition of the officers concerned. Its practical results, however, may be seen by any one who will peruse the evidence before Mr. Seely's Committee in 1868. Coming into office and finding this state of things, I think I ought to tell the Commission why I deemed myself bound to take up the matter as vigorously, and at the same time as slowly and prudently, as I could. I had paid great attention to the Dockyard Report of 1860-61 - the report of the Royal Commission on the administration of the dockyards; and not only to the report itself, but to the very valuable memorandum attached to the report by the present Sir Spencer Robinson, who was then Captain Robinson, one of the Royal Commission. He had pointed out as far back as the 6th of February, 1861, a great many of the imperfections which I have just been stating to the Commission, and his paper and the report itself recommended what I may call a radical change in the organization of Admiralty business, under which, the mode of proceeding would be entirely altered. Sir James Graham was quoted by the Commission as stating that the Board could only work well when it was made as unlike the Board as possible; and the Commission unanimously recommended that the administration should be by responsible heads immediately under the Minister for the Navy Department, one of whom should be the Controller-General, having charge of all matters connected with the materiél of the Navy. I had also perused with great care the evidence taken before the committee of the House of Commons in 1861 on this subject, though I had not the advantage of any report from that committee. For reasons connected with the time at which they met the committee made no report. I had also read and since 1864 had taken part in almost yearly debates in the House of Commons on this subject - yearly debates in which the want of responsibility and the necessity of unity of action, instead of the divided Board action, was very markedly pointed out. And, in 1868, a few months before I took office, I was a member of the committee which is known as Mr. Seely's Committee, and perhaps I may say, without arrogating too much to myself, that I took a very active part in the discussions of that committee. The evidence before that committee pointed to unmistakable failure in a very large amount of Admiralty administration; and inasmuch as it was partly owing to my own action, that the committee made no report on that part of the business, but confined themselves to reporting on the accounts, I conceived myself all the more bound when I took office vigorously to take up the question. Another reason which had great influence with me with respect to the imperfections of the then system of control was this - when I was at the Admiralty as Junior Lord in 1864 I became aware, and pointed out to the Duke of Somerset, that practically, under the then system, there was very little financial control over the operations of the Admiralty; that each of the great spending departments was placed under the superintendence of a naval officer of high rank, without any direct check on the part of civilian authority; and when I had satisfied the Duke of Somerset of this he asked me to undertake the duty - which has been alluded to, I think, by Sir Frederick Grey in his evidence before the Commission - of Financial Lord, in which capacity I was to exercise a check over all spending departments. Before, however, I had completed the arrangements for exercising that check I was promoted to the office of Secretary to the Treasury; and what influenced me so much afterwards, to which I have just now alluded, was this, that, although I think I had established the absolute necessity for that financial control, yet, when I was out of the department, no Civil Lord was appointed to succeed me for six months, and when a Civil Lord was appointed, the functions of Financial Lord were not given to him as they had been given to me, and the department lapsed back to the former absence of financial control. When I came into office, at the end of 1868, there was no Financial Lord, only a Civil Lord with the functions which I had when I originally took office. Another matter which had great influence with me was the view strongly expressed on this matter by Admiral Robinson in the year 1867. I was on terms of personal friendship with him, though I was not at the time in office. And if the Commission desire to study his views, which so much influenced me, I would refer them to the paper dated 1867 - I cannot supply the omission of the month - which is printed in Sir Spencer Robinson's evidence before the Select Committee of the House of Lords on the Board of Admiralty, presided over by the Duke of Somerset last year. The paper occurs at page 45, and is headed "confidential." In that paper - and we had many conversations on the subject before I took office - Sir Spencer Robinson points out the great blots in the then prevailing system. He speaks of what arrangements ought to be made as the best; and what arrangements ought to be made, "keeping a Board of Admiralty as long," he says, "as the Navy is administered by such an expedient;" and all I would venture to say to the Commission is that, whether in every word of that Minute I entirely agree or not, I look upon it as a most admirable statement of the faults which then existed in the system. Perhaps I may add that it will hardly be denied that public opinion, however expressed, and it was very frequently expressed at that time, pointed unmistakably to the advantage of departmental administration with individual responsibility over the system which prevailed of administration by the Board constituted as it was. I determined, therefore, to carry out to the best of my power an entire system of reform in the Admiralty which during the time that I had been more free - out of office between 1866 and 1868 - I had every means to carefully study. The new Cabinet was formed in December, 1863, and on the 22d of that month the Board was formally constituted. In the preceding fortnight, since the change of the Government had occurred, I had carefully discussed with my colleagues the details of a memorandum which is printed, I think, and at any rate has been alluded to before this Commission. That memorandum is dated December 22, 1868. It defines, as I shall show directly, the new functions of the different heads of the Board under myself. It was carefully discussed with those with whom I was about to act, and on the following day, the 23d of December, the first day on which the Board actually took up business, this memorandum was read at a meeting of all my colleagues, and the following Minute was made: -
"The first Lord reads to the Board a memorandum which he has prepared on the subject of the changes proposed to be made in the transaction of the business of the Admiralty. My Lords concur and direct that a copy of the First Lord's memorandum be transmitted to the Lords of the Treasury, and that their Lordships' assent be requested."This was departmentally necessary before an Order in Council could pass confirming the new arrangements. The changes so made under that memorandum were in one respect thorough and immediate, and in other respects very gradual in their introduction. They were thorough and immediate in this, that at once departmental action - that is the popular word, though not perhaps so clear as I could wish - departmental action with individual responsibility of the chiefs, was distinctly substituted for the action of a Board. The old form of Minutes remained. The letters were written in the name of "My Lords," and signed by the Secretary to "My Lords;" but from the very first day of the new arrangements discussions at the Board came to an end, and this was the distinct understanding of those who with me formed the new Board of Admiralty. The Board was, however, still used for certain purposes. All, what I may call the legislative business of the Admiralty - that is to say, rules and circulars - were passed through the Board, the papers, if they were important enough, being read through, if not the heads of them being read at meetings of the Board. All removals from the service and larger punishments were also in the same way passed through the Board; and during the time of the war between France and Germany, when a great mass of confidential papers came to the Admiralty, it was the rule that these papers should be read at the Board to all the members present in preference to the system of sending them round to every individual member first. After being read at the Board they were circulated so far as imperatively necessary to one or two members of the Board. I also occasionally made use of the Board as a place of discussion, though very rarely. One instance occurs to my recollection, and that was the introduction of the new Civil Service arrangements in, I think, 1869-70. A totally new charter, if I may so call it, for the Civil Service, was proposed by the Government, under which patronage was practically abolished, and a system of appointment, after open competition, was introduced; and, as the whole of my colleagues were more or less interested in that question, it seemed to me a very convenient one to discuss very fully at an ordinary Board meeting. But in other respects, with the exceptions I have named, from the very first discussions at the Board were discontinued; and I don't hesitate to give my opinion that that change had very marked advantages. Under the former system, for two or even three hours a day, I have known the Parliamentary members of the Board, my Lords, and the Secretaries collected round the table and discussing small questions, those of importance being settled practically outside - some hearing the recital of business which belonged to others, and vice versa. The waste of time which this involved was, in my mind, appalling, and I felt it severely while I was at the Admiralty in an inferior position to that I at last held; and, however the former system may be described, I venture to say that it did, both in appearance and in fact, produce a great weakening of responsibility. The fact that business was avowedly conducted, not only in the name of, but by a Board, did and must prevent responsibility being carried strictly home. That I am describing correctly the proceedings of the Board I think will be clear on reference to the evidence of one who, to a great extent, was in favour of the former system, - l mean Sir Frederick Grey. I refer to his evidence before the Commission, at page 33, question 13,872, where he says: - "When a subject of importance was to be brought before the Board, I would prepare a Minute for carrying out the directions of the First Lord; I would bring that Minute to the Board, and there it would be read and approved. Sometimes some little discussion might arise upon it, but generally the members of the Board who were concerned had seen it and considered it, so that when it came to the Board it was merely formally approved." That I think is, on the whole, a very fair account of the manner of discussing the business of the Board. But Sir Frederick Grey points out a very great advantage of the former system, which was this - not that important business was discussed at the Board, but that the members of the Board became acquainted with the business of the day; and I thoroughly go with him in considering such an advantage a very great one. But I believe that what we substituted for that, as to which there has been very little evidence before the Commission, produced the effect desired in a very much more satisfactory way; and it is this. Every afternoon the whole of the important business of the day was collected in a manner I need not describe in detail from all parts of the department, and was placed in the hands of the printer, and the next morning, when the heads of the Admiralty came to their work, they found on their table the voluminous printed Minutes, giving so far in detail as might be necessary the whole of the current business. These Minutes were carefully classified; they ran their eye through them, and if any question arose on any of them in their judgement they could at once send for the papers and see the whole story. If they were primarily concerted in the matter, they would have known it before. This, I believe, has been a thoroughly sufficient safeguard, and, if well carried out, was calculated to secure the object of the Board put forward by previous witnesses. But I may be asked, - Why did you not go farther and abolish the Board altogether? And to that I reply that there is something in traditionary forms; and as a wise statesman once said: - "If the object is to reform the substance, it may be well not to alter the form; but if the object is to avoid reforming the substance you might do a great deal in the eyes of the public by altering the form." Now, I believe that, within certain limits, is not an incorrect view; and further, I had some experience of the action of another Department, which I apprehend followed that statesman's principle, I mean the Treasury. In times past the action of the Treasury was, strictly speaking, a Board action. All questions affecting finance came before a Board, and were discussed at the Board. The Board Minutes were recorded by the Secretary, and communicated to the different sub-Departments concerned. Those who have read the history of the latter part of the last century may still see very interesting accounts of the business and discussions at the Treasury Board but that system was found unworkable with the accumulation of business and the requirements of responsibility in the present day, and if you want to find a meeting of the Board of Treasury, except in very rare cases where they act judicially under a statute, you will have to go back a long way indeed. The Board of Treasury acts simply departmentally, under the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is practically head of the department for financial purposes; the Financial Secretary takes departmental rank just as an under secretary in any department nominally governed by a Secretary of State, and having that example before me of the perfect ease with which Board action could be entirely dispensed with while the form was retained, I did not anticipate any difficulty in a similar procedure at the Admiralty. And now I will pass from this subject to the actual division of work which I made at the end of 1868. The great business of the Admiralty was divided into three sections - the first, relating to the Fleet and the personnel of the Navy; the second, concerning the matériel of the Navy; the third, Finance. I may say there was a fourth - that is, the conduct of the routine and machinery, - in my opinion, the key to the harmonious and good-working of the whole system. In charge of the personnel was Admiral Sir Sydney Dacres, whom I had recommended for this office first, because I believe he is the sailor of his rank who has seen more sea service and who knows more of the wants of the navy and of the seamen than any other officer; and, secondly, because he was a member of the previous Board of Admiralty; and I hoped with his assistance to insure continuity of action. Under him were placed two officers of high rank in the navy - one the Junior Naval Lord, the other an officer who is now called the Chief of the Staff, and who, though not in name a Lord of the Admiralty, transacts, under the Senior Naval Lord, business in the same manner as the Junior Naval Lord. There were, therefore, for the transaction of the personnel business three officers of high rank.
