THE SINKING OF THE OtITSTLETOE.'
TT is unfortunate that the attack upon the Admiralty in the matter of the 'Alberta' and the 'Mistletoe' should have fallen into the hands of Mr. Anderson. It is unfortunate that, having an attack of so peculiar and difficult a character to make, he should have made it in the way he did. And it is most of all unfortunate that the Admiralty should have acted in a manner which rendered such an attack possible. Mr. Anderson's errors are a matter of very little moment to any one but himself. But Mr. Ward Hunt's errors concern the nation, whose affairs he, in part, administers. It is not neces- sary, therefore, to concern ourselves further with Mr. Anderson's speech, except in so far as it bears upon what must be accepted as the answer• of the Admiralty.
There is no need to dwell upon the confusion between Mr. Anderson and Mr. Hunt as to the production of the report of the Court of Inquiry. It is clear that such reports, made, as they are, for the information of the Executive, -not of the country, cannot be made public without in- convenience ; and it is intelligible enough that when Mr. Hunt gave a general promise that the papers relating to the collision should be laid on the table, he should have meant such papers as it was customary- to produce, and that Mr. Anderson should have understood him to mean all the papers that could be produced. There is absolutely no ground for the charge of disingenuousness which Mr. Anderson thought -fit to buildup upon • this very natural misapprehension. But when -Mr. Hunt enumerates the reasons which -make it inex- pedient to produce the reports of Courts of Inquiry, and shows that on account of these reasons it has never been the practice to produce them, he pronounces his own condemnation. Technically, no doubt, ikis within the discretion of the Execu- tive in any given case to decide whether they shall order a Court of Inquiry or a Court-martial. But the estimate formed of them'-will depend on the wisdom shown in the exercise of this discretion, and it is in this respect that Mr. Hunt comes off so ill. He knew, or might have known, that the sinking of the Mistletoe' by the Royal yacht was a matter which had caused a large amount of excitement, that some probable and many improbable rumours were afloat concerning it, and that unless the proceedings arising out of it were scrupulously open, it would be suspected that somIthing was being kept back. Yet with all these facts be- forEaim, he deliberately chose to refer the conduct of the officers concerned to a Court whose proceedings are necessarily and properly kept secret, instead of to a Court whose proceed- ings are public to all the world. The strangest thing of all is that, even after Mr. Anderson's speech had shown the sort of ' interpretation that could be :placed on the conduct of the Admiralty, Mr. Hunt did not appear the least conscious of the blunder he had made. " The honourable gentleman," he said, "went on to contend that theAdmiralty ought to have ordered - a Court-martial, and I do not undertake to say that there are - not arguments in favour of the adoption of that course." Mr. Hunt speaks as though the propriety of ordering a Court- martial were quite anew notion, and one that as becomes a man of an ingenuous and candid mind, he is not prepared to condemn without hearing what can be said on its behalf. But the country expects the head of a .great department to have more than one alternative present to his mind, and to be able, if called upon, not merely to state that there are arguments in favour of a course which he has not adopted, but to show why these arguments have had no weight with him.- If there was one method more calculated than .another to bring every fact in the case into broad daylight, that was the method which-the Admiralty ought to have preferred. It is not quite clear, from Mr.- Hunt's speech, whether, when the 'choice between a Court of Inquiry and a Court-martial was open to him; he even remembered that publicity was, cceteris paribus, an advantage. As regards the charges brought by Mr. Anderson against the conduct of the first coroner's, inquest, Mr: Hunt-has, of course, a right to answerthat the (Governmentdoes not appoint the Coroner of Hampshire, and is not to blame for anything that he does. But the facts which Mr.- Anderson stated—if they be facts —need not have been any secret from the Admiralty, and they are of a kind which made it additionally certain that any want of openness about the subsequent proceedings would excite hostile comment. Mr. Anderson says that the coroner in question is Solicitor to the Admiralty, that Captain Balliston, the commander of the 'Elfin,' a tender to the 'Alberta,' went to the summoning officer and suggested that Mr. Saxby, an intimate friend of Captain Welch's, should be put on the jury ; that one of the Queen's tradesmen was also put on the jury, and that he was appointed the foreman by the coroner, instead of the jurors being left, as usual, to elect their own fore man ; that the Deputy Judge-Advocate of the Fleet virtually cross-examined the Mistletoe's' men; and that Captain Balliston sat by the side of the Alberta's' men when they were giving their evidence, until the jury insisted on his being removed. Every one of these statements may be false, and in making them Mr. Anderson may be merely retailing current Gosport rumours. But some or all of these rumours must have reached- Mr. Hunt, and if he knew any one of them to be at all generally believed on the spot, he ought to have seen in it a reason for ordering a Court-martial. Nor were these the only circumstances in the case which pointed to the same con- clusion. Mr. Hunt must have known that the reading of the Queen's letter to the coroner's jury by Prince Leiningen had been very unfavourably criticised, that Colonel Pon- sonby's letter to Lord Exeter had been condemned, almost universally, as a most unfortunate and ill-judged production, and that Baron Bramwell's observations to the coroner's jury had not escaped misunderstanding. The very ill-luck that had attended all the previous proceedings in the case should have been a sufficient reason to Mr. Hunt for taking special care to be right in the last stage. Instead of this, Mr. Hunt's single ambition seems to have been to show that when opportunity offered he could blunder as badly as anybody. As regards the action of the Admiralty since the Court of Inquiry, it is impossible to say whether it was right or wrong. The data on which they formed their conclusions are net in evidence. We know the verdict and the sentence, but we have not been allowed to hear the witnesses. Two remarks, however, suggest themselves upon this part of the case. One is, that there is an evident conflict of professional opinion on the question whether Prince Leiningen or Captain Welch was the responsible commander of the 'Albertai' at the moment of the collision. Mr. Hunt says that though Prince Leiningen might have taken the command if he had chosen- it was not his practice or the practice of the Service to do so. Admiral Eger- ton, on the other hand, denies that the captain of the principal ship can ever divest himself of his responsibility for the navi- gation of the tender, if he happens to be on board of her. Certainly Admiral Egerton's view is borne out by Prince Leiningen's own evidence, and at all events, before the Admiralty made up their mind to reprimand Captain Welch and let Prince Leiningen escape, they ought to have given the former the benefit of a Court-martial. The other remark is that to pronounce, as the Admiralty have virtually done, .that three people have been killed by the careless navigation of the Queen's yacht is a serious thing to do, as a mere matter-of Executive discretion. The popular view of the compensatidn paid to Mr. Heywood will be, that it was money paid in con- sideration of his foregoing the redress to which he - was entitled as a matter of justice. If a Court-martial had decided that the blame rested with the ' Alberta,' the impression that the Admiralty think it worth while to hush the matter up at any cost would have had no foundation even in appearance. As it is, it has a foundation in appear- ance. If the Admiralty thought the ' Alberta' to blame, they had no right to take it on themselves to decide how much or how little she was to blame. It is the nation that has to pay the money, and the nation may fairly look not to be mulcted in damages except by the sentence of some competent. tribunal.