11 AUGUST 1866, Page 7


SIR JOHN PAKINGTON will have a great deal to think of during the recess. Mr. Seely kindly gives him that time for weighing the suggestions made in the last debate, and since that debate Sir John has started a bugbear of his own which it is difficult for us to accept unquestioned, but which, if it really exists, ought to be dealt with instantly. Being asked by Mr. Graves what ships were at present avail- able in the reserves for immediate service, the First Lord of the Admiralty replied, " My hon. friend will excuse me if I do not give him the names of those ships, but I am sorry to say that if I did so the list would be a very short one. I regret to state that I find the reserves by no means in a satisfactory con- dition, or indeed in such a state as I had a right to find them, so much so that the Admiralty have great difficulty in finding relief for the ships that return from foreign service." The Times echoes this sentence in an article which would be half- ludicrous, except in these times of alarmist rumours. But as the times are alarmist, as the sudden unaccountable collapse of the Austrian Empire makes other empires quake, and as it is generally admitted that England depends principally on her command of the sea, it is well to look the facts fully in the face, and see what remedy can be found for such evils.

Critics of all creeds have long maintained that the ad- ministration of the Navy was essentially defective. What with the difficulty of getting proper ships and proper officers and any kind of men, it seemed as if in course of time the whole service would come to a standstill. Disregard of merit shown in keeping down efficient officers was balanced by flag- rant jobbery in the promotion of those who were well con- nected. Ships were given up to be experimentalized upon, while the men were not thought worthy of the experiment of kindly treatment. But after these complaints had been uttered and repeated for many years they began to gain some hearing. We chronicled the attempts at clearing the list of officers and expediting promotion some months back, and the condition of the seamen has certainly been improved. Still the fact remains that for the last seven years a sum of ten millions yearly has been spent on the Navy, and the results are such that the First Lord of the Admiralty can assure us there are no ships forthcoming. What has become of the money ? What has become of the ships ? The Times, which is suddenly awakened to a sense of its responsibilities, and which makes a merit of having ignored them hitherto, tells us to look at the Navy List, or rather—as if the writer had spent the interval between the publication of Sir John Pakington's reply and the production of his own comments in taking a run down to one of the dockyards—visit Sheerness, Portsmouth, and Plymouth, and see the harbours crowded with innumerable hulks. The second alternative is better ; the Navy List gives us indeed the names of the ships on active service and those in dock, but tells us nothing about the fitness of the latter to replace the former. If we look at the returns of late years we find large sums expended on a great many ships, and we ask if none of these are ready for service. But there is no oracle to reply. The incoming Lord of the Admiralty blames his predecessor for the state in which things have come into his hands. The outgoing Lords meet an attack on their system of accounts by asserting that things were much worse before their time. " With respect to the Admiralty accounts generally," says Mr. Childers, " the House ought to know something of what had been done during the administration of the late Government, how they found the dockyard accounts, what reforms they had made in them, and the position in which they stood at the present time. When the late Government came into office scarcely any account was rendered of the Admiralty expenditure ; in fact, in a commercial point of view, no cash account was kept." That is to say, owing to the admirable contrivance of party government, one administration can always lay the blame on the shoulders of another. There seems to be only one point on which the two Governments are agreed, and on this we must confess their unanimity is wonderful. They both refuse Mr. Seely per- mission to continue his investigations. From these investigations, as far as they have gone, and the manner in which the charges have been met, there is good reason to believe that the dockyards are accountable both for the waste of public money and the want of sufficient active re- sources. What is worse, the money has been frittered away, so that there is nothing to show for it. Excessive cost of repairs, sheer waste of materials, contracts carelessly granted, swallow up more of the yearly ten millions than the real work for which the money is raised. Mr. Seely shows that in more than one instance repairs cost as much, or almost as much, as the actual price of construction. We do not of course allude to the gigs which were fitted up for members of the Royal family, but because this charge was retracted it does not follow that the other charges are unfounded. Why was it that the Brisk, which could be built new for 49,3211., cost 43,4981. in repairs ? Why did the Cadmus, which could be built for 68,2781., cost 65,800/. ? On the score of anchors, again, Mr. Seely has not been refuted. A vague statement that naval men generally believe in the Admiralty anchor, cannot be placed against the report of the Anchor Committee, composed of five naval officers of high standing and five experienced members of Lloyds', that the Admiralty anchor was worse than six other anchors. But even if the Admiralty anchor is the best, we must admit the force of Mr. Seely's remark how very suspicious it was that small anchors were advanced in price just in those years when large quantities of them were required, and when there was not the slightest rise in the price of large anchors. The House received with loud cheers a statement that on this one contract 170,0001. of the public money had been paid to one firm over and above the market price of anchors, yet no answer but the vaguest possible is attempted by the Admiralty. It may be that these sums are trifles compared with the grand total of the Navy Estimates. But even grand totals are made up of details, and it is only by a close scrutiny of the details which we have got, or rather which Mr. Seely was allowed to gather from the Admiralty books before they were closed upon him, that we can form any idea of the composition of the general expenditure.

It is not by putting nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom (which is too much the fault of our present censor-general) that we can understand the exact difference between how to do it and how not to do it. Convenient as it generally is to assume that all things must be right in all other countries, and especially in that best of all possible countries, France, yet we hear the very same complaints from those conversant with the naval administration and the dock- yards of other countries, and Frenchmen are the first among the complainants. The great grievance at the present moment is not merely that the dockyards are badly managed, but that this bad management in detail is significant of the whole system. It is very much owing to the manner in which the dockyard accounts are kept that we cannot get to the root of the matter. Looking at the sums voted for the purpose of building ships, we have a right to demand that there shall be no lack of ships. But if the money is swallowed np in repairs of the kind exposed by Mr. Seely, we must either vote more or let the work remain undone. No doubt ten millions seem amply sufficient for keeping up a fleet of 630 ships, when France keeps up a fleet of 484 ships on about six millions. Yet the items into which our expenditure is divided—we have not got the French items—show that three- quarters of the whole goes in wages and victuals to seamen and marines, wages to artificers in home docky ards, naval stores, and steam machinery. The two first heads take up about half of this sum, and therefore three-eighths of our Naval Estimates are expended on the food aad pay of our officers and seamen. This is certainly a fair proportion, and if the rest was laid out with as little waste and accounted for with the same care, we can hardly doubt that the results would be satisfactory. As it is, the results are not satisfactory, and though we cannot see, we can guess whence the evils arise. There ought to be no want of ships to fill up the place of those ordered home to be paid off, for the average number paid off yearly ranges from 40 to 60, and the effective force professes to be 630 vessels, of which about 40 are in process of build- ing. What, then, has become of the rest ? Are they all left alone till they are in a fit state to incur those extensive repairs for which the dockyards have become so famous ? Or have they fallen victims to that experimental mania which delights in building and altering, and which is so engrossed in these pursuits that it has no time to attend to the necessary work of the department ? Perhaps we shall hear from Sir John Pakington in February.