|Ma 29 January 1872|
|For the matériel Sir Spencer Robinson was appointed, with the title of Third Lord and Controller. I have already alluded to the very valuable proposals in Sir Spencer Robinson's papers of 1861 and 1867, and having had occasion in the Committee of the House of Commons of the previous year, when a very strong attack was directed against Sir Spencer Robinson, from which be considered that he was insufficiently defended by his superiors in office, to take the labouring oar to defend him, I felt confident we should secure unity and cordiality of action. Assisting the Controller there would be three great officers, the Constructor, under whom Steam would also be brought, and who would act with respect to the dockyards as a quasi-Assistant Controller: the Director of Naval Ordnance, no longer an acting officer, but a regular member of the Department, in charge of gunnery questions, and the head of the Naval Store Department, the bringing of which under the Controller was one of the most pointed recommendations of the Committee of 1861 - a recommendation which had not been carried out. With reference to finance, my colleague, whom I was very glad to see in that position, was Mr. Baxter, under whose charge were placed all the financial operations of the Department with respect to the ordinary control and expenditure, and also with respect to the purchase of stores and the large contracts made by the Department. Mr. Baxter's position has, I think, been somewhat misunderstood, and I will try to define it. The Department responsible for each branch of expenditure made its recommendation; it was Mr. Baxter's duty to criticize it in the financial sense before it came to me, where my decision was necessary. Presuming that Mr. Baxter and the head of the Department concurred, the matter was simple enough. If they differed, it was my custom to see both, hear what they had to say, and come to my own responsible decision. Under Mr. Baxter were placed the Civil Lord - I did not alter the title - who took the minor business and some miscellaneous entirely connected with finance, and the two great departments of the Accountant-General and that concerned with contracts. I ought to explain to the Commission why I did not make that arrangement in the first instance with Mr. Baxter which, under other circumstances, I should have made. Mr. Baxter, when he joined the Department, was in bad health, and in assigning to him the charge of the question of stores, the part of the Admiralty business which had most thoroughly broken down before the close of 1858, I thought I should be assigning to him too much if I also gave him the usual business of an Under Secretary in Parliament. That is to say, I did not pass through Mr. Baxter's hands as the Second Parliamentary Officer of Government the ordinary business of the Department not connected with finance, and for the deliberate reason that, at first, if I had done so, I thought it would be too much for his health. It had been my intention when the store business had been disposed of then to place Mr. Baxter as a Parliamentary officer in precisely the same position as the second Parliamentary officer holds in all other Departments. In consideration of these great changes in the business of the Department some alterations were made in the salaries of the officers. I won't go into details, or I could show to the Commission, as I showed in Parliament, that with respect to the cost of the superior officers of the Department several thousand pounds, 5,000l., or 6,000l., were saved by the new arrangements in respect to the salaries of officers of 1,000l. a year or more. But to encourage and remunerate the great additional labour and responsibility thrown on the First Sea Lord and on the Third Lord and Controller by the altered arrangements, the additions of 500l. and 400l. were made to their salaries, and accepted by them as part of the new organization; and I must repeat what I said before, that from none of the officers concerned did I hear the smallest whisper of misunderstanding as to their new functions, which were brought into operation at once, these new functions mainly consisting in the substitution of what is properly called departmental individual for Board action. I will now state to the Commission the reforms following up this change, which were established one after another. Within a few days the Controller's office was amalgamated with the Secretariat - I forget exactly with what economy in the number of persons who required to be employed, but it was very considerable indeed. I previously stated that each of these Departments wrote and copied its own letters, kept a separate record, and treated each Department as if it were outlying. All this was of course stopped at once. Then the Chief Constructor and his assistants were brought departmentally more under the Controller. Instead of 62 in one and 39 in the other - that is, altogether 101 officers - there were left only 79, a reduction of 22 officers in these two Departments occurred at once, in consequence of the stoppage of this reduplication of business when brought departmentally under the Controller. The Chief Constructor was made practically an assistant to the Controller, having at his disposal the clerical staff, which was very great indeed under the former system; and the Controller and Chief Constructor under him were assigned a limited authority as to expenditure without taking superior orders. The separate steam branch was abolished, and the business brought under the Constructor. The clerical and professional staff, about which there had been a pile of correspondence in past years, was, I think, finally and satisfactorily settled, and a new system in accounts was matured which brought to the Controller and to the Constructor under him rapidly and correctly the most complete information, in a financial point of view, as to their business. And on this point perhaps the Commission will permit me to say that the subject had for years past received grave attention from committees, in, I think, all of which I had borne some part. In 1854-65 a Finance Committee in the Admiralty, of which I was the chairman, reorganized from head to foot this branch of the accounts. In 1868 Mr. Seely's Committee took the subject up, and devoted themselves for some days, if not weeks, specially to the great object of having the accounts for the use primarily of the Controller and the Constructor, and ultimately of Parliament, made thoroughly effectual; and that report endorsed, with entire approval, the changes I had assisted in making in 1864-65. In 1869 we subjected the whole matter again to the most careful internal revision, and I ought to say that, in doing so, we followed the intention of our predecessors. We placed at the bead ultimately of this Department of Account for the purpose of ships and repairs in connexion with the Controller, the gentleman who before the Committee of the House of Commons had shown the most perfect and satisfactory knowledge of the subject - I mean Mr. Fellows - and I am in a position to say that, while I believe that nothing can be final, and improvements must be made in all systems and organizations from time to time, the system of account is thoroughly satisfactory, is working entirely well, and has justified the anticipations of the Controller when it was started, who stated it was exactly what he wanted. We also at the dockyards endeavoured to follow up the principles of reform which I have already indicated. The Committee of the House of Commons had recommended that three dockyards should be closed - Woolwich, Sheerness, and Pembroke. I differed with all humility as to Pembroke. I should be sorry to see that dockyard closed. But as our predecessors had closed Deptford, so we determined to close Woolwich; and within a month of the appointment of the new Board it was decided that in nine months' time Woolwich Dockyard should be closed. It was also my intention prospectively greatly to reduce Sheerness Dockyard, though not by any means to close it, as Chatham Dockyard became extended and could undertake its work; and one, though not the chief, of the reasons which actuated me in the matter was the knowledge that probably Sheerness was the least satisfactory dockyard the Government had. I know it has been stated there was a wish on the part of the Chief Constructor to postpone the closing of Woolwich. He says so in his evidence at question 11,952 and he gives it as the apology for not having transmitted the history of the Megaera from Woolwich to Sheerness, but after the search which I have been allowed to make I have found no record of that opinion, and if given it most have been given verbally. So far as I am aware, at the present moment, it never reached me. We commenced, as to the internal administration of the dockyards, reforms of a very valuable and, I believe, in the end thorough character. I have said it was my opinion that the great shipbuilding and repairing establishments should for this purpose, and use the words "this purpose" markedly, be put under the administration of a civil manager, so that while the Admiral or Captain Superintendent, where such officer exists, would have the general charge, it might be practicable to bring home professional responsibility to the civil manager. I proceeded in this, however, very cautiously and tentatively. We took an early opportunity of combining the shipwright and engineer, just as we had combined them in the Controller's office. I think that operation is carried out at three dockyards, the old system being allowed, for valid reasons, to go on pari passu [with equal step; without partiality], at the others and later also tentatively - that is to say, in only two dockyards we placed in the hand of a person holding the combined office the supreme charge of stores, attaching a store officer to him; and in that way we hoped by degrees to work out a system under which all the branches of shipbuilding and repairs could be put under one civil officer. We also reduced the number of grades of officers, and we improved the organization of the dockyards by giving greater latitude to the local officers with respect to expenditure, and - a task which is by no means complete - we endeavoured to abolish masses of useless forms, useless writings which took up the time of the professional officers, and did all in our power to encourage them to promote reforms of this kind, so that they might be as little at the desk and as much at their work as could be arranged. Meanwhile other reforms, more or less connected with these, were being carried out at the central office. It is no easy thing to bring together a mass of clerical establishments under, or nearly under, one roof in a few months. But one by one we did so. The Coastguard Department, with great advantage to the public, was abolished as a separate little Admiralty, its business conducted at Whitehall, and we found that, instead of, I think 17 clerks who formerly did the business, the business could be as well done by the existing clerks with the addition of only two.|
Mr. ROTHERY. - There were 18 clerks before, and they have been entirely abolished.
Mr. Childers. - There were, I think, two clerks retained at first; but, with that exception, the duties were absorbed in other departments. The Works Department and the Accountant-General's Department in New-street were brought up to Whitehall. The Stores Department and the Victualling Department were also brought up, and, later, the Transport Department; so that, with the exception of a portion of the accounts, as to which very little reference is made from Whitehall, and with the exception of the Medical Department - I don't know whether that has been brought up since I left - and the Solicitor's Department, the whole of the Admiralty Departments have been concentrated. After great pains and the reports of successive committees and of individual officers, the whole business connected with the purchase of stores and material has been concentrated in one hand, the principles of the office being more commercial than they were before, with, I believe, very decided advantage both as to efficiency and economy. And on all these matters, so far as they concern the matériel of the Navy - and I have travelled outside that as little as I could possibly help - I received great assistance from the Controller of the Navy, and I did my best cordially to support him. I have had opportunities of making inquiries which I believe are full, and I find that in the 18 mouths which elapsed from the time of my appointment to the time when I was first taken ill in May or June, 1870 - the time when Mr. Reed left the Department - all the arrangements which I had made, so far as they exclusively refer - and I use these words deliberately - so far as they exclusively refer to the business of the Controller of the Navy and matériel, both in respect to business, with respect to accounts, with respect to expenditure, and with respect to his staff, were made in entire accord with him, and his proposals were approved by myself. I would refer, for one moment, at this point to the statement made by the late Controller of the Navy in his examination the other day, which would appear not quite consistent with what I have just said, and as to which I wish to make the clearest explanation. In page 24 of Sir Spencer Robinson's evidence, question 14,879, - the question being, "Will you explain what your duties were and what you did in the case of the Megaera?" - the witness brings in, if I may so say, head and shoulders, a matter not germane to the question, and says that on the l5th of July he had remonstrated with the First Lord against the unprepared condition of the Navy, and also he had strongly remonstrated with me on the speech I had made on the 1st of August in the House of Commons, telling me that was not a correct statement of its condition. I think, in fact I am certain, that in making this statement Sir Spencer Robinson's memory was at fault. Between the beginning of July, when the first apprehension at the war between Germany and France was felt, and an early day in August, when Her Majesty's Government decided what additional preparations to secure our neutrality were necessary, I had frequent, earnest, most important communications with the Controller of the Navy, and I believe that, in the end, what Her Majesty's Government decided to do was not very far, if at all different, from what he had proposed. But if, in the answer, taken in connexion with another, No. 14,971, in which Sir Spencer Robinson alludes to the policy of the Government as being to cut down everything to the lowest - it he implied by those answers that to that policy he had objected, I must repeat that his memory was at fault. I believe so because in one of the papers - a very confidential paper in some respects - which he addressed to me, its date being the 25th of July, he uses these words, "I have taken an active part in the reduction of establishments and expenditure, and, far from regretting that part, I rejoice at having been able to take my share in very large and important reductions of the national expenditure. If it were all to be done again, notwithstanding recent events, I should not hesitate to advocate the measures which have been carried out; and the only change I would have desired would have been more thoroughness and decision in dealing with certain establishments and persons who have thwarted all genuine reforms." That, I think, fairly exonerates me, I do not say from any charge, but any suggestion contained in these answers.
