THE "DEVASTATION" DEBATE. T HOSE who went to the House of
Commons on Thursday evening expecting a battle-royal on Lord Henry Lennox's motion touching the Devastation were fain to be disappointed. The noble lord began his speech by declaring that Sir John Pakington, though well-nigh infallible, had erred that morn- ing in declaring that he had any intention of challenging a combat then and there with the First Lord on the subject. He went on to say that should the Devastation prove to be, as asserted, the type and model of the fighting ship of the future, he should have no opinion to rescind, for on the occasion when, on Mr. Ohilders's motion, she was ordered to be built, he had deliberately abstained from supporting the opposition of his beloved friend Mr. Corry. He concluded by expressing a modest hope that he might be permitted to go to sea on her first experimental trip. Meantime, he wished to know why she was not to carry quite so much coal as was originally proposed, and how the facts really stood as to her actual tonnage and dis- placement. Nothing could be easier than the task of answer- ing such questions. Mr. Goschen, Mr. Childers, and the full staff of the Admiralty, during the whole period of their Administration, were at the House, armed with a vast array of red and blue boxes, minutes and reports. But the great impeachment had suddenly subsided into a wary and courteous interpellation. It is not impossible, judging from the whole tone of Lord Henry's speech, that so soon as the Devastation has successfully stemmed an Atlantic storm, and proved— without, we hope, occasion of actual war—the matchless force of her armament, we may find the assertion gradu ally taking form and consistency that she is in reality a Tory ship.
After the artful and sustained series of "autumn manceu- vres " in the way of correspondence, speeches, and articles, with which public opinion was traversed on this subject during the Recess, it is somewhat ignoble to find its promoters shrinking so utterly from a fair pitched battle in Parliament. Nothing was said to sustain the series of charges made against Mr. Childers in the House of Commons when he was not there to reply to them, and afterwards in places where he could not notice them, in the hope, it may be assumed, that he would at last have an opportunity of defending himself in his place in Parliament. The particular allegations against his Administration in regard to this ship may be summarised thus,—that when he came into office, he put great pres- sure on Mr. Reed and Sir Spencer Robinson to build dangerous ships like the Captain ; that they strenuously resisted, and after a long contest induced him to allow the Devastation to be built instead; that he prescribed the tonnage, which they thought too small in view of a Russian ship called Peter the Great, but that he would not yield to their remon- strances, and in consequence, that a ship with the same faults as the Glatton was ordered to be built ; that afterwards, being convinced of his mistake, he approved the plan of the Fury, which will be large enough ; but that his restriction of the tonnage of the Devastation was a most mischievous act, and that he is responsible for all the imperfections, if such there be, of the ship. It was added that he had contumeliously refused the services of Mr. Reed, who, after he had left the Admiralty, offered to revise the plans of the Devastation, and instead appointed a Committee of philosophers, intended to dis- credit him and Sir Spencer Robinson, who have made all sorts of proposals, for which no one in fact is responsible. The true history of Mr. Reed's resignation has never been, may, perhaps, never be stated. We shrewdly suspect that if it ever be exactly detailed, Mr. Childers will be proved to have acted from other motives than mere official punctilio. As to actual responsibility for the Devastation, it was very simply and distinctly assumed by Mr. Goschen on Thursday night. The responsibility of sending the Devastation to sea will rest with the First Lord of the Admiralty who sends her and the naval architects who report her fit to be sent. As to the
changes made from time to time in the original plane of Mr. Reed by the Committee of Design, it is not easy to doubt after Mr. Goschen's statement that they were wise and well considered. The conditions of naval architecture are so rapidly changing, that hardly Mr. Reed himself would argue for the perfection of his own plans of five years ago. But why, it may be asked, when a full debate on the "history" of the ship was promised to Parliament and the public, why was the question of original responsibility so completely evaded ? Because, as we believe, and as indeed was evident from his whole manner and style of speech, from what he im- plied and omitted, as well as from what he said, when Lord Henry Lennox came to study the evidence for the case he was prompted to undertake, he found it could not challenge open controversy ; and thus it came to pass, as Mr. Goschen said with much warmth and point, that Mr. Childers, having been subjected to gross and persistent attacks in his absence, was now denied an opportunity of reply. No one, however, can have carefully read the evi- dence extant on the subject, especially that taken by Lord Dafferin's Committee, without seeing how groundless and unfair have been the accusations so persistently and unseen- pulously urged oh this subject. As Lord H. Lennox admitted on Thursday, the Tory Government did not venture, being in a minority, to propose to build big ships. When Mr. Childers took office, it was at once determined to reverse the policy of the previous Government, and to go on building new and, proceeding with due caution, strong and still stronger ships. One of Mr. Childers' first acts was to ask Mr. Reed to place before him and his colleagues all the plans considered of late years by previous Beards. There was question of working out a suggestion of Mr. Stansfeld's for a lightly-masted turret-ship of 3,000 tons, but the plan was not approved ; and it was then, we believe, some two or three months after Mr. Gladatone's Government came into o oe, that the plan of a 4,400-ton unmasted ironclad was submitted by Mr. Reed, strongly advocated by Sir Spencer Robinson (as being free from the objections to the Glatton, which was only of 2,700 tons), referred by Mr. Childers to a special Com- mittee at the Admiralty with Sir Spencer Robinson's minutes, and finally approved. So far from the question of the Peter the Great affecting the consideration of the plans for the Devastation at the time, the grand ground of objection taken to the ship by Mr. Corry, when Mr. Childers proposed the vote to Parliament, was that she would be too large. What was contemplated at the time, it is evident from the papers and debates, was a mastless turret-ship of moderate dimensions, in labia speed and great carry, lug power would be in some degree sacrificed to thick, ness of armour, heavy guns, and handiness. Some -months afterwards it was found that the whole of the coal,carrying power contemplated in the original could not be obtained, and that further speed was desirable ; and then the design of the Fury was prepared, and adopted without hesitation by Mr. Childers. This is, we believe, in a very few words, the whole of the history of the two ships. We fail to find an atom of evidence as to any restriction of the tonnage in either case byMr. Childers: and as to the changes made in the ship by the Committee of Design, no one could hear Mr. Goschen's statement in reply to Lord H. Lennox without sharing his confidence that they have added both to the fighting power and sea-worthiness of the ship.
The debate, though not so thorough as might be desired for the reasons we have indicated, tended to satisfy the House, and will, we think, satisfy the country, that the alarm pro, pagated concerning the general character of the Devastation, both as to sea-going and fighting force, was, to say the least of it, without warrant. How far the type may be improved upon as to size, as to swiftness, as to superiority of armament, are problems that it may take years of study and millions of money to solve ; but it is already becoming clearly evident that Mr. Childers in selecting, and Mr. Geschen in maintain- ing, this particular type, amid such a malignant and phrenetic professional controversy, have deserved well of the Navy and the country.