Lord LAWRENCE. - What is the date of that letter?
Mr. Childers. - The 26th of July, 1870. I could not with propriety put in the whole letter. It would not be for the public interest that I should do so, relating as it does to confidential matters; but there can be no objection to putting in so much of it as I have read.
Lord LAWRENCE - If there is any serious objection to put in the whole -
Mr. BREWSTER. - I have some doubts if any portion of it should be put in if the whole cannot be put in. My difficulty is this - Sir Spencer Robinson alluded to documents which he had in his possession, but which it would not be good for the public service to produce. He did not read any part of them. I should look on the passage you have read as if he were endeavouring to found on it an argument in favour of some particular arrangement to show that it was not from any desire to stop reform that he made that communication.
Mr. Childers. - There is nothing in the document ultimately of controversy between us. It was an intermediate letter while the Government were considering what they ought to do. I think I have read all that bears on the past transactions. I don't think it would be convenient for the public service to put in the proposals for the future, which had to be dealt with by the Government, and which were of the most delicate and confidential nature.
Mr. BREWSTER. - It would appear to me that what you have read is a portion of his argument, used in order to have his views adopted.
Mr. Childers. - What I have stated it is quite proper to state.
Mr. BREWSTER. - In all probability Sir Spencer Robinson, as soon as he sees your evidence, will say to us - now you have heard so much of this paper from Mr. Childers, I have a claim to put forward that the whole document which I submitted to the First Lord should be put in, and between the two the public service may suffer, which both of you desire should not be the case.
Lord LAWRENCE. - You can state the fact yourself.
Mr. Childers. - I am entirely in the hands of the Commission, and I will quote only what they approve. The fact is simply this - Sir Spencer Robinson's statement was made in forgetfulness of what passed in July, 1870. He has quite properly excluded from his evidence proposals he made for the future, and I don't propose to state anything of that kind; but there is a sentence in that letter as to the past necessary to justify me, which could not in any way prejudice the public service.
Mr. BREWSTER. - Yon may refresh your memory by reference to the letter.
Lord LAWRENCE. - Put it simply as a verbal statement.
Mr. Childers. - I will put it as a verbal statement.
Mr. BREWSTER. - I don't put this question as a matter of legal refinement, by which a court of law would regulate itself. I go on the broad fact the world will judge us by.
Mr. Childers. - I refer to this subject simply to show that at the time to which Sir Spencer Robinson alluded he had assured me that he had taken an active part in the reduction of establishments and expenditure, and that far from regretting that part he rejoiced at having been able to take his share in very large and important reductions of the national expenditure - that if it were all to be done again, notwithstanding recent events, he should not hesitate to advocate the measures which have been carried out, and that the only change he would have desired would have been more thoroughness and decision in dealing with certain establishments and persons who had thwarted all genuine reforms.
Lord LAWRENCE. - That will meet the difficulty.Mr. Childers. - Then, coming to the second statement, the late Controller of the Navy says that I made a speech on the 1st of August, and that after making that speech he remonstrated with me, telling me that my speech was not a correct statement of the condition of the Navy. I am confident that Sir Spencer Robinson forgot the whole facts when he made that statement. What happened was this - On the 1st of August a debate in the House of Commons was anticipated with reference to the comparative strength of the English and French Navy. I was occupied a considerable part of the morning in making a thorough preparation for that debate. I had in my room my private secretary, for part of the time Sir Spencer Robinson himself, and the head of the military branch; and there was a very careful elaboration of the facts which we possessed, as to the relative strength of these two navies, present and prospective, and their state of preparedness. The result of this very careful investigation was reduced to the form required for use in the House of Commons, and when I spoke, which was rather late in the evening, in answer to remarks on the other side, I held this paper in my hand and read it verbatim. I believe I spoke during the dinner hour, and as sometimes then happens, the reporter! who commonly send down to members for figures and documents, omitted to send for mine, and in the report next morning my figures were only partially quoted, and I think not quite accurately. When I came to the office t received, somewhat to my surprise, a memorandum from Sir Spencer Robinson in rather strong language, calling attention to the inaccurate statement which I had made the day before. I sent for him; I told him that I thought before preparing such a memorandum it would have been convenient if he had spoken to me to know whether the newspaper report was correct, and I showed him the paper from which I had read in the House. He then prepared a fresh memorandum, the original of which I hold here, and which only says that the First Lord's speech on Monday, the 1st of August, had been erroneously reported. I think he must have forgotten that, and I don't think I am wrong in calling attention to it when he speaks of me as having made an inaccurate statement. Now, passing from this to the main question, as I was stating it before, I have said that as to the staff and the accounts of the Controller's Office, I believe there was no divergence between as, and I mention this, because in the evidence of Mr. Reed, the late Constructor, at question 12,229, a statement is made that the staff is too small. I have been allowed to cause the fullest inquiry to be made, and I am told that there is no instance in which any application was made for additional staff where the application was not complied with. But here also I am bound to allude to a statement in Mr. Reed's evidence - question 12,410 - in answer to which he says that the sizes of ships have been fixed on, as the first condition, because of economical objects - that the ruling condition had been economy and not efficiency. Now, I am bound to give the most absolute contradiction to that statement, I don't think it appears in any other part of the evidence - so far as I am aware; but it is not only incorrect, but I may say it is the opposite - the very reverse of correct. I have had an opportunity of conferring with Sir Sydney Dacres, because the imputation is a serious one to him as well as to me, and he authorizes me to say, as it rested with us to decide on the Controller's proposals, that we never made economy the first consideration in dealing with questions of the size of ships. I will give some instances which I think are conclusive. The first ships we approved were the Devastation class. They were very much larger than the Glatton, and when they were approved we were told by Mr. Reed that the design of 4,400 tons was an advance and could be rapidly brought to completion. There was no suggestion on our part to cut it down. The next we approved was the Rupert; that also was an enlarged ship of the type already approved when our predecessors laid down the Hotspur. The next was the Fury, which is an enlarged Devastation, It was proposed to be longer by the Controller; and its construction was approved by Sir Sydney Dacres and myself without hesitation. There is a remarkable instance of controversy as to the size of ships on which, if I am to be blamed at all, it must be for having come to a decidedly uneconomical conclusion. The Fury, Rupert, and Devastation were the three descriptions of ironclads, the only three approved before Mr. Reed left office. But, in the early part of 1870, there was a very great controversy in the Admiralty as to the size of unarmoured frigates and corvettes. The Controller and Constructor desired to maintain and continue building ships of the two classes - the Inconstant class of 4,000 tons and the Volage class of 2,000 tons. My naval adviser, especially Sir Sydney Dacres, desired very much an intermediate class of ship, and pressed very strongly on me to commence the construction of a new class of 3,000 tons. They did not ask for the 4,000 tons type; - they did ask for the 3,000 tons type. The Controller and Constructor desired to construct the 4,000 and the 2,000 tons ships, and I in the end uneconomically decided on the construction of the 4,000 and 3,000 tons ships. So that in any case of controversy as to the size of ships I did not take the economical point of view, but distinctly the uneconomical view, and I believe my decision was a sound one. There is also another point in connexion with those matters of concurrence with the recommendations of the Controller and Constructor on which I must say a word, and it is with respect to the sale of old ships. It has been suggested that we ought to have sold the Megaera, and it has been hinted that we did not sufficiently carry out that policy of the sale of old ships which would have ended in the greater efficiency of the Navy. In that respect I certainly am in a peculiar position at this moment. I have been subject to considerable reproach in Parliament for having sold too many ships, and now, for the first time, I am told I did not sell enough. The real facts are these: - Not very long after the New Admiralty was formed we obtained from Parliament an amendment of the Store Act, under which the sale of old ships will be more easy; and I then directed schedules to be prepared showing with respect to all the ships in the Navy those which were proposed to be retained for service at sea, which were brought under schedule A; those which were to be retained for harbour and coast service, which were placed in schedule B, and those to be considered disposable; and having obtained that return, we carried out as vigorously as we could the sale of those ships which were considered disposable; and I find that the number of ships sold between the time of our taking office and July, 1870, when Mr. Reed left the department, was no less than 69 - a very large number, indeed, compared with those sold over a long series of years before. But I find this, and my attention was never drawn to it before, that in that list of ships, all, of course, unarmoured, no account seems to have been taken of troops or storeships, of coastguard vessels or others of that kind. I allude to this to show that we endeavoured to systematize the sale of old and obsolete ships, and if the Megaera ought to have been sold, and if she was not sold it is because she was not included in that schedule on which we act.
|Ma 29 January 1872|
|And, now, having, I think, made all the statements which appear to me to bear on that part of my answer to the question, I mean how far in the new arrangements of the Admiralty there was entire accord between myself and the officers in charge of the material, I will proceed to explain to the Commission what was done with respect to the Secretariat and the registry, record, and dealings with the papers of the department. Between December, 1868, and Midsummer, l869, Mr. Romaine was the Secretary of the Admiralty, and I think I may say carried out the new arrangements with remarkable vigour and success, and well deserved the promotion to the very high office in India which he has since held. He left us in Midsummer, 1869, and soon after the appointment was notified to him he was good enough to speak to me about the selection of a successor. I asked him whom he recommended. He strongly recommended Mr. Lushington, who accordingly received the appointment. When he was appointed the arrangements under which the different sub-departments were being brought one by one into connexion with the central office at Whitehall were still incomplete, though a good number had been carried out; and feeling the greatest interest in the subject and great anxiety that we should in no way suffer damage from the change in the hands charged specially with matters of this kind, I had frequent and very earnest conversations with Mr. Lushington, for whom I have always had the very highest regard. My instructions to him on coming into office were these - I said to him, in the first instance make yourself thorough master of the procedure and routine of the office in all its parts. When you have done that, make it your first business to superintend and keep an eye on that procedure and routine. See that all papers go right to the proper people, accompanied by the papers which ought to accompany them, and that the results, the decisions of those at the head of the office, are duly executed. I said, then by degrees take up, little by little, the duty of advising upon the larger questions on which the heads of the department seek advice from the permanent officials, and at the same time do your utmost to improve the routine, which, considering the coming in of so many sub-departments, naturally would require, no doubt, some considerable changes. I told him to bear in mind this principle, that all the heads of the clerical branches in the department must be considered as parts of himself - as his agents, who, so far as it might be found convenient, would send minute papers directly to the heads who gave the orders (for it was impossible he could do everything, or that everything should he gone into by himself), but he was the embodiment of the permanent Admiralty Department; and in process of time this state of things ought to exist, that if all the heads of the office whose tenure depends on considerations of a political character were removed, he and the heads of branches ought to have such a grasp of the business that they could carry it out until new heads of the office were warm in their seats. I told him that in carrying out this he might always rely on all the care I could possibly give to the subject, or spare from the other very important duties of the First Lord of the Admiralty. Shortly after this a committee was appointed to deal with the whole of the business of the branches of the Admiralty, especially from the clerical point of view. The committee consisted of Sir Spencer Robinson, Mr. Trevelyan, the Civil Lord, and Mr. Lushington, and they sat for a very considerable time, and ultimately furnished me with an exceedingly valuable report. I hold in my hand the original report. It extends over 59 pages, and goes into every possible detail. It deals with hundreds of questions connected with the detailed business of the department. It is very exhaustive, and, if I may venture to say so, it is very sound, with certain exceptions to which I will allude. With respect to the staff of the office, dealt with very largely in this report, I am in a position to say - Mr. Wolley, the Chief Clerk of the Admiralty, authorizes me to say - that the staff of the office is ample for its business; that the reductions made in 1869 are fully justified by the event, and that, in fact, the report is fully carried out, except that there are now two junior clerks, instead of two writers, pending the absorption of two in the establishment in excess. But the report, most able, exhaustive, and most satisfactory as it was, contained three proposals as it was originally put before me, for I ought to say I had frequent meetings with the committee during the progress of their inquiry, and I devoted hours to these questions - the report dealt with three matters involving some difficulty. The first was a suggestion which does not appear in the final report, that, instead of the letters of the Admiralty being signed by Secretaries or Assistant Secretaries, they should be signed by the lords themselves. For instance, the letters to the dockyards should be signed by the Controller, and the letters to the fleet by the First Sea Lord or some one representing him. I called the committee's attention to the fact that there would be no inconsiderable difficulty in this, and that so long as the Board of Admiralty was constituted as a Board such a plan would not be feasible, and that instructions must be written in the name of the Secretary. The other difficulty in dealing with the whole subject was one to which I attached much importance, and in which I thoroughly concurred with the committee. It appeared to me most necessary to establish some fresh classification of salaries of officers, not in the sense of reduction, for I agree with those who think what we had to deal with vigorously was numbers, not salaries, and that in bringing together all the scattered branches, paid on very different systems, some new classification of salaries should be devised; but I said it was an exceedingly difficult and complicated matter, and it was far better that the different branches should be brought together that year, and next year, before next year's Estimates, we should have time to take up and deal with a new classification of salaries. The third difficulty was that which has been so frequently before the Commission. I mean the best arrangement for the registration, the digest, and the record of official papers. The committee recommended a system of a novel character which had very great advantages, and at the same time was open in my judgment, to no small criticism. The committee proposed that each sub-department should open its own letters, keep its own registry, direct the letters through the necessary channel, execute the orders made on them, and then send those letters into a central record office for the purpose of digest; that those letters should then come back to the sub-department, remain there for the current year and the whole of the next, and then go to the final registry office. On the other hand, the system in force in the old departments of the Admiralty was nearly the converse. The letters there are all opened in one place. There was no original registry. They were sent from that to the proper officers to be dealt with as their subject required, and when dealt with, having been only kept in the sub-department, as it were, in transit, till the subject was concluded, they would be sent at once to the record office to be digested and put away.
Sir F. ARROW. - There was no registry at all when they were entered.
Mr. Childers. - I don't wish to dogmatize on a question of this kind. I don't feel competent to do so for this is eminently a question of experience, and one on which I should wish to have the very careful service of the most experienced persons. But it seemed to me there was a great advantage in both the arrangement, therefore, which was come to was that the new system should be adopted for the new branches and every department connected with the matériel and the Controller, but there should be a suspension for one year in the old branches, except that the inwards register should be at once formed. I emphasize suspension for a year because both Mr. Lushington and Sir Spencer Robinson speak of me as disapproving the suggestion, which was not the case. I wish to see the two systems working pari passu, and the report distinctly says that this would occasion no difficulty. At the end of the year uniformity was to be adopted. With reference to past records there was no express recommendation, but the Controller's had been kept upon a plan satisfactory to him, and they are still in charge of one of his former officers and as accessible as ever. These reforms and the others to which I have alluded were being steadily carried one by one up to the middle of 1870. In May, however, I was first taken ill, and partially incapacitated for work. At the end or June Mr. Reed resigned to accept a lucrative offer from Sir Joseph Whitworth [1803 - 1887, engineer and entrepreneur], and in the following month the French and German war broke out, diverting our attention from questions of organization. In September the Captain was lost, and the nearly undivided attention of the heads of the office was given to the consequences of that great disaster. In December my own illness removed me finally from business. But for this I had fully hoped in the autumn and winter of 1870-71 to complete the reforms of organization which had been carried out continuously till the previous summer, and Mr. Lushington had received my instructions to prepare the draught of voluminous regulations defining the duties and procedure of every department and sub-department in the service.
At the conclusion of Mr. Childers's statement the Commission adjourned for a quarter of an hour.
In answer to questions by Lord LAWRENCE, Mr. Childers said that it was his custom, when questions were discussed in which more than one division of the Admiralty were concerned, to summon the heads of departments together, and to allow the question to be debated in his presence. An instance had been adduced in which he was supposed not to have done this - namely, in the case of the difference of opinion about the Inconstant class of 4,000 tons, the Raleigh of 3,000, and the Volage of 2,000 tons; but he had seen the papers, and on the face of them the allegation was conclusively disproved. On the 11th of February, 1870, he made a formal minute requesting Sir Sydney Dacres, Sir S. Robinson, Lord J. Hay, and Mr. Reed to meet in his room to discuss this question on Monday, the 14th. They so met, as did (be rather thought, but was not quite sure) Captain Hood, the Director of Ordnance, and his private secretary, the present Admiral Seymour. His minute ordering both a second Inconstant end the Raleigh was dated the same day, the 14th; and it was made after carefully weighing the arguments for and against each of the proposals made. In reply to further questions, Mr. Childers said that be saw no objection to special meetings for discussion of the Lords and Secretaries, or of the Lords without the Secretaries (which Lord Lawrence suggested) if they happened to be exactly the persons whose advice was most useful on a particular question; but he strongly objected to the waste of time and inutility which were involved in keeping seven or eight gentlemen together when the advice of two, three, or four only was wanted. He was for full consideration and discussion of every question, and for the record on paper, before final decisions, of differences when necessary; but he saw no object in bringing gentlemen together merely to hear (as a previous witness had said) each others' business. Lord Lawrence asked whether he thought the practice at Calcutta a good model for the Admiralty, explaining the system under which points of difference were discussed and the protests of the minority recorded, to which Mr. Childers replied that he knew little of Indian practice, and that the system might be excellent for a Government conducted at such a distance from the head-quarters in London, but he could conceive no greater mistake than to allow a member of a governing Board under Parliamentary Government in London to record, after a decision, his protest against it. Such an arrangement would be pernicious in the extreme.
Lord LAWRENCE having called Mr. Childers's attention to the mistakes which had followed the imperfect system of registration and record of letters,
Mr. BREWSTER commenced his examination of Mr. Childers by saying that he would not ask any questions on some matters to which he had alluded beyond the reference to the Commission, to which Mr. Childers replied that he had referred to no matters which the Commission had not allowed to remain on their minutes.
In reply to Mr. BREWSTER, the witness explained that the list of ships prepared for the question of sale, and divided into classes, A, B, and C, was the result of a minute by Sir S. Robinson, made after communication with him; that in that minute no special reference was made to troop-ships, store-ships, yachts, &c., and that they were not included in the list, although many small ships not so included were sold; and that no recommendation to sell the Megaera was ever made to him. He had been so much attacked for selling too many ships that he was hardly prepared to be told he had not sold enough. He explained in come detail the position in which he thought the "civil manager" at a dockyard, as he had called him in the House of Commons, should be placed, having, under the naval superintendent, where such an officer was required, responsibility for shipbuilding and repairing, and the stores. He had fully weighed the difficulty as to the stores being under the control of the officer who had to use them; but the civil manager would be like the professional manager of a great engineering firm, responsible to the partners.
Mr. BREWSTER having asked whether, in Mr. Childers's opinion, the Board of Admiralty should be abolished in name as well as that it should cease to administer as a Board, Mr. Childers said, - I have long thought over this question, but it involves questions of policy of such importance beyond departmental administration that, unless forced to give offhand the opinion to which my mind inclines, I would rather not do so now.
In answer to other questions, Mr. Childers said that if it were contended that under the patent all the members of the Board were responsible for all the business, and were entitled to be consulted on every question, the state of things during the last 40 years was unjustifiable, and Board administration in any shape became absolutely impracticable. He did not think that anything would be gained to the country by such a contention, or that such a supposed responsibility insured any advantage. Practically it would only act as a shield to incompetency.
Sir F. ARROW asked a series of questions as to the wisdom of a weekly meeting of the Board, at which such a question as the putting the Megaera into the first or fourth division of the Reserve might be discussed, to which Mr. Childers replied, recapitulating his former statements of the wisdom of frequent discussions with all the persons concerned in the special branches of business, but he added that, inasmuch as such a question as had been adverted to would not have come to the Board when it met five times a week, having always been settled by the First Sea Lord and Controller, he was sure it would not be discussed if meetings were only weekly. Sir F. Arrow having suggested that in cases of differences between the chiefs the junior members of the Board might with advantage make suggestions, Mr. Childers replied by reference again to previous evidence, showing that in such questions of importance the discussions were never held in the Board-room.
In answer to Mr. ROTHERY, Mr. Childers said, emphatically, - I deny that, in the case of any ship requiring money to be expended on her, efficiency has ever in my time been sacrificed to economy. Noticing that about the same month in which the Megaera's repairs were discussed, in 1870, the Simoom, a ship built at the came date, a second-class transport, was also ordered to be repaired, I asked yesterday leave to see the papers, and I hold in my hand the minutes made. Mr. Reed reported that to put her into thorough repair would cost nearly 3,000l., and to make her good for short services under 900l., and asked which was to be done. Sir S. Robinson referred to the Director of Transports to know whether she could be spared for six mouths, and his report that she could be spared was approved by the Naval Lord, Lord John Hay. On this Sir Spencer recommended the larger expenditure; Mr. Baxter concurred, and I approved. This is a fair sample, and I looked it up without any recollection of the facts.
Mr. ROTHERY. - Can you account for the Megaera having been put into the first Reserve?
Mr. Childers. - I have read the answers of Sir S. Robinson, Lord John Hay, and (in The Times) of Sir S. Dacres, and I suspect - but it is only a guess - that they all omit one element in the question. At this time, the beginning of August, 1870, the public mind was much agitated by the war, and by the prospect of our having to strengthen our reserves; and I strongly suspect that both Captain Luard and the officers at Whitehall were influenced by this when it became a question to dismantle a ship of the Megaera's capabilities, which, however uncomfortable and oldfashioned, was supposed to be seaworthy. A somewhat similar question passes through my mind as illustrating our feelings at that time. We had been just before that time asked to promise certain assistance to learned societies, under which two or three ships would have been placed at their disposal in the following December to convey astronomers to Spain and Sicily; but in view of the war, and the special precautions under the vote of credit, it was impossible to pledge ourselves to allot these three ships, and it was suggested that the application might be made three months later. I suspect that a similar feeling guided these officers in not advising that the Megaera should be dismantled, but I offer this as a guess only.
Mr. ROTHERY then took Mr. Childers through portions of Mr. Barnaby's and Mr. Reed's evidence, and Mr. Childers expressed his concurrence with the explanations given. He spoke of Mr. Barnaby as, in his opinion, an honourable and able officer. Mr. Rothery also referred to Mr. Lushington's evidence, and Mr. Childers said he believed he understood Mr. Lushington's meaning in the cases of answers which have been criticized. One answer and the question which led to it were equally ill-expressed. Being asked whether he saw anything to object to in Mr. Lushington's evidence, he replied that Mr. Lushington was a man of honour, and doubtless would not say anything he did not believe to be true. In answer to a question whether Mr. Lushington had received written instructions, Mr. Childers replied no, and that no general written instructions were, so far as he was aware, ever given to any permanent head of a great department. Mr. Rothery having carried Mr. Childers through the answers as to the registration and other proposals made by Sir S. Robinson's Committee, asked whether Mr. Childers remembered the separate confidential paper of the 15th of December, 1869, given at full length in Sir S. Robinson's evidence?
Mr. Childers. - I do not remember it, and it is not with the official papers, nor have I been able to lay my hand on it among my own. But, of course, as Sir S. Robinson mentions it, I must have received it. I have, however, found another paper, which he gave me during the inquiry of the committee, in which he recommends the appointment of three chief clerks, and expresses a doubt as to the necessity of a permanent secretary. But his opinion was not then fully formed, I think. There is, however, one passage in this paper, which reads so like a prophecy, that, although it tells against myself, I think I may read it, - "I presume that it is evident that Admiralty reform is more or less on its trial, and that in pushing it forward the First Lord will be subjected to the keenest and most malevolent criticism, both for what he has done, and for what he intends to do."
Mr. CHAPMAN asked Mr. Childers some questions as to the promotion of master shipwrights, and the feasibility of having two at one dockyard of the same rank, to which he replied that Mr. Chapman's suggestions would doubtless receive full consideration by the Admiralty, but he hardly felt competent to give an opinion on them off-hand.
Mr. Childers, who appeared in vigorous health, and whose examination lasted over five hours, was complimented by Lord LAWRENCE upon the very able and satisfactory manner in which he had given his evidence. The noble President of the Commission also expressed his satisfaction that Mr. Childers' health was sufficiently restored to stand so long an examination. The right hon. gentleman replied he was not at all fatigued.
The Committee room was crowded during the whole day, several ladies being present, among whom was Mrs. Childers.The Commission adjourned till Monday (this day), at 11 o'clock.
|Ma 29 January 1872||The sir hours' examination of Mr. CHILDERS by the Megaera Commission on Saturday last will at once re-assure his friends on the subject of his recovered strength and explain to the public the break-down of his Admiralty administration. His part in connexion with the Megaera was narrated in the first ten minutes, and only completed the chain of evidence we now possess, that from the Chief to the humblest official absolute ignorance as to her condition prevailed. The apportionment of blame for this miscarriage of administration, at once so astounding and yet so easily accounted for, we may safely leave for the present to the Royal Commissioners. The Admiralty system remains to be considered, and lies outside the Megaera reference. Both parties have been heard, and the time has come to decide between them.|
Unless we wholly misconceive the temper both of the Navy and of the country, the Board of Admiralty must be maintained. As an organ of administration in time of peace it has exhibited undoubted defects, but they are not of the essence of the institution, and may, we believe, be wholly remedied. As a governing body it has at all times performed its work with more real efficiency than has attended the working of the sister service; and in time of war, when such institutions are practically tried, it has more than held its own in comparison with its rival. Englishmen will not forget that in the Crimean War the double government of our Army thoroughly collapsed, while the Navy, so far as occasion served, maintained its ancient reputation; nor will the glories of the Navy, all won under a Board of Admiralty, ever cease to be remembered while history exists. The Navy has been always and in every sense the popular service of the country. The Government of the Army has been aristocratic, while the Navy has been the profession of the middle class; and it has been its boast that it has furnished a more open career to merit than under a less professional constitution would be likely to prevail. There is no alternative - and naval reformers will do well to remember it - between a Board, in which government and administration are blended, and the dual government of a Minister of State and a Commander-in-Chief. Neither the country nor the profession would ever tolerate a civilian as Lord High Admiral, combining in himself the functions both of discipline and of administration. The usage of more than a century has limited and defined the partition of power in a professional Board with a politician at the head, and, unless it be certain that the Board of Admiralty is incapable of administrative reform, neither Parliament nor the country will consent to its abolition.
Mr. CHILDERS detailed with great clearness the history and shortcomings o£ the ancient régime. Prior to the naval reforms of Sir JAMES GRAHAM, the administrative business was conducted by the Navy Board at Somerset House, while the government of our fleets was intrusted to the Board of Admiralty at Whitehall, The latter business was on the whole, well conducted, while the former was held to have failed, and it was with general approval that Sir JAMES GRAHAM abolished the Navy Board and transferred its business to the Board of Admiralty. His principal aim was to put an end to the dual government, which had been found to be intolerable, but which in another form it is now sought to reproduce. His great difficulty was to secure administrative efficiency in combination with a Board. He felt the necessity of clearly defining each man's work and holding him individually responsible for its performance. With this view he divided the Civil business of the Admiralty into five great divisions - Dockyards, Stores, Victualling, Medicine, and Public Works - and left the "military" business of the Admiralty, as he found it, under the joint and several control of the old Board. At the head of each of the five great Civil Divisions he placed or continued a permanent officer of the first rank, and then came the problem how best to establish a connexion between the heads of sub-departments and their masters, the Board. There were only two modes of effecting this. The usual organ of communication between a Board or Commission and the world outside, whether the communication be with its own servants or with independent strangers, is the Secretary of the Commission. He is the confidential servant of the collective body, and receives and communicates their instructions. It is his business to collect the information they require, and by virtue of it he becomes their adviser in all matters upon which they choose to consult him. But Sir JAMES GRAHAM probably felt that the Secretaries of the Admiralty were then fully occupied, that their experience had up to that time been exclusively confined to the military branch of the profession, and that without an extension of the Secretariat, involving some expense, he could hardly impose on this branch the new duty of being the medium between the Board and its five great Civil Officers. The alternative was to intrust the function to the individual members of the Board itself, to enlarge the Board so as to consist of five Lords in addition to the Parliamentary Chief, and to give to each of the five junior Lords, in addition to certain military duties, the supervision of one of the five Civil Departments, and the office of communicating between it and the Board itself.
We hold, and we have the authority both of Sir JAMES GRAHAM and of Mr. CHILDERS for holding, that in practice this system of "superintending Lords'' has proved as defective as it is in theory. The advantage of a professional Board consists in its collective wisdom, and the security it gives that radical changes affecting a peculiar service will not be introduced by any rash or inexperienced landsman. The military branch has been conducted with the old measure of success, but the quality for which individual members of the Board of Admiralty have been selected has not been their capacity for civil administration. The first thing which, struck Sir JAMES GRAHAM, on returning to the Admiralty after an absence of more than twenty years, was that the "superintending Lords" were no longer channels, but had become sources, of direction. They had originally no sphere, except as members of the Board, sitting in the Board Room, and with the Secretaries at hand. They had acquired in the course of time separate rooms with separate private secretaries, and superintended their Departments with the same amount of ill-directed control and the same blundering failure which was then and is still the characteristic of the Naval Superintendents of Dockyards. The Accountant-General of the Navy declared, before a Committee of the House of Commons, that he himself, in his private experience, had served under thirty-four different superintending Lords, not one of whom was chosen for any knowledge of the subject-matter or stayed long enough to acquire what at the outset he did not possess. It was the same, or nearly the same, with the rest of the Civil branches. How is it possible that any administration so conducted could succeed? Was there anything in the previous training of the naval Officer to qualify him for the civil post? Was it not disheartening to the permanent servant of the Board to subject him in all the details of administration to a fluctuating body? Was it not contrary to the analogy of all the other Departments of the State? You may govern by a Board or by a single Minister; but if you adopt a Board, it is through the Secretary, and through him alone, that the course of administration must proceed.It was from the failure to appreciate, at any rate in practise, these important distinctions that, in our opinion, Mr. CHILDERS failed as a Naval Reformer. It would be unjust to refuse him the merit of having, at great and exhausting labour to himself, introduced many important changes. In concentrating all the Offices at Whitehall, instead of keeping them under several roofs, he did much to secure both economy and efficiency. But his reforms were in one sense too daring, and in another sense too timid. He hoped to do things in their nature irreconcilable - to retain the Board and yet abolish it, and to retain, while superseding, the Naval Superintendents of the Dockyards. Whatever is to be our course of policy, we are sure that we do not want a "phantom Board" for the Navy. It pleases no one; it does not gratify, it only insults, the great profession it is meant to conciliate; and you cannot, on any clear principles of administration, work the Civil business without either abolishing the Board or making it a reality. Whether Mr. CHILDERS was more unfortunate in his Secretaries or they in their Chief it seems difficult now to decide. They were both opposed to the existence of a Board, yet both invited to be its organs. He appears to have consulted neither of them in the general business of the Department, and so, when he left, neither of them was able to take his place. In our opinion, whether a Board be or be not retained, the Permanent Secretary must always hold the key of the citadel. But Mr. CHILDERS did all he could to detract from the position of the Permanent Secretary, and Mr. LUSHINGTON did all he could to assist him. Mr. CHILDERS reduced the emoluments of the office, both absolutely and relatively, while Mr. LUSHINGTON voluntarily abandoned to the Controller of the Navy the conduct of the correspondence relating to the greater part of the Civil administration. The conscientious objections which Mr. LUSHINGTON entertained to a Board made him a bad adviser if a Board was to be retained. The result has been an entire collapse of all this branch of the Navy business. The remedy is not far to seek. The Board must again be made a reality, and the Permanent Secretary's functions extended and invigorated. The superintendence of individual Lords of the Admiralty ought to be confined to the personnel of the Navy, and for this there is enough to employ at least three Naval Officers. The Civil Departments appear to have been too much concentrated by Mr. CHILDERS, at any rate if we are to continue the old practice of appointing heads who have to learn the work after the date of their appointment. But, whatever we do, whatever be our scheme of organization, we may be sure that scandals like that of the Megaera and the biscuits will recur if, either at Head-Quarters or in the Dockyards, we select officials on any other grounds than those of experience and capacity for the post.
|Tu 30 January 1872|
THE MEGAERA COMMISSION.
The last sitting of the Royal Commission on the Megaera was held yesterday, in No. 11 Committee-room of the House of Commons, Lord Lawrence presiding. The public interest in the inquiry appeared to be as great as ever, judging by the fact that the room was crowded until the end.
Mr. Burnard Weymouth, one of the chief surveyors of Lloyd's Registry of British and foreign shipping, was called and examined by Lord LAWRENCE, and said that he had had a great amount of experience in regard to iron ships. His attention was called to the report of the survey of the Megaera in 1866, and after an examination of the report, which dealt, it will be remembered, with the thickness of the plates of the ship, he said he regretted having to answer the question whether the ship should have been sent to sea in that condition, for he had to give an opinion in opposition to the opinions of able men who had spoken on the same matter. He held that the vessel was not fit to go to sea with plates as thin as those of the Megaera. were shown to be in 1866 at the water-line; and, moreover, if he had found the water-line plates so thin it would have induced him to make a thorough overhaul of the ship. The wear of plates at the water-line would be less than the wear in the interior of the flat of the bottom if these were not properly protected by cement; but if they had this protection the circumstances of the case would be entirely altered, for there was no saying how long a cemented ship would last. No examination of the outside of the vessel would indicate the condition of the inside, and, in fact, the inside of a vessel would be likely to deteriorate from various causes, while the outside would be quite sound. The witness was shown the pieces of bored iron which the Commission have had placed before them to illustrate how the plates of the Megaera were bored, in 1866 from the outside, and the witness said this boring would be no indication of the ship's interior condition, and wherever there was the boring there the cement in the interior should have been examined. He regarded the Portland cement as the best cement to place on the bottoms of ships, and though he thought that this would protect the insides of ships for 50 years, yet, he said, it would be necessary to make periodical examinations of such ships. Formerly, he said, there were inaccessible parts in iron merchant ships, but owners had been shown how dangerous these places were by heavy losses, and modem ships were so constructed that all parts of the bottom could be got at readily. He spoke as to deterioration to interiors of iron ships being caused by the wash of coal dust in the bilge, and he had seen actual holes in the bottoms of ships caused by galvanic action. In a case which he had seen the iron was worn so thin as to cut the fingers, the edges being sharp and jagged. Another case he mentioned was in a ship in which there was but a quarter of an inch thick of cement, and this cement having been knocked off, the iron was exposed, and became deteriorated by oxydation, being much pitted. The plates in this ship originally were nine-sixteenths of an inch thick, and the deepest indentation in the plates was seven-sixteenths of an inch, so that the iron in that particular part was left at only one-eighth of an inch thick. This particular ship had carried some copper ore, and he thought that some dust of this ore might have got on to the bottom and so raised galvanic action. Lord Lawrence read out the ingredients of which Spence's cement was composed - bone dust, clay, cowhair, soot, fish oil, and Portland cement. The witness said he should certainly not have allowed such a mixture to be placed in a ship under him. He then exhibited some rusted and thin iron plates, illustrative of chymical action. The plates were the floor plates of a composite ship, a ship built of wood and iron, which carried sugar, and these plates, he said, on the annual examination of the ship were found to have quickly deteriorated, and in some places to have wasted away altogether. The rules of Lloyds required that a ship should be subject to an annual examination, and if anything striking were found in that examination, then the owner was required to have the ceiling altogether removed. He thought it quite possible that if plates were worn so thin, a man pressing his thumb on the thinnest part might deflect the iron.
Questioned by Mr. BREWSTER, the witness said, taking the whole history of the ship, with her known condition, she should never have gone to sea without being thoroughly repaired in 1866, and she was still less able to go in after year.
In reply to Sir M. SEYMOUR, the witness said he had had experience in Her Majesty's dockyards, and be thought the position of "inspector" - between the "leading man" and foreman - a desirable position to have been retained. It was now abolished. The witness was then taken over his experience in the Government dockyards. He said he thought officers and workmen in the Government pay were cruelly used. Comparing his experience of the Royal dockyards with his experience of the merchant service, he said he was sure that if the dockyard men were properly led and properly officered, there would be better work, as regards quantity and quality, than could be obtained in the merchant service.
In answer to Sir FREDERICK ARROW the witness said Lloyd's surveyors, who inspected ships, saw every portion of the ships themselves, and were themselves responsible for the condition of every ship they reported upon. It was also elicited that if the surveyors of Lloyd's were not satisfied with a ship's condition as seen on a general survey, they would recommend the owners to have a full survey, and would recommend to the committee that the class of the ship should be suspended until she had had such a survey. He thought the Admiralty "system" was in fault in regard to Royal ships, as these were not inspected with the same precision and completeness as in the merchant service. He thought the responsibility of the officers in the dockyard was too much spread.
In answer to Mr. Rothery, the witness held that the great commercial companies of shipowners should have a system of survey, as, speaking from experience, he said he had known some iron ships bought after use by a company shown to be in a condition that proved them to have kept afloat by luck, as the scraping of the plates had caused a hole to be made in them.
Answering Mr. CHAPMAN, the witness held that the damage which caused the Megaera to be wrecked could not have been caused by her grounding on her anchors. He also held that the system of divided responsibility in the examination of ships existing in Her Majesty's dockyard was a less effective system than the one or direct responsibility in Lloyd's.
Dr. Odling [William Odling, 1829 - 1921], Professor of Chymistry at the Royal Institution, gave evidence with regard to the oxydation of iron. He gave it as his opinion, having considered all the circumstances attending the Megaera, that the means existed in the ship for the oxydation of the iron by the contact of the bilge water with the plates. He thought that the defective iron where the leak was had deteriorated over a course of years, and not rapidly, and he said the piece of metallic substance given to him by Mr. Bidder, the Secretary - the piece of metallic substance which came up in the pumps - was entirely without metallic iron, and was in the condition which iron would be after years of exposure to deterioration such as it would have by the washing of bilge water. He also said that Spence's cement would not have been any good whatever to iron, and he thought he should not have tried this composition on a ship first of all, before trying it on iron; and if the experiment had been tried in a ship it should have been carefully watched. Wherever there was corrosion in iron there was galvanic action to a certain extent, but speedy galvanic action could not have been the cause of the leak in the Megaera. Still further pressed, the witness said he was decidedly of opinion that the deterioration of the Megaera was a matter of years and not of weeks. The case of the Megaera's leak was that of gradual decay lasting over years, resulting from exposure to the action of sea water.
Dr. Edward Franklyn [possibly Sir Edward Frankland, KCB, FRS, 1825- 1899], professor of chymistry, was also of opinion that the leak was the result of continuous exposure to the action of sea-water. Asked if there might not have been some effect of copper on the leak, he said there might in an infinitesimal degree - just as a ton of salt might affect the ocean, but in point of fact the leak was the result of a long-continued deterioration of the particular part.This was the whole of the evidence forthcoming, and Lord LAWRENCE then said that the Commission, so far as taking evidence was concerned, would adjourn sine die [without a date fixed, i.e. indefinitely].
|Sa 3 February 1872|
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir, - In your report of the evidence given by Mr. Childers before the Royal Commission on the Megaera you print an extract from a letter of mine dated July 26, 1870, which was read by Mr. Childers, and to which the Commissioners very properly objected, as Mr. Childers declined to put in the remainder on the ground that it would be inconvenient for the public service that he should do so. As it is manifestly unfair to quote a sentence of the kind without its context, I must beg of you to give me space for some explanation, as it might otherwise be supposed that I accepted the imputations made by Mr. Childers.
I will only say that that part of the letter which you gave to the public was written to show that an earnest reformer, an unflinching economist, as Mr. Childers well knew me to be, could and would at the right time urge a proper expenditure of public money, and looked upon the safety and dignity of the country as paramount to all other considerations. If this letter were produced it would prove that my memory was not at fault, and that I was justified in stating I had strongly remonstrated with him on the unprepared condition of the British Navy.
Mr. Childers is mistaken in supposing that any part of my evidence implied that I disapproved the policy of the Government, which I stated had been reversed. I am obliged to him for showing that when in office I pointed out to him that want of thoroughness and completeness in his reforms which has led to their failure.
There are other points in Mr. Childers' evidence, to discuss which would occupy too much of your space, but to the accuracy of which I cannot assent, especially that part of it which refers to the evidence I gave before the Duke of Somerset's Committee respecting the decision come to on a question as to the class of ship which should be built, I can prove that the ultimate decision on this subject was not arrived at on the 14th of February, and that it was made under the circumstances stated by me in answer to the Duke of Somerset's questions.
I do not understand the object of the remark made by Mr. Childers with reference to my appointment as Third Lord and Controller in 1869.
I will only observe that I felt, and still feel, grateful to Mr. Childers for the part he took during the sitting of Mr. Seely's Committee. I do not consider, however - and in that opinion the chairman of that committee bears me out - that any attack was directed against me personally, or against the Controller of the Navy, but that it was against the system, for which I was not responsible, and not against the official, that these attacks were directed.I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your obedient servant,
ROB. SPENCER ROBINSON
61, Eaton-place, Feb. 2.
|We 14 February 1872||The Megaera inquiry appears to be already producing practical results. The Admiralty have despatched an order to the dockyards giving vary positive directions as to the survey and inspection of ships in future, with a view to making the officials directly responsible as to the fitness of the vessels for the services required. The dockyard officials must have a history of each ship which passes through their hands, and must be very careful in making surveys and reports as to the repairs needed in any case. This order appears to be framed so that there shall be the fullest responsibility cast upon the dockyard officials in the matter, the Megaera inquiry having shown how much that has hitherto been wanting. The Admiralty have also appointed a committee to inquire into a matter which was very prominent in the Megaera inquiry - the galvanic action which may arise from the proximity of copper and other metals on the bottoms or in the interior of the hulls of ships. The committee consists of Mr. Farqnharson, an Admiralty official, Mr. Weston, of Portsmouth Dockyard, and Mr. James, head of the metal mills at Chatham Dockyard. These gentlemen will make the necessary inquiries and inspection at the various dockyards and report thereon.|
|Fr 8 March 1872|
THE MEGAERA COMMISSION.
The Report of the Commission has been issued. The Commissioners have come to the following conclusions: -
"84. We express our decided opinion that the state and condition of the Megaera was such that she ought never to have been selected for the voyage to Australia, and that as a matter of fact she was an unsafe ship when she left Sheerness, and had probably been so for some years. It is right that we should add that Sir Spencer Robinson informed Sir Sydney Dacres that he did not consider her well adapted for this service, and it is much to be regretted that more weight was not attached to his representations, and that, when he expressed an opinion unfavourable to the employment of the ship, Sir Sydney Dacres did not call for and discuss the reason and grounds for that opinion before incurring such a responsibility.
"85. When the Megaera left Sheerness her ports were leaky, some being decayed, and others worn out by long service. She was also overladen with reference to the comfort of the officers and men on board, bearing in mind more particularly the nature and length of the voyage and the numbers she carried.
"86. We consider that the Admiralty were justified in ordering the Megaera to continue her voyage after she had put into Queenstown, the Admiral on the station having declared that she was fit to proceed. The defects which were then reported were not of a character to affect her seaworthiness, and were such as were remedied without docking her.
"87. The defects in the ship's hull, at the time when she was beached at St. Paul's, were local. The leak itself was an oblong aperture about two inches in length by one and a half in breadth. The plates for a space of five or six fest in the vicinity of the leak were more or less corroded, and dangerously weak over an extent of from two to three feet. In several of the ship's frames also in the same part the floor plates were more or less eaten by corrosion. These circumstances raised a feeling of insecurity in the minds of the officers as to the soundness of her bottom. It was this which induced Captain Thrupp and the officers he consulted to decide upon running the vessel ashore.
"88. The cause of the leak and of the defective condition of the plates in its vicinity was the continued corrosive action of bilge water on unprotected iron. The loss of the ship is in our judgment to be attributed to the want of adequate protection to the inner surface of those plates. The corrosive action had in our opinion been at work for some years, and was not appreciably, if at all, accelerated by galvanic action, occasioned by the presence of copper.
"89. The plates in the vicinity of the water line of the Megaera were ascertained in 1866 to be very thin; but it must be borne in mind that it is not to the weakness of these plates that the loss of the ship is in any way attributable. This circumstance, however, ought to have led to a thorough and complete examination of the whole of the plating. The sound condition of the plates was not to be satisfactorily ascertained by mere boring from the outside, which was the only process adopted subsequently to the above discovery; such a boring, limited as it was to a mere puncture of the inner surface of the iron could not afford any indication of the condition of the interior face of the plates.
"90. It is a matter of doubt whether the plates ought at that time to have been doubled or replaced, but it is certain that their comparative weakness should never have been lost sight of, and should have been constantly brought to the notice of the dockyard officials, and that their soundness should have been carefully tested before the vessel was despatched to Australia.
"91. Nevertheless, after 1864 the Megaera was never sufficiently examined. Every official at the time of examination confined his attention to the exterior, and to such parts of her interior as were readily accessible, and relying, it would seem, as to her interior, upon the supposed lasting qualities of cement, omitted to make the necessary examination, though it is obvious that whether her age, her extended service at sea, or the period which had passed since the repairs in 1864, be considered, such precautions should have been observed. It has been proved to our satisfaction that there were parts of the interior which could only be examined by opening up the ship to an extent which was never done; anything short of this prevented the real state of these parts from being ascertained. It is in evidence that at the termination of a ship's commission, which usually lasts four years, such an examination should be made as would thoroughly satisfy the authorities as to the state of the ship, so as to make it clear whether further examination or repairs are necessary. But counting from February, 1865, the time when the Megaera left Devonport Dockyard, until February, 1871, when she sailed from Sheerness, six years had elapsed since she was thoroughly overhauled. It was owing to this that the corrosive action was allowed to go on until it resulted in the loss of the vessel.
"92. We will now proceed to state upon whom, in our opinion, rests the responsibility for the mismanagement which allowed the vessel to remain so long in an unsafe condition.
"93. We are of opinion that responsibility rests on Sir Spencer Robinson, who was Controller from 1861 to 1871.
"94. It was for the Controller to take care that the organization of his department was such that all the duties connected with it were efficiently performed. The attention of the Sheerness officers was never called to the report of 1866 on the Megaera, and the reports of subsequent years on the ship seem never to have been scrutinized with the necessary care nor examined with reference to the information regarding her, which was then obtained, and even when, in 1870, the carpenter of the ship had called the attention of the dockyard officers to the alleged thinness of the plates at the bottom of the vessel, they satisfied themselves with an examination of the outside, and their report was accepted without challenge by the Controller.
"95. We have shown that Sir Spencer Robinson was responsible for the application of Spence's cement to the Megaera, and for its having been subsequently suffered to remain there without examination, though ascertained to be a failure in other instances. From the day it was put into her, until the day she was beached at St. Paul's, no one ever thought of the matter; although it is impossible to suppose, judging from the effect of bilge water on it, as reported in the cases of the Sharpshooter and the Northumberland, that it could have afforded any lasting protection to the plates of the bottom of the ship.
"96. No advantage was taken by the Controller of the opportunity of fully ascertaining her condition during the five months she lay unemployed at Sheerness, although so many questions had been raised and doubts entertained with reference to it; nor did he, when informed by Sir S. Dacres of his intention to send the Megaera to Australia, recall to his mind that doubts had existed for years as to the general character of the ship. Hence it follows, in our opinion, that the Controller is mainly responsible for the misfortune which befell the vessel. The arguments which he has adduced in explanation of this neglect are not, in our judgment, satisfactory. We say this with much regret, for there can be no question of the zeal and ability of this officer; and it is difficult, we think, to have taken part in this inquiry with forming a high appreciation of his merits as a devoted public servant.
"97. We also consider that neither Mr. Reed nor Mr. Barnaby is free from responsibility, the former in not, when undertaking in 1866 to make an examination, making it a complete one, the latter in not calling the attention of Lord John Hay to the weakness of the ship's plating when asked as to her condition in 1871.
"98. We think also that blame attaches to Mr. H. Morgan, of the Chief Constructor's Department, because when he received the report of the Sheerness officers in April, 1870, containing the observation that the bottom was stated to be very thin in many places, he neglected to inform them of the previous reports, and of the known thinness of her plates.
"99. We are of opinion that Captain Luard incurred a grave responsibility in sending to the Admiralty without further examination of the ship or any knowledge of her previous history the telegram, of the 13th of August, 1870. But for this she would have been placed in the 4th Division and thoroughly examined, when in all probability her defects would have been discovered. We say this with regret, for it is clear that the error into which he fell arose from zeal in the public service, he having no suspicion of the real state of the case. We think also that he is responsible, together with the dockyard officers, for the defective condition of the ports when the Megaera left Sheerness.
"100. We further consider that Mr. William Ladd, the Master Shipwright, and Mr. W.H. Henwood, the Assistant Master Shipwright at Woolwich from 1866 to 1869, and Mr. A.B. Sturdee, the Master Shipwright, and Mr. William Mitchell, the Assistant Master Shipwright at Sheerness from 1869 to 1871, are severally deserving of censure for not having discovered either the unprotected condition or the inaccessible position of the plates in the part where the leak was afterwards discovered; and for never making a thorough examination of the interior, although both at Woolwich and Sheerness there were ample opportunities of so doing. Nor do we think that the Superintendents at those yards were free from blame in not seeing that these duties were efficiently carried out.
"101. We consider that Mr. Ladd and Mr. Henwood are further to blame for having neglected to institute an examination of the Megaera's plates in the interior in December, 1867, though they were then expressly directed by the Controller of the Navy to report whether she was in want of repair.
"102. Mr. Sturdee and Mr. Mitchell are also especially deserving of censure, because when informed by the carpenter of the Megaera, when she was in their hands in April, 1870, that the bottom was stated to be very thin in many places, they took no steps, whatever to ascertain whether that was true or not.
"103. The engineers and carpenters of the Megaera in her several commissions are in some degree to blame for not having called attention to the circumstance that parts of the ship were closed up and inaccessible even to view.
"104. Captain Thrupp also appears blameable for not taking care that the cargo was properly stowed before leaving Sheerness.
"105. We are of opinion that it was an unfortunate circumstance that Sir Sydney Dacres should have placed officers in charge of the Megaera, very few of whom had ever sailed in iron vessels, as it must be difficult, for those who are not familiar with their construction, to form a sound opinion as to the character of defects or accidents which may occur at sea, or to adopt the best methods for repairing them.
"106. On the question of the general responsibility of dockyard officers it is doubtful what are the precise rules in force. They all unite in declaring that their duties are limited to the examination and remedy of reported defects and of such other defects as may become apparent in carrying this duty into execution; and these views are supported by the evidence of their immediate naval superiors, who hold or have held the post of dockyard superintendents. On the other hand, the Admiralty officers urge the very opposite statements, and point to the Circular Orders in existence and to the impossibility of their being able to ascertain whether the dockyard officers have done or have not done their duty in examining ships. It is clear to us that while the intentions of the Admiralty were to enforce adherence to these circulars, nevertheless their orders have always been understood and obeyed by the dockyard officials in the limited sense above referred to. But it appears to us that it would be quite possible to mature a system whereby the respective duties of all these officers could be defined and checked, so as to render it very difficult for any serious mistakes to occur, and that without such a system, responsibility in practice becomes little better than nominal.
"107. We think that a complete survey should be made of every iron ship at suitable intervals. But the circumstance that such survey had been made should not release a superintendent of a dockyard from the duty of at all times making sure that a vessel has left his charge in good order.
"108. We feel compelled to add that we have formed, however unwillingly, an unfavourable opinion as to the mode in which the administration of Her Majesty's dockyards is generally conducted. The important work of the survey of vessels seems often to have been done in an incomplete and unsatisfactory manner. Officers too often appear to us to have done no more than each of them thought it was absolutely necessary to do; following a blind routine in the discharge of their duties, and acting almost as if it were their main object to avoid responsibility.
"109. As regards the Admiralty, we have endeavoured to restrict our inquiry to matters which immediately bore on the loss of the Megaera; but owing to witnesses often travelling into points which seemed to affect their own character and which it was difficult to check, we have been led to exceed such limits. We do not consider that there is any evidence to show that the Admiralty ever cut down an estimate from a feeling of parsimony, or sacrificed efficiency from a desire to reduce expenditure. We do not believe that in any case connected with the Megaera the reduction of an estimate contributed to her loss. We consider, however, that it would have been sound economy to have got rid of the vessel long ago, as being an expensive ship to maintain and of comparatively little value for any service.
"110. We feel bound also to state that, in the course of the inquiry, it has been clearly shown to us that the system of administration at the Admiralty is defective in some important points. Its secretariat arrangements are insufficient, and its mode of registration of correspondence defective. It is an extraordinary circumstance indicative of this that when Sir Spencer Robinson asked for the report which Mr. Reed was supposed to have made in 1866 on the thinness of the iron plates of the Megaera that reference did not lead to the production of the report of the dockyard officers of the same year to a similar effect. A very little reflection ought to have led the clerk intrusted with the search to endeavour to ascertain and to produce any documents of the period which bore on the subject under inquiry. The explanation of Mr. Claude Clifton in this matter is very unsatisfactory.
"111. The checks by which responsibility is to be enforced, judging by the case of the Megaera, appear to be practically almost nominal. There was, indeed, a ship's book for the Megaera; but neither the circumstance that she was coated with an experimental cement, nor the nature of the different surveys which had from time to time been held on her, nor, indeed, a word whereby a suspicion would arise as to her real condition at the time she was selected for the voyage to Australia, was to be found therein. Such a record was worse than useless; it was simply misleading. When estimates for the repair of ships are received at the Admiralty, judging from this case, they are disposed of without sufficient reference to previous reports and former outlays. Reports from dockyards seem to be received with too much reliance on their correctness. It is with difficulty that the details of the actual work performed under each estimate can be traced. Nothing like completion statements of the work done in each instance to it ship appear to be furnished. No one seems to have known or to have recollected in 1870 and 1871 that the Megaera had never been thoroughly overhauled since 1864; that she had been once declared only fit for 18 or 24 months' service in her then existing condition, and on two subsequent occasions fit for 12 months' service only; that when pronounced equal to the voyage to Australia more than six years had passed, and that before she could have returned to England seven years at least would have elapsed since she had been properly examined and really made efficient for sea service.
"112. We have come to the above conclusions after careful and full consideration. It is with reluctance and pain that we express unfavourable opinions with respect to the conduct of officers and the management of a great department. But, in doing so, we hare acted on a strong sense of duty and of the imperative obligations which have been placed on us by your Majesty."LAWRENCE (L.S.)
"GEORGE P. BIDDEE, Secretary.
"6th March, 1872."
|Fr 8 March 1872||A long and searching investigation has enabled the Commissioners intrusted with the inquiry into the loss of the Megaera to issue a Report dealing fully with the history of that ill-fated vessel. They have done their work impartially and unsparingly. So far from taking the official view that nobody is to blame in these cases, and that accidents happen from causes which man cannot foresee or obviate, the Commissioners trace the negligence and the blundering of the Admiralty and its servants step by step, from year to year, and apportion to each delinquent his share of blame. The unfortunate old ship has done its last piece of mischief by damaging a number of respectable reputations, and for years to come her name will be one of evil memory among officials of every degree. The chief responsibility for the calamity is thrown by the Commissioners on Sir SPENCER ROBINSON, who was Controller from 1861 to 1871; but Mr. REED, Mr. BARNABY, Captain LUARD, and the Master Shipwrights at Woolwich and Sheerness, are held not to be free from blame. Persons disposed to generalize are sure to say in such cases as this that "the system" is in fault, and will be encouraged in this opinion by finding that the censure of the Commissioners involves a vast number of officers and public servants; but the Commissioners themselves do not admit that because a number of persons, each in his capacity, have been guilty of negligence, or because a general relaxation of official duty prevailed, the fault must, therefore, be visited on an abstraction. They show historically how the ship came into the condition which made a long voyage dangerous, and they give their reasons for believing that, if certain specified persons, had done their work with common care, that condition would have been remedied, or the vessel would not have been sent to sea at all.|
The first sentence of the Commissioners "Conclusions" is as follows: - "We express our decided opinion that the state and condition of the Megaera were such that she ought never to have been selected for the voyage to Australia, and that, as a matter of fact, she was an unsafe ship when she left Sheerness, and had probably been so for some years." The "Conclusions," which we publish elsewhere, come at the end of a very useful summary of the ship's history, digested from the evidence taken by the Commission, and, after reading that summary, it is difficult to refuse assent to the opinion we have quoted. The Megaera was one of the oldest steamships in the QUEEN'S service. She was launched as far back as 1849, and was originally intended for a ship of war, but in 1851 her guns were taken out of her, and she was converted into a troopship. Although subjected to this rather ignominious transformation, the Megaera seems to have been a well-built vessel according to the construction of the time. Her framing was exceptionally strong, though, on the other hand, the plating was in parts somewhat lighter than would now be usual for a vessel of her description. These facts explain and excuse the continued use of the vessel, and prepare us for the conclusion of the Commissioners, that her loss was not due to defects inherent in her construction or inseparable from her age, but to those which had supervened through a long period of official neglect. The immediate cause of the loss of the vessel was a leak - an oblong aperture, about two inches in length by one and a half in breadth. When the ship was beached at St. Paul's it was discovered that "the plates for a space of five or six feet in the vicinity of the leak were more or less corroded, and dangerously weak over an extent of from two to three feet. In several of the ship's frames, also, in the same part the floor plates were more or less eaten by corrosion." These defects the Commissioners declare to have been local. We will assume this to be the case, though it may well be that, if Captain THRUPP and his engineers had examined other parts of the vessel with the same anxiety as the part near the leak, they would have discovered defects in them also. Now, what was the cause of this local defect? It did not arise from the original thinness of the plates, nor from their abrasion by age or collisions. "The cause of the leak, and of the defective condition of the plates in its vicinity, was the continued corrosive action of bilge water on unprotected iron. The loss of the ship is, in our judgment, to be attributed to the want of adequate protection to the inner surface of those plates. The corrosive action had, in our opinion, been at work for years, and was not appreciably, if at all, accelerated by galvanic action occasioned by the presence of copper." This paragraph forms the foundation of the Commissioners' Conclusions. The Megaera came to ruin, not because she was old, or clumsy, or weakly constructed, or in any way inherently unfit for sea, but because a certain chymical action had been going on inside her plates for years, and not one of the persons whose business it was to examine her had paid the smallest attention to it. To fix the responsibility for this, the Commissioners give a "general history" of the ship. We may pass over the first fifteen years of her existence, which was one of great activity, though not of popularity. She was constantly employed, but had to bear a good deal of adverse criticism, on account of her deficient steaming and sailing powers, and the small number of troops she could carry in proportion to her crew. In the year 1864 she was thoroughly refitted at a very great expense, and at this time a change was made, which has a most important bearing on this inquiry. Our readers may remember that in the inquiry of the Commission much was said about cements. On the question of cement the loss of the Megaera turns. Now, in 1864 "DAY'S cement, which had been put into her in 1859, was removed, and, at the request of Commander MADDEN, the officer then in command of her, she was cemented with a composition called SPENCE'S Patent Cement." To SPENCE'S cement the Commissioners devote a whole section of their Report. It was brought to the notice of the Controller of the Navy in 1863 by the agents for the patentee, who recommended it as an unequalled and invaluable composition for coating internally the bottoms of iron ships. The Controller very properly agreed to give it a trial. It is of the very greatest importance to discover the best means of protecting the plates of ships from corrosive action. If they could be completely and constantly protected, iron ships might last almost for ever, but as yet no preparation seems to have been discovered which serves the purpose effectually. The Megaera was one of the subjects on which SPENCE'S cement was tried. As we have said, DAY was discarded and SPENCE substituted in February, 1864. Similar experiments were made on other vessels. The result was that SPENCE'S cement turned out a total failure. In April, 1867, it was removed from the Northumberland, and in January, 1868, Sir SPENCER ROBINSON wrote to the Storekeeper-General that it had wholly failed, and would not again be used for the purpose of coating iron ships. The ground on which the Commissioners censure Sir SPENCER ROBINSON and others is that this cement, proved to be defective and condemned after repeated trials, was left in the Megaera from the time it was placed there, in 1864, to the day she was sent on her last unfortunate voyage. After 1864, in fact, the Megaera was never really examined at all. A sort of examination certainly there was, but "every official at the time of the examination confined his attention to the exterior, and to such parts of the interior as were readily accessible, relying, as it would seem, as to her interior, upon the supposed lasting qualities of the cement." As a rule, every ship is examined at the completion of her commission - that is, after four years - in such a manner as to make it clear whether repairs are necessary. "But, counting from February, 1865, the time when the Megaera left Devonport Dockyard, until February, 1871, when she sailed from Sheerness, six years had elapsed since she was thoroughly overhauled. It was owing to this that the corrosive action was allowed to go on until it resulted in the loss of the vessel."Having thus fixed the cause of the disaster, it remained only to fix the responsibility. The Commissioners, with one dissentient, declare that the responsibility for the disaster rests on Sir SPENCER ROBINSON; because, in virtue of his office, he had the power of controlling HER MAJESTY'S Dockyards, because the Constructor's Department was under his direction, because it was his duty to see that the duties of his subordinates were efficiently performed, because he had ordered the application of SPENCE'S cement to the Megaera, and suffered it to remain there without examination, though it was ascertained to have failed in other instances. From this judgment Mr. ROTHERY dissents, and makes a separate Report. He considers that the Report of his colleagues unduly blames the Controller and unduly shelters the Dockyard officials, and especially the Sheerness officers, with whom, in his opinion, the blame of the misfortune principally rests. The reasons for and against are sufficiently given in the Report, but, however the responsibility may be apportioned, the public will be glad to find that the cause of the Megaera's loss has been sufficiently ascertained and, every excuse removed for the recurrence of such a disaster.
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